Out A Winter Window


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From GENE LOGSDON

I was sort of startled by the two foxes at the edge of the woods outside our kitchen window. Son-in-law Joe took the picture. Those are well-fed foxes, I can vouch, courtesy of our hens. A part of me wanted to shoot them but a part of me didn’t. The lazy part saved them. I’d probably have missed anyway, given the state of my eyes these days. Red foxes are so pretty. Worth a hen or four I guess. Coincidentally, I had just read in Poor Will’s Almanack 2015, by Bill Felker, a book that Brad Roof, a reader of this website, gave me: “As the sun starts to rise a little earlier in mid-January, mating time approaches for foxes. Watch for their playing and courting in the fields.” I think these two had sex on their minds because they were so preoccupied with each other that they did not notice us standing at the window.

Then I also remembered another reason I should not have been surprised by the foxes. We live far out in the country with lots of cover and woodland around. Visiting son-in-law Joe’s house recently, which has some woody area behind it but which is very suburban, I was staring out the window, as I so like to do, and a coyote came slinking across his yard. I’m telling you: wildlife is everywhere these days. I was talking to an old-time coonhunter recently who was lamenting the lack of skillful hunters these days. “I think squirrels are about to take over the world,” he said, shaking his head. I agreed. We have so many in our woodlot. I keep thinking that “our” foxes will start catching them and pay us for their chicken dinners. Maybe they are.

An even more surprising sight out our window recently was an Eastern towhee, right here in January. This towhee has various names, and ornithologists argue about which should be the correct one. Rufous-sided towhee is another name. I get weary of biologists arguing (and changing) the names of birds and plants but I suppose that’s to be expected. However the idea that naming a bird or plant means we know more about it is only affectation. I make up my own names for wildlings sometimes and I know at least as much about them as the people who can spout off Latin labels.

Why was the towhee here in northern Ohio in January? I searched through my books. Not that unusual. Edwin Way Teale, up in New England, says in A Naturalist Buys An Old Farm that he had towhees overwinter on his place two years in a row. I am inclined to think that towhees in January, like coyotes and foxes in our backyards, is another indication that wildlife, despite popular sentiment to the contrary, is on the upswing in America. This towhee was close to the bird feeder, and may have visited it before or after I saw it. Don’t know. Then when I went to the barn a little later, I saw another towhee, or maybe the same one. I have described here more than once how land next to ours, and now some of ours too, has been abandoned to farming and is growing up in second growth brush and trees. Wildlife loves that kind of terrain, towhees included, so who knows what’s next. Our kitchen window is becoming a TV screen for wildlife documentaries.

Birds are blown off course or off schedule by weather sometimes, and we had been enjoying a week of steady southerly wind. I wonder if the towhees got caught up in that weather front, say in Tennessee, and giddily let it carry them farther north than they might otherwise have flown.

The deer are plentiful out our window too. They have been pawing up acorns out of the shallow snow cover. They rake up dead leaves in the process. One of the deer laid down on this impromptu bed for a nap. Right there before our eyes watching from the window.

Another new sensation out our window is a pileated woodpecker, a rare sight around here until last year. This bird, big as a crow but with such regal bearing, almost brings chills down my spine, the way it can hammer away at a rotten part in a tree, throwing away quite large flakes and slivers of wood. I think it is making a comeback here because along with our abandoned land growing back to trees and brush, there are various small woodlots of old-growth forest that contain quite a few old trees with holes big enough to support all kinds of woodpeckers. The foresters say that a real forest environment can’t be maintained by little plots of forest unconnected to each other. I am not so sure of that anymore. Black bears are on the increase in Ohio, and the first time one shows up out our window, I will start arguing about that.
~~

21 Comments

My cat brought up a towhee to the back porch one morning last week. I had seen them at the feeder but hadn’t identified them until I got a closer, though more gruesome than I’d have liked, look. I live in a rural subdivision on a 2 acre farm in central Arkansas. We have deer, coyotes, red foxes, racoons, possums, squirrels, rabbits that I see often. We even had a brief visit by a juvinile black bear in the brown phase Resently! Yesterday a bald eagle circled over the garden as we were preparing to plant. It was thrilling! I got to walk right up to a red shouldered hawk on the fence post before he flew. I would have taken a pic with my phone but I thought he’d fly if I got my phone out. My husband was hollering at me to take its pic. The big farm across the road is being piece meal sold off as commercial property. So far there is a dollar store, an office, & a church- 6 acres down- 134 to go. There is a creek behind it that flows into the lake across from us. We would have liked 20 or 40 acres of it, but we’re told they were selling it commercial since it is bordering a major highway. We couldn’t afford what they asked per acre. I think Farmer B would have rather sold to us. Before I ramble on any more I have to tell you how much your books & ,now your blog ,have meant to us! Thank you!

Gene, we still have several towhees at our feeder here in Tennessee. If you have any up your way, you didn’t get them from us!

Russ, thanks so much for that link! Loved the podcast and, you know, Gene’s voice sounded pretty much how I’d imagined!

I remember sometime in the mid 90’s during a nasty stretch of winter we had birds that we had never seen at our feeder. After some research we found that they were horned larks and we have never had them since.As with many of your Ohio readers who go back a ways, rabbit and pheasant were the common occurrence about the fields and farm and deer and wild geese were the rare sighting and coyotes were never seen. Quite the opposite these days.
Your observations are very much in keeping with the beauty of Bill Felker’s writing which brings me to a recent discovery of significance to all of your readers.

Felker lives in Yellow Springs OH which has a wonderful radio station which has a locally produced program which reviews books and interviews authors on a national scale which featured Gene Logsdon almost a year ago. Through complete serendipity, my son-in-law heard an early Sat morning rebroadcast a few weeks ago and casually mentioned later that ” I think that farm guy you enjoy reading and meeting so much was on WYSO the other morning “. After unsuccessfully trying trying to find it on their website, I emailed for assistance and was directed to the link of the original broadcast.

Dadbop ( my father’s favorite pejorative to keep from swearing audibly ) your humility Gene.
It is one of the things I most admire about you but it does get in the way of significant information sometimes. This is my favorite interview with you that I have ever heard. The host, Vic Mickunas, is familiar with your greater body of work and personally aware of many of the issues that compose your writing. The wide ranging conversation was fascinating.
Here is the link:

http://wyso.org/post/book-nook-gene-everlasting-contrary-farmers-thoughts-living-forever-gene-logsdon

I think your fans will agree with me. God bless you Gene even if you don’t think He/She exists!

    Well, Russ, bless your heart. I have just been so honored over these past few years to have someone like you, whom I know is very very smart, reading and joining in on this blogsite. For other readers, Russ is a math teacher, both high school and college, and also a farmer who went through some of the same experiences as I did as a young man and now with Beth, his wife, is an excellent example of the new local food farmers.. Gene Logsdon

      If I was so smart I wouldn’t have done so many stupid things over the years.
      But I was smart enough to get Beth to say “I do” before she collected enough information to change her mind.

    Thanks SO MUCH for sharing this link, Russ. Andy and I certainly enjoyed it! Now I’ll have to go back and re-read the book…

Gene, I’m currently reading (enjoying!) “A Sanctuary of Trees” and was hoping in the process to learn what tree species might be the best to replace the ashes we had to cut down this fall. Living on a suburban lot in Vandalia, these were providing our southwest shade. I could guess, but you present so many options… Thanks for sharing a lifetime well lived.

Peter H Maxwell

    Peter, look close around where you cut down the dead ashes. Here along the edge of our woods scores of ash seedlings are coming up and I think they will outlast the bug. Otherwise, I always vote for white oak to replace the ash. Look at whatever is growing healthily around you and chose that. Gene

Dear Gene
been laid up recently and was able read “Last of the Husbandmen”; and want to thanks you for a great reading experience. I think part of what makes it so good is that you obviously enjoyed yourself making the book. thanks.

Even suburban Westerville (Columbus, Ohio, area) has wildlife aplenty. Last summer, we set a live trap for groundhogs, and caught two skunks and (surprise!) a mink! I’m not sure I’d ever seen a mink in the wild. We let the mink go, but not before he uttered a plaintive yowl/shriek. Talk about a wild sound. We’re lucky to have a creek bordering our backyard. A water source does wonders….

I wish I could come by, have a cup of coffee and watch out the window with you. Love your post as always.

Piliated woodpeckers are everywhere in our woods in central Vermont. It is fun to hear their call and see them flying around like black and white rockets.

the image of fox lovers carousing in the snow is just gorgeous. Thanks for sharing the story with us! We just had 5 young does eating the left-behind heads of cabbage in the garden, just a few feet away from our livingroom windows… It was amazing. Isn’t it funny to think on how seeing wild animals feels so different, maybe more magical, than our domestic ones? However I still get a shot of glee to see our pigs racing through the forest towards us at breakfast time.

I was out splitting kindling yesterday and heard the Sandhill cranes fly over! It was only Jan 29th–I usually don’t see them until the third week in February. Are we going to have an early spring or are they confused?

We haven’t seen too many towhees this winter here in middle Tennessee but we have seen quite a few tufted titmice. We also get plenty of woodpeckers but mostly downy and hairy varieties. We get the occasional pileated but usually in the summer. The most interesting bird migration we saw a month ago was a huge flock of robins really high in the sky every night just before sundown. They are so high you can’t tell what they are without binoculars. They don’t fly together they fly separately but cover the whole sky seemingly heading for nesting grounds somewhere nearby. And they always are flying north. it went on for weeks.

Having grown up and lived in central Ohio for 40 years and now 17 years in the south I can’t imagine living in real winter again. But we do miss the summers up there.

On an unrelated note – We spend the bad weather days searching for good junk at the thrift stores and yard sales. The other day I found a treasure on the local Goodwill bookshelf. It was an original copy of a book from 1971 by a young, up and coming author called Two Acre Eden. It has lost its dust jacket but otherwise is in good condition. Inside the front cover somebody wrote “discard” in pencil. Sorry they don’t give you any royalties from the Goodwill but hopefully you did OK with it back in the day. I think this book completes my collection of all your books so I was very happy to find it. Let me know, Gene, if you have any old dust jackets laying around and I will gladly pay you the original book selling price for it.

    Tim K, I wish I could help you but I have no old dust jackets other than the one I wear up to the barn. You flatter me but of course I love it. One of these days someone will stamp “discard” on my forehead. Thanks for a ray of sunshine on this cold Jan. day. Gene

Just remember these wild creatures are not only good looking but a lot of them can be good eating as well. It is in, my opinion, a way of imparting a different flavor to the chickens they consumed. SO I’m thinking of renaming my raccoon dinners as second hand chicken so folks are less inclined to turn up their noses at some fine eating. Also there are seemingly varying numbers of Rufous-Sided Towhees at my bird feeders now. .I envy you Midwest folks your abundance of deer and squirrels. Sure we have three varieties of deer out here and Whitetail deer Blacktail and mule deer and even a rare subspecies of whitetail, as well as ELk and bear, but come hunting season they become rather invisible.

When I was a kid, nearly a half century ago, deer were so uncommon that my dad came back to the house to quietly usher us back to the big meadow where a doe and a fawn were feeding at twilight. Last year, I went to the garden and saw what I thought was a buff dog laying, splay legged in the vegetables. When I yelled “hey dog, get out of there”, the head turned and I saw it was a bobcat. I backed away slowly. All of this a dozen miles from Yale university in CT. More wildlife here than ever and my bit of farm is in suburbia.

    I would like to see a bobcat! Never have though supposedly there are still some around here in Fauquier County VA. We do have a lot of coyotes, but I didn’t realize how much they looked like foxes till I was walking in the woods and ran across a big grey fox. When he didn’t scoot away like a fox but just gave me a cold look and stood his ground, I did the same back away thing!
    And Gene, we have a pair or two of the pileateds here. I have even seen them on the ground poking around (don’t know what they were doing).
    Lee

We get our fair share of wild critters on the farm. I went out yesterday morning, walked into the barn, and saw a bundle of fur in the wheelbarrow we use to haul manure. I got closer and he didn’t move. Turns out, it was a raccoon either soundly asleep or semi-conscious. Tried to rattle him but he just climbed out and curled up in the corner with his paws over his eyes. For a passing moment, those sad eyes were saying, “I’m old. I’m tired. I lived a long life and I came in here to die in peace.” And for a few moments I thought about just leaving him. But then thoughts of all the diseases raccoons can carry made me think differently. (Even though they are a major carrier of rabies, there hasn’t been a single case tied to a raccoon in the past decade here in Illinois.) Knowing the well-being of our animals was the priority, knowing anthropomorphism is a dangerous thing and that he is, after all, a wild animal, I got a shovel and gently (but firmly) nudged him to the stall door. He reluctantly waddled across the pasture, into a grove of trees, and slowly climbed one. I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since.

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