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.

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


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!

Friday, June 1, 2012

How to get rid of Aphids

A few aphids balanced by a few lady bugs (who love to eat aphids) is nothing to worry about. But if you get a aphid infestation, don't go out and spend a bunch of money on organic pesticides (and certainly not toxic pesticides). All you need are three household items...

Here is my easy, natural anti-aphid recipe:
Two cups of water
One cup of vegetable oil
Three or so Tablespoons of mild soap like Dr. Bronners soap or dish soap (I use seventh generation free and clear dish soap because it is better for the earth [while working amazingly on my dishes] but any dish soap will do)

Pour everything into an empty spray bottle, screw the lid on tight, and shake, shake, shake... Once the suds, oil, and water are mixed, spray the infected leaves. Aphids like to hang out on the underside of leaves so make sure you spray up from below. If you don't get every last aphid, your garden won't parish. The idea is to knock the aphid population back. This solution shouldn't kill larger insects, like your friendly ladybugs who are more resilient.
Let the solution sit on the plants for a while. A few hours will do. However, (and this is very important) many plants can not handle direct sunlight while wet, especially wet with oil! The oil and water on their leaves will magnify the sun's light and the leaves will get burnt! Tomato plants are especially sensitive to this. So make sure do this at dusk or once your plants are shadowed. Afterwards, rinse the plants off thoroughly before the sun hits them. Spray the leaves with a hose to knock off as much of the soap, oil, and aphids as possible.
Good luck and happy gardening!

Gardening within City Limits

Though I now live within the Fayetteville city limits, I have plenty of nature in my back yard. In fact, I see more wildlife in my yard than I ever did hiking through the wilderness. My house is located between the base of Mount Sequoia and the hills that stretch out around Dead Horse Mountain. Beside my lot is a huge five acre parcel that is completely wooded and undeveloped with a small creek flowing through it. Making the area a corridor between the two mountains, a trail between habitats. The yard itself is a third of an acre, mostly flat and sunny. Other than a mature post oak, the only trees are fruit trees. Therefore, it is ideal for gardening.
We poked around on the west side of the yard for weeks because we thought it was an old garden plot. But the topsoil was shallow and red clay lay beneath. Then we began digging into  the opposite side of the yard, out among the grassy lawn. We found, to our surprise, that the untouched lawn area had better soil. So John got out the tiller and went to work. Tilling the earth brought a smile of satisfaction to his face.

After tilling the first bed twice, picking out a few small rocks, and mixing in some compost, I went to work planting. I also added some sidewalk soil. Much of the sidewalk in front of our house was completely covered with rotting leaves and good rich dirt. (This is where worms and rolly polly bugs love to party!) I shoveled this soil off the sidewalk and right into my garden. I bought a few tomato and pepper starts since I was too late in the season to start those from seed. The rest I tucking into the earth with care and watered heavily since we have had a complete lack of rain this spring. Before I had even finished planting the first bed, John was onto the next bed, tilling until dark, until his heart was content.
Once the first sprouts had poked up through the dirt, I went to my uncle George's farm and got some old hay that was too musty for his cows to eat. I used to hay to mulch the pathways and the around the plants. Hay mulch holds in moisture, adds nutrients as it breaks down, and creates a weed barrier all at once!

Lately, with the midnight thunderstorms, my garden in florishing. The tomato plants have a few green fruits, the zuccinni squash is putting on flowers, bean and peppers are blooming, fresh basil leaves is already garnishing our plates, and the sunflower stalks grow a few inches every night! I got a late start this year, the the dry weather slowed everything down, but it looks like I will have a fantastic harvest soon!