I took some of my own advice on being furloughed and headed out of Minnesota to visit with my family in Indiana. I joined my mom and some of my sisters for time at one of the family cabins in Brown County State Park. Above I am lip synching to the Trolololo song at one of the scenic overlooks...which none of them knew.
It was actually a good plan, I could do some writing and put out freelance feelers out while they would do things I don't care for like going shopping in nearby Nashville. The deck of the family cabins have a beautiful view and lots of birds for inspiration.
The birds are so used to guests putting out food for them that all you have to do is scatter some seeds and birds like the above tufted titmouse had no problem flying in to join my office. At one point I had a both a titmouse and a white-breasted nuthatch taking nuts from my hands. It was a bit nostalgic for me to be here. When I developed an interest in birds as a kid, this is where my mom used to take me as a kid as it was only an hour away from where we lived Indianapolis. She and my aunts would book a few days in the off season. It was intended as a sisters' getaway for them but since I spent most of my time outside, it wasn't too much of an imposition to bring me.
It was so nostalgic that the few birds I digiscoped I did using Instagram like the above eastern towhee. I know I tend to rail against that social media platform for showing pictures as old and faded but since this was a sort of childhood revisit, it only seems appropriate.
The pileated woodpecker was the bird that got me interested in birding--I saw it in a Peterson Field Guide when I was 7 and thought how cool it is to know that there is such a thing as a crow sized woodpecker. Brown County State Park is where I first heard and saw one. It was a few years after I had been watching birds, but that was a bird really wanted to see and I'll never forget that pair that flew low in front of my aunt's van and landed low on a tree (just like the book suggested, they tended to forage low on the ground). But we had a family group hanging out regularly outside our cabin and they didn't mind us at all.
No matter where we went around the park I remembered first birds or birding lessons learned. I learned the call of the red-bellied woodpecker by following one "kerring" relentlessly outside of Abe Martin Lodge. When stopped by Strahl Lake in the above photo, I remembered the time I took laboring over the id of a Louisiana waterthrush working the edges of the creek that trickles from the dammed up lake. My mom even stopped me at one point and said, "Hey, Sharon, do you remember the time you were here and you found that Louisiana waterthrush?" I know my mom is aware of my interest in birds and she was there learning right along with me as a kid but I didn't think she remembered all of them and I was impressed that she remembered that particular bird. Perhaps because I stayed there so long staring down a brown bird and worked to try and separate it out from a northern waterthrush?
I know full well that hardcore birding is not something I'm going to do with my sisters. But usually they bring binoculars. Alas, mom left her's in the cabin when we went out and my sister Terri left her's at home. This was a spot that had a tree chock full of warblers and there was no easy way to get my scope on one so I passed around my Swarovskis (perhaps it was their intent all along--to use my binoculars). My sister Angela (in yellow) seemed to content to to simply wonder what the heck it is we are looking at.
I loves me some wild edibles and mom was excited to find some paw paws still left in the park. If you have never read Julie Zickefoose and her love and harvesting of paw paws, you should really check it out. My mom got a little too excited about finding paw paws (I should never have shown her twerkers gone wild in Walmart). But we all got a chance to taste the delicious Indiana Banana. My sisters were not as enthused by the texture as I was. But the big excitement for me was noticing people gathering some fruit under trees near the camp store. I went to investigate and low and behold the trees were laden with persimmons and I chowed down!
I picked up as many as I could and ate them with every meal at the cabin. They have the texture of plum with large seeds inside. The flesh is like a very mild orange flavored with cinnamon. There are different types of persimmons. Sometimes in stores you will find the larger, flatter Asian style for sale and when I was in Israel we had one of their varieties with every meal--it was not lost on me that in Israel they are called Sharon Fruit, but then again my name is Hebrew for a great and fertile plain.
But these persimmons are the North American species (Diospyros virginiana), the ones I remembered tasting as a kid. They were fantastic. I couldn't get enough of them. On our way out of the park we stopped again so I could load up a container and take them back to Minnesota. I wanted to try them out on Non Birding Bill.
He enjoyed the flavor as well and the next morning I chopped them up and combined them with pancake batter and a couple of dashes of cinnamon. I dare say they were the best pancakes I have ever made. Make sure when you try a persimmon or if someone is offering you one that it is a bit soft. Hard unripe persimmons are a cruel joke in your mouth, they will suck the moisture out of it and they are very bitter. But ripe ones falling off the trees are fantastic.
I also found quite a bit of sulphur shelf aka chicken of the woods growing in the park. I suspect my freakout over all the wild edibles had my family concerned for my well being during the furlough. I ended up coming back to Minnesota with far more food than I took (I"m responsible for supplying honey and cheese on trips with my sister since I have easy access to things like Sartori Espresso Cheese, brun-uusto and a new morel jack that I found). But my sister Monica sent me home with two sacks of veggies from their garden (including green tomatoes--my all time favorite), Terri sent me home with 2 jars of jam made from her cherry and other berry trees in her yard and even my Aunt Lynne had cookies and fudge at the ready for me to eat on my way back to Minnesota. I'll take it.
Speaking of the furlough, I was having a conversation with my sister Terri about house sparrows. There were a few birds mating in the rafters of Abe Martin Lodge in Brown County State Park and we chatted about bird breeding habits. A woman walking by overheard us and asked about them. I started describing them to her and noticed she gave the look of, "Wow, yeah, I was just asking a question and hoping for a one sentence answer and not an encyclopedia answer."
I know that look well and know when to stop talking, "I'm sorry," I said, "I'm a furloughed National Park Ranger and I'm having a bit of interpretation withdrawal." We laughed, everyone said how sorry they were about the situation and then went about our day.
That's really all you can do with this stupid situation, laugh at the ridiculousness of it.
That and make sure some of those laughs are from having time well spent with family.