Monday, July 28, 2014

Kings of Elmira Pond

The Mares Curtsy (or Perhaps Sleep)
King of the Air
Eastern Kingbird
On His Royal Wire
A Kingly Dive
The Belted Kingfisher
Hunting From on High
King of the Water
Mares curtsy in greeting to the Kings of Elmira Pond.

While no battles are eminent, there are two kings. Perhaps they share a royal tailor as both are feathered in charcoal and white with neat lines. Each seems to be satisfied with his reign--one rules the air, the other the water.

Like most on Elmira Pond, the Eastern Kingbird is a summer visitor. When his highness arrived, he seemed to be a sparrow-but-too-big. His flight, swooping, fluttering and hovering seemed sparrow-like, confounding identification. Then he perched high upon a pine as if it were a throne and we saw his colors which only confounded us more, as my daughter was here to see his royal arrival.

Then I remembered marking several charcoal-colored birds in my book last summer and sure enough, there he was among the marked pages. It seems odd to me that he is "eastern" out west. But looking at the Cornell Ornithology map of his kingdom, his range from South America through the Northern Territories of Canada sweeps up from the southeast.

He's a fly-catcher of reputed tyrannical proportions. I recall reflecting last year that Elmira Pond attracts aggressive sorts when my house came under attack by a catbird and the kingbirds tussled with a red-tailed hawk. A-ha...I am remembering now. It was late July that the King showed up.

In all his fly-catching glory, he zips about the south pasture, dining on insects from the air. He's a delight to watch when not making his loud shrill call. Last year he made a poor impression because the hawk was hanging out. This year, no hawk to cause a chorus of battle pips.

Soon I catch another royal presence and I'm quick enough to follow the flash of white to capture a dive. While I'm sad the the osprey have remained elusive this year, the Belted Kingfisher has been a morning and evening delight to watch. He flutters like a huge hummingbird, and I know that "he" is king because his body is all white. The females are rusty underneath.

The Kingfisher hunts on high. He hovers with rapid wings, glancing downward and then dives beak first into the water. His plunge is the equivalent of an osprey cannon-ball, except I often lose sight because he goes completely under. If unsuccessful, he'll fly low over the water before charging back up to hunt again.

He's a tyrant, too, a bully of bullfrogs. I watched fascinated and yet in horror as he battered a frog to death on the merganser log. Unlike the merganser, Blue Heron and osprey, this king prefers his food not-kicking. He's a king; he can do it his way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rose Colored Glasses

Company's a-coming and I get to share a few Elmira nights, food and sights. While the dry season is upon us, it's cooled to the low-70s. Smoke has funneled into the valley, leaving a haze that turns pink at sunset. Raspberries are ripe; tea-cup and Lady Bird Johnson roses have burst with blooms. The earlier whites, yellows and oranges of wildflowers are shifting to purplish-pinks.

Everywhere I look it's as if I've donned rose colored glasses. Enjoy this glimpse of pink on Elmira Pond.

Pink to Red

Pinking of a Thistle

Unknown Marsh Flower

Well-known Tea-cup Roses Blushing

Lady J Roses

It Starts With a Pink Streak or Two

Haze Makes for Great Color

Deepening Pink

Ducks Fly the Pink Skies

Blue Ridge of Elmira

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Reluctant Orchardist

Misleading Green Hides Dry Ground
Cherry-less Cherry Tree
All That's Left Are the Pits
Profusion of Pears!
Apples, More Than Three!
What's This?
Blossoms of Mystery Shrub (May)
Quince or Deadly Fuzzy Pears?
Grass crunches beneath the soles of my borrowed shoes. It's easier to slip on Todd's tennies, and if it weren't so dry, I'd dare to go about in bare-footies. The green is deceptive--if you look close the grass is long but spare and dusty soil shows like a balding pate. The roots are brown and crisp.

It's not a drought; just dry. Yet tree branches give life to  leaves and fruit.

My garden is buried beneath weeds and random patches of tarragon and parsnip shoots. Who knew the late harvest that had frozen in the ground days before Thanksgiving would grow two-foot tall flowering stems? Not only am I now a neglectful gardener, I find that I'm a reluctant orchardist.

I cannot ignore the fruit surrounding me.

Raspberries I know. They have returned although the blackberries seem dormant or dead. An elderberry bush is loaded with blooms. It wasn't last summer. In fact, two more fruit bearing surprises are loaded--a small pear tree and a mystery fuzzy-fruit shrub.

The cherry tree was full of near-ripe Raniers before I left for Boise. Upon returning the only remains of cherries were pits in the driveway. Something feathered mobbed my tree.

The old apple tree which the mares like to seek shade under has more than the three apples it produced last year. Maybe it felt inspired after my excitement over those three apples. Another small tree is bearing apples, too. But the two crab-apples are void of fruit.

I have no idea what I'm doing. Though I have ancestors who were celebrated early California orchardists, I know nothing of fruit trees. I feel like an expectant parent shuffling through drawers in search of a baby manual. These trees are alive and I don't want to kill them.

And I don't want to eat something toxic, either, getting back to the mystery fruit. This spring it had the most delightful pink-striped, pointed blossoms that unfurled. The shrub is in the horse pasture and it neither flowered nor fruited last year. When I spotted fruit Todd said it was a berry.

That, coming from a man who needs readers. Upon closer inspection, I discovered what looks like fuzzy pears. Searching the internet for answers to my clues, I think it's a quince bush.
Time will tell.

In the meantime, I'll worry over my new charges until I get some solid orchardist info from the county extension. Vintners say the best wines come from grapes that suffer. Maybe the dry summer will produce sweet fruit.

If I do have quince, I'm excited to try this hard, sour fall fruit. I search for ideas online and I'll scour my old cookbooks for recipes.

What to Do With Quince:
  1. Loaded with pectin, quince is the perfect jelly-making fruit. The French make a hard gelled block and slice it with cheese. Ummm, I like cheese..
  2. Several recipes suggest pairing it with lemons or oranges to make a tart marmalade.
  3. Quince jelly is pale and perfect for a scone.
  4. Add one quince to an apple pie for a sultry new flavor.
  5. Some recipes add quince to sweet potatoes and maple syrup. A new Thanksgiving recipe perhaps?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Old Friends

Good to Be Home
Old Blue
Scoping Something
Merg Babes
Blackbird & Horse
Robin Taking a Break
A King Fisher!
Making a Dive
Another Great Blue Heron
Osprey on a Mission Home
Like a relationship coming to an end, I've tried to distance myself from Elmira Pond. I've loved this place and celebrated creation here. We say we'll call or write, but time and distance soon fade those old friendships.

My promise to Elmira Pond was to find a way to create something meaningful from all the stories it's given me.

That's what writers do.

Thinking of Elmira Pond Spotter as "material" felt like I could continue to write about the pond even from arid, southern Idaho. I did not plant a garden so I could dig into my writing and travel as needed to look for a new place to live. I have loosened my grip.

But I can't do suburbs. Not ever again. Boise is a darling city, but I'm companion to two high-needs dogs. Being stuck in a suburban home with them is my worst nighmare; even worse than being stuck with them at the Boise HoJo for 10 days. I write--I need inspiration not a dose of depression.

Not to mention the Hub. He's a wandering stone; always will be. He doesn't know if his company will stay in Boise; he doesn't know if he will. Then our landlords called while we were in southern Idaho, wanting to know our plans. Todd agreed to another lease. And I returned to Elmira Pond signing happy songs to see old friends.

Not only have I come home; I'm staying.

With great jubilation, I rose early this weekend to savor the morning sights on Elmira. It was as if each and every old friend came out to greet me.

Dearest, of course, was Blue Heron. He hid at first, mimicking a stick in the reeds. As soon as I glanced with the binos, he fluttered out from his hiding place and gronked three times. That's the most he's ever said to me.

Breeze fluttered his feathers as he hunched on the basking long. I laughed as he extended his neck and beak downward, nearly touching the water. Like a type-writer he motioned back and forth. Maybe watching fish, maybe turtles.

The merganser triplets are fishing on their own. After Blue Heron departed they rushed the log to take their turn bathing. Lady Merganser floated nearby her adolescents with wispy baby feathers on full-grown bodies.

The blackbirds sang a few new whistles for me. I think they are finally relaxing, having hatched and reared babies in the grassy shoreline nests. The colony still parades with the horses, fluttering behind wisping tales.

Robins have fledged, too. A few skinny younglings follow fat, orange parents around, swquaking. One parent escaped, taking a breather on the fence post. Cat birds have returned, but none are yet attacking the house this year.

As I watched the mergansers, I'd catch flashes of white. At first I thought it was a swallow as swift as it flew. Then I saw something fluttering at the height of the power lines. It was a kingfisher.

Definitely, the blackbirds have gone chill because they didn't harass his hover. He dove numerous times. They are so hard to capture in pixels when they flutter like big hummingbirds with big heads.

Before Blue Heron left another great blue heron flapped overhead. He was just looking, so it seems.

Then, with my eyes to the sky I saw an osprey! I think he had a fish in his clutches. They fly and odd way when toting a meal, and he seemed determined to fly homeward without pausing.

That was definitely all the old friends who seemed to say, welcome home.