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Preview: Farmer's Calendar Podcast

The Old Farmer's Almanac Farmers Calendar

The monthly Farmer’s Calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, read by the author Castle Freeman Jr.The monthly Farmer’s Calendar from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, read by the author Tim Clark.


Farmer’s Calendar for January 2018

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 12:05:01 -0400

My plow guy lives up the street. Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, he talked about his work. It’s tough on family life. “The hardest are the 24-hour storms, when you’re up all night, and then your kid wants to play as soon as you get home.” On the other hand, he says, nature’s beauty is on show. “I see the glowing green eyes of enormous owls. The first time I saw a bobcat was when I was plowing snow.” My plow guy describes his clients as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The good (95 percent) pay on time and park their cars out of his way on snowy nights. One brings him hot coffee and muffins on the job. The bad are slow to pay and quick to complain: “Why do you always come at 2:00 in the morning? Do you have to use those blinking lights?” The ugly have steep, twisty driveways, “and once you start sliding back- ward, you’re stuck—any plow guy who says he never gets stuck is a liar.” Plow guys help each other out whenever possible—it’s the Code of the Plow—but there are limits. After pulling Plow Guy out a few times, one of his competitors handed him a set of chains and said, “Good luck.” This, too, is the Code of the Plow.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for December 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:17:57 -0500

The Houses With the Best Views Are Empty in December Temperatures falling, skies threatening, the dogs and I started our afternoon walk a little before 3:00, heading uphill. The plan was to follow the road all the way to the top. It climbs sharply at the end, and the prospect is magnificent there. In addition to a broad view of the Wapack Range and a few buildings in Peterborough, there was light glinting off the waters of Thorndike Pond and steam rising from the match factory in Jaffrey. By 4:00, we were in a field just beyond the last two houses on the road—summer places, to judge from the absence of cars and the window shades pulled down. Not surprising, really; the winter heating bills must be as spectacular as the view. Generally speaking, in this town the houses with the best views are unoccupied in December. When we started home, we flushed a massive buck that bounded farther up the wooded hill, headed north. The dogs didn’t see him—their vision is surprisingly poor—but they got wildly excited when they caught his scent at the point where he began his flight and started to tug frantically on their leashes. The dogs wanted to follow him into the forest. So did I, but it was getting dark. There will be other opportunities to track deer when the light comes back.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for November 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:15:30 -0500

Wild Turkeys Go From a Novelty to a Nuisance Wild turkeys are such a familiar sight now that they are as likely to inspire annoyance as awe. When we see two hens bringing a couple dozen poults across a road—one hen on each side of the crossing, herding the little ones on, gently correcting the slow learners who are bumbling off in the wrong direction—we may honk the horn to hurry them up. Biologists call such a group a brood flock. A hen lays 10 to 12 eggs, and there’s no evolutionary advantage in an unrelated hen looking after the young. They apparently find some efficiency, or increased safety, or sheer pleasure in combining forces with another mother. Maybe it’s as simple as having one adult on each side of the roads that must be crossed. In the brood flock that hangs out in our neighborhood, the poults are adult-size now. They likely hatched in June. The two other brood flocks farther up the road have smaller poults, probably mothered by hens that renested in late summer and brought off a second brood. By winter, the young turkeys will have separated by age and sex into larger flocks, stalking through the snowy woods, leaving four-toed tracks like the dinosaurs that were their ancestors. Watching them now, it seems amazing it took so long to see the resemblance.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for October 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:13:05 -0500

Why Oak Trees Decide to Make More Acorns It’s hard to believe how much noise something smaller than a thimble makes when it falls 60 or 70 feet. On warm autumn nights, if the windows are open, we hear acorns ripping through leaves and thudding onto the roof of the toolshed. When there was an aluminum canoe out there, turned upside down, the cascade sounded like a Jamaican steel band. Most of what’s inside an acorn is protein to nourish an infant tree, producing more oaks. But squirrels and other inhabitants of the wood—chipmunks, deer, rodents, even birds—also eat acorns. In the old days, farmers used to drive their pigs into the woods to fatten on heaps of fallen acorns. Oaks produce more nuts than all other trees put together. In a good year, an acre of red oaks can produce 500 pounds of acorns. Not all years are good for oaks, though; scientists think the oaks have abundant acorn years at irregular intervals so that the creatures that eat acorns can’t consume the entire crop in one year. There’s a theory that the oaks “choose” when to produce a supercrop, communicating with each other by emitting chemical signals through their roots. All those thudding, ripping, and clanging sounds that keep us awake are oak trees talking to each other, planning a sophisticated strategy for survival.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for September 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:11:12 -0500

Taking Down the Trees, Taking Back the Milky Way The arborist came today, accompanied by five sturdy young men, an enormous crane, and a chipper. They’ve been charged with taking down four very large trees that were threatening the house. This threat did not occur overnight, of course. The land under and around the house was cleared almost 40 years ago. At the time, none of these very large trees hung over the roof. It was clearing all the trees around them that set off a growth spurt. Under a magnifying glass, the stump of one of the fallen trees, a 60-foot-tall red oak, revealed some 80 growth rings. The first 40 or so were narrow—just a millimeter or two in width. Crowded by other trees, it got little sun. But the lens showed that in ensuing years, after space was cleared for the house, the rings expanded rapidly. Ring number 41 was half a centimeter, and the outermost ring was almost 4 centimeters wide. When that tree was no longer competing with others, it grew much faster. That oak’s seedling set its roots soon after the Great Hurricane of 1938 roared up the Connecticut River Valley, scything down millions of trees. But it left open space for millions more. Now that the big oak is gone, the Milky Way is visible above the house for the first time in decades.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for August 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 16:09:07 -0500

Part Chatauqua, Part Amateur Hour: A Small-Town Church Where the Members Do the Sermon The pastor of our little church takes the month of August off. So does much of his congregation. It’s not a big group to begin with; on an ordinary Sunday in October or May, we’ll have 50 or so present. In mid-August, we seldom see more than 25. So, rather than pay some retired minister to “supply the pulpit,” we supply ourselves. Four lay persons, all volunteers, read Bible verses and say a few words in lieu of a sermon. It’s part Chautauqua and part Amateur Hour. Last August, one of the deacons talked about the Amistad case, in which a group of Africans who had been kidnapped by slavers rose up and took control of the ship. On the second Sunday, a gentleman talked about the Bahá’í faith, which has a landmark in our town. The next week, a woman who had lost two siblings in childhood spoke movingly about the best ways to “be there” for people who have suffered such losses. At month’s end, a choir member revealed funny details of rehearsal shenanigans. Amateur Hour makes us appreciate each other a little more. We share our experiences, our joys and griefs. We discover unexpected depths and eloquence in our midst. We learn that certain people may be paying close attention to what we say and do—and maybe even taking notes.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for July 2017

Wed, 26 Jul 2017 16:56:28 -0400

Will Bananas Help Save the Little Brown Bat? In the July twilight, bats flicker between trees, zigging and zagging in a relentless pursuit of mosquitoes. A single Little Brown Bat can eat 1,000 mosquitoes per hour—the equivalent of an average man eating eight large pizzas in the same period. The Little Browns have had a tough time recently, due to a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, first discovered in New York State in 2006. Bats were dying by the millions in the caves where they hibernate over winter. The diseased bats had a white fungus on their noses. Scientists identified the fungus as Pseudogymnoascus destructans, which also happens to be found on bananas. Fruit growers had learned that it could be controlled with a common bacterium called Rhodococcus rhodochrous. A grad student studying white-nose syndrome at Georgia State University wondered if R. rhodochrous might work on bats as well as bananas. The test results are promising, and in May 2015, 75 previously infected bats were released in the Mark Twain Cave Complex in Hannibal, Missouri. With luck—and a little help from bananas—we may enjoy many more violet twilights watching bats skitter across the sky.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for June 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:36:18 -0500

The Bobcat’s Back, Even on Main Street The animal flashed across the road so suddenly that I had to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting it. In that frozen instant, I identified it as a bobcat with a rabbit hanging from its jaws. It was only the third bobcat I’d seen in 40 years of living in southwestern New Hampshire. It was the first to bolt out of the woods at midday at a busy small town intersection between a Mexican restaurant and a shopping center. In colonial times, bobcats were common here, but their numbers diminished to the verge of extinction. When New Hampshire ended the legal hunt in 1989, experts estimated that only 150 of the reclusive creatures were left in the state. By 2015, aided by the successful reintroduction of wild turkeys, one of the bobcat’s favorite foods, there were 10 times as many. The state decided to consider permitting hunting and trapping again. While hunters applauded, environmentalists and some wildlife scientists howled. It was far too early, they said, to revive the hunt. The debate was overfamiliar. But the sight of that magnificent predator was not. It was an eruption of pure wildness in the most ordinary of settings, as weird and exhilarating as a band of Cheyenne warriors pursuing a buffalo down Main Street.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for May 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:00:47 -0500

The Black Flies Show Up Every May The black flies showed up right on schedule this year—the first week of May. Melting snows provide just the kind of rushing streams they prefer for breeding; in April, after the fourth- and fifth-grade classes had visited the stream nearest our house and collected water samples, they found thousands of black fly larvae wriggling in their microscopes.     Black fly season lasts about 3 weeks here. The most obvious sign is the outlandish way in which people dress to go out to work in their gardens or around the house. Long sleeves and ankle-length pants are a must, and mosquito nets adorn every head. The town looks like it has been invaded by aliens. Tough guys (and girls) rely instead on a variety of noisome unguents and goos rubbed into the skin. They look better but smell worse. We try not to talk about this annual plague. It’s considered citified to complain. What’s more, we’ve just finished whining about the cold and the snow that lingers in the shade. When we first moved to the country from the city, we tolerated the cold by anticipating the pleasures of a rural spring and summer. After a fortnight of the flies, I asked a neighbor how people who’ve always lived here stand it. “It makes us look forward to winter,” he explained.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for April 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:57:52 -0500

Astronomer Charles Messier’s Catalog of Celestial Wonders The Andromeda Galaxy may contain a trillion stars. It’s the most distant object visible to the naked eye—more than two million light-years away. Astronomers know it as M31. The M is for Charles Messier, a French astronomer who died 200 years ago this month. Over his long life and career—he lived to be 86—he discovered 13 comets. King Louis XV nicknamed him “the ferret of comets.” Ironically, Messier is best known for his eponymous Catalog, a list of 110 objects in deep space—some that he discovered, some discovered by others. He didn’t know exactly what they were, but they were not comets and thus “not to be looked for.” He called them “nebulae,” the Greek word for clouds. Indeed, many of them are clouds of gases, some the remnants of supernovae, the colossal explosions of dying stars. M1, the first on the list, is just that—the debris of a supernova that appeared in 1054. The Messier Catalog is a curiosity now, but it raises an interesting question: How many other marvels, then and now, are dismissed as “not to be looked for”? (transcript updated 4/7/17)(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for February 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:50:46 -0500

So Cold You Could Hear Your Breath Freeze The coldest day in the recorded history of North America (outside of Greenland) was 70 years ago this month, when a Canadian weather station at Snag, Yukon Territory, hit –81.4°F. How cold is that? So cold that your spit freezes before it hits the ground. So cold that your nostrils ice up. So cold that you can hear your breath freeze—“a tinkling sound,” according to witnesses. So cold that the four weather observers present could hear laughter and conversations in an aboriginal village 3 miles away. “A spoken word remained in the air as a tiny, motionless mist for 3 to 4 minutes,” one reported. The Greek philosopher Antisthenes spoke of a faraway land where words froze as they were spoken and could not be heard until summer, when they thawed. The deepest cold I’ve ever experienced was on a winter camping trip in the White Mountains. It was 30° below zero. The water in our canteens froze solid, as did a jar of chunky peanut butter. Hiking out, we began showing symptoms of hypothermia—slurred speech, difficulty walking, an almost drunken hilarity. We laughed all the way back to our cars, trailing little clouds behind us. If Antisthenes was right, some June hikers must have been startled when they passed by.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for January 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:45:36 -0500

How a Small Town Helped Bring a Lost Dog Home After a Snowstorm Winter often brings out the best in small towns. Our dog Echo disappeared in the last big snowstorm. We checked with the neighbors, called the police, and walked up and down the road rattling her food dish and shouting her name.     The next morning, friends and neighbors, even some we barely knew, called to find out if she’d come home or if they could help look for her. My wife, May, got to her elementary school and told her students that Echo was missing. They offered to buy her a new dog.     A friend of ours was on the state highway about 5 miles from our house that morning. He was on his way to pick up a friend when he saw a black dog running back and forth across the road, dodging cars and trucks. He didn’t know it was our dog; he just knew that the dog was in trouble. He stopped to try to pick her up, but she wouldn’t come close. He called his friend to say he’d be late. As Echo headed west, toward the center of town, our friend followed, creeping in the breakdown lane. Several more cars fell in behind them. At the Town Hall, Echo stopped and the escorts halted. Our friend, helped by people from the other cars, managed to herd her to the police station just across the street. May got the news when the chief called to say, “I think I’ve got your dog.”(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for March 2017

Fri, 02 Dec 2016 14:55:15 -0500

A Spring Without Woodcocks Dancing While out walking yesterday, the dogs froze and stared into some scrub pines at a round brown bird with a long straight bill walking in the snow. I’d never seen a woodcock walking. Dancing, yes. In mating season, normally mid-March to mid-May, male woodcocks appear at dawn or dusk in scrubby open meadows and announce their presence with a loud, buzzing peent. After four or five such calls, the male launches himself vertically into the sky, climbing as high as 100 yards before spiraling back down to the ground, singing a liquid trill while the wind in its stubby wings twitters eerily. If this display attracts a female, the male dances for her, hopping and bowing and peenting lustily. It’s a comical sight, which may have inspired one of the bird’s nicknames—the timberdoodle. If nature takes its course, the female will nest on the ground and raise four chicks. This is usually an unfailing harbinger of spring. But we’ve had a brutal winter, with record cold and late snowfall. The woodcocks can’t dig earthworms and insects out of the frozen ground with their tubelike bills. They are walking because they’re starving. It’s not exactly a silent spring: I heard the conk-la-ree of red-winged blackbirds this week—but no peenting.  (image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for December 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 12:00:01 -0500

The Star-Nosed Mole: An Animal That Thinks With Its Nose A few weeks before Christmas, I found a dead star-nosed mole near our pond. A little bigger than an ordinary mole, it has an uncanny star-shaped nose. Circling the tip are 22 hairless tentacles that serve as the mole’s primary sensory organ. Like other moles, it has weak eyesight, which is not much use belowground. Its nose, though, is covered with 25,000 sensory receptors called Eimer’s organs, which make it six times more sensitive than the human hand. Underground, the tentacles whirl around, touching objects near the mole with astounding swiftness: 12 objects per second. In a quarter of a second, the mole can identify an object, decide if it’s prey (worms, mostly), and eat it. Half the mole’s brain is devoted to processing this information; it literally thinks with its nose. This mole also hunts underwater by smell. Its stellar nostrils emit tiny bubbles—5 to 10 per second—that pick up scent molecules. These the mole inhales. Not until this was discovered did scientists believe that mammals could smell underwater. I walked home that day contemplating the magnificent weirdness of nature and the Magi, those ancient astronomers who also found their way through the darkness by following a star.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for November 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:59:16 -0500

The town moderator is responsible for running the elections. It’s not a big chore. The town clerk, the supervisors of the checklist, and the ballot clerks do all the work; the moderator is a figurehead. In this town, I’ve been the figurehead for 12 years. The moderator opens the polls at 8:00 a.m., stands at the checkout table, takes everyone’s ballots from their hands (as state law requires), and puts them in the box. The ballots are made of paper, and it’s a wooden box, made in 1883, the same year that our Victorian town hall was built. The voters mark their ballots with pencils in little booths with red-white-and-blue curtains. The polls close at 7:00 p.m. and we start counting the votes by hand. The only sounds are the shuffle of the ballots, the scratching of pencils, and the murmur of the clerks. We’re usually finished by 10:00, although in a presidential election, we’ve stayed as late as 1:00 in the morning. After announcing the results, I thank the workers for participating in this civic sacrament. That’s when I get choked up; the weight of what we’ve been doing hits me hard. This is democracy—marking pieces of paper, putting them in a wooden box, and then counting them one by one.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for October 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:58:28 -0500

One foggy morning, I took Wiggles and Echo out for our usual morning constitutional and, in the grass, I noticed dozens of handkerchief-size webs, as if the fog had landed on the ground and stuck there. Later, I learned that the scraps of fog were the webs of funnel spiders. They got their name because they lurk in a funnel-shape hole in one corner of the web and dash out when they feel the vibrations of an insect walking across it. Any funnel-shape holes in the webs escaped my eye, because our rambunctious dogs distracted me, keeping me from paying closer attention to the natural world. However, without the dogs, I wouldn’t even be outdoors to observe the natural world. While I pondered this conundrum, the dogs studied the webs closely. Then Wiggy ate one. I pulled the dogs away and we headed up the road, enjoying the fall colors that look much brighter against the fog. By the time we got back from our walk, the fog had lifted. This made the webs invisible—less appealing for me, but more effective for the spiders. A serious naturalist would have sat down next to the webs and watched them carefully, through a magnifying glass, taking notes. But then again, a serious naturalist wouldn’t have brought along the dogs.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for September 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:57:29 -0500

When May and I bought our piece of second-growth forest in 1978, we carved out a clearing for our house, a driveway and parking space, and a leach field. Now the forest is creeping back. The last time the woods closed in, about 15 years ago, we had a notion of clearing a view of the Wapack Range, 10 miles away, and opening a slot that would allow a lance of sunrise to strike our bedroom window on the spring and fall equinoxes. It would be our private Stonehenge. Then we realized that such a slot would have to be about a quarter-mile long and require constant trimming to be kept open. That sounded like too much work for the sake of feeling like a Druid two mornings a year. So we settled for pushing back the woods to let in more morning light. Now it’s time to do it again. But when? Weekends are already too hectic. My wife, who teaches, is in school for 10 to 14 hours every weekday, and I’ve promised not to use the chainsaw solo. Instead, I used our big clippers to take down the smallest saplings at ground level and lop off the tops of bigger ones. What’s left is a strange spectacle: dozens of 4-foot-high sticks with no branches. It looks more like a modern art installation than Stonehenge. All it needs is a catalog.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for August 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:56:28 -0500

The fungus appeared suddenly in early August: shelflike fruiting structures on an enormous dead ash tree that marked the boundary between our property and that of our neighbor to the south. They seemed to appear overnight. One morning I looked out my kitchen window, and there they were. So I made a cup of coffee and walked into the woods to investigate. The color of the fungus was extraordinary: It glowed like hot coals. At first glance, it looked artificial, like a pile of discarded orange traffic cones. But how would they have gotten into our woods? The bizarre organisms clustered thickly around the base of the tree and climbed its trunk, sprouting in the crotches of limbs 20 feet high. They looked like invaders from outer space in a 1950s horror film. A little research revealed them to be Laetiporus sulphureus. It forms in late summer and weakens the tree so much that experts recommend taking it down immediately before it endangers people or structures. Indeed, broken limbs surrounded the trunk. We won’t miss the tree, and it’s too far from our house to be a threat. What seemed most strange was how fast it all happened. This was not the decline and fall of the Roman Empire; it was breaking news.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for July 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:55:34 -0500

I can remember how much fun we had as children making up games once school was out. When adult intervention came along, in the form of Little League, I tried out and it was a complete disaster. It nearly destroyed my love of baseball. I was cut the first day. These days, nobody ever gets cut. I’m not sure which is worse. Before Little League, we played a wonderfully democratic form of baseball we called work-up. There were only four players at bat, and everyone else played in the field. Whenever one of the batters made an out, he or she went out to play right field, and everyone else worked up (hence the name) one position: The right fielder moved to center, center fielder to left, left fielder to third base, third to shortstop, shortstop to second base, second to first base, first to pitcher, pitcher to catcher, and the catcher became a batter. Work-up embodied economy, good sense, and fairness. You didn’t need 18 players, and everyone got to play every position. Everyone batted at least once and, once you joined the batters, you never had long to wait before it was your turn to hit. There were no innings, and nobody kept score, because there were no teams. Everyone was just playing together. I wonder if anyone still plays work-up.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for June 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:54:47 -0500

All month, a bird in our woods has been driving me crazy. I call it the heeby-jeeby bird, because that’s what its call sounds like to me: “heeby-jeeby, heeby-jeeby,” or sometimes “heeby-jeeby-jeeby.” I haven’t seen it, so I can’t look it up in bird books. Googling “bird that says ‘heeby-jeeby’” wasn’t helpful. We had to drive to Connecticut for a commencement, so we decided to try listening to a CD of bird calls—perhaps we would hear it there. We hadn’t counted on the dogs, who lounged in the back cargo area. When they heard the recorded Canada geese, they stiffened. They know all about Canada geese, having chased and been chased by them. They started to thrash around, checking all the windows. Where were those geese? The recording moved on to the Wood Duck, the Gambel’s Quail, the Greater Yellowlegs, none of which are familiar sounds around our house. False alarm: The dogs relaxed. Then the Barred Owl started hooting: red alert! Wiggles spun in mad circles, scanning 360 degrees. Echo barked, she bayed, she squealed in excitement; she did her level best to hoot back. Fearing that some dog would crash through a window, we finally had to turn off the CD player. We never did hear the heeby-jeeby bird.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for May 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:54:00 -0500

Spring has been late this year. We had January, February, March, more March, and then a weird hybrid I’m calling Maypril. When we got up the morning of the Memorial Day parade, the temperature was 37 degrees and it was raining. We dressed warmly and drove up to the center of town for the procession, one of my favorite events of the year. The police closed Main Street, a tricky business, as it is the main east-west highway in southern New Hampshire, and the whole town marched up to the cemetery, following the veterans, the middle school band, and a gaggle of Cub Scouts, Brownies, and Little Leaguers. The cemetery looks west across our lake, which was flecked with whitecaps in a stiff breeze. As we assembled among the stones, some going back to Revolutionary times, the drivers waiting for us were released, and they roared by. Between the traffic and the wind, hardly a word of the minister’s patriotic speech was audible. Then the police closed the road again, and we retreated into town for the national anthem and the raising of the flag back to full-staff. All in all, it was a miserable way to spend a morning, but compared to what many of the men with flags on their graves suffered, we could hardly complain.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for April 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:53:14 -0500

It rained last night, and this morning our road was covered with efts (pronounced “eefts” around here). They’re juvenile spotted newts, about an inch long, who were born in fresh water, probably the pond across the road, and emerged a month or so later to spend the next 3 or 4 years on land before returning to their wet world. You can’t miss them. They’re bright orange-red. Old-timers might call them cunning, which used to mean “cute” or “beguiling.” My mother-in-law, a pediatrician, used the word when she held newborn babies: “Isn’t she cunning!” When I hold an eft in the palm of my hand, I stare at its tiny toes with the same astonishment and delight. Efts need moisture to survive; during a dry spell, they crawl under the leaf mold. If they’re not quick, we find them on the road. They’re no longer cunning as little hardened orange-red commas. Although their bright color warns some predators that they are toxic, most efts don’t survive on land. They’re eaten by birds and lizards or crushed by cars. Those who make it back to the pond turn olive-green and spend the rest of their lives in water. Efts, according to biologists, are economically valuable because they eat mosquito larvae. We should give them credit for being cunning, too.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for March 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:52:22 -0500

For many years, we’ve had a phoebe nest atop our front porch light fixture. Phoebes are small gray birds with the habit of flicking their tails up and down while perching on a branch or wire. Their call is a harsh, indignant “fee-BEE!” I don’t know why Mama phoebe chose such a public place to raise her young. Every time the door opened, she had to flee to the oak tree across the driveway. No wonder she sounded vexed. In past years, she used the old nest, but this year it has remained unoccupied. She is trying to build a new one above the front door, on a half-inch-wide piece of molding. It’s too narrow. Despite her best efforts, every morning little bits of moss appear on the porch right under the door. There are two mysteries here. One is why the phoebe doesn’t just reoccupy the old nest. My wife thinks that it’s because the last brood Mama raised there all died. Perhaps there’s some subtle residue of disaster in it, too faint for human senses, that keeps the phoebes away. The other mystery is why she persists in trying to do the impossible. She has numerous other places to build a nest. Maybe for phoebes, like people, the tug of home is too strong to resist, even when we should.  (image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for February 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:51:32 -0500

Every once in a while, we enjoy an influx of exotic birds, brought here on strong winds or by a shortage of food in their home territories. Ornithologists call it an “irruption.” There was a tragic example in late May of 1974 when strong southwesterly winds blew scarlet tanagers all the way north to New Hampshire, where there were no insects for them to eat. I will never forget their flame-red bodies littering a green field.      Over the last two winters, we have been blessed with an abundance of snowy owls coming south in search of prey. In this case, it was not winds but an abundance of lemmings, the owl’s favorite snack, that expanded their territory and led to our shock when one of the white phantoms flew through the beam of our headlights.      This being a presidential election year, we can expect a political irruption as candidates from all corners of the nation flock to New Hampshire for the first primary of the season. We can look forward to shaking hands with shivering would-be Chief Executives at diners and factory gates and answering questions from the national reporters who follow. One of those reporters, perhaps disoriented by the cold, once asked me how I liked living in Vermont.      “This is New Hampshire,” I said. He wrote it down.(image)

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Farmer’s Calendar for January 2016

Thu, 10 Dec 2015 11:49:27 -0500

We had a big snowstorm recently—a real lollapalooza, about 28 inches. Strong winds accompanied it, so when I went out to shovel afterward, some of the drifts were more than 3 feet deep.      However, the same wind, forced through a narrow opening between the house and the woodpile, had scoured out valleys and arroyos where the ground was almost bare. It occurred to me that while a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, in these circumstances, it might not be the best route.      So I tried contour shoveling, clearing a way to the composter, the propane tank, and the woodpile by taking the path of least resistance; shoveling 20 linear feet of 2-inch-deep snow is easier than lifting 10 linear feet of snow that’s 40 inches deep.      Yes, it took longer, but in the end, my back was less sore than it would have been after bulldozing straight through the drifts. It also helped me to see the snowscape better: its voluptuous curves, how it glittered in direct sunlight, its ultramarine gloom in the shadows.      The result was a meandering trail that looped around the highest ridges and mesas, then doubled back toward the target, shoveling in cursive, not block letters. It was what a mathematician might call an elegant solution.(image)

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