Sunday, April 29, 2012

Photo Haiku - Wildlife Series

write a Haiku for
this long and skinny lizard
try to keep it short


young, naïve Bobcat
cautious mother in background
eyes and ears alert

dark eyes, stiff whiskers
warming on the sandy beach
handsome Harbor Seal


Photo Locations:

1. Zion National Park, (Zion) Utah

2. Tucson, Arizona (Tucson)

3. La Jolla, California (La Jolla)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Inside the Mayapple Colony

When our kids were very young, I would take them for walks in the big woods by our small house. They were naturally curious, loved to explore outdoors with Daddy, and didn't mind getting dirty. In early May we would lie on our backs, tuck our heads under the little umbrellas of Mayapple leaves, and look through the ceiling of green to the blue sky.

Then we would turn over, flat on our bellies in the leaf litter, and squirm into this miniature magical world.

"Oh Daddy, what a view!" Aaron said. "I feel so big!"

Sarah said, "Let's play pretend."

And so they did.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *    

Most days Daddy was working and finishing college, so my time with Aaron and Sarah was priceless.  I finished college long ago, and finished my teaching career recently.

Now retired, I have more time to explore, photograph, write and share. Share with you, so you may share with others. So I guess I am still teaching: from the outdoor classroom, through this blog, to people around the corner (Hi Cara), across Lake Michigan (Hi Emily), and people around the world (Hi Rosie). Thanks for being here.

Now let's go on another "Walk With Father Nature"...
we'll learn together.

Our house is bigger now, surrounded by bigger woods. On the east slope various Oaks and Hickories grow, scattered with Black Cherry. Red Maples thrive on the lower ground next to the wetland, a canopy above this colony of Mayapples.


Mayapples prefer rich woods and damp, shady clearings. The first year, only a single lobed leaf rises from a perennial rhizome (root). Nearly circular colonies are produced from a single plant, spreading by these underground rhizomes. An average size clone is about 45 years old!

When the young Mayapple leaves first poke their tubular heads from the ground, they protrude through the leaf litter. This one got squeezed by some Red Maple leaves.

The would-be umbrella shape being pinched into a pinwheel.

Mayapple's Genus and species is Podophyllum pelatum. Pod = foot, phyllum = leaf, so picture these podiums, in deep greens and leafy lobes.

Come back in a few weeks when we can see the open flower and learn more. Then again this summer to find the fruit... the May Apple, for which it's named. Meanwhile, listen to this appealing description  from an old, but good, Wildflower textbook:

Solitary flowers
on stout peduncles
from the fork
between the leaves

This is what writers call "Found Poetry"! That's one of the reasons why I love my Botany books.

I actually counted the lobes on several leaves. Most have seven. This one eight, in stylish symmetry.

The veins in these leaves are prominent.

Between each lobe, a deep sinus...                                                   ...fringed with fine hairs.

I will leave you with this last look; for your imagination, for your own kids to squirm under, to enter into another world.

"Daddy, Aaron is hiding from us," Sarah said. "Where can we find him?"

Sarah is still exploring with curiosity and appreciation in her world.
I know.

Aaron is enjoying endless opportunities for praise in his.
I believe.



Michigan Wildflowers (Helen Smith)
Helen V. Smith
Illustrated by Ruth Powell Brede
c 1961, 1966
Cranbrook Institute of Science
Bloomfield Hills, MI
(my copy - Christmas gift - 1974)

The Book of Forest and Thicket (John Eastman)
Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America
John Eastman
Illustrated by Amelia Hansen
c 1992 Stackpole Books
Mechanicsburg, PA

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Understory of Dogwoods

Those recent 50 mph winds here in Grand Rapids ripped through the Redbuds and spattered their flowers over the ground. Just as these magnificent pink blossoms (see: Redbuds Revisited) are fading and falling, the Flowering Dogwoods are next to enter the Spring spotlight.

You may be fortunate to have one in your landscape, or you may see them arching from the edge of the woods as you drive the country roads.

The native Dogwood (Cornus florida) lives as an understory tree, growing between the lower shrubs and the upper tree canopy...

                                        ...growing slowly in these open, but shady areas.

It grows 15' - 30' in height, is short-trunked, dividing low, with slender  spreading branches forming a flat-topped crown.

In SW Michigan, the Flowering Dogwood reaches its northern limit in our Grand River Valley. Found in Oak and Beech-Maple forests.

These spectacular white blossoms you are viewing are not blossoms!

Botanical truth: these are four, white notched bracts that resemble petals.

That cherry-colored notch on each bract used to be a bud scale; a protective winter covering for the future flower.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Redbuds Revisited

Everyone in the Midwest is aware of the unseasonably warm period we experienced in March. Up here in Cannonsburg, from March 14 - 22, temperatures ranged from 74* to 86*! The Redbuds have been flowering for three weeks. They are a very popular ornamental landscape tree.

                                             Photographed during a gentle April shower.

This is the view from our "library" window, looking toward our east woods, and the field beyond:

My Dad and I planted this Redbud in the Spring of '98. At 75,  he felt strong and alive when working outside.

We live at about the northern latitude limit where native Redbuds grow. In season, Mary and I like to drive the long way home after church in Ada, for another chance to capture this breath-taking view:

Locals know of this stunning stretch of Redbuds along Pettis Avenue. They thrive on this slope across the river from Amway World Headquarters.

Redbuds begin to flower when they are 4-5 years old. They are bunched along the branches before the leaves emerge. Since they're in the Legume family, they resemble pea blossoms. Bees are the chief pollinators.

By late summer, the flower transforms into a 3-inch fruiting pod. It's tightly packed with 10-12 dark seeds. Like peas, only flatter, with the pod persisting into early winter. A few songbirds eat the seeds, including the secretive and rather rare Bobwhite.

Returning to the native grove of Redbuds last Saturday morning, the air was slightly hazy. But looking straight up, the sky was clear...

                                                ...painting a pleasing pastel of pink and blue.

Here, minute heart-shaped leaves are unfurling. Green chlorophyll still in their future. Moist, delicate; at most, only a few days old.

Look closer.

         Spider silk gathers early sunlight;
        a streaking thread of iridescence
pulsating along the filament
            with each soft breath of morning air

While looking through the lens, I hear, but do not see:

  • a Red-tailed Hawk - high overhead: a piercing, descending keeer-r-r
  • a Red-bellied Woodpecker - up on the ridge: a rising, quavering kwirrr
  • a Belted Kingfisher - clattering and rattling downriver
I walk upriver, descend the steep bank to the water, and find the distinctive tiered branches, laying in layers...

                                   ...overhanging the Grand River like a balcony of blossoms.

I take a seat in this amphitheater; absorbing with gratitude the sights, the sounds, the sensations.
A profound sense of peace flows over me. A sense of place. I am Blessed to be here.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Photo Haiku - Tree Series


yellow catkins arch
slender flexibility
Weeping Willow trees

 warm morning sunshine
 sturdy White Oak growing old 
 limbs spread broad and strong

narrow, spire-like crown
grows on Lake Michigan coast
Lombardy Poplar

Redbud defines Spring
understory sprays of pink
May in Michigan

dense stand of Aspen
textured trunks of black and white
reaching for the sun

prime Ponderosas
by the Bitterroot Mountains
southwest Montana

hiking the Southwest
near Payson, Arizona
Mary loves this pine


Which is your favorite Haiku?

Which is your favorite Tree?

Which is your favorite Photo?


Also view: "Photo Haiku - Tree Series 2"

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Open the Door

Are you frustrated with how your kids spend their hours and days at home? Head bent down, eyes fixated on some small screen...occupied. Will it be more of the same this summer?

One suggestion: Open the Door. The open door is an invitation to explore. Get them out while they are young.

Remove the obstacles. Make an attempt to abandon the impediments: TV, computer, iphone, ipad, i-(fill-in-the-blank). And please, find the time, make time to join them. Strengthen you parent-child bond.

Show your enthusiasm for nature. You are an important ingredient to help nourish it in your child.

Surrounded by a quiet, natural setting, children will come alive with their inherent curiosity. Let them be spontaneous. Follow their interests. Stimulate the use of their senses. Slow down. Look. Listen. Learn.

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."   John Burroughs

Twice in the past four years, I have read this book from our Kent District Library, (KDL) and last week our dear daughter Sarah gifted me with my own copy. It included her "Dear Daddy" dedication inside. Thank you Sarah! The book: Last Child in the Woods (Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder) by Richard Louv. c2005, c2008. (Last Child)Louv was the recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal.

Please allow me to present several excerpts, for they enumerate a prevailing theme throughout Louv's book:

  • Why do so many Americans say they want their children to watch less TV, yet continue to expand the opportunities for them to watch it?     p.63
  • There is a real world beyond the glass, for children who look, for those whose parents encourage them to truly see.     p.64
  • Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity.     p.54
  • ...natural settings are essential for healthy child development because they stimulate all the senses and integrate informal play with formal learning.     p.85
  • ...multisensory experiences in nature help to build the cognitive constructs necessary for sustained intellectual development, and stimulate imagination... Natural spaces... serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity. (Robin Moore)     p.87
  • Children learn about the rain forest, but usually not about their own region's forests, or even just the meadow outside the classroom door. (David Sobel)     p.135
"If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he or she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in."  Rachel Carson

Finally, Richard Louv writes about his own two sons, now grown into men:

I feel a sense of pride and relief that they have grown well, and a deep grief that my years as a parent of young children is over, except in memories. And I am thankful. The times I spent with my children in nature are among my most meaningful memories-- and I hope theirs.

When you spend time outdoors with your kids when they are young, most likely they will want to continue the adventures when they too become adults. See Rich, Mary and Sarah hiking at this famous location.

Every Father's Day, Sarah creates a loving, hand-made, personalized card for me. A special photograph of when she was my little girl usually makes the cover page. Of course these photos bring tears to my eyes. Or it may be a more recent photo like when I'm carrying Sarah (now in her 30s) piggy-back, as I wade across the Platte River in Northwest Michigan.

The best part however, is the loving message she writes on the inside of the card. It comes from deep inside her heart, and reaches deep into mine. Her words linger... the memories endure.

This photograph is our sweet Sarah at Lake Michigan, when she came from California to visit her "Mommy and Daddy" at Christmas. She strikes her "Thank you God for a wonderful day!" response.

                                               We love you Sarah!                 We all miss you Aaron.

Photo Locations:

1. & 2. Flagstaff,  (Flagstaff) Arizona
3. Arches National Monument, (Arches) Utah
4. Platte River, (Platte River) Honor,  Michigan
5. Grand Haven, (Grand Haven) Michigan

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Find Your Place

I realize that readers of Nature Blogs will frequently be outdoors; looking at birds and bugs, wildflowers and wildlife, fish and frogs. Hopefully, parents will bring their children along to look and listen. To learn; to love their favorite fragments of nature.

Here in Michigan they may already know the bird calls of the early arrivals: Song Sparrow, Eastern Meadowlark, Sandhill Crane, Rufous-sided Towhee. They try to remember the sequence of early woodland flowers: Hepatica, Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Yellow Fawn Lily.

Yellow Fawn Lilies

Concentrated listening can distinguish between Spring Peeper, Chorus Frog, and later the Gray Tree Frog.  

Gray Tree Frog

While walking outside you are fascinated by the way the light plays with the fog:

                                                                 ... through the clouds...

                                                                    ... in the trees...

                                                                   ... on the water.

You know
from your own place,
your home place,
exactly where the sun
will rise on your horizon,
and the spot you expect it 
to set in the west;
growing the daylight.

You recall
your preferred place
to sit outdoors, to observe,
to absorb this glorious
new season unfolding.
Return to that place.
Be still.

Witness Spring
flowing in with freshness.
Feel it wash over you
like a stream of new life.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Poppy Shots

For three winters, just after we retired in 2008, Mary and I were blessed with the opportunity to live in Arizona. I don't mind Michigan winters. We cross country ski on trails in our own woods.

I get to blow snow through a blizzard, then get more fresh air when I shovel it.

I go ice fishing across the road on Mc Carthy Lake. Once I convinced our daughter Sarah to join me.

Sarah is showing the equipment we use: auger, ice skimmer, little rods to "jig", and layers of warm clothes. Those nice 7" to 8" Bluegills will be eaten the same night. First, I need to scale them and fillet them, so Mary can cook them...

                                                           Sarah, however, likes sushi!

                                                                  Here Dad, try one.

I have shoveled snow in Michigan for over 50 years, and I've run outside through 33 winters, so Mary and I were ready for an adventure in sunny, warm Arizona.

I wrote our rental criteria in a Craig's List ad. A kind, easy going, gregarious man from St. Paul, Minnesota named Bob responded the next day. He had a soothing voice, and was a good listener; which I admire in a person. Bob offered his home near Tucson at a reasonable rate that we could afford. Plus, he turned out to be the perfect landlord for us. We had not rented since 1971! Thank you Bob.

We settled in a retirement community called SaddleBrooke,(SaddleBrooke) and it was like a resort atmosphere. Mary and I were considered youngsters there: still in our early 60s.
The amenities at SaddleBrooke were amazing to us:

We found a wonderful church nearby, (Santa Catalina)

with a close, spectacular view of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

This is a portion of SaddleBrooke from near the main entrance. These fine homes are filled with fine, friendly people from all over the U.S.

I joined the Running Club (a Michigander running shirtless got some strange looks, but I was hot!). The Men's Bible Study welcomed me. Thank you Lee, from Big Arm, Montana. I hooked up with the Swim Club and Biking Club. Mary and I joined the 400+ member Tennis Club, and played outdoors 3-5 times a week. We sat on our sunny patio to eat and read. We slept well each night.

You must check out SaddleBrooke ( if you're old enough. You will absolutely love it!

I must tell the truth now. We did have a 3" snowfall which melted by noon. Here's Rich with the rare AZ Snowboy.

In future posts, I will rave about the excellent Birding in southern Arizona. After 30+ years of birding about the country, Mary and I added 43 new species to our "Life List" over our first two winters. One in particular was a real prize. Let's just call him E.T. Have you guessed it already?

Okay Rich, move on to the topic: "Poppy Shots".

The winter of  '09 - '10 was unusually wet, for Arizona. This produced one of those occasional "Desert Blooms" for the Spring. Saguaro National Park - West showed off with its own bloom.

Here's my wife Mary; pretty in the poppies...

...and an old geezer she's been hanging with for 40 years!

We walked the horse trails just east of Oro Valley surrounded by undulating hills of Mexican Poppies.
Many people called them California Poppies.

Approaching closer with my camera, I was grateful for that "wet winter", and the warm spring. I am loving this Sonoran Desert.

Coming closer, the yellow intensifies. Deeper. Vibrant. Alive!

Now I notice the delicate petals sprinkled with pollen, overlapping margins, the barely discernible veins. Within the bowl formed by these petals, deep yellow becomes slightly orange.

Words are weak here, compared to this stunning display of reality. I am humbled once again by God's marvelous creation!

Okay, too much yellow today? Let's play... with "Picasa". I just upgraded to version 3.9

                                                                         "Red Neon"

                                                                          "Heat Map"


                                                                       "Pencil Sketch"



                                                                         "Neon Blue"

It's been fun to experiment with these cool effects, but hard to step away from the play. I'm at the end of my day, but before I say goodnight...

If you haven't been to the Sonoran Desert around Tucson, I encourage you to experience it. Maybe SaddleBrooke (SaddleBrooke) has a place available. Say "Hi" to Bob for me. He is now retired, and living in "OUR" house!

Thanks for reading.