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New Residents

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Pictured above is our latest house remodel, the addition of a bedroom up against the downspout that runs outside our dining room south wall. And we paid nothing for it, thanks to the efforts of two local finches. In fact, to my astonishment, I’m looking at them right now. Moments after I started the first sentence, one burst out of the nest and swooped down to the ground below our cherry tree. As I finished the sentence, the other landed on the back of one of our outdoor dining chairs (I’m sitting on another and typing on the table) before moving to the cherry tree.

I’m not overly pleased with this addition. I first noticed one of the finches a few weeks ago. It would sit for unusually long periods of time on top of the hedge that borders the patio. I had also noticed some debris at the base of the downspout, but didn’t think much of it. A week later, Joel asked me why I thought the bird was hanging out on the hedge. I remembered that the day before, the debris pile on the patio had looked quite large, and that’s when Joel and I took a closer look and put the pieces together. What we were looking at on the ground was a collapsed nest. Above, wedged between the downspout and the outdoor lighting, was a small amount of nest residue. And the bird we were looking at had some material in his mouth, perhaps eager to continue rebuilding.

My guess was that the bird would give up. Alas, I was wrong. Yesterday was a beautiful day, sunny with temperatures around 70. I sat outside in the late afternoon, maybe 10 feet from the downspout. Emma (our cat) came out too and was sitting nearby when one of the birds landed on the top of the open door that leads from the house to the patio. It’s an odd perch for a bird, who had drawn Emma’s attention as well as mine. Only after 20 seconds did I think to look over to the old nest site, with which the bird was even in elevation, but about six feet away. I beheld a completed nest. Our presence must have distracted the bird on his return to the nest. Emma eventually lost interest and wandered farther out into the yard. The bird flew onto the back of one of the dining chairs, perched there for a while, then disappeared.

Tonight was something of a repeat, with Emma and me coming out to enjoy the lovely evening, interrupting the bird at work. But this time, once Emma moved on, I saw the bird fly into the nest, my first confirmation that the nest was indeed just that. I got my camera, took some photos, and began this post. As I already noted, just as I started typing, the bird flew out of the nest.

I have no idea if the nest holds any eggs yet. If so, they surely haven’t hatched. I don’t hear anything or see any feeding activity. I’m thinking, if there are to be babies, once they move on, so does the nest. I’m willing to leave it for now, but I don’t want a permanent addition.

As for Emma, whose 14th birthday is just a week away, I suspect her hunting days are in the past. She has slowed down a lot in the last year. The birds are presumably at the height of vigilance. I don’t think I need to worry about orphans.

You know, I might be wrong about the lack of feeding activity. One of the birds, the one I’m thinking is the male, just flew into the yard from afar, landed on the chair across from me for a moment — with a little stringy object in his beak — then continued on to the nest. His partner followed three seconds later, landing on the house trim just outside the nest before joining him on the nest. I don’t hear babies, but it sure looks like the couple is in the process of feeding them. Either that or the nest is still under construction.

I’ll keep watching.

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Categories: Animals, Birds, House

WSJ Wine Columnists

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I wasn’t much of a reader of wine writing until I discovered the Wall Street Journal’s wife-and-husband team, Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, two of whose columns were the basis of posts of mine (here and here). Like many of their fans, I was stunned, on reading their column last December 26, to come upon their concluding note:

This is our 579th—and last—”Tastings” column. The past 12 years—a full case!—have been a joy, not because of the wine but because we had an opportunity to meet so many of you, both in person and virtually. Thank you.

Neither they nor the WSJ said more, then or since. I have missed them. What I valued wasn’t so much any congruence between their taste and mine — I hardly know my taste in any case — but rather their distinctive perspective on wine and its pleasures, the clarity with which it was expressed, and the accessibility of their writing for novices as well as experts. They felt like friends. Their avuncular advice was comforting, not patronizing.

In the months since they were dispatched, the WSJ has continued to publish wine articles in Saturday’s Weekend Journal, contributed by a variety of writers. I have taken brief looks at the articles, but left most unread. Two Saturdays ago, I saw that the wine article was by the novelist Jay McInerney, registered surprise, and moved on. Had I actually taken the trouble to read the piece, or jump to the note at the end, I would have discovered that he was being introduced as one of two new wine columnists, along with Lettie Teague. Two days ago, Teague made her debut. This time I noticed. Maybe it was the drawing of her at the top of the article that suggested to me she might be a regular. I looked for a note at the end, but there was none, such a note having already appeared a week earlier. I did a search and got the desired confirmation — not from the McInerney column of a week earlier but from the inaugural post at the new WSJ blog, “On Wine“, with the title “Introducing Jay and Lettie.”

I still miss my friends Dottie and John, but I’m looking forward to learning more about Jay’s and Lettie’s wine thoughts. The blog post introducing them is a brief conversation between the two. It concludes with Jay’s reply to Lettie’s question, “When it comes to eating, what wine do you think is impossible to match with food?” Jay says, “I can’t think of any wine which is impossible to match with food but I do think that Chateau d’Yquem probably shouldn’t be matched with food. It’s just too damn perfect on its own, and matching it with some sweet dessert is a a terrible idea.”

Gail and I will never be able to think of Chateau d’Yquem without recalling our dinner at Topper’s in Nantucket a few Septembers ago, when Gail asked as we ordered dessert if they had a Sauternes. Our waiter assured us that they did and brought a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem to the table to pour her a glass. It was the best Sauternes she ever had. We were unaware that one pays a premium for Chateau d’Yquem. Such quality doesn’t come cheaply. And since it wasn’t listed on the dessert menu, we hadn’t seen a price. We saw it soon enough, when the check came. Maybe not so much in the world of such wines. A mere $65. But it sure was a surprise to us.

Speaking of expensive glasses of wine, Roger Lowenstein’s new book The End of Wall Street has a revealing anecdote that Daniel Gross quotes in yesterday’s NYT review of the book.

Well into the crisis, with Citi’s stock price in single digits, its chief executive, Vikram Pandit, was spotted having lunch “at Le Bernardin, the top-rated restaurant in New York.” Seeing nothing he wanted by the glass, he “ordered a $350 bottle so that, as he explained, he could savor ‘a glass of wine worth drinking.’ Pandit drank just one glass.” The tableau suggests that Lowenstein’s book is misnamed. Judging by the recent bonuses; by the Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein’s declaration that investment bankers are “doing God’s work”; and by the opposition to comprehensive reform as well as by Pandit’s $350 glass of wine, Wall Street is still very much alive.

Categories: Journalism, Wine