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Thursday, November 30, 2017


Thursday, 8:00 AM.  38 degrees F at the ferry dock, 35 on the back porch.  Wind SW, calm with moderate to strong gusts. The sky is clear, the humidity 65%.  The barometer is rising steeply, now at 39.84".  High today around 40, continuing on, with mixed skies, through Monday, when rain is predicted.
   Bayfield holiday lights have become fewer and fewer as more residences are seasonal second homes, but Mary Rice still decorates her historic home on 3rd and Washington Ave. in grand fashion.

It's Beginning to Look
a Lot Like Christmas

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas 
Ev'rywhere you go; 
Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again 
With candy canes and silver lanes aglow. 

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, 
Toys in ev'ry store, 
But the prettiest sight to see is the holly that will be
On your own front door. 

A pair of hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots 
Is the wish of Barney and Ben; 
Dolls that will talk and will go for a walk 
Is the hope of Janice and Jen; 
And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas
Ev'rywhere you go;
There's a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well,
The sturdy kind that doesn't mind the snow.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing
Right within your heart.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  21 degrees F at the ferry dock, 18 on the back porch.  Wind W, calm at present.  The sky is clear, the humidity 75%. The barometer is beginning to nosedive, now at 30.34".  High today around 40, very windy with small craft warnings.  Continuing windy, with mixed skies and highs in the mid 30's through Saturday.
   Yesterday about noon I drove by the Coast Guard station while going to the post office, and the Guard was out practicing water rescue.  As luck would have it, my camera was at home and by the time I went back to get it the drill was over.  The above training photo was taken in March, when they were doing the same thing, except on the ice.  Yesterday was extremely windy, almost a gale, so I was rather surprised to see them training.
   The recreational boating season is over except for an occasional die-hard (and kayakers are always a possibility), but there is still plenty of commercial activity to be monitored, and the possible need for rescue.
   The ferry is still running, the fishing tugs will go out until the ice is too thick, and freighters still ply the big lake and may need medical assistance, so the Coast Guard stays on the ready; and when the ice is too thick to operate boats they will maintain ice rescue readiness.
   I think the Coast Guard is not always given the same respect as the other branches of our uniformed services, but it requires as much dedication to duty, and in many respects is just as dangerous, as duty in the other services.  The Coast Guard is often deployed to serve hazardous overseas duty in unfamiliar foreign waters, where it is subject to enemy action, and they routinely interdict drug traffickers and smugglers.   Even here in quiet Bayfield, the Coast Guard is at the ready.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017




Tuesday, 9:30 AM.  46 degrees F at the ferry dock, 42 on the back porch.  Wind SW, mostly calm with moderate gusts.  The sky is cloudy, the humidity 53%.  The barometer is rising, now at 29.71".  Highs today near 50, dropping to the low 30's, with mixed skies, for the rest of the week. 
   City holiday street decorations have suddenly appeared, signaling the beginning of the Christmas season in Bayfied.

Monday, November 27, 2017


Monday, 8:30 AM.  34 degrees F at the ferry dock, 32 on the back porch.  Wind SSE, mostly calm with light gusts.  The sky is mostly cloudy, the humidity 77%.  The barometer is falling, now at 29.96".  The high today will be in the mid 40's, falling to the mid-thirties with mixed skies for the balance of the week.
  Thanksgiving over, it was time yesterday to hang the holiday wreath over the fireplace.  This year Joan enhanced the balsam fir wreath with twigs of winterberry, a red-berried native holy, and white snowberry.
   Winterberry, Ilex verticilata, in the Holy Family (Aquifoliaceae), is a native northern holly.  It is deciduous, but the female plants are loaded with bright red winter fruit.  The selection 'Red Sprite' is a compact, 3'-4' tall variety that bears heavily.  It needs a male pollinator, the compact 'Jim Dandy', that of course does not bear fruit.  These are spectacular shrubs for the northern winter landscape.  The male and female flowers are, however, insignificant.
  There are other, larger cultivars of the native shrub, and this large native species of northern swamps and rivers can itself be an attractive landscape plant.  It grows in good bottom land, in wet soil, but will also do well in drier locations.  I have seen it growing along the Wisconsin River and elsewhere in northern and central Wisconsin.  The berries are not poisonous, and are good winter wildlife food but are inedible for humans.
   Snowberry, Symphorocarpos albus, in the Honeysuckle Family (Caprifoliaceae) is a large (ovef 6' height and spread) shrub native to much of Canada and the northern and western U.S.  It has opposite, orbicular, blue-green leaves and almost insignificant purplish flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  It bears an abundance of two-seeded white berries that are very attractive (don't eat them, they will make you vomit).
   Snowberry is an important wildlife plant, the branches and leaves for browse and the berries for winter food.  It will grow in sun or partial shade, in a variety of habitats, from stream banks to forest understory.  It was popular in landscaping a century ago but is less used now, except for restoration work.  It is still obtainable, and I use it fairly often, as it is easy to establish and quite attractive, particular in winter.
   We no longer do much decorating for the holidays, but wreaths and greenery are essential, and for us the more natural and native the better.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


Sunday, 8:30 AM.  34 degrees F at the ferry dock, 33 on the back porch.  Wind W, breezy.  The sky is sunny, the humidity a low 59%.  The high today will be around 40, with  dry, seasonally nice weather continuing for the week.  Good to see the sun, we were getting low on vitamin D.
   These are a few of my favorite November sunset photos taken over the last few years.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


Saturday, 10:00 AM.  27 degrees F at the ferry dock, 30 on the back porch.  Wind N, gusty, the humidity a low 58%.  The barometer is rising steeply, now at 30.30".  High today around 30, continuing seasonally cool and mostly sunny for the coming week.
   This is the time of year when sunsets are at their best, soft hues absorbed onto the canvas of the clouds.

Friday, November 24, 2017



Friday, 8:30 AM.  44 degrees F at the ferry dock, 41 on the back porch.  Wind SW, light.  The sky is mostly cloudy, the humidity 72%.  The barometer is rising, now at 29.25".  The high today will be in the mid 40's, with rain showers. Tomorrow will be significantly cooler with mixed skies, continuing into the coming week.
   To me hunting means little if it doesn't involve a dog.  When I was a youngster I could sit for hours squirrel hunting, and later sit in a stand hunting deer, but neither was in any way as thrilling or interesting as hunting birds with a pointing dog.  Once I had Pepper, my first pointer, a German shorthair-English pointer mix, I was hooked.
   I could have as much fun working the dog on pheasants or a covey of partridge without a gun as with one.  Seeing the eagerness of the dog, and all its senses and instincts focused on tracking the quary and alerting the hunter with a solid point became the primary objective.  Bagging the bird is a necessary climax, but the hunting is the most important part of the story.
   Pointers can also be taught to retrieve, but that is not their main job.  Retriever breeds are instinctual retrievers, and are a thrill to watch and hunt with in their own way, and well bred and trained can find and retrieve downed birds (usually waterfowl) that otherwise would be irretrievably lost.  That is as much a thrill and satisfaction for the goose or duck hunter as the killing shot itself.
   Trailing hounds are another type of gun dog that have a specific instinct that is very satisfying to utilize, whether it is a beagle bringing a rabbit around in a circle to be bagged by the hunter, or a bloodhound or blue tick hound trailing and treeing a racoon or a bear.
   To me hunting is not much fun unless it involves dogs.  Dogs get beat up hunting, sometimes get badly hurt or even killed. But they love it.  They were born and bred for the chase and are really happy only when hunting (until like their masters they get old and worn out, and then will just as readily lay by the fire in their retirement).
   Dogs and humans are both predators, hunting in packs that have a social hierarchy, and each species has instincts and talents that the other lacks, so mutual cooperation and sharing of the thrills and spoils of the hunt became natural as the two species co-evolved over many thousands of years.  Dogs evolved from the wolf, a process which probably began with humans raising wolf pups, selecting those which took to domestication.   This may well have occurred at multiple times and in different places around the world.
   Canines have much shorter life spans than humans, so the dog evolved far faster than the human, its evolution was manipulated by the longer lived species, and the dog necessarily became subservient to the human.  To say that dogs are of themselves free spirits and should not be controlled by humans is foolishness that denies their evolution, domestication and dependence upon us.
   I often hear folks complain about the so-called abuse of sled dogs, who will literally run themselves to death if not properly controlled.  Probably few of those detractors have witnessed the absolute joy of a dog team running a race on a cold winter's morning when the snow conditions make the sled fly as though it had wings, and the dogs are so eager to run that they can hardly be constrained at the starting gate.
   And then there are the anti-hunting folks that decry the sacrifice of the prey to the dogs and the hunters.  Prey animals are also part of the natural cycle of life, and have been bred through natural selection to evade the hunters.  It may be a stretch to say that the animals being hunted also feel the joy of the chase, but they are most alive when avoiding their persuers, and certainly derive satisfaction from outwitting them.
   Several years ago Buddy and I were grouse hunting out in the pine barrens, and while walking down a trail heard baying hounds behind us.  It was bear hunting season so we knew there must be a hunted bear close by.  Suddenly the hounds came bounding past us, and I grabbed Buddy and got out of the way.  Then we heard a vehicle approaching on the trail and as we stepped aside a beat up pickup truck rattled by, several youthful hunters and a couple of dogs hanging on for dear life. The running hounds, the young guys in the truck and their canine passengers were all having a great time.  But where was the bear?  As Buddy and I resumed our interrupted hunt, we heard Bruin picking his way through the underbrush;  he had doubled back on his own trail and the dogs and hunters were now well ahead of him.  If bears could laugh I am sure it would have issued a hearty chuckle at least. Dogs, young hunters, and even the bear were all having a fine time.
   All things in nature play a role in the great drama of life, and each living individual of every species is ordained to excel at its life task to its very best ability,  and pass on any beneficial traits to its progeny;  the continual search for self-perfection is therefore the predestined goal of all living things in God's evolving creation.
   The Old Man in Robert Ruark's "The Old Man And The Boy," says to the boy,  "I can tell you what a man hunts by seeing what he watches. The deer hunter watches the openings.  The waterfowl hunter watches the sky.  The bird hunter watches the dog."
   I watch the dog.

Thursday, November 23, 2017



Thanksgiving Day, 9:00 AM.  38 degrees F at the ferry dock, 30 on the back porch.  Wind SW, light.
The sky is partly cloudy but clearing, the humidity 79%.  The barometer stands at 29.94" but is beginning to fall.  Highs today will be in the mid-30's, becoming much warmer tomorrow with showers in the morning.  It looks like it will be a gorgeous day.
   Riddle from our 9 year old granddaughter: What happened to the turkey gobbler that got into a fight?  He got the stuffing kicked out of him.

Governor Bradford of Massachusetts made this first Thanksgiving Proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth:

"Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.

Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
William Bradford
Ye Governor of Ye Colony

Let us go and do likewise

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Wednesday, 8:30 AM.  19 degrees F on both thermometers.  Wind WSW, mostly calm with occasional moderate gusts.  The sky is mostly cloudy, the sun making a valiant effort to shine through.  The humidity is  72%, the barometer stands at 30.2" and is steady for now. High today will be around 30, warming and clearing some tomorrow, with rain showers on Friday.  lt is actually a beautiful day, contrary to its verbal description.
   It's deer season, and I am not out on my stand in the big country west of the orchards.  Goose season went by without me firing a shot, and the grouse are even safer in the woods now than before (which was pretty safe anyway).
    I no longer hunt. Not because some moral imperative forced me to quit, but because time and circumstance have taken their toll; a misplaced pacemaker makes it life threateningly risky to fire a shotgun or deer rifle, and a crossbow does not do it for me, particularly when mated with climbing into a tree stand.
   All this comes to the fore not because of nostalgia or some other psychological imperative, but because of yesterday's news: President Donald Trump's recent tweets regarding his opposition to big game trophy hunting, and in  particular the possibility of renewed legislation allowing big game hunters, particularly elephant hunters, to bring trophies (animal body parts) into the United States.  His sons are hunters of African big game, but the president is evidently revolted by the prospect.  An interesting family feud indeed.
   The ethics of hunting have long  been debated by far more expert, more passionate,  and frankly, just better writers, with whom I do not intend to compete, but I have developed my own hunting ethic over the years and it is pretty simple.
  • Eat what you shoot and don't waste any of it.
  • Using fur or feathers for warmth or honest decoration is not immoral, but only if the meat is eaten.
  • Making an animal suffer unnecessarily is a sin, so make that first shot a good one.
  • There is no better way to know an animal than to hunt it, and most hunters become sincere conservationists. 
  • I don't care about the deer antlers over the fireplace, and an animal properly preserved by a taxidermist can be a tribute to its spirit, but disrespectful use of animal body parts is ugly and immoral.
   I myself still feel revolted when I remember entering the home of a noted big game hunter many years ago and being greeted by an elephant's foot and leg filled to the knee with sand and used as an ash tray.  And to kill a big cat or grizzly bear only for the thrill is akin to being a terrorist.  Only if the animal is a danger to human life,  endangering the survival of another species, or destroying scarce resources, is it justifiable.
   Captain Ahab sinned when he demonized Moby Dick, The Great White Whale, just for being a whale, and he paid for his sin with his life and the lives of those who followed him.
   There are many logical arguments that can be put forward which might convince the President to allow the importation of the trophies of big game hunting, but I hope he rejects all but those which fit the simple ethics I have outlined.
   That said, I will close with a humbling self assessment, in the form of a quote from the great outdoor writer Robert Ruark, which you have probably heard before:
   "Two things got no use on this earth, an old dog and an old man.  Neither serves any useful purpose, and both generally smell bad."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017




Tuesday, 9:30 AM.  24 degrees F at the ferry dock, 23 on the back porch.  Wind NNW, very gusty.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, with snow flurries, the humidity 62%.  The barometer is rising sharply, now at 29.89".  High today will be in the mid-20's; mixed skies and cold midweek until warming and rain showers on Friday.
    It is hard for me to believe that November Tenth was the forty-second anniversary of the sinking of the 750 foot laker, the Edmund Fitzgerald.  It was the largest ship on the Great Lakes when it was built, in 1957.  It went  down on at the east end of Lake Superior November 10, 1975, while carrying twenty-six thousand tons of iron ore.  It sank in a monumental gale with 90 mile per hour winds and 35 foot waves.  It lies broken apart 525 feet beneath the surface of Lake Superior, a watery grave for 29 brave souls.  Exactly what happened is and shall remain a mystery, but all who live on the big lake know of its  rapidly changing moods and violent storms.  Gitche Gume, Longfellow's  Big Sea Shining Water, remains as dangerous as it is beautiful.
   The gales blow strong again this November, while the huge lake ships still ply the tempestuous waters of Lake Superior.  If one listens closely to the Nor'easter as it roars outside  the window a distant ship's bell may be heard, clanging faintly through the roaring of the wind.  Perhaps it is the ghost of the Edmond Fitzgerald, summoning "All hands on deck."
   1975 is near enough in history that old lake sailors still can be found sheltered in nooks and crannies on a windy November day in Bayfield who will recount their good fortune in not being aboard that ill-fated voyage (one a young deckhand who stayed in port with the flu, another an engineer who was on his honeymoon, another...) and who counted friends lost to that vicious storm, like comrades dead in battle.
   They will tell horrific tales of the deadly Third Sister, the last wave in a classic trilogy that mounts higher and higher 'till nothing that floats can resist her; "Aye, that's what sunk her."
   "No, she was overloaded with ore, there wasn't sufficient freeboard when she left Duluth."
   "Then it was Greed that took her down."
    "And being lengthened to haul more ore.  The welds didn't hold in the storm."
    "In any case there's 29 of my shipmates that are buried at sea.  The Big Lake never gives up her dead... the water's too cold and their bodies will never rise to the surface."

as written and sung by
Gordon Lightfoot

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
Then later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
When the wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too
'Twas the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezing rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck
Sayin' "Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya"
At seven PM a main hatchway caved in
He said, "Fellas, it's been good to know ya"
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went out of sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
Does anyone know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below, Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early

Monday, November 20, 2017




Monday, 9:00 AM.  28 degrees F at the ferry dock, 26 on the back porch.  Wind SW, mostly calm at present, but picking up.  The sky is partly cloudy, the humidity 81%.  It will warm into the low 40's today, then the highs will drop to around 30 through Thursday.  It will warm into the low 40's again  and rain on Friday.
   We got home yesterday from good friend Andy Larsen's "Celebration Of Life" memorial service, which was held Saturday at the Mequon Nature Preserve north of Milwaukee.  The trip down was a bit arduous as it rained all the way and threatened to turn to ice, but we were fortunate and dodged that bullet.  The weather was cool but sunny and beautiful for the return trip, and the event on Saturday was very successful and attended by about 300 people.
   Andy was a very popular naturalist, teacher and writer who had a considerable following in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin.  I usually hate such events as they often end up being more about the presenters than about the person being memorialized, but this was different, probably because Andy was himself so different, his personality and teaching so unique that it stood up to the  best efforts of the speakers.
   Andy taught by putting his students (regardless of age or degree of dignity) through unique learning experiences.  Seldom was anything dull, and was occasionally even mildly hazardous.   There were a number of speakers, none of them told the same story, and many were humerus.
   I have one of my own, although I did not relate it at the memorial.
   Early one spring evening several years ago we were at the Larsen farm, sitting around the campfire with Andy and Judy and a few other folks, having  drinks and a quiet conversation, when we heard a persistent "peent, peent, peent."  We all recognized that sound as the unmistakable courtship song of a male woodcock, which tries valiantly to impress his lady love by flying straight up like a little helicopter to a dizzying height and then dives straight down, pulling out at the very instant of crashing dead in a heap, and then doing a courtship dance.  Andy got up and started off, we all thought, to find the little daredevil.  Several of us followed, not only because we were interested in witnessing the death defying display, but because Andy had long been severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease and couldn't be trusted to wander off on his own in the dark of night.   So we bravely followed Andy, his flashlight piercing the gloom.
   I should have know something was amiss when we didn't head directly towards the sound of the action, but walked on down the dark road towards County Highway K.  Ah, I thought , we are sneaking up on the madcap rascal from a different direction.  That theory was proven wrong when Andy took another turn in the dark and crawled under a barbed wire fence.  Then the flashlight went out.  We had no real option but to follow closely or risk loosing him or ourselves in the enveloping blackness.
   The mystery of where we were heading grew as our feet began to get wet, and it wasn't long before we were ankle deep in cold water.  The entourage stopped and we all stood silently, since there seemed to be nothing else to do.
   Then after some moments of utter silence we heard a faint "peep," and then another and another, until there was a racket, a veritable din, of "peeps."  We were standing in the midst of a chorus of spring peeper frogs.  Then Andy turned on his flashlight.  There were tiny greenish frogs everywhere around us, obviously thousands of them, each one no bigger than a fingernail.  And they were copulating, the male frogs astride the female, all of them in an obvious state of ecstacy, all the while singing their diminutive hearts out.
   Thank you, Andy.
Judy read the following poem as a final tribute:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow. 
I am the diamond glints on snow. 
I am the sunlight on ripened grain. 
I am the gentle autumn rain. 
When you awaken in the morning's hush 
I am the swift uplifting rush 
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry; 
I am not there. I did not die. 
      Mary Elizabeth Fry

   The poem is beautiful and relevant, but it is a 
scientific poem,a rational white man's poem
that refers to the immortality of the atom,
not of the soul .  I prefer to think of my friend Andy 
in the Ojibwe idium; he walked on..

Friday, November 17, 2017



 Friday, 8:00 AM.  37 degrees F at the ferry dock, 33 on the back porch.  Wind WNW, mostly calm with occasional moderate gusts.  The sky is drearily overcast and cloudy, the humidity 76%.  The barometer is falling, now at 29.81", predicting rain and snow by mid afternoon.  The high today will be in the mid-30's,  with temperatures falling to the low 30's for the weekend, with mixed skies.
   We are traveling to Milwaukee to attend a memorial tomorrow for Andy Larsen, a noted Wisconsin naturalist and good friend.  We were prepared for bad road conditions, but it appears as though we may dodge the bullet, but there will no further posts until Monday.
   Today is my birthday, I hope there will be no cake with candles as there would be too many for me to blow out without a fire extinguisher.  It wasn't so many years ago that I was middle aged, then  "young old," then the merely "old. " I am now, I fear,  among the "old, old."
   Virgin's bower and wild cucumber are both native American vines that are quite prevalent and can easily be confused from a distance.  The former was discussed in yesterday's post and the comparison continues today.
   Wild cucumber vines ramble over trees and shrubs in wet spots, making many woods edges look like they have a bad haircut.  The vines are pretty in an unkempt way, and are sometimes planted to climb on arbors, but I wouldn't want them to eat my house.
  Wild cucumber, Echinocystis lobata, in the Gourd Family, the Cucurbitaceae, is common throughout much of southern Canada and the lower 48 states of the US. The Latin genus name refers to the prickly fruit, and the species name to the distinctly lobed leaves. Since wild cucumber  has at times been used as an ornamental vine, it is also escaped from cultivation.  It is an annual and climbs by tendrils like the garden cucumber, but is not related to it.
   Each "cucumber" or "balsam apple" bears four seeds, which reportedly were used to make beads by American Indians, and who also used the plant as an analgesic and a love potion.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


                                                  ...VIRGIN'S BOWER SEED HEADS,,,

                               ...CLEMATIS VIRGINIA CLAMBERING OVER SHRUBS...


Thursday, 8:30 AM.  26 degrees F at the ferry dock, 24 on the back porch.  Wind ENE, calm with occasional moderate gusts.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, the humidity 78%. The barometer is steady at present but will soon take a nosedive, with highs in the low 30's today.  It will warm some and rain tomorrow, with mixed skies and wintry temperatures for the weekend.  We had a dusting of wet snow last night which left the roads slick with an almost invisible coating of treacherous black ice.  No walk for Buddy and me this morning.
   Virgin's bower and wild cucumber are both native climbing vines that are quite prevalent and  interesting, and from a distance at least may be confused, so we will address them in two consecutive posts:
   The virgin’s bower,  AKA wild clematis Clematis virginiana, in the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae), is a perennial native climbing vine which one might confuse with wild cucumber at a distance, but the flowers and seed heads are distinctly different, looking like anemone (also in the Buttercup Family).  It blooms from July through September.  I have seen almost none of it his year, although it was abundant last year.
   The genus name is ancient Greek for a climbing vine of that era, and the species name indicates it is a North American plant.  It is native throughout much of the continent, where it decorates trees and shrubs along woods edges, roads and stream banks.  It is quite attractive, and has a pleasant, mildly sweet scent when in flower.  Flowers are followed by interesting clusters of filamentous seed heads (thus another common name, devil's darning needles). The vine climbs by the means of twisting leaf petioles and can reach fifteen or twenty feet in height.
   A Japanese species, sweet autumn clematis, Clematis terniflora, is a rampant grower and has been much planted in the eastern US.  It is very floriferous and fragrant but can quickly take over and has been declared an invasive species in some states.
   Virgin's bower is said to have had some use among Native Americans as an analgesic and a bitter tonic, and as a love potion. It is reportedly hazardous to handle or ingest, causing a severe but brief reaction to skin and mouth tissues; I have not experienced any such reaction but it is probably best to wear gloves if handling this plant.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


NOVEMBER 04, 2008
NOVEMBER 12, 2017

Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  39 degrees F at the ferry dock, 37 on the back porch.  Wind WSW, calm with very light gusts.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, and it is raining lightly.  The humidity is 97%, the barometer steady for now at 29.76".  High today near 40 with continuing showers.  Colder tomorrow and cloudy, then warming with rain showers again on Friday.  I hope we get some sun one of these days, it would improve everyone's mood.
   It has been said that change is the only constant, and that certainly pertains to all things natural, including the views from the back porch.  The above photos provide about as similar a view as I can manage, and the change in the view due to tree growth over nine years is quite pronounced, even though the trees involved are fairly mature and not growing all that fast.
  Has the view changed over the years?  Yes.  Is it any less beautiful?  No.  There is somewhat less water to view because trees have grown taller, although the magnification of the two photos is slightly different and therefore is not an exact comparison.
   Trees go down as well as grow up, and looking closely one can see there are several trees from the older photo that are no longer there, victims of disease or construction.  I do not have older comparison photos, which would show the view completely obscured first by a row of tall, ugly Lombardy poplars in front of the neighboring house that were mercifully cut down, and then which was still partially obscured by three very tall poplars behind the house which blew down in a powerful straight line windstorm.  Trees grow up, trees go down.
   The biggest change between the two photos is the growth of the big white pine on the left.  It is amazing how it has increased its influence little by little over the years.  Notice also the view window which we created a few years ago (with the owner's permission) which has reclaimed a good deal of the water and island view that had been lost due to the tree's growth (and needs to be done again).  The latter tactic is one that can be used to good advantage, sometimes even better than removing the offending tree.
   Trees not only interfere with views, they can be used to frame views, and stately or colorful or interesting trees can add much to a view.  Notice how the tree window frames a view, while lower branches block unwanted views of the road and parked vehicles.'s the only constant.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017




  Tuesday, 8:00 AM.  38 degrees F at the ferry dock, 34 on the back porch.  Wind SW, mostly calm with light gusts.  The sky is again cloudy and overcast, the humidity 90%.  It will be cloudy today, with the high around 40.  Cloudy conditions will continue through the week with highs in the low to upper 30's.  Snow showers are forecast for Wednesday night, and rain on Friday.
    European (glossy) buckthorn, Rhamnus frangula (synonym Frangula alnus) in the Buckthorn Family (Rhamnaceae) is a Eurasian invasive species that can rapidly take over areas of native woodland and city vacant lots.  It is a real threat, and should be eliminated when possible.  Now is a good time to identify and destroy it, as its leaves are still green, and its ripe fruit prominent.
   Its still-green leaves are entire, without lobes or teeth, and are mostly alternate, with prominent veination, and a glossy appearance.  The young bark is cherry-like, brown and shiny or sometimes gray , with numerous lenticels. The inner bark of the twigs is yellow. The abundant pea-sized berries are blue-black when fully ripe, and have two to four small seeds clustered together, each with one flat side.  The berries are extremely bitter. 
   Buckthorn seedlings and saplings pull easily, but larger plants must be dug out, or cut back and the stumps or large branches treated with  a strong herbicide.  The berries cannot be allowed to fall to the ground, where they will germinate readily next spring.  The branches with berries cannot just be fed into a wood chipper, as the seeds are not harmed thereby.
   There are some cultivars that are sterile and do not bear seeds,  so are safe to use as hedge plants, but there are much better choices for that purpose in my opinion.
   About the only safe things to do with the berries is to bury them deeply, compost them until they germinate and then die, or perhaps best, put them in a plastic bag and in the garbage.

Monday, November 13, 2017



Monday, 9:00 AM.  33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 28 on the back porch.  Wind NW, calm at present  The sky is cloudy and overcast, the humidity 79%.  The barometer is just beginning to fall gently, now at 36.45".  Highs today mid 30's, warming a few degrees tomorrow, the sun appearing this afternoon.  The balance of the week will have mixed skies with chances of snow flurries or rain Wednesday night and rain on Friday.  Today is quite tolerable with no wind.
   One of the great transformations of the Northland has just occurred. The tamaracks, Larix laricina, in the Pine Family, have changed from green to gold and many have lost their needles entirely.  As you probably know, the tamarack, or larch, is a deciduous conifer…it loses its needles in the winter, so it is not, in any real sense, an “evergreen.” It is a true tree of the far northern boreal forests but ranges down into the Northeast and the Lake States.
   I’m not sure what the evolutionary advantage might be to losing its needle-leaves, when almost all other conifers keep them all winter to good advantage, so they can photosynthesize at least on warmer days.  We could create or find some theory to explain it, but I prefer just to enjoy the anomaly and the beauty of the golden trees in fall.
   Another Larix species is the European larch, Larix decidua, quite similar but with larger, pendulous cones and a somewhat more formal shape. It is equally hardy. Our neighbor has a nice specimen. The Japanese larch, Larix leptolepis, is also a beautiful tree.  These trees are all closely related, and probably all evolved from the same parentage, either differentiating as the original species moved into new territories with differing climates, or evolved in place as climates changed. 
   All things considered, I prefer our native species for landscaping purposes and of course for restoration projects.  All of these trees need plenty of room to grow.
   Another deciduous conifer is the southern bald cypress, Taxodium distichum, not hardy this far north, but a very beautiful and useful tree; as is the "living fossil" dawn redwood, Megasequoia glyptosroboides, found in Jurassic fossil formations and thought to be extinct until it was found growing in China in the 1940's. 
   A conifer which goes the opposite direction entirely is another living fossil, Ginko biloba, which has broad flat leaves, rather than needles.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


Sunday, 10:00 AM.  33 degrees F at the ferry dock, 31 on the back porch. Wind W, calm.  The sky is cloudy and overcast, the humidity 78%.  The barometer is steady at 30.37". It will be cloudy, cool and dry through the coming week.
   I do not consider myself a veteran, even though I now am eligible for some veterans benefits. I served for a number of years in the Army Reserve, on both active and reserve duty, but serving between Korea and Vietnam,  I never fought in battle and don't consider myself worthy of being honored as a veteran.  I did, however, wear the uniform for many years and was always ready to answer the call, and sometimes feel guilty that I was not called up.  To quote the 16th Century English poet John Milton, "They also serve, who only stand and wait." Today's Reservists are much more  likely to be called to active duty, and serve in battle.
   Three close relatives of mine served in WWII, all of whom have died within the past year or so, and shortly before their deaths were honored to be chosen to fly to Washington, DC to visit the WWII Memorial. They all went on the trip together, accompanied by some of their children.  It was a high point of their lives.  A brother-in-law, now long gone, served three tours in Vietnam.  I am grateful for what they did for myself,  my family and my country, and extend that gratitude to all who sacrificed their youth, and many their lives, so the rest of us  could live in freedom.
   We can each of us serve by using the freedom and opportunity which we have been given through the sacrifice of others to battle for the American ideals of liberty, justice and truth for all people, and by recognizing in our own lives the never ending war of good against evil.

Saturday, November 11, 2017



 Saturday, 8:30 AM.  29 degrees F at the ferry dock, 26 on the back porch.  Wind SW, brisk.  The sky is cloudy and overcast but should clear, the humidity is 80%.  The barometer is falling, now at 30.74".  The highs tomorrow and Monday will be around 30, with cloudy skies.
   It seems as though our flag is under nearly as great an assault these days as it was over two hundred years ago at Fort McHenry.  Maligned by leftists and misguided NFL players and politically correct pundits, the nation is blamed, even reviled, for not being perfect at its birth, when if it had tried to be so it would have been stillborn, and the great nation that we love would be a European mess of separate, continually warring states.
   So this Veterans Day let's salute the good, free and brave men and women who have saved that banner over and over again, through bloody and stubborn conflicts at home and abroad.  They didn't take a knee to protest its past, they stood and fought, and many laid down and died, for the promise of its future.

                               THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER
Oh! say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
W hat so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen thro' the mist of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep.
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream
'Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep's pollution. 

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n - rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
And this be our motto--"In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
                                                                               Francis Scott Key

Thursday, November 9, 2017






Friday, 8:30 AM.  15 degrees F at the ferry dock, 14 on the back porch.  Wind NNW, mostly calm with light gusts.  The sky is overcast, with dark clouds, the humidity 71%.  The barometer has begun to fall gently, now at 30.7".  The high today will be in the mid-20's. rising on the weekend to around 30, with partly cloudy skies.
   This is the story of a landscape design that did not accomplish what it set out to do  because the designer either did not actually visit the site or did so and did not look up. To look up is as fundamental to good design as to look all around (creating focal points, capturing distant views and all the rest).
   This 1920's cottage was pleasantly updated and added to about twenty years ago, but when it was originally built it had a row of small white pine trees planted across ts front lawn, perhaps they were meant to be kept pruned as a hedge, or perhaps no thought was given to their eventual size, but over almost a century they became very large, dominating the property.  Perhaps they threatened the foundation of the house, or perhaps they clogged the sewer lateral, or perhaps the owner was afraid of them falling on the house (there are many legitimate reasons for cutting down large trees) but they were healthy, beautiful and  gave a particular woodsy character to the property.
   In any case, much to my surprise one day they were being cut down; a massive, expensive undertaking, which changed entirely the esthetics of the property.  Which is where the landscaping comes in, which was professionally designed and obviously expensive,  with formal placement of flowering crab trees surrounded by shrubs and ornamental grasses. all within a stone border.  Frankly, the cottage was better served by the original pine trees.  But that's just my opinion and not a criticism.
   It took several days with a crew and heavy equipment to cut down, chip and dispose of the trees and grind out the stumps, which I estimate cost at least $5,000.  The design and installation of the new landscape took a crew of two, sometimes three workers three days to accomplish, probably another  $10,000 at least. That's a very conservative total estimate of $15,000 .   Now after it is all done, stand in place and look up.
   A heavy electric cable, formerly hidden by and within the huge pine trees, drapes across the front of the entire property, and would be doubly expensive to bury now that the landscaping is completed on the front lawn.  And now the owners, who live elsewhere, will need a professional gardener to maintain the expensive new plantings.
   When designing or redesigning a landscape, don't forget to look up.