Sunday, March 28, 2010

They Are Not Toys

I am blessed (and cursed) with a photographic memory and I can still clearly remember the sight of a duckling that neighbors brought home one Easter. I was only 4 or 5 years old but I knew immediately that something was wrong.

Like the other children in the neighborhood, I clamored to see the duckling. I remember peering over the side of a tall, cardboard box set up in our neighbor’s kitchen. The duckling looked tired – too many children had been allowed to handle him. There was nothing but a small water bowl and some mashed peas in the box with him. I remember that he looked much larger than the photo above and a bit gangly, so he was probably a couple of weeks old. That duckling looked up at me with the saddest eyes; I felt his misery.

The next day we wanted to go back and see him again– but the duckling had died. The adults did not seem particularly upset. But all of us kids were, very much so.

That beautiful duckling should never have been taken from his mother, never mind confined to a cardboard box without proper food and child supervision.

Ducks, rabbits and chickens are living, sentient beings. As babies they truly need their mother’s care. Rabbits are wonderful pets but only for those who can provide what these intelligent, curious and affectionate creatures require: special diets with plenty of greens and hay, toys and lots of time to romp and play.

Every Easter many baby animals are given as "gifts" and quickly disposed of weeks later. If you love children – and animals – purchase only chocolate and stuffed animals and books that make learning about these animals fun and interesting. Your children will learn to value and understand these special animals, and you will be helping to end this age-old tradition of tragedy. Read about
The Fate of Easter's Baby Animals under the March 24, 2010 posting at Farm Sanctuary to learn more. You can also read about Sabrina, a rabbit with a dog-like personality, and Melanie and Miranda, a loving and bonded pair of bunnies (these rabbits and many other wonderful animals are available for adoption!), at the Medfield Shelter.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Only One Earth Hour

Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 8:30 pm

On Earth Hour hundreds of millions of people, organizations, corporations and governments around the world will come together to make a bold statement about their concern for climate change by doing something quite simple—turning off their lights for one hour.

In the U.S. where we are already feeling the impacts of climate change, Earth Hour sends a clear message that Americans care about this issue and want to participate in changing the way we live.

If you're really serious about doing your part to stop climate change and habitat loss, begin now. All it takes is one Earth Hour.

Note: Last year, 80 million Americans and 318 U.S. cities officially voted for action with their light switch, joining iconic landmarks from around the world that went dark for Earth Hour, including:

The Empire State Building; United Nations Headquarters; Las Vegas Strip; Golden Gate Bridge; Gateway Arch in St. Louis; Seattle’s Space Needle; Great Pyramids of Giza; Acropolis and Parthenon in Athens; St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City; Big Ben and Houses of Parliament in London; Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro; Elysee Palace and Eiffel Tower; Beijing’s Birds Nest and Water Cube; Symphony of Lights in Hong, and Sydney’s Opera House.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It Begins

"Farm Grass" sprouting in the backyard

The sprouting of what I call "farm grass or garlic grass," is a familiar sight here every spring and, for me, marks the official beginning of the growing season. The land where this house stands was once a farm with acres of fields, hence garlic grasses and others related to farming continue to return nearly a century later. Nature persists where she can.

Mornings are filled with birdsong again and this week male Northern Cardinals are fighting over territory, specifically, the right to build nests in the century-old stand of yews outside my study window. For a couple of days flashes of red in a kind of relay-race flight blazed by and then disappeared, repeating minutes later. This morning all is quiet. The victors can now focus on mating and nestbuilding.

Buds are beginning to break on a fragrant May-blooming viburnum (V. burkwoodii) and another (V. dentatum), which produces berries that birds love, is sending up arrow straight branches that have doubled in height in just the past two weeks. Of course, 14 inches of rain will produce this kind of accelerated growth. In more ways than one this truly is an early spring.

As the weeks pass, the busyness of the season is impossible to ignore: groundhogs waking, birds nesting, perennial plants emerging, trees and shrubs budding. After all the havoc our kind has wreaked on nature I am always grateful and somewhat astonished that It Begins Again.

But I worry. Will it always?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Humbled by Neptune

Neptune, God of Water

It began on the Ides of March ― the 15th, the day Julius Caesar was killed in 44 BC ("Beware the Ides of March" is what a soothsayer told Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s play).

So, I should have known.

And if I was still on the fence about the accuracy of some astrology, I'm certainly not now:
One word of warning: Neptune will remain at the very bottom of your chart― and your fourth house of home, as water could bring unexpected difficulties. Protect yourself from any types of floods, water related damage, or miscellaneous problems that would relate to water.

Though I'm not the only one just now emerging from a flooded basement after a week of round-the-clock toil, I feel like I've survived an epic event. I definitely have a new appreciation for the awesome and unrelenting power of water.

It seems that the great Roman god Neptune (his Greek brother is Poseidon), who rules the sea, rivers, flood, drought, earthquakes and horses, has been mighty busy since 2010 began, so I have groveled and abased myself before him and begged him to never visit me again.

In addition to flooding my basement with water, Neptune flooded my memory with rivers of family mementos, some of which I was able to save; many others now forever lost (which may be why my ancestors have been visiting my dreams all week long). And, in the course of hauling boxes of damaged goods up out of the depths of Neptune's tomb, I discovered items I never even knew existed. Like many people with basements full of boxes, some had remained unopened even after many decades, because I had forgotten them or assumed they were of no importance. Until now.

Like all traumatic events, this one brought mixed blessings. One of my major goals for 2010 was to get rid of the massive amount of "stuff" in my basement. It's been an exhausting week, I'm battered and bruised, but I've done it.

By the gods, I've done it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Catkins Up Close

Photo by Brian Johnston

For an amazing and fascinating series of photographs and an interesting study of another type of pussy willow catkin (Salix caprea), click on A Close-up View of the Pussy Willow by Brian Johnston, featured on Microscopy UK.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Salix discolor

Pussy Willow Catkins by Frank L. Hoffman

I began seeing pussy willows (Salix discolor) in supermarkets and flower shops about three weeks ago. But as we approach the Vernal Equinox on March 20 1:32 pm EDT, these harbingers of early spring will be making their annual debut in nature any time now. In Massachusetts, the catkins begin to appear in March.

Male pussy willows produce ornamentally attractive gray catkins on leafless stems in late winter to early spring; females produce smaller, less attractive, greenish catkins. If you want to grow pussy willows in your garden, plant them in average, medium to wet and well-drained soil in full sun. They will really thrive in moist soil and will do well along streams and ponds. Once established, they can be shaped into a hedge.

According to lore, the sound of the wind through the willow was said to inspire poets ― they considered willows to be sacred.

For me, they still are.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mustela frenata

Long-tailed Weasel (Mustela frenata)

As a nature writer with an endless curiosity I am always happy to come across something new and enlightening. Though I am familiar with the work of Annie Dillard, whom I consider one of the true, great nature writers, I had not yet read her essay, "Living Like Weasels," from Teaching A Stone To Talk, published in 1982. I highly recommend it.

I am very fond of weasels and their busy energy, as was Timothy Treadwell, another great nature writer (if you have not listened to entries from his journals narrated in the series, Grizzly Man Diaries, you're really missing out). I do love the way Dillard describes the weasel's physical appearance:

"Weasel! I'd never seen one wild before. He was ten inches long, thin as a curve, a muscled ribbon, brown as fruitwood, soft-furred, alert. His face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard's; he would have made a good arrowhead. There was just a dot of chin, maybe two brown hairs' worth, and then the pure white fur began that spread down his underside. He had two black eyes I didn't see, any more than you see a window.

The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Baby Loves Catnip

Blissful Baby

Is there such a thing as too much catnip? Not if you are the Baby. Her favorite way to indulge is with catnip sprinkled into a Baby-size cardboard box. She gets right in and then grabs her yellow catnip sock, writhing with delight. I know she's in a state of bliss when she throws her head back and purrs like a motor.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Who's the Boss?

Daisy (left) and the Baby duke it out

It's been eight months since I adopted these sisters and only now do I feel that I am really getting to know them, and they me. Princess, whom I've taken to calling "the Baby" because she is the smaller of the two, has a heart condition, which stunted her growth, and she is not expected to live for more than another year or two. Still, since I put them on an organic diet "the Baby" has filled out and now is almost as big as Daisy.

These two love each other very much and one of the ways they show it is by fighting. They'll box while waiting for me to put their food down and sharing a window seat is a bit of a challenge for them. Regardless of her size, "the Baby" made it clear from day one that she is the boss, small but mighty!