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Nature's Notebook

Chilly, eh?

Sunday’s cold finally did in my PT Cruiser’s starter, which took the battery with it. 
That was on top of the furnace running full time, not being able to take our usual 1.5-mile walks and constantly trekking outside to keep the voracious cardinals, chickadees and their feather mates in seed supply.
Good news was the heating fuel tank was refilled before it ran dry, no pipes froze and the new, teenage gray tiger cat kept us amused.

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Beaking news at the feeder

My bird feeders took a beating last year, with bears dragging them off before spring and squirrels chewing their replacements to shreds. Right now most of the action is at ground level, where slate-colored junkos predominate, and one of our resident black squirrels is a regular visitor. This end-of-year cold snap has me wondering what unusual northern birds might be attracted to my feeders if I make another effort to provide for them.

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When Nature leaps out in front of you

I had what one of my friends calls a “Marlin Perkins moment” recently during an early-morning walk. It was an encounter with wildlife that reawakened the sense of wonder and connection to the natural world that those of us of a certain age used to experience vicariously on our black-and-white television screens during “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” conceived and hosted by zoologist Perkins from 1963 to 1985. 

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Shady business

Eastern redbud trees are known for showing off in spring. Their purple pink flowers contrast with the yellowish greens of other trees.
The Arbor Day Foundation praises their dramatic displays, irregular branching patterns and spreading, often flat-topped crown.
That may describe their redbud; it’s not what ours looks like.
And that comes from the nature of our modest (quarter acre — eight trees) arboretum.

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Mental safari

I’ve been dreaming of Africa, which is a sure sign that the daylight hours are getting short and I’ve been indoors too long.  It has been nearly 20 years since I returned from Namibia and began my conservation work in our corner of New England, not far from my childhood wilderness in the mid-Hudson valley.  I have seen many natural marvels here in the Northwest Corner — basking rattlesnakes and bog turtles among them —but I left a piece of my heart in the Southern Hemisphere and it calls to me still.

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That wasn’t really snow …

November snow doesn’t count. Sometimes a cold rain that falls in the valley leaves a clean snowline halfway up the mountainside, and for a few hours the pines and oaks above that elevation are glazed with white. Or perhaps it comes on the kind of day when we say the sky looks like snow, as if the air itself were made of the stuff it carries, and soon enough flurries come wet and thick and melt on the pavement. We get to enjoy these outriders of the real winter, a guiltless pleasure that does not add inches to the annual tally.

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Put to bed

It’s more enjoyable to start the garden in the spring than to clean it up in autumn. 
In April there’s the expectation of things to come. In November, the knowledge of what you’ve managed to produce.
We had a good garden this year, earning a B+ or A. Peas didn’t do well, nor onions. Beans as usual surpassed themselves. Potatoes were fine, as was kale. Lettuce was so-so. 

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Ghost story

The scariest stories I know about our woods are seldom told around the campfire. There are waves of tree-killers advancing toward us, some that are already here and others — incipient invaders — that only vigilance at the point of introduction manages to contain. 
The free and global movement of goods and people makes new introductions inevitable. The forests of our future may well consist of hickories and red maples and not much else.

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Observant

I recently led a group of seventh-graders on a woodland hike, stressing, not speed, but awareness. Look around you, what do you see, what does it tell you about earlier activity? How does it give you a greater sense of your place?

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Autumn color: maybe in 2018

After last weekend, the latest in a string of autumn days with temperatures well above average, I looked at the drab, browning foliage and have decided it is time to call it for color this season. 
This will not play well with tourism boosters or those who are naturally inclined to be optimistic, but this year is a bust as far as fall leaves are concerned.  

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