Sunday, December 13, 2015

Just Another Day on the Suburban Advent Calendar

Supine Santa Claus.
all the life sucked out of them,
CPRed each night.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happiness is....

I like to think that the birds and squirrels that feed in Mars and my yard are happy – but it could well be me projecting the feeling that they give us, back onto them.
We do not have a lot of feeders.  And we don’t have a prize-winning array of exotic eaters – sparrows, a few goldfinches, more sparrows, a couple of purple finches, still more sparrows, one or two titmice, sparrows… What we lack in quality, we make up for in quantity.  And what we do have is entertaining enough to keep us playing the game.
As for feeders, there are three of them. 
(Stock photo - not our birds!)

The thistle feeder is a metal mesh tube with holes small enough to keep the ultra-thin, black seeds from falling out, yet sufficiently large to allow finch-sized feet to successfully perch,and finch-sized beaks to effectively eat. 
Our sunflower seed feeder is an honest-to-God “squirrel-proof” dining device, constructed by me using plans and parts from the Wild Birds Unlimited store in nearby Glastonbury.  The apparatus consists of a plastic “Droll Yankee” feeder with food windows and perches, safely nestled inside a green wire cage.  The outer unit has openings large enough for a small bird to hop inside and is located far enough away from the inner tube to allow comfortable perching.  Larger avians, such as crows and Blue Jays are not able to get themselves inside – although it is fun to watch them futilely craning their necks through the apertures in an effort to pilfer some seeds.
In order to combat the wily squirrels that likewise yearn for some of the protein-packed kernels it was necessary to attached the inner feeder to the base of the outer cage – lest, as I discovered when I first put up the contraption, the rascally rodents reach in with their paws and pull the bottom slot of the “Droll Yankee” to within reach of their eagerly awaiting open mouths.
Our third and least active feeder is the ceramic fish that Mars and I purchased from a potter on Cape Cod back in the day when that area was our go-to vacation spot.  It was hand-thrown on a pottery wheel as a mid-sized vessel open at each end.  Then the bottom was fashioned into a tail-shape with fins on the side and eyes added to the top while the clay was still moist and pliable.  Unlike the other two eating establishments, the diner hangs sideways to the ground.    
The fish-feeder is most definitely not squirrel proof as evidenced by the bushy tail that frequently pokes out from either the mouth or tail of the Piscean stoneware eatery.
We also run an intentional squirrel feeder stocked with ears of corn about fifty feet away from our triumvirate of avian cafes.  This outlying food stop in no way deters the squirrels from filching the fallen seeds from or trying to break into this tripartite food court.   
I refill all of the dining devices every evening – rain, sleet or snow.  The birds, with help from the squirrels, pretty much empty them the next day.  I can hear what I interpret as chirps of joy from nearby trees on our property on those occasions when I undertake my restocking mission before sunset.
 Immediately next to the feeders is a bush on which the birds eagerly queue up.  A few feet away are two others, for those that are one step removed from the on deck circle.   And several yards off is a thorny pricker bush for those just looking to take a break and socialize.. During the growing season the sounds of anxious chirps and the perpetual rustle of the shrubs’ green leaves indicate their presence.  Now, with leaves fallen and branches bare, the throng still comes to hang out and swap tweets.  Even though the predatory neighborhood cats – whom, after all these years, I am certain consider the whole feeding area to be their own personal baited trap – now have an unobstructed view of their prospective prey.
Still, in spite of the presence of the rapacious felines, the birds seem quite happy.  Or is it just me?
Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, argues that yes, animals (including birds) can feel happy – “…how could they not be? Feeling good is a way for the body to tell the brain (as if they were separate, forgive me for this simplistic duality) that it is in an environment that is safe and healthy. The neuro-hormones associated with happiness, like dopamine and oxytocin are shared by all mammals…”
Not to get all philosophical however – this does not mean that the birds are experiencing ‘happiness”.
Again Dr. McConnell – “the concept of ‘happy’ has two meanings: 1) a temporary mood or short term experience (joy, enthusiasm, pleasure) and 2) a long-term state associated with….. one’s evaluative overview of life …..a long-term state of satisfaction and contentment with life overall.”
The first state would be called “happy” – number two is “happiness”
The birds in our yard are happy.  The cats on the other hand, for better or worse, clearly have reached that second level of joyfulness.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thus it has been, and thus it shall be.

On Wednesday I mulched the autumn leaves that had fallen in our yard into the grass that had lain dormant for most of our rain-free summer but which now – with cooler weather and one or two decent storms – is sprouting healthy, green blades skyward as if the first warmth of spring had just arrived.

Mulching is good for the fescue – our organic lawn-care company specifically commands us to do so.   And it is good for me  – it gets my arms, legs and heart working and burns about 400 calories according to one Internet calculator.  It is, however, probably not great for the ozone layer.

On Thursday a thick, new layer of leaves covered my formerly good-as-new work area.

On Friday another coating, equally dense, buried that stratum and created an ankle-deep collection of crisp, dead vegetation.

Our town collects leaves that have been piled on the sidewalk snow-shelves – sucking them up with a long-hosed vacuum truck that reminds me of the Sesame Street Snuffleupagus character.  The first of two collections on our street was scheduled for next week so Mars and I raked our contribution into position over the weekend.  This took several hours of manual labor on both of our parts.

 (I’d like to be able to say that after careful mathematical computations I had determined that the rake was better for our carbon footprint than running the Toro “Recycler”, but the truth is that the compostable matter was just too damn thick to mulch.)


Leaves are still falling from our trees and blowing into our yard so it is likely that the lawn will need to be re-raked, at least partially, every day until the big sucking truck comes and gets them.   And then we will go thought the whole thing again before the second coming of the Snuff-ster.

Thus it has been for years and thus it shall be.

The French philosopher Albert Camus’ book  “The Myth of Sisyphus” is based around the Greek story of a man condemned to spend eternity performing the meaningless task of pushing a heavy rock to the top of a hill only to have it roll right back down to the bottom – and having to begin all over again.

The legend is meant to be a metaphor for what great thinkers sometimes call the ”Human Condition.”  Camus claims that once Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task, and the absurdity of his situation he will reach a state of contented acceptance – concluding, "all is well."   He concludes, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Those of us who have made the existential choice to do our own gardening and landscaping do not really need a Greek allegory to explain that to us.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Loneliness of the [Modern] Long Distance Flyer

One Canada Goose

flying east in the gray sky –

should’ve used Siri!

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Misquoting the Master

Aristotle said,

“Most things in moderation.”

Not really.  I did.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Elephant Haiku of an Old Joke

We've always been told

"elephants never forget."

What's to remember?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Untitled Haiku 1

I went out for a walk this morning hoping to think of something to write about.  As I turned out of my driveway –

I thought "black trash bag".

Instead it was a dead crow

sprawling on our lawn.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Continuous Property

Frederick Law Olmsted (April 26, 1822 – August 28, 1903 – born in Hartford CT.) is generally considered to be the father of American landscape architecture designing such public spaces as Prospect Park and Central Park in New York City, Elizabeth Park in Hartford, and Walnut Hill Park in my birth-town of New Britain, CT.    
And this past weekend on a lecture walk at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford (a rural landscape cemetery of the Olmsted style) I found out that for the past fifteen years or so Mars and I have been playing golf on an actual Olmsted-designed landscape.  This probably doesn’t mean a thing to serious golfers who travel great distances and pay big bucks to strike the little white ball on courses architected by names such as Robert Trent Jones, Peter Dye, Allister MacKenzie, Willie Park Jr., and Donald Ross  – but to us for whom a morning on the links is literally a walk in the park, the Olmsted connection is a really big deal.
Our “home course” is the Goodwin Park Golf Course in Hartford Connecticut – 27 holes of grass, trees, sand and water surrounded by a public park in the capitol city of Connecticut.  We normally play on what is known as the “North Course” (aka the “flat nine”) – “a perfect course for beginners and those looking for a quick nine.” 

Across the way from the fourth, sixth and eight greens are (respectively): a softball diamond and a soccer field; a public outdoor swimming pool; and a picnic and play area with an adjacent basketball court.  The smells of barbecues and the rhythms of Hispanic music – as well as the sights and sounds of players, fans, joggers, dog walkers, backpack carrying students, arguing couples, people fishing in the water hazards, and the occasional fox are as much a part of the course’s ambiance as are the azaleas at Augusta National, the site of the Masters Tournament (designed and modified over the years by the above mentioned MacKenzie and Jones and most recently (1930s) by Perry Maxwell.)

“Our” golf course takes up about three quarters of Goodwin Park’s 237 acres – but it was not always so.  – as we learned on our cemetery walk and as the Hartford Courant reported in “Hartford’s Ring of Parks”:

“All cities go through phases as they develop from small ports or county hubs. In the mid-1890s, Hartford went through a phase known as ‘the rain of parks,’ which fell around the city's periphery. In a span of months — August 1894 to November 1895 — Pope, Elizabeth, Goodwin, Riverside and Keney parks came into existence.

“The leaders of Hartford knew the potential present and future value of a park system even in 1894 when the city created a committee to oversee the new park system.

“’It should be the aim of the city not to have these parks mere isolated spots of ground for decorative purposes but a continuous property,’ noted a December 1894 Hartford Courant article, ‘for the benefit of all the people, especially for those people who are unable to enjoy the large grounds and gardens which those more fortunate have. They should be for the daily use of the people and no part of the city should be neglected in the movement.’

“Rev. Dr. Francis Goodwin, a wealthy amateur botanist and architect, was known as the father of the Hartford Park System.”

And Rev. Goodwin talked some of the city’s richest men and biggest landowners into giving land to the city of Hartford for the public’s use – resulting in Keney Park (Henry and Walter Keney), Pope Park (Col. Albert Pope), Riverside Park, Elizabeth Park (Charles M. Pond – wife Elizabeth), and Goodwin Park.  In the 1930s Hartford was reputed to have the largest park acres per capita in America.

Originally known as South Park and renamed in 1900, the land for Goodwin Park was acquired via purchase and condemnation proceedings in 1895.  The landscape firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot were hired to design a “meadow and tree plantation.” 

“The park site, selected by Charles Eliot and John Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers, benefitted from its placement outside the city’s dense downtown development and served as a complement to Cedar Hill Cemetery, across the street, one of America’s first rural landscape cemeteries from the 1860s designed by Jacob Weidenmann.”  (

Weidenmann was also the designer of Hartford’s Bushnell Park when Frederick Law Olmsted was unavailable because he was working on New York’s Central Park.

The Olmsted Goodwin Park plan showed “a grand meadow framed by tree plantations with individual trees and small clusters within the meadow space, and a small water feature.  The park was constructed essentially as designed.”  (

 Evidently there was enough grassland for a few local clergy to go to the park and hit a few golf balls around.  And like origin of the sport when the first players hit a pebble around a natural course of sand dunes, rabbit runs, and tracks on the eastern coast of Scotland in the Kingdom of Fife, this too became the impetus for one of the first public golf courses in the country.  A planned nine-hole course was opened in 1907, with another nine added five years later.  In 1922 a group of the golfers petitioned the city of Hartford to charge for playing so that "better attention might be given to the course."  A fee of ten cents for nine holes was established.  (The cost today of playing the North Course is $9.00 walking for an unlimited number of holes.)

Mars and I discovered golf and the Flat Nine at Goodwin about fifteen years ago in preparation for retirement.   She has said that if it were not for the informal, unpressured atmosphere at “Goodie” she never would have gotten started.  We have yet to keep score during a round.  Five years later when we stopped working we stumbled upon “public history” at Wethersfield Historical Society and The Cedar Hill CemeteryFoundation, and realized that there was much more to learn about the past than dates, wars and presidents – there were, e.g., builders of public recreation areas and the effect they had on the people who used them.

Frederick Law Olmsted believed that service to human needs, and not simply the creation of decoration, should underlie all art. "Service must precede art," he declared, "since all turf, trees, flowers, fences, walks, water, paint, plaster, posts and pillars in or under which there is not a purpose of direct utility or service are inartistic if not barbarous. … So long as considerations of utility are neglected or overridden by considerations of ornament, there will be not true art." (

Something I will try to remember when, with Salsa music reverberating in the background, I look out at autumn-turning trees in the undulating meadow and prepare for my next shot.


BTW:  It is commonly reported that Hartford Superintendent of Parks Everett Pyle who built Triggs Memorial Golf Course in Providence, R.I. for the above mentioned Donald Ross was the architect of the current layout at Goodwin Park.  But research by Anthony Pioppi indicates that in 1937 it was in fact “designed by R.J. Ross [not related to Donald Ross], assistant city engineer who has made golf course architecture an avocation and [was] built by WPA labor under the supervision of the Parks Department.”  Ross also created the second nine holes at the golf course in Hartford’s Keney Park.

Goodwin Park Golf photos from Google maps. 

Further thoughts on Olmsted and Walnut Hill Park. 


Friday, August 28, 2015

Open Faced, Club, or Traditional

After providing elder-care in one form or another over the past 40 years for my mother, my aunt, and now Mars' mom – the following haiku found its way into my head the other day. 

A life-lesson from

the Sandwich Generation –

kids are easier.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Gray Cat Stalking

The gray cat stalking
amidst our Rudbeckia
yearns for grander prey.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Nailed It!

After between ten and fifteen attempts over eight years I finally hit the cenotaph at the hock of the dogleg on the sixth hole of the White Golf Course at Penn State University.  (Mars and I were playing there on the last day of our annual golf-week Road Scholar program at the college.)
 From the white tees hole number six is a 496-yard par five with a steep uphill rise followed by a ninety degree left turn to a green at the bottom of that slope.  My shot came from the bottom of the hill with a three-wood (which actually now are made of of metal).   It may have been my best one of this trip.   At the highest point is a small stone monument to Willie Park Jr.      I certainly had nothing against Park Jr., but that is what I was aimed at and that is what I struck.


Wikipedia says “Willie Park, Jr. (February 1864– 22 May 1925) was one of the top professional golfers of his era, winning The Open Championship twice. Park was also a successful golf equipment maker and golf writer. In his later years, Park built a significant career as one of the world's best golf course architects, with a world-wide business. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.”

In 1922 at Penn State Park Jr. laid out the second set of nine holes on what was at the time called “The College Golf Course”.  I don’t know if this particular part of the golf course was one of his creations; or if this is the layout’s highest point; or even what the words on the tomblike monument said.  There were other players behind us and as good golf citizens our foursome felt an obligation to keep up with “the pace of play” as links-people like to call it.  In fact I might have even misread the whole thing and the stone may have been dedicated to country singer Willie Nelson or the 1960s hit record “MacArthur Park” – but the architectural connection makes me pretty sure that I have the right guy.
My golf ball had settled down amidst the bed of begonias that had been planted to decorate that spot earlier this spring.  So, within my understanding of the rules of the sport, I quickly moved it so as not to endanger the flowers and hit my next shot, the outcome or trajectory of which I honestly do not remember – because I was still so excited about at long last nailing my target.
Our son, who is not a golfer, wanted to know if hitting the pillar opened a trap door in front of it into which the ball dropped never to be seen again – like the clown’s mouth in mini-golf.  I did have other balls that disappeared into aquatic oblivion, or the dreaded gorse – but not this time.  Clearly he did not understand the significance of the event.
My concern now however is whether this fortunate stroke will turn out to be a blessing or a curse.  I would seem to me that the intent of such a memorial in such a location would be for golfers as they passed by to perhaps rub the smooth granite with their bare hand and thus imbibe some of Park Jr.’s mojo to aid them in their future endeavors.  On the other hand, ever since Cro-Magnon man aimed his first shot at a sheep innocently nestling his chubby ovine body into what would one day become primitive sand bunkers on the windswept coast of Scotland – we should all be aware that a target is a target is a target.
However, even though success in golf is all about repeatability, if it happens again next year then the spirit of Willie Park Jr. has every reason to be really pissed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Unplanned Planthood

Mars and I did not plant the kernel that has sprouted into an NBA-basket-height (and still growing) sunflower in the perennial garden that lives on the south-side of our garage and into which each summer we wedge a small number of tomato plants – this year five – now adjacent to their towering green neighbor.            

The seed instead came from the bird feeder out in front of our family room.  And was spread either directly or digestively by one of the many sparrows, finches, squirrels and others that take their sustenance from that food server and/or the ground beneath on which I also spread the daily fare for those unable to eat on high.

 (I will stop to mention with some pride that among “those unable to eat on high” are our resident tree rodents who for the past several annums have been thoroughly thwarted by my “tube feeder within a cage – birds only” cafeteria.  It really works.)

Annually these Helianthus horn in on our otherwise meticulously planned flowerbeds – well maybe “meticulous” is a tad overreachy.  But they’re not totally random either.  At least to my somewhat biased eye.  This however is the first time ever in our long horticultural history that we appear to be on our way to having an award-worthy weed as the centerpiece of our landscape.

 It appeared shortly after Mars and I had planted our quintet of tomato plants in the nine square foot area between the gooseneck loosestrife and the tall, yellow daisy-like flowers that we either snuck back via Southwest Airlines from our daughter-in-law and son’s garden in New Mexico, or rescued from the about to be “put to bed’ garden of one of my fellow men’s garden club members.  (Ninety percent of our perennials come from similar backgrounds – so who can remember.)

Initially neither of us recognized it for what it was – instead thinking it was another one of those sometimes intriguing, more often infuriating weeds that pop up pretty much anywhere on our property, pretty much anytime (growing season or not).  So we let it grow to see which.  It appeared to have no interest in halting its vertical climb and when its elephant-ear shaped leave began to shade and even enwrap the incipient edible nightshades I began lopping them off.  Now the entire east side of the stem – which is rapidly approaching the thickness of my wrist – is totally bereft of vegetation.  This evidently is allowing the mini-tree to put more of its energy and willpower into towering.


The tomatoes meanwhile are doing just fine.  In fact they may turn out to be possibly the best crop we’ve ever had – including years past (before we discovered local farm stands and Farmers Markets) when we planted many more in a much larger area.  All in spite of not cutting off the lower tomato branches – thus ignoring this year’s most prevalent tip for bigger fruits and more bounteous crops.

We also have, unbidden, a squash (or cucumber) growing next to our front door step.  It is on its second set of yellow flowers – the first iteration having been eaten by another one of the wildlife that pass through our property – perhaps rabbit, perhaps skunk.


Over the years Mars and I have become quasi-laissez-faire gardeners. "Quasi" because we still weed, and maintain favorable social distances between our shrubs by pruning the intruders back and sequestering them behind wire barriers. Laissez-faire because we trust the plants to take care of the rest.

It is probably good that, as we get older, they seem willing to take on more responsibility.



Friday, July 24, 2015

A Corny Method of Psychoanalysis

It is corn on the cob season here in Wethersfield, CT – the time when we maize maniacs get to overindulge and, amateur psychologists get the opportunity to reckon our personalities from the techniques that we utilize.
And on that front there seems to be near unanimous agreement – as expressed here by Lissa at
“There are actually three different ways people eat corn on the cob:
“Typewriter: Eating corn on the cob from side to side – You are rational, analytical and not so much into surprises. You most likely live a very organized life; everything must be in order.
“Rotary: Eating corn on the cob around and around – You are spontaneous, creative and enjoy new experiences. You are artistic and have your own style.
“Hunt-and-peck: Eating corn on the cob in a haphazard way – You are a random thinker and impulsive, taking advantage of opportunities as they come along.
Mars devours her corn the first way – me the second.  So that psychoanalysis makes perfect sense to me.  I cannot think of anyone I know who “hunts and pecks”.
We also feed corn on the cob to the squirrels that hang around our property.  It is a dried corn that we buy year-around in ten-pound bags from a local garden center.  We present the food on a green metal “Adirondack Chair Squirrel Feeder” wherein the corn ear is threaded onto a vertical screw at the front of the seat.  We also have more conventional seed feeders for our feathered guests.

Normally I fill the all feeding stations just before dark each night so they are ready for the early birds the next morning.  By then 99% of our diners have tucked themselves in for the evening.
Next day when Mars and I get up and look outside the seed feeders are usually occupied, and the ear of corn is normally picked clean. However a few times this summer I have noticed that woody cylinder to be only half-eaten.
I expected the remaining pattern of kernels to be random.  But that was never the case.  One time the cob was naked at the top and filled at the bottom.  Not totally a surprise and something I can identify with.
But on at least three occasions the remaining rows of kernels – each of which appeared to be complete ­– ran lengthwise from end to end.
Now that I find to be more than a little disturbing.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Whispering Voice of Spring

When the catbirds had not talked to me for over seven days I thought it was safe to cut back the bush that they asked me to leave alone several weeks ago.
It wasn’t.

 The little gray birds have been a small, but vocal, part of our yard’s warm weather avian population for as long as Mars and I have lived at this address – over thirty-eight years.  As has the imperiled and overgrown large green bush that, along with other flora, separates the two halves of the yard at the south end of our property.  Only three times in four decades of my landscaping memory have the feathered residents interfered with my yard maintenance efforts – just now, last month, and a few years previously.  And each vignette played out exactly the same way.
 Normally I try to keep this particular shrub at around my six-foot-plus height. But that preceding year, for whatever reason, I had let it go since spring and the plant had gotten to be about eight feet tall with a new growth that had plenty of time to thicken up.
Mars had given me some new pruning shears with adjustable handles, which (with a twist) telescope to double their normal length, thus allowing me to take on tasks like the one in front of me. Using the longer version of the tool is a little hard on my arms since the center of gravity shifts and I have to operate it most of the time at full arm's length. But I figure that it's pretty good exercise for an area of my body that never had much of a workout until I discovered the joys of destructive gardening.
 I had just started snipping away when I heard the distinctive cat-like "mew" call – or as Oliver Wendell Holmes (Boston-based physician, poet, professor, lecturer, and author) phrased more lyrically:
“I hear the whispering voice of spring,
the thrush's trill, the catbird's cry.”
But unlike previous iterations of the mewling, this sound was not emanating from an invisible source on high but rather from the immediate proximity of the slashing metal blades. And the tone was different - much more threatening. Also there seemed to be more than one speaker - although with the thick leaves I never really saw anyone. I did however hear the flapping of wings.
I stopped immediately and went inside to tell Mars about my accidental discovery. And the bush remained un-pruned.  Until this year that was the only time in over three decades that I came upon the little gray bird’s nesting place. 
 Normally a pair of catbirds shows up in our yard sometime in May; scouts it out for a couple of days; then settles in somewhere out of sight but not out of sound.  I should explain that while we do not live in a forest, there are numerous tightly-packed bushes and small dense trees along our borders.   Several of these are berry producers, among them blueberry bushes, which we coincidentally removed this year after several seasons of minimal output.  And for which we compensated by adding several more bird-centric fruit-bearers to another one of our perennial beds.
All that, plus a 24 x 7 x 52 feeding station that supplies black oily sunflower and thistle seeds makes our part of town a pretty good place for CT avifauna to hang out.  (There are a couple of neighborhood feline predators and an occasional hawk to add to the excitement – but neither of these has, as far as I’ve seen, made any dent in the catbird community.)
Anyway, sometime in mid summer a third and perhaps fourth and fifth young catbird would arrive on the scene, pecking away at our bird food supply and mewing at us from various venues around our yard – fence posts, roof gutters, barbecue grill covers and most often hidden behind the thick greenery like the indigenous Invisible People in the 1985 movie “The Emerald Forest”.
And this year at least one of them has taken to talking to me each evening when I go out back near their woodland hideaway to fill the aforementioned seed feeders.  His vocabulary is not particularly varied.  In general it seems to be the friendly catlike “mew” that earned the bird its name.  But other times there is a series of random noises that the Cornell University Ornithology Lab describes as “whistles, squeaks, gurgles, whines, and nasal tones.”  As for myself I try to limit my responses to an occasional “nice weather we’re having” or “how about those Yankees?”
Then ten days ago, or so, our nightly chats just kind of stopped happening.  Nor did I see the LGBs around anywhere.  So I figured, good chance to finish my pruning job.   However the response that I got from within the under-attack bush the other day was familiar – decidedly anti-conversational and actually downright hostile. 
So that particular shrub will once again remain twenty percent untrimmed for the duration.  The problem will be figuring out when exactly that length of time ends.  I’m certainly not expecting the catbirds to tell me.