Bears In The Periphery

American black bear (Ursus americanus).

American black bear (Ursus americanus).

New England’s woodlands stand naked now with all their fine summer attire strewn across the forest floor by an October fatigued by its own flamboyance hurrying off to bed. Darkness arrives early and lingers late to cloak the scene, the prudish emissary of a cold, dispassionate winter on its way. At the margins of the day, dawn and dusk throw up a cool blue scrim that blurs perceptions and blends shadows with substance. So when we venture out to the barn to deliver the day’s recycling or to retrieve wood for the evening’s fire, we set our awareness to high-gain, and we carry a big stick. We worry about bears.

Kate and I added this particular worry several weeks ago to our householders’ list of dreads, which also includes window sill rot, throaty complaints from the oil burner, and an insomniac munching mouse in the walls of the bedroom. It was placed at the top of the list after an evening trip to the barn was interrupted by the arrival of a young bear in the curving driveway there. Continue reading

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The Autumnal Equinox

Field Notes equinoxWe live upon a spinning top perched upon the twirling lariat of a great cowboy riding in circles. Yet none of us feels particularly dizzy. But how our heads do spin!

In case you didn’t notice, the sun slipped into the Southern Hemisphere on Wednesday to deliver the blessings of spring and then summer to all things living below the equatorial belt. Those of us left in the bending light of its wake must now bank wood in our sheds, stock soup in our freezers, and books in our Kindles and shelves for the coming months of darkening and decrease.

For planets like ours that rotate on an axis tilted relative to its path around the sun, our heliocentric orbit is an endless Hokey Pokey dance of hemispheric leanings in and out. And for living things that have evolved on earth over the past 3.5 billion years, that really is what it’s all about. Continue reading

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Navigating The Thicket Of Survival, Quick Like A Bunny

Eastern cottontail

Eastern cottontail

Rabbits showed up at our place for the first time this summer from I don’t know where.

We live at an intersection, not just of two roads but of fields, forest, and suburban lawns. We’ve had all kinds of wildlife pass through over the years, from tiny toads to cruising coyotes.

(I don’t count the bear that inhabits the shadows of my peripheral vision on nighttime trips to the compost bin out under the spruces. It keeps its distance, evanescent, a dark nearly imperceptible id. I’m hoping it stays that way and doesn’t coalesce into one of the real bears that have moved into this area. Until it does, I will keep it off the visitors’ list.)

The newcomer rabbits turned up first at the far edge of the yard, darting in and out of the unruly grape vines that overwhelmed a rhododendron there, moving like shy but curious children, who venture only so far from their cover in the pleats of mother’s skirt. Continue reading

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A Butterfly Tips The Scales

Monarch butterfly

A Monarch butterfly in better days.

These early September days have achieved that rare temperate equilibrium where neither air conditioners nor furnaces have anything to offer comfort aficionados like our cats. Thermometer readouts oscillate ever-so-slightly from high 60s to low 70s in the lulls between weather fronts, and we throw open windows on all sides of the house so it may breathe deeply with every shifting breeze. The cats lie on the sills leaning into the screens, nodding their noses around in the feral air to awaken their dozing hunter appetites. And we humans follow the dog outside onto the terrace to lie out in it… just for a moment before afternoon chores… just while we digest lunch.

So, it was in such a perfect supine moment of tracking my eye-floaters around the clear blue sky that a Monarch butterfly crossed the field of view and disappeared behind the peak of the house in a matter of seconds. It was the only Monarch I have seen all year. Was it really just a muted orange fritillary, which have been few and far between, but present nonetheless in the gardens this year? No, the black and orange stained-glass markings were clear even in my passing glimpse of the butterfly. Continue reading

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Considering The Sessile Life

Harry Lauder's Walking Stick.

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.

A corkscrew hazelnut sits outside the back door in its winter glory. All the other plants and shrubs are looking pretty chastened, deceased even, awaiting their Easter resurrections. But this jaggedy hazelnut cuts a fine figure against the snow, having long-since jettisoned its drab, unkempt cover of leaves. Its electric personality is now fully exposed in its branches with all the manic excitement of a Harpo Marx, a Kramer, a Harry Lauder.

Oh? Never heard of Harry Lauder? Don’t worry. Almost no one has. The Scottish comedian/entertainer died in 1950, and the memory of him has faded — except for his funny, crooked walking stick. The fame of Sir Harry’s odd and ever-present stick has been secured, among horticulturists anyway, by the corkscrew hazelnut, which is known in most garden centers and catalogs as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick. Continue reading

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