Thursday, June 23, 2022

Set Timer For 15 Minutes

 "Would you like to begin your day with bird chirping sounds?" This was my listening devices response to my directive to set a timer for fifteen minutes. Why yes, I really would like to begin every day with actual birds chirping I thought to myself. Of course, I would never divulge such personal information to my listening device, that would be just weird. But truth be told, what hasn't been weird about this year? Two days into summer break and clearly I'm still struggling for clarity. 

I thought about writing a blog for Father's Day that would go something like this: 

Interesting right? It even appeared as if I had captured one of those children's happily ever after movie endings!

That is until my daughter commented, "Uh oh, baby skunks!" Also there is one pesky little complication to my story, daddy skunks aren't at all involved with raising their kits. 

Now as it is, I happen to like skunks; but Helen's comment reminded me that my neighbor had recently complained that an emboldened skunk had denned up under his shed. In fact, he said that the critter had actually peeked into the shed while my neighbor was working in there. What else could possibly go wrong with my picture perfect Father's Day "tail" I wondered? 

Oh just stop it!

And so with that squatting fox and my brother's comment of, "No decency" I lost my will to write a Father's Day post.

I chose instead to commence with a therapy of sorts that I call Angry Gardening. I loaded up my kid's old red wagon with two kinds of saws, a hand trowel, pruners and my push lawnmower then set out to set a few things right. 

The culmination of my searching for clarity through my Angry Gardening therapy, turned out to be a gaping hole in my hedge and a brush pile of shrub honeysuckle. I love shrub honeysuckle; I love how tall it is, I love how it seems to grow in any location, I love it's density, it's fragrant pink or white flowers and how every winter its bark is stripped by deer and rodents. But most of all, I love how birds and bunnies alike hang out underneath it. 

I always stand back and look at what I have done after an impulsive gardening adventure. I get that from my father. He used to silently stare at completed projects while drinking a diet cola. Perhaps we even shared the same thoughts of, "What in heaven's name have I just done?" 

The shrubs I left standing in this hedge are rhododendron and lilac. I transplanted this trio of shrubs years ago in part to screen my view from utilities.  And like a true family of teenagers; lilac prefers alkaline soil, rhododendron prefers slightly acidic while bush honeysuckle likes acidic to mildly alkaline soil. Somehow, in spite of my poor planning, they had all grown into healthy large shrubs. 

My first memory of invasive species is the one of my friend Kathy admonishing my frugality. I had decided that wildflower seeds were too costly and so began filling my pockets with seeds that I found on our walks. "How do you know they aren't invasive?" she scrutinized. 

 My father had little use for anything in the yard that wasn't fiscus. My mother's gardens were tolerated if they were fenced in a geometric shape to allow for easy mowing. Trees and or shrubs were permitted along perimeters and only if the mower could fit easily around them. All of our trees were lollipopped so that they could be mowed under. Of course, lawns were not for walking or playing on, that's what sidewalks and parks were for.  

When Kathy mentioned invasive plants, I genuinely had no idea and no reason to not continue spreading seeds; I was after all, being a progressive thinker in light of my family tree.

Never the less, it would be years before I found myself standing in a perennial garden in Westminster requesting native plants for a shady dry site. The owner abandoned his sale by forcing the question, "Native to what!" In so many words he further expressed that he didn't understand what was with all of the people wanting native plants. If it wasn't for his friendly barefoot employee guiding me away with a promise of what she thought to be a native, I might have lectured Wayne all the way home in the car. Thank goodness for teachers working second jobs on their days off! 


The short answer to all of this is, that non-native plants take up space where a more valuable plant to that ecosystem might otherwise exist to the mutual benefit of the communities within it. Invasive plants are non-native plants that readily outcompete, reproduce and escape beyond their native range. Invasive plants ultimately create a decline in the biodiversity upon which we all depend.  Oh, and of course this extends to wildlife as well. (p.s. striped skunks are native to VT)
I attempted to quote for my purposes, numerous statements from Chittenden County Forester Ethan Tapper's discussion of the issue in his paper, "What's Wrong With Invasive Plants?"   Each time I quoted Forester Tapper however, I felt that in isolation his words lost their contextual impact. I implore you to read his two page paper in its entirety by clicking here.

Vermont Invasives: Gallery of Terrestrial Plants, displays forty nine invasive land plants in VT. 
I have identified on my acre of land, eight invasive plants featured in this gallery. Only the barberry has been completely removed. Though it seems that I have plenty more opportunities in which to seek clarity, I think that next time, I will begin by opening up my window to listen for actual. real, live, native, chirping birds - Norma Manning


Eastern Wild Turkeys are dependent on a varied habitat consisting of hardwood and mixed forests. In the 1800s, Vermont's wild turkeys were pushed to extinction due to extensive clearing of these forests and the spread of agricultural lands. They were first reintroduced in 1969 and fortunately have made a tremendous comeback. They are now widespread throughout the state. -Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department; Eastern Wild Turkey

Controlling Invasive Plants Using the Cut-Stump Method - Click here for directions

Saturday, June 11, 2022

The Trouble With Solutions


This week Boston news ran a story about how Medford residents are frustrated with the large number of rats (the picture was of a mouse) inhabiting their hamlet. Trust me Medford, when I post that I feel your angst.

Knowing practically nothing about Medford, I took a guess and commented that Medford didn't so much as have a rat problem as they had a shortage of predators problem. Suggesting that Medford increase their number of snakes, fox, weasel, raptor and coyote earned me more than a few laughing emojis. 

I had to concede that one solution does not fit all scenarios; and oddly enough other people who read the Boston news also had their own ideas on how to solve the infestation. In fact, several suggested domestic cats, like this new to my yard cat for example. While I imagine that our beloved neighborhood cat Tobie is none to pleased about this fluffy orange cat checking out his turf, Tobie clearly is not handling all of my rodent woes on his own.  If I'm to be honest however, I also must include to the list of cat solution conflicts, that it's estimated that outdoor cats kill between 30 to 48 birds per cat per year. That's 1.3 to 4 billion birds a year! (The Cornell Lab, All About Birds). 

I wondered if perhaps the solution didn't require a larger cat, one that didn't focus on birds so much? As it turns out, bobcats eat both birds and small rodents and a lot of other things; but mostly they prefer to dine on hair and rabbits. 

Perhaps it's time that I step out of the realm of Medford and check out something closer to home. There is currently quite the dustup over a certain gray fox wandering about in Saxtons River. It seems that residents are worried about the fox rambling about so close to houses during daylight hours. Some even suggesting that such behavior is odd for a fox and that it might in fact have rabies. One invested participant informed readers that they should stop composting for the time being as the fox was after their compost. I can imagine how she thought this as rodents do favor compost piles and fox favor eating rodents. 

All of this begs to question, what else do we get wrong? 

No, that's not a huge rat in my yard, it is an opossum. Feeling poorly for the Saxtons River fox, I attempted to defend its honor by explaining the tick / Lyme disease cycle and how mice are largely responsible for the transmission of bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi to ticks which in turn bite us causing Lyme disease. I know it's confusing because we call them deer ticks. Deer are poor transmitters however and they most often are just free transportation and a blood meal for the ticks. Mice account for around 90% of bacterium transmission rates to infected ticks. If you want to learn more about the tick/ Lyme connection and ways to reduce ticks in your yard, click on this link.  Just keep in mind that fox eat mice and mice infect ticks.

But doesn't it just make sense to learn to fall in love with passive tick eating opossums instead?

Admittedly, I too fell for the report that claimed that opossum eat thousands of ticks in a season. The trouble is, that research had yet to be peer reviewed prior to it exploding all over social media. Subsequent studies found no evidence supporting that opossum eat ticks. Love them anyway.

So it seems that we are back to reducing  mice populations and you might be surprised to learn what else eats mice and other small rodents.

(fluffy skunk bottom)

If nothing else is available racoons will eat mice too.

Crows, ravens, eagles, hawks, owls, blue herons and other birds eat mice.

Snakes, toads and frogs will eat mice too. Because so many animals eat small rodents and carrion, rat poison shouldn't be used outdoors where it can get into the food stream. Animals that consume a poisoned rodent are in danger of being poisoned themselves; and that includes our neighborhood cats.

 If the goal is to rid communities of rats (small rodents), then consider this: While it's true that too high of a concentration of rats potentially increases the spread of disease, it's also true that too few rats removes an important food source for wildlife.  Click on the link to read VT Small Mammal Atlas which states in part that, "So why aren't we over run with these rodents? Because they are a food source for most of the carnivores and omnivores living in our fields and forests. Without this food base our wildlife pyramid might collapse." The article also states that "of Vermont's 35 small mammal species, 13 (37%) are considered of highest conservation priority."

So while Medford and other communities may indeed be noticing an increase in the population of rats this spring, it's doubtful that their problems began with this spring's litters.  Their solution to this challenge is to figure out which part of it is the problem and which part the solution. In closing, I will share this one nature find. When I moved our winter birdfeeders away from our house, the mouse population inside our house dropped off.- Norma Manning

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Mr. Phelps' Ice Shanty


Sometimes when you purchase something, it's more than the something that truly matters. Take Mr. Phelps' shanty for example, on that day I bought a story with a lesson attached and as you will soon find out, I did in fact buy a shed. Well, actually I bought a project.

I typically tell a version of this story to my students between academics and right at that time of year when growing includes finding out about generosity and gratitude. To be clear, I never set out to tell this story; but how many arguments about marbles, pencils and chairs need one experience before it just pops out? 

My grandfather was quite the fisherman, In fact, his brothers were all skilled at fishing. Each of his brothers were named Joseph which has nothing at all to do with my story; but is quite interesting nonetheless considering there were ten siblings five of which were boys. My grandfather was Joseph Maurice; but everyone called him Morris. 

As it so happened, Morris bought a piece of land next to his brother Joseph Marcell's and Joseph Lucien's in South Hero in the early 50s upon which he built by hand and tool a camp. By the time that I came along, Morris and Anna lived in that place on lake Champlain year round and that is where I myself learned how to icefish. 

Now owning a shanty was something of pride and something of necessity when winter winds could blow a rambunctious child clear across to the other side simply by raising a snow shovel as a sail while sitting on a sled. The five of us children along with whichever cousins were visiting, had to wait for our turn to sit next to the adults and stare down an ice fishing hole. I for some reason remember that Morris had a stove, perhaps a coal stove if I remember correctly; but (I never share this part with my students) Morris used to say he kept warm with Canadian Club Whisky. Oh, and Morris raised baitfish in his cellar which seemed quite magical to me as young child, These are only some of the memories that I have of ice fishing with my grandfather. 

But all of this was many years ago as Mrs. Manning is now well over fifty years old!

My sister lives in his house now; and she is even older than I.

Mr. Manning and I noticed while visiting, that Mr. Phelps who lives at Phelps' farm just up the road from my sister's was having a yard sale. At first we looked at his many tools and camping gear and then later on, we went back to make him an offer on his old gray shanty. I was so excited to have a shanty of my own, that I plum forgot to look closely at it inside and out or to even consider if I actually wanted one. 

That very next weekend, Mr. Manning drove back up with his trailer to bring the shanty home to Vernon. It was while loading it onto the trailer, that the skis used to glide it across the ice fell off and the eyebolts used to attach the rope for pulling it ripped out. I'm not sure that you are going to believe me when I tell you about this next part, but once that shanty arrived in my driveway, I called up our daughter Helen and offered it to her for free! I was quite surprised when she said, "no thank you," after all, it did have beige carpet covering its bench seats. 

Over the next couple of weeks, Mr. Manning replaced two walls, the roof, both skids, the eyebolts and the skis. Our daughter Abigail, who doesn't fish at all, decided to paint fish on the lids that cover the holes in the floor when no one is using them for fishing. For my part, I painted the shanty with leftover green paint from another project that I never quite started. 

It was after all of this and while I was adding the finishing touches to the shanty, that I paused to read Mr. Phelps' hand written sign that he had screwed to an inside wall.

"Please Leave it Like you find it" Even though his shanty stayed out on the ice for the entire ice fishing season, Mr. Phelps never once locked the door.  He had instead, used a dog leash clip and a cord to fasten the door closed against the cold winter wind. In this way,  Mr. Phelps shared his shanty with anyone wishing to use it. I imagine that people who came upon it on blustery days, thought of Mr. Phelps as very neighborly. 


I keep that sign posted in what is now my potting shed as a reminder of just that. -Norma Manning

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Perfectly Problematic Hike To The Headwaters


There are many important rules to remember when hiking in the backwoods; but none so more important as choosing a partner who is more attractive to insects than yourself. On this hike, Wayne came away with four ticks while I had none...mission accomplished. Other important information for this hike to the headwaters of Roaring Brook is to wear waterproof shoes and apply liberal quantities of a quality insect repellant. 

We parked at the Basin road trail head at the Vernon Municipal Forest and proceeded through the gate and up the town forest road towards the Roaring Brook Wildlife Management Area.  We continued straight (west) on the forest road, keeping the big swamp to our left and hiked past the "trail closed" signs and into RBWMA.

Note: the trail closed signs were posted by VAST and are posted to direct snowmobiles away from this area. Foot traffic is still permitted on this trail. The question is, do you like mud?

Looking at Wayne's On X image below, the Basin Road trailhead enters the picture on the lower right of the image. We first hiked up the right side of the image from the green section which marks the Vernon Town Forest past the white horizontal line that identifies the state owned lands of RBWMA. The Roaring Brook is shown as a darker solid blue line and tributaries are shown in broken blue lines in the same shade of darker blue. Our hike is shown by the light blue broken line.

The water in this area is positively teaming with life. 

Spring flowers have begun to arrive.

The Efts were so plentiful that it takes concerted effort to avoid stepping on them. I took two pictures to illustrate their color variations. Efts may be red, orange or a brownish color. After their second metamorphosis they are yellowish-green aquatic adults.

I never become tired of discovering variations in moss in the town forest and the RBMA

Is it just me, or does this mushroom growing on a living White Pine tree look like a face both upright and upside down?

I failed to mention that the reason we decided on this hike is because Claire and Gregg invited us to hike Taconic Ramble Mountain state park.  This is Vermont's newest state park and is listed as, "challenging terrain." Basically, we need to get some more miles in between now and then.

Eastern Mountain Laurel is a native evergreen shrub that blooms in late May to early June.  The town forest will be filled with white blossoms during this time. 

Today (May 15th) Hobblebush, a native Viburnum is in bloom. 

On one side of the trail there is little to no ground cover for wildlife.  

Directly on the opposite side of the trail, there is green. An old logging trail blockaded with logs may hold the reason why.

In the middle is mud. 

Some things never seem to improve. We hiked this muddy section of trail a few years ago and vehicles degrade this area still.

Some hikers don't mind the mud.

Mud and bugs aren't exactly Wayne's favorite trail conditions. He is a good sport however and so we slog through. When telling my mother about our hike she remarked, "Don't tell people to go there."

This tree marks the state land boundary.

Boulders have been laid across the trail to prevent motorized vehicles from entering state lands.

There is always a way.

I remember why we turned back years ago.

This area looks to be logged in striations (think tiger stripes).

Saplings take advantage of increased light.

I failed to notice the condition of the two trees behind this American Beech until I reviewed the picture. 

This boulder appears to be an erratic deposited by glaciers; but with so much logging activity it's also possible that it was brought here by trucks.

Finally dry trail ahead!

Signs of a working landscape are everywhere. 

There is a balance to be considered and achieved here. On the one hand logging increases brows for deer and the like. On the other hand, old growth is required habitat for wildlife such as the Piliated Woodpecker.

One constant, biting insects, exists here.

Something has been enjoying dining on or at this tree. My hunch is that it's a porcupine.

When searching for water, I suppose one should expect to find some; but why is it always in the middle of the trail?

Perhaps bring hip waders too.

Once a friend expressed concern that the new sign at the Basin trailhead depicted cattails when in fact the town forest has none. I can't resist getting a little extra muddy to capture this picture of cattails in the RBWMA.

Just beyond the swamp is the surveyed boundary between state lands and the Kuhn Licia Divona parcel.

Even the bypasses are flooded.

There is a small open area which serves as a three way intersection. Here is what looks to be an old cellar hole, a VAST marker and the place where Wayne claims that the map shows the Roaring Brook headwaters.

The only issue being that the streambed is dry.

Can I interest you in a black cherry tree or unique tree partnerships instead?

It's ridiculous to be searching for water at this point in our hike.

Red blazes on the tree line tell us that we have reached the lower boundary.

Wayne's OnX map shows that just south of the RBWMA line we will cross the Roaring Brook.

A new VAST bridge has been built over the Roaring Brook in this location. On previous hikes Wayne and I waded through this area.

You are still getting a bath Ginny!

It's all uphill from here to the town forest and the Stateline Trail. Sometimes we aren't entirely sure if we have reached our goals. The map says yes so I suppose that's good enough. 

-Norma Manning