Monday, January 21, 2008

Birds on the Brain

After a long break, I started refilling the lonely birdfeeder hanging on a shepherd's hook from our deck railing. The birdseed had been purchased months before and sat on a high shelf in my pantry, waiting patiently for an opening day. Are birds particular about expiry dates, come to think of it, do these bags of generic birdseed even have expiry dates? Probably not- I doubt that any consumers are going to sue the companies churning these out, one wouldn't know if it gave a bird food poisoning, I guess.
Five minutes passed, then Instant Miracle. (How do birds know that the bird feeder, unfilled for eons, just got filled?) A chickadee swooped by and landed on the perch. One, two, a cardinal, next a blue jay, next even a woodpecker. Time to get out the Sibley on Eastern American birds. I thumb through the pages, with M jumping up and down in excitement at spotting the woodpecker. Is it the pileated or the ladder backed one? No, it appears to be a red-bellied woodpecker, and the colorings are indicative of a female. Dare I rush to get my camera?
I slip off to the den to locate it, but the woodpecker and chickadees have vanished in the few seconds that it takes. Never mind, I'll just wait in my chair, camera at ready to capture the next avian visitor.
I spend a whole fascinated hour, alternately looking out the picture window and thumbing through the Sibley: it was a parade of local bird life. The woodpecker alternated between the bird feeder and the bark of our defoliated dogwood. The red cardinal was lazy (or timid, take your pick), preferring to feed off the spillings from the depradations of three industrious chickadees. Mrs.Cardinal was not so faint-hearted, venturing onto the tiny perch afforded by the bird feeder. I turned to the pages on chickadees- could this be a black-capped one or the Carolina one? They looked remarkably similar, except that our geographic location ruled out the likelihood of it being a Carolina chickadee.
When I next looked up, there was a mysterious bird with a bluish gray back, slightly curved beak and light belly, darting away the moment the chickadees approached. Bunting, vireo, swallow? Probably not. I finally ID-ed it as a type of nuthatch.
A blue jay screeched harshly, trying to scare away the chickadees and a lone sparrow. It tried to make a landing on the perch, but gave up in short order, preferring instead to feed off the seed scattered in the snow.
A grey squirrel scampered up the posts of the deck, reaching over to sip snow from the 'copper' bird bath that I had installed in the summer. Was he going to go for the bird feeder? ( The kids always had fun trying to shoo the squirrels away when they raided in the summer.) No, not this time. He scampered lightly over to nearby oak, his usually gorgeous bushy tail reduced to a smaller stump- maybe the result of an encounter with a neighbor's cat.
The bird bath, brand new in summer and shiny as a new penny turned out a poor excuse.Being merely copper plated steel, it had rusted from the water poured over the thin plating, the water turning murky within hours of filling it, leaving tiny holes in the bottom. I still haven't figured out how to replace it, with the unsightly hole in our deck railing that it would leave. Maybe I should try setting out a shallow ceramic bowl on it, to provide a suitable container for rain water.
The best birdbath that we had before this was, unlikely as it seems, the rippled and worn out bottom of a kiddie wading plastic pool, upturned over my kids' sandbox to provide an extra layer of protection against the rain. It looked horribly tacky, a pale aqua blue streaked with black-green mold, but had nice perfect-sized depressions in which fresh rainwater collected. It was the spa for all the robins and finches of summer. The robins would queue up on the dogwood branches, taking their turn splashing about in impromptu baths, while the finches took tiny tentative sips from the water, flying away before you could register their presence.
As with all good things, I had to get rid of that pool/cover when we gave away the sandbox. Bye bye birdies and fun bird baths. I thought that the new shiny copper bath would be a good replacement, but it turned out to be a shoddy investment.
It' s time to go ahead and get a new bird feeder to hang on the hook now carrying a half- dead carnation. I'll get thistle seeds for the finches, and sit back to enjoy the show.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blurbs and Ballyhooed Concerts

Last weekend, I took S on a much anticipated birthday treat- a concert featuring Joshua Bell, violinist extraordinaire, playing the Red Violin concerto, Oscar-winning score by composer John Corigliano, an astonishingly young-looking 70 year old. All that I knew of Joshua Bell, was primarily that he was young, kind of a rock star in the classical music world and had engaged last year in a curious experiment to see how many would stop and pay attention to world-class music from a world-class musician at the corner of a subway station ( Login required, so I'm quoting from the article below):
Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.

A half-minute later, Bell got his first donation. A woman threw in a buck and scooted off. It was not until six minutes into the performance that someone actually stood against a wall, and listened.

Things never got much better. In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

Pearls before the swine, indeed.

Or wait!

By the end of Sunday's concert, I did feel like a pig rooting for a truffle who only got regular farmyard swill . Or maybe I'm just turning into an old fuddy-duddy who wants the comforting pablum of harmonies instead of wild dissonances and fancy new techniques.

Sunday's concert started off with a piece by Samuel Barber, short and sweet at 11 minutes, the audience clapping heartily at its conclusion. Next, we were all agog with the expected appearance of the soloist, but it was the composer who walked on stage. He went on and on, describing practically measure by measure, the source of his inspiration, peppered with terms such as 'virtuosic etudes', ' plaintive theme', 'flautando' ( a newly coined term for a technique to make the violin sound like a flute- beats me- as a composer, why not just use a flute where a flute like sound is desired?). Everyone clapped when he was done (seemed to me, in relief,) and announced the entry of the 'Superstar'. Big round of clapping, then the orchestra started up, along with Mr.Bell's first plaintive notes of the main theme of the concerto.

The next half hour or more had virtuosic moves galore, Mr.Bell bowing in a frenzy and all but taking his priceless ( $4 million dollar Stradivari violin) and smashing it to the ground in a rock star gesture. He managed to rip some of the horsehair on his bow and get it twined on the violin, and had me wondering for a moment if he had broken a string. Plenty of drama onstage, but musically, the piece did nothing for me. I glanced out the corner of my eye. S was observing the antics on stage with interest, the gentleman beyond bent his head down, nodding slightly, but didn't snore, mercifully. I took a quick look at the other side of the aisle. All white haired heads were rapt in their attention to the stage.

Finally, the music onstage came to an end in a grand crescendo of a 'race' between the orchestra and the violinist. Approximately 2/3rds of the audience stood up in a standing ovation as the violinist bowed and strode offstage. Someone kept yelling "Bravo" as loudly as he could, about 3 rows behind us. I stayed firmly in my seat, unwilling to give an ovation to music that I didn't very much like, no matter how virtuosic and technically superior the performance.

Next were the more familiar notes of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, but tired by the anticipation gone flat, to my horror,I started dozing off towards the end. I was woken up by the final loud section which had the percussionist in the orchestra competing with the cymbals and gong to outdo the entire strings and wind section in loudness, as a triumphal march swept through the "Gates of Kiev". After the last tremendous, ear shattering burst of tutti, silence reigned for a split second. Then the applause started, another standing ovation in the making. I slipped on my coat, urged S out and raced off to the parking garage.

Thank god for small mercies :
  1. I avoided getting a migraine- perhaps due to the short duration of the concert.
  2. I got out of the parking garage in record time (5 minutes, as opposed to the usual half hour). This concert had drawn such a crowd, that I had parked in a different garage than usual, with pay-at-entry and exiting through a single quick spiral driveway.
  3. No thanks to the effusive newspaper critic's review that led me to believe that the main piece was a modern composition that 'deserved a singular place in the classical canon' or some such drivel. Next time, I'll take the said critic's opinions with a massive helping of salt.

Perhaps I should consider tickets to the Sarah Chang concert coming up soon- at least it's Vivaldi's Four Seasons, familiar and comforting, guaranteed- easy- on- the -ears listening...

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Perusing the Pennysaver

English riding helmet- black velvet with harness, $35- Oooh, I have visions of my daughter, outfitted like National Velvet, riding in her first competition. Should I call? Decisions, decisions.

K2 Skis with boots, bindings and Aerro poles, Ski bag,$ 50 all.
Ski boots, Ladies, Good condition $10

Rossignol Skis , bindings, $25

Toro Snow Thrower, working condition when used 3 years ago, $20

That's what global warming will do for you, I guess.

"Munchies - Everything you're hungry for" - It's the new avatar of what used to be a Bob's Dogs, which I thought was a pet grooming salon, till I slowed enough in my car to see the unmistakable hot dog with mustard on the sign. Well, goodbye wieners.
Munchies specializes in Italian, homestyle food. Great, we just really needed another new Italian hotspot to join the 1200- odd Italian places in the neighborhood.

Metal Folding chairs , 2 Samsonite ( They make chairs? I thought they were a luggage company)- $15 both.
Good for reserving Parking spots, a great tradition in all those snowbound cities with roadside parking. Another victim of GW, I presume.

Breadmaker machine - Excellent condition, works great, glass cover, recipes, $25. Perhaps I should consider putting my slow cooker on sale, along with the recipe book I got for it. Poor breadmaker owner, was this a culinary dream gone poof?

2 Burial niches for sale. A_ county Memorial Park,
Sermon on the Mount, Price negotiable.

Are they charging for the sermon? I thought those came free. This reminds me of the day I picked up the phone in the pre-donotcall- list era to be asked.
"Would you be interested in buying a burial spot in ABC Memorial Park? "
"Sorry, we cremate."

Poo-Poo Pros- Pet waste removal service. Let us do the Doody work!
Reasonable rates, dependable service.

Phew, I don't envy them, but it must be a decent paying job, if they are able to make it the basis of a business! Love the catchy name.