Archive for the Nature Studies Category

John Muir, Nature’s Visionary

Posted in Book Reports, Nature Studies, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 27, 2016 by Drogo

ON THE WILD SIDE for SEPT. 2016 by Christine Schoene Maccabee

 

Choked in the sediments of society, so tired of the world, here will your hard doubts disappear…and your soul breathe deep and free in God’s shoreless atmosphere of beauty and love.”

– John Muir, 1903

The above quote was part of John Muir’s impassioned invitation to President Roosevelt and Vice President Howard Taft to join him in Yosemite and camp out under the stars. Together they talked about protecting the giant redwoods from timbering, as well as preserving the ecological wonders only Muir, and the natives who had lived there, knew intimately. Upon returning East the Roosevelt Administration created 5 national parks, 23 national monuments, and added more than 148 million acres of woodland to the national forest system. Muir was also founder of the Sierra Club of which most of us are aware and some of us members.

In my 20’s I knew next to nothing about the person of John Muir until I read a book, Baptized into Wilderness, which is filled with many inspiring writings from his years spent as caretaker in Yosemite. How he managed to brilliantly overcome the trauma of living with his tyrannical father, a Scottish Calvinist Minister of the worst sort who beat him daily, is nothing short of a miracle. As Muir wrote in his autobiography,“by the time I was 11 years of age I had about three-fourths of the Old Testament and all of the New by heart and by sore flesh.”

Fortunate to be nurtured by the love of his mother and sisters, and due to his fascination with nature and inventing, he grew into a strong young man, fully determined to make his own way in life once the family moved from Scotland to Wisconsin. Helping to clear land and create their homestead was no easy life, but in his free time, Muir invented all sorts of crazy things made from scraps of iron and wood. At age 22 he decided to show his inventions at the state fair in Madison and was a smash hit with his “early rising machine” which tipped a person out of bed at an appointed hour. His father accused him of the sin of vanity.

He avoided the Civil War on the grounds of passivism while attending the University of Wisconsin, which he dropped out of after his sophomore year, little knowing that 34 years later he would receive an honorary degree, Dr. of Laws, from that same college. With a beard as bushy and long as any had seen, he headed to Canada on foot, “botanizing” along the way. The things of nature were always his first love.

After loosing his eyesight due to a freak accident at a machinery factory, Muir gasped, “My right eye is gone! Closed forever on all God’s beauty.” His left eye also failed, leaving him blind. However, after endless nightmares and despair while convalescing in a darkened room, his vision slowly returned. Muir proclaimed “Now I have risen from the grave” and he forever shunned the work of factories. Instead, he took to further journeys by foot, with his plant press on his back, heading south to “anywhere in the wilderness” which took him through the Appalachian Mountains and swamps of Georgia . He sketched and journaled and pressed plants along the way.

That first long walk of 1,000 miles took him to Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. However, his longest journey by foot, which he called “my grand sabbath day three years long” drew him West, climbing Mt.Ranier, exploring glaciers in Alaska, and ultimately settling in the California Sierras. It was there that he wrote his most inspiring words describing the beauty and wonder of the plant life, animals, boulders, sequoias, and experiencing ecstatic moments at the top of a tree during a hurricane. Muir proclaimed his reverence for all life forms, becoming a “voice for the voiceless”as he worked to convince others as to the need to preserve as much of the untouched purity of the natural world as possible.

Muir’s invitation to go out and become “steeped in the wonder of creation” was not only for people back then. It is still an invitation to us all today. My own life has been shaped by Muir and many other voices for the voiceless ; that is how I have come to write of my own passion to preserve and enhance wild places, allowing even more habitat on our properties and in our backyards .

Fortunately for us there is a monthly meeting of the Sierra Club at our library in Thurmont ! This month we will meet on Saturday, September 3 from 10-12. Do come join us as we work on a variety of projects to help preserve the goodness of our planet for generations to come.

With John Muir’s Vision as our inspiration we can make progress in spite of adversities. If he did it, so can we !

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Christine is a member of Thurmont’s Green Team and a Master Habitat Naturalist. She would be happy to help you with habitat, particularly plant ID, on your own property and can be reached at songbirdschant@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

GOT THE BLUES ? (butterflies)

Posted in Nature Studies, Poems, Rhymes, Riddles, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 16, 2016 by Drogo

ON THE WILD SIDE for July 2016 by Christine Schoene Maccabee

GOT THE BLUES ?

Blues are little sparkling gems of the butterfly world, belonging to the

family of gossamer wings (Lycaenidae), whose local populations

periodically go extinct.” Butterfly Book by

Donald & Lillian Stokes

When I first saw an eastern tailed blue butterfly I was startled. I stood stock still as it opened and closed its small wings, brown when closed, and when opened, well, words cannot describe the beauty of the blue color flashing before my eyes. It sat on a flower for only a few moments, opening and closing its wings in the sunlight as I stood there in awe. I treasure those few moments as some of the most rewarding in my efforts to create habitat for rare and endangered species, and I hope to see more breathtaking blues this summer.

Many years ago I learned of the problems the blues are having with habitat loss ; the Karner blue in New York and the Xerxes blues in California are both victims of urbanization. So when I moved out here on my 11 acres I was determined to plant as much lupine as I could. The entire life cycle of blue butterflies depends on ample lupine, clover, even vetch and alfalfa, all of which are in the legume family. For awhile, I had an entire bank filled with lovely blue lupine which I grew from seed. However, after several years certain other native plants crowded it out and now I must protect the areas for lupine from them, which can be rather intensive work. The flowers and leaves of lupines are beautiful, so it is well worth the effort !

The good news is, blues can also carry out their entire life cycles on clovers,

even white yard clovers, and clovers grow easily on their own. So now, on my property, in small islands throughout the lawn, I am allowing clovers to grow. They must not be disturbed, as possibly eggs are being laid on them, and larva are feeding on them. As well, tiny ants are protecting them. ANTS ? ! you ask. Yes, ants are critical for their survival. This is another one of those little known essential symbiotic relationships most people are not aware of but which is absolutely fascinating, as most things natural are. Let me explain…

Briefly, the larvae of blues secrete a sweet honeydew from their abdomens to which ants are attracted for feeding. The larvae also have glands all over their bodies which secrete amino acids, a component of protein, which the ants can get simply by stroking the body of the larva with their antennas. Due to this, ants protect this food source by repelling insect predators and parasites which would do harm to the caterpillars. In a study made of this peculiar association it was found that 4 to 10 more caterpillars survive in the presence of ants. Great odds I would say !

So, you who have a terrible aversion to ants, just know that they are one of the most important and amazing eusocial insects in the world and deserve our respect. Even though some are considered agricultural and household pests, in the right place ants “bind together many terrestrial ecosystems”, according to the esteemed Edward Wilson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book ANTS. Personally, I work around ants, and only on a rare occasion might I kill one.

Back to the blues. I do get the blues when I see all the clover mowed down in huge yards where nobody ever walks. Bees love them also for their nectar, so clovers serve multiple purposes. However, here on my property I must deal with the “mower man”, and I do. This summer I am creating “Blue butterfly zones” and am soon to laminate signs with a picture of a blue butterfly on it to be placed on a stake in the middle of its clover habitat. If you have the heart to do this as well, and a mower man who will accommodate your interest, then do it. I suggest having several patches, not just one, and encourage neighbors to do so as well. That way there is not as much habitat fragmentation and the butterflies and bees can easily fly from one patch to another.

On many occasions I have seen the tiny pygmy, or elfin blue butterfly (as I call them), so I suspect it may be fairly common. It is no more than a half inch wide and has powdery blue wings. Insects are quite clever at surviving in spite of habitat loss, and it seems the smaller they are the better. Larger ones, such as the Monarch, have a longer life cycle and since they migrate need lots of habitat. Most blues are usually about the size of a quarter, but are still in need of plenty of clover or lupine to thrive. Perhaps I will grow a patch of alfalfa next summer and see what happens.

Nothing important in life is ever accomplished if we are complacent, or indifferent. We can sit around angry, or depressed, singing the blues all our lives, or we can do our small part to help protect a fragile ecosystem right in front of our eyes. It might not happen overnight, but someday you might be lucky enough to see a gossamer blue butterfly float out of no where and land on a clover in your yard. That moment of pure beauty will confirm for you, as it did for me, the importance of doing something, and never giving up.

Christine is a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in the Catoctins. She welcomes feedback, so if you see a blue butterfly, or wish to speak with her about your own concerns or interests, do contact her at songbirdschant@gmail.com

Even if you look closely at your clovers, you ay not see these larvae as they are no more than a third of an inch long, but goodluck trying. Perhaps you will find a fourleaf clover.

Swallows Are Back!

Posted in Nature Studies, Poems, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 29, 2016 by Drogo

ON THE WILD SIDE for June, 2016 by Christine Schoene Maccabee

The Swallows Are Back !

“Birds, the free tenants of land, air, and ocean,

their forms all symmetry, their motions grace…”

James Montgomery, British Poet

I often wonder how many other people feel a thrill when the swallows return to our area in early May. In late April this year I began to watch for them with high expectation. Every year the swallows are drawn back to my home like a magnet, much to my amazement and joy. Their nest of mud and grasses, lined with soft feathers, is perched in a corner of the eaves of my A-frame house. Due to the strength of this nest, and how well it is “glued” to the wood, it has lasted through many a fierce storm. It is the second nest the swallows created there in more than 20 years, the first one falling down just a few years ago. That particular spring, upon their return, they built another strong nest in the very same place, and I expect it to last just as long as the other one.

The first sign of the return of my feathered tenants is their excited chirping, and my day is immediately happier upon hearing them. They sound like they are having a lively conversation, which I guess they are, and my loneliness is displaced by their cheerful company. Since arriving here several days ago, the mated pair has been zooming all day through the skies eating whatever they can find. Every spring and summer they keep my atmosphere completely free of mosquitoes, so no Zika Virus here ! However, due to all the rain and cool weather this spring, the flying bug population is not so great yet. Hopefully the birds had plenty of food while traveling north after wintering somewhere in Mexico or some country in South America. Some swallows winter as far away as Argentina !

I wish I knew my swallows’ entire story, but at least I do know part of their story here in northern Frederick county. I have seen mothers, and fathers, sitting on their nest until the babies hatch. Thereafter the wonderful partnership of the parents continues, taking turns feeding the nestlings, and themselves. It takes a lot of energy zooming around all day. It is a true joy to watch them fly far out over the fields, gathering what they can at lightening speed, and then bringing the food back to their eager nestlings. Usually there are four young ones, and once these fledgelings leave the nest the mother and father occasionally settle down to raising 4 more.

Birds, as we all know, are amazing creatures. We humans are fascinated with both their flight, and their songs, not to forget their amazingly artistic colorations. Many a poet has written eloquently about them and artists such as Audubon have painted detailed representations of them (more than 1,000 to be nearly exact!). Songs like “The Little Red Lark”, an Irish ballad, portray their amazing flights and songs, and airplanes were invented as we grounded humans decided we too had to fly. This idea may or may not have been a good one. After all, birds are following their natural inclinations, whereas humans do not, and we are definitely polluting our planet with all our unnatural contraptions, are we not ?

So, perhaps that is why I am so mesmerized by birds, particularly the swallows. They are so small, seemingly so vulnerable, and yet they can fly such long distances with the greatest of ease. In fact, once here, it is estimated they can fly the equivalent of 600 miles a day in quest of food for their young, according to the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds. So how is that possible ? you ask.

In my research I have learned, as many of you likely already know, that birds are very light (as light as a feather in fact) due to the fact that their bones are hollow and filled with air. Also, according to a book on Natural History by Bertha Parker, connected with a bird’s lungs are tiny air sacs scattered throughout its body. These air sacs act like tiny hot-air balloons ! Therefore a typical swallow weighs far less than a mouse, lizard or frog of the same size. A birds streamlined body is another help in flying. Humans have tried to mimic these qualities, the closest coming to gliders of various types, and hot-air balloons. I will not say anything about all the other larger, costly, heavy planes, especially of war, which have completely digressed from Nature’s perfect plan.

So, back to feathers. Feathers also serve the purpose of protecting birds from rain and cold. They shed rain because they are a little oily and the intricate parts of the feathers are cleverly put together in lovely, serviceable patterns. Feathers also keep the birds body warm, trapping the heat ; think of your down sleeping bag. This winter I remember telling my chickens to huddle close and keep warm, as I closed them up for the night in their unheated coup. I even worried a bit, but they weathered the cold winter beautifully as they are fully and thickly feathered.

I am in total admiration of birds in general, and sometimes I wish I were as free as they are, unfettered by coats and boots and layers of clothing, and independent of automobile expenses. I envy them for their ability to fly and feed themselves without growing their own food or going into a grocery store.

However, as Popeye so wisely said, “I yam what I yam, and tha’s all what I yam”, and there is no escaping that fact ! I do rather like having two strong legs, and arms I can reach to the sky with, giving praise for all the wonders of life. I am also thrilled to have my swallows back here for another season. I will miss them when they gather to go south in August, and I can usually tell when the time is coming by all their excitement as they zoom around my house with their happy, chirping fledgelings, full grown by then, and fully independent. Sigh.

I wish I could fly free as a bird, and be light as a feather !

Christine is a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist and can be reached at songbirdschant@gmail.com with any questions or stories of your own.

Retrieving Joy

Posted in Nature Studies, Poems, Rhymes, Riddles with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2014 by Drogo

Retrieving Joy

Muddy waters let rest will settle.”

( old oriental axiom )

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A dear friend of mine told me recently that he felt like he was getting his Joy back after many years of difficult occurrences in his life, including deep sorrow upon the death of his child. Indeed, it takes a good while to begin to feel an ounce of joy after multiple traumas in ones life, especially if one unsettling thing after another occurs.

Today as I went out the door of my cottage, after a pretty good nights sleep, I felt something strangely like peace. As I went through the wild flower path to the house for coffee, I pondered this feeling, realizing that it came from having no extreme problems lately, imagined or real. Perhaps the muddy waters are settling, and things are clearing up a bit.

Coffee in hand, I went back through the wildflowers which I allowed to grow in profusion from the soil of the fire here over one year ago, a fire which completely obliterated my plans for joyful activity. As I sat in my chair on the cottage deck, I looked at the many wonderful colors…blues of chicory, purple of thistle and clover, white of daisy flea-bane, a tall spiky splash of burnt orange of the broad-leaf plaintain seed-stalks and all the green leaves in between. Rejoicing at the variety of pollinators going from flower to flower, I thought “such a work of art Mother Nature has provided from the burnt-out soil !”, and the burnt-out soul. This part of my gardens I allowed to go totally wild in the aftermath of the hellish fire which incinerated my yurt and years of precious writing, pictures, clothes, books, important documents, sacred items, etc.. My life was thrown off to such a degree that I had little peace and rarely joy.

Displacement and loss is a reality in many people’s lives, creating trauma and stress. No one understands except the person in the middle of the problems, and when one trauma after another after another keep socking you in the gut, you can loose your center. Extreme sadness, fatigue, compounded with multiple triggers, as well as a grandiose effort to recover, to catch-up and get your life back on track, consumes your daily life. Besides that, if the people you live with are also dealing with their own issues, they likely have little tolerance for your expressions of grief and loss of good health. It is a stew pot of unsavory flavors, so eating wholesome foods becomes essential for recovery, and recovery is slow. Some days recovery does not even seem possible.

I will not go into all the setbacks I had before the fire, as that would take a book. All I know is that today I felt a settling. Perhaps that is because I have had no huge difficulty lately. Could it be the universe is giving me a break, a much needed one ?

Perspective has never been a strength of mine, but through all the problems I always had a glimpse and infrequent moments of true joy and peace, especially through the restorative beauty of nature, as well as music. The nurture of bird songs, the feel of the breeze on a hot day, the colors of wildflowers and the taste of wild berries all are healing for me. Without the world outside my door, I would be lost indeed.

This day I sat in my chair upon awaking and watched my two resident barn swallows zooming through the air, frequently resting under the roof eave where their nest used to be. They too suffered a huge loss one month ago when their old clay nest that had been there for at least 15 years gave way to a huge wind and fell to the tin roof of my porch. It broke my heart to see this happen to my faithful little swallows, as I believe the female was ready to lay her eggs. Every year they fly up here from South or Central America and have 2 broods, only to return in August as a larger family.

Much like me, their little lives were drastically thrown off. For awhile they disappeared, likely looking for another spot to nest. I missed their cheerful chattering and the constant swooping high in the sky for winged insects, like mosquitoes and gnats. Sometimes I think they simply flew for the joy of it. In fact, I am sure they did. Just watching the swallows always brought me Joy.

As I type my thoughts, these energetic birds are still swooping and chattering excitedly. Perhaps today they will begin to rebuild where the old nest had been, much as I did after my fire. Perhaps they looked for, but could not find, a better place. Selfishly, I hope so. Time has passed, and if for awhile there are no more storms, or fires, or falls, or traumas, perhaps we can all return to our happy little lives, chirping and singing and spreading our wings to fly, and to sing again, with JOY !

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~ Christine Schoene Maccabee

July 8, 2014

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Beards and Naturalism

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, Green Fashions, Nature Studies, Pagan, Religions, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2014 by Drogo

To me there has always been a clear connection between facial hair and Naturalism. My theory is that throughout recorded history, men grow beards to defy the fact that they could shave it off with a razor and look more feminine; usually to rebel against the social norms of shaving and assert their manhood and / or be more in tune with Nature.

There is a reason that barbarians that lived wild with nature had facial hair and industrious Romans did not; and there is a reason that when ancient Rome became more intertwined with barbarian cultures, that it became popular in Rome to wear beards! The more industrial a society or culture, the more they will want uniformity for the wearing of helmets (chin straps and gas-masks), stream-lined mechanical safety, and uniform equality for those that cannot grow facial hair thickly or completely (like boys, women, and some men).

Facial hair, like other hair, is considered by many of us Pagans to be a spiritual connection with Nature and the Gods and Goddesses of Nature and Nurturing. Consider that after many terrible industrial wars it has been popular for veterans to grow beards. Famous Naturalists like John Muir, H.D. Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and even Emerson (in old age) all had beards for obvious anti-industrial reasons.

Even those that grow a beard because they are ‘too lazy to shave’ are more harmonious with Nature by allowing their beard to grow, and not artificially shaving it off. Also there are many religious, spiritual, philosophical, and personal reasons for having beards. So before you judge people based on ‘un-fashionable trends’ that you perceive, consider that it may be more or less significant to the person with more hair.

jesus hippy

Skullcap Herb

Posted in Food & Drink, Medical, Nature Studies, Organic Gardens, Spiritual with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2013 by Drogo

401px-Scutellaria_lateriflora_01

Scutellaria lateriflora, blue skullcap, mad dog, blue dog – a hardy perennial herb of the mint family (Lamiaceae) native to North America

After taking skullcap for 3 weeks, I have much praise for its magic mental powers of tranquility. I bought a small bottle of ‘Oregon’s Wild Harvest’ Skullcap organic pills. Rather than swallow the pills whole and letting the thin capsule dissolve in my stomach, I open them and pour the dried powder of ‘100% skullcap tops’ onto my tongue and then swallow. It takes like tea flavored flour.

The psychoactive chemicals in skullcap cause a mild euphoric high, much like tea or coffee without the negative withdrawal effects of caffeine; and instead of the heart-racing diuretic stimulation, Skullcap has an opposite calming effect. Skullcap may be more like eating a similar small portion of cannabis, for the reasons described. I believe Skullcap is not strong enough to cause accidents, as when I was driving my traffic and weather anxiety seemed to over-ride any calming effects while driving. When I am sitting or walking, I do feel a bit buzzed, but the effect may have something to do with my desire to chill out and relax as well.

The Skullcap bottle cost about $10, and after taking an average 3 pills daily and giving some away I still have half a bottle left. It seems to give me a bit of help in training my mind to be more meditative, and create a peaceful state of being. This is not a paid advertisement for this product, but I can honestly say that I desire to take the pill when I go hours without it. If it is addictive, I feel it is in the same way that Cannabis is, in that I can go without it safely, but it feels nice when I use it.

Skullcap bio-active compounds:  flavonoids, baicalein, wogonin, wogonoside (anti-histamine, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-cardiac stress)

Blackberry Cove Herbal Book

Posted in Book Reports, Food & Drink, Medical, Nature Studies, Organic Agriculture & Horticulture, Organic Gardens, Pagan, Trips, Walks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by Drogo

BLACKBERRY COVE HERBALS

West Virginia Wise-woman healing with wild herbs in the Appalachian Mountains; according to organic, rural folk-traditions.

BookCover-frontBC Cover 3

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2nd Edition (Full Color):  Paperback book

2nd Edition (Full Color Illustrated):  Kindle ebook

2nd Edition (Greytone Illustrated):  Paperback book

3rd Edition (Text Only):  Kindle ebook