About Me

My Photo
I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


I have always had a fondness for survivors, those beings that manage somehow to keep going under less-than-favorable conditions or for really long periods of time. Given the fascination so many people have with ancient plants like dawn redwood and gingko, I suspect that I am not alone. Followers of this blog may remember my fondness for Stumpy the semi-tailless squirrel (alas, missing for more than a year now and presumed dead)--and of course, for all the weedy plants about which I have waxed rhapsodic at various times.

Yesterday's snowfall brought another new survivor to the yard. Watching all the action at the backyard feeders (here's a sample),

 I noticed an unusual bird, a female cardinal missing the crest characteristic of the species.

a female with her crest, visiting at the same time

Our crestless lady seemed perfectly healthy and frisky and was indeed one of our larger birds, so whatever predator or parasite caused the loss of her plumage evidently caused no serious damage. (I would like to know her story, though: did she barely escape one of the neighborhood hawks? Did Scooter the Maine Coon get too close? The bird wasn't telling.)

The snow also transformed the yard, giving new interest to the grass garden I loved so much in the late summer. Not all grasses, even of the same species, respond to snow in the same way. The little bluestem at center right refused to lean over, while a clump closer to the street separated into a vase shape that bowed to the ground, as did most of the shorter grasses. The white also gave some variation to what had become a (to my eyes) monotonous brown landscape (this winter thus far being short on sun).

 As wonderful as the lushness of summer is (and the older I get, the more issues I have with winter, which does not agree with my bones or my breathing), it is good to be reminded that every season brings something to learn and has its own beauty, if we can take the time to look.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A frequently unnoticed winter delight

the sound of oak leaves in the wind. Most of the time, I am too busy to distinguish the sounds of particular plant parts. (Aren't we all?). But today, on a postprandial stroll through a favorite neighborhood (one of the few in our town with lawn strips), that distinctive winter sound greeted my ears. In these parts, oaks are the last deciduous trees to lose their leaves, so the dried vegetation forms part of the seasonal soundtrack.

Sunshine and tree music--not bad for a January afternoon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A good start to the semester

Ah, the beginning of term. All those new students to meet (and this semester, all but five of my students are first-timers for me), new class activities, and this time around, even two new preparations: a composition support lab and a children's literature course for (mostly) pre-service teachers. I even have two brand-new books (and I'm book nerd enough to still love being the first person to open a book and smell that new-book smell, so distinct from that of an old book).

Of course, some semesters get off to a bad start: students who don't show up; students who don't have their books; in the case of support classes, sometimes students who are actively hostile. This week brought none of that, although one international student mixed up her days and came to the wrong session, two people got lost and were late, and one lab student did grumble a bit. Other than those minor glitches, though, the opening days of all classes ran smoothly. A good start to the week and the term.

Then, during yesterday's drive home, a pileated woodpecker winged its way across Route 47 and landed on a roadside utility pole, affording me a good look at its magnificent wing bars and red crest. An unexpected view of my favorite woodpecker is a highlight of any day.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Let's hope the rest of the term is as good as its first two days.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What a difference a few days make

The bird feeder area on January 1, hosting a flock of chilly but perfectly visible mourning doves

The same area, a few feet over, this morning

How many days till spring?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Year in Review

2014 was the year of slackery on this blog. It got off to a good start during the polar vortex and the following much-welcomed spring, but a busy semester and general brain fog led to a slowing down once the fall term began. A review of what did find its way into writing, however, reveals that life did indeed happen.
  • The year began with the horror of the Elk River chemical spill, but the end of the year brought good news: the (insert your favorite insulting noun) officers of the company responsible for the disaster have been indicted on a variety of criminal charges, with one of them facing nearly seventy years in prison if convicted. While my less-than-charitable side objects to public funds being used to support the being whose negligence has already cost millions of taxpayer dollars and who knows how many non-human lives (couldn't we just submerge him in the Elk River in, say, late January, and leave him there?), I am gratified to think that he is likely never again to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.
  • At least one fairydiddle found its way to Parkersburg.
  • I learned what baby mourning doves look like.
  • I finally got to experience Magee Marsh during the spring warbler migration.
  • The grass garden came into its own, as documented in a variety of posts.
And life continues to happen as we prepare to leave Chipmunk Ridge and head to downtown (if a location overlooking the arboretum can honestly be described as "downtown living"). Looking forward to the view from a new window later in 2015.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

They're here

The juncos, that is. The appearance of little white-bellied ground-feeders is a sure sign that winter is here, even though the calendar gives us a few more days until the solstice. Accompanying the slate-colored winter residents are white-crowned sparrows and what I think may have been a pine siskin, along with the usual suspects: chickadees, cardinals, titmice, doves, and the no-longer-very-golden goldfinches.
While I know that brown is indeed a color, I am already tired of it. Sigh. Daffodil season is a long time away.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Am I the only one?

Am I the only person distressed at the sight of bags of leaves lining nearly every street on trash day? I get that cleanliness is next to godliness and that wet leaves pose a hazard when walking, but--every leaf rounded up, encased in black plastic, and sent to a landfill? Do most people know what is in those bags?

  • Leaves are the providers of fertility. That wonderful deep soil of the world's great forests was provided by millennia of fallen leaves, broken down by thousands of generations of all the tiny organisms that provide decomposition services and keep the planet from becoming one great reeking mass of corpses. Few of us live in cabins in forest clearings anymore, but that fertility can be shared with our own gardens, just by finding a place where those leaves can break down naturally.
  • Leaves are habitat. Millions of small creatures live in leaf litter, including salamanders, toads, and baby bumblebee queens, who get only one shot at surviving the winter and establishing a new colony in the spring. If we freeze or landfill all the new queens, there will be no bumblebees for next year's pollination. In addition, many of the birds that so many people love to watch rummage through leaf litter in search of insects and spiders. Birds need protein, not just the seeds we put in our feeders when we remember to do so.
  • Leaves are the nurseries of life. Entomologist Doug Tallamy notes in Bringing Nature Home that oaks alone support 534 species of lepidoptera (that's butterflies and moths, folks). Eggs are laid on leaves, overwinter, and in the spring hatch into caterpillars that sometimes become butterflies and sometimes become bird food. Baby chickadees are 100% dependent on caterpillars for food. When we trash our leaves, we are ending millions of lives before they even get to start.
Something to think about.