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Don and I went hunting for morels again today. We got “skunked”. We looked high, we looked low, we looked in places we haven’t visited for 27 years: nothing. We haven’t parked in front of this particular barbed wire fence since Memorial Day, 1991.

The road we pulled off of leads to McCubbin Gulch recreation area. This gate is a few feet and one cattle guard away from Oregon Highway 216 to Maupin, Oregon. The other side of this barbed wire fence is Warm Springs Indian Reservation land.We’re on the USFS side, where we were 27 years ago, hunting for morels.

We’d found them there before, in our early years in the Willamette Valley, just a 90 minute drive over the Cascades. We found a cougar there one year: that was when the infamous Rosie was still living, so it must have been 1988 or 1989. Rosie was a mutt I picked up for Don just after we were married, in 1980: Springer Spaniel, English Pointer, and Brittany Spaniel. She died of a “high iron diet”: she was hit by a car when she was 11 years old.

We purchased Sadie from a breeder just a few months after Rosie’s death:  purebred English Pointer from a show breed line with impeccable references. Our biggest mistake was not knowing the difference between a show dog line and a field dog line: Sadie was the dumbest dog we have ever owned, except – perhaps – for my beloved Harvey. She had all the looks and none of the street smarts of a field dog. In 1991, she cost us $350 and a long drive to Edmonds, Washington, where we picked her up from the breeder.

We were all in love with her instantly. She was all legs and love. She ate my sofa. She growled over her food dish. She adored our kids she hiked with us until the pads fell off of her feet in the desert and climbing rocks; she had fur that ingrained itself in our furniture and rests there today, 27 years later.

Rejoys Hannah’s Promise. That was her AKC registered name – I named her. The kids and Don named her “Sadie”.

Memorial Day, 1991. We were hunting morels, and we returned to the place where we’d encountered a big cat just a year or three prior. The kids were bigger, the dog, different. Commercial buyers were still non-existent. We had a picnic lunch packed, and we’d just settled down to lunch on a blanket one the Forest Service side of the gate where we had been hunting – unsuccessfully.

And, then: Sadie. The only dog we have ever owned that could not negotiate a barbed wire fence. She went through the gate and cut herself open from the brisket to the belly. On Memorial Day weekend. Seventy miles from nowhere.

Should we drive into Hood River and hope for a weekend vet? Into Maupin a short 30 miles, but a miniscule population? Or 75 miles back home, in traffic, and hope our vet would come into the office on a weekend? what do you do on a big holiday weekend?

Sadie was not bleeding: the barbed wire had sliced through the skin, but not through the inner layer of flesh that held her insides together. She was hurt, but not mortally. I sat in the back seat and held her head on my lap. We decided to go back over the Cascades and hope for the best.

It was awful: the traffic came to a standstill at Government Camp and into the first small town, Zig Zag. It took us over two hours to drive a 90-minute route. Sadie was in pain, but she was not bleeding – that was probably the weird part. And the miracle was that our vet was in the office, dealing with a pup that had been run over by a lawn mower. Sadie was just another emergency.

My husband was shooed from the operating room. The vet had to cut off the dead skin – the edges of the cut had died in the two hours it took us to get to a phone and drop off our kids. I played Vet’s assistant, and held the skin together while the vet made his stitches: ten in all.

She impaled herself on a stick years later: we were camping in the Ochocos, and she leaped over a log into a branch or something. It went an inch into her chest, as I recall. I told her that I was *not* taking her into Prineville to see an emergency vet. She would have to just heal after I doctored her with what I had for a first aid kit. She just smiled and behaved, and lived a long and wonderfully stupid life. She died of cancer in 2006, a rich 15 year old dog.

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Huh. I still look at that dog and I feel my tear ducts swell. Big, stupid, loving, purebred, Rejoys Hannah’s Promise. Sadie.

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The drive was easy: light traffic, no slow motor homes or travel trailers, not even a semi rig chugging up the slow lanes of High 26 over Mt. Hood, and on over the Cascades toward Madras and Maupin, from forests that are more fir and cedar to the drier cross-over forests of Doug fir and Yellow pine. The underbrush is thick in both forests, but different in plant content.The segue from fir and cedar to pine and fir is subtle; from temperate forest to drier climate forest happens somewhere over the summit of Government Camp and the next summit. We are driving from the Willamette Valley to someplace near Bear Springs Ranger Station.

I can’t tell you the exact location because it is our secret morel hunting grounds. Sacred hunting grounds. We fought hard to find this place after moving to the west side of the state, away from the abundant locations of morels in the Blue Mountains and Wallowa Range. I can tell you that motocross trails zig-zag across our hunting grounds, and we often hear the roar of motors and whine of transmissions as bikers shift gears to follow their carefully manicured ruts trails through the woods. They’re polite, just noisy.

This day, there are no motorcycles, no bicycles, no other people in the area. It is just my husband and I, no dogs, and the thick forest. Winter downfalls have been heavy this past season, and the under growth has had over 25 years to come back in from the last logging operation here. The snow has recently melted, and early spring flowers are open: calypso lilies, yellow violets, those blue five-petaled flowers I never remember the name of, and trilliums blooming white or fading red with age.

The ground is dry enough the crunch and twigs snap under our feet. We don’t mind: the fresh bear sign tells us that the more noise we make, the less likely we are to make acquaintance with some furry animal just up from a winter’s snooze – or, worse, a sow with cub. Stumps have been recently torn open and ant colonies devoured. Spoor grows fine hairy mold.

The conditions are right: other mushrooms are surfacing. False morels, red fungus, button mushrooms, and even coral mushrooms are abundant. But we only find eight fresh morels. The area is flagged for thinning – perhaps if the loggers come in and thin it, the morels will come back in the disturbed ground, and pickings will be as they were in the past.

Rhododendrons, mahogany, and chinkapin push us away from familiar paths. There are no game trails to follow, but plenty of elk sign. We cross a space full of dead-fall, skeletal leaves of deciduous bushes and vine maples, when we find a chipmunk dying in the forest detritus.

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His tail is flipped up over his back, his eyes rolled up into his head. The darkling beetles are already moving in, but he takes a deep, painful, breath and exhales. His ears don’t move, he seems to have no feeling, but his lungs are still operating. Did he fall from a tree? Chipmunks are mostly ground dwellers. A disease? I photograph him, but we do not touch him. We leave him to die where he lived: free, wild, and beyond the ken of mankind.

We drive another two miles down to the campground and picnic area at Bear Springs.

The ground cover is thick, and the downfall everywhere. My legs are beginning to hurt from climbing over downed trees. The only wildlife we hear or see are birds: woodpeckers, ravens, warblers.

Elk and deer sign is everywhere, from tracks in the pine duff to pellets where they bed down at night.

I stumble across a coyote-kill. The skull is too large to be a porcupine, and we agree it must have been a beaver that was dragged up from the creek running along the eastern side of the Bear Springs meadow.

We find three more morels.

lunch is sweet: sandwiches made on a picnic table under the tall Ponderosa pines that ring the meadow. We meet a couple who just strolled through the meadow, and some old man comes out of the forest with his bags of mysterious booty. The couple drive off, but the old man acts like some creeper, just waiting by his car and pacing, staring at us. Eventually, he wanders back off into the woods, leaving his little dog barking from inside the car. The car is in shade, the windows open. We feel no need to rescue the yapping animal, confident the owner is only a few yards away and hidden in the thick forest, waiting for us to leave.

I take a photo of the meadow that makes up the rest area, one of my favorite places on earth. Then we walk over to the stream and the wooden bridge that separates the est area from the Bear Springs Ranger Station. The bridge is in serious disrepair, and all I can think about is the last time we were here, when Murphy and Harvey played in the water below the bridge.

it’s another 75 miles back home. Traffic is a little heavier, but even the travel trailers are driving at a reasonable speed. Those cars I pass remain behind me until we reach the lower speed limits through Zig Zag, Rhododendron, and Welches. It’s an easy cruise on into Sandy, but slows through the suburbs of Boring and Damascus, so I take the backroad from Carver home.

Don fries the morels in crushed cornflakes, egg batter, and butter. They are heavenly.

 

 

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I moved the concrete bird bath from the front yard to the back yard last fall. I was tired of the crows using it as a place to rinse their food: fried chicken left-overs, hamburger buns, dog poop, hatchling birds, half-eaten worms. It was a daily battle: spray out the bowl, refill with fresh water, and watch as the crows returned to place some treasure in the water to soften. <Sigh>

We feed the bird out front: the old lodge pole pine that came with the house has a long, sturdy, limb from which to hang a large feeder full of black-oil sunflower seeds, convenient nails in the trunk from which to hang suet feeders, all within the easy view of the dining room picture window. I’ve taken countless photos of birds and squirrels through the glass over the years, and the bird bath could be set just atop the retaining wall, within view of the window also.

The lodge pole has its own story: it has been slowly dying over the span of our 15 years in this house. Two Springs ago, the Arbor Society stopped by to offer us information on planting a new tree (so poor did our pine look, then!). The woman actually suggested a cedar (one of those nasty things you cannot see under or through) to replace the open branches of the lodge pole. I told her, as nicely as possible, that we wouldn’t soon be replacing “Westley”.

“Westley?” she wondered.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s only ‘mostly dead’.”

Sadly, two years later, the joke is on us: no Miracle Max came through for Westley, and the lodge pole is quite dead. What we will replace it with that is both tall and sturdy enough to invite our birds to continue to come here is, as yet, undetermined.

Meanwhile, I had to move the bird bath to the back yard where we spend much of the summer months. Last year, we still had two very large bird dogs that patrolled the perimeter of the fenced-in back. Their presence had a two-fold effect on the bird-bath: no crows, and fewer small birds daring to take the plunge. They’d stop and sneak a drink, but no bird let down its guard to bathe while we were in the yard with the dogs.

Fate, and age, deprived us of those dogs last summer. The back yard is unpatrolled, and the wee birds are braver. The hummingbirds come closer, the wrens nested in the garage, the towhees are attempting a nest in the yard (my dog disturbed their previous attempt, some four years ago), and the bird bath has been a hub for evening ablutions by robin and towhee.

The crows have been watching from their perches top the tall Doug firs that surround us. The crows have sneaked into the yard, testing to see if the big grey dog will come charging and barking, as usual. The crows have perched atop the roof peak and cocked their curious eyes at us as we sit around our little fire pit.

The crows have started washing their food in the bird bath.

It started with half a worm floating in the bottom of the bowl. The next day, the water was soiled and gray, and my husband cleaned it. Yet another morning, and half a worm floated there.

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I flipped the frame of an old hanging basket over the bird bath.

Fortunately, it has been cooler, and threatening rain (even raining, at times). My wicked crow-deterrent plan is to eventually only do this on evenings or days when we will not be out in the yard, or at least in and out of the house. The framework will be removed when the bath can be guarded.

I hope it will work. So far, it has managed to keep the crows out, but it is also preventing all other birds from using the bird bath.

None of the birds have expressed interest in my other bird baths for bathing (or food washing).

I don’t know if it is the slick feeling of the porcelain bowls or the placement of the rocks that keep the birds out of these. (The rocks are there for the bees to climb up on, and therefore escape drowning. The bees cannot find footing on the porcelain and drown; they can easily get out of the concrete bath with its rough-textured bowl. I thought the rocks would help this year – I hate drowning wasps, bees, and other innocent insects.)

Much as I love crows – and crows love me – I cannot have them washing their food in water that others use for cleansing…specially if that food is sometimes the nestlings of the other birds. Wish me luck.

We have taken to building a fire in the portable fire pit (my husband’s “gift” for 25+ years of labor, upon his retirement). A glass of wine, the pop of sap igniting, the sun dipping below the tree line to the west: the garden birds make their last mad dash for the bird bath, freshly filled. We talk about abstract thing, our neighbors, the bees we encourage to live in our yard, the butterfly identification book I lost somewhere and recently replaced, and any news of grandchildren I learned through Facebook or Instagram.

My husband does not have a smart phone. He doesn’t trust Facebook. I am a recent convert to the world of smart phones, and Facebook is my little garden of friends (some real, some imaginary, some I’ve only met online). Grandchildren live too far away for us to see them on a daily basis, so when our children toss out tidbits of information (Korinne wants anything unicorn for her birthday; Eli came in 3rd for his weight division in wrestling), I relay the photos and stories to my husband.

The birds have taken over our lives now that we have no dags to patrol the yard and protect us from these tiny feathered creatures: I change the hummingbird feeders out once a week, usually to the scolding clucks of a female Anna’s: Hurry up, Human, I have babies to feed and bugs to catch! I don’t know where the hummingbirds nest.

One evening, three pairs of spotted towhees entertained us as they made their way back and forth across the yard, chasing each other. Things have settled down now, and our resident nesting pair seem to have chased off the interlopers. Their nest is under the bramble pile where we were going to build a dog run, so very long ago. Dusk falls, and the male hops out from under one of the espaliers to the Spanish lavender, then onto the rim of the concrete bird bath. This is the favored bird bath, and he takes his time, dipping, splashing, shaking out his feathers. A robin scolds from somewhere, impatient for its turn.

One evening after work, I busied myself pulling weeds in the front yard. A white-crowned sparrow scratched the sidewalk under the bird feeder. That’s a new visitor: I usually see them in parking lots, along hedgerows, but not in our yard. But this year, our song sparrow is absent, and perhaps this opened the door for the white crowned? I caught him in the Hawthorne, fluffing out his feathers from a dip in one of the lesser-used bird baths. My camera, however, was not so quick, and I had to follow him to the espalier.

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He made his escape quick, a camera-shy resident.

The Bewick’s wrens surprised us this season by moving into the garage. They built their nest behind the radio, on one of the shelves just above the garden tools. It’s an old detached garage, more of a shed than a place to park a car, and there is a gap between the side door and walkway.

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The wrens come out, hop along behind the garbage and recycle bins, onto the fence behind us. They flit into the Hawthorne and catch bugs. Across the back stoop, down into the leafy forest of peonies, milkweed, asters, and Dragon flowers, and around to the garage door, again. They are easily as friendly as the scolding hummingbirds, but much quieter and stealthy in their coming and going.

Another evening, and it is one of the neighborhood robins in the bird bath, ducking and splashing, and rolling in the fresh water just as the sun sets.

We watch, safe by our fire. Soon, darkness will come, and birds will retire. The swallows make their last dips overhead before they are replaced with the bats. Mosquitoes have not yet hatched out, and so we sit, sipping our wine, watching our birds.

A little bird came to visit.

My husband and I leaned back in the lawn chairs as the sun dipped below the trees and houses to the west of us and the shadows stretched across the yard. This is the time of evening when the backyard birds return to the fold. The song sparrow will fly from rhododendron to Hawthorne and over the the filbert. The robins will chirp noisily from the giant old tree in the neighbor’s yard, asking us to move so they can come down and take their evening baths.

Tonight, the spotted towhee hopped along under the espalier apple trees, then over to the Spanish lavender, hunting small insects. Some evenings, he will hop up onto the bird bath and take a dip, but perhaps we were too close this evening. He worked his way trough the day lilies and into the Hawthorne before flitting over to the rhododendron. He back-tracked the same way.

The Bewick’s wrens have set up housekeeping inside the garage, and must have little peepers hatched now. We are very quiet when we have to go into the garage to remove or replace garden tools, careful not to disturb the hidden nest on the shelves just above the tools. The wrens hop in and out through the gap in the side door of the garage, safe from marauding cats. They work their way along the ground around the garbage dumpster, then the yard debris bins and the recycle bin, coming out behind us (Oh! So clever! Humans didn’t see us!). They then flit to the top of the fence before dropping back to the ground or flitting over to the Hawthorne to hunt for insects. The Hawthorne is every bird’s favorite refuge.

A little brown bird flew into the yard and landed first on the glass patio table, then on the grass beneath it. Don said, “Hello, little pine siskin.”

It suddenly made a short flight to just under his chair, then up onto his feet and sandals. There, it looked surprised: we weren’t just another set of bushes, but we were flesh and blood, and human! Startled, it flew away to the Hawthorne: a little bird that came to visit.

 

 

Simple words. It wasn’t much – I slapped some craft paint onto some newel posts I bought at a yard sale ages ago, a little craft I have been dabbling at for over a year. It’s not a serious craft, just something I saw on Pinterest, and I happened to have the newel posts, so…

It’s an important step, if a minor-seeming one. I have not painted since just before Christmas (excepting one commission). I have been in a funk, a depression, an artistic hole with no light at the end. I haven’t written much, I haven’t painted much. I’ve slept a lot. I’ve meditated and prayed a lot.

I’ve been here before, but not when I was on an artistic roll, and all seemed to be going smoothly. This came in with the dark clouds of winter, settled over my spirit, and sucked my soul downward. I get up and go to work, come home, play some cards or watch a movie, go to bed. The doldrums of winter? Mourning the dogs? Or just a cycle of the clinical depression I have battled most of my life? Probably the latter, compounded with the lack of a fur baby to comfort me.

It doesn’t matter the cause. What matters is that I painted. I pulled out the color and applied it to a blank canvas (well, newel post), and started to make something look cheery. I pulled out a palette and chose the brightest colors. I found the energy to come back to life.

It’s May Day.

I painted.

I’m far from finished, but – I painted.

(Note: the bird houses were already finished. I’ve just been working on the newel posts. I have no idea what I will do with them… does itmatter?)

Last year I decided to let this pretty – but aromatic <ahem> “weed” go. The flowers are pretty & it makes a nice ground cover.

Later in the summer, I keyed it out and discovered that what I have is “Herb Robert”, commonly known as “Stinky Bob”, and it is a pernicious escapee from potted flower arrangements. It’s a noxious weed that pushes out native wild flowers in Oregon and Washington. Can you hear my heavy sigh?

I hate – HATE – invasive species. European starlings, English House Sparrows, tansy ragwort, Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberries, bullfrogs, pike, bass in native trout waters, nutria… the list is quite long. Some invasives you just have to learn to live with, like Eastern gray squirrels and Eastern Fox squirrels that have pushed our native chickarees deeper into the woods. The eastern squirrels don’t like the deep woods where there are no people, so the chickaree still reigns king there.

I have also had my share of gardening “oops”: planting fireweed, for instance. Lovely native plant. Takes over rapidly – so not a great idea. Fortunately, it’s easy to get rid of, as is the Stinky Bob weed. Both just happen to be a bit labor intensive: you have to get on your hands and knees and pull them up.

I got about 3/4’s of the flower bed cleared tonight before the sky turned dark and I truly had to come into the house. Tomorrow is supposed to be nice, again, and I hope to finish the flower bed. Pulling up the Stinky Bob revealed some plants I had planted earlier that had waned, in part due to the invasive non-native Oregon grape variety I planted some 10 years ago, and killed (for the most part) last fall.

That Oregon grape grew 10-12′ tall and spread. I wanted native Oregon grape, that grows a foot tall and maybe spreads 2′ out – not something that shaded my flower beds and threatened to take over the fence between neighbors. I took a chain saw to it last year and cut it all down. There are sprouts trying to come up this year, but I strip the leaves as I see them. The stumps are covered in black plastic to kill them.

I corralled the Comfrey that I replanted from the wild, thinking it was a native plant. It’s a nasty conqueror, impervious to most herbicides, and highly loved by bumble bees and hummingbirds. I discovered what kills it: vinegar and salt. I still have two plants, but if a runner starts, I cut it and apply vinegar and salt. It might take 2-3 applications, but the runners die and the Comfrey is contained.

I have a cape fuschia that I need to kill. It’s so pretty, but it just takes over. The hummingbirds like it, but… It’s just too large for any place in my yard, sends out runners, and is becoming a pestilence. I hope my hummers forgive me: I will find something of equal value that is less invasive.

Speaking of invasive: my milkweed plants are popping up again – and more of them this year! I don’t much care how invasive this plant gets, as long as it eventually calls to the butterflies I want to attract to my yard. It’s fragrant and lovely. It seems to propagate more by runners than by seed, although mine were originally planted seeds. It doesn’t seem to compete with the peonies and Dragon lilies, or the aster in that flower bed.

I need to find a victim person interested in taking on some divided Dragon Lily bulbs. Mine have outgrown their space by four times. They aren’t invasive, hardy to zone 8 (maybe zone 9), striking purple-black flowers, attract beetles and flies… and smell like rotting hamburger.

But first, I finish pulling up Stinky Bob…