Category Archives: Wildlife

Normantown News — Martha and Her Goslings

I have named the goose nesting on the island in the lake behind our house Martha. As I have mentioned before, she took her position on that nest about the time we were quarantined. Martha laid one egg every one to two days, usually early in the morning, as geese do. She has not left the nest, to eat, drink, or bathe once the eggs started incubating. The gestation period is 28 to 30 days, so there should be some activity over there pretty soon.

The appearance of these goslings will be one of the highlights of our quarantine, right up there with painting the bedroom and putting purple highlights in my hair. I’ve been told only boring people get bored, but I am grateful for that goose and her pending goslings and monitor her every day from the back door window. A few days ago, I noticed that she had turned around on the nest, something she had not done in a month. The next day, she was fidgety, plucking and tucking the ground around her body.

I knew, when the male took up a guard position three feet from the nest, that something was happening. The female on the nest had poofed out her body, but remained with her head tucked back into her wings, but the male did not move. He did not pluck at the grasses, did not paddle around the lake, did not falter. For the most part, he had left the female alone for a month, but now he was diligently by her side.

The next morning, the nest was empty, and no geese or goslings to be seen. But, after 22 years of observing this spring ritual, I did not panic. Instead, I looked to the yard and the fields. Geese mate for life, and nest close to the same spot every spring. There has been at least one nest on the island every year since we moved here, so I go on the assumption that this couple has raised several broods on this lake. I likewise assume they know what I know: at least one massive snapping turtle lurks beneath the lake’s waters.

We witnessed the day, several years back when the snapper tried to pull a chicken-sized gosling off the bank of the island. It was large enough to dig into the mud with the free leg and flap its wings enough to keep from being pulled into the depths. But the turtle did not let go. To our amazement, the larger parents took turns, jumping on the turtle’s back, stomping on it, and pecking its head. This battle continued for nearly thirty minutes, and that was the day I learned: a snapper WILL let go. But, it takes a long and brutal beating before the turtle will admit defeat. That gosling grew up with a dysfunctional leg joint but is still living a normal goose life.

To my count, two snappers keep residence here in the warmer months, but the one is truly huge. The last time I caught him crossing the yard in the spring on his return to the lake, his shell alone was 15 inches long. Throw in the head and the tail and you’re looking at a two-foot snapper. Like most snappers, he has a surly attitude, and he can pull a gosling beneath the waters without so much as a ripple. This is why ducks don’t nest here. They have never adapted to the danger beneath the surface, and lose all ducklings, silently, within the first week. They’re just there paddling on the water, and then, with the slight sound of a raindrop, they’re gone.

But the geese who raise here and were raised here know the danger, and freshly hatched goslings are not taken to the water. Today they pluck around the yard, splashing in the puddles made by the second day of rain. Right now, the clan is high on the bank that runs the lower side of the lake, the father tall and diligently watching, the mother resting with her head partially tucked under her wings. But her eyes are open and she keeps them on the five goslings waddling around her body. Another goose has nested on the lower ponds, and that clan will keep their goslings closer to the water at first, though I haven’t seen signs of hatching yet at that nest. Eventually, when the goslings are all big enough, both clans will bring their young to the lake out back. Each year I watch to see if the turtle has goose for dinner.

So, the next phase of goose observation is just that – to see how many survive. This phase comes with mixed feelings because, in truth, geese are a nuisance around here. Goslings are cute for a very short period, then go through a rather ugly phase. Then they become geese. Geese are noisier than you can imagine and prefer mowed grass. Thus, goose poop is an issue in the yard. Also, their defecation in the lake increases the water’s nitrogen level, promoting the growth of problem water plants and duckweed. Duckweed looks like algae on the water’s surface but is actually a plant. It is spread by birds flying between ponds with the tiny plants clinging to their feathers. The plant is prolific and given enough nitrogen, can produce a new plant every 24 hours. In two weeks, a single plant can produce up to 17,500 more to cover the entire surface of the water.

It is difficult to root for the survival of all the goslings when I know I will come to hate them later. Sometimes, in years when the geese have especially large broods, I root for the turtle.

Normantown Historical Community Center’s May food pantry will be on Friday the 8th, for emergency box distribution. They will need the same volunteers as the April pantry, likely because they know the safety procedures. Thanks again to Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for their donation of food, and for the previously awarded grant to repair the roof on the brick concession building. Also thanks to Ken Roberts for his contribution.

Donations to NHCC can be made online at or mailed to NHCC, 3031 Hackers Creek Road, Jane Lew 26378, c/o Margaret. Donkey Basketball has been rescheduled for October 17th, 2020.

The Normantown School Alumni Association Reunion has been canceled. They are currently looking at Labor Day Weekend, Saturday, September 5, 2020, as a possible reschedule date. It will be appreciated if you could remit your Scholarship Fund contribution now so the program can grant its award on schedule rather than waiting. For more information, contact Gary Smith. I see also that the Gilmer County High School All-Class Reunion has been cancelled.

Have you submitted your 2020 Census questionnaire yet? This is the first time in my working-age life that I have not worked for the Census when it came to town. The results determine how much federal funding flows into West Virginia each year, and your completed questionnaire can be worth more than $22,000 in federal funding to our state. You can respond online, via phone, or by mailing in your questionnaire.

If you have any 25267 area news you would like to share or any personal messages you want to be posted in local media, send an email to or leave a message on our machine at 304-354-9132. I also have a seasonal email newsletter that includes links to this column online. You can subscribe at


The Chair in the Woods

Just beyond the edge of the woods, on a flat space speckled with the shade of Maple and Tulip Poplar, in a small clearing covered with mosses, sweet grass, and poison ivy, sits a faded patio chair.

My time out chair.

A five minute walk will get me there, when I think of it in time. When I manage to make myself use it, to think before I act or speak.

I carry more anxiety within me than a soft-boiled tea kettle, and more anger and resentment than any soul deserves. My awareness of these flaws does not yet help me control either of them, but time around that chair in the woods helps me manage them some.

The comfort of the shade comes first, hushed and yet sprinkled with bird song — Vireo, Thrush, Bunting, and Towhee.  The scents come next: moist earth, rotting leaves, the sweetness of Autumn Olive mixed with the smell of my own sweat. Instinctual scents, familiar to the crone in my soul, connecting me to the peace of previous lives, to the soothing spirit that flows through all life.

But it takes time for my tension to dissipate, time to extinguish the deep, hot coals of my anger. They are fertile within me where they flourish, fertilized by my resentment, by my disappointment in myself. My downfalls and failings in my life were my own doing, my misplaced trust in the intentions of others.

I cannot sit in the chair upon my arrival, anger and rage still swelling within me, energies boiling within and seeping from my pores. I yank sticks from the forest floor and snap and break them, beat them against the trunks of stout trees. I throw stones–smaller ones tossed one-handed like a baseball, sandstone smashing to pieces against massive boulders. Heavier stones shucked two-handed, landing a few feet away with a dull, smacking thud.

The forest is unimpressed by my tantrums, undamaged by my attempts to rearrange the landscape. My rage here is harmless, my tension and anxiety pointless. The forest doesn’t recognize frustration, does not acknowledge vehement rage. Its ageless persistence and patience renders all that upsets me irrelevant and small, diminished by a distance that multiplies at the edge of the wood.

When my anxious energy is dispelled, my inner emotional child exhausted, I take my seat, but remain restless. I kick my feet and chock my heels in the soil, making dents in the grass. I shrug my shoulders repeatedly, roll my head around on my neck.  I wriggle my fingers and shake the tension from my hands, then flex them from fist to jazz hands, fist to jazz hands.

Only then am I able to focus on my breathing, a shallow suffocating pant, and at last, I draw the air of the forest into myself. I hold it within, the musky scents and botanic moisture wrapped in my lungs in a bronchial embrace. The tension lingering within me clings to it, and rides it out on the exhale. I push with my diaphragm to expel as much as possible.

My shoulders loosen. My mind begins to clear.

And I draw the forest within me again.

Thanks, and Come Again

For four days, the house is lively, with music playing most of the day, constant food and consistent dish washing. Big breakfasts, large lunches, full course dinners. Men like to eat.

During Thanksgiving week, our basement floods with camouflage, the refrigerators fill with Natural Light beer and processed foods, and items purchased from WalMart appear on the counters.

I’ve made a huge pot of stew, with vegetables from our garden, broth from jars I canned weeks ago. But I know they won’t eat much of it, their taste buds craving bologna and cheese on white bread, Little Debbie snack cakes, Vienna sausages, venison and potted meat on crackers. I eat more than my share of the Little Debbies myself, and half the store-bought pecan pie.

There’s liquor and cigarette smoke, boisterous laughter and a lot of blade sharpening. I’ve grown accustomed to a week with the toilet seat up. The cat has gone into hiding, and the dog is begging at the card table, knowing she’ll get something soon enough. At night a chorus of snoring rises from air mattresses tossed on the floor, and if I sleep too late, the coffee will be all gone.

But, the upstairs of the house remains mine. Rules established long ago restrict them to the basement, with the work room, kitchen, the shower and bathroom, the pantry and the laundry. Muddy boots, bloody hands, stumbling drinkers — all remain downstairs. Away from the new couch, the carpeting, the office, our bed. When the testosterone level gets too high, I retreat to my space and leave them to theirs.

This has worked well now for sixteen years. I assume it will continue so.

This year’s highlights included a truck stuck in the mud, a buck and a doe hanging, two bottles of liquor, and fresh-caught crab legs.  Every year is different, or at least has been the last sixteen years. My husband loves this time of year with his cousins, and for the most part, they are good company.

Then, just as they bluster in one day, the whirlwind of family swirls back into their trucks and rumbles down the driveway, and they are gone for another year. The farm seems intensely quiet and stoic, and I quietly prep the leftovers (including the stew) for the freezer while my husband cleans up outside.

I throw all the towels in the dryer, put a new roll of toilet paper out, sweep the mud crumbs from heavy-tread boots out the door.

Then I sit at the empty table in the now quiet basement, and eat the last piece of pecan pie right from the pie plate.

With that gone, you can hardly tell they were even here.

Can We Overcome Our ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’? | Alternet


“More people are more disconnected from natural systems than in any other time in human history.”

I’ve never heard the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” before reading the above article, but the term struck a chord with me. I’ve been interested in natural remedies for many years, and more recently have been studying Appalachian folklore traditions for healing, many of which call for interaction with certain elements of nature, just as do Native American and other cultures.

You cannot live in a rural area and deny the benefits of time spent with nature. Just ten minutes in a natural environment has scientifically shown to lift spirits and lower blood pressure. But the article above shows that this disconnect from natural also has social impacts. An interesting perspective on what is resulting from our society’s broken connection with nature.

Posted from WordPress for Android

The Sparrow-proof Blue Bird House

For three years in a row, the blue birds have attempted to raise a family at the top of one of our porch fence posts. I say attempted, because the sparrows will not allow it.

The blue birds get to the point where they have the nest built, eggs laid, or even young born — and the sparrows attack. One year, I attempted to help guard the nest, but I could not be as diligent as the sparrows. Another year, I collected the young tossed ruthlessly out of the nest, and hung them in a basket nearby. The sparrow threw them out of the basket as well.

It’s traumatic. There’s a lot of chirping and squawking and commotion. Violence is violence – even if only the size of a sparrow. It’s a sad and terrible experience I share with them every year. It upsets me.

The blue birds try raise a family on our porch every year and every year, lose the battle.

Well, not this year.

This year I remembered ahead of time, and bought a “sparrow-proof blue bird house.”


I’m going to fill the space where the blue birds usually build their nest at the top of the post, and I’m going to mount the bird house right next to that spot. Hopefully, the blue birds will take to it, and hopefully the sparrow-proofing works.

I’ll keep you updated as spring progresses.

Recent Visitors — Name that Duck

Since our house sits right next to a large pond, you can imagine that we get a variety of water foul around here. We have our regulars, the cormorant and the Canadian geese, but then we also encounter a variety of duck who come and go, as well as the occasional egret and even once, and osprey.

These are our most recent visitors, not as skittish as most others, who enjoyed the day eating at the “human’s side” of the water.








The Peepers Always Freeze Twice

One of the biggest cues that winter is ending is the emergence of the Spring Peepers. When you have a lake in your back yard, sometimes they can be so loud they make it hard to fall asleep at night. Most folks, when they hear that first “peep,” they think that spring has sprung.

But I know — the peepers always freeze twice.

It’s been about a month since we heard the first peep around here, and two weeks ago, there was a spread of snow. Then, we had warm days with rain, hail, thunder — all a small taste of spring. I planted seeds, inside and out. The hens began laying again. Crocus bloomed, forsythia bloomed, daffodils bloomed.

But last night the peepers were silent, and this morning — there’s snow.

As much as I would like to think we’d be delivering the April issue along sunny roadways with the windows down, I realize that’s not the weather predicted for the upcoming week. And though the Vernal Equinox has passed, I know the loading docks at the printer in Parkersburg tomorrow will feel as windy and cold as pick up in January.


The new T-shirts I ordered for Frank and I to wear on delivery sport our logos and a new promotion arrived yesterday. Looks like they’ll be pulled on over thermal shirts and hidden beneath coats all week. Bummer.

The arrival of spring is a month filled with disappointments — because once we start seeing the signs, we have higher expectations of sunshine, warm breezes and open-toed shoes. But I have learned not to get my hopes too high, and to leave the electric blanket on the bed.

I may switch from snow boots to rubber boots for yard work, but I know to keep the wool socks handy.

I clip daffodil blossoms and forsythia branches, and bring them inside to put in water.

Because the peepers always freeze twice.