Nature

Things of Today

Wake up earlier than I wanted to fix breakfast. Birthday boy requested waffles.

Drop Kiki off to take the ACT test.

Harvest two giant batches of grapes. Realize that there are just as many left on the vines.

Put first set of grapes into sink full of water to find all the hiding bugs.

Mow lawn.

Abandon lawn mower and flee when bumping Winston our gargoyle reveals that yellow jackets have taken up residence in his hollow interior.

Warn all family members and neighbors to not go near the infested gargoyle.

Retrieve lawnmower and finish all the parts of the lawn that are not near Winston.

Pick grapes off of vines. Smash grapes. Boil grapes. Strain grape juice out of skins and seeds. Put jars of juice into fridge.

Repeat.

Let kids eat left overs for lunch and microwaved frozen food for dinner.

Figure out that tying a rope to the gargoyle’s head will let us tip him over from a safe distance. Declare that 8 pm will be the killing hour for yellow jackets.

Contemplate picking more grapes. Decide not to.

Wander over to watch the yellow jackets. Think how cool and amazing they are and how they really can not be allowed to nest right next to the kids play area.

Pick two boxes of pears so that they can begin to ripen. Plan to make pear butter next week.

Stare at nothing for awhile.

Make sure all the kids are indoors, then pull the rope to tip Winston over. Go inside to observe the cloud of angry stinging bugs from behind glass. Watch Howard spray them from thirty feet away.

Summer score: Taylers = 3, Stinging bug nests = 0 Hope we can just call that score good for the summer.

Run to store for more wasp spray. Also because Link’s Sunday pants no longer fit.

Realize on the drive home that I am perhaps more tired than I ought to be while driving. Arrive home safe anyway.

Finish straining the last of the grapes. Realize our fridge is now completely full of jars of grape juice and that I’ll have to make jam very soon. But not tonight.

Tell kids to put themselves to bed.

Wander outside with a flashlight to view yellow jacket carnage. Notice how beautiful the nest is. Really a marvel of nature, which one can only observe once all the winged defenders are dead.

Tell kids that while going to bed and reading in bed are similar, they are not the same thing.

Write words about the day. Eat food. Go to bed.

Cabbage Farming is More Adventurous Than Intended

(Warning: this adventure contains hornets, a moment of panic, but no serious injuries. If I ever have serious injuries to report, I’ll not begin that story by talking about cabbage.)

Near the end of third grade, local kids are each given a cabbage sprout and a challenge to grow it over the summer. In theory they will bring their grown cabbages to the school next fall to win prizes. I’ve never seen that part come to pass, but the cabbages come home because they’re provided free by a plant company. Patch proudly brought his cabbage home and we plunked it into the weed bed which has been a vegetable garden in years past. I expected it to die of neglect the way that Gleek’s had. Instead it thrived and over the summer months developed into a giant plant. This past week I’ve been staring out the window at the thing and realizing why that myth about babies and cabbage patches might seem believable. The cabbage head looked like an alien life pod. I knew that harvest time had to be near, so I consulted the internet for instructions and recipes.

Around 4 pm today I went to Patch to tell him that I planned to harvest his cabbage for dinner. His reaction was electric. He instantly jumped up from his game “We’re going to harvest it? Now?” Then he ran outside. I paused to collect a knife and my camera.

There he is contemplating his cabbage. Unfortunately the harvesting became more adventurous than intended. Right underneath the wood on which Patch was standing was a sizable hornet’s nest. Patch jumped up and down in excitement. Then moved in to a better photography position.

We got the above photo just moments before Gleek, who had come to watch the excitement, said “Wow. There are a lot of bees.” That was the last clear moment before my memories become a fog of shrieking Patch, Gleek yelling instructions, Patch freezing instead of running, me trying to swat a hornet off of Patch while not stabbing anyone with the knife nor dropping it where a panicked person might step on it. Oh, and I was barefoot, as I often am in summer. I wish I’d thought to put on shoes before heading outside. All of that in sixty seconds. Then we came indoors because there was a stinger to remove from Patch, Gleek discovered that one hornet had gotten inside her shirt and there was even more panic while that bug was slain.

The final sting count was three. Two on Patch, one on Gleek. We immediately administered antihistamines and daubed baking soda onto the sting sites. Then I prescribed a medicinal dose of funny animal videos for the next couple of hours. Within fifteen minutes all was restored to quiet. It was quiet outdoors as well. The hornets had returned to normal behavior. I noted where their entrance was hiding and vowed to return after dark with chemical weaponry.

So instead of having a fun family moment harvesting the cabbage, with photography. I went out by myself and cut it.

Patch grew a really good cabbage. It weighed five and a half pounds. I used about a third of it in soup for dinner. The other two thirds are in my fridge awaiting tomorrow’s recipes. The soup itself got mixed reviews. I loved it, as did Kiki. Link did not like it at all. Gleek and Patch both ate a reasonable portion, determined to eat the food they earned with pain, but finished up dinner by eating other foods.

The stump of the cabbage is still outside.

The internet tells me that it will sprout leaves that we can cook and eat. I’m curious to see what they will look like.

Once the world got dark, I went outside to spray the entry to the hornet’s nest. I don’t think I eradicated it yet, but I have other tools to employ on a different evening. I do feel a little bad, because the hornets were only defending their home. I actually find the tenaciousness of these huge nests kind of admirable. Unfortunately this is the second nest of 200+ stinging bugs that has taken up residence in a location that clashes with the safety of my kids. It has to go. As soon as the world freezes, sending all stinging insects into hibernation, I will recruit a crew to help me removed the wood under which these hornets are nesting. I’m tired of providing habitat for stinging bugs right next to my garden beds.

By bedtime the stings had faded to near invisibility. Patch and Gleek say they still hurt some, but they both completely forgot the stings for several hours this evening. Then they fell asleep without difficulty. I suspect another day will heal everything up again.

So: Growing cabbages = really cool and surprisingly tasty. I may repeat that. Housing hornets near my cabbage plant = bad idea, not to be repeated.

Venturing Forth at the End of Summer

I never intended to make a tradition out of End of Summer outings. But somehow we keep having an outing with the kids and I toward the end of August. Three years in a row makes it a tradition right? This year we ventured to the Tracy Aviary where we found ducks swimming in pools of light.

Or at least ducks who obligingly swam right in the sun’s reflection. When they went fast it looked as though they were scattering light behind them.

We also got to meet Andy, a giant condor out for a walk. He was as big as a medium sized dog. I kept thinking of dinosaurs as I saw him stalk along. He’s fifty years old and being slowly rehabilitated so that some day he’ll be able to fly over the heads of guests as part of a bird show. I hope to attend that show someday. Big bird.

We had a good time. Even during the parts which were boring, too hot, and full of rush hour traffic. Outings have frustrating bits. The kids are ready to head into school next week. Gleek did her summer assignment. Link assembled his binder. Patch put his things together. We’re ready for the next adventure.

Peace in Nature

In one of my recent posts I talked about how a forest is a stress sink. In a space so large as a forest, human noises vanish. I can breathe deeply.

I could fall into a sky like that and float forever. Unfortunately I can not keep a forest in my back garden. There simply is not enough space. However I’ve discovered that small things in nature can also gift me with peace. I find it very encouraging the adverse circumstances in which greenery manages to grow.

Those rocks are formed of ages old lava, yet the plants find ways to thrive.

Some of the forms that growth takes are strange or even alien. I’m guessing it is some form of lichen.

The most charming bit of miniature nature were the white flowers growing out of lake weeds. Mats of green mossy growth floated on the surface of the water and were dotted with these tiny flowers.

I loved these little flowers popping up in a seemingly unlikely place.

Small portions of peace are all around me if I only seek them out. And then there is always sky if I remember to look up at it.

Pretty things at a Family Reunion

This post was originally written on Saturday July 14, but internet at the cabin was too sporadic and slow to support uploading pictures. I am now home and can post the entry.

For me the biggest advantage of this family reunion location is that the cabin is surrounded by trees and the trees are home to wildlife. When the cabin is too packed with voices, I can step outside. The trees are a huge reservoir of peace. I am refreshed and then ready for people again. Sometimes I take my camera with me when I go walking.

This is an extremely settled forest. Every place I walk has signs of human habitation, usually a cabin and associated landscaping, but if I face just right I can pretend I am far away from all people.

The animals have adapted to all the cabins and humans. This marmot makes his home under a shed.

The wildlife are encouraged. Here is the squirrel who politely posed for my photography efforts.

The squirrel also held still for child photographers.

On the third day of reunion my introvert kids are beginning to exhibit strain from all the togetherness. I’m spending more time helping make sure that they find quiet spaces. I try to get them outdoors too. Sometimes we find truly lovely places, like Duck Creek Pond. We brought bread to feed the ducks, but these are not city ducks and did not come flocking at the sight of thrown bread. Gleek was patient and managed to convince a duck to eat some.

This trip showed to me once again that the natural world is a huge stress sink for me in much the same way that some machinery has a heat sink. In the forest there is so much space that my stress can not stretch far enough to cover it. It thins out and I am restored. I don’t have a forest back home, but I do have a garden. I should remember to spend more time in it.

Adventures on the Way to Church

It turns out that going to church near a national forest can be more adventuresome than one might expect. We knew we were going to have to drive forty minutes to get there. We also knew that the congregation itself is a seasonal one, run by locals and attended by people like us who were vacationing in the area. The kids were quite enamored of the fact that many folks attend in blue jeans and camp clothes rather than the usual Sunday clothing. So we set off with some verbal instructions, half expecting to get a little lost on the way.

We did not expect the stowaway Chipmunk.

Kiki saw him first and gasped. The rest of us tried to figure out what was wrong with her and all she could do was point out the windshield. Then we all saw him. He popped out of the crack between the hood and the windshield. He ran across the top of the hood. He dove back into the crack, obviously trying to find a way off of this crazy fast-moving contraption. My brother-in-law, who was driving, did a marvelous job of not crashing the car while distracted by chipmunk.

The little guy must have climbed into the engine while the car was parked outside the cabin. Then when the engine heated up, he emerged where we could see him. We found a safe place to stop on the little mountain road. There was some debate over whether it was possible to return him home, but trying to catch a chipmunk in a car engine seemed likely doomed to failure. He hid the moment we opened the hood.

Then he scampered down into the engine. Moments later we saw him dashing for the trees at the side of the road. Hopefully he likes his new home.

But that was not all. There were also sheep.

We sat for a good five minutes while a huge flock was herded around us and off down the road. It was fascinating. When we opened the windows for a better look, several of the sheep stopped and stared at us as if they expected food to materialize from the open windows. The kids were delighted to discover that sheep would baa back if they made the sound first.

We did eventually get to church and the meeting was lovely. For the rest of the weekend we were on the watch for stowaway chipmunks, but he was the only one. Which is probably best as we didn’t really sign up to be a chipmunk relocation service.

Antelope Island: January

When I went to Antelope Island last October, I knew I had to go there again. I wanted to bring my daughters, who I knew would love the place as much as I did. The park is open year round and the brochures list things to look for by month. Today we packed ourselves into the car along with lots of warm clothes to go see how the animals fared in winter.

Kiki drove. She is trying to get the last few hours of driving practice which are required before she can test for her license. She loved driving across the causeway and around the island. She could drive at a leisurely pace which she found relaxing. There were some people on the island, but not many. Most people seek out indoor recreation midwinter. I was fascinated to see that the water on one side of the causeway was frozen in a solid sheet. The other side was liquid.

We began our visit by driving down to the south end of the island to the Fielding Garr Ranch. We were greeted there by a volunteer who gave us a quick orientation to the ranch buildings. They ranged from over 150 years old to a mere 30 years old. All the eras in between were represented in various machines, tools, and implements. These things were arrayed for us to look at and to touch. The whole place was completely hands-on. Gleek was in heaven. She particularly loved the blacksmithy.

Kiki got cold after awhile and returned to the car, but Gleek wanted to look at every inch of the small homestead and barn. My favorite place was the spring house. It was this little rock building half buried in the ground right over a spring. Food that needed to be kept cold would be wrapped and placed in the icy spring water. We were able to walk inside and look around. I particularly liked the view toward the door.

The one thing about Garr Ranch we all loved were the owls

One of the volunteers led us into a copse of trees and showed us where to look. There they were, glaring down at us for waking them up. Unfortunately my camera wanted to focus on the branches in front of the owls instead of them. The same guide pointed to some distant trees where Bald Eagles hang out, but we opted to take our frozen fingers back to the van.

We did some sight seeing from the van and saw lots of buffalo. We even sighted a coyote out wandering by himself across the ice of a bay. Our next stop was the same beach that I photographed last fall.

In October silence was the first thing I noticed about the island. This time I had chatty company, but on the beach silence returned. We walked across frozen sheets of ice, noticing that salt water ice is springy-er than normal ice. It clumped in unexpected ways. Gleek liked to walk on sheets and use her toes to chase the air bubbles under the surface.

Once again the beach encouraged photography.

We spent a lot of time admiring the glass-smooth surface of the water, or looking out to the sand bar filled with seagulls.

On our way back to the van we took a side trip through the tall reeds. We were obviously not the first to do so. A trail of sorts wove through the clump. When I exited the beauty of the sun touched reeds against the blue sky caught my attention.

It is an interesting exercise in photographic lighting. I was able to completely change the effect of the reeds and sky by facing the setting sun instead of shooting away from it. This shot was taken simply by rotating from the one above.

When we left the island, it was understood that we need to come back. In the spring. When we can go on some of those hikes that we drove past because our fingers were still numb from the two trips out of the car that we’d already taken. I tucked some of the silence of the island into my heart. It’ll have to last until I can go back again.

Sunset

The sky gave me a lovely present today. I thought I’d share.

Hope everyone’s day had some loveliness in it.

Antelope Island

The first thing I noticed on the island was the silence. It wrapped around and surrounded me the moment I exited my van. No engine noise, hum of power lines, or buzz of refrigerator could be heard. Most times even the drone of airplane engines were absent. Instead I heard the sound of the breeze blowing gently against my ear, the buzz of a beetle flying ten feet away, the distant cry of sea gulls. It was a place which exuded solitude even when other people were nearby. I could hear other people from as far away as the sea gulls, but these noises were welcomed by the island. Voices belonged there as much as the birds and beetles. I stood on the first overlook and breathed in the fresh salty air. I was simultaneously glad to be on the island with my friend and her baby, while wishing to be there alone, and wishing I’d brought my own children. I was going to need to take another pilgrimage there, this much was obvious.

(Many more pictures beyond the jump) …