Friday, October 6, 2023


 THANK YOU for reading my blog here, but as you know, I'm not very good at updating it. Birdland is migrating to a new platform. You can follow me at Mary's Substack Hope to see you over there!

Sunday, February 27, 2022


Ukrainian Easter Eggs
Photo by Liuda Shtohryn
THE SKY IS BLANKETED WITH GREY, AND THE HEAVY CLOUDS HAVE SPRINKLED SNOW OVER THE BARE FIELDS. The stubs of last year's cornstalks make stripes all the way back to the fence row. The sky has muted the color from the fields and woods, and the world looks like a black and white photo. I have counted at least twenty deer in the herd that marches to the west. The deer are not in a line, but they are all going the same direction across the barren field. They remind me of photos I've seen in the last days, of people fleeing the bombardments of the Russian forces in Ukraine.

This terrible news has me thinking of my dear childhood friend, Liuda. Even in childhood, Liuda was proud of her heritage. I remember feeling awed, and a little bit jealous when she and her mother would break into a Ukrainian conversation when we were out together. Liuda brought little bits of her culture to us, especially the beautifully detailed Easter eggs, painstakingly dyed in stages, like a batik. She had a group of us over to her house teaching us how to heat the kistka (a metal stylus used for drawing patterns on the eggs) in the flame of a candle. You then melt the block of beeswax with the hot kistka, pulling a bit of liquified wax into the bowl, and then draw a pattern on the egg with the wax. Not the whole pattern, of course, just the lines you want to be white at the end of the process.

Ukrainian egg dyes are intense, not the pastel food coloring we used at home to create Robin's egg blue, or a rosey pink (although I love dying eggs that way, too). When you have fixed your white lines, drop the egg into the lightest color, say yellow. Then you reheat your stylus and draw all the lines and shapes you want to remain yellow. Let the wax cool and drop the egg into the next darker color. Over and over, you draw your patterns and dip your eggs in darker and darker colors until the picture is complete. When it is finished, use a candle to melt the wax from the egg, revealing your design. Picture four girls around the kitchen table, Liuda's mother supervising. The beauty of the eggs delighted us, but we discovered their fragility when one of the eggs, maybe too close to the candle's flame, exploded! Raw egg on the ceiling and on the walls! How we shrieked, and then laughed.

Unlike the eggs we dyed at home, hardboiled and eaten soon after the Easter egg hunt—deviled or in salads or even just peeled and salted, Ukrainian Easter eggs are permanent pieces of art, often passed down through the generations. Although raw eggs are used, and they can explode, more commonly they simply dry out on the inside, the gasses escaping gently. (I've seen this happen when I pocket an egg from the henhouse in the last parts of winter and forget it until I don my winter coat again the next fall. I put my hand in my pocket and pull out an egg. It is as light as an empty shell because that is what it has become.) I see images of people with suitcases and bundles and even plastic bags, trying to get to safety, and I wonder if they've had time or space to pack these delicate heirlooms.

Liuda told us that she is worried for her cousins in Ukraine and their sons. I heard that President Zelensky has asked all the men from ages 18-60 to fight. That would include all three of our sons. My husband would only barely escape the call. I can only imagine what Liuda or her cousins must be feeling. How can we help? Although we should be careful of upstart charities that may be scams, we can vet organizations to find reputable ones with some easy-to-use online tools, such as I just typed “Ukraine” into the search. They have rated these charities, and scrolling down a little, I found one with an 85% rating: "Give with confidence." Digging deeper, we can find specifics, like how much they spend on administration, fundraising, and the actual program. We can even see what percentage of their money goes to a particular mission.

The sun has risen again over clear skies and in our back field, the deer have gone. The people continue their slow progress to refuge and relative safety. The crisis continues, and I meditate on the beauty and fragility of those eggs.

Create Beauty; Defend Peace; Blessed Be

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Here's a new letter. I tried to make a slide show, but apparently I only chose one picture. Oh well, maybe next time.

How are you finding community in these times? Let me know in the comments.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Grace and the Impossible Situation

I'm trying something new--Reading Aloud. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, January 19, 2020


Clivia from Cate blooms six months later.
BIRDLAND IS BRIGHT AND A BIT WARMER THIS MORNING. I step outside to feed the dogs, and something down the lane catches Ursula's eye. She trots over and gives it a sniff. From where I stand, walking to the garage to offer kibble, it looks like a basket. Ursula turns back to the sound of kibble raining down into the silver bowl. The dogs eat, and I walk over to check out the mysterious object. It is the bird feeder that usually hangs outside our kitchen window holding suet cakes, pulled down and broken open. Only one suet cake was left, locked in its little cage. We like to watch woodpeckers (red belly and the smaller downy woodpecker) from our kitchen. Sometimes a gang of sparrows come to raid the suet.
A Downy Woodpecker visits.
Who could have pulled it from its cast iron hook high above the backyard flower bed? I decided to query the usual suspects.
"Not I," said Ursula, the crafty black dog. "I am but a humble pup. Low to the ground. I could never jump all the way up there."
"Who me?" asked Cullen, the sweet brown dog. "What's going on, guys? Can I help? What you got there?" He has finished his kibble and run out to join us, his tail wagging his whole body, he joyfully tosses his head. I pick up the broken bird feeder and carry it back to the house. It's a mystery.
A Red Bellied Woodpecker visits the suet cage.
Red Bellied Woodpecker
Who could have pulled it down? I need a chair from the kitchen to fill it, and even then, I have to stand on tiptoes and gently lift it from the bottom to pull the wire over the hook. My husband is taller than I am, but Michael even has to stand on an old stump, though he can easily reach it from there. It had to be someone tall, who could stand on two legs and reach eight feet in the air. It had to be someone strong, who could pull it down with ragged paw, because now I see that the wire has snapped. Imagine, for a moment, a shaggy brown figure, shambling across the yard, stopping to sniff, trembling nose high in the air, pointing her head this way and that, to test the breeze. She detects a scent of fat and sunflower seed and changes directions to head straight for the bird feeder.
Another view of the Clivia
She pauses directly below and then lumbers to her hind legs. If we had been watching from the kitchen, we might have seen a stealthy brown paw reach up from below the frame of the window to bat at the caged suet cakes, setting the feeder to swing wildly until one terrible claw extended to hook around the wire hanger rips it from its hook. I ponder for a moment and remember that my grandmother knew the exact year the last black bear in Piatt County was killed. I wish now I’d written it down. She probably knew who shot it, too. It was before she was born, but she recollected having to sit on her own grandmother's bearskin rug as the old woman regaled the grandchildren with stories. She never claimed the coveted stool that sits now by my uncle’s fireplace, since it was always occupied by her elder cousins. All through my own childhood we used to fight to sit on the same stool. I realize that Piatt County bears were black, not brown, and revise my image from a shaggy brown paw to a sleek black one batting at the bird feeder.
Or maybe it wasn't a black bear either, but what my father used to call "little brother bear," a raccoon, or a whole gang of them, clambering up the hackberry tree that stands at the corner of our house, to drop down onto the bird feeder, making a swing of it until their weight breaks the wire hanger and the feeder drops to the ground, suet and all. They tussle it over to the driveway and break open three out of four of the cages and lumber away with the suet.
I hear the door open and Michael comes out with his coffee. He listens as I tell him my two theories about the suet cage. He picks it up and looks at the wire closely, pointing to where it’s rusted through. Leave it to my husband to spoil a couple of perfectly good theories.
Visualize Beauty; Imagine Peace; Blessed Be

Tuesday, January 7, 2020


Snow Dogs
I STEPPED OUT OF THE GROCERY STORE INTO THE NIGHT. The wind was just gently kissed by tiny snowflakes sparkling under fluorescent lights. The promised “storm” that Siri kept announcing had arrived. Laughing, I loaded my trunk with groceries.
“I’m not sure I’ll make it home in this, Siri.” 

Pictures from our woodland walk.
Hedge Apple Tree

Cullen: Mighty Hunter

Who Goes There?


Wandering the old Union Station, Indianapolis
IT MUST SEEM THAT WE SPENT WEEKS IN INDIANAPOLIS, BUT IT WAS ONLY TWO ACTION-PACKED DAYS. On Sunday, we woke at our Union Station hotel and took a short, sunny walk down to CafĂ© Patachou for brunch. On the way we passed the Indiana Theater, an ornately detailed building with a grand facade of white terra cotta brick. Look near the top on the right side of the face of the building, and you’ll see a sundial. It read 8:30 when we passed, only a small rectangle full in the sun. How lucky for us to walk by just then, because the skyline blocks the sun, and it now gets just a postage-stamp of light for part of the day. On our walk back an hour later, it was deep in shadow, and the time was obscured.

Cauliflower "Rice"

Fox and the Grapes at Newfields

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty...