The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A wannabe great mouser

He doesn’t know it, but the canine who accompanies me on our daily wanders through the nearby woods is pretty great at finding Wood mice. He can smell ‘em, and probably hear ‘em. Unfortunately, he so far has not seen ‘em.

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Another trip around the sun

A woodpecker beside a hole it has made in a tree.
A female Red-bellied woodpecker prepares a kids’ room some 60 feet high in a rotting oak.

From my keyboard I watch outside my window, as though viewing a performance mounted on stage or screen, a pair of House Sparrows building a nest for a crop of chicks the seeds of which I saw a black-bibbed male plant yesterday.

I saw my first bumblebee the other afternoon. Not a honeybee; honeybees will appear later in the month, if experience holds. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, already are scouting for drill sites.

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The last milkman

A white farmhouse and red barn with Drink Milk painted on white milk shed.
Pennsylvania, like Maine, is, by area, mostly rural farmland as illustrated by the many farms seen alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

One of my earliest memories was as a kid living in a fifth-floor walkup apartment on the west side of Manhattan, NYC.

My weekly chore from probably about six years old was to place the week’s collection of trash into the big galvanized containers in the basement, where the trashman would come by once a week to collect the contents. Luckily, I did not have to carry the trash down the stairs into the basement. We had a dumbwaiter.

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Wandering with Mr. Snuffles, er, Bowie

Making small sticks into smaller ones is one of Bowie’s favorite occupations, when he’s not digging into big logs and tall grass to see what lives there.

A few years have passed since a dog has shared our home. I’ve missed that. We filled that hole in December and have since been privy to an exercise in mutual education. 

For instance, as well-mannered as he normally is, he does not like being in second place to my laptop which, during our dog-less period, I had become used to reading during quiet times in my recliner.

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Taking inventory

I have learned to talk nice to our lawn mower. My spouse tells me if I am friendly to the machine, it will work better, or at least longer. It makes sense, sort of.

The thing is, I’m not a lawn mowing kind of guy. Grass has been growing and dying and growing back for a very long time, with no human help necessary.

In the world according to Sam Emery, every time we mow a lawn some Arabian princess strings another bauble on her charm bracelet. I do it, though, because I love the person who thinks it needs done and sometimes she can’t do it.

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Sky sponsored by Exxon

It’s early morning in Rivendell, a smoke-cloaked fantasyland outside my back door. Hobbits and dwarfs sit with their morning coffee around kitchen tables in stone huts along pathways pressed by millions of footfalls through the forest on the far side of the glen.

This close to July, the morning sun should have the air warmed to near-80 but this morning it is only about 60, reflecting the reason the sun is a hazy gray over the land as smoke from numerous forest fires, blown from eastern Canada to the midwestern states of Ohio and Illinois and now back to the eastern Manor of Maske—known less imaginatively as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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The first letter in STEM

The trial is over in the case of Held v. The State of Montana. The lawyers have performed their roles on the judicial stage. Now we wait, a few weeks probably, several months possibly, for the lone critic to review the material and render a ruling.

The question? Is Montana, one of three states in the Union to have added so-called “green” amendments to their constitutions— the others being New York and Pennsylvania—keeping its constitutional promise to provide and protect the environment its young people hope to grow old in? Sixteen of those young people completed their mission in court this week to voice a resounding No!

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Youth seek future in court

For the past several years, I have been among those predicting our youth would have to resolve the problems we oldsters have wrought upon our home. It turns out, they’re already at it – and doing more than merely crying out, “OK, Boomer!” when they detect a problem.

Monday, a group of young people—ages from early teens to mid-20s— became first in the nation to present their case in a state courtroom as they sued the state of Montana for failing its constitutional mandate to clean up the air and water we all depend on for continued life aboard Starship Earth.

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Profits over science mark SCOTUS decision

Wetlands— those swampy areas we sometimes encounter as we wander through our forests and other undeveloped acres—may seem like wasted land, but they are hard at work reducing flood risk during heavy rain events and filtering to provide safe drinking water for plants and other critters, including us humans.

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A dark and stormy night

The day started the way a spring Dad-with-13-year-old motorcycling day should start: sunny but not too much heat. It was a post-Navy-retirement run from Norfolk, Virginia where I had spent the previous eight years to Maine, where I was raised.

Night One was Locust Lake State Park, near Mahanoy City, PA. We filled out tummies at a Main Street diner named, Angela’s, populated mostly by old men who enthralled my eldest offspring with tales of the glory days of anthracite coal. It was they who pointed us to the Blaschak coal breaker at the west end of town.

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540 feet

From my front yard, I watch the sun creep over the hill behind my shoulder lighting the street in front of me, beginning from the far end and slowly illuminating the blackness before me like a Mother peeling the blanket from her child’s sleepy head.

I live at approximately 540 feet above sea level. Some forecasters occasionally bemoan melting glaciers and rising sea levels, but I know it will be a long time before the Atlantic Ocean laps at my door.

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When the GPS isn’t helping

In an online video the other day, a fellow wanderer was making his way through an area with which I am fairly familiar. As I watched him follow his camera along the path, I noticed places I recognized, places I had, in my own wanderings, passed by.

I was reminded of an experience several years ago, while driving through Jacksonville, Florida.

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Road trip through my mind

A recent car-shopping trip with a young friend got me thinking about my history with motor vehicles.

My first was an English Ford convertible. It was white and cost me $75, which, even in 1967, was not bad. I don’t remember the year or model, but it was old. It had character, which meant some things did not work, but it had a manually operated convertible top that did not leak.

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(Not totally) unique among critters

Anatomically, we are similar to lots of other critters. We have hearts and livers in more or less relatively the same positions in our bodies, though some of us carry ourselves horizontally and others vertically. We walk on our hind legs, but so do birds — most of them, anyway. We use tools, but so do some birds; some species of crows will poke a stick into a hole to extract food it cannot reach with its beak.

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“Monarch Crusader” to speak at G’burg Rec Park

A few years ago, Granddaughter went wandering with a friend in the woods behind our home. Suddenly she burst in the door, excitedly proclaiming, “Come on, Papa John! We found something!”

“What did you find?” I asked.

“C’mon. We’ll show you!”

Imperial moth spreads its yellow and purple cape across a branch of maple leaves.

Imperial moth spreads its regal cape across a panoply of maple.

And off we went to see what turned out to be an Imperial Moth, a huge thing — especially to a pair of little humans — clad in a yellow cape with purple markings, spread regally across several oak leaves. I got a few pictures and went home, glad the little girls were not afraid of bugs.

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What a boring world this would be

Several years ago, when granddaughter was still of an age that she enjoyed going hiking with her Grampa, she came back one day to sort of complain that Papa John had spent a lot of time talking about how the trees had leaves of different sizes and shapes.

Some of it must have stuck with her, though, because she has traded the old guy for a Chosen One more her age, and together they enjoy hiking the woods and trails of northern Maryland and nearby Pennsylvania.

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Springtime symphony

I can hear them tuning up. So can my spouse, whose cabin fever I’ll put up against any New Englander who thinks winter has been too darn long.

My best friend, bless her, has impatiently awaited the assembly of the “garden corral” in the parking lot of the nearby Wal-Mart. As the first concrete blocks are placed to mark its boundaries, her heart begins to pitty-pat with an excitement I’m certain can be felt in the farm fields that surround our burg.

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It lives!

An ethereal blanket of translucent maroon — the color of shrubs in transition from the blah gray of the past few months to the green cloaking that soon will block the view of even large rocks more than about 50 feet distant — seems to flow like an incoming fog across the forest floor..

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I found myself this week looking back a few years, when, well …

“I used to use that as a landmark. Something’s got to go back up there,” Ariste Reno, of New York, formerly of Chicago, told me when I visited the World Trade Center site on the first anniversary of its destruction.

I thought about the National Tower at Gettysburg, which was imploded July 3, 2000, and said so later that day to Mark McGinnis, Gettysburg College Class of 1976, who was in California waiting for a telephone cross-country conference (Zoom had not been invented yet) when the north tower died and with it 10 of his friends and colleagues.

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Never Ending Story

Through rain, sleet, snow and drought, Silverstone the Younger watches over the South Mountains, as she has done for at least hundreds of thousands of years — before, certainly, humans arrived in what one day would be called south-central Pennsylvania. We met one day as I wandered in Michaux State Forest, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, poking her nose into the warmth of the afternoon sun.

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