I saw my trees had what looked like several large birds roosting in the branches…but when I used my camera, they turned out to be just an unexciting bunch of squirrels and mourning doves. Earlier this week a neighborhood cat who comes to eat leftovers at my back door—and who’d just eaten both leftovers from my indoor cats’ food, and a handful of treats, started gathering himself while perched on my patio storage box. I thought he couldn’t do it, but the squirrel he was eyeing got behind a large flower pot. The cat made one huge leap, and landed in position to outmaneuver his prey. I saw him walking off with the squirrel in his mouth, and read the signs by the marks of his feet where he’d landed in the mud. So, some unhappiness in the squirrel community this week.
Here are the remains of the hawk’s nest from last spring. It sat on its branch intact through the late fall, and then I saw a bird up inside, picking it apart. I don’t know what the purpose would be, unless because hawks feed meat to their young, the nest has edible bits that other birds seek after they’ve eaten a lot of their other food.
This is something unknown. It may be a canker, it may be the remains of some animal killed by the hawks. I made the photo as close-up as I could, and I can’t tell.
Here’s a picture from earlier in the year. A while back, 2012, there was a huge storm in Ohio called a derecho, and when I was driving home from work that day, I was stuck in traffic at an intersection, a few blocks from my street. A whirlwind came up right by the roadside. (I was thinking, “Let’s not have a tornado now, I’m almost home.”) Out my backdoor, while the sky was not quite dark as night, but dark, I saw squirrels on the side of the oak “tree-surfing”. At that time, I didn’t get a picture of this behavior, but last summer, during a heavy thunderstorm, I did.
This picture is even older, showing the house (on the right, with chimney) I lived in in Chauncey, Ohio. The little dog was my smart border collie mix, and her name was O’Keefe.
Ed cat gets his daily walk, which amounts mostly to him sitting on the back stoop and sniffing the air, listening to the birds and squirrels. The daily routine is to take him out and afterwards fill the feeder, so when Ed appears, a lot of activity starts up among the birds, giving him a good show.
This is the ground feeder. Birds, chipmunks and squirrels too, like feeders that are placed to give them shelter, and many, cardinals and sparrows among them, have a strong preference for feeding on the ground. What the owls catch at night, I don’t know. Only some mice and flying squirrels are nocturnal among small rodent prey that I know of, but some days I find numbers of owl pellets like these.
In 1968 the Hocking River flooded in the city of Athens, Ohio. This is my mother paddling at the back of the canoe, me, my brother Tim, and my sister Tracy with the other paddle. We are not far outside our front door, a bit of one of two blue spruce trees that marked our house can be seen at the left.
This is the house I grew up in on South Shannon Avenue. In later years, when decks got to be fashionable, my Dad put one on the back, so there was a little more character. The house was pretty much just a box all round. By the way, this is an ordinary photo taken in the 70s, that as you can see has faded this badly. So, remember, if you have a box of old pictures, you should digitalize them as soon as possible.
Some observations on householder-sized efforts against the climate crisis.
Above, a natural patch of lawn, lightly raked, at the base of one of my ninety-or-so-year-old oak trees. Everything not lawn grass that grows here is by definition a habitat plant, as they were all delivered by birds and other animals. Under the deer droppings near the center can be seen a small juniper bush; the bright red leaves are callery pear and barberry. My yard also gets mulberry, privet, American Holly, English Ivy, Amur Honeysuckle, Japanese Honeysuckle, millet grass, and quite a bit more. Some of these are listed as invasive plants, but obviously wherever they came from they were playing a role to support wildlife.
This is a current question in the natural sciences, whether the decline of species, birds notably, will allow us to fuss like we once did, over the strict “nativeness” of a plant, when clearly the plant is an important food source for birds.
Landscape disturbance and transformation, extinction, globalization, and climate change are proceeding at unprecedented rates and scales and have yet to climax. We argue that the Anthropocene will call for a conceptual overhaul of what it means for a species to “belong” to a given environment.
The article quoted above makes the point that wildlife and plantlife stresses are so accelerated these days, the questions of preservation may be basic. To identify a plant as non-native, and remove it from a wild site, in the assumption this makes room for “good” plants to take over, is to assume that food sources remain abundant and time itself remains abundant. It may be a more practical standard to say, if birds can survive eating the fruits of barberry and autumn olive, let them have barberry and autumn olive.
Fires have become severe, in the U.S. this year, in Australia, Russia, Greece, Brazil, France, Spain, and other nations; and while plants can recultivate burned lands quickly, animals can’t. We may have no choice but to appreciate nature’s strong competitors, even if humans consider these species the lowly and commonplace.
This is the azalea bush in front of my house. It suffered a leaf-killing attack of thrips last summer, and as you can see, all its “evergreen” is brown and tissue-papery. At the base of each leaf cluster, new green ones are starting. The azalea will probably survive, but if it doesn’t, I’ll either let the weeping arborvitae take over the spot, or buy a new shrub that isn’t bothered by thrips. What I won’t do is put anything in the environment, even allegedly safe sprays, to kill the infestation. We can’t worry about perfect appearance in our gardens; we have so many plants to choose from, we can find the pretty thing that will thrive without chemical treatments at all.
(Marigolds, incidentally, will draw thrips…and look terrible themselves…but possibly save other of your garden specimens, if you’d like a wholly organic answer.)
This is a dead ash tree, that gets a lot of woodpecker traffic. My yard has nesting sites used by Hairy, Downy, and Red-bellied woodpeckers; also Northern Flickers. Just this past summer, I’ve been seeing Pileateds visit the tree, so with luck they’ll be the ones excavating this out next spring.
This is a burrow in the ground under my Callery pear tree. I’ve never seen what lives there, but I see a long passage of sunken ground coming off this hole, so the complex must be spacious. It may be only rabbits, but it would be nice to have a badger or a weasel.
I’ve been reading archived newspapers from 1979, a time in my life when I didn’t pay too much attention to world events. Now that I’m doing my bit for recorded history, I enjoy reminding myself, or educating myself, on vaguely remembered moments from the years I actually lived through. I came across a piece in the New York Times, that had Senator John Glenn being shown the facade of a Washington building, and told by his guide that there was more radiation emanated by the granite than was detectable in the air around Three Mile Island (the accident occurred March 28, 1979).
That made me curious about my favorite garden rock, above. I learned, doing a little research, that pink and red granites give off more than greys and blacks—a combination of radon gas and gamma rays, chiefly. Unfortunately, a Geiger counter won’t detect levels in granite reliably, if at all, due to ordinary background radiation in the environment. And the other machines, for non-professionals, are too expensive to buy. So I guess I’ll never know how powerful my pink rock is.
(If you have granite countertops, don’t worry. Here is a PDF from the Health Physics Society explaining more.)
Above, a thing you don’t see often, since birds of prey don’t walk on the ground. But they do rocket down from the treetops onto passing squirrels and rabbits. At night, I seem to have a lot of owl activity around my ground feeder as well, to judge by the number of pellets I find. I don’t know what comes out, whether it’s mice or flying squirrels…but whatever they are, they aren’t very wary. The owls seem to be picking them off constantly.
It is walled with the money we meant to have saved
And the pleasures for which we grieve.
The kind words unspoken, the promises broken,
And many a coveted boon,
Are stowed away there in that land somewhere—
The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’
There are uncut jewels of possible fame
Lying about in the dust,
And many a noble and lofty aim
Covered with mould and rust.
And oh this place, while it seems so near,
Is farther away than the moon;
Though our purpose is fair, yet we never get there—
To the ‘Land of ‘Pretty Soon.’
The road that leads to that mystic land
Is strewn with pitiful wrecks,
And the ships that have sailed for its shining strand
Bear skeletons on their decks.
It is farther at noon than it was at dawn,
And farther at night than at noon;
Oh let us beware of that land down there—
The land of ‘Pretty Soon.’
1899, ELLA WHEELER WILCOX
To ask why evil exists here below is to ask why a contingent being is not an absolute being, why man is not God.
From History of Jefferson County
A great deal of clothing was made of deerskin before the raising of cotton and flax. The first efforts to tan the hides were almost a failure. A new effort, however, was introduced, which was much better. This was, after removing the hair, the skins were thoroughly rubbed and dressed with brains. They were then stretched on stakes driven into the ground around a large hole, and the hole was filled with light and rotten wood, which was set on fire. The warmth caused the brains and oil to permeate the skins and the smoke gave them a beautiful color. Tanned in this way, they were said to be very soft and pliant, and were handsome.
An anecdote of Judge G. W. Wall, born in Chillicothe, Ohio, April 22, 1839, moved in infancy to Perry County, Illinois.
He was attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad, and while thus acting, a good story is told of him. He was called upon to attend a case at Effingham for the railroad, which had been sued by a citizen for the value of stock killed by defendants’ train. The venerable and every-ready O. B. Ficklin was prosecuting the company, together with some other attorney whose name is not now remembered. The evidence was heard, and counsel went to the jury. The plaintiff’s case was opened by Ficklin’s associate, who indulged in considerable bunkum and bombast about giant corporations, etc. After he closed, Wall replied for the defense, and during the course of his remarks compared the gentleman who had preceded him to Dickens’s famous character of “Sergeant Buzfuz”, and, as he thought, completely annihilated the gentleman, and left nothing to be done but for the jury to return a verdict for the defendant, and thus closed his case.
It was now time for Ficklin to make the closing argument for the plaintiff, and after speaking to the testimony and the law, he concluded in the following vein of pathetic and injured innocence:
“And now, gentlemen of the jury, it becomes my painful duty to reply to the malignant and uncalled for attack upon one of the best men this country ever produced; a man who has long since slept with his fathers, and upon whose character no man, until today, has dared to cast the shadow of suspicion. I allude, gentlemen of the jury, to the attack of my young friend Wall, upon the memory of that good and kind man, Sergeant Buzfuz. Gentlemen, it was not, perhaps, your privilege, as it was mine, to have known him personally. I remember him well, in the early and trying times of this country. He first assisted to cut out the roads through this county. He was the early pioneer, who was ever ready and willing, with honest heart, and active hand, to aid a friend or brother in distress. In fact, gentlemen of the jury, there are few men, living or dead, that this country owes more to than it does to my old friend Sergeant Buzfuz. It is true, gentlemen, that he was somewhat uncouth and blunt in his way, but his every action, I assure you, was prompted by a noble and honest motive. He was not blessed with the brilliant and accomplished education of my young friend. He, gentlemen of the jury, wore no starched shirt or fine neckties; he was humble and retired. In his leather leggings and hunting shirt he went about the country, not as a rich representative of a railroad monopoly, but as an humble citizen doing good to his fellow-man. His bones have long since moldered into dust; the sod grows green over his grave; his work is done, and he is gone from among us to return no more forever; and I was surprised to hear his just and amiable character attacked in the manner it has been on this occasion; and it is impossible for me, his last remaining friend, to permit it to go by unnoticed. And to you, sir [turning to Wall, who was by this time completely dumbfounded], I say no better man ever lived than he whom you have so unjustly abused. Youth, sir, should have more respect for the men who have made life pleasant for those who come after them, than to assail their character in the manner you have done”; and thus he continued until his close, with great earnestness, and the utmost apparent sincerity. At its close, the jury could hardly wait until they could write their verdict for the full amount of damages claimed by the plaintiff, and, it is said, so worked up were they that Wall had difficulty in escaping personal violence.