Author Archives: Susan Marcus

The King and I attended the coronation yesterday; he from a throne, me from a bedroom. I had not intended to be there. I’m not a monarchy follower. But the Times invited me, and it was 06;30, so I clicked. My English friend, Sue, had said she wanted a channel where the announcers would know the difference between the Prince of Wales and and the Duke of Cornwall (I think this is a title switch for William but I’m not sure). The Times thankfully had no commentary. As I tuned in, a boy’s choir was filling the space of the Westminster Abbey with the sweetest sounds. So I stayed.

While Charles laid his chubby hands on various artifacts symbolizing many virtues — although assembled through sticky fingers and requiring the labor for their composition of who know how many subservient peoples — I brushed my teeth and attended to other morning rituals.

There were many incantations of “Long live the king” and “May the king live forever.” Was Charles III remembering the final days of Charles I (beheaded) and Charles II (suffering bloodletting and plasters of pigeon dung applied to his feet — the source for the latter piece of information was a medical research colleague of my former husband’s at our dinner table in Georgetown — and hoping he might indeed live forever. I wouldn’t blame him. Although he is a couple of years younger than I, he no doubt is giving more thought to his own death. But nowadays we die hooked up to infusions of poisons or our body’s oxygen cycle breaks down (Sherwin Nuland, How We Die).

It was hard to tell what Charles was thinking. He looked bored or as though he might cry or vomit. What are the appropriate facial expressions for such an event?

Charles III was in fact second fiddle to the clergy, just as the monarchy was to the Church of England. The main cleric told God he was Justin somebody of Canterbury. I didn’t catch his full name, but I thought of Justinian the Great, the 6th century Eastern Roman Emperor, whom I can picture from the mosaics of San Vitale in Ravenna. Charles III’s Justin needed another robed figure to hold a binder with his text which apparently he had not memorized. I guess that’s understandable. This was the first coronation in 70 years, so he had never conducted one himself. The Times cameramen allowed me to see that some bits of the text he was to read had been highlighted with a yellow marker. I have a new-found interest in Canterbury as I’ve recently come to know that my ancestors wills from the 16th to the 18th century are stored there. And I have a recently published book, The Wife of Bath, on my reading list. Such were my thoughts at the coronation.

Justinian the Great in a photo by Petar Milošević

Charles, too, not II, was — like me — changing his clothes. He was helped out of one garb, reveling what looked like his nightgown, and then redressed in a gold bathrobe. I would, without assistance, take off my flannel nightgown with an improvised Scottish plaid and put on my jeans once I finished my morning exercise routine. But the next bit gave me reason to think about my genes.

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name…” I said the prayer along with Justin mildly amazed that I still know the words (almost) flawlessly. I learned the prayer as a girl but have not repeated it as an adult. I’m fairly sure my kids could not recite the Lord’s Prayer. They might not even know what it is. I was doing sun salutations when we got to the prayer. Yes, this coronation was to be diverse and here I was performing an ancient Indian, i.e., colonized people’s, ritual. Fitting.

My weather report said the day would be warmer than previous days and sunnier. I planned to be out in the garden. as soon as I finished breakfast. By now the newly crowned king and his queen were inside a gold chariot that must have been the source for Walt Disney’s pumpkin-cum-carriage. Outside in London, it was either raining or had just been raining. the streets were wet; rain had splashed the camera lens. My English friend, Sarah, had told me, Bill and Mijo before we ventured out to walk the Cotswold Way some years ago in May, that May was the rainiest month in England. Why had the royal crew chosen May for the coronation when it could hold it anytime. Maybe there is a high probability it will be raining any day in England. Maybe the horses — Lord there were so many horses where were they all stabled when not parading — prefer a cool wet day if they have to carry drummers and trombonists down paved streets.

Disney’s chariot passed through the gates of Buckingham Palace. A bagpipe blew. The King and I were finished. He had his instructions from God about how to behave. I was heading out to play a form of God dictating to plants and seeds my plans for the season. I know, and I suspect the King knows as well, that no matter what our plans may be, forces beyond our control will have the final say. Amen.

Project FeederWatch set 17 to 20 February as the window for this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count (GBYC). I used Cornell’s eBird Mobile app to record birds who came to the feeders on the last 2 days of the count. A disappointing number of species showed up to be tallied, although Mr. and Mrs. Wild Turkey strolled into the count one day. Otherwise, I could report only on several usual suspects: Tufted Titmice and Black-capped Chickadees, 2 Norther Cardinals, 1 Hairy and 1 Downy Woodpeckers, 1 White-throated Sparrow –really not many of any.

Yesterday — the GBYC over, I passed the kitchen window and could not miss a class of mixed-species Aves at the feeders. Grabbing my binoculars I confirmed a first-of-year (FOY) male House Finch, a FOY Mourning Dove, a runway’s worth of Dark-eyed Juncos who dress like fashionistas — a pink beak, a beautiful grey-blue slate-colored coat and white belly, a Common Grackle with its pale yellow eye ring that contrasts with the blues, greens and blacks of its iridescent wing feathers, and what my friend Carla calls THE harbinger of spring — a male Red-winged Blackbird showing only its pale yellow coverts in these days before mating plumage, the eponymous red coverts not yet expressed. Several year-round birds gathered as well: 2 of the 4 pairs of Norther Cardinals, one of the uncountable Hairy Woodpeckers, a babel of Chickadees, and an invasion of Blue Jays,

They were all there two days after the Great Backyard Bird Count closed. I took no photos but sang a birdsong of gratitude.

A red-tailed hawk is doing neck rolls as he awaits his next meal. He caught my eye when he flew from the sugar maple to the choke cherry. He perched patiently while I scrambled to first get my binoculars and then to replace the battery in the camera I haven’t used in ages. I did get a good look at him and this not very good photo. His head feathers are a reddish brown, rufous I would call them. Sibley calls his breast feathers streaked. All his plumage is fluffing in the wind.

More commonly I detect his presence — and he is a resident here — when his shadow sweeps across the garden. That means I don’t usually have all the time I’ve had this morning to study him perched on a branch. He is a massive bird. This I can tell from his shadow. He is very broad; his tail short and his beak hooked. I’m glad not to be a small mammal in the meadow.

The birds who come into the feeder are not disturbed by his presence, since he is primarily a consumer of small mammals. It’s below freezing this morning, which may explain why he is meal hasn’t yet appeared. I had to leave for a meeting before he left his lookout so I can’t report on his meal.

The meadow got its spring haircut today. All the tidiness post cut is traumatic and troublesome but temporary. This year it also takes on a new meaning.

I read a book this winter by Isabelle Tree called Wilding: The Return of Nature to a British Farm. While I’m not a European farmer, I have subscribed to the prevailing theory Tree describes that necessitates the mow:

“As any European farmer knows, if you leave a patch of land abandoned, it soon reverts to scrub and, eventually, tall trees. It is the state known as ‘climax vegetation’ — the destination which nature is supposedly endlessly struggling to reach. Before human impact — the prevailing theory goes — any land with the climate, soil and hydrology for trees to grow was covered with closed-canopy forest. By the late 19th century…closed-canopy forest came to be seen as the natural state of European landscape.” (page 62)

Mower in action.

But Tree doesn’t buy it.

“This theory of closed forest overlooks another force of nature altogether, one that works in opposition to vegetative succession, namely animal disturbance…The extinction of large wild animals encouraged closed-canopy forests that replaced wood pasture.”

So, the annual through partial mow is still required. Only the reason for it can now be explained differently: I have “no old, sturdy, primeval grazing animals living in herds without supplemental feeding to create and sustain a species-rich grsssland” through munching, trampling or otherwise disturbing.

Jungle no more or not until mid summer.

Today’s disturbance was not only on the ground but also in the air.

A Bald eagle must have wagered that a vole or two would be uncovered as the mower chomped through the brush because one circled overhead. But the resident Red-tailed hawk also had his eye on the field for the same reason and with some propriety. Two raptors of different species is one too many. An airborne battle ensued, which the eagle won. He claimed the airspace from a perch in the choke cherry.

The grassland species won’t miss a beat. They will continue their annual cycle. The aviary population — seeking lunch and nesting materials, maybe also a shield from raptors — may have a couple of weeks of distress, all because we have to rely on a mechanical marauder to groom the meadow annually.

Today is the Spring Equinox of 2021. But, really, this post is a summary of the last season in photos since it is so overdue. The global pandemic kept me grounded which meant I and others did lots more clearing last spring of unwanted plants in the meadow. Ryan and Emily cleared truckload after truckload …

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Birding on Block Island a few years back, a fellow birder, but someone I know only slightly, said to me something like “good thing you got your bulb fixed.”

Our little flock of birders had reached the point at the end of the Island where we would turn around. We were taking a break from birding to marvel at the vista of the Block Island Sound from atop a bluff. It was a picture perfect day.

“Bulb fixed?” What in heavens name was he talking about? Was he even talking to me? I turned from taking in the view of the Sound to look at him just to check. Yes, he was talking to me.

It seems he had read a recent blog post of mine about confounding — much the way he had just confounded me — my car repair man as I paid the bill for replacing a car light bulb with an out-of-context comment. “Good thing I am not a black man…I might be dead,” I had said to the repair man. You can read the post from 2017-07-24 here.

in July 2016, Philando Castile, a Black 32-year old had been fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer after being pulled over for a broken tail light. Castile’s girl friend was in the car with him. In June 2017, a jury acquitted the police officer. That brought back memories for me of the case of Walter Scott who had been killed by a police officer in Charleston after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. Black men frequently die for burned out car light bulbs.

As I paid the very small bill for my own tail light replacement, I could hear Joan Baez singing “There but for fortune go you or I.” That night I wrote a blog about broken car lights.

George, my Block Island birding friend, brought all this back when he posted a note on my most recent blog. I write my blogs for me, but of course posting makes them public. People’s comments often take me by surprise. Somebody’s reading these?

Just as I was thinking again about George, Philando, Walter, Joan and my privilege as a white person able to be fearless even should I neglect a broken car light bulb, I got an email via WordPress with another comment on Meadow Restoration to approve.

This one was tied to a post called August 4th from 2015. Why now? August 4th is approaching but this reader, a person I don’t know, already contacted me when I posted that blog five years ago. She’s a friend of the Crowell Hilaka Preserve in Richfield Ohio that used to be a Girl Scout camp where my friend Sallie Parker was struck and killed by lightning on August 4th 1959. Remembering Sallie was the subject of the blog. The woman from the preserve sent me a pdf of the plaque commemorating Sallie’s death. How did she find my small press blog?

“There but for fortune go you or I” often plays in my head when I think about Sallie. Maybe this is my theme song. As the lightning struck her, Sallie fell on the little girl sharing her pup tent. That little girl would have been me had my parents agreed that I could go from DC back to Ohio to join Sallie for another year at camp.

Blogging for me is largely an exercise in record keeping. When did the monarchs return this year versus last is the customary fodder for my posts. My sister thinks I should hew to the theme of meadow restoration when I post, avoiding light bulbs and death anniversaries. Maybe she’s right, although I feel I can write whatever I want since this is such a personal exercise.

Particularly in these pandemic days I have realized how lucky I am to have a big old field in which to putter and about which to blog. The restoration is as much of me as it is of the meadow. Any reader is taking his chances with my posts.

To my enormous relief, the first Monarch appeared tardily on 2 July. It took me until this week to catch it in a photo. I am beginning to see several.

The fawn is in all-day day care without an attendant in the lower portion of the meadow. I flush it on my way to pick blueberries. I had not realized that it would not be part of a family in its neonatany. That seems to be a word I made up to refer to the long period of development between birth and becoming an adult, but I’m sticking to it.

The fawn’s experience of childhood is quite different from that of a poult. The turkeys form gaggles (“rafter” is the collective noun according to “An Exaltation of Larks“) that roam the gardens and field. Each rafter consists of a odd number of adults and a scurry (my collective noun) of poults. No child left behind with turkeys.

The ground hog has not made himself visible for over two weeks. More importantly, the plants in the vegetable garden have not been decimated. In fact, I took a grocery bag full of yellow and green squash and a large bunch of chard to the Jonnycake Food Pantry — the first of several such deliveries I predict. I’m daring to hope that the ground hog found the Kennel House inhospitable after the installation of the 4-foot fortress and has departed for greener pastures.

A single baby bunny did not get a mention in the returning section of the previous report. However, I had one. And following the reproductive realities of rabbitdom, the colony now has two members. The 1/4 inch hardware cloth also keeps them out of the vegetable garden, but they (and I) are content with their consumption of clover blossoms. Like deer, adult rabbits don’t seem to invest too much effort in raising their young, perhaps because they so frequently find their lives truncated by a predator’s meal plan.

By 7;35 Monday 15 June I had looked out my bathroom window to see a pair of grackles mating in front of the bird feeder and stepped out on the porch to catch the first romps of a fawn. The Scrooge in me said, “damn, more of them!” but as a patroness of the meadow, I also had to admit to the privilege of such witnessing.

The fawn was adorable — all covered in speckles and testing its legs by racing around in wide circles. Its mother was trying to catch up with it to finish licking off the amniotic sac. Cute but not cute enough to want deer around.

Advice on eliminating or at least substantially reducing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is to cull the deer population by 90%. Erring on the conservative side, which would not be my preference, would cull this pack who appeared in April back to three. Even that would be a relief. In a restructured, post-covid world, I’d love to see resources spent on such a project. It would pay for itself I’m sure in the savings for the medical treatments and the reduced disabilities, which can be life-long, resulting from the disease. But here are photos of the other reason I could do with fewer deer: the chomping they do on plants. Images from before deer browse and after.

In the returning or emerging from hibernation category, I recently had my first good look (even if the photo isn’t) from that same bathroom window at the groundhog. My neighbors lent me their very large have-a-heart trap when I had evidence he was out of hibernation even if I hadn’t yet seen him. That was a couple of months ago. I pondered briefly what I would do once I had the groundhog in the trap, but decided those odds were so long that I could postpone giving that any thought. How right I was. Although last year this groundhog eat large helpings of kale from the veggie garden, he did not fall for kale as bait when in the trap. He is supposed to love cantaloupe as well. Not this one. My success with the trap was in causing the groundhog to move from under the folly back to his previous haunt under the kayaks. He’s still a free groundhog.

In the long interval of not catching him, he’s had time to break into the garden. So far he hasn’t. Scott finished re-enforcing the perimeter fence with 4-foot quarter-inch hardware cloth buried 2 feet. If this is the new deal: groundhog eats clover flowers in the grass but nothing in the veggie garden, I can return the trap to my neighbors and congratulate myself for not wasting time wondering what to do with a captured animal.

Other returners include the Baltimore orioles and the Ruby-throated hummingbirds who came back on schedule. And while I can’t count bees are returning, I unpacked a nuc of Carnolian bees into a hive on Monday. The nuc with its five busy frames of bees and a marked queen (blue dot) is henceforth the way I will replenish my bee yard. My previous method of renewing a hive by buying a package of bees is history.

Baltimore orioles at feeder

In the missing category — and this is serious — are the monarchs who have not returned. In past years, they have come back sometime in the first 2 weeks of June. Last year they were here on Flag Day. The milkweed is ready for them, and this year’s crop is a good one. I can’t imagine what a loss it will be if they don’t arrive. The privilege of monitoring this old field will be drastically diminished. More importantly, what does this foretell of the crisis facing the Monarch population? I’ll trade deer for the Monarchs.

Scott blew Oscar’s cover. Or, more precisely, Scott began the spring restoration of Oscar’s borrowed meadow by mowing sections back to their proverbial studs. Now Oscar, the neighbor’s cat who, despite my protests, spends the preponderance of his time in my meadow satisfying his hunger for birds, mice, voles and frogs, is disoriented, if I interpret circling and circling and circling cat behavior correctly.

Before meadow mowing photos above; mowed below. Can you find Oscar in the mowed shot? Hint: in the middle ground heading towards the unmowed little bluestem.


Early spring brings changes in addition to the annual mowing of rotating sections of the meadow. The Red-winged blackbirds returned in time to be counted in the Feeder Watch Project (mid February). They didn’t start with their reliable “spring’s here” gurgling call until a few weeks later. (Do they await the calendar arrival of spring?) The first American robin came back for St Patrick’s Day; now there are at least three hopping, stopping, listening then lunging.

Days now begin with an hour’s worth of birdsong although the full chorus isn’t assembled yet. The peepers are calling insistently from sunset until well into the evening from the trees beside the pond.

Buds are swelling with the longer daylight, the grass is greening in the rains and the Sanguinaria canadensis (blood-root) is blooming.

But away from the meadow, early spring this year has been like no other. I can almost sympathize with unwelcome Oscar circling aimlessly aghast at what has happened. “His” meadow, like “my” world, has been mowed down. Of course, the meadow will regrow. What are the odds that the larger world will do the same especially in a season? I hope greater than it feels right now.