Friday, May 29, 2015

Return Of The Hummers

       It has been a month since the first hummingbird of the season appeared at my back door. He flitted around a bit, looking for a feeder, then peered at me through the glass door as if to say, "Okay, I'm back, where is it?" I took the hint and put up a feeder. Then I waited for him to return. And waited. And waited.
Giving up, I was about to take the lone feeder down. Then a couple of days ago, my grandson pointed out that there were two hummers at the feeder. I figured the homemade nectar was rancid by now, so I dumped it, cleaned the feeder, and made a new batch. 
Wednesday, I noticed a third hummer. His buddies must have followed him here. He certainly wouldn't have shown them the way. Hummers are territorial, and once they stake out a garden, plant or feeder, they fight all newcomers. In fact, they seem to spend more time pushing each other away from the feeders than actually drinking from them. I've often thought they could drink more if they would learn to share.
Thursday morning, I peered through my kitchen widow and a fourth hummer was trying to get a bill full. Then along came a fifth and a sixth. I couldn't believe my eyes! It reminded me of the first year I was here, when I had half a dozen feeders and twice as many hummers. The population has dwindled since then. I’m not sure what brought them back, unless they were attracted to my hanging pots of petunias on the front porch, then decided to check the rear porch for feeders..
The really odd thing, though, is that they appeared to be sharing. Well, the first four or five were. By the time Number Six arrived, they began fighting over a spot in the red basin of the glass-bottle feeder. In the wild, they don't know how many flowers might be around, so they stake out their territory and protect it from other hummers. The feisty little critters can become so aggressive that they impale one another on their long, skinny beaks. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened on my watch, but I could hear them thwacking against one another as they jockeyed for a position at the eight-hole feeding trough.
       The feeder was almost empty, so I made two more batches of nectar, and pulled another feeder out of my storage shed. For the next half hour, I sat on the porch watching their antics at the near-empty feeder while the fresh nectar cooled. It was a hummingbird sonata, with all that twittering and whizzing and, yes, humming going on.      It was music to my ears.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Photo Frame Found, Mind Still Missing

        Sometimes inanimate objects develop legs and walk off around my house. More often, though, they leave in the mouth of a four-legged critter known as Maggie. 
That was my thinking process one cold day this past winter when a framed picture of my American Mastiff, Moses, disappeared. I’ve written before about the way Maggie, my mutt rescue, carries toys and shoes outside and buries them. (See “Moses, Maggie & the Butter Dish,” my February 17, 2014, post). Her latest caper appeared to involve a picture frame. Keep reading, and you’ll understand why I use the word, “appeared.”
The picture was of Moses when he was about six months old, and its frame had reliefs of Mastiffs around the edges. It sat on one of my end tables in my Great Room. On this particular day, I noticed it wasn’t there. Thinking perhaps my three-year-old grandson, Mati,  had played with it, I looked behind and under sofas and beds, finding nothing more than dust bunnies. I looked in the trash cans. Again, no photo frame. 
At 2 a.m. the next morning, when sleep was elusive, I lay in bed wondering where it could be. Suddenly, I realized I had seen it since Mati had been here. Then I recalled coming home one night and finding a torn box of facial tissues on the floor, with much of its contents shredded and scattered because I had left it on the end table where Moses could reach it. That’s when it hit me: The Butter-Dish Bandits had struck again. 
Working in tandem, Moses must have grabbed the tissue box, knocking off the picture frame in the process. Maggie probably grabbed it and ran. It had to be in the house somewhere, I reasoned, because it was raining that evening, and I left home without opening the doggy door. 
However, I searched the house again that morning, and still couldn’t find the frame. Why did she do it? Was she  jealous of Moses, and went for his photo because she couldn’t go for him? Who knows. 
I knew I could replace the photo. I have it on my computer. But the frame is unique. I’ve never seen another like it. Figuring I’d have to wait until the snow melted to attempt another outdoor search of Maggie’s hidey-holes, I temporarily gave up.
Meanwhile, I wracked my brain trying to recall whether I had moved the frame to another location. Perhaps affected by the frigid temperatures, my brain refused to wrack. No mental picture came to mind.
Several hours later, as I was re-arranging some teapots on my Great Room bookcase, guess what I spotted? Yep, right there on the top shelf it sat, my missing photo frame. I have no recollection of when or why I put it there.
I don’t know which is worse, having dogs that work in collusion to knock stuff off your countertops to eat and bury them, or losing your mind.
      Actually, I do know which is worse, but I try not to think about it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why I Hate Summer

        When I was a child, I couldn’t wait for summer, because my birthday is in the summer and I had three whole months of not having to get up early for school.
Nowadays, I dread summer, because my birthday is in the summer and I have three whole months of getting up early to fight insects and pasture weeds. Life just isn’t fair when you grow up, is it?
I live in a log house in the middle of the woods. In March or April, depending on how warm it is, I start fighting the carpenter bees who love to nest in unpainted wood. I’m supposed to spray insecticide every month from March until September, and plug up their nest holes. That means toting around a two-gallon sprayer that I have to hoist waist-high to make the spray reach the underside of my porch roofs. My back aches after an hour session like that.
Every morning when I walk through the woods to my barn and pasture, I have to douse myself and my clothes with insect repellant. If I don’t, the ticks and mosquitoes will have me for breakfast, making me itch for weeks and threatening to give me Lyme Disease. I’ve tried those “natural” sprays that often contain cintronella. The insects around here treat it like salad dressing. It’s as if they relish (pardon the pun) going through flavored flesh to get to the blood feast. So I have to use Deep Woods Off, with 25% Deet, and I hate that stuff. 
Meanwhile, I’m raising a great crop of rocks in my pasture. Several years ago, I actually paid some folks to pick up rocks. They worked all day and still didn’t get them all. I worked hard and had a nice stand of Bermuda for a few years. Last fall, I planted rye in one pasture, but didn’t get the seed scattered until early December. So it didn’t start coming up until February. Not exactly the winter crop I had hoped for. I had to keep my horses off that pasture for several months, trying to get a good stand. Horses will keep eating until they’ve pulled up the grass by the roots, so now one pasture is nothing but rocks and weeds, while the rye pasture has a mix of Bermuda, rye, thistle and wild daisies. I almost cried while bush-hoging it this week. 
I moved to the country because I was tired of city traffic and living within spitting distance of my neighbors. It’s peaceful and quiet where I live most of the year. Summer, however, is a different story. There’s nothing peaceful about the drone of mosquitoes or worrying about weeds and Lyme Disease.
       And that’s why winter has become my favorite season.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Street That I Grew Up On

        With Mother's Day coming up, I decided to take some flowers to the cemetery where my mom and grandmother are buried, something I rarely do.
Forest Hill Cemetery is located near the Birmingham airport. I took a different route this time, exiting I-59 in East Lake instead of near the airport. It had been a few years since I had been by my old school, Kennedy Elementary, and the neighborhood in which I grew up. As I turned onto 64th Street North, I received quite a shock.
Debra English playing croquet
in my front yard on
1st Court North
I knew the house I had lived in on 1st Court North and most of those around it were gone, but wasn't prepared to see the whole neighborhood from 1st Avenue to 2nd Avenue wiped out. The alley behind our house is gone, the creek at the end of our dead-end street is gone. All have been replaced by a warehouse of some type and its concrete parking lot. But the biggest shock of all is that the street itself is gone.
Oh, there is still a 1st Court North, but it's not in the same place. It used to be a right turn one block off 1st Avenue. What is now labeled 1st Court North is a left turn, and runs between Kennedy and 1st Avenue, where another row of houses and part of the school playground used to be. I know our old haunts seem much smaller now than when we were kids, and some give way to interstates or disappear under the floodwaters of a new dam. But a street that moves? That’s a new one.
Jimmy Self (left) and my brother, Gene,
in front of The Little Red Store
Mine was a great street on which to grow up. There was a little family-owned grocery store on the corner next door to me that we called The Little Red Store. You could buy candy and soft drinks there, and watch them slice your bologna from a log. Then you said,  “Put it on my account,” and paid up at the end of the month. An alley separated the back of our house from a junk yard, and down the end of that alley was the "deep end" of the creek. That's where some friends and I saw naked boys for the first time, unless you count fleeting glimpses of our brothers. The boys were swimming, and when my friends and I approached, they stood up and shouted, "Wanna see? Wanna see"? Of course we did, but we ran away scared and embarrassed.
The best thing about that street was having so many kids to play with. On summer nights, we couldn't wait for supper to end so we could meet under the street light in front of Booty’s (James Graves) house to play Hide 'n Seek or a tame version of Post Office. And if you remember the latter, you’re showing your age, too. Booty, so named due to an early fondness for wearing cowboy boots, lived next door to Gail Crawley and across the street from Joyce Thompson. We were all good friends.
Remember my blog about the death of my childhood hero, actor James Garner? I have that same ringing in my ear now as I did then. It’s the sound of a chisel chipping away another piece of my childhood. It makes me feel very old, and very sad.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tractor Woes

      I guess I’ve turned into a real farm girl, because I’m lost without my tractor.
I missed the first fertilizing of my rye pasture in February due to icy weather and a dead battery. My buddy Calvin charged up the battery, replaced a worn front tire and the gas filter and changed the oil while I was in Texas in mid-March. 
When I reurned from Texas, I was so excited (at my age, it doesn’t take much) to have the tractor working again. But while dumping the leaves into the woods, I got a little too far down the embankment. The ground was still wet from recent rains, and I spun myself into a hole trying to back up. I couldn't go forward because a small tree was in the way.
And there the tractor sat for a few more days. Enlisting the help of the two young guy friends, I had one cut down the tree. He swore he could lay it down wherever he wanted. What we hadn't counted on, however, was what the tree fairies wanted. As the tree fell, it grabbed the branches of another tree, and clung there for dear life. Again, I got off, and left the tractor where it was while I pondered the current situation.
Too (sic) Old Men right the tractor.
A few days later, the guys and I tied a rope to the tree and my bucket, then I hoisted and pushed the tree out of my way. But as I tried to move forward, my tractor got hung up on the tree stump. Brilliantly, I used the bucket to push myself off the stump. My relief at moving forward was short lived, however, because I was on a horizontal slope, and began to list perilously to starboard. I elected to get off, fearing I’d tump (that’s Southerneze for fall) over.
That weekend, my grands were over, when Gabe announced, "NaNa, the tractor tire blew out and it's off the wheel."  It sat there a couple more weeks while I waited for Calvin’s help. But he was set for a knee replacement, and despite his misplaced notion of getting up and around in a few days, he had eight weeks of recuperation ahead of him.
The following week, I got my truck stuck in front of my house. With Calvin disabled, I called my friends Fred and Rudy (better known as Too Old Men).  As they pulled the truck out of the muddy rut, a lightbulb went off in my head. I asked them to take a look at the tractor. Using a come-along, chains and a rope, they righted it  enough to get the weight off the dead tire, then pumped air into it. It popped back into place on its rim, just as they had planned. Only a farmer would understand my elation at seeing Fred drive it out of the woods.
Three days later, after buying fertilizer for my pasture, I discovered that the tire was coming off the rim again. So I pumped air into it, manhandled the first six 50-pound bags of Triple 13 into the spreader and took off. With each pass, I prayed the tire would hold, and it did. But the tire ordeal didn't end there. 
That was last Thrusday. On Tuesday of this week, it was flat again. Too Old Men spent four hours trying to find the leak, with no luck. Calvin says dirt around the rim might have kept it from sealing, and that the latest air fill might seal it properly. 
Today is Friday, and so far so good. I’ve got more fertilziing to do next week, then I’ve got to switch the spreader for the rotary cutter.
     A woman on her tractor is a beautiful thing, as long as the tractor is working.