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The Barn Swallow

In Cornish, on warm spring evenings, as the sun drops into the White  Mountains, our garden is visited by a flock of about eight or nine barn swallows, with a few tree swallows thrown in for good measure. These small birds swoop over the garden in a series of dives and loops feeding on insects in the air and at times, briefly landing to grab a bug from the garden surface. Swallows are excellent flyers.  I think the barn swallows have the edge over the tree swallows, but that’s just my opinion.  I have not taken a radar gun reading to compare their speeds.

In southern Maine, barn swallows show up around May 1st, a month after their cousin, the tree swallow.  The barn swallow has an orange underbelly that differentiates it from its cousin.  Its back is dark brown while the tree swallow sports a bluish back with a white underbelly.  The barn swallow has a forked tail that must add an extra special element of speed and dexterity to its aerodynamic ability as well as a serious edge to its character.

The barn swallows in my yard are graceful and swift in their evening missions. They are playful in flight, often looping around each other in midflight, sometimes laughing in midair or they may stop on a perch and cackle.  I wish I knew what they were telling me. 

I remember barn swallows from childhood. I lived in Rockport, MA back then.  Each June, after my Dad finished up teaching for that year, the family would pile into our latest station wagon and make the four hour drive to Pleasant Mountain in Denmark, Maine to spend a few days at the old family farm.  We still call it “The Farm” though it hasn’t been a working farm since the 1930’s, when last farmed by my great-great grandparents. The Farm is probably the major reason why I now live in Maine. You see my Dad loved that place more in his imagination then he did in reality. During the winter he’d romanticize the rushing brook in the front yard, the whip-poor-will call at night, and the wild animals you often spotted. But he’d forgotten the place was cold and damp in the rain, and the bugs in June would carry you away if you didn’t load up on head-ache inducing bug spray. Each year we’d pack for a week or so and each year he’d call the retreat somewhere about day three or four.  One year it was raining, another year it was too hot, once little brother Cam got a fever. My theory is that the repeated Farm retreats gave me some sort of insatiable need to get more Maine in my life and as soon as I got old enough, I scratched that itch.

“The Farm”

When we’d arrive at the farm, while the parents were opening up the house, my brother Kip and I would run across the wooden bridge over the rushing brook in the front yard, up over the hill and down the dirt road to Wilton and Mavis Warren’s big yellow barn.  The Warren’s were cousins and farmed the neighboring property until Wilton was too old to tend to it.  That’s about when I came along. But I vividly remember Wilton in that big yellow barn. Each year he’d give us a tour, telling farm stories I barely understood through his thick Maine accent.  

Wilton Warren was my grandmother’s cousin. He married Mavis and they brought up three girls on that rural Maine farm. My grandparents, with their three boys, and the Warrens, grew up together each summer on that dirt road at the foot of Pleasant Mountain.  Final evidence of their deep interconnectedness occurred when my grandmother and Mavis died on the very same day.

The Warren farm house.

I remember Wilton giving us the farm tour with barn swallows flying in and out of that barn – hundreds of them. The swallows built their mud nests in every eave-section and corner of that big barn, inside and out. Barn swallows build their homes against human structures – they’ve adapted and their name reflects that adaption.

What a sight to see, all those barn swallows; especially in the waning hours of the afternoon when the setting sun bathed the Warren farm in soft orange.  The yellow barn glowed warm in the dusk while smells of the damp earth and the farm overwhelmed our senses. And the orange bellied swallows took on an electric aura as they launched sortie after sortie, collecting insects, mud, and cackling their mountain wisdom. They flew, knowing their moment was now and that it was hallowed by the beautiful barn, the rolling hay field, and the setting sun. The evening’s warm summer stillness didn’t belong to the boys from Massachusetts, or the tired old farmer, or the farm that was once vibrant but now in decline, but was woven into reality by the tangled flight paths of the otherworldly barn swallows.

Back home in Rockport, I’d walk down to Old Garden Beach to swim or snorkel. There was a garage towards the end of Harraden Avenue where the eaves of an old garage held the mud nests of barn swallows. I watched the barn swallows live in there for a few years, flying in and out, and returning each year.  But when I reached the age of thirteen or so, new owners rebuilt the place and the swallows were driven off by condos.

So now I sit in the garden of our old farm in Cornish and watch the barn swallows swooping – coming and going – and I listen to their joy as they frolic. And I wonder where they nest now and what they can tell me about summer that I’ve forgotten.  

There’s that itch again.

by Geoffrey Ives

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The Optimized Route Defined

When choosing an on-line driving route, from point A to Point B, a web map application returns turn-by-turn directions based on 1.) The application’s internal route engine and 2.) The application’s underlying map data.  Across the Internet you will find variations in driving directions from application to application. The variation comes in part from differences in the route engine logic and from differences in map data source details.

Some routing engines haven’t been updated in a while.  These are complex programs that can be expensive to maintain.  As map data options become more detailed, routing engines may need to be updated to take advantage of the new attribution in the map data. Thus some web mapping services become better than others.

About two years ago, Google Maps began placing my home address inaccurately.  I know they changed some of their map data sources, so that might have been the cause.  I checked and it’s back to the right location today. At any rate, the accuracy of map data and routing logic is not static – it changes. And for the record, no map engine is perfect.  The best are about 95% accurate, the worst – well, you might be late for your interview.

An optimized route is generated by a route service that takes into consideration variables in the underlying map data; variables that reflect reality. Examples of these variables include: road speeds, road classifications (major highway, back road), turn restrictions, as well as one-ways and two ways.  An optimized route will provide a route that minimizes the distance or minimizes the time required to complete the route.  Not all web mapping engines offer an optimized route based on map data variables.  Some simply compile routes from various map engines and offer the shortest route option.

A multi-stop optimized route provides an optimized route across multiple destinations or stops. Multi-stop route functionality is rare within on-line services.  Make sure to ask if the optimized route is multi-stop.  The big advantage of multi-stop routing is that it removes human decision making from the route creation process and provides the best route, across multiple stops based on computer logic applied to map data.

Future optimized routing capabilities will include real-time routing optimization that considers traffic, construction, and emergencies.

Ad Alert. SpatialTEQ’s http://healthcare.mapbusinessonline.com/ provides a truly optimized route with multi-stop functionality. The maps are visually compelling, accurate and based on the latest up-to-date map data releases. We’ve added the ability to manage route stop ordering based on your client priorities, and options that incorporate customer work flows.

Esri’s www.ArcGIS.com  on-line maps, the source for SpatialTEQ’s Map Business Online web-map, take advantage of the latest map data releases from the major map data providers.  Esri’s web-map engine is meticulously maintained to provide accurate routing logic and the best cartographic map representation possible: http://www.esri.com/news/arcuser/0112/make-maps-people-want-to-look-at.html.

Mapping, routing, GIS, and GPS tools are what Esri and SpatialTEQ do – 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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The Basil Seedlings Send Their Regards: My Life With Sluggo

By Geoffrey Ives,  President & Founder of the Northeast Slug Defamation League

I am an amateur gardener; not a ‘prize winning roses’ gardener, more like a ‘some years I harvest Brussel Sprouts’ gardener.  During spring and summer you’ll often find me digging, weeding, and harvesting, in our Maine garden. Two years ago I realized my garden was overrun by slugs. Perhaps due to my former habit of creating many convenient compost piles, and due to a series of cold, wet springs, I now seem to dedicate the majority of my outdoor time to the capture, and termination of slugs. 

Slugs are a gardener’s nightmare. These slimy, legless creatures range from a quarter inch to three inches long. They excrete sticky mucus that helps them move across the lawn and garden. Slugs come in several bland colors that blend in with decomposing organic materials. They feed on delicate garden vegetables and fruits such as Lettuce, Swiss chard, Strawberries, and Basil. They can wipe out an entire bed of these plants overnight.  I hate their guts, which are currently filled with my lettuce and chard.

Slugs procreate very efficiently, so there’s always a new generation of the slippery villains coming along. In our garden, we’re surrounded by hay fields.  These healthy fields are a breeding ground for thousands of slugs, all of whom eventually get the message that things are much better in Geoffrey’s garden then they are in the field.

Slug Prevention

The best slug deterrent is dry weather. Slugs are 70% water, so as soon as the sun comes out they hide in places that preserve their moisture content. Thus, one way to control them is to capture them under old boards placed near threatened plants. Check under those boards and you will often find a few slugs. It is both convenient and enjoyable to put them on the board and squish them with your shoe.

Slugs are lushes. They love their beer. Actually it’s the scent of yeast that drives them wild. However, a bottle or dish with beer in it, left over night, may net a few of the more party oriented slime-balls. I use this method as a targeted trap in garden beds currently undergoing slug destruction. When I can’t find the guilty party mauling my Basil, a beer trap can sometimes lure them out. Be sure to leave them a ramp to get in so they can drown in their beer. Idiots.

Copper is to Sluggo, as Kryptonite is to Super-Man. Copper has an electrolytic reaction with slug mucus – it zaps the little turds. So I have lined some of my lettuce and chard beds with an adhesive copper tape I found on Amazon.com. And I’ve laid old pieces of copper plumbing along a garden edge. This electrolytic reaction is very cool, unfortunately slug life runs too slow for humans to pull up a chair and watch slugs suffer from electro shock therapy.  You end up asleep.

Caffeine is no friend to the slug.  Evidently coffee bothers them.  So I spread the morning’s used coffee grounds around the bases of key plants.  I sometimes water with leftover coffee. I figure, if slugs don’t like it, I’m giving it to them. Another kitchen waste product, egg shells can be used to deter slugs.  Crush the shells into sharp little bits that rip open their sensitive slug skin when they try to slide by.  Diatomaceous Earth has the same effect on the slimy dirt bags. But it must be replenished after rain.

There are anti-slug pesticides on the market.  The only one I felt safe enough to use in my ‘sort-of organic’ garden is called Sluggo.  It contains mostly iron-phosphate which they supposedly eat and then die. I like the dying part.

I read somewhere that ground limestone powder sweetens the soil, makes it too alkaline for slugs, so I line the perimeter of my garden with fresh lime after it rains. 

Hand Picking

Unfortunately, the best way to control slug infestations is by hand picking their cold, slimy bodies where they congregate. Consequently, during wet and cold stretches, about three times a day, I don a rain coat, grab a bucket, and make my rounds.  I find most of the good-for-nothing lettuce hogs hanging around by the compost pile, smoking cigarettes, spray painting walls, and generally damaging property. You might want to wear gloves, but I just hand pick them with my bare fingers and place them in a bucket. I find old kale plants and sunflower heads are pretty good slug attracters, so I check around them.  They like wet grass clippings too.

On a bad (good?) day I might net a couple of hundred the crawling phlegm machines.  Once I’ve visited all the compost piles, reviewed the beds for active perpetrators, and combed the lawn for new comers, I fill the bucket with warm soapy water and set them out to slowly drown. “Take your medicine,” I might say sternly.  Or, “You guys need to wash-up. You stink.”  Or maybe, “You broke into the wrong garden, Slugmeister.”  These small affirmations make up for the soul-pain a gardener experiences when his or her carefully cultivated basil seedlings turn to stem nubs overnight.  While running the hot water and dish detergent into the bucket of ooze zombies you might say, “The Basil seedlings send their regards.”

But variety is the spice of life, and so it goes with slug disposal.  Sometimes a small batch of captured compost bandits is perfect for board-on-board squishing. Or bring a hammer into the garden and pretend to nail a slug to a hard surface.  Salt will kill them if you’ve got some near the garden.  However you deal with the vegetable villain, have fun with it.  Get creative. Show the slugs who the garden boss is.

For more garden pest solutions see:

  • Flying rocks – the woodchuck & porcupine deterrent.
  • Screaming at deer.
  • Why gardening naked is a bad idea.

Postscript

Still learning.  I notice now that slugs travel in groups – possibly families. So when you find one, besure to look for Mom, Dad, and fat Grandma.  They are probably hiding nearby. And look under nearby larger plants for slug hiding places.

I recently made my own pole with a sharp-pointed nail at the end – perfect for  litter pick-up and slug-she-bab.  Impale the  slippery-mush buckets and then cast the pole over your shoulder like casting a baited hook for fish. Watch as the garden trasher sails through the air with a hole through its middle.  My fantasy is that they land in the field in the midst of a slug family headed my way, providing a morbid warning to the crawling travelers, “Beware! Stay away from Geoffrey’s garden or he will run you through!”

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