Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Garage Door Mystery

            Yesterday our garage door started opening and shutting every few minutes. Jesus, who I’d hired to help me with some yard work, pointed it out to me with a look of puzzled concern. I doubted what he told me until it happened while I was standing next to him.

            My first thought was that Kim was playing with the remote that we keep in the coat closet so we can open the doors from the house. I had no theory as to why Kim might play with the remote, but I figured it was better than her raking wet leaves or moving rocks around using her repaired but sore back. She might have been doing it just to mess with me – she enjoys doing that – but not Jesus, who she had just met. I thought briefly about asking her if she were playing with the remote, but I thought better of it.

            I then checked to see if something was blocking the door that would cause it to pop open instead of crushing a squirrel or precious antique we were preparing for our garage sale. No, nothing there, and besides, that would not explain why the door would suddenly open after sitting closed for three minutes, or spontaneously close itself.

            “I know,” I told Kim, “I bet Karen has her remote in her purse, and it’s bumping against something.” Karen and Ted, our neighbors, had been parking in our garage for a couple of weeks while a bathtub was waiting in their garage. Kim told me that they had returned the remote a couple of days ago. I was doubtful because I didn’t remember that, and because I did not want to abandon a perfectly logical theory.

            I went inside and checked the extra remotes (the garage doors came with about six) that I stored in one of my Junk Drawers. I saw that one of them was lying button down, which might somehow be activating the doors, so I turned it over: problem solved?

            Nope – the door opened itself again.

            We had given a door opener to Scott, but he was several hundred miles away, and though the openers have pretty good range . . ..

            I decided that it made good sense to stand there and stare at the garage doors. Maybe I would detect a clue as to what was up in my universe. Could it be Donald Trump? Hilary Clinton? Could global warming somehow be responsible? A shift in the earth’s magnetic field? Maybe we had a tourist attraction on our hands, like the Mystery Spot in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

            Kim called to me from the house with a somewhat satisfied look on her face. She was holding a garage door remote. Someone had put Karen and Ted’s returned remote into the pocket of my pants before Kim put them in the washing machine, and the remote had been tumbling around in the dryer, bumping the button every once in a while. I like to think that the satisfied look on Kim’s face was caused by her solving the garage door mystery and not by her again confirming my domestic carelessness.

            Today’s project is to install our new video doorbell, complete with motion detector. Who knows what mysteries this will reveal?


From Fleda Brown: "It could have been Jesus, though. It’s that time of year, raising and all, you know."

From John Bayerl: "Since it was Jesus who said the door is risen. . .???"

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Green Ice

Spring is a time of year when the world becomes more green. You know – green grass, green leaves, etc. At our home in Northern Michigan this year, it means green ice.

I should note before you ask: Kim did not alter or enhance the color of these photos on her computer. Photoshop allows that kind of color-editing, but none was needed here when she took these pictures.

Early morning mist, looking east

Also early morning, looking south.
Part of the fun is figuring out what is ice, what is water, and what is something else.

The wide crack is where I was sitting in a chair about ten days ago.

Do you recognize what the blue is?

Taken from a neighbor's dock, late afternoon.

See any Petoskey stones?

The next day most of the ice was gone, but what remained was still green.

Sunrise, a day later, with snow in the forecast . . . 

Kim has said that one of the pleasures in living on a lake is that every hour brings us something different. How true. Of course, that's true even if you don't live on a lake, provided you pay attention.

Update for the none of you who asked: the American Tree Sparrow has a white tongue.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Woodpecker Tongues

            Sometimes it’s good to pursue a special interest. For some it’s stamp collecting, though I’m not sure anyone doing that is still alive. Others may devote themselves to historical baseball statistics, or trivia about President Polk, or counting President Trumps weekly factual errors. For me, for a while, it was playing Words With Friends. (Still is, come to think of it . . ..) For Kim it’s photographing butterflies and birds. But lately, she has developed a more specialized interest: photographing the tongues of woodpeckers.

            Do any of you share this interest?

            I didn’t think so.

            Kim says that her photographs of woodpecker tongues are not ready to be shown, that they are mainly for purposes of research. Kim has high standards, but she might respond to pressure . . ..

            Why do we have such weird special interests? Unsurprisingly, I’ve developed several theories.

·     We notice an empty space in our lives, and we grab at something – anything – to fill it up. But no, there is no sense of emergency here. What kind of hole could be filled by a woodpecker’s tongue?

·     We have evolved in a way that makes free-floating curiosity serve our reproductive advantage. Sometimes that curiosity serves us well – think of explorers, medical researchers, inventors of the cell phone. But sometimes that free-floating curiosity attaches itself to something both peculiar and trivial, you know, like butterfly wing design. But sometimes that peculiar triviality may lead to a payoff that benefits us all. Think of Lipitor. Penicillin. Silly Putty. Serendipity doesn’t just happen.

·     Perhaps the pursuit of a special interest is an evasion. You know, when there’s a disagreeable task that you can put off while organizing your collection of Studebaker hubcaps? I’ve been suspected of such an evasion when I researched Netflix in search of movies Kim and I might enjoy. This can take hours, and the payoff is questionable, at best. But it does allow me to avoid cleaning my shower – for a while.

·     Or maybe that being alive on our planet is just so damn interesting, anywhere you look – how can we find anything to be not worthy of our sustained attention. Did you know, for example, that the tongue of a Red-bellied Woodpecker is three times as long as its beak and wraps around the inside of its skull while awaiting use? I didn’t think you knew that. And some woodpecker tongues have backward facing barbs, while others have small brushes on the tip. And this about a woodpecker in China: “In this species of woodpecker, and some others, the tongue is so long that it forks in the throat, goes below the base of the jaw and wraps behind and over the top of the head, where the forked section rejoins and inserts in the bird’s right nostril or around the eye socket.”

·     Apparently (see above) the existence of the internet explains many devotions to special interests.

Incidentally, Kim believes she has evidence of a woodpecker with two tongues. This will be a first . . ..


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Spring Break!

            No blog entry this week.

            It's spring, and I'm on spring break.

            Just another day at the beach . . .

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Spring in the North

            The approach of spring has a different feel in Northern Michigan. When the temperature hit 33, a convertible was seen – top down – on U.S. 31, and guys are wearing t-shirts – outdoors! I saw some folks in shorts stepping through snow drifts to cross a street in Traverse City. And with the temperature at 35 as I write this, Kim and I are wondering if the sunshine makes our three-season porch “too warm.”

            I have not been out of the house without snow boots since November, and I may have another month of boot-time in my future. But I have toughened up since spending winters in Florida. Occasionally I will go out to feed the birds without wearing socks under my boots. 

            Perhaps photos are the best way to show the near-arrival of spring.

The coming of spring means the trees will soon bear leaves and blossoms. In Northern Michigan, it means hoarfrost.

And spring means that flowers will soon be decorating our yard. For now, hoarfrost does the job.

Even in March the snow is beautiful.

Spring means activity on the lakes.

And Kim and I scraped a small skating rink on our lake – in anticipation of spring.


First time on skates in 50 years . . ..

And meanwhile, the fire pit that Kim and I built for toasting marshmallows or hotdogs, lies buried in a snow drift.

Thursday, March 14, 2019


            I found spring last week. No, not that spring.

            We were driving home from Traverse City when I felt something in my glove. Cookie crumb? Salt from the road? A pebble? I peeled off my glove, and while still driving carefully, shook my glove until a small object fell into my lap. Fortunately, we had stopped at a red light.

            It was a small steel spring, the kind you may find inside a retractable ball point pen. How did it get there?

            My first thought was that Kim is right, that I am from another planet. Perhaps it’s one that is working hard on robotics, and I am some sort of prototype, one that had not been programmed to dress properly or clean a shower. I decided that when I got home I would check my hand carefully to see where the spring might have worked its way loose.

            Where else could it have come from? My car was working well, and even if hadn’t, what part of a Toyota includes a retractable ball point pen spring, and how would the spring make its way into my glove? I made a mental note to ask the mechanic next time I’m in for an oil change.

            We had just been at the hospital so Kim could get some X-rays (all OK) and meet with some doctors (ditto). Perhaps it was part of a complex and expensive piece of robotic surgical equipment that I had been using to save a patient’s life while Kim was with the docs and thought I was reading.

            Or perhaps the universe was sending me a message. Sometimes, when you are feeling depressed, the universe offers up a spectacular sunrise to tell you to hang in there, that better times are ahead. Our you are looking for cool rocks on the beach and find one that’s shaped like a heart – not a real heart, but the kind you see on Valentines. The message has something to do with love, but the fact that the heart is made of stone is a bit troubling. And sometimes, puzzled about your future, you look into your bowl of alphabet soup and the letters spell out “MARRY HER.” But if the discovery inside my glove is a message from the universe, what would that message be? A retractable ball point pen spring? What? Is the universe suggesting that I get out a pen and write? That I should write with a pen and not a computer? That I walk with more spring in my step?

            Here’s another possibility. A week or so ago I mentioned to Kim that I did not have any pens on my desk, suggesting, perhaps, that they had drifted to her desk or purse. Since then she has been handing me pens. Yesterday she gave me four that she’d lifted from various doctors’ offices she had visited. I may have stuffed one in my coat pocket – the same pocket where I stuff my gloves. Not sure how the spring got out of the pen on its own, but this is better than the robotic surgical equipment explanation.

            Or maybe I just found it somewhere and put it in my pocket to put somewhere in case I ever could use a retractable ball point pen spring when in a situation that I needed to MacGyver my way out of, if I only had his brain.  Then I forgot I had it until my glove found it.

            THIS JUST IN: I found a secondretractable ball point pen spring, this one on my coat pocket. (No, it’s not the same one, found again. Both now sit in my desk drawer, side by side.) So, something is apparently leaking retractable ball point pen springs. WTF?

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Snow Birds

For about 15 years Kim and I were "snowbirds," spending half the year in Michigan and half in Florida. We missed seeing the snow. Now that we are living full-time in Northern Michigan, the snow birds come to us.

Our Brown Creeper is now a regular.

See the red head? This is a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker. The photo does not do justice to his size.

Hairy Woodpecker. See the hair? Didn't think so . . ..

Blue Jay - so familiar we sometimes don't notice how beautiful it is.

White-breasted Nuthatch - often seen walking down a tree trunk.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

White-throated Sparrow - left behind at migration, so hung out with the Juncos in the winter.

Common Redpoll - we only saw him twice.

European Starling - an invasive species. Usually seen as a pest, they are nevertheless pretty cool looking. They invaded America when an Englishman sought to upgrade our cultural position by bringing us every bird mentioned by Shakespeare. Thanks.

Mr. and Mrs., perhaps sensing that spring is coming. Will it ever . . ..

We put a suet mix called Bark Butter on one of our trees. This guy appears to be thoroughly enjoying it.

Tufted Titmouse  Quiz: What is the plural: Titmice? Titsmice? Titmouses?

Black-capped Chickadee

Can't have a piece on snowbirds without a Snowy Owl.

Mourning Dove - perhaps mourning the cold snowy day.

Feeding our birds of course brings in squirrels. This black squirrel is actually morph of an Eastern Gray Squirrel. He tunnels so deep in the snow looking for seeds that he almost disappears.

Deer occasionally come to feed on spilled bird seed.

Sometimes we get lots of deer. This was part of a group (herd?) of eleven.

We found evidence of an unidentified snowbird in our yard.