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Nature's Notebook

Learning about iron

This area, as you know, was once home to a thriving pig iron industry that exploited veins of Salisbury iron along the Housatonic River valley. You can learn about this history at Beckley Furnace in East Canaan, where a Friends group offers Saturday interpretive programs at a restored furnace stack, and Kent Furnace, part of the Eric Sloane Museum, which has a preserved stack.

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Secret paths

If you are anything like me, you don’t go into the woods hoping for a crowd. 
Popular recreation destinations with easy access and amenities have their charms, but the back country should be a refuge and our presence there a privilege. 
With more than 550 miles of trails in northwest Connecticut, some are little frequented and virtually unknown outside a small circle of users. Others are definitely in the be-prepared-and-use-at-your-own-risk category: poorly marked, poor cell service, minimally maintained. 

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Don’t bite

Don’t bite
 
Recent conversation came around to pesky flying insects and I remarked that my wife was a mosquito magnet. A friend said airborne biters can, in fact, be drawn by a person’s blood type.
Donna’s blood type is O, the universal donor. Mine is AB, the universal recipient and the rarest. 
Jerry Butler, professor emeritus of the University of Florida, has written, “One in 10 people are highly attractive to mosquitoes.” 

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Hard choices and the firefly

The fireflies came early this year, and in one special place they came in numbers undimmed by the yellow moon.
In a high field with a broad horizon the grass has been left to grow tall, and we made a twilit pilgrimage on a warm night last week to watch the lightning bugs dance. 
It was a thrill I have been denied in recent years, as the field beyond my own fence has passed to a different owner with different priorities, but there they were in their winking hundreds, free for any with a mind to stop and see.

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Back to the garden

I have two young apple trees — winesaps — that have been flowering beautifully during the last two weeks. I planted them about this time last year, and one of them produced a single small fruit. I am hoping that after a year to adjust and without the late spring frosts that often spoil the crop, they will feel like producing more. They certainly put on a lovely show.

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The lure of Niagara Falls waterpower

Long a fascinating natural attraction, Niagara Falls also piqued the interest of industrialists including Lakeville native Augustus Porter (1769-1849). An engineer, lawyer and businessman, Porter surveyed the area as a young man and became one of the first white settlers in Manchester (after 1840 known as Niagara Falls), N.Y.

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Why so many vultures in North Canaan?

Sitting on my front stoop on a cool spring morning, I heard the heavy beat of wings overhead. I looked up into the spreading branches of a Norway spruce and saw the familiar dark forms of two black vultures perched on a swaying limb. They preened and shifted and then one of them took off, leaving the other flapping its wings for balance. I could see distinctly the silvery white flashes under its wingtips that help distinguish these birds from the larger turkey vulture, which has gray flight feathers and a brown back. 

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The Big Night of the peepers and pals

I missed the Big Night of the amphibians this year, if indeed there even was one. But I know that they emerged because the peepers are giving full throat now to the vernal chorus.  
I stopped on a gravel road one evening last week and heard them calling from the wet woodlands nearby even before I turned off my engine. There is nothing so insistent as a swamp full of tree frogs with mating on the mind.  

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Squirrels tripping lightly

This is the second in a two-part series about squirrels and their wandering ways.
 
And what of the forests of America? Were there not accounts by Audubon, Cooper or Muir of squirrels passing from tree to tree “from sea to shining sea”? 

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The Traveler Squirrel abides

‘Sing, O Muse, of the Traveler Squirrel.” So might Homer have opened the “Iliad,” had the ancient Greeks journeyed overland to the gates of Troy rather than across the Aegean Sea. That old chestnut about a forest so vast that a squirrel could cross from one far distant point to another without touching the ground is probably buried somewhere in a corner of your mind. 

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