Friday, October 30, 2009

Why Do I Have To think of Everything?

It's so obvious.
To catch drug peddlers, arrest
Cars with "Dealer" plates.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

First You Lose Grammatical Control

Real-life Haiku from our neighborhood grocery store.

Harried store clerk to
Dithered cereal shopper:
"Look, all oats is good!"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nevermore, Or Not.

I am surprised that I didn't have symbolism on my mind. A couple of nights previous Mars and I had attended an evening with an Edgar Allan Poe recreator at our local library. Along with telling tales of the author's life, the actor recited "The Telltale Heart" and "The Raven".
"What does the raven symbolize?" asked one of the many high school students in attendance.

Poe dissembled but says, "Birds are usually used to represent prophetic knowledge, bloodshed, and skill."

So perhaps I should have been more disquieted by the flesh-gorging hawk in the left rough along the first fairway on the North Golf Course at Goodwin Park. After all, had Julius Caesar paid more attention to the portent of "the bird of night [that] did sit even at noon-day upon the market-place, hooting and shrieking" he might still be alive today. Well probably not actually.

But birds, being birds, do not think of themselves as meaningfully metaphorical. It was, after all, just doing what predators do -- predating. Most likely it was hungry and just needed a quiet spot to stop and have a quick bite to eat -- taking advantage of the same surprisingly warm October weather that inspired Mars and I to recant our previous decision to halt our 2009 golf season and return to the sunny, warm New England links for a few more swings. (Never say nevermore.) And, immersed in the rapidly warming nine a.m. sun, golden tall grasses, red sumac bushes, and orange-turning maple trees, I wasn't in a mindset to be spooked by the frightening foreshadowing of a ferociously feeding gray and white falcon.

We couldn't see exactly what he was dining on -- even as close as twenty yards all entrails look pretty much alike -- but given the plethora of potential prey on the golf links and its surrounding park there are certainly enough easy-to-acquire entrees. One might even suspect that this particular raptor never had a reason to eat away from home or even to do take-out.

We normally see one or two of these large birds of prey sitting atop the course's taller trees every time we play there. They are Red Tailed Hawks -- the scarlet hind feathers are plainly obvious -- and very likely a couple.
"Red-tailed hawk pairs remain together for years in the same territory. These birds are very territorial, and defend territories that range in size from 0.85 to 3.9 square kilometers, depending on the amount of food, perches, and nest sites in the territory."

That converts to about 2.4 miles square, which easily covers the entire park including the golf course.

The hawk finished its snack and flew away just as Mars was hitting her second shot from a spot immediately to its right. It didn't seem to be carrying anything, and I did not go over to see what it might have left behind -- the grass in the rough can be unpleasant enough by itself. It landed in a nearby brightly foliated maple tree and appeared to be settling in for a post-prandial siesta.

We moved on.

The course was empty enough to allow Mars and I to double back and replay several holes. And with no one right behind us we frequently played two and even three balls at a time.

The sun became stronger and warmer. We walked through piles of acorns under oak trees with leaves colored half green and half rust. Fleece sweaters were removed. Pockets of Canada goose feathers and droppings surrounded our golf balls on several fairways. A chocolate Labrador puppy stumbled alongside its "mom" next to the fourth green. By noontime, when we decided to stop playing, the course was beginning to fill with scores of spontaneous half-day vacationers.

At home later that afternoon the pure white finch that we had seen on the prior Sunday reappeared at our bird feeders.

A good omen no doubt -- but on this day unnecessary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

...How Can That Be?

"It was a misty moisty morning, when cloudy was the weather." The first nor'easter of the year was (so to speak) heating up. Outdoor activities were just not to be. Mars and I were nestled in the family room reading more of Sunday paper than we usually would "when out on the lawn there arose such a clatter."

"Jim, there's a hawk in the tree!"

"The tree" is our floriculturally faltering flowering crab that we maintain in our front yard as the repository of our bird feeding stations. It is located ten feet in front of our window, and the branch on which our visitor sat is around seven feet off the ground.

The bird of prey sat perfectly still with its gray and white speckled back to us, turning its head around slowly -- more like an athlete gently working out the kinks than a raptor searching for second breakfast.

Later I looked in our bird identifying book and determined that, based on the illustrations therein, it could be a juvenile member of any number of hawk clans -- including several that have no right being in our part of the country. Still later the folks across the street identified it as a Cooper's hawk. So, because they know what they are talking about and since there is a neighbor with that name for whom it could have been looking, I will go with that.

Because of the dismal weather the feeders had been unusually inactive all morning. I was hypothesizing that the same unpleasant conditions might have driven this raptor to the more sheltered lower elevations when I noticed two of our three resident squirrels climbing up the tree towards the large, frighteningly obvious predator.

These tree-rodents, whom Mars has taken to calling "The Heathers", are hardly what you would call "streetwise". Born and home-schooled on our property their only experience with animals larger than themselves is basically us -- sources of food for them rather than vice-versa.

The first Heather to notice the hawk stopped in her tracks about three feet from the large bird. Her eyes got almost cartoonishly large and she crouched low with every muscle in her body tensed. Then she began to hop back and forth on the tree branch while staying totally in that taut, scrunched down position -- neither bending any body part nor lifting her feet in the process. She looked like a hand operated toy that might appear on the Antiques Roadshow. The hawk never acknowledged her presence.

Then Heather(2) approached on an adjacent tree limb. Where H(1) appeared nonplussed, H(2) was antagonistic and pugnacious -- the courage of ignorance. She assumed an about-to-spring, attack position and began to talk smack to the still oblivious hawk.

I figured it was just a matter of time before our visiting predator snapped out of its Zen state and turned our unassuming crab tree into a nature documentary crime scene. I decided to intervene.

I stepped out the front door into the gently falling rain. The hawk, which had now turned partially in my direction, appeared not to notice my arrival. Heather(1) stopped spinning, turned tail, and left the tree. With my eyes focused on Cooper, I saw her running across the yard in my peripheral vision. Heather(2) continued her rant.

Meanwhile Mars ran upstairs to get her camera and I stood motionless just outside the door hoping against hope that I didn't end up throwing myself bodily between onrushing predator and cowering predatee.

I needn't have worried. As soon as Mars handed me the camera and I began to compose my first photo of the two tree occupants, Cooper flew away and Heather(2) also left the scene.

Two hours later Mars was bemoaning our lack of photographic evidence when she once again spotted Cooper landing back on the same branch. ("How d' you do and how d' you do and how d' you do again.")

This time there were no squirrels in sight and the camera was at the ready. I stepped out again into the precipitation and was able to take this tree photo before the hawk flew out of our yard onto a nearby street sign.

(Please click photo to enlarge.)

Camera in hand I followed him.

(Please click photo to enlarge.)

Within an hour Mars was calling again for me to "look out the window, quick."

No hawk this time, but eating sunflower seeds on the ground beneath the tree, along with other several other small birds, was a pure white, similarly sized bird.

"Could it be an escaped parakeet?"

It flew up on to our quince bush where we were able to get a better look. We saw that the bird did not have the pink-colored eyes of an albino but did have a thin black stripe at the spot where each wing joined its torso. The size, head/body shape, and tail configuration were identical to those of the gold finches and purple finches that surrounded this severely bleached bird atop the thorny shrub. Then the whole flock left the scene before we could digitally document our sighting.

A thorough check of the bird book once again turned up nothing -- no Cooper's finch, no ivory hued juveniles. Several years ago Mars and I saw a white grackle in our yard. Later an Audubon person told me that such lack-of-pigment aberrations do happen occasionally in the avian world -- sometimes the colors just don't take. Unlike the Cooper's Hawk the white finch did not return for its photo shoot.

Earlier in the day I was going to ask Mars if she wanted to see "Where The Wild Things Are" that afternoon. Obviously we didn't have to.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

If I Were A Carpenter

If I had known that the ninth hole of the Goodwin Park North Course was going to be our last one of the year I would have stopped at the eighth. Whatever it is you are doing, you always want to end on a good note.

I scored par on that second to last green -- unusual for me, an above average golfer in the bad sense of the term. But it wasn't the number of strokes that made that hole worth stopping for. It was my second shot -- a one hundred and thirty yarder from a downhill lie in the short rough.

It stunned me. In fact it's been over a week since it happened and I am still trying to figure it out.

Here is what I have concluded. This year I've been working hard to make sure that all of my golf shots actually have a target. This may seem obvious but frequently in the past I would sort-of visually pick out a desired endpoint, then sort-of align my body to that goal, then hit the ball.

One reason was my impatience to just swing the club. But the principal cause was a feeling that, at my level of golfing ability, the target was a general area rather than a specific spot.

This whole approach also affected the way that I watched my golf shots. Normally I picked up the flight of the ball by briefly glancing at the mid-air spot at which I was trying to aim. Apparently I didn't expect to find it there because I immediately began scanning the surrounding ether in ever-increasing sweeps. Then I asked Mars where it went

This time I picked an actual target -- a maple tree behind the eighth hole. This time I envisioned the path to that tree. And this time, when I looked up, the ball was actually there, en route to the tree -- just the way I had planned it. And it continued on that aerial path until it landed on the green in exactly the spot I had hoped it would. This whole thing was a first for me.

As a twelve year old I watched my Uncle Al, a carpenter by trade, install a door that he had built into my parent's home.

I recall little if anything of the actual woodworking process. But I do clearly remember my uncle, cigarette in hand -- for a good thirty minutes -- simply sitting, smoking, and admiring his finished product. I have ever seen anyone happier or more proud.

But I didn't have either a chair, or a pack of Lucky Strikes in my golf bag. And Mars was now on the green, so it was my turn to putt.

We finished the hole and, following the protocol of the sport, I walked quickly to the ninth tee. Without thinking I picked out a very general target area and drove the ball to a spot within it -- barely

Maybe I should take up carpentry.

Monday, October 05, 2009


When Mars and I came back from our three week September sabbatical to New Mexico all of the wildlife to whom we provided sustenance had disappeared. Some of them have come back. But the two biggest eaters have either reappeared in severely diminished numbers or completely flown the coop.

We maintain two large feeders -- one of sunflower seeds and one of thistle -- plus two small "walk-inside-of" pottery feeders for those birds such as chickadees that seem to prefer dining in a more intimate setting. With them we attracted a pretty constant variety of birds as well as, by pre-vacation count, eight squirrels and seventeen pigeons. At that time I was refilling both of the big feeders, at the least, every other day. And feeling pretty heroic about my obviously successful charitable efforts to end bird hunger.

The large seed feeder is plastic so, based upon previous unpleasant angry-squirrel experiences, I took it down and stored it safely in the garage while we were out of town. The thistle feeder is made of gnaw-proof metal and thus largely ignored by the destructive tree-rodents. I filled it, not expecting it to last for the duration, but assuming it would satisfy its regular visitors for a good part of that time since most of them had switched over to the end-of-season seed-bearing flowers in our perennial beds for most of their nourishment.

We arrived back in town around eleven p.m. so it wasn't until the next morning that I took stock of the bird feeding situation. I retrieved the plastic feeder, filled it with sunflowers, and hung it. To my surprise the thistle holder was not empty, so I topped it off. Then I replenished the pottery ones, threw some more sunflower seeds on the ground, and waited.

No one -- nobody, not a soul, not anyone, not a single visitor, never a one, none.

Day two, ditto.

On the third day we spotted a finch on the thistle tube. It wasn't gold. It wasn't green. It wasn't purple. It was basically colorless with a body seemingly lacking in feathers -- as desperate looking as I was feeling.

The next morning a small squirrel hung upside down from the sunflower feeder. It ate quietly and slowly, and then disappeared.

Over the next few days the level of the food dropped slowly even though neither Mars nor I saw what we thought was enough activity to explain why this was happening -- a goldfinch here or there, an occasional nuthatch or titmouse, purple finches, a few sparrows, a cardinal, one Downy woodpecker. A relatively steady stream, but definitely not rush hour at the diners.And still, there was only a single squirrel, and no pigeons at all.

This was a few weeks ago. Our squirrel population is now up to two, with an occasional third. There are still not any pigeons. I have refilled the feeders once, when they each got to be about one-half empty.

In spite of our reduced bird-food usage I decided to stock up on both thistle and sunflower seeds when we went to our favorite garden center to purchase our fall supply of chrysanthemums.

I mentioned to the proprietor that the number of avian diners had dropped off since before we went away.

"Grackles." he said.


"It's been the same for me all summer." he further explained. "I've been using barely any seeds. The grackles came and scared away all of the other birds. And they are still around."

We did have one member of that shiny-black feathered genus who was a regular customer at our sunflower station before we left. He was a juvenile who became attached to this feeder, and stayed behind after his parents shut down their nest and moved on to warmer climes. Now he too was gone.

Although we are using considerably less food I suspect that what we now have is considered normal volume for a successful bird-feeding operation. And the apparent busyness earlier in the year was distorted by the presence of two atypical, high-powered, gourmand machines.

That doesn't explain of course the non-reappearance of the pigeons, or the reduced number of squirrels. And there probably isn't an answer to be found anyway.

So Mars and I will just have to learn to live with it. We certainly aren't going to get any sympathy for losing something that most other people wouldn't have wanted in the first place.