Schnitzel

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We found Schnitzel resting on a bunch of spidergrass in the front yard. Throughout the day there had been a racket of noise coming from that corner of our front porch (there are starling nests all over the place) so I wasn’t surprised to discover our little starling had fallen/jumped/been pushed out. He is at an in-between stage where he’s too young to be on his own but old enough to only need a little more help before he’s flying off into the world.

A friend from Springfield, Missouri was staying over last night on a work trip and has fostered all kinds of  baby birds successfully. She gave us some tips on how to keep him fed and happy, at least until he’s big enough to start hopping around in the grass and getting used to being on his own (remember Mr. Grumpyfeathers?).

Schnitzel is a good sleeper, a very good eater, and a good pooper – all extraordinary traits when dealing with baby anythings. In fact, he’s a better sleeper than my baby human was (and still is, at times). If you’re curious about the name, we collectively decided on Schnitzel because:

a) we’re big fans of the cartoon Chowder

b) we’d just had wiener schnitzel for dinner at Ingrid’s Kitchen

c) Mr. Grumpyfeathers was already taken

Schnitzel’s favorite treats? Softened dog food and hard-boiled eggs. Elle is a bit creeped out by a bird eating eggs, but Schnitzel loves eggs. Seriously, he gobbles them up.

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Clearly they have been traveling…

Whelks
by Mary Oliver

Here are the perfect
fans of the scallops,
quahogs, and weedy mussels
still holding their orange fruit –
and here are the whelks –
whirlwinds,
each the size of a fist,
but always cracked and broken –
clearly they have been traveling
under the sky-blue waves
for a long time.
All my life
I have been restless –
I have felt there is something
more wonderful than gloss –
than wholeness –
than staying at home.
I have not been sure what it is.
But every morning on the wide shore
I pass what is perfect and shining
to look for the whelks, whose edges
have rubbed so long against the world
they have snapped and crumbled –
they have almost vanished,
with the last relinquishing
of their unrepeatable energy,
back into everything else.
When I find one
I hold it in my hand,
I look out over that shanking fire,
I shut my eyes. Not often,
but now and again there’s a moment
when the heart cries aloud:
yes, I am willing to be
that wild darkness,
that long, blue body of light.

***

It’s been a long week of writing about home, or of trying to write about home. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, then you know I have never had a good grasp on the idea of such a place to begin with.

Throughout the month of June I have been participating in a fun Instagram photo-a-day challenge and decided to use the above photo to define my version of “centered”. The whelk in the photograph is the literal center and my emotional center is the beach beyond. Just this morning I realized the whelk, in its battered and nearly broken shell, is always home no matter where the seas toss him out. That damn whelk gave me a clearer perspective on the whole idea of home.

Does home have to be a single place?

During my research on the definition of home (yes, I’m that bewildered by the topic that I had to do research), I began to feel a little less obligated to call out the name of a single place to point to as home which, to be honest, left me feeling guilty for not giving the designation to all the other places I’ve ever lived. Clearly, I have been traveling.

For the record, I haven’t yet figured out my own definition of home but I’m learning there is more than one way to define it.

Brown Bear

Never before in my life have I been able to identify the symbolism in my dreams with one hundred percent certainty. A brown bear made his way into my dreams over a week ago, just before everything in the atmosphere went horribly wrong. Last night, the brown bear showed up again. Last night was the night before yet another horrendous round of storms and possible tornadoes is expected to come down on us.

I have never encountered a brown bear. Just a few days ago, though, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine about the black bears of Virginia and about how a black bear is the bear you would want to run into in the wild – if you had to choose, that is. One of my childhood memories involves being caged indoors for an entire day, maybe two, while a black bear roamed the forest behind the housing area of our Upper Michigan military base. Rumor had it that some teenagers had cut a hole in the fence on a late-night run in the woods and the bear got in that way.

That is why I have always known that my chances of surviving an encounter with a bear* are exponentially greater if that bear is a black bear. You just make a lot of noise and raise your arms above your head to show your size. This simple act can scare off a black bear. Brown bears are not so easily intimidated.

But this brown bear, he is in my dreams. He showed up in my yard two weekends ago and I scrambled to keep the dogs inside, safe from the deadly claws of the bear. Then last night he was right outside my office window, a giant on his two hind legs. He waved his front paws at me while he showed his large teeth. His teeth eventually got one of my dogs but she was somehow, miraculously, released. I managed to wrangle three frantic dogs into the basement.

The basement was the safest space, in my dream, from the brown bear. It wasn’t difficult for me to put those two things together as I woke up to news reports of an increased risk of tornadoes throughout the day.

The month of May is undoubtedly beautiful here in Oklahoma, but these spring days also makes me excessively anxious. Alas, here we go again…

* Check out the tips on how to survive a polar bear attack. My favorite helpful hint is the first one.

Fledgling Watch 2013

Last summer, I found a bird egg on my porch and researched a little bit about the House Sparrow, learning a lot about their invasive ways. Then yesterday I found a terrified little baby bird on my front porch. He was only mere seconds away from becoming a snack for Teddy, who has been vigilantly guarding the family from squirrels and is overeager to prove his Pointer hunting skills, I think. I can’t tell for certain if this little guy is a Starling or a House Sparrow because all the online gallery photographs seem to look the same. What I do know, though, is that both bird species are invasive and absolute jerks in their adult forms.

But this one is far from an adult, so I think he’s kind of cute:

baby starling or Mr. Grumpyfeathers

baby starling

My friend Katy nicknamed him Mr. Grumpyfeathers. His feathery hair tufts are a little Einstein-ish and he seems to be giving me a dirty look for interrupting whatever it was he was doing before almost being gobbled up by a 70-pound puppycat (Katy is also the one who dubbed Teddy a puppycat – she’s good with words). Knowing he wouldn’t be safe in my yard or the yard next door, which is overrun by a family of feral cats, I took him to the other neighbor’s yard, where there are absolutely no pets, and placed him on the ground while listening to his mother curse at me violently in Sparrowese, or whatever.

Later that evening, I watched the mama bird feed the other baby bird and realized how Mr. Grumpyfeathers most likely left the nest. I don’t think it was willingly. Mama hangs outside the nest and makes the baby lean precariously over the ledge to get food from her mouth. I’m expecting that one to tumble off my roof any minute now…

French Lake and the Longhorn Trail

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The beauty of this place is ridiculous, especially on such a gorgeous day. The morning started off chilly, as we expected it would be in the middle of March, and as we piled out of the car for our hike around French Lake I took stock of all my layers: comfy t-shirt, jacket with hood, insulator jacket with plenty of pockets, and a scarf. Matt loaded his backpack with drinks and snacks and we finally made our way to the trail.

For the sake of argument, I must confess that I cannot tell the difference between hills and mountains so I will refer to all of them as mountains. I am a flatlander from Florida, after all, and get deliriously happy when I’m anywhere significantly above sea level.

French Lake

French Lake

I’ll admit that the first part of our hike was absurdly tranquil and stress-free. There were no inclines, not a single reason to exert ourselves. A pair of playful otters even added some excitement to our casual stroll around French Lake. I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I found it kind of surreal that I was dodging bison poop while studying the handiwork of beavers from afar.

beaver's work

We were really enjoying our morning out on the trail so we decided to go a little further. The Longhorn Trail would bring us right back to the parking lot after 2.4 miles. This much was made known on the signs and trail markers along the way. What was not disclosed, however, was the gradual incline toward the top of a mountain. Or maybe it was a hill. (Refer to my earlier note, though, as it is apparent that I cannot judge such things.)

Not too long into the trek going up, the layers started coming off. The removal of the scarf was soon followed by the removal of my insulator jacket. Being away from the lake got us out of the way of the wind and out of the way of the cold. I had to rest a couple of times because my legs aren’t used to much more than the weekly up-and-down jaunt into my basement to retrieve clothes from the dryer or a pound of beef from the freezer (coincidentally, longhorn beef). But the views.

Oh, the views!

longhorn trail

longhorn trail

longhorn trail

We rounded our way back to the parking lot after about an hour and a half and chatted about the highlights of our two-day trip to Wichita Mountain. Elle was delighted to have seen otters at play in their own habitat. I think Matt was happy to just get us two girls out of the house and into a tent, onto a trail, and jokingly planned to prepare us for a backpacking trek in the near future (at least, I hope he was joking…for his sake, I’m pretty sure he was joking). Me? I got everything I wanted out of this trip. I saw prairie dogs and otters, roasted marshmallows on a campfire, and stood on top of a mountain.

Oh, and I finally got to meet my bison.

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Blue Sky Morning

1960s shading WM NWR

It is safe to say we all caught enough sleep to keep us going through the day. I also like to believe that the beautiful sunshine that greeted us when we awoke helped, too. Matt cooked up a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and pork sausage and we sat around the picnic table to put together a plan for the rest of our short stay.

our "good morning" campsite view!

After breaking down the campsite and packing up the van, we headed over to the museum to stretch our legs a bit and talk with some people about finding an agreeable hiking trail. In the parking lot, we were greeted by a longhorn bull. Behind him was an entire herd of fenced-in longhorns so, naturally, I assumed he had busted himself loose. With my good intentions, I found two park officials to warn them and learned the longhorns are part of the free roaming animal population.

longhorn bull

A helpful employee in the gift shop showed us a few trails on the park map that would suit us. We eventually decided on a particularly easy and scenic hiking trail that provided distance options and might even treat us to an otter sighting. Elle couldn’t have been more thrilled, except when she learned that Prairie Dog Village was nearby.  Otters and prairie dogs – the kiddo’s two favorite animals.

prairie dog village

Another couple just happened to be setting up photography equipment to capture the prairie dogs so the place was still pretty empty of people. The three of us tried to be as quiet as possible, but the little animals scurried about poking their heads above ground and piping and chirping to the other families. I can’t imagine how frantic the scene must have been deep down in that network of underground tunnels. Faraway and nearby, the prairie dogs bustled with squeaky warnings.

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If you look closely, right in the center, you’ll see a prairie dog’s head popping out of his hole.

The sky was still perfectly clear and sunny, nothing at all like the overcast and chill from the day before.  The forecast promised temperatures in the mid-60s and we were grateful that we had held off our hike for an entire day in hopes of better weather. That decision paid off big time.

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Coming up: mountains views, the blue waters of French Lake, and a winking bison.

Mountain Camping

Wichita Mountain NWR

We arrived at Wichita Mountain National Wildlife Refuge a little after noon. Immediately, Matt pointed to the top of a mountain and declared, “Guess where we’re going?!”  I was grateful for two things right away:

  1. I had already popped a Dramamine on the way to Southwest Oklahoma because car sickness can hit me on flat land anyway, especially when it’s overcast. I’m a big sissy.
  2. This isn’t like Chimney Rock in North Carolina. Out there, the canopy of trees blocks any focal point you might need to keep from getting queasy while winding up a mountainside road.

On the way to the top of Mount Scott, I was constantly surprised at every turn. Sure, Oklahoma is flat and dry, for the most part, but the number of lakes and rivers in this region of the state is impressive. Maybe only to me, as I’m still a newbie, but seeing as this was my first look at the Wichita Mountains, I found it all to be quite beautiful. Also, you can’t go wrong with being so high up that you are treated to earth curvature.

from the top of Mount Scott

from the top of Mount Scott

About an hour later, we were the first to choose from a number of campsites with a gorgeous view of Quanah Parker Lake. Elle and I helped with pitching the tent and unloading the van, but Matt is really the go-to guy when it comes to this stuff. So while my husband actually did most of the work (like setting up camp and cooking dinner and, well, everything), Elle and I headed down to the lake to take in the scenery. We all took a few more walks around the shoreline throughout the day and were pretty excited to find a beaver dam, a great blue heron, and animal tracks.

Lake Doris

Lake Doris

Our campfire was roaring away before dinnertime so Matt grabbed a book to read while relaxing in his hammock and I pulled out my copy of The Beak of the Finch to read fireside. There is something romantic about studying the evolution of Darwin’s finches while surrounded by nature. The kiddo brought her camera and props to make a new stop motion movie and keep her from being too bored out in the woods (sadly, this didn’t last long).

Matt's napping space

best campsite ever

After a delicious meal of pork chops and green beans, we feasted on s’mores and headed to bed. It was warm enough inside the tent to be cozy and I attempted to read a few more chapters on the Galapagos finches. Sleep didn’t come easily, though, and the kiddo and I had already realized hours earlier that we are just not cut out for camping.

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As we tried to drift off and catch up with my husband in the world of sleep, Elle and I were constantly reminded of the wild animals that lived outside. There was a lot of splashing coming from the lake behind us (so much that I thought the dam was releasing water!) and I’d actually fallen asleep long enough to dream a wolf was sniffing near Elle’s head and I had to punch it to save us all from certain death.  Of course, my tiny bladder was extremely uncooperative that night, too. Prior to choosing our campsite, I insisted on being close to a regularly cleaned park restroom. None of that matters, though, when you have to leave your tent twice in the middle of the night to take care of business and dozens of coyotes are howling nearby. For the record, a nearby cedar tree is just as fancy and probably safer.

After my last visit to the cedar tree, during which I scared two large animals that ran for safety into the lake, I crawled back into the tent and tried to comfort Ella who had again been woken up from a fitful sleep.

“Mom, what is making all that noise out there?”

And, with all the love in my heart and respect I could ever have for this child of mine, I lied through my teeth. “It’s just the elk and bison talking to each other. They do that at night.”

Did you really think I was going to be honest? “Oh, honey! That’s the wolves and coyotes looking for something to eat!” We would have been better off packing up our stuff and heading back home right then and there. Of course, we didn’t, and that is why we were able to enjoy the park during our hike the next day…

The Shark Trackers

It was one of the first times I had wandered out past my waist, the non-swimmer that I am, and into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Jacksonville Beach. My entire family was on the shore and plenty of others, all perfect strangers, were in the water with me, or so I thought. I suddenly noticed people heading back to shore and the people who were already on shore were pointing at the water, where I was still standing in water higher than my waist.

Then it hit me: I wasn’t alone out there. While nobody was pointing at me or in my general direction, it hit me. No, this time it really hit me, whatever it was. I got bumped, smacked, clubbed from behind, whatever you want to call it, by some ocean animal large enough to knock me off balance. Naturally, I panicked and hauled ass back to land.

After I slogged my way through the water with the help of the surf and made it back to shore, which can be achieved rather quickly when a girl believes a shark has tripped her up 30 yards out, I stood next to my mother who had no idea what was happening. My father was no help, either. Finally, I looked out and saw dolphins swimming in a circle, discernible only by their fins. I have heard stories of dolphins protecting potential prey and preventing them from becoming shark victims. So, was it a shark or dolphin that made contact with my legs? I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter, but wouldn’t this story be ridiculously awesome if I actually knew it was a shark?

You’d better believe I’d be telling everyone I knew that I survived a shark attack! Instead, I’m relegated to repeating I got bumped by something in the ocean, possibly a tarpon.

See? There’s no oomph to that.

Anyway, over the next few years, I always paid attention to reports of shark attacks around Jacksonville’s beaches. Usually a lemon shark or a bull shark was to blame for nipping at some poor surfer’s calf or, in one instance, taking off an unsuspecting beachgoer’s foot while he stood in only three feet of water. True story, I swear. The victim was an active-duty Navy guy just out for a stroll at the beach. The absurdity of it is why I remember it so well. Three feet of water, people!

What all this rambling really leads up to is this: Ocearch!

 

Imagine my surprise when I learned that great white sharks actually frequent the shoreline near Jacksonville! I think this is the most exciting project happening today – unprecedented shark research, tagging, tracking. We will learn so much! Sharks are some of the most misunderstood and reviled creatures on the planet, and I cannot understand why. As it happens, I have a greater chance of being killed in a tornado this spring here in Oklahoma than by a shark when I head back home to my Florida waters this summer. Also, back in 1987 there were more people attacked by squirrels and wild rats in New York City than were attacked by sharks in the entire world.

I’m so proud that Jacksonville is the beginning site and home base of the first-ever great white shark expedition in Florida. As I write this, Lydia, who happens to be a fourteen-foot long great white tagged only two days ago off the North Florida coast, is hanging out a few hundreds yards off of Mayport, just south of the jetties where that Navy guy lost his foot a few years ago.

This is news you can use, people.

Fun for all ages…

The always hilarious Christmas party gift exchanges from parties past has usually pocketed me a Starbucks gift card, a smoked salmon, or Peterbrooke’s delicious chocolate covered popcorn, but not this year. Oh, no. This year I have a husband to consider and he had already set his sights on a very unusual gift making the trading rounds. This year we both fought valiantly through a 15-minute die-rolling competition to be sure we came home with this.

Matt and the horse head, and a wall photo of self?

art comes to life!

It wasn’t difficult to get, to be honest with you. Whenever another steal or trade landed the horse head in someone’s lap, the disappointed look on their face said what the hell do I want with a horse head? Matt wanted that horse head so at the end of the game, we just traded out whatever we had and ended up with the horse head anyway.

horsehead

my “mane” squeeze

The kids loved it. Little Kaylee insisted that I wear it so she could pet my horse nose then proceeded to feed me chocolate squares through my mouth hole. When it was her turn to be the horse, she posed like a proper young lady by the Christmas tree.

Kaylee and the horse head

Not to be outdone, Severin wanted a crack at it. A little top heavy at times, the horse head had to be secured by hand while Sev whinnied and neighed like a good horse. One of the best photos of the evening involved a close-up of Sev in the horse head which is now his mother’s Facebook profile photo.

Sev and the horse head

The horse head was a hit. From what I understand, it has already been invited to next year’s Christmas party, the first official invite for the big holiday bash of 2013. Although next year, we could also bring the unicorn for some additional Christmas magic…

creepy unicorn

Elle during summer vacation

Grace in Small Things: #4

1. Shovels & Rope in concert and sharing the same air as Cary Ann Hearst
2. Sitting around our new firepit with friends
3. Seeing my first deer in the wild and spending a few hours in the woods
4. Getting this dang toothache fixed and finally enjoying cold drinks once again!
5. My husband. Oh, how I love that man.