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84-L»nca*ter Farming, Saturday, January 3, 1998
On Being a
Skeletons rattle, all about us.
But it’s not Halloween. It’s
January.) And the skeletons rat
tling aren’t those of scary
spooks, but of our deciduous
trees, stripped to their dormant,
Gone are the stately, regal
lines of the oaks in full leaf as
they stand guard over the wood
lot. Gone is the lush fullness of
the maples around the house,
devoid of their thick canopy giv
ing us shade and coolness. Gone
are the green fountain-look of
the willows, their slender fronds
cascading like waterfalls to the
pond at their feet.
Poor things. They all look so
The winter winds toss them
about, with no leafed insulation
to blunt the biting cold.
Freezing rains, common to our
borderline location between rain
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and ice snow zones, periodically
coat every bark-covered surface
with a burden of ice that the
weaker and more exposed can
not tolerate. They snap off, tum
ble down to litter the ground
below, ultimately becoming kin
dling fodder for the woodstove.
Still, the silhouette of a tree
in wintertime has its own partic
ular haunting beauty. The old
sycamores of the neighborhood
are especially gracious trees,
admired for their beauty, sym
metry and interesting bark of
contrasting shades. One vener
able sycamore that guards the
edge of the little stream in the
meadow below the farm is a spe
cial favorite. A strikingly lovely
tree anytime, it becomes a regal
queen when dressed in the glit
tering sparkle of new snow coat
ing each bare limb.
And, stripped of their sum-
mer fullness, the trees give up
secrets hidden for many months.
About forty feet above the
edge of the yard, one of our
maples dropped its leave to
reveal a large, conical-shaped
object of papery-gray. The hor
nets that designed the nest
should be long gone by now; it
would be a prize for display.
Hornets may be nasty but
they’re smart, constructing their
self-contained colony right out
on the slender, fragile twigs pt
the very end of a wide-sweeping
My joking suggestion to The
Farmer that he could climb up
and retrieve it for me in some
spare moment is met with
laughter. He is not a tree
climber, I’m the one who spent
half my childhood hanging out
in tree branches.
So, unless we get our hands
on some utility company’s boom
truck, the hornets’ home is safe,
except from the relentless wind
and weather. Those natural
forces will ultimately be the
giant nest’s undoing, either
dumping it down all at once
or-more likely-shredding it
with persistence into bits and
A host of other nests dot the
bare limbs jutting up around the
landscape. Several neatly
woven homes of twigs and grass
es among the maples hint of the
robins and finches which raised
m Bullion m
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their families under the leafy
cover. A few more called the
pussy willow home. Smaller
nests peek from hedges, brushy
fencerows and clumps of bushes
along the stream: Giant-sized
clumps of leaves scattered
through the high reaches of the
oaks hint at the abundance of
squirrels around the neighbor
hood, still enjoying their treetop
Now, at least one opportunist
thrives amidst the bare
branched state of the trees. Our
resident sharp-shinned hawk
has become amazingly bold
about patrolling for his
prey-other birds-around the
farmstead. The trees’ bare con
dition enhances his predator
abilities, enable the “sharpie” to
zoom through the branches in
pursuit of them. The tops of the
bare maples also seem to offer a
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handy launch pad for terrorizing
this year’s especially abundant
blackbirds and grackles.
Perhaps that is why the hawk
has become so aggressive.
Whatever the reason for this
fierce predator’s claiming dibs
on the area, it’s had an interest
ing side effect. Out always-busy
bird feeder is nearly abandoned
most of the time. And sunflower
seed consumption has dramati
cally dropped. Leaving almost
unlimited picking for our fat
Who, come to think of it, may
have invited the hawk in the
first place. Because, while the
hawk is busy chasing down
other birds, the squirrel just
munches seed after seed, grow
ing chubbier by the day.
Leaving us to wonder: if the
hawk gets its fill of poultry, will
a seed-stuffed squirrel offer an
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