I’ve been really lucky these past few months. There has been a snowy owl irruption (you can thank the lemmings) and they’re all over the US in places that they usually aren’t. They like places that remind them of the arctic prairies which means you find them at airports and windswept beaches. This is tough in New England because they look like hunks of dirty snow of which there are many. The good news is that someone has usually done the tough work of finding them and so all you need to do is walk around a bit and look for the people staring excitedly into the dunes and usually you’ll see them. This is how I saw my first snowy owl a few weeks ago and how I saw my second just this weekend. Jim and I wrote OWL in the sand with an arrow to point to where the guy was hanging out. You’d miss him otherwise. Which I’m sure is what he probably wanted. Our arrow was blown away within ten minutes. You’re welcome, owl.
So yesterday when I hurled myself out the door in 25 degree weather order to get some exercise and vitamin D and walked around Gooseberry Point/Island/Beach/Whatever, I didn’t really have owls on my mind. But by the time I was rounding the last bend, I was a little curious if that big hunk of dirty snow might actually be…. And then it peeped at me and fluffed its feathers and I knew for sure. It was pretty exciting in that “simple pleasures” sort of way to get to have a private audience with an owl. I took a few photos as he rotated his head to keep an eye on me and then I continued on, made a report on ebird’s Snowy Owl Alert page (so gratifying to see it marked “confirmed”) and came home to look at the photos.
I’m occasionally posting stuff on Instagram also, for people who use that. It gets cross-posted to facebook (just like these posts do) so no need to install another app if you’re not already using it. If you are already using it, let me know your handle.
I have to thank Ola for teaching me to enjoy the wacky dress-up and drink aspects of Christmastime without feeling pressured to go shopping or (necessarily) love my neighbors. Actually, since I’ve moved I like my neighbors a lot more. Anyhow, here’s an old link to sixteen of the santas she had up in her house in 2003 and, for good measure, some photos from the Santa Rampage in Seattle in 2002.
I’ve been mulling over the whole charitable giving thing this month. As you probably know, my middle name is Charity [thanks Mom!] but this is more about thinking about what to share with people at this time of year or any other. I always do a bunch of volunteer stuff and in most cases I’ll fix your computer for free [hi Dad! Kate!] but I’ve been stingier with my cash, historically. As you may remember, I got a charitable donation made in my name in May via Donors Choose which has gotten a lot of good press in tech geeky circles. I like their website and their general philosophy.
Last month I got a big envelope of stuff, photos from the Vermont classroom with kids dissecting owl pellets as well as letters thanking me personally for the donation. Actually, the letters originally said “Dear donator” but in every case the word donator had been erased and was replaced with the name Jessamyn. It was nice. It also came with a “Project Cost Report” in the name of transparency which told me where all the $171 that was donated went. About $117 went to supplies — actual owl pellets, books about food chains, and tax — $17 went to “camera, photo development and postage for thank you package” which seemed a little odd (10%?) and then the rest was “[optional] Donation to Cover Project Fulfillment Labor” which was an additional 20%. I’d hate to work for a charity because I know that every good works project has jerks like me saying “Did you really need to spend that money on a disposable camera?” but at the same time, I would have rather written a check to the Cavendish school district for $120 and taken a few snapshots myself.
In any case, it wasn’t my money, and I’m happy Donors Choose exists in a general sense. I tend to like to give money or in-kind donations to places like Food Not Bombs or Books to Prisoners where workers volunteer their time, truly destitute people get some help, and you never hear people use words like fulfillment unless they’re talking about food or books. Two more weeks and the days get longer.
You might enjoy this story, explained by my friend Anil, about how a silly online contest and a casual comment about pubic hair turned into a Vermont school project owl pellet wish list fulfillment. And yes, I had something to do with it. I’d write more but I’ve got to go out and rake now that the iceberg is gone before the leaves start to fall. The window is so tiny.
Follow-up: everyone gets thanked on Donors Choose. Here was my thank you.
I cannot even begin to express the thanks that I have, as well as my students, in hearing that our project was funded. Although we are surrounded by some of the most beautiful woodlands, it is not so easy to find food chains and food webs in action at this time of the year. Your funding will keep the love of science alive in both the girls and the boys and hopefully will continue to grow the awareness that is needed to keep our Green Mountains healthy, as well as our many other biomes on this Earth. Thank you for your donations!