LOCAL VIEW –The Underground Bugs–

I’ve always been a member of the underground, and the underground bugs people who believe you should be up front and honest, and step forward to be shot at.  About the only time I “came out” in any way, shape or form was in 1969, and that wasn’t really my doing. I was not at all cool in my school, being rather shaggy and unkempt, but suddenly that was in style, and to my amazement people were abruptly looking up to me as some sort of authority on coolness. It didn’t last long. Before I could really settle into the novel experience of being in-fashion, Disco came along, and I was back to being an outcast.

I don’t really see how people find the time to be fashionable. There are much better things to think about, and too little time to think about them. So I have tended to go my own way, disinterested in fashion, and far more interested in this thing called “Truth”.

Many fashionable people don’t want to hear the Truth, preferring  stuff they find snazzier, and therefore Truth gets relegated to their subconscious, and if they want to get at the Truth they have to hire a psuedoscientist psychologist. I had better things to do with my money, (and anyway, back in the 1970’s when I fooled about with such things, I tended to cause psychologists nervous breakdowns by telling them the Truth about psychology).

Years have past, and I’ve become a grouchy old man who wanders an inner world others avoid, and I’ve discovered that this underground bugs people. For example, people say you should be up front and honest, but when I have told the Truth about Global Warming I am told I am a “Denier” and should zip my lip. I don’t. One of the prerogatives of being a grouchy old man is that you don’t have to be as shy and reclusive as a young poet must be, and you are allowed to be a royal pain, and heck if I am going to give up that right.

In any case, it is likely for this reason I identify with underground bugs, especially when they go to the top of a tree and scream at the top of their lungs. We had a bunch of these “come out” yesterday, as little brown crawly things that scrabbled slowly up the sides of trees, and then cracked their backs. Not only did they come out of the dirt and darkness, but they came out of their old selves.

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That bunched-up thing to the side is a wing, and the first order of business for this bug, called a “cicada”, is to pump up that wing so it works.

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The kids at our Farm-childcare were not entirely impressed by this wonder, and some found it pretty gross.Cicada 3 IMG_3562

However I myself found it a wonder, and also a handy symbol; IE:  If you come out of the dirt and darkness into the Truth and Light you discover you have wings.

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This means you have to leave the dirt and darkness and the husk of your old self behind. Unfortunately back in 1969 hippies like myself didn’t get this part quite right. We felt being open and honest meant plunging into lust and drugs and greed, and made a mess of things by remaining with the old husk.

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Not that joy wasn’t involved, and being depraved wasn’t such fun that, if I was young again, I might not be tempted to make the same mistakes all over again. But even insects know enough to leave the husk behind.

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They fly to the tree tops and sing a song that contributes to the sheer sizzle of summer.  And we? What do we have in hand? The mere husk of life?

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Besides the emergence of cicadas being an interesting tidbit of science, the underground bugs also demonstrates how I can take a symbol and run with it. Many psychologists find this unnerving, because they figure they are suppose to be telling you what the symbols mean, but poets (and small children) tend to juggle symbols and fling them about like paper airplanes, while psychologists are still laboriously counting on their thumbs and consulting the manual.

By the way, the cicadas that spend 17 years underground before emerging have red eyes and live further south. Therefore, in the true spirit of Yankee one-upsmanship, I have decided to call our species  “18-year-cicadas” (until I learn otherwise.)

I can feel a sonnet brewing. I’ll add it on to this post later if I get around to writing it, but I think the final line will be, “It’s amazing how long some can live in the dark.”

(PS:  I finally wrote the sonnet on July 31):

Some summer long ago I knew the light,
But fell to earth and came to dwell down deep
In dank tunnels, subsisting on sap. Sight
Became a groping thing, and to creep
Became the norm, until today I got
The crazy urge to quit sucking the sap.
The dark felt suffocating, and I thought
I must go up for air, and left the trap
I’d long embraced. I climbed up, returned
To the dazzle of light, the push of wind.
My crusty skin felt old; my back burned;
And then I split from the husk where I’d been pinned.
I find I’ve grown a set of lacy wings
And can fly to tree tops where romance sings.

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Local View –A choir of quackers–

Spring is way ahead of last year, for we have already heard our first quacker frogs. I heard them on March 24, and brought a small child who moved up here from Arizona to the side of the road to hear them. Last year I first heard them on April 16, and I remember there was still a bit of ice on the north side of the pond where I heard them.

They are not as shrill and overpowering as spring peepers, which is the first frog most notice. The quackers are more subtle, and when a car goes sighing by on the road the car drowns out the sound of them. In fact our Childcare usually drowns out the sound of them, which is why I brought the small girl to listen alone. If you bring many children they are too loud, and if you bring the dog it charges ahead and all you see is many ripples in the pools.

The quackers actual name is “wood frog”, but that is rather a drab name for an amazing critter. They can be frozen, and then come back to life. I can’t, though I’ve come close, and I always appreciate those who can outdo me, even if they are just a frog.

When I was younger I called them “banjo frogs”, (before I learned real banjo frogs live in Australia). The sound of their voices is somewhere between a banjo and a quacking duck. However all recordings I found make them sound much louder than they actually are.

Their entire strategy seems to be: To be done with the entire business of reproducing before the rest of the animal community knows what hit them. They breed in forest melt-water pools that are often dry by the end of May. Their eggs hatch into tadpoles that hop off as frogs in a matter of days. However in order to do this they have to be right in the woods, so they skip the bother of burrowing in the mud at the bottom of ponds to hibernate. They burrow down in the forest floor and allow themselves to be frozen solid. Or, actually, not quite solid. The center of their bodies contains some sort of natural antifreeze and never entirely freezes (or, if it does, they don’t survive.) If you’re interested, there is a fairly good post here:

http://www.dogonews.com/2015/3/19/tiny-wood-frogs-survive-winter-by-partially-freezing-their-bodies

And there is a melodramatic PBS YouTube video (with the overdone PBS music) showing a quacker thawing out here:

However in the actual woods there is no PBS music. Thank heavens. There is just the silence of a sunny day, with the forest floor brilliant as the closest thing to shade is the swamp maples, barely beginning to bud.Swamp Maples IMG_2154And on the sunny forest floor is what is barely more than a puddle, reflecting the sky. Wood Frogs IMG_2157And from that water you suddenly hear the soft, strange sound of something utterly unlike PBS music. It is reminiscent of a duck playing the banjo, however, as you’ve never heard a duck play the banjo, it a music unto itself, so soft that if the wind stirs leaves and sighs in the pines it can be drowned out. But when the wind quiets the sound stirs something in you, and you too are awakened. And it is then you cannot stay quiet, are inspired to write words to drown out the PBS music.

Before the geese make eyes wild by calling,
Before the first bluebirds make soft hearts weep,
Before spring’s strength is enthralling
The brown woods stir from their long, frozen sleep
And a strange music plucks from new, black mud
And ripples the waters of forest pools.

Too quiet to surge ones long unstirred blood
And too quaint to make austere men be fools
It is a background to a bright prophecy
Like a quiet herb in a warm mother’s love-soup.

I take a small child to hear it with me;
To watch her face, as time loops the loop
And see as she sees life’s not forsaking
The bleak; Instead the bleak are awaking.

LOCAL VIEW —CUTE AND GRAY—

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(Click maps to clarify and enlarge)

A weak front moved through today, mostly with mid-level clouds that I like, as they dapple the sky with subtle hues, and can be particularly lovely  when the sun gets low, and the sun is getting pretty low even at noon these days.  Our days will as short as the last day of January, tomorrow. It isn’t as cold, because there are many lakes and bays between here and the North Pole still “remembering” the summer sunshine, and until they are all frozen and the landscape is all snow covered, the cold is moderated as it comes south. However one by one those lakes are freezing over, and even Hudson Bay starts to freeze over in November. I remind myself to cherish every moment remaining, when I can scuff through the leaves in a snow-free woods.

The air behind this current front is Pacific air. Likely it poured off Siberia and then was warmed by several thousand miles of ocean, and then was warmed further by the Chinook effect of crossing over the Rockies.  The next batch of arctic air will  come down the east side of those Rocky Mountains, and be warmed by neither Pacific nor Chinook. The first map below is the current map, with the cold air far to the north, but the second map  is 60 hours from now, and the sub-zero Fahrenheit air (gray, and, in Celsius, minus 17.77777777778 degrees, to be precise,) has stormed right through Montana and into Wyoming,  and is already spilling east to bother me, though it hasn’t gotten here yet.

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(Map credits to  Dr. Ryan Maue at the Weatherbell site.)

With this kind of cold air coming, you would think that I could enjoy the relative mildness of the current air, but I don’t always live up to my own standards. Even slightly cold air bites the back of my hands like it never did when I was younger. I suppose my skin’s gotten thinner. I can even understand why other geezers my age flee to Florida, (though I could never stand the traffic, and crowds of other geezers.)

It doesn’t help much that my church is just a dwindling bunch of geezers, with a geezer Pastor who is in a bit of a sermon-slump. He seems pretty much convinced churches are dying out in New England, and has a morbid fascination with the process of becoming extinct. One book he had us read was “Autopsy Of A Church.” It’s not the most uplifting stuff. Today he even managed to make the Beatitudes depressing. I won’t go into the details. Let it suffice to say I wasn’t pleased. Now I’m probably in trouble with my fellow geezers, because telling your pastor he’s a real downer is apparently a symptom of a dying church.

It just seems to me that the Beatitudes were suppose to cheer the downtrodden up. Somehow today’s sermon seemed to portray it as eight steps in a wonder-plan,  with the final step being that you become a social outcast.  I have to admit I’d never thought of it that  way before. I’d always thought that, where most people think a streak of bad luck means God is punishing you, Lord Jesus was saying He especially loves people who suffer.

In any case, I walked out of church with an expression like a prune. A gust of wind bit the backs of my hands. I was in no mood to head off to the farm and deal with a population explosion of gray squirrels.

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(Photo credit:  http://www.animalspot.net/eastern-gray-squirrel.html )

It’s bad enough that I have around four days to get two weeks of work done, before the hounds of winter come howling.  I also have to deal with twelve squirrels, as the local weasel apparently headed off to Florida, and two pairs of neighborhood gray squirrels managed to each successfully raise a brood of four, at the very end of summer. They are all frisking about, as cute as can be, causing an incredible amount of damage.

I set rat traps, but apparently the squirrels are a bit too big for those over-sized mouse traps. They got clobbered but not killed. One has no hair along his spine, and another has a crooked tail, and a third looks a little cross-eyed, but they are still frisking about.  So I got my varmint rifle, but apparently someone else in the neighborhood has been taking pot-shots with a .22, for soon as I stepped outside they were gone. I could barely see their gray tails flicking as they headed off into the woods. What was particularly aggravating was the fact that as soon as I put the rifle away, (you have to be careful with guns when you run a Childcare), they would reappear, more frisky than ever.

Then I heard them up in the airspace-attic of the Childcare.  There are vents up at the peak of the roof,  securely nailed and with screens, but apparently, when twelve squirrels all say :”heave-ho” at once, they can rip entire vents out.  So I had to cut squares of thick wire hardware-cloth and teeter up there on a ladder, with the wind biting the back of my hands and the ends of the wire drawing blood, using a staple gun to close up the openings with squirrel-proof screening, as I took the badly-gnawed vents down for repairs.

While I was up there I glanced down towards my garden, where my popcorn is ready for picking. Popcorn takes 110 days to grow, and then has to dry on the stalk, and, with the last frost on May 29 last spring,  it was a feather in my cap to get any crop at all. However, as I looked that way, it looked like, rather than ears of corn, the stalks held gray squirrels. All twelve were frisking about in joy and delight.

That popcorn was suppose to be for the children at my childcare! Those cute squirrels were depriving cute children! A cold emotion came over me, and I decided the childcare curriculum for next week would include, “How to make a squirrel pie.” I would use my “Have-a-heart traps,” which would be renamed “Have-a-pie-traps.” I would use peanut butter for bait. Squirrels can’t resist peanut butter. (After all, they kept coming back to the rat traps for peanut butter, no matter how often they got clobbered.)

As I came down the ladder in this grim mood I learned an astounding thing:  Squirrels are psychic. They had vanished. I could understand them vanishing when I came outside with a varmint rifle, because they could see the rifle, but to have them disappear when I was thinking grim thoughts? They had to be psychic.

Then, as my grimness faded into wonder, I decided they couldn’t be psychic. There must be some other reason. So I started to look around. Suddenly I stopped. Up in the leafless branches of a big, old oak tree beside the Childcare was a frowning, gray hawk. (I think it was a Cooper’s Hawk.) Compared to cute squirrels, it looked very mean.  It was cocking its head left and right, scouting out the situation. It looked tired and hungry. Then it met my eye before I could look away.

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(Photo credit:  http://www.lloydspitalnikphotos.com/v/birds_of_prey/coopers_hawk/coopers_hawk_F5R8024-01.jpg.html )

It’s a funny thing about hawks: They will sit up in a tree for hours as you work, and never budge, but as soon as you meet their eye they will fly away. It is as if they recognize they have been recognized. However as this one flew away I could see it didn’t fly far, and I also imagined I could see a cartoon balloon above its head, reading, “Memo to self:  Delay migration. Much food here.”

Not that I won’t set the have-a-heart traps, but I may not catch any squirrels.

And the moral of the story is this:  Sometimes your problems are cute, and the solutions are not.

Hawk and squirrel image_preview (Photo credit: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/gallery/2007-winners-and-finalists/RETHAW_ArdithBondiNY07.jpg/view ) (This hawk is a red-tailed hawk.)

 

LOCAL VIEW —Backwash—

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At this time of year there are great surges and counter-surges of air from north to south and south to north, and we are currently in a counter-surge from the south. People appreciate the mildness much more, after a shot of cruel cold.

With the clocks switched an hour backwards, it is now dark when the parents pick up their children at our childcare after work. We had our first evening fire last night out in the pasture, with some of the children roasting small cubes of pork on pointed sticks, and others roasting potatoes on the hot coals. The parents tell me it makes quite a scene, as they drive in.

This morning found me grumpy, as the Democrats won here in New Hampshire, and that means more paperwork and bureaucracy for a small business owner like myself. I wanted to sit and sulk, but two young boys were full of energy, and bouncing off the walls indoors, so I took them out for a walk. The boys are only at our Childcare for an hour, until the bus comes, but an hour can be an eternity, not only for boys, but for my staff. Sometimes it spares everyone to just go outside, especially when the morning is mild.

We headed off to the nearby flood-control reservoir next to the farm.  I was trying to teach them to walk quietly so we might see some wildlife, but they were so exuberant and loud that it is likely that even hibernating woodchucks stirred in their sleep, underground, a mile away. In my grumpy mood I decided to teach the boys a lesson.

I didn’t actually lie. When we came to the edge of a clearing, and I told them to pause and peer before moving out into the open, and instead the boys utterly ignored me and walked right out chattering away like a flock of grackles, I pointed off to the distance and said, “Did you see the deer over there?”

This wasn’t a lie, because it was a question. I didn’t say I saw a deer. (And I actually did see a deer “over there” years ago.)  I then added a deer will slip into the woods as soon as it sees you, so you only have a moment to see it, before it is gone. That isn’t a lie either.

To the boys it may have sounded like I was saying a deer had been there in the present tense, and that the deer swiftly vanished in the present tense, but I didn’t actually say that. (Obviously I have been studying politicians too much.)

My deception did have the effect of making the boys become quieter. They were disappointed about missing the sight of a deer, and more somber, as we approached the dam. I told them to walk up the slope slowly and quietly, and to only poke their heads gradually over the top of the rise, and then demonstrated by holding my hands flat, like the brim of a hat, up by my forehead, and then gradually lowering my hands to my nose, like I was looking over the top of a fence, and then owlishly looking left and right.

My expression must have been too exaggerated, for both of the boys nearly fell down laughing.  Then they proceeded to exaggerate their stealth, by crawling up the slope like a couple of Apache approaching an encampment of the US Cavalry.  I didn’t mind. At least they were quiet.

Then we were unexpectedly rewarded. The boys had been so noisy that I didn’t think a creature would be in sight, and at first the waters looked still and deserted.  I was trying to think of some way to make the effort seem worthwhile, and was quietly saying, in an ominous tone of voice, that it might be a sign of a bad winter that the ducks were heading south without stopping this year. (I figured saying this might make seeing nothing more interesting.) However even as I spoke I saw a motion on the shore of a small peninsula that juts out into the middle of the reservoir. I pointed towards the ripples expanding from the that shore, and then we watched a mother otter and her two nearly-grown young swim out and away from us. They kept lifting their heads like periscopes to see us better, and then diving: Long, sleek and shiny.

The boys thought it was interesting, but their attitudes were matter-of-fact. They had no idea how special the event was. I didn’t mind. At least they had seen that it pays to be quiet when exploring the woods and fields and shores, and that is not easy to teach. In fact that behavior is nearly impossible to teach,  because even when you manage to keeps kids relatively quiet for a relatively long period of time (like 45 seconds) you usually see nothing, and therefore cannot prove silence is worth it. This time we had proof, and that seemed like a gift to me.

I guess it goes to show me: Maybe the side I want to win doesn’t always win elections, but I can still occasionally win in other areas of life.

But now I must endure five tedious hours of “adult education”, ordered by a bureaucracy that wouldn’t know an otter if it bit them. So I don’t always win, either.

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(Photo credit:  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/RiverOtterSwimmingOregonZoo.jpg )

 

LOCAL VIEW—FLYING SQUIRRELS

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(Click map to enlarge and clarify)

Last week’s storm has finally drifted up off the upper, right hand corner of the map, and the weak storm that followed it is has floated up to Labrador, with its cold front dangling down off-shore to a weak low in Georgia. That weak low will be invigorated by the first low plunging down through the Great Lakes and second low in the Mississippi Valley, and the merging low pressures are expected explode into a gale off shore.

All week long there has been worry and fret about the strength and track of a gale that doesn’t even exist. On Monday it looked like we could get a foot of snow, but by Tuesday it seemed the storm would go out to sea. Often the European model differed from the American GFS model which differed from the Canadian JEM model. Joe Bastardi pointed out where the models tended to go wrong, and what to look for and be wary of, and held a view all his own.

I was wary anyway, as the ghost of the Pacific hurricane Ana is in the Mississippi Valley, and I’ve always noticed such meteorological “ghosts” tend to add energy to storms. It is one of those cases where a sixty mile difference in where a storm forms and tracks makes a huge difference in the local weather. Considering the storm hasn’t even formed, the skill of forecasters is taxed to the limit.

Then last night’s computer models came out with a solution I wasn’t looking for at all. Rather than a single storm there would be two. This divides the energy and weakens the effects (until the two storms combine north of here, up in the Canadian Maritimes.   We might get  howling northwest winds after the storm passes, but the storm itself would be more diffused, with lighter east and northeast winds as it approached, which would be less likely to drag down cold air and make snow, and we’d be more likely to get cold rain.  Maine might get buried in snow, but we would dodge the bullet. (Maybe.)

That would be fine with me. I’m not ready for snow.  I still have potatoes to dig, and with the clocks changing next week it will be dark when the parents pick up their children at my farm-childcare, so I need to prepare to have bright fires out in the pasture for the children to gather around, with the emphasis of our childcare on the outdoors, as it is. Our kids tend to head home smelling of smoke, but have experiences children at institutional childcares miss, such as roasting potatoes in a fire, and learning to be careful near flames.

In a way I was helped by the last nor’easter, as it blew down a dead tree, which smashed into another dead tree as it fell, snapping the second tree’s trunk and making a sort of jumble I need to clean up in order to clear a much used path. That will supply some free wood.

However it also created an interruption, as the second dead tree turned out to be hollow. A member of the staff tapped on the side of the trunk, as this can bring life that was hiding within out, and sure enough, the faces of flying squirrels appeared above. We had no camera, but this picture gives you an idea how their faces look. (Photo credit: http://photovide.com/flying-squirrels/ )

Flying-Squirrels-2 Flying squirrels are quite common, but seldom seen because they are nocturnal, which is why they have such huge eyes. Most people don’t even know they are around, until they get into an attic and start gnawing everything they can get hold of, including electrical wiring, in which case people do not find their big eyes cute. (Photo credit: http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

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However when they are out in the woods where they belong, they are definitely appealing creatures, if you ever see one.

I’d been telling the kids they were out there, because there were signs. I’d point out that the  pine cones were stripped of their scales, and were reduced to nothing but a central spike, and that beneath certain branches there were drifts of pine cone scales. Or I might find an owl pellet, and open the oval of fur to show the bones and teeth, and speak of dark events in the dead of night. However for the most part this was just a fairy tale told by the old coot who  watches over them. Small kids live in a dream, and fairy tales are real and reality is a fairy tale, in many ways. In some ways that may be a sort of wisdom, for reality does contain some strange marvels, such as a squirrel that glides from tree to tree in the moonlight.

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(Photo credit http://www.zappwildlife.com/flying-squirrels-athens-ga/ )

The forest is very alive at night, with many creatures preferring starlight to daylight. Besides owls, flying squirrels need to be wary of foxes and raccoons and skunks, as, like many rodents, they are near the bottom of the food chain. However an old foe, which only recently has returned to this area because it fur was so valuable that it was hunted to local extinction, is the American Marten, which is as at home in the trees as any squirrel. When I recently saw one early in the morning I thought it was a squirrel at first, and then did a double take.

American Marten am_marten(Photo credit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/45531.html )

When I’m walking in the woods, pointing at various signs and telling tales of how a flying squirrel can escape a marten when a red squirrel can’t, because they can leap into the air and glide to another tree, the children sometimes roll their eyes, as if I’m telling another one of my tall tales. I can hardly blame them. (One boy once confronted me with his hands on his hips and announced, “My Dad says there is no such thing as walking trees!”) However I find that introducing a bit of Tolkien wonder increases a forest’s enchantment, (and it also keeps kids from running off, if they think there might be a few orcs about.)

When they realized there was actually such a thing as flying squirrels, it made a bit of extra trouble for me, as they wanted to take their parents to the tree, rap the trunk with a stick, and have the two faces of the two squirrels peer out from above.  (At first the squirrels emerged and scampered about looking alarmed, but by the tenth time they only poked their heads out, and I think I detected some irritation in their faces.) What’s more, the parents wanted to see as well, even after a long day’s work.  They seemed to  forget I’d also had a long day’s work, and might want them to skedaddle and let me go put my feet up.

However I’ve got to admit it is a fine sight to see a parent and their child walking hand in hand, when the sun is so low it sits on the horizon and sends long stripes of gold beneath the boughs and between the trucks of the pines. I can’t help smiling, and thinking that maybe my childcare does some good, after all, and is something more than a predatory way of squeezing scarce cash from the skinny wallets of overworked parents half my age.

 

LOCAL VIEW —Foxes and falling behind—

This is the continuation of a series of posts, the last of which was https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/local-view-planting-corn/

Earlier these “local view” posts were part of my “Arctic Sea Ice” posts, because the arctic does come south and seize New England in the winter, however now it is June, lush and green, and our foxes are not arctic.

My wife took the above photo, and I included it last year in a somewhat long-winded and peculiar post about my long association with foxes.   https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/baby-foxes/

In the above picture you should notice no green lushness. It isn’t June, and the mother fox already has three mouths to feed. This year, at the same time, there was still snow, and the cold was cruel, and as a consequence some of the little mouths to feed didn’t get fed, and the mother fox only has one mouth left to feed, this June.

At our childcare children learn about nature.  They are not incarcerated in a steel-fenced-in yard, more befitting a criminal penitentiary, called a “playground.”  They run free, within much wider bounds, and though carefully supervised they are not “organized,” and when they play their play is not “organized sports,”  and when they learn about nature she is not an “organized nature.”

Other kids learn about nature indoors, and when they see foxes it is on video, and they have a most peculiar idea about nature. They feel nature is a fragile thing, and humans break it.  Rather than loving the fields and streams, and wanting to hike the forests and hills, they want to stay indoors, because they feel they can do it no good by approaching nature.

By the time little children leave my childcare for kindergarten at age five they are smarter than that, and smarter than a lot of full grown environmentalists. Rather than fearing nature they love nature.

To be blunt, I think a lot of full grown environmentalists have never done what my kids do. They have never watched a mother fox by her den with her pups.  They have never raised chickens. They have never known how infuriating it is to have a best hen nabbed by a mother fox in broad daylight.

It goes on and on from there. Lots of environmentalists have never hoed corn under a hot sun. Nor have they picked that corn, roasted it over hot coals, and munched it on a summer afternoon. Not that I make my kids do this, (or trust them with a campfire,) but they tend to tag along as I do this stuff, and learn through a sort of osmosis. I get the distinct impression many environmentalists never learned in this manner, and instead only watched videos at a penitentiary childcare.

My kids know Nature is no fragile thing. I don’t teach them this. She does. If you leave your videos and get out in the weather, you learn what a mother fox knows: Mother Nature can kick your ass,  and leave you feeling darn lucky you have even one of your children alive.

The people in Washington DC are unaware of this reality, called “Nature”. They live in an illusion wherein, if you don’t grow corn, you can eat corn, by printing it out on a printing press. They are bankrupt, but feel they have power because they can print out lots of hundred dollar bills. In this delusion they ignore the worst winter we’ve had since the 1970’s, and insanely yammer about Global Warming. After a winter where the poor could barely afford to stay warm, they think it wise to increase the cost of heating with Carbon taxes.

Hello? Hello? Anyone at home in those skulls?

I am not able to print money when I need it, and cannot feed the kids at my childcare corn unless I plant it. At age sixty-one, I’m finding it harder to do all the digging. To be honest, I’m falling behind. For crying out loud!  It is June, and I’m just getting the beans and squash planted!

Oh, I suppose I could play the blame-game. We did get our last frost on May 29, which is very late. I’ve had other responsibilities to attend to, as well. However, when dealing with Mother Nature, the blame-game doesn’t work. She is one tough cookie, and isn’t about to listen if I whimper, “But I’m sixty-one.”  Or, well, maybe she’ll listen, but her mercy may be to put me out of my misery.  I prefer to shut up and work.

In any case I was down on my knees, working manure and wood ashes into the soil, this evening, and then covering the stirred soil with a layer of mellow topsoil, and planting hills of winter squash. (When squash has a basement of such richness you can get some spectacular yields), (if the vine borers don’t attack).  As I worked I became aware the crows were cawing like crazy in the trees past the edge of the pasture, and the cawing was coming closer. I froze, and remained very still in my crouch, and saw a fox come trotting out into the pasture.  To my delight it was followed by bounding baby, (I’m never sure whether you call them “pups” or “kits”).

I was surprised they didn’t head for my chickens, but rather in the general direction of my goats, who were all attentively cocking radar ears towards the foxes.  The mother would trot ahead to some hole a vole or mouse made, sniff at it, and the pup-kit, which had lagged behind, would come dashing up to sniff as well, and then be left behind sniffing, as the mother trotted ahead to the next lesson. However she abruptly froze in her tracks.  She hadn’t noticed me, but rather my bored dog, sitting by my truck waiting for me to be done with the nonsense of squash.

Without much fuss the mother fox headed the other way, still pausing at interesting tussocks of grass and divots in the pasture, and waiting for her kit-cub to boundingly catch up. I was hoping my dumb dog wouldn’t notice, but abruptly she sat up, and then took off like a rocket for the mother fox and her pup-kit.

I commanded my dog to stop, and as usual it didn’t. Some people think my dog is named, “El Seeno,” and is Hispanic, but actually her name is “Elsie”, but I am always yelling “Elsie! No!” at the top of my lungs.

Elsie is an utterly illogical dog. She cowers from butterflies yet attacks bees, despite being repetitively stung. She savagely barks at jets passing miles overhead, yet will yawn at a great blue heron landing by the farm pond. She’s scared of cats, but now was heading at roughly thirty miles an hour towards a mother fox protecting a lone surviving child. I sat back to see what would happen.

The little fox made a beeline for the edge of the trees, but the mother fox didn’t bolt, and instead trotted smiling towards the charging dog. Then she did an astounding thing. She sat down on her haunches and simply waited, in a most nonchalant way. Elsie never slowed, and in fact increased her speed. Then the mother fox barked a high and scratchy yowl-yap, and ran off in a zig-zag, first one way and then another, but never the way her baby went.  Elsie hardly swerved at all, and was close behind the fox as they vanished into the trees by the south side of the pasture.  I heard a yowl-yap from that direction, and then from the west edge of the pasture, and then, more distantly, from the west-northwest, which likely indicated a reunion with her pup-kit, as that was direction the child had fled. I knew it had nothing to do with Elsie, for Elsie reappeared way back at the south edge of the pasture.

I thought she looked a bit humbled. It reminded me of a time she chased an otter into some shubbery, with her tail high and wagging, and only got half way into the shubbery before her tail went down, and she came carefully backing out. Perhaps that dog is not quite as dumb as she looks. However I did praise her as she came back panting, despite the fact she disobeyed, because my chickens are safe a little longer.

And the moral of this story is this: Mother Nature isn’t fragile. I might be fragile, and my dog might be fragile, but she isn’t.

The only sad thing is this event happened on the weekend, and the kids at my childcare didn’t get to witness it.

A nice ending to the hottest day so far, this spring.

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LOCAL VIEW —A day to skip planting—

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It was 65 yesterday morning, but only 44 this morning, with a raw east wind and drizzle. It is a day where even sixty miles inland you feel like you are on the  cold water on the coast of Maine.  The “back door cold front” that clobbered us will, like the one last week, push all the way down to Washington DC, and only slowly back off.  It is a glorified sea breeze bolstered by the chill imparted to the off shore waters by a nasty winter.  (Here is a Dr. Ryan Maue  map I lifted from Joseph D’Aleo’s blog at the WeatherBELL “Premium Site,” which costs me the price of a cup of coffee each day, and is well worth it, as long as I still get my coffee. [They offer a one week free trial.] )

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(You can click the above map to get a larger, clearer view which can be further enlarged with another click.)

To our north, Hudson Bay is still frozen, and to  are west the Great Lakes are very cold. How would you like to be a life guard at this beach on the shores of Lake Superior?

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All these factors create a slow spring here in New Hampshire, and a situation where only a fool would have a vegetable garden.  I am such a fool, and this post will describe my woe and misery.  I’ll add updates to the bottom of this post, until it gets too long.

MAY 29   —FROST!!!—

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It is practically June, but there it was, on the grass by the garden, white and glistening in the early , slanting sunbeams,: Frost.  Now I smile, remembering the more laid-back old-timers, who said it was never worth the trouble of planting before Memorial Day, which in the old days was always on May 31.  They’d been-there-and-done-that, and seen all the hurry and worry of early planting cut down by a late frost.  Their attitude seemed to be, “Why bother?”

I likely lost a few flats I haven’t planted yet, but I’m so far behind with my planting that there’s nothing tender to lose.  I’d be a lot more upset if I had my tomatoes planted.  (I would have risked planting some early, but my goats ate those flats before I had a chance.)

The sun rose so early and was so brilliant that the wet telephone poles were smoking with steam soon after the sun crested the hills. It’s a glorious day, but cool.

THE MISSING BARN-CAT

Today was like a different planet.  Yesterday it never got much above 45, (7 Celsius,) with drifting drizzle off the cold Gulf of Maine, and when the wind gusted the wind chills were in the high thirties (3 Celsius.) The whole world was grey, but today the sky was cloudless blue, with May’s green leaves vivid and lush, after the watering they got.

What grows best is the grass, which is fine for the goats but lousy for me, for I’ve got to cut it. However, before I suffered the deafening growl of my archaic rider-mower, I just stood in the windless quiet amazed by the sheer beauty.

Our old barn cat vanished during the winter, so I’m expecting an invasion of voles in my garden, and mice in the barn.  (We already have an amazingly brazen chipmunk stealing the goat’s grain.) So I expect I’ll miss the cat, dubbed “Gnarly.”  But not much. He had a nasty habit of arching up to people purring, pressing against their leg, and then, when they reached down to pat him, affectionately biting right down to the bone. I’d only pat him wearing work gloves, and even then he could draw blood. He was not popular among the customers at my Childcare, and “Don’t pat Gnarly” was a strictly enforced rule with the kids. Of course modern children are not well-disciplined, and tend to sneer at the rules of grown-ups. Gnarly, (and also our rooster,) taught the young whippersnappers to listen to me.

Most outdoor-cats around here vanish because they are eaten.  Coyotes and Fisher-cats like a meal of cat, and a Great Horned Owl will swoop down to dine at night. However I doubt that was Gnarly’s fate. He was smart, and also very tough. I once watched him deal with a fox out in the pasture.  It was winter and the fox was hungry, and bigger than Gnarly, and stalking him, but Gnarly was faster when he needed to be, and then would slow down and become casual, looking over his shoulder in a way I swear was taunting, for the fox would look offended and try a different approach, and again be evaded.  After each evasion Gnarly would saunter in a most careless, casual and unhurried manner, home to my barn.

If he could outfox a fox I doubt it was a wild animal that robbed him from my barn. I fear that, rather than a wild animal, it was a tame human, and the hint was due to a change in Gnarly’s dreadlocks.

Gnarly was a long-haired orange cat, and was bred to grace some rich woman’s Persian living-room, and never sneak through briers and burrs, but fate gave him to a daughter’s wild boyfriend, and when they went their separate ways somehow Gnarly got left behind, and rather than fluffy fur had dreadlocks. I’d snip the biggest clumps off, (wearing thick canvas gloves,) from time to time, however such grooming only made the cat look worse: Dreadlocks with bald patches. However looks don’t matter to a barn Tomcat, as long as he catches mice. Therefore it was very noticeable when Gnarly returned from one of his three-day courtship journeys looking remarkably groomed.

This new, smooth, tidy, sleek Gnarly visited the barn less and less often, and I could hardly blame him. Why live in a barn when you can live in a Persian living-room? (Even if it is the living-room of a cat-thief.) And last winter was a cold one.  It is little wonder he stopped coming back altogether, though I couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt and rejected, and also that Gnarly turned out to be more of a sissy than I ever dreamed he could be. You’d think a Tomcat would value independence more. I half-expected him to return, once the weather warmed.

He didn’t, nor have the mice, voles, and occasional rat he chowed down on, (so far.) But this morning, as I stood amidst the stunning beauty of blue sky, golden sunshine, and rain-washed May greenery, I suddenly noticed what had returned to our barn.

Barn swallows. What a beautiful bird they are! Few birds fly so adroitly, with such swift swoopings and swerves, with the blue sky shining off their black-blue backs.

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However not even a barn swallow’s back catches the blue of the sky like the back of a bluebird. They were nearly extinct, after a terrible ice-storm in my boyhood, but have made a comeback and we’ve had a few of them around recently, but always far from the barn, and never sitting on near fence posts. Because they were so rare for so long, I can never see one alight near without becoming Norse and feeling it is a good omen.

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Not only that, but a common American Robin hopped across the lawn, cocking its head, listening for worms. They’d never dare that, with Gnarly in the barn. Then an enormous Oh-My-Gosh-Bird (Pileated Woodpecker) swooped down to slam rippingly at the stump of the maple ruined by Hurricane Irene.

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Also a song sparrow, which had sung from the very top of the backyard balsam fir, now sung from a low bough. In fact there seemed to be birds all over the place. A tiny chipping sparrow flitted about the manure pile, and there were titmice and chickadees, goldfinches and warblers, and all seemed to be singing at the top of their lungs, rejoicing that the cruel east wind and drizzle had given away to sunshine and a dead calm.

Softened by the rapture induced by all this beauty, I murmured, “Screw you, Gnarly. Who the heck needs you? You can sit in your Persian living-room and rot, for all I care.”

Of course, I won’t be saying that once the rodents start to proliferate. The bird my barn needs most is a rodent-eating barn owl. Unfortunately such owls are few and far between, because they eat mice and rats that come staggering from barns and out into the open dieing, poisoned by rat poison.  Rat poison kills more owls than even Gnarly could.

Farmers face choices, and given the choice between rat poison and a Tomcat that bites, I’d chose neither, and go for more heart-faced barn owls.

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MAY 30  —The Cold returns—

Not bad in the morning, with temperatures up near seventy, but then a cold front drifted south with a few brief smatterings of rain;  big drops but not all that heavy. Temperatures drifted back down through the sixties. During our entire brief warm-up the clouds never stopped floating down from the north.

Besides the ordinary Childcare duties I got some mowing done and planted nine tomato plants. I’ll never get that garden planted, it seems.

MAY 31  —More ocean air—

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That rogue storm out to sea is creating a northeast wind, so again we have a grey morning with temperatures in the fifties.  However when the sun peeks through the purple it is instantly warmer. It looks like the high up in Labrador is going to press south and give us more sunshine.  I think it’s a pretty sorry state of affairs when your warm weather comes from Labrador.

Can’t plant first thing, as my granddaughter has a gymnastics event. But I’ll get a lot done later.

JUNE 1  —Finally planting—

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Although the high cresting over us has arctic origins up in Labrador, it can’t defeat a June sun. Now that the onshore wind has died temperatures are leaping upwards. When the winds turn south tomorrow it may actually get hot.. Therefore I have no reason to avoid planting, right?  Wrong. It’ is Sunday, and I’m “Deacon On Duty” at Church.

(If the food I grow meant the difference between children living or starving, I’d skip church.)

However I did get a lot done yesterday, even without planting seeds.

I spent $800.00 on a new rototiller, which is in some ways ludicrous as the garden isn’t likely to produce $800.00 worth of food. However, because the Childcare I run is all about teaching children about farming, it is a tax-deductible expense.

I used to rent a monster for $70.00 a day, and had to work like crazy to get all the work done in a single day. The machine was a brute, a sort of merciless beast that just about ripped your arms from their sockets each time you hit a big stone, and the soil in New England is full of big stones.  It doesn’t matter how long you work to remove them; the frost heaves up a new crop every spring, which is why New England has such lovely stone walls. Stones may be our best crop.

My new tiller is smaller, digs deeper, and when it hits a big stone it politely shuts down. You remove the stone, and then the machine politely is easy to restart.  (I’m not used to equipment that is easy to start.)  However what is best is that I don’t have to hurry to be done in a day, to avoid a late fee.  In fact I can actually dawdle.

At age sixty-one, I find dawdling is more like a necessity than a vice. I need to pace myself. However I also need to avoid being like King Theoden, (in Tolkien’s masterpiece,) when he was under the spell of Wormtongue (who was under the spell of Saruman who was under the the spell of Sauren).  Wormtongue was always saying things like, “Oh don’t strain yourself, most venerable one.”  Bah!  I may need to pace myself, but that doesn’t mean I need to cower.

When I was young I could underbid other landscapers by skipping the expense of a rototiller. All I needed was a stout spading fork, (American-made, not one of those cheap forks with tines that bend at the first root). Spading by hand was tiring, but like long distance running: I’d “hit the wall,” but then get a second wind, and then a third and fourth and fifth wind. Furthermore I could do all sorts of things rototillers can’t, stooping to toss aside roots and stones and weeds, so that the garden’s soil was much cleaner when I was done tilling. I’d do an entire garden in a day, perhaps taking longer than a guy with a rototiller, but doing a better job and doing it a little more cheaply.

The next morning would find me stiff and sore, but I’d just think the stiffness and soreness was a sign I was “getting in shape.”

As you get older you get out of shape more swiftly even as it takes longer to get back in shape. However stiffness and soreness is often the same, as sign you are “getting in shape.”  Yet a Wormtongue in the back of the brain does not tell you, “You are getting in shape.”  Instead it says, “You are getting to old for this nonsense.”

In any case, I’m stiff and sore this morning, but glad I got some tilling done yesterday.  I also got some more seedlings in yesterday, including a number that were topped by hungry goats, and may not even survive. Lastly, before I tilled, I dug up a whole bunch of volunteer Sunflower seedlings and transplanted them around the periphery of the Childcare playground, which hopefully will delight my wife in August, when the grounds are surrounded by the flower’s happy faces.  Not bad, for a day I “didn’t plant.any seeds.”

After church today I’ll meet with the young fellow who is helping me become more up-to-date, in terms of my computer, which may lead to a new post in the “Poet’s Plan” series.

After that I’ll plant some corn.  However, as this particular post is about “not planting seeds,” I suppose this post is over.  The continuation of this series can be found at: https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/local-view-planting-corn/