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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Friday, February 24, 2012

Spotted Salamander

At the end of my hike today at the Ozark Natural Science Center I took my group down the pond and we peeked under the rocks and logs near there. I knew that with the first warm rains of spring we were likely to see the rarely viewed spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum). This beautiful creature is very secretive and spends most of its time underground in short-tail shrew holes and winters in the deep holes of white footed mice. These holes are so necessary that the spotted salamander range matches that of these mammals. The spotted salamander is nocturnal and ventures out to eat worms, insects, spiders, and snails.
Once a year, on the first warm, rainy night in spring, these amphibians emerge and dance in fish-less ponds. They have an elaborate mating dance in which the males fertilize the females' eggs. The eggs are laid in a ball of jelly. After a while the jelly will turn green. This green tint is due to a symbiotic relationship the eggs have with a certain species of algae (Oophila ambystomatis). The algae provides oxygen for the developing salamander embryos while the embryos provide carbon dioxide and waste which is nutrients to the algae. This relationship is mutualist, meaning both species are benefiting from the each other.
Though these salamanders use to emerge in hoards back in the '80 and would fill the roads on warm, rainy nights. However, these days they are becoming harder and harder to find. Vehicles are one of the many ways they are often killed. Also, amphibians are very sensitive to pollution and acidic waters.  Salamanders, like all amphibians, are bio indicators and their decline signals a general presence of pollution in our ecosystems as well as a decline in our water quality. To protect this species it is important to keep 200-500 meters of deciduous forests around vernal ponds (or temporary pools that are fish-free) clean and devoid of toxins or an abundance of acidic plants such as evergreen trees. Lets protect natural places so that the spotted salamanders can survive.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Chorus of Spring

A spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer) on a lily (Lilium)

All winter spring peepers (small tree frogs) have been hibernating under logs, leaves, and under shallow soil. Because frogs are cold blooded their body temperature drops below freezing in winter. When the winter world freezes, about 65% of frog's body also freezes. It stays alive by producing glucose which acts like anti-freeze and keeps their vital organs from freezing solid. Half frozen their heartbeat slows and they only occasionally draw a breath. This week we heard the first spring peepers of the season. They are thawing out and beginning to call. Their chorus is loud and very important to the matting process because females will choose their mate by the quality of his call. Now that the peeper are singing, spring must be near!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Water in Disguise

Water can have many forms.
Snow can fall like feathers
Or plummet the earth with ice.
It can be beautiful or hideous.
Water can come with many moods.
Striking hard with electricity and thunder
Or misting lightly in an eerie fog.
No other element falls with such diversity.
Nothing on earth is more abundant
Nothing is more necessary.
Rain starts and maintains all life.
Snow and ice can stop everything.
Predicting what it will do is an art.
A giant equation with millions of shifting factors.
Nothing is certain and everything is changing. 
Water has a moody face.
It takes on many disguises
But in the end it melts and flows down
Searching for the a doorway to the heavens,
Seeking the clouds in the sky
So it can cycling around again.
Feeding all life again
And again for all time.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hello... Who's There?

Who is inside this cocoon? A moth perhaps?
If you know or have an idea leave a comment below...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Reptiles and Amphibians in the first week of February

 This Thursday it felt like spring, many reptiles and amphibians agreed. The naturalist notes I have noticed lately inspired me to start posting weekly Naturalist Notes for the Ozark Natural Science Center's blog. Owls' Knob already has regular naturalist notes, but expect to see even more as spring emerges.

While walking out at the Ozark Natural Science Center early Thursday afternoon with a group of 5th graders from a Rogers school, we discovered many unexpected animals. The first was a leech, which a boy spotted swimming in the pond. The children did not know what it was at first and I let their obliviousness and curiosity lure them in close. When I told them it was a leech, they all jumped back in horror. I went on to explain that these leeches only feed on fish and frogs so they would not bit us. Soon I convinced a few of them to touch and hold the strange creature.
As we entered the forest. I heard a scuttling sound in the leaves. In a flash we saw a large fence lizard (also called a prairie lizard). It was well camouflaged on an oak log, except for its bright blue belly. I explained my students that it was a male because only the males have bright blue bellies. Many of my students, being from the city, had never seen a lizard so close in the wild like this one, even though they are very common. Further down the trail we found bobcat tracks. Slowly and carefully we tiptoed through a muddy glade, tracking the large cat. As we reached the end of the mud and began walking in leaves, my tracking skills failed me and we lost its trail. The Ozark bob cat has become a rare species, so I told my students we were very luck to be seeing the cat's tracks.

Next I spotted a red bellied snake slithering across the path. Quickly a grabbed it, which wasn't hard because the cool weather kept the cold blooded animal moving slowly. I held the snake as it wrapped its body, which was about 8 inches long around my fingers. The warmth of my hand seemed to comfort it  because it did not try to escape, instead it coiled around and between my fingers. None if the children had ever touched a wild snake before. At first they were a little afraid. After a lifetime of being told that snakes are venomous and dangerous, it was hard for them to grasp the concept that this little snake would not get much bigger than a large night crawler worm, would not bite, and did not have venom. But before long they all grew to like it so much that they wanted to hold in in their own hands. We voted on names for our new found friend and decided on Fire Belly Spring (nickname "Early"). Then we watched as the tiny snake slithered away quickly, now that it had been warmed by our hands, and disappeared among the leaves.
Once we got back to the science center for dinner, we shared our stories with other students. They in turn shared their discovers, which included a Zig-Zag Salamander found under a log and a Cave Salamander found in a spring near the mouth of a cave. Also, hepatica was seem blooming and spring beauties were starting to pop up. Later on, during a class that we call "creek critters" the children examined live benthic macroinvertabrates (BMIs)in fresh water samples collected from a nearby creek. Among the BMIs, we also found a few immature salamanders, which were so tiny they made their arthropod friends seem huge.
I love sharing spring with children. It is a magical time. I hope you can share spring with others as it emerges in the coming months.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012