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.

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