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.

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


     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.