Nature’s Heart

I believe I have mentioned my little one has gotten big enough to go on longer walks with us now.  We talk, and for once I’m not staring into my iPhone.  Around a creek we make a circuit, simply enjoying nature, as we delight in her mysterious, fresh, earthy smells.  Right now is a very precious time because autumn in Dallas is such a fleeting season.  The leaves on our many trees are turning red, orange, and yellow.  As we walk, the wind will gently blow a few down to earth in front of us, laying them at our feet like precious gems.  We have found acorns, pecans, and different types of seeds and pods from trees which I lament I do not know.  There is a little bridge we cross over where we like to pause and reflect.  I told my little one that creeks were the highways for wildlife, and she was fascinated as I explained to her that they used them to traverse the city, seek shelter, and to eat and drink.  I have seen coyotes, owls, raccoons, turtles, songbirds, possums, armadillos, hawks, and tree rats — which frankly are adorable.  We have heard the rustle of frisky squirrels chasing each other around the barks of large trees, and have witnessed the majestic sight of a predator bird’s broad wings spread gracefully in ascent.  When the creek is high we have heard ducks quacking, and this time of year we have seen the V-shaped flight of wild geese silhouetted against the sunset.  Having a child has helped me rediscover slowing down and savoring time … especially outside.  We have examined rocks and felt the first chill of fall in the air.  It’s a time to tune out and tune in, to feel alive and savor the wonders of Mother Earth.  My little one found this leaf on the ground and handed it to me exclaiming, “Mama, look!  A heart!  I want you to have it.”  “Thank you so much!” I said, thinking she already had mine the moment I knew I was carrying her.  John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the United States once said, “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.”  I hope we all remain close to nature’s heart.

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Batty

In my little one’s class right now they’re studying bats.  I love that there was a poll taken on whether they’re creepy or cute and cute won.  Bats are mammals whose forelimbs form webbed wings, making them the only mammals naturally capable of true and sustained flight.  I find that fascinating.  After rodents, bats are the second largest order of mammals, representing about twenty percent of all classified mammals worldwide.  Bats mostly feed on insects, but some, such as flying foxes, eat fruit.  Bats are present throughout most of the world with the exception of extremely cold regions.  They perform vital ecological roles of pollinating flowers and dispersing fruit seeds.  Bat dung has been mined from caves and used as fertilizer.  It is a shame that in many cultures they are associated with darkness, death, witchcraft and malevolence.  Bats have incredible senses and their echolocation is a perpetual system where ultrasonic sounds are emitted specifically to produce echoes.  By comparing the outgoing pulse with the returning echoes, the brain and auditory nervous system can produce detailed images of the bat’s surroundings.  This allows them to detect, localize, and even classify their prey in complete darkness.  Incredibly, bat ears are so sensitive, they can detect the fluttering of moth wings and the movement of ground-dwelling prey like centipedes and earwigs.  I used to joke under my breath that my mother had the hearing of a bat.  To which she would reply from another room, “I heard that.”  The Nobel Prize winning American novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “I like to listen.  I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people never listen.”  I think that holds true today.  I know I have formed opinions and like expressing them.  However, I think I shall strive to listen and become more batty.

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Nature’s Recycler

Because of my deep love of wolves, I have often wondered how some animals throughout history have been chosen to be demonized while others have been revered.  It seems to have carried over in our collective conscious for centuries.  Even the animals that are eaten vary around the globe.  My feeling has always been why is one life more valuable than another?  That is also why I love St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment.  I think he gave animals far more credit than most and famously preached a sermon to the birds.  Speaking of birds, I have noticed a lot of decorations going up for Halloween with crows, owls, and vultures.  I know different stories around the first two from Native American culture and they do involve the spirit world.  Perhaps their stories and myths made their way into Western culture.  I also realize people can be repulsed by vultures.  We saw one soaring recently and I explained to my little one they simply ate animals that were already dead.  They don’t kill; they just clean up the mess.  They serve a vital purpose in our world and I think they are interesting creatures.  “Mama, like recyclers!” she exclaimed and decided they were cool.  Then today I came across this young fellow as he was feeding on a squirrel some thoughtless driver ran over.  He was just doing his job and surviving and I stopped to talk to him.  He never moved and watched me with a keen eye.  Finally he resumed eating and I got the shot you see here.  If that poor squirrel had to die, I was glad to see its body was being used to nurture another one of God’s creation.  The only positive quote I could find about vultures was from the American lead singer of the new wave band Blondie.  Debbie Harry said, “I’m a culture vulture, and I just want to experience it all.”  I really like that.  We fear what we don’t know — much like our friend the vulture:  nature’s recycler.

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Solace

As you can see from this picture, we have a small pond in our side yard.  A great wolf presides over it all while St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment, looks on.  It is so peaceful to come out and feed the koi (and I presume the toads as well) while listening to the gently soothing sounds of the waterfalls.  With the advent of our privacy fence, however, it has become a true source of solitude.  We can sit and relax in peace as we enjoy being outside unseen on our own little piece of land.  There is something about it that is freeing, although I cannot adequately describe it.  The first President of the United States, George Washington, said, “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations.  Cultivate peace and harmony with all.”  I can say I honestly strive toward having good faith and justice towards all.  But to cultivate peace and harmony, I believe it must begin from within.  That is what our little pond does for me.  Despite the stresses of the day; the problems and challenges; I know I have a place which I can always go … and it offers me solace.

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Well Hello Toads!

Much to my husband’s seasonal torment, I am delighted to say that for years now our pond has attracted toads.  At first I thought they were frogs but I have since discerned the difference.  I love to hear them at night (my husband does NOT) and there is an even greater joy in seeing countless tadpoles in the water covering the rocks like tiny black dots.  Few will survive into adulthood.  I realize that is nature but I still pray for them all.  As for their parents, once a cycle has completed they will start up their nightly chorus again.  We are not overrun with amorous amphibians; I believe that is nature’s way as well.  But we have been blessed to have several generations now and the whole processes is amazing to watch.  I should qualify that my pet peeve is the word “amazing.”  Clothes do not qualify as “amazing.”  Food most definitely does not qualify as “amazing.”  And shortcuts (do not even get me STARTED on the word “hacks”) do not qualify as “amazing.”  The word has been so misused and overused I will go so far as to say I have not used it in my daily blog of over a year and a half so much as once.  Suffice to say I do not use the word lightly.  Now that I’m writing I realize at some point I have blogged about the toads, tadpoles and babies.  I suppose I would have placed it under the nature column as I have done here.  The funniest story ever is when my husband “rescued” a pair of toads that were on top of each other.  “The big one was saving the little one from drowning!” he innocently exclaimed and I wondered how we had ever had a child.  I instructed him to put them down IMMEDIATELY and to just leave them alone.  Of course I always pick them up, pat them, and kiss them before sending them on their way.  As the Scottish writer Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, once said:

“It’s never the wrong time to call on Toad.  Early or late he’s always the same fellow.  Always good-tempered, always glad to see you, always sorry when you go!”

Anytime I am lucky enough to encounter them I always begin by saying, “Well hello toads!”

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A Green Thumb

Since I do not seem to be a very prolific gardner, I thought I might convert our vegetable garden (read dead plants) into an herb garden.  Possessing my father’s tenacity, I refuse to fail … I just thought I might simply try a different method.  Behold!  You my friends are looking at my humble herb garden in all its raised glory!  It might be hard to discern, but at the very back are scallions (I ADORE them,) and on both the left and the right sides are spinach.  I forget what type they are; I was stunned when a neighbor of ours called them out by name.  I was doing well just to know they were spinach.  In the very center you will see mint growing, which I love for tea … and for “killing” the taste of water.  To the left underneath are some rather scrawny oregano plants (I’m trying) and to the right in the bottom corner is a type of “creeping” rosemary.  Completing our somewhat circuitous clockwise circuit in the upper right corner is my solitary oregano plant.  It is all organic, from the plants, to the fertilizer, to the soil.  And they are all still managing to survive in the merciless Texas heat and despite my novice clumsiness.  It may seem paltry, but it is a lot for me.  The American vegan physician and creator of NutritionFacts.org, Michael Greger, said, “Ounce for ounce, herbs and spices have more antioxidants than any other food group.”  So my family may not have any vegetables from our garden as of yet, but at least they will have herbs.  Since I have apparently failed with our vegetable garden, I hope to be more successful with our herb garden.  And, in the process, maybe I will be able to grow a green thumb.

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A Living City

There is something so peaceful about watering the garden.  Mostly I just have container plants and the sprinklers take care of the lawn.  But I love the fresh smell of damp earth stirred up in the early morning air.  I like watching the water sluice in rivulets down the spines of the ivy leaves and plop in fat droplets from our rose bush.  It is my time of quiet contemplation and a brief chance to connect with Mother Earth.  I also never know who will turn up.  This picture was on top of our swing (I finally have the ivy trained to go all the way up and over the trellis!) and this sexy boy agreed to let me capture him in a photo.  I had just caught him with his throat popped out trying to impress a lady who was watching him coyly from the ground below.  I do not see “doodle bugs” as prevalently as I used to as a kid, but when they’re around I never fail to pick them up for a moment to say hello.  It’s the same with “June bugs.”  I made my daughter hold one (she thought they looked gross) and explained to her that they were harmless and really quite interesting.  I then launched into a discussion about scarabs and watched her revulsion lessen just a touch.  I have seen lady bugs, earthworms, and garden snakes as well as butterflies, spiders, geckos, dragonflies, caterpillars, bees, ants, and moths that I can readily recall.  It is always an unexpected joy to see who will turn up.  We have some resident toads which I regularly like to pat … OK, and kiss.  Once I inadvertently made this huge, macho repairman working outside issue a shrill scream worthy of a teenage girl at a boy band concert.  Apparently he was scared to death of them.  I love this quote by the American marine biologist and National Geographic explorer, Sylvia Earle, who said:

“Look at the bark of a redwood, and you see moss.  If you peer beneath the bits and pieces of the moss, you’ll see toads, small insects, a whole host of life that prospers in that miniature environment.  A lumberman will look at a forest and see so many board feet of lumber.  I see a living city.”

That is exactly how I feel every time I am outside … I see a living city.

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Pat the Bunny

There was a “free dress day” at pre-school and apparently there was also a petting zoo.  This was a dream come true for my baby doll who has repeatedly said she wants to be a veterinarian.  She has been reared among multiple animals and has inherited a familial love of all creatures.  She also seems to have what I lacked, the ability to steel herself against death, and she seems to have a more scientific mind.  I believe there is every chance she could stick with her desire of becoming a veterinarian.  I have personally always felt it takes a smarter doctor to diagnose animals, as they cannot communicate the way humans can.  As a child everyone said I should be a vet, but I always knew I did not have the guts.  Our sensitive child seems to possess a steely side required for medicine which I lacked and frankly, which I envy.  She has my way with animals but appears to have a scientific bent which I never really had.  My poor husband literally almost passed out upon just HEARING the word “cervix” when I was trying to get pregnant.  In fact they kicked him out of the room.  But recently we watched our five year old witness a blood draw on one of our wolf hybrids with deep interest.  My husband, who could not even see, looked a horrid greenish yellow and as if he could drop at any second.  Because I went through two rounds of in vitro, I have a personal (and sickening) experience with “fishing” — which is what I call when the aid cannot find the vein in which to draw blood.  Normally vet techs take animals “in the back” but they know that is NOT possible with our wolfies.  Once they were separated and their howling literally shut down the entire practice.  So they brought it all in the room and our little one was front and center — watching everything up close with rapt attention.  I am not particularly squeamish but they were fishing in our girl’s jugular to draw her blood and the memories made me physically ill.  Finally they found her vein and were able to draw several large vials of blood.  Our little one pronounced the whole thing “fascinating” and our wonderful vet said she also knew at an early age what she wanted to be.  She told our little girl that when she turns fourteen she will have an internship at her practice!  Once we got in the car my little one said, “Mama, I WANT that internship!”  And I said, “OK!”  I will say I knew I wanted to write as early as the second grade, but that was when I was about seven.  I guess we will just wait and see.  The American actress and former model AnnaLynne McCord said:

“Before I was going to be an actress, I was going to be a veterinarian!  I thought I was one as a child.  I was the kid who was like, ‘Daddy! I want a kitty!  It needs a mommy!’  And my dad was such a sucker.  Every time I would beg, with tears flying down my face, about how this animal needs love, needs a home.  He would cave.”

For now, I’m content that our little one simply wants to pat the bunny.

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Creeping Up On A Lion

I have always been a lover of ivy, both as a ground cover and as a wall climber.  One side of our house has English ivy on the ground, and, much to my great excitement, we have just planted fig ivy to go up the walls.  And yes I had every nook and cranny inspected as I realize many believe it to be detrimentally invasive.  I have never cared for our old brick from the sixties and I think the ivy will look lovely and elegant, in addition to further insulating our home … hence lowering our electric bills.  There is one type of ivy of course I can certainly live without — poison ivy.  We had an abundance of it growing on our old fence when we moved in and I was too stupid to know what it was.  I believe it was at our housewarming party shortly after we were married that I discovered the lush, dense vegetation of which I was so proud was in fact the dreaded poison ivy.  My sweet, new southern aunt-in-law pulled me discreetly aside and said (even though she knew with certainty,) “Sugar, I think this is poison ivy!”  And the two of us just stood together gazing up at six feet of poison ivy from top to bottom; running all the way across the entire back length of our house.  I must have looked stunned because I will never forget she put a consoling hand on my shoulder and said, “Well, it is the FINEST poison ivy I have ever seen!”  I still laugh when I think about how terribly gracious she was and how very grateful I was just to know!  Normally I love the number three but I have learned to steer clear of the stuff.  The first time I got it I foolishly took a hot bath … and it spread.  I wound up at the doctor with several shots in the rump, armed with two weeks’ worth of anti-biotics, plus anti-itch cream.  For whatever reason the only nut I have never cared for is the cashew; I have no idea why.  But I did come across this quote by the American novelist Kate Christensen, which I found fascinating:

“A relative of poison ivy and poison sumac, the cashew contains the same rash-inducing chemicals, known as urushiols, as its kin.”

I still am learning about plants, but I am proud to say I have discovered about creeping up on a lion.

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The Daily Bread Of The Eyes

I came out of a store and looked up to see this glorious sight.  Usually Texas has a light blue sky but I prefer the vivid dark blues of New Mexico.  I stood still, looking up and reflecting upon how this was the best of both.  Fluffy white Texas clouds mixed with my beloved darker blue.  Things have not been running so smoothly around our house lately and I have felt overwhelmed and inadequate.  It seems no matter how hard I work and try I always fall short.  I had been hauling 40 bags of mulch in several trips and was exhausted.  I’d made the decision to have our sprinklers cut on one side of our house.  I gave thought to our water bill, the environment, the foundation of our home, and what would need to be hand watered from now on.  I was stained and sweaty but this sight stopped me short.  As I stood there motionless others looked up as well, and for a few moments in time I felt a calming peace as well as a sense of camaraderie with others who probably had busy lives and problems just like me.  It was a respite for the soul.  The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.”  I had never thought of it in those terms.  It made me realize I look up at the sky every day:  either to glimpse the sunrise, admire the sunset, wonder about the weather, watch birds in flight, or to take in the beauty of the night’s stars.  I do not believe I shall view the sky the same way ever again, regardless of its color — blue, grey, purple, red, orange, yellow, pink, black, white or silver.  It is the daily bread of the eyes.

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