Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Skunk Scare

Skunk Scare

We were sniffing skunk around the neighborhood in late Summer but we didn’t see any. Then one morning in early Fall (you know what’s coming) I looked out the back window and saw the biggest skunk munching on our lawn. We watched as it meandered along under the bird feeders, at the edge of the hibiscus bushes, and through the dappled willow hedge on its way to our neighbor’s yard. Then we lost sight of it.

The skunk didn’t show up again and we haven’t been aware of its odor lately but the image is emblazoned in our memories. I had never seen one so large before nor one with just one large, white stripe down its back. I found out it is a particular species of skunk known as Conepatus leuconotus ( a white-backed hog-nosed skunk) that tends to inhabit Eastern Texas more than anywhere else.

I found out that skunks tend to be solitary except in breeding season, which has me wondering if there is a skunk family somewhere about. They often inhabit places where other animals have dug in the earth and we found some evidence of digging near our house.

It would be an understatement to say I am nervous about the situation. I try to remind myself that all creatures need a place to live. I wish it no harm but if it is lost, I admit that wouldn’t mind it finding its way back to its natural habitat.

General facts about skunks:
Specific facts about white-tailed hog nosed skunks:

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Groundhog Haven

Groundhog Haven

We have a backyard visitor – a groundhog. We have been trying to find its burrow but so far every time we catch sight of it, the critter takes off and ducks under our neighbors’ deck. Maybe that’s its home though we have seen evidence of digging in the dirt near our front door.

I think it is probably a male because females usually have several babies that stay with her for a while and I haven’t seen any little ones around. This single one is a regular by our bird feeders, eating its fill through the remaining days of summer. When the weather turns cold it will hunker in its burrow, slow its heart rate and hibernate until the spring, living off its fat reserves. But until then, this seems to be the particular groundhog’s haven.

The groundhog is a member of the squirrel family, though that connection is somewhat surprising because it is more of a solitary being than a social one like the squirrel; it certainly has a lot of squirrel family members in my backyard. I guess we all need the comfort of connection when we want it and the space to be on our own when we need it.

Want to know more about groundhogs?


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Home Farm Produce

Home Farm Produce

We have a small home farm, well, that’s how we think of it. It is more of a teeny tiny carved out section of our suburban yard

Each year we plant tomatoes not only because we like them but also we know that they will grow for us. We planted potatoes because some of our store-bought ones started to sprout and we figured we might as well give them a chance. We planted the bottom of a red-leaf lettuce when I read somewhere that it would grow, and it has; we’ve been enjoying the crispy new leaves in our nightly salads. The zucchini plants have grown high and with the bright yellow flowers, we expect some yummy veggies soon.

Last year we bought a small, thornless blackberry bush. It produced a few berries but most of them went to the birds before they ripened. This year the bush spread out, sending shoots in a wide circle. I haphazardly tossed some netting around them to see if we would get any berries for ourselves this season. Boy, are we getting fruit!

We wrapped screening around the plantings to keep out the squirrels. We (mostly my husband) fertilize the plants with natural products and water them but otherwise we kind of leave them alone. Yes, I talk to them, telling each how much I appreciate its providing us with such beautiful, edible products.

We are delighted with it all, considering we really know not much about farming; we are more improvisers than farmers. But our home farm produce connects us with something larger than ourselves. Each time we bite into a tomato that has come from our own garden, we pay attention – to its flavor, its value. When we pick the berries, we know exactly where they have come from. We are all part of nature. What a joyful thing to experience.

Two sites to help you make your own vegetable garden:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hibiscus Beauty

Hibiscus Beauty

I was out grocery shopping today at my local Trader Joe’s. As usual, the parking lot was crowded and the adjacent strip stores were also busy. As I approached my car, I noticed a hibiscus bush in full bloom alongside the parked cars. The brilliant white flowers were big and exuberant, stretching out past the bumpers, waving to the cars coming up the drive to the stores, almost defying the stop sign by growing bigger and fuller by the day.

I know that hibiscus plants are not native to the U.S. but the blossoms are so magnificent it is hard to discourage planting them. I have several at my house. They produce giant red flowers that make me stop to admire them every time I go outside. I actually enjoy the surprise of such elegance when I open my front door.

The hibiscus plant is a grand reminder that even in the most crowded environments, in places that seem to discourage nature, we can always find beauty if we look for it; a red maple at the curb of a city street, a lotus blooming in a polluted pond, a garden known as the High Line that was created on a stretch of unused railroad tracks in New York City. Who would expect such beauty there? In keeping ourselves open for what nature offers, we help ourselves to be open to beauty in other aspects of life, too. It is a meditation on the amazing experience of living.

Learn about hibiscus and see lots of varieties:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Wouldn’t That Be Peachy?

Wouldn’t That Be Peachy?

We have a peach tree. The tree has lots of peaches though they are not yet ripe enough for people to eat. That doesn’t stop the squirrels, however. The peaches that fall to the ground are fair game for munching. This young squirrel is nibbling away on an unripe peach. He decided that the table between two of our patio chairs was the perfect place for his snack.

I have seen this little one before. He hops right up even if I am sitting in there. I can tell it’s the same one because he has a slightly dark stripe of hair across his cheeks. Sometimes I talk to him (I am just guessing it’s male) and instead of running away, he stays on the table and seems to listen. I’ll chat about the weather or maybe I’ll tell him about the latest antics of my grandson who likes to make “peach soup” on the outdoor play kitchen with some of the fallen fruit. When we are finished playing, we usually put the peaches we collected into a container and place it where the squirrels can find it. Perhaps this squirrel thinks it’s his personal dinner plate.

I know I complain about the squirrels eating everything we plant, the reason we constructed a screened-in vegetable garden, but in truth, I like them. They are inventive and extremely smart. They help me remember that different is only an adjective, it does not mean inferior. And different is how we all are, from other life forms and from each other. If only we can learn to appreciate the value of differences within all of life, perhaps we would not be so quick to do harmful things to each other. Wouldn’t that be peachy?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Our Own Weather Vane

Our Own Weather Vane

This has been a very strange year, weather-wise. April showers happened more in May.   We hear about intense thunderstorms and severe drought conditions in California. Snow fell in the Great Lakes and the Northeast while Alaska is experiencing record warm temperatures. Now the northeast is expecting intense summer heat in the middle of spring.

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) National Weather Service map said predictability was low. Weather predictors on the news are often wrong. Each day seems to be a guess as to what we’ll find; we need to be flexible enough to deal with it.

Weather change is probably an apt metaphor for life in general. Sometimes the sun shines brightly for us, sometimes it rains on our parade. We can prepare for what life brings us by caring for ourselves. When we feel frenetic, it’s a good time to stop and take a few deep breaths before continuing on. We can plan for what we see coming but allow ourselves to understand that things may change. We might take time out of our busy days to take a walk or to exercise or listen to our favorite music, to dance, to smile. Let’s set our inner weather vane to predict a good life whatever it brings our way.

What’s going on with the weather?

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Wanted - Squirrels

Wanted – Squirrels

Squirrels are smart. They are inventive. They are pesky. Especially when it comes to planting time. They jump on flowerpots, skitter between newly transplanted bushes, and worse, they eat everything we put in the ground. We have never have peaches mature on the tree before those little creatures get to them. I find semi-ripened fruit lying on the ground with one bite taken from the still-hard flesh. I tried placing a covering around the tree but when I saw the holes bitten through the material, I gave up.

We had to put screening around our vegetables in our handmade greenhouse to keep the squirrels away, not that they don’t try to get in. Occasionally we’ll find a tomato just outside the enclosure with the usual single bite taken out of it. Then we tighten all the edges that might have allowed the invasion and hope for the best.

I have no problem co-existing with the local animals – chipmunks, rabbits, groundhogs - but squirrels seem to have trouble coexisting with us. They want it all. I am not the only one who complains about them. One of my friends who had the most beautiful vegetable garden gave up planting because of the work it took to keep the squirrels at bay. Someone else offered peanuts in the shell to the local critter but when she was late with the offering, the squirrel actually knocked on her back door!

They are brazen garden thieves who need rehabbing. But considering that most housing developments exist on land that was originally theirs, perhaps it is people who need to learn to live with them. They are kind of cute, don’t you think?