Ohio


Killdeer with three eggs

Last weekend, I took a quick trip to Columbus, Ohio to visit my family, a trip that involved more than a bit of bird-watching. In past Ohio trips, my folks and I have watched nesting yellow-crowned night herons in Bexley, ospreys in Pickerington, and eagles in Delaware. This year, my folks and I didn’t see any night herons, osprey, or eagles, but we did see a pair of killdeer at Pickerington Ponds guarding (and noisily trying to distract us from) a clutch of speckled, well-camouflaged eggs.

Three killdeer eggs

Also at Pickerington Ponds, we saw a half dozen barn swallows who had transformed the ceiling of an under-used picnic shelter in an open-air nursery.

Barn swallow at nest

The barn swallows in particular were being run ragged by their hungry offspring, whose cavernous mouths simply would not be filled, no matter how many insects their parents stuffed into them.

Barn swallow with two babies

But what impressed me more than these hard-working swallows was the steadfast tenacity of the killdeer, who had built their minimalistic scrape of a nest on the edge of a gravel path leading to a lookout blind (and which park rangers had dutifully circled with yellow CAUTION tape).

Killdeer with eggs

It takes guts (and healthy vocal cords) for two robin-sized birds to keep an intermittent stream of park visitors from inadvertently stepping on a nearly invisible nest, but that’s exactly what these two killdeer did, first trying to lure us away by feigning a broken wing (a quintessential killdeer distraction display) then noisily dive-bombing us as we tried to locate the nest they were guarding. (In the picture above, the adult killdeer is standing right next to her eggs, but we stared at the bird for a couple minutes before we realized that.)

Killdeer with water bottle

After we’d found the killdeer nest and stepped off the gravel path they were guarding to take a circuitous route behind the observation blind, we looked back and saw one of the pair investigating a water bottle my mom had set down while she was scanning the skies with her binoculars. When you’re a killdeer guarding a well-camouflaged clutch of speckled eggs, you have every reason to suspect every odd or unusual object.

Click here for more photos from Pickerington Ponds: enjoy!

Resting

Today’s Photo Friday theme is “Best of 2012,” which gives me an excuse to review the photos I took in 2012. This past year wasn’t a particularly photo-rich year for me: for the first few months of 2012, Reggie was so frail, we didn’t go far on our daily dog walks, which meant I didn’t take many pictures…and after Reggie died in April, I walked even less, which again meant I didn’t take many pictures.

S-curve

My favorite photo from 2012 comes from an August trip to the Columbus Zoo, which points to how few interesting photos I took close to home last year. Taking photos at a zoo is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel: you have a captive subject, so it becomes a matter of choosing which angle on which flamingo is your favorite. The Columbus Zoo has large, grassy enclosure where flamingos wander freely around an artificial pond, and the flamingos were vigorously flapping, squawking, and fussing when J and I saw them: captive subjects that were nevertheless moving and active.

Flamingo

Given how many and how active these birds were, it a bit of a challenge to choose the three flamingo pictures I included in that day’s photo set. When you are blessed with abundance, you can afford to be picky, and the photos I ultimately picked showed solitary flamingos at rest: not the entire flock, but a quiet moment experienced within the flock. Apparently I like my flamingos calm and elegant, not fussing and squawking.

One of my resolutions for 2013 is to walk more, which also means take more pictures. Only time will tell how the “Best of 2013″ compares with the “Best of 2012.”

This is my contribution for today’s Photo Friday theme, “Best of 2012.” I originally blogged that first flamingo photo at the beginning of this post. Here are links to past “Best of” posts: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, and 2004.

Resting

One morning last month while I was standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes, I saw a female ruby-throated hummingbird hovering around our backyard bird-feeder, confused, wondering why a red feeder should hold birdseed rather than sugar water. Hummingbirds are lightning-fast and iridescent, so it always feels like an unexpected gift to see one: a sudden spark of motion and color that zips into view, pauses, then darts away, an elusive apparition that already seems like a memory even before it’s gone.

Ruddy duck

It still seems strange to watch our backyard bird-bath and feeder while doing the morning dishes rather than spending that time watching for Reggie. It’s been over five months since Reggie died, and my morning ritual of watching Reggie in our backyard dog-pen while I did dishes before our morning walk—my glances to make sure he wasn’t pacing and whining at the gate, or to check that he hadn’t fallen into a tangled heap somewhere, unable to get up—was such a staple of Reggie’s last year, it seems strange to no longer do it.

Resting buffalo

I think of Reggie most often in the mornings when I do dishes, as there are many reminders of him then: not just the dog-pen in easy sight from the kitchen window, but also the digital photo frames that show a random history of J’s and my life together, including many photos of Reggie in various stages of his prime, middle age, and decline: images appearing occasionally and at random, as if reminding me of experiences I can never forget.

Colobus monkey

There are also all the memories I have of standing at the sink in Reggie’s final months and weeping as I watched for him—mornings when I knew his end was near and that someday I’d look back on those hours as precious, simply because back then, Reggie was alive. “Anticipatory grief” is the official term for this process of beginning to grieve before you’ve actually lost something, as if grief were a task you could get a head start on: a full, heaping serving you could eat bite by bite, over time, rather than swallowing in one choking gulp. Regardless of when you start grieving, whether your experience of loss is gradual and anticipated or sudden and surprising, you can’t digest it beforehand: when the actual moment of “goodbye” arrives, there’s little your anticipation can do to prepare you for what is to come.

Red wolves

These predictably bittersweet morning moments at the kitchen sink aren’t the only ones when I remember Reggie, however, as his memory comes to me, unbidden, at random, unforeseen times. Sometimes it’s the sight of a dog who looks a bit like Reggie—one of the dogs who barks behind a chain link fence beside my parents’ house in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, or a Reggie-colored dog walking with its owner on a wooded path. In each case, there is something about This Dog that reminds me of That One, and the spark of recognition is undeniable, my heart hearkening with a start: “Oh!” It’s often a recognition only I see: the other dog doesn’t really look like Reggie, but an awareness of resemblance appears because such a large part of my heart still looks for Reggie, expecting him naturally to be in any of the places where I am.

Walking moose

A month or so ago, for example, a friend and I walked around the lake at Wellesley College on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when countless families and dog-walkers were enjoying the sunshine, including one woman who sat reading in a beach chair beside an elderly keeshond who reminded me so much of Reggie, I could barely speak. This dog was sprawled comfortably on the grass while the woman read, resting and showing no desire to go wading into a lake where every other passing dog had hurled himself with great, splashing enthusiasm. This dog was midsized, gray, and irrepressibly fluffy, lolling with such an expression of quiet happiness, you’d think there was no greater joy in the world than simply lying in the grass next to a lake on a sunny, late-summer Sunday afternoon.

Swan

As the woman packed her things to leave, the dog still lay there quietly, happily indifferent, refusing to heed her calls to come, get up, and follow, ultimately tugging back on the leash when the woman tugged to stir him. It was exactly something Reggie would have done—a mischievous stripe of stubbornness tempered by the mellowness of age. There was no anger or aggression between the woman and dog, just a quiet refusal on the dog’s part, as he refused to be tamed even in old age. When the dog eventually stood up, his motions were slow and obviously achy, a second stab of recognition. Creaky and arthritic, the fluffy gray dog got up and slowly hobbled away, shadowing the woman’s steps in a manner that was so eerily reminiscent of Reggie’s arthritic gait, it might as well have been him, reincarnate.

Mottled

“Enjoy him while you have him,” I wanted to shout, but I didn’t because the woman didn’t need my exhortations: she already knew. I could tell this in the way she’d knelt to the ground to kiss the dog on his snout, ruffling his furry mane, before urging him to his feet. This too was something I did, something that owners of old dogs do universally, the world over, I think. It’s a universal language that needs no translation.

Social grooming

You’ve surely seen the famous photo that made the rounds this summer of a man with a ponytail wading up to his neck in Lake Superior, his elderly shepherd mix floating beside him, the dog’s face resting with a blissful expression on the man’s chest. That dog, too, reminded me of Reggie in terms of his size and general shape; the blissful expression is one I recognized, as one of an old, arthritic dog finding a moment of peace.

Lounging kangaroo

When I first read about the man and his 18-year-old, arthritic dog, it brought grief over Reggie’s passing back as if no time had passed at all. Grief is a fruit that remains perpetually fresh, preserved in some hidden cellar of the soul. Seeing the photo, I wept as if Reggie had died only yesterday—wept because I remember how desperately I looked for ways to make him comfortable in his final months, and wept because I recognized that expression of trusting comfort that marked those elusive moments when I had succeeded. That blissful look, I think, is what Reggie had on his face when he died with his head in my lap, at peace at last: a look I would have done anything in my power to elicit.

Walking

There is another form of recognition that is even stranger—even more tenuous, and even more powerful—than these encounters with dogs who remind me of Reggie. For at random, unpredictable times, I’ll see things that are entirely unlike Reggie that nevertheless remind me of him—a bright eyed, inquisitive toddler exploring the world just beyond his mother’s reach, or an elderly man doddering on slow, achy legs down a grocery store aisle, or a friend’s hushed story of how his mother died while he sat watch over her, alone. These people are not like Reggie—it’s silly and even obscene to compare them—but there is this same sudden spark of recognition: “Oh, yes. This life too is precious, beloved, and destined to pass.”

Black swan

These lives, too, are like sudden hummingbirds which zoom into the receptive spaces of our soul, brightening everything with the quickening glint of their unanticipated coming, pausing, then flitting away: beautiful, enlivening, and ultimately ephemeral.

Click here for more photos from the Columbus Zoo, from last month’s trip to visit family in Ohio. Enjoy!

Pollinating butterfly

This past weekend, J and I drove to Columbus, OH, where we visited (and J met) my family. Usually when I drive to Ohio, I take Reggie, who gives me a four-legged excuse to take lots of walks while I’m visiting. For this trip, we left Reggie in a kennel so it would be easier for us to spend time with my family without having a dog to tend to. Even without a dog, though, the walks J and I took while visiting were a highlight of the trip.

Garden path

My family can be loud and overwhelming: I often claim to be the quiet one in my family, and “quiet” isn’t usually a term people associate with me. I had no doubt my family would love J–everyone does–but I wondered how J would handle the sensory-overload that is a typical DiSabato family gathering, with everyone sitting around my parents’ kitchen table, eating and talking and laughing.

Going for a walk, it turns out, is a perfect pastime for the loud and potentially overwhelming. Whenever my family gathers around my parents’ kitchen table, there always seems to be three conversations going at once, with constant interruptions. When I was a child, one of my school teachers remarked that I was a good student, but I needed to try to stop interrupting other students because interrupting people is rude. Little did my teacher know that in my talkative family, interrupting is the only way you’ll ever get heard…at least for the few seconds until someone interrupts you.

Sunning bullfrog

A walk in the park is the physical equivalent of carrying on several conversations at once. When you walk with a handful of family members, each one of you can go at her or his own speed, and there’s freedom to wander and explore. If someone finds a cool butterfly, they can shout for everyone to come look at it; in the meantime, someone else can interrupt to point out a passing hawk or heron. When you’re taking a stroll to see whatever there is to see, conversational multitasking and frequent interruptions are a given. Nobody is hurt if several folks settle into their own conversation, and nobody is offended if three people simultaneously shout out cool things they’ve discovered in three separate directions.

Watermelon on the vine

On Friday, we went for a walk at Franklin Park, where we looked for butterflies in the pollinators’ garden, ripening vegetables in the community gardens, and frogs and waterlilies in the duck pond. On Saturday, we walked along Alum Creek, where we looked (unsuccessfully) for herons and settled for a silhouetted phoebe and ripening buckeyes instead. During both walks, J snapped hundreds of photos, his camera giving him a nonverbal way to stay engaged with my family, who quickly adapted to the persistent photographer in their midst. On a walk, there’s plenty of (literal) room for everyone to do their own thing, together. Talking a walk in the park, we decided, is the perfect antidote to the sensory overload of a boisterous family gathering, a chance to give one’s legs and attention span a healthy stretch.

Click here for more pictures from Friday afternoon’s walk at Franklin Park. Enjoy!

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Yellow-crowned night herons

Last weekend while I was visiting my family in Columbus, Ohio, my mom and I visited the yellow-crowned night herons that nest above a quiet suburban street in nearby Bexley, as I’ve blogged before. It’s something we do nearly every time I visit in the summer time, and I’m always amazed that such odd and interesting birds would choose to nest above a residential street. Bexley is a quiet neighborhood, but still: there certainly are quieter, less-populated places for a couple of secretive wading birds to perch and preen.

Two redtails

But apparently I don’t think like a bird. Yesterday here in Newton, I saw two red-tailed hawks perched at the top of a tall conifer not far from the Waban T-station: a sometimes bustling spot. Although I’ve seen a lone red-tail in the vicinity and assumed he or she had a mate somewhere, I didn’t expecte to see the two of them perched side-by-side, quietly calling to one another while I walked the dog far below.

I know there are wild turkeys in suburban Newton as well as the occasional great-horned owl…but an encounter with one of these wild things always catches me by surprise. Being accustomed to seeing Newton, Keene, or even Columbus as being “my” human habitat, it’s easy to forget that other beings share our space. The very fact that humans are largely oblivious to the wild things in their midst–especially if those wild things perch quietly overhead, far above the comings and goings of earth-bound bipeds–makes a quiet suburban street or subway right-of-way a surprisingly apt place for otherwise secretive birds. I’m well accustomed to watching my back when I walk the rough streets of my parents’ gang-infested neighborhood, but now I know I should keep my head up even when I roam the lush and leafy suburbs.

Picture perfect

As usual, I took very few photos while I was in Ohio visiting my family this weekend, which is curious since the weather was picture-perfect and I’d brought not one but three cameras with me. While I’m accustomed to snapping shots of nearly everything when I’m in New England, when I’m in Ohio, I revert to my pre-photography ways, simply watching birds (for instance) rather than photographing them.

Great egret

So when my mom, sister, nephew, and I took a short stroll at Pickerington Ponds Metro Park on Friday, I left my new camera in the car and instead carried only my purse-sized point-and-shoot…an unwise decision since there are nesting ospreys at Pick Pond, and we had great views of the parent birds as they took turns incubating eggs. I spent many hours birding at Pickerington Pond when I was a teenager, before I began dabbling with photography, so I’m used to going birding with binoculars, not a camera. There’s nothing more relaxing than sitting in the shade with family or friends while you watch ospreys, egrets, and the occasional groundhog or deer. But at the end of such an outing, you probably have few pictures–only memories–to show for it.

Click here for the handful of photos I took at Pickerington Pond: better than nothing.

Crashed

Writer and humorist James Thurber, having been born and raised in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, once said “the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus.” I can’t recall the striking of any memorable clocks during my Ohio childhood, but it seems I’m haunted instead by the cars of Columbus, finding them evocatively indicative of the kind of neighborhood where I grew up and my parents continue to live.

Parked, with graffiti

It’s not uncommon to see wrecked cars parked in my parents’ neighborhood. On-street parking is free and ample in my parents’ neighborhood, few folks have garages, and even fewer can afford expensive repairs. If you live in my parents’ neighborhood and your car gets totaled, you probably have to wait for an insurance check–if you even have insurance–before you can make repairs or buy a new ride. In the meantime, you and your family might have to rely upon a different kind of wheels to bring your groceries home.

Alley cart

When I walk Reggie in my parents’ Columbus neighborhood, I take far fewer pictures than I take in either Keene or Newton. It isn’t an issue of Columbus being less interesting or photogenic since I’m convinced my penchant for the old and abandoned was born in the gritty neighborhood where I grew up. Instead, I take fewer photos in my old Columbus neighborhood because I, unlike Thurber, haven’t yet discovered how to bridge the space between the world I come from and the world I now find myself.

Being a wandering photo-blogger is strange enough in New England, where my neighbors have both computers and Internet access. In a high-crime, low-income, digitally-deprived suburb of central Ohio, my laptop finds No Available Networks when I try to pirate free wifi, and wandering with dog and digicam is outright strange and possibly dangerous. As a result, I try to be extremely discreet as I explore my old neighborhood, pulling out my camera only when no one is around and something is odd or unusual enough to scream “snap me.”

This is not a sign

My old neighborhood, after all, likes to keep its secrets as well as its treasures hidden, and as a former-resident-turned-outsider, I try to respect locals’ sense of both privacy and pride.

Boarded

More than anything, I think, it is culture shock that makes it difficult to photograph, make sense, and then blog the world I come from now that I’ve returned to this, the very different world where I now live. Yesterday morning, I packed my car in a gritty Columbus alley; this afternoon, after driving all day yesterday and now finding my feet after a good night’s sleep, I unpacked the same car here in Newton, a tony suburb of Boston. Here in Newton, I needn’t fear the neighbors’ chained pitbulls and Rottweilers will attack me or Reggie when we go for a morning stroll; here in Newton, people don’t park wrecked cars in front of their houses. When I walk my dog in my parents’ neighborhood, I am acutely aware that I am the only lone white woman walking a street where brown faces are the norm; when I walk my dog in Newton, I am acutely aware that I couldn’t on an adjunct instructor’s salary afford to live here.

How far, then, is it from my parents’ neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio to the lush and leafy streets of Newton, Massachusetts?

All in a day's drive

A long day’s drive will take you from one world to another, the divide between them being more than miles.

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