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Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Sky is Carolina Blue (Blog Seventy-nine)

For the past 46 years, or since I was 14, I have been a University of North Carolina basketball fan.  During 42 of those years, the season ended badly, that is without the Heels winning a national championship.

The four years where Carolina captured the title are the biggest thrills I have had in sports.  Last Sunday when the season ended with UNC's loss to Kansas, I was moody and gloomy as always, though, in reality, the season likely ended for all intents and purposes the Sunday before when Kendall Marshall broke his wrist.

Nevertheless, UNC has given me much over the years, especially Coach Dean Smith.  I have read his books and the wisdom he imparted on how to treat people in general and young people specifically greatly influenced how I teach high school students.  In fact, I often tell people I have two roll models: Coach Smith and my late grandfather Willie.  Both talked about the importance of hard work, treating people with respect, and having high expectations for yourself.

Yes, the last loss is always a bitter blow, but, proverbially, there is always next year.  And without a doubt the "Carolina Way" that Coach Smith instituted is a marvelous way to approach life.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gobbling and Crowing (Blog Seventy-eight)

This week, the intensity of the gobbling behind our house took a quantum leap forward.  Elaine and I have been hearing toms irregularly sound off since late February, but beginning Monday and continuing through Friday (which is when I write this) the booming sounds of male turkeys reached new levels.

Tuesday was the most intense morning.  While I was walking my daily three miles in the dark before school, I heard one particularly boisterous monarch gobbling a good 45 minutes before sunrise.  When I arrived home, I ascertained that he was only about a 100 yards away from our chicken coop.  Our rooster, Little Jerry, was crowing inside the coop and when I let him out into the run, the cockerel matched the gobbler in their respective species' versions of "I'm in charge here. All males beware."

Finally, Jerry and the tom subsided, but then another gobbler began, just 75 yards below our house and yet another chimed in on the creek ridge 75 yards in the other direction.  This set off Little Jerry and the first gobbler and everybody had to go through another round of who the macho male was.

I can hardly wait until Virginia's turkey season starts.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Reasons to Arise (Blog Seventy-seven)

As is usual, this morning, I  arose, ate Bob's Red Mill oatmeal with bananas and other fruit and went walking and birding in the dark.  Even an hour before sunrise, the songbirds, especially this time of year when attracting a mate and establishing territory is vital, are exceptionally active.

The first avian I heard was a mockingbird, belting out his song in a field off our rural road.  Soon two male cardinals began dueling by song, each, in effect, warning the other to stay away from his little patch of turf.

Two weeks ago, we had woodcocks doing their mating dance high in the air, but they have flown north.  But we had another transient visitor a few days ago, a hermit thrush.  He has been singing his flute-like melody - an incredibly beautiful one.

Like the woodcock, the hermit thrush will not be here for long.  Soon he will wend his way north and our breeding season wood thrushes will return.  As melodic as the hermit thrush is, I feel that the wood thrush sports the most sublime song of all our songbirds.

Of course, the song I enjoy hearing the most is not often thought of as a song, but it truly is - the booming gobble of a male turkey.  Which reminds me, I should go outside right now and see if I can hear any toms sounding off.  Turkeys have been behind the house for five straight mornings - will today be number six?

Friday, March 9, 2012

No Power, No Problem (Blog Seventy-six)

Wednesday evening our electricity went off just after Elaine finished cooking dinner.  Living in a rural area, we are used to periodically losing power, especially in the wintertime.  Our wood stove was already well-stoked so there was no problem with heat.

Nor was there any problem with light or the evening's entertainment.  While Elaine went to retrieve our Scrabble set and several candles for ambiance, I went to find our Coleman lantern and flashlights.
Elaine set up our scrabble game near the stove and placed two candles on the brick hearth.

We used our Coleman LED flashlights to make our way around the house, and my wife arranged the Coleman lantern behind the game board.  Then the match began.

Elaine and I are currently involved in a Scrabble brouhaha that has lasted about four years.  We have best of 11 matches and so far there have been over 20 of those matches.  The previous match she won 6-0, and on Wednesday evening I won the latest one, also 6-0.  Most of our matches, though, see scores of 6-5 or 6-4 and the deciding game is often settled by just a few points.

Any activity with Elaine indoors or out is always a joy.  And so when the power went off, it was no problem at all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Transition Time (Blog Seventy-five)

In this time of not quite spring, but not still winter, Elaine and I are definitely in a transition stage.  We are still enjoying the fruits of our labor from last spring and summer, as today she ate strawberry jam (made from berries from our garden last June) on toast while I enjoyed wineberry cobbler (made from berries gathered on our land).

But we are also busily doing habitat improvement projects.  Wednesday after school and Friday before school, we planted white pine seedlings in two clearcuts behind our house and earlier in the week we planted three sawtooth oak seedlings in our food plot.  I had planned to go to our Sinking Creek land to plant eight other sawtooth oaks but the heavy rain the past few days has made that trip unlikely.

The birds are also in a transitional phase.  A woodcock showed up Monday and has remained on our land all week.  Every morning and evening we hear him emitting his diagnostic "peenk" sound and doing his aerial mating flight.  The turkeys have been talking behind the house all week and it is clear that the gobblers are ready for romance.

I also have firmed up turkey hunting trips to North Carolina and Tennessee in the past fortnight and will, as always, pursue toms in Virginia and West Virginia.  And I have trout and smallmouth bass fishing excursions planned.  This is a busy time of the year.