A Hostage Situation

I loved my grandpa and he loved purple martins.

I shared his love purple martins too. These colony nesting birds make their homes in man-made houses on tall poles, eat on the wing and sing beautiful songs all day.  And I could, and have, spent hours just watching them zoom in and out of their homes.

In the year after he passed away, I was explaining to John the necessity of me traveling three and a half hours north to our family’s cabin where the purple martin colony that Gramps spent years attracting, taking care of and recording their activity was.

John looked at me and said, “Alright, but you realize that you are being held hostage by your dead grandfather’s migratory birds, right?”

I laughed and went and took care of the martins.


Last week I was standing thigh-deep in the lake in my underwear holding up the purple martin pole so that it’s three tiers of gourds and their precious cargo didn’t go crashing into the water with John’s words ringing in my ears.  I could have laughed but my arms were too tired.

You see the cabin is on a flowage and on years that the water is high, the base of the martin pole is underwater. The martins don’t mind. In fact since they have eschewed the identical set up on land for many years in a row, I’d say they prefer it that way. Perhaps they just like to watch us squeal when we wade out to crank the whole colony down and check the nests when the water is cold and the wind is high.

In any case, one hazard of a pole being sunk into the water is that winter is often unkind to it, and by the time spring has come and the ice is gone, the pole develops a serious lean.

The preferred method of dealing with this lean is to run to the local hardware store and rent a trash pump. A trash pump being a fairly large pump that you can pump water and any other debris that might be floating by directly from the lake, through the pump, back out a four inch hose. Then, using a handy and ginormous wand my dad created, the water gets funneled to a one inch pipe and the resulting jet of water can be used to dig out the sand at the base of the pole. I was promised that “in less than five minutes” you can push it back to vertical.

It started out swimmingly. I, a novice to this project with only pants in my bag, was in charge of starting and stopping the pump as well as checking the status of the lean from dry land.  My mom, in her experience and shorts, was in the water directing the jet and pushing the pole.

Then suddenly, with the help of a gust of wind, the pole started rapidly descending toward the water. Mom threw the wand down to grab the pole. I shut the pump off, threw my jeans in the grass and jumped into the water and before I knew it, there I was. Thigh deep in a northern Wisconsin flowage in May in my underwear with the words “you are being held hostage by your dead grandfather’s migratory birds” ringing in my ears.

Following that flurry of activity we had some minor issues with the pump that were eventually resolved, though it took a shovel, a canoe paddle, two wire stakes, a wooden bench that had floated to shore, approximately 37,000 hours of me or my mom standing holding a pole attached to a dozen gourds full of nests of Purple Martins, (did I mention they are cavity-nesting birds…basically dependent on man-made housing, just like what we were about to accidentally dump in the lake, for survival?) and a large amount of sheer stubbornness.

All the while as we pushed and schemed and figured how to get the pole upright, the martins swirled around us, calling to each other and even popped in and out of their chosen gourds. I guess it’s true. I am being held hostage by my dead grandfather’s migratory birds but I have to admit, I’m loving it, cold water and all.

 

 

Dark Cloud

It’s officially spring and I can’t help but to hope for soft blue skies and flowers waiting to welcome me to the day.  Instead this morning I opened my eyes to a sky full of dark clouds. Dark clouds that occasionally spit out rain and sleet. It was a day that truly feels like spring. One of those that no amount of cute rhymes about “April showers” can make pleasant when you are out in the teeth of the wind.

Spring is not my favorite season.

But in the wind I was.

And for the first time this year that wind smelled like spring.

And by the time I was done dodging rain showers our new arrivals were all settled in.

And with a scrap of fluff in my hand I was reminded that Spring does have it’s merits after all.

 

 

April Snow Woes

It’s that problem you have when the day before the ground was solid mud but today it’s all snow covered and frozen.

When you are accustomed to being a glorious white but the mud has lingered and you are are hardly fit to be seen.

When all the puddles and ponds have frozen and all you have left is a water bowl.

And it’s just too small for a decent bath.

 

 

Baby Chicks DO Make Everything Better!

A few years ago my mom broke her arm. Of course, Murphy’s law never to be discounted, that happened to be the day her baby chicks arrived. I picked them up at the feed mill on my way to go help her out, letting them know who I was and why my mom wasn’t there herself. “You bring these right in and put them on her lap” said the woman. “Baby chicks make everything better.”

They didn’t miraculously heal a broken arm that day, but they did bring out a lot of smiles.

Ever since the woman at the feed mill put it into words, I’ve found it to be true. Baby chicks, in many ways, make everything better.

This weekend I had big plans, my brother was going to be visiting and we were going to Get Things Done. The kids had plans with other kids, John had a crazy workout challenge event, it was going to be great. And then my brother hurt his leg (he’ll be fine), the kid plans canceled because it tried to be winter again today (spring will be back soon), John did his event (and had a great time despite the weather) but I was not feeling the “great” that was this weekend.

And then I got a slightly out of the blue offer of 18 baby chicks to be delivered ASAP. After rummaging around outside (in the ice/snow/sleet/rain/wind) for supplies, hauling straw and shavings and digging an extension cord out of the ice, the brooder house was set up and the baby chicks arrived. I stood in the warm brooder house, out of the wind and rain and sleet and snow and ice, looked at my new babies peeping in the straw and suddenly everything was quite a bit better.

But that’s not really how I know baby chicks make everything better.

How I know is this…

A few hours after they arrived Clara, Jane and I all went out to check on (read snuggle) the babies. After a bit I, thinking that I should get something done, left the girls out in the brooder house and spent about an hour in the basement on various chores. I came upstairs and it was suspiciously quiet. Did they go back out? … or… uh oh…

The brooder house has a door with a hook and eye latch on the outside and on the inside. The door, particularly in weather that is trying to make you believe it’s still winter, will not stay closed by itself and baby chicks complain to management when it gets too drafty. The door is always latched, from one side… or the other…

I hustled back out to the brooder house. Sure enough, the door was locked from the outside.  I opened it up and went in, bracing myself for yelling and crying and wondering if my apologies would have to go as far as promises of ice cream and movies. There were Clara and Jane, lounging under the heat lamp. Jane had a half a dozen baby chicks sleeping on her lap, Clara had  a few more along her legs and one tucked under her hair, resting on her shoulder. Clara just looked up at me and said in a voice usually reserved for teenagers, “Really Mom?

Then they ever so slowly shed the chicks from their laps and got their boots and jackets on while Jane excitedly told me how they opened a window so they could yell for me and what their plan was in case the brooder house caught fire while they were locked in it (it totally would have worked by the way). They each gave just one more chick one more snuggle and then they happily pranced off through the sleet to the house.

And that’s how I know that baby chicks make everything better.