Two–possibly more–pest anemones came in with the live rock. (Not particularly unexpected–Otter warned me it was likely.) 

There’s a couple of methods of control, mostly involving shooting poison or boiling water into them, but since they live in holes and can retract at high speed, this is tricky. And involves me handling poison and boiling water, and We All Know How That’s Going To End, Don’t We?

CSI #1: Well, as near as we can reconstruct the scene, she was attempting to shoot boiling poison into an anemone, and then she suddenly had an idea for a painting, tripped on a live chicken that had somehow gotten into the studio, and shot herself in the eye.
CSI #2: Man, that anemone poison was strong stuff!
CSI #1: Not really, no. It just made her scream and flail a lot. Unfortunately, she flailed directly into the tank.
CSI #2: You mean…
CSI #1: Yup. The bristleworms got her.

Alternately, I could get a peppermint shrimp, which is known to eat ’em, but it’s a pretty big shrimp for a pretty small tank, so I have to check and see if it would be happy in there.

Eee! Eee! I have a tube worm!

It is a teeny tiny little tube worm, but it’s alive! I was staring at the live rock–the murk is slowly settling, visibility is now about two inches–trying to figure out what the white tubes, like very narrow wiggly pasta, attached to the rock were, and then one poked its little head out! It’s like a tiny little feather duster, red and white striped, maybe an eighth of an inch long.

There’s a whole bunch of the little tubes. I have no idea how many of them will have survived the transit on the live rock, or will survive cycling the tank, but eeee!

The other thing I’m realizing–as I google frantically trying to ID everything–is that this is either the best hobby ever or the most terrifying. The number of stories that come up with people having something sitting on a rock that’s apparently unknown to science, where the experts all go "Yeah, no clue what that is! Good luck!" or "It could be one of twenty thousand related species, so just leave it alone, it’s probably harmless," or occasionally "I think a friend of mine had that. No, he never identified it either. Occasionally it would get off the rock and roam the tank at night to feed, but then it reattached itself in the morning," is really a little disturbing.

Possibly it’s because, even if what you get is happy tank-raised rock like mine, you’re still at the end of a chain that ultimately started somewhere in the ocean, in one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, and there could be anything there.

Probably all I’ll get is weird teeny worms–or if I’m unlucky, pest anenomes, and if I was hellishly unlucky, mantis shrimp–but still! I have six gallons of the unknown!

Freshwater was never this fun.

ETA: At least four currently live tube worms of that variety, and one rather larger one that’s got a solid red fan maybe a little under a quarter of an inch long. His tube is practically embedded in the chunk of rock.

God, I can’t remember the last time I was this excited over something without a backbone!

FETA: This is what the red one looks like–he’s only about a half inch long, so he’s not as impressive as this photo (I’d need one helluva macro lens to get him) but he’s very pretty in a very small way.

We Can Haz Fishtank!

The nano-reef tank is set up.

Otter the fish-pusher went with me to a fish store that had just broken down a wall of reef tanks, and I got some really fabulous live rock. It’s covered in purple coralline algae, which is apparently the good stuff, and lots of squidgy little bits. (I have to admit, it is visually gorgeous, and since there are already infinitesimal feather duster worms on my glass, apparently it was VERY live.) Otter and the fish-guy there–who was talking to her with the desperate joy of one who has found someone who shares his belief in the importance of squashy rocks, and that someone is a really hot chick to boot–picked out a good array. Otter donated some live sand, and I went home and set up.

I’ll take photos at some point, but since at the moment it looks like a brightly-lit wall of silt (and a couple of tiny coils of worms) with a purple rock in the foreground, there’s not much to see.

Also, I have to get the rocks arranged to my satisfaction. Which they aren’t yet. It’s like wet Zen gardening. You’d think there’d be a limit to the permutations of where you can plop rocks in a six gallon tank, but I haven’t yet. The first arrangement was too aggressively symmetrical.

I may need a hammer.

OTTER: "There are bristleworms with the live sand."
URSULA: Um…is that good?
OTTER: It’s good. It’s very good. You want those.
URSULA: Yay bristleworms!
OTTER: But don’t touch them.
URSULA: Why not?
OTTER: They have little rows of stinging cells.
URSULA: ….
OTTER: It’s not bad! Really! Like a bee or something!

Now taking bets on how likely it is that I will go down in history as the first human being killed by accidentally poking a bristleworm.

A positive horde of birds has descending on the yard and the trees between the yard and the road.

I don’t know that I’ve adequately described Kevin’s place. ("Our place," he’s usually quick to interject at this point.) There’s a long driveway that leads up to the cul-de-sac. It’s a small housing development, one of those generic dreadful developments plopped into a chunk of rural area, and most of it is just plain grass, plain house kind lots. The end, however, is set well back into the trees, and Kevin’s is one of these. The woods begin at the cul-de-sac and the house is set in a lot carved out of a much larger chunk of forest, at the end of a driveway maybe sixty, seventy feet long. During winter, you can see the road and the neighbor’s houses clearly, but once everything fills in in spring, it’s very isolated.

The wooded area between us and the cul-de-sac holds a drainage ditch, and is mostly long-leaf pine, some redbud and dogwood and little junk oaks.  (When they leaf out, I’ll start doing my ID thing…) The woods end on the one side in a grassy verge dominated by an immense blackberry thicket, and run into the neighbor’s wooded property on the other side. In the back they just keep on going for acres. It’s the kind of woods you see in the south a lot–second or third generation forest, already cut a few times, lots of dense pine-needle-and-leaf-litter, full of blow-downs from hurricanes and woodpecker snags.

Today is crazy.

The overwintering juncos are still here, but they’re getting fewer.  At the same time, the goldfinches are out in force, over a dozen flitting around, the males starting to go more intense yellow already, hanging off the thistle sock and sitting in the covered tray feeder. There’s the usual run of chickadees, titmice, the occasional cardinal, and they’ve been joined by woodpeckers of all descriptions, including a pair of ground-feeding northern flickers. (The pileated hasn’t come back, but I think I spotted a hairy off in the trees, and that’s always neat.) I am particularly pleased by the flickers. They look so odd on the ground–woodpeckers aren’t meant for it–like big doves in pin-stripe suits. (Speaking of, the mourning doves have also arrived, picking their bobbing way across the yard, looking for scattered seed.)

Also, today the local robin flock has descended–must be twenty or thirty of them in the trees and in the yard. I never used to like robins much–they’re not pretty birds, they’re large and rusty and they don’t do feeders, preferring to scuffle through the leaf litter. I know, they’re a sign of spring and all, but I never notice that, probably because I’ve always lived in areas where they’re a year-round resident, so it didn’t come up. As birds, they’re just sort of there. But then I heard a report on NPR from a woman who was active in the movement to ban DDT spraying, and she described how after spraying, she would go out and there would be dead robins covering her yard. At one point, she gathered up an entire bushel basket of dead robins (and dumped it on the desk of her Congressman to make a point about DDT spraying being harmful to the environment, these being the days when political activism MEANT something.) from the yards in her neighborhood.

I’m way too young to remember this sort of thing, of course, but it made me appreciate them a lot more.

Waiting to hear back from the referral vet on scheduling Ben’s extraction…he’s having ANOTHER episode, despite two steroid shots in the last two months. Depending on what it is, I’ll need to lay in painkillers and antibiotics until then.

Poor bastard.

(And whether I’m referring to Ben for being in pain or Kevin for having to sit on Ben’s head wearing cowhide gloves while I dose an angry cat is left as an exercise to the reader…)

Whew.

Well, it’s getting close enough that I can finally make the announcement–Graphic Smash is spinning Digger off and giving it its own site! They think that Digger was pretty much the breakout hit of the site, and they’ve wanted to do this for awhile, but there was some buying out and corporate stuff, so everything was on hold for awhile. But now it’s back on track! We’ll have our own site! Woot!

(Yaaay! Much rejoicing! )

On the downside, this means that I have spent the past three hours manually re-naming files and uploading them in batches. I have to do this for the ENTIRE ARCHIVE.

(sobbing, tearing of hair, rending of garments)

However, once it goes live–and I’ll have links hopefully soon, we don’t have the site designed yet or anything, so it’ll be a little bit–it will hopefully be very cool!

It will also be going off subscription, and over to advertising–Graphic Smash is pretty much abandoning the subscription model. I’m pleased that we’ll get more traffic as a result, and that people will finally get to read the whole archives for free, but I also find myself wanting to do something nice for all my faithful subscribers, who quite literally paid my rent a couple of times–without them, Digger would have been abandoned long ago, and I owe them big time for having sustained me and my comic so wonderfully and well.

So if anybody has any suggestions–downloadable wallpaper or whatever hardly seems like ENOUGH, but while I’d love to offer a limited edition print free to past subscribers, I learned my lesson mailing the Taxman prints–I can’t afford another thousand dollar mail bill! If anybody’s got any thoughts, please feel free to post below…

Also, Kevin just called me down to see a big-ass possum sitting on the fence looking grumpy. (He had a right to be grumpy, Brandon had been trying to herd him, and possums are not good herd animals.) He didn’t move when we got close and shined the flashlight on him, possibly hoping we’d go away. His tail had dark bands of pigment at the base, and a few dark spots, and he had a twitchy little pink nose. So that was cool.

It’s an addiction, man. Can’t…stop…painting….

Angel & Devil Phalloi

I am resisting–so far–the brilliant and nefarious suggestion of World of Warcraft themed phalloi, both because I don’t want to get sued and because the world is NOT READY for little shaman phalloi dropping totems about and frost shocking with their little nubbly feet, and don’t get me started on "epic mounts" in this context.

Besides, I haven’t played in like two years. And also it’s kinda hard to put armor on those things. And you can’t just do generic armor, because then people will demand to know why you didn’t put the epic purple Tier 3 Epaulets of Erection on them, or worse yet, the generic will accidentally resemble something that’s warlock exclusive and this is clearly a hunter phalloi (note pet hiding behind things, trying not to make eye contact with the other pets) and what am I thinking, didn’t I research this stuff at all?

Yes. These are good reasons. I will be strong. Yes.

Non-DA Link

I glimpsed something out my studio window a few moments ago, and when I focused on it, it turned out to be a spectacular pileated woodpecker.

I’ve never been this close to one before–he was on a tree in the front yard, maybe thirty feet away, so with my binoculars, I could see individual red strands in his crest being ruffled in the breeze. Really a gorgeous bird. Some fluff on his shoulders–can’t imagine he’d be a juvenile shedding down at this time of year, so maybe just some random feather molt getting picked up by the wind.

He scruffed around the tree for a bit, poking at the bark with his beak, climbing upward, occasionally stretching out a wing. No drumming, just random poking and shuffling around. Eventually he went behind another tree in my line of site and I moved to the master bathroom window where I had a better line onhim.

Kevin, who is home sick with the plague (he caught my plague, and piled an ear infection on top of it, poor bastard) came groggily into the bathroom, noticed his girlfriend plastered against the window with binoculars, and did not bat an eyelash.

"Hi."

"Pileated woodpecker! Possibly a juvenile…though I don’t think…"

"Ah…." He made use of the facilities.

"Sorry, I’m being rude." I turned away from the window. "Would you like a look?" 

On the list of indignities that Kevin puts up with while living with me, being offered binoculars while peeing barely registers. "That’s okay," he said.

"He’s really spectacular."

"I’m sure."

He finished and went back to bed. I watched the woodpecker until he climbed out of sight in the tree–long leaf pine, I believe, surrounded by redbuds that are just starting to bud out–and then went back to work.

Stuff like this makes putting up with the ticks all worth it.

So the dogs and I have a morning ritual. (The cats and I do too, but that’s another post.)

I get up. I throw on clothes. Gir looks at me from the bed with pathetic beagle you’re-not-really-getting-up-and-leaving-me? eyes.

"C’mon, beagley-boo, time to get up."

He sighs. I go downstairs, preceded by Ben and Angus. Behind me, I hear the clicking of claws on stairs, as Gir grudgingly follows me.

I put hot water in the microwave to become tea, by which time Gir has come downstairs, and I say "Do puppies need to go OUT?!" in the tones of idiot enthusiasm that come naturally when speaking to dogs.

Brandon the border collie dances wildly at the notion of OUT. Gir gives me the gloomy look unique to hounds, sighs heavily, and approaches the door.

I open the back door. On a good day, both dogs plunge out in to the backyard. On a normal day, Brandon plunges and I have to go pick GIr up bodily and lug him out back.

Once outside, Brandon runs off to do doggy things. Gir stands on the porch and barks at nothing in particular, until I go out and say "GO ON!" and point. He gives me another hangdog look and stumps down the stairs, where he looks at the grass and attempts to retreat.

"GO. PEE."

But there’s grass…! He’s in full beagle-donna mood. Touch all that grass? With his FEET? What kind of monster am I?

"Gir…"

He sighs and stumps just far enough into the grass to pee while leaving his hind feet on concrete. (I don’t know how the hell these dogs hunt, unless their natural prey lives in an area with wall-to-wall carpeting.)

This is the normal ritual. Today, however, I opened the door and Gir was gone like a shot, baying hysterically. I assumed that somewhere a squirrel was getting yelled at, and went to go make tea and feed Ben his gooshy food.

The tea was made, the cat fed, and the baying did not subside. Hmm. There is nothing quite so penetrating as the voice of a histrionic beagle. It sounds like a yodelling foghorn. "AWWOOOWOOWOOWOOWOO—WOO!"

I went out back, and discovered Gir standing nose to nose with a very large pit bull on the other side of the fence. The other dog wasn’t barking, he was just eyeing my stupid beagle friend thoughtfully. Brandon danced around, trying to herd the situation, which wasn’t herding well at all.

Now, I quite like pit bulls, despite all the horror stories–I have personally never met a pit bull that wasn’t a fantastic dog, I would cheerfully own a pit bull, although Rottweilers are my great love among dog breeds–but I’m quite aware of the fact that an ill-trained or ill-controlled pit bull is more than capable of turning my buddy Gir into chunky beagle salsa. With pits, what makes them an epically good dog can all too easily make them an epically bad dog. You’re pretty much at the mercy of whether or not they had a responsible owner, and sadly, many don’t. (There’s also a bad dog-fighting problem in this particular county–Kevin’s part of a little local grass-roots organization trying to help stamp it out, but it’s definitely a problem out here.)

It did not seem to occur to Gir that he weighed thirty-odd pounds and the pit bull had to be upwards of seventy. He continued to bay into the other dog’s face.

The pit bull looked up at me as if to say "Do you know this guy?"

"He’s with me," I told the pit bull.

The pit bull looked back at Gir. Gir bounced on his toes, AWOOOOWOOWOOing for all he was worth. The pit bull looked back at me, with "I’m so sorry," writ plainly across his face.

"C’mon, moron," I said, trying unsuccessfully to haul Gir back inside, and finally settling for picking him up bodily and carrying him back. Brandon, terribly excited by everything, attempted to herd us both by nipping at Gir’s dangling heels. We got inside without incident, and Gir was terribly proud of himself for defending the homestead so valiantly.

The cats were unimpressed.

I’m not sure who owns the pit bull, if anybody–he had a faded collar, but no tags–but while I’m generally willing to tackle strays, unfamiliar pit bulls are a bit out of my league. I’ll keep an eye out to see if he belongs to the neighbors (the most likely option) or what.

A largely uneventful few days–the only significant point being hitting the halfway point on art for Ninjabreath! (Yaaaay! Seventy down, only seventy more to go. That’s seventy in a month, which is a pretty gruelling pace, but I’ve been keeping up pretty well. I allotted three months this time for the art, since I realized I was going to slow down towards the end, out of pure mental exhaustion…) I celebrated by cleaning my studio and framing up some art that needed framing. This doesn’t sound very celebratory, I grant you, but it wasn’t drawing little cartoon dragons, so it was a party.

My plague has mostly subsided, except for the lingering Cough of Doom. Kevin, however, finally got it and is now wallowing deep in the hinterlands of illness. He keeps trying to kill it with spicy food. I dunno if that works, or if you just spend time coughing on the toilet, but hey, to each their own cures.

My Mt. Airy witch hazel has buds all over it, and my red chokecherry is sending wild twiggy bits out everywhere. The deciduous holly is a little less demonstrative, but seems to be waking up as well. Once we get another warm patch, I’ll get the rest of the bareroot shrubs in the ground.

The only other thing of note is that I’m finally working on setting up the fish tank I got for Christmas. My buddy Otter has been trying to get me into saltwater reef-keeping for ages, and I was trying to resist–I recognize an addiction when I see one! She tempted me with frags of her coral like a crack dealer waving rocks at someone. (They’re such pretty rocks…) But then she hauled off and GAVE me one of her old 6 gallon nano-cubes for Christmas.

This is well beyond giving someone crack, and more akin to giving someone a meth lab. Not being made of stone, I succumbed. Nano-reef keeping has come down dramatically in both price and difficulty in the last few years, if one is to believe the literature, and indeed, with the tank having been donated, set up cost me less than sixty bucks. Being on an artist budget, I am limited to the very low end, which is a GOOD THING. (Some of those corals are unbelievably spectacular, and unbelievably priced to go with it…if Otter wasn’t donating some frags, I wouldn’t dare start.) All I want is some zoo coral and maybe a hairy mushroom. And a firefish. The firefish are awesome looking, and cheap enough that I won’t slit my wrists if it eventually succumbs.

I am also being offered a "sexy shrimp" which sounds like some kind of cocktail you’d get at Red Lobster, but which is apparently a small cleaner crustacean which does a little dance, hence the name. (This I gotta see.) 

And if ten years from now, I am spending a stupid proportion of my income on starfish, and fretting over the color of my coral, you can look back at this post as the beginning of the end…