Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winter Sports.

12-30-10 VERMONT: This will be the last post of the year and decade for me. Only ninety years left in the twenty-first century. Perhaps you can tell its been a slow week.

We got here on Tuesday after an uneventful trip, the highways were all well cleared. There is less snow here than in NJ by half. The snow had been pushed around by the wind, now just a whisper, so ridge tops are almost bare and hollows are full. Yesterday and today we got out in the pasture on snowshoes and today, skis for me, to exercise the dogs and us. The snow yesterday was dry and powdery, but today thick and sticky. I skied on the wrong day. It was in the thirties today, and that changed the snow. Forties predicted for tomorrow.

Happy New Year, dear reader.

Snowshoeing Mountain Woman.


Layfayette and Moosilauke at sunset.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Mother of All Storms.

12-27-10 SHORT HILLS: That was a very impressive storm. The east coast, the New York area, and especially northern NJ got socked, blasted, drifted, buried and snow covered. In the morning, I measured 22 inches on the roof and 20 inches on the hood of my car which sat outside for the storm. The issue with measuring snow depth at the end of the storm is that the weight of the accumulating snow compress the bottom of the pile, falsely lowering the true total. Anyway, it was a lot.

I was fearful that there would be damage to the evergreens, especially the broadleaf evergreens, but most of the trees shed most of the snow. I think it was the cold, dry snow, and the very strong wind that blew it off the branches. I did clear snow off of junipers and a couple of hollies this morning. I do it, but there is as much a chance of doing damage and breaking branches as there is of helping. Skies cleared about noon, but the wind continues to gust into the forties. After we were plowed, I got the car cleared off.

I almost forgot, Alison’s family and Dylan and Bette and Lonnie were here for Judy’s gala Xmas Eve party. Xmas day was fun with presents, sloppy joe’s and “True Grit”.

VT tomorrow if the roads are OK.

Last night after a few hours of snow, this table top drift had formed. North, and the wind, is to the right.

You can see the side mirror under its own pile of snow and the door handle.

That's the hood. The roof had more.

That's a three rail fence.

The feeder was busy all day, and then everybody cleared out all at once when this guy appeared....

Sorry about the poor photo, I think it's a red-shouldered hawk.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lincoln School; CO2. [Unrelated.]

12-22-10 SHORT HILLS: I helped Judy do an Xmas party for the second grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Newark. Judy usually goes there monthly to participate in a reading program for the kids. Reading to the dogs helps the kids develop their skill. Judy needed me to bring the second dog and carry stuff. Ms. Catalano, a bundle of energy who teaches this class, made pasta with meatballs and sausage. I can unequivocally state that meatballs were the best I ever tasted.

Judy made spaghetti squash, not a hit, and a sheet cake, chocolate and coconut with the dogs picture, that was very well received. Each student got a golden retriever bookmark, for their reading work, and a stuffed animal, part of the stash donated by folks in VT. After a couple of pix, we took the dogs home.

Chocolate, coconut and golden cake.

On a totally unrelated note, the NYT today had a nice article on the Keelings, father and son, who have done a lot of work on rising atmospheric CO2 levels and the link to climate change.

The graph shows the rapid rise of CO2 since the 1960's. The saw-tooth pattern reflects the northern hemisphere winter/summer variation. The deciduous plants use CO2 during the summer in the process of photosynthesis which transiently lowers the levels.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that traps solar heat reaching the earth and prevents its dissipation. CO2 has always been around, produced by volcanic activity and naturally occurring fires, but the rapid rise is due to burning of fossil fuels, coal and oil and oil’s main distillate, gasoline.

In the past, the earth has been far hotter than now and, for that matter, far colder too. But the changes have always occurred over hundreds of thousand of years and not over one century. Long time periods of slowly developing climate change, for hotter or colder, allow a species, oak trees for instance, to migrate to higher or lower latitude or altitude and find a compatible habitat. With the rapid changes we’re now seeing, even animal species, such as polar bears, cannot adapt to the loss and damage to their usual habitat.

With all the Chinese and Asian Indians now experiencing economic growth and a big increase in car use and ownership, do you think the CO2 levels in the future will be rising faster even than now?

Monday, December 20, 2010


12-20-10 SHORT HILLS: On Saturday night, the 18th, we saw the radio broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion” with Bill, Lynn, Roger and Leesa. It has become an annual event, and we follow it with dinner at BXL Cafe, a Belgian restaurant next door to The Town Hall, the venue, and just off Times Square. The show featured Nathan Gunn, Pink Martini, Erica Rhodes, Andra Suchy as well as Garrison Keillor and all the regulars. It was a great evening. The show ended with more Carols, the beer and food, I had frites and moules, was bistro-esque and tastier for eating it with old friends.

The crowds and traffic in the city were both heavy, especially Times Square, near the theatre, and Rockefeller Center. We had run up there to see the tree before the show. The crowds of people, and baby strollers, around the tree were as thick as the needles on the tree. You could see hundreds of cameras popping up above all the heads to capture the images.

Celestially, tomorrow is quite exciting, not only is the winter solstice marked by a full moon, but also by a lunar eclipse. When the sun, earth and moon line up for the eclipse, the sun will be at its southern-most declination, 23.5° of latitude south of the equator so, I assume, the moon, at the moment of fullness, must be at 23.5° of latitude north of the equator, the summer solstice declination of the sun—interesting coincidence.

Rockefeller Center with the tree, crowds and moon peeking over the building on the right and fore-shadowing the eclipse.

Times Square with lights and crowds.

Here's another shot of the red-bellied woodpecker showing the lack of red on his belly.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Absence of Ducks and Cathedrals.

12-16-10 SHORT HILLS: Last night we went with Bill and Lynn to the Candlelight Carol Sing at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ 07104. It is a huge church, built in the late 19th century, of gray stone with a vast nave. They do an annual carol sing accompanied by a chamber orchestra and organ that is thrilling. Whatever your take on the original, precipitating event, the usual and customary, standard carols are great music.

Consider the survival of “Silent Night” and “Adeste Fideles” as a triumph of the fittest. Probably every year for the last 2,000 or so, a few carols have been presented, but only a couple dozen are regularly heard now. The rest—vanished. I predict that “Alvin and the Chipmunks” will not enjoy a long life span.

Having linked evolution and nativity, I consider my night’s work done, except to mention that we had a pleasant dinner with Hank and Laurel at Locanda Verde on Greenwich St. in Tribeca and rate it as ‘worth a detour’.

As I mentioned the Passaic River in the last post, I stopped to snap an image this afternoon, unfortunately I scared away all the wary ducks.

Passaic River looking winter bleak, but symmetrical, ice along the edges, duckless.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark, NJ 07104.
Candlelight Carol Sing.
Picture courtesy of WGBL.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Woodpecker III

12-15-10 SHORT HILLS: With about a week until the solstice, we’re back in the deep freeze as of yesterday. All the puddles left by the rain storm are now frozen patches. Yesterday morning there was a light dusting of snow which evaporated by noon in spite of the cold. This mornings ‘feel like’ temp is 9°. Even parts of the Passaic River, which we frequently cross on our daily outings, were frozen yesterday.

As a teen I remember skating parties on the river, but that doesn’t happen any more. It wasn’t very wide, but you could go a long way up or down stream. There were thin spots over rapids that needed to be avoided.

I haven’t seen any other kinds of woodpeckers here this week, but did find a picture of this Pileated Woodpecker from the Corkscrew Preserve near Naples, FL from our trip there last February. Pileated BTW means ‘capped’. These are crow sized birds. The males have a red moustache, making this one a lady.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Woodpecker II

12-12-10 SHORT HILLS: It’s warm again with almost 60° today, with rain, lots of rain, from the storm that snowed in the mid-west. The cold is due back next week.

I checked some of the blog’s stats. This is the 603rd post since 2-12-2006—two months short of five years. Page visits, counting the old Blogspot format and the current, are almost 75,000.

I seem to be in a woodpecker phase. After the downy woodpeckers were here, the male red-bellied woodpecker came by for some sunflower seeds. Looking at this guy, one wonders why he’s named what he’s named. There is a red-headed woodpecker already in possession of that name, but ‘red-bellied’?

Male Red-Bellied Woodpecker. The female is red only on the back of the neck. These birds are much bigger than the downy woodpeckers.

Symmetrical black and white back pattern.

Thursday, December 09, 2010


12-9-10 SHORT HILLS: It has been cold here, with day-time highs barely above freezing since Monday. Double digit north winds push the ‘feel-like’ temperature down into the teens. The deciduous shrubs that had been holding onto their leaves have given it all up, and the last rose buds have been nipped. I guess the cold snap feels especially cold because it has been fairly mild through the fall until now. Several windy days have produced a shower of branches and twigs which I have been clearing from whoever lives beneath the source trees.

Downy Woodpeckers have been at the feeder.

Downy Woodpecker, female. The male has a dime-sized red spot on the back of the head

Her feathers are plumped up to act like a down coat in the cold. NPI. The Hairy Woodpecker is a larger version of the same bird, but with a longer bill.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Carols and Lights.

12-4-10 VERMONT: It was in the low thirties all day with snow flurries and snow showers, but no accumulation. I put out reflectors to keep the plowers in the driveway and out of the shrubbery, and I set out all the shoveling gear to clear the doorways and deck. We cut a white pine for a holiday tree this afternoon.

Last night we went to the tree lighting on the college green and heard the Glee Club do carols and then had dinner with Andy, Katie and Sara at their house. Tomorrow—back to NJ to face the holidays.

Dartmouth Glee Club caroling for the tree lighting.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ready for Winter.

12-2-10 VERMONT: We arrived yesterday for a long weekend, driving in the rain for the whole trip. It was warm yesterday until the storm started to pull away and then got cold so the last drop of precip was a dusting of snow. High winds yesterday shook another bunch of branches loose and dropped trees here and there, actually, not here.

Today was sunny with clouds making for high contrast between light and dark. Now lets see—is that schadenfreude or chiaroscuro? Either you expose for light and get a dark blob of shadow or open the lens for shade and get white out. How did Ansel Adams do it?

The pond was frozen over this morning with ice about one-quarter inch thick, but stayed frozen all day. Most of the other ponds in the hood are iceless.

I filled the feeders, and they were immediately mobbed by chickadees, nuthatches and red squirrels waiting for the spillage.

Shady Hills, Sunny Hills.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Night at the Opera.

11-28-10 SHORT HILLS: Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I go back to the gym tomorrow to begin to compensate and atone. We had eleven for dinner on Thursday—Alison’s family, Valerie’s family and Anna’s roommate from Chicago, Erin. Every one was generally agreeable, we ate and ate and ate, watched the Jets win, played pool, went to the movies, had extra desserts. The guests were all gone by mid-day Friday, but we all met again Saturday night for dinner at Café Fiorello and a night at the opera—the Met’s new production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte. The music is some of Mozart’s best, and the singing is mostly duets, quartets, sextets and a couple solo arias of note. The libretto by Da Ponte is a farce with a lot of laughs and a happy ending. Special ‘bravas’ for Miah Persson as Fiordiligi.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Red Sky.

11-23-10 SHORT HILLS: The garden remains quiet except for the crashing and clanking of falling leaves, and the leaf blowers, of course. The red oak is slowly giving it up and will finish, hopefully, before the gutter cleaners show up next week. The house in Vermont is blessed by having no gutters to collect leaves and tree debris and need attending to.

It is still comfortable outside wearing only a light jacket as we approach December and the winter solstice. I caught another nice sunset.

One benefit of leaflessness is better sunsets.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wind Storm.

11-19-10 SHORT HILLS: We had a two day wind storm, clear air wind storm. Usually that’s due to a High to the west and a Low pressure area to the east. The wind around the high circulates clockwise around the center of the high, and the wind around the low circulates counter-clockwise. If you can picture that situation, the wind around both centers summates and comes at us from the northwest. Anyway it blew all the hanging leaves out of the burning bushes and other trees and shrubs. The oak tree is hanging on. The yard was full of branches this morning, and I spent an hour of so breaking them up. I also did a bit of pruning.

The roses are still flowering as are the abelia. Thanks, Lori, for the nice comment. I showed Beauty Berry recently, on 10-26-10, as a new planting. Those berries are hanging on even though all the leaves are gone.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Burning Bush.

11-16-10 SHORT HILLS: I came back to NJ yesterday on an overcast day which makes for easier driving—no sun glare or reflections. In Vermont, I finished making all the pieces for the cart and assembled the bed and suspension. The upper part needs to be glued and screwed, but that can be done inside the house where it’s warm in December. The work done so far was in the garage, and it was chilly working outside. There was so much sawdust on the garage floor that it took more than an hour to clean up and then put all the tools away.

The evening before the trip to NJ, I went to hear the Dartmouth Glee Club do the Messiah, part of it, but including the Hallelujah Chorus.

Back here, the burning bushes are aflame, and lots of leaves are hanging on yet.

The yard is full of volunteer burning bushes, some of them, like this row were transplanted to make a border.

Black chokeberry is orange, and burning bush is red.

Current cart configuration.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Gardens are Put to Bed.

11-11-10 VERMONT: It was warmer today, but we started with ice on the pond and heavy frost on the ground. By mid-morning with bright sun it was all gone. Josh and his brother finished all the leaves today, and I finished the beds, did more pruning and some weeding. When all the beds are cleared, the stone walls and stairs reappear. The tall garden plants hide the walls, almost completely in places. With the plants gone, you can see the walls and do repairs. Similarly, pruning is easier with the leaves down.

In the afternoon I took a look at Judy’s pumpkin cart which totally rotted away this summer. Maybe I can resurrect it, but I’ll do it in pressure treated wood.

With the beds cleared, all the rock walls and stairs reappear.

Ice on the pond from this morning was gone by the time we hit 50°.

Another blue sky day. Except for Chloe, everything is dormant for winter.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blue Sky All Day.

11-10-10 VERMONT: I have been busy doing more clean up. Josh has been here with his brother and they have been doing the lawn leaves with huge leaf-blowers. I have finished the terraced beds to the north of the old house and the beds between the house and road, but the last hasn’t had the cuttings removed. I pruned the big viburnum by the old mud room. There is still lots to do.

Today was sunny and fairly warm and pleasant to be outside, no rain for 24 hours, wow. Supposed to be warmer tomorrow.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Red Sky at NIght.

11-8-10 VERMONT: I have cleaned all the beds behind the house and the beds behind the pond and between the house and driveway—about half of what I need to do. Today we were back in the rain, but it stopped for a few hours at mid-day and I got outside for a bit of work. Today was windy and cold, but things are supposed to warm up a bit later in the week.

On Sunday we heard Anna perform with the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir. It was a great show. The Choir is large and very exuberant. Alison, Dan and Lily were up for the occasion. Everybody but me left this morning. The skies cleared Sunday evening for a pretty sunset, in red, before becoming overcast again at night.

Saturday night we had dinner at the Roger and Ann’s with four other couples. Ann did a marvelous job, as always.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Gray Day.

11-5-10 VERMONT: Judy and I both drove up here yesterday in the rain and fog and arrived within a few seconds of each other. The rain continued over night and into the morning and tapering off after noon. It’s still dark, dank, damp, cloudy, foggy, cold and everything is dripping wet.

In the afternoon I went out with the dogs and walked around the half-mowed pasture. I hope Josh gets to do the rest before the snow. The little pond, empty in August, is now overflowing. There are puddles in every hollow. I did a few chores as I came across them. I pulled out corn stalks and tomato vines, filled the bird feeders, cleared some dead fall in the forest, put the small pasture gate away and removed some horse barriers now that Brady the horse is back at Janet’s.

There are actually still a few flowers around—lamium, sedum, monkshood, feverfew, witch hazel, asters and maybe a few others. Oaks, beeches, willows, are still holding on to a few brown leaves and only the occasional berry bearer has color.

Gray, foggy, misty, dark, damp, cold, dripping day with puddles.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Halloween and The Series.

11-3-10 SHORT HILLS: We are no longer frost virgins this season. The last two nights have left us with white haze on the lawns. The hold-out trees are still partly green, and forsythia and some viburnums are mostly green.

Halloween on Garden Place in Brooklyn, NY was the usual mad crush of camera toting adults, some in costume, and hoards of goblins, superheroes and heroines, vamps, vampires, animals, knights, ninjas, nurses, nuns, gagas, madonnas and obamas. Our stoop went through 1,500 treats in a couple hours and closed shop. We decided that if you’re pregnant, you’re too old, and, besides, you’ve already done your trick.

It was nice to see the SF Giants win. I remember the ’54 Series when the NY Giants, my team then, swept the Indians. That was the series with the Willie Mays catch and Dusty Rhodes homers.

Vermont tomorrow—a nice solid blue state.

Garden Place.

Now remember to say, "Thank You."

Those are really good costumes.

Loads of geese are full timers here, but some still migrate. Is this the beginning of an evolutionary divergence?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Leaf Color.

10-29-10 SHORT HILLS: We’re back to seasonal weather and might get a first frost in the next few nights. The big storm that ravaged the mid-west was exhausted by the time it got here, and all we had was a breezy day and, maybe, a quarter inch of rain.

The deciduous trees are busy conserving nutrients and energy stores generated in and by the leaves and storing them in the trunks and roots for the winter. This is why the leaves lose the green color, which comes from chlorophyll, and display the yellows, oranges, pinks, purples and reds we all love. The yellows are from carotenoids which also color carrots, of course, other veggies and egg yolks. The carotenoids are present in the leaf all season but only appear when the green is gone. The reds are from anthocyanins. These chemicals are produced when chlorophyll production ceases. Why? They may repel aphids from over-wintering eggs on the tree, or they may, after leaf fall, suppress the growth of competing tree species.

Nothing a plant spends energy on is frivolous or wasted, but is a hard-won trait providing some survival advantage resulting from years of evolutionary wars.

Borrowed from Wikepedia, authored by the USDA Forest Service.

Another maple. Does it look different now that we know a little more about it?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Berries and Magnolias.

10-26-10 SHORT HILLS: Warm weather continues with a light breeze and humid air—feels like the tropics. Rain has seemed imminent for a few days, but all we’ve gotten is 0.1 inches.

I went to Home Depot to get bird seed, which I did, and found that all their trees and shrubs are 50% off list price. Well—who could ignore that? Especially because the stock looked good, and fall is a good time to plant, no worries about too hot or too dry and time enough for the plant to get established before any hard frost.

I bought and planted a southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora 'Bracken's Brown Beauty', and three beautyberry, Callicarpa japonica, which have the most vividly-colored, small magenta berries. Birds, this is for you.

The burning bush and red maples have started to turn in NJ.

Is this a vivid color? If you were a bird, could you resist these?

Roses are still on the job.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Red Seeds.

10-24-10 SHORT HILLS: So far we have had I cold night, no frost, but in the mid-thirties. [Where I’d like to be.] It has been dry, but rain is promised for this week. It’s pleasantly warm, T-shirt weather, if you’re working outside. I did move and extend a rock border to the bed with the southern magnolias and a bunch of other trees and shrubs including viburnums, yews, hollies, spireas, barberries, a dawn redwood and a hawthorn. As the bed gets bigger, I adjust the border.

While working around the magnolias, I was struck by the opening seed clusters. The seeds are brightly colored, red, as are so many berries in the yard—burning bush, spice bush, holly, barberry, viburnums, yew—to mention a few. Why does the plant invest in the bulky, vividly-colored seed coverings? Why not just put the DNA package out in the air or dump it on the ground? Why go to the expense of a fancy seed in what is always a tight economy for the plant?

I guess the answer is that the pretty wrappings make the seed look like a tasty present for the birds and, maybe the squirrels. If the animal eats the seed for its cover of carbohydrate, a day later it poops out the hard center of the seed, with the DNA, some place else and wrapped in a bit of fertilizer. That way the plant’s offspring get scattered around to new sites promoting the enhanced survival of the species. Since so many do it, it must be a successful strategy.

Southern Magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora, fruit ball with seeds.

Sugar Maple looks even sweeter today.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


10-21-10 SHORT HILLS: I just noticed that witch-hazel is in bloom. The flowers are tiny and delicate and don’t exactly draw you in from fifty feet away like a magnolia or peony. They are pleasantly scented if you get close enough. Who do you suppose pollinates these flowers? When it is still in leaf, it’s easier to see the flowers from underneath the leaves. Some witch-hazels flower only after the leaves have fallen. Some are reddish and come out in very early spring. When the leaves turn, they have the same color, yellow, as the flowers. These shrubs are not the source of hazel nuts, but do make a fruit with four seeds. The shrubs can get ten to twenty feet tall and tolerate full shade.

That dead leaf is from the tree that keeps the witch-hazel in shade most of the growing season.

From underneath the leaves, the flowers have four bracts, four ribbon-like petals and four stamen around a central pistil.

You can see an opening flower bud here.