Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Coreopsis on the Table

Coreopsis on the Table

The last of the coreopsis flowers graced our table last week. The plants were blooming despite the change in seasons, the erratic temperatures, and their tight quarters in a flowerpot on our patio.

These are hardy plants even though their flowers tend to look delicate. Coreopsis can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and weather. Depending upon their height, they can be used as back borders or edging. Their blossoms, which vary in color, last into the Fall, providing lovely table decorations.

I was impressed by how long the flowers lasted in the vase. They seemed so fragile, yet they stayed full and lively for the whole week. What a vibrant expression of nature in such a compact form. And that got me to thinking of how we often judge people by their outward appearance. Delicate doesn’t necessarily mean weak. It is more important to understand the inner strength of a person than to assume we know all there is to know from a glimpse at a person’s body.

When the coreopsis flowers finally wilted, I said goodbye and thanked them for sharing their perspective with me. We can learn something about the world and ourselves from the most surprising encounters.

An intro to coreopsis:

A look at the beautiful coreopsis varieties:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Skipping the Privets for Skip Laurels

Skipping the Privets for Skip Laurels

Our privet hedge needed replacing. It had grown too tall, become too leggy, infringed upon our neighbor’s side and was no longer attractive or functional. But when we removed the woody shrubs, we remembered why we originally planted them; we had wanted some privacy, which was now suddenly lacking.

It was suggested we look at Skip Laurels. So we went to the nursery to check them out. They were nice – full and green with the promise of white flowers come spring. We had some put in and I find that I love them. I welcomed them to our yard and I happily chat to them whenever I’m outside.

Why do I do this? Is it a myth that plants respond to human/plant interaction? Years ago my friend and I heard that talking to plants help them grow so we each prepared pots with the same soil and the same plants. We watered them equally. Then we talked to one plant but not to the other. After a month we noticed that the plants we spoke to flourished while the other plants were not as vibrant.

Science now shows that plants interact with each other. We seem to be part of a universal communication system even if we don’t all speak the same language. Wouldn’t it be nice if we would use that knowledge to help us all flourish, plants and people alike?

Wow, this tells you absolutely all you need to know about Skip (schipka) Laurel:

Does talking to plants really help them to grow? Check out these studies:

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Our Dog

Our Dog

You never know what’s going to happen when you're away on vacation. We were walking along a pleasant street, just trying to get a feel for the area, when we came upon two dogs having a great time playing with each other. They seemed to be part of the family that was standing by a car and talking. We moved along not thinking about it until we noticed that one of the dogs was walking alongside us.

“Hey, dog, go home,” we said. He didn’t.

As we walked further he came with us, measuring his pace with ours. We looked back down the street to see where its people were but they were gone. We wondered if this was a stray. His hair was ragged and he looked skinny. His muzzle was gray so we knew he was an older dog. Was he lost? Confused? But what could we do? We were on vacation. 

“Go home,” we repeated hoping he had a home.

We tried crossing the street; he followed. We walked slower and let him get ahead of us but he stopped as soon as he realized we were lagging, turned around and waited until we caught up. We asked a man who was walking on the street if he knew whose dog this was. “Isn’t it yours?” he said. “He seems to know you.”

We decided to go back to our hotel and see if they could call someone to come for the dog. We were almost there, passing the place where we first hooked up, when the dog took off and ran across the street. We heard someone yell, “YAY! There you are!” It sounded like our dog had found his family. Was he staying with us because he thought we would lead him back? He didn’t follow us as we reversed our steps and crossed onto the main road again.

We were relieved that he obviously was with his family again. And yet, in a way we had become his family, too. At least for a little while. Our dog added his presence to the stories we would tell when we got back home. Aren’t those stories what connect us with the world?

Monday, September 7, 2015

It's Still Summer

It’s Still Summer

It’s still officially summer and the temperature continues to be shorts-friendly. But things change in September. School vacation is over. Neighbors are back from the shore. The flowers that enlivened so many of our yards are off until next year. There are no more purple lilacs adding sweet perfume to the atmosphere. Faded blue hydrangeas are a reminder of former puffy table decorations. Dried flower stalks are starting to bend over the full-bodied hosta leaves.

There are always exceptions, of course, depending on where your garden is. My hibiscus plants are still pumping out those incredible blossoms, almost in a frantic end-of-season burst. The bees are still looking for nectar, gathering over the hummingbird feeder. And the mosquitoes are as big a nuisance as ever.

I actually like the change of seasons; there are always things of interest to see and learn. The insect on the last of the fading flowers I thought was a moth but it turned out to be a. Cabbage White Butterfly, a common species that is a frequent visitor to gardens. I discovered that they exist pretty much all over the world. Summer turns into Fall later in the month and things change even more dramatically. For example, the deciduous trees sport dramatically colored leaves, which then turn brown and fall leaving the branches bare and shape of the tree beautifully evident. I often stop and look up, delighted, into the burst of color.

There are so many possibilities in the change of seasons – to see something new, to rethink something familiar, to expand our understanding. The shift of my perception of moth to butterfly pleased me. I saw it anew. Perhaps that’s what the seasons really foster, new ways of seeing our usually familiar world.

Learn about the Cabbage white Butterfly:

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hummingbirds are Exciting

Hummingbirds are Exciting

There is something particularly special about hummingbirds. They are so small yet full of such energy. And sometimes surprises.

I was sitting out back the other day watching them flit back and forth from the feeder, their wings stirring the air as they hovered. Then one of the hummers came directly in front me, fluttering about a foot away. I was astounded! I spoke to it as it hung there, thanking it for coming over to say hello. I thought my voice might have scared it away but it remained. Was it listening? Was it checking me out, trying to see if I was an adversary? It stayed there for a full minute then sped off into the tree behind me. It soon returned to the feeder and proceeded to chow down, ignoring me completely.

I couldn’t stop talking about the experience to anyone who would listen. My sister said that when she was in Florida there were many hummingbirds and they were quite friendly. I wondered if this was just a young one who was exploring its environment but whatever the reason, I was infinitely pleased.

Sometimes nature presents us with large, demanding challenges like earthquakes or snowstorms or droughts. Sometimes, in our often-turbulent world, it offers the tiniest, delightful possibilities for us to reflect on and appreciate.

Facts and encouragement:

Check out the hummingbird stories:

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Poor Oak Trees

Poor Oak Trees

I’m feeling kind of sad about my oak tree. It has been gracing our house at the curb for almost forty years, supplying acorns for the squirrels, a fine nesting place for the birds, shade on hot summer days, and lovely, graceful leaves for atmosphere. This summer it is having troubles. Some of its branches are bare and on those that still have greenery, the leaves are not as abundant as they had been in the past. I wonder if the poor tree will last through the winter.

We go for walks every night after dinner when the heat of the day starts to mellow and we are noticing that many oak trees in our development are showing the same kinds of symptoms. There are woodpeckers in the area and sapsuckers are known to “bleed” a tree to get the sap, which harms the tree. Is there an oak tree disease ravaging these beauties? But then, their environment may be the problem. They were planted in a confined space. Their roots are reaching out desperately for somewhere to grow, raising concrete slabs, sending roots out along the curbside seeking nourishment. Or is it Oak Wilt? Photos from various botanical gardens seem to suggest that it is. My heart aches for the trees I see with receding growth as I learned that it is usually fatal.

There is a time for everything to flourish, I guess, and then to draw away. It’s hard to accept that sometimes that withdrawal is hastened; the oaks should last longer than this. Nature is a continuum of growth and loss. We can delay the process now and then but there is a time for it all. Perhaps our appreciation of what we have is the best way to understand the cycle – and to live life fully.

About Oak Wilt:

Beautiful oak trees in their prime:;_ylt=A0LEVyNeoMtVZZ4AuKtXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyczg3amEwBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjAwMjdfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=Beautiful+Oak+Trees&fr=chrf-yff34

Tuesday, July 28, 2015



I always loved summer as a kid. Besides it bringing my birthday, school was out and my friends and I spent most of the long, hot days outside. I also spent lots of time in the library catching up on books by my favorite authors. Sometimes my family would have a picnic with the cousins or we’d spend a day at the beach. It was welcome time away from our usual activities. So when summer came upon us this year I decided to take a needed blogcation for a few weeks to regenerate myself.

Now it’s time to return to my backyard. My blogcation helped me look at things through refreshed eyes. And I see that the yard needs tending. Things have grown abundantly over the years. The trees we planted for shade have done their job very well. The yard looks wooded and natural but we see that the bulbs we had planted no long bear flowers because of the shade generated by the trees. The privet hedges are long and lanky, reaching up through the tree branches to find the sun. The lovely Rose-of-Sharon bush spread to the other side of the yard and the seedlings seem to want to take over. Yes, tending is in order.

 At least I have the choice of gardening or resting; not everything in nature has that option. The bees have been busy gathering nectar and pollen from the Hibiscus and Echinacea flowers. They sing their way around the purple Salvia and Butterfly Bushes. Their visitations help distribute the pollen that fertilizes the plants. I hear them buzzing in the vegetable garden and I am grateful for their help. They make the juicy tomatoes we so love possible. In fact, a good portion of everyone’s diet is facilitated by honeybee pollination.

Which brings up the problem of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Our honeybees are in trouble. More colonies than ever have been failing.  Several dead hives have been found. Sometimes a queen bee and immature bees are present but no adult bees to do the hive’s work. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA's internal research agency, is trying to find out what causes CCD. Is it due to pesticides? Is it merely cyclical? Does it reflect poor management?

It makes a case for all of us being dependent upon each other. Bees are important to our survival – and we are necessary to theirs. As I enjoy the fruits- and vegetables – of their labor, I hope that we find a way to guarantee their continued presence. Come autumn, the old guard will be over and the new queens will hibernate until the next spring approaches. I understand about down time, even in Nature, but let’s not make CCD a permanent state for the bees.

Become familiar with the life of the honeybee:
Understand the problems bees currently face:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Blame the Mosquitoes

Blame the Mosquitoes

I’ve been considering putting up a tented gazebo for a few years. The reason being that we couldn’t sit out on our back patio due to the mosquitoes. It’s almost as if they are waiting for us to come out and settle in our chairs. Then it’s a free-for-all. They buzz around our ears, land on our arms, and have a snack. We used to be able to go out mid-day without worrying because mosquitoes would only be around early morning or at sundown; not any more. They are now out all day long.

We tried citronella plants and candles but the mosquitoes seem to laugh at that. I’ve worn wristbands that claim to ward off mosquitoes that didn’t work either. I’ve sprayed and rubbed – without luck.

So this year we bought a gazebo kit and put it together. It sits quietly in our backyard, hardly noticeable, and provides a peaceful place to be outdoors without being bitten. It actually surprises me that the mosquitoes haven’t pushed their way inside, as the netting is not bug tight. Occasionally a fly ventures inside and we do see spiders now and then. Perhaps mosquitoes need a more intimate connection with our bodies; they react to the carbon dioxide we exhale and to our body odors and temperature, but whatever the reason, so far we have been enjoying our primitive outdoor haven.

What do we do there? We read or chat, sometimes nap, but mostly we observe. There is a sense of calm within the netting, almost as if we are invisible to the outside world. Birds chirp around us. They walk right near the gazebo, closer to us than they would if we were more visible on the patio, pecking at the ground for seeds. Squirrels frolic in their mating dances; it’s like having a ballet company for our own pleasure. But even if nothing is happening, there is serenity there among the hedges and trees as if we are in a tree house without the height.

Will it last through the winter? I don’t know. Whatever happens, it is a delight right now. I blame the mosquitoes for making it necessary but I am grateful for the experience. In a way it’s a reminder of the fun we had in our camping days, communing with nature and removing ourselves from the bustle of everyday life. We feel ourselves let go as we sit there, enjoying the mosquito-free respite in our backyard.

Mosquito info:

Want to try some natural mosquito repellents?:

Try these suggestions to keep the newly introduced tiger mosquitoes at bay:

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Goldfinch Growing Up

Goldfinch Growing Up

The male American Goldfinch is a brilliant bird. His bright yellow feathers attract the attention not only of the female goldfinch but of anyone nearby. It’s hard to ignore, or take for granted, the almost neon quality of him on the feeder. He is regal.

He doesn’t start out that way, though. The baby bird is scrawny and demanding. As he grows, the young bird starts to fill out his feathers but they are splotchy and not very attractive, yellow mixed with gray in an exuberant disarray. There is nothing graceful about him, which is endearing in its own way.

It reminds me of a boy’s growing years. He starts out as a cute but demanding baby and slowly grows into his teen years when his voice breaks in mid-word, his face starts to get stubble, and he outgrows the sleeves of his shirt and the legs of his pants almost on a daily basis. Eventually, the boy finds his balance and the awkwardness slips away. He, like the goldfinch, shines in his youthful maturity.

It seems that nature mirrors itself, whatever the species. Regardless of the outside, the inside of us all develops in our own particular ways and that gets reflected externally. I find the young goldfinch on my feeder exciting, knowing that it will soon become something stunning – even if he doesn’t know it yet.

Click on photo for a larger view.
So much to know about American Goldfinches:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seeds Are Everywhere!

Seeds are Everywhere!

Have you noticed? Seeds are everywhere! Maple trees are sending their seeds spinning around the neighborhood. They whirl through the air at the slightest breeze and land on everything. The yellow dandelion flowers have changed into fairy seeds, catching the slightest movement of wind or breath to send them into new growing places. Pollen coats cars and houses, lawns, patio and deck furniture and people, if we can judge by the sneezes caused by allergic reactions to the powdery stuff. Leave a flowerpot filled with plain dirt outside and soon something will be growing there. Spring is a time for regeneration.

While we may have made a gazillion wishes blowing on dandelion seeds as kids (and kids still do) we adults seem to have lost our fondness for the plant. It does have a way of taking over a lawn. It is resilient to the point of defiance. Yet the dandelion has been a valued herb over the centuries. Almost every part of it has some health benefit. And while most of us are trying to rid our lawns of them, dandelion seeds are being sold with a host of other, more respected herbs.

So maybe we can give the dandelion a break and remember it has a beneficial purpose even if we choose not to cultivate it on our lawns. And perhaps once in a while forget that we are grown up, lift the stem gently from the ground, take a breath and blow out a wish!

What to value about dandelions and what to be careful of health wise:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Lily Of the Valley Pushing the Boundaries

Years ago I replanted about a dozen Lily of the Valley plants that were growing too near our air conditioning unit to our backyard to fill in a space in the shade. They accepted their new surroundings and grew. Each year there were a few more, thick green leaves with a delicate spray of white flowers that would come up in the Spring. Last year they had spread to the point of perhaps being too many so we put an edging around the outer plants and hoped that would contain them.

By this time, anyone with knowledge of this plant knows what I am about to say. They were not contained. In fact, they ignored the edging and now are heading for the main part of the yard. We noticed a similar thing happening at another house. The plants were growing beyond the wooden edging and were even starting to come up in a crack in the sidewalk.

It’s hard to believe that such a delicate plant is so vigorous. But maybe that’s why it is so loved. It graces gentle things like weddings and religious services. It is seen as the flower of fairies in folklore. It’s included in many birthday bouquets.

And yet, it can be a problem, outgrowing its designated place in the garden. I guess everything is on a continuum, the positive and negative blending into each other so that it is all part of the whole. All of nature, us included, has aspects that are pleasing to some, not so much to others. And that can change as customs and generations shift in their likes and dislikes. I appreciate the enthusiasm of the Lily of the Valley to be out there in the world but I think it’s time to insist on some boundaries. 

An affectionate look at cultivating Lily of the Valley:

Various meanings inspired by Lily of the Valley:

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Squirrel Angst

My Squirrel Angst

I know I often complain about the squirrel antics in my backyard but I had a squirrel experience today that shook me up. My husband and I were out walking this afternoon and saw two young squirrels coming down from a tree. I stopped for a few seconds to say, “Oh, look at the tiny squirrels!” Then I said to the closest one, “You are adorable!” After that we moved on up the street. And so did that little squirrel. It followed us, running between our feet and looking up longingly. After telling it gently that it needed to go back to its tree, we walked on. But the squirrel came with us. We were walking carefully so as not to step on it. It pawed at our shoes and the bottom of our jeans and tried to climb up. It wanted to follow us across the street but we turned back so it would stay on the sidewalk.

By this time, my heart was aching. Surely this poor critter was looking for its mother. What might have happened to her? Was it hungry? Sad? Was it imprinting? I knew relatively nothing about a baby squirrel’s needs. We had nothing to carry it in to transport it to an animal center or vet so we couldn’t take it with us. We tried to lead it back to the tree we saw it climbing down from but it stopped following. It must have gotten the message that we were not going to be its parents.

When we got back home, I tried calling several animal shelters and natural centers for advice but it was after hours and I only got their voice mail. I hope the squirrel took after its smart adult counterparts and found its way back to its tree home to climb up to its nest and be safe. I think I will look at my backyard squirrels differently from now on and perhaps be less critical as I remember my squirrel angst for one of the new generation.

If you run into this situation, here is how to handle it:

Squirrel nests:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

A Pea Plant Grows Indoors

I buy as much organic food as I can. I figure I’m supporting responsible farming, Mother Earth, and my family’s health. I try to plant my garden responsibly each year so that when it’s harvest time, our veggies are the best they can be.

But it wasn’t planting time yet when I discovered a green pea that gotten lost in the shuffle of the vegetable bin. It started to grow on its own so I put it in some dirt, in a small pot on the windowsill, just to see what would happen. At first it remained the same, a tiny bit of green peeking up from its gritty bed. But then it started to grow. And once it began, it continued sending up a delicate shoot toward the sun. Then leaves sprouted and viney tendrils began reaching for anything they could grab onto. And then a pea pod appeared with one beautiful, plump pea inside! How exciting! We had our own sugar snap pea plant. It makes me eager to get into the dirt and get the garden ready.

I am always amazed at how food grows. A seed gives no hint of what it will eventually look like but holds all of its potential wrapped inside that tiny package. Sometimes, like the pea, you can see its final form but it first must grow into the plant to take root and nourish its development. The cycle assures the survival of the plant. 

And not so far from our own survival as a species. We can see our roots in our children from the genetic resemblances to the acquired characteristics. All of nature passes along what keeps things going in our evolutionary process. Parents to children to grandchildren and beyond. Pretty wonderful, I think.

Here is how to grow your own delicious snap peas: 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Periwinkle Flowers Again

Our periwinkle (vinca) has blossomed again, as it does each year. It is a groundcover that takes its mission seriously. Given no interference, it tends to take over, which can be a good thing depending on where it is planted. It sends out vines and, well, covers the ground. It is green even in the winter months, a bright spot when everything seems dark and dreary. What a treat to see it peek out as the snow melts, reminding us of greener times to come.

And now, when spring is confused, sending us cold days alternating with warm days, it thumbs its leaves at the weather and sends up tiny, exquisite purple, blue, pink or white flowers. That is only the start of the options. These plants are adaptable. They like semi-shade but will grow in deeper shade or sun. They are exuberant, growing wherever they are placed and head out for other parts of the garden if not contained. Some homeowners use periwinkle instead of grass for their lawns – no mowing required.

I like vinca’s feistiness. It seems to know its destiny to grow and goes right at it. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all so confident in our own providence? We would all flower from within, allowing the world to see our potential as we embrace it ourselves. There is so much to learn from nature; periwinkle is one reminder of our own possibilities.

How to get started planting vinca:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Getting Ready to Plant

Getting Ready to Plant

I bought a container of organic strawberries from California last week. They were huge, ripe and delicious! We were still in winter coats while gardens out West were thriving. I can’t wait to dig in my own garden. I’m getting ready to plant!

We didn’t get to eat homegrown strawberries last spring though the squirrels did. I saw them haul off the fruit just before it was ripe enough for people to eat. They do that with the peaches, too. At least we had a bumper crop of tomatoes that were scrumptious. We planted four different kinds and feasted on red, yellow, and mottled varieties. Each had its own taste and texture but every one was a treat. That we had a crop at all was a surprise.

Last year we set up a small greenhouse that had a way of breaking loose from its boundaries despite the spikes we used to hold it down. It flipped over uprooting our peas and beans but the tomato plants were least affected. We couldn’t figure out if an animal pushed it over or some of the neighborhood kids were having fun but it isn’t going back up this season. We’re considering pulling out the ol’ posthole digger and getting serious. We don’t have a large plot so it shouldn’t be too hard to set up posts, connect them with screening, and keep the greenhouse stable. Hah!

I hope that we succeed. There is nothing quite as wonderful as eating what you have grown yourself. But if anyone has a foolproof/easy plan that you want to share, please feel free to do so. We’re probably not the only ones who could use some help.

Free plans for making a greenhouse:

And if you want to grow strawberries, here’s some advice:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Do Robins Herald Spring?

Do Robins Herald Spring? 

the robins are here
redbreasts hopping on brown grass
prompting thoughts of spring

This weekend it’s officially Spring. Hard to believe when today’s temperature is in the 30s to low 40s and tomorrow it will be hovering around freezing again. The forecast for Friday is snow.

But there are signs all around to bring our thoughts to warmer times. Daffodils are rising green and confident despite the weather predictions. Soon there will be bright, yellow flowers cheering up the barren garden. The lilac bushes are putting out tiny, cautious buds that will become fragrant purple blossoms. Geese are heading north in noisy flocks. And there are robins bounding over grass that is still recovering from being packed down with snow, finding worms and renewing expectations of the next season

Robins are credited with heralding Spring. Is that true? Well, some do migrate and return as winter starts to let go but many stay in their breeding grounds. They may be huddled in more wooded areas where there is more protection so they are less noticeable; it all depends on the availability of food. Our affection for the robin as herald remains in tact, however, and why not? Robin-spotting is a way for us to anticipate the more amiable season. 

In the midst of Winter it is always easy to pine for Spring but then we often ache for Summer and its swimming weather only to welcome Autumn for the heat-relief it brings. Then Winter calls to skiers, sledders, and everyone for holiday fun. The year’s variety, while it can be challenging, is emotionally bracing. It adds variety to our days and a sense of movement to our lives; almost like a well-written novel, it keeps us intrigued about what will happen next.

For the most part I like the change of seasons. And when I see the robins, even if they have been here all along, just out of my sight, my energy shifts into a lighter space. It’s time to expand, to plant, to come out of the house and greet the world that, like me, is ready to be new and refreshed. The first robin we see is a reminder of all of that.

Robin myths and reality:

More about robins:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Squirrel on the Roof

Squirrel on the Roof

It was a busy morning, in my head, anyway. I was wondering what to do first – go food shopping or work on the article I was writing or go to the library to return and replenish books or get a jump on house cleaning or bring stuff to the cleaners or…well, that was the kind of day it started out as. Food shopping won and I was on my way to the car when I saw a squirrel on the roof of the house. He/she was looking down at something. Then he looked up. Then turned toward me but didn’t scoot down as I expected he would. It seemed that he was just staring into space.

I sat in my car watching him for a while before I went on my errand. Was that squirrel going through a similar conundrum about what to do today or did he have something particular in mind? I know squirrels are smart. I have seen them figure out ways to get onto the bird feeders regardless of the obstacles we put in their way. A study of gray squirrels from the University of Exeter shows that they learn from observation, particularly if it relates to finding food. Was this one planning its next meal? Well, so was I.

I drove off to the market but I didn’t forget about that squirrel. We are learning so much about how animals think. Humans may be verbal but we are not exclusive to intelligence. Each species has its own way of interpreting information, especially about feeding, mating, and survival. It makes me look at other creatures with a less jaundiced eye. We all have to contend with the circumstances of life and we all need smarts to do it. Perhaps focus is the key. When I returned home the squirrel was gone. I had no doubt that he made a wise decision from the perspective on the roof.

University of Exeter study:

A fascinating study on animal intelligence by Virginia Morrell:

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What a Winter!

What a Winter!

It snowed a few days ago. Then we had freezing rain. The streets were iced and the accidents abundant. Then it thawed a bit causing some flooding. Now, late afternoon on this gray Tuesday it is starting to snow again. Just a few flakes so far and only a couple of inches predicted. Oops, it has already shifted to freezing rain. It’s one storm after another.

What a winter. It is affecting the whole country differently. Boston is on the cusp of having record snows this year: Maine already surpassed its record. And while it would seem terrific to be in San Francisco where the Bay Area is experiencing the warmest weather in its history, it also in the midst of a record drought. Even Sitka, Alaska, is having an unusual winter – it’s warmest.

Call it polar vortex or whatever, it is certainly a strange season. I wonder how the migrating creatures are faring. Are they as confused as we are? Is nature playing games with us or is it that we have been playing games with nature? Both, it seems. Nature traditionally fluctuates in the amount of heat and chemicals available to earth but it is human activity that is creating a larger problem. Check out what NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency have to say about climate change. This winter may be a fluke but it might be a harbinger as well.

Temperature extremes this winter:

NASA’s look at climate change:

For an in-depth analysis from the EPA:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hawk in Nature

Hawk in Nature

It snowed again, a beautiful powdery fluff that made everything seem so pristine. I did what was needed, shoveling the front drive and relieving the cars from their white burden. As I was working I heard the birds around me  – a woodpecker knocking on the trunk of a tree, the frantic chirping of the finches as they rushed in and out of the forsythia bush, geese chatting overhead as they made their way south in a long vee. What I didn’t hear was something that was happening in the backyard.

There were no birds on the feeders, a rather unusual occurrence for the time of day, especially during a snowy day when food is harder to find. They had been there earlier in the day, flitting back and forth between mouthfuls of seed. A mourning dove had joined them and was quietly cooing. Now there was silence. Hmmm.

Then I knew why. Toward the back of the yard was a large bird – a hawk! It was on the snow, pecking at something. By the look of the feathers underneath its feet, the mourning dove was its meal. Poor thing.

Nature can seem cruel at times but then everything has to eat. In the natural scheme of things, there is something for everyone. It is when part of nature becomes greedy that cruelty comes in. Animals that are forced out of their natural habitat must find a source of food. WHYY has been presenting a series by M. Sanjayan called A New Wild about the interaction of people and animals. It is worth seeing and, even more so, contemplating our impact on this incredible earth.

An interview with M. Sanjayan:

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Winter and Baking

Winter and Baking

Let me start off by saying it’s winter, just in case you forgot. It’s cold, often snowy (especially if you live in the northeast), and not particularly inviting to be outside. The birds on the feeders stay only as long as they can eat their fill and then scoot away to their hidden nests. The squirrels are grumpy, chasing each other away from the limited supply of frozen meals. There are no flowers brightening up the neighborhood. 

So I huddle inside, fire up the oven and bake!

This week I made what look like camouflage cookies; they blend in so well on my plates that it is easy to pretend the plate is empty and have another cookie. They are actually oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that are hearty, chewy and delicious. I followed a recipe but did what I usually do, that is I make changes as I go along. For instance, I use coconut sugar instead of granulated. None of my creations look fancy like the creations on The British Baking Show on PBS (Sunday at 8 PM in New Jersey), a show I enjoy watching. Several bakers make three assigned creations each week. At the end of the show, one baker is let go. I couldn’t compete like that. My baking is for home consumption, for family and friends only.

I actually like winter. When I have to go out, I bundle up and feel adventurous. Then I return and appreciate the warm comfort of the indoors. I know spring will be here soon enough and I will be spending less time baking as I plan my garden. But for now, I will blend in with the season, enjoy my baking, and look forward to what each season brings.

The British Baking Show: 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Hydrangea in Winter

Hydrangea in Winter

Well, winter made its presence known today with a storm (some are calling it a blizzard) that dropped snow on a large portion of the Northeast. We were lucky, with only a few inches in our area as opposed to a couple of feet in New York and Boston. More snow is being predicted for Monday. But that is days away and there are things to be done now.

We had to shovel, of course, and the township trucks were on the job early. The birds were a constant presence in our yard and the squirrels were digging into the snow for their buried acorn treasures. Rabbits left footprints as they looked for food. Everyone seemed busy.

But there is a quiet scene, too. In the midst of it all, Mother Nature is planning for the spring. With branches bare and its roots covered in snow, the hydrangea bush is laying on buds. It’s hard to imagine from the tight nubs the beautiful leaves and flowers that will delight us next season. The comfrey leaves have shriveled and gone yet I know the plant is only storing its energy and will return for another year. The hibiscus branches are white and brittle but they can’t fool me. Their blossoms will be dazzling late spring and well through the summer months.

It is the hydrangea bush, though, that is speaking to me now. I know some hydrangeas need shelter but mine have had an unsheltered life and still bloom. I am grateful for that. I sense its determination to survive and thrive despite difficulties. It reminds me that we all have things in life that are challenging and yet there is the hidden drive to blossom when we can, to let our inner selves support us until the right time comes to let the world see our beauty. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what’s inside but the hydrangea can remind us that it is worth the effort.

Taking care of your hydrangea:

Tons of comfrey facts:

What to grow in winter:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

It’s nice to think that things we value last forever but it isn’t always so. Case in point – the Passenger Pigeon. The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton is paying homage to the bird. Through June 27, 2015, it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the very last passenger pigeon in the world, who died on September 1st, 1914.

The birds once numbered in the billions but within a few decades became extinct. They were over-hunted and their forest nesting areas were decimated for agriculture. It’s ironic that the largest bird population in the world came down to zero, because of us.

Yes, we humans have needs – for housing, for sustenance, for reproduction. But so do other creatures. Should our needs always supersede those of others? We’re smart, surely we can figure out how to live within nature rather than decimating nature.

We can ask this about people, too. Can we respect all life, even if it is dissimilar to our own? Can we make room for those who look different from us, who hold various opinions, who have other beliefs? Or are we destined to be passenger pigeons, extinct by our own hands?

Facts about the Passenger Pigeon:

A state-by-state look at the Passenger Pigeon:

Go see the exhibit for yourself!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Coping with Winter

Coping with Winter

We’ve had a few cloudy days here, some rain, a bit of snow these past few weeks. Things look bare and winter-worn and we are only a third of the way into the season. The trees reveal their hidden nests, small ones for birds, larger ones for squirrels. The natural world seems to be in waiting mode.

What about all the excitement of the new year? Has it disappeared already?

Not for Mother Nature, it hasn’t. Nature is alive and active: there is life to protect during the cold months. The leaves may be gone but the trees have merely slowed down, conserving their energy in a process called dormancy, waiting for Spring. Squirrels are busy fattening up for the coming cold weather still to come. Birds fluff up their feathers to keep themselves warm as they munch on the seed in the feeders or wherever they can find it and seek shelter in coniferous tree branches. Deer huddle in groups, slow their metabolism, and watch out for each other. Chipmunks semi-hibernate, lowering their body temperature, though they don’t actually sleep.  They are coping with winter in their own special ways.

And what about us? How are we coping with winter?

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we have to hibernate. It’s a good time to reconnect with friends who are busy all summer. Libraries offer programs like book discussions, art exhibits, author visits. Forget resolutions – follow your intentions to do what feels right to you. Every year, every season has its excitement. It’s called life.

How trees survive winter:

Birds keep warm in winter: