jayellebee's Blog

June 6, 2013

Small Wonder

blog pix           Ken and I watched an episode of “North America,” the local version of “Blue Earth,” narrated by Tom Selleck.  Two segments stayed with me.  One showed the annual bloom of May flies somewhere in the Great Lakes region.  When the water temperature reaches 63 degrees, these aquatic nymphs morph en masse into flying bugs with only 24 hours to hook up and mate before they die.  The insect equivalent of speed dating?

            Next, the program featured a mother peregrine falcon and her two hatchlings ensconced on Southern California cliffs high above the Pacific.  Ms. Falcon gathered and delivered dinner for her ever-hungry brood, again and again.  Then, without pausing, she dive bombed a snake slithering up the rocky face toward her babies.  The free-falling reptile plummeted to the beach hundreds of feet below.  Wouldn’t surprise me if Mom was humming  I Am Woman.

            Imagine my delight upon arriving at Clear Lake a few days later to discover the recent heat wave had given rise an infestation of Rice flies, also known as midges, cousins of that sex-crazed May family.  I grew up calling these pests “Dumb Bugs” because they land on you and wait to be squashed.  Droves race inside whenever a door opens.  Hoards cling to windows and walls.  As we ate dinner, I applauded a red-winged blackbird eating its way down a row of Rice flies queued up on the window sill. 

            Shadow and I walked once the evening cooled.  A friend joined us and we ladies chatted as Shadow smelled every rock, weed and bush we passed, discovering which of her guys had passed that way since our last visit.  When she stopped for the umteenth time, a mile from home, I tugged on the leash without looking back.

            Shadow’s weight became an anchor.  I turned to see her nudging a lump in the dirt with her nose.  I tugged again.  She resisted.  I approached the lump.

            A baby bird, naked but for a hint of downy feathers, stretched its yellow beak open as I bent down.  blog pix 133Its sibling lay inches away, a victim of the fall from their nest hidden in the branches above.  A car sped by, a few feet from the unforgiving avian landing pad.

            Shadow is mostly Labrador retriever and a bird-dog through-and-through.  But this baby bird, which could have easily fit in my rescue dog’s soft mouth, didn’t ring her instinctive bells.  My girl was curious, nothing more.   Paying her rescue status forward, perhaps.

            A quick check of our surroundings revealed a discarded Styrofoam burger box, just the thing for transporting the young survivor home.  Thank goodness for litter.

            “Look what Shadow found,” I said, opening the lid to give Ken a peek.

            “What are you going to do with it?”

            “Keep it alive overnight and then find a wildlife rescue center in the morning.”

            Simple enough.  Or so I thought.

            I headed to a neighbor’s landscaped yard and dug around looking for worms.  No luck.  Then inspiration struck.  Rice flies!  I grabbed a small plastic tub and headed back outside.  In minutes, scores of crumpled Dumb Bug corpses rested in the container.  The back of a fork mashed the bodies and I added a few drops of water.  Mmm, mmm, good.  My new buddy devoured the snack and screamed for more.

blog pix 138            The hunt for the next of what would become many courses began.  Archie (short for Archi-BALD) grew stronger and more insistent with each mouthful.  By 10:00 he had consumed more than 100 Rice flies.  His birth mother wouldn’t approve of him staying up so late, so I covered him with a tissue, turned off the lights and wished him sweet dreams. 

            In my dreams, his feathers all grew in while we slept.  In the morning, the bare truth proved his tissue-blanket wasn’t a good substitute for Mama’s warmth.  I could see he was breathing, but he wouldn’t open his beak and only managed a single breathy “peep.”  I cursed myself for not rising with the early birds.

            Ken suggested Archie might be cold, so I carried the refugee out into the sunshine in my cupped hands.  He began to move, and then to peep.  His talons gripped my finger.  Not exactly like an infant holding its parent’s finger, but I’d be lying if I claimed there wasn’t a connection.  Time for more Rice flies.

            Shadow was the second family member to be fed.  Then Ken and I downed some eggs.  (The irony was not wasted on me.)  After Archie’s fourth serving of flies, the last of which was seasoned with one small spider and a mosquito, I called the SPCA.  The woman there referred me to the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic. 

            Archie serenaded Ken and me with a steady stream of peeps during his first car ride.  The motto on the sign outside the clinic read, “Compassion and Integrity in Practice.”  Reassured, we presented our featherless friend to a vet tech.  She cracked the box, ooo’d and ahh’d, and transported her new charge to the office’s inner sanctum.

            The receptionist handed me a government form to complete.  Much to my amazement, the Feds keep track of how many and what kind of animals are taken in by wildlife rescue groups.  Much to my delight, the Clearlake Veterinary Clinic wanted as much detail as possible about where Archie was found.  They will release him close to home when he’s ready to fledge.  Our paths may cross another day!

            I called the next morning, anxious to hear if Archie was thriving.  He was.  The vet determined the chick is a robin.blog pix  Nice.  I’ve always been partial to robins.  Life is good.


December 30, 2012


Filed under: Musings — Joanne @ 3:50 pm
Tags: , ,

Macy's New York City     Conjure up a mental image of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Throngs of people dressed to face the frigid elements, New York City’s posh multi-laned streets, precision marching bands, elegant floats, the iconic, building-sized balloons….  Now, imagine that parade’s polar opposite.  Got it?  Scotty, beam us down to Lakeside Drive in the City of Clearlake to witness the annual Fourth of July parade.

Neighbors who have spent summers at Clear Lake every year for decades, entered the parade several times back in the 1990s.  We tried our best to entertain the assembled gawkers, and succeeded at amusing ourselves.  We recruited a cast of thousands for our first effort, portraying all the characters from Peter Pan.  Sadly, many of the children lining the parade route failed to recognize Peter, Wendy, John, Michael, Captain Hook and Smee in their pirate ship, Tinkerbell, the hand-severing crocodile, the Lost Boys or the Indians.

Our final effort found us acting out a scene from Robert McCloskey‘s picture book, Make Way for Ducklings.  I was the policeman who stopped traffic so mother duck and her hatchlings could find safe passage from their nest to the pond in the Public Garden.  Adorned in web-footed shoe coverings, duck-billed baseball caps and paper mache tails, our quackers waddled down the road in a row.   A few onlookers actually believed me to be a member of law enforcement and heeded my decree to “Make way, make way for ducklings.”  No one was able to identify Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Oack, Pack or Quack, even though their names were stenciled on their shirts.

IMG     My favorite entry came the year “Movies” was the parade theme.  In 1994, Forrest Gump won Tom Hanks an Oscar.  You’ll remember the film’s tag line:  Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.  In 1995, our group of mis-directed miscreants wondered what the sound bite for a Gump sequel might be.   Hmm….

We removed the bottoms from large boxes and attached suspenders so we could wear the shells while walking.  Each box was decorated to resemble a common product.  A boat trailer preceded us down Lakeshore Drive  sporting one of our more mature neighbors who sat on a bench, suitcase at his side, holding an empty box of chocolates.  Bunting along each side of the trailer proclaimed “Life is like…” and we marchers carried signs filling in the blank.

Life is like a box of pretzels, full of twists and turns.  Life is like a box of raisins, we end up dry and wrinkled.  Life is like a tackle IMG_0001box, full of hooks and lures.  We had a million of ’em.  (A few R rated suggestions had to be discarded:  Life is like a box of tampons, there are always strings attached.)  My then fourteen-year-old son made the front page of the local newspaper wearing a Metamucil box: Life is like a box of Metamucil, it’s wasted on the young.  This was before the age of smart phones and digital photos, so I wore a box of Kodak film:  Life is like a box of film, it comes with an expiration date.

That expiration date joke has come back to haunt me lately.  Time’s a-wasting.  If I’m ever going to do XYZ , I’d better get with the program soon.  Life’s uncertain, eat dessert first.

I’ve made my share of New Year’s resolutions, and broken most of them.   Okay, all of them.  Some more quickly than others.  But, with luck, this year will be different.  I resolve to stop worrying about the future and instead look for the joy each day brings.  Rain or shine, hot or cold, at home or away.  There’s a silver lining out there somewhere and, damn it, I’m going to find it!

November 8, 2012

The Birds and the Bees (and Crayfish, Too!)

      One of the great things about having sons is their father was responsible for handling “the talk.”  That division of labor seemed fair to me.  Had we borne girls,  I would have shared feminine wisdom from the ages with them.  But we didn’t and I was off the hook.  Or so I thought.

     As a young teacher, I attended an in-service program presented by representatives of the San Diego Zoo.  The gist of the day-long seminar was that peer pressure can be used in positive ways to encourage children to try things from which they might otherwise shy away.  An opaque, plastic gallon jar held the proof of this pedantic pudding.  Back-lighting revealed eight longs legs and a bulbus body inside the container.

  Tarantula Spider : Tarantula spider, Poecilotheria Miranda, in front of white background   “Tarantulas are fascinating, gentle creatures,” the speaker said, unscrewing the lid.  “Charlotte, here, has visited countless schools.  We find children willingly hold her when they see their classmates doing so.”  He handed the hairy arachnid to the poor soul in the front row’s aisle seat.  “As Charlotte is passed around the room this morning, take time to notice….”

     I went to stand at the back of the room, fighting to control my trembling hands and rising bile.  Spiders, eww.

     Fast forward several years.  My first-born is something like six months old and squealing with joy, splashing in the bathtub.  I’m drenched, kneeling on the floor to support his wobbly body.  A largish spider, possibly dislodged from her web by all the steam and noise, drops into the bath water.

     I scream.  My son takes a dive.  Ken dashes in fearing the worst.  That evening I vowed not to imprint my fears on my children.  I didn’t want to raise timid youngsters, afraid of the harmless creatures they would meet. 

     The decision emboldened me and I discovered an inner courage.  One day, I allowed a garden spider to crawl across my gloved hand as my toddler and I marveled at her nimble progress over the uneven terrain.   When this male child was five, we found a spectacular shiny black spider with an almost spherical body.  The boy brought his bug jar outside so we could corral the treasure, and he took her to kindergarten the next day for show-and-tell.

 Tarantula Spider : Black Widow spider Stock Photo    “Mrs. Brown,” his teacher met me at the door after class, “sending a black widow to school was not a good idea.”  She held the jar at arm’s length.  “Don’t do this again.”

     Black widow?  Oops.  Guess there’s a difference between lack of fear and lack of smarts.  

     Over the years, my sons enjoyed all the typical pets.  But the most unusual critter to share our home was Garbanza, a crayfish we scooped up at Clear Lake and relocated to a 30 gallon aquarium in the oldest son’s bedroom.  He must have been about twelve at the time – the son, not the crayfish – and our family learned much from the diminutive crustacean.

     One morning we awoke to find two crayfish in the tank.  Garbanza had molted her exoskeleton during the night, creating a perfect carbon copy of herself.  She then ate her shadow.  Fascinating stuff.

     Crayfish can migrate a significant distance overland.   This became clear when son number two stubbed his toe on Garbanza while they were both walking down the dark hall.  She had escaped her sanctuary by climbing up the filter intake tube and, in what must have been a tremendous leap of faith, threw herself to the floor three feet below to begin her walk-about.

     Then there was the time all three boys rushed into the kitchen.  “Mom, Mom!  Garbanza’s going to have babies!”

     They dragged me to the aquarium and pointed out a mass of gel-encapsulated eggs cupped between the crayfish’s abdomen and tail.  Garbanza had been our celibate guest for well over a year.  This development clearly belonged in Ken’s domain.

     “Guys,” I said, “you’re right.  Those are eggs.”  Where was Ken when I needed him?  “But I’m afraid the eggs won’t grow into baby crayfish because, well, you see….”  Maybe their father could come home from the office if I called him.  Six worried eyes pierced me.  My sons weren’t about to be stalled.  “Garbanza doesn’t have a, um, husband.”

     My G rated version of the birds and the bees had a sad ending.  The boys would see  Garbanza’s eggs disintegrate over time.  Instead, we learned female crayfish are special.  Let’s just say those girls don’t need a blue dress to hold onto evidence of male companionship.   When they are good and ready to become mothers, voila!  Eggs materialize, fertilized at the factory.

 Crawfish : Big alive crayfish isolated on white background    Garbanza’s brood hatched in an explosion of life.  Hundreds of infants swarmed their mother and the artificial aquatic plants, filled the water and covered the sand.  Garbanza feasted on scores of her little ones, sending my babies into hysterics.  We spent hours netting miniature crayfish and removing them to preditor-free, water-filled bowls.  I’m pleased to report Ken was home when the boys questioned this miracle of birth.  I have no idea what he told them, but it’s probably just a coincidence we don’t have any grandchildren.

     One last lesson from Garbanza:  There are worse mothers than me.   I’ve never eaten any of my offspring.  Not even under the influence of peer pressure.

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