Wendy Sue and Santa

Little siblings at the Christmas treeThe thing I remember most about Christmas was Dad waking us kids up with his shooting at Santa:

“Wait! Stop! DON’T GO! My kids want to meet you.”

We would hear some sleigh bells jingling, but every year was the same thing. By the time we would get down stairs, the Old Guy would be gone, along with the Toll House cookies and milk we had left for him.

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Finishing the job

Our many wondrous advances count for naught if we leave cleanup for our grandkids.At the tender age of about 10, I got my first lesson on the subject of cleaning up after oneself. We’d gone to visit Gramma and Grampa in Watertown, Mass., a little way out of Boston. I always liked visiting their home, a really old-fashioned place with a parlor – a small room off the living room, home to a couple of rocking chairs no one actually sat in. In fact, the big set of double French doors to the parlor was rarely not closed.

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The clear plastic box

A lot of unknowns lie on the other end of the tunnel.We visited Las Vegas several years ago. What a show that was! The city is the nation’s monument to decadence. Over here the Eiffel Tower, there a monorail, way up there a rooftop roller coaster, and everywhere the sound of one-armed bandits joyfully slurping coinage, occasionally giving back just enough to keep the gamblers gambling.

One of the highlights was Siegfried & Roy, a magical duo who could make lions and elephants disappear in front of your eyes. We were lucky enough to get seats in the pits at the front of the stage. Imagine sitting there ooh-ing at the show when suddenly you turn your head to be staring into the face of a small jungle “demon.”

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Thanks for everything

The wind was blowing strongly but invisibly when we arrived at the breakfast place. Later, our morning hunger sated, we exited the establishment into a wind speckled with seeds of the impending season.

Not enough to whiten the grass, but snow, nonetheless. For my part of the planet, four days before Thanksgiving is early, even for snow that does not stick.

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Environmental Prognostication

Chesapeake Bay Watershed sign on I-70.Seasonal weather finally is upon us, maybe. Temperatures should be in the 40 F range, and they’re often in the 60s, but last year this time they were in the 80s, so I suppose it is a bit more seasonal. The juncos, looking like flying preachers in their white shirts and dark gray capes, have returned. Nearly all the other “snowbirds” – what northerners who move south for the winter are called – have departed for what they hope are warmer climes.

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Going, Going …

Fall foliage nearly gone from South MountainFall, as I have previously mentioned, is my favorite season. Spring is bathed in beautiful pastels, summer is a fine time for swimming in a creek, and winter offers superb excuse for curling up inside with a few of those books one intended to read four months ago. But fall – that season of glorious arborous fireworks, celebrating successful end to another trip around the sun, is, as has been said, da bomb.

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Matter of perspective

Fossil fuel pipelineAs I sit watching the water flow downhill, the news is reporting Standing Rock Sioux Americans confronting police in an effort to block a 1,170-mile, $4 billion pipeline being built across land the tribes-people consider sacred, and across a river that is a water source for several million people.

President Obama said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – responsible for at least one of the pipeline’s required permits – is looking at a way to reroute the pipeline, but he has to know the company will fight that, citing the cost of the pipe it already has rushed to lay as it tries to outrun any potentially successful efforts to change the already expensive project..

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Right #1: A Free Press

Tail of a black rattlesnake visible among the leavesI’ve wandered around this planet quite a bit, visited countries I’d like to visit again, and experienced cultures that had some good features and some not so much. In my line, one of the most valuable cultural traits is freedom of the press. It has been under open fire lately, partly because one of the better known candidates claims to dislike most of the press – especially outlets that do not agree with him.

The king of Thailand recently died. Citizens were prohibited, under strict penalties up to and including death, from voicing disapproval of the monarch.

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Changing seasons

A dozen wind turbines on a Fall colored horizon.The end is near, the calendar says, though physical evidence offers some argument. Summer inexorably withdraws southward, following the Canada geese to their winter abode, but the lawn still needs periodic cutting.

We returned from a two-week road trip to the sound of a cricket holding forth from among the stones. It was an unexpected sound for mid-October. Temperatures the past few days have been in the 80s that should be at least 20 degrees lower, breaking records for highs set in 1908. Marsh Creek is shallower than it should be this time of year. Rain near the end of September raised the creek some, but a friend reports a boulder that is usually submerged all winter is about 18 inches exposed.

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The edge of the sea

The Atlantic Ocean incessantly wears away the U.S. coast.There’s something really nice, almost sensual, about wading in 57-degree waves washing great masses of seaweed like mermaids’ tresses, in and out among the rocks and around my feet. I imagine the image was not lost on sailors of long past tales.

Anyway, it was not lost to me last week when I visited Rachel Carson at her Salt Pond Preserve, on the upper reach of Muscongus Sound. She spent much of her time on the Down East coast, wading in the water, searching for signs of marine life about which she wrote in “The Edge of the Sea.”

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Sea Change

The Atlantic Ocean incessantly wears away the U.S. coast.The sky brightens as though on a timer announcing 6 a.m. The sun isn’t really up, yet, but its warming rays are bending over the horizon, illuminating the knotty pine boards of the bedroom loft’s western wall.

The rain has finally tired, leaving only the sound of incessant wave action rubbing away at the shore with the soft-sounding, powerful strokes of a woodworker rubbing the surface of a boat’s wooden molding. The smoothness of the sound belies the power peeling layer after layer of ancient minerals and stirring them into the sea.

Somewhere to my south, a hurricane threatens to submerge Miami, Florida.

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Life supporting is a good thing

Mayfly larva on underside of river rockSeveral years ago, I wrote a story about an applesauce processor. My guide took me through the entire process, beginning with the orchard –  – so far, science hasn’t come up with a way to make apples without the trees. Huge bins of apples were hauled to the processing plant, where the apples were washed, sorted, cored, chopped and mashed into mush, er, sauce, and poured into jars.

My guide was especially proud of the part of the process that killed off stuff that wasn’t apple. He was proud that, in his words, his sauce “would not support life.”

Funny thing, until then, I thought the purpose of the applesauce was to support life – mine, if I was the buyer.

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So long, old friend

Grady the Golden RetrieverWe met Grady at a doctor’s office in February 2007. He was homeless, effusively friendly, and eager to see us. We invited him home. It doesn’t seem that long ago.

The day we met, the doctor took the stitches out from having surgically removed the collar that had grown into his neck. It was most of a year before he’d not make a puddle on the floor when someone new came to the door.

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Marking the Middle of Autumn

Female Ruby-Throated HummingbirdThrough the trees a couple of honks announced a gaggle of Canada geese approaching from the north. In less than a minute, maybe 20 individuals in a signature V floated just over the stand of oak trees, wings beating in almost perfect unison. They likely would land in a field of corn stubble, at least near a stream, if not in the pond across from the Mount St. Mary’s University campus a few miles down the road.

For the past few days, Blue Jays here been gathering, like caravaners of old, preparing to head south, rather than west, for the winter. Apparently, though, the new caravaners are mostly young birds. Older couples – blue jays, by the way, are monogamous – tend to stay around here for the winter. That’s OK. The jays love the peanuts we toss out to the squirrels, and we love watching as they drop down to the back deck, grab a nut, and make off to feast in peace.

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A walk in the woods

A funnel-weaving spiderRain, glorious rain … almost the words and tune of a song I cannot quite name or sing, but last night! The music all was outside. Giant kettle drums, flashing strobes – I loved it. This morning, the rain gauge registered an inch and-a-half. We needed it, and more.

A few evenings ago, I slowly poked along the road next to the near-dry stream bed, collecting the webs of funnel spiders with my camera – intriguing creations designed to direct an unsuspecting dinner guest down the inviting hole to the waiting host. I found a lone yellow puff of a caterpillar, likely preparing to weave a home for the winter.

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Climate refugees are on the way

Private water supply, public uses bannedFrom behind my back, over the ridge, the morning sun slipped its arms through the trees and over my shoulder, gripped the edge of darkness and peeled it back the way a mother pulls a blanket from her sleeping child to wake him for school. Rows of hills, farthest ones first, then the closer, darker colored ones, became visible.

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We need more ice

​I’m sitting beside a stream a short distance from my home, lower, some people say, than is normal even for a normally hot August, which this August has not been. It’s been hot. July was the hottest month in the hottest year since records have been kept, and August is on track to eclipse July. In some places, it was hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk.

Some politicians say the world is not getting hotter, and if it is, it’s not the fault of humans, and if it is, well, we need the jobs. On the other hand, keeping those heat-making jobs means we can save buying frying pans and kitchen stoves.

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Olympic-grade cheering is tiring

Disk showing Olympics runnersI’ve been watching the Olympics with great dedication, and I’m very glad it’s almost over. I am tired, and I don’t know how much more I could take. I need about four years to recuperate.

My favorite sports are beach volleyball – the kind with only two players on each team; gymnastics – in particular the floor and parallel bars; and long distance running – except shorter distances are fun when Usain Bolt is leading, and smiling at the space his closest competitor would occupy if he was close enough.

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A fine kind of sorcery

Gettysburg ER entranceI was about to leave the house one afternoon this week, when I decided to mention to the Resident Nurse:

“I don’t feel right,” I said, “and I’ve been out of bed long enough I should have woke up by now.”

“My heart is sending Morse code like back in the days of black-and-white TV – a couple of quick beats, skip a few, another one, skip a couple more …”

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We are Ameri-cans

There is no hyphen on the American flagAs I listened to a news anchor this week talk about the hullabaloo surrounding a speech delivered by a Muslim whose son was killed in Iraq, I was struck by the way in which the parents of the lost soldier were identified: Muslim-American.

Much has been made of late about how divided is our country, and it occurred to me attaching a prefix to “American” sharpens the wedges. The now departed son was an American. He served in the American Army. He was quite possibly a hero, for reasons beyond merely his signing up to go fight, and die, for the rest of us. He happened to subscribe to the Muslim faith, as do a few million people around the world.

We humans are a tribal lot. We love to identify with a group. We include, within the boundaries of the U.S.A., Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs, and Atheists. We wear jeans to work, or ban them. We drive Fords and Chevys and Harleys and Hondas.

When I came to Gettysburg, I took up residence in Bonneauville, a town I soon discovered to be nonexistent – at least to the post office and  the Department of Motor Vehicles. When I went to get my Pennsylvania driver license, I put my address as Bonneauville 17325. The nice lady at the window, in a not quite so nice manner, questioned which was correct — Bonneauville, of which neither she nor her computer possessed knowledge, or 17325, which her computer said was Gettysburg.

A label can give us roots. In Maine, it was said to be a True Mainer one had to be at least seventh generation. I wrote about a farmer whose Maine origin went back to two brothers who had been paid for their Revolutionary War service with a deed to land near where I lived. In fact, the original land encompassed much of what had become, by the time I was writing, at least three towns.

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