Thursday, May 19, 2016

Just Add Watcher

As I walked along the road, fleabane--a favorite perennial wildflower from the aster family, which doesn't ban fleas--bloomed, here in white, there in pink and in between, with shadings. Attempts to conclude or prove that the pink tinge indicates particularly alkaline soil in that specific spot kind of fell apart, so it's a surmise, but I observed that all flowered at the road's edge and within a few yards of each other, which I wouldn't have noticed from a car.

Clover, also appearing in shades of pink, is more definite: It's one or the other, except in cases that look (and probably taste) like strawberry sundaes, especially to tiny bugs:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Is This Pollution?

Knock me over with a feather, this little pool way back in the woods turns out to have all-natural soap suds. As you know, soap is made from plants. Running enough water over decaying leaves and logs releases "surfactants" like the those in your Joy and Suave bottles that lift and dissolve oils. The woodland surfactants form a near-invisible film on top of water, most of the time. But pool the rushing water and churn it in a cove or a tiny pool like this one, and do it for a while, and suds appear naturally.

Most times in unpolluted conditions these natural suds are 99 percent water and air and 1 percent surfactant, so foam appears only under exacting conditions, and cannot be used as soap. It's just for looking at. This foam is white, but it can be off-white or tan. So relax. Unpolluted spots on earth still exist!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wet Woods

May in Missouri is known for its dearth of mushrooms after April's rush for morels--which I ended up buying, 10 ounces at $2 an ounce. That's all I wanted: a mere taste. The question is, when their season is over, what's next?
Some corkin' thunderstorms poured and hailed on us the last few days, and in the saturated woods, enjoying water as it rushed down rills and waterfalls, incidentally eyeing every tree and square inch of earth for edible fungi that I knew would not be there until June, today found only buggy and waterlogged oyster mushrooms on my favorite oyster log, and some inedibles: fawn mushrooms and turkey tail. But then my eyes alit on this elegant ivory-colored creature, about nine inches long. According to the handbook, because it was living in wet forest-floor leaf litter it could be a Rough Earth Snake or Western Earth Snake, or a juvenile version of another kind of snake. It was patient while I took several different glamour shots. I was lucky to have been looking at the ground, and pleased to have met  it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Almost a Walk at Glassberg

The new Nikon came in a bag, not a box, and it looked and felt so flimsy, so disappointing, next to the (3x more expensive) 2004 camera it replaced, but compact and light, it has wireless capability, and even a socket for a tripod, which was what sold me, and a 20x zoom lens, positively staggering zoom power for a camera of that price. Furthermore, the 256MB memory cards for the old camera are scarce--256 GB is more common these days--and as a nature photographer I'd rather have 20x zoom than the old camera's 8x zoom.

So I took the new flimsy thing on its inaugural nature walk at Glassberg, or the Glassberg Family Conservation Area, 429 acres with three established trails to choose from. First I find that the camera doesn't even have eyelets for a neckstrap, only a wrist strap. It's like the horror of carrying a clutch purse all evening, or a water bottle all the way through a hike.

Rather too near the point at which recreation becomes diminishment (too much work! too much working out! too many phone calls!), the new camera gave me the motivation to at least walk as far as I could and try it out. And it took these photos, exclusive to springtime, of an unnamed brook that feeds into the mighty LaBarque, and a small lively swimming pool for tadpoles. I'd love to know what they're thinking. Next, after I spend a few days in bed: an attempt at night photography to capture the exclusive-to-spring meadow knee-deep in fireflies. The genius of Creation is in its excess.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Really Good Morning

This misty morning, 7 a.m,  after thunderstorms last night, was so dreamlike I took the creaky old Nikon (2004) and not the phone, because the Nikon has great optics, to photograph the marvelous drifting clouds of mist. As I approached the bluebird box, a pair of dark anxious eyes appeared at its opening. Bluebirds like and want to settle in the wooden bluebird boxes humans make; they thrive where humans plow and mow, allowing the birds to locate crawling things they can pin down and eat. I remove and scrub out the bluebird box twice a year (have found bats, snakes, piles of thorny sticks, and a colony of bees); and properly made bluebird boxes can be opened by the side panel for inspection by landlords such as myself. I came closer yet, raising the camera, and out the bluebird flew.

Then I unhooked the side of the box and gently removed the nest, and in it found five baby bluebirds in a warm little heap, breathing and sleeping, and took a photo only the Nikon, not the phone, can take, and here it is.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Creepy Side of Spring

Suddenly I see sidewinding across the floor, at the threshold of the mudroom, two snakes, and say aloud, "Oh, for heaven's sake. Snakes in the house." While one soon vanished, this Prairie Ring-Necked Snake wasn't camera shy. The Ring-Necked and the black Rat Snake are the two snakes most common in the house, maybe having wintered in the fireplace I'd opened up the day before.

Snakes come in and out of my fireplace as if it were a nightclub. They are harmless and I let them be, but always do a double-take when seeing snakes in the house.

Then on a walk I see, on a tree cut violently short yet still bringing forth leaves, dense colonies of weird fuzzy purple vertical shoulder-to-shoulder parasites. A wildflower, I thought at first, but then got a closer look and saw it was pathology, utterly unfamiliar. At home I googled "purple parasites," "lavender parasites," "purple caterpillars" and finally, through an image, identified these. They're not animals at all, but--as close as I could get to an I.D.--Maple Spindle Gall (Eriophyes cerasicumena), the tree's reaction to an infestation of mites. These were generated by the plant; they're like tumors. There were no other examples in the immediate area and there is no Spindle Gall photo on the Internet quite like this one.
Spindle gall

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I Never Do That

About 6 p.m. I ordered vanilla ice cream for supper and savored every lick. At 8:30 p.m. I went to the mall I hadn't been to for years, and at the Godiva chocolate shop I've never been to, spent $24 on chocolates, which I certainly never do. Most of it went for a gift, but I bought a little golden box of two chocolates and ate them. I never do that. On the way home I stopped to buy a bagel for the next day. I never have bread in the house; too many carbs. At home finished up the day's pasta salad. I never eat pasta--too many carbs--except on Fridays. And I never eat after 7:30 p.m. because "it all goes to fat." Figured I'd just eaten chocolates so the whole day was blown, and after the pasta I went to bed.

Eudialyte, a mineral mined in Greenland
Up early, perfect 70-degree weather, and since I'd finished all my work couldn't decide how to spend the day. Mushroom hunting on a weekend morning would be elbow to elbow--I'll wait for a weekday after a rain. Walked in the woods for an hour, enjoying the morning freshness and spiderwebs sugared with dew. Persistent resentful thoughts clawed me so I put on a pendant made of the mineral Eudialyte, magenta, black, and golden, as a cure. Haven't bothered with pendants and crystals for years. Then I knew what I truly wanted: At the creekside on a shaded white-sand beach, next to a clutch of Virginia bluebells, I took boots and socks off, lay down in the cool sand, listened to the creek and the birds and a big granddaddy frog, and breathed. I almost never do that. My neighbor calls it "earthing." I lay there in peace, watching sycamore branches exercise in the wind, and a hawk riding thermals. I got a notion there to cook up the year's first hummingbird nectar and hang the feeders. They usually arrive around April 24, and for me (and lots of other people) it's an event, a holiday.

I savored a cup of coffee, filled and hung the feeders where I could see them from indoors, and on the porch in the lounge chair bought and downloaded a meditation app, although I never buy apps, and let it play, and breathed in and out, although it's all bogus and woo-woo and I never meditate. Then I looked around and marveled at the story-book-perfect weather. For lunch I split the bagel and stacked it with salami, which I never eat, with double the mayonnaise. Then I thinned my spring-onion crop and weeded some garden space I've neglected for nearly 10 years. Enchanted by the hum of 360-degree calm, peace, and satisfact I knew it'd get even better. Finally I sat down to work, and a hummingbird, the season's first, was at the feeder. --I'd had my day of celebration in advance.