Mabel and Gus (maybe it’s a duck)

For several years two mallard ducks have come to my bird feeders each Spring for early morning or pre-dusk meals.  It took a while to learn their names, but this year – finally – Mabel and Gus!  When I see them under the feeders, I feel ridiculously happy.  Gus will usually keep watch while Mabel enthusiastically scoops up mixed feed the sparrows and squirrels have scattered.  Eventually Gus will eat but he and Mabel are cautious and likely to lift off for no reason apparent to me. After they eat, they head over to the street to see if there is any water in the gutters – the past few days there has been plenty.

Last year I noticed that Mabel tends to determine how long the visits last – at some point she would walk away from the feeders and shake her head vigorously.  Gus would quickly move toward her and shake his head in the same fashion.  Next, both would shake their heads in unison and suddenly take flight (I observed this many times last Spring).  I looked for information about duck communication on the Internet, but came up empty on the subject.  Whatever it means, it is sure nice to have them back!

(The pink flamingo is an extra that my neighbor included at the feeder.  Mabel seemed puzzled by but interested in it).  Please excuse the poor photo quality – it’s hard to get pics of skittish ducks using a phone camera from inside a house through a window screen.


Indiana Spring

loving cows

Northwest Indiana is mainly pancake-flat with some gently rolling hills tucked around corners waiting to surprise. Driving a twisting road recently admiring the freshly-turned, neatly manicured fields which will transform into seas of corn stalks in just a few months, I was swept away by the beauty of Spring in the Great Lakes region.

Decorative grasses and a windbreak alongside a white frame farmhouse bent sensuously to gusty winds; forsythia bushes, untouched by pruning shears, were dancing flames. My car window was open and a pasture filled with black-speckled bovine exuded the earthy aroma of manure and sweet hay.  Red-winged blackbirds dotted fence posts and mallards tilted with a wind wall to reach a blue pond sparkling in a farmyard. First blooms on trees and shrubs along the road, shades of red, purple, delicate pink and white, provided a sudden splash of color relieving Winter’s grays and browns.

The spring-soft air tousled my hair and reminded me once again why people fall in love this time of year.

(originally published on on 4/16/2011 – edited for this publication)

Where’s my dog?

(Originally posted on on 1/9/2011 – when there was actually snow in winter.  As I edited the post for publication today, a small amount of ice/snow covers the neighborhood).

A little help

Last evening I was sitting in the living room enjoying the warmth of a new furnace and the good company of a friend when there was a knock at the door. Two rosy-cheeked, enterprising young boys – maybe 12 or 13 years old – snowsuits on, shovels in hands – offered to shovel my walk for $10 – $5 for each shoveler.  Snow had been coming down all day and, while I had earlier swept the first few inches off the stoop and front walk, another several were now on the ground and no end to the white stuff in sight.  My neighbor almost always includes me on his snow-blowing route and, as I was trying to come up with an answer for the boys, I saw him making his way down the sidewalk behind his souped-up snow removal machine.

The boys looked crestfallen as they told me they were trying to earn money so they could go tubing tomorrow at one of the county parks.  In spite of money not growing on trees (yet!), I realized that it would be helpful to have the walk to my garage and the alley-access driveway cleared off.  Their smiles alone were probably worth the 10 bucks.  They made quick work of it and even shoveled off my front steps which the neighbor’s snow blower doesn’t reach.  One of the boys expressed concern about the ice on the porch and front steps, asked if I had any ice melt and then quickly treated the treacherous area. I paid them, thanked them and…

… woke up the next morning to the loudness of utter silence. Almost three feet of new snow thickly blanketed my porch, the walk and everything else in sight muting even the most commonplace sounds of chirping birds and the city bus.  Nothing was moving outside. My phone rang and I picked up to hear my sister ask how I felt about my $10 investment – knowledge she gained when she called me while the boys were shoveling last night . Thinking of their smiling faces and the possibility of a legendary tubing experience for those boy, I told her I felt pretty darn good.

With that feeling, I peeled myself out of bed to let my dog out for her morning constitutional.  I opened the door to the backyard, saw that the snow was level with my back porch; the back yard is two deep steps down from the porch.  Then my dog disappeared – one second she was leaning out the back door to see what all the white was about, the next second – POOF – no dog.  I saw her nose poke out from the snow about 6 feet from the back steps and heard a hearty “ARROOOO!?” – her version of “What the heck is going on?” Her nose appeared in different spots in the yard, each time with an accompanying howl. It was probably funnier for me than it was for her. I ran to put on some jeans, a thick sweater and get my boots on so that I could dig her out before I lost her ’til spring.

I had to do a fair bit of digging to clear a space for her and to make some paths to safely get out of the  house if I needed to.  My dog wandered up and down the walk between the house and the garage trying to see over the walls of snow on either side.  Her normal routine is to exit the house, run to the very back of the lot and then patrol the yard and comment loudly to any other dogs in the neighborhood.  She looked caged in, haunted even, and was clearly not having any fun.  She made one courageous dive into a massive drift only to pop out again a moment later covered in flakes and shaking her head in consternation. Shoveling the yard to accommodate my dog left me wondering a little at the wisdom of having a dog (or living in a region famed for its “lake-effect snow machine”), but she seemed to appreciate it.

We got back in the house, soggy and cold from our efforts.  No dummy, she immediately walked to the heat vent in the living room, curled up in front of it and went to sleep. Snowbound, I spent the weekend being unforgivably lazy (with the exception of shoveling), watching movies, making unwise food choices and being very grateful for a home, good neighbors,  and a silly dog that makes me laugh – A LOT.