Bracing for Ernesto

wood turtle with its head drawn in

We are bracing for Tropical Depression Ernesto and the possible six inches of rain that have been forecast starting tomorrow night. So my brother and I have been busy cleaning drains in the road. I didn’t have a whole lot of writing time today, and what time I did have I spent trying to write a rare piece of literary criticism. It was awful, depressing. I feel unclean.

While I was working on the essay, about two hours ago, I glanced down at my office chair’s left armrest and saw blood. My elbow was bleeding, but from what, I couldn’t tell. I went into the bathroom and washed it off, then got out the Band-Aids. But when I started to put one on, peering at my elbow in the mirror, the bleeding had stopped and I couldn’t even find the wound. Elbows are a strange business.

A little later, a female ruby-throated hummingbird came and hovered just outside the window next to my writing table, watching me for close to fifteen seconds, which is almost an eternity for a hummingbird. A half hour later, I deleted the essay. It was well past time for a tactical retreat.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. Oh, be safe! And keep your elbow and your soul clean :-)
    I can imagine your expression being like that turtle’s as you struggled with your essay.

    Your hummingbird reminds me of a courting pair we had in our yard a few years ago. They would take turns sitting on the clothesline near us and do a lovely flying dance in the air, meet up and kiss, then repeat it many times. As if they were showing off for us.

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  2. Huh. Ruby-throated pairs don’t court that way, I don’t think. The males just do this crazy parabola-shaped courtship flight, like a buzzing pendulum without the clock.

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  3. Sorry, I didn’t mean they were ruby-throated. I think they had iridescent blue and lime green throats, but I’m not sure now, not being a bird expert. Anyway, I’ll not forget their aerial dance, a one-time treat.

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  4. M-L: It’s OK, he was just noting that you probably had a different species. Different species, different dances — indeed, sometimes the courtship dance is enough to identify a species! While your birds were probably showing off for each other, I’ve seen a number of parrots, cockateels, etc. who did use their mating displays to impress humans rather than their own kind.

    Around my urban home, most of the birds I see are pigeons, sparrows, and starlings, with the occasional robin. (I’m not *that* far from the water, but apparently out of seagull range. And the crows got nuked by West Nile a few years ago.) The fledgling sparrows (that is, this spring’s brood(s)) are notably less shy of humans than the adults are. They’ll hang out almost within arm’s reach of me, even when I’m not wielding food. The adults tend to retreat when I get within two meters or so.

    Furry life is mostly on leashes, except for squirrels in the trees and rats in the subways. I did spot a raccoon the other week — it was checking out the sidewalk gutter, but then retreated to some bushes to watch me pass by.

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  5. No, that’s right, I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Marja-Leena was nuts! I’m sure it’s a different species. I don’t think ruby-throats even range that far west (Vancouver).

    David, you live in an east-coast city, I take it?

    Our crows have dwindled in numbers, but there are still some around. I’d really miss them if they all died out (though we do have a resident pair of ravens, too.) I always enjoy watching English sparrows whenever I’m in a town or city. They’re so scrappy! And starlings, as I think I’ve written here in the past, just amaze me with their range of vocalizations.

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  6. yes, the much-maligned starling. I too enjoy listening to them. And, they parasitize house sparrow nests (I’ve been told) and drop the eggs for humans to find and fawn over. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

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  7. Dave, the disappearing wound on your elbow – a very very strange story. Not being disrespectful or sarcastic : is there such a thing as an elbow stigmata?

    That photo: I can’t understand what I’m looking at. Is it a turtle looking out of its shell? Is it a nest of newly hatched birds? Whose nostrils are those?

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  8. Yes, it’s a wood turtle looking out of its shell. It was an overcast day, so unfortunately I had to use the flash. If you click on it and go to my Flickr page, you can see a few other pictures of it in the photostream.

    q.r.r. – I think you’re right.

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  9. Yes, I’m in New York City. I haven’t heard much out of our starlings, but I’m hearing-impaired, and as usual that’s concentrated in the upper frequencies. (I can’t hear most watch-type alarms — if I ever get a cell-phone or beeper, that sucker will be permanently set to “vibrate”.) I recently visited Naragannsett, (RI) and I did see one crow-type bird by the road up there. Also many seagulls, whose interesting vocalizations I *can* hear! ;-)

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