Friday, November 29, 2013

Going Crazy and Being Thankful

"The sparrows, wrens and robins are going crazy," reports my avianophile wife upon return from a trip to the usually deserted plaza down the street, the one that's catty-cornered from the ferry toll booths and across from Gracious Elderly Living. She goes there a couple of times each
Thanksgiving Evening Scene
day for a private moment.

"How do you mean that?" I query.

"They're all up in the trees, making noise and flying around."

"That's another thing to feel thankful for!" I can imagine us exclaiming; such is our exultant mood.


Two days later, the Arctic Cold Front has arrived, and I spy a fat robin under the juniper near The Little Family's front door. Another is perched on a cotoneaster at the top of the steps leading up a few feet from the sidewalk to our courtyard. That bird's just plucked and swallowed one of the plant's tiny red berries.

I share this observation with my astute spouse who opines that those rowdy birds she saw a few days ago were drunk on some fermented berries. Googled research suggests this habit belongs perhaps exclusively to young birds...or maybe they just can't handle the intoxicant like their parents. Another thing to feel thankful for.

Plus, it's another beautiful day!

Nippy today, down on the pier
I'll have to take a walk to the beach this cold and sunny noontime, where I can look over the calm waters of Puget Sound to the snowcapped Olympic Mountain range. My exercised wife has just come from the Senior Center down that way. Since the temperature has been dropping below 34 degrees, an overnight shelter for the homeless has been open there the past couple of nights.

The plight of those less fortunate is something to strive to amend even as we feel thankful for our own good fortune.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Crows Were Gone This Morning

Screamy with Scruffy...or maybe, Watcher
My adorable wife's small posse of crows has just returned; they've been unaccountably missing all morning. All the crows around here were missing this morning--maybe called away by some crow convention up in the high trees in the hills hereabouts.

But now it's almost 2, and they just greeted her in their customarily raucous manner: as she returned from peace vigiling down at the ferry landing, they were throwing their weight around, squawking and pecking at small body parts and detritus in the street.

Led by Little Screamy, they've been cadging food from my generous spouse for the past four months. Originally it was the adolescent-appearing Screamy with the much larger Scruffy who appeared. After being fed in our courtyard, they'd retreat to the roof opposite, where she (we just assumed her gender) would dip her head, and spread her wings as she approached Scruffy, screeching for food. He (another gender assumption) would succumb, and jam some tidbit down her gullet.

At some time in those first weeks, Watcher appeared, mostly behaving as his/her (for some reason, we've never assigned this crow a gender) name suggests--s/he would hang back, waiting diffidently while S&S did the initial crumb cleanup, before swooping down to pick up the remains. With occasional and temporary additions, this trio has remained intact all fall, and it's still led by Screamy, who is no longer little.

Beginning not long after we first saw her, and for about six weeks, Screamy was easily identified by two small tumorous-looking growths--one beneath her left eye and the other flopping like a wattle over her beak. This was the cause of much speculation between my wife and me. She googled for info and found that Screamy was suffering from avian pox (or some such thing), that sometimes led to premature death.
Screamy, hurrying, with pox

Screamy's handicap, and her proud, though often loud and annoying, thirst for living sealed the deal between her and my sucker-for-the-underdog wife. After more than a month of affliction the tumors dropped off, but the human-avian connection remains.

K still complains about the insistent cawing that demands her attention as soon as she opens the blinds in the morning, but she always gives in, trying to scatter the crumbs so that Screamy doesn't get every single one. And Screamy would, too, if she could hold them all in her beak before one of the other two has a chance to scurry in for a wee smackerall.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


One of the pleasant aspects of this temporary librarianship is overseeing the the Where In The World Is Mr. A? contest.

As one of the conditions of being granted a one-year leave for his sabbatical, our PE teacher has been chronicling his and his awesome wife's bicycle trip across the United States.  Every two weeks he posts on his blog new geographical and cultural, written and pictorial, clues for the students to guess his current location. The correct and randomly picked answer wins a $10 gift certificate from Mr. A's favorite outdoor equipment store and sponsor.

Matt has another blog he started several years ago. That's where he posts more, and more personal reflections on this and other adventures. Like the weekend bike/hike trip he took downtown last year, and then across on the ferry to the peninsula, to bike 90 miles on asphalt and gravel to a trailhead where he bivouaced, stashed his bike, and hiked/climbed 4000 feet to the top of a mountain, and then back home again in time to bike 5 miles to school (as he does every day) Monday morning.

Last school year Matt was my personal trainer, and exercise and sparring buddy. He was excellent--knowing just how much to push. He helped me do a lot of good work on my body. Matt knows his muscle groups. I miss him.

Reading about this trip of Matt and Jenny's is inspiring and a vicarious thrill. What sticks with the reader most is their constant reminders of the power and breadth of human kindness, and the beauty of nature.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Frog and Toad

One of the best series of books for beginning readers is Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel. For one thing, it introduces a gentle, well-written irony to these 4-6 year-olds. Plus, the two characters model friendship and human nature in a very relatable manner.

A half dozen years ago, I put together Toad and Frog masks for Mr. R and I to wear on Halloween as we read to young students. Our school has since developed a core of emeritus teachers, of which I am proud to be a part, whose presence is stabilizing and helpful to the over-worked staff. The Toad and Frog duet was reprised this year, and my friend Toad was played by Mrs. J., our indefatigable and a little bit curmudgeonly retired first grade teacher.

Boy, did we have fun presenting a half dozen stories to three groups of about 60 each kindergarten through second graders. The best compliment I received was from a first grade boy who, after the performance, came up to me and earnestly lisped, "You sounded just like Frog!"

The Patrol

Our School Safety Patrol is comprised of two squads--A and B--each with about 20 members drawn from the third through fifth grades. Each squad, led by a Captain with her Lieutenant and Sergeant, alternates duty every two weeks.

Among the duties of The Patrol are maintaining safe behavior at the back parking lots where eight buses and about 50 cars unload students in the morning, and load them to take back home in the afternoon.  Another group directs in- and egress at the busy front parking lot, and there is a pair of guards at each of the two crosswalks and at the corners of the school building.

For most of the students at our middle class, suburban school, being chosen for The Patrol and rising through its ranks is one of the signal honors of being a Blue Jay. It has largely been fashioned into this elite group, who model and help maintain responsible school behavior, by Mr. R, our regular librarian for whom I have been substituting.

As his sub I have inherited some of his duties. For one, I'm the Head Crossing Guard, overseeing the busiest crosswalk, calling out "Cross!" at the appropriate times. This signals the two brave, short young people at each side of the street to enter the crosswalk, stop flag pointed like a lance. Their other hand is raised in the face of buses, trucks and cars, calling for them to stop. On my "Okay!" the patrols retreat to the sidewalk as I cover their backs.

This past Thursday, Halloween, I felt part of a grand and happy American tradition as I helped usher a good-natured, homeward-bound stream of costumed students and their patient parents across 37th Street. It was a rare sunlit day with a frisky wind swirling autumn leaves down from the high poplars, and off the cherry trees planted along the front of our school. Good times.