Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Alternative Thanksgiving

"Ice Agate" photo by A. McKamey
There’s no denying it. The holiday season is upon us.  There’s a light dusting of new snow, our outdoor lights are hung (thanks to a wonderfully warm day this past weekend), and our Thanksgiving dinner grocery list is growing longer by the minute.
Thinking of Thanksgiving reminds me of a Thanksgiving ten years ago when my husband and I decided to break with tradition and take the kids to Arizona – not to Glitzy Phoenix with its terrific restaurants and shopping malls, but to the Grand Canyon and Sedona.  The red rocks area around Sedona is achingly beautiful.  The views are incredible. The hiking is hard to beat. 

Ask our kids and they’ll tell you that trip was their favorite Thanksgiving ever.  Thanksgiving morning, we stood at the rim of the Grand Canyon in mittens, hats, and lots of layers (yes, it was that cold!) watching the condors soar on the updrafts.  We took turns stretching our arms far out to our sides.  None of us could match the wingspan of those giant birds. 

We joined a few other hearty souls at the trailhead and began our hike down into the canyon.  The path was rocky and dusty and, at times, very narrow, which made things a little tricky when the mule riders came through! The mules have the right of way on the canyon trails and hikers have to clear out of the way when the mules come through.

It was a beautiful blue sky day and the deeper into the canyon we went, the warmer it got.  Around each turn, the view changed and the light hit the canyon walls in a different way.  Breathtaking! We hiked all the way down the Bright Angel trail.
When it was time to hike back up and out, our younger daughter led the way, setting a pace that made her parents’ thighs burn.  (We joke now that she was getting back at us for all the hiking we made her do as a 4 year old in Yellowstone!) When finally we reached the canyon rim, we were famished – and there was a 2 hour wait for the restaurant serving turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

So our favorite Thanksgiving was a Thanksgiving without turkey.  We were too tired and hungry to wait for 2 hours.  We opted instead for the cafeteria, where we feasted on steaming bowls of chili with cornbread on the side.  It was delicious! Later that night, at our hotel, we wrapped up our Thanksgiving shooting pool with the kids and eating “bar food.”  No one cared that we’d missed out on a bigger, fancier meal.  We’d spent the day as we intended and loved it.  And we reveled in the fact that we had several more days of hiking, birding, and photography ahead of us.
All of which makes me nostalgic. We’ll have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends this year, I know. But thinking of that trip makes me want to plan another Thanksgiving nature getaway.  Think of the possibilities - we could go hiking on Black Friday and spend Cyber Monday birding. 

Now that sounds like the way to kick off the holidays!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Filling the Feeders

The dip in temperatures this past weekend prompted us to ready the bird feeders for the winter.  We loaded up all of the suet feeders, which I’d only stocked infrequently over the summer, and moved two of our larger seed feeders up onto the back deck. Yes, seed will spill, and squirrels will gather below prompting endless barking by our dogs.  But moving these feeders closer to my office window and the back door ensures two things: wonderful winter bird viewing and easier access to the feeders when they need filling.  Come January, when it’s below freezing and the snow is thigh deep in the back yard those feeders will be much easier to fill if I can just dash out the back door.

We keep a few feeders further out in the yard, too, of course.  The smaller birds – the chickadees, nuthatches, finches, sparrows and downy woodpeckers – aren’t shy at all about coming up close to the house. But some of the other birds are wary.   Our back feeders draw the blue jays, hairy woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers, as well as the cardinal pairs who take turns feeding while their mates stand guard.  Refilling those feeders requires serious winter gear, though – no sprinting out the door in my slippers! 

Yesterday’s work has already paid off.  The smaller birds have adjusted to their feeder’s new location and a large hairy woodpecker was just out on the back suet feeder enjoying a meal.  I am keeping an eye out for the pileated woodpecker I saw last week while walking the dogs.  We’ve never had a pileated at our feeders, but maybe this one will pay a neighborly visit or two now that we’ve put out the welcome mat.

The colder temps are inevitable, as is the snow they’re forecasting for later this week. Lucky for me, visits from hungry winter birds are inevitable, too. As long as I keep the feeders full, that is.

Who wouldn’t!