Welcome to Possum Notes
I'm starting a newsletter about nature around here, this place where I live
I’ve been looking for a home for writing about landscapes and wildlife where I live, and surprise surprise, I’ve landed on an email newsletter! The nice thing about this format is that if you’re not interested, you can just part ways, as you would part ways with an opossum encountered on a sidewalk late at night—respectfully, like equals.
Like many great works of art, this image is in the public domain.
I’m slowly working on a book about nature found at the margins of human structures and developments. As I do that, I’m gathering notes on plants found in our neighborhood; birds, mammals, and reptiles; and sketches, in words, of particular places; all with the goal of a more holistic view of places often passed off as too small to be a home for wildlife as it’s usually understood. I approach the wildlife of the untended fence-line as solemnly as I would Yosemite or the Everglades, and in doing so usually just make myself look ridiculous, like an opossum you catch gnawing on (delicious, to it) trash in your trashcan.
But books take a very long time to write, or at least they do for me, so in the meantime I can at least share some observations on a weekly or so basis. Here’s what I’ve got: flowers of the week, quotes from writers I admire, an ecologist’s take on the news, encounters with wildlife in our area, and maybe down the line interviews with like-minded scavengers.
I’m in Quincy, MA, on occupied Massachusett and Wampanoag ancestral lands. The average density of Quincy is 3,400 people per square mile, and our neighborhood in North Quincy is on the upper end of that density range. In other words, the BBC is not coming here anytime soon for Planet Earth. We don’t have a yard, so I have to get out of the building to see nature. While the observations I’ll share are inevitably particular to where I live, I hope that at least the concept of having a look at wildflowers found along many sidewalks, pocket parks, tree lawns, weedy soccer fields, and so on is something accessible to many. There are wildflowers now shared basically worldwide (for better or worse), so we’ll have those in common.
Anyway, explaining just makes things worse!
Flower of the week
Rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa, AKA beach rose) is introduced in North America and native to eastern Asia. Rugose is one of those funny botanical terms that just means wrinkled. While rugosa rose is fairly widespread in North America due to gardening, in Asia it’s mostly found along the coast. It’s one of several wildflowers that brighten the edge of our parking lot along a small salt marsh that’s completely ringed by other parking lots and big buildings.
I almost stepped on a rat trap taking this picture.
They’ve been in bloom for several weeks now, and some of the rose hips are already ripening:
It’s less aggressive in its growth than another introduced rose species, multiflora rose (Rosa mutlflora), which can make a mess of a forest understory if left unmanaged. What I will say for multiflora rose is that it smells very nice, especially when there’s a huge bush of it. It had been in bloom here for much of June and suddenly it has gone to fruit and it’s July. Slow it all down, I say!
Keeping track of which flowers are in bloom helps me prevent the passing weeks from congealing into a mush, which has become increasingly important now that I’ve spent every week in exactly the same place.
Travel via Google maps
Elizabeth-Jane Burnett: “The rush of affection at seeing a field I have known since childhood beam down electrodes to where I sit in an unknown city – as I become a yellow stickman avatar, wandering the country lanes I am too far from to walk in person – is startling.”
I’m reading Burnett’s book The Grassling for a Twitter book club started by the fantastic Jessica Lee. Correction: I’m rereading it, because I got to the end and immediately felt that I needed to read it again. Burnett’s “geological memoir” written when her father was ill seeks out connections to her ancestors through the places and the actual soils where her family has lived. The observations of place and living things are richly detailed and the imaginative visions she experiences throughout are vivid and revelatory. I thought that reading it a second time and taking notes might unlock even more meaning for me, and it has been very worthwhile so far.
Living mostly in Birmingham, UK, Burnett recalled “visiting” her family’s old places in the southwest of England with help from Google maps when she couldn’t go in person. I’ve experienced something like this, too. While looking back at familiar places around my college in Missouri or returning to a research site via aerial photography, the memories evoked by those images and the ability to “wander” through the landscape virtually can be intense. This is the first time I’ve seen that addressed well in a book.
Did you know some people look for birds on Google street view? Wild. (This started before COVID, to be clear.)
About that mascot you’ve got there
I’m a white person living on occupied Native American land, and the least thing I think I and fellow white people could do is not have mascots that are racist depictions of Native Americans. (We should do a lot more.) Largely thanks to an immense push from students and alums, the local high school is facing pressure to replace its racist mascot, which is just one of many in the region. The story has made it into the Boston Globe. The Globe is also covering the broader push by students and alums to confront racism in Quincy Public Schools, of which opposing the mascot is just one part. I’m in awe of these folks and am trying to support them any way I can. Here’s their petition.
If you’ve got a racist mascot in your neck of the woods, maybe try to replace it!
That’s it for now
but feel free to send in recordings of birds to ID, fun wildflowers you find, and snapshots of your local tick-destroying opossum in the meantime.
If you want to help out
I’m part of a group called Quincy Neighbors Mutual Aid. We’re doing neighbor-to-neighbor support for food and other essentials. The funds are running a bit low if you’re able to help us build it back up: FundRazr site here.
Great work, Conor! Rich Moran clued me in. Glad to be aboard!