Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Updates on Rick Mercer and Chris Hadfield

Comedian Rick Mercer visits Canadian forces in Afghanistan in 2005. Image by jmbone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Comedian Rick Mercer visits Canadian forces in Afghanistan in 2005.
Image by jmbone, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

NCPR blogs have discussed Rick Mercer and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield before. Mercer is the long-time host of CBC’s Rick Mercer Report, a reliably funny exploration of life and politics across Canada. Hadfield became an international media darling with his remarkably engaging tweets and photos from the International Space Station.

Those two famous cultural icons are among a longer list of Canadians receiving a national honor called the Order of Canada, typically awarded twice each year. (Actually Hadfield had already been awarded the Order of Canada, he’s getting a promotion to a higher level within that order.)

Mercer’s selection came for “his ability to inspire and challenge Canadians through humour”. The comedian called the award a tremendous honour (using the Canadian spellings). He says he was quite surprised, practically dumbstruck, to get the news in person from Governor General David Johnston.  

Hadfield has retired from a long military career. But the ex-astronaut has become a best-selling author in Canada, with his “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” (2013). Here’s how one reviewer summarized the work on the book site Good Reads:
Depending on your outlook on things, this book will either make you feel like you have lived a vastly underwhelming and underachieving sort of life, full of these lost opportunities, these missed chances… or it will make you feel infinitely inspired, like you can live more and do more just be more in general, and it will serve as fuel to your rocket, to use a hackneyed analogy.Being what I think of as a jaded sort of optimist, I’m somewhere in-between.But Col. Hadfield is definitely leaning heavily towards the inspiring part, and does so with admirable grace and aplomb.
Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes, which he probably considers to be among the more delicious components of a recent "package" that arrived from Earth on March 3. (2013) Source: NASA

Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency juggles some tomatoes, which he probably considers to be among the more delicious components of a recent “package” that arrived from Earth on March 3. (2013) Source: NASA

(Note: I have that book and it’s true – I feel small reading it, but also fired up with the possibilities of engaged optimism.)

Hadfield continues to garner favorable opinions as a singer. While commanding the International Space Station his version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” went viral. That song had to come down after a year due to a licensing agreement. Happily, rights were extended and it can still be viewed, as explained in this chronology.

Chris and his brother David Hadfield produced a charming original song and video just in time for Canada Day. They billed it thusly:

Published on Jul 1, 2014

A polite song from two brothers who are just hoping your day is going okay.

“In Canada” may or may not establish itself as a keeper, although it has over a million hits in just a few days. But it’s a nice take on ordinary life in the “true north strong and free” from two middle-aged men who tried to put that to song. Eh?

America: a late bloomer

The evening of July 4 is an appropriate time to muse upon the foundation of this country. From the perspective of 238 years, it’s easy to take the lofty principles and rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and later of the Constitution as inevitable things, and to see the evolution of our freedoms as a natural product of the flow of history. It would be easy (but wrong) to think that on July 3, 1776 we were 13 crown colonies, and on July 4, 1776, one free republic.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, by Howard Chandler Christy

And it’s easy to forget how easily the nascent nation could have been snuffed out by the fortunes of revolution, or could have become progressively less democratic, rather than more. It’s hard to overstate the lack of consensus that obtained at the beginning of the Constitutional Convention. Anything could have come out of that meeting of 55 delegates. While we are fortunate that they came to such a flexible and durable result, it could have been otherwise, and even the “more perfect union” they envisioned was less than perfect, as the years, wars and amendments since attest.

The 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not represent a cross-section of 1787 America.  The Convention included no women, no slaves, no Native Americans or racial minorities, no laborers.  As one historian noted, it was a “Convention of the well-bred, the well-fed, the well-read, and the well-wed.”

That being said, the abolition of slavery at the nation’s founding was the intent of a number of delegates.

Luther Martin of Maryland said that forbidding Congress from banning the importation of slaves was “inconsistent with the principles of the revolution and dishonorable to the American character.” Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania said that slavery was a “nefarious institution” and a “curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.” George Mason of Virginia spoke at length about the horrors of slavery and criticized slave owners, who he called “petty tyrants,” and the slave traders who, he said, “from a lust of gain embarked on this nefarious traffic.”

But instead, a compromise led to more lifetimes of slavery, The Civil War and a legacy of pain and unequal justice that endures until this day.

And while no women were in attendance at the convention, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband (and Massachusetts delegate) John Adams and to the convention:

“…remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.”

It would be more than a century before the Constitution would catch up with Abigail’s vision enough to allow women the vote, and longer yet before they approached equal status in society.

The colonies both surrounded and were surrounded by Native nations who had no direct role in the founding of the U.S. political system. But they had an indirect influence on the founders:

The Iroquois nations’ political confederacy and democratic government under the Great Law of Peace have been credited as influences on the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. . . Prominent figures, such as Thomas Jefferson in colonial Virginia and Benjamin Franklin in colonial Pennsylvania, two colonies whose territorial claims extended into Iroquois territory, were involved with leaders of the New York-based Iroquois Confederacy. . .

John Rutledge (SC) quoted Iroquoian law to the Constitutional Convention, “We, the people, to form a union, to establish peace, equity, and order…”

Despite this influence, Native Americans were not given the right to vote, and have suffered slaughter, exclusion, appropriation of their lands, and ethnic discrimination throughout the nation’s history. Land claims dating to the era of the founders are still in the courts today.

So, to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “We have a republic—if we can keep it.” In hindsight, we have been slow on the uptake in many regards, but we do seem to be getting somewhere in the end. If we can just keep at it.

From NPR: Behind the Civil Rights Act

President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs Civil Rights Bill, July 2, 2014. Photo via the LBJ Library.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs Civil Rights Bill, July 2, 2014. Photo via the LBJ Library.

This past week we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was landmark legislation in so many ways, touching virtually every arena of life in the United States at that time. While the civil rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s largely played out on southern soil–in Mississippi and Alabama and Tennessee–the legislation reached into discriminatory practices in every state of the union.

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A few months prior to the passage of the legislation, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X met in Washington outside of Congress. Apparently, this was the only time these two leaders met in person. Photo: public domain, via Wikipedia

NPR invited observers, scholars and writers to de-construct the Civil Rights Act to help us understand what life was like in 1964, how the Act impacted our political, cultural and social infrastructure, and how all of this relates to life in the United States 50 years later.

Behind the Civil Rights Act is an amazing resource featuring Nina Totenberg, NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent; Barbara R. Arnwine, President, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; Nikole Hannah-Jones, Reporter, Pro-Publica; Clay Rise, author of “The Bill of the Century,” and half a dozen other participants.

There is so much content at the site–photographs, legislative language, essays. It’s all usable on your tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop. It’s interactive and beautifully put together.

I can’t think of a better resource to share with you on this July 4th weekend, 50 years after this legislation became law of the land. I remember the day, vividly. It was a brutal summer: Medgar Evers, an NAACP leader in the South, was murdered, as were three voter registration civil rights workers. Behind the Civil Rights Act brings it all back–and forward into present times–and provides a level of understanding that is worth your time.

Happy July 4th. We can be proud of this piece of our history.

 

How to be a hero at the picnic this weekend

It's Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

It’s Independence Day. Let your fruit flag fly! Photo: Cristina, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

So here we are. Glorious summer is here and it’s time for cookouts, barbecues and picnics.  If you’re hosting a crowd for the holiday, you’ve probably already got your menu planned. But what to bring if you’re invited to someone else’s event? Hmmm.

I’ve been asking around all week and mostly getting pretty minimalist ideas from folks who are already in full blown summer laze mode. Like a bag of chips. Or cold beer. But come on, we can do better than that. Here are some impressive but easy ideas, to get you quickly out of the kitchen and into the spirit of Independence Day.

 

Ellen Rocco’s Cabbage Slaw

One head of Chinese (Napa) or Savoy Cabbage
One medium onion
Good mayonnaise (Hellman’s)
Lemon
Salt and pepper

Finely slice cabbage and onion. Stir in a generous tablespoon of mayo, the juice of a lemon, salt and pepper.

Optional: add chunks of tomato, or shredded fresh dill, a bit of soy sauce or more mayo to taste.

 

That’s it. Pretty easy, no?

Here’s another good one:

 

June People’s Asparagus Pasta Salad

June says: It’s quick, easy and combines some of my favorite summer flavors.  It’s great at room temperature.  It’s more of a “concoction” than a recipe, so I have never measured any of the ingredients.  Here are the basic elements:

One 16oz package of brown rice penne pasta cooked al dente (substitute regular pasta if you prefer)
One bunch of fresh asparagus steamed so that it still has a nice little crunch
Sliced roma, cherry, or other variety of fresh grown tomatoes
Fresh mint leaves chopped
Fresh basil leaves chopped

Drain your pasta and add the asparagus, tomatoes, mint and basil.  Add extra virgin olive oil, fresh orange juice, a little bit of fresh lemon and/or lime juice, about a tablespoon of honey, and salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy!

NOTE:  Adding steamed shrimp or grilled chicken turns this into a lovely meal.

 

And here are a couple recipes from me:

 

Red Chili Shrimp

This is a snap. Serves 8 on skewers, or just scoop them in a bowl and offer sliced bread alongside.

¼ cup brown sugar
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP chili powder
1 TBSP garlic powder
1 tsp kosher salt
16 or so large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left on.

Whisk everything except the shrimp together in a bowl, add shrimp to coat and let sit 5 or 10 mins.  Grill them, until just opaque, usually about 2 minutes per side.

 

And then there’s dessert. I always bring this one, every Fourth of July. Fun to assemble, and high on the Wow Factor scale:

 

Jackie Sauter’s American Flag Fruit Pizza

Crust:
1/2cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3 cups flour

Mix butter, sugar and flour until crumbly. Pat into a rectangular pan. (I use a 12 by 18 inch cookie sheet with 1 inch sides pan, but you could use a 9 by 13 inch cake pan, or any size rectangular pan, just plan your ingredients accordingly.) Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until crust is just slightly browned.

Topping:
16 ounces cream cheese
1 cup of sugar
1 TBSP vanilla

Mix topping ingredients and spread over cooled crust.

The fun part (the fruit):
Be sure your fruit is well drained so the colors don’t run. Make the American flag, using blueberries for the field of blue (the part under the stars), and strawberries cut in half for the red stripes.

Elegant touch:
For that shiny, high-end patisserie look, in advance make a glaze of 2 TBSPs of cornstarch, 1 cup of water, ½ cup sugar. 1 tsp lemon juice.  Put these ingredients in a saucepan, simmer and stir for a few minutes until the liquid turns clear and thick. Cool it to room temperature and brush it lightly over the fruit.

More fun (whipped cream):
Get one of those cans of real whipped cream.  Just before serving, use the whipped cream to make the stars on the blueberry field, and to make the white stripes between the rows of red strawberries.

 

Enjoy.  Happy Fourth Weekend to all!

North Country fireworks and Independence Day events

Fireworks. Archive Photo of the Day: Carol Kepes, Saranac Lake NY.

Fireworks. Archive Photo of the Day: Carol Kepes, Saranac Lake NY.

Here is a partial list of Independence Day celebrations and fireworks displays over the holiday. If we have missed yours, or you are aware of any others in the region that should be posted, please add them in a comment below.

 

Friday, July 4

Raquette Lake
Fireworks from the Barge, at the Village Green, dusk

Schroon Lake
Festivities begin at 11 am, music in the Town Park, parade at 6:00 pm, and an evening concert followed by fireworks over the lake.

Long Lake
Town Beach
BBQ, 5 pm, music and activities, bed races at 6 pm
Fireworks at dusk.

Lake Placid
I Love BBQ and Music Festival, all day, Olympic  Speedskating Oval
Parade, 4:30 pm, in front of the Oval
Fireworks choreographed to music at dusk over Mirror Lake, Mid’s Park, Main St.

Old Forge
Festival of Arts and Crafts, 9 am to 6 pm
7:30 pm – 9:30 pm, bring a chair or blanket and a picnic supper.
Fireworks at dusk.

Norwood
Parade, 1 pm
Field Day, including tractor races, demolition derby, food
Fireworks at dusk

St. Regis Falls
Parade, 11 am, followed by chicken barbecue, live music, games, vendors, garage sales
Fireworks at dusk.

Alexandria Bay
Fireworks over Boldt Castle, 9:45 pm

Saranac Lake
Childrens’ parade at 10 am, Main Street
Booths, food, music and boat races
Fireworks at dusk over Lake Flower

Glens Falls
Glens Falls Symphony Summer Pops Concert at Crandall Park,7:30 to 9:30 pm
Fireworks to follow

Plattsburgh
downtown
Parade, 2 pm
Food and music, 2 to 11 pm
Fireworks at 9:30 pm

 

Saturday, July 5

Chestertown
Summerfest celebration, Municipal Center grounds, 2 to 10 pm
Food, games, entertainment
Fireworks at dusk.

Hannawa Falls
Fireworks at dusk.

Beating the heat: Canada Day in Oxford Mills

Main event cake (baked by Darlene McMartin) in vanilla or chocolate. Photo: Lucy Martin

Volunteers cut main event cake, in vanilla or chocolate. Cakes baked by Darlene McMartin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Canada’s 147th “birthday” was a hot one. So when I saw that Oxford Mills was hosting their small-town celebration at Maplewood Park, I knew where I wanted to be.

It was sweet. Free music under stately maples, thick canopy casting deep, cool shade with a good stiff breeze taking biting insects out of the mix.

Can’t say enough about the beauty of mature maples blowing this way and that. They offer a meditation on trees, weather, nature, summer, community, grace…life!

Tall trees are great, but it’s not a party without something for all ages. Here’s the full run-down:

Canada Day in Oxford Mills starts just before noon with the traditional Canada Flag raising and singing of O Canada at 12 sharp. All events take place at Maplewood Park. Local musicians Standby Brothers, Fiddlehead Soup, MC David Shanahan and Grenville Grass will provide the music for the day. The event will have lots of traditional kid’s games including a Tug-of-War Challenge between local schools and between the hamlets of North Grenville

Possibly outnumbered, Bishop Mills struggles before going down to defeat. Photo: Lucy Martin

Possibly outnumbered, Bishop’s Mills struggles before going down to defeat. Photo: Lucy Martin

(talkin’ to you, Bishop’s Mills). Returning this year is the Vendors Market, face painting, birthday cake, a “Fish Tank” and a critter display/demo (spiders, snakes and lizards, oh my!). The Lion’s Club will also be back this year to sell hotdogs, hamburgers and drinks. They’ll also present the winner of their 50/50 draw at 3pm.

The Bishop’s Mills verses Oxford Mills tug-of-war (billed as a grudge match) was a tad anti-climatic. Perhaps I was distracted by attempts to get the perfect photo. But it seemed over in no time with a win for the hosts, Oxford Mills.

Beauty that lasts: Maplewood Hall. Photo: Lucy Martin

Beauty that lasts: Maplewood Hall in Oxford Mills. Photo: Lucy Martin

This part of Ontario is dotted with lovely old stone buildings. Much of that legacy is largely thanks to the Rideau Canal, after construction brought skilled masons to the area and that talent went on to became part of the wider human landscape.

Consider this old school, S.S. No. 8:

The school was built on land bought from John Lindsay in 1875. It was built by A. Willoughby with broken course limestone from the Harris Quarry on Bedell Road. The building is rectangular and the front porch gable roof is highlighted by a decorative belfry. The school opened in August, 1875 and continued in use until June, 1964, when it closed. It was bought by the Township and became a school for the mentally challenged in 1968, a role it continued to play until 1983, when it finally closed. In that year, the local Library moved into the north end of the building, while the south end was used for local meetings. The building was completely renovated in 2001 and has served as the community hall ever since. In 2008, administration of the hall was transferred to the local Community Association. This building has seen so many of the great and small events of Oxford Mills since 1875, and remains an important part of the village’s life and history. It was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1991.

OK, enough history minutia. Lots of pretty stuff, and people working hard to try keep those buildings in use.

I’ll close with how most of us there that day enjoyed the show, sitting in comfy seats, tapping our toes. I caught the tail end of the Standby Brothers, all of Fiddlehead Soup and most of the Grenville Grass. I left a tad early to go catch the U.S./Belgium FIFA match. A good game, if not the outcome Americans rooted for.

All in all a very pleasant day without sunstroke. Happy birthday Canada.

And you too, America, this Friday. A busy week of summery fun.

Grenville Grass plays to an appreciative Canada Day crowd. Photo: Lucy Martin

Grenville Grass plays to an appreciative Canada Day crowd. Photo: Lucy Martin

 

 

Football, 1; Soccer, 4

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Photo via

Photo via Tigers.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to argue here that we replace football with soccer as the number one field sport in the U.S. Before I give you my irrefutable and carefully researched reasons, let me share my credentials.

I am a hardcore Yankees fan…at least post-season, or if C.C. is pitching.

I watch some basketball but I miss the old days–before foul calls punctuated every five minutes of play.

I love watching top level women’s sports–largely because it feels more authentic and less driven by commercial activity.

I never watch golf…even back when Tiger was playing at the top of his game.

I follow both winter and summer Olympics.

I have personally completed five marathons…walking.

Photo:

Football (soccer) in Malawi. Photo: Francesco Veronesi via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Okay, now my soccer vs. football, pros/cons.

* Football is much more physically dangerous than soccer. Score one point for soccer.

* The U.S. is basically the only country that plays football, making it very 20th vs. 21st century–it’s a global economy and a global sports world nowadays. Score one point for soccer.

* Soccer requires greater athleticism and less equipment/gear–go anywhere in the world with a soccer ball and it’s “game on!” within minutes. Score one point for soccer.

* Aside from the “off sides” call, the rules of soccer are much less complicated. Score one point for soccer.

* Football has tailgate parties. Score one for football.

Like the title of this post says, football, 1; soccer, 4. Now go tune in a World Cup game.

First official US soccer team, 1916. Photo via Wikipedia.

First official US soccer team formation, 1916. Photo via Wikipedia.

 

July in the garden

Beets reaching toward the sun. Photo: Daniel Romlein, Potsdam

Beets reaching for the sun. Photo: Daniel Romlein, Potsdam

As we begin July with hot, humid weather, our shout out to gardeners across the region brought in a wonderful range of photos. Gardens are going into full production, moving from greens, radishes and volunteer herbs to peas and beans and beets. Some growers are already seeing summer squash and cukes.

Great fun across a wide range of gardening: from pocket raised beds and patio pots to expansive, long-rowed ventures.

Keep sending those photos to me: ellen@ncpr.org

 

The whimsical Entayant Garden at Rainbow Lake. Photo: Don Bush

The whimsical Entayant Garden at Rainbow Lake. Photo: Don Bush

From our long-time Vermont gardening friend Cassandra Corcoran, this series of recent garden photos:

Asparagus bed, with nettles towering behind the roses. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Asparagus bed, with nettles towering behind the roses. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Third mounding of the spuds. Garlic hiding behind. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Third mounding of the spuds. Garlic hiding behind. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broccoli, lettuce and beets. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Broccoli, lettuce and beets. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

 

 

 

Cannellini beans and one hearty plentiful zucchini. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

Cannellini beans and one hearty plentiful zucchini. Photo: Cassandra Corcoran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little raised bed garden at Chase Lake. Photo: Caryn Allen

Little raised bed garden at Chase Lake. Photo: Caryn Allen

Little Indian Lake garden, with praying mantis sculpture. Photo: George DeChant

Little Indian Lake garden, with praying mantis sculpture. Photo: George DeChant

Remember to send your gardening photos to me–successes as well as failures. I’ll share some of my failures this summer. We learn from our mistakes, right? Photos should be emailed to: ellen@ncpr.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorm chef returns with bread venture

kingarthurflour2a

I don’t follow directions well. I didn’t tell NCPR this at my interview last spring, but I’m coming clean: when I’m in the kitchen, I do as I please. While cooking is about improvisation, baking is more like chemistry, and I almost failed chemistry in high school when I created some noxious blue liquid out of something that was supposed to be as safe as Playdough. When I recently decided to make bread, I was a little worried that I would end up making something out of Goosebumps.

You could say that I started out a little ambitiously; I had my dad sent me a copy of a King Arthur bread recipe called Paine `a L’Ancienne, which is both a baguette and pizza dough recipe. Like a warning label, this bread has a French name because you don’t mess around with French foods. Look, I know `a la mode just means “put some ice cream on it,” but it still sounds like a culinary masterpiece.

Anyway, back to the baking. The recipe for Paine `a L’Ancienne begins with this sentence: “The technique by which this bread is made has tremendous implications for the baking industry and for both professional and home bakers.”

Um, what? My loaf of bread seemed to have “tremendous implications” for all of Western civilization. Apparently, making bread is easy if you a) have a bread making machine, b) have a Kitchen Aid, or c) buy the right ingredients and follow directions. I have none of these things.

The only ingredients in this bread are flour, ice cold water, salt, and instant yeast. My first challenge was that I bought active dry yeast instead of instant yeast. This crisis merited a thorough Google search and a call home to make sure I hadn’t toppled the baking industry with my amateur foolishness. Basically, you can mix active dry yeast with a little water and sugar, and then use less water when making the dough and it works just the same.

The second crisis occurred when I dumped this yeast mixture into the bowl, along with the flour, salt, and all of the water. I realized that I had added about a ¼ of a cup of water to the recipe.

It was about this time that I also realized that all of the directions were for an electric mixer. Since my last food blog post, I have acquired some more cooking utensils; for instance, I now have a wooden spoon. (Side note: thank you to all my generous coworkers who said they would give me another pan. However, I drove by somebody’s yard the other day and they had a sign that said “Free” next to a pan and vase, so I’m all set now).

Photo: Nathaie Dignam

Photo: Nathaie Dignam

Anyway, I took my wooden spoon, and attempted to calculate the difference between mixing on low speed with a paddle attachment and using a dough hook on medium speed. In reality, I just mixed really hard with my spoon.

Once the dough was sticky on the bottom but easily released from the sides of the bowl, I transferred the dough into another bowl coated with oil, sprinkled the top with oil, and went swimming for the afternoon. Honestly, I didn’t time anything.

The next morning, I took my dough out of the fridge and kneaded it for a few minutes. Then I put it back in the bowl and let it rise on the counter for a few hours (a.k.a. I went swimming). I came back later and baked a pizza and some rolls.

Voila! With the approval of my fellow NCPR interns, I realized that I had successfully made bread, even while pretty much failing to follow baking directions. The moral of this story is; bread is forgiving and you, too, can bake!

A bit of corn meal in the pan prevents sticking like this. Photo: Nathalie Dignam

A bit of corn meal in the pan prevents sticking like this. Photo: Nathalie Dignam

Predators on our landscape

Raccoon. Photo: Eliya, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Raccoon. Photo: Eliya, via Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Several converging experiences over the last week got me to thinking about the role predators play in the food chain and even, it turns out, on the shape of our landscape.

It began with my hen house, led to the ridge at the top of my hay field, and ended in Yellowstone Park.

Photo: Mary Thill, Saranac Lake

Photo: Mary Thill, Saranac Lake

A few days ago, I mixed up the usual morning hot mash for my laying hens and headed out to the hen house. Shock of “things are not as they should be” when I opened the door. Feathers everywhere. Three dead hens, three seriously injured. And up in the rafters, an adolescent raccoon. I dumped the mash and ran to the tool shed to find something to encourage the raccoon’s immediate departure. By the time I returned, it had left on its own accord.

Human error. My error made it possible for the raccoon to attack the hens. The previous night, when I closed the hen house door after dusk, I didn’t notice the raccoon was already tucked in along the rafters. Over the course of the night, it must have played “catch the bird” with the hens. Not much sign of eating but lots of destruction.

I’ve learned over the years that the best defense against raccoon, fox and weasel attacks on hens is to have a way to secure the hen house door at night–plus metal stripping along all small openings so the weasels can’t, well, weasel their way in. While I am not opposed to the killing of a wild animal that is clearly rabid or exhibiting aggressive behavior around my house or barnyard, I really prefer to find other solutions. Live and let live (as long as the predator understands that the hens or lambs get to live, too).

Two (vulnerable) lambs. Photo: Ellen Rocco

Two (vulnerable) lambs. Photo: Ellen Rocco

The next night, I heard coyote calls over the ridge. With my sheep flock gone, I no longer worry about lamb safety, but as recently as last summer, if we had sheep pasturing out of sight of the house, in spite of the combination of permanent and moveable electric fencing, I probably would have walked to the back pasture to make sure any recently born lambs were safe. I never lost lambs to coyote, but neighbors who also raise sheep certainly have. Once again, solid fencing or night time housing can protect against predators.

Frankly, I love the call of coyote, even when it sets me worrying about predatory attacks. Of course, coyote, like most predators, are opportunistic. They go for the easy prey, feeding largely on field rodents and birds rather than domesticated animals.

The third episode in my predator musings came with a video my brother sent me. A long time activist on behalf of wolf protection, my brother has closely followed the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park and the ups and downs of their protected status. This video, shared below, is extraordinary because it explores how the wolves have had a much deeper impact on the ecology of the Park than we usually attribute to them. Yes, we all know that deer populations run out of control when humans are their only predator. We also know that uncontrolled deer populations destroy bird and other wild life habitat. But check out this video for a different take on the role of the wolf–a story of how the wolf’s impact on deer behavior has transformed the Yellowstone landscape.

After watching the video, I went down the hall to talk to our web guy Dale Hobson about sharing it with you. He reminded me that we have some extraordinary photos of north country predators taken by our listeners and web audiences–in the www.ncpr.org Photo of the Day albums.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Imprint of a Great Horned Owl that went in feet first to grab a mouse under the snow in Canton. Photo: Joshua Johnson, Bemus Point NY.

Imprint of a Great Horned Owl that went in feet first to grab a mouse under the snow in Canton. Photo: Joshua Johnson, Bemus Point NY.

Red fox headed home with lunch for the crew. Photo: Amy Cook, Gouverneur NY.

Red fox headed home with lunch for the crew. Photo: Amy Cook, Gouverneur NY.

mink2

“Catch of the Day,” mink with a brown trout on the West Branch of the Ausable, Photo: Larry Master, Lake Placid

 

Two predators go for the easy snack: bird feeders.

Unusual visitor to the bird feeder, a marten. Photo: Howard Linke, North River NY.

Unusual visitor to the bird feeder, a marten. Photo: Howard Linke, North River NY.

A rare daytime visitor to the suet feeder--a fisher--caught on trail cam. Photo: Larry Master, Lake Placid, NY

A rare daytime visitor to the suet feeder–a fisher–caught on trail cam. Photo: Larry Master, Lake Placid, NY