About Me

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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

On the way

to the next phase, whatever it turns out to be. Right now, we are heading for a few weeks in a warm climate, to get my aching joints and frozen fingers out of the worst of the winter, a season which, even though it has not really set in yet in the Mid-Ohio Valley, has been making its presence felt. Today's temperatures were supposedly hovering around 40, but with a low, grey sky, light but noticeable winds, and periodic cold drizzle, it was definitely winter. We are hoping for better weather ahead (both literal and metaphorical).

Today's preliminary leg of the trip was more of an adventure than planned. Having lost our original ride to the airport, we decided to try the regional bus service, which a number of friends have used successfully and which is quite reasonably priced. Our wonderful house-sitter dropped us off at the pickup point, our local K-Mart, and was sent on her way with hugs and wishes for the new year. The appointed hour came: no bus, and we and the other waiting passenger were getting cold. So I did what any self-respecting consumer would do: call the number listed on our boarding passes. The office was closed. Annoyance ensued. Luckily, the other passenger had a smartphone and was able to track down an emergency number, which is not to be used for schedule information, as the young woman with the yapping dog on the other end informed us. However, I used my best angry-schoolteacher voice and informed her that we had looked up the travel delays, our route was not the one listed, and we needed to know what had happened to our bus. As it turns out, the route number changes once the bus arrives in Marietta, so the bus with the flat tire was indeed ours. The estimate was that the bus would arrive within the hour. As the situation developed further, the bus had not only a flat tire but a damaged suspension from said flat, so a new bus was summoned, and our 10:25 ride arrived at 2:10.

While we were not amused, there are worse things than being stranded next to a McDonald's, where hot coffee and foodlike substances can be found. A few years back, friends traveling from Eastern Europe and needing a visa to get into Canada for part of their trip had to wait at a consulate with no access to food or water for something like six hours. (We had always thought our northern neighbors more civilized than that.)

Only a few hours late, we have arrived at our hotel, enjoyed a better-than-McDonald's dinner, checked in for our flight online, and are waiting for the next phase of the adventure to begin.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Another turning

What a week this has been. Solstices are times of transition, but this one has brought more changes than the annual turning of the year.

Most significantly, the 97-year-old aunt of my late first husband, whom many of us had long joked was likely to outlive us all, didn't. After a short, sharp decline of only a few days, she passed shortly after midnight on December 20, a few hours shy of the actual moment of the year's turning. This accomplished and determined woman, who had made many friends in her long and well-lived life, was visited by more than a dozen of them in her last two days, including the (fortunately small) brass band that played Christmas carols in her apartment the evening before she died. Quite a sendoff. (When the fire alarm went off a few hours later, the other friend watching with her and I suspected that the next world was being duly warned that Aunt Pat was on her way.)

In a totally different mood, I received quite a sendoff from my place of employment. In addition to the official retirement reception hosted by wonderful coworkers for the three of us departing the college at the same time, the student organizations with which I have worked most closely over the years threw a surprise party on the last night of the semester. "Gobsmacked" is the most accurate description of my reaction to that event, especially upon learning that the students have petitioned the college's governing board to name the pollinator habitat in my honor. This is a generous and hardworking group of young people (with a sprinkling of the not-quite-so-young in the mix).

So, for the first time in nearly forty years, life holds no regular work schedule and no caregiving responsibilities for any humans. Definitely a turning toward a new phase, one that is still a mystery.

One thing, however, is definite: early on the morning of January 1, the spouse and I depart for six weeks on the Yucatan Peninsula, where we hope to see unfamiliar plants and animals, wander around a 500-year-old city, climb at least one Mayan ruin, and (perhaps) learn to snorkel. After that, who knows what changes there will be?

Monday, December 12, 2016

A slow fall

It has been a long time between posts, what with the winding down of my thirty-year teaching career, the slowing down of my mind and body (which should not have happened this early), and the gradual decline of a family member drawing close to her hundredth year on this planet. While being less observant than usual, I did manage to notice that we had an amazing fall, after a summer so dry that many of us feared that our always-anticipated autumn gorgeousness would skip us this year.

Fall got off to a slow start, with early October still mostly green,

and the second week of November found the color in our local park not much past peak.

(Yes, leaf-strewn paths are a favorite thing.) It was only last week, as final exams ended, that I noticed that the trees were finally bare, and the sycamore bark was doing its winter thing of catching all the available light, dazzling us until the leaves start to bud again in a few months.

There is probably a metaphor there (as is generally the case when English majors ponder The Meaning of Things). At twenty, life seemed a race to get somewhere as soon as possible because, if one waited too late (twenty-nine or so), life was a long, sad slog to the end. Anything important had to be done early because a passionate life seemed possible only for a very limited number of years. The English Romantics, subject of much of my early academic training, were mostly done by the time they were thirty-five (and several were actually dead, or nearly so), so living into old age was not a particularly attractive prospect. Yet, forty years on, here I am.

Trees are perhaps wiser than humans. They keep doing what they do, and every stage is lovely.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

A good day at the wetland

Entering the last week of October, and our valley has yet to experience a frost (although that situation may change tonight). On a sunny, 60-degree afternoon, avoiding a stack of research paper drafts, I stopped for a few minutes at a wetland backwater of the Ohio River. Lots of life was happening. Some sort of insect was emitting a most musical chirp near the parking area, small beings of some sort were skittering into the fallen leaves before I could see them, bees were still working the late asters, and various unidentified birds were calling among the fall foliage. The sunlight was sparkling on the water in a most satisfying way. Even better, a goldfinch with some of his breeding plumage still hanging on decided to swoop among some trees just a few yards away from me, always a cheerful sight.

Then, the stroll's highlight: a patch of goldenrod that seemed to think we were still in early September, pure, clear yellow in the afternoon light. Sun brought down to earth on an autumn afternoon is a good thing.

Friday, October 7, 2016

"They need to get rid of those weeds"

Or so said the old gentleman encountered on the river trail one morning a few weeks ago. I had commented in passing how lovely it was to walk along the water, and he countered that the "weeds" along the trail were so tall that they sometimes obscured the river view. The solution, of course, would be to have the city take them out.

Now our city employees and a number of volunteers do take out weeds along the river. Every spring brings garlic mustard eradication parties, and the city is waging an ongoing war against Japanese knotweed. These are not, however, the plants about which that morning bench-sitter was complaining. No, the objects of his particular ire were asters, goldenrod, and wingstem.

I simply nodded and kept going, figuring that getting into a debate on what constitutes a weed with a chance-encountered octogenarian was not a worthwhile expenditure of time. Never mind that all three of these "weeds" are featured in the USDA's booklet on pollinator-friendly plants for our region, and that all three have extensive root systems that help protect our fragile riverbanks from erosion.

The ubiquitous goldenrod (solidago sp.) is a pollinator magnet. In a former garden, I mounted a stepstool to determine the variety of insect species feasting on our head-high driveway planting. The exact count has vanished from my memory, but there were lots.

Falling in love with wingstem (verbisena) took a while. It is admittedly an ungainly plant, with flowers that do not appeal to everyone, but I have succumbed to its charms.


So have the local bees. 

Besides, who could manage not to love that color on an early-autumn day?

 And in the fall, asters are the life of the party, the almost-last hurrah of any garden, roadside, or field.

Other than a propensity to colonize the known universe (and this might be a better world if flowers ran it), what's not to like?

Friday, September 30, 2016

A new phase

I have always gardened alone (in terms of my personal garden--the college habitat is quite another thing). Recently, though, some neighborhood children saw me removing some grass from a soon-to-be-expanded bed and asked if they could help; it turns out that a fifth-grader up the block is fascinated with plants, insects, and amphibians.When my flower bulb shipment arrives in a week or so, four enthusiastic volunteers under the age of twelve will be helping to dig the holes, place the bulbs, and spread the mulch.

They also brought me five toads to add to the amphibian population in the walled garden. This is a very useful gift.

Monday, September 19, 2016


...in work, that is; the college is getting its money's worth out of me and my slowed-down mind this last semester. Getting through the papers takes longer than it used to. (Maybe it is not such a good idea to have students writing in all classes nearly every day--except that four of my classes are indeed writing classes. Hmmm...)

I am indeed still alive, and earlier this month actually got away to Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Akron. This local gem requires more exploration, but here is a shot of Indigo Lake, a restful spot that will definitely get a second visit.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Today is my 60th birthday, an age that seemed impossibly old when I was in high school and couldn't imagine living this long. The actual age finds me still reasonably energetic and looking forward to new adventures after I retire from full-time work at the end of this December. (Yes, I could keep going, but our college hires new people only when some of us older ones get out of the way, and we do have some wonderful young teachers who need jobs.)

Yesterday brought a wonderful early birthday present (no offense to the earrings already presented by the dear spouse, who is very good at selecting such things): the planting of Phase One of the trailhead pollinator garden at the school. Several science-department colleagues and a sprinkling of students came out to get plants into the ground (in some of the hardest-baked clay soil I have ever seen, but these are mostly native plants--well, except for the "Autumn Joy" sedum which will draw lots of butterflies--and should be able to take it if we baby them along this first year--after all, they evolved to grow in this area), and in a short time, this

became this.

We need another volunteer crew to finish spreading the mulch, but crescents and skippers were visiting the blossoms and the puddling area while we were still working. Success already! 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Golden Moments

Wandering around a park is always a good thing. This weekend I saw my first eastern phoebe (or at least the first that I identified) and got to enjoy a remnant prairie with large stands of sorghastrum nutans, my favorite Indian grass, in full bloom.

Of course, with that hardly-looks-real blue stem (and why is Indian grass so much bluer than bluestem?), who really cares if the grass blooms or not?

Actually, lots of creatures care. Those lovely seedheads ripen into seeds that are a favorite food of small songbirds, and while the seed was not yet yet ripe, this prairie pocket proved to be a magical space. The air was filled with the twittering of American goldfinches, and anyone who stopped to look over the field was treated to the swooping flight of dozens of male finches, tiny sparks of absolute gold that my camera was unable to capture.

On the edge of Ohio suburbia, golden moments in a little piece of heaven.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

It's not always pretty

Nature, that is. Sometimes, it's downright cruel, depending on one's perspective, but humans do not have a consistent attitude toward predators.

Yesterday morning, the early sun created a shimmer in what turned out to be insect wings caught in a spiderweb strung between a maple tree and a large pot of coleus on the garden wall.. Light passing through translucent membranes has a definite beauty.

The wings, it turned out, had belonged to a cicada, probably one of those singing a few evenings ago. This unfortunate individual had become a meal for some sort of orbweaver, perhaps the cavatica over whom so many of us wept in Charlotte's Web. I must admit to being taken aback at the sight of a large spider sucking the liquified former innards from a cicada corpse just a few feet outside our door.

The first reaction of most of us is probably some variant of "Ewww!"

Another small predator was hiding on a hydrangea leaf just a few feet from the spider and its meal. Why do we have such a different reaction to this guy, who does not eat cicadas only for the reason that he is half the size of that noisy summer insect?

Another human quirk to ponder.

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Minor Nation?

Emily Dickinson had it wrong--at least, when she described the late-summer insect chorus in this way:  

          Further in Summer than the Birds
          Pathetic from the Grass
          A minor Nation celebrates
          Its unobtrusive Mass.

Now, it is entirely possible that the insects of August in late 19th-century Massachusetts were very different from those in early 21st-century Ohio, but I suspect that the difference may have been in the mood of the beholder. Yes, summer is winding down, especially for those of us still bound by the academic calendar, and many of our summer insects are nearing the end of their lives, but the calls of the dog-day cicada do not seem particularly sad to me. You can check out the sounds of the bugs currently making a racket outside our house in this  YouTube clip.

Groups of insects seem to be singing at each other, those across the street in the arboretum starting the chorus, which is then picked up by the boys in the lawn-strip maple. Not to be outdone, those in the walled garden come in as the others fall silent, and when their verse ends, the next movement starts in a different neighborhood tree.

Based on the sound, I have tentatively identified our singers as Tibecen winnemana, commonly known as the scissor-grinder or dog-days cicada. These large bugs are part of a group known as annual cicadas, related to the red-eyed seventeen-year cicadas with which many of us were inundated earlier in the summer. Unlike their cousins, however, broods of winnemana emerge every year, although individual specimens may spend as much as five years underground before emerging for their month-long songfest.

According to certain old wives, the first frost should occur about six weeks after the annual cicadas begin to sing. October 1 seems too early for frost, but after the heat of the last couple of weeks, maybe a frosty morning wouldn't be so bad.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Not just the rubber capital

Embarrassing as it is for someone who has always considered herself a nature lover to admit, I do not spend much (any?) time in really wild places. Being sixty years old, overweight, asthmatic, and arthritic, I avoid places where I am likely to fall down the side of a mountain and lie there for days until someone less clumsy finds me or I am eaten by bears or panthers. My adventures are all of the soft kind. Sigh.

Fortunately, some visionary soul a few centuries ago invented the idea of public parks, and Ohio is full of them.  Last weekend found me visiting Akron, which in my early years always sounded like a thoroughly dismal place. I mean, "The Rubber Capital of the World"? It turns out, however, that F. A. Sieberling, the man who founded the Goodyear Tire Company in 1898, was also a great lover of his city and donated hundreds of acres and millions of dollars to improve the quality of life in Summit County. (Sieberling, by the way, also lived in perhaps the ultimate Tudor Revival home, Stan Hywet, the gardens of which were designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman.)

One park created from former Sieberling land is Nature Realm, which sits on the edge of town and contains a variety of my favorite things: tallgrass prairie, wet meadow, woodland lake, formal gardens, and this lovely little ravine, over which a suspension walkway has been built. We saw no bears or panthers.

This summer, Akron's Metroparks have been combining their natural loveliness with children's poetry reproduced on signs along the walkways

and public art, like this sculpture near the entrance to the herb garden

and this Thomas Wilmer Dewing painting from 1900, Symphony in Green and Gold.

(No such romantic figures were musing by the park's lake, only geriatric couples, young families, and lots of birds. But it is a gorgeous lake, anyway.)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Living on the edge

And no, I do not mean living dangerously. A woman of my age, girth, and general laziness is unlikely to do any such thing unless forced, and my life has been going along pretty smoothly of late. No, I am referring to edge habitat, those areas where two different habitat zones run into each other. While habitat fragmentation is problematic for many species, particularly large land predators, many forms of life do quite well on the edge, where species from different habitat zones can mix and mingle successfully.

Wetlands, such as marshes and riparian forests, are lively as well as lovely places.

Wading birds like the great blue heron hunt in water, but require trees for roosting and nesting.

Marshes and ponds provide happy hunting grounds for small predators as well as large ones. Dragonflies are not generally found in mid-ocean or deep forest, but instead in those places where water meets land-based vegetation.

An ordinary twig on the edge of a well-traveled waterside path gives these deadly little insects a good perch for hunting.

Moving to a different kind of edge, I must confess to being startled the first time I noticed a red-tailed hawk hanging out along Interstate 77, not having realized that hawks make use of the wooded edges of our highways. From a raptor's perspective, a high perch next to a mowed area helps in the search for tasty little rodents.

Not all edges are created equal, however. In general, mowed areas are not as good for wildlife as areas left in a somewhat wilder state.

This butterfly garden, while quite a fine thing, has limited use for small mammals because of the large, closely-mowed area that separates it from an adjoining grassland; chipmunks and rabbits venturing across that expanse would be easy pickings for a hawk (one of which was circling overhead when this picture was taken, no doubt hoping that some unwary creature would do exactly that).

Perhaps my favorite edges are grasslands adjoining woods, which seem to make everybody happy: trees, shrubs, forbs, insects, birds, rabbits and rodents--they're all there, wandering around gorgeous tangles like this one near Akron.


And as many of us have discovered, sometimes to our great annoyance, the edge habitats we have created in our yards are just perfect for deer.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

And another

Someone (possibly one of the fine folks on the Wildlife Gardeners  forum) recommended the mountain mints as tough, pollinator-friendly plants, so when I found some at a plant sale, I nabbed one. (Note to Ohio gardeners: Natives in Harmony offers healthy plants at good prices.) The plant is in its first summer and so has not come into its full glory, but hoary mountain mint (Pycnanthemum incanum) seems to be another winner.

First, I love the coolness of its white leaves on the hottest summer days.

A blogger on The Natural Web describes says the upper leaves look "as if they had been lightly but evenly dusted with powdered sugar," a description that is not far off.

Second, like all mints, this one is deer-resistant, a plus even though deer have not yet found their way to our neighborhood.

Third, the plant is drought-resistant, a plus for those of us looking for garden plants that can fend for themselves. (I have read that it can become invasive, but given that in my yard it has to share space with rudbeckia hirta and hardy ageratum, two favorite thugs, I am not worried about it taking over.)

Fourth, mountain mints are reputed to be pollinator magnets. Each of the plant's many heads is actually an infloresence of dozens of tiny flowers, each containing nectar.

For all that this is our lone specimen's first summer, it seems to be doing its job.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Another new favorite

I am way too fond of way too many plants, as the merest glance at my undisciplined garden would tell anyone. I do generally have the discipline to restrict myself to plants that our native pollinators need (with exceptions for daffodils and tulips, which are mental health necessities for humans after an Ohio winter) and try to grow as many regional natives as possible.

But then there are alliums. Who could resist an utterly, improbably gorgeous plant that also happens to be called Star of Persia? Or Purple Sensation? I grow both, along with the lovely oddity called Bulgarian allium. All these members of the onion family are reasonably carefree (although it is possible to drown them), and Ohio does boast a few species of its own. The most decorative is probably nodding onion, allium cernuum,  a beauty that I managed not to bring from the old house. Intending to order some, I somehow ordered a Western native, allium amplectens, instead. And I am in love.

This allium is blooming now, months after most of its cousins have gone dormant for the year, adding puffballs of cool white to the midsummer lawn strip.

Playing well with others is an important trait in a flower, and this one does. It is holding its own with (and having its tatty foliage, a common allium failing, hidden by) echinacea, asters, wild ageratum, and whatever else we have growing. Its tiny flowers, several dozen of which make up a single flower head, are also intricate and lovely.

Perhaps its most important benefit in a wildlife garden, however, is that it is a magnet for bees and butterflies. A single globe can host several pollinating insects at once, making it a plant that more than earns its keep. Skippers seem particularly fond of it, and no garden can have too many skippers.

And did I mention that deer leave it alone? Unlike humans, deer seem not to like spicy food.

Could a plant be more perfect?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A guilty pleasure

One of many, I'm afraid. In this case, it's daylilies. I grow quite a few varieties and would grow more if we had the room.

I am well aware that the old-fashioned ditch lily, hemerocallis fulva, is an invasive species. One need only look at Ohio roadsides for confirmation. (In fact, the classic summer combination of orange tawny daylily, blue chicory, and white Queen Anne's lace is composed of three plants from the national invasive species database. Sigh. I love them all, but then I, too, am a member of what is arguably the most invasive species of them all.)

But daylilies are not all bad, for all that they are Asian invaders brought here by 17th-century Europeans who loved their flagrant beauty too much to do without them. For one, they are hummingbird magnets, and any plant that attracts hummingbirds has at least that redeeming quality. For another, they attract butterflies, also a good quality. Daylilies are also hard to kill, a positive for negligent gardeners, and they grow fast and are easy to propagate, although their toughness contributes to the invasive qualities of the straight species. To control the population, one could always eat them, although I have never sampled the plants myself.

No, I grow daylilies for their utter gorgeousness and indestructibility. The current favorite in my yard is a heavily-scented once-bloomer finally identified as "Chance Encounter."

But the daylily walk at the Toledo Botanical Gardens has inspired serious plant lust. Here are a few that would greatly benefit the Second Street collection:


Frances Joiner

Almost Indecent
Double Bourbon
and one that I must have.

Raspberry Goosebumps
So many plants, so little space.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Life happens just about everywhere

Today found me at another favorite park, this one Sidecut Metropark in Maumee, Ohio. The trail where I took my brief meander runs along the Maumee River, which, while on some levels not as impressive as the Ohio, is certainly gorgeous

(even with the US 20 bridge and a War of 1812 monument visible from some spots).

Despite the proximity of lots of humans and dogs, lots of wild life was going on this afternoon. Geese and swallows were doing their avian thing in great abundance, as were butterflies (mostly cabbage whites, but dancing white butterflies are still a cheering sight, and there were a few tiger swallowtails and an exquisite tiny blue of some kind). Everyplace, even the edge of a well-traveled paved trail, was bursting with life.

The forest floor (if tiny patches of second-and third-growth woods can be called forest) was covered with greenery that thrives under low-light conditions, and every patch of sun found something blooming, even if much of it was European wild mustard (which plant was doing a lot of business with butterflies, sweat bees, and tiny flies).

A dead tree stump was host to a colony of quite handsome fungi.

Some kind of polypore, maybe?

 In the water, the remnants of a dead tree's roots have formed their own small ecosystem.

It didn't find its way into the picture, but when I approached, a northern water snake, which had been sunning itself on the flat section of tree on the lower right, plopped itself back into the river before the large potential predator (me) could get too close.           

Today brought nothing exotic, nothing exciting, no life birds or rare plants--but lots of the kinds of life that goes on in very ordinary places every day.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Where Life Begins

I love marshes of all varieties. (And yes, I realize that the distinctive "salt marsh smell" is not for everyone.) Something about a spread of waving grass and water mesmerizes me. This beauty is on Hatteras Island, North Carolina.

I would not recommend walking on those lovely tussocks of grass, as we suspected water underneath..

This particular marsh is an estuary, a lively place where fresh and salt water meet. Areas like this are probably where the first tetrapods emerged from the sea, leading to the variety of land-dwelling vertebrates we have today. Estuaries are rich ecosystems, providing places for fish to spawn, insects to lay eggs, and migrating birds to rest and feed. Without marshes, the fish populations on which so many human cultures have depended for food would undergo an even sharper decline than they have.

 The largest grass clumps here are spartina, a plant that has evolved to expel salt from its tissues. Most grass would die quickly under these conditions, but not spartina. The roots of this tough plant hold onto whatever soil they can grab and form part of the matrix of the shoreline. Without plants like marshgrass and mangrove, the flow of all that water might well eventually turn Ohio into oceanfront property.

For all their toughness, however, marshes are globally threatened--often by development. Some of this development results from our human desire to control water, particularly the desire to pave over places where water wants to be. Often, though, the threat comes from being loved to death. People tend to like having views like these off their decks and porches. (I certainly would, and we did indeed spend a couple of nights on this island.)

 This doesn't look so bad. Surely the occasional house or hotel or boardwalk can't hurt anything as primeval and ubiquitous as a marsh.

However, just a few miles away, on the edge of a preserve, this is the view:

Hatteras Island is considered relatively undeveloped, but I doubt that any fish are spawning or herons hunting in neighborhoods like the one in the distance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Urban gardening

has its challenges. Foremost is the lack of space, given that the area is (no surprise) heavily populated with humans and contains the roads on which humans like to drive their motor vehicles. Plants have to be tucked into the areas between buildings, sidewalks, and streets. What I have discovered, however, is that many don't mind. Our front lawn strip has become quite a lively, colorful place.This bed of mostly native plants and their cultivars is always busy with butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.


Because I have no discipline when it comes to plants, another bed between the sidewalk, street, and stop sign is home to daylilies, irises, and other lovelies that I can't resist (and that attract hummingbirds). 

Tough plants like rudbeckia, monarda, and echinacea ask for almost nothing and put on quite a show. They really don't seem to mind being three feet from the sidewalk.

A streetside garden is a strange mix of public and private. Before such a garden can exist, someone has to decide to create it, hoping that the neighbors won't mind. Once it exists, it becomes an object of public comment and, one hopes, enjoyment. Many conversations have taken place while puttering in the garden, and I have enjoyed the sight of total strangers taking photographs, not realizing that the gardener was weeding, hidden behind a tall plant.

Of course, the public nature of an urban garden can have disadvantages. This Orienpet lily lost the top two feet of its bloom stem when a passerby decided to remove it and take it home.

But the plant keeps blooming, anyway. There is probably a message there.