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Nature's Notebook

The oak and the maple and our dashed hopes

I should have known better. Daring to predict the quality of the autumn foliage in New England is an act of hubris that seldom goes unanswered. Alert readers of this column will have noticed that despite my assertion in September that we had the potential for an outstanding display of fall color, we have instead experienced one of the drabbest, most muted and altogether lackluster leaf peeping seasons in recent memory. 

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The garden gets a B-

Autumn’s arrival prompted a veggie garden evaluation: B-minus. Tomatoes did very well, basil too. Potatoes could have grown a little bigger before the tops died down. Green beans were enormously prolific. But the vine produce — peas, cucumbers and zucchini — were victims likely of the heat and munchy worms. Carrots are stubby and apparently too wet: they started to grow roots. Kale was happy. 
We’re tempted to skip the beans next year; the two of us can only eat so many.

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A vote that can protect our preserved lands

For more than a century, people of good will and vision have worked with our state agencies to ensure that some of what makes our region so distinctive remains for future generations. If you have ever visited Campbell Falls or Peoples State Forest or Housatonic Meadows or any of the more than 60,000 acres of public lands protected by the state of Connecticut in the Northwest Corner, you have been the beneficiary of their foresight. 

Bat basketed

Case opened  21:01 hours, top of stairs in attic chamber outside master bedroom: Flickering shadows from energy-efficient lightbulb turned out to be caused by a circling bat. Backup called and assault team assembled.

First-to-show was Night Security Officer Winslow the Cat, who danced on the railing in frantic manner, pawing upward as if to nab invader in his paws.

Senior SWAT team member arrived and delegated Officer Cat (under protest) to downstairs traffic control. 

As the NW Corner becomes a beer bastion

On a whim three years ago, I purchased a pair of potted hops plants. I have a very compact garden in the one corner of my backyard that gets sufficient sunlight, and I placed them in the center of the back line. Then I ignored them.

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Same turtle, new name

The unobtrusive and federally threatened bog turtle managed to get a new scientific name quite a few years ago without my being aware of it. 

The world of taxonomy has been upended by genetic sequencing. It turns out that while previously grouped all together in the genus Clemmys, bog turtles are closely related to wood turtles but not directly related to spotted turtles (Clemmys guttata). The bog turtle is now Glyptemys muhlenbergii and the wood turtle Glyptemys insculpta.

An ode to AC and ice cubes

Today is another hot and humid day in a summer that has seen many of them. Despite recent rains, the rivers remain low and the sun is bright and my garden still thirsts for rain. Some folks like it hot and muggy but I am not one of them. Today is the kind of day I wish I were at the beach, rather than in a room without air conditioning.

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It’s only ankle high

Scots historian Alexander Stewart has given me some useful language.
His “ ‘Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe: The Natural History, Legends and Folk-Lore of the West Highlands” (published in Edinburgh in 1885) includes a witty section about how folks in his day measured precipitation. 

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Learning about iron

This area, as you know, was once home to a thriving pig iron industry that exploited veins of Salisbury iron along the Housatonic River valley. You can learn about this history at Beckley Furnace in East Canaan, where a Friends group offers Saturday interpretive programs at a restored furnace stack, and Kent Furnace, part of the Eric Sloane Museum, which has a preserved stack.

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Secret paths

If you are anything like me, you don’t go into the woods hoping for a crowd. 
Popular recreation destinations with easy access and amenities have their charms, but the back country should be a refuge and our presence there a privilege. 
With more than 550 miles of trails in northwest Connecticut, some are little frequented and virtually unknown outside a small circle of users. Others are definitely in the be-prepared-and-use-at-your-own-risk category: poorly marked, poor cell service, minimally maintained. 

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