Archive for May, 2012

Defeated by Squirrels

Thursday, May 31st, 2012
my gnawed, Crisco-smeared bird feeder

my gnawed, Crisco-smeared bird feeder

I used to like squirrels.  They’re adaptable, resourceful little creatures.  And so cute when they eat.  I used to love watching them take staccato bites from a morsel held in their front paws, and chew it faster than I ever could.  And that tail–jaunty and luxuriant at the same time.

Sure, squirrels can be cute.  But now I hate them!  I know that’s strong language.  But I have good reason.  They have forced me to give up feeding birds in a feeder on our window!

For quite awhile, I had a see-through plastic bird feeder stuck to our living room window.  What fun it was to sit on the couch and watch a titmouse or a chickadee perch on the rim of the feeder, pluck out a sunflower seed, and fly off with it.

But this pleasing entertainment was not to last.   After awhile I would occasionally hear a crashing sound from outside, in front of the living room window.  Looking up, I saw only two suction cups left on the window, with no feeder attached.

Damn.  Once outside, I fumed to see on the walkway the feeder, scattered birdseed, and a squirrel scampering away.

Okay, I thought. I’ll just have to make it impossible for squirrels to leap onto the feeder and knock it down.  So I stuck the feeder back onto the window, only higher up this time.  For a few days, I saw no sign of squirrel activity.  I felt pretty smart to have beaten these guys.

But my smugness was short-lived.  Soon a determined squirrel figured out how to jump a little higher.  Down crashed the feeder again.

But how, I wondered, did the crafty squirrel manage to leap onto the feeder?  Then I noticed that part of the outside edge of one of the shutters framing the window was missing.  A big piece had been gouged out.  What could have caused that kind of damage?  Oh, I get it.  That #%!* squirrel had gnawed away part of the shutter to make itself a perch, closer to the feeder, from which to leap!  What a little bastard!

Was I mad!  Because of a greedy, determined squirrel, I was not only missing out on watching the birds, but I had to buy a new shutter.  In the coming days, I monitored the shutters for signs of squirrel mischief.  Fortunately, the new shutter was still intact.  But even though the squirrels weren’t gnawing the shutters, they were still getting to the feeder.  Finally, the feeder was so battered from its many crashes, so cracked and chipped that I was compelled to throw it in the trash.  I’d been defeated.

But I missed the birds!  And I couldn’t let some little squirrels beat me.  Surely I could find some way to prevail.  So I vowed to try again, and I asked for a new bird feeder for Christmas.  My niece and her family gave me one.  And I liked the looks of it.  Its ‘conquistador helmet’ shape suited my sense of resolve.  With this feeder, the birds and I would win!

All too soon, those squirrels figured out that the free food was back.  I would hear a thud, not as loud as the crash of a feeder being knocked down, but not the soft thud of a bird’s feet landing on the feeder’s edge either.  Rushing to the scene, I saw a squirrel sitting in the feeder, its well-fed body filling the feeder almost completely.  As it stuffed itself with seeds, I could swear it gave me a taunting look.  Only my most threatening sounds and gestures could rouse him from his feast.

Thinking that the squirrel was getting into the feeder from the top of the ‘conquistador’s helmet,’ I thought that if I made the top of the feeder slick with Crisco, the squirrel could not hang on and would give up.  I wasn’t happy about marring my cool-looking feeder by slathering shortening on its top, but if it would stop the squirrels, I was willing.

The Crisco ploy seemed to work for awhile.  I rejoiced cautiously.  But it wasn’t very long before the squirrels were using the feeder as their personal dining room and dinner at the same time.  And then I noticed that two big holes had been torn into the screen adjacent to the window with the mounted feeder.  So now these guys were ruining the screen too.

Was I bummed.  Now we had to replace a screen too.  Nothing I’d tried had kept the squirrels away for long.  Sadly, I took down the ‘conquistador’s helmet’ smeared with Crisco.  I wrapped it in a plastic bag and put it away.  I hate to admit I’ve been defeated by squirrels, but it’s true.   Who wouldn’t hate them after all that?–April Moore

The Inchworm

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

The other day I had to stare, as an inchworm made its way along the railing of our deck.

Lacking all but two or three pairs of legs at the very front and about the same number at the very back, the inchworm’s method of locomotion is quite different from that of its fellow caterpillars, who seem to glide along on scores of  rapidly moving legs.

No, the inchworm does not glide; it inches.  First, the front stretches out.  Then the back is brought forward to meet the front, with the body in between looped upward.  The inchworm then stretches out again as the front is propelled forward.  Loop and flatten.  Repeat again and again.

Watching this entertaining process, I found myself wondering what evolutionary niche was filled or what advantage gained by the development of caterpillars with legs only at each end.  So I did a little research.

I didn’t find the answer to my question, but I did learn some interesting things about inchworms.  I learned that they are the larval stage of geometer moths.  The term ‘geometer’ refers to the way the caterpillar appears to ‘measure the earth’ as it moves.  And of the 35,000 species of geometer moth, about 14,000 are native to North America.

Unlike other types of caterpillars, inchworms are generally hairless.  Most are green, grey, or brown.  As soon as the inchworm hatches from its egg on the underside of a leaf in spring, it begins eating.  Inchworms typically eat leaves, although some species also eat lichen, flowers, or pollen.

After about a month of continuous feeding, the inchworm makes its way to the ground.  In early summer, the inchworm burrows into the soil and pupates.  It makes a cocoon of silk and soil near the earth’s surface.  The moth emerges in November and lays its eggs in the winter.

The inchworm has a great defense against predators–its resemblance to a twig.  This resemblance is heightened by little appendages that look like tree buds.  When disturbed, the inchworm often stands erect on its prolegs (back legs), further enhancing its twiglike look!–April Moore

I Did Not Know

Friday, May 18th, 2012

forest_orchestra1

When I was a child, I did not know how much I loved the world.

I did not know how much I loved the sweet scent of lilac as I roller-skated around and around the block, past our neighbor’s hedge again and again.

I did not know how much I loved the way the sun made the quilt hot, as I lay on it eating grapes on lazy summer afternoons.

I did not know how much I loved making the snapdragons in our neighbor’s garden ‘talk.’

I did not know how much I loved the early morning chorus of meadowlarks, as they perched on phone wires near our house.

I did not know how much I loved watching maple seed helicopters twirl perfectly around and around as they fell to the ground.

All these things, and so many more, I took for granted.  Does a fish love the water that makes its life possible?

Because the natural world was always there, whether I was paying attention or not, I could afford to be careless in my love, to enjoy these wonders thoughtlessly, when I wasn’t doing something else.

Now that I am 60 years old, there is nothing careless about my love for the natural world.  I love it deeply, fiercely.  With each passing year, it seems, my heart opens more.  I notice more.  I love more. For example, I have recently been overtaken by an intense love for birds.  I listen.  I watch.  I marvel.  How I love them!

And I worry about them.  No matter how much joy and delight I take in the natural world around me, there always lurks the painful knowledge that the planet’s well-being–and ours as well–is ebbing away.  So much of what I love is being lost.

I sometimes wonder if I would love nature so much if the facts of global warming, habitat destruction, and the fouling of water and air did not exist.  Would I continue in my childlike, careless enjoyment of the earth as my playground?  Or would I love it as deeply, as achingly as I do now?

The answer is unknowable.

But what I do know is that my ability to love the world around me is deepening with age.  Maybe when I am 80, I will realize that I love the earth more than I did at 60.  Time will tell.–April Moore





It’s a Two-Fer!

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

bike-monthMay is National Bike Month.  And when it comes to the environment, human health, and even having fun, what can beat biking?

Riding a bike instead of driving a car lessens our dependence on climate-disrupting dirty oil and saves gas money.   Biking is an excellent way to get in shape and stay that way.  And who hasn’t loved pedaling along, enjoying the scent of flowers and the cooling touch of a breeze?

If you haven’t gotten on your bike in awhile, May is the perfect time to get started, not too hot and not too cold.

Cycling groups, local governments, climate change groups, and many others are organizing a variety of events all over the country to celebrate National Bike Month and to get people into biking.  To find events planned for your community, you can check the website of the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month’s sponsoring organization.  http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bikemonth/events.php

Some of the planned events include Bike to Work Days, Bike to School Days, bike safety and bike maintenance workshops, community bike rides, and other bike-related activities for kids and adults in many communities.

If nothing is planned in your community, you could always organize a bike ride with family or friends.  And be sure to get the kids involved.  Kids are born to ride a bike, but some may need a little coaxing to get out there.  Including them in a group ride may be especially fun for them.

And what if your bike is out of shape from neglect?  This month is a good time to take it to the bike shop for a tune-up, so you can get started.

Despite the many benefits biking offers, some communities are not at all bike-friendly.  Crowded roads, high-speed traffic, and a lack of bike lanes or even decent sized shoulders in some areas understandably make people afraid to venture out on a bike.  If your community’s infrastructure makes biking difficult, I urge you to click on the link below and join the Sierra Club’s Mobile Action Network.  You can follow the Sierra Club’s instructions for urging your state’s governor and your U.S. senators and representative to work with state and federal transportation officials to develop more options for a safer community with more biking options.

https://secure.sierraclub.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=8703

Happy biking!–April Moore


Reveling in Moss

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

It was a ‘misty-moisty morning,’ a perfect day to stroll down into the woods and look for turtles.

But as it turned out, I didn’t spot a single one in the wet woods that morning.

The mosses, however, more than made up for any absence of reptiles.  After the night’s rain, the brilliant green of the mosses was startling.  “Look at me!” the plump green mounds almost shouted.   Shaped into necklaces around the base of tree trunks and forming fat green lines above  long-decomposed logs, these luscious green patches were as bright emerald as any mosses I’d ever seen.

Emerald.  I pondered the word.  Used to describe the most brilliant of greens, emerald is also a gemstone.  But no stone, even an emerald, I thought, could match the green of verdant mosses after a rain, when they are bursting with water and clorophyl.  Instead of using  a stone’s name to describe the greenest green, maybe ‘mossy’ would be a more apt term.  But then, I guess ‘mossy’ connotes a texture more than a color.  Oh well.

While all the mosses I looked at that damp morning were a mossy–or brilliant–green,  many patches contained two or three different kinds of moss, all blended seamlessly together.

Once back at the house, I decided to pick up a lovely little book about mosses, Gathering Moss:  A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  As I browsed through its pages and reread passages I had underlined several years ago, I appreciated once again how beautifully the author’s scientific knowledge combines with her sense of wonder at the amazing little plants.

I am reminded that mosses are the most primitive of land plants.  They lack flowers, fruits, roots, and seeds.  Each of the more than 22,000 moss species in the world “is a variation on a theme, a unique creation designed for success in tiny niches in virtually every ecosystem.”    The first plants to live on land, mosses have been around for 350 million years.

I especially love this passage from Kimmerer’s book:

“Like a jealous lover, the moss has ways to heighten the attachments of water to itself and invites it to linger, just a little longer.  Every element of a moss is designed for its affinity for water.  From the shape of the moss clump to the spacing of leaves along a branch, down to the microscopic surface of the smallest leaf; all have been shaped by the evolutionary imperative to hold water.  Moss plants almost never occur singly, but in colonies packed as dense as an August cornfield.  The nearness of others with shoots and leaves intertwined creates a porous network of leaf and space which holds water like a sponge.  The more tightly packed the shoots, the greater the water-holding capacity.  A dense turf of a drought-tolerant moss may exceed 300 stems per square inch.  Separated from the rest of a clump, an individual moss shoot dries immediately.”–April Moore

mosses1

mosses2

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