So much happened over the summer on the Would-Be Farm, and so little of it has anything to do with us humans.
My favorite skipper eventually called it: mad dash.
It will seem quaint someday how we drove north in a self-contained little world of snacks and Lysol wipes with a U-Haul full of Would-Be Farm equipment and furniture.
It will be just another page in the Quarantine Chronicles how we isolated and monitored.
Perhaps we'll remember how we could only hope our precautions and cheerful masks will have made a difference.
But it seems instead that this is the year we are reminded that Mamma Nature not only holds all the cards, but that she has sharp teeth, and claws at the end of a long reach...
If it wasn't the black bear emptying the bird feeder (effortlessly snagging it with a claw and pouring the contents –– like the crumbs from the bottom of a potato chip bag –– right down the old pie hole), it was porcupine eating the gazebo. Or birds flying down the chimney.
And how does one deal with a 300-lb black bear with a penchant for black oil safflower seed? One puts a decorative cow-bell –– an inexplicable tourist purchase finally coming into use –– onto the formerly lovely red metal feeder.
Pavlov's crazy dog at the midnight clank, one dashes onto the screened porch closest to the feeder, shouting and clashing together an aluminum saucepan and lid. The noise was like nothing I have ever made before. It worked.
Though of course the raccoons followed the bear in the violation of my bird feeder. They are less shy of human attention. After some weeks of interrupted sleep, I decided the easier –– though not unproblematic solution was to take the feeder inside at night. Now I only rouse myself to chase things off the unscreened porch. Which happens a lot.
And how to address the ongoing porcupine issue? Porcupines eat bark and tree parts...unless of course they develop a taste for pressure-treated lumber.
Fair's fair. The porcupines were here first. I tried putting rows of hardware cloth around the perimeter, but Mr. Linton took the reins. We call the gazebo The USS Monitor now. The damage has stopped.
Sidebar fact: tom turkeys sometimes get really worked up by the sound of a carborundum blade working through metal roofing sheets. I guess it sounds like a big sweet gal of a hen.
And as for the bird, we were sitting on the couch in front of the cold wood stove when we heard a gentle tapping on the glass window on the stove door.
A youthful house-wren politely requesting a hand.
Of course it panicked. All birds do, when confronted with the inside of a house. It flapped into a window, and then briefly fainted in Jeff's hands. But it eventually regained its senses and flew off, rewarding us for a few weeks –– possibly –– with extra noisy morning songs.
We started on this Would-Be Farm adventure with the idea of novelty: new experiences are meant to keep our brains nimble and what-not. The effort of tackling a fresh set of challenges would be good for us.
Such as driving a tractor and putting fruit trees into the ground and helping them grow roots.
Such as returning to the North Country where I grew up and re-learning that country environment. Plus introducing Jeff to some exotic charms: a bullhead fry, turkey hunting, snow.
Knowing that, unlike actual farmers, our livelihood and future is not on the line when the dam busts and the crops fail.
So, round about January of each of the past five years, seed catalogs begin to sprout in my mailbox. Deals from on-line nurseries pop up like weeds. Calls to branch out into new crops... I won't belabor the metaphor any more than I can...bear. Muah ha ha.
Round about April, it's become our happy habit to make our ways North. I try to get there in time for my sister's birthday early in the month, and Jeff generally follows after sailing Charleston Race Week. We usually get a snowstorm or two, maybe an ice-storm, just to remind us that we are mere tourists in the North Country.
It's too early for planting in early April, and it's more than a bit nippy –– though we do have a WOOD STOVE this year!
Still, even with a crochet throw of snow, you can see the rocky bones of the land early in early spring. And it's an exciting few weeks while plants wake up out of the cold clay and yawn hope into the landscape.
We're not sure when we'll get there this year. What with the Pandemic and all. Of course I ordered plants before COVID-19 was no more than a small cloud on the horizon.
I can't resist those colorful packets of optimism that promise poppies, lupins, chamomile. Plus garlic and seed-potatoes (thrifty hint: if your potatoes sprout in the fridge, put them in the ground -- you'll generally get a smallish bonus harvest a few months later instead of adding to the landfill).
And, because the larger fruit have not flourished under our neglectful stewardship, I have ambitions for Chinese chestnut trees, red currents, bush-cherries, and yet more elderberries. Although elderberries are not a favored deer browse according to experts, empirical evidence suggests that some deer will "sample" an elderberry bush to within inches of its life.
As with so much recently, we'll just have to wait and see. We'll shelter in place and I'll let my farming daydreams slide me along a little longer. I'm not complaining.
The story varies.
In any case, Galápagos mockingbirds are also distinctively different from mockingbirds on the mainland. And they are different from one Galápagos island to another.
Which leads, step by painful step, to Darwin's theory of evolution and the eventual publication in 1859 of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Phew.
Sidebar drama: Interestingly enough, as a Christian, Darwin was troubled by the implications of what he discovered. However, when a naturalist pal of his, Alfred Wallace, came up with a parallel theory, Darwin's misgivings subsided enough for Darwin to polish up his own manuscript and send it to a publisher. It became an overnight sensation.
While we were doing our own exploration in the Galápagos (zero collection of specimens, thousands of photos, great guides, and a tidy ship thanks to AdventureLife), we stumbled across a little mockingbird family drama on Floreana.
I've got a theory or two (as usual) about this scene. It might be a long-held rivalry between the matriarchs who were born sisters but grew to their own greatest rivals. It might be a fresh incursion between an upstart gang and the Boomer family they rejected.
Or maybe it's a daily show staged to entrance the tourists –– 14:00-15:20 beached walrus pups, 15:20-15:40 mockingbird display, 15:40-whenever tortoise crossing.
It was bound to happen. While clearing trail –– it's on the to-do list whenever we first get to the Would-Be Farm –– we found a game camera that we'd forgotten all about...16K photos of waving grass. I guess that's why we lost track of the danged thing. I'll spare you.
Here are some better photos from the game cameras:
So, okay, maybe the big raptors like Bald Eagles and Snowy Owls are more impressive, and coming eyeball-to-eyeball with a Sandhill Crane is even more alarming, but Great Blue Herons are darned impressive birds.
In my Shell Island Shuttle days, when we'd rescue birds –– mostly untangling them from fishing line, but sometimes popping them into a pet carrier and ferrying them over to the local rescue outfit –– the Great Blues were among the most challenging to help.
They are fierce, even as they are fragile. Those long legs ––! They aim those impressively big beaks RIGHT for your eye, and they have quite a reach.
They do not give up after they've been caught.
Magnificent, cranky creatures.
In a book whose heavy style I enjoyed a lot –– though, sadly, after my godfather Dan complained about the many factual errors he'd found, and I did my research, I too, became less enchanted by the novel –– here's a lovely passage including a blue heron:
In his mind, Inman likened the swirling paths of vulture flight to the coffee grounds seeking pattern in his cup. Anyone could be oracle for the random ways thing fall against each other. It was simple enough to tell fortunes if a man dedicated himself to the idea that the future will inevitably be worse than the past and that time is a path leading nowhere but a place of deep and persistent threat. The way Inman saw it, if a thing like Fredericksburg was to be used as a marker of current position, then many years hence, at the rate we’re going, we’ll be eating one another raw.
And, too, Inman guessed Swimmer’s spells were right in saying a man’s spirit could be torn apart and cease and yet his body keep on living. They could take death blows independently. He was himself a case in point, and perhaps not a rare one, for his spirit, it seemed, had been about burned out of him but he was yet walking. Feeling empty, however, as the core of big black-gum tree. Feeling strange as well, for his recent experience had led him to fear that the mere existence of the Henry repeating rifle or the éprouvette mortar made all talk of spirit immediately antique. His spirit, he feared, had been blasted away so that he had become lonesome and estranged from all around him as a sad old heron standing pointless watch in the mudflats of a pond lacking frogs. It seemed a poor swap to find that that the only way to keep from fearing death was to act numb and set apart as if dead already, with nothing much left of yourself but a hut of bones.
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, 1997. Page 16.
PS: I actually prefer Cold Mountain the movie. Exception proves the rule.
Imagination is like the common cold virus: it's always there, lurking, waiting for the chance to nip in and take the wheel. There's no sure cure, though you can treat the symptoms. Medical advice says let it run its course.
Today's fiction prompt: a photo I took on a fishing trip to Wyoming.
Rudolph was no fiberglass elk, bugling soundlessly on the street of Thermopolis.
He was neither the victim of a fierce electrical taping nor did he lose an ear during a wrestling match with a drunk guy.
He did not lift his rack of fiberglass antlers into the wide Wyoming sky in an effort to voice his pain.
He did not wear a saddle-pad of twinkling holiday lights.
He did not sport a compact fluorescent bulb painted red at the distal point of his noggin.
They might have let Rudolph join in any reindeer games, but little matter.
Was he like Bartleby before him, preferring not?
Or like Robert Cratchit, beetling away for the chance of a day's liberty?
Or Balthazar, with the insight to know what lay ahead?
Or maybe, inert as can be, he is like the Yule log, waiting for the dark to yield to light and then celebrate another year beginning.
Hope your season is bright.
Trachinotis carolinas. Characterized by small silvery scales, forked tail, related to Jack-fish but highly valued for eating.
A Fishing Story –– Version 1
Caught me a biggun. Though he had me whupped, but I turned the tables on his bipedal ass. Bootless meet toothless. How do you like them airless apples? Huh? Swim like a fish much?
All he had to do was let go, but it's greed what catches em, every time. Sparkle sparkle! Just let go and get back to your spot, but no. Gotta cling. Dunno why it's called landing when you reel one in. Land's the one thing they ain't much of in that situation, if you know what I mean. I figure he'll eat pretty good, give him a few days.
A Fishing Story –– Version 2
A short list of ways I've avoided writing today: rearranged the fiction bookshelf, cleaned my stainless water bottle with bleach, followed by cleaning the bottle-brush. With bleach. Made a few calls. Perused Writer's Digest. Bootlessly researched a specific twitter from a specific Twit. Cleaned the keyboard with rubbing alcohol and q-tips. Listened to samples of Billie Martin's songs on iTunes. Decided listing my excuses was nearly as good as writing anything. Words are words when you are trying for a daily word-count.
A Fishing Story – Version 3
Swimming, swimming, swimming, biting at a shrimp.
Shrimp has sharp –– ow!
And damn! What the hell?
Swimming swimming, vaulting into air.
Tractor beam or something yanking.
Don't beam me up.
Swimming, running from the grasp.
I read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey only after we'd hiked in Arches National park in July.
We started the Devil's Garden trail at 6:30 perhaps –– the sun was up, but the shadows were long when we left the paved trail at Landscape Arch.
Bonus travel tip: Even in the busiest and most popular national parks, we found that by hiking a few hundred yards down nearly any trail*, we could leave most of the seething mass of vacationing humanity behind.
Sad truth: few tourists do more than meander to overlook, snap a photo, and then roar off in an air-conditioned car.
Edward Abbey was right: "What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like molluscs on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener."
Desert Solitaire p 290.
*Exception to the trail rule? The Narrows at Zion. It was kind of the only game in town after the landslides of 2018 (aside from scaling bare rock faces). That hike –– a wet, awe-inspiring meander up the slot canyon –– did fill up considerably come lunchtime. Early morning or off-season recommended.
So, back to the dusty devilly trail.
Devil's Garden trail is nearly 8 miles there-and-back again. A good scramble up red sandstone rocks, along ledges, through dusty piñon pine groves. We ran into families of deer –– the females showing ribs and the fawns leggy and curious –– a couple of parties of human hikers, lizards of various stripe, intriguing tracks in the sand, and the odd path marker.
Some markers odder than others. To a certain sort of thinker, this is an ambiguous sign:
I read it first as a series of nouns: road + leaf + laundry.
A series of verbs: follows + goes + cleans.
Er, nope. Because, you know, why? But interesting. Return to this thought later, I told myself, tucking the camera back into my pocket.
I stopped for a sip of water a hundred or two hundreds yards later. The words transposed themselves: Trail Wash Leaves.
That seemed nearly probable: maybe the trail had a new name. The National Park people seem to engineer their signage so that visitors can have a more genuine park experience, complete with navigational anxiety and an understanding that maps are imperfect representations of the truth.
Maybe. But probably not.
The pieces fitted together a half mile or more later: Alert, hikers: your trail, which has followed the path of this dried stream-bed –– known locally as a wash or a gulch –– is about to diverge from the stream-bed.
For the rest of the walk, series of words started presenting themselves. Triangular structures, each side a simple word that goes both ways: One can trail one's hand on the trail. One can leave the leaves behind, one can wash the wash.
Stone Ride Ice.
Rein Plant Saddle
Mount Slide Hollow.
Chant Riddle Stop.
Then we arrived back at the start of the trail.
And in the blink of an eye, we were addressing ourselves to pizza and cold beverages and a bookstore on the funky little main drag of Moab.
Half asleep in our narrow berth inside Base Camp, we are roused by sound: a crunching, rattling, scratching assault on the recycling container, a lengthy effort to unsnap the cooler, a hissing dust-up over a piece of aluminum foil that once held roasted chicken.
Eventually, Mr. Linton or I will have had Just About Enough and shout at the intruders. Angry-Daddo-Voice invective, which sometimes works, but does require warning the other person. ("Hey, I'm going to yell." "All right." "GERRROUT OF IT!")
Scamper scamper scamper.
This autumn, they discovered both suet and the bird feeders.
As Jeff put it: they ate a whole LOAF of suet.
Naturally, they knocked a bird feeder over and emptied it also.
However, the raccoons did.
The first morning, I found the jar tipped over, the lid unscrewed and a small, tidy spill of seeds on the porch.
In the morning, the birdseed was not on my mind. I was blithely drinking my coffee and being all China-to-Peru about the dew-laden field opposite the porch.
I changed lids and put the jar inside. Thin the tin walls of Base Camp may be, and permeable as sponge, but there is a geographical limit to transgression.
You'd think, anyhow.
When the light slants just right, a distinct handprint can be seen on the window that looks into the sleeping nook at Base Camp. Maybe two inches across, the little handprint is smeared on the window that stands a good three feet off the ground.
I try not to imagine why a raccoon climbed up and appears to have pushed –– pushed!–– on the window that looks into our sleeping quarters.
Nevertheless, I find myself weighing a few options:
Which is where I hit pause. The bandits were here first. They raid for a living.
I'll start by making it prohibitively difficult for them to get satisfaction around Base Camp before taking lethal steps. Muah ha ha.
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