Saturday, April 2, 2016

"The Darkling Thrush" by Thomas Hardy

The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
    The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
    Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
    Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
    The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
    The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
    Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
    Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
    The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
    Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
    In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
    Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
    Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
    Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
    His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
    And I was unaware.

-Thomas Hardy, 1900

*To read more about this poem, visit The Guardian.

"H is for Hawk" by Helen Macdonald


A friend recommended that I read Helen Macdonald's memoir, "H is for Hawk," and after close to a year, I've finally started reading it. Not only is the memoir an excellent informer on falconry (something I know very little about), but it also explores grief and how different people deal with loss (something I know a lot about). Bird lovers will certainly enjoy it, but those who have no interest in birds can take away something meaningful from it as well.

Reading this book reminds me of an event from my short time as a wildlife rehabber, of which I've related below.

    In my late teens and early twenties, I volunteered as a wildlife rehabilitator. I mostly cared for abandoned baby squirrels and songbirds, but occasionally, I would get a more interesting call. One evening, a local farmer called me about an injured red tailed hawk. The hawk, flying too low, collided with the farmer’s barbed wire fence. The hawk couldn’t fly. I arrived ten minutes after the call, walking up to the bed of the farmer’s pickup truck to attempt an injury assessment. I’d never transported a hawk before and certainly had never rehabilitated one. A special permit was needed when dealing with raptors of any kind, whether it was hawk, eagle, or owl. My job would be to transport the animal to the nearest animal clinic. In this case, the Cat and Bird Clinic in Hartselle, Alabama— twenty-five minutes from where I lived. 

    The farmer had somehow contained the bird of prey in a small animal carrier. He managed this by wrapping it in an old towel, covering it’s head and body as he maneuvered it into the travel crate. At least I wouldn’t  be responsible for that task. I’d dreaded the task of containing the bird during my drive over. Raptors were dangerous, especially to someone with no thick leather gloves or experience. Their talons alone could rend flesh from bone in seconds. That was, after all, their main purpose. The sharp beak was my other concern. I imagined my eye gouged out, shuddering at the thought. Protective eye wear wouldn’t have been out of the question if I had more time to prepare. Now there was no worry. Everything had been done before I arrived and I thanked the farmer before driving off with the hawk in its carrier on the backseat of my Honda Civic. 

     The lady vet who met with me after-hours managed to extract the hawk from the carrier onto a cold metal table in one of the smaller exam rooms. She allowed me to stay, but only after I mentioned that I’d worked as a veterinary assistant at another locally prominent animal clinic. It took her all of ten seconds to examine the wing before reaching a verdict. The hawk would have to be put to sleep. It’s wing injury was too serious to mend with success and besides, who would (or could) maintain a crippled raptor. I didn’t like it, her death sentence. “Is there nothing you can do?” I asked before resigning myself to the hawk’s fate. “I’m afraid not,” she returned, “and it would be an unhappy life for the hawk.” Perhaps she was right. She was the professional. I returned to my car, downtrodden. Had it been any other animal, I would’ve taken it back home with me, attempting to cure it myself. But this wasn’t any other animal. It was dangerous and illegal for me to keep it for myself. The hawk would be gassed into its endless sleep. I wasn’t sure if that brought me comfort or distress. At least the animal would be out of pain. And its pain must have been great to endure such an injury with so little fuss to its human handlers. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Freya's Falcon Cloak

"Freya" by Marc Potts
Freya, the Germano-Norse goddess of fertility, was said to possess a magical falcon cloak. Wearers of the cloak were transformed into a falcon.

The poem Þrymskviða features Loki borrowing Freyja's cloak of feathers and Thor dressing up as Freyja to fool the lusty jötunn Þrymr. In the poem, Thor wakes up to find that his powerful hammer, Mjöllnir, is missing. Thor tells Loki of his missing hammer, and the two go to the beautiful court of Freyja. Thor asks Freyja if she will lend him her cloak of feathers, so that he may try to find his hammer. Freyja agrees:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
"That I would give thee, although of gold it were,
and trust it to thee, though it were of silver."[6]

Henry Adams Bellows translation:
"Thine should it be though it of silver bright,
And I would give it though 'twere of gold."[7]

Loki flies away in the whirring feather cloak, arriving in the land of Jötunheimr. He spies Þrymr sitting on top of a mound. Þrymr reveals that he has hidden Thor's hammer deep within the earth and that no one will ever know where the hammer is unless Freyja is brought to him as his wife. Loki flies back, the cloak whistling, and returns to the courts of the gods. Loki tells Thor of Þrymr's conditions.[8]


Wikipedia contributors. "Freyja." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

[6]Thorpe, Benjamin (Trans.) (1866). The Elder Edda of Saemund Sigfusson. Norrœna Society.

[7]Bellows, Henry Adams (Trans.) (1923). The Poetic Edda. American-Scandinavian Foundation.

[8]Larrington, Carolyne (Trans.) (1999). The Poetic Edda. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283946-2.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring robins and silkie chicks: a personal note

Winter has finally come to an end here in Alabama (fingers crossed), and the birds are returning in droves. On a drive back from Sewanee, TN, my family and I found a robin standing in the middle of the road. It didn't fly as cars drove by, and I watched in horror, waiting for it to be crushed by an oncoming car. We turned our car around, put on the hazard lights, and I scooped the robin up in my hands and carried it back to the car, wrapping it in my son's t-shirt. It was obviously in shock (probably hit a car windshield), and its eye was scabbed over. We placed the robin in a bottomless flight cage my husband had built for our diamond dove, and let it wait out the night in the garage. The next day, the robin was alert and anxious to get out of its cage, so I put some antibacterial ointment on its eye and set it free in our backyard, where after a few moments, it flew off. Hopefully its eye will get better and it will make a full recovery. One can only hope. 

My 8 year old daughter, being obsessed with silkie chickens, finally got two of them from a local silkie breeder, and she's besotted with the fuzzy chicks. Our four laying hens (Red Stars) will remain in the main coop and yard, while the silkies (when it's warm enough for them to leave the garage) will inhabit a separate coop. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Celebrating E.A. Poe's 206 Birthday on January 19th with artwork

Deck the hens with crocheted sweaters

It has been unseasonably warm here in North Alabama, with early January temperatures reaching the mid-sixties. That has changed this week, however, and temps are dropping to the single digits, so I decided to crochet our 4 hens sweaters to keep them extra warm over the next couple of days. I found the free crochet pattern here, and they've turned out wonderful (except my hens required less length than the pattern called for). Check out the pic below!