Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Bird Story (relax, it’s the last one. . . I think)

The official bird of Alberta is the Great Horned Owl. This is a photo of a mother who had made her nest in the hollow of a large dead cottonwood. Year after year, she’d return to her nest to raise her chicks, usually one. I’m told that one year though, she hatched three and kept all alive until they could fly from the nest. The following year however, there was only one owlet, a fluff ball with eyes. Fascinated, I kept an eye on the little one as it kept traveling along the top branch, back and forth, apparently careful not to venture too far while mom kept watch over her offspring.

One day I did not see the owlet and thought that it had fled the nest until no less than 5 adult owls gathered on nearby trees kept hooting in alarm. I carefully approached the dead tree and peered over the bush. There it was! It had fallen and could not be helped as the surrounding rose bushes were too dense for an adult owl to land and too thorny for a human to attempt rescuing it. The owlet looked helpless and I decided that I would call the Wild Bird Rescue organization if, in an hour or so, the owlet was still on the ground.

But this little chick was a survivor. It remained motionless for some very tense minutes while the adults kept hooting. The trunk of the dead tree was impossible to climb and obviously the owlet could not fly as yet. However, next to the dead tree was a more accessible and slimmer one. The smart owlet picked that one to painstakingly make its way up, mom standing guard over its progress. Using its talons on the smoother bark, it moved up toward the next branch, resting for a while as it reached it, until hours later, it had successfully made it to the top branch and to mom. And there it remained, the nest now unreachable yet just a couple of feet away. This photo of mom on the tree next to the nest was taken under very overcast skies.

A few weeks later, both were gone. The following year, the dead tree fell to the ground.

I haven’t heard any owl hooting this year.

More about Birds

With spring warmth and sunshine, suddenly the air is filled with bird calls and songs. Yesterday, it seemed as if a piece of the sky had just landed in front of my RV; a gorgeous Mountain Bluebird. You can see it and hear its call, not exactly melodious I must add, at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mountain_Bluebird/sounds

I had noticed a pair last year so I suppose they return to old nests. Red-Tail Hawks glide ever so graceful on warm air drafts, not a single feather fluttering. In the nearby field Northern Harriers watch over their nest and swoop down on any interloper. Hmm, that would be Queenie. She remains unflappable under these threats, too intent on diving head first into gopher holes.

I spent a few days at a wilderness park determined to identify birds and their sounds. It’s neither easy nor obvious. One was particularly intriguing; a bubbling sound like that of someone softly blowing into a liquid with a straw. Thanks to Google, I found a site that identified various bird calls and songs, and learned that the Brown-headed Cowbird was the culprit. Neither pretty nor very nice, this bird leaves its eggs in other birds’ nest to have them foster parent its young. But it does make a lovely sound. Check it out at http://www.learnbirdsongs.com/birdsong.php?id=22

Another sound was that of the Gray Catbird. Very elusive, it favours dense foliage and is but a blur when it flies into even denser foliage. A couple of years ago, I kept searching for what I thought was an abandoned kitten when I heard a mew in the bush. I had already rescued a couple of cats dropped by their owners so my reaction was natural. Finally, I realized there was no cat when immediately after the mew, I saw a gray bird swiftly emerging from the foliage and flying away. You can see it and hear it at: http://allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray_Catbird/sounds .

At the site, you’ll have to scroll down a bit to hear the mew sound posted just below the song. I’m afraid that this will conclude my attempts at identifying birds by their call. It proved to be too confusing, except for catbirds, mourning doves, owls, and brown-headed cowbirds.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

An Aside about Posts

This is just an aside about publishing. My source of electricity consists of solar panels and an inverter. I also have a generator but I find it noisy, which deters me from reflecting and writing. Moreover, I do not frequent RV parks. So, whenever the days are seriously overcast, as they have been for way too long, my batteries do not get completely charged. Since I have a PC, not a laptop, it must be plugged into a source of electrical power; it is a load my batteries cannot take for too long. Hence my inability to publish.

I do love to stay in contact and apologize for being so long away from my blog. Here's to hoping that spring is finally here! And sunshine! And warmth!

Memories of Oregon. . . Revisited

The weather has been awful with rain, freezing temperatures, and hail. No choice but to stay inside warm and toasty. So, in preparation of posts about Travels with Shermie, I’ve been reading my travel journals and got a shock, not a surprise but a shock! Do we have selective memory and recall only the good times? It seems as if we shrug away sombre memories relegating them to a foggy zone over which only bright images are superimposed and spring to mind as we recall days gone by.

The travels that I recall with fondness are not reflected in my diaries! For instance, that day in Oregon when the most amazing double rainbow graced the sky; that memory is indelibly etched in my mind. The rain droplets shone like so many diamonds on the tree leaves, on the grass, even on the picnic table. And I took it as a good omen. Yet my journals report only the rain pelting down, the gray, almost black skies, the cold seeping through every pore of my body. And the mud.

In my mind’s eye appear my two dogs, Buddy the tall red Doberman, and Mandi the small dirty blonde Lhasapoo, playing ecstatically on the tall dunes of the beach, having the time of their life. Yet my journal notes are about the German tourists who exclaimed, “Tiere?” (animals?) as they watched the dogs exit Shermie, then queried me about traveling alone, astonishment slowly giving way to clear disapproval as they shook their head, silently walking away from the van.

I have to ask myself, was I naively oblivious to the realities of traveling alone given the uncertainties of the road and the definite restrictions of a shoestring budget? My answer to this is “Hope springs eternal…”, as declared in Alexander Pope’s poem. It’s been so often repeated that it’s risking a cliché. But there has to be a bit of truth to all those truisms, otherwise they wouldn’t be used again and again to immediately conjure up an image in everyone’s mind.

I may have recorded the mishaps, yet my memories are of fellow travelers’ generosity of spirit and help in dire circumstances. And creativity, ingenuousness in my making do without the big bucks. So, yes, I do revisit memories. Just as I’m sure everyone does or else we would never dare embark on adventures that in the end, will have fostered personal growth and made life worth living. The tragedy is not in the dying, but in the dying without having truly lived.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Introducing Shermie

When I was young, I had a dream of retiring at age 55 and begin traveling along the Atlantic Coast from the Canadian Maritimes down through the US to Mexico, Central America, and all the way south to Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of Argentina. I would then return northward along the Pacific Coast all the way up to Alaska and end up wherever I’d decide once the journey was over. The dream did not materialize but a 1974 VW Westfalia did (Yosemite Yellow, as I recall, which isn’t too hard). It had a popup top over a king size mattress. It was equipped with a mini-closet, a mini-sink, a mini-stove, a mini-fridge, and a mini-table top. My first home on wheels!

Delighted with the possibilities, I thought that I could morph the old dream into a more attainable goal, taking into account my finances, or lack thereof. But first I had to fix the van, both mechanically and aesthetically. The running bottom on the sides had deteriorated and was pitted from rust and other assaults on the body. A friend offered to cover it all with sheet metal affixed to the still solid sides of the body with pop rivets. It sounded like a splendid idea. I bought the material and he got to work as soon as the van was out of the shop.

The project completed, he drove the van back to my place and proudly showed off his handy work, suggesting that I spray paint it whatever color I wanted (black) after a coat of primer. My first reaction was, “...my goodness, it looks like a Sherman tank!” The name was so fitting that it remained, abbreviated to Shermie. Ready at last, I began planning my first long road trek, delighted to finally put to rest my wandering soul.

Or so I thought. . .

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wild Rose Country

This caption appears on all Alberta license plates. It is a well-deserved one. For my part, I have yet to understand the proliferation of these blooms in a climate that is both harsh and cold in the winter, hot and dry in the summer, and too often lacking in precipitation.

I am watching with fascination the return to life of the wild roses, almost as if they were doomed never to green up and bloom again. Right now, the wind is fierce and cold, despite valiant efforts from the sun to create a more spring-like environment. The trees are raising bare skeletal branches to the sky, probably in supplication as I am for a Real Spring. One must approach really close to them to detect tiny buds that look as if they were shivering, attempting to hide from the arctic wind.

How such a climate can foster the profusion of wild roses is a mystery to me. However, once the blooms appear, they appear everywhere. I took a photo of the most improbable rose bush at a disaffected road end. It had made a home for itself in a hole that used to hold a guard post, right in the middle of the pavement!

Which proves my contention that, despite all that we humans do to deface our beautiful planet, this Earth Mother’s dedication to life rushes in to restore beauty every little chance she gets.

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