My Coronavirus Garden

From our Deputy Director Deb, who is is also our gardening expert:

Late last summer I visited the Charlotte Rhoades Park Butterfly Garden in Southwest Harbor, Maine. Full of color from both the flowers and the many butterflies it was designed to support, this garden was an inspiration. I thought of it often in the ensuring months but a major gardening project seemed like more than I would be able to manage at this point in my life.

The came the coronavirus. Remember March when the state shut down? Then there was April with empty shelves and Governors Cuomo and Lamont’s daily news briefings. May didn’t bring a lot of relief. It was starting to seem obvious that we would be in this situation for the long haul. I needed to do something positive and thought again about the Charlotte Rhoades garden. Maybe this would be the year to pull this off. To plan a garden is to plan for the future, a future that exists outside of the news cycle. The world was a mess and I couldn’t do anything about it, but I could create a garden that would support and nurture the wildlife in my small corner of the world.

Each night for weeks I fell asleep thinking about plants and butterflies and birds. If I started to worry about the coronavirus, I turned my thoughts instead to the Jersey Tea shrub I had just ordered. Or those beautiful fall-blooming asters that would be covered with bees and butterflies come September and October. Or the big clumps of Verbena bonariensis I planned to scatter throughout my garden.

I read books and looked at websites about creating pollinator gardens and sketched out a plan for an irregularly shaped garden about 50 feet long and between 12 and 20 feet wide. There was an existing spruce and 2 shrubs from an earlier planting scheme. And I wanted to incorporate a number of plants from another garden. A 50-foot garden may sound large but it wasn’t nearly big enough for the dozens of plants that I wanted to include. I made list after list. And then crossed out most of the plants on the lists until I had a workable plan. At this point, it was late April and time to get busy.

There were challenges, as there are with any garden. My location was a sandy hillside next to our driveway that turned out to have been a town dumping ground for road sand and hunks of old macadam from long–ago repaving projects. We had to remove the sand and junk from the planting area for each shrub or perennial (there were dozens) and replace it with decent topsoil. This was hard work! Luckily for me (though not for him), my 28-year-old son was stuck at home and was willing to help. He did most of the heavy excavating and moving of soil, alI I had to do was plant, mulch, weed and water. Months later, my garden is taking shape. It has been full of bees in all shapes and sizes as well as butterflies. As I write this, a flock of goldfinches is busy pulling the seeds out of the fading liatris and coneflowers. And I am busy thinking about how to improve the bloom sequence and plant variety in the garden. As any gardener knows, a garden is never completed.

Want to plant your own wildlife garden? There are many wonderful resources online. Check out the website for the Xerces Society for information and plant lists. American Beauties Native Plants, a wholesale nursery partially located in Connecticut, also has great plant lists.

Many of our area nurseries carry native plants such as coneflowers, liatris, asters and goldenrods. Some natives can be more difficult to find. Natureworks, the organic nursery in Northford, had a great selection of milkweeds and asters earlier in the season. Their website also offers lots of excellent information on gardening to support pollinators and butterflies. If you can’t find the plants you need locally, try Prairie Moon Nursery in Minnesota. They have been around for 40 years and supply over 700 North American species.

Consider joining a local gardening club. Members are knowledgeable and experienced gardeners who are happy to share their experience. Many clubs offer a wide range of educational programs. Cheshire has 2 garden clubs, the Cheshire Garden Club and the Suburban Garden Club.

Gardening has benefits beyond improving the beauty and utility of your yard. Check out this recent New Yorker article on the therapeutic power of gardening.

The library has numerous books on planning gardens for pollinators, butterflies and birds. Search the catalog using keywords such as “pollinators”, “native plants”, “xeriscaping”and “gardening for birds” .

Here are a few :

 

The Pollinator Victory Garden : win the war on pollinator decline with ecological gardening : how to attract and support bees, beetles, butterflies, bats, and other pollinators by Kim Eierman

100 Plants to Feed the Bees : provide a healthy habitat to help pollinators thrive by the Xerces Society

The Wildlife-friendly Vegetable Gardener : how to grow food in harmony with nature by Tammi Hartung

Native Plants for New England Gardens by Mark Richardson

Attracting Birds and Butterflies : how to plant a backyard habitat to attract winged wildlife by Barbara Ellis

Garden Secrets for Attracting Birds : a bird-by-bird guide to favored plants by Rachael Lanicci

The National Wildlife Federation’s Guide to Gardening for Wildlife : how to create a beautiful backyard habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife by Craig Tufts and Peter Loewer

For inspiration and specific suggestions for what you can do in your own yard to support wildlife (hint: it involves planting more natives), read Douglas Tallamy’s books Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard.

A Librarian’s Guide to “Longform” Reading

Long-form journalism is a branch of journalism dedicated to longer articles with larger amounts of content. Typically this will be between 1,000 and 20,000 words. Long-form articles often take the form of creative nonfiction or narrative journalism

Publications such as Reader’s Digest, The Atlantic, and Harper’s Bazaar popularized this format of writing, which led to the founding of several new long form coverage companies such as The Atavist and Longreads. These articles tend to be categorized as “non-fiction” with a majority of the titles falling into human interest or think piece articles on a specific topic. These topics cover a broad range of subjects, including but not limited to: crime, art’s and culture, books, business and tech, current events, essays and criticism, food, profiles and interviews, science and nature, and sports.  Much like a non-fiction book, these articles are long enough to really develop a story, and inform you on topics you may not know much about. Personally, this is my favorite part about reading longform. These articles help you learn more about a topic, without overwhelming you with becoming an expert. They also give you a view into a strangers lifestyle, ideas or hobbies, which is one of the many reasons why non-fiction keeps me coming back for more.

There are thousands of articles that are as long as books, or as short as short stories, on thousands of different topics and subject matters. If you’re overwhelmed with where to start, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite “longform” websites, as well as several popular non-fiction titles available at the Cheshire Public Library.

            1. First up is Narratively, which is my favorite of all. Narratively’s tagline is “celebrating humanity through authentic storytelling”. The website works with a network of over 3,000 talented journalists and storytellers that explore the hidden stories of the world, focusing on the “underdogs” and the “overlooked tales that enlighten us”. The website has several subsections, including: hidden history, memoir, renegades, secret lives, and super subcultures. Examples of articles include “Secret Life of a Children’s Party Princess“, which explores the not so glamorous life of a part time princess, full time college student, as well as “That Time I Conducted an Autopsy Without Any Medical Training” or the mistaken identity of a med school poser. These articles, and many others, are charming, heartbreaking, and insightful. Narratively is a gem of a website, and worth coming back to again and again.

              2. Longreads and Longform are two fantastic websites that recommend longer works of fiction across the web. Each  feature in-depth investigative reporting, interviews and profiles, podcasts, essays and criticism. Both websites curate content from a variety of different publications including, The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The Guardian, and Cosmopolitan. Articles include a variety of subject matters from serious to silly, including “Taken: How police departments make millions by seizing property” (Anna Lee, Nathaniel Cary, and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News) and “I Walked 600 Miles Across Japan for Pizza Toast” by Craig Mod. Each website is updated frequently, and each hosts a fantastic array of human interest stories as well as investigative reporting.

All of these websites have a handy feature which lets you subscribe to their stories, which sends you articles by email on a weekly basis. This lets you cater your taste in articles, and lets you catch up on news when you have a moment. It’s a fantastic way to exercise your brain, and learn more about the world around you.

If you’d prefer a physical title, the Cheshire Public Library has a large collection of non-fiction titles, as well as newspapers for current events and other human interest pieces. My personal favorite is our biography section, as well as our true crime selection. A few new titles that I’ve been enjoying lately are “Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo, and “I’ll be Gone in the Dark” by Michelle MacNamara, . There are plenty of titles on a variety of subjects, and if you see gaps or something we don’t have, you can always feel free to mention it to a staff member (we’re pretty great about supplying titles our patrons suggest!)

 

Looking for more? Here are some titles from our new non-fiction section:

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Baseball’s Back (sort of)! Books and Movies about America’s Pastime

It may have been delayed by a pandemic, but you can’t keep baseball down forever. The season officially kicked off at the end of July this year, with a few crucial changes. Most significantly, there will be no fans in the stands, and the season will be shortened to a mere 60 games. But in a time when any sense of normalcy is something to cling to, baseball is back!

While attending a game in person is not an option this season, you can recreate the feeling a bit with a number of books and movies that take you out to the ball game.  Glove, ball, and giant foam finger –  optional.

FICTION

NON-FICTION

MOVIES

Anti-Racism : A Reading List

Right now, many are wondering how to come to a better understanding of racism (particularly against Black Americans) in our culture and what they can do to support anti-racist initiatives. With something so deeply ingrained in our society that some don’t even recognize it, education is a good starting point. There are hundreds of books on the subject, many available at your local library. We’ve put together a “primer” of titles available at Cheshire Library that many consider essential reading on the subject:

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.  Examines the sensitive, hyper-charged racial landscape in current America, discussing the issues of privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and more.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi. Combines ethics, history, law, and science with a personal narrative to describe how to move beyond the awareness of racism and contribute to making society just and equitable.

The Fire Next Time  by James Baldwin. The powerful evocation of a childhood in Harlem that helped to galvanize the early days of the civil rights movement examines the deep consequences of racial injustice to both the individual and the body politic

Just Mercy  by Bryan Stevenson. The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama explains why justice and mercy must go hand-in-hand through the story of Walter McMillian, a man condemned to death row for a murder he didn’t commit. 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis.

The Condemnation of Blackness : Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America by Khalil Gibran Muhammad. Chronicles the emergence of deeply embedded notions of black people as a dangerous race of criminals by explicit contrast to working-class whites and European immigrants, and reveals the influence such ideas have had on urban development and social policies.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Argues that the War on Drugs and policies that deny convicted felons equal access to employment, housing, education, and public benefits create a permanent under caste based largely on race.

White Fragility : Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. Anti-racist educator DiAngelo illuminates the phenomenon of white fragility, how these actions protect racial inequality, and presents strategies for engaging more constructively in these conversations.

I’m Still Here : Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown. An eye-opening account of growing up Black, Christian, and female in middle-class white America.

Me and White Supremacy : Combat racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by  Layla F. Saad. The host of the “Good Ancestor” podcast presents an updated and expanded edition of the Instagram challenge that launched a cultural movement about taking responsibility for first-person racism to stop unconsciously inflicting pain on others.

 

Spring Babies

Spring is here, and that means baby animals cavorting through backyards. Baby animals are about as heart-warming as mammals can get, and that’s a deliberate act on nature’s part. Round faces, big eyes, short noses, and large foreheads are the hallmark of babyness, and those features are deliberately meant to instill attraction and protection in adults so that we will attach and nurture those babies, ensuring survival of the species. We are genetically engineered to think babies are cute, whether they’re human or bunny. This is the entire rationale behind Persian cats and teacup dogs.

 Dogs and cats we know and love, but what do we do when we find a wild baby animal all alone? They’re no less adorable than that puppy or kitty, and no one on your street has a baby squirrel or fox or raccoon, so why not keep it and raise it as your own?

  1. It may not be abandoned
  2. It may be sick or carrying something harmful (squirrels and prairie dogs carry bubonic plague; groundhogs can carry hepatitis). 
  3. You have no idea how to feed it to keep it healthy.
  4. It’s a wild animal. No matter how much you love it and how tame it might get, the call of the wild is too strong. It will try to return to nature but won’t know how, because it hasn’t been raised with others of its kind. They will not respond to it. Your animal won’t know how to fend for itself, find food, hide from predators, and has a high chance of dying miserably. Or it may attack you, your pets, or your children.

So what should you do if you find a baby animal all alone?

Different animals require different approaches. The best thing to do is just wait, and watch. Some babies are left alone during the day, and mom comes back every few hours to check and feed. Baby bunnies nest in tall grass, so finding them alone in brush is normal. While you shouldn’t randomly handle wild babies, few mothers will abandon them just because you touched them. The mother may not like your smell, but their need to nurture is too strong. 

If you find a bird with no feathers, or the beginnings of them, put the bird gently back in the nest if possible. If it’s fluffy with feathers, leave it alone. Birds mature in 2-3 weeks, and it’s probably ready to leave.

Deer: If it is wandering around and crying, leave it alone. Mom will return. If it’s moving about and distressed, call rescue.

Squirrels: if it’s got a bushy tail and is playing and climbing, leave it alone. If it’s tiny, give mom a chance to find it. If mom hasn’t returned by nightfall, put it in a warm box and call for help.

Fox: If they’re happy and playing, they’re fine. Call for help if they look weak or sickly.

Raccoons and skunks: DO NOT handle raccoons or skunks, as they have a very high rate of rabies. If in doubt, place a laundry basket over the baby and place a weight on top. Mom will flip the basket to get her baby back.

Rabbits: Baby rabbits may be left alone for hours at a time. Mark the spot with an X of yarn. If mom comes back, she’ll disturb the string. 

Possums: if a possum is more than 7” long, it’s old enough to be on its own. If smaller, call for help. Possums are marsupials, not mammals. They need pouches and don’t feed like a “regular” baby. 

Do not attempt to rehabilitate wildlife by yourself. In many cases, it’s illegal to do so. Call the police department, or the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Dispatch  at 860-424-3333, and they’ll send someone out.

For a safer approach to wildlife and animal rescues, check out these books!