Friday, 23 August 2013

Something Blue

I noticed that when the mud dauber wasp's wings catch the sun, 
they are shiny blue.
 I did my slow quiet walk around my back yard 
and noticed the dragon fly, also blue. Blue. 
Do we see blue often in nature?
 Yes, I turned in my spot knowing 
the blue spruce stood tall right behind me. 
Stealthily I made my way back to the pond
 and was greeted by this damselfly.
 Blue, not only for summer skies and open waters.

"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean - roll!"   Lord Byron from Childe Harold

Monday, 12 August 2013

A Living Science Book

Charlotte Mason said that all subjects should be "illustrated and illuminated by books of literary value."

A few years ago I read such a book by science journalist Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It was fascinating, tragic and personal. As with any decent science book it made me think. I acquired a deeper knowledge of the history of genetic research and was swept into the realm of bioethics. When my son went to work in the lab at the Women's Research Hospital at Harvard I was able to have a surprisingly intelligent discussion with him about HeLa cells, their history and their place in science research today.

Mason tells us that "we can only cover a mere inch of the field of science, it is true; but the attitude of mind we get in our own little bit of work helps us to the understanding of what is being done elsewhere." This one living science book gave me a deeper understanding on one subject but opened my mind to other closely related topics

This week, I read the news headline with great interest: The National Institute of Health Brokers HeLa Genome Deal. The book had made such an impression on me that I could still recall the people involved and empathized with their motivation and celebrate their accomplishment.

Ms. Skloot, the author of the book, was interviewed afresh with her perspective on this unprecedented agreement:  August 9th CBC radio podcast . It was nice to hear her out loud voice as I felt I 'knew' her as I read her book.

A Mason education is a life. I read with my children for years and I continue to read for myself. A book like The Immortal Life Henrietta Lacks adds experience and knowledge to my life and I care to know more.

"The question is not how much does the youth know when he is finished with his education - but how much does he care? and about how any orders of things does he care?" Charlotte Mason

all quotes from:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Ten Step Nature Walk

Literally. Ten steps. 
I did not have to pack my nature notebook. I did not fill my water bottle. 
I did not need to find my keys or the energy for the journey to a place where I can see God's creatures.

great golden digger wasp

I took ten steps out my back door to where my pond, 
overgrown with water lilies and filled with frogs, stands.
 Every year I tear mounds of  the invasive hydrilla out of the water
 and pull up tons of mint that throws runners over everything.

mud dauber wasp

But the mint that does grow back blooms and when it blooms,
everyone wants some.
Yesterday I took ten steps from my house, stood still 
and watched nature come to me.

metallic green bee 'Agapostemon'
cabbage white
carpenter bee
Nine different species that were kind enough to pose for a photo. 
And this was not even looking in the pond or counting what landed on the other plants.    I stood there for a good thirty minutes hardly noticing the heat of the unclouded sun.    I did notice it when my shadow obscured my view and disturbed 
an insect.
Plant something that brings nature to your door step. 
Or at least within ten steps of it.

Monday, 17 June 2013

a little experiment

I want to grow a bit of a privacy hedge at one end of my veranda.  I had originally planted cedar trees in these pots but after a season of seeing a gradual and disappointing burnt orange colour, I knew they were very dead.

Last fall I snagged an interesting bush on the discount aisle of the soon to be closing nursery. It was mostly interesting because it was so cheap. I also have burning bushes that propagate easily and quickly so I dug up a few of those.

In the planters they went: through the winter, on the north side of the house, and in the driveway where they get contact from the van that misjudges when backing out of  the driveway (okay, that is mostly me)  and people squeezing past between them and the parked cars.

Despite an exposed root ball, each plant survived and bloomed!

ninebark satin chocolate
burning bush

Note to self: the burning bush and ninebark are very hearty plants. Go nuts, be creative, put one ON the veranda. Pretty up the deck in the back.  Give them away in planters.  No ground is needed.

As for the Ninebark Satin Chocolate (Physocarpus),  I will patiently wait for the end of season and snag a few more.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Judged By It's Cover

Yup, bought a book because of how it looked;  the cover is textured in a lovely shade of weathered cream, the title is framed by a lovely subtle filigree with details of toadstools, mosquitoes and snakes, there is a damsel fly on the front cover and the title itself brought images of nature and beauty to my mind.

I was at a book sale that was selling thousands of almost mint condition used books at prices that made you wonder if you brought enough bags and money. The profits were to go to Raise A Reader foundation and buy new books for the children....yes, me too, the question of how deprived my children were by not having all new books. And like most of us bibliophiles, instead we had hundreds of books for our children because we took the time to scour the used book sections. But I digress.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett not only looks like a great book but is a great read! I escaped to the Amazon for a week and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

Marina filled her lungs with frozen air and smelled both winter and spring, dirt and leftover snow with the smallest undercurrent of something green.  p. 45
Marina leaned over the front of the boat and watched the lettuce compact beneath the pontoons while behind them the plants knitted themselves back together, smoothing over the path they had made without so much as a damaged leaf. We are here, Marina thought, and we were never here.   p.238
That was Dr. Rapp's great lesson in the Amazon, in science: Never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the thing you actually find.   p. 246

Ann Patchett herself gives us insight as to the gift of  fiction:
Reading fiction is important. It is a vital means of imagining a life other than our own, which in turn makes us more empathetic beings. Following complex story lines stretches our brains beyond the 140 characters of sound-bite thinking, and staying withing the world of a novel gives us the ability to be quiet and alone, two skills that are disappearing faster than the polar icecaps. (New York Times, April 17, 2012)

Take a chance on a beautiful book. Sometimes the illustrations are worth whatever might be written around them. And like my grandmother always said: There are too many great books in this world to waste your time on a boring one. Have you added a new author to your list of great reads?

Monday, 22 April 2013

An Invitation to a Weekend Gathering



October 18-19th, 2013 Windsor-Essex County

Sunday, 31 March 2013


Strange noises are strange in order to attract our attention.  We heard a loud THUD just a few minutes ago and ran to the window. We were not disappointed.  There was a dove lying on the ground blinking its eyes but otherwise not moving.  Even his eyes stopped moving and there was a bird sized pool of blood under it's head.

Carefully looking about there was a Cooper's Hawk just a few feet above it.  It had obviously stopped short of following the dove into the window; those are pretty quick reflexes.  My daughter came through the back door and scared him away.  BUT we were patient, figuring that he wouldn't leave such a fresh tasty morsel go to waste.
He moved from the deck...

to the apple tree...

to within striking distance of his Easter lunch.

Anticipating his next move I put the camera onto the video setting...

Friday, 22 March 2013

It's not Mange!

I am always learning and it's nice to think that I can also remember what I learn.  For my last post I researched the squirrel since they are so abundant in my own back yard. I've been away and was sitting back at the computer that purposely sits right beside the sliding glass doors and noticed a sad looking squirrel.  It took me a few moments and I remember that squirrels molt!  All these years I thought I was seeing some mangy rodent on it's last legs.  Mange is actually a real thing, it is caused by mites which bite the animal and irritate the skin follicle.

bald patches on his neck and waist

Molting is triggered by secretion of the thyroid and pituitary glands. Since it is his spring molt, he will undergo a compete head-to-tail molt. The fall molt is only rump-to-head and maintains his tail fur.

it's a happier picture knowing it's not mange

While on my walk today I saw a squirrel with a mouthful of leaves and bits of string and stuffing. He bounced across the street and then quietly slid around the trunk of a large maple tree and settle in the crotch of the large branches.  I will take care to walk this way again to see the progress. I will also keep an eye out for the trees in my own backyard and see if the squirrels nest there again.

The photos of the squirrels in the last post were taken on February 2nd.  So just six weeks ago they had not yet begun to molt.  I wonder what signals the body to begin the secretions that shed fur? It is still below freezing here and no sign of getting warmer. Maybe they have little calendars in their dens and noticed that spring indeed has arrived.

Monday, 25 February 2013

In The Shadow of His Tail

We can not possibly know about every living thing on this earth. Nor do we need to know. So why are we drawn to the exotics when there are animals in our own back yards that we give no more than a cursory glance? How much do you know about the most common animals in your neighborhood?  I wonder how many delights we miss because we are so used to seeing them.
"I will sit still and let the marvels and the adventures settle on me like flies. There are plenty of them I assure you. The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder." G.K. Chesterton
One of these non-exotics I have decided to spend a little more time examining is the squirrel. The only thing I knew is that they nest and play in my backyard and that there are grey ones and black ones.

Do you know the difference between the two? Apparently there is no difference, they are the same thing.   "Indeed, many people believe that black squirrels are a separate species rather than a colour phase of the grey. In fact, his colouring may be grey, dark brown or black, red-brown, or pure white, but his most common colouring is grey or black.

Grey or Black Squirrel, the scientific name, Sciurus carolinensis, refers both to his plume-like tail, and the locality where he was first identified. Sciurus comes from the Greek and means "creature who sits in the shadow of his tail":, while carolinensis is the Latinized name for the original state of Carolina.

The halo effect of their tail is created by silver-tipped guard hairs.

The grey squirrel moults twice each year; in spring and in autumn.  All his fur is replaced in the spring moult, which commences at his head; the autumn moult moves in the opposite direction, and excludes his tail."

I spent a few hours watching this one squirrel eat seeds and proceed to engage in a lengthy cleaning regiments every ten minutes or so. I was amazed at his flexibility and thoroughness.

I picked up this wonderful book because I was beginning to realize I was missing out on the wonders right outside my own door: The Squirrels of Canada by S.E. Woods, Jr. where the 1980 edition has a wonderful drawing on the cover by Jan Sharkey Thomas.

Friday, 25 January 2013

A Snow Plow and a Spider

I watch an adorable four year old most Wednesday nights while his parents lead our high school youth group.  Last week he and I snuggled in to read a huge pile of books. He excitedly handed me one favorite after another, the same way my children did, never seeming to tire of the same old story.  Every week I sneak in a few new titles and this week, in celebration of a recent snow fall, we read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton.

I love all her stories as well as the illustrations that fill the page with tiny details and so much to look at. As I was enjoying each simple scene I suddenly was reminded of a previous 'friend' I had studied.

"But Katy was so big and strong
she had to stay at home, 
because there was not enough snow for her to plow."

But Spider was so shy and wary
he had to curl the leaf,
because that was the only way to feel secure.

I gleefully showed my daughter my personal connection.  She whimsically looked at the illustration of Katy in the garage smiling as she remembered the story. I then showed her my photo of the spider and she had to agreed that yes, it was quite like Katy preparing to plow.  Then, in disgust, she said I had ruined the sweet image of Katy diligently plowing out a city from the big snow.  To her the spider is a shudder-inducing creature that  now replaces dear Katy in a once beloved book.

Connections our children make between different stories, ideas and adventures they have are as different as you and me. You may not 'get' my connection between Katy and the spider, but it was mine to make and mine to keep mulling over. I wonder if the spider's big snow is a big insect instead. I wonder how long he waits in that one leaf like the snow plow in a garage. Katy has a purpose proper to her as does the spider. 

The spider laid in wait for days
so he could catch just the right insects for his supper
Then he went home satiated.
Then....and only then did the spider stop.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Is it a Rat or a Mouse?

The bird is an American Kestrel. I was on a lovely New Year's Day drive with my husband along back roads through the county when I spotted it holding on to what I am sure was a delicious treat for its lunch.

The American Kestrel did not like our intrusion even though we had turned off the truck and sat there to watch. He must have been a shy eater. So what did he plan to dine on that day?

I did some research to figure out what type of rodent it dropped and then so quickly swooped down to retrieve.  The American Kestrel is the smallest falcon in North America. It ranges from 5-11 inches with a wingspan of 20-24 inches and weighs about 3 ounces.

Mice reach the length of 3 inches with their tails being as long as their bodies.  Voles grow to 9 inches and resemble mice but with a stouter body and a shorter hairy tail.  A rat can grow to over 11 inches and its tail is also as long as its body.  I knew it couldn't be a mole because the feet didn't match.

On that information go to the top photograph and compare the relative size of the rodent to that of the falcon.  
Is it a Rat, Mouse or Vole? 

The rodent is at least half its size. Adult mice are only 3-4 inches long and both the mouse and rat have tails as long as their bodies.  My guess would be that our falcon has got himself a vole. Do you agree?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Nature Study Idea: Winter

It is wonderful that we have different seasons.  There may not be new species to see in winter but we certainly can see things in a new way.  Winter also reveals things previously hidden. 
What have you discovered?

Squirrel nests, three of them!

There were hundreds of blooms on the tulip tree,

but we just couldn't see them because of the leaves.