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Friday, November 26, 2010

The Sportin’Life in the Valley…

Pilchuck snows

When you pass the Fish and Game Department parking lot on the lower loop road these days, weekends especially, you’re most likely to see a number of large pick-up trucks hunkered down there. In the beds of most are dog carriers. Two in some. The carriers are empty, the trucks driverless. It’s hunting season, of course, and the dogs are in the cornfields under the command of armed men wearing orange vests. An occasional shotgun blast signals sportin’ men afield, pheasant hunters and their canine helpmates. You find ‘em and I’ll shoot ‘em.

For years now any public display of my Second Amendment rights has been strictly limited to self-defense against my arch enemy, a villain that has gone (or more to the point, lives) underground. Moles. Yes, there’s been an ongoing war on our property here in the Valley: those verminous little earthmovers vs. ME. Now my trusty little bolt-action .410 shotgun--the “molester,” I call her-- that used to wreak considerable havoc among upland game birds in Eastern Washington is relegated to blasting away at mounds of dirt. Dance, you little dirt dwellin’ buggers! Dance!

It might surprise you to know that back in those pre-video game, Dungeons and Dragons, I-Phone, Facebook and Twitter--those Chinese-checkers-of-a-winter’s-evening days of yore when kids actually spent time out of doors, I used to be a pretty fair shotgunner myself. In fact  (humor me a little boasting here) when I encountered a flock of quail, I would leave its numbers considerably thinned come parting time. And in those bygone days when I combed those sagebrush flats looking for food to put on the table, I kept good company.

If you’ve ever hunted game birds without a dog, it doesn’t take long to realize you’re not up to the task. You need a dog’s nose with a good dog attached. If you don’t drop the shotgun in fright when a cock pheasant explodes from the bushes next to your feet, your attention very well may be diverted by a suddenly emptied bladder. It is your canine partner that takes the element of surprise—yours—out of the equation. It’s your dog that alerts you that you have company out there in the brush. Then you become focused.

When I was a kid living on the river, I had just such a dog. He was about 57 degrees away from a purebred, Tiny was, an odd medley of spaniel, terrier, some short-legged breed. A mouth full of black tongue indicated a bit of Chow had slipped into Tiny’s lineage from somewhere. But if there was game in the vicinity, whether it was quail, rabbit or deer (in the beginning, we had a difference of opinion about whether mice were “game”), Tiny would roust it out. It took a couple of seasons to impress on my field companion there’s no “I” in TEAM; even with a full choke barrel, it’s impossible to down a bird flushed two hundred yards ahead. But we finally learned to work together, Tiny and I, and after a season or two more, I could pretty much interpret my dog’s behavior as “rabbit,” or “pheasant”and prepare accordingly. 

If you ever wanted to see pure joy canine style, all you had to do was step out on the porch carrying a shotgun. One look at the weapon and Tiny immediately transformed into an acrobat-gymnast, leaping and bounding, running in circles—a one-act self-contained Cirque du Soleil. Off we’d head for the hills, a kid carrying a shotgun, with a back-flipping, somersaulting dervish cavorting at his side. Together we’d spend the day combing the sagebrush flats, and as you can see, we rarely returned empty handed.

Huntin' dog TinySo men, their dogs and shotguns take me back to some pretty good times. And that’s why one Saturday morning I wheel Gladys in among the big trucks in the Fish and Game parking lot to talk to a couple of sportsmen: a team of father and son, the latter nearly swallowed up by his orange vest. I introduce myself to Brock Strickland and son Tye. They were up and out early to do a little pheasant hunting. I also meet hunter Ken who was loading his two huntin’ buddies into their carriers. The pair seemed reluctant to quit the fields, and Ken had to use his “I mean business” tone of voice to persuade them to load. Ken and his dogs had bagged two nice pheasants—or as the English would say, a “brace” of fowl. Ken tells me the Fish and Game folks plant the birds three times a week. “And I bet you have those days marked on the calendar, don’t you? I asked, and received a smile and nod in return.

I look at little Tye and remember the days when Dad used to roust me out of a warm bed and sound sleep, layer me up warmly, and guide me out into the frosty dark where we’d hike (and hike, and hike…) into deer country to spend the day hunting “mulies.” No video games or Wii for Tye this morning but plenty of fresh air, exercise, and the thrill of the hunt. And they bagged a nice young cock pheasant, too. But best of all, spending a few quality hours with your dad: as the commercial states, “Priceless!” Strickland jr. and sr.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Valley is Filling Up…*

First trumpeters

All suddenly mount/And scatter wheeling in great broken rings/Upon their clamorous wings.

W.B. Yeats  “The Wild Swans at Coole.”

With swans. They have been here nearly two weeks now, arrived Wednesday before last after the Valley’s first frost. Skeins of them have been drifting by all morning. The Valley’s first snow, I believe, has them on the move.

It’s only been the past half dozen years that these trumpeters have wintered here, making themselves at home in the fields of corn stubble. Winter before last there must have been five hundred or so foraging in the Valley. Swans winging it

The first trumpeters I ever saw were in Teton National Park back in the ‘60’s. A pair heralded their presence as they glided across the marsh adjacent to our campground. In those days trumpeters (Cygnus buccinator) were an endangered species. Overhunting and a demand for feathers thinned the species to endangered status. Thanks to the restoration and preservation of their nesting sites, as well as other conservation efforts, trumpeters have made a dramatic comeback. Their noisy presence in the Valley these days is testimony to their resurgence.

Noisy? If the Valley had ordinances curbing excessive noise, those garrulous honkers would be ordered to quit the fields. The descriptor “graceful,” by which this large waterfowl is often referenced, definitely does not apply to swan song, which to my ears sounds much the same as the melody a herniated bicycle squeeze horn might produce. A yodeler with strep throat? A traffic jam in Manhattan? A host of vuvuzelas at a World Cup soccer match? Or a concert of the previous combined? A swan’s discordant honking is always a surprise, much as a beautiful woman whose laugh is that of a lumberjack’s. Yeats waxed poetic with “clamorous,” but he has a poet’s license and in the case of swan “music,” a knack for understatement.

Consider Yeats’ poem: his swans were a’swimmin,’ and there’s no more beautiful craft than a swan afloat. In fact one of my favorite place names is “Swansea,” a port city in south-east Wales. A “sea of swans”—an image of pristine beauty riding the waves.

But you take a grounded swan or even a swan aloft, and elegance and grace go out the window. An airborne trumpeter or a landlubber swan is an odd duck indeed. I wonder what school of aerodynamics crafted a trumpeter? Pilot and navigator at such distance from the propulsion system: wings, engines and tail section always struggling to keep up, the “lumbering” ( (with apologies to the Irish poet) pinions and tail so far aft and landing gear trailing behind. It seems a little more planning should have gone into the trumpeter’s design. (Give a duck its due; a duck is body/neck proportionate.) Wonder what the folks at Boeing could have come up with? Ah, but then there’s that Dreamliner business…. North America’s largest waterfowl looks a bit cumbersome on the wing; like a helicopter, a swan just looks like it shouldn’t be airborne. Perhaps the trumpeter was the prototype for the McDonnell-Douglas “80,” the long neck of the swan, the elongated, missile-like fuselage of the aircraft. Both look like their tail sections could snap off at the slightest turbulence. At least swans don’t carry passengers.

When swans are present and I’m out and about in the Valley, my presence does not go unnoticed, nor does theirs. Across the safety of open space, trumpeters monitor my movements, necks  protruding like periscopes, bodies squat and fat like the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. They find my intrusion disconcerting and trumpet their displeasure as I pass. On gnarly webbings--a pedicurist’s nightmare, I’m sure--they waddle about, but regardless are ever vigilant to my location. A swans’ motto: safety first.

I find the trumpeters’ landing behavior also fascinating. Some celestial control tower signals them to circle the patch three times before they throw back their broad wings and drop to earth at last. You would think the grounded flock they join would encourage the newcomers to forego their numerous circuits of the landing site and bid them land among friends. I thought the birds gleaned the corn that escaped the chopper’s blades but have since heard that it’s the roots of the corn stalks they feed upon. I’m not sure which is the case; perhaps the latter because the swans remain in the fields for months and what else would sustain them that long.snowy cornfield

One statistic I read stated that Washington State now has the largest trumpeter swan population in the United States. At a distance trumpeters might be mistaken for tundra swans. The two species are distinguished one from the other in that tundra swans are smaller and have a yellow patch between the black beak and eye. Trumpeters are the larger swan and lack that golden patch; the black beak blending with the eyes. Both juvenile trumpeters and tundras are grayish brown. Because of the birds’ wariness birders have to use spotting scopes to determine if both species are foraging together.

In past years numbers of dead swans were found in Skagit County, victims of lead poisoning biologists determined. The birds had ingested lead shot from spent shotgun cartridges fired from duck and goose hunters’ shotguns. The birds scooped up the pellets like sand and gravel to help grind and digest their food. Three lead pills swallowed were enough to kill a swan. To correct the problem, hunters were required to use steel shot in their loads. Away from the watercourses that attract ducks and geese, the Valley cornfields seem a safe feeding ground for them

If this post has made trumpeters out to be ugly ducklings, I don’t mean it so. It’s just that these birds are such a curiosity. I enjoy their languid flight, purposeful swan chatter, and ungainly movements earthbound. On my Valley walks the trumpeters are welcome company.Their random passage overhead, incessant circling and honking, enliven a desolate landscape. They are winter’s gift to the Valley.

Nineteen years spanned Keats’ first and second experience with these “clamorous” waterfowl. In “Wild Swans at Coole” the poet at his second sighting laments a lost love, a lost youth in the interim. We have all lost loves and youth is fleeting, but the vitality of these noisy, awkward, elegantly brilliant birds resonates with me. I will watch them every chance I get. Watch until spring calls them forth, and the Valley quiets once again. 

*Post script—additional information. Before I published today’s post, I had emailed The Trumpeter Swan Society of Washington for information on the conservation status of the trumpeter species. The post went to “press” before the information was available. This afternoon Martha Jordan of the Trumpeter Swan Society sent me a friendly response. According to Martha the trumpeter swan was never listed as “endangered” or “threatened” because the laws did not exist when the bird was imperiled. By the time the statutes were passed, trumpeters were increasing in number and there was no need to list them as endangered. Swans are protected by ordinances governing migratory waterfowl; there is no hunting season on trumpeters.

Martha also told me the waterfowl were once listed  as “sensitive” in Washington State but the Pacific Coast population is increasing at the rate of five per cent annually. The swans visit the cornfields, she told me, not for the corn stalk roots but for the residual corn which provides them with essential carbohydrates to restore the stores lost during the swans’ southern migration.

Concern over lead poisoning prompted a study of the problem in Whatcom County, and as a part of that study, some swans were banded with neck bands. Some of these banded swans have been seen in the Valley fields. A year or so ago I noted a Valley swan with something strange on its neck but thought the bird had just “stuck its neck out” where it didn’t belong and became entangled in something.

Thank you, Martha, for your considerate response and the interesting information. Those with other questions or concerns about our Valley trumpeters may direct them to the Society’s website which you can access by clicking the genus/species link in this post.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happily Ever Aftering in the Valley…

Fall clouds

Have you ever shaken hands with a princess (but only if she offers hers first)? I have. It was a firm grip, good and strong. I like that in a princess. But what else would you expect from dairy business royalty, a vocation that requires a strong hand.

Yes, we have a princess in the Valley and a fairy tale of a story, too. Brett de Vries and Megan Warner chose a special date for their wedding: 10/10/10. A centennial will roll around before that trio of tens arrives again: a special date for a special occasion, reason enough to choose a row of tens to observe a couple’s nuptials.

Brett and Megan’s tale hangs upon ice cream, it seems. Four years ago Megan was dishing it up at the Evergreen State Fair at the Purple Cow booth, and Brett had a hankering for a cold, sweet snack. Is that Kismet? Or was it sherbet? Nothing like asking for a little ice cream to break the ice. Like any good farm boy raised in dairy country, with ice cream in hand, Brett wandered into the dairy barn to check out the year’s vintage of contented cows. It wasn’t just the cows he admired there. On the walls of the barn he noticed posters promoting the Washington State Dairy industry, and there smiling at him one dimensionally was that girl in the ice cream booth. Brett instantly had a hankering for more ice cream, returned to the Purple Cow to be served again, but for whatever reason—humbled in the presence of royalty, perhaps—Brett left a second time with little more than calories for his efforts .

Sometimes courtship needs a gentle nudge from a mother, and Randy, Brett’s mom, did a little research on local dairy princesses past and present and discovered one named “Megan.” Brett’s phone number was conveniently placed in the proper channels and one day a text message appeared on his phone: Royalty calling. It’s not everyday you get a call from a bona fide princess. Best to respond.

And respond Brett did. The two agreed to meet in Snohomish just where you might expect: at a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor. This time the ice was broken and after three ice cream seasons and, I imagine, a few gallons of chocolate mint (hers), chocolate (his) later, the farm boy proposed to his princess. Where, you ask? A Baskin-Robbins, of course.

So on 10/10/10 young “commoner” de Vries married a princess of the dairy. Where was the wedding? Why on a dairy farm, certainly—Megan’s parents.’ After honeymooning in Belize, Brett and Megan have brought their fairy tale here to the Valley where they will live in the former home of my old friends, Jerald and Tina Streutker. (Brett, if I have this right, is their grand-nephew and is buying the home from them.) Welcome to the Valley, Megan.  A “Royal Welcome,” I should add.Valley newlywedsFor congratulations and a wedding gift, I brought the newlyweds a quart of the Valley’s purest honey. After all, Brett and Megan, love is sweet but it cannot live on ice cream alone.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Redlining the Valley….

A flood of property owners I’ve heard it said our species is on or near the top rung of the animal kingdom ladder. Given the barrage of political bombast and bluster of late, perhaps that position should be revisited. Where our property is concerned, however, we are just as territorial as the lowliest creature living under a rock. To declare boundaries, birds may sing; elk may bugle; canines “sprinkle”; spiders web; and fiddler crabs brandish an armored claw in their rivals’ faces. We humans, though, climb down off that ladder, survey, build fences—and attend public meetings.

I attended such a meeting at Park Place Middle School the Tuesday before last. FEMA in conjunction with Snohomish County hosted the gala and for nearly three hours two hundred or so “guests” learned about the new flood plain designations and their potential impact on property owneTake a shave, buddyrs and their holdings. Representing our Valley were Brett de Vries, Russell and Jason Dean,  and Matt Frohning. The Valley Ripple was in attendance, too, gathering up whatever news was fit to post.

Let me share some observations about the evening. I believe the presenters were not prepared to handle such a large turnout. Given the fact that properties and lands from Snohomish to the west and those as far east as Index were addressed at the meeting, the host officials should have anticipated considerable public interest. Such a large area involving three major river courses impacts a whole lot of folks. Maps with the updated flood hazard zones of towns situated in or near flood plains, starting with Snohomish and ending with Goldbar and Index, were posted on six easels for public view. Redesignation map legend (Note the legend for the new red line designations overlaid on the old “gold” flood plain. Also note there are old flood plain areas in our Valley that have NOT been red lined. All the years I’ve lived here I don’t believe I’ve seen floodwaters cover these old designations.) Redesignation, Our Valley

A concerned citizen could access his parcel map(s) at one of two computer stations. I arrived shortly before 6:00 p.m. By then two lines already stretched from the computer tables across the gym to the entrance. To access personal property information and wait for their map to be printed took a considerable amount of time. Both lines moved very slowly and some folks were growing impatient. (Later in the evening one of the printers failed, further trying citizens’ patience.) Take your turnWhat initially was meant to be a service actually turned into an aggravation for many. Frustration could have been kept at a minimum, it seems to me, had there been a specific station—say, one for each two designation maps; a property owner could line up at the map station that concerned him instead of waiting for the person before him to access his parcel which may have been in an entirely different area altogether.

The officials’ fifteen minute introduction was poorly presented. You couldn’t see the visuals because no one thought to dim the gym lights. Nor could you hear the presenter.Say Whaaat Besides, a third of the crowd was standing in line at the rear of the gym unwilling to lose their places to watch what they couldn’t see; to listen to what they couldn’t hear. I left in exasperation and went to look at the displays.

Far be it from me to be too critical, but refreshments would have soothed the ruffled tempers somewhat. A cookie or two? A slice of zucchini bread maybe? Coffee, at least, would have been a nice touch, don’t you think?

When these updated flood maps or DFIRMs (Digital Flood Insurance Maps) as the authorities acronymed them are designated official (FIRMed up) next summer, they will impact many of us in the pocketbook. I quote from my invitation: Changes in flood risk classification may affect your mortgage loan requirements. If your property was outside a flood hazard area on the old maps and is now inside a flood hazard area on the new DFIRMs, your mortgage holder may now require you to carry flood insurance.

And just what technology was used to arrive at these new designations? Take a look:


 New baselinesHuhhhhhh






pseudo hydrology

We Valley folks held our own little sidebar on this state of the art geo-hydraulic technology and scratched our heads. One of the sticking points was the term “updated.” According to the hydrologist-engineers this new information brings us from the 1920s into the Age of Enlightenment and is based on new measuring tools that include aerial photography and “earth density” measurements. Just how one could look down from an aircraft and tell that a flood plain was now three feet higher than before escaped us. And “earth density” quickly put us in mind of “intellectual density” (or water on the brain.) And here’s the interesting part: these “recent measurements” were taken in 1988, two years before our great 1990 Valley flood and eighteen years prior to its little sister in 2006. Seemed to us that ignoring those recent baselines was a big oversight.

I’m not sure about my Valley friends in attendance, but I came away with the distinct impression--not unique, I’m sure--for many who attend public meetings: it’s us against them. And  as the evening wore on, we all knew who the “them” was. I further noted that much of the crowd, many who, I’m sure, had flood stories of their own, seemed more afraid of “them” than potential floodwaters. There was the woman from Startup whose family of four generations had lived on property in the vicinity of the Wallace River watershed. Her fourth generation patriarch relative had never seen floodwaters on their properties in his ninety-four years, yet some of their land had been redesignated a flood hazard. The reclassification incensed her. She feared for her property value, was concerned about insurance issues. Then there was Jason Dean, embattled by FEMA and his bank—cause and effect—who want him to increase his insurance coverage and decrease his wallet contents. But the entire scenario was pretty much summed up by a woman whose children lived in the Fryelands development. She attended the meeting to find out if the new designations would impact them. (Kids were grandfathered into the old flood plain designation.) She turned to me and said, “They’re [Them] just trying to get more money out of us.” That statement resonated with me and confirmed I was among my brethren.

Us vs. Them: FEMA, the County, Insurance companies, banks…. (Yes, banks. When we were shopping for a home mortgage, one bank wanted to tack an extra quarter per cent onto our loan because our property was on a flood “fringe.”
Another bank got our business.) The Startup lady intended to appeal her redesignation. I’m sure she’s not the only one. FEMA and the County have allowed a ninety day window of time so those inclined can appeal the new designations.

Timeline for new designations

The County had set up another visual to explain how development (which City and County councils can control, but don’t) has affected the old flood plain. Look at the effect “fill” has on a flood plain, in our case raising its level three feet. But river beds fill, too, don’t they? Each flood season changes the hydraulics of a drainage system. Just glance over the rail of the Lewis Street Bridge the next time you cross it.

displacement by development 

I look down at those bulging gravel bars and think about a simple science experiment we did in elementary school where you took two quart jars, filled one with water, and the other one-third full of pebbles. When you poured water into the pebble jar, the jar flooded over; “displacement,” I think Miss Newton called it. New baselines? Why don’t those government engineers set up their transits and plumb bobs, and take their GPS readings from the summit (seriously, you would have to rope up to climb the bank) of that big gravel bar just off the Woods Creek confluence. There’s a NEW millennium base line for you. Paint some red stripes on that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strange Harvest in the Valley…

Cottonwood gold

The garden is finished, done, harvested and laid away for the “short white days.” Cabbage soured into kraut, packed in jars and stored in the pantry. The quince picked and stewing in jars of cinnamon clove syrup. And this year’s honey crop bottled and ready for the honey customers. But there’s one more crop to harvest, and a rather strange crop at that: mason bees. It’s my first bee harvest and I’m excited. Last spring I watched the females make trip after trip to the little bee block house on the shed. The stocky little gals, each pollen-bellied, had chosen their own little tube cave as home for their young. What a wonderful waste of time watching them come and go, making a little game of their activity: counting the seconds between trips; counting the seconds each spent in her tube, noting her headfirst entry, a quick exit, and then reentering in reverse—each trip a heads and tails operation.

As their nesting cycle waned (late March to June), I counted the tubes as they were plugged. After Ms. Mason packed in the pollen stores, and laid an egg beside the golden protein pill, she packed the whole compartment tight with a mud plug—thus the "mason” in the bee. (Unlike the human Order of Freemasonry, a fraternal organization, the masonry tasks of the insect Mason fall upon the female; a mason bee block is thus a sorority house—hard working females bringing in the bacon, laying the eggs, and hauling the “mud” to seal things up.) She would repeat the procedure as many as nine times, nine compartments per tube before sealing the entrance.

It was a fitful spring, not fit for man, beast, or bug, and my bee block closed the season with a meager six of its thirty tubes plugged. Not a very promising crop.Bee blockI turned the block around to prevent birds from tapping into a bee smorgasbord (or would that be a smorgasblock?) and waited until fall. 

Today’s the day. If you weren’t an optimist, you would shed your hands of farmin’—of any kind. I have six sealed tubes, for sure, a potential of fifty-four cocoons, a nearly five fold return on my capital investment of  the twelve cocoons I “planted” in the bee box attic last April. I take the block inside and eagerly begin the harvest .Dismantling b bx

Two bands of electrical tape hold the plastic layers in place. These I cut to release the layers so I can pry them apart to examine the contents. The plastic sections are colored to help orient each bee to her own tube. (Sometimes a lady gets confused, enters the wrong tunnel, and is quickly ejected by the rightful proprietor.)

I break apart the plastic layers one color at a time and unroll the newspaper inserts I installed last spring. These paper liners encourage the little masons to nest in plastic—their natural nesting sites are wood—and allow them a better purchase when they are working within. The newsprint also draws the moisture away from the cocoons.digging through tubesWhat a mess! And what an even greater disappointment: insert after insert is empty! The six plugged tubes are the only ones with contents. And in these the predators have been at work: pollen mites have intruded, eating the bee larva’s food, leaving the larva to starve; parasitic wasps have laid their eggs on other larvae, as well, and their larvae in turn consumed the bee larvae. It is a meager harvest I extract from the five plastic layers.A harvest of a messBy the time I pick through the pollen dust, frass, mud pellets and shards of newspaper, only twenty-one cocoons are salvageable, less than half of my projections--certainly a mockery of the block’s potential. Bee cocoons

To remove the debris from the little pellets, I soak them in cold bleach water for fifteen minutes. After their bath I put the cocoons in a sieve, rinse them well, and let them dry for the rest of the day. Out to dry

In the evening I gather up my scanty harvest and deposit the cocoons in a plastic bottle. After convincing the wife the little pellets have nothing to do with rats, I tuck the bottle away in the kitchen refrigerator behind the horseradish spread where it will remain until next March. Then I’ll install them in the bee box attic and the cycle will begin again. Chill 'em out Am I optimistic about next year’s crop of masons? Well, remember…in the spring, you just get new hope!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Greening of the Lawn…

The Valley in November

You’d think after Monday’s record breaking one and a half inches of rain, the lawn would green up nicely. Fact is, that gully washer only made things less green. Strange that this time of year the lawn can green up by day, but come daybreak the next, the green is nowhere to be found. Yes, the annual “leaf” battle royal is in full contest these days. The big backyard maple is shedding its summer foliage, spewing its leafy attire as indifferently as it donned it last spring. Of course it’s this annual process that gives the season its name: Fall. I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary regarding the originSunset Maples of the word in reference to a season. The OED records the earliest occurrence of “fall” used in the context of a season of the year as 1545 a.d. (OED, Compact Edition, p. 953. ): “Spring tyme, Somer, faule of leaf, and winter.”

Yes, it’s “faule of leaf” I’m complaining about here. Actually not so much the fall—gravity grips us all—the resulting cover-up is the problem. You can’t let a tree load of leaves smother the lawn in the winter. Bad things will happen, would happen, I’m sure—although I’m puzzled as to the nature of the consequences. If the leaves are wet and matted, which is usually the case, it’s out with the rake and the scraping begins, continues, until the fiery, downed foliage is piled up and hauled away and the green beneath is visible again. Dry leaves I deal with the lazy man’s way: mulched up and vacuumed into the power mower’s bagger. This fall, I’ve been lucky so far: only one session with the wheelbarrow and rake.

Just as the unfurling of spring buds takes times, so does the shedding of the adults. It would be nice if the task were not so prolonged; if the branches and twigs would release their charges all at once; if the flow of sap ceased instantly at the tap; if the grand old maple shed its raiment in one grand cascade of color. But no, the process is always drawn out: green lawn at night, a gardener’s delight…red yard at dawn, what’s become of the lawn, week after week.The night's damage

In its sapling days the fall gales cleared the lawn of the maple’s leaves, but those days are long gone. Later, the leaf bounty was such that the kids could frolic in the crispy heaps and piles of  color. Sometimes when a child plunged into a raked pile, the disturbed leaves emitted an unleaf-like odor. After all, it was the family dog’s backyard, too.

When you think about it, each leaf represents the universal cycle of life: from bud, to leaf, and then in a flush of color, the soft release and return to the earth. Born again into the air, solitary, its one and only flight, each leaf makes a final lonely journey. And year after year, the parent tree must grieve a host of children. Rake in hand, mine is a grief of a different nature.Backyard Autumn Leaves

I must give the leaves their due, however. Not only do they provide welcome backyard shade from a summer day’s heat, but become a leafy coverlet also for the dahlias and other vulnerable landscape plants come the inevitable winter days when the temperatures dip into single digits. Each barrow or bagful of leaves I haul to the dahlia patch and deposit strategically between the hills. After I cut and remove the canes, I will return with the rake and carefully mulch each hill with a mound of leaves. Come spring, after the danger of deep frosts has passed, I’ll rake the mulch from the hills into the rows and till it under: good leaf mold to enhance the garden soil.

A moment’s interlude: a brief leaf elegy composed by that punctuation/case insensitive iconoclast sometime painter turned poet, e.e.cummings:


















The leaves continue their relentless earthbound tumble, each its own solitary one act play. Leaves, please, leave me alone…. Some releaf, please! Where’s the rake? Uhhhh! Leave us now get to work.