Archive for March, 2009

Rainy Day

Monday, March 30th, 2009

Having grown up on a farm in an age when kids were on their own to find amusement when chores were done, I always came up with satisfying activities. The past Saturday was a rainy day, not a normal desert rainy day where only the odor of rain came to earth, nor the torrential rain of Montgomery, Alabama, but a constant gentle rain, too wet to work in the muddy earth so Nancy and I were stranded, so to speak, indoors. The previous week I volunteered to critique romance entries in the Pacific Northwest Writer Association’s annual contest. Luckily a package of ten entries arrived the day before and begged for the helpful judgment I offered.

Well, Nancy is as able to spot good writing as I am so we sat back and occupied ourselves on that rainy day. Romance is not her favorite genre but a plot is a plot and subjects and verbs are required in particular orders to bring out characters and action therefore she offered a perspective somewhat different from my own which turns out to be very helpful.

I am still responsible to inform the hopeful writers of their success or explain how the failures could be remedied. I have a week or so to complete my assignment. All in all a very useful exercise for a rainy day.

One More Day

Sunday, March 29th, 2009

What a difference a day makes. Especially when youthful energetic muscular bodies appear to finish hard chores. Nancy brought her water pressure gun and literally wiped the graffiti off the south side of my six foot cedar fence in an hour, almost less time than it took to purge the pump and lines of air. While doing that I decided to have plants dug out of my back yard and put behind the fence to prevent further encroachment by the aerosol squirters. The soil was just right for transplanting Oregon grape, lilac, forsythia, choke cherries, and other stuff on the south side of the fence. Great to have a digger and planter handy. All I did was direct and point.

Tim came later to help Nancy dig out a dead arborvitae and get it into the garbage can. Filled the can for Wednesday’s pickup. Lots of suggestions flew around the dinner table about the expectations of the administration in Washington DC while we devoured pork chops, sauer kraut and baked potatoes. Tim, corrected and hooked up my printer that has been idle and unused for the past month. Time for more color cartridges. He cleaned up an odd clean-disk command that popped up on my Toshiba after I last had it off for a couple of days. He has a cute little laptop on which he worried over Snoqualmie pass conditions because he had to get back to Seattle and work. He overnighted on the computer room floor while Nancy pumped up her air mattress in the living room.

Oddly Bellingham weather followed Nancy to Richland because it rained all day Saturday. Not at all normal for this desert. Nevertheless welcome here. But you know the time proven tale of April showers. New shoots — all shades of spring green — are coming up all over the place. Hyacinths, violets and daffodils are out. Forsythia is in full color and many tulips will be budding out soon. A day of sunshine after a day of rain surely does make a difference.

Blitzen Sans Donner

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Optimism alone does not bring desired results. A bit of sun peeked through summer clouds at 10:00 this morning when I hung out my wash. Even the heaviest corduroy would be dripped dry enough to bring in by nightfall. At the time I asked myself, “What if those clouds decide to open and spill water upon me as they had been doing all the way as I drove from Othello to Pasco.” And I answered myself, “You know the clothes will just get wetter.” But I also told myself that the clouds were wrung out and would rain no more.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Not only did the clouds rain more, lightning darted around the dark clouds rather delightfully. I heard no thunder but Thor did not have to roll any war drums to turn on the faucet. Rain drenched the dust off my sweet little Hyundai. And other places. I did not get to watch squirrels horsing (or squirreling) around in the Douglas Fir or hear the House Finch proclaiming his arrival in my arborvitae as I expected. April showers are early and I can live with that. My clothes will just have to hang out longer than I planned. They will eventually drip dry. My optimism tells me so.

Happy Raindrops

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

A rainy day with Sandhill cranes. Not really. Rain fell all day Saturday while thousands of folks searched the fields for the birds. Thousands of cranes flew around wondering, I am sure, why all the school buses and cars were creeping along the gravel roads beside their corn fields. The birds talked in their peculiar clacking way, settling down to feed, not particularly disturbed with the mechanical traffic, nor mammals either. Calves smelled and moved toward the sticks that landed and walked among them. The huge wings lifted and flapped and settled down a few feet away.

I must admit those birds I viewed were nearly a quarter of a mile away so in my perspective I do not call that seeing Sandhill cranes. But never mind. I enjoyed the festival from the basketball court in Taggares Gymasium in Othello dry and comfortable getting first hand scientific information about birds. The main speakers navigated toward woodpeckers, where they lived (everywhere it seems), and who were the beneficiaries. Owls got the best of them because they had woodpecker holes in which to nest. Cool, huh? Very warm and cozy!

Totally unrelated to cranes was the information on Bretz and his meticulous study of the scablands resulting from the Missoula floods. That book and “Woodpeckers and Owls” will reside on the book shelf at McNary National Wildlife Refuge Education Center with personalized signatures of the authors. Other presentations were given all day long as well as bus tours into the surrounding territory. I left the bunkhouse of the Columbia NWR at 0800 driving in the rain all the way to Pasco. I reflect on cranes and their lives and habitat but will not have to bring that up at McNary. Cranes just do not stop at my Refuge.

Another Family

Friday, March 20th, 2009

OK, so I did mammals and fish. For the next three days I do birds — Sandhill Cranes, to be precise, at the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge in Othello. That is 70 miles north from Richland, near Mesa. The refuge is a wetlands and has the reputation of a resting place for the cranes. You couldn’t prove it by me. I stay at the Othello High School where folks come to learn all about the Grus canadensis. The bird is a gangly sort of critter, long legged and long necked, stalking about in marshes, prairies and fields, foraging for grain with their short bills.

Kids play at being cranes, folks draw all manner of the bird, and high powered scientists make presentations about various aspects of the environment and critters that also live there. These are very educational and the festival lures teachers to sit in on these presentations to earn clock hour credits. That is a unique way of adding to the education of classroom teachers.

That is where I am involved. I verify teachers’ attendance and collect the fees. There are ten opportunities for credit and besides the intellectual aspect, people get to enjoy a noisy and colorful affair. That is only Saturday. Otherwise I am free to enjoy the folks with whom I have worked for the past five years.

March 20 cannot pass without remembering Ethel Sherer Patton, born on this date in 1912. She was the youngest of the Sherer women, and as a sixteen year old was a surrogate mother to Ronald. She was a dear to me while I lived as a ‘foreigner’ among the Sartellites and was our guest as a fellow gambler after we settled out west.

From One End

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Aside from having more activities in my life than there are hours to accommodate my favorites, I certainly have diversity. Yesterday I was immersed up to my elbows so to speak in elk — one of the hoofed mammals closely related to us — humans. They are herbivorous only but birth young before fully developed which requires producing milk as all female mammals do.

Today I observed the dissection of 4 year old Chinook salmon by a biologist who related each body part to the counterpart in humans. She demonstrated on a female and a male to illustrate to school kids valuable sex education which kids in local schools need, mostly because the facts have to be reviewed and reiterated before the reality sinks in. Oh there were lots of giggles but mostly by the boys when they saw the size of the sperms sacks. The ovaries were so indistinct but the thousands of eggs were taken from the female before the ovaries were extracted.

Fish are the most primitive of vertebrates, the first animals and they developed in the water. I was privileged to have the gills for McNary Ed Center. I have them preserved in alcohol and they will be on display for the public. I thought the gills would be especially educational because frogs and other amphibians lay eggs that hatch in water and absorb oxygen while they grow lungs. Then they have to escape to be land animals forever after. That is until they mate and the females lay eggs on water plants and the cycle goes on and on, as long as there is survival. Sadly, in McNary pond, bull frogs, non natives, have wiped out the Western Spotted Frog. I haven’t figured out how to catch bullfrogs. I have it on good authority the legs are very tasty.

Ale Enclosed

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

ALE – not a beer, just an acronym for Arid Land Ecology, thousands of acres of sagebrush grassland set aside for research in 1972, when I worked for Battelle as an editor for Environmental research. I went up yesterday as volunteer to pull weeds away from the enclosures around stream beds where willows are growing. The enclosures are about fifty yards across and vary from one to two hundred yards long. the perimeters are marked by poles about 12 feet high with ten rows of wire at 8 inch intervals along each pole.These wires carry electricity to deter the huge mammals from eating the willows and anything else they require to live. Jennifer (USFW)staff, Deb Jennings and myself cleaned the fence on four out of fourteen of the enclosures.

Dried Out

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

Imagine hanging clothes outside and having them dry in March! I did that 2 weeks ago and they froze so I had to leave them out overnight. Well, this morning I hung cotton shirts, socks and underwear out at 0730 and I was able to bring them in all dry at 3 pm. I think that is pretty cool, well warm actually. A nice thing to expect from now on. Fewer trips (and less expense) to the laundromat. I don’t do jeans and rarely towels so I use my quarters at least every two weeks. The southeast breeze turned around to the NW and I expect the temperature to cool down tonight. But it has been above freezing for a week and hyacinths and daffodils are coming up. So are the pesky onions. There are clumps everywhere. I am tearing out the arborvitae Mike helped me transplant from the front a couple of years ago. It did not get enough water and nearly died anyway so out it goes. Had to mention that because the garbage can goes tomorrow.

Scheduled Birds

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Birds do not tell me their schedule. I advertised as usual for the second Saturday event – a regular on the annual calender – as a bird watch and identification hour. A nice flock of tundra swans showed up, not close enough for good photos, a photographer whined, but there for the counting. Some even flew around so I could see how their flight silhouette differed from that of Canada geese. Very accommodating of them, I thought. A great blue heron flew over, not landing within my sight, although if one is around, it will soon be seen stalking for fish near the shore or the edge of the island.

A pair of Northern Harrier hawks cruised the water but were clearly not impressed with the variety in the lunchroom so they disappeared. California gulls rested on the log and several tested the southwest breeze that roughened the water. Black cloud layers discouraged bird watchers from even leaving their warm couches and I was left alone to see the feathered wonders. Once the sun burrowed its way between the clouds but its only got a peek and was not seen again.

The blotch on the breast of the song sparrow gives that bird away if I don’t hear the lovely twitter he haughtily shouts forth like an avian Pavoratti. I watch his breast swell up as if he was on an opera stage. White crowned sparrows flit and hide at the bower and in the large sage brush in the native plants. I see them all winter in the bushes by our mailbox.

With the temperature of 44 degrees F, the weather was agreeable enough to spend time outdoors and I dressed for it. So much so that I had to shed several layers when I sat down to compute. From my east window I can view the 25 foot Birch tree that may not survive the driveway and parking lot development. Now it holds a Kestrel that comes and goes. A pair of red winged blackbirds rested a bit. That is a species that made me look twice. The females are dark brown with attractive flecks but show not one sign of the colorful red coverts visible on the top edge of the males’s wings. Unlike the yellow-headed blackbird female who insists on a very pale vestage of yellow perhaps because of the horrid squawk the male delivers. She is not to be outdone.

Most unusual birds were the two 4-engine B-17s. They must have been scheduled to land at the Pasco airport but I did not expect them. Otherwise civilization drones by on the highway and train tracks and does not disrupt my feathered friends. I would not want the metal version to encounter biological ones, by anyone’s schedule.

Bug Out

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Very little in the way of warm up is needed to liven up the overwintering insects that live in hidden cracks. In the first place there is so little moisture in their bodies and it is not really water anyway so the flies and other lively bugs come out ready to predate – hunt for food. I am searching McNary National Wildlife Refuge for signs of spring and besides flies I found Golden Currant bushes ready to burst into bloom. That is the first flower to come out around the visitor trail. Blackberry leaves never died and fell off so they are really off and running – so to speak – at least their runners tripped me when I scouted a path out where the birding spur goes into a wooded area. The over growth is daunting and I will not be one to blaze an new part of that trail. I must find some others who will. With only dead bushes now the bird watching area resembles a wildwood.

Tundra swans are feeding in a number of places beyond the island. They were not around for about a week and I thought for sure they had gone on to the arctic. Maybe these are others now on their way. Very few Canada geese are around. Those that have northern destinations are long gone. So are the migrating ducks. Shovelers are circling in their peculiar manner scooping tasty organisms out of the water surface. They will go on when the open waters come alive with the invertebrates they need to eat. A big large mouthed bass jumped up to grab an insect on the surface. I see a lonely mallard sleeping on the log but otherwise no activity on my pond.

That is not to say all is quite here on the Refuge. Huge noisy machines are scooping soil out of the driveway to Maple street for entrance to the adminstration building and carrying it out back where another big noisy machine is tearing out brush from our treasured bower, a place we use for learning experiences. The plans call for a concrete deck on the north side for office staff lounge and because that was a slope it must be built up to make a level deck. All in good time, although progress on the ground work is moving swiftly compared to how slowly the construction of the building moved. The Portland engineer was looking it all over yesterday and was pleased with what he saw. Moreover he was happy to know that the contractors on the job were amenable and easy to communicate with.

The temperature got up to 50 degrees but I do not feel all that warm when I stand in the wind so spring has not yet arrived. When the sun shines it matters not. When bugs begin to wiggle out of cracks they are out to stay. And so is spring.