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.


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Finding a Way Forward, United and Strong

Well friends, we are 13 years into this restoration project and the plants are astonishing in their growth, the fireflies are flashing like never before and I cannot believe anyone thinks saving the world is not possible. The challenge is getting the Engine to Turn. How do we do this? How do we bring respect, love and compassion back into the world on a massive scale? I don't know except for one act after another, after another, after another. 

Bottle Brush grass is looking splendorous and offers foliage to caterpillars, seeds to birds and mammals and beauty to all of us. 

The Eight-spotted Forester moth lays her eggs on Wild Grape and Virginia Creeper...

and we find her progeny on the grape vine under the windowsill. The Land is more wild than it ever has been and we love how we feel amongst the wildness. It's like a coming home. 

Young American Persimmons are growing a few female flowers and dropping them as they continue to prepare for the heavy commitment of bringing a seed to fruition.

Blue Flag Iris and Silky Dogwood shade the waters sheltering Green Frogs. The weather didn't work out for an American Toad movement again this year, but next year will be the third try and you know what they's the charm. 

White Avens, a native wildflower, is flowering abundantly in the part shade here, right now, on this Land. We didn't plant them, but the seeds found their way there and planted themselves. Now little sweat bees are seeking bloom after bloom after bloom and finding sustenance. 

Freedom comes with letting plants grow where they want to grow and not keeping them tucked tidily into beds. Edit, sure, but let the plants feel free. Let yourself feel free. It changes everything. 

We enjoy this freedom. Minnie Pearl, our elderly cat, sometimes sits on her rug outdoors with us now (NO hunting occurs). She hated the outdoors after a rough youth, but now in her maturity, she wants to feel the breath of the plants, the breath of the warm winds and the comfort of those who love her. We all can change. 

And so, we do too, we change. We adapt. We pause. We are thoughtful in our response. We grow. We barely know Persimmon South, our second restoration project amongst the beloved power house of conservation work - Arc of Appalachia, but we are anxious to. We planted American Persimmons earlier this spring to start the wildlife habitat restoration of native plants. Steve found the hill top fertile soil eroded at the base of the hill and so we planted there, where nutrients and water collect. With all that feels wrong in this world, we offer our love and our efforts. 

We are grateful for the others that do this too. It takes bravery, a risk or perhaps just a desire to say enough sitting on my bum, running around buying things and just get to work remembering where we came from and how we fit into this beautiful world. United Plant Savers is doing just that. 

A portion of this land was strip-mined for coal...

and you can still see the coal seams in the high walls. Thanks to the strength and perseverance of humans to right these wrongs and the hanging on of nature at the edges, this area is diverse, abundant and full of life. 

Amanda Horn's art reminds us of the power of seeds and the power of plants. 

Plants are propagated like this Goldenseal...

and plants, like this Toadshade Trillium, grow and reproduce freely in magnificent, protected forest. 


There is our optimism; there is your optimism. Even if they don't translate to hope, optimism is all we need. We can get this engine to turn. We can love one another. We can love the nonhuman life of the world. We can stop stripping the trees from the forests for bourbon oak barrels, for palm oil, for yet another field of soy and corn. We can stop pretending our chocolate is not being harvested by enslaved children or that our electricity comes without a high, high price. We can stop filling in wetlands for another lawn of mowed grass or a place to park extra cars. Let's be mindful. Let's be educated. Let's do our research before we believe what is presented to us on social media. Let's get to work. United and Strong. 

We love you all! Thank you for your good work in the world. 

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Miles We Walk

We are well within reach of our 75 mile hiking goal for the month of March and it's our our physical bodies, to our spiritual bodies, to the much larger than us natural, whole world. We are grateful for the opportunity to be in this world and so we walk and we observe. Sometimes we try to capture our joy in selfies and usually it goes awry. For one...

and then the other...

So, we forget about looking at us and walk anyways. We admire the beauty in the world outside of us, tempering overthinking inside of us. 

Because of our nonconventional schedule, folks sometimes think we don't work, but we do. Steve is the primary money maker as a soil scientist doing soil investigations for septic systems. This boy knows soil and his ability to read the land is beautiful. If you think you know something about soil because you've read a lot or worked a garden, you probably don't. Take it from me, someone learning from someone in tune with his environment and observing soil for many decades, it's a wild ride of learning and unlearning. To make the best use of fossil fuels on far flung jobs and to take advantage of different hiking opportunities, I sometimes go along and watch birds or write while Steve operates his one man gig.

He walks far, he bores holes deep, shallow and often in slop, in all sorts of weather, with all sorts of landowners and is more often challenged than not. Here we visited the Darby Plains not intact at this private residence, but at Battelle Darby where we walked after, large acreages of land are protected and feeling the love and goodness of restoration. 

The farming practices that make homogenous landscapes like the one above also fuel us. We make homemade granola aware of our oats and pepitas and what pecan orchards look like. We buy the best we can with what's available to us, ever aware that our food purchases directly impact the biodiversity of the land surrounding us all. Will our food growing practices continue to improve? We believe so, if enough of us say yes.

On our many miles walked, funded by Steve, fueled by Mother Earth, we observe the simplicity and the resourcefulness of the lives around us. I wonder what the ridges and valleys of tree bark might feel like to Winter Fireflies seeking warmth and protection from cold wind? 

Spring Treetop Flasher Fireflies join the Winter Fireflies in this ridge and valley landscape we have become so enamored with. 

In an almost unbelievable moment of bark exploration, Steve found a Harvester butterfly chrysalis. We find these fascinating butterflies (who live in relationship with aphids and ants in this forest), but this is our first find of their pupation chamber, where enzymes turn the insides to goo and a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. There is magic in miles walked and observations made when the self-mind turns quiet and the awe-mind turns on.

These tree bark landscapes are so like the landscapes we walk.

Rattlesnake Plantain...

and Wild Sedum and moss also find shelter amongst these the leaves, on the roots, on the bark.

Shelter is critical for survival for all of us. I wonder about human shelter, in my critical thinking, sometimes overthinking mind. Why is it so extravagant? Why is it so big? Why is it not appropriate for weather without complex systems of heating and cooling? I am keenly aware of the multiplicity of over-the-top shelters Steve and I have. I marvel at the shelters created in our waste. 

We reconnect with our Earth ancestry in our walking. We mull over important and hard decisions and sometimes they spill out with clarity:

These four walls cannot contain me and yet they do. They warm me, they dry me, they offer me refuge. We've painted the walls joyful colors and filled the rooms with inspired, treasured handcraft. What we didn't prepare for in our nesting is the care that is necessary for all these things and the cost to our spirits in the care. You see, our spirits run with the coyotes. They soar with the turkey vultures. They stand sturdy as the oak. Our spirits crave sun, rain, wind, barefootedness, contact with soil. Our spirits ask at what cost are we accepting comfort? Our spirits tell us, it is too high. Change. Move your legs. Touch the tree bark and smell the scented gray-headed coneflower seeds. Drink in the richness of the sky and the marvel of a functioning ecosystem. Remember. Rejoin. These four walls cannot contain you, but they will if you let them. Get less comfortable. Be more free. Rediscover where you came from. Nourish your spirits. Nourish the fireflies. Nourish the opossums. Nourish the forests. Nourish the wetlands, the rivers, the deserts, the mountains. Nourish the Earth. Find you again. Howl at the moon. Never forget. 

And so we walk and we restore land. We are cognizant that this planet is not ours for the taking, that our spirits require nourishment. The future is bright. Tough choices will be made. The spicy sweetness of the spring blooming Witchhazel envelops us, bringing us home once more.


Recommended Podcast (and Book): Dacher Keltner, The Thrilling New Science of Awe