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.