Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Phil’s First Rule of Landscaping

One of the members of my Mens Garden Club died recently.  His obituary described him as "a master student of 'Mother Nature', observing and studying wildlife. A true naturalist, he believed in living, hunting and foraging. He enjoyed endless hours tending his gardens."

He offered advice willingly and expressed it colorfully.   Here, paraphrased slightly to make the Haiku poem syllable count, is:

 Phil’s First Rule of Landscaping

Trees want to be shaped
so birds can fly through them,
and rest in their shade.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Whodunit? And What Did They Really Do?

On my walk the other morning I passed by a beheaded pigeon body on the edge of a lawn brushing up against the sidewalk.  It was a little disconcerting – although not nearly as much as it was for the dead dove I’m sure.
I paused briefly to take in the sight – I mean it’s not something that I see everyday – and continued home.  However when I mentioned it to Mars later I noticed that my tone of voice seemed to be implying that it was nothing special. 
Later, on our way out to run errands, I spotted what looked like a small pile of snow in our front yard.   But it turned out to be, on closer inspection, a mini-mound of pale gray and white feathers – apparently the end-product of a scuffle between a pigeon (what else in our realm has those colorless plumes?) and a predator of some form – hawks that we’ve seen circling over the ‘hood perhaps, or Tillie the cat from across the street.
 Like the more corporeal earlier crime scene there were no signs of blood, or any indication of who or what the perp might be.  I had been ready to let the first incident fade into the quickly-forgotten-incidents portion of my brain but the second occurrence reinforced my original notion that something unusual was going on here.  So I asked the Great Google “who beheads pigeons?” and found, as I frequently do, that the Internet has all of the answers and therefore none of them.
“That's typical of a cat attack.
“I've never seen a cat behead a bird.
“Hawks also will decapitate birds, but they usually eat the heads. We get a fair # of calls from people that they found birds in their yard with no head.
“Beheading is a trademark of a weasel kill
“Cats tend to take the heads off their prey, but the heads are usually chewed.
"Raptors ignore the head and eat all the meat off the breast, typically leaving a carcase [sic] lying flat on it's back with all the breast missing. They also pluck their prey and masses of feathers are left lying at the scene.
“Typical of beheading birds are the corvid family - crows etc.  And crows will hunt, attack and kill pigeons
“The head of an animal is a favorite part for raptors (sorry to share this but the second favorite part are testicles)."
Don’t care to know about that last piece of evidence – I did not go back to more closely scrutinize the initial “vic” – nor did I re-search the Internet for a graphic depiction of what I would have hoped not to see.
So I resigned myself to never knowing “whodunit?”
After all I shouldn’t have been walking in that place at that time anyway – and would not have been there except that (1) Mars and I had each spent a largely sleepless night after accidentally imbibing non-decaf coffee at my garden club’s holiday party and (2) our luncheon plans with a friend for the following day had been cancelled; which freed us up to go to a book discussion about Maurice Sendak’s “In the Night Kitchen” at a local art museum; which in turn necessitated a trip to our local library for a copy to read.  Too tired to do a “real workout” at the gym I trekked by foot to the public book dispensary instead.

We reread the now classic hardback that night – having probably not looked at it since regaling our son with the story in the mid seventies.   Then at the book-talk we learned, among other things, that the three identical looking bakers – who reminded Mars and me of early film comedian Oliver Hardy (“Laurel and …”) – were intended to be Adolph Hitler, and that the story represented, at least in part, the holocaust.  
Who knew that all those years ago Mars and I had innocently exposed our innocent offspring to metaphor?  Which got me to thinking  – maybe I was taking the whole bird dismemberment thing too literally.   Trying to find out what “really” happened to the poor creatures when instead I should have been looking for the allegorical story that these two gruesome incidents were trying to convey to me.
 On my home computer I found an online article called “Headless Bird Symbol dream interpretations” which provided a myriad of avian dream interpretations – “If a bird flies into one's hand in a dream, it means glad tidings. A bird in a dream also means work. An unknown bird in a dream means a warning, an advice or an admonition. If one's bird looks beautiful in a dream, it denotes the quality of his work. If one sees himself in a dream carrying an ugly looking bird, it also denotes the quality of his actions or that a messenger may bring him good news. An unknown bird means profits” – none of which, in spite of the essay’s title, were even remotely related to detached budgie crania.
So here is the subtext of these past day’s experiences as I interpret it.  The message for me is – no matter what, I should stick to my routine and go the gym every morning at the regular time.  I never see any wild life anomalies when I’m cruising along on the elliptical machine.  When we first retired Mars and I decided that our daily workout would be the one part of our lives that was scheduled.  This would keep us in good health – and allow us ample time to engage and embrace the unplanned, the unknown, and the unexpected aspects of life.
But not all of them.  Sometimes trying to figure out how new things fit into our ever-evolving view of the world can just lead me right down the rabbit hole – speaking of another story that probably doesn’t mean what I think it does.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

A Tolerable Planet

Mars and I have been busy counting crows, smashing pumpkins, and raking leaves.  It is how we folks in residential New England commune with nature this time of year.
The glossy black birds pass through in annually during late October/early November – stopping temporarily by the score and more in the front of our property.  They are, so I have read, migrating from the even colder northern realms a little ways southward to the Mid-Atlantic States for the winter.  Some will actually spend the cold season with us – well not literally “with us” but at least in the general neighborhood.  This week they are gobbling up many of the little acorns that drop into our yard from the phalanx of oaks that front our property.  There is a surfeit of the cup-shaped tree fruit this autumn because the squirrel population in our neighborhood is severely depleted as compared to previous annums. 
 Which is why we are smashing pumpkins – or at least why I am decimating the large orange-yellow gourds in a single massive violent ceremony rather than plopping them into the compost bin one-by-one throughout the month of October as we have done in the past. 
In previous years the shelf life of a pumpkin in our front yard in years past was pretty short – sometimes days, even hours, instead of weeks.  Within minutes of Mars and me placing them in their traditional settings – 3 on the front steps, 3 around the lamp post, 1 on either side of the garage door, and 1 each in the 2 front perennial beds – at least two of them would be under siege from tiny tree-rodent teeth gnawing their way into the base of the fruit, from which orthodontia’s owner would extract pumpkin entrails and seeds for future (and present) use. The gourd would then be left to collapse under its own weight and thereafter be immediately consigned to the compost bin.
This year the lonely duo of tree squirrels that frequent our property have laid not a single tooth on any of our nine pumpkins.  Thus, after at least one month of neglect, the hard-skinned fruits have taken it upon themselves to soften up and crumple under their own weight – the first time the entire entourage of all-natural fall decorations has survived in tact (albeit limply) through both Halloween and Thanksgiving. 
Hence the continuous parade of me perp-walking the unfortunate gourds to the compost bin and striking them repeatedly with my sharp ended bulb-digger – instead of, as in prior times, dropping them from the full extent of my six-foot five height and letting gravity and the pumpkins total lack of infrastructure splatter them into the organic mix.
The raking was considerably less savage.  This past week was the second go-around of our town’s curbside pickup of raked leaves, as a byproduct of which they create free compost for all its citizens.  Mars and I had previously donated 13,245,865 leaves (give or take), of which the municipality sucked up all but 115.  I ground up those outliers along with several others that our oaks had added with my mulching mower rationalizing that the benefit to the lawn from its all-natural feeding would just barely offset the small environmental footprint that I was creating.
This Monday my mower and I went out to chop up the additional ones that had found their way into our premises since my first Toro-go-round and discovered that the quantity was greater than I anticipated and easier to rake than I expected. 
Henry David Thoreau once said, “What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?”
So, I avoided polluting the atmosphere and rounded them up by hand for the town’s larger internal combustion engines to return them to nature – corralling a few reminders of where we really are in the process.

Desiccated leaves
Conceal Taco Bell wrappers.
Hey! It’s the suburbs.