Monday, December 04, 2006

Caught in a Migration

Sometimes, the timing is just right.
there we were, just wandering round in Old Town Smithfield, Virginia, when we noticed a HUGE flock of birds going overhead. There were a good few hundred birds in the flock, and we thought nothing of it.
That is until a second and then a third flock went over us... followed by more flocks.
After a few such sites, I realized we had to be in the path of a migration... but what bird? In the car, I looked up in relative safety, and noticed a medium sized bird, that looked somewhat black.
It is my opinion that we were seeing flocks of red-winged blackbirds or maybe their relatives the grackles. I know for sure that those two birds migrate through our area!

I was not able to get a GREAT picture of the birds, but managed to capture the edge of one of the flocks.

The sunset on the way home, was similarly spectacular... I love the sunsets at this time of year... the colours are wonderful... you just have to SEE them to believe!

Christmas Herbal Fun

Christmas is coming and the goose is getting fat. Right around this time of year, the season of advent begins and the liturgical calendar starts.
Herbally this time of year is good for actually utilizing herbs that you have dried or grown yourself… in fact, it is prime time to make your own herbal advent wreath.

To make a small advent wreath is quite simple… variations on a theme make it either labour intensive or so easy the kids can do it!
A simple wreath can made by creating a ‘base’ onto which votive or candlestick holders can be glued.
The base can then be decorated with a variety of symbols for the season… nativity figures, saintly symbols and HERBS.
There are a number of wonderful Christmas herbs.
Holly: Early Christians thought the green holly leaves and the red holly berries, were symbolic of the crown of thorns Christ wore, and the red of his blood. It is used to symbolize His Passion and be a constant reminder of our looking forward towards the Easter season.
(carol from: Holly and the Ivy)

The holly and the ivy,
Now both are full well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown.

Oh, the rising of the sun,
The running of the deer.
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the quire.

The holly bears a blossom
As white as lily flower;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To be our sweet Savior. Chorus

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good. Chorus

The holly bears a prickle
As sharp as any thorn;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas day in the morn. Chorus

The holly bears a bark
As bitter as any gall;
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. Chorus

The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. Chorus

The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir. Chorus

Ivy: This evergreen vine symbolizes the everlasting life. Its clinging habit meant that it was used to symbolize fidelity in art. Christian’s adapted it’s use to symbolize their need to hold onto Christ, and how easily their hold could be broken.
Mistletoe: A herb that was sacred to the druids, the early Christians adopted it and used it to symbolize the Divine Healer, Christ, because it was called all-heal. It is a parasitic plant that grows in the top of oak trees. If you look as you drive down the road, you will often see a bare tree with a clump of greenery in it… there is a good chance that it is mistletoe! Modern herbalists have discovered that mistletoe may have great results in the curing of many ailments, including cancer.
Rosemary: I mentioned before the tradition that Mary, whilst traveling with the infant Jesus, draped his swaddling clothes over a bush, and pleased with the scent it imparted, blessed the plant, turning it’s white flowers blue. Now, rosemary is enjoying a time of popularity, since many people style their plants into a Christmas tree shaped topiary. It smells wonderful too!
Nowadays, people tend to think of rosemary ‘for remembrance’.
For more information on rosemary, see here:
Sage: The prominent stuffing ingredient is a delicious perennial herb. It’s silvery grey foliage dies back in the winter, but can be trusted to grow well in a nice sunny window. Sage is a wonderful herb, with antiseptic properties. Used in gargles, it can help soothe and eliminate sore throats. It’s soothing scent is often used by people in incenses
Thyme: Another stuffing/turkey flavouring herb. I just included this one because it makes great wreathes and tastes good!! It was considered a symbol of bravery.

The most famous Christmas herbs are Frankincense and Myrrh. Both are dried plant materials, one a pod, the other tree sap, from plants in Africa and the Middle East. Both are highly scented, and modern uses are primarily incense related. If you are lucky, you may find some in your local herb shop!

There are numerous herbal Crafts for this time of year. Find them:
Christmas Tree
Gift Ideas
Lavender Gifts

Catholic Herald Article
Christmas Herbs 1
Festive Herbs
Christmas Herbs 2
Christmas Herbs 3

This site is filled with some wonderful herbal ideas, do take the opportunity to browse through the pages!
Herbal Treats

CAVEAT: I am not responsible for the content of any sites linked to outside of this blog.
I have not had time to read the entire site, so I just show you pages where I think some of the content is interesting OR fun. I do not necessarily agree with the religious opinions, or ideas of the people who authored the sites.

Christmas Herbal Crafts

Make a Pomander


A small orange
Cloves (whole)
Ribbons and small silk flowers

Take your orange, rolling it around until you have softened the skin a little.
Using a toothpick, poke small holes into it, and place the whole cloves, pointy side *in*, into the orange. Try to cover as much of the orange as possible. The orange will be somewhat preserved by the cloves.
You can use a glue gun to attach ribbon around the orange, in a cross pattern. At the top, make a loop with which to hang your pomander. Glue small silk or ribbon flowers around the top, or alternatively you can glue such herbs and spices as you see fit.

Place out of the way to dry and then you can hang it from a tree or carry it around as they did in the middle ages, to ward of noxious fumes!

Make a Herbal Sachet

Small square of lightweight fabric (cotton, muslin etc)
Dried Herbs:
• Rosemary
• Thyme
• Sage
• Mint
• Lavender
• Cloves
• Star Anise
• Nutmeg
• Cinnamon

Into the centre of your small square of fabric, place a mixture of herbs and spices according to your likes and nose!
Bring the corners together, and tie tightly with the ribbon so that there are no openings.
Take your sachet and place in a drawer to scent your clothes, or a wardrobe, bed… or anywhere else you fancy!

Tiny Herbal Wreaths

These can be used in soups and as ornaments… simply wind long stems of herbs around the base of a jar or glass, holding them together either with florist’s wire (if you are making ornaments) or twisting them together by wrapping them around each other.
Voila… a tasty way to liven your soup up!
(This works best with rosemary or upright thyme… or other herbs with long stems.)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sudden Weather

Autumn is a time of change... from the beautiful calm, colourful weather... where skies are blue as can be, and leaves show the many hues of the rainbow, to the mottled greys that accompany a dull rainy day. Not that all rainy days are dull as such!
Take a look at the photos.
One day I have pictures galore of sunny skies (mainly because it was warm so I took myself outside), insects...
This chap was a rather large, charcoal grey thing. He was a good 1.5 inches long, if not longer. The kids were very taken with him and begged me to photograph him. He flew off not much later, much to the disappointment of DD (2).

But back to the pictures... sunny skies, insects, gumballs from the sweetgum tree (affectionately... or rather not so affectionately known as 'those sticker balls' around here, they are responsible for a large number of sweetgum saplings that spring up in March)

and the occasional flower... a slight harkening back to spring, when I saw these speedwells as the harbinger of the warmth to come. Now they are the last to go!
My son (7) discovered them, hidden amongst the foliage of our plant... beneath the rosebush.
These tiny beauties tend not to bloom in the summer at all, but in spring and autumn, they provide a welcome burst of blue colouring!
But again, I digress.
Back to the pictures... beautiful blue skies... large black bugs, autumnal seed pods and colourful flowers... followed by this.
Torrential rain, flooding, overflowing ditches, roads rutted and destroyed!
The garden is drenched, the soil virtually unworkable, and the grass in the paths seems to be the only thing that really likes it. Which is hard because it is the one thing that grows really fast where we don't want it!
The neighbours driveway directed the waters right at us... washing all their gravel into our ditch, which then overflowed and ran down the road beside us... and running off into the hollow at the bottom of our garden.
Between us and our next door neighbours, we

have a road full of gravel in our gardens!
But, like I said. That is the nature of autumn...
Now if only we could manage to go a week or so without rain... but wait... it starts again tomorrow.
3 days is not enough of a reprieve!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Autumn Leaves

Our weather finally caused us to go past peak, but I managed to get a few pictures taken before it happened :)

This is off to the side of the house, and the one below is the other side :)

In front we had colour too :)

And the sunlight... I love the way the trees behind us filter it:

Such a beautiful time of year! There are times when the magnificence of God's creation is never more apparent, and spring and autumn are the times when *I* notice it most :)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

When the Frost...

We all know that it is *that* time of year... and last night, we got our first frost of the season. The weather forecasters had been threatening it for the last two weeks, but it finally hit last night, leaving the cars frosted over this morning when DH left for work.
AS I look out of the window, the sky is that beautiful cerulean blue I love to see at this time of year.
I can hear some birds hiding in the trees, and if I am lucky, I might see the bright flash of a cardinal, or the quick scamper of a squirrel as they search for food.
It is time for us to brave the brazen bird feeder bandit and place the food out for our feathered friends.
Usually there is plenty of food in the garden, I let most of my plants go to seed for the joy of seeing the goldfinches picking at them, but with our recent garden tidy-ups I think it is time to bring out the seed again.
I am not the only one with autumn and cold weather on my mind...
Cay, at Cajun Cottage, has a wonderful post and ode to autumn there.
Alice at Cottage Blessings, posted this wonderful post by her daughter to her garden spot.
Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight, has a great article about one of my seasonal favourites, EGG NOGG!

But I'll leave you with a very seasonal poem by James Whitcomb Riley. 1853–1916

When the Frost is on the Punkin

WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

The husky, rusty russel of the tossels of the corn,
And the raspin' of the tangled leaves as golden as the morn;
The stubble in the furries—kindo' lonesome-like, but still
A-preachin' sermuns to us of the barns they growed to fill;
The strawstack in the medder, and the reaper in the shed;
The hosses in theyr stalls below—the clover overhead!—
O, it sets my hart a-clickin' like the tickin' of a clock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Then your apples all is gethered, and the ones a feller keeps
Is poured around the cellar-floor in red and yaller heaps;
And your cider-makin's over, and your wimmern-folks is through
With theyr mince and apple-butter, and theyr souse and sausage too!...
I don't know how to tell it—but ef such a thing could be
As the angels wantin' boardin', and they'd call around on me—
I'd want to 'commodate 'em—all the whole-indurin' flock—
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Beauty of Autumn

Saturday was beautiful... the sky was that clear blue you can only see in the autumn or spring... the air was warm... with a little chill in the shade.
As I sat in the shade debating whether I should put on a jacket, I looked up. A tiny spider was trying to throw a line of webbing... and failing because of the breeze.

I looked around... many of the trees had begun to turn colour... the poison ivy on our sweetgum is a brilliant red, surrounded by the burnished browns and golds of sweetgum leaves and pods.
The maple tree outside my bedroom window, has some red leaves beginning, and as you walk through the front garden, there is the seasonal scent of pine as you crush the needles beneath your feet.
There are still flowers in the garden. Marigolds hanging on for dear life,

the moss rose pleasing us with it's scent and small blooms- but there are two stars in the garden. The morning glory, which now shows off it's stunning blue bloom all day,

and the pineapple sage... a splash of red amidst the browns and greens of the garden.

The gardens were definitely interesting to the family.
DD was caught nibbling the mint, and both she and her big brother, took great deal of pleasure in hunting for the prettiest of the autumn leaves that lay around the garden, down on the ground.

Hidden in the tomato plants were a few late season tomatoes... which will probably end up as either fodder for the birds or fried green tomatoes!

And who says you can't grow oranges in Virginia? WE can! Admittedly, they are a variety of Hardy Orange... called the Trifoliate Orange. The bushes are hugely thorny... and legend has it that they were the bush from which the crown of thorns was made... or at least one of the bushes it is said was used :)

The roses have produced copious amounts of rosehips... now if only I had a recipe for rosehip jam or something I can use them with!

Our garden has seen it's best days... too many days of rain and too few of sun, have left it to the weeds... and although this picture looks good, you can see the weeds in the path...
So why not weed in the rain? You'll double the problem!

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Autumn Cleanup

It has been a while since I got much done in the garden. Autumn has arrived, and with it, the rain.
The hummingbirds have gone, the flowers mostly dead, and the veggies are harvested.
The garden is just about put to bed.

And I?

Well, I have discovered that Walmart carries everything... even for the little birds ;) For there in the bird seed aisle was a sparrow!

The beaver, heron and fish are all doing well... the beaver making a few appearances recently, much to our relief as we feared he might be dead when we saw a number of them beside the road.

And I have a new herb book... the China Bayles book of Days... worth the read and loads of fun to do it :)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Wildlife Update and a Garden one Too!

The summer is drawing to an end, and the disappearance of the little hummingbird 
who used to sit outside my kitchen window, is an obvious sign of that.
Unfortunately, the mosquitoes have yet to leave...
But the garden and the pond we like to watch are still teeming with life!
A quick trip to the pond the other day, netted us an up close and personal view of the beaver eating... apparently he is rather fond of dandelions... leaves and roots!
His friend the heron stood nearby before flying off to roost for the night... and the ducks, geese and fish are all dab hands at convincing the regular patrons at the nearby Panera's restaurant to give them a morsel... not to mention the sparrows!

The garden is doing well... my Swiss chard is in full leaf, the jasmine is still blooming... and the tomatoes look OK, although I see no more fruit.  I am considering planting a few spinach and lettuce seeds, especially after the recent spinach scare!
We have a few new bulbs to plant, then a garden to tidy for the winter... not long before the cold days settle in now.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Birth of a Cicada

Nature study hit a payoff yesterday, when DS discovered a Cicada coming out of the ground 
getting ready to hatch from his old skin.
Now, this may not seem like a big deal, but when you consider that the things do this only 
infrequently, and that in my DH's entire life living here, he has seen this happen maybe three 
times before, you soon realise that yes, it IS a big deal! 

The first step was to see the nymph coming out of the ground, and climbing to a point where it can shed it's skin.  The nymphs tend to eat roots of trees, and various underground things... there was already an empty skin nearby, so obviously their food source is nearby!

We quickly captured him and placed him in a safe place so we could see him.  He was not obliging enough to change then and there, so we left him overnight, and were greeted with this the next day.

Here you can see the newly hatched Cicada adult, and his discarded skin.

He then proved to be VERY obliging, and posed nicely atop the discarded skin so that I might take pictures from every angle.  These photos are vastly reduced in size, so you cannot see the detail they really captured!

HOW he fit in the old skin I am not sure, but a close look at the pictures of the nymph allow you to see the adult beneath the surface.
About five seconds after this photo, he flew clumsily off to the pawpaw tree for sustenance.  When we saw him still there a few hours later, we shooed him to another tree... lest he defoliate that one (with the pawpaws still in evidence, albeit rather small!)

All we have left now, is the 'dry fly' skin left behind by the growing adult... perhaps a fascinating addition to a nature table :)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Tomatoes galore

Or there would be if the bugs and kids didn't get to them first!
Yes... my beautiful HUGE tomatoes are ripening, and the bugs keep biting them and the kids keep picking the green ones.

That's OK though, because I took the opportunity to make that wonderful Southern dish Fried Green Tomatoes which was surprizingly easy.

Take the green tomatoes your over-eager two-year-old picked, and slice them very thinly, composting the top and bottom slices.
Get a bowl of buttermilk or soured milk (which you can make with a little vinegar in milk) and a bowl of seasoned cornmeal (add salt and pepper to taste).
Heat a 'skillet' (frying pan to those from the UK) and melt a little butter or heat a little oil in there.
Dredge the slices in the milk first, then coat with the cornmeal mixture. Fry on each side until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.
Cool slightly, then eat!!


Also spotted in the garden... a monarch butterfly, suspected of being one of our caterpillars (now gone), a black swallowtail butterfly (also suspected of being one of our disappearing caterpillars) and one lone black swallowtail caterpillar.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Garden Wildlife

The hot summer days seem to have promoted growth in the garden... the bugs are booming, my tomatoes are growing (although not ripening they are definitely HUGE) and new flowers bloom and surprise me! I have spotted a number of volunteer plants in the garden, including this beauty...

A volunteer morning glory. I get them every year, they just somehow appear here... and I never planted any. Not to worry, I pull most of them up, and let just a few bloom!

Dh and I think they are pretty, so it really doesn't bother us too much!

Other willing volunteers in the garden, are BUGS.
I am sure that these guys are up to no good... my field guide says that they eat peaches... I have yet to check ours. I doubt any are left between them and the squirrels!

These fellows are rather friendly though:

not only do they keep the bugs away from us, but they have made friends with the kids...

Up close, they can be absolutely stunning!

He was rescued from the soapy water, rinsed and left to dry... and he actually recovered and flew away!

But the real showstoppers in the garden right now, are somewhat of a pest... these little guys are defoliating my fennel. Trouble is, I LOVE the butterfly that they become!

They are black swallowtail caterpillars, and you'd swear they were my daughter's raison d'etre since she dresses herself in shoes and hat each morning to "See papiwwas" (That's caterpillars in 2 y.o.)
I on the other hand, was much more thrilled to see these fellows on my butterfly weed/pleurisy root. (That's the orange bloom in the photo).

This is a monarch butterfly caterpillar... and pleurisy root is a member of the milkweed family, and a beautiful caterpillar haven. Normally I get some of the questionmark caterpillars on here, but this year, I have monarchs. Now if only they stay there!

Finally, a recent photo of my son's garden... he has done a great job this year!

Friday, July 14, 2006

For the Love of Nature... Part 2

After a while, I spent much of my time in my room reading, separated from nature.

My next nature experience comes from my two final years of school. I took Advanced level biology, and we went on a field trip to Flatford Mill, which is featured in Constable's picture The Haywain. You can read more about it here at

The building on the left (Willy Lott's Cottage) is where I stayed! There we did line transects of the seashore (nice walk DOWN the hill, tough climb back!), a salt-marsh (where one boy got his boot stuck in the mud and had to be rescued by our teacher, much to our hilarity), and a foot-path. We did pond dipping and stream dipping. We hiked around the villages near Dedham Vale, and went to Church in an old Norman Church, which was shared by the different denominations, each attending church at different times.

We walked through fields of cows, watched the ducks outside the classroom window and enjoyed the beauty of nature. I knew then, that I wanted to learn more, and decided to study biology at college.

It didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but after a false start in biochemistry, I transferred to biology and had fun again. We marked the boundaries of robin territories in the winter. We captured small mammals, marking them and then seeing if we could capture more or recapture them, in a population density study.

I watched the rabbits on campus, with their rabbit babies, I saw fungi growing including this rather deadly specimen, the Fly Agaric or Amanita muscaria from the English Country Garden Webpage.

And we went on a field trip to Devon. Here I saw the expanse of Milky Way for the first time, un-obscured by light. I saw glowworms glowing as we walked down to a beach for a bonfire. I did line transects across sand dunes and by a lake, and a quadrat study on top of Dartmoor. (You can download information on Quadrat Studies here) Dartmoor was a wet day, a goodly hike in our wellie boots, with us dodging cowpats (with fungus growing in them) all the way. It was cold, tiring, and fun! We identified local flora and fauna and drew from our microscopes… and I loved it! That year I was supposed to collect flowers to make a flower collection… and I spent hours walking around doing it… only to find my collection went mouldy!

I quit college later to come to the States. Since I have been here, I have started my own flower collection of local flora. I have made it my business to learn the names of the birds and trees that are no longer as familiar to me as the ones from back home.

I have started growing my own herbs and vegetables, as well as various garden plants… and I have spent time in teaching my son and daughter these things too. We set up a bird feeder (and would still have it up if the squirrel hadn’t broken it) and learned the identity of the birds that visit. Just this morning, I was reminded why I let so many of my plants go to seed… for there on my motherwort, sat a flock of goldfinches… at least 6! Humming around my son’s gladioli was a hummingbird. Buzzing through the air were the various dragonflies around… Gradually I am learning the identity of all these strange creatures here in Virginia… the groundhogs, the opossums, skunks and raccoons… all animals I had heard of, but never seen until I came here! And now I remember why, I wanted my son and daughter to be comfortable in nature. For though I rarely climbed trees, and though I never built a fort, I did get to have nature play, and I did get to enjoy myself in the great outdoors.

For the Love of Nature... Part I

A recent reading of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, brought some interesting questions to mind.

I was asked what I did as a child, in nature. Truth be told, I did not think I had done much (especially when compared with the other ladies in the group) but when I thought about it harder, I realized I had done more than I thought.

When I was little, we lived in Essex, England (I’m English, but I live in the States). I don’t recall much about it there, but I do remember the ‘beach’ by the river. I apparently loved the river :)

At the age of four, we moved to Kent. We were not far from my Uncle and Aunt, who had a garden I dearly loved. It was there that I’d sit in the old Elderberry tree, fascinated with the wine my uncle brewed from the berries. It was there that I picked chives and ate them. My brother called it onion grass and was forever picking it (rather like my son now *LOL*). It was there that we helped pick beans, raspberries, blackberries, apples and tomatoes. My uncle had quite the vegetable garden going, and he always gave some to us (something which we children LOVED and anticipated). Perhaps that is where my love of vegetables comes from!

Across the street from them was an old cart track, down which we would walk. I loved to cross the stile (being very careful of the stinging nettles- although I knew how to find the dock leaf remedy for them) and collect snail shells there.

Our own garden was overgrown for a while (our mower broke) and we loved to play ‘jungle’ in the long grass. We were fascinated with slowworms (legless lizards-look below) and other wildlife that congregated there… particularly birds and the neighbour’s rabbit, which we found, loved dock leaves to eat.

Mum took us for walks into town, because we had no car, and our favourite trip, was down by the river. The walk was quite a long one, being a little over a mile, and was very tiring for the short legs that made it four or five miles with all the running and backtracking! We loved the path, the willow trees (under which we hid), and the ducks and swans on the river. When we were lucky, we’d take bread to feed the ducks, geese and swans. In the spring, we’d watch the mother duck with her ducklings, swimming on the castle moat. We’d try to feed the squirrel babies too, but only the mother was tame enough to feed. We’d throw sticks into the weir and watch them tumble over and under the bridge. We’d play ‘Pooh Sticks’ like Winnie-the-Pooh and pretend to be the Billy Goats Gruff when we crossed the wooden bridge.

You can see the town in photos here... they are very good :)

There were horses in the field across the road from us, and occasionally we’d go to pet them or give them a mint to eat.

When I went to school, we’d walk to the bus stop (if we had time), taking the track through old alley ways and dirt roads. The myriad weeds and rocks we saw here were very interesting to us… as was the playground in the alleyway! We only got to stop there on the way back home though!

We had one path TOO the bus stop and one path home from it… making our trips interesting. We commented on the trees in bloom or the other things we saw.

One year, one of my teachers at school started the Countryside Club. To join, we had to learn the names of a number of trees, flowers and birds. I soon got to know most of the trees, flowers and birds that I came into contact with.

When I was 10, we moved. This time, our house was more rural.

There was a field over the road and woods behind the house. In the winter, we’d explore the woods, squealing as the snow dropped down our necks.

There were old abandoned shacks in there, dating back to World War II… in these we found an old mangle, and myriad other interesting things.

In the summer, we’d walk around the field. There was a field beyond it in all 3 other directions, and we’d follow around those too… peering into a pond, looking at the hedgerows.

In May, there were bluebells that carpeted the woodland beyond the second field, and I liked to walk around the woods then. There were tracks, carved out by dirt bikers, but the woodland was old. It was named Badgerdell Woods because it housed a 500-year-old badger sett.

Beyond the woods, you could look down on the towns below, and the motorway (Interstate) that ran along there, and if you turned, you could look back along the fields that you had travelled.

When I walked the dog, I liked to go into the treed area down the street. This connected to the woodland behind the house, if you were willing to traverse all the nettles and brambles in there! There were pits all over, because there used to be a brick works there. Some people had dumped junk into one of them, much to our horror.

I liked to count the small ‘Cuckoo-pint’ plants when walking the dog… they were very obvious in summer when they were covered in berries, and I recall walking along counting how many I saw, competing with my sister to see who saw the most! (In the picture, it has berries).

Our garden was interesting too. Our back, there was an empty lot, which we had the use of. When we moved, it housed two cooking apple trees, gooseberry, blackcurrant, redcurrant and loganberry bushes, a patch of rhubarb and long grass. We played in the long grass, and picked the fruit. Mum made a delicious Summer Pudding with the berries and some bread.

In the spring, I’d pick rhubarb for her to make rhubarb crumble with. This did not occur often as Dad did not like rhubarb, and Mum did not like crumble… *I* however, loved them both!

At Easter time, I’d pick mint for Mum to make mint sauce. I’d hunt underneath the blooming, bubblegum scented, Mock Orange bushes, to see if I could find any. I always did!

Mum and Dad would grow vegetables in containers and Gro-Bags on the patio. Here I’d pick lettuce and tomatoes for them, or various herbs, which were used in cooking. I am lucky enough to have grown up with a mother who was a GREAT cook!

We always had a bird feeder up and a pair of binoculars ready to take a look at the birds there (or squirrels). Bird books were handy too.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Harvest and Garden friends...

In the last week we had our first bean harvest. I lost the pictures for those, but I did get the second on film...

Here they are, fresh picked and washed... ready to top, tail and snap...

And steam gently to serve, tender, but not overcooked. Of course I also had to fix a load that were boiled until falling apart for DH... but that is his preference ;)

While out in the garden, there are plenty of things to see. DS discovered a praying mantis this week... which is probably the mother of the praying mantis egg sack discovered in my Jasmine... they LOVE my Jasmine, and I am not sure why... but I dont mind. They EAT bad bugs ;)

This guy was sitting on an old tigerlily stem when I went out one day. His eyes are the prettiest turquoise colour... and he is a beautiful powder blue. DS was quite fascinate with him and drew him in various positions on the stem and around the garden.

Speaking of gardens, take a look at DS's one! It is full of blooming gladiolii!

Of course DS is fascinated to realise that the term 'Gladiolus' obviously comes from tle Latin for sword, Gladius... understandable really, their leaves look like swords. DS is pulling out some weeds... he definitely has a green thumb!

Finally... a note about our favourite nature spot...

last seen there were some DUCKLINGS... one of them appeared to be trying to eat a piece of wood :o
DH took the kids there the other day without me... while I browsed the bookstore. They managed to feed the fish, see the beaver, geese and ducks and thoroughly enjoy themselves :)
Who said you can't have urban nature study?!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Carnival of Nature Study

One of the ladies from over at the 4 Real Forums has made a blog carnival... the carnival of Nature Study, which can be found here at By Sun and Candlelight. You should definitely go and see it!

And just for fun, here is a poem posted to a group I am on... I thought I'd share :)

The Cold Clear Spring At Nanyang

Li Po

A pity it is evening, yet
I do love the water of this spring
seeing how clear it is, how clean;
rays of sunset gleam on it,
lighting up its ripples, making it
one with those who travel
the roads; I turn and face
the moon; sing it a song, then
listen to the sound of the wind
amongst the pines.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Urban Nature Study

I copied this post from my homeschool blog... for those who don't read it ;)

Sometimes you don’t have to go too far to do nature study… and this was never more apparent than this past weekend for us here.

A trip to the local bookstore has often netted us a glimpse of the beaver that lives in the nearby pond.
This weekend, we got up close and personal with a heron!

The pond is not particularly wild. It has been filled with fish (giant fish) who are fed by the locals particularly those who eat in the nearby Panera Bread restaurant. A family of Canada Geese has been living there in the last few months, raising goslings. A mallard drake has started to hang out there too.
The heron is an old visitor... he has been coming for a few years now... at least since the place was built! You can often see him perched at different spots in the pond, or occasionally on the wall surrounding it.

On Saturday though, he was perched right next to the fence... and he did not fly away when crowds of people gathered around to watch him catch his dinner.
He stood there patiently watching the water. Helpful passers by threw some bread to him, but he didn't care for it. They continued, however, when they realised that the fish did care for it, and the heron cared for the fish.

It is an unfortunate thing for the heron, that the vast marjority of fish in the pond are too big for him to capture. But he waited patiently for the opportunity to get a smaller one... occasionally washing his bill, once or twice diving his head underneath the water, but missing. Truth be told, it was often because the thing he was diving after turned out to be bread... which he spat out.
After a while, he did in fact catch a fish... much to the delight of the crowd... who then groaned in disappointment as he dropped it back into the water. I am sure the fish was relieved though!
I snapped some photos of him... not with his catch, I wasn't that fast! I also managed to get a soundless video using my digital camera!!

But that is not all.
Urban nature study can happen anywhere, anytime.
I love to watch it in my garden. We're more suburban than urban, but still... the point is the same!
This week netted a glimpse of a Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, a couple of sulphur butterflies, and a blue butterfly or two. This is one DS caught the other day in the back garden.

Numerous birds and squirrels hang out at the bird feeder, and it was much to the amusement of the children, when a squirrel jumped up onto the windowsill and peered in the window at us! He did the same trick several times... obviously curious about us all!
Then of course there is the garden. A few 4'x4' squares have been turned into vegetable gardens... I have some tomatoes and beans ripening... and I managed to harvest a number of herbs and some lettuce for my dinner yesterday!

After dinner, we often take the time for a walk... since Mondays are library day, we walk around the town where we go to the library.
We have often seen the squirrels playing here, and both Sunday and Monday gave us a glimpse of the local bunny population.

But... that's not all. In this small town, where we were walking down the street... a deer bounded across the road and into one of the gardens. All DH saw was the white tail flicking, and the car down the street breaking, and it disappeared into the undergrowth of the garden. We never saw a thing even though the deer had nowhere else to go!

My point is this:
Even if you do not live in the country... but perhaps in a town or city... there is plenty of nature for you to study!
(and perhaps even a train or two!!)

Happy Nature Hunting!