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Nature's Notebook

Time for ‘bear crossing’ signs?

I was driving home a few days ago when an adult black bear dashed across the road. It passed in front of a car just ahead of mine. Instead of vaulting over the guardrail when it reached the other side, the bear squeezed under it. I was impressed. 
There is not much space between the uprights of that barrier. My wife has seen a bear hopscotch over a guardrail. It made me think about how these large mammals navigate this landscape, and what they consider when they are forced to break cover and cross the road.

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Hopes, dreams, glory, baseball and pole beans

It is no accident that our pastoral national pastime follows the agricultural calendar. It begins with seed catalogs and statistics, comparing yields and averages. During the preseason we rely on artificial light and warmer climes to condition our players and start our seedlings. 
On Opening Day we rake the baselines and till the soil, preparing our starting lineups. Peas and beans lead off with lettuce and spinach, quick on the bases but just as quick to bolt when the weather turns sultry.

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Nature waits quietly for us to notice

It seems odd that I have not yet seen a bear this year. There are plenty around, and I know from the state of my bird feeders and trash bins in early spring that at least one bear paid my house a visit during the night, but our paths have yet to cross. 
Last year I saw four of them, including one that ambled down our street at twilight and others that lumbered across various highways and back roads before my approaching car.

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Heavy labor in heavy wool in a heatwave

I spent last weekend dressed in natural fibers: woolen broadcloth, checked linen and alum-tanned deerskin. This is not an unusual occurrence for me, because in addition to my professional and personal interests in environmental conservation I am an avid reenactor of 18th-century American history. 
What was unusual was the extreme heat and humidity. A wiser or more cautious individual might have decided to stay at home. I, of course, went to Fort Ticonderoga.

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Black caps and the dreams of childhood

For many of us, the common black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis) was the first foraged food of childhood.
Known here in New England as “black caps,” their vines can prick and scratch but lack the fearsome barbs of the blackberry cane.
Our small fingers learned the soft touch required to loosen the fruit from the stem without squashing our prizes, though stained fingers (and sometimes clothing) was the customary price of our harvest.

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MacGyvering

Things do seem to come in threes. Bad things more often than good. 
This spring, it was nothing really serious. Mechanical failures, mostly.
The spin cycle in the Hotpoint washing machine began picketing then went on strike. No way was I going to dismantle the thing or call a repairman. It was old. It was time for a new machine.

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Inspiration and transformation

I have been enjoying the recent fine weather and embracing my inner cottage gardener. I live on a small lot with a backyard that is large enough to contain one very old sugar maple and small enough so that the areas that get full sun are confined to the margins. There is usually a breeze in the afternoon and if there are not too many mosquitoes it can be one of the most peaceful places to spend my time. 

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Pathways for predators, prey, humans

One morning as I was walking down a country road, a bobcat crossed ahead of me. I barely saw it because, instead of running over the blacktop, it dashed under the road through a narrow culvert, pausing on the other side to watch my approach before disappearing into the deeper cover of the woods. The channel was dry and the diameter of the tunnel no wider than a large pizza. There was no barrier to it going over the top. It clearly preferred the option of keeping to the shadows.

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Gently getting rid of the voles

I have learned something important about moles and voles: Only one of them is damaging my perennial flower beds. 
The eastern mole is insectivorous and eats grubs, earthworms and other insects. The meadow vole eats plants, seeds and tubers. It is especially fond of some of the native wildflowers I have been assiduously establishing for more than 15 years in my gardens. I’ve been falsely accusing the mole of the vole’s handiwork.

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Food profiteering

Walk through a large Stop & Shop or Hannaford’s and you’ll wonder at the unending array of food available. Lots of choices.
It was well before my time, but things weren’t so comfortable in the aftermath of World War I, when food supplies were slim and profiteering was a major concern.

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