Category Archives: nature
Many people believe the Earth is angry at us. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do consider Earth to be a living thing with a consciousness of sorts. Regardless, there is no question that nature is running amok. Nature seems to be telling us, intentionally or otherwise, to get our act together and stop trashing the planet.
I won’t distress Dear Reader with stats about disappearing frog species, nor debate climate change here; just ask a pro tennis player or competitive skier. I’ll wax anecdotal instead. Feel free to submit your own observations. Here’s the short list.
Coyote. I watched a blonde, unkempt dog stroll up a Massachusetts driveway in broad daylight. Oops, it wasn’t a dog. Pack animals roam solo? In daylight? Coyotes are blonde outside of Vermont? Do they have more fun?
Mice. In August, I stepped on a young mouse in my room. I do hope it was dead already, but from its fresh little entrails I could tell it had been alive…recently. What self-respecting rodent goes indoors in summer? Was it too hot outside for mousey? Came in for the A/C? Same week in Bellows Falls, a feisty country mouse scampered around us in my cousin’s driveway unafraid, then leapt into the manifold of his pick-up. Why?
Rabbits.The new generation of bunnies in our neighborhood is fat, confident, and more prone to lolling than hopping. You walk up to them and they don’t even stop chewing. Rabbits, like horses, have no real defense besides flight. So why aren’t they fleeing? I sometimes charge them just so they’ll become afraid of humans, which they should be, especially my sniper neighb with the pellet gun. Rabbits, by the way, are not rodents, because of their incisors and canines, guts, sex parts, and poo-eating. Who knew?
Birdsect. I don’t know what the heck this thing is, besides a fuzzy pollinator. First, I thought it was cool, and giant for a bee (hence the nickname). But when I went to photograph it, it became…aggressive. What the heck is it?
Hawk-Bunny Murder-Suicide. A dead hawk was in our street, with a dead baby bunny in its clutches. It looked like a cartoon caption contest in The New Yorker. “Wha’ happen’?”
Dragonflies. It wasn’t until we saw an unusual number of dragonflies — again, just sort of hanging out — that a lake-loving friend and I read up on them. Most fly for only a few days or weeks of their lives, the rest spent as aquatic nymphs (like us!). One flew from my friend’s head to my head, back and forth, as we swam in a pond. Was it energizing or sampling us? Collecting DNA to colonize its next planet should this one melt? We felt honored either way.
The animals: why are they unafraid? Do they know something we don’t about our imminent demise? Have they realized we are inferior to them? We are in fact idiots, with our moronic abuse of our own planet. Rather than stockpiling canned goods and ammo for the End of Days, let us try an apology: Dear Earth, We are terribly sorry for our pathetic stewardship. Please know that the people of New England, CO, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Cali get it. May other places wake up. You’re gorgeous. Love, Vermont.
Well. Before the waters turn icy, go jump in a lake, river, or ocean. Cold water is renewing, and you adapt to it quicker than ya’d think. Bracing! Great good fun. Good day.
The last installment was simply too dreary to post. Until now (two months later), when I returned from travels to find that the grandifloras had grown a third bud. Whaaaat?! I posted the dreary one so that you, too, could feel the love — the surge from the agony of defeat to the thrill of victory. Look at this beautiful baby. My guess is it will blow tonight.
Here’s the entire plant, elegantly ugly in yesterday’s morning mist:
The night blooming cereus is an ugly cactus that puts on a riveting show once a year. Mine, a selenicereus grandiflorus, blooms for only a single night. Plants more mature than mine can produce many fragrant blooms, the size of dinner plates; their owners throw parties on that night (see: Crazy Rich Asians). Mine gets one bloom. If two, someone invariably knocks one off. So, one.
Imagine my surprise when it began to flower 2 months early, with 2 buds! But immediately: the agony of defeat. One tiny bud was dead by the time I noticed it. The next croaked 2 days later. Was it too hot? Too cold? Did someone—or something—jostle it? This distressing Christmas That Wasn’t affected me for a good two days. There I’d been scheming happily on how to best blog the blooming for you. Next year, people. Apologies.
See two tiny, withered blooms dangling from top leaf of the grandifloras. Then kill me now.
Here we go, people. This little beauty was concealed behind my desk. Let the show begin!
An astonishing feat of nature, the NBC blooms for one night a year. The bloom grows right out of the leaf. The fragrance is astonishing, and lingers long after the bloom has faded. People throw parties for her splendour. As it should be. Stay tuned!
They say of Dartmouth alumni that, if cut, they bleed green. And if a Vermonter is cut, sap comes out. Kyle’s 100% Vermonty leg, a mighty maple, has been tapped.
‘Tis maple sugaring season in the Land. Let the boiling of God’s sweet deciduous nectar begin! Follow the steam. Come, partake of the Upper Valley’s golden goo.
When I’m not buying discounted Valentine foodstuffs, reeling from presidential debates, or marveling at the driving etiquette of certain states, I endeavor to cheer and motivate Dear Reader and, in so doing, activate my own laggardly winter self. In tymes of crippling global bizarreness – political, fiscal, climate, you name it – we could all use a little pep talk.
Maybe your Valentine’s Day wasn’t quite dreamy. No matter, this Hallmark folly is more obligation than holiday, much as I love my annual “balentine” from my mommy. St. Pat’s Day does nothing for many — a drinking day vaguely involving snakes and saints, and if you’re not religious, it seems rather a long, festivity-less haul until Memorial Day. It is.
It’s an odd time of year in an odd year in odd tymes. Who could sleep with all the award ceremonies and farcical debates? A church friend said this has been the winter of our discontent … we had “nothing to play in outside” … had to go to Jersey for snow. When the sun came out (twice?) the temperature plummeted. We felt thwarted. Restless. The global news helped none, and personal problems abounded. Mankind seems to be going through…something. I hope it gets us somewhere good.
When things aren’t going ducky in one life area (say, job), it’s easy to extrapolate the badness onto every other area (money, health, marriage), then just smear it all over the past and the future. It’s a combination of rewriting history (with a dark ink) and catastrophizing about the future. Then everything seems quite terrible indeed. And in your mind, it is. That’s when the compensatory measures kick in – overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overreading. I’m not saying your worries aren’t valid. They probably are. I’m saying that in a dreary time of year, one distressing thing can make you don the opposite of rose-coloured glasses. You pick the color.
Overwhelmed? Hiding? Not thrilled with where the choices you’ve made have gotten you? Or maybe you made very few choices. You just went with the flow and now you’re gasping for air on a debris-littered bank since the water level suddenly dropped. It’s not too late, you know, to take your life in hand. I won’t claim it’s never too late to do anything, because that’s a lie. Time marches on. Trains leave the station. Windows close. Boom. You have to get clever with workarounds.
Patience is not my greatest virtue. My Chinese Zodiac year is that of the Tiger; tigers question authority, detest incompetence, and are impatient. With age, at least, we improve at handling disappointment and delaying gratification. Which helps, because when you don’t get cranky you retain the clarity to plot an alternate route.
As we encounter pot holes and frost heaves and flat-out roadblocks, let us allow the recent Black History Month to inspire in us a serious pondering of Plan B (“another approach”). Maybe it’s time to try a new route. Switch jobs. Move. Quit something you’re failing at, expand something you’re good at. Good at everything you do? Test yourself; try something new. But if it’s not mostly fun, forget it. Life is hard. Plenty of miserable tasks and situations will be thrust upon you. Don’t add to the pile.
Hell, this crazy weather could force us inside for weeks. Lie around, in the bath or under an ocean of blankets, and let your mind float away. What don’t you do that you’d like to? Or, if you can’t do it, what can you do instead? What are you going to plant, lit. and fig.? Which annual that will last a year; which perennial that you will enjoy — or endure — year after year? Dahlias or skunk cabbage? Use your intuition and look for a Sign. I do.
Ride the rails, knit, bowl. Give or get a massage. Get a pet. Walk. Do something for someone. Take a class. Soon this weird winter will end and you’ll be running around like a crazed March Hare, full of P and V. But remember: vigilance! Turn off CNN (“There’s a rabid squirrel ripping through American neighborhoods … is it coming to YOU?”); it should be called the Alarmist News Network. And I always forget seasonal nuisances until their return. Black flies, cluster flies, black ice … pot holes. I hit one so wide my car couldn’t possibly straddle it. It was really more of a sinkhole, a lunar cheese hole. The car groaned. As did I. As will you. Ponder your spring … with vigilance! Good day.
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If I had a hammertoe, which I do, I’d hammer out a warning. Which is what I do unintentionally, serving as a cautionary tale for others by saying, doing, and being the wrong thing a good deal of the time. Most often, thank God, egregious missteps and ill-planned embarrassments make for the best laffs later on. It’s hard to remember this when you’re in the thick of it.
My favorite foliage incident, aside from the time when a leafpeeper in Woodstock agonized endlessly over a close-up of a lone, colored leaf to his wife’s visibly thinning patience, was my own folly: years ago I grabbed my Minolta with old film still in it and took a friend, the King, auto touring to view our autumnal Vermont panoramas—like the postcard says—ablaze with color. I painstakingly lined up shots of the King against various ridgelines ablaze with color. When I found and developed the film (!) some two years later, the ridgelines were evenly aligned, the King handsomely framed, we were young again … not ablaze with color. The old film in my camera had been, apparently, black and white. I laughed and laughed. B&W foliage photos; I’d put the moron in oxymoron.
My most horrific tales of truly awful embarrassment are ones I save for special occasions. When a friend is terribly down and needs a diversion, I trot those babies out and we are howling so hard we are c r y i n g. Alas, for our purposes here: unprintable, Dear Reader.
Modern tymes have multiplied the speed and breadth of our errors one thousand-fold. Who hasn’t forwarded an email to exactly the wrong person, Replied All horribly, tweeted from the wrong Twitter account, or Facebooked a comment that was grossly misinterpreted and made an object of scorn by complete strangers? I don’t sweat most of that because there’s pretty much nothing I’d say about someone that I wouldn’t say to their face, and why people need to chronicle their entire lives on FB is a mystery to me that I’m openly cranky about. Really, I’m a bull in a china shop in there. I think of it as a service I offer.
Facebook. Where I should be using a tweezers, I’m hammering away with a pickaxe. But come on, no one tells you anything anymore. You are expected to go into FB and find out. Which takes one hour. Every single time I go in there I waste an hour of my life on animal videos, faked graphics, and gooey, untrue comments (“You look like sisters!”), and I become aggravated. Who has time? And it’s a big, juicy venue for social gaffe-making. Not “juicy” in the way “juicy” has become a buzzword for, like, “sexy”; rather, juicy as in … I dunno … just … you’re in big trouble.
Work’s another dicey realm. With everything so bloody PC these days, it’s impossible not to offend someone — which was always case, only now there’s some crazy-awkward HR trial over it. In work meetings you may feel you talk too little or too much; if you don’t, rest assured that someone else thinks you do. It’s best to build a game around bizarre modern workplace foolishness with a trusted colleague. Then the pain becomes solid gold. Like my friends that text each other in meetings with “points” every time someone uses tiresome corporate language like “low-hanging fruit,” “cross-pollination,” or “maximizing synergistic mindshare.” They bet on who will sling the most BS in the meeting. It’s like playing the ponies only funnier and more wicked.
Suddenly: spring! Fall’s a perverse season, no? It starts out innocently enough, with a refreshing need for a light jacket, then BOOM it hammers you with icy winds and unexpected flakes. Then it’s 65. We roll with it. Because New Englanders have, another overused buzzword of late, grit. We’re tough as nails. When we’re not scrambling through unheated rooms on all fours for the box of winter clothes, frantically dialing mechanic shops with everyone else who’s realized it’s snow tire time, we’re pretty tough.
As a lingering summer became fall and (eventually?) becomes winter in Vermont, we move in our wardrobes from cotton to fleece to wool, from pink to orange to brown to red to black. Juicily and with grit – like a pomegranate, fall’s favorite fruit – we march in our not-quite-warm-enough jackets from one holiday to the next, each in its own special way affording a magical stage upon which we can make a giant ass of ourselves. Magnificent. Good day.
For decades I bolted out of bed. Now I return from dreamland and marinate in random thoughts awhile. Thoughts like, “I never ran so fast in my life.” That one after a fleeting memory of being in the woods with my rowdy Vermont cousin and his BB gun. Guns were foreign to a suburban girl. My cousin would aim at knots in trees, or critters like chipmunks whereupon I’d yell, “NO!” and give the barrel a shove. Surely kids went blind from those things. Nice toy.
Point is, he once levelled it at a distant object, inhaled, exhaled slowly and murmured, “RUN.” I whispered back what is it? KAPOW. “A hornet’s nest,” he replied. I never ran so fast in my life.
Until the time in our teens when a friend and I were out in the snow at night, as kids were then allowed to be. We thought it a good idea to walk down the hill into people’s back yards. No one had shades drawn. It was pretty interesting. People do a lot of ordinary things at home wearing bad or little clothing. A large, angry man barreled out in his skivvies. “HEY YOU!” I never ran so fast in my life.
When I told my Vermonty college friend, 53, about the bee’s nest, he said without pause, “That’s good fun.” He said it never loses its charm, watching people’s faces as he throws a rock at a nest. Astonished, I asked when was the last time he did this. “Last year.” He’s in better physical shape than most, but still. Well, that’s Vermont for you.
The running memories reminded me of Meatballs, wherein Bill Murray’s pathetic, ragtag camp summer camp unit would certainly fail in a footrace against a rich, athletic unit. For years I’d remembered Murray’s soliloquy as stirring a chant of “We’re number two!” I was wrong. It is, in fact, this chant: “It just doesn’t matter!”
There’s something to be said for lying around thinking thoughts and for enjoying the race when you’re in no position to win. Ours is a competitive society. While I’m all for striving for excellence, and snub the modern “Everyone gets a trophy,” there’s a comparative element that makes people unhappy. Unhappiness does not serve the cosmic soup on Planet Earth.
For example, without sitting on boards or known committees, I have contributed in ways that won’t yield a respectable obit. But my eulogy should be good when I go. And I’d be much happier driving my humble car to a drafty cabin, laughing my face off with my ham-handed monkey boy, than riding in a Maserati with Joe Bucks to an unhappy McMansion and winging dysfuntionally to St. Bart’s. I’m not saying there are no happy McMansionite sports car enthusiasts who totally dig their hedge fund jobs and (accomplished!) families and fancy vacations—because there are—I’m just saying if I had to choose between low-end fun and pricey misery. And that you shouldn’t compare yourself and feel less than. What good in that?
Our high school field hockey team was lucky. We were Title IX girls whose beater, Girls Scout tunic-like uniforms were replaced by smart kilts with turtle necks. As the blue-collar neighbor of rich towns, we’d had no hockey program in middle school thus were three years behind our competitors. But we had mettle and, in spades, humor. On the game bus we’d recite hilariously outdated sexist cheers and make barn noises (our winning football never allowed to speak on their bus). I’d yell during scrimmages to Meg, “Do the crumple!” and she’d collapse realistically, just for kicks. We didn’t have the best record—how could we—but we had the most fun. We somehow made it to sectionals, and lost, but we felt like winners. We’d come a long way, baby.
Go for the silver. Hell, go for the bronze. Everyone can’t win, for God’s sake. Do your best at things you enjoy. Produce a good eulogy. In my rule book, s/he who laughs the most wins. Laughter is money. Good day.
Best Bumper Sticker of Fall, Seen at Farmer’s Market:
YES WE CANNED.
In Maine, a getaway state for Vermont’s Upper Valley, a sign says as you cross the border, “Welcome to MAINE. The Way Life Should Be.” Which is only true if you’re vacationing there. Because if you live there, Maine is pretty much life as usual. Meaning: generous servings of aggravation, taxes, family ordeals, automotive hassles, and work. Lots of work.
Also lots of hosting because if you live in a vacation state like Vermont or Maine, your friends and fam want their vacation…at your house. And really, since when is vacation “the way life should be?” It’s supposed to be just a lot of reading, recreating, sleeping, gabbing, rampant spending, and overeating? Isn’t that what vacation’s for? But I digress.
I took a vacation recently and, due to the burdensome stressors of Modern Tymes, I overanalyzed the hell out of the vacation nearly to the point of its ruination. You know, catastrophizing and messing with time, from the moment of walking in the door thinking, “Only 5 nights left!”; then, “Ugh, down to 4 nights,”; “Oh no, 3 nights, it’s dwindling!!” Et cetera. Bringing so many provisions to save on dining-out costs that it takes an hour to load and unload the car. Not really that relaxing.
Once someone told me anything shorter than a 2-week vacation is a waste because it takes the first week to unravel. But this was 30 years ago when employers could offer free dental, eyeglasses, and ample time off. Who can take two weeks off now, when precious vacation days are used moving, moving people you know, or recovering from moving and moving people you know?
With pressing thoughts of work so debilitating it occurred to me more than once to just drive home and deal with the work issues instead of spending a bankload in paradise to worry about them without being able to solve them, I often wasn’t in paradise at all. But it was unrefundable and I wasn’t insane. So I stayed and endeavored to stifle thoughts about work, global warming, contagion, invasive species, vanishing species, and the shifting, buckling tectonic and oceanic plates that will cause much of the west coast to crumble into oatmeal before it’s hit with a debris-filled tsunami of epic proportions. I tried not think about these things. Fishing helped.
Many Vermonters do the stay-cation in our short summer. Why go anywhere else, they ask? Because it’s not much of a vacation when you’re running into your neighbor who for the thousandth time lets his dog way too close to the family jewels. I want a change of scenery, a change of neighbors, a menu or at least a grill whose knobs I’m unfamiliar with. I want newness. Newness keeps one’s mind occupied from thoughts of global contagion.
So does sleeping on a lake in the woods. For 13 years I’ve lived in areas rather noisy by Vermont standards. When you are exploring uncharted regions, marinating in newness and hearing no noise at night, you can unravel enough for your mind to enter new territory. It can go forward in time, where you imagine the future – of you, your peeps, or your planet. We mostly went back in time, discussing our childhoods and childhood vacations. Back then vacation was all taken care of for us so we simply benefitted, sure, but it was different in other ways, too. In the 60s and 70s, average families could not only afford a house on one salary, but also a modest lake- or sea-side cabin – and time to actually go to the place.
I shan’t candycoat those trips, now comical, wherein multiple flat tires and bursting radiators caused the parents to nuke and the dog situated in the middle of the back seat (or “way back” of the Country Squire) was tortured by your brother, your indignant outcries ignored or ridiculed by bickering parents in a roasting, A/C-less, metal prison clouded by mom’s burning Kents. But the destination was ever worth the journey. Frolicking in the woods. Spinning in inner tubes with the nozzle jabbing your thigh, your cousins’ reckless antics unmonitored by drinking adults out of earshot. Skinnydipping with your aunt under the stars. Burgers and dogs. Great freedoms, great times.
We were lucky to have been young then. And you can be lucky now. By going on a real va-cation when prices plummet. Go. Ignore global threats, eat, rest, float your body in the now-warm water. Bask in nature and pleasant childhood memories. The cosmic soup demands your happiness. Do it. With love. Good day.
Provocative Autofill of the Month:
When Why does your bladder…is entered in the search box, Google autofills with:
- Have to be full for a sonogram
Send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter handle: @uvgvt. … ann.aikens.7 on Facebook.
Referenced in column later this week.