Day 15: Thai food and a beer, turkeys and mindfulness?

sunrise

This is sunrise in my front yard. I love the views so very much!

I am sitting at my computer having leftover Thai food for lunch, accompanied by a Shipyard Chamberlain Pale Ale, I love Maine and it’s pile of breweries, while ruminating on my morning and the past few days. While searching for words, I looked up and saw a doe with her fawn grazing under a tree in the back yard and I am reminded that I need to put up “No hunting” signs on the perimeter of our property.

Something I haven’t really mentioned much is that I see a therapist. I see her for anxiety and depression, and help with getting through the shit show that has been our private lives since September. The shit show is very private, and very personal, so I will not delve into the details of that, but it has made all of the mind gnomes I have even more active and malicious.

The entire episode has been heartbreaking to deal with, but the flip side of the coin is that through all the rage, pain, and defeat, we as a family have found strength, unity, and a better sense of self and center.  We have more family time, we hang out more, communicate better, and overall we seem to be on a good path forward.

The point of the above is that I have always been a fairly high-strung person, and it has only been in the past few years that I have been given a clinical diagnosis of what is going on, and anxiety is a major part of that diagnosis. You wouldn’t know it to look at me most days, but my brain is working overtime, and my muscles are in a wad. I am thinking 15 different things, two scenarios where my world comes to an end, and 25 conversations I have had or will be having, and what I should say, have said, or wished I said. I don’t sleep well, and I have cracked a tooth thanks to grinding my jaw.

A major source of my issues is that I can’t sit still, and even if I do, I am rarely calm. Because of this, my therapist wants me to try mindfulness meditation. She tried using Heartmath on me last week, and to say I was an outlier would be an understatement. When I was focused, or in a place where I should have been fully focused, calm, and mindful, I was at the opposite end of the scale from where I should be, and when I should have been revved up, excited, not mindful, I was in the area where I should have been if I were totally centered. We both got a snicker of that, so today she tried an actual app that forced me to relax.

Today’s exercise was with Headspace, and it did seem to work a bit. I was able to take full stock of my physical self, and see what my brain was doing, and by that I mean it was running amok. As usual. Know what happens when you have spent several years learning to bird by ear? Shutting out the sounds of birdsong becomes an exercise in frustration. I did feel that there was no muscle group in my body that wasn’t tense, and I wondered why all of my weight was shifted left. In other words: I have a long ways to go.

In other news: we have a flock of Wild Turkeys in our yard, and they come in every day for food. Some times it is the full flock of 11, most of the time it is nine or five of them. My favorite thing about them is how darned big they are, and the dinosaur footprints they leave all over the place in the snow. My last favorite thing is the piles of turkey poop all over the place, though I suppose the grass will appreciate it as spring comes along.

17545166_10210738888442527_8688239543107242632_o

Part of the flock of Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallapavo) that think the feeder table is for them.

turkey foot

I do have Hobbit-sized hands, but these tracks remind me of what dinosaur tracks might look like!

Day 8: why Maineiac, and what in the world do swans have to do with anything?

universalchinook24jan2016-001

This is why swans. Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) adults with yellow bands, by juveniles, Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) and Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons). My photo, January 2016, Indiana.

I know, I know, “What gives? Your blog name makes zero sense”! If you know me on a personal level, it makes 100% sense all over the place. The above photo is one I took at my winter study site while counting Trumpeter Swans for my Master’s Thesis. Watching these huge white birds, the largest water bird on the North American continent, several times per week, and learning about them really made me feel a connection to them. I joke and call the Trumpeters in this wintering area “My Swans!”, and I hope some of them are still present when I go to Indiana to defend later this winter.

Like many folks, when you say the word “swan”, I used to immediately go to the mental image of the Mute Swan, the big fluffy “love” swan that is depicted in most movies, literature, and is most commonly found in park settings.

Let me tell you something about the Mute Swan: this bird is a right bastard, and it doesn’t belong in the United States or Canada, unless it’s in a zoo.

Wait. What? No! It’s so pretty, and full of whimsy!

No.

It’s an invasive species that is horrendously mean to native waterfowl, strips native vegetation, and mucks up waterways with its waste. It’s such a pain in the ass for conservation that the Department of Environmental Conservation in the State of New York wanted to eradicate them, but thanks to public outcry, had to modify their plans.

musw

No, seriously, these guys are aggressive dicks, no matter your feelings on Canada Geese. Photo by Harmonica Pete

My frustration with the Mute is that people make baseless, factless assertions that the Mute Swan is native because it has been here since the 1800’s, no. A native species is one that is endemic to its area, not one that required human intervention for transport and breeding. That it is pretty, so it should be allowed to remain, unchecked, in areas shared by native waterfowl suffering from decline.

I have even heard utter nonsense such as: “The DNR wants the eradicate the Mute Swan so it can introduce the larger Trumpeter Swan as a game species”, as noted in this petition. I cannot wrap my head around that bit of stupidity. The fact is, the Trumpeter Swan is not legal to hunt in any state of the union. Not. One. It missed being included on the Endangered Species List by timing and one last population stronghold in Eastern Canada and Alaska. It is only one of two swans native in North America, the other being the Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus), which is allowed to be hunted in only five states, including South Dakota. Most of those states have a strict bag limit, and as soon as a certain number of accidental takes of Trumpeters is reached, the season is closed.

Upon reflection, my level of irateness at the Mute Swan is merely an indicator of overall annoyance at wildlife management, environmental stewardship, and the generally cavalier attitude portrayed by the public, and many of our elected officials. As someone who has been involved with several species who were endangered, are endangered, and can easily be so again, this is a huge, raw nerve.

If you think swans are as stunning as I am, if you would love to know more about our largest native swan, the Trumpeter, I highly recommend The Trumpeter Swan Society. I am a member, and I cannot say enough about their dedication and commitment to these magnificent animals, from restoration and tracking, to education, facts, outreach, and conservation efforts.

Okay, native bird lover rant mode off…

On to the “Maineiac”: yes, I do in fact know how to spell, this is in reference to the recent relocation from the heartland of America to a coastal state, one that I have absolutely fallen in love with. Maine. Of course according to Urban Dictionary, a “Maineiac” is at least a third generation Mainer, but eh, as long as you are a year-round resident, you’re good. Yes, the governor is a teabagging nutter, but this state? It is beautiful, the sun shines most of the time, and Mainers make Midwestern hospitality look like hostility.

So, there you have not only the genesis of “Maineiac Swan”, but also a rant. Call it a twofer, you’re welcome!

Day 7: Sometimes chin up is hard, also known as people are pretty awful.

birds15dec2015-061

Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) in the wild somewhere in Indiana 2015 – my photo

My goal of choosing to be happier this year is a noble one, and because it’s a goal, it’s a work in progress, thankfully, because this morning I want to reach through space and choke someone. If you are a birder, or someone that cares about nature, odds are you know about the Whooping Crane. If they grabbed your attention, odds are you have delved deeper into their story, and you know that humans are the cause of their near extinction. Overharvesting and habitat loss led to the decline of the species in the early 20th century, to where there were only 20 left in the world.

Dedicated individuals and organizations have spend many countless hours and dollars on working to save these animals, restore their habitat, and protect them from extinction. At this point, between captivity and wild populations, there are more than 500 Whoopers in the world. I am incredibly fortunate, and I have been able to see most of the birds in the Mississippi Flyway at some point, and even some of the birds held in captivity for breeding and reintroduction purposes. They are a stunning sight to see. Over five feet tall with gleaming white plumage and a bugle-like call that echoes for miles; there is no other bird on the North American continent that looks like a Whooper, not even the Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis) which is a full foot shorter, is an all-over gray/brown, and never shows black in the wingtips. These two species tend to hang out together during migration, and every once in a rare while mate and produce offspring. Seeing them side by side heightens the obvious differences.

cranes

Size, conformity, and flight shape of common marshy birds. – International Crane Foundation

The reason behind this post today? Indiana Department of Natural Resources (INDNR) announced this morning that Female Whooping Crane #4-11 was found shot to death in southwestern Indiana. This is a huge loss for many reasons.

  • She was a first-time mom last summer, we have now lost her genes, and her future reproductive ability.
  • This loss is indicative of a larger problem with the public, and often when the perpetrator(s) are caught and charged, they get away with a slap on the wrist, like this 2009 case where the shooter was fined just $1.
  • It takes $100,000 or more to take a Whooping Crane from egg to release, and with 20 birds shot and killed in the past few years, that is not a small chunk of change, especially as it is mostly non-profits doing the work.
  • According to Newsweek, one in five birds in the Eastern population is lost through human shootings.

I started this blog post a week ago, and I had to take time off from writing it, because it was too much. Not this incident, specifically, but compounded with so many other things going on in my life, in the news, and this was a bridge too far.

I have many more thoughts on this bird, the species as a whole, ecology, and what in the hell we are doing to our planet, but I want to get this up, and maybe post another round of ramblings.

Day 4: 2016, the year that won’t die, even as it takes childhood icons to the stars.

cuckoo

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, mainly because the past few weeks have been the equivalent of a nuclear bomb detonated in the middle of the living room here. Hubs and I are as good as ever, kids are safe, I will not go into details is it would violate the privacy of someone I would kill for.

Now that is an interesting concept: would you kill for someone? My mom has always had a saying: “I wouldn’t go to jail for anyone, no one is worth that”, and I finally realized she meant she would not sacrifice herself or her freedom to take the fall for someone else, and I can totally get behind that. However: you screw with my family, you hurt someone I love? I positively cannot be held responsible for the temporary insanity that coincides with your demise. Mind you, I don’t mean petty offenses, but lately, I have found out that the most stable, loving, involved family can have a horrible person sneak in through a window when all the doors are locked and wreak havoc.

That is metaphorical, and we have fortunately not suffered a home invasion. Of course, the euphemisms that describe something much more terrible aren’t as relaxed as we would like to think…

So, today is December 27, 2016, and we all received the awful news that Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia died today, after losing George Michael on Christmas Day, preceded by Alan Thicke, Prince, David Bowie, and Alan Rickman… add the election of Trumplethinskin, the Mango Mussolini, and as far as I am concerned, 2016 can die in a dumpster fire, because it has been a vicious year.

I am fully aware that a Georgian calendar is not sentient and as such gives no amount of fucks about us, or our puny existence on this tiny blue marble hurtling through space, but damn, it sure feels like the hits keep coming with malevolent intent. I swear on the nearest crow that if we lose Betty White before this colossal turd of a year is done having its way with us, I will maniacally say: “Eh, screw it, give tRump the codes, this planet is due for a reset button push”.. and I might even mean it when I utter the words.

And to add insult to injury? No new yard birds. No Evening Grosbeaks, no Pine Grosbeaks, no Common Redpolls, no Snowy Owls, though the latter was a longshot no matter what. At this point, I am just rooting for the Bald Eagles across the street to lay a few viable eggs in late January, and to see eaglets fledge in April.

Bah.

I will say this: my thesis is beginning to get more than a passing nod from me at this point, and I can’t wait to get back to Indiana to defend and finally be done, February will see me viewing the Chili Peppers with one of my best friends, plus a road trip up the eastern seaboard – wait, who does that in February??? Oldest spawn will be getting contacts, going to skills camp for her preferred sport, and I am already planning my gardens, plus a bluebird/chickadee trail around the grass area, and looking forward to the return of the breeding icterids.

In other words? I am going to make 2017 my bitch. 2016 brought some amazing new things in life, and I am going to make damned sure 2017 is even better.

Deep breaths, and really? Look for the good, acknowledge that sometimes seriously shitty things happen, but don’t let them define you. Enjoy a walk outdoors tonight and marvel at the stars. Understand that the internet has both made the world a tiny place and brought fantastic people to your side. Sip a cup of your favorite beverage and appreciate the fact that you can still do so.

In the words of the infamous Jerry Springer: “Be good to yourself, and each other.”

Even better, TC from the Bangor, Maine Police Department: “Keep your hands to yourself, leave other people’s things alone and be kind to one another.”

I believe I like that one just a wee bit more, and if you haven’t had a chance to enjoy the humor of a Northeastener, I highly recommend the Facebook page of said department.

 

Day 2:We’re not in Indiana anymore, kids! Also? Turkey.

 

group-of-wild-turkeys

Wild Turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) photo from American Expedition

This morning I slept in a little bit, until 06:30 (ugh), and I began my mental checklist of things I should probably do today to make tomorrow go smoothly and be slightly less stressful. So far I have got the turkey in brine, the cranberries made, and a pile of recipes on the counter, mocking me. I am making a cranberry apple pie for dessert, because yum.

Last night I started this page up, and I am fortunate because the folks that bought our house in Indiana include a fantastic freelance editor and blogger named Leah. She writes for many places, and has some great things to say over at her page Leah’s Thoughts. She pointed out that I had called Maine the “Granite State”, and that moniker rightfully belongs to New Hampshire. Maine is the Pine Tree State, which makes sense, 85% of the state is forested, and I have pines all over my yard! Thanks for the catch!

Before we moved here, we had discussed the possibility of moving to Maine, and since our oldest had to do a state report, she did hers on Maine. The Maine.gov site has plenty of interesting facts about our adopted home, such as: there is a state fossil, and even state soil! We moved from a state with over six million people to one with just over one million, and nearly the same land area; Indiana has 36,291 square miles, Maine has 30,843 square miles, so there is way more open area here, and the lines are a lot shorter at the grocery stores! Of course coming from California with approximately 38.8 million people, the vast majority of places I go are not nearly as crowded!

Some things here in Maine that I have had to get used to:

  • No central air in 99% of the houses, including ours.
  • Most heat is provided through heat oil, which is delivered to the house via a big ass tanker truck.
  • Septic. While not only a Maine thing, it’s new to me.
  • No hot water heater, we have a boiler which is used to heat the house and provide hot water for the house. And when I say hot water, I mean HOT!
  • Stunningly friendly people: trust me, folks in the Hoosier state have nothing on Mainer hospitality.
  • No traffic on the highways, and folks that get out of the way if you come up on them in the left lane. Unless they’re from Massachusetts, then all bets are off.
  • The price of electricity. I had a cow the first time I opened an electric bill. Turns out, it’s the 9th most expensive state in the nation for electricity.
  • Maine is like California in that it is nearly two states: Southern Maine, District 1, which includes Portland, is distinctly blue, very liberal, and has the highest population density. Northern Maine, District 2, where we live, is so red it would make the Queen of Hearts envious. It is sparsely populated, fiercely independent, definitely conservative-leaning.

That being said, I am very happy here. I am 45 minutes from the ocean, like I was in California, but with 0.5% of the population, and a whole new host of birds to entertain! In Indiana, I did have the chance to see Wild Turkeys often, and I knew with a fair amount of certainty where I could go to see a flock at any given time, and though they occasionally wandered through the neighborhood, they were not at all a bird I saw in my backyard.

Here in Maine? The list of yard birds is really amusing, some are old friends, some are old rare friends, some are completely new yard birds, though not life birds, for me. I can assure you I never looked out my back door and saw a Ring-billed Gull chilling in the yard in Indiana, or a Bobolink. Here? Eh, par for the course. My favorite part of the Bobolink: it sounds like R2-D2 is in the yard!

My best fly-over birds here in Maine have been: Bald Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Osprey, Merlin, Common Raven. Most of those stop in the yard for snacks, the added benefit of having a hay field.

I do miss seeing Trumpeter Swans and Whooping Cranes, hopefully when I go back to Indiana to defend my thesis next year I can have a gander at them again.

I suppose I have avoided my responsibilities long enough, and I should get myself back to the kitchen, because these pies and casseroles are not going to make themselves! A new addition to our table this year: a stuffed squash as a main dish for my oldest child, who is now vegetarian. We tried it last week, and it was delicious!

stuffed-pumpkin

Stuffed pumpkin!

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving Day dish? A favorite holiday tradition? I would love to hear all about it!

 

 

Day 1. Or: the first post, which belongs in a pot of gumbo.

dsc_0069

Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum), Chinook Mine North, Indiana

I have had more than one person ask me if I blog, and the answer is always the same: no. Evidently I need to update that answer from here on out. I always wonder: why would I? What would I have to say that millions of other people across the globe don’t have to say? And then I realize this is my life, and the experiences and viewpoints are different from those of anyone else, because I am unique. Like everyone else.

I blogged back in the days of MySpace (anyone remember Tom?), and that ended like a tire fire. Everyone was hot, and the flames are still smoldering. Lesson One of the Internet: if you don’t want to start a family war, keep your opinions to yourself. Those that are unflattering, obnoxious, or even general, because even the most innocuous musings can and will be used against you.

So what is the purpose here? Mostly to keep track of myself, I think. I am inside my own head a lot, and perhaps spewing here will invite some to share in my thoughts, maybe give a giggle, provide a recipe. I give fair warning that I swear like a sailor six months out to sea, and I consider Jenny Lawson (Of The Bloggess fame) to be hysterical, and if you are even remotely twisted, you should check her out.

A brief intro into how I got where I am now: about a year or so ago, the hubs and I decided that Indiana was really not where we wanted to spend much more time, and I was winding my studies down to just writing my thesis, so it was as good a time as any to plot an escape plan.

I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and though there were some great people and things in Indiana, my soul was slowly dying for lack of access to the ocean. There were movement opportunities available within hubs’ company, with two coastal states and an even more land-locked state than Indiana. No, really. At least Indiana touches Lake Michigan. That left a state that was occupied by Federal Troops for far too long, or a state that the rest of the union leaves alone unless they want to see beautiful fall foliage, enjoy a cooler summer, or damned good “lobstah”.

He calls me one day and says: “What do you think about Maine?”, to which I respond: “It’s on my bucket list.” He rephrases: “How would you feel about moving to Maine?”

My response: “…..” “Hang on.” I checked eBird, then gleefully, and a bit maniacally chortle out: “PUFFINS!!!!” He rightfully interpreted that to mean he was going to interview for the Maine position. Smart man. I have a slight bird addiction.

So, here we are, 10 months after the interview, five months into our new adventure. In Maine.

I have yet to see a puffin.

papageitaucher_fratercula_arctica

Atlantic Puffin (Fratercula arctica)

By Richard Bartz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27624174