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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Drop on by

We live on the first ridge of the Watchung Mountains. Of course the Watchungs are New Jersey versions of mountains, which means, really, nothing more than large pointy hills.

And one would think, if you live on the top of a mountain (or a large, pointy New Jersey hill), that one wouldn't have problems with water and flooding.

One would be wrong, if one thought that.

Which is why, in our house we have French drains, two high-powered sump pumps, and an external generator powered by natural gas that is set to kick in a mere three seconds after we lose power. (I have this feeling if I tried real hard I could make a Christmas carol parody of that line, to the tune of 12 Days of Christmas: 3-second power, 2 high-powered sump pumps and a French drain that keeps us dry.)

Anyway, we faced down Hurricane Irene earlier this year with all our precautions in place--and are happy to say that we made out okay; our yard was a soggy mess, but we had enough power to keep our basement dry. (Of course, the reason we had drains and pumps and generators to begin with was because of a nasty flood we endured two years ago, but that's a topic for another blog.)

This year our area had a record amount of rain. And sometimes, when you have too much of something, (and in our case, way too much) it's easy to overlook the simple beauty of it.

Thus today's post is about water--in small amounts.

I find it fascinating that some plants seem to be designed to capture water. You can tell when you see how droplets form on their leaves--or spines in the case of cactus. Often this is most obvious not after a hard rain, but after a light misting or in the morning dew.

In the spring, the folds in the leaves of Ladies Mantle seem to channel water droplets. In the sun, the drops shine like liquid diamonds.

Larger drops of water collect in early spring on columbine.

Sedum not only seems to inspire water to coalesce into ever-bigger drops, but if you look carefully, you'll see a crown of droplets gathering on the pointed edges of some of the leaves.

Of course, one would expect water to collect on the spines of cactus.

If you think about it, the typical shape of a leaf is designed to catch water, allow it to pool in the ridge formed by the spine, and then drip off in to the ground. Here, a rhododendron demonstrates.

The underside of the large canna lily serves a similar purpose, allowing water to bead up and then drip down.

This morning glory's heart-shaped leaf seems tinged with sadness, as it weeps a rainy tear.

Water on flowers can also be quite striking, focusing the eye, and adding a touch of interest. And again, one can see purpose in the shape of the petals.

Clematis flowers drip with summer rain.

Bright pink vinca colors the droplets of water lucky enough to land on its flowers.

The blooms on the purple scaevola also seem to gather and direct water.

I marvel at the design of canna lily; water beads up in a unique display that covers the petals.

Even mushrooms find a way to collect and direct raindrops groundward.

At my house, I'm not the only one who appreciates water wherever it collects. Even though Jasper and Tucker aren't fans of water in large amounts, they do like it under certain circumstances. Lilah, on the other paw, not only loves the wet stuff, but also plays in it, something that Jasper and Tucker may never quite understand.

Tucker believes that rainwater tastes best, particularly if your siblings can't get to it.

And while Jasper is appreciative of this raised water bowl, he doesn't understand why he has to share it with the birds and butterflies.

Lilahfish plays in her pool. She loves to put her nose in the water and run around in circles.

Lilah, ever the sloppy drinker, always winds up spraying drops of water, and more than a few land as short-lived sparkly rhinestones on her velvet face.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Hum along with me

They are tiny, irredescent acrobats. Their smallness inspires the casual observer to think "adorable" and "delicate." But they are bellicose warriors of the sky, extremely territorial, and capable of putting on an aeronautic display to rival the dogfights of World War II pilots.

A juvenile hummingbird flies past a butterfly bush.

Hummingbirds are incredible creatures, the only birds capable of flying backwards, with wings that beat so fast (more than 50 beats per second in the case of the ruby-throated) that they are invisible to the human eye when the birds fly. You often hear one before you see one: a loud hum that brings to mind the buzz of potenially huge bumblebee. Hummers have long, thin beaks with specialized tongues; though you might think they suck up the nectar like humans might suck up the ambrosia of a rootbeer float, their tongues instead trap their liquid food and delivers it back into their mouths.  (A set of great videos on show how it's done--in slow motion.)

A juvenile hummingbird shows off the long beak it needs to reach nectar. You can tell it's not an adult by the "5 o'clock shadow"--dark stippled feathers on its neck.

Flower power
In September of 2004, about a month after we moved into our house on the first ridge of the Watchung mountains here in New Jersey, we saw our first hummer. This poor guy mistakenly thought the fuschia-colored flowers on our patio umbrella were the hummingbird equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. He eventually realized it was all a sham, but we were thrilled, because we knew hummingbirds were in the area, and we might be able to see more of these little creatures.

A female hummer is looking to feed on the flowers in a hanging basket.

Rest stop on the New Jersey flyway
Over the years since then, we've learned a lot about hummingbirds. First of all, it's important to put out their special feeders before the first individual of this migratory species flies through in the spring. There are maps available online that tell you when the first wave of hummers are likely to appear in your area; ruby throated hummingbirds start showing up in our neck of the woods around April 1. The males--whose iridescent throat feathers give the species its name--show up first, with the females coming by a few weeks later.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird shows off the iridescent jewel-toned feathers that give the species its name.

I set out my feeders in mid to late March--just in case someone shows up unfashionably early, but I usually don't see the birds until a week or two into April. Hummingbird websites will tell you that if you put the feeders out early enough--and make sure they are clean and full--you may get a few birds to stop by and perhaps stay in the area, instead of continuing their migration and heading further north.

This female shows the  more subtle colors of her gender.

Attracting attention
I've also learned that hummingbirds are somewhat picky about the feeders they like. My husband bought me a beautiful brass and glass feeder, but the birds flew by it like my dad driving by McDonald's on the way to Le Bec Fin--with nary a show of interest. I tried putting fake flowers on it, and painting the feeder ports bright red, but even though our first hummingbird visitor was interested enough to try to feed from those two dimensional images on the umbrella, no hummers took the slightest interest in my pretty feeder.

A little bit of research later, and I found a bright red, somewhat tacky-looking feeder made by Perky Pet. (I have since found these in many places both online and in brick-and-mortar stores.) The reviews were nothing short of spectacular. Not only did this feeder attract the birds, but it was easy to clean because the nectar container was made of glass--an important quality as hummingbird nectar is an ideal medium for mold, and thus the feeders have to be regularly cleaned out. And it featured perches at each of its feeder ports, which supposedly makes it even more attractive; like getting a seat at a table instead of standing at the bar, it means the birds don't have to use as much energy when they eat. And tiny hummingbirds are all about energy efficiency.
Against my aesthetic and artistic sense, I bought the Tacky Feeder; the reviews held true, and the hummers love it.

A male rests on a perch of the Tacky Feeder, the evening sun turning his ruby throat amber.

On a lark (bird pun!), I also invested in a few window feeders that seemed to have the same qualities as the plastic one, yet were a quite a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Made by Holland Hill, and incorporating simple test tubes (which appealed to my inner scientist), these feeders also attracted the birds, though they seemed to provide a second-rate feeding experience, because the hummers would nearly always start at Tacky Feeder and only come to the window feeders if the food had gone bad or missing, or if another hummer was already feeding there.

A male hovers as he decides whether to dine on a Holland Hill window feeder.

The benefit to me and my family, though, was that the window feeders brought the birds up close and personal, and we could watch them from just a few feet away. And the Holland Hill feeders were simple, pretty, well designed--and easy to clean and fill.

A female demonstrates the benefits of a perch: a relaxed meal.

One might think that with four perches on Tacky Feeder, four birds could easily feed in kumbayah harmony. But, alas, the pretty feathers on these adorable teensy birdies are window dressing on fierce and quite territorial creatures.

I only saw this only once: two birds at the feeder simultaneously. Because they were on opposite sides of the feeder, I don't think they saw each other at first. The guy on the left seems to be stretching his neck out in realization that someone was breaking the rules.
Bird dogfighting
Often, in between drinks at the Tacky Feeder bar, a bird would sit on top of the shepherd's hook from which the feeder hung. The hummer would chase any and all other fliers away, proclaiming this as his--or her--feeder.  I'd watch in fascination as the birds would zip and zoom through the air, dive bombing each other and literally battling with their beaks as they flew. You could hear the humming of their wings and the clacking of their beaks as they fought in flight. The victor would return to sit atop the shepherd's hook. The vanquished would sit on a tiny branch in my maple tree, planning his or her next attack.

Though I wasn't able to catch a hummer sitting on top of the shepherd's hook, this one may have been heading there. Maybe next year, I'll catch one on guard duty.

The photographer in me really wanted to try to capture these fast-moving birds, and throughout the season, I would keep my camera close by. Necessities for this endeavor included a telephoto zoom lens, a very fast shutter speed, a continuous shooting setting, a steady arm--and lots of patience.

This bird's tail feathers are spread in an effort to slow down as it comes in for a landing.

Hummingbird wings beat so fast that many of the pictures I took were either out of focus, or the blur of the wings covered up the faces or bodies of the birds. I took hundreds of photos, choosing a few
favorites for this post.

Having just landed, this hummingbirds wings slowed down enough for me to capture them in the image.

Here we are now in mid October, and I think the last of the hummers have passed by on their way south; I haven't seen one in about two weeks. It's time to take the feeders down, clean them for the winter and put them away--until next spring when I look forward to when these bright aerialists return to the mountaintop.

Caught mid-flight, a hummer sails away.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Vocabulary Lesson #3: Dogs, N through Z

In my last post, I introduced some dog vocabulary; these are words that aren't included in Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, but perhaps should be. Or maybe not. 

Inspired by my dogs, my family has created words to describe them, their activities and their personalities.

After the last entry, I realized I had left a few words out. I'll have to add them in a future post. I'm sure I'll have more dog--and cat--terms by then.

Below are the N through Z in the dog lexicon. Enjoy.

nyng  (nyng) verb
For dogs, the act of chewing an itch, usually on a foot, sometimes on another dog. Features small bites with the front teeth.
Usage: Lilah must have itchy feet; she's nyning her paws.
Lilah nyngs her foot. I just love that crinkly nose that goes along with nynging.

pelt  (pelt) noun
What’s left of a stuffed animal after a dog has disemboweled or defuzzicated it; one of the Best Toys. The smaller, the better.
Usage: Tucker and Jasper, why are you playing Tug with that tiny pelt when there are two larger pelts right here?
Lilah and Jasper play tug with a pelt. It's all that's left from what once was a plush emu.

puff muzzle  (puf / muz / ul) noun
The expression a dog makes when his or her cheeks are puffed up a little above the teeth, kind a like a smile. Usually seen when the dog is really interested in something.
Usage: You heard me say the word "outside," didn't you Lilah? That's why you're giving me puff muzzle.
Lilah demonstrates puff muzzle.

pupster (pup / stur) noun
A cute smallish dog: Rosie; she was a pupster her whole life. She was the original--and only--pupster.
Usage: The pupster is requesting that you play ball with her. 
Rosie, the one and only pupster; she was only about 4 months old here.

pupstrating (pup / strayt / ing) verb
The act of hanging around and looking cute, probably planning some kind of mischief. Can only be done by a pupster.
Usage: Rosie is pupstrating under the desk.
Rosie pupstrating at the top of the stairs. Possibly she is pondering the problem of a ball that went bouncy bouncy down the stairs. Or maybe she's contemplating mayhem. You never knew with Rosie.

run mucks (run / muks) or run some mucks (run / sum / muks) verb
Playing exuberantly outside.
Etymology: From “to run amuck”
Usage: Rosie, do you want to go outside and run some mucks?

Rosie loved to go outside and Run Some Mucks.

shlorb (shlorb) noun or verb
That particular type of slobber that gets all over a dog toy after serious playing, usually seen on a ball, and generously shared by pups who want to give you doggy kisses.
Usage (noun): Oh yuck, this ball is covered with shlorb!
Usage (verb): Rosie shlorbed the rubber ducky so much that it lost its squeak.
You can just make out the glimmer of shlorb on Rosie's Ball.

shlorby (shlor / bee) adjective
The condition of an object after it has been shlorbed.
Usage: Rosie could always tell when someone didn’t want a shlorby ball dropped in someone’s lap, which I’m sure is why she chose to give the ball to that person in particular.

sleepy tongue (slee / pee / tung) noun
A particular licking or smacking by a dog’s tongue, usually as he or she stretches or moans, in preparation for a nice nap or snooze.
Usage: Lilah is doing sleepy tongue; she  must be tired out from a long day playing with Tucker.

stealth dog (stelth / dawg) noun
A dog that disappears when it is dark; Lilah at night.
Etymology: from stealth aircraft, that are hard to detect using radar and other technology.
Usage: I forgot to put the light on Lilah’s collar when I took  her outside last night, and of course, the stealth dog disappeared; I had no idea where she was for more than five minutes.
Obviously, I couldn't show a picture of Lilah as Stealth Dog at night, because you wouldn't see her. But she does tend to hide in the garden now and again. You can just imagine how she would disappear when it's dark out.

stretchy belly (strech / ee / bel / ee) noun
One of the best kinds of dog bellies to rub; appears only when the dog stretches, creating a tight, incredibly rubbable belly.
Usage: Ooh look; Jasper has stretchy belly and I’m going to rub it right now!
This isn't quite a stretchy belly; the best ones include all paws stretched out as well--and they're kind of hard to catch with a camera. But Tucker's belly is quite rubbable at any time.

tayul (tay / ul) noun
A very cute tail, usually waggy.
Etymology: tail
Usage: Look at those cute, happy tayuls, wagging their greetings.
I love this picture; three pups havin' a confab, complete with happy tayuls.

teef (teef) or teefs (teefs)  noun
Teeth, only cuter.
Usage: Watch those teefs, Tucker; bite the Tuggy, not me.

vortex of doom (vor / teks / uv / doom) noun
A spot on Jasper’s chest, where the fur swirls together...kind of like a dog version of a cowlick. It’s possible the vortex of doom has special powers.
Usage: Jasper loves to be petted, particularly near his vortex of doom, and will paw at you if you attempt to stop petting.

A close up of Jasper's Vortex of Doom. I just want to poke it and pet it sometimes. It is irresistible.

whisper woof (wis / pur / woof) verb
A short, quiet bark. Not loud enough to be a bark. Almost a whisper. Used when you think there's something to bark about, but you're not sure...almost like a test woof.
Usage: What do you hear, Kelsey, that's making you whisper woof? 
Kelsey, the originator of the Whisper Woof.
whissle fuppy swippers (wis / ull / fup / ee / swip / urz) noun
Pasha’s fuzzy paws.
Etymology: From little fuzzy slippers--only cuter.
Usage: It’s time to trim Pasha’s whissle fuppy slippers; they’ve grown so furry that snow keeps getting caught in them.
Pasha had the furriest feet I've ever seen. Corinne coined the term whissle fuppy swippers, and it is exactly what they are.

zipper (zip / ur) noun
The white stripe on Rosie’s chest, a good place to pet her.
Usage: What’s behind that zipper, Rosie? (Answer: a brave and beautiful heart.)
My Rosie, showing off her white zipper.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vocabulary Lesson #2: Dogs, A through M

I’m not sure what it is about pets, but I think living with them affects the part of the brain that centers on language. They inspire us to create words--alternative names, as well as new terms that describe them and what they do. At first, I thought my family was the only one that made up words relating to the dogs and cats and other creatures with whom we share our lives. But talk to anyone who lives with animals and you’ll find, that while their dog actually has an official name, he is actually referred to by his people by no less than 15 nicknames. Or the family has a special word for the sound the cat makes when she is disturbed. (Our cats “merp.”)

Earlier this year, I created a post featuring Cat Vocabulary. Today, I’ll offer some dog-related terminology inspired by past and present pups. As it turns out, there are a lot more words than can fit in one post, so I’ll split it into two.
ears (earz) verb
The act of looking at someone or something expectantly, with ears so far forward that they seem to speak, usually because a dog Really Wants Something. Can also be used by humans when making a request, putting hands on top of the head to mimic ears.
Etymology: Inspired by Pasha who made “earsing” an art form.
Usage (dog): Pasha is earsing at you, Aaron. He wants your donut.
Usage: (human): Corinne, stop earsing me; I cannot take you to New Zealand to tour the set of The Hobbit.

Pasha "earsing" at a turtle we found.

defuzzicate (dee / fuzz / i / kayt) verb
To remove the stuffing from a plush toy--a joyful and fulfilling activity.
Usage: Jasper had defuzzicated the emu--with Tucker and Lilah’s help--which explained why there were drifts of white fluff scattered on the floor of the family room.

Lilah defuzzicating a skunk toy.

Jasper amidst the results of the defuzzification.

Dinkus (Din / kus) noun
Another name for Pasha. Corinne decided he was a “dinkus.” A Pasha Dinkus. Don’t ask me why he was a Dinkus or what it means. But he was a Dinkus.
Etymology: Ask Corinne.
Usage (dog): Aww, Pasha Dinkus, do you need more loving?

Pasha Dinkus.

donut nose (do / nut / noz) noun
The white circle of fur around Kelsey's nose. 
Usage: Sweet Kelsey, let me pet your donut nose.

While chewing on a stick, Kelsey shows off her donut nose.

drooble (droo / bul) noun
The water that drips off a dog’s face or beard after a nice drink of water. Nearly always shared with the nearest human.
Etymology: Dog dribble: drooble
Usage: Lilah left a trail of drooble as she walked away from the water bowl.

Jasper and Lilah drinking; note the drooble path from the drippage.

drooble face (droo / bul / fays) noun
When a dog’s muzzle is dripping with drooble.
Usage: Thank you, Tucker, for sharing that lovely drooble face with me; now I have a lovely wet splotch on my pants.

Tucker demonstrates drooble face, fresh from the water bowl.

eye bawls (i / bawls) noun
Looking at humans or other dogs from the side, or from under furry eyebrows. The whites of the eyes show, and there is usually some hint of a devious plan being hatched.
Etymology: Inspired by Rosie who had the original eye bawls.
Usage (dog): Look at those eye bawls on Tucker; he’s obviously planning to chew on another pair of my shoes.

Tucker giving eye bawls.

floppity (flop / i / tee) noun or verb
For a dog, the act of flopping his or her head back and forth real fast, often used to flip ears back in the right position or to remove water from fur. Often starts with the head and continues right back through the tail.
Usage: Stand clear unless you want a shower; Rosie just came out of the pool and she’s about to floppity.

Rosie performs a perfect post-swim full floppity.

happy butt dance (hap / pee / but / dans) noun
A special kind of prance done when a human is petting on dog on the part of his back toward his tail. Involves all kinds of wagging and wiggling.
Usage: Look, Pasha is doing the happy butt dance, because Brian is petting him in just the right spot.

After Pasha was injured on his back, petting the bald spot would inevitably inspire him to do the Happy Butt Dance.

horf (horf) verb
Onomatopoeia. The sound made by a dog who wants something: a heavy breath, expelled swiftly, and aimed at a human. Usually several in a row are used for best effect.
Usage: I guess it’s dinner time, because Pasha is horfing at me.

Not sure what Pasha wants, but he is asking for it politely. You can just about hear the horf.

Lilah fish (lie / lah / fish) noun
Lilah, when she's playing in her pool, swooshing her nose under the water.
Usage: Lilah Fish loves swimming in her pool; on a hot day, it's her home base, since neither brave Jasper or hardy Tucker like getting their paws wet.

Lilah fish, in her pool.

macaroni dog (mak / uh / roh / nee / dawg) noun
A particular greeting behavior where the dog is so happy to see someone that he (Jasper or Tucker) curls himself into an elbow macaroni shape and rubs against the person. If the greeting is especially enthusiastic, the dog spins in circles.
Usage: Jasper was so excited to see Corinne that his macaroni dog nearly knocked  her off her feet.

Jasper greets Aaron as macaroni dog while Tucker jumps up to give puppy kisses.

mouf (mowf) noun
Mouth, only cuter, and usually hiding something that isn’t supposed to be there.
Usage: Rosie, what’s in your mouf? And don’t tell me nothing. Drop it!

Rosie, with her favorite Ball in her mouf--in one of her favorite places: a box.