Archive for July, 2012


I saw her crying as she sat beneath the weathered tree.
“Hey.” I whispered, touching her shoulder.
She looked up at me startled, “I didn’t see you.”
“Didn’t mean to scare you.” I said and sat down.
The grass was cool and soft, I watched the shadow
of the tree wave across the sun drenched field.
I had invaded her privacy, she was embarrassed.
I could see it in her eyes as she tried to dry them.
I picked up a dandelion, turned to seed.
With a smile, I blew the seeds into the wind.
She reached out for the stem and twirled it around.
“Funny,” she sniffled, “how words can hurt you.”
She held out the dandelion stem to me,
and straightened her long skirt, so dark in the shade.
She motioned for me to get up and follow her.
As I rose, she disappeared into the shadows and
left me with the flower stem still in my hand.
I walked back toward the old abandoned house,
My special place-hers too, I guess.


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Heart Rescue Now….Quick Refresher Quiz…Do It!

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The Lost Art of Longhand

The Lost Art of Longhand

I have always admired people who had a beautiful  and consistent longhand script. I considered the ability to have that lovely artistic flow to one’s handwriting as a talent, a peek insider one’s innermost self.  I always blamed my fourth grade teacher for robbing me of this talent. She didn’t approve of the way I held my new ink pen, complete with light blue ink cartridges that had to be changed at regular intervals.  It was such an exciting new skill for me.  I loved the way the ink flowed onto the paper, how the heaviness of my hand on the pen would change the amount of ink in my writing, and thus the depth of each letter with every stoke of the pen..  It carried such emotion, such feeling.  

Several of my cousins had developed this lovely, passionate longhand.  I admired it and found myself rather jealous of their skill, for it seemed that no matter how much I practiced, my “cursive” had a sloppy, uneven texture to it that made it seem insincere and unprofessional.

I have loved exploring  my family’s past from the time I was a teenager. Among the treasures that my grandmother kept in a quaint old wardrobe were copies of letters and photographs dating back to the Civil War. My favorite letters were those written by my great-great-grandfather when he was a prisoner in a Yankee prison camp in Sandusky Bay, Ohio. It was surprising to me that even many educated men in this era had developed a lovely script and flow to their writing.  Somehow, the beauty of the longhand, itself, seemed to fill his thoughts  with a sort of prose. There would be hopeful letters reporting that “no one else had died” in the camp, or emotional letters of how he longed to meet his son, born while he was a prisoner of war.  Later, when he worked as a surveyor and traveled, he had written this same son, now grown, a letter of advise on what to do to insure the success of his upcoming marriage. His dark, elaborate script brought his words to life.

My aunt had inherited a collection of another relative’s Victorian-era Post Cards. Many of them had photographs of loved ones on the front of the card, as was the style during that time.  Each card would draw out to the reader details surrounding current events in the life of the person or persons pictured. I remember my aunt using her finger to trace the delicately slanted script that filled the back of each card.  The beauty of the handwriting served to enhance the details of her captions.

Remembering my struggles to develop the artful script of longhand writing, I encouraged my daughters to work on the quality of their “cursive”, as it was called, when they were around nine or ten years old. This “coming of  age” event, when we were  allowed to write in cursive was a big deal when I was in school. Even fifteen years ago, when most school papers were written by hand, the art of using “cursive” instead of print was becoming less important.  Sadly, the older daughter never really learned to write in a traditional cursive script, and the younger one rarely used the nicely flowing script she developed when word processors became the way to write papers and e-mail and face book took the place of writing letters.
Perhaps, now that we have realized that using longhand to communicate is becoming a lost art, we will seek to teach its beauty and heritage much as we have begun to revere the customs and languages of our forbearers.  There is something about seeing a letter written in someone’s own hand, that makes it more personal, gives it life and personality.  Indeed, longhand is much like any craft we might learn, it serves to remind us of a more simple time, when people took pleasure in communicating their feelings and didn’t mind investing the time required to do it.

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Hope Springs Eternal

They had been walking quite a while when they reached the cabin. His brogans were muddy and wet, the cuffs of hi pants covered in mud. He reached down and picked up the puppy and held it in his arms. It was dirty, panting, its fur matted with burrs. He looked at the puppy’s pleading brown eyes as he held it to his chest. He was so thirsty, they were so thirsty.

The spigot was hidden in the vines at the side of the house. He sat the puppy down and turned the spigot hopefully. Nothing. Sadly, he grabbed the puppy and started back down the path. Suddenly there was a gurgling sound, a rush of air and a spurt of spring water burst forth from the spigot. Together they rushed back and burrowed their heads in its cool freshness. “From water comes life,” thought the man watching from the barn.

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A Storm in the Nighttime

A rattling awakens me,
from the depths of a sleep badly needed.
I ease back into a restless slumber,
Comforted by the patter of rain outside.

He loved storms too, I smile and remember,
Even as a tiny child, we’d watch them,
Cuddled on the porch as lightning
And thunder surrounded us.

Somehow now, as I lie here alone,
The echoes of distant thunder
Comfort me, embrace me.
I feel him here, somewhere, somehow.

A flash of lightning filters into my room,
Filling my mind with better times.
In that brief moment, I hear him calling,
Come, hurry, watch the storm with me.


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Summer Afternoons

I recall the voices of summer afternoons,
my home filled with the opening of doors,
Laughing, joking, loud TV shows.
I would smile through the exhaustion
and empty refrigerator, as I told a friend
that fifteen kids had touched my heart,
left their mark, become a part of my day.

They often called me “mom”, even if I wasn’t,
Told me their secrets, whispered their fears.
Those days filled me with a sense of being needed,
appreciated, I was honored , I was loved.
Somewhere inside me, I was invigorated.
The tiredness, replaced by a special joy,
a completion of my need to be needed.

Now, the years have aged me, time has passed,
children grown, still the memories remain.
I hear my last teen walk in, laughing with a friend,
The refrigerator opens, the door closes.
“Hey, mom!” say two voices, as I fight a sweet tear.
“Wanna watch TV with us?” You bet I do.

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This Echinacea in my son’s yard was visited by a Checkerspot butterfly. Echinacea is an herbal plant sometimes used to prevent infections and colds.

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Thunder in my Soul

The rain splashes down on the skillet-hot pavement

steam rises from the street, making its own fog.

A sharp bolt of lightning, way too close,

followed by window rattling thunder crash.

Sunday afternoon, my back throbbing,

I lay exhausted, listening to the storm.

Wondering if the heat, the fire, the thunder

is coming from outside me or within.

I walk slowly to the door to look out again.

The sun is peeking around a cloud,

I see a coal black cat dash by.

It’s so quiet, I can hear the grass rustling.

I knew the answer anyway, I sigh.

The thunder in my soul will always

frighten away the storm outside.



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Black Widow Spiders are Closer than You Wish!

Black Widow Spiders are Closer than You Wish!

My first real encounter with a black widow spider occurred when I was only three years old. We lived in a new house that my father built. He was still working on parts of it. The basement was still dirt and the front steps leading to the dirt road were made of cement blocks.
My mother would often find black widows, hanging in their rather disorganized webs. There, in the darkness, they would guard their egg sacks. We would find them around the outside of our house, in the corners of the basement and inside the holes in the center of the cement blocks. The black widow produces a very strong web material. I have taught many people to take a stick and push against the web. If they find the web is very strong, it is probably leading to a black widows nest. I admit that it is fun to see the look on my “students” faces when I scatter the leaves or probe into the rocks and produce a female black widow.
My father still has stacks of bricks, boards and cement blocks around the yard. Everything is a work in progress. My mother wasn’t afraid of anything, and often caught the spiders in a canning jar. She would take them to my aunt’s “country store” to show them to friends and neighbors who came by. She enjoyed her reputation of not being afraid of spiders and snakes and passed that fearlessness on to me.

I grew up loving to study nature. Both of my parents enjoyed educating friends, relatives and their daughter ( me) about the names of plants, insects, and animals along with their habitats. We always had a menagerie of specimens in and around our house, observing them as they progressed through their life cycles.

I am always surprised by how little most people know about the different species of plants and animals they encounter on a regular basis. I have shown many elderly neighbors a black widow that I have caught in a jar and been surprised when they told me they had never seen one before.

Male black widows are not often seen. They only appear near the females’ web around mating time and do not have the large round marble shaped abdomen which is the trademark of the female. The thin abdomen of the male is marked with more color than that of the female. They often have white, yellow and red markings along their abdomens. Females store sperm and can produce more than one egg sack from one mating. Newly hatched black widows look alike, it is only with their shedding of the exoskeletons that the sex becomes apparent. Young females often have several red markings on their abdomen, even on the upper side in addition to the hour glass shaped red marking on their lower abdomen. An older female typically has only the red hour glass shape on her lower abdomen.

I only live about a mile from where I grew up, so many of  the creatures I encounter now are the same ones I grew up with. Many years ago, a neighbor who was an avid gardener, brought me some tomato plants he had started and noted the small, multicolored spider on one of the containers. Knowing that I studied arachnids, he asked me what it was. He was surprised when I told him it was a male black widow. After gardening his entire life, he had noted only the large black females with the hour glass shaded red marking on her underside.

Since female black widows hand up side down in their webs, they are easy to spot and identify if you look carefully under rocks, flowerpots or creaks in walls. I have seen them within patches of strawberries, gourds or even on the head of a fallen sunflower.  If you have read my recent blog on black widows, you will note that I have found them many times on the gravestones, or the flower containers mounted on the stones in cemeteries.

Ironically, I have found them only on the graves of my mom and my son, Finding that rather disturbing, I would look around at all the graves within the area, never spotting another black widow.  I began to think of it as some sort of message from my loved ones.  Who, but me, who studies arachnids, would think to look for them there, recognize their webs on site or even know for sure what kind of spider it was? I imagine it is quite common to find the spiders in cemeteries, however, I have never seen them on another grave.

Though black widows ordinarily nest near the ground, my children once discovered one in a toy box sitting on a patio table. They are most likely to be found among rocks, in plant growth along walls, inside pipes and in piles of fallen leaves. When I have taught classes on poisonous spiders, I have always emphasized that you should never put your hands where you cant see what you are touching.

Black widows feed on insects. When I see crickets in leaves that have dried and accumulated in the corners of steps or in garden debris, I always look for black widows and often find them. Crickets hide under rocks and debris in winter as well as summer and seem to be a favorite of the black widow. Black widows do not move around much and can survive a long time, several weeks or even months on one meal.

My children were taught early about the wild creatures around us and most of them identified a black widow in the wild at three or four years of age. I would be working nearby and one of them would shout to me, ” Mom, a black widow!” They were right every time. In fact, it was through their young eyes, that I learned a lot about the various habitats that black widows can be found in. I would have to list “life experience” as my main source of information.  My other sources were the Golden Guide series, which covers most plants and animals in small, easy to read books, and the more sophisticated Audubon Society Field Guides.

The male black widow does not have venom and the female will bite only when threatened.  They are not aggressive and ordinarily try to crawl away if their nest is disturbed. The egg sack is woven of a brown papery material with a tear drop shape and is suspended within the web. There can be several egg sacks located in at one time.  I have seen as many as five egg sacks in the nest of one large female!

The young spiders hatch before emerging, but soon disperse. They are carnivorous if the opportunity avails itself. It is not true that the female always eats the male after mating. If she is hungry and he isn’t careful, it can happen. The female can live up to three years while the male ordinarily lives only one year. This may have lead to that myth. I have seen males and females live through the winter and into the next spring together in a set of cement block steps.

The venom of the black widow is a neurotoxin, in other words, it affects the nervous system. Though bites to adults are rarely fatal, the can cause shortness of breath, redness, swelling and cramping. It is important to get an injection of antivenin as soon as possible. The black widow often hides in shoes left on a porch or in a barn or shed. Many bites occur when someone puts on a shoe without realizing that a black widow had made it into a home. This happened to a good friend of mine when she changed shoes in her barn before cleaning her horse stable.

As with any poisonous creature or plant, caution, a keen eye and respect for the possibilities are our best defense. To know the world we live in is the best way to pass each part of it on to the next generation.

Please refer to my photo and article about Black Widow Spiders at the site listed below.

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Camping in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

When I was a child, my family spent weeks camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Though I never liked the inconveniences of camping, I loved to be outdoors and partake of the undisturbed beauty of the area. We usually camped at Smokemont or The Chimneys, both operated by the park service. I loved playing on the huge boulders that filled the roaring streams. The aroma of campfires and dinners cooked on camp stoves is with me still. My mother and I would splash in wide, quiet areas of the rivers, so clear and fresh that I once dropped a ring in water several feet deep and was able to reach down and retrieve it with ease. Once, I had an unforgettably close encounter with a bear  at our campsite. I was putting some trash in a can at the edge of the dirt road, when I looked up to see a huge black bear looking quizzically back at me!

 At night, there were programs at an outdoor amphitheater, lead by a ranger.  He (or she) would tell us stories, share legends and invite us to sing songs handed down by the early settlers.  An abundance of trails lead visitors through lush forests filled with wild flowers, gentle streams and thundering waterfalls.  A more rigorous hike might find lead to sharp, craggy peaks, that looked out over countless rows of the misty mountain range that gave the park its name. Nearby, there were free museums, operating grist mills and restored settlements to visit. Camping, horseback riding and a few other sites charged only minimal fees.  The most wonderful part of this place is that it still exists today much as it was in the 1960’s. It is easily accessible, and still free, with the exception of camping and extras. Indeed, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in our nation! It is well worth the ride and price of gas to immerse yourself in the beauty of our country  as it was before the influence of tourism and commercial businesses.

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