Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Acts of Presence and Acceptance

The quiet of winter arrived awhile ago and we work to accept it and to know it, even when we least want to. Winter bird friends like the downy woodpecker, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, and white-throated sparrow perk up the mood. Sometimes an American robin flock is around and one or two will sing. A northern cardinal started singing their spring song a few days ago and it stopped both of us in our tracks as we toured around the Old Field trail. We stood perfectly still, greedily slurping up the refreshment of joy in that song. 

Warmth from the woodstove and bright colors helps us all to settle somewhat into this time of stillness; we aren't still people though and so it's a season of acceptance, but also unease.

The wildlife cam offers glimpses of our wildlife friends and tells more full stories than we often witness. The downy woodpeckers visit the feeders, they visit the bath, they tap on the cup plant seed stalks and we now know that sound. Just the tap, tap, tap with a particular speed and strength tells us a downy is present.

The Carolina chickadees frequently chatter. Their effusive energy is inspiring. 

While hiking at Highlands Nature Sanctuary, we noted two resting insects on an American beech tree trunk: a dagger moth caterpillar and...

a two spotted tree cricket female. The sunshine was out on the tree cricket so she kept moseying on, but the caterpillar chilled in place. We wondered if a Carolina chickadee would like to eat them at this time of year? Or maybe a Carolina wren? Or if maybe the caterpillar had a plan to get the heck off that exposed trunk?

The Highland Nature Sanctuary and the Appalachian Forest Museum is around the corner from where we purchased our other little patch of land to restore to a diverse wild wonderland. It's inspiring to spend time amongst this community of Earth lovers and supporters.

Lodging is nearby and offers views like this of the Rocky Fork Gorge: 

Bats hibernate in some of the caves nearby and we got to tour one on our last visit since the bats had yet to hibernate. It was fascinating to walk through that space and imagine the shelter and optimum temperatures that are offered to the survivor bats, the ones that survive white-nose syndrome and hazards of life. What a gift to be in their space for just a moment.

Back at home, mourning doves like the seed offered in our bird feeders and in the plants. They often rest by the stream on sunny days, always facing south. They love to bathe and they like to be together. Their flightiness always makes us cautious of our actions at certain times of day, in certain places. They are a favorite of many predators, but they are fast and aware. 

Wild yam seed pods cling to their parent vines and their paper thin seeds slowly work their way out of the pods. Who might like to eat them? Birds? Mammals? Both? 

I'm surprised to see Northern flickers still hanging around so seeing two on the bird bath at once delights me; they move around and they aren't always here this time of year. I wonder if they found a cavity perfect for them? This wildlife cam is like a glimpse into a secret world, the real world happening all around, unbounded by the comforts of a first world house.

Our oldest kitty, Minnie Pearl, likes to join the unbounded world to eat some Beak Grass to help her belly and sit with Steve to take the world in. Even though she is not allowed to hunt outdoors and she hasn't wanted to go outdoors since she became a rescued inside kitty, she reminds us that as life gets shorter, it becomes more precious and old behaviors change. Suddenly the outdoors is interesting again and necessary. 

We work on land stewardship and gather seeds at this time of year and move them around this 3.5 acres we call Persimmon North. The River Oats are stunning so we move it around everywhere. The American Persimmons had a rough year in much of Ohio, but our wild friends still enjoy them so we gather the fruits where we can and make little caches here and there - on this log, at the base of this tree, on this animal path, etc. They are always gone the next day and our smiles get a little bigger. Sharing feels good.

We sometimes put the persimmons near the cam so we can see who gathers the harvest. 

Sometimes white-tailed deer find them...

more frequently on this land, opossums find them. 

This time, a raccoon showed up too late, but if they find them first, they eat them right up. We talk with friends about animal scat because that is just the type of people we are and we note that if persimmons are in an area, mammal scat is filled with the seeds. It's a bounteous, much sought-after fruit. 

We mourn the loss of the most beautiful, prolific and cold-hardy American persimmons here in Morrow County, OH we know about and were fortunate enough to gather from and love. We don't know why they are laying on their sides now and why they are aren't reaching for the sky offering their bounty for years and years to come. We do know a piece of our hearts is cleaved off and buried deep within the black, blocky bark. 

Dark-eyed juncos don't care about persimmons yet, as far as we can tell, but they do love the little seeds from from various plants and offered seed mixes here on this land. A few years ago on the Natchez Trace, we saw DE juncos feasting on the little seeds of sweet gum trees. Those prickly, beautiful seed balls are filled with the tiniest seeds, filled with life in one way or another - new sweet gum trees or full-bellied dark eyed juncos.

The colors are mostly faded here now, but a few oak trees still hold their leaves. We walked by a mother red oak on our neighbor's land on a day the wind blew from the south. We walked north and the oak captured that wind, dancing and talking. I wondered about the language of the trees; it's not one I can understand in a normal type of way, but it made me happy, grabbed my attention and made me notice. 

Most of the migratory raptors have moved through, but bald eagles spend much of winter in places near here so when I heard their call while I was tending the land, I turned round and round with my eyes to the sky and I saw nothing but blue. After a short while, the blue jay told me they fooled me and I agreed.

The red squirrels are mostly quiet, other than their sounds of chewing, always chewing, on black walnut hulls. One sleeps in a cavity in the sugar maples to the west of the house and we like thinking of the increase in tree cavities, knowing every last one of them is full up. That's where I would be, for sure, preferably south or southeast facing.

What will 2024 bring? No one ever knows, but we hope to hike more than ever, tend the land with our new high-tech stewardship baskets and immerse ourselves in this beautiful world. We wish for you so much goodness and so much love.

Happy Everything to you all! Bring it!

Soundtracks for the end of 2023:

P.S. My book is currently 48,000 words strong and I'm in the final edits this winter before submission. We will see what happens, but I know I can't wait to share it with you. 

Sunday, September 17, 2023

These Feet are Made for Walking

Steve and I will soon be hiking the Foothills Trail in South Carolina (& NC) - a 77 mile trail that traverses the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains amongst trees and abundant water. We hope to hike early enough in the autumn, that we will be brave enough to dip into the water full-bodied style.  We are excited to put our backpacks back on and live for a period of time on the trail. Using our feet and living in such a simple way is one of our most favorite ways to celebrate the lives we live.

This cool summer we hiked and we swam...

we basked amongst wildflowers...

we drank lots of coffee, toured this sanctuary of enchantment,

and took good care of our cats.

We talked, we worked and we missed the normal sultry heat that just barely arrived before the coolness of autumn arrived. 20 years of Growing Degree Data shows only one other summer cooler than this one; before I even thought to look up the weather information scientifically, we witnessed the change in the timing of the plants, the insects and all the lifeforms that depend on the latter two. 

We traveled south to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in KY/TN to chase summer and luxuriate in the lush greenery and the thick insect song. It was joyous! Black bears were feasting on eastern yellow jacket nests; each one - trail side - had been torn open, torn apart and consumed. 

We discovered a new-to-us shrub: buffalo nut (Pyrularia pubera), a member of the sandalwood family. This one stumped us for days and it was members of the nature community that stepped in and moved us forward. This is our kind of exciting! 

Of course we found American persimmon, because, of course, we searched everywhere.

Back in Ohio we marveled at rich color...

and tall grasses...

and clear water. 

We thought about relationships between the water willow above and the sandbars they grow on. We also thought about the fungal network below ground that sometimes becomes evident topside.

We found frass in our backyard and knew, even though we could not see them, a large silkmoth caterpillar was feasting in the sugar maples above. Steve wondered about eating concentrated/digested sunlight. Could it be a hiker superfood?

We ogled at prepupal ochre dagger moth caterpillars,

spotted apatelodes caterpillars feasting on redbud...

and white-marked tussock moth caterpillars on delicious and gorgeous American plum.

The darling underwing moth surprised us one day, clinging to our recently stacked wood pile so, of course, we ooed and ahhed and then learned the caterpillars host on poplar and willow. There are plenty of those plants here and the ecological connections continue to become visible. Rewilding works. 

The turbulent phosphila full on stopped our quick moving feet during one of our 10 mile walks in forest bigger than our 3.5 acre rewilding land. Normally they host on greenbrier, but this one looked pretty content on jumpseed. We hypothesized they either fell off greenbrier and were looking for more, developed a taste for jumpseed or were just on walkabout to find a good pupation site.

This world is a beautiful place and one we are so fortunate to explore and care for. Our bodies (and their abilities and inabilities) are the same...ones we are fortunate to have and to use and to care for.

Walk on. Roll on. Crawl on. Keep on.