Thursday, April 29, 2010

Nature Notes: RRRRibbit.


Frog 2

It's Save the Frogs Day, and in honor of the event I'm posting a snapshot of the kind we see most often around the wet areas of the yard. No clue what kind they are, but it's a joy to hear them sing.

There's also a tiny green one that likes to hang out on the milkweeds in summer, and I suspect there are several others. We hear a cacophony of different voices in the spring, but somehow I can never spot them.

I don't know a lot about frogs, but Michelle does. Check out her blog for lots of great information: Rambling Woods.

P.S.: Factoids: Frogs breathe through their skins as well as lungs, and they can see up, down, and straight ahead at the same time. What do you suppose that's like?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Stolen Hours

I need solitude like a swimmer needs air. I breath it in in great gasps, hoarding it deep inside, a secret reserve of strength.

I am supposed to be at my son's house helping to clear my stuff out of the basement, dispatching the unwanted and outgrown to the yard sale pile and boxing the rest to bring home.

I am supposed to be sorting out our finances, paying bills and checking up on our IRAs.

I am supposed to be folding laundry and cleaning out the fridge.

What I am doing is sitting by an open window listening to the rain patter softly on the new leaves. I am luxuriating in the stillness, birdsong, frogsong, the rustle of crows' wings, and the mutterings of a vaguely discontented duck. I am turning inward and touching that melancholy place that is at once sweet and sad. And there is no one home to break the spell. This, my friends, is bliss.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Sweet Smell of Success

Perseverance paid off this weekend. We came to the woods prepared this time, bringing a shovel along to coax the wild leeks out of their loamy home.

Harvesting Ramps

Aren't they just the prettiest things? These are fresh from a quick washing under the hose. We only harvested a few, as we wanted to taste them but also hoped to avoid the aftermath. Ramps are legendary for their odoriferous effects on those who eat them and I do, after all, sit elbow to elbow with my coworkers.

Already they were heavily scenting the air with their wild onion/garlic perfume, and I began to have second thoughts.

Fresh Ramps

Back in the kitchen, I steamed my ramps a bit before cooking, which is supposed to reduce the smell. Then I sliced them thinly and sauteed them in a little butter.

Purists would be done at this point, piling those fried ramps on a plate and digging in. Given the pungency of these puppies, I can't imagine how anyone could do that.

Sauteed Ramps

Following an online recipe, I stirred mine into a polenta, adding only sea salt and a little pepper. I spread the polenta thinly in a pan and left it in the fridge overnight - tightly, tightly covered.

*Note added April 25. Here's the recipe, from Martha Stewart's website: Ramp Polenta.

Polenta with Wild Leeks

And for supper tonight, I fried thin squares of the wild leek polenta in a nonstick pan brushed with a little oil. I let them get golden brown and crisp on the outside, and served them with grilled salmon in dill butter, asparagus, and spinach salad with just a few fresh leek greens mixed in.

The polenta was awesome. If anything, I think I'd be a little bolder next time around, adding a few more leeks to it and maybe some of last season's dried tomatoes. The greens gave a nice onion-y bite to the salad, too.

We may find we have a bit more personal space than usual tomorrow, but what the hey. Totally worth it.

*P.S. Lifeshighway asks where ramps grow. Nearly all are harvested from the wild. They grow in deciduous forests in the eastern half of the USA, from Canada to the deep South. They are only available for a few weeks in the spring. Attempts at cultivation have not been very successful, but if anyone wants some seeds I'll be happy to send you some in the fall. Here's a nice article about them from NC University: Cultivation of Ramps.

*P.P.S I think this is going to have to double as my Nature Notes entry this time around.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wonders Never Cease

The Hubby found these Jack-in-the-Pulpit flowers while exploring a marshy area behind the pond. I had no idea we had them.

The plant grows in wet areas, and doesn't flower until it is three years old. (Technically it's an inflorescence, but I doubt many people care.)

Take a close look at the shape and texture of the bottom half of the flower in the first photo. Would that make a great vase or what? I'm tucking it away as inspiration for when the pottery studio happens. Wonder if I can find a glaze that color.

Jack in the PulpitJack in the Pulpit 4

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Birds Are Made of Air"

Did you know there are parrots in the Amazon speaking the dead languages of lost human tribes? Birds' feathers weigh more than their bones? Crows wait for red lights at intersections, place walnuts in front of car wheels, then collect the nuts after the cars crush the shells? You're in for a treat, I'm telling you.

For all you bird lovers out there, I'm passing along this link to the audio recording of a recent Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio:

Click here to listen and learn.

It's a fascinating interview with naturalist Sy Montgomery, author of Birdology: Adventures with a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nature Notes: Spring Magic

The woods are exploding with life and color. The first green comes from the wild leeks, or ramps, that grow in drifts among the trees. I decided to try cooking some this year, and set out with a basket to harvest a few - keeping an eye out for morel mushrooms, which often grow among them under oaks.

Little did I know how tenacious they are, and that the stems would snap long before the bulbs pulled up. Having nothing to dig with, I came away empty handed.

Ramp Season


I wish I could capture the beauty of the wild flowers carpeting the forest floor right now. They are all so small, and don't show up nearly as well in a photo as they do in real life. Cut-leaved toothwort, spring beauties, trout lilies and violets are all in their full glory now, and the triliums are already in bud.

Cut-Leaved Toothwort

Spring Beauties

Trout Lilly and Friend

I never thought I'd say this about an insect that wasn't a butterfly, but this little critter was my thrill for the day. I actually gasped when I saw it.

I thought at first it was a kind of tiny hummingbird moth, gliding from flower to flower, hovering and drinking from them with that long beak. At one point, several were floating together like a flock, moving as one. It was absolutely magical, like nothing I had ever seen before.

This one settled near my leek basket just long enough for me to snap a photo. A Google search turned up its identity: It's called a bee fly. The bee fly family is very large, but remains one of the most mysterious. Much remains unknown about its life cycle and habits.

Bee Fly

Every time I think there's nothing more to discover in my own backyard, I find something new and wondrous.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Mine. Mine Mine Mine.

Take a look at these two buildings. One of them is for my husband's hobby. One of them is for mine. Guess which building I got. And guess who's still crying foul.

The little shed here was a chicken coop when we moved in, complete with chicken wire nest boxes and a tiny door in the side for the hens to come and go. Visions of Martha Stewart's exotic flock of blue-egg-laying birds danced in my head, and I started making serious noises about buying chicks. The Hubby was horrified.

Suddenly, he was cutting big holes for windows in the side of the coop and tearing out the nest supports, "for the pottery studio you always wanted". He let me know I was supposed to be happy about this turn of events, but I know an intervention when I see one. I'm no dumb cluck.

And did he really think I was going to hole up in a tiny, converted chicken coop for hours at a time? Please. The pottery studio morphed into a potting shed, which I actually kind of wanted but also shunned on principle.

And so, it came as quite a surprise to the dear old boy when I started tossing his stuff out of "my" shed this weekend. Along with a pile of cast off hardware and miscellaneous machinery, I evicted a vole and a camping blanket that had apparently been the winter home of its entire clan.

Everything in there got thrown away, scrubbed, or relocated to the big barn. I hosed the place out and left the doors open to the spring sun and breeze. And you know what? It's not a bad little space.

I hauled in some of my treasures that couldn't go in the house but were too cool to toss, like this log with three big holes that are just begging to be planted with ferns, moss, and impatiens. And a skeletal, black bark strip that looks like driftwood. And rocks. Turkey feathers, of course. Paper wasp and bird nests... no chickens, but I'm over it. It'll make a great potting shed and play house.

However, for the pottery studio I have designs on the third bay of the garage. Don't tell The Hubby. It's gonna be a surprise.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spring Fever

Honeydo List

Needless to say, I didn't get very far today.

Silver Linings


It's been stormy this week in Indiana, but the sun comes peeking through between showers. Kind of like my life right now.

Sorry I've been AWOL lately ... spring break, Easter company, and exhaustion from the new job training program conspired to keep me stuck in the "real" world. But things are beginning to settle a bit.

This weekend is supposed to be sunny, so I'm hoping to make some serious progress on the yard and maybe get the veggie patch tilled up. We still haven't started the seeds we bought, though it looks like we could have. The weather seems to have turned early this year. I want to try planting by the moon this time around, but may have to settle for whenever we can get around to it. Again with that sucky "real world" thing.

We ordered some saplings from the state conservation district, and we pick them up next weekend. We chose redbuds, swamp oaks, and a native plum, plus a packet of native wildflower seeds. It's a great program - you should check with your own state to see if they do something similar. Now I just need to decide where they will go.

I can't tell you what a relief it is to see new life again, and how excited I am to finally be able to get out and grub around in the dirt. Hope spring has sprung for all of you by now!