More Marvelous Than Fairy Tales

swans in a field

The last few weeks have shown how dangerous believing in fairy tales can be. Not seeing what is real, not accepting it, will lead you far astray. There are many fairy tales about how this wonderful universe came to be. They have their charms, and can soothe. But the truth is still unknown, which makes it more mysterious.

I wonder who appreciates nature more. Those who believe in these creation myths, or those who accept that it has been a long, laborious, excruciatingly difficult trial and error experiment, and that for something as lovely as a swan to exist, took millions upon millions upon millions of years. I am inclined to think that those who realize how much time it took, and how conditions had to be perfectly right, for something as lovely as a swan to exist, appreciate nature more than those who believe in fairy tales of mythical beings waving a magic wand and bringing everything into existence. If it happened that way once, it really doesn’t matter if we destroy it. Some being will just wave a wand and recreate it all.

But when you realize all the steps it took for something as lovely as a swan to fly overhead, and how there are no other places within billions and billions of miles from us where you can watch such magnificent birds glide over you, then you realize how precious they are. What a gift they are, and how horrific it would be to cause them all the vanish.

sun behind the clouds

On Saturday the sun looked like the moon through the clouds. It’s been a very mild winter so far. Some years, the pond is frozen fast this time of year. Not this year. There is still the rest of January and February to go through, so who knows, a cold snap could still bring about a blanket of soft, powdery snow, and hard ice sealing the pond.

Happy and hen in the woods
hen in the woods
sleeping cat

How all of us living beings are made is remarkable. And all the instructions for making something as complex as us, exists in every cell in our body, some 30 trillion cells, 30 trillion copies of our blueprint, in our body. It boggles the mind. And it’s not a fairy tale. It takes over 3 billion base pairs to describe our entire genome. If you would write it down and try to read it all, well good luck reading all that. And yet we have trillions of copies of those instructions in us. When you investigate how things are, you come up with explanations that are far more interesting and marvelous than fairy tales.

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Red Dawn

red sky at dawn

This morning’s sky was on fire. It turned the pond into a vermillion pool. What did the ducks think of it? They have very good color vision. Were they dazzled by the brilliant hue on the pond?

ducks swimming in a red pond
duck flapping its wings
ducks waddling out of the pond

Who knows. They seemed more interested in breakfast than the burning sky.

daffodil shoots

I saw a clear sign of spring. Daffodils shooting out of the ground. I don’t know how they do it, but each year they sneak up on me. I never catch them just breaking the surface. By the time I see their shoots, they’re lifting their flower buds high above their shoulders. They are very sneaky flowers.

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Is It Still Winter?

blue winter sky

It is still winter? That’s a question you could have asked a few days ago. It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago the sky was this blue. It almost looks like a summer day.

fog rolling inland

Fog rolled inland off the bay, past the Chuckanuts, over Bow Hill, and far up the Samish River Valley.

snow on mount lyman

Fresh snow on Lyman Hill hinted that it is still winter. Today’s heavy rain reminds me that it is still mid January.

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Winter Skies

winter sky

Between the steady rains, the sun almost crawls through the winter skies. Almost, but not quite. Bright, golden spells of glimmering gold light appear for a few minutes before the next band of rain rolls in.

winter sky
winter sky

This time of year, the clouds hug the mountains more than not. Some days the clouds reach the ground and hug me. If you don’t mind getting wet, it’s a playful time of year. Clouds are always nearby to play silly games with you.

winter sky

When I was a child, I was told that this was all made in just 6 days. It is much more satisfying to know that it has taken over 4 billion years for this earthly paradise to create this extraordinary, incredible, magical special place for me and you. There is nothing like this paradise we live in for billions and billions of miles around. When you know it’s taken that long for these forests, mountains, and clouds which bring so much joy to become the way they are now, you want to take much more care of it. I don’t want to have to start over from scratch and wait another 4 billion years for this paradise to be made again. Do you?

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Happy New Year!

Calendar Cover
Happy New Year!

2021 is here, the world over. It’s already January 2 in some places. Hopefully 2021 will be a year of recovery and by fall we can greet one another in person again.

Calendar January and February pages

Here is a 2021 calendar you can download as a pdf. It is 40 megabytes. Depending on your pdf viewer, you can show a table of contents or bookmarks, or show thumbnails of each of the months.

For as terrible as 2020 has been, there are some things I will miss as life returns to normal. Here in the Pacific Northwest the clear summer skies stayed blue all day, right until the sun went down. Usually, by mid afternoon, the blue skies turn milky white from all the contrails that slowly spread and blot out the blue. I’ll miss the long, blue skies once the jets are back in the sky.

Takuma on New Years Day

Takuma is greeting the New Year with excitement. His scars from his encounter with the raccoon have healed. The fireworks in the neighborhood last night wore him out. It’s time to rest. I think dogs have it made.

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Stories Untold

snow geese in a field

It’s a guess where the snow geese will be when we run an errand or return home. When we meet someone new, we often hear about where their parents came from, and where their parent’s parents came from, and back into history. I was heart broken when I learned that a great great grandfather of mine up and left his beautiful farm in Switzerland. I visited that farm once and could not imagine how anyone in their right mind could abandon such a place.

That great great grandfather was not right of mind. His reason for fleeing paradise? A tavern opened about a mile from his farm. He was not about to raise children with drinking and dancing so close to home. If I had a great great grandfather who loved beer and dancing, I could be farming in the Jura mountains and trekking into Bern, Switzerland, from time to time.

But what about the snow geese? Is that what they talk about? “My mother and father met when their flocks crossed paths over Vancouver Island?” or whatever name snow geese have for Vancouver Island.

Probably not. But you never know. We may belittle them for their little brains, but those little brains maneuver their bodies more skillfully than jet liners, and steer them on epic journeys from the Arctic to here and back, all without the need for massive infrastructure and support staff.

nest in barberry

While trimming a barberry bush, I discovered a nest up in the upper branches. A barberry bush with its needle thorns is a safe place for a little bird to nest. No cat or snake would attempt to climb a barberry. Its thorns make a rose thorn feel as soft as a feather. I think you could accomplish delicate brain surgery with barberry thorns.

Trim a barberry, and it glares back at you, neon yellow. “Step any closer and you die!” the barberry screams.

nest from above

So what little bird raised a brood in this little nest? What little bird flew south and is now telling a potential mate, “I grew up in a thorny barberry bush. Where did you grow up?”

cut barberry branch
late December dawn

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Blink and You’ve Missed It

Morning snow

How fitting to have our first snow of the season fall on the Winter Solstice. Well, that answered the question as to whether we would see snow this season or not.

snow dusted Oyster Dome

The Winter Solstice used to be a full day affair. I’d look forward to waking up on the shortest day of the year and knowing when I woke up the next day, that it would be longer, if only by a hair.

But what is the Winter Solstice? For us in the northern hemisphere, it is when the North Pole has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. So it is not an all day affair. This year it happened at 8:20 and 26 seconds Pacific Time the morning of December 21. But the earth is racing around the sun at 29.78 kilometers a second, 18.5 miles a second, (107,208 kilometers and hour; 66,616 miles per hour). At that speed, the winter solstice happens so quickly, you don’t even get a single breath to enjoy it. By the time you clap and celebrate it, it is old news, and the earth has flown far past that point in space where the North Pole had its maximum tilt away from the Sun.

blue skies over the Skagit Valley

It is hard to comprehend the speed at which we are spinning through the universe. You can close your eyes and sit as quietly as possible, but nothing stops you from traveling a great distance in a short time. at 18.5+ miles a second, you’re traveling 1,110 miles a minute, 66,616 miles an hour, 1,598,784 miles a day. And we can never get back to that spot we were just a few moments ago. By the time we make a circle around the sun, the whole solar system has traveled over 7 billion miles. If we could sense even a fraction of these phenomenal speeds it’d be more thrilling than any roller coaster ride.

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Chatty Mud Birds

swans or mud birds

Just like children in their Sunday best can’t resist stomping in mud puddles, swans love troddling through muddy fields. How they stay pristine white is a mystery. True, they don’t roll around in the mud like swine. Having long necks helps, as do sturdy, webbed feet. And if they get mud on their feathers, clear water for washing is just a flap of the wings away.

Swans, geese, ducks, make up the biological family of waterbirds, Anatidae, which comes from the Latin for ducks, anas, plus idae which denotes a family of animals.

swans or mud birds

One thing missing in the descriptions of Anatidae, is how much these birds talk. Close your eyes and listen to a flock of swans, geese, or ducks, and you hear tens, hundreds, thousands of conversations going on all at once. They are as chatty as parrots.

Chickens and blooming bamboo

It’s the darkest time of the year. It’s dark when I wake up. Dark when I go to bed. The darkness keeps the chickens on their roost far longer than during the summer. Do they get bored out of their minds, waiting for the sun to lighten up the skies?

Since the bamboo bloomed and died, I’ve been wondering what to do with them. The seeds seem to have dropped out of their pods before I could harvest them. But, the bloomed bamboo entertains the chickens. Maybe enough for them to dream about and keep them from getting bored on these long, winter nights.

Chickens and blooming bamboo
soaked soybeans

It’s time to put up several crocks of miso. Soybeans soaked overnight look plump and rested in the morning. This lot became tofu. Another lot soon will become miso, and take a long, long rest to age gracefully.

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Getting the Mail


How many enjoy views like this when they go get their mail? When we moved here fifteen years ago, we got a PO Box at the little Bow Post Office instead of having mail delivered to a mailbox on the road. Every time I make the trip to the post office, I’m glad we did that. There is always something that takes my breath away.




This little “beach” on the pond is one of the favorite places for the ducks to hang out when they aren’t in the water. Someday there may be a duck-human translator so I can get in on all their interesting gossip.


While picking up new license tabs, I wasn’t expecting to see a swarm of goldfinches, but a feeder hanging outside the license office was a flutter with goldfinches. They don’t have their spring and summer color, though you can see bits of yellow in their wings.

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Soothing is Good


There is a joy living in a special place. The swans have no idea how much joy and happiness they bring to the humans that pass their way. At least they do to me. If they did, they’d waddle closer, flap their wings, honk, dance, and put on a show.



Watching vegetables sprout is always soothing. I need soothing. Things are not always idyllic around here. Sunday night the dogs caught and killed a raccoon. Quiet, gentle Takuma and Enna turn into ferocious, wild beasts when they are on the hunt. They can be as ferocious as hyenas. I feel sorry for the raccoon, but were it not for the dogs, I’d be feeling very sorry for the ducks and chickens the raccoon may have made off with.

Enna escaped unscathed. Takuma has battle scars on his head and neck. They have mostly healed, but I’m sure I’ll feel them for a long time each time I pet him.

It’s only the second time in fifteen years here that we’ve encountered a raccoon. The other time was long ago, when we had BB & Echo. They woke me up early one summer morning, barking at the chicken coop. I ran out and a raccoon went flying across the roof of the chicken coop, the dogs chasing after it. They chased it up a tree and kept it there all morning and into the afternoon, when we brought the dogs in. The raccoon ran off and never came back.

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When Life Returns to Normal, I’ll Miss Blue Skies

Every few days I get to see blizzards of white snow geese fly up off the fields. The guess when I make an errand is, in which fields are the snow geese today? And where are the swans?

swans in field
skagit valley in the morning

One thing I will miss when life returns to normal are skies which stay blue all day. Days go by without sight of a single contrail. But lately, the number of jets flying overhead has increased.

contrail

When a jet first passes overhead, it leaves a thin, white trail. But steadily, that trail spreads far and wide. Have a jet fly by every few minutes and by mid afternoon a blue sky can change to misty white. There have been many a glorious summer day turned to a pale, cloudy day, just from the jets ferrying people from Asia and back, to Europe and back, barely aware of the Skagit Valley below.

We’re on the crossroads of jets journeying from the West Coast to Europe, from many points in the country to Asia. Once things return to normal, I’ll miss blue skies which stayed blue all day.

contrail spreading
night sky

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Blue Skies in November

November dawn

You can’t ask for a better morning this time of year. Barely cold, no rain coming down, and promises of sunshine on the morning clouds.

ducks feeding in the morning

The ducks on the pond are happy this morning. The four young ones we moved to the pond have blended with Snow and the other two older ones. The more the merry, that seems to be duck philosophy. I guess if you are a duck, the more ducks you are with, the less chance you will be the one eaten.

cherry blossoms and fall colors

The cherry tree the blooms year round doesn’t disappoint this time of year. Blossoms and fall leaves on the same tree. That makes for quite a show.

Chuckanut

The Chuckanut Mountains and the other Cascade foothills are soothing today under a blue, November sky. If this was Japan, there would be small shrines on the top of many of the peaks. For mountains that comfort so many, on a summer day, the trails up the mountains are packed with hikers, shrines at the tops would be fitting.

Mt Baker and Lyman Hill

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Sunshine Is Just Beyond the Clouds

Dark, broody, Chuckanut

Chuckanut Mountain was particularly dark and broody today when I went down to the Post Office. On a day like today, it looks like it’s gone into hibernation.

November skies

As thick as the clouds look today, it’s hard to imagine that on the other side of the clouds the sun is shining brilliantly and the sky is bright blue. Years ago, when I used to fly in and out of Seattle, it was always a surprise to take off under dark, sullen skies and pop into dazzling blue skies soon after take off.

November skies

Do the birds that live here ever fly above the clouds just to bathe in bright sunshine?

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Winter Returns to the Hills

Snow in the foothills

Winter has returned to the foothills. When the clouds lift, the upper half of the foothills are dusted with snow. White, gray, subtle shades of blues and dark greens, winter here is a palette of pastels.

Snow in the foothills
Swans on a field

I enjoy going out this time of year. Every day is a chance to watch the swans. It’d be nice to know where this group of swans came from. Where in Alaska or Siberia did they spend their summer? There is a pair with their young swans, but is it two pair with their young, or a pair with their young from two summers ago along with the young from this summer?

And where did the swan winter two hundred years ago when the valley was thick forest? On the large lakes? Along the rivers? And how has the change in diet affected them? What they forage in wheat, corn, and potato fields must be different than what they forage in lakes and rivers.

I would enjoy having the swans drop by to swim in our little pond, but it is too small. Swans are like jumbo jets. They need long runways to take off and land. I’ve seen large peahen blast straight up into the air with their powerful wings, but swans need a running start to take to the air. Watching them take flight is like watching jets lumbering to the end of a runway and leaving the earth just before they run out of runway.

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A Squirrel’s Fate

Bobcat walking in woods

A bobcat is paying us visits. We saw it walk up the lane between us and the neighbors during the afternoon a few weeks ago. This week a motion sensitive camera I set up in the woods caught it walking near the cabin where I make tofu on Thursday night and Friday evening. A blackberry vine got in the way of getting a clear picture of it, but if you look closely you can see it walking by.

It is unnerving and exciting to have such a magnificent cat strolling through the woods. But I am keeping the chickens inside their fenced yard for the time being.

Squirrel tail

I don’t want the chickens to share the fate of the squirrel this tail belonged to. I found the tail on a trail in the woods. I don’t have proof that the rest of the squirrel ended up in the bobcat, but chances are good that it did.

Ruby streaks
Autumn leaves

The fall leaves are past their peak. Many are down. Many of the trees are bare. A week of rain and showers is in the forecast. It’s time to take out my rake and enjoy making huge piles of leaves.

Maple leaves

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November at Last

swans in field

Yesterday while coming home from an errand, I saw swans flying overhead. There were swans in the fields too. At last, it feels like November is here.

According to the clerk in the Bow Post Office, she saw swans yesterday, so they were here on November 1.

snowgeese in field

Near where the swans were feeding, a flock of snow geese raised a ruckus. With all of them chatting at the same time, how do they know who is talking and who is saying what to whom? It seems worse than trying to carry on a conversation in a noisy restaurant. Is the loudest snow goose yelling at the others to shut up?

It is amazing that long before humans sailed the seas, bird brained creatures traversed everywhere. In Europe, humans feared dropping off the edge of the earth if they ventured too far out to sea. Bird brained albatross and boobies had no such fear. Unbound by fairy tales and superstitions, they took to flight and roamed the seas. Arctic terns flew back and forth from the Arctic to the Antarctic, a feat humans wouldn’t accomplish until recently.

Tens of millions of years before humans came into existence, birds filled the skies. They had all this how-to-navigate-the-globe figured out long before the first human began chiseling crude symbols into stone. If humans had listened to the birds, they wouldn’t have come up with the nonsense about falling off the edge of the world. Birds could have told us that there is no edge, that you just keep going round and round and round. We weren’t listening.

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November 1 and No Swans


Today is the first of November. In many years, the swans have flown in from Alaska and Siberia by now. On a number of years, I’ve seen them first flying on November 1, but not this year. Today’s blue skies had no swans.




The nearly grown ducklings are in training. Tomorrow they will be graduating from the tank in the garden to the pond. To reduce the trauma of me picking them up and carrying them to the pond, they are getting used to eating between the two gates leading into the garden. I can trap them in that enclosure, pick them up easily, and quickly carry them to the pond.



The chickens enjoy dry autumn days as much as I do. They find an endless supply of things to eat under the dried leaves.

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First Frost

frost in the grass and leaf

We had our first frost yesterday. A very light frost. Just enough to dust the grass and fallen leaves. The forecast is for a freeze this weekend, maybe enough to make the wet ground crunch when you walk on it.

frost in the grass and leaves
frost in the grass and maple leaf
foxglove in the woods
Chuckanut in the fal

Yesterday’s sunshine has turned into a cold, windy mist this morning. Winter is coming and so are the swans. I’ve already seen flocks of snow geese flying overhead. And heard them too. Once, late at night, flying invisibly through the night sky. It’s amazing that these birds make these epic journeys without carrying any baggage. If humans could take to the skies like birds, we’d be burdened down with bags strapped to our backs, dangling from our bellies, small packs filled with goods clinging to our legs and arms, and head braces holding our phones in front of our faces so we have something to see when we get bored by earth’s incredible beauty below us.

But snow greese and swans take flight with nothing. They arrive with nothing. But from their chatter and honking, they seem perfectly happy.

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Too Wet to Burn

brilliant forrest

The woods are too wet to burn. You could pour gasoline on them and they wouldn’t catch fire. But let there be a sliver of a break in the clouds at sunset, and the whole forest is ablaze.

trees on fire
cottonwoods and dark clouds

Against the dark clouds, as thick and heavy as wet wool, the cottonwoods shine brightly. You can’t live in the Pacific Northwest if you don’t love clouds, appreciate infinite shades of gray and green, and don’t even notice that every time you go outside, you get wet. Umbrellas are more nuisance than help. Humans have waterproof skin. Hair dries. Let the mist cool your face. Let the rain dampen your hair.

cottonwoods in the evening sun

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Eyes Wide Shut

sign

The nice thing about going to the post office on a bicycle is that you travel slow enough to see new things.

sign close up
sorrel

And see things that have always been there, in plain sight, but you’ve never seen before. It looks like the same ol’ same ol’ ditch I go by not far from home, but for some reason when I went by a few days ago, I saw something for the first time in the fifteen years I’ve been going by this ditch.

sorrel

Sorrel. One bunch of sorrel after the other. Enough sorrel to make a thousand salads and soups. How did I not see this before? Someone didn’t come by this week and plant all this sorrel. From one seed many years ago, a sorrel took root in this ditch and spread. Maybe if I had gone by with my ears open too, I would have heard the sorrel calling, “We’re here! Down here! Look down here!”

sorrel

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