Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Letter 2014

The living Christmas tree in front of our house. I managed to string lights this year without falling off the ladder.

For years, we sent out an annual "State of our Union" letter to friends and family somewhere around our February wedding anniversary. Also for years, we sent Christmas cards. But for an unremembered number of years now, we have done neither, or at most sent, in response to holiday cards from our friends and relations, whatever cards various organizations insisted on giving us to guilt us into donating to them. I should make cards, like some of you clever people do, but considering the wreath fiasco...

The wreath sent to the east coast arrived without rosehips, the wreaths sent to Colorado were delayed in the mail and arrived all dried out. This wreath I hung on the goat barn with plastic goat collars. At least it's colorful.

This year, after reading the newsy letters from friends around the country printed on colorful Christmas stationery with photos of their families, I thought I would do that. Except my computer and I don't know how to insert photos into documents. And I'm not organized enough anyway to figure out to whom I should send letters. Hence this post... to be sent out into cyberspace and read by anyone who knows my blog address and cares to check in to see what we've been up to... or read by whomever happens to stumble upon it.

Now that that's out of the way, what to say about our year? Unlike many of our friends, as reported in their letters, we did not go on any cruises or tour any foreign countries or otherwise leave the farm... together... for more than the time between morning and evening goat milkings. But we had fun. Something I read somewhere said to live your life so that you don't need a vacation. Or something like that. And that's what we do. Every day is a new adventure. Possibly because we can't remember what we did the day before. That memory thing, in fact, is why I write this blog. So we can look back and see what the heck we did last week. If you are interested, browse my blog. I think you'll find photos of grandkids and flowers and farm life, tales of my trips to Shakespeare plays, to visit kids and their families, and lots of "citizen science" bird surveys.

Some farm life: Jessie Anne, Nightingale, and Mr. Smith

Here we are on our latest bird survey: the Upper Nestucca Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 22.

And you'll find photos and stories of Johnny's many projects on the farm and trips to visit the kids. I like that we have to visit the grandkids separately, while the other stays home to tend the farm, because that way I get their full attention. They are all nuts over their crazy Grandpa who makes them popcorn waffles when they visit and lets them tear around the farm in our electric EZ Go golf carts.

For those of you who know (and remember) our kids, they're fine. Kevin and Jessica, with 13-year-old son Ian, have a big dressage training facility in Washington. (Dressage, for you non-horse-people, involves horses.) Kevin works at something to do with computers. Jessica runs the barn business (and several other related enterprises). Ian does gymnastics and stuff with computers. I think he has his own web page development business. Good grief.

Steve and Munazza and Kestrel (about to turn 8) and Cedrus (about to turn 6) live in California. Steve and Munazza both do something involving computers. Cedrus plays keyboard (amazingly well) and Kestrel guitar (amazingly well). Both boys do hip hop dance (amazingly well).

Other kids we call our grandkids but really are not (because their parents are our friends not our offspring) are David, 25 (how is that possible?) and his sister Kinnera, about to turn 15 (how is that possible?). David does not do something with computers. David works for a coffee company and is writing a novel. Kinnera sings (beautifully) and is learning the piano.

All of our grandkids (like all grandkids in holiday letters) are amazing and, of course, brilliant. Photos of all of them are probably somewhere on my blog. If you're interested, try searching for their names. Or look for "A Visit from the Washington Family" and "A Visit from the California Family".

Of course, not everything is always wonderful in our lives. My only sibling died on Easter Sunday after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Even though we lived far apart and seldom saw each other, Bob and I were very close and I miss him.

Live your lives so you don't need a vacation. Hug each other. And laugh often.

The front entrance to our house, otherwise known as The Jungle Room

My Christmas village, looking out into The Jungle Room

Here's to a colorful, joyful 2015 from the Fink Family Farmers... Linda and Johnny

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Non-raptor Highlights on our Raptor Routes

There are more things than birds to make our raptor routes fun. On December's Grand Ronde route, we came upon our friend Susan driving her handsome team of draft horses.

On another private sector that we drive through, Mt. Jefferson loomed majestically in front of us.

Coming and going, this face can be seen on a hillside south of Highways 18/22 between Willamina and Fort Hill. We have been told that it was created (planted) at the same time the clearcut was replanted. The orange face is larch trees, a deciduous conifer. When the needles fall, the face will disappear. But right now, it is quite visible and fun to see. Just don't wreck your car looking. I pulled off the highway to take these photos from the west-bound lane.

A few days later (on Dec. 6), we did our North Santiam route for the month. It was a gray and drizzly day but I took some photos anyway of waterfowl and a noisy Kingfisher at John Neal Park in Lyons where we stop to eat our lunches. I love the woodsy ponds and so do the birds.

Gadwalls, clothed in soft gray to match the weather

Ring-necked Duck, handsome even through drizzle

Fluffed up Kingfisher, standing noisy guard over his ponds

I walked on farther with hordes of juncos, a Bewick's Wren and this Downy Woodpecker paying me no attention.

My goal, as always when I hike in John Neal Park, was to hopefully find the pair of Red-shouldered Hawks we discovered there a couple years ago. They were not to be seen on our November run. But this day, fate smiled on me. The pair of impossibly beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks sat for photos. How could any raptor be this colorful?

Raptors are, indeed, the point of our raptor surveys, but there are many non-raptor bonuses, too, including lovely scenery, a smiley face on the mountain, and, at least once, a team of gorgeous horses.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thanks Giving

Although it was an ordeal getting this dirty, messy house civilized enough for company and figuring out what to feed everyone for four or five days, the minute those two adorable grandchildren walked through the door on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, it was all worth while.

First on their list of what they wanted to do on the farm was ride and drive the EZ Go. Cedrus loves to drive. Fast. Kestrel seems to like the thrill of surviving these speed trips. Johnny took these two photos.

Kestrel and Cedrus also love games. Here they get all twisted up in Twister with Grandpa.

On Wednesday, more friends arrived for cider making and a potluck, allowing for more thanks giving.

Neighbor Irv, Johnny, Steve, and Linda Leavitt washing apples. Love Linda's hair! Barb and Mark Millikan also helped but didn't get in the photos.

Linda Leavitt's brother Randy did most of the apple chopping, with a little help from Cedrus and Kestrel

All the kids took turns squeezing the apples.

Jessie, Dillon, Kestrel and Cedrus

Dillon, Steve, Cedrus, Kestrel and Dave Leavitt. Love Dave's beard!

Look at all that cider Kestrel is squeezing out!

Kestrel helped his dad bottle the cider.

In the evening, Cedrus (5) and Kestrel (7) performed. Cedrus played the piano; Kestrel the guitar. Cedrus also danced. Wow! I did not take photos because I was too engrossed in listening and watching my incredibly talented grandchildren to think about taking pictures. Alas, Johnny didn't take photos either. If Munazza or Steve did, I'll add photos to this blog whenever they send them to me.

On Thursday, the traditional turkey day for most people (but not us), Hazel and John and Kinnera Inman arrived. Cedrus and Kestrel renewed their adoration of now-teenaged Kinnera. I think the feeling is mutual. I tried to get photos of everyone on a hike to the creek but they were a tough group to organize.

I think this one is where Grandpa Johnny volunteers to hold anyone's clothes who wants to go swimming and Kestrel says, "Too cold!!"

Later that day, Kinnera's brother David and his friend Josh arrived. That evening we had more performances. This time Kinnera and David shared the limelight with C&K. Kinnera sang, beautifully, for us and David juggled. It was like having a private variety show. Such talented children!

Friday people finally got to eat a turkey dinner. And hike, of course. In our house it's traditional to hike after the mid-day Thanskgiving meal. Josh and David and Kinnera spent time communing with the goats and the big white dog. I should have taken a photo of McCoy bouncing from one person to the next, throwing himself against David for petting, then leaping up and bouncing to Josh for more petting, then to Kinnera, almost knocking her over. He was a very happy dog. They were very dirty children. (Yes, David and Josh are still children to me even though they're all grown up.)

I took this photo of Cedrus next to his namesake tree, Cedrus deodora, in my arboretum on one of our many hikes. Right now, Cedrus the person is slightly taller than Cedrus the tree. We'll see how long that lasts.

Kestrel and Cedrus organized evening and rainy day games. One was a kids' version of charades. One person acts out the word on a card while the others guess what in the world the actor is or is doing. But the kids' most favorite game was "Vacation". One person says where they're going on vacation, then hides his/her eyes while the others strike poses that they might take on that vacation. The vacationer then opens his/her eyes and tells what the scene represents and which of the actors he/she is. It's quite hilarious.

I have no idea where this vacation was but the kids certainly enjoyed it.

I remember this one. It was to a chocolate factory where everyone ate too many samples.

And here Josh got in the act as an airplane while everyone else got blown away on the wings. Some vacation!

Kestrel and Cedrus brought their tower building game, the name of which I always forget. Here Grandpa and Kestrel are trying to beat the record 37 stories that Munazza says we made when I was down at their house. I only remember the terror of knocking it over. I think this tower reached 33 or 35 stories... or some number.

Friday night, more friends stopped by and we had another performance with song, dance, piano, guitar and juggling. This time I tried to get a photo of David juggling but the oranges (we didn't have balls) would not hold still in mid-air. It's a nice photo of Monica and J.P., though, enjoying David's show.

You can almost see the 3 oranges here

At some point one evening or another (things have sort of run together in my over-stimulated mind), we gathered Inmans and Finks together for a group photo. Steve figured out how to set the timer on my camera. I didn't even know it had a timer.

On the floor: Grandpa Johnny with Kestrel, Dad Steve with Cedrus, John. In the back, Josh, David, me (Grandma Linda), Kinnera, Hazel, and Munazza

Then there was a call for a funny face photo.

Everyone, I think, had a good time here which is what it's all about. On Saturday, they all left for their respective homes, leaving Johnny and me tired but full of thanks giving for a wonderful group of friends and family.

Would I do it again? Ask me in another few weeks, when I've recovered. Johnny, the quintessential extrovert, is ready now.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Scary Sounds and Chipmunk Wars

Y'all may notice that I never say when Johnny has been out of town until he returns. That's because I don't want to broadcast when I'm a woman home alone. I do not understand these people who have devices that tell the world where they are at any moment and post their position on facebook. It's like saying "The whole family is gone for the evening. Come on thieves and burglarize our house."

Okay, so call me paranoid.

A few months ago, a neighbor friend was gone over a weekend. His wife called us on Monday and asked Johnny to come up and fix her door so it could be locked. In the wee hours that morning, she had awakened when her dogs, who sleep in her bedroom, barked and ran out of the room. Then she heard the unlockable back door slam shut. We have had several burglaries in our neighborhood over the last several months. Johnny went up there and fixed her door. He was leaving the following day for one of his trips to visit our kids. Before he left, he fixed our front sliding glass door so it could be locked.

I was a wee bit nervous with him gone and so recent a break in at a neighbor's house. I locked all doors that night.

Several nights later I woke in the night at the sound, I thought, of our kitchen door shutting. After a long frightened several minutes, I assured myself that the back door was locked and if anyone were around, our dogs would have barked. The big white dog is locked up during the day but turned loose at night. The black dog is always loose but out in the field with the llamas and sheep.

I did not go back to sleep for hours.

The next morning I discovered that the back door was unlocked and realized that I had not remembered to lock it the night before. But the door opens into the back room and is not air tight. If I don't shut the door between that room and the kitchen tightly, it blows slightly and sounds like what I heard during the night. Anyway, the big white dog would have barked.

Except when I went out to the barn to feed in the morning, I discovered that I had forgotten to let the big white dog out the night before.

I have not forgotten again. Nothing like a good scare to jog the brain cells.

The day after this unnerving event and loss of sleep, I took a nap in my reclining chair in the living room with an afghan over me, after lunch. I awoke when I felt something... or someone... touching my leg. I jerked upright and saw... a very startled chipmunk jump off my legs. In spite of Johnny's efforts to chipmunk-proof the house, the little rodent was obviously still getting in. (Earlier story here: )

After my blood pressure returned to normal, I vowed to get that chipmunk out of the house. But although it disappeared for days at a time, it always reappeared, often on the stairs to my office, standing with its little paws on the glass door at the foot of the stairs, staring into the dining room. Cute, but destructive. It digs holes in my potted plants to, apparently, store seeds that it steals from here and there. The latest hoarding location is kleenex boxes. It wraps up apple seeds in many twisted tissues and stuffs them back into the box.

Although I have yet to get a photo of it standing at the door, I did get this photo of it on our stair rug.

One of the times the little dickens came down the stairs, I opened the window on the stair landing. Then I guarded the top of the stairs while Johnny came in from below and tried to shoo it out the window. But the chipmunk hid under the plant table by the window instead. Johnny moved closer. The chipmunk fled up the stairs and leaped past my face as I screamed and ducked. Clearly it was not going out the window and clearly I was not prepared for flying chipmunks.

After months of these chipmunk wars, Johnny thinks he may have found the entry point... a tiny gap between the ceiling upstairs and the brick chimney that goes from downstairs wood stove up through the second floor, where my office is, and the roof. He foamed that gap a few days ago and the chipmunk has not reappeared. Of course, it has disappeared before for days or weeks, only to return and dig dirt out of yet another plant, spreading it all over the place.

Or climb on someone's lap while they nap.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Adventures in Birding

The title of this post is a bit misleading. An "adventure" is any crazy thing we do that we live to tell about. "Birding" is anything we do that involves birds, live or dead.

On Wed., Nov. 12, we ran the North Santiam raptor route, which is usually a pretty calm and safe affair. This time the sign at John Neal park, where we always stop for lunch and to hike around looking for the Red-shouldered Hawks we used to see there, was a bit worrisome. That sign is always there giving the latest sighting of a cougar in the area. Usually it's months or even years before we arrive. But this time it was just a week before: Nov. 3... and it appeared that November 2 had been written first and then 3 later, so it was likely spotted both days. Johnny assured me it was probably seen at night by the trail camera they have on duty. 

We walked around the cold, lonely, empty park and found no cougars and no Red-shouldered Hawks.

Driving onward to Gates, where we often stop in to visit friends Jay and Cindy before we head back east for the final segment of our route, we saw tree limbs down everywhere with people in front of their houses raking them off the road. Must have been a wind come through, we noted. Jay and Cindy have a long driveway through the woods and it was covered with tree limbs. We managed to drive over them but had to frequently back up to free some limbs that had been grabbed by the undercarriage of our very low car. Jay told us he had chainsawed his way out that morning as there were trees across it. The night before they had had hurricane force east winds. A wind came through, all right.

That night, after we were safely home, the temperature dropped and we woke to an icy wonderland. Lovely, but very, very cold.

Our next birding adventure was the following Saturday, Nov. 15. It looked to be warmer on the coast than at home and so we headed west to do our beached bird survey.

It should have been the usual pleasant canoe trip across the Salmon River and then the long, rather tiresome couple hours of finding and identifying and recording all the dead birds on the beach, followed by an even more pleasant canoe trip back to Knight Park aided by the wind blowing off the ocean. Good plan.

There was just one problem. The wind was blowing off shore... toward the ocean. That was okay on the way out, with the wind at our backs. Although that east wind was icy cold, the trip was only mildly scary with wind-whipped waves to ride. The tide was going out and so were we.

Eating lunch on the beach after we landed would have been pleasant in the bright sunshine... if we didn't have to each find a huge log to hunker behind to keep the wind from blowing us over and the sand mostly out of our food. The farther away from the river we walked on the beach, the less the wind. But the cold east wind was still blowing and blew all afternoon.

Eighteen dead birds later we were ready to head back. But now the river was full of white-caps and the wind was still blowing toward the ocean, a direction we did not want to go. After discussing the possibilities (I prefer to call our exchange a discussion rather than an argument), we settled on pulling the canoe through the water while we walked on shore upriver to a point where we could more safely paddle across. Hopefully. I was all for walking the entire way on shore to reach a point beyond the park dock so we could let the wind blow us back to the dock. Johnny nixed that plan. It would have been a very long walk dragging a reluctant canoe through very shallow water at beach edge.

Johnny insisted we canoe across and land west of the park where a road comes down to the river. One of us could hike to the van and drive back down that road. So that's what we set out to do. But the tide was with us even if the wind wasn't and at first the going was not too bad. We opted to angle to the far shore and follow the bank upriver to Knight Park. Unfortunately, the wind was stronger midriver and we had trouble keeping the canoe headed into the waves rather than being hit broadside. Plus, since the waves were angling, not parallel to shore, by facing into the waves we were not getting to the far side of the river.

We did eventually get close to the far bank and were able to keep heading upriver with me pushing off underwater rocks with my oar, rocks that we might otherwise have run into. Getting to that road on the other side, our original intention, would have meant turning the canoe broadside to those big waves... not a great idea. So we struggled onward, fighting the wind that usually helps us. Eventually, what seemed a very long time later, we made it to the dock and landed, tired and wiser.

Never again will I neglect to check wind speed and, most importantly, direction before I choose a day to do our dead bird survey.

We have no photos of that part of our Saturday adventure except lots of photos of dead birds, none of which are recognizable. We measure whatever parts remain in order to figure out what they are/were. We also have no photos on our way home via the Nestucca Wildlife Refuge where we did not see the now famous Bean Goose (it was cold and windy and we were tired so didn't spend much time looking). But I did take a photo of Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda where we stopped at sunset to look for the Brown Booby reported to be flying around the rock. While Johnny talked on the phone to his nephew back in Illinois who had called him, I scanned the skies. I did see one dark bird bigger than the others flying about but who knows if it was the Booby. I took a consolation picture of the fast disappearing sunset over the Rock.

On Sunday, we opted for a pleasant, non-eventful drive in the cold sunshine up into the Upper Nestucca Christmas Count circle to check on a landslide we had been told was blocking the main road through the circle. Alas, Sunday must have been the last day of some hunt period as pickups with hunters were everywhere. Not wanting to be mistaken for an elk or deer or whatever they were trying to shoot, we did not get out and hike.

Before heading for the slide on the Nestucca River Road, we drove up Clarence Creek Rd. to see if it was open to the waterfall. A slide had closed that road some years back. It was open now and the falls amazing... but impossible to photograph through the trees. I took a picture of the top...

...but there was no way to photograph the long, long, fall. In fact, there was no way to tell when it was at the "bottom" because the creek just kept going down, down, down... Our waterfall guide book only lists Clarence Creek Falls as 45 feet so that mile drop is officially just creek, I guess.

We turned around then and headed to the landslide, which turned out to be 2.3 miles east of where Bible Creek Road hits the Nestucca River Road, the main road our CBC counters use to get from one side of the circle to the other. They will have to take alternate routes. The road is expected to be closed at least a month while crews try to knock down more of the cliff before it decides to come on its own and fill the river, where salmon are running right now.

As we were standing there, several small boulders came rolling down. I thought maybe the Bald Eagle circling over our head was waiting for us to get beaned by a rock so it could have dinner. I opted to move away from the falling rocks.

The day was gray and frosty and the cliffs laced with icicles.

A short distance west of the slide is Alder Glen Campground, with a wonderful wheelchair ramp and handicap accessible dock over the river. I walked out onto the deserted ramp and took a photo of a falls across the river.

Downstream from the dock was a Dipper bathing and feeding.

Then we headed back to Bible Creek Road and on to Gilbert Creek Road and our friends the Leavitts, where the wrap up dinner after the Christmas count will be held. Every year Linda provides a huge, delicious buffet and hot drinks to all the counters. I am sure we have the best post-count wrap-up of any Christmas count anywhere.

After giving the Leavitts our slide report and showing the photos I had taken, we looked at the photos Dave is collecting of all the wildlife they see from their woodsy home, including Gray Jays, Ruffed Grouse, and Elk, among many others. A cougar has been seen several times right outside their window but not yet photographed. Maybe they should have a sign like the one at John Neal park giving the date of the last cougar sighting.

No cougar this day, just their adorable and much loved little dog.

Then it was back to the farm and adventures in thawing water during the ongoing cold snap, making wreaths and, eventually, cleaning house for next week's Thanksgiving celebration.