Nature & animals

Gray squirrel

Surely I was a squirrel in a past life, for as the days get colder, all I want to do is squirrel away provisions, accumulate layers of fat, and hole myself away until Spring.

Hibiscus seed pod

After a full season of flowering, what quiet relief does a hibiscus feel to finally go to seed?

Turkey quintet

Last night while I was writing postcards for the Georgia Senate runoff in December, I heard a great-horned owl hooting in the darkness outside. Long winter nights are the domain of owls and other nocturnal creatures, and this one was intent on reclaiming his own.

This morning after I’d finished my morning kitchen tasks and before I ventured out to walk the dog, I heard the cluck and clatter of one or more wild turkeys flying from our yard into a neighbor’s tree. It’s their neighborhood: we just live here.


Today was a proper Melvillean day: drippy and cold, as November is supposed to be. On this morning’s dog-walk, while Roxy was sniffing wet leaves beneath a woodsy cluster of pine and maple, I saw a white-throated sparrow skulking in the pine duff.

Skulk” is a word rarely used by respectable folks but regularly used by birders. Criminals skulk, but so do sparrows and winter wrens and occasionally brown creepers. If you’re a small, nondescript bird, there’s no shame in skulking: sparrows, wrens, and creepers know the good stuff is low on the ground, in the undergrowth beneath trees and shrubs.

These shady spots are the same places where children hide: kids are also skulkers, knowing that small spaces are portals into wonder and magic. Forget the crowds basking in the sun: seek out the hidden corners under tables, beneath blankets, and under nodding tree limbs: the secret gardens and treasure troves where only the skulkers go.

Golden gingko

Today at Framingham State, one of my English department colleagues said he was going to let his students out early so they could find and photograph their favorite tree on campus. Today was a sunny and unseasonably warm day, and encouraging students to go outside and enjoy the weather seemed like a remarkably humane move.

Golden ginkgo

I have several favorite trees on campus. There is the gingko that turns golden then sheds fan-shaped leaves every autumn. There is the bald cypress that peers into the classroom where I teach every Tuesday morning. There is the oak tree that towers next to the science building even though it has lost the top of its trunk, and there is the horse chestnut that flowers as classes end in the Spring and drops buckeyes as classes begin in the Fall.

Several weeks ago, I showed my Comp I students a video of Robin Kimmerer where she laments the fact that the average American can recognize over 100 corporate logos but only 10 plants. I don’t know how many of my colleague’s students can identify their favorite tree by name, but merely stopping to notice is a good first step.


As a first-generation college student, I feel a certain kinship with Virginia creeper and other vining plants. The ambition of vines is admirable, their tendrils always reaching beyond their grasp. Nobody expects vines to make much of themselves on their own: they need trees, fences, or other upright structures to give them a leg (leaf?) up.

When I was a bookish high schooler with no plans to go to college, it was a full-ride academic scholarship that gave me a trellis to cling to, and I’ve been reaching ever since.

Already peonies

The weather in New England has been crazy. Last week was beautiful, with a string of sunny days with temperatures in the 70s: perfect weather for walking, reading on the patio, and dining alfresco. Saturday was overcast and humid with afternoon thunderstorms, Sunday was warm and sunny, and Monday spiked into the upper 80s: suddenly summer. Yesterday started warm until temperatures dropped into the 60s–spring again–and today has been gray and drippy after overnight thunderstorms.

It’s hard to tell, in other words, if it’s spring or summer, so I’ve taken to calling this time of year spring-into-summer. It’s a transitional period marked by indecision and mood swings. May is clearly spring, and July will truly be summer, but early June can’t make up its mind. Some days are reminiscent of April showers, and others hearken ahead to summer sultriness.

This might explain why I’m always surprised when any of the neighbors’ peonies bloom. I associate peonies with summer, so I’m always surprised when they bloom out of the blue, before I’m ready. Peonies flower in their own good time, and I’m always out of step, muttering “Already?” under my breath.

Orchard oriole

Last night Leslee and I went for a walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery, just as we did almost exactly one year ago. Mount Auburn is a pedestrian paradise, with wide, meandering roads and little traffic: a perfect place to take in the fresh air.

Sunning turtles

In the spring, Mount Auburn is in full bloom, with birds buzzing or whistling from the trees, turtles sunning themselves on the banks of quiet ponds, and chipmunks darting through shaded undergrowth. Last night, Leslee and I saw an orchard oriole we would have walked past if a couple hadn’t been standing on the path, aiming their phone at a bird singing almost invisibly from a willow tree. “The app says orchard oriole,” they explained, and the bird called to mind a Baltimore oriole Leslee and I had seen at Mount Auburn in May, 2017.

May apple

Apparently Leslee and I meet at Mount Auburn for a placid walk almost every May, after I’m done teaching but need a break from grading. Every year, it’s a welcome respite to take a leisurely stroll among flowers…and this year, after another semester of pandemic teaching, it’s a relief to visit the cemetery as a survivor, not an occupant. In this age of airborne illness, walking in the fresh air feels healthy, healing, and restorative. I’m looking forward to doing more of it.

Plein air

CLICK HERE to view more photos from yesterday’s walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Enjoy!

Oak leaf

Each November, I admire the obstinate oaks, which are the last trees to leaf in spring and the last trees to drop their leaves in fall.

Ginkgo gleaming golden

Yesterday at Babson College, I spent my office hour preparing today’s classes at Framingham State University. Today at Framingham State, I spent my office hour preparing tomorrow’s classes at Babson. This is how my semesters unfold: prep, teach, repeat.

The ginkgo tree outside the building where I teach my morning class, on the other hand, has suddenly erupted into gold flame: no preparation needed.

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