On Bringing Nature Home

My first purchase of native plants

In the 28 years I’ve lived in my home I’ve watched the surrounding hills logged acre by acre making way to vineyard land. I used to live out in the country.  Now I say I live in the “wine country” to add a reference point to the location.  To some this is no big deal, but for me losing our forests is a tragic loss of shady walks, natural habitat, and carbon storage.  We shame the loss of tropical rainforests but turn a blind eye to the logging of our own temperate forests.

When this happens nothing is left for wildlife, no corridors for migrating birds for deer, or any of our native species to survive on.  Where do all the creatures go that made those forests home?  Most die.  It’s all for human profit now.  This collateral damage is met with barely a shrug. Add to that the recent catastrophic wildfires in Oregon have left thousands of acres of forest graveyards.  I was heartsick on a recent camping trip to the Cascade Range where we drove through miles of blackened mountains, burnt towns, and majestic forests turned to black matchsticks.  This was once verdant scenery.  Rampant salvage logging is only making matters worse for long-term recovery.

I have written letters to editors, congresspeople, and blogged about the environmental issues at hand but reciprocity to nature is not a concept our culture embraces.  It’s about profit.  There is a total disconnect in our relationship to the earth and the long-term consequences of our consumerism.  We take without giving back and that will be our ultimate demise.  I’ve realized through all this the only real power we have is through our actions and not those of governments or corporations.  This includes our own piece of ground.

So in an act of defiance, I am bringing nature home to my one little acre in Oregon.  I am starting the slow process to convert my land into a tiny nature sanctuary by planting native plants and creating a wildlife friendly habitat.  Until recently I landscaped my yard the way everybody does-by what would look nice.  That meant planting common cultivars from Asia without a thought to what nutrition and cover they would provide to native species including pollinators, butterflies, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

My newly planted barrel

Will this make a difference?  Well to me it does! To future furred and feathered visitors it will, and if enough other homeowners join in it will make a huge difference.  All I know is that when we recently planted a big leaf maple in our yard and planted my overgrown planter barrel by the porch entrance with milkweed, and native wildflowers I felt empowered.  If you would like to join me on my radical gardening journey, tune into my other blog, One Sweet Earth where I will be sharing my process bit by bit.

A big leaf maple finds a home in my yard

Honoring the Earth on Earth Day 2021

I live ten minutes from Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey.  The order of monks that reside there have been so gracious to share the trails of their large natural area with the public.  It’s a treasure- one of the few places left closeby where one may take a quiet ramble in nature. I set off solo early in the morning for an Earth Day hike.  It’s pleasant with friends but by oneself you have the opportunity to notice so much more and the birds and other wildlife are much more willing to present themselves.

The main Guadalupe Loop is a steep one- about 1.5 miles up.  At the top of the mountain is a primitive shrine to Our Lady Of Guadalupe where visitors can meditate, admire the view, and leave offerings- Catholic or not.  It’s the kind of a hike where you can leave with a storm in your brain and then come down with head full of sunshine. 

It’s good to remember where we come from especially now- the earth needs our attention and love more than ever.

Here is a poem I wrote along my hike…

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Sky Dance

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.”

Murmurations

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.

They dip, swirl and twirl as one body

Thousands of avian forms performing with

Ballet grace in the sky

I pause from my walk to watch with reverence

A celebration?

A spiritual rite?

Scientists still don’t know quite how or why

A mystery

But I know magic when I see it

Alanna also blogs about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

What One Can Learn From an Octopus…

I watched an incredible movie last night- truly such a piece of art in so many ways I thought I would try to spread the word. The movie is called “My Octopus Teacher,” available for streaming on Netflix.

Here’s a summary courtesy Wikipedia:

My Octopus Teacher takes viewers into a world few humans have ever seen. In 2010, debilitated by adrenal fatigue, Craig began free diving in a freezing underwater forest at the tip of Africa. As the icy water re-energised him, he started to film his experiences and in time, a curious young octopus captured his attention. By visiting her den and tracking her movements everyday for months, he won the animal’s trust and they developed an unlikely relationship.

As the little octopus shared the secrets of her world, Craig became first witness to the beauty and drama of a wild creature’s life and in the process, underwent an incredible mental and physical transformation.”

Everything about this movie was stunning, the cinematography, the story, the narration, the octopus. It was like watching poetry. It made me ask the question, are we humans smarter than an octopus?

If you want a break from the ugliness of the world right now, this is a great movie to watch.

Alanna also blogs about sustainable living at onesweetearth.art.blog

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.

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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.

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The Art of Streaming Nature

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Yesterday I was doing my home exercise routine when my zippy Irish music was interrupted on Spotify by one of their ads (I’m too cheap to buy a $ 120-year ad-free subscription).  It was an extra-long commercial about Spotify Premium and the many reasons I should upgrade.  The last one was something like this “Never be without the music you love!  Stream anywhere, even when you are offline!” This got me to thinking why we always need content streaming in our ears?  Have we lost the value of quiet?

img_1744Workout routine done (don’t be too impressed, I don’t work that hard) I changed my clothes and headed out the door with my 13-year-old Golden Retriever for a ramble. We drove to the Benedictine Abbey less than 10 minutes away for a walk in the woods.  They have a series of trails that they allow the public access to.

Car parked we headed off.  It was a relief to be out of the house and in the fresh air, sweet with the scent of coming rain.  We headed uphill on a muddy trail, thick with woods, mosses, ferns, and lichens. The calls of hidden birds surrounded us as Dougie and I made our way up by a gurgling stream with miniature waterfalls.  By gosh I was streaming a real stream! An unlimited sensory experience brought to you by NATURE!

Imagine what I would have missed if I had earbuds in.  I think about the students in high img_1749schools I sub in.  They are constantly with their earbuds, listening to music, watching videos, checking social media.  What about the sounds of birds and the ruminations of their own thoughts? I’m sad for them.

It was a lovely walk. I spent a lot of time observing and looking for ideas to include in my paintings in my new online painting class.  You might see some things from my photographs in my coming artwork….

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I wrote this poem last year while I was subbing at a local high school

Continue reading “The Art of Streaming Nature”

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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Feeding Wild Birds

I have been feeding the wild birds around my house for years.  In the morning I watch them  from my bed as I sip  my tea. There is also a feeder hanging in front of my kitchen window giving entertainment as I wash dishes.  It’s a meditation of sorts.  There are the usual year round residents and then the migratory birds as they make their way North or South in the Spring and Fall.  I never tire of watching them.

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BIRD FEEDER

The Chickadee stated its presence in the branches above

“Chicka-dee-dee-dee”

“Chicka-dee-dee-dee”

Impatient

I fill the old mossy wooden feeder that hangs from a tree limb

With an abundance of shiny, black, sunflower seeds

From the  bucket hanging on my arm.

 

The chickadee knows me

I am no stranger to the birds here

The nuthatches, jays, juncos, hummingbirds

We are neighbors, friends of sorts

They go about their business and I to mine

hanging laundry, working in the yard

 

As I gaze from my window

I delight in their flit and flutter about the feeder

And find peace in watching them

Losing track of time

Well worth the price

for a sack of bird seed

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Seeking Solace in Nature

IMG_1585In the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings last week (on top of everything else going on in this country) I needed a big hug from nature.

Off I went with 3 other women friends to walk in the Opal Creek Wilderness Area.  This place has been a refuge for me for years.  It is tucked up in the Cascade Mountains about 30 miles due east of Salem, Oregon.

This is one of the largest old growth forests left in the United States and the largest in the Western Cascade Mountains in a watershed virtually untouched by loggers saw.  As a result, stunning Opal Creek runs sparkling clear through its rocky course through this forest wonderland of giant Douglas fir, W. Hemlock, & W. Red Cedar.

IMG_1601The Shiny Rock Mining company operated in the midst of this forest in the 1930s from the “town” of Jawbone Flat. In its heyday, about 50 souls lived & worked there.  The relics of the town still remain.

By the 1980s, timber companies were eager to log the area.  Friends of Opal Creek, an activist organization dedicated to preserving the watershed to a wilderness area, was formed.  I joined up.  For the next few years, I made many 4-hour roundtrip drives to lead educational hikes to the public along with other docents in an effort to expose and educate the public about why we should preserve this gem of an area.

The strategy worked.  Eventually, with public pressure, Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon IMG_1608pushed legislation through Congress in 1996 before he retired forming the Opal Creek Wilderness Area.  The Shiny Rock Mining Company deeded over their holdings to the Opal Creek Ancient Forest Center whose mission it is to educate children and others on the value of old growth forests.

Today it is a sanctuary for many including myself and a myriad of flora and fauna.  Walking through this forest cathedral, the four of us absorbed the healing power of nature and our souls were washed clean, at least for a while, from the cascades of Opal Creek.

It was good to know, there is still beauty in this world.

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There is Still beauty in this World

Seek it in the wild forests

IMG_1574Where the only news you will hear

Are the songs of birds

And the shatter of chipmunks

 

Let the music of cascading waters

Soothe your soul

As you tread  in a green world

Lined with lush moss, rocks, and ferns

A winding trail beneath your feet

 

IMG_1617 (1)When you look up through

The cathedral of conifer branches

And the stained glass window of the vine maples in their sunset hues

Know that nature will endure

Beyond the world of man