THROUGH THE WOODS: Summer is here!

THAT OLD FEELING that summer is here and the school year is ending never fades. We couldn’t wait until we were home on our farm to enjoy all those sunny days with no homework and no tests even if we would have lots of farm chores to do. My first memory of school was at age 4, coming through Philmont in June 1950. I sat between my grandparents in their 1930s dark green pickup truck and saw grade school children walking along a street waving rolled white paper tied with ribbon and looking so happy! I asked my grandmother what they were doing, and she answered. My first words on the subject were, “I can’t wait to go to school.” She smiled and my grandfather laughed.

Gram flunked out of High School in Great Barrington, MA, and my Gramp went to a one-room schoolhouse through 3rd grade. We lived on our family farms in the Town of Austerlitz in an isolated community with only a few distant neighbors’ children and school sounded fun to me.

My parents decided to wait until the new Ockawamick Central School in Claverack was built to send me straight to first grade, no kindergarten. My father was on the first OCS school board and often took me along when he visited the construction site. I remember going into the huge foundation holes and picking up electrical box metal knockouts to use as play coins. We were poor and had fun making up our own games and toys. Read more…


Goslings. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THIS IS THE SEASON when most birds are working on their first or only nesting cycle, and when we are able to observe the results of the parents’ hard labor. And it is hard work. The Canada warbler for example may feed insects to their young at a rate of dozens of trips per hour. Our smallest area birds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, must eat at least half their weight in food each day, then, in addition, they are gathering more to feed their young. They rarely sit still and fly from flower to flower, and I am sure are very grateful to all who provide them with sugar water-filled feeders.

It is important to use the recommended mixture of one part sugar plus four parts water (1/4 cup sugar plus one cup water in a saucepan heated until the sugar is just dissolved and then cooled). A more concentrated mixture can harm the birds. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, but they are very happy with clear-colored sugar water too. I do not add red food coloring. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a week. Discard it if there is discoloration or mold.

I have tried many different types of hummingbird feeders, but by far the best is made by Droll Yankee. They are attractive, very easy to clean and refill, durable and exceptionally functional. After the feeder is hung, clean it and change the sugar water at least twice per week and whenever it looks cloudy. Your reward will be great views of these jewel-like birds and hopefully, they will bring their bumblebee-sized young when they have fledged. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Our porcupines

Baby porcupine. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

AN AWFUL, PAINFUL, HAZARD FOR DOGS is a porcupine. Some of our farm dogs were wary and some had very terrifying experiences. Christie, the border collie, would pile into anything and guard the property. One night she was howling pitifully and was found with a face and legs full of porcupine quills (a porcupine can have up to 30,000 quills).

Fortunately, there was a veterinarian on duty, and she was rushed in for treatment. I wasn’t with her, but the process is tedious and under sedation. The quills should not be pulled out. Never attempt this because there is a barb at the tip that holds the quill in the flesh and the dog will probably bite you out of pain. It is somewhat like getting the barb of a fishhook stuck in your hand. If not removed asap the quills can move deeper and possibly enter an organ causing death. A quill in an eye requires immediate emergency attention to save the eye. Christie recovered and was a much happier and wiser dog.

To prevent these incidents dogs must be confined to avoid porcupine contact. Do not walk dogs at night and never off-leash. Porcupines are generally nocturnal, are our state’s second-largest rodent (the beaver is bigger) weigh up to 30 lbs., and love access to garbage and open dumpsters. Good wire fencing down to the ground can usually keep them out. Actual contact with a porcupine must be made to receive their quills. They do not throw quills. When a porcupine is born the quills are soft. Within minutes the quills begin to harden, and the baby is protected. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Dames Rocket For Decoration Day

Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

MEMORIAL DAY IS THE TIME FOR HONORING and remembering those who have passed on and those who have served in our Armed Forces to make our country the wonderful nation it is today. There is so much negativity in the media we sometimes forgot how much has been sacrificed to give us so many things. We often take it for granted and we shouldn’t.

When we have our holiday weekend and barbecues to kick off the summer and enjoy family gatherings, we need to pause and remember who made this all possible. My father always referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. This name for the holiday began after the Civil War, when children and later adults across the country placed flowers and “decorations” on the graves of our soldiers to remember their sacrifices. Toward the end of the 1800’s people gradually started calling it Memorial Day, and then especially after WWII, all family members were remembered whether they had served or not.

Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, was declared the official name of the federal holiday in 1967. Flags are raised to full staff in the morning and then immediately and solemnly lowered to half staff until noon, then fully raised again for the rest of the day. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Feather maintenance

Chipping sparrow. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THE LITTLE CHIPPING SPARROW in this photo is one of many who have returned to us from the south, and this one had just taken a refreshing bath in a clean ditch full of water at the side of a quiet dirt road. The sex of this species of bird is difficult to tell, so it will arbitrarily be called male. He had waded into the water and rapidly flapped his wings throwing water all around him. It was comical to watch the flurry of wings and the puffed-up feathers. Eventually, he flew up on the low limb and went through a similar flapping and fluffing in the warm sun.

Much of the water was eliminated and he rubbed his face and wings on the limb. You could see the water on the bark and watch it disappear as it evaporated. He was still a little damp, but looked very pleased with himself and was able to fly away, clean and handsome sporting his rusty cap. In the distance, he sang his same note rapid call of chip chips… Read more…