friday at black marsh and environs

Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Little Blue Heron at Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Little Blue Heron at Black Marsh Wildlands Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Box Turtle at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Box Turtle at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Rose Pink (Sabatia angularis) at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Rose Pink (Sabatia angularis) at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Spicebush Swallowtail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Spicebush Swallowtail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Cottontail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Cottontail at North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

Not depicted: (1) the Eastern Ratsnake that beat a hasty retreat from the trail it was attempting to cross when it sensed my approach; (2) the White-tailed Deer fawn that bolted from its hiding spot adjacent to the trail as I came upon it; (3) the 30+ other species of birds I saw and/or heard.

spring at cromwell

Male Yellow Warbler singing at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart


American Red Fox stalking prey at Cromwell Valley Park, Baltimore County, Maryland. © 2017 S. D. Stewart

I had a very close encounter with this fox. We were walking toward each other and I’m not sure it even noticed me at first. It was paying close attention to the overgrown field to its immediate right. At a certain point, it turned and started to enter the tall grass. It stood there for a moment with the front of its body obscured before pouncing high up in the air and then disappearing into the grass. I kept walking until I got to the point where it had left the grassy path. I couldn’t see the fox anymore at that point, so I waited and eventually I saw its head pop up amidst the tall grass. We eyed each other for a few seconds before it suddenly stood up and walked out directly in front of me, only about six feet away, and casually turned to the right to continue walking in the direction it had originally been headed. It did not look particularly concerned about my presence, exhibiting only a barely visible wariness. I watched it for a while and then I kept walking in the opposite direction.


(Plate by Ernst Haeckel, courtesy of Public Domain Review)

good morning!

Groundhog, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

A groundhog (aka woodchuck, whistlepig, etc.) takes the early morning sun.

eastern chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk, © 2016 S. D. Stewart

Eastern Chipmunk

the end of the beginning

She looked different from every angle, causing no one to ever remember her. She divided her time between this and that. There were long walks to nowhere. There were staring-out-the-window reveries lasting for hours until a thin string of drool hung from a mouth agape. As evening’s loam drifted down around her, rooting her further in place, she closed her dry mouth and prepared for bed.

She woke up at the same time every day with high ambitions. By the end of breakfast these were dashed to pieces on the great hulking boulders of the afternoon hours, casting their dark shadows as they always do across the glowing yellow light of daybreak. She dressed herself regardless. Her uniform consisted of a shapeless grey jumpsuit and knee-high rubber boots. It is possible that birds nested in her hair. Yet on certain days she looked neat as a pin. Without her uniform, in fact, she looked like most anyone else. It all depended on the angle.

She eked out a living by teaching small children how to pour without spilling. It was one skill she had perfected before she realized the entire system was rigged. Her services were very much in demand, for most parents did not want their children making a mess, while at the same time they were ashamed of their own inability to pour without spilling. Thus they were determined to give their children the one chance they never had, to progress through life without the need to always mop up the table after serving drinks.

Her one true friend was a mollusc named Boil that had lost its shell and now spent its days at the coffee shop down the street from her quarters. The mollusc was irascible in temperament but tolerated her, for she would stroke its foot when it grew apoplectic. Most days she and Boil sat in the coffee shop drinking espresso and waiting for the day to end so they could go home and go to bed. They filled this time among the hulking boulders by doing crosswords and spitting on other customers when the barista wasn’t looking. The barista, a morose badger named Larry, disliked Boil. The feeling was mutual, in fact, for it is well known that badgers and molluscs are natural enemies.

This was her life. She was sure the beginning had ended at some point. But when and where that had happened remained elusive. When she was young she remembered playing with molluscs in the tidal pools at the ocean beach. She never dreamed that after the beginning of the end she would find herself spending most days drinking coffee with a mollusc. Things have a way of coming full circle, though, don’t they, she thought. But was there a hand other than her own drawing that circle, this she also wondered as she walked. And then the window. And then the drool. And then the blinding yellow light shattering the boulders, grinding them to fine powder, the fertile loam of her life.

prairie dog towns: a case study

I never knew if the prairie dogs could leave. They lived in a town inside a park inside a town. There was a fence around their town. It was not a high fence but prairie dogs are not tall. They do burrow, though. That’s one thing they’re known for—building tunnels. So the question for me remained: why didn’t the prairie dogs leave? How far underground did that fence go? Had any of them tried to burrow out, only to encounter the fence? To the untrained eye (mine) they looked content. But I didn’t trust my untrained eye. There were young ones and old ones, so clearly they were procreating. But was there a carrying capacity to this confined town within a park within a town? If no prairie dogs left, would the population not eventually reach this capacity, leading to a crash or other dire consequences? Did the Parks & Recreation Department even have a strategic plan?

Meanwhile, in a nearby state there was another prairie dog town inside a park inside a town. But these prairie dogs were free-range, and their town spread out across acres of parkland. It was a decentralized town, difficult at first glance to even conclude that it existed. The prairie dogs themselves were also less obvious to the naked eye, though apparently no less active according to one news source that named them as likely suspects in an electrical cord chewing scheme plaguing this year’s Christmas display. In fairness to the prairie dogs, though, human vandals were accused of playing an even more significant part in this tragedy. The implication in the article was that the humans knew better.

The other town, the one in my town, was quite elaborate, much more concentrated, presumably as a consequence of the prairie dogs’ confinement. They built up instead of out. It was an odd thing, really, with the fence around it being only a few feet high. The lower part of the fence was made of chain link so the prairie dogs could look out and visualize their freedom. I wonder how the jailers knew what height to build the fence. If three prairie dogs stood on each others’ shoulders the top one could easily leap over.

This Just In: Cursory online searching yielded an article from earlier this year that says some of the prairie dogs have begun to escape from the confined town! The Parks & Recreation director said the fencing is original and is believed to extend to a depth of five feet. But the fence is deteriorating and the city doesn’t have the money to replace it. Note: due to the horrid quality of this article I refuse to link to it. In fact, if anything, my recent superficial review of online regional news outlets from this part of the United States has made me thankful for having put such a great distance between it and me. Apparently, in that part of the country one doesn’t need to be literate to find work as a journalist.

What I wonder is how one town in a region decides to confine their park-dwelling prairie dogs while another town does not. To me this indicates a fundamental difference in world view, and yet having visited both places (and lived in one of them), I would never have guessed that the authorities would be at such polar opposites when it comes to dealing with potentially destructive ‘critters,’ as one diligent reporter so endearingly referred to them. In the free-range town, the Parks & Recreation representative displayed a surprisingly blasé, perhaps even a live and let live, attitude toward the prairie dogs. In the other town, however, the parks director made it clear that the animals were there for public display and the popularity of this display would drive the town to secure funds necessary to fix the fence. This, in my opinion, would be the expected point-of-view in that region, a place where most people consider animals to be: (a) something to eat; (b) something to shoot; and/or (c) something to be confined for the amusement of humans. However, I was apparently not thorough enough in my highly amateur and flagrantly qualitative anthropological research. Although I regret the oversight, I still expect this shoddily constructed case study to ensure my continued membership in the esteemed Society for Purveyors of the Unscientific Method.

intentionally blank

intentionally blank

our small furry friends in dreams and waking life

I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a rabbit tonight. I’m so sick of automobiles. Death traps they are. I’m not well-suited to them.

Today I read through sections of my dream journal for the first time in perhaps forever. Here’s an entry from May 2010:

“I could understand what squirrels were saying. Apparently they have jobs like us and were discussing a colleague. It was actually quite boring.”

My process for dream journaling involves retrieving the notebook from my bedside table as soon as I awake. I try to approximate automatic writing as near as possible. The result is extraordinary; when I look back at entries I often have no recollection of writing them. Frequently there are editorial comments on the dream that I’ve entered during the recording process. A lot of these are simply question marks indicating my confusion about the presence of a particular person, theme, or action in a dream.

I often have horrific dreams, many of them set in post-apocalyptic settings (usually due to some form of environmental collapse). In an entry from April 2010 I complained about not remembering my dreams lately. The next morning yielded this entry:

“Well, I got what I asked for. Gruesome dream during part of which I was standing at the bottom of this chute. People at the top were throwing down these plastic bags, some of which contained blood and other fluid, and others that contained chopped up body parts. Sometimes the bags would break open. Disgusting.”

Dreams such as these leave me shaken. But dreams also bring welcome visitors from my past, such as my dearly departed cats. Waking from these dreams leaves me warm inside.

Lately many of my dreams have been set in my hometown, a place I haven’t seen in almost 20 years. It’s made me curious to visit.

A common thread in my dream journal is the periodic desperate comment that I haven’t been remembering my dreams. Dream-life is so important to me, and when I lose that connection to it waking life appears dimmer than usual. I also feel that dream-life and waking life interact. Sometimes the two are so bizarrely different, but as I keep track I see a seamless passing of themes, of characters, of settings between the two worlds. There is a path between them that I know is worth traversing.

snowy day

As I stare out the window, fluffy puffs of snow drift purposefully down from the sky. They signal a lazy day, or at least they provide rationalization for such. As the first of the season, they also hammer the final nail in the coffin lid of autumn, and prod me into a grudging admittance that winter is definitely here now. Yesterday morning, I searched in vain again for the Red-headed Woodpeckers at Irvine. It was cold, gray, and quite birdy, with loads of other woodpeckers, sparrows (including several Fox Sparrows), many jays, and the other usual suspects. I also surprised an interesting looking squirrel. It was smaller than an Eastern Gray Squirrel, with a reddish tail and mostly blonde body. Blonde phases of gray squirrels are not uncommon, but I’m not too sure about a red/blonde mix.

Feeling a bit restless now so I think I better venture out of the house. Maybe more later?

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