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There’s a Mole in our Midst

December 14, 2019

SpyMoleIn espionage circles, a mole is a spy or deep cover/ sleeper agent who joins a target organization with the long-term goal of gaining access to its secrets. Eventually, with luck, determination and skill, they ‘dig out’ the information required to bring the organization’s activities to light (for their own nefarious purposes, or to expose them), and/or its members to justice.

The term was apparently introduced to the public by writer John Carré in his 1974 novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and has since entered the modern lexicon, primarily as a result of the popularity of using ‘moles’ in spy novels, movies and television shows. While its actual origin is unclear, Le Carré (a former British Intelligence Officer), has claimed the term ‘mole’ was used by the Soviet Intelligence Agency (the KGB) before he coined it in his book. I can only assume the name of a blind, tunneling rodent with a penchant for ‘digging up dirt’ was chosen as a euphemism for an ‘underground spy’ because “moles often tunnel deeper than spy hunters can dig” (a headline from the New York Times; February 26, 2001).

Having never met an actual intelligence ‘mole’, I cannot attest to their ability to ‘dig deep’ or ‘tunnel through’ layers of security to find the information they are looking for. I imagine their ability to remain hidden from view, to keep what they are doing from ‘prying eyes’, and a tenacity that drives them to never give up assists them in their work. If we assume all that to be true, I can most certainly understand why whoever-it-was that first coined the term chose that particular rodent (the mole) as the archetype.

WholeMole

The Eastern Mole

The most common species of mole in North America is the Eastern Mole (scalopus aquaticus). They are classified as insectivores; while they do eat insects, they are far more interested in chowing down on larvae (grubs) and earthworms. These tiny (approximately 6 to 7” long) animals are dark grey, with a naked, pointed noise, nearly invisible eyes and ears, a short hairless tail, and spade-like front feet they use for digging underground (both to establish living space and to find food). The Eastern Mole consumes up to 80% of its own body weight PER DAY!

BabyMole

Baby Moles

Moles live a solitary life, only tolerating other moles during mating season (in the spring). After a 4 to 6 week gestation period, a litter of 3 to 5 hairless pups is born. By mid-summer, they’re able to take care of themselves and go off to establish their own territories. Moles have a lifespan of approximately 3 to 5 years; females can reproduce at 1 year of age. Because they spent 99% of their time underground (and smell pretty rank, apparently), they have few natural predators; snakes, owls, and foxes are their biggest threats (not to mention humans – but I’ll get to that in a minute).

MoleMoles can be active at any time during the day (it’s always dark below ground), but they do most of their damage tunneling between 4 and 7 a.m. They can dig at a rate of a meter (3 feet) an hour, for a total of around 18 meters (20 yards) a day. A single tunnel can be up to a kilometer (1.5 miles) in length. They can move backwards nearly as quickly as forwards, and are remarkably good swimmers. While moles have no real vision, they may be able to detect the presence of light (on those rare occasions when they emerge briefly from their tunnels). Their ears are covered by a layer of skin, but they likely detect sounds and vibrations; it is assumed they find their way around and detect prey using an acute sense of smell and touch. Because they tunnel primarily below the frost line, they do not hibernate in winter.

MoleHomes

Photo from The Journal of Experimental Biology: The Company of Biologists (jeb.biologists.org)

It is estimated there are between 2,000 and 13,000 Eastern Moles in the most westerly regions of southern Ontario (they are nearly ubiquitous through most of the eastern and central United States). A single mole can have a territory of up to 1.25 hectares (roughly three square acres – I own 4 acres, FYI); males generally have larger territories than females (by as much as three times). They dig both deep, permanent burrows as well as shallower, temporary ones for foraging (it is said that these tunnels, just under the surface, are never used more than once). While digging new tunnels and burrows, the mole will push the excess soil up through vertical shafts (resulting in giant ‘molehills’ on the surface of up to a cubic foot in size or more). The burrowing activity that takes place just below the surface results in ridges of varying heights and lengths rising from the ground and meandering wildly. And while moles do not eat vegetation (plants or their roots), the damage they cause to lawns and gardens makes them a particular enemy of gardeners everywhere (in Ontario, the Eastern Mole is considered a species of “special concern” – while neither endangered nor threatened, it may become so due to a combination of biological characteristics and identified threats, including eradication due to human population and frustration annihilation!)

So this is where we (finally) come to the personal aspect of this post. I have at least one mole living in my back yard. S/he was quite active in the fall of 2016/spring of 2017 (assuming, of course, it’s the same animal), tunneling under approximately 20% of my (nearly 10,000 square foot) lawn and garden. I spent an inordinate amount of time stomping down the tunnels and shoving mothballs into the molehills that spring (there are websites that will tell you mothballs don’t deter moles and others that say they will; it was the easiest and least expensive deterrent I could find / was willing to try at the time). This fall, s/he has managed to shift the dirt under almost HALF the yard and garden several inches upwards. Molehills dot my landscape; tunnels weave their way across huge swaths of the yard and garden. Most of this work was undertaken between the first of November and mid-December (the hills, tunnels and resulting “squishy underfoot” sensation wasn’t there the last time I raked and weeded in late October). Now that the ground is frozen and snow covered (and the tunneling is ten times worse), it is frighteningly easy to trip over a molehill or stumble over a tunnel without noticing it; you take your life in your hands walking around in the yard.

MoleHill_Combo1

The image of the left is one of MANY (a dozen or more) huge molehills in my yard. The image on the right shows the same molehill with one of my cat’s toys (approx. the same size as a mole) on top, for perspective. That’s a LOT of dirt!

Tunnel1

One of the “shallow tunnels” running all through my yard; when you walk on the lawn, it flexes under your feet.

I love wildlife of all kinds. I try to maintain a “live and let live” attitude. Bunnies can nibble in my gardens, deer can poop on my lawn, birds are welcome at my feeders and in my trees (I didn’t even get too excited when a mouse moved into the barbecue, although my husband wasn’t all that impressed). But this mole has GOT TO GO! Despite assertions that moles are “helpful” (by aerating lawns and eliminating grubs and earthworms), what they’ve done to my lawn is hideous (not to mention dangerous!) And while I don’t have the patience to catch and release them (not with that much lawn to watch on the off chance I’ll see one and manage to catch it), I also don’t want to trap and kill them (touted as the “most effective way of getting rid of moles”). I’m struggling to find alternatives: options include expensive sonic devices (I can’t even imagine how many I’d need to cover my whole yard and garden), mole repellent granules (which don’t appear to be available in Canada), installing barriers along garden or property edges (I have several hundred yards/meters of garden edge to protect, so – not practical), keeping the lawn/gardens dry (not good for the grass or plants), getting a dog that barks (not happening), and spraying the lawn with a castor oil and water concoction. Once again I only came across one or two sites that mentioned shoving mothballs down the holes; I do believe it worked in 2017, even though some of them got shoved right back out again!

So, I’m at a crossroads. There’s nothing I can do right now, but I will have to spend some time this winter on research, planning and preparation. Come spring, I will find my little ‘undercover’ friend, expose him (or her), and find a way of eliminating the threat. I’m not about to let a tiny little infiltrator get the better of me here on … the other side of 55.

 

The Time My Sister and I Nearly Burned the House Down

December 4, 2019

DoubleGooseneckLamp

You know how sometimes a completely random thing (maybe a photograph, a snippet of music, a taste or a smell) can trigger a memory? Well, it happened to me the other day, and I thought I’d share it with you.

My husband and I were watching something on TV (honestly, I can’t recall now what it was) that was set in the 1950s. The camera panned to a side table with a double gooseneck lamp sitting on it. The minute I saw that lamp, I had a flashback to the time (I’m going to say it was around 1959 or 1960) when my sister and I nearly burned down our house. Here’s what I remember.

RecRoom1958

My sister and I in the “rec” room, circa 1958

At the time, my family lived on the main level of a three-storey Victorian house that had been converted into a triplex (my grandmothers lived in the two apartments upstairs). I had an older brother (born in 1942) and two older sisters (born in 1944 and 1951); I was born in 1953. Sometime in the late 1950s, my father divided the basement into two rooms, and finished one as a “recreation room” for the teenagers (paneling on the walls, an asbestos tile ceiling, linoleum floor). I suppose they held parties in there on weekends, but my sister and I also used the room; it was in there that the (nearly) ill-fated event took place.

My older sister and I had very active imaginations. We also had an impressive collection (for the time) of Barbie dolls and accessories, “teenage” dolls, stuffed animals, and costumes (long before Mr. DressUp had his “tickle trunk”, we had a couple of heavy cardboard barrels filled with Halloween costumes [mostly handmade by my mother], prom dresses of my eldest sister’s, and Victorian-era dresses [complete with bustles] and fur stoles [complete with heads and tails] of my grandmother’s). One of our favourite “games” was “playing circus”.

BasementShelf_Christmas1957,jpg

Me (and Tommy, our cocker spaniel) on the basement “shelf”; Christmas 1956

There was a high “shelf” at one end of the “rec” room. I suspect there was some kind of mechanical or other equipment underneath (a sump pump, perhaps, or the old coal chute and storage space), as there was a latched door on the front. In any case, we would line up our stuffed animals on this platform and turn them into performers in our circus. Generally, that included: the bears: Lovey, Doc, Teddy, and Inter-hoochin-bokken-bikken-bokken (his name was taken directly from the bear that appeared on “The Santa Claus Show” on CBC Television in the late 1950s; he was a very large bear that my maternal grandmother had won at Bingo); the dogs: Bingo (a large red poodle and another of my grandmother’s Bingo prizes), Nosey (a terrier that wouldn’t stand on his own 4 feet), and Princess (a large black poodle my sister got one year for Christmas); my tiger with the music box inside; a number of miscellaneous smaller stuffed animals and puppets.

Doc_Nov1954

Doc (in my sister’s arms); my first birthday (Nov. 1954)

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Teddy (in my arms, spring 1956)

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Nosey (on my oldest sister’s lap; circa November 1953)

Princess_Christmas1959

Princess (Christmas morning, 1959)

We would set up lights (the aforementioned double gooseneck ones – we had two sets) at either end to act as spotlights. My sister and I would alternate roles (one acting as “the ringmaster” while the other one “made the animals do what they’re supposed to do”) and put on a show for the audience of dolls arranged on the furniture and floor below.

InterHoochinBokkenBikkenBokken2

Inter-hoochin-bokken-bikken-bokken (2016)

Some of the stuffed animals couldn’t (or wouldn’t) sit up on their own; they needed to lean against something. Unfortunately, one day we leaned two of them (Lovey and Inter-hoochin-bokken-bikken-bokken) against the lights. It wasn’t long before they began to smolder. Fortunately, my sister and I smelled the smoke before either bear burst into flames, and somehow managed to keep the damage to a minimum. I don’t recall if one of us went upstairs to get my mother, or if she smelled the smoke and came downstairs, but I do recall there weren’t any major repercussions (except for a stern warning to “never do that again!”) Mom cut out the burnt bits from the backs of the bears’ arms and shoulders and patched them (with dark brown felt), and they continued to be part of our games for many, many years afterwards.

DocTeddyPuppets_2019

Doc, Teddy and the puppets (bear, cat, tiger and dog), plus friends, waiting patiently for the ringmaster to return!

NOTE: Lovey remained in my sister’s possession until a few years ago, when she decided he was too old, worn and smelly to keep any longer. Inter-hoochin-bokken-bikken-bokken “lived” in the kids’ room at my parents’ retirement home until 2004, when he “moved in” with me after they downsized (sending him to “teddy bear heaven” when I retired was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, but I took a photo of him for posterity’s sake). The tiger and Nosey went to a needy family we sponsored in PEI during the 60s; some of the others went into the donation box at the local United Church. Doc, Teddy and the puppets are still residing quite happily in a cabinet in my bedroom, waiting (I believe) for the “ringmaster” to return!

I don’t pretend to know how the human brain works, or how memories are formed and recalled (although there’s been a lot written about the process, and innumerable documentaries produced on the subject, much remains unknown). I do know that when a memory strikes me out of the blue, as this one did, it’s important to record it so I can revisit it as many times as I wish here on … the other side of 55.

Fighting the Good Fight

November 13, 2019
TammanyHall1900s_HultonArchiveGettyImages

Tammany Hall, circa 1900 (image from Getty Images)

“You can’t fight City Hall.” That phrase, roughly taken to mean,“It’s pointless for any citizen or group of citizens to oppose bureaucracy or those in government / in charge of large corporations”, can be traced back to the nineteenth century, when a powerful political organization known as Tammany Hall controlled the New York Democratic Party and thus, in effect, the City Government itself . It’s been used as a expression of frustration over attempts to ‘right the wrongs’ brought upon the citizenry by any large establishment, organization, or system of government. Better to just give up or give in than fight, the thinking goes, because ‘the little guy’ doesn’t stand a chance against the rules, regulations and ‘red tape’ of most bureaucracies. Right?

Not necessarily. My father was a man who firmly believed you COULD fight City Hall – and occasionally even win the occasional battle. Even as a young man, Dad was always a bit of a ‘hot head’; he had opinions and he expressed them openly, and he didn’t care if other people disagreed with him. He wrote many a Letter to the Editor, and was known to speak loudly and freely whenever asked what he thought about something (most vociferously when the topic had to do with democracy, justice, government, education, or politics). He was frequently called a sh**-disturber (a term my eldest brother apparently repeated in Grade 1 when asked by his teacher what his father did for a living), a rabble-rouser, an agitator, or a plain old pain-in-the-backside. He considered himself to be an advocate for the rights of others (especially the ‘little guy’– people just like himself).

Dad

Dad, 1970s

Dad was self-employed most of his life, either working alone or alongside a friend or a couple of employees at various times (I suspect his cantankerous personality might have had something to do with that). In the late 1960s, he sold the last of his businesses and began teaching courses for The Henry George School of Social Science (founded after the Great Depression, it was part of a reform movement that “sought to establish fundamental economic justice and sustainable prosperity for all”); their philosophies lined up pretty nicely with his way of thinking.

The only ‘real’ job he ever had (i.e., earning a regular salary as an economist for a firm in downtown Toronto) lasted less than two years. In 1971, frustrated by the way the local government was managing things in his home town, he threw his hat into the ring for the position of Mayor. He lost (by about 3000 votes), but two years later was successful in securing a seat as a Town Councillor for his Ward. He was unsuccessful in his first bid (in 1974) for the new position of Regional Councillor (after a re-jigging of bureaucracy in the area), but returned with a successful campaign for the job in 1976; he was re-elected in 1978. During part of this time (I can’t remember the precise dates) he also wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper, espousing his often-controversial views (and garnering him many supporters and more than a few enemies).

During his tenure on Council, he was probably the only one who read – cover to cover – the nearly three-inch thick pile of papers that were dropped on the doorstep every Friday night, in preparation for the Monday evening Town Council meetings. He questioned anything he didn’t understand, argued against what he disagreed with, pressed for acceptance of issues he believed in. The Council job was part-time, and paid only a small stipend, but Dad dedicated himself to it on a full time basis. It wasn’t unusual for people (his constituents) to call at all hours of the day or night begging him to take on one cause or another. He almost always did. This made him something of a pariah in many circles, but it gave the local newspaper plenty to write about, week after week (and illustrate; Steven Nease frequently featured Dad as the main subject in his editorial cartoons, including this one, published when Dad announced his retirement from politics).

DadWIndmill

It took some convincing (from my mother and several other family members and friends) to get Dad to call it quits, but a health scare in late 1980 convinced him the time was right. He endured a rousing roast by friends and colleagues in late April 1981; the write-up in the local paper stated Dad was, “well known for his lengthy debating abilities, being a stickler for detail, detesting consultants, attacking regional government, and acting as a watchdog for the taxpayers’ dollars”. It was all true.

A month later, my parents moved to a small resort town on the shores of Lake Huron, where Dad immediately set about criticizing various aspects of the town’s management, and making recommendations for change (some were adopted; many were ignored). He wrote Letters to the Editor, penned a column for the local paper, tried his hand at running for local Council, and generally stirred the pot. If there was something ‘wrong’ he wanted to ‘right’, he pursued it (everything from parkland to taxes to fires to noise to conditions at the local zoo). He never stopped; he never gave up; he never stopped trying to find justice for ‘the little guy’.  (He even self-published a small book  in 1977, long before self-publishing was a ‘thing’, titled, Mannell’s Laws, which was, in his own words, “a satirical look at democracy, bureaucracy, and education in the 20th century.” It contained such personal observations as, “The average citizen thinks that the person he elects to office is the person who makes the decisions and laws. Nothing could be further from the truth. 80% of all laws and rules are made by appointed bureaucrats.” I think it only sold about 30 copies.)

During all this time, I was growing up and paying attention. I wrote my first Letter to the Editor when I was thirteen (the first of many). I constantly questioned what I saw as unreasonable requests or expectations or statements from my superiors (teachers, employers, bosses); I argued against whatever I felt was unfair or unjust. Over the years, I sat on various volunteer committees organized to institute positive change of one type or another; I took on leadership roles when no one else would. When my sons’ public school for short-listed for closure (due to low enrollment), I spearheaded the campaign to save it (which was successful, despite the odds being stacked against us). At work, I redeveloped problem (College level) courses, re-imagined outdated Programs, developed strategies to improve student success. I helped develop a cutting-edge teacher education program; led workshops and seminars to improve student learning; mentored new faculty (because I believed better teachers resulted in better student satisfaction and that led to higher success rates). I continually pressured management to consider and institute changes that would improve morale and efficiency instead of stifling creativity. I fought when no one else would. I did as my father had before me.

Me_1970

Me, circa 1970

In 1970, the graduates of my high school class were asked to include a ‘Claim to Fame’ as part of their biographies, to be published in the school year book. I wrote, “Being the daughter of THE Laurie Mannell.” At the small family service we held after Dad’s passing (in 2008, at the age of 93), I shared that sentiment once again, adding, Dad gave me the courage to speak up when no one else would; to stick to my convictions no matter what; to press on even when other people told me to ‘sit down and shut up’; and to never stop until I was 100% satisfied that I had done everything in my power to fix whatever it was that needed fixing.  Like Dad, I’ve probably pissed off more than a few people over the years, but I am very proud of all the things that I’ve accomplished with him as my guide.  And I know he’ll always be there, at my back, as I continue ‘fighting the good fights’ yet to come.”

WalkAwayTryHarderI never entered politics, choosing instead to work hard and raise a family without dipping my toes into the waters of ‘City Hall’. But I still fought fights and suffered losses. I left a job once because I couldn’t accept the president of the company’s opinion that women should be paid less than men because they were “only working for pin money”. I lost a job – a long-held job I loved, was extremely good at, and had received repeated praise and awards for doing well – because I stood up to injustice and refused to give in. I left my last job (which I also loved and was very good at) because I just couldn’t deal with the politics and near-toxic environment anymore. I took early retirement, gave in. I guess I thought there just wasn’t any fight left in me.

Unlike my father, I didn’t see retirement (or moving to a new place) as an opportunity to fight new fights or take on new challenges. I only wanted to relax and ‘just be’. But, you know what? There’s still some fight left in me. I’ve realized (once again) that I can’t just sit by and let something I know to be wrong go unchallenged. It might be a little thing (a disagreement over a job contracted to a supposedly reputable company that wasn’t executed to my satisfaction – despite a bill for >$700), but I’m not going to just give in and give up (my husband suggested we just pay the bill and be done with it; I couldn’t bring myself to do that). It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s certainly not been a comfortable one (I’ve gotten less combative in my old age and arguing a point makes me a bit queasy these days) but we’ll see where it leads. I think Dad would be proud of me, knowing there’s still some fight left in his youngest daughter, even though I’m well past … the other side of 55.

 

Welcome Back!

November 5, 2019

where-are-you-quote-1So, I’ve been away from this blogging thing for quite some time now (even though no one seems to have noticed – I mean, I haven’t had any emails or PMs asking “Where are you?” or “What happened?” or “Are you still alive?”, etc. – which, I’m afraid, is probably a sign of how much attention people really pay to the invisible “Friends” they follow on various social media platforms). I still get hits (pretty much daily) on many of my (approximately 200) published posts and short stories, but I admit to feeling somewhat disappointed with myself for not trying just a little bit harder to keep things fresh (and regular).

WritingbrainFor three years, I wrote a personal essay every single week, and I never considered that I might some day run out of things to say. Then, apparently, I did. For whatever reason(s) – life changes, family commitments, disillusionment with the world around me – I stopped posting regularly (I went down to a post a month for a couple of years, and a mere half dozen a year more recently). And while I’ve had occasional ideas float through my brain, I haven’t quite been able to flesh any of them out into coherent posts that capture the essence of the original concept. And the longer I’ve let things lapse, the less inspired I’ve become. When I look back on some of my work (especially posts like Why I Write from August, 2011), I can’t help but wonder what happened. I can’t say exactly, but I do know that my muse has been on a very long vacation! And its time to bring her back.

fallcolours2With fall approaching (or landing with a giant THUNK on my front porch) and time on my hands (no more gardening or yard work for the next six months or so), I’ve decided to nudge my brain into coming up with something – ANYTHING – that I can turn into a plausible dissertation on my feelings, opinions and view of the world. I’ve pulled out my “ideas” file, looked over some of my half-finished attempts from the last couple of years, and scanned other people’s blogs, then sat quietly in the corner of my living room (with a cup of tea and a cat on my lap) and let my mind roam at will through concepts and theories and odds-and-ends that have captured my attention but never fully exposed themselves in words and pictures. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been interesting to try and force my mind back into “creative mode” once more.

keyboardingToday, I begin again. I vow to get my butt in the chair and keep my fingers on the keyboard at least once a week to create something worthwhile to post (hopefully you, the reader, will find at least a percentage of the material I produce interesting, informative, or amusing; if not – well, at least I tried, right?). I have missed the writing process, and I’ve missed the interaction with fellow bloggers and followers. And, really, I’m out of excuses. So – here I go.

I’m looking forward to starting over (and bringing you along for the ride) as I follow through on my promise to myself to fulfill my lifelong dream of being a writer now that I’m on … the other side of 55.

 

Willpower vs. Won’t Power

July 26, 2019

WillpowerHow often have you heard (or been told) that bad habits are “almost always due to laziness and/or a lack of willpower”? Willpower is defined as: control exerted to do something or restrain impulses. Unfortunately, what most of us attempt to exert upon ourselves is more along the lines of “won’t power” than willpower. For example:

  • I won’t eat that donut
  • I won’t have a second helping
  • I won’t drink more than two glasses of wine
  • I won’t buy potato chips
  • I won’t skip my yoga / Pilates / Zumba class
  • I won’t make excuses to avoid exercise
  • I won’t spend money on things I don’t need
  • I won’t criticize / judge people
  • I won’t get angry when someone cuts me off on the road
  • I won’t lose my temper with the surly sales clerk
  • I won’t complain to my co-worker about our boss
  • I won’t spend so much time on Facebook / Instagram / Twitter
  • I won’t complain about how lousy my life is

You get the picture – instead of looking for positive ways to invoke our willpower (or, perhaps more accurately, our self-control), we repeat negative messages that sound more like punishment than reward for “controlling our impulses”. What we should be doing is turning those “won’t” declarations into actual “will(power)” statements. For example:

  • I will eat an apple instead of that donut
  • I will have a glass of fizzy water instead of a second helping
  • I will enjoy two glasses of wine
  • I will buy carrot chips instead of potato chips
  • I will take some “me” time and attend my yoga / Pilates / Zumba class
  • I will find an exercise I like and look forward to engaging in it
  • I will only buy things I need
  • I will accept the people around me as they are
  • I will take a deep breath and ignore anyone who cut me off on the road
  • I will empathize with the surly sales clerk (maybe she’s just having a bad day; don’t we all?)
  • I will find something nice to say to my co-worker about our boss
  • I will turn off my electronics for at least an hour a day and enjoy the peace and quiet
  • I will express gratitude for the things in my life that are good

Is not really all that hard, is it? All you have to do is stop yourself whenever you start to make a (negative) “won’t” proclamation and turn it on its head with a more positive “will” assertion. I guarantee you’ll feel better about whatever “bad habit” you’re trying to overcome, and whatever challenges you’re facing will be easier to manage.

I just wish I’d had this kind of advice before I reached … the other side of 55.

 

Roy G. Biv

May 14, 2019

Mnemonics* are commonly used to help children (and some adults) remember facts or build vocabulary (e.g., BEDMAS = order of mathematical operations: Brackets, Exponentiation, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction; “My Very Educated Mother Just Showed Us Nine Planets” = the planets [pre-2006] in our solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto). There are probably hundreds in use, but I only stumbled across “Roy G. Biv” a year ago, as (of all things) a decorating tip. ROY G. BIV is the mnemonic for remembering the colours of the rainbow: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

Rainbow2018I’ve seen a dozen or more rainbows in my lifetime – occasionally out the windows of my own home when the sun would come out immediately after a thunderstorm had passed, and several times while travelling on a rainy day when the sun would burst through the clouds to reward my perseverance in driving in a downpour. Once, on my way to work, I drove nearly 30 minutes “into” a full arch rainbow; I couldn’t help hoping I would eventually drive right under it! This photo was taken last year from the 2nd floor balcony off my bedroom (it was actually a double rainbow for several minutes; if you look closely, you can see the faint second arc in the top right corner). There’s something magical about rainbows, if you ask me!

FireRainbowAn even more exceptional and rare type of rainbow is a “fire rainbow” (more commonly known as a “rainbow cloud” or an “iridescent cloud”). These appear when cumulus clouds (the big fluffy ones we drew as children) boil upwards, pushing layers of air high into the atmosphere, where it expands and cools. If the moisture in the air condenses suddenly, it forms a cap cloud (or “pileus”) with tiny droplets that diffract the sunlight and scatter it. I’ve been lucky enough to see fire rainbows on three different occasions! They are truly special.

This year, as I’ve been watching the springtime activity taking place outside my windows, I’ve come to see another kind of rainbow – one made up of birds! In addition to the browns and greys and blacks of sparrows and nuthatches and chickadees and juncos and wrens (as well as the slightly more colourful red-breasted grosbeaks, robins, red-winged blackbirds, and myriad types of woodpeckers that inhabit my forest), I have:

Red Cardinals (at least two pairs)

Cardinal

Orange Baltimore Orioles (last year I had a single one; this year I have a whole flock)

Orioles

Yellow Goldfinches (dozens and dozens of them!)

Goldfinches

Green (the iridescent backs of) Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (this dominant male spends most of his day sitting on my clothesline, daring any other males to challenge him)

Hummingbird

Blue Jays (several families; they are very noisy and often bully the other birds at the feeders)

Bluejay

Indigo Buntings (several pairs)

IndigoBunting

 

Violet (well, Purple, actually, but isn’t that the same thing?) Martins (one of our near neighbours has a martin house in their front yard, so we get the occasional visitor looking for a free meal)

PurpleMartin_CdnWildlifeFederation

 

VenueOfVultures2019In addition to the never-ending enjoyment of observing these birds visiting my feeders, I also love watching my venue of turkey vultures (there are around 15 – 20 in the group) come and go every day. They arrive “home” around 5:30 every evening, sweeping and soaring overhead until one of them chooses a tree to roost in overnight (there are several on my property that are, apparently, quite suitable – the droppings and feathers at their base attests to their popularity). As they settle in, the noise they make shuffling about with their six foot wingspans flapping sounds like someone whacking a rug with a broom. Between 7:00 and 7:30 each morning, they “head off to work”, one by one. As ugly as they may be up close, I find them magnificent and love that they’ve chosen our property every year as their “home base”.

Life in the country is proving to be filled with an unlimited variety of remarkable experiences and spectacles – there’s literally something new every single day. I can’t wait to see what other natural wonders await me as I enjoy life here on … the other side of 55.

 

For All Who Live Here

April 28, 2019
OutsideBurlington

Our previous house – that’s about all the sun we got.

Between 2000 and 2016, my husband and I lived in a raised ranch style house nestled into a rare 80 x 150 foot treed lot in the west end of a reasonably-sized city in southern Ontario. My gardening efforts were minimal because only full shade loving plants would grow under the branches of the more than seventy trees on the property; even the hostas refused to bloom (although lily of the valley and English ivy did thrive in the space next to the driveway). The land sloped at the back, so the deck off our living and dining rooms was elevated. From there we could observe (and feed!) the animal life that inhabited our “neck of the woods”. We had a couple of dozen squirrels, a family of skunks, and several raccoons (one female brought her young ones around every spring; one summer she arrived with seven kits. She would sit under a maple tree at the back of the yard where she could catch my eyes as I sat on the deck; it was like she was saying, “Well, here we are, where’s the food?” I tossed stale bread, wrinkly grapes, and other “leftovers” to her and her babies; sometimes I even raided the fridge to make sure they didn’t go hungry!)

Two Young Hawks in My Yard

Young Cooper’s Hawks

We also had a wide variety of birds: robins, sparrows, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, blue jays, flickers, wrens, cedar waxwings, hummingbirds, and a pair of Cooper’s hawks that nested one summer in the giant oak right over our heads; the adults taught the two chicks how to bathe in our bird bath! There seemed to be no end to the entertainment provided by nature in our little slice of paradise.

 

Our4Acres

Our slice of paradise (in the “black box”)

When it came time to retire and move, we knew we wanted a large property in the country with plenty of trees (albeit with SOME sunny spaces for a “flower garden”) and even more opportunities to observe and engage with wildlife. And we found it (see: When Someday Becomes Today).  And while I have a bundle of papers that states we “own” these four acres, I see us more as stewards of the land and forests around our home. For while the house has been occupied for approximately 30 years, the trees and wildlife (mammals, birds, insects) were here long before people moved in (and will hopefully be here long after we’re gone).

Racoon

April 2019

Surprisingly (to me at first) we have fewer squirrels here (or maybe we have the same number, but they’re just spread out more and prefer to stick to the forest, rather than come into the yard), and they know nothing of “people food”. The first time I threw out some stale “Tiny Tom” donuts, I watched as a squirrel picked one up, sniffed it and tossed it aside (whereas something like that would have resulted in a ten-squirrel feeding frenzy in the city). Likewise, the raccoons that meander through the property (again, far fewer – or at least less visible – than in the city) pay no attention to such things; they also leave our garbage alone (clearly there is enough “real” food in the forests for them to not need to bother scavenging for our pathetic leftovers).

TwinDeer

Twin white-tailed deer (one is in the trees); spring 2018

We’ve seen (or heard), at one time or another over the last three years, the following animals (or evidence thereof, in the way of “scat” and “droppings”) on our property: grey squirrels; red squirrels; raccoons; skunk; white tailed deer; red fox; coyote; cotton tail rabbits; spring peeper frogs; various toads (from ones the size of my thumbnail to some the size of my fist); garter snakes; red-tailed hawks; a bald eagle; turkey vultures (we have a family “venue” of around 15 – 20 that roost in our tall pines every night); pileated, red-bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers; and all manner of songbirds (robins, blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, sparrows, wrens, juncos, goldfinches, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds, rose crested grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and a single Baltimore oriole).

WildTurkeys

Wild turkeys in the driveway, summer 2018

Last summer we had a brood of wild turkeys living in the area that entertained me for over an hour one morning strutting up and down my driveway, the three females calling regularly to the chicks (I counted seven of them); we saw and heard them several more times over the following couple of weeks. Because a good deal of the forest surrounding us is protected (held and managed by the Long Point Regional Conservation Authority), we often hear birds we cannot see and, I suspect, have nighttime visitors wandering through that we neither see nor hear. We also have a wide variety of insects – caterpillars that become butterflies and moths of every size, shape and colour; damsel flies and dragon flies; bees and wasps; flies and mosquitoes (worse last year than the years before due to the high volume of snow and rain we received in the late winter and early spring); and fireflies (that put on such a fantastic show in early July that it looks like the forest is twinkling with a million fairy lights).

PeterRabbit

Peter Rabbit; summer 2018

Each and every one of these creatures is welcome in my yard. I may get somewhat annoyed to find some of my plants “nipped in the bud” (clearly the deer in my area weren’t told they’re not supposed to LIKE lilacs!) or an entire “crop” of sunflower seedlings ravaged overnight by rabbits (one of whom became a favourite last summer; he would visit my wildflower garden every night before dinner and would even lie on the lawn next to the deck beside us. I christened him Peter and started looking forward to watching him nibble away on the fruits of my labours!) but I continually remind myself that they are just animals being animals. Eating plants is what they do, and I am the one who has to “adapt” (which means covering my tiny shrubs over the winter, spraying the new growth with a harmless liquid that apparently tastes horrible, and buying “deer and rabbit resistant” plants whenever possible).

DeforestationIt’s a sad fact that the majority of the planet’s “wild places” have been decimated by a single species that is driven by need and greed. “Forests still cover about 30 percent of the world’s land area, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest, according to the World Bank—an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46% of trees have been felled, according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. About 17% of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and losses recently have been on the rise.”  (Reference: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/)

And when it comes to the extinction of species, the news is just as bad. “The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year. If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true (i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet) that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year. But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true (that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet), then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.(Reference: http://wwf.panda.org/our_work/biodiversity/biodiversity/) NOTE: if you subscribe to Netflix, I strongly recommend watching the series, “Our Planet”; it provides an (at times disturbing) overview of the state of our planet and the flora and fauna that exist on it, as well as information via a website (https://www.ourplanet.com/en/) on things each of us can do to help save the world we all inhabit. 

For my own part, I’m giving up on my (8,000 square feet) of grassy lawn and planting a more natural environment (grass – which is NOT native to this area but still struggling to exist in clumps here and there – mixed with native “weeds” like speedwell, clover, moss, and creeping thyme), planting more native species in my gardens, foregoing harsh chemicals and fertilizers in favour of organic compounds (and my own compost), and filling the gardens with bird, bee and butterfly friendly plants. I’m planning on adding a pond and two new “victory gardens for bees” next year in the hopes of encouraging even more birds and water-loving creatures to my yard. And of course I’ll also continue to welcome all manner of critters to this space around me, the one where they belong and I am just a visitor passing through on … the other side of 55.

What would the world be, once bereft 
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, 
O let them be left, wildness and wet; 
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

 ~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~