Thursday, June 30, 2011

Yard birds

I’ve loved birds ever since I watched over a nest of robin eggs  hatching from a precarious spot just outside my attic bedroom window when I was a kid.  Back then maybe I could relate to wee creatures coming into the world and having to deal with the rigors of life.  I remember it wasn’t always easy for me. 
I can remember one time, too -- after watching a Woody Woodpecker cartoon on afternoon tv -- trying to capture a bird in the side yard by pouring salt on its tail.  It did seem a bit ridiculous, but it was on the Woody show after all and, well, I figured it was worth a try.  Didn’t work, though.
There are a few species of birds I seem to have a richer relationship with than others.  Whenever I spot a great blue heron either flying or standing in a local river bed, I figure I’ve earned a little good luck for the day.  
In the spring, I know we’ve survived the winter when I hear the descending spiral ‘flute’ of the Swainson’s thrush as it sings on its way to more northern woodlands.  I hear this lovely song for a couple of weeks before their migration is over in this part of the flyway.
For me lately, though, I’d have to pick the Carolina wren as my favorite ‘yard bird.‘  Such a great little critter with such a big voice!  
We’ve had a few birdhouses posted at our Wild Grace homestead for years now, but they don’t get nesting customers every year.  Male Carolina wrens, I have learned, build a number of nests and then let the female pick the one she feels best about.  We’ve seen a few wren nests about, one even in a small open drawer in the garage.  All have been made beautifully out of lacy leaves and mosses, but few have been populated.  
Well, this spring, Ms. Carolina picked the bird box just off our front porch.  It was fun watching mom and dad haul in food and haul out the bad stuff.  One of the two would sing loudly as the other approached the box.  Maybe the song got the little ones’ digestive juices going in anticipation.  Maybe the folks were just plain proud of their kids.  Don’t know, but it was fun to watch and listen. 
Around Memorial Day when we thought the young wrens were about ready to fledge, I noticed a young face at the bird box opening looking out.  It shifted from time to time, seemingly just trying to figure out what was expected next.  We sat on the porch for some time watching and waiting for that moment of truth, but we missed it.  That evening I took a peek inside the box and saw three beautiful little heads still there, each with that bright white eye bar.  By the next evening, the box was empty of little ones. 
I love the hummingbirds that fight over the sweetwater on the back porch.  I love the stark black and yellow of American goldfinches who still visit the thistle feeder.  I rather enjoy watching robins splash around in the bird bath out back.  
But this year, I’m really appreciating the beauty of the Carolina wren family who graced us with staying at our place.  All the best out there, kids!  ;-)  
Today’s elder idea:   Tweedaddle, tweedaddle, tweedaddle, tweet
The morning message of carolina wrens as heard from our bedroom window.
Image: Carolina wren by Laura Meyers (2010) / 
Used without permission.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Digital world

I entered the digital age back in 1985 or ’86, as I recall.  Up until that time, any correspondence I produced was on a typewriter and all photography was shot on film.  I even built black & white darkrooms in most houses I’ve owned and must humbly admit, some prints I souped back then still look pretty good.  My music, of course, was still on phonograph records, though Wikipedia tells me music on compact discs was available as early as 1982.   
I wouldn’t call myself a luddite, but I don’t embrace new technology all that quickly.  Truth is I’ve never had lots of money, and new technology, at least at its inception, is almost always pricy.  As mentioned on these pages previously, when I finished my masters degree in the mid-80s, I treated myself to a new electric typewriter when I could have bought myself an up-and-coming computer.   
Oh, but how things are different now.  The vinyl record collection still exists, but it is relegated to the furnace room stacked in boxes and selected few albums are played only on special occasions.  Music these days is all on my computer.   I still like to buy physical CDs for the liner notes, but most of my new music purchases are through iTunes or Amazon music. 
Photography, likewise, has gone completely digital for me.  The darkroom is now the train room on the lower level of the house, and I’ve done what I can to scan slides and negatives from the old days into usable digital images.  When I retired almost ten years ago, I made a big investment for a Nikon scanner thinking I could translate all of my best analog stuff into digital.  Unfortunately, such hasn’t worked out as well as I had hoped.  
The printed word was the first to go digital for me.  Good old AppleWorks was packaged on that first Apple IIe we bought for the kids, and boy did I enjoy learning how that program could allow me to create lovely classroom documents without having to fix things with WhiteOut.  Those were the days! 
But things have gotten much more complicated these days and I’m not happy about it.  
Steve Jobs professed years ago how the desktop computer would become the digital entertainment hub in every home.  Music, photography, data -- even movies -- would be accessible there for the whole family’s use. 
I’m here to tell you that day has come at our house.  Most times that’s just fine, but lately it has caused quite a headache.  
As all faithful readers of The Back Porch know, I’m a Mac guy.  Always have been.  Never regretted it.  Back last winter, though, I decided it was time to increase the size of my iMac’s hard drive, giving it more room to do what it needed to do.  My computer was about three years old and needed the upgrade.  
To make a long story short, the new, bigger drive failed within five months of installation.  All data was lost.  But never fear:  I had Time Machine on my system and all data was backed-up.  
Or so I thought.  
Through a comedy of errors, the new hard drive installed on my system was not loaded properly by the local technician.  While my data appears to be okay, the applications I rely on (word processing, photography, printing, and tons of others) appear to be lost.  It would seem applications don’t get backed up on the back-up drive.  All I can say is Why not?  
I write this today on my laptop computer because my desktop machine doesn’t know how to open word documents.  It doesn’t know what to do with most of my data, unfortunately, and I fret over what important stuff I rely on in my life that may be lost forever.  
I’ve been here before and it isn’t very comfortable.  In the past, I could berate myself for not backing up my data.  But I learned my lesson and do, in fact, back everything up both at home and at an on-line service.  
But I’m still not whole after a month of trying to fix things and I am not a happy camper.  
If I could, I’d drop the whole digital world thing and do my tasks another way.  But that would make me feel like I was a real luddite and to be honest, when things work, digital stuff is a whole lot of fun.  And darned useful. 
So I feel pretty stuck and cranky today.  Sure, I have my laptop to keep me going, but all of my original photos, poems, essays, and most of my blogs are locked inside the iMac on my desk and are inaccessible.  I head down to the Apple Store in Cincinnati tomorrow morning to see if some Genius there can fix me.  
But in the meantime, I wonder what I have lost by depending on electronics so much.  Right now it feels like I’ve suffered through a house fire where most of my important possessions have been lost.  
It doesn’t feel very comfortable from where I sit on the back porch today, I can assure you.
How’s the digital world working for you?  
Today’s elder idea:  Logic is an organized procedure for going wrong with confidence and certainty.
Charles F. Kettering

Friday, June 10, 2011

Prayer flags

One of the thought provoking things I brought back from Crestone, Colorado on that first trip in summer 2009 was a set of Tibetan prayer flags.  I don’t remember knowing about them prior, and I do love to bring something of places where I’ve been home with me as talisman.  And they’re colorful.  I mean, I did come face to face with them in Colorado, after all.  
From pictures I’ve seen since I acquired my set of prayer flags, looks like a body ought to have a whole string of ‘em, letting them cover lots of linear space.  I suppose if they are prayer flags, multiple flags would only multiply the prayers.  Can’t be a bad idea.  
My string of flags consisted of eight individual flags, a set of four duplicated.  Each had an Eastern-world line drawing printed with a message in a lovely script I couldn’t decipher.  At the bottom of one flag, in English, was written ‘Knowledge’; on another, ‘Prosperity’; on another, ‘Long Life’; on the last, another lovely wish that somehow escapes me.  
Part of the problem here is that I took down my prayer flags.  You may have noticed the past tense verbs in the paragraph above.  It was just that after hanging on the back porch for a couple of Ohio winters, the line broke and I figured at the time that what was left wasn’t long enough to tie another string to, so down from the canopy pipes they came.  
Did I throw the things away?  Maybe.  I just went searching for the injured litany of wishes in all the places where I keep back porch stuff with no luck.  
And now the big query:  Is one allowed to throw prayer flags away?  
Right now as I sit here on the back porch with my laptop glowing in the fading daylight, I wonder what I’ve done and what karma might come of it.  
I’m really not that concerned about it because, after all, flags are only fabric.  The beauty of the flags is the state of mind they engender in the people whose space they inhabit.  Even in their absence, my set of prayer flags have me thinking, so regardless of where they are, they have made me mindful of their purpose, and therein is their being.   
One of the things I learned about the flags when they came into my life was that as they weathered in their place and they began to fray, the loose threads would spread the prayer intentions to the four winds.  By the time the support string holding my prayers together failed, some threads had, indeed, departed the mother flag and had drifted off into Wild Grace.  It felt good to see them as they blessed my space.  
I do miss them.  
They were replaced, in a way, by a much smaller set received this week from an organization the Dali Lama is currently promoting.  In a fundraising letter I got from His Holiness a few days ago, a small, mailable set of prayer flags was included.  I did, in fact, unpackage the set and immediately set them free in the local air, hanging them on the canopy pipes at the other end of the porch.  
Which got me to thinking about the flags all over again.  Ergo, this blog entry. 
In the winter, the old set of prayer flags were open to the elements:  wind, snow, rain, whatever.  As I recall, it was the winter that took them down.  
But in summer, they -- as does this new set -- resided under the canopy, out of the sun and rain.  They got breezes okay, but not the tough, fading stuff of Nature.  
Is that how prayers should be handled:  protected from the elements?  
Sure got me to thinking...
In any case, when I return to Crestone this summer for a week with Cindy Lou, Noah, and our young friend Adel, you can count on my buying a handful of sets of prayer flags.  Just seems like the right thing to do.  They’ll be colorful reminders of a prayerful, sacred place that I like to be reminded of as often as I can.  
The Rockies are a good place to be.  Crestone especially.
Today’s elder idea:  
The Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to his casual reply
Rocky mountain high
John Denver
‘Rocky Mountain High’ (1972)
image:  From via Yahoo image search.  Pretty cool, eh?