Friday, January 30, 2009


Thought the temperature is a pleasant 55 degrees in my Florida back yard, most of the nation is suffering what might be described as uncomfortably chilly weather.

So, for those of you who have cold fingers and toes, here's a little piece I found in a journal from June 2005, part of a writing assignment for my master's degree.

If this whole mind over matter thing is true, and I think it is, this should warm you up at least a degree or two:

I am sitting on the hot pavement of bridge number six north on the Blackwater State Heritage Trail. It's sultry. Sticky-hot. The humidity is like being in a steam room after several days of heavy rain. There is no breeze.

The brown, tannin-stained water of the wetland slough rolls beneath us, making little noise - just little rippling sounds where it swrils and eddies around the stems of plants - small maples and bog buttons and seemingly single fern leaves pointing at the sky.

These are mixed in with a thousand plants who are yet strangers to me. (It's like being at a cocktail party full of beautiful, interesting people - will there be enough time for me to know them all?)

A biker rides by and gives us a tiny breath of breeze.

Suddenly in the bright sunlight, the air can hold no more and fat drops begin peppering the water, the plants' leaves, the pavement, and my left thigh. A tiny, delicious relief.

It stays, a wet and shiny polka dot on my still untanned skin - simply because there is nowhere for it to go - the air will not take it back.

The momentary sprinkle does nothing to quiet the sweet trills around me - the caw caw caw of a large songbird in the distance, the occasional grrrulllp of a bullfrog, the twee twee of a jay , the buzz of dancing, mating dragonflies and (not far enough away) the rumble of logging trucks on Munson Highway.

I blow on my arm for a moment, hoping to cool the glistening sweat that has coated the inside of my elbow.

Beyond and above the powerlines that stretch through he wetland and over the bridge I see the bright whit of an anvil cloud and watch tis top billow and roll, building toward the edge of the troposphere.

I cannot tolerate my shoes and stick my bare feet out over the water - in hope of a cool updraft that doesn't come.

Still, bare feet always feel better. Freer.

I see trash trapped in a sandbar at the rivers' edge. It was white once - perhaps a bottle or bucket. Now it is brownish, old, and dirty. Funny that it is dirty when nothing else here is. Nature doesn't get dirty.

Splattering rain again. Smallish drops land on my outstretched legs - knees, calves, ankles - God bless it.

And on the page, too - ink is not waterproof.

This rain does not smell - or, rather, this place is so saturated with the scents of wet and decay and the sweet exhalation of green things that the smell of rain is incidental.

I ride this trail on my bicycle several times a week, but haven't before now gotten to sit still on it. Sitting still is marvelous.

I glimpse a brown bird that has taunted me on my rides. Not the shape of a robin, not the color of a mocking bird - it is itself, and another guest a the party that I'm eager to know.

What is that peeew peeew peeew peeew in the distance? Such a call from my childhood! It is the song of spring and "All's right with the world."

Maybe it's better that I don't know who sings it.

The slough flows from somewhere deep in the woods - an opening in the green of the trees that, to me, looks like all forest openings I've ever sen: like the entrance to an enchanted world.

How I long to hike up my skirt, jump in, and wade upstream in the cool, tea-brown water and into that dark, green garden.

But today, the only water for me is the bead of sweat rolling down my spine. It's time for me to go. Papers to write and research to cull. For a moment I wonder how that really might be taking away from my education.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Got Any Change?

It is one of the great ironies of my life that, as a person who has trouble with change, I have fallen in love with a subject (the mercurial Mother Nature) that seems to be nothing but change.

I'm not sure why I have trouble with change. As a kid, I used to rearrange my room every few months and change my outfit every few hours. As an adult, though, I have the strangest reaction to change.

Take for example an average Thursday evening. All day at work I had been planning in the back of my head to spend the evening doing the laundry. I'd finally get through a whole week's laundry in one go. I really dislike doing laundry, but I was excited about it, in a cute, obsessive-compulsive sort of way.

Then (there's always a then, isn't there - it's the marker on the spot where the plot thickens) my husband called me at the office.

"I want to take you out to dinner," said my sensational spouse. "You're a wonderful woman and I want to take you on a nice date."

Now, I loved the compliment (the man has always been a stickler for accuracy, I might add), but the concept of a night out gave me pause. The little hamster that runs on the wheel that operates my brain stopped cold and said "Oh, no! What about the laundry?"

And I hate laundry. (Did I mention that? Oh, I did? Well, it deserves to be said twice.) That is the degree to which I have trouble with change. I mean, I got on board with the romantic date thing pretty quickly, but just the change in plans from what I had had planned was tough. It's like the brain hamster has trouble operating the clutch, disengaging one gear and switching to another are just a bit much for its furry little faculties.

So how is it that I can love so deeply nature, which seems to be nothing but change? For instance, off the top of my head:

-The planet is warming.
-The coyotes are actually expanding their range despite humans sprawling all over the landscape and paving paradise.
-Our nation that has suffered under a frighteningly anti-environmental administration has new hope, today, in a President whose platform is all about change for the better and who intends to do better through green projects.
-Even the moon changes shape every minute (predictable, yes, but still changing) and the sunlight on every flower I attempt to photograph changes every nanosecond.

Okay, that last one was cool. The fact that a flower or leaf or stone can appear wholly different because the sun is sashaying across the sky while our planet tilts toward or away from it in our annual Do-Si-Do, well that's just awesome.

I suppose, in the end, constant change means there will never be a shortage of surprises, never be a shortage of hope. Certainly there will never be a shortage of romance with this planet, because it is the heart's unchanging tendency, when presented with the glories of this place, to open in wonder and joy, awe and love.

Perhaps the lesson to learn is that embracing change is the only way to adapt and survive. (I'm reading Darwin's The Origin of Species via a daily post from - adapt, eat, and breed or sit still and wait to die seem to be the two main life choices there.)

Be like the coyote. Let the laundry pile up, go out into the world, experience the best it has to offer, and then try to give your best back to it. And then, if you're lucky enough to have been taken to a romantic dinner, and are therefore inclined to a little life change, go home and make more people like yourself!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Peanut-Buttery Crunch

Well, the writing bug seems not to be biting this week, so instead of deep and complex nature thoughts (yeah, right) I've decided to share with you a simple and fun family nature activity. Grab a couple of kids or kids-at-heart and have some messy fun with this one:

Peanut Butter Pinecone Birdfeeders

- one pine cone per feeder
- jar of peanut butter (crunchy is best)
- birdseed (optional)
- string or twine

Step 1: Gather pine cones from your yard, your neighbor's yard, the public park (as long as it's not a state or national park - there we take only photographs and leave only footprints).

Step 2: Bring the pine cones back inside so you don't freeze out in the cold!

Step 3: Somewhere you can make a big mess (e.g. kitchen table covered with newspaper) set out the pine cones and the peanut butter as well as a dish of birdseed (if you have it, black oil sunflower seed is best).

Step 4: Using your hands or spoons, smear the peanut butter all over the pine cone, making sure to stuff as much as you can into the cracks and crevices.

Step 5: Roll the sticky, peanut buttery pine cones in the bird seed to coat.

Step 6: Cut a nice long length of string and tie one end around the fat end of the pine cone. Hang outside from a tree branch.

Step 7: Watch the birds enjoy their winter treat!

Late winter residents will appreciate the calories from the peanut butter and birdseed - remember, birds' average body temperature is 104 degrees Farenheit, so they've got to burn a lot of fuel to maintain that internal temperature when outside temps drop below freezing. Also, any early migrants you have flying through the area will be happy to stop by your pine cone diner to fill up before flying further north. Do be a good host or hostess and provide them with a drink of water as well - any cheap terra cotta pot underliner can become an instant birdbath - just set it on a stump or a pile of rocks and keep it full and ice-free.

And after you're all done and all washed up, remember to sit down by a window with a hot cup of tea and enjoy a good view of all the great birdie action. I think I'll go do that now (maybe the writing bug is hiding out near the window).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Backyard Bird Envy

So, you go and create a blog and then, shockingly, you find that you have to keep up with it. Oy.

Where have I been? In Virginia visiting family, generally. Specifically . . . worshipping the porcelain god in my parents' upstairs guest bathroom because I managed to catch the worst possible stomach virus in the history of mankind. Now you know that I love nature's colors - all of them - but I'm going to skip the description of the colors that went along with this particular natural event. You've seen them before, I'm sure. Or, if you haven't, I hope that you never, ever will.

I learned in my Buddhism seminar that we are supposed to pray for the happiness of all sentient beings, so I'm working on that. But, as far as I'm concerned, bacteria and viruses could not possibly have the neural networks required to be sentient, so I don't think Buddha would mind that I spent a few hours praying that all stomach viruses would be confined to the deepest, darkest pits of hell. What was I thinking? Silly me - they're already there. They probably run the joint.

Not that I'm bitter. Really.

My Virginia vacation wasn't a complete loss, though, because I got to spend time with my mom (an unassuming naturalist who's learned more from the creatures in her back yard than most learn from wildlife and forestry degree programs) talking nature and watching her birds.

To say that my mom has birds that visit her yard would be something like saying that Canada can be a bit chilly this time of year.

If it's a songbird living east of the Mississippi, chances are it can give you directions to Diane Clifford's deck and repeat the sound of her "I'm throwing peanuts out now" whistle. The woman has black oil sunflower seed in two different feeders and thistle seed in another. She has suet and peanut butter in a third and peanuts get thrown out on the deck regularly.

The yard is, of course, a certified Backyard Habitat, as is mine - but she's had hers for going on 30 years now and her birds are loyal. (Not like mine, who disappeared for no reason for weeks this fall. What's up with that?) In just a few minutes' observation, I easily spotted a Carolina wren, chickadees, titmice, a nuthatch, gold finches, cardinals, and an unusually large blue jay. There was also a red-bellied woodpecker in the woods nearby and a red-shouldered hawk that lives in the neighborhood.

And, speaking of larger species, my mom's deck is also the favorite eatery of a group of grey squirrels who must be the largest of their kind in the whole of North America. Seriously, these squirrels are huge. Fat and happy. Each one is the size of a cat, I swear.

Those are just a few of her winter avian friends. In the spring and summer there will also be warblers and catbirds and all sorts of migrants who rest and refuel at Di's Place. I can't blame them - I found it a great place to rest and refuel myself. Don't tell the birds and squirrels this, but if you think the bird food outside is good, you should check out the people food on the table inside . . . and don't even get me started on how nice the bathrooms are!