The time crickets ate The Dude’s shoes

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‘”Eat or be eaten,” or so they say.’

So last time I told you about how We Whitmores were recruited to help save some purple martins from starvation. The martins were huddled in their gourd condos out at SoFo (the South Fork Natural History Museum, founded by Idiosyncratic Family Friend Andy), having been caught in an unseasonable cold snap during which their regular flying-insect food supply was grounded.

We rescued them by tossing crickets into the air — crickets which had been bought in bulk from a pet supply place. Overheard: “Do we have more crickets coming in?” “Yes, 1500 are due tomorrow.”

 

(At which point I’m picturing chirping boxes being unloaded by a quizzical UPS guy — or maybe just crickets, 1500 strong, marching en masse up to SoFo’s front door and volunteering for duty.)

Anyway. Martin Man, who directed our feeding efforts, would put a big ole Teddy Grahams container full of crickets into a freezer for seven minutes to stun them, after which we would throw them into the air (Martin Man used a slingshot) where the hungry martins would chomp them (you could actually hear their birdie jaws snapping) mid-swoop.

One weakened female got her crickets via cute kid and tweezers

Now, in case you’re feeling sorry for those crickets being eaten, let me share a story about how they’re not all that, well, innocent.

Back in the Day, when The Child was an actual child instead of a glamorous just-married grownup, we lived in a very tiny house on a spit of land called Gerard Drive. (We now live in an even tinier apartment called the Ken and Barbie House, which you might enjoy reading about if you get a kick out of picturing people squeezed into cramped quarters.)

Living Room slash Child Bedroom. Oh, plus Music Room

How small was this house? This house was so small that the living room was also the dining room which was also The Child’s bedroom. It was so small that we couldn’t fit in a staircase so we had a boat ladder attached to the wall to climb to the sleeping loft. The good news was that I could clean it stem to stern with a toothbrush in about ten minutes.

Child and Dude next to boat ladder. Which was also our telephone table and pumpkin display shelf

So. About those crickets. One night we had just settled in to our tiny bedroom (no closet; clothes were stashed in drawers built into the bed) when this chirping starts up. Now, you may think chirping would be a comforting, soothing sort of sound. Nope. It’s more like a dripping faucet with insect overtones. You lie there, listening. And waiting. Until you can’t stand it anymore and just have to get up and find the darned thing. And, since crickets throw their voice, that can be murder. (So glad I cleaned the house with that toothbrush, since I’m scooting around under the bed on a cricket hunt.)

That’s me, not crawling around under the bed looking for crickets

Speaking of murder, I didn’t want to harm the crickets — I just didn’t want them chirping in my bedroom. So I would painstakingly scoop them up using what I called the Cricket-Catcher Kit, which consisted of a plastic cup and a magazine blow-in card. Clamp the cup over the cricket, slide the card under, then carry the whole Kit and Kaboodle to the door and toss the cricket out. Voila!

Well. This system worked pretty well until one Friday night when I arrived at the house after a long week toiling in the City. I opened the door and saw that the floor was moving. I turned on the light to see what the heck was going on, and saw nine zillion (give or take a zillion) crickets hopping up and down — completely covering every inch of the floor. (Not a great deal of floor; it was a small house, remember. But still.)

Child at the front door of the once cricket-infested house

No Cricket Catcher Kit this time. Nope. I grabbed our vacuum cleaner and sucked those little critters right up. I figured it was them or me. And when Dude Man arrived he caulked all around the baseboard so none of their cricket friends could sneak in.

This episode happened in the fall when the crickets were looking for a nice warm home. Next summer when The Dude was looking for his flipflops he discovered they had been nibbled down to the soles. (Rubber is cricket for “dinner,” I guess.) But we discovered that, for dessert, they really like paper mache. The Child’s set of Madeline finger puppets — Madeline, the Torrero, Miss Clavel — had been nibbled down to nubs. Yup. “Eat, or be eaten.” Only not by us — by purple martins.

No photos exist of the Madeline finger puppets, even pre-chewing. But here’s a cute one of the Child reading

Amagansett, New York. June 2021

 

 

Nesting Instinct

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‘At long last, bicoastal birdies come home to roost’

It had been 599 days since I had last hugged my Mom. And, gosh-darn it, I wasn’t going to let another momless, hugless day go by. I zoomed one last time — in an airplane instead of on a screen — and got myself out to Vancouver, Washington, where my Mom was settling into her new nest.

Mom shows off her nest, including her new Smart TV

The newly-hitched Child dragged herself away from her (sounds so weird to say it) husband to join us. And, bless her, she handled everything: Air bnb, car rental, the works. Once we got there, she even did an InstaCart. All I had to do was be where she said to be at the time she said to be there.

One of many beautiful trees adorning the grounds at Mom’s place. Anybody know what it is?

Our visit did not disappoint. In addition to multiple sessions of much-anticipated hugging, it was packed with Scrabble (I managed to win a game!), Cubs games, gabfests and even some Corner Gas (Canada’s answer to Seinfeld).

It was lovely enough for a walk along the Columbia River

Favorite Sister Laura had us all over for a backyard barbecue, which was, of course, amazing. And in more ways than one. While Best Bro-in-Law Dave was working his grilling magic, Laura showed us a nest that a robin had constructed in the wreath on her front door. (See photo at the top of this post.) Laura has an eye and a talent for interior decoration, so at first we all thought she had constructed the wreath/nest as a stylish accent.

“No, no!” she insisted. “The nest is real.” (Even Dave was fooled. “Come on, you can tell me,” he whispered to me as I ferried a glass of wine to him grillside, “Laura made that nest. Right?“)

“Hey, I made this nest,” says Mama Robin

Nope. Laura didn’t make the nest. But she and the rest of her brood sure made the evening special.

Mom and Me, with matching closed eyes, whoop it up at Laura’s (That’s her behind Mom). Grillmaster Dave and Cousin Aaron flank Niece Natalie

Next day, it was more flying. For The Child and I as well as the birds. We JetBlued back to the East Coast to be able to greet Nephew Alex and his family, whom I hadn’t hugged in 713 days.

Vaxed and masked and in the air

They — Alex, Kathleen, and their three beyond-adorable little girls — have been visiting us on or about Memorial Day since Cora, the oldest, who is nine, was crawling around in diapers.

Reconnecting with the grand-nieces at long last. Tessa introduces me to Georgie, her monkey, whose nose was rubbed raw from kissing

We too played loads of games (it rained all weekend) and, oddly enough, also had an up close and personal bird encounter. The aforementioned rain, plus chilly temperatures, meant that the purple martin colony at the South Fork Natural History Museum needed human help. Rain and cold mean no flying insects. And no flying insects means no food for the martins.

We loaded ourselves into two cars and headed off to help. At SoFo, we took matters into our own hands — literally. We tossed chilled-but-alive crickets (chilled so they can’t hop away, poor things) into the air, where the starving martins swooped in, snapped them up and ate them mid-flight.

 

There was one stunned, very weak, martin we fed with tweezers until she was strong enough to fly away.

Eventually, the skies cleared, the sun shone, the kids played outside — and it was time to say good-bye.

Uncle Wayne gets into the swing of things

Just as they drove off, I got a West Coast nesting update from my sister. Not only had my Mom settled in nicely, so had Mrs. Robin.

The eggs in the nest in the wreath on the front door

Amagansett, New York. June 2021

 

 

Tough act to follow

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‘What could possibly beat this?’

One of my best Bridge Buddies (hi, Laurie!) says she always reads my blog (thanks, Laurie!) but that she can tell when I’m, well, at a loss for words. I won’t mention specific posts, but if you, like Laurie, follow me regularly, you probably have your “favorites.”

Who wouldn’t be at a loss for words? (Well, except the Bridegroom, I trust)

Last week this happened because The Child had just wed The Beau in a quickie ceremony to satisfy the immigration authorities. (See “Runaway Bride” for cinematic photos and storybook details.) I sat there at my laptop wracking my brain, then gave in and wrote about the wedding. I could literally think of nothing else.

How could I possibly think of anything else? This is my brain on “wedding”

This week it’s because that story got kajillions of views and likes and comments. I’m thinking, “What can I write about now that could possibly capture your interest, O Faithful Readers?”

I’m not only stumped for a wowzer topic, I’m a day late with this story. We got home last night from five days count ’em five of birding in the Cape May area. Which may not be as exhausting as a Rim 2 Rim 2 Rim run (see “Deeds of Derring-Don’t” for a def of what that is) but, trust me, after five days of 6AM wakeup calls, nonstop traipsing through birdy fields, and (most exhausting of all) wind-down wining and dining, I was too pooped to post.

Beautiful Birder enjoying one of several wind-down wine evenings

So. “Uncle,” already. I’ll write some stuff about our birding trip. But I’ll spice things up with more photos of that astounding wedding — because now I have some shots taken by the Official Wedding Photographers (who also served as Wedding Witnesses) to add to those pretty darned great cellphone shots.

Vows on the rocks, an Official Shot — as is the one at the top of this post

Some of those cellphone shots were actually pretty darned fantastic. But then, the whole event was pretty darned fantastic. In fact I’d say it was spur-of-the-momentous.

An Unofficial Photo that got rave reviews last week

But back, for the moment anyway, to our pales-by-comparison-but-what-else-do-I-have-to-write-about-this-week-so-the-heck-with-it Birding Trip.

Unofficial cellphone shot of Birder Me

This is the junket we take every year (well, except for last year, drat that virus) to Cape May and environs to check out the Spring Migration. I’ll spare you birdie trivia, but trust me when I say that, for Birders, this is like Coachella and Burning Man combined. On steroids.

A Man Outstanding in His Field: Birder Jim hits the trail with our pack

Birders descend on Cape May in flocks, roaming the fields in their asexual mufti, stalking their prey with binoculars, cameras and spotting scopes. (For my views on asexual mufti, see “Gender Identity is for The Birds.”)

But the truly lucky Birders not only collect species, they collect wines, and bring them along to consume each evening while comparing lists. After which we repair en masse to a carefully chosen restaurant (one that lets us bring more of those wines) to sample local delicacies and then fall into bed sated with food, drink and sightings.

A male Scarlet Tanager. His bride deigned to be photographed

Next day it’s rise and repeat. This year, this went on for five full days, and now I’m not only fairly pickled — and stuffed like a pelican’s pouch — but every time time I close my eyes I see flight paths and feathers.

Incidentally, The Child and The Beau were all set to join us on this year’s jaunt, but another commitment got in the way. Of course, they spent their honeymoon having Adventures. Here’s a sampling:

Running on skinny steep treacherous trails was the treat on the first day

As the week went on, there was rapelling

And jet skiing on Lake Powell (among, ahem, other things)

So. Enjoy these photos of birds and brides. And next week I promise to come up with something amusing that doesn’t involve either. Or not much, anyway.

And off into the sunset they go. Actual sunset, nothing fake — just like this couple

New York City. May 2021

 

 

 

 

Once upon a time, I thought underwear was redundant

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‘I still don’t trust any enterprise requiring a bra.’

Apologies for being so late with my story this week. My morning was consumed by getting my second Covid-19 vaccination at good ole “Jabits” Center.

Me, this morning in line to be jabbed. No coffee yet, which might explain my masked — and hooded — look

It went a lot smoother than the first time, since I knew where to go and all — and I wasn’t quivering from First Timer Anxiety. (Speaking of the First Time, you may wish to revisit “My Morning at Jabits Center.” Or not.)

There were oh-so-many more people there for shots today. So it was a good thing there were plenty of kind, polite and younger-than-springtime National Guardspersons to guide us, quite literally, through the ropes.

Many people, many lines. Nope — it’s not coach class checkin at JFK — it’s the vaccination line at Javits Center

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“Straight up from the warthog”

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‘Oh, how I miss those wacky birding trips.’

I know I’m really late with this week’s post. But just today New York lowered the age requirement for getting the Covid-19 vaccine, and I wanted to make sure I got a shot (haha, very funny) at it.

Among other reasons to get poked, like not getting sick or dying and being able to see my friends and family in 3D, we have a birding trip coming up.

Our last birding trip–last weekend, at Sagg Main Beach–was a wild goose chase. Literally. We went looking for the White-Fronted Goose and didn’t find it

See, last year’s all-bought-and-paid-for exotic birding adventure (to the Galapagos) was, of course–like everything else fun in 2020–cancelled. But the good news is it’s rescheduled for this summer. Except you can’t go if you’re not vaccinated. Being a physician, Dr. Dude got his shot a couple of weeks ago so he’s all set. But, unless I wanted him gallivanting off without me, I had to score mine too.

I was on that website for about an hour and a half. The slots kept disappearing while I was applying for them; I guess I wasn’t the only newly-qualified 65-and-up banging away on her computer.

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Deeds of Derring-Don’t

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‘The Child is at it again’

First, before you even think about correcting me in the comments (though commenting is always welcome) the term is indeed “derring-do” — not “daring-do.” I googled it. Middle English term, first used in 1579. And it means just what you think it means.

An early example of Childlike derring-do. BTW, If your friend jumped off a cliff, would you jump too? (Pretty good story, incidentally)

Second, I’m sorry to be so goldarned late with this post. (That is, if you noticed.) Yesterday, my regular Tuesday Posting Day, was also Old Apartment Closing Day, and I was sweating bullets until those funds got wired — anything can happen with a sale, you know — that I couldn’t even think about being amusing.

There was some serious celebrating chez Ken and Barbie

I’m not sure I can crank it up so well today, either. We did a bit of celebrating last night and well, um, let’s just say I was feeling no pain — until this morning.

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Social distancing, the Borneo Way

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‘Forget masks and Purell; just crack open a Durian’

A couple of weeks and a lifetime ago, we were birding our way along a highway (and I do mean “high”) up in the mountains of Borneo when a ramshackle car sputtered to a halt on a steep stretch of roadway right alongside us.

Another roadside attraction. Nope, The Dude isn’t looking at that gorgeous mountain. There’s a bird over yonder somewhere

Our guide sauntered over to see what was what and reported back that the driver was on his way to the City (in this case, Kota Kinabalu) with a load of fruit to sell. He and his load couldn’t make it up the incline, so he pulled over for a smoke.

That’s Mt. Kinabalu, at sunset of the day we survived the durian episode

Now, we’re in Borneo, remember, so by “load of fruit” I don’t mean a whole batch of apples or pears. Not even pineapples or bananas. Nope, these “fruits” were completely unrecognizable. Our guide Hamit (a name I committed to memory by using the mnemonic “hah! meat!”, because what passed for meat in Borneo was pretty darned amusing) — well, Hamit thought it was pretty darned amusing to offer us tastes of some of these fruits and then watch our faces.

That’s Hamit on the right. I not only forgot the guy on the left’s name, but also his mnemonic. He was our driver, and he didn’t make us eat any fruit

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What could possibly be worse than a rainforest full of leeches?

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‘Well, how about a cave full of bats?’

If you are the least bit squeamish, you may wish to skip this week’s much-belated post. Belated, because I’ve been bird-hunting in Borneo.

Through a glass, but not darkly, I spot my target: perhaps a hairy drongo?

Borneo boasts lots of lovely avian species, but has less than adequate WiFi. Not that I’m complaining; it’s actually refreshing to be less-than-connected, especially when the news Back Home is of political plotting and pandemic panic.

Speaking of panic, here is the interior of the plane we took from Kota Kinabalu to Taipei, where I started writing this piece

I’m in an airport lounge (thank you, AmEx) writing away while awaiting our plane to JFK — which will be 14 1/2 hours in duration, two hours less than our flight to get here.

As I mentioned, the Bornean birds are beauteous. But one must deal with — gasp — leeches. And, although we took the Proper Precautions (see my piece “Leech Sock it to Me!” for ghastly detail), the little buggers weren’t daunted. Leech socks, as I squeamishly explained, are supposed to keep leeches from inch-worming their way up your pant legs.

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Leech Sock it to me!

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‘If you thought the Amazon had some scary parts, just wait till you hear about Borneo’

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m dating myself when I use terms like “sock it to me” in my stories. But hey, I’m a Woman of a Certain Age with a Certain Television History, which includes not only Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (of “sock it to me” fame) but Hullabaloo and That Was The Week That Was.

But this isn’t a piece about TV. (Though in a sec or two you’ll probably wish it was). I referenced those shows to explain my title and to admit to the fact that I have, as they say, been around the block a time or two.

One of the last times I went around the block — to Starbucks — they got my name amusingly wrong

I’ve also been to Guyana, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, to the Amazon (twice) and to Panama (five times, but who’s counting — besides me?)

But never — ever — while reading the materials one is sent in preparation for said trips have I stumbled upon a passage like this one:

“Beware of loose netting in sleeves, backs, pockets, or pant legs that could allow leeches to crawl in. You may want to bring a pair of leech socks or buy some in Borneo.”

Leech socks”?!? “My stars and garters!” she exclaimed, continuing her Geezer-phrase sock-theme, “what’s this about leeches?!?” (BTW, the socks in the photo at the top of this post are most definitely not leech socks. They are parakeet socks.)

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Birders gotta bird

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‘Even if it’s from a rooftop, waiting out a plane delay’

Today I almost wrote about the trials and tribulations of dealing with a major renovation on a somewhat minor apartment. But just thinking about it was making me exhausted, not to mention bored.

What I wake up at 3 in the morning and think about

So instead I’ll write another story about our last birding adventure — the one where most of the spine-tingling moments happened wondering when and if we’d ever A) get to the birding location, and then B) get home once the trip was over. (See “Paradise Lost” for excruciating detail.)

What I wake up at 4 in the morning and think about

See, we’ve been on a bunch of these birding trips, but this was the first time we had any problem with the to-ing and the fro-ing. Still, the inbetween-ing was pretty sweet.

What I wake up at 5 in the morning and actually do — at least on these trips

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