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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

It gets better

Winter in the Mid-Ohio Valley is not one of my favorite things.Cold, damp weather does not agree with my arthritis, and our "F" score on the Lung Association's particulate matter scale does not agree with my breathing (and while some of us around here joke that breathing is overrated, it is an activity that is generally necessary). Snow is pretty, but there is nothing pretty about the ongoing mud season that has been with us since Halloween or so. The last few years, I've been threatening to move back to Florida, where it's warm (when it's not oppressively hot) and I can breathe (at least when not stuck in traffic).

My spouse's truncated holiday break did not improve my mood. A major snowstorm is bearing down on Toledo, so he headed back today--on Tuesday--so as not to be stranded away from a mandatory Friday meeting. (Weather Underground is threatening a foot or more of snow between now and Thursday, and we have become quite the weather wimps when ice is involved.)

But then, filling the feeders, I noticed a heavily-striped LBB perched on a lonicera near the compost pile. If it was what I think--a fox sparrow, though I didn't get that good a look--it was my first. A life bird, literally in our own backyard.

The neighborhood was noisy today as well. The wrens were caroling from the top of the American holly, chickadees were making their cheerful chickadee sounds, and assorted chirps were coming from the bushes. Being grumpy around wrens and chickadees is probably not possible.

One of the Black Squirrels of North Parkersburg decided to pay a visit, as did the leucistic cardinal first sighted last spring. Another cardinal variation--this one an orangey bronze--showed up at one of the feeders.
Maybe I'll survive the winter.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Today's Sightings

This was not a particularly exciting day, but when our surroundings are gray, rainy, and 42 degrees and we are stuck inside with the usual winter respiratory crud, we take what we can get. So, today brought:
  • cardinals
  • house finches
  • at least one wren
  • and a quick glimpse of what I hope was Stumpy the squirrel.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The turning

Today was the shortest day of the year, tonight the longest night. For those of us with a tendency to photosynthesize (as my long-suffering spouse says I probably do), this is the real New Year, the time after which the days get longer and the light returns. I don't do resolutions, but here are some hopes for the next year.
  • Less restlessness. As the number of days behind me increases, I find myself wanting to experience more of the lives I haven't lived. This is not necessarily a problem, as long as I don't get too distracted to enjoy the perfectly good life I have.
  • Less time on the computer. A good start is the fact that I have no online classes this term, for the first time since 2009.
  • More time with friends. Most of the time, grading papers can wait a few more hours. The humans in one's life should always not be squeezed in around work.
  • More time outside. 
  • More wildlife. I am hoping for the pileated woodpecker to put in another appearance in our oak trees--and if this year's snowy owl irruption found its way to Parkersburg, that would be a great beginning for the New Year.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Why I like squirrels

I know that serious birders are annoyed by squirrels, but, luckily, I seem not to be a serious anything. I like the way that squirrels manage to find their way to the choice tidbits they want, regardless of the difficulty. (Yes, those are upended resin chairs in the background. I've been too lazy to right them, since they'll just blow over again and we've no garage in which to store them.)

 Who could not like that face?
 They show up on gray days when there's not much else going on.
 And they have cute butts.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting for the light

This has been a hard winter already, and winter isn't even officially here yet. Among our immediate acquaintance, there have been two deaths of mothers--both elderly, but still a difficult transition. A friend's spouse, barely 60, is receiving hospice care and unlikely to live into the new year; in the same family, the eldest child, born with a neurological disorder, is failing. Another friend is providing care for two invalid parents at home; her father is fading rapidly. A church friend is bedridden from another neurological disorder and drawing near the end, and just this morning, a neighbor died unexpectedly. His wife was out of town, and the fire department was called to break into the house when he failed to show up for work and she couldn't reach him by phone. I can only imagine the horror of her trip back to our valley.

Enough already. The sun has come out for what seems the first time in days. The solstice can't bring the light back too soon.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A shortage of cardinals?

Blogger and artist extraordinaire Julie Zickefoose has noted a decline in the number of cardinals near her Whipple, Ohio, home. Given that final exams have just ended, my last grades were posted last evening, and the weather today was cold and miserable, I've not been spending a lot of time outside. Embarrassing as such a thing is to confess, some days I didn't even check the feeders. When I have, though, there have been cardinals somewhere about, sometimes two pairs at a time, so our neighborhood seems to have been spared the shortage..

Is anyone else missing any of our lovely redbirds?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A calm before the (predicted) storm

The weather forecast is reminding me of what I don't like about winter: rain turning to ice turning to snow--maybe five inches of it on top of ice by Saturday morning, just in time for the student-sponsored energy efficiency expo at which our group is supposed to staff an informational table. Any weather prediction involving ice reads to me like the universe telling everyone to Stay Home. (I'm a serious weather wimp.) Sigh.

But yesterday and today have been a whole 'nother story--temperatures in the low sixties, prompting the playing of hooky from grading, at least for a while. (The student portfolios wait so patiently, after all.) Some of the welcome sights and sounds:
  • a horde of robins feasting on tiny red crabapples
  • the murmuring of starlings seeking high trees in which to roost
  • the front yard semi-tidy after I (finally!) whacked back most of the perennials
  • a wren perched on the chimney announcing its presence to the world
  • something that may have been a pileated woodpecker excavating a large hole in a sycamore in the city wildlife refuge--the bird just wouldn't cooperate by lifting its head out of its work.
Now if the snowy owl irruption just gets to Johnson T. Janes Park, I might even make peace with winter.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

So much for that

After yesterday's sunny loveliness, today turned gray and brought air about as damp as air can get without rain actually falling. At least, temperatures are predicted to stay mostly above freezing for the next few days (even if there's not much sun in the forecast), so we can be grateful for the universe's small favors.

But--the pink muhly grass is still sort of pink (even though it's looking scraggly), the abundant seedheads on various wildflowers predict plenty of seed for the birds and lots of flowers for next summer, and the winter birds are trickling in. Life could be worse.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

No pictures today

After last week's weather that made me want to run away to someplace warm and sunny, today the Mid-Ohio Valley redeemed itself with one of its utterly lovely, in-between-fall-and-winter days. There are no pictures because I was driving a 94-year-old aunt home from Dayton, where we had spent the holidays with a configuration of relatives that included my year-old step-great-grandson (of whom there are LOTS of pictures, but that would be for a different sort of blog), so all I can do is describe the perfection.

The sky was the clear, glorious blue that seems most common after a cold snap (or maybe I just appreciate it more after a series of gray days have left me wondering if we'll ever have sun again--and as far as I'm concerned, two gray days constitute a series). The farm ponds along Route 35 in south-central Ohio were reflecting all that gloriousness. Some were still partly skimmed with ice, and some fields still sported a little snow cover. There were hawks on fenceposts every mile or so.

Moving back into southeastern Ohio, we got to enjoy the hillsides doing their late-autumn thing. Little bluestem lit up anyplace a sunbeam hit, and the dried blooms and seedheads of staghorn sumac absolutely blazed red. The sycamores have finally lost all their leaves, so there was nothing to distract from the eye-popping whiteness of their bark. Pines provided a green break from all the browns, grays, and russets. There was just enough wind for the sun to be setting off sparks in the Ohio River, and the Hocking River was boasting ducks, geese, and at least one blue heron.

Maybe the tropics are over-rated.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Spending the weekend in Toledo, one of my favorite places, but a high of 32, overcast with snow flurries, is just not weather I want to be out in right now. (This is probably a Good Thing as my online students are submitting their research papers at this moment, so there is much Work to Do.) My aging bones are missing the Florida of my youth (which, like said youth, is gone), and gray winter days spark fantasies of running away and being a beach bum.

However, being a beach bum costs more than it once did and the budget won't allow it, so for now, I'll just indulge in a few pictures from last year's Brevard County Christmas.

Hibiscus in my in-laws' front yard:

a gulf fritillary in a park

sunrise at the SeaScape Motel in Indialantic:


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weird November

Let's see: so far this month we in the Mid-Ohio Valley have had snow, a seventy-degree afternoon, driving rain, and now a tornado watch. (And thankful I am that our area seems to have missed the tornado band that hit further west.) How much of the weirdness is due to climate change, I cannot say, but November has been a wildly inconsistent month.

But some things can be counted on. The first junco was scavenging sunflower seed under the feeders this week, and a house wren is visiting the mealworm feeder. We can now safely assume that winter is on its way.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Almost ready

Okay, the leaves aren't all raked (hey, they're still coming down, so what's the point?), and the perennials have not all been whacked back, but the most important fall tasks have been completed. This afternoon, blustery as it was, found me transplanting rudbeckia that had sprouted in inappropriate places and tucking in the last of the spring-flowering bulbs. Come spring, Chipmunk Ridge should be sporting lots of new snow crocus and muscari, along with 200 or so new daffodils (joining the several hundred already here--yes, I'm a plant slut) and 97 Bulgarium allium.

Let it snow. We're ready for spring.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Officially in Love

Okay, I can't help it. As wonderful as is my long-suffering spouse, I am Officially in Love with (at least the first week of)  November 2013, which is continuing to bring us autumn gloriousness long past what seems its usual sell-by date (though when I look at photos taken in November 2012, it was no slouch, either. Is this a trend?).
Cliché as photos of tree-lined streets may be, there is no doubt a reason why we like such things,

 and while raking leaves is probably no one's favorite pastime, how lucky we are to have all this "light come down to earth," to borrow Wendell Berry's phrase.

(And if you don't know the poem, you can read it here.)
Some of the color combinations brought on by this season's changes have hardly seemed real, like this one found along a service road at the Toledo Botanical Gardens.
This year's oakleaf hydrangea is even more gorgeous than usual.
And something growing in a yard in my favorite Toledo neighborhood was like nothing I had ever seen before in November.
I didn't get too close, fearing to discover that this springlike pink was some hideously invasive thing. For the moment, I was grateful to find a bit of magic on an ordinary residential street.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Damp drizzly November of the soul

Herman Melville's Ishmael may have complained about the "damp, drizzly November of [his] soul," but the dark, dampish first of this November did not provoke the dismal thoughts that lead one to join a ship's crew. Instead, it led us to search for the remnants of autumn in our favorite Toledo parks, which did not disappoint.

Despite the overcast sky, fiftyish temperature, and lousy light, the prairie trail was as lush and gorgeous as ever,
and to one side was a bright yellow something--maybe a shrub dogwood--stolonifera, perhaps?

The exciting, unusual visitors to the Window on Wildlife have all gone south, but the usual inhabitants were keeping the place lively. Besides, who doesn't like nuthatches?
The Botanical Gardens still have roses, not at their peak, but--roses, in November, in Toledo!

The grass garden was looking good, and probably will for months,
and the plants in the walled cottage garden were putting on quite a show. The yellow is dying daylily foliage.
And of course, deciduous woods are probably the best thing about fall in the northern United States.
Ishmael needed to get out more. November is fine.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Not yet!

A few hours ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she was seeing snow flurries--in mid-October, in southeastern Ohio--not our typical October at all. I am not ready for winter, and neither is the garden. There are still "Fragrant Rose" daffodils to be planted. The potted tomato plant is sporting green balls too small for slicing and frying. After stubbornly refusing to bloom all summer, a cosmos started from seed in April is in bud for its its entire six-foot height (this plant not having gotten the memo that its species doesn't get that tall). I cut off the flowering stems in hopes that they will open in the house as the months without flowers go on for entirely too long.
Just a few days ago, the Blomburg Arboretum at the Parkersburg library was still pretty lively, with the aromatic asters in the shale barren bed in full bloom.
 The native grass bed was doing its delightful fall thing,

and the New England aster was still attracting its fair share of pollinators, eager to grasp the last bit of summery sweetness.

 Still, the approach of cold weather isn't all bad,since it does tend to intensify fall color. Even without it, the arboretum's American euonymus was putting on quite a show.
Maybe fall could hang on for a while before winter sets in?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Almost too good

There was no reason to expect that today would be anything but a good day, given that we seem to be in the midst of a stretch of perfect autumn weather, and given that I have good classes this term, but the day exceeded all reasonable expectations.

First, everyone in the morning composition class showed up and finished writing the mid-term essay on time with no grumbling. They are a delight. Then, the Environmental Action Group hosted its first presenter, our wonderful neighbor who regaled the assembled multitude (well, okay, twenty enthusiastic students) with tales of albatross-watching in the Northern Pacific and offered them an opportunity to try to reduce polymer pollution coming from our area. AND--he brought a life-sized model of a wandering albatross (nearly eleven feet from wingtip to wingtip). How cool is that?
 The afternoon Yeats class was even better than usual. We were discussing an earlyish play, and even without my prompting, the group took off on echoes of Greek tragedy and the Shakespearean double plot in our drama, followed by a raucous character analysis. By 1:45, I was exhausted, but it was a good exhaustion, the kind that comes from having given one's brain a good workout.

After a meeting with a representative of yet another active student group (which resulted in yet another project for the EAG, but hey, they've got energy), it was home to glorious sunshine, and the muhly grass that had in June had seemed to be dying in full, glorious bloom.
 Yes, that outrageous, cotton-candy pink is a native North American grass. (Excuse the blur: the wind was blowing, though the look of grass in wind is a main reason for growing the stuff in the first place.)
I couldn't get any to hold still for photographs, but the air was filled with skippers and with white and yellow butterflies. whirling through the blowing grasses only to pause to nectar on the not-quite-done asters.

Some days are almost too perfect.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Another Bright Light Gone Out

I learned a few days ago that James Van Sweden, with his late partner Wolfgang Oehme a creator of the New American Garden, died from complications of Parkinson's disease on September 20. His classic Gardening With Nature was one of the first books I read on gardening with sweeps of grasses and meadow plants, and their Bold Romantic Gardens is a visual feast. Both books, alas, are out of print.

Luckily, the public gardens and the style these two pioneered live on. (I suppose some of the private gardens do as well as I imagine the firm's services were expensive.) You can see photographs of some of their work on their firm's website. Lots of plants, lush and lovely. They did not use only plants native to the garden's geographic area, but their work inspired people who are attempting to create more naturalistic landscapes. As much as I have always loved old roses, I doubt that I will ever attempt to have a garden of them again: too much fussing (even though they are WAY better than hybrid teas in that respect) and not enough wildlife sociability to justify their taking up valuable garden real estate. The work of Van Sweden, Oehme, and other pioneers has inspired lots of  people to resist the tyranny of the lawn and the pruned evergreen.

It's not there yet, but some day, our front garden will be bold and romantic. 
The muhlygrass/lovegrass combination is trying. 

RIP, Mr. Van Sweden.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Who are those old people?

Today brought the memorial service of a cousin, the elder child of my mother's middle sister. Cousin Laura, even after "getting religion" in her old age, retained traces of the spirited, multiply-divorced lounge singer and cocktail waitress she had been during part of her youth. (She was an original Wild Child.)

My maternal grandmother bore thirteen children between 1899 and 1924, nine of whom lived, and all of whom reproduced. I have lots of first cousins, some of whom I never met, and some of whom are now in their nineties, if they're still alive. Five of the "younger" of us (ranging in age from 57 to 74) were at today's service, along with Laura's middle-aged grandchildren and adult great-grandchildren (!). Three of us had literally not seen each other for forty-five years, when I was in middle school. We recognized each other only because of the strong resemblance to our parents at similar ages. This was a very strange moment.

Time passes much too fast, dear ones.  It still feels like summer, but the leaves are turning. Don't forget to enjoy the show.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The order of things?

A friend was horrified to learn the other day that the praying mantis preys on hummingbirds.(And I'm not making this up, as noted in this Birdwatcher's Digest post.) Our conversation was sparked by my discovery of this large mantid hanging out on our front storm door. (You can see its size relative to a door handle in obvious need of polishing. I wanted to get a picture of it in comparison to my hand, which is about the same length as this particular insect, but decided against placing any of my body parts in close proximity to a wild carnivorous creature with a very small brain. Entomologist friends: do insects have brains?)
Her horror came from the notion of an insect killing and eating a warm-blooded creature, and I have to confess that I have been unable to watch any of the videos of successful hummingbird hunts, even though I grew up on Wild Kingdom and National Geographic specials, which often included footage of lions running down antelopes (hmm...was it always the same footage?), and have lived most of my life with carnivorous mammals in the house. There is something particularly unsettling about the idea of being devoured by a creature so different from ourselves. (Case in point: of the junky horror fiction consumed in my childhood, the only story I remember is the one that ended with a man about to be consumed by a giant land snail feeling its 5000-or-so "teeth" entering his flesh. This may have been the last such story I read as it creeped me out for weeks, given that we lived in Florida and there were lots of snails about.)

I pointed out that birds eat insects and spiders all the time, so perhaps it is only fair that birds are sometimes on the losing end of the food chain. (Yes, it turns out that our mantis is not the only invertebrate that sometimes craves an avian meal.) My friend, however, shuddered and noted that birds eating bugs was "the natural order of things." Which, of course, it is, but so is the hummingbird-eating mantis. Mother Nature doesn't seem to favor any one of her children over any of the others, even though all those diagrams in the science textbooks of my childhood showed homo sapiens as the pinnacle of evolution and the top of the food chain. Which, of course, is nonsense, as any biologist will tell us.
I'm glad that, so far, no praying mantis has gotten big enough to pose a danger to humans--but wasn't there a movie about that once?

Monday, September 23, 2013

A good year for asters

The other day, our wonderful gardening neighbor was lamenting the fact that her asters have done nothing this year (probably because everything else has grown so rampantly in this year's rain that the poor things are shaded out--or perhaps they've drowned, as she has actual soil and actually waters her plantings). Looking across the street at our rampaging aromatic aster
(Aster oblongifolius, for some reason now renamed Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, a moniker unlikely ever to come into common use), she sighed and noted that our asters have had a good year. And they have.
In truth, our shale barren natives have been so happy that I've had to divide and keep moving the clumps to keep them from choking out everything in their path; they actually out-compete catmint and sedum, though I am hopeful that this young planting of aster, switchgrass, feather grass, and mixed agastache will simply make a nicely interwoven patch of pollinator delights when it matures.
All the asters have been happy this year, though they are not a well-behaved group of plants. My beloved "Wild Romance" vanished from the backyard meadow, overrun by by oblongifolium unaware that it is supposed to get no more than knee-high, but volunteered in front of a "Purple Dome" in the driveway bed.
"Wild Romance" is too tall for the spot, but its pink harmonizes nicely with the dark purples and blues of that area. It may have to stay.
Asters can, indeed, be thugs, but lovely ones. Common New England aster volunteers with abandon in various places (generally doing better than in the places I wanted it to grow), like this specimen that decided that it was a better choice than hummingbird mint and purple coneflower to set off a large "Fireworks" goldenrod. (It was probably right.)
Out back, NE aster has interwoven itself with other meadow and prairie plants native to our area, creating the kind of pollinator-friendly jumble that keeps us and our cats well-entertained as we sit on the back porch.

I've been unable (read: too lazy) to do a positive ID on the small-flowered white asters that pop up everywhere here, but we seem to have at least two species, one that wanders low to the ground and tolerates even the dry shade under our maples, and one that wants to be a shrub and made an unexpected snowbank in front of the physocarpus.
We could buy a "Snowbank" boltonia, but why bother? It's been a good year for asters on Chipmunk Ridge.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Kids are Alright

Okay, "alright" isn't a word, even though the Who used it back in the days of our vanished youth. (Theirs was probably more misspent than mine.) But I feel the need to report utterly positive news about a group of (mostly) young people.

As part of my contribution to the college that pays my salary, I volunteered to reactivate the student Environmental Awareness Group, a body that had existed only on paper since the faculty member who was its heart retired a few years ago. Another student club had taken over responsibility for our campus Earth Day observance, but earthy things are not that group's real focus, so Something Needed to Be Done. Having more hours in the day than I can fill (snort!), into that breach strode I.

And I am glad to have done so. A few students (buttonholed in the hall) had expressed interest and one had agreed to be the founding president, but I had a vision (nightmare?) of myself and the two stalwart young men who had committed to the group sitting around staring at each other. Well--the organizational meeting on Wednesday drew fifteen (!) students and the faculty adviser for the student honorary. Within the hour, the club had selected four officers, chosen a meeting schedule for the rest of the term, signed onto a volunteer project, and set up an ambitious research and community education agenda. (We have a Facebook page! We're going to have a Twitter feed! Today a student was in my office asking when we get our bulletin board!) Subgroups for particular tasks were being formed.  By Thursday afternoon, there were 25 people on the mailing list, and we had lined up our first outside speaker.

The kids are indeed alright, at least in our little corner of the world.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Autumn Light

It seems to me that the light changes in autumn, even though the equinox won't arrive for another couple of weeks. There's something about that golden glow, here illuminating "Fireworks" goldenrod and a volunteer New England aster.
The view from the other side.
And the same evening's sun doing quite nice things to the not-yet-mature grass garden.
(This may prove to be my favorite view in a couple of years--and I won't have to go anywhere except out the front door to see it.)

Evening sun highlights the pink of "Wild Romance" aster

 and does particularly nice things to jewelweed blossoms.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Yesterday on my way home from work I took a detour to a place I'd been intending to visit, Parkersburg's , Johnson T. Janes Park, a 100-acre preserve only recently opened to the public. Of course, I wasn't dressed for muddy trails and didn't venture beyond the entrance bridge, although a friendly and enthusastic walker who had just come out of the park was singing the praises of its four miles of trail. (Note to self: the park has guided walks every Monday afternoon at 3:45.) Because the trails are still very much undergoing development, trucks and equipment are common in the parking area and in parts of the park itself. Sometimes, this is a good thing.

After our wet August, the approach to the trail head's entrance bridge features tread marks from some sort of heavy equipment--not generally a feature one prefers in a wildlife preserve, but wild creatures have needs and minds of their own. This damp, sandy, disturbed area was nearly covered with tiny fluttering butterflies, mostly sulfurs and skippers of various types that came down to taste the mud and then took off in whirling hordes. One handsome black and orange fellow (later identified as a pearl crescent) was wandering about by himself and looking particularly showy--but off course, I had no camera, either.

Anyone unfamiliar with the ways of butterflies may not know that these seemingly delicate creatures do not in fact get all their nutrients from floral nectars, romantic as that idea may be. Many require salts and amino acids not found in carbohydrate-rich nectar, so they settle on mud flats, in shallow puddles, or on plain damp dirt like that on the edge of the parking lot. Some even go for bird droppings, urine, and human sweat. Nothing in the natural world is wasted.

(And this picture has nothing to do with puddling, but I did have a camera with me later that day when I spotted a skipper on a heliopsis blossom, so a close-up of a nectaring skipper seemed appropriate.)

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's coming

Yes, I know that the excitement that comes with fall flowers and falling temperatures is a cliche of autumn, but there are reasons why some cliches exist, and seasonal change, at least this one, is a delight. (I'm not so keen on late November morphing into winter, and the mud season that precedes actual spring.) Even with the anticipation of spring and the delights of full summer, there is just something about the sheer plant mass of autumn, with everything trying to get in one last hurrah, that makes me happy. Even plant thugs like pokeweed
and aromatic aster look good. (This particular poke is higher than our house and generally full of birds, and
Symphyotrichum oblongifolium is attempting to colonize the entire yard--but it will have purple daisies into November.) 

Blue mist flower (our native eupatorium coelestinum) has come into its own, with the seedheads of a disobedient obedient plant giving hope that next year we might have pink spikes in among the blue mist.

"Fireworks" goldenrod (solidago rugosa) is much better behaved than common goldenrod, though I must admit that the plant has gotten much larger than the catalog descriptions indicated. This size, however, allows it to make a dramatic combination with "Dart's Gold" physocarpus

and a large (as in taller than I), enthusiastic New England aster.

And as if we weren't having enough autumn excitement, the neighbor's dogwood berries are turning red, a harbinger of the fall migration of songbirds, and sedum "Autumn Joy" is getting its first flush of pink.
Cue happy sigh.