Category: Adventures in the Wild


Goose

Goose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Pilgrim Geese

English: Pilgrim Geese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The farm next to my workplace has a small but stalwart gaggle of geese that have appointed themselves as guardians of the property. My first day of work at this new job I was startled to find myself faced with a very noisy and aggressive lineup of geese blocking the driveway. They had no intention of giving way and I really didn’t want to start my work experience here by running over any of them. That would have to be bad karma on a monumental scale. So, I rolled down my window, leaned out and discussed the situation with them at some length. Finally, an accord was reached and they grudgingly let me through.

As time has gone by I have gotten in the habit of  looking for them when I arrive at work . This spring a few baby geese arrived on the scene and I loved watching their progress from tiny bits of fluff to fully grown geese, very smart-looking and freshly pressed in their new feather attire. They, of course, quickly joined the guardians of the driveway and added their voices to the overall drama of my early morning arrivals.

About the same time as the baby geese hatched, three ducks showed up and joined the group. They mingled freely with the geese but generally napped at a slight distance from the core group. There seemed to be a cordial détente in place. One by one their numbers were reduced. A car hit one of the ducks. Then another just disappeared. Now there was only the one. I began to think of him as George.

That was about six months ago. George is still hanging out with the geese. I have been expecting him to leave to find others of his kind. But he seems to have settled in. The geese…well, they seem to have accepted him as a kind of ne’er do well distant relative. I imagine them talking among themselves about when George would realize he had vastly overstayed his welcome and take his leave. I can see the dominant male of the group sighing and muttering, “Well, you know George…” The other geese nod and bob their heads in agreement. A few yards away an oblivious George waddles around, wiggling his tail feathers and poking around in the rubble of the harvested corn field.

He seems to have found a comfortable niche for himself. They all seem to get along, if not perhaps the closest of friends, at least amicable acquaintances who are comfortable splashing around in puddles together.

I am curious though…does George know he is not the same as the others? I often see him sleeping a distance apart from the group. Did they chase him away or is this his own preference? And when the flocks overhead are migrating, do the calls of his own kind stir him?  Does he feel a pang of longing? Does he look to the sky and measure what he has lost against the scant comfort he has found among the geese?

Finding a place to call home, to be with people we love and who love us, isn’t that what we long for? Sometimes the fear that we will never find that place, those people, can push us toward accepting the unacceptable as a viable substitute. It is easy to get derailed if we let fear call the shots. Following our dreams, believing that what we have always hoped for is truly achievable , is not an easy path. It can be painful and lonely and daunting. So if we step off that path, decide to settle for what is within our grasp instead of that which is unknown, can anyone really fault us?

Okay, so how big can a toad get? I mean, really?

We finally put in the vegetable garden this weekend. Nice planning on our part since we waited out some beautiful 73 degree weekends, and then ended up having to do it  in 90 deegree heat in order to actually have some veggies before October. Sunscreen, straw hat, sunglasses are of little protection when you are planting tomatoes and squash on what  feels like the surface of the sun.

As I  was working I heard some rustling nearby. Glancing over the garden fence I saw what initially looked like the rear end of a rabbit disappearing into a tunnel under the barn, the former home of George the groundhog. George apparently has moved on. God, I hope so. I don’t think I can take another incident of the dogs getting trapped after chasing George back into his warren of tunnels under the barn floor. After the last time we erected a fearsome barricade of fencing, firewood, lawn chairs and garden tools to keep them out. So far, it has worked, but the perimeter of the barn is looking a bit like a Rube Goldberg experiment.

Anyway, it took me a moment to realize I was actuallly looking at the colossal rear end of a toad. I think I had seen this same toad last year near the barn but it has clearly doubled in size. A testament to good eating I suppose. Clearly we must have a good selection of bugs on the menu.

This may even be the same creature known as Mr. Toad who lived closer to the house a few years ago and who used to phlegmatically stand his ground when the dogs and I came across him in the early morning. Back then, he reminded me of an amphibian ‘Columbo,’ the late great Peter Falk’s  memorable TV character, with his rumpled, somewhat world-weary demeanor. Good to know he may still be around.

So… how big can a toad get?

 

 

There’s something fascinating about Canadian geese. Yeah, I know, I know. They can be a pain when they use parks and lawns as their bathroom away from home. Or when they aggressively block a sidewalk forcing you to make an embarrassing detour around them. They are not that big really, and they don’t weigh anywhere near the poundage that their solid girth would lead you to believe. On the other hand, they can wield that sharp beak like a seasoned Samurai.

It helps me to realize that it’s nothing personal. They just want me nowhere near their family — especially if there are  baby geese naively meandering about. Their commitment and protection of their little family touches me. There will be times I see a group crossing a busy street with an adult goose in front and an equally watchful adult bringing up the rear. They take their duties very seriously. At least one is always on guard making sure everything is okay while the other goose and the goslings rest or feed.

I’ve written before on this blog about the evocative sound of geese on the wing. When it is a flock overhead, the sound stirs me to travel, to see new places and experience new things. But sometimes when it is a lone goose, the sound of its voice worries me. Is it lost? Scared? The honking seems plaintive, a beseeching ‘where are you?’ flung out across an empty sky.

I know geese mate for life. In college I remember reading stories of geese who essentially sacrificed themselves to follow a wounded mate down out of the sky after it had been shot. Some even physically trying to keep their partners aloft for a little longer.

In the past week I have come across a number of geese who are clearly looking for nest sites. These pairs are usually on their own and house hunting with intensity. A pair I startled in a field, immediately highstepped towards the nearby river bank. One of them quickly launched out into the relative safety of the water, the other remained for a bit looking back at me. The goose in the water started honking in a loud somewhat fractious manner. I have no doubt she or he was giving their partner an earful. I walked away to give them some space and the goose who had stayed behind keeping an eye on me, making sure I was not a threat, slid quietly into the water to join its mate.

Petticoat Junction

Image via Wikipedia

That’s one of those words (picked up from my New England friends) that perfectly fits today’s weather. Not a lot of snow but man is that cold wind wicked. You think you are prepared, parka – check, boots- check, gloves – check, and hat -check. Then you step outside and the wind zeroes right in on you. It howls around the corner, on the hunt for any exposed skin.

Eyes watering and cheeks burning I head to the barn for more firewood.  Along the way, I start singing  ‘Beast of Burden‘. Frozen puffs of breath puncuate the beat.  I’m counting on the cold keeping people inside, otherwise I would be a little more sotto voce in my vocalizations especially since I only know a few lines of the song. Okay, not even a few, just one, really. That is pretty much the case with my entire repertoire. I know one or two lines, at most. I try to make up for that deficiency with volume and enthusiasm. The real kicker is, the songs I do manage to remember, and remember fully are all those damn jingles from childhood and adolescence. More than a few of my brain cells are crammed full of that kind of dreck. Not Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, not the unedited works of Shakespeare…no, instead I am able to pull up the themes to ‘Petticoat Junction,’ ‘Green Acres,’ ‘The Patty Duke Show‘ and of course, ‘Mr. Ed.’

On my way back, wheelbarrow crammed full of stove wood, I check on the bird feeder. I have a battle raging with a neighborhood squirrel who has recently discovered the feeder. He has managed to figure out how to open the top where I pour in the seed and just sits there, gorging himself. Nearby an audience of seriously pissed off birds keep watch. I have countered each of his moves with my own devious ones, usually revolving around the use of duct tape. So now the once relatively attractive bird feeder is festooned with slabs of grey tape, in the faint hope it will keep the squirrel out.

 

photo by amjwrit

It has been a weird winter with precious little snow and warm temperatures. Having a few days of real winter weather now is refreshing and thhe snow is oh so  beautiful. There is something exhilarating about  the crisp clarity of really cold air. Even as it flash freezes my sinuses, it also seems to crystallize my thinking, sharpen my wits. Of course I am writing all this knowing full well there is little actual snow to shovel, and I  can retreat inside when I grow weary of being exhilarated. Then I can sit by the fire, mug of hot tea in hand and listen to the howling wind as my dog snores fitfully by my feet.

 

 

Great Horned Owl

Image by Andrew_N via Flickr

Outside again at 4 am after failing to convince the dog that needing to pee was all in her head. Not as cold as the last few mornings but cold enough — clothing choice is fleece not parka. Brilliant moon is on its slow arc downward in the night sky. Lots of activity out there tonight. At least one fox wailing into the darkness. Is it calling for a companion or identifying itself to the world at large? Whatever its purpose, I find a fox’s cry unsettling. Raw and urgent in its wildness, yet sounding at times almost vulnerable, like a creature in pain.

In the dark, with flashlight off now, I stand quietly, sharpening my senses. I gradually pick out other sounds — an owl in the distance, an odd clicking high up in a nearby tree, some rustling in the Bramble, an occasional small squeak. Though I love owls, their skill in total stealth flying has me glancing skyward more than once.

Years ago I volunteered at a bird rescue center and one of my tasks was cleaning out a great horned owl cage. I would remove the previous night’s entrée (dead mouse stuffed with vitamins) and replace it with a fresh one. I had been given a laundry list of what to do, and not to do, while in the walk-in cage. Don’t look the owl directly in the eyes (it might interpret my look as a threat) and always know where the owl is and what it is doing. Now at first glance (and second and third) those directives seem counter to one another. How do I know where the owl is if I can’t look at it and how can I look at it without  looking at it if you get my  meaning. And of course the clincher delivered dispassionately by my trainer, the owl is totally silent in flight and attack. In other words you won’t know it is on you until it is. No warning growl, no raised hackles as a visual cue. Oh and once they sink their claws in its impossible to get them to let go. They don’t respond well to ‘drop it.’ They are after all an apex predator, nothing screws with them. Well, except humans of course.

oookay.

To add to the fun I was entering the cage with dinner in my hand, and removing the remains of what, for all I knew, the owl had been saving to snack on later. I felt like an overeager waiter, clearing the table way too soon and pissing off the still-hungry customer.

So basically the entire time I was in the owl’s cage I kept my head pulled as tight down into my shoulders as I could. At the same time I would whip entirely around at odd moments trying to get a feel for where the bird was.

In retrospect, I am surprised the great horned owl didn’t fall off its perch laughing.

I came across this amazing owl video not too long ago. The end of the clip when the owl unfurls its claws is absolutely chilling,  just imagine it from a mouse or bunny perspective.

English: Red squirrel on bird-feeder On the la...

Image via Wikipedia

Squirrels are not on my top ten list of favorite animals. In fact I find myself fairly neutral about them…now. At one time years ago when I maintained an absurd number of  bird feeders in the backyard I found myself engaged in a battle of wits with an exploding population of squirrels. (Time out here for a Monty Python-like image of squirrels running around the backyard literally exploding one by one…)  Hmmm. Guess I’m not quite as neutral as I thought.

The depressing thing is I usually  lost the battle of wits with these little furballs. I kept adding baffles and extenders and all sorts of costly devices to keep them  off the feeders. They kept blithely ignoring my efforts and finding new ways around what was rapidly turning into a scene out of Rube Goldberg‘s world. I almost came to admire their persistence. I realize of course they were driven by the pressures of basic survival. Though maybe it was more than that since eventually I had the fattest squirrels on the block.

The day I found myself greasing the feeder poles with vaseline was the day I realized I had lost the war…and clearly, my mind. I ceded the battlefield.

In the interests of full disclosure, during the height of the squirrel wars, I found an injured baby squirrel who had fallen from its nest onto the street. Worried that the neighborhood cats would get it if I just let nature take its course I took it to a wildlife rehab center where it was treated  and eventually released into the wild. No doubt eventually finding its way back to my yard for its rightful share of the birdseed bounty.

 

Ticked-off

This has been a bad year for ticks. Actually, it’s been a good year for ticks, a bad one for humans and their pets. The dogs race inside the house inevitably carrying a commuter or two. Luckily having white hair (or fur, I don’t know the difference) it is easy to spot ticks on them. Sometimes. And sometimes it isn’t until I am petting one of the girls that I discover one of the little buggers attached to the skin. And boy, do they attach. As gentle as I try to be, with my semi-official tick removal kit (alcohol, cotton balls, tick tweezers, neosporin) at the ready, there is no way to detach a tick without some discomfort. For everyone involved. I am including the tick since it does have a stake in this, though it is of short duration, culminating in the flush of a toilet.

Even as I write this I feel twitchy. Soon I’ll start whipping around to search out the cause of an errant itch or twinge. I know this about mysef. I get caught up in the ickiness and start envisioning some kind of tick SWAT team studying maps, gathering tiny little climbing gear and figuring out how to take me down. No matter my neurotic fantasy, the reality is I do find them on me. So far it’s been as they are ambling along, kind of window shopping as it were. I don’t know if I’ve missed any who had time for a sit-down meal. Inevitable, I suppose. I try to be careful but I am not going to let these bloodsuckers deprive me of walking in the woods or enjoying the winter sun sprawled out on a grassy slope somewhere. I’ll just have to accept that after indulging in any close-to-the-earth activity I’ll need to carry out a ruthless search and destroy mission.

Ticks- ick.

Gazing out the window this morning I spotted two deer making their way through a neighbor’s yard. I wasn’t sure what deer clan they were part of. Generally I get to know the little groups that hang out around the house. But unless this is the remnants of the trio (Mom and two youngsters) that were around all summer I’ve no clue.

photo by amjwriter

The deer walked around the neighbor’s house, peered in a few windows and looked remarkably like they were casing the joint …watching them through binoculars I began to feel like a member of the local town watch. Finally they found what they had been looking for, a great spot protected by overhanging bushes and warmed by the sun. I’ve seen deer lying down in nearby yards before, though admittedly the first few times I was surprised and intrigued by how comfortable and safe they must feel here. No real dog threat to worry them, not at least on this side of the creek. Our dogs, I’m sure, annoy them no end, piling out the backdoor as they do, racing down the fence line, barking all the way. But they are not vicious dogs and are small enough that the deer seem to view them with amusement at times. At one point this summer there was a casual get together of a number of deer under the apple tree. One of the dogs was snugged up to the fence quietly watching them when a young fawn started over to her. We watched absolutely spellbound as the fawn hesitated, retreated and then approached again. This particular dog is very friendly and was quite likely to lick the fawn if it got close enough. In the meantime the matriarch of the group was keeping a vigilant eye on all this and was also aware of us sitting on the deck watching quietly. She apparently had our number as she paid us little mind. She  finally stepped in and intervened when the fawn got a little too close for her comfort. The group gathered round and moved up the hill. Cocktail hour was over.

Today, the two deer settled into their first-class accommodations for some quiet time. The smaller deer was curled up in a ball with head buried in its fur while the bigger one watched the surroundings for a while, ears pricked forward, listening…Gradually the ears eased back, the deer’s eyes relaxed to half-mast then closed. It was a beautiful and peaceful scene.

A short while later I glanced out the window to check on them and they were gone.

photo by amjwriter

Take A Breath

I stood outside late last night and took in long breaths of frost-rimed air. It is in the 30s-40s here at night now and the air quality is amazing. Maybe because I spend a considerable amount of time each year stuffed up due to allergies, but when both nostrils are clear at the same time…whee! I get a little giddy. Probably from the extra oxygen. The air tasted pure and sweet like water from a mountain stream. With each breath it felt like I was cleansing my lungs…my mind, my heart. Clearing out all the crap that creeps in throughout the day and starts gathering in dark corners.

photo by amjwriter

The air reminds me of my childhood when I spent some time in the Adirondacks. I stayed at what was called ‘Camp’ by my relatives. It was an older wood house without electricity, water or plumbing set back from the banks of a river. Camp had been shared by my extended family for a long time. My grandparents especially adored the time they spent there and I love looking at their old photos from that time. It was an idyllic place it seemed, both a refuge and a playground. Images of swimming, fishing, reading, talking, playing cards, and  laughter, especially the laughter, are all captured in these now fading photographs.

I came in on the tail end of this time period when my grandparents were much older and there had been some losses already among the group who had gathered there so joyfully in the 30s, 40s and 50s. I spent relatively little time at Camp yet it left an indelible impression. My  love of nature and the outdoors most likely had its genesis there. My childhood was primarily  in a suburban environment, yet the few visits I made up to the Adirondacks remain vibrant memories. Not whole memories, just glimpses. Almost like when you look through a frosted window. A few swipes with a sweatered elbow and you clear a circle barely large enough for a glimpse of the other side. That’s my memory of childhood, a blinkered look into the past. I am not sure if I envy those with more fully realized memories or not. The really good, happy memories I carry close to my heart are sometimes bittersweet in retrospect, carrying with them after images of change, loss and broken promises.

But those times in the Adirondacks had a magical quality predating a lot of that. I remember the amazing air, the night sky dazzling with stars, the smell of the sandy path through scrubby pine down to the river. That scent in particular is linked to a wealth of memories. They sweep over me if I smell something similar. It happens rarely but when it does I am transported back for a few sweet moments. I can feel myself wanting to linger, to sit down with my grandparents just one more time. But then the memory just wisps away like mist in the rising dawn.

There were some fearsome aspects to my time at Camp. The outhouse comes vividly to mind. There were spiders in there that were monstrous, especially in the dark. I seem to recall rustling and glittering eyes as I tried to rush through the process and return to the safety of the kerosene-lanterned house.

Cougar / Puma / Mountain Lion / Panther (Puma ...

One morning we found bloodied paw prints of a mountain lion tracking across the porch. A scary thing, yet thrilling too

in its wildness.

I also remember going down to the river for water, the sound of the old metal pails as we walked   through the woods.  The shock of how cold  the water was. It came straight off the mountain and I’ve never tasted anything as good.  The quiet was remarkable, broken only by one of my favorite sounds to this day, wind moving through the trees, brushing branches aside, rustling leaves.

It is not as quiet where I live now but not too bad. As I stand breathing in the night air I hear an owl hooting softly in the distance. After a moment, another owl answers. I listen and wonder what they are saying to one another. Perhaps it is as simple as ‘I am here.’

Hawk Morning

Yesterday morning was incredibly bright, clear and cold. When I walked outside, doing my usual Dick Van Dyke slip on the frosted deck, I heard the hawk that hangs out in the neighborhood calling. For once he was in a tree close enough for me to take a few photos. Here they are…