June 2005


One of the benefits of having birdwatching parents is their ability to take you right where the avian action is. This past weekend while I was visiting my family in Columbus, Ohio, we took our requisite trip to nearby Bexley to see two nesting pairs of yellow-crowned night herons.

Bexley is a swanky Columbus suburb, home to the Ohio governor’s mansion. It is also home to Graeter’s, which Tom Montag claims has the best ice cream this side of Heaven. (No, Tom, I still haven’t gotten there myself.) When you consider Bexley’s wide, tree-lined streets and the fact that Alum Creek flows right through its heart, it’s really no surprise that two pairs of yellow-crowns have deemed it a perfect place to raise a family.

When you have birdwatching parents, any phone call home includes an update on the “extended family”: the nesting owls, eagles, ospreys, and falcons. Many avid birders travel long distances and withstand harsh conditions to add another species to their lists, but my folks are birding homebodies, checking in a couple times a week on familiar feathered friends. Since these nesting night herons built their “drive up” nest about ten minutes from my parents’ house, my folks have a perpetual source of entertainment as they monitor the comings and goings of heron parents, the training flights of newly fledged young, and other avian exploits.

Here’s the requisite close-up of an adult night heron standing guard while a scruffy youngster peers from its nest. Say cheese, little guy!

Egyptian moose

It’s a good thing moose aren’t typically gregarious since most of us aren’t sure what to call a bunch of them. If one walking-like-an-Egyptian creature is dubbed King Moose Uncommon, would a pair be Royal Meese, or Mooses, or Moosi?

Floral moose with rider

Bullwinkle’s normally solitary ways notwithstanding, the moose in Bennington, VT are behaving in an entirely ungulate fashion these days, congregating like cattle. Yesterday afternoon as we endured the final leg on our drive back from Ohio, Reggie and I stopped in Bennington for a stretch and stroll. Bennington doesn’t always have painted moose dotting its downtown: these colorful sculptures are part of Moosefest 2005, an ongoing arts outreach and fundraising program.

Since moose are the top of every out-of-town visitor’s Must See list, I’m glad to know there’s a colorful herd stationed in Vermont these days. Everyone who visits me in New Hampshire mentions the moose crossing signs that adorn our highways: Are there really huge antlered creatures in these woods, and how do can we go about spotting some? Yes, Virginia, we have moose in northern New England, and yes, I’ve seen them on several occasions here in New Hampshire (albeit not in Keene proper). But moose generally aren’t the kind of animal you can see on demand: moose tend to appear when you least expect them, so if you go looking for the shy and awkward creatures, odds are good that you’ll be disappointed.

Brindled moose

I was enamored with moose long before I moved to New Hampshire, mainly because moose aren’t found where I grew up. White-tailed deer abound in all parts of Ohio, but moose are circumpolar creatures found in only the northernmost portions of the Northern Hemisphere. Because moose were an “exotic” creature I never saw when I was growing up, when I moved to New England I began collecting various and sundry items emblazoned with their image: a flannel sleep shirt, a set of placemats, not one but two stuffed animals, etc.

In the early ’90s, I watched the TV series Northern Exposure partly because I enjoyed its quirky characters and witty humor and partly because a moose figured prominently in the show’s opening credits. Just as I’d as a child referred to Green Acres as “the pig show” because I was a loyal fan of Arnold the Pig, I still to this day refer to Northern Exposure as “the moose show.” Given my moosey proclivities, then, you can imagine my delight upon discovering the streets of downtown Bennington adorned with fancifully painted life-size moose sculptures.

Blue moose

When it comes to loving moose, it seems I’m not alone. Maybe it’s their gangling awkwardness that makes them so endearing, or maybe it’s precisely their unpredictability, the fact you never quite know when or where you’ll see your first (or the next) one. Truth be told, the first two moose (or meese, or moosi) I ever saw were both dead: years ago while driving back to Boston from New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I saw two of the creatures tied to the back of a pickup truck, proof of a remarkably good day’s hunting. Every year here in New Hampshire there is a lottery for moose hunt permits, the number of hunters outnumbering the number of moose to be culled. That two buddies both landed permits and moose is a sign of remarkable luck…for the hunters at least. I’m sure those two late Bullwinkles felt noticeably less lucky.

Henry David Thoreau was both an outspoken critic of moose hunting and a lifelong moose afficionado. There are no moose in Concord, MA, so the second of Thoreau’s three trips to Maine was an actual moose hunt where Thoreau was unarmed and his companions were not. Thoreau’s party bagged a female moose, and Thoreau lamented the butchering of “God’s own cattle”…but he took care to closely observe and measure the creature, figuring like a true scientist that the opportunity to examine a massive moose cadaver was a learning experience he’d never forget.

Multiple moose

Apparently, Thoreau never did forget that moose: on his deathbed, Thoreau’s final words were “moose” and “Indian,” two iconic symbols of the wilderness he so loved. Moose are iconic, inhabiting wild spaces that most folks visit only on vacation or in dreams. Even if you live among moose, there’s something about their silent arrival and gangly ways that never fails to capture your imagination: although nobly impressive in size, they always seem goofy in demeanor, cartoon caricatures in fur coats.

Given the various things moose represent in our human imagination–untouched wilderness, the unpredictability of the hunt, the goofy regalness of a creature whose head and antlers woefully outsize its spindly legs–it’s natural and fitting that Bennington would choose Bullwinkle and Friends as a three-dimensional canvas for local artists’ creative impulses. Although Reggie and I didn’t see any live moose on our 1,400-mile drive to and from Ohio, on our return to New England we were welcomed home by a merry band of moosies, that ultimately being my favored term for a gang of these ganglies.

Flannel & denim moose

Timely moose

Monarch moose

Arborial moose

Escher-esque moose

Main Street moose

Marble monument moose

These artful moose will be on the loose on the streets of Bennington until October; for additional information, see the Moosefest 2005 website.

Yesterday my parents, Reggie, and I took a walk along one of the levees at the Delaware Wildlife Area in Delaware, Ohio, just north of Columbus. Can you see the bald eagle nest and adult bird in the following picture? (Click on the image for an enlarged version.)

Although we knew there was an eagle’s nest in this cluster of cottonwood trees, I never would have spotted the eagle perched nearby if it weren’t for my father, who’s famous for his eagle eyes.

Can you see the bird in the above picture? He remained steadfast on his (or her?) perch even as my parents, Reggie, and I walked on the levee some 35 yards away. Can you see him? (Click on the image for an enlarged version.)

If you need a little help, here’s a cropped version. (Again, click on the image for an enlarged version.) Isn’t he stunning? Although the two hatchlings in this nest froze to death earlier this spring during an unseasonable cold snap, at least one bird continues to stand guard. Is he grieving, or merely at a loss for what else to do during a season when he should be feeding a family?

Whatever the reason this eagle remains near, my folks, Reggie and I would never have been able to get this close to the nest had there been hatchlings inside, as State wildlife workers barricade the environs of active eagle nests. After the eaglets died, though, the prohibitive signs and barriers came down, making an afternoon jaunt along the levee an entirely legal pastime.

And as for Reggie? Apparently he doesn’t have eagle eyes and was largely unimpressed by my dad’s find, flopping down to rest when he realized his humans were standing around “doing nothing” instead of walking. I guess it’s a dog’s life after all.

2005-06-18e.jpg

…is give cinderblocks a chance!

One last image from the campus of Keene State College before I drive off into the sunrise on my 11-hour way to Ohio to visit my family. While I’m on the road and in only occasional online contact, you can pass the time by re-visiting posts from my last Ohio trip, which are located here, here, here, and here. Enjoy, and I’ll see you from the next Internet oasis.

The campus of Keene State College is looking mighty green (and empty) these days now that summer’s in full force. One of the things I love about Keene State is the fact that they don’t drench their lawns with clover-killing chemicals. So if you were to stretch out flat on Fisk Quad right now, you could spend many an hour looking for four-leaf clovers…and feeling damned lucky in the process.

Speaking of feeling damned lucky, the sticky weather here in Keene has finally broken: yesterday’s 80-degree temperature and 70-degree dewpoint have both dropped by some 30 points. Thanks to Rurality for her comments explaining (in words even I could understand) the difference between dewpoint and relative humidity. Whichever number you consider, today is much more comfortable than yesterday, and I’m feeling grateful for a good night’s sleep under covers.

So whether I’m counting sheep, dewpoint, or clover leaflets, things are looking mighty nice from the ground here in Keene right now. I guess you could say we’re in clover.

Thank you, dear sweet Jesus, for that modern technological marvel known as central air conditioning…and for those life-saving places that offer it along with free wifi!

We’ve continued to swelter (or is that sautee?) in humidity here in southern New Hampshire: although a drenching downpour finally broke the heat late last night, the percentage of humidity in the air is still in the 90s. Yesterday when I walked the dog early in an attempt to see if morning fog is any cooler than evening haze, the air was so saturated I could feel occasional drops of water condensing on my skin like raindrops. Then again, those occasional drops of condensation could have been sweat since I’ve been doing a lot of that, too. Yesterday afternoon, in an attempt to make up for the sticky sleep I didn’t get the night before, I took a brief catnap and woke up drenched, again: you know it’s hot when the simple act of sleeping makes you feel like you’re in a perpetual sauna.

Needless to say, my apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, just a handful of window fans that have done nothing but move the moisture-laden air around, nonstop, for the past few days. Sticky air that moves is a step up from sticky air that stagnates, weighing down upon you like a wet wool blanket, but fans do nothing to alleviate the sluggishness that comes with humidity. Yes, there’s temporary relief from the heat in a nice cool shower…until you step out of that shower and discover that even a pile of towels won’t dry you, the wetness on your skin matching the moisture in the air. Whoever said that “women don’t sweat, they perspire, and ladies don’t perspire, they glow” never visited southern New Hampshire in the summertime: lady or no, I’m certainly a woman, and I definitely have been sweating these past few days, the luxury of “clean, fresh clothes” being an ephemeral delight that quickly transforms into “another sweat-sticky outfit.”

Last night, I finally couldn’t take it any more. Those of you who live in hotter climes are probably chuckling at my lack of resilience as I whine about temperatures that have “only” been in the 80s (with humidity in the 90s, I’d add!) But those of you who live in hotter climes typically enjoy the benefits of air conditioning, the travails of a Southern summer being broken into manageable pieces as you move from air conditioned house to air conditioned car to air conditioned workplace and back. As for me, I’m working from home this summer, and not even my car has air conditioning. So last night after I couldn’t take the ubiquitous damp any more, I packed my laptop and books and headed to Panera Bread to enjoy their free wifi, ample air conditioning, and a tasty sandwich. After stagnating and being less-than-fully productive for days, last night I zipped through a batch of online papers and had time for dinner, web-surfing, and a handful of surreptitious pencam shots as well. It’s true. After sweltering (or is that sauteeing?) in my apartment for far too long, last night I found the cool, dry delight of Breaded Bliss.

Just another graffito

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