Category Archives: Outdoors

Smoke on the mountain

Naturally or manmade, fires will happen.On a recent wander through a portion of Michaux State Forest, I found the road winding around a large parcel of blackened ground and trees. The question arose what good the burn, clearly a controlled burn of which I had read, would do for the wildlife that lived there. So I asked Fire Forester Philip Bietsch to explain the process.

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On backroads driving slowly

Still hidden after all these yeas.Another week has passed and Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird are still hanging around. He has built a new nest, in a different bluebird house mounted about 12 feet from my window. I presume it’s the same pair that nested in the house farther out – before the English House Sparrow evicted the Blues family. The Blues have yet to lay any more eggs.

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The world is alive …

Daddy cardinal feeds his son.Every spring I sit mesmerized as, in the space of just a few days, the mass of quarter-inch buds inexorably spread their petals in a real-time slow motion exposition of pink and white four-petaled flowers, each bloom more than two inches across.

The petals will shortly fall off, leaving behind next years buds, and life goes on.

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A Hope-ful story

On becoming a scientist.I sometimes receive emails, and now and then a letter, from readers who say they like what I write. Recently, a reader sent a book that was extra special because it related a story near to my heart.

“Lab Girl: A story of trees, science and love,” by Hope Jahren, is a memoir of a woman who became a scientist before women could be scientists. She was born into a scientific family. Her dad taught introductory physics and earth science in a community college in Minnesota. Hope got to hang out in her father’s laboratory, where she “played beneath the chemical benches until I was tall enough to play on them.”

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Who will clean up after us?

Great Blue Heron and Canada Geese like the river, but parts are becoming risky for life.I watched a movie Tuesday night, along with more than 100 of my closest friends, many of whom I’d never previously met. It was about global warming, and about a preacher and his daughter and their disagreement over whether our home planet really is getting dangerously warmer.

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How cold was it?

An old friend stands more than 8,000 feet tall.It snowed a couple nights ago. Road crews were out trying to make the roads unslippery. I met a former co-worker grocery shopping and mentioned I hadn’t yet pulled out my snowthrower or even a snow shovel. Where he lives, he said, a borough ordinance requires him to shovel snow – even when the wind would blow it away quicker and cleaner – from his sidewalk.

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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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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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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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