all that you can’t leave behind….

Shetland&PonyJuly14

{It’s been a while! Today I am in the midst of that mad frenzy known as Moving Day. It is, more accurately, Moving Week (or possibly even Moving Month at this point), but the important thing to note is that a very great quantity of possessions are in the midst of traveling from one part of town to another, and many of them refuse to go gentle into that good storage unit. This may admittedly be out of solidarity with their less-attractive brethren, who will likely be quite literally kicked to the curb once a proper path has been cleared. Moving out has a way of reminding one what one does not really have any reason to keep around any longer.

On the subject of Shetland and Pony’s picture (I’ll leave it up to you to decide where the gate goes), the heirloom beans planted last year were so kind as to grace us with their offspring this year, all pink blossoms and curlicue vines and sickle-shaped pods. Unexpected free food just outside one’s window is always a pleasant surprise, especially when it has some decorative flair.

Speaking of which, the peppers, too, have returned, but in a manner even more surprising. In the waning months of last year they fared poorly, dwindling to a few brown-leaved sticks even when brought indoors. But slowly more leaves appeared, branches, buds … and now there’s another riotously purple-and-red crop of peppers like the ones I praised in Better Not Touch nearly a year back. It’ll be a bit of a shame, dismantling the “garden” for the last time — so many eager vines taking up every scrap of vertical real estate, up the slats and stems and bricks like slim verdant serpents. I shall have to keep the seeds.}

you’ve got red on you….

Shetland&Pony57

{As promised in yesterday’s rather mournful Drawn @ Random post, here at Shetland + Pony I’ll be sharing some of the happier aspects of the many birds I have known. I think the biggest character was Kekoa, the far-from-fluffy Downy Woodpecker who was blind in both eyes. I was ten or so when we found her, and by then I knew at least enough about birds to figure a woodpecker would like something to climb vertically. Enclosure-wise, an old laundry basket seemed quite to her liking, and she hung onto the side when she wanted a rest from exploring. The rest of the time was spent examining (read: hammering mercilessly at) wooden objects in the living room, such as the poor beleaguered trim around the balcony window. I carried her with a leather work glove and long sleeves out of fear/respect for that chisel beak, and yet despite her lack of sight she managed to find the one bit of exposed wrist and go for it every time. This might have had something to do with the other searching tool she had at her disposal: a comically-long pink tongue, which she flicked delicately at everything before deciding whether to peck it to death.

Her Hawaiian name, by the way, was the consequence of a little red-and-yellow phrasebook I had acquired at some used-things shop or another. Whenever I got such an item I went straight for the section with names in it. I’m something of a name-collector, though to be honest I don’t often use them. The same is true with words in general; “enkomion” is a fabulous word, though it’s unlikely to be useful to me anytime soon (though I guess it’s a bit relevant to this post, now I think of it).

Moses the cardinal was a beautiful creature, pure and simple. I never cared overly for the toothy, stylized, yellow-beaked cardinal that is our college town’s ubiquitous mascot, but the real thing is something different altogether. He was black and red, of course, and more red than anyone ever seems to think to portray cardinals — beak and feet and all, not a speck of yellow on him. But there was also the purplish-grey wash of feathers down the nape of the neck and between the shoulders, along the edges of the wings; colors and patterns I’d never thought to include when drawing remembered birds seen from afar with the naked eye. Even something as iconically-solid-colored as the cardinal has so much more subtlety when you can really look at it.

The little cat-caught warbler (or so I choose to call it, we never got as far as species in our introductions to each other) I knew for the shortest time of them all, but probably represents the nicest memory of them all. To hold a songbird in your hand, fearing its ethereal life lost, and then have it fly off into the blue until it’s out of sight entirely … this is a good thing.

The robin was, in hindsight, the largest wild bird — or wild animal — I’ve ever picked up and held. She did not take kindly to it, of course, which I hope bode well for her strength and future survival.

Of course, I’ve already told tales of Pigeon and Dakota. Dakota’s impossible not to love, which I’m sure is part of the problem with large parrots going to homes that can’t accommodate them. Who could say no to those huge, soulful black eyes? Despite the seven big claws (one toe is missing, I never did find out why) and nutcracker beak, I wasn’t ever really afraid of Dakota. His feet were soft, almost like hands, and his tone of voice and the set of his crest always let me know whether he was calm or getting too wound-up. My mother came with me to the pet store one day and was slightly horrified to see that I was letting the big bird perch on my bare arm (and that no one was stopping me); but whether it was luck or otherwise, I never got so much as a bad scratch from Dakota. The same cannot be said for … well, just about any pet I’ve had, from cats to hamsters to the gecko.

Pigeon is drawn here racing with single-minded determination to wherever his goal may be — I like to think that after that whole walkabout business he got back to being a racing pigeon again, though perhaps as a freelancer this time. I wasn’t very fond of the attitude of his “owners,” even if they did sort of ask for him back.

All I’ve left out are the little brown birds, and I’m afraid I was too young to remember too much about them — although I have a childhood drawing of Feathery suspended upside-down in the tree in our front yard, wings spread, apparently having failed to master the “landing” part of flying.

And that, you see, is the story of me and birds. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about me and cats….}

blackbird claw, raven wing…

blackbird claw, raven wing...

{A long post before a long break. I think I’m officially moving to one blog per month, barring extraordinary circumstances worth writing about. Anyhow. Back to birds.

People tend to be broadly familiar with the classics — robin, eagle, starling, crow — but distinctions break down quickly within a weight class. I can’t really blame them when it comes to the banties; brown is brown is brown unless you glimpse a flashy male or a snippet of sparrow song. The big black birds like Raven, Crow and Vulture can require a close look as well. But in the middle we find the redbirds, and bluebirds, and blackbirds, and if you’re already bothering to sort them by color it can’t hurt to learn their names. Because the bluebirds aren’t generally bluebirds, the Redbirds are a flock of sports teams, and even our blackbirds aren’t necessarily blackbirds.

The chief contender for “bluebird” here in the middle states would generally be the bluejay, as swallows and buntings aren’t half so fond of feeders. Their similarly-crested cardinal counterpart is the chief wearer of the of the “redbird” mantle, colloquially and otherwise … but the blackbirds are much more hazy. Some of them — and they are many — actually are “blackbirds” in true name, though generally not the sort of blackbird one thinks they are. There are the redwings and yellow-heads, of course; but they keep to the cattails and (with some irony) sport too much color to be the best “blackbird” candidates. Starlings do not claim themselves heir to the blackbirds of the old world or the new, but fit the bill well enough in appearance. Their conspicuous swarms do tend to give them a sort of infamy, though, and their true name is often known (spoken though it may be with a hiss of contempt). Cowbirds take the name often enough, though they’re just as often not noticed at all. It’s the shimmering summer grackle that best wears that generic “blackbird” title without ruffling a feather. They mob the lawns and parking lots on the first hot day, fluffing their oil-blue feathers and whistling their metal-on-metal shrieks to all who will listen. The indolent swagger and golden gaze make them even harder to miss.

And yet, the name “grackle” is not one they have chosen to advertise.
It’s no wonder, really. There is no verbal hint at appearance or tribe — blue jay, gold finch, bald eagle — nor the wide pool of references boasted by the proverbial crows, vultures, and doves of the world. It is perhaps an accurate reproduction of that that laborious locomotive-brake call, but we have a way of being visual creatures first and foremost.

Thus do I picture the Common Grackle when one speaks of seeing a blackbird (unless of course it’s a yellow beak and dark eyes, rather than the reverse, which means a simple swarm of starlings). Often they are not identified with any confidence even as that — of the common suburban birds, they are certainly one of the more obscure. This doesn’t stop them from flying in like they own the place, of course. This week’s picture of poor Shetland seeking refuge behind Pony is inspired by reports of a surly gang of grackles harassing a friend’s cat. The poor devil is afraid to leave the house when the feathered mob is roaming the grounds. It’s certainly an image both comic and tragic, the cat plagued by birds. But on the bright side, at least his protector now knows what to call them as she chases them onto the neighbor’s lawn…}

is that a turtle…?

is that a turtle...?

{no song lyric today, just a question I was asked ever so often back in the day. The answer was technically “no,” unless I was feeling too weary for explanations at the time. She was, in fact, a tortoise — an African Spurred Tortoise, though only a little one.
A tortoise is a grazing animal and then some, one who “eats like a horse” rather more effectively than does an actual horse. She would eat steadily throughout the day, but at a somewhat alarming rate. Sunny days spent mowing the grass — and attracting rather obvious questions from startled passersby — were all well and good, but bad-weather days indoors resulted in bouts of houseplant-demolishing, newspaper-eating, toe-nipping feeding frenzies that certainly challenged the notion of tortoises as peaceful, sluggish, vegetarian beings.
I was pondering the dandelions the other day and recalled her first encounter with a proper field of the little flowers. They all popped up at once on a summer morning, and she didn’t know what to make of it. For a moment, at least. Soon she got to business, neatly beheading each buttery blossom until she had her fill, passing over former favorites in her sun-drunk haste.
She wouldn’t touch them after that. As of the very next day, she couldn’t be persuaded no matter how enticing a presentation I attempted with them. Dandelions, it seems, are the ultimate seasonal delicacy — exquisite for a day, but never again.
And for those worried about the use of the past tense here, she’s not gone in that way. My home was only a stopover for her, sanctuary from a place without sun or flowers. I hadn’t the space to keep her, either, at least not for long. She went to a keeper of her kind, with acres and burrows and nary a newspaper in sight. I wonder if she ever decided to try the dandelions again….}

the skies I’m under…

the skies I'm under...

{here I am again, returning –for now at least– to my weekly engagement.
You know summer is coming when the large flying insects start showing up inside human habitations and transport. This time it was some sort of flower fly, I believe — those nectar-sipping gaudy-striped yellowjacket mimics who always show up to the party as soon as the boneset blooms.
This one was a long flight from anything remotely floral, though. I discovered it clinging for dear life to my messenger bag as I made my way onto a city bus. It was docile enough as I coaxed it onto my hand, and made no attempt to fly or flee. This was fortunate, given that we had mere moments to disembark from the public transportation and return sans one small passenger. I felt badly for the little hopeless wanderer, as there was little greenery in the vicinity, but I like to think the fellow made it to the aggressively floral decorative trees across the road. After all, if he or she is resourceful enough to catch a bus, hitching a ride over the pavement should be a piece of cake.}

the grass is ris…

the grass is ris...

{and so are the flowers, just in time to wish a happy first birthday to Shetland & Pony. It’s interesting to look back on a year, especially this day in 2013. That year there was snow on the tulips, and the daffodils weren’t sure what to do. This year both flowers are out in full force, though here we just have the daffodils mostly — it’s Pella you’ll want if you’re after tulips.
I must say, I’m not sure if there will be weeks, months and years to come for this blog. On the one hand, it’s nice to have a reason to watch the weather each week and keep an eye out for critters and colors I might otherwise overlook. On the other, I’m not sure I have another year’s worth of scribbles in me — even with these, I was certainly pushing it from time to time. Perhaps I’ll go to once a month, and see how much I can pack into a single picture each few weeks. There are some unknowns about Shetland & Pony that I always figured I’d answer or at least address eventually — what color are they? Are they “he” or “she” Shetlands? There are certainly fences, but where are there humans in their world?
Whatever the future holds, I enjoyed bringing Shetland and Pony to life every week, even if only a few will ever see them. Whether the weather cooperates or not, I hope you have a lovely Spring — and take some time to stop and smell, watch or draw the flowers when you can.}

is this the real life…?

is this the real life...?

{three blood-red birds in a dying thorn tree is certainly a bit of a surreal sight; then again, so are the tulip trees drenched in pink blossoms with nary a leaf to mar the sight. This is that awkward half-time of year, where the trees are either stark bare branches or blushing beauties, with no green gradient in between. Redbuds and magnolias have gotten right down to business, while the state of the sleeping hawthorns and basswood is still somewhat uncertain.
I’m still not sure what compelled three adult male cardinals to hang out in an area that I’ve never known to host more than one pair at a time. They don’t flock for berries like the robins and waxwings will, nor do they roost en masse like the starlings or battle for postage-stamp territories like the finches. For one reason or another, they were there for a moment, and I was not to see them again.
This whole picture is a bit of fantasy, really, despite the true events. You know how stories can be. The tulip trees are out there, somewhere, and the cardinals too. I’ll have to take my own word for it, though, as tonight it’s all wind and storm. For once there are no trees left to lose out front, with the summer storms taking one every year or so — now our lot apparently offers the building itself as tribute to the south wind, as this year marks the first time bits of the eaves have come off in a storm.
But, the structure holds, and the morning always comes again in the end. Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of Shetland and Pony, and the blog will have come full circle. What lies beyond that, I do not know … but the grass will grow, the wind will blow, and somewhere Shetland and Pony will be frolicking in the flowers.}

share a dream amid the flowers…

share a dream amid the flowers...

{The flowers are finally in bloom, the little purple and blue ground-covers starting up first. Normally I walk through a patch of dusty maple leaves and dry twigs on my way to work — this time it was fresh periwinkle leaves and blossoms, with a scattering of shy-drooping wood squill.
The heat comes along with the flowers, of course, and a quick costume-change was required over the weekend as temperatures hovered in the 80’s. Our annual spring student festival was cancelled this year due to general rowdiness and foolish behavior (not without precedent, unfortunately), so April’s weather isn’t of as much concern as it has been in years past (the whole reason it moved to April is that the weather is appropriately dismal to dampen drunken spirits somewhat; in theory at least). It was certainly a lovely day for Easter Egg hunts, though, and other assorted seasonal revelry.
It is not, strictly speaking, baking weather. In the vein of festive hot food, I managed to refrain from or reschedule all but the cupcakes. I had four colors of carrots and two of frosting (purple left over from a birthday cake, and cream cheese as the mandatory carrot-cake frosting), plus some fresh pineapple that wasn’t getting any younger in the fridge. Combined into carrot cupcakes, they made for quite a fun breakfast/dessert/snack/eat-them-all-day-long food, especially after being frozen in light of the escalating temperatures. Definitely an interesting variant on confetti cake. I’d have liked to top them with edible flowers for a springy touch, but nothing particularly tasty is up yet. I had to make do with sweet purple blossoms made of frosting — and suffice to say, my artistic talents do not lie in sculpture.}

april showers….

april showers....

{In case you’re wondering, the “one color” theme is loosened for April — I’ll be combining colors from past months, ideally ending in some sort of multicolored extravaganza for the last week if interesting-enough things deign to happen in time.
The weather continues to be moody, though with the warmer temperatures it’s more flash than fury. It was even kind enough to get the tornado weather out of the way last night, allowing us to avoid a repeat of last year’s not-quite-brief-enough “let’s pause the Edible Book Festival to hide in the library bathrooms for a bit now!” interlude. The worst effect this year was to make for a difficult game of after-hours tag, what with there only being six participants adventurous enough to brave the weather — it’s difficult to tell whether the little girl in a frilly dress didn’t want to be shown up by the pirate, or vice versa, but they were both good sports about the whole we-may-have-to-stash-you-guys-in-our-bunker-if-this-storm-keeps-up thing. (I may have neglected to mention that it was also a heroes-and-villains costume party….)
So, last night there was weather to satisfy any supervillain, with wind a-plenty to play dashingly with one’s hair and lightning enough to guarantee some perfectly-timed punctuation to a dramatic speech. Today, the flashy weather broke and down came the deluge. Buckets and buckets of rain, not unseasonable amounts so much as all of it at one time after a drear week of fire weather. Certain temporary buildings housing certain beloved public institutions finally got the opportunity to prove themselves not at all seaworthy, and a great many rags and towels were requisitioned from the various departments. Tonight it will snow; but after yesterday afternoon’s reminder of what 80F temperatures feel like, there’s a little less complaining all around than there may have been in months past.
In the end, I don’t really mind the “April showers” part; my only demand is that we get plenty of the proverbial May flowers out of it.}

oh where, oh where…

oh where, oh where...

{Well, this is the third time today I am telling this story, and the second time in writing … suffice to say it’s been an otherwise slow Sunday.

I was nearly home from a trip across the street, when the unmistakable form of a small animal running around in the distance caught my eye. A family of three was chasing their little Boston terrier around the large parking lot, and making little to no progress on the matter. He ran, he jumped, he yipped, he yapped, he evaded them effortlessly while blithely charging toward traffic.

While I wasn’t thrilled with the spectacle — a little dog offl-leash, out of control and unsure whether to be elated or terrified by his new freedom, and his “people” seeming just as baffled as to what to do about him — I, along with what I’d wager is the majority of people, do not enjoy seeing terriers being flattened by pickup trucks. So, I stalked back across the street to see if I could help herd the little devil back to his would-be captors. In the end, all it took was me standing there, since the addition of a fourth person walking out from behind a van was evidently wholly unanticipated by the dog — his facial expression was quite exquisitely Boston-terrier in that his eyeballs suddenly appeared to comprise 90% of his face.

We actually ended up corralling both him and an innocent bystander, since he raced toward a van that had just parked and had someone walking out of it. The Someone bore it admirably, though, and was appropriately unfazed by the gruff but rather conviction-lacking barks of the cornered pet. One of the group picked him up and carried him off under one arm, which probably did not help what little dignity he had, and they disappeared heroically into the sunset (or rather, in the direction of the mall).

The amusing part of it all was that it really felt no different from any average day at work, in which virtually the same actions and cast of characters (confused bystander, assorted hopeful but somewhat loud and ineffective family members, and my mostly-just-standing-in-the-way self) are involved in a similar ballet multiple times per shift. The only difference is that it’s usually an exuberant toddler heading for the door instead of a barking Boston (though both have the ultimate goal of a large and dangerous parking lot). The toddlers are slightly more maneuverable than the dog, as they are delightfully selfish and tend to respond well to bribery, flattery and personal questions (“That’s a cool puppet — do you like dragons?”); that said, there is a roughly equal chance in both situations of being bitten by your quarry.}