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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

"Thank you, dear!"

We went to see my 100 year old grandmother again before we left Sedona Arizona. John did not join us because he was visiting the Grand Canyon for the day with some of my cousins. Instead, Zane and I went to see his great-grandmother with my cousin Kathryn, her husband Mike, and their two year old son Samuel. We spent time with her outside, in a courtyard area. The young boys played while my grandmother watched. The old woman seemed amused and filled with joy by their youthful visit. Though she did not speak, a smile sat on her wrinkled lips as she watched the boys play. Often she has a grim, pinched lip look, as if gritting through the pain of life. But while watching the young children play, run, and laugh, that look left her face. It was replaced by a sweet, satisfied smile. At one point, the two year old boys played “peek-a-boo” in front of the 100 year old woman. Watching the boys laugh and squeal, made the old woman break out into a full grin, teeth and all!   
     After 45 minutes of watching the boys run, dig, hide, and have fun, we could tell she was exhausted. So we told the boys to say good bye and give their great-grandmother a hug and kiss. Both boys delighted in showing love to the elderly woman. As we wheeled the 100 year old woman back toward the door to go inside, Zane found a fake flower on the ground. He picked it up and showed it to me. “Give it to your Granny,” I suggested. Zane ran after his great-grandmother’s wheel chair, screaming, “Granny, Granny!” When her chair stopped, Zane ran in front of it and reached out with the flower.
    The old woman smiled, her eyes danced, as if they were young again, and for the first time that day, she spoke, “Thank you, dear!” clear as a bell!
     I believe the thank you was not just for the flower, but for the entire visit full of kindness, youth, and laughter. It was a ‘thank you for bring me such joy today’. It was a ‘thank you for caring for me and loving me in my old age’. It was a ‘thank you’ that made me feel a responsibilty... a responsibility to carrying on her memory, lineage, and the life she gave to us all!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Africa in Arizona

My son has a great love for animals. He can be a bit of a loner when in groups of people, but he has a big heart. Every cat or dog he comes across is deserving of a hug. So it was no surprise that when we took him to the "Out of Africa" wildlife preserve, he literally jumped with joy. The first event was a trip on an open bus where we fed a giraffe carrots. The tall animal reached into the bus and licked the orange sticks out of our hands. Zane jumped, giggled, and squealed joyfully as the gentle giant took the carrot from his outreach hand.

Next we stopped to greet a tame ostrich who snapped treats, thrown by our guide, out of midair. Then the huge bird swallowed its food whole. The guide told us that ostriches swallow rocks along with their food. The rocks help the animal's digestion process. "She can have up to 25 pounds of rocks in her gut at any given time," said the guide as she gave the prehistoric bird a pat and hug. A zebra, who name was ironically prism, also came to get some treats. As the animals ate, Zane wiggled and reached as if he wanted to leap off the bus and give them hugs. Later on we came upon a mother zebra and her three month old baby. The guide explained that zebras have a 13 month gestation period and usually become pregnant as soon as they give birth."Females spend their entire adulthood pregnant," the guide explained. Then she asked us if zebras were white with black stripes or black with white stripes. After a pause, she explained that zebras have both white and black stripes of fur, so both answers are technically correct, but their skin is black. Tigers on the other hand are neither black or orange/white, they are pink (just look at their nose), and their hair contains the different pigments we see.

After the open bus safari adventure, we walked around the loop to view the different animals. The first few cages we came across contained sleeping or hiding animals that didn't spark the boys' interest. Then we came to a caged area marked "pet and feed." With two quarters, we fed a few fallow deer some feed. This sparked the boys attention again. Zane's cousin, Samuel, who was not too sure about the giants we saw on the bus, was very happy to feed the gentle deer. This is when Samuel began to really enjoy our trip and share in the excitement. The two boys, who are basically the same age, began feeding off each others' enthusiasm.  
As we walked the remainder of the park, we saw a majestic white tiger, two pacing orange tigers, a pride of lazy lions, and a pack of laughing hyenas. There were shows like "predator feed," "tiger splash," and "the giant snake show" that were happening later on, but the two year olds were hungry and sleepy so we headed back to the car. However, the car was on the other side of the park so we had to walk pass the giant tortoise cage, the tiny African monkeys, some parrots, a few huge snakes, and the lemurs. By the time the boys reached the car they were exhausted.
As we drove home they took long naps!
I hope my son never looses his love for animals and for all of nature.

Pictures to Say Thousands of Words

...if you want to know more about these spectaclar pictures come back tomorrow...
and next week...
stories are to follow

Saturday, December 24, 2011

My 100 Year Old Grandmother

I am the one in front, in the red sweater.
Grandmother is in pink, just to my right.
We went to visit my grandmother yesterday. She turned 100 years old on the 15th of December. At 100 years, she is not as sharp as she once was. In fact, my aunts warned me that she rarely speaks anymore and gives the world only a blank stare most of the time. Her mental state has been slowly declining over the past 10 years. First to go was her short term memory.
When I last saw her, 5 years ago, she told me the same stories over and over again, not remembering that she just told me that story. But I enjoyed hearing about her life. She had grown up with one sister who she loved dearly. Her mother and grandmother we both strong women who encouraged her to attend college, something girls didn’t do in those days. As an adult she married Donald Imrie, a doctor who made many breakthroughs in medicine during his career. My grandmother was an educated woman but devoted her life to raising six children, no two alike.    
However, I had never known the young vibrant mother. I had always known her as grandmother. And as I approach the nursing home where she now lives, my heart raced. I didn’t know what to expect, but all I could do was remember the woman I had once known.
My grandmother was a bright, intelligent lady with a cheerful disposition. I remember her and my grandfather visiting us in their RV. They traveled often and stayed spry late in life. As grandmother’s knees became weak in her old age, she went through knee surgery and they replaced her knee caps with metal. But the replaced knees never slowed her down. Her ankles tended to swell, so grandmother would walk down stairs backwards, which delighted us grandchildren. I would walk down the stairs backwards with her, giggling at the game. Before going on a walk she would lie down on her back and put her legs in the air to increase circulation. I often joined her and we would laugh as we lay on our backs, stretching our toes to the sky.
I remember grandmother telling me long stories or explaining how things worked. She would always end with, “Isn’t that neat!” If I told her something remarkable, which she encouraged, she would always exclaim, “Hot dog!” The joy I saw in her when she taught me new things is reflected in my eyes when I teach my students.
She was not a dull woman, but a smart, funny, and witty one. We would do jigsaw puzzles together often but without looking at the picture on the box, because that would be cheating. Sometimes she would do puzzles with all the pieces upside down so that the picture wasn’t even in consideration, only the shapes of the white pieces told her where to place them. Needless to say, she was quite the puzzle master.   
Though she was born in 1911, before so much of the modern life we are inundated with today, she never casted judgment. I remember arriving at a distant cousin’s wedding with purple hair and a blue velvet dress. Though I caught certain eyes casting judgmental glares at my purple locks, my grandmother just smiled and said, “Hot dog! Your hair is purple! How did you get it that color?”
“Hair dye, grandmother.”
“Well I like it! How do you think it would look on me? Should I dye this old grey hair purple?”
“Oh definitely grandmother! It would look great on you!”
She laughed, and not at me.
However, on this day, entering the retirement home, I did not expect to hear my grandmother’s laugh. I tried not to expect much.
We located her sitting in her wheel chair in the entertainment room. Though a woman was speaking to the group, grandmother stared blankly ahead. As my aunt, Carolyn, spoke into grandmother’s ear, telling her she had visitors, I watched her face. Her blank expression did not change. Then, my aunt turned her around and she spotted my two year old son Zane. Her face lit up. Slowly she reached out towards him. She tried to speak but her words were garbled, I could only make out the word “cute.”
My aunt wheeled her out of the room and we sat together off the hallway in a visiting area. Zane had a box of raisins and was eating them feverishly while shyly hugging my legs and watching the elderly woman. Because grandmother was a stranger to him, Zane was shy, but not afraid. My grandmother, watching Zane eat raisins, tried to speak again, “Is…yum…cookie?” Her words struggled, like she couldn’t get her mouth to listen to her brain. But she smiled and tried again and again. Finally, she spoke clearly, “Is that a yummy cookie? Yes, yum, yum, yum.”
“Do you want to share a raisin with your great grandmother?” I suggested.
Zane gingerly took as raisin out of the box he was holding and reached out to grandmother’s wrinkled hand. As he placed the raisin on her palm she looking straight into Zane’s eyes and said, “Thank You!” Her words were forming with more and more ease. She moved her shaky hand to her mouth and just barely managed to eat the raisin. Zane offered her more raisins. By the third raisin grandmother’s hands were much steadier and she even picked a raisin out of Zane’s hand with her finger and thumb.
My aunt told me her behavior was remarkably good. So I retrieved a book from my purse and sat with Zane on my lap. My aunt rolled grandmother to my side.
“Oh look at that,” grandmother said in a clear voice. “What do you have there? Is that a book?”
Zane pointed to pictures, numbers, and letters, identifying everything correctly. Grandmother joined in, speaking in full sentences, identifying pictures, and smiling the whole time. If I tried to turn as page for my son, grandmother stood up for him, saying “Let him do it!”
I glanced at my aunt who seemed equally amazed at grandmother’s cognition and clear speech!
Then the two year old began playing peek-a-boo, and soon the 100 year old joined in, squealing “peek-a-boo” as she leaned forward and then back again to change her perspective on Zane’s hiding place. It was as if she were growing younger by the minutes. Her movement and speech drastically improved during our visit. And more importantly, joy filled her eyes. I even heard her laugh the same laugh I remembered!
My aunt informed me she had not seen grandmother this alive in months! The youthfully joy and delight of a baby awoke the old woman. In so many ways they were similar. Their speech was not always clear and they were both easily amused.
“We all come into the world toothless and bald,” my aunt Nan said later on. “And (hopefully) we leave this world in the same state.”

Friday, December 23, 2011

Biking the Rockies in Winter?

For the past week I have been in the high mountains of Colorado visiting my mother. This time of year there is usually four feet of snow covering the ground. This year, however, there has not been much snowfall so far. Normal winter sports like skiing and ice skating are much more difficult in icy or slushy snow. The local people are out of work, without snow the tourist are not coming for their winter vacations.
But John and I were visiting family, so we stayed active and went on a winter bike ride. There is a riverside road that is not paved, gets little traffic, and hasn’t any major hills north of Beauna Vista. It is perfect for bike riding. The snowy mountains, rocky shores, and majestic river made the trip exceptional.
 My favorite spot along the road had to be these tunnels, made by dynamite for a train that no longer comes through but still parts mountain for cars and bikes. Half way through our journey we stopped to eat at a local burger joint called "Punky's". While eating, a group of caroling children dropped in and sung us a few songs. Some of the children were wearing sandals, slippers, or shorts. They hiked through snowy streets as if it were summer while we dressed in layers and still complained about the cold.  

 The ride back seemed to take forever and I was fairly exhausted by the end. I slept heavy all night and woke up late to a snowy wonderland. A foot of snow had fallen during the night and it enhanced the beauty of the landscape.

There is not a lot of diversity among the plant life in this place that is so high in altitude and cold in temperature. The landscape looks like a rocky desert, spotted only with pine forests. Without the snow frosting the ground it is far less spectacular. Now that snow has fallen, the people can rejoice. Christmas in Colorado will be much more joyful covered in snow!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Illusions for Children

As a kid, I remember getting mail from the Burger King Kids Club when I was very young, impressionable girl. I was living in the middle of nowhere, without electricity (or TV), and I had very few friends. The mail convinced me I had been chosen for a special club. Every time we went to the mailbox I anticipated the kids' club newsletter. The characters in the brochure were real to me. It was a gang of kids who were all different and accepted. When the print said these were my friends, I believed them.  Being a lonely child living in a log cabin in the woods, I felt different but not accepted. I dreamt of meeting the kids one day!
You can just imagine my disappointment when I finally went to a real live Burger King. No one knew me, and they didn't want to get to know me, even after I told them I was a member of the club! As a vegetarian, I could not truly appreciate the food. Still, I got a kids meal because they promised me a prize. I hoped it would at least be a figurine of my favorite Burger King Kid, "Wheels." Inside the toy was so disappointing that I threw it away on my way out and to this day I can not remember what it was. These days, newsletter are sent by e-mail and advertisements are delivered to children through television.
The advertisements tug on emotions and desires that children don't yet know how to control. But that is what advertising is all about. Ads are designed to drive children insane until they throw tantrums to get what they want from the store. That is how toys are sold and it works.
Recently, while watching Nick Jr. I was appalled by the way the channel portrayed itself. The channel (not a commercial but the channel itself) claimed to have a "curriculum" and be "preschool at home"! Television is not school, even the most educational show will never be comparable to a real life experiences. Nevertheless, before every Nick Jr. show is a little synopsis of the lessons your child is going to learn from the show. Some of the skills your child will learn is how to "explore," "discover", and "share and care."
If parents believe that the television will teach their children how to "explore, discover, share and care," like Nick Jr. claims, they will have no reason to expose them to real children or real life experiences. If  the channel is as good as preschool, then why not let children watch television all day, everyday?
Most of these children won't be able to have the epiphany that I had walking into that Burger King Restaurant. Because there is no building that contains those cute, cuddly TV characters without their costumes on. Children have no way to see that the characters are just people, as messed up as anyone else. They are growing up mesmerized by the characters they see on the screen and unaware of the illusion they live inside.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The First Virgin Snow

Last week it snowed but the students from Southside middle school in Siloam Springs still drove two over hours out to the Ozark Natural Science Center. The students I worked with were excited to be able to explore the woods covered in a thin sheet of white. As soon as we had them settled for their two day stay, and I had convinced them to wear their pajamas underneath their cloths for extra insulation, we began our first four hour long hike.

We walked along a creek side trail and found tracks along snow covered logs. After studying them carefully we determined they were squirrel tracks. Later on an excited girl ran up to me with a handful of black pellets and asked, “What is this?” I chuckled, “Looks like rat scat!” I expected the girl to freak out about having rat feces in her hand, but instead she just said, “Cool!” I smirked and went on to explain that it was probably from a wood rat, which is a much cleaner rodent than the common house rat. Another boy said, “Awesome, Can I hold it?” And the poop was passed. I make them promise to wash their hands.
Late at night, just before bed, I took the kids on a night hike. The full moon seeped brightly through wispy clouds and illuminated the snow. Everything in the forest seemed to glow and guide our way. The children, mesmerized by the night’s beauty, did not speak a word. Even their footsteps were light. As we walked past a cedar thicket, we heard a stick snap. Everyone froze. We hear something, some animal, moving just beyond a pile of fallen trees. I whispered to the children, asking them if I they wanted me to turn on my light so that maybe we could see the animal as it fled. “No,” a boy pleaded, “We don’t want to scare it away!” The others nodded. I smiled, and we silently walk onward leaving the creature in peace.

Normally I walk only a hundred feet or so into the woods on the night hike, just enough to give the kids a taste. But this night was different and this group was special. We walked perhaps a half mile, all the way to Chinquapin Outlook. There we stood in silence on a rock ledge were we gazed out across the snowy moonlit valley. Still the children stayed silent, in awe of the beauty all around them.

The next day we watch woodpeckers and chickadees in the trees. Along the river and up the hill we identified trees, herbs, and rocks. We discussed meandering steams, underground water, springs, and karst topography. We followed chipmunk and raccoon tracks along a dried up creek bed. The children made up stories about the chase between these two mammals.

Then we began finding frost flowers clustered around the stalks of wild oregano. A frost flower blooms only when the air is freezing but ground has not yet experienced a hard freeze and the plant’s roots are still active. The water molecules expand as ice is formed and ice is pushed out of the roots and stems of certain plants in thin petals. We found our ice beauties swirling around the bases of dried up wild oregano plants. Though the children were excited they did not touch the delicate petals, instead they examined the frost flowers and left them for the next class to enjoy. Ten year olds with the patients, respect, and silence of these students give me hope of the future!

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Great Journey of Cheese!

Last week Beth, the executive director of the Ozark Natural Science Center, wrote an article about our ONSC motto "take what you need, and eat what you take!" The children repeat the motto before every meal at ONSC. Beth tells of how we encourage children to put only what they want to eat on their plate and then eat everything. The idea is to teach them to not waste food. Any waste they have is put into a clear plastic "compost bucket" and is shown to the children before the meal ends. If there is a lot of waste, we make a point to illustrate what is being wasted. Suppose the wasted food is mostly grilled cheese sandwiches, we illustrate the journey of that the cheese made:

"So where did this cheese come from," I ask the cafeteria of children, finishing their food.

"From a cow," a child answers.

"Okay, from cow, but it takes a lot to raise a cow, right, so let’s take another step back. What goes into raising a cow?"

"It has to be fed," a boy says.

"What do cows eat?"

"Grain," a girl answers.

"Okay, so grain has to be grown, right? What goes into growing grain?"

"A forest has to be cut to plant the grain," one child suggests.

"And the ground has to be fertilized," says another. "And watered!"

"Great, so then the grain is grown, but how does it get to the cow?"

"Someone has to harvest it," a child says. "And then it goes onto a truck and is transported to the cow!"

"Awesome, so all of that energy goes into just getting the cow its food. The cow also has to have water and maybe medicines and people to care for it. Eventually that cow grows up, has a baby, and is able to be milked. Then what?"

"The milk has to be made into cheese."

"Do you think the cattle farmer makes the cheese?"

"No...It has to be shipped to a cheese factory!"

"So the milk is moved by trucks to the cheese factory, and what type of energy is used in that truck?"


"Right, fossil fuels. And what goes into getting that fossil fuel? Where does gasoline come from?”

“The ground?”

“Exactly, it has to be mined out of the ground, trees are chopped down, the ground to turned up, and people work hard to get the raw fuel out of the ground. Then it is moved to a refinery where it is made into gasoline. Finally it is transported to a gas station and put in the truck. Still with me?”
Heads nod.

“Once the milk gets to the cheese factory it is processed by machinery. What powers that machinery?”


“Where do we get electricity?”



I laugh, “I wish, most of our electricity some from one source, a much more dirty source.”

“Coal,” someone says.

“Yeah, coal is mined and then it is burned, creating pollution, to power the machinery. The machines are operated by workers and the milk is made into giant blocks of cheese. But we don't buy giant blocks of cheese, do we? So where do those giant blocks of cheese go?"

"To a packaging place?"

"Yes, to yet another factory where the cheese is cut into smaller pieces and put into plastic bags. But then we don't pick up cheese from the factory so where does it go next?"

"It has to be trucked to a store."

"Well, usually it goes to a distribution plant first and then to a store, but yes. And there it is purchases but our cooks, driven all the way out here to the science center, cooked, and served to you.”

I take a deep breath and let some of this information sink in before I continue, “So if you waste the cheese on that sandwich, you are not just wasting cheese, but all of the time, energy, and resources that went into making the cheese and bring it to you!"

Jaws drop, these children have never pondered where their food comes from in such detail. Seeing their shock faces I know they will never think of food the same way again!