Sunday, December 20, 2009

a fox in the snow

I looked up this afternoon from Christmas card writing to see a fox standing at attention in the middle of our front yard. We live on Peoria's West Bluff in the center of town. We've seen foxes before, as we live near the steeply sloped, wooded edges of the bluff. These areas are havens for foxes, groundhogs, hawks, owls, bats, and woodpeckers.

Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are most likely to hunt in daylight during winter, when finding prey becomes more difficult and the vegetarian part of these omnivores' diet dries up.

This one was tall and lean. He lowered his head decisively and then sprinted off across the yard and the neighbor's driveway. His intensity immediately stirred fear, as our white kitty Blaze had gone out an hour earlier. Surely Blaze would be too smart to be fox prey.

When I went outside the fox stood underneath the neighbor's chestnut tree, with a squirrel chattering wildly in the limbs above him.

A few minutes later, I spied Blaze running for the house, his tail puffed out like a raccoon's. When I let him in he plopped down on the rug by the fire and hasn't stirred since.

Andy was cooking a chicken, so I put the gizzards, some apples, an overripe turnip, some wilted lettuce leaves, and a sprinkling of dog food in a plastic bucket. I carried this down to the bluff and set it out. My hope is that the fox can get some nourishment from this, catch some prey, and leave the cats alone.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Van Morrison tells it like it is

I woke up late again this morning. Banjo dog has suffered blow out diarrhea for the past two nights. He wakes up every hour with a low moan that lets me know he needs to get outside and fast. This is in effect from about 1 a.m. until 6 a.m. We come in about 6:30 and finally get some sleep until the hot sun infiltrates at about 10 a.m.

Lucy suffered this same condition a week ago. The vet prescribed endo-sorb tabs and an antibiotic. Banjo's symptoms completely mimic Lucy's making me wonder if this isn't a canine virus.

When I finally came downstairs Andy had the XM satellite radio tuned to his favorite station, the Loft. Dave Marsh was interviewing my all-time favorite musician Van Morrison.

In the car recently I've been listening to Van's old CD "Astral Weeks," which includes the enigmatic tune "Madame George," a song I don't quite understand but that I know involves marijuana, young men growing up, and Madame George. She is a sympathetic character, one to whom, throughout the song, we must "say goodbye to." There is so much "past" involved here, just as the present moment is described in detail.

As the song progresses, Van's lyrics become less intelligible, moving from describing a clear scene to pounding out a feeling, to expressing, in wordless utterances, something profound. "The glove the love the love the love the glove the love the love" That profundity is never quite clear. We grasp it for a moment and then it dissipates. Madame George is handing back a glove but a sincere love is present in that expression.

Nonetheless, the interview is inspired. Marsh engages Van in a way I have never experienced. Van actually respects Dave Marsh (whoah) and opens up to him. I can't find the interview online, and I know I missed the first part of it. So, I hope the Loft plays it again soon or makes it available online.

Friday, December 04, 2009

early winter / homemade bird seed cakes

I woke up this morning to a very cold house. But the scene in the back yard warmed me up a little. Among the many birds flitting between the trees, I noted several cardinals, a blue jay, a white-breasted nuthatch (pictured), downy woodpecker, brown creeper, a brown-capped chipping sparrow, and numerous juncos, sparrows, and chickadees. In the neighbor's burr oak I could see the outline of a huge flock of crows.

Because of our resident blood-thirsty felines and an exploding rat population in central Peoria, I have given up filling bird feeders with cups of loose seeds that spill liberally to the ground as the birds eat. Several years ago I began buying the large cakes of seed that fit into wire cages. These work well to keep the seed up high so the cats don't have easy access to prey and the rats don't have easy access to food.

These cakes, however, cost between $5-6 each. At Lowe's the other day, I started to drop two into my basket and then wondered if I could make them myself. I had tried this last year with little success. The peanut butter and flour experiment ended in a moldy mess.

So this year I researched and experimented and came up with a recipe that seems to work.

Mix 3/4 c flour with slightly less than 1/2 c water. Add several tablespoons of Karo (light corn) syrup. Or more. To make sure everything sticks, add in a packet of Knox gelatin. (I had this on hand and am not sure how much it costs. If it's a lot I might omit it from the next batch and see what happens.)

I put this mixture in a large bowl and dumped in somewhat more than 4 cups of shelled seeds and nuts (that I had picked up at Lowe's). Patting it into an oiled square baking pan  roughly the size of my wire holder, I then baked this in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Note, to conserve energy I already had the oven on to roast vegetables for supper.

The cake had several hours to cool and set up, after which time I turned out a firm square of seeds.

That same day I made stew from a leftover rib roast we had at Thanksgiving. After trimming the fat off, I put these pieces into an empty net that had held apples.

My homemade seed and suet cakes seem to have done a fine job of attracting a flock of colorful birds — such a pleasant sight as a gentle flurry of white flakes fall down on this early winter day.