Monday, December 31, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Christmas Week, Part Three

On Sunday, December 30, we headed up the road to load the back of the van with rocks for my arboretum plantings, and to provide ballast for our trip into the Christmas Bird Count circle in case of snowy roads. We found snowy roads. But others had been there before us and the first mile into the circle on Forest Service road 2283 was easily navigated. Johnny had put snow tires on the van before we ventured out.

 We turned west at the 14 road, a rather main road up in the woods, to drive to the end of our sector where a clearing would let us have a beautiful vista on this sunny, clear day. But before we had gone a mile on this road, we came to a tree completely blocking the road. A big tree. 24 inches in diameter, in fact. Johnny had brought two chainsaws, including one big enough to tackle this tree, which he did.Cleverly figuring how to cut through the log without getting his chainsaw stuck, he worked from both sides. And succeeded, only getting the saw stuck once.

Then he used the van to push the separated log section to where we could roll it, downhill, off the road. Mission successful! We drove onward.

But did not get far. No one had driven on the far side of the log except one tracked vehicle that had apparently rolled right over top of the log, but turned around shortly thereafter and went back across again. The road beyond looked like an elk superhighway. There were deer and coyote and rabbit tracts, too, but mostly elk.

Our van is not four-wheel drive and we didn't think we could make it up the 14 road hill to our destination even with chains, so we turned around and went back through the log and down to the 2283. Next we tried going north on the 2283, toward the trail to Niagara Lake. Someone else had provided tracks to follow. However, in half a mile the tracks turned around and headed back and so did we.

Next we went east on the 14 road, intending to drive all the way out to Bible Creek Road, as we had done last scouting day. Soon we had to chain up as the snow was icy and deeper, although there were quite a few tracks of no doubt 4-wheel drive rigs. In several places, we noted, even they had slipped sideways. Not a good sign.

At milepost 2.7, we met our waterloo. The van's rear end slid toward the steep dropoff on the north side of the road... and off the road. We each said a few bad words, climbed out and assessed the situation. It was grim. Having been in such situations before, I grabbed the shovel and started shoveling snow and mud away from the tires while Johnny tried to figure out what to do. His first several attempts landed us closer to tipping off the edge. Clearly, we needed help, I thought. But cell phones don't work up there. Johnny thought some more. Eventually, he rigged up a come-along to a tree on the south side of the road and attached it under the front of the vehicle. To do that he had to jack the front up, allowing it to tip frighteningly (in my opinion) toward the abyss. And I was enlisted to get *in* the van and take it out of gear, keeping the wheels from whipping the wrong direction. I sure hoped Johnny knew what he was doing.

Apparently, he did. He tightened the come-along bringing the front of the van little by little toward the center of the road until it fell off the jack. Then he replaced the jack and did it again, each time warning me when the jack was about to fall so I didn't have a nervous breakdown... or bale out the window. His system worked. Soon the front tires were on solid ground. Then he did it all again at the back of the van. This time I had to turn on the motor and use the brake to keep the wheels from going backward when he tightened the come-along, now affixed to a tree closer to the rear of the van. I kept looking at these puny alders he was using to keep us (me specifically) from going over the edge and hoping they stayed where they were.

Little by tense little, the rear of the van was pulled away from the precipice. Soon Johnny had me put it in low and drive slowly forward as he tightened the come-along to keep the tension sideways on the back of the van. And then, two hours after the saga began, we were back on the road and I could breathe again. I did not get any photos as I was too busy either shoveling or praying. I did take a photo after the fact. You cannot tell from this how far off the road we were; how tipped the van was; or how steep the precipice. It's just as well.

A few yards farther was a place to turn around, which we did, and headed back to the 2283 and home. The snow was out of the tracks on the 2283 where we stopped to take off chains and the evening sky lovely. I was so glad we were driving instead of walking the long way home.

Johnny said, "Reminds me of when I got stuck in Wyoming in the snow and ice, while working for the forest service. That time the drop off I almost went over was 200 feet down. Took me 8 hours to get out of there." I am so glad he did not tell me when we were stuck up on the 14. His was not a story to inspire confidence. But, all's well that ends well, as they say. However, I will be walking my sector on count day, not driving. Johnny just has to get me to the edge of the count circle. I've had quite enough excitement for one bird count season.

The Ups and Downs of Christmas Week, Part Two

The day after Christmas, Wednesday, we had lunch with friends J.P. and Monica, unaware at that time that one of our Christmas Day companions was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. Happily no such health crisis happened to our day-after-Christmas friends. Or us.

Although J.P. and Monica are theater and art friends, not birding friends, they happen to host a flock of twenty some wild turkeys on their hill, all of whom were dining outside while we dined inside.

Thanks to weather and other commitments, I still had not run my December North Santiam raptor route, so we did that in a break in the weather on Friday. We saw nothing remarkable and I took only one photo, of a Bald Eagle along the North Santiam River on my route. His perch looked a mite precarious.

On Saturday, Johnny, bless his heart, finished the feed room and milk room banner and rosette cases that I had asked for after finding my lost goat show banners and rosettes in my lost and found tack trunk. You see, I had always dreamed of having my Premier Breeder and Premier Exhibitor banners from the Oregon State Fair fiberglassed into my new milk room should I ever get one. I did get a new milk room this fall but the banners were not to be found. At Thanksgiving, our son Steve helped sort out our old dead electronics to be recycled and/or given away. While digging through the attic to find a box of old Commodore computers I knew should be there somewhere, I found not only that box but also, buried behind it, my missing tack trunk. And therein the show banners and ancient rosettes. They now grace two walls of the feed room and one in the milk room, behind plexiglass, courtesy of Johnny.

My favorite banner of all is Gigi's. She was a 3/4 Nubian, 1/4 Alpine doe who was many, many times grand champion. Such crosses are registered with the American Dairy Goat Association as Recorded Grades. Her offspring with purebred Nubian sires could be registered as American Nubians, which all of my goats now are. Or would be if I were still bothering to register them. At the time I was showing both Nubians and Recorded Grades pre-1988, the grades were not part of the official dairy goat show at Oregon State Fair. But many of us breeders exhibited our grades anyway and put on our own show there. After several years of successfully doing that, with a minimum number of entries, the Fair Board allows the breed to become part of the official dairy goat show. And so it happened in 1988: Fink Family Farm Gigi won Grand Champion Recorded Grade Doe at that first official show. Not only that, but when all the grand champions of all the breeds were lined up to be judged for the Best Doe in Show, Gigi won. Here is her banner as Supreme Champion Doe of the 1988 Oregon State Fair.  Many of my Nubians before and after were Grand Champions, but Gigi's win was my proudest moment as a breeder.

Christmas week was definitely "up" on Saturday, especially after hearing that our friend Barbara was healing much faster than the doctors expected from her emergency surgery the day after Christmas. But then came Sunday... our scouting trip for the new Jan. 2 date for our Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count. That harrowing story in Part Three.

The Ups and Downs of Christmas Week, Part One

 This was our second Christmas Day spent with another birder couple whose grown children, like ours, live far away. We ate at a buffet in Tillamook, then went birding by car since it was raining. I didn't expect to see many birds but I was happily wrong. Waterbirds of sorts I seldom see here 25 miles inland were everywhere. I took, in fact, over 150 photos, most of which came out blurry. Here are a few that survived my culling, although they, too, are blurry. Our friends the Woodhouses had to identify most of these for us. Common Loon left and Red-breasted Merganser right. in the top tier; Horned Grebe left and Western Grebe right in the bottom tier.

Way off in the distance, across Netarts Bay, was a huge flock of Brant. I only know they were Brant because John Woodhouse said they were. Brant are black geese with white back ends and do not come inland.

Closer, much closer, were two Canvasbacks. They were preening and sleeping right next to the road in a marshy area. I don't believe I've ever been close enough to see the red eye before.

My favorite view of the day came from Oceanside Wayside. It was cold and rainy, but we could see the big rocks off Oceanside from the car. Zooming in closer and closer, we spied two eagles on a perch the Woodhouses said they often used. Below them on the rocks, on both sides, were dozens, probably hundreds, of sea lions.

It was a fun day with great friends, however things went south for them after that. Barbara Woodhouse woke early the next morning with severe abdominal pain and ended up in the hospital with emergency surgery for a ruptured diverticulum off her colon. She is, as of this writing, recovering well in the Tillamook hospital. A very scary happening to a very healthy friend. We never know what time bombs are lurking within.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Eve Story

(Warning: the above scenes from our living room's Christmas Village have nothing to do with the tale that follows. Nor does the tale that follows have anything to do with Christmas except it revolves around Christmas Eve... so I thought I should put some Christmasy photos here.)

It all started with an email from Kevin a few days before Christmas that said "Jessica says you must watch Arthur Christmas before Christmas. Hurry! You don't have much time."

I had no idea what he was talking about but dutifully went to to look for Arthur, since I had managed to forget the "Christmas" part of "Arthur Christmas". I saw it was a movie, watched a clip, and bought it. However, to get free shipping I needed to spend $25, so I bought another movie that amazon said people who bought Arthur also would like ("Tootsie"), and a book I've intended to give a friend but want to read myself first. That gave me the requisite over $25. However, the free shipping option would get the order to me after Christmas and we had been instructed to watch it before Christmas. The website warned me of this and said if I signed up for a free one month trial membership in Amazon Prime, I could get 2 day shipping and my order would arrive on Dec. 24. I could cancel Amazon Prime any time in that free month and not have to pay the $79 annual fee. So I signed up.

I told Johnny what I was doing and he said, "Didn't we already watch Arthur?"

"No, I've never even heard of it."

"Are you sure? I think we have it."

"We don't have it. We've never seen it. I watched a clip on the web and I'd never seen it before. ... But I'll go look to make sure."

So I scanned the racks of videotapes in our bedroom and found no Arthur.

On Dec. 24, Arthur arrived. By that time, I had reread the email and realized Kevin wrote "Arthur Christmas". I went back to amazon. The movie Jessica wanted us to watch is an animated tale, not at all like the Arthur DVD that was now sitting in our living room, along with Tootsie and the book "When Women Were Birds" (a most excellent book, by the way.)

We talked to Kevin and family by phone that afternoon and I told him the mistake I'd made. He laughed and said, "I ordered Arthur Christmas for you," (Kevin already had Amazon Prime) "but I forgot to change the shipping address and it came here instead."

"So you can watch "Arthur Christmas" tonight!" I enthused.

"We've already seen it, Mom."

Johnny and I watched "Arthur" on Christmas Eve. About two-thirds of the way through the movie I suddenly realized we'd seen it before. I said, "We've seen this before."

"Yeah," agreed Johnny, "I've been thinking that for awhile now."

We both laughed. This is not unusual for us... this forgetting we've seen a movie we're watching. Johnny figures we could see the same movie over and over and not know it... if we just waited a year or so between showings.

After Arthur was over, we agreed it wasn't much better than the first time, whenever that was.(Although the butler was funny.) Maybe we'd rented it with the Netflix 3 month trial that Kevin and Jessica had given us a few years back?  Ah well, we'd try for Arthur Christmas next year. We had another good laugh, did chores, took showers, and went to bed. Johnny got there before I did. When I walked into the bedroom he said, "I want you to look at the videos in that rack," and he pointed at the rack hanging on the back of the closet door. "What is the first video on the top shelf?"

It was Arthur.

How I missed seeing it, I don't know.

But I swear the clip I watched was not in the movie we watched on Christmas Eve. I wonder what that movie is?

I hope I can remember to cancel my Amazon Prime membership.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Best of Times/Worst of Times

The holiday season is a time of joy and misery. The joy, I find, is mostly for children. Churches try to convince us that the anniversary of the birth of the Christ child should make us rejoice. But we who are aging remember the good times when our loved ones were still alive and often find rejoicing difficult. And so December is a depressing month for many and this one has been no exception. Then last week happened and the depression became horror as we heard of mass murders in our own country: children gunned down. Everyone is asking why. Perhaps the soul searching of a nation in grief will have some good come from it: reasonable gun laws, improved mental health monitoring and care, and maybe even a reduction in video game and movie violence. "Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished," to quote Shakespeare. But snuffed out lives will not come back.

However, as a born optimist, I can't stay down for long. My methods of climbing out of the pit are many: signing all the petitions circulating to ask Congress to get their act together and pass sensible gun legislation helps me feel like I'm contributing something to the solution; answering Christmas cards and letters (since I never get around to sending Christmas cards ahead of time) helps me feel in touch with friends and family (while they're still alive); riding my horse gives me joy and keeps me from thinking about anything but what I'm doing... (the form here is lousy but boy were we having fun!)...

Just walking in the woods is a type of meditation for me.

Here's from a walk in our woods:

And planting trees... oh how I love planting trees. Some that I had ordered arrived last week. I happily dug holes in the muck and plopped in the poor, unsuspecting baby trees. I hope they live. Then I circled them with big rocks to foil gophers and my lawnmower next summer. I've ordered more to come in January and also February. I like having something to look forward to... tree planting, birdwatching, riding my horse.

Birdwatching... well, that's a daily activity. But I was especially looking forward to the Christmas Bird Count that takes place just up in the hills above us. It's a time when I walk through the wildness and breathe in freedom and beauty. And it was supposed to happen today.

However, last night a horrendous wind storm hit and the count leader decided it was too dangerous to send people up into the woods with trees likely falling every which way. Hopefully, the count will happen yet before the end of the Christmas count season. Meanwhile, Johnny and I drove up to our sector of the count circle today, after the wind died down, to see if there were trees across our roads. There were. One of them is now inside the van in manageable pieces. And there was snow. Enough that we had to put on chains. But in places so little that we took off chains. Then put them back on. Then off.

"We" was really Johnny and he is very tired tonight. Here's the scene where "we" first put on chains. (Obviously, I was operating the camera, not the chains.)

 Very soon now, the days will begin to lengthen: light will start overcoming darkness. I try to push the darkness out early by lighting up the greenhouse and front yard with holiday lights. Alas, I have yet to figure out how to photograph the lights. If I do it with a flash, you see greenery and not lights. If I do it without the flash, it looks like the place is on fire.

I hope everyone can find something to look forward to as the light begins to return. May the Solstice bring light and healing to all.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Trail to Niagara Lake

One week from today is the Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count, the count in our own backyard... so to speak. It's just a dozen or so miles up in the scenic forest land above our farm. Today we scouted the forest service roads to make sure they were drivable. Since Niagara Lake is in my sector of the count, we decided to hike into it to see if that would be worthwhile doing on count day. I have not bothered before because it is a very long way and has not had anything on the lake in the past.

It still is and it still hasn't.

But before we reached my sector I spotted a lump in a distant tree in a clearcut just a mile from home on Agency Creek Road. The lump turned out to be an adult Bald Eagle. Cool! The day was starting well.

The start of my sector enters forest service land... and forest road 2283 is full of elephant traps (big ditches to let water drain away). It's slow going. But eventually we made the four miles to the trailhead of Niagara Lake, with only one tree across the road that Johnny had to chainsaw into pieces and remove. So far so good.

It has been a few years since we hiked into Niagara Lake. Okay, more than a few. I do not remember the old 121 road being so long. But it had birds along the way today and that was encouraging. This handsome Red-breasted Sapsucker scolded us as we stood too close to his alder full of sap holes.

After a few million miles, or so it seemed, the 121 road gave out to an old road littered with fallen trees. Both the 121 and the abandoned road were also littered with elk sign: droppings, hoof prints, antler rubs on trees, and scraped patches on the ground where the big animals had uncovered whatever tasty morsels grow under the moss. 

The last few hundred miles of the path to Niagara Lake were suitable only for elk. I do not remember that path being so full of downed trees. If you could call it a path. I called it many things as I wore myself out stepping over logs and crawling under the ones too high to surmount.

But at last we reached Niagara Lake. We didn't realize it at first as it just looked like a clearing full of downed logs.

On closer inspection, it turned into a lake... full of downed logs.

 A pair of Song Sparrows and a Pacific Wren clambered about the floating debris, gleaning insects or something or other.

It felt good to finally reach our destination, although the last time we were there it was a lake not a logjam. I think it should be renamed Log Lake. Johnny, not having had enough exercise, I guess, opted to continue on the old road/elk path to see where it went while I opted to start back in hopes of reaching the waiting van before dark. Johnny caught up with me after I was back on the 121, looking like he still had plenty of energy. He needed it for the long hike back uphill to the van.

On count day, I will walk the 2283 to the 121 and the 121 to the sapsucker tree... and no farther. It was good to see Niagara Log Lake today, but once is enough.