Fourth of July

The 4th of July may be a holiday, but it wasn’t a day of rest.

…for Chitty or the Big Rig.

Storm cleanup
Another tubing travail

Yesterday added up to lots of chores and lots of partying.

Even the kids worked hard.

It’s not easy to maintain a high standard of filth all the time.

Out of the loop

Cutting back on technology is a bit like dieting: you start with the best intentions, but eventually the potato chips lure you back.

I’ve tried to wean us off the TV but it was too tempting. The only solution was to go cold turkey.

Capon Springs

Which is why we booked a vacation at Capon Springs — a family retreat in West Virginia. I hadn’t been there in 30 years but little has changed. The grounds are green and landscaped, the pool is positively frigid (fed by spring water) and the rooms are basic. No TV, no air conditioning. Just the fundamental amenities.

Sitting room, in the main building

And when you’re subsisting on fundamental amenities, losing electricity doesn’t seem that catastrophic. At least that’s what we thought after Friday night’s storm. Martin had packed his entire flash light collection and the resort ran its kitchen and water supply on a backup generator. Living low-tech wasn’t a great stretch.

We paddled in the pool and hiked the woods, blissfully unaware that the outage was anything but local. A symptom of our mountainous setting, we assumed, until a blip of technology wriggled through: a text message from the farm sitter.¬†Everyone’s ok but obviously no power.

That’s how we learned about the storm’s wide swath and the magnitude of the outage.

The resort talked about shutting down but remained open for those who wished to stay.

We wished to stay. A sweet setting with meals, functioning plumbing and a pool beat a simpering farm with a bunch of needy animals.

Sunday afternoon we returned to reality, just as the power company restored electricity. The farm escaped the worst of the storm.

And what did those kids do back at home? They went straight for the TV and reached for the ipad. I cracked open the computer.

Despite the convenience of ice cubes and overhead lights, I’d rather be back at Capon Springs — bobbing in the pool or tucked in our woodsy cottage, listening to a rumbly generator.

Avian Abode

That¬†slime mold post is too gross to get top billing. So let’s move on to something more pleasant: our neighbors’ purple martin colony.

For all you non-ornithologists, the purple martin is the largest member of the swallow family — an agile, acrobatic bird that feeds on flying insects. Purple martins overwinter in South America and migrate north in the spring to nest and breed.

Now here’s where things get interesting: purple martins around found throughout the US but east of the Rockies, they are entirely dependent on humans for artificial housing. Without the construction of nesting gourds and martin houses, these birds would disappear in eastern states. (Reasons for their decline? Aggressive, non-native birds; prolific and opportunistic native species; and weather extremes that affect insects.)

Our neighbors Chet and Paula are purple martin supporters. Each year they hang several gourd clusters in their yard. Right now there are oodles of birds singing and plucking flies from of the sky.

Recently, Chet invited a few people over while he lowered the gourds for a nest check.

Brynn missed the “casual dress” memo.

But she contributed to the captive audience.

As Chet lowered the gourds, we discovered that a few nests were occupied by uninvited tenants. Squatters, so to speak, including a tiny swallow that fluttered out and onto the ground.

If not for the onlookers, I think that baby sparrow would have been evicted. But bowing to pint-sized presence, Chet put the fledgling back in its nest.

Fortunately most of the gourds housed purple martin families…

or families to be.

While the kids gazed inside, Chet and Paula took inventory of the babies and eggs. Meanwhile the parents perched atop neighboring poles, overseeing the activity. Once the nests were restored to their normal height, the birds returned. Business as usual.