About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Birds: Some lost some gained

As spring arrives each year, the whip-poor-will begins her familiar call. There are old wives tales about a whip-poor-will singing downhill being bad luck and singing uphill being good luck. Some people find their call to be cheerful and encouraging. Others are reminded of lonely or restless nights filled with sorrow. The familiar sound has been a sure sign of spring for me as long back as I can remember. Last year the song became slightly wearing. The bird had nested just behind our bedroom and the call was so loud and constant that I found myself yelling across my small house just to be heard. I hate to admit it now, but I was beginning to find the sound annoying. This year, the whip-poor-will did not return. The frogs and toads are all that sings in these woods at night. I deeply miss the old whip-poor-will. Other birds have begun nesting in my yard. The indigo buntings find the trees around the garden to be quite hospitable. Their brilliant feathers and joyous songs brighten my day as I plant. A scarlet tanager has also moved into the neighborhood. As sad as I am to see the whip-poor-will go, I am happy to make new feathered friends.   

Monday, May 9, 2011

To the devoted mother:

Your mother is the ultimate sacrificial being, giving up her time, life, and even her identity. She was implanted with a journey and given a choice. She chose to let you take over her body completely. As you entered into life, she brushed close to death. While you thrive on her nourishment, she was weakened, sucked dry.
Your mother recovered after you ripped her apart, only to become your slave. You replaced her life with yours. She wiped your poopy butt even as you tried to kick her in the face. Instead of eating, she put spoonful's of food in your mouth only to have you spit it back out at her and then finger paint with it. When you woke her up in the middle of the night she sung you to sleep. Often when you cried and she didn't know what to do, she wanted to scream, but instead she comforted you
You were cute for years, a perfect image of your mother who you stayed so close to. Then you became yourself, established your own identity, and left her behind. You called her names and rolled your eyes behind her back. Nothing she had ever done or could ever do would make up for her un-coolness. Besides, you knew everything and could do just fine on your own.  So as you flourished without her and didn’t find time for her, she didn’t remorse but beamed with pride.
Then you had a baby, and as you gazed into those baby blues and felt those tiny fingers rap around yours, you understood not only the sacrifice of the mother, but also the pure undying joy! All of sudden you understood all your mother had done for you. But words and flowers could not make up of for all those years. So instead, you gave up your time, life, and even your identity, and you became the ultimate sacrificial being, you became a mother. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Perfect Planting Day

In years past I have grown a lousy garden. But it wasn’t entirely my fault, though I seem to lack a green thumb. My soil was hard packed, weeds crept in from every angle, trees blocked out the sunlight, and I had no big tools to help me. This year John abolished my excuses. He cut about six hickories which blocked the morning sunlight and tilled the soil until it turned like soft packed brown sugar. My garden beds are weed free, rock free, and bright. The sunlit soil is rich from years of leaves, organic mulch, accumulating on the forest floor. If my garden does not flourish this year I have only myself and the weather to blame. Until recently the weather has been against me.
Before I could really start planting those awful April floods began. As soon as the last chance for a late frost had passed, the rain began and it didn’t lift until May. The saturated soil refused to hold more liquid so flooding began. I felt fortunate to live on a mountain top. Still, even up here the earth would not accept my seeds and everything I had planted early washed away or drowned.
However, today was the perfect planting day. The mud had begun to regain its composure but still held moisture. I put everything in the ground today, all at once. I started with peas because that is the first thing I always plant, but in March, not May. So before I put them in the ground I soaked them for about 48 hours, letting them sprout a bit. (That tip came to me from the awesome book Carla Emery's Old Fashion Recipe Book: An Encyclopedia of Country Living.) Hopefully this will give them a jump start and they can beat the heat that kills them off every summer.
Then I leap to cucumbers, lining them up along a fence with the peas. I erected a simple tee-pee type trellis and planted pole beans and squash below it. In the center of the garden, I set tomato starts into the dark earth. Beets, collards, kale, chard, and sunflowers also began their lives on this beautiful day. As I worked, an indigo bunting serenaded me with its lovely melody. 
A little ways from the garden, along the edge if the driveway, I formed a flower bed. Zane followed me out to it and I gave him a three pronged hand-tool. He dug the prepared surface. Then I let him take as few seeds from my pouch. I told him to "Sprinkle, sprinkle." He did just that while chanting "spky, spky." Then Zane scratched the seeded soil again to burry the flowers. Finally, we gave the ground little "pat, pats." It amazes me how natural gardening is to a child.  
Once I had finished putting all my seeds in the ground, the sun subsided and rain clouds moved in. As the day came to a close I didn’t have to water my freshly planted beds, the sky showered them, just enough but not too much. I have hope for my garden this year.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

From April Showers to May Flowers

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

After a week of rain, children gather at the Ozark Natural Science Center ready to enjoy the great outdoors. We walk along Bear Hallow Creek where wildflowers dot the grass like stars in the sky on a moonless night. They are familiar with many of them, such as the common violet and dandelion but these flowers represent mere weeds.
Violet flowers are edible and have a sour flavor. The leaves are less tasty raw but can be cook and are very nutritious. If you cook just a half cup of violet leaves into a stir-fry dish, then you are eating more than your daily requirements of vitamin A and C. Dandelion greens are sold in the produce department of many health food stores as a salad green. The root is good for the just about every organ and cleanses the liver when made into a tea that resembles coffee in flavor. Perhaps it is time to rethink these so called weeds.
Along the riverside we discover rue anemone and spring beauty. A girl asks me if these woodland blooms are edible or medicinal. I honestly don’t know. I look it up in my field guide book and find that the tuberous roots of both plants are edible. Natives cooked spring beauty roots (their flavor is bland like a chestnut) and used the roots of rue (also called windflower) to treat diarrhea and vomiting. There is always more for all of us to learn.  
The following day we hike along the river and review the flowers we’ve seen. We also find the three leafed and pedaled trilliums, nodding yellow bellwort, a globe of shinning blue stars, and white trout lilies near the water’s edge. Then we trek up to the bluffs along the ridge where we come upon new and unique flowers that love this moist shady habitat. I show them may apple flowers but we don’t find any edible may apples this early in the year. I crush a leaf of a mountain mint plant so they can smell its distinct flavor. We also smell the leaves of a sassafras shrub and I tell them that this plant’s roots are used to make root beer.
Suddenly, all ten children halt at the sight of a delicate nodding flower growing in the crack between of two moss covered rocks edged with ferns along the bluff’s face. We take a moment to examine its feathery leaves, cupped petals, and red spurs before identifying its name: wild columbine (Aquilegia_canadensis).  Such a lovely specimen need not be medicinal but in fact crushed wild columbine seeds were used by Native Americans to control head lice and cure headaches.
Before diving into any lesson on edibles or medicinal plants I always warn my students not to eat plants in their yards where pesticides and other poisons could reside. Then I point out that some edible plants closely resemble poisonous ones, like wild carrot and poison hemlock. Knowing plants is not about using them, but for appreciation.
The appreciation of flowers goes beyond their beauty and their uses into their place in the ecosystem. The symbiotic relationship between flowers and nectar feeding insects is a mutual one, like that of fungus and algae which forms lichen. Nature is full of relationships and it is important to recognize that something as simplistic as picking a flower has an ecological impact.
Just before they load onto the bus and return to their busy city lives, I ask my students what their favorite part of their trip to the wilderness. On this spring day, many of them remark on the beauty of the wild columbine and the lovely smells of sassafras and mountain mint. A few girls sing a song that another staff member shared around the campfire about not picking a rose but instead leaving it on the vine to grow. On this spring day, the flowers spoke to the hearts and minds of these children. Perhaps the next time they find a dandelion growing in a crack in the cement, they will remember all that they have learned.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)