Sunday, March 22, 2015

Springtime and New Beginnings

Signs of Spring in the Garden--Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium sp.)

I am so thankful for spring this year. Even though we didn't get hit very hard, I feel like it's been a tough winter and it is really good to get outside and feel the sun and smell the dirt. My dad died in January, which was hard enough, but on top of that my husband and I have been in the process of deciding if he should take a new job out of state. After long months of discussion, we decided to take the job and make the move and so we're preparing to leave the place we've called home for 19 years. We listed the house just about a week before the wildflowers started blooming in the yard and I had to dig up some old spring yard photos from last year to use for advertisements. It felt a little deceptive since the actual yard was bare and brown, but I knew they'd come back, and now, several weeks later, the yard is exploding with gorgeous spring colors. It felt like the leaves appeared on the trees in just a day. I almost imagined that I could hear them growing. Last weekend the temperature was up in the high 80's and the butterflies arrived en masse. It's like wonderland out there! And that's the hard part. We are making this move not because we were unhappy here, but because something new and wonderful attracted us elsewhere. We still love our home. And when I walk around the yard I feel melancholy, saying goodbye to it all. I've put a lot of myself into creating this lush habitat and nature sanctuary. I've gotten many years of joy from it. I used the yard as therapy, working away issues and problems as I painstakingly pulled out the entire front lawn by hand. I know each little plant and have moved them around many times trying to find just the right place for each one. I can see when something is out of place and can spot weeds from across the yard. It's so satisfying to watch the sprouts of that I planted last year grow and flower. This year the White Indigo I planted from seed several years ago is finally big enough to have blooms. I can finally see the native "cottage garden" that I envisioned taking shape. And last fall I decided to start a sandhill habitat in a sandy, sunny section in the front corner. The plants are coming up and I think it will be very pretty this year. But we will not be able to see our personal sandhill in its fall glory because we will have moved by then. I feel the same thing when I go out on hikes and visit favorite natural places. I am aware every day that I am trying to take it all in because I know this will be my last spring and summer here. I have begun the long process of saying goodbye. I know will come back to visit, but I don't know exactly when or for how long.

Cottage Garden Taking Shape

First White Indigo Flowers (Baptisia alba)

One of the plants from my homemade Sandhill--Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)

The Butterflies arrived! Horace's Duskywing resting on the bark
There's a lot that I will miss. The sweet smell of Orange Blossoms and dainty purple Toadflax flowers in the spring, the Anole lizards doing pushups and flaring their dewlaps, the Honeybees with their tummies colored purple and filled with grape jelly from the Oriole feeders, the Glass Lizards flopping across the sidewalk, the Southern Toads singing their mating songs in the backyard pond, the Cooper's Hawks that perch on the bird feeder, the tiny Pine Woods Snakes that live under the flower pots, the endangered Woodlands Poppymallow that has stubbornly planted itself in the crack on the front step. I will miss the Orioles scolding me when their jelly dishes are empty. I will miss being able to observe the whole Pipevine Butterfly Lifecycle in our yard each year. I will miss the Giant Swallowtails that blew my mind when I first moved to Florida. (They are so big and waft so slowly that they hardly seem real.) I will miss having people stop as they are walking by and tell me how pretty the yard is. (Someone last week said he saw the for sale signs and just wanted to thank us for building a beautiful habitat that he enjoyed.) I will miss seeing the 2 foot tall (now) Buckeye tree that I planted as a tiny sprout, mature and bloom some day. I will miss the call of the Mississippi Kites that nest in our neighborhood in the summer. I'll miss crawling through the Ditch with Maralee and volunteering at the La Chua trailer at the Prairie. I'll miss wildflower walks at Morningside. I'm going to miss being an hour and a half from the beach, and I'll miss those amazing springs. Florida has worked itself into my heart in a way I never imagined possible we I came here 19 years ago. I'm really going to miss it here.

Woodlands Poppymallow growing in the cracks (Callirhoe palaver)

My little baby Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Toadflax (Linaria canadensis)

Purple Honey Bee

Brown Anole in the Garden

The Pipevine is starting to grow back, ready for a new batch of hungry caterpillars (Aristolochia tomentosa)

Blue Butterwort from the Ditch (Pinguicula caerulea)

Alligators just hanging around at the Prairie
But as they say, with every closing door, another one opens, or something like that. We're moving to Athens in Northern Georgia and that will be a whole new adventure. It's about a 6 hour drive from here. My husband and I found ourselves another neat house in Athens with a big yard. The landscaping is pretty formal with traditional azaleas, camelias and rhododendrons, but I can fix that. Formal landscaping didn't stop me with our Florida house! I predict that by this time next year there will be some very informal looking butterfly and wildlife gardens around our new home. I'm looking at Georgia Wildflower books on Amazon and will connect with Native Plant, Audubon and Butterfly folks when I get there. There is much overlap in Florida/Georgia plants and animals, but I will still have a lot of learning to do. I was pleased when we visited last time to find that the William Bartram Trail runs through our new hometown, just like down here in Alachua County. But the climate and terrain are different from Florida. Georgia has winters and hills and mountains. Georgia has rocks! I'm looking forward to learning about Georgia--getting to know salamanders and The Piedmont, the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Okefenokee Swamp. And the barrier islands! There is a lot to love up there and I already know I will love many of the plants and animals that I will meet up there. The State Bird is one of my favorites--the Brown Thrasher--and it turns out that we have some living in our new front yard. The State Reptile is another old friend, the Gopher Tortoise, which I take as a good sign. I know that new birds will come to our feeders, new butterflies and flowers will fill the yard, and next spring when the Sandhill Cranes leave Florida and stop in Georgia on their way up to the Great Lakes, it will be like having familiar visitors bringing greetings from our old home. Here's to new beginnings.

We Bring You Greetings From Florida!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Perfect Birthday!

I'm fell behind with my posts, so I'm starting with November and working forward. I had a fabulous trip to Arkansas to visit our daughter and her husband for Thanksgiving and also for my birthday. I love to visit my family there, but I also look forward each time to visiting the state's beautiful natural areas. There is so much to offer in Arkansas, a place that calls itself "the Natural State" and proudly promotes its natural resources. All of the state parks are free!
Delicious Birthday Cake!
My daughter thoughtfully planned out visit with days of feasting and celebrating, starting on my  birthday with a trip to Lake Catherine State Park. How fitting! We spent the morning walking a pretty trail by small waterfalls. We followed that with a picnic lunch and then went to the lake shore to watch ducks and skip stones.

Tree trunk growing around a rock

Ripples in a small pool

Trail fungus

Witch Hazel

Skipping stones
We were puzzled by this sign at the lake shore. As far as we could tell, the lake did not fluctuate in a way that warranted a sign. Just ripples and waves.


I think these are Greater Scaups

Beautiful Lake Catherine

From Lake Catherine, we headed to Garvan Woodland Botanical Gardens where there would be an evening Christmas Lights show. We wanted to see the gardens in daylight in order to better appreciate the decorations when night fell. We also wanted to get in early because this is a very popular holiday event!

As we explored, I practiced new camera settings to catch sunbursts through the trees, with some success. We found the garden's Sasquatch (a "whimsical garden feature") and ran into a small flock of juvenile peacocks who let us get very close before they realized we were there and scattered. We walked along a nature trail and sat for a while at the edge of a huge lake, enjoying the view and looking for eagles. It was a beautiful day!

Holly berries

Decorated stream

Clueless Peacocks



At dusk, we made our way back to the start of the trail just as the lights were coming on and the effect was magical. It was cold but the park had warming fires and hot drinks. You could hear the energy level increasing with the happy voices of children. It was all very merry. We made one more walk around the garden in the dark and took in the pretty lights. And then we headed off to dinner. What a great birthday!

Sunburst and Lights

Lights coming on

Lights in the stream

Lights along the water

Creative Decorations

Flowers and Butterflies

Christmas Decorations

Sasquatch all lit up

Hanging light closeup

Happy Holidays!

A trip to Arkansas would not be complete for us without a visit to the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. It's a very interesting presentation of an important era in our nation's history. This time, there was also a special exhibit of glasswork by Dale Chihuly at the museum, which made the visit even more special. I think his glasswork is brilliant and I love the way the colors and shapes evoke the natural world. I've seen some of his pieces in botanical gardens and they are absolutely gorgeous in a natural setting. These works were indoors, but were still breathtaking.

Glass Ball

Glass Tower

Sea life--I'm thinking Octopus?

Sea Life--Shells?

Sea Life--More Shells?

I think it looks like a jellyfish

Sea Life

Sea Life

Letters between Mr. Rogers and President Clinton

There are thousands of documents, photos and videos on display at the library and the correspondence between President or Mrs. Clinton and important world figures are fascinating to read. And occasionally you'll find a gem like these--letters to and from Mr. Rogers, one of my heroes. I recommend a visit to the library to anyone who visits Little Rock. All in all, a perfect Birthday!

Chihuly Glass Installation outside the Presidential Library, by the Arkansas River

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


My Dad died last week and I've been sort of overwhelmed with the shock, grieving and details that come with a life event like this. I wasn't planning to blog about it. It's not my style to share that kind of personal event with the public. And I didn't think that the loss of my Dad fit into my discussions about nature and my feelings about it. But when my husband and I were driving back home from the airport, I suddenly realized that my Dad had always been at the heart of my relationship with nature. I don't know how I had missed it for all these years, but while writing his obituary and looking over old family photos, it was staring me in the face.

My dad taught me to love animals. He loved animals and he always had pet dogs and cats. His dad had hunting dogs, but in my family we had pets that were never well trained and ran the house. We had cats that walked on the counters and dogs that slept on the bed and wouldn't sit or stay. Dad told me stories about a dog (I think it was a Jack Russell Terrier) that he had as a kid in Marin County, CA. He said that the dog learned to ride the bus and that it would get on by itself and take rides around town. The bus driver knew the dog and would stop and let it on for a ride. I don't know where the dog was going, and now I can't ask. But the story made me laugh.
My Dad and his Dad and one of their pet dogs

He had another dog, Mandy, who got lost in a snowstorm and managed to survive on her own in the foothills around Salt Lake for several months before finally turning up, exhausted and thin, somewhere around Beck Street, quite a long way from Dad's home. He loved that dog and had worried so much about her, and often marveled about her intelligence and determination that led her back to him.

Dad taught me to enjoy spending time in the outdoors. He loved to ski and when I was about 12 he enrolled me and my brother in ski lessons. The lessons didn't take so well for me, but both my brothers are good skiers and enjoyed family ski weekends together. My favorite ski memories are of our trips to Brighton. I liked the slow and winding trails that led me through the trees, where I could see snow piled on branches and shadows on the snow.
Dad skiing

Most of my childhood camping experiences were with my Dad. We would usually go to the Uintas to get away from the summer heat. I remember camping at Spirit Lake, which my Mom tells me was also a favorite campsite of his dad, my Grandfather. We took our old army tent that had belonged to his dad. The tent weighed a ton. It was made of canvas and had a wooden pole with umbrella-like supports in the center. Our parents had to find a flat camp site, then dug a trench around the tent to channel rain water away from the tent. It seems like it always rained, and we always woke up with soggy sleeping bags, despite best efforts to the contrary. On one memorable trip, we camped in a wild area closer to Vernal. It was not in an improved campsite, so we had to dig a latrine and our friend taught us the "Latrine Song" as we dug. We brought our dog, Oddo, on that trip and that's how we found the moose and its calf, browsing in the creek near our camp.

When I was in middle school, Dad took me on my only backpacking trip, also into the Uintas. I have no idea now where we went. We were only out for a few days, but I was so proud being able to carry my own gear. We didn't know much about lightweight stuff, and I'm pretty sure my pack didn't even have a frame. My big, bulky sleeping bag and foam pad were tied on the bottom of the pack with a rope! We carried frozen cornish game hens to roast over a campfire. I remember that we saw moose and beaver on that trip.

The names of animals and plants didn't really come up when I was exploring nature with my Dad. He would point out hawks and eagles, but otherwise the specifics weren't that important. Instead, he took us to places. We swam in the Great Salt Lake, off the shores of Antelope Island where my hair dried hard with the salt. I cried when the salt got into my eyes and scratches on my legs. We hiked to Lake Catherine in the mountains behind Brighton and admired the wildflowers along the way. I was sure we were going to be lost when he used a topo map to follow the Pony Express routes, and to find Topaz Mountain in Central Utah. But we got there and hiked and looked for bits of clear topaz. We camped at Lake Powell in the South and Bear Lake in the North. We drove to Yellowstone and the Tetons in Montana and saw Elk and Bears and Bison. In Wyoming we saw Antelope and Jack Rabbits. He took us to the World's Fair in Spokane and down the coast of Oregon, where we saw Seals and ate smoked salmon. In California, we found giant pinecones and visited tide pools. He took us to the Anaheim amusement parks and then down to Tijuana.

Dad and Family Picnicking at Bear Lake

I didn't realize it until just now while I was writing, but my Dad probably sent me on my path to being a photographer. He gave me my first real camera as a high school graduation present. He liked to take photos and even set up a dark room in his basement. We developed photos there together under the red lights. He encouraged me to think about shadows and patterns and helped me see interesting shots. One of his favorite photos was one that a friend took, of a parrot that was sitting on top of its cage. The lines of the old cage were elegant and curved and the parrot looked particularly proud of itself for being on the outside.

Seagulls in a row at Liberty Park, taken when I was in high school and developed in the basement darkroom
Mostly Dad was a fisherman. He taught me and my brothers how to bait a hook with a worm or salmon eggs, to attach lead weights and our bobbers, to cast the line, and to sit patiently and let the fish bite. We were never as patient as he wanted us to be, and fishing often ended in whining and chaos, like when my brother caught his own ear with the hook when he cast out. I didn't like to kill the fish, so I'd pass them to my brother who would knock them out and clean them. Dad tried to convince me that if I was going to catch them, I had to do the whole thing, but I figured that's what little brothers were for. We fished from row boats on lakes and from the shore near our campsites. No camping trip was complete without trout for dinner. And our freezer at home always had little foil bundles of fish from a bountiful catch. One of my proudest moments as a little kid was when we visited Dad's uncle's fish farm in Kamas and I caught the biggest fish! I don't fish now and have forgotten almost everything he taught me, but the idea of just sitting patiently and enjoying the moment did stick.

What Dad really loved, though, was to fly fish. I only got to try that a few times with him. He really preferred to do that by himself, where he could stand in the water in his waders and cast in peace and quite. He loved the Provo and Weber rivers and would often go there at the end of a work day in the middle of summer. I don't even know where his favorite spots were, because I think he'd just pull his car off to the side of the road and run across the street to a place that looked good. I wish I had any photos of him fishing, but I don't. I'll just have to hold onto my created image in my mind.
No photos of Dad fishing, but it was in his heritage for sure. This is his Great Grandfather and friend with their catch.
I think just how much I will miss my Dad is going to continue to creep up on me and compound with time. You never know how much you'll miss someone until they're gone. Thank you, Dad, for giving me the world.
Me and my Dad, about 1963