Friday, October 30, 2009

Nature Notes: Bear Hunt

It's woolly bear season in Indiana. The fuzzy little fellows are on the march, hunting for snuggly places to spend the winter. There they will spin a cocoon and work on becoming an Isabella Tiger Moth.

Unlike the caterpillar, the moth is completely unremarkable. It's beige. Blah. But if you want to see one, you can overwinter a woolly worm with the directions found here: Backyard Wildlife Habitat.

Legend has it that the bands of the woolly bear predict the severity of the winter; the longer the red part, the colder the winter. So what do you think? Does that part look "long" to you?

And what are they trying to tell us when they roll up in a ball like this? I'm thinking, "Brrrrr. It's gonna get cold."

*Update: I haven't seen Chuck since the day I took his picture, though a few more of my chrysanthemums have gone missing. Apparently, he too is hunkered down for the winter, safe and sound for now.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Nature Notes: Yellow Brick Road


This is one of those "better late than never" entries. The weather and health issues have conspired to keep me inside lately. I'm doing better now. Thanks so much for all your kind comments and concern. It has been a comfort. I'm sorry I haven't been around more, but I'll be catching up on visiting everyone in the next few days.

Yellow Brick Road 2

Today was my first foray into the woods since the leaves began to turn, and I almost missed the show. This time of year it is a pure pleasure just to drive back and forth to work, as the colors have been breathtaking this year. But nothing compares with actually walking among the trees.

Virtually all of our trees turn yellow - maple, poplar, ash and beech. Aside from the bronze oaks, there are very few reds. I wish you could stand with me out here; pictures just can't capture what it's like to stand in all that golden light, with the leaves showering down all around.

Little Green Bug

I was surprised to find this little guy on the pathway, shining like an emerald. As I bent close to admire him, he looked up at me, and ... well ... as you can see, I scared the bug juice out of him. I suppose if a critter the size of a skyscraper took a sudden interest in me, I'd probably react the same way. I felt bad, but I just had to laugh.

I actually found myself apologizing. To a bug. I may need to cut back on the meds.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nature Notes: Hush

It's a gray day.

I have it off, and I had so many things planned. An early morning foray into a strange section of the woods, renewing my driver's license, a trip to the library and a stop at an antique store. Grocery shopping, laundry, making a pie. Phone calls, paperwork, bills. But ... it's just so gray.

And I am so tired. Asthma all night long. I thought it was almost over, but it was only taking a breather. So to speak.

So I didn't get very far today, just to the front porch to sit in my old green chair for a while.

It is silent here now. No more crickets, no more frogs, no birdsong. The leaves still whisper though, those that still cling to the trees: Sshhhhhhh.

I wonder how much trouble I'll be in if I get caught with an outdated address on my license.

Rain is falling fitfully, in stops and starts, as if distracted and forgetful of its mission: Sshhhhhhh.

I begin to consider doing laundry. Surely I can manage that, at least.

From the south woods, a murmuration of starlings rises, easily a thousand strong, flying low in a rush of wings: Sshhhhhhh.

I smile. It's a gray day. A nothing day. And that's all there is to it: Sshhhhhhh.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

What About Chuck?

Is it normal to have a pet woodchuck?

This one is ours. My husband calls him Woodie, I call him Chuck. Whatever the name, he poses an ongoing dilemma.

This place had been empty for almost a year when we bought it, and Chuck was already here when we moved in. He is comfortably ensconced in a burrow under the concrete slab of the pole barn. The main entry is right next to the barn door, and the escape exit is in the dirt-floor stable behind the pole barn.

We figured this was Not Good, in a vague sort of way, but any damage to the slab was already done. Besides, we had bigger fish to fry - radon to vent; a septic tank to pump; a fireplace to repair; banana-yellow and Pepto-pink bedrooms to paint. By spring, we were focused on the corn fort and on transforming the barn into a woodworking shop. Chuck remained low on the priority list.

There was some talk among the male members of the family about shooting Chuck. Not gonna happen. However, having to pass by a giant, overly bold rodent on the way in and out of the barn was unnerving. He peered at us from his den as we came and went, staring us down. Something had to be done.

Plan A was scaring him off. This involved me running into the yard whenever I saw him, flapping a dish towel and yelling like a lunatic. At first he ran in a gratifying panic -- straight into his burrow. OR, straight past me and under the deck. Eventually he just looked at me and kept eating grass. It was dinner and a show.

Plan B was Making Life Miserable for Chuck, in hopes that he would pack up and go. We rolled mothballs down the den and dusted the entry with red pepper. If it bothered him, he didn't let on. We filled in his holes. He dug them out again.

Plan C is live-trapping. Woodchucks hibernate through the winter, so removing him from his den now would just be mean. Once February rolls around, though, Chuck may be headed for a new neighborhood.

But then again, maybe not. We've actually come to enjoy Chuck's company. And for a while, there was a Mrs. Chuck and a Chuck Junior. They reminded me of the Beavers in Narnia.

The corn fort fence has effectively kept him out of the garden. I don't have flower beds, so that hasn't been a problem -- although, you'll notice in the photo that he has been snacking on my chrysanthemums. And it's kind of fun to have a wild creature that seems content to share his space with us.

Then too, the websites I've checked say groundhogs live only two years, on average. Chuck may be nearing his expiration date anyway. Maybe we can co-exist for another season?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Nature Notes: Reflections


The trees between the pond and the house are still green, and they mostly hide the view of the woods behind. I hadn't been down there in a while, thinking there wasn't much to see now. Imagine my surprise this week when I reached the water -- a still mirror of azure sky and crimson leaves.

The air was just chilly enough to make a sweatshirt feel good, and a breeze ruffled the water now and then. Two hawks circled, apparently curious about my camera. (That, or I was standing on something dead. With hawks it's hard to tell.)

I cut my first pumpkin from the patch and picked the last of the beans. There are still a few watermelons, and the herbs are still going strong, but the garden is essentially over. I need to sit down and make notes soon on what worked, what didn't.

I need to sit down and take stock in general, actually. We have been here a full year now, during which I have done little, really, to make it my own. Now that the house and I have gotten used to each other, it's time. Don't you think?

Autumn Pond flickr

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009


All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air,
With one enormous chair,
Ah, wouldn't it be loverly?
Lots of choc'lates for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin' lots of heat.
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet,
Ah, wouldn't it be loverly?

Yes, Eliza, it is.

I came home late from a rough day that included a two-hour job interview to find a fire in the hearth, dinner in progress, and flowers on the table. Do I have a great hubby or what?

Oh, so loverly just to sit so abso-bloomin'-lutely still.
I would never budge 'til spring
Crept over me windowsill.
Someone's head restin' on my knee,
Warm and tender as he can be.
Who takes good care of me,
Ah, wouldn't it be loverly?
Loverly. Loverly.

Oh yeah. Loverly.

*P.S. The italicized lyrics are from the musical play My Fair Lady and are sung by the character Eliza. Apologies - I should have noted that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Monarch Magic

It's an amazing thing that monarchs migrate at all, especially given that the migrating generation returns to a place it has never been. One of the many mysteries surrounding the phenomenon has been how they navigate. It seems scientists have solved that one, and the answer surprises them.

Researchers have always assumed that navigation occurred somewhere in the critter's brain. However, the truth is that there is a stand-alone GPS system in the antennae that guides them. Here's the article: Butterflies Use Antennal GPS to Guide Migration.

Karen Oberhauser of the University of Minnesota says, “Our sensory systems are really localized to our heads, but insects can taste with their feet and smell with their antennae, and probably their abdomens have pretty complex sensory systems, too. Because insect sensory systems are so different than our sensory systems, it’s sometimes difficult for us to even ask the right questions."

I doubt that we truly realize how alien and wondrous insects are, how radically they differ from us. What must the earth, reality itself, be like for them? They must see and hear and taste things of which we are totally unaware. It has to be like living in a different dimension, a parallel universe.

And as if that weren't mind-blowing enough, here's another tidbit: Butterflies Remember What They Learned as Caterpillars - though virtually nothing remains of their original brain and body.

I don't know about you, but when I discover stuff like this I just sit here with my mouth open, grinning at the wonder of it all.

*P.S. On a related note, there's a great photo of Katydid ears over at the blog Squirrel's View. You ain't gonna believe where those are. It's a cool blog - she's definitely "one of us". Go see.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Nature Notes: First Frost

We got a little taste of winter this morning, a surprise dusting of glittering white frost. It coated the deck and iced the chrysanthemums. I skipped breakfast to snap a quick shot, my breath a white cloud in the strange, cold air.

The trees have started to turn here, and small armies of pumpkins are lining up at roadside stands. My own sprawling patch has produced only three, but they are good sized and will make dandy jack-o-lanterns. The soy bean fields are like seas of gold, with flotillas of turkeys sailing through. The snowy billows of Queen Anne lace have all gone brown, their lacy blossoms curling inward like withered hands. The last of the hummingbirds left last week. I will take down the feeder tomorrow.

I've been avoiding close contact with Mother Nature for a while because I think the bitch is trying to kill me. Allergies turned into a constant cough early in September, which became bronchitis and then progressed to asthma attacks. I've been stuck indoors for weeks to avoid dust and pollen, which is why I haven't had much to post here for a while. I'm hoping the frost will bring some relief, and that I can get out again with the camera soon. I do miss poking around outdoors.

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