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. After twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live and work in the Ozarks and visit the mountain often. These are stories about the Ozark Wilderness written from a women deeply influenced by this special place.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Winter at Last

Last year winter never came to the Ozarks. We never got more than a light dusting of snow and the temperature hardly dropped enough to call it cold. Last summer was terribly hot and dry, so after another summer full of similar hot and dry weather, everyone has been talking about how mild the winter to follow might be. Long summers are harder to bare if there is no winter to warm up from. The cold and hot help balance each other.
This week I was pleasantly surprised that we got a cold snap and it snowed a little. I know most people are not big fans of winter (I actually don't mind it most winters) but I think we can all agree that winter is suppose to be cold and that type of normality is reassuring.
For northern states, snow is nothing special. But for the Ozarks, it is a rare and special occurrence, a gift from the heavens. Every year we get at least a dusting of frozen precipitation, but rarely is it more than a dusting. I am simply relieved that a little snow fell, that winter may actually set in this year. The cold will surely make next summer feel more tolerable.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Spring Peepers in December?

This past weekend, I woke to the sound of two spring peepers calling from amphibian ponds at Owls' Knob. Their constant peeping is a comforting sound to me in spring, but in December it is somewhat troubling. I recall having heard peepers in autumn but this is very late in the year for them to be calling.
These small chorus frogs hibernate under leaf litter in winter. They do not dig deep enough to prevent freezing so their cold blooded body drops below freezing temperatures. Their bodily functions shut down and their body partially freezes. To avoid exploding they force water out of their cells so it turns to ice in between the individual cell walls. They also create glucose, from energy reserves, that serves as a natural anti-freeze. With these adaptations their core temperature can drop to only 21 degrees Fahrenheit!
However, this December has had highs in the 70's and lows in the 50's. So the spring peepers are not retreating under logs, rocks, and leaf litter, but instead singing at the edges of ponds. I worry that they will use up precious energy reserves and not have enough glucose in their system to last the winter, (if winter indeed comes this year.) Hopefully these frogs are fat and just happy to be hopping on a warm winter day.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Salamander Tadpole

Yesterday, just before the cool winds and rains blew in, my uncle took me down to his salamander pond. We found many tadpoles, their gills are like the mane of a Chinese dragon. This one was also getting its front legs. These amphibians are becoming more and more rare. That is why my uncle has dug a special pond for them to breed. We are all excited each year to see the next generation of salamanders tadpoles growing strong. Read more about the Ringed Salamander here!

Ringed Salamander Tadpoles

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks

Today both my belly and my heart is full. I feel such gratitude and humble appreciation.
I often talk to my students about appreciation, particularly about their appreciation for the environment. It is a notion we toss around casually. But the sheer magnitude of what our natural environment does for us is overwhelming. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and everything we buy came from the earth. We are made of earth, from the earth, and one day we will return to the earth. I am thankful for that which gives me life. I am thankful for the life and love that is all around me... the life that is inside me.
After such a beautiful day I am in awe of such beauty and splendour and so grateful that I will be waking in the morning to greet yet another glorious day. Yet, I know that so many people are not as lucky as I. Sometimes I feel guilty because I can not relieve their suffering. While so many suffer, I am so blessed. So I can not forget to give thanks for all that I have been given. It is the least I can do!
This Thanksgiving I am filled with deep gratitude.
So many of our holidays have good stories behind them but have become materialistic and Americanized in some way. But Thanksgiving is the opposite. It has a sad story. It celebrates a empty day full of empty promises and lies. If the Pilgrims and Indians came together on this day to feast, it was only followed by years of war, a great exodus, and the decline of a nation full of indigenous cultures. But like all American holidays, the story has been forgotten. And on this holiday I am glad! For me and so many others, it is not a celebration of the past but an appreciation of the present. A time to bring families together and give thanks. We need more days like today!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

How to Live?

I am in a constant struggle, a battle with myself. So much of me wants to raise my boy close to nature. Yet living in the middle of no where is so difficult, so lonley. Our culture is no longer built for the small farmer or the folks living close to the land. It is an industrialized society and if you want to live apart from that, be prepared to feel alone. The loneliness ate me up, but now the city eats away at me in a similar way.
Perhaps I am cursed to be stuck between these two worlds. I was raised in a constant state of change. We always had more that one home. My parents traveled often and since they were divorced my sister and me jumped between them as well. I want both... to live in the country and have a social life.
When I live in the city, I do not live in a way that I feel good about, but I am able to teach and help others. In the country I can not have much influence on the world, but I am living in a better way.
I think.
It is so hard to know how to live...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Owls on a Night Hike

Have you ever hiked in the woods without a flashlight? Not through your back yard to gather forgotten items or to the curb to put out the recycling or even across the farmyard to tend animals, but deep into the unknown woods, just too see what it out there at night? Before I started working at the Ozark Natural Science Center, the only time I wandered through the woods at night without a light was during bonfire parties, in which we were a pack of loud drunken fool, uninterested in the night's sounds. At the science center, I take children on a night hike.

I begin the hike with my flashlight on and lead the children into the woods. An adult is also at the back of the line shinning flashlight. Once the center is completely out of sight, I stop and turn off the lights. We talk in the dark about the night. Often a few children are afraid and I ask them what they are afraid of. They always say the same things and a debunk their fears one at a time.
"Wolves," they said.
"We killed off all the wild red wolves. They exist only in zoos or parks, so don't worry."
"Mountain Lions."
"Same fate as the wolves."
"Coyotes."
"Cowardice creatures. As far as I know, no one has ever been attacked by a coyote."
"Bears."
Black Bears are about as dangerous as coyotes."
"Blood sucking bats."
"None of those around here, perhaps a few blood sucking mosquitoes though. And that is just about the only thing I fear at night. Mosquito bites and diseases." (I also fear copperheads, but only in the summer months.)

By the time I have finished quelling their fears, their eyes have begun to adjust. I have a bag of tricks over my shoulder and a do a few nifty nighttime tricks to get their mind somewhere else.
Then, if the moon is not completely dark, we walk without a flashlight. I ask of complete silence and (amazingly) I often get it. Though most of the time we walk without seeing or hearing anything but katydids, we sometimes sneak up on a noisy armadillo or hear a barred owl calling in the distance.

Barred Owl

Last week, we took an extra long night hike. We were in to dark woods for almost an hour. The moon was half full and the few clouds reflected the light to make it seen even brighter. I took the group to an abandoned house on the property. It is a hike I do often during the day, but I have never been at night. It looked spooky in the darkness. A few children did not want to creep up to the empty windows panes and look inside, but most braved the journey.

On our way back towards the center we paused near a cedar thicket and heard an Eastern Screech Owl. The children all gasped in horror at once. I prefer the name Ghost Owls for this little creature, because I have never heard it screech. It's typical call has a hoot and then an eerie trill, almost like a ghost howl from a Halloween cartoon. I explained in a whisper that they were hearing is one of the smallest owls. I showed them with my hands how tiny it is, only about 8 inches tall. They relaxed. After explaining that this tiny raptor was less dangerous than a hawk, we walked slowly into the darkness of the cedar thicket. Three times we snuck up on the owl and I quickly turned on my light to reveal the bird before it few down the trail on quite wings. My brave group of 10 years olds were excited and thrilled to have had such an experience. 

As I drove home the next day, around dusk, I spotted a barred owl swoop across my path. I stopped my car and we watched each other. It sat in a colorful dogwood tree, and watched me watching it. I snapped a picture and the flash frightened it away. 

Owls have a spooky reputation. Perhaps it is their eerie nightly sounds. Or their huge knowing eyes. Or the way they turn their head to look behind themselves. Myths and legends have associated owls with either death or wisdom for generations. I am in awe of their grace and song. This year, for Halloween, I am invoke the spirit of the owl!


This Year's Jack-O-Lantern


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stress Relief

Like most moms, with a million things to do and worry about, I suffer from stress. I know that stress is not good for my baby or me, so I have been trying to find ways to lower my stress levels. I took an herbal tincture during the day and drank a glass of wine at dinner until I got pregnant. Now I am struggling with more subtle stress reductions techniques. Of course, yoga and Tai Chi helps, but it is hard to find time and floorspace for that with a three year old. In fact, too many yoga positions say to him, "human jungle gym!"

The only thing that works every time is nature! I had a mental break down on Saturday. I just snapped. I couldn't handle life anymore. So I drove out to Owls' Knob, 50 miles from a streetlight, siren, or 24/7 store. Way out there I don't have a cell phone or Internet connection, the radio waves don't penetrate my brain and no one is calling me up to tell me their problems. I slept two nights listening to crickets and even a few hardy frogs. I took long walks during the day, through the tunnels of red, gold, and brown leaves. I started reading an old first addition copy of Gone with the Wind (old books are more relaxing to me somehow, written and printed in a slower paced world). For hours I just sat with my son, gazing dreamily at the colorful leaves and listening to whatever nonsense he had to say.

What is it about staring into nature that makes me feel so calm? It doesn't logically make sense. I still have to make food, wash dishes, and deal with my son's mood swings. In town I have a yard, my street is quite, and I have more modern convinces. What makes the dramatic difference? Research shows that sunlight boosts the levels of serotonin in the brain and fresh air (particularly air that is near a body of water) contains negative ions which are also necessary to balance the brain's chemicals. It is not just the quiet or beauty that the wilderness provides, there is something chemically going on in my brain that changes my mood when I am outdoors.

But that still doesn't explain why the back yard is not just as good at the deep Ozark wilderness. Why is the park or the bike trail not just as relaxing as a walk through the crunching leaves of the old oak and hickory trees? Perhaps science will not be able to answer that question. Maybe it will remain a mystery. However, I can feel it and I know it to be true. The remote Ozark wilderness is good for my soul and necessary for my sanity!  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hello Trees!


"Hello tiny flower!"

Last week, Zane and I went many places to admire the colors of autumn's leaves. First we went to the park. There the falling leaves were mostly from Osage Orange trees. My son was more impressed by the huge Osage Oranges fruits than the yellow leaves. He is an observant young boy, and very curious. I stopped often because he was busy examining a stick, tree, bug, or flower. He also took time to say hello to many of these things.

The following day Grand-ma, her friend Zan, Zane, and I went to Yellow Rock at Devils Den state park. The round trip hike is about 3 miles long and it is categorized as moderately difficult trail on the Devils Den website. But Zane is a trooper, so we set off on the hike. At first the rough terrain kept him completely occupied and moving briskly. Every rock was an opportunity to climb a mountain and jump off a cliff. Often he stopped to greet a tree. I am not sure why he has decided he must greet the trees or what makes one tree so inviting while he passes so many others by. I have learned that it is pointless to argue, not worth the fuss. So we waited and watched him as he said hello and good bye to many a tree.

Half way through our journey we rested on a large rock and ate snacks. Then we descended the hill and rounded the mountain towards Yellow Rock. Upon the huge rock, in front of the amazing view, my three year old was not so impressed. A leaf or a tree is tangible, but a view is just vast. He does not recognize the size and scope of an entire valley and the mountains beyond yet. So we only stayed on the rock a short while, before walking back.
On the hike back, Grand-ma had to carry the boy often. As she became tired, she devise a game that encouraged him to walk. Grand-ma and Zane would hurry ahead and hide behind the biggest tree they could find. As we approached, they would jump out and scare us. It delighted the boy and kept him moving. Even after the long hike, the three year old was full of joy and energy. So we went down to the river at the Devil's Den picnic area to let Zane do what he loves most: throwing rocks in the water!

The next day, Grand-ma drove Zane and I out to Owl's Knob for a much needed visit. All summer, during the intense heat and drought, finding the time and energy to go out to Newton County was hard. But the colors of fall lured us deep to the wilderness. We drove out the long way, along highway 16, where the hills were dotted with color and cyclones of yellow leaves circled the car. All day we walked around the mountain. All around the cabin a halo of yellow glowed. Sunbeams turn golden as they were filtered by the wide compound leaves of hickory trees. As I walked through the forest to the north the rock, yellows gave way to deep reds of tupulo trees and joyous oranges of maples. Along the edge of the pond brilliant reds from the sumacs are set off among deep maroons of water logged sweet gums. I took a stroll down the long driveway and collected leaves. My favorites were oaks and maples that had just been touched with hues of red, as if fairies had come a painted their tips on the night. 
When the day was done, we said good bye to Owl's Knob. Zane said good bye to the trees.

Perhaps there is something to learn from the boy who talks to trees. I am not saying we should all go out and literally speak to trees, but maybe we would all feel better if we took the time to stop and silently greet the world around us, understanding and appericating it better in the end.  

"Hello, tree... Good bye, tree!"


Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn...

After such a long hot summer, the cool winds of fall are refreshing. Color is creeping into the green forests as the days become shorter. Normally I would be inspired; I am very fond of fall, but I have been out of touch this year. I am currently 15 weeks pregnant and having a particularly difficult time so far. As summer has faded, so has my energy. I have also been incredibly sick. Therefore, I have not been spending enough time outside. My camera has been abandoned and my thoughts left with summer's energy. In the coming weeks I hope to find more energy to write about this fantastic season.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Fat Turtle

I found a turtle between the compost pile and the garden. It was obese! I never knew that a turtle could become overweight. But the fat rolls that were unable to fit inside of this turtle's shell were disturbing. What's more is that I feel responsible! Three days in a row I looked for him when I took the compost out and I found him every time.
My compost pile is not well kept or protected. It is a heap of food that is covered with leaves and left for nature to do as it pleases. I never thought much of it before now. I figured that some wildlife might enjoy it, but I didn't see a problem with that. Most of my compost is fairly healthy. However, looking at this fat turtle I realize that he is addicted to what I throw out and because it is so easy to eat so much, he has become unhealthy. I don't think he can get all of his fat rolls into his shell; therefore, he is easy picking for a predator. I am ruining this turtle's life!
It makes me wonder how many other obese animals are hiding in the woods between our houses, waiting for us to take out the garbage or throw those scraps in the yard. How many dumpsters are all you can eat bars, tempting fat raccoons, foxes, rabbits, and yes, even turtles!
I will properly fortify my compost pile this weekend!    


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bark Scorpion Girl

Striped Bark Scorpion
At the Ozark Natural Science Center, before I take students on our first hike together, I always ask the students to each tell me what they want to learn more about. Most of them either name the first animal that comes to mind (bears, snakes, or deer) or they flip through their field guide and read a heading to me, even if they don't know what it means and are not interested in it. One cool fall day last year I got a surprising answer, "I want to learn more about the Striped Bark Scorpions," said a little girl with black hair and wide wandering eyes.
"Bark Scorpions?" I mused. "I'm not even sure we have them around here..."
"Oh yes, they are here. They live under rocks during the day and then climb trees at night in search for food. They hunt insects and stuff. They are only, oh, about this big..." she showed me a little over an inch with her fingers. "They blend into the bark, especially because it is night, so when you put your hand on a tree they sting you. But they won't kill you, its like a bee sting."
"Wow, I think you might need to teach me about them! Obviously you know quite a bit more about them than I do."
"I like to study them." Her gaze lowered and she seemed slightly embarrassed. Other students were snickering and rolling their eyes at her. At her age, being smart is NOT cool.
Throughout the rest of our time together, the girl continued to teach me things and I taught her what she didn't already know. She was full of questions and answers both. The bark scorpion did not come back up since I felt stupid not knowing anything about them.
This past week, while walking with fellow Ozark Natural Science Center teachers, during staff trailing, we flipped over a rock in the glade and found a stripped bark scorpion. Immediately I thought of the bark scorpion girl. As I asked teacher naturalist more about this species, I realized the girl had been right about everything she had told me, from its size to its habits.
"I knew a guy who picked them up!" someone said.
"I dare you to pick it up, Caleb," said Adam.
Caleb smiled.
"I will rub nose burn on my nose if you pick up the scorpion." Adam dared. (Nose burn is a plain little plant or weed that grows in Ozark glades. People who touch it get a stingy or burning sensation that rarely last more than 20 minutes. However, Adam found it not to be painful when he lost this bet and rubbed it on his nose.)
Carefully, Caleb crept up behind the scorpion and then quickly plucked it off the ground. The scorpion curled its legs in and froze in the giant's grip. While taking a picture of the only Ozark scorpion I have ever seen, I wished the bark scorpion girl was there to see it too.
Caleb Wardlaw Holding a bark scorpion

Monday, September 3, 2012

Shallow Water

 
Green Heron
Creeks and rivers are still very shallow. I went to one of my favorite swimming spots and found that the pools of water were not only shallow, but the water quality was poor. Perhaps this little branch of the white river has always been slightly polluted. It is beside a rural bridge where thoughtless people can so easily drop trash off the side of their truck and into the shadows below. Normally their trash is carried down stream. But this year's stagnant pools revealed every coke can and chip bag. Also, there was an oily or white shimmer of scum on the water's surface.
Blue Heron
Despite these signs of carelessness,  there was no lack of life in these waters! Turtles were thriving, basking on a log sicking up out of the water and floating near the surface ready to plunge into the depths at any moment. Fish filled the water so thickly I was afraid if I stepped into the pool they would come lapping onto shore.
Of course, herons were attracted to these fish filled pools. As we approached the river a small green heron perched and watched us suspiciously before flying into a nearby sycamore tree. Further downstream, a blue heron flew to the far bank and watched us from there. As I crept closer, the huge bird kept its eyes on my every move, but was reluctant to fly away from such a beautiful buffet of fish. After creeping very close, the heron opened its huge arching wings and lifted itself into the air. As it crested the trees it stopped flapping and began to soar.

Watermelon Sprout
Before we also decided to soar away, I spotted a watermelon sprout growing up from between the river rocks. There its seed had fallen after been spat from unknowing lips. The sprout reminded me that not everything humans carelessly discard is garbage, and even amongst the garbage, life grows onward!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Never met a stranger


Zane loves nature. He wants to be outside whenever possible, even in the heat or cold. If he sees a bug, he puts his palm out and asks, "hand?" Which means, "Will you put it in my hand?" He doesn't squeeze or poke at anything I place there. With a beaming smile, he just watches the creature crawl. When it is time to let the critter go, he waves and says, "Bye-bye!" Then he askes me, "Zane kiss? Zane hug?" If I tell him, "No," we don't kiss and hug worms, or frogs, or whatever, he will pout with his big sad bottom lip sticking way out. So I always cave, telling him he can, "Blow a hug and kiss." So he does. He blows kisses and hugs towards every snail, beetle, toad, and roly-poly we find. Of course, I won't let him put just anything in his hand. I have been pointing out spiders and wasps, explaining that these creatures might bite or sting him. I don't want him to be afraid necessarily, just cautious and aware.
When we are in the country we take lots of walks down the dirt road. It delights Zane that there are no cars in the road and it is safe to walk on. He is very observant, stopping to examine every ant. He is also learning which insects are ticks. When he finds a tick he knows to bring to me. He love for living things does not stop at sails or spiders, he has to hug and kiss trees or rocks too. It is almost like he just wants to show his love for life and the world. Maybe he is just trying to give thanks for being alive?
I am proud that he loves every thing so much. Love is much better than hate. But when we are in town, his kindness can be awkward. In the city, it makes people uncomfortable. Because he will hug and kiss nice old cars that he likes, or intersting holes in the sidewalk. Pretty much anything that he likes or finds interesting gets a hug and kiss. I have had to scold him for blow kisses to the lady in the check out line or hugging the random dogs in the park. And it just makes us both look crazy when he kisses the man hole cover in the sidewalk or hugs an street sign. He is passionate. I recognize the strength as well as the weakness in such passion.
Lately, he has become more reserved. His baby days of hugging and kissing everything he likes or enjoys is fading. Now I feel less embarrassed, now that he can be embarrassed. But when we are alone in the backyard and no one is watching, we hug the trees and kiss the ladybugs without an ounce of shame!
Zane letting a millipede walk on his hand.


Sprouts of Hope


 
I am trying to grow a fall garden. This week has brought cooler temeratures, a few summer thunderstorms, and a bit of hope. I know I am not the only species that is rejoicing in a change in weather. This summer has been the hottest and dryest on record, but lately the birds have begun singing again and the grass covered hillsides have changed from brown back to green. So I felt inspired to stick a few seeds in the ground. Only the bush beans seem to be thriving so far. Perhaps the spinach and lettuce knows that summer is not over yet. It may be too soon to start speaking of fall. But at least I can see a bit of greenery at the end of the tunnel!
 



Friday, August 10, 2012

An Amazing South American Amphibian

       In the gloomy forests of South America lives a tiny frog called Darwin's Frog (Rhinoderma darwinii), who has one of the strangest reproductive cycles. The female frog lays about 30 eggs in sheltered leaf litter, then she leaves. The male frog, however, stays and guards the eggs. When the tadpoles are just about ready to hatch their egg becomes transparent and their father can see them wiggling inside. The adult male carefully wraps his tongue around each individual egg, picks it up, and slips it into his vocal sac through a slit in his mouth. The eggs then hatch inside the male's vocal sacs. The young tadpoles live inside their father's vocal sac eating the egg yoke as well as a nutrient rich secretion (perhaps similar to milk) made by the male. The tadpoles go through metamorphosis and develop into tiny frogs, a miniature replicas of their parents. When they are mature the male frog sort of burps them up and his children come hopping out of his mouth, one by one!
Like so many amazing animals, this frog species is endangered.
What an amazing world we have! What an amazing world we are losing!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Drought


What is growing in this drought? What life is stirring in the forest when the temperature is in the triple digits? I am sad to say, not a lot. This summer I am finding it hard to write about the Ozarks because the natural world is struggling. Silver maples all over the towns and villages are dead, eaten away by beetles and then taxed by the drought. All along the rolling hills oak trees have turned brown and will die this year. Some trees have dropped their leaves and gone dormant, I suspect these trees will come back to life briefly in fall and survive the year. Sycamore trees have found a way to drop 80% of their leaves. By holding on to very few leaves they are conserving moisture and might make it through the summer.
It is hard to find many animals other than grasshoppers, cicadas, cardinals and crows. Everything else seems to be hiding. Even at dawn, before the day is unbearable, the forest is quite. Very few birds are rejoicing in the rising of the sweltering sun.
I have tried to focus on my garden. It is the only sense of environmental control I have. Yet I can not seem to water it enough. And the squash bugs ate half my plants. And something stole every last peach! I worked hard to care for my peach trees this year. Then something came in the night and took every one, pits and all. What could it have been? All I can think, is that the desperate soul who stole them, needed them more than I. Even in the garden, I have no control. Nature is huge. The earth will do as she pleases.
It has been a depressing summer for environmentalist and naturalist. We can't help but think this is the beginning of the end. Climate change is taking its toll. How will we all survive? Will we all survive?


Friday, July 13, 2012

Squash Bug Eggs

Squash Bug Eggs

Squash bug nymph
I was in the garden all morning scrapping the eggs of squash bugs off my pumpkin, cucumber, and water melon leaves with my fingernail. I have found that the easiest solution to a squash bug problem is to eliminate their eggs as soon as possible. The eggs are most often found on the underside of the leaf, in clusters along the leaf's veins. Today the light grey nymphs were beginning to emerge. I also spotted a few adults mating. So I tried my best to get every last egg.
I hate killing in general. Even while pulling the eggs, I know there is potential for life in each one, yet to allow them to live would be to allow the squash plants to die. Both adult and nymph bugs will suck nutrients from my plants and could kills off my crops. If this garden were my only means to feed my family, it would be a life or death struggle, it would be a battle of the fittest. Gardening is unlike forestry. There is a balance, but it is also a battle ground.
Adult squash bugs mating
Recently, I got a fantastic picture book for my son from the library called, "Whose Garden Is It?" by Mary Ann Hoberman. In the book, despite the statement by the gardener, "This garden is mine..." every mammal, reptile, bird, and bug claims that the garden is their own. Even the weeds, trees, and plants argue who is more important. By the end, the rain, sun, and soil put in their opinions in as well. Alas, the garden is not mine anymore than the land is mine. I happily share this little patch of earth with the birds, butterflies, and wasps, which all have something to give and something to take. The some birds steal my sunflower seeds but they also eat pests, the butterflies have caterpillars who damage some of my plants but pollinate others, and the wasps make me fearful of a sting but they eat caterpillars or spiders.
 However, when it comes to (literally) thousands of squash bugs, who offer only devastation, something has to give.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tarantula Hawk


 Tarantula Hawks are the largest wasps in the world. This one was about two inches long. These wasps sting and paralyze tarantulas.  Then they drag the huge spider back to their underground nest and lay a single egg on the spider. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva eats its way into the spider's body cavity, carfully avoiding its vital organs so that the spider doesn't die and stays fresh. They are not agressive; however, it is said that the sting is the most intense pain ever felt! Luckily it only last a few minutes.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Autumn Leaves in June

The leaves make me sad, as they fall from trees in June.
But the children enjoy collecting yellow and red shapes for art projects.
The river level depresses me, as springs run dry.
But the children enjoy snokling in the shallow rapids and pools.
I am fearful of the future while we walk in the woods and find few insects.
But the children are delighted that they have not been biten by a tick.
I am envious of thier happiness and annoyed by my knowledge
They are envious of my knowledge and oblivious of their joy


Looking at these fallen leaves
Gazing at these dying trees
Depression

Digging in the lifeless dirt
Feeling all the pain and hurt
Sadness

Gathering clouds that sprinkle rain about
Finding a bloom, a joyful sprout
Hope

Stumbling upon a chirping bird
Singing the prettiest song I've heard
Joy




Passion Flower

Nighthawk (Whip-poor-will)






Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's Growing in the Garden!

Zane loves talking about what is growing in the garden. He talks about it when we go to his favorite farmer's market. And he tells the check out lady at the grocery store. He is proud of our little garden and I am proud of his passion!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rain Dance

Everyday I check the weather, hoping that a blessed raincloud will fly in from the west and soak the parched land. Each time a single cloud floats into the sky I cry out to it, begging for it to release its heavy load. Perhaps this land has seen a drought of this magnitude before and maybe the ancient oak tree in my yard knows this too will pass. But I have never seen the Ozarks this dry in all my life.
Yet life proceeds as normal. The man on the radio reports the weather, same as yesterday and tomorrow, in a monotone voice. Why doesn't he cry out, "Oh lord, we need rain. When, oh, when will it rain!" The grass is brown already. The creeks are dry and the rivers are low. Yet people still drive from air conditioned place to air conditioned place. They recall that we skipped winter and they remark on the hot day. But  When will the people change. The earth is already changing. It is time to catch up before it is too late. When will the people stop and scream, "How is it that we have forgotten how to make it rain?"
Thursday, at the Ozark Natural Science Center, I went to the girls' cabin to help our new intern get the 11 and 12 year old children to breakfast. The sky was dark grey, and low, looming clouds were approaching from the north/west. I stood on the porch in front of the girls' lodge inspecting the sky with almost 20 kids while a the stragglers finished getting ready.
"Is it going to rain?" one girl asked.
"I sure hope so!" I answered.
Because we were planning on being outside all morning and the rain would change our plans to go down to the dry creek bed, I excepted a grumble or two. Instead, they all agreed without hesitation that the much needed rain was more than welcome to soak their plans.
"Let's do a rain dance," I suggested.
"How?" asked a girl.
"I don't know," I admitted. "I have forgotten. But our ancestors did them for thousands of years. So try to remember with me. Or just make it up as you go along."
We start dancing around on the porch.
One brown headed girl with squinty eyes stood staring at me as if I were a fool and then said, "You can't do a rain dance here." I stopped dancing and looked down into her laughing eyes. "You have to dance in the dust so that the earth can talk to the clouds."
Of course! I love it when I am outsmarted by a fifth grader.
We stepped off the porch and found a dusty spot in the trail. As we danced, we kick up as much dust as possible. Later I learned that dust actually does make it rain! There is a scientific reason why rain dances work. If enough negatively charged dust particles make their way into the clouds then the rain particles can bond to the dust particles and the water droplets fall.
We danced in the dust. We stomped and kicked until the particles were lifted by the wind.
Less than 15 minutes later, the much needed rain began to fall.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Mutualism

Symbiosis can be so beautiful! We see them every day, like between this bumble bee and rose of Sharon. But if you stop and think about what each creature is giving and getting in return... well, that is when the true beauty unfolds. 




Saturday, June 16, 2012

Heaping Baskets

Three years ago John, my husband, asked me to produce "heaping baskets of vegetables!" I was declared the "administer of agriculture". However, it took me a while to give my husband what he desired.
I guess I don't really have a "green thumb". I garden with the same tone I forest, very hands off! But a garden, I have come to realize, is the opposite of a forest.
In a forest you want to insects, weeds, trees, and edible plants to all grow in harmony. Of course, much of the edible are eaten, shaded out, or never even sprout. And that is okay, because the forest will balance out if it is left alone. (Upon saying that I already can hear people saying, "what about invasive." But let me reiterate, "left alone," meaning from the beginning. There are very few wild places in the world that have not been tampered with and don't have invasive species, so leaving the forests alone is not possible in most cases. But back to gardening...)
In the past, when I have just drop some seeds in the ground and left it alone, I have been disappointed. Sure, the plants grew, just not very big. Those that did grow big were eaten alive and not by me. Some grew as a plant but never really made any fruits or roots. A garden needs structure, boundaries, and yes balance but a type of balances that yields food for my family. And this is hard for me because I don't want to kill anything, even the dandelions and beetles, but to put food in my basket I must.
This year I have being more aggressive, but still very organic. We tilled the soil, mulched around the plants, and watered them often. I even attacked the aphids with a natural method. I have also had a heavy hand on the hose, worrying less about "wasting water," especially in the hot weather! Because of all this my garden is growing and I have finally achieved a heaping bowel of vegetables!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Black Bear



Bears have been on my brain. Last Sunday a co-worker photographed a Black Bear at the Ozark Natural Science Center. We talked about it all week. Then I went out to Owls' Knob and found a bear track beside the pond. Late at night, while driving home from a neighbor's house, I spotted a black bear near my driveway.
But finding a bear at the Science Center, where I work, and finding a bear at my home, where I only sometimes live, are two very different things. The Ozark Natural Science Center is located in "Bear Hollow" beside "Bear Hollow Creek" and we teach children about the wilderness  and wildlife  of the Ozark Mountains. Therefore, we welcome a native bear. It would give flavor and excitement to our programs. On the other hand, bears around my house is a bit more troublesome. In the past, we have had problems with bears.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission relocates "problem bears," bears that raid cars and trashcans and become to dependent upon residential waste. These naughty bears get a red ear tag and are relocated to the deepest parts of the Ozarks, in places that far away from towns, where only the wildest roam... places like Owls' Knob! In the past, bears have broken windows and trashed our kitchen to lick a honey pot clean. Bears have destroyed bee hives, knocked over compost bins, and eaten entire bags of dog food. It is not that I am unwilling to share Owls' Knob with a bear, it is just that I hope it is a shy yet friendly sort of fellow. I hope this bear is a good neighbor.


Read More about bears and bear history in my ONSC blog post!