Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Prickly, Slithery, Wispy

A number of holly bushes have tucked themselves among the other deciduous trees along the pond route, and I'm eager to see if any of them will produce berries. My understanding is that only the female holly bushes will do so (stands to reason), but I'm not sure how soon to expect the vibrant fruit. (Perhaps late fall if we think of holly as a Christmas decoration?) I snapped a shot of this prickly, shiny specimen to remind myself to keep an eye on its development.

As I did so, I stopped short. A garter snake was sunning itself on the path, and though it was motionless and quiet and "only" a foot long, it still gave me the heebeegeebees. I don't care for snakes. This week promises to be warm and sunny (we hit 82 yesterday), so I might still see these guys for a while yet. Don't tread on me.

The "wispy" part of my day took place both on the ground and in the sky. I'm assuming this is a spider web of some sort, but I haven't been able to accurately identify this cotton-like structure. So curious!

As I walked away from the pond just before dinner last night, a wispy message in the sky reminded me that "God's in His heaven and all's right with the world," no matter how prickly and slithery life may seem.

Monday, September 28, 2015


The pond was an ideal gathering place last night for several families in the neighborhood who wanted to witness the super blood moon eclipse. We quietly lined up along the split rail fence and watched and waited, cameras poised against the periwinkle sky. I appreciated the reverent hush among us, the knowing smiles that said, "I'm glad you think this is something special, too."

I've had a thing for the moon ever since my Nanee and I walked hand-in-hand down the street one September evening long ago, the golden harvest orb hanging bright and low on the horizon. She squeezed my hand and said, "We'll always remember this night, Juni."

Last night's moon crept stealthily into the sky, so much so that at first we didn't notice it. The colors weren't as vibrant in our part of the world, yet it was still something to see. (I wish I could have snapped a decent picture.) Avery and I giggled discreetly at the woman next to us who sighed, "I'm disappointed. I was expecting something bright and unusual."

I got to thinking about expectations. If we hadn't known about this moon, if we hadn't seen online pictures of London's ginormous fiery red blood moon and if we hadn't been told that this was something we hadn't seen since 1982 and wouldn't see again until 2033, we'd all have stopped in our tracks and pointed at the sky and said, "Look at the moon tonight! It's beautiful and so different! I wonder what makes it so?"

And no one would have been disappointed in that.

I suppose sometimes ignorance is bliss. But in my opinion, so is a super blood moon eclipse. No matter how you look at it.    

Saturday, September 26, 2015


I've noticed that as I've walked, wandered, and wondered, I seem to have more and more questions. This has prompted me to seek answers which, in turn, has put me in touch with other naturalists. Sometimes my questions are met with simple answers, and sometimes the answers involve more detail than expected.

My friend Stephanie recently connected me with the Vancouver Area Gardener's Facebook page, which has been very helpful as I work to identify the flora and fauna around the wetlands. Yesterday I shared a picture of this tree, hoping to find out its name:

This afternoon, in addition to learning that this is a cascara tree, native to the Pacific Northwest, I learned that it has medicinal qualities. The bark can be chewed and acts as (ahem) a laxative. One woman shared, "My Gramma used this every spring to cleanse her children." Another added that her family used to peel the bark and sell it. I wonder if they sold it to the gramma whose children needed cleansing? I also wonder if I should tell Avery that the laxative tree is one and the same as her favorite Climbing Tree.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Autumn Fruit

So far I've noticed two apple trees along the pond route. I wish I knew the varieties, but I think the smaller ones must be crabapples. (Aidan and I saw a bin of crabapples at Joe's Place Farms today and that helped jog my apple memory. Which is more like applesauce lately. Ha!)

Last week I observed that some of the fruit had ventured down the lane, and I wondered if it had traveled there with the aid of a curious child . . . or a hungry animal.

The tiny gnawing marks I observed today suggest that it must have been a squirrel (or some other small rodent). The number of windfall (or squirrel-fall) apples increases daily now.

Rose hips seem more vibrant than ever, a deep orange that would probably be called "red-orange" on the Crayola spectrum. Perhaps their vibrancy is due more to the fading surroundings than to an actual deepening of color. Either way, I find the splash of color breathtaking every time I approach a heavy-laden rose bush.

The blackberries have now shriveled to practically nothing. I'll admit I miss the leisurely August days of plucking a plump blackberry or two from the brambles as I walked by, but the skeletal branches do have a beauty of their own.

Here is beauty from decay.
E.W. Teale

Thursday, September 24, 2015

How Much Longer?

Now that it's officially fall, I find myself watching the pond life with a new thought in mind: How much longer?

How much longer will the frogs peek from under their murky marsh covering? How much longer will the geese visit the shores? How much longer will the dragonflies dart and dive over the pond? How much longer will the delphiniums and daisies keep their vibrant colors? How much longer will the apples cling to the branches? How much longer will we startle at the rustle of a garter snake in the grass? How much longer will the squirrels continue to scurry by, mouths stuffed with walnuts?

Sister walked with me again today, and thus far each of these sights have continued to greet us.

Of course sister was eager to get to The Climbing Tree, so we made sure to take some time for swinging and ascending. (I'm still finding moss in her hair.) We also sat quietly on the edge of the pond, hoping the frogs wouldn't scare too easily. (They did. We'll try harder next time.) But we were still able to see their bulging eyeballs floating on the surface, trying to blend in with their sneaky camouflage tricks. "Frogs? What frogs? No frogs here."

Speaking of camouflage, we nearly stepped on a praying mantis as we walked through the bark dust. He gently swayed back and forth at our feet. (Some suggest that this movement is meant to mimic the motion of swaying grasses, further concealing his position.) He blended in so well that my camera wasn't sure what to focus on.

When we got home, sister put a "G" on today's calendar square to note that the geese are still taking up residence at the pond. How much longer?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Like Pearls

I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid
or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following
one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.
Anne of Avonlea

These, to me, are among the more precious gifts of autumn. These simple pleasures, these pearls slipping quietly off a string. Calmly and steadily, with reassuring grace and poise.

The squirrels scampering and scolding, gathering walnuts and filberts with diligence and haste. The ducks dabbling and venturing toward the shoreline, closer than I've seen them before. The tortoiseshell cat crouching near the fence, intently eyeing his next meal. The wild apples mingling in a lovely tangle with the hawthorn berries. The flash of dappled black and white feathers from a large bird that only just catches the corner of the eye (was it a peregrine falcon?).

These are the pearls of autumn, the simple pleasures that have a way of both delighting the senses and calming the spirit. These -- "more than spring's bright uncontrol/ suit the autumn of my soul."

Come, autumn, come. You are welcome here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


The last day of summer. Crisp, clear and bright. Perfect tree climbing weather, so up she went. Until we meet again, dear summer. It's been lovely.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Change to Come

The sky was a cloudless blue this afternoon, a deep, rich blue, unlike the harsher, hazier blue of summer. A pale quarter of a moon hung above the treetops, tentative and wispy. The pond was quiet (save two ducks), and I thought of the words of naturalist Edwin Way Teale as he observed a late September day in the 1950s:

I can sense a change, a shift in balance, a premonition of swifter change to come.
(Circle of the Seasons)

I, too, sensed this shift, this change. Winds blew steadily (a "gentle breeze" according to the Beaufort Scale), causing the reeds and grasses to bow and sway. The pond rippled in reply. Mary Poppins might sweep in at any moment.

Winds in the east
Mist coming in
Like somethin' is brewin'
And 'bout to begin.

That somethin' is autumn, and I'm as happy about it as Jane and Michael Banks having a tea party on the ceiling.

At the same time, I found myself taking in "the lasts" around me as I walked today. I've had my eye on the Queen Anne's Lace for a few weeks now, and only one or two white stalks remain. The others have cupped themselves into little brown bird's nests, bidding a farewell to the blazing days of summer.
This "weed" always reminds me of Anne of Green Gables, with Diana tenderly tucking a sprig into Anne's definitely auburn hair.

This is the very last of the Queen Anne's Lace for the summer.

And you know what that means. The glorious, definitely auburn days are just around the corner.

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Do you know what frogs and ducks have in common? If you answered, "They inhabit wetland areas," you would be correct. You would also be correct if you replied, "They squeak."

I walked just before dusk this evening. The earth was damp and the skies refreshed from the torrential downpours of earlier today. (We've so desperately needed this rain. Yes, I live in Washington, and no, I'm not even kidding. This summer has been terribly dry.) It smelled clean and rich, just as a rather fallish earth should smell.

I breathed deeply and contentedly, and that's when I heard the first squeak. A lone female duck flew overhead, and rather than pelt out the traditional quack, quack of her species, I detected a faint, dainty squeak, squeak. I wouldn't have heard it if she hadn't flown so close to my head. I wonder if mallards always make this sound in flight?

As I approached the pond, I heard the giggling and panting of a couple of young girls out for a jog with their mama. Each one smiled at me as she passed and said, "Hi!" It was a seemingly small gesture, but I so often pass people who don't even make eye contact. The uninhibited interactions with these girls were as refreshing as the rain itself.

The pond was pretty quiet this evening. I only saw a few ducks huddled toward the middle, and the rippling activity near the surface suggested that frogs were lurking and ready to snatch up darting insects. This is about when I heard the second squeak. I slowly approached the marshy edge near one particular run-off pipe in hopes of seeing a frog. They move so quickly, however, that I only heard an odd squeak and a splash before the creature dove into the murk, a pale, ghostly figure revealing that yes, I had seen -- and heard -- a squeaky frog.

There's one bend in the path that I particularly love. It's completely surrounded by trees and shrubs, and for a short time it meanders without the intrusion of human structures like homes and fences. Rose hips and berries add a vibrant splash of color to the scene, and I feel as though Peter Rabbit might scamper into view at any moment. Tonight I stood quietly in the middle of this spot, listening to the raspy song of the hummingbird and then the merry warble of the house finch. The finch hopped among the branches of the wild blackberry bushes, and I remained so still that she sang a song or two without detecting me. (Or, if she did, she didn't seem to mind.)

The sun then dipped toward the horizon, a tangerine ball in a swirl of violet, and the finch said goodnight, her blithe evensong ascending in simple, sincere praise.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wednesday Oasis

September is officially in full swing now that piano lessons have started up again. Although it makes our schedule more busy (and rhythmic), I do enjoy the oasis in the middle of the week. Especially since this oasis is my parents' home which overlooks the woods. Gazing out the kitchen nook windows never ceases to bring a calm to my spirit.

The feeders were alive with the morning activity of nuthatches, chestnut-backed chickadees, and the occasional Anna's hummingbird. As the kids practiced their scales, I poised myself quietly on the deck and reveled in the vibrant jewels of September.

At one point a swallowtail butterfly flitted into view. My dad had just stepped out onto the deck with me, and we enjoyed watching the creature's intricate dance. Suddenly, a hungry Stellar's Jay swept onto the scene. He darted and dove at the poor little thing, and I oh-ed and eeek-ed, hoping he'd remain a hungry Stellar's Jay. I think he did.

The scales and etudes continued, and I roamed about the property for a bit, admiring the cattails and towering maple trees. (My parents brought just one little cattail from my mom's childhood home in Nevada a few years ago, and they very quickly adapted and flourished.) The maple trees are heavy laden with seedpods, already quite brown now, and looking rather fallish.

With a farewell to the pond (and my favorite pond caretaker) I climbed back up toward the house in the warm sunshine to collect my children.

I look forward to observing the weekly fall and winter changes that will take place at our Wednesday oasis. And I'm thankful for my parents who tend it so beautifully, blessing the many who find such a warm welcome, both indoors and out.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Up and Down Wildflower

I had a companion today. Just as the pond world is a different world early in the morning, so is it a different world at 2:30 in the afternoon . . . with a ten-year-old.

Our assignment was to collect a few wildflowers for observation and basic classification. I led her along the path, recalling where certain flowers had been in the past. She didn't care so much about the path. The trees beckoned, and up she went.

The runoff pipes intrigued her, and down she went. A rustle and speedy wriggle suggested that a garter snake had quickly taken refuge in the grass. She eagerly went to investigate. Her view of the wetlands was much different than mine usually is.

But that's a good thing, right? Perspective. Looking through the eyes of a child and such.

We found our specimens, brought them back for observation, and then mounted them in the flower press.

We'll take a peek at our sweet wildflowers in a few weeks. I wonder how much the pond and fields will have changed by then? Autumn will have officially arrived. Oh, joy!

In the mean time, I'll cherish these last few summer-ish days with my own little wildflower.