Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 28-04-2008

Mommy duck maintains complete discipline with her twelve offspring. On land, her brood stays close to her. She was very gracious about posing for this photo.

Every season has its virtues, but spring, I think, has most of all. When the snow finally goes, the woods begin a subtle transformation from browns and grays. First, the undergrowth develops a vague cloud of green. Then the crowns of the trees turn several shades of red and purple and, from a distance, the forest delivers a color show as interesting as that of autumn, but considerably subdued. Eventually, the leaf scales pop, and a yellow-green haze lingers for a week or so as the trees make seeds. Finally, leaves emerge and the woods become nearly fully green.

As plants awaken, rabbits, mice, woodchucks, skunks, raccoons, and opossum appear more frequently. The birds change—not individual birds, but rather the types of birds you see. Varieties that have gone for the winter return, and some that merely pass through as they migrate appear for a time, and then not again till fall.

Reproduction is a Spring Sport

Most entertaining to me as spring unfolds is the explosive reproduction taking place all around. Usually, rabbits make puppies somewhere in my yard—under a bush, in a pile of leaves, or in my garden. Three or four varieties of birds nest in the trees in my yard. This year it looks as though a song sparrow has settled, a house sparrow (as always), and a robin or two. Most entertaining of all: there are ducks in the neighborhood.

Year-after-year there has been at least one pair of ducks that eventually produces a crop of ducklings. While our local ducklings haven’t hatched, it’s easy to spot herds of ducklings all over Lewisburg.

At the golf course yesterday, I watched a mother waddling along with twelve ducklings. There’s a similar family there every year. Usually, they hang around for several weeks as the number of ducklings decreases gradually. It’s clear why the duck hatches so many eggs: with cats, dogs, cars, and hawks lurking, a duckling has a lot of obstacles to avoid if it’s going to become a duck.

Survivel Strategies of Yore

It would be hard for humans to rely on this strategy for survival: Imagine the emotional issues if our offspring were more likely to die in childhood than they were to grow into adults. It’s sobering to realize that not even a hundred years ago, the odds were close to that bad; people hatched a lot of babies to ensure that at least some of them would reach adulthood.

Sobered, I’m going to enjoy the ducklings while I can. Watching twelve of them follow one mother suggests controlled chaos. The ducklings move in twelve directions at once, taking as many paths, yet they arrive together wherever they go. It’s comical. It’s fun. It’s spring!

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 26-04-2008

I’ve played more than 100 golf courses, but only a handful where using a driver on the tee consistently got me into trouble. A “thinking person’s” course should make you consider where to aim your drive, what club to use on your approach, where to miss if you make a mistake, and how to play recovery shots. If “thinking” means, “I wonder how many yards to the first green-sized patch of fairway,” and you’re not playing a par three, something is very wrong with the hole.

Please forgive me if you’re looking for a vignette about rural living… today I’m stewing about a golf-related issue, and this whole entry is about golf. I try not to spend so much time on golf, but I have a bit of an addiction problem with the game, so it’s likely to come up from time-to-time.

You might remember my friend who likes yard work. I helped him dispose of sod he removed from his lawn: we loaded it onto his truck there, and unloaded it onto a low spot in my yard. He told me it’s OK to refer to him by name… it’s Heber. By way of thanks for the heavy lifting and the local landfill access, Heber treated me to a day of golf in the Poconos.

A Great Day Out?

We left home at 5:30 AM and drove about an hour and fifteen minutes to a resort for a morning round, lunch, and then an afternoon round. It was my kind of golf day; I’d play from dawn-till-dusk every day if I could afford it (and if my body held up).

The first round held serious promise as we left the starter’s area: a wild turkey scurried off the tee box and into the woods. We faced a par five that began with a massively down-hill tee shot, but the fairway turned sharply to the right at what our scorecard told us was about 180 yards away. We couldn’t see anything past that turn, so we wondered: can we safely cut the corner? How far do we have to carry the ball to safety? Should we lay up off the tee?

When I Wonder: Are They Kidding?

Information on the score card didn’t help—nor did the GPS computer mounted on the golf cart. Never having seen the course, all we could do was guess what to do. That’s a common problem with a first round on any course… and the reason we were playing two rounds on the same course. On the first round, we’d learn the layout enough that we could play intelligently on our second round.

So, I made mental notes of the holes: where were the safe landing areas from the tee boxes, and how far would I have to hit the ball to reach them? Unfortunately, cataloging this information led to disappointment: the course represented some of the most offensive design elements conceived in golf.

On fully nine holes that were par of either four or five, using a driver on the tee would be a mistake. What could you do with a driver on those holes? Blow the ball through a dogleg, or hit the ball into a waste area or hazard that crossed the fairway. On the twelfth hole, for example, hitting a driver straight ahead off the tee would send your ball over a bunker and into a heavy growth of mountain laurel. Cutting a driver over the corner of the fairway’s dogleg with modest fade would land the ball in the middle of the fairway, but the ball would bounce forward into a waste area that crosses in front of the green.

Oh, so it’s Par Three Golf

The correct play on the first hole—a par five—was to hit a five iron into a landing area, and then either blast a fairway wood at the green for a low-percentage shot, or pop a nine iron down to another landing area from where a second nine iron could reach the green. Basically, you’re playing three par three holes and calling it a par five.

I’m a happy golfer when I play a course that rewards me for good hits with a driver on all or most of the par fours and fives. I can forgive, perhaps, one or two cheesy holes where I have to hit a green-sized target with a lay up, and then play a similar approach to the green. So, while I had a great day out with Heber, and the course was gorgeous, I won’t play there again. With so many tricked-up fairways, you start to wonder why there aren’t windmills and clown faces on the greens.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 07-04-2008

No one should ever find their ball resting in someone else’s spit puddle on a putting green.  In fact, your ball should never encounter spit on a green, on a tee box, or on a fairway.

As a kid, I hung with a bunch of other kids who gathered after school and on weekends in a park in our neighborhood. In my early memories, I was the annoying youngster for whom all the big kids only occasionally slowed down. Later, I participated as one of the older kids when we organized into a team and played baseball against another team that formed at a park down the street. It was on this team that I first encountered spitting as a bad habit.

One of the younger kids whose attitude far exceeded his ability was a spitter. (Amazingly, Microsoft Word thinks that spitter isn’t a word. Perhaps it can’t decide whether I’m referring to one who spits, or to something that is more spit than something else?) This kid spat on the ground at least once every two minutes.

I was both perplexed and aghast: Under what circumstance do you develop a spitting habit of this type? I figured the kid must have a glandular problem, and tried to ignore the spitting.

Then, one day I noticed that I had developed a similar habit—not as pronounced as that other kid’s, but I would spit from time-to-time when I was outdoors. It bothered me… it still bothers me: I don’t want to step in spit puddles, and I don’t want my butt to land in spit when I sit in the grass. So, I don’t want to be a spitter… but I am and I’m self-conscious about it.

This past weekend, I played in a golf tournament for which a computer made up teams. One of the players assigned to my team was a chain spitter. This guy spat several times on each tee box, perhaps a few dozen times from tee to green, and three or four times on the greens as he lined up his putts.

When my urge to spit is great, I indulge it only if I’m off the beaten path: never on a sidewalk or street; never in a park; and never where people are likely to walk or sit. The idea of spitting on a tee box or a green creeps me out: these are places where hundreds of people stand each day; where their equipment rests on turf; where their hands touch the grass. It’s not just inconsiderate to spit in these places, it’s offensive.

A bit more about being perplexed and aghast: Why do so many of us develop this urge to spit? Do the most out-of-control chain spitters have a constant need even while they’re indoors? Do they have spittoons placed strategically throughout their homes? Are chain spitters the least bit aware of their habit and just how unpleasant it is to the rest of us? Oh, what a bizarre vice.

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Filed Under (rural living) by admin on 01-04-2008

Much of Fresh Pond golf course in Cambridge runs along a city reservoir, and trees make effective barriers between fairways and adjacent roads; the course feels impressively rural. The view down the ninth fairway offers a stunning contrast; there are no high-rises near rural golf courses in The Valley.

I got to Boston on Sunday, March 30, and I haven’t spent enough time wandering around; I won’t before I head back to Lewisburg. On Monday, my buddies and I delivered a car to a garage that restores cars damaged in accidents. On the return, we stopped at a driving range, but found it closed, and so decided to grab lunch. Then we went to shoot pool, and finished with dinner at my host’s house in Brookline.

Today, we played nine holes at Fresh Pond Memorial Golf Course in Cambridge. This was my home course when I lived in Boston—I played many rounds there with my wife (before kids), sacrificed dozens of balls to the pond fronting the eighth green (and many others to the pond along the right side of the fifth fairway), and I scored my first sub-40 rounds. The course has changed only slightly, and the quality of my game today, no doubt, offended it.

I took a few hours to tour Boston and snap photographs. Unfortunately, by the time I started, it was rush hour, and I realized I wouldn’t have time for many pictures before needing to pick up dinner and head back to my friend’s place. I spent a few minutes along the Charles River in a park where my oldest son first swam, then I headed into Cambridge.

What a rush to drive again in Boston traffic! In Lewisburg, drivers are so “polite” that they wave and smile rather than take the right-of-way when it’s theirs. In Lewisburg, drivers come to a near stop in traffic before making a turn. In Lewisburg, drivers eventually get where they’re headed, but it never seems important to them.

Boston drivers are efficient: When it’s your turn to go, you go. When you’re making a turn, you maintain your speed and get as far left or right as you can so other drivers can get past you should you need to slow down. When you’re driving, you’re going somewhere and you’re getting there as quickly as you reasonably can.

I took a well-travelled shortcut and emerged on Mass Avenue at Porter Square. It was familiar, yet I almost didn’t recognize it! A T station has grown up, along with new shops and restaurants. Out Mass Avenue, I turned toward Davis Square on Day Street, noting that the Red Hen Pantry had changed its feathers.

A bowling alley where I used to shoot pool still stands; it was ancient when I lived in Boston, and is even more ancient today. A block away, Redbone’s still draws crowds for dinner. I bought ribs and chicken for seven, and then crawled back to Brookline along back streets in hopes of dodging peak traffic.

I’m a real sap about yesterdays: I love to reminisce. Certainly, nothing then was better than it is now, but I easily get lost in places and events that have already passed. The old haunts and back-street Boston in rush hour moved me in that way: I’m in Boston, and I miss being here.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 10-03-2008

Don’t know whether my foot is sprained or broken, but I’m tossing the cleats in my closet. I want to get healthy for golf season.

I play soccer on a men’s over 30 soccer league. I also play with a local club that runs pickup games twice a week. The league plays indoors through the winter. The club plays outdoors through the spring, summer, and fall.

I play mostly for exercise—I have virtually no skill. It’s a lot of fun, but I’m not real committed to the club… in warm weather, I try to play golf two or more times a week, and it’s hard to get enthusiastic about adding three or four hours of running on top of that.

I’m much more committed to the soccer league because golf opportunities are rare in the winter. It’s very cool to be able to play soccer on a grass-like surface even as a blizzard swirls outside.

Yesterday, my team played its 22nd game of the season. We were holding our own: we’d had a half-dozen solid scoring opportunities that didn’t pan out, and we were down by only one point.

I was racing to shut down a breakaway attack on our goal, and somehow I jammed my heel hard into the turf. Something popped, and I felt pain; I took myself out of the game.

Without exception, my first thought after ouch is, How will this affect my golf game? In fact, part of my reluctance to play soccer at all is the growing certainty that a soccer-related injury will sideline me from golf (I’ve seen other players break bones, and pull muscles. One of my indoor teammates dislocated his shoulder and another detached his Achilles tendon.)

If I get injured in the winter, I have time to heal before golf season starts. If I get injured in the spring, summer, or fall, I may miss several weeks of golf. I’d be sad. It looks as though my soccer season has ended.

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