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VOLUME 19, NUMBER 1, 1998

Monadnock Perspectives Commentary on Rural and Urban Design

© 1998 Monadnock Perspectives

Flying Tigers

Last May, after learning of some big birds dive-bombing hikers, I went out to the area, knowing already what the natural mystery was all about. On the way to the pond that day, all was quiet . . . too quiet. I soon felt neglected; I wanted my fair share of abuse just like the others. Returning, however, a parent goshawk came screaming at me overhead, making several unnerving passes. As I retreated, I’d turn around quickly and the stealth bomber would be rocketing toward me, causing involuntary shivers. I found the nest (60 feet up in a

BY NEAL CLARK These articles are reprinted from Mr. Clark’s bi-weekly column in The Keene Sentinel, “On Nature’s Trail,” by the kind permission of The Sentinel.


he northern goshawk is a favorite species of mine, one that I try to respect at a safe distance. But a “safe distance” means a good hundred yards away from a nest, and because I have the incurable habit of collecting regurgitated raptor pellets and locating active nests, sometimes I enter the danger zone. As a result, I’ve been joyfully strafed many times, ducking often, although never struck. The goshawk is slightly larger than a crow, with a 31⁄2 foot wingspan, a gray back and a barred, paler gray front. In all plumages it shows a broad, white eye-stripe, and, at extremely close range, fiery red eyes that burn through hapless (or stupid) intruders. During the breeding season they prefer remote coniferous or mixed woods, but in winter they also patrol open country, farmland and even city dumps. This species seems to be holding its own in our area, if not increasing. Unlike raptors such as ospreys and peregrine falcons, who feed at the top of the food chain and thus ingest toxic chemicals, the goshawk has been spared by feeding lower on the food chain. Heinz Meng once did a study in Ithaca, N.Y., revealing that goshawks preyed mainly on red squirrels and

crows during spring and summer. Gray squirrels, cottontails, chipmunks and grouse were also taken. During winter especially, when more of these hawks are cruising around, poultry is also eaten, including chickens, guinea fowl, plus domestic ducks and pigeons. More importantly, the steady spread of mature forest land over former farmland has helped the hawk tremendously in New England. Goshawks remain, however, relatively There was one occasion uncommon breeders with large territories: consider your when she really let me have it. town fortunate if only two or She came in and sank her talons three nesting pairs reside. Jack Swedberg, a veteran into my forehead. She hit me photographer for the Massaso hard—she was coming at me chusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, was both fortuat around 60 mph and weighed nate and unfortunate, as he reprobably two pounds— ported in the 1970’s: “Usually she knocked me off my feet. a goshawk will veer at the last moment and just miss, but this one didn’t. She grew more aggressive during the days I was pho- black birch) and moved on, a happier tographing her and during that single man for the encounter. spring she stole 12 caps off my head. Goshawks are formidable predators, There was one occasion when she really as ornithologist Edward Forbush witlet me have it. She came in and sank her nessed while shooting some blue jays: “I talons into my forehead. She hit me so had shot three or four when I noticed hard—she was coming at me at around that not one had reached the ground. 60 mph and weighed probably two Shooting another, I watched it fall, when pounds—she knocked me off my feet.” a goshawk swept out from the trees into (Love wins again.) One of the shots he the very smoke from my gun and managed to get off shows the attacker snatched it from the air.” CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE hurtling right at him—talons-first.

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Volume 19 Number 1

Flying Tigers CONTINUED The late naturalist, Edwin Way Teale, noticed one winter at his Connecticut home that a few days after a single hawk appeared, the number of jays dropped in half. And, of 160+ mourning doves that fed daily in his driveway, only four remained. The rest fled until spring. Females lay their three or four pale-

blue eggs by late April around here— often in nests they have used previously. I’ll be out there, checking to see how my old bombers are faring. But I won’t tarry. Regardless of how bold they are, goshawks and other wildlife are totally helpless when up against that nasty juggernaut, habitat destruction. Whenever I hear of shopping centers, malls and bypasses scheduled for construction (in

Through the Cellar Hole BY NEAL CLARK


t’s therapeutic when you dig into the earth,” Uncle Paul said on a spring day in 1993 as we probed for paydirt on Blueberry Isle. “Onwards and downwards we go.” Aside from natural history, human history has always intrigued us, but it wasn’t until then that we started shifting our main focus to our own history in the woods: stone fences, cellar holes, wells, rock monuments and the like. At the island that day, we found deep charcoal and many worked stones, yet we couldn’t figure out if Native Americans or more recent farmers had caused the soil disturbance. “Broken stones, broken dreams,” Paul quipped. “There’s a lesson for us here.”

Neal Clark has been the resident naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, NH since 1982. He writes a bi-weekly column for The Keene Sentinel called “On Nature’s Trail” from which the above two articles were drawn. He is also the author of two books on birds, Eastern Birds of Prey (1983) and Birds on the Move: A Guide to New England’s Avian Invaders (1988). Comments can be addressed to him at PO Box 391, Hancock, NH 03449.

Keene, for example), I picture only destruction. Gone forever. Too often change yields nothing but negative consequences. I wish our wildlife well and I scorn the rampant human compulsion to build needlessly, thoughtlessly and recklessly. Even a chipmunk, though likely short-sighted, has more foresight than some city planners. to the modern world, weary and sore of back. I dig respectfully here and there (not much method in this madness), never knowing what will turn up as anticipation mounts. Looking around, I try to visualize the area as it was during the early 1800’s: farmland, orchards, small woodlots, great glacial erratics and a team of trusty oxen yanking out a chestnut stump. I’m also addicted to walking aban-

That summer, while hiking up Gunpowder Hill, stopping occasionally to taste purple flowering raspberries and blackberries, we came upon a giant sugar maple beside an ancient road. The circumference meaEvery time I poke around sured 16 1⁄2 feet—a record for an overgrown cellar hole, both of us. Surely it was 200 years old. a strange sudden fever hits and Later that day, hard by a the field of view narrows. barn foundation, we discovered another record tree, this The time element vanishes; one a still-living apple meait’s living for the moment while suring 9 feet, 6 inches around. Over a knockwurst fire we probing the past. And hours talked about the Colonial later, the fever subsided, I awake past, wishing we could go back for just one day to get to the modern world . . . the true insight and feel of New England frontier life. Root cellars offer starter clues. They doned railroad rights-of-way for further were built to last, like everything else was trips on the time machine. More than when people cared. It’s obvious that they 2,000 miles of such line meander held crops such as turnips, potatoes and through New England and I’m still apples through the winter, but it isn’t as getting familiar with merely the Hanwell known that these rock structures cock-Harrisville section. were often separate from the house. While stepping over the warped, mossy Sometimes the house lacked a cellar. ties, I feel as if I were walking down the Every time I poke around an over- center aisle of the Zephyr. Or the Western grown cellar hole, a strange sudden fever Star, the Phoebe Snow. Something interhits and the field of view narrows. The esting is just around the bend. time element vanishes; it’s living for the Stone walls never fail to amaze me. moment while probing the past. And Supposedly, it took one man one day to hours later, the fever subsided, I awake lay 15 to 20 feet of wall, plied with a CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE

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Volume 19 Number 1

Through the Cellar Hole CONTINUED

bottle of rum. Who had the time? And to think that many walls first had foundations dug under them is truly astounding. These granite fences were built for enclosing, for boundaries, and especially for getting rid of the rocks. These rocks, a reliable crop that popped up each spring, coupled with a lack of fertilizer, forced Yankees to emigrate westward toward Ohio. Many farms were

abandoned in less than 50 years. I reside 60 feet from the oldest road in town, dating to the 1770’s. It’s typically at least 3 rods wide (to allow for 2 herds passing), quite straight and lined on both sides with durable stone walls. Soon after I moved into the Harris Center, I was bushwhacking off this King’s Highway when I tripped over a half-buried horse skull. Mushrooms grew out of the eyes. I knew then that I was home at last, home where I can live free in the past, feeling younger than yesterday.

RECOMMENDED READING Donella H. Meadows. The Global Citizen. Island Press, 1991. 296 pages. Carl Safina. Song For The Blue Ocean. Henry Holt & Co., 1997. 458 pages.


n addition to Neal Clark’s nature writing, readers of this region’s estimable daily newspaper, The Keene Sentinel, are lucky enough to also enjoy a nationally-syndicated weekly column on the environment by Donella Meadows. Co-author of a scientific study and book predicting global collapse (The Limits to Growth, 1972) and a sequel study and book on achieving a sustainable global future (Beyond The Limits, 1992), Meadows has been writing her highly readable column since 1985. She is an ex-biophysicist and college professor who, along with other green activists is trying desperately to change the way societies think and act about the environment around the globe. A selection of the first five years of these articles was published in 1991 in a book titled The Global Citizen. Incidently, Guy MacMillan, editorial page editor of The Keene Sentinel, was one of several newspaper “editors and teachers” to whom

the book was dedicated. A wide range if subjects are covered, including population growth, economic development, food production, energy, land use, waste disposal, planetary systems, environmental policy and political leadership Ms. Meadows repeatedly uses the insights of systems theory to illustrate the unintended consequences of human activity on the sustainability of life on earth. Interconnectedness, exponential growth and the prevalence of counterintuitive results are examples of systems concepts that she urges be included in the building of economic and political agendas, particularly in this country with its enormous negative impact on the global environment. To validate Meadow’s concerns, one need look no further than Carl Safina’s book on the collapse of global fisheries (Song For The Blue Ocean). Although somewhat selective in his findings—the focus is on Atlantic bluefin tuna, salmon and tropical reef fish (the last, incidently, are being dynamited and cyanided to the brink of extinction)—he makes a case for the eventual collapse of the entire marine system. Fortunately for us, both Meadows and Safina remain optimistic. But for how long? – DW

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Monadnock Perspectives, Inc. BOARD OF DIRECTORS

David Weir, President, Peterborough John J. Colony, III, Treasurer, Harrisville Dean E. Shankle, Jr., Secretary, Troy Christopher V. Bean, Jaffrey H. Meade Cadot, Jr., Hancock Howard Mansfield, Hancock Daniel V. Scully, Dublin ADVISORY BOARD

Robert P. Bass, Jr., Concord Michael B. Beebe, Hollis Paul O. Bofinger, Concord Eleanor Briggs, Hancock Daniel M. Burnham, Dublin Bruce Clement, Westmoreland Thomas S. Deans, Gorham John W. Derby, Sharon Jennifer DuBois, Peterborough H. Kimball Faulkner, Stoddard Mary Louise Hancock, Concord Nancy P. Hayden, Marlborough Mary E. Monahan, Harrisville Richard Monahan, Harrisville Karl G. Robinson, Marlborough Robert B. Stephenson, Jaffrey NEWSLETTER EDITOR



Jill Shaffer

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Chain of Lakes Bicycle Loop Saturday, August 22, 8:30am–1pm Twenty miles of scenic biking on a loop to eight ponds and lakes: Harrisville, Sanford, Chesham, Russell, Silver, Childs Bog, Tolman and Nubanusit. Also includes two steep hills (Hardy and Cobb), significant off-road travel (with some town road alternatives) and one huge mud puddle! Meet at Harrisville Designs Weaving Center in the center of Harrisville. Bring water and a snack. Leaders: David Weir (924-9114) and Brian Bishoff (532-6347). Co-sponsored by the Harris Center for Conservation Education.

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Volume 19 Number 1

Monadnock Perspectives V19 #1  

Commentary on Rural and Urban Design

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