Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Though our pumpkin headed, toddler-sized scarecrow, "Pumpkinelope" has been sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch for over a week now, we won't head out to get our carving pumpkin until tomorrow.

The heat and moisture are so high here in Florida, I didn't want to put out a Jack-O-Lantern too early, lest it become a real fright by rotting right in front of us and before Halloween.

So, in honor of the scraping, carving, and lighting to come, a few pumpkin facts for you:

  • Pumpkin is tremendously good for you - its bright orange flesh is a clue to the large amounts of beta carotene (vitamin A) inside. It is also rich in potassium, fiber, Vitamin C, E, and K. Click on these links for a good pumpkin soup recipe and instructions on pumpkin seed roasting.

  • The top pumpkin-producing states are California, Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (listed in alphabetical order). They produced 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins last year. Source

  • Each year, growers compete for the title of growing the world’s largest pumpkin. The largest recorded pumpkin grown was on October 1, 2005 at the Pennsylvania Giant Pumpkin Growers Weighoff. It weighed in at 1,469 pounds, breaking all previous world records. It was grown by Larry Checkon of North Cambria, Penn. Source

  • American colonists sliced off pumpkin tops, removed the seeds, and filled the pumpkins with milk, spices, and honey. They then baked the entire pumpkin in hot ashes to make a dessert. Source

  • Pumpkins (which are biologically a fruit, not a vegetable, because they bear the seeds of the plant) are a member of the squash family, cousins to gourds, zucchini, and cucumbers.

  • The carving of jack-o'-lanterns originated from the tradition of carving the faces of lost souls into hollowed out pumpkins and turnips. A candle was placed inside the carvings making the faces glow. The Halloween lanterns were placed on doorsteps to ward off evil spirits. Source

Happy Halloween to all! Be sure to send in photos of your carving art - I'd love to post them!

One of these days, the perfect pumpkin will pose for my camera and I'll add its orangey awesomeness to the gallery collection. Check out the other oranges in the Orange Gallery.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nature Quote - October 23, 2009

My little girl is 3 years and 2 months old today - and this is 1 poem I can't wait to share with her! (How I wish it were illustrated!)

October gave a party;
The leaves by hundreds came -
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples,
And leaves of every name.
The Sunshine spread a carpet,
And everything was grand,
Miss Weather led the dancing,
Professor Wind the band.
~George Cooper, "October's Party"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Because I Was Looking, I Saw. . .

a lot of really cool stuff happening in nature - from my backyard to Bear Lake, here are a few of the highlights:

  • A toad has taken up residence on or near our front porch. He (or she) appears to be your basic Bufo terrestris, about four inches nose to hind end, and getting plumper every night by feeding on the various bugs attracted by our porch light. We have not named our toad friend yet, so write in if you have toad moniker suggestions.

  • I have landscaped with wildlife in mind. I have even certified my yard as a Backyard Habitat. I'm used to birds at the feeder and anoles and geckos all around the house. But still, occasionally something catches me off guard and makes me so glad for my landscaping; a few days ago I spotted a mockingbird chasing a blue jay all around my crabapple tree. Then I saw why: the blue jay's beak was clamped around a ripe, red, crabapple the size of a fat blueberry. There are still hundreds of crabapples left on the tree, so I'm hoping to catch their Tom & Jerry act again!

  • Speaking of mockingbirds . . . they sure have moxie! While Abbey played at the playground next to our library this Monday night, I spotted a red shouldered hawk that came to rest in a bare tree across the street. I told Abbey and we edged closer to get a good look at the large, impressive raptor. And it was impressive, standing there still as a statue while a mockingbird hopped all around it, harassing its every last feather. This hawk could have made an appetizer out of the mockingbird, but still the smaller bird came to within inches. And the smaller bird achieved its goal - the unruffled but annoyed hawk took wing a minute or so later. I knew mockingbirds were protective and territorial, but this one seems either downright heroic or downright stupid. (Probably a little of both - when you come right down to it, all survival on the planet requires a little of both.)

  • Buckeye butterflies are everywhere! All over the woodland trail at Bear Lake, all over my zinnias, just all over. They are gorgeous! My identification books mention them massing at this time of year; not migrating like monarchs, but definitely moving southward. This is definitely a check mark in the "pro" column for living in the south.

  • We did get to see a bald eagle at Bear Lake. We haven't seen one on every visit, so it's special. This time, the great bird took off from a branch in a nearby pine snag so forcefully that the branch came tumbling down with a loud crack and rumbling clatter. The eagle flew over our heads while we were distracted with the noise. I caught it out of the corner of my eye and was able to alert Brian and Abbey before it turned to catch an air current and sailed back in front of us. A moment of pure natural magic, all the better for having seen it with my two best fellow explorers.
And we saw it because we were out there . . . just having fun and . . . looking.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Forget: Orionid Meteor Showers this Week!

Bundle up and get outside each night this week to see the Orionid meteor showers!

The best night will be Wednesday, the 21st, and the best viewing times are 2am-5am, but I doubt I'll be up and out that early (unless I have to wake up to pee in the middle of the night).

You should be able to see shooting stars from dusk on, particularly in the eastern sky. (They're called the Orionids because the meteors seem to radiate from the constellation Orion.)

Maximum rates are expected to be 20-30 per hour and since it's a crescent moon, that will make the sky dark and the meteors extra-visible.

Okay, I'm off to the store to stock up on jugs of apple cider to mull with cinnamon and take out with us when we go shooting star watching tonight.

Be sure to respond to this post and let me know how the shooting star show goes where you are!


Friday, October 9, 2009

Nature Quote - October 9. 2009

"The green grass and the happy skies court the fluttering butterflies." -Astrid Alauda

The air here is fairly filled with the fluttering wings of butterflies. Some are taking in the nectar of our fall flowers (we've still got months before the first hard frost) and some are merely stopping over on their way to points further south.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad they're here - they make life seem enchanted.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Autumn Action

A well-supported principle of ecology is that the place where two ecosystems meet – between a forest and a stream, or a river and the sea – the diversity of life abounds. You’ll find more plants, more animals, more activity, courtesy of the mix.

I’m beginning to think the same principle holds true for the time around the change of seasons.

Fall fell on September 22 this year, and though afternoon temperatures here along the Gulf Coast are still mercilessly steamy, the air of autumn is all around.

The animals that seemed to loll through the end of summer’s heat (a wise tactic indeed – in the south you either take summer slowly or are struck dumb and still by its power) have been revived by the recent cool nights.

Here, at the change of seasons, birds and bugs (and bigger things, too) are teaching us about action and diversity in all their furry, feathered, whiskered and winged glory.

They know a change is coming.

They’re up and about and getting prepared.

They bicker and brag and celebrate and sing.

The opulence of summer has met the sweet breeze of autumn, and those of us lucky enough to be fed physically by the first and spiritually by the second . . . well, we need to get moving.

Now is the time to be outside – in this short reprieve between the hellish heat and the cruel cold – to be out looking and thinking and putting pen (or brush, or pixels, or child’s crayon if that’s what you have at hand) to paper.

We are the ones fortunate enough to be able to watch, listen, hear, taste, smell and see. We cannot capture the change, but it is both our responsibility and our reward to tell the story.

We can, each in our own way, share the joy and glory of the sweet place where two seasons meet, and mix, and move the world.


This piece was originally written for the October 2009 issue of Moonshine Magazine.