Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not-so-little Pileated Woodpecker

Our young Pileated Woodpecker, whom we call Hannah, is very close to feeding herself at our suet feeder. For several days now, both parents accompany her to the feeder, coaxing her to give it a try.

Father (whom we call Big Daddy) sits on the tree while Mom (whom we call Big Momma) flies to the suet feeder.

Little Hannah looks as if she just might give it a try.

She flies to the post and sits.

She looks up at the suet feeder, and thinks about taking off.

It was only a brief thought. She flies back to the tree.

She sits on a limb, waiting to be fed.

Big Momma doesn't fly away. She prepares to feed her Hannah.

So, once again, Hannah wins.

Just compare their sizes. Hannah is almost as big as her mother.

I have no idea how long these adults will continue to feed their little girl. They don't fly away from her until she has eaten her fill. Perhaps some birds spoil their little ones just as some parents do. I'm fairly certain that Hannah is eating insects by herself. I have seen her drilling, so perhaps eating at the suet feeder isn't all that important. But I will keep on watching.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Swallows at Connemara

When we visited the Sandburg home, we were delighted to find swallows nesting in the goat barn. The volunteer said this is the first year they have nested there, which seemed very strange to me.

The nest looks unstable, sitting above and overlapping an electrical outlet. Full of little ones, it looks as if it might crumble at any minute. It shakes with their activity. The nest isn't nearly as neat and trim as the ones at our community cabana, but it appears to be holding up so far.

The resident cat is temporarily excluded from the barn. I don't think she likes it very much.

Yes, Laura Bush visited Connemara Monday afternoon. Here she is with some of the Junior Rangers. Senator Elizabeth Dole is on the left of the picture.
Picture downloaded from the White House Website.
[I'll bet they wouldn't be so happy had they known I didn't get my invitation.]

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bits and Pieces

We share the environment with lots of deer. That said, my neighbor has been determined to grow lilies. As most of you may know, deer think of lilies as the best dessert around. They often pull off the large buds, not waiting for them to open. My friend has carefully watered, fertilized, and regularly spread deer deterrent around and on her lilies. They were beginning to bud when she left for a long vacation. She asked me to water her plants and care for her lilies.

The lilies are in full bloom, and I doubt they will still be blooming in another two weeks when my neighbor returns. I took my camera over and made a few photographs of her gorgeous lilies. At least she will have the pictures to enjoy.

Walking back to our house, I saw this butterfly, enjoying the Bleeding Hearts.
I came back and sat on the deck for half an hour, hoping to catch the little Pileated Woodpecker make a try for the suet feeder. No such luck. But I did turn around to find an obliging hummingbird.
Sometimes beauty comes at unexpected times.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lilian's Goats

Carl Sandburg, noted biographer of Lincoln, poet, lecturer and Pulitzer Prize-winning author was already famous when he moved to Flat Rock, NC. He and his wife Lilian lived on a farm in the Blue Ridge mountains for more than 2o years, until their deaths.

It was Lilian who found the farm, already named Connemara. She was searching for the ideal place, large enough for raising her prize-winning goats and sufficiently secluded for Sandburg's writing. Lilian Steichen had married Carl (then called Charles) Sandburg in Milwaukee, WI. Both were active members of the Wisconsin Social-Democratic Party, a party whose platform included uniform suffrage, free textbooks for schools, worker benefits, and child labor laws. They met at the Party headquarters.

While a writer and poet herself, Lilian's legacy was a prize-winning goat herd. She became famous in her own right for her goats which she started raising in Michigan. Seeking a better climate (as well as a place where Sandburg could write) she chose Western NC. She improved the herd and had a thriving milk and cheese business. She became well-known for her ability to genetically select and produce improved goats.

The goats living at Connemara today are descendents of the very goats that Lilian Sandburg raised. There are three types of goats: the Toggenburgs (which are tan and white); the Saanens (which are all white), and the Nubians (which are multi-colored with long, floppy ears). Guests are allowed to visit the goats in the pasture and barn. They are indeed wonderful creatures.

[No, I am not an expert on goats. The three types of goats are listed in brochures and pictures. In fact, I didn't even know that a female goat was a doe; I always thought "nanny goat" was the proper term.]

Here are some photographs of Lilian's goats. The kids are kept separately in the barnyard, while the adults are free to roam the pastures.

Carl Sandburg died in 1967, at home. Lilian died in 1977. The Sandburg family sold the farm to the National Park Service and donated all the contents of the home. Last year, additional acreage was purchased to preserve the quiet serenity of Connemara. The home, a National Historic Site is open to the public daily, except for Christmas Day.

Oh, and it won't be open to the public tomorrow afternoon. Laura Bush is coming for a visit. Funny, I didn't get my invitation. Must have been lost in the mail.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fridays are Golden

We recently got a new clock. (Actually it's an old French schoolhouse clock, but it's new to us.) We needed to move some things around to find a place for the clock. We moved one picture to the wall over the dog beds. In order to make room to take down the old picture and hang another one, my husband simply stacked both beds together for the time being. Of course, Lucy decided to try out the double-decker bed.

Two beds together can be better than one.
But Lucy, then why are you always getting into the same bed Ellie is using? Even when there is another bed right next to it?

Oh, I think she sometimes needs the companionship of a great dog.

This is the picture we moved. It was taken when Ellie was almost two-and-a-half and Lucy was four months old. (Yes, we had a professional photographer do a shoot of our girls. After all, we have portraits of both human children, don't we?)

This is the French schoolhouse clock we were fortunate enough to find.
Here's wishing everyone a wonderful weekend, free of stress and full of love.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Civilian Conservation Corps

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The purposes of the CCC were to find useful conservation work for the hundreds of thousands of young men who were out of work, and to provide on-the-job training for the enrollees. The CCC provided work in forests, parks, and rangelands throughout the United States.

The value of this endeavor is with us still. Much of the infrastructure in the NC mountains exists because of the work of these wonderful young men. Whenever we drive through these mountains we see the fruits of their labors. For the lovely stone bridges, and even the roads themselves, we continually thank the men of the CCC.

One can't drive far in Western NC without seeing a sign marking a route as "CCC Camp Road." Although there were many such camps located in our county, my favorite is the one at John Rock, the first CCC camp in Western NC. While the camp no longer exists, there is a very nice monument in honor of the CCC workers.

This is the larger than life-sized statue symbolizing the CCC worker.

This is John Rock itself. A popular hiking trail leads to the top.

Seen from behind, the CCC worker appears to be looking up at John Rock.

Life in the CCC camps was not all work. Health and dental care were provided, along with recreational activities and religious services. Many of the young men first learned to hunt and fish during their time of service. Almost all of them gained a new respect for forests and knowledge in forest maintenance. They came away from the camps with renewed enthusiasm and self-confidence. The work provided by the CCC allowed men to provide financial assistance to their families at a time when unemployment was extremely high.

The CCC program ended in 1942. With our entry into WWII, the men were needed for other battles.

I cannot tell you how strongly connected I feel to these young men and boys. Many of the roads and the recreational areas in Pisgah National Forest and many other places are there because of the CCC.

I urge you to make an effort to find out what the CCC may have done in your area. And if you know of someone who worked in the CCC, or his family...please thank them for me and the people of the Western NC mountains.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Birds at the Feeder

We are in the midst of a heat wave. It's hot and sticky and the air is stagnant and still. There are several groups of people who have my sympathy in this weather. Obviously, the people who have no air conditioning and/or who have to work outside paving or roofing. I also feel sorry for the families who have come to the "cool" mountains to camp, only to find the temperatures reaching the 90s and the rivers too low to do much tubing. I feel sorry for the kids in our many summer camps whose parents have paid several thousand dollars for them to attend camp in the mountains. And I REALLY feel sorry for the camp counselors who have to contend with these kids who are hot and perhaps a bit whiney.

As for me...well, it's not all that bad. Being retired we have the luxury of doing very little. I've been reading The Sisters, The Saga of the Mitford Family, a biography by Mary Lovell. It's quite fascinating. And I've done a little knitting. And I've done a lot of birdwatching without hiking to find the birds. Here are some of our common birds at the feeders.

There's almost always an American Goldfinch.

cAnd a Carolina Chicadee

The Towhee is rather unusual at birdfeeders, but we have one that visits almost every day.

These three seem to be getting along fairly well.
And these two little Titmice seem to be having fun dropping seeds and watching them fall. I have no idea what they are thinking.

And finally, a rather tired-looking White-breasted Nuthatch. This summer of nest building, egg laying, hatching and feeding has taken its toll.

I hope your weather is much better than mine. If not, I hope you have some leisure to just enjoy the birds and stay cool.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Did you happen to see the movie Songcatcher? If not, you may want to rent it. It is quite entertaining, and provides a good look at old mountain culture and music. I really enjoyed the film and the music.

So I was excited to learn that the Cradle of Forestry would be presenting a Songcatcher's Music Series at the amphitheater this summer. The Cradle of Forestry is a short drive and an inexpensive way to spend a day. For special events such as the Songcatcher's series, the admission is $6.00 per person.

We arrived a little early and found lots of people already picking out their favorite spots. Most of them had lawn chairs and were sitting in the woods behind the seats of the amphitheater.

Is it just me...or does everyone seem to be 50 and over?

The singers for this performance were Buddy, Carol, and Jamie, a trio from Asheville, NC. They specialize in three-part harmony and sing standard country, bluegrass and mountain music.

I very much enjoyed the music, although I wished for more of the really old mountain music. The rest of the audience seemed to prefer comtemporary country classics.

The crowd was animated and seemed to love the music. There was much clapping and foot stamping and everyone had a good time.
After a while, I decided I wasn't going to hear some of my "songcatcher" favorites, so I settled in and enjoyed the atmosphere and the music. When I got home, I listened so some Joan Baez early ballads and felt satisfied.
This summer, look around your area. I'm sure there is so much available to you, so take advantage of your local talent.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Little Hairy Woodpecker

[Disclaimer: These pictures are technically pretty bad, and a month ago I wouldn't have posted them. They were shot under the worst of conditions; at an acute angle through a glass door, with the sun shining directly on me and the camera. I didn't dare wait to get the camera bonnet and I wanted you to see this great sight.]

For several days we noticed that the Hairy Woodpecker was changing the pattern of feeding the little male. The mother would take longer to bring food, bring less food, and then fly away before a full feeding. We knew it was only a matter of time before this little guy was going to have to feed himself.

On Saturday, my husband called me and said, "I think it's about to happen." I grabbed the camera and watched.

The little Hairy is parked on the tree as usual.

He watches his mother go to the feeder and waits a long, long time.

He is stunned to see his mother totally ignore his hunger. She flies far into the woods.
The little Hairy sits for a while, trying to decide what to do. Mom doesn't come back. He is hungry and he knows where Mom gets the food. But it looks really far away. After several false starts, he decides to fly closer to the feeder.
Now what? I still don't know how to get up there.
He looks at the feeder from all angles.
It's just too far away.
He decides to try to get closer, this time by perching on the side of the house.
He clings there for a while, and decides to go for it.

He makes it on the very first try.
Finally, the little Hairy Woodpecker has something to eat.
After that first clumsy attempt, the little Hairy quickly became skilled at flying directly to the feeder. It's rather like riding a bicycle...once you get the hang of it, it's a piece of cake. We have come to call the tree nearest the suet feeder the launching tree. We suspect the Pileateds are about ready to stop feeding their little girl. Both parents are coming to the tree with her, and flying back and forth to the feeder several times before giving her anything to eat. I hope I can get some pictures of her first trip to the suet. And I REALLY hope they are of better quality.