Archive for nature studies

On a Stormy Night

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As I listen to the rain spattering against my cabin’s window,
I think of that night when we were stranded here.
The roads were washed out and the creek overflowing,
but I was in your arms , safe, warm, a long-awaited dream.

I saw the lights blink on the alarm clock, the bang on the transmitter.
I smiled, we were alone, you and I , no one would check on us.
I tugged on grandma’s quilt and you tugged back-asleep.
I listened to the sweet sound of your breath, soft, even.

When I awoke, stars glimmered in the window, the clock was flashing.
Darkness still surrounded me, along with your strong, hard arms.
I wanted this night to last forever, the moon seemed satisfied with just a peek at us.
You and I, finally in a place where life brought a freshness-alone, together.

 

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The Ephermals of an Appalachian Forest in Spring

As a teen, I often wandered in the forest and grassland of my grandparents pasture. The sight of the ephemeral flowers of spring always brought me great joy. It seems one dy, in late February, I would notice a tiny Spring beauty growing below the deciduous tress deep in the woods. Then there wold be another and another. I would round a curve on an old logging road and discover a bank filled with Bloodroot. I felt as though I had found a treasure, as all ephemeral rise up, bloom and disappear within a few weeks, before the leaves are much more that a pale green bud.

There are “arguments” among locals as to which wild flowers of early spring really qualify as ephemeral-meaning flowers that appear, bloom, fertilized each other (sometimes themselves) and disappear within a very short time. I never really cared. I knew which ones fit that category in “My woods” and that was all that mattered. After the first flowers had begun to disappear, others wold take their place. There were Clinton Lily’s. Pink Orchids, common violets, Pipsisewa, May Aapple and many more as spring progressed towards May. Between mid-April and mid-May, the forest was covered with these small shy flowers. I found them to be fascia ting, often getting down on my knees to explore each leaf and bud.

I always enjoyed the sounds of busy squirrels and chipmunks, I loved the way that the sound of the creek became louder as I got closer to a small pond that someone had long ago built for cattle drink from. Occasionally, sight of a foot-long ground snake, would surprise me. We would stare at each other, her head held high,and then she would slowly crawl off into the brown leaves still littering the ground. It was always exciting to pick up a stone and find a resting lizard, remaining still underneath. I often had to put the rock back down right beside the creature for fear of crushing it.

I was raised in the woods. My mother, aunt and grandmother would go on walks with me. We knew where natural springs flowed from depths of the earth, with water as fresh as a spring shower. We would lift rocks with a hoe from the creek where the cattle drank and catch crawfish (who, of course shoot backward when disturbed and were easy to catch.) DON”T argue, crawfish is what we called them! Salamanders would hide in the s shallower areas near the edge or the water plants swishing near the edge of the creeks.

By mid June, blackberries were starting to ripen, and the chiggers that lived on and around them were waiting for a dog, person, any creature that spelled “food” to walk by. When I was 12 years old, my parents made me go pick blackberries and I got 103 chiggers bites. I swore that I would never go again, and I didn’t, until I was a young adult and had to decide on my own whether the seedy berries were worth the briars and chiggers.

The fields are gone now, either grown up or a mansion has sprung  up in the middle of a big “lot”. It should have never happened. It breaks my heart that only my mom cared enough to want to save it and she was out-voted.

Times have changed over the decades. The big houses have chased the bears, wild turkeys, coyotes, even bobcats down into the valleys. There, they have found easy meals from scraps and trash cans. My grand kids will never see the world I knew. I take them to the Botanical Gardens at the University or the Bird Sanctuary at the man-made lake.

There, they can see mallards and red-headed ducks, turtles resting on logs, frogs jumping into the slim-filled swampy areas, birds of all kinds. That is as good as it gets near my home any more. I have always hoped to one day convince an old farmer that what I could offer him to save his land was worth more to his descendants than the crowds of houses the developer wanted to build, smiling and offering him an exorbitant price to destroy his land. I have about given up hope, it seems the green on money means more to even the old farmers than the lush, lovely green of trees.

Perhaps someone with more money than I have will come along, or some old timer with a mind that loves nature like I do, will donate his land to a nature conservancy. In the meantime, I will go to the edges of the woods , when it has just started to sprinkle rain and the fragrance of soil and plants fills my senses and remember what this place was like before the leaders of surrounding towns turned paradise into pitiful.. The Singing Group called the Eagles wrote a song when I was a teenager that said, “Call a place a paradise, and kiss it goodby.” How sad, how true. But I have my memories. Please take time  listen to the song that plays on this blog.

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A Special Place

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Not far from my son’s high school, sits a mansion, Biltmore House, which was built by George Vanderbilt in the 1880′s. This was during the time when the wealthy seemed to be having a contest to see who could build the largest house. Many were in new York and on Cape Cod.

For some reason, this picture reminded me of the trees lining the way to the front of the house though to  see the beauty of nature leading to a comforting barn rather than a mansion was much more of my taste.DSCN1812

However, I must commend Mr. Vanderbilt and his family for their appreciation of nature, to help in starting Pisgah National Forest and the Forestry Movement as a whole. There are museums and fish hatcheries open to the public along a beautiful stretch of mountain highway, filled with the wonderful rumble of waterfalls, trails lined with wild flowers and nature preserves where we can still see what the beautiful Blue Ridge looked like before the retiree with money filled so many hillsides with their homes.

A line of deciduous trees is particularly beautiful in autumn when the leaves put on their grand show for a few weeks. Often, in spring, wild flowers decorate the area around the trunks, enhancing their beauty.

When I see a photo that reminds me of a location so very different than the red barn and the Biltmore mansion, it makes me realize that, in our hearts, the rich and the poor, the have and have-nots are not all that different in what they find attractive to the eye or soothing to the soul.59100010

I try to appreciate those, like the Vanderbilts, who saved thousands of acres from development (this was before income and property tax days, of course) donating and helping develop these areas that will be kept wild forever. The sound of a bubbling brook, the quiet of a deep green forest, unusual rock formations, accidental encounters with wild animals, all enrich the days of both the young and old.

It is doubtful that money will allow me to fulfill my dream, yet I keep dreaming.
“If I could just let this farmer know that I would not develop his precious farm before the developer comes up waving tons off money to a man who raised a family on $20.00 a week… If, if, if. I will keep trying, a will my children, and who knows, one day there may be a grove of trees and a barn, perhaps an old farm house with my name on it and my heart in it.

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The First Flowers of Spring

07500015I listen for the sound of my grandson’s school bus, walking around his yard as I wait. It is late March, with the crazy hot-then cold mountain weather. I’m looking for springs first flowers, not to magical ephemeral Clinton’s Lilies or Blood Root that grew on the mountainsides on my childhood, now ruined by the mansions of the rich, nor the spring beauties that clustered near the old bath tub where cattle once drank.- Just simple wild flowers that give me the hope of spring.

I spy a few spikes of tiny white flowers, remembering how they shoot out their seeds when their life cycle finishes early in the summer. Daffodils grow in odd places where farms flourished early in thee century, tiny bluet sprinkle the places that grass will soon overtake.

How wonderful the dandelions look in March, when we will be fussing at them by June. The last of the crocuses are dying, Muscari, the tiny cousins of hyacinths pop up among the tufts of green. I smile, with hope, as I hear the bus coming. Spring WILL be here soon and there will be a lot of work to do!

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The Most Difficult Job

DSCN1871In my 58 years, I have had six kids. Raising them, loving them, being their mom was the greatest joy of my life. Sadly, I lost a son at age 15 from a sudden heart event during a baseball game. But this is not about him, it is about all children.

I look at my grandchildren now, and see their innocence, their joy at pleasing me, their “Beebee”. I walk in parks with them and their moms, along with my youngest son. It brings back such wonderful memories. We laugh, I take pictures of them climbing fallen trees, seeing fish or turtles or a red-headed ducks out on the lake. A bug skitters by and elicits a squeal from one of them. A snail, slowly making his way across the boardwalk delighting a grandson.

Besides the horror of loosing a child, one of the most difficult things a parent has to do is teach them to be adults, to allow them to grow up. When your child can fix his own lunch or lay our her own clothes(and they match!) is one of our first lessons in letting go. Of course, even before that, going to the potty alone or cleaning up a mess is a step in that direction. Believe me, it gets more difficult.

When your life has been centered on being the best mom that you could be, it is a tearful adventure to hear your youngest child talking about his plans for his future. For 38 years, I have had our own form of home-school on Saturdays, in summer, or even on school vacations. We have walked the paths of Gettysburg and splashed in the waves of beaches from Santa Barbara to cape Hatteras. It gos by so fast.We have been on educational trips, anywhere from the mountains at our doorstep to the Grand Canyon or Washington D.C..

Suddenly, the oldest will not come along and a new one will ride in a stroller. Perhaps some of the older “kids’ will meet you at your vacation spot with a car full of their friends. For a while, it is simply a milestone, and then your little group becomes smaller and smaller. They choose what they want to do on the trip, even where they want to go. You realize that the best days, the most precious days are rushing by, and a tear often trails a mothers cheek.

I have been through a lot, I will not try to put these ordeals, good or bad in numerical order. I will simply say this to those of you who still cuddle sleeping babies, go to “Kindergarten Parents Night”.

gently stroke feverish heads with a cool damp cloth-to breathe in every second, every sleepless night, every leap of joy when the school bus comes home, because, soon, they will be gone.

I picked up my teen at school today with a stomach virus, all ready to comfort him, bring him cool drinks, obsessively check on him, all those “mom” things that we learn to do, and realize that the ride home was all he really needed. He will get his license soon and independence is on the horizon.

Oh, he appreciated the kind words, the stokes of my hand through his hair, the cold drinks or peeps into his room, but I could tell that his smile of appreciation was more for my benefit than for his.

One feeling that I know I will keep with me forever is the joy of being needed, loved, appreciated by a child. There is nothing like it. I will still talk my teen into taking the grandchildren that I keep after school to the store and let him hold their hands and escort them to the toy section while I shop. I will ask him to go with us to the park and go to the grocery store with me. But I know, that it is my son, now, who is going for my pleasure, rather than me going for his. It is his joy at seeing me smile that that makes the day so fine. It is his reaching for the keys as we get in the car that makes me smile back.

I look at him with pure pleasure, 6 foot 3 inches tall, (taller than his father),shaving on occasion, his low-pitched voice asking me which store to go to, and know that I was one hell of a mom, and am now one hell of a grand-mom, and if I succeed in the hardest part of all-letting him grow up and be the man that I have worked so hard for him to be, that I will have done the hardest, most wonderful, rewarding, frustrating job in the world-be a parent, and one day walk with him as he skips through the park with his child.

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Forest Primeval

IMG_0073I have been “kidnapped”, or so it seems. let’s just say I have awoken in a new place,in a new home,you might say optimistically.It is a forest somewhere that I have never been. I have everything I need to make a home, then begin a plan to find out where I am and someone I can communicate with. First step-find water. Mark my way back to where I began, so I will at least have a “starting’ point. Hopefully the water will lead to civilization, where I can observe the people, the buildings, read signs, get some idea where I am. Where that first step leads me, who knows? My second step will have to consider what I have found out there.

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A Gift for the Market

The sun was a ball of fire rising through the fog. Finally, the clatter of rain had turned to an autumn portrait of drying flood waters. We rode down the muddy path in our weathered farm wagon, bumping along, hooves clomping, with the wagon filled with produce for the market in town.

The chill in the air, the slush of mud, I pulled my shawl close around me. Then I saw the reflection of the wet green world upon the river. I realized that without both the sun and the rain, we would not be on our way to market.

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An Ocean of Trees

Somewhere in the shadows of his dreams, the young man drifted in and out of the haze. Trees seemed to be every where, he looked around and everything looked the same. Here and there a branch would be different or a limb wold be broken off, but nothing in the real world went on and on without variation!

The, within his dream world, he thought of the ocean, how it went on and on, the waves crashing, the winds pounding, shells sprinkled about. There were a few things that went on and on without variety. But what did it mean? What was the purpose of this dreams.

Within the mist of dreamworld, he recalled what he had been thinking of as he went to sleep. What would I like to be when I am grown, what do I love? He thought of hikes he had been on, the whispers of the forest, the gentle breaks in its continuity. Its peace, the way it drew him back, time after time.

Suddenly, his eyes opened- “An OCEAN of trees!” the forest was like the ocean, simply a different entity. It went on and on, it was tranquil, yet mysterious. Forestry, that’s what it was, he would study forestry! Somewhere in that never ending topic, he would find himself. His eyes softly closed again.

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Island Memories

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Walking on the island shore at night always held a fascination for me, especially with my young teen. We would walk along, watching as the lights on shore glimmered off the amazing expanse of water all around is. It was one of those moments that needed no words, the feelings, the magic, spoke for itself.

He reached down and picked up something, turned to me, held it up and smiled. It was a whole conch con, shimmering in the starlight. Wow! I said, as we walked on. I will never forget that night. It is burnt into my soul. A tear runs down my cheek even now. It was the last night we ever spent on the beach together.

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Admission of my Quirky Habits

aea34-img_6776I am sure that other people see me with many quirky habits. I imagine the one that people emjoy the most is my love of studying reptiles, amphibians and insects. From the time I was a child, I have had baby turtle in a box, tadpoles in a bowl and container and have loved studying insects.

I had purchased and enjoyed a 35 mm camera along with diopters, filers and lenses and had learned to take beautiful photographs on thee film. Now, in this digital age, I have re-taken very few I on film. The photos never have the quality and clarity when they are retaken. I bought a complicated new digital camera, but just could not conquer it, so I traded it in for a more simple on.

I have taken quite a few on the camera, but haven’t managed to get a lot of them on the computer. I hope to get out my old albums and make the beautiful pictures of fritillary butterflies and monarchs on butterfly weed. I remember the excitement of capturing pictures of snakes, or lizards. My neighbors were always happy to check out my latest photos of the life cycle of the praying mantis.

It is odd how hobbies and quirks come and go in our lives. Sometimes, when we find time and life moving them out of our reach we loose the time or energy to pursue it as we once did.

Still, I treasure the memories of the days when I showed my children a “new” insect or a new life faze of a butterfly and their amazement as they held a newly hatched black swallowtail on their fingertip.

Quirks aren’t always bad, just different, and isn’t being different what makes life interesting?

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