As much as I'm anywhere online, I'm here these days.
There's more I could write here but I think that Emily Carr's dog says it best:
From the perpetual calendar that lives, perpetually, in the Mother of Three's designated room upstairs.
For the record, I finished Gilead and moved onto The Guest Cat which was not exactly as advertised. It does have one of the sweetest covers ever, however.
Hmmmmm. So I'm not sure how much I want to continue an online presence in 2015 since, let's face it, I'm pretty minimally online as it is and goodness knows it's not exactly like a lot of people read anything I post anywhere. So, after reading a Lyanda Lynn Haupt blog about keeping a regular old notebook journal, I'm thinking about actually writing stuff down, for my own amusement, rather than fussing with a computer screen. Oh, odds are that's just talk--especially since I'm writing about it here on LJ rather than actually putting ink in my fountain pen and writing anything in a physical book--but, well, it's what I'm thinking about as 2015 dawns.
Eli and I had a nice long walk on New Years Day, during which we saw a mess of birds. Today I saw half a mess of birds in my own backyard. And I read a fair bit of my current book, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Really, the year is off to as decent a start as one can ask.
I'm hoping I can just cut and paste my 2014 book list here. It's 200+ books shorter than alexfandra's list. I hesitate to note that "quality counts for something" since I wasn't really so wild about a number of these books and I'm sure Ms. Fandra's list is just as respectable as mine. Instead, I point to the difference in our time spent on buses.
Private Lives of Garden Birds
Hark! A Vagrant
The Heat of the Day
The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr
Tortoise by Candlelight
The Childrens Act
The Bone Clocks
A Wrinkle in Time
Nothing to be Frightened Of
Number 9 Dream
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa
Before She Met Me
A Fistful of Collars
The Birds Fall Down
Mona In the Desert
The Fountain Overflows
The Last Chronicle of Barset
Vinyl Cafe Diaries
This Side of Paradise
The Clothes They Stood Up In/The Lady in the Van
The Small House At Allington
Mrs. Coverlet's Magicians
Death With Interruptions
The Heart of the Matter
The Hanging Man
I also don't immediately have a list of last year's birds to share though I can note that my new birds for the year included an even dozen. Specifically,
January: lesser goldfinch
April: white-throated sparrow
July: American pipit
August: solitary sandpiper, western wood pewee
September: greater yellowlegs, red-shouldered hawk, wandering tattler, Baird's sandpiper
Admittedly, I had likely seen some of these birds before (the Baird's sandpiper, for example) but I hadn't successfully identified them until this year so they go on the list now.
My last bird(s) of 2014 were bushtits and my first bird of 2015 was the same as my first of 2014: a dark-eyed junco.
My favorite birds for 2015 are likely the sanderlings we saw on the waters off West Seattle yesterday.
Sanderling on Alki beach
Mushroom-like sanderlings napping a bit further down the beach
One might begin to wonder why I bother to pretend to keep this--or any--online presence alive, given that whenever I have time or inclination to write anything here I can't remember what brilliant/insightful/witty things I had thought about posting earlier when I had no time for such activity. It's a blur, is my not dreadfully fascinating but personally quite satisfactory existence. So I fall back on photos, more often than not.
2014 Gradka Christmas card
Yesterday, Christmas, was a fine day. A quiet morning of opening presents, drinking tea, and admiring Gradka was followed by collecting the day's Zipcar, loading it with gifts and desserts, and driving to Union Bay Natural Area (aka "The Fill") for an all-too-short visit before we were due at my brother's. There were a lot more people, and their dogs, at the Fill than expected. Maybe not more people than we see on some days during the summer, but certainly more people who seemed to have confused the place with an off-leash dog park. I have to remind myself that the world is not my personal playground and that people are allowed to gather in the middle of the path to have loud conversations about their own lives, even if such activity might interfere with my ability to track down the source of birdsong. I also couldn't help noticing that birds will ignore such loud people, and even their dogs, while the same bird will take off when I attempt to approach it quietly to get a better look myself. There is likely a handful of life lessons in there, for those looking for such lessons.
Ruby-crowned kinglet -- about as fine a photo as I've ever got of this flighty little bird
It was swell to get to try out my new binoculars (which allowed me to identify a flock of pine siskins in some somewhat distant trees but not to make a positive ID on a redtailed hawk, in a different distant tree) and just to get some fresh air on the somewhat sunny, somewhat cool day. We didn't see the swans that were rumored to be hanging about the lake recently but we were more than pleased with the thousand or so coots out on the water.
Christmas in North Seattle was also a fine enough time if a little hectic. I acquired yet more lovely gifts and distributed calendars, mittens, and gloves to my somewhat bemused relatives. Happiest of all, Mr. Bear returned home after an absence of about ten years. He seems happy about the new--to him--house. That particular photo will have to wait until another day. In the meanwhile, I share the triptych of the snowman cake:
The happy little snowman cake, pleased to be part of the celebration!
No one else was willing to slice into the jolly fellow so I ended up removing the back side of his head.
I wouldn't have been able to slice into his head had I realized his expression had changed.
Possibly my favorite part of Christmas is actually Boxing Day. I like a nice low-pressure day of reading and tidying. The day started with muffins, tangerines, and tea courtesy of my sister, and Eli and I finished our joint rereading of The Hobbit this afternoon.
which sort of helped dissolve my feeling of being a one-legged zombie gingerbread holiday cookie:
alexfandra, would you call this an eared grebe?
And would you say that this bird, below, is the same species?
November was my month of travel and, fun though it may have been (and it was!) I am glad that I'm staying put in December. Oh, I may be thinking about a day trip or two to look for snow geese and the like but, I'm not leaving the country or the state or planning to sleep anywhere but my own beloved bed any time soon.
This last weekend's trip to Vancouver was planned back in August when I gave tickets for Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe Christmas show to elijah_brown for his birthday. There is no Seattle show this year so the gift naturally included a trip to Vancouver where we stayed at the quite pleasant Buchan Hotel.
View from the window at the Buchan
The train trip north included an unscheduled hour or so at the Bellingham station while they checked a reported blockage on the tracks to the north. Happily, it turned out to be a false alarm, and--even more happily--I opted to step off the train to wait at the station while they pulled the whole train back up the track to avoid blocking an intersection. I suppose I could have spent that hour in the Parlor Car drinking fancy cocktails, but it was much nicer to get some cold fresh air and have a look at the birds to be seen in the immediate vicinity of the station. Especially when those birds included this handsome little creature:
Hermit thrush by the water by Bellingham Station
Birding from the train means snapping a lot of photos and hoping to be able to identify the results later. This group includes a number of pintails.
We arrived in Vancouver only an hour or so behind schedule. We checked in, had a cup of tea, did some shopping, and then went to Vij's for dinner. I'm sorry to say the food was less spectacular than on our first visit but it was still a lovely first evening in the city.
As it happened, it was Grey Cup Weekend which meant, among other things I'm sure, that there was a parade through downtown on Saturday. We missed some of it but arrived along the parade route in time to watch a number of marching bands, admire a couple of floats, and be baffled by the ways of foreign lands. I was disappointed not to get a nerf football but I did take some snaps:
I have no idea what this sign means, but I swear I'm making it my new motto.
After the parade, we had tea and coffee at Finch's Tea House (which could not be less like its website suggests) and then bought a number of books at MacLeod's. After depositing our purchases at the hotel we continued along to Stanley Park where we managed to spend an hour or more circling Lost Lagoon after which we were too cold to remain outside much longer. The Lagoon was quite rewarding, however:
Stanley Park could be named Spotted Towhee Park. I've never seen so many. I was cursing my inability to get a decent photo of them when this little fellow threw up his wings in despair and obligingly posed for me. Repeatedly.
This heron was a bit frightening, actually.
Alas, there is no sound or video of this amazing mute swan which powered through the water, pushing a great quantity of water along before it. Imagine "Swan Lake" performed by leaden-footed five-year-olds.
After an excellent dinner at Adesso Bistro (the front door of which was conveniently located about a dozen feet from the front door of our hotel), we scurried along to the Stuart McLean show which was, as always, quite lovely though yet again I was not the oldest nor the youngest person present and thus did not win any prizes.
The return trip, via Amtrak Bus, was fine. There are a lot of bald eagles along the I-5 corridor.
Book Report: Ironweed is a violent little tale.
A trip to Boise last weekend resulted in a pile of photos, a pile of books, and one (1) new bird on the life list. alexfandra will likely scoff, and possibly doubt, but I am claiming that the merlin we saw last weekend was my first verified and confirmed sighting of this fine little raptor. [[UPDATE: Alas, it seems I was mistaken and it was probably just a somewhat unusual sharpshinned hawk. I'm ready to give up on this whole birding business, I am.]] Both Eli and I were pleased, I believe, when the merlin failed to catch the songbird it briefly chased while we watched. Oh, I know raptors have to eat too but I don't have to witness the kill and I'd be happiest if they contented themselves with tasty starlings. Of which we saw very few in Boise. In addition to the merlin, we saw a fine downy woodpecker, a number of birds wintering over water, some finches, a kingfisher or two, and a number of geese, seemingly wintering near water. For a couple of days, it was some pretty decent bird action.
As hinted in the first line, we also spent some time (and cash) at Boise's excellent used bookstore, Trip Taylor's. Scott found a Ruskin that weighed about a million pounds and I picked up a few books that had, one way or another, come up in discussion earlier in the visit. I also bought a Gorky I'd never heard of before (Foma Gordeyev), largely because it had excellent cover art.
It was a fine visit, with pleasant friends (nudges one of the few readers of this LJ here), plentiful cocktails, excellent food, delightful walks, and some opportunity for lobbing snowballs (nudges again). But it's also nice to be home with Gradka.
My not brilliant photo of the merlin. Did I mention it was up in a tree and across a river? [[UPDATE: And not even a merlin at all. Sigh. At least I can still recognize a Canada goose. I think.]]
Sadly, a photo doesn't capture the full charm of a Canada goose walking on ice. Trust me, it was excellent.
I call this the "arty Canada goose shot"
Not my photo but I like this one of Eli, CAW, and me. Looking at birds. Go figure.
A coworker insisted we had to go to Bar Gernika for the croquettes. And beer. So we did. She wasn't wrong.
Boise squirrels are just so much cuter than the invasive Eastern squirrels we have in Seattle, but this one has a Pinkie Brown air to him that I find a little alarming.
What I call the somewhat less arty Canada goose shot.
For those playing along at home, I finished Tortoise by Candlelight last night. It was an odd little book. I've now started Ironweed.
Hello fast-paced world of LJ! Let me just brush the cobwebs from this site so I can clear a path to a few photos. Mostly birds, yes, but such lovely birds. For posterity I might note here that it has been freezing in Seattle since the night of November 11th; thank goodness I took the day off with Eli in order to shift the geraniums into the garage for the winter, otherwise I would be looking at a lot of sadly frozen geraniums this weekend. Eli also responsibly put up the storm windows and touched up some spots that needed some TLC and/or paint so we feel relatively ready for winter.
In other news, in case I haven't updated it here recently, I read the new David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks) and the new Ian McEwan (The Children Act) last month. Neither was exactly spectacular but they could have been worse. Neither was so fine as E.T.A. Hoffman's book The Life and Opinions of Tomcat Murr. Though Tomcat Murr had a somewhat disappointing end (of the "Oh, that's my word count, is it? Well then 'The End'" variety) the book was charming and amusing and varied. Since Murr I've been reading the latest iteration of Go Home, Miss America which once more strikes me as a beautiful and moving and meaningful piece of literature and it will break my heart if some publisher doesn't have the good sense to publish it.
And, for a write-up full of spoilers not of Go Home, Miss America but the actually available, in a manner of speaking The Astrologer, see this nice blog post from the SUNY professor who taught the book last quarter.
Enough with the chitchat; make with the birds!
My newest life bird, one of the redpolls I saw in Banff last week
The last homegrown bouquet of the season--gathered (along with a handful of raspberries!) on November 11th.
Sometimes I don't care for the way "bird feeder" is interpreted in the backyard; happily, this sharp-shinned hawk went away hungry this morning.
For example, it did not eat this charming black-capped chickadee.
It couldn't have spotted this cryptic brown creeper--not only does it blend nicely but it also was not in the backyard.
No, we saw this little charmer at Camp Long.
Entering my "music" reminds me that I could post about the Seattle Symphony performance we saw this evening but surely I've written long enough. The Mendelssohn was quite lovely. The relatively new piece (Colores de la Cruz del Sur Intihuatana by Estabean Benzecry (2002)) reminded me a great deal of the music in North by Northwest and not in a good way. The performance of Pictures at an Exhibition was fine enough though the guest conductor (Miguel Harht-Bedoya) was a bit distracting.
What I'm calling "another day at the office"
This year's Jack
Creepy mushroom encountered between Queen Mary's Tea Room and the Montlake Fill
Such a sweet-looking bird until you notice that bill: northern shrike at the Montlake Fill
Seedy Jack (mmmmm...seeds)
Not necessarily scary: a tree of crows reflected in the water
And a hasty book update:
After finishing Joseph Anton I read, in fairly rapid succession, Muriel Spark's The Takeover (underwhelming), David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks (engrossing but ultimately so-so), and Ian McEwan's The Children Act (better than Sweet Tooth, but really how much is that saying?) I've now started E.T.A. Hoffman's The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr: one of the writers is a rather conceited cat. How bad can that be, I ask you?
I've so been looking forward to this particular post and now what I am is, possibly, coming down with something and my head feels, oh! so fuzzy. But inspired by Mr Rushdie, I refuse to let that stop me from declaring, with great joy and relief, that I have finished Joseph Anton. Honestly, it's a day that could not come too soon.
Being a Rushdie fan, I had been looking forward to the (yes, same as the first sentence in the previous paragraph; see also, "possibly coming down with something") book before it was published, but the reviews were so universally awful that even I opted not to read Joseph Anton. Then, a few weeks ago, it was on the table at the local used bookstore. I reasoned that neither Mr Rushdie nor his publishers would make any money from the purchase (sadly, I do think in such terms) and, when Scott reminded me that Mr Rushdie did not come off at all well in the book I argued, reasonably, I thought, that, "Even if the author is a jerk, he's a good writer and he can tell a good story." Which, you know, based on Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Midnight's Children, and The Satanic Verses is nothing but true. I would include The Ground Beneath Her Feet on that list though others at this address would not. So, truly, I was not prepared to find the writing and storytelling in Joseph Anton so abysmal. It's a first draft, is this book, and why a man who, it seems to me though I haven't actually made the effort to look at the novels on the shelves here to confirm, excels at the first person voice thought it made sense to write a work of autobiographical nonfiction in the third person, I cannot understand. Maybe even Mr Rushdie was embarrassed by what he was spewing forth. There's the expected self-pity and self-importance (and who among us can say that he didn't have plenty of cause?), but also what can only be termed relentless name-dropping. Honestly, did the man not have any contact with anyone who was not an award-winning writer/artist/politician for more than a decade? Mr Rushdie is presented without fail as brave, clever, persecuted but rising above it not in the sort of prose that one might expect from so fine a writer but in the structure and language of, well, a very pedestrian blogger.
Anyway. I've finished the book now. The final, post-9/11 chapter has some fine things to say (mostly quotes from columns Mr Rushdie wrote thirteen years ago) about the importance and power of literature and that, I hope, is what I'll take away from the book. Authors can be frail and flawed individuals, and they can write seriously bad books on occasion, but, at least