Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tempest

I can't remember why I decided to re-read it. I haven't read The Tempest since college, but back then I knew it well. I did a production treatment -- sketches of scenery, costumes, notes on staging and direction -- as a directed study for my degree in theater. (Yep, that was my undergraduate major.) I have always remembered much of the poetry, but it turned out I had forgotten a good deal of the plot.

The play is seldom staged because it is enormously difficult. It requires a large cast of skilled actors who can portray sharply drawn characters while speaking some of the world's most famous words, dancers, singers, instrumentalists, and elaborate special effects. But it seems to me the time is just right for a major Broadway attempt. Theatrical effects have advanced astonishingly in recent years, in the service of some truly stupid projects. The time has come to put that technology to good use. The theater has lacked strong material and cultural heft. The Tempest could help it come back.

Most critics are convinced that Prospero is Shakespeare's alter ego. I have no doubt of it. The play is a reflection on the playwright's art, and on the art of theater in general; a celebration of his daughter's wedding (and the poignancy of a father seeing her leave); and of course a profound meditation on the human condition. The frank self-portrait of the artist as a gifted curmudgeon is entirely credible, and probably the most we will ever know about Shakespeare as a person.

I once had this posted on my dorm room door:

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Seasonal rituals

We knew we were spoiled last winter. There's a possibility of snow in the forecast for Tuesday -- no telling yet whether it's enough to plow here, but no sense taking a chance. I mulched the garlic bed and then I removed the loader and mower deck from my tractor and installed the snowplow.

That is always a huge pain in the gozongas. It gets a little easier each year as I learn the little tricks but the parts never line up right and the hydraulic fittings don't want to snap into place so there's always jockeying around and banging with a hammer and prying and wrestling with big heavy parts. Cuss words are essential. The reverse operation in spring is even harder.

Oh yeah, today was the first really cold day, it's cloudy and just feels bleak. Well alright, happens every year. Somehow you always hope it won't this time . . .

Saturday, November 24, 2012


Moving out to the country, among other major changes, completely alters the soundscape. Summer nights are actually much noisier here than in the city, a raucous multi-layered chorus of birds, frogs and insects that never ceases, but slowly evolves over the course of the night, and the seasons. In winter, obviously, it gets much quieter at night, but there is one sound you very seldom hear in the city, that happens here every day. If you do hear it in the city, obviously, it has a completely different meaning.

There's a neighbor -- well, probably across the river, a mile and a half away or so -- who has to empty a 12 or 15 round clip every evening at about 5:30. Some guys need a martini every night, he needs to shoot up his cardboard cutout of Barack Obama or whatever it may be. It might be the same guy who occasionally needs to get off a few rounds at 7:30 am, but that's less compulsive.

Then there's the dude -- a state police officer, it turns out -- who has shooting parties every few Saturdays. For hours on end it's like downtown Aleppo around here, with every kind of weapon going off in erratic patterns, including what I'm pretty sure are bombs. What are you gonna do, call the cops?

This time of year, there's another kind of shot: a single round from a high-powered rifle, at any unpredictable moment. That means one less antlered rat to chew on my fruit trees. I'm not against it, in fact I commend it as having at least a rationale. It does mean it just isn't safe to walk in the woods this time of year, because you can't trust that these guys are competent or even sober. The farmers have guns as well to defend their crops from the woodchucks, and maybe put a turkey on the table once in a while. Nothing wrong with that.

So, it's important to understand that the controversy over regulation of firearms and firearm ownership it not purely tribalism or wacko far right militants vs. the good and decent people who don't particularly appreciate the consequences of bullets going where they should not. There are cultural differences, but also very concrete contextual differences, that shape the conflict. A politician of real genius could find a way to talk about this that acknowledges everybody and doesn't make them feel threatened. At least I would hope so.

Hasn't happened so far.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Birds

Referring, that is, to the Hitchcock movie. Yesterday I suddenly heard an astonishing noise, undecipherable at first, as I might imagine an avalanche. Then I resolved it into the rush of a million wings and a million birdsongs.

I stepped outside to see a flock of starlings that quite literally blackened the sky, hundreds of them at a time stopping in the tops of my tallest oaks then rejoining the procession of thousands upon thousands to the south and west. The caravan must have stretched for miles. It took a good 15 minutes to pass my house. I have seen other flocks passing this fall, nearly as large, but to have them go right over my head was other wordly.

This is beautiful and awesome and all that but also a bit disturbing. As many people know, the European starling was introduced to North America in 1890 by a group called the American Acclimitization Society, which was dedicated to bringing European species to America. A clown named Eugene Schieffelin thought it would be cute to bring every bird mentioned by Shakespeare to Central Park. As a result there are today something like 200 million European starlings in the U.S. (1% of which passed over my house yesterday, it seems) and they are a nuisance. By competing for nesting sites they have caused populations of some native birds to collapse. They help to spread invasive fauna, damage crops, interfere with air traffic, and foul vast areas with their droppings.

People are heedless and foolish, that's all I can say.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Presumptuous neighbors

On Thursday, I still didn't have electricity, so I stepped out onto the front porch at dusk to suck in the last of the light. Four deer were standing on my lawn, two does and two -- I guess you call them yearlings. They've lost the spots and that frail look, but they aren't yet full adult size.

They didn't bolt. They stood and looked at me for a good long moment, then three of them nonchalantly ambled off. One of the youngsters stayed, staring at me. I spoke to it.

"I don't mind you being here as long as you don't eat my garden." It put its head down as though to graze, but didn't, then looked back up at me. "I feel there's something you want to tell me, but we aren't communicating."

I shined my flashlight at it to see what would happen. Its eyes glowed back at me, bright silver. Aha. They're crepuscular so they have a reflecting membrane behind their eyes, like cats. I remembered that for some reason, deer are attracted to light so unscrupulous hunters will shine headlights to attract them. (It's against the law, although I'm not exactly sure why. Too unsporting, I guess.)

Finally I went inside and only then did I see the deer wander off, through the window. They're getting much too tame. What's natural is for me to shoot and eat them when I get the chance, and for them to flee me like a hornet sting. Instead we're entering into some ineffable communion. It ain't right.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A future disaster

I'm reading about all these meteorologists freaking out and running out of expletives and generally losing their marbles. But they are actually just looking at computer output. So far all we've got is a minimal late season hurricane that did the usual damage to places that are all too used to it. At this point they blow out to sea. But not this time: it's going to blow up into the biggest, baddest storm of all time and plow into the most densely populated region of the United States. We'll have no electricity for weeks, the streets will all be blocked, and the coastlines all under water.

I hope they're wrong but I believe them. It's strange though: on the one hand, they say this situation is completely unprecedented, it's never happened before; yet they are absolutely certain of their computer models. It's as though this has already happened, now we just need to experience it.

Think how strange this is in all of human history. Even twenty years ago I doubt such a definite forecast would be possible. Indeed, they would probably not have been able to forecast that the storm would hit the east coast at all until shortly before it happened. One hundred years ago, no-one would have had the least warning until the thing happened. On the other hand, it wouldn't have mattered so much. There was no electricity out here until the twenties. People would have hunkered down for a day or two and then gotten on with their lives. (Not so fortunate those along the coast, of course.) That the disaster will be so widespread wouldn't have mattered so much either. (You see how I'm getting my tenses all twisted, and there's no way to untwist them in a world where the future is already history.) The geography wasn't so connected, the economy was mostly local and, obviously, nobody thought of driving 30 miles to work every day or 12 miles to the store.

A world where such an event is commonplace -- assuming it does indeed happen -- will be very different from the one I've been living in. But now two years in a row we've had to endure this, and one wonders whether we can continue to bear the expense of rebuilding and endure the losses and disruption. At least the folly of denial will finally be expunged.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Celestial meh

So what the hell, I got up at 4:00 am last night and looked at Orion. After a couple of minutes, a little streak of light. Big whoop. I went back to bed.

Other than that, we had one hard frost about when the first frost is supposed to happen, in mid-October. But since then it's been back to summer, and our progress toward winter - leaves dropping, herbage dying - has slowed down drastically. If we end up having another non-winter like the last one it actually won't be good -- the wooly adelgids are coming back and the hemlocks are looking sorry once again, for one thing. Changes in the land are happening quickly, and they are obvious to anyone who is willing just to look around. Evidently, that does not include any of our political leaders.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Phase change

Well, we had one shot of cold air and an overnight freeze Saturday morning. Warm air moved right back in but it was enough to kill the tender plants. The basil looked beautiful and green Friday afternoon, but it was a blackened mess Saturday morning. Parsley and mint are still growing, of course, and it wasn't enough to knock the leaves off the trees or even stop the grass from growing. Strange how some plants have the anti-freeze and others can't handle a whiff of frost.

Anyhow . . . I planted garlic today. I dug the whole patch by hand and carefully preserved the volunteers. They tend to show up in clumps of five or more. Once I'd pulled them apart, I had almost enough to plant the whole bed. I didn't have anything like that last year, and I wasn't expecting it - I thought I'd harvested pretty thoroughly. Maybe this is what happens when you run a garlic bed for two years. I did have a couple of rows left over to plant with bulbs I harvested in the summer, but for the most part, what I thought was going to be my seed stock is now in the pantry. Scampi tonight.

It was a hell of a lot of work, by the way. I'd neglected the bed since the harvest so I had to root out a lot of sod and weeds. I added sand and chickenshit last year and found it still wasn't well mixed, so I dug the bed twice. The sand is to make the soil more root-vegetable friendly but the soil is still pretty gummy. I may add more next year. Don't tell my hippie friends but I inherited a bag of Vigoro from my father so I added some of that. I hope to get even better results next year.

I don't look forward to winter, to be honest. But it's necessary. It's what makes New England New England. And the annual rhythm of chores is how I know I live here.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

I almost feel guilty . . .

Yes, this has been the hottest summer ever in New England, according to the National Weather Service. But it actually hasn't been unpleasant. We got the record by being consistently a little bit above average, with high temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s. We had only a few days of oppressive heat and humidity, and here in the Shetucket River valley, the nights always get cool. We had a drought in late winter-early spring, but once it broke, we've had plenty of rain.

So while most of the country has suffered from a killer drought, our corn fields are spectacular, a farmer's dream. I've had to mow my substantial clearing at least twice a month, and the wildlife is flourishing.

Which brings me to a seriously nutty squirrel. The other day I stepped out on my front porch and there, in the very highest twigs of a giant oak tree, was a squirrel jumping frantically among the foliage, chattering so loudly that from 80 feet away and 45 feet in the air the sound was uncomfortable to hear, and punctuating the chattering every 12 seconds or so with two or three piercing squeals. It appeared to be grabbing acorns as it performed. It kept this up for at least 3 minutes. I could see it very clearly because the foliage up there is thin and it was highlighted against the sky.  I went inside to get my camera and, of course, by the time I came back out it was gone.

After a while you think you've gotten to know most of the critters and how they behave, but they still surprise you. Why was this squirrel yelling at the world as it tore up the highest summit of the forest? I have not a clue.

Monday, August 20, 2012


There's a rotting stump at the corner of my lawn -- a huge one, five feet in diameter. It's in the way of connecting the main clearing around my house to a nearby slot in the woods. I'd like to be rid of it in order to open up a bit more of a vista from my front porch.

Yesterday I kicked at it to assess its resistance. A big chunk fell off, exposing the head of a snake. The snake whipped around 180 degrees in less than one second and disappeared up the burrow next door before I could decide what the hell it was. Based on replaying the hippocampal video, it was about 8 inches long and gray. It could only have been a snake, no invertebrate could react and move so quickly.

How does it propel itself? The perceptible openings in the wood were, to my eye, tiny. There were pits here and there, but no way to tell which, if any of them, led to burrows occupiable by an 8" snake. Yet this creature knew exactly where to bolt, moved instantly and fast. It somehow possesses a physical mechanism to propel itself through a burrow scarcely larger than its own diameter; and it has a three-dimensional map in its brain of the interior of the rotting stump it lives in.

It kind of makes me hesitate to remove that stump.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

As far as I'm concerned, garlic is indispensable. I can hardly cook anything without it. It's a great crop for the home gardener because it keeps. I'm going crazy trying to figure out what to do with pounds and pounds of broccoli, but the garlic will be good right into winter.

It's not exactly easy to grow, but it helps a lot that it's on its own schedule. You plant in late fall when you aren't doing much of anything else, and harvest in mid-summer, as soon as the foliage lies down. It does need some work though. It needs a good, loose, soil with lots of humus. I added sand to my patch to loosen it up, along with chicken shit. (Next year carrots will go in that location and the garlic will rotate elsewhere. Always a good policy.) It doesn't compete with weeds at all so you need to weed it assiduously, and it has small, shallow root systems so it doesn't like to be arid. On the other hand, I've never had any pest problems, and the creatures of the forest leave it alone.

It seems we import most of our garlic from China, which as far as I'm concerned is ridiculous. If you have 20 square feet, you can supply yourself.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Country mouse, city mouse

I lived for about 20 years in Boston, specifically in Jamaica Plain. JP is on the edge of Boston, kind of half way between suburb and inner city. It's predominantly two family houses of the style called double-deckers because of the porches. They typically have postage stamp front lawns and slightly large back lawns, maybe 400 square feet. Some neighborhoods are grander, with single family homes on slightly bigger plots. Centre St., the main drag, has some apartment buildings and churches and what not, and is otherwise lined with store fronts, mostly one story and some with office space on a second floor. There is a bit of additional open space in churchyards, schoolyards, pocket parks and the odd bit of land that just never got developed. All along one side is a stretch of Frederick Law Olmstead's famous Emerald Necklace, the parkland that surrounds Boston.

The fauna out here in the woods is obviously more diverse than what I came to know in JP, but it's interesting to think about the overlap and the differences. In both places, of course, you'll see some common birds -- robins, crows, starlings, a no doubt some others but I'm not a birder so I can't name them. Here, there are many more kinds of birds, making a continuous chorus in the trees. Among the species I often see, that I never saw in JP, are cardinals, hummingbirds, barred owls, and of course turkeys. Not to say there couldn't have been any, but I never saw them.

The most common bird in the city is of course what people commonly call pigeons, which are actually imported African rock doves. You can't take four steps on the Centre St. sidewalk without tripping over one, but they don't live out here. I'm going to guess there are at least two reasons. One is lack of roosting places. Their wild ancestors lived in cliff faces, and the urban version roosts on building ledges and cornices, bridgework -- cliff-like structures built by humans. Trees are not their thing. Also, we have lots of raptors out here and pigeons would seem to be easy prey. They feed on the ground and they are slow flyers. Their niche out here is already taken by turkeys, which are too big and mean for the owls to bother. But a pigeon would be lunch in a hurry, I expect.

Turning to the mammals, the one critter that thrives in both places is the gray squirrel. We also have some red squirrels here but I never saw one in JP. The red squirrels favor pine trees, which we have here in plenty but were lacking in the city, so that one is easy. You would think chipmunks would be happy living under JP porches, but I never saw one. Out here they are very numerous. One lives in my woodshed, another under my porch, and they run across the road wherever you drive.

Also unseen in JP were possums. They're reclusive so they might have been around, who knows? Skunks were known to appear in JP, and raccoons are often found in cities though I never saw or heard of any in JP. A rabbit did take up residence on my block in the last year I lived there, but that was the only one I ever saw. I have read that the house mice found in the city are a different species than the white-footed mice out here.

Other than that, there doesn't seem to be any overlap. Rats seem to depend on human-made spaces. The common burrowing rodent out here that is most rat-like is the vole. There aren't any rats. In JP there are no deer, obviously, no foxes, no coyotes, no fishers, no river otters, no ground hogs, no beavers, no bobcats. We also have toads, various kinds of snakes, tree frogs (heard not seen), and as a matter of intense dispute, possibly mountain lions.

I quite enjoy them all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Honest labor

I'm harvesting romaine, broccoli and basil. Even though they aren't quite mature, when I need an onion or a bulb of garlic I pull one. Michelle Obama is right to encourage more people to do this. It doesn't necessarily represent much of a monetary gain, unless you get really ambitious. But it does encourage you to make fresh vegetables the centerpiece of your meals. And, once my Brandywine tomatoes start to ripen, it will give me something that is impossible to buy in the grocery store. As the summer matures, I'll be bringing in unlimited quantities of peas, lima beans and sweet corn.

It's also a bit of physical work, which most people don't do any more, which is a major reason we are dying of fatness. I also spent a bit of time today digging out rocks, which I must do to expand the extent of lawnmower friendly regime and ultimately create the orchards and gardens of my dreams.

If you pay attention to the world around you, it will become apparent, without the effort of getting a geology degree, that creationists are nuts. The story the geologists tell is that the formation to my south and east once called the Outer Lands -- Long Island, Block Island, Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and Cape Cod, along with the smaller island and shallow seas around them, is the terminal moraine of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Here in my little part of the Shetucket River valley, on the steep hillsides including right behind my house, are exposures of the bedrock, which is a beautiful shale filled with mica, gray with ruddy stripes. It spalls apart over the centuries into flat and square pieces.

I have the notoriously rocky New England soil. Anywhere I put down a shovel, I hit rock. A lot of it is that local bedrock, but a lot of it is not -- there are chunks of granite, quartz cobbles, all sorts of stuff I can't name offhand. But it all obviously came from somewhere else, and got dumped here in a big pile that eventually got covered over with soil and silt and clay washed down the hill and vegetation grew and died. I can easily uncover that story with a few swings of the pick.

True enough, I need somebody to explain to me that this was all scraped out of New Hampshire and Massachusetts by a glacier that flowed through this valley until 14,000 years ago. But that makes sense. It is consistent with what I see. That a supernatural being put it there for no apparent reason is not an explanation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Location, Location, Location!

My property here is about 18 acres, with a nice two bedroom house with an attached green house, a 1,200 square foot barn, a super-luxe fancy woodshed, and other cool stuff. It's appraised value is about half the value of the 1,200 square foot condo in Boston that I recently sold, which was half of a two-family house that sat on about 2,000 square feet of land.

But, my property taxes here are about twice what I paid in Boston. As you can see, I don't get a whole lot for it. In Boston, I got free trash pick up every week. Here I have to pay a fee in order to drive my own trash to the dump, which is actually in a neighboring town. In Boston -- specifically Jamaica Plain -- there would likely be a cop within eyesight whenever I walked down Centre St. Here, we do not have a police department at all. Last year, we had exactly one snowstorm that merited plowing the streets. They didn't. Of course everybody has four wheel drive so who cares? And, as you can see, they don't maintain the streets in the summer either. (That's okay, I think it's kind of charming and the bunny rabbits love to hang out in the roadside shrubbery.)

The reason for this is easy to explain. This town has no industry except for farming, and farmland is for all practical purposes untaxed. The only commerce is a general store, a chainsaw shop, an auto repair business, and a campground. Boston has skyscrapers and $400 a night hotels. But we still have to educate the kids. The only place to get the money is from residential property taxes, and that's where it goes.

I'm all for educating kids, and I can afford it, so I'm not complaining. Much. However, the property tax as the basic source of funding for public education makes no sense. It's just not proportionate to people's means. There are folks whose families have lived here for 300 years, who own charming old houses that are worth at least as much as mine, who are lucky to make a modest living. Residential property taxes hurt retired folks, even though they get a break, and can drive people out of their homes if they lose their job or suffer a setback of any kind, even if they don't have a mortgage. And, it means the schools are much better funded where the property is worth more, which ipso facto means the people are richer.

Not that it's gonna happen, but the right way to do this is a progressive, statewide income tax big enough to pay for public education everywhere in the state, that gets distributed back to the local school districts. Dream on.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Well, mine at least, but come to think of it they probably get a federal grant for all the military-type gear . . . What I'm talking about: I hired the kid next door to help me paint my house, he's like 13. So last Sunday I'm up on a ladder and the pot chopper flies right over us. It seemed like it was about eight feet above my head. We heard a nasty snarl coming at us, louder and louder, until right as it passed over the sound nearly blew out my ear drums. "Whoa," said the kid, "That helicopter had a gun." Yep, they had a 50 caliber machine gun sticking out the door. I explained to him that it was the state police and they were looking for marijuana farms in the state forest. "Why don't they just walk around?" said the kid. "I know where there are two of them." The reason is, obviously, that state police don't like to stumble around in the woods getting lost and mosquito-bitten. They like to fly around in military helicopters with machine guns. A couple of years ago they did manage to spot some plants. I wasn't around that day but the neighbors tell me they set up a military style encampment in a cornfield and headed up into the woods wearing black Nazi storm-trooper style uniforms with body armor and their pants tucked into their boots. They came back down with six little plants. Let's get clear about something. Anybody growing pot in the woods around here is not the Zeta cartel and they aren't up there defending their operation with automatic weapons. They're local teenagers and underemployed roofers who are hoping to get a few ounces of bud for the lonely winter and maybe make a few hundred bucks. Now I realize it's conservation land and it's supposed to be left to its natural devices and all that except for hunters, and they probably can't just say what the heck, you wanna grow weed up there knock yourself out. But this is ridiculous.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Man vs. Nature

Yesterday I did what I call a Big Mow, which means riding around on the tractor for a good 2 1/2 hours, followed by cleaning up with the push mower and the weed whacker to whatever extent I feel up for. This happens maybe four or five times a year, with more frequent maintenance of my front lawn and orchard. The jungle strives relentlessly to reclaim what I have won at great expense and labor, but I am always working not just to hold the line, but to push it outward.

I've thrown some grass seed around my front lawn, but otherwise I just mow whatever wants to be there. Oh yeah, I did seed some white dutch clover when I first cleared the land, on the advice of a farmer friend, because it fixes nitrogen and will help build up the soil over the years. It's established itself pretty well in some places.

Mowing promotes a grassy regime, even without further intervention. But the native grasses of New England have been competing with introduced European turf grasses and hay now for 500 years. The native grass that wants to grow here is nimblewill. Some hayseed has blown in from nearby fields, and other grasses form sod patches here and there. The dandelions and plantain weeds, by the way, are also European imports.

No doubt there are among you some who, like Ted Kaczynski, would object to my endless battle to subdue nature -- with the use of fossil fuel, no less. (I could get some sheep or goats if I wanted to be a bit less offensive.) But it turns out to be more complicated than that.

The southern New England landscape was dominated by meadows, with only remnant forest, for hundreds of years, after the Europeans had cleared it for pasture and fuel. And the faunal regime adapted. Many of our most charismatic species are actually in decline as the woods have reconquered the landscape, including the eastern cottontail rabbit and many species of birds. I posted a picture of a barred owl a couple of years ago. In fact we have at least two of them, that we sometimes hear yelling at each other, presumably over territorial boundaries. They profit from the voles that depend on the grassland I maintain.

The same goes for my grass snakes, toads, and who knows what else. The fringe of the woods is full of raspberries that I'm sure are helping to support songbirds. In short, the diversity of ecological niches created by human intervention is essential to the New England we have come to know and consider "natural." There was nothing "wrong" with the vast, unbroken forest of the Indians, but that wasn't exactly natural either. They kept the understory thin by lighting fires, so they could travel and hunt more easily; and they created small, temporary clearings by girdling trees, for gardening.

Take away the people, whatever their form of society and technological regime, and you have a different nature. Every creature modifies its environment. Can you truly say we have more impact than the oak trees, or the deer, or the earthworm?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Amateur Natural History

I'm in Miami right now, and what with traveling yesterday didn't take the time to tell this little story so here goes. I was in my field yesterday morning when I heard a sound down in the bushes that sounded sort of, but not quite, like a dog barking, with commotion of a large animal.

Then a deer came shooting out of the woods, bounding at warp speed from some unseen menace, and it was the deer that was making the barking noise. I went on-line to check out audio of white tailed deer vocalizations, and I didn't find anything like it. More of an "oof oof off" than a dog's bark maybe. Presumably it's an alarm call, so hunters wouldn't want to imitate it, which would explain why I couldn't find a sample.

Oh yeah, in case you didn't know, deer make a lot of vocalizations, connected with mating, buck fighting over mates, mothers calling children, and calling together herds. But they're mostly rather quiet, more like clicks and rumbles than yelps.

For unknown reasons, I'll see deer in groups of any size from solitary animals, to pairs, to herds of a dozen or more. Why they form these fluid groups at times, and at times are alone, I have no idea. Turkeys are the same way, except that the possible size of a turkey flock is unlimited, as far as I know. Once I went down to the field and there were a hundred of them there, wall to wall over a good half an acre. Other times you'll see two or three. Of course you'll see a mother with chicks, and sometimes the mothers pair up so you'll see two of them with all their chicks together. Why? Beats me.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Yesterday it rained all day, and I went a little stir crazy. Would have been a good time to do a post, actually, not sure why I waited till now.

Anyway, I shouldn't complain. It was a timely rain -- a couple of recent storms have mostly missed us to the north and west. We're lucky to have plenty of water here. None of the local corn fields are irrigated, but I have never known the crop to fail.

One of humanity's many great follies has been to establish vast agricultural regimes in arid places, fed by "fossil water." That's water trapped deep underground since ancient times, which is not being replenished, or replenishes very slowly. A recent study, in fact, <a href="">claimed that 42% of the rise in sea level since the beginning of the last century resulted from people pumping out fossil water</a>, which of course eventually makes its way to the sea. This seemed incredible to most experts, and the linked post largely debunks it. Still, the only reason it's maybe bunk is because we partly counteract the effect by trapping a lot of water in reservoirs.

I speak of folly because, obviously, you can't keep doing this forever. <a href="">Twenty seven percent of the irrigated farmland in the U.S. depends on the Ogallala Aquifer</a>, which at the present rate, will be pumped dry in about 25 years, according to best estimates. And then what happens to Kansas? According to most Kansans, God put that water there 6,000 years ago, and now in a couple of hundred years, it's gone. Scientists think it's been there since at least before the last glaciation, in other words more than 20,000 years and probably longer. Either way, it's folly.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Weather

Not a subject on which I can be particularly original, and not much news here for anyone either I expect, but it's more essential context as I get this project going again.

As most people will know, we've had very strange weather around here for quite a while. The winter before last was the snowiest on record. We had one huge storm after another from January 7 into mid-February, with no melting in between. It crushed buildings and stranded plows. I honestly don't know how old folks survived it, if they didn't have a lot of help. Then came a summer with two tropical storms and a freak October snowstorm that knocked out power for more than a week at a time, twice, over most of six states. Last winter was one of the mildest ever with only a single plowable snow fall, and that barely qualified at about 7 inches. Mostly it just rained all winter. People have been monitoring when the ponds freeze over and when ice breaks up as a marker of climate change, but nothing to monitor last winter -- the ponds never froze at all.

Then we had the hottest March in recorded history. My pear trees budded out and got frost nipped when the weather turned just normal again in April, so no pears this year. We had a severe drought during that time as well, with the dust blowing up in my footsteps. Fortunately the drought broke before most crops went in, though I did have to irrigate my onions, garlic and romaine for a while. Now the rainfall has been pretty good but the climate is summer-like hot and sultry all the time. Not looking forward to July and August at this rate.

As the climate changes, many people claim that southern New England will be one of the best places to be, at least from a human point of view. Maybe so, but we're still going to have to invest a whole lot of time and money trying to adapt. So I predict that will be a running theme here.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Back at it

I'm not sure why I stopped posting here. I guess I just had too much to do getting up to speed with a new and very engrossing job. Anyway, this time I intend to do it right.

The purpose of this blog is to document what I see around me in a special, beautiful place. The Shetucket River valley is a remnant greenway, a last corridor of wilderness and farmland that the megalopolis and suburban sprawl of southeastern New England somehow failed to swallow. I live on about 20 acres of my own property. With my neighbor to the east, our land constitutes a peninsula thrust into state forest. The only industry in our town is agriculture. The town center consists of a post office, a general store, the town hall, an auto/tractor/whatever repair business, and two churches.

I'm going to write about everything that lives here, including the people, but they'll get no more attention than they deserve.

So let me begin with a brief introduction to the ecosystem. My house is at the bottom of a steep slope of a ridge that divides our little valley, down by the Shetucket, from a steep gorge through which flows Merrick Brook, a cold, swift stream beside which are the ruins of an ancient mill sluice. The brook joins the river just downstream from a small hydroelectric dam.

I mow about 4 acres. The rest of my land is wilderness, or at least what grew back after it was cleared in the 18th and 19th centuries for pasture and fuel. I do not believe any of my land was ever plowed, but it is crossed by the ruins of very crude stone walls left from rough clearing for pasture. The forest is predominantly oak and hemlock, with some beech, maple and hickory and other nut-type species. In the understory and on the steep slopes where trees can't hold on is mountain laurel. And, of course, poison ivy climbs the tree trunks and clambers over the stone walls.

Every day, or almost every day, I see chipmunks, squirrels, turkeys and deer. The woods are full of countless kinds of birds and this time of year the racket of birdsong, tree frogs and stridulating insects almost feels deafening. I occasionally see toads -- quite a few actually -- black snakes, green snakes, garter snakes, voles. I hear coyotes but have never seen one. For some reason I have never seen a raccoon here, and I see possums only as road kill, although they seem to meet that fate a lot.

The upland behind me is drained by an intermittent watercourse, including a spectacular waterfall when it's in full flow, that irrigates a small protected wetland area between the clearing for my house, and my field and barn. It is that area, which has a dense forested margin, that I see when I look out my living room window. Deer often walk through it, sometimes in large herds.

Cool air settles into the valley at night so the grass is always wet in the morning. The air is filled with clouds of insects, but for reasons unknown I am not plagued by mosquitoes, despite the swamp. Wasps, however, are abundant and I'm knocking down wasp nests every week.

So that's the background, against which future observations may be viewed.