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Sponge Bob No Pants

nce we are on a trailer park theme. I have another one.

Several years ago, I got a call about a baby raccoon (I had not yet set my primary rules). I was going into town anyway, so I agreed to pick it up at one of our larger, nicer trailer communities in town.

This was before GPS ( necessity to locate a single trailer among hundreds) and the little lanes and streets were poorly marked. Frankly, as far as I am concerned, there are about 10 models of trailers that you se, over and over again and pretty soon they all look alike.

After about 40 minutes of driving through the maze, I found a lovely little doublewide with the proper address. It really didn’t look like the kind of place I expected raccoons.

I rang the bell next to a pretty spring wreath.
An elderly woman in an old fashioned housedress came to the door. I couldn’t hear a word she said over the yapping of at least a dozen chihuahuas. They milled around her feet, all vying for an opportunity to tear into the stranger, who was obviously there to murder their owner.

“Oh dear, come in. Come in.”

“No thank you”, I said as I wedged my foot against the storm door to keep the angry horde from reaching my ankles. It didn’t work.

Chihuahuas pored out the gap in the door and started either raising their leg against shoes or chewing on my pantleg. (Thankfully, I was wearing sturdy jeans).

“Oh, they won’t hurt you.” she said, “they just love people, I’ll go get the darling baby”.

I tried shaking two of the overgrown rats off my leg, but others took their place. I was turning blue from holding my breath against the smell. Dozens of “piddle Pads” were scattered across the floor. The dogs apparently had bad aim.

She handed me a paper grocery bag. I peeked in and there was a 3 or 4 week old raccoon in the bottom. It looked at me as though imploring “Dear God in heaven. GET ME OUT OF HERE”

I declined a cup of coffee, shook the last of the yappers off my pantleg and left. Quickly….making absolutely sure that I has not carried any of the little buggers accidently to the car.

This was not the strange part.

I stuffed the raccoon inside my jacket to keep him warm and calm and managed to find my way back out of the labyrinth to the main gate. It was five o clock. You cannot turn out of any side street onto the main ones during rush hour in Traverse City.

As I am sitting on the corner, waiting for my slim to none chance for escape. There was a knock on my window. Someone was trying to open the car door, but they had automatic locks when the engine was engaged. (For this, I will be eternally grateful)

There, standing outside my passenger side door was a man with a shirt, socks, shoes, but no pants. Baggy briefs were the only thing between him and the brisk breeze. He started shouting as he knocked on the glass.

“Lemmme innnnn! I wanta go to towwwwwwnnnnn. Gimmie a ride. I wanta go to towwwwwwnnn.”

I’d never really head such proficient shout-whining.

As I’m praying for a break in the traffic or the car behind me to move so I could back up and make my escape. (The driver, who was laughing his ass of at the time, was enjoying the show too much to move) Suddenly another man ran up to the car. Thankfully he had pants, but nothing else. (Did they SHARE clothes? Was this his day for the pants?)

This wild haired “gentleman” shouted, “Bobby, Bobby! I tol ya and I tol ya.Ya can’t keep getting in peoples cars. Now go back inna house.”

As they stood there arguing, I no longer cared if there was a break in traffic or not. I pulled directly out into the traffic to the sound of screeching brakes and honking horns. I returned their one fingered salutes with a sheepish wave and went directly home.

The woman was right. The coon was adorable. We named him Sponge Bob No Pants.

Primary rule Number 2 was written. I don’t pick up animals at trailer parks.

Trailer Traps

I broke two of my primary rules today. 1. I do not go to pick up animals at peoples homes. 2. If I do get suckered into it, I DO NOT go to a trailer park.

I got three calls from a man yesterday about a duck. When we finally got done playing phone tag and talked, he told me it was a female baby duck. I asked how he could tell it was female? He said it was “One of them ducks that the boys are green. She isn’t green.”

Ok, flags raised and waved.

It is the first week of May. IF (and there are not yet) there were baby ducks, they certainly would not have feathers. AND.. a juvenile mallard (the green ones) does not have it’s colors or tail curl till it’s first molt at about 4 months old. I explained this to him.

He said. “What makes you think you know so much about ducks?’

I was silent and bit my lip for a moment before responding. “You called me because I rehabilitate wild life. If I rehabilitate wildlife for 30 years, I believe I know more about ducks than you.”

He said. “my wife found the duck in the park and it was really skinny and not doing well, but now it was eating a doing good.” He said he read on the internet that they need other ducks to do good and he couldn’t keep it in the trailer.

Dear God.

I told him that what he had was a “Tractor Supply duck”. People buy them when they are cute and little and when they discover how damn messy ducks are they take them out a dump them. I deal with them every year. They seldom survive being Dumped. I told him he could bring me the duck and it could join my others. ( a number of them “Tractor Supply Ducks”)

“I can’t”

What?

“I can’t. I don’t drive. I’m a stay at home dad. My wife drives the car. (Images of ankle monitors flashed through my mind). I asked if he could meet me in town (I often meet people on Thursdays between errands) “No, I can’t leave the kids”

Against my better judgement. I said I’d pick it up at three. He gave me the address. IT WAS A TRAILER PARK. Near Chums Corners.

I had to use GPS to find the place and even Siri got confused. The road was a solid pothole, but I got there just after three.

Eww…Broken bicycles and vacuum cleaners littered the driveway and yard. A pile of garbage and no less that 4 empty Budweiser boxes were tossed by the door. I pulled my sleeve over my knuckles so I wouldn’t have to make skin contact as I knocked on the grubby door.

A skinny, shirtless, teenage boy in pajama bottoms and a phone clutched in his hand answered. Marijuana smoke rolled out and blinded me for an instant. I noted that his afro was flat on one side, like I had woken him up. No sign of a “Stay at home dad”.

I said I was there for the duck.

“She ain’t here”

What?!!!

“My sista got her. She go ta pick up the kids at da bus. She be right back”

I was boiling at this point. Who the hell takes a duck to go to the bus stop? But I managed to hold it back. I sat in the car, in the driveway for 20 minutes before going back and kicking the door with the toe of my shoe.

Half-hair came back, clearly irritated that he was interrupted again. I asked about his sister.

“I don’t know where she be. Maybe she go to McDonalds.”

That was it. I left. I had wasted almost an hour and still had to drive all the way back. On my way, I called the “House husbands” phone and told him that I came to get the duck, but now he could shove it up his ass, flappy feet and all.

It won’t change anything, but I felt better.

Rule one and two are going to be posted near every phone from now on.

I DON”T come pick up animals at people’s homes.

I won’t go to trailer parks.

Don’t ask me. Nope. Not again. Never.

At least not today.

Red Squirrel ?

At best, squirrels are shifty characters. They lie with impunity and cheat at cards. When things don’t exactly go their way, they are prone to fits of uncontrollable swearing of a level I have yet to achieve on my best day. Mostly, I try to compromise with the ones I raise and release in the back yard. I will continue to feed them outrageously expensive “Fruit and Nut Mix” and they won’t steal my car of smoke weed behind the porch.
When baby squirrels come in, they usually aren’t fully furred. It can be a bit tricky telling grays from blacks or fox squirrels. These are good size squirrels and you treat them all pretty much the same. Red squirrels are usually easy to identify because they are smaller and the first fur they grow is a little brown stripe down the center of their nose.

It’s important to know who you are dealing with as early as possible. Reds have different dietary requirements from the others. Your average black or gray does well on kitten or puppy milk with a little cream tossed in for fat. Their first foods after their eyes open are “Teddy Grahams”, bananas, apples. and shelled nuts. They are pretty happy with whatever is tossed their way (especially the “Teddy Grahams” Even after release, I can usually coheres them into submission by holding the “Teddy Grahams” hostage.

Red squirrels however, need extra protein . Noooo, they can’t be happy with bugs and grubs like flying squirrels. They want MEAT! If a red squirrel can’t get to Kentucky Fried, he’s gonna go KILL something. Usually, that means hatchling birds, or if no one has made an appearance yet, they will eat the eggs. I once made the mistake of putting a baby red squirrel in the basket with a newly hatched blue bird and when I went to feed them 20 minutes later…the bird was gone. Num. Num.

While your average black or gray squirrel is generally a pretty laid back though seedy character, a red squirrel is Napoleon on acid. Other squirrels build their nests outside. They like hollow trees, maybe an occasional abandoned shed wall. Not red squirrels.
That noise in the attic? That’s a red squirrel chewing your insulation and electrical wires to make his bed. Bar-b-q grill smoking like crazy when you light it up? That’s just 10 pounds of leaves, half a garden hose and that cashmere sock you though you lost. If your car won’t start, check the air filter. It may just be stuffed with acorns and sunflower seeds. Oh, and that funny smell in your $89,000 motor home? That’s the red squirrel who made his home in the ceiling and died of old age….last winter.

Red squirrels are the bad boys of the bushy tailed set. When you see a black or gray squirrel being chased across the yard by a screaming streak of red fur, they aren’t playing. That little terror wants to CASTRATE that poor sucker and he is running for all he’s worth. (No, I don’t know what the red does with the testicles. I don’t even want to know.)
So you can understand why I want to know what I am dealing with here. I like to keep them separate, mostly so the males stay intact and I can release the red squirrel far, far away from my attic. Like I said. It’s usually pretty easy.
Until this week.

A woman called and said she had a baby squirrel that her dog brought in. It seemed fine so she wondered if I would take it.
“What color is it?” I asked.

“Gray. Really pretty gray.”

“Ok, bring it out”

She arrived, box in hand (every animal comes to me with a box and a towel. Do you know how may odd towels I have?) I dug through the towels to find a tiny little squirrel with its eyes still fused shut. It was indeed, a lovely shade of silver gray with a white tummy and a tail that promises to be absolutely luxurious. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the cage to tuck her in with the other babies.
That’s when I noticed the nose. There was a dark brown stripe right down the center. Hmmm. She was a bit small for a gray, but the color was all wrong for a red. I just kind of shrugged and added her to the pile. I have encountered genetic dwarf animals before, so who knows?
She has been doing well. Her white tummy has grown round and fat and she eats well. I did notice that she has unusually long fingers for a gray. A gray squirrel uses its paws to hold nuts and adorably wash its face. A red squirrel on the other hand, uses those long fingers to pick locks ad flip you off when you run out of the really good sunflower seeds. Hmmmmm….
It was all going well. Or so I thought.
I take the squirrels upstairs with me at night, so they are closer for their night feedings. After the last feeding before bed, I put them in a smaller, more portable cage to carry them up. The black squirrels finished their milk and immediately on a “milk drunk”, snuggled under the blankets (actually a washrag) in the bottom of the portable cage. Then I went to feed the tiny one. She wasn’t happy with just one dropper of milk and as I was filling it for the second round, I noticed that her eyes were trying to open.

Again….Hmmmmm.

Halfway through the second dropper of milk, her right eye popped open. Normally it would be hazy blue and unable to focus for the first few days. I actually love it when the babies can finally focus and look at me with astonishment that I am NOT a mother squirrel. Not this chick. She narrowed that one eye and gave me the once over. It was like she was estimating my weight, speed and strength. Then it happened.
I swear to God. It glowed red. A chill ran down my spine and crept back up my neck. She winked at me. No kidding. She freeking winked at me! Then the red left that beady little eye and I tucked her back into bed with the others. They’re females. They should be safe…unless she is hungry.
This is scary people. My world and sense of peace with it is on a precipice. If I can’t tell a red squirrel from a gray or black, what sense could there be in the universe? I could be creating monsters here. They could be evolving and disguising themselves in a plot to take over the world. I mean really, if Trump was elected president of the United States, well then, just ANYTHING is possible.

I hope you all sleep well tonight. I know I won’t. I have to get up at four to feed that little devil in a fur suit. Wish me luck.

Walt Disney Doesn’t Live Here

I hate dealing with “Animal Rescue people” (As in dog and cat). One called me at 7 this morning and started out with “I’m sorry I called so early”. I get this a lot and I always want to say “Then WHY ARE YOU CALLING THIS EARLY bitch?” But I didn’t.

Anyway, she has a Canada goose with a broken wing. I patiently explained that I probably couldn’t help it as a wing on a migratory bird would have to be surgically set in order to hold up to the immense stress of migration and I’m not a vet. So then at 7 in the morning, she demanded a list of vets who would do this. I told her to get the phone book, I don’t keep a list of vets by my bed.

She hung up.

So at 8:30 she calls back. “Oh! Did I wake you AGAIN?” she said sarcastically. Now, I really don’t feel the need to have to explain that the night before this, I had one and one half hours of sleep or that my husband had surgery yesterday. People sleep when they can and if you sleep till noon, that’s YOUR business.

She proceeded to tell me that Dr. Peck agreed to do the surgery and could I take the bird after that. Sure I said, but recovery of a wild bird of that size would take time and proper space. (I was actually calculating in my head, how many chickens, ducks or turkeys I would have to shuffle to have a large cage or pen open) “Oh, I can bring you a dog crate” I again explained that a wild bird CANNOT be held in a dog crate for the month or so it will take for the bird to heal.

Then she dropped the bomb. “How will you pay for the surgery, you must be a non profit. How does Dr. Peck discount for non profits?”

WTF? No, I MUST not be a non profit and Dr Peck is one of the most expensive vets in town and I have not found him to be particularly generous. I told her that I don’t expect vets to work for free. She said she only had funds to pay for dogs. But if it was going to be a couple of hundred dollars, she’d have to pay for it. I wished her luck.

Now, here is why I really hate dog and cat rescues. They cannot see the difference between domestic dogs and cats and wildlife. I finally get it. In their world, every dog and cat should be saved, no matter what. And after that dog or cat is saved it goes to a wonderfully home where people sign contracts that say they will lovingly treat the animal exactly the way the rescue wants for the rest of its life, no matter how much it costs. Everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s not how it is with wildlife. These animals don’t lick your hand and gaze gratefully into your eyes as you care for them in their tiny cage. They don’t go off to loving homes to live a long and happy life, forgetting the pain of recovery.

Wildlife, doesn’t appreciate you. They don’t think you are trying to help them. They basically hate you and think you are trying to kill them and you are the reason for their present suffering and captivity. They act accordingly. They bite, they scratch they fight back and given the opportunity they may EAT the dog or cat that lives with you. They don’t go to loving homes. They go back into the wild where life is hard and they are either prey or predator. Their lives are a short glorious burst of adventure, fear, blood and guts. If they are lucky, they get to breed and raise young in a world where EVERYONE is trying to eat your children and then they chase those children away when they are old enough to compete with their parents for what food is available.

Walt Disney doesn’t live here. This is NOT a Disney movie! Rehabilitators can’t be soft. We can’t fall in love with every animal and want to keep it safe for the rest of its life. We don’t get to cuddle and coddle these animals. We have to constantly make really difficult and hard choices whether to save one badly injured animal or use the funds and resources to save a dozen healthy ones that just need a little help and will go on to live normal lives in the wild. We have to decide, every time, whether saving an animal is the right thing for the animal or if we are doing it for our OWN selves.

And always….we have to remember that this animal does not belong to us. They belong to the Wild and the Wild always wins.

They just don’t get it and probably never will. They can’t see the world as a wild animal does. Somehow I and a few other rare people do. We can take away the emotion, and see wildlife for what it is. We feel the raw energy. We run with the predators. We live in that moment when all that exists is the sunshine or the rain. That moment, that single moment is all that there is. No heaven, no hell, only NOW. You are or you aren’t. That’s it.

You can’t explain that to cat and dog people. Hell, I don’t think you can explain it to anyone. You get it….or you don’t.

I do my best with these animals. That’s all I can do. Just please remember this. I do what is best FOR the animal, not me. Remember that when you judge me cruel or uncaring or rude.

Freedom

A raven came in last week with a bad wing. Other than punching a talon through my little finger, he was amazingly gentle and calm. Ravens are sentient and have facial recognition and it was erie how he looked directly at me while I tended him. I put him in the fawn pen and by the time the snow started, there were three peacocks and a duck wanting to join him. I let them in and they all got along fine.

For a couple of days, I made him fried eggs and chicken, then when the sun was out, I opened the top door so he would have fresh air and not get to warm. I didn’t think he could get out of it. We ran to town and when I came back, no raven. I found him high up in the trees at the back of the yard, on the other side of the fence. He was quite content and eating buds, so I tossed some eggs and chicken over the fence each day. Since it is such a tangle of downed trees and brush, he moved about quite well, climbing through the trees.

Yesterday, I went outside and heard the rattle call of a raven, I looked up and there he was watching me. Today, as I cleaned the garden, I could see him working his way close to the fence. Sure enough, I heard the rattle call. I talked to him and went back to work after tossing a few more eggs. Later I was working in a diffrent area and sure enough, he appeared in a nearby tree. That was when I realised, that he makes the call for me and not Jimmy.

Before he escaped,I had intended to see if Wings of Wonder wanted him for an educational bird. I knew his wing would never heal and he’d spend the rest of his life in captivity. It wasn’t something I felt good about, but sometimes they bond with humans and do well.

He obviously, has chosen diffrently. He chose his fate and frankly, I would rather see him live free, even if he can’t fly. Evidently he is finding his way without the wing. He knows I’ll feed him and is fairly safe from preditors. His life may not be as long as it would in captivity, but he is free and sometimes, that is everything.

It’s amazing what we will risk for freedom. I know, I would choose the same. Don’t keep me safe and contained, let me face the consequences of my choices. I would rather live one day in the sun than a year in a cage.

Coming Home

Tonight, as I was sitting on the couch thinking of stuff I should be doing, a cat quietly climbed into my lap. Now, a cat on your lap is certainly not an occasion in this house, after all, we have four, but this was a special moment. Momcat was abandoned in our neighborhood about 6 years ago. She lived in the wild, under or in and shelter she could find. Twice a year, she had a littler of kittens. Few survived. I did what I could for her by putting out food and insulating an area of the porch for her. Gradually, she came to trust me enough to sit with her and occasionally touch her. You could always feel her ribs through her rough, grimy fur.

One summer, she showed up on the porch with two healthy kittens and one sickly one who was half their size. I fed them and talked to them and when I came back outside from a phone call, she had left the sickly kitten behind. I didn’t see her or the other kittens for weeks. I cared for the kitten and she became my beloved Bedbug.

It came to the point that I could no longer watch her have kittens and know that they would die or grow up to decimate the songbirds and baby bunnies. She needed to be spayed. We caught her in a live trap and soon realized that she was already pregnant again. I kept her in a large cage and tamed the kittens when they were born. Each went to a loving home and it was time to deal with Momcat….She was not happy and as soon as she could, she escaped into the wild again.

This time it was different though. She knew the house was safe and warm. Last winter, she would come in through the doggy door to eat and sleep and occasionally get a good scratch or pet. As soon as it warmed up, she moved back outside.

Winter came early this year and with the first snow, Momcat was in the house. But it was different. She started venturing past the laundry room and We would see her sitting in the living room staring at us. Then she started to play..with anything and everything. She horded the cat toys in places only known to her and would bring them out to play when she wanted. She was remembering what it was like to be a house cat, a pet, in a safe and warm environment.

That brings us to tonight. Tired from Kung Fu and a day of Christmas decorating, I was sitting on the couch. Momcat was on the arm of the loveseat staring at me. I raised my hand and wiggled my fingers in invitation and to my surprise, she came to the couch. I scratched and petted as she purred. Her fur is thick and you can feel no ribs. Slowly, she climbed into my lap and snuggled into the blanket, purring even louder. Occasionally, she would look up into my eyes as if she were saying “you’re mine”. I told her she was mine and I was hers and that she would never be cold or hungry again, but I think she already knew that. She is home. She is finally home.

I have the feeling that there will be four cats in my bed tonight instead of three. We’ll be warm and that’s the way we like it.

The Terribleness of Zen

Had one of those terrible-beautiful Zen moments today. Most people associate Zen with sitting peacefully, staring at the back of their eyelids. Zen is supposed to make you feel at ease, let you face the world with a slight smile and a gentle heart. It’s not. It’s work to get the mind to that empty state. When it’s clear of the everyday clutter, the realities of life and death and rebirth slide into place. To be “One” with the universe can be beautiful…it can be terrible, but always, always, worth it.

I cleaned the tank where I normally keep the tadpoles I am raising for the goldfish pond. The wild cats and the blue heron have taken most of my frogs and I miss hearing them on summer nights. All winter I have been feeding these future frogs so they will be big enough to put in the pond without the fish eating them.

During all the grebe, blue bill, merganser and other downed duck crisis of the past month, I took to dumping the minnows I’d buy for them in the tank with the tadpoles, so I wouldn’t be trudging to the bait store every day. The ducks are gone and so are the minnows, but the tank was a mess. It was cloudy and green and I couldn’t even see my tiny tadpoles. I managed to drain most of it with a siphon, but the last 6 inches wouldn’t work. I used the carpet cleaner hose to finish as I added more clean water and stirred up the sediments to be sucked out. I was worried about the tadpoles, so I put a small net over the end of the hose. After the water was fairly clear, I started to clean up the mess.

First, I realized that there was more algae than ever, because of the fish excrement, second, I noticed that all the baby snails that had been cleaning up the algae were gone, because the fish ate them. Then I washed out the little net and to my horror I discovered two dead tadpoles stuck in the seam.

Suddenly I saw the sacredness of even the smallest life. I saw how interconnected every thing in that tank was. The snails ate the algae, the fish ate the snails, the birds ate the fish and in the middle of it all were these tiny little creatures that would one day be frogs and sing in my pond. I upset that balance. I interfered and life forms suffered needlessly. I was overcome with sadness and gratitude that nature is the great complicated circle of life and I am part of it. For a moment I could look at the remaining tadpoles in the tank and feel the spring that will come and release the sleeping creatures and plants imprisoned beneath the snow and ice. Closing my eyes, I could smell the softened mud as the turtles and frogs and yes, the tiny tadpoles crawl and wiggle forth towards the light. I could hear the birds sing for joy as they returned to their summer homes. Yes, I could even hear the frogs as they chorused in the goldfish pond.

Even in the grip of this long and brutal winter, I know that spring will come in it’s own time. The earth will bring forth in abundance once more. I just hope it will forgive me for the life of two tiny tadpoles, so carelessly lost.

Good Grebe!

 

During the brief thaws we have in the depth of Michigan winter, I am confronted with  a “griebeious” condition.

There is a bird, a waterfowl to be exact, that resides in the ponds, rivers and lakes of the area. It’s not actually a duck, though people confuse it with one and it isn’t exactly a loon either, though people will swear it is one, even though loons of the area migrate to warmer waters and are three times the size. It’s a Grebe, a bird that not many people have encountered close up, or often even heard of.

A Grebe is a smallish bird, shaped rather like a bowling pin with a beak…a very sharp beak, by the way. It has a grayish, black back with a white neck and breast and sometimes a poofy crest on it’s head. It has no apparent tail like a duck. One of its most striking features is that it has brilliant orange-red eyes. Its oddest feature is its feet. The toes are not webbed like a ducks, but separate from each other. They aren’t exactly like regular bird feet though; they have strange flat toes. It looks a bit like someone stepped on its toes and flattened them.  Then there is the angle of the legs. They sort of stick out at the sides, so everyone that finds one, insists that it is a loon with broken legs. I suspect you can’t quite envision this; it kind of has to be seen to be believed.

Anyway, these one to two pound birds have compact wings, held close to the body on land or above water. They actually look like normal ducks or loons while swimming about peacefully. You can be sure that one or the other of those red eyes is watching below the surface and it’s under the water that the true magic of this creature is exposed. They literally fly under the water using their semi-webbed feet as rudders to steer as they chase their prey. One moment, they are gliding along and the next they disappear below the surface with hardly a ripple. Their narrow wings propel them at tremendous speed and the tail and feet shift their direction at lightning speed as they chase minnows and small fish. They rarely come up with an empty beak. Often they will throw the fish up into the air to align it with their beak and throat and in a flash, it’s gone.

I absolutely love watching Grebes hunt or fly over with that peculiar whistle of their wings. Grebes  inhabit lakes rivers and ponds throughout the area. In the past decades, our winters have been rather mild and these waters don’t always freeze. The little birds swim and dive happily after fish, oblivious to the cold and snow. That is, until their water starts to freeze. The greatest flaw that was created in these birds is their inability to take flight without open water.  Swans are also this way and while I can understand a bird with the size and weight of a swan needing open water to run along like an overloaded DC10, I just don’t get it with Grebes. Regardless, if their water is ice, they are stuck.

Often, I get calls from people who have small ponds. They tell of these little birds swimming in ever shrinking circles as the ice closes in. If someone can’t get to them safely, I tell them to wait till the bird tries to walk out in search of open water. They aren’t hard to follow; they leave trails like mini snow plows as they scoot their way through the snow. Unfortunately, they tire easily, they get hungry quickly and a hungry bird is a cold bird. A cold bird is a dead bird. Too often, these charming little birds are in bad shape when I get them. And need days to weeks of care before they can be released.

An even stranger habit of these guys, is that they like to fly at night. When they are up in the air, they look for dark patches in the snow which would indicate open water to them. A wet pavement on a night with a bright moon is sure to lure unsuspecting Grebes to land, thinking they have found a river. Once on the ground, they are stuck and people will find them sitting or wandering along the road, trying to figure out where the water went.

Regardless of how it happens, each year I end up with a bumper crop of Grebes in the laundry room. Now, I don’t know how much you know about fish eating waterfowl, but there are two major drawbacks. They eat fish….They poop fish. Fish smell much worse going out than in.

Fish are also expensive,  one grebe can go through a dozen bait fish a day. When I’m lucky, I can talk the boys at the local fishing stores to save their dead minnows in the freezer for me. (They think I’m strange, but they do it anyway).  To feed them, I partially fill a large bin with water and toss in a few live fish. Add a grebe and you have the beginnings of a free for all. Once they grab the live fish, it’s easy to convince them that the dead ones are just as good. Part of this plan is that they will poop out the last batch of fish in the water. That part doesn’t work very well. It takes up to four air fresheners to ride in my car this time of year.

This has been a truly unusual winter and we are seeing birds that rarely come to our area. I’ve had calls and moved everything from the normal mergansers and bluebills, to arctic scup and tundra swans. But it’s definitely the grebes that occupy my laundry room the most.

Open water is getting harder and harder to find and one of the few dependable places is near the downtown dam. It’s right by the courthouse and police station. I used to walk the birds down to the water and gently place them in the river, but if I can’t get to the water, I just drop them off the bridge. After an incident last year, I use the bridge method almost exclusively now.

It was a wet February  and the moon had been bright shining on the wet roads each night. It seemed to be raining grebes.  I had been releasing grebes almost every day and this day was no exception. I parked my car near the police station where there was a walkway from some condos directly to the water. Rather than lug the cat carrier containing the bird through the deep snow, I just tucked him under my arm and went for it. The sun was out and was truly beautiful by the river. I tossed the bird in the water and watched as he dove and splashed. He was poking around the rocks under the boardwalk, looking for crayfish and I guess I must have been close to the edge looking down into the swift moving water. I heard a quiet calm voice behind me.

“Ummm mam?” It said gently. “Why don’t you just step back from the edge of the dock and we can talk for a while.”

I was still trying to see what the grebe was after and leaned a little farther. The voice took on a slightly frantic tome.

“Mam, please. Just take a step back. Nothing is too bad that it can’t be worked out”

Now he had my attention. I turned and said “Pardon me?”

It was a young police officer. In fact, I was surprised that they even come that young. He had an extremely worried look on his face and extended his hand to me. Then I got it. Here I was standing kneed deep in snow at the edge of the river, no boots and definitely not dressed like I was a winter walker. I started to laugh. Now he was the one who was confused.

“You think I’ going to jump?” I asked. “Are you nuts? That water is cold enough to kill you!”

“Well, isn’t that why you’re standing by the river?”

“Of course not. I just released a grebe.”

In retrospect, that may not have been the best thing to say.

“A what?”

“A grebe. You know, a bird that swims?”

He was reaching for his radio, I was beginning to get worried that men in white coats would show up with a net waaaaaay bigger than you would need for a bird.

“Really, just look.” I said and leaned back over the edge looking for that damn bird, who had conveniently disappeared.

The poor guy was  looking truly frantic now; I could tell he was already thinking how cold the water was going to be when he went in to rescue the crazy lady.

Just then the grebe popped up to the surface with a silvery fish in it’s beak.

“There!” I said, “There he is”

“Lady, that’s a loon”

“No, no, they just look like loons” I could tell who he thought the loon was around there, so I found myself explaining what makes a loon, a loon and a duck, a duck and a grebe, a grebe. We went through the whole wet roads and snow banks thing, but I still wasn’t sure he was buying it.

“He offered his hand again and I let him help me back through the snow and up the steps. I retrieved my wallet from the car and showed all the proper I.D. Finally he just shook his head and walked away. I breathed a big sigh of relief.  I could just imagine having to call my husband from the lockdown ward of the hospital.

I decided then and there, that the feathered little buggers could fly from the bridge from then on. I wasn’t taking any chances. I prefer coats that the sleeves don’t buckle in back.

There was vindication though.  A few weeks later I got a call from the dispatcher saying that an officer was bring me a bird he found in a snow bank…….guess who it was.

Ice Moon

The ice moon is but a thin crescent of silver in the night sky. Every night for the next few weeks it will grow larger with each rising, just as the ice on the bay grows thicker with the cold. By the middle of next month it will rise full and round and pale as the snows. Then a wondrous thing will happen. As the moon wanes, so will winter. It will be subtle changes, but changes all the same. Heavy snows that have plagued the area since November will give way to ice storms. Ice storms will give way to warm winds. The winds will caress the winter weary land and bit by bit spring will surely come.

Snow has covered the ground for eleven weeks already and winter will keep its iron grip for at least another eight before the first blades of grass turn green. We are more than half way through. The darkest nights are behind us and already I can see changes in the light.

I have crystals hung in my kitchen window. Every morning in the summer I am greeted with dozens of shattered rainbows flitting about the room when I come down the stairs. The rainbows came later and later and paled as autumn came. They disappeared entirely by Thanksgiving.  This morning as I was drinking my second cup of coffee, a single burst of color spectrum flashed across the wall. The sun was back!

I watched in the evening for the sun to go down. It has been so cloudy and dark that we have only seen a handful of sunsets all winter, yet tonight the golden rays slipped under the porch roof and shone in the door. It took the leading on my cut glass widow and projected its intricate pattern on the carpet. As the sun moves into better position, these outlines will cast high on the wall. By June they will be accompanied by the shifting shadows of the leaves on the great walnut tree that stands guard by the drive. Spring is coming!

Seed catalogues cover my kitchen table, their page corners turned down to mark the site of giant green peppers and heritage melons. It’s nearly time to spread the starting medium in the trays and tenderly tuck precious seeds of promise into the soil. It is easy to think of springtime and tilling the warm earth, but I must remember that the time has not yet come. The ice moon is still in the sky and the hunger moon is yet to come.

Of all the moons of the year, the Hunger moon is the one to be feared. Most of the stores put by with the harvest moon will be gone by then, yet the nutritious growth will not have begun. The Hunger moon will witness the cracking and booming of the dying ice, but not the release of the fish to the hungry eagles. Swans will crowd into the mouths of creeks and rivers where the water is open and scant vegetation grows below the surface. Deer will stretch high on their slender legs to reach the last of the tender cedar. Porcupines and possums will paw through the remaining snows hoping to find a wrinkled apple missed before. Birds and squirrels will seek out any stashes of seeds or acorns they may have forgotten. Bellies will rumble in emptiness and the weak will succumb to the cold.

The only animals of the forest that will fatten this time of year will be the coyotes and carrion eaters. Food will be plentiful for them. Emaciated and exhausted deer are easy to run down and devour. The melting snows will reveal frozen carcasses of those who do not survive. The opportunists will be waiting and will clear away the dead before the grass is green. The full hunger moon will reflect down on the whitened bones of those who lost the struggle for winter survival.

I can only imagine how it must have been when our ancestors feared the hunger moon. Fruits, vegetables and salted meats would be nearly exhausted. Flour might not be available for several months when the lakes opened to shipping again. Game would be wary and lean and require more and more time in the cold to find. The cabins must have seemed impossibly small by now with the smoke from the stoves and lanterns greasing the walls. Tempers would be short, patience depleted and doubts of survival would arise. How they must have longed for something as simple as clean clothes or fresh air! It is a wonder that such a place as this, was ever settled at all.

After the Hunger Moon darkens, a fresh new moon will appear. It is known by many names. Sometimes called the Green Bud Moon, trees and shrubs extend their limbs to the warming sun. Their buds enlarge and burst open with the first tiny leaves. This signals that the sap run on the maples is done and their clear sweet lifeblood has become too bitter to harvest.  Others call it the Full Worm Moon, when earthworms begin to move about after the long sleep and their castings on the top of the ground mean that planting is not far off. As The Fish Moon, ice is gone from the rivers and lakes and fat suckers have started their swim upstream to spawn. Perhaps the most meaningful name for this spring moon is The Returning Goose Moon. Canada geese fly north to seek nesting grounds. They break from their long journey and spend the night on the pond behind us. I listen to their noisy arrival and walk down to greet old friends that I have not seen since fall. Spring has come, nature’s children are coming home and those who make the long sleep are emerging from their dens.

Chipmunks scamper across the grass, birds carry twigs to build nests, small squirrel faces peer out of tree cavities. They blink their eyes and squint, unaccustomed to the sunlight. Toads and frogs dig their way out of the mud and dust and wash in the chilly waters. Once cleaned and revived they begin to sing. Ahhh, the chorus of spring! It trills loudly in the darkness, stopped only by and unwelcome visitor to the pond or an unexpected freezing night. They will not be defeated! As soon as sun warms their torpid bodies, they will sing again, reaching a crescendo that pierces long closed windows and doors. It calls out to the whole world.“Spring is here! Spring is here! Spring is here at last!”

Though spring is in my heart, winter holds me still. It will be weeks before it releases me to dance in the sun . In the meantime, I will place my orders for seed; keep my crystals towards the sun and count the remaining moons.

Hamsters

This morning, the toilet was clogged. Now I’m not sure, but I may be the only woman who immediately thinks of hamsters when the toilet doesn’t work. Here is why…..

Hamsters

I have never been particularly fond off hamsters. Oh granted, they are cute and not much trouble to keep, but I just have a few problems with the little rodents. For starters, they seem to have a tendency to bite the hand that feeds them or cleans their cage, and there’s the food thing. They stuff everything in their cheeks, get it all covered with hamster spit and then tuck it away in their beds. That’s just icky. Then, there is the fact that their testicles are well, absolutely huge. I just can’t find myself becoming attached to any animal whose balls are bigger than its brain. (Men excluded, I guess)

Every once in a while I find myself getting stuck with a hamster. When we lived in navy housing, someone was moving overseas and talked me into taking their three-year-old hamster, “Sweetums”. I figured, what the heck, it’s old, how much longer can it live? (A lot longer than you would think!). I soon discovered that there was NOTHING sweet about “Sweetums”. The rotten little thing would make a dive for your hand every time you reached in its cage and try to sink its little fangs into your finger. More often than not, he succeeded. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but he continuously peed in his food dish requiring someone to reach in there and change it. I began to suspect that his owners requested the overseas duty assignment, just to get away from him.

He simply was not a pleasant animal. Every morning I would go to his cage to cheerfully greet him and he would open one eye and glare at me. We took to calling him “Mr. Personality”. Mr. Personality lived in the laundry room on the back of the dryer for about a year, before old age was merciful to all of us and we found him face down in his food dish one morning. I tried to muster up a tear, but my heart just wasn’t into it. Later when Levi got up, I told him of Mr. P’s demise and he managed to look sorrowful for about the time it took to discover the toy in the new box of cereal.

About half way through his super frosted sugar bombs (or whatever overly sweetened cereal he was obsessed with that week), he announced that he thought Mr. P should have a burial at sea. We had visited the whaling museum the week before and they had shown a short movie about life aboard a whiling ship. A whale had killed one of the seamen and the captain sewed him in a canvas shroud and committed him to the depths of the ocean. I’m not sure why he thought that this was appropriate for a hamster, but I learned early on in mother hood that sometimes, you just don’t want to know. I gave a week, “Um, sure” and sank back into my coffee. I had a million things to do and I’d just have to deal with the expired hamster later.

My husband’s ship was somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean and I was involved in planing the children’s Christmas party for the families in a few weeks. A few other Navy wives came over to finish up the decorations for the hall and of course, they brought their children along. There is one thing you can count on in military housing…wall to wall children. At that moment there were several bouncing off my walls. We told them to do something quiet while we worked. When they complied, I should have worried. A quiet child is a child up to mischief. The peaceful interval was short lived and I sent them all outside to play. As I returned to the Christmas project in the other room, I noticed that Mr. P’s cage was sitting on the floor of the laundry room and felt a guilty pang for not taking care of his remains yet.

We continued to work and the children continued to run in an out of the house getting snacks, tattling on siblings and using the bathroom. It wasn’t long before one child passed by on his way outside and called over his shoulder, “toilet won’t flush!” Since there were two bathrooms, I simply shut the door and added it to the long list of things I’d do later. Every one finally left and “later” had arrived. The first job I tackled was disposition of the hamster body. I looked in his cage, but he wasn’t there. I searched all through the litter, thinking there may have been some miraculous resurrection, but there was no hamster, dead or alive. I tracked Levi down and asked him if he knew what happened to Mr. P. As he went spinning by on the merry-go-round, he said that they already had the funeral and Mr. P was buried. I was impressed by his maturity in taking care of such an event. That must have been why the children were so quiet earlier. Great, I could go make dinner!

About half way through preparing dinner of spaghetti and salad, I remembered the bathroom situation. I grabbed the plunger and headed for the downstairs jon. The kids were right, it didn’t flush. I plunged and flushed again. The water rose to the edge of the bowl and slowly receded. I plunged again. Same situation. I really hated to do it, but I was going to have to call “public works”. The Navy base had several hundred housing units and the maintenance department was called “public works”. We used to joke about the inappropriateness of this title, as they often seemed to do as little work as possible. I always felt rather badly about the jokes, as I knew these men had a lot to put up with in their line of work. Just imagine all the thins that could go wrong with several hundred housing units filled with wives and children who’s husbands were not around to do even the simplest tasks. Like plunging a toilet. I usually tried to give these long suffering workers a break as I figured they had literally “Seen it all”. Not quite.

I called to schedule a work request and they gave me a loose estimate of “some time tomorrow, maybe the next day, definitely before next week”. I was lucky, it was the former. The middle-aged gentleman in gray coveralls showed up around three. He stubbed out the hot ash of his cigar and balanced it on the outside windowsill. I explained that the toiled refused to flush and that I was sure he would need a plumbers snake. He let out a long oh-what-I-put-up-with-sigh and got his tools from the truck. He began a long litany of what he felt were standard toilet clog questions about what possibly might have been flushed that shouldn’t have been. I assured him that I was very careful about things like that and left him to his work.

There was a lot of puffing and grunting and some questionable language drifting out from the bathroom and I did my best to ignore it. I offered coffee or soda, which he politely declined. He emerged for more tools and explained that he would have to take the toilet stool up so he could better access the pipe. There was more puffing and grunting and the language got a bit worse. Suddenly there was absolute silence. I looked up from my paperwork and saw him standing in the doorway. “Lady” he said, “Are you missing a hamster?”

I put on my most innocents of faces. “A hamster? Why no. We don’t even own a hamster” (Well, we didn’t ANYMORE)

He held up a dripping wet wool sock, which I immediately recognized as the half of the hand knit pair of Christmas socks we had purchased on a recent trip to Maine. “Well, I’d thought I’d seen everything I possibly could in a toilet.” He said shaking his head, “But I’ve never, ever, fished out a hamster in a sock”

Just then, Levi came bounding into the house and announced, loud and clear, “Hey! That’s my hamster! He’s supposed to be in the ocean by now.” It’s a good thing that child was still moving because if I could have gotten my hands on him right then, I’d have beaten him with a dead hamster in a sock.

The jig was up. The truth was out. All I could do is hang my head and say “I’m soooo, soooo, sorry. I didn’t know. As God is my witness, I did not know the hamster was in the toilet.”

Somehow, that wonderful patient man cracked the slightest of smiles. “I gotta ask lady, why the sock?’

I explained the whaling museum, the movie and the need for a shroud in burials at sea as my new hero replaced the toilet back on the pipe. He wiped up the floor with one of my hand towels, washed his hands and gathered up his tools. On his way out the door, he retrieved his cigar from the sill and clamped it in his teeth. He turned to me and winked. “Lady, I’m just glad you didn’t have a dog”.