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New Health tai chi classes | Essex Column

The ice storm of last week deposited a nice even sheet over the landscape and adorned the trees. The impermeable layer of ice keeps oxygen from reaching the ground, causing problems for crops like alfalfa and garden pests like voles. Voles resemble mice but are rounder and live in underground burrows. They are responsible for the piles of soil that appear in your lawn, and they feed mostly on vegetative matter, including garden bulbs and vegetable roots. In my garden, they eat fall planted spinach I’m trying to overwinter. Short of burying hardware cloth as fencing, there’s no stopping them. However, the heavy ice sheet cuts off their oxygen and suffocates them. Voles are often confused with moles, which also live underground but feed mainly on earth worms. Moles can tolerate low oxygen levels.

Up at New Health, at the corner of Blockhouse Road and Route 22, a number of tai chi classes are offered, including a free community tai chi class every Tuesday from 11 am to noon. This class is led by Claude Earl. Tai chi means “supreme ultimate fist” and is a form of defensive martial art, but is mostly practiced for the health benefits it offers, including a better sense of balance and overall well-being.

I’ve noticed large flocks of snow buntings hereabouts and they’ve arrived earlier than usual. You see them in large flocks of at least fifty birds along roadsides, and when they fly up they show their prominent white undersides. Snow buntings are seedeaters who breed in the tundra of the high Arctic, one of the few birds, including the common raven, to live so far north. They overwinter from southern Quebec to Maryland, and in April return to the Arctic when it’s still well below zero.

The other day I spotted a large coyote hunting in one of our fields. This one was as big as a German shepherd with a long bushy tail that nearly reached the ground. Usually coyotes take off as soon as they become aware of you, but this one boldly stood his ground and checked me out before loping off into the woods. With his size and sassiness, I wonder if this might have been a wolf.

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