Monday, April 30, 2007

songbird traffic jam

Suddenly there are bustling birds everywhere I look. You have to wonder where they have been hiding till the insects could come back out again, but this weekend, there was a frenzy of activity across the state while running my family errands.... down at the river (nashville) up the creek (momma's on roan creek, west tn) and back in the holler-here in eastern middle tn (yes i travelled alot this weekend). I kept the camera strapped on, and progress was slowed because I kept stopping to watch the nesting, eating, mating and just play activity.
When I visit Cynthia Mead's site (oh yea, I am not even worthy to visit her photographs!) I often consider just giving up on photographing birds, till I remind myself that it is not my calling, it is my comfort.
I was comforted indeed in my wanderings to see flocks of warblers, vireos, more indigo buntings than ever, many bluebirds, and bees of various sizes. I feel sorriest for the hummingbirds, though. People are reporting insane numbers at their feeders, and looking around, there are really no blooms right now, as all blossom buds were frozen. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for tree and shrub blooms to recover and if they do.
Does not this tree swallow look like batmans costume was patterned after him? In rest, they look just like they fly (if that makes any sense) I did not realize how irridescent blue they were.

Friday, April 27, 2007



I got just plum down over the lack of progress in the re-greening of the hills.

Each day I would try and concentrate on my orders and my shop work, and every glance out the window seemed to leave me surprised at how wrong the colors looked, as if I hadn't noticed the discordances before.

Or maybe it bothered me so much because I have been on this earth long enough that the "correct" colors for spring are etched into my brain as familiar as my own child’s face. This aberrant seasonal display was as glaring as if a child had come home with a black eye, and as a mother, I could not tear my eyes away from it across the dinner table, searching it constantly for some sign of healing or a sign of a more hidden, serious damage.

This state of disconcertion would seem mild in the days to come, as the family coped with the shock of my brother’s house burning down to the ground.

After the initial relief that no one was hurt, I spent the week sorting through emotions, while they spent the week sorting through ashes. My concern for these people that I love, two adults and six precious children, seemed to somehow focus on measuring their loss and their emotions, as if by utilizing some magic gauge I could pronounce the stress less, or the recovery easier.

All religions say that fire is a great teacher. Everyone takes from it their own lessons, and at their own speed.

Despite my searching, it was many days before I saw my first sign, and only after my emotions had settled from a boil to a simmer.

I believe that if there were a recipe for the "stew of life force" a prominent ingredient would be resiliency.

Animals and plants have no choice about recovery; they are driven unquestioningly by life force. They don't have expectations about the face of recovery being identical to the one that was destroyed, they will accept the new face and adapt, or die.

People have questions about meaning and purpose, and they carry secret burdens of guilt, blame or regret. They crave that familiar face, the comfort of the colors being what they should be, of the scenery being familiar, the house standing in the same spot.

Some people accept the speed of the process, others grow impatient and still others fertilize their recovery with faith.

I am working on patience.

Friday, April 20, 2007

what's the duck and who's that prey??

I am beginning to form another theory of wetland habitat and its magnetic draw. It is one of the few habitats, in certain situations,that can hold its own against non-native invasive species. Go swamps!!
If you spend any time at all on "google earth", you may find yourself with a melancholy sadness of how small the earth actually is, and in only a few short years the human population has, without any conciousness, practiced multi species generic genocide and habitat destruction.
Or maybe you will be cheerfully amazed that there are even still pockets of green in the most unlikely places.
One such place that I have been hanging out lately (when I have to be in Nashville on music business) is Shelby Bottoms Greenway, which (although it is completely over-run with non-nativeplant species and invaded with paved bike trails and wealthy yuppies in jogging suits) has a couple of little wetlands that are holding their own in terms of diversity.
If you like to tour natural areas from your desktop, you can type in the latitude and longitude ( 36°11'40.85"N 86°42'2.36"W ) in Google Earth (I have figured out how to email the placemark, but how does one post a google earth placemark? is it an exe file?)
Anyway, I will probably be posting photos from this spot, as it is, in some ways, like a little miracle of resilience.
It has also started me photographing for my next youtube project for my own amusement, tentatively entitled "stalking turtles"
And can someone tell me what kind of duck this is? (editors note, never mind, I figured it out from the video I took it is a coot, not a duck...)
And though this is a crummy photo of a barred owl taking off with something in its talons, I "think" I can make out two dangling it a turtle? a duck? or some urban debris? someone could make a stoy to go along with it is open to imagination........

Friday, April 13, 2007

frozen peaches, pears and cheese

I see the universe as being made up of a giant orchestra of species all humming their own parts and keeping things in harmony and balance. Any loss of species is a tragic loss of a member of the orchestra, dimenishing the music of the spheres that sets the score for our mutual existence. The loss of a player contributes to the rising discordent beat of our decadent lifestyle. To care whether it is lost or not is also a hum, and I try and remember what the lost chord was like, as if in memorial a tiny ghost of it can contribute in the form of a little echo.
I always hold hope till the very end that recovery is possible, even if slow, because I inherited that gene of joy from my hero, my Daddy.
So , I too have been considering volcanic winter and did a little research on it, didn't find out what I was looking for, but it did remind me of a story.
When the boys were babies, I lived up a holler near the Cumberland river down in Jackson county. At the back of the holler lived a very elderly couple (Mr. and Miz. Flatt) that befriended me and told me all kinds of interesting stories, about "back in the day", when they were young and beautiful and full of piss and vinegar and raising up their own younguns'
"The day" for them would have been in the early 1900's.
(and yes, Hunt's Poorly, I know you are thinking, "why doesn't she right these down!!!" well, I know, this ephemeral format doesn't count)
Anyway...For them, the world was a different place, their holler (called "Dry Holler", a common name in the Upper Cumberland around the counties) was, like most of the others, not actually dry. They usually had a large spring that came up, and then disappeared mysteriously to emerge later on down the holler, maybe once or twice, or maybe only just before, it ended up at the river. But the earth had dried up a lot since those days and dry hollers are actually dry, now (oh, wait, this is a whole 'nother story...sorry about that)
ANYWAY. One day the three of us were sitting around on their back porch eating a bowl of pears with velveeta shredded on top. My babies where on a blanket in the yard, collecting ticks for me to have to pick off them later. Mz. Flat had pulled the pears from her root cellar where she had canned them in a mason jar, and the pears reminded her of a story. There was a summer back when they were first married (which would have been sometime before 1920) and a couple of their babies was already on the ground, that everything froze out after the crops where all up and running. The peaches where the size of golf balls and first it snowed on them, then that night it got down in the twentys and they turned black and rained down. Corn, potatoes, beans, all a good ways along toward production and they all froze black. We pert near starved to death that year, she said, as there was no money to get 'brought on" food. They let the hens range free after that and ate eggs till winter, then ate fish out of the river. The trees were damaged, she recalled and you can still see that winter in the lumber sometimes when them trees end up at the sawmill. I can't ask them any more questions, of course, as they are long passed away.

I was remembering this story and did some research, didn't find what I was looking for...but
here is a link to average annual temperatures, projected and measured in the context of volcanic winters. I don't see a volcano related to this dip in temperature around that time (between 1900 and 1920), but something obviously happened.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

an understory story

It is a natural thing for the naturalist/artist to be constantly looking for patterns. I had expected that I would find patterns to the freeze damage, such as "trees on the north slopes suffered worse" or "the canopy protected the younger trees in the understory, or all hickorys lost all leaves" . But after lots of hiking around on various slopes, around bodies of water and near buildings, I could neither determine any patterns, nor find any logical explanation(s) for the degree and severity of the damage.
It was even more puzzling when I spent tuesday night in Nashville. I expected that in the big city, there would be more trees spared the total loss of leaves and flowers, both because of the heat of the city, but also because geographically, Nashville is in a slightly warmer zone than home. I was surprised to find as much damage as I did, and its seemingly random nature.
I could not honestly attribute any sort of cause and effect, such as a certain tree being spared because of it's proximity to a building or it being sheltered by a heavy overstory, or it being located close to a creek, out in the open or sheltered from the wind. There did not seem to be a pattern either, nor association with the overall health of the individual tree. Puzzling over it, I am beginning to believe that perhaps it had to do more with the individual genetic makeup or overall constitution of the tree. I have not a pretty picture to illustrate this, so I will post a picture of these hickory trees and the young maple in the understory taken a few days before the cold. They are all black now, with the leaves a drooping, but next spring, perhaps they will look like this again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

vireos and others in the thicket

So one of my constant study topics is the effects of invasive plant species.
Sadly, I have been around long enough to have visited woods and fields in their more natural succession stages, before invasives had gotten such a strong foot hold, and I remember the old plant communities and miss the diversity, but I digress, I am supposed to be revealing the vireo hiding place.
When I first moved to this farm (I have inhabited many farms around the state) I was not very familiar with coral berry (symphoricarpos orbiculatis) which is a member of the honeysuckle family and is supposedly native, and a winter food source for wildlife, but it is a durn weed. There is a good reason it is called "devils shoestring" and it is taking over my pasture and the understory of the nearby woods (along with the non-native invasive privit) The birds are largely uninterested in its red berries, even in the dead of winter, but it does remain fairly evergreen and having stoloniferous runners, makes a tight, tangled mat of thigh high vegation.
The morning I found the vireos, I was hiking up the hillside to the top of the pasture with the dogs running ahead and they veered off course and ran into a a dense thicket of coral berry which erupted in birds! Vireos, warblers, phoebes, peewees and other birds that I normally think of as tree top dwellers flushed out of those thickets like popcorn and headed in every direction. The ground under the canopy of coral berry was their hiding place till th weather cleared...hmm, who would have thunk it.

Monday, April 9, 2007

I found the vireos!!

ding! ding! ding! and they were so not where I expected. (more about the later)
This day started better, the birds where singing more naturally again, and while doing my paperwork and waiting for sunlight to finally hit the holler I heard the chickadees and phoebes and yellowthroats breaking the cold silence and I made the decision to do "the walk" first before rather than after work.
A good nights sleep left me with a less emotional and a more scientific attitude to the disruption/destruction and I found myself searching for the upside in everything I found, could be Buddhist leanings, or my sometimes irritating pollyannish outlook, who knows..
Anyway, in my mind, things will probably be B.C. (before cold) and A.C. for me for the rest of this season, and I will be watching everything closely for recovery efforts.

I have unprofessionally categorized the tree species response to the 27 degree, followed by 19 degree, followed by 25 degree nights into 4 levels of damage; "singed, toasted, burnt and fried". With fried being that the plant will have to start all over again. The maples are only toasted, but their seeds are fried. The cherry leaves, interestingly, are in good shape, but the cherries are fried, pawpaw leaves burnt, the flowers fried. Yellow poplar leaves are fried, but they hadn't begun blooming yet, so that is good. Hickory leaves and blossoms fried, same with the beech and beech blossoms. Young walnut leaves burnt, blossoms not out yet. The only really fried thing I saw that I am not sure will come back at all are the persimmons on the first bench, even their twigs don't look so good. Overall, it doesn't look so good for the mast crop. Will the trees try again?
On the ground is a different story, most of the ground plants just hunkered down and waited it out, to stand up straight and victorious, like this patch of wild larkspur, cheerfully standing under a thicket of fried paw paw saplings.

If we could get some rain.....

Sunday, April 8, 2007

and on the third day there was blackened oak

and freeze dried poplar trees and cherry and beech and blackened taters.
The hill sides are brown, the birds are quiet, the light is already unnatural as the leaves start letting go of the bower above and begin drifting down like an early autumn.
Spring Aborted.
I don't think it would have laid everything so low if it had not been so damned dry.
Walked up the cut-through road to cheer myself up and get some air away from the smokey stove trying to warm up the cabin. That was a mistake.
I noticed for the first time that walking up hill naturally makes your neck crane upwards, and when you lift up your eyes unto the hills to get your aid, and the trees on the hills are all brown and wilted, it sort of makes you low down sicker rather than uplifted.
And it was quiet, too quiet. Like all the critters were as stunned as me. Not one bird song, not one insect buzzing.
Got about half way up and that was when I broke down.
It was the smell of the wilted leaves that got me.
Smelled just like standing amongst the logging, and a rush of mourning washed over me.
Started back down the hill and noticed (for the first time, again) that when you are going down, you are looking down at your feet and don't notice as much the state of the world around you, or least-ways, the world looks better, guess that's why the rich folks do the boogie up on the hill.
The thing that aggravates the hell out of me the most (anger is the second stage of mourning, they say) Is that the folks I've talked to don't "get" it.
They don't get that this set back and disruption isn't just wilted leaves, it isn't just grapes and apples and what folks and critter eat.... its the whole system, its the pollination and the mast crops and all the little intricacies and inter-dependencies and so forth.
aw hell... just too tired and sad to talk about it.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Dogwood Winter, Day 1 report

To understand why temps in the 20's is a big deal, for this part of Tennessee for this time of year, you have to see how far along things are, and what is considered a "normal" frost (32)
Went out yesterday morning after the first cold night to find 1/4 inch of ice on the chicken water, but then realized that a stiff wind and warm ground had protected everything and all around the green was right perky and undamaged.
This cheered me up considerable so I took a long walk and found several interesting things to fill a blog over the next few days... But this morning, the birds are quieter and the tree leaves outside the windows look mighty droopy.
Almost 4 years ago I planted two hybrid American chestnuts (explanation of here, except mine where the "other" hybrid) Being short on space, I put two in the same hole, as they are not self pollinating. This year, they began to put on blossoms, and being impatient, wanted to preserve a few, so have put socks that have lost their elastic over some of the blooms...will see.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


While taking my morning wake up walk I found myself subconciously tallying up the estimated next few days death toll due to the impending freeze. We'll lose the little cherries so abundant on the tree, guess the plums are a gonner, too. Are the paw paws far enough along to abort? Will the baby nuts and seeds and berries all come crashing to the ground on the third morning, instead of rising from the dead? Will the drought make it so that this first try at reproduction be the final effort for the critter food crops for this year? My sister Mary says that it will drive some birds northward, where things aren't so far along.

Took some premortem memorial photos of wildflowers and brought in reams of lilacs from the bush to "stink up" though house right good.
After work today, must cover with row cover the spinach, lettuce, herbs, bring in the potted ferns, spread straw around the peas, bring in firewood, rustle up some kindling...whew! lotta work comes from screwed up weather.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Knowing Jack

One bad thing about getting intimate with jack in the pulpit is who they associate with...a lot of poison ivy. (bad company is dark green leaves in background of above photo)
This means you have to balance very gingerly while getting down with jack and remember not to put your hands on the ground to steady yourself.
If you do forget, then you have to try to remember not to put your hands to your face.

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