The bog turns first

For whatever reasons, New England’s autumn foliage color often first appears over swampy spots. Soon the riotous splashes will be everywhere.
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Summer sunset

Here’s a view from our dorm at Castleton University in Vermont, where New England Yearly Meeting of Friends is gathering for its 359th annual sessions. The clouds stretch back into Upstate New York and Lake George.

New to the family

This pair of year-old sisters is getting adjusted to living with us. Originally named Maya and Elena by the daughter of their previous owner, we’ve been calling them Pepper and Sal … or even Salty. The are quite lively, entertaining, and enthusiastically devouring many of the weeds and branches gleaned from our gardening. And, yes, they are quite cuddly.

Got bees

Blame my elder stepdaughter. Or give her all the credit. She took up the cause last year by setting up two beehives at her house. Her mother and I then witnessed much of the excitement and drama that followed. It was contagious.

Jump ahead to this spring. We were encouraged to get our own hive, starting with the boxes and frames from another couple at Quaker Meeting, and then, drawing on said daughter’s expertise and guidance, we launched into our own “greening” venture. I painted the brooder- and honey- “deeps” or “supers” and the landing board all a light green, and set up a concrete-block base to discourage dampness, ants, mice, and our local skunks from invading. Positioned the entry to catch the morning sun, per said daughter’s instructions. And then she taught us how to attach sheets of what are called foundations to each of the frames that go inside the boxes for the bees to build their honeycombs on. Oh, there is definitely a whole new vocabulary for us to ingest.

The buzz really kicked in when our colony and queen arrived from Georgia earlier this month. We gingerly poured them into the hive, like a big glop, and they do seem to be settling in perfectly. Watching the details is fascinating, from their purging of the drones shortly after the big move and then moving on to the guard bees who expel “robber” bees trying to invade from other colonies while the workers get their bearings, explore, and arrive home with their legs brightly loaded with pollen. Who would have thought there would be so much personality in an apiary? We haven’t even gotten to the queen bee yet,deep within the hive – we hope.

We’re not expecting to collect any honey this year – we’d rather have the hive be well supplied for its first winter – but the benefits to our garden and the surrounding environment give us justification enough.

Yes, we got bees – honeybees!

Once the colony’s fully settled in, we’ll add another “brooder deep” to the beehive stack sitting at the edge of our raspberries. The structure off to the right is our compost bin.

Ten facts about the Ohio River

In a whimsical twist in my novel What’s Left, I placed the town along the Ohio River. Well, the navigable waterway is a defining element of southern Indiana.

  1. Length of the Ohio River: 981 miles
  2. Length along Indiana: 240 miles before adding twists. Drains all but the northernmost area of the state.
  3. At its mouth: It is considerably larger than the Mississippi, making it the main hydrological stream of the whole river system.
  4. Number of states feeding into the Ohio River: 15.
  5. Largest tributary: Tennessee River, 652 miles long. Its watershed includes Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, a corner of Louisiana, as well as Tennessee and Kentucky.
  6. Largest northern tributary: Wabash River, 503 miles long. It originates in Ohio and flows across Indiana before becoming part of the border with Illinois.
  7. Average depth of Ohio River: 24 feet.
  8. The biggest city along its way: Pittsburgh, metropolitan population of 3.5 million. The river begins with the confluence of the Allegheny, from upstate New York, and the Monongahela, which drains part of West Virginia and Maryland as well as Pennsylvania, at Point State Park in the Gold Triangle.
  9. Next largest: Cincinnati, metropolitan area population of 2.2 million. Can be seen as the waterway’s hub.
  10. Major hurdle: Louisville, Kentucky, sits at the Falls of the Ohio, which once presented a barrier to river traffic. The McAlpine Locks and Dam stand where the Louisville and Portland Canal was built in 1830 to allow vessels to bypass the falls. It was the first major engineering project on the river and, by some accounts, the first on an American waterway.

On seeing pileated woodpeckers

The pileated woodpecker is one of the largest members ot the family, rather comical and awkward looking, at that. It’s also not commonly seen, so sightings are always exciting, at least if you have an eye for birds. (Pronounced PIE-lee-ay-tid or PILL-ee-ay-tid, by the way.)

I remember one of my first encounters was while having dinner with the Ostroms at their house perched atop a wooded ravine outside Bloomington, Indiana. One alighted just outside the window, to our shared surprise and wonder.

More recently, as I was driving with my elder daughter down a road in Maine, one was flying just ahead of us but veered off before she could look up.

A week later, on a different road, the same thing happened.

She accuses me of making those up.

So the other day, after a meeting at the Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in Durham, I noticed two people in the parking lot who were staring at something in the trees just beyond. I caught the red head and then the full bird. Yup. Amazing, considering this was an urban neighborhood.

And then, on another trunk, I spotted on more red head and big body, which then swooped down to join the first.

The pileated ‘pecker is a large bird – 16 to 19 inches long with a wingspan up to 30 inches, as I’m reading, likely the largest of its family in North America – and they can do some serious damage to trees they decide to nest in. Think of a beaver with wings. Again, from some quick referencing online, I’d guess you can look for a nest based on the pile of wood chips below.

My companion, in her early 90s, apologized that she’s never been able to really see birds, not even as a child. “My eyesight’s always been poor,” she apologized. So much for a witness. At least she could attest that two others were also commenting on the birds before us.

As for said daughter? She insists I’m making this up, too.

For the record, I don’t think I ever seen more than one classic redheaded woodpecker in my life. Hairy woodpeckers and downeys and flickers, of course, are another matter. Old friends, I’d say.

Of course, the Woody Woodpecker cartoons don’t count, do they?

Not my picture, alas. Bird photography is truly a specialty.