Life With Horace

poetry & essays

Five minutes

Back in the woods
up the road past
the old town reservoir
where chain links
protect unused water
and brilliant leaves
in the way of
swamp maples
Farther in
the pace of fall slows
to less flashy spots
of orange and red
dropped deep into
reluctant green
Empty spaces
once the home
of many trees
have begun to fill in
Mindful of the light
dipping toward hunters hour
we turn for home
the cinnamon ferns
wear beige now
feather tips point along
the angle of fall sun

Gull watching for bread


field notes: gulls watching us watching them

Rye Beach at the end of August. A very windy day. A flock of gulls hunkered on the beach, a mix of immatures and adults. Anchored on the sand until we threw pieces of bread high into the wind for them.

I was trying for some action shots with my Sony RX100, with its sharp Zeiss 1.5 lens. Set it to Shutter Priority and then tracked and clicked away. The images are cropped and resized, but otherwise unedited.

Once things started, there was a rhythm and routine to their actions. They knew to fly left to right, into the wind, waiting, then zooming in. Almost like sets of waves.

Shooting, I couldn’t see them watching for the start of a throw or their captures, with the marvelously angular leg positions and their wings holding their bodies steady into the face of the wind. What a great bonus!

Clicking on an image will show it full size, with more detail.

Aiming for the prize. Look at the angle of the neck and head!

Aiming for the prize. Look at the angle of the neck and head!

Almost there!

Almost there!

See the legs aiding the effort of slowing down and the mid-air catch?

See the legs aiding the effort of slowing down and the mid-air catch?

An immature gull cruising by, on the alert.

An immature gull cruising by, on the alert.

Starting the swoop.

Starting the swoop. You can almost feel the drop that starts the next instant.

It was almost eerie, seeing the intensity up close.

I was surprised by the intensity on this face, but shouldn’t have been.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

Black eyed susan


field notes: end of summer, visual feast

The end of (traditional) summer has arrived. In the natural world summer is only winding down, its passing not a done deal. This year I’ve been struck by the blowsy charms of the overripe, the almost gone, the partly eaten former glories in my garden.

Sedum, blue lobelia and black eyed susan.

Sedum, emerging blue lobelia and black eyed susan.

I’ve been feeling each day of this summer so intensely, mindful of time passing. It has been a wonderful experience I hope to carry into fall.

With the usual late season suspects coming into their own — garlic chive flowers, blue lobelia, cardinal flower, buddleia and sedum, red and yellow apples — our visual smorgasbord is lush.

We have at least one pair of ruby throated hummingbirds here this year. I wonder if I will see them leave, or simply realize they haven’t been by in a couple of days.

I now know generally where one nest is, and will take a careful look come October.

A weed visitor, not without charm

A weed/wildflower visitor, not without its charm

This has been a so so summer for butterflies, although we did have a Luna Moth visit early on. I have not seen a single Monarch this summer so far. Not one. [9/11/14 post script: three monarchs have appeared, big relief.]

Our milkweed patch, here before we moved in, continues to thrive, and we will harvest some seeds to spread in other areas around our yard.

Blue lobelia

Blue lobelia in full bloom

Did I mention the toads? And frogs? They are all over the place, many more than usual. Horrie thinks it is his mission to catch them all. Yesterday one tiny toad hid out on my water sandal next to my heel until the coast was clear. It felt like a very soft, wispy kiss, which is what made me look down in the first place. Coming home last night from rehearsal there were big two green and brown bullfrogs on the kitchen doorstep, feasting on bugs!


Not quite denuded sunflower.

The bandit-masked yellow goldfinches have been going at the sunflowers, duking it out with the chipmunks for all the goodies on offer.

As I write this, there are three of them out there, calling to each other, pecking away.

Some of our winter residents have been coming by to see if the feeders are back up yet (they aren’t). Titmice, nuthatches, a woodpecker, and the ever hopeful mourning doves have all been here in the last week or so. The jays haven’t bothered yet. Come November we will be in the sunflower seed and suet business again. Any sooner and our bear friends will be back.

Purple bee balm, almost gone by

Purple bee balm, almost gone by

The purple bee balm had its glory days, and is now showing the effects of some mildew, but it was quite the star of the garden in mid-summer. It seems to be thriving and spreading more than its red or white cousins. I usually leave some deadheads intact over the winter for visual interest. And the birds.

Starry garlic chive flowers, echoing early spring bulbs

Starry garlic chive flowers, echoing early spring bulbs

Cardinal flower, always such a surprisingly intense red.

Cardinal flower, always such a surprisingly intense red.

It will be time to harvest the herbs soon and move a few plants around, and after the first frost trim things down and top dress the beds with a wonderful compost from Maine.

But not quite yet. We still have hummingbirds and dragonflies!

Horrie looking intently at something in the grass.


field notes: when is a swamp a wetland?

The dogs and I get to our wetland walk on average once a week. I’ve been going there for the last six years, getting into the rhythms and seasonal contrasts and year-to-year changes. The first year that everything wasn’t exactly the same as the previous year I remember wondering how that could have happened?

One of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

Late summer afternoon light catching one of many varieties of ferns there, this one in the leafy tunnel of trees at the beginning of the road.

It dawned on me that a living, wild place will change (unlike a cultivated garden), certain plants will take over or disappear or diminish, the beavers won’t always be at the same spot. At that point I began to really take notice. And record its ongoing history in my mind and with photographs.

A couple of things make the place almost unique as far as wetlands go. In the first place there is a road right through it, allowing access on foot through its heart. Down the middle-ish.

The Summer Road.

A patch of “captive water” on what used to be a Summer Road.

When I first came there it was a Summer Road (don’t you love that term?) meaning go there at your peril once there is snow and ice because it won’t be plowed! Now it is a Class Six, or completely unmaintained. Farmers and townspeople in trucks, yahoos on motorbikes, and folks on bicycles use it for a passage of sorts. The rest of us simply walk.

The second is that the land is still owned privately. I have gotten to know one member of that family who also walks her dogs there (she is lucky as there is a trail down to it from her sister’s place across the road). From her I have learned that there is at least one bear skulking about in the woods at the north end, and gotten the very welcome sense that this is a family that feels strongly about preserving what is there.

Animal path through the lilies.

“Main Street” through the (yellow) waterlilies in the widewater off the earthen dam.

There are subtle signs of land management, such as placing beaver-cut tree limbs to get walkers across wide areas of wet along the road, or keeping the bittersweet trimmed back. And they do keep a path clear along one side of the road or the other.

There are beavers here, otters too on occasion. Dragonflies and damselflies. Lots of them. Mosquitos, black flies, green flies.

Birds range from year round woodpeckers and jays to seasonal hawks, crows, buzzards, ravens (rarer), red-winged blackbirds, cedar waxwings (new this year for me), all sorts of sparrows, warblers, at least one American Bittern, and Great Blue Herons.

A dragonfly resting. The big "bombers" however rarely seem to rest.

A dragonfly resting. The big “bombers” however rarely seem to rest.

I try to be observant about the birds, but my eye is drawn by the plant life and the water, so aside from large birds and clouds, my orientation is more down than up.

Fall seems to be coming early this year. Many of the Swamp Maples (small maple saplings that live for a few years and drown off) are already turning, not their usual cheery bright red, but a dusty maroon.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

A pair of damselflies in an acrobatic clinch.

My daughter remarked yesterday that there are no swamps any more. They are all “wetlands”. Semantics, really. I think it all depends… There are some places that look pretty darned Swampy to me, as in the Great Dismal Swamp. The Great Dismal Wetland has much less cachet, don’t you think?

Swamp, wetland or bog it is all wonderful. And Aggie thinks so, most certainly. After all, not too many places that a dog can go that hits the Lab & Newfie trifecta: walking, lovely smelly things, and water.

Aggie loving yesterday's walk waiting for us to catch up on the way back.

Aggie on yesterday’s walk, waiting for us to catch up on the way back.


field notes: seen in passing

One morning last week I took my usual backroads route to work, an overland passage through woods, by farms and open fields, skirting the town of Jaffrey and its one (no, make that two) traffic light(s).

My reward for leaving at 7 am was a wildlife smorgasbord.

The chipmunk trying to look inconspicuous on the stalk of a sunflower in the herb bed at home, cheeks full of green sunflower seeds.

Still on Mountain Road, a “farmer jam” in full swing. A car stopped on the opposite side of the road with doors open and flashers going, a heifer munching grass calmly between the car and the farm couple hopping out of their truck, pails of grain in hand to lure their animal back up the dirt road away from the highway.

[Folks are pretty good around here about helping out when these things happen, even on a busy state road when everyone is gunning it to get to work.]

A flock of hen turkeys under the trees and in the road next to the really old farmhouse on the last part of Proctor. Slowing down to shoo the last of the Ladies Who Munch off the road, calling out “gobble gobble y’all!”. Flatlander humor.

And, turning onto Vose Farm Road and work, there was a red squirrel down the hill, going hell bent for leather across the road, as only the reds can. With a large piece of wood or other trophy better than half its size in its mouth, sticking out on either side.

I love rush hour in the country.