Friday, August 31, 2007

Hawk vs. Crows

We were heading out tonight for a little family dinner to kick off the holiday weekend. As I was putting Child One into her seat I noticed three crows in the large tree in our neighbor's front yard. I said "look at the crows" and she didn't say anything. I asked if she saw them and she said "yeah." She was really engrossed by what she was seeing. Another crow flew into the tree, and then another pair. She asked me what the last bird on the wire was, and I said "probably another crow." "No," she said. "Come see."

Now, I bailed early from work today and came home and started to get the Quarter Acre in shape -- the lawn and beds are a disaster. Our cars were parked in the street and I had backed them into the drive way. Child One's booster is on the passenger side, and when we pull into the driveway head first her seat is usually on the opposite of where it was tonight. If we had not been backed in we might have missed this entire series of events.

Anyway . . . some branches in the tree in which the six Corvi now sat blocked my view of their original perch -- which was the utility wires that run up the street. So, at child one's request I changed my vantage point to see the bird she was asking me about. It was, what I believe to be, a good sized Harris Hawk. It had been sitting amongst the crows. I called Mrs. Agricola over to see and she grabbed Child Two. The hawk sat on the wire for a moment and then flew into the tree, a little distance from the crows. The crows were agitated, and giving off occasional warning calls -- a throaty, very clattering "cawwwwwwww cawwwwww."

The hawk went into action and chased one of the crows out of the tree. It was a cool sight because the hawk seemed to be about the same size as the crows (these crows are huge and the Harris is not as large as a Red Tail -- one of which we saw just before dinner, this one also spotted by Child One, the little hawk-finder). It flapped powerfully after the crow -- which was taking evasive action -- and took a swipe at its back. They flew away and I thought it was over. My neighbor had come out to watch because her dog was going crazy, and a neighbor down the street was out with binoculars because her dog must have been reacting to the events too.

As the hawk chased the first crow the other crows flew out of the tree in the direction of their chased comrade. A handful of the crows and the hawk returned to the tree very quickly (upon the return of the birds I ran in and grabbed my camera).


The hawk is just about in the center of this shot, diagonally down, and to the right of the lowest, right-most crow. Click to see the full size shot.

They sat there for a bit and then the hawk chased the crows down the street, again strafing one of the black birds along the back. I don't think the hawk actually made contact, but it must have scared the crow -- it was exciting to watch. I've seen crows and jays chase hawks, often in tandem, but I've never seen a hawk chase a crow. Nor have I ever seen them sitting so close to one another. This Harris Hawk is most likely the same one that I've seen around the Quarter Acre -- though I've only heard it this summer and not seen it since the spring.



I've had some other cool raptor sightings this summer, about which I'll blog after Labor Day. This encounter, however, was, by far, the coolest, and most interesting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Children's Hospital Boston


Yesterday, we took Child One into Children's Hospital for an open challenge to determine whether or not she is still allergic to peanuts. She had a reaction a couple of years ago, and since then has blood tests and skin tests that were inconclusive, hence the challenge. What happens is this: we sat in a room and she ate 1/4 cup of peanuts starting with half a peanut, then a full peanut and ending with basically the full quarter cup -- all within a couple of hours. There was a slight chance that she could have gone into anaphylactic shock but there was a greater chance -- given the blood and skin tests -- that nothing would happen. Nothing did happen, thankfully, and the trip into the hospital was very perspective changing for me.

We got good news -- a potentially serious allergy seems to be in abatement. Our child is healthy (knock wood). There were many kids, that I saw, in the lobby, who are not so lucky. They and their parents didn't get good news, at some point in their visit to this place, or someplace like it. While not all were in a horrible way there were many who were visibly not well and suffering with serious ailments. The extraordinary folks at Children's were working to cure them, so they were in the right place. My problems are minor compared to what those kids and their families are going through. I'm damned fortunate. I've had a few miserable days at work -- today is another -- but thinking back to my stroll through the lobby helps keep everything in perspective. I've got a gig, I've got healthy kids (more wood knocking). I count my blessings and say a prayer for the kids and their families that I bumped into in the lobby.

Monday, August 27, 2007

In A Hardwood Forest

This past weekend we took our children into the Green Mountain National Forest Moosalamoo Wilderness Area for one night of camping. It was our maiden camping voyage with the kids and it was a tremendous success. Back in our pre-child years Mrs. Agricola and I used to camp out on occasion and we're not unfamiliar with the joys of sleeping in a tent, and living en plein aire.

We purchased a roomy tent at a summer clearance sale, bought each kid a sleeping bag, that Child Two calls his "hammock," and a nice little camp stove. We met another couple and heir daughter at the campsite and after setting up camp and getting stowed we went to the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail on VT-125 for an easy hike through the woods and the blueberry fields. It was a scorching day and we waded in a river to cool down. We found a snake skeleton, saw a huge caterpillar and ate wild blueberries, blackberries and raspberries that we found along the trail.

Child One is a little nature lover -- much more so than her parents -- and she really seems to be in her elements while walking along a forested path. She'll touch bugs, flowers, sticks and rocks that she spies along the way -- she's very observant with a great eye for detail. Child Two rode in a child backpack, hanging out from under the sun shield like a little train conductor, commenting on the passing spectacle. We got back to our car just as a giant mountain thunderstorm came crashing down us in a fierce, lightening-filled deluge.

Things cleared up quickly, though all night distant heat lightening flashed across the sky and small bursts of rain continued to patter down us -- though I'm not sure if it was drops from trees or actual showers. Before dinner we found a red eft -- which is a newt in the terrestrial phase of its life. We ate a delicious meal and the kids darted around the campsite, playing pirate, jumping off a log and watching the fire we had roaring in the site's pit. Bed was easy, and the kids drifted off into a good sleep as if they'd slept in a bag in a tent their whole lives.

After a huge breakfast on Sunday morning we packed up, walked across the Goshen Dam, threw rocks into the Sugar Hill Reservoir and then spent some time in Middlebury before returning to the Quarter Acre. It was an amazing experience and we had a blast. It was so wonderful to see my kids just reveling in their surroundings, getting dirty, playing imaginative games with nothing but sticks and some chalk and crayons that were brought to the site. With no TV, no electricity, none of the comforts of a house, they were completely at ease and enjoying themselves.

It was moving -- almost to the point of being beyond words. I saw my children in a new and different light and love them even more than I did before we left (as if that were even possible). They amaze me, all the time, in so many ways that each day is a wonder. But with every little moment of wonderment comes a tinge of melancholy that each new experience marks a first and a last. Time is fleeing and my babies are growing up before my eyes. I think that my children have helped to make me more aware of my own humanity -- and with that deeper awareness has come a greater sense of my own mortality. In my children, and in the accretion of events that comprise our life together comes the sense that there isn't enough time and that there never will be.

It's beautiful. It's sad. It's wonderful. It's life in the best sense of that expression. We sucked the marrow out of our time in a hardwood forest, away from the distractions of the modern-American-suburban-life. We emerged a more tightly knit, happier family.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Unexpected Sights

I opened my front door this morning to retrieve the papers and saw a humming bird, hovering above eye level, just in front of the front stoop. I think it was a female Ruby Throated Hummingbird, but I'm not a great identifier of birds, and the view was so brief that I'm not sure I'll ever be able to positively identify it. I called to Child One to some see the hovering, gracefully-beaked bird but it flew off just before she got to the door. It was very cool because I've never seen a hummingbird on Quarter Acre, so this was a welcome site.

(Speaking of rare, about two weeks ago I saw a Baltimore Oriole. They are rare visitors to the Quarter Acre, though I typically see about one each year.)

Another cool thing that I observed, also this morning, was a red dragonfly that shot straight up in the air from its spot in the lawn to grab a fat, slow-flying bug. Mrs. Agricola and I both saw it and it was an impressive bit of wild kingdom with our morning coffee.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Understanding

I picked up this video via Little Green Footballs. This Marine says what the elite in this country need to hear with more eloquence, understanding and passion than any member of the elite could ever muster. Semper Fi, and thank God for people like SSG Lawrence E. Dean II.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August

August is a wonderful, but bittersweet month. It is the month in which the summer really seems to be at it fullest with scorching hot days, lots of native, fresh fruit and vegetables, warm ocean water and gentle nights. August is also a transition month between high-summer and the onset of fall. The light is changing visibly as Earth begins to shift on her axis to bring about the change of seasons, later, chilly dawns and earlier sunsets.

Summer is clearly ending, but it's time. Summer is fun, and wonderful but it's exhausting and we live like gypsies -- hitting the road for this and that, and returning to the Quarter Acre to sleep before heading off to work for five days before setting off again. I find myself ruminating more in August than I do in the other summer months. While trying to suck the marrow out of what remains of summer I begin the mental cataloging of another summer of memories -- children's birthday parties; beach days on Cape Cod; the annual trek to Champlain; cigars on the porch; family cookouts . . . It's amazing that Labor Day is upon us, that another summer is winding down and the seasons will change once again.

Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus -- Virgil

Friday, August 10, 2007

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

756*

Barrels of ink are being spilled on this, and have been spilled ever since it became apparent that Barry Bonds would break Hank Aaron's Home Run Record. I don't have much to contribute to it except to state my uninterest in the achievement of Bonds. He played longer than Aaron; he used performance enhancers; he is a miserable human being.

Hank Aaron still holds the record in my book, even after his classy, videotaped concession speech. Will Bonds be as classy when A-Rod breaks his record in six or seven years? Bonds is a truly, and supremely gifted ball player. His involvement in the madness of steroids basically destroyed his name and forever cast a shadow over his accomplishments and the game. The real tragedy of the 756, however, is not that the record was broken -- records are meant to fall. The real tragedy is that one of the truly great records in all of sports was broken in a way that doesn't jibe with most people's notions of fair play. As a result, something that should be celebrated has bred further cynicism in the public. We're all a little worse off today, now that Hank Aaron is number two on the all time home run list than we were on 7 August, 2007 at 8:50 PM PDT.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Crickets

I was beginning to wonder, as summer has rolled along, where the crickets were. Nights spent porch-sitting were oddly quiet as the Quarter Acre's insect population seemed to be entirely absent -- with the exception of mosquitoes.

I'm not sure what it is about memory and knowledge but I always remember, and associate summer and crickets. This is the first year I've been conscious that crickets emerge later in the summer. Or, perhaps, there was something different about this summer -- it has not gotten truly hot until recently. I am certainly no entomologist but I now believe that perhaps cricket activity is linked to temperature -- because with the hotter days and nights has come a cacophony of nocturnal insect noises. Over the past week or so, the chirping and trilling of crickets have been deafening. It's a welcome addition to the summer porch lifestyle -- increasing the sense that we are somewhere other than our backyard and lending a more exotic flair to the mellow proceedings.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who Needs A Summer House?

All summer long I've been asking the question, "who needs a summer house?" We've essentially been living on our porch for the better part the summer -- we eat breakfast out there, the kids eat lunch out there, we take dinner out there in the evenings and then hang out on the porch after the kids are in bed. We've spent a large part of our time this summer in the fresh air, in a relaxed setting, largely bug free (thanks to a new screen door). Spending as much time on the porch as we have this season we've come to feel like we're away when we're not. Score another one for the suburban casa.