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.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's in disguise

I want to share this little poem with you today during this winter weather, poem I wrote almost 20 years ago. This was written by a 10 year old Roslyn...


_It's in disguise

 

Falling like miniature crystals from the sky,

From way, way far up high,

A comforter over the ground,

Still without a sound.

Snow


Glistening in the sun,

Meaning tons of fun,

Like slipping and sliding,

Or make things when it's only gliding.

Snow
 

It is so freezing cold

To go in it without a coat you must be bold.

Even though it is white

It makes you red with frostbite.

Snow


But it has a secret deep down inside,

A secret it doesn’t really hide,

Deep down inside

It is water in disguise.

Snow

Friday, December 6, 2013

Picnics and Sledding



The last few days have been warm and sunny. I took the boys to the river and it was so warm that Zane put his toes in the water. Our shirts were short sleeved. We had a picnic and played outside all afternoon.

Then over night weather turned cold. They issued a severe weather warning and we were expecting ice, snow, and sleet. Before a single flake fell, all area schools closed. At first we had only ice, but the wind cut so harshly that we stayed inside most of the day, sipping hot chocolate. After dark the ice turned to fluffy white snow. We woke to a white blanket over the earth. I had to dig into closets and find snow boots, mittens, and hats.

Two days ago I was lying in the sun beside the river in a short sleeve shirt with my feet in the water. It was 70 and sunny.
Today we are sledding on a foot of snow when we are not hiding from the cold with hot chocolate!
Tonight the low will be below 0 with a wind chill!
What a drastic shift!  How quickly the weather turns



This picture of a blue jay was taken by Lisa Parker

What is there weather doing where you are?


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Art and Parenting


The birth of a child is not only the creation of new life; it is also the transformation of a woman into a mother. Eventually it is also the transformation of a man into a father, however, that transformation happens more slowly over time. A parent is someone you become. You are forever changed. In this loss of self-identity, there is morning, no matter how much you enjoy being a mother. Furthermore, parenting is the hardest job you will ever encounter. It is fuller than any full-time job, more demanding than any career, and there is more at stake than in the riskiest stunt.
As an artist, a writer, my biggest loss is that of my art. There is no time for a mother, especially a mother of little ones, to dive head first into art and float on inspiration for a day. All I can do is grab fractions of time here and there, between snotty noses and dirty diapers, and there is not much chance for inspiration in those fleeting moments. When the day comes to an end and the children are asleep, I often have a little time. In my exhaustion, there is little inspiration. Every mother who was once a writer or a painter, a weaver or a gardener, a dancer or a musician misses the woman who could wait for inspiration to come and then seize that beauty and bask in it for as long as it lasted.  
Nevertheless, you must grab all the inspiration you can find and steal every moment you can get. Do not forget to do what you love. Never abandon your art. Your children should see you being yourself and expressing yourself. It may seem there is no time, but really there is. It will not be easy to find, but it is there. Sure, the dishes and laundry might pile up, but you will have to make that sacrifice. In the end you will not look back and regret neglecting your chores, and neither will your kids. On the contrary, the art you accomplish will make you happier, which will reflect positively on your parenting and therefore on your children.
When you are swimming in dishes and laundry it is easy to forget that everything you are doing is important. But the tone of your voice, the expression on your face, and the way you go about your daily duties is teaching your children and influencing who they will become. You don't have to be sitting on the floor playing blocks, engaging, for the art of parenting to be taking place. Everything you do becomes art once you are parenting. Unlike any other art, parenting never stops. The art of parenting is in everything you do and everything you are in every moment you are with your children.  
There is an art to good parenting, but no one knows how to do it. Like artistic beauty, good parenting is in the eye of the beholder. No one should judge art any more than they should judge parenting methods. But no matter the parents’ methods, the creation of an amazing human is the most beautiful work of art on earth. A well rounded young person with a kind heart, nimble mind, and strong body is a reward beyond the wildest artist’s dreams.
So next time you are inspired but you have no time, or you have time but not an ounce of inspiration, just remember that those little ones ARE your art. Now that you are a parent, there is nothing more important, no greater art!

 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Raising Caterpillars

    

     Apparently I have been raising caterpillars. I left my cabbage and broccoli plants alone after their initial harvest. Over the course of the summer, a healthy population of caterpillars, probably of the cabbage white butterfly, thrived by eating the brassica leaves. I felt silly watching the leaves become dotted with swiss cheese hole and ridiculous by the time I realized they had eaten leaves down to the skeletal veins. I didn't really mean to breed insects that will eventually raid the rest of my garden. But it is hard to find time (and the heart) to kill all those caterpillars. Especially when you don't use pesticides. So I just let them be.
     Yesterday, I found a wonderful new use for my garden pests... chicken food. Bugs make chicken eggs taste great! I began collecting them in my hand while the baby slept and kids played nearby. I routinely watch children for my friends, and this was a day when the house was full. One of the little boys I was watching followed me into the garden and asked what I was doing. I explained I was taking caterpillars off the cabbage plant they were eating and I was going to feed them to the chickens. The little boy seemed very amused by the caterpillars. He gathered a few with me. Then he decided he could not bare to sacrifice his little friends. So he plucked a cabbage leaf and made his little caterpillar friends a home. For the an hour he carried caterpillars around the yard. Periodically he would say he lost one, and more than once we found it up his sleeve. Eventually he lost all of them, but I think he enjoyed their company.
     As for my caterpillars, the chickens said they tasted amazing and they would be happy to help me out any time I don't know what to do with all the pests in my garden. It is a delightful circle... the caterpillars that were eating my garden vegetables are fed to chickens who in turn create a delicious food. I think I am really going to love having chickens!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Backyard Chickens

    
      When I lived out at Owls' Knob full time, I dreamed about having chickens. But keeping chickens in the wilderness is very difficult. For one thing, mammals come from miles around to eat your birds and snakes gather to feast upon the eggs. But even with an impenetrable chicken coop, there is the issue of constant care. It is hard to make sure that you are home every night by dusk to put the hens up when you live 60 miles from anywhere. Without neighbors it is impossible to ask someone to drop by your house and help since it is not on the way to anywhere. However, in town the wildlife is not as desperate or plentiful. It is also easier to be home at dusk and I have quite a few neighbors who would be happy to drop by and put up the hens in exchange for some eggs.
     So yesterday we got chickens. Last week John built a chicken tractor. It has an extremely well fortified chicken hutch above and a large scratching pen below. He made it out of pallet wood and wood from an old falling down shed. Though it was built on a budget out of scratch, it turned out to be a very nice and strong home.
     Yesterday the sun was shinning and the light breeze was warm. It was a perfect day for a trip to my uncle's farm. We walked out into the pasture to visit the lambs, sheep, cows, and honey bees. On the way back we ate ripe persimmons. Then we had a picnic and Zane helped his aunt feed the Koi fish. Finally I walked down to the chicken house and picked out four beautiful hens. We packed up the hens in some feed sacks and brought them home to their new coop.
     Since we got them home, we have been trying to make them as comfortable as possible. I fed them plenty of chickweed, barley, and corn. John and I took turns coaxing them up and down the ramp that led them in and out of their cozy nesting boxes. The hens were hesitant at first and we found that the ramp needed better traction, so John nailed stairs steps to it. When the sun started sinking low the hens all found their way into their nesting boxes.
     Today, when we put up the hens, we found the first egg. I had not expected for the hens to lay so quickly after such a traumatic relocation. But low and behold, they have already begun to settle into their new home and lay eggs. To celebrate the first egg, we ate omelets as a bedtime snack.
     I am excited to have hens. Watching them roost, scratch, and peck is entertaining. More importantly I love farm fresh eggs. The garden and now the chickens brings our family one step closer towards being sustainable. It is a step towards a lifestyle that I have always wanted to live. A sustainable life. I want to teach my boys where food comes from and how to feed yourself. What lesson could be more valuable?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Country Boy

      A few weeks ago, we went to Owls' Knob for the first time in months. My husband had gone out the weekend before to knock back the initial cobwebs and work on getting the lights and water working. It is a constant battle to maintain a house in the woods. Nature is always trying to reclaim the homesteads that speckle its wilderness.
    Personally, I have been reclaiming and establishing my own values, trying to find balance and peace in my life. I live on a street inside city limits now. We have a big back yard and an abandoned wooded lot beside our house and lots of parks to explore; nevertheless, we are NOT living in the country. And my boys are NOT being raised as "country boys." This bothers me.
     I admire country boys. I married a country boy. The simplicity, community, and the closeness to the earth of country folk is to be envied. However, the city contains a wide world of conveniences, distractions, and opportunities. The city has a lot to offer in its culture, activities, and open minded acceptance. So I straddle my life between the city and the country. Internally I battle, heart against mind, over where we should live and how we should raise these boys. I have not figured it out yet and if you get it all figured out, please share!

That look in his eyes... wonder, reverence?
     Regardless, one virtue stands true. I want my boys to love nature. I do not care if they grow up to live in New York City or in the wilderness of the Ozarks. If they grow up to be rich or poor, gay or straight, ambitious or relaxed, I will be proud of them just the same. But I want them to have reverence for the earth with the same passion that a Christian wants her boys to know Jesus. The earth is our home, our mother, and if my boys do not respect her, I have failed.
     So you might be thinking why on earth we do not live in the country, close to the earth, if this is so important? Well, I do not believe that would necessarily bring forth the desired love I am seeking. A hard life struggling, alone, in the middle of no where is not always fun for a child. If my boys have a hard childhood, like so many country folks do, they might run away and never look back. I've seen it before. Therefore, I continue to cautiously juggle this balance between nature and convenience. Because we are living in a world of technology, progression, and luxury. If I deprive my boys of such temptations they will only make them want it more.   
I see love in that smile.
     This past weekend my boy, Zane, made me proud. He got dirty, he tromped through the weeds, and the peed on a tree. We went on hikes, tracked animals, and discovered both beauty and freaking awesomeness! But most importantly, Zane befriended a millipede. His grandfather found it and brought it to him. My four year old son carried the arthropod around for an hour. He let it walk from one hand to the other. His gentleness was remarkable. I could tell that he truly cared for his little friend.
     Now before you cringe and scream gross, understand that the triumph here. I read a quote by Bradley Millar once, "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." There is an important lesson in the quote. Now I must admit, caterpillars can devastate a garden and I have been know to slaughter them. However, the common caterpillar is to be admired because it will become a beautiful butterfly and I have tried to teach Zane not to step on bug. I also have tried to teach him to not stomp on beetles (even if they crunch satisfyingly) or spiders (but of course never touch a spider either). Many boys have a warrior instinct and a desire to protect at an early age. In tribes of our primal ancestors, boys (and girls too) hunted and therefore killed. I think for most boys, it is totally natural for them to want to stomp on insects. (I am not trying to get in an argument about gender roles here and I recognize that the stereotype does not hold true for everyone by any means. I'm just trying to say it is natural for them to do this. It is not an example of violent behavior.) So since Zane was very little I have been teaching him to be gentle and kind to all of earth creatures, even if they are a little creepy!
     After a while, Zane wanted to make sure that the millipede went home to be with his or her "mommy and daddy." So we searched for a proper place for the millipede to live. A simple pile of leaves or log would not do, even when I told him that was the creature's preferred home. My son wanted his little friend to have a special place.

He is trying to count the legs!
     First we found, as my son called it, a nest. It was a beautiful rock that sat on the border of the iris garden. I was a rock my mother had collected from a river bed and it had a deep indention in it. The indention was full of rich dirt, luscious moss, and crystals. We put the millipede in this little home and Zane proceeded to make a roof even though I told him that the little guy didn't need or want a roof. When the millipede walked out of the designated home three times, Zane decided that it was not good enough and we would have to look further.
     We finally found our way to the other side of the yard where a huge oak tree had once stood. I had spend my childhood swinging from a swing that had hung from that old oak tree. But the tree had died and because it dared to fall on the house, we had cut it down. We cut the trunk into boards that we intend to use for Zane's bedroom and the stump was turned into a thrown. Zane sat and stood on the thrown with this millipede for a long time. At one point he was hugging and kissing the arthropod with great affection. I told him that was weird. He didn't seemed to care. So I ignored his behavior, knowing that making light of it would only make his act more extravagant.
     Soon after I walked away, Zane came up to me holding out his hands. "Nothing is in my hands," he explained.
     "Where is your millipede?" I asked
He pointed to the thrown. "Over there." His voice sounded worried. Like the millipede had scurried off and left him alone.
"Oh that is a perfect home for your little friend! It has lots of rich dirt, decomposing leaves, and some good chunks of wood to hide under. Tell him goodbye and you might get to see him again. He will be your neighbor." It took some convincing but eventually Zane accepted the millipede's new home.
     It wasn't that I wanted my boys to grow up to love millipedes particularly. I don't absolutely adore them, but if I was to choose a creature it is a heck of a lot better than a spider, right? It is slower than most animals so it was easy to catch and its hard shell let me relax and know that if Zane's gentleness slipped up the animal would survive. No, it was not about the millipede at all. The millipede was simply an embodiment of the earth. It personified nature and put the Ozark wilderness into the palm of my son's hand. I beam with pride knowing that my son cared for much for it. I just hope he always keeps such reverence for all of nature close to his heart. 

Zane is hugging the millipede,
 while sitting on the back of the thrown

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poising for a Photograph

     One summer day, when the weather was perfect, I took my boys to Gully Park. We walked down to the stream that runs through the park to find it bustling with people. I sat to the side of the stream on the outstretched roots my favorite Osage orange tree.
     Two women stood on the bank while their children played. One woman had a fancy camera and I suddenly remembered that I had left my camera in the car. I almost went back to get it, but because the baby needed to nurse, I stayed. As I sat and nursed my baby, the woman with the camera took pictures of her children.
     The woman told each child, one at a time, to sit on the opposite side of the riverbank so she could take their picture. Every child was told to smile. There were no candid photographs. When she took pictures of the young ones she shouted at them to look and smile. She even told them ridiculous lies to get them to look at her like, "Look, Elmo is on my head!" The pictures were not genuine. She told each child to do things like put their feet in the water or poise as if climbing the bank to make them appear like they were playing. After the pictures were taken she told the child to go back to the swings and slide, where it was safe. I imagine she would go home and load the pictures on Facebook, complete with cute captions like "The boys had a great day playing in the creek..." and "She just loved the water on her toes!"
     The entire time the first woman was taking pictures of her many children, the other mother hovered around her only child. Her little boy, who was about three years old, wanted to throw rocks in the water and explore the stream. But every time the boy picked up a rock his mother said, "Oh no, put that down Parker. That rock is SO dirt! Wash your hands off in the water!" Even when the small boy picked a stone out of the water, she told him to wash his hands in the water. Why she would think that the water which was washing the rock was cleaner than the rock itself, I just don't know.
     The children seemed excited to play in the water but at the same time they seemed clueless. They were not sure what to do but I could tell they wanted to do something. I found the whole scene to be disgusting. And I am sure they found me disgusting. I let my oldest son wander and splash in the water unassisted, getting muddy and wet. Meanwhile, I sat in the dirt, leaning against a tree, with my breast in my baby's mouth, shamelessly. I was glad I didn't have my camera. Going to the river is not about retrieving pictures for social media credit. It is about connecting with nature, letting loose, and just having fun.
     I watched the mothers usher their children away from the stream and towards the government approved playground equipment. For the rest of the afternoon I played with the boys is the water. We all got SO (delightfully) dirty!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

First Day of Fall

     The day before yesterday I took Zane and Elo to the White River for a final swim. Though it was windy, the air temperature felt warm and so did the water. I had a suspicion that winter was on its way. The weatherman had spoke of rain and cold in the forecast. I thought that this would be our last chance to wade in wild water this year.
     Yesterday I woke up at dawn to lightening, thunder, and rain outside my open window. Though the breeze felt warm as the rain began, water cooled my world quickly. A chill had set in by noon that shook our bones. As the clouds lifted and the sinking sun dyed the sky pink, a rainbow curved across the eastern sky. Gazing at the arch of colors, I imagined the array of colors that would soon arch of the hills. I shivered. Autumn is here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

First Fish



It was not a perfect day for an outing, but we woke yesterday itching for open skies, clear waters, and fresh air. The lake became our destination. We would work on teaching our older son to swim and the water wouldn't be too cold for the baby.
The weather was indecisive. In the morning, while making plans, it was sunny and hot. But by the time we had packed up the car with kids, swimming accessories, and lunch, it was rainy and cool. When we stopped for gas, I checked the radar. It looked like the lake to the north of us was getting pounded by thunderstorms while the rivers to the south was missing the showers. As we took off again, we changed our direction and headed south, to the river.
We stopped in the little town of West Fork where the city park that borders the river was usually hopping, especially on a Sunday afternoon in July! But the rain had chased everyone away. The park was deserted and the serene river was all ours.
We ate lunch and walked to the water's edge in the rain. He rain ranged between a sprinkle and a light shower but it never reached a storm. The summer showers defused the heat of the day. I can not imagine a more perfect drizzly afternoon. And in all its perfection, it had kept the crowds at bay. So many people were looking out their windows and canceling plans. Perhaps they had not even left thier air conditioned homes to feel the warm water and cool breeze against their skin. Many of them would not give a day such as this a chance.
We swam but the water was fairly cold. So we changed our main focus to fishing. John rigged Zane up with a perfect beginner fishing bait and hook. He put a bass crank bait fishing lure on his child sized pole. The bait had two three pronged hooks on each end of a small plastic fish. Though is was designed to snag a big bass, the individual tiny hooks were the perfect size to catch the small perch that filled the pool. With a worm on the end of the line, John taught Zane to fish.
It only took a few castes before Zane caught his first fish. John beamed with pride as Zane held up the tiny perch. Or course we let the fish go and continued fishing. Pulling the perch out of the water was easy and fun. Zane learned how to fish and got a thrill each time they were able to real in a floppy fish. The perch did not seem small to my son.
As the day warmed and the sky cleared, people joins us at the park. A group of brothers playing along the river bed witnessed Zane catch a fish. Their eyes begged for a turn. So John taught them all how to fish. They boys were thrilled to give fishing a try.
As the sun sunk low, thunderheads returned and the people emptied out of the park again. But we stayed until our growling stomachs told us to go home. I grilled up some salmon for dinner. Even though we had let every catch go free, fish seemed like the most appropriate meal. 
No. It was not a perfect day for an outing. But sometimes those are the best days!





Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Inscets in the Garden

Squash Bug Nymphs
In the garden there are two types of insects: herbivores and carnivores.
In the garden (unlike the jungle) the herbivores are your enemies and the carnivores are your friends.
The cute little inch worm caterpillar, inching along the leaf , will devastate your garden but the wasp, who you so desperately wanted to die, is actually in the garden to eat that inch worm. The wasp is a friend to the garden. Spiders building webs among the rows of peas are welcome. While the lovely white butterfly frolicking from cabbage plant to broccoli plant is laying eggs which will hatch into hungry caterpillars.

Tomato hornworm
But it is not that easy; it is not black and white. The wasp will protect you plants but might sting you if are poking around the backside of a cabbage head. The caterpillars will eat the cabbage, metamorphose into a butterfly, and pollinate the blossoms on the apple tree. In one stage of its life it is your enemy, but in another is a friend. The relationship is complex; it is not cut and dry.
This year I tended the garden with vigor. I spent evenings picking caterpillars and eggs off cabbage and broccoli leaves. The red wasps and I learned to avoid each other directly. We were after the same insect and there were plenty for both of us. But alas, I hardly got a single cabbage from the patch.
Now I am checking the under side of zucchini leaves for squash bug eggs and squishing every squash bug I see. It is brutal. My hands are stained green and brown with insect blood. The stench of dead and crushed exoskeletons haunts me. I do not enjoy it. But it must be done if I want to feed my family. Distance helps the process. I have begun using an organic spray. I mix three tablespoons of dish soap into a gallon of water. I put the water in a spray bottle and attack the plants. The dish soap and water solution kills aphids and squash bugs. But what else does it kill? The spray is to be used sparingly, with caution. (To learn more about this natural insecticide visit my blog A Simply Natural Home.)

Ladybug Nymph
I have found my two favorite garden insects in the garden recently: the lady bug and the praying mantis. These are both carnivores and eat the other insects in the garden. I have also seen many different species of spiders and of course wasps. All of these insects prey upon the insects that chow down on my squash, corn, and tomatoes.
I picked the first tomato of the season a few days ago. I pick tomatoes as they begin to turn yellow and pink. I find that if I wait until they are red, something will have already taken the first bite. I let the tomato ripen in the fruit basket on the kitchen table. Today I picked it up to find a small hole in the top of the tomato. I looked down inside and saw a green caterpillar, eating away. I showed my son the tomato and my husband took some pictures (I will add them later). We passed the tomato back and forth as the caterpillar poked his head out and then retreated back inside to eat some more. My three year old was delighted by this game of peek-a-boo. I opened the tomato carefully and examined the home that caterpillar had made inside the fruit I had grown.
My husband took the caterpillar out of the tomato and laid it on the table. The tiny creature looked afraid, alone, and helpless, stranded on a vast empty table.
Somehow, in this context, I could not kill him. I claimed the good parts of the tomato. I cut off the spots that were half eaten and threw the pieces as well as the caterpillar into the compost. I dumped the compost in the pile. The caterpillar might survive, he might not. My husband exclaimed, "Kill the thief!" And I had to agree, he was a thief, but just a hungry one trying to eat what he believe were simply the free fruits of the earth. He did not know it was MY garden. So I could not bring myself to kill him. Not after seeing him so helpless on my table. Not after he played peek-a-boo with my son.  I just kept thinking of the lovely butterfly the caterpillar would become if I let him live.



Young Praying Mantis

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Super Strawberry Summer Solstice Moon

Now all is quite, the children are asleep, only the moon is up with me. It is June; so it is a strawberry moon. The days are long and the nights are short. The longest day is upon us. The solstice, the first day of summer. The largest moon is also here. Each year the moon drifts further away and then closer to the earth as it orbits. Tonight it is at its closest point for 2013. Though this happens yearly, it coincides less often with the full moon and the solstice. But regardless of the moon, this summer night is special, simple because I have observed it as so.
The moon is brilliant tonight. Pregnant and leaning heavy towards the earth. I walk through the garden unhindered by the shadows, for the light of the moon can guide me where I wish. Moonbeams dance upon freshly watered squash and bean leaves. Thousands of spherical beads of crystalline light glisten among the foliage.
The air smells of citronella from torches still burning. At dusk they were lit to chase away the mosquitoes so my son could help me water the garden. After spraying the plants and himself for an hour, the sun sank away and the moon rose. Fireflies frolicked into the yard. I carefully caught a firefly in my hand and showed it to my four year old son. His eyes lit up. Magic. We proceeded to chase the fire flies around the yard calling them, "blinkers." I felt 12 all over again.
Now all is quite, he sleeps. Yet a few birds are calling. The mocking birds are chattering away.  Confused perhaps by the brightness of the moon, they think it is morning. Crickets also chirp their romantic mating song. No, it is not quite at all. But my mind is quite... And that is the quietness so hard to find and so special to hold.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In the Wind and the Willow Seeds

     Today along the river bank the willow seeds are emerging and the wind is setting them free. Clouds of fluffy white seeds drift past. It is snowing seeds. They collect on the shore and among the reeds but disapear if they touch the water, as if melting into it. The sun is hot but the breeze is refreshing... and filled with mystery, as if the willow seed haze is hiding something or someone. Perhaps it is hiding insects. It is a peaceful day for bugs. The flies, mosquitoes, and bees are not in this tranquil scene with all their buzzing about. Only dragonflies and damselflies swoop low across the river. At first I wonder what they are hunting. Then I see that hiding among the fog of seeds are mayflies. The wind not only released the willows, it is also carring the mayflies on the single most important day of their little life.
     Mayflies live their life underwater in rivers. They are aquatic creatures, darting between rocks, clinging to the stones you kick when you walk upstream. Then on this one special day, they break out of the drab exoskeloton as a dazzeling mayfly. They leave behind an ugly brown body for a shimmering one with wings but without mouth parts for they will not live long enough to need to feed. For one day they fly. They soar over the river and dance in the breeze high above the cold watery world that had been all they had known until now. On this day they find love and make love. These lovers sexual bodies intertwine and together they dance in the willow seed laden wind, high above the water. They live in pure ecstasy, as angels in heaven, as fairy folk in fern gully. Then they die. The male falls upon dry land, exhausted and weak. The female drops into the water letting her beautiful wings get pulling into the icey depths, sacrificing her spent but beautiful body to the fish. But just before the death takes her under, the majestic insect lays eggs, so that another generation can grow up to live life to its fullest for one amazing day!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Summer tanager

   When we moved to Fayetteville almost two years ago, there was a summer tanager nesting on a low hanging branch of the oak tree that hovered over the driveway. In the hustle and bustle of moving, the limb that had held the nest was cut. I worried that the summer tanager would not return now that the branch was gone. These beautiful little birds are not only gorgeous and musical, but they also eat bees and wasps. So they are beneficial to anyone who is allergic to these insects.
   The last spring I thought that I saw the tanager, but an ornothologist friend of mine said it must have been a cardinal because it was too early in the season for the migratory tanagers. They like warm weather, so they spend thier winters in Central and South America.
   Last week I saw a summer tanager on the woods beside my house. I am sure this time and I even got a photo...

Summer Tanager

The lovely red bird has return and I hope it is here to nest and to stay!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Snow in May in the South

I think the term global warming has done a huge amount of damage to the envormentalist movement against climate change. The term climate change much better captures what we are experiencing. We are not just seeing hotter summers and more mild winters, but droughts, floods, cold snaps out of season, and heat waves out of place. Wednesday afternoon the temperature reached into the upper 80s, Thursday night it dropped to below freezing! It even snowed!


I enjoy a nice snow in January. But once the irises have bloomed, peach blossums have dropped, and lettuce is popping up, I do not wish to see any snow! The biggest problem with climate change, of any kind, is its affects on gardens and food production. We may not like seeing snow in May or dangerous heat waves in August, but our comfort is not an issue. However, if lettuce is frozen and dies in May and beans can not survive the heat and drought, what will we all eat!


In my garden, I avoid planting anything that is not freeze tolerant until after April 15th. In the past that seems to be a safe date to start assuming the freezing tempertures are behind us. By May we are often hoping the plants don't go to seed too early in the heat. Frost has never been an issue this late in the season in my lifetime. I had plenty of plants in my garden that would not tolerate the snow. Luckily, I watched the weather and knew the cold front was on its way. In fact, the weather application on my husbands phone woke me up several times throughout the night beeping and alerting me to the freeze watch that was in effect. Most of the plants I have above ground are tolerant to a light freeze, but I needed to covered my tomatoes, peppers, and delicate leafy greens.



This year I found a simple, cheap, and effective way to cover my vegetables. I built temporary, miniature hoop houses. I used a roll of thick old wire that had been sitting under leaves in my father's back yard. I cut my wire in big half circles (or more like 3/4 circles), their shape was already perfect for my minutes hoop house. I took the pieces of wire and poked the ends into the ground on either side of the garden bed. I could have bought clear plastic to cover the hoop houses, but instead I tried just using old bedsheets, since I had them lying around already. All season I left the hoops bridging the beds and just threw the sheets over them when there was a chance of a freeze. It was much easier than I would have thought and cost me nothing. Most importantly, it saved my little plants!
 
Do you have a garden?
How did it do in this unseasonably cold front?
Share your ideas for protecting your garden against spring frosts!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Wildlife Surviving without Wilderness


Early in the morning, I can hear a rooster crowing. I know someone has a chicken flock nearby. Swarms of honey bees have been buzzing on the peach blossoms in my yard lately. I suspect the rooster and the bees may be part of the same farm. It intrigues me because even though my land is a mere third of an acre and is within city limits, I dream of having a few chickens and some bees. I don't believe it is too lofty a dream. However, there is so much wildlife in the woods behind and beside my house, I worry it would be a battle to keep chickens alive and bees hives safe.

My house is very near the edge of town, tucked up on the backside of Sequoia Mountain with all its wildlife. The family of red bellied woodpeckers have been busily eating insects found in the silver maple trees on the street. They are active and excited in springtime. I hope they can save the tree from whatever type of bore is killing these beautiful maple trees.

There is a fat, lazy raccoon who eats our dog food if we leave it out. Lately, we have been visited by a noisy fox. It barks in the woods near the stream with a pitch that sounds more like a large bird--a peacock or a turkey-- than a mammal. I suspect the howl is from a vixen looking for a mate or signaling her territory. Maybe a little of both.

Last night I heard a predator of the fox calling, the great horned owl. I awoke to the sound of the great horned owl, calling from the oak tree outside my window. I have not heard the owl since late last fall when he and his mate were calling back and forth to each other in the woods up the hill. The moonless, cloudy night did not let me see his huge shadow but I could hear him calling out the open window. His beautiful and haunting call was deep and foreboding. Perhaps he has been hunting the noisy fox. I wonder too if the presence of the owl has to do with the disruption I have observed in sharp shinned hawks.

Recently I have noticed that the pair of hawks who have been living in the woods beside our house have been searching for a new resting place. For weeks they spent every clear day calling back and forth to each other and circling the wooded areas around my house. Great horned owls do not make their own nest, they steal the nests of other birds, like hawks. So perhaps the owls moved into the hawk nest and chased them out. A have a hard time imagining owls as big as the great horned nesting in a home built by a hawk as tiny as the sharp-shinned. But then again it is just an idea, I have no proof.

I welcome all this wildlife. Even if it would make keeping domestic animals more difficult. It fact it makes it seem more appropriate. I wish all these animals had more wilderness to roam in, but it is encouraging that wildlife can survive without much true wilderness. These wild animals seem to be surviving in the woods on the fridge of the city. It all keeps me sane and reminds me that nature is never far away. It reminds me that wilderness holds wildlife, even if it is a very small plot of land.

... This was written on March 9th. I started having contractions and forgot to post it. Then the fox began yelping and the owl calling to remind me to publish these words.


Bumble Bee on a Peach Blossom

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mother Earth


“There is no word for ‘nature’ in my language," said Audrey Shenandoah, a member of the Onondaga clan, to Harvey Arder and Steve Wall who wrote the book Wisdomkeepers (1990). "Nature, in English, seems to refer to that which is separate from human beings. It is a distinction we don't recognize." I try not to recognize this distinction either; however, in the English language there are many words for nature such as the environment, the earth, the wilderness, the natural world, the ecosystem, and Gaia just to name a few. Many native and indigenous cultures used words that are roughly translated into English as Mother Earth.

The Mother Earth has been worshiped all over the world in almost every religion throughout history. She is marveled at by science. All life is dependent upon her. It is common knowledge that life feeds life and the Earth supports all forms of life. The complex cycles of air, water, soil, and food are taught in elementary school; however, we pollute the air, poison the water, abuse the soil, and modify the food. The fact that everything we do to anything on the planet will cycle back to us is often overlooked. People have grown to see themselves as separate from the rest of the complex world. This separateness has given people a superiority complex that allows them to destroy the Earth without believing it impacts their own body. Yet, science has proven this assumption false. It can not be denied that there is interconnectedness among all individual things.

Nevertheless, our very lifestyle sucks out her resources, poisons her veins, and pollutes her lungs. Often this abusive nature is recognized, but seldom is it comprehended as self-abuse. We are merely a small part of the great Mother Earth, who is simple yet complex and unified yet diverse. The Mother Earth is a composite organism made up of living beings, ecosystems, and elements, all of which share a common sentience and purpose.

This Earth Day I have a week old baby. I gave birth ten days ago. While bringing another child into an overpopulated world I feel responsible for the damage being done to the Earth, meanwhile, my drive and motivation to secure a better future for all of Earth's children is enhanced. We must care for our mother as she cares for us. But how… how do we live?
 
 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Birth of Spring

    

     Spring is upon us. With days splashed in sunshine and nights drenched in thunderstorms, flowers are blooming and leaves are budding. Sprouts are emerging in the garden and my peach trees are have blossoms. For me it is a time a birth, beginning, this year more than most. Today is my due date. I am ripe and ready to bloom.
     Pregnancy is completely consuming and overwhelming. The infant living inside me is not only dependent upon me as a life support system, but as a mother planning a home birth I feel the heavy  responsibility to prepare my body in every way possible for the marathon ahead. Healthy foods, exercise, and particular stretches are just the beginning. Preparing for this birth has consumed my mind. Because I had a hard labor with my first son, I have had to overcome fear, educate myself, and mentally as well as physically gear up for what is likely to be the second hardest thing I have ever done. Birthing naturally is intense, difficult, and strenuous to say the least. It is a right of passage.
     I am so focus on my pregnant body that I have not had any time for myself. Finding time to write or take a quiet walk in the woods is hard enough as it is, being a busy pregnant mom of a three year old. But to top it off, I feel as though this baby has sucked my brain dry. They call it, "pregnancy brain" and for a writer and teacher, it is a curse. I can not find the right words to express even my most simple thoughts, let alone illustrate a beautiful narrative or compose a unique story. Therefore, I have been silent and contemplative. Perhaps after the baby is born, my brain will return and I will once again be filled with inspiration. For now, I only have these thoughts about birth and spring.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Monday, February 18, 2013

Early flowers

This week I have noticed a few flowers budding and blooming already. The daffodils in my front yard are budding and starting to open. Along the creek I found a single trout Lilly blooming. In the fields and meadows I can find early dandelions. And everywhere tiny blue flowers are speckling the greenery. Today, as rain pours heavy from a grey sky, it feels like spring!



Thursday, February 7, 2013

Throwing Rocks

     Yesterday was sunny and warm. It felt like spring. I let Zane roll his window down and we drove out of town. Beside a bridge, I parked and we hiked down to the White River. Zane rode on my back much of the way because the path (or lack of path) was steep, rocky, and full of obstacles. The rivers throughout the Ozarks have changed in the past two years. I remember this particular spot being a good, deep swimming hole. But even with the rain we have received this winter, it is shallow and full of bamboo and reeds. The splashing water is not strong enough to wash trash downstream and some locals must use the dry end of the bridge as a dump yard. Initially, between the shallow water, bamboo covered shore, and forgotten garbage, I was terribly disappointed. If the hike down the the water's edge had not been such an exhausted ordeal, I would have turned around immediately. But I sat to rest, and Zane began throwing rocks in the river.
     He has always loved to throw rocks in the water, since he was very young. But after two years of very dry weather, we have not had much time to enjoy this favored pastime. When I had finished resting, I suggested we leave and find a better shore.
     "No," said my three year old explained sweetly. "Zane throw rocks in river."
     I couldn't drag him away after seeing the smile on his face. So I showed him how to skip rocks and he spend a while searching for flat rocks tp throw even though he couldn't get them to skip. Time passed. I picked up my book and got lost in the story. Zane threw big rocks until they were all either in the water or too big to pick up. Then he threw little rocks. It was like a meditation to him. He was lost in a trance. He didn't speak. If I talked to him, he didn't hear me at first. I have seen such a trance come over children while playing video games or watching a movie. But Zane was simply throwing rocks.
Almost three hours went by and I was out of drinking water, so I suggested that we head back to the car. By now the rocky shore he was sitting on had become a muddy, sandy beach, completely devoid of rocks. Yet still he dug in the muddy sand in search for tiny pebbles. Perhaps it was not very good for the river, but I believe it was good for Zane's soul.
The drive home was silent and my boy went to bed peacefully.
Today he woke up telling me about his dreams...they were full of frogs.


This was taken last spring, not yesterday.
 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spring Peepers and then Snow

     Tuesday it rained over two inches. The parched earth has been crying for rain since the great flood of 2010, in which we all wished for the rain to stop. And it did stop. It still has yet to start again.
One day of rain does not bring us out of this drought, but it made the frogs sing. Yes, frogs were singing in January! It is still the heart of winter, but the temperature was over 60 degrees and the spring peepers emerged to sing their thanks to the pouring clouds. Because I heard spring peepers in early December as well, I am a little concerned they are not getting enough rest this winter.
     Wednesday it snowed. Before the rain stopped, the temperature dropped dramatically and flurries fell. The warm ground melted the flakes almost instantly but the contrast was shocking. I wonder where those little frogs are now, on this cold night. Hopefully they fled beneath the ground and buried themselves in the mud before the earth froze again. With such a short and mild winter, I have to wonder if the Ozarks will be ready for an early spring.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visiting the Farm

Mother sheep and twins still crusty with afterbirth
     A bitterly cold winter night in January is birthing time on my uncle's farm. His sheep seem to aways give birth at night and often during the cold months of late winter or very early spring. During the last cold snap, triplets were born. Some sheep are more inclined to birth one lamb, others birth twins most often, and some ewes will birth triplets. Though my uncle's sheep usually have one or two babies, he does not see triplets very often. Even more rarely do they all live.
     It is especially hard to keep lambs alive on cold winter nights. They arrive wet in a cold world and though their mother licks them dry, the cold wind can kill them, especially the one who is licked dry last. It seems counter intuitive to birth a lamb on a cold winter night, but perhaps it comes from a fear of something much more dangerous than the cold, like wolves. Predators are less likely to be out on the prowl if the weather is fowl, so the sheep brave the cold to give their babies a head start.
Less than a day old lamb
     It doesn't take long for lambs to start frolicking in the fields. When born at night, they are usually fairly sturdy on their feet by noon. Within a day, they are hard to catch. It is important for lambs to run from predators as soon as possible. Sometimes it makes me wonder how human babies survive, being so helpless for so long.
     Last weekend, the weather in the Ozarks was as perfect as it gets on a January day. The sun shone bright in the cloudless sky and the lite breeze blew warm air over the hills. I decided it was a perfect day to escape the confinements of the city and explore the countryside. My uncle invited us out to his farm, where the lamb triplets were only three days old.
     My three year old son was delighted as usual by the innocence on the baby lambs. He laughs when he sees them run with a glee that he only achive outside. We managed to catch one and he gently pet its tiny head while I held it. We talked about the baby with enthusiasim. He has been facinated with babies ever since my pregnant belly began to grow.
Curious young cow
The cows make him smile too. He wanted to feed them grass from the other side of the fence. Though they ventured much closer to him--being only a few feet tall--then they would to us, they were not brave enough to eat out of his hand. I see cows every day while driving, from a far. But I forget how big they are until I am standing next to one. Despite their size, they are gentle and easily spooked.
     Most days we collect eggs from the chicken house and feed the koi fish in my aunt's fish pond. Sitting on the tractor and pretending to drive is also fun, but no as exciting as riding on my uncle's solar powered golf cart. Zane was even allowed to steer the golf car all by himself.
     Though the day was beautiful, it was also short. As the sun set, the cool winter temperatures crept under our skin. I know my son enjoyed his day at the farm, but perhaps not as much as I enjoy seeing him there. So often he has his head buried in a book or his eyes are glued to a screen. I wish he could spend more days herding sheep, collecting eggs, and feeding fish. Perhaps we will have our own farm one day soon. For now, I will just keep exposing him to the country side as much as I can. 




Thursday, January 17, 2013

Summer Night Song on a Winter Day

Whip-poor-will
    

     I thought I heard a whip-poor-will this afternoon. However, this small brown bird sings at night during the hot summer months, not on winter afternoons. It feeds on insects so it migrates to Central America in fall and returns to North America to breed in summer time. No whip-poor-will could survive in the Ozarks this time of year because it would have nothing to eat. I love listening to them saying their name on warm nights in July. Perhaps the sound drives some people mad, being to monotonous and constant. For me it is a sound I have heard all my life, it lulls me to sleep like no other lullaby. But on this brisk winter day, the sound took me completely by surprise. For a moment, I smiled. Then I frowned.
     Soon I determined that the very convincing whip-poor-will song was actually being sung by the mimicking mockingbird. This common songbird is the Arkansas state bird and can mimic almost any song, even a cell phone ring or car alarm. Often it mocks sounds it hears and it is not strange for it to mimic the whip-poor-will; however, I find it surprising that this bird remembered the song of the whip-poor-will and recalled it so accurately many months later. Both the mocking bird and I reminisced together, remembering hot summer nights while enjoying a cool winter afternoon.  
 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Bird Brains

Hairy Woodpecker
(I thought is was a Downy at first but it was pretty big)

     Once the leaves have fallen and the thickets have died back, the birds seem to become visable for the first time. They flutter from one naked branch to another. After a snowy night they flock through yards searching for feed or scraps. I know when the birds in the yard because my cat meows at the window. But I never let the cat out on busy bird mornings because these tiny feathered friends facinate me, especially in winter when there is so little to study.
     Birds are loved animals. Unlike their relatives, the reptiles, people don't try to run over them in their cars or chop their heads off. No one has a songbird phobia. They way they move and fly has facinated people for years. Children smile at flocks of birds.
     In the country we spot nuthatches, finches, and even a cedar waxwing. In town the chickadees, bluebirds and robins are common. Both locations we see cardinals, blue jays, and downey woodpeckers. When in the country my favorite bird to watch is the reb-breasted nuthatch. They make me laugh. They are full of energy, chirping and chasing one another from the birdfeeder. In the city I love the sight and song of a robin, especially when they are excited about finding a good crop of green briar berries.
     I have always loved birds. As I kid I told my mother that when I grew up I wanted to be a bird, perhaps a chickadee. She told me about reincarnation and suggested that I might have been a bird in a previous life. I proclaimed that I wanted to be reincarnated as a bird in my next life, even after she told me that would be a regression since humans were above birds on the road towards enlightenment. I didn't care. I wanted to be a chickadee.
     Humans have huge brains. We believe that we are smarter than any other animal. It is true that birds have very small brains, because they have to be lightweight for flying, but that should not be cause for a judgment of stupidity. Chickadees, for example, regenerate new brain cells each year. Each day they replace up to two percent of the neurons in their hippocampus—the part of the brain that deals with memory—allowing extra space for them to remember where they hid their seeds. By being able to replace its brain cells they have an extremely good short term memory without needing large brains. Perhaps birds are smarted than we give them credit for.