Thursday, June 26, 2014

Babies & Yellow Roses

Lady Merganser and Brood
Yellow Roses of Elmira
A Celebratory Unfurling
Squinting at the basking log in Elmira Pond, I'm trying to determine which feathered resident has roosted for a rest.

The ringed-neck ducks? Lady Merganser? Or turtles?

Yes, to my eyes, turtles often look fowl. Thus I need the binoculars. Scoping the log I'm surprised to see that it is Lady Merganser with three baby hooded mergansers.

I was just wondering about babies on the pond!

These are not tiny puffballs so I can only surmise that they've been hiding in the reeds. I can't wait to see them diving like their mama.

It's a proud moment, knowing that Elmira Pond has provided shelter for a new generation of mergansers.

As if in celebration, a rosebush unfolded a beautiful butter-yellow rose. Several other buds are showing colorful promise.

Another day and more moments to affirm life is beautiful.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Where There's Smoke

State Your Emergency
A Roadside Fire
No, I Don't See an RV
Electrician to the Rescue!
Hub & ID Civil Servant Stamping Out Fires
The More Exciting Fire Was Down the Road
Another Traffic Jam in Elmira
Heroes in Neon
Charred Grass Across From Our Driveway
Molten Missile--What's Left of a Wheel Bearing
Emergency 9-1-1 call goes something like this:

Dispatch: What's your emergency?

Me: A fire, along the road, mile marker 490, highway 95.

Dispatch: Yes, we have responded to a report of an RV fire.

Me: Uh, no...just RV.

Dispatch: We have an RV on fire at that location.

Me: Just grass. My husband is out there with a shovel. Wait. I see the sheriff.

(At this point in the conversation several vehicles with flashing lights zip past my husband, battling smoky grass with a shovel. None stop.)

Dispatch: They're on the scene now.

Me: Actually, they just drove past the scene.

It's a ridiculous conversation, trying to convince a dispatcher that there are indeed two fires, not one at the same mile marker. Maybe I should have reminded her that mile markers cover a mile in territory, thus space enough for more than one fire.

Where there's smoke, there's fire, but our fire wasn't smoky enough to catch the attention of first responders. It wasn't like we had flames--or an RV in flames--but the west is a dry tinderbox and smoke a dangerous spark.

Not 20 miles from here, firefighters died in a blaze back in 1967. In 1910, fires swept across Idaho in two days killing 86 people and burning over three million acres. The scars of both fires are in our wilderness back yard.

I don't take smoke lightly.

Another man joins the Hub in battling our grass fire. At first I see just a portion of a white vehicle, thinking a sheriff's deputy did turn around. Turns out it is an Idaho civil servant, but of the electrician sector. He helps with a small red fire extinguisher.

From our driveway I can see another traffic jam building. A truck, whose driver apparently missed that traffic was stopped ahead, slams on his breaks so hard his tires smoke and he leaves a trail of black rubber on the pavement.

And yes, there is an RV on fire just down the road.

The men put out the fire, only to have it smolder again. So Hub treks across the road once more and shovels. The returning fire trucks and deputy vehicles pass by. None stop. But the electrician returns.

We chat about the previous Idaho traffic jam last week. He tells me he saw the cattle truck in town that took the hit of logs from he other truck. Kind of scary when logs fly loose and cows have to duck. The cattle truck had a gaping hole.

This time a tourist is the culprit for our Elmira roadside excitement. Within the charred grass my husband retrieves the melted remains of a bearing that evidently caused our grass fire and eventually stopped the RV. How long the driver had been going with flames licking at his tires, we don't know but at our place the fire was hot enough to create a molten missile.

That's one way to make a vacation memorable.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Critter Spotting

Spotting Equipment
I Love You, Too, Snapper
Ringed-neck Ducks
Osprey Flying South
Coffee? No? Okay, Go Ahead and Take Pics
Northern Flicker
Bootsy Slinking
Go Catch a Gopher, Bootsy
Deer in the Daisies
Taking my seat at the Elmira Pond Morning Show, I'm ready for critters with or without wings. Mostly it's the winged sort that acrobat for my attention as if I paid big bucks to sit here. They seem to be happy to perform for a buffet of seeds, insects, frogs and fish.

One critter watches me. Snapper, the sorrel mare, is falling for me. I know, because I'm falling for her, too. My cousin J texts me, "We should have brought you out to the ranch with us." As much as I'd love to spend time with her, ride their huge eastern Montana spread and direct them on fence building, I'm reluctant to leave my horse-love.

Other critters do not elicit warm and fuzzies from me. Like the gopher who gave me a panic-attack, dropping into my morning like an A-bomb. True we startled him so severely that he tried to claw his way up the side of the garage; a creepy sight. Bobo chased him into the garage through the cat portal. When I opened the big door it nearly ran me over, fleeing the GSP in hot pursuit.

Now that the excitement is over, except for the nose-whistling as the dogs beg to return outside to chase other critters, I'm watching the winged ones. The ringed-neck ducks patter about the pond and although I can't spot her, Lady Merganser shows up eventually. The big mystery for now--will babies turn up?

An osprey flies south, not pausing. Though distant, I actually snap a shot this morning. When he's winging south he doesn't stop to hunt. I imagine that his bird belly is full of trout from MacArthur Lake, and he's heading home to rest in a stick nest. Maybe he'll fish later in the afternoon.

And I'm not the only one critter spotting. A man parks his car along Hwy. 95, crosses traffic of logging trucks and motor-homes, and points his big lens at Elmira Pond. Or maybe the horses. Several times a week, cars stop and hands emerge out of open windows to point i-phones at the horses, and then kick up a cloud of dirt as they drive away. Ah, Snapper and friend--they are so lovely and photogenic.

I'd offer the man coffee if he'd glance my way, but he seems serious about his photography. It feels strange to be ignored in person on my own home-turf. Maybe he thinks I'll tell him to go away. I don't mind sharing the scenery. There's more critters hanging out on this place than one woman can shoot. So, I shoot him, shooting Elmira Pond.

Not long after he leaves without so much as a wave, a flash of russet zips across the driveway. Robin? Barn swallow? Ah, it lands on the power pole where the silent man took pictures and I see it's a northern flicker, a type of woodpecker. He poses for me today; a rare treat.

My mug is empty and the sun is slanting higher and hotter in the sky. It might actually get up to 80 today. Once inside, my critter watching continues. As I wash the breakfast dishes, Bootsy the barn cat slinks across the front yard. She's black as obsidian in the verdant grass.

The GSPs bark at the west porch door, perhaps catching sight of the gopher again. Do I grab the .22 or the camera? I choose the camera and good thing. The white-tail doe has returned and stands alert in grass and daisies almost as tall as her back. She's small for a white-tail. Maybe a yearling. For now I point the camera her way and call it quits on critter spotting until evening comes.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Missed Moments

A Lovely Day in Elmira
Watching Each Other
Same Days
Swallow Harassing Osprey (June 2013)
Osprey Hovering to Fish (June 2013)
Osprey Dive on Elmira Pond (May 2013)
Grass Like Velvet
Parting Shot of Deer Rump
And then there are those times you groan because you left the camera upstairs!

Sitting on the porch, I'm sinking back into my plastic chair with every sense absorbing the perfect air temperature and sunshine. I can feel my body soaking up vitamin D like a sponge deprived of water. It's 73 degrees, low humidity and blue skies.

It's one of those days that I'm beguiled by the sameness--it's the same green grass, the same pond, the same horses, the same blackbirds and darting tree swallows. We are lulled by the common life. We often miss moments believing that today is the same as yesterday.

Because it's not.

Mid sip of second-cup-coffee, I look at the horses munching grass only to see a magnificent sight. A large bird the color of smudged charcoal has tucked its wings into an inverted dive. It's like Johnathon Livingston Seagull flew threw soot on his downward flight from heaven above.

Jolted to my senses, I stand up. Within seconds of realizing that it is an osprey in a silent dive he hits the pond like a cannonball, unfurling those strong three-foot wings to reveal his white chest and massive fishing talons. And there I stand, camera-less.

Despite the blackbird harassment that has kept him from Elmira Pond since late May, he circles around for another dive. One leg tenses to run into the house, grab the camera. The other leg relaxes, knowing this is a moment not to be missed in person.

Decision made, I walk closer to the pond to watch, acknowledging that our days are never the same.

The osprey hovers to spot fish and three blackbirds swoop at him. He holds, concentrates, then breaks away to circle. Again he glides and one blackbird is so determined that he rides the osprey like a surfboard. I can imagine his tiny bird toes pricking the back of the osprey, but he's just as determined to fish.

Finally! I've been disappointed that the blackbirds have managed to thwart the osprey from fishing. It's made me crave blackbird pie, but I figured that if the osprey wanted to fish, he would. And this is that moment.

He makes another unsuccessful dive then loops around the pond higher and higher. I chirp to him and he circles another five times before gliding off to the north.

The grass blows softly in the slight breeze on the little island in the pond. It looks like a soft green velvet. The water reflections cast an  illusion of a shallow pond, as if you can see a rocky bottom.

The sorrel mare raises her head, ears pricked forward like radar. Usually its a feral cat, but I follow her gaze and see the reddish-golden hide of a white-tail deer trotting to the pond for a drink. I groan. No camera.

This time the tense leg wins and I dash to the house, grab the camera and manage a shot of her bottom as she disappears through the willows.

No day is ever the same. And some moments do beg for a camera.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Traffic Jam

Big trucks and little trucks; trucks with trailer-beds and trucks with camp-trailers; old cars and new cars sit still in the northbound lane of Highway 95. I walk the dogs over to the north pasture but all I can see is more of the traffic jam; not the cause.

I'm not sure I want to see the cause.

Today, amid more rain and flowing traffic, I read the cause of yesterday's blockage: at 1:46 p.m. a load of logs broke loose on Highway 95 near the south county line, with the spill reported to be blocking traffic. A cattle truck was clipped by one of the falling logs. 

Today it may be raining cats and dogs, but yesterday it was cows and logs!

Sunday, June 15, 2014


Waving goodbye to my eldest daughter Allison, son-in-law Drew, their friend Kate and the two huskies hunkered down in the back of their Toyota Rav, an osprey glides over Elmira Pond.

My wave turns to two-handed gestures pointing skyward toward the pond. We had waited for the osprey to show all weekend. Some moments come at the wrong time--the kids pull out onto the highway and are gone; I stand on the front porch without a camera; and the obnoxious red-winged blackbird routs the osprey.

The moment passes, taking with it all the other moments of an exceptional weekend: the conversations and laughter, the intermittent birding, the multiple games of Catan, the jokes about summer in the Pacific Northwest as we stoked the fire, the impromptu walk around the Elmira Schoolhouse, the spray of wildflowers across the pastures, the peach flirtinis, the continuing box of chocolates, the mist and rain, acclimating horses to dogs and dogs to horses, the trip to the Bonner Mall theater to see Tom Cruise in 3-D, the steak and twice baked potatoes followed by more Catan, the breakfast at Samuels and the last Catan game.

And I don't have a single photo.

Photo-less moments are among my favorite. We're such a crazed culture snapping selfies and moments as if we were living lives narrated by Howard Cossell. It's one thing to photo-document moments of country living on a northern Idaho peat bog to share across place and space, but when the moments of sharing time with others arrives, I want to live in the moment, not the documentation of it.

When I take photos, I'm not fully vested in experiencing the moment. I realized this when I tried to video-record my daughter Allison dancing live at a cabaret show in Missoula this past April. Never before had I tried to record my daughter whose dancing career has spanned 22 years. I always watched with full attention. When I tried to record, I felt like I wasn't really there, so I tucked my camera-phone back in my purse.

Some days are like that on Elmira Pond, too. Some days, I just leave the camera upstairs and sip my coffee and let life unfold without a script or record of the moment passing. I simply live it, sip by sip.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Birds Gone Wild

Probably Not the Late Night Reveler
Who Polices Bird Parties?
Horses & Blue Heron
Beard Gone Wild
The ZZ Top of Birds
More Preening
Ring-Necked Ducks
Probably Not the Late Night Partyers, Either
The Visit
A Duck, a Turtle and a Blue Heron Walk Into a Pond...
Evidently the birds party in the pines.

It's 1:30 a.m. and one of the GSPs decides she has to pee. The moon is nothing more than a clipped fingernail in a black sky. Stars and planets glow so bright I wish I had more interest in knowing their constellations, but the things unseen in the dark scare me.

Yes, I know, I'm a grown woman and I'm afraid of the dark.

I loathe these surprise potty breaks when every snap of a twig in the distance reminds me of a drooling grizzly or a rabid wolf. What I can't see, my over-zealous imagination invents. I'd be a terrific horror-writing novelist except I'd scare myself.

But I can hear the birds twittering. Worse, once back in the safety of my house, bedroom and bed, I realize that I can still hear the rockin' bird party. Who am I suppose to call to bust up the noise? Not the eagle; he'd be too intense, and probably eat a reveler or two.
"Hello, this is Bonner County Sheriff's Dispatch."

"Hi. This is Mrs. Mills, I live in one of those 12 houses in Elmira--the one with the blue roof by the old peat pond."

"Please state your emergency."

"No emergency, just wanted to report a disturbance."

"Are you in danger?"

"No, a noise disturbance. It's 1:30 a.m. and the birds are singing...loudly."

"Birds? Is that slang for teenagers?"

"No, birds as in know, beaks, feathers. I think it's the robins. They've gone wild."

"We can't do anything about birds..."

"But don't birds have curfews, too? Look it's 1:30 and they're disturbing my peace."

"Sorry, Ma'am."

My imagined conversation makes me realize how ridiculous it is that we call in noise disturbances to the law at all. Think of our ancestors and all the night noises they had to cope with--mating bull frogs, rowdy birds, hoot owls, howling wolves, yipping coyotes, wind in the willows...

The worse that ever happened in my 14 years living in the suburbs of Minneapolis was when the neighbor fired-up his lawn mower at 10 p.m. or teenagers laughed too loud playing midnight basketball in the cul de sac. But man, it set off some people when it did happen. Wonder how they'd deal with pine-partying birds outside the control of the law?

On that thought I doze off.

7:30 a.m. and I've missed the twilight. Maybe I should be disturbed by bird revelry more often. Coffee is percolating and dogs are sniffing for just the right spot in the dew-drenched grass that wets my ankles. The horses spot us from the back pasture and gallop to us.

I rub Snapper's velvety nose that is soft like a toddler's favorite stuffed bear.

That's when I spot Blue Heron.

Talk about gone wild, check out this bird's beard! I suspect he's come of age--mating age, that is. Blue Heron slips away more so than last year, and he never had this bird-manly beard. These wispy plumes indicate that Blue Heron is a full-grown adult.

And the beard could be on a Lady Heron, too. Talk about wild.

Then a group of ringed-neck ducks flap-flapping at each other, swim up to Blue Heron on his log. I think they're talking about last night's party.

They say it was the robins who are conspicuously absent this morning, not chasing early worms.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Early Bird

Early Bird
Chipping Sparrow
Curious Little Bird
Twilight starts around 4 a.m. in the summer. As the sun shines through cracks in the Cabinet Mountains to the east, it hits me full in the face by 4:47.

Every June morning I'm reminded that I need a window shade and everyday I forget to do so. But it gives me an excuse to peek at the early birds.

A chipping sparrow greets me early in the pine tree outside my unshaded upstairs window. He's dashing in his rufous cap and bandito eye-stripes, bouncing softly among thick boughs. He let's me take his picture, cocking his head in equal curiosity.

In the distance I hear the forest jack-hammer at work--the echoing taps of a pileated woodpecker. The first time I ever heard a pileated was in Washburn, WI. Despite their incredible size and distinct red, white and black coloring, pileated woodpeckers remain elusive.

Birding is a good excuse to rise with the morning sun, but hey, 5 a.m. is a bit too early! So I peek and then snuggle into sheets to snooze some more.