Nature Scrapbook

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Leave nature alone, it will balance things. Don’t leave nature alone, it will still balance things.

2012 11 01 I want to digest, and share the process, something I just saw: a vulture, a turkey vulture, riding the afteroon thermals, looking for carrion, of course, sail from clear sky into light white cloud, into dark cloud, and disappear: from my view.

Was the vulture asleep? Not paying attention? Nodding at the wheel? Or could “he” see just fine: like an old English sheep dog: like I can see out of my dark trailer: that you can’t see into: not clearly, not details.
I watched the bird enter the layers of thicker and darker cloud. It seemed to me that a flap or two of wing would have steered him to stay in the open sky.
But maybe he knows from long experience, millions of years of his species’ experience, that the energy efficient thing is just to be patient: ride the thermal, and be patient.

I do know that turkey vultures have very good eye sight, and pretty good smell. Maybe nothing promising had been teasing his nose either: might as well just hang, and be patient, smell-less and blind, patient.

2015 04 17 I was just reading about squirrels, I was just remembering catching and killing a squirrel from the attic at my mother’s bidding when I was a boy. I’ll never forget the squirrel’s terror, and fury as I drowned it: placing the trap in the tub and filling the tub. Aiy, never again. Anyway a memory from the mid-1980s just came into the sensorium: I didn’t just remember my ankle getting licked; I felt it! I was sitting at the Florida state park picnic table, Gulf side of things, maybe Naples. Something tickled me. I rubbed the tickle with my other foot, recalling that there was a weed, a grass in seed, growing there. But as the tickle persisted it occurred to me: there’s no breeze; it can’t be the grass! and I looked under the table. An armadillo was licking me with an obscenely long tongue! The armadillo realized he was being looked at. She jumped! Hit her head on the bottom of the seat-board!

And that reminds me of the time, also on Florida south-west coast, I threw a stone at a raccoon: the ‘coon jumped! hit his head! on the bottom of the seat board!

(Maybe I should explain: the raccoons are not tame, they are not domesticated, they’ll rob you, eat you alive if given a chance. Maybe they understand compassion and love, but among raccoons; not with humans. So: a taking a camp site in a FL park, where all the animals are spoiled rotten, dangerous, thanx to moron untrainable humans, I invest a few minutes in establishing my relation with them: I am their competitor; I am not their feeder. An hour before dusk I set myself up with a pile of good throwing stones. Ah, here they come: a ‘coon sniffs my border: approaches. Whizz: my stone brushes his ear.
He backs up, turns, decides to try again. Whizz!

I don’t have to throw many stones before the raccoons decide to leave me alone. Then I rarely have to throw another stone while I’m camped on that site.
I did lose a good fish I just caught and cleaned once on the Loxahatchee, Atlantic coast. My fault, careless.

That time I hit the ‘coon? he jumped? that was a miss. I was aiming to just miss him, not hit him. They don’t know my accuracy.

Btw I said “she” for the armadillo: I now understand that armadillos are all female: all clones of Eve-armadillo.

Armadillos are totally different from ‘coons. The coons raid in groups; the armadillos are individuals. They’re all twins, in the nest they do nothing but suck pussy; in a daisy chain that includes every member of the immediate family, but out hunting, they’re alone: stupid, and nearly blind.

2015 04 13 I’ve had three close encounters with owls:
1) The best: [when I wrote the following I’d forgotten that I’d already told the story, the earlier version a victim of fed censorship 2007. I’ll resurrect that version below, merge at some future convenience.] (2017 03 31 Add a new one: yesterday I was riding the VA van to the VA’s facility in Bay Pines, Guy driving, we were in Avon Park heading west, still pre-dawn dark, when wham! a bird crashed against the windshield, high up, drivers side: Whummmp! flying in the dark? maybe about to pounce on a bat? a big owl. My guess from a fleeting moment of shape is that it was a great horned o. not a barred owl. not a screech owl.)

I was camped in the Catskills, writing my first novel. The land belonged to my wife’s mother, Lexington township. The site had glacier worn rocks which I used as my seat, my table, my larder, the base of my fire. Adjacent to the rocks was a lovely mountain meadow, soft vegetation underfoot. No electricity, water carried up by hoof, I was writing by hand, pages on a clipboard. On the day in question I was writing my my hammock, lying on my back, holding the clipboard before my nose, the hammock slung between two trees at the forest edge. Beautiful morning, I heard a ruckus at the base of the meadow. A grass bed moved: waved, billowed. Black birds were darting in and out of the grass, cawing, screaming. Slowly, majestically a gigantic bird established its wingspan, then I saw its eyes, brown and gold, chilling. A great owl: a barred owl once I looked it up in the Petersons Guide. The black birds were attacking the owl, the owl was leaving but at its own convenience.
Understand: this was at the base of the mountain meadow: downhill. The meadow stretched uphill: a mountain side. To get airborne the owl had to gain elevation faster than the mountain grade took it away. I saw the owl look right at me but understood it was looking for a whole in the forest edge: anything to lengthen is take-off runway. The owl was flying straight at me but I don’t think it saw me: not until we were face to face, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball, but crossed: me horizontal, him vertical.
That moment of eye to eye contact was indelible. I looked into that animal’s soul, only it had no soul: it was a death machine.

The owl stayed the course over my face, it had to, it was still trying to take off. The black birds could jump and flap to elevation, the owl took off like a jumbo jet. The owls had dispersed having driven the owl off, lord only knows how many black bird babies or black bird eggs the owl had taken before the tribe mounted its assault on him. But I head the black birds reassembling, and re-attacking the old until it was far off into another mountain neighborhood.
I heard my neighbor the owl many a time after that: To who, to whoot;
To whoot, to who.

And on many an occasion that summer, 1983, I heard a mate return the call. To who, to whoot, uphill of me: and the answer, To whoot, to who from further north: a duet.

See below for original telling.

Mouse Mummies

2) I was a kid, ten or eleven maybe, maybe 1948 or so, for my first owl encounter. We’d had a series of hurricanes, lost more than half of the great trees that had been in our yard when we moved in in 1941. One morning something was odd about the stump in the north-west corner: it was twice its normal height. Mom got her opera glasses, said it’s an animal, stay away from it: it’s a bird, call Mr. Burke.

Mr. Burke, next door, came with his bird guide and a pair of binoculars. After much study he opined that it was a great horned owl, sitting, immobile.
Finally it went away, I went out to investigate. There by the stump were a row of regurgitated mouse corpses: fur, bones, teeth in a neat little rodent-gorp owl-turd. Neat little mouse mummies.

3) Back in 1990 I was giving the tram tours in Highlands Hammock State Park. After work I’d ride my Suzuke back to the dam at Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek. I’d fish till dark, then mount up and ride the horse trail back to the “shop”, the rangers complex of buildings and shacks where tools were kept, personal lockers, park vehicles parked … The air over the horse trail would be filled with screech owls dancing in the air in front of my helmet shield. I assume they were indignant: this was their turf at night, in the dark.

4) Just today I went looking for such mouse mummies in Jan’s yard, at her lake edge. She told me that a great owl had stood itself a the south edge of my burn pile. She looked at it. It stood its ground, defiant. But I saw no mouse mummies.

2014 09 23 I got cabin fever this afternoon, had to go to Jan’s lake, do some lake gardening. The first rain drops were falling as I put on my water shoes, no matter: I’m going to be in water up to my neck, what does it matter how wet I get? I invade the vegetation, thickets of primrosewillow, dense mats of lake grass. I yank, clip, break the vegetation, uproot things: throw the trash on top of other vegetation, make a mound, a mountain, a floating island. Then, a week, a month later I drag the debris into a cove where it should rot in quiet: get out of sight. Upside down, in shade, it all rots, reduces, becomes muck. The goal is a wide-scope waterscape: lily pads abundant in open water: the dense grass mats have to go. It rained steadily, so what. I ignored the rain, the rain ignored me, wonderful, I had such a great time, the lake scape gets ever wider, clearer, more satisfying. Till after a while, a few hours, it was getting too much. The rain was beautiful, but it wasn’t quite my beautiful Florida silver rain, drops the size of nickels, brilliant sunlight shining through; no, it was a day-dimming rain, gray, impenetrable. I thought, Oh, it’s going to rain solid for hours yet, I’ll go back home and work/play at the Mac. As I walked to the car the rain drops were the size of quarters, bouncing hard, starting to hurt. Silver gray was going to turn black gray. Jan’s dark-activated floodlights were coming on at the compass corners of the house. I stowed the tools, locked the shed. I didn’t change out of my soaking things.I spread the towel over the drivers seat, checked that I had my teeth, my hearing aids, my glasses, I can’t go primitive the way I used to, not that many years ago. Still it’s my self, not a bionic self, I put into the seat, started the engine, blasted the defroster, turned the car to exit. Uh oh: I should have sat under the jasmine trellis, on the back patio till it let up, even if I sat through the night and for three more days: I couldn’t see the gate, I was guessing where the road was. If I have an accident, if I get stopped, they’ll put me in jail for ever: I’ll throw my anarchist weight around, which is to say no weight at all, and make them want to hurt me the more. Everything told me, go back, just park in Jan’s driveway, go sit under the jasmine: you won’t get home this way, but I slogged forward. 4 PM. I couldn’t believe how much traffic there was, on rural Sparta Road, on all the back roads home: I shunned the highway. The cars were all creeping, 15, 25 mph, and that was dangerously fast: blind.
Several times this wet summer, a trendsetter in thunder and lightning (but just plain rain today), I’ve driven in conditions that I declared the worst ever. This equalled or beat it all. I started aquaplanning a couple of times. A couple of times the car smacked into road puddles like a lake. Soon the road would be actually flooded.
Somehow I arrived at my own car port. Water was up to my ankles as I climbed soaking from the poor long-suffering Dodge Neon. Poof 1995 wretch, good car, nice car. No odometer, no speedometer, but it got me home.

Earth, Air, Fire …

I’ve told about finding wildcat nests floating on the lake amid the weeds, one hundred yards from “shore”: with Florida’s rainy season it isn’t always clear where “shore” is! The bobcat nest I didn’t see, but heard it: heard the kittens mewling. I didn’t want to see it, I already seen bobcats in action about their basic instincts: food, kits … The other day rotting vegetation warming the water reminded me of how alligator nests get “incubated — I’ll move those notes, scribbled in my fishing monthly here: today I want to report further adventures amid that floating decay, and tie in surprise encounters with other nests in earth, air, and sea.

Water Ants

Yesterday I was again in Lake Charlotte up to my neck expanding Jan’s lake view northward (nd sourthward, widening it: from roughly 110 feet five years ago when I met her I’ve tripled, almost quadrupled her western exposure. I chop up the primrose willow — easier said than done: they have amazing colonizing root systems, as do too some of the lake grasses — and throw the grasses into piles: the piles float, I drag them: ever opening the view. Two major water lilly fields have now joined the view.

So last week I was reminded of ‘gator nests by the decay’s warmth, yesterday I was yanking at the grass and my wrists were suddenly ablaze with pain. I was interfering with a fire ant nest! way out in the water. Fire ants hate water, they don’t swim; but here they were expanding their nest sites from all-of-the-land to weed-bridges into the water.

Aero Ants

Oh, a year ago, more or less, I was opening the view by pulling festoons of spanish moss from the slash pine, oak, and bay tangle just south of Jan’s dock. I wasn’t dressed for yard work, I wasn’t wearing my armor-grade work gloves, I just can’t help it: there was a pullable festoon, I reached and was pulling, when my wrists erupted in pain. The first ants were nesting up in the spanish moss: seven feet off the ground! Jesus, there’s no stopping them. They’re just like us!

Fire ants
thanx vinsonlab

Alligator Incubator

I’ve been gardening Jan’s shoreline, for five years now. Progress has always shown, now it’s really showing: her property has c. 105 feet of lake front, now it looks like there’s three times that.

Standing in decaying muck yesterday, moving the weed-line northward, giving the spatterdock lily pads room to breath, I felt warmth envelop my crotch. I wade a lot, I’m familiar with thermal variation: cold water current over my ankles, ah, I’m treading by an underwater stream … hot pockets … In summer the water can get plenty hot in Florida, but not this hot. Cold sources are common but not hot: on the earth, yes, thermal vents, under ocean volcanic eruptions … but not in Lake Charlotte. But I wasn’t bewildered for long: it’s hot water that I made myself! By my months and months of weeding that area of border where Jan’s northern proterty line extends into the water, mated to her northern neighbor’s border. I clear Jan’s lake weeds; the neibhbor does not: and his weeds colonize our clear wwater. So, I wade in, uproot the primrose willow, uproot the lake grasses, and throw the debris a yard of two northward. The vegetation dies, decays, begings to disintegrate. It’s the process that mother alligators use to incubate their nests. ‘Gators are reptiles, cold blooded; but decay gives off heat. Right now it’s simmering my genitals!

I never run into alligators when doing this work, not when I’m wade fishing either. They hear / feel my coming and turn tail before I get within ten yards of them: I see their tails turn and kick as I approach. Thank goodness the bass don’t always flee from the same signals. Of course in their case I’m not just wading but casting. The ‘gator flees at ten yards, but I’m casting to twenty yards: the bass feels / hears something but may not flee quite yet. Oh, the bass will flee: right after she teaches this plastic “worm” a lesson: stomp! Chomp! Hooked!

Barred Owl, earlier K. telling: 2006 05 28, resurrecting 2016 03 02

Kim Steininger and her camera, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, met a great gray owl face to face. Neat. Won the National Wildlife’s 35th annual photography competition, Grand Prize. I’ve met a barred owl — face to face: and screech owls too: as I shall tell here:

1. Late Spring of 1983 I was writing By the Hair of the Comet, longhand, lying on my back in a backpacker’s hammock strung between two scrawny maple trees at the up slope verge of a mountain meadow in the Catskills: Lexington NY. Other than my right writing hand, and my eyes, not much of me had moved, in hours. Not many modern men, I don’t imagine, have blended into their environment, but when writing longhand on the mountain, stark-naked most hours of the day (and night), I did. Deer walked across my ankles before realizing their mistake, tom turkeys the size of a stove would display, before realizing that they had a human audience: and evaporating.
I heard a commotion at the down slope base of the meadow: and what a beautiful meadow: glacier-smoothed rocks, for my dining table, kitchen, lounging area … my cook-fire just to the side, soft grass, clover, thyme … under my bare feet … I needed no boots so long as I confined myself to the meadow. But now what was this ruckus?
My eyes moved toward the sound. There was a shrub, bordered, half-covered, with living grass woven with dead. The grass rose, like bread rising. Now I could see bits of details: black things, in a frenzy, bits of beak, black wings aboil.
But the whole grass hump was rising, growing wider as it rose. The grass hump separated from the ground, undulating, slowly, gracefully starting uphill.
The grass fell away, delineating an owl of unspeakable wingspan, rising, gaining an inch over the meadow, then another. The black birds were a storm about the owl, but worrying the owl in vain. The owl seemed to pay no more attention to the black birds than does a great ocean ship deign to notice the tug boats in harbor. The black birds were chasing the owl, but from my perspective it was at the owl’s own convenience. I think the black birds knew better than to get too close.
I don’t doubt that if the owl could have chosen his flight strip he would have preferred to be taking off down slope; but up slope was still working. The owl gained another inch of air space beneath it, then another.
I had chosen my trees for slinging the hammock because they formed the only man-length break in the tree line. The owl must have seen the same break, because without seeming to be steering at all he was heading right for my gap.
Inches had become a foot, then another. My hammock was slung at top-of-the-leg height between the trees. There was another leg-worth of distance between my face and the leafing branches above: and that’s the space this owl was headed for. The owl’s silent, rising flight brought it directly over my astonished face.
Now I was reclined athwart the tree line. The owl was penetrating the tree line at the perpendicular, flying INto the forest. But I rotated my neck, automatically, I certainly wasn’t thinking, till my face was inline with his.
Majestically the owl had gained inches of the vertical. It hardly seemed to be going any faster forward. His flight is forever molasses in my memory. The climax smeared frozen over a jillion nanoseconds. We were face to face, eye to eye. My eyes are blue. So I’ve been told, again and again, by blue-struck females. The owl’s eyes were brown-black gold. HUGE.
Human communication is a figment of the human imagination, human imagination far outstripping human communication, human honesty, or intelligence, seldom in view. All my modules, all my stories, all my theses … have they ever reached ANYone? Have they ever done anyone a bit of good? Forget the harm they’ve done to me; have they ever done anyone a bit of good?
Never mind. That’s trivial, of no importance: compared to this:

I know I communicated with that owl!

The owl’s extended wings barely seemed to fit between my two maple trees. How did he penetrate the dense wood ahead? I don’t know; but penetrate it he did.
It was soon after Memorial Day, nearly exactly twenty-three years ago, this being Memorial Day weekend that I’m coding the module. Rain had been relentless. The mountain was running with water. After my first water-logged night I’d moving my alpine tent from my soft meadow to the hard incline of shale with better drainage, higher up, by the stone wall. I’d sat up in the hammock to watch the owl navigate the impossible tangle of forest. It recalled to me the summer of 1967 when Hilary and I, driving around Banff, Alberta, followed an elk on his walk through thick Canadian woods. His rack of antlers seemed bigger than the Saab station wagon. The trees were growing bole to bole. Other tourists, spilled from their cars, were practically running to get a glimpse. This elk, with his face turned toward the attention, with hardly a ripple of muscle, with no evident attention for the obstacles, nevertheless glided smoothly away from our view. How’d he do that?

Meanwhile, my owl, having magically penetrated the impenetrable, decided to survey the fallout from his raid on the blackbird nest from the top spine of my alpine tent. Whoops. Manufactured materials were not a domain he was master of. Failing to grip the top, he slid the length from the tent’s hind apex to its forward apex, and down, unceremoniously to the ground.
Still I was astonished at the grace of the slide.
Now on his feet, wings regaining balance, majesty, he leapt back into the air. The black birds resumed their chase; but the further they were from the origin of the battle, what I presume was a nest under the weave of dead and living grass at the foot of the meadow, the further from the owl’s proper body the black birds stood their protest. At the beginning they swarmed inches from the owl; now they cawed and protested and threatened from ever safer distances. Thus I marvel more at the sportsmanship of the owl, an egg, more likely a fledgling, in its belly, who continued to cooperate in being chased. The owl retreated to the other side of the stone wall, off my mother-in-law’s property [note], off my bailiwick. Half an hour later there was a bit more squabbling well further east: hundreds of yards: a huge distance in the woods.
In 1983 I didn’t know one bird from another. I could tell that this god of a bird was an owl. On my first trip to town after setting camp, thrilled by this experience, I visited the local library and borrowed a bird guide. No mistake: it was a barred owl. I see and hear them all the time now here in Sebring. The guide further taught me that it had been a barred owl, probably that same one, I’d been hearing in the evening: and would continue to hear throughout the summer: till Labor Day — and a chilled, then crippled, lower back — drove me back down, dressed in clothing once again, toward the cities of men.

Hoo hoo hoo hut … Hoo hut, hoo hoo

My guy, or gal, whichever its gender, had a companion: a mate. I’m not sure: I think sometimes one gave that call, the other answered. But sometimes I think they shared the call: one would start it, the other would finish. Ask a bird expert. I’m a lover, not a zoologist.
One thing I can’t explain: My Peterson’s Guide says that the barred owl ranges from 17″ to 24″ in height. I can’t say how long my owl was; but his wingspan was staggering! Or was I just staggered by his unexpected proximity to my face? Regardless, this was a big owl.
I dream that if he could have hovered like a humming bird, we’d still be there, eyeball to eyeball: forever under the leaves.

Please don’t overlook this significance: my Comet novel was about communication! Specifically my point was that human communication was evolving, not yet fully arrived. Sometimes we receive messages, sometimes we know that we receive the message; but when we don’t receive the message we seldom know that we missed … anything.


3. 1989, 1990

After giving the tram tours at Highlands Hammock State Park I would typically ride the Honda along the dam road, fishing rod stuck in my belt, out to the dam at Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek. There I would enjoy the black water, the cypress swamp, whatever views of alligators, wading birds, otters … the occasion afforded, now and then getting glimpses of feral pigs and ever so possibly a flash of a big cat or a bear. When hunger called, or the mosquitos overwhelmed me, I could easily have angled the Honda over to the country road and enjoyed a full road-width of shell fossil paving, plenty of room to move over for oncoming or overtaking traffic, but no: I’d stick to the dam road, just sort of a dyke ridging above muck. Why?
Because a screech owl or two would invariably fly right up to the face shield of my helmet, me therefore with no need to blink. They’d see my headlight, come to investigate, see me, get face to face: for a tenth of a second.
Now a screech owl is no great gray owl; but they are SO cute. And they’ve got those owl eyes. Black-brown gold.


Mother-in-law’s Property:
Once Hilary had destroyed whatever little remained of our disastrous marriage by snatching Brian, aged five, no discussion, they were walled at her mother’s house, and I was, with her mother — Etta — more I think than with her, persona non grata. When I wanted to write out of doors, her Lexington property struck me as ideal for me; but of course I couldn’t ask her permission to use it, I would have been told I presume to drop dead.

Ah, but bk had told me that the Lexington land was to be willed to him! Therefore I figured Brian had a sort of a claim to its use, therefore I asked Brian’s permission. No legal status, but it was good enough for me in my desperation.

It’s too bad really that there was no communication with Etta, that the permission wasn’t above-board official. She had some neighbors there who could have used a good bullet between the eyes or at least a clout over the head with a brickbat: and I would have been happy to supply it had I then also been willing to explain my actions to the police.

When you’re deep cover, you have to passively put up with anything. Jesus overturned the money changers’ tables at the Temple before his crucifixion; we hear of no similar shenanigans after the resurrection, when he hung invisibly with just a few select friends.

Stories Hierarchy vs. Conviviality Stories

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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