Thursday, September 02, 2010

Palmetto Bug Stomp

Not Palmetto bugs, I know, but lovely insects collected from our forest floor nonetheless. I'm taking an Entomology class this fall after much contemplation - not about the schedule or the work load (I've had this professor before and I'm prepared for the demands of field work and report writing). I'm more concerned about my somewhat natural dread of handling insects. Eeew!
This club-antennaed spider, above, is fascinating to look at, especially knowing that I haven't had to touch it once. The pit-traps set about our forest floor in hopes of catching Spotted Salamanders have proven useful for collecting a host of interesting insects instead, like this one. While I don't know the genus/species, I think it's a warrior of some kind evidenced by its lack of one leg.

This one is a carrion beetle - Nicrophorus species- which group and encircle a dead creature on the ground, digging underneath it to eventually bury it. Eggs are laid in the flesh of the dead and larvae soon emerge, so I understand. Pretty sure I don't want to witness that, but the adults are quite strikingly beautiful.

In spite of not loving insects, I have a hard time inflicting pain and death upon them and have thus been less than enthusiastic or successful at serious collecting. The kill-jar technique seems to leave the insects sweaty and the scratching heard as they paw at zip-lock bags creeps me out. Also, it's easy enough to get good photos of crawlers like those above, but fliers are going to be a problem. The reality is, there's this class that requires collecting, identifying, and storing of insects. Somewhere I read about using vials so I looked online and found these, ordered them, and am anxiously awaiting their arrival.
And the Entomology professor sustained an injury to his eardrum while diving and has canceled class for today - a brief reprieve during which I can bolster my confidence and numb my fears of insects so I don't go stomping them to oblivion for the next few months!
Palmetto Bug Stomp is a tune from the Reckless Reel.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Birches

White Birch limbs and branches are dropping as the trees grow weary from warm weather. The white color of the bark helps reflect heat much the way light-colored clothing helps us humans manage temperatures while the lenticels, small dark horizontal slits, act to ventilate the inner tree. But there's only so much temperature control possible in a tree, and the White Birches are beginning to show the stress by dropping branches and dying from decay.

White Birch has historically been used for birch bark canoes made by Native Americans, but the white man has depicted the waterproof craft inside out. The tawny inner bark is the part that has a waxy coating that keeps water from seeping through - the loose outer white bark has no such quality and is more easily water-logged which is an important consideration if anyone decides to build such a canoe.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Greener Pastures

Earlier in the summer I participated in a landscape ecology retreat at Medomak Camps - "Reading the Landscape" led by Antioch College's Tom Wessels who has also authored several books including "Reading the Forested Landscape", "The Granite Landscape", and "The Myth of Progress" which are informational and interesting reads for anyone interested in historical evolution of natural landscapes. As I walked through our woods checking pit traps for Spotted Salamanders, I took time to look around and note physical elements that help interpret changes to our own back yard.
This old stump, one of several on this knoll now covered with a thick copse of Red Maple, decayed from the outside, leaving the inner heartwood standing in the middle which indicates it was probably a coniferous tree and very likely a White Pine since there are so many standing on the property today. Unlike pine, hemlock bark has a lot of tannin which makes it rot resistant so it's inside rots first to leave a hollow tube-like structure.
The forest floor is gently lumpy, if that makes any visual sense in your mind, and there are numerous narrow-width stone walls constructed of large rocks. These two features, combined, possibly indicate pasture usage many years ago. As tracts of land were cleared to host sheep and later cattle, large rocks were hauled to the perimeter and built into stone walls to keep the animals in their enclosure or out of nearby crop-fields. Stone walls around crop fields would be built wider and often, as the field got plowed year after year, the smaller rocks that popped up as the result of freeze-thaw cycles would be gathered and tossed on top of or into the middle of the wide perimeter fence. Our stone walls are single course with no small "crop" stones. Natural forests develop characteristic pillows and cradles where trees topple in the wind or fall from decay to leave mounds of organic matter and depressions where stumps pull out of the soil. Pastured woodlands even out over time as the soil is continually tamped by hooves much like the forest around our house.
It's hard to imagine green pastures where the mature mixed forest covers a thick brown mat of leaf litter and woody debris that along with gentle slopes and loose soil provide hospitable habitat for Spotted Salamanders. Though the salamanders use our forested pools to breed in the spring, none have found their way into the pit traps this summer but I keep checking, every morning, to see what insects or other creatures have dropped by to visit - and I look up and around every now and then to enjoy the natural history that surrounds us and our little house in the woods.
Greener Pastures is a tune from the "Reckless Reel" book of tunes by Larry Unger.

Friday, August 20, 2010


August has merrily rolled itself along until I realize it's past the half-way mark toward September and another school year. As a gentle reminder, I found this maple leaf lying in the middle of our dirt road a week or so ago - letting me know it's time to finish up summer projects and make room on my desk for serious work that lies ahead. I'm sure it's no coincidence nature's warning colors are the same as those chosen by man.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Healthy Kind Lunch

I love food - I love eating it for the taste and texture, and for the nourishment - I love cooking it and serving it for the endless flavor and color combinations. I like dressing the table and making a big deal of food. While in Colorado, I watched "Our Daily Bread" and read the beginning of Erin's cookbook about the Kind diet... inspiration to eat healthy and at the same time be kind to animals and to the planet.
Then I got on the plane and ate a micro-waved cheeseburger and iceberg lettuce salad... and got home and snacked on Cheese-Its and ate hamburger... and had the grandkids over and made them french fries (in olive oil, but still...). Today I had a better start - yoghurt, granola, and fruit for breakfast - this lovely salad and homemade pesto pasta for lunch - lots of water. Much healthier and I think I can feel peace and kindness working its way through my soul :)

Summer-time, summer-time, sum-sum-summer-time...

Official start of my summer vacation ... a trip to Colorado was the perfect segue from spring semester classes and finals to a couple months of open schedule and few responsibilities. Here's a photo of me and Bryan stopping for a break along the river in Wild Basin.

Got the lawn mowed and my desk cleaned off in time for a nice visit from Jen, Avery, and Paige. Here are the kids watching the Wood Frog tadpoles - we're still waiting for them to morph into little frogs.

My SUMMER PLAN is to sketch and take photos, and write about some things. This is a good start!

Monday, February 22, 2010


I've heard that if we all start unplugging our cell phone chargers and other similarly low-electrical use devices we could, as a group, make a difference in the world's eco-future. I'm all for energy conservation and reducing my carbon footprint wherever it makes sense, and I like to think I model some strategies that others can use. As far as saving the world by keeping cell phone chargers unplugged, I think it's like trying to gain weight by eating celery.
I used a Kill-A-Watt meter on a bunch of devices and small appliances one weekend - including the cell phone charger, my Sonicare toothbrush charger, and a recharging flashlight charger. None of these things registered any electrical use. I plugged the cell phone charger AND the Sonicare charger into a power strip and put that into the Kill-A-Watt meter and left it on for over 2 hours... still no registered use.
I know that these things use electricity - I mean, they have to be plugged in to operate. But the amount of electricity is so small, changing my behavior in relation to them doesn't seem to be worth the effort. It would be like trying to gain weight by eating celery... lots and lots of celery. I could eat celery every day for weeks and not gain an appreciable amount of weight.
I guess what I'm thinking is, there are bigger fish to fry in the ecological future of the world and trying to get people on board with taking their chargers out of the sockets doesn't seem like it's going to make much of a difference. Some things that can make a pretty big difference with a minimal investment include:
Leave a vehicle parked for a day or two each week by coordinating trips
Hang laundry on a clothesline or use an indoor clothes rack instead of using the dryer
Turn off the coffee maker after it's done brewing and use an insulated carafe
We have a long ways to go in our house to really be more efficient and get our carbon footprint smaller. To be honest, I don't leave the cell phone charger and other things plugged in simply because I don't like all the clutter, not because of the less than zero amount of electricity they use.

Saturday, February 20, 2010