Monthly Archives: June 2017

Watching the Martins


It was a beautiful morning when Susan and I traveled out into the country to visit our friend Sherry and watch the martins. Sherry had invited us pretty urgently, cautioning us that she thought they were about to leave for the season. In fact, there weren’t as many that day as there had been earlier, she said, but it was still a great show.

Charles and I have tried to attract martins but never with success. We’d love for them to feast on our mosquitos. But now I know we didn’t try hard enough. If you erect a whole community of martin houses in the open with lots of sky view, they will come. That’s what Sherry and her husband, Jerry, have done, Sherry having the vision and Jerry the skill and muscle to make it happen.

Sherry served us coffee and muffins on her generous porch. From there, looking across the peaceful blue swimming pool, we could see the martin condominiums with birds flying in and out the openings. Some would take to the sky while others were taking care of housekeeping.

“There really aren’t many today,” said Sherry anxiously. “Ya’ll should have come sooner when the place was packed.”

“We didn’t come just to see the birds,” Susan assured her.

“And anyway, it seems pretty lively to me,” I added. “We certainly don’t see them at our house.”

“There’s a nest with eggs about to hatch, I think,” said Sherry pointing to one of the martin mansions.

“Well, they’ll have to stay a while longer then,” I said. “They’ll have to wait for those babies to grow enough to fly with the rest.”

“That won’t take long,” said Sherry. “You know how fast our children grow. They grow up overnight.”

That brought on discussions and stories about grandchildren. Pictures were passed around. We became so enthusiastic we almost forgot about the birds.

Then I noticed the sounds of chickens clucking and chuckling around the porch, tending to their morning’s work.

“Hens laying these days?” I asked.

“We get some day by day. Enough for an omelet now and then. Jerry gathers them. One day when I was fetching the eggs I found a big gray snake in the nest with an egg half swallowed. I let the snake have it. Had nothing in my hands to finish him off with!”

I shuddered.

Susan remembered her own recent snake story. “I went in a shed at the back of our house to get a tool. Reached up and plucked it off a hook and turned to go out when suddenly something came down across my head–a sizable snake!”

“How long was it?” asked Sherry.

Susan held up her hands to indicate eighteen inches, then laughed. “Johnny says it was only this long,” she said sizing down to about six inches.

Sherry insisted on our getting more coffee. She, being very short of breath because of a lung disease, let us serve refills for ourselves.

The martins were busy again, some wheeling in the sky, others flying into their homes. Some were sitting on their porches, like us. We talked about their distinctive shape, their deep black shimmery color and their ability to one day simply pick up all their luggage and go to a distant land in Central or South America. We marveled at how God has made every creature able to take care of itself. How can the birds know where to go? How do they make such a long journey? We’d never be able to do that (without all our super aids). But “we” can build martin houses–and skyscrapers!

“One day we’ll look out and there will be no martins,” said Sherry. “Just all their empty houses. And Jerry will go to work repairing and cleaning out their homes. So they’ll be ready when the birds come back.”

“And about when is that?” I asked.

“Maybe about March. Early spring. We look out one day and there are a few scouts flying around, then soon there’s a flock wheeling, building nests and all.” She laughed. “One day I was sitting here watching and this one bird flew up to his door with a stick about a foot long. It was a show watching him force that stick into the small hole but he did it.”

It was a very good morning. Susan and I agreed it was one of the most fun visits we’d ever been on. As we drove back to town full of coffee and muffins and blessed with good conversation, we remarked that this was really life, taking time to stop and watch the birds with friends.




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Give Them a Jar



One of the three explorers, a young Indiana Jones

First, they found a worm. They wanted a jar to keep the worm, and wanted to know what he’d eat. Fortunately, I had an empty large chunky roasted peanut jar. The trio of explorers (made up of a four-year-old future Indiana Jones, a six-year-old nurturing “little mama,” and a seven-year-old “curious George” little girl) was ecstatic. A bucket of ice cream would not have thrilled them nearly as much.

They piled leaves and grass around the worm and began to argue over to whom he belonged, each one aggressively claiming him. And, yes, they argued about whether “he” was male or female until one sang out “she” was birthing babies. My instruction on worms’ reproduction was totally ignored.

Retreating to the kitchen to prepare supper, I heard an eruption of squeals. They had found a centipede, the best worm ever. This one was vigorously claimed by Curious George who declared she had found him first. I tried to interject a lesson in etymology concerning the meaning of the word “centipede,” but this lesson, too, was rebuffed. Who cared how many legs he had? He was “darling” anyway. For the first time in my seventy-four years I was watching a girl “cuddle” a centipede in her hand crooning sweet nothings in his “ear.”

After supper, with dusk moving in, I spied fireflies flashing signals. After I demonstrated my skill in catching fireflies, the children were “turned on.” They quickly learned how to let fireflies light on their hands, then transfer them to the jar without hurting them. The sight of the children dashing here and there amongst ground cover, lilies, and bushes squealing with delight as they caught the lights made me very happy. And perhaps these lively lights would make them forget to cuddle worms.

It didn’t happen quite like that. The trio decided they should let all the fireflies fly, a commendable decision. So they set the jar open on the patio and watched from the porch to see them fly away. They checked on their worms then to be sure they were all there. I heard Little Mama say with tender passion, “I always wanted my very own pet.” A reminder that she has three dogs, two cats, and a horse at home meant nothing to her. They weren’t hers, she said. This worm was hers.

I was really bad. I refused to have the worms as house pets. In fact, I insisted on warm sudsy baths all around for all team members.

Next morning, first thing, all three went to check on their worms. All worms were accounted for and still alive. Except for the imaginary babies one worm had made.

After breakfast I gave the trio a list of things to find: something rough, something smooth, something hard, a straight stick, etc. Young Indiana Jones found the stick, a six foot bamboo cane ( I better specify the length next time!), which he proceeded to twirl hazardously, causing considerable havoc. The girls fought over what was smooth and what was hard. In the process of chasing down scavenger hunt items, one explorer found a fat white grub and took him into the jar fold.

Even after diligent scrubbing of hands, aided by big sister Candi (who had returned from her own adventures as a vet assistant), it was doubtful the crew was really clean enough for eating homemade chicken pot pie at lunch. But I have to say, all that hard scientific work, along with many rounds on the bikes, made the explorers quite hungry.

The discovery of a sizable box turtle in the afternoon broke the wormy concentration for a little while. I tried to launch into one of my favorite subjects–the uniqueness of the turtle’s (and all creatures’) design, but found myself talking to the cats after the children had scattered on a new mission. They were trying to find the rest of the turtle family. Curious George had taken the leadership and was convinced she would find another turtle in the reeds, under the nandina bushes, or maybe in the ivy, somewhere real soon. The explorers lasted about ten minutes on that expedition before returning to their study of worms.

I wonder what these three will be applying themselves to in another ten or fifteen years. Probably not cuddling worms! Will they even remember all the fun they had with a plain old jar? I hope so!

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