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May 31st, 2009 - Despondency

Jackie the Turtle: May 29th, 2008 - May 31st, 2009
May you rest in peace, my friend.
We came home from the dog park today to find Jackie lifeless in her habitat, nictitating membranes down, floating peacefully.

Jackie on her first day.

Her life was a struggle, as most lives are, but I was hoping that since we gotten her through the winter she could get back outside to her turtlearium and back into the real sun, exercise, and real food, but her first foray out seemed to be more of a strain than a boon. Previously she had started showing some signs of weakness. Really beginning to be noticeable a few weeks after the dog-incident; her shell was softening and losing more skutes in the damaged area, but she seemed to be pretty active and on her feed.
Her shell damage and internal duress were a strain I'm sure, and with many animals they tend to instinctively hide any signs of illness or weakness to protect themselves from wary predators for as long as they can, until really they are close to collapse.
I feel badly for her, we did what we could, and she made it through her initial eye infection and was going like a trooper going into last winter. It just goes to show how the first year mortality is such a tough hurdle. I'm not sure what else we could have done, except for intravenous vitamins, perhaps. How far do you go? And hindsight is even better than 20/20.

Best wishes my friend, we will think of you fondly.
Peace. We love you.

May 30th, 2009 - A Day in the Life

I no more set my foot in the door at Springbrook yesterday and Siah says, "Oh, Tim... I need your help with a special project..."
Knowing Siah as I do, my first response is, "I'll get my camera..."
The project was to spot him on an extension ladder so he could get up to the top of a neighboring tree with his 300mm lens to take some photos of a Cooper's hawk nest. We wanted to see it the eggs were "pipping" yet. (Showing some signs of being pecked from the inside by the birds "egg teeth." Or beak rather.)
So off we go, to get the extension ladder...

As I brace the fully extended ladder, Siah's butt disappears up the tree trunk, and after he's off my ladder section, I steal a couple of quick snaps.

On to the next section, I look up and get a scope of the whole mess of ladders, rungs, chain, ropes, and makeshift climbing apparatus that gets him up there. I am immediately struck by it's similarity what the Nepali honey-collectors use to risk their lives on the sides of mountains in Nepal and Tibet, to gather honey from the mountainsides near Tibetan monasteries:
(Click image for larger. Note the thread of ladders...)

After a few minutes of climbing, Siah is in place, ten to fifteen feet from the nest, with his arm wrapped around a wildly swinging tree while he tries to focus on a handful of eggs in a nest in the adjacent wildly swinging tree. I'm anxiously waiting to dodge vomit or report an incoming Cooper's hawk parent.

It's sort of a Marlon Perkins type of thing. Actually, more like what Marlon would be having "Jim" do. Unfortunately, due to the winds blowing in some weather, and the possibility of his being too close to the nest to focus with his long focal-length lens, we couldn't get a real sharp image of the eggs themselves. From what we got, it didn't look like any pipping yet, but it was hard to tell, with the speckling of the eggs. Guess we'll have to go back. Just another day at the mill...

Afterwards back in his office, I took pics of a dragonfly that woke up after he had brought in from the cold that morning, before letting it out the office window again...

May 23rd, 2009 - Wide-eyed at the MN Master Nats Conference

Heh. Having a little fun with the auditorium view of the Master Naturalist's Conference last weekend at the Audubon Center of the Northwoods in Sandstone, MN. (click image for larger view)
The top one is four vertical frames stitched together, the bottom is three horizontal frames, both from the 18mm zoom lens. Day one of the conference. I love their stained glass windows.
Note in the pincushion shot, up in the very corners of the ceiling and along the seam, the little beige "pillows" tacked to the wall. I never could figure out what those were for. Anyone know...?

May 20th, 2009 - Extreme Sundriness

This is the least favorite part of my workday. Stuck in the tunnel getting on to "94." Things are lit up like a Christmas tree. Actually it reminds me of Christmas traffic, without the snow.
I miss bike-commuting.
It doesn't always back up this far, usually only on Twins baseball day-game days, but this wasn't one of them. 3:30 PM on a weekday. Hunh. Thank god for audiobooks and punk rock. Why anyone would want to sit in this on a motorcycle or in a convertible is beyond me.
Our highways are stuck in 1967.

Ahh, then arriving at "work" at Springbrook Nature Center, it's time to move the Painted Lady butterflies from one cage to another. Bliss. All is forgiven. Just stick your finger in front of them and they climb aboard.

Note the awesome Gothic tongue sensing apparatus up front. Boioioinnngggg.


Talk about a back-hair problem. Yiy.

Then last Thursday I checked the cages as I came in to determine the priority of poop-scooping and lo and behold the gray corn snake had just dropped twelve eggs and was in process of pushing out number 13!  Nyarg. Cleansing breaths, cleansing breaths... We'll get you through this...
I was secretly hoping one would tumble down as it came out so I could get sort of a sequence shot, but snake eggs don't usually "tumble." Actually, they are normally connected together with sort of a "umbilical string", as some of these were. Plus they're sort of rubbery and sticky.
The amazing thing (well, ANOTHER amazing thing) is that she pushed out another five eggs while I was there to make eighteen, then by the end of the next day there were twenty-seven total...! Phew! Take a breath!

Ahh, maternal joy. Peaceful.
Just like my drive home at 10 pM...

May 18th, 2009 - Vindication!

BIG NEWS!!! The Love Hammer takes the Blue Ribbon in the 2009 Minnesota Master Naturalist Convention Craft Contest!

For the uninitiated...
This project is the result of my previous blogpost: THE LOVE HAMMER.

That was back on March 13th, 2009. After shaving a lot of wood and thinking about it and re-thinking about it, I decided the that after this much work the thing had better not split, at least not right away, so I had better come up with some re-enforcement of some type.
First I thought about putting some flat banding around the head and asked the advice of the best craftsman I knew, Chuck at Wood Lake. As we were talking, and discussing why that wouldn’t work, I got the idea to cut a groove shouldered in from the face and use thick copper wire, reminiscent of the circus mallets used for the 'Ring the Bell' game and pounding-in tent stakes. The idea is that the band keeps the face from splitting and mushing out too badly. 
I admit I did use one power tool during the duration of the construction, and that was an electric drill to bore two very straight 3/8” holes down the middle of the head with a 12-inch bit, the rest of which was knocked out very patiently with a narrow chisel. I was living in fear of not getting the center hole straight and having a hammer with a non-perpendicular head. I had to make some adjustments, but it seems to have worked out.
After adding the larger wire-band behind the face of the mallet, oh, around April 13th or so, I began sanding and sanding and sanding and sanding. After I had a nice finish, I looked at my mallet and said, “It doesn’t look enough like a heart.”
I cut the band off, and started over, reshaped the head into more of a heart-shape with a Surform tool (kiss, kiss) and created a contour in the back. I poured tons of Gorilla glue into the handle space and top hole and sanded off each layer. About five layers.
I then picked it up one day and said, “I don’t like the weight. I took off too much wood.”
So I drilled out and picked out all the glue along the sides of the wedge in the top (of the actual internals, the hickory handle goes about halfway up into the head, through the knot (which was a bear to work with) and has a metal wedge driven into it and is glued. Then there is a wooden wedge on top of that to fill out the hole. Mostly.
To satisfy the weight issue, I melted down all the lead sinkers and pellet-gun pellets I had and poured molten lead in along side the top wedge. Much filing, scraping, and sanding later, it was ready to finish, around May 13th. I chose shellac and applied, sanded, applied, sanded, applied, sanded, and applied, sanded until finally applying the last coat. I brought the hammer upstairs last night after letting it dry for twelve hours, and low and behold, it picked up the grain of the cloth it was lying on, and lost a bit of gloss on the finish!  Arrgh!  Fateful mistake!
They say that oriental rug weavers weave a mistake stitch into their rugs to personalize their wares. I’m claiming a mulligan and calling that mine.
Lastly, before the last finish cycle I decided it needed a wood-burned heart on the face to help symbolize things and balance it out. Somehow burning it seemed righteous at this point.

There you have it, it's the Love Hammer! 
I brought it up to the conference and entered it under "Crafts." First there were four entries, then two mysteriously pulled out (I swear I had nothing to do with it... but if a hammer happens to fall on something, that's the way it goes... I'm kidding, I don't know why they pulled out)
So it was just me against a nicely carved bird, and the hammer beat all! (So to speak)

P.S.: I love my hammers! Now my Carpenters' hammers, the Ball-Peen Family, the General-Purpose Family, the Tack, Rock, Mini's and of course my favorite orange Stanley Dead-Blow Shot-filled hammer will be joined by another soft-faced, yet serious individual of the tribe.

I would also like to add that I am of the mind that not everything has to have a practical aspect, some things (for me at least) just have to be created and can exist just to tactile, extravagant, symbolic or for no reason at all really. I suppose for the sake of aesthetics, I guess. Like a rock you pick up because something tells you that have to. Unfortunately, this is what has gotten our house to more than 50% of it's current chaotic status...

May 12th, 2009 - Helicopter Landing

The first helicopter of the season lands in our backyard after it's maiden voyage.

I asked it, "Why are there beings at all, instead of just Nothing...?" But after five minutes of no response I was going to be late for my doctor's appointment, so I had to go. Disappointing.

"Spiderdog...  Spiderdog... does whatever a Spiderdog does..."