Archive for the 'It’s Only Natural! Birds, Geology, Wildlife & More' Category

Oct 12 2013

The Scent of Apples: A Roadside Treat for Backroads Cyclists

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples; I am drowsing off.

—  Robert Frost, “After Apple Picking”

This is another banner year for wild apples, and that’s good news for the birds and animals who depend on nature’s bounty to make it through the approaching winter. The apples are a gift that keeps on giving, too. The fruit which isn’t eaten in fall and winter freezes right on the tree. Then, come springtime, returning songbirds find the table already spread and waiting for them, offering a much-needed chance to recover from their arduous journey north before the demands of the breeding season begin in earnest.

Given the apples’ importance to wildlife, I don’t often eat them myself. (I’m a guest in the wild creatures’ home, after all, and no host wants a glutton for a guest.) Still, I do allow myself one or two treats now and then. And what treats they are! Wild apples don’t look much like the perfect specimens stacked up in bins at the HyperMart, but looks aren’t everything. One bite will show you what we’ve lost in making the transition to industrial agriculture. Of course, you need to discard your preconceptions. Wild apples are often small and irregular, with tough skins and frequent bruises. (That sounds like a lot of cyclists I know, come to that, including the one I see in the mirror.) They haven’t been waxed and polished, either. And you’ll probably find a worm in your apple at some point. Think of it as a protein supplement, if that helps. But what flavor! Sweet, subtle, and complex. Once upon a time, all apples tasted like this…

Wild Apple

But we’ve moved on. And speaking of moving on, a good apple year is also very good news for country-lane cyclists, who can often pick up a bite to eat right off the ground along the roadside.

Stopping for an Apple

The intoxicating perfume of ripe apples also makes a welcome change from the signature stink of suburbia, that all-too-familiar witches’ brew, compounded from equal parts of car exhaust, incinerated beef, and dryer-sheet effluvium. The only hard part for the cycling gourmet is stopping at one apple. But I do. I’ve missed more than my share of meals, and I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be hungry when there’s nothing in the house to eat. So in my menu plan, wild apples are a rare and valued treat, not a dietary staple. And when I finish off the one apple I allow myself, I always remember to toss the core into the tall grass, well off the road, where the seeds will make a feast for some foraging mouse or squirrel.

Who knows? One seed may escape the hungry mouths long enough to take root and grow a new tree, which in due course will drop still more apples to delight cyclists yet unborn. Now that’s a legacy worth leaving, don’t you think?

Road Apples

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Jun 01 2013

Make a B-Line for Wildlife:
A Modest Proposal for Rewilding American Roads

Life in the slow lane has many pleasures. You can smell the flowers, for one thing. Roadsides, vacant lots, and brownfields will soon be a riot of color. Even the medians of divided highways now play host to vibrant floral communities. And as more and more forests, fields, and wetlands are lost to development, these often-overlooked pocket wildernesses are increasingly important.

Where harried motorists see only a green blur, cyclists and walkers can focus on the details. Not that everything we see is pleasant to look at, of course. From late spring to early fall, highway maintenance crews and utility companies wage constant war on roadside “weeds,” shredding roadside trash and scything wildflowers with equal zeal. The result? The eggs and hatchlings of ground-nesting birds are destroyed. Small mammals lose their homes. And countless insects are starved of food. For days after the mowers go through, the road surface is carpeted with dead bees and maimed butterflies.

Why should we care about a few dead bugs? Well, with some 35 percent of our food crops dependent on insect pollinators, and with the health of wild bee populations already precarious, you could say our own fate is linked inextricably to that of the butterflies and bees. And some perceptive folks are already working to right the balance. A UK organization going by the name of Buglife is working to establish a network of flower-rich “B-lines” throughout England.

Such B-lines would help ensure the survival of bees and other insect pollinators, and these, in turn, could help English farmers grow more food, and do it more efficiently. That sounds like a win-win scenario to me. Want to know more? Then just click through to Buglife’s website.

It’s too bad we don’t have something similar on this side of the Pond, isn’t it? But we could. And it wouldn’t be hard. We could make a start by asking state highway departments and private utility companies to let the “weeds” grow undisturbed wherever and whenever they don’t create a hazard. Then we could all smell the flowers.

Further Reading

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

May 04 2013

Root and Branch: An Appreciation of Trees

Portrait in Black and White

I was still in grade school when the urge to draw became all but irresistible. In part, art class offered a welcome refuge from the demands of arithmetic and grammar, but there was a social dimension, too. I wasn’t the only would‑be artist in the class, and we all gathered at one table to swap tips and critique one another’s work. Each of us had a favorite subject, and my friend Kate’s was trees. Trees in winter, to be exact. Her enthusiasm was infectious, and under her patient tutelage I was soon capturing images of the trees around me, always working, as she did, from the ground up and from the trunk out.

My lessons continued when I spent weekends at her parents’ house. The dirt road that ran past the old clapboard farmhouse was framed on both sides by sugar maples, and Kate and I sat on her front porch, doing our best to reproduce what we saw before us. I learned about a lot more than the best ways to smear graphite on paper during those weekends. In fact, they were my introduction to the life of (and in) trees… Read more…

Questions? Comments? Just click here!

This article was originally published on December 6, 2012.

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