Posts Tagged ‘predators’

A Lot Can Happen in a Month

Immediately upon completion of the 30-day mourning period for my brother-in-law (shloshim), we returned to Maine from our home town, driving 10.5 hours through the night.  We arrived at 7 a.m. on July 4th.

The first thing I noticed was the holes in the driveway.  In June, a snapping turtle had been busy sloooowly coming up the driveway each day at dusk for about a week to dig a hole, lay some eggs which resemble ping-pong balls, cover up the hole, and sloooowly make her way back to the bog at the bottom of the driveway.  Now, in July, the eggs must have hatched in the past 2 days, for the shells were still leathery.  The baby turtles had torn their eggs open under the ground, and literally clawed their way to freedom digging through the packed gravel on the driveway, making their instinctual pilgrimage to the bog below.  It’s quite a miraculous journey, as many local creatures such as raccoons, fishers, herons, hawks, crows and snakes prey upon the babies, or manage to dig their way underground to steal and eat the eggs from the nest before they hatch.  Once grown, though, the snapping turtle has only man for a predator (you’ve probably heard of Turtle Soup, a real delicacy in China).  When threatened the snapping turtle’s bite is powerful and could amputate someone’s fingers.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Leathery remnants of hatched snapping turtle eggs.

Another weird thing was the bees:  I saw that the Bee Man had added some new hives, a sign that the numbers of bees are increasing and honey production is in full swing.  Indeed, the scent of honey was heavy in the air (and smelled heavenly).  The morning of our arrival all looked well, but by the end of the afternoon, shortly before dusk, the bees  appeared to be resting in a swarm on the outside of the hive – – tens of thousands of them!  I looked up this phenomenon on the Internet, and found that this is called “bearding.”

Bearding is a form of hive air-conditioning; the bees depart the immediate brood nest area in order to help keep it at the desired temperature (too many busy bee bodies = too many BTUs). When you see all the bees outside the hive an hour before sundown, you’ll also notice the following morning (early a.m.), most if not all, have gone back inside the hive because the outside air temperature (and thus the hive temp) has dropped – again, just a way they regulate the brood nest temperature.

"Bearding:"  When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day.

“Bearding:” When the temperature inside the hive gets too hot to handle, bees cool of by hanging out around the outside of the hive at the end of a long day. (Click to enlarge to see tens of thousands of resting bees “bearding.”)

While we were away, it had rained 10 of the last 15 days, and the first two weeks of June were scarcely drier.  Our house was practically unrecognizable upon our return, due to the heavy foliage.  The lilac bushes and blueberry shrubs I had planted with such care, along with 80 sunflower plants, had been swallowed up and overwhelmed by weeds, brush, grass, thorny raspberry and poison oak.  The trunks of the apple trees were similarly covered.  In the Maine woods, in the battle of Man vs. Nature, nature ultimately always wins.  (Or as a Mainuh once bemoaned the state’s poor economy, “The only thing Maine knows how to do right is grow trees and lobstah.”)  Weed-whacking was the order of the day (not the most ideal way to spend a holiday day off), and it was made worse by a searing heat wave that included lots of humidity.

Once the orchard was trimmed, I could see that the garlic had really grown tall.  The type of garlic I planted is not like the kind you get at the supermarket.  In order to survive the Maine winter (garlic is usually planted in the Fall), a special type of garlic, called hard-necked garlic, is used.  Although its strands cannot be braided due to the stiffness of the greens, it is very potent and delicious.  Towards the end of the growing season, each planted clove forms a curly “scape” with its own little seed bulb.  It is recommended that one cut the scapes off so the garlic bulb under the ground will not divert its nutrients towards the scape, and the bulbs will reach their maximum potential in size.  But the scape cuttings can be used to garnish a salad or sautéed or steamed, and are quite delicious in their own right.

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a "scape."

The curly, bulbed end of a hard-necked garlic plant is called a “scape.”

My husband was completely exhausted after doing the weed-whacking, and had lost probably 5 lbs. in sweat (eeyew).  We jumped in the car and drove to the lake, which was completely devoid of other people, and dove in the cool, clean, refreshing water.  We had a great swim!  From there we returned home, had a light dinner, and decided to go see fireworks.

Fourth of July celebrations are taken very seriously and enthusiastically in rural Maine.  In especially small towns, two or three towns will combine their celebrations and have  several events during the day, including a parade (which most of the residents participate in, so there are few spectators), a 5k charity race, a pot-luck picnic lunch or dinner, with proceeds also going to charity, and of course, fireworks.

Ebenezers Pub in Lovell, Maine is world-famous, which is something of a surprise since it’s basically in the middle of nowhere about 6 miles down the road from our house.  Ebenezer’s is  known for their impressive inventory of beers, with 1000+ beers available at any one time and at least 35 varieties on tap.  Once we took some guests there, and the claim that they are world-famous was met with rolling eyes and guffaws.  But sure enough, a couple of patrons sitting at the bar had motorcycled there all the way from Virginia on a beer pilgrimage, and another couple had come especially from Belgium!  It’s low-key and friendly and despite the many boutique beer offerings, there is not a trace of snobbery or sleaze.  Ebenezers adjoins Kezar Lake Country Club, whose golf course is open to the public, and it’s a perfect venue for watching the fireworks provided by the Lovell Volunteer Fire Department on a hot night, sitting on the grass, glass of (exotic) beer in hand.  (Check out the pub’s website, they have a great list of things to do in the area should you ever decide to come visit us!)

What made it really special, however, was the crowd of 150 people of all ages.  When the fireworks began, the entire audience spontaneously started singing a whole medley of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and This Land is Your Land.  It was really quite touching, not to mention patriotic.  I guess the patriotism is not that surprising, since most of the residents here are direct descendants of the original patriots, colonists, and founding fathers who created the United States of America.   This is their heritage at the source and by golly, they certainly do embrace and celebrate it.

Today, Sunday, is the last day before the 9 days leading to the Tisha B’Av fast day and prayers, which commemorate the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.  During these upcoming nine days there are several restrictions.  No swimming or boating.  No laundering.  No eating meat.  So naturally, in between scrambling to get all my laundry done, I made kayaking, fishing and swimming a priority, since I cannot partake of these activities after today.  I did manage to catch several fish:  2 small yellow perch (not known as good eating fish so I threw them back), a brown  trout which was too small to keep and also was returned to the water, and finally, a nice-sized white perch, which, when sauteed with the garlic scapes mentioned above and some freshly-snipped parsley that is also from my garden, made a tasty and healthy lunch.

2 o'clock:  just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

2 o’clock: just-caught white perch sauteed with freshly picked parsley and garlic scapes from my garden.

By being away from Maine during the crucial month of June, I missed the prime planting time for a summer or fall garden.  So my packets of many varieties of kale seeds and beets and cucumbers will sadly have to wait until next year to be planted.  Because frost appears as early as September in Maine, the growing season is very short, and if you do not seize the day to plant in a timely manner, you simply lose out until next year.

It is good to be back!  And this will be a busy summer:  awaiting the birth of a new grandchild in Chicago, and entertaining eleven of my grandchildren at the same time in mid-August here at our house in Maine.  Stay tuned!

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Bears

Last week I drove about an hour away to a community center in Jackson, New Hampshire to attend a lecture given by a bear specialist for the State of New Hampshire and the White Mountains from the US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

Despite a week of warm temperatures, the bears in our woods are still hibernating, according to USDA’s Nancy Conneau, although bears have already been sighted about 2 hours south of us.  Weather-wise, we have only another week or two before we have to bring in our bird feeders.  You see, bears have one thing – – and only one thing – – on their mind:  FOOD.  They are in an endless struggle to fill their stomachs in the Spring to recover the 30% body fat loss from the winter; and in the late summer and fall, they must increase their body fat by 40% to account for growth, development, and to tide them over during the coming winter’s hibernation (and if they are female, the biennial birthing/nursing process).

A very easy meal for bears is to visit the bird feeder, which contains all sorts of yummy seeds full of protein and fat.  Which is a problem, because bears have a phenomenal memory.  And once they find a bird feeder (or dumpster, or greasy bbq grill, or dog food) in a specific location, they will visit that location daily, hopeful that the homeowner will think that the bear was scared when he ran away from the loud noise caused by the homeowner banging on pots to keep the bear away.  Hah!  The bear was running from the noise, but he is simply waiting until the noise goes away and then, ever persistent, he will visit again and again because he cares more about food than noise.  Their sense of smell is amazing – Ms. Conneau claimed that a black bear can smell a sunflower seed from half a mile away!

Bird feeders are such a problem – – Ms. Conneau referred to them as “bear feeders” – – that several local towns have had to adopt ordinances outlawing homeowners’ use of bird feeders from April 1 – Dec. 1.  People have respected the ordinances . . . and the bears have moved on . . . to chickens!  With the increase in interest in raising chickens (in my area, several houses have hand-inked cardboard “Fresh Eggs $2.00/dozen” signs),  bears in their never-ending quest for food have been hitting chicken coops.  They go after the chicken feed – – and the chickens.  Last summer, it seemed wherever I went (post office, library, Town office), the dead chicken count was the hot topic on everyone’s lips, and the culprit was  not the usual fox or coyote – – it was bears.

Ms. Conneau’s recommendation:  store birdseed in galvanized cans, preferably in a locked garage or storage shed, and surround the coop with an electrified fence.  While I don’t raise chickens, I do have several beehives on my property, and we do have a solar-powered electrified fence that has kept the bears at bay . . . so far.

“I had to shoot three bears at three different locations last year,” says my Bee Man, who owns and tends to the hives on my property.  “Once they get into the honey, not even an electric fence will stop them.  They are very determined, and the quest for filling their stomachs overrides any discomfort, whether from the sting of a bee or an electric fence.”

One problem is that bears are, well, so darn cute.  It’s fun to watch bears, especially when they appear so reliably at places like a dumpster.  What people don’t realize is that by feeding a bear, they are essentially condemning it to death.  As bears become habituated to a dumpster, or a neighborhood, they gradually lose their fear of people.  And in their never-ending search for food, they become increasingly daring.

The lady in the seat next to me raised her hand.  “Last year, I had a bear encounter,” she began.

It was a hot summer day so all the windows in the house were open.  She was in the backyard, mowing the lawn.  She decided to take a break, and went into the front door for a cold drink.  She saw mud on the stairs and thought, “Oh, Kyle (her teenage son) must’ve come home early.  He never wipes his feet!”  She followed the muddy trail up the carpeted stairs, all the while yelling, “Kyle!  Darn you, I told you to wipe your feet!” and when she got to the top, she came literally nose to nose with – – a bear!  Slowly and quietly she backed down the stairs, went outside, and called 911 from her cellphone.

“They sent Fish & Game, and they spent 45 minutes getting him out of the house (through the window).”  But all was not well.  Within 15 minutes the bear came back out of the woods, and tried to re-enter the house.  “Fish & Game had to shoot it right in my yard,” she said.  “I’m just glad they didn’t have to kill it inside my house.”

In some cases, nuisance bears are trapped, sent by truck and released by the Canadian border.  But it’s not really a great solution, because many of the bears return within days, covering great distances.  Females’ territory usually covers 5 – 10 miles (1 – 2 miles when cubs are young); males’ territory covers 10 miles but can cover up to 20 miles.  Although we think of them as lumbering creatures, they can run up to 35 mph.

Ms. Conneau suggested that if you really want to keep your windows open during hot summer months, to lay ammonia-soaked rags on the window sills.  Ensure you don’t have trash lying around, even if it means more trips to the dump (no, there is no trash pickup in rural communities), and meanwhile dousing the cans with ammonia as well.   (I should add that when we built our house, I was mindful of bears, and I did not put any large windows on the ground floor by design.  I am also extremely strict with my grandchildren about not leaving any food outside when they come to visit.)

The good news is that, while black bears in New Hampshire and the White Mountains are certainly dangerous animals that are capable of killing humans, the last time someone was killed by a black bear in New Hampshire was in 1784.  (Grizzly and polar bears are much more threatening and dangerous to people, but they do not exist in the Eastern U.S.)  There are approximately 5,000 bears in New Hampshire, with most in the White Mountains.  And Maine has the largest black bear population in the continental United States:   25,000 to  30,000!  (About 3,000 – 4,000 bears are killed every year in Maine during bear hunting season.  I know of five bears killed in my woods during hunting season in 2012).

Bear cubs are born in January or February in dens during hibernation.  Usually one or two cubs are born to a bear (the female is known as a “sow”), but last year there were four sows in New Hampshire that had five cubs each!  The cubs stay very close to the mother (usually in a tree while the mother forages) for the first 3 – 4 months; they move a little farther from the mother as they mature.  Cubs remain with their mother for 18 months, reentering the den with her their second winter, but the coming Spring they are on their own and must find their own territory.  They will find a mate in their second Fall and so the cycle continues.

One doesn’t want to get between a bear and her cubs.  Ms. Conneau recommended that hikers (and their pet dogs) should wear a noisemaker such as a bell to alert bears to their presence.  Black bears usually retreat before people are aware of them.

So other than the cuteness factor, what good are bears?   Bears affect the ecosystem in a number of positive ways.  But put simply, according to the Fish & Game website, “the most important function is the knowledge that if you live in an area that can support a healthy bear population, that area is also healthy enough to support you.”

*see my archived post about a bear encounter at https://midlifeinmaine.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/bde-mr-bear/

The Elephant in the Room

I really do try to keep my blog “pareve,” but on this one, I just had to speak out.

Recently there have been trials and convictions of pedophiles from the Orthodox community in New York.  Besides the sorrow, shame, horror and chilul HaShem, I would just like to point out a few things:

1. There is no “cure” for someone who is tormented by sexual desire for a child.  Even if the abuser doesn’t physically act out, his mind is always filled with desire.  It is usually only a question of time before he can no longer control his need to act upon this desire.

2. Castration (or medication which accomplishes a similar result) is not effective.  Abuse can occur with hands or other body parts just as easily as with a sex organ.

3.  Victims of abuse suffer for the rest of their lives.  That doesn’t mean that a victim of abuse cannot go on with life and live a happy life, but s/he will always be affected by the abuse s/he experienced.

4.  When school administrators, teachers, rabbis, youth organizations, camp counselors, friends, and family are aware of abuse and do not report it, they are enablers of said abuse.  Firing a teacher or youth leader guilty of abuse but then turning a blind eye when the accused moves to a different city/state/country and gets another job that will place him in contact with children and more opportunities for abuse, without the previous administration informing his new place of employment of the abuser’s past history, is intolerable, and an accessory to crime.

5.  If rabbis that give piskei Torah or administer kashrus organizations know about specific abusers but do nothing, why should we trust them as reliable when it comes to their rulings or their hechsherim?

6.  We must not send our children to a school that harbors abusers, even if our own child is not specifically targeted or affected.

7.  A false accusation of abuse will change an innocent person’s life forever.   While false accusations are rare, they are completely despicable and inexcusable, and should not go unpunished.