Barn Owls and Bats

Just at dusk, during that sweet September time of hot weather, clear skies, and calm sea, my husband and I sat outside on the front deck as the sunset’s red streak stretched the whole horizon from the Pacific out of sight to nearby islands, growing more, then less intense as light faded.

The bats began their nocturnal patrols, swooping near to us, banking right or left, and zooming off. Tiny, silent fighter jets – engrossed in searching for prey (bats eat a third of their body weight in insects each night) – over the garden, over the lawn and bluff.

One evening (while everyone was still here for the Labor Day visit) – Lady Baby abed and the evening’s movie not commenced – Mrs. Hughes and I sat for a moment on the deck speaking of bats and the barn owl that visited earlier in the summer.

I told her about the huge ruckus on an August night that made us aware of owls – screechings from forest and bluff, piercing, repeated, a little scary, and very loud. You think screech owl because that’s what it sounds like or Barred owl because they are plentiful and troublesome in this area, but those owls have classic hoots like Lady Baby’s “hoo hoo.” Our noisy visitors were barn owls.

That screechfest lasted just one night, but for two weeks a lone barn owl screeched from a tree on the bluff every night.

I identified our visitor’s voice on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s owl page (here) as the “territorial scream and advertising call” of a barn owl. We grew accustomed to the nightly visitation and the raspy rhythmic cry, over and over from 1 a.m. till 4 a.m.

Once when it landed low down in a tree , we shined a flashlight, revealing the unmistakable white, heart-shaped face above a tawny body. (Now that I’ve read and really enjoyed Stacey O’Brien’s “Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Story of an Owl and His Girl,” and know more about the sensitivity of owls, I’m not proud of this.)

Barn owls live mostly on mice, and it’s said that when perched in a tree they can hear the heartbeat of a mouse. Our lawn and the bluff teem with plenty of trembling little hearts. (Some days I lament that things are slightly out of control here in the garden, but I love that we have insects and field mice – food for bats and barn owls.)

That evening while Mrs. Hughes and I lingered, a sudden movement caught our eye in the near dark – a pale shape settled on a tree branch – white face, silent – the barn owl back. Maybe bidding farewell, for whatever inspired the night-after-night calling is long over for this year.

And so is summer.

A Grand Time

The other morning on our walk, I recalled the three generations of sea otters we’d seen at the Seattle Aquarium before heading to the airport to drop off Lady Baby and her parents. I commented to my good-natured husband that I enjoyed seeing that grandmother, mother, and child.

(He said: “Oh that toddler in the restaurant – he fell asleep in the grandma’s arms!” And I did love watching that grandmother, too, as she ate her yam fries and salad slowly, right over top of the snoozer while the mom enjoyed her lunch.)

At the aquarium baby, mother, and grandmother sea otters live together in one huge tank. I stood with Mrs. Hughes and Lady Baby and watched our parallels in the tank. They non-stop groomed the baby, fed the baby, played with the baby – flipping over and over and floating in that irresistibly cute way of sea otters, paws on chest, dismantling and enjoying and sharing shrimp.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the privilege of grandparentdom. How thankful I am to have lived this long to watch my children grow up and know the joy of this new generation.

Lady Baby and I had wonderful times on this visit, wonderful times doing pretty much nothing – slowly. We took two hours to walk down the little road to feed carrots to Ivan the horse and Paddy the donkey, and then we sat on the grass by their paddock and put dandelion blossoms on the fence rail (in the hopes that Paddy might eat them later).

Walking home we stopped at the Buffalito. The day before we’d shown Lady Baby the Buffalito – without a lot of seeming interest. But this time, she took off her shoes, climbed on the bed, gazed out the window, looked to see another small “moose” (you’d say deer), and then sank back against the pillows and smiled. We sat on the tiny porch to put on our shoes, Lady Baby walked a few steps, then turned back to sit longer on the porch.

OK, we’ll sit a while longer. That’s the grandparent privilege. We didn’t have anywhere to be, only needed to be together, listening to chickadees and squirrels (a very busy weekend for them – fir cones are everywhere under big Doug firs, waiting to be gathered and stored), and talking together of all the farm animals we’d seen. Did you see a “neigh neigh?” A “cock-a-doodle-do?” (“Yeaah!”)

And talking about family, Lady Baby “in the bosom of her family” loves to name us all. Her aunt is “toon,” her uncle became “too too” or “unc,” her grandfather “papa,” and I am still “Kay-tee!” With hard initial consonants and an exclamation mark or two at the end.

Her most enchanting word now is “pease” for please, and it’s magic. Everyone tries hard to understand what’s needed when the request comes in the form of an engaging “pease” – sometimes clear, as in “up, pease” or “walk, pease,” and sometimes just a very elongated “peaaase” with hand gestures.

At the aquarium gift shop, we found a little backpack with a furry sea otter forming the pouch. When I offered it, Lady Baby reached out, smiled, and accepting help, donned the otter.

Then she strode off – calling to Mama and Dada to follow – back north to Alaska!

Rice Noodles and Greens

Everyone – sons, daughters-in-law, and Lady Baby arrived for Labor Day weekend.

Long warm days of walking the beach and tossing stones, visiting nearby farm animals, “baaaas” and “neigh neighs” – filled this visit – naps in the hammock or under the covers, reading on the bluff, and a long and beautiful river hike. (Lady Baby’s stamina surprised us all! Wearing a “Tin Tin in Istanbul” shirt and carrying and using my walking poles in their collapsed state, she walked at least a third of the six miles, we thought!) Both refrigerators were stuffed with produce and berries of the season, and lots of eating went on.

A few days before everyone arrived, I read a favorites list on “101 Cookbooks” and popped on a recommendation: “Flavour Bomb Greens n’Noodles” from the website “MyNewRoots” ( Good move!

My daughters-in-law are terrific, accomplished cooks and they make everything so easy. We tackled this greens and noodles recipe together (in truth I only pointed it out and then went on to roast potatoes and cook corn), and it was absolutely delicious!

Mrs. Hughes made the dressing containing tamari, sesame or olive oil, honey or maple syrup, brown rice vinegar, the zest of a lime, minced garlic, green onions, and red chili.

The sweet bride washed the greens and spun them dry (we used chard but kale would also be great – or a mixture of greens), removed the mid-rib, and cut the greens into thin ribbons. She put them in a large bowl, poured half the dressing over, and added fresh mint.

She cooked the Thai rice noodles, rinsed and drained quickly (she warned us that they would stick together), and in a large bowl, covered them with the remaining dressing.

Cilantro is called for and we didn’t have it, but we could add fresh mint from the garden – lots.

For the recommended toppings we toasted dried, unsweetened coconut and cashews (the recipe calls for sesame seeds also – something to remember for next time).

You can combine the noodles and greens and let people take their servings – or we plated the noodles and greens and set out dishes of toppings on the table. Like the recipe says: “Be generous!” – the toppings were delicious – it all was. We doubled the website’s recipe and ate every bit. It’s food that can be made as spicy hot as one likes (and the sweet bride likes hot!).

I’m still putting toasted coconut on my autumn morning oatmeal – and savoring memories of very happy summer days!

Lady Baby on the trail-1


A faithful reader, and sometimes critic, recently commented to my husband that I seemed to be losing interest in the blog – just flowers! But that was summer – company, a trip to Oregon to a beautiful wedding, and getting ready for The Workroom – now I’m back.

And September’s here, summer ready to be “folded up and put in a drawer” as Virginia Woolf wrote, but I keep remembering moments of basking in the long, sunny days of August – wishing I’d done some myself – and admiring the baskers.

A good-sized, not green but brown, tree frog (more than an inch, less than two) – sporting that unmistakable black eye stripe – spent many summer days moving just enough to stay in the sun as it filtered through the cherry tree’s canopy and warmed a black wrought-iron table in the garden.

I never saw it catch an insect, but bees and wasps zoomed over its head all day long, wasps devouring the last of the cherries, bees busying about the nepeta. It never seemed disturbed by comings or goings in the vicinity; I could watch its breathing – rapid, like panting – making its thin skin tremble.

Oh those hot, sunny days! One afternoon heading to the car, I spotted a little snake with a lovely orange stripe basking in a sunny patch just at the car door. It eyed me with the hostility of a creature enjoying an about-to-be interrupted comfort. I tried to step over and climb in the car – but it slithered into the salal. On the bluff I disturbed another in a sunspot in the thicket around a big Doug fir – my shadow sent it into the salal with an elegant glide.

But Frances is the champion basker here – she’s a total indicator of temperature. She basks outside, and when the wind comes up on the bluff in the afternoon, she lounges in west sun on the floor upstairs.

Other days she rolls on the heated-up concrete pavers, drapes herself on wooden chairs, or lolls in grass with sun on her black side. If you touch her, her fur is warm, hot even. Cats are so much smarter than bustling-about humans.

Luckily September – at least in Washington – is not too late to get a little time in a warm spot – I hope you do!