Friday, March 26, 2010


Daffodils on the hillside this morning…
What a difference a day makes! Or in this case, a night—since the change occurred between about 10:30 p.m. when I went to bed, and 5:00 a.m. when I got up, and looked outside into an oddly glowing darkness.
"We have snow," I said to Myladylove, who remained asleep except for an unintelligible though not particularly friendly mutter. Moon the dog feigned interest, but was really more concerned about whether there was any chance I might dole out a treat before I began fumbling around in the kitchen making coffee. Deciding my caffeine jones would doubtless take precedence over providing a rubbery bit of fake bacon for the pooch, my faithful canine companion—decidedly underwhelmed by my weather report—readjusted herself on the sleeping pad and also went back to sleep.
…the same hillside daffodils Wednesday!
Well, I said to myself, I don't care what you guys think…I find the night's snowfall exciting.
Actually, just before turning in last night, as I let the dog out for her final peregrination, I could see in the porchlight's gleam a few big, wet flakes mixed in with the rain. Not unexpected. The National Weather Service's forecast had called for a bit of overnight snow. So I wasn't surprised to see white on the ground when I woke up…just not the 3-4 inches that now covers every blade of green grass, several hundred crocus, and about that many daffodils which are/were just starting to bloom.
Cardinal in the yard two days ago…
Still, anyone who lives in Ohio has to learn that March Madness meant something fundamental and important long before a bunch of tall, skinny men co-opted the phrase, donned silly-looking shorts and began jostling one another while chasing a ball around an indoor arena like of gaggle of gangly grade-schoolers.
The countryman of a century ago would have expected such weather shenanigans in March. "Spring can't be trusted to have settled in for good until you've seen snow on the forsythia blooms," my old pal Frank used to say. Frank grew up on farms in the muckland onion country of north-central Ohio—moist black earth so rich and friable that he avowed a man could kneel anywhere in a field and insert his arm up to the elbow with little effort. Frank would have been on the phone this morning at first light, booming with laughter at the overnight snow and anyone who thought such weather behavior uncharacteristic.
…Mr. Redbird in the yard this morning!
I thought you might like to see a couple of "before" and "after" shots taken day-before yesterday and this morning. For those of you to the north who've been just a tad jealous of our recent near-70s weather, you can chuckle now. And for anyone living far enough south that you've already been applying sun-block and sowing seeds, I must remind you it's unseemly to gloat.
The March Two-Step is in full swing here in Ohio; and sweet Miss Spring hasn't lost a single iota of her moves.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Crocus blooming on the hillside near the cottage.
Burrr-r-r-r-! Pardon me while I shiver. It isn't all that warm this morning…47˚F at the moment, 54˚F predicted for the day's high. Not like the near-70s we've enjoyed recently. Tomorrow, so the weather gurus warn, there's even a possibility of snow.
Ahhh-h-h-h-h, spring.
Having witnessed quite a few of them by now, I can't say I'm surprised by such shenanigans. Come early spring, especially, the new season dances a sort of Texas two-step—quick quick, slow slow. Sometimes I swear it isn't the soft piping of Pan I hear in the distance, but faint strains of some old Bob Wills twin fiddle tune in the background.
Yet I'm not in the least disappointed. As I say, I've been here before. And in a way, I actually welcome spring's slow, stuttering start, because it not only teaches restraint and perseverance, it also allows time to savor. Rather than having the whole season tossed in our laps at once, this way you get to relish and appreciate the unfolding. Spring's delights are many—from singing birds to blooming flowers, sparkling streams, unfolding buds, painted skies and peepers calling like twinkling bells. And everywhere, a world in color transition—from drab gray-brown to luscious verdant green. I like to enjoy the show.
Slow is good…in baking bread, making love, or enjoying spring.

Monday, March 22, 2010


A rather damp, dreary day here along the river, with light showers, off and on, since sometime before dawn. Heavier rains are predicted for this afternoon, tonight, and early tomorrow. The temperature is going the wrong way, too; 39˚F currently, which is four degrees cooler than it was at 6:00 a.m.
Actually, this might prove a blessing in disguise, since I won't be able to get out and work in the yard. I'm not sure my back can take another day of raking up winter's debris, restacking firewood, moving stones, or digging new planting beds. I'm already to the point where the pain pills have no effect whatsoever. A weather-induced rest, and time to heal, may be God's way of forcing common sense on an otherwise hopeless case.
The yard geese have just ambled up the bank to see whether I tossed them any tidbits from breakfast. (Nope.) I will give them a scoop of cracked corn as soon as I finish this post. In the meantime, they can pluck at my grass and give me the evil eye through the window all they want—but I'm not going to become their flunky.
An hour ago I looked out the front window and saw a treetop full of turkey vultures. So late in the morning, it was obvious they'd been grounded by the weather. While not exactly early birds, most days the vulture contingent is up and away by mid-morning.
Actually there were several trees with vulture-littered crowns—I counted 73 sitting birds total, among four adjacent trees—plus more in the air, flapping from limb to limb or tree to tree, sometimes making a quick glide circle over the river or around a few additional trees before settling back down among the clan. Occasionally one of the vultures would spread it's wings into a classic drying/sunning pose…but only for a moment, since there was no warming sun and no hope of drying out damp feathers; all a poor buzzard could to accomplish was to chill his wingpits and appear even sillier than normal.
My funereal-cloaked neighbors looked bored by their forced rest—restless, anxious to get a'wing and off, soaring high, on the lookout for a tasty morsel of ripe roadkill. I know the feeling. I'm also anxious to get out and about myself—though I'm hurting too badly to do anything useful. I still want to be on the move, driving along a rural backroad, looking for wildflowers or spring buds, birds, critters, stopping to peer over bridges spanning country brooks and seeing if I can spot fish or tadpoles in the pools.
Spring has sprung, even if the weather has taken a backtrack. I don't want miss a moment.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


After many years of having to drag my reluctant carcass from the sack, always as late as possible, and for the next two hours ply it with strong doses of caffeine—I now get up, on my own, willingly, without threat or cajoling, in time to see that first hint of light in the eastern darkness and say: Hey, buddy…what took you so long?
Who wudda thunk!
What's more I like being up early, before the sun. I truly enjoy watching night turn into day, and love the soft but dramatic transition of the sun's rebirth. For me, dawns are almost spiritual.
Moreover, I'm practically on a first-name basis with the neighborhood squirrels who seldom beat me in making that first reconnoiter around the yard. Moon the dog goes off on her own business as I and the resident bushytails exchanged pleasantries, while cardinals churt from the tangles and a robin begins tuning up for the soon-to-rise sun.
Now I sip and savor coffee instead of depending on it to start my heart.
For the past couple of days I've been working at my desk and filling every other minute when I wasn't with outdoor chores—puttering about the cottage, raking and cleaning the yard, preparing planting beds, and occasionally just sitting in the rocking chair on the deck watching the river hurry past. And yes, for those of you who'd like an update, the river is still going down, maybe two feet yesterday, though there's yet five or so feet remaining before it reaches normal pool. Bottom line, though, is the high-water threat has, for now, passed.
Today is supposed to be clear, bright sun, temperatures in the low-60s. At the moment it is 39˚F. The Canada geese out on the river are making an awful racket, as the sun varnishes the sycamores along the far bank with golden light. Moon and I have been up for a couple of hours, trying not to wake Myladylove who always sleeps in on her day off.
There's still some frost on the greening grass and piles of leaves. Later today, after they've dried out a bit, I'll load the leaves in the wheelbarrow and dump them on the compost pile. I'm hacked off because, when I initially stepped out before first light, I realized I'd forgotten to take the suet cakes and their wire holders down and place them in secure overnight storage in the metal cans where I keep the rest of the bird foods…and that the marauding raccoon, making its usual rounds, apparently noticed my error and stole suet, cage, and chain hanger. The whole shebang is missing, which makes it two for the year, drat it!
Still, morning has come again. A new day. I'm still here. The sun is up, the temperature is rising, the river is falling, flowers are blooming, and the birds are singing. Plus, there's another—third—cup of good fresh coffee awaiting in the pot. What more can a man ask?

Monday, March 15, 2010


Looking downstream from the front-door deck.
Visitors to my streamside abode always ask the same two questions. And they are also the ones I see in this "comments section" whenever I mention the rise of my cottage-side river in a post.
How close does the water actually come to the house?
Am I afraid of getting flooded?
My answers, in order, are: pretty close, and, yes indeed.
I certainly understand everyone's curiosity. I wondered the same thing the first time I laid eyes on the place. So I thought you might like to see a few photos.
Note the stone step and the one, barely visible below, which lead
down to a landing, now under several feet of water.
The deck (with rail) runs across the front of the cottage.
The shots were taken a few minutes ago. I was standing just outside the door, on the end of the wider deck that runs alongside the cottage at a right-angle to the riverbank. The bit of deck you see in the right of the second and third shots is the narrow deck that runs across the width of the house. In the middle shot, below the small platform, you'll notice a stone step or two. There are eight of these steps leading down to a stone landing which is, itself, about 2 to 3 feet above the river at normal pool. So what you're seeing is about 8 to 9 feet of rise.
Scary, huh?
Here you can see the yard level; though hard to tell in the photo,
it's actually 8-10 in. above the water. Several times the
water has been high enough to come under
the platform where you see the rock.
Actually, this is not particularly high water—or maybe I should say it's not the highest the river regularly gets. Every year there's a rise or two that exceeds this point by a foot. Not high enough that all the grass you see in the bottom shot is underwater, but high enough that water an inch deep creeps under that wooden platform, and edges its way toward the main deck and my front door.
But…from what you see here, to the a point where water would actually be level with the bottom of my door would require about another two feet of rise. And inside the cottage, the door opens to a vestibule level that's 6–7 inches below the main floor level. So I do have some additional leeway.
This particular rise didn't result entirely from days of downpours—though Friday night and Saturday we did have several heavy rains. Rather, the problem was it came on the heels of a heavy snowmelt which had the river up the first of last week to one step below the point you see here. The water began to recede, and had gone down three or four feet when the rain arrived…which sent it right back up after a day's delay. There's usually a lag between the rain and the rise, since it doesn't matter how much falls here, rather how much falls miles to the northwest, upstream. I often never see a raindrop, yet have a two-foot rise the following day.
This stone cottage was built in 1919. Since that time, it has had water inside three or four times. So chances are, it will happen again…though conditions have to combine in just the right (or wrong!) order. Plus, the floor has been raised by that extra 6–7 inches, so that will help and might spell the difference. You do have to accept the potential of flooding if you choose to live so close to a river. I pay my flood insurance and figure I'll move such things as books, art, photos, computers, and my Steinway piano should the river decide to keep on coming; the rest is just stuff, entirely replaceable.
Nevertheless, do I worry? Not as much as you might think. Myladylove does, but she's not the risk taker and semi-fatalist (realist?) I am. I try and reassure her. Mostly, I talk to the river, pray about it some, too. I accept it for what it is—a river. A living bit of landscape that runs through my life. Beautiful almost all the time.
And always the one in charge…

Friday, March 12, 2010


A fog which formed and disappeared within the space of five
minutes a few evenings ago, right at dark
—hence the bluish light.
Since moving to this riverbank, I've become something of a fog connoisseur—that is, I've learned to recognize and appreciate fogs in all their diversity. I'm not just talking the difference between wispy-thin fogs and pea-soup-thick fogs, either. I mean a whole gamut—distinct, dissimilar, ranging in density, apparent color, height, and duration, to name just a few variables.
Does that surprise you, strike you as odd—the notion that not all fogs are alike?
At the most basic definition level, fog is simply a massing of tiny water droplets suspended in the air near the ground. Technically, the only difference between fog, mist, and haze is that fog is denser; the only difference between fog and a cloud is that fog is simply a cloud that touches the ground or, say, the tops of trees. Weather specialists differentiate between fog, mist, and haze on a scale of density based on visibility, plus the difference between mist and haze also compares relative humidity.
Dawn three mornings ago, looking up the hill
toward my neighbor's yard.
Yeah, I know, this scientific hair-splitting is about as interesting as watching eggs coddle. I'm not even going to mention such yawn-inducing matters as condensation nuclei, hygroscopic particles, or thermal radiation. Suffice it to say that most fogs, mists, hazes, and clouds form when the relative humidity is at or near 100 percent. Moisture (humidity) gets added to already damp air, or the air or water suddenly changes temperature—all this revolving around the dew point. Okay, no more weather jargon, I promise.
What I find interesting—and most enjoy—is the look of the fog/mist itself, and the way it changes my view of an otherwise familiar landscape. This has partly to do with how thick or thin the fog is, how high up from the ground or water it extends, and whatever light might happen to be shining through.
The island across from the cottage yesterday morning.
Some fogs are so dense it's like being surrounded by a soggy gray blanket. I can't see the island across from the cottage, and once or twice haven't been able to see the big box elder a dozen feet beyond the front door. Other, thinner fogs only lightly veil the world around. Still other fogs are so thick you think you could walk upon them, completely obliterating whatever is below—usually the surface of the river—yet are only two or three feet high…a puffy, silver-white carpet from bank to bank.
Midday a couple of days ago, when the river
was at it highest; it has since gone down.
Illumination is the real show-stopper. Fogs at dawn might be pink or gold, while those at dusk blue, purple, magenta. The fog might be snowy white, glowing spectrally, like a congregation of ghosts. Or pale yellow-green, like sickly protoplasm in an old 1950s horror flick. I've even seen fogs with swirls of color, caused, I suppose, by the rainbow-like prismatic effects of sunlight shining at the optimum angle through those suspended water droplets.
Some fogs take a long time to form or hang around half the morning; others appear and disappear within a matter of minutes.
Unpredictable, ethereal, spooky, ephemeral, mysterious, mesmerizing. I am indeed a fancier of fogs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I took this photo of Frank in the mid-1980s,
along one of our favorite smallmouth streams.
Frank would have loved this past week, as winter lost its icy grip, snow cover disappeared, and the first wildflowers began splashing bright color amid drab leaf litter along his beloved streambanks. "But don't call it spring just yet," he would have cautioned. Frank knew Ohio weather, having experienced nearly nine decades worth of changing seasons. He always claimed "the frog has to look through the ice twice," and said to not be surprised to see snow on the forsythia blooms before spring finally settled in for good.
I never quite understood the frog business, but I've witnessed numerous times when yellow forsythia blossoms received a mantle of white.
Yesterday marked the first anniversary of my old friend's passing.
Frank was always an early riser, eager to get a jump on the new day. It came as no surprised that he made his final journey well before dawn. As I sat by his bedside—just the two of us in that small room—holding his hand and saying what words of comfort I could, I remember a robin cut loose in the darkness beyond the nursing home's window—a sprightly melody of coming light and burgeoning season, a familiar vernal song Frank would have truly enjoyed. Even in the midst of casting to a productive bass pool, Frank would often pause to listen to a bit of birdsong.
We were best friends for nearly thirty years. I can't begin tell you the countless hours and adventures we shared—but I can tell you we enjoyed almost every moment. And even those times when serious matters brought us together, we found solace in each other's company. The wide gap in our ages didn't matter. Writing, books and bookstores, nature photography, meals shared at country cafés, and puttering along small streams with fly tackle or ultralight gear in search of smallmouth bass, were just a few of our common interests, part of the reason for our strong friendship bond. But most of all, we were kindred spirits…so close in so many ways that we could have been brothers.
Frank was, for most of his professional life, both a Baptist minister and a newspaperman—reporter, columnist, photographer, editor; not a career duo you encounter every day. He was also a serious outdoorsman, a good naturalist, and an expert stream angler.
More than anyone I ever met in regards to Christian living, Frank not only talked-the-talk but invariably walked-the-walk. He loved people, loved life, loved laughing and sharing and having a good time. He was quick-witted, intellectual, extremely well educated, with formidable depth in the classics—both prose and poetry. He never met a stranger, never touted the fact that he was a pastor, and did not want to be called "reverend"—though his theological credentials were staggering. It sometimes took folks well acquainted with him years to make the connection.
Seldom does a day go by that I don't think of my old pal—wish I could call him up, send him an e-mail, or drive out for a day-long visit. What would he say to the fact that one of his favorite streams now hosts eagles? Or that last fall I walked back to the secret pool we used to ply on another, smaller creek…and couldn't bring myself to make the first cast? I know he'd be hot to visit the used book store I recently discovered in a nearby Indiana village. And there's that little café up by Lake St. Marys which serves an all-you-can-eat perch dinner; Frank, a Swede to the bone, loved eating fish as much as he did catching 'em.
Frank taught me much. But most of all he taught me about courage and grace, about following your conscience and your heart, and about making the most of whatever life hands you. I will be in his debt forever. He is not forgotten.
[I've written two other posts—one a poem—about Frank…here and here.]

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Showers this morning, following a day of light rain yesterday. According to the long-range weather forecast, we'll have rain throughout the rest of the week and weekend. Not too much, I hope, since the river has already risen perhaps five feet from what it was last weekend, and is still coming up. This rise came as the fast-melting snow found it way into the upstream network of ditches and rivulets, brooks and small creeks, and eventually into the river which flows past my cottage—a stream which will carry and dump it into an even larger river, and thence into a third, and finally a fourth—the mighty Mississippi—which will take it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
I don't know why, but whenever I consider this network of streams which runs from the rich black farmland of northwestern Ohio to Louisiana's salty deltas, I'm always amazed to have such a front-row seat. Watersheds were our first highways—the arterial blood of a burgeoning nation; from canoe to flatboat to stern-wheeler, streams carried explorers, traders, families, goods. Most of our first towns were located adjacent to a river. Thinking about "my" river, I see not only the geographic connections, but also the historical.
One bit of good news is that our temperature today is supposed to hit a high of 64˚F…incredible considering not many mornings ago the thermometer read a numbing 16˚F when I went out to replenish the bird feeders at dawn. Moreover, the week's highs are suppose to remain at least in the 50s, which I suppose makes the rain more tolerable, though it doesn't do much for photography and taking walks.
Ahhh-h-h, but isn't spring's coming always about weather? Why should this year be any different?

Monday, March 8, 2010


Time. Heat. Light.
How simple the formula. And all produced by a few hours of March sunshine.
Yet with these three ingredients comes something wondrous—a splash of color amid the brown leaves that instantly fills the eyes and warms the heart. A flower! Specifically, a purple crocus striped with white. Not just any crocus, mind you, but The Crocus—the premier bloom, the initial flower, the awaited first of its kind of the year.
Whether it's a daffodil or crocus, or something else. It's the first! Is there any garden flower more welcome, more anticipated? Nope, not in my book. There may be yellow winter aconites blooming up the road. Or white snowdrops in a neighbor's rock garden. But this fledgling crocus is special because it is yours—planted by your hand, grown in your soil, a gleaming spring-bright child of your loving labors. A gift of natural magic.
A vernal blessing which gladdens your heart.

Friday, March 5, 2010


Nothing warms a winter-weary heart more than the first wildflowers of the new year—especially when those blooms are a jolly egg-yolk yellow, as bright and cheerful as a sudden burst of sunshine. Simple magic, perhaps, but I never fail to feel joyfully renewed when I make my first visit of the new year to a favorite patch of winter anconite and find them decorating their corner of the woods—often surrounded by snow.

That's the setting I found this time around when I walked the snow-covered trail back to their half-acre woodland hideout. I don't know their history—who planted them, or when the first handful of tiny bulbs were slipped gently into the rich woodland humus a stone's throw from the river. It must have been a long time ago, perhaps well before the end of the Nineteenth Century. I've known about this particular patch of winter anconites practically all my life. 

As a boy, I remember accompanying my father to this stretch of riverine woods when he made his earliest-of-the-season angling forays. It was much too early for dependable fishing, but Dad was tired of sitting at his basement workbench tying bass and panfish flies. Cabin fever could not be curtailed by common sense or the threat of frostbite. It was March by the calendar and any angler worthy of the name knew March was a "fishing" month. Excuse aplenty. The yellow flowers were always out when we made that initial trip.

Generally, winter anconites are not usually thought of as wildflowers. They're not natives, but rather naturalized from Asia Minor and Europe. Unlike, say, lesser celandine—another naturalized small yellow flower that's also a member of the buttercup family, which is practically taking over certain streambanks, to the detriment of native species—winter anconites are still found mostly in home gardens. I suspect the plants in this patch are the progeny of anconites planted by someone who had a home nearby—though I've never found any evidence of a farmstead—neither rotting timbers, rusty well pipe, scattered foundation stones, or even a depression in the leaf litter and briar tangles indicating an old cellar hole. 

This morning, the temperature was 16˚F when I fed the birds. It remained below freezing when I decided to take my walk. The ground, in many places, was still covered with snow. No matter. I was being stirred by the same urge that once brought my father out to investigate the seasonal progression. I left my own fly rod in the closet this time around; instead I carried only a camera. But the destination was as familiar as the sound of the cardinals in the thickets, and the purl of water over rocks.

When I rounded the bend I saw, between morning shadows and drifts of snow, patches of leaf-strewn brown earth now spangled with yellow. Ahhh-h! I couldn't help but smile. Somewhere inside a window opened and warm light began to flood my spirit.

Sunshine in the snow. What a gift! Winter anconites, planted long ago, by an unknown gardner, again proclaim the turning season—once more in yellow splendor they lift my heart and whisper their vernal message to my soul.

Thank you!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010


It is late, almost six o'clock on a cloudy winter's day. The light is noticeably fading, heading towards dusk which always comes early here in this hill-cupped valley, where the river cuts its slate-blue path and sycamores lean thoughtfully over restless water.

For the past half hour—long enough to eat a bowl of vegetable soup and drink most of a mug of coffee—I've been sitting in the main room, beside the cold hearth, watching the riffle and pool in front of the cottage and the woods on the island beyond. There are a dozen Canada geese cruising along the bank where the water is still. Big birds in formal-looking  black and white and gray attire. Every so often, amid much flapping of wings, they take to honking at one another, like disgruntled drivers caught in a traffic jam.

Just as I'm finishing my drink, a great blue heron comes sailing downstream, twenty feet above the river, and makes a hard right turn at the pool to sweep into island's thick timber. I see the big bird flap once, twice, then angle its glide-path up slightly to land atop a horizontal sycamore limb, exhibiting more lightness and grace than you'd think possible in such a gangly creature. 

Until I moved to this riverside cottage, I had no idea great blue herons spent so much time in trees. I'd visited heron rookeries during nesting time, and watched the great birds come winging into their high nests. Yet other than that, I'm not sure I'd ever noticed a heron in a tree as I wade-fished or float-tripped my way along countless streams. And believe me, I've spent far more time on the water than most folks—even serious angler-types. Now I've come to learn that herons sit in trees every day, sometimes for an hour or more at a stretch; they tree-perch throughout the year, through all seasons and weather; and they sit at all heights above the ground, not necessarily over the water—anywhere from 20 to 100 feet high.

I find this behavior puzzling. Are they simply resting? Taking a time-out for digestion? I have no idea. The herons don't appear to be watching anything, and they're certainly not keeping an eye the river and potential fishing holes. In fact, often when they perch in view of the stream, they sit with their backs to the water. So for now, I'll just chalk it up to up one more nature mystery, part of the growing list of things I don't know. 

But a good excuse to refill my mug and sit a tad longer…


Monday, March 1, 2010


The saga of the suet thief began about two months ago…
During my daily crack-of-dawn bird-feeding routine, along with topping off the two gallon-sized sunflower seed dispensers, and tossing out scoops of cracked corn for the ground feeders, I make sure the three wire cages I've hung from various trees around the cottage each has at least a portion of suet cake inside for the woodpeckers and others who prefer to their meals to come packed in cholesterol. Even with several daily visits from the pileateds, plus multiple downies, hairies, red-bellieds, and flickers, the trio of suet squares usually lasts three or four days—often longer if the dratted starlings take their rowdy pillages elsewhere.
I buy these suet cakes by the carton, on sale, and thus keep their cost down to a fairly reasonable 65-70¢ each. No, I agree—even then, the cost isn't cheap—not to a frugal Irishman who believes wholeheartedly that money saved is even better than money earned because you don't have to pay taxes on it. It is a measure of my chronic woodpecker infatuation that I regularly peel a few dank bills from the moldy wad in the old Mason canning jar I keep buried beside the rose bush, and fork them over with barely a whimper to the shopkeeper at the hardware store where I buy my avian victuals.
Imagine then how apoplectic I became when those hard-bought suet cakes started disappearing almost nightly! Egads! I screamed to the rising sun…I've been robbed!
And so the battle began.
I've been waging my side of the ongoing campaign with an unseen foe, though I had my suspicions regarding the identity of this nefarious bandit, a thief-in-the-night who prowls by moon and starlight and is brazen, clever, and lucky. Still, I didn't want to malign the whole race; just the dastardly four-legged, ring-tailed individual plunderer.
Some nights I lost only a single cake; other nights it was two.
I began counter measures. At irregular intervals I would make impromptu checks. From barely dark to sometime after midnight, while watching a T.V. show, reading a book, or just sitting by the fireside, I would leap up, grab a flashlight, and dash out the door—hoping to catch the flea-bitten furball in the act. I'd scrutinize feeders, trees, and all surrounding hideouts. Moon the dog would sniff and snuffle, wag, occasionally bark, peer under the deck, scratch, mark a few sites, and give me her verdict…Nope, ain't nothing here, boss.
The insult-to-injury part was that sometimes, between checks, a suet block would be pilfered. Or I'd go to bed with three intact and wake up with only only one left, and it about three-quarters consumed.
Two whole dollars, gone, ka-poof! In a single night! Why, if I were going to be this wasteful of money, I might as well start going to Starbucks and paying $37 for a cup of their gussied-up coffee!
On top of losing suet blocks, I regularly had to employ a long pole to untangle and retrieve the cages and their chains from the high branch where they'd been placed while the hungry thief ate. The hairy freebooter apparently lifted the cage up hand-over-hand, wrapped the chain around a limb, pried the box flap open, and dinned safe, secure, and at leisure. Sometimes I had to drag out the ladder to be able to reach high enough to free the mess.
Then the bugger stole both block and cage! The whole shebang…gone! I looked high and low—well, Moon did much of the really low looking, since the ground was muddy and/or snow covered, and I have a bad back. But the cage had disappeared without a trace.
So I weighted the cages. Apparently this particular animal is the Samson of his clan. Even with a fair-sized rock tied underneath, the cages still ended up in the trees—flaps open, suet missing, chain wrapped around the limb. I had to be careful poking with the pole to keep from knocking the rock weight loose and braining myself senseless.
Short of tying a concrete block underneath, which I thought both aesthetically unsightly, and possibly encouraging to the squirrels to take up some embarrassing form of pole dancing, the only sure way to protect my suet investment was remove the filled cages from their hangers nightly, and store them in the metal trash cans with the sunflower seeds and cracked corn.
This has worked, though it has been a pain in the behind—taking 'em down and putting 'em back up come morning…plus I occasionally forget. The suet thief never forgets. If I leave the blocks out, I lose one or two. (Nope, still haven't found or replaced that missing cage.)
Today, though, I believe I finally caught sight of my opponent. Even managed a quick snapshot, er, mugshot. As coons go, this one is pretty scrawny. I would have felt better about things if he would have been the size of a wolverine or small bear; I hate to think such a wimpish example of Ohio coon-hood could be the culprit, but the swaggering little raccoon showed every sign of being totally familiar with the deck, food storage bins, and layout of the various feeders.
I have no doubt this is the actual perpetrator.
So what did I do? Well, besides watching him make his rounds, nothing. Moon, of course, wanted to get up close and personal. I told her discretion is sometimes the wiser form of valor. I'm not saying that 8-pound coon could have whipped my 60-pound dog…though I've had enough experience with treed and cornered raccoons to know the fight would likely have ended with bloodshed all around. But seeing as how raccoons are notorious carriers of rabies, and even though Moon has had her rabies shot, I didn't want to take the chance.
Besides, this fellow looked gaunt if not starved, and was doubtless driven out and about during the cold of the winter's day by hunger. I've been hungry before myself, wondered about my next meal—so I have some understanding. Frankly, I just didn't have the heart to take more severe measures. We'll continue to conduct our nightly skirmishes—I'll try to remember to put the suet in safekeeping overnight, and Mr. Raccoon will keep checking up on my memory.
And from time to time, I'll expect toss a few extra scraps his way.