Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Wonderful trees and nature on Radford University campus

                               Tulip Tree

    It was extremely sunny and bright, the light blue sky almost cloudless. I told my college class, in order to have a "Zen" in the moment experience, that they needed to turn off their cell phones and just experience things then and there. And I think most of them did.
    We first parked ourselves in the Alumni garden. This is a good place to sit and relax, I tell them. I point out the "purple leaf" plum tree, which has tiny little fruits, the tiny, peeling, paper bark maple, and that there are many sayings on the wall that enclose this garden, such as Keats' "a thing of beauty is a joy forever" quote. We sit among some meadow sage with its smelly, almost minty scent. I pull off a piece and pass it around for them to smell. The red and white begonias (the school colors) surround an old, black bell in front of us.
    But the class (as it turned out for those who wrote about this) was more entranced by the koi and goldfish pond across the way, where the fish casually swim about and there are benches nearby they can sit on and watch them on. A kind of murky little waterfall goes into this pond, and they tell me they'd never been here before.
    At one point I take these heavy guidebooks out of the backpack I've got on (I'm usually carrying my papers in a laptop sized briefcase) and hand them out. I point out a tree with round, heart shaped leaves and ask them, based on the guidebook, what tree it is. "I'll give you a hint -- it has pink flowers?"
    "Redbud?" Michael asks.
    "Right!" Mostly, though, they didn't know ANY of the trees on campus, not the unusual Bald Cypress (a swamp tree in the middle of campus), not the Dawn/Don redwood (with the reddish bark), not the hemlock or tulip tree.
    With different groups you get different reactions to taking this kind of walk. I think "both" groups I took seemed to hang back behind me, like 15, 20 feet (!) like I bite or something. I'm sure they thought me an odd duck with all my "nature" stuff, and some of them STILL had their cell phones, on, the addicts!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pandapas Pond, Meditate weeding

                                              Pandapas Pond, Virginia (woods around it)

    So a few weeks ago I did a little volunteering at "Pandapas Pond". It is called "Pandapas" as it is named after James Pandapas, local industrialist with some money who used it for his own private hunting grounds. Now it is part of the Jefferson National Forest (which I hope they don't ruin with anything like fracking), and has many Poverty Creek Trail system trails off of it.
     With the other Master naturalists in my group, we did some weeding in a "rain garden" area off of the butterfly garden that fellow member Barb Walker had started, a nice addition to something you can find along the trail, not too far from the pond and surrounding woods themselves. Butterflies are a unique addition to any habitat. For a delicate insect they can last a while (those born in October will fly all the way to Mexico and then overwinter there, come back in the spring and then mate, lay eggs and die). I learned a few things about them recently at the Virginia Tech Paula Hahn Horticulture Center.
    Some say weeding is a meditative process, a way of being one with the soil. You concentrate on this one action and things slip away; you forget about current entanglements and worries. And if your legs, as you get older, are getting weak, instead of bending over everything the whole time, you can get yourself a little stool to sit on (found this short, green plastic job in the garden dept. at Wal-Mart). That's what I did part of the time. Yes, the butterfly garden area is really coming along, and besides butterfly bush there are some unusual shrubs, like senna and a bit of ironwood too, I believe.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Garden did well

   Well, the square foot garden AND the traditional garden have produced a lot so far. Still have a lot of green tomatoes in the "gardens" and 3 big zucchini we will be using in sauces, salad and zucchini bread.
    The square foot garden was quite an expense and now the cucumber plants are drying up (we are getting less rain). The spouse thinks they are just spent, but I disagree. We should have added more compost to the sq. foot plot and watered it a bit more. And on the side of house are 3 sunflowers just beginning to head. I am looking forward to seeing them turn into real flowers. My "turtlehead" flower is attractive, yet small. I wish I had a big butterfly bush to attract hummingbirds with. Ah well.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More on Fairy Stone State Park, State Parks in General


    Thoreau said you can never have enough of nature. This is true if you have a very busy life, and even if you have a "not too busy" life, like those of us on break during the summer from school with not a lot of money in our pockets. Which makes visiting a state park a great value.
    Did you know there was a conference in the 1920s about making state parks a widespread ideal in the U. S.? In the 1930s I know six parks were developed, using CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) help in order to promote visiting nature in the state of Virginia. In the thirties the Smokies, a national park in Tennessee, was also built and promoted. President Roosevelt did his best to give people work (Obama "wants" to do this but the entrenched and negative Republican party now is not allowing it). But state parks serve an important function.
    State parks provide a place not too far from home where you can take your family to visit for part of a day or even a weekend, to imbibe in the fruits of the natural environment. When we went to Fairy Stone State Park we weren't totally certain what we would see. But a mother deer tried to make her pretty fawn twins invisible by setting them in high grass in an open area across from a picnic shelter we drove by on the way to our campground. And a squirrel tried to "sneak" around our tent as my spouse had tossed some empty pistachio nut shells in the leave litter near our campsite. Fairy Stone is interesting; in part one side of the camping area there is about a 20 foot drop down from the sites, then it "really" drops down! You don't see those with little kids camping on that side, but we did. And Mr. Squirrel came as close as the other side of the cooking pit with its grill turned up, putting his nose up for a sniff. But there was no food there so he finally decided to run away into the woods.
    We saw other bits of nature -- there was many yellow and black tiger swallowtails flitting about, and some gathered on some gravel near a shelter, as though they were sucking up some nutrients from it. At the beach we saw kids have a fun time on these huge, fiberglass (?) animals, beaver, frogs and logs, that little kids could ride on in shallow water. A park ranger said another park, Claytor Lake, had rejected these big toys so Fairy Stone said they would take them. So, they were 
"pretend" nature, but a place where they could splash around and watch birds fly overhead and soak up some sun for some needed vitamin D.
    State parks are much cheaper than motel and hotel rooms (unless you reserve an air conditioned cabin, which partly defeats the purpose of camping-- what, you don't want sand in your shoes, or water dripping into a corner of your tent from a continuous rain at night? Where is your sense of adventure). They provide a break from the daily routine, a chance to interact with nature, get away from technology (unless you are in an RV with an antenna-- so why bother to come to a campground), go at a slower pace. State parks are a real value. And our tax dollars should support them more. So go out and enjoy one near you.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The wonders of nature at Fairy Stone State Park

    Ah yes, the wonders of nature if you allow yourself time to enjoy them. I allowed myself that time when we stayed three nights at Fairy Stone State Park. So named for a creek bed nearby that legend says has cross shaped stones created by fairies (well, it's just a legend), the park also has a lot of other interesting things.
    If you sit at your campsite at night you'll hear a loud chorus of three year cicadas with their loud and then soft whirring buzz, and cricketlike like chirps, and am told the noises at night can be katydids too (or didn't they). At your site you can observe the robin or phoebe running along, or the squirrel sneaking up to your site if you happened to leave out some pistachio shells nearby. They say don't feed the animals, yet you feel compelled to leave something behind, while at the same time you take a souvenir or two (like American beech leaves and fairy stones from a nearby creek bed).
    As you sit in a circle and roast a "s'mores" (after one I don't think they want you to have more) the park ranger points out the park is where an old mining town used to be, but was flooded to create the man made lake. I'm sure the deer and tiger swallowtail butterflies, the people and birds all appreciate the effort to have a place away from the hustle and bustle of  civilization, if just for a while.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sqaure Foot Garden is filling out

    It appears that our square foot garden is filling out. The first week a storm seemed to blow the tomato plants over, but that didn't keep them from winding down and off the sides of the raised bed and entangling themselves and getting tangled with the cucumber plants as well. We've had so much rain the cucumber vines are cascading down like a waterfall over one side of the square foot. We're NEVER had luck with cukes before and have picked a dozen maybe, between the sq. ft. garden and a cucumber plant container on the deck. Now if only the little bugger tomatoes on the stems would ripen up. Our earlier, in ground garden is finally starting to get some red tomatoes.

We're going to see fairies (stones, anyway)

    We are going to see some fairy stones this week. What is a fairy stone, you may ask? Well, it is NOT Tinker Bell  encapsulated in a rock. No -- these are special stones, a special configuration of what is called staurolite, where the rock forms at  60 and 90 degree angles, I'm told, and is cross shaped. How odd, and they say you can find a lot of them at Fairy Stone State Park!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Rain, rain everywhere; gardens and taking nature for granted

     A drop of water has over  about 5 "sextillion" atoms (a billion is 10 to the 12th power and a sextillion is one to the 21st power). This is what rain is made of and we've had quite a bit of it lately.
     Water is that most unusual element (more technically a compound with its hydrogen and oxygen molecules), with its loose, flowing molecules, refreshing when cool and life depriving when a solid (slow atom moving) block of ice. As part of big groupings we call rain, it can both provide life AND be life threatening if there is too much of it around us at one time. 
     Our current errant weather patterns convey a certain temperamental, whimsical sense to our clouds, lakes and rivers. Should I rain today, flood an area --- or not? This whimsy is frustrating to us humans, who  have not yet figured out how to control this part of nature. We (over)fish the seas, engage in wolf management, preside over the introduction of highways which may or may not compromise the lives of bears, cougars, coyotes, raccoons, think we can handle the Great Lakes. But the bigger question really is how do we peacefully co-exist with nature, a nature more and more out of our control?
     There was so much rain the other night that the TV said a mountain road was being closed due to mud slides. But we are not (normally) in monsoon territory! It is unusual  to have rain on and off all day the beginning of July, so much so that there have been flash flood warnings and they close the public park on 4th of July day!
     The garden plants reach out their fragrant (at least in the case of tomatoes) leaves out toward the sun and then, rain. I read a special native bee is needed to "vibrate" the pollen off the tomato flowers in order to get at the pollen. Bees, sun, rain are all essential for summer garden planting and harvesting, and we probably take them all for granted. But all this rain --- the soil, the plant roots can only soak up just so much water, although I'm not sure a tree can drown. Well, if the tomato plants do get blight/root rot  then I guess this rain will all be too much, even for my well draining square foot garden.
     I am hoping the rain will take a break, the sun will come out and nothing will blight. It's too bad we couldn't just manually push the clouds over Colorado and Arizona, where there have been wildfires lately and nature seems determined to scorch the earth. Such imbalance we see in nature now, and we can't say we are totally innocent in this regard. Is the answer to all this exaggerated rain and drought less CO2 in the air, less warming of the earth overall?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Canoeing to litter at Claytor Lake, local woods discoveries

     Just as there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is actually more than one way to address the litter issue. Litter, that refuse tossed by citizens onto roadways and waterways, is a big issue in our communities. And to help our municipalities and parks, we should volunteer some of our time and pick up some of this unsightly garbage.
     So, the spouse and I headed to our nearby state park, Claytor Lake, and with a group of others, set upon the lake to do some summer cleanup. We wondered at first whether to go that day; after all, the weatherman had predicted partly sunny skies and there was a  light rain coming down at 9 in the a. m. But Frank said, oh, it won't be raining at the lake, and guess what? He was wrong.
     We arrived  to light rain that quickly petered out, just as I was getting on my red plastic poncho. One worker there pointed out that there was a "lake effect" that caused Claytor Lake weather to differ from the surrounding community. The weather was really quite temperamental. In the 4 hours we were there it went from rainy, to deep, gray clouds to sunny and white fluffy clouds high above us, and the park started to really fill up in the beach area.
     It was not a day to sunbathe (though my right arm did get a tiny bit of sunburn) -- we were litter hunters. I thought we would be on land, but they gave us a canoe, life jackets (to borrow, of course) and these thin orange vests, I presume to show vacationing boaters that we meant business. We were litter hunters. And what we found was interesting: tires (too heavy to put in the canoe that a Friend of Claytor Lake told me the lake staff would pick up), I don't know why, plastic and glass bottles, containers for worms, pieces of plastic jugs, tubing, part of a wooden table or chair, pieces of styrofoam (which they say will take several hundred years to break down), and other assorted odds and ends. 
     After 90 minutes it was getting hot and I pulled off the poncho as we got off at a boat dock so Frank could stretch his legs. They made the mistake of putting him in front and me in back (am not a good paddling "steerer"), so we were also going to switch places. The lake had a bit of current, and when a motorboat went by we really had to paddle against the waves in order to not be pulled too far from the coastline. And I had to use my light orange vest so that there would be something to tie to the dock. 
     Once on land again we spied  the smaller cabins for rent. Frank asked a park employee how much they were and he actually opened one up for us to see. For $90 a night you are really close to the lake, and have at your disposal two bedrooms, a screened in porch, a small living room (no TV or  radio as nature is your entertainment), and small kitchen stocked with utensils, plates, fridge, stove, microwave,  air conditioning, also a bath with a shower and linens. Like a motel room but actually bigger, close to fishing, hiking or going to the beach. But I still think $90 a night is steep. Across from our "cove" were McMansion cabins which looked like 3 story wooden apartment buildings for 2-3 families. No idea how expensive they are, but probably great for family reunions on the lake.
      It is really good exercise paddling, your shoulder muscles really put to work.  The lake was, the trees in the distance, the "water bar" little pontoon boat that sold refreshments as it slowly drifted down the middle of the lake -- these were interesting sights, peaceful, in a way. 
    Finally, we contributed 3 big orange bags and a long tube too big for their orange garbage bags to the FOCL group, who had a flatbed trailer collecting our efforts. In return we got a free Friends of Claytor Lake tote bag, with colored letters on an impractical white bag.
     This spring and early summer, when I haven't been doing something like the litter pickup (important for my Master naturalist hours) I have walked various paths. At the local Wildwood Park I have noted different plants coming up with all this rain we have had in the past month --- I sure hope it stops soon so our tomato plants don't rot. I came upon some unfamiliar plants in leaf shape-- one was from the mint family and another was probably the green coneflower family. I won't know till they actually flower or I find them in one of my wildflower guide books. Blackberries were in evidence too, a long ways from being ripe! I love fresh (organic) berries from the woods. They're healthy AND free.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Mount Pilot , NC

                                                       Mount Pilot in the distance

    It was at the end of a short trail, and it seems the trails we did get to go on around Mount Pilot in North Carolina had numerous steps. I don't think the "Sassafras" (didn't see any sassafras on it) and  "Jomeokee" Trails were constructed to be handicapped accessible. The first trail had a number of big wooden block steps to get up and over, and it curved down and then back up again. It said it was a moderate trail, but not in my opinion. If you've got weak knees or are winded easily it's not too easy a trail. I don't know when these trails were made, but the park property was sold by Mrs. Pearl Beasley for $643,000 in 1968 and was made into a state park in the 1970s, long (but not too long) after The Andy Griffith Show  ended (1968). Mount Pilot is mentioned many times in that TV show but no one "ever" mentioned hiking up and down the durn mountain!
    Actually, it wasn't so much up as it was "around" the mountain we went. Mount Pilot is called a knob, with a head of greenery at the top, cliffs, and then the mountain's sheer cliff face on the sides. The cliff face was interesting as it jutted out in certain places, as though you were looking at noses or blemish bumps on a face. That may be why there was a sign along the "Jomeokee" Trail that said it was a misdemeanor for climbing on the cliff/rock face. Our friend Kent joked about this: "Guy gets put in jail -- hey, what are you in for? Climbing a rock!"
    It was surprising that it was not too far along and we were on our way to the side of Mount Pilot proper, where there was a sign admonishing us to not pick any wild plants. There wasn't the big variety of plants there I could detect, but then, in June there are not a lot of plants in bloom either. There were some straggly rhododendron trees with their leathery green leaves hanging over our trail, and a few mountain laurel shrubs, with delicate white, belllike  flowers with pink stamens showing in a few places, but just a few. We must have missed the main blooming time for these.
     I have to admit it was a pretty rock we hiked around. Am told it is a metamorphic (meaning it changed over time due to heat and pressure) quartzite, which is why it looks like it was bleached white. But on this Jomeokee Trail around it, we had sections of flat sandy path alternating with sections of stone steps, some very unique looking. The quartzite can have iron oxide in it and make it look different colors. The colors I saw were mostly a light color, beige, and even pink with shiny tiny little pieces in it, kind of pretty, but if we'd fallen on it we would have probably been  hurt!
    The ranger said that a so-called "controlled burn" got out of control, and on this trail and parts of the Sassafras Trail we saw charcoal briquette-looking trees nearby, like they were going to use them for barbecue (only they were the things being barbecued). And from up there you would see well into the distance, distant enough it looked to be patches of farmland and woods. At a little over 2,400 feet, I would say there is a lot to see below, as the park itself I don't think covers that many acres, at least from where I was looking at it. There is also a good stretch of steps going up and down as you head back around the mountain. If Andy Griffith and Opie ever went up here they really had some good views of the valley below. June is a good time for this kind of walk.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Selu outing- wild mice, a cat, trees and bats, oh my

                                 Dr. Karen Francl with a wild white footed mouse

    This past Saturday the wind was a bit cool, but it didn't dampen the spirits of the students and few brave naturalist souls who went to a property owned by Radford University for some early spring nature hunts. Dr. Francl, from the R. U. biology department, had set traps to catch some critters in the brambles and fields that are part of the Selu Conservancy property. This property is unique in that it has an old 1930's style farmhouse with no electricity (with battery powered radio, to boot), woods that may get a bit of harvesting, a wonderful, modern retreat house, and a gravel road that will take you to a parking area where you can walk a winding road to an overlook. It makes a grand outdoor classroom, and on that day that is just what we did.
    Dr. Francl and some students set out to set "up" these tiny little tiny traps, the kind that have food at one end. Once the little critter gets in it, the open end closes. It does have the food and breathing holes, so they should be okay. They set out hundreds of these little traps and mainly obtained for their work white footed mice, which I understand have a shorter tail than a deer mouse, and are the common wild mice of the area. The adult normally is a brownish color with a white bottom; young mice are gray, which you might see in your neighborhood if your cat decides to pounce on something (just recently my 8 year old cat showed she'd still pretty fast and laid a very small gray and white mouse by the front doorstep-- bad kitty).
     I was rather preoccupied with getting a picture and should have been brave enough to grab the "scruff" of the mouse (in back at the shoulder blades) as she maneuvered the little buggers from the rectangular tin trap to a lingerie bag with various holes so that they would be measured and weighed and not escape. But then she did the "scruff" action and took the lingerie bag off mouse and you could really see it. They have these big, shiny black eyes and white whiskers and I think were a little bit afraid. But one of her students I guess had a poor grip and the little bugger hit deep into her finger, bringing up a big circle of blood!
    While there we also learned that in our area is a lot of calcium carbonate in the form of dolomite and limestone. There's also sandstone on our "faulty" mountain ridges. In our valleys because of these stones you find sinkholes and near them--- salamanders! At Selu we  found a red backed salamander, with a red line going down its sleek black back, and another dark salamander, the slimy salamander, so-called because if it feels threatened it can give off a sticky substance that doesn't smell great either. Salamanders are secretive critters, but you can find them under rocks and very close to streams. They need to keep moist as most of them "breathe" through that moist skin. I didn't find any myself but a fellow naturalist pointed out the somewhat fat, striated leaf of what he called an "Adam and Eve" orchid. They produce a small flower in late summer. This was the first I'd hear of them.
    But the early spring and edible plants I did know about I showed a handful of people around the old farmhouse. We took note of the Pennsylvania bittercress, edible just like watercress and wintercress, as well as the few wild mustards, with their tiny yellow flowers on top. The seed is not much bigger than a period at the end of a sentence. They say if you have the faith of a little mustard seed then you can move mountains. I hope that is so. Blackberry/raspberry brambles were also in evidence -- did you know they are related to the rose family?
    They set up one bigger cage in hopes of catching a raccoon-- they got someone's pet ginger colored cat instead, and it didn't look too happy being in that big birdlike cage!
    Dr. Francl also had some students talk about our Virginia and national bats. The Indiana bats travel here, and our little brown bat might be endangered, depending on who says so. They had some expensive echo-location bat-tick meters, but I didn't get to try them out. I don't believe there were any bats nearby, but you can never tell!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Spring snow when you least expect it

     The other day was atypical: as I was going to my class in early April I found myself dealing with snow on the ground. And in the air and swirling around me and into my face! Was this April Fool's Day 3 days late? It sure seemed as though nature was playing a trick on us, giving us severe climate change over last year's record warm winter weather.
  I informed my class I felt this was an example of climate change and was glad it hadn't snowed on our little walk on campus a few days earlier. Then we really would have had to cancel, as we would have had to fight the elements in order to see any trees or wildlife around us.
  But this was very unusual. The weatherman had NOT predicted this patch of cold air in the New River Valley and so we were socked with snow, and more snow and even more! By that evening we had over 4 inches of snow, the most in one day! For Christmas we didn't get snow, and now we are deluged with it in April! Our daffodils that were planted in the fall have, thankfully, not totally come up yet. They say daffodils can survive 32 degree temperatures so I'm hopeful they will actually bloom. They are supposed to have white outer petals and the inner "bell" shape will be a strong red-orange color.
  So while I was in class teaching the students get a "text" that classes and the campus are closed as of 4:30! So they left! And it was still snowing very heavy. I printed out a few things students had emailed me, at my office, and then got to a car that already had over 2 inches around it. But there were lightly covered tracks,like in the above picture, and I stayed in the tracks in the parking lot and onto Main Street, and even going up the streets to the house.
 I think the students enjoyed the evening off. But there was class the next day and now most of the snow has melted away and gone. What freaky weather!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Exploring nature with students in early spring

                                           This is  barely opening "saucer" magnolia blooms

     It has been an overly, overly long winter. So I was glad to get out with my college students and show them a bit of nature on campus. I actually informed them they needed to send a final text and put away their cell phones (some toward the back probably still didn't listen, they are so addicted to those things, like they're actually attached to their sorry wrists). I wanted them to be "in the moment" and enjoy nature.
    Although it was sunny and a cold wind was blowing, the 3:30 class did better than the 5:00 class when it came to observing and enjoying nature. After 5 it was beginning to really get cold and I put on a jacket on (back over my hoodie). But I think they all enjoyed some of it, a big difference from being lectured to in class!
    We began at the "alumni garden," which has two peeling bark maples and an old bell a former college president donated. In one class they tried to ring this old black painted bell that stood in the center of where they usually have petunias, but there isn't much in early April. Student Jade couldn't find the "clanger" underneath so it didn't make much sound at all!
    Then we went over to the science hall, which has a murky fish pond in back. The earlier class spied two big tailed squirrels run up a tree hanging over the pond, which had a big squirrel's nest on top, and the later class actually saw a goldfish and koi fish move in the murky water till they escaped back under a mossy grate and disappeared. It was really neat walking out of there-- saw several cedar waxwings flock into a tree (I think it was a bare cherry tree). Their light brown backs and black and red lines by the eyes really stood out among all the grayness.
    In front of the alumni garden I pointed out that the only "saucer magnolia" I knew of on campus was just beginning to bud--- actually it was all budded and nearly opened and blooming, even less so than the picture above. I said in 5-6 days it would be the absolutely prettiest tree on campus with its wine red and white striped flowers, shaped like an oblong tulip, somewhat. And the cherry trees were a long ways from blooming.
    I knew they were most surprised by our having a bald cypress and redwoods on campus. The cypress is supposed to be a "swamp" plant and the redwoods are supposed to be on the California coast. These "dawn" redwoods are Asian and won't grow to 300 feet like the American cousins you could drive a car through in California. And the cypress shows some trees are individuals and can adapt to odd situations. We also tried our hand at looking at handbooks.
    On their walk I showed them three places where they could be by themselves and sit, relax, maybe even meditate. Early spring is a good time to see what is out in the woods or in your park. So go out and enjoy nature!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunniva Sorby and The Great Women's Expedition to South Pole, what it all means

                                                  Sunniva Sorby in her element in the snow.

     A few days after my birthday the spouse and I saw and heard an inspirational speaker as part of "Women's History Month." Sunniva Sorby, an American of Norwegian descent, went with Anne Bancroft (not the actress, "another" Anne Bancroft) and two others on the first all female expedition to the South Pole. It was an expedition of great trials, as they went into "the interior" and didn't see any cute penguins or breaching whales. On this 1993 expedition they spent four long months pulling 200 pounds of supplies on a sled, against 50 mph winds, and it got as cold as -76 degrees (maybe Celsius, I'm not sure). Imagine doing this for four months, and you see the whiteness of snow and ice all day. And THEN, you get bronchitis and can't really breathe as you're pulling all that durn weight!
    I don't know how she and the other women did it. They had tremendous stamina. And I think they wanted to show that if the men could do it (Amundsen in 1911 and Scott in 1912), then why couldn't the women? We have women on the U. S. Supreme Court and have had women up in space so why not have women make it to the South Pole? It had to take great perseverance on their part to reach the South Pole, which she said had something like a metal marker, and I think they also put in flags and took pictures of each other. Can a camera even work in below zero temperatures?
    She pointed out that she now works with this "catalyst" organization that works to help businesswomen, and that we should always being "striving" for the next big thing. After her momentous goal, she actually was depressed for months. What would be her second act? She said she's done many things since that great task, and we need to keep striving, as it is part of the human condition. I have "strived" to overcome cancer, get a degree, and teach college students, and maybe get a book published (as opposed to just "in print"). We need to seek out new things, even as we get older (like me).
    As a naturalist I asked her what "nature" she saw down there. Any cute penguins or birds?
In the interior she said there was Nada, nothing. There is a mite that lives there and it doesn't even have wings (they would probably freeze off, I would guess). She has returned and boarded ships, which I am guessing go by penguin colonies and other water bound wildlife. I think she mentioned something about the effect of climate change on the ice there, but didn't really go into that. She was all about believing you can do anything you put your mind to doing. I have to work more on that myself. She was a powerful Virginia Tech speaker.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Of Stars and Winter Walks

    I remember (where has the time gone) a few years ago, when oldest son Zeb was between jobs and we walked on a sunny day at nearby Bisset Park. It was a year of "many snows, "and I was glad to have on my hiking/snow boots because most of the paved trail was wet with snow, though there were foot prints you could step into. The sun shone through as the trees were bare, and it became almost like a sunny spring day in temperature. Winter walks can be nice or (as in the case of the Great Backyard Bird Count) incredible frigid and uncomfortable. As I get older I seem to tolerate the harshness less and less. If we are in the midst of climate change I wish the harsher weather would be left behind.
    But, spring or winter, nature seems to have a need to "jut" out in front of us. In December,
(this is late winter now but I am thinking back) I was out at midnight because I was told there'd be an array of meteorites or "falling stars" shooting all over across the sky. Granted, it was cold and I only stayed out on my deck a little over 10 minutes, so I only saw 2 or 3. They were tiny, brief, spurts of light streaking across the sky, faint punctuations in the sky, and not the dazzling fireworkslike display I was hoping for. Nature can do that, not making much of a splash. Certainly in winter, the colors are hidden, the trees lay dormant, the birds have fled. We like to have the colors of nature around us all the time, but winter pushes them away from us, perhaps to appreciate them even more when they do come back around. Thoreau may have considered winter his favorite season, but I guess you would have to say that in an area with such long winters. I was born in Massachusetts but have no interests in being there in winter!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gulls and other on Great Backyard Bird Count

     Gulls and  robins and  others -- oh my! The last four  days (Feb. 15-18, 2013) have been a part of the "Great Backyard Bird Count". I guess they were in my backyard in the sense that they were in my town on the East coast. And the "list" the birdcount.org provided me didn't have
a "Kittiwake" gull (see photo above) on it. The kittiwake is supposed to just be a coastal bird,
from off the Virginia coast all the way up to Canada, but with all the snow and storms we have had in the past few weeks, isn't it possible that they would be around?
     I spied them in town near the college and the Kroeger grocery parking lot, and by Kroeger they were much nearer and their wings looked "really" long! That leads me to believe they are not the more common herring gull, which I guess we do see sometimes in the grocery parking lot too. I remember several years ago, when my oldest son went to college here, that I saw a number of seagulls in the Kroeger parking lot. We must be inland about 500 miles, yet the birds seem to like to make an appearance here, as though the parking lot represented some kind of modern, paved gray beach. Maybe they do find junk to eat in supermarket parking lots. But traveling 500 miles inland seems like an awfully long way to go to get your dinner!
    We also viewed 3 robins (the harbingers of spring!) on the side of a ball field at the local park. It was brutally cold with a searing wind going and it is no wonder they were low to the ground, trying to get out of that wind. Perhaps they were on their way up to new England, though I can't see why. It is even "colder" up there!
   A few crows, vultures and starlings also made an appearance during that time. And my husband spied a pair of attractive mourning doves on the next door neighbor's property. I personally think the birds could have waited another month (by then it will officially be spring), as now is really miserable with cold, whipping winds that make it seem like 19o F sometimes!!
    I am glad to see some more birds around, but that's not so good around our house -- our 8 year old cat probably "loves" the idea of the birds deciding to come back!
   If you want to see how many were counted go to birdcount.org.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Seeking hummingbirds

    Most people probably think of a hummingbird as some kind of huge insect. But it "is" a bird. According to bird hobbyist Melanie Fox and a little research I have done, hummingbirds are feisty little (no, not buggers) aviary beings. Some species have been known to venture to the high American Rockies or even Alaska. In the extreme temperatures actually cause them to go into a state of "torpor" where their heart beat is a mere 60 or 70 beat a minute and they may look like they are not even alive.
     But on a late fall day over a month ago (was it early December?) I scrambled to get some clothes on after Melanie emailed me that her feeder in front of her townhouse had attracted some hummers. So I got down there just as a few even "bigger" bird hobbyists caught the hummers in this little netting they put  over a bird cagelike like device the bird feeder was in, in order to tag then release the birds. They'd had a ruby throated juvenille on hand before I got there. As I arrived they were hold a tiny "rufous" hummingbird in the netting while putting a tiny, tiny aluminum band around its tiny leg. They told me they try the following year to capture the ones with the band on the leg to see where they have been and come back to. The rufous hummingbird is normally a West coast (down to the Baja pennisula next Mexico) bird that migrates south. But sometimes, they go off course.
    The rufous hummingbird had a light gray breast, and is supposed to be brownish with maybe a drop of yellow or red on top. Birds in general are pretty fast. But watch for those house cats! We have an indoor-outdoor cat, which may be a reason we don't see too many birds outside of sparrows and a few mourning doves when the weather was warmer. Cats can be fastER sometimes. But it is interesting to learn something new about birds.