Predictable / Unpredictable and Other Musings 


Arriving in the North Woods in late May, we can count on the phoebes (birds) having beaten us and set up housekeeping.  For their nest, their first choice of real estate is the ledge over our back door (driveway-side and western exposure), which is protected under the porch.  Mama had already laid 6 eggs; not only didn't I have the heart to remove the nest, but it is also illegal to do so!  From previous experience of finding dead babies when they built over our garage entry door one year, Bill and I knew we had to accommodate the birds, i.e., not use that door because every time one does, the mama flies the coup and may eventually abandon the needy babes, thus their demise. 

Using the lake side is much less convenient, and certainly to carry groceries in from the car!  On rainy days (which have been plentiful) under those circumstances, we were undoubtedly annoying to her!  We can only be accommodating to a point!  Generally, phoebes are good to have around because they eat bugs (including blackflies).  Well, at least I thought this was good until I saw her eating dragonflies which are GOOD guys, and right in front of my eyes -- the kitchen window afforded a view not more than 5 feet away!  It takes a couple of weeks for the eggs to hatch and a couple more weeks before the birds fledge, so this is a month-long ordeal.  Well, 2-1/2 weeks into this, just before we took our NYC trip, I peeked again into the nest to find a VERY full, breathing mass of feathers (Picture 1 -- you may be able to see 2 beaks sticking out, with the rest buried under the pile someplace).  The birds were fledged by the time we returned after a week.....having left their calling card about 1/2" deep on the landing in front of the door!  Phoebes have 2 or more broods every year, so after cleaning up and taking down the empty nest, one must become watchful that they don't start a new one in an unwelcome spot, including that very same one!  They tried there again, as well as on several corners of our log structures up under eaves.  They are persistent, but putting rocks on these places is a good deterrent, and I'm doing some creative thinking about what I should do over winter to foil these messy interlopers for next spring.  I know they have found alternative sites as we still see their tail-pumping antics and hear their "fee-bee fee-bee" calls.

 Like the phoebes, others are predictable.  Out kayaking, we came upon a mallard hen and her brood of 7 or 8, she very protective, hiding them in vegetation along the shore.  The ravens were raucous as ever as we rounded Little Raven Island, where friends have their camp and live symbiotically, somehow, with the ravens' blood-curdling screeching.  A raven landed in our yard this morning, jumping vertically several times to peck at something on the ground and then flew off -- they're a large, all-black bird and they eat almost anything.  The mama snapping turtle had a brief go at finding a place to lay her eggs, digging in just one spot.  Basically, this has not been an advantageous year for her, due to the weather as described below.

 We have seen quite a few deer (Picture 2). 

Foxes are still living up the road in a wood pile, and across from that, Bill saw a cow moose and her yearling this morning in our meadow.  Early on, a LARGE moose (from the size of the track) had a habit of walking through my small veggie garden.  I noticed it the day before I planted and it roamed through again the night after I planted, stepping in a row of lettuce and a row of beans; the plants came up anyway!  However, what was particularly interesting was that the rain settled into those hoof depressions and attracted a "puddle lick" of Canadian tiger swallowtail butterflies. 

They have a habit of congregating where there is moisture; I have seen them do this in puddles on our dirt roads, but hadn't seen it so vividly in my garden (Picture 3).  I was also witness to something that I know goes on in nature but had never seen.  A garter snake that I have nicknamed Jake (actually I think there is more than one Jake or Jackie) likes to hang out around our back steps and the shrubs in that area. It was lying curled and really still, tongue not even flicking, apparently asleep, on a wooden partition that separates the garden from the yard.  As I walked through the grass, a toad jumped from in front of me, right in Jake's direction.  In a flash, in mid-air, Jake had that toad by the left hind leg, cross-wise in his mouth.  He dragged his prey under a piece of dri-ki (Indian word for wood that had been in the lake but is decorative in a garden), and in 5 minutes, had pulled in that whole leg up to the crotch; in another 5 minutes, the snake had worked up to the abdomen, but the toad was still alive and would lift itself on its front legs and try to pull away, without success.  A little longer, and the toad was swallowed up to the chest and by then, presumably from fang punctures to the heart, the toad was looking pretty lifeless.  In a half hour, the only thing still hanging out was the right hind leg.  A snake essentially swallows its prey whole and it digests as it moves down the snake's length, which in this case is about 2 feet.  I saw Jake the next day, and the broadened area was down about 5 inches.  For the past couple of days, Jake has been lounging under a board under our bottom step.  There are no poisonous snakes in Maine, and these snakes want most to get out of our way rather than attack us.

 Some human nature is also predictable.  I should know by now that Bill has a priority of getting our dock in so he can take off in his kayak from there without getting his feet wet.  Needless to say, this happened before my garden was totally planted.  I, on the other hand, have made 2 new gardens; Bill says I now have 14.......hmmmmmm.  I had the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time to get, FREE, 10 giant catmints and 24 Siberian irises, the latter of which I am still planting as it has been a matter of clearing out and transplanting some other things, perhaps making a 15th garden in the process(?) 

Now for the detailed would you like the description of the weather over the past 5 weeks?  In summary, RAIN, RAIN and MORE RAIN!  Before we left for our NYC trip, it rained on average every 2 days and was cold at night (40s and low 50s); with sun, during the day it warmed to the 70s, but if rainy or gray, it remained in the 50s-60s.  While we were away for a week, my rain gauge recorded 3-3/4"!  We returned to find the dock underwater by 4" with the 55 lb. panels almost floating away and 3" of water IN our motorboat, which couldn't drain down through because the bilge was full; it took more than an hour for the automatic bilge pump to expel it all -- lucky the boat had not sunk! Bill and I have cranked up the dock as far as it goes, and it is only 1-1/2" above water level, but with wind and waves, the decking gets wet.  The bottom step of the stairs that go down to the dock is still under water.  In short, this is probably the highest we have ever seen the lake.  Yesterday, we walked to the stream bringing water into our lake, and it is rushing like Niagara Falls; we have not been down to the dam at the bottom of our lake to see its outflow, but it must be somewhat equivalent as the water level has been relatively stable for the past 2 weeks.  The rain has not diminished, however.  Over the past 16 days, it has rained some part of every 24 hours, sometimes hard, and this morning was no exception.  Yesterday provided a few hours of off-and-on sun and I remember about 3 hours of sun 4 days ago -- that's it for sun!  Remarkably, the flowers have been glorious, the wild strawberries ripened (although a little late), and plants for the most part continue to grow in my veggie gardens....but will they produce fruit?  The only benefit to all of this rain is that I have not had to water the gardens!  On the down side, the SLUGS love it!  I have never seen so many slugs in my life!!  I go on "slug patrol" every day.  One day, I squished around 100, another day about 50, and I must be gaining on them because the count continues to decline.  I have also used the beer trick in a couple of key spots in my veggie garden as they are attracted to that smell and then drown in the alcohol.  In the meantime, while I was gone, they ate my first planting of lettuce and the petunias planted in an old stump.

 New York was wonderful.  With a focus this year on Pre-Columbian culture and art, we went to some museums (Natural History Museum) and parts of the Metropolitan Museum that we don't ordinarily see; we also went to a couple of art galleries specializing in that period.  We saw the play "August: Osage County" which won the Tony and Pulitzer Prize for Drama last year, and for our last night in the city, had a fabulous dinner at a highly rated seafood restaurant, Aqua Grill in SoHo.

 Many friends are now at their camps on the lake and so, life goes on in the North Woods! Hope your summer is most enjoyable!