Category Archives: Environment

Refilling the Feeder – The Cardinal’s Yard

Recently, at the end of a long day, we pulled into our driveway ready to re-up for the slow arrival of Maine’s spring. The dirt-infused snow was still deep on the front yard, and the bushes around the house still slumped beneath the winter’s weight. But there in greeting also was a lozenge of fire, red atop the rhododendron – the cardinal who knows our yard as his territory looked directly at us and offered announcement, sort of a squall of welcome. What, he seemed to say, are you going to do about the feeder out back?

We have a holly, and we have a cardinal, but these are not they. Photo: Bigstock

We have a holly, and we have a cardinal, but these are not they. Photo: Bigstock

 

So, before unpacking the car, I went to that feeder and shook out the residue of seed husks, then filled it with fresh provender.

This morning brought reward in familiar flurries. Chickadees and nuthatches, including a red-breasted one, flew in and lit to take their accustomed single seeds, which they then carried to a nearby pine. House sparrow arrived and performed his usual task – grabbing and then flinging seeds here and there before settling on one to actually eat.

The sparrow must be the cardinal’s friend because not long after he’d flung seeds this way and that, the cardinal stopped by for the sunflower seeds now on the ground. Ever-alert, he hopped and sorted among the downed seeds until he found one he liked; then he split the husk and downed the seed in a gulp. Then on to the next.

Yesterday, the goldfinches arrived. There, suddenly, they were, looking like yellow thumbs (up).

So too, one of the neighborhood cats, for whom I am a backyard Maori – unaccustomed to being chased, cats run from the expletive-spewing, hand-waving emergence from our backdoor; then at the fringe of the woods, they always look back in further disbelief, before vanishing.

I’d welcome some not-too-antisocial advice about discouraging cat-visits. I’m loathe to go to the warning sting of a b-b or pellet gun, but, clearly, I’ve considered it. Perhaps coyote urine, easily purchased these days? Perhaps you have a favorite solution? Perhaps I will post our little stamp of land, alert our neighbors, and then have at whatever slinking cats appear.

Or, perhaps, I can entice our local rooster to hang out more in our yard; the cats seem wary of him (as am I).

We’re a little too suburban to need to heed the advice to take down our feeders in April as guard against bear-visits – no bears live in and wander our local woods, even as I see sometimes a fox step from them and the wild percussion of our pileated woodpeckers sets my toe tapping.

And so, until summer starts offering its menu, I’ll keep heeding the cardinal and filling the feeder. Surely, I get more back than I give.

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Filed under Environment, General, Living Deliberately, Nature, The Roost

Spring’s Songs – Jonathan Franzen and Henry Thoreau and Birds

A purple finch showed up in our yard yesterday, just hours ahead of the last (I hope) snowfall. And my daily footwork was again suffused with bluebird song. These birds then triggered a rereading of an essay that had caught my eye but then slipped into the welter of partially-read pieces.

Purple Finch (carpodacus Purpureus)

You, if a reader of this blog, have grown used to our stepping onto the springboard of Thoreau’s journal writings; from there, we often dive into something daily, some moment of the local world. Today we climb a little higher, then drop a little farther from the platform of Jonathan Franzen’s recent essay, Carbon Capture, ( http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/04/06/carbon-capture)  in the April 6th New Yorker. From (and in) it, we consider the vast challenge of climate change and the sliver of effect we call personal response. Franzen’s piece, the best response to this calamity that I’ve read, brings us back to Henry Thoreau – not by specific mention, but by its suggestion that local attention and conserving work can be redemptive, can be a daily way forward in a difficult time.

In struggling to come to personal terms with climate change and its vast pronouncement, Franzen writes of birds, of local study and care that echoes Thoreau’s understanding that, when it came to universal concerns and understanding, he had “traveled a good deal in Concord.” Franzen’s central thought is direct: climate change is real and unstoppable; its scale so dwarfs a person’s efforts as to negate them, and so, even as large environmental organizations and figures recommend combating it, focus on climate change draws a person away from work where she or he can have effect, can live a life – working for conservation of habitat for birds and other animals, for example.

As he considers himself and us, Franzen identifies two central strains of thought that divide us: the Puritan, guilty-as-charged school and the positive, life-affirming Franciscan school. In shifting his focus from guilt-inducing efforts to have personal effect on climate change to life-affirming work for bird habitats, Franzen chooses life and whatever measure of joy it may contain. His implied question is a simple one: do you want to live a guilt-ridden, powerless life or a commitment-suffused one?

Franzen is not naive. He knows that climate change will alter habitats, will affect every thing. But he points out that global scale trouble and guilt finally overwhelm and paralyze. If, every time you have an effect – which is of course, every minute – you feel guilty about it, you step finally away from such wearying awareness. If instead, you feel you are working at least some of the time for some small sector of life, local habitat, for example, you can be buoyed by small victories, lifted by your embrace of the local.

Thoreau, of course, knew the lure and redemption of the local. His journal is a record of engagement and, yes, love, of where he walked and what he found.

Journal, April 9th, 1856: 7 A.M. – To Trillium Woods…The air is full of birds, and as I go down the causeway, I distinguish the seringo note. You have only to come forth each morning to be surely advertised of each newcomer into these broad meadows. Many a larger animal might be concealed, but a cunning ear detects the arrival of each new species of bird. These birds give evidence that they prefer the fields of New England to all other climes, deserting for them the warm and fertile south. Here is their paradise. It is here they express the most happiness by song and action.

I have taken a nuanced, developed essay and simplified it (without too much damage, I hope). It is worth reading in its fullness. Just as the birds singing in today’s new snow remind that today is there to live in its fullness.

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Living Deliberately, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote

Cosmopolite Geese (plus swans)

By Corinne H. Smith

“Why not keep pace with the day…and the migration of birds? … The wild goose is more a cosmopolite than we; he breaks his fast in Canada, takes a luncheon in the Susquehanna, and plumes himself for the night in a Louisiana bayou.” ~ Thoreau’s journal, March 21, 1840

The Austrian Alps may be alive with the sound of music., but today in the farmlands and suburbia of southeastern Pennsylvania, the skies are alive with the calls of waterfowl. It’s “Goose music,” as Midwestern nature writer Aldo Leopold once called it. The Canada geese and the white tundra swans fly (and chatter) over us in Vs, in straight lines, and in disorganized and dynamic swiggles. They use the mile-wide gray ribbon of the Susquehanna River as their North Star. Our leftover cornfields and fine-trimmed farm ponds make good touchdowns and rest stops. Then, after a time, the birds take off again, in a whirl of whipping wings and whoops and hollers.

geese1

The geese could probably stop anywhere. The tundra swans, however, are heading for the shorelines of Hudson Bay and Canada’s Nunavut territory. They’ve still got a long way to go before reaching their summer home.

Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans

Our friend Henry Thoreau used exaggeration for effect when he claimed that a Canada goose could cross the north-to-south width of our country in just one day. (And why he had the bird flying south in a journal entry written in March is a mystery.) One online source I found said that Canada geese travel north at about the same rate as the season advances. 34° Fahrenheit is the key temperature they use to move. No wonder we’ve seen and heard many migrants recently. Our recent daytime temperatures have averaged around this mark or higher.

Whenever I hear the distant honks and whoops, I have to go outside and look up. I need to catch sight of the birds, hurrying on their way to wherever. I want to follow them someday, I think. I could just get in the car and keep an eye out and drive as they fly. The birds tend to take overland routes and to go “cross lots,” as Henry used to say, where no roads lead. Following them could be tough. And if they stopped to rest with other flocks, how would I recognize which batch was “mine” upon take off? I would have that pesky they-all-look-alike-to-me problem, at least at first. Darn.

For now, I guess I’ll have to watch the geese and travel with them vicariously. I’ll imagine the sights they’ll see along their journeys, both from the air and then on land. I’ll admire their instinct and tenacity.

When I return to the writings of Aldo Leopold, I find that he was also fascinated by seeing these guys in spring. And he imagined their later lives, too.

“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring. … By this international commerce of geese, the waste corn of Illinois is carried through the clouds of the Arctic tundras, there to combine with the waste sunlight of a nightless June to grow goslings for all the lands between. And in this annual barter of food for flight, and winter warmth for summer solitude, the whole continent receives as net profit a wild poem dropped from the murky skies upon the muds of March.” ~ Aldo Leopold, “March,” in “A Sand County Almanac”

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Filed under Environment, General, Henry David Thoreau, Literature, Nature, News and Events, The Roost, Thoreau Quote