Nature’s Spirit

Lately, I have been experiencing a dry spell. What to write? What to write? What to write?  For me, our present political scene is depressing, thus making it hard to feel positive about much in life.

I was so excited when we returned from our vacation to the east coast. My grandson met relatives for the first time. He visited the sites of his mother’s childhood. We explored Philadelphia’s Independence Hall and New York City with all its complications was enjoyed. Along the way we interacted with a great variety of people. I felt…….real life isn’t as damaged as I thought. Then Charlottesville, VA. My heart sank. What now?  I have decided for me to maintain a healthy physical and mentally balanced life I must turn back to the spirit of nature. I must observe, listen, respect, experience, and rejoice in it.

I am presently half way through the book: God Is Red by Vine Deloria Jr.  The writing is thirty years old but is speaking to me about the philosophy of life I have come to develop over my sixty-seven years. The basic premise is that we are but a small part of nature.  All life is not dependent on us. We are not life’s focal point. We must submerge ourselves in nature and react to the world in the here and now.   Somehow this gives me strength….

We must observe:

  1. You have seen this image in a previous blog. It is the crocus growing in the yard of a friend in Japan after the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The strength of this disaster could not discourage or bully this lovely blossom.

 

 

 

2.  Despite the Road Commission’s attempt to mow down the  life in my yard the milkweed recovered quickly. I found three monarch butterfly eggs. They are presently in their chrysalises soon to emerge ready for their trip to Mexico. I am not the only one making such an effort.  There are thousands of people, some working with the University of Kansas program Monarch Watch, and others on their own, protecting these little predictors of the future.

 

 

3.  A cactus, given to me 30 years ago by a struggling student, finally blooms. What a beautiful surprise. I hope this means that she too is blooming wherever she may be.

 

 

 

 

4.  Animals still feel there is a reason to reproduce, nourish, and protect their young.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life is not dependent on us to flourish, however, we are capable of destroying it on a large scale.

 

We must listen:

The bees have been talking: Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the worker bees disappear from the hive. They have left plenty of food for the queen and a few nurse bees for the surviving larva. In 2006  North America experienced a drastic number of disappearances of the western honey bee. Western Europe along with other spots on the globe also experienced this but to a lesser degree. Bees pollinate one-third of our food. If they lose we lose. We are listening and some improvements are being made. There is still a ways to go.

 

2.  The Karner Blue butterfly is talking and we may have missed its message. This lovely creature’s entire life cycle is  dependent on the blue lupine plant.  The blue lupine grows in sandy soil in maple and aspen barrens. Fire is the blue lupine’s friend as it controls the growth of shrubs allowing the maples and aspens to grow and give the plant shade. Human invasion of the lupine’s territory, death due to pesticides, and human control of fire has dwindled the blue lupine population to almost nothing showing a 99% drop in the butterfly population. The loss of any strand in the food chain weakens the whole.

 

3. The  Western Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna is talking.  Presently, marine fish account for 15% of the protein in our diet. It is projected that the consumption may grow to 35% of our diet in the near future.  Sushi lovers can not get enough of the blue fin tuna. At this point in time over harvesting has endangered this fish.  In Maine I witnessed the tuna fishermen bringing in their catches….numbers being carefully monitored.  What is the rest of the world doing? During my visit to Japan I came to realize this tuna is worshiped.

 

4. The monarch butterfly is talking. In or around 1996 I began teaching fourth grade. I wanted to create a team-like atmosphere for my students so we became the “Mighty Monarchs”.  The first days of the school year were spent studying this magnificent creature and its journey south. We tagged butterflies and supported schools in El Rosario, Mexico. It was hoped they would stop logging and begin a tourist industry celebrating the Monarchs that over wintered there.  A week or so before school I would collect caterpillars by the dozens.  As the years passed I found fewer and fewer caterpillars until I found none. I ordered caterpillars through the mail….IMAGINE THAT….. This seemed so artificial to me and many of the little caterpillars did not make it to the butterfly stage.  The last five years of my teaching we became the “Super Stars” studying the heavens.

Human invasion, cutting down or killing the milkweed, pesticides and logging are all contributing to the decline of the Monarch butterfly. More and more people are being educated about the needs of this butterfly and are interacting with it. This year I have raised four. That is twice as many as last year.

 

We must respect:

It is my opinion that humans have disrespected nature for thousands of years and we have and are suffering for it. We can think about over crowding and poor sanitation that brought the plagues.  The earliest recorded bubonic plague, also known as black death, was the Plague of Justinian in AD 541.

The industrial revolution completely ignored the needs of the Earth dumping waste in rivers, lakes, oceans and the air. When the Cuyahoga River caught fire people began to take notice.  We have had years of regulations, some followed and some not, some kept, some lost. There have been great improvements, however we still suffer.

For me, global warming is very real.  I acknowledge the fact, it is hard for many to understand. There are also many who do understand and are afraid to acknowledge it.  I get it, it is scary. So what can we do….I feel like a mouse swimming in the ocean.

  1. Reduce  Reuse  Recycle
  2. Do not change the landscape to suit human purposes….New Orleans paid dearly for that.
  3. Reduce your waste. Our recycling bin is filled weekly. Our trash bin is rarely half full monthly.
  4. Purchase items with recycling in mind….I buy glass rather than plastic.
  5. Plant native plants and flowers.
  6. Allow animals native to your area to share your space. Yes, coyotes, wolves, cougars, etc. Learn how to live with them….our mistake is thinking it is all about us.
  7. Teach the children about the balance of nature.
  8. Continue to educate yourself concerning the Earth’s needs.

They Set Up A Camera In The Forest And Captured The Most Incredible Scene Ever

Experiencing nature is a gift:

Photo by Carrie and Kylie
Woman’s best friend
Photo by Karen Rieser

 

 

 

 

Their are also times we must experience nature’s wrath to protect life. It is amazing how many people will answer this call!

Rejoice in nature.

Rejoicing in nature is simple.  Nature is found outside your window, in the cracks of your patio,  in your yard,  on beaches, in boats, in city, state and federal parks, etc. etc. One can sit, hike, swim, sail…

For me…I love opening the window in the bedroom all year long to smell the night air. My husband….not so much. I like to sit on the porch when it is raining. I like to walk in the rain. I love the snow by a fire. It is endless. There is so much to enjoy by just thinking to use your senses.

There are more formal ways to rejoice in nature.  The Association of Nature and Forest Therapy takes you into the forest and teaches you how to look at it using all of your senses. You are immersing and cleansing yourself with nature. This is not a hike or a swim rather it is an experience. It is referred to as ‘forest bathing’ and is proven to be beneficial to both mind and body.

I close with a smile on my face and a purpose. Reach out to nature…whatever that means to you….and find peace of mind.

Once again I find a place for Chief Seattle’s quote:

  1. Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.

 

 

 

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Mowed Down

I work so hard to provide an environment that supports the miracles of nature  and then bam it is butchered. My entire yard – front, side and back hill has been seeded with Michigan wild flowers and grasses. We have also planted bushes to attract butterflies as they migrate.  An expensive water system has been installed to nourish them. It is not only a joy for my family but the neighborhood. Several families have put wildflower patches in their yard.

Yesterday the county felt it was necessary to mow a six-foot path across the front of my yard to improve the line of sight for drivers. It was not only my yard but the entire neighborhood. I live in what I would call a closed neighborhood…..only one way in or out. The roads are used by homeowners and their occasional guests. I have exactly four drivers that pass my house on the way to their homes and don’t hold your breath waiting to see them drive by. I have never known there to have been an accident on the neighborhood roads unless ice was involved and at that time of year we are lucky to get the roads plowed let alone an extra six-foot line of sight at the side of the road. There was no notice that this was going to happen….the most common method of the government achieving what it wants and what it knows its constituents may not be pleased with. A neighbor, having lived in the area for eighteen years  never remembers this service being given to the neighborhood. He actually mows a twelve-inch path next to the roads with his riding mower avoiding our yard as he respects our culture.

So what is the big deal?  The big deal is that I have a strong spiritual belief and connection to the natural world. It is my belief that I am to be a steward of nature.  A  book I read from time to time and have out again after this experience is, “The Green Bible”.  This Bible highlights in green all the teaching about protecting, respecting and enjoying nature.

I have been mocked for my beliefs as all believers in this world have. For me, most people find me ridiculous. So be it. My favorite saying is, ” What other people think of you is none of your business.” Just love it.

So what really happened yesterday?  My milkweed was mowed down.  Milkweed the life blood of the monarch butterfly. The bees that love to pollinate my flowers were killed. Oh the buzzing as you walk down the driveway is wonderful. These same bees pollinate the apples and grapes next door. Homes have been lost for wildlife. Some of the animals I have observed living among or walking through the wildflowers are bees, butterflies, snakes, chipmunks, rabbits, song birds, deer, crows and ducks.  I am sure there are more that are clever enough to remain unseen. For me these lives are important and in many ways support my life….remember the food web from elementary school?

I would like people to take and minute and think.  Is the action you want to take necessary, a high priority for safety, or disrespectful? Rather than spending time, money and employees on mowing down ecosystems could the potholes in the roads in town be filled so that our citizens are not unnecessarily supporting body shops? Could lumpy roads be repaired? Could money be spent on low-income housing so our city workers can afford to live here? This list could go on and on.

It is my hope this area will fill in again and become what it was. The yard is just beginning to bloom and amaze. The unexpected mowing has made me very very sad and a bit defeated. As the flowers I will rally.

A few quotes from my favorite environmentalist, Chief Seattle:

  1. Will you teach your children what we have taught our children? That the earth is our mother? What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. One thing we know: our god is also your god. The earth is precious to him and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.
  2. We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children

All I ask is that people take time to think, then think again and again. We live in an area of supreme natural beauty….the Great Lakes – we are the fortunate.

 

 

 

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Spring Thoughts

I am always a bit overwhelmed by the advent of spring.  The three or four winter months with their cold, snow, and darkness is pleasant enough at first, snuggling with the fire and seasonal decorations, but does eventually gets long and somewhat depressing. Then the calendar promises spring. Sadly, I expect it any day weeks before it arrives then one day, the light is a little different suggesting good things to come. As I observe this unwinding to spring I see so many things in the nature of people and mother nature that gives me a sense of hope. Here are a few of my thoughts and observations.

Hearing the first sounds of song birds makes me smile. The sun is on its way as the songs of winter birds are mingling with those arriving or passing through.  The extended hours of day light brings on an inner stirring – let’s move – let’s sing – let’s find new things to eat.

Several weeks ago I was awed by twenty cedar waxwings resting in the river oak growing outside my living room window creating quiet a portrait. This elegant bird just was passing through.

I am waiting for the humming birds and orioles….feeders displayed.

 

A true sign of spring is putting out the birdbaths. I have created elegant mosaics in their basins, placed pennies made prior to 1983(still have copper to slow down the algae) and placed them in just the right spots. Birds announce the baths arrival as the less than shy chickadee waits for the first drink on the limb above my head. But ouch, the next morning the basin is on the ground. Who does this. My trail camera lets me know.

While establishing his territory a male robin mistook his reflection as a challenger. For days he charged this false foe. I laughed as his footprints showing all his toes are well displayed on the window. He must have found a mate as he has not been seen for a few days.

It is my observation that the male duck is a first-rate caregiver. I am observing pairs flying over head or waddling through the open fields. Landing in a large puddle in my yard the male watches the female swim then waddle over to eat the corn left for the deer. Only when she is done and preening beneath the pine trees

will he eat.  The couple explored my back hill checking out nooks and crannies for a nest. I believe our yard was rejected as I haven’t seen them for a couple of days and the puddle is now dry.

Ahh, but down state the great-great-great- grand-daughter of a duck I cared for was back nesting in the court-yard of the school in which I taught.  For years I made sure these ducklings and their mother found their way out of the courtyard. Upon retiring I found a willing volunteer to keep an eye out for them. Being a bit ahead of us weather wise the ducklings have hatched and made their parade out the building to a site unknown to us to this very day.

 

As I rounded the house to take the recycling out, there she was under the pine tree,  a large female rabbit collecting pine needles for her nest. I walked quietly not looking at her and she stayed. Returning to fill the bird bath I spotted her behind the sumac. I dumped some corn near the bird bath which she went to as soon as I turned by back. I left her alone but suspect she is building a nest nearby and we may be enjoying some bunnies in the near future.

The bee boxes are in the orchards ready for business. This is a sure sign the peninsula will be in full blossom very soon. The blossom sheer beauty and the promise of a future harvest is invigorating.  Farmers are  busy tending their trees, vineyards and fields, such noble work. The farm stands are sporting fresh maple syrup, marvelous eggs, leaving a spot for the soon to arrive asparagus. Mushroom hunters are out searching for the rare morel mushroom that makes its appearance with the forsythia disappearing with the lilacs. Today I observed a jogger stopped by a tree sorting through the grass hoping to find this mushroom treasure.

 

The first flowers of the season are appearing – dandelions, crocus, daffodils, tulips, forsythia, and hyacinths. The trees are leafing out, the willows first. All is good.

People too seem to renew their spirit with the coming of spring. We venture out of out homes and renew relationships with  our neighbors.  We notice our community and the life it holds. Sometimes, for a brief moment, we enter the lives of strangers renewing a sense of worth for all involved.

With the first signs of spring coming into view a friend and her husband drove to a doctor’s appointment. As they did they spotted a homeless man walking on the roadside.  Sadly, something we all have come notice without much thought.  On their return they saw the same man sitting on the side of the road rubbing his bare feet.  Stopping their car her husband asked the man’s shoe size….sadly he had larger feet than the driver. The driver however took off his socks and told the gentleman something was better than nothing. This small but tremendous act of kindness left both parties feeling needed and cared for.

A second friend had brought her dog to a canine eye specialist miles away from her home.  As she waited she observed a heavy set tattooed man bring in his small dog. He asked for towels as the dog was bleeding badly. The vet took the dog for examination not allowing the gentleman to observe. Do whatever you have too he said through his tears. The poor gentleman continued to weep. After multiple tests and blood work the diagnosis, an infected uterus. The dog would need to be spayed and hopefully the infection was contained or more surgery would need to be done. They brought out an estimated bill, $800. The gentleman became so distraught he was moved to another room where he made calls to his wife and mother. My friend asked to speak with him. She told him she was aware of his dog’s situation and she was an avid supporter of dog charities. She would like to pay the dog’s bill. He explained he had been referred to a voluntary vet clinic and would need less money but still had today’s costs. Between his wife, mother and his next pay check he felt he had enough to pay for spaying. Could they set up a payment plan so he could pay her back maybe through the vet?  She told the  gentleman you don’t need to know who I am and I don’t need to know you…..it is the dog that needs care.  She paid his days bill along with her own. The vet called my friend several days  later reporting that the pup was now healthy and at home.  Again…..people rejoicing in life.

Oh yes, a definite sign of spring…..baseball from small to tall.  I love it when my students start bringing their mitts to school. These well massaged hopes of great catches, the brightness in their eyes and smiles of a thought of a home run or maybe a grand slam.  Fathers and mothers:  “That’s my boy.” or ” Good eye.”  Grandparents cheering on… the most faithful of fans.

 

Yes, spring is a time to rejoice in life in a variety of ways….think about your spring….it will bring a smile to your face. I better get this published as in a few days it will be summer….the time we see the fruits of spring.

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Behind The Scenes Fiona Finds Her Purpose

Fiona Finds Her Purpose is written for readers age ten to one-hundred- ten. It discusses several issues I am very passionate about: animal rescue, protecting endangered animals with hopes of returning them back to their natural environment, and protecting habitat for the life that is shared there.

Fiona Finds Her Purpose is very loosely based on a real event. I had no personal experience with this event but was fascinated by the idea. In writing Fiona Finds Her Purpose I combined experiences I have had over a life time. I learned of the unconventional feeding program described in the book when visiting a wild cat rescue. Fiona is actually a dog rescued by a friend still showing evidence of having been a mother. The description of the zoo is a bit of all the zoos I have visited over a life time. I learned of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Species Survival Plans when taking a class to be a docent at a nearby zoo. I researched African wild dogs and brought a lifetime of observations of domestic canine behavior to the story. My imagination was in full swing…..this is a true work of fiction.

 

To see African wild dogs in the wild check out: Spy In The Wild – A Nature Miniseries….Love part 1…..Season 1   Episode 1     PBS   Google It and enjoy.

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Living Along Side The Coyote

Just days ago an alert came over our neighborhood website advising people to accompany their pets when outside as the coyotes are looking for a warm meal.  Fortunately, in the original text and subsequent replies, that was all I read. Thankfully, there was no mention of killing this creation of nature for the drives acquired through biology that are interwoven with a healthy ecosystem. It took eleven days and the first post of killing has just appeared.

There are many thoughts as to how life has evolved on Earth, we all have our personal beliefs. I, after years of thought and study, have decided not to question the origin of life but value it. I feel very strongly that the creator, whomever or whatever it is, would not create a life it did not value. I have therefore decided that I will live my life respecting all living and non-living components of the Earth. Please note I said respecting….not liking. I do wonder about the mosquito or snakes but it is not up to me to make a value judgement.

After making this decision life has been easier and harder to live. It was  hard when I saw a neighbor down state had hanged a coyote in the tree in front of his  suburban home….proud of his kill. I called the DNR and was told it was not against the law. Sometime later as I walked along a city path I found the milkweed I had been watching and checking for caterpillars hacked to the ground. I called the Parks Department, they listened as I explained the  value of milkweed. The head of  the maintenance  department sent his workers out with pictures of milkweed so it would not be mowed down again. Being informed, in my opinion, is very important when sharing space with other living creatures ourselves included. I have never really thought about coyotes or do I know much about them.  It is time to get to know my neighbor.

Are there coyotes living along side me. Yes! I have never seen one but suspect I have heard one, seen their tracks, and realized it was coyotes that feasted on and finally removed the deer carcass resting in my neighbors yard. I am fascinated by their ability to allude me.

So what is a coyote? Simply put a coyote is a non-domesticated dog. Prairie wolf, brush wolf, cased wolf, little wolf and American jackal are a few names assigned to this animal.  Although closely related to the wolf the coyote is smaller, has larger ears, a coat of red, white, grey, and brown and behaves more like a fox than a wolf. Their weight is anywhere from 18-44 lbs with a nose to tail length between 3ft 3ins and 4 ft 5 ins,  the tail measuring 16 inches.

The coyote’s range extends from Alaska east to New England and as far south as Panama. Their territory, marked with urine, extends between 10 and 12 square miles. Historically the coyote’s habitat has been deserts, mountains and open plains, however the modern coyote has also adapted its breeding habits, diet, and social life to inhabit urban and suburban areas. This ability to adapt along with its biological traits and social structure are the prime reasons for the coyote’s success.

Physically the coyote is a survival machine.  They can run forty miles an hour,  jump 8 foot fences and are good swimmers. Their ears are large, very sensitive and serve a dual purpose.  The coyote’s acute auditory abilities allow it to locate the smallest of prey and avoid danger. The movement and position of the ears identifies its rank.  As with all members  of the dog family the coyote has a highly developed sense of smell.  This allows the animal to locate prey, carrion, danger and the markers left by other coyotes. Digitigrade or walking on its toes allows the coyote to be swift and silent. By nature the coyote is very sensitive and rarely seen.

The social structure of the coyote varies. They may live alone, in pairs or in a pack. Hunting will be done day or night alone or in a pack. Pack hunting is required when trying to bring down a large animal such as a deer. Tracking large animals and striking when the prey is exhausted is their usual MO.  Being opportunistic predators they will eat what is in an area. This would include: meat and fish fresh or spoiled, mice, rats, rabbits, ground squirrels, insects and fruits such as melons, and berries. Urban and suburban coyotes will eat garbage and dog food. Coyotes have been observed killing sheep and poultry, giving them a bad reputation, but are more attracted to the foods listed above.  Like dogs, the coyote will cache excess food.

Water or liquid nourishment is predominately derived from the foods the coyote eats. They have however been known to dig holes to find water, find standing water or in urban or suburban areas drink from pools, ponds and dog dishes.

One of my favorite experiences occurred in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as I attended my brother-in-laws wedding. The ceremony was held at a private home surrounded by grassland and mountains, truly a site to behold. As I waited I noticed a coyote off in the distance ‘mousing’ or leaping in the air and diving nose first into the grass. It was a true ballet for the observer….not  so much for the mouse. The coyote did not seem interested in us as it trotted off with its meal not to be seen again.

Vocalizations are one of the traits coyotes are best known for. The howl is informing other coyotes that I am here and this is my territory….females welcome. The howl does not appear to communicate aggression. In a small group with pups the yelp can be either a sign of criticism or celebration…I guess you have to be there. A coyote protecting a den or kill will bark. When a coyote wants to call its pups without making noise it will huff. An aggressive coyote will bark, lower its head, extend and bristle its tale and show its teeth. Another coyote is more likely to see this behavior than you are.

Mating season for the coyote is January with pups appearing in April or May. Born blind the pups stay with the female in a den she prepared months earlier. The pups will nurse for five or six weeks and eat solid food the male brings in three weeks. By ten weeks the pups will emerge from the den to go on family hunts. Coyotes can mate with wolves (Coy-wolf) and dogs (Coy-dog). It is my understanding that there is a Netflix program concerning the coy-wolf: Nature:Meet the Coy-wolf 2014.  I need to watch this.

Over time coyotes have been considered a nuisance, a mistaken human value judgement in my opinion. The attempts to exterminate them have resulted in an animal alert and wary. Most of the time coyotes want to avoid humans. These animals become dangerous when they associate food with humans. So, what do we do if we see a coyote too close for comfort?

“If people feed coyotes or if there is a food source associated with humans the coyotes will become less fearful of people and more attacks will occur.  So in order to reduce or eliminate attacks it is VERY important that we condition the coyotes to fear people.  People can help condition coyotes by doing the following:

  1. NEVER feed coyotes
  2. Remove coyote food sources such as trash, fruit and pet food from the environment.
  3. Keeping small pets inside from dusk to dawn or in safe enclosures
  4. Never leave young children unattended in yards or parks.
  5. Harass coyotes with loud noises, clapping hands, yelling, throwing rocks at them and waving our arms to create fear
  6. Call the local department of Fish and Game or local law enforcement agency if coyotes attack humans, become too aggressive by approaching humans and by showing lack of fear of humans or if they attack small pets.”

How do we protect our pets?

“A: There are a number of things you can do to prevent your small pet (cat or dog) from being attacked by a coyote.

  1. Keep small pets (cats, small dogs and other pets) indoors from dusk until dawn.   Or keep pets in a coyote-proof yard, area or cage from dusk until dawn.
  2. Install a fence or convert your fence to prevent coyotes from entering your yard.
  3. Feed your pets indoors.  Or if you feed them outdoors do so during the day and never leave pet food out at night.
  4. Make sure trash is not left outside in bags and that all trash cans have secure lids with locking mechanisms.  Secure the cans to a fence or wall with rope or elastic cord so the trash cannot be tipped over.
  5. Install motion sensitive lights in your back yard and around your house.
  6. Don’t leave fruit, berries or compost on the ground or uncovered.
  7. Don’t overflow bird feeders. Hang them high or in areas that are not accessible to coyotes.
  8. NEVER feed coyotes.
  9. You can install one or more 7 foot or higher posts with a platform at the top for cats to use as an escape from coyotes.  The posts need to be made of a material that the cats can climb.  When being chased by a predator a cat can climb the post and sit on the platform until it is safe to descend and the coyote is gone.
  10. Clear brush and vegetation to remove habitat for small animals that may attract coyotes and to remove areas where coyotes can hide while stalking their prey.
  11. Always keep pets on a leash when walking in parks, forest areas or in residential areas. “

 

I do believe with this knowledge I can live along side the coyote. The vast majority of the advice will serve to keep all unwanted guests away including humans who are after your lawn furniture! The vast majority of time killing wildlife is unnecessary. Coyotes don’t think about us (I feel many humans  erroneously feel they are focal point of many animals) they want to avoid us at all costs….we are unpleasant.  I am concerned that misinformation and or lack of knowledge can create an hysteria or panic (I may be witnessing that at the present time).  Please don’t waste hours of you life in fear be proactive. Refer to some of the advice given above and both you and the coyote will be happy.  My favorite: motion lights and of course, no food or open compost. We must be wise: we are part of the environment, the environment was not created for us to alter.

 

 

 

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The Dandelion Friend or Foe

As I wait for the first flowers of spring I think of the dandelion.  Researching this herbaceous perennial has challenged my thinking. This curious plant is known to some as a wildflower and to others as a weed or herb. The dandelion shares the genus Taraxacum with a great many others. The Taraxacum officinale commonly known as the dandelion is the subject of my discussion. Its name, dandelion is French for lion’s tooth.  I had always been confused by this as nothing about this plant seemed to resemble a lion’s tooth. I have come to learn that it is the jagged leaf that gives it its name.

 

Having evolved about 30 million years ago in Eurasia the dandelion has been used overtime as food and medicine. It was brought to North America from Europe as a garden flower but now grows as a wildflower. The flower’s head consists of many small individual flowers or florets and has a diameter of two to five centimeters. From bright yellow to hues of orange the dandelion flowers open in the day and close at night. I have had students bring me lovely dandelion bouquets only to find them on my desk a withered mess the next morning….always disappointing.

Reproducing asexually a dandelion does not require pollination.  As the flower matures it becomes a seed ball often called a blowball or clock. Seeds attached to fine hairs encompass this spongy ball and float off with the wind.

The dandelion’s flower head sits on top of a hollow stem that oozes a milky latex  substance when picked. This latex is being investigated in Germany as a rubber substitute. The stem emerges from a tap-root which firmly anchors the plant in the ground. There is nothing more satisfying than getting the entire tap-root when weeding.

Dandelions reproduce quickly. In the temperate climates of north America we see them most everywhere there is sun. They consume athletic fields, orchards, golf courses, lawns and squeeze through the cracks in sidewalks. There is no stopping them.  Quite an industry has developed to help us get rid of the dandelion. We pull them, poison them and curse them.

So, how do we think of the dandelion….friend or foe? As with most things in the world sides can not be easily chosen or are pure. I maintain we have to look to the use of the dandelion as medicine, food and  garden plants with caution.

As an observer of nature I see the first dandelions of the spring as very much a friend. They nobly provide nectar for bees, butterflies and moths before other blossoms appear.  Providing the first meals for these pollinators is extremely important for the success of other flora in the area. One of my favorite memories is walking through the side yard of our rented house after the bees were delivered to the orchard. The entire yard buzzed until the apple blossoms emerged. I was amazed by nature’s plan. I have therefore decided the first dandelions may stay.

For the gardener the dandelion is both friend and foe. Its tap-root brings nutrients to shallow rooted plants adding minerals and nitrogen to the soil. They also attract pollinators promoting pollination for all blossoms in the garden yielding fruit, vegetables, and flowering plants. Dandelions emit a gas, ethylene, that helps ripen fruit. Not all fruits benefit from ethylene gas. Apples and pears require it to ripen as cherries and blueberries do not. As rapid reproducers the dandelion crowds a garden taking space needed for other plant varieties.  The gardener must protect themselves from too much of a good thing.

As a food dandelions are mostly a friend. As with all foods balance must be maintained. Too much of a good thing may have negative results. The entire dandelion plant is edible. Its leaves contain vitamins A, C, and K, in addition to calcium, potassium, iron and manganese. Their leaves are often blanched to get rid of their bitterness and sautéed as spinach. Fresh leaves may be used in salads or on sandwiches.  Dandelion tea is also enjoyed by many. The flowers are often fried  or combined with citrus to make wine. A caffeine free coffee results from a ground tap-root. Rootbeer uses the dandelion as one of its ingredients.

I see and buy wonderful dandelion leaves from the market and would advise one to only acquire them there. I worry about what my neighbors may have sprayed on their lawns etc. that the wind may have carried over to my yard. Unless I have sole control over the plant I would only eat commercially raised dandelions.

As a medicine I would suggest both friend and foe. I am not a big fan of herbal medicines without my physician’s approval. His or her education, experience and knowledge of the most recent literature along with personal knowledge of my medical history trumps me walking up and down the aisle reading boxes of untested herbs, vitamins and minerals. This is not to say that herbal medicines don’t have their place but that I am leery of prescribing for myself. Some of my research indicated that there is no scientific evidence that the dandelion is effective as a medication. It is “likely” safe when eaten as a food or “possibly safe” in larger amounts. Allergic reactions of the skin and mouth and contact dermatitis from the latex have been experienced by some.

Others find the use of the dandelion helpful, however suggest you discuss dosage with your physician.  Here is a quick and easy chart provided by Organic Facts at www.organicfacts.net concerning medical benefits.

 

The dandelion appears to be a cure-all as ketchup was once thought to be. Proceed with care.

After my limited research I will never look at the deceptively simple dandelion in quite the same way.  I will think twice before pulling them from my yard (which is a wildflower garden) and will not pull dandelions that appear before the apple and cherry blossoms. Food for thought, more research to be done.

 

 

 

 

 

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The American Crow

I love to watch the crows in my neighborhood or on the peninsula going about their complicated lives. The American crow, a stunning bird black from beak to tail, is the observer of all. They watch me from the tops of the pine trees as I do the dishes, make the bed or sit on the porch. Every now and then they catch me watching them or working in the yard and fly off announcing my presence to others, the message being passed on. I take the time to watch and listen. I am amazed by their community.

Crows in general evolved in Asia and have spread to North America, Europe, Africa and Australia.  The lower forty-eight US states are the home to crows year around. There are about forty species of crows. The crows I live with and wish to discuss are the American crows.

The crow shares the family Corvidae with ravens, rooks and jackdaws. The difference between a crow and raven, only size. I recall the ravens at the Tower of London…they were huge and somewhat regal. The American crow may come in a smaller package but packs a punch in the animal world.

The average American crow is 17.5 inches, 45 centimeters from head to tail and weigh 11.1 – 21.9 ounces. Their legs are quite long, necks thick, they have a straight bill and feathers that spread like fingers.   Jet black  feathers, beak and feet make them easy to spot. When a crow molts the older feathers may appear brownish in comparison but are still considered black. Not much is known about their life expectancy, however, a tagged crow was released after recording an age of 16 years 4 months.

Crows thrive around people and are extremely adaptable as far as habitat is concerned. They enjoy treetops, open fields, road sides, open woods, beaches, cemeteries, golf courses, city parks, and towns.  Deserts and thick forests are not attractive to crows. In my yard the crows have several favorite lookout trees.

As omnivores crows are opportunist diners. They will feast on insects, earthworms, small animals, seeds, garbage, eggs, nestlings, mice, fish, small turtles and more. Crows have a habit of hiding or caching extra food. They hide food under the grass, in gutters, in trees or other places they find useful. One family had animal carcasses being deposited in their birdbath. Crows are not interested in bird feeders but may be interested in some of the feeder’s visitors such as rodents.  It is the block and corn I put out for the deer that attract the crows to my yard.

In an earlier blog I spoke of observing a deer carcass  as it provided food for many different animals. I was alerted to the carcass by the sounds of hundreds of crows roosting in the apple orchard. I went to look at what all the fuss was about and found the deer. The crows visited in vast numbers for two days.

As the crow flies…a saying expressing the mathematical concept that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The crow’s flight is somewhat unique for a large bird, they swim through the air, constantly flapping their wings rarely gliding.

Crows are social birds sometimes collecting in flocks or murders of over a thousand.
Roosts occur in the fall or winter. During the breeding season, which begins in March,they prefer to be with their mates. It is thought that during roosting times crows are seeking protection from predators, teaching each other where to forage and about life as a crow in general. These large crow roosts are often considered a problem as the birds are loud and overbearing. The Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 protects crows from being harmed or hunted.

I am amazed by the crow’s intelligence and problem solving abilities. They communicate with each other with a variety of  calls and patterns most sounding like ‘caw’ to us. They can solve puzzles, use tools and hold grudges against people who mistreat them. A crow never forgets a face and will teach their peers and off spring what they think of you. If the crow finds you to be a bad person they use a particular call to announce your presence. If they consider you a good person they will bring you gifts. If you are so-so they watch you as they do me. Crows hold funerals, perhaps where their collective name, ‘murder’ comes from. They will collect in great numbers to watch the body. It is thought that this may educate the crows as to how this crow died and or about predators in the area.

For the most part crows mate for life. New partners will be found  if their mate dies or if they do not successfully create a family. Their mating season begins in March. It will take one or two weeks to build a nest. The male begins the nest as the female puts on the finishing touches. The outer layer is made of sticks, mud covers the sticks and becomes the glue on which something soft is stuck such as grapevine bark or mulch. Once the female feels comfortable with the nest she will over a period of six days  lay between two and six eggs. Mom will incubate the eggs for 19 days. Not all eggs will hatch. The birds that do hatch will spend up to thirty-five days in the nest before they hit the ground as fledglings. The parents will then spend another six weeks feeding their offspring until they become independent feeders. During this time crows watch for hawks and owls that feed on the fledglings. It is not unusual to see a crow or several crows chasing a much larger bird out of their territory. If a crow makes it through the first year of life it has a good chance of surviving as an adult.

In most cultures the idea of bad luck is attached to the crow and a few see them as good omens. In Japan they are seen as a symbol of death.  In many fairy tales the crow is portrayed as a clever trickster. The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest see them as the creator of the world . In Sweden they are seen as the ghosts of murdered men.  Perhaps it is their intelligence, their community and control we fear.

Take some time to observe this clever bird and its community. I am sure you will be fascinated and awed by their lifestyle.

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The Birds of Winter

Zero degrees and blowing snow. Just looking out my window….a typical northern Michigan winter and yes the birds are visiting my birdfeeders.  Why do they stay? Because they can!

Birds are amazing creatures, descendants of dinosaurs they say, just look at their feet. The avian or bird population that interests me at this time of year are those right outside my snow lined window. Their sweet feathered bodies bring color and life to an otherwise dormant world.  They are little comedians as they look at me or peek about at the inside of my office.

Winter for birds is from October thru March. The days grow shorter as temperatures drop.  Some choose to migrate south as others brave the winter. The birds you find at your feeders often depends on where you live, what your yard looks like and the weather.  To survive the winter our feathered friends require food, water and shelter, their anatomy does the rest.

Birds that commonly over winter in northern Michigan are: House Finches, House Sparrows, Tufted Titmice, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskens, Downy Woodpeckers, Black Capped Chickadees, Northern Cardinal, Dark-Eyed Juncos, American Robin and European Starlings. I also see ducks, swans, and loons swimming in the icy bay. I have noticed ducks under birdfeeders on front lawns near the bay. In the very early spring they will come to my yard and clean up around the deer block.

 

 

Cardinal and Junco
Black Capped Chickadee
Not shy.
Winter Goldfinch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The winter activities of the bird differ from those they participate in during warmer times. These changes are to conserve energy. The birds stop singing. Singing requires a great deal of energy. I have noticed the quiet of winter and then one day in late February I will hear my first song bird…I love it. Nests are not maintained, eggs are not laid and chicks are not cared for. Winter is a time for self preservation.

The birds first defense to cold and wind is their down. Down are small under feathers the bird fluff up to create air pockets trapping body heat thus keeping them warm. The bird preen their feathers with oil from a special gland in their body to keep the feathers dry. If the feathers get wet the bird will most likely not survive.

Seeking cover in birdhouses, evergreen trees or in tree cavities help the bird to shield itself from the cold and wind. Oddly enough cavities of live trees are warmer than those in dead trees. Each fall I clean my birdhouses, removing massive nests, for the birds to use in the winter. I believe one of my decorative birdhouses is being used by a mouse this winter, it is full of fluff. Birds will collect in these areas together keeping each other warm. They also shiver, an experience I never found pleasant, creating heat from muscle movement.

Anatomically, the bird’s leg is the opposite of ours, the knee bending to the back. When a birds lands on a branch this allows the feet to naturally grasp the branch without effort. That is why birds can sleep in trees. Their feet are covered with scales and are mostly bone and sinew, there is little tissue that can be damaged by the cold. Birds can also hold a branch with one foot enabling them to tuck the other under their down.

Notice the feet are covered and the feathers fluffed.

Birds are endothermic meaning they get their heat from their surroundings. They do not store fat to use as energy as it would be very difficult to fly. Most birds that arrive at our feeders weigh between 10 – 25 grams or the weight of two nickles. If a bird finds itself in difficulty it can lower their heart rate and metabolism thus saving energy.

Preparations for winter are made by most over wintering birds. Some birds collect food during the warmer seasons and hide it for later. This is called caching. I once found a small bird’s nest low in a tree with three peanuts in it. This is a great idea but not dependable. Who says the bird that saved it will eat it.

Birds change their diet from insects and berries to seeds and berries. Some lucky birds enjoy the dormant insects they find tucked into the bark of trees but these are few and far between. There are berries left on plants such as juniper berries, crab apples and asparagus.

Caching and finding berries and seeds are not enough to keep the birds healthy over the winter, they need our help. For over a century people have been feeding birds, today it is big business. A great variety of bird feed is available in grocery stores, quick marts, feed mills and specialty stores.  Feeders come in every shape and size. One can accessorize their feeding station almost as much as you can your car.

Place your birdfeeders out of the wind. The east or southeast side of the house or near a bank of trees are ideal locations. If possible offer roosting places.

The food we offer  birds should be high in fat and calories as they will quickly convert this fat and calories into energy.  Oil sunflower seeds are one of the best seeds for this. Suet filled with seeds brings great joy.  I personally buy a mix of seed in the no mess form. No mess seeds have had the hulls removed so only viable seeds falls to the ground. I always thought the millet that fell to the ground was wasted seed until I was told certain birds, such as the juncos only feed from the ground. I began to watch and sure enough that was their meal as well as the local bunny. Peanuts and peanut butter are also good sources of energy. There are many homemade feeders that can be made from these materials…..google it.

Finally, birds need water even with piles of snow around.  It takes more energy to warm cold water in the body than warm. There are heated bird baths for winter water. The birds know not to get their feet or feathers wet using the water only for drinking. Although I had a group of doves that liked to perch on the rim as it was heated. They knew how to warm their feet.

Enjoy the birds of winter and support their efforts to stay warm. Listen for that first song telling you spring is coming. One of the great joys of my life.

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Snowflakes

They fall from the sky seemingly infinite in number, the snowflake. Wilson Bentley, one of the best known snowflake photographers referred to them as “tiny miracles of beauty” or “ice flowers”.  We see some of nature’s most beautiful art in these tiny gifts from the sky.

The snowflake is an ice crystal or a group of ice crystals that fall from the sky. If enough are accumulated they will form a snow pack.  In northern Michigan we experience seasonal snow packs which help renew our water resources.

The recipe for a snowflake asks for a dust particle, subfreezing temperatures and moisture. Within a supersaturated air mass water droplets freeze around the dust particle forming ice crystals. These crystals appear white as they reflect the full color spectrum but are actually clear. As the particle falls through a variety of areas of varying temperatures and humidity levels they change shape. All snowflakes are hexagonal or six sided, however the pattern within the hexagon varies.  Snowflakes have been classified into eight categories  according to shape.

“Magono and Lee devised a classification of freshly formed snow crystals that includes 80 distinct shapes. They are listed in the following main categories (with symbol):[20]

  • Needle crystal (N) – Subdivided into: Simple and combination of needles
  • Columnar crystal (C) – Subdivided into: Simple and combination of columns
  • Plate crystal (P) – Subdivided into: Regular crystal in one plane, plane crystal with extensions, crystal with irregular number of branches, crystal with 12 branches, malformed crystal, radiating assemblage of plane branches
  • Combination of columnar and plate crystals (CP) – Subdivided into: Column with plane crystal at both ends, bullet with plane crystals, plane crystal with spatial extensions at ends
  • Columnar crystal with extended side planes (S) – Subdivided into: Side planes, scalelike side planes, combination of side planes, bullets and columns
  • Rimed crystal (R) – Subdivided into: Rimed crystal, densely rimed crystal, graupellike crystal, graupel
  • Irregular snow crystal (I) – Subdivided into: Ice particle, rimed particle, broken piece from a crystal, miscellaneous
  • Germ of snow crystal (G) – Subdivided into: Minute column, germ of skeleton form, minute hexagonal plate, minute stellar crystal, minute assemblage of plates, irregular germ” Wikipedia – Snowflake

For a better look go to SnowCrystals.com.

I am completely captivated by this snow magic.  When we got to  the chapter on polygons I taught my fourth graders that hexagons are the strongest shape in nature. We would eat honeycomb and take magnifying glasses outside to check out the snowflakes that fell on our sleeves and hands. I still like doing this with my grandson or on my own. I imagine there are many of us that inspect snowflakes.

Wilson Alwyn Bentley of Jericho, Vermont became a professional admirer of snowflakes.  After a great deal of experimentation Bentley captured his first image of a single snowflake in 1885. He had attached a microscope to a bellows camera and photographed ice crystals as they fell on black velvet. He took 5,ooo images of snowflakes over his life time. His images are highly valued. In 1931 Mr. Bentley wrote the book, “Snow Crystals” featuring 2,400 images. Bentley’s love of snowflakes and marvelous work gave him the name, ‘Snowflake Bentley’. There is a wonderful children’s book by that name.

Snowflake Bentley
Snowflake Bentley
Snowflake Bentley

 

 

 

 

Can you pick a favorite?  I doubt it, they are truly ‘tiny miracles of beauty’.

Grab your magnifying glass and check out the designs falling in your backyard.

Enjoy

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A Necessity Of Life – Dogs

Wags, my first love.

My blogs are usually filled with my fascination with nature supported by research….a learning experience for me and hopefully you. Today I wish to present an observation.

My husband and I have just returned from three weeks of traveling from Michigan to Savannah, Georgia and back. Beside realizing there is truly a southern charm we also observed life with dogs all along the way. Many of our friends and relatives we planned to visit have dogs I was looking forward to seeing again or meeting. We also interacted with people and dogs unknown to us. To prepared for these visits I baked five dozen apple cinnamon dog biscuits.

Our first stop brought us to old friends and a couple of basset hounds. We used to dog sit this goofy couple.   They knew I made dog treats and would be at my door every Saturday morning for a sample. Our human friends were  out of state for a wedding. We  let ourselves in and received a grand welcome and yes treats were expected. We enjoyed our alone time with our floppy earred friends. A day later we welcomed our friends to their own home and had a delightful time with adults and sweet girls.

Good friends.

Our next stop was to visit a cousin and his family’s new companion…a rescue setter of some sort. His children have grown and are at various stages of successful lives. This sweet dog is now the focus of their love and attention and vice versa.

While visiting  my cousin’s home we had the good fortune to have a fabulous breakfast at a french cafe around the corner. I had the greatest lump crab eggs Benedict. I may never taste anything as divine again. At the conclusion of our meal we were asked if we had a dog. With our bill we received an envelope filled with homemade chicken liver dog biscuits. They smelled so good I was tempted to try one. This gift made everyone smile from the waiter to all the customers present. Our canine protector truly welcomed us to the house upon our return.

Our next stop was Gordonsville, VA. Visiting my sisters always involves dogs and biscuits. Sister number 1 has rescued older dogs for years. At present a black and a yellow lab share her home. The three of them make the sweetest love triangle…..they love and care for each other dearly. Upon adoption sister number 1 had  her  black lab treated and cured of heart worm. The yellow lab is now blind and has cataracts. Recently she notice her eye was bulging. After a day with a canine eye specialist and a

Samson

shot in the eye the pressure was relieved and everyone comfortable again. Helping dogs in need is one of her life missions.

Sister number 2 has rescued a very abused red doberman who as a puppy was chained to a dog house on a short tether. The two of them are constant companions. She has worked hard with this dog as he may have suffered brain damage when tossed down the stairs. The damage resulted in a great deal of aggressive behavior which has all but disappeared. This is a very close knit family of two.  I love to watch him look at her.

Dog people seem to gravitate toward one another. On our visit I met the first friend my sister number 1 made when she retired to her new home in a new state…an amazing dog lover. Her friend has adopted nine dogs all headed for heaven before she crossed their paths and a chinchilla meant to be snake food. Some of her dogs have special needs and others were considered unadoptable for some reason or another. She has created a loving dog

Sister number always has a bag of treats.

centered home for them. She has a dog sitter for days she must work and leases a 2 acre field for the dogs to be dogs in. In addition she creates dog clothing and writes children’s books about dogs.  This is also a true family… canine and human lives existing because of one another.  I must admit it was fun to watch and walk with the dogs in the field, such sweet souls.

Off on our own we had no more dogs to meet or so we thought. We headed to Savannah with all its charms. As we walked through the cities lovely parks dogs and people were walking and sitting on benches (yes dogs), reading newspapers or just enjoying the nature in each park. Curiously when a dog is present strangers are willing to begin a conversation with you, talking about their dog or sharing a smile.

We stopped at the River St. visitors center  to ask the number one tourist question, “Where is a public restroom?” As I approached the guide we noticed a dog from the window. We were curious as to the breed making one guess then another.  I decided to ask. I opened the door and began a lengthy conversation about this small mixed breed. Four strangers (tour guide from the open window) having a friendly conversation about this little fellow making the day pleasant. We all walked away with smiles.

Further down the street a made for TV movie was being filmed about the Underground Railroad. A perfect setting. An old buggy had been brought in and a small fire burning under one of the brick walkways. The film crew was busy making the area free of twenty first century objects and people but shared the story and scene with us. They were waiting for dark to begin filming. In a large silver truck were cameras, film crew and a beautiful pitbull ready with a smile, a wag of the tail and bright eyes. He was the protector and the object of affection as the staff waited long hours to begin working.

Off to City Market we went. It was here we found an art gallery with original paintings of ‘Pete The Cat’, blue Boston terriers, as well as other fabulous paintings of animals. Outside of the market, sitting on a bench under a tree, was a rather tattered and dirty group of street musicians. They must have played a bit and were now very focused on eating lunch. I noticed a scruffy looking dog sitting behind the bench waiting with his people. Oh no, a dog biscuit store across the way. I asked if I could buy the dog some biscuits and they said I could. Did I have fun choosing all sorts of flavors. Ten dollars later and a donated bottle of water I presented the goods to the fellow in charge.  He was very pleased to give the dog a biscuit and said it always made his dog feel better. Dog, man and I were very happy.

A loving stray joined our life when we were first married.

Dogs bring out the best in people. Total strangers will have pleasant conversations with one another when a dog is present…no cold stares or bumped shoulders. People will exchange a smile or ask for a physical connection by way of a pet or shake of a paw. What we came to realize is that as a species we need the unconditional love of a dog and vice versa. A dog raises ones quality of life. All the dog wants is to love and be loved whether you are a homeless  street musician or successful business woman. I feel humans have the same quest…to be loved and cared for. I miss having a dog very much. With retirement my life has changed as I enjoy the freedom to travel for long periods of time. I am sure however, there will be another dog in my life, the only unknown is, when and how.

 

 

 

 

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