Sunday, March 31, 2013

The never ending struggle . . .

lest the jungle reclaim it's own.

My neighbor owns a lot of forest. He has a long road -- a mile and half or so -- from his house to the swimming hole, which is an idyllic spot in the woods with a waterfall going over a dam. Spring weather has come at last and the mud has dried so it was time to clear the trees that had fallen across the road in the storms of fall and winter. As you may recall, this included the most powerful northeast storm in recorded history, and as you might well imagine, there were a whole lot of very big trees lying across that road.

Three of us pushed down it from barrier to barrier, wielding chainsaws and using my tractor to push the big trunks off to the side. It took a good four hours and there's still a lot of work to move brush by hand and clean up the edges.

As I have mentioned before, I mow a pretty good sized clearing, right now I'd say it's about 2 1/2 acres. The fact is you can't stand still -- I have to keep pushing back the edges or the forest will come in on me, thorn bushes and beech saplings in the vanguard. No road in the forest will stay passable for more than a year without fairly serious attention. We hold nature to a draw with our petroleum fueled brush cutters, mowers, chain saws, and tractors. Our predecessors here wielded axes and scythes and two-man crosscut saws and used horses for the heavy traction. Of course they had to feed the horses which meant keeping three or four times as much land open. I don't know how they did it.

The Indians, on the other hand, didn't bother. They'd girdle some trees and burn the underbrush to make small clearings for gardens, cultivate them for a year or two, and move on. Maybe not such a bad way to go after all.

Friday, March 29, 2013

At last . . .

The snow has mostly disappeared (except from where the humans piled it up), the ground has thawed, at least to some depth (though I haven't stuck a pick in yet), the garlic has awakened, and the buds are swelling. No real greening of the grass yet, but I'll let you know.

Yesterday when I got up I saw a big buck walking through the woods. He had some sort of a tumor on his left rear leg and a noticeable limp. Just a reminder that wild animals don't have doctors and stuff like that, which would probably be a minor problem for us today, will kill them. Since he doesn't have to worry about wolves and mountain lions nowadays, maybe it's something he can live with for a while, I don't know. But in the end, for most sentient creatures, it's a hard way to go.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What this country needs is a better class of groundhog

With cabin fever getting the better of me, I took a walk around the farm to look for any signs of greening in this chilly spring. So far, sadly, I didn't see much. The snow is gone from the sunniest flat and south facing ground, but it's still pretty thick in the woods. Down in my field, there's a pretty benign weed -- I don't know the name of it -- tiny, shallow rooted plants that just hug the ground. They stay green, and manage to very slowly spread, right till the ground freezes, and they take advantage of even a superficial thaw to perk up. They're looking alive, obviously, along with some patchy bunch grass in the very sunniest places. My irises are showing the tiny tops of blades poking above the ground.

That's about it. The garlic is dormant, the tree buds aren't swelling, the earth is still pretty much asleep. The prognosticators aren't encouraging either -- the rotten bastards are talking about snow on Monday. But I'll keep looking. It's time for plants to start happening.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The seasons

It's just arbitrary that we call the first day after the vernal equinox the first day of spring. In fact, it's pretty much arbitrary that we mark the equinox at all. If we didn't have clocks and clear horizons, we wouldn't even notice that it's 12 hours from sunrise to sunset. Today, in much of the country, winter weather is long gone, whereas elsewhere, including here, it's still with us.

Last year, to the extent we had winter at all, it was over by now. That was bad -- the warm dry spring left the soil deprived of deep moisture, and it never really recovered. The fruit trees bloomed early, only to be nipped by an April frost. The wooly adelgids came back on the hemlocks. Many towns had to restrict water use later in the summer.

This year, the vernal pools are full, mud season is properly muddy, the sap is running by day and stopping by night, all as it should be. Yes, it's annoying to your humble and obedient servant to still be chilly and hauling in wood and hemmed in by snowy ground; but when the time comes, my garden will jump and my trees will be heavy with fruit. The hemlocks will be green and the grass swarming with crickets and toads, much to the joy of the birds. And I'm getting solar gain already at 7:30 in the morning, so that part is happening no matter the temperature. I can't complain, or I shouldn't, even if I do.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Oh For Chrissake

I got home from work the other day to find that some deranged fanatic had driven the 3/8 of a mile up my driveway hoping to find someone to harangue with nonsense. Thank God, so to speak, I was not home, so instead I found a piece of literature wedged in my door.

"Jesus Christ is widely recognized as the greatest man who ever lived. Yet, he surrendered his life for us 1,980 years ago."

That's kind of a strange statement. According to the story I heard, he did not in fact surrender his life, he was just faking it, and three days later he was bopping around having fun surprising people. Since then, he's made occasional appearances on toast. As far as who may be the greatest man who ever lived, I suppose that's a matter of personal taste, but this particular dude, according to those who consider him the greatest man who ever lived, spent many centuries after his fake death communicating telepathically with people and ordering them to burn people alive who don't hold the proper beliefs about him. Nothing too great about that, in my view.

Also, he certainly didn't die for me, nor for my sins. I didn't even exist at the time, so I had not committed any sins. As for the sins I've committed since, I do not wish anybody to die for them, thank you. I do not feel it would be helpful. On the contrary.

If you ask me what I believe, I'll be happy to tell you. I believe that we do best when we figure out how the universe works by using our senses and our reason; and that whatever stories we tell ourselves ought to be both internally consistent, and consistent with observable reality. This whole Jesus story, on both grounds, is preposterous.

However, I don't go onto strangers' property uninvited in order to confront them with these -- I won't even say beliefs, I'll say obvious observations. That would be pointless, highly obnoxious, arrogant and would quite possibly get me arrested for trespassing. Just sayin'.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Is our critters learning?

A few days ago I looked out the window, morning coffee in hand, and beheld a line of deer walking through the woods -- seven of them. They kept a strictly orderly single file, as they will sometimes do when there is snow on the ground. As they came to my driveway, each would stop, look solemnly first right and then left, before proceeding across and up the hill toward the ridge.

This is truly new. The motor vehicle is undoubtedly their most important predator; now it looks as though they've been watching public service announcements on kiddie TV about safely crossing the street. I have also noticed that the squirrels no longer dance suicidally in the road before attempting to throw themselves under my tires -- they run straight across. Whether this is cultural learning or evolved behavior I do not know; it's taken what, 80 years? But they seem to be getting it.

Has anyone else noticed this?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Faunal ranges

I was in northern Vermont, specifically a semi-rural area near Burlington, for the past three days. I thought I would post here but ended up getting distracted. Anyway . . .

The fauna there is little different from here, with two major exceptions that I know of. One is the red squirrels, which we don't have here, as far as I've ever seen, even though Wikipedia claims otherwise. In my youth I noticed that the pine woods in Maine had almost exclusively red squirrels, whereas all I've ever seen in Connecticut are gray. Further south, in the D.C. area, you'll see black ones, which if I'm not mistaken (easy enough to look it up but I don't want to pretend omniscience about these matters) are actually a different color regime of the same species as the gray. If I'm wrong, let me know.

The red ones are a different species, however. They're smaller, territorial (unlike the grays that will be seen in numbers at times), and specialize on conifer seeds. I happen to have a large patch of pine on my property, but it doesn't harbor any red squirrels that I'm aware of. For whatever reason, they seem to be more prevalent farther north. I have occasionally seen gray squirrels with a touch of red on their tails and sides, however. I wonder if they're capable of hybridizing after all, or if this is just a variation?

The second big differences is moose (mooses?). They used to come this far south in winter, which is why a nearby town is called Moosup. (Really. That's where the moose turned and went back up in early spring.) But they never make it south of Massachusetts any more. I have no idea why. Oh wait a minute, could it have something to do with the climate?

Friday, March 8, 2013


The snow melted as fast as it came down yesterday, but overnight a few inches piled up. It filled up the hemlocks and plastered the oaks. It's enough to make the critters hunker down, so all that bird song that has been gradually building with the approach of spring has suddenly ceased.

It's all conducive to contemplation and the solitary, exquisite savor of regret. Sadly, I will have to shatter the silence and fairyland white perfection by firing up my tractor to plow the driveway, before heading off for Vermont later this morning. It won't be Windham County, but I'll record what's happening up there this weekend.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Apocalypse!

March 7 at 7:00 pm

We have a weather forecast of light snow mixed with rain, totaling maybe 3 or 4 inches of accumulation over the next 24 hours. The only precipitation we had of any kind until early this morning was drizzle, and right now there is a little bit of confectioner's sugar on the ground. But . . .

Last night the teevee news had a crawl at the bottom announcing the hundreds of events and activities that had been cancelled. There were long lines at the gas stations and the stores have been stripped of bread and milk. The local news programs consisted largely of people wearing no hats, so their hair could blow around, standing on eroding barrier beaches predicting further erosion.

I don't need to characterize this for you, I hope. We are a nation of coddled twits. I, for one, am off to work.

On the other hand, when it's snowing at 4 inches an hour, there's a blinding wind, and already a foot of snow on the ground, you see people out and about in their SUVs and sliding off the road or getting stuck overnight trying to go uphill on the Interstate. Any chance to be a fool, we'll take.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Back at it

March 6, 2013

Overcast today at 7:00 am, but on the mild side, 36 f. The patchy remnants of the Great Blizzard of 2013 are still on the ground, gone from the south facing slopes, but a bit of new snow is predicted over the next couple of days.

Last night I had an unusual dream. In the dream, I was lying in my bed, at night, as I was in reality. The only difference was that in my dream, I was awake, whereas in reality I was asleep. In my dream, I thought that I should start a diary, and that I could do it on this blog easily enough, since every morning I am at my computer with my coffee. That was after all the whole idea to begin with, so I don't know why I haven't been doing it.

So how do I know this was a dream? I heard a siren in the distance, which as far as I can remember has never happened as long as I have lived here. We have a volunteer fire company but they seem to exist only to drill and drink beer. There must be occasional need for an ambulance, but there isn't any traffic so they probably don't use their sirens much. Anyway, a few minutes later -- subjectively, in my dream -- I heard a voice outside the door. "Police!" There is nothing illicit here, for better or for worse, but there they were. In my dream, I struggled to get out of bed, and could not do it because I was, well, asleep. Then I woke up, and immediately I could tell the difference. Now I could get out of bed, but there was no need, because the police were not here.

So, I take it as a sign. I should start writing the Windham County blog every day. And I will. There will always be something worth noting or discussing, be it only the weather and the vegetation. Sometimes it will be about humans and their strange ways, sometimes about other creatures. We shall see where this goes . . .