I think it’s a small dragon…

anxiousdragon

Of course it is. What it isn’t is a moth-lady, in whole or in part; but you’ve grown used to such happenings by now, haven’t you? Tonight, a misunderstanding that began with some neighbors getting locked out of their building and ended with shouting and mild threats has me a bit antsy, despite not having directly participated in any of it (except for some quiet and hurried clarifications in the hopes of calming things at least for the night).

As a result, I felt more like this Anxious Dragon than anything, and spent a slightly-soothing forty-five minutes or so scritching him out on paper with a mechanical pencil (anything needing sharpening would have interrupted the whole mindless-drawing flow). While the face is mostly tortoise, his eyes are most definitely influenced by another source of anxiety: my gecko, who had a particularly bad bit of trouble shedding and is now patiently enduring assault-by-eye-drops as I try to follow the vet’s advice on the situation.

Leopard geckos — having prominent eyelids as well as large, nocturnal eyes — are endowed with surprisingly expressive faces, and I just can’t bear his perplexed little “frown” when I have to mess with his eyes. Trust a human to misread a nonhuman facial expression any day of the week, but there’s no doubting that he doesn’t like it. If you can’t trust the face, his little alarm-squeak, followed byrunning back under my arms like it might be safe there, should suffice. What I really hate is that I can’t tell whether he trusts me (or the giant disembodied hands that make up his concept of me) anymore. He doesn’t run from my hand when I go to pick him up; but he hasn’t “asked” to come out of the cage (looking up in the air until my hand appears, then climbing up my arm) for several nights either. Since I continue feeding him by hand (which he’s always studiously avoided biting), but have to pick him up and remove him from the cage to torture treat his eye, I can’t imagine what’s going through his little lizard brain now when he sees me.

Ah, well. He feared me once, long ago, and with a combination of food bribes and body-heat-having I managed to convince him to feel otherwise. Hopefully my little anxious dragon will be well again soon, and we can go back to being friends.

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The call of a nightbird….

The call of a nightbird....

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve gone off on another avian tangent after that last post. That said, it’s not my fault that hoatzins are awesome and need to be brought up at every opportunity. Nor is it entirely on me that someone suggested that a hoatzin Pokemon would be even cooler.

It is my fault that I agreed heartily and immediately went to work sketching possible basic and Stage 1 forms, followed by a further diversion that resulted in a hoatzin-dragon (or wyvern, rather) of some sort. I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet that the recent movie Smaug is a wyvern now. Old news, sure, and it’s been established that I like the four-limbed (2 legs, 2 wings) design in general, but … hmmn. That’s. Well. Different. I’ve already whined (if not here, then just all over the place in general) about splitting such a short story into this many parts, and HELLO SPOILERS having Smaug just fly off at the end and leave the desolating-stuff part to the movie that’s not named after that, but. Yeah. I won’t go into that again.

Anyhow, hoatzins are basically the best birds. They have big red dinosaur-eyes and the babies are basically wyverns themselves what with the thumb-claws, plus they have wicked crazy mohawk crests, plus they’re kind of like bird-koalas because they mostly climb around and eat poisonous leaves (which makes them nasty-smelling and rumored to be toxic in their own right). So, if that’s the only thing you come away from this blog with tonight, then I’m okay with that.

To stay alive until the light has faded…

Part two of “what’s the deal with me and birds?,” in which birds suddenly appear every 3 years or so — now with less-accurate-than-usual drawings (cobbled together from hazy childhood memories and untainted by, say, employing books or the Internet to find out what a bird actually looks like)! I’ll go into happier details about my late feathered friends tomorrow in Drawn @ Random’s sister blog, Shetland + Pony.

birdFeathery

First, near two decades ago, was Feathery the fledgling. House sparrow? Probably. We’ve all had an encounter like this, I’m sure — the quintessential awkard-brown-birdling-of-indeterminate-status. I assumed she was a juvenile, and looking back on her behavior that seems a safe bet; but she wasn’t the heartiest creature and made no real attempts at escape (my mother and I tried on a couple occasions to release her into the trees, with mixed results). I wasn’t even a fledgling myself at the time, and knew nothing of birds, so I can’t say just what ultimately led to Feathery’s demise; I only know that it was a shock to my small self when she had been “doing so well,” as far as I knew. She was buried in the backyard, a red bow to mark the grave.

birdFledgling

The second sparrow (?) encounter was hardly long enough to merit mention, though my mother always trots it out as a heroic escapade of my childhood by playing up my admittedly-minimal involvement. We were visiting a friend of the family, and their large Persian cat was playing on the lawn with what looked like a leaf; until I realized it was a bird. I grumpily squashed the “naughty” cat with one hand and grabbed the bird with the other. It resisted our attempts to place it in a box, and for all I know lived happily ever after.

birdMoses

Some time later, when I was about 8, was beautiful blood-red Moses the cardinal, rescued from a river of traffic. He seemed so hopeful; no blood, no breaks, no limping legs or wings held askance. Outwardly, he appeared able (if not willing) to move about freely and well. Maybe it was internal damage or simple shock, but something was definitely wrong. From beak to toe he was my favorite color, the color of life, but there wasn’t enough life on the inside. He drifted away at the small-animal hospital, though they apparently decided that a child such as myself did not need to know the particulars of how and why.

birdKekoa

A few years later was Kekoa, brave one, a so-called Downy Woodpecker who was all sharp beak, sticky tongue, and stiff spotty tail feathers. I named her brave because when I saw her, in yet another yard of a family friend, she was fending off an aggressive male who had a distinct advantage: his sight. The adults spared only a quick glance at the noisy birds, but her stumbling flight led me to run over and investigate. Her obliviousness to my presence led me to realize that she was completely blind. Her eyes were tight shut and would never open, and I would never learn why. We bought woodpecker suet and hung it up in her enclosure, hoping she’d eat. She was lively and inquisitive enough, but she didn’t eat, and she didn’t open her eyes. When sleep took her that night it never let her go, though perhaps in that case it was for the best.

birdRobin

Then the robin with no name. She flew into our windshield in the middle of a lonely highway in the desert, which in hindsight seems like no place for a robin. Perhaps she’d lost her way? There was no way to restrain her in the car and no town for miles. Her wings seemed to be working, at least. We walked until we found shade and left her with water.

birdWarbler

The warbler. At the home of yet another family friend/client, this one with a teddy-bear of a cat that was neutered and declawed and so on. Rendered harmless in that sense, but still a cat, and a respectable hunter of mice and voles and such small deer when he was let out in the backyard. I’ll admit that at this point I considered it best not to feel too much empathy for animals, and had once watched with interest as he neatly butchered and devoured a little rodent. But then one day he pounced and I saw beneath his paws a little greenish songbird. I hauled the cat away by the scruff. Yes, the creeping things and the beasts of the earth I left to their fates, but the birds of the heavens? I challenge you to find someone who does not in some way hold them a little more sacred.
My heart sunk when I saw the bright bead of red on its olive-drab breast, but its eye was bright and its look was defiant. It leapt from my hand and darted high into the sky, never to be seen again.

I know better how to care for birds now, though I rarely find them these days. My trees are all gone. Of course, they and I will never be free from each other entirely. My more recent encounters were not wild creatures, but I still count them in my collection of broken birds. There’s the mournful pet-store cockatoo, my relationship with whom is detailed in Hi, Dakota; and the discarded racing pigeon (sort of the catalyst for this whole question) who appeared almost exactly a year ago in both blogs under Odyssey of a Homer and don’t let the pigeon… If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this, it’s that I’ll probably never have  a pet bird….

birdHomer         birdDakota

Note: Using a lyric from Josh Ritter’s “Long Shadows” was intended simply as an in-joke for myself in the previous post, but upon reflection it was something of an appropriate song, so I finished the line out in today’s title. Given the fate of Kekoa in particular, I woke at the slightest flutter from Pigeon in the middle of the night, ready to dash over and make sure he was alright and hadn’t been spooked or hurt or worse.

Out on the moor the foxes run….

This post is a two-parter, to be finished (with pictures) tomorrow, and even so I’m afraid it’s going to be a long read. It’s technically just the proper answer to a question asked by a friend who may or may not even read this blog; but no matter, this is where it belongs either way.

It was a simple enough question, about why I’m so interested in birds. As the environment at the time was not at all ideal for a rambling Midwestern storytelling session (with illustrations!) by an absent-minded artist-poet, my answer was similarly brief — basically, “birds are everywhere.” Which is the truth, in a way, but not exactly in the way it sounds. It’s not strictly about ubiquity; squirrels are everywhere, and yet for a good portion of my life I thought they had cheek pouches (that’s chipmunks, by the way).

No, the first thing to note about birds (and flying insects for that matter; but that’s an obsession for another day) is that they’re here, but they’re not quite of our world. To a degree I can run, jump, chatter, and (sort of) climb a tree. I cannot fly off on a whim under my own power. I’m not at all equipped to sing a duet with myself. I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to see ultraviolet light. I’m not sure I even have birds beat in dancing skills. This all is what lead to my earlier-blogged-about book idea essentially equating them to aliens (but aliens that even aliens find amazing and bewildering). I don’t think that’s really where my story begins, though.

Being mysterious isn’t quite enough either, you see. I feel no affinity with lichens, widespread and enigmatic though they may be. After all, they don’t seem particularly interested in me … not even enough to play coy. The mysteries that fuel lasting wonder, desire, passion, obsession — they fail to attract in the first place unless they first offer you some tantalizing glimpse of what you could know, if you only knew how and what to ask. And all the better if you feel (rightly or not) that such a glimpse has been offered specially to you. Secrets aren’t shared with just anyone.

After such an encounter, it seems rude (if not impossible) to continue regarding the subject with the impassive eye of a stranger. You have a connection now, your half of a bargain to fulfill. An answer for the price of infinite questions. Don’t worry, this is where the birds come in again. Just as a magical childhood memory of discovering a meteorite might help spark a quest for knowledge of the stars, creatures of the heavens who fall to the earth tend to catch the attention of even us oblivious humans. And heavens, I’ve caught more than my share of fallen stars.

I never said the secrets had to be nice ones.

Gone fishin’….

gonefishin

Missed a day! This time I plead “too waterlogged to draw,” what with the record-breaking downpour that lasted a good part of the afternoon. It happened to coincide with the “free” weekend when you can fish without a license, so long story short I spent a long time in a poncho. I rarely catch anything (except the occasional accidental non-fish animal, like crawfish and frogs), so it’s not like it’s worth buying a license just to fish. It took a while to get the old fishing pole casting again, instead of catching halfway through and flinging my line into a cottonwood tree, but I finally managed to get out of range of the way-too-small bass that were literally going after hook, line and sinker.

The nibblers wouldn’t stop thieving, but thieve they must since I was doing everything in my power not to actually hook them when I reeled in from deeper water. Fortunately, a keeper of small insectivorous animals (i.e. The Gecko) always has a few extra mealworms on hand to use as little-fish bait. The bluegills stole their share as well, but one wasn’t so lucky. It was fried and served with the amaranth greens I got from the farmer’s market. A painted turtle paid a couple visits, but was not allowed to put himself on the menu.

The more interesting “catch” of the day, though, was a swarm of damselflies. They were darting around the flooded weeds, and once in a while would take note of my orange-and-yellow bobber drifting in. One would dip down to take a look, alight on the orange half, bob around for a while, and then flit away so another could do the same a minute later. Apparently it looked tasty, or maybe they just like orange. Whatever the reason, I wished I’d brought my camera to snap a picture of the peaceful scene — a dainty damsel perched on a lazy bobber, matched by their sun-bright reflections in the still lake.

Failing that, I took a good look, hoping my memory would serve me and my hand would be steady. Today’s colored-pencil drawing is the result. As far as art quality goes it’s not a perfect reproduction of the scene, but I believe it will do just fine as a memento.

And what big eyelashes….

Cresties

Today I had one of those situations that seems increasingly hopeless, right up to the end. I’m glad I stuck around long enough to get to the good part.

A friend knows I like geckos, and she alerted me to a local garage sale that advertised “live animals” — geckos, as it turns out, were the majority of that category. I wasn’t sure what species they’d be, though I figured cresteds or leopards were the most likely. When I got there, I was greeted by a goldfish in a bowl; two hatchling crested geckos in deli cups with some paper towel and leaves; and an incredibly gloomy-looking ten-gallon aquarium that presumably held one or both of the parents. Things were already looking grim, and it got worse.

The woman taking payments told an interested family, “Oh yeah, they can live in there [the deli cups] until they’re about….” I didn’t hear the age she offered, because I was too busy formulating the torrent of corrections I was going to offer that family as soon as her back was turned. Who keeps any vertebrate in a deli cup full of crumpled paper *as its home*? I wound up scaring some potential buyers away, I think, by offering supplemental information that made the critters seem a lot less low-maintenance than the “leave them in a corner with some slop in a dish, they’ll take care of themselves” attitude they were being sold with. So be it; if you unable to give it optimum or even very good care, don’t buy it.

The adult in the tank was the saddest. The hatchlings would be getting a brand-new setup, and perhaps someone along the way would explain to their new keepers how to take care of this very common pet. The adult, however, was being sold for $100 along with his dirty, cramped tank and a bag of food. He could easily wind up moldering in a corner as-is, without anyone so much as glancing at a caresheet. I couldn’t afford $100 or provide a permanent home for him, but if necessary I had to at least foster him until I could find someone who’d care for him.

The ad said everything was free after 3PM. I didn’t quite trust that, but I waited around till 2:40 anyhow and meandered over to stake out the area around the tank. Heaven forbid a college student or child find a free gecko and no one to ask if he/she would take care of it. The owner himself was there this time, it seemed. He noted my interest in the gecko and sauntered (the only proper word for it) up to see if I was going to buy it. I explained that it seemed a shame to have to buy a tank I wouldn’t be using; this obviously wasn’t a great way to keep a crestie. He retorted that he was a herpetologist, SO. WELL. YEAH. Tempting as it was to ask, “then why don’t you know anything about this animal?,” I just explained that I was pretty concerned about the gecko — students in this college town can buy and discard pets on a whim, and the lady earlier had been telling people to keep them in deli cups. He tried to deny this last part but I gave him what I’d heard more or less verbatim, and he uncomfortably conceded and changed the subject to how this gecko would be going onto Craigslist if it wasn’t sold here.

I really didn’t want to argue with such an unpleasant person, and I didn’t have much cash on me even if I could haggle him out of the vivarium part (and then I’d still need to rehome the critter) … but I couldn’t just leave that gecko in a mildewing tank on a table in the 90-degree sun either. The owner had stalked off to find an easier sale, so I was left dithering in front of the animal table. Suddenly, a couple of young guys wandered up, and they just looked like they knew reptiles. You get to know the look — or maybe it’s as much to do with how they look at the animals as how they appear themselves. Anyhow, one of them went up to the tank and said right off, “This shouldn’t be outside.” And then I knew for sure. Next thing, and for the second time in a handful of minutes, the owner was getting told off about the tank — it’s too small, it’s too short, this isn’t a good cage for cresties. Again he tried, “I’m a herpetologist!” Again, nobody gave a flying frog about that. He glanced between the guy and me, and found not an ounce of sympathy for his plight between us.

That was enough, and money was money; he agreed to sell crestie-sans-cage to the new guy for $30. I tried not to look overly smug and triumphant, though I felt at least a little smug triumph was warranted in this situation. The gecko was beautiful and tough and deserved so much better than being unloaded like a piece of furniture when his captors decided they wanted to travel the world. I can guarantee his new person knows an arboreal tank from a terrestrial, and even if that guy didn’t know anything else at all about cresties he obviously cares enough to find out. That’s where I was years ago with my rescue leopard gecko, and now I’ve learned immeasurably more about reptiles than I knew at the start. Godspeed, little crestie, and good fortune to his daring rescuer. Today was your lucky day, after all.