Hawks Dancing and Other Signs of Spring

I had a brain fog that needed to be cleared, so I glanced at some e-mails, then took a walk. A thick, medium overcast meant that I didn’t need more than the usual hat and long sleeves. As I started off down the block, I heard a loud but unusual bird call, and a dove flew down from the neighbor’s tree. Except doves don’t glide, then soar up like that. And they are not large and brown. And doves most certainly do not go “ka ka ka ka” when they call.

Sharp-shinned hawk. Probably female, based on the size of what crossed the road and settled with graceful ease onto a branch of the neighbor’s tree across the road. When I glanced back to look at it, it took to the air once more and joined a second hawk circling and turning against the grey overcast. I suspect we will have a little hawk soon, and fewer song birds and grackles. (Indeed, the next day a hawk was perched on the bird bath chanting, “here, dovie, dovie, dovie.”)

Some flowers have begun to bloom. Cool-season grasses are going strong, and brown lawns have turned more-or-less green. The roses are starting to put out new leaves, aside from the two that are deader than door-nails. Tulip buds are beginning to swell, and the daffodils and hyacinths are showing forth in purple and white. The wisterias, forsythias, and redbuds are still sleeping. They’ve been burned in the past. Do you move the leaves and other mulch so that the shoots can get sun and air, and to tidy up the place? or do you leave them for insulation, because the last freeze isn’t for three weeks?

Days grow longer. Two minutes per day, the sunrise eases back on the clock. Sunset delays more and more, encouraging after-supper strolls and park activities. The sunny patch in south-facing rooms grows smaller and smaller, to the frustration of Athena T. Cat, who wants her heater back right now. The sun in the morning makes driving due east a hazard, and indeed, we’ve had our annual “pedestrian in the morning dark” accident. Puffy white clouds and spring showers visit, replacing the high, milky skies of winter. It can still freeze, or snow, but the odds grow less and less. Orion has passed the zenith of the sky and has begun to stagger, driven into the western sea by the Scorpion.

I have mixed feelings. I don’t care for spring and summer as much as I do fall and winter. Yet this year, people seem more eager for spring than they were in the past. Is it the odd weather of winter that’s pushing them? It it the growing hope that perhaps we might ease out of the drought and this year will be better? The signs seem to indicate that La Niña is fading and a neutral to damp season might be in the offing. Is it a longing for new life and the promise of a better year? Or just the desire for something that’s different from the cold brown-ness that is winter on the High Plains?

All I do know is that it is spring, and the cat is shedding like a maniac. As usual. Both coats. All over me.



Seasonal Confusion, or The Other March Madness™

The poor plants. Some are blooming, some are thinking about opening their leaves, and a few are hunkered down swearing that they won’t get caught this year. Humans are trying to decide how many layers of what we need to wear. And then there’s the [unkind words here] time change last weekend. Blargh.

Daffodils began blooming three weeks ago, despite MomRed ordering them to go back to sleep. The first shoots appeared in January, eliciting groans. Everyone has been expecting the worst. It’s not Easter until the daffodils get flattened by snow. Granted, we need the snow, so that wouldn’t be the problem.

The pears started budding out two weeks ago. They are peaking right now, which isn’t great news, since it’s supposed to get into the low 20s later this week. If we get moisture, and if there’s not much wind, and if the highs are warm enough, it might not do too much damage. Maybe. The hawthorn remains un-budded and dormant. It won’t get fooled again. The April that turned most of the garden into plant-jerky almost did in that tree, and since then, it blooms later than average. The plum trees are budding right now, as well. Wisteria remains dormant and I didn’t even see buds on the two I pass on my walks. They must have talked to the hawthorn.

The roses . . . Are starting to put out shoots, those that survived. At least two are dead, mort, defunct. One of those was new, and had been doing OK until it got into the 60s back in January, then dropped to the single digits. That seems to have killed it. Most of the new leaves are on the roots, which is OK for the roses at RedQuarters. All are own-root. We gave up on grafts a decade ago. However, I suspect a lot of places will lose grafted roses. I’m torn between uncovering the new growth so it gets sun, or burying it in mulch to shield it from the forecast for the latter half of this week.

And then there’s the people. With days starting in the upper 20s and then peaking in the 60s, layers are necessary. Which jacket? Big coat and then lug it around later? Will this shirt be too warm or is the wind high enough that I need something else? Should I start digging out lighter-weight pants or wait?

Spring is SO confusing around here. But we are getting moisture. RedQuarters had .10″ on Tuesday morning. It looks as if, perhaps, the La Niña pattern is shifting to neutral or even an El Niño. Either one will bring more chances for water, which this part of the country needs.

Senescent Material, Senescent Ideas?

“A buildup of senescent material has deleterious effects on the grassland biome . . . ” Not the most gripping of reads. Translated into normal English, it means a lot of dead grass and stuff has accumulated and is causing problems, or could cause problems. Many glassland ecosystems developed to be grazed, so to speak, so that the plants are trimmed of older material and there’s not a build up of dead grass and brush. Others were burned on a fairly regular basis, which had similar effects, as well as getting rid of ticks and other things. Either way, it put nutrients back into the soil, reduced the danger of fire in dryland areas, and preserved the health of the system in general.

I was thinking about fuel loads and how desperately a certain pasture needs to be mowed or (ideally but really not likely) have a controlled burn to get rid of a decade and more of dead material. The old stuff is choking out the younger growth, nothing grazes it, and soon the place will be dead or go to weeds. Some cacti are already appearing. That’s not a good sign. The owner either doesn’t know what his land needs, or doesn’t care. Or is one of those people who thinks that removing grazing animals from grass for long periods “is good for it. It lets the plants rest.”* The pasture is not healthy. The grass isn’t resting. It’s pining for the fjords. I know because I went out there as far as the edge of the fence and looked. Healthy native grass is not brown in May. Trust me on this.

Right now, society seems to have a bunch of senescent ideas as well. They worked once, but they no longer fit, or they have become brakes rather than fuel. Society would benefit from cleaning out some of that dead growth, from acknowledging that certain economic ideas and habits shaped by out-of-date technology have failed. Some judicious pruning, trimming back what no longer works, perhaps even removing roots as much as possible in a few cases, all should help newer ideas and patterns to grow and thrive.

But it’s a lot easier to rejuvenate a grassland than it is to get rid of dead ideas and habits. A burn at the proper time, or mowing off the dead matter, keeping an eye out for unwanted weedy plants, and grazing on a healthy rotation will all lead to benefits that are often quickly visible. Other improvements need a little time, but springs can come back, grasses replace brush, and long-absent species return now that the habitat has healed. There are lots of books, articles, organizations, and individuals willing and eager to help you restore or preserve a grassland. Society? Not so easy.

People like the old, comfortable ideas. They grew up in that world, and it made sense, still makes sense in a way. No one really enjoys having their apple-cart upset, even if it is to repair that one hole that should have been patched ages ago. Others benefit from the dead idea, because it provides a job, or a sense of power, or allows them to explain why the world is out to get them and owes them favors [cough*Marx*cough]. “I like that government program!” “But what about the people who depend on [whatever]?” “It’s not fair for some to have more and others like me to have less, so it must be the fault of [group]!” “Well, it worked in the 1930’s didn’t it? It will work now.”** “If this organization doesn’t agree to embrace people who [behavior], then you must be part of [long-dead group].”

There’s also the problem of Chesterton’s Fence. If you want to eliminate an old thing, you should know why it was done in the first place, and what good it served. Then, once you can argue that, you will know far better whether that old thing should be removed outright, or reduced, or relocated, or left. For example, US forestry policy, once we had one, was developed by men who trained in Germany. The Germans had lots of plantation forests with uniform crops of species planted for certain goals. Burning was not done. (Also not a climate where forest fires were at all common even before management began.) The Americans learned, and applied what was state-of-the-art knowledge to forestry and timber-cutting in the US. Even after the Germans realized that they were doing it wrong, and modified their forestry practices. “No burn” became a standard in the US after WWII. The super-huge range fires of the late 1800s-early 1900s were bad, so all range fires were to be prevented. We all know the result of that. It doesn’t work in the forests of the American West. They developed with fire, fairly frequent and low burning fire that cleaned out underbrush and dead material. So the fence of “all fires are bad” had a solid foundation on then-current knowledge and practice. Now we have a lot more data, know better how the forests “should” deal with fire, and should remove that fence.

It takes work to manage a grassland well. It takes work to manage a society well, as much as anyone can manage a society or culture. It starts with learning what was done in the past, and as best we can tell why, then going from there. What served a purpose in 1933 might not be appropriate in 2023. Or it could be that what was considered a basic good idea and common sense in the 1890s and 1790 is still a good, common sense idea, and needs to be brought back. When something has held true for thousands of years, despite the best efforts of different groups over time, there might be a reason for it. But if an economic system has not worked for a hundred years in any place it has been tried, it should probably be scrapped. The Gods of the Copybook Headings, and runaway range or forest fires, never go quietly.

*No, plants don’t work like that. Letting the overgrowth get so rank that no water or sun reach the growing parts isn’t good stewardship. See Alan Savory and everyone else who works on “holistic grazing” and high-intensity-short-duration pasture management.

**There’s growing evidence that it didn’t work all that well in the 1930s, once you look past the first three years of the New Deal.

Frustrated Roses

My rosebushes are terribly frustrated, even though they are supposed to be dormant. That’s part of the problem. It’s been warm enough that they start to bud, and then we get three or five days with lows in the teens F and highs in the 30s-40s. And no moisture. That’s rough on plants. It’s not great for people, but we can layer and unlayer. Roses don’t have that option. I’m seeing more and more black or brown canes and stems that were green.

It didn’t help that we had a form of black-spot the last two years. It caused foliage to drop, so the plants had to spend more effort regrowing the leaves and stored away less in their roots. The plan is, come true spring, to get out the loppers and shears—and the bleach—and cut everything way back, dipping in bleach after every trim. We won’t get any flowers, alas, but it might help ward off the black spot. Pre-treating for grasshoppers is also in the works. They didn’t help. Native bees just trim the leaves a little. Grasshoppers strip plants bare and carry diseases.

it’s better for roses if it gets cold and snowy, and stays that way. Or at least gets cold and stays there. The up and down really do a number on them, especially when we get a high wind from any direction. The wind sucks moisture out of both plants and ground. The worst I recall seeing was in April 2012, when it went from the 60s to the teens with 60 MPH north winds. When I came home from Santa Fe, NM, I had a garden full of rose jerky. Everything had been freeze dried and dehydrated. A number of roses didn’t make it through that mess. It also caught the hawthorn tree. Interestingly, since then, the hawthorn has leafed out and bloomed later than before. Make of it what you will.

Cold and snowy insulates the roses, keeps the ground moist, and helps them remain dormant. While dormant, they just sleep, not using much energy. Come spring, they’re ready to go with full reserves of root strength. We’ve not had a “good” rose winter since the late 1990s. If you can’t get that, a cool, damp, but not too harsh winter works, so long as you don’t have more than one or two deep cold spells. Alternating warm days and nights with deep freeze is what kills the plants, splitting stems if it’s bad enough.

What can you do? You can try to swaddle the plants if it is going to be that bad and they are small. 10′ tall (three meter) climbers are not amenible to that. We use lots of mulch, and water every three weeks or so if there’s not been sufficient snow or rain. Prayer helps, at least for the gardener’s peace of mind.

The High Plains are not natural rose territory. They always need a little cosseting, even monsters like Harrison’s Yellow. I think it’s worth it. Most days. Don’t ask me when I’m trying to prune the sweetbriar and the wind is blowing.

A Little Too Clear a Comparison

For reasons unknown to any but my hind-brain, I started thinking about metaphors and similes that rural people used to use, and that urban folks might not understand. And a few that need no translation like “We call him Blister because he only shows up after the work’s done.” You might not do manual labor, but you’ve probably crossed paths with that person.

One that stuck in my memory was the phrase, “as cute as a cancer-eyed cow.” Right away you know the speaker is not paying the subject a compliment. Hereford and Hereford-cross cattle are more prone to skin cancer of the face than are darker-colored breeds, so the phrase is used more often when you have a goodly number of white faced cattle. I’d never seen an afflicted cow when I first heard the term. A few years later, I was on the I-40 East frontage road in Amarillo, at a stoplight. A pickup with a livestock trailer pulled up beside me. I glanced over and beheld a Hereford (red and white cow) with a very large and ugly tumor around the left eye. No, not cute at all. There was a large-animal vet nearby, so I presume that’s where the rancher was going.

Another that is very regional is “He lives at 8th and Plum.” Meaning he’s at least eight miles from pave and plumb in the middle of nowhere. I’m not sure anyone now days in the cities says, “I work from can’t see to can’t see,” given how well lit many urban areas are. “Rainin’ like a cow peeing on a flat rock” is another that needs a leeeeetle familiarity with livestock and their habits to make sense of, if you’ve never seen that kind of rain or that kind of, ah, output.

Tasty, Tasty Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation came up on a blog that I occasionally glance at (great pictures, some cool crafts, mildly useful book reviews), and I rolled my eyes. The quasi-debate centered on embroidery on a jacket. Could that be duplicated (jacket and embroidery) without committing the venal sin of Cultural Appropriation? The final group decision was a reluctant no, you shouldn’t because that would be theft if you didn’t get permission from the cultural group to which the wearer belonged, but using the color combination with different patterns and a more western-style jacket would be OK. The wearer of the item in question would never see the proposed copy of the garment, but it was the very act of copying that was “problematic.”

I glanced over at a the small mound of spicy pecans that I was having for lunch and rolled my eyes. American food is cultural appropriation. Western clothing is cultural appropriation. English, and German, and a lot of other languages borrow words, although English revels in it far more than most. Going back to the pecans on my desk, the chili pepper and pecans are from the Americas. The garlic, paprika, and savory came from Europe originally. G-d bless the Columbian Exchange that gave us cheese burgers, Tex-Mex food, anything European with potatoes in it, polenta, curries with tomato in them, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, apple pie, and so on.

Cheeseburger – the beef, cheese, lettuce, and wheat for the bread came from Eur-Asia. The tomato and french fries (potatoes) are from the Americas. Apples of the domestic kind came from Eur-Asia, as did the wheat, cinnamon, clove, allspice, ginger, and sugar. But apple pie in all its wonderful forms is “as American as . . . ” Now, getting a dozen Americans to settle on which kind of apple pie is the ne plus ultra of the American identity, well, good luck. By the time you sort that out, the rest of us will have eaten the pie and moved on to try the pecan and pumpkin and cherry and French Silk and grasshopper and Mississippi Mud and . . . 😀

What about when non-Americans borrow stuff from this hemisphere? Apparently peanut oil and peanuts have become staples in Asia, and potatoes and corn also appear. Chili peppers as well, although the local versions of many dishes were already hot before the “death-by-curry” types available today appeared. Should we complain when served satay because peanuts are not native to Thailand? You can if you want. I’ll eat your share. And your polenta, and anything with tomato, and the dark milk-chocolate, and . . .

Clothing is another place where the argument against cultural appropriation gets amusing for those of us who study history. Skirts are universal, as are shirts. Any usable fiber or material will be used, and some that no one really considers “clothing fibers” anymore, like some barks in Europe, and nettles. (Treat nettle stems as you would flax, but more so. Mind the leaves.) Trousers were rediscovered any time someone rode a horse, because unless you ride side-saddle, friction and saddle sores are also universal. Today, we have “national costumes” and ferocious arguments over if this pattern or that color is “authentic,” and who can or may not wear said item. The Japanese are delighted for people to try their “costume” and will happily sell you what you need, and giggle a tiny bit as you rediscover why Japanese kimono wearers take small steps when they walk. Germans and Austrians et al will assist with the wearing of dirndls and trachten suits, and lederhosen, although there is some pressure not to get too authentic unless you know what you are doing and why. Actual tracht, not the dirndl, is meant to conceal a woman’s “attributes” and to show social position and where she is from. It is a bit different from the dirndl, and not what you find in most stores. When was the last time an American balked at selling someone a cowboy hat or jeans, because of “cultural appropriation?” No idea.

Humans borrow and adapt. If someone strips a place of something edible that the locals depend on just because it is a trendy food, that’s a problem. Combining ideas, ingredients, and textile styles to create something fun is not a problem. If you recreate a copyrighted design from another culture and sell it as yours, that’s wrong. Borrowing an embroidery style and adapting it for your own pleasure? Not a problem. Go for it. Wasabi sauce [Japan] on your burger? Um, you go right ahead. I’ll stick with BBQ sauce, mustard [England], or catsup [England + Americas], thanks. Burgers that fight back are not my cup of tea [China and India].

Putting Water Back In the Ground

A lot of people depend on ground water, aquifers, for drinking and irrigation. Some aquifers recharge on their own, and do it pretty quickly, such as the Edwards Aquifer in central Texas, or the Sandhills portion of the Ogallala Aquifer. Others either recharge very, very slowly, or not at all. Those are the ones that tend to get lots and lots of attention, unless Central Texas is dry, and Austonio begins talking about sending a pipeline up to the Panhandle to tap the Ogallala.

A quick note to clarify here, before I go any farther. I’m talking about aquifers in sediment like sand and gravel, not groundwater in bedrock, as is found in New England, Canada, and a few other places. That is a different formation, with different flow patterns, and I know next to nothing about how those “work” other than general theory. If you are in New Hampshire and you have a well drilled into bedrock, please contact a local expert.

How do aquifers recharge? It depends on the material above and below the porous layer. That’s what most aquifers are – a layer of sand and gravel that at one time was exposed to rain and snow, or was a river bed (large swaths of the Ogallala and Equus Beds). Under that layer is a watertight layer, usually a shale or something. Over time, that sand and gravel got buried by other things and now lies below the land surface. A few, like the Edwards in central Texas, have access today through caves and sinkholes, where rain can fall right in, or have a very porous layer above that lets rain and snow melt trickle down pretty quickly. The Nebraska Sandhills are pure sand, and water that falls there soaks in, recharging the Ogallala below. Unless there is an extended drought, recharge is not as much of a concern (over-pumping that draws down the water too fast is a different matter.) Other aquifers, like those in Arizona, coastal Georgia, and most of the Ogallala, would take hundreds to thousands to regain their water, if they can at all. When the aquifer is buried hundreds of feet below the surface and topped with firmly-packed dirt, caliche, and so on, water has a harder time soaking in. These are “fossil” waters, and you just assume they won’t recharge without help. How to help without destroying the formation, is another problem.

First, there has to be water to go back in. Without that, it’s pretty moot. Also, the material in the aquifer layer has to still be loosely-packed enough to accept water. If you draw enough out, the layer compresses, and that’s that. No recharge ever, unless all the surface material erodes away and rain falls directly on the sand and gravel.

Ideas for recharging aquifers all involve “putting the water back in down there,” or at least, giving the water an assist. Drilling a well and pouring water back in . . . has a lot of technical difficulties, including the fear of contaminating the rest of the aquifer if some chemical or biological contaminant seeps in – think fecal coliform, or avian cholera, or . . . So the water would have to be filtered, and dust kept out, and the water released high enough that the layers between the end of the well and the aquifer would filter some of the stuff. Oh, and you have to hope that on the way down, the water won’t pick up salt, gypsum, or dig a hole that causes a sink hole.

Around here, attempts were made to deepen the natural rainwater lakes, punching through the clay layer at the bottom of the shallow depression to allow more water to seep in. It started well, but the clay swells, and sediment filled in the holes, closing them. Also the rate or recharge did not justify the cost of the work, which has to be maintained. And depends on moisture. In a year like 1940-41, when the area got 40″ of rain or more, no problem! In a decade like the 1950s, or 2010-2014? Rain? What rain?

Most aquifers were “laid down” when the local/regional climate was much wetter. The Ogallala was sediment dumped from the Rockies by huge, enormous, massive, gargantuan rivers that wandered back and forth over the region for millions of years. Then things changed. In the case of the Ogallala, the goal in 90% of the region is to balance draw-down over time, so that X% of the current depth will remain in Y years. Some places are changing types of crops, other areas revert to range land, and irrigation is much, much more efficient than it used to be. The down side to better irrigation is that less excess water seeps back in to return to the aquifer.

Eventually, a way might be found to return water to places like the Ogallala, Equus beds, coastal aquifer, and so on. If the stuff has not compacted, and if there is sufficient rain and snow to permit that. And if people are willing to spend the money and time needed to do it.

Random Stuff

Behold, mushy peas. Yes, they come in a tin, or you can make them at home. (Marrowfat peas can be used instead of green peas.)

I’m getting the edits and comments back for what is going to be titled “Lord Adrescu’s Sword.” It is a short story, around 20K words or so, and I hope to have it out by the end of the month.

I’m also working on several short stories for a Familiar Generations story set. Protagonists will include Mike, Nikolai, Jude, Imré Farkas and Csilla (the Hungarian piano-restorer mage and his Familiar), Art, and maybe Deborah.

I will be returning to work on the non-series Scotland book shortly.

Research has begun on a Merchant book about an herb healer. I will be staying in town this summer, so I should be able to release the book in the fall.

It has been so warm that the roses are budding out, and daffodil shoots are appearing. MomRed wants dad and I to go out and dump ice cubes on the flower beds to try and calm the plants down. Even with the ice maker now working again, that probably won’t accomplish much.

The Shen Yun dance company and orchestra were in town last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was quite pleased. (No, I”m not going to do a review, because I do not care to be overwhelmed by attacks or spam from those who would prefer that the group disappear or at least stop performing.)

The long-range forecast has February and March being very cold in my part of the country. If they are also wet (but no ice, please oh please. BTDT, had a tee-shirt) I won’t mind as much. Unless snow pulls down the power lines. Then I might get a touch irked.

I wish certain people in public life would grow up, get real lives, and disappear from my news feeds. I also want a legal source of tax-free income guaranteeing sixty-thousand a year, and low-cal chocolate that tastes good and won’t upset my insides, and a computer that does what I want, not what I typed. Waking up and discovering that I’ve lost 12 pounds of fat overnight would also be good while the Universe is at it.

Most of what I’ve been reading has been reviewing material for Day Job. However, I recommend Cedar Sanderson’s new short-story collection if you have not gotten it yet. She has a nice mix of story types and “flavors.”

I put out suet and woodpeckers appeared. I think they were keeping the house under observation.

I Don’t Want to Know . . .

how cat fur ended up there.

why you thought that was a good idea.

what the dish is. I need to know what the meat was and how long you cooked it.

who failed to add paper to the copier. Just please don’t do it again.

who left hunter-safety-orange in the paper. Please don’t do it again!

who started it. It needs to end right now, right here. Or Else!

how many shots of what were in the cup. Just go get wet paper towels.

how the columbine seeds ended up all the way over here. Or the catnip for that matter. I can guess.

Goth Possum, an Abandoned Pie, and a Snowman Pat

Monday was odd. Or at least, on Monday morning I observed three odd things. Makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d gotten up earlier and gone wren hunting* . . . I might not want to know.

I finished a story, then went to the gym. On the way, I saw something lying in the road. Dark, furry, a dead animal lay in the road. As I slowed and detoured around it, it proved to be a melenistic possum. The late critter had a black coat shading to dark brown at the bottom of the flanks. The head looked normal grey possum color, but the tail seemed darker than standard. How odd. I’ve never seen one like that before, but it explains why it got hit in the wee hours of the morning.

The parking lot at the gym was full. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted to get in a little exercise. I ended up parking in the unofficial overflow lot across the way. Technically, the lot belongs to a church, but they don’t mind us taking up some space, since we are well away from the office and the school door. Something round sat in a parking space beside a smaller car. I shrugged and parked, then hurried over and did my thing. The weight section was crowded with young men, all college age or so. A few older men and women worked out as well, but the average age had dropped by easily 20 years. I found an empty bench and lifted. I cut my workout short because of all the people coming and going. Many were not paying much attention to their surroundings, and I’ve almost gotten hurt before when a careless person distracted me during a big lift.**

I did cardio after my weights, then went back to the truck. The round thing proved to be an intact pumpkin pie. Someone had left a perfectly good pumpkin pie in the parking space. It looked store bought. That, or the baker is much better with crimping crusts than I am. Had it been dropped and abandoned? Had it been a spare that someone set down after a church function, got distracted, and left? No idea. Something would eat it, so I didn’t try moving it to one of the distant dumpsters.

Back home, I hopped out of the truck and noticed a disk of ice, like a cowpat, beside the truck in the garden. It sat right above one of the soaker heads for the irrigation system. Oh no. Had Dad and I forgotten to turn off both parts of the system? Oh dear. Not good. I looked for others, but didn’t find evidence of hose activation or other frozen material. What could have done it? As I turned toward the house, I saw that the bowl of water for the outdoor critters had been emptied of ice. Mystery solved!

Some Mondays are just strange.

*In Ireland and parts of England, it is traditional to hunt the wren on St. Stephen’s Day. According to legend, the wren betrayed Jesus. The wren is sometimes also associated with the darker side of magic and winter.

**As in almost brushed me as I lifted the weights over my head in a shoulder press. Please don’t be that person.

(I set new personal best weights in all categories this year – 85 lb bench, 50 lb shoulder press, 60 lb deadlift. Given my chronological maturity and mileage, this is a Good Thing. Also keep in mind I don’t have a spotter or trainer, so I progress very slowly and carefully.)