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Nature's Notebook

Henry at 200

I now and then revisit the writings of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) especially to soak in his descriptions of traipsing the Maine woods and meandering around Concord, Mass. I admire his nature advocacy, his individuality and his remarkably compact yet detailed descriptions and anecdotes.
Were he still alive physically — literarily, he is more alive than ever — he would have been 200 on July 12.
His 1857 journal entry for today, July 13, 160 years ago, is about a trek to Rattlesnake Fern Swamp:

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Take a hike on a new trail

There are more than 700 miles of recreational trails in the northwest hills of Connecticut. I and several of my colleagues at the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) had the pleasure of helping to document each and every one of them under contract with the Northwest Hills Council of Governments. They range from trails of national significance, most notably the Appalachian Trail and many of Connecticut’s Blue Blazed Hiking Trails, to small paths maintained by local municipalities and land trusts.

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Garter snake

I shifted a plastic tarp on our basement floor to discover a coiled snake snoozing beneath. The reptile was probably cold, looking for a little warmth from its improvised shelter.
It would be happier outdoors, I figured. I fished a cardboard Scottish shortbread box from a trash container and tore off the ends. 
I suspected I would have to be fast to coax the snake into the box.
I should mention, this snake was about the girth and length of a pencil.

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Nest box neighbors

There are four nesting boxes in my backyard, and each of them has received attention from prospective tenants this spring. On these cool spring days, as long as it isn’t raining, I’ve enjoyed sitting beneath the maple tree and watching the coming and goings of my feathered neighbors. There is high drama going on amidst the birdhouses, down among the wattles of the garden fence and out over the old field beyond the gate that has been left to grow by my neighbor after several years as lawn.

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Bees on tour

I’ve seen a lot of things moving on wheels down Main Street — road graders, small houses, street railway cars — but this was a first. 
The big Freightliner was hauling a flatbed trailer stacked high with boxes, the cargo wrapped in clear plastic.
The truck had stopped at a crosswalk. As I went by, I could see through the plastic little buzzy objects. Bees. This was a load of bees. This was a giant, hundreds- of-hives load of bees!

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When the federal government really is here to help

In my column in the issue of May 11, I reported on funding that the federal government has awarded to the Highlands Conservation area.
For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Highlands Conservation Act (HCA) is arguably the most significant source of federal land protection funding in our region. 
Shared responsibility

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When lilacs last in the backyard bloomed

We purchased the 1920s Sears, Roebuck bungalow in 1978. It came with a lilac bush in the rear yard. The bush dutifully bloomed each spring. But gradually the flowering diminished.

I clipped out the old wood and it revived. For a while.

This year, nothing.

How could this be? You prowl along old country roads, follow a stone wall, find a stone cellarhole — and there will be either an old apple tree in the dooryard, or a lilac.

There are white lilacs, purple lilacs and what we called double lilacs — twice as purple as the regulars.

Despite challenges, a triumph for the environment in D.C.

Each year around this time, I dust off my lobbying shoes and head down to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the environment. I make appointments with legislators and their staff to talk about conservation programs in the federal budget and the importance of certain tax incentives for land protection. Sometimes my visits coincide with national efforts by the Land Trust Alliance on its advocacy days, and I usually represent the Highlands Coalition when I am in D.C., as well as my employer, the Housatonic Valley Association. 

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Danger in the coal pit

The upper Housatonic River valley brims with defunct ore mines, abandoned blast furnaces, forgotten lime kilns and, scattered hither and beyond on our hillsides, the remains of several thousand outdoor charcoal hearths, recognizable to the keen eye for their round, raised earthen platforms and dearth of tree growth (excepting birch, which doesn’t mind the pyrolitic acid in the soil). If you find one hearth, you’ll find more nearby. 
Charcoal was labor intensive and one of the most expensive aspects of iron processing here.

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Staying warm in old New England

Staying warm in old New England

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