El zorro ha fallecido

2013 Red fox 10-30-2013 015

No sooner had I stepped inside the backdoor than my wife informed me that the fox was dead.  “I saw him lying by the side of the road when I was out for a walk earlier today,” she said.  “Must’ve been hit by a car.”

The fox had taken up residence in our village several years ago. There were periodic sightings in the neighborhood.  I had seen his silhouette cross the street on one of my pre-dawn excursions, and caught a glimpse of his red bushy tail along the retaining wall on Wood Duck Lane.  Our friends on Winthrop had seen him roaming the cemetery, and my daughter and son-in-law discovered his lair in a pile of fallen tree trunks near their home.

When a free-range rooster and hen disappeared this past summer, we figured the fox had gotten them.

After dinner I pulled on my plaid woolen jacket and walked down Elm Street with my daughter to see him.  The carcass was still there, nestled among the brown leaves in the grass.  He had a thick grey winter coat and amber eyes.  With his fore-paws bent he looked so life-like, almost as if he were poised to dash off into the woods.

“This is so sad,” my daughter said, “so very sad.”

It was almost as though a local human inhabitant had passed away.  A queasiness rose in my stomach as I snapped a few digital photos to document the death.

2013 Red fox 10-30-2013 009

The moon, the leaves and the swallows

I awoke with the light of the full moon streaming in through the bedroom window. Shortly, I stepped out the back door into the street. A light rain had fallen overnight. I set out at a quick pace on my early morning walk along the black streets dappled with yellow leaves glistening under street lights and the full moon.

The previous evening I sat at table next to the wife of an old friend. Unexpectedly, we had met at the annual March of Dimes fundraiser. Earlier we browsed the food booths in the great hall, sampling specialty dishes served up by chefs from local area restaurants. Now we rested at the round tables, listening to the local news personalities as they made a plea for contributions via the silent auction.

I don’t recall how the subject came up, but at some point my friend’s wife mentioned that they had taken up birding. As an avid birder myself, this bit of information intrigued me; and soon we were swapping bird stories. She told me how one of her twin daughters had been pursued by a low-flying flock of sand cranes during a family camping excursion. I told her about the time the Canada geese came honking in waves across the valley early one winter morning. Then she took a deep breath and told me about the tree swallows in Lord’s Cove.

Lord’s Cove is an extensive area of brackish reed marsh and tidal wetlands situated between Essex and Old Lyme on the Connecticut River. They were kayaking the salt marshes one late September evening, when suddenly the sky was filled with swarming tree swallows. “There must have been tens of thousands of them,” she said. “We were engulfed by the sound of the roar of their wings. Then all at once they converged in a funnel and dropped down into the tall grass on the island and were gone.”

Tree swallows Lord's Cove

An auctioneer had ascended the stage and began the bidding on the big-ticket items. Later I learned that my friend’s wife had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma the previous year. She saw her oncologist every three months. She told me she had come to trust him; and for the moment, she felt fine.

I neglected to tell her the story of the wild geese I had seen gliding down in formation to a field filled with corn stubble, their wings arched high to soften their landing.

I made my way back from my early morning walk as the moon broke through the clouds above the far horizon. As I turned the corner by the church at the end of our street, the wind picked up and a shower of golden leaves engulfed me, gently slapping the still glistening street beneath my feet.

"Hunter's Moon" 2012©Brian T. Maurer

“Hunter’s Moon” 2012©Brian T. Maurer

A Socratic dialog on health care reform (VIII)

While on his way to barter for health insurance through the Athenian health care exchange in the Agora, the philosopher Socrates has a chance encounter with Hippocrates, the father of medicine.

Hippocrates: Socrates, my dear fellow! Good day to you. But to what business are you hastening at such an early hour? And, I might add, with such a limp?

Socrates: Good morning, Hippocrates. Were it not for your timely greeting, I might have passed you by. I make haste to join the line of my fellow citizens who stand outside the newly formed healthcare exchange in the Agora. Finally, after years of waiting, we can sign up for affordable health insurance! I can hardly wait to compare the options, for alas! — as of late I have been plagued by this painful hip and fear the need of an artificial replacement.

Hippo: Ah, good Socrates, how sorry I am to hear of your woes! And yet, I fear that your painful hip may be the least of your worries in this healthcare debacle.

Soc: Whatever do you mean, Hippocrates? Are there not enough willing surgeons to go around?

Hippo: Of surgeons there are plenty, Socrates.

Soc: What then? Do you refer to the lack of affordable plans in the healthcare exchange?

Hippo: No, Socrates. A review shows that there are plenty of plans from which to choose. Moreover, with the increased competition, the premiums have dropped appreciably.

Soc: This is good news indeed! But tell me, Hippocrates, what are these concerns which you harbor in your heart?

Hippo: Have you not heard the latest news from the Senate floor, Hippocrates? There are those in the Congress who have plotted to derail the Affordable Care Act. If they have their way, the entire enterprise could come undone.

Soc: But what is this? Tell me more, Hippocrates!

Hippo: A small select group of representatives from the more conservative quarters have vowed to postpone the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for at least another year.

Soc: How can they orchestrate such a thing? Is the ACA not now the law of the land?

Hippo: To be sure, good Socrates, it is. But this select group has tied the postponement of the ACA to the budget bill now before the Senate. Because of their ridiculous amendment the Senate has refused to pass the legislation required to fund the government, the result of which being that all non-essential governmental employees are to be furloughed without pay indefinitely.

Soc: What? To jettison the funding of the Athenian government merely to undercut the implementation of a law on the books! But that is an outrage!

Hippo: (sadly nodding his head) To be sure, to be sure, good Socrates. But I am told that there is little which can be done to remedy the situation. The conservative party has closed ranks, despite the fact that there are many among its members who lament this action.

Soc: Such behavior is outrageous and unbecoming of statesmen!

Hippo: Alas, Socrates, there are few statesmen left in our time. Plato has informed me that this plot has been years in the making, for no other reason than to discredit the president and his program.

Soc: It would appear that politics is alive and well in our Athenian economy.

Hippo: Indeed, the Athenian Times reports that the current budget brinkmanship is just the latest development in a well-financed, broad-based assault on the health law. It gives one pause to wonder at the extent to which our politicians will go to rescind it, even if that means not funding the government and refusing to raise the debt ceiling, which would all but ensure a global Athenian default.

Soc: How small the problem of pain in my hip appears in comparison! Perhaps the mad hatters in the party of tea should consider hemlock.

An autumn afternoon paddle

2013 Farmington paddle 10-5-2013 005

You could tell that the level of the river had dropped appreciably by looking at the bank opposite the big bend; even the beaver dam at the entrance to Pickerel Cove appeared higher than it had been the previous day. It was too high to force the canoe over the top, and the mud flats were too soft to portage. We headed upstream instead, digging deep with our paddles as the boat slid silently through the clear water.

2013 Farmington paddle 10-5-2013 007

The overcast skies had melted away by noon, leaving a few puffy cumulus clouds pasted on the backdrop of blue. The trees were beginning to turn their autumn colors, and you could see them reflected in the surface of the water against the blue sky.

“This is where I fish,” my friend said, pointing to the tangled limbs on downed tree trunks lying in the water close to the bank. “Lots of bass down deep, smallmouth mostly.”

Up ahead a phoebe bobbed her tail, perched on a scoured fallen limb. As we swung into the cove, a great blue heron rose up from the shallows and took flight. A cormorant dove repeatedly through the duckweed and brought up a fish in its gullet. Off to the right a wood duck drummed its wings into the forest.

“You would think this place would be loaded with fish,” my friend said. “They do take a good many yellow perch from here through the ice in winter.”

We turned around at the far end of the cove, retraced our course back to the main channel and proceeded to paddle upstream past the park to the new bridge and the state game lands beyond.

“Look, another cormorant — off to the left!”

The large brown bird stood pigeon-toed, it’s wide webbed feet touching slightly as it careened its long neck to stare at us out of its left eye. You could see the hook at the end of its serrated beak. Silently, it watched as we drifted nearer. Then it lifted its wings and ran across the surface of the water to take flight.

We resumed our paddle, sliding into a long, deep pool littered with autumn leaves. Silhouettes of big fish hovered against the rippled sandy bars near the bottom.

“My buddy used to fish this stretch years ago,” my friend said. “He called it the horseshoe. By the looks of it, it’s a good spot. I’ll have to try to get back here before the season closes out.”

I looked at my watch. We had been paddling upstream for two hours. “I suppose we might head back. It should be half the time running with the river.”

We swung the canoe around and the bow fell off as it caught the current. We pulled our paddles deep and feathered them forward in the late afternoon air.

2013 Farmington paddle 10-5-2013 008