Sunday, December 30, 2012


With back-to-back snowstorms behind us, the Town of Waldo where I live has approximately 18 inches of snow on the ground. And with that amount of snow covering the banking around my cottage, the indoor temperature has risen by several degrees. Besides that, before the insulating blanket of snow came, even with the woodstove pumping, it was hard to feel totally warm and comfortable. Not now, though. As long as the snow lasts, keeping warm inside will present far less of a problem.

My morning was spent shoveling snow, probably my least-favorite activity in the world. The acquisition of one of those snow scoops, the kind that you push instead of lift, has made things at least somewhat easier. But when snow gets just so deep, it’s difficult to dump the snow from the scoop. The best I can do is to partially upend the thing and push on it. Then, when pulling back on the handle, the snow stays in place, as long as it was well-packed. That just goes to show that nothing comes easy.

The accumulated depth of snow now has caused me to re-think my plans for January 1, the first day that we may go ice fishing and keep trout, togue (lake trout) and salmon under general law rules. Wallowing through knee-deep snow to get out on a lake isn’t fun. Besides, I’m not totally sanguine about the thickness of ice on local lakes and ponds. Safe ice had only begun to form and now the snow will act as an insulator, making it difficult to add ice.

So after my morning’s labors, I’m just happy to come back inside and plan dinner…what I refer to as dinner, anyway. It’s an old-time country term for what most everyone now calls lunch. But lunch, in my vernacular, can happen anytime, as in, “I think I’ll stop and have a little lunch.”  

And of course dinner to everyone else is supper to me. It’s stuff such as this that I ponder now, what with my reinforced confinement in the house. The plow man hasn’t come yet and with all the driveways he has to plow and the depth of the snow, it’s possible I may be stuck inside for several days. And goodness knows what deep thoughts (as in lunch, dinner and supper distinctions) I’ll ponder in the meantime?

But not to worry. I have thawed out a package of squid from last summer. These, I vacuum-sealed in special bags and they are as good as fresh. And later, the pack of lamb chops I took from the freezer last night will make for an elegant supper (dinner, if you will).

Tonight is supposed to come off clear, albeit cold…the Weather Channel calls for temperatures of 0 Fahrenheit. But as long as it’s not too windy, cold won’t present a problem. I hope to set up a telescope and do some stargazing. Skies are often quite transparent after a storm front departs. And transparent skies, meaning a lack of upper-lever turbulence, mean excellent viewing.

And if the full moon poses a problem, then I might dispense with the scope and do some limited stargazing with my image-stabilized binoculars. These keep shaking to a minimum, the end result is something like a great leap in magnification. With these 10 X 30 Canon binoculars, I can plainly see all four of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. And of course, star clusters and other celestial goodies come to life in the Canons.

So being stuck at home because of snow is really no big deal. It used to happen to people all the time and they easily took it in stride. It’s only today, with the demand for unhampered access to stores and whatnot, that being snowbound makes folks uneasy. As for me, it doesn’t make much difference. I’ll use the time to write a few columns and work on some new jigs and reels. Besides, I have three bottles of Sam Adams Boston Lager in my refrigerator. It could be worse.

Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

We Have Much To Be Thankful For

Right about this time of year, I become quite appreciative of all the good food that I either caught, grew or picked in the wild. The Highland Scots have a saying that kind of sums this up in a nice way: “A fish from the river, a staff from the woods and a deer from the moor, three thefts no Gael was ever ashamed of”       

Of course in our case here in America, we needn’t steal a fish or a deer and in Maine, we have more than enough wood to supply staffs for all. But still, the saying illustrates what was important to those braw, kilt-clad lads across the pond.

And speaking of all that good, wild stuff, I am everlastingly grateful to those who pioneered the art of food preservation and brought it to the current level of technology. Now, we can have wild greens, picked fresh in spring and summer, frozen and served at any time of the year. The same goes for fish and game. Vacuum-sealing machines keep air out and freshness in.          

My freezer brims with frozen goodies from the woods (or the moors, if you will), the streams, the ocean and even my own garden. And my shelves are lined with home-canned goodies, such as goosetongue and dandelions. And of course, garden stuff too goes into canning jars. I particularly enjoy my home-canned carrots.

While somewhat demanding, it was enjoyable and rewarding to gather and process all these wonderful things. And now, while reaping the fruits of my previous labor, I can relax and contemplate the wonderful blessings available to us all.

Today at noon, my meal consisted of mackerel fillets, fiddleheads and corn-on-the-cob. The mackerel were placed on ice as soon as the came off the hook, taken home, filleted and sealed in vacuum bags. The fiddleheads were given equal care and the corn was from my own garden. All in all, it was a taste of summer on a raw and dreary winter’s day.         

Now, during the holiday season, I like to mull over my blessings and give thanks for all the lovely things that the good earth provides. And likewise, I hope all readers of Wild Plants And Wooly Bears, wherever dispersed, have a chance to sit down, relax and count their blessings too.

Season’s greetings and my best wishes for a happy, safe and prosperous new year for all.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Silent Killers

A silent killer stalks our woods and fields, meadows and hedgerows. It strikes quickly and efficiently and shows no mercy. Its predations account for a near-mass slaughter of certain native creatures. This is an introduced predator and we introduced it. And we bear responsibility for its existence.

By now I can hear readers thinking, “Oh, my, what terrible creature might this be?” Well, the answer may come as a surprise. The introduced predator is the common housecat, gone wild. The feral cat population continues to swell as the exurban push continues.

With every new house that sprouts up on formally wild land or agricultural land that was sold out of inability to pay continually-rising property taxes, the number of housecats roaming those places increases exponentially. And when that happens, the number of native bird and small mammal species diminishes accordingly.

My interest in this topic was piqued by the decreasing number of ruffed grouse, woodcock and also, snowshoe hares on my woodland property. It took me a while to figure out what the problem was. I blamed fishers, weasels, foxes, bobcats and coyotes. But coyotes don’t catch too many game birds. They instead, concentrate upon small mammals. And while coyotes are a relative newcomer to these parts, foxes, bobcats and the rest were here well before we were. Something different had to account for the sudden slackening in small game and game bird numbers.

And that something was housecats. As more and more people moved out my way (a large agricultural landowner had gone out of business and subdivided their land…after cutting all the useful timber), I began seeing more and more housecats in the woods. And only shortly thereafter, the small game population went south.

In addition to the heavy toll these feral cats take on small game, they also kill songbirds. I can no longer maintain a bird feeder, since these cats hide in nearby bushes, patiently waiting to leap on any ground-feeding bird that might chance to pick up a sunflower seed that had dropped to the ground.

These cats are of two types; fully wild and part-wild. The fully-wild cats have litters outdoors and the offspring grow up as genuine wild animals. The other variety is cats that people feed sometimes and might even let in their houses on occasion. But that’s as far as it goes. These animals have the run of the woods and only show up at home for a meal or when bitter cold weather prompts them to go for creature comforts. They, of course, are not properly cared for in that the irresponsible owners do not have them vaccinated against rabies, distemper or any of the other diseases that cats are prone to.

Maine law states that cats, like dogs, must be under the owner’s immediate supervision when off the owner’s property. But of course no one bothers with obeying that law. I have even had cat owners scoff at the suggestion that they keep their cats home.

So who is to blame here? Well, the cats are animals and simply follow their animal nature. So the fault clearly lies with the owners.

Sadly, I don’t see any help for this situation. Perhaps some day more people will exercise responsibility in this regard, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. 

By the way, the mystery item shown in my "What's It?" quiz posted a while ago is the interior skeleton of a common squid, also known as a "pen." These are of a translucent, cartiliginous material and they are found inside the body, or "tube" of a squid. 

Nobody got the answer right, by the way. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Insect Pests

Insects are necessary for plant life to exist. From symbiotic relationships that benefit both plant and insect, to pollinating efforts, insects have their place. But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean we have to like them.

In fact, I really dislike them. At one time I had no feelings one way or the other. But in recent years, with spiders, ants, ticks and a host of other creepy-crawly critters gnawing on my poor old hide, I have had it.

And yes, I know that spiders are arachnids, a separate category. But for purposes of this conversation, I’m lumping them all into one, homogenous group: insects.

For the last five years, I have gotten tick bites in March. That used to be the month when glorious spring arrived and with the warm, southern breezes, also came a feeling of freedom. And that freedom was borne of knowing that it would be another month or more before the first biting insects showed up.

But no more. These disease-carrying deer tick are fully active in March. And each tick bite presents not just the problem of Lyme disease, the bites themselves take a long time to go away…as in years. I’m still scratching a tick bite on my thigh that I got in March, 2010.

Spiders live in my house (they come in on firewood) and they purposely and with malice aforethought, attack me in my sleep. I have slapped myself awake, only to find a squashed spider in bed with me. Yekkk!

Wasps and hornets build their nests in the eaves of my cottage, in the barn and in my woodshed. Every year, one of these aggressive beasts nails me. And every year, I become more intolerant of bee stings. My physiology has changed and now I become swollen and experience shortness of breath. Benadryl has become a household staple.

So with all of this, now I see that “winter moths” are descending upon Maine en mass. Who ever heard of “winter moths?” I certainly didn’t. On the other hand, I never thought much about ticks, either, not until perhaps 10 years ago.

I know this post sounds sort of tongue-in-cheek, but it has a serious tone. Insects such as emerald ash borer and wooly adelgid are already a serious threat to our forests. And now winter moths are here to destroy the trees (hardwoods and fruit trees) that emerald ash borers and wooly adelgids can’t be bothered destroying.

Again, I write in a semi-humorous vein, but there is nothing funny about this. My thoughts now are, “what’s next?” Would it come as much of a surprise to learn that still another as-of-yet unknown insect pest has invaded the Pine Tree State?

As for me, I can’t see much hope for stopping any of this, a pessimistic, but honest point of view.