Three years ago, I asked for a bird feeder for Mother’s Day. My first, time-intensive, agonizing identification was of a Black-capped Chickadee. If only I had first read the field guide books, which all agree that the likely first enthusiastic customer on a new backyard feeder will be the cheerful Black-capped Chickadee. I’ve since identified 25 bird species in my backyard, and the Black-capped Chickadee is one of the few whose name makes any kind of sense. It wears a rakish black beret, perfect for any basement poetry reading, and natters on throughout the day, “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee-dee,” sometimes commenting with goodwill, sometimes scolding with irritation, but always with its charming, “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” If only my adolescent were so endearing with his constant repetition of, “Can we have pizza? Can we have pizza? Can we have pizza?”
Birds, I learned to my horror, were named by white men who shot them dead and noted the defining details of corpses. John James Audubon might shoot hundreds of birds for the sake of one drawing. A Ring-necked Duck’s neck ring might be obvious from close-up observation of a stationary object, but in the cold, wet field, from a distance, on a moving target, it’s a Ring-billed Duck, for heaven’s sake. Duh. I am not the first to note this, I now see in some field guides, so we are all in agreement: let’s get rid of these stupid names and start over.Read More »
When the best moments are after you miss the turn to head home.
I sat in an Othello High School hallway, eating my sandwich at the 20th Annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival. The Owl Lecture room was standing room only, so I found myself in familiar territory—flash back to eating lunch by myself in high school about forty years ago.
I had no adolescent feeling of exclusion, though I lapsed into the same behavior I did back then: eavesdropping on the popular kids.Read More »
It’s that time of year again, when the makers of trifold boards once again rack up enough dollars to fund their annual cruises to the Bahamas. What a scam. Our underfunded schools must be in cahoots with the manufacturers and receive a kickback for every board sold. Try as I might, I couldn’t get last year’s trifold exhibit returned in order to reuse it for this year’s project. Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Little Man never remembered to bring it home despite my nagging. (You think?)Read More »
When the Little Man moved in with us at just barely six years old, he’d eaten only at Denny’s and McDonald’s for the previous month. I assumed Denny’s for breakfast and McDonald’s for dinner, but it turns out it was the other way around: orange juice and a large cookie at McD’s for breakfast, fries and a burger at Denny’s for dinner. He had full access to soda, candy, and cable TV throughout the night.
The month before he moved in, I ate my daily favorite: brown rice, cooked greens, and tofu.
I had no idea that our state has native swans, until a year ago when the Little Man and I drove north for the Snow Goose Festival. Silly me, I thought the day would be about geese, but hopefully not about snow. LM thought the day would be about eating out for lunch.
I thought swans were for castle moats, fairy tales, and ballet.
I might not have known about the swans because for a long while there weren’t very many. Less than 100 breeding Trumpeter Swans remained by the early 1900s, due to overhunting. Factor in DDT and lead ammunition, and things looked more grim for our native swans than for a ballerina who’d eaten Big Macs all winter.Read More »
John James Audubon was quite the artist, managing to draw all those birds in exquisite detail after maddeningly brief glimpses of flitting creatures so like my almost-thirteen-year-old son: They. Will. Not. Sit. Still. Since halfheartedly taking up birding, which the Little Monkey then shanghaied from me and ran with like a roadrunner on acid, my estimation of Audubon’s skills grew, unlike my birding skills.
But turns out that while modern birders have digital cameras that shoot off hundreds of frames in an instant, Audubon had a gun, and he shot a few hundred birds dead for each of his drawings.
While this morbid discovery was distasteful for this lapsed vegetarian who cannot eat chicken on the bone, I understood that mores have changed: Audubon was a man of his time, in which human life was superior to other life forms, especially when it came to watercolors. But why not, say, five dead birds for each drawing? Or twenty? Why hundreds? Because he wanted the perfect specimen. Now when I look at his drawings, I also see a heap of feathered corpses.
But standing on a high, dusty ridge in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by torpid windmills that could not bring themselves to move in the near 100-degree heat, neck craned back to get a bead on a circling hawk to determine if it was a Rough-Tailed or another hawk, all of which look identical to me, I myself felt the urge to just shoot the fucking thing out of the sky so we could identify the carcass and get the hell back to paved roads and air-conditioning.Read More »
Okay, so then there’s the part about coming across the Dying Baby Bird on the Ground on our walk the next morning. The Dying Baby Bird on the Ground took an hour of parental problem-solving, reasoning, comforting, and bull-shitting (the parents won’t come to help it until we leave) before we could finally get a move-on as the relatively cool morning 85-degree temp crept up toward the triple-digits.
Then there was my having to pee on that same walk, and asking occasional passersby how far to the bathroom; the answers varied widely, and the bathroom got no closer. One gentleman jogger answered me in Spanish, so I queried him about “el bano?” He replied in Spanish and hand gestures, and I nodded, comprehending most of what he said, based on high school Spanish and the super powers one attains when having to pee very badly. I replied, “Gracias.”
The Little Monkey gave me a High Five, Mom! for being bilingual.Read More »
I drive the Little Monkey from Seattle across Lake Washington to Bellevue for biweekly counseling, a drive I avoided for all of my previous 20 pre-motherhood years in Seattle. If a friend moved across the lake? Sayonara. I’d mail postcards. They might as well have moved to Tokyo for all they were likely to see me in their new neighborhood. Ballard to Bellevue consists of three freeway merges and, not long ago, a shift in consciousness akin to Appalachia to Manhattan. Others tackle this west-to-east journey daily to work at Microsoft or shop at the upscale Bellevue Mall, but while I managed to tolerate traveling from the Pacific to Atlantic Oceans and back on the back of a too-small motorcycle, I eschewed this epic psychological journey. Not only was there the matter of traffic (I laugh now at my notions of “traffic” 25 years ago): there were the little matters that, in the not too distant past, one of the lake’s two bridges sank, and the other raised its drawspan while cars were still crossing.
As if the drive across the floating bridge isn’t traumatic enough, LM’s therapist practices what I call “aversion therapy.” He tells stories about the misdeeds his other young clients have been up to, which have led to the ruin and devastation of themselves and their families. One family could have put their kid through college on what they spent on court costs, all for naught: the stepdad then dumped the boy’s mom, and the stepdad lost custody of his own biological children. Because of this teenage boy, the family was fractured and bankrupt, utterly and totally. I pictured the boy and his mom in a basement studio apartment eating TV dinners. How could the mother go on with nurturing and unconditional love while eating her tiny compartment of apple pie after polishing off a spindly fried drumstick?Read More »