Wednesday, April 30, 2008

When worlds collide

I did a double-take as I drove past, my eyes scanning the lot for a parking space. A quick errand before work and I'd be on my way--my camera safe at home on the table, charging.
What makes our brains work like this-- catch a misplaced shape in the midst of chaos?
For there, in the Macadam Sea, on a small island finished with mulch, just starting to sprout lilies and a tuft of ornamental grass--a long black neck was watching.

A Canada Goose, quietly sitting on her nest. The small tuft of green, barely large enough for her body. Parked cars inches away.
Why do they choose to sit here, when an entire bank of green bounds the Sea? Is there something imprinted upon their brain that prefers an island to an edge? Will her children's first step be onto blacktop?
She watched me, as I fumbled with my cell phone, scrolling through media options until the shutter finally clicked. Never flinching.
Never hinting that what her world has become was anything less than perfect.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oriental Poppies

Our old house looks out over the country road from atop a hill, as it is with many older homes.
The front lawn is a combination of mosses and weeds that competes with the struggling grass beneath the shade of several large maples and a sprawling sycamore--and usually wins.
But at the roadside, the bank is exposed to a strong southern light that bakes the southern Ohio clay--and the abuse of passersby, who see it as little more than a ditch to collect their cast off bottles or an area to pull off onto and let an oncoming car pass.
Finding something to grow here, is a challenge.

Daylilies have consumed a fair portion.
But, above them, I've cast seeds. Of all that have ever sprouted, the only surviving as plants continue to be the poppies--their loooong tap root extending deep into the bank.
Deep enough to withstand the hot sun that fries everything else.


I cannot say
if I like flowers better, or the buds.

For their message is clear--a promise will be kept.

Thanks to Mrs. Nesbit for hosting ABC Wednesday!

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Please pass the bug spray."

Some things are learned by reading about them.
Others, by doing.
Of the lessons I’ve learned, the greatest, by far, have come from a combination of the two.

The tank on the table is my latest learning adventure.
Ten gallons of the finest vernal pool habitat—amber water-- a “tea” of sorts--and all that lives within, carefully carried in buckets from the shaded, oak-rimmed Wood Pool out back to its prominent location… a place at the kitchen table.

From my seat, as light streams in from the surrounding windows, every meal is an opportunity to watch what happens here.
Illuminating the watery depths--to discover, what lies beyond any book.

Daily water changes to prevent wastes from accumulating and a bubbler in one corner to add oxygen have given the hatchlings of the first spring migrants, Wood frogs and Jefferson salamanders, a protected space in which to grow. Dozens of tadpoles fouled the water quickly—their lives as eating machines, much like the frass-producing caterpillars of late summer. After 3 weeks, their plump copper-flecked bodies consuming green growth faster than I could carry it, they’ve been reunited with the thousands of other grazing sisters and brothers—in the Wood Pool.

Smiling faces of the Jeffersons remain. Their leonine forms lurk in the shadows, hungrily ambushing anything smaller than themselves, with a sudden gulp of a wide, toothless grin. Carnivores.
And, like baby birds, they eat and grow, and eat some more.

In a stroke of brilliance, the fine, salamander-tending hostess that I have become, scooped from the pool, a basin of delectable treats before retiring for the night. And gently tipped them into the tank for their midnight snack.

The water teems with the smallest life. And many of them I easily recognize or have learned to identify from pictures in my ever-growing collection of field guides.
I can spot a mosquito wiggler at a glance.
What I hadn’t yet figured out, was what the active, black, somersaulting characters were--and I’d eagerly captured many.

I now know that mosquitoes’ pupae are the “tumblers” I placed in the tank.
I also know that they hatch from these pupae relatively quickly.
As in…overnight.

For, by the next morning, they had disappeared from the tank.

The salamanders looked hungry.
So did the mosquitoes waiting for breakfast.

Jefferson Salamander larvae
20 days old

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The circle of life

The parade continues.
To the waters, another wave of life.

Tonight-- the tree frogs. And, as several peepers still cry out, though their numbers are far fewer now, five Cope's Gray Tree frogs gather, plump pads on long toes wrapping small stems just above the water's surface, and voice short raspy calls into a warm spring evening.

This pool, in the weeks I have been watching, has shown me, each day, change.

Its creatures, developing in the transparency of water.
Their lives transforming behind nothing more than gelatin--a womb with a view.
Peering into their world--until, the spark of life within, looks back at you.

Where, 52 days earlier, their parents returned to this ancestral pool,
the next generation of Spotteds enters the world.

Spotted Salamander eggs, 4-14-08
21 days

Spotted Salamander eggs, 4-21-08
28 days

Spotted Salamander eggs, 4-24-08
31 days

Can you find the Jefferson Salamander larva
swimming at the surface in the small image of Wood Pool?

(Look for green-tipped gills!)

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The color of rain

What color is the rain,
that softly falls on a quiet morning
from a colorless sky?

And bursts from fountains, tumbling.

Till all that remains
is a gossamer veil,

dancing in the gentle wind of spring.

I think it must be green.

First photo: Female Box Elder, pistillate flowers
Second photo: Male Box Elder, staminate flowers
Third photo:
Flowering Box Elders reflected in pond
Fourth photo:
Female Box Elder, leafing out

Excerpted from Wikipedia:
"Acer negundo is a species of maple native to North America.

Box Elder, Boxelder Maple, and Maple Ash are its most common names in the United States. Other variant names include Ash Maple, Ash-leaf Maple, Black Ash, Cut-leaved Maple, Negundo Maple, Red River Maple, Stinking Ash, Sugar Ash, and Three-leaved Maple.
Unlike most other maples (which usually have palmate leaves), it has pinnate leaves that have three to seven leaflets (usually three).

...And, unlike most other maples, A. negundo is fully dioecious and both a "male" and "female" tree are needed for either to reproduce".

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Have you seen...

The field has covered itself in little wild onions.
From edge to edge, the dirt exposed after last fall's soybean harvest barely peeks through, now--the fresh bluish-green haze, like a five-o'clock shadow, announcing spring--stretching across these 40 acres.
Green on green, the curly-tops catch the afternoon sun on their winding, playful stems.
Waiting to release that unmistakable aroma,
when the plow returns to recapture the land.

Until then, they run free.

"Have you seen...." is an effort to discover the unusual beauty in things not usually appreciated for their beauty.

Thanks to Wigger's World for hosting Skywatch Friday each week at his site!
And to Anna Carson for hosting Project Green.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The trouble with flowers...

Predictably the season has changed.
The timid days of early spring, so easily subdued by a headstrong winter, are now, ROARING.

The lawn has become a carpet of violets.
I walk a weaving course--not wanting to crush their pretty faces.

Even into the gravel drive, the determined growth takes hold.

And how does one find a path through these woods?

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Wild Saturday Night

Sometimes I scare myself, walking in the dark around the pond.
At night, it becomes a very different place, filled with different sounds,
illuminated only by the moon—and my flashlight.

Back in a shallow corner, the toads are trilling again. I can see their small bodies in the distance, sitting on clumps of algae—projecting their songs across the water into the night.

And, at the shoreline, a pair of steady white eyes that are caught in the beam of my light, as I scan the surface. Probably deer, unsure if they should bound into the safety of the woods--for I know they drink at this shallow, and follow the many prints they leave on these trails.

The water is already lower than I had hoped, for April. Spring rains that filled it to bursting a few weeks ago, have already found their way to a muskrat hole and emptied a foot of depth. But the edge areas are walkable now, and nighttime hides my stalking figure from what lives here.

They seem to have no fear—at least of me—as they summon others of their kind. American toads.

Or is it, that the force that has drawn them from land to this water is stronger than fear.
I dim my light, and unseen figures raise their voices, joining the appeal.

A splash...and a swirl startle me.
Probably, the muskrat, who crosses these shallows underwater, is equally alarmed--
surprised to see my large spotted boots so close to her watery front door.
Little ripples disturb the smooth surface,
as last year's bullfrog tadpoles
and small fish scurry past my toes.

In the reflected light of the full moon, I can see now that the water beside me has been interrupted -- a large mass of algae protruding above the surface. Almost as if I wasn't standing there at all, a huge snapping turtle, barely identifiable beneath her mossy shell, drifts closer--her feeding, the swirling I thought to be the muskrat.
This enormous turtle, that, in daylight, plunges beneath the surface when I approach from yards away, now, calmly searches the muck around my boot for dinner--or perhaps, intends to snag a distracted toad.

An unusual sound, muffled and throaty, draws my eyes to the opposite bank. I watch with my light as she leaves, the dry grass rustling as her small form moves away from the pond toward the oak woods.
She pauses often to look back at me as she trots off—
her glowing eyes, amber.

Animals of the night have eyes that have a mirror-like surface, the tapetum lucidum, which intensifies what little light there is available. When a flashlight or headlight of a vehicle reflects off this surface, the eyeshine of a characteristic color is sometimes seen.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Caption contest

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Sunday, April 20, 2008


It seems today would perfect.
Blue skies and sunshine, the warmth and stillness of spring.
And if I turn from my yard work to see he's returned--perfect it will be, indeed.

Update :
My male Ruby-throated Hummingbird returned 3 days after this post.
April 23, 2008.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Family pictures

I like to look at families--
notice the common characteristics between individuals and the traits that define their group.
The shape of a mouth, or the sound of a voice--that immediately identifies them as family.

It amazes me how, in even the youngest, the beginnings of these features become recognizable, long before they're grown.

These embryos in the Little Pond pool are salamanders (Spotted, I think)--with the hint of a tail and gills. In less than a week, they'll hatch into larvae, like the Jeffersons already growing in my tank, and begin their lives feeding in the shallow pool where their parents left these egg masses several weeks ago.

A bluish haze almost makes them seem magical.
And the changes I observe every day, are.

The Jeffersons' gills are now tipped in bright green--collapsing against their dark bodies as they swim and flaring out in the water as they settle in to wait for dinner. They look like tiny lions waiting in the brush, golden eyes glowing--
and act the part.

The Wood frog tadpole behind him glistens with coppery flecks--bumping carelessly along through the algae, grazing here and there.
The salamander, already the solitary hunter, would rather he graze somewhere else.

Suspended and motionless, with his widely-hinged mouth--
waiting for dinner to swim past.

And sprouting brand new front legs!!

If you zoom in on this picture you can see what looks like his spine developing!
I'm such a proud momma.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Savoring spring

Spring skies that roll past overhead

have yielded beautiful blues...and greens--

You must bury
your nose in it.

Tear mouthfuls
of delightfully
tender sprouts.

And absorb the scent of warming earth.

From winter's shelter,
life springs forth into sunshine.
Lovely, delicious.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Another place at the table

Our table for four serves another purpose now.
With just 2 of us home, the ample room quickly fills with every seasonal project--from taxes to owl pellets.
And because I crave more than a passing glance at so much of what is outside my door, often, assorted "guests" are invited in--to occupy the empty space, where children sat for dinner years ago.

This spring, it's an aquarium--ten gallons of amber water borrowed from the wood pool.
Filled with tadpoles and salamander larvae--and all their dinner favorites.
There's a small bubbler in one corner that hums more than I'd like, but oxygen is important to these tiny growing guests.
The Jefferson salamander larvae have external gills--absorbing oxygen easily from the water, as they sit, motionless, hidden in algae, waiting for prey to swim past.

With a sudden GULP, a tiny daphnia or copepod is drawn in--and he waits again--the predator.

The wood frog tadpoles' gills have become internal now, as in fish, water passing through them as they swim around the pool, grazing here and there.

Little eating machines--with voracious appetites. Already, they've quadrupled in size.

Who knows how long they'll stay--but for the moment, they're dining with us.

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