Sunday, August 24, 2008

For the love of Birds

While in South Dakota, Brian and Emily's vehicle accidentally struck this lovely - kingfisher? - and injured it. They brought it back to the ranch and made a little nest for it next to the stream. It hopped around for a day or so, but after two days and nights of cool temperatures, Brian found the bird dead, hunkered between a rock and some weeds on the ground, not far from where they left it.

We also never saw the baby cardinals again. The day after that post, an afternoon storm came which was so torrential that it is hard to imagine any above-ground creature the size of a lightbulb surviving it.

I'd love to make some sense of these sad events, just as I still try to make sense of my failure with the chickens. But this is what I can see: Emily keeps hoping, with each new creature, that she can "save" it, or at least influence its life for the good. Nature may be red in tooth, claw and feather, and Emily may still be an exuberant 8 year old, but she can also be gentle, and still. I suspect animals have a strong place in her future, and I look forward to watching her.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Travels to friends and with family

We just got back from 2 weeks away. The first stage of our journeys took place in Chicago, visiting Marji's rooftop and Sara's house. Marji's garden, which she describes very modestly, is actually a colorful, fragrant, and delicious haven from the mean streets (to me, any streets are a bit mean, at least biologically). The girls sampled tomatoes and Sara and I marvelled at all of Marji's work.

I again dipped my toes in that wonderful mom-community-pool of Hyde Park, both literally, at Washington Park Pool, as well as in conversation and walks and playgrounds and friendships.

Then Brian caught up with us after a conference, and we flew to Denver, and drove to Wyoming, where I first met my cousin Phineas and his family, a worldly, beautifully simple household in the cowboy town of Cheyenne. From there, we drove our rental truck through herds of Harleys to the annual family vacation with Brian's family. This year, we met up in the Black Hills of South Dakota. No beach vacations and sordid poolside novels for this crowd, we chipped rocks to get garnets and agates, walked trails in Custer State Park, rowed boats, climbed at Vidawoo and Devil's Tower, WY. We rode bikes on the Mickelson Trail, right from the front door of our rental house (no internet, no cell service, no house phone, no laundry: one of these was a real hardship, can you guess which?). We rode plodding, bored horses across spectacular landscapes. We panned for gold, and Emily and I each turned up with a tiny nugget of our own, the largest the size of a newborn's fingernail clipping, but gold, unmistakably. We saw mammoth bones and President's faces, the distant silhouette of Crazy Horse, bison too close for comfort, pronghorn antelope at play, prairie dogs like a live-action game of whack-a-mole, and felt a semi-wild burro furry-soft under our fingertips. I saw mustangs - these horses were *not* bored - and remembered my childhood dream of adopting one for myself (I'm still resignedly reminding myself of the impracticalities of this idea). We toured Jewel Cave and felt the breeze of Wind Cave. We ate a "cowboy dinner", followed by lively fiddle music oddly interspersed with a unique American brand of evangelistic preaching and self-glorifying patriotism. In all this, we managed 4 hours of an indoor waterpark in Rapid City, 5 trips to the grocery (thanks, Bri!), one trip to the laundromat (thanks, Bri!), one dip in the ranch pool, and a few soaks on the rental house's hot tub. I squeezed my niece's finger in a van's closing window; my sister-in-law helped Hazel run from an approaching bison. We left through Nebraska (travel tip: Agate Fossil Bed National Monument is not a good place to view either Agates or Fossils), escaped the plains to dip our toes in a Rocky Mountain National Park stream, and flew home.

Such is family vacation with the energetic family I married. Nevertheless, I was lonely the day I rested instead of journeying to Devil's Tower, and realized that I don't really like laying around all that much. Work spoke to me only through vivid dreams. We're all still sleep-deprived, but we have all winter to remember the Black Hills and our golden week in the wild west.