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August 19, 2016 / Rae Spencer

The Nostalgia Shelves

The Nostalgia Shelves started with three bins of old books and a stack of tired posters. Many were as old as I am, and the wear showed. They were, literally, loved to pieces. Torn, faded, and stained, none of the items could be saved intact. So I dug out my scissors and bought some Mod Podge.

Shelf 1 July 5

Shelf 1 July 6

Shelf 1 July 6

All of my old favorites found new purpose in the Nostalgia Shelves. Their stories are alive again.

Shelf 2 July 8 Complete

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

Shelf 2 July 8 Detail

What’s more, the horses have a new home.

Shelf 2 July 31

I don’t have a “before” photo, but the “after” is definitely lighter and brighter.

Shelves July 31

And the unhoarding continues…

August 3, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Lost Time

Squirrel May 2

Every so often, time slips sideways. One week it’s May, and the next week July scrolls into August. I have photos and bills to prove that June actually happened, but it happened in a blur of travel, home repairs, and unhoarding.

Rabbit May 11

My unhoarding saga began after Mother died, when the extent of her hoarding (and mine) could no longer be overlooked.

Eggs May 14

Mother’s hoard was generational. Parts of it accreted as she raised five children, other parts were passed down from two much-loved grandmothers, a formidable mother, a pair of admired aunts, and a somewhat difficult mother-in-law. With each obituary and burial came new photos, letters, books, furniture, glassware, doilies, and quilts.

Hoverfly May 14

The women who raised Mother had filled their homes with small treasures, and, because each of them had very real memories of hard, empty years, they treasured everything. Everything held a story, and all of the stories were passed to Mother (who had no siblings) for safe-keeping.

Ladybug July 15

Fighting her own memories of hard, empty years, Mother made room for everything, stuffing her house to the eaves with family history. She made room in her heart, too, and genuinely loved this patchwork collection of heirlooms.

Dragonfly July 15

She loved it, that is, until it overwhelmed her.

Swallow May 26

The hoard took over Mother’s house, just as my hoard was taking over mine. In her house, as in mine, cabinets were jammed full, drawers wouldn’t close, shelves bowed under their burdens, one entire room was given over to storage.

Ducks May 11

In the wake of Mother’s car accident and death, as I helped my siblings sort and pack five generations of Mother’s belongings, I resolved to make a change. I didn’t want to carry on this tradition, the death ritual of dividing the hoard. Treasures or not, I no longer needed or wanted most of the stuff I had been hoarding.

Robin May 24

Resolve is one thing, doing is another. And unhoarding is ridiculously hard work. It got even harder after I scraped off the easiest layers — books I was never going to read, clothes I was never going to wear, dishes I was never going to use. Then came the emotional stuff. Tattered childhood books. Scarred toys and threadbare stuffed animals. Memory-laden trinkets and gifts that warmed my hoarder’s heart.

Bee July 16

I spent hours and days and weeks putting off decisions, moving containers from one room to another, painting around them as I dithered. Some days I was tempted to ship them all off to thrift stores, unopened and unsorted. Other days I fought an urge to unpack everything, to binge on dusty memories.

Skipper July 8

But I don’t want to live in a box of memory. To be owned by the past. So this summer I’ve been cleaning and repairing toys and stuffed animals. Some few will stay with me, others will go to thrift stores. What can’t be salvaged will be recycled or sent to the landfill. (After being photographed, of course.) I’ve also been cutting up old books, calendars, and posters for use in current and future art projects.

Clearwing Moth July 16

Some memories I’m voluntarily discarding, others have been lost in the commotion. But the house gets lighter and brighter with each newly emptied container, with each completed project.

Carpenter Bee July 16

And it feels like an even exchange — memories for light. Time for time.

Tiger Swallowtail July 9

I think Mother would approve. I think all of them would approve.

June 3, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Heron Watching

Heron May 21

A few weekends ago, I had another chance to photograph the Yellow-crowned Night Herons that are nesting in my friend’s yard. It was a rainy, gray day. Perfect weather for foraging herons.

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Heron May 21

Fortunately, the herons aren’t shy.

Heron May 21

Well, most of them aren’t shy.

Heron May 21

The rainy day suited other foragers, too.

Heron and Egret May 21

Raccoon May 21

I’m hoping to visit again soon. In the meantime, yesterday morning I met two friends at Pleasure House Point, where we enjoyed a walk that started in fog and ended in sunshine.

Landscape June 2

Osprey June 2

Night Heron June 2

Mallard June 2

This was my first visit to Pleasure House Point, but it won’t be my last. As the fog lifted, I fell more and more in love with the mixed terrain.

Landscape June 2

Landscape June 2

And with the wildlife. Here again, Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were the stars of the show.

Night Heron and Juvenile June 2

Night Heron June 2

Night Heron June 2

Night Heron June 2

There were plenty of other attractions, all equally beautiful.

Snails June 2

Molluscs June 2

Mushroom June 2

Bones June 2

Butterfly June 2

Blueberries June 2

Bee June 2

We even caught a glimpse of a Clapper Rail, a new bird for me. (I sent one of the photos to our local wildlife columnist for identification, because I couldn’t convince myself that it really was a Clapper Rail.)

Rail June 2

I’m eager to return to Pleasure House Point, and to see my friend’s heron nest again. But first on my list are unfinished projects in the house and yard. Then I have a couple of short stories to write. And poems to submit. And manuscripts to revise.

Rail June 2

The list goes on, as lists tend to do.

May 25, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Identifying the Birds

Cardinal May 23

Northern Cardinal

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about the Unknown Birds folder in my photography archive. The folder was over-full and impossible to navigate.

Robin May 24 1s

American Robin

I needed a better system.

Grackle May 20

Common Grackle

The obvious solution was to separate my Unknown Birds folder into a series of known bird folders.

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

Brown Thrasher

At first I tackled the problem in my usual way, with books and bookmarked websites and a notebook to keep track of everything.

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren May 23

Carolina Wren

Over time, I found that Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds site was often the only resource I needed. Their “Browse by Name or Shape” page suits my learning style.

Sparrow May 3

Chipping Sparrow?

I still find sparrows, warblers, and chickadees endlessly confusing.

Unknown Warbler May 23

Blackpoll Warbler

Ruby crowned Kinglet March 13

Ruby-crowned Kinglet?

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

But my Unknown Birds folder is almost empty.

Unknown Bird May 2

Still unknown. Probably a warbler, possibly a Tennessee Warbler?

Almost. The above bird is has defied all of my attempts to identify it. (It also defied most of my attempts to photograph it, which is why my best photo from the encounter is poorly lit and out of focus.) So I’m asking for help. Can you identify my unknown warbler? Is there enough information in the photo for a definitive identification? Please comment, especially if you can correct or confirm any of my other identifications!

Finally, the following photos are evidence of what happens when I get over-excited about a visitor in the yard and forget to check my camera settings…

Hawk April 30

There’s more wrong than right in these photos, but I kind of love them anyway.

Hawk April 30

Cooper’s Hawk?

May 11, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (and a Publication Note)

Heron May 7

I visited with friends last Saturday, sampling dishes of couscous and sweet potato frittata and chia seed pudding. After eating, we took a stroll around my friend’s yard, which slopes down to a watery area. A watery area with a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!

Heron May 7

My friend has seen these birds in her yard several times in the past, so we weren’t caught completely by surprise. Even so, I was very excited. (And very grateful that she had suggested I bring my camera.)

Heron May 7

We watched for a while as the heron hunted in the shallows.

Heron May 7

Then we wandered on, exploring more of the yard.

Snails May 7

Flowers May 7

Flowers May 7

When I was leaving, as we all stopped on the driveway to say our goodbyes, the heron flew into a pine tree in front of the house. To our amazement, it crept out onto a branch and settled into its nest! Right in the front yard!

Heron May 7

I’ve already packed my tripod in the car, so I won’t forget it next time I visit. The nest is too high for steady video, without a tripod…


Publication Note: My poem “Roads” posted at one of my favorite poetry sites, Poetry Breakfast, on May 9. Many thanks to editor Ann Kestner!

May 5, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Polyphemus Moth

I spent much of Tuesday dodging rain, popping in and out of the house with my camera, hoping to catch a photo of our returning hummingbirds. The hummingbirds didn’t cooperate, but the yard’s other birds were quite willing to pose.

Warbler May 3

Brown Thrasher May 3

During one session of waiting and watching, a brief disturbance in the pear tree was followed by a grackle landing in the grass.

Grackle May 3

Just before I snapped the above photo, I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a rather large moth disappearing down the grackle’s throat. See all the fuzz on its beak? That’s moth fur. A few moments later an intact wing (and parts of other wings) drifted out of the tree’s upper branches.

Moth Wing May 3

After I finished photographing the wing, I noticed something else in the grass. Another moth!

Moth May 3

I haven’t seen a Polyphemus moth up close since I was a child. This one seemed stunned, letting me take photos with my macro lens from every angle. I have a suspicion that the grackle had just eaten her mate.

Moth May 3

She didn’t have any visible wounds, but she was clearly unable to fly. I let her climb onto my hand, then snipped a twig from the pear tree–something familiar for her to rest on as she recovered from whatever shock had knocked her to the ground. While she rested, I took a few more photos…

Moth May 3

The Polyphemus Moth page at the University of Florida’s Featured Creatures site explains the origin of the moth’s name: “It is named after Polyphemus, the giant cyclops from Greek mythology who had a single large, round, eye in the middle of his forehead (Himmelman 2002). The name is because of the large eyespots in the middle of the hind wings.”

Moth May 3

When it became apparent that my moth wasn’t interested in leaving her new perch, I propped the twig in my butterfly box and moved her into the garage.

Moth May 3

I meant only to keep her safe until an approaching storm had passed, and planned to release her after dark. (Polyphemus moths are nocturnal. Also, they don’t feed as adults. Their sole occupation after emerging is to mate and, in the case of females, lay eggs.) But my moth had plans of her own. By the time the weather cleared, she had begun laying eggs.

Eggs May 4

I didn’t want to disturb her during such important work, so I left her to it. By morning, I was the stunned one. So many eggs!

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

Eggs May 4

I’m planning to put most of the eggs back in the pear tree, when she’s finished laying.

Eggs May 4

Most, but not all. I can’t resist keeping a few. For documentary blog purposes…

Eggs May 4

Stay tuned!

April 29, 2016 / Rae Spencer

Spring Arrivals (Arachnophobia alert!)

Lantana April 13

As spring accelerates toward summer, everything is growing and blooming and nesting.

Succulent April 28

Live Oak April 17

Sun is the catalyst, speeding life along.

Hoverfly March 15

Ladybird March 16

Spiderlings March 25

Swallowtail April 19

Swallowtail Egg April 28

Swallowtail Caterpillar April 28

Blue gray Gnatcatcher April 13

Chickadee April 19

Cardinal April 20

Sometimes a shadow overhead interrupts the yard’s chirrup and flutter.

Eagle April 20

Eagle April 20

But spring resumes when the danger has passed.

Cardinal April 20

Robin April 20

Grackle April 19

Grackle April 19

Some afternoons turn sleepy with increasing heat.

Mallards April 27

Mallards April 27

Rabbit April 16

Rabbit Nest April 25

But evenings are cool and mosquito-free, perfect for exploring.

Rabbit Baby April 28

Perfect for sitting outside with a book, too. I haven’t been doing much writing, but I’ve been reading a lot, working my way through a stack of nonfiction, historical fiction, classic sci-fi, and poetry. Now I want to add a few graphic novels to my shelf. Any suggestions?

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