Some of you may have witnessed this event called a “murmuration” of starlings- thousands of starlings swirling through the sky in a grand, seemingly coordinated performance. If you haven’t, do watch the video included with this post. I have noticed them more this year than in years past.
With technical photography, scientists are understanding more about the phenomenon. I think its one of natures “trade secrets.”
I am not fond of starlings
But in late autumn
Sometimes they crowd in the treetops
In a chirping chorus
Like a reunion of relatives
With an abundance of news to share
Who knows what stirs these rather uninspiring birds
To gather in in such a cacophony
Then on queue as if the din is too much
They rise from their perches to find positions
In an undulating dance that wafts over harvested fields.
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.
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.
There 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…
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…
Beyond the scope of our perceptions
They live, thrive even
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
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!
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
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.
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
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.
“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 Hesse, Siddhartha
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.
The River Called to Me
With a voice born out of eternity
Fluent in all languages
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.