Monday, October 29, 2012


trailing up the slope
with rack of velvet antlers
Western Whitetail Deer
(Click on photo to enlarge)
Photo Location:  St. Ignatius,  Montana

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Silver Water Silhouettes

mom, dad, three cygnets
silver water silhouettes
first freezing morning
(Click on photo to enlarge)
Photo Location:  McCarthy Lake,  Cannonsburg,  (Cannonsburg) Michigan

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hummingbirds' Intent

tubular scarlet
needles of anthers protrude
hummingbirds' intent


Photo Location:   Molino Canyon,   Coronado National Forest,  (Coronado)  Arizona 


Friday, October 26, 2012

Why We Live Here

Here are two reasons why we love to live on our "Natural Beauty Road":

Eastbound Lane.

Westbound Lane.
Please view: "Why We Live Here - 2" - Oct. 16, 2013 
Check out all the "Natural Beauty Roads" in Michigan, by using this Directory from the Michigan DNR: 
Photo Location:  Kent County,  Michigan

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Autumn Watercolor

Buoyant as boats,
they swim the surface;
serene, satisfied.
Perpendicular necks
hold orange bills
on black masks.
Preened feathers
drift southward
on faint breeze.
Clothed in smooth satin
reflecting a pure
and perfect white.
Solemn Mute Swans
glide with grace through
an autumn watercolor.
(Click on photo to enlarge)
Mute Swan: (Cygnus olor)
Photo Location:  McCarthy Lake,  Kent County,  Michigan  (Michigan

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Forest in the Fog"

"Forest in the Fog"
Warm air lies on cold water.
White-grey cobble slants to shore.
Trees thrive on moist peninsula.
Lake and sky combine their light.
(Click on photo to enlarge)
Photo Location:  Jackson Lake,  (Jackson Lake)  Wyoming

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sassafras Class


Sassafras is a deciduous tree or shrub, depending on its size, found predominantly along the edges of woods. As a tree, it can grow 20 - 40 feet high.

Here are some Sassafras shrubs, 4 - 6 feet tall, at the edge of a woods.

It grows rapidly, and suckers freely. It's a cloning plant; the stems rise along the wide-spreading lateral root system, as you can see below:

In the spring, when the new leaves first emerge...

drooping clusters of flowers appear.

It appears that some ants are assisting in the pollination of these Sassafras flowers.

Sassafras leaves are alternate, not opposite; simple, not compound; the leaf edge is entire (untoothed margin). Also, notice the deep sinuses (space between the lobes).

Size:   3 - 6 " long (8-15 cm), and 2 - 4 " wide (5-10cm). Petioles (leaf stems) are about one inch long (2.5cm).

This tree is unique in that it produces three kinds of leaves:



Another two-lobed:


You may call them one-lobed if you wish.

The two-lobed leaves show additional variety:

"Left-handed mittens:"

"Right-handed mittens:"

This branch holds all three  (4)  types... can you find them?

They are easier to spot here. Hope you don't mind my indoor shot; it was too windy outside to arrange this composite.

The Sassafras generally grows in well-drained stony or sandy soil. Young seedlings are shade tolerant, but prefer sunlit openings in the canopy, and as I've said earlier, mainly along the edge of woods. It is a relatively short-lived tree, becoming shaded out over time.

The younger twigs are glaborous (smooth), green, and have a spicy, aromatic smell that resembles lemons or limes.

You need to scrape this green bark to catch this amazing lemon/lime aroma. Yes, you can try this at home with your kids.

Older branches become red-brown. Older trunks are deeply fissured.

The fruit of the Sassafras appears in September and October. It is an oblong-globose, (nearly spherical) lustrous, dark blue, berry-like drupe 3/8" long. It is surrounded at the base by the scarlet caylx, on a club-shaped pedicel.

Unfortunately, these pedicels are empty. This was a poor weather year, even for the wild fruits. March heat, followed by April frosts, and summer drought took a toll. I searched hundreds of Sassafras trees, and this is all I could find. Anyway, you can see where the blue drupes were. Perhaps they dropped off before I got there. You can  already see the light green buds that will over-winter, and burst open next spring.

The fruits, in a normal year, are high in fat content, but produced in small quantities, so they are not a major food source for wildlife. There are some birds that consume  these drupes, including: Pileated Woodpeckers, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Red-eyed Vireo, Grey Catbird, Bobwhite, and the Wild Turkey.

White-tailed Deer browse the leaves and twigs, and Cottontail Rabbits gnaw the bark and nip the twigs.

Now, I think that this is the best part of the Sassafras. It may look like an ugly old root to you, but it's an ugly young root; about 1/2" in diameter where I've pruned it.

When you scrape the root, it smells exactly like Root Beer!  Seriously. Kids, of any age, will like this.

After you wash and scrub the root samples, cut them into 3-6 inch pieces. Put them into a pot of water, and simmer slowly for about eight minutes. Let it steep for 1/2 hour. Drink warm or cold as a unique-tasting tea. Not too much. Not too often. Just a sample, for the experience of doing it yourself. Add honey if you want it sweeter. 

Did you enjoy this class in Sassafras? Have you learned some new terms? Will you return for next term?

Will your family look for all the kinds of leaves before they fall this fall? Will you try the smell and taste experiments? (This works all year)


Yes, you can sign up right here to "Walk With Father Nature"

Sign up by submitting your Email address way up there in the sidebar.

He walks, and writes, several times a week.

Sassafras  (Sassafras variifolium) (variety of foliage)

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Photo Locations: Kent County,  Michigan

Friday, October 19, 2012

Twilight's Last Gleaming

Twilight's Last Gleaming
(Click on photo to enlarge)
Photo Location:  Moran, Wyoming (Wyoming)

Thursday, October 18, 2012



Why do I like the American Beech so much?
Why is this my all-time favorite deciduous tree?

Is it the graceful
(oblong-ovate, accuminate)
shape of the leaf;
arching out from its base
to broaden, then taper gradually
to the narrow tip of its apex?

Is it the slender, delicate twigs; 
zig-zagging slightly,
and bearing tightly wrapped,
perfectly conical,
sharp-as-a-pencil-point buds,
colored a rich, glossy brown?

Is it the coarsely
serrated margin
of the leaf edge,
with a vein terminating
in each  of the short, sharp,
excellent and even teeth?

Is it the fine lines
of green persisting
in the parallel and perfectly
pinnate veins
streaking through
the deep yellow leaf?

All of the above.

American Beech... above all.

Fagus grandifolia... absolutely grand foliage.

To witness the birth of these leaves, see previous post:  "Holding Life"

 (Holding Life)  (June 1, 2012)

Photo Location:  Home Woods

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"Sleeping Clouds"

Sleeping Clouds

Morning sun highlights treetops.
Snake River glides through cutbank.
Clouds sleep in mountain valleys.
Dawn's warmth returns to Tetons.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

Photo Location:  Grand Teton National Park, (Teton)  Wyoming (Wyoming)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn Asters

Asters are one of the last wildflowers to bloom in our area of S.W. Michigan.

The bees are extending the season; taking the opportunity to gather pollen.

My various wildflower books display 19 species in one book, 15 species in another, five, and four in others. It's all very confusing.

Older books differ from newer books, so identification is very difficult.

They exhibit different growth patterns, depending on the site, and competition for light.

Many species commonly interbreed, and are difficult to distinguish.

The colors can vary within the same species, or even change color slightly, during the
growing season.

This widespread perennial is found in a wide variety of wet and dry habitats, but most species love the sun and grow in open areas or edges.

The word Aster comes from a Greek word meaning star, as in asterisk ... * or astromomy, astronaut, etc.

Perhaps some experts who really know their Asters can help me learn more. Meanwhile, just enjoy the variety of forms and colors.

This has been a short piece of Botany...

... and you have only a short time to explore outdoors.

Some asters will last
a few days in a vase

if you need some late flowers
to cheer up your place.

Right now a fast honeybee
is acting aggressive you see.
It's getting too near I fear,
so would you please excuse me
while I zoom out of here!

(Click on any photo to enlarge)

Bushy Aster / Marsh Aster  (Aster simplex)

Red-stemmed Aster / Purple-stemmed Aster  (Aster punicous)

Smooth Blue Asters  (Aster laevis)

New England Aster  (Aster novae-angliae)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Leaves' Last Dance

summer's work complete
leaves' last dance a brief passing
returned to the earth
(Click on photo to enlarge) 
Photo Location:  Townsend Park,  (Townsend)  Cannonsburg, (Cannonsburg)  Michigan

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Virginia Creeper


It's not only trees showing off their rich colors this season. Take a look at this fine vine named Virginia Creeper :

It accents nicely this red building on the Grand River (Grand River) near Ada, Michigan.

Now you know what to call these climbing columns of crimson the next time you see them.

Of course they're rooted in the ground, and begin to climb whatever is available; sometimes surrounding the entire tree trunk.

These vines are thriving high in the branches of an American Black Walnut tree. A handful of yellow leaves are still hanging on. Walnut is one of the first trees to shed its leaves in the fall.

If the support is short, Virginia will creep to the top, crawl along the rails, or use itself for additional growth. Sometimes there's nowhere left to go but down...

... and Virginia is quite satisfied just hanging and dangling in the breeze, because it loves the sun, but can tolerate the shade...

Virginia Creeper will occasionally attempt to climb an evergreen, ...

... but notice how it prefers to stay out on the perimeter for better access to sunlight.

This Fir looks pre-decorated for Christmas.

Please do not confuse Virginia Creeper with Poison Ivy.

This photo is from a previous post. See the entry for May 7, 2012 : "Father Nature Quiz" (Quiz) .

 Left = Virginia Creeper; Right = Poison Ivy; with the bad reputation.

Poison Ivy - always, always, always 3 leaflets; not toothed, or slightly toothed; that is, just a few notches.

Virginia Creeper - almost always 5 leaflets; rarely 3 or 7, coarsely toothed; that is, several teeth along the leaf margin.

Another view of Poison Ivy, just to confirm you will recognize it on your next outing.

Virginia Creeper's Genus name, Parthenocissus, is from the Greek, meaning: "virgin ivy".

The species name, quinquefolia, means five-part leaf.

It's related to the Wild Grape, and has a very similar growth pattern.

Other names for Virginia Creeper: False Grape, American Ivy, Five-leaved Ivy, and in the olden days, Woodbine.

The greenish, clustered, inconspicuous flowers are insect-pollinated.

I think the coolest thing about this vine is how it climbs. The tender tendrils reach out, seeking a supportive surface.

When they touch the support, the tendril tips secrete a glue-like substance, and small discs form, which cling to the surface. These clasping little pads are persistent, and remain "glued" long after the vine dies.

The vine on the left is alive. The vine on the right has died; yet the pads persist, clinging to the post.

Over time, these discs can erode and crumble a smooth masonry surface.

This shot reminds me of a lizard's toes climbing up the post. Or a Tree Frog's toes; see previous post "Blog the Tree Frog" (Tree Frog) July 21, 2012.

In addition to the beautiful red leaves, their fruits are also prominent this time of year. They develop into dark blue (1/4" - 3/8" , 6 - 9 mm, diameter ) berries when mature; growing in loose, red-stalked clusters.

This creeper is growing along a Wild Grape vine, both competing for sunlight.

Here's a good-looking snack for several birds and a few mammals.

 The berries are high in fat content, and often remain on the plant into the winter.

Many bird species feed on these berries. They are a favorite of many woodpeckers, including: Downy, Hairy, Red-bellied, Pileated, Northern Flicker, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Other frequent feeders: Great Crested Flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, Wood Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, American Robin, Brown Thrasher, Red-eyed Vireo, and Fox Sparrow. Game birds that consume these berries are Wild Turkeys, Pheasants, and Grouse.

FYI : Fermented fruits on the vine occasionally intoxicate birds.

Mammal consumers: Red Fox, Striped Skunk, and Eastern Chipmunk. White-tailed Deer browse the twigs and foliage.

NOTE : Virginia Creeper berries are NOT for human consumption! They can be fatal if eaten in large quantities.

Well, everything I know about this fine vine I have shared with you. I am a lifelong student; and if you can teach me more, at the age of sixty-four, I am still thirsty for knowledge. I hope you've enjoyed meeting "Virginia Creeper". These climbing columns of crimson will only last a short time before they age with the shortening daylight, succumb to the effects of frost, and are stripped away by the winds.

I encourage you to get outside, breathe in this fine Autumn air, take a walk on your favorite trail, and look longer and deeper for this magnificent creeper. When you find her, tell Virginia that "Father Nature" sent you. She may remember me.


Forest and Thicket - Trees, Shrubs and Wildflowers of Eastern North America, John Eastman  1992 (Eastman)

How to Know the Wild Fruits, Maude Gridley Peterson  1973 (Peterson)

Hal Borland's Book of Days,  Hal Borland  1976 (Borland)

Fieldbook of Natural History, E. Laurence Palmer  1949 (Palmer)

Photo Locations:

Home Woods, Rockford, (Rockford) Michigan

Grand River (Grand River) @ Ada, (Ada) Michigan

Cannonsburg, (Cannonsburg) Michigan

Elk Rapids, (Elk Rapids) Michigan

Reeds Lake Trail (Trail) @ East Grand Rapids, (EGR) Michigan