Happy summer! Writers, can you feel it?

sun shining through trees on a lawn, plants and lawnmore

Stopping to feel the summer early on a recent morning.

One day last week, one of the ones that was forecast to be hotter than Maine should be allowed to be, I decided to mow the lawn while it was still “cool” out before I started work for the morning.

That meant mowing the lawn around 6:30. (Don’t worry I have a human-powered lawn mower, no pesky waking up neighbors.)

It was a beautiful morning — quiet, the sun shining off the dew, muggy, but almost a little cool. It had a familiar feeling I couldn’t place. As I pushed the mower around I tried to pin down what felt familiar, and it finally bubbled up. A memory of being 7 or 8 at swimming lessons at our neighborhood pool in Ohio early morning in early summer. The same cool mugginess, the same stillness.

A vivid part of the memory is how flat the water was, with a light mist rising up. So different when hundreds of kids were splashing around under the sun. The smell was cool summer morning — grass and leaves — not the hot cocoanut suntan lotion and concrete smell of later in the day.

How quiet things were, except for the morning birdsong and the instructor lecturing us as we stood on the edge, dreading the moment we’d have to jump into the cold water.

It’s funny how something as intangible as the feel of an early summer morning can bring up such a vivid 50-year-old memory, and how much of that memory is sense and feeling, not specific faces, objects and facts.

The memory brought up mixed feelings. Not only was I dreading the moment of jumping into the water, going from relative comfort to a cold wet wakeup, I also strongly felt ambivalence in general. I liked the pool, but not swimming lessons. I couldn’t have articulated it at the time, but it was an early manifestation of my lifelong disinterest in doing something that I enjoy, but where someone else was calling the shots.

But there was also a pleasant feeling of anticipation — summer had started, and after this obligation, the day was wide open. My mom had six kids under 10 to deal with and this was the late 1960s — no schedules and programmed activities for us kids back then, just running around, the pool, the park, riding bikes and chasing the ice cream truck and fireflies.

As writers, I think we sometimes don’t take the time to investigate the feeling around the scene. The smell, the atmostphere, the connected emotions can get lost. Writing is a lot of focus on what words to use, how to use them, plot points and character development. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to stop and explore the feeling and senses part.

I could have shrugged off that moment of familiar feeling, but I was mowing the lawn and needed to think about something. Exploring it was more entertaining than thinking about the busy workday ahead.

I’m glad I took the time.

Aside from the reminder of how enriching exploring a feeling associated with a smell or moment can be, it helped what I’m working on now. The book I’m writing takes place in modern-day Maine brutally cold February, yet somehow some of the feelings and senses associated with that moment also jave informed my current writing.

A filed with trees and blue water in the background

The fade-proof lake, the pasture with the sweetfern and juniper forever and ever summer without end…

And, of course, it wouldn’t be my first post of summer if I didn’t share my favorite Maine summer quote, from E.B. White (I know! Every year the same quote!). White manages to capture the feeling of a Maine summer like no one else, and it’s about so much more than the elements:

Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible, the fade-proof lake, the woods unshatterable, the pasture with the sweetfern and the juniper forever and ever, summer without end…

White wrote that in 1941 in his essay “Once More to the Lake,” which is about my town. But it could be any time and anywhere that summer bursts out so beautifully after the long lifeless winter. It’s comforting that the summer he felt here nearly 80 years ago is the same summer we have now.

Despite the “benefits” of climate change, this seems like it’s been the longest winter ever, am I right?

Try to feel the summer.

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Weekend Update: June 20-21, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Maureen Milliken (Monday), Darcy Scott (Tuesday), Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Wednesday) Dick Cass (Thursday), and John Clark (Friday).

 

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

 

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

 

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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Why Do Writers Write?

Why do writers write? Certainly, reasons differ for each of us and motives morph with time, but given the shared polestar of this blog I’ll have a go at the question anyway.    

Inspired by what they believe is important, some writers want to speak to an audience. One example presently occupies first place on June’s New York Times Best Seller list—Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be Antiracist. An obvious model for our time, the book redefines racism as being related to actions and policies and not necessarily a frame of mind.

In crime fiction, Sisters in Crimes’ CrimeBake recently featured two authors whose books also embody social issues. Ann Cleeves’ North Devon Detective Inspector Matthew Venn is a homosexual cop estranged from the strict evangelical community of his upbringing and his own family. Walter Mosley’s Easy Rollins series infuses detective fiction with descriptions of racial inequities and social injustice experienced by African Americans (e.g., Rollins) in post WWII Los Angeles. Both were terrific and inspiring presenters.

Anyone who has heard me speak about my own series knows that I never, ever intended to be a mystery writer. Yet inexplicably here I am. Motivated by the climate change crisis and a passionate environmental educator, I weave issues about our warming oceans and related topics into my Maine oceanographer Mara Tusconi series. Latest in the series, Glass Eels, Shattered Sea, is somewhat of a departure. It features trafficking of elvers (long, skinny fish native to our NE coast) which Mainers net in the spring at night and sell for upwards of $2000/lb (for sushi). The amazingly high price explains why these critters are trafficked.

Two years ago if anyone had asked me about elvers I would’ve answered “huh?”. But colorful stories in local newspapers hooked me (pun, sorry) and research papers intrigued me further. Yes that’s another reason writers write. Research for a book is the best education ever.

That’s partly what Stephen King means when he says writing “enriches your life and gets you happy”. You learn a lot, yes, but crafting those words into sentences, those chapters into a satisfying whole is undeniably happy-making.

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Dying for Strawberry Pie

Susan Vaughan here, not dying yet. Maybe I wouldn’t literally die for strawberry pie, but eating the delicious fruit whether au naturel or in a pie is “to die for.” Those of you in some states south of Maine already are enjoying strawberry season, but here strawberry season hasn’t quite arrived and is fairly short. Local berries freshly picked are sweeter and juicier than the ones from the supermarket, ones that come from far away.

Whenever I eat a berry like strawberries or blueberries, I often wonder about the reaction of the first humans to taste them. Ancient peoples must have sampled all kinds of wild plants that either tasted horrible or made them sick. Imagine the euphoria of biting into a juicy berry like the strawberry. Did they wait awhile to see if it made them sick? Or did they have tasters who could be sacrificed in the search for new edibles? Yeah, nasty, brutish, and short lives of ancient peoples.

A little research, and I found that strawberries were recorded as growing wild in Italy as far back as 234 B.C. The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the Roman goddess of love, because of its heart shape and red color. In Othello, Shakespeare decorated Desdemona’s handkerchief with symbolic strawberries. About the strawberry, William Butler (ca 1600) said, “Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.”

And early European settlers in Massachusetts ate strawberries cultivated by local Native Americans, who’d cultivated the berry as early as 1643. Crushed berries were mixed with cornmeal and baked into strawberry bread. Colonists then developed their own version and created strawberry shortcake!

In honor of the strawberry, I’m sharing my strawberry pie recipe. It’s easy and foolproof. Oh, and to die for. Enjoy.

STRAWBERRY PIE

1 quart strawberries, washed, drained, and hulled, pre-baked and cooled pie shell, 1 cup sugar, 3 tbsp cornstarch, Pinch salt, Water

Cover the cooked pie shell with the choicest berries. Mash 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining berries. Add enough water to make 1 1/2 cups. Mix sugar, salt, and cornstarch together. In saucepan, bring juice mixture to boiling. Gradually stir in sugar mixture and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until boiling. Add drop of red food coloring if desired. Only a drop. Too much red and it looks artificial. Boil one minute. Cool. Pour over berries in the pie shell. Chill about two hours. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

You can use peaches or other berries or a mix of berries.

If anyone has interesting facts or lore about strawberries, please share!

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Making the World More Beautiful

Kate Flora: It’s lupine season in Maine, that time in June and early July when patches of IMG_9663purple and blue, and sometimes white and pink lupines explode in masses of color among the tall grass. At this season, the drive on 295 from Brunswick to Augusta can treat a traveler with hillsides of lupines so prolific they are breathtaking. On a sunny day, they’re as lovely as anything you’ll see all year. From time to time, as I am driving, I will see “lupine-nappers” out in the field digging them up, oblivious to the fact that they are stealing that beauty from the rest of us.

On the farm in Union where I grew up, wild lupines grew in the field across the street as well as in my father’s cultivated garden. Lupines were always there. I never thought much about them until I tried to grow some myself without success. My late mother, the garden writer A. Carman Clark, used to say that to get a lupine to grow, I should take one lupine, chop it up, and bury it where I wanted to plant. That would tell my planted lupine that it was in the right place.

Wikipedia tells us that “while some sources believe the origin of the name to be in doubt, the Collins Dictionary definition asserts that the word is 14th century in origin, from the Latin lupīnus, “wolfish”, as it was believed that the plant ravenously exhausted the soil.” In fact, lupines are members of the pea family and can actually improve the soil.

IMG_2579Despite growing up with lupines and now have a few successfully growing in my perennial bed, I did not know that lupines have historically been used as food. But it turns out that, (Wikipedia again) Seeds of various species of lupines have been used as a food for over 3000 years around the Mediterranean and for as long as 6000 years in the Andes. Lupines were also used by many Native American peoples such as the Yavapai in North America. The Andean lupine was a widespread food in the Incan Empire. Lupines can be used to make a variety of foods both sweet and savory, including everyday meals, traditional fermented foods, baked foods, and sauces. While originally cultivated as a green manure or forage, lupines are increasingly grown for their seeds, which can be used as an alternative to soybeans.

Most children growing up in Maine, as well as visitors to the state, are familiar with theScreen Shot 2020-06-15 at 2.40.21 PM book, Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. We didn’t have it as children, it wasn’t around in the 1950’s, but the award-winning book with its wonderful illustrations has become a Maine classic. The book includes an important piece of advice: do something to make the world more beautiful. At this season, the lupine lady’s plants or their great, great, great, great grandchildren, are doing just that. If you haven’t read it, or are feeling nostalgic, you can have the story read to you here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxh8ZPU_HfY

There really was a “Miss Rumphius,” though her name was Hilda Edwards Hamlin, an Englishwoman who summered in Christmas Cove. Hilda Hamlin loved lupines and introduced them to Maine, tossing the seeds around wherever she went. You can read her story here: https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/how-real-miss-rumphius-decorated-maine-lupines/

 

 

 

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How One Author’s Quirks Show Up in her Characters

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, sharing a little of how I go about developing at least one of my characters. A Fatal Fiction, the third entry in my “Deadly Edits” series (in stores June 30, 2020), opens with a scene at a gas station where my amateur sleuth, Mikki Lincoln, is tackling the challenge of pumping her own gas, something she’s managed to avoid since moving back to New York State. This might seem unlikely to some people, but trust me, this is one of my biggest problems when I have to drive to an event in another state. Here in Maine, we still have “full service” gas stations where an attendant not only pumps your gas for you, but also cleans your windshield. I’m incredibly clumsy when it comes to handling the hose, and I’m not that good at inserting a credit card at the pumps, either. 99% of the time, I pay for things with cash. I use credit cards to order online or I hand my card to a sales person or hotel clerk. Faced with a card reader, I invariably insert it the wrong way first. So, yes, to me, Mikki’s dilemma in Chapter One is completely believable, not so much because she’s a dithery old lady, but because, like me, she’s old enough to be set in her ways.

An aside: Being perceived as a dithery old lady can, at times, be quite useful. I’ve played that card when driving in New Hampshire to persuade a handsome young gas station attendant to come out to fill the tank for me. He even handled inserting my credit card and convincing the card reader to give me a receipt.

In the course of four books (the fourth has just been turned in to my editor), I’ve given Mikki quite a few of my personal opinions and habits. She doesn’t see the point in a dishwasher or a clothes dryer and neither do I. She has a landline, even though she has cell phone service at her house in Lenape Hollow. The landline was a necessity in her old home in rural Maine, which is, of course, based on where I really live. It’s in a valley—a “dead zone” for cell phones. Like me, Mikki doesn’t know how to text and doesn’t particularly want to learn. Unlike me, she occasionally uses her cell phone to make calls. Mine sits in the bottom of my shoulder bag to be used in an emergency but otherwise ignored.

Mikki has never watched Dirty Dancing all the way through because she, and I, can’t relate to the characters—she was a townie, never a guest or an employee at any of the big resort hotels in the Catskills. Like me, her summer job in high school was as a long-distance telephone operator, for one year on old-fashioned cord boards (“Number please”) in her home town and the second commuting to the county seat after Ma Bell converted to an early computerized phone station called a TSP. Neither of us had any idea what those initials stood for until I Googled it for this blog—it’s “traffic service positon”—but that was state-of-the-art for 1965.

In high school, both Mikki and I once explosively lost our tempers when someone taunted us during a rehearsal. For me it was dance team for our school-wide production of The Music Man. I was choreographer and dance captain, a lot of responsibility for a seventeen-year-old. In Mikki’s fictional world, she and her best pal and sleuthing partner, Darlene, were part of a newly formed Color Guard for the school band.

Mikki talks to her cat. So do I.

She’s childless by choice, as I am.

With all those similarities, you might think Mikki is a lot like me. You’d be wrong. She’s braver, smarter, and made different career choices. She retired after decades of teaching at the junior high level. I burned out after one year trying to cope with seventh and eighth graders. We did both marry our college sweethearts, but while she’s a recent widow, I still have my husband of fifty-plus years.

As for Mikki’s second career as the Write Right Wright? I’d be terrible at it. I think I’m pretty good at catching my own errors, but when I read, it’s for enjoyment. I’m happy to leave the editing to others.

With the June 30, 2020 publication of A Fatal Fiction, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-two books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes, but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, contains over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

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Weekend Update: June 13-14, 2020

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be a posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday), Kate Flora (Tuesday), Susan Vaughan (Thursday), and Charlene D’Avanzo (Friday).

 

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

 

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

 

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

 

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Dreaded June Stuff. But Great Swamp Video …

Sandra Neily here: My June topic is the dreaded synopsis (or plot summary). I suspect many readers cannot get into this type of dread, so I’ve paired the issue with something we can all ….DREAD.  (Don’t miss the they’re-still-laughing black fly video… below.)

… the June onslaught of bugs when every species gangs up on us or staggers their hungry waves so they overlap. I could not find pictures of authors grinding their teeth, so I have included bug pics, fun videos, and advice.

(I did find a writer hair-tearing pic, though.)

First, I have not used the best synopsis advice: write the dreaded synopsis as you write your book. You can always go back and revise it as your story or text evolves. Less gnashing of teeth when one wants to enter a contest and is facing a deadline of only hours. (I was gnashing my teeth.)

I will do that next time.

The fallback option is to use one’s story “pitch” to frame up the summary. The pitch (or the short answer to what the story’s about) should have the essentials. What are those?

Use the late Miss Snark’s “Hook me up” formula.

X is the main guy: she wants to do _______.

Y is the bad guy (s); he wants to do ______.

They meet Z and all L breaks loose.

If they don’t resolve Q, then R starts, and if they do, it’s L squared.

Deer fly. I do believe the name comes from their ability to group attack and carry off a deer.

Expert Advice: Jane Friedman is always my go-to source for most anything to do with publishing or getting published.  Here’s an excerpt of her advice:

What the Synopsis Must Accomplish

“In most cases, you’ll start the synopsis with your protagonist. You’ll describe her mindset and motivations at the opening of the story, then explain what happens to change her situation (often known as the inciting incident). Motivation is fairly critical here: we need to understand what drives this character to act.

Once the protagonist is established, each paragraph ideally moves the story forward (with events unfolding in exactly the same order as in the manuscript), with strong cause-effect storytelling, including the key scenes of your novel. We need to see how the story conflict plays out, who or what is driving that conflict, and how the protagonist succeeds or fails in dealing with it.

See cup-on-head video link, below. Great Party Trick!

By the end, we should understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed. Think about your genre’s “formula,” if there is one, and be sure to include all major turning points associated with that formula.”

Caro Clarke also has great advice. “The synopsis should mirror the genre of the story. If it is a limpid romance, it should flow like a romance, delivering its unfolding love story in a charming, beguiling way. For a mystery, it must become more tense and even thrilling as it goes.

While still summarizing and giving the action with a few tiny ‘colour’ touches, you can make it exciting. Yes, you give away the ending, because you must tell all the action, but you can do so in a way that the agent or publisher finishes it saying, ‘Wow!’

But, more than this, she will have read a synopsis that demonstrates that you can take an opening scene, develop the action in an arc of subsequent actions that logically derive from that first scene, and end it with a satisfying conclusion that closes all loops and which ‘delivers’.”

Here’s the pitch I used to write my last-minute synopsis. In Deadly Turn Patton and her wayward dog Pock are hired to collect dead birds and bats at wind power generation sites. When a turbine explodes, she stumbles over one body part of an unknown man. Under a brutal fall heat wave and the unblinking scrutiny of the game warden who is another mystery in her life, she is drawn into a battle that offers billions to developers, a green future to environmental activists, and fear to local tourist businesses. Adopted by a teenage trapper who moves in and is illegally raising an eagle to hunt over terrain targeted by the wind project’s expansion, Patton is offered only outlaw solutions to fight for a disappearing world. A world that is also her family and her safe home.

(In the synopsis I reveal the ending and the bad guys. The pitch is still a teaser to attract attention.)

I think I said black flies don’t like light colors. Sometimes that advice does not work. Especially in a swamp.

Now for the bugs. Here’s the BEST black fly swarming video ever. And for sheer antics (that might work) here’s the cup on the head to deter deer flies strategy. (I think I will try that with my three-year-old granddaughter.)

My own June strategy (honed after years working outdoors as a river guide where I could not have bad bug crazies in front of the clients) is as follows: wear light colors or white. Black flies love dark or bold colors. Stop the use of all perfumed products. (All bugs love perfume-y things and I found non-odorous substitutes.) Smoke cheap cigars but don’t inhale … or hand them out to others in your group.

And remember, black flies only breed in really clean water. We are so lucky to have lakes, streams, and rivers that are clean, clean, clean.

 

Sandy’s novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and she’s been a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. Find her novel at all Shermans Books and on Amazon. Find more info on the video trailer and Sandy’s website.  The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” will be out in July and the Kindle version can be pre-ordered on Amazon now.

 

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Back to the Wild

It started with a book, as these things so often do. The Humane Gardener:Nurturing a Backyard Habitat for Wildlifein this case, by Nancy Lawson. I purchased the book back in the early spring of 2019, when I was just getting excited about gardens and harvests and canning anything and everything in the season to come.

The Humane Gardener makes the case for taking others into consideration when planning gardens and home habitats, however, and – because this is me we’re talking about – I got a little carried away with that. Ultimately, what happened that summer was…not much. In order to create this backyard habitat I was dreaming about, I didn’t know what to pull up and what to keep in terms of beneficial plant life; I didn’t know where or how much I should plant if I wanted to have a garden of our own while also sustaining wild critters on our land. Basically, I knew exactly enough to stop me in my tracks for the 2019 growing season. We still managed to harvest some cukes and some tomatoes, it was a great year for berries, I think we managed to get some kale out of things by the time all was said and done. But, really, it wasn’t a stellar year for our food garden. The fox that called this place home seemed to be happy with the way things were going, but otherwise I have no real evidence that anything I did or didn’t do that summer made any impact on anyone, good or bad.

Once summer was done, I started reading a bit more on the concept of making your home a place more hospitable for wild things. Not a lot of reading, though, mostly just tidbits here and there.

And then came the foxes.

In the Bath/Phippsburg/Brunswick area, a spate of attacks by rabid foxes over the past couple of years had fueled a frenzy among a few citizens who were determined to put an end to the problem. Ideally, by putting an end to the foxes. A contract was signed between the Bath City Council and the USDA in February 2020, to set out traps to capture “rabies-vector species” and test the unfortunates who ended up in those traps, for rabies. The USDA would be paid $21,000 for their services. If you’re not aware, you can only test an animal for rabies once it’s dead, which meant that any animals trapped would be killed, whether healthy or not. The contract was done without knowledge or input from the public; once the public found out, however, it turned out there were a few people who had a problem with it.

I was one of those people. For a month, I went to meetings, wrote emails, made phone calls, and generally made a nuisance of myself. While I was doing those things, I started reading again.

This time, I read a lot.

Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope; The Audubon Society Guide to Attracting Birds: Creating Natural Habitats for Properties Large and Small, by Stephen Kress; Gaia’s Gardenby Toby Hemenway. I learned that the primary reason we were having issues with rabid foxes in our picturesque Maine towns was because we’d shrunk their habitat to the point where (1) rabies-vector species were forced to live closer to humans, which meant if there was a rabies outbreak we were going to see it, and (2) that shrinking habitat meant it was more likely that rabies would spread among the animals now crowded into this ever-diminishing sphere of habitable land.

I also learned that foxes are an incredibly effective control on the rodent population, consuming up to two pounds of rodent and insect protein per day, which in turn means they keep tick populations down – which is kind of important in these parts, given the rate of tick-borne illness in Maine. I learned that places around the world – including large parts of the United States – have used the coordinated distribution of baited ORV (Oral Rabies Vaccine) pellets to all but eliminate wildlife rabies in their area. Maine is actually part of that coordinated effort, but at this point the program is only being done in the eastern part of the state.

I learned a bunch of other things, most of which was shared with the Bath City Council by Bath residents, scientists, and wildlife experts. The biggest thing I learned, however, was something stated well by the World Health Organization, and re-stated in multiple other studies trying to solve the same problem (rabies) with the same time-worn, ineffective solution (trap and kill). WHO’s findings?

Past strategies for elimination of wildlife rabies included reducing primary host density by culling, on the basis of the rationale that rabies transmission is density-dependent, disease incidence increasing proportionally with host density. Rabies transmission in wildlife may, however, be less dependent on density than was previously assumed; therefore, reducing host population density is unlikely to be effective in controlling or eliminating the disease (36). This conclusion is borne out by observations that widescale culling campaigns to reduce wild carnivore populations have failed to eliminate the disease (37). Reducing the primary host density is therefore not recommended as a means of controlling rabies in wildlife for humane, economic and ecological reasons.

Trap-and-kill may lower the population of rabies-vector species (specifically, foxes, raccoons, and skunks) in a region for a short time, but others ultimately move in to fill the gap and you’re back to square one. The only proven effective way to combat rabies when you’re dealing with wildlife in an urban setting is by instituting some type of baited vaccine program. In the meantime, rabies outbreaks tend to run in cycles that ultimately burn themselves out; the animals who remain have a natural immunity to the virus, while those who had it typically die within ten days of exhibiting symptoms. In the meantime, educating the public about how to interact with wildlife in their midst is a far more effective solution than simply ejecting that wildlife.

Baited vaccine programs take planning and work and coordination (and, let’s be honest, money), however. Why bother with all of that when you can throw $21K at another government agency and they’ll saddle up with their traps – during breeding season, no less – in order to trap and kill any foxes, raccoons, or skunks who happen to fall into their hands?

Because of the degree of public scrutiny and protest the City of Bath was getting thanks to their decision on the trap-and-kill, they chose to take a second vote after arguments were heard. The plan was approved, again.

In March of 2020, just as a global pandemic was shutting down the world as we know it, the USDA set their plan in motion, and began setting traps in the South End of Bath to trap and kill rabies-vector species. The city has been highly circumspect about that process, refusing to release any information on exactly how many traps were set or where. A report is supposed to come out by the end of June detailing how many animals that were ultimately caught tested positive for rabies. It’s worth noting, however, that for all the fuss from us about not killing foxes, not a single fox was actually trapped in this process. Instead, twenty-eight raccoons and skunks were trapped, killed, and tested; three cats were trapped and released.

While I’ve been waiting for follow-up information on this whole beastly process, I’ve continued to educate myself on the importance of re-building habitat for wildlife – not just the songbirds, bees, and butterflies that get all the press, but the so-called “nuisance” wildlife that now share our cities and towns. Raccoons, skunks, possums, coyotes, foxes, deer… As we continue to voraciously consume the places where they can live and thrive, it’s inevitable that they must find some way to sneak into the corners and edges of our ever-expanding society if they are to survive.

So, I’m working on “re-wilding” our property, a term I learned from artist and landscape designer Kdb Dominguez during the Save the Fox campaign. I’ve started a website devoted to the process, and have designed my own kind of two-year Master’s program, integrating homesteading and wildlife conservation through permaculture. Ben and I are letting a good portion of our lawn grow out into meadow, and I recently met with Deb Perkins of FirstLight Habitats to identify all invasive, non-native plants on our land and begin phasing those out in favor of more beneficial native plants, while simultaneously building a wildlife pond and restoring a vernal pool adjacent to the property. I’m taking a three-week permaculture intensive through the Resilience Hub in order to better understand how to apply permaculture principles to my mission, and I’m working on doing a much better job this year on our own food garden.

So… That’s what I’ve been up to. In this age of coronavirus, climate change, and an increasing understanding of the depth of racism and racial injustice in this country, it feels good to be proactive about something. Apart from a raging infection from poison ivy and brown-tail moth caterpillars, it feels good to be outside in the fresh air, making something happen. And it feels great to connect with others who share a passion for wildlife in this state and beyond.

I’ll have more information about my website and progress in next month’s post. In the meantime, if you have any interest in learning more about the plight of wildlife, the importance of habitat, and what you can do to help, I highly recommend Doug Tallamy’s books. There’s a lot to be hopeless about right now, but there are also things you can do to make a difference – many of them right in your own backyard.

Jen Blood is the USA Today-bestselling author of the Erin Solomon Mysteries and the Flint K-9 Search and Rescue Mysteries. Learn more about her work at http://www.jenblood.com. 

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Tornados—Nature’s Beautiful Revenge

One of the things on my bucket list is to go on a tornado chase with a team of professional storm chasers. Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been fascinated with tornados. I think my interest started when I first watched The Wizard Of Oz. The sight of that twister behind Dorothy both horrified and fascinated me. In fact, I’m so intrigued by these wind storms that years ago I wrote a satirical novella called FUJITA’S ITCH. I vividly remember driving through Washington state one day and seeing hundreds of huge dust devils swirling over the plains on either side of me.

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The majority of tornados occur in an amorphous region called Tornado Alley. Tornado Alley cuts through parts of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska, but these storm can happen outside that area, too. In 2011 a terrible twister struck Springfield, Massachusetts and killed three people and injured over three hundred. In 1953 an F4 hit Worcester, MA.

Did you know that tornados can come in all shapes and sizes. Here is a chart below showing the different variety of twisters.8383BB12-08E8-4360-B52F-79F061A3A396

The peak of tornado season is May to early June and most tornadoes occur between 4 and 9pm. The strongest tornado is designated as an F5 and can have winds up to three hundred mph. There’s so much new information about tornado development that if you’re interested, I suggest you do some research on these fascinating storms and how they form.

The most powerful tornado on record is the El Reno tornado. It happened on May 31st, 2013 and at one point had a width of 2.6 miles on the ground. Wrote Climate Central’s Andrew Freedman: “The width of the tornado was equivalent to the entire north-south length of New York City’s Central Park.” Wind speeds topped out at 296 mph and it traveled over 16 miles on the ground. A picture of that tornado is below.

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Tornados have been frequently portrayed in books and films. The movie, Twister, was a prime example of a popular movie. I feel terrible for all the lives and damages these storms create, but at the same time I can’t help but be awed by these magnificent beasts formed by nature. Someday, when I finally do go on my tornado chase, I’ll get back to you with my thoughts of seeing a twister up close and personal. Until then, I’ll continue to study and watch clips of them on You Tube.

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