Monday, May 31, 2010

Motherless Children

Two orphaned baby raccoons receiving the best of care
from an expert RN who is also a skilled wildlife rehabilitator.

It happens every spring ― too many baby animals lose their mothers and wildlife rehabilitators find themselves inundated. My friend is helping raise kits from a large litter of orphaned raccoons (Procyon lotor). Fortunately, the orphaned baby squirrels she has been raising are just about ready to be released into the wild, which will allow her to focus on these kits, and they sure are a handful! But, she is definitely up to the challenge.

Yesterday, I helped feed these little ones, so desperate for their mother whom they lost two days ago when she was killed by a car. Maybe because I should have been a nurse, I was able to shelve my emotions and focus on the task at hand ― ensuring that they got the formula they need (every few hours) to survive. Click on the photos for close up views.

Happily, the kits are thriving and even slept soundly through the night, a testament to my friend's skills and her loving dedication to their welfare. Soon, they'll be ready for solid food.

These babies miss their mother terribly. Normally, they would not be weaned until around 70 days. By 20 weeks they would be foraging with her at night and continuing to stay with her in the den where they were born. They would remain with her through their first winter and become independent next spring. And, once mature, mothers and their young often den nearby. So, in addition to losing their mother and family unit, these kits have lost their teacher, guide and protector.

But the good news is that they are safe now and receiving the best care possible. There are good nurses and then there are great nurses like my friend. And, as I approach the one year anniversary of the death of my Rachmaninoff, helping these babies was both a privilege and a powerful consolation. I've been thinking of a song by Eric Clapton ever since.

"Motherless children have a hard time when their mother is dead, lord."
~Eric Clapton, "Motherless Children"
from 461 Ocean Boulevard, July 1974

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More on Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was born in a small rural Pennsylvania community near the Allegheny River. Her mother bequeathed to her a life-long love of nature and the living world, and Rachel spent a great deal of time exploring the forests and streams around her 65-acre farm. As a young child, Carson's consuming passions were the nature surrounding her hillside home and her writing. She was first "published" at the age of 10 in a children's magazine dedicated to the work of young writers. Other youngsters who first saw their words in print in St. Nicholas included William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

In 1925 Carson entered Pennsylvania College for Women as an English major determined to become a writer. Midway into her studies, however, she switched to biology. Her first experience with the ocean came during a summer fellowship at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Upon graduation from Pennsylvania College, Carson was awarded a scholarship to complete her graduate work in biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, an enormous accomplishment for a woman in 1929.

Carson's distinction in both writing and biology won her a part-time position with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in 1935 where she was asked to create a series of seven-minute radio programs on marine life called "Romance Under the Waters." Meantime, she continued to submit writings on conservation and nature to newspapers and magazines, urging from the very beginning the need to regulate the "forces of destruction" and consider always the welfare of the "fish as well as that of the fisherman." Her articles were published regularly by the Baltimore Sun and other of its syndicated papers.

This is only the beginning of her fascinating life and career. To learn more continue reading at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

The biographical summary above was compiled for the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge by: Frank Graham, Jr. with Carl Buchheister. The Audubon Ark: A History of the National Audubon Society.Kevin Kilcullen. "Interview with Shirley Briggs about Rachel Carson."Linda Lear. Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature.National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Richard H. Stroud, Ed., National Leaders of American Conservation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What would Rachel say?

Rachel Louise Carson
Born: May 27, 1907–April 14, 1964

The writer, scientist and ecologist Rachel Carson was born 103 years ago today. I wish I could go back in time and have a conversation with this champion of the natural world. Her wisdom, insights and brilliant mind helped usher in the environmental movement as we know it. Without her, the use of DDT would have continued unchecked. Thankfully, her groundbreaking work, Silent Spring (1962), led to its ban.

Silent Spring was a powerful critique of the Cold War culture that condoned the crude and short-sighted tampering with the natural world. The book indicted the chemical industry, the government, and agribusiness for indiscriminately using pesticides without knowing more about their long-term effects ― it caused a sensation. In clear, often beautiful prose Carson demonstrated that chemical pesticides were potential biocides that threatened humankind and nature with extinction. She used the impact of pesticides to illustrate that man, like other species, was a vulnerable part of the earth's ecosystem. This enormously influential work created a worldwide awareness of the dangers of environmental pollution.

Silent Spring caught the attention of President John F. Kennedy, who called for an investigation of the issues it raised. The 1963 report of a special panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee supported Carson's conclusions. Carson was acclaimed by the public and received numerous scientific and literary awards.

"As crude a weapon as the cave man's club, the chemical barrage has been hurled against the fabric of life."
~ Rachel Carson

One can only guess what she would have to say about the still unfolding catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but I'm glad she isn't here to witness it; I think she'd be horrified. Like other gifted visionaries Carson understood that mankind's attempt to control nature was perilous and futile.

"The 'control of nature' is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man." ~Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

More about Carson in the next post...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sand Dollars from Steven

Echinoidea, Clypeastroida
My friend Steven is a brilliant zoologist with a passion for conchology, the study of mollusks and shells. He has spent many hours on beaches around the world searching for seashells and his vast collection includes several rare specimens.

Today he brought me these sand dollars, still green with life, but in appearance only. Before today I was only familiar with the sand dollar's skeleton —the rigid, white flattened disk that commonly washes up on local beaches after the animal has died. These green sand dollars were living beings only two days ago. If the fishermen that brought them up in their nets off the coast of Long Island had taken the time to throw them back into the sea, they would still be alive now.

The sand dollar is the common name for a marine animal in the same phylum as the starfish. It has a rigid, flattened, disk-shaped test, or shell, made of firmly united plates lying just beneath the thin skin. Small spines that densely cover the test enable the animal to burrow in sand just below the surface.

Sand dollars are classified in the phylum Echinodermata, class Echinoidea, order Clypeastroida. Echinoderms are divided into five classes: Class Crinoidea (sea lilies); Class Asteroidea (starfish); Class Ophiuroidea (brittle stars); Class Echinoidea (sea urchins and sand dollars); and Class Holothuroidea (sea cucumbers).

I have long regarded sand dollars as talismans. To me, they are worth more than any currency. Steven suggested I soak them in bleach or dry them in the sun. But I'm in no rush to turn them white. I like them just as they are.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

My Corner of the World

Rhododendron blooming along "Fox Avenue."

In my little corner of the world everything is exceedingly green, with fingertips of soft green growth on the branches of hemlocks and yews, and fresh green buds on the pachysandra and ivy. This area of the garden is "Fox Avenue," because it's where I often see red foxes, masters of camouflage, and their cubs emerging at dusk. I never see the entire family together, just Dad on his own, or Mom and the cubs or just Mom and one cub as they wend their way along a stone wall that provides a sense of security because it's draped with hemlock branches. At various times throughout the day and now, into early evening, the cubs follow their parents to learn All Things Fox.

It's such a privilege to have them raising their young here, but I have to be careful about letting the cats out now. Whenever Mr. Groundhog decides to stroll out onto the lawn for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I know it's safe for the girls to go out. Since Mr. G. is one of the items on the Fox Menu, his relaxed posture is a reliable "all clear" signal. Another important signal is the calling of crows. Along with other Corvids (Blue Jays), crows will harass the foxes with loud and relentless caws to keep their fledglings safe. This early warning system is highly reliable and helps enforce my "better safe than sorry" system.

Alas, cat outings are not what they were when Rachmaninoff, the Man of the Forest, was in his prime. He lived to be outdoors and was a kindly and protective presence among wild turkeys, groundhogs and other wildlife. Now, almost a year since his passing, more wildlife have chosen my little corner of the world as their haven. The reason seems related to the loss of forested land, less than a half a mile away, which was cleared last fall for construction of a municipal water administration building. This land sits alongside a town reservoir and was prime habitat for wildlife. The loss of it displaced who knows how many wildlife families. No one but me and a handful of other people seem to care. I wish I did not have to witness these losses, each contributing to a greater one. I take some comfort in what Gandalf said in The Fellowship of the Ring:

“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times..."

With so much wildlife about and with the season of birth in full swing, I am careful to keep an eye on my girls, both skilled hunters. I often end their outings abruptly to spare the lives of chipmunks, baby bunnies, young squirrels and whatever else they may find tempting. Well-fed cats consider it sport to harm these creatures and I don't encourage them. Their collars are festooned with bells and their outings are supervised and sporadic. They are learning that some gifts are not appreciated and must be returned immediately.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Miss Ellen Willmott

Syringa Vulgaris 'Miss Ellen Willmott'

This post continues a series on lilacs. I am partial to a white cultivar called 'Miss Ellen Willmott,' which I grow in my own garden and also enjoy seeing among the lilac collection at the Arnold Arboretum. Lilacs Forever, a grower in Maine, describes this lilac perfectly:

"Miss Ellen Willmott is a superb white lilac with double flowers that are greenish white in bud and open to a clean, pure white. The sweet blossoms borne on large panicles are waxy in texture, very long lasting and have true, old fashion lilac fragrance. "

In fact, 'Miss Ellen Willmott' is a French hybrid cultivar most valued for its extremely fragrant double white blooms in early to mid-May. This lilac was named after the English gardener born into a wealthy family in 1858. She mixed with royalty and her name was associated with the greatest gardeners of her time, Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson and E. A. Bowles. In 1894 she joined the Royal Horticultural Society and in 1897 she was one of the first sixty recipients (and one of only two women) to receive the Victoria Medal of Honour.

Sadly, she dwindled away her fortune because of her obsession with gardening, which led her to purchase three gardens in England, France and Italy, employing 104 gardeners to fill them with plants. However, she left a legacy of plants that she introduced, including this lilac, one of over 60 plants named after her or her home, Warley Place in Essex.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

S. vulgaris

S. vulgaris, the common lilac, in bloom at the Arnold Arboretum

This post continues a series on lilacs begun May 9th.
The common lilac, S. vulgaris, belongs to the Olive family and flowers in inflorescences with compact panicles (branched cluster of flowers) of bloom. Click on the color photo above to see the individual florets that make up each flower.

The fragrance of lilacs lingers in a memorable way. It is said that the wood of the lilac retains the scent of the blossoms and when old lilac branches are burned their perfume is released.

According to Greek mythology Pan, the god of the forests and fields, was so captivated by a beautiful nymph named Syringa that he chased her through the forest. Frightened by Pan’s affections, Syringa escaped him by turning herself into – what else? – a very beautful and fragrant lilac.

In the language of flowers, purple lilacs symbolize the first emotions of love.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lilac Lover's Bible

Syringa vulgaris 'Angel White'

This post continues a brief series on lilacs (see May 9). The fragrant, white lilac above was still in the early stages of bloom when I took this photograph at the Arnold Arboretum on May 3rd.

If you want to know more about lilacs, I highly recommend Lilacs: A Gardener's Encyclopedia. This updated classic was first published in 1988 by award-winning American hybridizer Reverend John Fiala and quickly became known worldwide as the lilac lover's bible. It provides up-to-date information on the 21 known lilac species and 10 natural hybrids, as well as hundreds of named cultivars. You’ll find plenty of practical information on selecting, growing, propagating, and using lilacs in the landscape. Best of all, the new edition of Lilacs: A Gardener's Encyclopedia is packed with nearly 600 fantastic color photographs.
More lilac photos to come in the next post...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Love Lilacs

Lilacs belong to the genus Syringa

The lilac collection at the Arnold Arboretum (of Harvard University) has been going strong for over 135 years. Founded in 1872, the Arnold is the oldest public arboretum in North America and is recognized as one of the world's leading centers for the study of plants.

Today, Mother's Day, is Lilac Sunday at the Arboretum and visitors swarm the grounds to admire the color and fragrance of hundreds of lilacs in bloom. One tends to see more people than lilacs at this event, which is why I plan my visit days beforehand.

I had the good fortune to view the lilacs just as they were coming into peak bloom this spring. The weather was dismal ─ overcast and rainy ─ conditions that I consider to be absolutely perfect for viewing lilacs. Because they came into bloom early this year, those visiting them today are seeing them on the wane. And, unfortunately, today's very high winds have probably left most of them in tatters.

I was able to capture this year's blooms at their very best on , and I'll be sharing them in the next few posts.

To view details click on the photo above. be continued

Friday, May 7, 2010


Nature is not a place to visit.
It is home.
~ Gary Snyder

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nothing of him that doth fade

Had he lived, Rachmaninoff would turn 19 today. Last year we celebrated what had seemed impossible just weeks before considering the advanced state of his kidney disease. His 18th birthday was truly a gift of time.

Nearly a year later, I understand that Rock meant to hang on for me. I couldn't see it then; it would have been too painful. But our bond was very strong. In paying tribute to his memory I also celebrate his life.

Happy Birthday, boy-boy. You live on in my heart.

"...Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange."

~William Shakespeare

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Life is full of beauty

"Life is full of beauty. Notice it.
Notice the bumble bee,
the small child
and the smiling faces.
Smell the rain and
feel the wind..."
~ Ashley Smith