I spent my Mothers’ Day morning dragging brush to our burn pile. My neighbors, part-time islanders up for the weekend, waved to me from inside their cabin where they appeared to be having brunch. I imagined them shaking their heads over me: “Poor thing, no breakfast in bed for her, no restaurant? Out there working at nine in the morning…hope she got flowers at least.”

Truth is, I was in my element. With out disparate schedules, the Mate and I rarely get to do work projects together any more. On a lovely, sunny day, it feels like a gift. And it’s good marriage glue, besides.

So I was thinking about Mothers’ Day when I got to the burn pile and discovered what The Mate had found a day or two before when the last big pile of brush went up in flames:

Fresh-roasted free-range eggs, anyone?

Our neighbor’s chickens? Not the best parenting decisions.

That reminded me of the swallows we’re usually battling this year, trying to keep them from nesting in our garage–or, more accurately, from pooping all over our garage. The nesting ain’t the problem. But there’s no picture of that, ’cause they haven’t shown up this year. Could it be that we’ve finally terrorized the poor things sufficiently, knocking their nest attempts down with a broom and blocking their entry off with deer netting?

So, the swallows get an A in parenting this year. At least so far.

And then there’s the robin who built this nest on the ladder The Mate attached to the side of our house:

Cozy little fixer-upper, good schools nearby…

As you can see, we allowed this nest to stay. Clearly excellent choices on the part of those bird-parents. Right?

Secret to a great life: choose parents who make good choices.

Of course not. These parental ratings are all artificial constructs I’m applying in accordance with the rules I’m setting: THIS ground is for burning. THIS is for storage. THAT yard…yes, good. Good bird. Good choice.

Suddenly the parallel with people was overwhelming. Parents raising children in “bad neighborhoods”–how much choice do they have? In our society, who are the chickens, the swallows, the robins? Who’s in charge of the burn pile, the garage, the ladder on the side of the house? 

Sometimes All You Need is To Be Smacked Upside the Head by a Golden Eagle

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a “mentor” of a little girl. Just after that post, I attended a meeting for mentors, where we were asked to share something we appreciated about our “mentee.” One fellow mentor said he loved that his kid “gets me out of my head.”

Anyone relate to that?

For those of us without small children or even pets around the house, getting out of our heads can become a strangely invisible challenge: we aren’t aware of how badly we needed to do it until something flies by and–aaahh…That’s better. Perspective restored.

Today I was running along my usual gorgeous route, which just happens to pass through the scenery depicted on this blog’s cover photo. No slouch, as scenery goes. But was I digging those craggy rocks, that deep blue ocean? Ha. Not a whit. I was stuck deeply in my own head.

Rehearsal schedule. Grocery planning. When am I going to get my garden going? Three pieces to edit–not including my own. Article to write. Need to catch up on sleep from three 3 a.m. bakery get-ups in a row. Time with Mate–when’s THAT supposed to happen? And am I going to have time to practice my subjunctive before the next Spanish class?

Then a golden eagle flew over my head. Followed by another golden eagle.

Imagine two. (orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll admit–several dozen bald eagles might’ve flown over, unnoticed, as I ran along–and good job, baldies, getting so common after nearly going extinct and all. But goldies? They stopped me in my tracks.

I’m sorry that’s what it took, but it did the job. Aaahh…That’s better. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Perspective restored.

Care to share a similar getting-out-of-your-head experience? Child, animal, plant–or something not of nature? I would love to hear.

Writers, dental blocks and spotted owlets

Gallery

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Originally posted on verseherder:
A writer’s block can be the most perfect thing in the world. It isn’t a melody that went?out of tune. Neither a slip of a brushstroke nor an itch on a sculptor’s wrist.?A writer’s block is…

¡Pura Vida! This Mind-Broadening Brought to You By Costa Rica

Here’s what Son One says about Pura Vida, after 9 months in Costa Rica:

Pura vida. Literally: pure life. But don’t bother with a direct translation. In Costa Rica, it’s a greeting, a goodbye, a thank-you, a you’re welcome, a slogan, an exclamation, and an explanation. It’s a proud toast to your country’s victorious soccer team. It’s an energetic call as you land a dorado in the Carribean. It’s a gracious refusal of payment from a local farmer who gives the stranded backpacker a ride to town. And it’s the humble answer to any tourist’s question of “how can it be so pretty here?” “Pura vida.”

Nearly two weeks of livin’ la vida pura has given me plenty to think about. Actually, as you might guess, my experience was mostly visual, so I’ll share more pictures than words this time.

#1. I never really understood the term “biodiversity” until I realized that I almost never saw more than one of the same kind of tree, flower, or fungus in the same spot. Everything’s competing madly with everything else.

"Poor Man's Umbrella."

“Poor Man’s Umbrella.”

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Biodiversity ain't always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Biodiversity ain’t always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Plants upon plants upon plants...See any two alike? Right.

Plants upon plants upon plants…See any two alike? Right.

Who cares what it's called? It's so PRETTY!

Who cares what it’s called? It’s so PRETTY!

#2. Costa Rica ought to be a Mecca for gluten-free folks. Rice and beans are eaten at LITERALLY every meal: gallo pinto for breakfast (rice & black beans stir-fried with onions and red bell peppers), beans or bean soup with rice for lunch, and for dinner–you guessed it. Nary a slice of bread, nor did I see any butter for that matter. As for dessert, who needs it when you have the best fruit on the planet? This might be the healthiest travel-eating I’ve ever done.

Note: I don’t generally take pictures of food. So you’ll just have to imagine.

#3. Sometimes other countries’ wild animals don’t quite match your expectations. We happened on some capuchin monkeys harassing an iguana. “Why are they doing that?” we asked our biologist son. His scientific answer: “Monkeys are little shits.”

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

OK, this olinga's cute. But it's also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

OK, this olinga’s cute. But it’s also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

#4. Idea for next blockbuster horror movie: “Strangler Fig.” Seriously, these things are terrifying! They strangle whole trees from the top down, until…shudder…they BECOME the tree.

Tree, or nightmare?

Tree, or nightmare?

This would be beautiful if it weren't so gruesome.

This would be beautiful if it weren’t so gruesome.

#5. Just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean it matches up to our wealthy, take-everything-for-granted standards. Example: many places we stayed at could not handle toilet paper in their septic systems. And even when we were zipping along on an American-style freeway, we could see that one little dead-engine incident in the opposite lanes had created a miles-long backup, because there was no shoulder, nor any “Rapid Response” state trooper just minutes from the scene. Reminder: appreciate.

No, I did not take pictures of the plumbing or the highways either.

#6. I am far too poor a photographer to capture the color-diversity of Costa Rican birds. The rarest bird of all, the Resplendent Quetzal, I only got to peek at through a scope: look, it’s a Christmas bird! But here are some of my attempts:

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made 'em out of used tires.

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made ’em out of used tires.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird's called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird’s called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

#7. When you’re with a competent guide, the scary creatures are just as exciting as the pretty ones…maybe more so.

Son One's finger--I'm surprised he didn't try to pat the tarantula.

Son One’s finger–I’m surprised he didn’t try to pat the tarantula.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

Why we didn't swim in the Rio Sierpe.

Why we didn’t swim in the Rio Sierpe.

#8. Beauty is universal. Every Tico we met let us know that yes, they KNEW they were living in Paradise.

Pura Vida...

Pura Vida…

Thanks, Ticos. Thank you for taking so much better care of your incredible land than most countries do. You are providing a very much-needed example. And who needs to flush toilet paper anyway?

...y Pura Vida otra vez...

…y Pura Vida otra vez…

 

Picture a World of Obese, Diabetic Hummingbirds…

…or at least that’s what I’ve been doing lately, seeing all the hummingbird feeders at friends’ houses this spring. When I see (or hear) one of those tiny creatures buzz past, my aesthetic senses say, “Aw, a hummingbird. How beautiful. How awe-inspiring. How sweet.”

But my brain is saying, “Whoa now. Those lil’ guys are sure sucking down that sugar water! They couldn’t possibly get that much sugar from natural flowers, could they? So aren’t they kind of bingeing? Are we loving hummingbirds to an early death by obesity or diabetes?”

Turns out I have a lot of company in this ponderous ponder. Luckily for us, the internet contains useful sites like The Straight Dope (“Fighting Ignorance Since 1973 (It’s Taking Longer Than We Thought”).  Its take on hummingbird nutrition is full of earnest questions and myth-busting answers, most of which appear to be authoritative enough to pass the smell test (i.e., referencing articles from the Smithsonian).

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

(orig. image courtesy Wikimedia)

So, still worrying about whether or not you might be contributing to your neighborhood hummingbirds’ physical deterioration? Click on The Straight Dope link and find out. Then take a moment to marvel at the Information Age, which heedeth even the fall of a hummingbird.

Meanwhile, do you have your own bird-related idiotic questions to ponder publicly? Don’t worry–on the internet, for better or for worse, you are never alone.

Can’t Teal You How it Grebes Me Not to Duck My Latest Resolution

Don’t get me started on water-bird puns. At first they might be coot, but pretty soon they turn fowl.

Enough!

Let me just admit, then, to being enough of a nerd wannabe that, for a New Year’s resolution (one of ’em), I set the goal of identifying all our local winter waterfowl by the end of February.

Why, you ask? I wish I had an answer.

Um, I like knowing stuff? True, but who doesn’t? You don’t see too many people out for walks with their Mac’s Field Guide, even around here.

Studying the field guide is fun? Also true. (Fun fact: when Son One was, well, one, we used to delight ourselves by asking him to point out the blue jay, the junco, the cardinal, etc, on one of those Mac’s Field Guides. He was great at it, and the fact that his nickname was Mac–icing on the cake.)

I can’t say it’s the thrill of the chase of truth, because I haven’t gone Full Bird Nerd and started toting binoculars around, so 75% of the time I’m just guessing. But I do like thinking that, thanks to Mac (the field guide, not the son), it’s now EDUCATED guessing.

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“Western Grebe? I dunno, is the neck long enough? Maybe a loon, but they’re REALLY big–how far away is that guy?”

“Common Murre or Pigeon Guillamot? Winter plumage, so they look pretty much the same, but…aha…the back of the head is grey, not black–gonna go with Guillamot!”

“Look at those adorable little Buffleheads!” (Gotta love Buffleheads–they don’t look like anything else, and it’s a really fun word to say.)

[A disclaimer: all these babblings are (at least until now) inflicted on no one but myself. I do still have enough perspective to realize that my current mini-obsession is not widely shared.]

Western Grebe (courtesy Wikimedia)

Western Grebe (courtesy Wikimedia)

By my own very low standards, I’ve improved quite a bit in my past week. But a grebe is just as lovely even when I don’t know it’s a grebe. So I still haven’t answered the question: why do some of us like to be able to name things?

Anyone got a theory? Or a good bird-nerd story to share?