Junco Jamboree

Well, that was exciting.

A sudden flurry of wings as I walked toward Sofia’s room caught my eyes. I looked up just in time to see the dark grey bird frantically rushing down the hallway. Aaron and I followed it into Sofia’s room, where it fluttered wildly about. Aaron went after it with his hat while I tried to take a picture, only to discover that my phone had no more room.

The bird dashed into Niko’s room, where it took refuge in the closet. As Aaron stalked it, it froze, and then made a run for the hallway, got confused, and headed back to Sofie’s room. This time I got ahead of Aaron, found it crouching behind the rocking chair, and then realized I had no camera. “Waitwaitwaitwait…” I called, rushing for the camera. But Aaron, singleminded, had already gathered it into his hat and was headed for the door. “Wait wait!” I begged. He paused briefly — just long enough for me to realize I was too close to focus with my long lens, which I’d been using earlier. I retreated down the porch, but the bird had already beaten a retreat to the vine maple. It perched there, beak gaping, where I finally managed to snap a couple of shots.

And that’s it. All that excitement, and all I have to show for it is one picture of Aaron lunging for the bird, and a couple of the bird sitting innocently outside on a branch.

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Camels and Traplines

Niko has a highly unsettling habit of reading my mind. You may believe it or not, but I’m perfectly serious. It happens most often when I’m engrossed in a book, fully immersed. He’ll come up to me and say something or ask a question directly related to what I’m reading — maybe ask me to tell him the meaning of an unusual word I’ve just read. Other times, he’ll chime in mid-verse on the song that’s bouncing around my head. It’s inexplicable, but it’s happened too frequently to discount.

Example 1: A few months ago, I was reading a novel that referred to a tavern called the Three Pigs. Niko interrupted my absorption of a vivid description of the disreputable tavern to ask, “Why were the three pigs so dirty?” (Yes, the tavern was described as being a bit of a pigsty.)

Example 2: I’m reading Carl Hiaason’s book Trapline. It’s set in the Florida Keys, which threw me a bit because I was halfway expecting a northern setting, with that title (in the north, a trapline is the area a trapper sets his traps to catch furbearing mammals, on land). I had just gotten to the part where the main character’s trapline got cut, his shrimp traps destroyed and buoys stolen, when I had to stop to make dinner. Niko called to me in the midst of my reflection on the differences between traplines in British Columbia and in Florida: “Look, Mommy, a trapline!” He had stretched a tape measure across the entrance to the kitchen, grinning proudly.

Then there was the night not long ago when I asked Niko at bedtime what happy thing he was going to think about while he fell asleep (our magic no-nightmares trick). “Riding a camel,” he said promptly. “Could we ride a camel after we wake up?” I explained that we weren’t likely to find a camel nearby. “Then could we go to a place where there are camels?” I laughed and said, “Who knows, maybe someday we will.” But it didn’t seem likely.

Having kissed my strange little son goodnight, I went out to the kitchen and picked up my phone. There I found a text from Aaron, off on a business trip. The text read: “Want to go to Abu Dhabi?” He wasn’t completely joking. His company was looking for consultants who might be willing to travel there for three months.

Abu Dhabi. Known for palm trees, beautiful skyscrapers, white sand… and…CAMELS. They have a camel beauty contest there. And I’m willing to bet that Aaron was doing a quick bout of Google searching on Abu Dhabi right about the time Niko, who has never before expressed the faintest interest in camels, asked, “Can I ride a camel?”

Unsettling, that child is.

[Just to clarify: We have no actual current plans to travel to Abu Dhabi. Aaron’s company is at the “seeing who’s interested” stage, and my guess is they’ll send over some single analyst with no family ties so they don’t have to pay for housing for an entire family. But it’s fun to fantasize, right?]

Elusive Hummingbird

Hummingbirds, I thought, hibernated. Or migrated. Or something. I’ve never put much thought into what I thought they did, but I’ve certainly never seen them in winter. When my family lived in northern British Columbia, we had the beautiful Rufous hummingbirds at our feeder, zipping around like little red and green living jewels on a perpetual caffeine high. They stayed all summer and then disappeared. [NOTE: If anyone read this when it posted itself yesterday after I explicitly instructed it to publish itself this morning, you’ll notice that I have now corrected my mistake regarding which hummingbird is common in British Columbia. Thank you to my mother for noticing.]

The hummingbirds we have here in Oregon are not as brilliant in plumage as the Rufous, but they’re still charming. My best guess, looking through sites like Beauty of Birds AvianWeb, is that either ours are the Broad-Tailed hummingbird, or I’ve been seeing female or immature Rufous hummingbirds. Anyway, since they are also tiny, high-energy birds, I’ve assumed they must have similar behavior. Gobble nectar all summer, vanish mysteriously once the weather turns cold. When our feeder froze solid┬áin November, I figured the cold plus the lack of food would prompt our own hummingbirds to hibernate. Or migrate. Or whatever.

I kept thinking that until I read a blog post by Garden Fairy Farm, “Feeding Hummingbirds During the Winter.” Wait. What? We have to feed them in the winter? Turns out, hummingbirds are migratory birds. They don’t hibernate. But some of them inexplicably hang around their favorite spots instead of migrating. Oh dear… this could explain why my feeder has been looking emptier and emptier, until there’s now only a tiny bit of red liquid in the very bottom. The hummingbirds are still here! Or maybe just one, or… Who knows? The point is, with few insects for food this time of year (yes, they’re carnivorous — another surprise fact I turned up in a flurry of research after reading Garden Fairy Farm’s post), they actually need the food I’m providing. Apparently they can survive, if necessary, on the wells of sap that sapsuckers store up (another fascinating fact), but their chances of survival will increase if they’re given an additional food source like a hanging feeder.

My poor hummingbird! I feel like a terrible bird parent. Time to fill the feeder. Maybe they’ll reward me by letting me witness their presence this time around.

Ode To a Bathtub Spider

Your lovely, fragile legs
Your round, defenseless body
Zing a shot of terror
Through my jelly spine.

I shiver,
You scuttle.
I gasp,
You freeze.
Then scuttle
Again.

Who knows why
You descended
From your soft cobwebby pillows
Safe above my broom’s reach?

Why do you lurk
So ominously
So inscrutably
So terrifyingly
In my tub?

You are excluded
From my sacred assortment
Of things I may kill.

You pose no danger:
Neither to my body,
Nor my home,
Nor my food.
Upon death, your body will provide
No healing,
No shelter,
No nourishment.

But. The jelly
In my spine
Takes over.

Water on.
A brief swirl.
A pang of guilt,
Darkness passes through in my soul.
You are gone.
I bathe in peace.

Holiday Smells

There’s not much that can compare with the smell of spiced fruit baking into a cake. Rich, sweet, aromatic. Allspice and cloves, cinnamon, orange and lemon, all mingling in a kitchen whose mess might be overlooked for a nibble of the tiny fruitcake that baked alongside the big loaf pans. Today, the fruit that had soaked up the warm flavors of rum and brandy and then simmered in apple juice and spices, was finally mixed into a cake batter and baked in the oven. It will be weeks more of spraying with brandy every few days before the flavors will have mellowed and blended and matured to be the perfect holiday treat. This tradition will be sticking around for a long time in this home.

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Holiday Fruitcake Begins NOW

For the last several years, Aaron has made the most amazing fruitcake this world knows. Its creator is Alton Brown of the Food Network, the god of our family’s kitchen. It’s made with actual dried fruit, not that nasty stuff that’s mostly sugar and food coloring. It’s soaked in rum and brandy. So much rum. Copious amounts of brandy. So much that after Sofia was born (she came right before Christmas), after nine months of alcohol abstinence, I got a buzz from eating (way too much of) it.

Tonight I said casually to Aaron, “Maybe I’ll start chopping fruit for the fruitcake,” and he said, “Okay,” and just like that I’ve been made the Master of the Fruitcake. It’s a big responsibility. I’m taking it very seriously.

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Throwback Sunday…Two Years

Just now, Aaron texted me to say, “Two years ago today, we were visiting Oregon for the first time to see if we liked it!” It doesn’t seem that long ago. But he’s right.

Two years ago today, Aaron and I took a long weekend to explore the Portland area. We were almost sure Oregon was at the end of our escape chute from Alaska, but we didn’t want to make a decision without having visited at least once. And that one visit did it for us. We were in love! Our visit happened to land on a weekend that was unusually sunny for this time of year, with temperatures in the 60s. Our Alaska-acclimated bodies felt like we were in the tropics. We stripped off jackets and cardigans and tried not to laugh at the locals in heavy sweaters, down vests, and coats. This was summer weather for us. Oh, it does get warmer during summer in the Anchorage area, but those days in the 70s and 80s are rare. When we visited, Anchorage was blanketed in fresh snow, and the green grass, still-blooming roses, and bright oaks and maples of Portland were like a Technicolor heaven for us.

Seven months later, we had packed our belongings, our son, and my pregnant belly and were driving across Alaska to catch a ferry from Juneau to Bellingham, Washington so we could make our way to our rental home just outside Portland. And now here we are, seven months into owning our own beautiful piece of Oregon paradise.

It’s so good to be home.

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Burn Pile?

When we moved to this home in the spring, there was a tiny burn pile. More of an ash circle, really. Over the summer it’s grown as we’ve trimmed and cleaned up bushes and shrubs and vines. Niko has been fascinated with the idea of a burn pile. A pile made just for burning! He’s asked me nearly every week, “Will we light the burn pile soon?” Of course, the start of burn season coincided with the start of autumn rain, and we haven’t had a good weekend for it. Today was the first time it’s been not raining while Aaron has been free to manage the burning. Niko was fascinated with the flames! However, it turns out that a day so humid that you accumulate water droplets on your clothes and hair is not conducive to burning. It flamed long enough for Niko to get excited, then damped down again.

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