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Habitat Fragmentation and Land Ownership

In this present time civilization, humans are finding themselves in the midst of more than one environmental quagmire. How to get control of the plastic and junk in the ocean? How to keep air clean enough to breath in China? How to rid old pipes of poisonous lead and our water of pharmaceuticals waste, which go into toilets? Am I getting too personal?

Actually, everything we do and have done in the past are exactly what professional scientists/ecologists are dealing with now. If there ever was a field in which our children will find ready employment, it will be as research problem solvers, and maybe even politicians who care about cleaning up our messes. However, the question we all have is: how did we ever get to this point anyway, and what can we do about it as individual homeowners, as people who care?

To their credit, in 1621, the people native to America, the “Indians”—after prayerful consultations with their elders, dying and weakened due to disease and brought here by previous white explorers, weary of warfare—decided it was in their best interest to make peace with the Pilgrims. In spite of the Mayflower crew robbing them of their seed corn and burial treasures, they made a pact together that would endure long enough to get squash, beans, and that same stolen corn planted, harvested, and then shared.2

Peace for the natives was the best and most productive remedy, even though strangers were encroaching on their land. Interesting…and perhaps something we can learn from during this present time of anxiety about refugees. Unfortunately, back then, that fragile peace did not last very long. There will always be the good mixed with the bad, the greedy mixed with the philanthropists, and I assume this is how it will always be. Nothing seems to have changed since the beginning of time.

Of course, as years passed and more settlers arrived to colonize America, the natives were totally kicked off their land. The settlers had brought with them an entirely different ethic of land ownership from Europe, as well as military hardware, far more effective than the natives hand-crafted bows, arrows, and spears. Over the centuries, their precious land has been stolen, divided, and subdivided, fragmented and sold, and some of it has sadly been misused and polluted.

I am fortunate to live in a sub-division of a beautiful, old 200-plus acre homestead here in the Catoctin Mountain. Due to my love of and concern for diversity in the natural world, I am allowing my 11-plus acres to not only feed me, but to feed all my other “relations.” The native idea of “other relations” extends far beyond human relatives and includes the wonderful diversity of flora and fauna, which most of us care about: bees, butterflies, birds, wildflowers, trees. etc. These are things our children are learning to care about in school, and as wise elders, we should also.

As homeowners, and landowners, we can begin to bring these various fragments of land together by allowing native plants to grow, by creating native wildflower gardens on part of our lawns, and by planting native trees. That way, the habitat fragmentation, which has been going on since the pilgrims settled at Plymouth Rock, can be somewhat remedied. If you ever feel like giving up in despair, there is one very real thing you can do, and the opportunity is right in your own back yard, or front yard, too (why not).

The vision is to create a beautiful tapestry right here where we live, of yards and properties dedicated to the health and well-being of our earth. It already looks like a quilted pattern here in Thurmont, but the work is not yet finished. If anything, the work has just begun!

I belong to the Green Team here in Thurmont, and I am heading up a project along the rail road tracks, which will not only beautify our town with wildflowers, but create habitat for wildlife. I am presently seeking volunteers to clean it up a bit in February and then spread seeds. All this must be done before March, as seeds need the time to stratify (to get the benefit of freezing weather), so as to enhance their germination.

If you are interested in helping me with this project, please get in touch with me at songbirdschant@gmail.com. If not, then consider doing something on your own little fragment of land, no matter how small. As I always say, “Every little bit helps!”

by Jim Houck, Jr.

U.S. Army

Private Alfred Woodrow Clark

102 Years Young

Born June 13, 1913, in Washington, D.C., to Henry and Edith Clark, was a boy they named Alfred Woodrow. Alfred’s family had a tradition of giving newborns of the family a nickname. His family was together nine days after he was born at their home in Takoma, Maryland, and his one aunt said, “Well, I am going to call him Boogie.” His mother confirmed it, and Alfred was stuck with that nickname from that point on.

Alfred had twelve brothers and sisters; he said several of them passed away when they were young. He stated that if they were born today, they probably could have been saved, but they just didn’t have the medical knowledge back then that they have today.

Alfred went to elementary school in Takoma Park and dropped out in the fourth grade, as many did back then. He took care of the huge family vegetable garden, along with his siblings and mother and father.

Alfred stated that at one time he was a heavy drinker. One day, he was in a beer joint; when he came out, this old man was right behind him and asked him which way he was going. Alfred asked the man which way he wanted to go. The old man told Alfred where he wanted to go, and Alfred said he would take him home. When he pulled up in front of the man’s house, the old man said, “Come on in and meet the folks.”

They sat Alfred down around this big round table, and this girl was sitting right across from him. They started talking; the rest of them got up and left. He sat there talking to her for just as long as he could, and then he asked her for a date. The girl told Alfred to come down next Sunday and they will go to a meeting. If Alfred had known it was church, he wouldn’t have gone. Alfred thought that if you broke a commandment, you were done for, and he didn’t know there was any way back. So, that Sunday, they went to the meeting, and the man preached on the five kings: the mineral kingdom, the vegetation kingdom, the animal kingdom, man’s kingdom, and God’s kingdom. Alfred explained that what the preacher said woke him up. Alfred said it was 1936, and he got saved. He married his wife a little over a year later on May 29, 1937. He started into construction work at a young age and, other than the two years he was in the army, made it his life-long career.

Alfred joined the U.S. Army on January 4, 1944, and landed overseas eight days after D-Day; he was all over Europe for the next eighteen months.

When Alfred came home from the army, he went back to work as a construction carpenter for a man named Clark (no relation to Alfred). Clark had come to Alfred’s home and asked him to come to work for him right away. Alfred bought a truck from the man for $200.00; not long after that he was asked to pick up supplies for the construction jobs and wasn’t receiving any pay for his time or the use of his truck. Clark had also wanted Alfred to work extra time after hauling his supplies and not pay him for it. He didn’t stay with that outfit very long; Alfred had just gotten out of the service and needed to be paid.

Alfred got a job as a superintendent carpenter with a construction outfit in Takoma Park for a couple of years before he and his boss had a falling out, and he left that job. That was when Alfred went to work for Poretsky Management and started making kitchen cabinets.

Alfred had his own way of doing heads on cabinets that would only take him two minutes. He remembers his boss telling him to do the cabinet heads, and when his boss came back after an hour and a half and saw Albert just standing there, his boss said, “I thought I told you to do those cabinet heads.” Albert told him that they were built. The boss told Albert that it takes everyone all day to do the heads, so he walked down and looked and said, “I’ll be darned, they are done.” Albert said the boss was very happy and paid him good wages; he stayed with him from 1949-1975. His back and hip were giving him trouble, and his doctor said that if he didn’t retire, his back would retire him. He was old enough to retire, and the doctor wrote a letter to the company explaining it to them. He retired after twenty-six years; the company gave him a big send-off with a check for $1,700 (a nice sum for that time; you could buy a new Chevy Impala) and a plaque with a golden hammer on it with the words “Boogie” Clark, Poretsky Management, 1949 -1975, The Maintenance Crew. He has the plaque on his wall in his room. Alfred said he did more work after he retired than he did before retirement. He sold firewood and said when someone bought a cord of wood from him they got a good cord. Alfred was living in Burkittsville, Maryland, and he and his wife had a daughter, Gwen, and a son, Jerry. Gwen and Vernon Troxell have four boys and are living in Thurmont and Jerry Clark and wife have two girls and are living in Burkittsville, where Jerry has a garage. Alfred has so many great and great-great grandchildren that he said he could not count nor even begin to name them. Alfred said that when you get up there in age, names just don’t stick with you. Alfred has a picture of a dove that had a nest on his back porch; he said the dove used to eat out of his hand, being the only one who could get close to her.

Alfred lost his wife in 2002, after sixty-nine years of marriage; she was just short of 91 years of age. Alfred said, “We got along well; she would say jump, and I would say how high.” Shortly thereafter, Alfred went to live with his daughter Gwen in Thurmont. Gwen pulled her arm out of socket while taking care of Albert and could no longer give him the care he needed, so he is now living at Village of Laurel Run Nursing Home at Fayetteville, Pennsylvania. Alfred said there is no place like home, but he likes it there and the staff is very nice, the food is good, his room is kept clean, and, most of all, he has all the assistance he needs.

I very much enjoyed my interview with Alfred and enjoyed the hospitality he showed me. I found him to be a most interesting man who became an army veteran at thirty-one years of age and already had a wife and children, but loved his country and proudly served. Alfred has had a full life, and I hope he continues to for many years to come.

God Bless the United States of America, God Bless the American Veteran, and God Bless You.

The Praying Mantis: Friend or Foe?

Christine Schoene Maccabee

Have you ever seen a butterfly’s wings, mysteriously minus its body, on the ground beneath your favorite flowers? Did you ever wonder how and why they got there? The answer to this mystery is a very unexpected one—at least it was for me. It is more than likely the work of a praying mantis (or “preying” mantis as I call them), that seem to prefer the soft buttery bodies of our precious swallowtails and monarchs, not to mention invaluable bees.

The first time I saw a butterfly in the clutches of a mantis, I was shocked. Within seconds he/she ate the entire body from top to bottom, allowing the wings to float gently to the ground. From that moment on, I realized that I could not tolerate mantis in my flower gardens, which I had begun as habitat for bees and butterflies. I also witnessed a mantis nonchalantly eating a honey bee one day; not a pleasant sight either, as honey bees are becoming more rare lately. 

I know there are a lot of mantis lovers out there. Years ago, I lost a potential boyfriend because of our difference in opinion about them, though he did not give me a chance to plead my case (his loss). So, before I make any enemies in my readership, here are a few facts that you may not know.

There are three types of mantis in our country. One is a native, and the others were brought here—mostly accidentally—from Europe and China (the Chinese one is found mostly in Maryland and Delaware). There is actually an overpopulation of mantis in our country due to this problem. Also, according to the artist-naturalist John Quinn, who has written nine books on nature and science, a rumor was started back in the 1940s that one could be fined $50.00 if caught squashing a mantis. Mr. Quinn suggests that how this  myth got started and continued on for so long “is a mystery even to folklorists.” So feel free to reduce your mantis population, as you will not be fined, and they have few predators. Smaller birds tend to avoid trying to eat them due to the painful pinching of their strong forelegs. I rest my case…

Like most well-meaning people, I thought the mantis was an important insect to have in my gardens to control garden pests. Thus, when I moved out here twenty-six years ago, I went out of my way to save mantis egg cases before the field was mowed in the fall; I positioned those egg cases in various parts of the vegetable garden and berry bushes. Sadly, I discovered the next year that the mantis is all too frequently foe rather than friend. That summer, I found about fifty pairs of wings under the butterfly bush and other flowers. Also, rather than eating the bean beetles on my pole beans where I would transport any mantis I found, they would fly back over to the butterfly bush and begin stalking butterflies again. At that point I knew I had to take drastic action. I knew the war was on!

Let me say that I would never advocate killing praying mantis, but I thought I would share some information with you that you may find useful in your pursuit of “mantis management.” Most people are not open to ridding their gardens of the “fascinating” mantis, but why invite butterflies and bees into your beautiful gardens if it is only a death trap? For me, a choice had be made, and so I made mine.

I have a “largish” plastic container with a lid and a handle, so when I see a mantis I simply knock it into the container. Sometimes I might have several in there before the day is through. If I happen to have garden gloves, I will also grab one by hand. Then, I either throw them into the chickens to eat (a great source of protein for chickens) or take them down the road that night or the next day and drop them off in a wooded area. I also have no qualms about putting their egg cases under foot in the fall and winter as a means of control. So, there are many ways to control them, though there will always be more than enough of them—native and non-native—living out in the wild areas…just not in my butterfly gardens!

The human gardener, out of necessity, will usually intervene in order to have the desired results. We are as much a part of nature as all the other creatures on this earth. Sometimes it can feel like an eat or be eaten life we live, kill or be killed. If it isn’t a rabbit destroying your kale and cabbage (remember the story of Peter Rabbit?) or the beetles ruining your squash and green beans, then it is the mantis eating your bees and butterflies. The ways of nature, though fascinating, are as confounding as they are frustrating. We could therefore spend all of our time controlling, and spend no time simply appreciating.

So, I do what I can, and then let the rest go. I will try every day to sit on my deck and enjoy the indigo bunting in my old cherry tree, be thrilled when I see my first yellow or black swallowtail, and rejoice when I spot an endangered blue butterfly.  However, I will be quick as anything to grab my mantis catcher container if I see a “preying” mantis laying in wait on the branch of my butterfly bush or silently stalking anything that moves among the lilies and sweet peas.

Then I can go back to enjoying the beauty and mystery all around me, knowing that I have done my little part in the scheme of things, and relax in the reality of my inability to control everything.          Enjoy creation!