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Nature's Notebook

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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One-eyed cardinal

A one-eyed cardinal regularly visits our bird feeder. He often comes in late afternoon, when no other birds are around, and when I can I put out a little fresh seed. He makes himself right at home, filling up.

He’s slender and has lots of brown feathering on his back, so is a young bird. Often lately he has had a female friend. 

Wononscopomuc — what a name

Robert Graves — all I know about him is his name — visited here for a few days in 1891. He wrote an essay about his experiences.  I don’t know which publication it originally appeared in, but I found a reprint in, of all places, the Bismarck, N.D., Daily Tribune for June 12 that year.
Graves was headed for southwest Massachusetts (Bash-Bish Falls), but stopped over in Salisbury, where he found the scenery very restful. 

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Balsam fir

I stood in front of the grocery store, a few days ago, my hand on the shopping cart, but not moving. I just absorbed the rich aroma of the wreaths suspended from triangular frames.
Smells trigger memories. Memories of visiting my grandmother’s kitchen, in a small town in Quebec, as she cooked lunch on her wood-burning kitchen stove. Memories of throwing hay bales on the back of the International stake-body truck on a hot summer day. Memories of sliding head-first through slick mud into a frog pond.

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Rolling stone

An unidentified traveler writing about his or her “Latest Exploring Expedition” for the New York Spectator of July 24, 1840, was taken with this area’s busy industry.

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Fast Day came first

Two weeks after the disastrous Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, Congress requested, and President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, a national Fast Day. It was to be “a day of public humiliation, prayer and fasting, to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnities, and the offering of fervent supplications to Almighty God for the safety and welfare of these States, His blessings on their arms, and a speedy restoration of peace.”

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Almanac wisdom

Put on your winter tires if you don’t drive with year-round radials.
Drain outside hoses or air conditioner pipes.
Put on storm windows if you don’t have double-glazed ones.
Have your chimney cleaned if you heat with wood — or biomass, as they seem to call it today.
All good advice.

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