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Angry Birds

I love birds. I don’t keep any in the house, because I also like cleanliness, quiet and the ability to travel. The more pets you have, the harder all those things become. But birds are also carriers of pests, they’re filthy and they die easily. So, the best solution to the problem of how to keep birds without the hassle of keeping birds is to have a ton of bird feeders on the front porch.

a baltimore oriole

For the longest time I thought these were goldfinches, but they’re too big and too orange. And they all have tiny little baseball bats.

I had run out of my usual bird feed – that mixture of millet, that thing that looks like millet but is a little larger and a little darker (and the birds hate it – they won’t touch it in one of the feeders) and black sunflower seeds that I usually stock the feeders with. It attracts orioles, juncos, jays, chickadees,  sparrows and all the other birds we have around here by the sackful.

This time, I decided to do something different. I bought a suet cake to put into the holder we already had. Normally, if  the feeders have stood idle for a while before I fill them again, it can take the birds a day or two to discover that the cafeteria has opened up again. The feeders weren’t empty, though. The birds, especially the orioles (which are my favorites because, in addition to being lovely, they have a very pleasing song). In fact, as my husband and I sat out enjoying the afternoon, the birds kept landing on the porch railing, then immediately retreating to the trees that surround the house and screeching at us to get out of their restaurant, couldn’t we see it was lunchtime? 

By evening, the suet cake had attracted two battling bird herds (I know that’s not the collective term for birds, but get your own blog if you want to be fussy about it). Steller’s Jays on the one side, orioles on the other. Sadly, the orioles have no advantages whatsoever. There aren’t quite as many of them, they’re smaller, quieter, and more polite. The jays come in like Anthony Michael Hall in everything he’s done since 1990, squawking and throwing their weight around and making pests of themselves. I’m sitting in my office facing the window that looks out on the feeders, and the suet holder hasn’t stopped swinging. No sooner does one bird leave than another one jumps on. What is it about kidney fat that drives birds into a raging, furious feeding frenzy?


Let Sleeping Creatures Lie

I’m here getting ready for the trip up to San Francisco, and the little doggies are bored, so I took them for a little perambulation down the driveway. It’s a fabulous day out, the sun dappling the driveway through the beautiful trees, the creek burbling a few yards away, and as the doggies walked up and down the driveway sniffing and peeing on things, I examined the work done by the landscaping guys. They had cut out enormous amount of periwinkle starting to overgrow the walkway on the high side of the driveway. There are tons of rat holes along the hill between our house and the neighbor’s. Normally obscured by the ground cover, the rats live their little ratty lives and do their little ratty thing.

The sudden denuding of the landscape must have confused the rats. Behind the hay bales that keep the mud from washing into our driveway, there was an enormous rat. It was curled up in the humus, sleeping peacefully. Now, I’m normally not a violent person, but when you’ve lived with wood rats for a while, you realize that any means are justified by the end of eradicating the rat population. Rats harbor all sorts of illnesses, including rabies and bubonic plague. Left unchecked, they’ll eat your insulation, your electrical wiring and set your house on fire. I have reason to believe that rats are capable of stealing your online passwords, taking your identity, and using it to establish large offshore accounts for which you will bear the responsibility of paying taxes. They’re horrible.

This particular specimen was 8 inches long, not counting the foot-long naked pink tail, and had a lot of fur. It had a teddy bear look about it, but I couldn’t let that influence me. I’m not a violent person, as I say, but I’m also not the teddy bear type. I pointed to it and got that high-pitched excited voice people use with animals and said “Hey, Dagmar! Come and get it!”

Dagmar came up looking carefully through the brush. I know that dogs are supposed to have a keen sense of smell, but it seems to me that when they are sniffing something out, they sort of shut off their eyes, because I could see the rat clear as daylight, but the dogs snuffled all around it before they finally sniffed right at it.

You would think that a rat might freak out at realizing that it was at the mercy of a bloodthirsty homeowner and two dogs whose favorite game is snap-back (where they pick up something, shake it, and hear its backbone snap). Except for one thing. These dogs are motivated by tiny furry things that run, squeak in terror and generally look frightened. This particular rat was curled up asleep, and my shouting and the dogs’ sniffing didn’t seem to give it any reason to interrupt its nap. Dagmar lost interest and wandered off, but Esme wanted in on the game now. She went right up to the rat and picked it up, giving it a few shakes and a chomp on the spine. That sort of treatment normally works on mice and smaller rats, but this one just looked up at her with a hurt expression on its face.

When the dogs were puppies and we were trying to get them interested in the dog sport of rat killing, they approached the rats cautiously. They would snap in a rat’s direction, then jump back. Since they’ve hit adulthood, though, rat killing has become efficient. I’ve never seen a second of hesitancy or fear in those dogs. Until they came to this enormous sleeping rat.

Bite. Jump. Sniff. Bite. Jump. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Bite. Sniff. Sniff. Jump. Sniff.

Esme got bored and wandered off because I still had the treats in my hand and cut up hot dogs are far more interesting than a rat that doesn’t squeak or run. Dagmar, on the other hand, finally decided that the now-sodden and bloody teddy bear was worth her time. By the time I persuaded her to lay off, the poor thing was going stiff.

There are lots of interesting things about living out in the woods. The smell of horses drifting down the hill from the ranch across the way, the little roads that crawdads make along the creek bottom, the way you can turn a corner and be confronted with the kind of views most people only know from movies like Lord of the Rings – all those are reasons why we live here. I guess we take the disgusting with the majestic.

I Hate Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

When I first moved in with Junglemonkey I was surprised at how frequently I had to change lightbulbs. It seemed as though at least once a month and frequently more often than that there’d be a burned-out lamp that needed replacing. Living on my own, I’d go for maybe a year before having to replace a light bulb. Part of this difference, of course, is that a family of four turns lights off and on more times per day than a single person; maybe not four times as many, but still more. Another difference is that a three bedroom house has more light fixtures than a one bedroom apartment. Even so, it seems my family burns out bulbs more frequently than we did when I was a kid, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lightbulb actually work as long as the packaging claims it will, before or after I became a family man.

Now there’s this big push to move everyone to using compact fluorescent bulbs. In San Francisco, the main lighting in a given room may not be incandescent! But what the heck is this in aid of? The bulbs do not last any longer than the incandescents they replace, and they’re more expensive to purchase. They’re toxic (the fluorescent tube has mercury in it) and can’t be thrown away. The light is nasty. So what if they use a little less electricity? My new fridge, water heater, furnace, washer, and dryer – these all use way more energy than my lightbulbs.

Frankly, I’d rather use candles and oil lamps.

This is what Luff looked like this morning, with happy little blue flowers among the larger plants whose blooms are yet to open. It’s a good thing that the bottom leaks; it means the plants won’t drown should we be so lucky as to get any rain.

The days are getting colder. Cold enough that the Pirate turned on the heat. Cold enough that we realized with horror that the entire summer is gone and we’d forgotten to order firewood early enough to get a really good price for it. (Darn!) Cold enough that I’ve gotten my bin of gloves and hats out from under the bed and moved it to a shelf by the bedroom door where they’re reachable on my way out.

One of the main challenges of Day Without Electricity is keeping warm when the weather turns chilly. It’s a constant issue, but one we feel we’re doing okay with. Really, it comes down to stuffing the woodstove full of burning wood, and wearing enough socks. So, you can imagine our dismay when we realized that there was a creature in the chimney.

Our beloved wood stove, and its surrounding mess

How We Keep Warm

When there are no other buzzing, humming, beeping noises to distract you from the blissful silence of the woods, the sound of a something banging against the metal stovepipe are not just ominous – they’re really loud. All night, the clicking sound of sharp little claws on metal. The rasp of fur against metal. The dull, hollow thump of a nose looking for a way out. And, of course, the near-rabid barking of the little doggies, who wanted nothing better than to rocket themselves up that chimney and rid us of whatever chimney monsters we might have. And they could do it, too, I have no doubt, if only the chimney were conveniently horizontal. But that’s the trick, isn’t it? Sadly for both us and the creature, the chimney is mostly vertical, narrow, and only an exit if you’re made of smoke.

Of course, the first thing I did was to call the company that normally does our chimney cleaning. They always send an enterprising, engaging and completely filthy man out to our place when the chimney gets its regular spring clean, and we know from experience that he’s not the type of guy to let a dead creature in the chimney phase him in the least. I figured that he could open the chimney and let the creature out, the doggies could dispatch it, and we’d be home free.

Except that they didn’t get back to me. By mid-afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was thinking to myself that if they didn’t hurry, we wouldn’t have to worry about getting a live creature out of the chimney. By mid-afternoon, the Pirate and I decided to take matters into our own hands and take apart the chimney ourselves. Like a lot of homeowners, I was a little freaked out about taking apart a thing upon which we depend, but I was more freaked out about the thing in the chimney.

The trick was taking apart the chimney. It’s airtight, and it has a kink in it. We took all the screws out and couldn’t budge the thing. It’s possible that the chimney was the most solidly-built part of the whole house (ask me about our exciting wiring sometime!). Here’s the hot tip: the places where the chimney angles up toward the ceiling swivel. After careful jiggling and some knocking with fists (the cure for many mechanical ills), we managed to get the chimney loose. I was fully prepared for a small raccoon or a large rat to fall out, but…


We looked up inside, and still nothing.

Turns out, whatever horrible creature is driving our dogs crazy, it’s actually nesting in the attic. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgh! For this, I am NOT taking the DIY route. There are professionals who do this sort of thing for a living, and they’re not me.

On the bright side, I’ve now dispatched my fear of the fireplace. If anything in the future goes wrong with our chimney, our flue, the firebox, etc., I know exactly how to deal with it. It’s *almost* worth it.

KoolAid Honey

A couple of days ago, I noticed a couple of bees hanging around the hummingbird feeder. I wondered why they were all over the feeder rather than the impatiens or fuschias planted right underneath the feeders, but if you’ve ever tried to question an animal about its motives, you’ll know that they can bee pretty tight-lipped. Because they don’t have lips.

Yesterday, there were a few more bees. Four or five, buzzing around the part of the feeder where the hummingbirds stick their big ol’ snouts. I thought it was weird and I took a snap with my cell phone and did a Twitter post about it. Today, I got home and found that, not only had the bees half-emptied the hummingbird feeder in a single day, but as I stood there watching, the feeder did that bubbly thing that water coolers do when you draw a glass of water. I went out to look, and more than a dozen bees crowded around the opening of the feeder. As they drank, they would become so laden with the nectar that they would drop off the cluster and fall into space until they could catch themselves and fly back. I looked online and found out why bees need to top up on sugar right before winter. I’m excited because the Pirate and I are looking at starting beekeeping soon, and knowing that we already have a thriving, growing hive, and that we’re already doing all the right things to keep that hive healthy feels really good.

Bees are cool.