Turkeys on the Common

The Parish House of First Parish in Cohasset is directly opposite Cohasset Common. I’ve seen small groups of two or three Wild Turkeys skulking around in the bushes at the edges of the Parish House grounds. But today I saw about fourteen Wild Turkeys making their way across the common, out in the open, as bold as brass.

At least one male was gobbling. They were definitely aware of me, but they seemed to have little or no fear. Breeding season does that to many animals: reduces their level of fear, so they do stupid things.

Come to think of it, male humans are always in breeding season. Which explains so much about Homo spaiens.

Ten of the Wild Turkeys I saw on Cohasset Common, one with its tail erect and spread.


Some people here at the retirement community in Wisconsin measured up to 15 inches. But the temperatures are above freezing now, and the snow on Ed’s balcony is already starting to slump. People who live here are saying, “This is the last storm of winter. I hope.”

A courtyard surrounded by brick buildings, with trees and ground covered by snow.

Spring chorus

On Friday when I went for a walk in Whitney Woods here in Cohasset, the marshes were silent. On Saturday, I heard a chorus of frogs calling from a couple of marshes and one vernal pool. When I returned on Sunday, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees, from about 54 degrees to the mid-30s. There were a lot fewer frogs calling on Sunday, but some were still singing away. They sounded like a bunch of ducks gabbling together.

Whenever I tried to get close enough to see them, all I ever saw was a circular ripple where a frog slipped underwater. Nevertheless, identification was relatively easy. Here’s the description of the voice of the Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) in the Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: “A hoarse clacking sound suggesting the quack of a duck.” Another source says: “from a distance, a chorus [of Wood Frogs] sounds like a gathering of miniature ducks quacking.”

I’ll let you decide if they sound like ducks or not. Here’s my lo-fi audio recording:

Signs of spring

My hand holding a twig with fuzzy catkins on it.
Salix sp.

On my Sunday afternoon walk, I came across a small tree covered with little gray catkins just coming out on some of the twigs. We always called these Pussy Willows, presumably because the trees look like willow trees (Salix sp.), and the small emerging flower clusters, true to their name, look like small furry cats. This is the second native plant I’ve seen in bloom this spring.

As to what type of willow tree this is, I have no idea. Flora Novae Angliae states, “Salix is a difficult genus that displays tremendous phenotypic plasticity.” Meaning it’s hard to identify. Not counting hybrids, there are something like 19 species of willow that grow in Massachusetts, one of which is known by the common name Pussy Willow (S. discolor). But when I tried to follow the “Key for carpellate reproductive material” in Flora Novae Angliae, I got stuck at terms like “Decorticated wood” and “Ovaries glabrous.” If I spent enough time, I could look up all these terms and follow the key. But I think I’ll just call this Salix sp. until I learn more of the technical terms in botany.

Sign of spring

I went for a walk at the Norris Reservation in Norwell, Mass., today. Walking around Gordon’s Pond, I saw Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) beginning to sprout. Perhaps two dozen tightly curled green and purple spathes dotted the ground on either side of the boardwalk. One of the spathes had opened, revealing the spadix inside, with tiny little flowers blooming on it. This is the first native flower I’ve seen since the Witch Hazel bloomed in December.

A close-up of a Skink Cabbage inflorescence inside its purple-and-green spathe.

Soundscapes and ecojustice

Yesterday’s post on the different ways white people, and people of color, respond to charismatic megafauna and mesafauna got me thinking about a recent post by Desireé Melonas at the Blog of the APA. She went to Africatown, in Mobile, Alabama, as part of a group that received a grant to develop environmental justice curriculum materials for students living and going to school in Africatown. Why environmental justice curriculum? Because Africatown is another example of how communities of color and working class communities find themselves dominated by polluting industries.

In this blog post, Desireé Melonas reflects on her first impressions upon visitng Africatown: “…both Vince and Roald [other members of her group] commented on Africatown’s distinct soundscape. In a sort of astonished tone, Vince told of how the community is blanketed by what felt like an eerie absence of sound; no birds could be heard, a sound many of us are perhaps so inured to hearing that we take for granted what about our communities their being there signifies. This sonic experience Vince described paradoxically as ‘suffocating,’ a fitting term given the connection here between the existential experience and the literal source of the sonic absence.”

The lack of birds and other wildlife is a direct result of the toxication of Africatown by the industrial plants sited there, operated by such major manufacturers as the Scott Paper Co., International Paper, etc. So not only are the residents of Africatown experiencing higher levels of cancer from the toxication, they also have to deal with a “suffocating” soundscape.

This reminds me of another aspect of toxication.

Lichens are sensitive to air pollution, and are actually an effective way to monitor air pollution. I experienced some of this when we lived in San Mateo. When we lived downtown next to the train station, in a white minority neighborhood, there were no lichens growing anywhere in our little yard; this should have been no surprise, since we lived two blocks from the train line, right next to a major bus route, a few block from Highway 101, and not far from the usual landing route for jets into SFO; while the air pollution wasn’t terrible (not as bad as in Africatown), it was omnipresent. Then we moved just two miles away, up the hill into the old caretaker’s cottage owned by a nonprofit cemetery (who rented to us at below market rates). The surrounding neighborhood was quite well-to-do, and quite white. Quite a few lichens grew in the cemetery, because the air was a lot cleaner; and, no surprise, I stopped getting bronchitis as often as before. Now we live in Cohasset (which is very white), where there are lots of lichens growing everywhere, and not only have I not gotten bronchitis this winter, but my allergies aren’t as bad as they were a couple of years ago.

So an area that lacks lichens will have enough air pollution to cause noticeable negative health effects. An area that lacks birds is seriously polluted, with major negative health effects. While we don’t need to be sentimental about charismatic megafauna and mesafauna, a lack of such animals in a residential area might be telling us something about the level of toxication there.


Today’s walk took me a little further than intended, and dusk was settling in before I started heading home. Though I was hurrying a little, I stopped to admire a large rock outcropping that rose about twenty feet above a small artificial pond. Although the face of the rock was only about ten degrees away from vertical, it was mostly covered with plants and lichens. The lichens ranged from crustose microlichens, to Rock Tripe (Umbilicaria mammulata) the size of your hand growing in large colonies, the thallus of each lichen dangling from its umbilicus and showing bits of the dark lower surface. In addition to mosses growing in several large patches, there were a number of vascular plants, of which the most numerous were ferns, Rock Polypodys (Polypodium virginianum). But there were also two or three small trees that had rooted in the rock face, including a small Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) near the peak.

Rock outcropping with plant life clinging to it, reflected in a small artifical pond.

The different organisms growing on the rock created a patchwork of colors: greenish brown where the Rock Tripe grew, dark green for the Rock Polypody, and various shades of gree for the other kinds of lichen and the mosses. Here and there, the gray rock showed through the life growing on it.

It’s a trivial sight, something you see every day. I don’t know why it caught my eye today. I admired it for a minute or so, then hurried on my way.

Online tools for finding religious diversity

Yelp.com used to be my go-to online source for finding religious communities in a given area. In the San Francisco Bay area, I could type in my location, plus the search term “Religious organizations,” and I’d get a fairly complete list of religious communities, including communities that had no other web presence.

But here in southeastern Massachusetts, Yelp has been failing me. A Yelp search for “Religious organizations” seems to miss a good many religious communities, and has incorrect or outdated information for quite a few others. I won’t say it’s useless, but it’s almost not worth looking at. YP.com, the “real Yellow Pages,” turns out to be somewhat better than Yelp, though you have to use search terms for specific religious groups.

Not sure what the significance of this is. It may simply be that Yelp’s user community in this area simply doesn’t pay much attention to religion. But I also think Yelp pays little attention to religious organizations these days. I claimed the Yelp page for First Parish in Cohasset, and have tried a number of times to get Yelp to change the name of our congregation from “Unitarian Church” to “First Parish in Cohasset,” but they just ignore me. I’m guessing Yelp gets no revenue from hosting religious organizations, so they just ignore us.


I knew I shouldn’t go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles right after lunch. I knew there would be a long line. I knew I’d have to wait forever. I was there 3 hours. A 30 minute drive each way made it 4 hours total.

And before you ask, no I couldn’t use a runner. No I couldn’t make an appointment. No I couldn’t go to the local AAA office. If you’re transferring an out-of-state registration, you go in person and wait in line.

Having said all this, the RMV staff were all polite, knowledgeable, and efficient. The long wait is mostly the fault of Massachusetts voters who don’t want to fund adequate staffing for the RMV.