Thursday, December 22, 2011

We've moved!

My sincere apologies for any inconvenience, but I've decided to move Off the Path; it can now be found at:

The move was done in part for convenience - I moved the Withywindle Blog to WordPress a few weeks ago, and it's nice to be able to manage the two together. But I'm working on a change of focus for Off the Path; it will still be my personal blog, but as all my nature writing and photography can now be found at the Withywindle Blog, I can use Off the Path to delve into another passion of mine - Witchcraft. I'm really looking forward to exploring my faith and practice in Witchcraft in writing.

I'm taking this opportunity to re-work the blog a bit (you'll find that it looks quite a bit different), and I may choose to move some past posts over to Withywindle; but either way, you can still find all my old posts in one place or another. I hope you'll join me at my new site!



Thursday, November 3, 2011

An Open Letter to Hunters in the Northeast

I posted the following on the Withywindle Blog, and feel passionate enough about the topic (coyote hunting) that I'm cross-posting it here.

An Open Letter to Hunters in the Northest

I spoke at a tracking conference last weekend ( and MassWildlife had a past issue of their publication (from 2009) on display. I was disappointed to find that one of the main articles in this issue was about hunting coyotes – the tricks and tips hunters use to more effectively kill this animal.

I have written an open letter to the hunters of Massachusetts (and the other northeastern states, if this comes their way) in response to this article. I don’t know what the chances are of it getting published in MassWildlife's magazine so I'm posting it here and at my personal blog (Off the Path Journal).

To the hunters of Massachusetts:

Let me open this letter by stating that I am pro-hunting. I have friends and family members who are hunters and I appreciate and advocate for (most of) what they do. I believe that hunting must be done safely and responsibly, and that most of the time that is the case. I also really appreciate the work that MassWildlife does to help educate hunters about safety, regulations and the intricacies of their sport. I’m an even bigger fan of subsistence hunting – consuming the animals taken or (as my father has done on occasion) giving that animal to someone who subsistence hunts and could really use the animal(s) that someone else killed in a season.

However, I do have a problem with predator hunting; in particular, the killing of eastern coyotes (coywolves). Of the hunters I know who kill coyotes, none of them consume the ones they kill (unlike the deer, squirrels, rabbits and turkey they take). They do it simply because (as was stated to me by more than one individual) “it was there”. So what? I find the concept of killing something “just because” troubling. Not to mention the killing of a social, intelligent animal with no regard for the role it fills in its ecosystem and family structure.

Eastern coyotes are the closest thing the northeastern US has to a top-level predator in our natural world, and disregarding the importance and relevance of that role by people who love the outdoors is distressing. All of the hunters I know are avid outdoorspeople. They love the natural world and being a part of it. If that’s the case, why do they show so little understanding or caring of eastern coyote’s role in that world? They are labeled as ‘varmints’ and ‘pests’. There’s no bag, possession or season limit on them in the state of Massachusetts (but there are for squirrels and frogs and almost everything else except crows – can you think of an animal that’s more abundant then the grey squirrel??).

Additionally, the eastern coyote is a very social animal. It takes a mated pair to raise a litter of pups, and if you kill one parent the pups’ chances of survival are decreased (I realize that that isn’t much concern for someone who doesn’t care for this species to begin with, but it’s worth knowing). Coyotes often mate for life and bond strongly with their mate. If you have a dog at home think about how your dog shows love for its ‘pack’ (you & your family). Coyotes are canines, and show just as much affection for their coyote pack as your dog does for its ‘pack’ (in case you think I’m anthropomorphizing here, I’ve supplied resources at the end of this letter – this behavior has been noted by biologists and casual observers for decades). When you kill a member of a coyote pack you disrupt their social structure and the whole pack knows the loss.

Killing coyotes will NOT reduce their numbers here, or anywhere else. I just can’t say this enough. There are over 40 years of scientific research to prove this point (see resources). In fact, many times the opposite happens – coyote numbers increase in a given area when an individual(s) is killed. At the risk of making this long letter even longer, I won’t go into the biological and ecological reasons for this, but see the book Suburban Howls (info in resources) for some very specific observations of just this phenomenon. The eastern coyote is a creature that has been created by human interference in the natural world. If we don’t like how abundant they are, we have no one to blame but ourselves (these facts are also proved by scientific observation and data). And killing all you want won’t make a difference. They’ll just keep coming back.

I understand (and support) the need for control on wild animals that live in and around densely human-settled areas, become too habituated to people, and as a result become dangerous. Educating people how to live safely around ALL wildlife will go a long way towards reducing human/coyote interactions (Mass Wildlife has a terrific publication on living with coyotes on their website). But when hunters kill coyotes in the northeast, they’re often not hunting the ones in the suburbs – they’re out in state forests and conservation land.

So my question to the responsible hunters out there – whether I know you or not – is this: why do you still kill coyotes? You aren’t going to control their population. They aren’t going to decimate the deer population (seriously – have you seen the number of deer in the northeast?). And you’re most likely not going to eat what you kill. So why are you really doing it? Ask yourself. There are plenty of game animals out there for sport and consumption. Is it ‘just because’? And if so, what does that say about an individual who kills just for the sake of killing? That’s what I find disturbing.

Cynthia Menard, Naturalist
Withywindle Nature Programs


Beckoff, Marc, ed. Coyotes: Biology, Behavior and Management, Academic Press Inc., 1978 (The book has since been reprinted by the Blackburn Press, 2001)

Parker, Gerry, The Eastern Coyote: Story of it's Success, Down East Books, 1995

Way, Jonathan, PhD., Suburban Howls, Dog Ear Publishing, 2007 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Another Attempt at NaBloPo Mo Underway

I've decided to take another stab at NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) on the Withywindle Blog. I'll cross-post relevant stuff here, but check out my other blog for daily updates (as long as they last).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

My Collection of Collections

Late last year on the Withywindle Blog, I posted about artist Lisa Congdon's project 'A Collection A Day', in which she posted to her blog 365 different collections that she had accumulated over time.  She has since come out with a book photographing her efforts, which you can find here.

Her project inspired me to take a closer look at my own collections, and to consider why I have them.  In the process some questions came up.  What constitutes a collection?  Is it number or intention? Is there a critical mass at which a collection is (or isn't)? Some of my collections happened accidentally, others are very small, but quite intentional.  And some of my accidental collections only started out that way, and later became intentional.  Also, when does something qualify as vintage?  What about antique (I have a good sense when it comes to cars and books, but not other objects)?  I've had to guess or use my best judgement on these questions, often reffering to the 'Collection A Day' project for reference.

So here's the collection list. Many - particularly the books and related ephemera - are part of larger collections (which I've noted). The few photos I have at the moment I've included below.

Book Collections:
   Stephen King & related
   Arkham House titles
   Natural History books
   Field Guides - vintage and modern
   Coyote ecology and mythology
Admission tickets (concerts, plays, etc.)
Business cards
   US Coins
   Foreign coins
   US & foreign bills
Name badges
Shoulder bags
Beaded/charm bracelets
Horse figurines
Tea canisters/tins
Woven baskets
Signs (mostly photographed)
Tarot card decks
Musical instruments
Decks of playing cards
Non-board games
Tree, plant & leaf galls
Animal scat (preserved/dried - I know it's still gross. I'm a naturalist, I can't help it)
Bird feathers
Tumbled/polished gemstones
Landscape art (paintings/drawings/photography) by small/local artists
Wild bird photographs (taken by Obo)

Admission Tickets (partial collection)

Bookmarks (partial collection)
NYC Subway sign, part of sign collection

Another part of the sign collection

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Spring Beginnings

Cross-posted at the Withywindle Blog

A few weeks ago the bird calls in our yard started increasing, much to my delight.  Mourning Doves have made an appearance along with Hairy Woodpeckers and American Robins, and the 'phoebe' song of the Black-Capped Chickadee is becoming more common. Although none of these birds migrate during the winter, the longer days and (slightly) warmer temps have prompted the early beginnings of breeding season, and their presence is much more conspicuous now.

I love how, in the dreariest part of winter, you can find signs of spring if you're paying attention.  A walk through the woods on our property at work on a warm February day revealed a number of insects moving about and an increase in water movement in the brook. And when those warm temps (50F) stayed for a few days, buds on the maple trees began to swell.

On a trip to Florida last week, I heard my first Barred Owl of the season, and yesterday heard two more - one at work, and one at home.  I love owls - their call gives me comfort that the wild is never far from my door. The spring equinox - Ostara - is just a few weeks away, and we will celebrate it's wet, muddy arrival with much joy (and seedlings in the kitchen).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Our Last Chance Pup

Our newest family member came home this past Saturday: we adopted a puppy from Alabama! A beautiful 8 month-old German Shepherd we've named Freya.  Finding her was a bit serendipitous; I sent our a fairly random email to a rescue organization up in New Hampshire (Loyal Hearts Puppy Rescue), inquiring about whether they had any young Shepherds available for adoption (it was one of several inquiries I sent out that week).  I received a response telling me that they didn't have any Shepherds within their network, but knew of one in Alabama at a kill shelter.  She was due to get euthanized in just a few days.  They sent two pictures, and I fell in love with her right away - what a cutie!!!

With the understanding that we needed a dog who wasn't going to be aggressive with young children, they pulled her from the shelter, and put her in quarantine/foster care until she could be vaccinated, spayed and transported up here. Her foster mom reported that she was super sweet and mellow, and everyone who worked with her was falling in love with her.  Researching her travel up here opened my eyes to a whole industry that revolves around rescuing dogs from the south and bringing them up to New England to foster and adoptive families.  In fact, an 8-week TV documentary was made about the transport company (PETS) the rescue agency used to bring Freya up here - it was called Last Chance Highway, and documented the owners and workers of PETS and some of the animals and families they helped bring together.

Freya left Alabama on a Thursday morning, and arrived in Connecticut on Saturday afternoon.  We were so excited to go meet her transport and see Freya for the first time!!  R. could hardly stand the wait once we arrived at the meeting point, and I completely shared his excitement and impatience (although I took a more stoic Mom role for most of it).  As soon as we met her, I think we all (including Freya) knew that this was the right fit all the way around.  She has settled into our home and our hearts with lightening speed.  How could she know, after only being with us for a few hours that she was in her forever home?  Walking her that evening I took a fall and she bolted away, getting the leash out of my hand.  I had a stab of real fear - we live on a busy road, and there was no telling where this dog, completely away from anything familiar, might go.  But all she did was run back to our door and then look back at me.  I called to her and she came running to me, huddling at my feet with her tail wagging.  Freya knew she was home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Baby Nick-Names

R. was my little pea, but A. is my little bean. Don't know why, but so it is. They are both my pumpkins (still and always) and each (were or are) my kidlits. A. is also 'A-bug' and 'A-bear'. Babies are just so darn cuddly!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Herb Harvesting and Random Nature Notes

Went to my family's house in the Catskills for a few days, and harvested coltsfoot for a cough I can't get rid of. This is my first time harvesting and using fresh herbs, so still researching... will also get in touch with an herbalist friend of mine to check in about this.

Bummed that we missed the Elder Faith's Beltane celebration on Saturday... such a beautiful day, but we really needed to get on the road. As it was, it took us over 6 hours to get out to the cabin. Totally worth it though... (always is).

Random nature notes from today's short walk at work:

  • Saw and heard my first sharp-shinned hawk of the season
  • Really strong wind makes me feel small and insignificant (am I the only person who feels this way?)
  • Heard a red-wing black bird calling the end of it's 'konk-la-ree' call (which would just be the 'ree' part, I suppose) over and over again on the course, despite all the wind and blowing trees

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Blog for the 2010 NEEEA Conference in Vermont

The 2010 NEEEA Conference is being held in VT this year (the conference rotates through the 6 New England states - it's in MA next year!!), and although that's cool enough all by itself, the folks in Vermont are planning all kinds of really great stuff for this year's conference. They've got a conference blog at:; it's a great way to stay in touch with what's going on with the conference - check it out!!