Thursday, August 26, 2010

Times You Wish You Had a Camera

So this morning, I had one of those moments... I saw something so cool and spectacular, and of course, I was camera-less. We watched from just a few feet away as a full-grown praying mantis ate the head and innards of a cicada. It just sat there, holding the green-eyed prey in its holy arms, and chewed. The cicada was pretty dead, we think, but the mantis' motions caused its translucent wings to move as though it were still struggling to be free. Meanwhile, the mantis' head moved up and down like a wolf picking flesh off of bones... well, like a green, alien wolf, I guess. Or a person with a big old ear of corn, choosing where to dive in and take a bite. Actually, the whole thing happened upside down... so it was like a bat eating an ear of corn. But I think perhaps we've gone a little too simile crazy. The end.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's That Time of Year...

This argiope caught and wrapped up a grasshopper. In the small picture to the left, you can see (to her right and slightly behind her) the male argiope -- tiny and unremarkably colored. That means that mating season is upon us for these spiders, though I don't even want to think about how that works.

In other mating news, boy... did I see some crazy dragonfly stuff today. It was an afternoon for big dragonflies... there were pondhawks and skimmers and darners and saddlebags all over. The female pondhawks were depositing eggs in the water, which was cool. But what I'd never seen before... this couple mating on the wing was being bombarded by another male, I guess trying to break them up. He just banged into the mating pair repeatedly, and they flew really high to get away, and he followed them... it was crazy. A dragonfly fight.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sun and Sand

It was, today, beautiful -- sunny, breezy, warm-not-hot. Rough blazing star is now in full bloom, making the sandy prairie areas at the beach just lovely.

Here, resting in a sheltered area among them, is a viceroy. You can tell the difference between the two both by the smaller size -- which is subjective but was what actually gave it away on this one -- and by the pattern on the lower wings. The viceroy has a black line that runs consistently across the middle of them (faint but present in this specimen); the monarch does not. The viceroy is well known for being a mimic of the monarch, capitalizing on the fact that monarchs, from munch-munch-munching on milkweed, taste nasty to predators. It's commonly used as an example in learning about adaptations... but it turns out, the viceroy is pretty bad-tasting itself. Its larval host plant is the willow, which is filled with a delicious chemical called acetylsalicylic acid... also found in aspirin, which is about how it tastes. Delish!

And speaking on milkweed munchers... here's another. The milkweed tossock moth, as an adult, is kind of a plain and boring grayish moth. But as a caterpillar, it is fuzzy and at least somewhat colorful. These two here were the second and third I've seen this week.

Here, a downy false foxglove... well, I think it's downy, but I didn't take pictures of the stem and leaves, so I'm going on memory and what little you can see back there... provides a lovely burst of yellow in the forest. These plants are parasitic on the roots of oak trees. Crazy... it doesn't look like most parasitic plants I can think of!

It was very wavy today!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I always thought sneezeweed was a rather unfortunate and disparaging name. After spending a little while with my nose near one... I kinda get it.

By The Seashore

Yes, we're going back in time. I could just predate the posts so they showed up earlier, as if I'd done them in a timely fashion, but them most of my few readers would probably never even see them! So... to set the scene... we're back in Maine, on the first day of the Month... We are exploring the rocky coast, the cold water's edge, just after low tide. Close your eyes, inhale. The salty water smells the same everywhere, but is so different from inland air. I could be back on the flat sandy beaches of Georgia, or looking for tidepools in Oregon on the edge of a whole different ocean...

Open your eyes and it looks, on a cursory glance, like Minnesota, with igneous rocks giving way to the endless cold expanse of Lake Superior. But put the two together -- the sights and the smells -- and it was a wholly unique place. And Minnesota? Has nothing at all remotely tide-pool like. I loved looking at all the unique critters that have managed to adapt to living half their lives completely submerged, and half their lives in what is essentially a puddle... with some very turbulent waves in between. What a crazy life! We didn't find any sea stars -- they are there and I really wanted to -- but we did see some other nifty life forms... mostly snails and "bugs" of sorts, and what I will call sea weed. Perhaps the coolest thing, not featured in any photos, were the lichens, especially adapted to both submersion in salt water and bring in air. Apparently a tricky feat.

The other cool thing about the shore was the waves as the tide came in. They would hit certain spots at certain times and be tunneled in and make these huge splashes. This sort of shows it, but it's not the peak of the splash. I have about 40 photos that I tried to click at just the right time, and about 30 of them don't show any water at all. None of them showed the highest splashes. This is the closest. Oh, well.

I just liked this picture of Chris looking at the tidepools.

The problem with waiting so long... we actually did look this duck up, but now I've forgotten what it is and I tried to look it up again and am totally unsure. Scoter?

I love sea ducks, though.

This fellow isn't really a sea shore critter, but we did find him by the sea shore, and I thought his colors were lovely, so I have included him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Low Point

Let’s hope this is the low point of the week. So. I’m doing solo spots with a 1st grade class. Which is sort of horrible to start with, honestly. I mean, it’s really hard for them the first time; they don't yet know how to be still and quiet. So it's just generally not the best time for me. I don't get to journal at all myself. But we get through it, and we’re at the sharing time at the end. One little girl has drawn one of those Queen Anne’s Lace caterpillars and has the caterpillar to share with the whole group. She want to pass it around from kid to kid, but we explain to her that this is hard for the caterpillar, maybe she should walk around with it for all to see. I show her how to hold out her hand and walk around. She starts, going really slow so all can see. She gets to about the 6th kid, who apparently has not been paying attention at all… and he thinks she’s holding out her hand for a high 5. So he gives her one. Smashing the caterpillar to mush right there on her palm. Oh, my god. So sad. I mean, I know it’s just a QAL caterpillar and they're everywhere, but that girl was crushed. Crying, the whole bit. It was not pretty.

So it can only go up from here, right?

Sketches Here and There

One of today's sketches... a blazing star, rough, I believe, with just the very top flower in bloom.
This sketch of a cardinal flower is from Sunday at the botanic gardens... the red was so deep and bright and velvety and wonderful that I actually added some color to part of the sketch... but Crayola didn't do it justice, I'm afraid.
The bunchberry is the sketch I did in Maine, which isn't my favorite ever. I'd have preferred to draw one with actual berries -- there were some, but not where we stopped. The form was almost too simple, and that made it harder to draw...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Summer's Over?

I am getting very behind on the blogging, again. I never finished posting stuff from our trip. Since then, there's also been over a week of changes and I've done some sketching. But I'm so busy! I wrote this during a journaling time we had on our first day back at work (a staff in-service that was exactly one week ago, Aug 10).

Bluegills dart in and out of the milfoil, their dorsal fins occasionally puncturing the water's surface. Their patch of shimmering aqua green contrasts with the brown of the water and the yellow of the stems. Mouths moving, they seek out insects among the feathery leaves.

A blue damselfly swoops past, diving for mosquitoes and reminding me of all that is good about summer. Observation. A slow and steady pace, a gentle productivity that doesn't steal the day away entirely. The rhythm of harvesting, canning, processing, the feel of tomatoes squishing between my fingers, splashing juice up to my elbows. The business of living, not the busy-ness of working.

Bright yellow, a gold finch squeaks as he pulls fluffy seeds from the head of a thistle. He works his way up and over, hangs precariously upside down for a second, then rights himself. A monarch floats by and lands on a primrose, extending its proboscis. A swallowtail flirts with each blossom briefly before moving on to the next, brighter and better. Bees buzz from hawkweed to goldenrod and back again. Their legs look heavy with gold.

The common denominator? All these animals spend their days consumed in the task of finding, storing and eating food. Perhaps this is why my old-fashioned summer "hobbies" feel so right. It isn't just me getting back in touch with my food, its source and its seasonality... but me becoming my inner animal. You know, except I have glass jars and an electric freezer.

A kingbird, perched and watching. Peach fuzz against my cheek. Cedar waxwings searching for berries. Corn silk, long and pale, almost sticky. The back ends of mallard sticking out of the water. The capsaicin burn of jalapeƱos. Swallows swooping and swerving. However can school be starting already???

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One of our travel adventures involved a sunset sea kayaking trip. We got to see a lot of wildlife on this expedition...
This is the only shot of a loon I got on the whole trip. It isn't the only loon we saw, but the only one I managed to photograph. And, with the bouncing and bobbing, I didn't get that great a photo, considering it wasn't that far from us.
We also saw a bald eagle altercation. Talons tangled, we saw 2 of them, very close to our boat, fall towards the water. I didn't have my camera at the ready instantly, so didn't catch that. One of the eagles (the loser?) stayed in the water for a while before being ready to take off; the other flew immediately to a nearby tree:
Finally, we saw a lot of seals. But we couldn't get very close to them, so you'll have to trust me that there are several seals on the rocks in this picture. They also swam and stuck their noses out of the water, some pretty near to us.

We also a lot of osprey, and even more mosquitoes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sunrise? Sunset?

One of the "things to do" at Acadia is to wake up at what I can only describe as the middle of the night, and drive at the (pardon my crass description) butt crack of dawn to the top of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sun rise. This event is special because, with the mountain's eastern location and elevation, people at its summit see the sun before anyone else in the USA.

We saved this activity for our last day. Partly, this seemed like a special way to end our trip, having some sort of poetic symmetry with how we ended our wedding. And partly it had a practical application... we wanted to leave very early and get in well over 12 hours of driving, so we had to wake up really early anyhow. The problem with saving it for the last day is... it's the last chance. So in the middle of the night, when thunderstorms awoke us, I decided that we would go anyhow. I hadn't been up to the top of Cadillac Mountain, and wanted to see it.

This is our sunrise from Cadillac Mountain.
I'm just kidding, of course. That was the western view. Here is the real sunrise.
Yup. That's right, it was raining and we were in a cloud. Oh, well. There were some spectacular lichens up there. Pink and orange, black and mint and olive...

On Top of the World

View from the Top

In New Hampshire (No, I'm not going in order) we climbed Mount Monadnack. The name, I'm told, means lonely mountain, because it rises alone from land that is hilly, but certainly not mountainous. The trail that we took went up for about 2 miles, and down the same distance on a slightly different path. And when I say it went up 2 miles, I mean it went UP for 2 miles. It was a trail unlike any that I have ever hiked upon. First, it basically went straight up the mountain. No messing around with things like switchbacks, or stairs. Just... UP. Second, the trail was often just rocks that already happened to exist without vegetation, which I guess was convenient for the trail-makers. The path was marked with white dots painted on rocks -- not quite often enough and in a color that was coincidently similar to some of the lichens that also occurred on the rocks. Happily, there were some very large and creative cairns to follow as well... sometimes. Anyhow... the way up was dotted with lovely glimpses and also populated with some wildlife -- we saw a kestrel, a dragonfly, and red squirrels, which I love. They are so much tinier and spunkier than our grey ones. Also shier, and I felt lucky to have gotten a photo of one at all.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Big Thoughts on Small Things

On the seemingly interminable drive from Acadia in Maine back to suburban Chicago, we listened to the audio version of Dayton Duncan and Ken Burns’ National Parks: America’s Best Idea. As a side note, this was a nice follow-up to our east-bound listening, Eaarth by Bill McKibben. They complimented each other in an odd way, and I would recommend both, although I would not read Eaarth if you have an inclination for depression. It definitely made me want a Prozac… it essentially described how humans have gone past the point of no return in terms of wrecking the planet, and that our only hope for the future is an immediate re-definition of our expectations and lifestyles. It made me glad I don’t have children; in fact, it made me wish I was old. Because I don't think people are any closer to listening to this advice now than they were when The Limits to Growth was published in 1972. Actually, I suspect we're further away. And although I'm one of the people that would enjoy McKibben's prescribed changes more than most, I don't see them happening to our society voluntarily, and the involuntary way seems pretty scary. Some of us are going down. But back to the point.

National Parks, on the other hand, described the same as one of the great and hopeful innovations of America. Although it was balanced, and presented some of the unsavory and disappointing aspects of the NPS, the book, overall, made me proud. It even made my eyes tear up a bit. It also made me think about my relationship to the national parks, and to nature in general.

At Acadia, one of my favorite things was the trail around Jordan Pond. If you’ve been there, you know that this 3.3 mile trail is one of the few in the park that is completely flat… elevation change: 0. It doesn’t climb a mountain or take you to the edge of the Atlantic. It does offer some spectacular views of a pristine lake surrounded by pine-covered hills. I, like the other thousand people that visited the park that day, (or at least like all the ones that got more than 100 yards from the store and restaurant) snapped a picture of each perfect view.

Unlike everyone else, my scenic view photos will be couched in the photo album between a great many close-ups of lichens and fungi, berries and bugs. I remarked, as we were traversing a boardwalk through a mossy forest, that this was a place in which I could spend 8 hours exploring and not get five feet from where I’d started – not even notice the clear mountain lake reflecting the landscape around it.

I think I have a very different relationship with natural spaces than John Muir. At least as described in National Parks, he sought out the grand views – the mountains and waterfalls. I like those as much as the next guy, I suppose, but that’s not where my head is really at. I seek out and celebrate the small things…

It reminds me of my first real job interview. I was 24, and had spent a few years after college doing seasonal environmental ed jobs. I’d interviewed for them over the phone and never, honestly, doubted I’d get them. But for this interview, I dressed up in a suit (probably overkill) and went in person to the Nature Museum in Chicago. And the moment I remember, the question that sticks out in my head, was “Describe your personal relationship with nature.” What? Certainly I had a relationship with nature. I’d spent a year living in the northwoods in Minnesota, outside every day. I’d spent a year on the Georgia coast soaking up sun and learning the intricacies of ocean life. And I grew up in a family that went camping pretty frequently. For many years, my parents took us west each year, to spend a few weeks in Colorado or one of the magnificent parks described in National Parks – Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Tetons, the Grand Canyon… but I grew up in the suburbs, not in the back country, and so I had the confused relationship to nature you might expect from someone with such a duplicitous upbringing. I really hadn’t spent a lot of time defining this relationship. Certainly, this was not one of those interview questions that you typically prepare for when getting ready for an interview…

Part of me answer -- the part that I still remember discussing word for word -- was that the relationship was really based on small wonders. I see magnificence in the ordinary, in the things that most people walk by every day while they're searching for the perfect mountain vista, or even on their way in from the parking lot or whatever.

So... here is a collection of my small wonders photos. I would like to note that

1. This is just a small selection of the photos of moss, fungi, lichens, parasitic plants, etc. that I have, so I did some major editing... and

2. I recognize that I probably should do some more, but I can't pick!

You're still scrolling down? OK, these last are a little different, but from the Jordan Pond hike so I've included them here. I also did some sketching, and later I will scan and put that in too...