Seasons

A gate color-matched and decorated for the season.It’s chilly outside. Colors are at peak — maybe a bit past, depending on where one looks. A damp cutting breeze is trimming leaves into great clouds of kaleidoscopic flakes onto earthen carpets where, except in the ‘burbs, they will become fertilizer for next years’ growth rings on the trees from which they fall.

Red maples, yellow poplars. Across the pasture over which Pickett’s Charge took place, Little Round Top wears horizontal stripes where different species have chosen different growing areas.

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Forests, multi-purpose rooms on the mountain

Color change at the top of the ridge.I walked in a portion of Michaux State Forest a few days ago. Splashes of white paint brushed onto trees along the trail were spaced out so one could stand at one and very nearly see the next one. The path was littered in alternating sections of oak leaves and pine needles. Here and there a few birds flittered through the branches, difficult to identify in the breaking darkness. A solitary squirrel scrambled through a long-needle pine.

I was raised in logging country. I’ve cut trees and twitched them out to staging areas where they were loaded on trucks to be hauled to the paper mill.

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Sexual assault: culturally secret bullying

Observations on the human condition.The past few weeks of television coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual proclivities likely will not do much to ameliorate the situation. It’s not like we have not been discussing how poorly some men treat women.

We love to see rich folks get their come-uppance. Weinstein has paid out millions of dollars to ensure his victims’ silence. We have watched with interest every time Bill Cosby’s name has crossed our electronic screen; he, too has “settled,” paying an accuser to forget anything happened. Bill O’Reilly has several times “settled” with accusers — the latest settlement was for $32 million — and then denied that anything happened. And multiple times each week — sometimes it seems almost daily — our local newspaper carries the story of someone who has abused women or children, or both. Mostly those passing through Adams County courts on their way the front page are men. Mostly, they don’t have the money of a Bill Cosby, or a Bill O’Reilly, or a Harvey Weinstein with which to pay off an accuser.

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The most graceful bird

A Herring gull comes in for a landing in a tidal pond.An eagle is majestic, beautifully decorated, lord of all he surveys. He is not always hunting, but even when he is not, he is cataloging possibilities against the time when he desires a snack.

Wild turkeys are utilitarian. Ben Franklin, according to a 2013 article in Smithsonian Magazine, wrote in a letter to his daughter he thought the wild turkey “a true original Native of America … a little vain and silly (but nonetheless) a bird of courage.” Some have thought the wild turkey flightless, but they err. On the other hand, it flies only when it must, and then only for short distances.

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The soothing sound of silence

A Red squirrel dines on an abundance of hemlock seeds, leaving piles of scales below.Rows of waves crash in thunderous cadence onto the rocks outside my bedroom window. Some 15 miles to the southeast, the Monhegan Island light blinks its warning to passing vessels: “The rock on which I stand has been here billions of years, and likely will be here billions more,” the lighthouse flashes. “Pass with care.”

Winters can be frigidly unforgiving. A young couple who had gone to town one winter day spent longer away than planned. If one is accustomed to living in a winter wood, one knows how to “bank” a fire so it will burn all day, slowly, to keep the house from freezing. But the hour had become late, and the fire expired, leaving the cabin turned cold enough to freeze stuff.

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Our neighbors need help

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.It is difficult to watch the television evening news and not know that some U.S. citizens seem to be less than the rest of us. And no, I’m not talking about African-Americans living in the contiguous 48 states.

Puerto Rico is politically an interesting situation. It is not a state. It does not have a vote in Congress. Yet its 3.5 million people are U.S. citizens. And it is, as President Trump has noted, an island, separated from the rest of the United States by about 1,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

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My Favorite Season

Season of change, when nature redecorates her house.I wake in the morning, about the same time as always, and notice that outside is darker longer than it was only a few short months ago. I get to make a similar observation in the evening as darkness blankets my home like a youngster pulling a wool blanket over his head to keep the monsters at bay.

Most every evening, between 6 and 6:30, I hear the approaching honking of Canada geese coming from, roughly, north. Last night nearly 100 birds appeared over the trees then made a 45-degree turn to the left, the entire chevron bending itself around an invisible post in my neighbor’s yard, until the entire formation was pointed toward the Chesapeake Bay, or maybe Florida.

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It’s time to get out of the way

Weather station on Stock Island, in the Florida Keys.“IThe rain is falling outside my window, and has been, steadily, for three days.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott – who in 2015 decreed the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” would not be spoken or printed by state employees, is warning his constituents to prepare for what could well be the worst hurricane since Andrew came ashore in 1992. Residents who are not leaving probably should be, as they brace for an onslaught of wind and water in a county where water already gushes up through its streets with the rising tides, even when the sun is shining.

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A question most worth asking

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.Our annual school tax check – about 75 percent of it goes to public schools – is on the dining room table. Yes, it’s mostly a school tax and, truth be told, a reasonable investment in our communities’ offspring. Still, it’s taxes, and it’s a large enough check to pay for a trip I’d like to take later this year.

Wednesday morning’s newspaper had a front page story about Darlene Brown earning more than $168,000 plus nearly $34,000 benefits for her role in providing housing to poor people. Clearly, those numbers were what the writer wanted readers to take away – he mentioned them several times – and in a county that considers $30,000 to be a pretty OK salary, those numbers are certainly worthy of note.

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Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the The Wall

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.“In early spring 2008, two young bison bulls jumped a sagging three-string barbed wire fence separating Chihuahua, Mexico, from New Mexico in the United States. On both sides of the international line lay an unbroken grassland valley scoured almost bare by a prolonged drought, which announced itself meanly on the dusty hides stretched taught [sic] over bison bones. … Here is a landscape that has seen the birth of jaguars, the death of Spanish missionaries, the budding of Saguaro cactus, the persecution and dogged endurance of native peoples, and the footsteps of a million migrants recorded in the smoldering sands of the Devil’s Road.”

One of the principles I have offered my children and grandchildren has been that books have the power to take us places we might otherwise never visit. One such book is Krista Schlyer’s “Continental Divide.” In words and pictures gathered over several years, Schlyer, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental photographer and writer, takes us to this nation’s border with Mexico, and “The Wall.”

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Myth and reality

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We humans, I’ve discovered through many years of observation, are complicated.

We like, for instance, the story of Romeo and Juliet, two young (some say about 15-year-old) lovers who got together in spite of their parents feud. Or maybe at least partially because of it; youth often does things just because the elders forbid it.

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Ode to lettuce

With enough lettuce, one can forget the entree is tiny.My favorite movie popcorn went up a buck. I didn’t mind that. Really! I normally attend the $5 show, and often I’m one of the few in the theater. Paying staff and electricity can’t be cheap, I figure, and I think the township gets a cut off every ticket, so why complain.

Then I started noticing the giant tubs that once were served rounded were about two or three handfuls from topped up. Of course, when you buy a giant tub of popcorn, the movie house offers a free refill  (provided you don’t attend the late show, when the concession stand closes before the movie gets out and there is no one there to dispense the refill).  But I don’t usually go to the late show, so I get two buckets of popcorn – one when I enter to eat with the movie, one on the way out to eat later, while watching Game of Thrones.

But I was taken aback the other day when my favorite dining-out partner and I went to our once-favorite sit-down, not quite fast food chain. The atmosphere is nice, the service friendly, and the prices not terrible. At least that was the case. Times, and servings have changed.

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Phone technology has run amok

Image the time and effort to bend rock into marble-cake swirl.It used to be if the phone rang, which wasn’t often, we answered. That was before Caller ID and telemarketers.

Now the phone rings constantly, especially during dinner and those evening television shows I like to watch. And the only thing Caller ID does is tell me whether to answer the phone or just let it keep ringing. Some calls display numbers beginning with “800-“ while others report titles like “Friendswood, TX” and “Platinum Reward.” One day this week, the phone rang and the display reported “Adams County.” We answered because we live here – to hear a recorded pitch about interest rates.

There was a time when I could go through my detailed phone bill and look up each number I called to find out who I tried to talk with. All I needed was an Internet connection to my phone company, enter the number, and get back the name of the person who owned it. Not anymore.

Now I search the number and get pages of advertisements for companies who report knowing the information, and offering to charge $10 or more to share it.

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A reporter’s look at history

Image the time and effort to bend rock into marble-cake swirl.If I had not decided to be a journalist, I probably would have become a geologist. The only thing that intrigues me more than why people do the things they do, is the length of time this planet has been building the place to do them.

It has been noted by people who calculate such things that if the 4.5 billion years this planet has been a-making were converted to a 24-hour clock, we humans have been here less than five minutes. Sixty-six million years ago, give or take a couple months, what must have looked to the universe to be a small pebble hurtled through the blackness we humans would eventually call “space” and ran into a larger rock circling what humans eventually would call The Sun.

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Where’s the water?

Rainwater may fall on Sandstone 50 miles from the wells that supply people's kitchen faucets.When I was young, finding water was fairly easy. An old farmer would take a forked apple branch, some of the younger fellows used a wire coat hanger bent into the requisite “Y,” and head out to the area one proposed digging a well. It was called “dowsing.”

Holding the branch by the short legs, the long end poking out in front, the dowser would begin to walk around. Eventually, the tip of the divining rod would dip toward the earth. At the point the rod dipped deepest – hopefully, pointed straight down – the person in need of water started digging.

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Where is Johnny Tracy?

A black upright piano sat in the corner of the classroom at Roosevelt Grammer School.I wonder where Johnny Tracy is today. He came to mind Sunday when, at the Totem Pole Playhouse production of “I Love a Piano,” there stood an antique upright at the front of the stage, just like the one – or close enough – Johnny Tracy used to play at Roosevelt Grammar School.

That was the two-room schoolhouse where I spent my early years of more or less formal education, from Fourth through Eighth Grade. It was where Emma Hargreaves made hot lunch every day, where I fell in fourth-grade love with a cute red-haired girl who gave no sign she was aware of my existence, smoked my first cigarette (which didn’t work out nearly as well as when other guys did it) and learned to love Rock-and-Roll music, the latter thanks mostly to Johnny Tracy.

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Silly Rules

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.News Flash: Archeologists have found Sally Hemings house. Most of us know Sally Hemings was a slave owned by our third president, Thomas Jefferson. I wonder what, if anything, will her abode reveal.

I was a substitute high school teacher in the late 1980s, occasionally in charge of a high school Social Studies class.

“How many of you think women’s lib started in your lifetime,” I asked one day. Except for a couple of students clever enough to suspect a trick question, all raised their hands. So I told them about Abigail.

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Whitetails and water

In a blur, a whitetail fawn heads for the safety of the woods.Summer is nigh. Fireflies blink in the tall grass. This year has given us several catbird families — we’ve always had one or two, but never the more than three pair of nesters we’ve seen this year. And a Brown Thrasher has been around this year for the first time, often enough we are pretty sure he has a lover.

One of our daughters picks on us for being old people, sitting around watching birds. I say more of us should do that. It is relaxing.

But Oh! To share the piece of video I did not get this week!

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The American Way?

Rep. Steve Scalise, third in the chain of command in the House of Representatives, two House staffers and two Capitol Police officers were wounded Wednesday morning, apparently by a guy from Illinois who didn’t like Republicans. The operative phrase is “didn’t like,” because police killed the shooter.

It’s OK to not like Republicans – or Democrats – but when we claim this isn’t the way we do things in this country, shooting people we don’t like, or people ostensibly on their side, should top the list. Unfortunately, it does not.

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