Birds #4 (2017)

A spring round-up: ruffed grouse, common raven, American crow, song sparrow, brown creeper, red-winged blackbird, eastern phoebe, black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, tufted titmouse, red-bellied woodpecker, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, chestnut-sided warbler, golden-crowned kinglet, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-winged blackbird, blue jay, northern cardinal.  

Also, spotted a pair of ducks/waterbirds last night while driving home, in an ephemeral pond/flooded patch of a neighbor's yard. Didn't look like mallards so I turned around and parked to get a closer look, but I flushed them out and didn't get a good look.

Birds #3 (2017)

A couple of weeks ago, while my parents were visiting, we were sitting around the kitchen table for lunch when I saw a flash of a large wingspan outside the window, extremely close to the house. It was a barred owl, and he/she perched on a lilac branch for a solid 15-20 minutes before moving to another perch even closer to the house, and then another.  After a while, the owl flew around to the other side of the house and sat in a young black cherry tree outside of our little cabin.  When my dad and I went out to get something from his truck, the owl flew off deeper into the woods, but a half hour later was back in the lilacs.

Earlier than this, my 3 1/2 year old daughter spotted a bald eagle from about 50 yards as we were eating breakfast, as it flew into the enormous cottonwood tree along our brook.

Not a bird, but a few days ago I also saw, very briefly, a bobcat that I spooked when coming out of the house as it was snowing. I saw a blur of tawny fur, and I knew it wasn't a deer or a dog. It moved differently, and quickly, up the hill in the newly fallen deep powder.

Music #1

As an undergrad, I was a DJ for my college radio station, which maybe sounds more impressive than it was (or maybe not) since the station's signal barely reached the ~400 souls that made up the entire student body. If I remember correctly, I scheduled my show for Sunday nights at around 10pm and played for two hours. I don't know how the kids do it now, but this was before digital files really took off, and even burning a CD was a chore, so I pretty much played the same stuff every week, all from my collection. I'd load up a bunch of CDs into a duffel bag, and haul 'em up three flights of stairs to the little studio at the top of the same building that housed the post office, dining hall, nurse's office, and more.

I thought of my radio show recently, in thinking about sensitivity and language, as one of the primary reasons (at least, it seems to me) that so many Americans voted for President Elect Ozymandias, was backlash at so-called political correctness. There was a strong desire to reward someone who felt free to say whatever they wanted, however uniformed or horrible or hurtful, without consequence. Because although we have freedom of speech in the United States, we are not free from social disapproval. And it seems a lot of people conflate social disapproval with state-sponsored censorship. All of this is exasperating on any number of levels, but I think it's worth pointing out that we all say, privately or semi-privately or publicly from time to time, some pretty unsavory things, and sometimes without realizing it. And to me, part of maturing as both an adult and a citizen, has been to reflect on how what I say and do affects other people for better or worse, and to try and minimize the worse.

I named my radio "Welfare Music," after a song by the alt-country band The Bottle Rockets. Among other reasons, I liked the way it looked on the posters I made, and I thought it made a statement about the type of music I was playing, from the less commercial corners of folk, country, and rock. I remember someone calling me out on this. I don't remember who did, or even if they called me out directly. But I heard that someone or maybe a few people were upset about it. I didn't fully understand why, but I didn't change it, not out of spite, but because I didn't understand it. And it may go without saying that I didn't know anything about welfare, its history, its connotations, its necessity, or the feelings of people who rely on it. The Bottle Rockets probably did, and they turned it into a song, but I was just using it casually, as shorthand, to brand this little thing I was doing, at an expensive liberal arts college in Vermont.

Guilt is not a good word to describe how I feel about it. Shame, maybe. Regret, definitely, that I wasn't mature enough to take seriously the feedback I received, or investigate the gesture I was making, however small in the grand scheme of things. Political correctness, and I think Internet technology makes this effect worse, is interpreted by some as a tool of shame, when it can really be a way of getting people to think harder, think slower, and learn more about their world. To take other people's lives seriously, and with dignity, and not just something to play with without care or heed.

Birds #2 (2017)

Heard a barred owl hooting just outside our living room window the night before last, so close it could have been perched on the bit of iron where we hang our hummingbird feeder in the summer. Also saw the tracks of turkeys in the snow of our driveway a few days ago. No redpolls or siskins this winter so far. Don't know if it's cold enough for them to come down from the north if they have plenty to eat already. Days getting slightly longer...

Resistance #1

"Richard said withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy." -- R.E.M.

I've been thinking about this quote a lot with regard to social media in recent days with regard to the current cultural and moral crisis of the U.S. that hit its nadir with the election of T****. Although it permeates our lives and culture, the Internet is still extremely young, and it's obvious that we haven't yet figured out our limits with it. Social media in particular can be famously addictive, and it often doesn't matter how many times you tell yourself (or others tell you) not to read the comments section of a website or news article, you've got to rubberneck and sometimes even join in. And we receive so many messages about what is expected of us as activists, citizens, artists, whatever else you may be, that even attempting to detach oneself from Facebook, Twitter, or to take a break from watching or reading the news for a while, can be guilt-inducing. But it's okay to turn off and engage with the physical world in front of you. To gather your strength. When the president-elect and his most vile supporters use social media to abuse not only their opponents but the concept of truth itself, sometimes it's best to refrain as much as possible from exposure to that abuse. This is not the same as putting one's head in the sand. You know it's going on, you know it's not going to stop on its own accord. But its purpose is to make people feel demoralized, to use the historical language and arguments of the left and twist them to confuse people into thinking wrong is right, oppression is virtue, war is peace. You don't have to participate in that. And saving your strength and using it to combat hate and injustice on the ground can be a better, healthier strategy. Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

Birds #1 (2017)

I have all these thinkpieces in me about land and commercialism and BIG TOPICS but then I just want to write about birds. But really I do intend to spend less time on social media in 2017 and put more of my writing energy into poems, essays, and observations here.

Lately: wild turkeys everywhere. Britt heard them roosting up in the trees, flapping around. Barred owl a few weeks ago. Golden-crowned kinglets, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, house wrens, American crows, white-breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers.  Last fall there was a white pelican hanging out at a pond a couple miles away for at least a week. Hard to believe we're only two and a half months from phoebes and red-winged blackbirds returning.

Birds #2 (2016)

The ruffed grouse came eventually, as did pine siskins. The big news this spring is that by keeping our feeder stocked with sunflower seeds, we've attracted rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntings, the latter of which have also been enjoying hanging around the crabapple trees. For the past four days we've seen and heard both, along with black-and-white warblers, black-throated green warblers, ovenbirds, common yellowthroats, American redstarts, veerys, and more. 

Birds #1 (2016)

This winter so far: black-capped chickadee, blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, golden-crowned kinglet, bald eagle, tufted titmouse, dark-eyes junco, white-throated sparrow, white-breasted nuthatch, wild turkey, house finch, American crow, American goldfinch, red-tailed hawk, common raven, Carolina wren, northern cardinal, pileated woodpecker.

No ruffed grouse, which makes me wonder if the cold temperatures and deep snows of last winter were what drove them to our property. Maybe all of our aspens provided emergency food. Or perhaps they don't return to the same locations every winter.

Birds #8

Newly seen/heard: Savannah sparrow, bobolink, warbling vireo, bald eagle, broad-winged hawk. Lots of redstarts and common yellowthroats just up the road, possibly a Baltimore oriole though I didn't see it. Heard something singing above the driveway this morning that I couldn't identify and wish I had time to spot before heading to work.

Birds #7

Newly arrived/heard/seen: Common yellowthroat, red-eyed vireo, veery, Baltimore oriole, American redstart. My wife has seen yellow warblers in the neighborhood, and more redstarts and orioles, which I have only heard. Last night I heard the veery's "vurrr" a few times from a thicket when I went out to get something from my car. As I type, a male cardinal is at the feeder, eating sunflower seeds. Received an old bird guide from my grandmother over the weekend, from 1956. Interesting to see that both the cardinal and titmouse ranges do not extend into New England in that book, whereas now they are some of our most common feeder birds.

Birds #6

"And the sky opens up like candy / And the wind don't know my name / And the warmth comes back even though you thought it would not." --Lambchop

Our neighbor up the road reports bobolinks in his hayfield and invites us to walk in it whenever. I'm sitting in front of our open door, hearing the black-throated green warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, chickadees, ovenbird, and our three-legged cat, Potato, crying to be let outside. There's no real worry of him killing any songbirds, though. Plus, we keep him on a leash. He reminds me that the gray catbird is back.

There are probably other birds passing through or here to breed whose songs are subtle that I can't recognize. At a local plant nursery I saw a rose-breasted grosbeak, and every time I hear a robin sing at our house I scan the trees and listen harder, thinking I might be mistaking a grosbeak or even a scarlet tanager.

Supremely active right around are yard, besides the chickadees et al, are the phoebe and Carolina wren. But if I had to pick a single species to name the little hollow where we live, it'd be the ruffed grouse. We have as many as three by my count, and one always seems to be scratching through the leaf litter just beyond the yard's edge.

Birds #5, Flowers #2

New arrivals: chestnut-sided warbler, chipping sparrow, ovenbird, broad-winged hawk, brown creeper, northern flicker. Up the road but not at our place: yellow-bellied sapsucker, brown-headed cowbird.

Coltsfoot is growing along the road.

Birds #4, Flowers #1

Newly arrived/heard/seen: black-and-white warblers (May 2), black-throated green warblers (May 3), belted kingfisher, song sparrow. The ever-present ruffed grouse are still hanging around.

Spring wildflowers: our hillside is a carpet of bloodroot, wake robin (maroon trillium), and soon to be trout lilies, plus a few others I haven't yet worked out with my Newcomb's guide.

Birds #3

Yesterday saw a male ruffed grouse strutting across the gravel driveway, with his ruff puffed out. We've seen several grouse over the course of the winter. One morning three were standing up in the tree limbs outside of our bedroom window. Learned that ruffed grouse enjoy eating quaking aspen seeds, as well as birch seeds, and we have plenty of paper birch and quaking aspen.

In the afternoon, arriving home from work, I flushed a grouse--possibly the same one--from the woods in the backyard, and also noticed two hermit thrushes in the brush and bramble next to the driveway.

Birds #2

Two ravens flew over the house this week. Heard the croak and noticed the more diamond-ended tail, as opposed to the fan-sweep of the crow. One of the ruffed grouse that like to frequent our house was spotted hanging out near the bulkhead. Also heard: the first red-winged blackbird of the year, a pileated woodpecker, the sleigh-bell jingle of a dark-eyed junco, and possibly the similar trill of the pine warbler.

Birds #1

Seen at house: October 14 - March 15.

Black-capped chickadee, white-breasted nuthatch, wild turkey, American crow, American goldfinch, pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, dark-eyed junco, white-throated sparrow, ruffed grouse, purple finch, common redpoll, pine siskin, blue jay, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, cedar waxwing, red-tailed hawk.