Monthly Archives: October 2012

The air smells of evergreen sap. Lots of trees, mostly evergreen, fell around me. In the wooded piece of my lot by the pond, a White pine that has often been home to Red-tailed hawks, dropped a truck-sized limb.

Two trees fell in the driveway along which my phone and power lines to the back house run as soon as the storm hit. Can you find my phone line?

More evergreens fell blocking the end of the road. The relative speed — less than 24 hours — with which these trees drew a crew gives me hope that we will have power back sooner than we did following Irene.

The end of the road.

The sun and the tree clearing crew (from Tennessee) arrive.

For all the great smell of freshly cut evergreens, the air is also full of sounds of generator rumble — generous levels of decibels. I needed an aspirin (me! and, of course, it was something aspirin-like not aspirin itself that I took) yesterday to battle a headache from the noise. Generator noise does seem to trump chain saw noise. maybe that’s a silver lining.

The kitchen window screen is stored in the basement in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy and perhaps after that the real onset of winter weather. Much as I appreciate screens for their bug deterrence, they dampen the hues of the view. So in the run up to the storm, I am enjoying freely flowing water in the sink and saturated color in the grass, fading garden and the Norway maple that has yet to release its leaves.

The siren of the emergency radio just whined to life with a message about the storm’s likely impact on Rhode Island — none of it reassuring.

The birds have their own warning systems. They have been at the feeders incessantly for the past couple of days. They queue up at the different perches as though they have been schooled by a bird world Emily Post in the etiquette of feeder behavior.

Let’s see how civil we all are in the aftermath.

Winslow Homer, Fox Hunt, 1893

Its face hidden, its ears up, its tail bushy, its fur rufus, the fox by the side of the road had been hunted down by a car not a crow. But its resemblance to Winslow Homer’s painting was otherwise unmistakable.

Possums and raccoons disgorged by traffic are troubling to me only for their gore. I have no further affinity with them. But the past week has been fatal to many of their elk expanding my interest to wonder whether fall is a particularly lethal time for animals with crepuscular habits perhaps because dusk settles in at at the same time as drivers are rushing home after work.

The death of the fox was troubling not for its gore, which I barely noticed, but because I knew it from Homer’s painting. Admittedly, Homer’s fox is not yet dead, but the anticipation of its death is palpable as it struggles through deep snow with crows ready to attack should it succumb. The fox dead on the road might also have been on a desperate mission to find food or shelter — one that drew it out of the relative safety of the meadow and onto the road. As with Homer’s painting, I’ll never know, but I won’t forget the image.

This gallery contains 3 photos.

The Aster authority said the meadow needed sunflowers. The compost pile heard and produced one.  And the guest house garden is blooming with the sunflowers from Blue Moon Farm that I planted last fall. His wish is granted, although not in the meadow.

This gallery contains 2 photos.

The cookie tins are red on the sides with pine cones on the lid. I bought 6 of them last winter to store last year’s verbena harvest. Three of them still hold tea. But this year’s growing season is coming to an end, and I’ve not had luck with wintering over verbena. So I harvested …

Read More

“The people who post what they had for lunch — they are the worst.” So said my journalist friend with 1,000 Facebook friends none of whom he knows. He doesn’t read my blog so here’s a photo of a recent lunch with one of the last tomatoes of the season.

Lunch of the last tomato from the garden

Once in a while, a newspaper article speaks directly to a personal conversation. That happened in this week’s Science Times. Simon Winchester, who I know through his very good book on the creators of the Oxford English Dictionary and subsequent less good books, but who does not know me, answered an old question of mine: why don’t woodpeckers have terrible headaches?

Many readers of this blog will know that this matter has perplexed me for years. Some one of you may have helped me evolve what I had come to think was the answer, namely that the woodpecker’s brain is mounted on a pair of swings that allow it to move with the impact of the bird’s drilling. I don’t remember how I formulated that idea, but it has given me some comfort. Apparently, it is not what prevents headaches in the woodpecker.

Winchester reports:

“Both creatures [rams and woodpeckers] happen to have very dense skulls, especially in that rounded rear area known as the braincase, where they are built like armored cars. Crucially, their braincases are also unusually smooth inside.

The brains of most animals that are prone to head banging — these include deer and other antlered mammals, as well as various birds — are relatively small and (unlike a human’s) smooth-surfaced; and they’re bathed in only small amounts of cerebrospinal fluid, leaving little room for the brain to move and be shocked by the sudden decelerations and accelerations of their weaponized heads.

Moreover, both rams and woodpeckers are scrupulous in the precise, single-direction fashion in which they smash their heads into things, whether trees or one another: The aim is such that there’s very little side-to-side torsion exerted on the brain, none of the movement that induces whiplash injury and other kinds of damage.”

He debunks my swing solution with the idea of small, smooth brain in a tight space, but I may still wince when I hear the drilling.