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Monday, June 18, 2012

Living In Cloud Cuckoo Land

It is the middle of June up on the Bluff and weird and wonderful things are happening. We sort of feel like we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land... a mythical land in the clouds (invented by Aristophanes for his satire, "The Birds," predating the Alfred Hitchock film of the same name by 2400 years or so...) where everything is just perfect and nothing ever goes wrong... right? 

Well, not exactly...

The Birds.
No, not the Hitchcock movie, which so unfairly demonized our friends the crows and ravens! No, I mean the birds up here... specifically, two kinds of birds that have been grabbing our attention lately, one in a good way and the other one... well, not so much. 


Chapter 1. The Good
Starting in April or early May and lasting almost all summer, every day starts and ends at Cascade Bluff with the most amazing serenade. We are, as you all know, surrounded by forest up here, and the chorus of forest-dwelling birds is remarkable enough. But our favorite songster of the woods is one bird we have never, ever seen... but hear every day. An unobtrusive, hidden little bird with a gorgeous song... The state bird of Vermont, the Hermit Thrush.
Notice that he/she is perched on a mountain ash branch? (And we just planted 25 of them?)

Click on the button below to hear Catharus guttatus... 




  Isn't that just beautiful? Ethereal, liquid trills and notes... now imagine hearing five or six of those in "Wilderness Surround Sound" from all directions, every morning and evening, for months! Sweet... it is one of our favorite details about life on the Bluff, and we are delighted to share it with you all, courtesy of www.xeno-canto.org, "sharing bird songs from around the world," since we do not own state of the art recording equipment... yet...

Then there's that other bird. 

Chapter 2. The Bad.
Ever hear of a Hairy Woodpecker? Usually sort of shy, common little black and white woodpecker with a little red stripe on its head, doesn't bother anybody... even kind of cute...

Until now. We didn't have any idea just how obnoxious NESTING SEASON could be until a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers decided to drill a hole in a dead aspen and nest 
RIGHT NEXT DOOR!! 
If you look closely you can see the nest opening right below that mushroom cap...




The drilling wasn't so bad, as long as you don't have post traumatic stress disorder from visiting the dentist... Eggs were undoubtedly laid... hatchlings emerged, and then....
...Cuckoo Season Began!  
Starting early every morning and continuing until it is dark, and damn near drowning out the Hermit Thrushes, those x%*#%$#@*! nestlings and (we assume) their totally frazzled mother shriek continuously from that tiny little hole in the dead tree. A black and white and red head pops out of that hole, exactly like an old fashioned Bavarian cuckoo clock, and MADNESS ENSUES!! Let me make this clear. THE SHRIEKING NEVER STOPS!! Dad Woodpecker (we assume) flits about frantically, darting back and forth from one branch to the next, bringing stuff to the nest. We are quite certain that Momma Woodpecker is saying, "George, get back over here, quick! These kids are driving me nuts! They're about to eat the couch! They're starting in on the dining room table! If you don't get back here with something to eat soon I'm going to shoot myself!" or something like that. 


If you squint and use your imagination, you can see a bird head sticking out of the nest hole...
Of course as soon as I set up the tripod with the telephoto lens, she hid away and wouldn't show her little beak... I gave up after 15 minutes and way too many black fly bites...

We just keep asking ourselves, geez, doesn't she get tired of shouting?
You should all be VERY THANKFUL that I spared you a recording of a shrieking maniac bird. 



Our story started out this week in Cloud Cuckoo Land with tales of birds, it ends with...
Mammals. 

Chapter 3. The Ugly.

Actually, the story features something that really is kind of cute. With really sharp teeth. And a nasty disposition. Likely completely freaked out and very, very hungry. And with big poop.

It all began with a visit from friends who'd come from Chicago and wanted to see our place. We met them in town, had a nice dinner at local fave restaurant, The Angry Trout [http://www.angrytroutcafe.com/]. They followed us up to Cascade Bluff Road and parked their little Taurus. We brought them up to the Bluff in Dimples the big red Ford pickup, which in addition to that "check engine" light (we get a lot of those) that had come on a few days earlier, started making a weird squeaking noise... But that's another story, eventually revealing itself to be a shot universal joint... but until the U joint was fixed we decided it was time to use our Ruddy Explorer, Ursula, to take them back down to their non-high-clearance vehicle. 
Well, we had parked Ursula in the garage for a couple of days while we drove Dimples around to haul some big stuff... We tried to start 'er up and discovered that Ursula had a completely dead battery. (As a side discussion we again learned the value of having a fleet of cars and/or trucks... you never know when you will need a running vehicle...) Thankfully, Babe the Blue Jeep was running (well, if you ignore Babe's "check engine" light that we've been seeing intermittently since the tracks came off... My, we do seem to get a lot of "check engine" lights...) Hurray, we were able to bring our friends successfully to their car. All seemed well... until the next morning, when Val went to the garage to jump the Explorer's dead battery. Are you all still with me on this?
Now would be the time to cue the scary Hitchcock movie music... 
like those shrieking violins from "The Birds"...

Her first ominous clue was this... some gnarled and chomped cardboard...

And then, this... No, those aren't mouse droppings... WAY bigger than that...

...Notice the shredded stuff under the Explorer?

Well, she soon found the source... The hood of the vehicle is lined with a padding of insulation, and ours was chewed and shredded! 

And right next to the battery, she found this... four wires chewed in half! 

The wires turned out to be from a ground circuit, with a bit of redundant loop on one side...


 Val called Kathy to come out and take a look, and while Kathy fished chunks of shredded felt insulation out of the engine, Val called Stan, our neighbor and all around great guy who regularly rescues us from Up North mayhem...


Stan came over and spliced the chewed wires back together... 
Beautiful job, Stan! Thanks a bunch...

 ...and after helping us make sure all the vehicles were momentarily drivable (until we could get them in for service), he explained his Experienced Northwoods Guy theory of what probably nabbed Ursula, her insulation and wires, and us... one of these little fellas...
 a pine marten. Kinda cute, huh?
We think he's right, we have lots of them, we see their tracks all the time. And they are handsome little creatures. But they are actually large-ish weasels, with bad tempers and curiosity equal to cats. We suspect one got trapped in our garage for a few days and then started in on everything in sight in desperation to get out. Here is some of the evidence of his teeth marks as he tried to chew his way out through the walls...
 Poor guy was likely screaming "let me outta here!" by now....

He or she may even have become confused and thought that the way out of the garage was through the engine! 
We feel kind of sorry for the little guy or girl, and since we did not find a pine marten, alive or otherwise, in the garage (just lots of tell tale paw prints in the grease on the splitter) we are glad he's gone and hope his PSTD therapy sessions are going well. 

The end of this ugly story is that after her revival from the dead battery (which actually had nothing to do with the chewed wires, but was probably from a dome light left on for 3 days... and that slowly dimming light may well have enticed the pine marten to burrow into the car...) Ursula the Explorer had one of those "urgent, fix now!!" messages come on the dash. The abbreviation on the message was "RSC" which was not listed in our owners manual. She drove fine, so we took her to our local mechanic (who is currently fixing the universal joint on the Ford pickup, the source of that nasty squeaky noise...) and he didn't have an answer either and suggested we either leave it for a few weeks or take it to the closest Ford dealer... in Two Harbors (a 2 hour drive away.) We opted for the long drive over the long wait. Unfortunately, message "RSC" came with a very annoying SHRIEKING alarm that came on 
every 5 minutes on the dot

Do you know how many times that alarm came on in 2 hours? 
25.

But all is well, the homemade splice passed inspection and the "Roll Stabilization Circuit" sensor happened to be the third random thing wrong with the Explorer... or maybe her computer brains got scrambled when the pine marten had his way with her... 

Then finally, one last mammal...

Epilogue. THE BLURRY.
That blurry dark brown smudge ahead on the road...

... was in fact, a moose, right in front of us on our access road! See it? Uh... Sort of see it? That dark smudge of a thing with legs? and no rack of antlers? Looking pissed off?

She stopped, turned around and stared at us for half a minute... long enough for an iPhone shot, but not good enough for real proof... but we saw a moose! Really, we did! Honest! Cross our hearts! 

And that's this week's news from Cascade Bluff/Cloud Cuckoo Land. But really, it is all good and beautiful, hardly any shrieking at all, nothing bad, nothing ugly... Really!

1 comment:

  1. Love the way you tell the story on this one.

    ReplyDelete