Adventures With Waffles

adventures-with-wafflesAdventures With Waffles, by Maria Parr

translated from Norwegian by Guy Puzey

illustrated by Kate Forrester

Adventure is what happens when Lena and Trille get together. Since they live next door and are best friends, that means adventures are almost constant, and often disastrous. Heart-shaped waffles are the cure to adventure’s, and life’s, mishaps.

I fell in love with the Norwegian village of Mathildewick Cove and its inhabitants. Lena is the instigator and mischief-maker, reminiscent of fun-loving Pippi Longstocking. Trille is a follower with a warm and worrisome heart who is constantly saving Lena from her impulsive actions. Grandpa joins in the fun with pirate skits on a moped. Auntie Granny serves up waffles for every occasion, good or bad. Trille’s little sister, Krolle, spills the beans with innocent charm. Most of all, the children of Mathildwick Cove are gifted with lots of freedom in a safe and supportive community.

My favorite adventure was “Noah’s Shark” when the inseparable two decide to out-do Noah and fill Uncle Tor’s shark boat (a Norwegian fishing vessel) with as many animals as they can. Parr keeps the humor going with pithy dialogue and laughable scenes. Lena proclaims, “Ark is a pretty stupid name for a boat. That Noah could’ve thought up a better one. Maybe they hadn’t invented all the letters of the alphabet yet. Since it was donkey’s years ago.” Filling the boat with rabbits, chickens, goats, cats and insects was taking too long, so Lena and Trille snatched Uncle Tor’s largest and best-behaved cow. When they return to the boat to see the goat eating the curtains, Lena screams. “The heifer was so scared by Lena’s scream that she jumped a few feet up in the air and leaped onto the boat with a crash. She mooed madly into the sky and kicked out in all directions. The heifer slipped on the goat’s droppings and kicked the window [and] jumped into the water… Then along came Uncle Tor.”

Summer fades into autumn and so do the adventures. As Trille and Lena wait impatiently for the coming of snow and sledding, disaster strikes. Parr segues masterfully from hilarity and pandemonium to sorrow and anger. “Death is almost like snow; you don’t know when it’s going to come, even if it tends to come in winter.” Trille learns the answer to Lena’s question about the use of Dads when his father helps him face his first loss. Lena’s disappearance means Trille also faces his first letdown from a friend.

A sure sign of a great book, I was reluctant for Adventures with Waffles to end. I will be on the lookout for more stories by Maria Parr. Best of all, I can return to this one when I need a dose of comfort and good writing.

My own dear Mother used to make waffles on a heart-shaped waffle iron. As with Trille, they were celebrations for adventure and comfort for difficulties. As with Trille, I was lucky to grow up in a beautiful place with plenty of freedom in a safe community.

Today, I make waffles for my family and friends. I try to put my heart into each one.

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Halloween Day Gift

This gift to me was not a gift to the small songbirds that alerted me to its presence. The irate birds would name my gift a Halloween terror. I was walking along the Sunset Trail through red cedars and salal keeping an eye out for mushrooms and an ear tuned to birds. A cacophony of repeated scolds from a variety of species – Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, Red-breasted Nuthatches and a Spotted Towhee – encouraged me to hone in on their exact location and scan for a certain presence. The cedars in the area were relatively young and less dense than their elders, so after a minute, I spotted the object of the little birds’s objections.

The owl’s head was bowed in sleep, or at least pretend sleep, but when I accidentally bumped my binoculars against my camera, the head snapped up. Penetrating eyes outlined by white eyebrows stared down at me. Fine white lines radiated from the point between the eyes onto the milk chocolate-brown head. A scattering of white spots painted the coverts and primaries. Cinnamon streaked the white breast and belly. Wing primaries extended noticeably beyond the stubby tail.

Saw-whet Owl, Sunset Trail, Odlin County Park, 2016-10-31

Saw-whet Owl, Sunset Trail, Odlin County Park, 2016-10-31

I can only describe this Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus) as charming: bold face; rich, designer plumage and apparent boredom with both the mobbing songbirds and my own ogling. Eckert (1987) echoes this sentiment in The Owls of North America: “It is reasonably sociable where humans are concerned and not infrequently will come quite close to a campfire and join the campers grouped around it, even to the point of perching on a convenient shoulder. Nor is it hesitant about entering a camper’s tent.” (p. 60)

Northern Saw-whet Owls are uncommon on Lopez Island and I can count on one hand our observations over the past eight years, so this sighting was a true gift. The most recent of these was over a year ago during the same season, less than a mile away along Port Stanley Road. Mobbers alerted us to this owl, too, perched low in a deciduous thicket. Our other observations were of calling birds, one here at Odlin County Park and another in February near Shark Reef Sanctuary. David also remembers hearing one in January 2013 on his first two nights as manager at the park.

The calls we’ve heard are repeated whistles on a single tone – whoooot, whooooot, whoooot – uttered on and on. Eckert states that next to barred and spotted owls, saw-whets have the widest variety of calls among North American owls. He charmingly describes two of these: “this supposed saw-filing call [for which the bird was named], uttered primarily during courtship, is rarely very harsh in nature and though it has a decided metallic ring to it the sound is pleasantly muted. One of the more pleasant calls … is a very melodious, tinkling sound that just cannot be reproduced in print but which has the remarkable quality of sounding almost exactly like a tricklet of water falling into a quiet little pool.”

Yet to the juncos and sparrows, nuthatches and towhees, owls are a dangerous menace to their very lives. Small birds “mob” owls during the day to let the neighborhood know a predator is near. The constant scolding and movement of many birds at close quarters may “confuse and annoy the predator, in the hope of getting it to move away.” Predators also find it more difficult to capture alert prey (Ehrlich 1988).

At only eight inches long from rounded head to short tail and seventeen inches from wingtip to wingtip, the saw-whet is one of North America’s smallest owls. But small size doesn’t denote meekness. Saw-whets have “been known to kill a mammal as large a a cottontail rabbit” (Eckert), though this is rare. These nocturnal owls hunt from perches waiting for mice, shrews, voles, small birds, and frogs to pass by. They are voracious and will eat twice their weight in a night, swallowing small prey whole and tearing larger prey into chunks. Like most owls, they eject pellets of fur and bones, which can be found beneath roost sites.

Also like other owls, their ears are offset (one higher in the skull than the other), allowing them to detect prey by hearing alone (Bannick 2008). An anecdote vividly illustrates the bird’s acute hearing: “One observer, squeaking faintly … watched a Saw-whet Owl streak with unerring accuracy directly toward the sound he was making, the bird coming from a wooded area over half a mile distant across a meadow. So intent was the owl on the sound that the observer had to throw up his hands to ward it off.” (Eckert 1987).

Saw-whets begin nesting in March. They will use flicker and pileated woodpecker cavities or nest boxes, laying 4-7 white eggs at two-day intervals. Females incubate the eggs for 26-28 days, starting with the first egg laid. Thus the eggs hatch asynchronously and nestlings vary in size. If food is scarce, the smallest may not survive. Nestlings are born with sparse white down and their eyes open at 8-9 days. Between their second and fourth weeks they grow downy feathers. Owlets leave the nest at 27-33 days and can fly by the 34th day. At this point, they wear a juvenile plumage of a chocolate-brown head and tawny body. When they molt into full adult plumage in late summer they are adult-sized and on their own.

One of the smallest members of the owl tribe, the Northern Saw-whet’s enemies are its larger cousins. Even screech-owls, only an inch longer, will attack and kill the unaggressive saw-whet.

As I photographed this saw-whet, maneuvering back and forth on the trail, but unable to find an angle that didn’t include the branch in front of its face, the owl continued to eye me, showing no signs of taking flight. I moved on, but the small birds did not. They were still scolding vociferously when I was several hundred yards down the trail.

The gift of this owl was not only in the observation, but in the research. I revisited books from my collection that I hadn’t touched in months, learned fascinating details about the Northern Saw-whet Owl, and shared stories and past observations with David. My hope is that this particular saw-whet continues to live as contentedly at Odlin County Park as do David and I.

Bannick, Paul. 2008. The Owl and the Woodpecker: Encounters with North America’s Most Iconic Birds. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineer Books.

Eckert, Allan W. 1987. The Owls of North America. New York: Weathervane Books.

Ehrlich, Paul R., David S. Dobkin, and Darryl Wheye. 1988. The Birder’s Handbook: A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf

ashala wolfThe Interrogation of Ashala Wolf, by Ambelin Kwaymullina (2012)

I was attracted to this book by the author’s heritage: of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Indigenous peoples fascinate me for their different world views. I have read a few Aboriginal folktales and learned a little about their Dreamtime. Though this is a science fiction novel, the author draws on her cultural background to create this first book in her Tribe series. As she explains in her Author’s Note: “The world that Ashala occupies is not Australia, of course. But every landscape I describe in the Tribes series is inspired by one of the many biodiverse regions of Australia. In Ashala’s world, where people no longer distinguish among themselves on the basis of race, the word Aboriginal has no meaning. But she carries that ancient bloodline and has the same deep connection to the Firstwood that present-day aboriginal people have to their Countries [homelands].” I admire and support this deep connection to the land.

Ashala Wolf is a strong female leader who is also plagued by worries for her Tribe of gifted “Illegals.” She is trying to protect her Tribe from the government, who considers them a danger to society for their unusual and different abilities. As the book opens, Ashala has been captured and is being taken to “the machine.” In alternating present-day moments and flashbacks, readers learn the history of this new world and the Tribe’s place in it. The plot moves in waves of speed and slowness, which is effective and mirrors the ways of the wild.

Ashala is supported by deep friendships and by the land itself. She has taken the name “Wolf” for her connection to wolves just as other Tribe members are connected to other animals. This is a small, but important part of the story. Ashala’s gift is Sleepwalking, based on Aboriginal Dreamwalking. Kwaymullina is adept at leaving some of the mystery of Ashala’s ability to our imagination.

I was fascinated by the Saur culture invented by Kwaymullina. She gives readers only a taste of their ways, but enough to make them appear viable. The Tribe’s connection to the Saur is also interesting.

One thing I don’t like is the cover photo, though I know the author usually has little say in this. Ashala would NOT be wearing all that makeup! Still, the intensity of the eye on the cover is true to her character.

A convincing future world that I felt sad to leave and characters that I’d like to meet make me eager to read the second installment, The Disappearance of Ember Crow. Here’s hoping Kwaymullina continues to expand this series.

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Pax

paxPax, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Told in alternating chapters through the fox, Pax’s, voice and his boy, Peter’s voice, this is a children’s novel not just for children. Though they are different species, and some unenlightened people might consider Pax a pet, fox and boy are bonded by love and loyalty as strong as that between two human beings. Pennypacker elucidates the voices of the two friends with humble respect, and then adds Vola, a woman with a voice of pain and wisdom. Vola’s clipped language –  “Right.” “No.” – followed by thoughtful explanations embodies her spirit: sharp at the beginning, and then warmly instructive. Her quotes plastered on index cards are like Zen Koans: “The Gulf Stream will flow through a straw, provided the straw is aligned to the Gulf Stream and not at crosscurrents.” When Peter asks what this means, his mentor replies: “It means align yourself, boy. Figure out how things are, and accept it.”

Often I love one character over others in a book, but here I loved Pax, Peter and Vola equally. I wish I could meet them. Lovely, heartbreaking, lyrical and hopeful, Pax inspires readers to think deeply about the meaning of peace and the price of war. “Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

Jon Klassen’s spare art  complements the novel powerfully. I especially love the cover illustrating Pax’s intense loyalty and vibrant hope. The final picture radiates love.

 

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Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms

cartwheelingCartwheeling in Thunderstorms, by Katherine Rundell (2011) …

… is a novel of joy and love and freedom. Young Will is passionately in love with her life in Zimbabwe, South Africa and with her father. Her joy cartwheels across the page in vibrant escapades with best friend, Simon. The two wildings race across the fields while hanging upside down from their horse’s necks; roast bananas spiked with sugar in outdoor fires; punch boys who are cruel to monkeys. Will hurls herself into her father’s arms upon his return from days away, and irons every piece of his clothing to be sure parasites don’t harm him. Then the unthinkable occurs and wildcat Will is sent to a gray English boarding school filled with a pack of girls worse than hyenas. The loss of freedom and sun and all she loves drives Will to extremes, yet she retains her courage and earthy intelligence as she navigates London’s strangeness and finds a friend in Daniel, who admires her wild courage. I loved Will for her fierce joy and goodness and I loved Daniel’s grandmother for her wisdom. Rundell’s narrative is as fierce and joyful as her character, who tries to explain how much she misses Africa:

“You can’t understand, what the sun was like.” She didn’t know if she could explain – what it was like when crickets sang every day and you couldn’t feel where you stopped and the sunshine began.

“I don’t … I can’t describe it. Imagine if there’s just trees, ja, and grass and boys and bats, ja, and warthogs and dragonflies. And nobody hates you. And you could run, ja, or ride, for miles, and if you got lost, the women just gave you mangoes and aspirin and directions – and once, I fell out of a tree, and they gave me a ridgeback, to keep, ja. You can’t know. It was liking living in pure blue.” (p. 228)

Read Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms for the sheer joy of it.

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Iceberg Point Afternoon (1 February 2016)

After a rainy morning, David and I headed south for some sun! As it was past noon, we stopped in at the Southend General Store for a deli sandwich to go. To cool to sit out & eat, we parked our car at Agate Beach County Day Park with a view toward the bay.

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Agate Beach, Agate Island & Iceberg Point beyond

A Common Loon struggled with swallowing a sculpin, trying to adjust the spiny fish in its bill so that it would slide down head-first. The diver was having a hard time of it, not only with its prey, but with two Glaucous-winged Gulls attempting to steal its lunch. One gull would dive-bomb the loon, the loon would dive, re-surfacing after a few moments, sculpin still lodged firmly in its dagger-like bill, and then the second gull would make its attempt. The loon and gulls traveled half-way across the bay over a 15-minute period. Finally, as we started our walk south, we spotted the loon again, sans fish and gulls – success at last!

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Common Loon (note the steep forehead, a good ID mark)

Closer to shore, a pair of Hooded Mergansers loafed and dozed in the calm water.

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Smallest of the mergansers, a group of diving ducks with thin, saw-toothed bills, the male is quite as spectacular as a wood duck with his raised crest. The quieter-plumaged female has the “punk” hairdo typical of her tribe.

Past the bay, a flock of American Robins foraged in an ornamental tree planted beside a house. The sun peaked out behind the clouds at just the right moment for a fine photo of this male showing off his signature red breast.

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As David and I made our way along the trail toward the National Monument, we paused at 12:55 to listen for birds in the large salmonberry patch. Glancing up at the thicket of slender brown branches, I was surprised to see one and then two fuschia-pink blossoms! It seemed much too early. Last year, I didn’t record salmonberry flowers at Odlin until early March. Iceberg being slightly warmer than Odlin, it’s possible there were earlier blooms last year, but by a whole month? The buzz of an Anna’s Hummingbird told us the birds were ready for fresh nectar!

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First Salmonberry blossom of the year!

Traveling into the monument, we took the time to try out the macro lens on our new Canon PowerShot camera, zooming in on smaller life forms. Troops of pale yellow club-fungi stood like miniature soldiers amidst patches of moss beneath the firs. Two to three inches tall, they are fancifully named fairy clubs.

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Nearby, the rusty sporangia of Sword Ferns arrange themselves in perfect rows along the undersides of the leaflets. Sporangia produce spores used in the ferns’ reproductive cycle.

Sword Fern spores, Iceberg Point, 2016-2-1

Reaching the prairie, we chose to turn east toward the high point in hopes of more early flowers. Just below the monument marker and rocky ridgetop, we were rewarded by the sunny yellow blossoms of Spring Gold.

Spring Gold

Growing in the open, subject to wind and trampling, the individuals are small, hugging the ground. In more protected areas, such as the steep, rocky slope by the Odlin dock, the plants form larger, leafy masses to a foot in diameter.

Rosy mats of Broad-leaved Stonecrop nestled between cracks in the bedrock. Sedum species are used heavily as ornamentals. Folklore attributes stonecrop growing on a roof as a deterrent to fire and lightning strikes.

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On the rocky islet below the marker, several Harbor Seals basked in the sun. One was particularly pale. These marine mammals must spend part of each day hauled out to rest and maintain their body temperature.

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Descending west from the monument, we continued to watch for photo opportunities. A “water dance” of Horned Grebes (my iBird Pro app includes a delightful listing of group names for many species!) milled about just offshore, taking a break from fishing, I presume, passing the time with a chat.

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The strident call of a Northern Flicker turned our heads inland toward the tops of the firs. Red-mustachioed and spot-breasted, a male posed against the cerulean sky. David and I were pleased to notice the crispness of the image, even with the telephoto at 1365mm and hand-held.

Northern Flicker male

At “Log Point” both Harlequin ducks and Black Oystercatchers gathered, but remained too far off for photos. Closer by, a lone murrelet paddled and floated directly below us. The alcid looked odd enough at first – stockier, more white on the sides, conspicuously alone – that we thought it might be a more unusual species, but consulting our bird guide, we decided it was a Marbled Murrelet, probably an immature.

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By the light marker, I shot photos of Sitka Spruce cones in the bright sun. I love the symmetry and rich color of the scales.

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While watching a Red-necked Grebe, we heard a strange alarm call from a paddling of female or immature Buffleheads, alerting all nearby to a Bald Eagle flying overhead. The grebe was far enough away to remain unfazed.

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Red-necked Grebe

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A “paddling” of Buffleheads

Heading back, I experimented with the monochrome setting on the camera. I love black and white photos and look forward to exploring this feature.

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Me, my shadow & a picturesque stump

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Agate Island with storm clouds brewing

As is evident from the final photo, clouds were building again as we returned to Agate Beach at 15:10. Driving home, rain started to fall. We’d captured the best part of the day and were happy to be warm inside, full of island images, memories, and peace.

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Winter Weeks Wetland Walk

Saturday, 9 January 2016: Weeks Wetland: Clear, sunny, about 40F, slight breeze, saltmarsh frozen over

On such a glorious afternoon, I needed to be outside, so I took a break from work and walked from the Library through the village to Weeks Wetland. This 24-acre San Juan County Land Bank preserve boasts a variety of habitats in a small area: alder, willow, cattails, meadow and saltmarsh.

Arriving at the entrance at 13:15, I almost tripped over a Fox Sparrow in the trail. The sooty chocolate songbird flapped into the tangle of rose bushes and perched, staring at me. Even without field glasses, I could see a smudge of food on one corner of his yellow lower mandible. I was sorry to have disturbed his lunch, so I continued on, hoping he’d return to the trail. Immediately, a squeaky toy-like sound distracted me from the sparrow. Scanning the twisted, gray limbs of the crabapples that rose above the roses, I spotted a male Anna’s Hummingbird, toothpick-thin bill raised at an angle as it sang. Unfortunately, I was at the wrong angle to see the light illuminating his iridescent pink head, but I could imagine its scintillating hue.

Farther along the boardwalk, I heard the call of a House Finch, then saw the red-blushed head of a male perched beyond the hummingbird. The color on individuals of this species varies from deep rose to orange to golden and is dependent on diet during the molt.

Moments later, a Song Sparrow called from the rose thicket. This ubiquitous sparrow almost always responds to “pishing” (making a noise with your mouth that imitates a bird scolding a predator) by hopping up into view, but today I was content to know s/he was there, part of the preserve community.

A skim of ice shone on the saltmarsh. Standing on the raised viewing platform, I turned a slow 360 degrees, hearing a House Finch fly by and noting a siesta of gulls beyond the preserve. I breathed in the fresh air, squinted happily in the bright sun, and then started back along the rustic trail.

Stepping onto the boardwalk, I heard the scolding call of a Bewick’s Wren and spotted the small, brown form low in the willows. The wren turned obligingly so I could see her white eyebrow. The Bewick’s Wren, like its smaller, all-brown cousin, the Pacific (Winter) Wren, is a year-round resident in the islands.

Approaching the entrance once again, I was glad to see the Fox Sparrow back at his trail scratching. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught movement mid-way up the red alders. A wee, olive-green form flitted from twig to twig to twig with nervous flicks of stubby wings. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet was uncharacteristically silent – I often hear their assertive “je-dit” call before seeing them – as he gleaned hungrily.

When I looked at my watch, I realized I’d only spent 10 minutes at the preserve, but my focused observations made it seem much longer. I thought: sometimes it’s nice to encounter fewer species in order to enjoy them more fully, like dialoguing deeply with a small group of friends rather than skimming the surface of many at a large party. I returned to work, renewed and refreshed by my winged neighbors.

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The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell (2015)

wolf wilderFeo has a strong voice in this fairy-tale like novel by Katherine Rundell set during the early years of the Russian Revolution. Beauty abounds in the relationships – between Feo and the wolves she rehabilitates and Feo and the other children she meets in her travels – and in the spare descriptions of the Russian landscape in winter. Humor and pathos are juxtaposed as in real life. Much is lost, which may be difficult for sensitive readers, but more is gained. One of my favorite parts is the transformation of a young soldier who never wanted to be a soldier. The cover image brings the story to life.

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