A light bulb icon appeared on the dashboard of my Jetta alerting me to a burned out bulb somewhere unspecified. A house guest and I were about to drive across the Jamestown and Newport bridges and along various highways monitored by state and local police for some ecotourism and socializing with other friends. Servicing the car was not part of the plan.

After two more days of traipsing around the state with a burned out light bulb, I took the car to the dealer. An hour later as I settled the bill ($4.51 for a left brake light bulb and a few dollars more for labor to install it), I said to the agreeable, young, white man in the service department — a person who knows me as a regular customer just as I know him as the young man in the service department, as a “person in my neighborhood” according to Mr. Rogers, “Good thing I am not a black man. Instead of settling this transaction with you, I might be dead.”

My comment did not fit the circumstances. The young man chuckled hesitantly. No doubt he was thinking, “What did she say?” But he quickly processed what I meant, switched from any light-hearted tone to seriousness and said, “You’re right.”

Suppose I had still been driving my previous car — a 1993 Nissan named Minima. She was an excellent car but not as communicative as the Jetta. When a turn signal went out, the blinking noise the signal made changed from slow to fast. Aha, you’d say, turn signal is out. But I recall no other warnings of burned out bulbs. It could have taken me a very long time to realize a bulb was not working.

If I were a dark-skinned male driving an uncommunicative car would I have to do an inspection of all the lights every time I drove the car in order to stay alive?

I rattled the VW service department man. But we both will likely survive routine burned out car bulbs. In that moment, we both knew it.

 

 

 

 

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The Monarchs are back. I spotted the first on Flag Day (14 June) — a full 11 days later than my first spotting last year. It was in the lower meadow and took me by surprise when I flushed it. In fact, while it certainly seemed the right size and coloration for a Monarch, I did not get a good look. Then two days later a pair of Monarchs were aloft above their more traditional portion of the meadow near the evergreen hedgerow.

Common Ravens, an uncommon sight here, are disturbing the Common Grackles who do a top-rate job of devouring whatever seed or suet I put out for target birds making them my least favorite feeder. Three Ravens at least are back and forth between the Norway Spruce and the evergreen hedgerow making their distinctive call as the Grackles — uncharacteristically silent — chase them. Who am I rooting for in this contest?

Today’s Espresso email from The Economist included a story they titled “Art of the deal: clever corvids.”The corvid family includes crows, ravens, rooks and magpies but not the lowly Common Grackle which is a member of the icterid family. But the Grackle is one wily bird and, as I hinted above, eats me out of house and home. The ravenous Grackles at the Kennel House have learned to feed upside down so as the polish off the suet intended for the Woodpeckers and Nuthatches. They have developed an insatiable appetite for the grape jelly on the Baltimore Oriole feeder, maybe because they are both icterids. The Cowbird — also in this family — has not developed a taste for grape jelly, although it too is around. Restocking that feeder could be done twice a day, if I chose to keep it full. All this is to say that the Common Grackle is not without its own form of smarts.

The herb garden with four bird feeders, including the station for the Orioles

And speaking of the “Art of the Deal,” I had been planning to post the Song of Sixpence nursery rhyme to offer our American king a disgusting desert. Wishing even such a vile person as our king anything unseemly would no doubt have meant that I’d been the maid in the garden hanging out the clothes of the final verse when down would come a blackbird and peck off my nose.

Eastern Phoebes nested again this year in the rafters of the folly, though I never caught a glimpse of them. Tree Swallows have nested in two bird boxes. A pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived last week. The Gray Catbirds came back last month; I do love its slaty gray with a little black scull cap and rufous undertail coverts. A friend from Princeton and the 70s was visiting last week. She remarked that she’d dress like the female Northern Cardinal; I’d choose the Catbird for my sartorial model.

Phoebe nest in the folly’s rafters

The Downy Woodpeckers are showing their offspring how to eat the suet.

Downy parent feeding baby atop the suet feeder

Remarkably few House Sparrows have elected to feed and nest here. Writing that no doubt will produce an influx.

It’s June so the lightening bugs are flashing in the meadow at night. And the heat ans sun of an early summer afternoon bring on the Dragonflies. Look hard to see them. One’s in the upper left-hand corner but you can see others as well.

Dragonflies, upper left and upper center

Finally, belying the title of this blog, is this only tangentially related photo of an uncommonly marked White-tail Deer in the meadow. Photographing through the porch screens creates that double image. With its distinctive patterning, we’ll be able to keep tabs on this meadow visitor even if s/he arrives on foot.

April 3rd: A male Eastern Bluebird sat atop a bird nesting box in the meadow causing my heart to skip a beat especially since I knew that a House Sparrow had begun to build a nest in the box. Would that I could speak Bluebird to let him know that I’d do everything I could to keep the House Sparrows at bay. Just before the Bluebird arrived, I had been debating which of the several practices I have tried in the past to follow this year to make the House Sparrow feel unwelcome or, better yet, to go elsewhere far away. Given my success rate, the Bluebird might well have decided not to accept any offer of protection from me. After all for all my schemes, I still have a population of House Sparrows. This Bluebird sighting was therefore both a FOY (first of year) and a last of year. Indeed, he has not returned.

April 15: A male Wild Turkey nibbled insects in the herb garden and the adjacent lawn. I have not seen Turkeys again since then but, unlike the Bluebird, I know he and his relatives will be around into the fall.

April 16: A ground hog munched on the grass in front of the back house. I watched hoping to see whether he would lead me to his burrow. Something finally spooked him, and he dashed in the direction of the canoe, where he has resided in past seasons. Time to review my neighbor, Marilyn’s, trap setting technique. I’d like this to be among the last-of-year sightings but, like warding off House Sparrows, that could be a pipe dream.

May 2: I harvested the first asparagus stems. Every dinner for the next 6 weeks will include asparagus. Towards the end of the season, the mailman may find offerings of the veggie in the mail box. A friend reminded me I could drop off extra stalks at the Welcome House or the Jonnycake kitchen.

May 2: The Sugar Maple beside the porch leafed out. I submit a blurry photograph as proof. The wind was blowing — that’s my excuse. The other Maples will be a week or so slower in leafing out. I should report the dates to the New England Leaf Out (NELO)  project.

May 3: A male Tiger Swallowtail sat on a branch of the wisteria bush. Don’t tell my native plant colleagues who argue that natives attract and support wildlife better than non natives. Two immature but native Lindera benzoin or northern spice bushes are growing out immediately next to the forsythia but they seem too twiggy to have hosted the Swallowtail caterpillar, although spice bushes are said to be the larval host. On May 3rd last year, I saw the first Monarch butterfly in the meadow fluttering near the ground as though it could not fly. It was, in fact, laying eggs. The Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, is popping through the ground in the meadow. I hope the butterflies return in the coming days.

May 4: A pair of House Sparrows are the only birds to have completed a nest in a bird box. I removed 5 eggs. Tree Swallows are noisily starting a nest in a newly sited bird box — now in the middle of the meadow. They have used this box in its previous locations for years.

May 5: Other Rhode Islanders have reported the return of Baltimore Orioles so I hung my Oriole feeder with an orange and Concord grape jelly. Within a couple of hours, both a male and a female were feeding.

May 6: Lilacs first in the doooryard bloomed. Seven years after transplanting these Lilacs from the southern dooryard to the northern one, the plants have bloomed in abundance! The old stand never produced as many blooms; all the blossoms are white.

May 6: A male Hummingbird arrived at the feeder I put out yesterday!

On ticks: I removed what I think was a black-legged tick from my inner elbow about 2 weeks ago. The next day, I found a full grown dog tick climbing the porch door jamb. I found another dog tick (I hope) on the frame of the northern door to the living room. All three are taped to the fridge. A warm winter, and for my money more importantly a wet April, seems to have provided excellent growing conditions for these nasty pests.

On ants: The carpenter ants invaded the kitchen again at the beginning of April. But after a visit from Narragansett Pest and time. As of today (June 10), I don;t seem to have any more ants. The fruit flies have arrived at the compost bucket, however.

On rodents: The Grey Squirrel population is growing. The Red Squirrel appears to remain a bachelor and is as neurotic as ever. The Chipmunks were out in force starting in April. Mice have not been very willing to take the peanut butter from the basement traps. The groundhog (is he a rodent?) is looking very well fed although I have battened down the garden perimeter fence and Scott and I built a special fence around the raised bed with lettuces and other leafy greens.

The news here is all more than a month old but I’m posting it anyway since this blog is my way of record keeping.

Reading in bed last night, I heard an animal scream — repeatedly. The sound came from the “croquet court” or the area between the house and shed #1. I could not see anything from the window, and when I heard the sounds again they came from way back in the woods. I was pretty sure the sound was that of a red fox.

This afternoon I had the wit to check the snow that has not melted in that croquet court. Sure enough; there were red fox footprints — cat paw like marks all in a line. I liberated this image from the web. And here’s a recording from YouTube; only the first few seconds apply.

This is the first evidence of red fox in years. It almost makes up for the loss of both bee hives this winter.

A politically active friend emailed to say she knows not to say “basket of deplorables,” but she wondered whether “basket of dopes” might be acceptable. I had not been impressed with Hillary Clinton’s characterization when she used it as a slur against her opponent’s followers. Setting aside the inappropriateness of commenting on people who’s views she disparaged, how does “basket” add to our understanding the characteristics of deplorables? Hillary can be brilliant when explaining policy, but her literary imagination is lacking; maybe that’s part of why she lost the election. And, with due respect to my friend, “basket of dopes” doesn’t have any wit either.

But maybe word play offered a way to assuage anxiety over anticipated consequences of the presidential election. I took An Exultation of Larks off the shelf and sat down with a pad and pencil. In case you don’t have this extraordinary reference, I photographed the cover and two pages: An Unction of Undertakers and A Sclerosis of Fast Food.

Mr. Lipton’s examples are better than mine of course, but here are a few of my collective nouns. Be a shrivel of critics. Feel free to write back with improvements on my collection or to add your own!

A poverty of know nothings

A craven of dupes

A grievance of voters

A copyright of believers

An insult of tweets or perhaps a dawn or a blackmail of tweets

A blind of ethicists

A corruption of advisers or perhaps a flattery of advisors

An injunction of liberals or perhaps a plaint or a submission of liberals

A treachery of governors or perhaps a flippancy or a hazard of governors

A hoax of climate scientists

A callous of insurers

A swamp of legislators  or perhaps a bog or a marsh or an obstruction of legislators

A voucher of schools

An apathy of law or perhaps an impropriety of law

An insouciant of cabinet members

An imbalance of billionaires or perhaps a disinterest or a profit of billionaires

A tightness of corporations or a parsimony or a Scrooge of corporations

A party of conflicts or perhaps a family business of conflicts

An inconvenience of facts or perhaps a finesse of facts

I hope this leads to a cordite of ideas!

Last Saturday was a miserable day of snow, subzero temperatures and gray light so dark you needed illumination all day. Sunday morning when the storm was over we had more than a foot of picture-perfect, spotless dry powder. The snow was so fluffy that my snow shoes couldn’t keep me on the surface, but it was impossible to stay indoors. I plodded around the meadow sinking knee deep with each step despite the snow shoes.

A winter sun, strong as it can be in January, tinged the shadows, lengthened by its low arc, blue. That sun’s photons also promptly cleared both solar arrays of their snowy blankets, and popped the electrons in silicon cells of the PV panels into action. My energy factory was fully operational by noon.

If you have to have winter, it should be like the day after the storm. By mid week, warm rain, falling at night, washed the snow away. I’m old enough to know that winter isn’t over in January. But I’m not too old to wish that a warm day with a strong breeze could hasten spring’s return.

Maybe it did. The ground is workable. Despite temperatures under 40, the sun was out. In an hour and a half, I cleared a 15 foot by 15 foot section of meadow of both Chinese wisteria and honeysuckle (Lonicera I presume japonica, i.e., no good!) roots. I’ve let the Lonicera vine get too firm a foothold in that north western area close to the house and under the Maple. It thrives as well  in the section of the meadow behind the western evergreen hedgerow and out to the road, but this is to be the year of trying to control the more open part of the meadow to prevent its escape into the boarder field.

I like to think I slowed the vine’s spread down. Slowing down a weed by pulling it up by its roots is a cherished concept of mine. I know eradication doesn’t work according to this metaphor, but I’ve held the notion so long I can’t remember when I did not use it as a mantra while weeding. Did I inherit this from my father? He preached trying to get all the root out when pulling weeds. But his battlefield was a lawn and his target mostly dandelions. You can slow down a dandelion by removing most of its tap root. Did I invent it myself? Whatever its origins, eradicating an invasive takes lots more muscle than pulling some of its roots.

Let the record show, however, that I found less than 3 feet of Bittersweet root and only one grub. When I’d finished the ground looked not dissimilar to terrain I’d seen in the Hill Country of Texas where wild boars are a nuisance.

Wildlife is reappearing as the days lengthen. Three robust squirrels with fulsome, twitchy tails have been prowling under the bird feeders. I can’t figure out their familial relationships: one seemed perturbed by another; these two ignored the third. A red squirrel has come out of hiding. Though I have not seen two together, its a good bet we have two red squirrels. I scared one down the driveway — that is in a different part of my yard from where I’d seen a red squirrel before; he darted across the road and through a hole in the neighbor’s stone wall suggesting he might live over there. One red squirrel is plenty.

I tried to snap a photo of the FIVE male Northern cardinals who are in residence. By the time I had my camera out (photo of three attached), two males had flown into the Douglas firs. Five couples increases the carry capacity of past years by one pair.

Three of five male Northern cardinals

Remains of a Blue jayThe Blue jays have not done as well. Carrying capacity has been two pairs. Earlier this year a Sharp-shined hawk had a jay for lunch. The pile of feathers was the tip. I had a rare sighting of the hawk recently. It perched atop the bird feeder with its back to the kitchen window allowing me to decide it was Sharp-shined not Cooper’s by the shortness of its tail. Needless to say, the entire meadow was silent of all bird calls while he visited. Had I not been on the phone, I just might have caught the hawk on camera; he sat for longer than I anticipated.

Looking forward to the breeding season, I emptied inactive nests from the four bird houses. One nest had been built by a Carolina wren, two were made by Tree swallows and one was an incomplete effort by House sparrow. I did not remove a sparrow’s nest from a Prairie rose bush. I also just admired the many insect galls attached to the stronger stems still standing in the meadow.

My book dealing neighbor gave me a book on moss gardening. I don’t need another project, but it’s encouraged me to be more accepting of what moss I already have. On my circuit around the meadow today, I photographed the club mosses in the path in the lower field and the moss that has taken hold where I’m allowing sedges to propagate under the three Amelanchier trees.

With apologies to William Cronin for taking his title, this is an update on changes in my land — the old field, the wood lot and the election.

First the old field. Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, the larval host to the beleaguered Monarch butterfly, and various Goldenrods, Solidago, are reclaiming territory from the intensely hearty switch grass, Panicum virgatum, planted a decade ago atop the then new septic field. Switch grass prevented the Little blue stem, Schizachyrium scoparium, also planted in the disturbed soil of the sewer project, from taking hold. But in the last season or two, volunteer (i.e., not planted) forbs have pushed the grass back at least 10 feet.

My opinion carries little weight in this rebalancing especially since I’m disinterested (so far) in intervening. Yet I feel some relief. The Switch grass appears intrepid enough to march all over the meadow, if given free reign. Since I would not want that, maybe I can count on the Goldenrod and Milkweed to keep the Switch grass in bounds. Switch grass, like all tall prairie grasses, roots deeply to anchor its sod-forming clumps, so an assist from the forbs would be welcome.

In the wet lower portion of the field, another competition with a a less desirable outcome unfolded this summer. Again Goldenrod species were involved. This time they pushed the Joe-pye weeds, Eupatorium, into retreat but not extinction. Again, my opinion doesn’t matter; this part of the field is spared my trespass because it is too boggy. But I like the Joe-pyes with their pink and violet clustered flowers; they break the monotony of the Goldenrods. May they rage back next summer!

Second the wood lot. Winter storm, Nemo, of 2013 felled nearly half of a century old White pine in the wood lot. The tree never recovered. This summer’s drought may have been the final straw. The losers here are the birds, especially the woodpeckers, who have banged away at its bark for generations. The oaks behind the pine will have a better shot at some sunlight. The wood lot will evolve.

Dead White pine

Dead White pine

Finally, my country. It’s Election Day guaranteeing changes in my wider land. The Economist, based on “opinion polls, betting markets and forecasters,”  suggests a 20 to 30% chance that Trump can win the presidency. It makes various grim analogies for that probability to rain on a given day in London or rolling a 6 on a dice. This “probably won’t happen. But history is made by low-probability, high-impact events, and a Trump win would certainly be that,” writes the journal.

I’m rooting hard (prying desperately?) for the higher probability outcome of a Clinton victory. That would be the better change for the land.