About Me

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cabin Fever

I think I have officially fallen victim to this malady. I am one of those people who wants to be outside every day, but cold no longer agrees with me, and this winter (which has nearly two months left to run) has been COLD. The coldest snap so far is predicted for tomorrow night. Sigh.

Luckily(?), there are generally student papers to read and cats to be entertained,

Feraldine and Mittsy in a state of boredom

 and should those activities pall, we do own rather a lot of books. Still, in-home entertainment is not the same as wandering around a wetland or digging in the dirt. But even I must admit that winter has its compensations. 

Sunlight on snow is not something we see a lot of in summer.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Another snow day?

It is possible that my memory is failing more than I'd realized, but I do not remember snow staying on the ground for as long as it has this January. From pictures taken this month, there seem to have been at least patches of snow on the ground for almost the last two weeks, with several major (for us) snowfalls and periods of serious cold for several weeks prior to that. Today brought more of the same.

When I went out after lunch to replenish the seed supply, the snow in some places was up to my ankles, making me grateful for tall, fleece-lined boots.
 But at least there was a fair amount of activity today, including starlings going for the suet
 and cardinals tanking up on sunflower seed.
More snow is predicted for tomorrow, and a temperature of ten below for Monday night. 
Oh joy.

Friday, January 24, 2014

You know it's cold when...

  • Ice melt no longer works (so save it for the next snow--don't keep piling it on).
  • All the birds looks as if they've doubled their body weight (but it's just fluffed feathers).
  • The snow squeaks.
  • The humidity in our normally humid air takes the form of ice crystals in the sunbeams.
  • 15 degrees with no wind feels balmy.
  • 15 degrees with wind is the high--and we're glad to get it.
Only 54 days until spring.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Snow Day Amusements

Yes, we have had our second snow day of the new year, remarkable for a college that had only two weather-related closings in my first twenty or so years of employment. Of course, today was predicted to bring lots of snow (which it didn't, although we had quite enough, thank you) and bitter cold (which it did, and the temperatures are still falling). I am ready to be Done With Winter, though the official start of spring is still something like fifty days in the future.

Ant least, snow days do have their compensations. Staying home, even if one is occasionally forced to don multiple layers of clothing to shovel a path for the mail carrier and fill the constantly-emptying feeders, allows for a good bit of looking-out-the-window time (though I did read quite a few student commentaries, answer lots of student e-mails, and spend some time with the Puritan settlers of New England). Today was a good day for looking out the window.

Hemlocks in snow are one of the delights of the Northern Hemisphere.

There was lots of activity at the feeders, including an early visit from Scooter, the neighbors' Maine Coon cat, hoping to find some unwary avian or rodent looking for spilled seed. There were none, as any seed was covered by several inches of snow, so Scooter plopped his substantial self down in a snowdrift for a good scratch before wandering back across the street. He and I more or less like each other, but we have major philosophical disagreements on the ethics of sport hunting.

After Scooter's departure, the birds arrived, including a wren who seemed very happy with his breakfast of dried mealworms (probably less frozen than the caged suet, which drew only starlings today). Robins were making merry in the driveway holly while a cardinal or two went for the sunflower seed.

A major development has been the regular presence of the Black Squirrels of North Parkersburg in the yard. This one (too far away for a good shot even with a zoom lens) ate most of an ear of dried corn.

Ignoring the lure of corn's carbs, one of the resident gray squirrels went straight for the fat and protein in the backyard sunflower seed feeder, despite the trickiness of balancing on its pole.

And while the local deer aren't finding much to eat in the yard these days, one of them did find a use for our back hill this morning.

Can't a person get a little privacy around here?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The grace of the world

      Last week kept getting crazier, at least in the world of humans, at least in the Mid-Ohio Valley. The beyond-bad actors of Freedom Industries, those supposedly grown-up frat boys who brought us the Elk River chemical spill, filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to protect their personal assets and asses from being seized. Then the speaker of the US House of Representatives (and just WHAT is he representing, I wonder) claimed that we do not need more regulations--even though in West Virginia, there are no laws mandating inspection of chemical storage facilities, and there is no online database of the number or locations of such places because paper permits are still filed. (I am not making this up. Google "number of chemical storage facilities in West Virginia." You won't get an answer.) Bringing back the guillotine has felt like a good idea--except that I don't like blood, and guillotines are known to be messy, and violent revolutions frequently have ugly consequences. So--cancel that idea.
     At least, real life goes on, generally ignoring humans and what we want and do. This week brought wrens and titmice and cardinals in abundance, even a male goldfinch with traces of his glorious breeding plumage cheering a dark day.

 Then, last night brought snow, and while I have to drive in it this morning because it's my week to give the welcome and read the announcements at church and I HATE driving in snow, sometimes a good coating of the white stuff makes everything seem better.

 This is one of those times.
Thanks, Wendell Berry, for the poem that gave me this morning's title. Sometimes we need to be reminded that our world is not the world.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Enough for now

This has been a week of horror for our area: not only the large chemical spill into the Elk River near Charleston  but two much smaller (and much more quickly dealt-with) leaks at a plant just across the river from us. Like everyone else, I have felt rage and disgust and powerlessness, and someday, I will probably write about the political climate that has encouraged bad actors like the owners of "Freedom Industries." But this is a different sort of post, one hanging onto the fact that life goes on despite human stupidity and greed.

Yesterday, Mirabel the Menace spent a good bit of time staring intently out the plant window.

 The object of her scrutiny was a finch, singing his little heart out from the feeder pole.
Soon, one of the resident wrens put in an appearance, and few sights are more cheering than that of a wren, with its tip-tilted tail,

though bird butts are generally cute.

 Chirping and fluttering are good for the soul.

And this morning, the sun came up.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's too cold!

Admittedly, the Mid-Ohio-Valley has been spared the worst of the polar vortex, but five degrees below zero with a wind chill of minus fifteen is TOO COLD. When colleges cancel in-service meetings that feature reviews of their assessment plans, you know the cold is serious.

Here is how cold it has been: when I got home last evening, the suet cakes in the feeders had frozen so solid that the birds were unable to peck off any suet bits. When chickadees give up on suet, that's cold. I also noticed that the sunflower seed feeders were still full and wondered why, then discovered a new-to-me phenomenon. The snow that had fallen on the little platforms and dishes found on most of our feeders had frozen so solidly that the seeds poking out of the openings had become part of giant seedsicles. I had to take a stick and break up the chunks so that birds could access the feeders.

Today brought a good bit of feeder activity, but uploading the pictures would require removing Mirabel the Menace from my lap. The images will have to wait.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Winter Light

Emily Dickinson may have found winter light (well, okay, winter afternoon light) oppressive, but despite my general lack of fondness for winter, winter sunshine is one of my favorite things. Both morning and evening light cast a red glow on snow, picking up the last remnants of color in dried leaves and grasses.

The most ordinary neighborhood streetscapes look almost magical, like something out of a story more interesting than any told about our very ordinary town.
And winter is what made me fall in love with little bluestem. This grass found in every field and vacant lot in the eastern US is one of the stars of a snowy landscape.

I will never understand the allure of lawns when this lovely native is ours for the asking.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The benefits of messiness

It's fortunate for me that we have tolerant neighbors (referring specifically to neighborhood humans). I do try to keep the front yard up to reasonably civilized standards--easier to do since Piet Oudolf and James Van Sweden made ornamental grasses and seed heads not only respectable but trendy in some circles--but I am about as fond of raking leaves as I am of mowing grass or trimming yew hedges: that is, not at all. As a result, most of the front-yard leaves (of which there aren't many, as that's the sunny side of the lot) get raked under the rhododendron or out to the compost pile, but this year the back has not been raked.

There are reasons for this other than my general laziness. For one, we still have a scraggly, unattractive turfgrass mix left from the previous owner's attempt to grow lawn on the back slope, and the sooner it dies, the happier I will be. Turfgrasses do not like being smothered in leaves, so my hope is that we can accelerate the process of making the back yard more interesting.

Second, most of our leaves (with the exception of those from the neighbor's sycamore) come from oak or maple trees, trees which, according to entomologist Douglas Tallamy, attract more lepidoptera than almost any other plants (over 500 species!).  This means that a good percentage of those leaves are likely to contain butterfly eggs, eggs that will not hatch if we put their host leaves in plastic bags and send them to a landfill. The eggs might survive mowing the leaves so that they break down faster, but why risk the loss of next year's hairstreaks and duskywings?

Third, leaf litter has a number of important functions, especially in forest ecosystems (though our back quarter-acre hardly qualifies as "forest"). The spring wildflowers of the eastern woodlands require a rich soil in which nutrients break down slowly, and allowing leaves to decompose at their own pace is one of the best ways to create that soil. (One of my fantasies is to have soil that will support trilliums, which right now our yellow clay will not--but maybe in twenty years or so....) Some insects overwinter in leaf litter, including mourning cloak butterflies, wooly bear caterpillars, hummingbird moths, and certain bumblebee queens. I've never seen an amphibian in our yard, but if we ever get tree frogs, they prefer to spend the winter under leaves. This year, we have had brown thrashers thrashing in the leaf litter under the few remaining backyard yews (and despite my love for butterflies, I do not begrudge our thrashers anything they can find to eat).

My messiness, I must confess, extends to not whacking things back as early as many people do, but sometimes that hesitation is rewarded. We have birds feeding on seedheads in the meadow garden, and the wild tangle of our in-need-of-pruning lonicera sempervirens has become a favorite perch for wrens and juncos. The specimen on the compost area fence attracted the first fox sparrow I had ever seen.

The moral of the story: one species' mess is another species' home sweet home.