Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hiking Ninigret NWR

bittersweet berries

Yesterday in the yard a woodcock flew up from the leaves at my feet.  Switching from invisible to visible in a sudden whirring of wings.

It reminded me that I need to go hiking in the woods.

Auntie Beak, a prolific local hike-blogger posted recently on the nearby Wahaneeta Preserve and Woody Hill Wildlife Management Area, and I thought about going up there.

But it's late November and my instinct is that even decked out in orange blaze it's the wrong time of year to walk the gamelands of the WMA's.

Instead I opted for a National Wildlife Refuge down on the coast, where I was unlikely to run across any hunters.  The central parcel of Ninigret NWR is a complex of old WWII airstrips.  Most of these were stripped of their paving decades ago and are slowly being overgrown with laurel, grasses and birch.

birch catkins
Along, around and between the scars of the airstrips, several miles of trail roam through salt marsh, woodland, kettle ponds and by the shores of Foster Cove and Ninigret Pond.

I walked the western half of the Foster Cove loop, the fishing access trail, the cross refuge trail, and returned along the runway trail that marks the northeastern border of the refuge.  Some of the paths are grassy and mossy, some paved and some gravel.

rose hips
Much of the landscape is enough to break a botanist's heart - overrun by a rouge's gallery of invasive plants:  great swaths of trees decked with Oriental bittersweet, beneath which sprawl tangles of honeysuckle, autumn olive, and mulitflora rose.  Phragmites abound, but haven't driven all the cattails from the lilypad pools.

But it's a wonderful place for birdwatching even in the winter.  (There's a reason many of those plants are so successfully invasive - they create seeds and berries that birds and other wildlife eat and disperse.)

White throated sparrows scratched noisily in the dry leaves below the brambles.  Jays and gulls called. A pair of hairy woodpeckers pounded on a resonant maple and yellow shafted flickers swooped by high overhead.

a chickadee in the brambles
Gold finches flitted in their demure winter plumage.  Yellow-rumped warblers were rising up like flycatchers, though I never saw any insects active down at ground level.

a northern harrier
A cottontail rabbit disappeared into the rose thickets.  And plenty of deer tracks marked the trail.
in flight

 On Ninigret Pond out past the resting gulls, a raft of restless hooded mergansers paddled and dived.

I spied a moth's cocoon, birch leaves wrapping silk and dangling from a twig.  Is it next spring's Luna moth?  or a Polyphemus - oak silk moth?

Whatever it is, I wish it luck evading the squirrels and the birds through the long winter.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A climate of collective idiocy

Today the Senate debates the merits of an oil pipeline disastrous to the common good.  The Keystone pipeline and its cousins will enable the development of Canadian tar sands, helping to make catastrophic climate change inevitable and irreversible.  Except for the momentary fever dream of an ephemeral energy boom, it offers Americans nothing but the prospect of oil spills and higher energy prices.  But the fossil fuel companies invested  hundreds of millions of dollars in this legislature, and so we get fossilized fuel public policy.

Last week's hallucinatory agreement between the US and China to start considering getting semi-serious about fossil fuel emissions is already receding into the carbon dioxide haze.  

For those of us who have hoped that humans might act to ensure our grandchildren's well being, it's enervating stuff.  We almost certainly doom our civilization if we don't start moving it away from fossil fuels starting . . .  well, starting years ago, actually.

I am no longer surprised.  We have a bad habit of assuming that since individual humans are capable of intelligence, forethought and planning - that this means we should be equally capable of intentional collective action. Unfortunately, collectively our species demonstrates the cognitive abilities of a toxic lichen. Civilizations, perhaps achieve the blind tropisms of a nematode or a pea plant - sometimes able to evade a fatal obstacle. A nation or a government can often lurch around with the spastic enthusiasms of a poorly coordinated toddler . . . 

I don't place much hope in the plans of our leaders or their critics, but hey, sometimes yelling at toddlers helps - if only as a personal tonic.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

November greens

I've mentioned that it wasn't a banner year for growing vegetables, but I did make some effort at an autumn garden.  We've had a couple of nights down in the twenties and this afternoon I went to have a look at the state of things, and to gather some salad for dinner.  

The greens don't seem to mind the chill.  There was a patch of mustard and mesclun mix that went to seed and since I had no particular need of those few square feet, I never pulled it out.  The lettuce, once it had bolted got intensely bitter, but the mustard greens just got more mustardy and other greens also deepened into interesting flavors.

Quite a number of the plants in that tangle seem to have caught a second wind and are still putting out leaves.  They are much more vigorous actually than the greens that I planted in August for the autumn.  Better established with some reserves to spend on foliage even in November's declining sun.

I assumed these would be tough, but not at all - they're substantial, but not stringy.  And no need for salad dressing with these.  I believe I'm going to make the bed of gone-to-seed greens a staple of the autumn garden.

Monica went off the Nature Center's yearly fundraising gala, to offer moral - if not financial - support and to grace the happening with her presence.  Nico was lobbying for a box of "Annie's Organic Mac  & Cheese" for supper.  I can sympathize with some mid-November comfort food.  Most of these greens were chopped up and folded into my portion of the Mac & Cheese, transforming it from typical kids' fare into something more pungent and interesting and satisfying.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bad Gardening, a post-mortem

This was not a good year in the garden.  Or, more accurately, not a good year for human gardening.  I suppose it was a good year if you were a deer, slug, grasshopper, blister beetle, squash bug, vole or caterpillar.  And a great year if you were crown vetch, lambs quarter, sedge or wood sorrel.

mustard in flower
I spent too much time traveling and when I was home didn't make time for the garden.

The parsnips mostly didn't germinate (my fault for not soaking the seeds this time).
The weeds took over, the pests chomped unmolested.  The tomatoes vined upon the ground for the slugs.

Deer ate the beet tops and the tomatoes, blister beetles ate the potatoes - or vetch roots speared them - and everything ate the snow peas.

I did get a nice crop of peppermint and spicy Thai peppers.  And there were plenty of mustard and salad greens when I was around to enjoy them.  A Black Prince tomato plant that the deer had trimmed off exploded into some late productivity in the early autumn before the frosts took it.

This morning, I made Monica and myself a delicious goat cheese omelet with spinach and mustard greens from the fall garden.  In September, grasshoppers ate most of the mesclun mix before I ate them, but the spinach and argenta chard has been in pretty good shape.  This morning was 29 degrees, but that doesn't seem to bother the greens.  I have some cold frames out there, though I haven't made any effort to make them less drafty.

The garlic patch, mulched with leaves
For the first time, I put in a patch of garlic - Spanish Roja, German Extra Hardneck, and Czechoslovakian.

One project for the winter is to figure out and construct a deer fence.  Or get a dog that wouldn't mind sleeping outdoors.  Or learn how to use a crossbow and turn the problem into venison.  The fence seems the most practical at the moment.  More on this later . . . .

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Day 2014

I cast my votes today in the gymnasium of the local elementary school.  One of the women with the registration lists reminded me that I'd known her back when I was a cub scout leader and our sons were in the troop.  I'm sure she's right.  We chatted as the others got my ballot ready.

Southern Rhode Island is a conservative part of the state, most of which is more or less reliably Democratic.  In fact, at the state level Republicans are mostly a rump party without much influence or appeal except as a way to punish the occasional politician.

I voted on the offices being contested - and a few that were uncontested.  Voted no on a casino, abstained from one on bonds for higher education facilities (how about for faculty instead?), voted yes on some other bonds for conservation and cultural events.  It took two or three minutes to complete and I slipped the paper ballot into a machine that digested it with a whirr and a beep.

I don't have a TV, don't read a printed newspaper these days, and the only radio I hear is when I'm taking Nico to school in the morning.  So I've been spared the campaigning and the stupefying effects of most of the corporate-owned, corporate sponsored media.  I understand it's been the usual misinformative mudslinging.  In any case, there was nothing that the moneyed players and professional pundits were going to say to change my vote.

Unlike other elections I'm not paying close attention to the minutiae of it all.  The Democrats have had a majority in the US Senate, which they are expected to lose. But they never seemed motivated to do anything with that majority.  For the past 4 years the Democrats have claimed to be unable to do anything without 60 votes - allowing the Republican minority veto power over every action.  I fear the Republicans will be less passive with their majority.  Perhaps Obama will have to find satisfaction in vetoing conservative lunacy for his final two years.  It may well be what he deserves.

As I've interviewed people these past months, I find myself speaking with thoughtful, politically-aware people.  People who value diversity and democracy, who hold progressive ideas about our collective responsibilities and our ability to solve problems through collective action, community and government.  People who would readily acknowledge the importance of collecting taxes and using them to make a better, more prosperous and more civilized place for us, our neighbors and our children to live.

And at some point I would ask them whether they hear anyone out there in public life who is advocating for this point of view they were articulating.  Anyone speaking to that familiar, if old-fashioned, American quality of civic responsibility and government problem-solving?  And they would wrinkle their brow, and try to think, but almost never could they recall hearing anyone talking about these things, much less fighting for them.

That's why the Democrats lost the House of Representatives and why they are going to lose the Senate.

The Democratic party is unable or unwilling to push forth an unapologetic progressive or populist or even liberal vision for governance.  Instead they settle for being less bad than Republicans.  Less crazy, less intolerant, less extreme, less partisan.  Rather than staking out liberal positions, they take conservative positions and try to moderate them.  Tame Republicanism.  We'll cut taxes and reign in spending (but not as recklessly as conservatives); we'll be tough on crime and secure the border (but not be as racist as Republicans); we'll shrink government (but won't drown it in a bathtub).  They convince no one that they have a plan to end the unpopular wars, the surveillance state, or the corruption of politics.  Not to mention reversing the destruction of the labor movement, halting the erosion of women's reproductive rights, or putting an end to the shame and racism of our prison-industrial complex.

Outside the elementary school I chatted with a woman running for the school board.  She was smart, progressive, articulate, and running as an independent.  I felt a twinge of guilt that I haven't taken part in any of this local politics.  My activism, such as it is, has been much more diffuse and aimed at changing the discourse in other states and at the national level.

I'm going to get back to reading transcripts today.  My job - one of my jobs - is to help to construct a progressive discourse that politicians would be willing and able to articulate, and which would resonate with regular citizens.  Give them an alternative plan - something with which to build democracy and good governance - rather than tearing it down.  I'm glad I don't have a TV.

UPDATE: Dean Baker pretty much comes to the same conclusion.