Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gardening with wildlife

The four poults with their mother and aunt

In late summer the garden can begin to look a bit unkempt and insect pests like aphids return to take their toll on roses. But not with wild turkeys in residence. They spend their days eating insects and do an amazing job of consuming ticks, especially the deer ticks that cause Lyme Disease.

I garden to attract wildlife and create a haven for them, and so I protect certain plants that are hard for groundhogs to resist by wrapping them with flexible screen material (secured with closepins). I also use tightly woven hard screening material for new plantings like viburnum and other shrubs to protect them until they have a chance to get established. These deterrents work, the groundhogs accept them and continue to feel welcome in the garden. I appreciate the fact that they're happy to eat the lawn and garden weeds I'm not fond of. 

For me, a garden isn't a garden without wildlife.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The sweetheart rose

Cécile Brünner, introduced in 1881, is a petite Polyantha rose with pink buds that have a pointed, classic Hybrid Tea Rose shape in a miniature size. The petals look absolutely perfect as the buds unfurl. This rose was often worn pinned into a buttonhole or in a boutonniere.

Known as "The Sweetheart Rose," this lovely rose was named for the daughter of a Swiss rose grower named Ulrich Brünner. Her loveliness lives on in the shell pink-with-blue-undertones coloring and delicate spicy-sweet scent. No wonder Mademoiselle Cécile Brünner continues to be popular with those who favor antique roses.  

Like many of these old roses, Cécile Brünner is low maintenance and highly disease resistant. She tolerates a variety of conditions, but for the best display give her full sun and regular monthly feedings of well composted cow manure. One feeding of Epsom salts in late spring seems to please her as well. Sprinkle two tablespoons around the drip edge of the rose, lightly scratch into the soil and water well. 

Some of my flowering plants are beginning to look bedraggled this late in the summer, but Cécile Brünner is kicking up her heels and will continue to put on a show for another month or more.

Source: 100 Old Roses for the American Garden, Clair G. Martin and Saxon Holt

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A day of rest


Like me, Tommy the wild turkey considers Sunday to be a day of rest. So, how does he spend his day? Well...

He eats a little of this and a little of that, has a nice drink of cool water, tends to his grooming and then settles down for a power nap. He's such a handsome bird and I must confess that I am totally smitten with him.

The hens and poults have gone on walkabout, most likely to continue the poults' education. Tommy has been looking a little lost without his family, but they'll be back soon. 

Note: The quality of these photos demonstrates my respect for and reluctance to disturb this gentle giant. The glare Tommy gave me in the last photo was his signal to end the photo session, which I obeyed.  Click on each for the best views.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The power of water

August morning at the edge of Walden Pond

I am endlessly attracted to water. Images of and metaphors about water appear in my work, and I find peace and inspiration near waterfalls, fountains, pools, streams, lakes, ponds and always ― the sea.

Spending time at Walden Pond puts my mind at ease and reinvigorates me artistically, emotionally and spiritually.  When my reserves are low, a visit here has the power to restore me. (Click on the photo for the best view.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Walden is my elixir

Early morning on the trail at Walden Pond

I've been coming to Walden Pond since the mid-1970s and it remains a place out of time in the very best way. The water is as pristine as ever, especially well out past where most visitors swim. 

But for me, it's more than that. Walden is a place that brings me peace. In times of stress or personal crisis, I always find my way there. And once I do, the feeling is the same ― astonishment that it took me so long to remember that Walden Pond is some of the best medicine I know. It just seems to cure whatever ails me. I come away with a feeling of serenity. I come back to myself. I come home. 

When I first discovered Walden Pond, I was a wild child. I couldn't get enough. I made a promise to Walden then, vowing to swim every single day from June right through October. I can still remember the ritual of it and how exhilarating it was to dive into the cool, crystalline waters well past summer.

Today, I keep my promise to Walden, usually in August, and I like to go alone. I find a cove, settle in and write in my journal and then go for a swim. Afterward, it's nice to sit in the sun and write some more. By late morning I'm ready to head off down the trail and walk along the other side of the pond. Moss and ferns grow lush there and on that side the place feels wilder.

By the time I get back to the car, I am a different person. The stress is gone; I am totally chilled out, grounded and centered is my new point of view. 

Because the view from Walden is my elixir. 

More on Walden Pond in my next post.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Things fall down

This huge oak limb crash-landed just before midnight

Strange and ominous things have been happening, seemingly out of nowhere. For instance, just before midnight a gigantic boom shook the house and scared the living daylights out of us. I turned on the garage light and opened the front door to find several ginormous (a real word, click here) tree limbs on the ground, across the front yard, blocking the driveway and spilling out into the street. 

No rain or storm had provoked this event. In fact, it happened on a lovely and warm late summer night filled with the songs of crickets and tree frogs. Then suddenly, BOOM.

The good news? These gigantic leader branches were very polite in falling the way they did. Amazingly, the roof was completely spared as was a prized umbrella pine. A section of a much loved magnolia was split in half, but the damage was slight considering all that could have happened.

The bad news? Having tree work done is very costly and the timing could not have been worse.

The arborist that came to the rescue explained that white oaks can snap like this, and exactly why is a bit of a mystery, because when it happens, the leaders are usually not rotted nor infested with insects. It seems to happen most often in summer, during dry spells and with subtle imbalances in the weight of some branches over others. All these factors create a perfect storm of sorts and it didn't just happen here. Last week the arborist had another call from a man with the same trouble. He was standing outside in his back yard when a couple of huge oak limbs dropped like bombs from his tree and just missed him. Pretty scary. 

The lesson? When things fall down, find a way to count your blessings, pick yourself up and get on with it. 

And for those who would like to know more about pruning, 1) It is an art and 2) many trees are overpruned, which shortens their lifespan. I highly recommend two articles on tree pruning. You can find them here and here. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thomas is back

A patriarch with a sweet side

Mature wild turkeys are called Toms, and I rather like this one, so I call him Tommy. He's fiercely protective of his clan but he can be sweet and very gentle with the poults. He actually does "rule the roost" and though it's pretty darn rude of him to take off for three months and then show up and begin throwing his weight around, that's the way wild turkey family groups function. In exchange, the hens and poults get his awesome protection. 

Today, a house cat from across the way escaped, as he likes to do every now and then. He's not particularly skilled at hunting, but the turkeys perceive him as a threat and rightly so as the poults continue to be vulnerable. Whether in the grip of a clumsy but swift house cat or the sharp as knives talons of a hawk, a poult has almost no chance of escaping, never mind surviving such events. And though the poults are big now, a hawk could still take one. Having Tommy on patrol is a real deterrent.

It just so happens that a hawk is raising young nearby and when the adult turkeys hear their piercing calls, they stop whatever they are doing and look skyward and display a body posture that tells the poults: this is a warning you must never ignore.

For the rest of the summer and into the fall, the poults will be learning critical survival skills to prepare for the greatest challenge of their young lives ― their first New England winter.

Tommy is a long lived bird. The length of his beard is one clue. With his many years of experience, he has much to teach the poults and they have much to learn.  

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Turkey poults then and now

These four poults had a rough start just look at them now

Because these wild turkey poults know and trust me, they come rather close and continue to be very curious about the camera. Otherwise, they are watchful and wary, just as nature intended them to be. This bed of pachysandra is one of their favorite dining spots; lots of insects are attracted to its cool and shady interior.

The growth rate of the poults is remarkable. Since June they have grown almost as large their mother. You can see that she continues to keep a close eye on them in the middle photo (click on it for a better view). She has certainly done a phenomenal job of raising them. 

The "family" unit is now comprised of: Mom, the four poults, Auntie Hen and Tommy. He recently returned from a three-month walkabout. That's him in the middle photo,  farthest from the poults. Click on the photo and you can see his long beard touching the ground. The poults are his offspring. More on him in my next post.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Petal power

'New Zealand'

This hybrid tea rose, introduced in 1989, is very fragrant and absolutely gorgeous in bloom. As the flowers fade, I gather the petals for drying and use them to make rose petal potpourri. 

Opening a jar of rose petal potpourri in the dead of winter is a transporting experience ― all you have to do is close your eyes and you're there walking in the garden on a summer morning. 

The delicate beauty of these rose petals is a reminder that time is passing. Late summer is making her debut amid flushes of new bloom and ripening berries.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Girls: Three years on

Princess aka Baby (top) and Daisy (orange foot)

The Girls came to live with me three summers ago (see  post from July 9, 2009) and have truly made themselves at home. Like all Tortoiseshell cats, aka Torties, they have their high spirited and madcap moments and an arsenal of annoying antics. Impish, ultra curious and extremely intelligent, they are sweet, loving and very devoted. 

Both girls have learned to respect and get along with the wild turkeys that live here and when I call, they come running at lightning speed, absolute models of obedience.

I can brush and comb them every which way, clip their claws, clean their ears and even brush their teeth. And if you know anything about Torties, that is something to brag about. However, it wasn't always that way. When they first came to live with me they hissed and spat and threw tantrums at grooming time. I could tell it was a routine they had perfected in their original home. I let them know I would have none of it. 

Their reaction was one of complete shock. I stifled my urge to laugh out loud and kept on, taking control and asserting my authority. I'd been there and done that with other cats and told them resistance was futile. They very quickly learned to go with the flow.

The Baby was the most tantrum prone and issued a series of wicked growls and guttural screams that were more hilarious than heinous. But her days as "the tiny rage" are long over. 

I still and always will miss my beloved Maine Coon boy, but I can say now with complete and utter certainty that I love my girls and they love me.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Anzac and Peggy

Best mates Anzac and Peggy  (Photo: Rob Leeson)

Orphans Anzac, the joey and Peggy, the wombat met at the Wild About Wildlife Kilmore Rescue Centre in Australia. 

Read all about them and see some other heartwarming photos here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Unhappy Endings

This young life came to an unhappy and abrupt end

I was driving through the town of Sherborn when I caught sight of what I thought might be an injured young owl lying on the side of a busy road. A flag of downy feathers waved as cars sped past. 

I found a place to pull over, grabbed the bag I always keep in the trunk of my car and headed over to investigate. The downy feathers belonged to a wild turkey poult that looked about three weeks younger than the poults that live with me. Like so many other wild babies, his life came to a brutal end when he ventured too close to the road. His intestines were splayed on the asphalt beside his body, which was still warm. 

I couldn't leave him there. I knew his family had stood by grieving this event and might still be nearby. I've seen hens and sibling poults do this before. They stand around their loved one in a circle if they can and have what I can only describe as an observance of grief. They leave with great reluctance but the call to move on and survive is greater.

Nearby was a wooded area where I could return this baby to the peace and quiet of his forest home. That was one way to honor his life. I also knew that leaving him in the road would put the lives of other animals at risk as they tried to feed on his remains.

As I laid the poult down on the forest floor in a tranquil spot near a riverbank, I knew a fox, coyote or mink would find him later that evening and enjoy an unexpected but welcome meal.  But I was sorry that the poult's first summer was also his last.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A sparrow story

This little guy was soaked from a torrential rainfall; his feathers were so wet that he was unable to fly away as quickly as he would normally be able to. And that's when my cat went over and snatched him, right before my eyes. Fortunately, I was able to quickly grab her and then the sparrow. 

Now, I am well aware of the damage that cats do to our songbird population and I take great pains to prevent their wreaking this havoc.  My cats are heavily belled and carefully supervised. They are not "outdoor" cats. I kept them inside the entire month of June to protect the turkey poults that live here.

It was my fault that the sparrow was hurt. I should have waited to find out what "that strange object" was before letting my cat out at the worst possible moment. 

With regret and resignation, I immediately began to tend to the sparrow, wrapping him loosely in a microfiber dishtowel to keep him warm and help absorb some water from his feathers. I fed him a bit of water from a syringe and then I just let him rest in the windowsill where I hoped the voices of his fellow sparrows might comfort him. Later, I took him into the kitchen and set him down on the table, placing a large mesh pasta strainer over him in the little towel nest I had made. Tall and wide, it worked perfectly as a protective cage and allowed me to keep an eye on him while I did some dishes. 

He looked so poorly and breathed so heavily, I did not expect him to survive, but felt better knowing he could die in a peaceful and warm environment. 

Next thing I knew, he was hopping inside the mesh strainer, ready to go! He had recovered from the shock. It had only taken about 45 minutes. With my cats locked safely inside, I took him out and put him down on the ground exactly where I found him and waited. He got his bearings and then flew up into a nearby tree.

Even though he seemed to make a miraculous recovery, I am just going to wait and see. Birds are like that. They can look terrible and surprise you with a complete recovery, or they can look strong and resilient at midnight and be cold and dead by morning. 

This little sparrow was very courageous and left me feeling hopeful and inspired. His eyes were busy and alert the whole time I cared for him, a very good sign. Of course, the trust of a sparrow or any wild being is always a gift of faith, grace and yes, love.  

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

We Live Here: Three refuges

 These trees serve as a refuge for wildlife

This post concludes my We Live Here series (see July 22nd post) to raise awareness about wildlife habitat and how you can help maintain and preserve it.

Please don't grind tree stumps or cut less than perfect tree trunks down. These important cavity trees provide much needed habitat and temporary shelter for a wide variety of wildlife: mice; chipmunks; squirrels; opossums; raccoons; owls; mink; tree frogs; snails; bees; butterflies and more.

Cavity trees are becoming scarce due to current cutting practices; it is vital that we preserve those that remain. Protect them on your property and encourage friends and neighbors to do the same. 

We can all live here together.