Saturday, December 27, 2008

On the 3rd Day of Christmas: a Yard Full of Nature

Today began with news of an earthquake here in Central Pennsylvania, not an area one normally associates with such phenomena, though Dillsburg had been plagued by some in October (you can read the York Daily Record’s report here). The one this morning, occurring just a few minutes past midnight, was located about 7 miles northwest of the city of Lancaster, near Salunga. (You can read WHP’s on-line coverage here.) It was a 3.4 quake and while no damage or injuries have so far been reported, it was heard if not felt as far away as my home-town of Paxtang, just outside Harrisburg, about 27 miles from Greater Salunga as the crow drives up Route 283.

I doubt I would have heard or felt it, living six miles further northeast from there, and if I had, I probably would’ve thought the noise was just a louder than usual truck barreling down Route 81 a half-mile from my place or, perhaps, the cats getting a little rambunctious in the living room. I had passed out catnip toys last night for the batch of them, a post-Christmas treat: there’s nothing quite like nine cats on catnip to make you unaware there could have been anything remotely like an earthquake.

Back in April of 1984, when I was living in a row home in midtown Harrisburg, I felt what did turn out to be a stronger earthquake, registering 4.1. I was sitting in my living room and had heard the neighbor’s kids next door (four boys between the ages of 11 and 17) romping around as usual. They had been known to play basketball indoors when the folks were away and it was not unusual to hear one of them toss another one up against the wall. That’s all I thought it was.

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Otherwise, I was thinking back to a post from Christmas Past – and the 12 Days of Theory for all those who ever studied or taught all those rules of official part-writing in an academic four-part harmonic style – I looked out this morning and saw two doves (mourning doves, not turtle doves) sitting in my maple tree. I haven’t seen a partridge (much less a whole family of them) and don’t even have a pear tree. At this point, I’d be particularly surprised to see any hens in my backyard today (there are four hens in this backyard but that’s an everyday occurance). Squirrels are the usual, here.

A couple of weekends ago, driving up to the garage around 10 at night, I saw four doe ambling casually through my yard, a few minutes later just as casually walking around the side of my neighbor’s house behind me, down toward the pond. They probably came up from the creek with its sliver of woods at the end of my road, which they could follow up from one of the back roads that still hasn’t been fully over-built yet, though it’s happening, acre by acre, development by development.

Instead of four calling birds, there’s more likely to be a gaggle of crows, sometimes a dozen, which usually means there’s a hawk in the neighborhood. Hawks have to eat, too, and while I put seed out every morning for the birds, I’ve given up trying to outwit the squirrels who’ve grown really fat this winter, something the hawk will no doubt be thankful for. Still, there’s enough left to attract the family of cardinals who, I think, nest on my property or next door, and the usual busloads of juncos, chickadees and white-crowned sparrows, the occasional tufted titmice, nuthatches and once in a while something more exotic like a wood thrush or golden warbler who seem to be there less for the seed than for the opportunity to crash into my windows.

And mourning doves. For a long time, I rarely saw any, maybe a pair on rare occasions. Then several pairs. Back in the fall – before it started feeling like winter – I counted fifteen doves scratching about on the ground after the tailings from the feeder. Sometimes they would all sit in the Japanese maple as if waiting for the squirrels to leave, plumped up on the branches like ornaments. Then days go by where I won’t see any. The cats enjoy watching the squirrels – they love the doves!

But I have some composing I want to do, getting back into an old Christmas project of yore. Perhaps there will be something to write about in a few days.

- Dr. Dick

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