Monday, March 31, 2008

Out Like a Lamb?

The return of the bluebirds, witnessed a couple weeks ago, is a definite sign that Spring is on its way. There are two things, however, that I count as proof it has actually arrived. The first is blooming Douglasia which I saw for the first time this year on my run yesterday morning. Then the Wyoming State bird, the meadowlark, made its appearance this morning and I knew it was true despite the softly falling snow. Spring is here!

Douglasia is a delicate purple flower. I have always thought its discoverer - yes, his name was Douglas - did it a great disservice by insisting on bestowing his masculine moniker onto such a fragile flower. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to see it blooming under a layer of snow so maybe it isn't so delicate after all.

A couple years ago I wanted to do something different for my Secret Sister at Quilt Guild so I wrote her a quilt related poem every month and painted a watercolor sketch to go along with it. I will never be known as a great poet but I really enjoyed creating a new set of lines each month, and my poem for March was one of my favorites. I have a secret dream of someday making a small quilt to go with each poem and creating a calendar of the images and words to give to family and friends.

Anyway, on this last day of March, 2008, here is my poem for the month.

March. It's a month out of step
Half winter, half springtime, half frozen , and yet...
There's a warm, whispered promise
Of days still to come:
The glimpse of a bluebird, a wildflower so young
It's barely noticed surrounded by snow
Just a pale, purple blush on the landscape below.

There are those who insist winter's end is a dream,
That hints of warm weather are not what they seem;
But a quilter's heart gladdens to see life re-new
As fresh, favorite colors of green and sky blue
Come together in squares that dance with Spring Fever
And turn even cynics into believers!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Flying South

I put on quite a few miles last week as I headed first to Florida to spend a few days with my Mom and Dad and then to Salt Lake City to enjoy the Easter festivities with my in-laws. One of the great things about visiting my parents is that they live in the middle of an area that is protected for bird life. The big excitement this time was the bald eagle pair that had built a nest in a tree just across the street. We spent many wonderful minutes watching through the telescope as the two young eaglets were fed their meals. I didn't have the proper camera equipment with me to capture any great eagle photos but I did get some pretty good shots of some of the other residents.

This guy to the left was my biggest surprise of the trip. I was walking on the raised boardwalk one morning when I heard a loud commotion right under my feet. Out ran this not-so-little guy. There was no one else anywhere in sight and so for a few wonderful moments it was just the two of us watching each other warily in the overcast morning light. I was totally intrigued. It seemed obvious he was a juvenile of some type but I really couldn't identify the species. It wasn't until I returned home and could look in the bird book that I discovered I was eye to eye with an immature yellow-crowned night heron. That makes him the second night heron I have ever seen in my life.
A few minutes later as I headed back along the boardwalk to reach the street I looked down to see this green heron just a few feet away in the mangrove. He seemed quite unimpressed by my presence and sat patiently as I snapped a number of photos. I love the detail in his feathers. This is one I think I will have to paint.
Just around the next bend sat a Louisiana heron on the rail of the bridge. I was trying to get a photo of him straight on and I succeeded, but it is not that funny unless you know just how long that beak really is!

On the way back to the house I saw this Great Egret fishing in a lake alongside the road. I was struck by the incredible green in his face patch. Why have I never noticed that before? I also love the pattern of the water in this shot.

The last photo is of the sunset at the beach off Anna Marie Island. I am thankful to the seagull who picked that moment to fly in front of my lens.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Spring is for the Birds

After a week of temperatures in the high 50's we had a smattering of snow sneak in on us Thursday night. That was why it was especially surprising to look out yesterday morning and see my first mountain bluebird of the year highlighted perfectly against a backdrop of white snow-covered rock. The photo at the left is one I took last summer. I love seeing these birds and am always shocked by the intensity of their color but I have a really hard time capturing a photo of them. They don't sit still for long.
A short while later I was out on my run when I heard more of the bluebird song down by the irrigation ditch. I stopped to take a look and couldn't believe the sight - I counted 27 bluebirds in one single tree! This morning Ken counted an even dozen in a tree when out on his run. Even though the snow disappeared almost immediately yesterday I can't imagine where these guys are finding enough bugs to keep them all fed.
This morning we heard a commotion outside and looked out to see the biggest flock of ravens we have ever seen. We are used to seeing a couple around most of the time and we have seen large groups of crows occasionally in the past but never this many ravens together. We counted thirty in this single grouping. For a minute it seemed as if the whole sky was black then they all circled around and seemed to go their separate ways.

Two of the coyotes were visible in the rocks not far from the house this morning. At first we thought they were hunting a bunny as they would disappear behind a pile of rocks and suddenly we would see dirt flying everywhere as they dug in the sand. They seemed unfazed by our presence up on the hill as we fed the llamas. Every so often they would come out and check to see what we were doing but it wasn't until I moved in their direction to take this picture that they decided it was too much. A while later we went down to look at their dig site and it just seemed to be a hole in the ground. We could see them watching us from above as we looked. Now I think they are getting ready to den and are picking a site within view of the house. Huh!

Last night we went into Cody to a benefit dinner and concert for the Park County Pedalers. The entertainment was by Jalan Crossland of Ten Sleep, an artist I hear on NPR fairly regularly and one I like a lot. Probably the only thing I regretted giving up when we moved to Wyoming was my road bike. We live about eight miles from a paved road and it just didn't seem like we would get much use out of our road bikes once we were here. We traded them in for mountain bikes but it just hasn't been the same. Road biking was my sport of choice in my younger days and one at which I was better than almost any other woman I knew. Ken is less enamoured of the sport and was once seriously injured in a cycling accident. Last year when I decided to start competing in triathlons again I went out and bought a very basic road bike. I didn't get a lot of miles in, partly because Ken hates for me to ride alone, but I really enjoyed what I did do. Then this year I became friends with some people from the Park County Pedalers. Now I am planning on joining them on a number of organized rides and I am really excited about getting back in the saddle. I will probably have to drive to Cody to start the rides but that is true for most of the social activities we do anyway.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

A Dangerous Blister

I used up yet another of my nine lives last night. I really believe that without my very basic knowledge of wilderness medicine the night may have ended much differently than it did.

The day started off well enough. It was clear and warm and the temperatures on the plains were forecast to be in the high fifties. That was good news since we were signed up to join the Park County Nordic Ski Club on their annual end-of-year ski trip from Sylvan Pass to Pahaska Teepee. Sylvan Pass sits about 12 miles inside the East Entrance of Yellowstone National Park and is high enough that the snow is still cold and deep even on these spring like days. For the last five years the Nordic group has hired a snowcoach to haul members up to the Pass on the last day the Park is open in the winter season and then they ski the mostly downhill route back to their vehicles. We were on the last coach of the day which put us at the Pass just after noon. Ken and I are not members of the Nordic Ski Club but we have friends who are and this seemed like a perfect way to get a few more miles on our new cross country gear before we put it all away for the season. The ski was wonderful. It took us about 3 1/2 hours to do the almost thirteen miles, including a break to enjoy a nice leisurely lunch. We only saw three or four other people the whole time as the group was pretty spread out over the trail. I started feeling a hot spot on my right heel at about the 8 mile mark and knew I was going to have a pretty good blister before the day was over. I have had blisters on that foot from these boots every time I've worn them so I had started the day with a large bandaid over the vulnerable spot but it obviously wasn't enough, especially with the heat we were experiencing causing even more sweating than normal.

After limping into the finish I removed my boot and could see a huge circle of blood seeping through my sock. It was obvious the blister had progressed to the raw meat stage but I've been there before and wasn't too worried.

On the way home - a two hour drive from Pahaska - Ken and I stopped by our friends place to have a cup of tea. Then we decided to grab a quick dinner in Cody so didn't roll in the driveway until dusk. Once home we did a few chores and then Ken headed to bed while I stayed up to watch a little TV. When I made my way into the bedroom an hour or so later Ken mumbled that he had set out some medical supplies in the bathroom for me to take care of my heel. Sure enough, there on the counter was a virtual pharmacy of blister care products. I wiped the injured area with an alcohol wipe, put on a dab of antibiotic cream and then covered it all with a space-age looking bandage that claimed to have some magic formula embedded into the gelled surface.

A little while later I woke up and realized I was in trouble. I couldn't breathe. My chest felt like a truck was sitting on top of it. I started sneezing violently and couldn't stop. I couldn't believe it. In my fogged state I thought I had come down with the worst cold in history and wondered how it could have come on so quickly. Then I looked at the clock and realized I had been in bed less than an hour. I got up to get a drink of water and when I came back to bed I discovered my lips and tongue felt funny; they were tingling and felt like they were swelling. And suddenly I knew - these were the signs and symptoms of anaphylactic shock. I was having a severe allergic reaction. But to what? Then I realized the only thing it could possibly be was the magic blister pad. I tore it off my foot and threw it away. I downed two antihistamines and prayed for my heart rate to slow down. I debated telling Ken he needed to get me to the hospital - fast. Within minutes my breathing eased and the pressure in my chest lessened. Within a half hour I couldn't tell there was anything wrong. I didn't sleep much after that and Ken couldn't believe I didn't wake him when I recounted my story this morning. Now I feel like my chest is bruised and I am tired but I think I will be back to normal by tomorrow. Who knew a blister could be so dangerous?!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Cheap Entertainment

The coyotes have been incredibly entertaining this winter. There are at least four of them that show up almost every day and usually several times during the day. I don't know when they sleep as we hear them howling all night and they seem to hunt during most of the daylight hours. They have a perimeter that is about an eighth of a mile from the house in any direction and they are really bold at that distance. They will sit on the ridge and watch Ken and I working outside without any sign of fear. Occasionally they will come in closer, like this one in the photo to the left, and then they are much more wary of our movements. It is pretty obvious they have figured out we are unlikely to shoot them.
The entertainment comes in watching them hunt. They work as a team and have some pretty intelligent strategies. Most of the time I am cheering for the bunnies, and most of the time the bunnies get away unharmed, but , of course, the dogs have to eat to survive too. I hope they are controlling the rodent population by munching on mice and pack rats.
I am not concerned for the coyotes as a threat to the llamas. It is pretty clear who has the upper hand in that battle. The chickens are not a worry either as their coop is situated in the middle of the llama corral. The only real concern is for Frank the cat. He has a healthy fear of the coyotes and will run for the house, furred up to three times his normal size, if he hears theirs howls at any distance. The worry is that chance meeting when the coyotes are too close and Frank is wandering too far. I try to keep pretty close tabs on him but it gets more difficult as the warmer weather moves in.

I woke the other morning to a new horizon line of mountains in the distance. They were mountains of mist and didn't last long but it was interesting to see the landscape with a feature other than those we have grown used to.

We have had an unusual visitor each of the last two mornings. I feed about 10 lbs of bird seed a day and the usual diners come flocking in at the sound of my voice. It is probably just coincidence but both yesterday and the day before I have stood by the feeder giving my usual invite only to look up at a bald eagle circling low overhead. I can't imagine what he is looking for as there is not much fitting his dietary preferences available here, but he is certainly a thrill to watch. The two resident golden eagles have been around every day for weeks and are acting a little strange, hunting right up to dusk each day. Ken thinks they have a nest going. That would be great as it has been about three years since we have seen three eagles flying around all summer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


About a year and a half ago or so my brother brought up the idea of him, my Mom and me doing some sort of joint art project. Then, about a year ago, I put forth the suggestion of a fractured photo based on some of the successes I had seen with such a project in the quilting world. Ken had taken a photo of the fishing pier at French River on Prince Edward Island when we were up for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and, after some discussion, it was decided to use that photo as our inspiration. Once all the "rules" were put in place we set a deadline of the end of February of this year. Mom finished hers months ago, I finished mine today and I have heard rumors that Garth is working on his so we will actually have a completed project.
The plan was this: we each took the photo and divided it into three equal parts which we then rendered in whatever medium we desired to come up with three finished pieces at a size of 5" wide by 9" high. We will now swap pieces so each of us ends up with a complete picture made up of one piece of artwork from each of us.

I thought about doing it in fabric but quickly discarded that idea because of the complexity of the piece and the relatively small size of the finished project. My next plan was to use acrylics on hardboard but that did not go well and I abandoned that approach after a couple of days. In the end I fell back on what I am most comfortable with - watercolors on Bristol.
For the most part I am pleased with the results. I may do a bit more tweaking but it is pretty much finished. I am not completely happy with the water but one of the problems with working on Bristol is that it is easy to overwork the surface. So I guess I can live with it. Now I just need to figure out how best to package the two pieces I am sending off so they make it to Canada without being ruined. I can't wait to get the other two pieces from Mom and Garth so I can frame it and hang it up. Ken will have another role in the finished project as he is the matting/framing expert in this house.

I would have finished the painting a few days earlier if we hadn't been busy with Search and Rescue over the last few days. Usually this is our quiet time of year other than the odd snowmobile accident but this has been an unusual winter. We haven't had a single snow machine incident but we have had to deal with car wrecks, heart attacks and yesterday, a husband and wife ATV accident. They were playing in the McCullough Peaks area when he came over a hill too fast and found his wife slowly making her way down the backside. He tried to hit the brakes but in the excitement hit the gas instead and rear ended her pretty good. He got the worst of it and had to be flown to Billings by helicopter but we had to go back the three miles or so to the site and transport her out to the waiting ambulance. It was a by-the-book rescue but it sure took up a good part of the day.

I found a wonderful surprise in my mailbox when we got home from the rescue yesterday. There was a package with the new book by Betty Blais - "More Amazing Angelina" - and a whole bunch of Angelina film that she sent along just because she is a great person. I can't wait to play with this stuff, especially since I have Betty's book with all sorts of ideas on what I might do with it. And did I mention she included photos of two of my quilts in the gallery of her book?

Now it is time to head to the studio and work on some quilts. I have one that needs to be finished before the next WAV meeting and at least two that are in the quilting stage.