Monday, December 15, 2008

three bird stories

Two days before the blizzard, I was on my way to the bus stop, and this particular bus stop is a good little place or birds. There's a tiny city park--really, just a wedge of green between two busy streets--with lots of trees, including some nice spruce, plus some tall boulevard and yard trees. It's a popular corner for nuthatches, and there's often woodpeckers, too. So when I heard a tap tap tap, I assumed it was one of the usual downies or hairies, until I looked up, and saw a big Pileated Woodpecker, less than 20 feet up in one of the big maples outside an apartment building. It was close enough that I could see it was a girl (boys have a red stripe on their face like a mustache) and could see the glint in her eye when she cocked her head to stare back at me. But mostly she was unconcerned, and kept pecking away while I stood there and watched, and the wood shavings drifted down like snowflakes.

A day before the blizzard I saw a robin in somebody's yard. I guess a few hang out in Duluth all winter long, but this was the first that I've seen since the flock in Hartley a few weeks ago. The yard in question has some nice conifers to snuggle down in, and a Mountain Ash tree for robin snacks.

The day of the blizzard, yesterday, the buses stopped running before I got off of work, so I had to walk home, a little under two miles, in the snow and fierce wind. I stopped in the woods behind the farmer's market, by Chester Creek, to take a break from my grim trudge and seek shelter in the trees for a few minutes. In the woods there were about forty black birds, mostly grackles, with a few starlings mixed in, and a handful of crows. Or ravens. I can't tell by silhouette alone, and all the birds were eerily, completely silent. Now and then one of the nosed around the bark looking for grubs, and a small group of them relocated to a different tree when I entered the woods, but mostly they were all hunkered down, black clumps against the swirling white sky, waiting out the storm.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

confusion or bravado?

It is currently 17F outside and snowing lightly, as it has been all day, a grey, overcast day. It's less than two weeks before the solstice, and the days aren't getting much shorter at this point. I was just outside shoveling, and a chickadee was serenading me with his spring song, fee-bee, fee-bee.

Hey, that territory isn't going to defend itself, and I guess it's best to find a mate extra early, before all the good ones are taken.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

oh, the weather outside is frightful

Actually rather unfrightful today, but it's working on it, so I'm trying to get the apartment ready for winter. Attempted to put up fresh weatherstripping on the doors today. The back door went fine, but on the front door there is a small gap between the door and the frame, but then right inside the room the carpet is lumpy enough that once I put the weatherstripping on I couldn't open the door. I guess I could have left it up as an alternative security device, so that even if a burglar managed to pick the lock, the door still wouldn't budge.

I'm also putting plastic sheeting up on the windows, but that has its own set of challenges. This apartment has a million windows (okay, eightteen) and almost all of them are 65" tall. Which, for those of you who haven't bought window plastic lately, is just two inches longer than the plastic in most standard window insulating kits. That was a fun discovery my first winter here. So I have to buy the big patio door kits and cut the plastic into strips.

What else can I do to winterize a rental? Heating the rooms that you're in instead of heating the whole unit is a nice idea, but the apartment is so big and open that space heaters would be impractical. This place desparetly needs some new, non-rattly windows and some better insualtion, but that's not my department. The landlord did put in a new, more efficent natural gas furnace last year, and that helps. I keep the thermostat as low as I'm comfortable with (65 when I'm home/awake, and 60 at night). As an added bonus, when you keep the thermostat that low, the cats are far, far more likely to curl up in your lap or in bed.

I'm dreaming of next year, when I will hopefully have my own house, and I can make it as snug as I want. When I can afford it, I want to get a wood stove as a supplemental--if not primary--heat source. Northern Minnesota has a strong lumber industry, so heating with wood would be one of the cheaper options, and it's certainly more environmentally friendly than burning fossil fuels. In the mean time, I'm putting up plastic on the windows and am heating with cat.