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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Elegant but deadly

This morning brought the opportunity for a quick jaunt along the walkway at the Williamstown Wetland, a jaunt that revealed what may be the apex predator of the park: the great blue heron. Everything about this bird is geared toward killing.

Large as it is, the great blue can almost disappear when still, its muted colors blending with those of the reflected vegetation.
With that long neck, it can reach underwater at speeds too great for most fish to escape, and that long bill can impale even small mammals.

This particular heron caught at least three fish in the few minutes that I observed it, and the wetland's other birds stayed well away from the heron's hunting spot. (I do understand that alligators sometimes eat herons, but reptiles of that size are blessedly rare in West Virginia.)

Watching a great blue as it goes about its deadly business, it is easy to see this elegant creature as the descendant of dinosaurs. It would not have surprised me to see a velociraptor rise out of the swamp grasses--except that dinosaurs are in short supply in the parking lots of local restaurants like the one adjoining our primeval-looking wetland.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Earth Days! Lots of them!

In the last eight days, members of the Environmental Action Group and I have managed to participate in four different Earth Day-related events in two counties, and while this old advisor is wiped out, this was a VERY good week. Who wouldn't love events that feature cute kids making robots out of junk or bird feeders out of pine cones?

Or listening spellbound as our agriculture instructor told them all about what seeds do?

Exhibitors at our campus event shared information on energy, recycling, mountaintop removal, and alternatives to household chemicals. Solar energy technology students explained how to make a portable solar generator, while the state Artist of the Year shared a sculpture made of recycled materials, a space-age creation that fascinated young and not-so-young.

 The Friends of a local wildlife refuge brought information on our river's life, along with games that entertained children of all ages, while the Division of Forestry continued its popular tree giveaway program.
Trees seemed to be a theme, as one student's senior project involved making a tree out of recyclable materials, an art object that proved challenging to assemble

 and move into position,

but the end result was a popular conversation-starter.

In fact, the entire event brought out the best in everyone there. All kinds of people made all kinds of connections, all for causes they cared about.
It was a very good day.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A good day in the garden

This winter was hard on marginally-hardy plants. The rosemary is definitely dead, and today's exploration revealed that both crape myrtles, the orange thyme, and at least one butterfly bush died during the snowy months. The roses are looking pitiful, even after all the obviously-dead stuff being cut out, and my beloved "Madame Isaac Periere" is showing not a single sign of life. The lavender (all fifteen or so plants) may also have frozen or drowned--sigh. 

  • The neighborhood dogwoods have scattered LOTS of babies around the yard, so one of the dead crape myrtles was replaced with a three-foot volunteer, and the volunteer on the edge of the compost area has grown nearly as tall as I am--in four years!
  • What had looked like a single enormous caryopteris (misplaced near the burgundy physocarpus, where its breathtaking blue clashed with "Coppertina") turned out to have become a clonal colony, so the roots were untangled and the plants moved to various parts of the yard. The few remaining yews may get replaced with butterfly-friendly subshrubs in a cool color sorely needed in August.
  • The pulmonaria in the driveway bed have bloomed,
    along with a "Blue Moon" phlox purchased for a dollar from the nearly-dead-plant rack at Lowe's.
  • The daffodils not only survived but bloomed and are spreading in a most satisfying way.

  • A pair of red-shouldered hawks may be nesting in the neighborhood.
  • The other birds courting in the yard include grackles, goldfinches, robins, and cardinals.
  • Chickadees are everywhere.
And--the red-bellied woodpecker is back!
Altogether a most satisfying day on Chipmunk Ridge.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

And a good time was had by all

at today's Earth Day event in Marietta, the first of four in which our college's Environmental Action Group will be involved. Today's event was child-friendly, geared toward enjoying the world around us more than worrying about threats to so many of the things we love, but sometimes, that's a good thing.

Attendees could learn about the freshwater mussels in our area
 along with other aquatic critters, courtesy of a local museum and a National Wildlife Refuge.

Those brave enough to look could see a complete snake skeleton.

A local watershed protection organization was raffling off an original quilt depicting one of our rivers

 while the person at the table next to ours helped people create masonry bee houses to take home.
A raptor rehabilitation organization brought along a handsome barred owl
and a tiny American kestrel, along with a turkey
 vulture, whom I managed not to photograph.

There was even a contest to see who could make the coolest items out of the sweet gum balls that every year make walking the downtown streets hazardous. Here were two of my favorites of today's offerings:

As the event being held at the Art Center next Saturday indicates, every day should be Earth Day (especially when it's this much fun).

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Firsts and Lasts

Our friend Stumpy has not been seen for some months (May 7, 2013, to be exact), and I fear that we have seen the last of our neighborhood's nearly-tailless squirrel. Several hawks have taken up residence in the area.
Our favorite distinctive rodent will be missed (and if Stumpy should reappear, we will be most glad.).

 But many good things have been sighted over the last few days. A stroll along the edge of  Johnson T. Janes Park revealed a Stumpy-like specimen of the Black Squirrels of North Parkersburg, so survivors still walk among us. The park also held the first two butterflies of the year: an azure (and those tiny fluttering bits of blue always seem magical) and what may have been an Eastern comma--something orange and highly marked, but not a monarch. Then a meander up to our favorite Mexican restaurant took us past a creek where something tiny and yellow was flitting about the brushy growth--possibly some sort of warbler as it looked like a slightly-brighter female goldfinch, only about two-thirds the size. Whatever it was (and there is never a camera when it's needed), it was a life bird.

Sometimes Parkersburg is almost too exciting.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Today's joys

  • Taking the time to sit in the front yard and just be for a few minutes
  • Four (!) LBBs flitting around in the rhododendron, at least one of them a male finch, though whether purple or house, I am not sure
  • A pair of cardinals hanging around the bird feeder
  • Baby leaves on two roses that had looked dead
  • Serviceberry blooms about to open
  • The iridescence of grackle feathers
  • Sunlight on daffodils
It was more than time for spring to arrive.

Friday, April 4, 2014

It's here

The chipmunks have returned to Chipmunk Ridge, so spring is officially here. I didn't quite get all of last year's leaves cleared from all the flowerbeds, creating a discordant note among the daffodils and muscari, but the creatures of spring don't seem to mind at all.
  •  The grackles are strutting their grackle stuff.
  • The goldfinches are golden again.
  • The starlings are getting their breeding plumage and eating everything in sight. (Note to self: put out more suet.)
  • Robins are hitting the grass gardens and leaving with beakfuls of nesting materials.
  • A pair of red-shouldered hawks is spending lots of time in the neighborhood, though no one has seen the nest yet. (But my, are they noisy.)
Unfortunately, the first casualty of spring has arrived. Yesterday, beneath the American holly favored by a host of our block's birds, a small white egg lay broken on the driveway. Its contents were attracting lots of attention from the season's first ants, but I didn't get close enough to attempt to determine its species (and probably couldn't have, anyway). Definitely not a robin is as much of an ID as I could manage.

he first violets are blooming, and there will undoubtedly be more eggs laid in the neighborhood.