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Spring Visitors

June 1, 2011 Leave a comment

We’ve had some unexpected guests this spring. They’re pretty much in the mainstream as far as wild animals go. They just don’t happen to be the sort of animals that drop in on us.

One morning in mid April, Emma was outside on the back patio, tail twitching, on alert for something. I went around to the kitchen, looked out the window, and there was a mallard couple, just sitting on the lawn. They seemed content, but Emma wasn’t. They soon stood up and waddled around, covering a fair bit of the backyard before flying off. I thought that was that, but they’ve since been regular guests. Above is a video I took on my iPhone one afternoon in late April, after having to drive around them to pull into the driveway. For the next few weeks, they would hang out in the backyard every day.

Thanks to the bird feeder Jessica got me for my birthday, we’ve also had a steady stream of other commonplace birds visiting. Most notable are the Stellar’s Jays, who are too big to sit on the feeder perches. Instead, they hang out in our cherry tree preparing for the attack, then fly over and grab onto the bottom of the feeder, hanging upside down and rocking it to spill seed onto the ground.

Two days ago, after our Memorial Day barbecue, I was stunned to see a rabbit in the backyard. I know, rabbits are as commonplace a mammal as there is. But not in our yard. Squirrels, sure. Raccoons. Coyotes. But not rabbits. Yet, there he was, sitting out there. Gail and I both grabbed cameras. He fled to the edge of the yard. I shuffled out to meet him, one small slide step at a time, taking a sequence of photos in which he got bigger and bigger, culminating in the one below.

Another step and he took off across the yard, back towards our patio, as you can see in the next photo.

Emma was upstairs taking her afternoon doze, so she missed out on all the fun. The rabbit hasn’t returned.

Categories: Animals, House

Chillin’

December 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Emma, one year ago

Things have been a little too quiet here at Ron’s View. Sorry about that. I had some grading to do this past week, and although that didn’t occupy every waking minute of my days, it did interfere with regular blog posting. At 4:00 PM yesterday, with just an hour to spare, I got my grades submitted. Time to relax!

Except it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Not yet. It didn’t help that I did something really dumb right after submitting the grades. I wanted to clean up both the physical and electronic documents for the course, clearing my real and virtual desktops in preparation for my course next quarter. My last step was to move my grading spreadsheet into the course folder on the computer. When I did so, I found that some strange file had appeared in the folder, and when I went to delete the unwanted file, I managed to delete the entire folder instead. That wasn’t good, all the more because I intended to use some of the now-deleted files as templates for next quarter’s course. After writing an embarrassing confession to our computer support staff, I headed home, imagining the worst. I never did relax last night and enjoy the quarter’s work being done.

At 7:00 this morning I opened my email to the happy news that the staff had restored the files. Time to relax at last. I thought. I let Emma (the cat) out, went about my business, looked forward to catching up on assorted tasks. Then, maybe an hour later, I heard outside the window that screeching cat sound that always makes me worry that Emma is being attacked. I opened the window, then the front door, then the back door, then ran upstairs to see if maybe Emma were actually sitting in her usual daytime locations, which she wasn’t, then came back down and opened the side door off the kitchen, then the garage door, then went out to look for her. Not in front. Not in the side yard where she sometimes hides if she’s uncomfortable. As I came around to the backyard, I saw two cats, seeming mirror images, facing off about three feet apart on our back patio. I couldn’t tell which one was Emma, whether the interloper was between her and the house or whether she was keeping the interloper away. As I approached, the cat farther from the house ran toward the bushes and the other (now revealed to be Emma) ran to the back door. When I came closer, she raced through the door, faster than I’ve seen her run in years. I followed her in and watched her disappear down the basement stairway. I reached the stairway and she was a few steps down looking up, but when she caught sight of me she turned and ran again, down I imagined to her usual remote safety zone, the guest bedroom.

Which brings me to the next part of the story. I need to note that a week ago we had some of the heaviest rains in decades here in Seattle, what’s called a Pineapple Express, when a warm weather system comes straight in from Hawaii and dumps inches of rain. I was afraid to go down to the basement, lest I discover some flooding. Not that there has been flooding lately. None since October 2003, the last and worst of our many basement floods, after which we finally re-did the whole drainage system outside, where the drainage contractor could. One area couldn’t be reached. But that’s okay. It was by the basement bedroom, which in 17 years has never flooded.

Well, when I finally did head down to look for water last week, with Joel beside me since I didn’t dare do it alone, I found no water in any of the old bad spots. The guest bedroom though I wasn’t sure about. No standing water or anything, but a sense of dampness. I told Gail, thought we’d check again on Friday when our contractor was going to swing by to deal with a different issue, but when Friday came I completely forgot.

So now it’s Tuesday morning, a week after the Pineapple Express, and Emma draws Gail and me down to the bedroom. The carpeting still didn’t feel obviously wet, but the odor suggested that it surely was. Two hours later, our friend Bert (longstanding employee of the contractor) came over from another job, pulled up some of the carpeting, and the pad was soaked. Another two hours later and two more members of the contractor team pulled out all the carpeting and pad. We have a pretty good guess where the water came in and why, but more diagnostic work needs to be done. A dehumidifier is hard at work. With the pad gone, the odor will disappear in due course.

Sigh. This isn’t how I wanted my break to begin. I don’t feel relaxed at all. And there are all the blog posts I have to write. Better get to work.

Categories: Cats, House, Life

Bird House

November 22, 2010 Leave a comment

I know a bird in hand is better than two in the bush. But what value do we put on a bird flying around in the house? An outdoor sparrow, that is, not an indoor pet. Joel shouted to me from upstairs an hour ago, a shout that made me think flood. Or leak. Not a good shout. I ran to the stairway and shouted, “What?” “There’s a bird in my room.” I told him to open the window, figured he had it under control, and went back to get the two copies I was printing of tomorrow’s NYT crossword, one for each of us.

Now, I forgot to say that we had our first snow of the year this morning, and an unexpected one at that. It was supposed to snow to the south of us, and well north, but here in Seattle, as the temperatures dropped, we weren’t supposed to have enough moisture to bring snow. Around 6:30 this morning, there were traces. I figured that was that. What I didn’t realize is that it was just beginning. An hour later, there was an accumulation on the grass, on our outdoor table, and on assorted other surfaces, though not the road yet. A couple of hours later, Gail drove me to campus. I figured I’d rather hitch a ride with her all-wheel drive and walk home. The snow started and stopped through the day, just passing snow showers, nothing big. But when I started walking home, it was blowing right into my face. The wind has picked up tonight, the temperatures have dropped, and the snow continues to fall.

When I got up to Joel’s room, crosswords in hand, it was snowing there too. He had the window wide open, and the sparrow was having none of it. There might be a reason he had chosen to fly in and take up residence. I sure wouldn’t want to go out that window. And there was Emma, pacing around, meowing away. We got her out the door, leaving just us and the bird, but no plan.

Joel reminded me that we had wild bird seed. He went down to get some. We chased the bird around a bit. I went down and did the crossword. I came back just as the bird landed on the window ledge, by the seed, but he showed no interest in either the food or the stormy outdoors.

We resorted to trying to get a towel or blanket over him. I succeeded once, but next thing I knew, he ran out the side. Many minutes later, Joel and I got him covered on the floor, we slid a piece of cardboard under him, Joel got a box over the blanket, we got him wedged in-between, Joel carried him down, I opened the back door, and Joel placed the ensemble on the ground. Released, the sparrow flew right off.

I hope he manages out there. We’ll be sure to spread some of the wild bird seed on the back patio in the morning.

Alas, I took no photos of the snow or the bird. I’ll content myself with the generic image above.

Categories: Animals, House

Bring on the Heat

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

This may not be the most interesting news, but I just turned on the heat in our house. We have been committed in recent years to getting through September with no heat. Some years there are few days when it’s tough. All it takes is temperatures in the 50s and no sun. But this year we had either higher temperatures or some sun each day, so it hasn’t been too bad. And even now, five days into October, we haven’t been cold.

However, the house is cooling. I can tell because the floors feel a little colder each day, especially the stone floors in the bathrooms, and especially early in the morning. They take a while to heat up at the start of heating season. So I decided the time has come to put a little heat in those floors. I’ve set the boiler so that it won’t put out heat if the outside temperature hits 60. It will be off most of the day. And in the morningn, there will be a little warmth in the house.

I’m looking forward to getting up tomorrow.

Categories: House

Dogwood

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Driving home in the late afternoon two days ago, I realized that the local dogwoods were all in peak bloom, and their variety of colors made the trip down the street glorious. Our dogwood was not in full health a few years back, so I was especially delighted, as we arrived home, to see that it looked every bit as good as its neighbors. This evening, I decided to take its picture. Alas, I went out too late in the day, what with the sun low in the west and the tree on the east side of the house. You can see the result above.

Once out, I took a few more photos, moving to the backyard, where the light was better. The azaleas are in the early stages of bloom.

So too is our west-facing lilac on the western edge of the yard.

The adjacent east-facing lilacs need another week or ten days. The nearby peonies won’t flower for a while, but they are visibly preparing. Here’s an unfurling fern.

Categories: Garden, House

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.

Categories: Animals, Birds, House

One Detroit House

September 28, 2009 1 comment

detroithouse

[Photos from the Wall Street Journal]

Can a house’s history tell the tale of an entire city? That it can is the premise of a fascinating front page piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal. (See too the accompanying slide show.)

The city is Detroit; the house is 1626 W. Boston Boulevard. It “has watched almost a century of Detroit’s ups and downs, through industrial brilliance and racial discord, economic decline and financial collapse. Its owners have played a part in it all. There was the engineer whose innovation elevated auto makers into kings; the teacher who watched fellow whites flee to the suburbs; the black plumber who broke the color barrier; the cop driven out by crime. The last individual owner was a subprime borrower, who lost the house when investors foreclosed.”

I’ve written several times about Detroit, first following two trips there last winter and most recently in my post on Paul Clemens’ Made in Detroit: A South of 8-Mile Memoir. I believe that Detroit’s fate will continue to provide important clues about our country’s society. The WSJ article is a good short introduction to where Detroit is today and how it got here.

In the rest of this post, I’ll review some of the highlights of the article. If you have access to the article, skip what follows and read it instead. Read more…

Categories: Culture, History, House

9 Zucchini, 2 Squash

August 6, 2009 Leave a comment

zucchini

Maybe an overflowing garden is one of those topics that is more interesting to the possessor than to others. But what’s the point of having a blog if you don’t get to write about topics in a self-absorbed way?

We have a garden. It’s still a novelty, and one we pay insufficient attention to. Gail’s time in culinary school finally inspired her two years ago to take the plunge. But, you know, we aren’t ones to get our hands too dirty. We talked to our gardener, who agreed to construct a raised bed and to re-work the irrigation system in order to bring water to it. Then we spoke to our brother-in-law Jim, raised on a farm in Wisconsin and still a farmer at heart, who agreed to plant the garden. Well, Gail helped with the planting. I didn’t.

And then the slugs came. Gail decided gardening wasn’t so much fun after all. We had a modest harvest and called it a day.

Last year we decided to let the garden lay fallow. We didn’t reach a careful, scientific consensus on this. We just didn’t bother doing anything.

I suggested this year that Jim might have missed getting to plant last year and might be hoping to do it again. Gail checked with him. He was indeed eager to help. Gail bought seeds, Jim planted, vegetation arose. Gail picked a couple of small peppers. Some rhubarb. She clipped lettuce leaves for several June and July salads. She wondered where the tomatoes were. The plants were tall but weren’t bearing fruit.

Two days ago Bert, our carpenter, pointed out that we might want to pay attention to the zucchini. We walked over to the garden with him and were stunned. More zucchini than we could use in a year, and all of the huge. I always hear about people trying to unload their zucchini. Now we’re the unloaders. We brought them in yesterday morning. Nine of them, any one of which would satisfy my zucchini desire for months, given that I’m not even fond of it. And two squash. The tomatoes have appeared, though they are far from ripe. There are a few beautiful peppers. We’ll be paying closer attention for the rest of the month.

Do you want a zucchini?

Categories: Food, House

Father’s Day Weekend

June 23, 2009 Leave a comment

ubcmuseum

I’ve fallen behind on blogging in recent days partly because of a busy 72 hours from Thursday night to Sunday night. Here’s what happened. Read more…

Categories: Family, Golf, House, Travel

Fore!

May 10, 2009 Leave a comment

DSC_0067

Pictured above are the chaise longue I was sitting in late yesterday afternoon (as I read the newly-arrived issue of the New York Review of Books) and the golf ball that came to rest next to me. I took the picture just now, and Emma decided to follow me out, so she got into the picture too.

As you may know, we live alongside a golf course. Our property abuts the 9th fairway, visible in the background on the photo above. From the teebox, we are about 200 yards down the fairway (north), on the right as one looks down the fairway from the tee. The marking on a golf course sprinkler head that is on the golf course side of the property line indicates that the green lies another 248 yards farther north from our house, with a bit of a dogleg to the left. (The sprinkler is just past the cedar pictured in the upper left of the photo.) The fairway slopes sharply down from right to left by our house, so a golfer will generally want to drive to the right side of the fairway in order to have a view from a higher level towards the green for the second shot rather than hitting a blind shot to the green from the valley. Thus, when a golfer who is already aiming right drives too far right, the ball is likely to land in our yard, on our house, or in one of the trees protecting our house.

We get hundreds of balls a year this way. Some are so badly sliced that they hit the far side of our house and land on the front lawn, but this is uncommon. The scariest are those that whiz by on their way to the neighbor’s yard to the north, powerfully hit but just off line, as opposed to ones a less powerful golfer (older men, women) might hit that land softly in our yard. We’ve lived here since November 1993. The most dangerous ball arrived the following summer. We were dining outside with friends, using our then-new outdoor furniture, when a ball came through so fast and so level that we didn’t see it but just heard the whoosh as it went through our air space just 2 or 3 feet behind our ears. It crashed through the hedge about 40 feet past us and bounced into the northern neighbor’s yard.

But yesterday was the closest hit ever. There I was, minding my business, when I heard a crack as a ball hit the bark of the towering maple in our yard to the south. I then heard it work its way through the branches, hitting leaves, seemingly coming farther north towards the patio as it descended. I didn’t know what to do. I looked up and back, but couldn’t see it. So I put my hand over my head as makeshift protection and awaited my fate. In a moment, I heard it land close to me on the patio and roll to a stop. I looked left, where I think it landed, but it must have rolled under the chaise to the right. When I stood up to find it, there it was. It couldn’t have missed me by more than a foot. Then again, even if it had hit me, it would have done so softly. The heat had dissipated as it worked its way through the tree. Still, pretty exciting.

By the way, the article I was reading at the time was Jonathan Freedland’s review of David Vine’s book Island of Shame: The Secret History of the US Military Base on Diego Garcia. I recommend it.

Categories: House, Sports