Of Voles and Holes

Image courtesy https://www.thetimes.co.uk/

If you have country property here in my corner of Oregon, you have probably noticed an explosion of small mammals, including ground squirrels, rats but especially voles this year.  Rodents have population cycles peaking every few years and then falling after the predator population catches up to them.  This is a banner year for voles

Voles are rodents, bigger than mice with smaller ears and short tales.  They are chiefly vegetarians munching on roots, nuts, young plants, and bulbs.  They are proficient tunnelers.  You don’t want them in your garden.

On the positive side, they aerate the soil and distribute nutrients in the soil layers.  My inner biologist recognizes their role in the great circle of life but my outer gardener is extremely frustrated.  I am perhaps the first person to write a poem about vole holes?.  Adding a bit a humor has made the situation in my lawn more tolerable.

Continue reading “Of Voles and Holes”

The Art of The Earthworm

This is a departure from my usual content.  I just posted this on my other blog, One Sweet Earth but I thought it might be of interest to my readers here with an added poem… 

I have always been fascinated with the unseen world of nature that exists beneath our feet or is too small for our eyes to see. Some years back on a forest field trip for my 6th-grade science students, the guide pointed out small mounds covered with small bits of debris on the muddy parts of the forest floor.  I’d seen these before, never giving them much thought.  “Those are earthworm middens,” she said.  HUH?  How did in all my years of natural science and ecology did I miss this one?

The guide informed us that earthworm middens are the entrances of earthworm burrows.  The reason they are built up like little volcanos is they pile their casings (poo) outside and alternately store bits of organic material at the entrance to later come up and feed upon.  In January I came upon in one in the yard with a magnolia leaf sticking straight up from the entrance like a rock from Stonehenge. It appeared that this leaf was too large, tough for this worm to manage.

Continue reading “The Art of The Earthworm”

Trespassing in Nuthatch Territory

img_3614There are many species of birds around the acreage of our country home. I feed them and provide some housing but some find shelter in unlikely places. Recently at dusk, we spotted an avian form fly down and slip through a crack in the slats of our well-house.  “That better not be another starling, “I remarked. Starlings harass the native birds and we often block their nesting sites. We investigated but could not see in the dark recesses. With a gooseneck flashlight made for engine repair, I spied a female nuthatch sitting on her nest looking up at our invasive bright light…

Trespass

As I peer through the hole 

enlarged by tiny pecks

the  bird’s white face gazes up 

feathers spread wide over her nest 

eyes pleading

the dark fortress breached

I leave her in peace

holding close a sacred memory

 

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image coursesty marthastewart.com

An Old Take on Going Viral

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My university education steeped me enough ecology and natural science where I developed a different view about modern humanity and our dismal treatment of our natural environment.  A couple years back I wrote this poem to give myself some comfort (in a sciencey kind of way) that the Earth will be just fine without our presence.  I never shared it until now as it seems so appropriate to the times…

 

 

STARTING FRESH

Beyond the scope of our perceptions

They live, thrive even

Unseen

The precursors of life 

That once rose out of primordial goo

Giving rise to our modern-day selves

In the span of millennia

 

Now they keep house 

In the dark soil

On doorknobs

In the lining of our guts,

Or riding on the currents of air and water 

 

They are the good guys and the bad guys

Working the magic of digestion, decomposition, disease 

Keeping life on Earth in a delicate balance

As they go about their quiet business

While we humans multiply and innovate

Thinking the planet is ours to consume

And ours to fix

 

In the end will come the justice of Nature

Indiscriminate of zealot, terrorist, or model citizen

From microbes, having no other intelligence 

Than the genius of mutation

A plague perhaps, unleashed with a single sneeze

 

Our technology, heroes, and gods will not save us

The Earth will rest, then heal in its time

Nature will learn from her mistakes

And new life will rise

Our presence recorded in a layer of rock

Six inches thick

 

On that note…

Be well everyone and make the most of your social isolation! 


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Pausing for Bumblebees

Covered in pollen in a zucchini flower
Bliss in a zucchini flower

It is the height of summer blooms. Bumblebees are to be found everywhere about my yard.  I find them in the cool of the morning sleeping in flowers, drunk from the previous day’s feeding.  As the day warms I pause to watch them at their work, mindfully probing into pistils within blooms sucking out nectar.

They are especially fond of compound flowers, those in the genus, Compositae, the daisy family, the largest example being a sunflower. These are flowers within flowers.  Look closely in the middle of a dahlia, zinnia, daisy, dandelion sunflower, etc. and you will find multitudes of tiny flowerets surrounded by showy petals. It’s like one-stop shopping for bees.

Bumblebees make up the genus Bombus with 255 different species.  Generally, they are black with varying stripes of yellow and sometime red. They make nests near the ground under logs, duff in small colonies.  They are honey producers but in smaller quantities.

Though bumblebees don’t get as much press as their smaller cousin, the honey bee, they are extremely important pollinators.  Bumblebees are particularly good at it. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, and the beating combined with their large bodies

photo courtesy livescience.com
photo courtesy livescience.com

vibrate flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.  Bumblebees flap their wings back and forth rather than up and down like other bees. Researcher Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology and insect flight expert at the University of Washington likens wing sweeping like a partial spin of a “somewhat crappy” helicopter propeller,

They are gentle bees, single-minded in their work and rarely sting which is good because their sting can be particularly nasty.  I have never been stung even though I sometimes gently pet their fuzzy backs then they are immersed in feeding.  Such sweet bees.

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In Praise of Bumblebees

They probe dreamily in the center

Of pie sized yellow flowers that nod towards the east

Keeping me company

As I work in the garden

 

These tiny winged beasts do their work

Heads up down, up down

Placing in precision their needle-like proboscises

In a sea of stamen and pistil

 

Gentle black creatures

Intoxicated by pollen and nectar

So immersed in their work

My finger can stroke their furry backs

 

I find them in the morning exhausted

Dozing in the midst of flowers

Dusted with yellow

Dreaming bumblebee dreams

 

Buzz and bumble

Find purpose in my zinnias, my dahlias

And sleep until the warmth of a new day

Calls you to your tasks again

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Fun facts thanks to livescience.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of a Different Feather

daiga-ellaby-h43VqtlnV7U-unsplashA cup of steaming tea in hand

From my padded perch with propped up pillows

I gaze out the bay window

Observing morning activity at the feeder

 

Among the usual finches, chickadees, & nuthatches

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Author’s photo

Unusual activity catches my eye

A petite junco carefully feeds seeds to a juvenile robin

Three times its size

 

Wait, this cannot be!

This bird is of another feather

With no natural obligation

But my eyes do not lie

 

This little junco is clearly committedimage2977637_web1_shaw-1

To care for this young robin

As another to its own

From mindful feedings

To standing by at the edge of the concrete bath

As the youngster bathes and drinks

 

I wonder, what is the story of this orphaned robin

And how did it come under the junco’s care?

I would like to think mercy to save another not of its kind

2018_bird_week_15_dark-eyed_juncoI can only conjecture

But still, I find hope

In the actions of this tiny little bird

And its very big heart

 

*Note: According to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, “cross-species” feeding is a very rare thing to observe.  You can read more about it here.

 

 

The Day after Earth Day

April 23  by Alanna Pass

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art by the author

The Earth continues to give

And we take away…

 

Have you thanked the trees

for the house where you stay

and noticed the birds

who light up your day?

Do you bless the soil

that grows your crops

and the wind that cools you

when the land grows hot?

Are you grateful for the rain

that quenches your thirst

and helped the creatures

who lived here first?

 

The Earth continues to give

and we take away

what have you done for the Earth today?

Continue reading “The Day after Earth Day”

The Art of the Cairn

I learned to look for cairns when I began backpacking in the Sierra Nevada at a young age.  Cairns are little towers of stacked rocks to mark the way of a path or trail.  In the Sierras, they are especially helpful when traveling cross-country away from the main trail.  They are a welcome sight on the granite terrain, knowing you are headed in the right direction.

Since my backpacking days, it seems my entire life I’ve been looking for cairns, literal or metaphorical.  Now I build them, usually with my group three other women friends that I been adventuring with for going on over 25 years.  Usually, these are for more spiritual reasons, sometimes to mark the passage of a loved one.  It is a treasured ritual we have adopted.  Below are some of the cairns we have built or come upon.

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The Artful River

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
― Hermann HesseSiddhartha

Over the July 4th weekend we took our annual trip camping up the McKenzie River here in Oregon.  The river has its beginnings at Clear Lake, from springs that immerge from lava tubes at the North end of the lake. It then runs down a steep grade in a series of gorgeous waterfalls & pools before running free. The water is sparkling clear.  Being by the McKenzie River is healing, but being on it and part of its energy in our kayaks is akin to a spiritual experience.

I find peace in rivers, especially the McKenzie. They provide inspiration for my art & poetry.

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The River Called to Me

With a voice born out of eternity

Fluent in all languages

Come

Rest

By my sparkling water

A silver ribbon in a dark forest

 

“McKenzie Rapid”- Gelatin print & stamps over pen & ink. The feeling of being in the midst of a rapid in a kayak is so exhilarating. I tried to capture the energy here.

 

 

jumping salmon tile raku
Salmon Run Raku

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Celebrating Rain and Earthworms

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It rains a lot in Western Oregon.  Until this weekend it has been a wet few weeks.  One can hear a good deal of whining about the weather by this time of year.  For me, I just roll with it.  Knowing we are having adequate rainfall and an average snowpack provides comfort to me in these times of “climate insecurity.”  The lakes will fill, the Salmon will have water to run in and a myriad of creatures and plants will be happy in the dry months yet to come.

Song of the Earthworms

The earthworms sing about rain

While we complain

Jolly songs as they move the soil

With their soft heads

Seeking the sweet aroma of decaying matter

Until they hear the drops fall

Turning to deluge

They turn their sleek, tubular bodies skyward

Toward the light

Emerging from their soil home

To languish in the freedom

Of puddled water laying on the earth

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