Sunday, December 18, 2011

Steven Spielberg on Horses

War Horse by David Appleby/Dreamworks Pictures

Steven Spielberg by Kevin Lynch

The sun is in Sagittarius, and like me, many born during this time (November 22 ― December 21) love nature and animals. We also have a special affinity for horses.

The great film director Steven Spielberg, born this day in 1946, lives with horses and has been talking about them in recent interviews to promote his new film War Horse. He says, "I wasn’t necessarily attracted to War Horse because of the drama of World War I. I was attracted because of the pathos of that boy being separated from that horse for so long."

"My 14-year-old daughter rides. My wife rides dressage. We have 10 horses on our property, in stalls. I don’t ride, but I commune a bit. Thanks to my wife and my youngest daughter they’ve introduced me to an equine world I’ve kind of fallen in love with. So it was a natural impulse for me to be attracted to that story."

Saturday, December 17, 2011

For the horse lover on your list

Dorothy Brooke with rescued horses in Cairo

War Horse, a new film by Steven Spielberg opening in the U.S. on Christmas Day, has renewed interest in the Brooke Trust, dedicated to the welfare of working horses, mules and donkeys. How did the Brooke get started? Read on:

When Dorothy Brooke arrived in Cairo in 1930 as a young bride with her husband, cavalry officer Brigadier Geoffrey Brooke, she was shocked to find the city's streets full of skeletal former farm horses from England. It is thought that 20,000 horses belonging to the British, Australian and US forces were sold into a life of hard labor in Egypt alone. Brooke sent a passionate letter to the Morning Post, setting out her plans to help their plight.

"Out here, in Egypt, there are still many hundreds of old army horses sold of necessity at the cessation of the war," she wrote. "They are all over 20 years of age by now, and to say that the majority of them have fallen on hard times is to express it very mildly."

She ended her public appeal with a call for funds to be sent out to Egypt so she could buy back some of the horses and treat them. The public were so moved they sent her the equivalent of £20,000 in today's money. By 1934, the Memorial Hospital had been founded and Brooke had rescued 5,000 ex-war horses in Egypt.

"These old horses were, many of them, born and bred in the green fields of England – how many years since they have seen a field, heard a stream of water or a kind word in English?" Happiness comes like a dream of the past to these old horses when we buy them," she wrote in her diary in 1932.

"They cock their ears at an English voice, they even whinny with the old familiar smell of bran mash. Some few, who still possess the physical energy, roll in ecstasy when they find themselves on a soft straw bed."

Make an animal lover in your life happy this Holiday Season. Save gas, avoid the crowds and shop in your pajamas ― visit the online shop at the Brooke Trust or at American Friends of the Brooke.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A warm December

The Brook Path

Today was one of the coldest days we've had so far this season, and it feels like winter is setting in at last. Then again, look how green the grass is, and tomorrow the temperatures here in Massachusetts will climb into the 50s. This fall's weather reminds me of another warm pattern we experienced in 1998, now recognized as an early indicator of the climate changes we are experiencing now. Still, walking along the Brook Path today was lovely with no real wind to speak of, lots of blue sky and warm sun on my skin. I expect the ground will be covered with snow the next time I walk here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

About Carriage Horses

Photo: Carriage Horses NYC

I will be writing several posts about horses this December as the sun is now in Sagittarius, and like me, many born during this time (November 22 ― December 21) have a special affinity for horses.

Elizabeth Forel, President of the Coalition for New York City Animals, cares deeply about carriage horses and I do, too. I can never stand to see carriage horses in any city I visit. To me, it has always been clear that they are enslaved and suffering. Forel writes:

They have no voice and no choice. They are New York City carriage horses. Sweet, docile animals, they work nine hours a day, seven days a week, between the shafts of their carriage, in dangerous traffic. After a long day’s work, they return to a cramped stable. Dirty and sweaty, many of them are not cleaned up for the night. And in the morning, they begin another dreary day.

While working, they have no access to a pasture where they can run, buck and roll. It is particularly sad to see them pulling carriages through the park encumbered by equipment and blinders, barely able to get a glimpse of the grass that is denied to them.

Now, more and much needed attention is being given to the plight of carriage horses. On December 7th both The New York Times (note the main photo) and The New York Daily News ran important stories about the city's carriage horses, which I hope will outrage enough people to end the trade once and for all.

In the NY Daily News Forel writes, "The carriage trade is banned in cities ranging from London and Toronto to New Delhi and Beijing. New York City needs to follow."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maxfield Parrish sky

The sunset at this time of year always reminds me of a Maxfield Parrish painting.

MAXFIELD PARRISH (1870-1966) was a unique figure in American art, not belonging to any school, part traditionalist, part inventor, sometime illustrator of gnomes and dragons, other times finding inspiration in the oak trees of his New Hampshire environs.

A meticulous craftsman, Parrish's idiosyncratic painting method involved applying numerous layers of thin, transparent oil, alternating with varnish over stretched paper, yielding a combination of great luminosity and extraordinary detail. In his hands, this method gives the effect of a glimpse through a window....except that the scene viewed is from the fairy tale world. Source:

Click here to peruse some excellent books about the artist.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

An ocean paradise on earth

Starfish in a bed of sea grass in the waters of Raja Ampat Photo: Romeo Gacad

I have never done any scuba diving, only snorkeling, but I’m ready to begin if it means seeing the underwater world at Raja Ampat, which means Four Kings, in eastern Indonesia's Papua province. These palm-fringed islands have been described as "a living Eden and the last paradise on Earth," and have some of the richest and most biodiverse marine life with nearly 1,400 varieties of fish and 603 species of coral.

According to Smart Travel Asia: "For serious marine diversity it doesn’t get much better than Raja Ampat. Over 1,500 coral-studded islands lazily pepper the Equator and the azure waters are home to a fabulous variety of colourful soft corals, and reef fish can be observed and large schools of fish populate the region, such as sharks, manta and mobula rays, dolphins, whales and turtles."

Like so many natural wonders, this still pristine paradise is facing serious threats. View some incredible photos and read more here.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Go out and play

I don't normally tend to think of myself as political, though my stances on the environment and the treatment of animals, both domestic and wild, is beginning to point me in that direction. And I do support the Occupy Wall Street protest movement because I do not believe that"growth" and the pursuit of profit is the remedy for what ails this economy. I believe our focus should be on creating jobs that help us save our planet, the only home we've got. We can also create more jobs by finding ways to reinvent our current manufacturing processes to make them cleaner and greener.

Today, while the frenzied masses line up to shop, shop, shop, why don't you go out and play, play, play? Head for the woods, romp in your yard, walk your dog, sit on a park bench ― enjoy being, not buying.

Buying, as we know from past experience after 9-11, is only a temporary fix. We need to find other ways to revitalize the U.S. and global economy. When so many people are out of work and with more layoffs to come, what can people be thinking? Spending on "stuff" when stashing away savings is more important than ever is absolutely absurd.

If you must spend today, spend time in a way that enriches you and others. Tomorrow, consider donating money (or time) to a cause you believe in. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one day, Black Friday could be replaced with Thanks for Giving Day?

Click here to learn more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The truth about turkeys

(photo courtesy of

For years I've been writing about how much I love wild turkeys, and when I watched a NATURE episode called "My Life as a Turkey," I felt like I had found my twin in writer and naturalist Joe Hutto ― he feels the same way I do! This exceptional film recreates his amazing and emotional adventure raising 16 wild turkey babies or poults. However, in recreating the experience Hutto had with the birds, I do wish that the producers had refrained from recreating a scene of a poult being swallowed by a rat snake. That was hard to watch.

Hutto does wild turkeys a great service by showing how intelligent, creative, sensitive and resilient they are. He understands what wonderful and soulful companions they can be. I continue to feel blessed to live with a flock of wild turkeys and I share Hutto's reverence, respect and admiration for these wonderful birds.

I hope that those who see "My Life as a Turkey" will be enlightened and moved to think differently about wild turkeys. I also hope the film will give people pause to think about domesticated turkeys that are raised for food. The great majority lead miserable lives, forced to endure needless and unimaginable suffering on factory farms. As I watched the adorable poults in "My Life as a Turkey," I could not help but think of the millions of domestic poults that begin their innocent lives mutilated and abused.

Why haven't you heard more about this? Because factory farms are deliberately operated out of public sight. The farmers who engage in this "agribusiness" are secretive because they have so much to hide. Their focus is on profits, not on providing humane and respectful care for sentient creatures. The truth is that the majority of Thanksgiving turkeys that end up on your dinner table live and die in inhumane warehouses not fit for any living being.

Turkeys are not the only animals "produced" on factory farms. Chickens, pigs, cows, ducks and geese are also "mass produced" on factory farms and never see the outside world, never feel the sun or touch grass. The practices employed in raising them are cruel; their lives are brutal and short. Factory farmed animals are heavily dosed with antibiotics (because they are kept in such overcrowded conditions and disease spreads quickly) and fed diets laden with unhealthy additives.

As we look forward to this Thanksgiving holiday, please do what you can to increase awareness of these practices so we can end the suffering of turkeys and other farm animals. Refuse to support these practices by purchasing only humanely raised and organic foods. Or, go vegetarian. Inform yourself by reading about, and if you can, supporting organizations that respect animals and are working tirelessly to stop factory farming and end this unnecessary suffering. To learn more, visit Farm Sanctuary and Mercy for Animals.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

He called himself an animal lover

Thompson with his Percheron horses in 2008. (Tony Dejak/AP) Investigators walk around a barn as carcasses lay on the ground at the Thompson Animal Farm. (Chris Crook/AP)

Marital problems, a tax lien on his property, time spent in prison ―we may never know exactly why Terry Thompson went into meltdown mode and set 56 wild animals free just before killing himself at his exotic animal farm in Zanesville, Ohio on Tuesday, October 18th. But we do know this ― he didn't just take himself out ― he sentenced most of them to a violent death as well. Local and state authorities hunted down and shot and killed 18 rare Bengal tigers and 17 lions as well as wolves, grizzly bears, and other animals that Thompson had acquired for his "collection" of exotic animals. Read the entire story here.

Animal experts said that the hours leading up to the deaths of these wild animals were filled with terror and panic as they wandered loose with no understanding of what had happened to them. They had likely also suffered as part of Thompson's collection, which he began assembling in 1977. Over the years, numerous complaints from neighbors and animal lovers were made against Thompson, and in 2005 he was convicted of animal cruelty.

The only good that can come from this tragedy is the enaction of strong legislation to ban private ownership of wild animals for most ordinary citizens. Only those actively engaged in conservation efforts and in collaboration with animal advocacy groups should be allowed to become stewards of these magnificent and powerful animals. I totally agree with what Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, has to say about this issue. To read his blog click here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Project Seahorse

Lined Seahorse photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium Zebra Snout Seahorse photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Chinese cannot get enough of these magical creatures for their herbal medicine trade, aquarium hobbyists try and often fail to keep them alive and well in tanks, and now Kim Kardashian says she wants one for Christmas. How sad that these magical fish, in such grave peril, have become just another trinket to collect and possess by a rich and famous young woman who could actually do so much to help save them.

Decades ago, like many children, I was enchanted and transfixed by the sight of seahorses in Florida where my family spent many winters. Back then we did not know that seahorses, like so many other animals, could disappear forever. It's up to all of us to do what we can to preserve what still remains, so that's why I hope you will watch a TV special called "Seahorses: Wanted Dead Or Alive," airing on NAT GEO TV this month.

"With a horse's head, a monkey's tail and sex-swap parenting, seahorses are one of the ocean's strangest and most charismatic inhabitants. In this one hour special, wildlife filmmaker Natali Tesche-Ricciardi sets out to investigate something that most people don't realize - seahorse populations are in crisis. Natali finds that seahorses live in shallow, coastal seas and so are among the first to suffer from coastal development and pollution. They are often caught as fishing bycatch and are sold as tourist souvenirs. They are wanted alive for the aquarium trade and dead for a much larger industry - traditional Chinese medicine.

Millions of seahorses are traded each year and can reach a value higher than silver. Fortunately all is not lost. With the help of an international organization, Project Seahorse, traders and fishermen are changing their ways to help wild seahorse populations. It's a global adventure that takes Natali from marine reserves in Spain, to the traditional medicine shops of Hong Kong, to experience both seahorse heaven and seahorse hell.

You may be interested to know that seahorses all belong to the the genus, Hippocampus , which is derived from the Greek words ‘hippos' (meaning horse) and ‘campus' (meaning sea monster).

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What whales are telling us

Photo: Bdmlr/PA

, writing for The Guardian, reports on a slew of whale deaths that have mystified scientists around British shores. Here is an excerpt:

"Cetaceans spend all their lives in an environment which is alien to us. Ironically, however, whale strandings can be remarkably helpful. These deaths provide us with invaluable clues to the living animals about which we know so little. A fin whale stranded in Denmark last year, for instance, was thought to be about 15-20 years old, a juvenile. The results of its necropsy, released this summer show that it was blind, arthritic, and 140 years old – thereby doubling, at a stroke, the known longevity of these animals."

To read the entire story, click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Watching and waiting

While I work my fingers to the bone raking leaves, transplanting perennials, weeding and doing other yard chores, Baby watches and waits for any sign of the chipmunks that live in this burrow (and many others on the property). She’s logged hours and hours on watch ― one Saturday she spent the entire day at her post. In any contest judging “most focused,” she would dominate all the competition and go on to win the prize.

Alas, it’s all for naught. When she does finally succeed in catching any of the chipmunks that live here, she feels compelled to bring them straight to me and I, in turn, feel compelled to set them free, which, of course, starts the process all over again.

Occasionally, I’ll find a headless chipmunk on the doormat and a triumphant looking Baby sitting proudly beside it. There has been a surge in the chipmunk population this year, and they do make their way into the house, so I resign myself to the few hapless and headless and let Baby be Baby. As always, click on the photos for a better view.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where tears fell

White Wood Asters are late summer and fall food for wildlife

According to legend the Greek goddess Asterea began to cry when she looked down upon the earth and saw no flowers. Asters bloomed where her tears fell. Asters were chosen to decorate the graves of French soldiers to symbolize the wish that things had turned out differently. And so today, when we remember the thousands of people we lost on September 11, 2001, the wild wood aster seems a fitting tribute.

This native plant (Aster divaricatus) is a late blooming, shade tolerant wildflower and in New England some even last until the killing frosts of November. Few people know that they provide a late nectar source for butterflies and other insects and if you allow the seed heads to remain through the fall and winter, wild aster seed serves as food for sparrows, goldfinches, chipmunks and wild turkeys.

There are over 120 species of the genus aster found in the United States. Asters are primarily known for their fall flowering, especially in fields. But wild asters can also be found in swamps, bogs and woods. Some of these species can be a wonderful addition to native meadows planted to replace lawns. The large double-flowered asters seen in catalogs and garden centers belong to a different genus native to Asia.

Asters are the birth flower for September. The star-like flowers are said to be "stars fetched from the night skies and planted on the fields of day."

A song that seems right for this somber day is Peter Murphy's Cuts You Up. Click here to listen.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Mill Brook

The Mill Brook in Concord

Arising in Lincoln, the Mill Brook flows for three miles and disappears into the Concord River. I love the way it shimmers with eel-grass, water starwort and common pondweed (click on the photo for a close-up view). And even though the calendar says September, standing over the brook and gazing at the wetland meadows that surround it makes me feel like summer will never end.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

When hurricane winds blow...

Where do wild turkeys go?

I'm happy to report that these wild turkeys came through Hurricane Irene without a scratch, but they sure looked hungry. Interestingly, they disappeared about two days before Irene struck, perhaps sensing the falling barometric pressure. Most likely, they hunkered down away from low lying areas. The Mute Swans and their cygnets are just fine, too (see August 9 and 23 postings).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Cause and Effect

Hurricane Irene may make 2011 a record disaster year (image: NOAA)

According to preliminary estimates, hurricane Irene may make 2011 a record breaking year for billion-dollar natural disasters. It's too early to say what Irene's total impact will be, but it's likely that her effects will be widespread and the damage along the entire eastern seaboard will be considerable.

Whether we're breaking billion-dollar records or experiencing all-time highs in natural disasters, one thing is clear ― climate change is real.

Climate change is here.

What mankind does is the cause and subsequent weather events are the effect. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make the connection. I'm just wondering how bad it has to get before we finally stop what we're doing and focus on the undoing. If money is the best incentive, okay. All that matters now is taking swift action to reverse our course ASAP.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Sum and Substance

This hosta is known for its stupendous size

Two 'Sum and Substance' hostas are the stars of my front hosta border, which I planted where lawn used to be. It took a few years for them to reach their full size, but it was worth the wait! If you're looking for a magnificent hosta that will light up a shady area in your garden, 'Sum and Substance' will meet ― and exceed ― your expectations. Click on the photo for a close-up view.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More on downsizing lawns

Remove some lawn and plant a perennial border in its place

Let wild violets spread to form a groundcover

In posts from August 21st and 22nd I wrote about my efforts to reduce the size of my lawn, but I only mentioned my back lawn. There was lawn in the front of the house as well and it curved around and into the back yard, 5,000 square feet in all.

I began the downsizing project in front, where the lawn size was smallest, because starting small is the best way to tackle this project. First, I removed a wide strip of sod and planted a bed of hostas and ferns in its place. I planted mature hostas that grew quickly to create the feeling that the border had always been there.

Wild violets had invaded a good portion of the lawn (and butterflies love wild violets), so I gave them free reign. Still, I kept mowing throughout the growing season and fertilizing in the fall. This year I stopped mowing and let the violets do what they will. Soon enough I had a thick mat of green groundcover, mostly violets but with some weeds growing in between. I've trimmed the mat with sharp hand shears twice this summer and I'm pretty happy with the results. The violets will crowd out any remaining weeds in time.

As you can see in these photos, I have very little lawn left. Moss is growing in some places, and since I love moss, I'm thrilled to see it spreading. The rest of what's left of the lawn will give way to violets, and as I write this post, a few wild asters are coming up in between the violets. The point is, I no longer have a front lawn and I like it. Seems the songbirds and wild turkeys like it as well because I often see them foraging there. Insects and worms seek out this shady patch of green and the soil stays moist longer there.

I only wish I had done this sooner.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Butorides virescens

Green Heron in a swampy section of the Charles RiverImmature Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

I only had seconds to take a photo of this Green Heron; it was very shy and took off as soon as it saw me. Plus, I travel light and don't have the proper camera lenses, though I ought to. The second photo shows the bird's striking plumage and eye. Green Herons breed in swampy thickets and marshes like this one. To learn more click here.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's description of its behavior is exactly what I witnessed: "Forages in swamps, along creeks and streams, in marshes, ponds, lake edges, and pastures. Stands still next to water and grabs small fish with explosive dart of head and neck."

I discovered a very informative video about a baby Green Heron rescued on Cape Cod this summer. You can drag the button forward and skip the intro news, or just listen for a minute until the segment appears. You'll learn that when you choose to have tree work done can literally make a life or death difference for these and other birds. The same applies to the burning of brush. Please take a moment to watch this video.

As always, click on these photos for close up views.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Swans and cygnets feeding

Both parents look after their young
Cygnets stay with their parents for approximately six months

I wrote about this family of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), on August 9th, but on Sunday morning I saw them again and this time the whole family was together. I had a better view of the cygnets; there are four, not six. Watching the family feed was interesting and the cygnets have become quite skilled. Dad (the cob) keeps to the rear of the group to protect his family. At this stage, the cygnets are safe from predators such as crows, herons, turtles and large perch, but not from foxes and mink, which will also take adult swans. Click on the photos for a better view.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Heck no, I won't mow

This project only took an afternoon (the turkeys helped)

After years of vowing that I would someday reduce the size of my lawn, I finally took the plunge. As I explained in my post on August 21st, starting small was key, but once I got started I couldn't stop. Maybe the espresso coffee I had added to my enthusiasm. In any event, after removing the sod I again added peat and edged the second bed. I'll be planting a sedum cultivar that spreads quickly and forms a very attractive groundcover in part of this bed. More on that and my plans to add clover to the existing lawn in a future post. 

This is a work in progress and I'm planning to refine the border on the left, but overall, I'm pleased. It was easier than I thought and I like the new design. 

For a long time I justified maintaining a large lawn because I leave most of my acre wild. But now, I can still enjoy some lawn and do even more to help wildlife by making room for additional native plants that provide food, cover and nesting materials. I can even imagine putting in a small pond. 

Obviously, I think downsizing your lawn is an all around good thing. But if you still need convincing, note the following benefits: 

●Save time ― less mowing and mowing less often
●Save money ― on water and fertilizer
●Expand your “birdscape” ― birds love worms and worms abound in these garden beds
●Drought proof your garden ― most native plants do well with less watering
●Gain space for more native plants
●Last but by no means least ― reduce your carbon footprint!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Downsize your lawn

Start small by extending a garden bed

For years, I spent too much time and money taking care of approximately 5,000 square feet of lawn: mowing; watering; fertilizing; weeding; raking; and aerating. I stopped using chemicals long before anyone else I know and was quickly labeled as some kind of a nut. I use nothing but organic fertilizer and I let clover run wild, but I'm still enslaved. What about you? 

This month I began “sculpting” the back lawn, cutting an undulating border with a sharp edger, removing strips of sod, and then adding peat to the soil. I set my groundcover plants out just before a soaking rain, which is ideal for helping them get established. Rain is due tonight, so this afternoon I'll finish planting the rest of the Ajuga or Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), and space them closer than recommended to achieve a thick mat of green and bronze growth sooner. 

If getting rid of some or all of your lawn is looming large on your to do list, take heart. Starting small is the key to success. I'll have more to say on the process and other benefits of downsizing your lawn in the next post.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Further, faster, higher

Atlas moths (Attacus atlas)

New research by scientists in the Department of Biology at the University of York in England shows that species have responded to climate change up to three times faster than previously appreciated. These results are published in the latest issue of the leading scientific journal Science.

Project leader Chris Thomas, Professor of Conservation Biology at York, said: "These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the Equator at around 20 cm per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year. This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century."

Birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, spiders, other invertebrates, and plants featured in the evidence. For example, Atlas moths have moved 67 metres uphill on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.

Read more at Further, Faster, Higher: Wildlife Responds Increasingly Rapidly to Climate Change.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grow your own birdfood

Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana) Birds relish these berries

Behold the lowly pokeweed, one of the best "bird food" plants you can welcome into your garden. I say "welcome" because pokeweed pops up here and there in and around gardens and most people yank it out. As it grows, small pink-white flowers appear in summer on erect racemes, followed by thick spikes of fleshy, purple-black berries. Click on the photos above for a closer view. Once established, I think pokeweed is an attractive shrub.

Please note that the berries are toxic to humans but safe for birds and they do love them. Pokeberries attract many songbirds, including woodpeckers, waxwings, cardinals, bluebirds, and morning doves. They can persist into winter so it's important to leave the plants standing. They're also an important source of nourishment for migrating birds.

Other fascinating facts about pokeweed:

The Declaration of Independence was reportedly written in Pokeberry Ink made from the crushed dark purple berries, hence another name for the plant, Inkberry.

Poke is also known as: American Nightshade; Crowberry; Pigeon Berry; and Pokeroot. Although the leaves are poisonous, some people eat poke salad, which is made from the young poke leaves before the toxins develop. And if you've never heard the song, Poke Salad Annie, by Tony Jo White, click here to listen.

The recipe for Poke Salad calls for the cook to gather tender shoots of poke, considered a delicacy when only 3 or 4 inches tall, They can be cooked like asparagus but heed this warning from The North Carolina Cookbook: When preparing poke weed for consumption the first time, allow an experienced person to teach you what parts are safe to use and how to prepare it. If the wrong parts are eaten and pokeweed is not prepared properly, it can be poisonous to consume! It is important to use only the thick, succulent new growth (3 to 4 inches at the growing tips). The rest of the plant contains so much Vitamin A that it may be poisonous unless it is boiled in water 3 times (the water must be discarded 3 times to leech out the excess Vitamin A.)

I don't know about you, but after reading that, I think I'll leave poke to the birds.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Gray Whale laid to rest

Beached female gray whale Swimming with her calf (Photos: Associated Press)

This is such a sad story and what I find most moving is the connection that the Yurok Indians have with whales, their abiding respect for them and for the natural world. Gray whales can live up to 80 years and their long memories are key to their survival. This 45-foot female gray whale took refuge with its calf in Northern California's Klamath River nearly two months ago. The calf swam back out to sea on July 23, but the mother remained. "It's very sad," said Thomas O'Rourke, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, whose reservation lines the banks of the river south of Crescent City, California. The whale died around 4 a.m. as it was observed by a number of scientists.

O'Rourke visited the dead whale and said a prayer for its new journey. He believes it might have been showing its calf a place it had known in its youth."This is the farthest up river I have ever seen a whale," he said. "They come into the mouth regularly, the bottom end of the estuary. I believe there is a message there, and we are still yet to understand." The whale was expected to be buried later on the gravel riverbank during a private ceremony held by the Yurok Tribe among tall willows near the spot where it beached.

Read the story and view photos here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dirty Girl

The Baby loves to get dirty

Who knew that my efforts to reduce the size of our lawn would provide The Baby with the perfect opportunity to do what she loves best, roll in dirt? She also likes to roll around in wild turkey dust "bowls" after they've taken their dust baths.

She seemed particularly pleased with the layer of peat I put down to improve the soil for planting groundcover and native plants.

More on ways to tackle reducing the size of your lawn in a future post.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fox trot

Photo courtesy of

I heard a series of haunting calls as dusk fell tonight. The cats heard them too and leapt to the windows, on full alert. We stood quiet and studied the open garden and woods beyond for several minutes but saw nothing. Then, on my way downstairs, I spied a fox kit trotting past a back window. He seemed joyful and excited, probably because he and his family can finally hunt again after two days and nights of heavy rain. Now, even in mid August, often a dry month, everything is lush and green, and lots of critters on the fox menu are just as eager to be out and about tonight.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Corn is high

A corn field in Dover, Massachusetts

The corn is high now and last night's full moon was called the Green Corn Moon by American Indians. It was also called the Full Sturgeon Moon by fishing tribes, since sturgeon were most readily caught in August.

According to National Geographic, "Once abundant in North America's Great Lakes and upper Mississippi River, lake sturgeon populations have plummeted. These freshwater monsters, the continent's largest fish, are extremely long-lived. Scientists determined that a six-and-a-half-foot (two-meter) specimen caught in Canada in 1953 was 152 years old."

New England has been blessed with wonderful weather this summer; not too many hot days and enough rain in between to keep things lush and green. I am well aware that severe and historic drought has stricken many other areas of the country. Some are comparing it to the Dust Bowl weather event that occurred in the 1930s. Then and now this kind of drought has caused terrible suffering for every living being.

The drastic climate change events we are experiencing in 2011 will only get worse if we don't act now. It seems that mankind is in deep denial. What will it take to spur global action? As we prepare for a Presidential election here in the U.S., I would like to think that candidates will place high importance on our environmental stewardship responsibilities, but I fear that jobs and economic recovery will block any real progress.

Our economic recovery is imperative, but as Al Gore pointed out in "An Inconvenient Truth," deciding between bars of gold and turning around our climate change future is a decision too many people hesitate to make. Yes, gold is very tempting, but if we can't live on our own planet what good is it?

Sadly, at present all eyes are on gold. The great irony is that while gold may provide "shelter from the storm" in uncertain financial times like these, it has no power to protect us from environmental storms.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Swimming in certainty

Crystalline water at Walden Pond

If there's one thing I'm certain of it's this: I love ponds! My favorite summertime ritual is to get out of bed, head straight for a pond and dive right in.

Funny, after I've been pond swimming my hair always feels so soft and smells so fresh. Later in the day I find I don't need the deoderant I forgot to put on or feel the need to shower. Course, you have to pick a clean pond in the first place.

Like most kids, I loved going to bed as dirty as possible. Taking a bath was an option I'd happily skip if I had my way. On the rare occasion that I can begin my day baptized by pond water, I go to bed unwashed, the rapture of nature's elixir still with me.

These are the days.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Walden Morning

Summer morning at Walden Pond

Walden and I go back a long way. There was a time when I used to swim here every day, right into October. Life was much less complicated then.

It felt that way again this morning when I went in for a swim around 8am, then lingered in a quiet little cove for a couple of hours. Young mallards swam by, chipmunks darted along the bank and when a dragonfly fell into the shallows right in front of me, I was glad to rescue it and watch it revive and dart away. It would have been doomed had I not been there. Once in the water it was helpless. Those light, lacy wings were totally immersed and small fish were heading toward it, intent on nibbling at them.

But I was there. It was an amazing morning and I will be posting more photos.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back where I belong

Bicycling along the Charles River

For the first time in more years than I care to count I went for a long bike ride in the country, covering nearly 30 miles on what turned out to be a perfect high summer day. An old injury had me convinced that my biking days might be over.

Though it was a regular workday (for everyone else) I was lucky to enjoy a quiet ride, with spectacular scenery, a nice breeze and no humidity. There was nothing between me and the scent of Summer Sweet in bloom and the sound of crickets chirping except for a few gear shifts.

I spent most of my childhood on a bicycle! A need for freedom and a deep desire to spend as much time as possible outdoors was as important then as it is now.

The feelings of exhilaration and total happiness are the same. It's good to know that some things don't change.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer, Part Two

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

By the time August rolls around, way too many people are saying summer is almost over. They're so wrong. We're just beginning late summer, a glorious time that lasts into most of September. After that, in New England, we look forward to Indian Summer.

American Goldfinches are prime players in what I like to call, "Summer, Part Two." These late breeders often wait until July to build their nests and lay between two to seven eggs. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "American Goldfinches are the only finch that molts its body feathers twice a year, once in late winter and again in late summer. Frequent molting is both time-consuming and physiologically taxing for the birds. Some scientists suggest this may be the reason goldfinches breed so late in the season — rarely beginning in earnest until mid-July. Another possibility is that the birds wait to nest until thistle, milkweed and other plants have produced fibrous seeds, which goldfinches not only eat but also use to build their nests."

I feed goldfinches year round and I'm vigilant about keeping seed available. Thistle seed is what they love and using a thistle sock seems to work best, even in winter. It’s easy for them to cling to and they love feeding upside down. But, if you really want to attract goldfinches to your yard, be advised that feeding thistle is not enough. You need to provide a reliable source of water, good cover, plants and habitat for nesting.

Cornell says goldfinches are among the strictest vegetarians in the bird world, selecting an entirely vegetable diet and only inadvertently swallowing an occasional insect. A variety of seeds is best, so plant perennials that provide seed, such as anise hyssop, asters and sunflowers. And when your perennials and annuals go to seed in the fall, resist the urge to cut them down to the ground. Leave the stems and seed heads standing — they provide a good source of nourishment for goldfinches and other birds into winter. Also, birds love to forage in the garden, scratching and looking for seeds, so tidier, in this case, is NOT better.