Posts Tagged ‘complexity’

Steller's jay  This past weekend was the annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Whenever I could find the time, I stood by the window, looking out at the dogwood tree that holds a seed feeder, suet feeder, and bird bath. The GBBC asks participants to count the birds at their feeders–or in their backyards. Then you enter your count at their site, and it can be compared with thousands of others from around the world. The number to enter for each species is the greatest number you can see at one time. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is when it comes to the big birds–the jays, crows, woodpeckers, and those nasty starlings. The little birds are another story completely.Bushtit flock

First there are the chickadees. First, because they show up at the feeder before I can even get it hung up in the morning. However, chickadees are perpetual motion machines, never staying in one place for more than a few seconds. And we have two species of chickadees. Try to get an accurate count of those little guys as they whip in and out of the trees and feeders! The bushtits aren’t much easier, although they are awfully cute for plain, little gray birds.

BushtitThen there are the sparrows and related little birds. Juncos, finches, etc. All kind of brown, perhaps with some stripes. House sparrows, house finches, golden-crowned sparrows, white-crowned sparrows… A person could get dizzy trying to keep up. At least the towhees are easy to tell apart from the others. And the lone varied thrush that pecks quietly at the seeds on the ground.downy woodpecker and starling

And how about those birds that show up the day before the GBBC and then disappear, only to reappear the day after. The stinkers! And that single Eurasian collared dove that dropped in for the first time the day after. Why couldn’t it have come a day early? Is it really cheating if I add a couple of birds from the next day?? Then there’s that leucistic sparrow-type bird. If anyone can tell me what it is, please do. I am not quite certain.

leucistic sparrow-type birdTime to turn in my lists and add my tiny bit of data to the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is nice to be a part of such a great program–even if the birds don’t always cooperate.

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Our dishwasher died. The helpful neighborhood plumber said it was the motor. To repair it would cost almost as much as a new dishwasher, so we figured we might as well just get a new one. That seemed easy enough. There are lots of dishwashers out there. And therein lies the problem…

 I’m the type of person who likes to research before buying. I soon discovered there would be lots of choices to make concerning a dishwasher. What color? Stainless steel or plastic tub? Energy Star rating? Decibel level? Brand and model? (I can’t believe how many models each company produces.) And then there’s price. Do we get a cheap one to save money or a quality model that will last until we move out of this old house?

Okay, it shouldn’t be that hard. First stop, Consumer Reports. I even anted up the $5.95 for a month’s online membership so I could see the special rating lists and all. I read up on the most important features. I checked for the most reliable brands, then checked to see which models of said brands fell within our price range, and made a list. So far, so good.

Ew, this stinks.

 Next came the scouting operations. Off to Best Buy to see what they had to offer. Of course, the model the salesman recommended was nowhere on my Consumer Reports list. It had all the features the articles said it needed, but was it reliable? Back home to do more research. After reading up on that model, I was even more confused. It seems people either loved or hated it. I wavered until it went off sale. Oh, well.

More research, followed by a trip to the local family-owned appliance store. That sales person recommended yet another off-list machine. I began to realize one deficiency of my list. Models come out so frequently that there was no way any testing group could keep up. So how could I be sure of the best deal? It was a frustrating task for a perfectionist like me.

 More scouting trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot. Lowe’s was particularly empty, so I had a chance to play around with the dishwashers, opening and closing, pulling out racks, (Oops. That one tends to fall off the track. Forget it.), checking out the controls. Both places carried the one recommended by the local appliance store—and at the same price. I checked it out again: stainless steel tub, stainless steel food disposal, 55 decibels (pretty quiet), good energy ratings, a good warranty, and a rack layout that I like. I think I may have a winner! But first, one more check online. A person just can’t be too careful!

Home for sale?? Or maybe not...

The scary thing is my husband and I are thinking about moving in a few years, although we don’t know where yet. If it takes me this much effort to choose a dishwasher… Oh, dear. Probably best not to think about that right now…

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I went out to prune the raspberries—an annual February ritual—cutting out the old wood that bore last summer’s berries and gently bending this year’s stalks between the wires. I still needed to tie the longer ones down, but something distracted me. What was that on top of the old wooden post at the end of the berry bushes?

I moved closer to discover a miniature forest of lichens and moss covering the top of the post. Tufts of spring green moss with tiny brown threads coming up holding what I assumed to be spores. Piles of wavy green with pale green trumpets rising straight up from the middle. And pouring down the sides, curly white (and gray underneath) patches, like crumpled wrapping paper torn and strewn about the post. I went on to examine the other posts. Each carried its own special garden of lichens.

Raspberries forgotten, I raced inside for my camera. I spent the next several minutes trying my best to capture the tiny world atop the posts and wrap it into little boxes of beauty.

Nature always amazes me, most of all in the rich detail seen in even the smallest organisms. Whether in a chickadee, a swelling bud on the plum tree, or a tiny forest of lichen, the complexity—and the beauty—is more than I can even imagine.

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I talked with my sister-in-law recently. She has been working part-time for a year or two now, unemployed for over a year before that. She has learned to live on very little, so much less than what I would consider the bare essentials. And it makes me wonder: what is sufficient to live on? How many of my so-called needs are really not needs at all?

 A robin needs only a nest, food, and perhaps a puddle to bathe in. My cat is content with food, water, and a warm place to curl up, preferably my lap. She would also like a bit of my turkey sandwich and a taste of my ice cream, so I suppose she is not as satisfied as the robin in the holly tree. But her tastes are definitely simpler than mine. Do I really need a television, stereo, computer, closet full of clothes, and half a dozen flavors of ice cream? I probably don’t need all those shelves of books either, but I can’t imagine parting with them. I’d get rid of the television and half my clothes before the books. But that’s just me.

 Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12) He didn’t say it was better to be poor. The secret is to be content however life finds you. I don’t have to give up my books and my computer, but I do need to hold onto them loosely. They must not be too important in my life. If my possessions take too much of my attention or time, I probably need to get rid of some. Maybe even a few books. And I do need to share with those in need, when I find myself living in plenty. Because I know the blessings I have are more than sufficient.

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Word Meanings

Not long ago, I wrote about what early September means to me, here in the state of Oregon in the United States. A gentleman from Australia made the excellent point that September means something quite different to those in the Southern Hemisphere. Where I live, September is the start of autumn, as well as the beginning of the school year. However, to people in certain states, school begins in August. In Japan, my son tells me, the school year starts in April. And, of course, autumn begins at different times in different places. Not to mention those parts of the world where seasons change little, or perhaps change only in amount of rainfall, rather than in temperature. Although I don’t think of myself as particularly self-centered or ignorant, I can see that I totally missed all of the connotations that September might have—and still am missing many, I’m sure.

 This same gentleman, in an email loop to which we both belong, discussed the different pronunciations within the English language that can make a play on words in Australia meaningless to someone in a different English-speaking area. So, even when we supposedly speak the same language, words may sound quite different and mean quite different things.

 If a simple word like September can have so many different meanings, imagine how much the meaning of something like “freedom” or “religion” or “honor” might differ according to one’s country, beliefs, and upbringing. Add in different languages, and you have another layer of interpretation. No wonder there is so much misunderstanding in the world! We try to discuss something, assuming that we understand each other, but the words we say are not always the words the other person hears. And the words we hear back may not be intended in the way we take them. Perhaps the biblical advice that we be “quick to listen (and) slow to speak” (James 1:19) is much more practical than I ever realized!

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Blackberries. When you hear the word, what is your first thought? If you are a techie, you may think of one of those portable computer/communicator things that so many now use. If you are older or a non-techie, you may recall the delicious sweetness of blackberry pie or jam. If you live in an area where blackberries actually grow, you may have different thoughts.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would pick blackberries at the edges of our property, and our mom would bake a pie. Homemade blackberry pie is still my favorite, and I make it every summer. I make blackberry jam, too, and cobbler, and sometimes syrup. You see, blackberries grow well on our two acres. In fact, they grow too well.

The Himalayan blackberry is the plant equivalent of the house sparrow—a non-native species that has moved in and taken over. Blackberries are quite good at taking over. The ones on our property grow in masses reaching well over my head and stretching out in all directions. Overall, they must cover at least half an acre. My husband and I wage a perennial war against them. He likes to hack them down with a weed whacker (the non-power kind), pushing them out of the path and back from the garden. I, on the other hand, prefer poison.

Organic gardener that I am, I abandon all such principles when it comes to blackberries. I haul out the sprayer and fill it with Round-up or Crossbow, depending upon the season. Lugging it from front yard to back yard to garden edges, I cover the blackberry leaves with mist. The ones I can reach, that is. Then I watch over the next few days as the plants slowly turn brown and die. It is quite effective. If I had time, I might actually conquer the beast. However, I also must spend time cooking, cleaning, sleeping, and earning a living. And while my back is turned, the plant strikes back.

A few days away, busy with other things, and I return to see blackberry vines snaking out across the lawn and into the garden. New shoots push into the path, ready to trip the unwary. Much to my embarrassment, they have launched an attack on the neighbors’ yards as well, exposing my failure like a naughty child throwing a public tantrum. The realization sinks in: this will not be the year I conquer the blackberries.

However, hope springs eternal, no matter what the season. There is always next year. Next year I will keep the blackberries in line. I will stay ahead of the weeds in the garden. I will keep the house clean and get my office in order. Maybe I will even sell that children’s book I have revised so many times. I don’t know what I would do without the hope that next year provides.

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Garden before weeds

Garden before weeds

We returned from a short camping trip, and I went out to pick a few lingering zucchini and tomatoes. The garden has more weeds than vegetables now. Every year I vow to keep ahead of the weeds; every year, they win out. I turn my back for a few days—kept away by hot weather or vacation—and they stage a coup. It always amazes me how quickly an orderly garden can degenerate into a jungle.

As I pass our few fruit trees, I see pears scattered on the ground. I should have canned them, but I didn’t. The house we planned to paint this summer still carries its faded and chipped coat of green. In our neck of the world, summer ends in three days. And I know that just as many chores await me inside–everything from house cleaning to writing assignments.

I hear a sparrow sing from a nearby bush. How simple life must be to a sparrow. It looks for food every day, builds a nest and lays eggs in the spring (if a female), feeds the young until they can feed themselves, and sings to announce its territory (if a New World male). Of course, it must also avoid predators, and finding food could be difficult at times. I’m not saying its life is easy, just simple.

A sparrow never worries if the neighbor has a better nest. It doesn’t have to spend years in singing school or nest-building school (or pay for its children to do so). Whatever instinct doesn’t cover, it learns by watching its parents. While there may be some individualism in songs, the sparrow doesn’t worry that it won’t find a job if another sparrow sings better than it does. It doesn’t concern itself with being a role model or contributing to the community. Because it has no possessions, apart from the nest, the legion of chores that awaits me has no meaning for the bird.

Of course, I could simplify. I could trim my possessions, drop outside commitments that drain my time, and concentrate my energies on what is really important. Live a little more like a sparrow. Yeah, I think I’ll put that on my “to do” list. I’ll get on it right after we finish painting the house and cleaning up the garden…

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