Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

This past week has been cold and often rainy so I decided to enjoy our backyard inside. We stacked firewood from a two-year-old cord (now nicely weathered) in the fireplace in our den then added branches that had fallen onto the lawn during the windy Fall days for kindling. The logs were lit and blazed with delicious warmth. The scene cozied up the den. We planted ourselves on the sofas and read books in the light and warmth of the flames. Ahhh.
            We tend to make fewer fires than most people who have fireplaces which means that the leftover wood in the cord is nice and dry for the next season/s. We discovered how wet wood can be really smoky so we appreciate letting the wood age.
            But what about the environmental cost of having a fireplace? Well, there is a cost but that impact depends on the type of fireplace, the kind of wood, even the kind of fuel. Whether a tree is burned or dies it oxidizes, just at a different rate. Trees are a renewable resource – we can replace them. Reputable wood harvesters know how to actively manage their wood lots.
            I admit I like my fireplace. I also confess that I am concerned about its consequences. Isn’t that like so much of life? We make choices and hope they aren’t harmful as they support us in how we choose to live.

What kind of wood is good for the fireplace?

Pros and cons of different kinds of fireplaces:

And what about the environment?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hawk in Suburbia

Hawk in Suburbia

I am used to seeing hawks off in the distance, wings spread, floating on the air currents beyond the height of our neighborhood trees. There is a grace to their flying, so smooth that it almost seems they aren’t flying at all.

Occasionally a hawk will come closer, just above our backyard trees. No doubt it is scoping out the movements on our bird feeders. Most of the time the birds are savvy and disappear when the hawk is around, though not always. I have found splashes of feathers on the lawn, usually from a mourning dove that didn’t move off fast enough. And we have enough squirrels and chipmunks to satisfy the hungriest hawk.

This week I was surprised, however, to find a hawk right in our backyard, sitting in the maple tree near our patio. It wasn’t the kind of place I would expect a hawk to be. It was high for people but not typical hawk height. And it was close to an inhabited site. The bird sat on a lower branch, another unusual activity. It seemed to be aware of every move we made near our back storm door but it wasn’t inclined to leave. Eventually, it took off across our yard to places unknown.

I admit I was shaken. It is one thing to see such a creature in the distance and quite another to have it within whistling distance, which I couldn’t help doing. Was it getting used to us? Not necessarily a good thing. Our living needs are obviously different. Can we live together in peace? As people take up more land space from the natural inhabitants the question becomes urgent. I hope we can do a better job of co-existing with the hawks than we often do with people who have divergent lifestyles.

A common bird in America:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

The woodpeckers found us again this year. It’s a treat to see them. We have a male and female munching on the black oil sunflower seeds. They are a nice size and lovely to look at.

I used to think that all woodpeckers only came in the Woody Woodpecker persona but that was incorrect; woodpeckers come in lots of variations. I believe our kind is a Northern Flicker. I know that dedicated birdwatchers need to identify what birds they see but I am not obsessed with identification. It’s the visual aspect of bird watching that gets me. I don’t have a life list of birds, either, documenting the birds I see in my travels though I have been privileged to see many different kinds. A birder likes to observe birds in their natural habitats. My backyard may not qualify as natural because when I put out seed for the birds, it automatically changes the environment. I say that the birds will find food wherever it is so why not in our backyard? I’m pretty accepting of whichever birds show up.

I’m sort of like that with people, too. I am always impressed with how much variety there is in humanity. It’s amazing to think that the category of person can come in so many sizes, colors, shapes, and individual details. Like the birds, each person has his or her own characteristics and personality. Pretty remarkable, I say, whether bird or person. And inspiring, too, that our world can support so much diversity, as long as we value it.

Lots of woodpeckers have red heads:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

For some reason, the squirrels like to sit on our patio chairs. Usually they sprawl flat out along the top or laze quite comfortably on the seat. They are aware of the people who live in the house but we don’t seem to bother them unless we open the door and chase them away.

This time a squirrel was upright on the back of the chair, facing the yard. He (or was it she?) knew we were watching but it did not bother him. He was relaxed and seemed to be taking in “his” property, observing the colors of the leaves, the birds as they flew on and off the feeders, the other squirrels zipping along the ground around him. He had the look of being master of all he surveys. We didn’t have the heart to shoo him off.

We have lots of squirrels in our backyard. They make nests in the trees, eat the seeds that drop from the feeders and sometimes find a way to get around the baffles and onto the feeders themselves. They chase each other during breeding season, run strangers away, or sometimes they scrabble just for fun. We complain that they share too many of our vegetables and use our patio for their own social gatherings. Occasionally, one will look in our kitchen window and stare at our table as we eat. We can almost hear the question, So, what’s for dinner?

This was different, however. The squirrel wasn’t looking for handouts. He wasn’t in breeding mode or protecting his turf. There was a peacefulness about him, unusual for a creature who seems constantly active. The squirrel’s tail stretched long and rested down the chair’s back, not twitching like I was used to seeing.

He/she stayed there for quite a while. I was transfixed with every turn of the creature’s head. There was something sacred about the scene. Did the squirrel feel connected with what he was seeing? Once, he turned and looked toward the glass door through which we were watching but did not register any fright or inclination to scoot away, then turned back and continued what now seemed like a vigil.

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel was owning what he/she saw or being embraced by it. It didn’t matter. As I watched, I felt a connection – to the squirrel, to what was being observed, to the larger sense of nature. Suddenly everything seemed new.  It was a broadening experience propelled from a very simple cause. It made me aware that the world is always different, depending upon one’s view. 

I turned away before the squirrel did. In the morning, the backyard was once again bustling with activity. I couldn’t tell which squirrel was the philosopher but I could appreciate the idea that everyone, whatever our size, has a personal perspective to offer.

An overview of the Eastern Gray Squirrel:


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Early Morning Clouds

Early Morning Clouds

I am not a morning person. It takes me a while to gather my energy so much of breakfast preparation takes place automatically. It’s a good thing oatmeal doesn’t need special attention.

Having said that, I am often startled out of my lethargy when I look out the kitchen window. Sometimes a new bird will surprise me or a flower that planted itself will suddenly appear. This time it was the sky that did it.

The trees were just awakening themselves, their leaves barely hanging on in mid-season. They seemed to be framing something that drew my eyes upward. Just above and beyond them was an exuberance of white clouds. It woke me up right away. I sensed myself being drawn upward into the vastness of the sky. How much larger I felt! 

Clouds often represent things depending on their form. The lighter ones tend to be associated with air and movement, higher thought, expansion and enlightenment. The darker ones are seen as more related grief or omens of change. But whatever the symbolism, there is always movement involved. Clouds are not indicative of the past; they exist in the present.

I wasn’t seeking the clouds’ meaning in the morning but I responded to their presence. They moved along at a slow pace, inviting me to dream along with them. And so I did for the rest of the day, making up my own symbolic definition of infinity, allowing myself to bask in their, and my connection with all of nature.

Chinese symbolism:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tomatoes on the Sill

Tomatoes on the Sill

It has been a good tomato season for us. I rarely bought any this summer. There is nothing better than picking something from your own garden, warm and juicy, and serving it right then. Yum.

But the season has changed and it was time to clean out the greenhouse. Our plants were just about done, though there were several green tomatoes that I couldn’t bear to let go. So I picked the remaining ones and put them on our windowsill, hoping that they would ripen. They wouldn’t be fresh-picked when we ate them but they wouldn’t have traveled for days (weeks?) to get to the market so they should still have a newness about the taste.

This weekend on my regular afternoon walk, I saw that someone else had culled a tomato garden. The wilted vines were laying at the curb – with tomatoes still on them! Some were even red. Why weren’t they picked before the plants were uprooted? Did they have bugs or fungus that prevented a late harvest? It was all I could do to not dive in and rescue the poor produce. It seemed like a gift rejected. When I returned home, I looked at the tomatoes on my sill. One already started to show a blush on its mostly green skin. I was glad I had saved it and the others.

I wouldn’t make a good farmer. I would not be happy if I had to destroy any crops because of blight or government mandate or lack of a living wage due to overabundance. I am grateful for the local, organic, non-GMO, pesticide-free produce offered in my area. I look forward to visiting the farmers’ markets that pop up in Spring, to buying and supporting sustainable agriculture. The little I grow on my own connects me with the earth and I am grateful for the taste it provides. 

There are so many little things that add to the joy in life. Why not tomatoes?

Some easy, practical tips to growing tomatoes:

More involved info:

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Trees are Showing Off

The Trees are Showing Off            

Here it comes – Autumn! It’s been Fall officially since September 22nd but it takes a while for Mother Nature to make the transition. Now the trees are showing off. Red and yellow leaves decorate the streets, both on the branches and on the ground. Some people around my neighborhood are already raking though it seems futile at this point; the trees have just begun their annual leaf-release.
I remember walking through the leaves that gathered on the sidewalk when I was growing up. I loved the crunchy sound of the drying maple leaves as I stomped through them. I still do. I make it a point to shuffle my feet in the colorful piles as I take my afternoon walk. Sometimes I kick the leaves into the air and watch as they fall back down; I stop at actually jumping into the raked mounds as I once did. I can’t help smiling, though. I am re-experiencing a pleasant childhood ritual.
As I grew older, I was the one in the family who did the raking. I never minded – even now it isn’t an onerous task. I don’t mind shoveling either, when Fall shifts into Winter and the snow falls. Yes, it’s work, but it is also a moment to reconnect with a younger me.
I know the leaves aren’t falling to amuse me. Trees are responding to the season. Daylight is shorter, temperatures are cooler, the air is dryer. The trees try to conserve their energy by using the nutrients stored in their roots and trunks. Photosynthesis is no longer available. The colors are there all the time but are masked by the chlorophyll during the warmer parts of the year. Now we can see their beauty.
I wonder if we do the same thing, mask our inner beauty, as we pass through our own sense of seasons. Do we succumb to peer pressure in our teen years? Do we hold back our creative spirit in the workplace? Are we reluctant to express our convictions to politicians, clergy, relatives, friends? Perhaps the trees can remind us that we, too, have a dazzling inner core. Our life seasons may be longer but they are just as compelling – if we allow ourselves to see who we really are.

Why do trees shed their leaves?