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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ohio Fairydiddle Sighting

Today my spouse and I were surprised and delighted to see a red squirrel (Tamiasciurus husonicus) utilizing the feeding stations at Wildwood Metropark in Toledo. My only previous encounter with one of these little guys was at Blackwater Falls in West Virginia, where these mid-sized rodents are called fairydiddles. If you've ever seen their hyperactive behavior, you know that they hardly seem real.

Like the fox squirrel, the red squirrel has (no surprise) a lot of red, but its belly is white, like that of the eastern gray squirrel. It is also a good bit smaller than either, maybe half the size of the fox squirrel.
fox squirrel

red squirrel

gray squirrel
The red squirrel also has delightfully pointy ears and a distinctive white eye ring.

I had always thought of fairydiddles as creatures of the mountains, and a quick search for "red squirrel" on the internet revealed that they are (or were) residents of coniferous forests with a preferred diet of spruce and pine seeds.  In recent years (obviously), they have moved into hardwood forest areas and backyards and become more omnivorous. They are supposedly also more aggressive than other squirrels, but this one never got that message. It was repeatedly driven into hiding by the herd of fox squirrels domininating the Wildwood feeding area this afternoon.

I suspect it will be back.

Friday, October 26, 2012

An embarrassment of riches

While western West Virginia has its own beauty and is no slouch in the biodiversity department, Northwest Ohio has a range of ecosystems that we don't. Here are a few that I'll miss when I go home:

oak savannah at Kitty Todd Preserve

tallgrass prairie at Wildwood Metropark

sedge meadow at Irwin Prairie

more sedge, this time under trees

glacial dune at Secor Metropark--yes, the remnants of the mile-or-so-deep ice that used to be here
Magee Marsh
the Crane Creek estuary

another view of Crane Creek as it empties into Lake Erie
and of course
Lake Erie.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A love affair

A confession: I love pokeweed. Yes, I know it wants to be a tree; yes, I know it's poisonous; yes, I know it will take over, and that one little plant can send down a three-foot taproot in approximately half an hour. I've dug out enough of it over the years to be well aware of its thuggish propensities. But walking home today, this color demanded my attention.

  As I approached, the color proved to belong to a fading but impressive stand of pokeweed, battling it out in a thicket of wild grapevine and tatarian honeysuckle.
Unlike the honeysuckle, pokeweed is at least a native thug, and a useful one. My mother's family used the berries for ink during the Depression and ate the young shoots as a spring tonic, and even when I was growing up we ate fried pokeweed as a spring treat. Pokeweed is also a bird magnet. This neighborhood thicket was filled with birds of various types--not generally visible because of the dense vegetation, but pokeweed is known to be favored by a variety of birds, including cardinals, bluebirds, phoebes, and cedar waxwings. Any plant that attracts cedar waxwings is okay in my book. 

Besides, poke is beautiful. Its young leaves are an amazing shade of chartreuse, eyepopping with those purple stems, and its flower sprays are among my favorites. One plant in the thicket obviously doesn't quite realize that it's almost November, as it is attempting to put out at least one last bloom.
How could anyone not love a plant that grows anywhere, asks for no care, feeds bluebirds, and has THIS as its last hurrah?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ten Days?!?

How is it possible to go ten days of a sabbatical without posting anything? These have been busy days since my marshland wanderings, so there is no shortage of material about which to write. The newest editions of the Norton Anthologies of both English and American literature arrived (and just WHY is there a need to update a book in which the last author died in 1840?), an online course for the spring semester has been updated and is ready to launch, two other courses are coming along nicely, I've been studying the evolution of the idea of wilderness, and the fall has been GLORIOUS! (This is probably why I haven't posted--too much wandering around parks.) Maybe it's because there is less time left than there was a few decades ago, but my experience of fall grows more headily delightful every year.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of the week was discovering an almost-pure stand of sugar maples in Swan Creek Metropark. It was a Sunday afternoon, the light was streaming through the gold-orange leaves of dozens of  forest giants, and the effect was like walking through a haze of dispersed gold. And when you think about it, sunshine is perhaps our most valuable commodity.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Crane(less) Creek

Rumor (well, okay, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge website) had it that sandhill cranes are paying a visit to our area, and since I've never seen cranes, and I am researching nature writing, and the refuge is less than 25 miles from our apartment in Toledo, off I went. Surely a body of water called Crane Creek would be a good place to look for these ancient birds.

Earlier in the week, cranes had been sighted at the pond near the refuge entrance, but there were none today. I did, however, see two life birds in the silky dogwoods lining the trail: numerous yellow-rumped warblers and what I think was a Blackburnian in fall plumage. Today was overcast, so the colors were difficult to determine, but the bright yellow rumps were unmistakeable. Also enjoying the dogwoods' white berries were a few white-crowned sparrows.

Hoping to find cranes, I headed off on the driving tour, along which route there had been sightings. No luck. There were, however, swans, and not your ordinary introduced mute swans, but a flock of native, black-billed tundra swans (alas, too far away for a good picture from my camera). Not too far from the swans was what may have been a cormorant.
Great blue herons were everywhere, often seeming to pose for pictures,
while the birds described by Sarah Orne Jewett as white herons, though plentiful, were not as cooperative with the photographer.

After a several-hour schlep through two parks, there were still no sandhill cranes, though at least the Crane Creek Estuary Trail did lead me to Lake Erie, which I had nearly to myself on a breezy, overcast afternoon.

As the time drew near to head home to start dinner for my long-suffering spouse, a great egret at last condescended to pose.
So although the creek today was craneless, seeking the elusive crane wasn't a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The beauty of senescence

Senescence is a fancy word for aging, a topic that's been on my mind lately, probably because the year in the northern hemisphere is at the height of autumn (perhaps my favorite season) and because I am officially closer to sixty than fifty--by world-historical standards, thoroughly immersed in aging. It is a commonplace that American society is youth-oriented: we like new and shiny, and people who age "successfully" manage not to show any signs of aging until they suddenly drop dead at the age of ninety or thereabouts. But that's not the way the natural world works; decay and senescence are part of the process of living, and no less beautiful and vibrant than all that new growth of a few months ago.

Of course, we have the cliché of fall leaf color,

but fading flowers are sometimes as beautiful as fresh ones. Some echinacea go through interesting color changes as they fade,  
and grasses come into their own in the fall.
More important than aesthetics, of course, is what all this aging does in the physical world. It's not the fresh spring growth that feeds things (except, of course, for all the young plants devoured by deer, groundhogs, and rabbits). Instead, dying or dead trees become the nurses or nurseries of other lives.

(not the same tree, but I liked the fungi)
Today, walking home from a morning of reading at the U of Toledo library, I detoured past a brushy area on the edge of a neighborhood park and was struck by its liveliness. This isn't the area in question, but it's a similar spot on the edge of the botanical gardens a few miles from here. 
A large pokeweed was fruiting and, in places, going to seed, and the thicket was filled with the sounds of small lives going about their business. The patch next to a small stream was filled with birds and tall "weeds" going to seed, and while my ability to identify LBJs (Little Brown Jobs, for the non-birders in the group) on the wing is limited, I did eventually distinguish two female goldfinches stuffing themselves on the seeds of tall evening primrose. I didn't take the time to poke around looking for goldfinch nests in the trees a few yards away, but the presence of a large patch of thistle with some thistledown still present indicated that this wild area within an urban park was probably a goldfinch Garden of Eden.

Think how boring the world would be if nothing aged. There would be no fruit, no seeds, no flaming red maple leaves--and probably no life at all.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Today I remembered the camera

Today I took part of the afternoon to wander around a lovely South Toledo neighborhood (about which more later) and ended up back at Walbridge Park, the subject of the last entry. No heron today, but I did get pictures of the Maumee River version of a tidal flat and its accompanying island.

And yes, all this loveliness is right in a largish American city, preserved and freely available to the public. Occasionally, we humans get it right.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another discovery

I am discovering that my favorite places are those that are not in fact wild, but places where wild things successfully coexist with humans. At my current stage of life, I have no (well, okay, little) desire to go wandering in backcountry where I might at any moment end up somebody's dinner; there is such a thing as too much excitement as far as yours truly is concerned. At the same time, being in a place where the only noticeable species is ours does not please me, either; it's like seeing only your own face all the time. Yuck.

Today I decided not to go straight home from an errand but turned east instead of west on Glendale Road, curious to see where it went. I ended up on Harvard Terrace, an early 20th-century neighborhood in South Toledo filled with the kind of architecture that makes my heart sing. (For the record, I like quaint.) Of course, I had to park the car and go for a walk, discovering that Harvard Terrace ends at Walbridge Park, overlooking a bend in the Maumee River. That particular area of the river is shallow, with broad expanses of marsh interspersed with what in south Florida would be tidal flats; I've no idea what the northern freshwater equivalent is called, but it was equally beautiful, with waving grasses, small trees, and wading birds. To perfect the moment, a great blue heron flew over the marsh, then flew back again before landing across from my vantage point. Of course, the camera was at home.