Thursday, July 25, 2019

"July 25, 1949," by John Wilde

The painting at the college library, which I thought was titled "July 25," stamped my spirit so that for the next 40 years I made July 25 my own secret holiday, an especially fine one after I moved out here. Every July 25, truly the day of the year most saturated with summer, I fixed special breakfasts, went on thoughtful walks, etc. Thought I'd never see it again, but the wondrous Internet brought me to the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University and let me search its collection for the painting, its full title "July 25, 1949."

My memory was of a still-life centered on a calendar saying "July 25" surrounded by summer vegetables and flowers, but this is a shore scene, with the crab claws, the fishing float, smooth stones and marshland in the background. The torn piece of paper is not a calendar page but a handbill -- it says "Admission" at its bottom.

Truly, I thought, it's not a very good painting; the shadows suggest a noontime sun but the sky looks like dawn or dusk; I don't know of any salt marshes with evergreens sticking up from them, etc. Then I looked up the artist, John Wilde (will-dee), and he (1919-2006) was a Wisconsin surrealist, highly thought of. Had then to adjust my thinking: In Wisconsin these would be crayfish claws, which I should have guessed from the proportions of the float and what looks like a sparrow's egg. A surrealist painter's shadows and skies don't have to make sense. In fact, a surrealist wants to mess with your head. Wilde went on to paint much weirder paintings than this. And only in Wisconsin does a person named "Wilde" insist on pronouncing it "will-dee."

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Is My Co-Pilot

I hopped out of the car for a second to get the mail and when I got back in a big emerald-green dragonfly was trapped over the dash at the windshield, panicking and trying its luck against the glass.

I reassured it that it was in no danger and that 90 percent of the time everything turns out okay, then rolled down all the car windows and waited, but the windshield, I guess, looked just as good. So I pointed the car in the direction of town and started driving, and said, "Are you my co-pilot?" The dragonfly grew so quiet I thought it might have died of a little heart attack, but it was only tired because soon it revived a bit. The car windows were down but it wasn't leaving. I figured there might be air pressure from the moving car and figured that after I stopped it might get its bearings. While I was figuring, up and out it went.

Until I saw the photo I didn't see the gorgeous large shadow its wings cast in the slanted sunlight.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Hope Springs

Maybe I told you that two or three years ago a huge tractor ran over and churned to mud a rich and generous chanterelle mushroom temple I had cultivated near a juncture between woods and fields so that it was hardly necessary to step into the woods to harvest pounds of cheddar-yellow ruffly lovelies good to eat and share. Also crushed was the fallen tree that was my oyster mushroom gold mine, and logs that brought forth Bearded Tooth, which tastes like lobster. As I surveyed the ruins, shocked and saddened, only religious language came to mind: God is not mocked.

Last summer I tramped over there and saw two or three small chanterelles trying to make it through the mud and wished them the best. This year they are definitely bouncing back, and after a rain I picked a meal's worth and left the rest to reproduce and once again (I hope) cover the earth.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Hummingbird Banding: All You Need to Know

I witnessed an hour's worth of hummingbird bandings, when hummingbirds fly into a cage they can't figure their way out of, then are grasped and put in a net bag, then measured, placed in a tiny fabric bag, weighed, and are gently given leg bands the width of a pinhead, stamped with a four-digit numeral -- if they haven't one already, because since the 1990s volunteer and federally certified bander Lanny Chambers of Missouri by his own count has banded 6,000 hummingbirds -- and 30 more today.

Lanny and wife Linda travel to state parks in the summer and invite the public to watch and learn. After banding and measuring each bird, giving the figures to Linda who wrote them down, he stepped out into the open and let a spectator hold the hummingbird, urging us to feel its astonishing heartbeat (20 beats per second), until the bird up and flew, btw always leaving a pool of pee in the spectator's hand.

Chambers and his wife answered every question I had, and after 18 summers with Divine Cabin hummingbirds I had plenty.

Q: Why are you banding them?
A: For a federal science database with bird migration information.
Q: What information are you taking?
A: Their gender, age, length and weight, and the number on the band they are assigned. If they have a band already, we take a note of that and add it to the bird's history. Banding is the only way we can learn more about them.
Q: Why do you look at the beak with a magnifier?
A:  To tell their age. Juveniles will have little marks along the beak, sort of like growth rings or stretch marks. Adults don't have those.
Q: What's your background? How did you learn to do this? Is this your life work?
A: I majored in anthropology. I had only one job in that field for one summer. Now that I'm retired, this is my science hobby. It's my way of contributing to science. And some kid might see what I'm doing and get interested in biology. So many kids these days don't know nature.
Q: How were you trained for this?
A: I took an expensive course and then was certified.
Q: Are you paid to do this, or are you a volunteer?
A: I'm not paid for this.
Q: What interests you specifically in hummingbirds?
A: It's not at all because they're little and cute. I'm joking.
Q: What's the best hummingbird feeder formula?
A: Four parts water to one part cane sugar. They'll take beet sugar but prefer cane.
Q: Why are hummingbirds attracted to the color red?
A: They're attracted to any bright color, because those are the colors of flowers, and flowers are food.
Q: Why are hummingbirds so combative with each other?
A: They're defending their food supply.
Q: It's the same birds every year at my feeder?
A: They always come back to where they were born. They remember every single feeder in their territory and on their migration paths, just as you remember the whereabouts of every grocery store around you.
Q: Where do they winter?
A: In Central America.
Q: What do they do there all winter?
A: Exactly what they do here.
Q: Do they fly or travel in packs or families?
A: No, they're loners. They fly across the Gulf of Mexico alone. They can fly for up to 25 hours straight.
Q: How old is the oldest hummingbird in your banding program?
A: It survived for 10 years. Three or four years is the average lifespan.
Q: Do hummingbirds sleep?
A: Yes. They perch on a branch and sleep. They can't do anything in the dark.
Q: I heard that the female hummingbirds do all the parenting.
A: All hummingbird mothers are single mothers. Juveniles of both genders look like females. The female builds the nest with spider webbing and other expandable materials so the nest will expand as the babies grow. Hummingbirds will pick and eat from a spider web all the insects caught in the web, then eat the spider too, then take the webbing for nest building.
Q: What does the mother feed the babies before they can fly?
A: She regurgitates a slurry of insects and nectar. She feeds them insects for protein.
Q: Why is the male's throat red?
A: The feathers there are black except for a micro-coating that makes them look red or orange from certain angles. The male flashes his red when he wants to look threatening.
Q: What is a hummingbird doing when it points its beak straight up in the air and holds it there?
A: It's napping. Some nap that way and some don't. Every bird is different.
Q: Why do they pee so much? They peed on the hand of everybody who held one.
A: Because they ingest so much nectar. Their body burns the calories and they eject the excess water before they take flight. Just getting rid of water weight. Here's some hand sanitizer.

Do you want to experience a hummingbird banding? Here is a link. Lanny and Linda have been doing this work for years at various state parks. I had fun, and yes, I got to hold a hummingbird in my palm, throbbing like a little engine, for a few seconds before it up and flew.