Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent. ~ Rumi

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cuckoo for Webworms




Listening to the delicate shower of detritus as I walked around the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, I felt the crunch of cypress needles underfoot as they fell to the floor boards, along with a substance that looked like brown sugar. As I travelled deeper into the bald cypress forest, the powdery substance became more noticeable and my attention was drawn up to a scattered flock of birds eating something in the canopy. My camera revealed the yellow billed cuckoo, Coccyzus americanus, picking off small white furry caterpillars from the limbs. At first I just saw one but then more arrived until I was made aware that a feasting was going on all around me; caterpillars eating cypress and cuckoos eating caterpillars. Every year around this time the trees are fed upon by caterpillars known as webworms that will eventually morph into moths starting the whole process over again. They form webs in the trees around the leaves and eat until they are ready to pupate. This is also the time of year that the migrating warblers start arriving. The warblers must have been in a different part of the sanctuary taking part in a feast of their own because the cuckoos had the caterpillar food market cornered. Normally, the white “hair” on the caterpillar acts as a deterrent to predators but the cuckoo snatched them up. Normally a solitary bird, they were arriving one after another. Not only an interesting sight but the cypress fragrance together with the scent of bayberry from the wax myrtle mixed with our cool dry air was reminiscent of winter holidays. What a contrast to the muggy hot days of summer! This weather and this view is a wonderful gift that I will feast on for the remainder of the season.

It's Complicated



With the waxing of the moon has come some glorious weather here in SW Florida and some spectacular migrating butterflies. This one is called cloudless sulphur, Phoebis sennae, traveling down from the north in search of warmth and food. Senna ligustrina, this butterfly’s host plant has emerged from the seed bank and thrived in the garden. This plant is still blooming and there are plenty of nectar plants around to nourish the adult butterfly. This summer the plant was covered with these caterpillars, eating both the leaves and flowers. As they ate the flowers their color turned from green to yellow and vice versa when they ate the leaves.

But I’ve noticed something else in my quest for connections. I am fascinated by extra floral nectaries, EFN, and this plant has them at the base of each leaf stem. To me it resembles a modified stipule. Nectaries are usually associated with the flower, secreting a sweet liquid to insure pollination. But these appendages also secrete sugars with other nutritional compounds and have nothing to do with pollination but they help to preserve the flowers. The tip of the gland is yellow or orange while the base that attaches to the stem is green. Ants are travelling and congregating around them. I have read that the ants will attack the larvae but I haven’t seen this onslaught yet. Interestingly, when the eggs are laid they look white and pitcher shaped. As they mature they turn yellow like these nectaries. I haven’t seen any eggs since August.

The ants were absent when the caterpillars were eating the flowers this summer but they are abundant now. Do the nectar producing glands respond to stress in the plant producing more nectar, attracting more ants? Now, I am seeing the flowers fertilized and seed pods forming. If ants are preventing the butterflies from flourishing on this bush are they laying them on a cassia instead, an alternative host plant without EFN? Or will they forego breeding here and return north in the spring? Obviously, I need to examine this relationship between host plant and butterfly more closely.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Transition



Typhus augustifolia
  With the growing season transitioning from fall to winter here in the flood plains of northern California, birds of all kinds have begun to stop here on their migratory route. Like the birds, I have landed, seeking nourishment. This refuge is called the Vic Fazio Wildlife Area, a subset of the Sacramento River floodplain. These lands are being restored from their previous use as farmland into a managed wildlife area. This restoration came about in 1997 from the persistence of concerned citizens who formed the Yolo Basin Foundation in 1990, a group with diverse backgrounds that included agriculture and wildlife conservation as well as government and business interests. They formed partnerships with other organizations, creating a public/private enterprise that has set aside 16,000 acres that are continually being restored to a more natural state, providing various ecologies for the wildlife and us to enjoy. From warblers to geese they are beginning to blanket these restored ecosystems that include; permanent wetlands, seasonal wetlands, riparian forests, and grasslands. The California Department of Fish and Game is responsible for managing these acres and work in partnership with the Yolo Basin Foundation. Groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, water quality improvement and flood control are the benefits created by this restoration not to mention the   opportunities for education, research and recreation which continue to draw in supporters.

As I walk through the mudflats and up through the seasonal wetlands with the wind in my face and redwing blackbirds congregating in the cattails I am reminded that this is autumn, a time of transition. Hopefully, we can reflect on our own transition towards this healthier way of life… as Aldo Leopold put it, “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect." I am grateful for the abundance of vision and hard work that it took and is taking to nurture this community and I will take my fill from the bounty that surrounds me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Like a Moth to a Flame


Walking under the moon at night a fragrance pulls at me until I identify its source. As I get closer I realize that it is the flower of the moon vine, Ipomoea alba, opening up and releasing an intoxicating fragrance. This plant is a night blooming morning glory native to the tropics and sub tropics from northern Argentina to Mexico and Florida. It is listed as a perennial in the tropics but in southwest Florida it dies back in the cold and re-emerges in the summer and fall.

Life begins for this plant as the testa on the seed softens and the embryo pushes out to set down roots. Then a shoot grows, twining around shrubs and trees, putting out cordate or heart shaped leaves, leading up to adjacent buds. One at a time the buds mature into long tubular flowers, resembling soft ice cream that spirals towards its apex. Each four inch bud can be visible just before dusk when it begins to unfold. The corolla appears to be an elegant origami unfolding and lasts only a few hours until dawn when it resembles crumpled paper. When opened, the shape and color of the fluted corolla reflects that of a full moon, measuring five to six inches across. Even in its unfolded state, the creases remain, serving as a tactile road map that the moth uses to locate the nectar at the bottom of the long tube with its probiscis. After pollination the ovary swells and then dries releasing white seeds the size of large peas. With more rain the process will begin again.

I can just imagine the thread of scent wafting through the air that reaches out to night pollinating insects including moths. My attraction also ignites a curiosity about the chemical properties of the nectar. Like the moth I can’t resist. Mmm…if only I had a probiscis. For now I am content to relish the fragrance and behold the blossom as I walk on the edge of the woods on a tropical moonlit night.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Contrary










There’s one in every group, one that marches to the beat of a different drummer. Plants usually grow up in search of light but this perennial has found its’ light another way. Spanish moss or Tillandsia usneoides grows down…down through the cypress trees, down into the light, down into the breezes that spread their seed. Tiny green flowers growing in the axils of the leaves pollinated by wind or insect, I don’t know which; create a long, dehiscent seed pod. When the pod ripens, it explodes, propelling seeds with hairy sails. From time to time the wind blows the delicate plant toward limbs where they clasp on with their rough scales, creating a decorative swag from limb to limb and continue to grow down like water pouring over the trees. They are usually found on cypress, oak and sometimes pine here in south Florida. It is not a moss at all but an epiphyte and a plant dependant on its host plant for support not food. Unlike other aerial plants this one does not have any roots. The blue gray scales on the leaves called trichomes have the ability to soak up nutrients, including water and to conserve moisture during periods of drought.





 The pendulous clumps of these soft plants become homes for the yellow throated and northern parula warblers. Other birds use the plant for nesting material. Bats roost in them and there is a jumping spider that also calls it home. Sometimes they become so thick on a branch that when wet, can cause it to break. Over time the growth can actually cut off the light needed by the trees that it uses for support, causing them to weaken. Native Americans found many uses for this plant that include using it as a tea for fevers, the fresh fibers for padding and sponges and the stripped fibers for cordage. Currently, it is used in the plant trade and as stuffing for furniture. I enjoy watching it pour over and down through the swamp.
Being contrary definitely has its’ place.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Falling in Love






Today, my seven year old niece asked me to go with her on a walk by the edge of the Pond Cypress swamp and to bring my camera. She often accompanies me on my photographic outings and today she had plenty of direction for me, pointing out only the best shots. One shot was this water lily, Nymphaea odorata Aiton. The first time I spotted them was years ago, shortly after the meteor showers here in August. When I spotted them floating under the cypress my first thought was that they were the remnants of those shooting stars. I guess technically everything is stardust but on that morning they were particularly bright and dazzled me with their freshness against the rust colored water. Since then I have become accustomed to those floating stars marking the coming of fall when they become more plentiful.

But today they became a fresh discovery. I could hear her breath as she gasped when she eyed the singular blossom. What I heard, I realized, was my niece falling in love. Next time she will want to get closer, maybe examine it and ask me questions about how it lives in the water. I will explain the parts of the flower and maybe draw pictures to help her visualize. We’ll take tissue from the leaf and examine the stomata under the microscope. We’ll spend time observing the other life forms that benefit or are harmed from the lily’s presence. As long as she has questions we will keep learning. As long as she continues to fall in love with nature, then she will continue to care for her world.

In the moment that she gasped I was connected to all of those “first times” that impelled my heart to know more. So, take a child out on a walk to a wild place and fall in love all over again with earthly wonders. The planet’s counting on it!

Turtle's Message







Coming across the Florida Box Turtle, Terrapene Carolina bauri, which resides along the edges of the uplands and wet areas, is a magical experience for me. The Native Americans believe that earth was created by a turtle and that the world rests on her back. The Florida Box Turtle carries her “home” with her and with the aid of a hinged plastron can defend herself against predators by closing her shell. The shell can even regenerate if damaged. Unfortunately, they can’t defend themselves against the loss of their habitat or the increasing fragmentation of their remaining home ranges. Each turtle’s range extends out 750 ft in diameter and if that area is in a subdivision then roads and machinery are their obstacles.

I was fortunate enough to spot this omnivore, as it walked across the grass and nabbed a beetle. The recent rains added to the vibrant yellow stripes on the black domed shell, showcasing a vibrant design of lines and dashes with a raised yellow stripe down the length of the carapace. There seemed to be a hidden message there in a language I couldn’t read, a sort of hieroglyphics. This particular one was a female. The plastron was convex in contrast to the male with a concave plastron and the iris was yellow brown while a male’s is red. They are easy to spot now, either feeding or soaking in the water and hopefully, I will get to witness some egg laying.

Sadly, Florida Herp law allows for these turtles to be collected without a permit. The law states that you may have up to two turtles and two eggs in your possession at any one time. However, you do need a permit if you intend to sell them. I recently read that they bond with the place of their birth and when captured, become stressed and succumb to disease. I hope that others will see that this unique creature needs to stay in the wild and that we need to think carefully about our wildlife corridors if we want them to be around. Perhaps that is the message hidden on their backs.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Guardian of the forest



“Guardian of the Forest” or Ix-canan is the name that Mayans gave to the Firebush, Hamelia patens. But as its common name suggests this plant is on fire. Or at least it appears that way. Even in the coldest days of winter here in South Florida its embers of life are smoldering deep within its roots. The cold stopped its growth dead in its tracks during the freeze this past winter but some of the leaves hung on, changing to lighter reds and greens in hopes of catching those different wave lengths of light. Growth was slow and steady during the spring months but as soon as the heat and wet of summer hit, it exploded with green growth and blossoms.

Each blossom strikes up a flame of such intensity, that the hummingbirds, butterflies, bees and ants just can’t ignore. The anoles wait patiently on the branches in hopes of catching those nectar seeking ants and once in awhile land a butterfly. As I looked closer on this plant and watched the pollinators, I observed that the ants were crawling in and out of holes just above the ovary. These holes were absent from the newly formed flowers. I then watched as a carpenter bee, too large to climb down into the tubular flower, appeared to pierce the base with its mouth parts. I thought this was clever for the bee and fortunate for the plant that the ants were distributing the pollen while they crawled around. There seemed to be more than enough nectar to go around.


Towards the end of summer and into the fall the berries attract song birds. They are not particularly sweet enough for my tastes but I can see making a jam or jelly from them. The firebush also has many medicinal uses that have been discovered by the indigenous people of Central and South America, the West Indies and Mexico. These uses are many and include treating burns, another reference to its name, to healing headaches. With its gift of abundance it’s easy to feel gratitude for this marvelous plant.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Florida Fairies


 
I first became interested in native Florida orchids ten years ago when one almost hit me on the head. It was right after a summer storm and I was standing under an oak tree in Okeechobee. I suppose the limbs had weakened because when a wind came up, one fell right in front of me. The limb was about the size of my arm, water logged and mostly rotten. It was covered in bromeliads, resurrection fern and what I identified as a butterfly orchid, Encyclia tampensis.

What a great way to sensitize yourself to the wonders of nature in Florida! Ever since then I always look up and into the trees. I also look right into the face of the flower. Not an attractant to butterflies, this epiphyte’s general appearance seems to resemble a kaleidoscope of butterflies. But the petals actually look like little angels or fairies to me. The flower is made up of five sepals that appear green with orange brushed over them and there are three white petals; two on either side of the column that resemble wings if we are still thinking of the fairy analogy, and a broader petal or lip is brushed with purple that resembles a dress. Fairies and angels aside, I’ve always been intrigued by that clever adaptation of orchids to entice their pollinators to come hither. That petal could serve as a landing pad for pollinators and the splash of color and sweet fragrance really does seem to point the way to the ambrosia that awaits them. And if you look at the orchid’s “face” straight on, is there some resemblance to an insect? Maybe, I still see fairies. In my own wanderings I have seen it growing on oaks along streams or river beds and up in the cypress trees. This protected orchid is not as prolific as it once was due in part to habitat loss and cold spells but if you find yourself in a wild area after a storm, watch out, they fall down a lot.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Exceptional Encounter



My dream is to be a painter so I paint every day. This morning I was pulled from my canvas after listening to the call of a swallow tailed kite. At first the sound was in the background of my activities but it continued and pulled me outside to connect the voice with the action taking place. Right in my backyard in the canopy of the slash pine was a juvenile swallow tailed kite alternately calling out and shredding what appeared to be a squirrel. I had known that these birds eat mostly on the wing so I was delighted to get a glimpse of something I might not ordinarily see. I also know that its’ talons are not as strong as other raptors so it normally takes smaller prey. As it ate it appeared to use its right wing as an arm to help hold down the animal and/or to balance on the branch. After the bird’s meal was finished, he dropped down off the branch and spiraled around the tree and up.



The rains this week have lightened the air and the shadows seem slightly longer. It’s almost the middle of August and these beautiful birds will soon leave us for South America. With chicks fully fledged I’m told that just before they leave they gather together in a flock just at the western edge of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Perhaps they talk about their journey they are about to undertake, across the Gulf of Mexico over to Central America and onto their wintering grounds in South America. I imagine that they check to see that everyone has had an opportunity to ride the thermals since that is what they will use to get to their destination. If not I suppose that someone will keep an eye on those that fledged too late for that activity. There may even be some discussion as to who will lead the journey. Perhaps they will take turns. I can just imagine. Until then I wish them a bon voyage and look forward to their return in the middle of February.



Thursday, August 5, 2010

Midsummer Smorgasbord







The air is heavy and hot but cooler at the water’s edge and full of food, both flora and fauna. Before I head out on my walk, I rub my arms and neck with the leaves of the beauty berry, a prolific native shrub that grows here in the pine uplands. This treatment keeps most of the buzzing insects at bay.

As I approach the pond cypress swamp here in Bonita Springs, I can see that the pond apple trees are actually bending with the weight of their fruit. Swollen plant ovaries are encapsulating fertilized seeds everywhere I look and animals are beginning to take notice of the bounty. Elderberry shrubs are trampled and their fruit stripped from the branches. At the water’s edge the fleabane and the mist flower are still blooming and offer up nectar for the peacock butterflies that are hovering close by. Many wildflowers have set their seed but still some are continuing to bloom. Even the butterfly orchids are setting their seed pods. The yellow cannas imitate bird heads with their pods stretched out ready to burst and the swamp lilies bend down on purpose next to the water to release their seeds.

The water is full of aquatic life, including fish, frogs, snakes and an assortment of invertebrates including shrimp and snails. I inadvertently scare up a southern leopard frog that lets out a scream while jumping into the water. Further out I detect the frog’s round mass of eggs about the size of a softball. Dragonflies hover above and mosquitoes hatch out from below. The beauty berry that I applied earlier is doing its part to keep me out of this food web.

With the high water and availability of food the wading birds have been hard to locate. But today I am happy to report that the old feathered gang is back. Together with snowy egrets, a flock of ibis, an immature blue heron, and a great egret, a small flock of four roseate spoonbills came in to feast at the edge of the cypress pond. I smile and walk back knowing that all is right with this world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Swamp Fishing

Water surrounds us now…the air is thick with it and the rains are coming more frequently, bringing that southern moisture from the equator. The cicada’s voices are louder during the day and those tiny tree crickets are more frequent at night. Pools of water are forming in every available spot filling with invertebrates and frog’s eggs and in some cases even fish. It’s a delight to hear the ensemble of frog’s voices before and just after a rain and disheartening to still hear that squeaky shoe voice of the invasive Cuban frog. This morning they were falling out of the cabbage palms!


As I entered the swamp, looking closely on the bark of the cypress, I can spot the usual suspects; green anoles and five lined skinks. I even glimpse a rat snake reluctantly crossing over a narrow strip of water to get to the next tree.

But something else catches my attention. At first, I think I see the spent holdfast of a bromeliad but as I get closer I recognize the fishing spider, Dolomedes okefinokensis almost the size of my hand clasping what appears to be a shrimp. Although their main diet consists mostly of insects they have been spotted feeding on small fish and frogs. Their velvety hairs are hydrophobic which allows them to use surface tension to sit on the water with their forearms extended and with their vibration detecting organs, grab their meal. Because of their specialized covering they are also able to submerge themselves, a possible adaption to capture prey or evade predators. A thin film forms around them from the air that gets trapped between the hairs. This underwater air supply allows them to stay buoyant and even breathe under water. Once they have grasped their meal they move out of the wet onto dry land or in this case the trunk of a pond cypress, to eat.

I continued my walk and noticed another possible wonder. Nestled into the hollow of a branch was another invasive Cuban frog. Mm… if only he was in the water!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blue Neighbor




I have a dream to make a nest for myself in the pond cypress. The needles are soft enough and the young branches are pliable. It would be just big enough for me to sit and feel the wind rock me from side to side and get a bird’s eye view of the swamp. I’m always down looking up and out. I think the view point would be dramatically different if I were looking down and into the treetops.

This was one of my views looking up one morning. Walking by, I witnessed a blue heron fly up into a pond cypress where I took this picture. I am amazed at how his feet are adapted for wading and perching! I have watched this one grow up over the past year. First, with his all white plumage I would spot him amongst the white egrets foraging at the forest’s edge. Then his feathers would start to turn from white to blue in patches.

These birds can walk for hours it seems stirring up prey from the water and grabbing a snack. Their success rate is greater when they stir up prey together with a flock of other wading birds but even alone at this time of year he seems very successful. But when they are in the trees like this, what are they thinking? Studying me no doubt or taking a moment? After awhile he got tired of eyeing me and began to preen and eventually returned to foraging. Watching the eating habits of this bird is like witnessing a meditation of sorts, punctuated occasionally by a squawk like call when feathered neighbors drop in for a bite to eat.

Since building in these protected trees is out of the question, I will let my imagination be guided by the actions of this beautiful bird that is at peace in his surroundings, and always ready to stir up a good meal with friends.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scarlet Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus)







After the warblers have flown north and the leaves have filled in, the cypress swamp becomes a darkened secret garden. This sanctuary has a hushed day time tone in the summer months with certain sounds louder and more distinct than others.

Walking under the canopy, lush foliage surrounds you and the light filters down through swaying branches. If you look carefully you can begin to make out the fingered leaves of the hibiscus catching some of that falling light. With growth following the surge of water and warmer weather these bushy plants can reach six feet in height. Some visitors experience a flashback and take a second look thinking they have spotted some errant cannabis on this trail but the flower brings them back to the present.

This one flower in particular rewards the patient observer with a perceived song triggered by the brilliant scarlet against the mixed shades of green from the leaves and the dappled bark of the cypress trees. Let the flower’s voice hold you for a while for a chance to see butterflies and hummingbirds visit for nectar, a wonder filled high if I say so myself.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Abundance

Plant it and they will come. That has been our motto at the Spring Creek Nature Park and butterfly garden. This season we extended an invitation for the maypop or Passiflora incarnata to break out of the borders of the beds and extend its range as far as it could. Soon this beautiful Florida native vine with the large purple/blue flowers was covering most shrubs and ground covers. This week however the landscapers have trimmed it back considerably. I’m speaking of our natural maypop landscaper, the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Dione vanillae. The Gulf Fritillary butterflies are blanketing this garden, making up the majority of the butterflies now sharing the space with the polydamas, black swallowtail, monarchs, occasional peacock and eastern swallowtail.








We have cared for this space for a little over a year now, an ecotone between the mangrove forest and the pine uplands. We planted native plants indigenous to this area before our development was carved out here. We have left the immediate edge of the mangroves untouched. This practiced has encouraged many of the native ground covers to return providing for many additional host and nectar sources for our winged dancers that we enjoy so much!

Because of their abundance their life cycle is laid out for everyone to see; two butterflies quietly joined and perched inside native vegetation; a tiny, golden egg on a leaf or tendril, caterpillars devouring the leaves, chrysalides that look like dried leaves and emerging Fritillaries. As the cats begin to hatch, wasps come in for their fill to bring back to their own larvae while anoles wait for the right time to take their prey. But despite their predators they have managed to not only survive but flourish in this small native garden. The maypop eventually rebounds with the rain and summer heat and the cycle begins again.


Gulf Fritillary sipping nectar from the wild sage, Lantana involucrata



Friday, June 11, 2010

Boldness

                                                     Whatever you can do
                                                                   Or
                                                      Dream you can do
                                                               Begin it.
                                                     Boldness has genius
                                                   Magic and power in it

                                                                                                  Goethe



A head turn, a shift in weight, a tail twist or expansion, a shoulder roll…I watched closely as the swallow tailed kite, (Elanoides forficatus), spiraled above and around me, defying gravity with such grace and economy of movement, all without flapping its wings. This poetry in motion is always spiraling and adjusting for direction and purpose. Sometimes a bird like this can be inspirational.

One late afternoon, as my husband and I pulled into our neighborhood, once undisturbed pine upland, we were fortunate to observe this bird’s version of an ultimate mind body practice. With its distinctive call attracting our attention, we watched it slowly descend, gliding closer to a bottlebrush shrub pruned to look like a tree. The kite flew, slowly, straight into the tree, dislodging a mourning dove from her nest and grabbed a small chick, six feet off the ground. As it exited the tree, the kite dropped the chick. Still gliding in slow motion, the raptor spiraled around and picked the chick up off the ground. We were both awestruck at its ability to maneuver around the laws of physics in such a graceful way, all without flapping its wings!

While giving tours at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, surrounded by the tall cypress and slash pines, I often describe these birds to the visitors as birds that eat insects on the wing or pick small amphibians and reptiles off the tree tops. “They don’t hunt like the hawks.” I explain. “Their talons aren’t as large and they go for the smaller prey. To drink they will skim water from the surface of a pond. You will never see them hunt on the ground.” Apparently, there is no limit to the size of the tree, no tree top that is too small and no boundary between earth and sky for this adroit flyer.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Singing Moon of the Carolina Wren

 I feel a kinship with the Native American tradition of naming a month after what becomes plentiful during the period of the moons’ phases. May at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was the month of the Carolina Wrens, the Cardinals, wildflowers, dewberries, deer flies, dragonflies, mosquitoes, bees and much more. But the explosion of life that connected with me the most was the Carolina Wren. With the exit of our warblers that pass through in late winter and early spring these wrens took center stage under the canopy of the cypress. Their loud voice, “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle” struck a chord in me that encouraged me to sing out, stand proud, feel the beauty, and be grateful for the bounty!

I will never forget the “mobbing” of a juvenile red shouldered hawk as it lighted on a branch at eye level just a few feet off the ground next to a few wrens. As the alarm calls from the wrens sounded, it seemed as if most of the small birds of the Cypress Swamp came out and surrounded this hawk. Their noise level rose to a crescendo that forced the bird to fly off and try unsuccessfully to capture a small bird from the crowd. But these hawks succeed at hunting from above with the element of surprise as their advantage. Missing his prey, he flew to a higher branch where the wren’s behavior followed him. Eventually, he cried out and flew off, hopefully learning a valuable lesson. I also observed that this was a learning opportunity for the fledgling wrens to learn about their predator and how to sound an alarm or listen to the alarm calls of others.

Besides recognizing the number of a species, a moon’s days can also be about the lessons we learn with the ups and downs of blooming and dying. So today at the start of our hurricane season, I will keep my eyes, ears, heart, mind and soul open to the possibilities that the month of June has to offer and say goodbye to the singing moon of the Carolina Wren, forever in my heart.




Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Standing on the Edge



Stand on the edge of a field with the woods behind you, eyes closed.

Breathe.

Listen.

Open your eyes.

Take in the whole scene…use your panoramic vision. Don’t focus on any one thing. While the beauty of your environment holds you still, notice the birds but don’t focus on them. Before long their flight patterns will come into view…bird highways… as my friend called them. From time to time focus on the way a bird flies. The first flight pattern I learned was the woodpecker. Not good at soaring and in a hurry to get to the next tree, they flap and dip, flap and dip, over and over. Actually, this is how I began my interest in birds, by watching how they moved through the air. For beginning minds in the field this is an excellent place to begin. Classifying bird observations in this way also helps you to remember what you’ve seen more easily.

This past week, as I was giving a school group a tour of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, we were treated to a scene from the Carolina Wren family. As I practiced my “edge of the field” technique, my panoramic vision took in the bottom edges of the swamp, now my “field”. With the low canopy in the swamp above me, the sounds of their foraging pointed me toward the water. The Carolina Wren fledglings were begging for some attention with assorted calls and tugging at leaves growing on a fallen log. The mother swooped in and fed them, then flew to an adjacent maple branch hanging low beside the dark water. They flew back and forth to be fed but eventually, their exploration on that log seemed to garner some nourishment. What a sight! The children were elated at seeing this family scene, all without the aid of binoculars.

I’ve had so many wonderful moments in this way. Remember. Take in the whole picture. Listen. Stay there for awhile until you notice the patterns and sounds of flight, short or long, simple or complex. The edge is a wonderful place to explore!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inspiration


Every time I come upon the bald cypress at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, I stand in awe of them. It’s difficult to hold all of their wonder in my head so I just hold them in my heart. Along with the warmer weather the canopy has grown in and as you look up, the branches are full with more than just needles…so many life forms living together! And as I look up, my eyes are brought back down to the action in the water. I wonder if James Cameron received inspiration from these giants for his movie.

Comparatively diminutive and more delicate in nature, the pond cypress swamp is bustling. I know it’s only May but summer is here with all its wet and lightening noise! Walking on a day like this after the rain with pig frogs punctuating the thick air with their loud guttural voice, is like pushing your way through clouds that have fallen and can’t get up. How do birds do it? Well a bird’s got to eat so you can always count on seeing them. This afternoon I saw a family of Mottled Ducks on the edge of the pond cypress swamp behind my house and two molting immature Little Blue Herons, just before a Tricolored Heron flew over my head. I spotted Red Bellied Woodpeckers on a number of oaks before a Downy caught my attention. The insect population has exploded with larvae still in the water and dragon flies on the prowl. I was told that they eat deer flies, which is fine by me!

We are out of the ordinary in our experience for this time of year with wet instead of the dry down but the cypress swamp is still a magical place. The petals from the pond apples are falling on the water…and the white lilies have started to bloom three months early.

So, whatever inspires a mockingbird to sing is happening all the time now.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Swamp Reflection in May






There is an openness to the swamp in winter but with the transitions of spring gone, summer is closing in and I am forced to reorient my field of vision. The canopy comes alive. I look up to see branches heavy with resurrection ferns, bromeliads, lichen, and if you look carefully, even orchids. Nesting is ongoing. The blue gray gnatcatcher's nest made out of lichen has to be the most unique nest I have seen this year. Parent birds from wrens to hawks are feeding their fledglings. Hunger is everywhere and with the mosquitoes forming the base of the food chain, food sources begin to multiply.

Besides mosquitoes, lubbers are out as well as tree frogs, oak toads, wasps, bees and the dreaded deer fly. As I look down at the water, fish are eating mosquito larvae and birds are eating fish. A grackle swoops down to pick up a lubber and the carolina wren is picking insects off the base of the trees where they meet the water, only to serenade me later with that fantastic song of his.

The leafing out of the cypress darkens the swamp and the reflections and sparks of light become more obvious and every sound is enhanced. It feels as though I am being held in a sacred space.

The water looks dark but is clear and beckons me to look closer. As I reflect on my time here this year, I have to voice how appreciative I am for the good fellowship of volunteers, staff, interns and visitors...people open to learning and guiding others how to be a part of this unique ecosystem. What a great time I had!

Learning never ends. Rejoice and thank you all!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rediscovering Aldo Leopold

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."

Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Watersheds





Watersheds; a unit of study for survival
BEGIN WITH AN APPRRECIATION OF WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW
Think of all of your experiences with water.

Write them down.

Read them out loud.

Write down the water categories from your topics; rain, sleet, snow, hail, spring, reservoir, lake, canal, river, creek, ocean, gulf, etc.

Pick the category that has the most meaning to you and write it down.

WRITE DOWN THE FOLLOWING IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER;

A list of words that describe the experience.

A list of sentences that describe the experience.

A poem about that experience of water.

A short story.

DRAW A PICTURE

Share your story, poem and/or picture with a child or with an adult who is in a child-like state of mind.

NOW, LET'S STUDY WATERSHEDS
What is a watershed? Why is it important to know about watersheds?

Water on the Brain

Water…where does it come from? Where is it going? How do I live with it?
Before beginning any study of it is important to first recall what you already know about the subject and in the case of water I think it’s important to recall your memories of your experiences with water first. For me my experiences are many. Here are a few that stand out. What are yours?

DiscoveryMy first recollection of water was when I was about six years old and discovered a spring at Battery Kemble Park in Washington DC. I thought it was alive. I also thought it was magic that it could run under the road and appear as a creek on the other side. I became fascinated with its’ powers of erosion and spent hours watching its journey. Our favorite climbing rock had been uncovered by that magic and years later covered it up again.

I remember climbing a wild cherry tree in our side yard just before a thunderstorm and smelling the water in the air before the downpour began.

I remember the canals in DC and the Potomac River they took their water from. I remember the moraine that was scattered by the glacier on the river’s edge ions ago. Those were the best climbing rocks!

Lessons…My elementary school was also across the street from the reservoir where our drinking water came from. My questions were many and my father explained everything to my satisfaction. We moved to a house on a hill when I was ten and I was awed by the fact that the builders had tried to cover the stream that had run down the back yard. It was only diverted though into our neighbor’s basement. Later, when someone bought our house I heard that they had opened our old basement up by installing a door to the backyard where the creek had been and now wondered why their basement was flooded.
My father also told us that we would never buy a house in a flood plain. Come to find out that many builders and developers built there with dire consequences. I often wondered if they had paid attention in geography class or were they trying to rewrite our perceptions?

Sustenance…I remember drinking water to quench my thirst instead of juice.

As an adult living in the mountains of North Carolina I learned to fish in the fresh water streams. I heard tales of valleys being covered by water to bring electricity. With pipes frozen in the winter I remember cracking through the ice in the river to retrieve water.

Powerful…Living in San Francisco Bay on our sailboat I remember how hard it was to sail through the tumultuous Raccoon Straits where the incoming tide met the outgoing Sacramento River.

Florida brings loud and heavy rain. On Tuesday we measured 4.5 inches for the day!

Disaster…While living in Davis (floodplain) I remember many floods in the neighboring towns.

Renewal…In the hills above Davis I remember farmers and ranchers installing ponds to recharge the aquifer. I remember helping farmers plant drought tolerant plants along the banks of the canals to hold the soil along the banks. I followed their efforts to repair the riparian areas along the creeks that ran through their fields, bringing back beneficial insects and other wildlife.

Magic…While helping friends homestead in northern California, I remember when they had their property witched and found a spot to dig their well. They also looked for the trees that looked for the water and found it…the California Bay Laurel!

When we moved to an isolated property, we became very sensitive to the origin of our water, its purity, and its’ availability. Managing an organic farm, we also became very aware about our sewage and where it was going. We discovered marshes that helped to clean the water.

Living in Florida is quite an eye opener. With water all around us it is essential to learn about the ecosystems if we want to continue to have clean water, good fishing, and surround our homes with plants and animals.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Lullibies, Arias and Conversation

Sometimes when you experience an illness or you are caring for someone else who is sick, time as you know it stops and you find yourself dancing to an unfamiliar pace and rhythm. But you also find yourself with more opportunities to stop, rest, notice your surroundings and get your bearings. Sometimes it’s just a matter of finding the right music station.

Last night, I found one of those opportunities and it was nothing short of magical for me. It was one of those rare nights in Fl where the nights are cooler than the days so our windows were flung open. With the windows open the night came in. The moon was sweet. I mean that its light tasted sweet to me. No longer full the glow still filled the yard and spilled into our room. The first sound of the evening that came forward from the crickets and occasional frog was the Chuck wills widow, from the Nighthawks and Nightjar family (Caprimulgidae) …strange name with a strange, haunting and almost lonely sound. The bird calls its name over and over. Distant at first and soft, growing to a very loud call as it flew and landed closer to our window. After awhile the call stopped and picked up again farther and farther away. When we could no longer make it out I thought I heard the distinct call of an Eastern Screech-Owl, a whistled trill on one pitch…very romantic and soothing. I wonder if it was a call to a mate. Like the bird before, the call faded and for a moment I thought I heard the wind. Then an old resident spoke up, our Great Horned Owl. I could tell from the volume that this bird was in the distance and not in his usual roost in the slash pine behind our house. This bird was also alone. At dusk we are accustomed to hearing them call to one another.

Sleeping is so over rated when you have an opportunity to experience the night. Take someone you love on a moon walk some evening. Or stay up all night on a full moon. Children especially enjoy this adventure, as do I. Chances are you will be just as eager to see who wakes up first; although this morning there was such a flurry of activity it was hard to tell.


Just before the sun came up a murder of fish crows flew NW across the face of the moon that was just beginning to set. Herons and egrets rose from their sleep and set off toward the beach. I spotted the jay on her nest right away with its mate close by. As always our mockingbird got to work right away with his collection of songs. Then, I tried to follow a downy woodpecker on her breakfast rounds in the oak.

In the flowering oaks I heard the songs of warblers including a northern parula, a black and white and a palm warbler. Across the yard catbirds enjoying the berries on the firebush and cardinals were flying through the brush. Can you imagine the nest building going on? An incredible explosion of activity compared to those cooler, darker days just a few weeks ago. What a beautiful day to be alive! I wonder what music I will hear tonight.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Sap's Rising



With the sap rising in the swamp and the trees leafing out I'm reminded of a comment my dad made years ago when we were out on one of our walks. We were discussing what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told him that I wanted to be an artist. As a seven year old infatuated with pastels, drawing birds with long, intricate wings and tails made of gold and silver, I was convinced that becoming an artist would make the best use of my skills. I added that if I were a scientist like him I wouldn't be able to use my imagination! My comments struck a nerve in him and he announced, "What do you mean, scientists don't have imagination?" And knowing how much I loved trees he added, "You know, whenever I look at a tree, I see more that just branches and leaves...I see a fountain!" A fountain? He had me hooked. And so began my love affair with science and art!

How can a tree become a fountain? Just under the bark of the tree there is a layer of tissue called the cambium layer. There are tube like structures called xylem growing just under the cambium layer of the tree that extend from the roots all the way up to the leaves. If you have ever eaten celery then you are intimately familiar with these stringy parts. Together with water pressure and the evaporation from the leaves the water travels to every part of the plant. The water carried by the xylem to the leaves is a necessary ingredient together with light and carbon dioxide to make food for the plant in the form of simple sugars such as glucose. So, right next to the xylem, growing towards the bark, there are another set of tube like structures called the phloem. They are responsible for bringing those sugars made in the green parts of the plant to every growing part. When plants go dormant, the food that was produced in the fall as sugar retreats and is stored below ground. In the spring with longer daylight hours the sap begins to rise and new growth appears.

As each tree, shrub, fern, or wildflower in the swamp begins to leaf out, they bring with them their own palette of colors and textures and in my imagination...unique fountain sprays. The subsequent light that filters through them and the wildlife sounds like music. A forest is a spectacular sight when you think of all that movement and sound going on, each plant with its own unique rhythm. Add the bird songs as the melodies and you are in a magical place!


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Renewal



On Thursday, Feb. 18th, I attended the Ramsar certification ceremony for Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Panther Island Mitigation Bank. The event was a wonderful celebration for everyone concerned. The designation as a wetland of international importance gives these wetlands an opportunity for partnership with a global community. Adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands promotes conservation of wetland habitats around the world. As our Sanctuary became connected to the wetlands of the world with this recognition, my understanding of conservation work came into focus.

The history of this work was impressive with some of the participants working for the conservation of wetlands for over thirty-five years. Ed Carlson, director of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, reminded us with a time honored story on the history of CSS. He told us how it began with a group of people working to stop the slaughter of birds for their feathers and later how Audubon purchased the sanctuary to save the last stand of old growth Bald Cypress. The vision and connectedness to the land that those conservationists held then, continues to be passed down now. The foundation of this work like the roots of the cypress that reach out to hold onto other cypress trees has created a webbing that reaches far and wide.



Glenn Olson, the Donal O’Brian Chair for Bird Conservation and Public Policy of Audubon, gave an uplifting speech about the progress in conservation and Eric Draper, the state director of Audubon told the crowd that “We are incredibly fortunate to have this place” as he described Corkscrew as the real Florida. He also reminded us that this is the first time that Ramsar has put a mitigation bank on its list of worldwide sites. Bill Barton, the managing partner from Panther Island Mitigation Bank enlightened us on the physical work that had to be done to transform farm land back onto a wetland with a breakdown of the costs involved and the partnerships that made it happen, an amazing feat to say the least. Now, with the transformation complete the wetland has been given to CSS to manage. Ramsar’s Secretary General, Anada Tiega, told us that for this international recognition a wetland needs to meet one out of nine criteria for acceptance. Corkscrew together with the Panther Island Mitigation Bank met three. Then he presented the certificates naming Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a Wetland of International Importance.


Each of the speakers took time to thank so many people, a reminder of the cooperation and collaboration that we are capable of to make this event happen. As with any event there were more people behind the scenes that continued to work insuring that everyone felt welcomed and appreciated. We were presented with a feast of sandwiches, fruit, vegetables and dessert, an opportunity to get your picture taken with a bald eagle and to view both a red shoulder hawk and a barred owl brought to us by Audubon Center for Birds of Prey in Maitland. The music reached back through time with some great country fiddle playing and some tunes my father may have sung to me. As always, there were opportunities to connect with volunteers and staff, educational material on both wetlands and Clyde Butcher was there for a book signing. And of course we took time to walk the boardwalk and take in the surroundings. All in all the afternoon was a generous gathering from a magnificent tribe of conservationists and wildlife alike.


For me as a volunteer at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary I left feeling renewed. I had the opportunity to meet some policy makers from Audubon and an opportunity to witness the partnerships that brought this recognition to fruition. I became more connected to the history of this amazing land and the life that it holds, including mine. Walking the boardwalk again through the uplands, wet prairie and into the Cypress Swamp, connecting with my fellow volunteers, with the flora and fauna, fills me with more than hope. It’s a way of life. And I am so grateful for all of the individuals who have helped and are helping to preserve that way of life.


Monday, February 15, 2010


Enter
Through the vine covered gate.
Cross the threshold.
Enter a new world.
Begin a journey.

Just as in life, there are many paths that you can take. If you follow the shell path in the sun it will lead you out onto the pine straw path in the shade and back again until you have formed a figure eight pattern. The figure eight crosses at the pond.

Just as in life, there are distractions or places to divert from the path. The boardwalk will take you out through the mangroves and out to the creek. The stepping stones will lead you to the planting bench. The butterfly house sits next to the straw path under the oak and pine tree. Each distraction could be a journey in itself.

Just as in life, there are many places to pause along the way. Take a camera, a drawing pad or notebook or simply sit in the shade or sun.
Each step each pause, an opportunity for action, reflection or both or neither. I find that when I am working in the garden I am following my nature and become part of the natural surroundings. I slow down and notice the details while being a part of the whole picture. I see more butterflies when I’m gardening than I do when I’m stalking them with my camera.

As I crossed the threshold this month after the freeze, I noticed the damage, the destruction, of what we remembered as our garden. Due to a malfunction even the pond became silent. The native plants were mostly untouched with the exception of the fire bush but our naturalized exotics dropped most of their leaves. The annuals disappeared completely. The garden was quieter, moving in slow motion compared to the month before but still very much alive!

Now after our attention to pruning and cleaning the debris from the garden, we are already seeing the first “signs of springs” that northern states will have to wait months for. The green buds are unfolding on the yellow elder trees and the verbena, the beautiful purple flowers that you see bordering the mangroves, are blooming more often now, thanks in part to the rains and warm sun. With the lack of shade cover the maypop with its promise of magnificent blue star flowers is growing rapidly. Right on cue, the Gulf Fritillaries have appeared, drinking nectar from the verbena and laying eggs on their host plant, the maypop vine. We initiated the potting bench by re-potting the blanket flower seedlings and new seedlings are pushing their way through the mulch where annuals were blooming before the freeze. On Feb. 4th a monarch butterfly emerged from its chrysalis in the butterfly house and we are carefully observing the second one.

We were so grateful for Nick Bodven’s presentation that left the lepidopterists in us feeling renewed as well. The garden walk and the slide show were well received and the cheese and wine was a wonderful idea! Thank you to all the volunteers that made this event so much fun!

Like most of the visitors to our garden, I enjoy learning, so use Tuesday afternoons to share your knowledge or ask questions. In response to visitor’s questions note cards have been created about our wildlife. One is on milkweed bugs, one of our beneficial insects and the other is on the rat snake, one of our beneficial reptiles that appears to be hibernating at this moment. These cards can be found in the box attached to the arbor, containing the information on butterflies.

Come and see for yourself and join us at Spring Creek Nature Park and Butterfly Garden on Tuesdays at 3:00. See you there!

Rosemary Allen, Florida Master Naturalist

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nature and Nomenclature



Reniform, Orbiculate, Linear and Ovate
Lanceolate, Elliptical
And
Many many more!

When I first attended the AMI Training center in Washington DC to receive my Montessori teaching certificate, one of my first assignments was to memorize the names of leaf shapes so I could teach them to the students.

In the process of memorizing the shapes I became more aware of them. I lived near Chevy Chase circle and the training was near DuPont circle. Sometimes I would walk or ride the bus or both. In any case there was time to observe the plant life either as hedges neatly trimmed or as weeds struggling to get out from under the concrete and occasionally there was an empty lot with all sorts of weeds and abandoned gardens. I didn’t memorize easily so it was important that I got to know my subject matter.

I used those walks to quietly name the shapes that I saw. I not only noticed the shape but I also took in color, edges, growth, attachment to the stem, insect life, the parts of the leaf etc. One observation just led to another. And so it was with the children. What I had learned as a student myself I saw in my students.
After bathing students in experiences in nature I waited to give the nomenclature until a student asked for the name or I saw that an observation had been made. I never gave more than three names at a time and if possible names and shapes that were contrasting. The younger ones were excited to know the names and would repeat them often as they saw them on walks or in pictures. They enjoyed touching, smelling and in some instances tasting them. The older ones enjoyed collecting drawing, printing, painting them. Both groups enjoyed creating songs from the names as well as learning music that was inspired by plants. Both groups also became more interested in the details and the classification games were endless. As the students entered the elementary they began to ask how they grew, how were they connected to the other plant parts, what gave them color, where on the earth did they grow and what are they used for? As they collected their answers,they became connected with a discipline that they had a genuine interest in. Then,there were more questions, experiments, the building of a garden, a cooking program, planning trips to botanical gardens, invitations to guest speakers, farms, nurseries etc.

…All from learning the names of leaf shapes and going outside. Expand your life. Learn your leaf shapes today and get outside!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary


This picture of Pond Cypress was taken behind my house yesterday during a break in the rain. Their striking winter forms reminded me of walking through Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Last week, I took some visitors from the frigid regions up north to the boardwalk over there. The rain had subsided and it was a sunny but slightly cool day.

I like to give people a backdoor tour of the sanctuary. That is, I like to enter the exit and exit the entrance. That way we can experience walking through the uplands with the pines and saw palmettos and walk down through the wet prairie. Then we have a moment to pause and look up at the “doorway” of Pond Cypress looking down to greet us. For me that is a magical moment before we enter a different world, similar to walking in a redwood forest. We are now inside. Our personal space is gone. I love that feeling. The sounds were enhanced and sky was visible from in between the branches of the leafless cypress. Visitors are often surprised that the cypress tree is deciduous. I know that I was when I first arrived. When you are driving along the edge of the swamp, they look dead against the bright green of the cabbage palms that have grown in between them. But they are very much alive and for a short period of time before the new leaves appear you can look carefully at the branches and the ecosystem that depends on them.

My friends were intrigued with the boardwalk and I boasted that it was built around the trees as was the visitor’s center. Not one tree was cut down to build the boardwalk or the visitor’s center! The floor boards, I explained, were made from sustainably harvested Ipe wood. My friend, Ted, pointed out how beautifully the boardwalk was camouflaged against the surrounding cypress. His wife, Linda, was also intrigued with the beauty of the lichens that surrounded us on the bark of trees and on the railings. Shades of red, orange, green and white, these organisms, a symbiotic partnership of fungus and alga, were spectacular and Linda couldn't take enough pictures. As we walked down into the swamp the Bald Cypress loomed overhead. Seeing those trees it’s easy to see where perhaps the inspiration for Avatar came from.

We tried to identify the bird calls and the sightings of different woodpeckers. I finally got a close up of the Yellow Bellied Woodpecker! That sighting was confirmed by one the many knowledgeable volunteers who pointed out to me that the species living in Florida does not have the red on the head but does have the striking white wing bar that gives it away. We even saw a red-shouldered hawk down by the lettuce lakes swoop down on a log and shred a mouse with that specialized beak of his. As we continued our walk we saw a flock of Ibis or swamp chickens as they are sometimes affectionately called, a black crowned night heron taking a nap, some Great Egrets and a few anhinga birds spreading their wings and swimming for crayfish. The Pileated Woodpecker put in quite a few appearances as well. As we finished our walk we were also fortunate enough to get a good close up view of the painted buntings at the bird feeder near the visitor’s center. We spent over two hours on the board walk but we could have been there longer if they weren’t closing at 5:30. We had a wonderful time. No matter what time of day I go to the swamp I have a different experience. Now, I’m ready to go at night!

For those of you interested please click on the link to the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary website and remember to go prepared. Bring a hat, sunscreen and always a bottle of water. Binoculars and a field guide or two can also come in handy. Food is not allowed on the boardwalk but if you bring a lunch or snack for later there are picnic areas in a landscaped area next to the parking lot and a lovely café inside.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Out of the Ordinary


Sometimes a change in the ordinary can wake us up and ask us to pay attention. The rainy and cold weather we are experiencing today is out of the ordinary for me. The weather has pulled away from the ordinary sunny, low humidity winter day that I remember from years past. This is the time of the year we usually refer to as our drought. It’s a gentle rain outside not the downpours we get in the summer. This feels more like fall in northern California where I’m from. Maybe from the viewpoint of a longer timeline this weather is not that unique to this area. But for my short ten years here it is.

Last year I was giving talks about the Wood Storks because so many of them were nesting. This year they decided not to nest because there wasn’t enough water this summer to fill those pools they rely on for their aquatic diet. There were a few cold days last year t hat I remember but most of those days were warm even hot. There’s water now but not much life in them. Remember, there was a freeze.

As I look outside, a flock of cedar waxwings cover the oak tree and I hear a catbird in the distance. The light is dimmed but the sounds outside are enhanced. The greens are greener and the contrast is perfect. I feel like I’m in one of those ancient Chinese landscape paintings. The low clouds have the appearance of distant mountains and images appear and disappear. A good opportunity for a walk! Who knows where I’ll end up?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sense of Wonder


"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." –Rachel Carson


As a young adult my father gave me a copy of Rachel Carson's book, The Sense of Wonder. The images in that book reminded me of my rich and powerful past as a child who was not only allowed to roam in the woods and climb trees but was also taken for glorious long walks through our large park that meandered down to the Potomac River. My father was mostly quiet on those walks and always walked behind us, letting us lead the way. He was always good for an answer if we had a question and his shoulders came in handy when we grew tired. I don't remember him teaching us anything but I learned so much. Two lessons in particular stayed with me. I learned that the quieter you were the more you saw and trees needed to be climbed gently. I think that is when I developed an unspoken communication with trees, testing the branch's flexibility before I put my weight on it. (Later in life that communication extended to all plants and a hunger to learn about ecosystems and my place in it.)


Recently, I had a smiliar experience with my neice. Our development has put aside some open space for all to enjoy including a Cypress Swamp behind my house. We set out on our walk around the swamp and I let her lead the way. We discovered so much; maple trees with red and yellow leaves, warblers that flew around us,turtle eggs that had been dug up by a predator,an expansive view of a large pond,tracks,secret places filled with Cypress knees,and most of all something she told me she had waited her whole life to do. As we past by a vine climbing on a wax myrtle, I recognised it as Carolina Aster. I asked her if she would wait for me as I got a closer look at the seeds. As she watched me, she noticed that as I grabbed that small fluff ball of seeds the wind blew it out of my hand and into the air, revealing each seed with it's own parachute. That's when she told me that she had waited her whole life to blow those seeds into the air. I carefully lowered a branch for her to pluck an opened seed pod. She was so careful and so satisfied to blow those seedlings on their way. I didn't say a word but felt joyful at being able to grant a life time wish for a six year old.

Since spending more time with my neice I have discovered that she has many of these lifetime wishes. Everyday experiences that seem extraordinary in her presence...the sense of wonder!