On a warm late summer afternoon a few weeks ago, Nancy glanced what she thought was Dingo ambling through the plantings beneath the kitchen window. On closer inspection, she saw it was a vixen, confirming her gender by squatting to pee next to a pole supporting bird feeders. She appeared comfortable there by the patio, sniffing about and finally settling in to snack on bird seed generously left on the bluestone by our gray and red squirrels. Undisturbed by our two little dogs snoozing elsewhere, she dispatched the seeds, produced a respectable amount of scat where the seeds had been, and moved gracefully to our neighbor’s yard.

Beautiful red fox
Dingo (slight resemblance)

It was an unusual sighting that I shared with neighbor Joe a day later. He wasn’t surprised. The vixen denned under his porch in the spring and had five kits. Joe was apparently a generous host, so the family stayed and thrived under his porch. Until one kit wandered into our yard and met Luci(fur).

Luci is a twenty-pound cairn terrier bred in the Scottish Highlands to find and dispatch badgers and foxes that inhabit farmers’ cairns built from stones removed from their lands. We were not aware of this when we acquired her five years ago as an eight-week old pup. She was cuddly and cute, decidedly non-diabolical. By the time she was a year old, however, she was the scourge of small creatures: voles, snakes, chipmunks and squirrels.

If deer have the temerity to stray closer than fifty yards from the house, Luci alerts Dingo and together they escort them back to the woods. On three occasions, to my knowledge, she has ushered large black bears back up the hill to their normal pathways beyond the old stone walls..

Luci. Cute, right?

I sadly report that Luci slew the little kit in an eye-blink. I didn’t witness the event but, based on what she does to slow squirrels, I know it was so. Dingo, otherwise occupied, was not around.

Although it’s disturbing  to witness what Tennyson calls “nature red in tooth and claw,” I think it useful to be reminded of harsh realities so we don’t drop our guard, especially in these perilous times.

A week later Nancy and I noticed a double-decker pile of scat where the fox had made her deposit before. It will probably not surprise anyone that I have an illustrated volume identifying wild animal scat that showed it was fox scat. On the next five mornings, a similar pile of scat appeared, prompting me to set up a trail camera to confirm who was its originator. As shown, it was the vixen.


As a writer and anthropomorphic romantic, I make up stories about things I witness in the natural world, unconstrained by scientific input (apparently fashionable these days). So, I imagined a bereaved mother vixen expressing in her most offensive way her anger and sorrow at the death of her kit, like leaving a memorial at a headstone. I honored that idea by removing her scat daily, awaiting her next contribution.

This went on for a week before a friend who will remain unnamed scoffed at my story and told me that all foxes mark their territory this way, which I confirmed on Google. No grieving mother, no retribution, just a natural imperative. The single pile of scat kept arriving daily, embarrassing me and my foolish romanticism.

Until this week.

Yesterday morning, in the regular scat location on the bluestone, there were three large, almost identical, piles of fox scat at the points of an imaginary three-foot triangle.

Help me try to make sense of this. Was this when the monthly meeting of the vixens’ root beer and chowder club got out of paw? Was this three foxes marking the boundaries where their individual territories meet? Was this the result of a geometrically inclined fox’s upset stomach?

Ah, the list goes on.

And I’m already upset by everything else that’s going on around here.

A Bear, a Garden

Clyde, our house bear, may be camera shy, but he wasn’t shy when he found I’d forgotten to close the back gate to the garden. He has good taste. Zinnias, peas, beans and swiss chard. Like any sensible person, he refused to eat kale. Most of these delicacies were growing in a VegTrug, which is a bed raised about three feet above ground, just at easy snacking height. This is the same Clyde who knew that he had to unscrew a wing nut from beneath a bird feeder to get at the seed. I don’t think he made it to Yale, but he got his Ph.D. somewhere.

The bear’s calling cards:

The plants will regrow, and I have a new incentive to keep that gate closed. Clyde’s visit was the first one to our garden this Covid year, except for daughter Ahni’s family who live ten minutes away. Usually, friends have visited by now for a drink, a chat, a dip, a meal, a look at the garden. But we were on lockdown until a week ago and, so far, Clyde is the first to venture out. But those in our susceptible age group are leery about tempting the virus, so I’m not looking forward to any crowds this year.

Over the years the garden, like all works in progress, has changed, but we follow the guiding principle that there should be something new happening every week or so, usually new blooms with a variety of leaf colors, flowers and perfumes. That way we may show off a different garden every few weeks. In the absence of actual visitors, I thought I’d offer a virtual tour of what’s going on toward the end of June.

That’s when the roses guarding the entrance come in bloom along with two clematis vines, one blue, the other red.

The little rose garden also brightens, and milkweed, planted for the monarch butterflies, shows its orange and yellow flowers. Meadow sweet with its pink clouds opens and climbing hydrangeas, which thrive in full shade, add their drama and perfume to the pool shed (also known in higher circles as a “cabana”).

The cabana:


Although all proper gardens are gardens of weedin’, they should provide for moments of repose and reflection, always made better with an appropriate beverage. On fine days we do that with our morning coffee, beginning the day with bird song and natural surroundings, and don’t spoil the day with news or computers till around noon.

A mellow afternoon:

Stay safe, stay well, watch your garden.

Plague Times

During this time of plague, when the Queen of Viruses and the orange King of Dunces threaten our existence, I find comfort that, as a person well past middle age, I am easily amused by small things. And, in early spring, there are many such things to attract my attention.

For example, our house bear, Bonnie, let us know she escaped being shot during last fall’s bear hunt by snacking on our 14-foot high bird feeders last week. She’s too big to climb the poles, so she must have had help from one of her cubs. I can see the fresh indentations of its claws on the fir poles. Somehow, she learned to unscrew the wing nut holding one of the feeders together, and that feeder escaped harm. Dingo, half chihuahua, half mountain dog, found the wing nut in the woods and returned it, lightly chewed, to us. Good dog.

Robins arrived late last month and  devoured all the orange berries on our two hawthorn trees in a couple of hours, then flew on.   Last week the black birds arrived: flocks of grackles. red-winged black birds, and European starlings. They devour a half-pound of mixed seed in an hour.

Since bears are about, I take in feeders each evening and put them out in the morning, where a female hairy woodpecker waits for me. She is particularly interested in the suet cage, sits and cocks her head and fixes me with black eyes. The message is clear —hurry up. I believe she will be sitting on my fingers in a few more weeks.

In our realm of small marvels, we watch the goldfinches and house finches change colors. Olive drab and gray all winter, they now show colorful promise. Goldfinch chevrons are now distinct against pale yellow, and the house finches show reddish caps. Another couple of weeks and they’ll have their summer colors, ornaments on our magnolia until November.

House Finch

Springtime is like a high school reunion. You look around wondering who from last year will be back. Hellebores were tossing their white and purple heads around in February, letting us know how much they, at least, appreciated the climate change determined mild winter without snow. Witch hazel is now, late March, in full bloom, and volunteer daffodils in the woodlot are brilliant against the dull understory. The miniatures shown here are favorites.           

Witch Hazel
Miniature Daffodils

Another favorite is the aptly named skunk cabbage that pushes up in our wet areas now. This amazing plant generates its own heat— keeping its temperature constant at about 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit as it pushes up through snow and ice.

Then, of course, there is promise of what’s to come. Azaleas and elderberries have fat buds ready to pop. Green shoots already tease me in the flower garden. A supposed disadvantage of being old is failing memory. Not so. Because I don’t remember what’s supposed to be there, when it shows it’s a pleasant surprise. The high school friend who just came in the door.

Social distancing may be with us for many months. Fortunately, it doesn’t apply to the natural things that surround us all. Staying home doesn’t mean being cooped up. There are wonders outside.                                                                              


Early in October Nancy and I retraced the steps from many years ago when we hiked and camped out in the Canadian Maritime Provinces — Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Isle (“PEI”)and Cape Breton. It was a bus tour this time and at the height of the foliage season.

As in the United States, Canada’s national and state parks are located in some of the most beautiful and interesting locations in the country. The Maritimes are no exception, joining exceptional locations with a vibrant history that speaks of conflicts and accommodations between native people, French and British settlers and some Americans too.

My new mirrorless camera worked well, but my “darkroom” computer became slower than molasses in a blizzard and needed a new hard drive, so I’ve been almost as slow in sharing photos with you. We took a circular route from Halifax across to the Bay of Fundy, up to PEI, the Cabot Trail, Cape Breton, and back to Halifax in ten days.

An early stop was at Flowerpot Rocks at almost low tide in the Bay of Fundy. The tides there are the highest on earth, rising and falling fifty feet twice a day. This is what we saw:

Bay of Fundy – Bear and Pooh?
PEI Red Sand Beaches
Red Sands – PEI

We toured the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton. Lovely ocean vistas and a surprise visit to a bog atop a mountain on a brisk morning.

Along Cabot Trail
Canada Geese heading for Tewksbury
Bog Fauna

Quaint Fishing Villages and the occasional heron were abundant.

In the National Park

Did I mention that the foliage was spectacular?

On the Ocean

Peggy’s Cove


We’ve lived to an age where we can fearlessly admit the follies of our youth. In this case it is that, in our forties, fifties and early sixties, we trekked mountains—high ones in the Andes, Alps, Rockies, Himalayas and other places where we strained to breathe thin air. Not technical climbing but trekking with light packs and helpers to offer hot tea to begin the day. It was enthralling, mesmerizing and rewarding. After struggling up to a 17,000-foot-high pass, looking at the clouds and snowy peaks below and high fiving family and friends, one is overjoyed with a sense of accomplishment and the privilege of experiencing nature’s great beauty.

That was then. Now, we don’t set our sights so high. We get out of breath in Denver.

So, we just returned from a week in lower mountains: Adirondacks, Green and White (hard to differentiate) Mountains, the Berkshires and Catskills. We were prepared to drive up Mount Washington at 6000+ feet but fickle weather thwarted that. Some notes and pictures follow.

Lake George

Beautiful lake in the Adirondacks. If you think the two flying are us, think again.

Southern shore

Blue Mountain Lake

North of Lake George
View of Lake
Adirondack Camp
Delighted to find the monarchs are back in force!

Where New Jersey had too much rain this year, things were better a few hundred miles north. I’ll add a couple of pictures as proof

Cleome thrives up north
Goldenrod on granite.
Must be Vermont

Views from the Granite State

Goldenrod added a foreground color to our appreciation of the mountains. And clear weather almost every day except the afternoon when the waterfall came from our hats.
First time in a sunflower maze

On to New Hampshire–White Mountains directed us to the Profile (Old Man of the Mountain that collapsed a few years ago) Inn, which proved to be the same age as the old man, but charming nonetheless. Close to the Franconian Notch that my cousin and I hiked in our late teens. It aged better that I did. Beautiful mountain views here.

Loon Mountain had a comfy cable car to take us up the 3000+ feet up–and down again. A long time ago we learned that it is not wise to walk back down the mountain after a ride up, especially if you haven’t done mountain trekking recently. A week of painful calf muscles follows.

Loon Mountain overlook

You have mountains, you get waterfalls

And Water
Gnomes did it.

Our last stop was Lenox, Mass, next to Tanglewood (Boston Symphony summer home), beautiful woods and The Mount, Edith Wharton’s 1902 mansion. We drove through the Catskills, so they count too.

Beaver Lodge
Our summer retreat (we wish)
Don’t be strangers!

May Day

The accumulating infirmities of ageing are reported in many ways, from dry medical descriptions, movies about septuagenarians orchestrating a heist, complaints and/or descriptions of geriatric ailments on social media, and jokes.

One of my favorites is about a conversation between two old guys in an elder care facility. Let’s call them Pete and Mike.

Over coffee, Pete says, “By the way, I hope you can make it to my party next week to celebrate my marriage to Hildegard.”

“Hildegard?” asks Mike. “She the one that lives four apartments over—the one with the goiter?”

“Yeah, that’s her all right,” says Pete.

“Oh. So what have you found so attractive about her. Looks can’t be the major selling point. Is she a great cook?”

“No,” says Pete.  “I promised her we’ll eat out almost every night.”

“Well, then, is she a great housekeeper—keeps the place spic and span?”

“No,” says Pete. “She insists that we have someone come in to take care of that.”

“Well, then,” says Mike, “I blush to ask, but she must be great in bed, right?”

“Couldn’t say. Haven’t tried that yet.”

“Okay. I give up. What’s the attraction?”

“She can drive.”

Enough of that. There’s another aspect of ageing that I want to touch on.

Now firmly settled in my ninth decade, I’ve noticed that while I am getting slower, I also have more time to be slower. That, in turn, allows me to focus on micro rather than macro cosmic things, resulting in my being more easily entertained than in earlier days. Little things now can bring great pleasure.

Our house black bear, Clyde, has a strong interest in our bird feeders, which has caused me to elevate them to places about fourteen feet above ground so he can’t reach them. However, Bonnie visited us in the past and two of her four cubs easily climbed the poles and knocked down the feeders. So, perhaps as a foolish precaution, I take in the feeders at night, fill and replace them each morning. It takes a little time to do that.

Consequently, since I am working to feed the birds, I feel they should entertain me.


During the winter, we watch them from a window. But as soon as morning temperatures go above fifty degrees, we grab coffee and sit on the patio near the feeders listening to birdsong and hoping for a rare sighting. Let me be clear. Nancy and I are not dedicated birders. We are lazy. We don’t go to them; they come to us.

Today, May Day, was a special day. The drab olive-green goldfinches of winter completed their metamorphosis into yellow gems, standing out like golden brass bells against an ebony tube of thistle seeds. We saw a brilliant flash of blue and russet red from a pair of blue birds leaving one of the bird houses cleaned just a few days ago.

Blue Bird

And, silhouetted against the morning light, a lady hummingbird hovered motionless above plastic flowers offering red sugar water. She stayed and sipped before preening her fluorescent feathers in full sun on a fence near us.

Ruby throated humming bird

For the past two years, about this time, a rose breasted grosbeak and his mate have come to visit for a few days. Today we saw our fair-weather friends again.

Rose breasted Grosbeak

For us, there is joy in all that. Daily concerns disappear. We can live in the moment.

As unneeded reinforcement, the New York Times just published an excerpt from a posthumous writing by Dr. Oliver Sacks in which he identifies the healing power of gardens. He also says that even for people who are deeply disabled neurologically, nature can be more powerful than any medication.

I think that works as well for those of us who are not deeply disabled.

Screen Scourge

Recently, I came across two discouraging articles in the New York Times. One was written by a woman who described her growing infatuation with her cell phone as justification for staring at the screen for more than seven hours a day. The other analyzed findings by social scientists showing that sex in America was on the decrease. I am curious as to how they came by those statistics, but the conclusion was that younger people were so enthralled with their screens that they preferred the unreality of screen content to human intimacy. A corollary to that study was that visits to free porn on the web were growing rapidly.

On the last flight I was on, the person next to me propped her cellphone up on her tray table, plugged in tear drop shaped ear pieces, and began watching a movie that was larded with CGI depictions of explosions, flying cars, combat and other effects designed for large theater screens. She had traded sitting in a theater in the company of other people for the experience of watching the movie on a tiny screen on an airplane, shutting out contact with other passengers.

As a practicing curmudgeon, I am obliged to point out the dangers of these behaviors. A look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs shows that sex is among the basic needs we must satisfy before moving up the pyramid to self-actualization. Here’s the footnote’s_hierarchy_of_needs#Ranking_of_sex .

On the other hand, if people who are addicted to their screens are less likely to procreate, that probably enhances our gene pool. I suspect that people who would rather watch than play may have something to do with the fact that forty percent of adults in America are obese. That’s right, forty percent.

I could continue, but I won’t. I’d rather offer an alternative to screens. It’s called walking around in nature. And early spring is a good time of year to try it out. It involves not just walking but pausing to pay attention in detail to your surroundings. Nature is infinite in its variety, color, shape, and design.

Just to give an idea, here are some images from our backyard, reality reality, no cellphones, goggles, or digital paraphernalia needed. And I recognize the irony that I’m using a screen to ask they be avoided.

Walkway weed — magnified size of a penny

Quit the screen, have sex, lose weight, reduce stress, have fun. How’s that for a concept?   


I don’t normally promote my books here, wishing to avoid crass commercialism and dislike because I tend to tweak politicians of all parties. However, I’m making an exception for Longevity, my latest novel. It’s a subtle satire of the modern fantasy/ mystery/thriller genre (Ithink I just made that up).

It’s short–about 60,000 words– and the premise is the unforeseen consequences of scientific research to prolong human life for 30 years. As it happens, numerous villains wish harm to the program and its leader, Dr. Lucy Mendoza. Lucy and her former fiance who left her at the altar, now a one-handed former special forces marine named Grant Duran, are in harm’s way. Much of the story chronicles their efforts to thwart the villains and avoid being killed.

Aged Wylie Cypher, who appears in all my novels, has a supporting role as a participant in group testing new medicine.

The book can be found here

Benign Neglect

An early snowstorm almost froze the plants that over-summered on our covered front porch, but the sudden blanket of white stirred my unreliable memory to bring the collection of philodendrons and Christmas Cacti to their winter home in our heated sun room. They joined the angel wing begonias who have enjoyed their Florida there for the past five years along with a Mandevilla that produces striking red flowers during the first winter month before deciding it needs to spend its energy on sending vines to entwine nearby books.

Given my unreliable memory, I tend to ignore the plants on the porch during the summer, letting them find moisture and sunlight for themselves and fend off marauding pests of many varieties. Only when they cry out in desperation do I squirt water in their direction. Nancy says I’m offering tough love. I prefer to think I’m following an approach favored by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan—benign neglect.

The proof of that approach’s benefit is the behavior of the Christmas Cacti once they have settled into their new surroundings. The nascent buds at the end of their segments quickly swell, turning into cascading flowers before Thanksgiving. Makes me wonder about the “Christmas” in their name. Probably originated well north of here.

Christmas Cactus

I look at the rose and white flowers decorating the sun room (they will last two weeks and return, in less abundance, twice more before spring) and enjoy the benefits of benign neglect. My thoughts turn to other natural incidents of benign neglect—beautiful stands of well-formed trees and fall foliage, for example.

Japanese Maple

I wondered if such neglect might apply to human behavior, and soon found an incident to ponder. 

Driving home from running errands, I followed a school bus dropping off children that looked to be about seven or eight years old. The road we were on had numerous side streets running up to homes on a hill. A large SUV waited at almost each stop. A child or two hopped off the bus, ran to the SUV, received a parent’s greeting, climbed aboard, and the SUV proceeded up the hill—for about 500 yards before turning into a driveway.

During my childhood in the middle ages, I recall that my friends and I walked the mile or so to school back and forth twice a day (once for lunch). We wore galoshes and scarves when it was cold and slickers when it rained. We felt sorry for kids who were cooped up in buses because they lived too far from school. Despite those privations, we grew up into reasonably well-functioning adults.

So, I’m wondering if a dose of benign neglect that required a child to walk home from the school bus stop would be harmful. I hear about helicopter parents who probably wouldn’t like that idea. But still, I wonder.

Your thoughts?


As an antidote to political pandemonium, my first wife and I visited another national park at the end of September. We find solace and wonder in the quiet, astounding beauty of our national heritage and try to make a pilgrimage to at least one park a year. In early days, we’d pack our kitchen, bedroom, and living room into a big duffel bag, fly to a spot of natural beauty, rent a car, and camp out until it was time for a shower in a motel.

I think it was about fifteen years ago when first wife Nancy told me that, from now on, camping out would be a Holiday Inn or better. So, before visiting the Olympic peninsula a few weeks ago, I made reservations in or near The Olympic and Mt. Rainier national parks. North Cascades was avoided because only tent camping was allowed. And we could only reach the campsites by a long trek or canoe.

We drove from Seattle to Forks, WA a small town found near the west coast between the Pacific and main inland areas of Olympic national park. From that location we made daily visits to both the coast and inland areas, most of which are on native American reservations. The Pacific northwest Indian cultures are fascinating.

Pictures describe our adventure better than words. Here are some from the forests primeval on the peninsula .

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic Peninsula-Cape Flattery041

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall & trail035         Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall-Salmon Cascade018A

Longevity Cover

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Hoh Rain Forest018

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Quinault Rain Forest022 {seqn   Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic Peninsula-Cape Flattery079

Here are photos from the Pacific side:

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic Peninsula-Cape Flattery042

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic Peninsula-Dungeness Wildlife Refuge036

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall-Ancient Groves023

Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau- Olympic NP-Sol Duc Waterfall & trail014

That’s a fly agaric mushroom. Parboiled and dried, it’s hallucinogenic!

012Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt_edited

This picture is from the Trail of Shadows at Mt. Rainier.  The first two days there were cloudy and wet. On day three the skies opened up. Unexpectedly, the brush at about a mile up displayed stunning fall colors–even on drizzly days. Here are some of them.

073Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

018Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors  013Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And then–we saw the mountain.

025Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

071Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

And other peaks, including Pinnacle–pretty obviously named.

050Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

Black bears aren’t found only in our backyard in New Jersey.

012Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (foggy day)  065Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Fall Colors

And, of course, it’s a rain forest, which means lots of water but not too much in the fall:

020Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Nisqually River  048Copyright 2018 Rolf C. Margenau-Mt. Ranier NP- Paradise (sunny day)

I’ll spare you the other 700 photos I took.