When I started this post it was
titled “Miracles of Spring.” Then it progressed to “The Eviction,” Now “The Opportunists”
seems more apropos.
where I live has a population of about 1600, but it is designated a village,
because it isn’t incorporated. Considered rural, in appearance it’s suburban,
with neat patches of green lawn around brick and frame houses. Occupying only a
few acres of houses and pavement, It’s home to many kinds of animals. The Big
Muddy River, a tributary of the Mississippi runs about a mile southeast of my
house. We sometimes get visits from opossum, skunk, and raccoon. I often hear
the coyotes, and in spring their pups, howling down by the river. I was
surprised to learn they live in this area. I was used to their ubiquitous
presence in southwest Oklahoma. It wasn’t uncommon for one to cross my path on
the way home from some evening event, or see one howling at the moon out on my
grandparents’ farm. Here, they stay out of sight in the woods, and you know
they’re around only by their mournful howls, which never fail to make me
homesick. With the increased urbanization of our world, many species,
especially coyote, squirrel, deer, and more than a few birds have become very
well adapted to our urban ways.
writing, it is tempting to anthropomorphize animals and birds. Anthropologists
and sociologists frown on it, but Walt Disney built an empire by doing so. About
mid-May, I noticed three different sets of birds nesting in our neighborhood.
Across the street is a church with
a two-story tall sanctuary. In each corner of the north wall, about fifty feet
apart, is a curved metal drainpipe running down from the eave to the gutter.
About fifteen feet away, on the edge of the street is a utility pole, with the
requisite accumulation of telephone, electric, and heaven-only-knows-what-else
wires. The power company placed some kind of black tubular contraption over the
connectors which lead to the utility pole, possibly to discourage the
squirrels, or maybe to fend off lightning strikes.
In the curve of the east drainpipe,
where the morning sun shines, a pair of American Robins built their nest. Neat
and round, it snuggled perfectly up against the sanctuary wall, held securely
in place by the downspout. How exciting. The robin, harbinger of spring in some
areas, but a year around resident here on the Mississippi flood plain, was
welcomed for its cheerful songs and not begrudged the earthworms and bugs it
Just opposite in the curve of the
west drainpipe, where the west sun beats down, a family of common House Sparrows
moved in. Messy nest builders, these noisy, chattering birds, imported from
England for their ability to catch caterpillars which harm shade trees, are now
considered invasive, because our native birds can’t evolve fast enough to
compete. Nevertheless, they are welcome for their consumption of small weed
seeds, of which they eat far more than they do caterpillars.
In the black tubes on the electric
lines, a pair of common Grackles moved in. Native to southern Illinois, they
have a pretty brown iridescence to their black feathers, but are even noisier
in their social habits than the sparrows. The local farmers consider them
thieves for the grain they eat, but they don’t attack a growing ear of corn.
Being opportunistic in nature, they prefer to feast on the many kernels left
behind after the big corn combines reap in the fall. During spring and summer,
they eat far more weed seeds than the tiny sparrows.
For several days, we sat on the
front deck, observing the nesting activities of these three species of birds,
residing in such close contact. They each minded their own business, none
bothering the other, seeming to co-exist in happy harmony. Then the rains came.
We had eight straight days of pouring, relentless rain. The Big Muddy was
overflowing its banks. Around here, gutters and downspouts get easily clogged
from the winged seeds of the silver leafed maple. There are more trees on the
east side of the church than the west, so that gutter was the most clogged.
Rainwater overflowed and gushed within inches of the curve in the downspout,
splattering huge drops near the robins’ nest. We couldn’t tell for sure, but we
suspected the robins had hatchlings. They were busy flying through the rain
with bugs and worms in their mouths, constantly cleaning debris from the nest,
and during the harshest of the downpours, covering the nest with outspread
wings. Robins may raise two or three broods each spring, but they abandon the
nest and build anew for each brood.
During the rains, my daughter,
grandson, and I often huddled on the front deck to ease our cabin fever,
watching, helpless in the face of this struggle for life, watching both parents
growing thinner with each passing day. Helpless to aid in their battle, we often
made remarks like, “I can just hear Mama Robin now. ‘I told you we shouldn’t
have built here. I’m going to pick out the next nest site. Now, get out there
and find more bugs while I keep this rain out.’” In the meantime, the feckless
sparrows and opportunistic grackles, while not bothering the robins in any way,
used breaks in the rain to gather the burgeoning crop of dandelion, henbit, and
At last, the rains stopped. There
were indeed hatchlings in the robin nest, and they were rapidly becoming
fledglings. For a couple of days, we’d see three little heads popped up, mouths
wide open, waiting for mom or pop to bring home a juicy bug or worm. The parent
birds were busier than ever, flying incessantly to feed the hungry mouths. Then
came the first warm, sunny day and something happened. The first fledgling
hopped out onto the curve of the downspout while mama and papa were gone. It
flapped and fluttered and grew brave enough to fly all the way to the ground.
It hopped along the church’s gravel parking lot all the way to the back wall
and around into the grass behind. We were concerned, because it never
reappeared. We feared it had fallen prey to one of three stray cats who
occasionally show up around here. They are either the pets of thoughtless owners
or feral, and very clever about evading county animal control patrols.
Something about the appearance of
that first fledgling bothered me. It didn’t look like a baby robin, but I
couldn’t identify it. I speculated about intruder origins. My daughter doubted
that, but I was still sure something wasn’t kosher. Since my Audubon bird book
is packed away for an anticipated move, I went to the ever helpful internet.
Sure enough, it wasn’t a baby robin. It was a baby Brown-headed Cowbird. Considered
by some naturalists to be a parasite, by others simply an opportunist, the
cowbird lays its eggs in other birds’ nests and takes off, allowing the foster
parents to do the hard work of rearing their young, often at the expense of the
host bird’s own nestlings. It is a bird whose nomadic lifestyle originated on
the western plains where millions of insect-infested buffalo once roamed. It
really only became a problem bird when white settlers killed off the buffalo
We’ll never know if mama and papa
Robin had more than two eggs in their clutch. They can lay up to five. Whether
the fledgling cowbird was consumed by a cat or managed to fly off and find a
group of cowbirds to hang out with will never be known, but for a several days
we watched the robins teach their two fledglings to fly and forage. Mama
actually pushed the most reluctant fledgling out with her wing and made it fly.
Then they were gone, abandoning the nest forever. My grandson remarked, “She
probably told him she was never coming back to this lousy, rainy neighborhood.”
In actuality, we could hear them singing with others of their kind in the trees
to the east of the church, probably their roosting area, and they may or may
not have built another nest in one of the tall trees, but they’re still in the
neighborhood. In fact, I’ve seen papa feasting on my clover seeds and growing
fat. If they have time, perhaps they’ll raise another brood. The only reason
they’re not too welcome around here is that they are a key host for West Nile
Virus. Quick, grab the Deep Woods Off!
Once the robins were gone, the sparrows moved
in. They have worked for days, and now you can no longer see the neat, round
robin’s nest hidden within the messy, burgeoning sprawl of the sparrow nest
with many fronds of grass and straw sticking out in wild disarray. They are
busing coming and going. Of course, one of us had to remark, “There goes the
The grackles and sparrows, now in
greater proximity, continue to co-exist, but with occasional squabbles.
Apparently, the grackles didn’t mind robins for neighbors, but they’d prefer
the sparrows were still fifty feet away.
Yesterday morning I sat on the
deck, nursing my treasured cup of steaming coffee in the early sunshine. A black-capped
chickadee, who may have been one of several who regularly visit our winter
feeder, landed on the deck railing. When he spotted me he took off. I was an
intruder in his neighborhood, as much as the sparrows were to the grackles.
Hi everyone, and Merry Christmas! It's been awhile since I blogged, and it's almost Christmas. We've got the tree up, we've been snowed and iced in for several days, so the 4-legged members of our pack have donned their winter finery to perform their daily ablutions. Perhaps you remember the smallest member of the pack, Shepherd, or as we sometimes call him "Sheppie."
Shep is not as into playing dress-up as Freckles, so it took a couple of minutes of going out to make yellow snow for him to appreciate his new red turtle neck sweater. Frankly, he'd much rather use the human's bathroom for depositing residue of a different type, which is fine with us, as our bathroom has a white floor and a light blue bath mat, so we are not surprised by "dog bombs." Shep informs me, however, that he did not appreciate his new young master, my grandson Ethan, shouting, "Oh my God, my dog is wearing a sock!" then proceeding to sing, "Don we now our gay apparel." I can tell you, because all three of our dogs are exceedingly smart, but none of them can read yet - Shep's Christmas present is a Chihuahua-sized tug-o-war rope. You may remember Gizmo from earlier posts. She and I are the senior citizens of the pack. Gizmo has a bad cataract on one eye, is developing one on the other eye, is too old for surgery, and - like many children and senior citizens - has selective hearing. She loves her new pink snow parka. She's had lots of fun leaving nuggets of coal in the snow for the bad little children. She has very thick fur, so she doesn't mind the cold or the snow. However, her vision problems get worse when the sun comes out after a heavy snow - she's snow-blinded. The first day it snowed, then iced, our back door screen was frozen shut. First Ethan had to de-ice the back screen, then let the dogs out. Thinking his job was done, in a few minutes he called them back in. At first we thought Gizzie was just being hard headed, but no - she was snow blinded and couldn't see the back door. Ethan had to get his boots back on, go around to the back yard, and carry her around and into the front door. Neither of them were particularly happy campers for a bit. In the picture below, she appears to be content, and she is. She's yawning after her outing in the snow, preparing for her long winter nap. Her Christmas present is a big, comfy, poly-filled bed, covered in grey plaid flannel, which I haven't made yet.
I want to introduce you to my only granddogger, Kai Lei. She lives in balmy Hawaii with her beautiful mommie, Katryn. You also met Agent K in the previous post - though her lovely auburn hair is now sun-streaked blonde. Surf on, girl!
Kai is a part Pit, part Dalmatian, part Lab, part ?, born in my home town, Altus, Oklahoma. Her favorite toy is in the picture. It talks and asks if you want to hear the most annoying sound in the universe, and then makes a hideous, high-pitched, whiny screech like the one from the movie "Dumb and Dumber." It makes her bark and growl she finds it so annoying.
Now for Freckle Face, aka Freckles. Having returned from his tromp in the snow (yes, that's snow he tracked all over the living room floor), he is a little miffed, because none of us would go out and play ball with him in the snow. He loves snow, leaping through it, tunneling through it, and attempting to sniff out the wily squirrels who live in our big maple tree in the back yard. He's chewed his three tennis balls to shreds. He's down to one tennis ball which has a funky curve when thrown, as it only has "hide" on one side. His Christmas present is two, brand spanking new tennis balls in fluorescent colors, so he won't lose them in the snow or the grass.
I'd like to include the two-legged members of the pack in this post, but the only picture of me that's on this computer (I had a computer crash right before Thanksgiving which took out my external hard drive, also.) is the one that's already on this blog. The only one I have of Kristin is in the previous post about my children - when she was about five, and (while I have thousands of Ethan (including the hated "naked baby" pics) I have none on this computer, and won't have until I retrieve my scanner from a friend's house. So, I'll leave it to Freckles to say what we all feel, "May this special time of the year bring you all God's special blessings, and we hope you find lots of goodies under your tree!"
Of course I might be a little bit prejudiced, because these are my children! From left to right we have Karl Herman Ernest, in his lap Kurt Wilhelm Heinrich, next little Katryn Anne Hoye, and last but not least Kristin Leota Georgan. This was perhaps not the wisest choice of names. My first husband's first and last names started with a "K," and my first name starts with a "K," so we thought it would be cute to name our kids all with names that started with "K." When I got mad and started calling roll, as mothers will, I sounded like an idiot - "K-k-k-k-k-k-k."
Karl was named after the husband's favorite uncle and mine (Karl and Carl), his paternal grandfather Herman, and his maternal grandfather Ernest. Karl is 52 now.
When Kristin came along 26 months later she was named Kristin because it was a pretty name, Leota for my mother, and Georgan for one of my best friends. At my 50th highschool reunion, my daughter and the beautiful woman she was named after finally got to meet each other. Kristin is 49 now.
Katryn's first name was picked from an historical novel I was reading at the time about Mary Queen of Scots. Katryn was a Welsh girl, a maid-in-waiting to the queen. The Anne Hoye comes from an Irish ancestress about 10 generations back who was a maid-in-waiting to Elizabeth I of England. Interesting juxtaposition of names, I think. Katryn is 47 now.
Kurt was named after the son of a couple we were friends with just because I thought the name was cute - I could call him "Kurtie." The Heinrich is after my great uncle Henry (originally Heinrich) and the husband's great uncle Heinrich. The Wilhelm and the Heinrich are both after my great-grandfather, Wilhelm Heinrich Schmidt. Kurt would be 46 now. He was killed in a tragic car accident 5 months before his high school graduation. I miss him very much.
All four of the kids were very smart. Neither the husband nor I could claim credit, but they came from good stock on both sides. They were quite adventurous, too. Karl and Kristin were close, as were Katryn and Kurt. In fact, when I would be walking along pushing my overburdened twin stroller, people would say, "Oh, look. How cute, two sets of twins."
Karl and Kristin seemed to have a fascination with cars. When we lived in Houston, I had a paper route. We drove a big old red and white Oldsmobile station wagon. One day when I was collecting for the Houston Post, Karl got behind the wheel, and Kristin managed to take the vehicle out of "park." My customer said, "Er, ma'am, your car is getting away." I screamed, "My babies!," ran down the steep drive, hopped in the car, and slammed on the brakes. When I got back to my customer, flushed and panting, he said, "Nice save.," and gave me a $5 tip in addition to his monthly subscription. I waited until I got them home to paddle their little bottoms. We also owned a nondescript pickup with a wooden bed. They managed to start that with a screwdriver and back into the chain-link fence. Punishment was immediate and unrelenting. Karl had five wrecks before he was 18, thereby costing me a long and happy relationship with Allstate. Kristin has also had five wrecks, none of which were her fault, putting her in the same league with the grandmother I named her after. Katryn has never had a wreck. Kurt never got the chance to own a car, but he did have a completely unrepairable motorcycle, given to him by a friend.
In Houston the kids had many adventures, some I recall had to do with fishing. The girls are the fishermen in my family; the boys never cared for it. One time we were at the cabin of a friend on the San Jacinto river, celebrating Easter with my cousin Doug and his family. My husband sat Karl down on the end of a pier and set him up with a rod and reel. On his first cast, Karl caught a crab. He screamed and threw the whole outfit into the river. His father sadly watched rod, reel, and crab float off down the San Jacinto. I'll bet Santa Ana was no less disappointed at that mighty river. Another time on the same river, different bank, we were all fishing (actually, I was reading - can't stand fishing) when a man down the bank started jumping up and down screaming. A water moccasin was swallowing his line. Husband calmly got up, walked down the bank, used his pocket knife to cut the guy's line, and threw the snake in the river. We were all, except for the kids, thinking, "dumb ass."
Kristin was perhaps the most adventurous. One hot summer day when I was very pregnant with Katryn, Karl ran into the house, yelling in unintelligible gibberish. I kept trying to understand, so in frustration he grabbed my hand and dragged me out to the yard. In the backyard was Kristin, hanging by one heel about 12 feet up in a large pear tree. Thank God for sturdy little baby shoes I could tie on her feet with double knots! I was in no shape to climb 12 feet up in a tree. In fact, I had to go a few feet higher in order to dislodge her and get her into my arms. How I got us both down in one piece I'll never know. Simple relief that she was alive precluded any possibility of a spanking, but she did get a severe scoldng.
Katryn was the most curious. She was forever poking peas and beans into the ears and noses of herself and her siblings. Sometimes extraction required the help of a doctor. I think Karl was the only one who escaped these untender ministrations. I'm surprised she didn't become a doctor, though I think she considered it at one time.
Kurt was unquestionably the most mischievous, also curious, and the most willing to take a dare. Tell him not to do something, and he was bound to try it. We had a box full of Lhasa Apso puppies which he was warned to keep away from until their eyes were opened. I have a cute picture of him on the floor of my darkened bedroom with the box of puppies and an "uh-oh, I've been busted" look on his face. Another time I told him not to touch the Spam can I had just tossed in the trash. When I glance back to check, he had it in his hand, unwinding the metal coil, and his thumb had just been cut to the bone. Needless to say, three blood soaked towels later, I called my best friend to come and get us for a quick trip to the emergency room with three other kids in tow. There was a blood trail from the kitchen to the bathroom, and there was not time to leave a note, so when Karl got home from school, he ran screaming to the next door neighbor's house, thinking his entire family had been massacred. Kurt was also a little gullible, too. Once Kristin got him to eat mud pies by covering them with real chocolate frosting!
All things considered, they were pretty darn good little kids, grew up to be considerate, caring teenagers, and three of them are now sensible, responsible adults. I consider myself fortunate considering the day and time they grew up in - the advent of sex, drugs, and rock and roll combined.
Today I'll talk about two people you might or might not know. The one in the first photo is me. I was 46 and I was auditioning for some plays and commercials that year. It's a head shot from my contact sheet. When we got married, Tom kept it on his night table so I was the first thing he saw in the morning, whether I was there or not. The poem below he wrote about my eyes the year before he died.
Icicle, Icicle, burning bright,
light of mystery, light of delight.
What is the fire I see,
burning bright, burning true?
Do you love me, as I love you?
Can there be true fire in eyes so blue?
Hush, sweet crystal eyes.
I hold you now, sleep through the night.
Icicle, icicle – eyes that delight,
first green, then violet, then blue.
Will love that burns with such
sweet passion, stay forever true?
First you see me, then I see you.
I stroke your heart, and the fires flame.
Then they flicker violet, or is it blue?
If I should fall in love this night, I blame you.
Thomas Carmack Rice
This is Tom when he got his BA in playwriting and directing. You can't see those amazing, sapphire blue eyes, but you can see that wild, red hair! Below the picture is the poem I wrote about his eyes the same year he wrote the one about mine.
Two Sweethearts on a Rock As I recently said, I’ve blogged about everything under the sun, and now I’m starting with my family. This is my grandfather, George Sidney Smith, and my grandmother, Sophia Kathleen Chastain Smith, sitting on a giant granite boulder at the Wichita Wildlife Refuge north of Lawton, Oklahoma. This picture was taken in the spring of 1916 when my mother graduated from Porter High School, just north of the Smith farm, and just south of Altus, Oklahoma. They loaded up the senior class (all 6 of them!) in the buckboard and drove the team to the Wichitas for a picnic. Grandmother fried the chicken and made the potato salad the night before. I’m sure Grandaddy took along a dutch oven and baked some sourdough biscuits. He was the master of sourdough biscuits, having begun his cowboy career as “Little Mary,” the cook’s helper. You can see they took their shoes off for the climb. Grandmother grew up wearing high button shoes and always had to have something with a bit of a heel. Grandaddy grew up wearing cowboy boots and had the same problem.
They met at the annual May picnic at the Doans Store, pictured above. The Doans crossing is where the cowboys forded the Red River to take their herds up to Dodge City, Kansas, to sell. Grandaddy had many stories to tell of the wild and wooly days of Dodge City. He didn’t like Wyatt Earp, having watched him pistol whip a cowboy nearly to death on Front Street. He didn’t like Bat Masterson either. The kindest thing he had to say about Masterson was that he was a whoremaster. He did have a great deal of respect for Marshal Bill Tilghman of the Oklahoma Territory.
The picture above was taken on the Smith farm, probably by my mother with the red Brownie box camera Grandaddy gave her for graduation. You can see Grandaddy was happy holding his fat grandbabies in his lap in his old wooden rocker. That solemn critter on the left is me. The happy lad on the right is my cousin Billy (William Charles Smith, Jr., named after his father, third of the Smith children. My mother was the second, and Aunt Opal the first.) Opal was the only one born in Texas, at the home of Grandmother’s parents, William Edgar Chastain and his second wife, Rosa. At the time, Grandaddy was the foreman of J. R. Sumner’s Rocking Chair ranch. That’s all for now. I won’t bore you with more, because I’m writing their life story, and I’d like you to buy the book. Karen Mabry Rice Author of Ghost Walk Soon to be published by 4rv Publishing, LLC Of Edmond, Oklahoma
I've blogged about my pets, my family, just about everything in the world but the horses I've known and loved. The first photo is of me (age 2 1/2), my great uncle Charley Smith, and my grandaddy, George Sidney Smith. Uncle Charley was born in Saxony, Germany. His real name was Karl Wilhelm Schmidt. So was their sister, Katerina Schmidt. Grandaddy was the first person in his family born in America. Both of them were real, honest-to-God, working cowboys. I'm sitting on Choklit, the brown and white pinto pony they bought for all the Smith grandkids to ride. Mamma wasn't happy. (she took the picture) Grandmother was happy. She loved to ride horses (side saddle!). Grandaddy, Uncle Charley, and I were as happy as three ducks in a room full of June bugs. I was just impatient and ready to ride with the wind blowing through my hair. The picture was taken in Uncle Charley's front yard in Wilbarger County, Texas. He was a widower who had married his boss's daughter, inherited the ranch, and struck oil before the war, so he could pretty much do what he darn well pleased. By the way, the photo was taken in 1945 when the war was almost over.
The next photo is well after the war. It was taken in 1949 when I was seven years old, and we are at the Altus, Oklahoma train yard getting ready to ride in the Fouth of July rodeo parade. Uncle Charley was always asked to carry the American flag in all the rodeo parades around. He was very proud of his American citizenship. He was naturalized during WWI, when they were killing so many Germans. Grandaddy bought a gun during that war for the same reason. A six-shooter, it was the first gun he ever owned. My cousin Monty owns it now. He inherited it from my youngest uncle, Carl, (named after Uncle Charley) who was too young to be in WWII.
I was proud to ride in the parade with my Uncle Charley. I was born in Altus, Oklahoma, July 30, 1942. The horse we're on is named Silver. He lived to be 21 years old, and starved himself to death, grieving when Uncle Charley died in 1952. Horses are amazing people. By the way, those hats we're all wearing are genuine Stetsons, and the boots custom made in Nocona, Texas. Signing off for now, Karen Mabry Rice, aka Min Cotton (the protagonist in my mystery novel Ghost Walk) Soon to be published by 4rvPublishing, LLC, of Edmond, Oklahoma.