Friday, March 28, 2008

Why Giraffe Head Tree?

My good friend Carroll and I agree that nature is our church. We are both spiritually moved by the profound silence of a deep wood, the slap of waves on shoreline river rocks, the call of an eagle on the wing. Nature speaks to each of our senses. A spectacular sunset has moved me to tears, a lunar eclipse is cause for celebration, the sight of a white pelican brings joy and laughter, and the smell of woodsmoke is one of my favorite autumn pleasures. Every trip into the countryside, walking a woodland trail, or sitting by a waterfall reinforces my spiritual self and brings a peace like nothing else.

Nature is important in my life as nature calms me, but nature also teaches me lessons. An obvious example - many here have asked me "Why 'Giraffe Head Tree'?" What is the significance? The visual allure is obvious. This big old broken off branch clearly looks like the head of a giraffe, while the lower broken off branch appears to be a front leg, perhaps. That was the initial appeal when we first bought this lot, cleared the underbrush and crowned up the trees a little. The tree guy wanted to cut off those broken branches but I wouldn't let him. "It's a giraffe's head - don't you see?" Clearly, he thought me bonkers.

One day carefully walking along the slope to see what treasures were growing there I happened to stand beneath the giraffe head tree and look up. What I saw astounded me. This lovely, old Shagbark Hickory is a survivor. All old trees are, of course. However, this grand tree in her younger years had been tested, had been threatened, had been assaulted for she twists upward like a whirling dervish reaching for the sky with all that she has.

This corkscrew pattern of growth means this tree beat out her competition. Long ago another tree competed for this space, this patch of sunlight, the meager nutrients in that one spot of ground. As they grew the battle became fierce, and this tree curved around her competitor until she eventually won the war. It's a survivor, my Giraffe Head Tree, and it now stands tall and strong as a testiment to endurance.

I use this tree as an example to my daughter - how persistance and patience and determination will win out as she strives daily to reach her goals. Since I'm still a developing person myself, I have posted a photo of my Giraffe Head Tree on my vision board for constant inspiration. She's a grand old lady, this Shagbark Hickory. Today, this post is about her in thanks for all that she gives me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Tundra Swan
Copyright William L. Newton

My Canadian friend, Patti, of the Famous Fabric Sluts, has a fantastic post about the Tundra Swans arriving at Lake Erie! Please check out her blog - Island of Souls - and give yourself a treat! I've never been fortunate enough to see a tundra swan, so I looked them up. The photo and data are from Cornell Lab of Ornithology - NOT my camera or my brain.

"True to its name, the Tundra Swan breeds on the high tundra across the top of North America. It winters in large flocks along both coasts, and is frequently encountered during its migration across the continent."

Cool Tundra Swan Facts from Cornell:

"The whistling swan, the American race of the Tundra Swan, currently is considered the same species as the Eurasian race, the Bewick's swan. They were considered separate species in the past, distinguished by the large yellow patches on the face of the Bewick's swan.
During the breeding season the Tundra Swan sleeps almost entirely on land, but in the winter it sleeps more often on water."

"Swan nests on the tundra are vulnerable to a host of predators, such as foxes, weasels, jaegers, and gulls. If the parents are present, they are able to defend the nest and nestlings from these threats. Wolves, people, and bears, however, are too big to fight, and most incubating swans leave their nests while these large predators are far away. By leaving quickly when large predators approach, the parents may make the nest harder to find."

"The Tundra Swan stays in flocks except when on a breeding territory. Although most swans spread out to breed, a large proportion of the population on the breeding grounds still can be found in flocks. These swans are not breeding, and may be young birds that have not yet bred, adult pairs whose breeding attempts failed, or adults that bred in the past but for some reason do not in that year."

Thanks Cornell, and thanks Mr. Newton. To read more click on the Cornell link to the Tundra Swan page.

We are all properly educated now before we vicariously live this experience through Patti and her photo friends! I, for one, am looking forward to this!!! Thanks, Patti!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My First Meme

Meet JB, my Lucky Raccoon

I've watched you guys do these things and wondered if I had the talent and guts (and time) to pull one off. However, my Born Again Bird Watcher pal, John, has tagged me with my first meme - a six word memoir meme. Hopefully, I've got the gist of this gig but even if I screw it up you guys'll hopefully still visit from time to time.

"Optimism brings good karma and opportunities"

I say this for good reason which cannot be devulged at this time, but suffice it to say I'm VERY optimistic and not a little stoked these days!

According to the rules I must tag 5 bloggers with this same meme, so here goes:

Robin@ Robin's Nesting Place
Mark @ The Green Fingered Photographer
Daniel @ Nature at Close Range
Frances at Faire Garden
Carolyn @ Sweet Home and Garden Chicago

A well-rounded group of gardeners, nature lovers and photographers don't you think? Yepper!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Red Buckeyes

Wildlife Management folks and some Master Gardeners call the Red Buckeye a "trash tree." I beg to differ. These lovely small trees can be canopied up or pruned as a shrub, and they attract Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. My bank is filled with them and they are harbingers of Spring.

They are only now unfurling their leaves and the flower buds will follow. Within a week or so I'll observe a show like above. Today my gardening/birding/day trip pal Carroll and I are heading to a great nursery about an hour away in search of spring happiness. Have a lovely SPRING DAY, everyone and Ya'll come back now, ya hear?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cypress Swamp at Wheeler Refuge

Sandhill Crane
(What We Were Looking For - photographer unknown - got this from the Internet. This photo even looks like the place we visited)

The newspaper article said "Sandhill Cranes can be seen now at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge..." so naturally Carroll, my mom and I plan a road trip. Arriving at the refuge we were delighted to discover a nicely outfitted main building complete with examples of local wildlife to peruse. Large windows overlooked a grassy area filled with bird feeders, and there were comfy sofas where one could plop one's keister and watch them in comfort. The guide was glad to see us and gave us the "lay of the land."

Sadly, we learned that the Sandhill Cranes had left 2-3 weeks ago so no huge photo ops for us today. That's okay. He told us about the observatory through a grove of trees to the right, and about the cypress swamp boardwalk that's a short distance off to the left. We chose the observatory first and discovered a delightful one-way-glass two story building outfitted with high-powered binoculars for bird viewing. The building was situated where, in prime birding conditions, observers would be right smack dab in the middle of the hoard. Next year, we vow.
The Cypress Swamp Boardwalk
We take our leave and head for the cypress swamp boardwalk. Now this was cool. Way cool. Not a place I'd want to hang out in during the summer months as the mosquitoes would carry you away, but today it is perfect.

Cypress swamps are found in the South and are named such because of the Bald Cypress trees that prevail there. Bald Cypress can be found everywhere here, and I've even seen them used in landscaping, but primarily you find them in soggy places like swamps and lowlands.

Bald Cypress have "knees" that grow up through the water, coming from their root system. This helps the trees breathe since their root structure is submerged.

The bark of a Bald Cypress is rough and scaly for the most part. Lichens and mosses grow of them naturally, and the underlying color is a glorious rusty brown. Walking through this silent swamp we heard an unusual nose. Is that a bird of some sort, or a mammal? It was almost like a song, but a groaning song. The source came from two cypress trees that were rubbing together high up in the canopy. The wind, though gentle, was enough to cause the rubbing which created the song. I've heard trees rubbing together before and this was nothing like it. Instead, it was melodic and haunting and sounded almost like a upright bass or cello combination. This type of wood must be the reason, but that's just a guess. Whatever the reason, it was striking enough to still our footsteps and enjoy it for several minutes in silence. The Song of the Cypress followed us through our journey and remains with us.

Top of the knee

I've got it. The singing cypress trees reminded me of Coyote Oldman and Burning Sky, two Native American musician CDs I have. Wooden flutes, gentle rhythms of earth and sky. Undoubtedly, listening to these sort of sounds long ago influenced cultures to create music using wood, such as the hand-tooled wooden flutes used in their music. I'm no music major - this just occurred to me after I'd written this post and thought I'd share.

The guide had told us of a recent event within the swamp, and pointed it out to us before our journey down the boardwalk. Recently, a bolt of lightning struck one of the tallest Bald Cypress trees, which reach 100-150 ft. tall - and the tree exploded. Shards and planks and limbs from this explosion spread out over the swamp over 100 yards. We passed remnants of this tree in the parking lot before reaching the swamp. A jagged bit of stump was the only piece that remained in the swamp itself. Thankfully, this happened in the dead of night and not while folks were working in the main building.

So that was yesterday's road trip. Since the Sandhill Cranes had already left we decided to cease the search and seek sustenance instead. A girl's lunch ensued and we returned home satisfied with our adventure.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tulips and Azaleas

Evidence of Spring are everywhere. The forsythias are blooming, the japanese magnolias have come and gone, the happy heads of daffodils nod in gentle breezes and I found a viola smiling up at me in my mom's garden yesterday. The buds on my doublefile viburnum are plump and prepared, and green sprouts adorn the gold berried possumhaw. Some trees are filled with white blossoms way out in the forests - I'm not sure what they are - and the redbuds will color the hills with purple soon.

Spring is a time of rebirth for both the land and its inhabitants. The horse stables down the road have a pasture set aside for the mother horses and their new foals. The foals are so cute with their short little tails flipping with glee. They run about testing their new legs and lay down in the sunshine all stretched out.

People, too, are poised for rebirth. This is a good time to sit in the warming sunshine and reflect on our goals and our blessings. For me part of my rebirth involves changing the way I react to people and situations. My initial response is usually along the lines of "THEY aren't doing (whatever) right, or THEY said (X) that hurt my feelings, or THEY did (fill in the blank), or THEY are making my life miserable. Intellectually, I know that THEY aren't doing anything to me - I'M doing it to me by allowing the negativity to fill my soul. My goal is to recognize this and change myself and the way I deal with it.

One of my favorite reads of late has been "Eat Pray Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert. (I highly recommend this book to those of you seeking change in your life) The particular character in the book who always springs to mind when those feelings rear their ugly head within me is the old medicine man she met in India. He would smile and nod when lectured about his faith and what he should do and must believe in to find Spirit or God. Smiling and nodding he would agree with the other person completely, and then go back home and do what he's always done. I forget exactly how it was phrased, but he believed that it was more important to let the other person feel they've accomplished something, than it was to cause discord by disagreeing. It wasn't important to him to try to "convert" someone else's opinion or methods or character - because it's impossible. It's more important to make people feel good about themselves and for you to be true to yourself. Read the book - Elizabeth says it far more eloquently.

So today I'm considering Spring and Rebirth of my soul and passions for living in this exquisitely beautiful place called we call Mother Earth.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hurricane Rita Sunrise

Sunrise the morning Hurricane Rita advanced upon the lake, September 2005

This morning dawned gray and chilly with a promise of afternoon sunshine. Walking Baylee I observed the weak sun straining to peak through the gloom and began thinking back to the brilliant sunrises and sunsets when we first moved to the lake. Drought changed the patterns of our sky shows but I've no doubts our vivid sunrises and sunsets will return again.

A new process in my life is visualization. Soon my wall will host a vision board to keep me on track of my goals - keep me focused. This morning it occurred to me to try visualizing brilliant sunrises and sunsets, visualizing the return of spring, visualizing my crepe myrtle not only living but thriving, and applying this technique to every bit of nature that surrounds me. We apply this technique to ourselves, so why not nature?

I'm not daft - we can't change nature itself by visualizing different weather patterns. You guys would alert the blogging police and have me carted off if I did! However, by visualizing stunning examples of nature I am changing the gloom in my soul - shining a light deep within to remind all my molecules of the beauty that surrounds me, and that I'm blessed. This will be my daily reminder - my blog shall become a virtual piece of my vision board. How's that for deep today?

As the caption says, the above photo was taken in 2005. I have a habit of rising before the sun, prefering on warm days to have my coffee on the deck and watch the sun rise above the tree line. Usually, I'm accompanied by the call of loons, but not always. This particular morning the sky began glowing a pecular orange long before the sun considered appearing. That's a good sign to get the camera. By the time I reached the dock the sunrise was as you see above, and I only got a few shots before it changed forever. In its brevity, this was one of my favorite sunrises. The storm, however, was another story entirely. Enjoy the sunrise and tuck it away in a dark corner for when you need it most.

Monday, March 10, 2008

American White Pelicans

The American White Pelicans are still here, but I imagine they'll be leaving soon for parts north. Several journeys to Wheeler Dam have resulted in grand sightings and nearly spiritual moments watching these remarkable birds.

The other day my friend Carroll and I drove over expecting to find them gone and only cormorants, gulls and coots to keep us company. About 30 minutes passed before we observed nearly a hundred of them fly out of a hidden cove. We could barely contain our excitement. Walking up a path as far as it allowed, we could see through the trees an island with many more white pelicans upon it. By golly, we struck the Motherload. We were in Pelican Nirvana.

As of today over 300 photos of these grand birds have been downloaded from my Canon 20D gloriously filling up my hard drive. I am supercharged by bird migrations as a rule, but seeing the American White Pelicans so many times in one season is a special treat and makes up in spades for not spotting any Bald Eagles this season. More photos to come - fair warning!


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