Friday, January 29, 2010

Hiking the High Trails

The last two calm and rainless days on the coast (plus my recovered knee along with knee support pads) allowed us to hike high above the ocean, viewing coves we've never seen before and others we've never before seen from above. We discovered that, although farther away when we're up high, there is less distortion off the water and we can see better than at sea level. Plus we can see areas on the top of offshore rocks that we could not see from shore. This is an exciting development which we'll see how plays out during our summer Black Oystercatcher nest surveys.

Especially exciting is the discovery that we can see all our Road's End oystercatcher habitat from a public trail high above the shore... a pretty short and easy trail except the last part up the steep knob (photo below along with photos taken from the top of that knob). We were able to see a pair of oystercatchers on a rock far below us and another pair on an offshore island we cannot see well at all from shore. It's amazing what a difference being high above the water makes. It was also startling to see a Bald Eagle flying under us, instead of over.

Johnny was excited to find a geocache on top of the cliff. We had no GPS with us and no idea a geocache was up there, but there it was. Later, back at sea level, a Peregrine Falcon posed. And the falling tide created lovely patterns in the sand. What a great couple of days!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Good News Day

Every day I'm still alive is a good day, but today was a particularly good day. First of all, it didn't rain very much. It didn't rain at all while we were checking/cleaning the wood duck nest boxes. And, good news! Four of the six boxes were one-fourth to one-half filled with soft moss. Two of those I know had babies hatch from them: one Wood Duck clutch and one Hooded Merganser clutch. The other boxes are so far down in the woods that I seldom see them. I don't know if ducks filled several boxes with moss and then chose one or if we had more than two mamas this past year. At any rate, it's always fun to know our nest boxes are appreciated.

More good news came when we were given permission to go through locked gates in the near future to survey Black Oystercatchers in two of my survey sites. One is that Neskowin site where we froze our feet crossing a river. Never again! Now we can go through the locked gate to a beach access point on the far side of the icy water. Plus drive up a private road to a point overlooking more BLOY territory north of Neskowin that we've been unable to access before.

The second site to grant us permission will have someone show us a back way, in a couple days, to a lookout point over coves we've never been able to get to from our 3 Rocks beach access. Oh happy days! To get to that beach in the summer, we canoe across the Salmon River. I do not want to canoe across a cold, swollen, tidal river in the winter.

Unrelated good news came in the form of an adorable puppy. A woman who brought her goats to be bred to my bucks today had a 10-week-old puppy with her... a Bernese Mountain Dog/Swiss Mountain Dog/Great Pyrenees cross. It looked just like a Bernese Mountain Dog to me and was very calm and affectionate. Our livestock guardian "puppy", now four years old, is anything but "calm". I want a second dog to help with guard duties on the farm but have been dreading dealing with another hyperactive pup. I have loved Bernese Mountain Dogs ever since I met them at a llama farm many years ago. Hopefully, I will be able to reserve a pup from a future litter. The puppy's mom is owned by a lady in our county. Cool!

Another piece of good news came in the form of a phone call to Johnny. It was Amtrak calling to say everyone on the train that was delayed for so long (on Johnny's birthday) would be getting a $50 rebate. To me, that means Johnny's round trip fare as a senior (there are some benefits to being old) was less than $100. Johnny's take on it, being Johnny, is that his next trip down to see the kids in Calif. will only cost him $12. When I reminded him that he had to buy another ticket to get home, he just shrugged. Gotta love his attitude.

The best news of the day, in my opinion, was that Johnny did not fall off the very high ladder needed to check each nest box and I did not topple into the streams while crawling over that same ladder, thoughtfully laid by Johnny across the rushing, freezing, wide creeks... although I came close. Yes, indeedy... any day we're both still alive and able to move is a very good day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

BLOY Watching

No, that's not a misprint. BLOY are Black Oystercatchers, a shorebird on the Pacific coast of North America. Volunteers, including Johnny and I, monitor these black birds with long red bills once a week from May until August. It's a lovely excuse to go to the beach every week. This year, for the first time, a wintering survey is being taken.

Yesterday, the first day of the one week survey, was one of those incredible warm and sunny days we occasionally get in the winter. The coast was lovely, almost windless. Johnny dropped me off at a little park north of Cape Kiwanda so I could hike in from that direction. He drove south to the Cape parking lot and hiked up the dune from the south. There are two different locations we have seen BLOY on the Cape and they are a long way apart.

It would have been a beautiful day on the beach even if we had not found our birds, but we did. A pair was foraging and resting on my side of the Cape. I climbed up so I could look down on them. On the way I couldn't resist taking photos of the incredible sky, ocean, Haystack Rock offshore, and a tenuous natural bridge formation.Johnny found no BLOY on his side, but enjoyed watching a lone Brown Pelican glide right past him. After leaving our respective posts, we rendezvoused in the middle and hiked down the dune on the south side. From the foot of the dune, we surveyed the exposed flat rocks, not visible from above, and discovered a second pair of BLOY.

From Cape Kiwanda we drove south to Neskowin, where we were assigned to look for BLOY on Proposal Rock and southern headlands. This is not my favorite spot because one has to wade a wide stream to get to the south side. In the winter, this stream is a very cold, fast river. We shed our boots (the water was well over them), rolled up our pant legs, and walked across. Nothing like ice water to make you wonder why you volunteered for this job. We found no BLOY here... and we usually don't. Johnny walked back across the river while I hiked out another, much longer way, overstressing my knee in the process.

Since I was now incapable of long hikes, we forgo our 3rd site, Road's End, which another volunteer is supposed to be covering anyway, and drove to Fishing Rock, south of Lincoln City, a site we had only recently learned about. We found one BLOY there (photo at top). The tide was coming in now and the weather changing. Those pretty white clouds on the horizon were bringing wind and the promise of rain.
Skirting Lincoln City on our way home, we came across a lovely Great Egret by the side of the road. I took this photo through the windshield. After a meal at our favorite restaurant, the Otis Cafe, we drove through the coast range, hitting rain in the mountains. It's been raining ever since. But what a great day it was on the lovely Oregon coast yesterday!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Spring in January

After weeks of rain, broken only occasionally by cloudy-but-not-dripping skies, today was a ray of sunshine. There was, in fact, a ray of sunshine for part of the day. It was so balmy (50's) that I worked in the flower beds, beginning the clean-up for the next growing season. I discovered that the hellebores are beginning to bud, so I cut off last year's leaves to make the flowers visible when they open. Winter-blooming jasmine has been blooming for a month or more. It is such a cheerful yellow on the gray winter days. The early daffodils are well up, promising flowers and more cheer in February.

After doing as much pulling out and clipping off as my arms and back would tolerate, I took a walk through the woods. The beavers have been busy. A pile of wood chips drew my attention to their latest tree victim. Gotta keep those teeth worn down and bellies full. I also discovered how people may have come up with the tattoo idea: a piece of wood that had broken and fallen onto the path had been tattooed by insects beneath the bark... really quite lovely.

My destination, Agency Creek, was running high and fast, reminding me that this is still the rainy season. I walked back to the house in the first mists of the next storm. But oh how lovely it was to see the sun for a little while today!

Johnny's travels

Now that Johnny has "retired" (which means he works for free instead of for pay, near as I can tell), he is doing more of what he loves... working with and for his kids. Like his father before him, Johnny's greatest joy is helping repair and build whatever his sons need repaired and built. This month he's managed to help out each kid.

One weekend he spent at Kevin and Jessica's in Washington, playing with grandson Ian and doing roof repairs on their horse barn. He came home Monday night, got organized for his next trek, and left Wednesday to put a roof on the new building in the Gates cemetery where both my parents are buried... and where Johnny and I have a stone ready for use... hopefully in the distant future. Thursday night he came home after finishing the roof and planned to leave the next day for the California kids. However, the hot water heater had sprung a leak, delaying his departure via Amtrak until Saturday.

At Steve and Munazza's, Johnny played with grandsons Kestrel and Cedrus and helped inspect a house the kids are thinking about buying. This was during California's rain storms, which were heaviest south of where S&M live for most of the time he was there. However, on Wednesday torrential rains with thunder and lightning hit the Bay area. Johnny spent Wed. helping unplug storm drains, dry out wet flooring, clean gutters and drain off the deck where pavers were floating on four inches of water. That night he left for home via Amtrak. He was due to arrive Thursday at 2 p.m.

Alas, the massive rain storms were snow storms in the Sierra Nevadas and the train was delayed for hours while trees that the heavy, wet snow had downed were removed from the train tracks, a new engineer and crew were brought in from afar as the others had been on duty too long, and all the freight trains that had been held up had gone by. Johnny spent his 67th birthday on Amtrak's Coast Starlight. However, that didn't seem to bother him one bit. He felt lucky to have "8 extra hours on the train without having to pay anything extra for the privilege. They even gave us a free meal!" I think Johnny got to know everyone on the train. Meanwhile, I stewed and fretted until his train pulled in at 10 p.m. I hope he stays put for awhile.

We have to do our visiting separately since someone needs to milk goats and feed animals here on the farm. I don't mind going it alone as long as it isn't for too long. This two week stretch was a bit much. I missed him. (Of course, the standard smart-ass answer around here for "Did you miss me?" is "Yeah, but I'll keep shootin'.")

Sunday, January 17, 2010

ZAP and Kiva

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti this past week, thoughts around the world are turned to how we can help. Many agencies are trying valiantly to rush aid to Port-au-Prince. A list of U.S. organizations that you can donate to is here: In Great Britain, an umbrella group has been formed to funnel aid where it is most needed:

Immediate help for victims of disasters like this is critical, of course, but there is also a need for long term help for under served people all over the globe. This is where ZAP and KIVA come in.

I first heard of ZAP when I visited the Latimer Quilt Center in Tillamook. Their display at the time was of vibrantly colorful appliqued quilts from Zimbabwe... and the stories to go with them. I was fascinated. These works of art were made by indigenous women of a little rural area of Zimbabwe who had no other way to support their families. A European aid worker had begun an art project with these women many years ago and, eventually, an Oregon professor had become involved and started the Zimbabwe Artists Project to help market their wares.

Just recently, ZAP has begun selling the artwork from the women of Weya, Zimbabwe, on the internet. From note cards to appliqued panels to board and sadza (cornmeal porridge) paintings to amazingly intricate embroideries, the works tell of the lives of the subsistence farmers of Weya in colorful detail. Each artist writes out the story of the artwork and slips it into a pocket in the back. You can see the artworks and read more about ZAP here: And watch a great video showing the whole process here:

A beautiful embroidered folktale about birds of Zimbabwe hangs in our living room. A colorful board painting of goats as part of village life decorates our bedroom. These artworks not only enliven our home, they make me feel closer to some remarkable women on the other side of the globe. Each piece of art comes with a photo and bio of the artist. Although their lives are vastly different from my own, I have learned from their paintings that we share interests in birds, trees, wildlife, goats and folk tales.

Also making the world smaller and friendlier is Kiva, a more recent organization with a quite different focus. Through the power of the internet, Kiva allows individuals all over the world to loan money to small businesspeople who otherwise could not qualify for a loan without outrageous interest rates. Kiva actually backfills loans made by microlenders. For as little as $25, you can help someone in Cambodia buy silk to make weavings, or in Azerbaijan to increase a pig herd, or in the Philippines to buy chickens for resale or even in New York City to increase a mobile phone inventory in a small shop. Little by little your money will be paid back. You may keep that money, donate to Kiva, or loan to someone else, which is what I do.

People around the world are struggling to support themselves and these loans give them a helping hand. In all the time I've been loaning to Kiva, I've never had a loan go unrepaid. The microlenders who screen these borrowers do a very good job. You can read more about Kiva here: Of course, there are expenses involved in Kiva's operations and donations are welcome. You can also, with no expense to you, vote for Kiva this week in the Chase Community Giving contest and help them win money for their operating costs. More info on the Kiva website.

These gray days of January, with world news that often seems bleak, are made brighter and cheerier with the colorful artwork and lives of ZAP and Kiva friends around the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Horse Hoof Trimming

Today was Day 4, the last day of my bi-monthly hoof trimming ordeal. Normal people hire a farrier to trim their horses' hooves. I used to be normal, at least I used to hire a farrier. Then came the fall when Jessie Anne, bratty 3-year-old that she was, kicked at my farrier and he kicked back. I didn't blame him. But it was six months before I was able to even pick up her foot, much less clean it out. Since I didn't want to chance another episode with the farrier, I began trimming Polly and Mr. Smith's feet myself, plus three of Jessie Anne's. Eventually, she learned to trust again and now, six years later, she's very good for me.

Unfortunately, I didn't know what I was doing when I first started trimming horse hooves. It was a combination of long toes on grossly overweight Mr. Smith and what turned out to be a metabolic problem that resulted in acute laminitis the following spring. All four of Mr. Smith's hooves were permanently damaged and he could not walk for the pain for weeks. I suddenly learned, perforce, a great deal about hoof trimming and caring for a foundered horse. His feet needed to be trimmed every week, once he could finally hold 3 up long enough to trim the 4th. Through an online vet, phone instructions from an expert in trimming the laminitic hoof, hoof trimming clinics, and a wonderful online community of other folks facing the same problems, I learned. My easy-keeping Morgan horses are now all on low-carb diets. Mr. Smith has to wear a grazing muzzle spring, summer and fall. And I gain more insights into hoof trimming each time I do it.

No two horses have identical hooves or identical hoof issues. To make things more complicated, each hoof on a horse is different from every other hoof. I have learned to use different techniques on different hooves. Add in the different personalities and four horses give me an intense learning experience each time I work with their feet.

Jessie Anne is still Ms. Sensitive. I would not dare holler at her when she pulls a leg away from me. I have to use infinite patience and try to figure out what her problem is. Another horse moved out of her sight? She sees a coyote about a mile away? Or maybe she has a muscle spasm or an itch. Whatever, gentle reassurance is the only remedy for her nervousness.

Nightingale, who is Jessie Anne's 5-year-0ld daughter, is nothing like her mother. She is extremely people-oriented and yet very alpha. She always pushes me as far as she can before I blow up at her. Then she is good as gold as though to say, "Just testing." She never gets upset when I holler at her for taking a swing at me (which she used to do). Patience does not work with her. She will just keep testing me until I yell. No book on working with horses tells you that there is the occasional horse that cannot learn his or her limits by consistent, gentle but firm discipline. Nightingale needs a book of her own.

Polly is thirty-years-old and knows the ropes. The only time she objects to hoof handling is when her arthritic legs are giving her problems. But she always tells me there's a problem with a gentle attempt to take her leg away. If I do not listen and let her rest, she will get more vigorous in her objections but I long ago learned that Polly does not lie and if she says she needs to put her foot down and rest for a bit, she does. I'm in no hurry. My back could use a rest periodically anyway.

Then there's Mr. Smith. He is my soul mate and would not hurt me for the world. But he has issues not just with his feet but also with his stifles and because of those issues, he tends to pull muscles. Once his feet improved after his founder episode, Mr. Smith galloped and bucked happily around, messing up his stifles that were not in shape for such shenanigans. His stifles have improved with cavaletti and hill work. I've been jumping him over low jumps for the last two years and that seems to help his stifles as well. But he often lets me know, when I'm trimming his hooves, that something hurts.

Today when I trimmed Mr. Smith's feet, he did not want to put weight on his right hind leg for very long when I trimmed his left hind hoof. I massaged the stifle area but that did not seem to do it. He always tells me when I've found the sore spot so I watched his face and lips as I massaged his right leg. When I reached his gaskin, the response was immediate: he put his head down, closed his eyes, and licked and chewed. He even turned his head to try to groom me as though to say "That's the spot. Yes, please. What you're doing feels so good."

Farriers could trim all four of my horses in one day. I, however, cannot. In fact, when I first started doing this, I could only do two hooves a day. I finally made it up to four hooves but that's my limit. If I'm to have any energy left for chores and other work, I can only trim one horse's hooves per day. That's why it takes me four days. (Well, five days this time since I took one day off to go see the beautiful Hooded Oriole that's visiting Oregon... more about that another time.)

Now I have six weeks or so (more in the winter when the hooves grow slowly and less in the summer when they grow fast) to recover. I could have a farrier come, now that Jessie Anne is good and Mr. Smith's hooves don't need such frequent trims, but I am proud of how my horses' hooves look and I like finding out what's going on with their bodies by trimming their feet. I'm slower than a professional, but I think I know my horses' feet better than any farrier ever could and have learned what works for each.

I'm always glad , though, when Horse #4 is done in this round.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bird Talk

It's been very wet. Too wet to ride, so I avoid housework by birding. There are always moments without rain when the birds are cooperative. One of those happened this morning, during my chores. I feed goat grain and sunflower seeds in front of the barn each morning to the hordes of California Quail, Spotted Towhees, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Steller's Jays, Scrub Jays, House Sparrows, Bush Rabbits, and two White-throated Sparrows. One of the white throats is a tan version. That is, the stripes on his head are tan instead of white. The other is a very bright white individual. I managed to get a photo of that one today.

Yesterday was my monthly raptor run. This time the supervisor for all the Oregon raptor routes came along with me. I was hoping the rhinos at Oregon Wildlife Center would behave themselves. (An earlier blog tells about last month's trek.) Uhuru and Kengale both came very close to my car this time, nerve-wrackingly close, but then turned away and we were able to go through the gate safely. My supervisor thought it was great fun and took photos of the rhinos, Al the giraffe, and various exotic antelope. I just drove and prayed.

The day before yesterday we went up into the mountains above us with birding friend Marilyn. She had read a report of a cooperative Pygmy Owl not far from our farm. We did not find the owl, but we found Gray Jays, Varied Thrushes, American Dipper, Bald Eagle, and lots of beautiful scenery. One of the waterfalls we came upon is pictured.

Two days before the mountain trek, we made another mountain trek... across the Cascades to visit good friends in Redmond, Oregon. It was one of the few rainless days we've had lately. The mountains were lovely with all the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades visible. The 3 1/2 hour drive over and 4 hour drive back (with a half hour wait for a wreck to be cleared) left not much time between. We had to do chores before we left and after we returned. But it was great to see friends and take a short hike in a canyon near them in totally different scenery than we have on the west side of the mountains. Different birds, too, although not many were in evidence this winter day. Last summer we saw lots of Townsend's Solitaires on our hike at Smith Rock.

Today, I did book inventory, washed and put away clothes... and made arrangements for my next birding trek day after tomorrow... It's supposed to be reasonably dry that day. But every day is a good day to bird.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Mother-in-Law's Manual

I bought myself a book recently, "The Mother-in-Law's Manual", by Susan Abel Lieberman, Ph.D. I should have bought this book years ago, when I first became a mother-in-law. I have two beautiful daughters-in-law whom I both like and love and so I thought, naively, that I would have no trouble being the perfect mother-in-law. It has since come to my attention that I was wrong. So I bought this book.

Here's an excerpt: "There are, I have discovered, ten commandments for mothers-in-law. These rules are not mine. They come from mothers-in-law of every color, race, class, and disposition. Given the diversity of the women, the uniformity of opinion on this compels attention -- also discussion. Here are the ten most recommended rules:

1. Keep your mouth shut.
2. Keep your mouth shut.
3. Keep your mouth shut.
4. Keep your mouth shut.
5. Keep your mouth shut.
6. Keep your mouth shut.
7. Keep your mouth shut.
8. Keep your mouth shut.
9. Keep your mouth shut.
10. Keep your mouth shut.

If we all just followed the rules, this book could be one page long. We wouldn't need a book at all. With rules so simple, why is being a mother-in-law a challenge? Ah, we all know..."

There are other great quotes in this book. Like this one: "Hanging on to resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die."

And "Nothing is a big deal. It is what it is, and then it is something else." (That one from Silvia Boorstein in "It's Easier Than You Think: The Buddhist Way to Happiness")

I can't say that this book will turn me into the perfect mother-in-law that I thought I already was, but it's trying. And near the end of the book, it explains why I jolly well better be trying, too: "Be kind to the people who will choose your nursing home."

The very last chapter is composed of letters the author requested and received from daughters-in-law and sons-in-law who answered her plea to say what they would like to say to their mothers-in-law. Every one said, basically, "back off". "Love us, respect us, believe that we can take care of ourselves... but be there to help when we ask... and only when we ask."

Makes a person eager for her grandchildren to grow up and marry so their parents can become mothers-in-law and sons-in-law themselves. Then I'd love to give them this book. But, alas, that would violate every one of the ten commandments for mothers-in-law: Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. Keep your mouth shut. And, last but not least: keep your mouth shut.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

For many years, our New Year's Day tradition was to hike Spirit Mountain, rain or shine or snow or hail. Many friends and family members hiked with us, most only once... it's a strenuous hike. My dad was the most faithful... hiking into his 80's. But even he had to quit eventually. Then a couple years ago Johnny's back gave out shortly before Christmas and he was barely able to crawl from bed to bathroom, much less hike a mountain. After he had mostly recovered, we didn't rekindle the tradition.

This year as we lay snuggled in our warm bed early New Year's morning, we talked about what sort of new tradition we should instigate. We don't like joining the throngs on the highways, which is how we came up with the Spirit Mountain hike idea many years ago. Johnny suggested hiking up the hill across Agency Creek from us. Somehow, hiking in the rain and mud is not appealing to me anymore. Then I had a brilliant idea. We could lay out our proposed new goat barn and pound in the corner stakes!

The new barn has been in my mental works for at least twenty years, while the old barn gradually disintegrates. After Johnny built a new machine shed last summer (see earlier blog entry) and had the old one torn down, I could finally visualize where the new goat barn should go. Now I'm eager to get the details worked out and start construction. Well, to have someone start construction.

Okay, so planning a new barn isn't an annual tradition (at least I hope we aren't in the planning stage forever) but we have enough dreamed-up but unstarted projects around here to last for many New Year's Days. Cleaning off the top of the dishwasher is a project I keep meaning to get to but don't. Then there's the mess in the former kids' playroom. And my dad's life story that I have all the material for but haven't put together. And after the goat barn is built, there's the possibility of building a new house... Or at least beginning to consider the possibility...

Hiking the mountain was a great way to start the new year. We told everyone who joined us if they could make it to the top on New Year's Day, they could handle whatever challenges the new year brought. But I think if we can actually start a project that we've resolved to do but haven't, that is an equally good way to start a new year. And I am eager to start the new goat barn!