Date: 10/26/20 7:30 am From: Ted Levin <tedlevin1966...> Subject: [VTBIRD] October 26, 2020: Coyote Hollow, Thetford Center
6:53 a.m. 37 degrees, wind SSE 2 mph. Sky: off-and-on drizzle; cloud mass,
horizon to horizon, drifts northwest, at odds with the wind. Permanent
streams: congestions of rain-matted leaves, mostly oak and aspen, an
obstacle course for current. Intermittent streams: leaf clogged leakage.
Wetlands: sober shades of brown; deer paths through cattails obvious now
that alders leaves came down. Pond: on the far end, blended into the brown
shoreline, three hooded mergansers diving; one rises with a crayfish;
unlike the past three days, ducks don't panic and flush . . . too busy
feeding. (An aspect of natural history I directly grasp). Farther up the
road, between my driveway and the north end of the marsh, a major drop of
aspen and oak leaves, a carpet of burnt butter and dried blood, the color
as ephemeral as the weather.
The last communique of the night: a barred owl, at the break of dawn,
barks; a single disarticulated hoot.
The first communique of the day: a blue jay, also at the break of dawn,
mimics a red-shouldered hawk (long gone), the owl's chief competitor for
mice and frogs. Jay needs to expand his repertoire to a seasonally more
Raven bellows from nearby pine, an overflow of sound like a car without a
muffler. Dogs look up. Robins flush from limbs, again and again, always
landing in front of me. Last weekend, on a hill to the south, bluebirds on
an electric line preceded me along a road, flushing over and over. When I'm
kayaking (or canoeing), kingfishers do the same, move in front of me,
downriver limb by limb, repeatedly flushing—all graduates of the School of
Growing up in the fifties and sixties, three books changed my life,
confirming that I had a path to follow. Roger Tory Peterson and James
Fisher's *Wild America *(1955) and Carl Kauffeld's *Snakes and Snake
Hunting* (1957) were eye-popping narratives for a boy naturalist. Reading
them, I implicitly understood that Major League baseball players were *not* the
only men who made a living doing boy things. Peterson and Fisher birded and
Kauffeld caught snakes across the face of the continent . . . and
ebulliently described how much fun they had.
The third book, Donald Culross Peattie's *A Natural History of Trees of
Eastern and Central North America* (1948), an American classic, a doorstop
of a book. In contagious prose, Peattie imbued trees with personality,
weaving the fabric of our own history into each account. About the bur oak,
a rare resident of the Champlain lowlands (though fairly common in the
Midwest), he said this *A grand bur oak suggests a house in itself . . . No
child who ever played beneath a bur oak will forget it*. Makes me want to
rush to Addison County to find one to play under.
*When the male flowers bloomed in the illimitable pineries, *he wrote about
the white pine; thousands* of miles of forest aisle were swept with golden
smoke of this reckless fertility*. Something to think about next June when
I hose pollen off my car.
Peattie saved some of his most eloquent writing for a short two-page essay
on balsam fir, which passing kinglets seem to favor. *No harm, but only
good, can follow from the proper cutting of young Christmas trees. And the
destiny of Balsam, loveliest of them all, would otherwise too often be
excelsior, or boards for packing cases, or newsprint bringing horror on its
face into your home. Far better that the little tree should arrive, like a
shining child at your door, breathing of all out of doors and cupping
healthy North Woods cold between its boughs,* *to bring delight to human
If Peattie was alive today, in 2020, the year of sludge—on newsprint,
computer screen, television, the receiving end of disembodied phone
calls—he would certainly urge us to go outdoors. His writing so moves me, I
want to cut my own Christmas tree . . . even if I am a Jew.