Friday, December 21, 2012

A winter day

But not any winter day. Today is the first day of the beginning of the winter months. The Winter Solstice occurred at 6:12 a.m. EST, marking also the shortest day of the year and, conversely, the longest night.

Come tomorrow, the Sun will begin its climb higher in the sky bringing us lengthening days of light and the renewal of the season.

I enjoy winter and hibernating in my home. It's a cozy time of reading and reflecting on the things of the past, and of the coming future. It contains an edge of excitement as the next season to follow is Spring, a time of the greening of nature and new births.

 “Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.” ~Edith Stillwell

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Sixth Extinction

The bloom of the Prickly Pear cactus is a delight for the bees as they collect pollen. They are one of the greatest pollinators of our planet. Up to thirty-percent of food crops worldwide rely on bees for pollination. They feed us along with bats, birds, beetles and butterflies, the other great pollinators.

But we are losing them. The bees to colony collapse, the bats to white-nose syndrome, beetles and butterflies to habitat loss and all to pesticides. And we are losing so much more than them at an astonishing rate.

There have been five mass extinctions in the long history of the planet. We are currently is the sixth.

Extinction is part of evolution. Scientists calculate  the  normal extinction rate or the background extinction rate at about one species going extinct per year per one million species. Currently we are losing species at a rate of 100 - 1000 times that every year. That's a staggering number of species being lost, perhaps over 50,000 every year!

The cause is us. We are letting the biological diversity of this planet slip away through the destruction of natural habitats, hunting, invasive species, unsustainable fishing, chemicals and pesticides.

Perhaps the words of E.O. Wilson, one of the greatest living American scientists, will jolt us into action.

"This is the only planet we're ever going to have. This planet has taken tens, hundreds of millions of years to create this beautiful natural environment we have that's taken care of us so well that is, in fact, our greatest natural heritage. And we're throwing it away in a matter of a few decades."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

American Green Tree Frog

 I've had, for years, an organic vegetable plot on my property but this is the first year I've switched to organic products for my lawn. I am glad I did. I am seeing a greater variety of wildlife in my yard. I am certain the switch from toxic chemicals to organic is why. Consider doing the same for the species in your area. You will be rewarded as will they.

Like this gorgeous American Green Tree Frog. It's the second visit I've had this year and the first season I've seen them on my property. I've heard them for years with their loud nasal-like honks as I live next to their favored habitat, a wetland. Now they are coming in closer in their explorations.

Native to the southern United States, they range from Eastern Virginia to Florida then stretch on into central Texas. They are nocturnal, prey on insects and are a spectacular green color.

Isn't he awesome? Look at the large toe pads. The Green Tree Frog uses them to move from tree to tree and, while searching out insects, will do wild acrobatics in the dark of night jumping from tree to branch to tree.

In the readings I've done about this beautiful frog, I found it does not seek out prey based on size. Instead, it looks for the activity level where the most active prey is frequently eaten.

Don't go running through a forest at breakneck speed while the tree frogs are calling. You might find yourself eagerly sought after.

American Tree Frog calling

Saturday, November 24, 2012

For the faithful things

After waiting for Old Faithful geyser to erupt at Yellowstone National Park on a crisp, spring evening, I was treated to this delicious sunset of lemon yellow, raspberry red and blueberry blue with a hint of melon. A harbinger, perhaps, of other things that are faithful to the coming season - bounties of wonderful fruits - luscious lemons, gorgeous raspberries and sweet, tangy blueberries.

Many things are faithful in the seasons. The green of Spring, the spectacular colors of Fall, the crisp, starry nights of Winter, the ever steadfast sun, with its rising and setting season after season.

And a faithful old rose bush.

Imagine my surprise when I found this beautiful bloom in my garden on the eve of Thanksgiving.

I stared in wonder at such an exquisite late season rose and returned the next morning to cut it for my Thanksgiving table.

For the faithful things, I give thanks.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A lily that sky gazes

This gorgeous lily with its beautiful white, pink and yellow colors and an intoxicating scent, faces upward towards heaven. Hybridized in 1976, it was the first lily to bloom up as flowers in this lily group tend to hang downwards. Now, there are more lilies on the market that bloom facing up but Stargazer Lily was the first and, so, it was named.

Now, on this chill, grey November day, as I look at this image of one of the lilies that bloomed in my garden during the heat of July, I can't help but think of peppermint candy canes and the festive upcoming holiday season. It would truly be a wonder to see this lily bloom in the cold of winter while I watched it through a frosty pane from the warmth of my home as it gazes upward at the crisp winter stars. It would cap the holiday season.

Come next summer, when my Stargazer lilies bloom again, will I think of candy canes and a cold winter's night? I don't know, but surely it will warm me with delight.

You, too, can be delighted. It is easy to grow. If you decide to plant the bulbs, be prepared, as they are showstoppers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A friendly animal

This cute little guy is eating a peanut that was tossed to him when he ventured into our camp looking for scraps.  He's an Eastern Grey Squirrel of which, I am sure, many of you are familiar.

I have a family that visits my platform birdfeeder from time to time. And, I don't mind, as they never take more then they need and are a delight to watch.

They are one of the few mammals that can climb down a tree head first. They do this by rotating their back feet so the rear claws can grip the tree bark. That's a fantastic adaptation that, no doubt, protects them from predators who might be lurking at the bottom of the tree.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Smile On Happy Moon

Whenever I have the pleasure of catching an early crescent Moon it makes me grin. It reminds me of a happy face that's smiling down on Earth. What do I do when someone smiles at me? I smile right back. So that's what I do. I smile right back at that old happy Moon.

You, too, can catch an early crescent moon if you keep an eye on the lunar phase calendar. Use this link as a reference and mark your calendar. When you catch that big grin in the sky - remember, smile back.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

American Herring Gull

Imagine a beach without any seagulls and without their cries as they squabble over a crustacean. Now, imagine that it almost happened. In the 1800s, the American Herring Seagull was quite rare. Their numbers dwindling as they were hunted for human appetite - for eggs and for feathers.

I'm glad they've rebounded. I could not imagine a beach without them, as they are as familiar as the ocean breezes and waves. They winter over in nearly all of the coastal regions of North America with the breeding range extending north to Alaska and into the arctic regions. 

This particular seagull was enjoying a sunny, breezy day in Charleston, South Carolina. Could it be Jonathan Living Seagull? Most likely not, but a handsome American Herring Seagull just the same. 

A popular novella in the 70s, "Jonathan Livingston Seagull - a story," was a fable about a seagull who begins a journey of self-perfection through the passion for flight.

Looking at me from behind, his look seems a taunt at me, taunting me of what he's capable of doing in that wide expanse of blue sky and of what I cannot do -- that is fly free and high just like Jonathan encumbered by nothing.

 “He was not bone and feather but a perfect idea of freedom and flight, limited by nothing at all”
― Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

Friday, October 12, 2012

The French Broad River

This beautiful river flows through the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina passing through the city of Asheville to its final destination joining with the Tennessee River in Tennessee.

An odd name, I thought, but research revealed it was named by settlers as it was one of two broad (broad meaning river) rivers in Western North Carolina and belonged on land owned by the French.

In my readings, I discovered it is considered the third oldest river in the world; however further research indicated that the New River, also in North Carolina, is the third oldest.  I could not find any information to settle the matter.  But whether third or fourth it is old, very old.

If you are ever in North Carolina consider a visit to the French Broad River. Stand on its banks and contemplate its age -  an age that places it before the Appalachian Mountains were formed and before no human stood on its banks.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The American Bison

Soon we saw a cloud of dust rising in the east, and the rumbling grew louder and I think it was about a half hour when the front of the herd came fairly into view. From an observation with our field glasses, we judged the herd to be 5 or 6 (some said 8 or 10) miles wide, and the herd was more than an hour passing us at a gallop, about 12 miles an hour...the whole space, say 5 miles by 12 miles, as far as we could see, was a seemingly solid mass of buffaloes.  - Nathaniel Langford, 1870

The great herds of the American Bison were nearly pushed to extinction in the 19th century by a brutal slaughter campaign sanctioned by the U.S. Army. It took only three decades to reduce the massive herds to almost nothing. Then, the prairies fell silent.

Today, the American Bison lives on in scattered small pockets mostly in national parks and reserves.

In Yellowstone National Park, the bison wander outside the park but the cattle industry fears the bison will infect their cattle with the disease brucellosis. So federal and local officials slaughter them despite there being not one confirmed case of the disease. The slaughter continues every winter for the unfortunate ones who follow their instinct to roam the prairie.

Inside the park, you will find bison on restaurant menus mostly offered up as burgers. Yet, our national parks are deemed animal sanctuaries.

It all seems a travesty and another shameful footnote to add to our nation's history.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Argiope aurantia. Black and yellow garden spider. Corn spider. Writing spider. Many names for a wondrous spider who I just call Girl.

Sometime in July, she built her orb web outside my office window. I feel lucky she did, as I've been able to observe her from not a foot away. She's pretty darn spectacular. At least two inches long with colors of yellow, white, black and some light tan.

Each morning, before the sun rises, I'd see her reconstructing her web. Intrigued, I did some research and learned that the species eats its web every night and then rebuilds it. One morning I watched her lay in the zigzag, hence the name Writing Spider, and, when done, flex each leg simultaneously like a Yogi and then settle in, hanging upside down for the day. On a recent morning, when I slept late, I was surprised to see her still working on the web, clearly way past sunrise. I wondered what had caused the delay. I am thinking it may be the cool weather we've been experiencing as we move into fall.

I also learned that the male of the species is quite a bit smaller than the female and will often build his web close by or attach it to hers. He'll strum her web to alert her that he's present and, when he approaches, have a drop-line ready just in case she attacks.

I kept an eye out for a male and luckily I spotted him one day. His web was, indeed, attached to hers. I hoped that I could watch their mating. After a week or two, the male was gone and I suspected they had. I kept a lookout to see if I could observe her lay the eggs and create the perfect oval sac with an upturned neck that holds them, but despite a diligent watch, I did not. Then, a few weeks back, I spotted her egg sac attached to the window frame just a foot or two from her. The eggs will hatch inside the sac this fall but the babies, perfect miniature replicas of the adults, will not emerge until spring.

As the nights grow cooler she will weaken and when the first hard frost comes she will die, leaving behind the babies she guarded as long as she could. Little does she know that I intend on keeping watch over them through the fall and winter.

I wait in anticipation to see them emerge this coming spring when they will spin a tiny silk and drift off on the wind.

I will name one of them Girl.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

And there they were

Just like that, there they were, as if someone pulled a lever to change the scene. Rising abruptly from the surrounding landscape, the Teton Range in Wyoming is stunning. Rugged and snow-covered they are a photographer's and mountaineer's dream. And a dream, too, for those who come upon them.

I had come driving around a curve on the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway on my way to Grand Teton National Park from Yellowstone National Park, and there they were before me. No gradual rise or small hills to alert me to a change in elevation, nope they were simply there. I was momentarily stunned to see such a scene before me and could not muster any words except for "wow." Certainly, it seemed, as I think back now, not an appropriate word for the moment or the grandeur. But perhaps it was as it was the easiest word my breath could make while experiencing a moment of now. For contained in that one word was a multitude of feelings and thoughts—awe, wonder, reverence and a deep sense of the age and majesty of planet number three.

Grand they are and grand they stand. Wow.


Grand the plains of the north,
Grand the delta of the south,
Grand the torch of the east,
Grand the canyon of the west,
Grand the land ever new,
Grand the sky hung azure blue,
Grand country of wide span
Many American—
Grander still this land loved best:
Is that it is grandly blest!

Have you been to Grand Teton National Park? What did you think and experience when you first saw them?

 Note: The image shown was taken on the west side of the Teton Range in Idaho and does not depict the view from the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The grizzly bear - 55,000 of them and seven billion of us

 I watched this mother and cub in Yellowstone National Park. I thought myself fortunate to observe them in their natural habitat and because it’s a rare thing. I was mesmerized to see the play and evident affection between them. I was at a respectable distance and kept that distance, as I did not want to disturb their solitude.

I watched for about ten minutes and I quietly moved on when the mom and cub moved on. He was small and looked to be a cub of the year, which is a cub born that spring.

 Seven billion of us inhabit the Earth along with 55,000 grizzly bears. And in the continental U.S., there are 1,200 of them and 330 million of us. In Yellowstone National Park there are 550 of them.

There are six recovery areas in the U.S. for the grizzly including Yellowstone National Park. The population is precarious as smaller populations of species are at a higher risk for extinction. And while there are other populations of grizzlies in Alaska and Canada, the total global population of 55,000 is not a whole lot.

Seven billion of us, fifty-five thousand of them – a little more than what Yankee Stadium holds.

They are listed as threatened. They are legally hunted.

 I wonder what the future holds for this little guy. Will his species survive as our species grows? Will the small pockets of grizzlies be able to stand against threats to their survival such as continued habitat loss, a virus outbreak, shortages of food sources, and a number of other factors that would further reduce their numbers and lead to extinction.

Is there room on the Earth for the grizzly bear and us? I hope there is and I hope my species has the wisdom to let them survive. But, the truth is, we won't decide, nature will, just as it will decide the fate of our own species.

Brooks Falls Brown Bears, Katmai National Park, Alaska 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

American Alligator

I sighted this American Alligator at Huntington Beach State Park, SC a few weeks ago. He was only 20 feet from me as I centered my binoculars on his eye. It was a stunning moment staring into the eye of an apex predator. His eye, wholly reptilian, was alien to me but compelling. I sensed the intelligence behind it.

I felt no fear but rather a deep admiration for a species that's endured for 200 million years but nearly lost it's track record when it met Homo Sapiens. In 1967 it was listed as endangered due to hunting and habitat loss. The good news is because of the Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1972, the American Alligator population has rebounded. Part of the reason, though, is because of alligator farms where they are culled for their hides and meat.

The American Alligator is a native of the Southeastern states from North Carolina through Texas and one of only two alligators in the world, the other being the Chinese alligator, which is endangered.

Later in the day I spotted another alligator. But this time standing on the shoreline between me and the alligator was an Anhinga, a large aquatic bird that was drying its feathers, seemingly oblivious to the proximity of the alligator.

 The Anhiga was twelve feet from the alligator. The alligator was in ambush position with head and eyes above the surface of the water. He waited and watched. I waited and watched.

I was not quite sure if the bird was aware of the alligator but it did step up the bank a few feet as it continued to preen.

While observing, I was interrupted by a man with his son who had come along to see what I was watching. When I looked back the alligator was gone. I had not heard a thing while chatting. The alligator had stealthy moved below the surface. I knew the three of us had blown it for him.

I see why horror movies use reptilian characteristics in building "monsters" but that is a disservice and a misrepresentation. This alligator was no monster and I understood why the species has endured for so long. Strip us of our weapons and it's clear who would win.

In deep, dark space, Earth from 3.7 billion miles.
That evening, while stargazing I contemplated the vastness of the universe and our home, truly it seems, a mote of dust in that vastness.  I thought of alien life on other worlds. My mind then wandered to the alligators I had experieced that day. No, I thought, to me you are not alien, nor are you a hide for belts, for boots for bags nor are you meat. You are far more magnificent then something for human vanity and taste. You are a success story of evolution and survival unique to planet Earth and deserving of protection and respect.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Bluebird Couple

This lovely pair, the female at left and the male at right, took up residence in one of two Bluebird boxes I have in my yard.

It took about two-years to finally attract them as they are particular and shy. From my watches, they are diligent and attentive parents.

For years they've been in decline due to habitat loss, but thanks to backyard birders and parks that have Bluebird boxes they are rebounding.

Consider adding a Bluebird box to your yard. All you need is patience and all the Bluebirds need is a place.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

A beautiful Bee Balm bloom

A singular Bee Balm flower blooms in my garden. But this bloom is large and exquisite. I am certain, as the season progresses, there will be many more. This one bloom though, with it's rounded head of tubular flowers, is so loved by the bees, butterflies and other nectar seeking creatures. This one bloom is a way-station for them as spring turns to summer.

Bee Balm is also called Monarda, wild bergamot and Oswego tea. Native American used it to make tea.

Plant Mondara and you will make many nectar seeking creatures happy.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Fashionable lady

One of  Spring's hottest color is in the orange family cleverly called such delicious names as tangerine and mandarin. You see the color in tops, pants, shoes, jewelry and handbags. It is a lovely color and speaks to the cool days and crisp nights of the season.

But there is one lady I've seen, who in her year-round colors, is at the height of this Spring's fashion color.  The female Northern Cardinal. Her colors are exquisite. Soft muted browns complimented by a rich tangerine with tans and greys. Her beak, a stunning orange that dramatically highlights her beautiful plumage. Take a close look at her front, where you can see light tans dappled with a pale orange.

So ladies, take a fashion lesson from this gal. Think tans, browns, greys, tangerine and orange. You just might take flight.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I love you Earth

Earth is beautiful,
You is beautiful,
I is beautiful,
Sky is beautiful,
Land is beautiful,
Ocean is beautiful,
Plant is beautiful,
Animal is beautiful,
Bird is beautiful.

The world rejoices.

Earth Day, April 22, 2012
Photo: Nasa Goddard

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Somewhere . . .

This male bluebird and his mate have begun their spring nesting activities right in my backyard - my little piece of heaven that is a sanctuary for all living creatures that call the Earth their home.

Perched up high at the top of a pine, this is his favorite lookout before he launches himself at the nest.

If I stand just right in the window, I am in his line of site. I watch him quietly as he waits for a time, with a piece of moss or other nest material in his beak, looking about to make sure the coast is clear. When satisfied,  he launches himself at a steep downward angle straight into his home - one of two bluebird boxes I've secured to my deck. The pine is no more than thirty feet from his home and his accuracy and grace of flight is a wonder as wondrous as the color of his beautiful blue feathers.

Perhaps I am on the other side of the rainbow

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly.
Birds fly over the rainbow.
Why then, oh why can't I?

If happy little bluebirds fly

Beyond the rainbow
Why, oh why can't I?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gallus gallus domesticus

An afternoon thunderstorm deep in the south gave way to this lovely view. The flowering dogwoods were a pure, radiant white, a white so pure it was hard to take your eyes off of them. This was the delightful scene my first day at Barnell State Park in Blackville, South Carolina on the transition from late winter into spring.

The time continued to delight as I saw a Great Blue Heron wading in the pond, alligators swimming, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker working a pine, three Pileated Woodpeckers foraging together and a multitude of butterflies fluttering about in the understory. It was a joyous response to the coming of spring.

But there was one visitor to my camp that keeps coming back to my mind over and over again. A chicken. She wandered up one day and caught me by surprise. She was inquisitive and she was a beauty. Her soft beige and brown colors were lovely and her tail feathers exquisite. I wondered how she had gotten there. What was she doing in a state park? Had she been abandoned? Was there a farm nearby that she wandered from? Off in the distance a rooster did crow one morning. Perhaps she was an adventurer like me and did wander off to discover the world or perhaps she escaped. I did not know. She obviously had been around humans, as she showed no fear in entering my camp but would scurry off if I came too near.

To me, she was living between two worlds, that of the domestic, she did seek human companionship and that of the wild, she returned to the woods at dusk to roost.

I was concerned for her. She was a domesticated bird – I worried if she’d survive.  I thought of her sisters, the billions suffering year after year on factory farms. I pondered capturing her and placing her in a good home. But how would I do that? And how would I transport her? I had five dogs with me. But I‘d figure something out.

 I thought deep and hard on her welfare and my mind vacillated back and forth between her and the horrific images of her imprisoned sisters. She was getting a taste of freedom, unencumbered by the demands of humans. My decision came down on her side, her side of freedom and her foray into the world her ancestors had come from. I decided not to interfere.

The day I left, I wished her well. I wished her the bliss of freedom. And, I said goodbye.

But, she will be in my memory always. As the years go by, I will think on her for a time, when the waves of memories that come and go bring her image to rest on the shores of my mind and heart.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Grandaddy Graybeard

Seen in the south draped like garland on Southern Live Oak and Bald Cypress trees, Spanish Moss is sometimes called graybeard - grandaddy graybeard. Like the Saguaro cactus of the southwest, it is an icon of the deep south and conjures thoughts of sultry summer days and misty warm mornings.

A northerner, when I first saw Spanish moss I knew I was in the deep south. Where else could I be? The encounter sifted deep into my memories, to memories of pictures and old art that I had seen. Yes, I was finally in the South - finally with the icon.

Spanish moss is not a true moss but an epiphyte, which is a plant that derives its food not from the tree but from the air and rainfall (how lovely is that?) It causes the tree no harm although the growth of the tree may be limited by the amount of sunshine reaching its leaves.

Graybeard has been used for many things including insulation, mulch and packing material. It is also used in arts and crafts and you've most likely encountered it as the grey, soft filling on top of plants from a florist. It was once used to stuff car seats and mattresses. Have you checked your mattress lately?

I'd rather see it on the trees of the deep south where it provides shelter for animals as one part of an intricate web, from tree to graybeard to snakes to bats to memories.

Spanish moss hangin' down
Lofty as the southern love we've found
Spanish moss ~ Gordon Lightfoot

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sentinel of the Sonoran desert

Stretching from northwest Mexico up through southwest Arizona and California this swath of desert is a diverse ecosystem. It is home to a well-known native and an icon of the southwest, the Saguaro cactus. These magnificent cactus can grow up to 50 feet and live for 150 years. They stand sentinel over the Sonoran desert as if guarding this place with steely spikes. And, as it should. The Sonoran desert is a place of majestic beauty and a testament to the tenacity of life.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The great melt of Yellowstone National Park in spring

A verdant, untouched wilderness that is truly a wonderland for the senses. Looking out from a vantage point over the Yellowstone River as it flows through the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone carrying the winter melt water, you experience the pulse of the season. If you position yourself in such a way as to not see any of the road or trail, you immerse yourself in pristine beauty and see Yellowstone just as the early explorers did. In comparison to the size of the United States, this small patch of protected land is a reminder of what was once the richness of this land.

I sat there in amazement, while my companions came up, and after that, it seemed to me that it was five minutes before anyone spoke. ~ Charles W. Cook who first viewed the canyon in 1869.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Ode to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker

". . . the manners of the Ivory-billed have a dignity about them far superior to the herd of common Woodpeckers." Jacob Henry Studer (1840-1904)

The Ivory-billed Woodpecker  - the Lord God bird of the bottomland hardwood forests of the south. I've read and investigated much about this magnificent woodpecker. To think that it may be extinct, gone from this Earth, due to human influence brings me pain not only for this grand woodpecker but also for myself and others who will never experience it. It was deprived of its very existence as we too are deprived.

Much has been written about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and much investigation has gone into ascertaining if it still exists. I write my comments for you Dear Lord God Bird. If you are still out there, still foraging in the tiny tracts that remain of once was the Great Southern Hardwood Forests before they were logged out, remain the Ghost Bird.

Learn more
The Ivory-billed Woodpecker by James T. Tanner
Ghost Birds: Jim Tanner and the Quest for the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, 1935-1941 by Stephen Lyn Bales, Foreword by Nancy Tanner
The Grail Bird: The Rediscovery of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker by Tim Gallagher