the cold never bothered me….

Shetland&PonyNov14{…oh, for a thick winter coat like Shetland’s and Pony’s! With the right winter wear it’s really quite comfortable most days, despite the whole “polar bomb” nonsense we’ve been having, but at times it’s a bit of a pain “gearing up” every time I wish to go outside. Being warm and fluffy from head to toe would be endlessly useful for those quick trips to the library or grocery store … as it is, I often find it overly tempting to just forgo the many-buttoned coat or the hair-mussing hat and just freeze my ears and elbows off instead. The squirrels, though they’re getting a bit frantic-looking, are quite fat and lovely still. They’ll do just fine this year. Plus, we got to have snow on Thanksgiving, just like old times.

Thanksgiving dinner this year was almost entirely color-themed, because I wanted something properly pretty this year. Muscovy duck with olive caramel, red bell pepper cheesecake with chocolate-gingersnap crust, and three colors (red, black, white) of rice. I even found a white acorn squash so I could have my favorite side dish without mussing up the color scheme with orange and green. I was worried it might not taste quite so lovely as it looked, but everything actually went quite well together. The duck breast wasn’t quite as nice as it could have been, since it sat in the pan too long waiting for the other dishes, but the confit of the legs and wings was lovely, and now I have duck fat for ages’ worth of fried potatoes.

I’d hoped for a lovely dark-orange pumpkin as well, but sadly the one I got turned out to be more of a jack-o-lantern type inside, despite good things I’d heard about the variety. After some baking and a great deal of waiting for the sogginess to strain out of the cooked flesh, I got something roughly between canned pumpkin and applesauce. I decided to use half for some heavily-spiced brown-butter cupcakes, who would hardly notice the lack of pumpkin flavor, and the rest still resides abashedly in a bag in my fridge.

I have a feeling this and the other incidental leftovers — bits of black olive, a small lump of cream cheese, a tablespoon or so of pecan-tassie filling, and so on — will soon be forgotten in the face of December, which according to common knowledge is the Month of Buying Eggnog. There’s a local-ish brand (in-state, at least) that I’ve been meaning to try now that it’s back in stores; it’s surprisingly hard to find one without gum thickeners in it, and I’d just like to taste one without having to actually make eggnog myself. I just made Thanksgiving dinner, after all; I’m not *that* ambitious.}

We’ve got cul-de-sacs and barbecues…


{Cooler weather is coming– well, periodically at least. It still warms up, as it did today at 70+ degrees. That, of course, is bonfire weather; and even if you’re not in an area that’s particularly hospitable to bonfires, you must at least make an effort (but do try not to leave it burning like this one so critters like Shetland and Pony can stumble across it, of course!). In my case, this amounted to rambling over to the nearest park and cooking paella over the grill. The rather sportive nature of the winds today made it interesting to actually keep the young fire going, and to keep from having one’s hair and clothing set alight once it did start. In hindsight, a billowy skirt was a poor decision. But the firewood was dry and the weather fine, and the smell of smoke will air out eventually.

The one thing that did dampen my spirits a little was the discovery of a squirrel’s tiny corpse under a tree as I was searching out branches for the fire. It was quite whole from what I saw, though perhaps it had been struck by a car in the nearby parking lot and made it that far. I tried not to dwell on it too long and gathered my firewood elsewhere. It’s always alarming and unpleasant to find a dead animal in an unexpected place (or any place, of course, but it’s rather less surprising in the middle of a road or some similarly hazardous part of the world).

That said, I find myself unpleasantly alarmed quite often in my new neighborhood, as something — maybe the higher density of wildlife near the streets? — results in quite a number of tiny corpses on the lovely residential sidewalks. Squirrels, chipmunks, nestling birds, and various bits and pieces no longer identifiable as anything but “former animal” pop up far more frequently than I’ve been accustomed to in the past. For several days after a storm I found myself crossing to the other sidewalk on the way to work, to avoid a medium-sized bird carcass that apparently went unnoticed by the owner of the home outside of which it lay. It slowly turned from flesh to bones and then dust at last.

This has certainly taken a macabre turn, but it is nearly Halloween after all. I’ll close with the more upbeat observation that the short-tailed squirrel, whom I’ve christened (with spontaneity’s typically breathtaking lack of creativity) “Stumpy,” appears to be doing quite well for himself this year. So far as I can tell his domain encompasses a block or two in the vicinity of 7th street, and with all the local sciurine fatalities I’m always pleased to see him alive and well and growing fatter by the day. I assume it was a close call with a car that claimed part of his foxy brush, but it could well have been one of the yowling half-feral felines in the area as well. He now gets around with a distinctly bouncy gait, and these days looks for all the world like some sort of marmot with his plump body and brief tail.

Unless this is a common injury in the area, Stumpy in his current state has been around since nearly three years ago at the least; not too shabby for a fox squirrel with a gimpy tail. I always walk carefully when I see him to avoid accidentally driving him into the street. Of course, at this point he’s probably better-versed in the ways of the road than I am, but we humans do love to feel a little bit important when we can…}

might as well be walkin’ on the sun….


{Okay, it’s not *that* bad out. But it was certainly above 80 degrees today, and when it’s nearly October that always irks me a bit. I’m not saying I don’t recall, for example, the wildly disappointing 70-degree Halloweens of ’99 and ’00, but overall I’ve still come to expect better of this time of year. It’s not *actually* having much visible effect on the outdoor plants, either — it’s the indoor chrysanthemums that are wilting and dying, and that’s because no one at work goes to their desks often enough to water them properly. I sneak back there for snacks, so I am appointing myself official mum-watcher.

I did feel a bit like Shetland and Pony here during the annual art festival, which involves a lot of walking around Main street in the sun. The vendors of hot foods weren’t doing so great, though the ice-cream people appeared to be making a killing. As an artist I’m not quite well-off enough to actually buy art — except for a small knitted narwhal that will go to a friend on her birthday — but I can observe it and say nice things about it, I suppose.

Of course, it would probably help if I didn’t insist on devoting so much of my time to making things to give away for free to people. That said, I find it difficult to spend time on something that may or may not make me money or even be seen in the future, when I can make something much easier that I know will be appreciated (because it’s free!). I did almost wind up late to my actual paying job because I was concentrating on fixing a paper mongoose I was making, though. My priorities may need a bit of work….}

You know there’s always rain…


{Quite a month it’s been. The library is officially in its new digs, as am I, and it’ll take a while still for both of us to get used to it. I’ve already encountered several stray cats, a very forward chipmunk, and more giant fungi than I ever imagined to reside in this city. With such fungi, as it turns out, come the Pleasing Fungus Beetles, which is a name so utterly quirky that it could only belong to an insect (see the Question Mark butterfly, Small Elephant Hawk Moth — which may be the most animals in a row I’ve ever seen in a species name — and so on).

The Pleasing Fungus Beetle looks like an awful lot of other beetles, except for the bits that don’t, so it took me quite a while to figure out just what the shiny little chaps were. I’m fairly certain I’ve never even seen one before, and certainly not in mushroom-munching swarms like these had. It’s possible I simply missed them underfoot, as I would have done this time if one hadn’t taken a break from his mushroom lunch to crawl around on the grass and say hi to me.

They’re more yellow-orange than red-orange — I’ve cheated twice here, making him red and using August’s color a day late in the first place — but artistic license and so on. If it helps, there are in fact a variety of Pleasing Fungus Beetles in a variety of Pleasing Colors, and some of those are certainly red. The mushrooms, or at least parts of them, were properly red, just like the one I stumbled on around this time last year (though a less poisonous-looking shade).

Perhaps the fragrant fungi and general dampness of these nonstop rainy days have something to do with my irritatingly persistent cold over the last few days … or perhaps, as always, my immune system somehow managed to anticipate the three-day weekend so it could incapacitate me accordingly. It’s certainly preferable over taking a sick day during the work week, but truly, one of these days it would be nice to spend a minor holiday doing something other than drinking hot soup and ginger ale….}


all that you can’t leave behind….


{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….


{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.}