About Me

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

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.