House Wrens and Deadly Weather

House Wren April 23

Last summer the yard had its first nest box success. (See posts about the house wrens here, here, here, and here.)

Wren April 30

Now we have a new pair of wrens adding twigs to the nest box.

Wren April 30

Wren April 30

Wren April 30

I’m looking forward to new nestlings in the yard…

Wren May 1

Wren May 1

But I can’t claim happiness, these last few days. On April 28th tornadoes tore through the place where I grew up, Lincoln County Tennessee. Two people died. In the days before and after Lincoln County’s tragedy, the same storm system ravaged other communities, and there were more deaths. I ache for the families who have lost so much.

I would stop there, if aching helped, but I need to do more. So I’m making a few donations to organizations that are helping families recover and rebuild. Maybe you could consider doing the same?

Review: My Beloved Brontosaurus

My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)

First, I have to confess that this is not really a review. It’s mostly a chance for me to visit one of my favorite topics. I have been fascinated by dinosaurs for a very, very long time. As I read My Beloved Brontosaurus, my fingers began to itch for the feel of my old plastic toys, the ones that roared through my childhood and paced across my shelves. They are (and were at the time) scientifically inaccurate. However, they were (and still are) great fun.

Dinosaurs April 4

Unlike my battered collection of mismatched toys, My Beloved Brontosaurus is equal parts good science and good fun. Much of it is a journey through paleontology’s growing pains, exploring name changes, skeletal puzzles, and feather mysteries. Chapter by chapter, the book details how Brontosaurus became Apatosaurus, how the upright posture that once defined a dinosaur was discovered in non-dinosaurs from the same time period, and how evidence hints that many dinosaurs had feathers or protofeathers (sometimes referred to as dinofuzz.)

My Beloved Brontosaurus is the most fun I’ve had with dinosaurs in years. Not only is the science interesting, the book strikes resonant chords in each chapter with elements of memoir, personal essay, and travel writing. As I turned the last page, I was filled with a deep yearning to pack a bag and head off on a multi-state museum tour. A few minutes later, coming to my senses and realizing that travel is not my favorite way to spend time, I headed off to the attic in search of a dusty box full of memories.

Dinosaurs April 4

(I don’t know how the woolly mammoth [definitely not a dinosaur] made it into this batch of plastic dinosaurs. Nor the sail-backed Dimetrodon. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I found a blog post, yesterday, explaining how Dimetrodon is #notadinosaur”.)

Dinosaurs April 4

Since I started this post with a confession, it seems appropriate to end with one. I don’t remember some of these dinosaurs. They mysteriously appeared in my collection when Mother mailed off several boxes of old toys as she attempted to de-clutter her house. I can’t say with certainty which of the dinosaurs were mine and which ones became mine as Mother packed the boxes, but I’m happy to claim them all now.

Dinosaurs April 4

(As an aside, it’s somehow logical to me that cats might have had something to do with most of history’s extinction crises.)

Dinosaurs April 4

Indigo, 1999-2014

Indigo Feb 22


This is the last photo I took of Indigo, who died earlier this month. I can’t claim that she was ever a well-behaved dog, but she was always a well-loved dog, and the house feels strange without her.


(The slideshow photos were taken by my husband.)

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Turning Colder (Arachnophobia Alert!)

Mantis Sept 30

The yard is getting colder and colder, though it’s not cold enough, yet, to use the word winter. In fact, it’s a stretch to use the word cold.

Finch Oct 2

Maybe brisk is a better word. Except, nothing feels brisk. Instead everything feels sleepy and slow. Spider webs ripple in smoke-tinged drafts, and wasps pause for photographs as if posing.

Spider Sept 30

Unknown Wasp Sept 27

Grubs curl sluggishly when disturbed, and I have to go slow with the mower because fall’s chill has dulled the toads’ reflexes.

Grub Oct 12

Toad Sept 1

Jumping spiders retreat higher and higher into trees, searching for safe crevices in which to spin their thick winter nests.

Spider Oct 2

It happens like this every year, and every year I succumb to a listless bout of melancholy.

Which reminds me of a poem by Kay Middleton…

O, October what have you done?

Treasures from Home, Part Two (The Red Chairs)


These chairs belonged to my grandmother, and they dominate my memories of visiting her house. The red chairs seemed stern, like Grandmother (we weren’t allowed to call her anything less formal than “Grandmother”). Sitting on them reminded me that I was expected to be still and quiet during our visits.

Despite the chairs’ lack of comfort, I admired them. They were, for me, irresistibly exotic. Ornate to the point of absurdity, designed for beauty instead of utility. Only now, when it’s too late for curiosity, does it occur to me that the chairs were different from the rest of Grandmother’s furniture, which was all very sturdy and practical. So why did she keep them? What did she see, when she looked at the chairs?

I never asked Grandmother about the chairs, just as I never asked about the years she spent as a single working mother. I never asked how she managed to raise a daughter, alone, during World War II and the decade that followed. How she managed to raise a daughter, alone, while working full-time.

Time hasn’t softened the chairs, which are so uncomfortable that even the cats refuse to sit on them, but it has softened my memories of Grandmother. She wasn’t a kind, cozy grandmother, but neither was she as stiff and disapproving as I imagined. Her truth, like the chairs’ truth, is an unsolvable mystery.

But now the chairs have come to me and I have the opportunity to create a new truth for them. I keep them in our living room, one on each side of the room. As I sit between them, they remind me to be still and quiet, to listen more carefully, and to understand that some stories are told in silences, rather than words.