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Nature's Notebook

Potatoes

I dug the potato crop last month. It seemed early, but the tops drooped and browned, so I hoed out the underground nuggets. I only purchased three seed taters this year, cut them in half, got six plants and got modest results — better than the previous year.
I’ve stopped putting our yard mulch in the garden, as the soil was getting too dense. We’ve spread a bag or two of sand on part of the garden each spring  for the root vegetables. 
The last two years, the results were scabby and had insect bite marks. This year they were better.

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The puzzle of ‘native’ invasives

A number of years ago, I was part of a working group that developed criteria for determining whether a plant should be considered invasive or had the potential to become so in Massachusetts. 
Our assessment criteria considered whether a species had the biologic potential for rapid and widespread distribution and dispersal across spatial gaps in minimally managed habitats, but we only evaluated plants that were non-indigenous to Massachusetts. 
In other words, to be classified as invasive in the Commonwealth, a plant had to be non-native.

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Pilings

I live nowhere near the ocean, but I’m fond of abandoned pilings, remnants of long-gone wharfs and docks. So I read with great interest a recent newspaper story about a community disagreement over removing 150 or so tilting pilings off Popham Beach in Maine.
A developer wants to clear the beachfront below his new home, asserting the pilings there could contribute to flooding, what with expected rising ocean levels due to climate change. This is according to a piece in the Aug. 15 Boston Globe. 

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The slow shift has begun

August has a lot more in common with April in these latitudes than one might expect. Each month is the hinge on which the season pivots but, like a door, the weather can swing back and forth from one extreme to another. It can snow or exceed 90 degrees in early spring, and plunge between heat wave and cold snap when the calendar insists it is still summer. The earliest frost I can remember in the last 20 years was in early September, but there are always signs, even when the days are warm, that the flood has crested and the tide has started to ebb toward autumn.

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Ants go marching

Recent travels on the Massachusetts Turnpike have been less than enjoyable. Taking a sister to a medical appointment in Boston in late winter, we encountered traffic blockage just before the Sturbridge exit. A truck had T-boned a tractor trailer exiting a service area. We inched off the Pike onto a secondary highway — and inched forward on that road for an hour and a half. 
Fortunately, a cellphone call to Mass. General Hospital confirmed the surgeon would reschedule for later in the day.

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Roadside mowing

It pleases me to see roadsides being mown this time of year.One reason is nostalgia for my teenage summer days driving a Farmall (or, one season, a John Deere with a hand clutch) and cutting hayfields and old pastures. 
Another reason is the mowing sometimes exposes stone walls and other roadside features that tell a story.
The best reason is, without the mowing, roadside vegetation quickly creeps close to the pavement or gravel.
Some complain that the mowing wastes money and gasoline and impedes Nature.

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Lightning bugs & bears

It is a hot summer night and the fireflies and bears are out in my neighborhood. I caught a glimpse of one of the latter, ambling into a side yard two houses from mine, after I heard dogs barking and my neighbors across the street yelling at something to get out of their garbage. 
As for the lightning bugs, they generally go about their business unremarked, singly in the shadows. We used to have more fireflies and fewer bears, but this is the fourth bear I’ve seen this year and fireflies are few.

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Henry at 200

I now and then revisit the writings of Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862) especially to soak in his descriptions of traipsing the Maine woods and meandering around Concord, Mass. I admire his nature advocacy, his individuality and his remarkably compact yet detailed descriptions and anecdotes.
Were he still alive physically — literarily, he is more alive than ever — he would have been 200 on July 12.
His 1857 journal entry for today, July 13, 160 years ago, is about a trek to Rattlesnake Fern Swamp:

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Take a hike on a new trail

There are more than 700 miles of recreational trails in the northwest hills of Connecticut. I and several of my colleagues at the Housatonic Valley Association (HVA) had the pleasure of helping to document each and every one of them under contract with the Northwest Hills Council of Governments. They range from trails of national significance, most notably the Appalachian Trail and many of Connecticut’s Blue Blazed Hiking Trails, to small paths maintained by local municipalities and land trusts.

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Garter snake

I shifted a plastic tarp on our basement floor to discover a coiled snake snoozing beneath. The reptile was probably cold, looking for a little warmth from its improvised shelter.
It would be happier outdoors, I figured. I fished a cardboard Scottish shortbread box from a trash container and tore off the ends. 
I suspected I would have to be fast to coax the snake into the box.
I should mention, this snake was about the girth and length of a pencil.

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