Sunday, December 21, 2008

Brandon Point Haiku

Just a simple walk
Solace among the Heather
Wind, Soul, and Seabird nigh

Friday, December 5, 2008

To Worry No More - or Less

In December its easy to see
Hawks and waxwings
Flying from tree to leafless tree,
Olive, orange and rust against the gray.
And I worry they may lack
Berries and mice in such fresh, cold air.

Turning, as dry leaves stir
I remember
Who will draw curtains against the chill
Who will land this night in linen and lofty down
To worry no more - or less,
And who will tuck heads beneath a wing
And in the dawn seek well with keen eyes
Their daily fare

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

End of Otter Creek Park - Update

I received a reply from Metro Parks to a letter of concern I had written this morning and discovered that Louisville is in discussions with the state of Kentucky about converting Otter Creek Park into a wildlife management area. While this is not the ideal solution, it is far better than turning 2,600 acres of parkland into subdivisions with a view. I'm going to keep up with the issue but for now, please read this from the online Courier-Journal.

The End of Otter Creek?

Have you heard that Louisville will be closing Otter Creek Park? It's true. I heard on NPR this morning that it could be opened to commercial development. Meade County Judge Executive Harry Craycroft says , "his government could take over the park, if it’s opened to commercial interests."

We must rail against this failure to look past the end of our nose! This is what people do when times get tough. We exploit what is precious to gain temporary relief. If the economy worsens will Jefferson Forest be next? I understand the necessity of budget cuts. I understand that services at Otter Creek may need to be curtailed. But to open the park for commercial development is short sighted and simply wrong. There are both environmental and cultural heritage reasons for opposing the commercialization of Otter Creek Park.

There are numerous options for the thousands of acres at Otter Creek Park that would not destroy it. Please become informed about the issue and encourage the Mayor and your city council members to look for conservation options before selling out to developers.

Start at:

Thanks for allowing me to rant in this space.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The fall of Winter

frozen flecks of white
on fallen color swatches
autumnal snowfall

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I went to the woods........

"I went to the woods because I wished to
live deliberately, to front only the
essential facts of life, and see if I
could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die, discover
that I had not lived."

Henry David Thoreau, 1854

Living deliberately is not an easy task nor is it something that is done without being consciously aware. I live deliberately every time I enter the gates of Bernheim. A transformation occurs and the magic of Bernheim infuses my being
and fills my soul with delight. There is no time for past regrets or future fears only the beauty and wisdom of now. Bernheim is Now.

Bernheim brightens my mood; it offers me opportunities to connect to the paperback maples and ginkgo trees and the Purple Martins, to roam through the Great Prairie and to sit for hours watching Lake Nevin and all of its splendor.

When the trees are bare and the wildlife is scarce, the beauty of Bernheim is most powerful. With nothing to hide behind in the winter and few animals to attract my attention, bernheim bares all and in her nakedness she is simply grand. In her nakedness, Bernheim offers “only the essential facts of life”.

Bernheim gives me joy and laughter and reminds that there is no time other than now. I accept with enthusiasm and joy every now moment and live it fully. When I come to die I will have no regrets because Bernheim taught me the magic of living, right now.

Happy Thanksgiving

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A New Post from an Old Writer

Hello Nature Writers!

I am delighted by the election of Barack Obama! How far we've come as a nation and oh, how challenged we are. I, like many, have high hopes but it is necessary to temper hope and be realistic. The honeymoon will be a short one as the people will demand the impossible but I believe, none the less, we have picked a winner.
In his book "The Audacity of Hope" he inspired me when he said, "If we aren't willing to pay a price for our values, if we aren't willing to make some sacrifices in order to realize them, then we should ask ourselves whether we truly believe in them at all." For me, conservation of nature and encouraging a resilient and sustainable community are values that rank with peace, justice and human rights.
Because of war, the financial crisis and the energy crisis we may think the environment is far down on the priority list. It is not. Environmental issues are embedded in almost all issues. It will be important to watch the trade offs and compromises carefully in the first hundred days. If nature is getting short shrift, on her behalf I will be compelled by my values to make myself heard. I must say that I have greater confidence in Barack's ears than those of the man currently in power :-)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kentucky Skies

I was born under the blue skies of Kentucky, near the Nolin River flow,
Where the Thoroughbreds are racing, and the white face cattle grow.
I was raised on grits and taters, buttermilk and turnip greens,
Biscuits and red eye gravy, smoked pork and butter beans.
It was under Kentucky skies, that I was taught to be a man,
To do my best everyday, and lend folks a helping hand.
My Mamie taught me how to read, my brothers—how to fight.
A country girl on holding hands, and walks in the pale moonlight.
My Pappy taught me how to shoot, and how to rope and ride,
We sure had a lot of fun back then, under those blue Kentucky skies.
I like Kentucky mornins, honeysuckle spiking the breeze,
While the mockingbirds are singing, and dance in the sycamore trees.
I like Kentucky whiskey! I like my chicken fried!
I like to tend my cattle on the bluegrass country side!
Kentucky waters are the clearest, her grasses the greenest green,
And those bluegrass Kentucky women, are among the prettiest I’ve ever seen.
Kentucky horses are the finest, and you rarely see one buck.
By the way, did I ever tell you folks that I was born here in Kentuck.
It was under Kentucky skies that I met a pretty miss.
I courted her oh so tenderly, held her hand and stole a kiss.
I love that Kentucky woman, hazel eyes and auburn hair.
We still hold hands in the moonlight and breathe that sweet Kentucky air.
How could I have been so lucky? Guess it must have been my fate,
To be placed in old Kentucky, just next door to heaven’s gate.
May I die here with my boots on, while my mind is clear and sound,
Breathing the sweet air of Kentucky and walking on Kentucky ground.
Lay my body in a valley, beneath her peaceful sod,
That my soul may sore onto her lofty peaks , and touch the face of God....

Friday, August 29, 2008

“ The Witness”

I once stood tall, proud and majestic
In a small lowland meadow
At the edge of a great Oak/Hickory forest.
I was raised from the rich Kentucky soil,
By my Creator in the year of our Lord, 1751.
For over 200 years I have served Him
By serving the needs of others.
I have witnessed many things!
I am Caray Ovata,----- I am a Shagbark Hickory!

At the age of 40 years
I would bear my first fruit.
A nut with a sweet kernel, and excellent flavor.
Women came and gathered them
For the making of pies, cakes and candy.
Mammals came and stored them for winter forage.
Birds and animals built their nest,
And raised their young in my branches.
I have witnessed many things!
I am Caray Ovata,-----I am a Shagbark Hickory!

I have seen the eradication of the Redman,
The Passenger Pigeon, and the American Chestnut
From the land of my ancestors.
I have felt the blood spray of the American Revolution;
I have smelled the canon smoke of the War of 1812;
I have heard the cries of anguish from the Trail of Tears;
And my roots turned blood red in the great Civil War.
I have witnessed many things!
I am Caray Ovata,----- I am a Shagbark Hickory!

I stood in awe at the Western
Expansion, and the Industrial Revolution.
I rejoiced at man’s First Flight at Kitty-Hawk
And his Ascent to The Moon.
I have mourned the slaying of
Four American Presidents, Two World Wars,
And the Atomic Bomb.
I have witnessed many things!
I am Caray Ovata,----- I am a Shagbark Hickory!

I once stood tall and proud in a small lowland meadow
At the edge of a great Oak/Hickory Forest.
I grew to the majestic height of ninety feet, my girth and spread-----impressive.
Women were drawn to my beauty; Men envied my strength;
Children would swing from my branches;
And old men would gather in my shade
To talk of war and politics.
I have witnessed many things !
I am Caray Ovata,-----I am a Shagbark Hickory!

But when on a warm fall night,
In the year of Our Lord, 1975
I was struck down by a single lightning strike.
For over 200 years I served God
By providing for the needs of others!
Even in death I served.
Men came and gathered my trunk and branches
To heat their homes and cure their meat.
I had witnessed many things!
I now dwell in the memory of my Creator,
And in the hearts of the faithful.
Therefore, I am Immortal! My name is Carya Ovata,----- I am a Shagbark Hickory !

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Maidenhair Fern Dream

She presses soft cheek
Against edge of misty stream
Her ladle swollen

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My first haiku

wisps of pure white
track the infinite blue
early morning sky

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


thunder warns the dark
lightning exposes the night
wind blows sheets of rain

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Waxing and Waning

dropping down into
waning colors of sunset
waxing crescent moon

The Shadow's Crow

the crow followed his shadow everywhere
and when his shadow disappeared
the crow sat down and rested

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Sunday morning patio

A Nuthatch glides down
in it's own stanza and beat
my morning concert

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Lady's Washbowl

Today I read Hal Borland's essay about bouncing bet, which he mentions was prolific on this day of the year as he wrote. The article brought to mind a skit I've seen explaining the confusion of multiple names that can plague a naturalist. Saponaria officinalis, soapwort and fuller's herb also made the top 4 in the acted-out story. But I was intriqued as I read that the habit of women to wash their hair (or intimate clothing) with the herb inspired another name: my lady's washbowl.

Being unable to resist, I set about to find as many more names for the plant as I could. Here's what I found (just including names in English):

boston pink
bouncing bess
buryt ?
chimney pink (belongs to pink/carnation family)
dog's cloves (scent said to remind of cloves)
goodbye summer
hedge pink
lady-by-the-gate (or lady-by-the-garden-gate)
London pride (for the ability of the scented blooms to mask the stench of London's gutters)
monthly pink
old maid's pink
ragged sailor
sheepweed (referencing cleaning wool, as in fuller's herb)
soapwort gentian
sweet betty
wild sweet william
wood's phlox
world's wonder

Can you add more names to the list, or find explanations for any of the names?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

for all of us that saw it

naturally friends
rose and yellow and purple
in a shared sunset

Summer season's inspiration

Last year's garden blooms
like a fallen ceiling tile
from the Milky Way.
With soft voices, trees
gesture in conversation,
cool dark underneath.
My roses are dying,
bug-eaten, black spotted, spindly;
fragrant kiss good-bye.
The election nears.
Hydrangea and I are
all shades of purple.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weather and the 4th of July

Hal Borland notes that on July 4th 1776, the day the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, Thomas Jefferson bought a thermometer and noted the temperature was 73.5 degrees at 9 pm. Though weather watchers and historians now wonder how to reconcile this seemingly cool reading with the sweltering heat often noted on that occasion, Jefferson’s simple purchase began a lifetime of recording weather patterns. Borland also notes that Jefferson bought a barometer 4 days later to take home with him.

On a day that Jefferson was focused on independence, his purchases ratified the idea that an independent man is dependent on nature. Of course, today’s dependence on all manner of technology, while making us ‘independent’ of nature, might arguably be said to interfere with our independence from other men.

I think this same Jeffersonian understanding is evident also in the writings of Thoreau. A weather watcher himself, he moved into a cabin hand-built on land owned by Emerson on Walden Pond on the 4th of July 1845. Thoreau embarked on a journey (chronicled in Walden) to find out what was really essential in life, and to eliminate from his own that which was not essential. One assumption he began with was that dependence on other men for the means to live was not essential (though companionship certainly did turn out to be handy occasionally).

And thanks to Jefferson, we know the work of two other great weather observers and naturalists, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. July 4th 1803 brought Lewis the news of the Louisiana Purchase, his signal to depart for Pittsburg, which he did the following day. July 4th 1805 found the Lewis and Clark expedition at the Falls of the Missouri. They celebrated Independence Day with the last of their whiskey. But a thunderstorm ended the celebration around 9pm.

So what better day than the 4th of July to start a habit of observing and recording the weather? What better day to embark on a study of phenology? What better way to celebrate our independence?

To read more:

Thomas Jefferson

Henry David Thoreau

Benjamin Franklin

Lewis and Clark


Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bob White!

The Blackacre Nature Preserve, near Jeffersontown in eastern Jefferson County, KY, protects 170 acres from a farm dating back to 1785. Part of their mission is to re-establish the native Kentucky grasses and other plants that would have been abundant in those days. A butterfly walk on the grounds was advertised in the paper on Friday morning, and approximate 80 people showed up this afternoon, overwhelming Alan Nations, the naturalist on staff.

The wind was a bit stiff, and the butterflies decided to wait it out somewhere else for the most part. After the official walk ended, Bob Lenning, Chris Knopf, Dick and I decided to walk around a bit on our own. We had the thrill of our lifetimes. Bob said he will remember it as "The Day We Saw the Quail!" When I was a girl, we heard Bob Whites whistling in the neighboring farm fields on a regular basis, but I never saw one. Now, I hear them far less, since their habitat is filled with houses and shopping centers.

As we walked along the edge of a large field, we heard a Bob White in the grass, and even saw it stick its head out for a second, then disappear again. On the way back, we heard two different birds whistling their names, and stopped to see if we could join the conversation. Suddenly, we saw some small brown birds peering out from the grass. Is it safe? They decided it was, and walked under the fence for a dust bath in the horses' feeding area. This is a community dust bath and they were joined by many of the neighborhood female Red Wing Blackbirds.

This pair left for the field again, and the second pair came out for their bath. Bob commented that they probably come out like this about the same time every day, and we should return for more observation. The second pair went off under the other fence when finished with their bath. So often, we only look for the male bird, since it is more easily identified. Today, the female Red Wing Blackbirds were abundant, and the female Bob White (Bobbi White?) came right out to be admired too. We even caught their Sunday Afternoon stroll as a movie. Watch how they know just where the break in the fence is. This is a path they must take regularly. What a thrill!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

lightning strike
the approaching promise of
summer rain

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Bird Who Wanted to Sleep In

"Wake up, it's morning."


"You heard me, it's time to wake up. Hear the birds singing?"

"Why do I have to get up so early every day? It feels like I just went to sleep. The sun isn't even up yet."

"Because the early bird gets the worm."

"But I don't like worms. You don't make me eat them."

"It makes no difference what you actually eat. All the other birds in the neighborhood are up and singing. Their nestlings don't complain about getting up early. Your siblings get up without complaining. Do you want to make us look bad to all the neighbors?"

"Can't I just sleep late once?"

"Not while you live in our nest. When you grow up and and find your own food and fly on your own, well....."

"OK, I'll get up. What's for breakfast?"

"Some nice fresh bugs your father just caught. Open wide..."

"Bugs again! Why can't we have mice once in a while? I really, really have a craving for mice."

"Your tastes in food have always been a little strange. I don't know where you get it from. Not my side of the family certainly."

"I need a bigger nest too. It's getting too crowded in here."

"Then practice your flapping so you can fledge."

"Whooooo was that strange bird I heard last night?"


"I heard someone asking Who cooks for you? Then someone else wanted to know Who's awake? I want to know WHHOOOOO that was."

"Never mind. It isn't important to our family."

"But I do give a HOOT!"

"Don't ruffle your feathers at me! I'm not scared by your big ears! Wait, no one in our family has ears. Or even just feathers that look like ears. What is going on here? I've heard of Cowbirds laying their eggs in someone else's nest, but you don't look like one of them, even though you are certainly big for your age. And your eyes look funny too. All big and round. Could it be?? Maybe you actually are a night owl, and not just a troublesome teen."

"You mean maybe there's a reason I can't wake up in the morning? Whooooo am I really?"

"Son, every bird has to discover that for himself. It may take you a lifetime of sleepless nights."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's a Hard Knock Life

It's a wonder that we have new birds every spring. The parents build a nest, lay the eggs, and try to keep them warm and protected until they hatch. During that time, the mother (usually) spends most of her time on the nest, through heat or cold or storm, often dependent on her mate for food. The young Osprey couple on the Osprey Cam at Blackwater National Wildlife Reserve in Maryland left their eggs to seek shelter during a bad storm, and the eggs did not survive. Last year, their nest was attacked by crows who destroyed the eggs.

A pair of Carolina Wrens have used our garage as a nesting site for years. One time, we found the nest in an upside down bicycle helmet belonging to one of the children. Last year, they just built in the eaves. We normally leave the rear windows open about an inch and a half, and the wrens fly through at full speed. This year, I heard some chirping, but did not quite locate the nest, until last weekend. Mama Wren hopped around on the yard tools as we started to get in the car. Then I heard the faint chirp of the baby bird. Following the sound, I found the fledgling hanging upside down with his leg caught between two wire coat hangers above the nest, which was in a small cardboard box hanging from the shelf. Apparently the baby hopped out of the nest to the nearest perch, and the hangers moved, even with only that slight weight, trapping that fragile leg. Despite the mother's protests, we loosened him from the trap, and he fell back into the nest. We hoped that his little leg hadn't been broken.

This evening I went to the garage for something and heard a soft chirping again. Hasn't that baby found his way out of the garage yet? I tracked him down to a box on the floor, and went for a camera. You think birds in general are a hard target to photograph? Well, just try taking a picture of a bird only 2 inches big, in a box, on the floor, behind a bunch of other boxes, in the dark! A flash will illuminate the subject, but only if you can find and focus on it in the first place! Both mother and baby chirped, scolded, and jumped from spot to spot in the mostly dark garage. I got some great shots of the garage floor, but nothing worthwhile of the baby bird.

Maybe he just can't get through the narrow crack of the open window. With the garage door closed, that's the only way out, and a baby wouldn't have the skills to aim itself at that small target. I opened the window a few more inches and left the door open as well. At least, Mama Wren is keeping an eye on him, and maybe she'll show him how to get out into the world. After all, even a baby bird has to face the dangers of outside to grow up.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A Quote for Today

"It occurred to me that perhaps this writing is all that I will ever do, and I should make the most of it, being careful to record every word or idea."

Harlan Hubbard, Payne Hollow Journal

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Your Forest, Your Adventure

Jefferson Memorial Forest sits atop 6,191 acres in the Knobs of Southern Jefferson County. Going there is like traveling to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky in only 20 minutes. The road winds in sharp switchbacks to the top of the ridge, while narrow streams cascade down crossing from one side of the road to the other. In times of flash flood, this is not a good place to be, I'm sure. Dick just completed his training to volunteer at the forest, and we went to explore, since I had never been there at all. "Mixed deciduous" is the key phrase to this forest, with good combinations of maple, several varieties of oak, beech, and hickory, along with pine and cedar trees - the forest with something for everyone.

The trail we took down to Mitchell Lake runs along a ridge, level with the treetops. Step off the trail even a bit though, and you might tumble down to the bottom of a steep valley. This gives a slight advantage to the birder, reducing the risk of injury through Warbler's Neck, since you don't have to look straight up all the time. The warblers still hide among the leaves, and flit from one tiny branch to another. They want to see us, without us seeing them. I think they count points and keep score. Our big find of the day was a Rose Breasted Grosbeak, who stayed in the same general area long enough to be photographed several times. A Yellow Rumped Warbler kindly turned around to show off his namesake. An Eastern Towhee moved every time I found him in the binoculars, as usual. Other small birds were not cooperative, and I have emailed pictures of two mystery birds to Brainard Palmer-Ball, my birding expert. Any one else want to take a shot at identifying these birds?

We whispered, trying to avoid spooking the birds, when we heard a crashing through the underbrush. A large brown figure dashed uphill, and at first I thought it was a doe. The second one that came along let me look a little closer, and it was coyote! Good think they weren't hungry.

The Mayapples were blooming, although some had yellow spots on their leaves. Blight? There is a blight and leaf spot disease they get. After finding no Jack in the Pulpit at Natural Bridge, we were delighted to find a whole hillside of them right here at home. Among the Jack in the Pulpit, were a collection of Trilliums with larger leaves than we saw last week. Trilliums have three leaves, of course, but I never knew that Jacks have three leaves too. Early Spiderworts also have three petals, but the leaves are straight. Tiny Bluets lined the trail down to the lake.

A beautiful day, with my favorite husband, doing something we both enjoy. What could be better?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Ky Derby-inspired Haiku

bold sunlit tulips,
"bourbon on the rocks" breezes,
muddied horse parade

thundering horses,
cacophony of voices,
grey silent stratus

squeaky old porch swing
best seat for contemplation
Derby's on t.v.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Out of the Unknown

Part of the fun of tuning in to nature is the learning. With my memory it's especially rewarding because I get to learn the same things over and over again. Tavia's Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher was a new one for me. I'm now wondering if the little gray bird with white tail stripes that I saw from a distance the other day might have been a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher instead of a Slate Colored Junco like I assumed at the time. I'll never know but next time I'll look a little more closely before jumping to conclusions. I remember thinking at the time, "Haven't the Junco's left yet?"

The picture posted here was named "UnknownRedShrubFlower" in my pics folder until I stumbled upon it while browsing The Peterson Field Guide to Medicinal Plants - Eastern/Central. The picture in the guide slapped me "upside the head." Because it's such a distinctive flower I knew it was a match. The unknown shrub has been transformed in my mind to Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpurious). I've seen this plant before, I think, but never took time to look it up. The picture here was taken last fall at Floyd's Fork Park in Jefferson County KY right along the creek. Hailed by it's exotic shape and brilliant red/scarlet foliage, flowers and berries I was compelled to stop the car and snap off a couple of pictures. I looked in the rear view mirror first, of course.

It turns out the plant is considered to have numerous medicinal uses and the fruit, seeds and bark are considered poisonous. I have to laugh. A beautiful unknown plant now has a personality. Not only is the personality bestowed with a history of herbal medicine, it has an absolutely intriguing name. Why in the world would it be called Wahoo? Could it be for it's tonic, laxative and diuretic properties? Perhaps, but I won't to jump to conclusions.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Today is the Day!

My redbud has begun to open!

And my crabapple too!

Thanks to Cheri, this beautiful poppy is blooming in front of my house!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Singing Their Hearts Out!

Everything is changing quickly. When Buddy and I went for our morning walk in George Rogers Clark Park, I could tell that we had new aerial visitors, just since yesterday!

For many of these birds, I heard them before seeing them. While the dog sniffed and snorted around, I stood perfectly still so that I would be alerted by the flash of a wing, and hoped that more birds might reveal themselves to me.

Here are some of the newer birds that were busily feeding, showing breeding displays, and staking their territories:

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER - I heard the sweet burry "pweee" of this fella before spotting him. The Blue-grays used to live near my mountain cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so it was like hearing the voice of an old friend again. The burry call was rather quiet today and endearing.

GOLDFINCHES! - The call of the Goldfinch, to me, is the song to accompany the dipping flight of a swallow. It is so plaintive and distinctive, especially when they "sweeee." I adore this call and also their gentle and elegant flight patterns. Usually, I've seen them in larger groups than today, but there were a few. Most were blending into the yellowish catkins where they were eating the hatching worms. In the morning chill, their feathers were fluffed to provide warmth, and looked very healthy.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS - These birds also have a beautiful song and call. The odd thing is that I've counted six White-crowns and all of them have a Big-Bird yellow patch between their inner eyes and their bills. I can not find this marking in my National Geographic field guide, and so am stumped. However, I recognize their singing and they have the distinctive black and white striping on the head, along with the somewhat rosy wing feathers. The throat is white ... anyone have any ideas? I still need to consult with some more guides.

CHIPPING SPARROWS - I was walking by a dell of cherry trees and was startled by the sweet scents and so stopped to deeply breathe and enjoy the moment. It was then that I heard an almost shy "chip" and then spotted the male nearby. He had the tell-tale rusty cap and then let out a louder "chip," as if in greeting.

CAROLINA WRENS - Let me tell you that I had difficulty hearing past the Wrens because they were so gung-ho about singing this morning! It was as if they had a contest to see which bird among them could call or shout the loudest. Their boisterous song belies their tiny size, and always makes me laugh when I see the tiny body with the head thrown back and suddenly this gargantuan voice bursts out. The equivalent in the dog world would be for a Miniature Chihuahua to have the bark of a St. Bernard.

YELLOW-SHAFTED FLICKERS - They were particularly busy today. I saw 16 and they all seemed more productive than usualy - flicking from tree to tree (are they hoping to "steal" a nesting hole of another or from a previous year?) and foraging constantly, flying from the base of trees and then to the older trees and snags for their particular delicacies.

BROAD-WINGED HAWKS - There is now a pair. I have been keeping my eye on a male for some time now and was very pleased to see him joined recently by a female. The hawks seem determined to fit in ... I know this is odd for me to say, but the male really has seen like an outsider for some time. I have a pair of Cooper's Hawks who are nesting in my back yard pine trees and they immediately seemed to belong. The claimed their feeding branches, and began the routine of building their nest and snatching songbirds out of our feeders. The Broad-winged hawk never seemed comfortable and was skittish even to humans walking far beneath him as he perched on a branch. I've been watching him and he didn't seem to pick a certain tree to feed, or develop a pattern. I hope having a mate will put him more at east so that he can focus on his tasks at hand.

The birds have such little "security" or "insulation" against weather, cold temperatures, and going hungry. I hope that the rest of spring will be kind to them ...


The Art of Nature

By Patty Wren Smith

Her hands cup the poppy blossom –
then open. Everyday she does this somewhere -
filling the world with fleeting things,
mountains, stars and summer rains.

In the dark edge, she sees the luminous.
Out of discarded flesh and gold-
she fashions new works and
gives to each its own fruit
and its own hidden stone.

No one tells this artist, “you can’t do that”—
besides, it’s too late,
her forms are flying from tree to tree,
some, the tiny ones, are munching on leaves -
others are leaping through the mist
on hoofs that sound like thunder.

Can we learn from such brave exuberance
how to be still amid the storms, how to take heart,
how to create in this world
a life that is truly ours?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Bernheim keeps us in our salad days

"Salad days' is used in modern times to refer to the days of carefree innocence and pleasure of our youth. It has also been used to refer to the time of material affluence in our more mature years, when the pressures of life have begun to ease - something akin to 'the golden years'. Source: The Phrasemaker.
Last Saturday, April 12, 2008, Wren's ITO 202 opportunity was making our own salad
from nature's wild bounty. Picking redbuds, dandelion heads, violets, chickweed, and more was such a delight. The taste was far more sensually enriching that I had even imagined. "Carefree innocence and pleasure" are two states that
the NIT program often delivers. As for the "pressures of life beginning to ease", what a blessing Bernheim is in that area as well. Writer's privilege- a special note of thanks to Susan Baker, who passed up Wren's stellar opportunity in order to volunteer at Bernheijm's least-known jewel. That jewel is the aresearch library located in the horticultural building.
Dick Dennis

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring Thoughts on Trees

With redbuds just opening around our area, we are once again threatened with the possibility of an untimely freeze. I'll be anxiously looking each morning for the next couple of days, afraid of seeing damage from the temperature going too low. It does seem to me that some blooms are running later this year, perhaps because of late frosts the last two years.

Spending a day at Bernheim gave me a chance to do a little reconnoitering. I spied the precious catkins of the river birch. I'm reminded that even with so many trees in bloom right now, that so few are even noticed individually. And how pressed even someone who thinks of themselves as a naturalist is to identify a tree by its early bloom. Now is when a guide such as "Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky" by Wharton and Barbour really shines. Color photos of the blooms of many of the trees (and in some cases, photos of the fruits which will come later) precede the black and white photos of the trees that cause many to shun the book.

Some may have heard me yammer on about the color of bark on trees (bark is almost never "just brown"). Wharton and Barbour point out that the bark of young branches on the river birch is "pinkish tan". I must admit that I didn't notice that color, so I'll have to look closer on my next visit. The same book notes that the bark of the tulip tree is gray, though I see younger trees with a distinct pink or rosy cast. Though I don't have a copy, the Audubon guide to trees features a photo of each tree's bark. And I find it difficult to leave the visitor center gift shop without perusing "Tree Bark: A Color Guide".

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Spring Floods

muddy water flows
trash and trees rushing downstream
ducks swim peacefully

With much thanks to Bernheim

Today I took a nature walk that I probably would not even have thought about before Bernheim heightened all of my senses. I'm still dealing with the aftereffects of four inches of rain in the basement, including no functioning clothes dryer. This morning I took a lot of items to the commercial laundromat for drying. Nearby is a suburban office park that emphasizes its green space. At a two-acre lake I saw killdeer, red-winged blackbirds, geese, ducks, peewees, mockingbirds, and more. The red deadnettle was everywhere, as were catkins on many blossoming trees. The smells of lightly falling rain and the sounds of wildlife complimented each other very well. Two and 1/2 years ago, I would probably have stayed in the laundromat with my nose buried in a book. Thanks for keying me in to what's really fulfilling.

Nature is man's teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eye, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence. ~Alfred Billings Street
Dick Dennis

Still Opening My Eyes

On April 9, 1962 the cottonwood trees were in bloom in Kentucky. Harlan Hubbard recorded it in his Payne Hollow Journal. And I'm reminded that I've never seen a cottonwood tree in bloom. In fact, I've only seen a few cottonwood trees in any condition. Harlan notes that some of the blossoms are reddish in color; my research indicates that male blooms (the trees are dioecious) are deep reddish with the female blooms usually being yellowish-green in color. Is the red color related to insect attraction? Yet I think trees that bloom before leafing are usually wind pollinated. Perhaps this tree's pollination strategy has changed over time. I have seen a very large cottonwood tree in town, and I'm inclined to walk out tomorrow to see if it is in bloom.

I've read that the sex ratio is 1 to 8 for cottonwood trees. Man, some trees are just lucky! I can always tell when it's spring; it doesn't matter whether you favor plants or animals, there's more sex going on in the spring than at any other time of the year. That's not a scientific fact, but it's my observation as a naturalist.

My redbud tree is still cautiously swelling its buds, while other redbuds are nearly bursting their flowers. It was the same last year. I guess that's where they get the expression: a "late bloomer". I like homely looking puppies too. But honestly, I didn't know it was a late bloomer when I brought it home. I know the color of those blooms exactly in my mind (more purple really than red), and I can close my eyes and see my tree in bloom. Soon I'll be able to open my eyes and still see the blooms. Then I'll write an entry in my journal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Opening My Eyes

I looked back in my journal today and saw that the very first entry was made on April 16, 2007. I remember that I was anxiously awaiting the chance to move into the Bean house at the first of May, and I celebrated by beginning with my first entry. The first thing that I thought to write down was the weather (sunny skies and temps in the 60's with slowing winds) because we'd just suffered a killing late frost; one that must have occurred around this date. "This year's freeze interrupted the redbud bloom, though dogwoods seemed to defiantly hold onto their blooms." And mention was made that a late freeze had also been suffered the year before. I'm so glad reading it now that I made the effort to write a year ago.

All winter long I wait for a day like this one to come again, as if the days of winter are somehow inferior. And then when spring arrives, the season begins to speed by with the impatience of a teenager. I stopped to think today that the mid-afternoon temperature was as perfect as any that I'll see again all year. And having noted that here, I'll stop to remember what I wrote today in the heat of an August morning.

My first quote was also recorded that day: "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see." Those words of Henry David Thoreau still strike me as worth writing in my journal today. It's a lesson that I think has been taught to me in part by the very act of journaling. And it reminds me that time is often wasted hurrying to the next sight, when so much can be learned by dallying over the sight we already have in front of us. And I'm reminded too that even when we must use the exotic Panda to stir the hearts of those who might contribute to our cause of nature, it's the ants under our own feet, the moths flying in our night sky, the trees in our neighbor's woodlot, or the invisible air that we breath that we should perhaps most concern ourselves with. I'm still learning to see every day, but at least I feel like my eyes are beginning to open.

Monday, April 7, 2008

new spring morning

the orchestra tunes
no pushing the snooze this dawn
the birds are back!

rhetorical question

how many branches
can we cut off the life tree
before it falls down?

smell of wild garlic
common blue violets fade
under the twilight
nature neatly trimmed
with everything in its place
sound of a mower

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bustling Bernheim

Bernheim was very active today! The many different flowering species of magnolias and fruit trees were humming with pollinators, mostly bees. Birds were singing and calling to each other, and some were showing mating displays. Wildflowers were springing forth. Oh, and lots of humans and dogs were celebrating the warm and sunny day.

I spotted many Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) flowers in full display, and will post some photos in the next few days. If you want to see them yourself, I'm sure they are in many forested locations throughout Bernheim. You may have to wander off trail a little (and tread gently, of course).

If you want to navigate to the spots I did, walk to the southwest meadow off Lake Nevin, to the west of the Cypress Tupelo Swamp. As you walk in the mowed area of this small meadow, before you take your first right turn heading north, veer off into the forest. You'll see some downed branches, and there will be the smiling, white, diminuitive faces of the Bloodroot flowers.

Also, I saw two tiny (about 1/2") green "helmets" of the first Mayapple sprouts. These are such magical plants. Their colonies will soon be blanketing the forest floor.

The beavers are active, too. We were happy to come upon Nancy (a fellow NIT), who was soaking up the sun and being her highly observant self. She was studying the Cypress Tupelo Swamp and pointed out a lot of small branches -- approximately 1/3" in diameter and averaging 2.5-3' long -- that had clear teeth marks. Several branches had been debarked and were white. A tried and true whittler couldn't have done a better job of stripping the bark.

What a wonderfully restorative day.

Friday, April 4, 2008

thunder rolls above
sound of rain in the darkness
water runs away

Raining On My Parade

Rain ... and more rain. That has to be the topic for today. I've been keeping a simple weather log just as a way of making myself more aware and also as a way to develop an understanding of how weather can be predicted. Or you can just note the current weather whenever you make an entry in your nature journal. (You do have a nature journal?!) As I write this, the humidity is 98% and the barometer is 29.94 and falling. I can report that this situation makes rain fairly likely. :-)

The forecast for today is rain with possible thunderstorms. I must admit that severe weather can scare me. I've seen the destruction of tornadoes and they can be humbling if not deadly. And lightning can be just as dangerous. But as scary as weather can be, what an interesting thing it can be to study.

Did you know that they've actually assigned genus and species names to clouds now? I'm fascinated by altocumulus mackerel sky (mackerel sky is the specific epithet). A cloud that looks like a fish? Yeah, sort of. It's named for how that cloud pattern resembles the pattern on the side of a mackerel. It can mean that a change in weather is on the way.

I also must admit that Allen and I have sat on the grass in front of the Education Center and just watched clouds together. (I see little lambs, Allen sees wood.) But my own favorite clouds are the ones that are bathed in the pastel colors of sunset. I've been taking many photos of the sunsets to study them and as a kind of phenology study. Though we've all seen beautiful sunsets before, I think there's a tendency to believe that most of them look pretty much the same. Check out my photos for proof that each sunset is as unique as a fingerprint.

At dinner time, with a break in the rain, I saw a flicker in my yard. No moustache means that it was probably a female. Having seen a male a week or so ago, I'm hopeful now that a pair may be setting up house in the area.

Following up on yesterday's thoughts: all that we know about social insects makes one wonder. Can insects think? Today's essay by Hal Borland (in his Book of Days) suggests that they can't, only depending on instinct. But some new evidence suggests that it might not be that simple. I saw an ant crawling on my kitchen counter this afternoon. I wonder if he thinks the food is good at my place.

To get started:

The Weather:







Northern Flicker:

Thinking Insects?:


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Copyright 2008 Bob Lenning

We Begin

I've started this group blog as a place for amateur naturalists, especially those who volunteer or work at Bernheim Forest, to gather and share their nature writing.