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.