The story of the cat in the tree is part of our family folk-lore. While not a major, life-altering event, it’s a good story with a happy ending.

Tom and I were scheduled to leave for London the following day. It was summer. Both of our young adult children were living at home with us. We were relaxing after dinner when we heard a cat meowing from outside the house. Our two cats — we also had three dogs — were exclusively indoor cats.

Tom, me, our kids, David and Sarah, and our three dogs at our wedding in 2002

We commented that we hadn’t realized our neighbors had cats. After a few more ‘meows’, we decided to do a head count and make sure that both of our cats were where they were supposed to be. One cat, Hillary, was missing. Shit!

So all four of us went outside and started to frantically search the fenced in backyard for our missing cat. We were worried she might be injured since she lived on the second floor of the house. The only way to get from there to the back yard, was off our bedroom deck and roof, which was pretty high up from the ground.

We searched and searched. It started to get dark so we got flashlights. When we called, she would answer us, but we couldn’t pinpoint her location. One minute she’d sound like she was off to our left. The next minute, she’d sound as if she was on our right. We got increasingly confused. We were also beginning to panic. We had to find Hillary if we wanted to leave on our trip the next day!

It eventually occurred to us that cats can climb trees. We might be looking in the wrong place for Hillary. So Tom took the flashlight up to the bedroom deck and shined it straight into the giant evergreen tree right outside our bedroom. There she was. Contentedly sitting in the tree. We figured she must have started to slide down the slanted roof and caught her fall by jumping onto the overhanging tree branch.

Tom said he’d climb the tree and get Hillary. The rest of us were afraid Tom would kill himself so we tried to dissuade him. Tom convinced us that it was an easy tree to climb and that he was an expert tree climber. So we agree and Tom climbed up to the second floor level and tried to grab Hillary. She got spooked and moved higher up the tree. After this little dance continued for a while, our daughter, Sarah, decided to step in.

Who do you call when your cat is stuck in a tree? The Fire Department. Sarah called our Volunteer Fire Department. She explained that both her cat and father were in a tree and needed help. The operator then asked Sarah if it was her father or the cat’s father who was up in the tree with Hillary.


The Fire Department actually came. You might think firemen rescue cats from trees all the time and would know how to do it. This was true — fifty years ago. Not, however, these days. The firemen asked US what we wanted them to do. “Get a ladder.” Tom answered. So they brought out a tall ladder. But it was not tall enough.

The fireman then yelled up to Tom, “The ladder’s too short! What do you want me to do?”

What Tom did was creative and brave. He grabbed Hillary, hung upside down by his knees on a branch and handed the cat off to the fireman at the top of the ladder. Victory! Everyone gathered around the rescued cat – and completely forgot about Tom, still hanging upside down in the tree. One fireman finally went back to the tree and asked if Tom could get down on his own. Tom was hot and sweaty and exhausted, but he managed to climb down safely.

Before the firemen left, one of them phoned in a report to the office. This is what he said: “One cat and one adult male in tree. Successful recovery.”

That pretty much sums it all up!



The Japanese maple in our garden came home in our car from its birthplace in Maryland. It was just a sprig, planted in a bucket. Eleven years later …

It’s a real tree now. Not entirely grown up. More like a leggy adolescent. But still, it’s a long way from its bucket days.

Because so many people have asked, I’ve added this clip from “The Complete Japanese Maple” which you can look up. I’m pretty sure they will also sell you a tree of your own. Great pictures showing all the sizes of the trees from quite small, to full-size (like ours).

“Japanese maples are the most desirable garden trees that exist. A tree in fall is guaranteed to turn heads and gather admiring looks and the enormous variety of leaf forms, colors and tree shapes means that no matter what your taste or space restrictions, there will be a tree for you. Some grow into small trees 20 feet or more in height, others remain as low shrubs reaching five feet only after many years of growth. They may be upright in form, pendulous or cascading, with red or green leaves and as well as their stunning fall coloring, many have remarkable colors on their new spring leaves too. There are also a wide number of varieties with red or purple leaves all summer, which bring a unique highlight to any garden.

These trees have a reputation for being hard to grow, but this is largely undeserved. With attention given to their location in the garden and some minimal care, they will thrive and increase in beauty every year. Compared with many other trees and shrubs they have few pests or diseases and are versatile enough to thrive in locations ranging from full shade to full sun. They can be grown in the garden, in containers and of course they are ideal subjects for the ancient Japanese art of bonsai.”

Japanese maples also have glorious fall foliage, scarlet and deep yellow, often with red edging. Although I love the red leaf varieties, the autumn tree is so beautiful, it’s worth waiting for. They are among the first to change color and the last to lose their leaves.


They are back. Not in our back yard (yet), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t here. If they are up in the trees, we won’t see them for a week or two. Meanwhile, a couple of miles down the road, they are munching away on my son’s trees. He has managed to rescue a beloved old apple tree, but the oaks are going down for a second year.

The cold, wet weather is on our side. I may complain about it because it really sets off the arthritis, but it may save us — to some extent — from the caterpillars. As long as it stays chilly and rainy, there’s a decent chance the invasion will be minimal. If not, it will most likely be worse than last year, something I have trouble imagining and which has both of us seriously creeped out.

Garry isn’t normally afraid of bugs, but he has developed a healthy loathing for these invaders.

Last year, they ate about 350,000 acres of hardwoods. If the weather dries up and the temperatures go up, they could easily knock off twice as much this year. Many people have been spraying and every little bit helps. We’ll get sprayed again, probably next week.

If you live in New England and you are seeing well-grown caterpillars — they would be the ones showing blue and/or red dots on their back — I’d appreciate you letting me know where you are and how bad it appears to be. Right now is when we would be heading into the worst of the invasion. June is the month. The caterpillars feed well into June, at the end of which they pupate and form cocoons.

The 2016 outbreak was the largest gypsy moth outbreak in the state since the early 1980s. In the 1980s, the damage was even more widespread, with 900,000 acres of woods stripped in 1980 and 2 million defoliated acres in 1981.

More recently gypsy moth damage hasn’t been as bad because, since about 1989, a caterpillar-killing fungus has greatly reduced their numbers. But drought conditions in 2015 and 2016 reduced the fungus’ ability to infect young caterpillars and the population boomed. This spring’s cool, rainy weather has the potential to save us. The fungus might make enough of a comeback to dent the caterpillar population for the remainder of 2017.

Defoliated oaks in July 2016

Neither of us remembered the 1980s invasions. Garry was living in Boston in a high-rise in the 1980s while I lived in Jerusalem. That’s probably why it took us so long to figure out what was happening. I looked through my posts from last year. This was approximately when we started to realize something ugly was happening. Between the end of May and a week later, I stopped leaving the house. At all. Three weeks later, the caterpillars had eaten every leaf on every tree.

Invasion map for 2016. We live in the big red patch at the bottom (on the Rhode Island border) in the middle of the state. It was bad.

These invasions are usually a couple of years which run together. The second year is typically worse than the first.

I’m trying not to make myself insane with worry, but it is hard not to worry. Ignore my complaints about the cold, wet weather. Bring on more cold wet weather. Keep it wet and keep it chilly. It’s our best defense against the killer creepers.

The caterpillar pictures Garry took at our house were as of June 9, 2016, the beginning of the worst part of the invasion. We aren’t there yet, so all we can do is hope … worry … then hope a little more.


What is a gypsy moth?

It’s a species of moth native to Europe and Asia. Historians believe they were first introduced to Massachusetts by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a Medford-based amateur entomologist who tried to breed a hybrid gypsy-silk moth in the late 1860s. To say that his attempts to produce a silkworm went wildly awry doesn’t begin to cover the damage that has resulted from his doomed experiments. Gypsy moths have spread across the continent, down into Mexico and up into Canada, including Alberta.

Why do I keep hearing about them?

Last year, Massachusetts saw its first major gypsy moth infestation in 35 years. A specific variety of fungus typically keeps the invasive species in check, but a statewide drought last year kept fungus levels low and allowed the gypsy moth population to balloon. And as of late last month, scientists said this season’s eggs are beginning to hatch—setting the state up for another bout with the creatures. Unless the bad weather keeps them in check, this could be a very bad year. Worse than last year.

What’s the big deal about some moths?

Very destructive Gypsy Moth Caterpillars are killing a tree in Ruby, Michigan

A single larva can consume as much as a square foot of leaves per day, according to the University of Illinois Extension website. Last year, we could actually hear them chewing. It’s a horrible sound.

The caterpillars go on to produce a proportional amount of fecal matter, which can make it impossible to enjoy outdoor activities. The trees are left bare, limiting autumn foliage and allowing sunlight into parts of the woods which are normally shaded. Not good for plants or animals.

Any danger to people?

Yes. Although gypsy moth caterpillars do not bite, they frequently cause a red, itchy rash. Garry got a nasty one last year on his arms. The rash can last a few days or weeks. Wear long sleeves, a hat, long pants, socks, closed shoes, and gloves if you need to handle them. If you develop a rash, take antihistamines to relieve itching, or see your doctor if it’s very bad.

Is there anything I can do to keep them away?

If you spotted gypsy moth eggs in your trees earlier this year or late last year — Massachusetts Wildlife Magazine describes them as “tawny brown egg masses”—now’s the time to call a tree care professional, who can safely apply pesticides to keep the caterpillars at bay. Mass Audubon also suggests a number of DIY solutions.

And regardless, if you were invaded last year, there’s every reason to assume — whether you see them or not — they are on the way.



As early as the 1500s, “you can’t see the forest for the trees” was in wide enough use that it was published in collections of proverbs and slang. As anyone who has been in a forest knows, it can be easy to fall into the trap of just looking at the individual trees, rather than considering the forest as a whole.

According to the “saying,” it’s really easy to lose the forest while you are looking at a tree.

Is that true? When you look at a tree, do you forget you’re in a forest? Is it that easy to forget the larger picture because you can only see part of it? Do we forget we are in a city because we’re looking at a building? Do we forget we are reading a book because we are looking at one page? At the risk of arguing with a “known fact,” I don’t need to see the whole city to know I’m in one.

Meanwhile, I really do live in a forest. Not an allegorical or metaphorical forest. We have a whole lot of trees covering a substantial amount of terrain. Our house is right on the edge of it. The forest is primarily red oak trees, with some other hardwood and a bare hint of pine. We used to have a walnut tree, but it went down in a hurricane years back.

If you live in a woods, it’s true that you can’t see the whole forest, but it doesn’t mean you don’t know it’s there.

Unless you looking down from a helicopter, you will never see the whole forest, yet I’m sure all of us can deduce, infer, and assume the larger picture. Whether or not you can see it in its entirety changes nothing. You see trees, but your brain believes “forest.” Not seeing the whole picture does not mean you don’t know there is one

Photo: Garry Armstrong

How many trees I can see from my house depends on where I am. From the back deck, I see forest. Fewer trees from the front or side of the house. But what’s the difference between the forest and the trees? Isn’t a forest just a bunch of trees? How many trees do you need before it’s a forest (rather than a bunch of trees)? Is there a definition?

Despite this, I bet you can tell the different between a group of trees and a forest every time, without assistance.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Parts of things embody the spirit of the whole. This is how we understand our world and ourselves. No matter what piece you look at, you retain awareness of its connection to something larger. We are individuals, but part of a family, a company, clan, tribe. Humanity as a whole. Without this fundamental grasp of reality, we could not live in the world.

So how do you know whether you’re looking at a single tree, or standing at the edge of a forest? Look around. If you see a lot more trees, put your money on “forest.” If you see a parking lot and a Walmart sign? Think “mall.” Of course, the Walmart could be at the edge of the forest. but I think you’ll work it out.


It was warm enough today to wear tee shirts. I took a rake and cleared out the dead leaves from the garden. Garry dumped them into a crate and tossed them in the woods. One of the great parts of living in the woods is you don’t have to worry about where to put the dead leaves and lawn rubble. The wood doesn’t care. It’s got plenty of its own rubble and your addition is a drop in a very big bucket.

We have a few crocus. We had a few more, but I missed them. We’ve got daffodils on the way up, but not in bloom. Several tulips on the way. A lot of popping day lilies. Fat buds on trees branches, but no leaves. I think we’ll see leaves on the forsythia by the end of the week, if the weather stays warm. And we will very suddenly have a great mass of Solomon’s Seal in about three weeks, give or take.

Next week, my son has promised to (FINALLY) pull out the two dead rose bushes. He doesn’t want to because these are brutal bushes. Barbed wire looks like pussy willows in comparison.

When we bought the miniature roses, they mentioned we’d have many roses. We do. Pink and dark red by the bunch.

They didn’t mention those little bushes are killers. Get anywhere near them and they attack. The branches latch onto you and your clothing with a deathlike grip. Plant these around your house and you can be sure no one is coming through your hedges. I think these bushes were used for that exact purpose. That’s also why these are not the most popular rose bushes on the market. They grow huge and produce a lot of roses. They also up and die for no reason. We had four of them. Now we have two, but these are huge. I need to clip them before they completely take over what we laughingly call a garden.

I never thought I’d say this, but we could really use a gardener, at least to help organize the space. It’s beautiful in May when everything is blooming.  It’s also a great big mess!


Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Spring – Wood

It’s hard to get my head around “spring woods” sitting here in the freezing rain. In Connecticut. With Tom and Ellin. Yes, folks, we are hanging with friends in Connecticut.

Unfortunately, New England is what it is. Cold. Wet. Not going to be a picture day. So, we shall adjourn to my tens of thousands of pictures of woods. Spring woods, if possible.

Have a great day!

The Canal – May 2016

Kingfisher by the canal