Half Baked

They are half baked you know...the beans that are simmering in the oven, and have been doing so since about 10:00 am this morning.
I rarely make baked beans, but yesterday I passed the little white rocks in the baking section at the grocery store, and thought..it's time.
The recipe I'm using is a combination of what's on the back of the Thompson Pea Bean package for Old Fashioned Baked Beans, and my mom's recipe in her book, the The Northern Cookbook. Her's calls for stewed tomato as well as ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard etc. Thompon's omits the tomato and uses less salt, less sugar, less everything really.
So used  the lesser bits of Thompson's recipe, and added the stewed (home made!) tomato as well.
I put all the ingredients together into a traditional bean pot and stuck it in the oven hoping to be able to eat it for dinner. That will work.
Then I went Christmas shopping, gathering up the last gifts I need to make family and friends feel appreciated. It's so un -Christmassy here this year...no snow, mild temperatures, rain sometimes...just plain weird. The Ottawa River is still wide open and it's December 18th! While  family is spread across Canada and the U.S.,  some of us will be getting together while others will be dearly missed. So, must say, I'm not feelling the Christmas spirit so much.
The older I get, and the further away from the day to day involvement in my kids lives, the harder it is to find those little moments that say, "Ahhh, so this is Christmas."
But I do find it it eventually. Found some of it today in fact, when I was driving to town to shop and listening to CBC Radio and the Vinyl Cafe. Today it was  Dave Cooks a Turkey story day read by Stuart McLean. And it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers after finally taking off the ungodly high-heeled boots that always scrunch my toes!
Dave got me to thinking about other Christmas traditions that I have -and carry just for me in my heart. Another one also involves CBC Radio, and Alan Maitland's reading of The Shepherd every Christmas Eve. Makes me cry every time I hear it, but they're happy little tears.
Another tradition I have is to read the Letter from  My Grandfather to his children during the World War II. It's a poignant, heartfelt letter from a father that I can't read without a kleenex at hand. I'm so proud of his talent and literary genius, and prouder yet to be a part of his legacy. My kids always used to roll their eyes and silently smirk the smirk of kids being uncomfortable with love expressed publicly...but they listened, and they each "get it" now. The love of family that defines who we are every day, not just Christmas day.
So the beans...back to what started this whole thought process. I finished my shopping, and drove home. I arrived to a quiet house, with a fire softly glowing and the whole place smelling like home made bread and baked beans. It was like walking in to a warm, gentle hug from my Mom. The feeling was immediate and comforting. Mom died in January, 1979 and I haven't felt her prescence in a long, long time 'though I do think of her often. This was different. This felt like home, a hug and Christmas.
And so I think I'll have to add home made  baked beans to the list of where Christmas lives traditions.


Sentinels Around Us

In any place, at any time, there are sentinels.  Whether we notice them or not, they are there.
Watching, waiting, willing.
Some are creations of nature. Some of man.
All have their purpose and their place in time.

The solitary wolf seeks the shoreline and safety.
A sanctuary where he can rest after the hunt.
Ever wary.

The stallion poses in perpetual victory.
Under the mighty steed's watchful eye we witness Wolfe's triumph.
For a moment frozen in time, he lives.

Now tethered to the land, she guides her journeymen and sailors salers over a concrete sea.

The sentinel wall of the armoury ensures that the enemy will be spotted well in advance.
Military foresight, man before machine.
True. North. Strong.
Not Free.
They stand on guard.

What if these wall could talk?
They still watch and listen.
The silent sentinels speak volumes.



Like a moth to flame, I am drawn. I sense it and seek it.
First light, a welcome sigh of being. Of relief. I am.

Uplifting, strengthening. Fulfilling. Healing.

It pulls me in, beckoning, luring. Promising.
It sends me off in different directions. Pausing for thought. Guiding me.

Reflecting me. A moment in time.

Even in darkness, I seek the light. I want the light.

I find no comfort in darkness.
I have no curtains in my home.


Bits, Bites, Books, and Birds

Dear Readers,
This bloggy thing has been bothering me for awhile.
Have I said everything I've had to say? I don't think so. And people who have heard me rant on occasion would likely agree.
Has my muse left? Maybe. At least She appears to have been taking a leisurely walk about my mind, scratching here, sniffing there. Looking under rocks, poking her nose in places she shouldn't, and generally being absent from the frontal lobes.
Though recently, in the past week or so, she's  come knocking. Gently tapping me awake in the middle of the night. Presenting ridiculous things to think about, that once I fall back to sleep, I immediately forget. I awake to a wisp.
I've been circling the computer lately. Looking at it. Bringing up the blog. Checking for visitors or comments. None recent.
I miss them both.
But unless you put it out there, there is no there for people to come and visit.
So where has my there to put out gone? Or perhaps, the better question is not where it has gone, but why has it gone?
There are times I can't shut my mind off. It's firing on 8 cylinders, rocking and rolling over the events of the day, a bit of a book I've read, a bird I've just seen, a bite I've just taken -and I want to talk about it all.
But I can't. At least, I have been telling myself I can't because my LABEL is not inclusive enough.
Good god. I can't believe I just wrote that!
My marketing gene is trying to make a pitch in the middle of a presentation to my public

MY point is, that having called this blog "Featherbrained" I have defined it as a blog primarily about nature. And as a result I have met all of these amazing naturalists.
And I am not sure if they want to hear about things like The Day I Stuck Out My Thumb in Banff , or  Biffy Buffing is Not For Old People or Aunt Ethel Made Amazing Jam Buns or A Child's Version of Old Mother Hubbard, or My Favourite Meal Ever This Week, or....See what I mean? Not a thing about birds, or birding, or nature.
After researching many blogs on line, looking for a template that would allow me to be more multi-dimensional I came up empty, unless I choose to go the website route.
No, I don't.
So, gentle reader. Here's the deal.
I'm going to change this blog up a bit. Mix up the storyline. And write about whatever I feel like. I'll still call it Featherbrained..but perhaps on the non nature days, I'll provide a spoiler alert,so if you're not so inclined to read about The Lesson of Bertha Archer or whatever I choose to share, well, then you can just click on over to something or someone else. I won't mind, and I'll no longer feel guilty!

When you see a feather, it's about nature. When you don't? It's not.

                                                                    Hope you  choose to linger a little longer,


Hey, Look Me Over!

Three weeks of travel along the back roads and shorelines of the eastern seaboard, and I now have a raft of pictures to wade through.

It’s amazing what we feel we need to share with others. And while it could be argued that that includes this blog, a blog is different. People must actually seek it out and choose to be engaged by reading it. The stuff of dreams and nightmares that has been erected along our North American highways and byways is something else entirely!

What started this train of thought was this nightmarish rendition of a duck found nesting on eastern Long Island. If I was a little kid, in the back of Daddy’s car, and saw this thing rolling by, I’d be having bad dreams for a month!  The Big White Duck is actually a little museum that can hold about 4 people at a time. Once you’re laid out the back door, another person can slide in through the front. You’ll be greeted by a lonely woman who loves to cluck about the reason the duck exists (built by a duck farmer as a place from which to sell eggs in the 1930’s). It’s all slightly quaint and no doubt, gives people something to crow about during hunting season.

Not far from The Duck is Popeye. He stands beside a little red tractor, pipe tightly clenched as he beckons people to come in and visit the fresh market stall which, from time to time, features spinach.  He’s the hardest working employee in the place –stands there all day, never takes a break, always smiling…kind of makes you want to kick’im. (And I believe several people do take shots at, and of, him). Didn’t see Olive, but likely she was in the back, cooking cobs of corn and canning spinach.

Now THIS little home is remarkable, because it is actually a lighthouse offshore from Groton, Connecticut. It was built in the empire style, using red brick and white trim so that it would match the stately homes along the shoreline. It didn’t occur to the design committee of the day that it just looks plain odd sitting out there all by itself in the harbour, waiting for a wave. My first thought when I saw it was that it would be good place for a quarantine unit, or insane asylum, or perhaps both. It was occupied until the late 1980’s when the nutter who worked there died of an incurable disease. Okay, that last part’s not true –but it was automated in 1987.

As we travelled further south, we passed giant ears of corn, peaches, tomatoes, apples –just about every kind of fruit, vegetable and nut imaginable! And they weren’t all real!  And that’s when it occurred to me in this land of plenty,  that most of  these attractions were about food. Which is why this little porker is particularly apt. Piggly Wiggly, as  it turns out, was the first self serve grocery store in the United States  and launched a tsunami of change when it opened its doors. The packaging industry took off, as did canning and food preservation, labelling, marketing and advertising. No longer did you have to go and wait in line while the missus who served you and packaged your goods talked to  the chatterbox in front of you who got there first. Nope, you could stroll around the shop, pick out what you wanted, bring it to the cash register, and be on your way.

Done, done and done. This little Pig is your friend who will help you bring home the bacon easily!


Come What May

There’s something to be said about Cape May, New Jersey. In fact, there is a LOT to be said about this geographic funnel that gathers up all the birds along the eastern seaboard of North America, and spits them out near the beach in Cape May. No matter where you look, there are birds, and lots of happy looking people dressed in khaki, wearing bins and carrying tripods with huge scopes attached to them.
It is renowned as one of “The Last Great Places” where the forces of nature are still in control, and both residents and visitors recognize that it is truly special. Once you go, you know.
This is my third trip here, and this time it was to be for one night...but, with the flick of a cape, one night turned into four...and just like that another great birding vacation unfolded
Cape May is unlike any place I’ve ever been before. People stand on the side of the curb, with binoculars up and butts sticking out into the road, and cars slow down so the driver can ask, “Got anything good?” and if the answer is interesting enough, he’ll pull over, grab the binoculars off the front seat, and get out of the car to see what’s up. (This has happened to me here. Seriously.)

There’s a sign hanging from the balcony of the motel that reads “Birders Welcome”. And we are.
But it doesn’t start with the friendly people who GET how important conservancy is to the total well being of the continent, nay, planet. It’s about the birds that are here in abundance. That you can’t help but see, and in seeing them, become engaged by them and watch in awe as they show us how to fly – figuratively speaking for the most part.
Did you know that there is a reason that mosquitoes are put on earth?  My friend the nuclear physicist tells me it’s to pollinate plants like blueberries.
 That’s one of the reasons, but yesterday I watched dragonflies zoom across the pond at the Cape May Observatory, hovering ever so briefly to nab a mosquito, then another, then another. Until, from behind, while the dragonfly was chowing down, a kestrel came zooming across the pond, grabbed it, and proceeded to eat lunch on the fly, so to speak.
A short time later we were driving along Sunset Blvd. and noticed a scuffle above the car. Slowing down and with heads stuck out the windows, we saw a Bald Eagle attack and harass an Osprey who was simply bringing home lunch- a nice little catch of the day to enjoy on the perch. The B. E. really didn’t care why or where the Osprey was headed.  He simply saw an opportunity to take something, rather than go fetch his own. And so he did because he can. He plunged at the Osprey, scaring the fish out of him, and with a few artful dodges, he had the Osprey on the defence. The big O dropped his fresh catch of the day in order to avoid a serious collision with a big flying bastard who could care less about how it might affect O’s welcome home tonight. B.E. caught the (truly) flying fish in his talon, and lumbered off. Big O headed back to the waters to begin all over again.
These lessons are brought to you by the birds:
Pay attention to details.  Stay alert. Cover all of your assets. If you want to feather your nest, keep it well hidden from the neighbours. Always have an escape plan. Corporate raiders don’t care. Some days you get lunch, some days you are lunch.


Go Where? Journey Planning by People I've Never Met.

Who knew that a simple question posed on a singular FaceBook page (Birders) would morph into the trip route for 2011?
Actually, I did. Or rather, I hoped it would. As it did four years ago on a trip to SE Arizona, and a simple query via internet to some guy (sic) named Ken Burns about birding hotspots. He, an internationally renowned owl expert, turned my simple, naive question into an epic, unforgettable journey! So to ask a similar question about birding hotspots between Pembroke, Ontario and Hilton Head, South Carolina and to receive 20 responses was- and is- fantastic!
And so here we are and here’s Day 1 - 4 by the numbers:
As we head towards South Carolina, it’s mainly drive-by birding with some great experiences to mix things up a bit:
17, 417, 15, 87, 90, 91, 1, 9, 95, 25 , 48 – the highway numbers that have brought us from there to here. In this case, here is Long Island Sound and the village of Greenport;
 1000+ the number of starlings massing on wires all along the route.
27 – species seen from the car so far as we’ve driven from the Ottawa Valley to Long Island Sound
18 -  the size of the flock of wild turkeys chowing down on a suburban lawn in Old Saybrook, CT on Sept. 20th

11- number of black turkey vultures seen gliding above me as I drift along the highways too.
9 -  members of a small herd of deer on Long Island who ran in front of the car tonight. No one hurt.

4 –White Rumped Sandpipers on our beach the morning we left on this adventure;
and the number of springs of elixir of youth in Saratoga Springs...Number 4 is "particularly potent", and I drank it dry. Oops.

3 –states so far: New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut
2- provinces: Ontario, Quebec
2- countries: Canada, USA
1 –ocean (Atlantic)
1 –ferry –from New London, CT to Montauk, NY (by the way: did you know that some slightly addled boaters have actually tried to run their boats under the “Cat” ferry while it was running its route from Nova Scotia to Maine? Man's limits for stupidity have no boundaries!
And so, after 4 days I started to feel the vacation mode settle in –as it did this morning, while we sat reading the newspaper and sipping a coffee in a Starbucks, with the Beatles quietly serenading us. It occurred to me that this was the first time in YEARS that I’ve done that.

But back to the numbers:

Day 5...
4- the number of Tibetan Monks  in this picture which I've called Monk Fish on Montauk

34 -the final tally of species after day 5, last one of the day being a
Common Eider in Montauk.
27- Great Shearwaters  who flew past to say hello to the Monk fish(ers) of Montauk.
2,375,000. -the asking price for the quaint little cedar shake shack on the beach that I can imagine me living in.


I Don't Care if You Feel Like Dying, It's Not Your Turn.

A few weeks ago, a friend lost an arduous battle with cancer. Right now, I have two other friends fighting the fights of their lives. Another friend is facing challenges, and yet another is wondering what's going on with her body and if it is now betraying her.

Five years ago, I heard those three little dreaded life-changing words: "You have cancer".

While the entire medical team we were blessed with was wonderful, one of them captured the moment succinctly when he said," Your train has left the station, and you're on it for a ride that will have lots of stops and starts. Your destination is Health. And you will get there."

Another doctor talked about cancer becoming more of a chronic disease...meaning that there are now treatments and management regimes to help people diagnosed lead long, relatively normal, healthy lives. If diagnosed early (and that is a fairly critical component) many cancers can be treated, and are no longer the automatic death sentences  they once were.

No matter what the type of cancer, or the prescribed treatment, there are many people impacted by the diagnosis, including YOU ...as a husband, wife, son, daughter, cousin, uncle, aunt, friend, and or lover. And there are ways you can help make this a little, and sometimes a lot, easier when the going gets tough.

And believe me, there are times when it will be tough.

Early Days...
1. First, and foremost. Listen to what you're being told. And don't deny what you are hearing. When someone is telling you about their diagnosis, it's not about you.

2. A warming hug, and a simple "I'm here to help you, with whatever you need" statement is more important than denials, questions about the diagnosis, or dismissal as crazy. While doing that kind of stuff, you may think you're showing support and love. But you're not -you're showing your own shock and dismay. And it's not your turn. It's your turn to comfort, to have and to hold. (All the questions and validations of information will come later...all part of the train ride.)

3. Be there. Simple smiles, hugs, and genuine support. If it's within your realm, offer to help and be an advocate...attend medical meetings, take notes, ask questions..your pal with cancer is likely off in la la land, worried about surviving til the next day, and not likely to be taking in all of the information that they'll be given. Being an advocate is a tremendous help.

4. When it is right to do so...you'll know because you'll recognize that quiet moment and the unspoken question...talk about how you feel about what's happening. It's ok to say it's all quite frightening...but don't go into great detail about the fact that you're scared  to death too. Pillar of strength...not a foam noodle.

Into the Thick of It...When the Going Gets Tough
5. Little things are the important things. If you're making lots of trips to clinics or hospitals for treatments, carry along some great music and remember the ear buds. Bring  some little sweet treats. A bit of good chocolate. Some nice hand cream, whatever ...just make it small, simple, sincere and heartfelt.. tiny gestures to help ease the journey.

6. Think of incentives and ways to motivate him (or her) to focus on the treatment outcome rather than the crap they're in the middle of:
- Come in to the treatment room with half a hundred dollar bill. Say the other half is waiting at home on the fridge door (and make sure it is).
- Bring in travel brochures. Circle a few you know would be of interest...then show the tickets you've bought for the celebratory trip once treatments are over
- Talk about the best book you've ever read (or that you know would be liked) Bring it in to be read...but cut out the last chapter. It's at home on the bedside table.
Goofy stuff, yes...but they show that you care, and that their job is to get through it. It all helps, especially on those darker days. These little motivators may not be big things, but if they bring a smile, they're worth it. Think of things that he (she) considers precious, or has longed to do...start with that and  make it even more of an incentive.

Being Prepared...
7. There may come a time when it's appropriate to talk about worst case scenario...and "what if I do die?" Don't deny, and do be a good listener. Offer to help where appropriate: is the will up to date; what kind of funeral arrangements are wanted; all the tough stuff. But if you're respectful and acknowledge that death may be a  possibility then it's easier on everyone. And once all of the difficult things have been dealt with, then you can get back to the "fun" stuff (and I use the term very loosely, as I know none of this is really fun).

Life is a Terminal Illness...
8. None of us are getting out of this alive...how we help each other through threatening times, or final transition times, is proof of our humanity.


Kid's Lit and Cats.

When my two kids were little, we shared many happy hours together reading a series of wonderful nature books entitled Mr. Seemore Says - Look Up..Around...Down. It was a beautifully illustrated trio of books with a very simple story line. Use your eyes and look at everything around you;  linger and learn about your place within the greater world.

The lessons, such as they were, were very simple.
#1. You have your place and  purpose.
#2.  So does everything, and everyone, else.
#3. We are all connected.
#4. Together we can work miracles.
#5. If you don't step on me, hurt me, or harm me, I will reward you.

Mr. Seemore says, "Look down".

This is a very different lesson from what we learn once we get into a more formal, regulated educational system which dictates: "if you step on me, hurt me or harm me, I will punish you."
But that lesson can also be found if you look around...
While the lessons will vary for those who wish to partake,
one thing is common to all ..it will be a memorable one.

There may be great swaths of destruction that rain down from time to time, causing havoc and creating chaos...

and from the chaos, tiny miracles emerge on purpose,
and so intent with purpose as to be almost invisible.
Only eyes that wish to see will.

Mr. Seemore says,
"Look for the interruption along the thin green line."

I listen. I look. I think about what I am hearing. And seeing.
And I believe that given the use of our senses, when we come to our senses,  we'll be just fine.
In the meantime?
Dawson is teaching me a new set of lessons
on stress reduction.
Didn't change the world today??
Ah well.
Tomorrow's coming soon enough.
Rest up.


Nesting Instinct

If you're a female and you don't live under a rock, the term nesting instinct is likely familiar. You know, that  feeling that you get  sometime in your mid to late 20's, sometimes in your  early 30's - it's that little voice inside your head that says, "Tick, tick, tick -time's a wastin' girl and you better get to it and do it."   Make babies. Throw away the diaphragm, toss out the pills. Reason takes a hike, and hormones rush in.

It's a big step, and all it takes is about 10 seconds. Zap! You're pregnant! now start decorating the baby's room, shopping for cute little onesies and diapers and really expensive diaper bags that come in really cool colours and patterns now with all sorts of pockets and pouches for baby necessities while travelling to your mom's for an hour to escape the fact that this is a REALLY BIG STEP you took, and it lasts a lifetime!

Deep Breath!

Yup. Nesting.

 But imagine being a bird!! And doing it every year. And every year the kids leave - yay! so you can get busy and do it again, and again. That is what you do, if you're a bird. You take a leap of faith one day, and plop out of the nest. Then you fly around free as a bird for a short shiny spell.  Then some brightly coloured gadabout catches your eye, and before you can flip him the bird, there you are - sitting on a  bunch of eggs! Feathering your nest and waiting for the "pick, pick, pick " to start so you can start flying hither and yon catching bugs like a crazed  bird brain, burping them up into outstretched beaks leading to huge empty stomachs, and then off again, and again, and again! Then one day, the fluff balls take a leap of faith, and you fly 2000 miles south, and do it again, and again.


Is it any wonder then that some birds build rather uncomfortable, flimsy nests that barely qualify as a nest? That appear to be just a bunch of twigs thrown at a branch? Not for the Green Heron a cozy, grass lined pouch swinging gently to and fro in the soft summer breeze while hugging the beautiful little oriole chick inside, safe and warm. Nope! That ain't happening. It's more like  - there's your nest. Don't  like it? Hah! So leave!

The Green Herons' "Kronk!"  is about as rude a call a bird can have- kind of like saying  "Git outtta my way! Here I come with food. Open yer mouth right now!"  And I'm  guessing it's a good thing the babies are so gosh durn cute, or Tired Old Bird (Mom for short)  probably wouldn't even bother feeding them!
Just look at those little eyes...what's not to love!?


Diamonds in the Rough

We all have our reasons why.
Why we like  red instead of blue, sweet instead of sour, tuba instead of bagpipes.  Perhaps it's genetically coded in and we have no one to blame but our forefathers and mothers who were either hunters or gatherers
back when it all began.
I'm pretty sure I'm from the gathering clan.
There's a body of evidence that would seem to indicate that this is true.
 I like nuts.
And berries.
Salads I sometimes crave.
Coleslaw? Yum.
And tender green shoots in spring? Heaven.

I am NOT a hunter.
Although some of the clan have tried on occaision to convert me.
Once I actually went hunting for partridge with two of the members of the  Hunting Clan. They put a shotgun in my hands, showed me how to load a shell in it, aim, and fire. Then left me standing amidst a bramble of raspberry canes
and told me to shoot when they flushed out a bird.
So, there I was licking raspberry juice off my fingers, admiring all the butterflies flitting about when this gray fluffy bird came streaking 
right over my head!
I ducked and yelled, dropped the gun which fired off into the bushes, hopefully not hitting anything, and sat down and started shaking and babbling away,
apologizing profoundly to all creatures great and small for even contemplating shooting one of them.
Never again.
That the was the moment when I knew I was a gatherer.

But it's no a simple thing. There's much more to being a gatherer than just picking berries and eating candied pralines.
Over the years, I have come to realize that it impacts my lifestyle and the choices I make in dozens of subtle, and some not so subtle, ways.

I live on a beach. Beside a river.
This river abounds with wildlife -both the hunting and the gathering kind.
I 've seen bear, fox, deer, mink, beaver, porcupine, raccoon, rabbit, otter, mouse and moose; fish, frogs, snakes, newts, turtles and lizards.
Lots of birds and bugs and butterflies.
And I've come to realize that this beach is their home as much,
if not much more than, it is mine.

My neighbours, who only live here in the summer think I'm a little
wonky -or maybe a lot wonky. I love the reeds in front of our place.
It's not rocket science to figure out that this is an important part of the natural life around here. Why some would go so far as to recognize that it's Habitat.
And that it should be left alone.
My neighbour's disagree. They call it weeds, and every Sunday morning in the summer, they can be seen on the beach with their rakes, their ATV's and their rusty bedsprings, dragging through the weeds in front of their places.
They prefer desertscape to riparian area.
They have offered numerous times to kill the weeds out front of our place.
I have told them numerous times that those reeds and grasses serve a very special  function, providing food sources for some, cover for others, and protecting the entire beach from erosian. Meh!
They don't care.
Their rough patch is my diamond mine.
And so we have agreed to disagree.
And when they mention in passing that there doesn't seem to be as many swallows or butterflies as before, I just look at them, then invite them over
to our place to watch the river flow.