Monday, September 27, 2010

Nature, Wherever

On our way up to visit relatives in Massachusetts, my husband and I stopped for a rest. We found a pier not far from the Bruce Museum in Connecticut and got out to stretch. I was immediately entranced. What an ideal pier – an old construction at the end of a road that was developed on both sides. It almost seemed like a small defiance, a last stand. Some people were fishing. One man was just looking at the rocks with its mounds of seaweed slowly swaying. A couple of women had a brief brown-bag picnic as they stared out to sea. The ebb and flow of the water was meditative for me and I found my breathing imitating its rhythm. So peaceful. So wonderful.

And what has that to do with my backyard, I hear you say? I have come to value all of nature and see the concept of “my backyard” in a very broad sense. Sometimes my backyard does, indeed, refer to my local surroundings but I can’t turn off my connection with such incredible diversity just because I can’t see it out my back door. Whenever I step beyond my house the natural world is there, available to charm, challenge, worry, embrace, distress, amaze, amuse, teach, delight, impress me – if I stay open to it, wherever it may be, however minimal it is.

I am glad that we had that rest, at that particular place. It wasn’t easy to access. I hope more people find it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hole in a Tree

One lazy day, my husband and I were in a mood to go into the less developed areas around our town. He knew of a local lake that might be the perfect place to spend some time so off we went. And sure enough, it was a soothing spot at which to refresh our spirits.

In browsing around the lake, I found this tree with a hole in its trunk. Ah, what a prompt to the imagination. Who lives in there? What will I find if I look down into the blackness? What if there is a rainbow inside the trunk or a bustling city of tiny people? What if someone hid a treasure map there that would lead to uncovering the riches of a lost civilization – right in the heart of the forest? I was having an “Alice down the rabbit hole” moment as I thought about what might be in such a place.

Of course there were other considerations of a more practical nature. Is the tree a willing host or is it in trouble? Is the hole a sign of rot or of an active occupant? Why did it start and how deep does it go?

I know I can find the scientific answers but sometimes it is more satisfying to ponder, at least for a while, the questions and the possibilities no matter how fanciful, to let the creative juices flow. Sort of like what we do every day but tend to forget that we blend the scientific with the creative as we go about our lives.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mushrooms are Beautiful but Watch Out!

I found these mushrooms growing in the middle of my neighbor’s grass. When plants and lawns all around have been withering from lack of rain, these guys seem to be thriving. It surprised me. I thought mushrooms, being fungi, needed dampness and shade to flourish; these had neither and were doing just fine.

My father-in-law used to identify mushrooms and actually eat them from the field near his vacation cabin in Massachusetts. That always scared me and not without cause. Many mushrooms are poisonous. The giant puffball mushrooms are considered safe, I understand, but are these those? “Wildman” Steve Brill says you need to be 100% sure of the mushroom you are about to eat. Eat the wrong one and you can find yourself with anything from a slight tummy ache to what the drug ads call a “fatal incident.”

They are interesting, though, and come in a large variety. Maybe the ones I have been seeing are the “skull-shaped puffballs,” which only refers to the way it grows not to any lethal qualities. Mushroom identification can be enticing. There are mushroom clubs and tours and identification courses and videos and books and…If you are serious about checking out mushrooms, here are a couple of sites to get you started:

I wouldn’t trust myself to correctly identify the safe from the dangerous mushrooms, at least not yet, so I think I’ll continue to buy mine at the market. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to their beauty, in all their unique shapes, colors, and sizes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Acorns are Ready

There is a forty-year-old oak tree in front of my house. Its limbs spread out to create shade on these hot summer days and it is most appreciated. Sometimes I park my car under its branches instead of on the steamy driveway.

I feel the strength of this tree as it rises straight up, its roots extending deep into the earth and balancing outward at the same time. I imagine the yoga pose aptly named Tree pose was fashioned after the oak. It is also a compassionate tree that welcomes nests in the spring and a nurturing one as summer comes to an end; it is prolific with its seeds. There are acorns everywhere! Squirrels rush about burying them in preparation for the long winter ahead. My car crunches acorns whenever I pull out of my driveway. I imagine that helps break the hard shells and makes it easier to eat. The neighborhood kids exercise their throwing arms as they toss acorns down the street.

I gather some of them in a basket for a centerpiece. I love to look at their perfect form and think about how new oaks are hiding inside each one. There are so many from this one tree. Should the earth ever need to repopulate its oak forests, the acorns are ready.