I interrupt my observations on the coming eclipse to comment on the vultures Shyla and I watched this weekend circling the eastern shore of Lake Champlain. I took the above photos of Turkey Vultures on Sunday at Basin Harbor, and Black Vultures on a trip to the Everglades three years ago. Vermont seems to be somewhat of an extension of the Turkey Vulture’s usual range, while Black Vultures rarely fly north of New Jersey.
Vultures are, of course, homely creatures to look at, and would not be pleasant to hold, if given the opportunity. They rarely speak, but when they do it is to utter hisses and groans. I have not smelled them and would not want to. In short, there is nothing to recommend them except the important work they do in cleaning up deceased creatures. It is for this reason many indigenous cultures acknowledge them as gatekeepers between the worlds - bridges between the living and the dead. I regret to report that they also do a bit of harm, occasionally harassing with culinary intent young mammals and baby birds.
They glided effortlessly on the breezes that prevailed throughout Sunday and were entirely absent on the rainy and breezeless Monday, when they were likely waiting out the day in caves, under rocky ledges, and in hollow logs.
Yours From The Field,
Anticipating a major celestial event a little more than a month from now, I think it might be helpful to consider over the next weeks some facts about the three participants: Sun, Moon, and Earth. Let’s start with the Moon, excluding facts you probably already know:
Yours from the field,
I consider myself a lover of plants, including vines. Think of wisteria, grapes, red runner beans, and peas. But I strongly object to several vines that seem to be asserting dominion in a number of environments I have visited in recent months. Here are some terrifying examples:
Japanese Knotweed: I see this everywhere in Vermont, some as close as ¼ mile from our farm. This weed should be careful about treading any closer as I will battle it until one of us can fight no longer. Knotweed is listed by the World Conservation Union as one of the world’s worst invasive species. It was first brought to London’s Kew Gardens in 1850. Now in England and Australia it is illegal to have this species anywhere on your property. In the United States our reverence for property rights probably makes such a prohibition unconstitutional, still I would liked to propose like legislation to the Vermont Senate.
In Georgia and South Carolina I was alarmed to see that Kudzu is suffocating the earth and everything that grows in it. It will even eat a house if not fought off. It was introduced to North America in 1876 at a Philadelphia exhibition and helped to spread by farmers who used it to control soil erosion. It is also edible, but I have yet to find it in the Stop & Shop.
The Oriental bittersweet vine can, in limited sizes, be decorative. A few delicate feet of vine with red berries will make a lovely wreath. The problem is that these vines have no sense of proper proportions. They grow up to 40 feet long and 4 inches in diameter and strangle any tree they take a fancy to.
Finally, I come to my personal enemy, Poison Ivy. This member of the pistachio and cashew family can be quite lovely to look at. (See photos.) But any intimacy with it will reveal its true soul. It is an enemy of mankind. During a recent trip Shyla and I took to Martha’s Vineyard, we found that where there were not lawns, plowed or grazed fields, or deep woods, there was a jungle of vines, including vast reaches of bittersweet, thorny blackberry, grape, and poison ivy in wild embrace and impenetrable to any human not astride a bulldozer. Goats are happy to eat poison ivy, and it doesn’t bother their stomachs. They don’t eat the roots, so the plants keep coming back until you have enough goats that the plant can no longer produce a leaf. Martha’s Vineyard is a beautiful place, and would be so much more accommodating with the introduction of ten thousand goats.
Yours From The Field,
Our national bird is, of course, the bald eagle. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams failed at the task of designing the official seal of the United States. Franklin favored the turkey as part of the seal and argued that the bald eagle was a bird of bad moral character. After the fruitless efforts of two other groups of distinguished elders, the bald eagle was finally given its honorable place. The turkey, in turn, was adopted by Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Alabama.
The choice of an eagle as a symbol of wisdom, courage, and longevity has ancient lineage, having been carried as a standard by officers of the Roman Legion. Earlier choices of the wolf, ox, horse and boar were abandoned by the Romans in favor of the eagle. But Rome did not invent the idea: Cyrus The Great of Persia (540 BC) used the eagle as his standard. Other nations that followed Cyrus’s example include Austria, Germany, Poland, Romania, Mexico, Ghana, and Nigeria. Several prideful institutions have done the same: Barklays Bank, American Airlines, the Philadelphia Eagles, and my grandfather’s cloth business, which early in the 1920s he proudly named The Eagle Converting Company. (I don’t think my grandfather realized that under some circumstances conversion is a crime.)
The Bald Eagle is one of the few species that inhabit the entire United States (excepting Hawaii), and, remarkably, it is not found outside of North America. However, there are at least twenty-four other species of eagle, with some in every continent except South America.
Limited time and space precludes extended discussion of the natural science of the bald eagle. I will limit observation to my favorite bald eagle fact: the bald eagle builds the largest structure of any animal other than homo sapiens. The largest nest found to date measured 10 feet from side to side and 20 feet from top to bottom.
Above is a nest I photographed a couple of weeks ago on the shores of Lake Champlain, as well as a few other images of this majestic bird.
Happy Fourth, everyone. Let freedom ring.
Yours From the Field,