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Every day, I check my Word of the Day and more than occasionally, a word seems hand chosen for me. A couple of days ago it was objet trouvét. This wasn’t a term I was familiar with, but once I get comfortable pronouncing it, you can bet I will  be using it. The definition is: a natural or discarded object found by chance and held to have aesthetic value.

Oh yes. You can step into my living space and see my objet trouvét. I’ve got a million of them. Maybe a few too many, and by that I mean they are on every available surface,  but when you live on an island, what are you going to do? Part of my self-imposed job description here is walking the property collecting the “trash or treasure.” And then bringing it indoors and calling it art.

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I’m beginning to wonder if my eye for discovering an objet trouvét has made my home look like some kind of weird science museum. Luckily, I know I can always justify all my collecting of bones, rocks and sea life with another word– one for the cabinets of curiosities that started in 16th century Europe–Wunderkammer.

 

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On a sunny day in October, I felt a strong need to bury the long-dead hummingbird. We found her four years ago while we were cleaning up the attic rooms in the log cabin. She was clinging to a wire, frozen to death. I brought her down to the shack and for a while and had her perched on a nest on the windowsill, right above all the reference books. I do like my curiosities and it was kind of cool to look at the delicate bird and to notice the colors that didn’t seem to fade. But something about it bothered me and I never felt comfortable about where I should display her. Of course, it was only after I buried her under the juniper tree that I tried to identify which kind of hummingbird this one was. I’m certain that it was female, but I can’t say whether it was an Allen’s or a Rufous Hummingbird. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if I ever figure it out and I should just accept that it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the two. I do know that I did feel better after burying her in a bed of moss under my favorite tree. An hour later I was busy in the garden and heard that familiar whir. A hummingbird hovered near my head for a moment and then moved off, up in the trees. I don’t care about identifying that one either, I was happy just to see it.

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It’s only gotten worse since moving to an island. There are piles and piles of magazines and books in my rooms because I just can’t seem to pass up any printed thing on celebrating nature and living off the land. Looking for tips on how to live more simply, or with less, does not include the purging of my library. The number of magazines I buy is staggering. (Too many years of publishing to rid myself of the addiction!) I’d like to believe that I’ve read most of my stash, but there’s no doubt l will be adding more before I get through what I already have.

After all this reading (I like to call it my research), I can’t imagine why it took me so long to realize that I am living off the land. The proof was on our Tuesday dinner plates: king salmon (we caught a couple days earlier) and potatoes and beans just picked from my garden. Grow what you eat, eating locally. We are living the life.

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As for the living more simply, I may be heading towards that but it’s a slow process. So to add to my pile of Modern Farmer, Kinfolk, Pure Green, Taproot, Dwell, Sunset, Frankie, Tricycle, Hole & Corner … I just had to get the 832-page September issue of Vogue.

Apparently, my kind of simple living requires a lot of effort and a good amount of time.

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Kacper Kowalski

The big picture. The big view. I’ve been thinking about this for months now, way before I stumbled on the images of Kacper Kowalski. His work is amazing to me, he takes aerial photos of his native Poland — both the natural and urban environment and as he is flying, (he’s an artist and a pilot) he is seeing these compositions. His view is huge in scale and yet, intimate. I’d like to learn to see things that way.

I’m starting to wonder if I just might be stuck on the details. While we were off on our road trip, I was consciously trying to find that bigger view with my camera. Looking over all my landscape images, I was disappointed. It seems they lacked any emotion and they certainly didn’t do justice to what my eye was seeing. I am farsighted, or at least my eyes are.  But now that the details on things are a little fuzzy to me, I seem to stick to the shapes in front of my face. I never use my readers to shoot a picture, I’ll assume I’m in focus and discover what I have when it’s up on my screen. It’s funny, I seem to choose to photograph the things I can’t really see.

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I am seeing birds everywhere. I don’t think it is because I just finished reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, because as much as the title and the story she tells has struck a chord with me, the book isn’t really about birds. It’s about writing and about life and about noticing the amazing details during a day. For me, it’s the details that are making me very curious about more than a few things. It happens to be birds right now. The Violet-Green Swallows are swooping around and doing their crazy air acrobatics. I sit on the porch and watch them circle around and shoot straight up the hole above our head. They have a brilliant sense of timing as they have to pull their wings in to clear the hole. They are so fast, I can’t even tell how they make their exit. I’m guessing they have already completed this year’s nest and if we just move the chairs and table out from under there, we might avoid most of the inevitable mess.

At least once or twice a day, I tend to check in on the bald eagles that have a nest going over on Battleship Island. We set up a spotting scope and are watching the progress of the two eaglets in there. I’ve seen Mr. Smith bring home dinner and watched Mrs. Smith pluck the feathers off what I am guessing was a seagull. Thing 1 and Thing 2 (they are a little homely at this young age) were very attentive to that whole process. Spying on the eagle family, I was able to watch another weird moment. I know this seems a bit gross, but I saw each of the eaglets aim and shoot their poo over the edge of the nest. Not that I really thought about it before but it does keep things clean up there. Who knew?

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We also spotted an older juvenile eagle in the nest with the two youngsters. I don’t know if he was from last year’s brood or not but it looked like he was helping feed the eaglets. Babysitting?  Moving back in with the parents?

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I’ve been keeping my eye on the birds that have joined me in my garden. We’ve been having a long stretch of sunny days and things are popping up and taking off like crazy. I was surprised to find tomato starts in every planter box last week and I realized that birds have helped me sow last year’s seeds everywhere. And to think I was so careful about who got to sit next to who and if they should share their soil. Now I have a tomato plant next to every darn thing I planted. I am curious to see if these birds have any garden design skills or if they just planted a convenient buffet.

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It was incredible to look down off the dock and see all these tiny new jellyfish. Why have I never seen this before? And why didn’t I have my camera with me so I could try to get a better photo of this?

Of course I had to go read up on them and I learned they start out in a polyp stage. The polyps can gauge the conditions of the environment to see if it is favorable for the survival of the baby jellyfish. If things don’t look good, they will extend this polyp phase for days, years or even decades. But, if temperature and food conditions look good, they will start to release the baby jellyfish. A colony of polyps will generate thousands of baby jellyfish at a time. I’m glad I got to see that.

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The German word for Juniper is Wacholder or Awake Tree. Interesting since the thing about this tree is that it fell over years ago and it still keeps growing. It’s almost as if it is raising itself up, waking up.

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According to Lives of the Trees, the juniper tree seems to be universally respected for magical powers. I believe it and ever since moving here, I have been drawn to making this particular area around this tree my personal space … I’ll even go so far as to call it my sacred space. I’m sure that I’m not the first to feel this way, the tree has fallen over a path that runs along the beach and near it there are some rock-cairn burial sites of the Lummi tribes.

I have placed my elk antlers on the trunk, they seem to mimic the branches. And I asked for, and got help to bring my 400 pound stone basin out of our storage unit and onto the barge to be rolled over to this place. I can tell you that was no easy feat. I love walking by this tree on the way to the shack and I find myself approaching it slowly, trying not to startle the birds in the branches. I’m consciously trying to keep it simple here, to not over decorate by adding too many of my favorite found items. The tree is enough. Respect the tree. Less is more.

But I did feel the need to plant a handful of lily of the valley bulbs near the juniper tree earlier this month. It is my favorite flower, my month of May flower and the one attached to all kinds of good memories for me. So far the deer haven’t discovered the tender shoots. Or maybe they are just being respectful, like in Germany where it was once customary to take off your hat when passing a juniper tree.

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It seems that Spring has arrived. Well, kind of. And not officially, of course. I am still wearing my long underwear most days, but there are those bursts of warmth when the sun is out and then, there it is, that undeniable sense of Spring.

There isn’t a big show of color on our end of the island, as we have mostly have native plants, so I was ecstatic to see fields of yellow in the Skagit Valley as we drove through last week.  Unlike the winter for the East coast and the Midwest, we had it pretty mild here and the daffodils are about three weeks early. Last year, I planted, (more like threw) a mix of wildflower seeds into a grassy area and imagined the beauty of random color popping up there … but nothing ever came up. So far, I haven’t spotted any of the tiny wildflowers poking up yet in the woods either, but I’m guessing it is a bit early for that. Still, I can’t give up hope so I check every day for signs of the flowers and every couple of days for the morels.

Even though I am impatient for Spring, I’m happily reminded that it tends to stick around for quite awhile when it comes to the Pacific Northwest. The grass and the moss are getting greener and greener. There are so many birds around here now– the seasonal overlapping of visitors. The robins are back but the juncos, the Canada Geese and Harlequin Ducks haven’t left yet. Earlier this week, I saw a hummingbird. The bald eagles have been busy, and when they aren’t making their piercing cries, I can hear the sound of their wings when they skim the tops of the trees overhead. It is an impressive sight and sound of Spring here.

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from an ancient proverb.

I’m surprised how often I think about this quote … I certainly can’t remember where I first read it but I wrote it down a while ago in one of my little book of lists and thoughts and ramblings. I’m glad for stumbling on to it and I am inspired to remember it this morning.

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At the end of the year and after a much needed vacation, we returned to the island to find the beaches full of trash. This is not just the easy-to-spot, random, after a storm kind of stuff we usually find washed up. This is ground up pieces of plastic, lots and lots of it. Most pieces are smaller than a thumbprint. Almost every day I am out on the beach, walking the length of it, sifting through the kelp and filling up another bucket. And every day, the tide comes in and uncovers more.

The thing that depresses me the most about this is the deliberateness of it. Someone took the time to grind up all these plastic things into bits and pieces and then they dumped it into the water. All this junk is washing up on the east side of our island, and so this trash is coming from the San Juan Islands. If you live here or are here to enjoy the view, how could you use this as a dumping ground?

I wish I had a more positive new year attitude to share. I still consider myself a steward of the land and I am appreciative of its beauty, so I will continue to clean up what I can. But lately, every time I fill another bucket, I feel defeated.

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