The emus are very tame. They are also incredibly dumb and think they are being sneaky. They found Kevin very interesting.
The pigs in question are Ossabaw Island Hogs, which are a very rare farm breed. My friends are breeding them as part of the ongoing effort to preserve them on farms. They are incredibly funky and weird and awesome pigs.
Domestic boars have what’s called “shield fat” which is a hefty layer of fat over the shoulders that becomes rock hard. It’s literally armor against the tusks of other males. Fox’s boar is named Giles (her two sows are Buffy & Willow–apparently they had a Spike, but the ladies picked Giles) and this was one of his offspring who was just getting old enough to become troublesome. He was starting to develop the shield fat layer, and you could feel the difference. It is very weird to encounter something that looks like it should be squooshy fat and have it be like tough leather. In an adult boar, that layer would be inches thick!
Also, I now know more about how pig rectums fit into a pig than I knew previously. I shall cherish this knowledge.
I shall, at another time, post the tale of the star-crossed lovers, Napoleon the silky rooster and the Turkey Girl. It is an epic and stupid love for the ages.
I have about a thousand photos of chickens to sort through, and I regret nothing.
I have returned safely from the Emerald Isle, and holy crap, I don’t even know what to say, but being me, I will now expend a pile of words to say it.
First, there’s the color.
To call Ireland green is to commit glaring sins of omission. It is the sort of green reserved for gods and Pantone swatches. Kelly green, acid green, the greens you see in jars of pure mineral pigment, greens that blow out your photos the way that red roses or blue skies do. Green as primary color.
When I lived in Oregon, I thought it was green, and then I moved to North Carolina and realized that it had been grey-green. North Carolina, I thought, was green. Then I went to Ireland. Now I see how yellow the undertones here are, and how desaturated the greens are by comparison. Fortunately, I am told that the only color that compares to Ireland is in the depths of the rainforest, so it will stay green in my head for a long time.
Also, as with so much of Europe, things are relentlessly old. I stood on the battlements of a ruined castle built at the same time as Blarney Castle and I could see three other ruins from the top. “Oh,” said my friend Carlota, “that’s the NEW ruin, over there…” Eventually it became a running joke–“Oh, that’s the NEW standing stone…” It became exciting when the new building wasn’t older than my country. Occasionally they predated Europeans in North America at all.
Yes, I’m including the Vikings.
But possibly the most intense thing was simply that it was relentlessly, savagely picturesque. You could point your camera in any direction and come away with a postcard. It was beautiful, and it kept being beautiful, and eventually it got to the point where you would look over the view and start swearing, because it was being beautiful again.
After awhile, you stopped going “How lovely!” and started going “How do people stand this?”
(I asked Twitter. Residents uttered some variation on “Whiskey” and “You get used to it, but whiskey helps.”)
You just have to figure that sooner or later, living in that kind of beauty would weigh down on you, and you’d either become hard as diamond or break and become a poet. It’s just…intense. I think of people who left there–my ancestors, some of ’em–to come to America because of poverty or starvation or hope or whatever, and I can get just the smallest glimpse of what that must have been like–enough to know what I can’t really imagine what it was really like. America is beautiful, don’t get me wrong! (I believe there’s a song about it.) But it’s a completely different sort of beauty, a sort that doesn’t much care about the people on it. If we all died tomorrow, I doubt America would even notice much, but Ireland would be sad that the people were gone. It’s the difference between the Rockies and a green field with a black horse grazing surrounded by rooks, under a hill covered in mist. They’re both beautiful, it’s just…scale.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m raving. I am only a tourist and don’t pretend to know anything about what life is really like there. It was just…so intense.
When Kevin and I were in New Orleans a month or so ago, we were out birding and encountered this killdeer in a parking lot. It immediately set about convincing Kevin that its wing was broken. Really broken. SO BROKEN YOU GUYS.
Killdeer are, of course, justly famous for this trick. They do it to lure predators away from the nest. Kevin ambled after the bird with a camera and I watched them do a slow motion chase scene across the parking lot.
Eventually, having taken about a million photos, Kevin stopped. But the killdeer did not. There were four of us, but Kevin, rescuer of kittens, was clearly the menace. It was practically charging him waving its “broken” wing.
Kevin: No, I’m done, it’s okay.
Killdeer: MY WING IS SUPER BROKEN
Kevin: I have no interest in your nest.
Killdeer: THIS WING, RIGHT HERE? I BROKE IT IN THE WAR. TWO WARS. SEVEN WARS. SO MANY WARS.
Kevin: I’m starting to feel weird about this, bird.
Killdeer: AAUGH LOOK NOW MY OTHER WING IS BROKEN TOO
Killdeer: I WILL RUN A LITTLE WAY AND FALL OVER WAVING MY BROKEN WINGS THE PAIN THE PAIN
Kevin: I’m not going to chase you.
Killdeer: YOU HAVE TO CHASE ME MY WINGS ARE BROKEN ALSO I BELIEVE MY LEGS ARE GOING
Kevin: This is just sad.
Killdeer: I BELIEVE I AM ALSO ON FIRE
Kevin: You’re still going.
Killdeer: THERE IS NO PAIN LIKE THIS PAIN PLEASE STEP A LITTLE FARTHER THIS WAY I AM SURELY ABOUT TO BE CAUGHT AT ANY MOMENT
Kevin: Fine, if it’ll make you happy.
(Kevin ambles after Killdeer)
Killdeer: JUST A LITTLE FARTHER…A LITTLE BIT FARTHER AND SURELY I WILL STOP RUNNING AWAY DID I MENTION THAT MY WINGS ARE SUPER-BROKEN?!
(Kevin, camera in hand, stumbles onto a group of King Rail chicks in the ditch)
Rail Chicks: AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGHHHHMONSTER
Kildeer: AHAHA DEVOUR THEM, MY ENEMY, WHILE I FLEE BACK TO MY CHILDREN ON MY MAGICALLY HEALED WINGS
When their humans left, the houses were left to fend for themselves. Most sank into a state perhaps analogous to a coma, uncaring of what became of them or of what wildlife nested in their eaves.
Some houses attempted to attract or entrap more residents. These were for the most part easily avoided. Mourning dove carcasses would pile up inside the front door, and any explorer who ignored a large stack of dead birds was considered to deserve whatever happened to them.
A few, enraged at their abandonment, became frankly dangerous and had to be burned. In those cases, even the remains of foundations were believed have an unpleasant effect upon the sensitive.
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So I was pulling weeds and flinging handfuls into the uncultivated chunk of garden under the trees, and I winged in a handful of chickweed and looked up just in time to see it land on top of this guy. (He is a Carolina Chickadee.)
I ran in and immediately excavated him. He was fine, but as he is a fledgling, still not a very good flier and couldn’t get out of the way. He sat and looked angrily at me while I took his photo. When I returned, he had scuttled off into the undergrowth.
(If you find a bird like this, eyes open and fully feathered, that is not injured, or not in immediate danger of being mauled by a cat or something, leave it alone. This is a normal stage of bird development and the parents are still feeding it while it wanders around and tests its wings. They know where it is.)