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, February 16, 2016

Salamander hunting

I found a creek yesterday full of cadisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and dragonflies. All of these flying creatures start off as macro invertebrates who live among the rocks at the bottom of streams. Mayflies spend most of their life under the water and only swarm the air for a single day in which they mate and die. All of these invertebrates are sensitive to water pollution so I determined that the creek was probably spring fed and looking at the large rocks upstream I wondered if it came from a cave. Springs and cave streams are perfect places to find salamanders, so I went off in search of a rare amphibian.

While exploring the creek in search of a salamander, I first stumbled upon a huge Ozark Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) in full bloom. This winter blooming tree has red and yellow showy flowers that vary from the yellow bursts that bloom on the American Witch Hazel (H. virginiana). Though the American witch hazel has a wide range, the Ozark witch hazel is endemic to the Ozark Plateau. This particular one was bigger than many I have seen growing in the wild and it was clinging to a pile of rocks in the center of the creek with very little soil to draw from.

Further upstream I finally found my salamander swimming like an eel in a small rock lined pool. It was young and small; its body looked almost transparent in the sunlight. I held it only briefly since I could see it had gills and many salamanders breath through their skin so the oils from your hand can hurt them. I guessed after researching it later on that it might be an Oklahoma Salamander (Eurycea tynerensis). Though this is not a particularly rare species, I think any salamander is a good sign. The little legs of a salamander are disproportional to their long bodies and on land they are defenseless and slow. Though these soft bodied amphibians stay hidden under rocks or in water where they can swim fast, most species are endangered because they are extremely sensitive to water pollution and are vulnerable to prey. They seem to smile at you with their large mouths even though I am sure, due to their secretive nature, they do not appreciate us and our inquisitive nature. Still, I love looking for salamanders.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Gardener

I have been a bad gardener lately, a bad writer too! I have been too busy to do either! Recently life has been calming down a little so I hope to write a little more. Maybe by next spring I can get my garden to be bursting again.

While I wasn't watering my garden through the heat of summer, a tomato sprouted in my greenhouse! Tomatos are sometimes hard to grow even when you are trying, so this surprised me. It had sprouted among some grass in pure clay soil! I didn't have much faith in the little sprout. I had already given my garden up to nature and the plants would have to rely on rain to survive. In the greenhouse, where rain doesn't fall and the temperatures get even higher than outside, I figured to tomato would need a lot of water. So I did not encourage it's growth because I want to feel responsible for making sure it survived the summer. 

I had peaked in on the sprout from time to time and noticed it wasn't dying. In fact it was thriving! 

As fall set in and we dogdged a hard freeze, I began picking red ripe cherry tomatoes from this hardy, little plant! 

Nature amazes me every day! It thrives in spite of all odds and often rebels when we try to control it. I don't think nature will ever stop surprising me! 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Apparently we Raise Frogs


Every year I fill up the pool in spring.
For two years now I have neglected to drain, treat, or filter the pool. So, like last year, tadpoles appeared in the water!

We seem to have cricket frogs, grey tree frogs, and bronze or green frogs. Each has a different looking tadpole and different life cycle length. 

Sometimes, on hot days, I think I must be awfully silly to raise frogs rather than have a pool. But then when the boys chase the little frogs around their pond, hold them tenderly, and learn to have reverence for a soft, small amphibian, I think this is the right thing at the right time. And we drive to the river for a dip.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

That "Language Older than Words"

I have not posted since May. I have been too heart broken and troubled... guilty. I don't want to write the next blog because there is only one story to tell and it is not heartwarming or pleasant! But it must be told...

I broke my unspoken agreement with the fox. I had written about it before in "Mother Nature's Tax" that I felt completely ok with loosing one chicken a year or even one chicken a season to the fox or whatever predator needed for eat, nurse her young, and feed her babies. I owe it to the wildlife. I knew this was the agreement. I understood it even though I had never voiced it out loud. And though the fox and I had never sat down for an official negotiation, I think she knew it too.

One night, before the death began, the fox came early in the morning. The sun was up and the chickens were out in their open pen. At night I had been locking them up, but in the day I allowed them to free range a bit. The fox, hunger stricken, came in the morning and attacked. The dog heard the commotion and alerted me. I ran outside and caught the fox in the act. I watched her, as I ran outside, take one of our red hens and snap its neck. When the fox saw me, she turned with the still twitching hen and tried to hop back out of the pen but found she could not hop out with the hen in her mouth, at least not quick enough. So she left the hen and ran.

I examined the damage. The fox had pulled many feathers out of one hen's tale and bitten another hen, leaving a deep wound. The red hen she had killed had stopped twitching but was warm. I thought to myself, "Why waste the meat?" I should have been thinking, "This is the fox's kill. Fair and square. Not mine." I should have left the hen at the edge of the woods for the fox to easily take back to her den where I knew her babies awaited a meal. Instead, I prepared the hen for our crock pot.

I plucked the its feathers by dipping it in boiling water, which I had never done before. It was very effective! When gutting it I found five eggs, all at different stages of development. I saved them with the intention of eating them but never could muster the courage. It just seemed wrong somehow. Laying hens do not taste like the chicken you buy at the super market. It is not tender, fatty meat. It is gamey and tough. But after 6 hours in the crock pot, it made a delicious meal.

That night, the fox came to our front lawn, just after dusk and began barking at the house. She must have been standing no more than 10 feet from our front door. Her bark is high pitched and strange, like a large bird's squawk almost. She was letting her feelings be know... she was pissed! Our agreement had been violated and the pact was broken.

After that, the fox began falling upon our hen every day. We locked the hens up at night and let them out for shorter amounts of time. But the fox was sly. She would sneak into the yarn and snag a hen at noon... when we were at home! First she snagged one of Fred's chicks, then the other red hens, then... Yes, you know where this tragic story is going... the fox got Fred and all three of her chicks!

Zane was heartbroken. He told me we should kill the fox. His father agreed. I protested, reminding them that the fox was just trying to feed her young and survive. But I also knew I had pissed the fox off by stealing her kill and this was payback.

Maybe you think I am nuts. Perhaps I am reading into the situation too deeply. But I don't think so.
In Derek Jensen's book, A Language Older Than Words he talks about a similar agreement he had with the coyotes. He gives them a chicken every season and they leave the rest alone. I believe there IS a language older than words that nature, all of nature, uses to communicate. It was only when I misspoke that I  realized I am a part of nature and had been speaking this language all along!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Madder than a Wet Hen

Late last night a terrible storm blew in. I heard it and woke to comfort the children but in my drowsy state I didn't think of the hen and her chicks sitting in a cage with only a tarp for shelter.
When I set up the shelter the day before, I thought about wind and planned to anchor the tarp properly but I hadn't gotten around to it in time. I awoke early and looked out my bedroom window to see the tarp lying on the ground a ways from the hen's cage.
I jumped up and ran outside, praying that the chicks had not frozen to death on this stormy night. As I approached the cage, Fred baulked at me with utter disgust and loathing. Her feathers were completely drenched and the water had even filled the little nesting box so that she had been forced to sit on the tallest lump of hay to keep the chicks off the ground. She was in fact as mad as a wet hen. I felt awful!
Quickly, I got a box which we usually keep garden tools in, emptied it, and lined it with hay. I then moved mother hen into the box. As I lifted her up I was pleased to find that though the three chicks were damp but alive and well. They were not soaked to the bone because mother hen had used her feathers like an umbrella and sheltered the chicks through the stormy night. I moved the three chicks into the box with their disgruntled, clucking mother and brought them all inside.

I took the box into the kitchen and set in on the dryer so the dog couldn't get in. Then I turned on a heat lamp I had bought along with the chicks just in case Fred didn't accept the orphan chicks. As the  warm light filled the box, our mad wet hen stopped her constant baulking.

Gratefully, mother hen and all three chicks began to dry off. The chicks took turns perching on their mother's back where the heat of the lamp was more intense. Finally, all three chicks got onto mother hen, one even sat on her head! The tolerant mother sat still and let the chicks dry their feathery fluff before she tended to herself. In about an hour everyone was dry and much happier. I have secured the tarp much better and we will not have a family of wet hens again! Soon they will be old enough to move back into the chicken house with the rest of the flock


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chick Drama

On Mother's Day we anxiously waited around the nesting box where Fred's eggs were cracking and daring to hatch. We had high hopes, but as the day progressed, our hopes died. I will skip the details, but basically I found two dead chicks, two deformed messes, and two eggs that never hatched.
I felt very disappointed.
Zane had a nightmare about a dead chick.
Fred, continued to brood.

By Thursday I had had enough heartbreak. So we went to our local Farmer's Co-op and bought three chicks. I picked out two red sex-links and let Zane choose his own: a little buff orpington. We took them home and named them (this time with a little more guidance so we didn't get another hen named Fred). After a bit of debating we came up with Lilly, Lulu, and Luna.

My plan was to trick Fred into thinking her eggs had hatched and that these little guys were her babies. I read about other people doing this online and began putting the plan into action.

Mission Swap Eggs for Chicks:

Though I read about lots of different problems when introducing new chicks to a brooding hen these were the main concerns:
  • make sure the hen is currently brooding... check
  • do the swap/introduction at night... check
  • introduce only a few chicks at a time... check
  • give chicks access to starter feed only (too much calcium in layer feed)... check
  • assist chicks in finding food and water in a place protected from the flock for the first 48 hours...
That last tip I read after I had already bought the chicks and required some extra work. You see, a brooding hen will start sitting on cool eggs that have been sitting around for a week all at once. This is because if she were to lay an egg and start sitting on it right away and then keep adding new eggs to the clutch they would hatch at different times, making it hard for mother hen to sit on unhatched eggs while tending to the new chicks. Nevertheless, even if she starts sitting on the cool eggs all at once, the eggs will take only 48 hours to all hatch out. Also, a baby chick is still absorbing its yoke sac and conveniently does not need food or water for 48 hours after birth. So because of all this brooding hen will naturally continue to brood for 48 hours. A brooding hen is not in protective mama mode until all her chicks have hatched, so it takes some time but in nature newborn chicks will hide and wait while the other eggs hatch.
 But in my case these chicks are one week old and already up and ready to explore. This is where daddy Zane and mama Roslyn come in handy...

Late at night I slipped out to the chick coop and one at a time snagged an eggs and replaced it with a chick. The chicks were terrified and chirping frantically by the time I had carried their box to the chicken coop. But each chick became silent and still when I popped them under Fred. I had been told Fred might not notice being night and all. But Fred most certainly knew something was happening. She craned her head under her body to see what was going on. Her body was fluffed up like an umbrella for the chicks to hide under and as she poked her head around to see the chicks, she clucked softly. After clucking to her adopted chicks, she fluffed herself even bigger and settled down to sleep.
Thoughout the night and first thing in the morning I checked on the chicks a lot. I was worried one might wander off and get too cold or that Fred might reject a chick, but none of that happened. By morning mother hen and her chicks were settled and happy.

 Zane loved the entire process and helped me check on the chicks throughout the day. We kicked the flock out of the nesting boxes for most of the day. I opened it up twice to let the hens come in and lay eggs, but I stayed nearby and protected the chicks while this happened. Our hens seemed a little worried about the strange newcomers and they did peck on the baby chicks a little, but Zane and I didn't have to do much more than be present and occasionally put a hand out to protect them.

After spending most of the day by the chicken coop, I prepared a safe place for Fred to continue raising her chicks. Perhaps I could have kept her and the babies with the flock but I worried about the ramp that separated the nesting box from the ground, I didn't want to feed the whole flock started feed, and I didn't want to stress out about the dominate hens in the flock picking on the babies. I could have moved Fred when she started brooding. But being that we were dealing with an adoption now, I was more concerned about Fred accepting the new chicks. Luckily, she took to being a mother very quickly!

Lily hiding under Fred's wing
Once I was sure that she was being a good mother to her new chicks, I moved the whole family to a new place.I do not have a separate chicken house for brooding chicks or anything, so I had to make due with what I had. I found an old cage, a wooden tool box, and a tarp.  I know it is not fancy or very big, but this is just a temporary place to keep them until they are all well adjusted and the chicks are a little bigger.

Today, Fred, our sweet mother hen and her darling chicks, Lily, Lulu, and Luna, are all doing just great! Fred is a gentle mother. She clucks lovingly at her babies. She is tolerant as they climb all over her. And when she senses danger and clucks to them and they run under her wing. At night they sleep in her plumage where they are safe in warm.

And Zane, being a good chicky daddy, checks on them every hour. He helps them to their feed, offers them clovers he picks from the yard, and makes sure their water is topped off at all times.

Zane giving Fred some freshly picked clover
After so much heartbreak it seems that  Fred and Zane finally have the chicks they have wanted so desperately.

And this is Zane's reaction to the successful mission:

Monday, May 11, 2015

Higher Ground

It rained about six inches in the past three days!
The ground is saturated, the valleys are flooded, the creeks are roaring, and storm drains are overflowing into the streets.

Animals are moving to higher ground.
This morning, as the sun warmed the earth, I found two turtles walking along the side of the road, where the overflowing storm drains had created a stream along the curb.

They both made their way up the street, up stream, and then into the woods that lead up the mountain.
I am sure they are not the only ones moving to higher ground today,
just the slowest and therefore the easiest to spot! 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fred is a Mother for Mother's Day!

The triumphant story of Fred the Hen continues... Fred is brooding!
Fred was hen pecked and rooster abused until she had no feathers on her back, only three tail feathers, and her comb had been ripped off. When we got her she didn't lay eggs, wouldn't let anyone get near her, and loud noises sent her baulking across the yard frantically. We called her PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) hen.
Then my five year old son, Zane, befriended her. They went everywhere together. He carried her all over the yard, pushed her in his car, and swung on the swing set with her. He renamed her Fred, his best friend. And she fell in love with him too...
About 25 days ago, Fred decided that she needed to brood. We do not have a rooster, so sitting on her unfertilized eggs would never result in chicks. So why brood? After reading about it, I have come to realize that this type of thing happens. But I find it to be more than simply coincidental that Fred decided she had been fertilized after a little boy carried her around, petted her, and hugged her daily. All the love she was shown by this boy made her want to be a mother. Maybe, this hen thinks that somehow, in someway a little boy fertilized her. Of course it is biologically impossible for a boy and a hen to have chicks... but they can be surrogate parents! 
After she had sat for three days and proved to be serious about this endeavor to become a mother, I found fertalized eggs and replaced her unfertilized ones. For the past 21 days we have been waiting and watching her sit diligently day in and day out. Zane has wanted to check on her every day. He often sits outside stating determinedly, "Well, I will wait for the chicks to hatch!"
Yes, we have been counting the days... Waiting patiently!
Today is Mother's Day and the hatching has begun!
"You are becoming a mother, Fred," Zane exclaimed when we discovering an egg full cracks under her. "You are becoming a mother on Mother's Day!"

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Fred the Hen

    Fred was originally called PTSD hen or post traumatic stress disorder chicken. She was given to us because she had been abused horribly by a rooster. When she came to us she had no feathers on her back at all. She was missing most of her tail feathers and significant portion of her wing feathers and her entire cone! For days after she arrived at our house she just squaked and ran around the yard with fear in her eyes. A loud sounds, quick moving body, or even another chicken would provoke her to go into a terrified fit of squawking as she ran frantically to the corner of the yard. For a full year she didn't lay a egg and around Christmas time we seriously considered eating her.

     Over time her feathers grew back. This spring she began laying an egg every day. Slowly she became calm and normalized in the flock. Then something happened, quite suddenly actually, Zane befriended PTSD hen and renamed her Fred.
      Personally I would have never named a hen Fred, but this is Zane's friend, his favorite. She is not the most beautiful hen either, her feathers a grey and dull. But Zane favors her and carries her about the yard, playing games. She tolerates and dare I say even enjoys the company. Fred doesn't try to get away from Zane when he chases her, she runs slowly and then waits for him to catch up. Sometimes she stops and assumes a certain crouched position when she sees him. If he puts her down after carrying her a while, she stays near him, following him sometimes. And though Zane is gentle, he is very intense. I use to worry about the hen a little. My husband would joke that of all the ways for a chicken to live and die, being loved to death by a boy must be a great life and death. But Zane won't harm him chicken, he loves her and knows her limits.
     I dare say she loves him too, as much as a chicken can love a boy I suppose. I want to believe that she remembers the abuse she endured as a fledging and because she knows how bad it could be, she appreciates all she has now. Perhaps I am just personifying and it just doesn't go that far. But Fred has a pretty good life for a chicken and she has been through a lot. I hope she knows it and is happy. 


Friday, February 20, 2015

This New World

I think we all need to cool our jets and stop debating everything as if we are so sure of ourselves... We need to be more humble!
 This is why...
For the first 150,000 years of our humanity, homo sapiens lived in caves, hunted, gathered, and developed stone tools. There were not many changes.
During the next 40,000 years, human developed arrows, fire, made clothing, and more sophisticated tools. Think about that a little... in almost 200,000 years we only went from naked apes smashing two rocks together to clothed cave men with bows and arrows around a fire. That is not a lot of change in a really long time!
In the following 10,000 years, agriculture and animal husbandry was born. Civilizations were built. 
It took 10,000 years to go from arrows to swords, from leather loin clothes to elegant corset dresses, from the cultivation of native plants to tables decked with breads, beers, and exotic fruits. Significant, I must say; but 10,000 years is still a pretty long time.
Then, in just the last 100 years or so, everything else happened...
100 years ago people did not have electricity, cars, or super markets let alone the internet, smart phones, and gaming. When my grandmother was born her family did not have a car or a telephone. She remembers when the railroad got built through her town. She marveled at a train for the first time with awe and amazement. I am sure your ancestors have similar stories.
What I am getting at is this... It is naïve for us to think we know so much when we have been living this way for such a short amount of time!
I see articles claiming that "studies show" this or that about how technology, agriculture, and medicine affects our lives and our brains. I read about how TV or gaming is good or bad for our brains; I see information about how GMOs or pesticides change or don't change our DNA; or I see evidence about how vaccines either help or harm us. But how do we know anything, really! I mean we might be able to hypothesis how it will change our day, our year, or even our life. However, how these advances in technology, agriculture, and medicine will effect our brains, bodies, and collective culture from a big picture perspective, is totally unknown. How much can we really know when we have only been doing most of this for a few decades! After over 200,000 years of doing everything more or less the same way, how can we be so sure of ourselves after less than 200 years of doing it this way? We can not study how technology, new world agriculture, modern medicine, and other advances affect generations because only a few generations have had any of this! For tens of thousands of years we lived basically the same way. Changes happened slowly. Nothing in history compares to all that has happened in the last 100 years or so!
All I am saying is be a little more humble. We are new at all of this. You don't need to call someone stupid for believing one set of information. The world is not simple and established. The research or information you have read that has convinced you of your opinion is brand-new, cutting edge info in the big scheme of things. This is a brand new world, we are all new to all of this, so take it easy, will ya?