Field Guides Forever!

Red-tail closeIt’s the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and a great time to be outdoors. With books. As a curious naturalist, I have field guides in my kitchen, on my desk, in my car and on my phone. Books on birds, dragonflies, grasses, butterflies, birds, trees, mammals, spiders, birds, ferns, flowering plants, non-flowering plants, insects, reptiles, and did I say birds? I love my field guides for their history (I still have some books that belonged to my parents) and for their up-to-date info and detailed pictures and keys that give me a chance to figure out what the heck I’m looking at. Here’s a link to a lovely essay on the joy of field guides by Helen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk.

Black-crowned Night-Herons at the National Zoo

On a recent hot June day, Lou and I went to the National Zoo. Besides visiting the usual suspects, we had a good time watching the wild Black-crowned Night Heron colony that roosts in the trees near the Bird House.

Only a few big sloppy nests were still being tended. Many adult birds, handsome in their formal black tail coats and snowy shirt fronts, stood around in heat-induced indolence. 2015-06-11 11.15.17

In contrast, brown-striped juveniles took short flapping flights among the branches. Kids always have more energy!2015-06-11 11.24.15

The zoo even feeds these wild birds. Some of the adults were hanging around the sign that advertised the daily demonstration of this generosity.

2015-06-11 11.33.39 The Black-crowned Night-Herons come back year after year to nest at the National Zoo. Their return is as welcome as that of the buzzards to Hinckley or the swallows to Capistrano, though not as well well-known. May all their flights continue.2015-06-11 11.34.26

Patchwork Memories

Quilt big viewI’ve tried twice to throw it away. It’s my last single-bed patchwork quilt that my grandmother made. This time, I wrapped it around a display shelf I was donating to Purple Heart—doing a good deed and de-cluttering at the same time. The old quilt hasn’t been on a bed in years. It’s nearly my age and very worn: in places, the thin material is shredded. I can’t wash it because the fabric is too fragile. Might as well get it out of the closet.

Quilt big circle My thrifty grandmother cut her patches from colorful feed-sacks. This quilt has an interlocking ring pattern and scalloped edges. When I was a kid, this quilt alternated on my bed with a daisy-patterned one (long since gone). I decided that before sending it to Purple Heart, I’d spread it on our bed and take a photo as a keepsake. After all, I thought, I do still have my crib quilt with the kittens on it and my parents’ double-bed quilt. My grandmother made them all.Quilt Blue Ribbon

Grandmother won a blue ribbon at the 1941 Morgan County Fair for one of her quilts. Years ago I framed that blue ribbon and its envelope (mailed with a one-cent stamp). On the envelope was written “For the prettiest quilt.” Maybe my ring quilt was the one.

I think she would like the way her quilts were used and loved. For me and then for my sons, quilts were way more than bed-coverings. They led a rollicking life, turning chairs into rainy-day caves or making pallets for sleepover guests. Tented on a clothesline and weighted at the corners, they gave the backyard an air of Araby.

While I was pondering these memories, Zeno jumped onto the bed. He padded about as if testing the quilt for feline suitability. He couldn’t know that he is merely the last in a long line of family cats to “make up dough” on this quilt, or to pounce on the toes it covered. The quilt, I saw, still has an affinity for cats.Quilt and Zeno (1)

When he looked up at me with question-marks in his eyes, I made a decision. The shelf gets wrapped in something else. The quilt stays in honorable retirement, with me.

Mark Catesby: the Curious and Ingenious Naturalist

Cecily Nabors:

This looks like an interesting addition to our knowledge of one of the early naturalists and explorers who first described the American flora and fauna. Catesby’s artwork is a wonder for his time.

Originally posted on DIANA BELCHASE:

91fyceeC6xLDiana: Editors E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott have compiled a book about a man I’d never heard of: Mark Catesby. One of the earliest naturalists, as well as an author and illustrator, Catesby studied the fauna and flora of North America over a seven-year period. He influenced Audubon, Darwin, and the explorers Lewis and Clark. The book, The Curious Mister Catesby, is a treasure and I’m lucky today to have E. Charles Nelson do a guest post telling us more about this intriguing man.

E. Charles Nelson: The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands is undeniably a rare book, and a very remarkable one, too. Its author and illustrator, Mark Catesby produced the book himself beginning soon after he returned to England from South Carolina and the Bahamas sometime in 1726: “The whole was done within my house, and by my own hands …”. He learned…

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Mourning John Rehm

Cecily Nabors:

My dear Susan works for “The Diane Rehm Show” but I never knew all this about John Rehm till reading Diana’s tribute. Lovely.

Originally posted on DIANA BELCHASE:

Too many people don’t know who John Rehm was and that’s a great pity. Not that he ever sought the limelight — he was a humble, gracious man who preferred to stay in the shadows and support those who knew how to shine best. He was many things: a D.C. insider, an attorney, an author, a husband and father. He was genius bright with a razor wit and self-deprecating humor. Most of all he was a really good man.

I fell into a teeny sliver of his life, but that sliver will stay with me forever.

One day my husband called me from work. “The employees have been invited to go to the Freer Gallery at lunchtime, would you like to come?” I adore art, so my answer was an immediate yes. I wasn’t an employee, so I figured I’d hang back at the edge of the group and try to blend in. That…

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The Buzzards are Coming! The Buzzards are Coming!

Ready for Buzzard Day? Got your pile of varmint innards ready to welcome the return of the buzzards? Well, no, me neither. In our area, the “buzzards,” aka turkey vultures, stay year-round. However, they do leave Ohio’s colder winters and travel to warmer climes. Hinckley, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, celebrates the vultures’ return with an annual festival on the Sunday closest to March 15, the traditional return date.IMG_1630

In 1989, Lou and I drove to Hinckley and participated in the Buzzard Festival. Lou called it “the biggest bird-walk in the country.” We scanned the state park system’s sandstone ledges, favored by the vultures as breeding sites. We rejoiced to see a few vultures gliding in teetering dihedrals across the spring sky. We enjoyed the pancake breakfast at the local elementary school, bought buzzard memorabilia, and laughed at kids’ drawings of traveling birds (one buzzard had a little suitcase labeled “Hinckley or Bust”). A special treat was meeting Geek, a turkey vulture from the Cleveland Zoo. He stretched his big black wings and allowed us a close-up look at his wrinkled and featherless red head. I wrote a travel article, “Buzzard Daze,” that was published in The Washington Post.

After that article was published, Lou and I enjoyed a short period of being considered vulture experts. We were delighted, as we do appreciate what vultures, nature’s clean-up crew, do for all of us. Shortly after that, on my fiftieth birthday, our friend Mary gave me a stuffed buzzard as a sign I’d become an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Buzzard). I named him Geek in honor of the real Geek. My Geek, a replica of an African vulture, is a charmer who lives on one of our bookcases.

IMG_1631I sold quite a few travel articles to The Post, and often was able to resell a published piece to another newspaper. The “Buzzard Daze” piece was a hard sell, though. No one wanted to reprint it. The editor at the Chicago Tribune even sent me a hand-written rejection. It said, “The Washington Post?? You’re putting me on, surely. Oh well. I’m not one for bird stories whether in San Juan Capistrano or Hinckley, Ohio. When do the bats return to Dracula’s cave?”

Undaunted by snickers or sarcasm, the Hinckley Buzzard Festival continues. This year, it’s on Sunday, March 15. The Hinckley Chamber of Commerce features the festival on their website, If you decide to go check it out, give the buzzards a special welcome for Lou and me.

A Perfect Pearl

photo 3At the beach, sunrise rewards early risers with a glorious panorama of mother-of-pearl sky and water. Mother-of-pearl: the nacreous pastel shimmer in shells, replicated in gleaming water and glowing sky.

Every sunrise shows us that the sun is the father of us all, the giver of energy. Then isn’t the sun the father-of-pearl?photo 2(1)

But then what is the pearl? The round orb of Earth? No, that’s too simple for something as complex and interconnected as our planet is known to be. Animal, vegetable, and mineral—we are all of the above. If the pearl is our living earth, Gaia, then we are all part of that pearl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe true pearl, hidden until sought for, is the gem of our consciousness. That consciousness, that intelligent understanding, is, as Carl Sagan said, “a way for the universe to know itself.” We know we evolved here on Earth and could have evolved only here, on this planet in this universe. However, like the tiny piece of grit at the heart of a pearl, the knowledge that we are also Earth’s users and abusers must prod our consciousness.

May we continue to expand our conscious efforts to love and respect the importance of every element of our planet and our part in the universe. When we focus on being Earth’s restorers and guardians, our consciousness will be a true gem. A perfect pearl.

Beware the Scammers

Our friend was badly scammed the other night. She’s been super-busy recently and therefore felt overwhelmed and exhausted. At a vulnerable time, she was attacked. writing at computerAn extremely plausible scammer called her in the evening, purporting to be from Microsoft. He told her she’d been hacked and said he was trying to “protect” her. After she turned on the computer and did what he told her to do, he took control of the computer and protected her right out of access to it. As a computer, it was now a great doorstop. Then he wanted to charge her hundreds of dollars to give control of her computer back to her. She told him she wouldn’t pay him, because he killed her computer, and he said, “No, ma’am, you killed it.”

Nothing too bad can happen to people like that. Boiling in oil? An eighth circle in hell?MC900444671[2]One of the worst aspects is that he made her feel so stupid. None of can know everything and most of us use computers without being tech-savvy. A scammer’s playground.

The story ends fairly well. It was time for a new computer anyway (hers was 8 years old). Another friend who is very knowledgeable about computers went shopping with her, helped her choose a new desktop computer, and got it set up and working. The other good news is her major files were backed-up on thumb drives. Later, a technician can help her recover her remaining pic

It’s a sad commentary that we can never rely on the good will of people who cold-call and want to “help” us. Microsoft does not call; it sends Windows updates. Though a sucker may be born every minute, apparently a scammer is born every 30 seconds.


Grief and Graduations

Recently, the grief and loss connected with two heart-felt deaths counter-weighted the joy in proud achievement as two grandchildren graduated. Two down, two up. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster time.

The only child of good friends died in an auto accident at 27; his parents were devastated. We went to Delaware to witness the celebration of Scott’s life. Family and friends met at their church, told stories about Scotty, wept with his parents.

Zack and folks (1)

Zack and proud Mom and Dad

Shortly after that funeral, my grandson Zachary graduated from high school. “Pomp and Circumstances” ushered in a teary-eyed proud day, celebrating an important milestone on the road to maturity and independence.Zack a new Grad



Two weeks later, Lou’s older brother Ed died of congestive heart failure. Amid protestations that he and Ed were never close, being nine years apart in age, Lou remembered so many stories and incidents involving his brother that even he was surprised. Talking with family and friends at the funeral and interment, we heard more stories. Ed was still living in many minds and hearts and would go on being so.


Lou and Ed

“Ed stories” included the time he loaned a teenaged Lou and his friend Jeff his brand-new Chevy convertible for a double-date (incredible!). Even Ed’s thoughts about space travel resonated with a newspaper article about current NASA plans concerned with Mars. Lou’s first reaction was, “Ed used to tell our mother he firmly believed we would land someone on Mars in his, Ed’s, lifetime.” “When did he say that?” I asked. “I think when Ed was in ROTC in college and I was in middle school.” So maybe 60 years ago, Ed had faith that he’d live to see people traversing space. And now he’s died at 81. And we’re not near Mars yet and won’t get there in Lou’s lifetime, either. Another reason to mourn.


Annika and Grandma

Annika and proud Grandma

Three days after Ed’s funeral in Virginia, I flew to California to watch my granddaughter Annika graduate from UC-San Diego. That was another proud day, full of photo ops and friends. That afternoon, we went sailing, with Annika still in the lacy dress she’d worn under her black gown.

Annika steers


I’m grateful that our two graduations helped leaven the funerals’ grief and encouraged thinking of all four events as thresholds. For Zachary entering college and Annika entering graduate school, the promise of a new and enlarged life is easy to see. In death, it’s not so obvious, despite religion’s tenets. Many faiths see death as promotion, but I don’t believe in life after death. After death, we exist in the acts and attitudes we’ve left as memories in the minds of others. Like the Scotty stories his photos and friends and parents told. Like the Ed stories we’ve been telling.

There’s a promise inherent in endings that result in new beginnings—if not for the lost one, at least for those left behind.

Our Exotic Visitor

Image This morning we had an exotic guest on our patio. A beautiful peacock (who roamed the neighborhood last year) paid his first visit since our long cold winter. He was an eye-catching sight amid the spring greenery and blooming narcissus. ImageA barrel on our patio holds a bird feeder. The peacock stepped about the barrel, gleaning dropped seeds, trailing his long train behind him. Hunting for breakfast, he even investigated in the barrel itself. The little backyard birds fed at the feeder above him or flew past to other feeders. I wondered whether they felt any kinship with this super-sized intruder.ImageThe peacock had an aristocratic profile, with his large dark eye highlighted by a creamy stripe and a crescent-shaped patch of bare skin. His crest feathers had lost some of their tips but even so, they looked like a regal crown. The base of his glorious blue neck was bright green, the intricate designs of his wing coverts formed a black-and-white tapestry over his back, and when he stretched out his wing, we saw rich chestnut primary feathers.

Image Peacock Train (1)

The eye-spots on the feathers of his train surrounded each dark “pupil” with those colors and more. I wished for a peahen whose presence would cause him to truly strut his stuff on those large scaly feet, raising his train into a stiff and dazzling fan. But alas, his audience consisted only of two humans and three cats.




We were all crowded around the sliding glass door in the kitchen; the cats were half-scared and growling but as wholly fascinated as Lou and I.Image Lou stepped outside to scatter more seed. The peacock retreated through the patio garden to the lawn, but soon came back. By the time he finally wandered away, his crop was so full I wondered how he could turn his head.

Some mornings have a bit of magic about them….