Please visit Ramblingwoods.com to see what other bloggers have posted for this week's Nature Notes by clicking on the link above or at the side of this post.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Please visit Ramblingwoods.com to see what other bloggers have posted for this week's Nature Notes by clicking on the link above or at the side of this post.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Ramblingwoods.com (Michelle) has invited us to find something interesting in nature and post about our impressions. Please visit her site by clicking on the link above or to the side of this post and find links to other bloggers who have joined her Nature Notes meme this week.
We (SAM and I) kept Micah overnight for the first time a couple of weeks ago. His parents spent the night in the cuddy cabin of their boat so they could watch the Blue Angels air show the next day at Pensacola Beach. They figured that watching the show from the water has got to be more comfortable than mingling with thousands of other sweaty bodies on the beach in mid July, and it was. Micah's visit included a trip to a local park situated on a feeder creek for the Blackwater River, and we discovered this unusual looking (ugly?) duck. According to this site, it's a Muscovy duck, and its coloring suggests that it has been domesticated. Its willingness to come so close looking for a handout gave us another clue that it's not wild.
Micah just loves to fish--no hooks allowed just yet--especially with Jap-pah around to lend a hand. Jam-ah did not get a chance to take many pictures. She had one hand on the camera and one hand ready to keep Micah from falling in the water. A passion for fishing runs deep in this family's gene pool. I'm hoping that a passion for gardening does too.
On a recent morning, while listening to the local high school marching band practice nearby, I worked in the vegetable garden and mused about some things. In mid-July, the weeds grow bigger and stronger than just about anything else in the garden. Temps and humidity levels have been slightly more comfortable this past week, making the task of weeding much more bearable. I guess the latest heat wave got the best of me, and I let the hoe sit idle for too long. The weeds have gotten out of hand and run amok among the veggies. Of course, instead of the weather convincing me to take a break, it could have been the spirit of a former neighbor egging me on....
I spent my last two years of primary and first two years of secondary (high) school in a small town in Illinois some 30 miles east of St. Louis. Dad was getting close to retirement from the Air Force and was on his last tour of duty after we had spent four years living in Germany. He wanted a real home--not on base--and a piece of land to call his own and plant with fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. We settled, for a while, in a fixer-upper with an acre on the edge of town. It was close enough to school so that on nice days I could ride my bike or walk to class. Our closest neighbors, the Ogles, lived directly behind us on the original homestead, which included a several-acre pond surrounded by woods. It was accessed by a dirt road that ran right next to the Ogles' garden spot and close to their house, nearly hidden from view by brambles and untrimmed shrubbery. Mr. Ogle's brother had sold my parents their fixer-upper, and we learned that certain traits ran deep in and throughout that particular gene pool.
Most of the time I enjoyed helping my dad in our garden, except when hay-fever season arrived or when weed-pulling time came around, which was too often for me! The weather always seemed to be hot and sticky when the weeds threatened to take over the garden. Once in a while, Dad would feel sorry for himself and me, and we would grab our fishing rods, not poles--they were equipped with line guides and well-oiled, spin-casting reels--and head to the Ogles' pond, walking by their house to let them know where we were headed and why.
Dad had bought a small row boat so we could fish in style, and I felt honored when he finally let me take the oars and steer a course while he looked for signs of bass activity in the water. There were some whoppers in there, and we usually had success at bringing home some supper after a few hours on the water. Dad even taught me how to filet the fish we caught, telling me it was an important survival skill for a modern girl--a geeky one at that--to learn. Boy was I ever gullible!
On the way home after catching our limit, dictated by Mr. Ogle's scrutiny,--since he had stocked the pond he often referred to the bass as his babies--we would pass by his garden enclosed by a rusty wire fence. Dad would usually shake his head, sigh, and mutter a few choice words under his breath about the property's lack of obvious care. Though Mr. Ogle plowed up the garden each spring and it looked great then when newly planted, by the middle of summer the weeds had taken over, and some of them grew taller than the adolescent me! Apparently, the justification for this return to nature had something to do with the weeds protecting the tender vegetable plants from the scorching summer sun and keeping the soil intact during heavy downpours. Dad did not buy this explanation at all, but I thought it was a brilliant idea at the time. What could be better than not having to weed the garden in the heat of summer? I'm wondering even now if benign neglect isn't such a bad idea, especially since there are so many water management issues facing Floridians, and overpopulation in some areas is stretching the limits of the freshwater resource. After all, the Ogles seemed to harvest just as much or more produce from their overgrown garden spot as we did from our zealously tended one.
There was perhaps one major drawback to the wilderness garden concept--snakes. I did see a few of them occasionally slipping through the Ogles' fence onto my parents' property. From a distance, I don't consider them a nuisance at all. They take care of any animal pests that might chomp on the veggies and don't expect anything in return other than a little respect and a wide berth. These days, though, when I venture into the garden to pick what's left of the vegetables after the bugs and heat have taken their toll, I do take a sharp hoe with me, just in case I meet up with a snake that stands its ground. Saturday afternoon I witnessed one at least five feet long (not a fish tale, this one!) slithering as fast as I can run, across the back yard and into the brush line beyond our property. It was being chased and pecked at by a pair of mockingbirds which have a nest somewhere in one of my shrubs. I was amused and shocked at the same time. How could a five-foot snake in the garden escape my notice? It hid among the weeds and neglect.
"Consider the intimate and curious acquaintance one makes with various kinds of weeds,--it will bear some iteration in the account, for there was no little iteration in the labor,--disturbing their delicate organizations so ruthlessly, and making such invidious distinction with his hoe, levelling whole ranks of one species, and sedulously cultivating another. That's Roman wormwood,--that's pigweed,--that's sorrel,--that's piper-grass,--have at him, chop him up, turn his roots upward to the sun, don't let him have a fibre in the shade; if you do he'll turn himself t'other side up and be as green as a leek in two days. A long war, not with cranes, but with weeds, those Trojans who had sun and rain and dews on their side. Daily the beans saw me come to their rescue armed with a hoe and thin the ranks of their enemies, filling up the trenches with weedy dead. Many a lusty crest-waving Hector, that towered a whole foot above his crowding comrades, fell before my weapon and rolled in the dust...."--from Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Chapter 7, "The Bean-Field"
Monday, July 20, 2009
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--" (Emily Dickinson, c. 1868)
Front and center-stage, a woolly mammoth's skeleton captures your attention as you step inside the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville. You cannot resist its allure--unless, of course, the bathrooms off to the right don't grab your attention first. A museum's curators can't help but try to draw you into the mysteries they have to offer. It's the nature of the beast, so to speak. Untold fortunes are spent to make you wonder the time-tested question: "Is it real, or is it Memorex?"
This museum even has a cave of sorts, painstakingly replicated from someone's impression of a cave. Does Florida have caves? Of course! Some are wet and only accessible from underwater, but there are dry ones for the not-so-daring-or-young-at-heart ones among us. Marianna, just west of Tallahassee in Northwest Florida, has a fine state park in which to explore the real thing.
Bringing us back to the topic at hand, some of the scenes depicted at the natural history museum can really stir the imagination, if you are so inclined. Some Native American tribes, apparently, trusted women to lead them and establish trade agreements. I'm glad the exhibit's artisans ask the all-important question: "How do we know?" Some children visiting the museum might be thoughtful enough to ponder the possibility of a thriving, prosperous matriarchal society.
Maybe the Calusa had some insight into the current global circumstance of diminishing returns...
I'm glad that the museum has something in place to take your mind off landfills, at least until early September. Entering the Butterfly Rainforest was like stepping into another dimension. Blue Morpho butterflies, not a common sight in Florida by any means--except artificial ones like enclosed rainforests--were not easy to capture in flight. I happened to find them occasionally at rest on some sort of succulent plant...
or high up in the branches, away from the throngs of people crowding the paths below.
I don't know the names of most of the butterflies that I managed to capture on our visit to the "rainforest." My Audubon Society guide only offers help for identifying North American species, and I'm too cheap to buy a guide for species I'll only see once or twice in a lifetime. Perhaps someone would be kind enough to identify them for me?
Whatever this orange butterfly with the fuzzy body is called, it seemed to be nearing the end of its life's work. Its wings were torn and tattered, and it rested on this leaf for a long time, not eating, not flying, not curious at all about the strange person closing in on it with a new kind of net.
I am glad that this kinetic piece, Jonathan Borofsky's sculpture of the Hammering Man was resting for the moment outside the museum. It actually stands between the Museum of Natural History and the Samuel P. Harn Art Museum on the UF campus. Secretly, I had hoped that SAM would suggest visiting the latter museum too, but I know better than to push my luck on a short visit to Gainesville. One museum at a time...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
My wavellite collecting trip occurred sometime back in the mid-1970’s. I remember my Dad and another collecting enthusiast, Richard Eldridge tromping up and down a heavily wooded area on a steep hillside. This site details a couple of the premier collecting areas – I think we must have been at the Avant location. Chunks of wavellite eroded from the outcrops near the top of the ridge, so we pretended to be mountain goats and dug in our heels while picking at the ground and uncovering our specimens. It must have been fall, because I remember a covering of brown, slippery leaves on the hillside. My first intent was to collect a few nice pieces and go back to the car for a bottle of Dr. Pepper and a bag of chips. I stuffed my pockets full and then started filling my canvas bag – the big and tall kind Navy guys and gals take overseas. I kept finding better and better specimens and just couldn’t take time out for my snack break. The bag eventually filled to the top with wavellite and felt like a lead weight tied to my shoulder. There was room for one more rock, so I took a couple steps and reached out, and…..snap! The shoulder strap broke, sending the bag tumbling down the slope with all the contents quickly dispersing into the cover of the leaves. I made an immediate grab for the bag, obviously way too late, but the motion upset my precarious perch. I overcompensated to keep from falling forward, fell on my backside, and started sliding down the hill, legs spread wide! A well-placed tree, just before a vertical drop, abruptly stopped my descent. My pride, among other things, had been hurt, and all that remained of my hard work were my pockets full of sharp rocks poking me in the legs.
Actually, I did go back up the hill and collect a few more specimens, but the memory of the painful slide persuaded me to keep my load light this time. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with collecting beautiful mineral specimens, and I hope to go back to the area again to acquire some tangible specimens for my collection. Something inside of me that day long ago couldn’t be satisfied, and it didn’t stop with just that day – from time to time, I still struggle with the same attitude of discontent. I readily recognize the struggle now and choose my steps more carefully!
Monday, July 13, 2009
"I sate alone, and drew the blessing in
Of all that nature..."
"I wakened, opened wide
The window and my soul, and let the airs
And out-door sights sweep gradual gospels in,
Regenerating what I was..." --Elizabeth B. Browning, Aurora Leigh, First Book
Leaving Northwest Florida behind us for a couple of days, SAM and I traveled to Gainesville last week. He had a job interview, and I tagged along so I could see what the area had to offer. Home of the famous Gators college football team, the University of Florida offers up a host of other delights for the senses. The Florida Museum of Natural History was not yet open when we arrived on campus, so we took a stroll outside down a bamboo-lined path...
The choices we have made determine some difficult paths we must take, but we still find things to celebrate along the way...
A Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, (I had to look it up in my trusty Audubon Society insect field guide) paid a visit of its own and found something sweet. Like so many other butterflies, its caterpillar form protects itself and what it will become from harm by ingesting something toxic. In the Fritillary's case, the caterpillar's poison pick is the passion vine's foliage. The adult butterfly favors wildflowers like this Snow Squarestem, Melanthera nivea, a member of the aster family.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
"O! ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose not only the tyranny but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia and Africa have long expelled her. Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive and prepare in time an asylum for mankind." (from Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense, 1776)
Give me credit for some kind of sense. I do know that Paine was not referring to getting this country prepared as a warehouse for people with mental illness. The current mania over the King of Pop's passing, though, suggests that this society is overdue for a thorough psychological evaluation. Will we ever be free from the tyranny of the entertainment industry in this country? I seriously doubt it.
Daughter has finally found some freedom from parental tyranny by renting her own apartment this week. She works as a licensed massage therapist in a spa that caters to the wealthy among us. I guess even rich people need relief from stress. Daughter says you can tell that the economy still hasn't recovered by the slowdown in tips lately. Here's hoping that things get better soon. She has signed a lease and can't expect any help from her parents (those meanies!). I think that SAM and I must have mapped out our financial downturn at some point in our life together, maybe while we were sleeping. It's really coming together seamlessly, just like a dream--an American one at that.
A mostly unused tennis court sits just a few steps away from Daughter's door. If she has any energy left after working on those tense, rich people, she might just take up the sport. She will need to find a partner, though. While we were helping her move, the only people outside were walking their dogs, some of them quite large (the dogs). I told her to watch her step. No one seemed to be bagging up after their pets. I think she will like her new place once the smell inside dissipates. The former tenant's two dogs had the run of the apartment, and steam cleaning the carpet hasn't even helped much. I'm letting her borrow an essential oil diffuser so the wet-dog smell should be gone soon. I think she misses some of the sweeter aspects of home...
...red gerbera daisies...
...white cabbage (the outer leaves, chewed up by bugs and discarded, were green anyway)...
...blue Peanut. SAM complained this morning that the cat constantly goes in and out of the house like she can't settle down. When she finally does, she doesn't want much to do with us, especially me. I think she blames me for someone's absence. She's missing the sweetest aspect of home. So am I. Hear that, Peanut? I'm no tyrant!