Monthly Archives: September 2008

Specimen Daze

Doctor T dropped in for a visit this past weekend. Not that Doctor T but this Doctor T. He showed up carrying a butterfly net and specimen bottle. Evidently that’s his MO.

Is that a speciman bottle in your pocket...?

Is that a speciman bottle in your pocket...?

I’ve been looking forward to meeting the handsome Doctor for quite some time now and have been very jealous of all the bloggers that got to meet him when he’d go collecting in their insect laden states. Oregon’s cool, wet weather just doesn’t pull in the bugs, or their admirers, like Arizona or Texas or anywhere in the South. Fortunately for us though, the Oregon Zoo has a butterfly breeding program, and butterflies are Doug’s passion.

I was a little nervous at first as is usual for me when meeting new folks but that all went out the window before we even left the train station. Doug was Doug…the same chap I swap snarky remarks with in the blogosphere, so I knew we’d have a grand time.

Friday night’s conversation was a lot of fun and even though we’d consumed a fair amount of wine, Doug agreed to join us and our neighbors as we walked the dogs in Forest Park the following morning. The weather was rather cool and there weren’t many insects to be found but the good Doctor prodded along, enduring our many questions about local insects. He listened, without rolling his eyes, as we described the black beetles about an inch or two long that often cross our path on these walks. “They’re really common and the wings are kind of dull” and “They look like the other black beetles only shorter”, scientific descriptions that I’m sure had the good Doctor chuckling, on the inside. But Doug continued to smile and talk to us as though we’d all made it beyond the third grade.

About an hour into the hike, in one swift, unexpected move, Doug pulled a specimen jar from his pocket, swooped down on a rotting stump and came up with not one, but two carabid beetles, like some sort of insect-hunting superhero with insectivision. The neighbors were excited that he’d bagged bottled the very beetles we’d been describing and stood gawking at them frantically trying to escape their prison.

I stood wondering, “who carries a specimen bottle in their pocket?” But the answer was obvious, the same one that carries a butterfly net in his luggage.

Saturday afternoon on the Wilson River Doug showed us another of his many talents…he has the quickest net swoop in the country. If butterfly netting were an Olympic sport, Doug would be Michael Phelps. No billowing net flowing above his head as he frolics across a park lawn chasing that elusive Swallowtail. (well…not this trip anyway) Nope. Doug is all business, sidling the net up behind his prey, gently prodding the rocks nearby, and just as his victim launches…SWISH!

The net people, the net…stay with me here.

His net has the headspeed of Tiger Wood’s driver, I’m telling you! I sure wouldn’t want to come face to face with him at the Butterfly Corral…I might end up in a bottle…in a freezer…like the carabid beetles.

But I digress…

Although I know that Doug’s work is also his hobby, spending time with him you get a true feel for the passion and enthusiasm with which he carries out that work. It’s also more than a little contagious; it’s changed the way I “see” when walking the trails or simply passing a shrub. Insects beware!

I also learned that it takes less than two glasses of wine to get his tongue to wag. He spent a good share of Saturday night sharing secrets stories about bloggers he’d met, and I, of course, kept on pouring! Actually, we spent most of that time talking about everything from bloggers to music to relationships to water polo players.

It was the most enjoyable weekend in many, many months. Good company comes easy but great company happens and this was one happening weekend.  I’m truly looking forward to our next visit and hope there are many more to come.  You see…I have this spider in my garage I can’t identify.

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Swift Watch

Last night we joined Brenda and Thomas and Brenda’s ‘rents from WI, Bev and Bill and about 500 of our closest friends and neighbors for a grand Portland tradition…Swift Watch.

Mark, Bev & Crash (Brenda) - having more fun than they're  showing

Mark, Bev & Crash (Brenda) - having more fun than they're showing

Yep…there we were sitting on our blanket eating Bev’s tasty party snacks, Sungold tomatoes, cheese and crackers and washing it all down with a local brew while 10,000+ Vaux’s Swifts swirled above our heads, creating quite the vortex, before diving into the school’s old boiler chimney for the night. This was the first time I’ve witnessed this phenomenon and I’m kicking myself for not having done it sooner. What an amazing experience!

The chimney at Chapman Elementary School

The chimney at Chapman Elementary School

Swiftly soaring Swifts

This has been going on for many, many years, long before I ever visited this state. Evidently, the Vaux’s Swifts began using the chimney due to lack of habitat (read logging) and the school was forced to not use the boiler the entire month of September to avoid baking those little beauties. September being a cool month in Oregon, although you wouldn’t know it this year, the children and staff had to bundle up in order to stay warm.  Thanks to many nature-minded residents and the Audubon Society of Portland, money was raised for a new, more efficient furnace and the old boiler chimney preserved for the swifts.  We owe them much gratitude!

Now, every year, literally thousands of people from around the city and State and country (Bev & Bill) come every September night to observe this fascinating event that peaks mid-month.

A few friends

A few friends

The Audubon Society of Portland staffs a booth each night as well to answer questions and educate the masses on Swift behavior and the history behind this event. I really can’t think of enough adjectives to describe what a thrill this was…and we were treated to a very special guest about midway through the roost. A Peregrine Falcon came flying into the swirling flock and tried to nab an hor’s d’ouvres and the crowd went wild! It was exhilarating to watch as the enormous, swirling vortex above the chimney turned into an undulating black cloud surrounding the falcon, forcing him out of the area and then, within seconds, back in motion above the entrance to their avian hotel.

Turning in for the night

Turning in for the night

The birds begin gathering about an hour before sunset and finish their descent into the brick tube just about dark so it’s a nice evening out and you can make it home long before your bedtime. If you haven’t taken the time to see this, you’ve gotta’ check it out. Go tonight! You won’t regret it.

Twisted Knitting

I wish I’d thought of this…

Stage 5

Things are finally starting to calm down here and I’m feeling somewhat normal again. I know…normal is relative, but hey…I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Dad’s been moved from the condo into a nice little double-wide on the 15th green of the Bethel Island Golf Course. Yep, he’s high-falutin white trash now. He doesn’t play golf but he does drink and the clubhouse is just 120 yards away; you could hit it with pitching wedge if you were so inclined. The trailer is nice and more than sufficient for his needs and he has the help of a new girlfriend to make it nice and homey.

Did I say new girlfriend? Actually, she’s his childhood sweetheart from grade school in Arkansas. Really. It’s a long story but in the 50 years since they last saw each other they’ve somehow homed in on the same location and live barely 10 miles apart. They’re so cute together and happy as can be and I’m lucky to have an extra pair of eyes to keep watch over him.

Once we got Dad settled in, Mark and I drove the 700 miles home in one very long day, pulling a trailer full of my sister’s belongings. Sorting through all those items has had the greatest impact on me. With all the immediate issues resolved, the grief hit hard and deep. I could barely open a box without falling apart so it’s been a very long, low period that I’m finally pulling out of.

Most difficult was looking through keepsakes she’s kept since we were kids and despising the fact that I no longer have anyone to share those memories with. I can talk to others about those times but they’re just tales, stories of my past. Not a shared experience. I kept thinking how funny it would be to sit there with her looking through all this detritus; her robust laugh, tears streaming down our cheeks, both gasping for breath until she runs off to the bathroom trying not to pee her pants. Oh, yes, this happened frequently, and she didn’t always make it, which would only make us laugh all the harder.

So, I’ll no longer have Cheryl to remind me of details I may have forgotten or to share the knowing laughter of that experience. Reminiscing now is one sided, one dimensional, just hanging there in my mind to slowly slip away along with my memory…and a lot has already slipped.

Now the keepsakes inciting these memories have been placed on shelves, hung on walls or packed neatly away for future reminiscing; a little bit of Cheryl in each one of them.  It’s time to move on, step back into the world, get Cheryl out of my head…but keep her in my heart, where she’ll stay with me forever.

Sleep well, Sissy.