The Art of Standing Still

As many of you know, we are birdwatchers. One of the reasons my husband was initially drawn to our new home was the aerial view online showed that it had a very wooded lot. To birdwatchers, the cover of trees often means bird life and that was exciting for us. Upon moving in, my husband took up the job of setting up feeders for the yard — one of his first jobs was at a store that specialized in wild bird feeders and food, so he’s our resident expert. Throughout the summer we had a lot of very cool visitors to the yard and the feeder situation evolved as different species would show up.

While we do fill feeders in summer we are on the go a lot and there is an abundance of food in nature, so I’m not always super on top of the job. I try to be a little more dependable in winter because food sources aren’t as secure. Our feeders change seasonally, too. We put away the Nyjer and set out more peanuts and black oil sunflower seeds in winter. img_9087I’ve started to leave a little trail of hulled sunflower seeds on the deck rail. The cardinals, juncos, chickadees, house finches and goldfinches, pine siskins, and mourning doves love it. At one point a couple days ago, I had something like 15 or 16 doves lined up in a little row out there.  I so enjoy seeing what shows up that I’ve been spending my morning work hours at the kitchen table where this is my view…

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I love keeping watch and observing the different bird behaviors as they visit and interact with each other. The ground feeder up on the deck is a new addition — we have one out at the edge of the yard under a tree that the blue jays and juncos and squirrels (not to mention the deer that clear it out at night) love for its cracked corn and “critter feed.” This one is just hulled sunflower seeds so it’ll cater more to the chickadees and finches and cardinals.

The other huge draw in the yard is this…

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I feel a little ridiculous saying we have a heated bird bath, but… we have a heated bird bath. It’s not like a bird jacuzzi or anything, it just keeps the water warm enough to not freeze. These days it almost always looks like it’s steaming, but it really doesn’t take a lot of heat for that when it’s 15 degrees outside. Anyways, liquid water is a hot commodity for wild birds in winter, so having a water source draws in a lot of bird life. I’ve wanted a heated birdbath for years, but the old house had no outdoor electric and we didn’t have a good spot for viewing it anyway, so I never went after getting it set-up. This fall we finally splurged and I’m so happy we did! I’ve seen every single species of bird we’ve had in the yard at the water at one time or another. It’s extra upkeep and a little extravagant, but it’s such a cool feature and I feel very lucky to have it.

So you get the point — I love this new yard and I love our yard birds. For those like-minded birdwatchers, here’s a list of what I see on a daily basis at our feeders:

  • Blue Jay (pair)
  • Down Woodpecker (pair)
  • Hairy Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker (very endearing first year)
  • Cardinals (at least 4 pairs)
  • White-breasted Nuthatch (pair)
  • Red-breasted Nuthatch
  • House Finches
  • Gold Finches
  • Pine Siskins
  • Juncos
  • Chickadees
  • Mourning Doves (at least 16 individuals)

Nothing really out of the ordinary for where we live — I’m still hoping we will see some Purple Finches and Redpolls in the yard this winter as we’ve seen them out and about nearby, but we will see. You just never know and that is the beauty of birdwatching!

So I fill my feeders daily and I keep my eyes and ears open. And every time I go out to our feeders, I put a little seed in my hand and I stand very still for a few minutes. Usually there are anywhere from 1-4 chickadees hopping about, so I stand very quietly, occasionally chittering at them a little to let them know I’m standing there. I’ve had no takers yet and when I hear the blue jays coming in for the freshly filled peanuts I head for the hills, but one of these days these little guys are going to decide I’m ok and do this…

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I learned last year that chickadees are brave and sweet little souls and I’m convinced I can make friends with the ones here in our yard. Sure, my neighbors probably wonder what on Earth I’m doing standing out there like a statue in the 5 degree morning air, but it’s all good. Because as much as I do want the chickadees to learn they can eat from my hand, there’s something truly special about capturing those few moments in the crisp morning light. It’s a study in the art of standing still. To listen, to breath deep the ice cold air, to just be in the outdoors, to just be in that one moment, not thinking about the next task.

And really, that’s at the heart of much more than teaching a chickadee to eat out of your hand. It’s the heart of birdwatching. It’s at the core of knitting and spinning. Is it really any different than knitting on my hubby’s sock while I got the oil changed this morning?

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It’s the fine art of slowing down, of not thinking about the next task, of being the moment. Whether you talk to chickadees, watch the Downy woodpecker pair chase each other, spend 45minutes at the auto shop knitting — whatever the case, there is little more restorative than the fine art of standing still. So however you practice it, I encourage you to make time for it today even if your day is overscheduled. You won’t be sorry you did!

Of Gallivanting & Knitting

Pretty much right after I wrapped up my judging gig last week, my in-laws came for a visit. Despite the fact that I live in a teeny tiny house, I love having house guests. I love the company & the ease of spending time with those I don’t get to see often when they are staying under my roof. My husband’s parents live about a 10hour drive from our house, so we only get to see them two or three times a year. I am the first to admit that I am a very lucky lady in that my in-laws are really great. They have always gone above and beyond to make me feel like a part of their family and I’m extremely thankful that we get along well and enjoy each others’ company. Needless to say, those two or three times we manage to get together are very exciting for everyone.

20130819-112434.jpgOn this trip, we spent about half the time out and about — at playgrounds, a zoo, our community pool — mostly activities to watch the kids have fun.

We also took one morning for the grown-ups and did a Horicon Marsh Boat Tour. My husband & I have been out on The Marsh in our canoe & kayaks, but never tried this tour. Of course, we went for the 2hour Birding Adventure (my husband’s parents are into birds, too) to see what we would see.

20130819-112335.jpgIt was a gorgeous morning to be on The Marsh (but really, every morning is…).

We had more good looks at Belted Kingfishers than I could count, saw Yellow Warblers, a Catbird, loads of Blue Herons & Cormorants, both mature & immature Bald Eagles, but by far the highlight of the trip was finding a Peregrine Falcon. Oh wait, not just one, but TWO. A pair of Peregrine Falcons that proceeded to put on an aerial display that was everything you’d expect for the fastest bird on the planet — for at least 10minutes. For my husband & I, this was the second time seeing this pair — at least we assume it is the same pair based on location & the large ranges these birds tend to have. This time, however, instead of viewing them swooping and cartwheeling a mile up in the sky through a scope, they’d routinely speed past within 20ft of us. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience — our guide said that in 26years of doing these tours he had never seen such a display. It certainly makes you feel lucky!

20130819-112414.jpgOf course, almost equally impressive was that this little lady took the trip in stride. At 5years-old she managed to sit on a boat for two hours with grown-ups twitching at birds without interrupting or protesting. I was almost as proud at the end of this trip as I was the following day when she passed her ‘big pool’ swimming test at our local pool. Along with everything else going on, it was a weekend of big accomplishments for this soon-to-be kindergartener & I could not be any prouder of her (if it isn’t clear, this mama is beaming).

When we weren’t gallivanting though, we were knitting. My super sweet mother-in-law started knitting again a few years back and it is our little tradition that every time we get together I help her learn something new. This trip she tried the Capitol Square Market Bag & when she left she was doing as awesome job. I can’t wait to see it finished! We also made a trip to Firefly Fibers, for some goodies and I was treated to a Namaste Jemma Pouch.

20130819-131855.jpgI think the Hollywood Pink is super cute & coincidentally looks awesome with my Canary Devin Wristlet. I think my MIL & I may now be Namaste buddies, too!

I also picked up some Sugar N’Cream to work on my New Log Cabin Washcloths.

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I am mixing some hand-dyed cotton I got in a close-out from Dyeabolical Yarns last year with regular ol’ Sugar N’Cream.

close-upThe color combos are pretty fun — I am not a big fan of knitting washcloths, so anything I can do to make them interesting helps me to accomplish the task.

three dishclothsI’m pretty happy with the results & found pattern really fun to work with. You can see I wasn’t too precious about having these absolutely perfect — they are just going to be washing my  dishes anyway — so that is kind of fun, too — to relax and not worry too much about perfection. I have 3 or 4 or 5 other colors combos I’ll be working on over the next… well, few months probably. I’ll share as they come up.

My Rusted Root sweater was a bit too much focus for visiting with family, so I also started a sock.

full sock post heelJust the plain jane Basic Sock pattern from Churchmouse Yarn & Teas, I am knitting them in my Cakewalk Yarns Stash in Allegan. I bought this on Etsy this spring & sadly it looks like the shop is closed. The yarn is a merino/cashemere/nylon and the colors are beautiful & rich.

heel detailI kind of just want to dive in….  As you can see, I made it around the heel and am cruising along on the foot. Originally designated for a more ornate pattern, I’m happy to just be motoring through this sock. Sometimes just making something simple is fun, too — especially when the yarn is so nice!

As my MIL knitted along on her Market Bag, she caught the washcloth bug as well enabling her to knit with me until we lost the light and had to break for s’mores.

20130816-202240.jpgThankfully, I found I was able to knit by campfire light once I’d helped the kids finish up their s’mores & put them to bed.

We bid farewell to my in-laws yesterday morning after a big breakfast and are slowly getting back in swing of being home on our own. It is always a little sad, the house feels a little empty & quiet. All the extra room makes my teeny house feel big. The lack of chaos seems a little too easy to navigate. Eventually we all settle back into our routine though. My husband goes to work. I fold the laundry & run the dishwasher & make a grocery list. The kids clean up their room and do some lessons in their school prep. Moose sleeps. While we all exhale back into what is our ‘norm’, there’s a little place in all our hearts that looks forward to the next visit. When you think about it, we’ve already started the slow march toward that next visit. It can’t be too long now!

South Dakota Adventuring, Part Two

After two wonderful days in the Badlands, we awoke to a beautiful morning… and bison in the campground. I fully confess that I am pretty unreasonably freaked out by large wild animals. Logically I know a bison in the campground isn’t going to bother me or my family unless provoked, but I still worry. They are SO BIG! As we broke camp and packed the car for the next leg of our journey, I habitually checked the big fellow on the outside of camp to keep track of where he was and what his mannerisms were. He seemed totally fine, just munching grass, and ignoring the half dozen or so campers who quietly came in closer for photos.

About 20minutes before our departure, I did my routine check of our behemoth friend and I stopped in my tracks, stunned. No more than 15feet from the bison was a man with a giant handful of grass clearly inching closer and closer to the big guy, attempting to feed him by hand. Roughly 10feet beyond him was a lady poised with her camera. I could not believe my eyes — the bison was clearly getting agitated. I checked to see that my children were sitting quietly, but I was otherwise frozen in shock. Was this really happening?! Thankfully it was at this moment that a Forest Service employee who was there with a college geology expedition deftly made his way to the man and quickly explained that what he was doing was dangerous and, well, stupid. We departed shortly after, but not before thanking the man who diffused the situation grateful to not have to explain to our children why that man was just gored by a bison. I may be unreasonable in how unsettled I am by wild animals, but at least I give them the respect and space they deserve.  Yeesh.

With that bit of excitement behind us, we set out for our next destination: Custer State Park by way of Rapid City. We were in a bit of a rush as we knew there was a chance of weather that evening (the night before our next campsite saw golfball sized hail), but my husband insisted we stop off in Rapid City. The plan was that he, the kids & the pup would hit Dinosaur ParkI will not lie, this park is totally weird. Cartoony, vaguely accurate depictions of dinosaurs situated on top of a hill overlooking Rapid City. It was a Depression Era project created  by the city and the Works Progress Administration. Interesting history and scientific unreliability aside…

dinosaur park… the kids love it. And really that’s what counts.

And this little detour afforded me the chance to go here:

20130624-095540.jpgC R Yarn, the local yarn & fiber shop in downtown Rapid City. You never really know what you’ll find in a new yarn shop especially one so far from home, but I was really pleasantly surprised with this one. This shop had a nice, basic variety of good quality commercial yarns. Overall though, it actually appeared to stock more spinning fiber than yarn — a true rarity in my experience. My favourite portion of the shop by far was the Crafted in Rapid area — a consignment area for independent vendors. From bison fiber blends, to hand-dyed fibers & yarns, to handspun yarns, to handmade soaps & jewelry, there was a lot to choose from! I will admit it was hard to restrain myself — there was an indigo-dyed Portugese merino from Fuzzbee Yarns that was calling my name as well as about 10 other braids. In the end, I selected two to adopt.

20130625-110847.jpgThis is a merino/silk blend from Castle Fibers. I thought this woodsy colorway would make a fab yarn for fall.

20130625-110856.jpgThis colorway is called Blacklight. It’s a merino/tussah silk blend from Yarnsanity. Yes, the colors are amazing and no, I can’t wait to spin it up!

What a great stop this was. If you happen to find yourself in the Rapid City area, definitely take the time to pop into C R Yarn. It is easy to find as it is located in the very quaint & picturesque downtown. Especially if you spin, you won’t be disappointed!

Having acquired souvenir fiber and being slightly terrified that I wouldn’t be able to resist turning back and buying more, we headed out of the city and on to Custer State Park. This park is unique in that the southern portion is foothills and grasslands while the northern portion is pretty mountainous. We planned to spend the first 2 nights in the southern portion at the State Game Lodge campground. This campsite was largely chosen as a treat for our kids as it was situated on a creek and the campground has a playground. Turns out that both the creek and playground were a hit, but that wasn’t all. The spot was ripe with bird life & we got to watch not one, not two, but three Red-Naped Sapsuckers vehemently chase & chatter at each other for the duration of our visit. Mountain Bluebirds fluttered around snatching caterpillars from trees. Western Tanagers and Black-Headed Grosbeaks serenaded us from time to time. A pair of Cedar Waxwings were also ever present, feasting on bugs from the space over the creek — it was pretty magical for this family of bird watchers!

20130624-095234.jpgWe spent a lot of time like this — me with my husband birdwatching as I knit, cruising to the end of my Capitol Square Market Bag, the kids with net in hand seeking minnows & crayfish in the river. They got pretty good at finding & catching…

crayfishAnd those dollar store nature viewing kits were worth every penny…

minnowsCatching the minnows was my son’s favourite part of this vacation, bar none. It was awesome to watch him gain confidence in his skills and how much he loved just studying these creatures up close.

Aside from the campground, Custer State Park has a pretty fantastic wildlife loop. We were clearly a bit early for the baby antelope — we saw a ton last July, but only young bucks this year. We did see a lot of baby deer and bison. We even got to watch a bison actually in the throws of delivering her calf. We watched for probably 45minutes or an hour as she labored and were touched by how members of the herd checked on her in a steady stream. We stayed until the herd helped her to some privacy behind a fold in the landscape. We didn’t get to view the final result, but what we did see was pretty incredible (I am omitting photos of this because they are a little gory). A photo of the herd though is in order though, for sure, so here you go.

bison busterI love bison at this distance.

On our second and last day staying at the State Game Lodge campground,  we went for a short hike into the French Creek Natural Area.20130624-095225.jpg

My husband loves to get off the beaten path. I, of course, cannot stop thinking about being pounced on my a mountain lion, running into an irritated bison at close range, or having one of the kids wander onto an unsuspecting rattlesnake. Seriously, in the wild I feel like I had a giant target painted on my back just for angry wildlife. Around every corner lurks a bloodthirsty, crazed animal waiting to attack. At least that what’s going on in my head —  it’s so wrong & awful!  In any case, I wrestled aside my irrational fears and enjoyed this little hike immensely.

20130624-095450.jpgI hope to make it a little farther next year. I will be storing up courage for the next 12months.

On our final night thunder and lightning roared and flashed through the campground — there was some rain, but the worst of the storms seemed to skirt us and we saw nothing too major. We awoke early to the sound of 2 or 3 owls chatting, enjoyed a quick cup of coffee, broke camp, & headed on to the third and final leg of our adventure.

Many thanks to my husband for taking so many of these beautiful photos & for letting me use them here!