Friday, April 30, 2010

Wind is in the Air

A gray tree frog called from the woods while I weeded around the shrubs and the blueberry bushes. The tulips looked glorious in the setting sun. Strong winds kept the bugs at bay. A perfect spring afternoon in our yard.

Looking beyond the neighborhood things are far less sanguine. The winds worry the minds of my farmer friends at New Roots Farm. They lost one greenhouse and some other structures to the hurricane-force storm in February. So, whenever the wind whips up they get nervous, rightly so. Wind in recent days was blustery enough to prevent the laying of plastic, the precursor to planting crops. The greenhouses are full of flats of seedlings waiting to be planted. I wish I could blow the wind away.

Wind is in the news. Cape Wind -- the 130 wind turbine project in Nantucket Sound -- was finally approved, although lawsuits are sure to follow. Likely there are environmental costs, yet many opponents seem more concerned about the impact on their viewshed.

Cape Wind seems at first glance far more preferable to the Upper Big Branch mine that exploded, killing 29 men. And preferable to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that also blew up killing 11 men and which now threatens the ecology and livelihood of the Gulf Coast. And preferable to so-called "renewable" large-scale energy projects such as the proposed solar arrays planned for the Mohave Desert -- read Chris Clarke's blog here to learn more about those impacts.

Sometimes it all seems too crazy to think about. The tree frog and the tulips and the phoebe sitting on its nest under the deck offer a welcome diversion. My thoughts will turn back soon enough to energy. Perhaps a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson is apt: "Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." I'm looking for those who've left a trail to a safer and more sane energy future, rather than an oily path leading from a blown rig to the coastal marshes of the Mississippi delta.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Today I heard a black-and-white warbler sing his weesee, weesee, weesee, the first one of the spring. On the same walk I noticed the mottled green-purplish-brown leaves of the trout lily and the single yellow flower dangling among each pair of leaves. The peach tree flowers seemed to have weathered the cold, wet night. The late winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow in the last 24 hours farther north missed us thankfully. It's been a good day.
But the best part of today was that my laptop returned home with all files intact. Ed at DOT Technologies in Dover worked on it for a week and somehow cleaned, repaired, patched, and generally worked magic on a dying hard drive; long enough to copy all my files, photos, emails, and software programs onto a new hard drive.

I do not know what killed my hard drive. It could have been a virus or spyware or adware or malware, or just a bad hard drive. I've learned a few things though. Back-up often - daily is best. Be careful what you click on - do not rush. Find a good computer repair shop - they can work magic.  Ensure that your anti-virus is working. And to borrow a phrase, Know Hope.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Crash

My VAIO laptop computer crashed last Tuesday. It went wobbly on me, neither shutting down nor booting up properly. Of course I back-up my computer regularly, but for some reason I neglected that task in the last few weeks. Not a good strategy.

My hard drive is dying as I write. This weekend it sits alone at a computer repair shop. Ed the repairman thought he solved the problem on Friday by cleansing the computer of a virus. But he called back to say that the operating system was unstable in a curious way. The next move was for Ed to try transferring (saving) all my files onto a new hard drive before the existing one dies. I have not heard from him since. Maybe tomorrow. There are things I wish I had done before my computer got sick from a virus or some other malady. Note to self: back-up daily. Be well computer.

The benefit of having a computer in the shop is that you spend far more time gardening, reading, cooking, training a dog, visiting with family, and ignoring the national news. Not a bad outcome.

Our two-week dog-sitting stint ended Friday morning when Phil picked up Teak. Kodi and Teak enjoyed many outdoor romps that included some epic (playful) battles, although on the last walk Teak bolted for the car. Still, he seemed mopey the day that he had to leave.

Teak and Kodi on one of our daily walks; unusual calm

Kodi has started regular (2-3 times per week) doggie daycare at the Yellow Dog Barn. Two young women own and run the place. They host anywhere from 25 to 40 dogs a day. The dogs have several play times in groups of about 15 dogs each with nap times in crates in between. Each day they post pictures of the dogs playing or resting. Kodi will be there this week Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday so feel free to check out the Yellow Dog website and see Kodi in action. He takes play time seriously, so rarely is he resting in any photos.

We've moved into week three of basic obedience. Kodi is pretty good with the basics when he wants to be; other times he can be good at ignoring me. After 4 weeks living with us he seems to have bonded. He is affectionate with both of us, although he seems a little uncertain of most men. In his mind all women are good apparently. One thing is for sure - he loves water, yet he still has not learned to swim. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Turnips, Pigs, and Salamanders

I spent a few hours at New Roots Farm this morning, my weekly visit to help out in exchange for amazing seedlings and fresh vegetables as the season goes along. After a near collapse of the tomato crop last year from late blight and a hurricane-force wind storm that took down their newly constructed greenhouse in February, the farm looks as good as ever. Jeff and Renee persevere - they are farmers.

New Roots has a larger crew of helpers this year that includes interns, assistants, and volunteers. The new greenhouse is rebuilt and is already filling up with seedlings. The garlic is eight inches tall and growing. The sheep and goats graze on fresh pasture. The pigs feast on turnips.

Emily, one of the young interns, and I helped clean out a few hoop houses in preparation for new plantings. We pulled a raised bed full of turnips that had gone to seed. Three bushels of roots, stalks, and flowers were carried up to the pigs. They like turnips more than me. Rarely do farmers let root vegetables go to seed. As Emily noted, the flowers of many root vegetables are quite beautiful, perhaps worthy of their own root vegetable flower garden.

The pigs enjoy freshly pulled turnips, flowers and all

The hoop houses are warm and moist so various animals live there too. The voles are plentiful, but not welcome. Renee overturned a board and uncovered a rather uncommon and beautiful blue-spotted salamander, which was left to carry on. On a farm some visitors are welcome and some are not.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Mayflower in April

One of the best times for a walk in the woods is just after (or during) an April shower. We are at the tail end of four days of rain - steady but not hard rain. The sun, yet to emerge, is still working its way through the clouds. Meanwhile, as the rain subsides raindrops linger at the tips of buds, the underside of twigs, and on newly emerged leaves.

April showers are truly meant for May flowers, especially the Canada mayflower. This diminutive woodland wildflower carpets the forest floor. Its green leaves shine in the understory, freshly rinsed by the recent rain.

The Canada mayflower, Maianthemum canadense, also known as wild lily-of-the-valley, will sprout starry-white flower clusters in May. But I think April is its month and the leaves steal the show.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Blooming shadbush herald the first run of American shad migrating upstream to spawn in New England rivers. The early blooms also mark the beginning of planting season, which feels a little early this year. The silvery shad are not running yet, and certainly run in far fewer numbers if at all, compared to historic times. Dams and pollution messed up their migratory paths. But the shadbush are in full flower, regardless of the fate of the shad.

In late afternoon, as the sun drifted toward the horizon, I set out with Kodi for a walk. We barely made it to the end of the driveway when he yawned and sat. He was tired. Today he went to the Yellow Dog Barn for a half-day of doggie daycare. There he played with 15 other dogs and was surely overwhelmed on his first day as new dog in the school.

Since Kodi was drowsy I put him back in his car crate where he drifted off to sleep. I set out on my own for a walk-about the neighborhood in pursuit of the flowering shadbush. The small tree or large bush grows in slightly moist soils at the edge of fields and pastures and along roads. Not far from home I found a half dozen in bloom. The flower clusters snow white beneath an April blue sky.

Amelanchier canadensis is known by many names -- shadbush, serviceberry, Juneberry. By whatever name you choose it is the shrubby plant sprouting pure white flowers in mid-April.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shredding the Constitution

This was a good day to start Kodi's basic obedience training. The day he decided to shred the Constitution.

Dog toys are strewn across our floor, but Kodi likes paper and books and human things. He does not go after furniture legs (like Aria did when she was a pup). Instead, he likes movable objects that he can pull off shelves or sofas. He is stealthy too, sneaking quietly into the next room to look for his next target.

He clearly was not purposely shredding the Constitution. Being in this household he knows its value. Unlike the tea partiers gathered in Boston who seem to want to shred the real thing. Maybe I should send them this copy to satisfy their urges. But why waste time on them. Back to Kodi.

We joined about nine other women and their dogs at the Ellis dog training center- the dogs were an equal sex ratio. We sat boy-girl by dogs. Kodi and I were at the end of a half circle. While I tried to listen to Diane the instructor, Kodi kept a fanciful eye on the neighboring female English cocker spaniel. Diane is forceful and strong. We were all sitting straight, although the dogs were not -- maybe they will by the end of the six week class. A couple large labs were a bit dominant so they were used as teaching tools. A few dogs were completely calm and pretty much ignored the rest of the dog crowd. Kodi was unsure why they weren't all together in the middle of the room playing.

After an hour we left with our homework. Practice 10 minutes, twice a day. Kodi won't really care what kind of progress he makes in a week, but I'll be cowed if Diane thinks that I did not make progress. She is the leader of the pack.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Tom Fans His Tail

Wild turkeys are gobbling before dawn from the Mitchell fields along Bald Hill Road. We hear them as we walk the dogs just at daybreak. The males gobble, strut, and fan their tails. Morning commuters slow to watch.

A few hours later as I drove to a meeting at the Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge I saw more turkeys. Actually one male, displaying on the road. Two cars ahead of me had already slowed to watch. As I approached the tom he fanned his tail for me too. Then Kodi barked from the back and the turkey gathered in his wings and tail and slinked into the underbrush. Not the reaction he was hoping for, but there were no hen turkeys in sight.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Wood Anemone

The anemones emerged this week in the moist soils at the edge of our woods. The delicate, dime-sized, white flowers dot the forest floor, set among deeply lobed and toothed leaves. It is the first woodland flower that we see. They spread around the base of trees, remaining bright until mid-summer when they die back. This white buttercup brightens our woodlands while much is still brown.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Threesome

Our friends are on their way to Costa Rica for two weeks of cool birding. Their dog Teak is staying with us. He's stayed with us several times before. Though on his last extended visit he tore an ACL in his knee. Teak started limping on the way back from our morning walk, the last morning before Phil and Carolyn arrived to take him home. He'd just finished running and leaping after a frisbee, repeated many times. It was days later, when his limp did not improve, that we all learned he'd torn a ligament. Surgery followed and he recovered nicely. But Teak was a young guy and the vet said he might be prone to joint problems.

Teak, now 7, grew up with Aria and Fargo. He is an exceptionally sweet and gentle large (100 pound) German shepherd. Aria, Fargo, and Teak were best friends. Fargo is gone. Aria is aging, but still lights up when Teak comes and he reciprocates with happy moans and gentle nudges. And now there is Kodi, the one year old.

Twenty-four hours have past since Teak arrived and he and Kodi have become fast friends. When Kodi gets rough, Teak bares his big teeth, opens his big mouth wide, and snarls if necessary. Teak is a bit of a baby (as Shepherds are known to be), so sometimes he complains loudly if Kodi bites or pounces too hard. We also wince, hoping that Teak does not tear another ligament on our watch!

Note to Phil and Carolyn: happy birding -- not to worry, all is well! Just look at the pictures.

So, we have a threesome for just under two weeks. They are three happy, gentle dogs. Kodi it seems, like Aria and Teak, could not hurt a flea. He sits quietly to receive a dog biscuit and takes it gently from our hands, even when another dog is nearby. He calmly meets small children and likes hugs and back rubs. He does dig, but mostly to burn off all that young energy.

Teak is good for Kodi. He'll teach him some life lessons and give him some play. Aria will complain some, only because her aging body does not allow her to enter the fray. She is game, but the body resists. Yet, each morning she walks with us, as far as Teak and Kodi. She is the energizer bunny.

Kodi says, water is good, life is great

Thursday, April 8, 2010


85. That was the record-setting temperature yesterday. In other places - including Rhode Island and western Massachusetts -- it reached 90 degrees. Rhode Island being the state that was nearly washed away in last weeks floods. We fared better here.

Amazingly the fire danger here is Very High, despite the three recent floods that saturated the ground to overflowing. Several recent days of dry wind and warm weather combined with lots of new woody debris on the ground (felled by the Nor'easters) has increased the risk of brush fires getting out of control.

The wet and the warm weather has brought out the ticks, mosquitoes, and black flies. More welcome spring signs abound though. Kodi and I walked a portion of the Sweet Trail yesterday. Bella's spirit was strong; I last walked this trail with her, when the wetlands were frozen and the heron nests were silent. My heart ached. I still miss her. On yesterday's visit the herons were back, arranging their nests. Mallard, wood duck, and hooded merganser pairs swam beneath the heron rookery. Newly arrived hermit thrushes flitted through the understory. Kodi got to explore another new place. His world is unfolding joyously. He likes the outdoors.
Each new spring day brings so many new things to see and hear: toads trilling, chipping sparrows chipping from roadsides, tree swallows, ruby-crowned kinglets and a belted kingfisher, ant hills and mole hills, blueberry buds, white-throated sparrows singing oh sweet Canada, Canada, Canada.

Lungwort in full bloom in the garden.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Day

Yesterday was opening day for the daffodils in our yard, their bright yellow flowers overlooking the mud-filled road ditch. A reminder of days and days of rain. The post-rain recent stretch of 70 degree and warmer weather hurried along the flush of spring blossoms.

The sun-warmed asphalt roads also brought out the snakes. My first of the year snake sighting, unfortunately, was a road-killed brown snake. Male turkeys are gobbling from the Mitchell field, gathering in their harem of hens. Pine warblers are singing from high up in the tops of the white pines. A hairy woodpecker taps vigorously along the shed eaves, poking in holes for carpenter bees.

Today was my first day back to New Roots Farm helping in the greenhouse. Flats of seedling tomatoes, onions, Swiss chard, herbs, and more adorned the tables. I thinned onions and tomatoes, re-potting the tender shoots into bigger trays. I thinned the Swiss chard by eating any extra seedlings, leaving one seedling per cell. A good start to the planting season with some microgreens to nourish me.

Kodi met Maggie, the black lab farm dog. She greeted my car like an old friend, although unbeknown to her a new friend was arriving. Maggie greeted Kodi slowly and with a few pokes, but thereafter they became great play mates. They chased each other in circles through the hay fields, interrupted only by trips to the pond to cool off. I envision many more visits to the farm than planned, just so Kodi and Maggie can play. Kodi went nose to nose with the small pigs, while the 300-pounders were a bit intimidating. He stared, but shuffled past the big ones.

Renee sent me home with fresh spinach from their hoop houses. Into the split pea dal went the spinach for tonight's dinner. Hours later I can still feel and smell the greenhouse, with a bit of potting soil under my nails and a hint of onion lingering in my finger tips. Spring potting season is oh so sweet.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Zane Stays!

On Saturday we adopted Zane, who we've renamed Kodi. He did not know the name Zane, so we thought Kodi -- short for Kodiak bear because he looks like a bear cub -- sounded better. He is already recognizing his new name. We love him and Aria knows he is harmless, except when he tries to chew her. He does have a wild side that will need to be tamed.

Sometimes, usually in the morning and during the night, he is quiet as a mouse. He does not mind riding in a crate in the car. There too he is soundless. At other times -- near water, in the evening, or when the mood moves him -- his inner wildness emerges. He especially likes to sprint through puddles, splashing here and there, and racing at Aria. She does not appreciate the latter.

Kodi is only one year old, still a puppy. His teeth are sharp and during play he likes to bite. These are playful bites, but none of us want to be his play things.

One issue that has required immediate attention is his marking inside the house. I thought only cats did that. But Kodi was neutered only three weeks ago and he may have never lived inside a home until now. So he is learning new rules. We start basic obedience class next week. I expect the next two weeks to involve close supervision inside the house, but Kodi will learn and settle in to a good life here.

Yesterday he met the extended family at an Easter gathering. All went well with the humans. Another dog did not welcome him, but Kodi remained calm. He never shows any aggression toward other dogs. He rarely barks.

Kodi is a bit of mischief. In the days and weeks ahead we'll channel that energy, taking walks, long hikes, and finding some good watering holes.

Kodi, age one

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Frog's Eggs

This is no April Fool's Day. If it were it would still be raining. Instead, the sun is warm and radiant.

To celebrate I returned to College Woods after a two month hiatus. My last visit was with Bella and before the three recent Nor'easter-style rain events. The woods looked a little ragged: the trails were wet and eroded in places, the forest floor was draped in bits of hemlock and pine boughs stripped from the canopy trees, a few large trees were toppled - their entire root ball upended and resembling a flying saucer that landed sideways in the earth.

I stepped around pools of water in the trail and peered into shallow pools alongside the trail. A wood frog called -- or more accurately quacked -- from one of these side pools. On closer inspection I discovered five jelly-like blobs clustered together. Inside were black spots -- thousands of recently laid wood frog eggs. As much a sign of spring as chocolate eggs in the Easter basket.

Wood frog egg masses (in center of photo)
April 1, 2010 College Woods

Zane joined me on the walk. I let him run free for the first leg through the woods and he stayed close. Then he ran out to a field and perked up his ears. He does not yet know his name, or "come" or "stay," so I snapped on the leash. We passed several people, some with dogs and some without. Zane was calm with all of them. No pulling, or jumping, or barking. Nice.

We met two dogs. A large, sleepy-looking male yellow lab and a "small" 110-pound female Newfoundland. On each meeting Zane did the slow circle dance that dogs do to quietly measure the status of one another. Each meeting was uneventful and we continued on our way. I let Zane loose one more time when we approached a pond - a reservoir actually. He splashed about, then darted off to chase a pair of mallards from a cove. The mallards swam off as Zane stared wistfully and perhaps wondering why they did not stay to play.

On the way home from College Woods I stopped at the grocery store. The store was busy with customers stocking up for Good Friday and Easter weekend and for barbecues. Despite jostling for space in the aisles and waiting in line at the checkout, everyone was smiling and polite -- just plain happy that the sun was shining.

Zane seems to be just plain happy. We are nearing a decision on whether to adopt him. He is now free of mange and therefore available to come home for good. Aria has given her okay. We'll take a few more days to decide, but he seems like a black gem.

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