Stop! Thief! And pick me up at Pavilion Beach on your way

The so-called “revelation” of Police Chief Paul Nikas’s new contract was “shocking” and caused a great “hue and cry.”

That’s a lot of quotation marks, but quotation marks can be helpful, and this “breaking story” needs help.

Quotation marks may indicate that a term is being deployed sardonically, and I don’t want anyone reading this to think news of the Chief’s new contract was actually a revelation. It was on the website in May.

As I understand it, it’s entirely within the realm of the Ipswich Town Manager’s responsibilities to settle on a contract with the Police Chief, so “revelation” of the contract could only be “shocking” to those who weren’t “paying attention”. In this case, perhaps, the Ipswich Select Board — who, uh, have 24/7 access to the Town website.

Fortunately, quotation marks are free, because they have a lot more uses than just “discreetly” indicating sarcasm.

Quotation marks can also indicate a term not commonly used, or a term the writer wants to call particular attention to.

Like “hue and cry,” in paragraph 1.

“Hue and cry” is a 13th century English phrase, co-opted from Old French: huer meant “to shout” (more quotation marks); crier meant “to cry out.” When someone broke the law and made a run for it, the English sent up a “hue and cry” which legally required everyone within earshot to help chase down the perpetrator.

Ipswich was not the ideal place for Marino and Nikas to hatch their “nefarious plot” because “hue and cry” has been an Ipswich specialty from the beginning. Make one false step, baby, and you’re going to get “hued and cried” on.

Ipswich, as you may know, was the birthplace of American independence, with a tax revolt against Mother England 88 years before the Declaration of Independence. This historic hue and cry got them depicted in a metal sign on County Street, AND a huge painting in the Ipswich post office, PLUS a prime spot on Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris’s HistoricIpswich.org blog.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to have witnessed quite a number of hues and cries. There was the hue and cry over selling Little Neck. The hue and cry over one-elementary-school-or-two. The hue and cry about the budget override (it failed), then another hue and cry about the next year’s override (it passed). A drive-in at Lord’s Square? Hue and cry. A donated sculpture to honor Ipswich artists? Hue and cry. Washington Street bump-out. Bialek skate park. Pavilion Beach ticketing. THE END OF THE WORLD!

Remember the Chicken Lady? We had a hue and cry over the question of a new Ipswich chicken quotient: How much poultry per square foot can people reasonably be expected to tolerate?

These days, we have hues and cries over the Bruni project on Essex Road, and the Ora project on Waldingfield Road, and now, the Police Chief’s contract. I’m exhausted. It feels to me like we need a hue-and-cry limit: two at a time, max. One waxing, one waning; beyond that, it’s not feasible to expect people to care.

Or, if someone really cares about every hue and cry, it’s not healthy. So for the sake of town-wide quality of life — or “quality of life” — we should combine our hues and cries, to make the anxiety at least manageable.

Because the Outsidah is deeply committed to the Town of Ipswich — in spite of my flimsy standing as a newcomer — I want to address our current glut of hues and cries and offer my problem-solving expertise.

My proposed solution is deceptively simple: We have three major hues and cries of the moment? Merge them.

Move the Bruni project to Waldingfield Road, and put Chief Nikas in charge of it all. The guy can do it. Traffic tangles, water table depletion, economic devastation, whatever — Problem solved.

See how simple that was?


(Doug Brendel, who counts Chief Nikas as a “friend,” hopes to get some “special consideration” for renting a unit at the fabulous new Bruni-Waldingfield mega-complex. Until then, follow Doug at your own risk via DougBrendel.com.)

This above all, from thine own porch be true

There’s never just one chipmunk, of course. 

You know there are families of them, right? Or tribes, or whatever you call them. Flocks of chipmunks. Hordes. Oh, wait: Google says they’re a “scurry.” Well, this should have been obvious.

But how often do you actually see a scurry of chipmunks? I can’t recall ever seeing more than one at a time. 

I’ve seen one chipmunk sitting on the rock wall in the backyard garden, chewing on a seed. 

Or a lone chipmunk flitting about in the summer grass, looking for a seed to chew. 

A single chipmunk poised on a step at the back door, as if he’s posing for an Instagram pic, or he somehow hears a seed, somewhere in the distance, that needs chewing.

I figure they only let one chipmunk out at a time; he scouts the territory, chews a seed or two, and goes back to report to the rest of the family, tribe, flock, or horde.

Meanwhile, our cats love to sit on the screen porch and watch Chipmunk TV. Or maybe it’s torture for them. I can’t tell which.

They line up with their noses pressed to the screen, watching the chipmunk-seed-chewing, the chipmunk-flitting, even the chipmunk-posing, and their feline nervous systems quiver with frustration.

To a cat, there is nothing more delicious than the idea of coming back from a hunt with fresh chipmunk. I’ll have mine rare, please. 

Of course, with our exclusively indoor cats, this idea is total fantasy. Which may make it all the more delicious, I don’t know; I’m not a cat. I’m the cruel cat-owner who won’t let them off the screen porch to decimate the chipmunk population.

This summer, Chipmunk TV has been more or less continuous. There’s always a chipmunk out there offering entertainment, a card-carrying SAG-AFTRA-member chipmunk with obvious theatrical experience. Always doing a solo gig, of course, which for any performer is the best kind of gig there is. Usually on the rough-hewn stone steps leading up to our screen porch. “All the world’s a stage, / And all the chipmunks merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one chipmunk in his time plays many parts.” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Rodent Version.)

So I realize, yes, what happened to me this week was silly.

I’m sitting on the screen porch, laptop on my lap, cats sitting in position, waiting for the next episode of Chipmunk TV. I hear the postal carrier pull up out front, I put down the laptop, stand up, and head toward the stone steps, through the porch door. The cats watch in surly silence; they clearly resent me for always shooing them away from the door and going out alone.

But the porch door isn’t quiet. It squeaks, or screeches — I’m not sure what to call it — it makes a freaky sound every time I open it.

And what I couldn’t know was that a scurry of chipmunks — an entire tribe, a huge flock, our entire massive horde of backyard chipmunks — take their breaks between scenes in a cozy secret place under the stone steps.

So as I plunge out onto the stone steps, the shrieking of the porch door sends the entire chipmunk population exploding into the backyard. It’s way more than scurrying. It’s like fireworks, but furry.

And I’m so startled — a mass of tiny creatures zigzagging like electricity under my feet — that I lose my balance and tumble, sprawling into the grass.

The chipmunks vanish instantaneously.

But before I can recover, another backyard population perks up.

“To bite, or not to bite?” asks the leader of the ticks rhetorically. “No question.”

As I scramble to pick myself up, flicking away the parasitic little arachnids as fast as I can, I can’t help but overhear the cats’ cynical review of the show.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” one sneers. (King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I, Feline Version.)


Doug Brendel lives in the jungles of outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at DougBrendel.com.

Did Ray Morley actually cook an omelet on the East Street pavement?

It was hot last week.

The weather angels have now shut down two Thursday evening Castle Hill concerts in a row, and most recently not just because of the threat of lightning, but because of deadly heat.

I would suggest that the weather angels are annoyed because we keep talking about the “weather gods,” when the weather angels are the ones who really have to do all the work.

The weather gods sit in their executive conference room on their throne-like leather chairs and make all the decisions, but they’re detached from the actual machinery of weather-making and have little or no appreciation for what the weather angels go through to execute all the executives’ executions.

The Trustees, who host the weekly summer concert series at the Crane Estate, repeatedly express their hope that “the weather gods will cooperate.” It’s prayer, for all practical purposes. But it’s misguided, because in reality, the weather gods are not processing the prayers. They’re sipping scotch and smoking cigars and making minimal effort — typical bureaucrats — issuing the most general of instructions to their underlings: “Summer sunshine.” “Warmer today.” “Breezy.” The yeoman weather angels, meanwhile, get little or no oversight from the weather gods, so they ad-lib the actual details of the weather, mostly based on their mood.

And because it vexes them to hear all this beseeching of the weather gods — as if the weather angels don’t even exist, for heaven’s sake! — they finally get fed up and clobber us.

Like last week.

I have not lived here in Ipswich long, but long enough to know the summer heat shouldn’t surprise us. Where I used to live, in a suburb of the Great Sonoran Desert known as Scottsdale, Arizona, heat is the painful norm. The heat sits down on you in April like Jabba the Hutt — it was 112ºF at 4 p.m. one day last week — and doesn’t stand up to stretch till at least November. (In December, Jabba may just lean forward a little to let you breathe, but he doesn’t lean very far, and you don’t get to breathe very deeply, before it’s March and the torture begins all over again.)

Here in coastal Massachusetts, it’s different. As I’ve discovered during my brief time here, Jabba the Heat has more of a rhythm. It’ll hit you, and it’ll go away. But first, it’s gonna hit you.

You’re sitting on your screen porch in early July, counting your blessings, perhaps noting mentally that the weather has been quite beautiful, when suddenly Jabba swirls in, thunderboomers roiling behind him like boisterous backup singers, and then kapow, Jabba the Heat has plopped into your lap. You might spill your frozen marguerita except that it’s already so hot, there’s nothing in the glass but tequila soup. And it’s steaming.

So, yeah. It was hot last week.

  • It was so hot that some kind of lizard knocked on my back door and asked for a drink of water.
  • It was so hot that high tide on the Ipswich River was lower than low tide, and low tide was gravel.
  • It was so hot that the new stop signs at the top of North Main Street began drooping toward South Main Street.
  • It was so hot that kids selling street-corner lemonade on outer Linebrook Road had to edit their “Lemonade” sign to read “Just Add Water.”
  • Ipswich residents with property in Florida were heading back south to cool down.
  • Marini’s corn started popping in the fields.
  • Our fruit trees were producing pies.
  • It was so hot that Clam Box kitchen personnel were sent home because the clams were frying themselves.

Bottom line — Heed thou mine admonition: 

Pray thee to the weather angels, not the weather gods, and things will get better.


(Doug Brendel is sitting in his underwear with what’s left of a cool drink somewhere on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. At his current lethargic pace, he won’t be hard to track. Start at DougBrendel.com.)

Every smile you fake, I’ll be watching you

I met her a few years ago. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Gloriana G. Gloriosa. (As far as Google can tell, there is no one on earth named Gloriana G. Gloriosa.)

Gloriana, a retiree, responded to an Outsidah column in the Ipswich Local News, and I invited her to lunch.

I never anticipated subterfuge.

We had a lovely meal and conversation. And since then, Gloriana and I have exchanged a number of pleasant emails.

But then, last week — this.

“Favor to ask,” the subject line said. “Hi, Sorry to bother you,” the email began, “do you order from Amazon?”

“Yes,” I confessed.

“Glad to hear from you,” she replied. “I need you to get an Amazon email gift card for a friend’s daughter who is down with cancer of the Liver, it’s her birthday today and I promised to get it for her today, but I can’t do this now because all my effort purchasing it online proved abortive. Can you get it from your amazon account? I’ll reimburse you back as soon as possible. Please let me know if you can handle this so I can tell you the amount and how to get to her. Await your soonest response.”

Well, I work for a living (my Outsidah columns don’t pay the bills, since they’re totally volunteer) — so I replied to her:

“I’m in client meetings and on the road the rest of today and tonight and can’t work on this till tomorrow, sorry.”

Soon, I heard back:

“Sorry for bothering you, Let me know what time you will be able to order the gift card online so i can send you her email address.”

I haven’t known Gloriana very long, but I do know that she’s a longtime Ipswich professional, well educated — and quite the precise communicator in her rendering of numerous letters to the editor — so it was curious to me that she capitalized “Liver” and didn’t capitalize “amazon” and that she used a phrase like “reimburse you back,” which comes straight from the Dept. of Redundancy Dept.

Also, hasn’t the pronoun “I” been capitalized since around the year 1400? Do you spend your working life as a highly articulate communicator only to give up capitalizing your personal pronouns in retirement? Are you that exhausted? You can’t press the shift key every time you need a capital?

But I wanted to help if I could. I had a next-morning breakfast meeting scheduled, near Ipswich center. We could get together there and make it happen.

“Bring the cash to the Ipswich Inn dining room tomorrow morning,” I replied, “8:45-9 a.m. and we’ll work it out then.”

As I imagined it, this could be fun. Gloriana arrives, maybe she joins my group for breakfast. She hands over the cash, I pull out my iPhone. I click on my Amazon app, her (capital-L) Liver-cancer-friend’s-daughter gets her (small-a) amazon email gift card — and only a day late for the patient’s birthday. I’m a hero!

Hello?

No answer that email.

“Bring the cash”? No answer.

Dang. It seems somebody stole my friend Gloriana’s email address, and her contacts list, and started sending out emails pretending to be her, asking for help, so they could wrangle online gifts to an email address of their choosing.

Oh friends, heed my dire warning. Beware the scam scum: artists of the dark arts.

I am only disappointed that my fake Gloriana G. Gloriosa didn’t stick with me for one more email exchange. I was going to suggest, if she couldn’t be at breakfast, meeting me at 10 at the Ipswich police station.

That would have been such fun!


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich — No, wait, that’s too much information. Let’s just say somewhere in coastal Massachusetts — Wait, no, that’s too specific. Okay, follow Doug at DougBrendel.com. But please, if you need money, don’t bother asking.

Thoreau could have died here, a T. Rex victim

I am not a horticulturalist, an agriculturalist, a farmer, or even an outdoorsperson. 

I’m not a gardener. 

I love those people, but I ain’t one.

I consider the outdoors something to look at through a glass window or a very, very tight screen, something so tight that even midges can’t get through. 

I am fiercely allergic to midge bites, and my wife has battled Lyme disease thanks to ticks, so if something needs to be accomplished out in the meadow behind my house, I hire the neighbor boy. To him, I’m a hero, a capitalist mentor.

There’s a reason human beings originally gravitated to caves, and then started building primitive dwellings, and then invented doors. It’s because humans are not intended to be outside.

We’re an indoor species. 

My idea of “roughing it” is stepping down to a three-star hotel. 

And believe me, that’s roughing it. No Keurig in the room? Barbaric.

But in spite of my antipathy for the supposedly “great outdoors,” I can bring you with great confidence this word of outdoorsy advice: 

If you want to hide something behind vegetation, and you need something to grow relatively fast, honey locust may be your solution. 

Yes, a tree. A honey locust tree.

I don’t mean you can rob the bank in downtown Ipswich and run home to your place on Little Neck and plant a honey locust tree; you have to plan further ahead. But if you want to sequester over the long haul, thinking in decades instead of minutes, honey locust may be your seclusion salvation.

I understand that Wikipedia calls the honey locust an “aggressive, invasive species.” Sorry. The practical reality is, Gleditsia triacanthos is wondrous. Sue me.

When we first moved to Ipswich, we had a lone honey locust tree in our front yard. Our house was almost 200 years old at the time, and that tall, glorious honey locust was an estimated 100 or so. But when we decided to put solar panels on the front roof of our house — a move that would allow the sun to power our entire household, including both of our cars — there was only one painful sacrifice to be made.

The beautiful century-old honey locust tree in the middle of the front yard was blocking the sunlight that we would need on our roof.

I told myself that the honey locust was approaching the end of its life, so it would have to come down soon in any event. But I wept anyway, as the tree guys power-sawed it.

We left the stump in the front yard, a stubborn monument to the beautiful being we had sacrificed.

Then, the miracle. 

The stump and its roots began producing shoots. 

That first year, seven shoots came up. 

Then, year by year, more new shoots than I could count. New trees!

The honey locust is not your cliché tree. You don’t have big spread-your-fingers leaves like a maple. You don’t get creepy Morticia-Addams-pointy leaves like a pin oak. The honey locust has a zillion tiny leaves, collected in miniature fronds, like a Jurassic Park fern that went berserk.

So you don’t expect shade from a honey locust. Little leaves, little shade; right?

Uh, no.

Today, a few summers later, I can’t see out my front-room windows. They’re completely obscured by a stand of innumerable honey locust trees, all rising up and rejoicing in the muggy July sunshine of another interminable Ipswich summer.

It’s a jungle out there.

If they ultimately surround my house, I hope someone will hack their way in here and save me.

“Honey locust.” Such a conflicted name. Honey is sweet. Locusts are awful.

Beware.

But I’m looking out my living room window at Linebrook Road, and I’m tellin’ ya, if you’re gonna need a hideout a few years from now, plant honey locust trees today.

Because from where I’m sitting, I can’t see a dang thing.


(Doug Brendel lives behind an impermeable stand of dinosaur-era flora on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him, if he survives, at DougBrendel.com.)

How can you be against muskrat love?

“Wetlands.” Huh?

When I was growing up in the Chicago megalopolis, we never used such a phrase. You were either on pavement or in Lake Michigan. Or, depending on your criminal connections, under Lake Michigan. Sure, Chicago has parks, and some of them have fountains, but recycled municipal water splashing on concrete couldn’t possibly qualify as wetlands, could it?

Then I spent nearly a quarter century in the Arizona desert. The idea of putting “wet” and “lands” together in a single word was not in the realm of reality. Something called the Salt River runs through Phoenix, but perhaps the name is intended as a joke, since there’s no actual salt, and usually no water either.

So when I moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, it was disorienting to hear about wetlands, and to learn that they’re protected. If I understand correctly, these are places continuously or frequently flooded, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s a lot of flora and fauna that depend on this. Muskrats can’t live anywhere else, for example. Put a muskrat in a posh penthouse apartment and he won’t last much past the housewarming party. Those cattails you buy from the florist to accent your décor? They can only come from wetlands; cattails won’t grow anywhere else. Otters, peregrine falcons, and other animals totally depend on wetlands for food, water, or shelter. Sure, there are other places you can get food, water, or shelter, but you’re not an otter. Except maybe emotionally.

Many birds need wetlands for, uh, unmentionable activities. (To explain why in any sort of detail would be inappropriate for a family newspaper.) And for those who don’t use proper protection, the resulting offspring can only be reared in wetlands. Snicker at them if you will for their lax morals, but some migratory birds would become extinct without those sexy wetlands. I would boldly say that losing even one degenerate species would be one degenerate species too many.

A beaver is so urgently dependent on wetlands that it may actually create its own. He’s not building those dams to generate hydroelectricity; he’s instinctively wired with a hopeless wetlands fixation. If there’s no wetlands, he shudders and mutters “Geez, this is too much like Chicago” and starts gnawing on trees. It’s the beaver version of a psychotic episode.

Ipswich has wetlands, and they are indeed protected; so when you build on a property, you have to work around the wetlands. When Mr. Bruni proposed a massive apartment megaplex for Essex Road, for example, he was obligated to order a “wetlands delineation” — which reportedly showed wetlands along an area abutting Gordon Greenhouses.

But here’s another fun fact about wetlands that I never understood before: Wetlands morph. They come and go. They change shape. And the Bruni World approval process has taken so long, the authorities are going to need a new, up-to-date wetlands map before they can greenlight the project.

I overheard some cynical wag suggesting that the simplest way to deny construction of the Bruni abomination would be for concerned citizens to lay extra lengths of garden hose to the edge of the property and enlarge the wetlands so dramatically that there’s no room left for building 191 soulless apartments. At 59¢ a foot for the bestselling garden hose, this is a civic project just about anybody could afford to participate in — although it would of course qualify as vandalism. Plus, it would be a violation of the watering ban now in place as Ipswich battles the current drought. So this outrageous idea absolutely cannot be recommended. A committed environmentalist vandal would instead need to use buckets of leftover “gray water,” wastewater harvested from sinks, showers, etc. Harder work, but certainly more satisfying.

Among those who care about the environment, the EPA says, gray water is increasingly popular, especially as a way to flush toilets. Which may be another way of thinking about stopping the Bruni project.


(Doug Brendel lives lawfully on outer Linebrook Road, where his property is gradually turning brown. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.)

Hounded on High Street

The Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals has received a request for a variance from local zoning at 236 High Street.

It’s a residential area, but the prospective new owner wants to operate a business.

I hope the ZBA doesn’t move too quickly to approve this request, because numerous types of businesses could go in at this address and make a more positive impact on the neighborhood.

For example, one neighbor suggested to the ZBA that the proposed new business might alter the “quiet and peaceful” nature of the area. Another predicted the new business would be a “noise nuisance.”

So of course the ZBA should opt for something quieter. The Ipswich Fish and Game Association could relocate from Paradise Road. A shooting range does involve occasional sudden decibel spikes, but at least it wouldn’t be constant and uncontrollable.

On the other hand, I understand there’s a business in Saugus looking for a new home — a place that tests those beep-beep-beep units that tell you a piece of heavy equipment is backing up. It’s possible, of course, that neighbors might hear the beep-beep-beeping, but the rhythmic predictability of the beep-beep-beeping would be preferable to what’s currently proposed.

Or, the property could be used as a practice facility for rock bands. It would be noise, but at least it would be music. Ipswich supports the arts.

Neighbors of 236 High Street are not just concerned about noise, however. The ZBA variance application indicates that the new business would be hiring a service called Poop 911. The business name itself implies an excretion emergency, and a significant potential olfactory impact on the neighborhood.

It’s a fact of life that #2 doesn’t wait to smell bad; it smells bad right away. Then there’s the seldom-referenced poop-quantity law of physics: More poop smells worse quicker. (And if the business owner has to call for feces-expertise every day, it’s no longer an emergency, more like a way of life.)

But other, better choices could be made. This property could become an expansion campus of our Transfer Station. We wouldn’t replicate everything currently dumped at the Town Farm Road facility; just the compost. To keep the High Street neighborhood smelling sweeter than it would under the present proposal.

Another possibility would be a petting zoo, with an emphasis on species under-represented in traditional petting zoos. Skunks never get enough attention, and skunk-breeders find it difficult to situate their facilities in other towns; but in our town, a skunk-breeding operation would be welcome because of the alternative we’d be avoiding.

It’s possible, however, that the ZBA will okay the proposed variance as-is. In such a case, the neighborhood will simply have to accept change. Of course, the Clam Box will be gone soon, long outdoor lines of patrons felled by the deadly stench wafting westward from two doors down. But no great loss, since there won’t be many clams to fry anyway. The clam beds will be closed due to a fecal bacteria surge in the groundwater runoff. 

As Shakespeare wrote:

Such noise comes from the front of man’s best friend!
Yet naught more foul than comes from best friend’s end.

Not William Shakespeare; his cousin Larry Shakespeare, from Woofferton.


(Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where the skunks and the antelope roam. Sniff him out at DougBrendel.com.)

Where have all the chickens gone, long time pecking?

Free-range chickens are technically illegal in Ipswich but out here on outer Linebrook Road we are already so overrun with ticks, even this early in the season, I believe the law should be changed so that anyone west of Route 1 is actually required to have free-range chickens.

Chickens eat ticks, it’s well known, and chickens roaming free can eat more ticks than cooped-up chickens. Possums also eat ticks, which means setting the chickens free could presumably cut into the possum population’s diet, but I don’t care about starving out the possums because we’re Northerners, not Southerners, so we don’t each much possum. Given the geopolitical divide in our nation these days, I can imagine pushback — claims of malice, “Kill a tick, starve a Republican,” this sort of snark — but I assure you, my goal in releasing the chickens would be nothing more than the freedom to take a simple walk across my backyard without being beset by nasty little parasitic arachnids.

It seems to be the worst tick season in quite a few years. I’ve gone whole summers in Ipswich without finding a single one of the miniature monsters on my pantleg. But with global warming, the tick population is exploding. Ticks can’t mate and reproduce when the temperature drops below 45˚ F, but we have fewer and fewer such chilly periods. Those refreshingly mild days you pray for and luxuriate in? They’re a backdrop for unspeakable tick debauchery on an unthinkable scale.

Of course this is not just about the annoyance of tiresome self-examination — flick icky ticks quick — every time you come in from outdoors. It’s what happens if you fail to pick off one of these mini-devils in time. Ticks give humans Lyme disease. Since 2010, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, cases of tick-triggered Lyme have tripled. Why? More days and hours of tick-sex-friendly temps. And not enough chickens on the job.

We had free-range chickens in our neighborhood for a time, despite the official Ipswich ban. A neighbor had chickens and let them roam; the rest of us neighbors enjoyed them, and the chickens always went home by day’s end, observing a kind of unspoken chicken-curfew. In the meadow between my house and the chicken coop, the chickens ate well, and whole generations of ticks were annihilated. Even today, tick folk singers sing mournful songs about that tragic era.

For us humans, however, life was grand — that is, until another neighbor loved the chickens so much, or so I heard, that she began feeding them actual food. Big mistake. They began congregating happily at this one house, doing all the chicken things chickens do, like scratching and pecking. Chickens roaming over a whole neighborhood don’t make much of a mess, because they’re spread out and on the move; but so many chickens hanging out in a single yard soon took a toll on the flower garden. The outraged owner — apparently feeling betrayed by the chickens she loved — complained bitterly.

The era of technically illegal but generally accepted free-range outer Linebrook chickens was suddenly over. The chickens are now re-cooped, and the ticks are partying.

A whole new cohort of tick singer-songwriters has emerged. No more rueful refrains. It’s straight rock-and-roll now.

Yesterday I walked to the corner of my backyard and by the time I got there I had a whole tiny rock band attached to the leg of my jeans — guitar, bass, drums, and lead vocals, with three tiny backup singers in matching outfits. I remained calm. I sauntered over to my neighbor’s backyard, my steps keeping time with the music, then flicked each member of the band, one by one, into the chicken coop.

Chickens are no fans of rock-and-roll, I guess. They didn’t even wait for the song to end.


Doug Brendel wages war against the insect world from his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Track his exploits via DougBrendel.com.

The squirrel sleeps with the fishes

I ran over a squirrel last week. Not the whole squirrel. Just the half of it that wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way of my front left tire.

There’s that instant of panic when you see the creature darting out onto the asphalt, without any of the requisite small-town New England hand signals and dirty looks that humans use — “I’m crossing, okay? Even though there’s no crosswalk, right? Because the lawsuit will be overwhelming, yes?”

And you can stomp on the brake, to give the squirrel a fighting chance, but it’s usually hopeless. The momentum you’ve built up, even at a stately 35 mph, is no match for a squirrelly rodent who tops out at about 5 ft. per second, or roughly 25 mph, in that last desperate flash of panic. You have 10 mph on the poor sucker. Who’ll win and who’ll lose is not in question. 

It’s not as if I was driving recklessly. I was moving at more or less the speed limit, eastbound from my home in the hinterland, chugging along on Linebrook Road toward Marini Farm. And up ahead, what do I see but a crow. The crow had found some roadkill, apparently annihilated by some heartless driver who came careening down Linebrook Road ahead of me, but without the same kind consideration for creatures great and small that I bring to the automotive experience.

The crow, pecking at his gory prize, heard my vehicle approaching, and made the sensible choice: He temporarily abandoned his lunch, flapping away to some nearby branch where he could keep an eye out and return ASAP.

But coincidentally, a young squirrel, poised at the edge of Linebrook Road, observing the scene, made an ill-fated split-second decision. He’s not interested in chowing down on roadkill — ick! He’s a squirrel, after all; he doesn’t want guts, he wants nuts.

But he does also want to cross the road.

So he says to himself, If the crow can do it, so can I. I can get out of the way in time.

Like a typical youth, he doesn’t consider his own limitations. Like, for instance, he can’t fly like a crow. He’s not a flying squirrel, is he? What are teenagers thinking?

Accordingly, my car whacked him.

It was a traumatic moment for me. I pulled over, my heart pounding. I needed to collect myself.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a greenish shape, like a filthy upside-down salad bowl, lumbering toward me. Emerging from the woods, a snapping turtle. And no young whippersnapper of a snapping turtle. This was a seasoned, mature snapping turtle. A snapping turtle that had been around the block a time or two.

He paused as he approached my car. He arched an eyebrow. I rolled down my window to hear what he had to say.

“Why did the squirrel cross the road?” he began, his voice husky.

I shrugged.

“To prove he wasn’t chicken.”

I had no retort.

“It’s a joke,” the turtle murmured, his turtle mouth curled into a sneer.

He shook his head — peevishly, I thought. Then he looked right at me, one of his little eyes trained directly on me, like an angry grade-school teacher.

“You know how many times I’ve crossed this road?” he rasped. “Cars come screeching to a halt. People get out of their vehicles — Audis, F-150s, it doesn’t matter — and they gather around to help me across. I swear, if I went into politics, I could heal the divisions in this country.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I saw what was happening here,” the turtle chortled, “and not just today. I mean day after day. That squirrel was what we call a ‘young punk.’ He didn’t want to listen to any kind of advice from anybody in ‘the older generation.’”

I couldn’t help but glance at the half of the young punk’s body that wasn’t squished. I shivered.

“I did what I could,” the turtle sighed. “I went to him, weeks ago. I didn’t have to, I had no obligation to him, but out of a sense of community, a sense of family you might say, the animal kingdom, you know what I mean? I went to him; I said, ‘Look, I’m offering you protection. When you want to cross Linebrook Road, come to me first, I’ll go with you. When I start across, traffic will stop. You’ll be safe. You can come and go as you please. You make a small payment to my guys when they come around, and your problems are over.”

To me, at the moment, hearing the turtle say it, it sounded like a good deal.

The turtle shrugged, at least as much as a turtle can shrug, inside that shell. 

“He didn’t listen to me. He was a young punk who wouldn’t pay.”

He nodded at the half-smushed carcass.

“Look at him now.”

I couldn’t help but shudder a bit.

“Turkeys, they get a lot of attention,” the turtle continued. “People stop for them, sure. But turkeys wander around. They don’t stick with one neighborhood. They could help other species get across the road — but do they? No. They’re just in it for themselves. Me, I’ve been here for 40 years. Available to help whoever needs help.”

He began plodding across the road. Then he paused, mid-lane, and looked back at me. His mouth wasn’t curled into that little turtle sneer anymore. It was just a sad, straight mouth of regret.

“But squirrels. Do they listen? No.”

An oncoming Volvo screeched to a halt. The turtle turned back and resumed his slow crawl across the asphalt.

“Squirrels,” I heard him grunt. “They show no respect.”


Doug Brendel lives and drives on Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Look into all his strange multi-species experiences at DougBrendel.com

Wherefish Art Thou Romeo?

The Female: Oh my darling!

The Male: Oh my sweet!

F: I’m so happy to see you!

M: Even if it’s only FaceTime, at least…

F: Yes, at least we can look into each other’s eye. 

M: And then each other’s other eye.

F: It’s probably for the best that our eyes are on opposite sides of our heads….

M: Yes. I’m sure I couldn’t contain myself, looking straight ahead and taking in your beauty with both eyes at once.

F: Oh, you always say the sweetest things.

M: My love for you compels me to pour out my heart.

F: Oh, how I wish your love for me could compel you to pour out something else. Something more than words, and little air bubbles.

M: Well, I would if I could, you know. If I were there, with you, gill to gill, I certainly would give you something more … lasting.

F: Darling! Are you grinning?

M: I fear so.

F: How can you even make your mouth do that? I’ve only ever seen you make the O shape!

M: Love drives one to extremes, I guess!

F: Oh, how I long for you!

M: And I you!

F: If only we weren’t separated by this awful barrier!

M: Horrid barricade!

F: Wretched wall!

M: Damn this dam!

F: Oh my love, don’t speak in such curses, lest we fall under a curse ourselves.

M: What more of a curse could we suffer, than this damnable Ipswich Mills Dam! This massive blockade, repulsing me and my family, not only today, but for generations! Since 1637!

F: Well, to be precise, the current version of the dam wasn’t built till 1908.

M: What is that to me! It’s a dam, and I say, damn it!

F: No! Don’t speak this way! If I only had ears, I would cover my ears with my hands, if I only had hands!

M: How can you be so conservative? Our lives are passing before our very eye! We herrings only live 15 years. How many chances will we have to…?

F: Don’t say it! Don’t say it!

M: Spawn! There, I said it!

F: I told you not to say it!

M: How many chances will we have to make little herrings?

F: You’ll never have a chance with me if you keep talking dirty!

M: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I guess this dam is making me crazy.

F: My darling, won’t you please try the fish ladder?

M: The fish ladder. Again with the fish ladder.

F: That’s what it’s there for! It’s to get little boy fishies together with little girl fishies.

M: Oh please, don’t talk cutesy. This is not Finding Nemo.

F: Just give it a try. Jump up there. See how it goes.

M: You would really have me trust that? Something devised by the government?

F: You would rather miss out on … you know … with me?

M: The fish ladder is not an option.

F: Why not?

M: Look. My mother laid 20,000 eggs. Only 130 of my siblings survived. We considered ourselves lucky. Hardy stock. But then came time to spawn — er, sorry: “procreate.”

We swam up the Ipswich River. We got to the dam. We found the fish ladder. 

My brother Artie was always a hot shot. He jumped up there. I saw him flopping around. He jumped again. And again. I hope he made it. I never saw him again. 

My brother Chuckie went next. He got up a few steps, then flopped out. He was so exhausted, the current carried him back toward Little Neck, like a Fish Filet waiting to happen. 

Nicky and I looked at each other. He just shook his head and swam away.

I was rattled, I confess. I pulled off to one side, tucked myself in under a corner of the Ebsco parking lot, and tried to get myself together. I caught Zumi’s WIFI and went online — and that’s the day I found you. The day I lost my brothers.

Yes, I could have tried the fish ladder, but only 3% make it. We’re lucky we’re herring, at 3%. My friend Miltie was a smelt. No smelt has ever made the fish ladder. We tried to talk sense into him, but it was no use; he was in love with a cute little Mallotus villosus from Danvers and nobody could convince him otherwise.

Miltie tried for three weeks straight to get up that fish ladder. It was painful to witness. By the end, I think he was actually crying, although it’s hard to tell when a fish is crying, because there’s already so much water around.

But it wasn’t his fault. Smelt are weak swimmers. They’re not built to climb fish ladders. They’re built to get scooped into a net, kippered, and — well, I won’t get into the details.

What I’m saying is, I’m not coming up that fish ladder for you like some herring Romeo. Until they take this dam down, we’re doomed.

Can you understand? Can you forgive me?

F: Gotta go. There’s a barbecue here — they’re grilling copepods, pteropods, planktonic crustaceans, and some awesome larvae. Check ya next week?


Doug Brendel lives on dry ground in an old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his many exploits by visiting DougBrendel.com.