Honestly…I DO like birds

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I love birds; I really do. But the last couple years a pair of juncoes have decided they would like to nest in the hanging basket on the deck beside our patio door. I’m sorry, guys, but IT’S THE WRONG PLACE. I have significant time and money invested in that basket and I need to be able to water it daily, fertilize it weekly and regularly deadhead its blooms.

They don’t care. They also apparently don’t care that my hubby barbecues underneath it, that our table is frequently occupied under the umbrella beside it, or that there can be significant activity on the deck around it. For instance, a few weeks from now there will be about sixty people milling around during our annual church barbecue.

We tried surveyor’s tape, fluttering a discouragement. Then we tried hiding the basket out of sight.

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Now it’s temporarily covered by an old apron, barricading against their nest-building access during times when we aren’t around to guard it.

 

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They don’t seem interested in the tubs that sit on the deck — not that I’d want them there either — it’s just the hanging baskets that appeal. They fly in, burrow between the plants and excavate a hole into which they start importing their building material, leaving remnants on the deck underneath. The splats they leave on the window as they come and go aren’t desirable either.

It’s not as if there aren’t other nearby nesting places available to them. We live amidst trees. Lots of them. It’s a forest, for goodness sakes! There’s even a nesting box. But, no, they are persistent. Well, guess what. So am I. If I’m not, there will soon be eggs and babies, and at that point I wouldn’t have the heart to dislodge them. My basket will soon look pathetic as the heat dries it out and kills the plants. So for now I must be vigilant. Sorry, little juncoes, but GO AWAY.

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I tried to extricate a writing analogy from all this, but the only one that comes to mind is the need for persistence. In the goal for publication we first need to research the right places — appropriate agents or publishing houses — and then keep sending out queries until the ideal match is made.

Now if these juncoes would learn that lesson, too, we’d all be happy.

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JUNE 17 UPDATE:

It seems we managed to discourage their occupancy of our hanging baskets, only to redirect their efforts to the deck tubs. Sometime between dawn and 8:00 a.m. they managed to almost complete the construction of a nest in the centre of one tub. ::sigh:: Really, guys, this is taking persistence to a ridiculous level!

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Fall Snapshots: Hunger

This isn’t a particularly impressive photograph. I have several better ones taken on a sun-filled day last spring. (You’ll find that post here and if you like bear stories there’s an earlier one here.) But this photo is taken at midnight, with only the porch light on, and without the benefit of a flash.

Bear Nov 22-2014

Other bears have wandered onto our deck in past years, but this is a first visit for this particular guy. Evidently he’s been a problem elsewhere, as he had a yellow tag in one ear, which I believe indicates he’s been relocated.

What was different about this bear was his persistence. No amount of shouting, banging or flashing of lights would scare him away. He couldn’t be distracted from his midnight banquet of suet and birdseed. In fact, we annoyed him enough with our noise that he came right up to the patio door to object! I quickly moved out of sight! Then he went back to finish devouring every bit of seed that he’d tipped out onto the deck.

I’ve been told a bear’s sense of smell is about nine times more sensitive than a bloodhound’s, and that he can catch a whiff of a potential meal from at least a kilometre away, so it was no surprise he had discovered I recently set out our winter birdfeeders. What surprised us was that he wasn’t in hibernation yet. Needless to say, now the birds will have to do without any domestic goodies from us until winter truly arrives.  I have no desire to encourage any more visits from this or any other bear.

I must admit I do admire his determination to meet his daily calorie requirement, and his willingness to lick up the tiniest of seeds to do so, as he builds fat to sustain himself through a winter’s sleepytime famine.

It gives my conscience a bit of a twinge to realize that perhaps I don’t value my survival as a writer enough to pursue every available opportunity. As I enjoy the writing of my novels, I don’t go out of my way to make myself known or find smaller publishing markets for my non-fiction. Self-preservation suggests I should learn a lesson from this very determined black bear!

Do you tap into smaller markets as a source of transitional income during your pursuit of a bigger publishing goal?

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Lessons from a Lenten Rose

 

HelleboreThe Royal Horticultural Society says, “Hellebores … are perennial garden plants with elegant flowers, perfect for brightening up shady areas during late winter and early spring. Some species are grown for their striking evergreen architectural foliage.”

When purchased sixteen years ago, these two plants were simply labelled “Helleborus Orientalis (Lenten Rose)” and I intended and expected they would be identical. Not so. One is a dark pink with red spots, and looks like it might be ‘Rosina Cross’, but the other is a lighter pink, almost white, with dark pink spots, much like a ‘Cherry Davis’. Since neither was named, however, I’m not sure what they are, except that they both have down-facing blossoms.

Hellebore 2Some nurseries insist there is no such thing as an up-facing Hellebore but others advertise them, suggesting the blooms face outward, rather than down. All I know is that mine are regularly battered and spattered by mud whenever it rains hard, as it did last week.

I wonder if I should be taking a lesson from them — something about keeping my head up through any storm if I want to come through the downpour unscathed.

It sounds reasonable until I think about facing the wind with head down, chin tucked into my scarf, the only way to stay warm as I walk.

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Maybe there isn’t a lesson at all. Maybe it is enough to remember that these beauties have survived here sixteen years; they’re sturdy and persistent, returning to try again every winter, always bringing me a smile when I discover them unfurling despite rain, mud and snow.

Then again, maybe there’s a lesson in that!

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“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

[Samuel Beckett]

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Helleborus Orientalis

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Squirrel! Squirrel!

I sometimes wonder at a squirrel’s mentality. Does he think at all, or simply react to survival needs? The Douglas squirrel is a regular around here… one or two of them come by periodically to investigate the state of our birdfeeder.

BirdfeederLast spring the bears demolished the feeder that had attracted a good variety of birds as well as fed our squirrels, so this winter my hubby replaced it. The one he chose is touted to be squirrel-proof, and for the most part, it is, but it’s almost bird-proof, too. It lacks the surrounding cage that would provide a toe-hold and has much smaller perches, large enough only for chickadees and juncos. They reach into the tiny openings to extract their morsels and there is virtually no spillage for those who normally would forage for leftovers on the ground below.

Was our squirrel deterred? Of course not. He leapt from the railing, only to find nothing to grasp and thus fell back to the deck. He climbed the side of the house and jumped across to the rounded and slippery plastic top. When he reached over the side, he slid off and landed several feet below, on the ground.

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He came via the roof next time. He disappeared briefly into the gutter and reappeared right over the birdfeeder. He leaned precariously out towards it, but it was still out of reach. So he readjusted his position and instead, clinging to the plastic edge of the gutter with his feet, grabbed a chunk of the nearby suet and clambered back into the gutter to enjoy his snack.

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There’s a writing application here.

Determination coupled with persistence pays off. You may not always get what you originally hoped for, but if you keep trying, success in a different form may be within reach. Give up and you’ll get nothing.

My ‘One Word’ for 2013 is DETERMINATION. I will be reminded of it every time the squirrel comes to visit!

Have you chosen a special word for this year? What will it take to motivate you when you need renewed effort to reach your goals? 

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You might enjoy this YouTube video. It’s one in a series of four which provide a fascinating study of a very determined (or perhaps just very motivated) squirrel.

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And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9
 
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction,
that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
Romans 15:4

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Starting Again

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Here we go again! It’s a brand new year and everyone we know seems to be wishing us a Happy New Year and talking about New Year’s Resolutions. How do you feel about them? Personally, I hate them with a passion!

Setting myself up for inevitable failure by promising to adhere to a list of distant goals never seems in my best interest. There’s enough failure in a writer’s world. I don’t need to look for more. A solemn hand-over-the-heart, I-promise-to-do-this resolution feels like a rock around my neck – a very big one – weighing me down. I’m doomed before January 2nd arrives. Far be it from me to dissuade you, of course, if New Year’s Day motivates you.  But I’ll have no solutions to offer if, at the end of January, you’re frustrated by defeat.

I stopped in at K.M. Weiland’s blog recently and found her thinking along the same line:

“How many times have you made a list of resolutions in January,” she says, “only to have misplaced them, forgotten about them, or just plain given up on them before the month was out? This year, instead of making a complete list of writing resolutions for the whole year, try implementing one new resolution every month.”

If you’re determined to have resolutions, that sounds like a fine compromise – a way to be realistic about the desire to have achievable goals and actually reach them. – and she includes a set of twelve writing-related resolutions to help. Do click on over there to read them when you’re done here.

One of the few good things coming out of all the talk about resolutions is the sharing of goals. Once we’ve told someone about ours, there seems to be more of a personal obligation to stick with them. That’s one reason why I don’t usually share mine.

I do have goals, of course, but I’m flexible about them. I intend to do my best to reach them, although it will take more than promises at the beginning of January to get me there.  Recognizing that I’m not in complete control of my destination is important. That’s in God’s hands. Only making a start on the journey is in mine.

I’m not sure why we think a new year is the best time for major re-evaluation and rededication. Any new day works for me. I may change directions or renew my journey often. If I falter today, I’ll start again tomorrow.

So, yes, for now I think I’ll stick to my plan of keeping current goals to myself, but I will share the two verses that I’m adopting for reinforcement as I pursue them:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11]

“Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” [Psalm 62:2]

Blessings to all of you as you step into this new year of promise and potential. May it be a year filled with enriching experiences, achievement and rewards.

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What does the New Year mean for you?

What’s your approach to making resolutions or setting goals?

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NOTE: The promised update regarding Jimmy Rankin’s guitar contest has been added to the bottom of the original post, here.

Learning patience by birdwatching

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Black caps and white cheeks flash past my windows as the chickadees flit to and from the birdfeeder, interspersed with the occasional nuthatch. They dart in to snatch a morsel, then swivel away on their rapid return to the trees.

I sit with camera in hand and try to catch a photo, but on the automatic setting and without my tripod it’s almost impossible. These tiny fliers are constantly on the move and most of the images show the birdfeeder, but not the birds. Timing is everything!

The stellar jays and juncos are a little more cooperative, sometimes stopping briefly on the railing as they munch a mouthful.

Sparrows and varied thrush have a different mealtime technique altogether, choosing to clean up leftover seeds from the deck rather than hover airborne. The different species often arrive at the same time, but take turns, obeying an invisible pecking order as they dart in for their meal.

There is so much I can learn about God’s care from watching the birds. They may seem like insignificant creatures with very basic needs yet God provides for them, although they must work industriously to take advantage of those provisions.

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.” [Luke 12:6 NIV]

Thinking of the earlier “timing is everything” comment, there’s a writing application here, too. When years of writing, revising and querying make us question our publishing dreams, it is encouraging to remember that patience coupled with vigilance and effort is important, and that “success comes when preparation meets opportunity.” [Henry Hartman]

To expect success in this particular challenge, I think I’d better go find my tripod!

What other lessons could we learn from God’s many creatures?

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Blowdowns and Abandoned Writing Dreams

Thank goodness for a 4×4 truck! As I’ve mentioned in at least one previous post, when we head north to our cabin, the route takes us via major highways, gravel logging roads, private dirt roads and eventually to our very primitive road.

There is no public access to our land, and therefore no road maintenance. When trees are down, or washouts happen, you know who has to deal with them.

A couple weeks before we arrived there for our summer holiday a localized tornado went through, affecting areas on a hit-and-miss basis. In some places only a tree or two went down; in others, whole stands fell over. We had to cut our way through three trees before we reached our cabin. Readymade firewood!

On our recent fall trip, the now leafless branches became art as they arched across their fallen neighbours. I’ve returned to these photos several times, noting how it was mostly the less mature growth that bent, broke or flattened in the pummeling wind. I see how tall and gangly some of the growth was — struggling to escape the crowd to reach elusive light.

The images morph into a question … whether experienced or perhaps more mature writers are better able to withstand the stresses of an uncertain future in today’s publication industry.

How often do newer writers become discouraged and decide to lay down their pens? What makes them give up on their dreams while others determine to hold on? I wonder why some writers seem more firmly rooted in the path they’ve chosen.

I’d like to hear your ideas.

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Happy 176th Birthday to Mark Twain, pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

“Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.” [Mark Twain]

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Since when is a writer like moss?

I don’t understand moss. Shallow rooted, persistent beyond belief, it turns up everywhere. It’s in the gravel walkways around our property, taking over the lawn, creeping up trees and hanging from the limbs like gymnasts on a trapeze.

In some places wild mosses are overcollected … varieties becoming threatened. That’s definitely not a problem in my yard. Moss multiplies like dust bunnies (don’t you dare look under my desk!) happily smothering less hardy plants in its wake. We’ve pretty much given up fighting it in the lawn. It’s green, is soft under foot, needs no maintenance and doesn’t require mowing. Bonus!

How it survives the bleak conditions around here is a mystery to me, but it provides a fine example of what it takes to succeed as a writer. Find your niche and then be persistent. Don’t be demanding. Don’t worry when someone rejects you by tearing away a chunk of your soul. Just carry on doing what you’re doing until the wound is covered over and you’re re-established on the path.

Not bad advice, don’t you think?

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Footnote:

The photo of moss hanging from branches wasn’t taken at my coastal home but at our Cariboo cabin on a frosty morning. We’ve always called it ‘Moose Moss’ but that’s a misnomer. It may be Alpine Tree Moss but I don’t know for sure.

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Trying to make it perfect… or, revision frustration

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The perfect shot shouldn’t have been all that difficult. I followed the striking black and yellow Tiger Swallowtail butterfly around the yard, sneaking up with camera in hand whenever he fluttered within range and settled on a plant. But I barely had a chance to locate him in the viewfinder before he skittered away again… always a little too fast for me, even with my new zoom lens. I snapped more failed shots than I like to admit, until finally I gave up and traded the camera for a book.

A few minutes later movement yanked my attention from the page. There was the butterfly, flitting from blossom to blossom on a rhododendron bush almost within arm’s reach. Afraid to let him out of my sight, I grabbed the camera from the patio table and leaned over to capture the photo. He obliged me by remaining still long enough to capture my perfect shot… except, when I uploaded it onto the computer I discovered the exasperating truth – it wasn’t perfect at all. The photo was fine; this time it was the butterfly that was flawed.

 

So often my writing disappoints me in a similar way. I try for the perfect words, sometimes struggling until I fling myself out of the chair in frustration. It’s after a break when I’ve cleared my mind and returned to face the page with resignation that words surprise me. They slip effortlessly onto the page, and I finish the session with a glow of satisfaction. It’s finally perfect.

The glow lasts until the scrutiny of revision, or someone’s critique, when the flaws are discovered. It was almost right, but not quite. Not perfect after all.

It’s at that moment I’m tempted to discard the whole thing.  Perseverance is hard. When all the effort proves ineffective, persistence seems futile. In such moments I remember the butterflies.

The next day they were back, and one hovered over that same rhododendron. I watched as he floated lightly onto a blossom and stayed there, wings outstretched. He stayed while I stepped into my shoes, stayed while I found the camera, stayed when I opened the patio door and stayed as I cautiously approached. It was as if he were urging me not to give up but try again. I tried, and this time was rewarded.

Every successful writer I know says, “Never give up.”

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“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”
Romans 15:4 NLT
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Challenging Changes

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Sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Our trip home from the Okanagan mid-week was one of those things. The afternoon’s drive started out pleasantly enough. Sunshine. Picture-perfect clouds. Hardly any traffic.

I barely noticed as more clouds snuck in…

… until suddenly, well along the mountainous Coquihalla Highway, the darkened skies dumped their contents.

Then, just as the clouds began to lift and we neared the town of Hope, BC, bordering the eastern edge of the Fraser Valley…

… we encountered an ominous sign.

Earlier in the day there had been a massive mudslide which closed the Trans-Canada Highway. Traffic from three different highways backed up for miles as vehicles united into one lane and were re-routed by police and Department of Highways personnel through the town to a secondary highway on the other side of the Fraser River. That last leg of the trip should have taken us an hour and a quarter. It took us five.

As we finally approached home, the remaining clouds parted. We arrived late and tired but safe, and were glad to learn that no-one had been seriously injured in the slide or any of the subsequent traffic accidents.

Of course there’s a writing application coming. 🙂 I think it ‘s true that the writer’s journey often encounters unexpected changes and challenges, too.  There are the pleasant and productive times, as well as long hours of struggling with the direction our stories are taking. Times of hoping and waiting. Disappointing detours that make us wonder if we’ll ever reach our goals.

But if we follow the guidance of those who have expertise, if we do our part with patience and persistence, we’ll find our way. The route may not be quite the one we intended to take, and perhaps we’ll have to compromise a bit on the destination, but if we trust God to be the Navigator in charge of our lives, He will see us safely through the maze.

Have you encountered major detours in your life or your writing? What got you back on track or did you permanently alter your course?

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“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.”
[Proverbs 3:6  AKJV] 

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