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Nature's Notebook

Highs and lows of maple sap

Before the land was cleared for charcoal and pasture, the forested uplands of Goshen, Norfolk, Colebrook, Winchester and Barkhamsted were the heart of maple sugar production in our region.  

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Who’s leaving those leaves?

Our house is a short distance from the street. Eight concrete steps lead from the short walkway to the front porch.
Why, I ask, after it has snowed and I have shoveled a path to the newspaper box, do leaves collect at the foot of the steps? They are crisp and brown and annoy me.
We did, after all, rake and rake and rake our leaves last autumn and hire a trucker with a large vacuum to take them away.
The trees around our house are bare. Where do the new leaves come from?

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Red in tooth and claw

As I was shifting my car out into the street on a recent frosty morning, I saw a hawk swoop down and alight on a neighbor’s shrubbery. I do not say perch, exactly, because it was one of those ornamental evergreens that is both full-needled and weak-limbed, so the bird bobbed on the outer layer without finding a solid landing place. It was a female sharp-shinned hawk and she had just missed her chance at a fleeing sparrow that had vanished under cover. After considering for a moment, the hawk recovered her dignity and flew away down the street.

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Chilly, eh?

Sunday’s cold finally did in my PT Cruiser’s starter, which took the battery with it. 
That was on top of the furnace running full time, not being able to take our usual 1.5-mile walks and constantly trekking outside to keep the voracious cardinals, chickadees and their feather mates in seed supply.
Good news was the heating fuel tank was refilled before it ran dry, no pipes froze and the new, teenage gray tiger cat kept us amused.

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Beaking news at the feeder

My bird feeders took a beating last year, with bears dragging them off before spring and squirrels chewing their replacements to shreds. Right now most of the action is at ground level, where slate-colored junkos predominate, and one of our resident black squirrels is a regular visitor. This end-of-year cold snap has me wondering what unusual northern birds might be attracted to my feeders if I make another effort to provide for them.

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When Nature leaps out in front of you

I had what one of my friends calls a “Marlin Perkins moment” recently during an early-morning walk. It was an encounter with wildlife that reawakened the sense of wonder and connection to the natural world that those of us of a certain age used to experience vicariously on our black-and-white television screens during “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” conceived and hosted by zoologist Perkins from 1963 to 1985. 

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Shady business

Eastern redbud trees are known for showing off in spring. Their purple pink flowers contrast with the yellowish greens of other trees.
The Arbor Day Foundation praises their dramatic displays, irregular branching patterns and spreading, often flat-topped crown.
That may describe their redbud; it’s not what ours looks like.
And that comes from the nature of our modest (quarter acre — eight trees) arboretum.

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Mental safari

I’ve been dreaming of Africa, which is a sure sign that the daylight hours are getting short and I’ve been indoors too long.  It has been nearly 20 years since I returned from Namibia and began my conservation work in our corner of New England, not far from my childhood wilderness in the mid-Hudson valley.  I have seen many natural marvels here in the Northwest Corner — basking rattlesnakes and bog turtles among them —but I left a piece of my heart in the Southern Hemisphere and it calls to me still.

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That wasn’t really snow …

November snow doesn’t count. Sometimes a cold rain that falls in the valley leaves a clean snowline halfway up the mountainside, and for a few hours the pines and oaks above that elevation are glazed with white. Or perhaps it comes on the kind of day when we say the sky looks like snow, as if the air itself were made of the stuff it carries, and soon enough flurries come wet and thick and melt on the pavement. We get to enjoy these outriders of the real winter, a guiltless pleasure that does not add inches to the annual tally.

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Put to bed

It’s more enjoyable to start the garden in the spring than to clean it up in autumn. 
In April there’s the expectation of things to come. In November, the knowledge of what you’ve managed to produce.
We had a good garden this year, earning a B+ or A. Peas didn’t do well, nor onions. Beans as usual surpassed themselves. Potatoes were fine, as was kale. Lettuce was so-so. 

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