March Magic

Don’t Miss March’s Launch of Spring

“If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy
it will in the end not produce food either,” Joseph Wood Krutch.

Too many people miss March’s majesty by staying indoors. After all it’s usually too warm to enjoy cross country skiing or ice fishing and it’s too early to plant the garden, go fishing, or play golf. March is the month of mud, fog, slowly melting grit-encrusted snowbanks, and clammy cold.

At Winding Pathways, we defy normal behavior and spend March days outdoors. It’s the month of great change and nature’s cavalcade is there for any observant person to enjoy.

Just consider the earth and how it’s turning toward our sun. Days lengthen the most around the March 21st Vernal Equinox. This means there is more sunlight each day allowing our yard to soak up more solar energy and spark spring’s revival of life.

March is the month to pull on mud boots and venture outdoors with eyes and ears attuned to the great seasonal change upon us. Here are some things to absorb with great joy:

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Moles In Winter

Moles in winter?  You bet! We were amused and amazed to look out our den window and see a heaped-up line of topsoil on top of several stepping stones.  Even in Winter, our moles are active!

Many people hate moles because their tunneling raises mini ridges in the lawn and their hills smother a patch of grass and get

Fresh Dirt.

Moles bring rich dirt from below to the surface as they tunnel along hunting for earthworms and grubs.

caught in a lawnmower’s blades. Some go to great lengths to poison or kill moles.

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Squirrel Condominiuims

Winter is the best time to spot dens and nests.  Usually, we think of bird nests, and we see abandoned ones topped with mounds of snow along roadsides and in shrubs.  When we look up, we also spot large clusters of leaves and sticks – squirrel nests.

Squirrels make two types of nests: dens and dreys. Dens are cavities in trees and dreys are the large balls of leaves and sticks that squirrels fashion.  From the ground, these dreys look small, but they are really good sized.


Squirrel In Den

Taking in the view from the safety of a tree den.

When squirrel families mature in late summer, the young venture forth to find new lodgings.  If the population of squirrels is low and the availability of hollows in trees is high, then squirrels take the dens. These are hollow spaces inside the trunk that squirrels line with leaves and bits of fur and bark.  Squirrels do not create these hollows but use them.  Wood rot and woodpeckers create the spaces and squirrels make the most of them. Dens offer great protection from the elements and predators and they are warmer. So, squirrels conserve their energy when they must “hole up” during winter storms. When the worst of the harsh weather passes, squirrels begin to stir, digging for nuts and raiding bird feeders.


Squirrel Condominium

Squirrel Condominium

Squirrels make their dreys near sturdy forks in branches or close to the tree trunk. They will be high up for protection from predators. Usually, a tree might support one or two squirrel nests, but occasionally, we see half a dozen scattered throughout a wide-branching deciduous tree. Squirrel condominiums. These might be secondary homes or extensions of families. Secondary homes tend to be more loosely constructed and are scattered near the main home tree and serve as shelter in case a squirrel gets caught out in the elements or is being chased by a predator.

Each nest begins with a study base of twigs. Scientists have discovered that sometimes squirrels weave grapevines into the structure along with leaves, bark, moss, and twigs for added support. After all, the nest sways in the branches and get buffeted by winds, rain, and snow, so it needs to be strong.  Inside, the nest is dry and warm.

When you are driving or walking look up and spot the nests of one of our most industrious small mammals.  Squirrels mate in January and soon the young will be born – in the bleak mid-winter maybe in a squirrel condominium near you!

Possum visits

Below is a guest blog by Arianne Waseen about a visit by an opossum.  Thanks, Arianne!


“Possum come aknockin’ at the door.”

“I went out in the afternoon a few weeks ago to look for eggs.  I opened up the large door on the front of our coop, and in the nest box was something grey and furry and curled up in a little ball.  My first thought was that it was a cat, but looking more closely it was definitely possum fur.  I yelled and jumped a bit, and ran in to tell my husband and mother-in-law to come take a look.  By the time we got back the possum had woken up.  We opened up a little door we have at the back of the nest box and my mother in law encouraged the possum to jump down by prodding it with a broom from the front of the nest box.  It jumped down and ran off.  The opossum has come back a few times, and while it has not harmed our chickens, we are getting fewer eggs than we should be, and the possum has suspiciously glossy fur.”

Managing Deer and Deer Hunters

Many landowners face challenges caused by abundant deer. This animal evolved under heavy predation by wolves, bears, mountain lions, and Native American hunters. Their survival strategy, in addition to being well camouflaged and fleet, is to have many babies. A healthy doe normally bears one fawn when she is just one year old and twins or triplets in subsequent years. Wild predators have been extirpated but deer continue to reproduce at a rapid rate. When they are too numerous, over browsing of crops, trees, shrubs, and wildflowers devastates ecosystems. Deer numbers need to be kept in balance with their habitat to protect natural beauty and devastation.

Modern hunting is an effective substitute for predators. Deer hunting is popular but many hunters, or potential hunters, lack a place to hunt. Many landowners suffer deer damage but don’t hunt.

Successful match making between hunters and landowners can work toward their mutual benefit. However, the relationship is most successful when hunters are managed by the landowners with expectations clearly articulated BEFORE permission is granted to access property.

Most hunters are ethical but they sometimes stretch understandings, especially verbal ones.  For example, if a landowner gives permission for one person to hunt, he/she sometimes assumes that gives them license to invite their relatives or friends to hunt the property.  And, they may assume that this is perpetual permission and that they can hunt any species at any legal time without additional permission.  Also, to control deer populations it is essential to harvest does, yet many hunters seek only big bucks. Landowners using hunting as a management tool may need to insist that does be taken.

Attached is a sheet of expectations that a landowner might present to anyone wishing to hunt.  It articulates expectations and clarifies the relationship between landowner and hunter.


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Harvesting Deer for Meat Series

This week Winding Pathways will feature two blogs that cover the “ins and outs” of harvesting deer, landowner responsibilities and a sample agreement between landowners and deer hunters. This blog includes The Law, Equipment, and Ways to Process a Deer. The next blog on this topic will cover how landowners can manage hunters on their land and a sample agreement form.

Eating Deer

Frustrated homeowners often discover their landscape plants, flowers, and vegetables devoured by hungry urban and suburban deer.

Although we can find them annoying, deer are amazing. Deer are resourceful and adaptable. In many rural areas, their former habitat has been transformed into seas of corn, soybeans, or other crops. The hedgerows, woodlots, and brushy patches that once offered deer shelter have disappeared. So, they moved into town.

Many suburban and even urban areas offer a perfect place for deer to live. Parks and protected natural areas have secure places to live, and vegetable gardens, flower beds, and fruit trees are outstanding deer food. It’s no wonder so many towns are home to robust deer herds.

Although most people love seeing wildlife and enjoy having a few deer around when the garden is raided attitudes change quickly. In response, Winding Pathways and many garden books and blogs offer tips on how to protect trees and plants from hungry deer. Some hardly work, while others, especially secure fencing around gardens, keep deer out. Unfortunately keeping the hungry animals at bay is a never-ending and sometimes expensive task.

Many gardeners are proud to produce local organic vegetables. They might consider the deer that raid their garden a local, organic, free-ranging source of delicious meat.  When done according to state and local laws, converting a deer to family food in no way threatens deer herds. They rapidly reproduce, making deer a perpetual and sustainable food source.

Killing, dressing, and preparing deer meat is an unknown and somewhat mysterious process for suburbanites who have no experience with bows or firearms or converting a live animal to a meal. This blog will give them a basic idea how to do it.

To us shooting a deer is food gathering, much like picking spring nettles or mulberries.  We view deer as an opportunity to harvest local, organic, free-range meat.  

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