Bluejays, etc.

It’s a busy Monday morning at the Starbucks in the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As I wait in line to order my cup of tea I ponder things.

How many wombats can you fit in a wheelbarrow? Is Freud’s theory of personality still relevant? Should I get a DoG?

Observing the young lady strolling past the food court, I wonder about girls who wear teeny short cut off jeans and big tall leather boots: Is that a thing?




I looked it up, and I guess it is.

For narrative purposes, I’ll say I had this thought, too: That squirrel I watched in my back yard, eating cream cheese off a fork — was that the cutest thing or what?




Point is, I had plenty of time to think there at the Starbucks. But I snapped to attention when I saw that I had shuffled to the head of the line and I was on deck to place my order. When one of the two baristas on duty called out, “Can I help the next guest?” (they don’t just yell NEXT at Starbucks), I walked right up to the counter and spoke up, loud and clear: Small English breakfast tea, please fill it only 2/3rd full, and one croissant you don’t have to heat it up thank you.”

Then the other barista called for the next guest, and the next guest/woman behind me seemed to be very surprised to find herself on line at Starbucks. Oh! “the next guest” exclaimed, Oh! Um, hmmm…um…what I want…um…hmmmmmm…. And she frantically scanned the menu board above.

Wow, I thought to myself: You’ve been standing on line for 7 minutes and you don’t know what you want??? Are you always an asshole or is this a special occasion? Because, as we all know, it should come as no surprise that when you stand on line at Starbucks, sooner or later you’re going to have to order.

But then I decide to give humanity the benefit of the doubt:

She’s having a real hard time spitting it out, I think. WOW! Her order must be very complicated — one of those secret off-the-menu S’mores frappacino/non-dairy foam from Jupiter/ wave a degree from Cornell over it things that I’ve heard about. 

I eagerly awaited her choice. And then, after lengthy hesitation, she, the next guest/ Starbucks customer, finally summoned the language she needed to ask for:

An iced coffee.


These days, I’ve been wondering how I can fill all the hours that used to be taken up by book-writing, now that these days, there isn’t a book that needs me to write it. I have very few options.

I can not do customer service because, present company excluded, I hate “customers” (see: Starbucks story above). I can’t do reality TV because I don’t want to frighten the cats by having a film crew stomping around my house. I can’t be Susan Branch because I’m waaaaay too damn cranky.

And it seems that there is no money in collecting Blue Jay feathers, which is really all I want to do these days.

By the way, on a day when I was not looking for Blue Jay feathers I had 3 feathers delivered to me, such as like this:




Sadly, the only thing I’m half good at is watching paint dry:




I’m painting a large (or should I say, Venti) view of the Chelsea Physic Garden. In my world, that’s 8 inches x 10 inches. But I got as far as this foreground bush (above) when I messed it up. It’s too dark — that’s a problem I often have: I load on the color too much, and I like it when the watercolor has a lot of water in it. I tried to rescue it by painting a layer of white goauche over it:


But that looked really stupid. So I started over, this time from the background:









And then I forgot to take in progress photos until the end:

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It’s all about the crop. This:

Chelsea Physic Garden London

Or this:

London Chelsea Physic Garden

That’s it, my Dear Readers, that’s all I got this week. Well, that’s almost it:

Thank you for the love you gave my girl, Dame Helen Mirren, last week. I liked how I was close enough to get the spill-over! THANK YOU!

And, to follow up on having my article on my Top Ten Garden Books published by The Guardian last week, I got some push-back by a Commentor there who did not like my criticism of John Muir’s writing and wrote:

How appalling to open by denigrating John Muir who did more for the world than you surely will ever do. He helped found the first national park system which spread worldwide and caused more good in the world than any other conservation measure. You say you thrill like one of the bloggers to Marvell’s work; hard to believe. Muir is a beautiful writer who saw interconnection in all things. That vision remains desperately undernourished and misunderstood today.

Write your own books, fine, but think about the cost of rubbishing a fine thinker.

I wrote back a message that told her, in effect, that she should go soak her head, and she responded:

Nice person! True colours at last.

Try reading, thinking, understanding rather than resort to crudity. That is the last resort of the weak minded. Also, I don’t think you should be paid for writing this kind of language. It is appalling.

Ha! I wrote back: If you think I’m forfeiting the million dollars that The Guardian paid me to write this article…I’m laughing all the way to the bank!

I really can’t stand people.

So that’s what I was doing in Atlantic City this past Monday:I was looking to invest my windfall (journalism is so lucrative!) in property and I’d always fancied owning a casino. But since the Borgata. . .


. . . isn’t for sale, I had to search for other investment opportunities. I settled on buying the sunset:


So, appalled Guardian Commentor, if it’s twilight where you are and the sun is setting, don’t look at it. It’s mine.

Here’s the latest portrait of Dennis Whiskabottoms, with his newly-tipped ear:


See you all here next week, my Wonder Ones, with more stories from Down Time on the Isle of Long.

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If not for watching the Blue Jays in my backyard, I’d be licking batteries, or kayaking, or whatever it is that people do to alleviate their boredom.


I used to think that I could never get tired of life because the world was so damn interesting that I’d have to stay alive just to find out what happened next. The tip-top height of my enthusiasm over the goings-on of this little rock adrift in the Universe was the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, when I watched my fellow citizens of Planet Earth tear down a hateful ideology, joyously, hand by hand, with the whole world tuning in on their TVs to be there in spirit and celebration. Wow, I remember saying to myself, with pride in and hope for humanity; The 1990s are going to be awesome!

I don’t have to tell you how desperately I mis-read the situation. The 1990’s sucked, the 2000’s sucked a thousand times worse, and the 20-teens’s are trying their best to convince me that life (in the words of memoirist Mary Karr) is really nothing more than a shit-eating contest.

Thank DoG for these cat-food eating Blue Jays with the collectible feathers molting in my backyard.


This is a Blue Jay choosing dry cat food over luscious sunflower seeds. The tiny little yellow pellets — millet? — are always the last to go.

You see, in addition to my weariness with current events, I am also still not writing a new book, meaning that I am effectively unemployed. And it’s horrible. I like to work. I’m happy when I’m working…or, I should say, I’m less un-happy when I have work to do — I’m a Capricorn. We are not life-of-the-party people.

So I spend my days trying to keep sane by finding things to do. I color-code teveryhing hanging in my closet. I find fault with my home furnishings. I wonder how closely related I am to Taylor Swift (who is perfect, so shut up). I research YouTube for videos of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking French (he’s perfect, even with his heavy Canuk accent, so shut up*****). It’s all very useful stuff, but it’s not real work.

Studs Terkel used his hammer-like intellect to hit the boredom-nail right on the head when he observed that work is about the search “for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

I found that quote in the introduction to Dave Isay’s excellent new book about people and the purpose and passion of their work, called Callings. Who knew that to the guy at Zabar’s deli counter, slicing lox is his calling?

I don’t, as of this writing, have a book that needs to exist in the world calling out to me, but I do hear the call of Blue Jays. So until further notice, collecting Blue Jay feathers is pretty much my job.

And so, as this is Take Your Blog Readers To Work Day here in VivianWorld, I’m going to take you with me as I do a search for All Things Feathery and Blue, which is the only way I know how to not let the terrorists win.

Starting out, I know that those Blue Jay feathers are already out there — all I have to do is find them. And if mind-mowing my front and back lawns doesn’t yield a plume or two, I start eyeballing the fringes of my acre of Earth. This is a neglected patch of old mulch near the garage:


The camera lies.

Because to my eyes, that teeny little Blue Jay feather amidst all that dead brown stuff is glowing like bright, hot, blue-glowing thing:


Sorry this picture is out of focus. The camera, again, misses the point.

Then I walked across the street and examined the rubbish along the curb for the same phenomena, which was bound to happen:


See it now?

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Five minutes later, in the shade of a hemlock tree, it was pretty easy to be hit by another blot of tiny blue lightning:



If you are keeping count, that’s three in one day. But wait . . . there’s still the hideous late afternoon doldrums to contend with. So there I was, with Top Cat, sitting in our Adirondack chairs in the backyard, discussing whose turn it was to fetch ice cubes for the pitcher of vodka tonics we were working on, when I happened to look down into the clover patch that I have been defending for years now against Top Cat’s urge to go all fescue, and something not-clover swam into my ken:



There is no moral. There’s just, for the time being, four small reasons to keep the despair at bay. Plus, I haven’t found a tail feather yet (see: map of Blue Jay at the top of this blog post) and I WANT A DAMN TAIL FEATHER.

Before I go, I want to clear up the impression I might have given you, Dear Readers, last week, that I live amongst millionaires here on the north shore of the Isle of Long. Oh sure, there is the odd McMansion that goes for 1.388 million:


But this is the mansion directly across the street from me (and just two houses down from the cut-rate Tara of above):


One of my neighbors calls the local authorities about once a month to complain about this house, which he calls an eyesore (and it’s inhabited, by the way– by a bachelor who’s lived there since 1981), but I find it rather picturesque:


And, in keeping with my theme of what a slum I live in, I also recently discovered a bit of a Cat Lady situation three streets over:


I’ve been bringing food and water to these sweeties this past week, and have contacted the wonderful TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) network about the 15 feral (that I’ve counted so far, and two are seriously ill)  who live on this property, but the TNR people are all about Getting Permission from the Home Owner, and I’m all about trespassing the hell out of the place.


This is the basement window (in the pic above) that the home owner has rigged up with a tiny kitty door so that the cats can come and go in and out of the house — check out the two white paws visible above the head of the kitten that is far right — and the lawn is kept and tidy, but the food bowls are always empty when I check and the smell is about what you’d expect when you have 15  + cats using your yard as a litter box.


I’ve knocked on the door many times, I’ve asked the neighbors, I’ve left notes. I think I’m going to have to stake out the place to get a moment with the Cat Lady here, but no matter what she says I WILL get these cats. I’ve gone rogue before. I’m a one person Cats Protection League.

I’m sorry if reading this has raised your blood pressure — I feel my heart racing just thinking of the neglect, pure and simple, of these dear kitties going on here. Which reminds me that it’s time to TNR our new friend, Denny Whiskerbottoms, who is nothing if not fetching on a Sunday afternoon in the shed:


Steve, as you can see below, has gone totally groovy since he was TNR’d last month; so groovy, in fact, that when I came across him sticking halfway out from under the holly bush in the side yard, I thought he was dead:


He was just doing his Steve Yoga:


He favorite time for getting all Zen is after diner, when the cement on the front porch is in the shade, but still warm from gathering the day’s worth of star shine:


This is a true story: I put this exact image of Steve in my mind when I was getting my blood pressure checked last Friday; my first physical in eight years. I wanted to do well on the cardio front even though wearing those idiot paper gowns at the doctor’s office stresses me out. So I thought Steve Steve Steve, and my BP was 104 / 75. I did the same for the EKG and the doctor said to me, Wow — you have a nice slow heart beat!

So, between the bunny-butted bliss of my Manx Steve and the ever-blue joy of Blue Jays, I guess life won’t tire me out yet, and I will go forth, panther-pawed, in the ways of awe and folly.


This is from Ray Bradbury:

Not smash and grab, but rather find and keep;
Go panther-pawed where all the mined truths sleep
To detonate the hidden seeds with stealth
So in your wake a weltering of welath
Springs up unseen, ignored and left behind
As you sneak on, pretending to be blind.
On your return along the jungle path you’ve made
Find all the littered stuffs where you have strayed;
The small truths and the large have surfaced there
Where you stealth-blundered wildly unaware
Or seeming so. And so these mines were mined
In easy game of pace and pounce and find;
But mostly fluid pace, not too much pounce.
Attention must be paid, but by the ounce.
Mock caring, seem aloof, ignore each mile
And metaphors like cats behind your smile
Each one wound up to purr, each one a pride,
Each one a fine gold beast you’ve hid inside,
Now summoned forth in harvests from the brake
Turned anteloping elephants that shake
And drum and crack the mind to awe,
To behold beauty yet perceive its flaw.
Then, flaw discovered, like fair beauty’s mole,
Haste back to reckon all entire, the Whole.
This done, pretend these wits you do not keep,
Go panther-pawed where all the mined truths sleep.


For those of you who might not know, our own Dear Reader Monique, French-Canadian as all get-out and an amazing photographer, has been to Paris and her blog posts about her June journey are not to be missed. I LOVED the get-away I got just by reading all about it here.

Have a great Weekend, my velvet-footed Wonder Ones.

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You-Know-What made a fine showing on the Long Island Sound this past Monday:



Steve, for one, was feeling it:


Something about the way Steve shows up regularly for breakfast and dinner on my front stone wall, and stakes out the front stoop in between meals to coerce me into handing out his favorite salmon-flavored kitty snacks, and gives me blinky-eyes like he’s practically domesticated, well, something about all that seems to hint that Wandering Steve might be ready to put an end to his free-agency, and come join the herd full time. Which would be my tuxedo kitty-dream come true.


Steve is a Manx, a breed of cat that is naturally tail-less, which I must explain because some people do not know that cats come in two shapes, Normal and Bunny Butt.

And speaking of bunny butts in my front and back yards . . .


. . . here are some recent sightings from the neighborhood:


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Just around the corner the other day, I envied these people (below) for having a magical, life-changing tidying up experience, which is what I saw in their mountain of joy-sparking de-clutter pitched onto their front lawn . . .


Built in 2002, 3410 sq. feet (317 sq. meters), 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths.

. . . but it was only (only?) a major clear-out for when, two weeks later, they put their house up for sale. So here’s your opportunity to be my neighbor, for $1.388 million!

Inspired by such spiffitude, Top Cat and Bibs decided to do some home improvements in our way under-1.388 million dollar manse:


One of the reasons that we are in the Less Than Million Dollar part of the neighborhood is because of this:


Yes, that is the “solution” to the gas leak of three weeks ago, when Top Cat and I absconded to the Jersey Shore to get away from the fumes. I didn’t mention it then, but it was me who called the fire department about the gas leak in the first place, which brought fire trucks and fire marshals and utility crews back to the scene of the crime (a botched installation of new lines). The upshot was that the second crew of diggers work well into the night, only to leave a bigger hole, which they covered with very large sheets of plywood, and these four handsome daleks as sentries, and new, additional ventilation holes drilled into the street:


We haven’t seen hide nor hair of National Grid since, and there are still, albeit faint, whiffs of gas wafting around the block. Sigh.

I’m just not in the mood to call out the troops and make trouble again, which is so not like me. Current events still have me spiritually drained. When it comes to doing my part to hold the bastards accountable (in general, that is, for gas leaks and etc.), I am weary. The dim-wits, the entitled, the cynical, the half-assed, and the self-absolved-righteous always prevail. I feel tired most of the time.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to get out there and Look For Blue Jay Feathers.


That, above, was last year’s haul of Blue Jay feathers, all from my own back yard (and a few from the front one, too). It was the Summer of 2015 and, having deposited with my editor my finished manuscript for Gardens of Awe and Folly, I was ready to re-enter the world of light and color after living in a three-year-old black hole of book-writing. During my time of darkness, I had been AWOL  as a collector of Blue Jay feathers, amassing only three or four a year — in 2014, I did not even bother to search: I have ZERO feathers to show for it. A lost Summer.

So, 2015 rolls around and I am trying to re-awken myself to the world, and I feel like a beginner in Being. I’m out of touch with the Blue Jay nature of the world. Still, I say to the Universe: Please, I’d like to find 5 feathers this year.

It was a big demand. Extravagant. Unrealistic. Totally presumptuous. I don’t know where I got the gall — five feathers! It was magical thinking at its best!

In the end, I found 40. See above.

(You can read all about the 40th Feather here.)

This year, I have a whole lot more on my mind. I thought things were bad last year, but they are even worse this year. It’s so bad that I have doubts, big and small, about Blue Jays. But, still, so far this year, even though it feels as if I am only going through the motions, I set up my Blue Jay Feather Finding Quest.

First, the mechanics of the Quest.

You have to give Blue Jays a reason to hang out in your back yard:


It’s as simple as that– a bowl of dry cat food set up on something that gives the Jays a look-out for cats. Even hyper-nervous Cardinals like this set-up:


You can mix sunflower seeds and bird food in with the dry cat food, if you fret about the menu, but the cat food is what Blue Jays really love.

My back yard is surrounded by tall trees, which is helpful because the Blue Jays flit in and out of them all day in order to swoop to the trash can buffet. But even if you don’t have trees, all you need is Blue Jays flapping their wings over your designated Questing Spot, because the more they flap, the more molt you will get = better chance of finding plumes. So that’s it for the nuts and bolts.

Next, there’s the mental game.

I like to watch the Blue Jays come and feed, but I also ask every bird that I see: Please leave me a feather. Preferably, a tail feather, please. I feel that this is an important part of gathering Blue Jay feathers: you have to let the Blue Jays know that you’re in the market for their cast-offs.

Now for the actual collecting:

On an ideal morning, I wake up half an hour before the rest of the house, which would make it around 5am. I’ve been up as early as 4:30 and it’s delightful to prowl in the last remains of night and watch the day break open, but you can’t quest for Blue Jay feathers in the dark, so any hour at the crack of dawn is best for feather-hunting.

Then I go to the kitchen and I make a cup of tea, black India tea, to which I add a tablespoon of honey and a drop of pure vanilla extract. You won’t taste the vanilla — but your cup will get a hovering mist of an almost angelic scent of meadows and roses.Vanilla puts me in a good mood.

Then I open the back door and step outside. It will be cool and dewy out there in the back yard, and I will take a moment to ask the Universe to Let me see the Blue Jay feathers that are scattered in the blade of grass before me. And then I remember to add, Please.

And then I start to walk, my eyes focused on the bit of Earth at my feet. I walk slowly, as if I am mowing: all the way across one way, and then all the way back the other way; repeat. My wanders. I think about other mornings, other Blue Jay feathers, and, more often than not, the latest song that is stuck in my head. I don’t try to think, or not think. I’m just paying attention, in a very relaxed way. I stop often to sip my tea, take a look around. This is the part of the day that reminds me to be happy to be alive.

I don’t visualize, I don’t expect. I just walk and wonder.

Even if you don’t find a feather every morning, it’s not a bad way to start the day.

But when you do find a feather — it is always the brightest shiniest fun moment! It’s as if the thing materialized out of thin air — as if it was dropped right there, in front of you, just for you!

The other thing about doing the morning ritual is that it puts it in your mind that you are now a Blue Jay Feather Magnet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve completed my dawn mosey, found nothing, and then, later that day, I’ll be walking to my car or down the sidewalk to a neighbor’s — and BAM. Right in front of me is a Blue Jay feather, there on the concrete or asphalt, in the heat of day, when BlueJay feathers weren’t even on my mind.

That’s fun, too.

So I began my 2016 Blue Jay Feather Quest one week ago. And how many feathers have I found so far?


3. And none of them came from a dawn walking of the Earth.

And then again, all of them have come from a dawn walking of the Earth.


Go ahead, ask the Universe for something audacious. Unburden the heart, roam the mind, clear the eyes. It’s right there in front of you.

Have a great weekend, Wonder Ones.

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Many of my long-time Dear Readers know that I consider the magnificent Eastern Blue Jay …


…to be the Top DoG in the bird world.  Lucky for me, these little miracles of evolution are native to my home state of New York and are frequent visitors to my backyard, and during their Summer molt they usually drop a feather or two my way. Since 2004 I have been collecting these tiny gifts to put on display in my Museum of Blue :P1040939

However, as far as collecting Blue Jay feathers in the past few years, my heart hasn’t been in it. Three years ago my mind became preoccupied with a very ambitious project — writing and illustrating a book about a world tour of gardens. I know it doesn’t sound all that perplexing a job: You go visit a garden, you paint some pictures of it, you write about how nice it is, and you’re done.

But I wanted to avoid the usual dreadful garden vocabulary and I wanted to up-end the cliche garden philosophies and I wanted to make illustrations that were not botanical in nature — I wanted to make pictures that portrayed the soul of the place. On top of all that, I am not all that smart. So I had to think hard. It took up a lot of my brain power. And so it came to pass that, in the Summer of 2012, I was so busy pondering hard on garden things that I only picked up four feathers:


The way that I figured out how to avoid using  the usual vocabulary of garden writing was that I made a list of dreadful words that are so often used by garden writers that they stab me in my mind’s eyeball every time I read them. The list includes the words:

Sacred space, Communion, Magical, Jewel or jewel-like or gemNurturing, Benevolent, Abode, Haven,  or Glade.  All those bad-poet words that make you go yeeeeech.

I also banned the word “Nature” from my book, but then I put in a quote from Dorothy Wordsworth that contained the “N” word…and I kind of regret that now. How awesome would it have been to have written an entire book about gardens and not mention nature once???

In 2013 I was still cogitating on putting together nine garden stores that were completely cliche-free, void of any reference to renewal, or solace, or seeds. My garden philosophy is very rigorous in that I believe that gardens mean something that is specific and individual to every garden. My brain was sorely over-taxed by the task, so I’m amazed that in 2013 I still had the sightfulness to spy  these dainty gifts in my backyard:


Last Summer, 2014, this is what I gathered, Blue Jay feather-wise:


In 2014 I had not only a garden book to bring into being, but I was caring for a very, very old and completely time-consuming cocker spaniel called Boogie Girl (her story is here in a blog post called Happiness is a Warm Puppy):


This brings me to last Summer, the Summer of 2015.


My garden book, rife with digressions on dive bars, 1970s haute couture, rainy days, English tea, and not living in Cleveland (sorry, Cleveland), is done!

Just this past Thursday, the industry Torah, Publisher’s Weekly, has read it and reviewed it:

Vivian Swift (Le Road Trip), inspired by the ineffable beauty of a poinsettia tree she encountered in Brazil, tours nine gardens from around the world in this seductive illustrated travelogue. She starts in Paris at the Square du Vert-Galant, meanders to Marrakech, lingers in London’s Physic Garden, and roams through Rio de Janeiro’s Midnight Garden. In Key West, Fla., she pens a polemic about pines; visiting poet William Cullen Bryant’s Cedermere, she sings a paean to his pears. As Swift sees it, gardens pay “homage to this wondrous Earth.” Each chapter includes maps, inspirational quotations (as well as an “ancient Celtic prayer” she “just made up”), and a benedictory essay. Throughout, there is loveliness and wit through whimsical words (such as doodad and dithers) and pictures. Her splashy watercolors, washing joyfully throughout, include a lesson on how to paint fall leaves. Color illus. (Mar.)

So I guess I pulled off what I had set out to do — and made it look easy!

And so, in 2015, I put down my paint brushes and pushed myself away from my computer and I became, once again, a Blue Jay Feather Collector. Starting in June, I gave myself the goal of collecting five — 5 — Blue Jay feathers.

The way you collect Blue Jay feathers is, first of all, make your back yard a good space for Blue Jays. I do this by putting out bowls of dry cat — which they LOVE — in high places, out of the stalking range of any resident cat.

It also helps if you have a nice assortment of tall trees in your back yard, which I do, because Blue Jays love to look down on plotting cats and screech at them. They also like to perch high on a branch and send out a flute-like flows of rapturous calls, which are the songs that they only sing to one another.

Then, each morning, preferably shortly after dawn but definitely in the hour of your first cup of tea of the day, you have to walk out in the dewy grass of your backyard and send a request, very politely worded, to the Blue Jays and the Universe that goes like this:

Please let me see, today, the gifts that are everywhere in front of me.

It helps if, while you are requesting this mindfulness, if you can hold in your mind the image of a Blue Jay feather.

I was surprised at how surprised I was at how, almost immediately, it became very easy to find Blue Jay feathers!


I knew that 2015 was going to be a very, very good year for collecting Blue Jay feathers when, in late June, I found FIVE in one day.

Somewhere deep in the back of my brain I know there is the belief that life is good. I believe that in spite of the randomness of evil and the prevalence of human stupidity and the misery of history-in-the-making, that life can still be wondrous. That belief gets re-awakened and strengthened every time I find a Blue Jay feather just for the asking…and I hope you know that you, Dear Reader, are free to replace Blue Jay Feather with any other totem of your heart’s desire, which you will indeed find, too, simply by asking for the eyes and spirit to see that it is always there in front of you. And, naturally, by doing the work it takes to make your little acre of earth a good ground for those things to drop into.

So how good was the 2015 Summer of collecting Blue Jay feathers?

It was this good:


Yeah, it was 40-Feathers good.

But I was not ready to let things be. I guess I got a little greedy. Maybe a bit cocky. Maybe, even, a bit entitled. On the first day of Fall this year, I put it out to the spirits in my backyard that I wanted proof-beyond-doubt that I was the Universe’s favorite child. I wanted to find ONE MORE Blue Jay feather.

It was while I was pacing the backyard for the third time, with nary a Blue Jay feather in sight, that I thought about the moral of this tale (because I knew I was going to have to blog about my 40-Feather Summer). And I concluded that not finding that one last Blue Jay feather was even better than finding that one last Blue Jay feather because it would show that the Universe wanted me to learn something fine and elegant about the search itself…how it’s the quest for the Blue Jay feather that connects us to the profound mysteries of consciousness on this little speck of blue in the cosmos.

Which is how I wanted to end this story, all philosophical and Zen-ish.

And then I saw this:


Which turned out to be this:


Which is a “flight” feather from the wing of a Blue Jay (I hope you can see the ridge of blue on its outer edge):


I can’t tell you how astonished I was when I picked this one last Blue Jay feather up off the ground. It was completely unexpected, and ridiculously gracious of the Universe, and hugely annoying. I already had it all planned out, about how I was a better person for not finding that one last Blue Jay feather and all.

There goes my  grand finale, my message that it’s the search for the Blue Jay Feather of the Soul that gets us out of bed in the morning after yet another atrocity of hate, or apathy, or stupidity (check the latest news cycle). And what about my uplifting morale about how being a Being of the Search is a fine, fine way to live, in that it gives you a reason for living and does wonders for your personality and keeps you too busy to conform to what society wants you to do, which is to stop thinking and go shopping? That’s gone, too. And now, all I have to show for all that hard thinking is a crappy little Blue Jay feather. I mean, WTF?

Well, at this point, all I can do is feel amazed and overwhelmed by love and gratitude. Thank you, Universe, for the abundance of your gifts, thank you for letting me see that your gifts are everywhere, thank you for the mysteries and the meanings of your vast and life-giving (and, sometimes, even loving) presence, and thank you thank you thank you for always being open to interpretation.

Happy Thanks Giving, everyone.

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When I start a blog post, I usually put a “place-holder” title on it because great titles don’t just pop into my head (I still have no title for The Damn Garden Book) so I have to wait until the end of the writing to squeeze something appropriate out of my brain. But today I’m leaving my place-holder title in place. Another Winter storm is heading our way. And it’s the first day of Spring.

And cardinals really are quite stupid.

The predicted snow fall will not make life hard for small woodland creatures. However, the predicted 4 inches will make me, a lesser form of squirrely, really pouty.


These pictures are from the last blizzard of (technically) Winter, on March 4, 2015.


I did not care for that blizzard. But at least Winter has a personality — with all the depths and beauty of a fully-formed season: wordlessly wonderful snowscapes, tingly cold, demon slush, etc. Same with Summer: she keeps you enthralled, from the first firefly, to the scent of the shade of an elm tree, to the last thunderstorm. And Fall! Fall is bursting with personality! Color! Mood! Harvest!

But Spring? Spring starts as a wimpy-ass end of Winter, continues as a sloppy mud fest of thaw, drags its feet getting to warm weather, and flounces around with a few weeks of buds that die and become botanical litter. The best you can say about Spring are those days when you think it looks the most like Summer. It has no real personality of its own, it’s all for show, and it’s mucky.

Spring. The Kim Kardashian of seasons.


So on March 4, I surveyed the situation, which was not to my liking, and predicted that there was no way all that snow could melt by the first day of Spring.


This is my patio on the afternoon of March 5:


The wooden box was one of our birdseed-putting stations.

This is what my patio looked like on March 18:


Some birds dislike on-the-brick feeding.

This is what that trash can looked like on the morning of March 5:


So big deal. For the first half of the first day of Spring, our patio was snow free. By tomorrow it will be covered with 4 inches of snow.

This is our cardinal, three days ago, hopping amidst the left-over birdseed from the dearly departed snow on the patio:


He’s thinking, Didn’t there used to be food here? Where did it go??? I’m looking everywhere, and it’s gone! Where????


He never did find that tray of fresh birdseed that I had cleverly hidden from him in plain sight.


True story. I watched that cardinal search the whole patio.

This is the back fence stick pile o/a February 20:


This was it on the last Wednesday of Winter:


Yesterday I took this picture of the new hot spot on our patio:


It doesn’t look like much, for now. But wait for it:






This is one happy, Spring-flinging kitty cat.

I don’t have the heart to tell him it’s going to snow today.


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A weather update from the frozen and pissed-off with everything about Winter shores of the Long Island Sound.


It snowed on Sunday.


And then it snowed on Tuesday. It’s a wonder that I still have all my, uh, what do you call ’em, those round thingies that roll smoothly from one synapse to the other in a sequential and thought-provoking manner.


And then it snowed all the live long day Thursday. Marbles.


I measure bird feed by the pitcher.


I throw out three to four pitchers of bird feed a day. The kind you make iced tea in.


Broadcasting the bird feed o’er the land gives our birdies wing-space.


The blue jays are a bit wary of the squirrels but the cardinals are downright cowards.


Mrs. Cardinal has a tad more chutzpah than the old spherical object tied around the tarsus. ( That’s him, peering over the shoulder of an about-to-pounce-on-a-sunflower seed blue jay.)


And this is him, opting for the better part of valor.


This is from the back patio feeding ground.


Awww, squirrels are so cute.


Come on! That’s cute!

But maybe not as cute as this:


Dear Readers, I am in a mood today. Not the kind of mood that makes you want to take a twirl in the twilight or whip up a batch of champagne marmalade. The other kind of mood. The one that makes you feel as if  fate has thrown a meat cleaver directly into the heart of your peace of mind.

On Monday I amazed myself by hitting FINAL on the last re-write of the next-to-last chapter of the Damn Garden Book. The End was Sooooooooooo Near. Sooooooo near. The nearest it has ever been in the three years I’ve been writing this Damn Book. The weight of deadlines and trial and errors and writing the wrong Damn Book over and over again was almost off my shoulders. I had at last got it right! I wrote good stuff! Any day now I could open the special Prosecco that has been on my dining room shelf waiting to celebrate  The End of the Damn Garden Book!

All I had to do was write the London chapter, a chapter that I have put off writing for two years because I knew it would be “easy” to write. I did piles of research, read a whole book about the history of apothecary gardens, written pages and pages of notes, gone over the notes and pulled out whatever seemed  too digressive, shaped up 14 pages of narrative — all so the writing would be a breeze. A breeze.

This is how organized I am: this is what the data base for the DGB looks like:


See? Everything in place, at my fingertips.

To refresh your memory, this is what the London Chapter look like:




The only thing between me and the end of 3 years of 7-day work weeks is the London chapter. And I can’t find it.

It’s not lost in the black hole of the internet, or in the one-way labyrinth of my hard drive. It’s lost in my house.

I have lost the hard copy of all my notes-taken and outlines plotted and fun fact shoehorned. I can’t find my London pile of notes.

My editor at Bloomsbury is OK with getting 8 our of 9 chapters from me on Friday (the wished-for deadline was last Monday). She will look over the flow and the sentences and the potholes of the text while I start assembling the layouts for 208 pages of book. After the text has been content edited, line edited, and proofread, I will drop the perfection of prose that will forever be Vivian Swift’s Last Damn Book into the blank spots between illustrations.

And then I can life like a normal person.

But I can’t do that until I find the London chapter. After a few days of moping, I started a down-to-the-floorboards search starting i my workroom. If you are reading this as a normally scheduled post, then I haven’t found it yet.

If I had found the damn London chapter, I would have posted this:




This is a picture of the neighborhood walled gardens of London (Knightsbridge  — you watched me paint it in the post called It’s True. I Paint Like a Writer under the category London Gardens).

Shortly after I painted this, I ruined it. I added questionable line enhancements and I cropped off the sidewalk. I am a few illustrations short in the London chapter, so I recently took another gander at this and realized that I still like the idea of the pic so much that I want to rescue it. I want to correct my mistakes and turn it into the full-page (8 inch by 9 inch) title page for the London chapter.

I am very sorry for not replying to all of your Comments last week. I just haven’t had the heart. But I will — I hope you keep checking.

I hope by next week I will have found the London chapter along with all those tiny globular containers of mindfulness that fire the concept of a person I call “Me”.


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You might remember my friend Robert from pages 190 and 191 of my book When Wanderers Cease to Roam, where I talk about how Robert operates the drawbridge over the Eastchester Barge Canal off U.S.Route 1.

He spent 30 years there, planting trees and creating art from the debris that floated his way, hanging hundreds of his “collages” (they looked like wind chimes to me) from the branches of his trees because, as Robert said, ” God put me here to straighten out this part of Earth.”

Robert retired last year and yesterday I went to visit him at his home in Westchester County, on the shore of the Long Island Sound.

No, this isn’t Robert’s yard. This is Robert’s neighbor’s yard. I’m just showing you this for a sense of contrast because Robert’s been as busy in his own acre of Earth as he was at the drawbridge — Robert’s yard looks like this:

Robert’s made his yard into a wonderland garden, sculpted the landscape by installing a staircase, railings, statues, more “collages” set into the ground, etc.

These photos make the place look a little more chaotic than it is — I just love the way Robert adds all these different shapes (like the fans) into the scenery.

And the sinks.

You can get lost in the scale of the surrounding installations here —

—and I didn’t bring a tea bag so I’m pointing to this particularly lovely little vignette to show you that some of Robert’s work is quite diminutive.

This is one of the more elaborate “collages’/wind chimes hanging in Robert’s home garden.

Robert surprised me with a very special gift — a wind chime of my very own!

These keys used to hang at the Eastchester Barge Canal and when a county supervisor made Robert get rid of “all that trash in the trees” Robert saved this one and gave it to me!

Oh! I almost forgot to tell you about the most fantastic part of Robert’s garden! I saw something that I’ve never seen and never could have hoped or dared to see with my own eyes right there, in Robert’s garden. I saw this:

This is a mother blue jay sitting in her nest in Robert’s garden (giving me the hairy eyeball).

As for Le Road Trip, I must give thanks to the kind reviews that have appeared this past week in the Sunday Mail in Brisbane, Australia ;and the Oklahoman of Oklahoma City; and the Roanoke Times of Roanoke, VA.

Thanks also to all my dear readers, who are reading both Le Road Trip and When Wanderers Cease to Roam in original hard copy (since neither book can be Kindled), putting up with my old-fashioned idea that a reading experience must include a real book-shaped object.

P.S. I’m looking for good garden books — ones that have great illustrations and stories about gardens and their gardeners. I’ve already ordered , sight unseen but just because I like the title, an out-of-print book called Remembered Gardens…does anyone know of any other good books that get to the heart of the garden experience? Or will I have to write that one myself?

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The snow started after dark, in the wee hours of Saturday morning. So by the time we woke up we had FINALLY a blanket of Winter White to celebrate.

Our bird feeder has small perches and low feeding windows, so it’s best suited for small birds like these.

FINALLY one smart Jay figured out how to FINALLY swing it so that he could fit his huge butt onto this itty bitty feeder for small birdies:

I LOVE this guy, hanging from his toes to dip into the feed bag here. I was laughing as I took these pictures from the other side of the picture window in the den, and I’m sure that the Jay heard me. Because he gave me the hairy eyeball:

Well, he must have taken offense because he then turned his back on me.

Heart.      Be.      Still.

This is usually called The Money Shot.

I call the Blue Jay Map, because here are all the feathers that I lust after. Here, on the bird, are the heart-breakingly gorgeous tail feathers and the stunningly beautiful flight feathers that I collect and treasure.

Here is your own Blue Jay Map:

But this delicious Winter Day wasn’t all about birds.  We had plenty of other critters hanging out in the backyard on this fine snowy day.

Miss Candy was out and about, pawing her delicate way around the new fallen snow.

While her boy, Taffy, was leaping and hopping, frisking after snowflakes and jumping into small drifts.

He tried to get Dudley to share in the fun, but Duds wasn’t having it.

Although it looked to me that Duds was certainly enjoying the snowfall in his own contemplative, birdie-wishing way.

But enough with the birds and the felines!

I know what you’re all really interested in on this first and perhaps only Snow Day of Winter 2012.

You want to get to the Champagne-O-Meter.

It looked like this  at 8 o’clock in the AM.

By 10 o’clock another half inch of snow had fallen, but the weather was just about to change to wind-driven sleet.

Conditions remained cold, but wet, throughout the rest of the day.

Shortly before dusk, I took one last measurement and determinded that the snow had ended and the Champagne-O-Meter could be put to better  use.

And then it was time to add the last ingredient to my recipe for a perfect Winter day:

Take your Champagne-O-Meter, add one Top Cat (or the True Love of your choice).

Add roaring fire and a Frank Sinatra CD playing in the background.

Perfect end to a perfect Winter day.

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The proofs of Le Road Trip came today!


These pages are all set to go into production: if I have any objections I have to make then now, or forever hold my peace.

The proofs are on the same quality of paper that will be used for the book itself, so I can get a good look at how the art work will print.

Suddenly, all those homely hand-made pasted-up sheets of paper look dignified, presented in (almost) end product form.

Each sheet of proof paper holds two pages of text in numerical order. This happens to be pages six and  seven. I’m supposed to look each page over and let my production editor know if the color saturation and contrast in up to snuff.

I looked, I judged it perfect, I sent in my OK.

As far as my part in the creation of this book, my work is done.

To celebrate, Top Cat said “Let’s pack a picnic dinner and a bottle of Bordeaux and go to Morgan Park and watch the sun set tonight.”

And as we are hauling ourselves and our buffet from the parking lot to the lush lawns of Morgan Park, I say to Top Cat, “I’m putting out a request to the Universe for a Blue Jay feather tonight, so keep a look out.”

And, not a half minute later, Top Cat says to me, “Oh, here it is.”

That’s the Blue Jay feather that Top Cat almost stepped on, on our way to our picnic dinner. (That’s my dear sweet Top Cat in the background, with the picnic hamper.)

I was ecstatic, of course. And I said something like, “More! More! I want more Blue Jay feathers! This is a Blue Jay feather goldmine!!”

Top Cat tried to calm me down by saying, “Sweetie, come on, what are the chances that lightning will strike twice?”

And then he said, “Oh. Never mind.”

That’s one of the best things about my Top Cat. His magic is strong.

And as the last SkiDooer motored in to port in the last light of day, me and Top Cat were grateful that most of the 20 million people who live within a 20-mile radius of our picnic paradise decided to stay home and watch Entertainment Tonight than come out and watch the sunset.

Even though this looks fake as can be, this is for real. I took this picture with my own camera and, of  course, with my own eyes.

Life is good.

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Another week of sad, heartbreaking, awful, terrible news.

I was sitting on my patio.  It was 86 degrees at 7:30 am. The air was  numbingly still, suffocatingly hot (week long heat wave: not good) . I was already exhausted by the weather, the news, and the future.

My head drooped, my eyes barely focused on the bricks on our patio.

That’s where I found my sanity.

Do you see it?

That’s because it’s a tiny bit camouflaged, lying in wait (being aerodynamically designed to land up-side down). Raisons d’etre tend to fall into your life that way.

Let me turn it over for you:

It’s a Blue Jay tail feather, the center tail feather — the one around which the bird’s symmetry is arrayed.


No scientist would have the nerve to invent such a thing, the way its form and pattern meshes so effortlessly.

No artist would dare invent such a color, a cool steel-blue that shimmers hot turquoise like a flash of lightning.

This is the kind of miracle that you only get in nature, as a gift, just for paying attention,on this planet that seems determined to kill itself with sorrow.

In the quantity of joy this Blue Jay feather brought me on the morning that I found it under the rhododendron tree, this little little occasion of beauty and surprise, the world was redeemed. At least for the day.

Well, at least for the rest of the morning.


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