Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Oops - Lyme Disease

Looks like my carefree days working in high density tick areas are over. Last Friday I felt a small, red bump on the back of my right thigh. I thought it might be an innocuous spider bite. On Saturday I felt a little out of sorts, a bit tired. Later that day the red bump became a rash and was spreading outward and a red ring formed around the outside. Ummmm......this seemed like a classic Lyme disease symptom. We hiked on Sunday and I was in the field on Monday and felt fine.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I was feeling less well, with an elevated temperature, slight headache, and mild nausea. I went to the doctor in the afternoon and he concurred that it was likely Lyme disease. I started on 3 weeks of the antibiotic doxycycline, the recommended dose when the disease is detected early. They extracted blood to test for Lyme; the test result is not back yet but I'm fairly certain of the diagnosis.

Here's a picture of my rash, which is now about 3 inches in diameter. Although it looks red and sore, it doesn't hurt a bit. The rash should fade in a few more days and I am, just in the last few hours, starting to feel a little better, just a day after starting on the doxycycline.

New Hampshire has the third highest incidence of Lyme disease in the U.S.; Delaware and Connecticut are ahead of us. Southeast New Hampshire, where I live and do a lot of my work, has the highest density within New Hampshire. Other factors that worked against me are that I often visit areas with tall grass and brush, including this month of June when the tiny, pinhead-sized nymphs are active. Nymphs can transmit the disease more quickly, in less than 24 hours, and because they are so small they are hard to detect. Lastly because I am freckled and have various other skin spots, the little ones are particularly hard to see.

Still, I should take more precautions, and will from now on. This includes checking myself EVERY night before bed and again in the morning. I find that ticks move around at night in our house, always searching for the breath of animals. I will also wear more protection on my legs, either knee high rubber boots or gators that prevent ticks from climbing up my legs. And, I will likely start spraying with DEET or something equally effective, around my boots and lower legs (but not my skin or around my face and hands).

The other item that I carry in my pack is a roll of masking tape to easily grab and seal in any ticks I find crawling on me or Kodi. Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick), not by the very common wood or dog tick. We seem to have a lot of both in our area. So, ticks and Lyme disease are just things we live with. The important steps are to take as much preventive action as possible and then watch for potential Lyme disease signs -- either the red bull's eye rash or just if you feel out of sorts. In my case, I had the classic symptoms.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Mt Eisenhower

Just as we were basking in the warmth of the Summer Solstice last Tuesday, the weather turned. A day of rain on Wednesday, which followed a few days of sun earlier in the week, was perfect timing for the garden. But the rain continued for nearly 5 days and the air was chilly. This felt like the third or fourth such rainy period in the last few months.

A benefit is that we can continue to postpone spring and summer cleaning -- the dreaded window washing, carpet cleaning, and other household chores that one should do more regularly, especially if you have an active dog like Kodi. Yesterday's weather looked more promising, but instead of chores, we opted to head north for a hike up Edmands Path to Mt Eisenhower. A fine choice.

Edmands Path is a nearly perfectly designed trail created, in part, by Rayner Edmands in the early 1900s. The upper stretches have rocks placed by Edmands for ease of hiking. The initial stretch of this 3.3 mile trail to the top of 4,760-foot Mt. Eisenhower is an easy grade as it passes through a lush northern hardwood forest. Surprisingly we encountered few mosquitoes, despite the humid air.

Wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) along Edmands Path

Abenaki Brook crossing on the Edmands Path

The elevation gain from the trailhead on Mt. Clinton Road to the peak is 2,750 feet, so after the initial gentle grade, the path begins a steeper, steady climb into a forest of spruce and yellow birch, with a mossy understory. At about 2.5 miles the trail crosses a small brook cascading over a ledge, then begins to level out. Fog and clouds obscured the views. One hiker coming down said there was nothing to see on top. But the trailside offered beautiful arrays of bunchberry, lush ferns, mosses, and other small flowers. And as we emerged into the alpine zone above treeline, the tiny alpine plants were lovely amid the fog.

Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) in full bloom, lines the trail

Fog obscures the high peaks, as we emerge above treeline

As our fellowship of 7 hikers plus Kodi hiked up into the fog, I paused here and there to peer down at the alpine flowers. Such small, hardy plants of extraordinary beauty living on these windswept ridges.

Diapensia (Diapensia lapponica) grows in pincushion-like mounds

Bearberry willow (Salix uva-ursi),
like the other alpine plants, is only a few inches high

Clockwise, from top left: bog laurel (Kalmia polifolia),
mountain cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea),
rhodora (Rhododendron canadense),
labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum), bog bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum)

After a lunch atop Mt. Eisenhower with limited visibility, we descended back to Edmands Path via the Eisenhower Loop. A wonderful short loop that leads through more alpine flowers and offered glimpses south to Mt. Chocorua as clouds parted briefly. Then we left the alpine gardens and retreated down Edmands Path into the forest below.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Small Gem of Land

During a visit to see my parents in late May, they took my sister and I to see a 6-acre old farm near the center of their town -- Amherst, Massachusetts. The town recently acquired this historic farm site and now the townsfolk have varying opinions about how the land should be used. One voice wants soccer fields. Others want to restore the house and barn and keep the rolling fields for nature, trails, and perhaps community gardens. My family is in the latter camp.

I grew up in Amherst and attended school not far from this property, so I have some attachment to the area. After our walk in May, I wrote my father a letter about the historic farm site. The letter to him turned into a guest commentary for their local paper, the Amherst Bulletin, submitted by my Dad and I. The commentary was published today - you can link to to it here.

I've also reprinted our commentary below. The title was chosen by the Bulletin''s editor.

Cultivate Hawthorne Farm's gifts

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Signs of Summer

It's beginning to feel, look, and taste more like summer. Signs of the season abound. Deer flies for one. These pesky insects emerge right around the Solstice. They hurt more than mosquitoes, flying around your head before quietly alighting on your neck or arm and then a quick zing with their razor-sharp mouth parts.

A much brighter sign: the yellows of summer are blooming, including buttercup, hawkweed, cinquefoils, and hop clover.

A buttercup



Hop Clover

Summer is also a tasty time. Wild and farm-grown strawberries are ripening, getting sweeter with each warm, sunny summer day.

A small, but sweet, wild strawberry

A quart of strawbs from a local farm

I picked the first handful of sugar snap peas from our pea trellis today, the first day of summer.

Happy Solstice!

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Kanc

Last weekend we returned to our friend's cabin off Bear Notch Road at the edge of the White Mountain National Forest. We were joined by my sister's family including my two young nieces. They are just getting into hiking and "roughing it" so we picked shorter hikes along the Kancamagus Highway. My youngest niece prefers "walks" to "hikes" so we picked mostly level trails rather than climbs, although she did well on one tough climb through a boulder-filled woods.

The cabin is a stone's throw from the Swift River and The Kancamagus Highway - known as "The Kanc." The river has wide sand and gravel bars and shallow, swift, cold water, enticing on a warm day. The cold water and pesky mosquitoes kept us moving quickly. Tiger swallowtails gathered on the gravelly shoals then floated off as we approached.

The Kancamagus Highway is a one of the most scenic roads in the northeast; popular during fall foliage, yet just as beautiful in early summer. It offers breathtaking scenery as well as interpretive sites of the farming, logging, and geologic history of the Passaconaway Valley.

We were impressed with the trails, bridges, and interpretive signs developed and maintained by the U.S. Forest Service along the Kanc. Each natural or historic site was worth a leisurely walk on the trails. We visited,

the Russell-Colbath historic site,
with its restored 1830s home and history of farming and logging

Rocky Gorge and accompanying 1-mile loop trail around scenic Falls Pond,
bordered by bog-loving plants including flowering pitcher plants

The dramatic Sabbaday Falls, a place of geologic beauty and of contemplation

On the Kanc you are never far from rushing water and stunning views

The view above from our cabin -- Hedgehog Mtn on the left; Tripyramids to the right.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Morning Harvest

Yesterday was a good growing day for the garden - hot and sunny. My favorite time of day is early morning, especially when the sun is just rising. It's the best time to walk down the rows of our vegetable garden to see how the plants fared overnight. With the recent rains and the warmth of yesterday, the plants put on a burst of growth and the garden pests seem to be in check.

Harvesting vegetables from my own garden makes my day. This morning I plucked three bright red radishes and two scallions, and gathered big handfuls of kale and Swiss chard. Now that's local food.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

June Gardens

Where did June go? We are already half-way through the month and it feels like April. Within the space of a few days I heard someone's air conditioning running, we lost power to a weird tornado-like storm, and then we almost needed to turn on the heat in the house. Tomorrow the temperature will reach 80 F. This variability is strange even for New England. Unpredictable weather is the new normal.

Despite the rain and wind and cool temperatures the perennials and herbs are lush, the lawn is green, and the peach trees are loaded with small fruits. The coral bells, loved by hummingbirds, are especially beautiful.

The vegetables, however, are struggling a little more. Yet we are harvesting and enjoying arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and cilantro. The sugar snap peas are beginning to flower, the red radishes are nearly ready to pluck. We've caged the expanding tomato plants and planted another crop of green beans. The garden is green and growing, just slowly. One benefit is that the weeds are slow too.

This year we enclosed the garden using chicken fence tacked to 4-foot posts of oak and maple saplings that we thinned from our woods. You may know that hardwood stumps sprout when you cut them. If you stick the logs into the ground they also sprout.

The vegetable garden has two gates, made from more cut saplings and bittersweet vines. The fence and the gates are meant to keep out deer and Kodi, but still allow turtles and other small creatures through. It would be helpful to have a chipmunk-proof fence, but that's impossible.

The backyard houses three raised beds. Usually the backyard is several degrees cooler as it drops off to a wetland and is more shaded. This year those beds are thriving, full of rhubarb, yellow storage onions, and a mix of summer squash, cucumbers, cabbage, and peppers. The wildflower meadow flourishes too, although it is noticeably void of butterflies, bees, and other insects. I think the spring weather has been hard on the pollinators.

Sun today and tomorrow will feel so good for humans and insects and plants.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Kingbird and a Storm

I was just sitting down to write a blog post late yesterday afternoon when the sky grew dark and the tops of trees began to sway. A band of severe thunderstorms was approaching, with potentially damaging winds. After a major tornado touched down in New Hampshire two years ago and another recently in Springfield, Massachusetts, we look at storm clouds differently now. We used to wonder why people lived in tornado alley in the Midwest, but now we all seem to be potentially at risk.

I shut down the computer and about 30 minutes later we lost power. A big limb of a red oak fell across the powerlines around the corner from our house, which must have caused the outage. When we woke this morning to the sound of a neighbor's generator, we knew the power was still out. Srini powered up our generator so we could get the fridge running for a while and fill up the water bottles. This has become at least an annual event.

Just before the storm moved through yesterday afternoon the temperature was in the low 90s and the air was still. As the clouds swirled and the wind whipped up the trees and the rain fell, the temperature dropped quickly. By the time the clouds cleared the temperature was in the low 70s. Everyone threw open their windows as indoors was now much warmer than the outside air temperature.

My blog post yesterday was going to be about a panting Eastern kingbird that I saw while walking a property in the 90 degree heat. So, here is the story of the hot kingbird. I was checking out a constructed wildlife pond that I've written about before, where I've seen two Blanding's turtles. On Wednesday the turtles were not basking -- too hot for them. Instead I noticed the kingbird sitting on its nest atop a snag (a dead tree) in the water. She or he -- both parents incubate the eggs and they look alike -- was panting, which is one way that birds cool themselves.

Here are some photos of the kingbird on its nest. The last one is a bit fuzzy but you can see the bird panting.

The nest site

The panting kingbird

The eastern kingbird is a common flycatcher that likes open country with scattered perches, such as orchards, fields, wetlands, and forest edges. They are easily identified by their dark gray, almost black, head, back, and tail that is white tipped. The throat and belly are white. The kingbird aggressively defends its nest from predators and its territory from other kingbirds. They have a fluttering, stiff-winged flight and a rapid, stuttering song.

I admire their ability to sit on their eggs beneath a sweltering sun. I'm glad I can seek shade instead.

Our power is still out but the tree trucks are working on the red oak limb. It's cooler today, beautiful really. The kingbird will do less panting today.

Winterberry Bird Scat

A week ago--on a coldish January day--a small flock of robins ate all the berries from one winterberry shrub in our yard. They flew off as q...