From the attic bedroom window in my Rochester home, deep deep in the night, you could hear the sound of a train. The (unwelcome but necessary) woosh of the two nearby highways. Then, every once in a while, an eerie sound could be heard: Whoo Whoo Hooooooo…. It was the Barred Owl who lived in a grove of woods up at the Cobbs Hill Reservoir.
Since moving to our development in suburban Detroit, things are a lot more quiet. I miss the sound of the trains. I don’t miss the woosh of the highway. But, and this is strange, because we live in a more wooded suburban area, I no longer hear any owls. And I miss that late-night hoot of that Barred owl very, very much.
I’m not much of a birder. I leave that hobby up to my husband. He even has a life list. I like to hike. And if I hear a bird, I think, fantastic, what a beautiful song that bird has, now let’s move on. I don’t like standing in one place for too long for the sake of identifying or calling to a bird.
But, then again, those owls have a soft spot with me. So, the other morning, as I drowsily heard the report that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would be hosting “Owl Prowl” evenings all over the state,I did some further investigation and found the one happening closest to our house.
Turns out it took place last Sunday night at Bald Mountain State Recreation Area in Auburn Hills. The free event attracted about 125 people of all ages for a talk, some s’mores by a campfire, and the hope of sighting some owls.
Around the campfire, our guides, members of the Audobon Society, explained the order of calling the owls. It turns out that the larger owls tend to eat the smaller screech owls. So, the screech owls would be called first, then the larger owls in a different part of the forest. If the larger owls were called first, the smaller ones would make themselves scarce.
Another thing that scares away owls, and other wildlife, are humans. The guides advised us to be as quiet as possible. We were a big group. As I explained earlier, about 150 owl enthusiasts had come out that freezing night, with temperatures in the teens, to sight some owls. Those were 100 plus pairs of boots stomping in the snow. Children’s snow pants swish swished as they walked. Yet, when we were deep enough in the woods and the bird guides released their calls, it was quiet enough to hear the snow falling on our parkas.
In the end, a screech-owl and a Barred Owl called back to us. We didn’t see any owls, but just hearing them call back to our calls in the night was enough. And, it was time spent in the cold refreshing winter air.
If you live in Michigan and want to find an Owl Prowl near you, check out this site, and tell me what you saw and heard.
This will be the year.
This is the year when I, as a gardener, who has lived for over a decade trying to eek out a ripe tomato or a proper cucumber vine in the dappled sunlight of my backyard, will finally understand what full sun means.
This is the year that this gardener becomes a farmer.
For $25, I signed on to care for a 10’x10′ foot plot of earth in The Town of Brighton’s Community Garden. I’m hoping not only to reap some great crops of vegetables and flowers for bouquets all summer, I’m also looking forward to the people I’m going to meet and the stories I will learn from them.
But when I made my first visit to the community garden, located along Westfall Road in Brighton, I wondered what I’ve gotten myself into.
This is the third or fourth season at the garden and many of the plots have been cared for by some pretty seasoned green thumbs. There are plots adorned and accessorized with fencing systems to keep out critters,
neatly divided quadrants, and well-built support systems to grow climbing bean and pea vines. There are plots that have strawberry plants and leeks sprouting up that were planted from the year before:
Some caring gardeners have even designed a scarecrow:
Then, I located my plot. Plot D-4:
Weedy. Messy. Nothing much to look at. But, hey, I signed on to this, and this little plot of land was mine for the season so I got to work.
It took little effort to pull out the weeds from the soft, loamy soil. The most delicious feeling soil I have ever worked compared to the clay-laden soil in my backyard garden. Did I mention that my neighborhood was built on a former brick making quarry. ‘Nuf said about the quality of the soil.
But out here: The Brighton Community Garden sits on a former cow pasture that was home to a century’s worth of dairy cows. You guess it, this soil is blessed by 100 years of blessed cow poop.
I weeded and I tilled, the only sounds I heard were the swallows and red-winged blackbirds that swooped and sang overhead.
I did bring along my iPod for company and listened to music on its tiny speakers. And, even though I was alone in this sunny field, I still kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one was going to run off with it. There are some habits from New York City that don’t die.
After a few hours, my plot looked like this:
Not bad for a first day’s work.
Next up: I’ll install a fence and start planting some seeds.
So, when she starts talking to me about taking on a new challenge like cross-country skiing, even though it’s a language almost foreign to me, I had better listen.
I tried to downhill ski, once. It was in California on a weekend away with my husband’s grad school buddies. Long ago, on a bunny hill somewhere in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I decided that strapping waxed wooden pieces to my feet and then surrenduring my body to the mercy of gravity was simply a horrible idea.
I was better suited for a flatter, more level playing field. So, the next year, I attempted cross-country skiing. I thought, how hard could it be? There are no hills to hurtle down and cause bodily injury. There are no ski lifts to try to jump on. Again, my new husband and I headed to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It was a perfect, fresh-powdered blue-skied day to take my first five-mile trek on cross-country skis. I could run five miles at a time, so how much harder could skiing it be?
Much harder. Much.
Any ability to get my poles and my arms in rhythm with my feet in my skis completely escaped me. As soon as I would get any momentum going, I’d topple over into the snow. After falling over for about the 72nd time (I’m not exaggerating), I just sat there and wept in frustration. I took off my skis, walked back to the lodge and had a hot chocolate while the others effortlessly glided along the lakeshore.
So, when my daughter came to me with those big blue eyes sparkling with the promise of a new challenge, I was not going to put my failure on the slopes and the trails on her. But how much was this going to cost us?
We head out to a ski swap and sale at a middle school surrounded by farmland. This is one of the biggest ski swap and sales in the area, and the gym is packed with parents like us shopping from the area’s ski retailers. Thankfully, the high school ski coach is there to teach us the lingo (Classic skis, Combi skis and boots, Poles, Bindings.) and show us what we needed to buy. We need skis that she can use for both disciplines.
No, the two disciplines are not scary downhill and frustrating cross-country, as I thought. There are actually two disciplines of cross-country: classic and skate. About 40 minutes, — and hundreds of dollars – later, she had what she needed to hit the trails.
On the way home, we stopped at one of our favorite places to hike, Mendon Ponds Park, where my kids have been hand feeding the chickadees since they were little. It is one thing they still like to do and each time a bird lands in their hand, I get a glimpse into the past, see the little kids my big kids once were.
My daughter brings her poles along for the 2 mile hike, just to get a feel for them. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter wants me to give them a try. I listen to her and slip my thumb in the proper hole, adjust the velcro secure around the rest of my hand. Bend my elbows just so. And, in one final hike before the snows fall, my daughter and I take turns with the poles along the trail. Together. Side by side.
The first time Mrs. Robin and I met, I don’t know who was more startled.
I had just gotten home from grocery shopping and was walking from the driveway to the front door when WOOSH! Out flew a Robin from the front Hedge. She didn’t fly far. She just stayed on our lawn, watching me patiently as I unpacked my groceries.
Now, we have an old Tudor with these long, boring hedges that border our front windows. They are very dated looking and for years, I have wanted to get rid of them to plan a more updated landscape.
Now, I wouldn’t dream of getting rid of them.
Because, day after day, Mrs. Robin and I kept giving each other our startled greetings right at that same spot. The same flutter of her wings. The same patient vigil as I cleared out of her way and went inside the house for good.
I knew it was too much to be a coincidence. She must have built a nest there. And after days of searching, I finally spotted her handiwork: a perfectly small, matted circular nest, tucked into the thickest part of the bush,right at shoulder height.
And, it afforded me this view:
Robin’s egg blue. Is there not a more beautiful color?
Now, as tempting as it is to check, I know birds might abandon their nests if disturbed too much. But at our last check, the baby chick has started to open its mouth! And, as far as Mrs. Robin, she stays very still when we come near. Only her eye is visible from her nest, but I think she understands that we are not a threat.
Congratulations on your baby, Mrs. Robin. Feel free to raid my garden for a never ending supply of bugs and worms for feeding time.