Posts Tagged ‘Birds’

This image was unabashedly “lifted” from this excellent blog:  http://ruralchatter.blogspot.com/2008/08/public-service-announcement-about-feral.html  If it is copyrighted I will remove it, or arrange for special permissions.  What a classic photo!

I decided to re-post this entry that I made in another (anonymous) blog last year around this time.  This year I am living around 3000 miles away from where I was then, but I still find myself among the cats and birds and thermal phenomena of the perennial jungle.  I enjoyed reading this one again, and I hope others will too.  old swimmer 

This entry was originally written in Newfield,New Jersey, December 22nd, 2008

Coming in from my morning rounds I ripped off my gloves, ran to the kitchen sink, and turned on the cold water. I let it run to get really cold before putting my fingers under it. It felt SO GOOD. Warm. The pain stopped rather quickly and I was back to normal in about a minute’s time. 

Flickering through my mind-tapes was a memory of my father showing me how to treat my frostbitten toes many years ago. The pond in our Philadelphia area neighborhood had frozen very solid and I had been skating in my father’s old black, pointy toed, narrow and very floppy ice skates. They were way too narrow and long for my very wide and much smaller feet. The many socks packed into the wrong-shaped skates did little to protect my toes from the cold. Between the single digit temperature outside and the effects of strangulating socks cutting off blood circulation to my toes, and the fact that I skated way too long and then had to walk quite a long way to get home, my poor small feet had turned a deathly white and were — well, frosty!

Dad took one look and hurried me to the bathroom where he ran a tub of cold cold water. It did not look inviting, but he said it was what to do to save my feet from tissue damage!  He said I would be happy once I put my feet in. At first I didn’t feel much, and then it felt warm. Then my feet began to ache badly, thawing. Then they began to regain their normal color. Soon I could feel that the water was cold. He ran a small amount of warm water into the mix. And soon my feet felt normal again.

I did some damage that day that I still (some sixty-five years later) deal with sometimes when my circulation is poor or my feet get chilly. My toes turn white and they ache. And get numb. I massage when that begins to happen and it does help. But a little bit of damage really is there and will not change. Only because I didn’t come home soon enough,  when my feet were numb and I was having so much fun skating.

I am reminded that life skills are lore that even “Igluk” (our household nickname for the quintessential Cave Man) learned from his father. I don’t remember the Pennsylvania schools having a lesson in frostbite first aid. Surely Alaska will have such a class, but not suburban Philly. These bits of wisdom are taught at parents’ or mentors’ knees, very often in the presence of palpable pain!

My head is full of such vignettes that just rest in place somewhere in my brain’s “operating system”  like the knowledge of how to walk, or how to talk. Life-lore events make an indelible impression, like certain odors or fragrances (depending on how you like them) bring back whole environments and events. My father leaning over, explaining.  The sight of my white feet.  The pain.  The questions about “tissue damage” and the contemplation of the answers.

AND I DIGRESS:  (as so often happens)
Sitting here, with my mind on parental lessons, my eyes wandered out the window to my neighbor’s driveway where I happened to see the “resident” feral cat catch a meal. I m glad I don’t know what it is, but his companion (who will, I am quite certain, deliver kittens in maybe six or so weeks) came running hopefully over to see if this meal would be shared. No, it will not. The larger cat took his kill to the bushes where he sits now probably relishing the heat from some little recently live high-metabolism body.

So that cat watched his mother, no doubt, do what he just did to stave off the cold, including the business of NOT SHARING, which is why he is alive and his littermates are very likely not. Learning life skills at the “knee of his parent.”

In this desperate economic climate I read that people are arriving in droves at the SPCA and other shelters with their beloved house pets. They find they have come to a place in the budget where there is not enough to take proper care of extra mouths, and pets are, though loved, expendible. The SPCA is euthanizing record numbers of animals as lovely and trusting as my own two scruffy beloved terriers and my fat and spoiled cat. (who himself was rescued as a practically newborn kitten by me from under the shed one spring day.) People come in with broken hearts and leave the pets behind.

I am wondering whether that feral cat across the street will live through the winter. Possibly so. He is large and fat and very good at hunting. He doesn’t share. He may live another year, or maybe he has a lot of parasites that will catch up with him and cut his life short even with good weather. He will certainly live longer than the glossy little fellows at the SPCA whose humans have gone off in tears, leaving them peering out from cages wondering when their owners will return. Who has the better life?

I am reading a book that I’m having trouble staying with: I Am a Cat, a zenny classic translated from the work of Soseki Natsume.   It is really quite a wonderful book, but reminds me of Watership Down in that it goes on and on at a cat’s pace, which is not at all quick or particularly efficient. Like the rabbits in Watership Down, the Cat is a creature that does a lot of smelling of the roses on hs way to doing things, and the more so if he happens to have been tucked into a household which leaves food in a dish and has a good place to curl up without predators anywhere around.  I guess I will have to slow down and take this at a cat’s pace.  Happily it’s got chapters that stand alone, so one need not remember a “plot” but can just pick it up whenever and read a chapter.  END OF DIGRESSION

So, if there is a point to this blog, I guess it is that the stuff creatures, human and otherwise, learn by the way, as they are smelling the flowers, that becomes the stuff of survival and one’s MODE and CODE of life. If it’s good stuff, like warming frostbitten fingers in cold water so as not to damage the tissue, you live longer. If you aren’t paying attention, or don’t have a parental teacher, you don’t.

I was one of the lucky ones. I may be nuts, but I’m still alive, aren’t I?


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buzzardAcross the street, sitting on the old fashioned TV antenna high above the house, four vultures are waiting for the elevator…. (to read more, click here)

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“…Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string; …

Source Link:–John Donne, The Ecstasy

I’ve been watching from a place beyond the windowful of sunshine in the kitchen so the birds won’t notice me watching them.  They are feeding avidly this morning, as always, but clearly more frantically because I was late in replenishing the feeder.

In the next room, on the landing of the steps leading to the second floor, our cat also watches.  He is not hungry like those birds.  He is just full of genes that cause a cat’s tail to twitch, teeth to chutter, and eyes to narrow on something he is certain is born to be caught, torn apart and eaten.  It is just his job, he believes, deep in his bones.  He is keeping a low profile as he peeks over the window frame moulding.


(The cat of whom I speak in his kittenhood, practicing.)

He and I both are avoiding the intertwining the “eye beams” spoken of by Donne — those invisible tracks between my eyes and those of another creature.  Neither of us wants the birds to know we are watching.

The intelligence that comes in through eyes is instant, undetectable, unique to the moment, and trackless! As an artist, I have thought a lot about seeing, and since childhood, have been really charmed by the truth that you cannot know when one’s own eye beams are  intersecting another’s. Unless that other is using the same tracks as you, there is nothing to tell you that someone eye beams are making tracks a thousand thousand places in the air!

I am unaware when another creature has me in its sights.  I walk the dogs in the woods at night and know there are creatures in the trees watching me simply because I have read that night-seeing creatures do a LOT of looking at anything that moves in the dark.  (Sometimes I hear them chuckle. That’s an auditory trackable clue.)

In the morning I walk the same dogs before I take out my bag of sunflower seeds.  I am announced!  Someone with a raucous cry is yelling “She is here now,  food is coming next.”  I can’t find that jay, no matter how I look, and would not know I had interrupted his line of sight except for his outcry.  Squirrels chuck chuck at me and very tiny tinkling noises tell me the golden crown kinglets are sharing news.

I looked in the eye of a young robin several springs ago.  His claw got caught in a bit of netting I had put around the blueberry bush.  His mother was having a fit and he was jumping around in terror.  I went inside and got some small scissors while figuring out how to do this rescue in the gentlest way.

His eye was round and shiny, and his eye-beam direct and vital.  Birds don’t look at you straight on, like people,  but from one or the other side of their head.  So it is a bird profile that you see, with one eye showing.  I looked at him and called him “little fellow” in a soft voice, and put my hand over his back very gently but firmly so he wouldn’t struggle.  I could then see how to fit the scissor points so that I would cut only the plastic net to release it.   It took only a few seconds, really, to save this bird’s life.  I opened my hand and he scrambled away and up into a bush.  I left so his mother and he could settle down to regular business.

It is such a privilege to look into another creature’s eye.

I have loved and used the saying “A cat can look at a king,” (attributed sometimes to Lewis Carroll, but I haven’t yet found out for sure), for describing the freedom the cat gives himself, the privilege the cat takes for granted, and no one can stop him– i.e., to look at whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases, whether the object cares or not.  And he may refuse to look if he wants to, and often does when someone tries to line up eye-beams with him.

The Finest

The Finest

The finest would be
if any cat  a sealpoint
stretching legs together overlong–
taupe stockings against
thighs of ancient watered silk–
offwhite velvet with a nap of heaven.

Now curl cat
orderly just so
and let me own a statue.


Your satin swiveling signals
and one point’s left unfurled.

Primp just once.
combed line now abreast your prow
you yawn your face
a toothful chasm
nearly inside out (very like a snake!)

Then circle once–
yes make your mask serene
to gaze in azure–

to blink your slow cadence.
Will you sleep?

Not now as you are watching me.

(I wrote this to another cat in 1997.  copyright SGH aka Old Swimmer)

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 snowflake-snip-4Maybe grownups in other houses look outside and groan at the state of the driveway, thinking shovel, or they realize that they will have to scrape the windshield before they drive to work, but in this house we old children look out the window and give whoops of “Hey, SNOW” just as we always have, from year one.    (click here to read more)

   Grownups, God love them,  are such sober-sides!





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