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Nature's Notebook

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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Armchair speleology

The March 2018 issue of “The Northeastern Caver,” passed on to me by a friend, lists three well-known caves in Connecticut: Roxbury Mine in Roxbury, Tory’s Cave in New Milford and Twin Lakes caves. The last two locations, it indicates, are closed to visitors.* 
We’ll take an armchair walk into the past to visit the third-mentioned cave, better known years ago as Miles Cave.

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Changes are coming, and not all are good

Here is a passage from an 1885 history of Berkshire County that applies just as well to our corner of the Litchfield Hills during the late 19th century:
“Agriculture just now, especially in the eastern portion of the town, is suffering a strange and painful decline.… Many hundred acres formerly yielding fine crops of hay cannot now be mowed, much less plowed. 

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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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