Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Ant

That's as opposed to the grasshopper. I've made all my preparations for winter -- well, with the exception of putting the snowplow on the tractor but I want the bucket to stay on as long as it can, since it's still useful. I got the driveway (which is almost half a mile long) fixed, the house primed (finish coat can wait till spring) the woodshed built, and now I've finished processing all the wood for this winter and I'm putting it away.

There's a ton of wood that came down in our two big storms this summer awaiting sectioning and splitting, but there's no big hurry there. I'll work on it at my leisure, until we get snow cover and then I'll just wait till spring to finish up.

So that's quite a satisfaction. So far I'm keeping the house more than warm very easily with just the wood stove, and I've gotten more than a year ahead on firewood. The deep cold is still ahead but as long as we don't end up with roof-crushing snow pack again I can live with it.

Now for something completely different, one of the most obvious differences between city and country is the meaning of guns and gunfire. There's a guy maybe a mile and half away, I'm not sure -- my ear is not trained to interpret the nature and distance of firearms -- who gets off two or three shots from what I believe is a high powered rifle every morning at 6:30. My guess is he isn't just trying to wake himself up, he's trying to scare the deer away from his orchard. A different guy (I think) has to empty a 12-round clip every evening at about 5:30. Some people need a martini when they get home from work, some people need to shoot a gun.

It's hunting season now so at random moments you'll hear a shot from any direction. Finally there are some wackos who have a firing range across the river and when they get going on a Saturday afternoon it's like downtown Kandahar. Whether I like it or not -- and I really don't mind after all -- that's how it is.

Think about it. If I heard a single gunshot in the city, I'd call the police. What's just part of life out here is social pathology where I lived for 25 years. If you haven't been able to internalize this basic divide in American life, a major problem in our politics won't make any sense to you. People out here don't get why some politicians want to regulate gun ownership, and people in the city think folks out here must be violent lunatics because they are so worried about it.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to make effective laws that would operate differently in the city and the country. With our winner-take-all two party system, issues have to ride together, along with party identity. Which helps explain why a lot of people seem to vote against their own interests on numerous matters -- those matters are going along for the ride with other matters they care about immediately and directly. Since the whole divide is also bound up in cultural identity it's difficult even to talk about it reasonably. So there you are.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Meet some of the neighbors

These guys -- and they are guys -- refused to stand still and pose for their picture so I'm afraid it's not as sharp as I'd like, but you can nevertheless see that they are quite dignified. They are also not idiotic, unlike their evolutionarily degraded domestic cousins. If they were, there would not be so damn many of them.

This summer there was a flock of two hens and their chicks who went everywhere together. They seemed to like to hang out near the road, so I'd see them often. One of the odd things about turkeys is that they are so socially fluid. Sometimes you'll see a solitary individual; sometimes two or three together, as here; sometimes immense flocks of dozens of mixed gender. But the solo sightings are rare, they generally like to hang out together, even if they're just roosting. By the way, also most unlike the degenerate versions that end up on your Thanksgiving table, they fly quite well, although they seldom bother.

Being a turkey is not so easy, however. I got home a couple of weeks ago to find turkey feather scattered all over my front yard, including a big beautiful tail feather which now sits in a ceramic bud vase in my living room. Evidently some critter had fancied its previous owner for lunch. Maybe a bobcat? I doubt a coyote could catch one but I could be wrong. Turkeys are bigger than hawks, but perhaps a hawk would strike one anyway. I don't know if this one got away but in the spring, I found remains -- just one wing -- in the woods. They're also pretty easy game for a human with a shotgun, which you'll often see on the edges of cleared fields in late autumn, hoping for a nice big dinner.

The main point of this post is that when I was a boy in southern Connecticut, they were nearly gone. I never saw one. They have come back in such profusion in an extraordinarily short time, just 30 or 40 years. The same goes for much of our wildlife. Bears are showing up farther east and farther south all the time. People are seeing bobcats around here which is wholly new. Fishers, beavers, all sorts of critters are more and more common.

This actually is all about humans and how they organize, and particularly how they fuel, their civilization. More about this later.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let's talk about the weather

Columbus Day is the traditional day to plant garlic in these parts so that's what I did. As I believe I have mentioned, I turned a lot of chickenshit into the garlic patch and it hadn't all broken down and incorporated yet, so I got up close and personal with it. That's the gardener's lot. I was very pleased by the way the sand I had also added loosened up the texture of the soil. I filled up almost the entire plot with seed stock I had saved from this year's crop, just had to fill in about a row and a half with some store bought. So I'm looking forward to bushels next summer.

Now, here's the strange thing. The concept of Columbus Day is supposed to be the first holiday with that cool fall weather. There would normally be a danger of frost around now, at least downright chilly mornings and maybe even a jacket in the afternoon. That's not what's happening. The weather is like midsummer, hot and sultry. We did have a brief dip in the temperatures at the end of last week but no frost. My chilis are still going strong, in fact. They're absolutely beautiful, still blooming and setting fruit, and the bees are working them. You know, chili peppers - that tropical plant from Mexico.

It's predicted to cool down a little -- stop setting all-time records, in other words -- but there's no cold weather and no frost in the forecast. Who knows how long this will last or whether it's the new normal. We'll just have to see. But it may mean my dream of building a sugar shack and making maple syrup is doomed. It will mean a lot of other changes as well. I'll try to notice them all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The woodshed

Alas, I don't actually have one yet. I have a guy lined up to build one. I'll help when I can but as a weekend project, it would just take me too long to get it done. But, of course, he hasn't started yet and he keeps putting it off. Trades are slow, but somehow they always seem busy.

Anyway, meanwhile I'm going ahead and harvesting the deadfall from our recent hurricane. It's incredible. I didn't explore the woods much for a few weeks because they were still too muddy. (Those of you not in the northeast may not appreciate the endless flooding rains that continued relentlessly after Irene had passed -- another tropical storm, and plenty of plain old downpours.) But yesterday things had dried out enough for me to take a walk around the lowlands and it's like the Tunguska event. Okay, I exaggerate, but we hadn't had a windstorm like that for more than a decade, at least, and the wood is everywhere -- huge trees snapped off or uprooted, entangled with the collateral damage in a continuous jumble.

I'm taking advantage of the long weekend to get as much of it as I can out of the woods and piled up for splitting. Record heat for the date won't help, but I'll just have to sweat it out. I'll be all set for the fall of 2012, and 2013 I should think, if I exert myself. Getting ahead to where I'm always burning 2 year wood, and have some to share with the old folks as well, will be a win.

It occurred to me that our exploitation of firewood is essentially the opposite of what the Indians did. Having only stone tools, they could only use small diameter material. They cut saplings to clear their gardens and presumably would have taken the tops from the deadfall, but left the trunks to slowly rot away.

For me, thanks to Pie Are Square, the big pieces are the prize. With a chainsaw, a tractor, and a log splitter, I can turn a two foot section of a 30" trunk into a perfect day's supply of stove wood. The small stuff, what the Indians would have taken, is what I leave behind. (By the way, since small diameter wood burns up quickly, they must have had to attend their fires continually. We like the big stuff because it lasts a long time, so you only have to fuel occasionally.)

I have no idea how this affects the life cycle of the forest. I can speculate about all sorts of effects. But it's a reminder that human impacts can have all sorts of subtle consequences.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Some trite thoughts

Yesterday I went through the sad annual ritual of taking apart the tomato patch. I leaned the poles neatly against the barn, saved the ties in a bucket, and ran the mower over the ground to chop up the stalks. I'm not sure why the plants crapped out -- we've had no frost, not even close -- but I guess the cool, damp weather and the shortening days just told them it was time to go. My chilis, on the other hand, are still going strong.

One of the great things about this whole deal of having seasons is that what the fall is really about is getting ready for the spring. I also started to prepare my root zone. The soil was really too dense and gummy for root crops so I dug in five buckets (i.e., the loader on my tractor)of sand. Then I dumped a bucket load of chicken shit on top and did my best to spread it around with a rake. Yuck. The chicken shit has been sitting in a pile since I picked it up in April, and it was still soaking wet with the consistency of drying glue. With luck it will start to break down and dry out a bit in a few days and I'll be able to distribute it better and get the area really ready to plant garlic in a couple of weeks.

I still need to build a woodshed, paint the house, and repair the driveway before the end of this month. Then I'll be ready to hunker down for what, with any luck at all, will be an easier winter than the last one, which set all kinds of records for snow depth and collapsed roofs.

Our ancestors on the African savanna knew a cycle of seasons, but it wasn't much like this one. Yet for those of us who have always lived here, it feels as though it's in our DNA. This slow rhythm, however painful it can be when the world freezes over and the light is sparse, just feels right. But it's already changing, and it will change more in the years ahead, in ways we can't entirely predict. New England is actually probably one of the most fortuitous places to be as the planet grows warmer, but I'm not actually looking forward to it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm back

I realize I haven't posted here for about two months. I'm not sure why -- there's been plenty to write about, but the muse seems to have abandoned me for a while. I believe she will return now.

Among the subjects I have neglected to cover:

The suicidality of squirrels. They wait until a vehicle is coming, then run into the road and try to get squashed. At least so it seems. Driving around here requires continual alertness.

Hurricane Irene. The principal reaction of the wise guys was to mock the news media for making a big deal out of it, but it was, in fact, a big deal. It just didn't happen to destroy Manhattan, but out in the countryside we had quite the time of it. I sat here listening to huge trees crashing down all around me. I'm now in the process of harvesting the wood, which will last me through 2014, I think. So it's not all bad. But a week with no electricity and all the stores and gas stations closed was highly educational.

Glenn Beckistan. I don't know what it is about low population density that makes total wackoism appeal to people. Living in Boston, you could safely assume that people you met were not wingnuts. Not so out here in the woods. I'll have to do some pondering on why this is.

The continuing effort of the State of Connecticut to kill Joshua Komisarjevsky. I have written about this horrific situation before, but the trial has now started. This is one of those death penalty cases that comes down to the bare, simple question. He's guilty, he's a career criminal, his deeds are atrocious, obviously he can never be permitted to walk among us. But why do we have to kill him?

And there's plenty more. I'll be back.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

It's an inva-a-a-a-sion

Yesterday my neighbor showed up with a pickup load of firewood, which he was dumping off as an informal exchange for some work. Henry doesn't do chainsaw, ostensibly because his first wife told him not to, although as far as I know his current wife doesn't care. He also borrowed my splitter to process his holdings, including the portion I had sectioned. So I didn't refuse the donation.

Anyhow, I was scouting out where to build my woodshed, which might involve clearing some vegetation and even cutting into the hillside behind the house. I had a small stand of some sort of attractive shrub which I was thinking I'd regret removing, but Henry told me they were Russian olives, which are, as it turns out, an invasive alien species that all good people should destroy. I checked it out on your Intertubes and sure enough, he's right. So I broke out my trusty Stihl Farm Boss™ and terminated them with extreme prejudice.

By the way, Henry has also been volunteering on a crew to extirpate another invasive species called mile-a-minute weed from the banks of the Shetucket,* just a half mile from here. The plant is named, of course, for the rate at which it spreads.

The bad news is, this is hopeless. If you Google Russian olive, you will not only find stern orders to destroy it, you will also find nurseries selling it with lavish praise for its beauty and hardiness. Evidently this is legal, though evil. Most landowners will probably never even learn that it's a harmful invader. If they do, they are unlikely to possess the equipment and capability to remove it, and many won't even have the inclination. As for the mile-a-minute weed, those volunteers will just have to keep going back several times every year and yanking it out, but it is highly unlikely they will ever eradicate it.

BTW, I learned from William Cronon's book Changes in the Land that many of our most familiar weeds -- dandelions, plantains, burdocks -- are in fact European invaders, whose seeds arrived as contaminants in animal feed, apparently. Perhaps they are not so harmful, but humans just keep mixing up the flora and fauna of the continents and oceans, to nobody ever knows what result, but it's usually bad.

Oh well, too late.

*Wickipedia:"The river flows through an especially unspoiled rural section of southern New England, despite the historical prevalence of industry in the surrounding region. Parts of the rivers have been designated by the federal government as the Quinebaug and Shetucket Rivers Valley National Heritage Corridor. The National Park Service describes the river valley as the "last green valley" in the Boston-to-Washington megalopolis. In nighttime satellite photos, the valley appears distinctively dark amidst the lights of the surrounding urban and suburban regions." Just so you know, that's where we are.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

All God's critters got a place in the choir

That's a song by wandering troubador Bill Staines, lyrics posted here, rather strangely, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Actually they don't all, but a lot of them do indeed make a racket.

As I reported some months back, in the winter here the dead of night is as quiet as the dark side of the moon except for the occasional coyote howl or hoo hoo, hoo hoooo of a barred owl. But by early spring bird song started by dawn. It gradually evolved from intermittent sparse utterances to a continuous sound track. Pretty soon the tree frogs started up at dusk and no I'm surrounded by a trilling, swirling symphony 24 hours a day.

Unfortunately I'm no expert on bird song so I don't know exactly what I'm hearing. There are many species of chorus frogs, and again I don't know exactly what I've got there either, although I can deduce that the spring peepers, Pseudacris crucifer, must have started the whole thing off, since "Spring Peepers primarily live in forests and regenerating woodlands near ephemeral or semi-permanent wetlands," and that is exactly where I am at; and they also can survive freezing temperatures so they're the first frogs to get going in spring.

What I also don't know is why these creatures make all this noise. I understand that one reason is to attract mates, but that must get over and done with after a reasonably short time, so why do they just keep on singing? It ought to help predators find them, which can't be good, so it must really be worth it for some other reason. Anybody know?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You gonna believe your lyin' eyes . . .

or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service? I was going to post something a few weeks ago when they declared the eastern Cougar extinct, but then I said naahh, there's too much idiocy in the world to bother. The declaration acknowledged that many people had seem mountain lions in New England recently -- and I happen to be among them but what do I know? However, they didn't count because they must be strays from Colorado or animals escaped from captivity or something. Anyway, even if they're here, they aren't really here.

So a 140 pound mountain lion is struck and killed by a car in Milford, and the spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection says "We don't see a lot of those around here." Well actually you don't see a lot of them in Colorado either, or anywhere else, because they don't normally show up for the day-after-Thanksgiving sale at Target, but if you see any of them, that means they exist, right? No, this one must have escaped or been released from captivity. Now come on, how many people keep mountain lions as pets and have them wander off? Is this really going on all the time? Pish tosh, I say.

In other news, our downtown consists of a post office, a general store, and two churches. Or it did. A few weeks ago the proprietor of the General Store drove his pickup into a tree at 2:00 am, leaving no skid marks. Maybe I shouldn't speculate but he'd put some money into fixing the place up and installing a pizza oven, and with half the people in town being out of work and for sale signs everywhere I expect fewer folks were willing to pay an extra 50 cents for a loaf of bread. It's six miles to the nearest grocery store now but people are just working harder at planning ahead and not running out of stuff, I expect.

Now we have no restaurant or store in town, except for a chainsaw shop. So is this really a town? We do have a volunteer fire company, a library, and an elementary school -- we're part of a regional school district above that -- and we share the dump with another town but it's still a place to meet up. There are annual events at the historical society -- Farm Days and the Highland Games -- a farmers' market once a week and occasional flea markets and whatnot on the town green, and Little League baseball at a town park. But we only really exist because of the public sector. There's no Main Street. Shopping means going to one or another big box in Windham. I expect this is happening in a lot of places.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Paint my house

One of the major benefits I hope to get out of hobby farming is that I have to work my tushy off, which is definitely necessary because years of city living and desk work have made me feel like I'm no longer 20 years old.  No longer being 20 years old probably has something to do with it as well but still, I'd like to get a little bit of it back.

You know what? It just might work. Today it's just 12:45 but I've already mowed a couple of acres, split a chord of wood, and turned, well, a shitload of chicken shit into my tomato patch, removing an equal quantity of rocks in the process. The plants go out tomorrow. (It's been a cool wet spring.) I am now filthy and sweaty and my back aches. Perfect.

Now, since you evidently aren't going to do it for me, I have to get cracking on painting my house. All that other stuff was pretty much an excuse not to start doing it.

You know what? People need this. We need to do physical work and see the result. It's essential to body and soul. And missing from most American's lives these days.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

People and plants

I had an open house or housewarming party yesterday, whatever you want to call it -- an official introduction to my homestead for family, friends and colleagues, most of whom had never seen it and were coming from an hour or more away. It was great, I'm glad I did it.

I told people not to give me anything but you know how much good that does. I wound up with two azaleas, two hydrangeas, and a lilac, along with about a year's supply of booze. So I planted the shrubs today and it got me to thinking. How can evolution explain our fondness for colorful flowers?

This is no minor feature of human psychology.  There is an enormous industry devoted to breeding, propagating, growing and selling cut flowers and flowering plants.  It's even profitable to fly cut flowers from Chile to New York.  Consider the importance of something so ephemeral to the weightiest of human affairs, from romance to mourning.

There is no shortage of plant life at my estate -- looking out the window I see a riot of green.  Our ancestors on the African savanna would have seen flowers occasionally, but seldom if ever anything as showy as the ornamentals we have developed through centuries of selective breeding.  So this isn't taking us back to some primal memory; nor are flowers particularly indicative of any related reward, at least not until fruit is ripe weeks or months later.  We just like them.

A house, even one sitting in the middle of the woods with lush vegetation all around, doesn't seem complete until we put in some of these useless plants, that we just happen to like.  We are mysterious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Going Wild

Okay, after some research and looking at pictures, what I saw was indeed a pig. It was rather smaller than the animal that puts the B in your BLT, but it was female (no tusks), may have been a juvenile, and anyway feral pigs come in various sizes but are often small. They come in various colors but the gray coat is accepted style. The problem is that Connecticut is one of the few states in which they have not been reported. Either this one didn't get the memo, or it was somebody's pet that wandered off. Its indifference to my presence would argue for the latter. I hope so, because they can do a lot of damage.

I can think of three other Old World mammals that Europeans have unintentionally introduced to the wild in North America. Horses don't cause a lot of problems because they pretty much occupy the niche vacated by the slaughtered bison, and the federal government limits their numbers -- to the bizarre objections of some people.

Then there are rats. They seem to limit themselves to human cities, and so only bother humans. Their ancestors must have had some other niche, but whatever it was, they don't seem interested in it nowadays.

Finally, and this sad to say is the biggest problem of all, there are the feral cats. Cat lovers, and there are many, don't like to hear a word against them, but as Maryann Mott tells us in the linked article, it is estimated that feral cats kill hundreds of millions of birds, and more than a billion small mammals such as chipmunks, every year. They never existed in the Americas until Europeans started losing their pets. Domestic cats have not changed much since they started using cute fuzziness to freeload on humans, so they revert to the wild very easily.

Cat loving activists try to deal with the problem by sterilization, but that seems to me like sweeping the beach. There probably isn't much that can be done beyond targeting specific colonies that are readily accessible. This is one more reminder of the collateral damage we do with purely innocent intent.

The new photo in the banner recognizes the change of season.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

What in tarnation?

I saw a critter yesterday morning that I've never seen before and still can't identify. I was standing in my field fairly early in the morning, around 8:30, when it came strolling along. It was pretty big -- let's say terrier sized, but with a much fatter body. Call it pig like. It had a ragged, unattractive gray coat, like a giant rat, and a bright pink nose. The snout had a flat end, also pig like.

It had absolutely no fear of me. As it drew even, about 30 feet away, it turned its head to regard me and sniffed two or three times. Then it continued on its leisurely way. It had small eyes and I had the impression, possibly incorrect, that it didn't see well.

I have checked out several guides to North American wildlife and I can find nothing like it.

In other news, I got a donation of a truckload of chicken shit from a local farmer. Unloading it was a chore, to say the least, not to mention cleaning up my truck and my person thereafter, but I'm looking forward to a jumping garden. Assuming the alien beast doesn't eat it.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Changes in the Land

Some of you city slickers who see this may figure I'm pretty well set for next winter. I wish. This is a decent start, but half of this still needs to be split and it all needs to be put away in the woodshed, which, oh yeah, doesn't even exist yet. (Click to enlarge; click twice for the really big view.)

The source of most of what you see here is my neighbor, who is selling off some building lots (alas). He knows about this blog now so he might even read this. (Yo, Henry!) I'm helping us both out by removing whatever of the debris from road and lot clearing is suitable to be consumed one day by a Vermont Castings Defiant Parlor Furnace. Ultimately, if I keep at it and work hard enough, there's enough there for me to get three or four years ahead, easily. And I still have at least three or four cords worth down on my own property.

Now's the time -- the voice of the chainsaw is heard throughout the land.

But ... Henry and I were talking with his logger yesterday, and it seems since the price of fossil fuels started in a general upward direction a few years ago the firewood market has taken off. It is now basically impossible to buy two-year wood; the sheds have been emptied. One year wood is all you can get. For those of you who don't know the art of wood burning, you can call wood "seasoned" that's only a year old but it takes two years for it to get optimally dry, and that used to be the standard.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it's not so good. As I have discussed here before, the Europeans cleared the New England forest not so much to make way for field and pasture, or for timber, but for fuel. In commercial quantities, that mostly means charcoal. It was the coming of the fossil fuel era that allowed the forest to grow back.

Firewood around here right now mostly comes from land that is cleared for other purposes, as in my current case; and from sustainable harvest in well-managed private holdings, public forests and private watersheds, (which I used to participate in with my father on New Haven Water Company property), often as a byproduct of logging. Land owners generally know enough not to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

But right now, we're flat out. There is no more to be had. That means, presumably, that the price will be going up, and the temptation to fell more trees will grow. This is one more inconvenient truth about the Long Emergency we may have to confront.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

gobble gobble

The other day I came downstairs for my morning coffee and whoa! There was a huge flock of turkeys in the yard. I couldn't begin to count them, there were at least two dozen. The toms were puffing themselves up and fanning their tails, which as I understand it means this was equivalent to a singles bar or the freshman mixer. They look pretty impressive when they do this, almost twice normal size. Unfortunately, the instant I stepped out to try to photograph them they bolted, so no pix to show you.

I understand that this kind of group courtship is typical, but not nearly in such a large group. According to the Wikipedia article, they commonly court in pairs.

Anyway, leaving aside this mysterious mass congregation, Ben Franklin famously proposed the turkey, rather than the eagle, as our national symbol. This probably seems strange to city slickers who think of the turkey as the moronic domestic mutant variety, of which it is said that if they happen to be looking up when it starts to rain, they will drown. Real turkeys obviously have to survive in a woodland filled with coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and foxes, not to mention human hunters, and they're nobody's fool. They can fly quite agilely although they prefer to run around on the ground. They sometimes sit in trees, and they can clamber around in the branches pretty well.

If we had adopted the turkey rather than the eagle, would our national character be less belligerent? The eagle was also the symbol of imperial Rome, and today it embodies our militancy and self-satisfaction with aggression and warmaking prowess. Turkeys, on the other hand, are big galoots, successful at making their own way but determined not to bother anyone else.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Benevolent Universe

Of late, I had been more convinced than ever that nothing is easy and the universe is against us. (Objectively, it is, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics. But I speak in a more poetic vein.) But now with spring and all that, I'm thinking maybe not so much after all.

I went out to fire up the log splitter today, which hasn't operated since it was buried by snow on January 10. The gasoline is of even greater vintage. But much to my surprise, it fired right up and purred like a kitten. Yesterday, with the help of my brother, I got some large and jagged pieces of furniture up the stairs without gouging the drywall. I also dropped off my change of address at the post office and got my place in Boston ready for an open house today, which I am happy to say is happening 100 miles away from me.

After I've heard nothing but coyotes and owls for four months, other birds are now starting to join the chorus. The passive solar thing, with the help of the March sun and daily high temperatures in the 40s, is working beautifully. As I predicted, we did indeed have a hellacious mud season that at one point turned my driveway to quicksand, but it's dried up nicely and now I just have a lovely burbling brook keeping to its rightful place and flowing under the driveway through a culvert.

All is peaceful here, though really terrible things are happening elsewhere. It's a big planet.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

There's good news and . . .

The good news is that after an insufferable winter we've had moderating temperatures for the past couple of weeks. The snow pack is intact except for south facing slopes, where some bare ground is starting to show, but not nearly as deep as it once was. The last big storm we had was, as the weatherbots say, largely a rain event here. It snowed in ski country though, so everybody is happy. We got three inches of snow overnight, but that's trivial, and it's already melting.

The bad news is what comes next -- which has already started to show up actually. That would be mud. After a winter to remember, we're headed for an epic mud season. My waterfall is gushing, which is picturesque. But three separate rogue streams have formed that are crossing my driveway as sheets. I'm not going to get stuck in the snow again, but bogging down in the mud would be even worse.

It's impossible to keep it out of the house no matter what discipline one adopts. It sucks at your boots and well, it's just gross. Still, this is the last trial we must cross before the good stuff happens.

Then again there could still be another 2 foot blizzard .. .

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bozo the Attorney

I don't know why they call Connecticut the Nutmeg State. I'm positive we produce no nutmeg. Lately, our best-known product seems to be horrific crime stories.

Shortly after I acquired my foothold here in Windham County, the state executed Michael Ross, who had terrorized the farmland out here many years ago. In about a month, the state will inflict the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky on us. Last year, his accomplice in the notorious Cheshire home invasion, Steven Hayes, was sentenced to death. If you aren't already familiar with the details of the crime, I suggest you not take the trouble to find out. I won't give any links but you can use your favorite commercial search engine if you must. I will mention a couple of details in this post, so if you really don't want to know, stop reading.

Hayes's attorney played it pretty straight. He didn't have a lot to work with, so he did end up asking a couple of off-the-wall questions at trial, but he had to do something to earn his fee. JK's legal team, however, is weirdly creative.

One of his lawyers violated a gag order by holding a press conference on the courthouse steps during the Hayes trial, to announce that yes, his client had tied an 11 year old girl to her bed, photographed her genitalia with this cell phone, doused her in gasoline and set her on fire. But, he did not anally rape her, in spite of where they found his semen. Well okay then. Sorry I misjudged the man.

Now, in pretrial motions, JK's counsel have tried to get the judge replaced, accusing him of being injudicious, intemperate, and biased. They lost the motion, so now they will face the same judge who they have called all sorts of names. That ought to help. They also petitioned that the normal seating arrangements be changed so that the defense sits near the jury. Apparently they believe the jurors will be reluctant to snuff a guy who they have sat close to. Since their client is a sadistic psychopath, I'm sure the jurors will enjoy looking into his cold dead eyes.

But the oddest behavior of the defense is that they have attacked the sole survivor of the crime, Dr. William Petit. Among various snide comments, they have asked that he be barred from the trial. They lost that one too. I presume they are trying to establish grounds for appeal, and I suppose they feel they have to do something. But all this just compounds the crime.

And that brings us to the actual point of this post. Both defendants offered to plead guilty in exchange for life. And that would be the hardest possible time since they would both -- but especially JK -- have to be isolated, since putting them in the prison population would indeed be a death sentence. The state turned them down because they're determined to give them both the needle. They can't even take a guilty plea with the defendants taking a chance in the sentencing phase, since state law doesn't allow for death following a guilty plea.

That means we need two trials, the second largely a re-run of the first, although presumably there will be more emphasis on the specific actions of JK this time. A trial means an assault on the jurors on court personnel, first of all, many of whom were traumatized and needed counseling following the Hayes trial. It also inflicts pain on the larger community that will be subjected to a filtered, but still sickening narrative of the crime. In order to kill these guys, the entire community is forced to wallow in their depravity and the agony they have inflicted, for months, so as to ritually turn it back against them.

Some people view this as somehow restoring order, or making the community whole in some way. I do not agree. I think it drags us down. We know these men are evil. I prefer to be better.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

New neighbors

A big group of deer -- I've counted 8 individuals visible at one time, and I'm sure there are more -- has started hanging out in the woods just outside my front window. I've taken several pictures of the group, but they're too indistinct among the trees to be worth showing you. This one, however, strolled right across my front lawn. The snow has crusted over, which is why she's floating on top -- for the most part, their travel is very labored in our deep snow pack.

In fact I'm looking at one right now that has fallen behind the group and is badly bogged down, struggling to get out of what must be a deep drift.

I've never seen them in such a large group before. My hypothesis is that they aggregate under these conditions so they can break the snow for each other -- and indeed they tend to travel single file. They keep rooting around in the snow so they must be finding something to eat but it can't be a lot.

The space below my lawn is a hemlock grove, which I've read that they favor. I guess I'm lucky to own a deer park but I won't feel so lucky come planting season. We'll have a much harder time getting along then.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Biomass Energy

I had people over recently and they actually did remark, "Wow, it's so warm in here!" I replied, "That's because I have a Vermont Castings Defiant model parlor furnace." The stove has the date 1975 imprinted on an interior piece. Vermont Castings has since been bought by a foreign company (Scandinavian, I think). They still make a model called the Defiant, which looks superficially similar, but is completely different inside.

I don't know why they changed it -- this one works just fine. It is indeed defiant, of the cold. It heats my whole house, although tonight we will meet the biggest challenge yet, that serious arctic air and temperatures well below 0 Fahrenheit. I can't be here during the day tomorrow either, so I'll also see how well the house can hold on to heat while the fire is banked.

Most people out here burn wood because, well, why not, there's plenty of it. But wood heat is no answer to our bigger problems as a society. Where there are a lot of wood stoves in a concentrated area, the pollution is unacceptable. (They had big problems in Aspen, but they deserve it.) It obviously won't work for the vast majority of people, who live in cities. And it was the demand for fuel, not timber, that left New England deforested 100 years ago. For a sustainable yield, you need more than 10 acres per household, and that doesn't work for very many folks.

Also, it's a lot of work, which not everyone has the time or physical capacity to perform. Somebody has to be around much of the day.

It's a rewarding hobby for me, saves on what would otherwise be one or another form of fossil fuel and a gym membership, and let's me make use of dead fall and dying trees that would otherwise go to waste. But we need to find other ways to save the world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

&^%$#Winter Wonderland!

If you're a weather channel junkie, you already know that last Wednesday Connecticut experienced its deepest snowfall in recorded history. (At least that's what the guy on teevee said, I'm not sure I believe it.) I was right in the sweet spot, with more than 30 inches. I know that wouldn't impress folks in Montana or Buffalo, but that just means that anybody who lives in those places is nuts.

I thought I was being real clever by getting a snowplow for my tractor, but no. It turns out that my little tractor can't handle two and a half feet of ice crystals. After getting stuck 19 times, I broke down and called my neighbor who has a big old International Harvester truck. He got stuck. We managed to dig him out, then he got stuck again and we wound up calling a third neighbor and pulling him out with a bobcat. By this morning, my driveway was again barely passable because of blowing snow and another inch we got overnight, so I spent an hour on the tractor cleaning up. (Yeah, I have a long driveway, about 3/8ths of a mile.)

Until today, there were basically no tracks in the snow. When there's deep snow, I understand, the deer hang out in evergreen groves where most of it doesn't hit the ground. The rest of the creatures have gone to their dens, it seems. It's been absolutely silent. Not even any birds, as a matter of fact.

Maybe it's beautiful but -- I have to wade through snow above my knees to get into my barn or anywhere I might want to go that isn't on a road. That means there's a lot I just can't do. What I have done is spend half my time moving mountains of snow around.

I'll be better adapated by next winter. I'll have a woodshed (right now I have to excavate for firewood), I'll build a plowable turnaround at the top of the driveway, I'll have a more powerful snow removal option including maybe a snowthrower, I'll know enough to get a jump on deep snowfalls by plowing wide after there's a foot or snow on the ground, maybe I'll get cross country skis. But no matter what, this will be a pain in the ass.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The woods in winter

This photo doesn't really tell the tale because you have nothing to give you size and perspective. These are actually pretty big trees, but you wouldn't know it. Anyway this is a hemlock grove near my house, and you see a beech tree in the center and the trunk of a tall oak to its right. It helps a lot to view the photo full size. And yes, that's a mylar balloon snagged in the beech tree. Civilization will track you down wherever you go . . .

It snowed overnight. When I stepped out in the morning, this critter, and maybe some of its friends, had left tracks all over the place. Note that it drags its tail through the snow. Anybody have an idea what it is? The prints are maybe 2 1/2" or 3" long.

Friday, January 7, 2011


I felled two big oaks today. Both were about 30 inches in diameter, bigger than my saw bar, which you aren't really supposed to do but just between us . . . They went down right where I told them to, and mighty impressively too with considerable collateral damage. I didn't really want to do it, but I need to get the woods a little farther back from my house and they were problem number 1.

They were both just behind an old stone wall that runs along the edge of the area we cleared for the house. I had not noticed until today that the remnants of a barbed wire fence were nailed to one of them. I have already figured out that somebody used this land for pasture up until maybe 60 years ago, and that confirms it. You can tell the forest beyond the stone wall is older growth. I doubt it's original growth -- they say there's none really left in Connecticut -- but I don't know how you would tell. It's deep, dark oak forest with hemlock groves, dominated by monstrous trees, with mossy rocks and carcasses of a yet earlier generation of trees underfoot. I can often hear what sound like large creatures moving about in it that I cannot see.

By the way the woods you see in the banner are the younger growth. I'll take a picture of the old growth tomorrow maybe (there will be snow on the ground) so you can see the difference.