About Me

My photo
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.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Bird in the Hand...

I recently visited some friends at their lovely little southern farm in Mena, Arkansas. They grew a bountiful garden, bursting with burp-less cucumbers, long peppers, and fat crook-neck squash. Upon arriving I was intimidated by the family of pit bulls that greeted us with loud barking and mild growling; however, within minutes of watching them lumber about the yard without bothering the duck or the chickens I realized they were part of the family. The friendly duck that waddled around quacking softly allowed me to pick it up and enjoyed being petted; in fact, it gave off a satisfied quake with each stroke. A flock of chickens, mostly Arkansas travelers, were kept either in a large pen beside the garden or in a chicken tractor built out of fencing and an old trampoline frame. Young fledglings roamed the yard in the daytime and were locked up at night. However, the aggressive nature of this species forced one brave soul to rescue baby chicks from their own mother before the adults pecked the infants to death. Baby chicks were kept in a cage in the garage under a heat lamp.

Arkansas Traveler Chicks

While watching the baby chickens I noticed a nest overhead, perched on the edge of a florescent lamp in the garage. In the nest resided four baby nuthatches. The wild chicks were beginning to get wing feathers and had most of their body feathers already. They pushed and shoved to gain more room in the crowded nest. Every few minutes the mother or father would fly into the garage with a bug in its beak. Though the parents were easily startled, they braved our presence to feed their children. It seemed like a strange place to build a nest, so close to human and pit bulls, but perhaps they saw as more as protectors than as predators.
White-Breasted Nuthatch Nest

The following day two baby chicks were found on the cold concrete floor of the garage with the pit bulls. I’ve always heard that if you pick up a baby chick and put it back in its nest its mother will reject it. Supposedly this is because she disapproves of the scent your hands left on her baby. But without a choice my friend scooped up the baby chicks and put them in an large plastic ice cream tub lined with the cloth of an old undershirt. We discussed the reasoning behind the chick’s evacuation. Perhaps the tiny nest was too small for all four chicks and the smallest were rejected from it for space reasons alone. Under this presumption, no one touched the chicks unnecessarily. They were kept in the plastic container on the Arkansas traveler chick cage, just below the nuthatch nest.
To our surprise, the mother nuthatch did not reject the babies who had fallen from the nest and been touched by human hands. She continued to feed them inside the plastic container just as she fed the two still in the nest. By the next day the two chicks in the nest gained the strength to fly off. It only took another day of maturing for the two chicks in the plastic container to fly onward as well.
Baby White-Breasted Nuthatch Chick

It makes sense that if there is not enough room in a nest and the mother bird kicks the runts out so the stronger may survive, then if you put the runts back in the nest as competition the mother bird will just continue to reject the runts and fight for her stronger babies. Likewise, if a mother decides the nest is not safe and abandons the nest, replacing the chicks will not bring her back any more than it will send her away. I see how this myth began but I believe it is just that, a myth.
Has anyone else out there heard of similar or contradicting stories?
This picture was taken by Trina Turner
and those are Joe Loyd's hands.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Invasive Mammals Judging Invasive Birds

             Lately I have been spending time in the city of Fayetteville. Though it is not the wilderness, nature is still all around. The park across the street is home to deer, raccoons, foxes, opossums, and a wide variety of birds. The birds of the wilderness are very different from city birds. I miss the indigo buntings, black and white warblers, and scarlet tanagers. However, a family of red-shoulder hawks nests in the old pine on the corner while mocking birds and robins frequent my yard, but the starlings dominate the neighborhood.
The European Starling was introduced to the New York when Eugene Schieffelin got the bright idea to import all the birds mentioned in William Shakespeare’s work to the United States from Europe. Schieffelin released some 60 pairs of starlings into Central Park between 1890 and 1891. It was believed that nonnative bird species would be beneficial to the environment. But in the case of the starling, it has turned out to be environmentally devastating.
This bird’s population was never a problem in its native land, but here its numbers have reached well into 200 million. Starlings are very adaptable and eat a wide variety of insects, berries, seeds, and even lizards. Though their large numbers play a part in seed dispersal and pest control, they wipe out entire plants or crops and eat just as many pollinators as pesky bugs. Farmers complain that the birds steal grain from livestock and devastate grape, olive, berry, and grain crops. Other problems, including disease contamination, arise when huge flocks of thousands migrate from one urban area to another. They have been known to kill mature trees with simply an over accumulation of dropping when roosting together.
               The starling in the yard, behind this house I am staying in, is aggressive and bold. She spend days collecting grass and straw from my pile of lawn clippings just beyond the porch. In front of my very eyes she carried nesting material into a hollow portion of the catalpa tree. Her general disposition was that she might just fight me for the territory. One of the worst things about the invasive starling is its attitude. It will attack native birds and drive them from their homes. For the past few days I have watched her building her nest deep inside the hallow tree. Yesterday I heard a chorus a peeping when she landed on the tree. After she left, I got a ladder. Standing on the top step, I still could not see inside. So I lifted my camera high above my head and aimed it down in the hole. I retrieved baby bird pictures.

               My kittens, another nonnative animal that kills native birds, have been curiously climbing up the catalpa while the mother bird anxiously guards the entrance. I do not know who to cheer for, so I have not interfered. Invasive creatures pose a moral dilemma. Just as the starlings invaded this country, multiplied, and ran off the natives, so have we. Who are we to take sides unless we are going to take responsibility for our own invasiveness? I gave away of my cats today. But I haven’t the heart to get rid of the starlings. So I live and let live; and I will die and let die.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

May the Moment have your Attention Please?

      At the edge of Walker Park, in a tall pine tree, nests a pair of red-shouldered hawks. They are vocal and call out to the traffic below. Their nest has been built strong and the sounds of chirping babies can be heard coming from within. With heads held high they look out over their kingdom with sharp eyes. Only the starlings are bold enough to forage in the grass below. When they scream out across the park all other birds are silenced. I stare in awe as they groom each other and tend to the nest. People walking by eye me as if I’m a homeless woman praying or cursing at the sky. They must think I’m crazy because they don’t stop and look up or pause to listen. If they did I wonder if they would notice the way the male stands guard with a watchful glare or the way the female tidies the nest just like a housewife. Too often we drive on by, wondering what is wrong with those who have stopped along the shoulder. If only we would take more time to see the details, then we might not miss out of all the beauty.

        What beauty have we passed by today? What beauty did you catch? Share it with me!   

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Top Ten Blogging Tips

When I started this blog I was a young mother stuck in a lonely cabin in the woods with not much to do but write about the natural world that quietly hummed all around me. I have been a writer all my life, but I started blogging without having a clue to what I was doing. I figured it would be a way to write and maybe get known as a writer. Later I discovered there might be ways to get paid or influence the world or sell my book when I finish it. Only just today have I learned how to really kick off my blog.

So for now I will suppress my exciting stories of turtle tracking, entomology, and primitive skills (I will post those soon so stay connected) to share with you some tips I learned about blogging this weekend. As many of you know I work at the Ozark Natural Science Center, and many of my blogs come from experiences there. This weekend I helped Bethany Stephens at ONSC host the Arkansas Women Blogger's Unplugged workshop. In turn for helping out I was able to drop in on some great classes and these are some of the highlights I learned. (I am not a professional at this, I am learning, so I am merely sharing what I learned. We will get back to nature writing shortly :-)

1.     Create Social Media Accounts

·       In this web driven world it is important to get yourself out there. So I developed a Twitter and Linkedin account to go along with my Facebook account. Then I made a Hootsuit account which helps me manage those three accounts.

2.     Keep your social media accounts current

·       Don’t hang out on twitter or facebook all day or people will think you’re a lazy yapper; nevertheless, it is important to keep a consistent stream. Also, you need to comment on other people’s tweets and posts.

3.     Titles are Important

·       A good title will catch people’s attention and they will go to your blog while a simply descriptive title is not so good. Also refer to the keywords in your title throughout your post.

4.     “Earn the right to whisper,” Bethany Stephens said.

·       You are shouting into a sea of noise on the internet with your blog. So earn respect and admiration instead of buying a megaphone. Be respectful and aware of everything you say, not only on your blog but also on social media.

5.     It is not all about you.

·       Even if you write a personal blog, it is important to bring in other people, mention other websites or blogs, and comment on others work. If you talk and focus only on yourself then people will walk away from all your ego boosting.

6.     Get to know your followers

·       In connection with number four, you need to follow those who follow you and comment on bloggers who comment on your blogs. Develop relationships in the blogging community both local and in your field of online work.

7.     Be consistent

·       Few people have time to write every day and that is fine; however, whatever frequency you choose, be consistent in it. Once a week is good. But try not to overload your blog with posts one week and then not update it for a month.

8.     Spelling and grammar counts

·       I am bad at this one, so call me out on it if you see it!

9.     How to blogs are popular.

·       Maybe this post will generate traffic J

10.  And lastly, asking questions at the end of a post often brings in comments.

·       So, what tips do you have for me? Are there ways I could improve this blog? (I am obviously working on all the tips I listed here, for I am guilty of most.) Can you think of ways I can get the word out? Is there something you would like me to write more/less about? Please comment!

Friday, June 10, 2011


     For the past month now I have been spending much of my time in the city of Fayetteville or at the Ozark Natural Science Center where I work. The situation makes me love my job. Last weekend I managed to break away from city life and retreat to Owls' Knob. I devoted my time to the garden.
     In previous years I have dug in the garden with a shovel. But this year John bought a new engine for our old broken tiller. This simple machine turns dirt like a blender beats a banana. With rich, soft soil, planting was easy. Rain, which is usually a garden's best friend, was its worst enemy this year. We received too much rain in too short a period of time. Luckily, the clouds parted for two days and I was able to plant.

     However, the soil I planted in between the rainstorms of late April and early May, was compacted by more rain and dried by the June sun. But I had a solution: mulch. In the past I have tried using leaves found on the forest floor and grass clippings from the yard to mulch around the base of my most beloved plants. I do not recommend skimping on mulch in this way. This year my uncle, who raises sheep, chickens, and cows, gave me four square bails of old moldy hay. I left the hay out in the rain so that it was partially rotten by the time I laid it down. I tucked the hay not only around the base of the plants but I also sprinkled it throughout the garden bed and even garnished trails with it.

In just one day's time I could see a difference. Wilted leaves were regaining their crispness. The soil just under the mulch retained its moisture after the hot summer day's sun sunk behind the hickory trees. Even the early pepper plant began to resume it's posture.

 Rows of cucumber, kale, and collards seemed to grow before my very eyes. Sometimes these young sprouts can be stunted by hard soil. Many of my early greens, which I set in the cool ground of March, never sprouted more than two tiny leaves from the clay.
The green beans were devastated by deer in my absence. But by the time I left, they had regrown many leaves and had begun stretch for my bean pole tee pee. This tee pee is built over a bed of zucchini squash which will appreciate the shade pole beans provide.
      Fences of hog wire were set for snap peas that never emerged from the beaten soil, Perhaps the rain washed them away. Simple cages are also ready for growing tomato plants.
     Though I am not at Owls' Knob every day, it is still my home and the garden there is important to me. I have high hopes that, ironically, this year will yield better results. I have learned from a few of my many mistakes.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer is here

Summer does not arrive on time. It carries no watch nor does it hop on a train. The hot summer breeze blows in whenever is feels and stays as long as it likes. Children only recognize summer when that bell rings at three on the last day of school. Leaves respond to the increasing light and flowers to the fluxuation in rain. I call summer the first river of sweat down my back. There are many other signs, but my skin does not release sweat without merit. A trickle of salty water rarely traces my spine, so when it does, I know that summer is here. Wednesday, for me, was the first day of summer, just in time for June.