Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas and A Walk in the Woods

After a week of cold rain, snow, hail, wind, gray skies and generally crummy weather, our California family left for the sunny south today... in bright sunshine for the first time since they arrived. We didn't have good snow for the kids to play in, but they did find some at our Washington kids' place. Steve and Munazza and Kestrel and Cedrus took the Amtrak from Portland to Seattle to spend a couple days with K&C's Uncle Kevin, Aunt Jessica, and Cousin Ian, while Auntie Fudge (aka Faiza) toured Powell's Bookstore with me and then came back to the farm to nurse a sore throat and fever... not a fun way to spend a holiday. Meanwhile, Kestrel and Cedrus were having a great time throwing snowballs, playing with Ian's super marble machine, and touring the old trains by Snoqualmie Falls.

Back here on the farm, it was tough to find any weather fit to go outside in. Once in awhile, the sun came out briefly to show the pretty snow just a short distance up the mountain from us...

but then the blue sky turned dark again and down came the hail.

Fortunately, Kestrel (almost 4) and Cedrus (almost 2) were happy to play with the many toys their doting parents, Auntie Fudge, and Grandma and Grandpa gave them at Christmas. During occasional breaks in the weather, they fed goats,

gathered eggs, and played in the new goat barn.

Along with the ever popular throwing rocks into the pond...

Kestrel helped Grandpa bring in firewood, as always. This time, he did some of it all by himself.

On the last day of 2010, our California kids stuffed three adults and two children and a ton of luggage and presents into their minivan and drove south.

There is no silence quite so profound as the silence in a house after the grandchildren have left.

But the sun was shining, so Johnny and I took the two dogs and went for a walk through our woods: destination, as always, the river (Agency Creek).

Moss and ferns and mushrooms love our wet, cool weather. Every tree was draped in greenery. Looking closer, this tree was decorated with more than moss and ferns. It was wearing icicles.

And what's this? Cotton candy??
No, frost! A delicate cotton candy whorl of frost on a twig.

A colorful mushroom peeked up through its bed of big leaf maple leaves and the ever-present moss.

Heading home through the arboretum, a trace of snow still appeared on Spirit Mountain, beyond our young sequoias.

Soon the sky turned gray again, with only Christmas lights to remind us of another holiday season... and another year... gone by.

Here's hoping for a healthy, happy, colorful and fun-filled 2011 for everyone.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas Umbrella and Other Holiday Craziness

With company coming to stay a week, off and on, Christmas dinner and other meals to plan and prepare, a house to put to rights, I naturally went to work stringing Christmas lights everywhere. With Christmas decorations to look at, who would notice the messy house?

I pulled out all the light strings from the attic boxes where they have been stored for years... I have not felt motivated to decorate for the holidays for some time. Testing all the strings, I found more than I expected to be in working order. I strung lights on the spruce tree outside the front door, on all the plants in the greenhouse/jungleroom, up and down the hall and in every bedroom, up the stairs, over windows... and still I had a netting of colored lights to go somewhere, but where? I needed something lit up in the back yard that could be seen from the kitchen window. But the linden tree is way too big, the Japanese maple way too small, and the apple tree too spindly.

Johnny suggested the round patio table from Dad's place that has been sitting next to the shop ever since we brought it from Dad's after his passing two and a half years ago. I didn't think a lit up table would be very impressive. Mom and Dad had a big umbrella that fit down through a hole in the table and into a hole in their patio. We had picnics under that umbrella at their house.... such fond memories.

The umbrella! Where was it?

We both remembered we had put it, for safe keeping, in the rafters of the horse barn. I hiked out there and pulled it down, bouncing it on the floor as I did. Out poured about a thousand flies that had been happily asleep for the winter in the warm folds of the umbrella. And one bat. All hit the floor. The bat seemed stunned, but alive. I smashed the flies and left the bat to recover on its own. (It did and later flew off.)

Back I trudged to the table by the shop. "Where is the extension pole?" Johnny asked. I didn't know we needed one and I was tired of trekking to the barn, so he went and came back with the pole. We set up the umbrella and table, threw the light netting over it, plugged it in, dragged a bench nearby and posed my stuffed snowman on the bench. I took a photo and called the decorating over. Time to actually get ready for Christmas and for company. Nothing like a rapidly approaching deadline to get me moving fast.

Christmas morning, the umbrella and table were tipped over on the ground, with a large chunk pulled out of the fringe of the umbrella. The table was too close to the llama pen. We righted the table and umbrella and moved them onto the concrete pad in front of the shop, safely out of reach of curious llamas. After company arrived, grandson Kestrel agreed to pose on the bench with the snowman. Then Grandpa Johnny joined them.

But a few hours later, the whole mess was on its side again. Without the pole safely in a hole, the umbrella and table were top heavy.

As it happens, we have a hole in the concrete pad, created when we poured the pad many years ago to hold a tether ball pole. Tether ball and pole are long gone but the hole remains. We reconstructed the umbrella and table and bench and snowman with the pole in the tether ball hole. Success at last.

But by this time, the much-rained-on snowman was torn and tattered. Johnny wrapped his legs in strapping tape and I put a pair of Johnny's shorts on him.

Meanwhile, back in the house where I was supposed to be preparing Christmas dinner, the kitchen sink and bathroom tub drain were plugged. Johnny worked with a long snake without success, then squirted hot water down to hopefully dissolve whatever was plugging up the works. I really needed a shower. We really needed to wash dishes. Eventually, Kestrel's dad Steve working a plunger in the bathtub managed to free up the drain. Hooray!

Dinner was served; hostess was showered; dishes were washed. What would the holidays be without a little chaos?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Opossum in the Chicken House!

Last night when I went into the chicken house after dark to close their outside door and gather eggs, I found an opossum in the nest box, having devoured one egg and ready for the next. I hollered and told it to leave. It just looked at me with those tiny eyes and sat still. I waved my arm and yelled. It just sat there.

The chicken house and garden shed are all one, so I went out and found a bamboo plant stake, came back, and poked the beast to make it go. With lightning reflexes, it grabbed my stick and chomped it in two. Angry now, I hollered "Get out of the nest box! Those are my eggs!"

The opossum was not impressed. I went back to the garden area and picked up a short-handled trenching shovel. I thought I could just lift the back end of the creature with the shovel and walk it out of the nest box. Our nest boxes are all in a row with a long, common lid which I was holding up with one hand, so the beast had plenty of opportunity to go out either end or over the top. But it wasn't going anywhere.

I put the shovel behind the possum and tried to scoot it out. It turned and bit the shovel. I poked it a good one. It bit the shovel with a loud crunch. Miserable creature. It had found an egg bonanza and had no intention of leaving. I went back to the garden shed for a wider, short-handled shovel and attempted to boost the miserable creature out with that. It turned and bit the shovel hard. CRACK. Opossums must have steel teeth.

Frustrated, I called Johnny on my cell phone. He had arrived home an hour earlier. "There's a possum in the nest box and I can't make it leave!" Johnny came out, took the shovel from me and tried to scoot the possum. It bit the shovel. "This is what we're going to have to do," Johnny said calmly. "We have to shovel it into a garbage can and take it up into the mountains tomorrow."

"Can't we just shoo it out of the chicken house?"

"It will come back."

"I'll close the door earlier."

"It will come back during the day."

Johnny retrieved a garbage can... after removing the bag of chicken food within, leaned the can against the nest box, and shoveled the belligerent opossum, which by now had smashed another egg. The opossum was not interested in being shoveled into a garbage can but Johnny finally succeeded while I stood holding up the nest box lid and staying far away from those needle-sharp teeth.

In the uproar, the can with possum tipped over and possum scurried out. But Johnny, with excellent timing, shoved the can in front of the beast and scooped it back up. I was still standing away from the action, holding the nest box lid up unnecessarily.

This morning, I went out to feed the chickens and let them out, telling Johnny I was ready any time to go with him up in the mountains with the canned possum. Somehow, during the few yards from our house to chicken house, I forgot and lifted the lid of the can that normally holds a bag of chicken food. A very disgruntled, but fat and glossy, opossum looked up at me from the bottom of the can and snarled.

A bit later, Johnny bungee-corded the lid on the can and we hauled it in the van up the road several miles. Johnny took the lid off and tipped the can over while I waited with camera ready, figuring Johnny would have to shake the can to get the creature to move. But it must have been tired of its confinement in an egg-free zone and scurried out. All I managed to get was a blurry shot of a fast retreating, very well-fed opossum.

I had noticed that the pan of milk I left out for the chickens was completely empty, so the possum ate well the night before.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Really Cool Christmas Light Display

Out in the middle of nowhere in northwest Oregon (not too far from us) is a most amazing synchronized light display. Although we heard about it some years ago (it began in 2002), last night was the first time we drove out to see it, thanks to a recommendation from friend Carol.


Craig Newton was in high school when he took over the Christmas light decorating at his parent's house. Now he has graduated from college with a degree in computer science. And the light display synchronized to music that Craig started in 2002 has expanded each year until now it includes a snowball fight, a talking polar bear, a jillion more lights and displays, plus a low power emitter so viewers can sit in the warmth of their cars (we did) and listen to the music and commentary on 98.3 fm radio.

From a story in McMinnville's News Register some years ago:

"A train with a wagon full of gifts puffs away on the left side of the yard while a couple of angels flap their wings in opposing trees. An arch proclaiming "Happy Holidays" stands over the driveway, flanked by snowmen. Two drum beaters on the right are joined by a guitar player. A herd of reindeer is running toward the road, another is grazing. And every tree in the yard is covered by lights. Every single one."

Craig, with the help of family and friends, starts stringing lights in October so the 18 minute show can open soon after December 1st. It runs through New Year's, over and over from 5 to 9:30 every night. To see everything that's going on, you almost have to watch the whole show several times. Signs direct cars to parking areas. What a fun gift to the community it is!

And, the first of January, Craig starts working on the next year's always-expanded show. has directions on how to get there (the house and yard sits alone at the edge of fields on a country road near the little town of Amity), information on each year's show, the music (also varied from year to year), and a guest book. The website has photos, but they don't give you a sense of the live, moving production with its synchronized music.

Very cool!

We hope to bring grandkids to see it next week, when they arrive for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Wet and Wonderful? Day

We had wild weather for our Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count this year. We usually have wild weather but this year's seemed exceptionally wild. It didn't start out too badly with some light rain or just-gray skies. But it quickly deteriorated to thunder and lightning followed by hail with the occasional rain and/or wind storm thrown in. The ground was frequently covered with white hailstones which melted in the rain only to return with the next round of thunder/lightning/hail.

Not many birds were out in that weather. But some didn't seem to mind, like this Varied Thrush that was busily finding something to eat along the road.

Most of my long hike, early in the day, into the area where I had found a Wrentit on our scouting trip was in pretty decent weather, that is, not too much hail. But the Wrentit refused to speak to me, much less appear. A couple vocal Gray Jays were my consolation prize, along with the usual Pacific Wrens, and a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

By the time I headed back to where Johnny waited with the pickup (his sciatica started acting up again a few days ago so he was not doing much walking), my knees were starting to give out. I stupidly forgot to wear my knee supports. Between the weather and my knees, I spent most of the rest of the day being chauffered from point to point slowly in the pickup, stopping and hiking on offroads that looked promising. Mostly, I just heard Pacific Wrens giving their one and two note alarm calls as I hobbled past with my bamboo walking sticks click clicking.

One of the last roads I hiked had amazing sculptures along it. With time, all the snags in this northwest rain forest grow bonnets of ferns or salal on their tops. I took photos, between hailstorms, of two of them. You can't tell it from the dark photo, but this short snag with the bouffant salal hairdo is coated with moss and riddled with woodpecker holes. Too bad the woodpeckers were not around to be counted.

Here's another favorite that made me laugh out loud. (Remember, this was near the end of a long, wet, cold, fairly birdless day punctuated with knee pain. I was hungry for some comic relief.)

I was also just plain hungry. And I knew that a sumptious meal awaited all of us crazy birders-in-the-hail at the wrap-up, where we share our day's adventures and misadventures, good birds and missed birds. Linda Leavitt, who lives within our count circle (a 15-mile diameter circle plunked in the middle of the coastal mountains), provides the meal in her warm, inviting house.

Johnny and I arrived at Linda and David's house after dark, when some of the participants had already partaken and gone home, others were eating, but a few were yet to drag in. What a meal Linda provided! Before filling my plate, I took photos of the two laden buffet tables, because, at that hungry and tired moment, Linda's food appeared to be the highlight of the day. And it did taste wonderful.

Once fed, warm, and rested, with good company to share the day's stories with, the 26th Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count seemed more like an adventure and less like an ordeal.

It is, after all, a rare and wonderful thing to spend a whole day in a vast forest with no noise except the wind in the trees and the occasional bird sound. And thunder. Well, okay, so the hail on the roof of the pickup was sometimes pretty loud. And my rain pants made swishing sounds as I clicked along with my bamboo hiking sticks. But those are comforting sounds... the rain pants were getting wet, not me, and better the pickup should get hit with hail than my face.

For once I did not take photos of the myriads of cascading streams... I didn't want to get my camera wet and the sky was usually precipitating. However at one break in the wet stuff, I took a photo of a vista... miles and miles of trees... probably full of birds too smart to come out from cover to be counted.

Johnny and I found ten species. But altogether over fifty species were found in this coastal rain forest on a wild and, in retrospect, wonderful day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Salmon Poisoning!

It's been a stressful beginning to a normally festive time of year. On Monday, Nov. 29, Mr. McCoy, our 7 1/2 month old Great Pyrenees, took the 25 mile car ride to our vet's office to be neutered. Livestock Guardian Dogs do not like to leave their family (goats, in Mr. McCoy's case). LGD's are submissive by nature (except when protecting their family) and show their submission to their goats, people, sheep, whatever, by sitting or lying down. Mr. McCoy went into submissive overdrive at the vet's office, refusing to get up and walk into the building. The vet's assistant had to pick up and carry that 70 pound lanky white blob of fur from the front walk into the office. McCoy was not any happier about getting back into the car to come home later that afternoon, when I came to retrieve him after his surgery. Again the assistant carried him and stuffed him into the back seat. He barely fit.

For the first two days after getting home, McCoy seemed fine... but a bit subdued... I thought because of his operation. The site of the operation looked fine... no heat, swelling, redness... so I figured McCoy would soon be back to normal. Thursday morning when I gave him the anti-inflammatory pill I was giving him morning and night, he threw it up along with whatever else was in his stomach. That was the beginning of a downhill slide. Our big white normally exuberant pup grew lethargic and totally stopped eating.

I thought McCoy might be having a reaction to the anti-inflammatory and would recover now that I'd quit giving it to him (no point since he threw it up). But he had not rallied on Friday so I called the vet. She said I'd have to bring him in for her to see what was going on. The thought of dragging that poor dog to the vet clinic again was enough to make me wait until Saturday to see how he was doing. He seemed a little brighter on Saturday although still not eating. Same on Sunday. Something, I knew not what, was very wrong. I was very worried. Monday I took Mr. McCoy back in to the clinic, much to his dismay.

We learned that Mr. McCoy had all the symptoms of salmon poisoning: swollen glands, fever, diarrhea, no appetite. But he could not have been around fish since he had been locked in the goat pasture for weeks. And the vet could find no flukes in his feces. He was also slightly anemic. She gave him a penicillin-derivative antibiotic, thinking, I suppose, that he must have some sort of infection going on, although salmon poisoning had seemed most likely to her, as this is the time of year for it. She just couldn't find the telltale flukes, necessary for diagnosis. The vet asked if our other dog could have shared some fish with him and explained how very infectious the flukes are. One dog that has licked the blood of an infected fish can give it to another just by touching noses. Apparently, virtually all trout/salmon family fish that come into fresh water to spawn in the Pacific Northwest, west of the cascades, are infected.

We have never seen spawned-out salmon dying in our creek frontage, but we know that this year is a better salmon run than usual and anything is possible. Shirley does have access to the creek and I suggested I bring her in to check her feces. Shirley seemed a bit depressed the last few days but I thought that was because all my attention and worry had been going to McCoy and she was jealous. Maybe, though, she was starting to get sick...

The next day, Tuesday, I hauled another very reluctant livestock guardian dog 25 miles to the vet and that same assistant had to pick a flat-on-the floor Shirley up (at least Shirley walked into the clinic on her own before realizing this was not where she wanted to be) and carry her in to the examining room. Shirley had a normal temperature, no swollen glands, but a touch of diarrhea. The vet put the feces under a microscope and soon came back triumphant... Shirley had flukes!

Salmon poisoning is caused by a microorganism that lives in snails that are common in the Pacific Northwest. When the snails are eaten by fish (salmon or trout that come into fresh water to spawn), that microorganism creates a cyst in a common fish parasite. When a dog (or coyote/wolf/fox) eats the fish, it ingests that infected parasite. 90% of dogs that develop the disease and are not treated, die. The good news is that most dogs that recover are immune from then on.

The treatment is tetracycline. Shirley got an IV of tetracycline and I got pills to give her morning and night. As soon as I got home, I turned around and took Mr. McCoy back in for his tetracycline shot as he almost certainly had salmon poisoning, too. Who knows why the flukes didn't show up in his feces. That made trip number 3 across the coast mountains to the vet clinic in 2 days.

The turnaround for both dogs has been fast and wonderful. On Wednesday, both dogs ate their treats and Shirley cooperated by eating her tetracycline pills hidden within the treats. McCoy had to have his pills thrown down his throat... and still does. Today, Friday, McCoy is back to his bouncy self, gobbling everything in sight (except the pills). Shirley has had a bit of swelling in her leg from the IV but is moving around better now and eating fine. I have slept well the last two nights for the first time since this whole mess began.

With the dogs on the mend yesterday, I took a stress-relieving trip to Egan Gardens with two friends to view the spectacular poinsettia plants. Wow! What a picker-upper! Rather than photos of sick or recovering dogs, here are photos of the Egan greenhouse full of poinsettias and a couple that I bought. Life is good again. Let the festivities begin!

This is all one plant! And a new variety for Egans this year.

This one is very young, yet, and small. But oh so pretty! I bought several... couldn't help myself.

It's for a good cause: Egans is donating everything above their cost to a food bank.