Stories Untold

snow geese in a field

It’s a guess where the snow geese will be when we run an errand or return home. When we meet someone new, we often hear about where their parents came from, and where their parent’s parents came from, and back into history. I was heart broken when I learned that a great great grandfather of mine up and left his beautiful farm in Switzerland. I visited that farm once and could not imagine how anyone in their right mind could abandon such a place.

That great great grandfather was not right of mind. His reason for fleeing paradise? A tavern opened about a mile from his farm. He was not about to raise children with drinking and dancing so close to home. If I had a great great grandfather who loved beer and dancing, I could be farming in the Jura mountains and trekking into Bern, Switzerland, from time to time.

But what about the snow geese? Is that what they talk about? “My mother and father met when their flocks crossed paths over Vancouver Island?” or whatever name snow geese have for Vancouver Island.

Probably not. But you never know. We may belittle them for their little brains, but those little brains maneuver their bodies more skillfully than jet liners, and steer them on epic journeys from the Arctic to here and back, all without the need for massive infrastructure and support staff.

nest in barberry

While trimming a barberry bush, I discovered a nest up in the upper branches. A barberry bush with its needle thorns is a safe place for a little bird to nest. No cat or snake would attempt to climb a barberry. Its thorns make a rose thorn feel as soft as a feather. I think you could accomplish delicate brain surgery with barberry thorns.

Trim a barberry, and it glares back at you, neon yellow. “Step any closer and you die!” the barberry screams.

nest from above

So what little bird raised a brood in this little nest? What little bird flew south and is now telling a potential mate, “I grew up in a thorny barberry bush. Where did you grow up?”

cut barberry branch
late December dawn

Blink and You’ve Missed It

Morning snow

How fitting to have our first snow of the season fall on the Winter Solstice. Well, that answered the question as to whether we would see snow this season or not.

snow dusted Oyster Dome

The Winter Solstice used to be a full day affair. I’d look forward to waking up on the shortest day of the year and knowing when I woke up the next day, that it would be longer, if only by a hair.

But what is the Winter Solstice? For us in the northern hemisphere, it is when the North Pole has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. So it is not an all day affair. This year it happened at 8:20 and 26 seconds Pacific Time the morning of December 21. But the earth is racing around the sun at 29.78 kilometers a second, 18.5 miles a second, (107,208 kilometers and hour; 66,616 miles per hour). At that speed, the winter solstice happens so quickly, you don’t even get a single breath to enjoy it. By the time you clap and celebrate it, it is old news, and the earth has flown far past that point in space where the North Pole had its maximum tilt away from the Sun.

blue skies over the Skagit Valley

It is hard to comprehend the speed at which we are spinning through the universe. You can close your eyes and sit as quietly as possible, but nothing stops you from traveling a great distance in a short time. at 18.5+ miles a second, you’re traveling 1,110 miles a minute, 66,616 miles an hour, 1,598,784 miles a day. And we can never get back to that spot we were just a few moments ago. By the time we make a circle around the sun, the whole solar system has traveled over 7 billion miles. If we could sense even a fraction of these phenomenal speeds it’d be more thrilling than any roller coaster ride.

Chatty Mud Birds

swans or mud birds

Just like children in their Sunday best can’t resist stomping in mud puddles, swans love troddling through muddy fields. How they stay pristine white is a mystery. True, they don’t roll around in the mud like swine. Having long necks helps, as do sturdy, webbed feet. And if they get mud on their feathers, clear water for washing is just a flap of the wings away.

Swans, geese, ducks, make up the biological family of waterbirds, Anatidae, which comes from the Latin for ducks, anas, plus idae which denotes a family of animals.

swans or mud birds

One thing missing in the descriptions of Anatidae, is how much these birds talk. Close your eyes and listen to a flock of swans, geese, or ducks, and you hear tens, hundreds, thousands of conversations going on all at once. They are as chatty as parrots.

Chickens and blooming bamboo

It’s the darkest time of the year. It’s dark when I wake up. Dark when I go to bed. The darkness keeps the chickens on their roost far longer than during the summer. Do they get bored out of their minds, waiting for the sun to lighten up the skies?

Since the bamboo bloomed and died, I’ve been wondering what to do with them. The seeds seem to have dropped out of their pods before I could harvest them. But, the bloomed bamboo entertains the chickens. Maybe enough for them to dream about and keep them from getting bored on these long, winter nights.

Chickens and blooming bamboo
soaked soybeans

It’s time to put up several crocks of miso. Soybeans soaked overnight look plump and rested in the morning. This lot became tofu. Another lot soon will become miso, and take a long, long rest to age gracefully.

Getting the Mail

How many enjoy views like this when they go get their mail? When we moved here fifteen years ago, we got a PO Box at the little Bow Post Office instead of having mail delivered to a mailbox on the road. Every time I make the trip to the post office, I’m glad we did that. There is always something that takes my breath away.

This little “beach” on the pond is one of the favorite places for the ducks to hang out when they aren’t in the water. Someday there may be a duck-human translator so I can get in on all their interesting gossip.

While picking up new license tabs, I wasn’t expecting to see a swarm of goldfinches, but a feeder hanging outside the license office was a flutter with goldfinches. They don’t have their spring and summer color, though you can see bits of yellow in their wings.

Soothing is Good

There is a joy living in a special place. The swans have no idea how much joy and happiness they bring to the humans that pass their way. At least they do to me. If they did, they’d waddle closer, flap their wings, honk, dance, and put on a show.

Watching vegetables sprout is always soothing. I need soothing. Things are not always idyllic around here. Sunday night the dogs caught and killed a raccoon. Quiet, gentle Takuma and Enna turn into ferocious, wild beasts when they are on the hunt. They can be as ferocious as hyenas. I feel sorry for the raccoon, but were it not for the dogs, I’d be feeling very sorry for the ducks and chickens the raccoon may have made off with.

Enna escaped unscathed. Takuma has battle scars on his head and neck. They have mostly healed, but I’m sure I’ll feel them for a long time each time I pet him.

It’s only the second time in fifteen years here that we’ve encountered a raccoon. The other time was long ago, when we had BB & Echo. They woke me up early one summer morning, barking at the chicken coop. I ran out and a raccoon went flying across the roof of the chicken coop, the dogs chasing after it. They chased it up a tree and kept it there all morning and into the afternoon, when we brought the dogs in. The raccoon ran off and never came back.

When Life Returns to Normal, I’ll Miss Blue Skies

[videopress eroAnzei]

Every few days I get to see blizzards of white snow geese fly up off the fields. The guess when I make an errand is, in which fields are the snow geese today? And where are the swans?

swans in field
skagit valley in the morning

One thing I will miss when life returns to normal are skies which stay blue all day. Days go by without sight of a single contrail. But lately, the number of jets flying overhead has increased.


When a jet first passes overhead, it leaves a thin, white trail. But steadily, that trail spreads far and wide. Have a jet fly by every few minutes and by mid afternoon a blue sky can change to misty white. There have been many a glorious summer day turned to a pale, cloudy day, just from the jets ferrying people from Asia and back, to Europe and back, barely aware of the Skagit Valley below.

We’re on the crossroads of jets journeying from the West Coast to Europe, from many points in the country to Asia. Once things return to normal, I’ll miss blue skies which stayed blue all day.

contrail spreading
night sky