Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “Ozarks”

Morning Meditation: Life As It Should Be

It really can be this simple.

Satisfaction.  Contentment.  Fulfilment.  Happiness.

And the measure of this?

All to be found in watching a flock of sheep graze in a green pasture.

In the light filtering through dogwood blossoms.

In the song of a red-shouldered hawk hiding in the canopy of great oak trees.

In the hum of bees in pear blossoms.

In the soft green of leaves unfurling.

In the warmth of the sun’s good medicine.

In belonging where you are.

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{Morning Meditation} Understory

Before the canopy above awakens from its dormant sleep, blocking out the rays of the sun from the forest floor, the shrubs and bushes, vines and fleetingly flowering plants hurriedly open their leaves to bask in as much of that early spring light as they can before the tall trees claim it for their own.

This part of the forest is called the ‘understory’.  It is a fitting name, as this story unfolds often unnoticed, out of sight, below what is obvious and easily seen.  To observe what is happening, one must also be willing to go under and below, to allow the senses to go to places that are usually overlooked and ignored. Like Tiffany Aching teaches us, we must learn to open our eyes—and then open them again.

When we learn to do that, we understand that this understory can be watched, read, and heard all around us. We can follow the story as it unfolds. The closer we are able to look, the more we find such unimaginable beauty.

And things we take for granted as being common,

become uncommon treasures.

How much do we miss by keeping our eyes only on one level of things? How many subtleties escape us? Most days, I feel as though I am seeing this land for the first time.

I am learning the story of the dogwood. Did you know that the bracts of the flowering dogwood are often light green when they open?

They change to white when the flowers are ready for pollination.

This I learned by walking through the woods with my eyes open. Walking slow and staring in wonder at what I saw.  Asking questions, listening and observing.

And then Googling. But listening and observing first.

Plants are not the only ones with understories. All living things, animate and inanimate (yes, I mean that) have stories beneath the surface.

Under rocks,  there is fire.

I think this is a Southern Red-backed Salamander. Which I would not have seen if I hadn’t looked under that particular rock. I’ve never seen one of these before, and I saw two that day! Which makes me very happy since amphibians are indicators of the health of creeks and streams. Stories interweaving–the salamander, the creek, and me.

And then there is the understory of the underworld. Important in myth, for sure. But a different kind of underworld story is playing out right underneath our feet. No ferryman needed.

Entire worlds below us, and we just step over them like it’s nothing. But what is happening below is so complex that we are just beginning to understand how truly remarkable and necessary it is to life ‘above’. In this understory, ants play an important part in keeping the soil healthy. They turn and aerate the soil, affecting nutrient content, allowing air and moisture to reach the roots of the plants growing above. They carry seeds into the tunnels below—seeds that will germinate, thereby helping to disperse them to wider areas, helping to ensure survival and diversity.

Sometimes the understory has understories, but you’d never know this without getting down on your hands and knees to find out. Mayapples carpet the forest floor in colonies every spring. Their leaves are like umbrellas.

If you look underneath these funny, leafy umbrellas, you will find the most beautiful flowers. You cannot see them from above. I think they are worth crawling around of the forest floor to see. Next month, the flowers will have fallen, and the little fruits will grow in their place.

Every thing has a story. And every story is intertwined in some way with every other story, whether it’s big and obvious as a forest canopy or part of the ever-twining understory. Not every story will be one you want to know, and that’s ok. Not all stories require our participation. They don’t even require our awareness. That is for our benefit, not only to enrich and give greater meaning to our lives, but to help us understand our place within this world. Within the greater story.

As an example, even the goddamned poison ivy belongs in the understory. We don’t have to participate in that story, but we ought to be aware of it. ;)

Our stories run like currents underneath the surface. Our subconscious language of imagery and symbols, our constant thoughts, our changeable feelings are always present under our skin, under the canopy that we present to the world. One story on the outside, another on the inside. Both necessary, both meaningful. We are surrounded by stories at all times in all places. Being aware of our ‘understory’ reminds us that everywhere we look, if we look closer, we will find amazing stories playing right before our eyes. And being aware of the ‘understory’ around us reminds us to look closer at what is within ourselves, too.

 And that’s all my deep thoughts from the forest floor, lol.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of Toads (aka Pool Party)

I love toads.

Absolutely love them. Mating season has been in full swing here at the farm, and I got a few close-ups with the local toad residents, most of which I think I’ve correctly identified as both Eastern American toads and Dwarf American toads.

Our conservation department has a great little pdf that describes many of the 26 species and subspecies of frogs and toads found here in Missouri.  For most of the toads, mating season is in March, April, and May. It is the male toads who sound the mating call, the unmistakable trill that announces both the arrival of spring and the season of love.  Here are the links to some short clips that I took of male toads calling (wordpress was uncooperative with imbedding):

#1

#2

The males tend to be smaller than the females, as you can see in these amphibious bow-chicka-wocka-bow pictures below:

Unlike frogs, whose eggs tend to form clumps or masses in the water, female toads release their eggs in long continuous strands. These strands can range anywhere up to 60 feet long! Here you can see the toads laying eggs in their natural habitat, a lake. They also like the still water of ponds, low ditches, and large puddles.

And now you can see the toads laying eggs in their preferred habitat, our swimming pool cover. It gets filled with rainwater and melted snow, and since there are no fish to eat the tadpoles, the toads congregate in this giant, safe “puddle” every spring. On this particular day, the toads were many. I stopped counting at 50. You can clearly see the long strands of eggs in this photo.

Approximately 1-3 weeks later, depending on the temperature, the eggs hatch into tadpoles. Many, many, many tadpoles. I’m pretty sure there are about 8 million of them in the swimming pool right now.

And even a few in the lake, lol.

Not all of them will live. In the lake, many will be eaten by fish, turtles, and other predators.  Much of the water on the swimming pool cover will evaporate in the warming sun before the tadpoles fully mature. In the past, I’ve collected all that I can reach and transported them down to the lake. Of those that do make it out of the water on four little legs, many will fall prey to snakes, turtles, and small mammals. But the quick, the cautious, and the lucky will survive to complete the cycle again next year.  And potentially, the next 40 years after that. Toads can live for a very long time.

There is a lot of lore surrounding the toad. In Europe, toads were believed to carry the spirits of witch’s familiars and to be symbols of the devil. In China, the three-legged toad, Jin Chan, was seen as a symbol of prosperity and was associated with the full moon.

This male toad doesn’t actually have three legs, he just had one tucked back underneath him. And since he doesn’t have any gold coins falling out of his mouth, we can safely assume he is not Jin Chan. Pity.

My favorite author of Ozark traditions and lore, Vance Randolph, wrote down a number of the superstitions surrounding toads that he collected from the locals in his book Ozark SuperstitionsHere are a few excerpts from that work:

“It must be admitted that some of the items in this collection are folktales rather than superstitions proper. That is, they are not really believed by intelligent adults, but are repeated to children just as parents elsewhere tell the story of Santa Claus or assure their offspring that rabbits lay parti-colored eggs on Easter Sunday. The old sayin’ that killing a toad will make the cows give bloody milk, for example, is probably just a way of teaching children to let toads alone; the farmer knows that toads destroy insects, and he likes to see them around his doorstep on summer evenings.”

“There is a very widely known superstition that to kill a toad will make one’s cows give bloody milk. Most people think that nothing can be done about this, once the toad is dead, but Otto Ernest Rayburn found hillfolk in Arkansas who claim to be able to repair the damage, particularly if the toad was killed accidentally. “Get seven pebbles,” says Rayburn, “and throw them over your left shoulder into an open well at sundown. The milk will be all right after that.”

Randolph recounts a few ways for getting rid of warts, one of which requires this gruesome deed:

“Or one may kill a toad, rub its intestines on the wart, then bury the entrails under a stone. All this must be kept secret, otherwise it won’t work. The boy who acquainted me with this method still had several large warts ; when I asked why the toad’s guts hadn’t cured them, he explained that he had told his mother what he was doing, in order to escape punishment for killing the toad. The mother was opposed to killing toads in the dooryard ; she said it was an unlucky and senseless practice and might make the cows give bloody milk.”

That treatment is only to be outdone by the cure for a goiter. The instructions said to bake a toad in the oven until “the oil ran out of it” and then to apply that oil to the goiter daily. Ew with a capital EW! I mean, not only to kill a toad like that, but then to ever use that oven again for anything ever. Just say no to baking toads, people.

On a happier note, it was auspicious if a newlywed couple saw a toad immediately after the ceremony. And I do like this little saying that someone mentioned their father always said,

'Safe as a toad in god's pocket.'


Toads are also seen as symbols of transformation and secrets. This I can understand. They really are quite remarkable.


Peeps and Peepers

The chicks are growing fast and feathering out more and more each day.  They are approximately 3 1/2-4 weeks old now and have a scruffly, rumpled appearance that is pretty darn cute.  It’s been a long, long, long time since I helped raise chicks, so I’m not sure if chicken temperaments differ greatly among breeds at this age or not.  These little Buff Orpingtons are chatty, curious, brave, funny, and friendly.

I love them.

This week in chick raising required some housing changes. We had a waterer malfunction, which soaked their big cardboard box.  So, both a different waterer and a different house were needed.  Also, these chickies are turning out to be surprisingly adept at catching a few feet of air when they want to—which is anytime they’re not sleeping or eating. I guess it’s not unlike a baby reaching its milestones—crawling, sitting up, walking—at some point, chicks want to fly and they want to perch. I discovered that they had acquired this new skill when I walked into the front porch and found one perched on the top edge of the box, which at 18 inches tall, I thought was high enough to keep them in. Wrong.

So, my dad and I brainstormed and decided that our large wire mesh dog crate would be just the right solution.  It’s roomy, which will allow for a few more weeks’ growth; it’s completely enclosed with strong narrowly spaced wire which will keep them in safely; it has a slide out tray bottom which is easy to clean; it is easy to safely affix their heat lamp and perch in; and best of all it repurposed an item that wasn’t being used.  Free is good.  Also, after reading some ideas for bedding, I switched from leaves/straw to old towels.  While they don’t get to have as much fun scratching, the towels are absorbent and easy to change and wash frequently to keep their enclosure clean, which is important not only for their health, but for ours since they are in the house.  The towels also are textured enough to give them some grip, which is important so they don’t develop spraddle leg, which can happen if their bedding is too slick.

In addition to their feeder, they have a little treat container where I put fresh greens, fruit, and the occasional bug or worm in.  They go NUTS over their treats. It is a riot. They also have no hesitation about eating out of my hand or perching on my arm.  In fact, if I talk to them or put my hand in the cage, they run up to me (presumably because I’m the treat dispenser).  I pretend it’s because they love me back.

Chicks need to be protected from drafts and also from small chihuahuas named Teddy, so I wrapped/taped some cardboard boxes around the cage.  It just so happened that the boxes I had on hand were Milk-Bone boxes.  So the chicks get to stare at dogs all day anyway, lol.  They don’t seem to mind.

One of the dilemmas I faced with my chicks was whether or not to feed them medicated feed to prevent coccidiosis.  After reading a lot about this, and all of the semi-contradictory information about what to do, I decided that I would do the medicated feed this time around while I get comfortable with chicken issues.  My hope for the future, however, is to only use medications on an as-need basis.  Next up: getting the big coop ready for chicks. Oh, and we dug the incubator out of the barn for kicks… I’m on the fence about using it, though.  I figure, why bother trying to do a job that a broody hen will not only do happily, but better than I could ever do?  We’ll see.

So, that was the peeps.  And here are the peepers.  And pickerels and leopard frogs and toads.  Now you, too, can enjoy the sound of the Ozarks in spring! I took this film real quick on my way out to put up the sheep for the night. I love the sound. Love it, love it, love it.  And so I want to share it with you.

Be well.

So. Many. Things.

Hello, friends!  Just a quick word about life, the universe, and everything.  This last year has been generous in offering up life lessons in So. Many. Things.  First of which is not getting attached to one’s plans.  I often imagine that other people my age probably really have their act together.  But me?  I’m a pretend-to-fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person.  Not because I think it’s fun or romantical, but because I suck at a lot of grown-up stuff like understanding insurance benefits, online banking, and filing things where I have a chance of finding them later.  Or, you know, filing things.  And as much as I’d like to say otherwise, I’m not so great at doing that whole life planning thing.  So, if you’re in any way like me, you’ll understand this bit:  you know those times when something Important comes up and you get all disciplined and you decide to make A Plan?  It’s a big deal, right? You think you’re being smart and feel all responsible and mature because you even wrote out a pros and cons list and used a calculator an shit.  You make a for realz bonafide Plan.  You are ready for action! But then just when you feel solid about the path you’re about to step on, the Universe slams the door in your face and says, “Ha!  Let’s see what you do now!”

So, what do you do?  Do you fight or do you go with the flow?  Do stick to plans stubbornly or do you change them easily?  My course this year has been to contemplate the impermanence of all things–including my seemingly awesome plans–and to go hunting for another door.  Or window. Or air vent.  I’m not picky.  Lol.  Anything is better than being stuck.  I’m finding that not infrequently, it’s better to make your plans on an Etch-a-Sketch instead of with a sharpie–it’s easier to accept the changes and begin again when things get shaken up.  And often, if you’re open to it, even better things come along.  I’m not even going to pretend that it’s been such a gracious process, because it hasn’t.  It has been filled with stress and anxiety and doubt and more stress.  But I would like to think that I have at least been gracious in seeing that I have much to learn.  And, I don’t know, maybe that I’m getting a little better at all of this.

Here’s the digs:  We are in the process of moving from St. Louis to the farm in the Ozarks where I grew up.  So many things converged cosmically to make this happen, that I can’t even begin to explain it all now.  So. Many. Things.  It has been a hard year.  Really, ridiculously hard.  But the light at the end of the tunnel is bright and beautiful.  The end result will hopefully be a wonderful win-win for us, and for my parents who still live on the farm.  We will get to be in the country and be some kind of farmers (which we’ve been wanting to do forever) and my parents will get loads of help so that they can relax and travel and do things that people do when they’re retired and not trying to manage cows and sheep and chickens and horses—you get the picture.

However, unlike we originally thought in one of the first variations of this plan, we will not be able to move to the farm at the end of spring as we’d hoped.  This change has to do with unforeseen local school district policy issues and getting our kids into the school where they want to go.  So, we’ll be moving into town not far from the farm.  It so happens that my sister has an awesome house for rent there, and will be in need of a tenant at that time.  How crazy is that win-win? It was not what we’d planned, but it is now looking like it will make for a better transition for everyone.  Kids get a good school, we are close to jobs and the university (more upcoming plans…), and we’re still close enough to the farm to help out regularly.  And then when the kiddos graduate, we can talk about moving out there full-time.  See?  This never would have occurred to me.  Thanks, crappy school district rules!

Oh, but there’s more!  Another situation involving someone’s recently herniated disc opened a door for me to consider moving to the farm right away so that I can try to be of help while someone ignores common sense and continues to work like a man half his age.  My dad is made of awesome win, and I can only hope to be as fit at 75 as he is.  Even so, there is much work to do, and I am happy to lend a hand.  So I gave my notice at work and last week moved to the farm.  I would like to make a brief aside here to say that my coworkers and boss were amazingly kind, understanding and wonderful.  I am very thankful for having had the opportunity to work with them all.  More lessons learned this year.  To be honest, this move has given me a much needed chance to catch my breath, to put energy toward things that are earthy and good, and for the first time in a long time to be tired at the end of the day because I worked hard, not because I worried hard.  It is a gift.

Here are some gratuitous farm pictures:

This is the view from the front patio overlooking the lake and the ridge of trees that encircles most of the property.  It makes a bowl of sky that I have a hard time looking away from.

Here is an artsy photograph of a wheelbarrow full of dried perilla and grass that I pulled out of the raised bed garden where my mom wants to plant an abundant crop of cilantro next year for making fresh salsa and sofrito.  Mmmmm…sofrito.

Ronin is learning how to be a farm dog.  Ronin loves being a farm dog.  Ronin loves to chase sheep.  Dre does not like searching for sheep that got lost because they freaked out and ran away from a big black dog.  Dre especially does not like looking for those sheep in the middle of the night.  For hours and hours.  In the rain.  Dre is working to teach Ronin not to chase sheep. :P

So, that’s what’s going on in my corner of the universe.  I miss my kids and my husband, but am happy for a good internet connection and that we’re close enough to drive back and forth on weekends.  I am getting into the swing of doing chores again and learning the ways of livestock.  My muscles are sore.   I do not tire of soaking up the beauty that is all around me here.   I am thankful for our wonderful family and friends, their generosity, kindness and support, without whom this move would not be possible.  And I am thankful for open doors.  I won’t have any dyeing posts for a while–my dyeing tools are boxed up for now, but I anticipate getting them unpacked in the spring.  Until then, I’ll try to entertain you all with stories of my mad greenhorn farming skillz.  Lol.

Live happy, go graciously.

Queen of Winter

A lot has been going on the last couple months.  Things that have kept me from being creative or productive or myself, really.   Sometime I might be able to write about this, but honestly whether or not I will work up the courage to hit “publish” is another matter entirely.  In the meantime, here is a wonderful example of the subtlety of Nature and a gentle reminder to open one’s eyes and one’s senses so as not to miss the beauty hiding in plain sight all around us.  This is one of my favourite plants in the yard:

Hamamelis vernalis, the Ozark Witch Hazel

hamamelis vernalis 3-16-2013 12-21-42 PM

During these months, this little shrub is easy to overlook, the eye drawn to the striking silhouettes of greater trees with their stark bones outlined darkly in the winter sky.   She looks like this every year—withered and brown—for a good month or so before I remember what it is that I am actually seeing.  I am slow as molasses.  I always forget and think that those are dead leaves too stubborn to come off their stems.  Like those of the pin oaks that are all too common in St. Louis neighborhoods, dropping dead leaves all winter long.   But they are not.  They are her flowers, beautiful and otherworldly, releasing their heady, spicy-sweet fragrance to the cold spring air—and to anyone who knows well enough to step closer.  I remember to do so.  Eventually.

hamamelis vernalis 3-16-2013 12-21-12 PMJust when I’ve had all the winter I can take, the witch hazel sends her gift—a call to awaken.  I need reminders like this often.  Open your eyes!  Look around you!  Breathe deeply!  Wake up!  Time for the sap to rise, time to shake off introspection and move into action.  And always, always time to find beauty no matter what the circumstance is around you.  And when you cannot find it, make it.  Make it!  And know you are not alone.  There is the witch hazel, making beauty while all else succumbs to sleep still.  That is true strength.

Soon enough the sun will shine again.

 

Ste. Genevieve County Vol. 3: Hickory Canyons

This place.  This place was a total surprise.  I’ve traveled all over the world, seen some of the most moving and bold landscapes ever.  And while Missouri is beautiful, it’s not beautiful in the big, super raw, punch to the solar plexus way that, say, the Rockies are or southern Utah or coastal California.  It leans toward pastoral beauty in the farmlands and rugged old beauty in the Ozarks, river beauty along the Missouri or the Mississippi.  But Hickory Canyons was different.  Somehow.  This place was altering.

It is quiet—out of the way, off some gravel road.  The feeling here is the opposite of Pickle Springs.  There are no signs, no catchy names.  Just the ground, just the trees, the water and the rocks.   How good it felt here.  There is some ground that transports you when you cross its boundaries, takes to to another place, someplace otherworldly.  That was not this ground.  This place was very… real.  It caught me off guard and then guided me along the moss-lined path.  This is a place that loosens your skin of the tautness from city life, from jobs and money and stress, that stretches you.  This is a place that beckons your bones to sink into the soil and remember the sacredness of your humanity and your connection to what is under your feet.  You know what Hickory Canyons reminded me of?  A friend.  Not the kind that is only interested in you when they need your ear or your shoulder or your stuff but never remembers your birthday.  No, this place is the friend that makes you stew on a cold day, that calls bullshit when you need it called, that will laugh with you and get angry with you, and always sings to you on your birthday.  How’s that for some geological anthropomorphization?  It’s the best I can do, because the pictures don’t do it justice.  I would walk this trail every day if I could.

Lobelia cardinalis in the sun.

I’d love it if someone could ID this one. I’ve never seen a mushroom like it before.

And there you have it.  A wonderful weekend full of geological wonders, hiking goodness, land-bonding, friends, food, drink, celebration, knitting, campfires, banana boats, and laughter.  It’s good to get out and see the world.

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