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Nature notes: 5/30/2011

Since Thursday evening there has been a slowly gathering flock of fire flies. Ticks galore (five now in captivity), noseeums, and a few mosquitos.Mountain laurel full of buds, not yet flowering. Elderberry bushes flourishing along with forget-me-nots, and bleeding hearts. Ferns marching into all of the empty spaces left by everything else.Two weekends ago: four deer, one turkey, one bear, and two racoons (rather impudent racoons).

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Harvested lettuce and radishes. The bean tendrils found the fence, but the deer ate the tops off the tomato transplants.

Continued heat,dryness(less than 120& humidity, but hoping for change tomorrow), and high fire danger.The vegetable garden ia very slow, the red hot pokers are late, the penstamon looks droopy but only the yarrow seems to love this weather so far.Still, many birds at the feeders and, this year, several families of (beautiful) evening grosbeaks.

Weather at lat: 42.22; long: 75.98: 85 degrees during the day; 60ish at night; incredible thunder and lightening storms evening and night. Last night, Sunday, enormous down pour. Everything is green, including I suspect things that are usually not green.

Just put in tomato plants and a few herbs yesterday, which was quite pleasant until the torrential rains and thunderstorms in the late afternoon. Fortunately no hail.Lots of standing water in ditches and fields = mosquitos and bugs galore. Happy to have the screen porch, which is cool and bugless. Our fireflies don't show up until closer to 4th of July. But I'll start watching for them.Our family of crows is back, and seem to have brought many bickering relatives. I like them, but Mr. Neighbor is talking about poisoning them because he's afraid of them giving West Nile virus to the great-grandkids. Same neighbor used to have those mole stakes all over his yard. I'd trip them after dark. I asked him the other day why he didn't put them out anymore, and he told me, "The damn things don't work!" Hee hee.

Our flower garden is approaching full bloom around the three very large rocks unearthed when the basement was dug for the cellar of our addition. Lettuce is coming in strong, spinach more slowly; the tomatoes are in the ground. I started digging for a place to plant strawberry plants in full sun--hard work because the soil is heavy and full of rocks. We brought our twenty-six new chickens outside the other day, and they're getting used to strange sights and sounds. The deck is in at the pond, and the grand-nephews had a grand time today using nets to look for salamanders, tadpoles, and tiny fish.

Sun worshippers in New York will want to celebrate Manhattanhenge tonight, May 30, at 8:17 P.M. The setting sun aligns with the east-west streets in Manhattan.

Patrick Molloy, thanks for the wonderful pagan ping. I never knew. Peggy, who knew the UWS was where the wild things are. I'm impressed. Here in the Brooklyn arrondissment, anything that once walked is now a cured meat. But that may be as transitory as the warblers:

After record snow this winter and no Spring but rain, no complaints that it's 90 degrees in the Rustbelt. A fence to paint and no Becky T. in sight, I've found a consolation prize: may I recommend a basil, lemongrass, lemon and vodka on ice?

David: as great as the UWS is, if you study the latitude and longitude from which my weather report was posted, you will see that the UWS does not have noseeums, bleeding hearts (except the human kind), bears (at least not yet), and etc. I am really sorry to miss the perfect alignment of sun and street grid. Did the Lenape have a ceremony marking the occasion?

Mary: don't all those herbs ruin the vodka?

Not so I've ever noticed. I suppose I could try shooters of vodka and chewing the basil as a palate cleanser. Or vice-versa... I'll research it and get back to ya :)

Drought, but levees holding. Ancient aloe patch bright green. Silly curly parsley is deep dark green, giving it some needed dignity. Other herbs sad. No cats since Katrina, but a few blue jays and crows.

In the midst of a flood, drought?

July 11 and 12 are additional dates for Manhattanhenge - mark your calendar now.The Genesis 1.16 passage, God made the two great lights - - the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, is often glossed as a rebuke to non-Israelite cultures with their worship of the heavenly bodies. The sun is a mere timekeeper and not to be taken as a divinity. But now we know that the sun can also be used to keep the Manhattan streets aligned after Armageddon, even if this usage was not foreseen by the Biblical author.

"The deck is in at the pond, and the grand-nephews had a grand time today using nets to look for salamanders, tadpoles, and tiny fish."Moments the grand-nephews will treasure, I'm sure. Until Grampa was satisfied we could swim well enough to take the rowboat out for perch and bluegills, we got nets and caught minnows off the dock. We'd slosh them around in a galvanized metal bucket all afternoon, then release them at sunset. Can still remember the creosote smell of that old dock--and how hot it was if you sat on it bare-legged!

We're only in the midst of a drought. There might have been a record-shattering flood (the Mississippi is badly swollen), but the Corps of Engineers opened two floodways upriver thus shunting some of the water into the Atchafalaya River basin to the west. That basin also empties into the Gulf, and that area is flooded. With the lessened water force in the Mississippi we've been spared great crevasses in the levees and consequent flooding. It was a bit scary for a while there. Actually we've been under a flood watch for a couple of weeks now -- some minor portions of water have been leaking through the levees into the city in spots, but not into my back yard, thank God. So the drought continues, but no flood.

A few nights ago, in the early hours, I heard the ominous whine of the first mosquito. A few hours later, just before dawn, a coyote attacked and nearly killed a neighbor's dog behind our house. Early spring is lovely; late spring can be threatening. When Mother Nature's fully awake, her projects and ours often fight for the same space.

Okay, Peggy, I give: where in the world are you? (No links I could find!)My only nature report so far are the "roly poly" bugs that Stella found in the yard (Brooklyn has some patches of domestic green). We always called them potato bugs when I was a kid, but her friend Hazel's grandma uses some Massachusetts term. Stella wanted to keep the babies till they grew up but I insisted they return to the wild.Of more immediate concern is the tadpole (pollywog?) we brought back from Grandpa's up in New Lisbon (near Oneonta) two weekends ago. It's in the fish tank, which has no fish as they died months ago. It should be fairly easy to raise and use as a wonderful lesson in the stages of development and the circle of life and all that stuff. (We plan to reintroduce it to the wild on out return in a few weeks, hopefully as something approaching a frog-like creature.) The interwebs say boil and freeze lettuce and they'll thrive, but I don't sense much enthusiasm from "Tad."

David Smith: Would that have been Wiley Coyote?

Here are two haiku about some fireflies by Issa"Old wallfor no particular reasonfireflies visitThe dog comes outand calls them too --firefliesLots more - Cached

Peggy, you don't have to go upstate to see bleeding hearts (the plant kind). Just go upstairs at your parish rectory (Ascension, NYC). We have a beautiful bleeding heart plant. Even on the UWS! It's of the liberal kind, I think.

.Probably, Margaret (05/31/2011 - 4:01 pm) - the dog survived :O).

DS: All's well that ends well! as someone said.

MC: We need all the bleeding hearts we can get. But it would be good if some of them were growing in Wisconsin or South Carolina, etc.

Glad to hear about the doggie. We have a lot of coyotes, and they are wiley. Since the neighbor got some chickens, we've seen more coyotes hanging about. Yesterday we had a few tornadoes and severe storms, but nothing like they've had down South. (I love these nature threads, but, yeesh, I'm starting to sound like one of those letters I'd write to my gramma. All I need to do is tell her how much I paid for five pounds of coffee this week, what we're having for supper, and "love to all the cats.")

It's quite restful, isn't it? Except for the Tornados, high winds, and rain. Last Thursday, there was a very high, whistling wind and before you knew it a tree fell on the roof of the cabin, the very sturdy, well-built cabin!Peter wrote this note to our friend Barry: "What I did on Memorial Day Weekend."It's been quite a holiday. Beautiful when we arrived on Thursday but with a lot of online and radio stuff about thunderstorms and high winds and then a tornado watch. Of course, we already had tornado on the brain because of the terrible reports from Joplin and other places before. Where should we go? Under the house? In the bedroom? I closed up everything when the storm finally arrived, and then there was a big whoosh and lots of wind and driving rain. At the very first moment there was a crash but things were happening so fast and the wind and the rain making so much noise that I assumed it was a branch from a tree, the one that comes up through the deck or some other one nearby. I shone my flashlight up through the skylight and saw leaves, but that was consistent with my assumption. I was astonished in the morning to see this whole top half of a tree snapped off and resting on the side of the lower roof and on one corner of the upper roof. Remarkably little damage done. The gutter bent out of shape at one end -- I half repaired that today -- and the rain "cap" on the chimney pipe smashed up -- I've ordered a replacement. We have a chain saw, bought 30-plus years ago from a very nice guy, Willard Strong, who has long since closed up his dealership.(We also bought the generator that we used in building the cabin from him, and we bought the slab of stone that creates the hearth under the wood stove from Willard's father, who ran a stone yard next to Willard's machine shop.) But the saw has sat though at least two winters, maybe three, unused, and I knew I'd never get it working. When I asked about where one went these days for chain saws, locals named a place, Oliver's, on a back road in Windsor -- and mentioned that Willard worked there often. I got lost twice before finding Oliver's, and while I was waiting after others who were also dealing with the damage from the storm, I thought I spotted Willard in the back, but after thirty years it's not easy to be sure. It was indeed him, and we talked old times! Particularly amazing to me was his bringing up an incident that I've often related as a lesson to me about never jumping to conclusions. Once Willard came out to the cabin, pretty much built at that point, to return our generator that he had done some work on. It was early in the morning, when the mist rises from the meadow. We were standing next to the open door of his pickup admiring the scene when a big buck appeared down in the meadow. Willard moved ever so gradually and reached inside his truck. I was stunned to think he was reaching for the rifle in the gun rack. It wasn't hunting season, and we had no hunting on the land anyway. Should I protest? Before I could open my mouth, he gracefully pulled out his binoculars! Well, I must have confessed to Willard what I was thinking because at Oliver's he recalled the incident to me in almost the exact words with which I've told it here and on other occasions. At least, I could satisfy myself that this wasn't a story I had elaborated in my own mind. Anyway, I left the old saw for an overhaul and bought a new one. As our neighbor, Jim, who did the sawing later in the day said, "You can't have too many chainsaws." Jim had come over simply to survey the situation. I wanted his opinion on what was the best strategy for cutting the tree up, starting with the upper branches and reducing the weight to the point where we could drop the trunk off the roof. Once he got the new saw running, however, he wouldn't stop. We not only got the tree off the roof but cut most of it up into firewood length pieces. We've had two more thunderstorms since then with very impressive lightning and so many varieties of thunder from the deepest rumble that makes your body vibrate to the sudden crack; but lovely sunny patches as well. No bears, one hummingbird, one deer in the woods with a fawn, a couple of other dashing off the pipeline as we eased the car by, and any number of damn ticks. We have them all locked up in an upside down brandy glass tick Gitmo. We keep interrogating them about the Lyme Disease network but they won't talk.

.Margaret writes (06/01/2011 - 4:49 pm) that Jim wrote:"As our neighbor, Jim, who did the sawing later in the day said, You cant have too many chainsaws."Those things can slip and ruin a perfectly good day for a very long time. I'd say you can't have too few. chainsaws Of course, if one lives in the country and there are big storms and trees near roads and buildings, *someone* has to be able and willing to shoulder saws and axes from time to time. Perhaps the moral of the story is that if you're going to live in the country and don't want to throw your life into the chainsaw lottery, be sure there's a neighbor named Jim living down the road..

"Once he got the new saw running, however, he wouldnt stop."Not to be a sexist, but I've never known any man who can start up a motor of any type and then hand it over to someone else. In fact, my kid regularly gets out of mowing the yard by pretending he can't get the mower started. Raber comes out, cranks it up, mows a few patches to ensure the thing won't stall, and then he's off and running. The kid goes back inside and gets back one MineCraft. In fact, forget lipstick and nylon stockings, ladies. There's no quicker way for a woman to attract a man than to turn on an air compressor or build a fire. Seeing a woman do these things--even competently--seems to prompt an irresistible urge to rush over with matches, kerosene, adaptor plugs, etc.

I admired their work from afar; even have some photos of them consulting and working away. The tendency in our household to talk about when and how to get something done was nicely melded with the tendency of our neighbor to "get it done," The two of them were on the roof chatting about which branch next and then the chain saw took over. Being a traditional saw (never touched an axe!) person myself, I have to say I am impressed with the speed and ease of the chain saw. Have never used one; don't trust myself; who knows what I might do?

"Have never used one; dont trust myself; who knows what I might do?"You are right to be hinky about chain saws. They don't handle like the electric knife you might use to carve up a roast turkey, which was my first mistaken assumption. Not wearing goggles was the other.

The only cutting device I use, other than knives, that has a "manufactured" aspect to it is the mandoline. They are wonderful. I think so even as I steadily lose skin off my thumb and index finger. Really don't need that much anyway. The blood on the food, of course, is unsightly, but otherwise....

Did I say that Jim, the neighbor, uses neither hard hat nor goggles.

.mandolineOuch.."Did I say that Jim, the neighbor, uses neither hard hat nor goggles."Ouch, again - in anticipation..

You cant have too many chainsaws.There's a horror movie in there somewhere :-)

Chainsaw horror movies must be the work of urban filmmakers. I am a city girl, but I observe that most country people would not ruin a perfectly good chainsaw by slicing people up. Too much blood. Use a mandoline.

There's always the wood chipper, a la "Fargo."

Speaking of implements of destruction, we are off to Home Depot to replace our rusty loppers and trim up trees. The "propellers" have formed on the maple trees, so we'll have that mess to deal with in a couple of weeks.The next town over is having its Curwood Festival (so named for the indifferent but prolific local novelist James Curwood). It's just one of many exciting local events. The highlight is a parade that features area beauty queens and politicians, a literature contest for Our Young People (my kid won it in the fifth grade), kiddie rides, and numerous yard sales.I am looking for garden gnomes at yard sales. When I have at least 12, I will spray paint their clothes black and arrange them in military rows holding signs protesting the half-witted repaving job in the village. Summer's always a good time to plan home beautification projects like this.

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