I’ve told you about all the crows we have here in Portland. While there seem to be more crows than anything else, they do not rule the sky, and this seems to irritate them.
On a bright, near-freezing walk the other day, we got to see some proper bird drama. A tiny dog being walked by her owner disturbed a hawk lurking in a small tree. The hawk and took off and at least 20 crows ( I might even call it a Mass Murder) swooped around the elm tree where the hawk settled.
As we watched, the hawk took off from the limb and circled the neighborhood, menaced by the crows. One by one, the valiant smaller birds would swoop in and peck at the hawk, letting it know, in no uncertain terms, that it was NOT welcome.
After a few minutes the hawk settled again, in the very top of a fir tree. Again it was attacked by the crows but seemed unmoved. By this time our feet had begun to freeze and our ears ached, so we said farewell to the drama and headed toward Zach’s, where yummy hot dogs and french fries awaited us.
You knew that it was only a matter of time before we headed to the Portland Nursery, right? With Spring only a month away and a spot in the community garden waiting for us, Auntie Bridgett and I headed off to see what we could see.
It is still cold here… it was jacket and gloves weather as we walked the mile and a half to Portland Nursery on Stark. Patches of snow still shivered, bunched up under trees and beside stairways, and even in the nursery itself!
Portland Nursery has had a year to get Covid protocols in place, and have done a fine job. One way traffic lanes, arrows on the ground, and limited people inside the buildings help keep everyone safe while letting us gear up for garden season.
Of course, most of the nursery shelves are empty at this time of year, but everyone was finding what they wanted. These folks choosing a quince bush were happy to tell me about their spring expectations. “It is grafted!” They said. “It has red, pink and white blossoms on each branch!” I am excited for them!
We hunted up seeds for our garden plot, trying to find small species so we can have more variety. Little Finger carrots, Black Beauty zucchini, Salad Bowl lettuce, tiny Parisian Gherkin cucumbers, Cherry Belle radishes, and Sugar Pie pumpkin seeds all came home in my sack! We didn’t buy tomatoes or sunflowers yet…. I want to do more research and find the best growers for our damp city.
On our way home, the wind was picking up, bringing us rain for the coming week. We saw a crow up in her last-year’s nest, plucking out leaves and getting it just right for spring.
See? I’m not the only one who is anxious for winter to be over!
This week I got to spend a day with the Cousins. I had expected it to be pouring rain, so I thought we would to catch the number 70 bus to Lloyd Center to watch the ice skaters and play.
But it wasn’t raining, and we didn’t go. Friends of Auntie Katie had been hit by tragedy and needed help.
A house fire had burned up a whole family’s things, including every stitch of clothing, doll and stufftie. Auntie Katie had collected some clothes that would fit the children and Kestrel quickly pulled out some of her toys to donate, including a Cabbage Patch doll from many years past. “Cabby”, as we came to call her, had only one flaw: she was naked. It seemed rude to give a naked doll.
Kestrel found a doll sized blouse in a box, along with some red fabric. We decided to make pants for Cabby. Kestrel, who is eight, knows the theory of pattern making, but needed a little help. We worked for about an hour and finally produced a presentable pair of pants, got Cabby dressed, and put her in the bag to join the family.
After we took care of a few more chores, it was time for me to head home through the very cold, darkening afternoon. The leaves are just about gone now, and many trees are loaded with fruit that will keep birds fed during the winter.
This pyracanthus tree will keep a whole flock fed for a month!
There were other sights in gardens that made me smile and happy that I live in Portland.
For such a big city, Portland has a large animal population.
We see this when the ‘dog parade’ heads from the neighborhoods to Laurelhurst Park for their evening walk. Cats greet us from sunny porches as we pass, and chickens talk amongst themselves when we go by Sunnyside School.
The squirrels, of course, have the best commutes ever, up trees and across power lines, chittering at everyone who will listen, but freezing on tree trunks to become invisible.
But by far the most vocal and numerous animals are the crows. Unlike their more reclusive cousins the ravens, crows thrive in close proximity with humans, and some even enjoy our company. And it’s not just people in general; studies show that crows remember certain humans, reacting positively to those who feed them and negatively to those they see as a threat.
There is a lady who walks every day in Lone Fir Cemetery, bringing a large bag of dry cat food, just to feed the crows. She loves their attentions, and they love her, too! She is like the crow’s queen.
The art in Portland reflects this affection (some might even say a fixation) with crows. This painting greeted us last week at The Artbar downtown.
And Laurelhurst hosts a fair few of the feathered fellows, as well.
I like having all these living critters in the neighborhood. Since I have fewer small people to talk with, crows and cats can be good conversation. Also, learning how critters get by and help the area (eating all that fallen fruit, for example) lets me see the neighborhood as an ecosystem rather than just a bunch of houses.
The other day I was noticing the tiny birds who somehow make a living during this cold weather. They eat seeds from the thousands of trees and bushes in the neighborhood. The bigger birds make a living, too, eating pretty much anything they can find. Pizza boxes, unfortunate critters, and fruit still on the tree make up a fine diet for them.
This morning, I could not help but notice the crows! Living as we do between the forest of Laurelhurst Park and the Lone Fir Cemetery (which now has hundreds of trees, not just the one), we have more than our share of crows.
This morning, they were so loud I had a look out the window.
I don’t know if you know this, but there is a special word for a flock of crows: It is called a MURDER. That being the case, we had multiple murders on our street this morning.
Yesterday morning, Auntie Bridgett and I went on a tour of the Lone Fir Cemetery, just down the street from us at Stark and 26th. This cemetery has been used since 1846, when the farmer who owned the land, James Stephens, buried his elderly father. He later sold the land to a steamship owner named Colburn Barrell, who used it within a year to bury people who died when his steamship The Gazelle exploded.
The first thing we saw when we got to the cemetery was a lady coming out, followed by a whole flock of crows. She visits the cemetery every morning and feeds them dry cat food she carries in a plastic bag. She likes the attention, she says. I’m sure the crows enjoy the breakfast!
We met Joel, our guide, and the other people on our tour. Joel is a volunteer for The Friends of the Lone Fir Cemetery, a group of people who got together after mean people broke into the cemetery on Halloween many years ago and broke a bunch of headstones and monuments. The “Friends” started repairing and guarding the cemetery, and asked the city of Portland to help. They do a good job.
We learned that the graves aren’t really organized, but people are mostly buried chronologically, in time order, from the northwest corner towards the southeast. Of course, there are exceptions , and very recent graves can be right next to pioneer headstones. Many of the old ones are impossible to read because moss grows on the stones. Eternal rest is assured. Eternal identification, not so much.
There are many beautiful black headstones with Russian writing and engraved portraits on them. When Mr. Reagan was President, he offered political asylum to any Russian or Ukrainian citizens who were Christians to come live in America, and many came to the Portland area. There are now thousands of these folks living here, and when they die, they are buried with these very distinctive headstones made by two men, who are the only ones in town who know how to make them. They have information on the front and poetry on the back. Your mommy has been translating them for me.
Another interesting grave has an urn sitting on it rather than a headstone. James Hansen Frush was chief bartender at the Front Street Saloon, always generous with his friends and very well-loved. While he was alive, he had this big metal urn that he used to offer eggnog during the holiday season. When he died, his friends decided to place the urn over his grave to remember his generosity. But the next Christmas, they missed him, so they came across the river, fetched the urn back to the bar, and enjoyed eggnog in his memory, returning the urn to the grave after the New Year. This back and forth went on for a few years. The urn that is still here is a concrete cast of that urn. There is even a hole there the eggnog would come out.
There are many others, but the last one I will tell you about today is the grave of Eric Ladd. When Eric Ladd was born in Portland, his name was Leslie Carter Hansen. He became an actor, changed his name to Eric Ladd, moved to New York, then Hollywood, and retired back to Portland, very successful. He used the money he had made to help preserve some of the beautiful old buildings in town that were gong to be torn down.
When Eric got sick at 78 or so, a friend was traveling in Romania and found a beautiful iron cross. The friend bought it to use for when Eric died. Then his friends bought some iron fencing from Mark Twain’s house in Missouri (Eric loved Mark Twain’s writings and had made shows of his stories) and put the fencing around the grave to protect the cross. It is ornate, historic, and perfect.
My visit to the Lone Fir ended, as it always does, by me feeling lucky to be alive and happy to learn about all these people who lived here before me. But this time, I have fun information, as well!