I donned my snowshoes and took a lap around our woodlot when I got home tonight. I think the chipmunks are out. I didn’t see any of them, but I did see plenty of tracks. We had a dusting of snow last night, and when it landed atop the frozen crust that was already there, it created the perfect substrate for capturing small mammal tracks.

Here’s a chipmunk hole hideout at the base of a small tree:

Chipmunk hideout

Chipmunk hideout

None of these tracks led to the base of any large trees, but plenty of them disappeared into holes in the snow at the base of small trees like these. The tracks are also very small compared to a grey squirrel’s.

After a little more tramping around I came across tracks of the chipmunk’s mortal enemy – the common housecat. I figure it belongs to the neighbors. There were plenty of cat tracks criss-crossing my property, both in the back and out front. Here’s a place where cat and grey squirrel tracks crossed paths:

Cat, bottom to top; grey squirrel right to left

Cat, bottom to top; grey squirrel right to left

They must have made these tracks at different times, as they both continue off in straight lines in different directions.

Here’s a nice cat print at the end of my driveway:

Cat track

Cat track

I like the detail it left here. Right after these tracks, the cat leaped up onto the snowbank along the side of the driveway with its claws fully extended. Then it scrambled up the bank and headed down my snowshoe trail. It must be quite a bit easier to walk on that as compared to bare snow. Less risk of this:


Looks like kitty broke through the crust and then clawed its way out.

While I was out I did check my sap bucket (that was the stated reason for putting on the snowshoes, though the real reason was just to walk around). It was far too cold today for any sap to run. I don’t think it got out of the 20’s.

Today David and I took Penny down to Sandogardy Pond. I saw some trailing arbutus in bloom on the way, first one of the year:

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens)

I still haven’t seen any with open blooms yet on my property though. When I took this photo, I prolly should have put the camera on the tripod. I had to set the exposure time to 1/8 seconds, which is a pretty long time. This actually came out pretty good considering I was holding the camera in my hand when I took it. Usually, it blurs when I leave the shutter open that long.

When we got to the pond I found another set of great blue heron tracks under the water. I cast a set of those a while back. There was a married (?) couple at the pond with a little girl (she must have been three years old), so I told them about the tracks, and they wanted to see them. They seemed happy when they spotted them, and surprised at how big they were. I guess these were six inches long, but that’s small compared to the tracks I cast a year and a half ago. Those were more like eight inches long.

David and I walked along the stream that empties the pond then. David crossed the snowmobile/ATV bridge, and then crossed back over a log. On the off chance that he might fall in, I got out the camera and set it on the continuous shooting mode. Here he is over the center of the stream:

David cross a log

David cross a log

You can see “Thomas the Tank Engine” behind him to the right of that clump of reeds (or maybe it’s alder) in the stream.

And here he is moments after he put his weight on a section that may have been a little too decayed:

David falling off a log

Look out!

The water was only a couple inches deep where he landed, and he wasn’t much worse for the wear. He said later that the fungus growing on the branch should have been a tip off. And I agree!

I’ve been seeing a lot of animal tracks by our catchment pond over the past couple of weeks. The mud we have there right now is particularly good at capturing them. I think the bobcat whose tracks I saw last winter is still hanging around. It seems to visit every couple of days.

I have been meaning to set up my camera out there unattended. I recently downloaded the Canon Hacker’s Development Kit, which is a collection of open source software I can load onto my camera to do things like motion detection (i.e., take a picture when the scene changes). Dunno how well it would work in the dark though, and I’m not 100% comfortable leaving my camera unattended that close to the road.

That aside, I went out there again tonight to look at tracks. I found no bobcat tracks, but there were plenty of dog tracks. Also chipmunk (surprise!) and a caterpillar of some sort:

Worm Tracks

Worm Tracks

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but the caterpillar was green. I’ve been seeing tracks like this around the pond a lot, and was pretty sure they were made by some kind of worm. And now I’ve seen what’s doing it.

I also noticed that the beggar ticks have bloomed. These are nasty plants whose seeds are a painful achene which will instantly attach to your socks or pants, and they are very difficult to extract. I’d pull them up, but there are a lot of them. Maybe I should try anyhow, I dunno.

Today went pretty much as I outlined it in yesterday’s post. We arrive in Portland a little after 1:00pm. I was scheduled to teach at 2:30, but they had gotten behind by 30 minutes. That left me with two hours of free time. Beth and I changed clothes, and I hauled all my supplies into the room where my session was to be held. Then I took Penny for a walk. There is a long trail behind the Portland church running parallel to a new road in a new development. So Penny and I ambled down that way. It’s maybe a half mile long, and probably less than that. I was delighted to find several squirrel and mouse tracks, so I knew we’d have a shot at casting some.

Penny enjoyed the walk too, helpfully bringing me sticks to throw. I got back to the church, put Penny in her crate in the car, and then went inside. I sat in on a session led by Bill Wood, the Union Pathfinder Director (Union is the next level in the hierarchy up from the Conference). Beth sat next to me and listened as he presented his PowerPoint slides. Beth turned the pages in my handout (which was really just a copy of Bill’s slides). When that ended, it was time to work on Animal Tracking.

I had prepared for 19 students (it would have been 20, but I botched the first set of photocopies) and I had eight. I’m not complaining – I would rather have too many handouts than not enough. Four of the eight attendees were kids, and they didn’t seem terribly interested. That is, of course, a mystery to me since I find tracking so fascinating.

Of the four adults who were there, one had already earned the honor. I was afraid that almost all the attendees would have it already, so I had decided to focus on how to teach the honor rather than on the honor itself. I kinda did both, once I had an idea of what my audience was like.

First we went over some of the theory parts. I showed several of the photos I’ve taken over the past couple of years. Then we headed out to the trail and cast some of the tracks I had seen earlier. There’s no way they would set up before we left, and in fact, I’m not positive these will be successful. It was very cold outside, so the joint compound may have simply frozen before it could do any setting. I’m not sure how that will affect the casts. Maybe when they take them inside, they will simply reliquify. Hope not!

Then we went back in to warm up a bit and talked about telling dog and cat tracks apart, and telling squirrel and rabbit tracks apart. We also covered hopping vs walking birds, and plantigrade vs digitigrade walkers (that is, flatfoots vs toe-walkers).

Then we went back outside with some tempera paint so we could afflict poor Penny. Just as we did in the summer, I poured some tempera paint in a paper plate. I lifted Penny, and Peter (a friend of mine from the Limington Lantern’s Pathfinder Club) dipped her paws in the paint. Then I took her for a short walk. We repeated this and I took Penny for a short run. Then we measured the distance between the tracks. Check off that requirement!

We went in again, and that was pretty much the whole honor. I started gathering up my casts, and in short order, Beth and I were ready to bug out.

I asked David to go and collect our casts in the morning, and he said he would. But just to be on the safe side, I told Va that I had asked him to do that. She will help him remember.

One cool thing Va told me was that in one of the classes she went to, they presented my Wikibooks project as a highly recommended resource. That’s what it’s there for! Many of the people there already knew about it and sang its praises. Woot!

Beth and I headed out at around 5:30 I guess. We stopped at McDonald’s because they had an indoor playground. Beth was so well behaved that I decided I would endure the food and let her play a bit. But not for too long. We left around 6:00, and got home at 8:30.

I was supposed to swing by Ken’s house and pick up his pickup so I could fetch the fruit tomorrow. But it was so late and I had so many things crammed into my car, I decided to swing by in the morning instead. I didn’t really savor the idea of unloading my stuff twice when once would be enough. I called, but his phone was busy. I finally got through when we got home.

So tomorrow, Beth and I will get up bright an early (actually, it will not be bright yet). We’ll gnarf down some breakfast and hustle over to Ken’s to get his truck, then hustle over to Keene to get the fruit. I am really looking forward to my tangelos.

That’s about enough for tonight. Thank you both for reading!

This weekend promises to be packed. This afternoon Va and the boys headed up to Portland, Maine for Pathfinder Leadership Training. Every two or three years they offer the 10-hour basic training course, which is a requirement for Master Guide, and Va is working towards her Master Guide, so… she needs it.

But someone has to stay with Beth and Penny, and that would be me this time. She’s in bed now, and Penny is napping at my feet. I’ve just finished gathering up a bunch of stuff I need tomorrow afternoon for teaching the Animal Tracking honor at the Leadership Training session.

In the morning, Beth and I will get up, eat breakfast, and get ready for church. Then we’ll load Penny and all Penny’s stuff in the car and head out. We need to leave early, because I’ll need to hang a backdrop in the Cradle Roll Sabbath School room (Va changed over their program this week). I’ll also need to make about 20 photocopies of the hand-outs I’ll need for the Animal Tracking honor.

We’ll stay for Sabbath School (I’m teaching Juniors), but we’ll leave before the worship service starts and head up to Maine to join the rest of the family. I think we’ll get there with time to spare.

If all this goes as planned, tomorrow’s post should be pretty redundant!

I picked up my new glasses today. Here are the before and after shots:

See how the new specs transform me from a total doofus to a modern hip cat?

See how the new specs transform me from a total doofus to a modern hip cat?

So I guess my brother Mike was right. Now I can quit being a doofus and be one of those cool hip cats. Or something.

Today I took a lunchtime walk. I grabbed my camera and just went out looking for something to photograph. I haven’t been on a lunch walk in a couple of months, so it was good to get out again. Which reminds me – Jonathan and I were supposed to go for a run after supper, but we forgot. Maybe we should still go – it’s not that late yet. We both need to record our exercise for four months for the Guide class in Pathfinders, and we need to have that done before the end of May. That means we need to start just any day now.

But back to my walk. Nature is pretty hard to find in Concord in January. I did take some pictures of some hawthorns:



I don’t think I’d eat these, at this stage, but they are edible when ripe.
I saw several animal trails, but most appeared to be made by domestic cats and dogs. They were all pretty old tracks though. We’re supposed to get some snow tonight, so maybe I’ll have better luck Thursday (it’s supposed to snow from midnight tonight until late tomorrow). I found one set of tracks that were pretty fresh. I figured I’d take a picture of them too, but wanted to lay something next to them for scale. I dug around in my coat pockets and found… a tape measure! Not a bad scale at all! Here’s the best of those shots:
Not all that impressive, and I’m still not sure what it is. Probably a house cat. So that’s about all the adventures I’ve had today. Catch you all again tomorrow!

This morning I got up pretty early for it being a day off. I ate an orange and then took out the trash. To my surprise, we had a fresh inch of snow on the ground, and it was still falling. It stopped shortly after that, so we didn’t get much more than an inch.

Then I drove into Tilton. My plan was to go to Lowes, but I passed a True Value hardware store in the “old” part of town and decided to go there instead. I guess that store has been there for a hundred years, and I love browsing around in a place like that. I was looking for mineral spirits and a paint brush, which I found. I also found a bracket that I will use to hang Beth’s bird feeder Sometime Real Soon Now™. It was a delightful store, and I will go there first from now on.

When I got home, I took Penny for another walk down to Sandogardy Pond. I saw several hundred squirrel tracks (no exaggeration), and photographed a couple. This one turned out the best:

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Squirrel tracks in the snow

Va and Beth went into Concord a little while later. Beth was all excited because they were going to open a savings account for her. The boys and I fended for ourselves for lunch, and after that, I got to work on a costume for Camp In.

That has been an exercise in frustration. The sewing machine didn’t want to run at first, but I gave the shuttle a nice WD-40 bath, and it was soon humming away. Then it started making a messy tangle of thread on the bottom side of the seams. I know what causes that – maladjusted tension on the bobbin. I dug around for the sewing machine manual, but was not met with joy. I looked all over the machine for an adjustment, but didn’t see anything obvious. I adjusted the tension on the top thread, but that didn’t seem to make much difference. If anything, it made matters worse. I eventually resorted to hand stitching some parts, because there wasn’t that much to do. But tomorrow, I will have to find that manual.

I spent the better part of this evening going through my photos, tagging each one. They are mostly wildflowers, and I am tagging them by species using their proper Latin names. I’ve saved 5,467 photos (and taken almost 20,000), so this is going to be a long process. I’ve already tagged 3,844 of them, so it’s not going to be that much longer (I’ve been working on this for a couple of weeks).

I also have several insect photos, and up until now, I have not tried to id them down to the species level. But that has now begun to some extent. For the most part, I have been tagging them by their taxonomic Order (Diptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, etc). Last night I started taking the diptera (flies and mosquitoes) down to the genus or species level (if I could). I’ve also started down that path with the Coleoptera (beetles), but I’m going to save the Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) for some other time. It takes a while to figure some of these out. Bugguide.net is a tremendous help.

I’m tagging my frogs down to the species, but haven’t done that with the salamanders yet (though that should not be hard – there are only about a dozen species of salamander in NH).

So far I’m tagging the fungi as… Fungi. I’ll drill down on those later. Same with the Bryophytes (mosses) and Lichens.

It has been interesting doing this, as these nature photos represent about two years worth of field play (can’t call it “field work” if it’s really just play). My photographic skills have come a long way since I started. Some of the early attempts were pretty pathetic. This new camera promises yet another leap. I have so far been able to apply what I learned on my previous camera, so that’s a definite bonus.

Today Jonathan had an orthodontist appointment. Their office is a five minute walk from mine – maybe less. So Jonathan came to work with me today. I put him in what we call the “Starbucks” office. That’s the office where our remote workers set up shop when they come to Concord, so named, because they usually pick up a cup of Starbucks when they get off the plane. I guess. It also has a window into the hallway, which reminds us of a drive-thru window. The usual greeting for them is “You want fries with that?”

We didn’t have any remote workers today, so Jonathan camped out in there with my old laptop and an Internet feed. He does his school work online. Unfortunately, distractions are only a click away, and he suffers mightily from his inability to resist.

Wednesday is code-review day, and the company picks up the tab for lunch. I went ahead and bought Jonathan some lunch though, but he had to eat it alone. Well – he was alone in meat-space, but I’m sure he was not alone in the virtual world.

It was another stressful day at work. I did manage to get one problem knocked off my plate, but it was replaced with another even before I was done with it. My emergency queue is still too deep. Va picked Jonathan up at about 4:00, and I worked an extra two hours longer. I’ll be glad when next week rolls around, because I plan to take the whole week off. I haven’t taken much time off all year so far. I will use that time to help get the house cleaned up (my idea), and also to tweak the network at the school/church. And maybe get a little relaxing and recreation in as well. I do plan to meet up with a Bloom Clock friend if we can both squeeze it in. He has family in Western NH. The nice thing about NH, is that no part of it is more than two hours away from my house. (But I haven’t actually checked that. I merely assert it without support.)

When I got home, Va had a hot meal waiting just for me. Sautéed mushrooms and quinoa. Man, it was good too. Then I had an orange for dessert. The orange was fantastic, but I enjoyed the hot food even more.

I ordered up a copy of the Pathfinder Pocket Guide. I wrote about that either yesterday or the day before. I can’t wait to lay my eyeballs on it. But now I must wait.

Yesterday when I was leaving my fruit customer’s workplace, I saw a skunk come ambling across their driveway. I stopped, and seriously considered waiting for it to leave, and then looking for some skunk tracks to cast. But I wasn’t sure I had enough plaster in the car, and the family was waiting for pizza. Someday though, I will cast a skunk track.

I’ve been crazy busy the last couple of days, and that has made me too tired to post in the evenings. Sorry! I’m pretty tired tonight too, so I’ll just skip the past few days and post about today.

I got up at 7:30, which is insanely early for me on a Sunday. We were out of buttermilk. Sunday is pancake day, which is my favorite breakfast of the week. So I got up, threw on some clothes, and went to Tilton for some buttermilk. Then Va cooked some pancakes while I went outside and did a little raking. Penny chased sticks for me while I did that.

After breakfast I went out and raked some more. By 10:30 I was pretty tired, so I decided I had done about enough raking for one morning. I needed to go over the fruit orders anyhow. I was expecting a call from Joyce, who had gone to Freeport, ME to pick up our order (52 cases). I was really glad she offered to do that too, because someone needed to be there at 8:30, and it’s a three hour drive. I figured she’d call around 11:30, but she did not. I ended up calling her around noon, and she predicted that she would arrive at the church at around 1:30. So a little before 1:00, Beth and I hopped in the car and went to the church. We stopped at Wendy’s and grabbed some lunch, and got to the church at about 1:30.

There was a woman waiting there. She had ordered some fruit, and was in the neighborhood. She couldn’t remember when pickup time started (4:00), but she knew it ended at 8:00. I told her I was expecting it at any minute. So we hung out waiting. At about 1:50, Sandy pulled up in Joyce’s truck with all the fruit (but without Joyce). I don’t know what that was all about. Sandy had gone to Freeport with Joyce, and then Joyce went straight home. Sandy brought the fruit to the church, and helped me unload it. I gave the woman her fruit, and then started dividing the crates to make up the half-cases and the quarter cases. Then I called my customer from Tamworth, NH.

There used to be a school in Conway (near Tamworth) that sold this fruit, but they closed. Two of their customers called the fruit company and found out that I was the closest place for them to get it. I had agreed to deliver their order as far north as Tilton. So I called him up as soon as I was ready to leave Concord. Beth and I drove to Tilton and got there about ten minutes sooner than I thought we would. The customer got there about 30 minutes after he thought he would. So I waited in the car in the Tilt’n Diner parking lot for 40 minutes, all the while thinking of the things I needed to do before the Pathfinder meeting started. He showed up a little before 4:00, and the meeting starts at 5:00. I dashed in to Walmart and bought some red cloth, some white cloth, and… I cna’t remember what else (too tired). But I needed it for the meeting. Then I called Va to see where she was – Concord.

I asked her to get me a cake (three Pathfinder birthdays to celebrate). Then I called the boys and told them I’d be home in ten minutes – they needed to get in their uniforms and gather a few things I needed for the meeting: Sewing machine, iron, cookie sheets, and the power cord for my laptop. When I got home David was not in his uniform. His excuse? “It’s not ironed.” I told him to put in on wrinkled. Then I jumped into my uniform (saving buttoning the sleeves, etc for the car ride to Concord). The sewing machine was still in the attic, the iron was still on the ironing board, and my power cord was still plugged into the wall. I don’t know WHAT those boys did during those ten minutes!

Then we chucked the dog into her crate and went to the church. Va called me while I was on the way wanting an ETA. Two fruit customers were there wanting their fruit. I had the order sheet in the trunk, so I couldn’t tell her what they were supposed to get. We go there right at 5:00.

To top all that off, tonight was inspection, and Paul and Barbara Watson, conference PF directors were there to inspect. One of the criteria is whether or not the meeting starts on time. Luckily, my PF staff is good enough that they knew to get things started without us. We had missed about the first minute.

I still had to get some fruit business out of the way, so I let the opening exercises proceed without me. The rest of the meeting went pretty well, except that I didn’t have enough plaster. We were working on the animal tracking honor. That’s why I needed cookie sheets. The kids filled them with sand, and we used some of the club’s previous plaster casts to make tracks. Then they cast them. I had intended for them to cast five tracks each, but we ran out of plaster well before then. We also ran out of time.

The plaster was still wet when we ended the meeting, so tomorrow morning, I will have to clean all that up after I drop Beth off for school.

Whew! That’s most of the highlights. There were several details that I left out, but man… I am one tired dude right now.

We had a Pathfinder meeting tonight, and everyone participated in the Presidential Challenge Fitness Test. Well – the staff did not, other than me. Before we did any of that though, we worked on the Animal Tracking honor. I caught a frog today and brought that with me. I also brought a jug-o-mud. The plan was to pour the mud into a paper plate, and put that in the tub with the frog. The tub had about four inches of water in it, and from previous experience, I knew that the frog could not jump out of the tub from a swimming position, but it could easily if it had a solid footing. The plate of mud gave it that solid footing. We put some gravel in there, and then put the plate on that. The frog hopped on the plate, and then leaped out of the tub as planned. The mud was a little too soupy to hold the track though, but everyone could still see it, and we got to check that box.

I also brought Penny and some brown and some black tempera paint. The requirement those ingredients were intended to address was to measure the tracks of an animal running and walking. I lifted Penny up, and we dipped her front paws in black paint, and her rear paws in brown. Then I put her down and walked her on the leash. She left some very nice tracks on the parking lot. We repeated the foot-painting, and this time let her loose to chase a stick. Hooray! It worked pretty well!

Then we turned our attention to the President’s Challenge. The first event was the shuttle run, followed by the mile. I think Jonathan was the only one to beat me in the shuttle run, and four kids beat me in the mile. But I’m 45, so that should be expected. I did run the whole distance though.

By then it was dark outside, so we came in to finish up with the V-sit and stretch, sit-ups, and push-ups. By then I was ready to collapse. We let them rest a few minutes, and then Cheryl drilled the older kids for a bit while Warran taught the younger ones the basics.

Beth claimed the frog as her own (even though I caught it), so she wanted to come along to the meeting. I thought that was fair enough. I knew we’d spend most of the time doing the Challenge, so she would not be any trouble. Two other younger-than-Pathfinder-aged kids came as well, and they all seemed to enjoy the evening.

After drill, we documented the hike we took last month. Then we looked at some plaster casts I had made – some this summer, and some before then. I brought in the Great Blue Heron cast, as well as the chipmunk casts, a green frog, and an American robin.

Then Jonathan presented worship, we had prayer, and went home. Whew! I’m tired again!