LOCAL VIEW –First Snow–

I recall reading a poem where the poet wistfully stated that someday perhaps we could again contemplate falling snow in the manner of Japanese poets of yore, and not be distracted by all our modern concerns about road conditions and whether we remembered to put on snow tires,  and what we will do if school is cancelled. For there is something to be said for the beauty of falling snow, especially the first flakes, falling when the final leaves are still on the trees.

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Sadly, I find I can’t sit back and contemplate much.  While the kale in the garden is improved by frost, the celery can’t withstand much freezing, and I have a good crop.

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But how am I to find time for the celery, when my wife isn’t too happy about my great harvest of hot peppers, gathered last week after our first freeze and still scattered about her kitchen?

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And how am I to find time for peppers with a business to run? Every day I write a list, but emergencies emerge, especially when you run a Childcare. Early childhood is actually one long emergency, as children are emerging into a world full of dangers and disasters. So that which is on my list doesn’t get done until it itself becomes an emergency. For example, I should check out the wood stoves when weather is warm, but I never get around to it until we start our first fire and the house fills with smoke. Then I have to frantically replace a stove pipe (40 years old and crumbling with corrosion) and sweep a chimney. Who has time to string up peppers?First Snow 4 FullSizeRender

The good side is that little children at our Childcare get to see a man work. Most Childcares give children the impression men evaporate at sunrise and materialize at sunset. At my place they get to feel the stiff wire bristles of a chimney brush, and see black flakes of creosote, and learn smoke can condense like steam can, and see me huff about with a long ladder over my shoulder, and understand men do work.

The bad part is that at my advanced age I’m not suppose to be huffing and puffing about. I’m suppose to wear a white suit and give orders like a fellow who owns a plantation.

How am I suppose to wear a white suit if I’m cleaning chimneys? Soot would spoil the fabric. As would dirt from the garden, and sap and sawdust from lugging firewood would be just as bad.  About the only good thing about snow is that I could wear a white suit in it and not get it dirty, but white linen is not made for cold climates and shoveling snow.

I actually feel a bit like a rat in a wheel, and have to steal time to write, but when my wife sees me sneaking off to my word processor she sometimes gives me the feeling that a man’s main aim in life is to avoid chores, whereupon I tell her a woman’s main aim in life is to create them.

Then our eyes meet, and we know it is time for a break. With a three day weekend coming up, we need a day at the beach. So let’s check the forecast.

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For those of you who like less precise temperatures, 16º Fahrenheit equals -9º Celsius. Winds will be from the north, gusting to thirty mph.

We will have the beach all to ourselves! Yippie!

Last spring I watched the final flakes falling
With the petals of an apple tree’s blooms
And wondered if I’d see the appalling,
Appealing white again. For our dooms
Are hidden from us. We can never guess
If tomorrow will come. In my mad case
It seems that the answer’s definitely, “yes.”
God’s willing I run a lap of the race
And feel snow in my face. On I will roam
With my beachcomber’s pension,with wild skies
and thudding surf a most beautiful poem
Even if I never ink the words that my eyes
See written by cirrus and hear in surf’s sighs.
The Timeless is peeking through time’s thin disguise. 

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LOCAL VIEW —A Sneaky Storm—

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The above map shows a low developing off the east coast of the United States, but what it doesn’t show is what clobbered us. Namely, tropical storm Phillippe.

Phillippe existed on the map produced before this one, but the fellows at the weather bureau decided it no longer fit their standards. It was downgraded to the low to the south of the three lows gathered around Cape Hatteras.  Those three lows are undergoing the usual “bombogenesis”that creates our autumnal gales, and Phillippe has been relegated to the status of an appendage in the developing gale’s warm sector. Seemingly the developing gale grabbed the attention of the forecasters, and the ex-tropical-storm was suppose to simply cease to be. The only problem was, someone forgot to tell Phillippe.

Phillippe then proceeded to make the weather bureau look like dopes.  I figure I really have no right to criticize, unless I am on the record with a different forecast, because any fool can criticize weathermen using 20-20 hindsight. It takes guts to stick your neck out when you are dealing with multiple variables and a chaotic system, and most of the time the weather bureau does an amazing job. If you doubt me, try to forecast better than they do. But don’t try it unless your ego can withstand looking more dopey than a dope.

On this occasion I am kicking myself, because I should have gone on record. I was simply too busy with other stuff to put my doubts down in words, as a short post. I’ll put them down now as an afterthought, so you may share my doubts the next time you notice two things.

First, any sort of tropical storm in the warm sector of a developing gale will up the ante. The “Perfect Storm” 1991 had Hurricane Grace to tap. Other autumnal gales have seemed to fail to weaken even when occluded, as if the occlusion was a pipeline of tropical juice, (and at times as if the tropical storm was unwinding and feeding directly into the Gale.) In such cases a gale can give New England staggering amounts of rain. In other cases the upper air trough, digging down into the USA to create the Gale, is “negatively tilted” in such a manner the remnant of a tropical storm (and the gale-center itself) do not head out to sea, but curve inland, and at times the tropical remnant is accelerated north so abruptly that it is as if it is whipped north, and consequently it retains some of its tropical characteristics over waters so cold one ordinary would expect the storm to cease being tropical.

This brings me to my second point, which is that the hurricane center has some new and nit-picky way of defining a tropical storm that, to be a bit rude, seems ludicrous to me. Often it seems a case of “straining at a gnat while swallowing a camel”.

To say Hurricane Sandy was not a hurricane when it came ashore is a prime example, and may have even cost a few people their lives. Saying “Hurricane Sandy no longer exists” causes the average Joe to drop his guard. People don’t respect a “gale” the same way they respect a “hurricane”, and the weather bureau is suppose to serve the public, and not puff the vanity they display when they think they are showing off some sort of prowess, in being able to make some hair-splitting distinction between when a storm is officially “tropical” and when it becomes “extra-tropical”.

To make matters worse, once they have made this distinction, they then take themselves too seriously. Having determined Phillippe was no longer a tropical storm, because they did not put it on their map as more than an appendage, they were caught off guard when it came crashing through New England between the hours of midnight and 3:00 AM. And I’m sure they would be swift to give a multitude of reasons why it was not an actual tropical storm as it crashed through. But someone ought tell them, “If it walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.”

It is amazing how fast such storms come north, when conditions are right. The 1938 hurricane sliced through New England moving at an estimated 60 mph. Likely it had lost its purely tropical characteristics, and there may even some nit-pickers at the weather bureau who can dicker in a nasal voice, “It wasn’t actually a hurricane.” That is how far from the outdoors computers can jail some poor minds, but anyone who quibbles the 1938 hurricane was not a hurricane quacks like a duck.

(Yet nearly all of these quibblers will tell you Hazel was not a tropical disturbance as it completely clobbered Toronto.)

In actual fact Phillippe ripped through New England like a smaller and weaker version of the 1938 storm, with abruptly rising winds and amazing, torrential downpours. Like the 1938 storm it and came and went before many fully registered what hit them. (Because it was weaker, some even slept through the event.)

I am personally praying we can get through this “warm” AMO without a repeat of the 1938 hurricane, because I don’t want to face cleaning up the mess. (It will be a job for the young and strong.) However Philippe is a reminder of what is possible. It shows how speeding tropical “disturbances” do not lose their tropical characteristics in the manner that computer models foresee. (Also Philippe may explain a strange “mini-hurricane” that lore reports bisected New England in the 1700’s.)

At bedtime on October 29 the forecast was “windy and rainy overnight”, but the wind and rains were light as my wife and I were turning in, around 9:00. I told her, “There will be quite a ruckus overnight. A tropical storm will be whipping past.” (How I wish I had posted that.) The last rainfall prediction I’d looked at stated the heaviest rain would be well to our west, over New York State, yet we might get as much as two inches.

Around midnight the wind awoke me. The rain drops were pelting the window as loudly as sleet, and the branches were roaring in a manner that made me glad that most of our leaves were gone. (Such a storm does far more damage when foliage is green). Then I remembered the auto-save on my ancient computer is having problems, and went downstairs to save my last post manually. Smart move. Shortly after I did it the lights blinked, and I had to reboot. After that I decided I might as well stay awake a while, and watched the unreal rains on the radar.

How much did we get? It’s hard to say, as rain gauges overflow at three inches, and not many were in the mood to go out at 1:30 AM, and again at 3:00 AM, to tend to their rain gauges. But empty wheelbarrows left in yards were brimming by dawn, (when they hadn’t been blown over.)  Despite the autumnal drought, the rains earlier in the week and these rains made small ditches torrents. And, as usual, every drain got clogged, as they always do in October gales, because the waters hold a summer’s worth of fallen leaves. Not only do drains clog, but culverts are plugged, as the clogging leaves are not alone, but mixed with twigs and branches and soon covered by sand and pebbles flushed down gutters by the torrents, until the culvert is completely buried:

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After that, water cannot go underground as intended, and rivers rattle cobblestones as big as grapefruits over tar, which makes things look untidy by dawn.

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Fortunately all this water didn’t go roaring through the center of town, because of the “flood control reservoir” upstream. As it is next-door to my Childcare, I took the children out to see how much higher the waters were. I wanted to see if they cared a hoot, and was somewhat surprised to see it did register upon the psyche of children only three and four years old, even if it can’t impress the ignorance of the computer modelers. Phillippe still had a heck of a clout,  passing through New England, though they had officiously pronounced him dead, a thousand miles south.

When you bother leave the cushy armchairs of computer sanctuaries, the outdoors can allow you to be as wise as a three year old. A little child notices when a spot where I allowed them to practice vandalism by smashing water with stones:

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Becomes a place they cannot go because it is under eight feet of water.

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They notice when the looming concrete outlet of the reservoir, eight feet high, is under water.

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They likely notice a lot of other things as well. Why do I say this? Because they haven’t lived as long as I, and can’t call this water level “the highest since 1997”. Also they lack the math to compute the huge amount of water held in check, and are not able to estimate the down-stream floods that would be occurring if not for this flood-control reservoir (and many others like it). Yet, despite this ignorance, they recognized this was one heck of an “event”, and their little jaws dropped, and they looked at me and exclaimed with owlish eyes, and demanded I tell them “why”.

Fortunately I can get off the hook by simply telling them, “Because it is a flood.” I add a word, “flood”, to their vocabulary. I don’t have to hurt their faith in grown-ups by telling them the grown-ups utterly botched the forecast, and the government experts displayed fabulous ineptitude.

What I especially avoid telling trusting children is that some grown-ups actually expect the government, which botched the forecast, to then step in and provide an answer to the ruin Philippe, (whom the government said didn’t exist), caused in certain neighborhoods (a ruin some children were quite aware of, as they had to stay home a day or two, due to the devastation).

The two best estimates, from people I trust (within limits), is that we had either seven-and-a-half or ten inches of rain, overnight. This turned, in places, ditches into ravines that undermined roads and (with the help of gales) toppled electrical poles. People were concerned they might not be able to recharge their cell-phones, and hurried to use dwindling batteries to call up the government, and demanded their roads be repaired and their electricity be restored, as if repairs involved a few clicks on a computer.

Not.

In earlier posts I’ve mentioned I know fellows on the road department, and am familiar with the work involved in fixing a thing as small as a pothole. It is not a virtual thing, involving a click of a computer. It involves sweat, and when the blemish in the road is not a pothole, but an abrupt gully six feet deep, the work involved is much greater.

In earlier posts I’ve also mentioned I’m friends with the fire chief, which may seem an odd factoid to bring up in a flood. But apparently there are some who do not respond by getting buckets and bailing, when their cellars are flooded, but instead call the fire department. The fire department represents the government, and also has pumps, and therefore the fire department needs to fix the problem, when Philippe floods the cellars of certain idiots.

Excuse me? If you bought the house, isn’t the cellar your problem? Or did the government buy your house? Yet people seem to feel their cellar is the problem I should pay taxes to fix.

It would be one thing if the fire department were called a single time for a single emergency, but certain people call the fire department rainstorm after rainstorm.

One fellow bought a house with a cellar so prone to flooding that he actually qualified for FEMA assistance. He had not only a pump, but a generator to run the pump when electricity failed, given to him for free, paid for by taxpayers like me. However, because Philippe was not forecast, he did not expect to lose power, or for his cellar to flood, and he therefore didn’t turn on the free generator and the free pump the government had provided. So he called the fire department at three in the morning, and told them the water in his cellar was nearly up to his electrical box. Then, as the local volunteers, groggy and called from warm beds, arrived, he jabbed a thumb backwards towards the door to his cellar, and went back to bed.

This really happened. I’m not making it up. As a consequence,  the volunteers were irate, and what used to be a freely given gift of good-heated local volunteers will soon be a deed you are charged for. If you want your basement pumped you will pay. (This is much like search-and-rescue now charging the people they search for and rescue.)

What it boils down to is this:

There is an outdoors reality that bureaucrats indoors by computers completely miss.

When this “outdoor reality” does more than tap our shoulders with a little “event” like Philippe, but instead clouts our jaws with a 1938 hurricane, a lot of our neighbors will be utterly helpless. They will call the government on their cell phones and then go back to bed. When they wake up and realize no help has arrived, someone will have to help them.

What are we to do? To a certain degree volunteers can be counted upon to step in as saviors even before the government bureaucrats show up for work, as happened when Harvey flooded Houston.  However beyond that certain point one cannot sit and think someone else will come to the rescue. At that time a person must discover an old fashioned thing called “self-reliance”. The question, looking at certain people, is: “Do they actually have any self-reliance? Or do they assume the mouse of a computer answers all problems?”

LOCAL VIEW –Halloween; Check Your Berries–

In the process of running my childcare I’ve noticed children learn quite early, while wandering the woods, to identify what they are allowed to nibble and what they should not eat, and then like to show off this knowledge to their parents. Parents often tell me that their child slightly horrified them by eating some unknown berry as they hiked in the woods, and, when rebuked, the child then delighted in informing them that the berry was actually safe, because Mr. Shaw had told them so, and that they eat the same berries all the time at my Childcare.

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I have always been fascinated by the way children absorb such knowledge, partly because some might kill themselves, if not carefully scrutinized. Last summer we were entrusted with a very young child still in diapers who we had to constantly watch, as he mouthed just about everything he came across. He exhausted my staff, who took to kicking mushrooms as they popped up, out of a fear the boy would munch a poisonous one, yet one day I received a panicked phone-call  because, despite their best efforts, the toddler had grabbed and munched a mushroom. Through the wonders of cellphones I immediately saw a picture, and determined the mushroom was not one of the notoriously deadly species, but it was also not one of the sort I know are edible and pick for my own table, so we sent the picture on to a mushroom-expert at a poison- control-center, who informed us it was relatively safe, though the child might experience diarrhea and gas. (He didn’t, which was probably a pity, as the lad learned no lesson, and went right on merrily mouthing twigs, pebbles, grass, and the occasional insect). (However I did note that by the end of the summer he had learned to hold things up towards me briefly, with inquiring eyebrows, to see to what degree I’d freak out.)

I wonder how it is any child survives to age three. The reason we have poison-control-centers is largely due to children, and they are just as likely to poison themselves indoors as outdoors. Our Childcare is inspected by the State, and we get “written up” if so much as a scouring pad is stored down where a child can get at it and pop it into their mouth. It makes me wonder how our species survived back before we had cell phones and poison-control-centers and inspectors from the State. I assume the answer is that children were watched with great care, and not likely allowed to toddle where there were dangerous plants and mushrooms visible, and instead papooses were swaddled in backpacks under such circumstances.  Children likely were constantly instructed, from a very early age, during their daily existence. Also likely tragedies occurred then, just they occur now.

Sometimes a thoughtful child will ask,  “How do you know that berry is poisonous?” Good question. I usually answer with a question, “What do you do when you don’t know?” All the but the littlest child knows the stock answer, “We leave it alone”, because I drill that maxim into their little skulls from the first day they arrive. Some even roll their eyes, as they answer, because they have heard me pronounce this commandment so often, with the severe, grey-eyebrowed authority of Moses.

A child’s curiosity is not so easily assuaged, and a more persistent child will pester for a better answer, and the answer must be, “Someone, a long, long time ago, made a mistake, and did eat that plant, and got very sick or died.” Humanity likely learned a lot the hard way. One general rule of thumb I learned years ago, when tasting a plant I was not entirely certain I had correctly identified, was to always try a very small amount. Then, if it is poisonous, or if you are personally allergic, you may merely get violently ill, and skip the silly business of dying.

I once knew a man who ate a poisonous nut that made him throw up for twelve hours straight, and it was somewhat amazing, he later confessed, how he was unable to eat any sort of nut afterwards, and also was not able to eat things he’d eaten in conjunction with the nut, (for example, winter squash). Often it requires no botany classes, or much of an IQ, to possess the knowledge certain plants should be avoided. It is a revulsion imprinted so deeply in our subconscious that we shudder without knowing why. In fact much we find distasteful as adults may be due to the fact we tasted, back before we can remember. Trial and error forms a part of our wisdom.

Perhaps it is merely an extension of this trial and error testing that makes some people especially able to recognize the effects of all sorts of plants; not merely poisonous ones, but also herbs that have medicinal benefits. But I tend to think, in some cases, something more profound is involved, and some herbalists possess what we should call “a gift.”

This is not to say that others don’t learn about the nutritional benefits of foods through study and astute observation. For example a colonial mother who loved her family might notice rose hip tea made the effects of midwinter scurvy vanish. The mother wouldn’t have to know a thing about vitamin C, or have any sort of gift.  They would merely be attentive to what brightened their home and made their children and husband happy.

However some have the ability to such an uncanny degree I think it should be called a “gift”. I can say this because I recognize I don’t have it.

It hurts our egos to meet someone who is able to do things we can’t, and even has vision we lack. It is like meeting a Mozart, who makes our best efforts to compose music seem like mere jingles. However at least we can compare Mozart’s extraordinary gift to our meager gift. In other cases we have no gift at all; we are tone deaf, and can’t even compare. It is like we are color blind, and meeting someone who sees color. To some degree we can’t even believe their gift exists, because they can’t show it to us.

For example, for the first forty years of my life I didn’t believe dowsing was a real ability. I couldn’t do it myself, so I was more than skeptical. I was scornful, and called it a scam. What changed my mind? I was watching a fellow I deemed a con-artist demonstrate what I called “the so-called ability” at a country fair, and, when he was busy answering questions, I tried out his dowsing rod. As always, I had no success, but just then my three-year-old son came walking over from the cotton candy booth.  I handed him the rod and had him walk over the same spot where the man had said there was water, and the rod responded at the exact same spot.

My son didn’t seem particularly impressed; it was just a magnet to him, but I made my son walk all over the place, feeling a sense of disbelief as I watched the dowsing rod respond. Then I saw the dowser watching me with a quiet sort of smile. He asked me if the boy was my son, and when I nodded he very politely asked me to take the rod and walk about with the boy touching my elbow. For the first time in my life the rod responded, but, as soon as my son stopped touching my elbow, it didn’t work any more. When I asked for an explanation the dowser just shrugged and said, “I have no clue why that happens;  it just does.”

Only then could I broaden my narrow mind to the degree where I could accept that dowsing is a gift I cannot scientifically explain, and do not have. I don’t think there is any way I could practice, and gain that skill, either. It is just something beyond my ken. I don’t like to admit I’m lacking, but I am.

In like manner I suppose there are all sorts of other gifts people have, and I lack. In a way it seems unfair, and even undemocratic, but it is the way we were created. Once we get over our hurt feelings about being excluded, the fact others have abilities which we ourselves lack makes others more wonderful.

There is a lot of New-Age bull involved in the subject of herbs, however I do feel there are some who are not snake-oil salesmen, and who are actually gifted in that respect. If you must have a reason for this phenomenon, then perhaps it was an ability that evolved, and became especially pronounced in certain individuals, to help tribes of people subsist, and not poison themselves, as they lived nomadic lives in the wilderness, back before we had cell phones and could call poison-control-centers.

Herbalists who are especially gifted (and I am not one of them) find themselves inhabiting a peculiar No Man Land outside the precincts of both Science and Religion. They have been derided by both scientists and priests. Scientists don’t like them because they cure people without knowing the formulas involved, and priests don’t like them because they cure people without attending church. In the past herbalists have both been burned as witches and jailed for practicing medicine without a licence.

My father was a surgeon back before doctors became so distracted by people’s greedy focus on money, in the days when the focus was strictly on curing people, and you weren’t suppose to let money skew your judgement. One thing that always fascinated him were the rubes who cured people who the hospital could not.

My father himself was ruled by the strict disciplines of science and engineering; he attended both MIT and Harvard Medical School. However he was able to be broad-minded enough to admit some outside the “club”, without degrees, might be successful where doctors weren’t.

He tended to be anti-church, because the church had not been kind when doctors discovered there was such a thing as “germs”. The mentor of my father’s mentor, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, got himself in hot water when he said it was important for doctors to wash their hands between the time they amputated a limb purple with gangrene, and the time they delivered a baby. Ten years before Louis Pasteur officially “discovered” germs, Holmes simply noticed fewer mothers died of infections when midwives were called in, than when doctors were called. This irritated doctors, for Holmes was in a sense suggesting doctors were killing mothers rather than helping them,  and it irritated certain Puritan Ministers, who assumed the sufferings of childbirth were promised to woman by scripture, and healing was in the hands of God.  In fact the simple discovery of “germs” caused a schism in the Calvinist churches of New England, resulting in the birth of both the science-preferring Unitarians and the faith-preferring Christian Scientists. (But that is a story for another evening.)

The discipline my father was ruled by demanded scientific answers, but doctors are confronted by a blip in their scientific data that simply doesn’t make sense, called “the placebo effect”. In certain blind studies of incurable diseases some people were given a new wonder drug, and some were given a sugar pill called a “placebo”. In cases where the wonder drug turned out to be a failure, sometimes the “placebo” had better results, which was especially mystifying when the disease was incurable.  It seemed to hint that, because the people knew they were in a study of a “wonder drug”, their faith had triggered some latent curative ability which all humans own.

In other words, faith mattered. For this reason doctors of my father’s day were advised to project confidence even in situations where the outlook was bleak, in order to tap into the Placebo Effect, because, after all, people have faith in their doctors.

Faith was a mystery, and my Dad had his own ideas of what might be involved, and what should be investigated, (but always in a scientific manner). However herbs were less of a mystery, and my father believed herbalists might have chanced upon cures that that pharmaceutical companies were decades away from discovering. For example, country folk took willow-bark-tea for headaches and arthritis for years, even centuries, before it was discovered that the active ingredient was aspirin.

One of my father’s favorite stories involved a doctor, who also happened to be a priest, who served as a missionary in a jungle in Africa. The hot and humid climate led to many infections, and the cure at that time was to drain pus from the wound and to attempt to sterilize the wound, and to wrap it in enough gauze to keep it from being reinfected. But it often proved impossible to completely sterilize the wound, and also the patients lived lives where wounds kept being reinfected,  and the prognosis was not good for people with infections, unless they went to the local witch-doctor. This gentleman, who did not go to church, served up some vile-tasting concoction brewed in a hollow log, uttered incantations, and the infection vanished. This was very frustrating to a missionary who wanted to demonstrate “his way” was superior. Fortunately he was humble enough to confess the witch-doctor had a cure he lacked, and learned to send people to the “rival” who could cure them, even if the man didn’t go to church. (Apparently the missionary even eventually befriended the witch-doctor, and they sat on a porch and discussed religion together.) It was only years later that penicillin was discovered, and the missionary realized the vile-tasting concoction in the hollow log was likely an antibiotic, discovered long before pharmaceutical scientists discovered the “wonder drug”.

For a few years my father was in a position to influence where his hospital’s money would be spent, for “research”, and he did encourage investigations of so-called “witch doctors”. All too often the results were discouraging, for there are a lot of con-artists and snake-oil-salesmen in the world. The investigators often could not see how the “doctor’s” sleight-of-hand was preformed, when a so-called “healer” passed his hand over a cancer and then opened his hand and revealed foul-smelling stuff, but they could take a sample of the stuff and send it to a lab. It was chicken entrails. Nor could the investigators  deny the sleight-of-hand was so convincing that the “placebo effect” seemed to be especially activated. But was it science? No, it was “con-artistry”.  My father actually suffered so many experiences of this sort, seeking genuine herbal cures, that I got the impression that he eventually decided nearly all herbal cures were bunkum.

After a person has passed away you learn things, even when you think you already know all there was to know about that person, and perhaps this is especially true of our parents.

One revelation involved the fact I’d tell my Dad about New Age herbal remedies, and even offer him certain teas, all the while fully expecting him to be scornful and disgusted. He wanted me to avoid being a sucker, and to be more skeptical than I was. What I didn’t know was that he actually listened to me, and would investigate the cure I advised, after I had left. For example, I thought I had noticed a benefit from chewing “snake-root” (cone-flower, or echinacea), when it came to quickly recovering from the common cold, because it “stimulated the immune system”. I told him about snake-root when I noticed he had a bad cold. He scoffed, and deemed it a “quack-remidy”, but later I heard he had asked around, talking with other doctors he knew, and even told people that I actually “was on to something”, because, he learned, back before the discovery of antibiotics, echinacia root had been important in country doctor’s arsenals of curatives. I even found a small bag of snake-root among his belongings, after he died.

At a memorial after my father passed on, one person, while fondly remembering my Dad’s good side, mentioned he remembered Dad enabled a young woman to travel to the Amazon to study what the Indians of the interior used as herbal cures. That was back around 1960, when young women doing such a thing simply was not deemed proper by most, but Jane Goodall was just capturing the public’s imagination with her amazing study of chimpanzees. I have no idea what the trip to the Amazon achieved, but heard the woman, upon her return, expressed great gratitude towards my father for being so liberal, and making her dream come true. To hear this tale forty years later made me see a liberal lurked under the crotchety exterior of my old, conservative Dad.

In conclusion, life does tend to make us more skeptical. Indeed there are many reasons to be skeptical of “herbalists.” Unfortunately there are also many reasons to be skeptical of pharmaceutical companies, and doctors. One sad thing about the times we live in is that many people care more for money than their fellow man, and this is especially outrageous when it manifests among those with sympathetic eyebrows, who are pretending to be care-givers. A person in great pain should not have to wonder what sort of kick-back his doctor gets for prescribing a certain pill. In fact, if it is true that our Creator wants us to care for those who are downtrodden by illness, I can think of no better way to evoke the wrath of God than to make material profit the aim of medicine.

Be that as it may, greed has utterly corrupted modern medicine, and we have decended far from the simplicity of primitive nomads, whose first and foremost aim was to avoid famine, and to be healthy as they did so. Much that they could do seems uncanny to us.

For example, in the history of New England remain reports written by Puritan captives of Indian tribes, during cold winters when the Indians had to retreat scores of miles by foot, with their villages burned along with all their stored supplies of food. The Puritan captives reported with amazement that though the retreating Indians, including woman and children, had no food, they were able to scrounge enough vegetable sustenance from the snow-covered woods to feed even their captives. I doubt modern people could do as much, even travelling through the same woods in summer. The natives simply knew what to eat, and what not to eat, in their neighborhood.

This brings me back to the beginning of my post, which involved, in case you have forgotten, taking small children into the woods and telling them which berries to eat and which not to eat.

Even though I lack any natural gift, as an herbalist, I do read a lot, and have become aware there is not a plant in the forest that is not said to be a “cure”. This gives me an odd sense everything we eat is a “drug”, and therefore is something that possesses the risk of an “overdose”.  This is a bit of a joke, when dealing with benign berries like strawberries and blueberries. What could be the “overdose”?  Are they not antioxidants and wonderfully good for you? However, if you ate nothing but berries long enough, you’d likely get sick of the sight of them. Your body would tell your brain, “Eat one more berry and I’ll puke.”  (Maybe diarrhea would also be a factor.)

The fact plants have medicinal value becomes less of a joke when one reads up the ways “harmless” berries were used by herbalists of the past. On one case it even has had me tell children they are allowed to eat one “harmless” berry, and not to eat another “harmless” berry.

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The first is called “Checker-berry” locally, and the second is called “Partridge-berry” locally. They have many other local names, and the first is called “Partridge-berry” in other places, which confuses matters. Both are called “Squaw-berry” in certain places, which shows country people saw that Native-American’s were aware of the medicinal qualities each possessed. The first had a mild aspirin-like effect, and the second had some benefit I don’t claim to understand on the uterus of a women, and was widely used by Indian woman, especially as they gave birth, and also had an effect like a mild tranquilizer.

Small children do not want me to tell them what I just told you, in the above paragraph. (Not that I don’t do so, and see their faces go blank as I overload them with scientific trivia.) They prefer things simplified into a simple “yes” or “no” format.

Therefore I decided to tell them it was acceptable to eat “Checkerberries”, (because the chance of overdosing on aspirin was small in such minute doses), but they shouldn’t eat “Partridge-berries”, (because I simply didn’t know what sort of effects such a “harmless” berry might have on hormones, (though I was tempted by the prospect of slightly tranquilized children.))

In actual fact the checker-berries are also called “wintergreen” and have a pleasant minty flavor that children say is “like toothpaste.” The partridge-berries have next to no flavor at all. So it really isn’t a hard choice for children to make, even if they try the forbidden berry.

But the most interesting thing to see is how swiftly the children learn to differentiate between the two berries, which often grow together on the forest floor. Checker-berry has a star on its end, and Partridge-berry has two dots. Children have a certain pride in being able to tell the difference, and I have seen a three-year-old lift two berries up for their parents to see, and explain which berry they are allowed to eat, all the world like little professors.

And there is an insecurity parents have these days about whether their children are little professors, and academically prepared enough for kindergarten. I was advised by one elderly childcare-provider to utilize high-sounding words to describe the most ordinary childhood activity. For example, when children are fighting because one got six berries while the other only got five, explain the use of numbers as “developing math skills.”

Therefore, when we pick checker-berries we are actually studying the “volatility of essential oils”. (It is especially helpful if you can get a three-year-old to get their mouths around the word “volatility”, because then some parents have to look it up.)

“Volatility” becomes a subject because it is hard to make tea of checker-berries, as the flavor all evaporates and wafts away with the steam, and the tea itself winds up tasting like hot water. Yet this liability can be turned into an asset by placing a single checker-berry at the center of a marshmallow, and toasting it over a fire. As the marshmallow warms the evaporating wintergreen flavor permeates the gooey sweetness. Therefore do not think we are getting a sugar-fix; we are studying volatility. We allow nothing but little Einsteins at our childcare.

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I should mention that checker-berry is also called “tea-berry”. This ought to cause you to wonder, as I just explained how all the wintergreen flavor evaporates when you heat it. When you boil the water the room may smell delicious but the drink is utterly tasteless. How can a tea be made?

The question also arises concerning the making of wintergreen-flavored “birch beer”, which is (in this local) made of the essential oils found in the bark of black birch. It may be the same essential oil for all I know, for it tastes so much the same that little children, after alarming their parents by gnawing at a twig like a beaver, inform their betters in chirping voices, “Try it! It tastes like checker-berry!”

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Now of course the most scientific approach would be to distill the volatile essential oil, which is what some makers of birch beer do.

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However the above equipment looks a bit expensive, and European, and unlikely to be used by Native Americans. So we are still left with the question, how the heck did they make tea and non-alchoholic soft-drinks of checker-berries and black birch bark? Had they the help of aliens appearing in UFO’s?

I know the answer, but am going to put you in the position of a priest or scientist, facing a herbalist who can make a tea that tastes of wintergreen when you can’t, which also reduces fever and aches and pains. What is your response to this bumpkin, who has neither gone to college or to church?

Could you possibly admit they are superior, without college and without church?  Or is your first desire to burn them as a witch? Or to jail them for practicing-without-permit?

This being Halloween, let us dare step further into the subject of witchcraft, (knowing that the roots of the word “witch” come from words that mean Godly gifts mentioned in the Bible, including “prophecy”, and including even the High German word “wieh” which meant “divine or holy”, and also knowing that people-in-power tend to bad-mouth anyone they perceive as a possible threat to their power, with the most outrageous example being the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, but including other awful examples such as the burning of Joan of Arc, the murder of six million Jews, and on and on and on.) However to play it safe let’s skip the bad-mouthed word “witch” and flee to the word “herbalist”, and let us focus on those who are most extremely gifted.

Let us try to see things as they do, though, because we lack their gift, we are like the color blind trying to see color. (Remember my example of the Dowser; how can we comprehend what we cannot experience.)

As I comprehend it, plants talk to you. Just as an example, let us consider the partridge-berry I mentioned earlier. Look at the diminutive blooms, as they appear in the spring. What are they telling you about the medicinal powers of the plant?

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Obviously this is two coming together to create one, indicating the plant has powers that effect those who are bearing the consequences of two coming together to create one; IE: Pregnant women.

Now that I explain it, it jumps right out at you, right? No? Me neither. I simply lack the gift. It is like being told a dowsing rod moves over water, when I can see darn well it does not, when I test it myself.

But do I dismiss the gift? Not entirely. When little children pick the berries, and see not the “star” of the checker-berry, but the twin spots left by the twin blooms:

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They hear me say, “Don’t eat that one”, even though no book calls it poisonous. So why do I forbid it? Well, it is also called “squaw-vine”, and Indian women used it a lot late in pregnancy, and, even though I haven’t a clue of what effect it had, or of its pharmaceutical powers, I figure small children likely can do without it. I don’t know for certain that it effects children’s hormones in the slightest. I am just playing it safe.

To be honest, when I walk the woods what I am most aware of how little I know, and what a wonder the Creator has made, that envelopes me like a loving embrace. Because I am humbled I am slow to scorn. Not that I don’t back away from certain herbalists, especially the dead-heads that are seemingly always seeking  more powerful hallucinogens. But I am definitely against burning witches, which seems an appropriate end to a Halloween post.

I supposed my lost sheep
Might come wandering this way
Looking for their lost shepherd
Who has long been astray.
In the orange o’er black hills
Ink wolves were seen prowling
And the twilight was filled
With the sound of their howling
When my sheep-dog came up,
Shook the hair from one eye,
And spoke with his glance,
“You’re an odd sort of guy.
If I were a man
I’d be bolder and faster
But I’m just a dog.”
“And I’m just a master”,
I replied with my voice,
“And to wander this twilight
Was never my choice.”

LOCAL VIEW —Cranberries—

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Cranberries have been a part of New England history since Squanto introduced them to the Pilgrims, likely as a survival food with medicinal qualities, because the Pilgrims were in such poor health. I was told that one reason that cranberry sauce was served with turkey every November was to remember Squanto, and the first Thanksgiving.

The process of growing cranberries has been mechanized, and they are seldom picked wild any more. They may also lack some of the nutritional and medicinal value they once possessed, through mass production in artificial bogs. Therefore I was glad to come across a wild patch while hiking with the children.

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It is interesting to introduce small children to Cranberries, as they are very sour. I tend to fall back on an old ploy, which is to munch away, all the time telling them they can’t have any, because it is a “grown-up food”. I explain it is “way too sour” and “you won’t like it.”  Often this is enough to get the more disobedient children surreptitiously nibbling, when they think I’m not looking, while the majority set up a chorus of “Please let us try it. Puh-leese!” (Of course, if I told them to try it and that it was good for them, they’d refuse.)

Finally, with a great display of reluctance, I relent and allow them to try a single berry, urging them to spit it out if it is too sour.  And in fact most do spit the berry out, but there are always a few who bravely munch away, even pretending it isn’t all that sour. (And I suppose, to certain taste-buds, the sourness may actually be less. I know that broccoli is very bitter to some children, but not bitter at all to others.)

I exclaim with the children over how sour the berries are, making faces and squirming in a manner that I imagine conveys the taste of a lemon, yet all the while I continue to pick and munch the fruits. You’d be surprised how quickly the children pick a second berry and give the fruit a second chance. By the end nearly every child is munching away.

I suppose it just demonstrates how effective reverse psychology is.

Cranberries often can be found even in the winter, if the first freeze is fast and lasting. They can be popped into a freezer in a similar manner, or dried. They are a good winter survival food because they have vitamin C which prevents winter scurvy, and also manganese which assists the immune system with antioxidant properties.  There are also various claims about cranberry’s ability to prevent and even cure urinary infections.

However I think its greatest value is that it teaches children sour fruits can be palatable, and everything doesn’t need to be drenched in sugar and corn syrup to be edible.Cranberry 7 IMG_5627

 

LOCAL VIEW –Tilted–

One job assigned to me as a teenager, when I first ventured outside of the suburbs into the country and attempted to be a country boy by chewing upon a straw, was “ditching the pasture”. The pasture had initially been ditched 218 years earlier, but the ditch had a tendency to fill in, and therefore one was expected to walk slowly down the ditch with a round-nosed, long-handled shovel, digging the wads of leaves and muck that were impeding the drainage.  I actually didn’t mind the job, as I was always playing in brooks as a boy, and this wan’t much different.

The ditch basically took a shallow intermittent stream,  a brook that only flowed when snow melted and after torrential downpours, and straightened it while lowering it down roughly two feet. This drained the pasture and allowed timothy and clover to grow, rather than the sour marshy grasses cows don’t much like. It increased the value of the land, and in some pastures took a brook that dried out in the summer and put it down deep enough to where it flowed all year long, and therefore took a brook that held no fish and created a habitat for secretive brook trout, especially where sod overhung the banks a little.

Then, around 1970, the concept of “wetlands” as being an especially valuable landscape took hold. Even a reeking fen was seen as an environmental Eden,  and ditching pastures became a criminal activity, in the eyes of some university types. They decide to educate farmers, and the old-time farmers told them to go to hell. Next they decided to go through legislators and lobbyists, and had better luck.

Don’t get me wrong. Some wetlands, especially salt marshes, are tremendously important to the larger ecosystem, and are lush and brimming with life. Destroying them dramatically reduces the catch of fish in nearby coastal waters. (On the other hand, creating wetlands by damming rivers also reduces the catch of fish.) But an intermittent stream through a farmer’s pasture is not the same thing.

In any case while ditching the pasture, which I continued to do even after it made me a criminal, I had time to contemplate how an activity which is deemed saintly one generation is deemed devilish the next. I also had time to gaze about at the geology of New England, and study the ecology, and noticed there was no norm, unless flux was the norm. Glaciers had scoured the landscape clean of topsoil, and then a progression of vegetation pursued the retreating ice. Along with the vegetation came beavers, who were constantly deforesting areas and creating wetlands, and then deserting their dams when they ran out of food, which caused ponds to became meadows when the dams broke, and later meadows became groves of poplar and birches, which attracted a new generation of beavers. Also men came north even as the ice retreated, (a friend of mine found a flint spear-head, with the flint originating from Ohio,) and they tended to burn the underbrush in forests to make hunting easier. So I figured the Puritan farmers who first ditched pastures were no more dramatic a change than other changes. Change was the norm; any level achieved was soon tilted.

Locally it wasn’t so much the environmentalists who stopped the ditching of pastures as it was a cultural change that made all the hard work involved in farming seem less worthwhile. People found ways to support themselves working only eight hours a day, and preferred laying indoors watching TV, and the ditches began to fill in, even as the old pastures grew over, first becoming what the locals called “puckerbrush”, and then becoming woods. And then, rather unexpectedly, the trees began to all die, or to tilt and fall over. (Sometimes a grove of dead trees indicated beavers had returned and flooded an area, but beavers don’t dam intermittent brooks.)

What was happening was that the water table was inching upwards as the ditches filled in, and the roots of the trees were either drowned, or the deeper roots that anchor a tree down were killed and the tree was only held up by a mat of very shallow roots. These roots were not enough, and in a strong wind the tree tilted, (sometimes remaining alive.)

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I like investigating the ripped-up roots of such tilted trees, because you learn about the local subsoil, and a thing or two about the post-glacier geology, and sometimes find an artifact or two. Lastly, though you may doubt this, we have a “little people” who live here in New Hampshire, just as leprechauns live in Ireland, and sometimes if you look under roots you can meet them.

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One way to befriend these little people is to find a red shelf-mushroom that lives up on dead trees, but the way to get your hands on these mushrooms is to find a tree that has tilted and fallen all the way down.

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Once these mushrooms are down they continue to grow, but are now sideways, and it makes no sense to continue to grow the way they were growing, with their bottoms facing sideways, so the mushrooms are wise enough to, within a fortnight, make an adjustment.

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Because the mushroom has wisely adjusted, when the time comes for it to release its spores, some are not trapped in sideways-facing, rain-sopped pores, but face down, and can be sheltered and kept dry and properly dispersed.

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If even mushrooms can adjust to a tilt of ninety degrees, it seems to me higher forms of life ought to able to adjust as well. It also seems to me that certain environmentalists, who seem to imagine nature exists in a steady-state, and that all changes are evils brought about by mankind, are themselves unwilling to change and are themselves unable to adjust to any tilting. Does this make them a lower form of life than a mushroom?

Long ago a lubber, (namely me),
Got on a ship, and sailed into a storm
Where I lost my sense of up. Misery
Was mine, as my stomach took a form
That was mostly inside out, but I had
To man the helm or else my problems
would be over. Tempting. I felt so bad
That dying didn’t seem low as the phlegms
My empty stomach heaved, as stinging spray
Salted wincing eyes that searched the skies
For something level, something that would stay
Flat, but all tilted. But the biggest surprise
Was that when I was safely ashore, then
I yearned to go out and be tilted again.

LOCAL VIEW —Yellow Jackets—

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Of all the things that spoil the beauty of nature, I think hornets are the worst, especially when their nests aren’t up in a tree where you can see them, but down in some hole on the ground that a small child can step on without seeing.  Then they swarm out and attack the innocent.

 

This summer has been especially bad. In the first nine years of running a Childcare I didn’t have a single bee-sting on any hike, and there were only three other episodes where other members of the staff ever saw children stung. This summer? I’ve been through six separate episodes. I’m actually feeling a bit rattled by it all.

The first episode involved a girl reaching into a blueberry bush to pick a berry, and bumping a bald-faced hornet’s nest.

 

Fortunately the nest was still small, but three girls got stung, two three times and one twice. One moment the scene was idyllic, and the next one girl was screaming.  I moved her swiftly away, but the hornets followed, and then a second girl began screaming, and then a third. I slapped the bugs off their clothing, but two of the eight-year-old girls continued screaming, on and on and on, for some fifteen minutes, despite my attempting to treat them with an anti-sting ointment in the first-aid kit (which I will never again vouch-for in any advertisement).  That experience exhausted me, though we did return to pick berries in the same place a week later, as I had a sort of you-must-get-back-on-the-horse-that-threw-you attitude. The girls did learn that once a nest was located, it could be avoided, and one doesn’t need to quit picking blueberries forever.

One of the most annoying aspects of the experience was a total lack of compassion on the part of the young boys in the group, who took a sort of contemptuous and sneering attitude towards all the screaming, even laughing at the girls. That all changed a week later when they kicked a nest at ankle level, as we moved Indian-file through a swamp. Another member of the staff could hear the screaming a half mile away. Seven out of eight boys got stung.

I think the collective screaming was more frightening than the actual stings; (in fact I could find no actual sting on one of the boys who screamed loudest; I include him among the stung, out of courtesy.) The screaming was so bad I had to resist the impulse to scream myself, though what I would have screamed was, “Shut the f— up!”  It was a hysteria that fed upon itself, and seemed a sort of proof we are raising men who are sensitive, and who are not male, chauvinist pigs.

To be honest, I think I would have preferred pigs, though there are few animals that squeal louder at the slightest offence. The boys squealed louder than pigs, and I found myself comparing them to the boys I hung out with when young, who were stoic by age five, and took a definite pride in not whimpering when stung by a bee.

One of the boys complicated matters by simply running in place on the nest, blocking the route of escape on the narrow trail. I had to go back and pull him forward, as he seemed to lack the instinct which most have, to run like hell. Then I pulled the boys behind him ahead, shouting “Go! Go! Go!” like a sergeant sending soldiers into battle, but when I turned I realized they only ran a short distance and then turned to look back at me, all screaming, though the hornets were flying all around them. I rushed them away,  slapping the hornets from their hair and shoulders and legs, and somehow remaining un-stung myself.  One lone boy somehow calmly walked through the entire experience without a sting, and he was looking about owlishly at the others.

What to do? Especially when the boys, (aged five to nine), wouldn’t stop screaming? I simply spoke in a very calm voice, eventually pausing to dab wet baking soda on the stings, once we were away from the swarming hornets and I’d located the final few wasps that had crawled up their sleeves. I explained the stinging sensation would slowly fade, and that the worst was over, and the best thing was to be calm and head back for some ice-cubes. I attempted to get them interested in who got the most stings, as a sort of competition, and attempted to interested them in being “toughest” by being the first to stop screaming. (This only worked on one older boy, who immediately became stoic.) The boy who ran in place on the nest got ten stings, and he, (perhaps due to shock), was also quick to become silent, but that worried me a little. I feared he might be manifesting an allergy, though none had an official allergy on their medical forms.

Due to the wonder of cell-phones I was able to contact my wife who contacted parents, and I was impressed by how calmly the parents responded. (But then, they couldn’t hear all the screaming). They generally felt that stings were part of country living, and their children were not likely scarred for life. Two of the mothers of the younger boys said they’d drop by to reassure their sons, but no parent cursed my ineptitude as a trail-guide and protector. The parents seemed to take it in stride, but I found the experience unnerving.  Try spending twenty minutes with screaming children, doing your best but only gradually subduing the uproar to whimpering, and you will understand how I felt.

My ego was basically ruptured.  I like to think I introduce the children to the beauty of nature, but there is nothing very beautiful about angry hornets, unless you are watching from very far away and have no heart for children. Then, I suppose, if you are a rabid environmentalist, you can marvel over the wonder of insects. I did my best to muster some of that stouthearted (or is it stone-hearted) objectivity during the following week, stressing that it was not a survival-skill to run in place, and that the correct response to hornets was to run like hell the dickens. I also became positively neurotic when it came to scrutinizing paths for any sign of ground-hornet nests.

It did no good. Within a week my wife was watching a group of smaller children play by “Lightning Rock”, where they always played, when one child began screaming. Yellow Jackets had colonized a chipmunk burrow under an outcropping. If we then tended to stay back at the playground I think it is understandable, but then children were stung in the playground. In a sort of environmentally unfriendly mood I declared war on hornets, and sprayed the fuck dickens of the two nests I located. Unfortunately the spray was in fact environmentally friendly, (and so quick to biodegrade that it biodegrades in the can), so drenching both of the yellow jacket nests merely stunned them.

Also the children stung in the playground described baldfaced hornets, and the nest I sprayed was yellow jackets. I had the uneasy feeling a nest was lurking, undiscovered. I even walked around the entire playground, kicking the fence, but couldn’t rouse the bald-faced hornets. The way to rouse them was to shake a certain post.

And so it came to pass the children were playing a game of “Shark-Minnow” in the playground, running from side to side, from fence post to fence post, when a child rammed the  certain, hornet-triggering post, and the all-too-familiar screams began.

However, for all the failures of my Childcare this past summer, one thing the children have learned is to run like fucking hell the dickens. The only child stung initially was the poor boy who suffered ten stings in the swamp. He’s had a rough summer, and has a stilted idea of the beauty of nature.

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However one very good student, a five-year-old who suffered seven stings in the swamp, ran correctly to the far corner of the playground, which happened to be the location of the yellow jacket nest I had sprayed with the environmentally friendly spray, and the yellow jackets stung him there. He became understandably neurotic . So did I. I went and bought the most environmentally unfriendly stuff I could find, and sprayed both nests, and the nest out at Lightning Rock (which was also still alive).

Then I took the kids to the spayed nests, where the corpses of dead hornets littered the entrances, and we looked at our dead fellow creatures and rejoiced in a distinctly environmentally unfriendly matter. The kids seemed to like it that, concerning hornets, I was madder-than-a-hornet, and put them first.

I figure I can be environmentally friendly when the environment is friendly back, but there is a time to be environmentally unfriendly, and that is when the environment is unfriendly to innocent children.

Usually by October the first freeze puts the hornet problem to rest, but this year the yellow jackets won’t die. (Before you blame “Global Warming” I should remind you we had snow in the mountains and a slight touch of frost in late August, and I then quoted old-timers and said, “Squaw Winter will bring Indian Summer”, and it is one of my few weather forecasts that have proved correct. The tomatoes and peppers and summer squash still flourish in the garden (except a few nipped by August frost), but the down side is that yellow jackets also still flourish.

They are particularly annoying because for some reason they develop an appetite for fruit, and can annoy you when apple-picking. My youngest son was bringing an apple to his mouth for a second bite, when a yellow jacket zipped down and landed on the fruit even as he raised it to his mouth, and stung him on the lip even as he bit.

If that doesn’t make you hate them, like we hate the serpent in the Garden of Eden, then picture me with a small group of three-and-four-year-old children. We are merely enjoying the fact that when leaves thin on the trees enough light is allowed down to turn stone walls green, as a microscopic moss grows.

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We had no aim to bother yellow jackets, and left promptly when they said we were bothering them, but they would not accept “excuse me”. They pursued.  They were mean to the innocent.

 

Two little girls got three stings, one got two, and a little boy got one, however the only redeeming thing was that, after amazingly going through the entire summer without a single sting, I got twelve. I was simply too busy killing the yellow-jackets as they landed on the children, pinching them with both my left hand and my right, to bother protecting myself. I think I killed roughly fifty, as we hurried away. I got stung on the back of both hands and the back of my neck, and at a hole in my jeans.

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Oddly, the small children were far braver than their older peers, and were busily gathering beechnuts in thirty minutes, despite the traumatic experience they’d  just undergone.

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Another cool thing, (which seems a reward for my heroism, protecting these innocents), is that my wrinkled old hands didn’t have a single wrinkle this morning. (I’ve also been told my arthritis will be lessened, because stings are an antidote.)

However a more difficult-to-understand reward of getting out into the hornets, is a better understanding of “Nature”. The “beauty of nature” isn’t some prissy idea where there are no hornets. Nature is full of rough stuff. Besides wasps and hornets, there are mosquitoes and black flies and deer flies and horse flies and green-eyed flies. There are thistles and thorns and briers and burrs and nettles and poison ivy and oak and sumac. (Some feel this isn’t enough, and we should reintroduce wolves to New England.)

Even while wading in a pond, as you note the whirligigs atop the water, you notice another bug that rows about with legs like the oars of a boat. At first it seems this bug sometimes rows about on its belly and other times on its back. Actually it is two different bugs, the “Water-Boatsman” and the “Backswimmer.” The former eats algae and is harmless, and the latter eats the former and can give you a painful bit, like a horsefly.

 

Does knowing the creature to the right can bite decrease your wonder, or increase it?

In like manner, my Childcare advertises we will increase children’s wonder, but now parents are redefining wonder. “I wonder if I’ll be sting today?” And I confess my hikes do expose children to suffering. “Communing with nature” is, to a degree, a sort of child abuse. But what is the alternative? To bubble-wrap childhood?  Is that not an obstacle in the way of wonder?

I don’t know why God made nature the way He made it. To me, hornets seem a bad idea. However nature is what it is. It is best we include the bitter with the sweet. For one thing, it is more honest than some insipid fairy-tale concept of nature, and for another thing, children seem to understand it and appreciate it better than their elders.

Oh Lord, why’d you create stinging hornets?
I want to show children nature’s Your art.
My paper states You’re love, but you’ve torn it
With bees whose sharp tails make poor children smart.
How smart am I? When cruel hornets sting
And rattlesnakes hiss and thick mosquitoes
Spread malaria? Do I know anything
When nature’s all thorns, and never a rose?

I turn to children to see what they think
And it seems they don’t mind; they just accept
The outdoors as better than jail, and wink
At the pains. Like African springbok they’ve leapt
Over lions, accepting Your life’s gift
Which, after Eden’s fall, leads too uplift.

LOCAL VIEW –Pondering Puckerbrush–

Week follows week, and I never seem to have time to write. Last week I was harassed by overdue taxes, and this week, $10,000 poorer, I look ahead to my younger daughter getting married, next Saturday.

My life will be in turmoil this coming week. I have not been advised much about the preparations, but there is a good reason, for I am something of an old grouch, and don’t see why people can’t just get married and be done with it. Yet I also know such sentiments are blasphemy to females who like to fuss, and I have no desire to be beheaded. So I’m merely keeping my head down, doing what I’m told, and counting the days until next Sunday.

The problem is that the preparations are complete chaos. I can see the potential for a hilarious debacle, but I won’t be allowed to laugh. For example, the groom’s parent’s are flying up from Brazil, don’t speak a word of English, and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese.  His mother wants to cook elaborate dishes, and the oven in the kitchen is broken. You better not dare allow the corners of your mouth to twitch up.  This situation is serious, I tell you, serious!

Beyond all the agony is a simple fact: A wedding is a beautiful thing. All our efforts to ruin it cannot hide that fact. In like manner, life creates all sorts of clouds of dust which can be used as an excuse for not-writing, but the poetry is always there.

In ancient Persia poets were pampered
And given palaces to ponder in,
But modern men are constantly hampered
When their mind’s in the mood for wandering.
Still, the mind cannot always be denied.
As widgets hurry down assembly lines
Mistakes occur, for eyes wander aside
To beauty in a blond, for the High Devine
Does not shun low places. No disgrace’s
In doggeral. Christ had his dusty feet
Washed by a whore’s tears, as fussy faces
Lifted noses and sniffed. That which is most sweet
Is not buried by life’s bustle and noise.
God’s everywhere, and so are His joys.

To keep a semblance of sanity during this crazy week I will  post pictures of hikes I took the children of my Childcare on last summer. Those hikes tended to get crazy, but with twenty-twenty hindsight I can see the poetry, even if I didn’t see it at the time.

One hike was down an abandoned road called “Whirlpool Road”. In 1750 it led down to an elbow in the Soughegan River where the water swirled in a whirlpool. By the year 1800 the whirlpool was gone, as the river had been dammed for a textile mill downstream. By 1900 many mills had moved south to escape northern labor unions, (and be closer to southern cotton), and wool prices were crashing, so the farmland began to be abandoned.   As the land began to grow over, the locals described the underbrush as “puckerbrush”.  (Because it made your face pucker as you walked through it.) Then, as a century passed, trees grew tall, and Whirlpool Road passed through shaded glades. By 2000 the trees were worth harvesting, and the logs were dragged out by growling machines called “skidders”,  which would have awed the farmers of old, who hauled logs with a team of two horses.  Skidders also tended to knock down the stone walls the farmers had labored so hard to raise. Lastly, though trees were left behind to reseed the forest, the skidders drove too close to the roots of some, and the roots died on that side, and the trees were vulnerable to gales.

This brings us to last summer, when we were drawn down that road. I was drawn by history. The children sought a different attraction.

 

Less attractive were the ticks, which were especially abundant, due to the fact whitetail deer like such over-gown lands.

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Then, of course, it rained. The youth made it quite clear they were not having much fun, but then we came to a fallen tree. I never know what will redeem a hike, and change me from a child-abuser to a hero.

Hike 4 IMG_5189

Blueberries were forgotten. The children delighted in the tree for over an hour. All I needed to do was referee king-of-the-mountain fights, and keep them from breaking each others necks. (I like this sort of fallen tree for it lets me study the subsoil of old pastures, and also there is the slight chance of finding an ancient artifact.)

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Eventually we moved on to the blueberries, and ran into our next adventure. But that’s another story and another sonnet.

(Photo credits; blueberry pictures; Marlowe Gauteau)