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We flew down the freeway from Itchkeppe City Park in Columbus, Montana, bound for the rental in Hermosa, South Dakota. Gas & breakfast at a truck stop on the Crow Reservation, and then a side trip to see the site where General George A. Armstrong met his unglorious end.

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I visited this site in 1966, and it is still just as sad and lonesome as it was then. The voices of the people who lost their way of life (this battle was the beginning of the end for the First Nations) and the cries of the white men who died there still whisper in the winds. The very ground cries out, and the crickets in the grass sing sorrowful melodies.

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Prayer flags flap in the wind from the monument that was erected to honor the warriors who died defending their sacred lands.

We drove out to the site of Reno’s Retreat, and gazed in awe at the expanse of contested land, and wondered at Reno’s frustrations as he could not reach the ill-fated Seventh Cavalry.

We also logged two new birds for our life-list: the lark bunting (which I never got a photo of) and the lark sparrow.

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The sparrow left his own commentary on the history plaques, most of which was not kind to the human species and their wars.

We raced across Wyoming and into South Dakota, stopping in Rapid City for gas. There, I did something so 21st Century that it amazes me still: I figured out how to get Waze o tell me how to get to the rental in Hermosa! This was a good thing as the house was way-the-heck-out-there. (For my adult children: I programmed Waze and then handed the phone to Donald with the instructions, “Waze will start talking, so just hold onto this.”)

We still; had lovely weather when we arrived at the rental, and all the cousins were planning on a trip out to see the evening ceremony at Mt. Rushmore, so we decided to jump into someone’s car and join them. It’s a good thing we did as the mountain was shrouded in clouds for the rest of our visit!

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(Photo courtesy of Ellen Block)

Saturday, we went off on our own to drive through Custer State Park. I apologize now if you were someone who got trapped behind us as we wandered through those winding little roads at the posted speed limit: I just drove over 1300 miles to see the damn park and I wasn’t going to speed up simply to appease someone who can’t slow down and look at the flowers. We also apologize to anyone who stopped behind us thinking we saw animals: we were looking at wildflowers and trying to identify them. You should try it sometime – it might expand your world.

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The narrow tunnels were amazing. Not sure who that guy is or why he’s holding up the granite wall…

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Every last one of the cousins managed to arrive at Sylvan Lake on Saturday, but at different times.

Don and I drove down to the little town of Custer because we wanted to check out the beer sub culture. We ended up in the Bugling Bull, sitting at the bar next to a lovely couple from California who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary.

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The taxidermy was wonderful: some very lifelike poses, and then these two items. On the left is a typical Jackalope (which, despite the name, sports antlers and not prongorns). On the right is… um… what I referred to as a “beavalope” but was informed it was a “horny beaver”. I did not name it.

There was also a drunken pheasant on its back, balancing a bottle of whiskey with its legs, but I did not capture a photo of that anomaly.

It rained all day Sunday, so we simply stayed in and enjoyed each other’s company on our last day of the 2018 Melrose Family Reunion sans the Melrose Girls: Phyllis (died 2017), Donna (too frail to come at age 88), and Mary Lou (died 1995).

Tomorrow: the road home

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It has been six years since we went on a road trip, and forever (plus a day) since we went somewhere we haven’t been before. Here’s a little background on this road trip: when I was going on ten, my folks pulled us all out of school early to make a long trip to Durand, Wisconsin, to see my oldest cousin (on my mother’s side) graduate from high school. We pulled a rented trailer and Dad promised us all these fun stops: St. Louis to see the Budweiser horses, Mt. Rushmore to see the presidents, the Little Bighorn Battle monument, nd Yellowstone National Park.

The car over heated pulling the trailer and we cut out St. Louis and Mt. Rushmore – the two places my ten year old heart wanted to go. I won’t say I was disappointed in the site of Custer’s Last Stand as I had just finished reading biographies of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull, but I was disappointed that we did not stop in to visit the memorial for Comanche, the sole survivor of the US Cavalry on that fateful day. If you are not familiar with the story, Comanche was a US remount (cavalry horse) of a dun color (buckskin) who somehow managed to escape being mortally shot by anyone on either side, and who became a sort of legend of survival of a battle that signaled the end of a way of life for the indigenous peoples of the American continent.

I just cared that he was a horse.

I loved Yellowstone, also, but Old Faithful was a huge disappointment (we were there less than a decade after the 1959 earthquake that put the geyser into a momentary tailspin) but I got to meet a grizzly, up close and personal (not a tale for this post, sorry. I got very close).

We have always camped rugged: we had a six-man tent for years, then we moved up to the back of a For Explorer, and then life intervened and we lost both the rig and the tent – so we purchased an inexpensive tent for the trip. All other camping gear was on hand: stove, pads, sleeping bags.

I left the itinerary rather open: three days to get there & three days to come home, who knew where we would land?

Day #1 was a long day as we passed from Oregon into Washington State (who said self serve gas was cheaper has never pumped gas in Washington State!) and into Idaho at the narrowest point of the panhandle. My only goal was to get to Montana, and we did that.

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The requisite campsite photo: we paid ten dollars for this site, had wonderful hosts, and they even had garbage dumpsters. I thought we entered a time warp. If you are interested: Cabin City Campground. 1980’s prices, clean, well-maintained, highly recommended. We were there for the overnight, so can’t say anything for the sights.

Day #2… We drove into one helluva a lightning storm near Livingston. Cloud to ground strikes and cloud-to-cloud strikes, pouring rain. I stepped off the gas pedal a tad in case we had hail and the person who was about to pass me decided I was the wiser driver and pulled back, too. Fortunately, no hail. We did, however, see two elk carcasses where some hapless truck driver came around a corner and – SURPRISE! – there were elk in the road. Oy.

We pulled into a campground just outside of Columbus, Mt. FREE. Unheard of. It’s a city owned campground run for the benefit of travelers Donations accepted.

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The threat of more rain kept us from setting up our tent (which has a crappy short rain fly) and we spent an uncomfortable night sleeping in the KIA. I love the Sportage because it is built for short people to drive, but for sleeping in…? It sucks. The guy with the snowy beard ended up with a bad crick in his neck. But we did have flushing toilets, even if they were for giants.

The people camped next to us had no idea of camping etiquette and crossed through our camp site to go to the restrooms more than once. They didn’t seem to be “all there” so we didn’t say anything, but – really?? They were nice enough, just a little unfamiliar with how one should behave in a campground with designated sites. Oh, hell – do I have to spell this out? You don’t walk into or across the site next to you. There’s a little road or you can circle wide through the grass, but you DO NOT walk through a site.

I picked up a friend and carried him over to meet Don.

He’s some kind of moth. I haven’t bothered to look him up. If you can ID it, I would gladly appreciate that. It was newly hatched.

We were outta there before 6AM Pacific.

I’ll post more later. Blessings.

 

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You never know when a thing will turn out to be a ‘God-thing’ (that’s Christian-speak for “a mysterious coincidence that must have been ordained by a higher power”). I don’t like the theology that teaches that everything that happens in life is a lesson, or even that everything happens for a ‘reason’, but sometimes things do happen in a way that you can look back and see how it all lined up in the cosmos for the end result to come together. If I were the author of a story, I would call this the plot line: one seemingly innocent action takes on a domino effect until everything comes to a climactic end that could not have happened without the original action.

I’m probably over-simplifying what happened. But, as miracles go, it had a start that seemed quite unlikely to go anywhere.

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A pair of puddle ducks wandered into the parking lot at work. These are relatively tame mallards that reside (most of the time) in a small pond along Meyers Road, between an apartment complex and a church, right off a busy thoroughfare. This particular pair, however, visited our office frequently enough that I started putting out dried mealworms for them to gobble on. They even wandered into the office once, much to my boss’ dismay and my laughter.

The kids at the gas station nearby named them “Duck-duck” (her) and Goose (him). Goose has a particular marking on the front that makes him readily identifiable. DD could be any old mallard hen.

I take at least one walk per day, during my break period. The pond is less than five minutes’ walk, so I can go down there, visit with whatever puddle ducks are about (or the resident nutria), and return to work well within my allotted time. It’s a nice nature break, even though I am not fond of nutria (non-native, invasive species), or of the mottled mallard/domestic duck mixes that make up most of the puddle ducks that make the pond home. There’s a kingfisher late in summer, the pond is a designated lamprey hatching ground (I’ve never seen a lamprey, but that’s an important conservation point), and the occasional Canada goose will take a gander (haha – pun intended) around.

Duck-duck hatched nine ducklings and I briefly attempted to follow their life story. Nine ducklings is a fair amount – maybe one will make it  to adulthood. Mortality for mallards is high in the wild, and in town. DD eventually melded with the other hens as the total duckling count (22 in all that first week) went down. The hens either moved their babies further downstream and out of sight, or the babies were picked off and the hens sought out a new mate for a new batch of eggs. I was left with a hen and five ducklings, then three, and, finally, one.

The one duckling, I am happy to say, has passed through pin feathers and is maturing into a pretty mallard hen. At some point, her mother abandoned her, too.

Several years ago, on a different worksite with more ponds, a friend and I watched a hen duckling raise itself. It was orphaned the first week of its life, and its siblings were picked off before they were five weeks old. Yet the one survived, raising herself, and when autumn came, she flew off with the rest of the migrating mallards. They may have a high mortality rate, but they are not incapable of surviving the greatest odds

I have been posting updates on Instagram and Facebook, gaining a small cult following – mostly of my good friends. Friends leave me photos of ducks or wild birds.

Last Wednesday, a friend sent me a video of some firemen rescuing a hatch of six ducklings out of a drain pipe. I can’t find where to share the video, but I’ll recap it briefly for you: the grates were lifted and firemen hung upside down into the darkness to catch the tiny buggers while mama duck quacked hysterically from the safety of some grass nearby. These ducklings even swam under the road to the other side where more firemen dangled down, their backsides and legs above ground – all to rescue a clutch of six. Then they put the whole family in a bag and took them to the safety of a stream to be released.

Thursday, I took my walk. I had my windbreaker on, but it was a tad warm. As I neared the church parking lot, I observed a mallard hen acting strangely, quaking and flying in circles – she nearly attacked a car pulling out of the drive!

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I could hear peeping emanating from below the water drain in the driveway. There were three babies down there, and I could not easily reach them!

My first thought was to walk on by – what could I do? Nature is cruel. There’s no obvious way to remove that grate to reach down into the shallow space below. But I’m the woman who cries when the dog catches and kills a fledgling sparrow in the backyard: how could I walk on by?

I dialed the non-emergency number and explained the situation. They’d send somebody, sometime. Meanwhile, an elderly woman with a cane had joined me and we determined there were actually five ducklings under the cement – and mama duck was nigh on hysterical. We had to do something.

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I’m not terribly squeamish about spiders, but there were a lot of spider webs between me and the babies. The holes were just over 1.63″ wide. The space underneath was about a foot wide and a foot deep, and only ran the length of the driveway: there was no end exit.

Even *if* I got my arms down there, how would I catch one and how would I bring it back up through that narrow slot without hurting it?

I had a system: I put both arms in and brought my hands together onto the huddled and frightened babies. One at a time, I caught them and brought them up, carefully using both hands to extract them from the grate. The first two, I nearly lost because they bolted for the street as soon as I had them free. The third one bolted up the drive so fast that I had to throw my jacket over it to stop it.

Fortunately, mama duck caught on and huddled near a tree, clucking as each baby found its way to her. My cohort kept mama from bolting toward the road, just by standing there.

The last two scared me. My arms were already turning purple and swelling where the skin had been pushed and forced down the holes. The babies in the hole were frantic. I could get one – but could I get the last one?? So many thoughts – and that video – ran through my head, but in the end, I managed to snatch both babies at once. I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get them up through that grate, but by some miracle of physics my hands and ducklings fit through.

I carried them over to mama duck who was apparently counting how many we’d rescued. She booked across the church lawn as soon as she had five ducklings to lead.

The photo of my right arm doesn’t show the whole glory of the deep red-purple bruise I earned. My new found friend posed for a victory selfie and a hug before we parted ways.

I called non-emergency back and canceled my request. They hadn’t even dispatched anyone yet.

It was exhilarating, crazy, heart-pounding, desperate, adrenaline-pumping, and amazing. It was made profound by the realization that someone had just sent me a video on rescuing ducklings the night before, and that video played in my head the entire time. She sent that video because I started following the adventures of the ducklings on the pond, and I started doing that because of a pair of puddle ducks that wandered into my office when the doors were open one sunny Spring day.

God, Who was authoring the plot of this story, had His eye on the ducklings. It was never about me or my crazy heroics and somersaults (I did somersault at least once, tripping over a fleeing rescue) – it was always about the five ducklings that slipped through the cracks in a driveway on their first trip away from the nest they hatched in. Just little puddle ducks that have a low survival rate anyway – but five babies that were important to the way the Universe works. Five little ducks were destined  to make it as far as that pond, to enter into whatever wonderful (or not-so-wonderful) things Life had prepared them for.

Listen to this song, and replace the word “sparrow” with duckling. It seems almost silly, but it makes my heart swell to understand that no life is insignificant.

His eye is on you.

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This is the time of year when I most love our backyard. Sixteen years of labor comes to fruition, and the flowers bloom, the beds are temporarily whipped into almost-weedless state, birds have their nests, and the bees are warming up to all the blossoms. This year, we have no dogs or cats, and while that is strange to contemplate it has been a boon for backyard bird watching.

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Bewick’s wren decided to move into our shabby single car 1940’s garage. The fledglings left the nest about a week ago, as evidenced by the bird guano on the garage floor (and everything else). They abruptly left on Wednesday, when no one was watching. The nest remains tucked in behind the radio and some other dusty shelf ornaments, but the birds are gone.

Spotted towhee has at least one fledgling in the yard (I included that crazy captured from the newel post – Towhee is hard to photograph!). Towhee loves the multiple bird baths in the back yard.

Song sparrow loves the options, too, but has been highly elusive of late. One year, when Murphy was a pup, Song sparrow had a nest in the Camellia. Murphy killed the fledglings as soon as they hit the ground. I cried. My husband reminded me it is the circle of things, and I hated him. Murphy is gone now, but Song sparrow remembers and no longer nests in our yard.

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The juncos have been silent. They’re all paired up right now, and tending to nests. We catch a glimpse here and there. I saw two bushtits today, but no more, which means they are also sitting on nests and waiting for the fledglings to be able to join together in their joyful little mobs.

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Crow found the bird bath in the back yard. I washed a robin’s leg and claw out of it yesterday, and today I washed something murky brown out of it. I don’t hate crow, I just wish he knew he wasn’t a raccoon, and doesn’t have to wash his food… in the bird bath.

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The band-tailed pigeons are flocking now. There’s always a sentinel in the now-dead lodge pole pine out front, keeping an eye out while the rest clamber over the bird feeder, jockeying for position. I love their colors in the Spring: the subtle changes of rosy breast feathers against the gray.

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We had a shy black-headed grosbeak come by this week. They aren’t really bird feeder birds, but they will pause while they move north along their migration route, and before the elm trees go to seed.

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Anna’s hummingbird is also a permanent resident. She’s happy to have real flowers, but won’t hesitate to tell me what she thinks of slothfulness if the hummingbird feeder runs dry. We had two fledglings come through the backyard this weekend: skinny little birds still figuring out how to balance on the feeder, and completely unafraid of us.

I sat in the lawn chair this evening and looked out over my several flower beds and the vast expanse of ‘lawn’ that is really just mowed wild grass, wild geraniums, tiny yellow flowers, and clovers. Green played upon green, shadows danced. The birds came and went, intent on their business, but always with an eye cocked toward me. There are no dogs or cats here, now, and the birds seem to know this.

It’s the trade-off for not having a pet: my garden is full of avian life that is increasingly unafraid of me. My heart is at peace with the birds.

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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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Crow Feathers

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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.

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