Monday, October 24, 2011

Coyote Coincidences

On Saturday (10/22), I saw my first coyote in quite some time.* Up close and personal, he stood behind my car as I was leaving the office at 9:30 a.m. Big, beautiful, and apparently bold, he looked back at me from the rear-view mirror, then calmly ambled off to watch me from a different angle before disappearing in the brush along the creek. (Yes, our office location is really neat!)

The camera was there, but wildlife photographer I'm not, so it didn't cross my mind until later. We'll have to make do with my old illustration. Unfortunately, it also didn't occur to me to do more than quietly observe him!

If my haphazard blogging can be trusted, it's been almost three years since we've seen coyotes around the homestead, 3.5 since we've lost a cat to one, and only in April 2004, I think it was, did we lose chickens to them. With the cats we're never sure; they just disappear and we make assumptions. (But other possible culprits include great horned owls, foxes, and maybe even mountain lions.) The chicken event (15 chickens dead and dying in one afternoon) provided direct visual confirmation of the perpetrator.

But my sighting Saturday turned out to be timely. The day before, Cat Woman lost her cat and heard from a neighbor that there was a big coyote in her area. Putting one and one together, she found the sad evidence, confirming the cat's fate. In her rural area, residents routinely kill coyotes, so she didn't expect one; she worries more about mountain lions.

The week before, my sister—far down in the southwest corner of the state—also lost a cat. Suddenly, coyotes are back on my mind, and apparently, back in business.

Coyotes have had a lot of press lately in the Denver metro area; this recent article serves as an example of the concerns and the lethal response too often being applied locally. (Although, in California, one neighborhood is taking a less belligerent approach.)

They are truly our urban/suburban wild dog: we provide excellent habitat for them and have created a new breed of this canine with the wily reputation. Eons ago in grad school, I researched coyotes for a wildlife class, and learned that there was evidence that, when persecuted, coyotes produce larger litters, and also grow smarter, stronger, and faster. Killing them isn't necessarily going to help! Nature... vacuum... you get the drift.

With decreasing wild land for habitat, coyotes have been quick to learn to live with us. They have to—after all, we're everywhere these days! We have not been as quick to learn to live with them. Some people don't understand the concept of "wild" and insist on feeding whatever cute animals they see in parks or neighborhoods. That doesn't help, especially when dealing with medium-size predators.

Denver has posted lots of information online to help citizens learn appropriate behaviors toward wildlife in the city.** In the case of coyotes, active hazing programs are important to teach them appropriate behaviors toward humans. Now I have a better idea of what to do when I see one—for the coyote's sake!

More personal thoughts on living with predators over at Small Wonders.

Two more coincidences. * Actually my previous recent coyote sighting was when I flew back from Indiana, just a week before this sighting. Carl the Coyote was the whole 'nother animal that graced the tail of my Frontier jet.

** Thanks go out to Ashley DeLaup, wildlife specialist for the City of Denver, who created all that great material I linked to above and conducted educational programs for Denver's citizens. This fall, Ashley was laid off. Go figure.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

First Frost

May their seeds be safely scattered
As the annuals hang their heads
May the snakes all safely find their paths
Back to their winter beds.

May next year's buds be safely wrapped
In shrouds of green and brown
And watch from higher branches
As this year's leaves drift down.

With their fledglings safe about them
May birds find a southern home
May bears be fattened, safe in dens
As once more they cease to roam.

May scrub jays find they've safely stored
Enough ripe seeds away
To last them through the season
Til another bright spring day.

In the meadow on the mountain
Where the elk are bedded down
May the grass be always lush and deep
As they rest on mossy ground.

The hummingbirds have scattered
Before the cold front's blast
In Argentina's flow'ry fields
May they find safe food at last.

May the little frogs find safety
In deep mud and warm
In the pond amid the forest
May they winter without harm.

May lichens soften in the mist
And softening, turn to green
In dampened autumn weather
Their best days will be seen.

The aspen is a spendthrift
Dropping leaves of trembling gold
May its forests prosper likewise
As this year grows old.

May the bluestem on the hillside
Shining ever in the sun
Glowing red, embrace the frost
Minding not that summer's done.

May the big skunk in the henhouse
Stealing our eggs
Scuttle safely 'neath the coop
On short, fat, little legs.

May the stars again gleam brightly
Once clouds have cleared away
Orion's winter's in the sky
And Scorpio's gone to stay.

Autumn is upon us
Winter's icy breath we feel
May all beings greet the coming year
As again we turn the wheel

May all here on the homestead
Prepare to do their parts
To welcome winter's shelt'ring snow
Holding summer in their hearts.

The Coming Post

Yes, there will be another post. As of this morning, it looks to be coming soon. My absence here has not been a dearth of things to write about, not even a spidearth. Perhaps we can attribute it rather to an EXCESS of things to write about. Much to say, little time to say it. Or, as another blogger tells me "time, discipline, and motivation." Or we could blame it on the tablet, and free downloadable books. (I have 14 draft posts sitting out there in limbo, and 6 of them were created this year. Good grief!)

Tsk, tsk... an entire month without a post! There goes my 2011 record. I've failed to announce the latest Berry-Go-Round, and even the one before that! September's edition of the plant carnival was posted at A DC Birding Blog (yes, plants and birds are related), and August's was nicely handled by Dave at Osage Orange.

Osage Orange tells me October 6 was Poetry Day. Well, missed it by a couple. By way of explanation, the coming post is part Irish blessing, part catalog of the summer's experiences and encounters, a quick review of all the things I'll probably never get around to blogging about. But wish I would...

Today, this morning, frost is creeping up on us, and there's this weird white stuff in the air. We're perched on our usual line between places that only get wet and places that get actual accumulations. No wonder I'm blogging; I always seem to be motivated by that weird white stuff. Because of the weather, I'm finding myself in a reflective mood, perhaps almost a depressive one. It's not a cheery day out there or in here, but after many many many perfect bright-blue 80-degree Colorado days, we're due for a change.

Back soon! Promise!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Alive in the 21st Century

Yesterday, the Husband and I finally broke down and went to the Big Box to look at ummm... devices to upgrade our technical communications skills. You know, things that teenagers today take for granted and take everywhere. It was a crash course with a lot of new jargon to absorb—about 4G and 3G and wireless hotspots and dual-core mobile processors and adaptive display technology. Makes you wonder how thousands of generations of humans got along without these important necessities.

There were things that sounded delicious, like Honeycombs and Gingerbread and Cupcakes, but just made us hungrier. We were Inspired and Captivated; our imagination took Flight; we were surprised at the Incredible Intensity with which we could explore the Galaxy, even the Cosmos. It's truly a Revolution, and it hit us like a Thunderbolt. All very sci-fi, with Droids and Comets and Photons—wheeee! We Clutched each other with diminishing Status as the price tags added a little Gravity to the situation and Restored our Touch. Can we Prevail? Are we ready to Thrive?

Sigh. Now I have Tablet Envy. It's only a matter of time. Maybe I'll even be a better blogger??

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Summer Berry-Go-Round is here

July's plant carnival, Number 42 in the Berry-Go-Round collection, is elegantly hosted at Beyond the Brambles. Kate leads a merry and colorful romp through the plant kingdom, and the rainbow! Check it out for some great plant-related reading!

I've been scarce here all summer, but I keep hoping things are going to change... soon! Despite a long string of 90-plus degree days, we've had enough rain, now and then, to keep the hills green, even into August, reminding us of what Colorado used to be like... back in the last millenium. And with it, of course, a memorable show of thunder and lightning!

Hope your summer is memorable as well...

Friday, July 01, 2011

Expect More from Berry-Go-Round!

In the hands of "Mr. Subjunctive," the Berry-Go-Round plant carnival takes on a whole new flavor. Several in fact, as he presents BGR #41 as an 8-course tour de force, henceforth to be known as "The Formal Dinner BGR."

What an excellent menu he's prepared!! From soup to nuts, and beyond, Mr. S introduces us to a whole cast of dinner guests, many of whom are sharing the BGR feast for the first time. That means I got to learn a lot of new things and be introduced to a variety of cuisines I might not have encountered otherwise.

Wait'll you see what's for dessert!

Great job, Mr. Subjunctive! Thanks for hosting...

[Could someone please pass the bicarb...?? I may have overdone it.]

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Lost in the Night Sky

Imagine being able to go zooming around the universe, exploring galaxies at will and taking a close-up look at any features that caught your eye! Perhaps you've always wanted to see the Pleiades in better detail, or get a clearer look at the Garnet Star. Whatever you wish to examine is laid out before you in the Photopic Sky Survey, an ambitious effort by Nick Risinger.

According to the website, "The Photopic Sky Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photograph of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures." As a result of an entire year of Nick's dedication and creativity, we have an unprecedented opportunity to wander among the stars at last.

Images used by permission, copyright Nick Risinger, (As always, when you find something you like on the Internet, consider making a donation to support quality content online!)

For various reasons (overcast, fire haze, etc.) I've been missing the night sky of late, and my opportunities for astro-posts have been limited. Failing regular observation, I lose track and get rusty—where is every[stellar]body? Refresh your memory at this site, and you'll see things you never could before!

So where in the galaxy is the photo above? With Alnitak and Alnilam in the upper right, this is a zoomed image of Orion's belt and sword, showing the large red Horsehead Nebula near Alnitak. If you don't know the names of the other nebulae here, check the link above for the labeled 360° version and go zooming!

What a way to compensate for a cloudy evening! Thanks, Nick!

A New Universe

I discovered SkySurvey because I finally ventured out on Twitter about May 15th, and this site was featured on @APOD, the Astronomy Photo of the Day, on May 20th. (See an index of all APOD's photos for more awe-inspiring sky-related images. Follow @APOD and the Twitterverse will deliver the mysteries of the cosmos daily!)

Thursday, June 02, 2011

BGR--At Home in Alaska

The latest edition (#40) of the Berry-Go-Round plant carnival is making itself quite at home in Sitka, Alaska, thanks to Matt's creative editing! He managed to tie each and every post, including FF's previous post on gillyflowers, to a Sitka relative. Pretty cool, Matt—and nice work all around!

Lots of great botanical reading is provided: from ferns to coralroots, caryophs to coffee, with a little peat and pussytoes for good measure! Go check it out... if you like what you read, please don't forget to leave encouraging comments. Next edition will be hosted at Plants are the Strangest People.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Clove Gillyflowers: A Botanical Ramble

As with our eviction from Eden (a botanical story in itself, it turns out), it all started with an apple. At a historical symposium recently, we were talking about an old apple orchard that survived on a historic homestead in Westminster, Colorado. Do you know the name of the apple?, I asked, and the answer led me into temptation.

Apple image by Abhijit Tembhekar from Mumbai, India, source: Wikipedia.

"Sops-in-wine," I was told. Oddly, I had just read that very name in American Household Botany, a useful compendium of botanica I'm currently reading. But the name, sometimes known as "Sops-of-wine," was not applied (in the book) to heirloom apples. Off we go then!

What are sops? The noun, we understand, refers to "a piece of food dipped or steeped in a liquid," from the Middle English, soppe, and allied to, of all things, sopaipillas, which derived from sopa, or food soaked in milk, apparently of Germanic origin. About the only use of the word I can think of nowadays is in the adjective form, sopping wet. (Except for a friend of mine, whose 17 years in old Mexico taught her to make a mouth-watering sops of bread in red chile sauce.)

Sops of Wine is described by Big Horse Creek Farms as an "excellent early summer apple which grows well in all regions of the South. Its exact origins are unclear, but Beach (1905) says it is an ancient English culinary and cider apple. Fruit medium to large, slightly conical, with greenish-yellow skin covered with dark red faint red striping. Flesh is yellow and often stained with pink"—just as if it had been sopped, or soaked, in wine. Whether it actually was ever sopped in wine is, I suppose, another story.

Another plant truly was sopped in wine: the Clove Gillyflower, to which the name "sops in/of wine" is also applied. We've all seen these flowers, we just know them by another name: Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus and others). John Parkinson described “gilloflowers” in 1629, in his “Paradisus Terrestris.” He notes:

To avoid confusion, I must divide Gilloflowers from Pinkes and intreats of them in several chapters, of those that are called Carnations or Gilloflowers as of the greater kinds in this Chapter; and of the Pinkes as well double as single, in the next. But the number is so great that to give several descriptions to them all were endlesse… I account those that are called Carnations to be the greatest, both for leafe and flower, and Gilloflowers for the most part to bee lesser in both…”

Parkinson thereafter names some nineteen types of Carnations and 29 of Gillyflowers, not including the small wild gillyflowers he calls “Pinkes.”

Dianthus, literally from the Greek, means “divine flower” (dios plus anthos). It is in the family Caryo-phyllaceae, and the specific epithet of Gillyflowers, D. caryophyllus, adopts the family name. The carnation is also linked to cloves, and was once called “clove pink” for its scent and frequent use as a substitute for the expensive imported spice.

The clove tree, dried buds of which are the familiar spice, was Caryophyllus aromaticus L. (caryo meaning nut, and phyllus, of course, leaf). (It is not, however, in the Caryophyllaceae, but in the Myrtaceae, where it is now known as Syzygium aromaticum (L.) Merr. & L.M.Perry. Go figure.)

The English name Carnation is often thought to be derived from the Latin for flesh, as in carnal or carnage, which many of us associate with the color red. In fact, according to Webster’s, the carnation was originally “flesh-colored but now found in many color variations.” An old alternative, dating to the 16th century, connects the word to “Coronation,” in reference both to its common use in “weaving crowns or chaplets for the head, or as Lyte has it, from the flowers dented or toothed above—like to a littell crownet.”

Whence "gillyflower"? Wikipedia suggests this one is a corruption of the French giroflée, which translates the original Greek karyophyllon. Which puts us back to cloves again.

Should you not wish to adulterate good wine by soaking carnations in it, this same Wikipedia article offers a recipe for making wine using only gillyflowers, if you happen to have a peck of them on hand.

An old recipe for gilliflower wine is mentioned in Cornish Recipes Ancient & Modern dated to 1753:

“To 3 gallons water put 6lbs of the best powder sugar; boil together for the space of 1/2 an hour; keep skimming; let it stand to cool. Beet up 3 ounces of syrup of betony, with a large spoonful of ale yeast, put into liquor & brew it well; put a peck of gilliflowers free of stalks; let work fore 3 days covered with a cloth; strain & cask for 3-4 weeks, then bottle."

These days, it's a challenge to find carnations that smell like cloves or anything else. I suspect our modern "gillyflowers" would not make a very fragrant wine. Maybe the apples would work instead!

——More References
A Sales Manual on Colorado Carnations, by the Colorado Flower Growers Association, Inc. circa 1960s (includes an extensive history chapter on this flower, quoted above; online at Colorado State University).

Cloves, Picotees, and Sops in Wine, a nice essay on Cottage Gardening by Barbara M. Martin.

American Household Botany: A History of Useful Plants 1620-1900, by Judith Sumner. 2004. Timber Press, Portland and Cambridge. 396 pages.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Spring-worthy Weather?

It's a truly glorious morning today, after days of hail, rain, tornado warnings, and other assorted delights. All of which (okay, some of which) have been deeply appreciated after our lack of serious snowstorms here in the lower foothills these last few months. Still some white on Mt. Morrison, but a rosy dawn and clear skies highlight the greening we have at last.

And, just this a.m., the most spectacular frost patterns we've had all winter, right there on my car windshield! On May 20th, such visions are ephemeral indeed!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

April Showers Bring... a New Berry!

Earth Day and Arbor Day are both more than a week past, and May Day is well underway as this late-breaking edition of the Berry-Go-Round plant carnival hits the streets. It's time to find out what those April showers have brought us. Some entries below came straight to me, others I tracked down in the wilds of the web, looking for signs of spring and plant life. Enjoy these offerings!

It's All About Trees

First up, grab a shovel and join Jade at Brain Ripples , who brings an early entry of 15 Celebrations in Spruce and Birch to kick off our thoughts about trees with reasons to celebrate and, of course, plant trees! Link-rich, this post is a carnival in itself, and well worth a visit.

Over at the Digital Botanic Garden, we find delicious walnuts, along with a little reminiscence about the walnut-shell boats of childhood. In the spring theme, Phil also brings us a favorite showy flowering shrub. Nice for me, as we don’t get to see these much around here. Back in March, Phil also explained the language of love, floral edition, by outlining how two fictional romances might have—or have not—taken place. A must read! (bookmark it for Valentine's Day)

Step-by-step spring from Sarah at Musings from Dave whose written musings... on the gradual onset of the green season are as charming as her photographic accompaniment. Second installment here. And earlier fabulous time-lapse close-ups all help us see spring as it happens!

Tai at Earth, Wind & Water explores the virtues of Red Filbert, a new one to me, but most attractive!

Please welcome Georgia’s first submission to BGR from Local Ecologist, as she combines history and ecology to chronicle changes in the urban tree canopy on Broadway north of Columbus Circle between 1901 and 1912. What happens to trees when New York City builds a subway? Great sleuthing, Georgia—we hope to hear from you again.

Ted at Beetles in the Bush brought us the spectacular ceibo, also known as cockspur coral tree. It's the national flower of both Argentina and Uruguay, so we appreciate the lengths he went to for these gorgeous photos!

As we are speaking of trees, The Nature Conservancy undertakes to Plant a Billion, in its efforts to restore the Atlantic Forest of Brazil, the lungs of the planet—and much more. Meet a few tropical trees, watch their seedlings grow on the home page at this site, and see if you can help this critical project.

Lest we forget that much of our planet is treeless, FF's companion blog, Small Wonders, provides an opportunity to rethink Arbor Day in favor of prairies where appropriate, along with a review of this holiday's history.

On to Spring's Wildflowers

Puca at Anybody Seen My Focus? invites us to join a hike on the Bradley Mountain Trail in the Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve in DeKalb County, Georgia. Parts two and three of the hike follow, with fascinating terrain and natural "dish gardens" (a new phrase to me) that hold two outstanding wildflowers: the Elf Orpine (Diamorpha smallii) and the Oneflower Stitchwort (Minuartia uniflora).

Comment1 at Real Monstrosities offers an inventive look at pitcher plants from someone who “decided to rekindle my love of creepy crawlies and years of avidly watching David Attenborough documentaries and create this, Real Monstrosities. Life at it's most bizarre. A collection of creatures strange in body or habit.” Thanks for joining us this month!

At Hill-stead's Nature Blog, Diane tells us how to feed the hungry, especially birds, butterflies, and other picky eaters who depend on native plants for sustenance! This story of winter's deprivation offers a thoughtful look at an important side effect of the spread of invasive exotics and a valuable reminder of another good reason to go native in your landscape.

Mary, the Accidental Botanist, takes us on a visit to her local library, the internet and shows how we as individuals can contribute. It’s a reference collection where any and all of us can make a difference!

Jeremy and Luigi at Agricultural Biodiversity bring us a coconut imposter and cautionary tales about germplasm documentation. Jeremy adds "the comments add a lot to the discussion... [comments are] one of the best things about having a blog, and one reason to submit to BGR is to encourage new readers and potentially useful new comments." So, don't forget to comment—it's important!

Dave at Osage Orange dropped by with another reminder in the year of the Juniper, this time an essay on proper pruning and other spring garden chores.

Some "wildflowers" can fool us, and beauty is always in the eye of the beholder! Kate at Beyond the Brambles discovered a way to turn the tables (and fork) on those who outgrow their hospitality. She found the invasive Japanese knotweed to be Tangy, Fibrous, and Slightly Sweet. Who knew? We should be eating more of these! Kate just discovered BGR and plans to host in July—welcome aboard!

A few more gleanings...

Ellen, the Adirondack Naturalist, has been transplanted to Michigan, where she found a seasonally appropriate story of resurrection to post.

The Phytophactor has produced no less than 65 posts since the last BGR, and, it being spring, at least half of them are about plants. You'll find lots more there, but I simply have to point out one little ditty he calls Plant Porn. Must-see video! Sex and archegonia bring to life what we read about in college botany but never got to see happening!

At Botany Photo of the Day, I picked out skunk cabbage among this spring's offerings. You'll find much more to explore there as well.

Nina at Nature Remains goes Searching for Spring, as she brings us a tiny harbinger, Draba verna (favorite research subject of my friend Julie). On a spring wildflower trip with the Midwest Native Plant Society, the rare Draba brachycarpa also puts in a welcome appearance. If you're still hungry for spring wildflowers, Nina will help, with little men of the spring woods, a delightful frolic, and time with trout lilies.

Tell them Berry-Go-Round sent you

Lots to keep you busy! Thanks for stopping by! Please enjoy these authors and give them feedback. We hope you'll spread the word about Berry-Go-Round by linking back if your post was included, or even if you just enjoyed this edition. Next month's adventures in botany will be hosted by Matt at Sitka Nature.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Before Earth Day

As friends in the CCC alumni group used to say, "Before Earth Day, there was the CCC!" (Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1941) The CCC does have a reputation as this nation's first big organized attempt at environmental protection, pre-dating the first Earth Day by as much as 37 years. But times were different then, and its record, sad to say, is mixed. Despite reforestation and fire-fighting efforts (now not universally appreciated), the CCC boys engaged in a number of less environ-mentally positive projects by today's standards.

Among those were rodent control (including kangaroo rats in California and prairie dogs everywhere in the west); rattlesnake slaughter (serving no known purpose and somewhat contradictory to the required rodent control); predator control (400,000 predatory animals annihilated, again increasing the necessity for rodent control); eradication of some 300 million native Ribes shrubs (gooseberries and currants, which carry white pine blister rust, white pine being the preferred species); and drainage of wetlands (then called "swamps") for mosquito control.

In all, according to Nature's New Deal, by Neil M. Maher, they modified 118 million acres. Presumably that total doesn't include the building of roads in wilderness and national parks. All of these won the CCC the enmity of local and national conservationists, among them Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall, and Rosalie Edge.

Don't get me wrong— I still think the CCC was probably the best public work program to date...

Before Earth Day, however, and even before the CCC... there was Arbor Day. Proving that nothing we humans do is an unalloyed blessing, even an innocent-looking holiday like Arbor Day has its dark side. I even wrote a somewhat critical article about 12 years ago. These days, when we need all the CO2-gobbling plants out there we can get, maybe I should re-evaluate my opinion. I'll still find it hard to believe we need trees everywhere, though—no matter what species, no matter where. I'm too fond of grasses for that! Another reason is that some researchers have shown that grasslands can be as effective as forests at reducing carbon dioxide.

Of course, science marches on, and you can also find research that demonstrates the opposite effect. Your choice!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Born to be Wild

This one's for Hoosier Sue, with my apologies.

Chickens are domestic animals, we're quite certain, but that turns out to cover a range of possible behaviors. To pervert George Orwell a bit, some are more domestic than others.

Araucanas are "others" in that classification. I like them because they represent a breed that is closer somehow to the original species of chicken, and I admire their hardiness, fearless personalities, and attractive coloring (bird and egg). They are not pure white nor bred to be egg-laying machines with feathers, as Leghorns are. They are themselves, and they go about their business in their own ways.

Here I should digress a minute to explain that there's some controversy over the use of "Araucana." Araucanas are like yams, apparently, in that they do not truly occur in the U.S. and what we simplistically call Araucanas are more properly known as Ameraucanas, or "Easter-eggers." Also spelled Americanas, so we've recently settled on the nickname A'cana to cover all our bases.

In any case, when HS asked for a recommendation on chicken breeds, I heartily endorsed A'canas out of my fondness for them. Perhaps she should have asked the Husband, who remembers (though he didn't mention it last year when I brought home eight A'cana chicks) that this breed also offers difficulties.

Trusting me, HS acquired a mixed flock of Barred Plymouth Rocks (a wonderful, and highly domestic bird) and A'canas. Her chicks are lovely... and one of them, a Barred Rock, soon showed that he would not be contributing to her supply of fresh eggs. The chicks are 7 weeks old now, and a few days ago she reported this story:

I'm in the kitchen and hear this "Errr Err" and think, "What the %^&*(?"

And then it dawns on me.

And then another one. Better. Louder. Errrrrrr Errrr

At least he waited until 7:30 a.m.

"Lt. Worf" as she calls him, the name revealing how early the effects of testosterone show up, is hand-tamed and sweet... so far. We are hoping for the best.

But back to our story.

Where the Grass is Greener

The difficulties with A'canas became apparent this spring. Fully feathered and full-grown now, these chickens began to appear in places we're not used to seeing them. Dangerous places: In the backyard, where the dogs hang out; on rooftop of the coop; and in the front yard. Daily now, we can expect them to 'fly the coop.' What was initially cause for panic has now become routine: clear the backyard of chickens before letting Dog #1 out the door. Dog #2 seems to be congenial to the escapee.

Last week, we discovered WHY she's developed such fondness for the backyard. The Husband found a clutch of 7 beautiful green eggs under the big juniper. Now we understand—a safe place (out of reach of skunks who have been enjoying 'hen fruit' in the coop daily of late) where, she clearly hoped, we wouldn't keep stealing the results of her labor. She was wrong about the latter, but she still finds her way over the fence every time she gets the urge to lay an egg. At least now we know where to look for them!

Before I let the chicken-killer dog loose, I check the back fence. If I find an A'cana pacing back and forth, waiting to be allowed back into the chicken yard, I open the gate, and she happily rushes home to the food dish. Her self-powered escapades are one-way only.

Not so our front yard bird. She has now perfected the art of escaping and returning as often as she likes.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For Earth Day... for Earth!

“We can think of the Earth and its natural resources as a one-time inheritance that we received from nature or God… and the question is are we going to squander that inheritance like a derelict rich kid and go broke, or are we going to treat it like the fortune that it is and be good stewards?... Global society has been acting like the derelict rich kid, and experts agree that we’ve been in global overshoot for 3 decades… by mid20-30s we’ll need two Earths to support us and, of course, we only have one.”
—Emmett Duffy; Professor of Marine Science at the
College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Every year, I think about how I'll tackle the immense topic of Earth Day. It looms huge for me because, although Earth Day is and ought to be every day, most of us think consciously about it once a year (if that!). But the once-a-year version is significant to me because 41 years ago, when it all started, I was a college student in the midst of our campus activities—which focused mostly on education, recycling, and other cosmetic efforts. Hey, we tried!

Now, though, there's a lot more meaning to Earth Day for me, even though it seems largely neglected in our world of heedless consumption. Sometimes it's hard to be hopeful in these times of global climate change and other effects of rampant human overpopulation. One thoughtful, authoritative, and articulate blogger helps bring me back to Earth every time I visit (even though he's blogging elsewhere these days), and he is Emmett Duffy, the Natural Patriot. Here are a few of my favorite samples from 2009:

Quotes in his “Food for Thought” sidebar are only one reason to visit the Natural Patriot. I love this revolving quote widget of his, or whatever it is, and today I discovered you can refresh them by clicking through with your mouse. So in lieu of further pontificating on my part, I bring you a limited selection of more memorable comments on our predicament. Quote addict that I am, this list could go on forever, but I'm trying to be discreet!

Most have gone long unheeded, but... we can't say we haven't been warned! Even a variety of American presidents have tried to sound the alarm.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
—Abraham Lincoln

Saving our civilization is not a spectator sport.
—Lester Brown.

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.
—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.
—John F. Kennedy

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is a party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.
—Wendell Berry

The Creation, whether you believe it was placed on this planet by a single act of God or accept the scientific evidence that it evolved autonomously during billions of years, is the greatest heritage, other than the reasoning mind itself, ever provided to humanity.
—Edward O. Wilson

Do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Surely not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter downriver. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species.
—Aldo Leopold

One for the Tea Party:

I don’t mind paying taxes. They buy me civilization.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes

Lastly, in the true spirit of Earth Day:

Do not let spacious plans for a new world divert your energies from saving what is left of the old.
—Winston Churchill

Monday, April 18, 2011

BGR Reminder; Got Books?

Don't forget—the deadline for submissions to this month's Berry-Go-Round plant carnival is April 25th. Submissions are trickling in slowly. I've also rounded up quite a few fun posts in case they're needed, but will include proper submissions on a priority basis. See below for instructions on how to share your favorite plant posts—or someone else's!

In other news: A botanical bibliophile's dream... Jack and Martha Carter are liquidating their collection of botanical books over at Mimbres Publishing. I hesitate to even mention it before I have a chance to shop myself!

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Growing Up Pie, Part 1

The young couple who took up residence next door last spring are doing a little housekeeping. I see them refurbishing the nest in the Ponderosa Pine below the house, bringing a new stick or two where needed, or rearranging a bit here and there.

I think last summer was their first season as newlyweds. Being 100 feet away from the birdfeeders didn't hurt; they probably grew up here themselves and wanted to stay in the neighborhood.

Yesterday, I caught them in the garden, in flagrante delicto, and for 45 seconds or so, I was able to tell which was the male and which the female! Alas, the moment escaped the camera, but I think I know what's coming this summer. Clearly the "courtship" is over.

Usually I have a ringside seat from which to watch their efforts. Every once in a while, the view is obstructed.

A half-dozen or so local does and yearlings are recognizable now, but this gentleman is a stranger who wandered through in mid-March, intent on the does, no doubt. It's that time of year.

Setting Up Housekeeping

It was last April when these two Black-billed Magpies picked out our youngish ponderosa pine for their starter home. I guess it didn't occur to me to document the process until construction was well underway. If you are curious about nest-building details, the Watcher has, of course, covered magpie architecture.

All those trips back and forth carrying sticks can really work up an appetite. In April, one year ago today in fact, I buttered the bark of the ash tree out front with a suet dough concoction. It didn't take them long to discover and exploit this new food source.

Finally, about May 21st, the nest was complete. All was quiet well into June. Many more trips were made, bringing food to whomever was sitting. We suspected eggs, but never confirmed by direct observations.

Events continued to unfold, and finally the activity level rose, as did the noise. In mid-July, some grew impatient inside, and began waiting on the doorstep for food to appear. Growing up seems to involve a lot of waiting.

But mom or dad always managed to show up in time.

Kinda makes me glad we planted that tree, a bare-root seedling, back when we moved here ourselves as newlyweds.

Coming Soon: Part 2, A Raucous Summer

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Suddenly Spring

By the time I started actively searching for signs of spring this year, it was well on its way!

I should have checked for Easter daisies (Townsendia cf. hookeri) on St. Paddy's Day (March 17th). I didn't get to my favorite patch until April Fool's Day, but they were chugging along just fine, and right where I expected them to be. You can see them, right?

How about now?

Some of our earliest spring wildflowers are well hidden—if you didn't know exactly where they are, you'd be hard pressed to spot them! Hidden in plain sight, right along one of our most popular trails in full range of unscooped dog poop, this patch of Easter daisies was still unobserved by 99% of passersby. Those who saw me with camera and dog weren't even curious about what I was trying to photograph.

How's this for an Easter bouquet?

The stemless Easter daisy can't help but look like an old-fashioned "posy" or nosegay, with all the flowers clustered at the base, obscuring a rosette of leaves that are, by themselves, easy to overlook. Without the burst of white color to draw the eye, these little guys don't suggest any dramatic display at all!

The early bees are having no trouble finding them, however.

Equally cryptic are those who will bloom a bit later, now mere hints of beauty to come. Here, a feathery rosette of Lambert's loco cozies up to the glaucous blue basal leaves of one-sided Penstemon. Only by watching through the season would we know what they're going to be capable of producing!

The name of this bulb I planted long ago in the backyard popped back into my head this morning as I went out to take an updated photo. Siberian squill, Scilla siberica, naturalizes even here in the rugged and challenging West apparently.

I stand corrected, thanks to Nina at Nature Remains and depending on whether you're a "lumper" or a "splitter." This is, per the criteria at Wikipedia, Chionodoxa rather than Scilla. Hmmm... "Glory-of-the-snow." Think I like that better than "Siberian squill."

The few that I planted, probably 25 years ago now, before I knew better and when I still had gardening illusions, have now escaped the rock garden and carpeted even gravel waste areas in my none-too-well-tended yard. Blooming before the daffodils, they hint of things to come; however dry the season, they manage well enough on the residual soil moisture of previous snows and just ignore the hot dry season in dormancy.

Thankfully, they've not escaped the confines of the limited backyard area, as the grape hyacinths used to do before the chickens and deer ate them all. Although it may be fine in controlled shady lawn sites, the thought of deliberately planting it in wooded areas back East, as the garden websites seem to suggest, raises concern. I'm sure it'd be well able to outcompete native spring wildflowers, and I wonder whether it's ever considered invasive.

Also naturalizing, but more welcome, is this Yellow Prairie Violet, Viola nuttallii, happily blooming nearby in the same gravel area. Like the perennial bulbs, these natives thrive on the neglect provided by the absent-minded gardener, as well as the indifference of the season, which keeps forgetting to add moisture.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Where Do Orioles Live?

Suddenly Spring is in the offing, and where there was nothing showing but bleak just a few days ago, now an air of hope and greenery emerges. I thought I'd better get out and grab some photos of Oriole Abodes (say that 3 times fast) before they became, once again, invisible.

Rocking and resilient, these nests have weathered the test of time and the gale force winds we've been having recently. I'll be pleasantly surprised if any of these photos are in focus, as I could barely operate the camera without losing my hat to the wind!

Elm trees, ours and the neighbors, seem preferred in my small sampling, with two nests per tree. Chinese or perhaps Siberian, I don't bother to distinguish, as both are unwelcome exotics. Except, apparently, to the orioles. (Ours, you may recall, are Bullock's Orioles.)

What a place to sleep, lulled by winds in these deep woven hammocks! I wonder—Do they build anew each year? Are these two elms, with two nests each, a record of previous occupation, or do they represent multi-family housing?

One hardy pair gave the neighbor's Russian-olive a go.

Of course, the Orioles them- selves are nowhere in sight as yet, and the trees stand vacant still. But Spring is all about hope, is it not?