Early Morning Fall Mist

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photo by @dalbacky on instagram http://instagram.com/dalbacky

I just peeped outside the front door, through the leaded glass panes, and saw a thin bank of mist out there.

Reminds me of the mist on the farm where I grew up, hanging low in the valley around the house and barn early in the morning.

Mist makes the world mysterious, briefly transforming it into something special — and then it’s gone again, a small gift only for early risers.

Through the back door I see a female cardinal at a feeder that’s been empty all summer. The season is changing, and plants and animals are in a different relationship with each other. Perhaps the birds are starting to stock up again on my bird seed, prepping for winter.

Fall mornings these days include me urging Matthew out the door on time for school — which didn’t work out today. It also includes walking the dog, perhaps with a slight coolness in the air, looking about us as we go, searching for signs of the turning season.

Or is it me that’s turning, entering the fall season of MY life?
The thought lingers, like a thin mist, lying low in my garden.
Maybe.
Or maybe not quite yet.

Here.
In the garden.

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Bird By Bird: On A Quest for the Summer Tanager

I decided to go on a quest for a summer tanager today.

I’m having a “staycation” while the kids are out of town, so, outdoor adventures close to home are in order.

Last week's run through the woods...aka, "Walking Under Raccoons," or, "Touched by a Swallowtail," or "Wish I had bug repellant with me."

Last week’s run through the woods…aka, “Walking Under Raccoons,” or, “Touched by a Swallowtail,” or “Sure wish I had bug repellant with me.”

On last week’s adventure, I ran through Guana Reserve, where I spotted “giant garden spiders, an armadillo, two white-tailed deer, a raccoon in the trees I walked under, a hawk nest, a white cloud butterfly, a swallowtail butterfly, an impassable flooded trail, snakes in the grass, ticks, fiddler crabs, leaping frogs, lizards, birds, and that was enough,” as I noted on Instagram.

This week, I hit the Guana Wildlife Preserve, where my new photographer friend Don Christian said I might spot the tanagers.  “Just head for the oaks and keep looking up in the trees!” he said.

I was thrilled to hear that I might be able to see these mysterious creatures!  I am in love with tanagers.  Last summer I happened upon several scarlet tanagers in the mature woods of the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania. I was practically euphoric.

My son, Matthew, and I have had summer tanagers on our “watch list” for a few years now, but, I never knew where to find them.

Now I do.

deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

Deep in the oak trees at Guana Wildlife Preserve

So, I packed a lunch of peanut butter and jelly, scribbled the directions in my journal, stocked up with water, two cameras, natural bug repellant (I HATE that stuff but this was necessary!), my phone, and a song in my heart.

So, this is what “following your bliss” feels like, eh?

But first, the run.  I planned to combine bird-watching AND running the trails.  (p.s. this is not really good for spotting birds).  I figured I would run first, THEN come back with the camera.

Well, it wasn’t great for bird-watching per se, but, I did get to see lots of other things:  beautiful Florida oak groves, many swallowtails, fiddler crabs, and lots and lots and LOTS of flies, mosquitos and horseflies.  But hey — no ticks!  (So far, anyway).

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Cool lizard with lunch in his mouth.

Once again, as I got to the outer reaches, and took a wrong turn, and ended up further away than I thought, I did say to myself, Hmmm…why DO I have to do everything so hard?  As I turned into a grassy section, the signs said the trails sometimes flood.  Did that stop me?  Oh, no.  I just went deeper and deeper in the woods.

I was on a quest, you see.

Well, eventually, the flooding did stop me, so, I had to turn around.  But that’s when I bumped into the baby armadillo!  Such a cutie!  He was hunched up in the grass, as if he was thinking,  “Hey, if I cover my head, maybe she won’t see me!”  But I sure did, and stopped running long enough to take out my phone and snap a shot — even though the lens was steamed up.  I got super close and he untucked his head and looked up at me, with his cute little pink ears and  sweet face.  I smiled and kept going.

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Baby armadillo through my steamed up iPhone lens!

Finally, I reached the parking lot again, and took out my camera for the “bird watch” part.  I thought I had heard an Eastern towhee in the pine section, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  Needed the telescope lens of the camera.

So, very quietly, with a LOT more bug spray on me, I headed down the trails.  I saw a weird lizard with something in it’s mouth, which I now realize was a bug he just ate.  Ewww!  I saw a delightful blue bee, a green dragonfly, wildflowers, a painted lady butterfly, and a lovely brown moth.

I spotted a baby cardinal, sitting shyly behind a branch.  I heard bullfrogs.  And I spotted something high up in the trees…yessss…it was…an Eastern towhee!

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same "drink your tea" as they have on my birdsong CD...maybe a Florida version?

Spotted an Eastern Towhee, even though he was not singing the exact same “drink your tea” as recorded on my birdsong CD…maybe a Florida version?

OK, not a tanager.  BUT, this was the first towhee I ever located on my own, and was able to photograph!  So, that was plenty exciting for me.

So now, I guess I just have to go back, and see if I can get the tanager.  I’ll keep listening to Stan Tekiela’s CDs on “Birds Of Florida,” to try to recognize the tanager song.

But I’ve got one more bird to check off my Life List, and I’m plenty happy with that.

Here.
In the Florida garden.

 

Painted lady

Painted lady

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Actually, I DO like spiders and snakes!

After an indoor labyrinth walk yesterday in Ponte Vedra, instead of heading home, I headed toward Guana Beach, called by the promise of remote beach and undisturbed beauty.

I needed a little “wild” time.

Guana River State Park is a mostly pristine coastal scrub ecosystem, according to the signs in the parking lot at the third beach entrance (my favorite because it’s the most remote). As I headed to the beach from almost empty parking lot, I paused and observed the wildness of the brush along the walkway.

That’s when I spotted an enormous black-and-yellow garden spider making its web. I marveled at its giant body nimbly sliding down long threads and then picking its way back up again, completely absorbed in its work.

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

Black and yellow garden spider at Guana Reserve

My face was about 18 inches away, and when a breeze blew the web a bit closer, I found myself stepping back — and then noticed an even bigger spider, with an even more fortified web, sitting quietly in the middle of a long zig-zag of threads.  This one was about 4 inches long, the other was about 3 inches. And, there were two more  “smaller” spiders (two inches) hanging nearby (I later learned these were males).

It was  a little bit of wild, right under my nose.

Satisfied by this glimpse of wildness, I continued to the beach, which was sprinkled with just a few folks. I noticed the dappled sand, still imprinted with the many drops of the recent hard rain.  The waves ran up to the roughness, tickled it, and then ran back.  Two plovers walked in the water just ahead, keeping a wary eye on me.

I took a few pictures and thought, I should tag these, “#OhYeah! #ILiveAtTheBeach!”  I felt grateful to be there.

Remote beach at Guana.  A little bit of wild.

Remote beach at Guana. A little bit of wild.

Back in the parking lot, still wanting a bit more wild, I got closer to a cardinal singing its evening song at the top of a dead branch among the salt-curved tree tops.  Then I walked to the edge of the parking lot, looking for more interesting wild stuff.

I found it.

In the most remote corner, I saw another giant spider, this one even bigger, building its web.  Behind it was another, and then another, and then another, and I suddenly realized, Oh my God, there are hundreds of them, covering every few feet of the wild scrub under the oak trees! This is a truly wild and remote corner. THIS is what wild nature looks like!

Maybe spiders horrify you.  (Remember the song, “I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes?”) They don’t horrify me, though I did not care to get TOO close (except to take pictures).  I was thrilled to see them, actually.  I was thrilled to see what “wild nature” looks like, when it’s forgotten, untouched, and unmolested by human hands.

I drove home a little lighter, relieved to know that there are a few places left in Jax that are pesticide-, litter-, and developer-free.

Here.
In the garden.

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Where have all the monarchs gone?

IMG_6261

Where have all the monarchs gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the monarchs gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the monarchs gone?
Monsanto’s killed them, every one.
When will we ever learn?
Oh, when will we ever learn?

I have not seen a single monarch in my garden yet this year.  Not a single one.

Where have they gone?

Last year at this time I was watching my second batch of chrysalises hatching, their green bodies with golden spots hanging in my garden like fancy Christmas ornaments.  One weekend, I watched 13 emerge in one 48-hour period, each one dropping from its green and gold escape hatch to lower its crumpled, wet wings, hanging there, letting gravity do its work until with one, then two, then a few wing flappings, it was suddenly, miraculously, ready to fly.

I remember one bent-wing one, the tip of its orange and black velvet wing folded, hampering it, so that it could not fly properly.  I tried to help it, putting it on my finger, moving if off the flagstones to a different spot, hoping it would be able to literally rise above its circumstances and fly beyond the garden walls.

It could not.

It died, eventually, its speckled body lying prostrate on the ground, belly up, it’s wings gradually tearing and breaking down further, until Nature took her back again.

I am OK with Nature taking back her own.

What I cannot abide is the wanton destruction of the butterfly garden by unconscious acts that sterilize the earth, kill off the milkweed, and turn Nature into an orderly prison of concrete lines, little boxes and sterile fields.

I read the other day that the monarchs are being killed off because we insist on spraying RoundUp chemicals on roadsides and farm fields, to kill off weeds, and that it’s killing the milkweed monarchs need to survive.

Migrating monarchs used to cover 45 acres in Mexico; now they are down to 1.65. They’ve gone  from 1 billion total the year before RoundUp use to 33 million now. More info here.

And people wonder why I do not spray RoundUp in my yard.

IMG_6262

 

“War is not healthy for children and other living things,” said the poster in our kitchen on our organic farm where I grew up.

Neither is RoundUp.

Where have all the monarchs gone?
We’ve killed them off, every one.
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Here.
In the garden.

 

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June 3, 2014 · 8:11 am

The Perfect Job

ImageI found the perfect job for my 17-year-old son the other day.  It’s at the Wild Birds Unlimited store.  They need someone to unload the seed bags from the truck, move heavy boxes, and attend to the sales floor if needed.
Someone who likes nature.
Who likes birds.
Who likes people.
It’s perfect for him!

Which is why, when I suggested it, he immediately said, “No.”

“Sure, Mom.  I can just hear me telling my friends, ‘I can’t hang out with you because I have to go to work at the Wild Birds store,’” he said, a slight smile curving his lips.  Like, “Aww, Mom.  Aren’t you cute!” and then, “Fuggetaboutit!”

Sigh.  OK. That plan did not work out.  Big surprise. However, I won’t lose hope.  His dad has big plans to get him a job this summer, so I’ll wait to see how that works out.

In the meantime, my 19-year-old daughter is home from college, and, after a stimulating conversation last week about why I will not provide unlimited funds for new clothes, even if she goes to Forever 21, she called up a few restaurants to set up interviews. The next day, she got a job.  Then she applied for an internship at the Women’s Center, and on Monday, she was working there.

So there you go.  And I had absolutely nothing to do with it.  Well, maybe a little to do with it.  But, I’m thrilled. It seems that my children DO have their own ideas and opinions, so, I need to let them try them out.

This morning, I’m sitting here in my garden, watching the juvenile bluebirds hanging around the mealworm dish.  They open their mouths, hoping the parents will feed them.  But it seems that won’t work anymore. The parents ignore them and then fly off back to the nest box to feed the newest clutch. It’s time for these fledglings to fend for themselves.

So, here we are, sharing that experience, me and the bluebirds, as we watch out children grow.  We are doing what we have to do, even if it hurts a little to let them go.

Here.
In the garden.

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Forsythia

IMG_5595I bought some forsythia blooms yesterday.

We had a giant forsythia bush on the farm up North, right off the back porch, tucked between the pantry and the lilac bush.

It was the early harbinger of spring.  In the cold, gray Pennsylvania winters, I looked eagerly for those first signs of awakening life to break the dreary landscape.

First, I’d notice the ground getting mushy, half frozen, half thawed. I’d step off the back porch, over the little stone ditch, and my rubber boots would sink into the squishy ground, the thin brown grass under the snow just holding both soil and tread.

A quick left turn, perhaps a slight slide in the mud, and the forsythia would be on my left as I rounded the corner, picking my way toward the Springhouse. The dark stand of bare branches stood silently, and I’d notice the swelling buds. Just a few more days, perhaps.

Soon, a tiny burst of yellow would burst open, like popcorn, and then another, and then another, and suddenly the bush became a cloud of yellow, with a bit of green mixed in among the blossoms. The neat, square, four-pronged blossoms smiled as they gently waved in the breeze.

The wind took their spring message and sent it to the daffodils on the nearby pasture slope.  Their thin green prong leaves and tight buds poked out of the still-wet earth, and soon burst into an echo of yellow color, nodding “Yes!”

Weeks later, among heart-shaped leaves, the luxurious mini-piles of lilac flowers would unfurl, each bloom stacked like the full skirt of a swirling ball gown, elegant, scented, lovely.

By then, the forsythia blooms had melted into soft green leaves, and waited, once again, for their turn, their chance to dance in springtime winds again.

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Springtime

IMG_5239Spring shadows and first lilies.
The nuthatches have nested in the bluebird box and
the cool weather will soon be gone.
Just not quite yet.

 

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