My mother loved birds and so did her mother and so did my great-grandmother. My maternal great-grandmother made birds from scraps of velvet at Christmas for my mother and her sister Virginia when they were 4 and 6 . One was red like a Cardinal and one was blue like a bluebird. My mother could describe them in detail many years later but I never thought to ask her what happened to them before she died. I wish I had, and I wish I had one of them now.
I don’t know if the love of nature, and birds particularly, is born in a person or if it is taught. Perhaps a little of both. However it happened, birds have been a large piece in the mosaic of my life, both an anchor and a soaring lift for my spirit. Bluebirds were particularly beloved by the women in my family and before people made houses for them, they hung bird’s nest gourds for the bluebirds and purple martins. Perhaps my great-grandmother learned it as a child, she was Cherokee and the Cherokee hung gourds for the birds to nest in and taught the settlers to do the same.
Thom built bluebird boxes for me and we have them in several locations on our property. If there is an open grassy area, we put up a box. They have been up for nearly twenty years and one of the most successful boxes is the one on the gate at the main road, at the blacktop. It’s nearly a mile from the house through the woods and up the hill from the hollow where our log house is, and I’ve worried about it being bothered by two-footed varmints, but so far, it has been safe.
Bluebirds begin nesting in March here and I knew if nests were not already being built, it wouldn’t be long before I saw a lot of little blue streaks flying around with a mouthful of grasses. I had been hearing the soft Bing Crosby crooning of the males for a couple of weeks and there was a lot of fluttering around and sitting on top of nest boxes. I had already cleaned out the boxes late last summer but I thought I would check them again to be sure there wasn’t a flying squirrel or a snake in one of the boxes. I went to the mailbox with my screwdriver ready to check the box. When I got out of the car I saw a bluebird egg on the ground in front of the box, one end broken. I got a sick feeling and immediately knew something must have gotten into the nest. My first fear was for the female bluebird. She could make another nest, lay more eggs but if she was killed or injured, precious time would be lost while the male tried to find another mate, and the nesting site was compromised, so another nest site would have to be found. Bluebirds are so protective of their nest and young, the male could have also been killed.
I opened the box and before I took the lid off, I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth. What I found really surprised me. There were three eggs in the box. One bluebird egg, azure blue, a stunning pure color, was on the edge of the nest. Another bluebird egg was in the nest. There was also a slightly smaller, paler blue egg in the nest. I put the bluebird egg on the edge of the nest back into the nest, put the lid back on the box and went back and sat in the car wondering what had happened. It was apparent that the intruder was another bird. I know the entrance holes in the box are precisely the right size for bluebirds and the candidates for intruders small enough to enter the box is a short list, then there’s that large pale blue egg. I can eliminate house sparrows, we live in the country and do not have house sparrows around and the egg color is wrong. We don’t eat enough French fries for them to stay around anyway. Cowbirds are too large and Tufted Titmice and Chickadees would not like the bluebird nest, no mosses, the nest was out in the open and they would build a nest over the bluebird nest. Starlings are too large and the nest was low in the box so they couldn’t reach it with their beaks. Tree swallows are a possibility but the egg color was wrong. House Wrens are also a possibility but they’re all down at the house on the front porch fussing at Jinx, poor cat. Maybe it is a bluebird egg, possibly the first of the clutch, and another bird got into the nest and was in the process of throwing the eggs out to evict the bluebirds.
I wondered if the male and female bluebird were alive, would return to the nest, and if the intruder would return. The next day I went to the mailbox and eased the lid off the box. The eggs appeared to have been turned. That meant the female was alive and incubating the eggs. So far, so good. Today I went to the box, watched to see if the female would fly out as they usually do when the car pulls up. Nothing. I went to the box, slid the lid open a little and saw a female bluebird sitting tight on her nest. I didn’t know if I could get the lid back on without her flying off the nest but I ever so slowly and carefully slid the lid back into place and screwed it down and stepped away from the box with my heart pounding. The females look drab compared to the males but up close, in good light, that brilliant blue blended with brown shows in their wings and their backs and she seemed bright in the box. I will not open the box again until the eggs have had time to hatch and I can see if there really are three baby bluebirds in that box. I hope to see something like this when I next look.
That picture at the top of this post? That’s me and a juvenile bluebird the spring I raised four baby bluebirds from 9 days of age to release as free-flying young birds in full plumage nearly two months later. One of the most worthwhile things I have ever done or will ever do. Freebird.
I feel as if I have been asleep for the past couple of years. Just this week, life seemed to be more real, more of what I remembered it to before it took a hard left turn. Before people started disappearing from my life, before I was ill and the people I love faced so many challenges; within a three year span, my family almost completely disappeared except in my memory. I started thinking about the value of memories and of memories preserved and wondered what would happen to the pictures in the old steamer trunk. I’ll open that trunk another day, when the ghosts of the past are not so haunting. I thought about the quality of memories that last, the ones that have a clear edge many years later. Some memories are so sharp and filled with pain, they still have the power to cut. Others are so happy and joyous they seem to vibrate and shimmer with light when I think of them. It seemed to me I needed to find the joy again, to look at my world like Walt Whitman looked at a blade of grass. Whitman, God knows I love eccentrics, inspired me enough that I did a term paper on Leaves of Grass in high school. He and Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg stayed with me. I’ve always thought poetry was more like a painting than prose. Sometimes what is left unsaid is the most powerful, words like shadows in a painting.
You cannot move forward without knowing where you’ve been. I looked at the signs of Spring and saw Winter in the shadows.
Waking up is a process, an awareness of light, sharpened perceptions and whether ackowledged or not, a relief to come out of the darkness and uncontrolled rambling of the mind during sleep. Bulbs sleep in the earth during dark cold nights but Spring causes them to seek the light, push ahead through the darkness to see the Sun.
Monday I received the most wonderful surprise. I am so touched and it is so beautiful and I did what anyone who is the recipient of such love and care does. I cried. There were two white boxes at the gate. I pulled up to the gate in my PT Cruiser with a dog hanging out of each back window and thought, “Hmm, I know one of those is my elann order but I don’t know what the other one could be.” I saw my friend Libby’s name on the box and still didn’t have a clue. I opened up the box and there was the most beautiful handknitted blanket! For ME! It was a gift from my friends at the elann chatsite. It’s the first site I ever typed a word on years ago and it is still and will always be my home on the net. I have met, in real life and virtually, some of the most generous and caring people on the planet there.
There was a very pretty card in the box from the elannites. A Blankie Tales booklet is in the works so I will know who knitted each lovely 12″X12″ square. There was also a card from Ghislaine, a very talented knitter, and one square knitted by my elann chatsite and in person friend, Chris. It was a square she knitted up and then it turned out there were enough squares so her square didn’t make it into the blanket. I have plans for it but I don’t want to say what those plans are yet.
All of these wonderful people got together and made a blanket for me to wrap up in and feel the hugs and warmth while recuperating from my eye surgery on July 8th. They managed all this in 3 weeks with knitting needles on fire, smokin’ the phone lines, burning up the email servers and the postal services of two countries.
And I never suspected a thing. I think I just lost my sleuth badge. Nancy Drew would scoff at me. Monk would find me unworthy of notice and Sherlock Holmes would throw me over Reichenbach Falls. I suspect Miss Marple might be the only detective sympathetic to my oblivion and she would only give me a break because we are both knitters. All I know is, everyone was very, very quiet but I didn’t know I had anything to do with it.
Grace sent me the knitted bunny. Grace knits more beautiful shawls than anyone I know. Even her bunnies wear lace shawls. Shui Kuen, who was dealing with terrible flooding, no drinking water and no roads, sent me a real treat, very dark, very special European chocolate, the kind I can’t find anywhere within a hundred miles and she knows I love, and a very pretty shoulder shawl in Noro Hotaru in colors I love to wear; hot pink, fuchsia and lovely greens and bronzes. It is perfect for summer.
The blanket has twenty-five beautiful squares of knitting in earthen shades of elann’s Highland Wool and lovely edging knit by four different knitters. It is truly MY blanket, made for me by my friends, people who are caring and giving, and I am most blessed to have my path cross theirs in this journey we are all on. Sometimes I am just so damn lucky!
Each square is unique and I love them all. One even has a lovely pearl added by the very creative Evelyn. It made me smile and it is the perfect touch for that square. I will take a picture of each one when I have the Nikon camera to use. For now, I want to show you one square that is very special. It is a square that my friend T and her teenage son Braveheart made for me. This one is very special because I can feel the touch and effort of one very determined young man in the stitches, and while T hasn’t told me, I know he picked this design for me. Thank you, Braveheart, and thank you T for sharing your son with me.
I realized last fall the time to tell people how I feel about them, to say the things that make life brighter, kinder, and more true, may quickly be gone and those things may never be said. I resolved to say those things; to let people know how much they are appreciated for who they are and the things they do. So to everyone who planned, knitted, wanted to knit, said a prayer, thought a thought for me, thank you, and I love you all.
The thrush alone declares the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest. Here is a bird in whose strain the story is told… Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; whenever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.
Henry David Thoreau
I know that Spring has truly arrived when I hear the song of the Wood Thrush. I listen for the song when I start to see the wildflowers open in the woods. The tremulous eee-o-lay resonates in the dusky dark of spring and summer evenings. It sounds brave and sweet, a whistle in the dark from a little bird who lives in the dangerous lower canopy of the woods.
Yesterday a Wood Thrush flew into the window and fell to the earth in the front yard. Thom and I ran outside and found the little bird lying motionless on the ground, beak agape, wings spread. I reached down and picked up the thrush with fear in my heart. I was so afraid I would find he had broken his neck. He was stunned and shocked but appeared to have no broken bones. I gently picked him up and held him close to my body in both hands. I covered his eyes to calm him and held him close to me for warmth. I put him in a small box with cotton wool in the bottom and kept him in there in the dark and quiet for over an hour. I took him out to the porch and he was alert but seemed very unafraid of me. He looked at me with apparent curiosity and looked me straight in the eyes. I held him in my open hand and let the sun warm his feathers. He sat in my open hand, regarding me. After a few minutes, he flew to the big Norwegian Fir tree and took refuge in the cover of the dense green needles. I listened last night and heard his song in the twilight, a gentle voice in the deepening shadows.
If you would like to learn more about the Wood Thrush, whose numbers and habitat are in serious decline, please visit this link. Wood Thrush
As a consequence of being a tomboy, I had a lot of scrapes, cuts, bruises, and a few broken bones. There’s always a downside to having fun. I have a very high threshold for pain, or so the docs tell me. I put that high threshold down to surviving the Daffy Duck/Errol Flynn style escapades of my youth. I’m not really sure how it works but that’s my theory. Yoiks and away!
A couple of doctors had mentioned my high pain threshold in the past. I got a chance to put it to the big test last fall. I had gangrene of the small intestine, went septic, nearly died and had emergency surgery the last week of October, 2007. I have over a foot less of small intestine and a scar from hell. It ticked me off because I did have a nice flat belly and great bellybutton. If I could choose what to have back, the great belly or the missing guts, I would go for the guts. Like I was ever going to wear a bikini again anyway. I think they should be against the law for anyone over 30. Don’t get me started on speedos. If you aren’t in the Olympics, guys, this is not the bathing suit for you.
After surgery, the doctors told me I wasn’t using my morphine pump enough and took it away after a couple of days. Oh, sorry. They seemed a little put out with me. I laughed and said I didn’t need it. Those guys take everything so seriously. I would have been a total bust in an Victorian opium den or a Sherlock Holmes story.
To answer a little kid’s question, will it hurt when I cut my hait? The answer is, sometimes it does. I cut my hair the other day for the first time in nearly twenty years. Of course, there was an occasional trim but I really cut it and it feels a little strange. It made me think of being a kid and getting a summer haircut. I had to cut it because it has been falling out since surgery. I was in the hospital almost a month altogether, and by the time I got home it was coming out in handfuls. rather like having chemo, I think, just slower. Long hair suits me temperamentally and is part of who I am, so it was a shock to cut off 18″ of hair. The doctors tell me it will stop falling out in a few months and will grow back in with time. If it doesn’t, I have threatened to shave my head and get biker chick tats on my bald head. I really like the tattoos done in henna, so ornate and beautiful and we already have the Harley.
For the first few days after my haircut, when I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the glass door, I thought we had company. Odd, that, not to recognize oneself. I think it makes me look normal and I’ve never been “normal,” so it’s a disguise, really. I feel like an impostor. Maybe I will just pretend to be that little kid with the new summer haircut ready for a summer of adventures.
Thom says he likes the haircut and so do my buds. My girls haven’t seen it yet but swear I will still be their same old Mom with a smart mouth and a bad attitude, so it’s all good. See how deceptively normal I look? Scary, isn’t it? Lets you see how serial killers can pass for so long.
As a thank-you gift for my surgeon, I knit an Irish Hiking Scarf from elann’s Lana Cash Tweed. It was an Italian yarn, limited edition, and very soft. I picked a tweed because I wanted it to be a little rustic for a doc that deals with some pretty basic stuff when it gets down to it. I love this guy, not just because he saved my life late one Saturday afternoon, but because he went to the Doune Castle, a location in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” and got coconut shells and galloped around the castle. He is my kind of cutter. I think he would have made the cut in the Cousin Clan.
Filed under: family
I have always been a bit of a daredevil, it’s one of my best and worst character traits. I was the kid who told my younger cousins that they were chicken if they didn’t jump out of the barn loft onto a mattress, even after an older cousin had broken his arm doing the same thing. I double-dog dared my cousin Glenda to smoke a cigarette that my cousin Glen stole from his dad. Glen and I puffed like little fiends until we nearly passed out. Glenda primly refused and then ratted us out the first time she got mad at us for not playing whatever girl game she wanted to play. We got even, we ran off and left her prissy butt alone in the woods one day with her crying and begging us to come back. She continued the rat cycle and Glen and I were punished and not allowed to play together for two whole weeks because of our juvenile justice.
I refused to play with her, and no matter what, my parents and grandparents could not make me play with her. They could put us in the same room but I was one stubborn kid with no mercy. She had broken the Cousin Code and that was it – she was out with no way back. None of us had ever broken the Cousin Code before her and out of a bunch of kids joined at the hip, she was quickly determined not to be one of us. It didn’t matter what blood kin she was, she was not and would never be trusted by the rest of us.
I was the only girl in the Cousin Clan and I learned my tomboy ways from my brother and older boy cousins. I learned the useful stuff – how to start a fire with flint, find my way in the woods, throw a knife accurately, be a blood brother, the best way to climb a tree, shoot marbles, play poker, shuffle a double deck of cards, blow in a conch shell as a signal, whittle a walking stick, break rocks, make arrowheads, build a kudzu fort, know a black widow spider, refight WWII battles, pick the best apples for a green apple fight, cut and swing on a grapevine, track someone in the woods, avoid snakebite, eat wild fruit safely, read wild boar sign and what to do if one showed up (run like hell and climb a tree, in case you wondered), deliver a crippling frog on someone’s arm, and get cookies from the cookie jar without getting caught. Like I said, the important stuff.
I quickly determined that there was just no percentage in being afraid. I was bound to get in trouble over something, it might as well be something good. Being afraid meant I would miss all the good stuff the older cousins were doing. One good thing about being the only girl in the Cousin Clan was I learned to be tough. Fall and skin a knee, get a splinter, cut yourself, all normal kid stuff that we sucked up. We bandaged one another with moss tied with vines, dug out splinters with dull pocket knives, and kept on going. No time to waste on things like that. Maybe we sensed even then, that childhood is a fleeting magical series of moments to be lived with daring so the memories will last a lifetime and give courage for a lifetime.
Filed under: family
Thirty-three years ago today, January 22, 1975, Thom and I got married. We got married in a field by the pond on 50-acres of woods Thom bought back in the 60’s. I was wearing a dress I bought on sale at K-Mart for 12 bucks. It was perfect. Thom’s seven-year old daughter, whom I adopted a few months later, was our attendant. We got her dress on sale at a chichi store and I let her pick it out. It was just right for her, and I still tear up when I look at it now and remember her sweet smile when she put it on.
The broom grass was high in the field and she dropped my ring in the middle of the ceremony. The minister, Thom, our daughter, the two couples who were our witnesses, and I were on our hands and knees trying to find it. We finally found it and the ceremony proceeded without any further problems except that I had bright yellow pollen on my nose from sniffing my flowers and people kept laughing when they looked at me. I thought they were just happy.
The minister had been the youth minister at Thom’s church years before and he was fine with all the unorthodox details. That is, he was fine until after the ceremony, as we all drank a post nuptial beer, one of our friends pulled out a new pistol, surprising everyone, and started shooting empty beer cans in celebration. No Southern wedding is complete without a cooler full of beer and gunfire. Then it was time for the minister to go. But Stuart was a Methodist minister, so I imagine it was rather shocking. The last time I saw him, he mentioned that day and laughed. The friend’s wife was horrified. I thought it was perfect.
Our life since has been a lot like that day; full of drama, some explosive fireworks, unforeseen losses, unexpected pleasures, good luck, lean times, high comedy, sorrow and sweetness. Looking back, I wouldn’t trade anything about that day. It fits us, which is something I think we’ve always known about one another – who we are together and who we are separately. Thirty-three years – all of it an adventure, seems like just yesterday in so many ways.