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

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Feeder visitors

For someone used to having a variety of birdfeeders, having to cut back has been frustrating, especially since the arboretum across the street attracts so many birds. Our in-town neighborhood is full of outdoor cats, and as fond as I am of our three felines, invasive, non-native predators on the loose are a Very Bad Thing. Unless one has a barn in need of rodent control, all specimens of felis domesticus should be kept indoors as they really do not belong on this continent. I also do not like having to collect the corpses of the cats that periodically get run over in front of our house. (Rant over. On to the actual subject of the post.)

Being unwilling to sponsor the neighborhood Hunt Club any longer, I sadly took down our birdfeeders. Fortunately, we do have a small walled patio where I was able to install one pole in a large tub that held annuals over the summer and hang two mesh sunflower feeders. Birds, not being birdbrains in the pejorative sense of that term, have found their way to the free food. Over the last couple of days, we have had
  • a pair of white-breasted nuthatches
  • chickadees
  • titmice
  • house finches
  • cardinals
  • juncos
  • at least one goldfinch
  • house sparrows (who have not gotten the memo that they don't like sunflower seeds)
and of course, squirrels.

Monday, December 25, 2017

White Christmas

Our area did not get the heavy snow that graced more northerly regions of the state and country, but when we got up this morning, the sidewalk, street, and parked cars were indeed white. I did not, however, wander outside to take a photo because the temperature was hovering near twenty degrees, and further documentation of the weather phenomenon that had been all over the Facebook feeds of half the people we know seemed unnecessary. Yes, on December 24, 2017, most of Ohio had snow.

I still remember December 24, 1983, my first Christmas Eve in the Mid-Ohio Valley, the year of the Great Christmas Blizzard. Several inches of snow were on the ground, and the temperature had been in the single digits all day. That night, it dropped to nine degrees below zero, and my poor little Mercury Comet, still acclimated to its previous Florida home, refused to start. Intrepid twentysomething that I was, I pulled on pantyhose, jeans, two pairs of socks, several shirts, boots, and an enormous wool cape with a hood and walked the frozen tundra of Third Street to a candlelight service, after which friends with a van took a small but enthusiastic group caroling to various elderly persons' homes. The cold was probably not good for our vocal chords, but no one seemed to mind.

I grew up with a white Christmas, but it was the white of South Florida sand, a very different thing. As a college student in Tampa, we knew it was Christmas because that was when the azaleas and house-high poinsettias bloomed.

For some reason, those December sights do not seem to make it onto Christmas cards very often, but I could do with white sand and palm trees about now.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

All is flux; nothing abides

Last year at this time, we were dealing with the slow fade of a relative in her late nineties. This year, a recent two-week period brought the deaths of a current colleague, our wonderful office manager's son, two former colleagues, and an old friend who was a fixture of the local political scene. Two memorial services were held just yesterday--a lot to take in all at once.

Spending time in this old town ("old" only by US standards, of course) is oddly comforting. Marietta got its start under that name in 1788, but several cultures have called this place home over the last few millennia. Our patio faces a street named Sacra Via (pronounced with a long "I" in these parts), or the sacred way, but the people to whom it was sacred are long gone from this area, although some of their monuments remain.

The oldest more or less intact monument is the Conus, the large Adena burial mound that, with its surrounding ring ditches, is the centerpiece of Mound Cemetery.

The Conus has not been studied by modern methods, but when the early US settlers found a skeleton buried near the summit of the mound, they chose to re-inter the bones and create their own cemetery surrounding it. Today, this perhaps-three-thousand-year-old dignitary is surrounded by the largest group of Revolutionary War soldiers to be found in Ohio, along with more modern graves.

The Adena culture was succeeded by the Hopewell, who lived in Ohio from roughly the time of the early Roman Republic to the final destruction of the western Roman Empire, a period of some 700 years. They were also serious creators of earthen monuments, as well as serious astronomers. The Turtle Mound, more formally known as Quadranou, aligns with the winter solstice sunset. It was the site of solstice observations some 1600 years ago, and for the last five, a local history group has renewed the tradition. We will be joining neighbors there this week to wait for the sun to hit just the right spot over the next hill.

Although not particularly visible in the photograph, sloped walkways led to the top of the mound and are still available for mindful walking (or childhood sledding). At the time of European settlement, an enclosed walkway led 680 feet from the Muskingum River to the mound itself, hence the name "Sacra Via."

But the sacred way was destroyed to make way for progress. Beginning in 1843, according to the sign a few yards from our house, the earthen walls, which were more than ten feet high, were removed to make the bricks that were essential to our expanding town (according to the local brickmaker who had managed to get elected to city council). Quite a few streets, probably including Sacra Via itself, are made of those 19th-century bricks, as is the Victorian Gothic church building where I attend services.

Changes. Always changes. After the Hopewell ceased to flourish, later native groups moved into our area, according to excavations at a nearby park. The Shawnee and Delaware hunted in this area and occasionally fought the white settlers, who eventually won that struggle. In the years before the US Civil War, Marietta was often the first stop for freedom seekers crossing the Ohio River from what was then Virginia. The open space below the Turtle Mound became Camp Tupper, a recruiting site for the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

After the Civil War, Marietta underwent a building boom--probably still using bricks from all that excavated soil. The house we live in was built in the 1880s and added onto in the 1970s by wonderfully thrifty people who salvaged bricks from structures being demolished. I like to think that our brick floor and fireplace wall were once part of the earthworks: they are in just about the right place.

Through all the changes wrought by humans and the shortness of our individual lifespans, the soil is still there. Sometimes, we build with it. Eventually, we become it. That cycle seems to be constant.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

They're back, 2017 version

Yesterday brought the year's first dark-eyed junco, perched on the now-bare rose of Sharon hedge outside the dining room. The camera was of course nowhere to be found, but I suspect that most people in the lower 48 are familiar with snowbirds of the non-human variety. In case you aren't, here is a shot of one from the Celebrate Urban Birds section of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.

These handsome little sparrows spend their summers in the northwoods of Canada, then head south for the winter. While some of the humans in our part of the world might beg to differ (especially when snow is falling, as it is at the moment), significant numbers of juncos think of Ohio as the South. The junco is not the flashiest of birds, but for me, it is one of the surest signs of winter, just as the first patch of bright yellow on a goldfinch is a sure sign of the approach of summer.

Back before calendars, Google or otherwise, phenomena like these helped humans mark the seasons.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Still rant-ish

Today's walk found me exploring part of the Wabash Cannonball Trail, a rail-trail that runs more than sixty miles in northwest Ohio. Parts of the Wabash are segments of the North Country National Scenic Trail, but the section I walked this morning was not one of them.

Facing the other direction, the view was just as uninspiring (although I have totally come to appreciate the concept of flat places in which to walk).

To be fair, this particular section of the railroad line immortalized in the old song runs through the middle of town and is next to a popular city park, home to a playground, athletic fields, and a quite pleasant walking path along the edge of an old quarry,

but must the trail edges be mowed quite so close? As we all know, turfgrass is pretty much a biological desert.

Fortunately, most of the section I walked has been allowed to grow up, providing relatively decent habitat along the edges of farm fields, light industrial intallations, and residential subdivisions.

 This particular section was filled with hordes of little brown birds of the sorts that I can rarely identify, along with a few cardinals giving their distinctive calls.

The adjacent subdivision, taking advantage of what would certainly be a selling point for me, has created a quite nice access point for residents and others to enjoy the trail.

And then, just as I was about to get all warm and fuzzy about good neighborhood design, I discovered that every single lawn strip in the development has been planted with--you guessed it--Bradford pear, one of the worst landscape trees ever developed. And here, on the edge of the Oak Openings, one of the Nature Conservancy's Last Great Places and home to fabulous grasslands, the developers chose to plant a traffic island with Miscanthus sinensis, the horrifyingly invasive Chinese feather grass.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Rant alert

Shortly before sunset today, I wandered over to a favorite park to clear my head after a couple of hours spent in shopping mall hell (but one must find the right character jammies for a grandchild--there are standards to uphold). Unfortunately, my head is not what was cleared. The field between the quarry trail and the highway had been mowed.

In September, the same field looked like this.

Meadow maintenance of course involves mowing or burning to keep the area from reverting to the Great Eastern Forest it probably was at one time, but not in November.  All of those September plants, if they hadn't been mowed, would have been loaded with seeds in November. Songbirds and small rodents depend on seeds to get them through the winter. Hawks, owls, and other predators depend on a reliable supply of songbirds and rodents to get them through the winter. A naked field contains little or no food.

I know that fall and winter fields look messy and sometimes depressingly tatty, but could we not wait until the seed supply is exhausted before cutting the plants down?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The last flower of 2017

For three years now, this aster has been the last flower blooming in our yard. This photo was taken today, November 18th, following at least one hard frost that left ice on the cars.

Have not seen any pollinators for a week or so, but this little beauty is waiting for them.

The plant has been tentatively identified as Short's aster, Symphyotrichum shortii, but plants with this flower have demonstrated a variety of leaf shapes and sizes around here, leading me to ID it variously as large-leafed aster, sky-blue aster, and arrow-leafed aster, depending on what the leaves of that particular plant have decided to do. Since all are volunteers, some in sidewalk cracks, and all are native to this area, we could have all four showing up. Or perhaps they have been getting friendly with one another, as is the way of many compositae. Who knows?

All of the plants are important nectar sources for fall bees and butterflies, as well as seed sources for birds. They are also indestructible, asking for nothing from humans save to be left alone to grow. Last year, one was blooming near the library of December 1.

It will be interesting to see how long this little guy keeps going.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

I'm lovin' it--but should I be?

It's November, and the hydrangeas in the park across the street have come into full bloom after September's drought.

The bushes in front of a neighbor's house are putting out buds.

 Fall color has been known to hang around into November, but a quick glance up the street indicates that a lot of our deciduous trees are still fully green--not a common phenomenon in my youth.

In the planting beds along the river trail, quite a few plants have rebloomed, including a spectacular echinacea cultivar,

and mandevilla is still hanging on. Mandevilla. In November. In Ohio.

This is not normal.

I am the first to confess to loving long, slow autumns. Cold makes my bones hurt, and the cold, damp, dirty air of the Mid-Ohio Valley in winter does unfortunate things to my ability to breathe. 70-degree November afternoons are a lovely thing.

But we are overdue for the first frost, which typically hits our area between October 15-20. Toledo, which generally gets its first frost by October 10, is still frost-free and had roses, heliotrope, and pineapple sage blooming last weekend. A monarch butterfly, which should have been several hundred miles further south by then, was fluttering around. That particular individual is unlikely to get to its winter home in Mexico.

Yes,I am loving all this lingering beauty, but I am not sure that these are good signs for the climate of the rest of the world.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The way it should be

This is what an October afternoon in the Mid-Ohio Valley is supposed to look like,

maples and assorted companions doing their ridiculously-gorgeous thing, resulting in some quite-satisfying scatterings on the grass.

Unfortunately, this was the view that many hundreds (thousands?) of people in our valley had on Saturday, October 21, when a former industrial plant used to store plastic waste caught fire.

photo courtesy of Margie Zazycki Orcutt

 This horrifying image was shot from a friend's house, several miles from the fire site. The smoke billowed for days as new hot spots burst into flame. Schools, the courthouse, and some businesses were closed for days, waiting for the fire to burn itself out and for the air to more or less clear. Agencies from two states and a volunteer citizen-science program set up air-quality monitors amid concerns over what might be in the air, since the owners of the warehouse claimed not to have complete records of what was stored in the complex. The health department urged people to keep themselves and their pets indoors as much as possible. Many people left the area for the duration. We still have no good information on what may have gotten into area streams.

Surely we can do better than this.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The blooms of October

By mid-October, the floral year is winding down around here, with most things either dormant or going to seed. (But what a year it has been for seeds! I keep giving seeds away, other people keep sharing them with me, and if all goes well, the Mid-Ohio Valley should have greatly expanded pollinator plantings in 2018.) But a few hardy plant souls have kept going (a good thing, considering the lack of leaf color after September's drought).

Few people are likely to be surprised that some asters are still in bloom

or that many grasses are at their loveliest.

But after sulking through all of 2016 and the spring and summer of 2017, the shrimp plant on the back patio finally decided to bloom.

I had been about to give the thing away--or compost it--but it has now been forgiven.

Some of the annuals are hanging on, like salvia, snapdragons, and a potted verbena bonariensis that is still doing its part to feed the bees.

The centaurea montana not in an optimal setting has decided to bloom again, and its ridiculous blue fireworks are popular with both pollinators and people.

But the real surprise was today's opening of an old-fashioned red canna, which had languished as a naked rhizome in a friend's garage since last November and has been in the ground here only a little over a month.

Plants--they do keep on keeping on.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fields of gold

September is a good month for prairies, even though the year is winding down. The summer flowers and grasses are going to seed, making lots of creatures very happy, but this was the highlight of a recent walk at Blue Creek in Whitehouse, Ohio:

a knock-your-socks-off swath of goldenrod. Further along, there were acres of solidago of various species, including at least one that was wafting an absolutely delicious scent along a mile or more of trail. In my seventh decade, I had never before noticed that goldenrod has scent.

My wanderings had taken me to the nursery fields of the Toledo Metroparks, from which some 2500 pounds of native plant seeds are harvested each year to be added to the various sites the park system is restoring.

Serendipitously, my walk coincided with a royal visit. The monarch was surveying the fields of gold.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Have to believe we are magic

A true confession: I was one of those kids who wanted fairies to be real. I would have loved to communicate with the spirits of the flowers and talk to the dryads when they decided to come out of their trees. Didn't happen.

But looking at some landscapes, it is not hard to understand why our ancestors felt spirits there. Forests in particular have this effect on me.

Sometimes I half-expect to see magical beings rising up from the woodland floor.

And who wouldn't love to hear the conversations these polypores are having with the lichens?

A few days ago, an old, not particularly impressive-looking field, now part of a northwestern Ohio park,

was alive with tiny creatures whose wings flashed silver in the sunlight. Could they be--fairies? Alas, no; they turned out to be small grasshoppers. Today, when of course I had no camera, I came face-to-face with one as it munched on a blossom of weedy Canada thistle. When not in flight, these grasshoppers are a very ordinary-looking gray or green. But--a tiny, green and silver flying thing that dines on thistlebloom--isn't that a kind of magic?

Saturday, September 9, 2017

End of Summer Extravaganza

Early September is not quite fall in our part of the world, but the seasonal signals are showing up--not yet the full fall foliage extravaganza, but some reminders that the most colorful of seasons is nearly here.

Yesterday found me in Lucas County's Blue Creek Metropark, where the various goldenrods are coming on strong, and the shrub dogwoods have decided that fall is already here.

Goldenrod, in case there is anyone left who is still unaware of the facts about this much-maligned genus of plants, is not responsible for hay fever (the culprit is ragweed, in a different plant family).

Solidago is also the most important genus of herbaceous plants for fall pollinators, according to no less an expert than University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, author of the wildlife gardening bible, Bringing Nature Home. (You can check out his wonderfully useful website here.)

Some lovely white thing (possibly a eupatorium species) was blooming along rocky outcroppings in this former limestone quarry,

while a few late thistles were still putting out their ridiculous purple puffballs on those wicked stems.

Despite the hanging-on of a few summer flowers like the thistles, evening primrose, and a few annual sunflowers that somehow found their way to the edge of the porta-potty area, hints of fall were everywhere.

The shrub dogwoods were fruiting, as were LOTS of sumac, including this quarry-side lovely in which a spider (which refused to come out enough to be properly photographed) was setting up its hunting lair. (It is lurking in the dark opening among the red berries. If you look closely, you can see its front legs.)

And of course, no beginning-of-fall post would be complete without the obligatory foliage photo. Some tidy folk may consider sumac species weedy (and they are a tad enthusiastic), but the color combination and leaf veining are swoon-worthy, in my humble opinion.

A final fall note: some of the loveliest foliage is that found on poison ivy. If you happen across this beauty (and it is everywhere this year), step to the side.

Just a friendly warning.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Not the post I had planned to make

Today found me wandering Blue Creek Metropark in Whitehouse, Ohio, and at some point I will do justice to this lovely place, part of which consists of a walking path around an old limestone quarry.

But in the wake of what has happened in Charlottesville today, my takeaway from this park is the idea of the resilience and persistence of life. This part of Ohio was once under a tropical ocean, and I was walking on an ancient seabed that today is in the middle of a charming small town.

Many centuries after that sea vanished and all of its creatures died, the rock that formed the sea floor is home to other kinds of life, including this tiny orange lichen.

Perhaps the most surprising find, though: tiny cedar trees growing out of crevices in the stone of what had been the quarry walls.

Today, this little tree feels like an important reminder.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


All of the ash trees in our area have been infested by the emerald ash borer, according to a local tree service, and once enough of the larvae are present in a tree, there is no saving it. This morning the sound of chain saws in the park across the street let me know that another dead ash was being taken down, joining the ash allee that we lost last year.

The tree closest to us is still hanging on, having put out new leaves on its few still-living branches,

but a look at the whole tree shows that it will likely not be with us long.

The entrance wound looks so insignificant,

but this tree, and every other not-quite-dead ash I have seen is covered with these little holes. When the tree finally dies, and its bark falls off, this is what we will see:

almost uncountable swirls, tracks of the larvae of the borer.

This little insect is another invasive brought to this continent through human carelessness, most experts think from eggs in the wood of packing crates from Asia. Since 2002, it has eaten its way through twenty-two US states and two Canadian provinces.

Every time I see an ash that is still trying to live, I want to apologize. No one meant to doom this gorgeous tree, but in many places, doomed it is.