Wednesday, January 23, 2013


They're there every morning—chickadees, titmice, cardinals, doves—hunched on scattered perches near the door close to the suspended seed feeders, feathers fluffed against the cold, waiting for me to come and toss out a few breakfast scoops of cracked corn.

Mindful of their patience as well as their need, I take my benefactor role seriously. It is, after all, quite possibly the responsibility of life or death. And yet no one seems upset when I'm a bit tardy, as if their waiting doesn't matter—as if they know I'll come sooner or later, in time, to supply their needs.

Is this an act of faith or resignation? A stoic example of casting one's fate to chance, or some rudimentary belief that providence in the form of that scruffy fellow who fed them yesterday will do the same today?

I don't know. I only know they're always there, waiting…

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


It was 5˚F when Moon-the-Dog and I went outside this morning. We both paused at the edge of the deck. Moon sniffed the deep-chilled air, looked back at me appreciatively, and went snuffling off to check things out under the cedars. Of course she has a warm fur coat. I had on thin sweat pants, a tee-shirt, and house slippers—and let's just say it didn't take me long to shoot a couple of photos, toss out a few scoops of cracked corn for the ground feeders, and make a hasty retreat back inside to wait at the entryway window for my old pooch and not risk frostbite.

Yup, it was cold out there. But not cold enough to freeze the river…at least not yet.

Since moving here to this riverbank cottage, I've become something of an expert at ice watching. When and where ice along the river forms, and how quickly, reflects many factors—water conditions including current speed and pool level, weather before the cold arrived, how long the current cold spell has endured, how cold it has been during the days and especially the nights, and such things as wind, amount of sunshine, and cloud cover.

The weather has been cold and geting progressively colder over the past several days and nights; the coldest temperatures we've seen all season. Yet only now has ice begun forming along the edges of the banks, atop the slower pools, and capping a few rocks in the big riffle. The ice-sheathes will continue to grow throughout the coming week, as temperatures are predicted to remain several degrees below freezing throughout. But any freeze substantial enough to form ice from bank-to-bank across the river's slowest stretch will have to work at it to get the job done, and it's certainly not going to happen overnight.

I will be watching. 

Monday, January 21, 2013


Twilight. The last of the day is fading fast, and the birds are busy at the feeders getting in their final bites before heading off to seek a safe night roost. A male house finch sits on a nearby branch, awaiting his turn—his head and rear back feathers glowing crimson in the dimming light. A delicate living jewel.

A lot of folks hereabouts don't think much of this fellow and his kind. After all, he isn't one of us. Nope. They're a western species which spread east; a sort of native invader. I saw my first one in the early-1970s. It was springtime, the world was fragrantly a'bloom and love was in the air. I was heading into a used bookstore in Cincinnati when a boisterous bit of unfamiliar avian music stopped me in my tracks. The singer was perched a dozen feet away, in the top of a pink flowering crab. Even then, I think I was captivated—by the male's bright red markings as much as its song.

How can you not like such an exquisite little bird?

Tonight's low is supposed to bottom out at 3˚F. Seriously cold. How will this tiny bird survive? That they somehow manage, along with all the other birds which choose to spend their winters here in this southwest corner of Ohio, is nothing short of a miracle…or so it seems to me. I've spent my own bitter winter nights outdoors, hunkered in wooded hollows and under rocky cliffs, often as not shivering in my fancy sleeping bag. Cold kills if you're not prepared. Is this precious finch prepared? Can he find shelter from the wind? Has he eaten enough sunflower seeds to keep him warm through the cold, cold darkness?

Yeah, I know…in my dotage, I'm doubtless turning into a worrying old woman.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Today is an unseasonable wealth of bright sun and clear blue sky, with a predicted high of 48˚F! An amazing temperature for this time of year during a typical Ohio winter…though I'm becoming increasingly convinced that "typical" is a word which may have outlived it's usefulness when it comes to accurately describing seasons and weather. 

What's typical anymore? This winter, like last year's version, is anything but typical. Is untypical now the typical?

Hey, I'm not the only one confused.

Daffodils are coming up all around the cottage. In the yard of my neighbor on the hill the ground is awash with patches of white snowdrops and yellow aconites—and both have already been blooming at her place for at least a couple of weeks! More than a month ahead of their typical schedule.

A January thaw is one thing, this is something else. It really hasn't been all that cold since winter began—though that's soon going to change somewhat. Tomorrow's high will only reach 28˚F, and by Tuesday the high temp is predicted at 12˚F. That is cold, at least relatively speaking—though again, during a typical Buckeye winter, we'd already have been there and done that several times, and by now, probably seen a few days with highs below zero; 12˚ above might have constituted a warming trend.

Of course winter isn't over. But no matter what the weather does from here on out, the shaggy white beast of winter has already lost its bite.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


At the bottom of my letterhead there's this tagline: "When the going gets tough…the tough go fishing."

Sometimes the tough-going is the fishing. Especially when it's the middle of winter, the river is eight feet high and muddy, and you're a hungry great blue heron looking for a way to catch your next meal and without getting accidentially swept away by the strong current.

The answer? You flap over to a certain outdoor scribbler's yard and skulk along the edge of his usually too-high bank which just now happens to be perfectly convenient for allowing a long-necked bird to stab anything that looks edible in the water's edge. Plus you get to keep your feet dry!

Hey, all good fishermen are resourceful…

Lemmie see…I think this is the path to the water.
Okay, gotta be really sneaky now, don't want
them dadgum minnows to spook.

Here fishy fishy fishy…here fishy fishy fishy…here fishy fishy fishy…


Monday, January 14, 2013


"How's the writing going?" my friendly editor asked.

"It would be going better," I said, "if there weren't so many distractions."

"Distractions?" she exclaimed. "It's the middle of winter! You live on a riverbank surrounded by nature. What could possibly be distracting?"

"Oh," I said vaguely, "you know how it is—there's always distracting stuff…."

I didn't tell her, but at that very moment one of those regular distractions was hunched on the nearby window-ledge giving me the doofus-eye between bites of pilfered sunflower seeds. Nor did I admit that, most of the time, the only way I'd been able to hold my train of thought sufficiently to manage our conversation, was to swivel the chair around and keep my back to the window.  

Yes, I am greatly blessed. I live in a lovely place; while the cottage is small, and in need of many repairs…the setting is idyllic. I am, as she put it, "surrounded by nature." And a lot of that "nature" wears fur or feathers and does all sorts of interesting things within ready view from my deskside window. Occasionally, it even comes a'callin'.

Like the fuzzy-eared varmint whose photo appears above. He or one of his brethren. They clamber up the stone exterior wall, hop over to the big seed feeder suspended under the eave and settle there chomping away at the free eats. Or alternately hang upside-down by their hind feet and swing back and forth as they stuff-and-chew.

Sometimes they fill their cheek pouch with seeds and come down to dine on the window-ledge—comfortably situated approximately three feet from my keyboard. A for-sure bushy-tailed distraction. And between bouts of gnawing at the stash of filched sunflower seeds, they'll regularly pause and stare inside—rather judgementally, I've decided, since their glare seems to criticize, as if they've caught me slacking off when I ought to be attending to my work. 

Well, I would be working if you weren't distracting me!

I try to keep my head down, attention fixed on the screen, ignoring my peripheral vision. The attention-demanding squirrel subsequently resorts to scratching and thumping and nosing at the window pane like a portly hayseed version of Poe's raven. 

From time to time I'll hear them make that low, guttural sound which is the squirrel version of a proprietary warning growl. Naturally, I'm compelled to look up. And I usually see the vocal threat had been issued because the seed horde currently claimed as the window-diner's territory, is being tested by an interloper scrounging their own meal.

Yup, distractions abound. I won't even get into birds and their antics. Nor mention the river and the things that go floating down or swimming up. Or discuss the play of sunlight on the sycamores. Falling rain or snow. Or simply the look of the seasons.

Nope. Take it from me, for us outdoor types, such a paradise can be distracting—wonderfully, constantly distracting. And a writer must make a choice—either become its hapless victim or an obliging, enthusiastic, and shameless devotee. 

No need to tell you where I stand…right?   

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Life is made up of moments. 

The right moment can define and change us for all the years to come. A moment can give joy, laughter, hope, deliver insight, introduce love. 

A moment can make our life…or break it.

The wrong moment can destroy us, allow egregious damage, set us upon a faulty path, or end our life in an instant. 

Most moments, of course, aren't nearly so monumental. In fact, most moments come and go leaving us blithely unaware of their passing. Which may be a good thing. But every once in a while you experience a moment which—while not earth-shattering—enriches and uplifts your day.

I had such a moment yesterday evening on the way back from the grocery. I'd detoured to drive past a swath of prairie which I hadn't seen for a couple of months. Maybe, I thought, I could make a picture or two of big bluestem against the melting snow. But by the time I arrived, it was all but dark. Too dark for my intended photography. 

Then I heard their cries and looked up. Geese! A ragged, weaving string of them, winging across a painted sky. I framed, focused, shot. And then I watched…watched until the two-dozen or so big Canadas disappeared from view beyond a low hill. It didn't take long, only a moment—but it was the best moment I had all day.      

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The hungry Cooper's hawk just made a sudden breakfasting recon pass through the yard, doubtless hoping to surprise a tasty sparrow or chickadee. Unfortunately for the hawk, all potential victims scattered safely—no one zigged when they should have zagged—so the frustrated Cooper's ended up landing on a nearby limb where it began preening vehemently while casting evil stares to every quadrant.   

I had my own breakfast several hours ago, without any attendant stalking or drama, and have already finished all necessary desk work—meaning the remainder of the day is mine to do with as I please. Not that my chore and errand list is free and clear, mind you. There's always plenty "to do" stuff pending. But at least I'll be able to get out and about, and if the weather cooperates, maybe even take a photo ramble.

At the moment it's dark with a heavy overcast, though partial sun is predicted for later on. Already the outside temperature is up to 40˚F, and the eaves are dripping. Most of the snow cover should be gone by day's end. The down side is that trails will be sloppy, so I'll have to limit my investigations to places I can explore without getting too muddy. 

Or maybe I'll just do the grocery shopping, make a book run to the library, stop by the hardware for some bird seed, and afterwards take a long country drive…perhaps to that little rural café 30 miles northwest of here where they still fix real cheeseburgers and onion rings and chocolate malts. Too bad I can't treat that Cooper's hawk to lunch.    

Monday, January 7, 2013


Today has already been a busy one. I got up long before dawn cracked. Showered, shaved, dressed. Fixed coffee, tea, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs for Myladylove and I. Took Moon-the-Dog out for a while. Ran an errand to a business in nearby village. Then drove twenty-some miles across town to a dental appointent where I spent 2-1/2 hours in the chair having an old filling on a wisdom tooth repaired.

Once back on this side of the city, I took the long way home—through a bit of rural landscape north of here which I always enjoy checking out. Then I fixed lunch…at 3:00.p.m.

There wasn't much stirring out in the country, even though today has been bright with sun and the temperature rose to a degree or two above freezing. The ground is still thickly covered with snow—now wet snow—and other than a few birds and foraging squirrels, everyone else seems to be staying in. 

I saw a flock of bluebirds flitting along the edge of a meadow up the road, but couldn't get close enough for a photo. However, I did manage a very mediocre shot of a redtail hawk who came sailing out from the timber and across the same meadow a moment later, possibly on the trail of those bluebirds. But my favorite image of the dozen or so I made is the one above—special only because I like the dynamics of the white-barked sycamores against that blue, blue sky. Dazzling, huh?         

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Like all photographers, I have my dreams…one of which is making a great shot of a chickadee. Trust me, I haven't set the bar too high. I'm not looking for the spectacular—just a modestly good image. Merely a picture of a chickadee—Carolina or black-capped, we have both here and either will do—sitting on a limb, in nice light, with every feather sharp and showing detail, plus a catchlight in the eyes. 

That's my chickadee dream. A quintessential image. Something not all that different than shots I've taken of cardinals and bluejays and red-bellied woodpeckers. I see such photos on other blogs all the time. Sometimes I look at them and mutter enviously. I'm a reasonably competent photographer. I have more than adequate gear. I know how to compensate for various light. And Lord knows, chickadees are neither shy nor uncommon—so it can't be lack of opportunity.  

Fine. Then what's the problem? 

Luck? Karma? Some self-blocking conflict of inner psychological turmoil stemming from a youthful nightmare involving chickadees and the bogeyman? I flat don't know. I've made dozens of photo attempts, perhaps hundreds. And I've come close…but close, as they say, only counts in hand-grenades and horseshoes. The photo at the top of this post certainly doesn't qualify. In fact, when I came upon it while sorting through my latest endeavors, I almost gave it the ol' delete click for banishment into digital purgatory. But then I thought…hey, this kinda sums up my chickadee dreams frustrations.     

Friday, January 4, 2013


The temperature earlier was 19˚F when I jockeyed the trash barrel up hill to the roadside. That's -7.2˚ for those of you who think in Celsius terms. Cold either way…though not as cold as it's been recently. Wednesday's reading at about the same time in the morning was 11˚F (-11.6˚C) and yesterday's 15˚F (-9.4˚C). So I guess you could say we're on a warming trend.

I'm not complaining. The sky was clear, and the air still, lacking even a hint of breeze. I dunno about you, but I'll take cold, dry and windless to damp, blowing and barely freezing every time. It's the latter which invariably chills me to the bone; pure cold—at least down to thirty degrees below where things stand now—is, to me, not at all uncomfortable. But then, I like winter—and what fun would winter be without cold and snow?

Now, to business—which starts with a confession: this ought to be my fourth post of the new year. That was my intention when 2013 began…post something—if only a photo and brief caption, or a diary-like entry—every day. It wasn't a resolution, mind you. I know myself too well—especially my track record at keeping resolutions—to have gone quite that far in setting such goals and making promises, even if I never told a single other soul. 

No, I figured I'd mess up sooner or later due to work, travel, health, technical difficulties, inertia, or recidivistic laziness. I just didn't expect to mess up the second day out of the gate…and follow that up with a blank on the third.
View from my deskside window

My excuse for Wednesday is that I spent the entire day at my desk working on columns—from 8:30 a.m. until a few minutes after midnight, with a half-hour break for lunch at 2:30 p.m., an hour off to have supper with Myladylove once she got in around 7:00 p.m., and various briefer interruptions throughout the day and evening to answer comments from Tuesday's post, take a phone call or two, and stare ruminatively—and/or bewilderedly—out the window.

And yesterday? Well, Myladyove had the day off, so we finished up multiple post-holiday chores around the house, rearranged the great room, installed the final piece of interior trim on the entryway, and pretty much stayed at our task list from the time we got up until time to go to bed. Meals were either warmed leftovers or, in the case of supper, slices of cheese, apples, and salami. I checked my e-mail and answered one comment just after 11:00 p.m. last night—which was the only time I fired up the computer.

I'd like to think this abysmal start isn't indicative of things to come. Surely I can do at least somewhat better! Though I'm also aware of the depressingly insightful wisdom of that observation from Pogo: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Time, I guess, will tell. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


Today we begin anew the circular journey around a year. The trail is both familiar and unexplored. For while no two years are ever alike, there are many recognizable sights and sounds—many experiences which, to quote the wonderful Yogi Berra, will be like déjà vu all over again. But in truth, the 365 days ahead are mostly mystery. We just like to fool ourselves into thinking we know what we'll find along the way.

To make the round of the year is to travel again through the four seasons. Here, too, we like to think we have them pegged, know what to expect. And sometimes we do. But sometimes, the seasons make our suppositions appear foolish. For the seasons are really about weather—and weather is about as unpredictable as anything even a reckless gambler could choose to wager money on. 

Will this winter be cold and snowy? Will spring come early or late? Will the summer be dry? How about next fall's color—prime or only so-so? You tell me, because I sure don't know, and I've made this year around trek an astonishing number of times for a kid who no one thought would live to see twenty. Yup, been there, done that, a bunch of times, and paid pretty good attention at least most of the time along the way…and I still don't what tomorrow will bring, let alone mid-July.

Frankly, I wouldn't want to know. There's comfort in ignorance, and room for the excitement of possibilities. Life is worthwhile because of its potential for adventure. Mystery is a good thing; often a blessing. 

I'm happy to just take it step-by-step. Let the journey begin!