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?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Hidden Treasure

Hidden Treasure

It was a beautiful Fall day. We were driving to a public park in a nearby town, about eight miles from our home. It was a small park, announced by a non-descript sign, but unless you knew where to look, you’d never see it. Wooden benches were scattered in a haphazard pattern along the grass on either side of a creek. There was a gravel path, mostly overgrown with weeds that led to a bridge that straddled the creek.
We had been here before but on this day we walked further inside the park. On one side of the water we discovered some fields for play, a few swings, and a small waterfall that splashed over the few rocks imbedded in the ground. On the other side were modestly rolling hills and some houses whose backyards led down to the water. The owners had decorated the bank with windmills and plastic flowers that added color and fun to the surroundings.
Further on, the water ran under a main road in town and appeared again under the crossing to resume its amble through the weed-grassy fields. It provided a reminder of the days when the town was mostly farms.
It wasn’t an impressive park but it was a delight all the same. I watched the water tumble onto the rocks and slowly go back to its calm meandering. I saw a young man taking photos – with a real camera – along the water’s edge. I smiled at the couple having a conversation on one of the benches and I let out a sigh as we approached our car for the drive home.
It was the kind of day that helps a person breathe deeper, to set aside whatever might be on your mind, if only for a brief time. But that respite is truly a treasure in our frenetic world. And all it took was a short ride and the willingness to look deeper into what seemed like nothing special. I’m glad we have parks.

Why are parks valuable?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hummingbird on the Feeder

Hummingbird on the Feeder

I had a hummingbird feeder sitting in my closet for a while, acquired with all good intentions of setting it out in the backyard but I didn’t get around to it last year. This summer I decided it was time. I filled the feeder with the sugar mixture hummingbirds like, put it outside my kitchen window and waited…and waited. I occasionally saw one eating from the butterfly bush but I thought they would enjoy the feeder more. Had the hummingbirds found other places to feed?

And then, there it was! There is something so exciting about seeing a hummingbird. It was tiny, only three to four-some inches, yet so beautiful.

I went on alert for sightings and discovered that they came around several times during the day. The bird uses so much energy flapping its wings that it has to eat often. And it is that flapping that gives it its name because its speed creates a hum.

I watched them all summer. I hadn’t realized that they were so territorial, chasing away other birds, even hummers, with their aggressiveness. These little beings were not easily intimidated.

Now it’s Fall. I know they will be migrating but I hope they will be back next year. I’ll make sure that I supply their food. I would hate to miss them. You never know when beauty will present itself.

Hummingbird facts:

More facts – listen to the sound clip:

Hummingbird migration:

Monday, September 8, 2014

Uh Oh, a Skunk!

Uh Oh, a Skunk!

I was looking out my kitchen window as I tend to do whenever I’m preparing a meal and saw this white blob under the bird feeders. It looked like a plastic bag had blown against the pole. I debated going out and removing it or letting the wind take it on its way. Then the “bag” moved and I saw it was a skunk! A rather large one, at that. Panic set in.

We frequently smell skunks in the neighborhood so I know that are around but I had hope they weren’t too near. This dispelled that hope. Knocking on the window to scare it off didn’t work. Opening the window (ever so slightly) and yelling “Shoo!” didn’t work either. The skunk looked up for a second, then continued munching on the seeds tossed down by the less than careful birds.

I didn’t know what to do so, other than looking outside several times as dusk turned to evening, I did nothing. The skunk eventually left and did not return the next day or the next. I wondered where it lived in this well-developed suburban neighborhood. I didn’t want to come upon it accidentally should it have a nest in back of our yard.

The thing is, skunks are actually cute. They are also mild-mannered except when threatened. They benefit farmers by eating agricultural and garden pests. And they are mostly nocturnal so they tend not (too often) to interact with people and animals.

Much as I am nervous about its reappearance, the skunk reminded me of the diversity of nature. There are helpful creatures, dangerous creatures, worrisome and delightful creatures. Sort of like us. All of nature has different aspects about it that make life interesting. Some we like, some not. It’s a matter of the good, the bad, and (in this case) the smelly.

Skunk info:

If you do get sprayed, try these de-skunking methods:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Rose Hips and Acadia

Rose Hips and Acadia

I was walking along a path in Acadia National Park at Bar Harbor, Maine, enjoying being out in nature when I heard someone say, “Are those tomatoes?” I looked to where she was pointing and smiled.  

She was referring to the rose hips, which are the seeds of roses. They are red and have a slightly flattened roundness that could be mistaken for hefty cherry tomatoes. They are abundant at this time of the season, ripening as autumn approaches.

Rose hips have a long history of usage, from birds and animals to humans. They are edible, though we humans cannot comfortably digest the seeds; they can be easily removed. They are rich in Vitamin C and other vitamins and antioxidants. Fall is a particularly good time to harvest them as they become sweeter after the first frost. They can be used topically to heal skin problems.

But I didn’t let my focus on rose hips distract me from the splendor of Acadia. It is magnificent. The mountain views and seascapes are meditative. Many people, myself included, sat on the rocks just looking outward. Time seems irrelevant in such a setting. It is a place of renewal, something necessary in today’s frenetic world. If you can’t get to Acadia, take a few minutes in your day just to close your eyes and breathe deeply. It really makes a difference.

This is the official Acadia website but Google other sites as well for some additional great photos:

A brief review of rose hips with some recipes:

Monday, August 18, 2014

Hibiscus Potential

Hibiscus Potential

The hibiscus flowers have been delighting us all summer. They are big, exuberant, brilliant red blossoms that cause comments by anyone who comes to our house. One plant greets visitors at our front door with a gracious floral welcome that is so prominent, it cannot be ignored.

There are seasons for everything, however, and even as buds are still developing, many have already flowered and gone leaving behind the empty leaves that held their glory. There are no more buds forming this season but they were prolific and the promise of each was extraordinary.

The last flower is about to bloom and I feel both sad and exhilarated. I know the plants will be back next year, probably expanded, as they tend to spread their beauty. But I am left with an awareness of how each tightly closed bud starts with potential and grows to be all it is meant to be. I cannot help but think of how it relates to children, how they start off with their potential contained and then blossom into the world, and how the process continues as we grow and mature into the beautiful creations we are all meant to be. 

Cultivation and maintenance instructions:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Coneflower/Echinacea – Nature’s Balance

Coneflower/Echinacea – Nature’s Balance

The purple coneflower seems to be everywhere this season, gracing gardens and fences, walkways and flowerpots. It adds lovely color wherever it grows and as a bonus, it is a native American plant.

But there is more to this plant than its pretty looks. It is also known as Echinacea purpura and has a long history of medicinal use. Like most things, though, Echinacea has its positive and negative sides. It can help with many things but can be problematic at other times. It has a general anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which helps boost a person’s natural immune system. On the other hand, it can cause reactions in people who are allergic to ragweed, daisies, marigolds and similar plants. It can kill germs and dry up mucous but it is strongly heating so it is not recommended for fever or night sweats.

It’s interesting how nature has a balance in everything. Careful attention helps keep us healthy. We can appreciate the beauty of the cornflower and not necessarily ingest it. Sometimes that works for our emotional health, as well, appreciating and observing to find out what supports us; a balance of beauty and practicality is nature’s way.

Some medical info about Echinacea: