Friday, June 3, 2011

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

It’s dark, and the retro, red bedside radio             hisses with the effort to draw in a signal we can hear. The orange light of its dial seems so bright, yet disappears when something blocks its beam, like a small balsam pillow, a fragrant Maine souvenir from decades long ago.

Rumbling thunder and scratchy radio bursts of lightning warn of the coming storm. The patter of sudden rain against glass and muffled beats on roof tell us it's arrived. The text message sent a while ago of severe thunderstorm warning sort of helps take the edge off our fears. But tornadoes near and far have spooked us, proof of climate change to most, except the ones caught up in firm denial it could be so, too sure that thinking man might harm the earth to that extent betrays some weaker values of kindness, responsibility or peace.

A hot city week ensues with air heavy and humid, and indoor air too chilled to really feel that good, but better than the sticky sweat of overheat in rush-hour subway car or walking up the street as if wading through a swamp. To hurry to the country to escape the heat is a savored blessing, and even though I worked from home, out my window was a woodchuck and its young, munching tender leaves that we'd call weeds but they adore, black triangle noses twitching toward the wind and bending low to eat more of the greens.

Then last night a fresh night free of storm and heat, a chilly mountain night to sleep with windows open, letting in the fresh, clean air.
“Good sleeping weather,” we say,
and yawning morning greetings next day, agree it was just that.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Savoring the Wildflowers and Nature's Beauty

Week 2, baby 4x4 garden plot, on 5/14/11

Apple Blossoms, taken on 5/15/11
Last week I checked on my very young garden and savored some gorgeous blossoms on an apple tree nearby. Apple trees are major members of the rose family, or Rosaceae of which there are about 2000 variations of apples.

It's too soon to do much of anything with the garden but anxiously watch for weeds and pluck them as they emerge. Yesterday I took another look and staked one of the big tomato plants. We have 2 Early Girl plants, 2 Beefsteak plants (still pretty little), Italian basil, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard.

Wild Strawberries, members of the rose family
  We also spotted quite a bit of hardy yellow-flowered Black Mustard, a relative of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, as all are in the Brassica family. Black mustard usually begins to bloom in June, so it seems we're getting an early start up here on the Plateau. This is surprising given we are at about 1900 feet in elevation. I haven't seen any yet but the white-flowered Garlic Mustard grows up here, too.

Wild Strawberries with their white blossoms are scattered among loose stones by the road. These tiny members of the rose, or Rosaceae family share genetic inheritance with apples, pears, blackberries and raspberries, and the stone fruits.
Blue-Eyed Grass, tiny iris relatives
Right by the roadside we saw quite a few bunches of the small Blue-Eyed Grass, a member of the iris family called Sisyrinchium. I had not been aware this was an iris relative.

My main source of information today, against which I checked my photos, is the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Wildflowers, Eastern Region, a comprehensive guide to wildflower identification in this part of North America.

Black Mustard, blooming early

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Male Goldfinches

Mother's Day, a lovely day. We set out with a flat of seedlings and basket with garden tools and planted our 4' X 4' raised bed plot in the community garden. Our garden plot is now planted with Early Girl and Beefsteak tomato plants, Brussels sprouts, pole beans and Swiss chard seedlings. Nature Maven cannot wait for the harvest to begin, but of course I will. what choice do we have? But I am dreaming of BLTs made with homemade vegan eggplant bacon or coconut bacon (I have recipes for both), and stir-fries or green smoothies made with yummy Swiss chard.

Today our Nyjer thistle feeder was taken over by these three plump, bright, male goldfinches. There was even a little flapping as they jockeyed for position on the perches before I refilled it.

Mother Hawk Teaching Young to Fly
(photo courtesy of

Late this afternoon we returned home from errands to hear the high pitched scree of a young hawk. It was alternately soaring and wildly flapping its wings while keeping up a non-stop cry. Soon I saw the parent, whom I assumed was the daddy but who knows? This larger bird flew nearby confidently and silently, lending its strength and confidence to the young one, its exact copy, only downsized. We've seen these tutorial pairs many times before up here on the Pocono Plateau. Our hearts went out to that frantic juvenile until the parent came into view. All was well with the world again.

Happy Mother's Day, to all creatures great and small.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Twilight Walk Discoveries

Common Blue Violet
After a nice dinner at home, we decided to walk to the lake and back before dark. We took a shortcut through the woods where we saw our first mountain violets of the year. Referring to my Audubon Field Guide to Wildflowers, Eastern Region, I found that this is a Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia.

I also saw starflower leaves in these woods, some with tiny white buds. By next week there will be lots of starflowers to post here.

Cinnamon Fern

Next we saw clusters of emerging ferns, their curled fiddleheads just poking up. I believe they are Cinnamon Ferns.

Osmunda cinnamomea is the Cinnamon Fern's Latin name, and you can read more about it in Ferns and Fern Allies of Pennsylvania by Lord and Travis.

Pinecrest Lake

The evening light was lovely when we reached the lake. It's so peaceful and quiet. We hoped to see bats but it may be too early in the year, because it can still get into the 30's at night even in May.

Beaver, Castor Canadensis
We saw something swimming away from the shore and then back again. I thought it must be a dog fetching a stick because a man was standing nearby. A closer look revealed that it was a large beaver. We got fairly close and took some photos but the fading light made details hard to distinguish. I hope you can get the idea.

Castor Canadensis nibbling water plants
Beavers were once hunted nearly to extinction but have returned to healthy populations. They are found primarily in the northern tier of Pennsylvania. Did you know that beavers mate for life? And that females have four or five kits in the spring? And that they get to 30 to 70 pounds as mature adults? The one we saw was quite large, about 3 feet long with a big flat tail. A car approached along the road by the side of the lake, and with a slap of that tail he dove under the water and swam for minutes before surfacing towards the middle of the lake.

What a blessing it is to live in a such a gorgeous place, to be able to enjoy the natural world, an essential balance to my intense and often hectic professional life and a very mixed up world (floods, radioactive disasters, birth certificates, tornadoes and terrorists featuring large in the news right now).

All photos in today's blog were taken by me, Nature Maven.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May Flowers

This beautiful daffodil emerged a week ago in the woods behind the house and amazed me. About three years ago my aunt and uncle came up from Tennessee bearing a bag of bulbs dug up from their garden. "We have way too many," my aunt told me as she handed me the bulbs. I intended to plant them that fall, but I didn't, and so the next spring, I dug holes for them and in they went. Several bore green shoots, but no flowers later that spring. The next spring a few green shoots returned, but again no flowers. I was pretty sure the squirrels had gotten to them, or the intense Pennsylvania mountain cold, very different from the Tennessee weather they'd come from. But this spring, this one bloomed! It is a lovely white and yellow flower.

I searched for its name, and this was the closest I found at the Pacific Bulb Society website in "Narcissus Division 11: Split Corona Daffodils. Narcissus in this division have a corona (cup) that is split for at least one-third of its length. Within this division are collar types, division 11-A, and papillon types, division 11-B."

This one seems to be "Narcissus 'Papillon Blanc' "a mid to late season bloomer with white petals and a yellow and white cup."

I wish all mothers, from every species whereever you may be, a very Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April Nature Sightings

This month has been uncommonly cold and unpredictable, and spring has been late to arrive. In the last few days up here on the Pocono Plateau we've encountered the most wildlife and botany so far.
    Wild Turkey male
    courtesy of
  • Wild turkeys, mostly females but we spotted a group including a male displaying his full feathery regalia
  • Black bear, spotted last night walking onto a neighbor's lawn, who saw us and stood up to a big tree, perchance to climb (we passed before he made his move)
  • Pileated Woodpecker
    Photo courtesy of National Geographic
  • A pileated woodpecker, calling and singing, and even drumming, up in the trees
  • Goldfinch (female) at the thistle seed feeder I put up yesterday afternoon
    White Breasted Nuthatch
    photo courtesy Terry Sohl
  • American Tree Sparrow
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • White-breasted nuthatches (male and female)
Today on our walk we saw the beginnings of ferns, lush mosses and tightly furled dandelions. The rhododendrons that are indigenous, tall and lush up here are showing some buds. Ground pine is up. In our backyard, in the woody area beyond the lawn, a lone daffodil has bloomed. The bulbs were lovingly carried by my aunt from her amazing garden in Tennessee almost three years ago, and I planted them over two years ago. They failed to bloom until now.

Black Bear
photo courtesy

Note: I have not posted any of my own photos here but I definitely will in the future. My thanks to those who have posted gorgeous nature photos available through Google Image.