“Ring out, wild bells”
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow…
TENNYSON GOT THIS RIGHT. 2021 must be a better year with new vaccines and Covid-19 treatments, and our lives improved. Let’s get back to more normal lives again. One thing I have vowed to do is to stop watching the news and to skip all the negative thoughts and events that go with it.
Follow the birds to connect to nature. I am going to be an ostrich this year to improve my life. It would be figuratively burying my head in the sand, something that ostriches actually don’t do. It may be this myth came from this bird’s habit when frightened to lie down and stretch its head and long neck out flat on the ground. From a distance the body resembles a bush and helps camouflage it. I wish I could do this and then be sure I could stand up again.
I am laughing, which is a good thing. This winter my time will be spent taking a Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology online course on “Bird Biology,” which includes a large textbook. It is a daunting task but will improve my skills as a bird watcher. Along with this I am reading about one of my favorite and most intelligent birds, the common raven. They occasionally come to my woods and field and do aerial acrobatics, play and chase each other. These are most likely pairs bonding for the coming nesting season. A local nest site to watch is located at the large Shaker Barn at the Darrow School in New Lebanon. It is an amazing, huge pile of sticks which has been rebuilt each year since the 1980s. Read more…
WHAT A YEAR of fear and turmoil 2020 has been. It started like any normal year, then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived. I admit I have been frighted because I and family members are in the most vulnerable categories of age and sometimes combined with medical issues. It has been a year of isolation for many of us. One family member, an in-law, was isolated in a nursing home. No one could see him except to stand outside and wave at his window. He became ill with Covid-19, went to an Albany hospital in isolation. He recovered, went back to a nursing home and eventually died. Only his wife and two sons could attend a burial without a funeral. We hope that at some point we can have a proper religious service to honor him.
Schoolmates, neighbors, and friends have died. So many thousands of people have gone through similar situations. We have been a nation of fear, loss of livelihoods, anger and grieving. Woven through this were elections and political turmoil. It is a wonder we have managed to stay as sane as we are. I have had lots of time to think about this and religion, connections to friends and family have helped. I spend a good portion of the day in Zoom meetings, watching live streamed Church services, and talking on the phone. In nice weather I occasionally saw family members and friends at a distance outdoors. Read more…
MY FIRST SPICY CHRISTMAS MEMORY was of sticking cloves in an orange in Sunday school. While I’ve never discovered the significance of that Advent exercise, I do know peppermint candy canes, scented candles and especially the office party punchbowl add zest to the holidays. Our recent batch of spice cookies, featuring cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice, was rather lost on me due to my middle-age allergies, but I still find fascinating all the scents and seasonings the plant world provides.
Pumpkin pie, that most Yankee of desserts, would be rather bland without a West Indies native called Pimenta dioica. Just who discovered that the fruits of this tree could be ground and eaten is lost to history, but the English thought the powder tasted like a combination of cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and nutmeg and called it allspice. Once traders got their mitts on allspice, it traveled the world over and become a staple flavor in dozens of far-flung cultures. Caribbean cuisine adds it to jerk seasoning, mole sauces and pickling. In the Middle East, it is often found in stews and meat dishes, while in Germany commercial sausage-makers rely on it. The British like it in desserts, while Ohioans claim their Cincinnati chili just isn’t right without it. Interestingly, allspice can also be used as a deodorant: could that be the inspiration behind the Old Spice I used to give my dad? Read more…
A ROUGH COUNTY SURVEY of natural food sources for birds and animals shows that so far things look pretty good this year. During tough weather it is surprising what will be eaten. If you have a compost pile you may have witnessed some changes already. Ever wonder what happens to old pumpkins and squash, and the fields of them that are not harvested? If they are left until spring they freeze and get soft on warmer days. Deer bite out chunks and open them up for turkeys and other birds and smaller mammals.
If you pay attention there are incredible numbers of apple trees everywhere. Different varieties stay on trees for different lengths of time, so food is available until spring. Deer will stand on their hind legs and pull off all the apples they can reach and visit trees regularly to eat the ones that eventually fall off. Fox, coyotes and other animals we think of as meat eaters join in too. Coyotes can leap high off the ground to get fruit, and unbelievably, foxes can climb trees. Birds will pick at larger apples but prefer the smaller crab apples.
There are crab apples behind my house. This time of year, the robins, bluebirds and cedar waxwings are already trying them. Some crab apples get sweeter through the winter to spring, when the apples finally develop the sugar content the birds enjoy. Birch trees have seed filled catkins loved by goldfinches, pine siskins, and redpolls. These finches and the sparrows love the weed seeds along roads and in abandoned fields. Often there will be pileated woodpeckers, our largest, crow-sized woodpeckers, wrapped in a tangle of wild grapevine eating the “raisins” with gusto. Read more…
I’VE LONG MAINTAINED THAT CHRISTMAS is a horticultural holiday. There’s the tree, obviously, and a large supporting cast of plants, including the Poinsettia, mistletoe, cyclamen, holly and ivy, various greens and even the Christmas cactus. Dig even deeper, back to the first Christmas, and we find the Wise Men offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While I have a good grasp on the first gift, I’ve always been a little fuzzy on just what the last two are all about.
Both, it turns out, are plant products. Nineteen species of a tree called Boswellia, which grow from the west coast of India along the Arabian Sea and through central Africa, give us frankincense. Its name comes from the Old French moniker “franc encens,” for noble or pure incense. The principle species is Boswellia sacra, a tree growing to about 25 feet tall. No stranger to tough conditions, it lives on dry, rocky hillsides in limestone soils. It has pinnately compound, crinkly leaves, a spreading, vase-shaped form, bark similar to parchment paper and is often multi-trunked. The racemes of white flowers turn into small seed capsules. Frankincense is made by first wounding the tree’s bark, then collecting the gummy sap which exudes from injuries. The palest frankincense is said to be the most desirable. Read more…