Tag Archives: Nature

Finding summer sweetness at home

A summer like no other, this summer is. Even in March, when the world went on lock-down and non-essential retail stores shuttered and Major League Baseball x-nayed spring training, I never imagined we would still be talking in July about sheltering in place and avoiding indoor restaurants and baseball games without stadium crowds.

Yet here we are. COVID-19 changes everything.

But I’m still trying to linger on summer’s joys no matter what happens in the world. Soon the nights will come earlier and the trees will lose their leaves. Gotta be mindful of the present moment because that’s all we have. Recently, I’ve been crossing things off my Summer 2020 list that I can enjoy within the safety of my own space.

2020.06.21 convertible

June 21: Ride in a convertible (or open the sun roof).

On a trip to Starbucks one morning when we discovered we were out of coffee beans (oh, the problems in the First World), I opened the sunroof in the car and shook off the a.m. cobwebs in the summer breeze. By using the drive-through, I avoided the trip into the great unknown of unwashed humanity but still enjoyed the great outdoors.

2020.07.07 run

July 7: Go for a run (even a short one).

On another glorious morning, I donned a beloved pair of Asics and a hat with a Nike message (and other appropriate garb) and ran around my little village. I used to run five miles at a time on the regular, but I more or less gave it up a couple of years ago when my poor feet couldn’t take the pounding anymore. Still, I jogged a mile and a half before I had to walk, so I’m still going to count myself among the folks who call themselves runners.

2020.07.09 basil

July 9: Eat fresh basil.

My Beloved’s garden has been (and will continue to be) a source of deliciousness. Even through we are committed to staying home, we have been eating like gourmands. I whipped up some kale-basil pesto (with walnuts instead of pine nuts), and I used it to top a freshly grilled mozzarella cheeseburger. Yum.

2020.07.11 green tomatoes

July 11: Make fried green tomatoes.

A few days later, the not-ready yet but plump looking tomatoes in the garden beckoned to me and persuaded me to turn them into fried green tomatoes to accompany bacon and eggs at brunch.

2020.07.18 peaches

July 18: Eat a fresh peach.

While we’re dining well at home, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the “imperfect” peach I got on sale at a nearby farm market. It tasted perfect to me! Juicy like only a fresh peach can be. I threw in a few raspberries and some cinnamon-dusted plain yogurt, and boom, breakfast.

2020.07.16 rabbit far

July 16: Watch rabbits play.

My yard continues to be a source of merriment, to me when I’m doing yoga on the patio and definitely to the family of rabbits whom I believe have a nest beneath our cargo trailer. Watching rabbits play was not on my original list, but since baby bunnies are a spring thing, teenaged bunnies are a summer one. I witnessed a trio of brothers (I’m guessing on the gender) chase each other around my yard when I was in savasana pose (yes, one is supposed to close one’s eyes in this restful pose, but the rabbits caught my eye nonetheless). Can you see him?

2020.07.16 rabbit close

See him now?

This family is a little bit of redemption for me. Two years ago, there was a baby bunny massacre on my watch when we moved our RV into the driveway of the house we were renting at the time. The nest there was revealed, and baby bunnies hopped away in every direction. With gloved hands, I scrambled around to reassemble the nest, but a few hours later, I saw a satisfied-looking cat sitting beneath the camper. Not a good end for those baby bunnies. I felt terrible. But rabbits being rabbits, another family found refuge in our yard, and now they’re hopping around, probably planning their own families.

2020.07.19 lilies

July 19: Admire lilies.

Admiring lilies wasn’t on my original list either, but I think I missed the peony season (I had hoped to celebrate the scents of summer by smelling a peony) so I needed an alternative. Suddenly, all the ditches around here are sporting the lovely orange lilies, and then this morning, I rediscovered the turk’s hat lilies in the garden on the side of the my house that were originally planted by the church ladies who volunteered here when my house was a church. These dramatic blossoms make an appearance every summer.

2020.07.18 Zoom Family Reunion

July 18: Attend a family reunion.

When you can’t go to the party, bring the party to you! We observed the Kulland family reunion this year on Zoom. I missed my cousin’s wife’s stellar homemade Chex Mix, but we caught up on some family news virtually from the comforts and security of our homes.

2020.07.19 sheets

July 19: Hang sheets on a clothesline.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to cross this one off my list since we don’t have a clothesline at our house. But I talked my Beloved into making one between two of our pine trees, and I hung our sheets on it this morning. I haven’t yet inhaled the scent only fresh air can imbue on sheets, but I can’t wait to go to bed tonight. “Clean sheets night” is my favorite night of the week, and it’s going to be even better tonight!

If we’re going to be stuck at home, we might as well appreciate the simple pleasures.

Mournful cooing speaks of summer

A mourning dove lives somewhere near my house or, more likely, more than one lives nearby.

I’ve heard this bird’s mournful cooing as I emerge from sleep in my bed in the morning, when I’m lingering outside in the afternoon, and when I’m harvesting cilantro in the back garden before dinner, so he lives nearby.

When I asked my Beloved about it, he said mourning doves are like rats with wings⁠—they’re common and pesky.

But the language of a mourning dove is quite beautiful, much better than a rat’s scratching, and so it made my list of ways to savor summer.

June 28: Listen to a mourning dove.

Getting a picture proved impossible. I followed his call last week and tracked him to somewhere around the elementary school across the street from my house. Amid the tweets of other birds, you can hear the mourning dove’s call, but you can’t see him.

Even without the flashy good looks of a blue jay or beautiful scenery, the mourning dove’s call calms me. Just the simple act of paying attention forces me to slow down, and savor.

Here’s to summer.

11 ways to savor summer down, 97 to go

Conscious that more urgent topics deserve attention, I am nonetheless savoring this sweetest of seasons. Please don’t judge. Even the highest-minded of us can appreciate a distraction once in a while.

I’ve determined that one way to savor summer is to record me savoring it. Let me count the ways. Here are a few of the 108 ways I’ve savored summer so far:

2020.05.23

May 23: Pick a dandelion.

2020.05.23.asparagusI didn’t actually pick a dandelion, but this bunch is one of the biggest I’ve seen. Fortunately for some weed-killer-wielding landscaper, it wasn’t in someone’s yard; I found it on the side of the road in an asparagus patch (stretching along behind the dandelions there). I hadn’t harvested wild asparagus before, but it was a bit of a game, picking spears out from among blades of grass. My Beloved and I walked for about 300 yards, finding a couple pounds of spears. Technically, I think eating asparagus is a way to savor spring, but it was still delicious on Memorial Day weekend.

2020.05.24

May 24: Eat corn on the cob.

It shouldn’t be so delicious so early, but my Beloved picked up fresh corn on the cob at the local mushroom farm, and it was as sweet and tender as I expect it to be in July.

2020.05.28

May 28: Get a pedicure.

My Beloved and I ventured out for a pedicure. We wore masks, and we agreed to wash our hands upon entry (the technicians washed our feet). It felt like an extra-special treat this year especially.

2020.05.29

May 29: Smell lilacs.

I spent an hour one morning exploring my own yard. The white-flowered bushes that line most of the perimeter are in frothy bloom this time of year, and three lilac bushes decorate the row. They are as sweetly perfumed as they look.

2020.05.30

May 30: Fill a birdbath.

It wasn’t on my original list, but one can’t fill a birdbath in winter in the upper Midwest because it freezes solid. I filled my mother-in-law’s birdbath after my Beloved power washed it clean. Her birds can appreciate even more crystal clear splashing now.

2020.05.30 picnic

May 30: Picnic.

If you dine on a picnic table, it’s a picnic. My Beloved and I enjoyed some Chinese take-out in the park.

2020.06.01

May 31: Drink wine outdoors.

My Beloved and I subscribe to Zerba Winery’s wine club after we tasted this particular brand of the nectar of the gods during a jaunt through Washington state a couple of years ago. We imbibed on a bottle of Cabernet Franc on the patio while my Beloved grilled a couple of steaks.

2020.06.03

June 3: Take a twilight walk.

Summer light is just different in Minnesota. The angle of the sun, the long days—something just makes an evening walk in my home state stand out. During a visit with my Adored stepson, his fiancée and my granddog, I accompanied them on a twilight walk. You can even see the almost-full moon there among the treetops.

2020.06.04

June 4: Take a boat ride.

My Beloved invested in a new-to-him boat this year, and I joined him on the St. Croix River on what he called the maiden voyage (it was actually his second outing, but this boat ride lasted longer than just getting the engine up to full speed and down again). I assume this will be the first of many boat rides this season.

2020.06.05

June 5: Mow the lawn.

I lent a hand to my stepson by mowing his lawn. Naturally, I mowed it on the diagonal because I think it looks better that way. I classify this act as a way to savor the scents of summer, though I can’t say I truly appreciate the scent of freshly cut grass; I was thinking too much about working up a sweat.

2020.06.06

June 6: Lay on the ground and look at the clouds

On an absolutely perfect 60-degree morning, I practiced yoga on my stepson’s back deck. While in savasana, I gazed at the clouds drifting by rather than closing my eyes. They look almost tropical, these are the leaves of the rather unique hackberry tree in my stepson’s yard.

# # #

How are you savoring summer?

A frog’s call signals spring

Call me bold. Or myopic. Or just plain crass. But while the rest of the world mourns the potential loss of a million of the planet’s eight million species in what scientists warned yesterday would be described as the most comprehensive global nature loss ever, I’m celebrating one species: Frogs.

When spring comes, it sounds like there are a million of them.

Our former house bordered a nature preserve. It was really just a detention pond in a large suburban neighborhood, but it sounds better to call it a nature preserve. It was filled with turtles and frogs (and other creatures) with which I would occasionally cross paths while running on the nearby paths and streets. Turtle are a quiet neighbor, but frogs are not. At least not during mating season. The trill of the frogs’ song saturated the air to the point my brain cancelled it out.

It’s not until I moved to this new house, which is not near standing water, that I noticed the absence of the frogs’ peeping. But recently, as I was driving on a back road with the windows open, I noticed the distinctive frog ribbiting as I passed the puddles in the farm fields. Pass a puddle, the sound clamored. Pass a dry spot, the sound died away. Clearly, these farmers aren’t using too much pesticide; even their transient mud puddles attract residents. It was glorious, actually, hearing the frog calls. Such a clear sign of spring.

Frogs are among the planet’s few fully amphibious creatures, as much as home in water as they are on dry land. But water they demand. As I was walking my granddaughter this afternoon, I could hear a frog’s bre-ke-ke from a half block away. I traced it to the decorative pond in the yard of a neighbor.

Couldn’t see him. But definitely heard him.

Winged signs of spring

I’m neither a birder nor a photographer, but I got a real show when I visited my parents in Minnesota recently.

Some people mark the beginning of spring by sighting a robin, but in my parents’ neck of the woods, one might see all kinds of springtime birds. There are 442 species of birds on the official list of Minnesota inhabitants, but I’m not talking about sorts of everyday chirping birds just about everyone has visiting their backyard bird feeder. My parents’ home is remote enough to be nestled on the edge of river, or you might call it a “crik” or possibly a swamp, all depending on the time of year and inches of precipitation. A number of large birds also inhabit the area, apparently because it’s well stocked in fish and small game and whatever else birds eat.

Most of the time, the photos I take of birds (of any size) look something like this:

birds sandhill

See those two blobs in the middle there? Those are two sandhill cranes. You’re just going to have to trust me.

As we drove up to my parents house the first afternoon we arrived, a solemn looking bald eagle observed us from his perch in the middle of a field. Of course, I didn’t have my camera at the ready; I just swiveled my head as I engaged in a staring match driving by. The nest he shared with his mate was clearly visible in the leafless tree bordering the creek, and we saw him frequently during the course of the week as we drove by into town. Eventually, I figured out to have my cell phone camera in hand.

birds eagle

His head is white. Again, trust me.

The bald eagle, once an endangered species, now flourishes across the United States. Even if you’re not all that interested in birds, he’s quite a sight, frequently appearing on lists of the world’s most beautiful birds.

birds eagle flying

This bald eagle wasn’t much for photo shoots. He flew away when I got out of the car.

I also saw a red tail hawk and a pheasant. I’m pretty sure I saw a turkey vulture, too. Here’s my shot of the pheasant.

birds pheasant

Yup, he’s there in the middle, walking away from me.

The birds that put on the most fantastic show were the wild turkeys. Dad lent me his binoculars to observe the males fluffing up their feathers in order to get laid. When they’re strutting about, they look just like they do in those handprint paintings kids do at Thanksgiving with their tail feathers spreading up vertically, sort of like a less colorful peacock. Lots of drama in that mating dance.

The large bird I saw most closely was attracted to the bird feeder in my parents’ yard. I heard it before I saw it though: The pileated woodpecker.

birds woodpecker

I wouldn’t describe myself as a nature girl, but I was amazed to see all these distinctive large birds within a mile of my parents’ house. They were quite beautiful and impressive, bright spots on the otherwise brown not-quite-spring-yet landscape. Signs of more colorful days to come.

Travel Tuesday: The redwood forests

We cut down three 70-year-old trees on our property last week, and it made me unreasonably sad.

The Chinese elm trees were mostly dead, and it was time for them to go, but I miss them and it made me think of a trip a couple of years ago to northern California when we drove through the Redwood forest.

You may have sung the lyrics to “This Land is Your Land” when you were a youngster, but a walk through the forest here will have them ringing in your head for days: “From the redwood forest to the Gulf Steam water, this land is made for you and me.”

redwoods

Look up and behold, in a Redwood forest, you feel like you’re in a special place.

California’s coastal redwoods, which grow on the northern coast (the scientific name is sequoia sempervirens), can grow up to 377 feet tall, the tallest living things on earth. Like the related sequoia trees, redwoods are long lived, due in part to their bark, which can be up to a foot thick. That bark protects a tree from cold and from forest fire.

Our trip two years ago through California included a drive and walk through the Redwood National and State Parks, an experience I can’t recommend highly enough. Being there, breathing in the piney air and feeling the silence as much as hearing it, one is reminded of dinosaurs and is tempted to believe in dryads and wood nymphs. The trees are alive, and they might be smiling or frowning or about to reach out and touch you. No wonder one of California’s stereotypes is of tree huggers. Even a logger’s gotta love a tree like that.

Standing among those majestic trees reminds me I am nothing, and my life, however long it is, passes in a blink. The “little” trees we removed from our property are gone, but not forgotten.

If nature is a place of worship, the redwood forests are cathedrals. Worth a trip.

Good neighbor + good timing = good show

Sometimes I’m just amazed at the kindness of strangers.

Some benefactors make me want to be a better, more generous person.

Don was that good neighbor to us yesterday.

He took us for a boat ride, and it turned out to be the most memorable jaunt on the water I think I’ve ever experienced.

We visiting the area of Ten Thousand Islands. I find this ironic, coming from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Here in southwest Florida, the bits of land are sprinkled in the water like the pools of water are spread across the land in Minnesota.

Don has spent his winters here for 30 years so he has a lot of experience navigating these shallow waters between islands and mangroves (or, he joked, he has one year of experience 30 times over).

The wind was calm, and the sun was high in the sky. Don has a boat, and he offered us a ride. Who wouldn’t want a boat ride on such a beautiful day?!

He toured the nearby mangroves, showed us an osprey nest (I’m pretty sure it was an osprey — I’m no birder) and brought us to the edge of the Gulf.

And then the show began.

He instructed us to look for fins in the water, and we spied some dolphins frolicking in one of the bays.

As we approached, another boat met us from the other direction, and the dolphins discovered his wake. What fun!

dolphin leaping

Then the dolphins discovered our wake. There must have been at least a dozen of them! I’m no National Geographic photographer (and I only had my iPhone), but several times we saw dolphins right next to our boat and swimming beneath us.

Here’s a shot of a school of dolphins behind us (do dolphins swim in schools?).

dolphin school

And here’s a shot of dolphins swimming in front our boat.

dolphin close

For 20 or 30 minutes, Don drove around and around in circles playing with these amazing and charming creatures. More than once he said we were being treated to a special show; he meant the dolphins, but I know his patience and knowledge of the waters had brought us to this serendipity.

Don’s kind offer and generosity with his time meant we got a special gift — a personal, up-close performance of some of nature’s most fascinating sea life.

The lowly ‘shroom

IMG_4258.JPG

Had nature any outcast face,
Could she a son contemn,
Had nature an Iscariot,
That mushroom, — it is him.

~ Emily Dickinson

Nest test

Nothing like a slaughter to put you in the mood for spring, right?

You’ve heard of the phrase “first, do no harm”? It’s a doctor’s guiding principle (though I sometimes think oncologists walk on the wrong side of the line).

We don’t abide by that theorem here. No sirree, here on Minnesota Transplant, our principle is “anything for the blog.” I’ve posted pictures of me dressed as a Klingon warrior, I’ve made ricotta cheese, I’ve even mucked through an arid 155-page report to determine how much teachers are paid (a relic written in 2009 but still one of my most popular posts to date).

Today, I almost killed a baby bird.

Whaaaaht?

Yeah, but the worst part is, it wasn’t on purpose.

So I let the dog out in the backyard. A common occurrence when it’s not 50 degrees below zero. And this angry bird starts dive-bombing her.

I’ll remind you, my dog weighs 8 pounds, and while she’s energetic and territorial, she’s not a birding dog.

So I leave my usual post behind the patio glass to investigate, and I heard chirps coming from the nest built in the rafters of the deck.

A-ha! Mama robin is defending three baby robins in the nest.

Do I think, “Oh, Mama robin has a point, maybe I should get the dog back in the house?”

Noooooo.

I think, “I’ve gotta get a picture of this for my blog!”

So I grab my camera and venture up the deck steps to get a closer look. Like paparazzi after a Bieber pic, I stick the camera in the babies’ faces and boom! One of them flies out of the nest — or drops out of it, it was sort of awkward so I’m not sure — and I hear Mama robin going even more berserk. Eek! I’ve disrupted the ecosystem for sure. That baby bird won’t be able to get back into the nest, and I’m in big trouble.

Meanwhile, the dog is peacefully sniffing rabbit turds in the corner of the yard.

I realize I’ve got to get the dog back into the house so Mama robin can cajole baby bird back into the nest, so I approach the dog in the perimeter of the yard.

She thinks it’s a game, and starts running in circles around me.

I shriek.

The dog thinks we’re having a good time now! She makes her way to the patio where, of course, she spies something even more interesting than her shrieking master.

The baby bird.

Oh! My! God!

I’m screaming, “No! No, Chloe! No!” My dog is about the examine baby with her mouth.

Baby is skittering away on the cement. Mama is chirping somewhere in the background. Chloe is intent on catching her first ever bird.

I race to scoop up the dog, and I snatch her into my arms just before she chomps on a chicken a la robin sandwich. In the house we go.

I didn’t touch the nest.

I didn’t touch the bird.

I didn’t mean to get baby almost killed. I hope nature’s balance returns baby bird to Mama’s nest.

But I got my picture:

robin nest

Coyotes intrude on suburban security

two tracks

Let’s establish this much up front: I couldn’t track my way to dinner even if I was starving and my prey was blind.

But I’m 100% sure these are the tracks of two coyotes that crossed behind the fence in my back yard yesterday.

I have witnesses, your Honor.

My Beloved, his office colleague and a neighbor all saw these two interlopers — possibly a male coyote and his mate — patrolling the so-called wetlands beyond our fence.

Coyotes are enemies in suburbia. They have killed at least three dogs in Wheaton since November (read about it here). Wheaton is a long way from Hampshire, but I’ll confess to species-ism: I judge all coyotes by the actions of a few.

My dog is a babied victim of overindulgence (and low body weight), so I know she wouldn’t stand a chance against one of these territorial tricksters.

The good news? I found no evidence of coyotes inside my fence, and the tracks I found outside it kept going. When I inspected the area to take these pictures, the only other tracks I found were likely left by a rabbit and birds (but on the other hand, see caveat at beginning of this post).

sign tracks

Do not disturb. Or else.