Sunday, May 31, 2009

Wax On

Half a moon is better than none. This one was flying high above the sunset yesterday evening. I just thought it was pretty enough to share.

I find myself endlessly fascinated by the moon, now that I have a good view of it. By idly googling "half moon" I found this site, jam-packed with lunar lore: Moon Watch. (It's a pagan page, so be warned if you have issues with that.)

One of the suggestions there is to keep a moon diary, making note of the moon phase each day and recording a few thoughts, drawing, doodling, dreams, whatever. Patterns of one's own thought and spirituality should become evident over time.

Imagine what a lovely handmade book you could make yourself that way. It says the waxing moon is the magically opportune time for beginning projects, too. Sounds like a dandy idea to me, though I've never tried drawing or book making. I wonder where I packed away the kids' old art supplies...

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nature Notes: Bambi!

I wish I had a photo for you, I really do, but I got caught without the camera. Coming into my driveway after work today, I could see a small something toddling along down at the other end, along with one of the resident deer. I squinted ... could it be? Yes! A fawn!

I crept up the driveway, trying not to frighten them off, and got within 25 feet or so of the little tyke. He was so tiny, spotted and surprisingly fluffy. His mom wasn't walking too well. I hope she was just recovering from the birth and isn't hurt. I'll be keeping an eye out for them and keeping my camera close, too.

We used to have so many deer here every single day, but we only see one, two, or three at a time now. Good news for the garden, but I kind of miss them.

Wait. Maybe they're all out there hiding, producing fawns. Multiplying. Oh lord.

Click here to see what everyone else found for Nature Notes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

When my aunt passed away, I inherited a box filled with memories of men lost in wars. This brother in the Second World War, another in Korea, her son in Viet Nam. Letters they sent home. Letters announcing their deaths. Purple hearts, medals, folded flags.

Many of us have such boxes, entrusted to us for safekeeping. On this day, we pull them out and open them, to remember and to give thanks for the courage and sacrifice of the fallen and their families. To give thanks for those who came home safe.

To all those who have served, and to all serving now, my hearfelt gratitude.

It's Not Easy Being Green

Cat Nap 2

Michelle at Rambling Woods posted a Photo Hunt entry on plastic this week pointing out that 500 billion plastic bags are used annually worldwide and describing the damage they do. I have been uneasy for a while now about how many of them come into our household from shopping. And I must confess that while I reuse many of them and drop some off back at the stores' recycling bins, far too many end up in the garbage.

Plus, there's this: kitty poop.

I've always scooped the used litter into a plastic grocery bag and put it into the garbage. In the city, that made perfect sense to me. Out here, I've started rethinking the situation. I've been prowling around the Web looking for solutions, but haven't found any that work.

There is flushable litter, but it is bad for your plumbing. Stopped up toilets, I don't need.

Tossing it into the woods seemed at once logical and wrong. After all, you gotta figure about half the "earth" out there is some kind of poop or other. But cats are not native, the scent of their waste stresses prey animals, and the clay litter I use is mixed with chemicals that control odor. (I'm sorry, but that's not going to change.) Plus, per the Web, dumping cat litter outside can introduce toxoplasmosis into the environment, which can get into the water supply. Living in a wetland area and drinking from a well, that's not a good thing either.

"Solutions" I've seen online generally involve exotic and/or expensive paraphernalia. There are biodegradable poop bags imported from Norway. Surely the oil involved in transporting those negates any benefits. For about a hundred dollars, you can buy a worm farm that will decompose pet waste for you. Ouch and eww.

The best suggestion I've seen so far is the simplest: Wrap the waste in newspaper instead of plastic and send it to the landfill. Of course, that's newspaper that won't be going into the recycling bin, but I don't see a better alternative.

Any ideas?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Are You Kidding Me?

Jacques Pepin on Fast Food My Way: "This is a recipe for busy women like my daughter here, a busy mother. When you come home from work and there is no nice bread in the house, you can make this bread in about 15 minutes ... "

What the HELL?!? BUSY MOTHER comes home from WORK, and your idea of helpfulness is a recipe for BREAD FROM SCRATCH?

The line to strangle Jacques Pepin starts here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nature Notes: Only a Moment

Can you name this wildflower?

“Happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment.” - J. Donald Walters

Michelle at Rambling Woods hosts the Nature Notes meme. She reminds us to connect with the natural world around us and to express our feelings about what we find there. I usually turn it into a photo project. But today I'm just going to be still for a while.

Have you ever watched a bird in flight, how it folds its wings for a few beats, allowing itself a moment of falling through the sky?

I work in a call center all day where my body, spirit, eyes, and ears are under continuous assault. I have this day off, and I'm taking a precious few hours for my own. No cleaning, no shopping, no phone calls. At least for a little while. No TV or radio, either. No washing machine or dishwasher, no vacuum or lawnmower noise. Just me here, typing quietly by the open window.

Over the course of these few months of living close to nature, I have become deeply aware of the fleeting quality of life, the achingly ephemeral beauty of each moment. Now, this flower nods in the woods; the next hour it has gone forever.

Now, there is utter silence. Now the wind comes sighing through the tall grass, a crow calls, and a chorus of birds begins to sing.

One breath is only air. The next is filled with honeysuckle perfume, and the one after that brings a rumor of freshly cut grass.

A hummingbird zooms to the feeder on its impossible little wings, sips nectar, its tiny throat pulsing as it swallows, and is gone.

A turkey head pops up from a deceptively empty-looking hay field, then another and another, and another. They turn their sharp eyes this way and that, periscopes above a nodding green sea, and finding no enemies they sink back below the waves.

A hawk appears from nowhere, soaring alone from east to west, and disappears into the dark shadows of the trees. Where the hawk goes today, at least one small life will end.

That small creature does not concern itself with time or the ending of it. It lives only today, now, this moment. It is all we have, any of us. And it is enough. Enough.

Click here for more Nature Notes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Oh Snap

This is either a very late entry for last week's Nature Notes, or a very early entry for next time.

We had our first cookout here last evening, introducing old friends to the new house. Once the guests had gone and the dishes were done, the hubby made an offhand announcement: "I got a turtle capture for you today."

Ah! Great! I grabbed my camera and hit the display. No turtle pics. "Where are they?"

"Out in the henhouse." Say what? "I found a big turtle on the driveway and I kept it for you. Ugly critter, but I figured you'd want to take a picture of it. I've never seen one like it."

What he was trying to tell me was that he had caught an actual turtle and was holding it captive in the chicken coop. (I thought it was funny that he knew the word "capture" for a photo.) And from his description of it, I was pretty sure it was a snapping turtle.

The curiosity was killing me, but I wasn't about to go out in the dark to confront a ticked-off snapper of unknown size. It would just have to chill until morning.

The former homeowner and our new neighbors had both warned us about these turtles. They spend most of the year submerged in shallow water, coming out in spring to mate, lay eggs, and stake out new territory. They look like a gray rock when they're not cruising around, and if you get too close they'll strike like a snake. Their necks are surprisingly long, and the bites can be pretty serious, as in biting a chunk out of you or breaking your finger.

Click the video to see this one in action.

Snap! from My Maracas on Vimeo.

Winkie here is being relocated to the south swamp, away from the pond. We're considering releasing some fish in the pond, and snappers would make short work of them. Big turtles can take fish, other turtles, snakes, ducklings, and goslings. They do eat pond weeds and duck grass, though, so it isn't all bad to have them.

One neighbor told me they hunt in their swamps for snappers, digging them out with pitchforks. They put the turtles in a horse trough for a few days to flush their systems with clean water, and then cook and eat them.

I dunno. Does this guy look yummy to you?

Click Here for more Nature Notes.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Garlic Mustard Update

Thought I'd post a photo of what these nasties look like from a distance. I hope it will help you identify them.

The garlic mustard is the tall, spindly looking stuff with white flowers. You can click the photo to enlarge it.

Now that I'm watching for it, I realize that this stuff is everywhere. It's along a lot of the roadsides around here, and there is a tree farm on my way home that has been completely taken over by it.

I have cleared everything along our driveway, which amounted to a garbage bag full. I still have this patch to go, and I need to get deeper into the woods to see if it's back in there. I'll try to get to that tomorrow, and to check the north woods. I don't recall seeing any back there, but I haven't been back to where it meets the fields, which is where it will start.

Another tidbit: The garlic mustard not only shades and crowds out all natives, it also exudes compounds from the roots that prevent both native wildflowers and young trees from growing. It truly is an evil, evil weed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hootie. No Blowfish.

Barred Owl
Originally uploaded by crookrw
This photo has been graciously allowed under the Creative Commons license at Please do stop by and see the photographer's other works? Maybe say hello while you're there.

They say it is bad luck to hear an owl in the daytime, and it's even worse to see one. So I guess I should count myself lucky that my efforts to spot our local hooter have been unsuccessful. Otherwise, I'd be doomed.

Identifying a bird just from the call isn't as easy as you'd think. Bird books try to capture the sound in words, which as far as I can tell is just a cruel joke. The barred owl call is described as "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?"

I get that we're looking for a cadence here, but I'm still clueless. Is it Who cooks for you, as opposed to cooking for Bob next door? Who cooks for you, but doesn't do windows? Or maybe an astounded Who cooks for you, as in This meatloaf is food for the gods? Are you seeing my dilemma here?

Fortunately, this is the age of the interwebs, where all you need is time and patience to sort through sound files of likely suspects. The owl we hear in the daytime is a barred owl, and if the video below works you'll hear one call at the beginning and another around the 28th second to the end. ::Man, I hope it works.::

Barred Owl Calls from My Maracas on Vimeo.

Sorry about the silence in the middle. Video is new for me. I should have filled it in with a Crocodile Hunter voice: "Crikey! That there's a bloody North Amarican bahrred owl! Let's see if we can't catch 'im, shall we? Amayzing! There 'e is! Oh he's a beauty! I'm gunna climb up there and grab 'im for ya! Hold my beer and watch this!"

Click Here: Nature Notes.

This Ain't Your Daddy's Grey Poupon

Garlic Mustard

This pretty little plant is garlic mustard. It is cropping up at the edges of the south woods. And this is a bad thing. A Very Bad Thing.

I've been taking a lot of wildflower photos and poring over guides to identify them, and I've been pleased to discover so many fragile little natives on the property. However, I read the description of this one with growing alarm. There were words like introduced ... noxious ... invasive ... restricted ... rapidly spreading ... threatening to native species. Yikes.

According to Wikipedia, garlic mustard was introduced from Europe in the 1860's as a culinary and medicinal herb. (The leaves and flowers are edible, but I haven't felt the need to taste them.) Without its natural enemies, it has run rampant.

It seems the garlic mustard can take over an entire forest floor, crowding out nearly everything else. Among the natives it threatens are trillium, trout lilies, spring beauties, and Dutchman's britches. There is also an endangered species of butterfly that mistakenly lays its eggs on this mustard instead of the native kind. The garlic mustard has compounds in it that kills the larvae.

It seeds profusely, and the seeds can lie dormant for years. Deer make things worse; they eat the natives, but not the mustard. Plus, their hooves disturb the ground and create great places for the seeds to start.

The plant is so bad that many naturalist groups organize annual search-and-destroy events, sweeping through woodlands, digging up the pesty things and carrying them out in bags. I have already pulled all the ones near the road, and I'll get the ones I can see off the driveway as soon as I can.

It's not something you'll notice unless you're looking for it. From any distance, it looks like any old weed. The links below will give you a better idea of how to identify it. And if you do see this stuff, please pull it out, OK?

See The Stewardship Network for facts and to get involved in action plans:
*Garlic Mustard
*Garlic Mustard Challenge 2009

Monday, May 4, 2009

To Mow or Not to Mow

That is the question.

The plan was to keep a relatively small area around the house mowed short -- I wouldn't go so far as to call it a lawn -- and to let the grasses and wild flowers have large sections left tall at the edges.

I want to use as little chemical control as possible. Plus, one of the things I loved at first sight here was the tall grass, golden rod, and milkweeds full of butterflies and bees. Hubby ... well, hubby just doesn't want to spend his weekends cutting grass.

Thing is, we have a fearsome crop of dandelions. I was pretty excited about that at first, entertaining visions of home-bottled dandelion wine. Realistically speaking, though, that is never going to happen.

Which leaves us with a decision to make. Left alone, these guys will soon form a solid blanket in both the short and tall sections. But I really, really don't want to dump broad leaf weedkiller all over the place. I'm finding so many native species here, and I'd hate to kill them off.

Any ideas?