Autumnal Absorption

Mornings are foggy, though not so much near the ground. In airplane parlance, the “ceiling” is a couple hundred feet above the surface, visibility likely measured in miles, were not the line of site interrupted by hills and curves. I’ll take the hills and curves over straight line of sight, though, any day.

Seen from inside the house, signs of incipient winter decorate the landscape. Rust colored leaves torn from the oak in front of our home, sometimes flutter like a fishing lure tossed into a still water pool, sometimes flow horizontally like an invisibly crystaline river  carrying its flotsam to the ocean.

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Granddaughter stars on discovery channel

Bluebird hovers at the houseOn the way from one place to another, she and me and Grady the Golden and the Jeep crossed over a stream. She saw the herd of cattle enjoying the summer afternoon.

“That’s pretty cool,” I commented.

She gave me a thumbs up.

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Pa. residents share Chesapeake Bay waterfront

A recent newspaper story about efforts to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay noted Pennsylvania does not have frontage on the bay. That is not quite accurate, unless one is a real estate seller.

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“Not all those who wander are lost”

Stairway to unknown placesThe title quote comes from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkein, but it is something I knew without knowing I knew long before reading the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Many of us who enjoy “nature” go hiking. Down Under, I’m told, Australians go on a walkabout. I always have preferred to aimlessly wander even on seemingly well-defined pathways, with little or no clear destination in mind.

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Birches are meant to be climbed, bent

“I should prefer to have some boy bend them, / As he went out and in …” Birches, by Robert Frost.

Better a boy than an ice storm should bend the birches. A girl could bend them, as well, if a girl is in the house, and requires exploratory forays into a nearby forest. To climb a really tall tree is to gain a sense of accomplishment not available to parents and other adults who are well advised to stick to the lower, thicker branches.

And to have Mom worried that you might fall is to have an opportunity to show her, “No, I won’t.” There is no finer feeling than to tell her you will not fall, and then prove it.

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The world beyond my window

John's thumbnail(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 4/18/2014)

The world is coming alive with the warmth and light of Spring – this week’s below-freezing day notwithstanding.

A little bit ago, there was a bird singing loudly in joy at the edge of my back yard. I couldn’t find him to discover his name or photograph his appearance, but it was enough to hear his robust love song.

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I’d almost surrendered

John's thumbnail(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 4/4/2014)

I finally gave up trying to keep the House Sparrows out of the bluebird house. For about three days.

I feel badly for them, trying to set up a home outside my studio window. They are mid-1800 immigrants to this country from the Mediterranean Sea shores, by way of Europe. I’ve read they were a pest in China; Chairman Mao tried to eradicate them thinking it would make more grain available for his burgeoning human population.

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Ornithological shift change

Sparrow attempts to chase away a starling(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 2/14/2014)

A few days ago, the first Eastern Bluebird of the season wandered into the yard. I watched as what I am pretty sure was a Tufted Titmouse sat on a branch and dug a peanut from its shell. I’ve been told robins have been seen in Littlestown.  It’s seasonal shift change in the bird kingdom.

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The water is alive

Falls on Middle Creek(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 2/7/2014)

My grandkids never have experienced swimming across lake and finding a cold spot in the warm water, a spring gushing water up from the bottom. I know exactly the location of that spring; as a youngster I swam the half-mile across the lake, over the very spot. There is something about feeling the life of the water, and knowing why that particular place is last to freeze in winter or where, since the lake never floods, the water goes next.

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Visions of snowstorms past

Winter at the lake(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 1/24/2014)

Winters of my youth I remember being way more snowy than those of more recent vintage. I mentioned to an old guy one day that as cold and snowy as it now seems, there was a time when by late October the snow would came up to my, uh, posterior.

He offered the possibility that my posterior was closer to the ground in those days – but I remember being 17 and one afternoon at the start of hunting season pushing my way downhill through the snow below Bates’ farm, hoping to flush a deer out of the pines at the edge of the pasture. Instead, I bagged a pair of Partridge for dinner.

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But, Baby, it’s cold outside

Winter in Maine; that's me in the middle(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 1/10/2014)

The sun is well up as I write this, and still the temperature has climbed only to plus-two degrees Fahrenheit.

You know it’s cold when even in still air you generate enough wind just by walking to frostbite your forehead as the air flows between your wool stocking cap and your sunglasses. New-fallen snow is dry and fluffy, and squeaks beneath your winter boots or snow tires.

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Bats: Nature’s flying bug zappers

Gray bat believed to have succumbed to White Nose Syndrome(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 11/15/2013)

Click thumbnail for larger picture

Bats are cool. They hibernate in winter, and in warmer months pump their leathery wings in pursuit of tons of, to me, bothersome bugs. Without bats, I’d miss out on the entertainment of the little critters flapping around the vacant lot next door, and instead spend my evening outdoor time swatting mosquitoes, masking the scent of forest with the aroma of citronella.

In one place I lived, a decade or so ago, we had a bat sharing our domicile. No sign of him during the day, but come night he’d flap around the bedroom. At first, my spouse didn’t like the idea, and wanted to catch him in a towel to take him outside.

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Sitting by the creek in Fall

Along among naked residents, a young oak clothes itself in crimson raiment(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 11/8/2013)

Click thubnail for enlarged leaf detail

Most of the color is gone along the creek, save some chicory-like bushes with red  berries, and the occasional pin oak (I think). One crimson-plated youngster, an American Chestnut, maybe, or a Chestnut Oak or even a Big Tooth Aspen, stands alone among lesser, already nude specimens.

Though I spent my childhood years wandering through the thousands of wooded acres around my parents’ home, I am only beginning to recognize the trees by their leaves. I can tell by the bark, but I never paid much attention to leaf forms, satisfying myself with being amazed merely by the diversity of shapes and shades.

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“Walk into my parlor”

Ms. Cantrap repairs damage caused by a clumsy photographer.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 9/27/2013)

“Will you walk into my parlor?” said the spider to the fly; Tis the prettiest little parlor that ever you may spy.” (from The Spider and the Fly, by Mary Howitt, 1799-1888)

This has been a bumper-year for spiders. In one corner of the lanai, there is a woven silken bug trap overseen by three very different breeds of tiny arachnids. In another place, suspended among some grass blades, a bowl web has been formed, about six inches deep, with a vase-like narrowed neck and round, closed-in, bottom.

The tiny, and sometimes not so tiny, creatures have always held me enthralled – how they can discover just the place to anchor their trap, and measure so perfectly the spacing between web strands, is the stuff, to humans, of engineering degrees, yet these little creatures just go out and do it. Continue reading “Walk into my parlor”

A new walking stick

A comfortable walking stick can make the trail a little easier.Peavine bought himself a new walking stick. A dandy specimen it is, too – a really nice five-section telescoping stick with a compass on top. Each section is accented with, in his case, a bright orange ring.

He bought it, he said, because it came in orange. It also is available in black, blue, green, purple, red, gold and titanium, but as long as we’ve been hanging around together, I’ve never known Peavine to go for those flashy colors. Besides, orange is a good color in the woods because deer can’t see it. Continue reading A new walking stick

Is all that bleepin’ really bleepin’ necessary?

The temp of the falling water suggested the name Chief Two-Navels BathtubA hunting buddy and I, when I was stationed in California, would make an annual trip to Los Padres National Forest, allegedly in pursuit of the elusive Mule deer. At some point in the couple-hour drive down from the San Francisco area, we would pick up supplies: a couple big buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a case of Shasta soda and a bottle of Roll-Aids.

Not exactly healthy living by today’s standards, though I suspect – or would like to believe – exercise offset some of the damage we did to our bodies, but we were young and immortal. Continue reading Is all that bleepin’ really bleepin’ necessary?

Hammock therapy, what the resident nurse ordered

(Looking out over my toes at the passing wonders of natureFirst printed in the Gettysburg Times, 6/21/2013)

We have a new hammock, given us for Fathers Day by the Resident Nurse. It is a great place to spend a Friday afternoon, with Grady the Golden lying beneath, making sure I don’t decide to wander without him knowing.

Hammock therapy, the Resident Nurse calls it.

Atop a nearby fence slat, a robin chirps – if that’s what to call what she is sounding. She must be pleased with the worm hanging from her bill; with each chirp she pumps her throat and tail, putting her whole body into her celebration.

Occasionally, a member of the robin colony will pull a worm and just stand there quietly, upright, chest puffed, as though saying to her fellow wormers, “See what I’ve done. I bet you can’t find one as big!” Continue reading Hammock therapy, what the resident nurse ordered

A tunnel of lilacs

Imaging a tunnel of purple lilacsFirst printed in the Gettysburg Times, 6/14/2013)

I love motorcycling. I haven’t ridden in nearly 20 years, but it’s like another unmentionable pastime – it’s a bit risky but once you’ve done it, you don’t stop wanting to do it.

When we lived in Norfolk, Va., a favorite ride was the Colonial Parkway, through a tunnel of lilac trees towering and bowed over the roadway from both sides, forming a roof to trap the sweet perfume the way tunnels a few miles east kept the river from pouring into the Hampton Roads bridge-tunnel.

It was a sight and aroma not often allowed to penetrate our enclosed vehicles. Continue reading A tunnel of lilacs

A boy’s imperative

Frog on mossy island beneath a small waterfallWhat is it about a stone that commands a little boy to throw it in the nearest pond?

The two-year-old stood by the electric stream last night, picking up river-run stones from the dry part of the pond and tossing them into the pool at the bottom of the stream. Some missed and landed farther up, but they still were in the water, and that is what counted. I thought about telling him how much effort I’d expended to get them “just so,” but then I remembered:

Most of the effort had been to get the stones looking more or less natural where they lay – and what’s more natural than a young boy should throw them just to see the splash? Continue reading A boy’s imperative