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

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Whenever the sun comes out, spring in the Mid-Ohio Valley is so beautiful that the idea of living anyplace else seems ludicrous. The dogwoods are going crazy, the neighbors' azaleas and lilacs have burst into bloom, and outrageously-orange Oriental poppies are trying to take over our front yard. If it weren't for the little matter of tree pollen, I'd probably live outside.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gifts from the Universe

Today's gifts:
A downy woodpecker at the suet feeder

A house finch on the sunflower feeder

A pair of goldfinches
Spring beauties migrating down the bank from our neighbor's house
A baby dogwood!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A good day in the yard

Okay, I was supposed to spend the weekend reading students' research paper drafts, but is it my fault that only a few of the little darlings have sent them? And rumor had it that this weekend would be filled with thunderstorms, but by late morning the sun was shining and the temperature was near 70. On such an April day, how could ANYONE stay inside?

Besides, there were things to do. The front yard is now more bird- and butterfly-friendly than it was, thanks to a "Muskogee" crape myrtle (not native, but I couldn't resist the idea of a 20-foot purple-flowered tree that deer won't eat) and an "Autumn Brilliance" serviceberry, the latter underplanted with perennial purple salvia and wondrous free gifts from the house's previous owner (or maybe from the universe itself). The corner of the yard near the music room is being taken over by the old-fashioned Oriental poppies, the orange-red ones visible from a block away, so those are getting thinned and placed wherever there's room and the color won't clash too much--orange goes with purple, right? And baby black-eyed Susans are coming up through the bermuda grass in what passes for our lawn (and which will eventually be killed when I've nothing else to do), so they will be keeping the salvia company when the poppies crisp up and disappear. Anyone who doesn't like strong color should avoid our block. (Photos to come.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Ephemeral Spring

I'm not lucky enough to have any of the flowers we generally call spring ephemerals in my yard, but this year I can vouch for the ephemerality (is that a word?) of spring. After the slowest start in memory, spring took off and raced ahead, leaving barely enough time for the slow-sighted among us (me, of course) to notice the details.
By the second week of March, I was convinced that the ground squirrels had eaten all the crocus bulbs; there wasn't even a sprout to be seen in any of the beds. Then one day--whiz! a flash of yellow!--and the first snow crocus appeared in the streetside planting. Within ten days, all the crocuses were gone, done in by the first seventy-degree day.
That seventy-degree day was followed by a late snow that I feared would do away with the first daffodils as they bravely bloomed through the late-March blast, but the majority of the narcissi lived up to their reputation for toughness and put on quite a show. They at least had a normal schedule, unlike some of my other favorite signs of spring. Creeping veronica, my favorite weed, has only shown itself once this year in any place I've been. It's generally the first or second flower to bloom, but if it did, I missed it.
And don't get me started on tulips. We have so many deer that I planted only a few pastel Darwin hybrids, longer-lived than the fussier varieties of tulipa, behind the chain-link fence of the previous homeowner's dog run. For the longest time, I thought they'd died or been eaten by squirrels, but finally, toward the end of March, some spindly leaves emerged. By the second week of April, there were tight green buds, but I returned from a weekend away to find the tulips in full bloom, and after only a few more days, spent from several warm days, wind, and heavy rains. 2011 will go down in my life as The Year Without Tulips, given the brevity of their show.
But some good things have sneaked up suddenly. Just this week, the neighborhood dogwoods went from naked twigs to full bloom, and the splotchy plumage of the goldfinches is now full, glorious gold, a brighter yellow than any other bird in our middle latitudes.
If we could only convince spring to slow down enough for us to notice it, but maybe that's our problem?

Monday, April 11, 2011


Lately I've been wondering about the point at which a species becomes native. House finches, for instance. They were indigenous to western North America before European settlement but were brought east by humans. They are neither Asian nor European, so can they be considered native in West Virginia? Mockingbirds and cardinals have expanded their ranges on their own, perhaps as a result of climate change, so are they native to the North? How does a wildlife gardener decide which species to encourage?

And given how many native songbirds eat dandelion seeds, and given that dandelions are perhaps our most common wildflower, do we still have to consider them an invasive species?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Appreciating what we have

A titmouse, one of our favorite regulars
I wonder how many of us who enjoy watching the wildlife out our windows are ungrateful. I don't call myself a birder and am not organized enough even to begin a life list, but I find myself taking our regular backyard visitors for granted and suspect that I'm not alone.

Not long after we moved to our house, I arrived home to see a pileated woodpecker outlined against one of the big oaks in the backyard. Never mind that downies are almost daily visitors and redbellies frequent ones: I had to post on Facebook that I'd seen my first (and so far only) pileated in the yard.

The other day, the finches at the sunflower feeder included a male purple finch, the first in a long time. He flew off before I could get the camera, but the presence of our genuinely native finch, as opposed to the cousin that has made itself at home in West Virginia, made my day. That same day, I thought the spring warbler migration had started early when I saw a flash of yellow in the midst of the LBBs at the feeder. A yellow warbler, maybe? A pine warbler? A closer look revealed a goldfinch halfway to his mating plumage, and I was disappointed at seeing the familiar species. Then I remembered my excitement the first time I saw a goldfinch. I was walking across the campus at WVU in Morgantown when a flash of gold and black came swooping across the green, unlike anything I'd ever seen though I realized immediately what it must be. How could something so beautiful have become ordinary?

 All of our regular visitors were once new and exciting, so my goal for this year is to re-appreciate them. After all, what could be more amusing than a chickadee taking one safflower seed at a time, cracking it open on the feeder pole, and then hopping back down to the tray feeder for another? There are surely softer-shelled seeds in some of the feeders, but this particular bird has zeroed in on this complicated process. If this chickadee were human, would it be a fan of artichokes?