Sunday, June 27, 2010

In Which the Nest Vacations

Yes, Gentle Readers, the Mossy Nest has been on holiday for a week. We ate (a lot), we walked (a lot), we hiked (a little), and bird watched (a little). So, for the next few posts, we'll share some photos of places we visited and birds we saw and books we read. And yes, we are tired after our vacation, and need a vacation from the vacation!

Tiger lilies do not grow out here in the Wild West, and I'd forgotten how they are almost a weed back east, they are so prevalent and grow so easily. Gorgeous! I do miss long seasons of flowering plants out here.

A barn swallow, sitting on the box in which it nests.I love how iridescent his wings are in the early morning sun.

Just a not-quite-artsy enough photo of one of the nesting boxes, but I like it anyway.

All of these photos were taken during a birding expedition to the Richard de Korte Park in the Meadowlands, where a former landfill has been returned to its swampy origins. There are some nature trails that go out into the wetlands, with birding spots, seats, and informative signs. Unfortunately, the trails out into the wetlands are currently closed, although guided tours are available twice a week (and sadly I couldn't make the tour). There were only 2 other birders there the morning I was, so it's a very personal birding experience.

Friday, June 18, 2010

In Which There Was One

And then there was one. One lone hummingbird baby, sitting in a tree. Big Sibling fledged today, after spending a few hours late yesterday and this morning testing his or her wings, stumbling a little bit before flight was achieved. Little Sibling is patiently waiting in its expanded living quarters for his or her wings to be ready. I suspect he or she will fly tomorrow.

I am sorry to see them go. It's been miraculous watching them hatch, grow, take wing, fly. A cosmic metaphor in miniature for me, which message I hope to take to heart.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In Which the Babies Stretch

They're getting ready to leave us, our little hummingbird babies. Yesterday the larger one, who probably hatched a day before its sibling, was standing up in the nest and flapping its little wings. Both are intensely interested in any little moths or bugs that flit by the nest. They are packed in as tight as sardines, and I'm astonished they haven't just popped out spontaneously when one shifts position. I think the bigger baby will be gone by the weekend, and the smaller one over the weekend. I'll be sorry to see them go. They've been fascinating to watch. It is amazing how quickly they have grown. It seems you could stand there and watch them grow, before your very eyes. Hopefully they and mama will stick around, and perhaps mama will lay another clutch.

Scroll down and note how quickly its little feathers have changed in just a few days. Isn't Nature grand!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In Which I Begin Training

So after the big reveal last month that I was going to undertake a half-marathon in December, I immediately started training.And how does a Nerdy Scientist start training? Why, with research, of course! There's only one thing a Nerdy Scientist likes more than research, and that's the actual experiment. We shall see if that holds true for marathoning, the actual experiment in this case.

First I looked up training schedules. I found several online, but all begin the training 17 weeks before the event. Heck, I need more time than that! I'm not completely out of shape, but I am not marathon ready. Then I tried to find walkers' blogs that detail their marathon experience. A few hits, but not as many as I'd expected. C'mon, bloggers, a half-maratoin is a worthy achievement to document! I want to read your experiences. Thirdly, I looked up the specific marathon, thinking surely there is blogging marathoner here in the Metropolis. Apparently not. Unless they are trying to be incognito, like me, or are shy, or embarrassed by their time. They've been holding this marathon for 30 years, but it's a big cyber secret as far as I can tell.

I started training early for several reasons. I am ashamed to admit that my performance in the timed 10K last month wasn't as good as I'd thought it would be. I mean, I know I did it cold and all, but still, we started first and ended near the back of the pack. Ouch. I finally found my competitive streak. I don't have it re: my career at all, but it reared its ugly head when faced with the dismal time printed out in black and white. So I determined that my December time would be improved, and I've set out deliberately to try and improve my time. 30 seconds would be great, but may be unrealistic. I can easily walk the half marathon in 4 hours right now, but I want to be as close to 3.5 hours as I can be. Anything better is cake!

I jumped more fully back into my exercise routine: cardio (weight-lifting) on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays (several different routines out of magazines so I don't get bored, increasing the number of reps every week or so, or jumping rope), and then extra walking on Tuesdays and Thursdays. One day I go for speed (I started interval training about 3 weeks into this) and another day I go for distance. Since Mr. Big is recovering so well from his gimpy leg and I am so worried it'll be reinjured, I only started taking them to the dog park a month ago, and only one day a weekend. That gives me one weekend morning for 5km around the golf course (so I can time the distance and track my progress). That interval training is going to work, I know it will, but I hate running, even the short distance between two light poles.

Lady Scientist J and I went to the Canyon on Sunday for our first conditioning walk. Four miles, at a reasonable pace, because the first 2 miles were uphill. At the 2 mile marker, I checked my pedometer (still working despite being dropped several times--yea!) and we turned around and did the second half all downhill (except for that last climb out of the canyon, which is just a small hill, but my knee twinged on  it--dang middle age). Our time was 1 hour 9 minutes for the whole 4 miles, and our speed was 3.77 mph. Not bad for our first conditioning walk!  That means I could do the half today (if I could keep this speed up the whole way) in my 3.5 hour goal. With 5.5 months to train and a course that's all downhill for the half marathoners, it's going to be do-able. Do-able without incapacitation.

That was a big sigh of relief you just heard.

Friday, June 11, 2010

In Which I Sigh With Delight Over a Book

And cry over a long-dead pet. And it wasn't even my pet.

Last night I finished reading My Summer in a Garden by Charles Dudley Warner, published 1870. Finding unknown-to-me, long out of print gems such as this is one reason I adore my Kindle. Were it not for my Kindle, I would never have found this reminiscence; that was purely by accident.

Mr. Warner, friend and neighbor to Mark Twain, was a well-known essayist and newspaper editor of the nineteenth century.My Summer in a Garden is a sweet recollection of his garden in Connecticut, the trials and triumphs experienced therein, punctuated with gentle philosophical musings, such as "Knowledge is the soil, and intuitions are the flowers which grow up out of it." We watch his garden grow in weekly installments, and his easy-going writing style and sly wit draw the reader in, till we become as exasperated with the boys and the cow who keep trespassing and eating his fruit as he, as tired of weeding 'pusley' as he, as contemplative of a quiet summer's eve as he.

I love reading memoirs of life on old Colonial farms or in the wild west of 100 years ago, so I was delighted to find this book. A forgotten gem indeed.

Mr. Warner ended the book not just with the advent of autumn, but with one of the most eloquent, heartbreaking eulogies that I have ever read or heard. Calvin the cat, his gardening companion, appeared out of nowhere, age and breeding and past unknown, and was given to Mr. and Mrs. Warner by Harriet Beecher Stowe. Mr Warner accepted Calvin at face value, and he Mr. Warner. The loving description of Calvin's beauty, his behavior, his elegance and constancy of affection, made me cry. My fifteen-year-old cat lay on my lap as I read this, the mystery of her past as unknowable as his. In her bowed head, I saw his. There are many lessons to be learned from Calvin's life, and his way of living. I write that not just as a cat lover. And yes, I cried for Calvin. The power of words, that someone would cry for a cat who died one hundred forty years ago.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In Which the Babies Resemble...

...gorgons. Hey, don't laugh--I think those weird head feathers look spiky and out of control, like waving serpents atop of the fearful head of a terrifying Greek mythological creature. Or like something out of a really good 1950s Japanese monster movie. Godzilla Meets the Hummingbirds! They swoop around him, pecking at his flesh! He cannot dodge their kamikaze attacks! Will Mothra help defeat Godzilla's most terrifying enemy?

I love the little heads sticking up under Mama's butt.

C'mon, isn't that a face only a mother could love?  In less than a week, though, he/she will be gorgeous!

Nest construction.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In Which Little Feathers Appear

Thank goodness V doesn't have any compunction about moving the tree branch to get photos of the baby hummingbirds (which I do, which is why my photos are so bad compared to hers). Look at those little feathers swirling around the eye. Look at that down on the back. Today they were stretching their wings for the first time. Not much wiggle room in the nest these days, and it will get worse as they get bigger this week.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In Which I Bake a Brick

 I like to have a special breakfast on the weekends, something that involves pancake batter or a cinnamon streusel top, but, alas, this weekend I had no pancake fixings, no coffee cake fixings, nothing special at all. But wait, thought I. I can make a loaf of bread and have toast. I dearly love toast and jam and tea; that is the ultimate comfort food in my home. I even still have two jars of homemade blackberry freezer jam from last summer. Perfect, thought I, a bit smugly.

However, bread and 106 degrees Farenheit (that's 41 degrees Celcius to gentle readers from abroad) apparently do not mix, or, perhaps more accurately, I have not figured out how to let dough rise in excessive heat. The chemistry must be beyond me. I thought it would be a good thing to let it rise on the patio, rather than in my house, which was completely shuttered against the heat and rather gloomy and cave-like.

I was wrong. The first rise looked okay. The second rise looked okay. The third rise, in the bread pans, looked adequate, but the dough was sticking to the covering. I should have taken that as a warning. What baked were not two fragrant, light loaves just waiting to be slathered in butter and blackberry jam, but two bricks. Flat on top, with the consistency (but not the sweetness) of a pound cake. Pound bread. Literally and figuratively.

Anybody need a doorstop? I have a brand new, eco-friendly, all natural bread brick you can have that's not even been opened (the twin to the one pictured). Ugh. A good blow to my vanity, that bread brick.

I never thought I'd ever really agree with David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times, about anything, but I have to doff my hat to his column today, which could have been entitled "Why the Humanities Matter," or "Why a Liberal Arts Degree is a Good Thing." I seem to have somehow stumbled through a Masters and a Ph.D. without having read Thucydides, Herodotus or Gibbon, but thanks to the nuns who first taught me and the women's liberal arts college I attended, I know who they are. [Insert cocky wink here.] I cannot tell you how hard it is to find college students these days who know how to think. That is actually one of my personal goals every semester, to teach my students how to think critically and to express their arguments in a concise and logical manner (thus, the essay exams, which they all hate and grumble about all semester long). Only one student in five years has recognized that the medicine was good for her, and thanked me for getting her over her fear of essay exams.

And just so that I leave this post feeling better, another photo of the hummingbird babies. Their eyes are open, as are their beaks, constantly.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In Which Little Beaks Appear

Not a good photo, but a darling subject. Baby hummingbirds, one week old.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In Which the Babies Are Born

Our hummingbird babies hatched yesterday, June 1. I've not been able to get near to get a photo as Mama is very protective of them, but our receptionist did this morning. She doesn't mind my using her photo here.