Friday, June 26, 2009

Even though...

...the air is too humid to breathe, the ticks and poison ivy are everywhere, and the flies are as annoying as the perfume SAs at Macy's, today was still a glorious day to walk in the woods.

Wendell Berry explains why.

Photo of a surviving segment of the Natchez Trace from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The new woodchuck

There's a wild cherry tree behind our house that always produces a lot of fruit. The same woodchuck used come every summer to snarf up the cherries. He was a big, fat guy, and it was touching to see him get a little slower as each year passed. All the sources I've checked say that 5 years is the average lifespan for a woodchuck. If so, our chubby friend was exceptionally long-lived, because I watched him for at least 4 summers, and he was no cub when he first appeared.

Chuck went missing a couple of years ago. We were having a terrible drought at the time, and it may have been too much for an elderly woodchuck. Or he may have fallen less peacefully, to the coyotes or our gardening, gun-loving neighbors. I've missed him, so I was very happy a few weeks ago when I saw a cat come flying out of the brush under the treeline, pursued by an angry woodchuck. Kitty was probably after the woodchuck's babies. This new Marmota monax is a much more petite specimen than her predecessor, but she scared the shit out of that cat.

I've seen her several times since then. She's currently out there every day, getting her fill of cherries, so I feel as if we've definitely got a replacement groundhog-in-residence. I just hope she steers clear of coyotes and armed humans.

Maxine Kumin wrote a very fine poem about woodchucks. You can listen to her read it here. I should warn you, it's a sad poem. The hungry heart of the woodchuck is no match for human selfishness.

Groundhog photo by April M. King from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The owl children

I'm pretty much back to my regular hiking habits after my little Memorial Day mishap. It feels great to be spending hours rather than minutes outdoors. Aside from the contemplative benefits, clocking more time in the woods increases the chance of encountering something interesting, charming or just plain weird. Today I found charm, in the form of three juvenile barred owls. They were huddled together on a fallen tree just off the trail. They were making a lot of noise, squabbling and pleading for food. I could hear Mama but she didn't let herself be seen. The chicks spotted me and flew off to separate perches a short distance away. I watched them for a while, and they watched me watching them. They had such wonderful expressions, exactly like curious children.

Click here for a fine, poignant poem about some 18th century owlets. The video below is part of a series on barred owls, which you can see here.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Weed eating

Not much time for blogging today, but I thought I'd share this article on why it's better to eat your garden weeds than poison them. I love all the greens mentioned, especially sorrel, but I was surprised that the author said nothing about dandelions. The leaves are delicious cooked, and the flowers are a great salad ingredient. Happy gathering.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The featherweights

Our resident hummingbirds have arrived. We've had a steady stream of transients since April, but I can always tell when the nesting birds are here, because that's when the fighting starts. The hummers' aerial combat puts the best wire-fu epic to shame, and they're always eager to mix it up. Males fight males, as you'd expect, but the battles often involve both sexes. Hummingbirds have no sense of chivalry. Unlike many other birds, the male hummers don't court prospective girlfriends with gifts of food. They'll drive their mates, and even their own offspring, away from a feeder. It's a little hard to understand how this dedication to selfishness promotes the survival of the species, but the little guys seem to be doing just fine.

Photo by Joe Schneid from Wikimedia Commons.