Friday, April 30, 2010


Found some time to sketch again. Felt good. Now I want to shirk all my responsibilities and draw. But. I shall be good.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Look Up Sometimes

This may strike you as a strange photo to put front and center. Perhaps it is. After all, it's practically a picture of nothing. But yesterday afternoon, I was walking with a class, and looking up as I walked. I'm not sure why I was looking up, but I was, and I was moving on one direction and the clouds were moving rather swiftly in a different direction, and I actually got dizzy. I had to stop walking. This caused a whole bunch of kids, who are not allowed to walk in front of me, to stop. They saw where I was gazing, and they, too, looked up at the sky. I heard comments, "Look at the clouds!" "They're so cool." "They keep changing." So I decided, while we were stopped, to take a picture of them. They act as a reminder, written in condensation, that sometimes things that seem like almost nothing are still wondrous, still worth stopping and taking a look at. And that pausing to notice what's happening around you will enrich your day.

In flower news, we have purple:
geraniums, and
woodland phlox.
We have white:
bedstraw, almost open, and
And finally, we have bayberry, not native and not my favorite shrub, with its prickly demeanor, but the tiny flowers are actually quite striking, when you look at them up close.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Moving On...

This morning I awakened to a frost-covered world. Around here, our last frost date is May 15, supposedly. This is when it is deemed pretty safe to plant frost-intolerant plants outside. That means that, two weeks before the safe date, every time the cold night causes frost, it could theoretically be the last... last night's frost was accompanied by temperatures that, according to the internet, dipped below freezing. (My thermometer is currently out of commission, so I must trust the internet.)

On the other hand, today I went out into the "woods" (I put quotes because we're a prairie place -- our woods are smaller than a football field and mostly buckthorn and honeysuckle) and swarms of little gnats (or tiny mosquitoes -- kids thought they were this, but they never bit anyone) were all around our heads... Just Monday these bugs weren't around at all. So it's winter and summer, all in one day.

In the plant world, there are new flowers every day...
But some things have moved past stage 1 (flowering) and on to stage 2 (seeds)...
Maple "helicopters" getting prepared for flight.
Serviceberries flowers have ended, berries have yet to form.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Photo Journal

Currant flowers, 4-22.
First Jacob's Ladder, 4-22.
4-23. Milkweeds are some of the latest plants to emerge, so when their bullet-shaped seedlings come up, I know it's time to start looking for early signs of SUMMER.
4-23. Pasqueflower seeds.
Redbud flowers, 4-25.
Tulip studies, 4-25.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Mouthful

I have taken some photos lately, of various happenings... flowers on my currants and Jacob's ladder, seeds on the pasqueflower... but I haven't felt like writing about them, really. But today, a momentous occasion occurred. I ate my first fresh, local vegetable of the 2010 growing season.

At my house, the past several months have been filled with frozen or canned vegetables or vegetable-based dishes from 2009's growing season. And, yes, I have kept a few carrots in the fridge that, used sparingly, lasted until about 2 weeks ago. And I'm not saying I haven't had any fresh fruits or vegetables in that time. The rules in my house are pretty strict, but I don't hold others to them, and I have eaten at restaurants and as a guest of family and friends who served fresh produce. And it was delicious, but it wasn't local. Those of you out there who eat seasonally know that nothing quite compares.

It's not just the taste, or the smug knowledge I'm eating things that are good for the planet, my health and the local economy. It is, perhaps, partly the connection that comes from knowing the true inputs, both in terms of resources and time/care, that went into the food. But it's mostly the anticipation, the rhythm of it, the rightness of having things be different at different times of the year, of having treats and also times of relative deprivation. (No disrespect to people who are actually deprived of food...) Someone once asked me... we'll, I'll start earlier in the conversation, they asked what my favorite fruit was, and I answered... Strawberries, no peaches. Raspberries. Maybe cantaloupe... The real answer is, it depends on what month of the year it is. So the follow-up question was, "If you like strawberries, why do you purposefully deprive yourself of them for 11 months?" The answer is complicated if you don't understand, and simple if you do. First, those things you buy at the supermarket aren't my favorite fruit, they don't taste that great and they don't feel right and they just aren't the sweet little flavor-packs I love. Second, when, after 11 months, I get my strawberry, the first one, sun-warmed and almost sparkling, I will enjoy it more that anyone has ever enjoyed a strawberry in the history of the world. And eventually, inevitably, a week or two later, I will eat so many at one time that the acid burns my stomach but before I get tired of strawberries, they'll be no more. But I'll be OK. It will be time for peaches. And now every month has a taste, as well as a temperature and a scent in the air, a dominant color and birdsong.

So this morning, in the rain, we went to the farmer's market, which began just a few weeks ago after winter hiatus. When it opens in April, it is mostly vendors of meat and cheese, wine or canned goods or some other gourmet prepared item or craft. Getting my bread and cheese there has been treat enough, but today there also was asparagus. Tender stalks, not very long and most not very fat, purple at the top. I cut them into inch-long pieces, sautéed them with garlic and dried herbs in olive oil and white wine, tossed it with pasta and topped it all with Parmesan cheese. Very simple, very delicious.

And with that, it starts. We get our first CSA share in less than 2 weeks. Life changes and today was the start of it.

Another thing... this was the first year I canned food. Canning means I am not limited by the capacity of my freezers, and it also means I eat slightly less from those freezers. I am NOT finished with what I made. I eat jam, for example, with breakfast every single day (when there isn't fresh fruit). I have not held back on my jam consumption. I gave jam away for the holidays. I still have like 40 jars of jam (although the first fruit isn't for almost 2 months, but still.) Point is, I may have overdone it last year. Not sure how I am going to handle this...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22

Happy Earth Day!

Today is the 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day. (Funny.... I remember the 20th earth day, 1990. I was in middle school, and we volunteered all day at the huge Earth Day celebration the park district had... and it seemed like this huge deal, re-energizing earthday, reviving it from its temporary grave. Now I work at a school where we drop everything and celebrate it for a whole week each year. Anyhow...) The very first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, organized by Senator G. Nelson of WI and many grassroots volunteers. It was described as a demonstration... the first earth day was, essentially, a protest and a wake-up call. Forty years later, things are a lot different.

Are we in a better place, environmentally? Probably not. Certainly more people are aware of environmental problems and issues; they even say that green is the new black. Or that every day is earth day. People do lots of little things like use compact florescent light bulbs and recycle things that can be conveniently put in a curbside bin. But despite the awareness and the many small behavior changes, the big issues have gone un-checked, gotten worse, even. The average American home size has more than doubled since the 1950s (from 983 sq ft in 1950, to 1500 sq ft on the first Earth Day, to 2,349 in 2004). So we're using over twice as many resources to build our huge houses -- with luxuries like whirlpools and restaurant kitchens -- and then we're cutting out consumption by... what? less than 5 %? by buying a new kind of light bulb or a steel water bottle or an earth-friendly cleaner or something. We have a higher standard of living -- just our expectations of what is basic, what we deserve to have, what we "need" have increased -- and this may be good for the economy but it is bad for the environment, and I don't think it's especially good for society, either. (Shout out to my sustainability students who got that reference!)

And people, I'm guilty, too. I wash ziplock bags and re-use them for years, eat local food almost all of the time, and drive a Prius... but I still drive everywhere I go (almost... for Earth Day, Naomi has her bicycle in her office and will be commuting on it, although the true reason for this involves a school bike trip, not idealism, but I am making mental commitment to ride more often now that it's nice -- we'll see how that goes). I still live in a house that has about 1000 square feet of living space per person, which is inexcusably large. And I try to feel good about my efforts.

Oh, And, here's a difference between Earth Day 2010 and Earth Day 1970. Have you noticed that WalMart is sponsoring Earth Day this year? And NBC has all these things about how they're doing Green Week? Environmentalism has gone corporate. We see this every day, too, not just the third week in April. Clorox doesn't just make bleach, but also earth-friendly cleaners, now. And Johnson and Johnson, I think, advertises green products. But here's the thing. We can't shop our way out of this problem*. In fact, shopping of any sort probably exacerbates the problem. And as long as corporations have a hand in it, well... they want you to buy their stuff. I applaud all these companies for going green. It's better than not going green. But I'm not stupid enough to think they're doing it altruistically. They are benefiting, sales-wise, PR-wise, somehow, they are making the other kind of green from their green efforts or they wouldn't be doing it.

So... the institutions that were being protested at the first Earth Day (government and corporation) have now co-opted the celebration as their own. And where have all the hippies gone? Moved to McMansions, every one. When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?

ps -- Have you people noticed that when I share my thoughts, rather than just reporting on flowers, I am rather a downer? Sorry about that.

*I can't take credit for that, I heard it in a speech at the NAAEE conference and I can't even remember the lady's name who said it to give credit, but it resonated with me...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Thoughtful, the Interesting, the Mundane and the Mysterious

This little fellow, a juvenile woodcock... OK, laugh, get it out of the way, and get serious, people, because this is the thoughtful portion of the entry... so anyhow, this little fellow had quite a day today, as his nest and life were disturbed by a great number of students. It made me ponder one of the hardest questions in my field. You see, I am where I am because of nature. I work in a school, but I am an EE person first, last and foremost. I care deeply about the preservation of the natural world and I do what I do because I think it is important for tomorrow's citizens to understand and care about nature. To want to preserve it themselves.

Unfortunately, there are times when teaching kids to love nature actually harms nature. And then you have to weigh the costs and benefits. On the one hand, some wildlife -- plants, insects, birds, whatever it is on a given day -- is harmed. Maybe even killed. Maybe it's even something really rare and special. Obviously, this is, to use a terribly non-descriptive word, bad. But if you don't let the kids into the nature, the result might be even worse. A generation -- which will eventually come into power -- that has never been in nature. Doesn't respect it, doesn't love it, doesn't feel connected to it, isn't willing to pay more taxes to preserve it or do any of the other numerous things that people can do to help it.

Now, I am not a person who believes nature is for people. I believe in the intrinsic value of nature, that it has its own worth apart from how people enjoy it or even depend on it. I understand the importance of biodiversity to the ecosystem. But I want other people to think these things, too, and it's hard to learn about something without experiencing it. And it's impossible to learn to love something without experiencing it.

It reminds me of the memorable passage in Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, where he interviews conservation professionals. He asks them, what got you to where you are today -- in other words, why did you become a conservation professional. They all told some version of a story in which, as youth, they explored wild spaces and built forts, played hide-and-seek, or did whatever kids do. They he asked them if they would allow kids to do those things in the wilderness areas they worked at... and the answer was a resounding NO. Ironic...

Our wilderness and our world has changed. When those professionals were running through the woods, a lot of them probably weren't running through forest preserves, but rather more like undeveloped areas that nobody managed. There aren't a lot of those left in this area. The open spaces are managed, and someone takes them personally. They don't want people to go off the trail. This might be OK if the trails I was talking about were paths... small, for foot traffic... paths where you can feel close to nature. Around here, they make an entirely different brand of multi-use trail. They're about 8-10 feet of gravel, with 3-4 feet of mower turf grass on either side. We're talking a highway 14-18 feet in width. You could drive a car on these trails. In fact, I've seen that happen many a time. These trails make you feel removed, as separate from nature as if you were on a road. They're fitness trails, not commune with nature trails. Kids (and adults) need to commune with nature.

It's all a matter of numbers, really. If one kid explores in the woods, it's not a big deal. Something might get stepped on but most things come back from that. If a hundred kids do the same thing, it causes a lot more damage. It's more of a trampling by a herd than a little step. So yeah, as population, and population density, increase around here, there's more stresses on the wildlife. But the real problem is that in today's world, at least around here, one kid doesn't go into the wilderness anyway. For one thing, a lot of kids don't have access anyhow. But for another, we're constantly worried about their safety. Kidnappers and ... I actually heard a group of moms worrying about coyotes the other day. Really. At any rate... Kids don't roam free as they used to. And so, we (well, there's a small movement at least) are trying to do it in school, safely and with supervision. But this means volume. One class of kids makes a big impact. A whole school makes an even bigger impact. So you see...

It's a conundrum. But I'm tired, it's been a long day. I'm finished with thoughtful.

So... on to the interesting.
This Cooper's was in my yard when I got home. I didn't want to disturb it so I took the photo on the left through the window. Later, when it flew off, I went outside. On the right is what was left of the robin that has lived its last moments in my yard.

And finally, the typical mundane phenology updates of the day.
Wild strawberries got their first flowers.
As did foamflower.

We saw 3-6 (depending on they were repeats) sandhill cranes today, and coots and maybe some other non-mallard ducks but I had neither binoculars or a bird book, so we'll never know if we saw the shovelers that had reportedly been in the area.

Finally...Mystery of the day:
Can anyone ID this plant (shown from above and a closer view of the stalk). The whole thing was maybe 6 inches (tall and across).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Darn it.

Green darner grasping desperately at life. I know that these insects are short-lived, but I am still saddened to see one struggle.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Good, The Beautiful and the Ugly (and Bad)

Oak trees wearing their dangling flowers (although they are still closed up quite tightly and not really blooming yet).

The pure white flowers of the trillium grace pristine woodland areas and gardens like mine, while...

Garlic mustard flowers add their white hue to areas more disturbed or unhealthy. As you'd expect with an invasive species that opens early, stays green all winter, and emits fungicide into the soil, it grows in great clumps, monocultures of weeds beneath the shade, waiting for someone to come and pull them before they go to seed.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Cute Cookie

A student found this painted turtle in his deck and brought it to his class today. I got to go with them to release him into the wild. The kids, who developed quite an attachment in only 4 hours, called it Tiny Tim, but I called it Cookie. Actually, I call all turtles that are about an inch (give or take) in diameter cookie turtles. They just make me think of little cookies, the kind of thing you could pop in your mouth in one bite. I mean, I wouldn't actually do that, even if I weren't a vegetarian, but... they're just as cute as little cookies, even though they have little grumpy-old-man faces.

In other news... nearly everything (or at least some members of every species) has at least tiny leaves now -- locusts and lindens, ashes and oaks... it's a green world out there! And the first lilac flowers opened today, but just like one flower per bunch...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

These warm spring days, like yesterday and today, it's like waking up to a new world every day. You may recall that on Tuesday, I mentioned that bluebells and marsh marigolds were not yet blooming. Well, yesterday:
There you have 'em.

Another cool discovery of yesterday was this mayfly:
This one was on our deck, and then today another individual of the same species landed on my shirt at school. Clearly, this species of mayfly is having its day in the sun, so to speak. Mayflies have one of the best ordinal names -- ephemeroptera. The ephemeral insect. The adults live only a day, maybe two. In that time, they have one purpose in life -- to mate. They don't even eat! Like odonata but even more extreme, ephemeroptera are really water-dwelling creatures, living most of their lives as nymphs, where, unseen by humans, they play an important role in aquatic food chains.

Today, I had a very bust day at school and I didn't even carry my camera, so I missed shots of frogs and swallows. Actually, the best discovery of today was what I believe to be a sprouting waterlily seed. It was in the water, and kids thought at first that it was a small pinecone. When we pulled it out, it clearly wasn't a pinecone, and it had some roots -- less than an inch long -- and and shoots -- equally small, with minuscule, round leaves at the end. It was pretty cool.

At home, though, my yard is filled with new colors...
Redbuds haven't actually flowered yet, but all of a sudden the buds change the brown branches to purple.
In my yard, all the tulips opened today. They weren't the first -- I've been seeing tulips for over a week, but in my yard they all -- red, yellow, mixed, orange -- opened today.... as did the first bellworts.
So what will tomorrow bring?!? (Cold, is the predicted answer.)

Conversations with Small People

Conversation #1
Naomi (noticing that kindergartener at recess is sitting in a sort of nest she created): That looks like a comfortable seat you have there!

Kid (thoughtfully): Um, I saw a couple of them.

Naomi: (Pause.) OK! Well, I have to go to class now!

Conversation #2
Naomi (at the end of the last class of the day, when it was sunny and 79 degrees): You guys enjoy the rest of your beautiful afternoon -- I hope you get to play outside!

Kid (melodramatically): How can we. It's horrible outside. I'm hot.

Naomi (thought): You can't win, can you? Because last week it was too cold and now it's too hot. It's never just right, is it, Goldilocks?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Y! E! S!

So the other day, we were walking at the gardens and the air was warm and flowers were blooming (some, anyhow) and it was a beautiful day. And I said, "The only thing wrong is, I wish there were dragonflies [and/or damselflies]. I love them and I miss them." Well... that means that today is perfect. Soaring over the water, electric blue and huge, there they were. Darting around like they never had left. Some sort of darner, although I don't have my book and they didn't want to sit for photos. This particular variety is not perchers, and the only way I got even a blurry photo of them was because this mating pair did land on a reed for a few brief seconds.
I also saw two cabbage white (or similar) butterflies.

I got distracted by insects while I was noting how some leaves were progressing, btw:
bur oak, water lily, hazel.

So... today is a DAY (that is, a red letter day! Ha! I'm a hilarious punner, no? Sorry, couldn't resist.) And those of you who know me will confirm... I am not upset even though I dropped my camera case in the pond while taking pictures of dragonflies (better than the camera, I guess) and then this weevil crashed into me.
Even without biting, it hurt. Thing just rammed full speed into my forehead. It hurt me, but it really stunned the bug. Knocked itself right out, which is how I got the picture. Or maybe it even died, but I doubt it. I didn't stick around to find out.

And those things might normally upset me. But I'm just happy about my dragonflies.

Saskatoon, June- or Serviceberries...

Now, this is a serviceberry update I can easily describe: first flowers, 4/14.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Daily Grind

It's funny how time and circumstance change our perspective immensely. Two months ago, in the midst of reporting on changing ice crystals, if I could even find a change in them, I would have given anything to have one tiny leaf, little emerging fiddlehead... anything to write about. Now, with embarrassing riches of change every hour of every day, I don't seem to want to write about something unless it's a magnificent new burst of color... I check the marsh marigolds for yellow blooms, but am a day or two early yet. I check the mertensia for their tightly-closed purple buds to turn blue, but am early there, too. And so I don't write. Even though the walnut trees are leafing out, significant not just because all leaf-outs are significant, but because compound leaves are usually slower than their simple friends.

I skipped these periwinkles entirely just because they aren't wildflowers or something I planted -- they bloomed last week. I didn't tell you that the bloodroots, which I chronicled from bud to blossom and some steps in between, are now spent, their pristine white petals littering the floor and creased with the brown of death. I didn't mention that my 4 mayapples have turned to 14, that hepatica, one of the first spring ephemerals to show their stamen, are still blooming strong. I skipped the reddish leaves of the queen of the prairie emerging from the blackened earth. And really? If I tried to describe the changes in the serviceberry, I'd practically be at a loss for words, anyhow -- they are different every day, but until I see an actual flower, what can I say?

I'm not sure, in the end, if I'm spoiled by the wealth of the season, or if I'm frustrated by my lack of words to describe it. See, I feel as though, in the second year of this blog, constant snapshots and factual reports of blossoms won't cut it. I want to say something every time I write, and I just don't have that much to say about phenology each and every occurrence. I notice them, I celebrate them to myself... but I don't always have words. Plus, there are a lot of gray areas. Do I report this golden Alexander flower even though the rest of the plants -- even the rest of the flowers on this plant -- look about a week away from wearing yellow?

And then there's things like this...
I don't have any clue what this fern is. We've planted a large variety, the tags are all gone, and it won't be until real fronds emerge that I have any hope of IDing them. So what do I call it?

You'll pardon my complaining about issues that aren't really problems at all... it's a lovely day, week -- enjoy all that's happening out there!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

... And Today.

You may recall that last year, I transplanted three jewelweed seedlings from my parents house. Seeds themselves are extremely hard to collect, what with their springing mechanism, so I dug up the plants, which did not like their journey but manages to perk back up and survive. I am thrilled to announce that this baby, pictures to the left, is not alone. There are at least 20 of them growing now in the area of the three original pioneers. My plan is working!

Now, I know these aren't the world's most desired garden plants... they have the word "weed" in their name, although they aren't. In fact, they are native to most of the USA east of the Rockies. Their delicate flowers truly are jewel-like, and they are not only shade-tolerant, but generally tolerant and require no work from me... Thus, I desire them as garden plants even if no one else does. Of course, they spread fast (as I have already witnessed) and they're annuals, so they need an appropriate space...
Maples (sugar, to the left) and their evil kin boxelders (below) are fully flowering, most green, though some species are have red, too. These individuals have leaves emerging as well -- their lobed shapes nearly translucent with newness. Such an exciting time of year.

Now I must attend to my seedlings, which are enjoying their third adventure in the fresh air and sunshine this afternoon.