Showing posts from October, 2009

Happy Birds

... Photo: Paul Kelway/IBRRC Here a just a few of the Common Murres that were affected by the algal bloom in Oregon and Washington. They've been transported to California, cleaned, and are recovering from their ordeal. These birds were all migrating south for the winter, so they will be released in California when they are fully recovered. Admit it. Those Murres are insanely cute!

Helping our Pacific Northwest neighbors

... Due to a freakish and foamy algal bloom , migratory waterbirds in Washington and Oregon have gotten covered in a foamy slime, and are dying by the thousands. Animal rescue facilities in the Pacific Northwest are over-loaded, and so they reached out to the International Bird Rescue Research Center in Northern California. First, one hundred fifty birds were loaded onto a rental truck, and driven to IBRRC, and then the Coast Guard got involved, and flew hundreds more to Sacramento. (I'm unclear on the actual numbers, but it seems to be between three and five hundred.) I spent the day helping out at IBRRC, and as always, it's quite an operation. I worked with the director of the Penguin Encounter at Sea World in San Diego , who also came in as a volunteer. ( I met one of her penguins, at a party that was thrown to thank the volunteers who worked on the Cosco Busan oil spill. That penguin got its own airplane seat, when it came up from San Diego. And the flight attendants l


... There are two stray cats in our neighborhood who seem to have an ownership stake in our backyard. Particularly an area of the backyard Lisa calls "the Thicket." These cats, whose markings earned for them the nicknames Sleeves and Cardigan, are very shy. They seem to use our yard for napping, stalking prey, relaxing, hunting, sleeping and napping. Usually we'll see one of them high tailing it for the gate whenever we enter the yard. Sleeves in particular is so shy of us that she refuses to even look at us or if she does it's in a way that looks like she's trying to convince herself that we don't exist. We are ghosts haunting poor Sleeves. I imagine everything was better in the backyard before we came along and she's in denial. Today, though, a rare sighting-- two of them together (and nobody ran away). They even stayed put long enough for me to find a camera.

Ahh!... The Digital Age

I came home from the pool today, after having just spoken to Lisa on the phone, to find no Lisa. At first I was sure she had just run out to do an errand. After an hour, though, wonder turned to confusion. After another hour and no luck reaching her on the phone, confusion turned to concern. Finally I decided to do some detective work. I looked for clues on Lisa's computer. There was a map showing the extent of this morning's oil spill . I supposed from this that Lisa had gotten the call and was off to the bird rescue center to help. But I wasn't sure. Until, that is, I read the blog. Yes, this blog. It struck me as typically twenty-first century that dozens, perhaps hundreds of people scattered across the world might have told me where Lisa was likely to be at that moment, when I was only guessing.

Another SF Bay Oil Spill!

... View Tanker leaks oil into S.F. Bay in a larger map I'm off to help out at the International Bird Rescue Research Center, because there's been an oil spill in the San Francisco Bay this morning . So far, no oiled birds have been spotted, but that's only a matter of time. The fall migration of aquatic birds is well underway. Strangely, I had been calling IBRRC on-and-off this week, to see if I could help out with the hundreds of "slimed" birds that had been sent down from Oregon. There's a terrible algae bloom in the Pacific Northwest, and the local bird rehab centers can't keep up . So the US Coast Guard flew 300-400 birds down to Northern California. If you do see oiled birds, please report them! (877) 823-6926 is the number to call.

No, really, I'm not growing a mustache.

... That's a little gopher snake that we found alongside the trail.

Happy Birthday to Lisa

It's also our 19th Anniversary today!

Who are you calling "bird brained?"

... Western Scrub Jays (like this beauty) and their corvid relatives (crows, magpies, rooks) are birds that collect and cache food, to be eaten at a later date. Robb and I have been enjoying watching our local jays bustle around with acorns in their bills. They bury the acorns, look around, cock their heads to one side, dig the acorns up, and re-bury them. I particularly enjoy watching the jays "disguise" their food caches, by scattering dry leaves on top of their buried treasure. I recently ran across a series of articles about this behavior. Food-caching corvids hide food, but such caches are susceptible to pilfering by other individuals. Consequently, the birds use several counter strategies to protect their caches from theft, e.g. hiding most of them out of sight. When observed by potential pilferers at the time of caching, experienced jays that have been thieves themselves, take further protective action. Once the potential pilferers have left, they move caches those

What, exactly, are the bees' knees?

... Check out the shadows of this bee's hairy legs and vein-y wings! This past week, I've been hanging around beekeepers. I needed to know if working with thousands of bees was something I could be comfortable with, or if it would really freak me out. I took my intern out on a field trip to Hayward, where we met up with a member of the Alameda County Beekeepers' Association . He was doing some hive maintenance, for an eighty-something master gardener. As you may imagine, I was in heaven. You are also invited to imagine how chic (or not) I look in a man's extra-large beekeeper's suit. Bee eye-lashes! On Sunday, Robb and I went over to Taylor's house in Alameda, to gawk at her hive. I wanted Robb to experience honey bees' mellow-ness. You can crack open their homes, and re-arrange their walls and furniture and they hardly seem to care. Robb and I did not wear bee suits or veils, and nobody got stung. Several bees bonked into my hair, and into the sung

"before" photos

... Maybe posting the "before" pictures will get me motivated to increase the pace of house painting. This is just part of our living room ceiling. And this is what I like to think of as the ghosts of framed artwork.

happiness comes in tiny packages


Getting My Feet Wet (Revisited)

Since buying the house, my usual exercise/rehab routine has been radically interrupted. I'm just now starting to get back into the pool but it's slow going. I guess I didn't realize what a fixture I've been at the Berkeley YMCA pool for the last couple of years. The other day, after a six week absence, I was greeted and welcomed back by all the other regulars who swim on the same day and time. Most of the people I know there are about 20-40 years my senior and maybe take a motherly/fatherly interest in me. It seems my hiatus was the subject of some speculation. The theories on my absence corresponded with what each person knew about me: people who knew about my accident, limitations, etc., assumed I was recovering from a surgery or something. Many knew I had bought a house and surmised correctly that I was busy with that. One lady, who had met my mother, just assumed I was in New York visiting her. (Miriam said to say "hi" Mom) And one of my friends there

It's a good thing I'm not easily freaked out.

... I was ripping apart the rotting plywood that covers one of the walls along the edge of our yard. The wood was coming apart like brittle paper, and I was wearing long suede gauntlets, to protect my skin, and keep the spiders at bay. (And whoo boy, were there a lot of spiders!) As I pulled the plywood away I started seeing what I though were worms, squirming around. Then I noticed... the worms had eyes. I grabbed one, and ran into the house, yelling for Robb to get me some sort of dish. The slimy slithery creature was writhing all over my glove, and I was afraid I would drop it, before I got a photograph. This, my friends, is a California Slender Salamander . I know this is a crappy photograph, but will you look at those teeny-tiny toes? Over the course of the afternoon, I relocated ten or eleven of these strange little creatures. I was worried that they would get crushed under the demolition, so I moved them to a new home in our moss-encrusted wood pile. That's the thing ab

Blue Eyed Grass, and other wildflowers

... It's planting season in Northern California. Despite the fact that I was still feeling achy and crummy, I went to two different native plant sales today. The first plant sale I attended was hosted by the Landscape Horticulture department of Merritt College . They also offered tours of their gardens. I particularly enjoyed seeing their mushroom growing operations, which are located on a beautiful ridge in the Oakland hills, under oak and manzanita trees. Somehow, they connected with a nursery who gets their ceramic pots wrapped in excelsior (incredibly long, thin, spaghetti-like shavings of oak), instead of packing peanuts. The mushroom growers at Merritt College cover their "crops" with donated excelsior, which makes so much sense, since many mushrooms have a growing-relationship with oak. The other plant sale was hosted by the Friends of Sausal Creek . I'm interested in the work that this group is doing to preserve an important Bay Area watershed. I've b


... Robb is still sick, but he seems to be on the mend. I continue feeling weird and unwell. We know that my problem isn't my brain, thankfully. It isn't my sinuses, either. There's nothing wrong with my ears, and that tedious clogged sensation may be over-stimulation of the tiny muscles that connect to ear bones. My ears aren't actually clogged at all. My sinuses are healthy. My hearing is exemplary I find it very hard to take care of myself. Pampering is for other people, and not for me. Faced with a tough situation, I don't resort to retail therapy, or a day at the spa, or booze. I grit my teeth and push through the tough times. And, it may be the case that I'm clenching my jaw so hard that I'm tearing myself apart. I've scheduled some massages, and will try to schedule a dental appointment to have my jaw looked at. I swear, if I don't get these phantom symptom dealt with, I'm going to lose my mind.


... Our first big rain of the season started last night, and despite having disconnected downspouts, our house seems waterproof. Because the foundation work is still on-going, we have not done the needed work on our falling-apart chimney. Among its many problems, our chimney has neither a cap nor a damper. I was concerned that water would come pouring into our living room. But so far this has not come to pass. We've set up a dam of towels, just in case. I spent a lot of time over the weekend, digging and fluffing our compacted garden soil, with the idea that water would soak in if the earth didn't have the texture of concrete. I kept hearing horror stories from the neighbors about how much run-off happens from our back yard. I even heard that we had an underground stream under our house, but I refuse to believe that particular story. I think the larger issue is that our next door neighbor who is slightly up-slope from us has en entirely paved back yard, which means that

Oh, Honey!

... I've finished my course of anti-biotics, but am still feeling really lousy. I woke up feeling rotten, but dragged myself to a class on backyard beekeeping, because we had already paid for it. The class was being taught at an honest-to-goodness bio-diesel filling station , which I had never had reason to visit before. (Diesel cars are hard to come by in the Bay Area, because lots and lots of people want to run their cars on used vegetable oil. We looked for a diesel wagon when Robb got his most recent car, but couldn't afford anything that was young enough to have airbags. A clunker with no airbags was a deal-killer, even if we could run it on used french fry grease.) I've dreamt of keeping bees, since Robb and I visited a beekeeping supply place in Greenwich New York a number of years ago. Being an apartment dweller, and someone who moves around a lot for work kept the idea of beekeeping in the realm of fantasy. But as soon as we started looking to buy a house, I

McGyver would be proud

... Although it was only two weeks ago that I had my bout with heat exhaustion, it seems like cold weather has arrived. I'm still feeling unwell, and I asked Robb if we might fire up our furnace for the first time. Robb came into the bedroom just now asking, rhetorically, how anyone is supposed to light our pilot light, which is located at the bottom of a drafty two-foot hole that a human arm won't fit in. Curious about how he did it? I was. Robb soaked three matches in beeswax, tied them in sequence to a length of wire, so that when one match started to burn down, it would light the next one. One of the many things that I love about Robb is his ingenuity. He doesn't fuss over difficulties. He thinks creatively and works with what he's got. (Maybe I'll talk about how the plumbing under our house exploded this afternoon, and how Robb did a temporary repair with his favorite material -- bike inner tubes -- some other time. He says this project was worthy of the T

The Birds and the Bees (or something like that).

... Anyone want to go to a plant sale sponsored by the California Native Plant Society on Saturday morning? Want to attend a class on back yard beekeeping on Sunday ? (The class costs $25.) Both are in Berkeley.

Motivated to get well

... I've been feeling really horrible, and took a couple of days off of work. I'll be back at work tomorrow, because the contractors plan to spend the day jack hammering. I managed to sleep through a lot of banging and sawing today, but don't think I can handle the jack hammers. * * * We had a bit of electrical work done last week, because when we bought the house, it was woefully underpowered. There weren't a whole heck of a lot of things to plug in, back in 1925. And, as far as we can tell, this house only had one upgrade, some time in the 1950s. We still had glass fuses, until last week. Robb was resting while the electrician was working in our kitchen, and told me later that he overheard this man muttering "I hate you I hate you I hate you " over and over again. At one point the electrician plaintively and rhetorically asked "Just let this be the one thing that goes right today, okay?" This all made a bit more sense when I found the tiny plast

On the mend...I hope!

... So, it turns out that my mystery ailment (the weird sensation of having a crayon poked it the inside of my head, and all that) is a sinus infection. I really love my doctor. She's a sweetie-pie and a hell of a diagnostician. She figured this out almost instantly. I'm realizing that all the exhaustion leading up to our move, and my chronic "no visible symptoms ailments" were probably this sinus thing. I was so miserable during the period leading up to our move. All the time that I was scraping wallpaper, I was feeling pathetic, and wanting to cry, which wasn't helping the tasks that needed doing get done. I thought I was just a lazy slacker who couldn't keep up with the workload. I do still have a pocket of spinal fluid in my brain, and I'll be following up on all that. The neurologist tells me not to worry. Right now, I'm at home, feeling like a have a flu. This is surely the sinus thingy. I'll be happy when this is over, when my ears un

Messing About in Boats

... Does anyone want to join us on Sunday for a bit of kayaking on Lake Merritt? We'll be meeting at the boat house at 1pm. If you can prove that you live in Oakland, the boat rental is only ten bucks. As Ratty says to Mole, in The Wind in the Willows : "There is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Our old house is a bit saggy (but what do you expect from an 84 year old?)

... Our house sags. If you were to drop a marble on our floor, it would roll to middle of the house, because our floors are ever-so-subtly bowl-shaped. If you were to take a shower in our pink clawfoot tub, you would notice that all the water doesn't drain out, because the drain-side of the tub is on an uphill slope. This -- and the current lack of earthquake retrofitting -- is why we are having our foundation replaced. It's time for our little house to get some loving maintenance. Our contractors -- one of whom lost a house much like ours in the 1989 earthquake -- cannot believe that our house is still standing. No exaggeration, they hardly needed to use the jack-hammers in order to pull apart our old concrete foundation. If all goes well, and today isn't a state-workers' furlough day, we should have a building inspector over at the house, and then the new concrete can be poured. The wooden form in this photo will hold the newly-poured concrete. I'm really pl