Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Browntail Moth

This might be as close to a PSA as I come with this blog. First, the saga: Saturday evening, I took a walk to the end of our driveway and back, as I often do several times a day. I'd heard some peeping sounds in the birdhouse where swallows make their home, and I made a detour to check out the box, squeezing between a pin oak and an apple tree, both with lots of low leafy branches on my way there. About halfway home, I felt a stinging sensation on my neck. Assuming the noseeums, which had been out in force earlier in the week, were back at it, I brushed and slapped at the stinging spot, which seemed to move around and grow worse. Back at the house, I started to rub an after-bite stick on the spots that stung, but rather than soothing, the minty ointment intensified the stinging sensation. Then I noticed a small, brown, fuzzy caterpillar on my shoulder. I ran outside, brushed it onto the ground, and smashed it with a rock (I said "I'm sorry" to it as I did so; it should be noted that the caterpillar did not apologize to me). Then I ran in, shouted to C to look up browntail moth, and jumped into the shower, where I attacked the area with soap and water. By the time I got out of the shower, swollen red welts covered my neck and shoulder from sternum to nape. Meanwhile, C found a picture of the browntail moth larva online, and it looked roughly like me attacker, but a quick scan through the literature didn't offer much in the way of treatment advice, so I took a massive dose of Benadryl and another antihistamine we had leftover from one of the kids' rash episodes, and went to bed.

The next day, I posted a picture of my leprous skin on Facebook and a warning that the caterpillars had moved inland. My field guide describes the moths' range as "presently dunes, coastal strand communities, and adjacent woodlands from Maine to Cape Cod." Last I'd heard about the moths, was M was a baby and we I was strongly advised against taking him into a state park near the coast. But as advice and consolation came in from friends, I realized that they had invaded much of Central Maine. I also realized there's not much you can do about them. Again with the field guide: "Its short, deciduous setae (or spicules) [i.e., "hairs"], tightly packed into the rusty brown tufts over the dorm, hare highly irritating to most people and produce pronounced dermatological reactions if numbers of them get embedded in the skin." Yeah, no kidding. It's not only close and intimate contact with the caterpillar that's a problem, but the setae can become airborne and get you as you walk around. They like all woody plants, but prefer apple and cherry trees as well as beech and oak—all of which we have plenty. The thing to do, apparently, is to look for the webs in the winter and early spring, snip them off, and drop them in soapy water.

This summer, I have had a neck covered in blackfly bites, an imbedded tick, clusters of bites from noseeums that somehow found their way inside my pajamas, as well as several dozen mosquito bites. Not one of these irritants, however, has deterred me from going outside. After the browntail moth incident, however, not only did I want to stay inside, I was ready to burn down our entire 15 acres. Every time I stepped outside, I got goosebumps (which, of course made my rash hurt more) and I cringed away from all vegetation. Over the course of days, however, I started going out, almost as usual (though not stepping off our driveway) and today, I did a visual survey of our pin oak, looking for evidence of brown tailmoth larvae. This is the only caterpillar I found, and I wasn't entirely sure it was the offending specimen (I could have brushed my skin against it as a test, but I'm not that dedicated to science) until I enlarged the photo and saw the two indicative orange dots at the back end (they really weren't that visible at normal size, and they're this caterpillar's most distinctive feature).

As a PSA, this is not very helpful, since I have no idea what to do about the caterpillars or about going outside without getting a "pronounced dermatological reaction."A Tyvek suit, perhaps? One information sheet recommend long sleeves, long pants, tight collar, hat, polyester fabric (apparently less prone to the setae attaching). But the whole point of summer is to be able to go outside not suited up for an Arctic expedition! As far as treating the rash, among the various remedies people suggested was scrubbing the affected area with a brush. After reading this, I jumped in the shower, and scoured my neck with an exfoliating face wash and repeated the procedure the next morning. This helped immensely, and when a few more spots sprang up on my wrist, I went at them with a nail brush with the result of almost immediate relief. C, who had a small patch on his lower arm, remarked how satisfying this remedy is, when it's what you most want to do to a rash anyway, but are usually not allowed to do.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Rad Parenting

A couple of months ago, I had the great good fortune of chatting with Tomas Moniz, creator of Rad Dad the zine, co-editor of Rad Dad the book, and editor of Rad Families. We talked about zine-making, storytelling, family, and what it means to be a rad parent. Transcribing the interview later, I noticed a recurrence of certain words—community, collaborate, conversation—words that I think represent much of what we need to heal our cultural wounds. You can read my interview with Moniz here and then consider picking up his books and reading those, too.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blue Hair!

For a while Z has been asking me to dye his hair blue and I've been resisting, not because I have a problem with a blue-haired kid, but because the whole process seemed like it would be a huge pain in the a**. Finally, though, he convinced me, and last Saturday he went from this:

To this:

I forgot to take in-between shots of his head covered in bleach and his head covered in blue dye with a shower cap. What I really wish I'd captured was the post-bleached/pre-dyed hair, when he was back to his old white-blond toddler self. We went to a cookout that evening, and Z kept his hood on the whole time. Then I was gone all day Sunday and when I came home, I found that this had happened:

It turned out that a kid who prefers to blend into the background was a mite uncomfortable with a mop of blue hair, so he had C buzz it all off.

But he bravely went to school the next day and bravely took his hood off (because hoods aren't allowed at school).

And, of course, other kids said the usual, predictable, a-holey things kids say. In the meantime, Z got used to his blue head and now he kinda likes it. So do I.

Friday, June 16, 2017

New Duckies!

About a month ago, Z came inside after dinner and said, "Has anyone seen Fatsykins?" One of our white layer ducks had gone missing (he and E claim to be able to tell them apart). C and I helped him look high and low, roaming through the woods and down to the river and up the driveway, much farther than any of the ducks has ever traveled before, but we could see no sign of Fatsykins. Which was weird, because I had been home all day and hadn't heard any ruckus and the other ducks were as calm as can be, not acting as if they had all nearly avoided a hawk or fox. Z was pretty upset, and when C asked him if he wanted more ducks he said, "No, because they'll just get killed by something." This was our second duck loss in two years (which isn't bad, compared to our chicken fiasco). I didn't want more ducks, either, because they're messy and gross and a pain in the butt if we want to go away for a night or a weekend or a whole summer. But somehow C prevailed and three new little peepers made it to our house this week (did you know that baby ducks peep?).

They are, clockwise from left to right: Duck Norris (a giant Pekin), Daffodil (a buff Orpington), and Princess Layah (as in "Layer" with a Maine accent; there was some discussion about whether she should instead be Princess Layer, as in "Leia" with a Maine accent. There is a thing here about taking the R off the end of one word and putting it on the end of another. I, for example, am "Andree-er").

Now that they're here, peeping and making a mess and inconveniencing our weekends, even I have to admit they are pretty darn cute.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The World in Their Hands

Our kindling crackles and snaps as it begins to catch fire, and Zephyr and I settle back in low chairs to wait for coals to form. As my gaze drifts over water dotted with bobbing white eider ducks, a dark animal ripples along the rock that edges our bluff. It has the sinuous body and arched back of a weasel, but is as thick and long as my arm. When it reaches the beach side of our campsite, it pauses and turns its triangular head in our direction, fixing us in its deep brown stare. It is a mink, an animal that is supposed to be nocturnal, so seeing it here before us, in the morning mist, is a rare gift.
“Zephyr, look,” I whisper to my son who has been focused on poking the fire with a stick.
He turns his head, leaps up, and runs toward the rocks. The mink pours its body over the lip of stone and vanishes. My boy stands on the fin of rock, where the mink had sat a moment earlier, looking forlornly out over the edge of the world.

While there is immense satisfaction in having a piece of writing published online, with the instant-gratification of being able to share it right away with everyone, there is even greater satisfaction at holding the heft of a thick journal that has your name right there on the table of contents. And yesterday I enjoyed the experience of pulling one such journal out of my mailbox. The essay, "The World in their Hands," is one of those which took a long, circuitous journey to becoming what it was today, beginning as a short little two-pager in my zine and going through many iterations, submissions, rejections, revisions, before The Maine Review accepted and then published it. I'm quite excited and grateful and am looking forward to a little quiet time in which to read all of the other pieces in the issue.

P.S. Issue 3.2 is not up on the Maine Review's website at the time of this writing.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wild Wednesday ~ Small Wonders

There is so much going on in the natural world this time of year it's hard to take it all in. Birds! Flowers! Frogs! Bugs! I don't even know where to begin. Here's a smattering of small phenomena I came across the other morning. I stepped out on the front step and saw the dismembered remains of a June bug. Who perched on my porch and snacked on this beetle? My extensive research (googling "what eats june bugs?") turned up a lot of critters that dine on the grubs, but no mention of beetle-eaters. Any ideas?

The bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are still flowering here and there on the lawn. These are one of the first wildflowers to come out in spring and it's nice to see them still going strong (reigns in that "summer's going by too fast" sensation a bit).

E left his flip-flops in the driveway after we got home from camping and this nursery web spider (Pisaurina mira) thought the bottom of one was a dandy place to sun itself.

I've seen a few dragonflies here and there (more every day), but I've been stuck in bird mode—not yet in odonata mode. Time to dig out the net and the field guides and refresh my id skills. A few very cooperative specimens stopped to pose for a picture. This one I think is a stream cruiser (Didymops transversa).

I'm thinking this one is a lancet clubtail (Gomphus exilis).

And this one I'm pretty sure is delta-spotted spiketail (Cordulegaster diastatops).

And finally, Z discovered a robin's nest tucked in the kiwi vine that grows over our deck rail. Mama robin wasn't home when I poked my camera in to snap a shot, and I hope she returned soon after. It will be fun to witness little robins grow up right outside our back door.

What small wonders have you been noticing lately?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Weekend Things ~ Camping With Grownups

Over the weekend, I joined some bird club friends for an overnight bird trip in north-ish Maine.

The weather was hot and windy, so not ideal for seeing a lot of birds, but we did have a few great sightings, including a few new-to-me species. But honestly, it would have been a great weekend even without those sightings—one completely free of responsibilities (for me). I didn't have to plan. I didn't have to cook. I barely had to pack. I didn't even have to drive. Before we left, E asked me where I was going and I said, "I'm going camping. With all grownups. Do you think I should ask them to say, 'Hey Mom,' every few minutes so I don't get lonely for you guys?" And he said, "Yeah. And have them ask you to do stuff for them." So I had everyone say, "Hey Mom, do you think you could give me a haircut tonight?" "Hey Mom, what's for dinner?" "Hey Mom, where's my [ipod, headphones, backpack, permission slip, etc., etc., etc.]?" Just kidding. No one asked me for anything at all and were all super nice and let me ride in their cars and sleep in their tents (despite my noisy sleeping mat and restless sleeping style). It was, in short, a respite, and long overdue.
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