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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Storm and its Aftermath

On May the 27th, two days ago, I had just finished putting the last touches on my video of the essay "Who Are the Flowers For?", when a terrible wind arose and felled one of our trees.

It did not happen that fast, of course. I noticed that the sky was getting stormy, so I went to look out through the glass of the front door. But Bow was very upset about the weather. So I went back in the pen with him.

Bow vocalized at the storm while it lasted, his hair standing on end, and afterwards, we groomed. And all was right with the world, except that one of the trees had been pulled up and thrown across the internal gravel road that leads from my house to the county road.

The tree that fell surprised me. It was not the tree I would have expected to fall.

The dead oak tree still stands

 In our front yard, we have a dead oak tree. It has been dying for years, and this year when spring came, not a single green leaf sprouted. People have been  telling me that I had better have it felled, or else one day a storm will bring it crashing down on the roof of my house. But that is not the tree that fell. The dead oak tree is still standing tall, and a smaller, younger, vitally alive poplar (or cottonwood) had been brought low in the prime of its life. Such is nature.

The next morning there was a power outage that lasted all day. Having nothing to do indoors, Bow and I went outside, he to the outer pen, and I for a walk. The strange weather brought out other animals from their usual places of hiding. I saw a snapping turtle nesting right in the open, where she could easily be spotted.

The mother snapping turtle had laid her eggs and was in the process of burying them.

I left her alone and proceeded on my walk toward the barn and the path that leads to my pasture. But before I got there, from a distance, I saw three round objects in the grass. At first I did not know what they were. Then it dawned on me that they were armadillos.

They kept rooting around, oblivious of my presence, until one of them stood up on its hind legs and started sniffing the air for clues of my presence.

They did not seem to see very well,  but soon another of them was standing up and sniffing.

Then the third armadillo also decided to sweep the air for clues of a strange presence.

For a moment, it looked as if they were planning to march away single file.

But instead, they scattered in all different directions. So I went on my walk along the path and checked on the milkweed plant, which unlike the felled poplar, was still standing, though it was bowed now and its stem was white with stains from its own milky sap. .

Nature is remorseless in its arbitrary choices, felling the young and the vital and overlooking the dead and dying. On the way back from the pasture I spotted the snapping turtle mother again. Having buried her nest of eggs, her maternal  duties were done, and she was off to do something else.

The storm had caused so much destruction. For others in more populated spots, it had not only felled trees but thrown buildings around. The power outage we suffered was as nothing to the much longer outages that others in our region had to go through. But the plus side of it all was that nature revealed itself to me yesterday. I got to see sights I'd never see if the storm had not brought out our most exotic looking wildlife from its hiding.

To top it all off, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail allowed me to get close enough to take see it in all its glory, even though its tail end was a bit damaged. Or more precisely, perhaps because it was damaged. It was able, however, to fly away afterwards.

Eventually my mowers came and cleared away the fallen tree. The power came back on, and we no longer had to sit indoors in the dark.

The road was littered with sawdust and with fresh green leaves from the tree.

If you'd care to count the rings, the age of the tree cut down in its prime will reveal itself. As for me and Bow, and the snapping turtles and the armadillos, life goes on.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Familiar Guests

Bow likes having guests. But the guests that come need to somehow feel familiar, like family. Sometimes the guests are people that he has seen before many times. Others, he has only ever heard on the phone. But it helps if he knows them in some way, and if he feels they are not entirely strangers.

My daughter graduated for high school this weekend. Two family friends, Paul and Adonna, came to visit. Bow had never seen them before, But their voices he had heard over the years.

Bow was particularly drawn to Paul, whose voice was very familiar.

Over the past ten years Bow and I have been trapped in the pens. Any phone conversation I had during the first twelve hours of the day, Bow was a witness to. His hearing is very good, and he can hear everything the other party is saying, even if the phone is held to my ear and not his. Therefore, people who have been in our lives over the long term, even if only by sporadic phone contact, are not considered strangers.

The high pitched, excited vocalizations Bow made when Paul first appeared, and at various points during the visit are different from his display vocalizations. He did display, also, every once in  a while, letting us all know he is strong enough. But the excited, high pitched vocalizations are what happens when Bow is trying to talk to someone without spelling on the glass. They are his speaking voice.

It's so important not to be a stranger in order to be accepted by Bow. But there are other ways to meet and learn to know one another, besides visiting our house. That's why some people Bow has never seen before are already not strangers when they finally meet in person. 

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bow's Relaxing Day

Bow had a nice relaxing day today. He went outside and basked in the warmth of the sun, He ate plenty of good food. He met with his friend Charla who brings the bananas and had a nice long visit with her, both indoors and out. And he engaged in plenty of grooming,

In the middle of the day, when he was tired of being outside and was getting a little antsy, I had only to mention to Bow that we could work on clipping his nails, and he immediately settled down and became calm and focused.

Chimpanzees need plenty of tactile contact with others and the opportunity for social grooming. Sometimes people tell me this, because they think I don't know it, and that Bow is somehow deprived,.But yes, it's true. Bow needs contact and socializing and grooming. And he gets that, every day. Which is why he is so relaxed and calm and content.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cooperation and Competition

The weather has been very warm, and there has not been any rain in the past few days. Bow takes advantage of the opportunity to sunbathe.

Lately the glass door to the outer pen has been sticking, and I need Bow's help to open and close it. Yesterday, after basking in the sun for a good, long while, Bow let me know he wanted to come back inside.

I reminded him as he was coming in that he would need to help me close the glass door.

He went out into the corridor, but after I had locked the metal grid door, he came back and closed the glass door for me. I thanked him. Now that's cooperation!

This morning as I was letting the dogs out, I noticed a butterfly in the garage, It was just sitting there on the floor. I don't know how it got there.

I opened the garage door, but it did not fly out.

I coaxed it onto my hand and took it out. It was a pipevine swallowtail.

I put it down by the tulip tree, Later I came back, and it was not there any longer. I hope that means our cooperative effort, the swallowtail's and mine, was successful.  I hope that I helped it to survive.

The irises at Orchard House are still blooming, while those by the lagoon at my house have already faded. The landscaping at Orchard House is wonderful. It's as if the flowers are cooperating by taking turns being in the spotlight.

There are new flowers blooming there at every part of the season. I think someone should just buy Orchard House for the flowers alone. I am planning to sell it at auction by the end of the summer.

Nature is full of cooperation, and equally full of competition. It would not work without both, The free market is that way, too. You get what you pay for, but only when you and not someone else does the paying. There could not be life without death. All the bad stuff that happens when we make a mistake is what makes success possible. Negative feedback is important.

On my walk this afternoon I saw fresh signs of a kill. Feathers scattered everywhere.  Part of the flesh of the bird seemed to have been just left there, amid all the feathers. Was it the heart? It's probably not the heart. But suddenly I remembered that line from a Disney movie: "Bring me Snow White's heart!" Why the heart? I've always wondered. Wouldn't the head be easier to recognize?

Speaking of trouble with recognition, just around the bend in my path, after the remains of the bird, I thought I spotted a milkweed plant! But I had been wrong before, The last time I thought I had seen a milkweed plant that had not yet bloomed, it turned out to be dogbane. However, my friend Kathy confirmed it. This time it is milkweed!

That bodes well for the butterflies.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

After the Flood

Although the weather has not been kind to the baby birds, Bow and I have been doing well despite it all.
This is a snapshot I took this morning, while Bow and I were in the outer pen. After spending some time grooming me, he put his head down on my shoulder and rested. The weather outside is beautiful now, and I have not seen such splendid irises blooming next to the lagoon in years.

When we first moved here, there were irises and peonies blooming by the lagoon in large bunches every spring. Then, little by little, the poison ivy encroached on their territory, until they were entirely choked out.

The bulbs were there in the ground still. Some leaves would shoot out each year, but there were no more irises blooming, and the peonies were greatly reduced.

Then two years ago there was that grass fire. It killed a lot of the mature poison ivy vines and tree-like bushes. I started to see a redoubling in iris greenery, but still the irises did not bloom last year, even though the peonies beside them were doing much better. But look at my irises this year, after the torrential rains!

There are two types of irises in the garden by the lagoon.  There are the deep purple that is like a royal blue.

And then there are the mauve to purple irises, which are right next to the peonies.

I think I took them for granted when I first moved here, seeing their beauty, but not realizing it would not always be there. This year, when they came our I was so excited that I even made a music video about them. It includes other flowers, of course, but the focus is on the irises and the peonies.

The peonies are so bright and fluffy and inviting that all sorts of insects come to visit them.

Every disaster has its upside. What was bad for the baby birds seems to have benefited the peonies.  And the fire of two years ago was a disaster for the poison ivy by the lagoon, but it gave new hope to the irises. When people count the toll of deaths from any particular cause, do they also count the new life that never would have been, if not for it? By the same token, when they tell us that a new government program has saved lives, we must also ask, how many has it killed? You can't change any situation to benefit one part of our interconnected world without also harming another part.

When we hear that something is bad, it is always important to ask: for whom? And when we hear that an intervention is good, ask the same question. Whatever it is, it is not equally good for everyone.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dashed Hopes

I considered not writing about this. People like cheerful reports about how nature sorts everything out. They like to think that every sparrow is looked after and that no life is lost in vain. But here in my untended plot of land, unexpected, premature and even senseless death is a normal part of life, and I think that even Bow knows about it. Remember what he said about Niles the kitten?

Last year I was able to follow developments in three different robins' nests. This year I was surprised at first that I was not seeing any, when I finally noticed one by the fence-line, snug in a low lying cypress bush.

I spotted the firs robin's nest on April 13, 201 
There were already three perfect little blue eggs in the nest. It was very far from the house, and so there was no way I could keep watch over it as I had the nest in the rosebush in front of my front door last year.  But I was looking forward to seeing the three eggs hatch.

I spotted the second robin's nest in a rosebush facing the public road. The mother robin scolded me and tried to lure me away from her nest. There were three blue eggs, streaked with a little bit of white snug in the nest.

I spotted the second robin's nest on April 18, 2017
The third nest I spotted this season wasn't even a robin's. It belonged to a mourning dove who flew away noisily every time I approached. It was April 19, the anniversary of the Mt. Carmel Massacre, and I was preoccupied, but not so much so that I did not wonder about it.

I did not know what kind of egg it was until a friend of a friend on Facebook identified it for me. I was really looking forward to seeing how a mourning doves differ from robins in their development.

By April 23, I noticed that two of the eggs in the first robin's nest had hatched.

By the 24th of April, I spotted a second egg in the mourning dove nest. The lighting was such that one of the eggs seemed pinkish, while the other looked bluish. This sparked a discussion among my friends as to whether one of the eggs did not belong in the egg. Could that bluish egg be a starlings?

By the end of that day, the first egg in the mourning dove nest had already hatched, and the other egg went from looking blue to being white again. It had probably been just a trick of the light and both eggs were "legitimate."

The mourning dove hatchling seemed healthy, and I was hopeful that eventually the other egg would hatch, revealing a matching sibling.

At the time when the mourning dove baby hatched, the baby robins in the first robin's nest looked like this.

Then the next day, April 25, the first egg in the second robin's nest by the road hatched.

That was the best it ever got. At that point, for all three nests, there were four hatchlings and four unhatched eggs. But the weather started to change, and it began to rain every day almost all day long. The nest time I went to check all three nests, the second robin's nest was empty. Completely empty.

.There was no sign of a struggle. Not a feather or a cracked egg. But I knew it was too early for anything but a bad ending to explain the total absence of hatchlings and eggs. On that day, the first robin's nest still contained two babies and the third egg had not hatched.

In the mourning dove nest, there was still one hatchling and one egg.

The next day, when I could get away to look, the mourning dove nest was completely bare, all except for one stray white feather.

In the first robin's nest, the two babies looked like this that day.

It continued to rain and rain and rain. Major parts of our state became flooded. Roads were closed and bridges crumbled and teenagers were swept away to their deaths in their cars. On April 29 I ventured out in the rain and the thunder to look at the surviving robins in the nest. They seemed to be doing well, despite it all.

Yesterday, May 1st, which was an unusually cold day, when I ventured forth to check on the robins, all I found was a bare, clean, empty  nest.

Of eight potential new lives, all were snuffed out.