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A Long Walk in the Beeches

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Forties, partly cloudy, sun in the late afternoon, I'm gone. Bill and I spent the morning getting our Christmas card list together, trying to make Appleworks fit them onto ancient Avery labels, and folding letters. At this point it's too late to be a New Year's card, either, but it's the thought that counts. Every few years, we like to announce to our friends and family how un-together we are with an impossibly late mass mailing. I truly admire those who get their cards out before Christmas. I especially appreciate those with high information content and photomontages of the family. We're straining to reciprocate.
It is stultifying work, though, and wind roaring through beech tops is about the only antidote. I like steep slopes for their exercise potential, and for the way the vivid blue sky cuts through along their tops. The steeper the slope, the deeper the blue.

I took it slowly today, walking along the brow of a hill, looking down into the streambed. I sat for a long time on a bluff, and it took me twenty minutes to notice an old scarlet tanager nest saddled on a thin horizontal limb high above. That's something you don't see every day. It's coming apart, but the rootlets and twigs are clearly visible.Every bird has a style of nest placement and this is textbook tanager. (I can't rule out that a robin made it, but from where I sat, I couldn't see any mud or grass). I think it's probably an antipredator strategy to saddle one's nest well out on a thin limb. The mystery to me is how they make it stay securely enough to hold their eggs and nestlings, without using any mud, and without weaving it to the limb.
Baker was in rare form today, galloping up and down the slopes.
He roars back when I whistle, and when I ask him to linger awhile and pose, he does it as if he understands my every whim. Having read photographer William Wegman's comments on his Weimeraner models, and how much they enjoy posing for him, I have little doubt that Baker likes being photographed, and fully understands how to be a good model. I ask him to walk out a log, and he pauses right next to me and strikes a pose. I can almost hear him thinking, "How about if I look up this way, as if I'm seeing something interesting?" We may well be communicating on a psychic level when we're working together.

Pileated woodpeckers were everywhere today, and I found two more big sassafras trees with deep cavities in them. I'm pretty sure they're after carpenter ants. I dissected a dropping today and found tightly packed carpenter ant parts, sumac seeds, and grape skins. They take a great deal of fruit in the winter, but they're willing to work hard for protein. I wonder if there's some seasonal ant rhythm that sends them to the sassafras trees in late January.
I'm figuring out where all the old logging roads are, and slowly covering every bit of the land. It's nice to walk along the remnants of a logging road, and not have to dodge briers.
I will confess I miss my carefully cut trail on the Loop, where I can walk fast with a long, swinging stride, but between Chet's new hobby of cattle chasing and the possibility of attack by feral dogs, walking it with him has not been relaxing lately. I hate putting him on a leash when we're out in the woods, but there are a couple of places where I have to.
So I worked myself up into some gulleys on a part of our land that's frankly kind of a pain in the butt to walk, and paused to look around. A barred owl flopped out of a tree, flew a short distance, landed, then took off again. What a reward! We also found four gray squirrels, worth remarking on because they are pretty scarce in these woods. People hunt them relentlessly. The guy who practically lived on them, who lived alone in a farmhouse at the corner of our road, really put a dent in the local gray and fox squirrel population. He had squirrel tails tied to his old car antenna, and hanging on his porch. He went missing and was found stone dead, still standing up at the kitchen sink, a few years ago. The man who owns the land bulldozed the house. Perfectly good white Ohio farmhouse, gone. They don't make them anymore. I miss it, and the beautiful old pines in front of it. It's a featureless hay field now, but daffodils still come up on the corner where the house stood, remembering Gary, who ate squirrels.


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