Postcards from NJ

A fun idea for a photo meme from Vitamin Sea via Pure Florida.

Send along your requests for photos from where I live. I’ll go out with camera in hand and roam the neighborhood. It’s a chance for me to play tour guide and show off my hometown and local area. What snapshot from New Jersey would you like to see?

Include requests in the comment section here and consider playing along on your own blog.

Surprises from the classroom

We’re 4 weeks into the semester now and I’ve almost learned everyone’s name. I only see these *kids* once a week , so it seems to take forever to know who’s who.

They’re a pretty mixed group, with a surprising number of boys. Usually in a class of eighteen students I’ll have only 4 or 5 boys, but this semester it’s the opposite. Boys make me nervous. They tend to cause flashbacks to the year I spent teaching Spanish at an elementary school and had to bear the torment of 6th and 7th graders on a daily basis. I was not a happy camper then and ended most school days very near in tears. I did much better with high school boys who didn’t spend all their time trying to figure out ways to harass me.

The boys at the community college are very much like the high school students I taught. It’s interesting to me to imagine what they must have been like in high school and what group they fit in to. With a new start at college, some of them are trying out new roles, but many times they seem to fall back on their old ways. Oftentimes I have the athletes who spent their high school years charming their way through classes. Confident and very personable, but sort of lazy. They smile at me a lot and crack jokes, call me *Professor* when everyone else calls me by my first name. Very amusing. Very charming.

Then there are the boys who try to blend into the walls and hope I won’t pay any notice of them. Well-behaved and quiet and badly in need of help, but afraid to ask for it. They got through high school by not causing any trouble and they’re hoping that strategy will still work for them. They’re the hardest for me to connect with in the classroom because they won’t respond to either the friendly cajoling I frequently employ, or the stern *teacher talk* that I hate to have to resort to. Stern doesn’t really work for me and they see through this act of mine.

As a teacher, I know that I shouldn’t have any preconceived ideas about my students, but I can’t help it. What I enjoy is watching them trash the ideas I have about them as the semester progresses.

There is the muscular football player who last night volunteered to read poem after poem out loud for the rest of the class as we talked about the connections we make when reading that help us to understand text better.

And his friend who asked if we didn’t have time to write a follow-up to one of the peoms we read that the class had really enjoyed. (I think that was a ploy to avoid doing any *real* work!)

The shy Haitian student who every week arrives early and rearranges the furniture so that I, and the rest of the class, won’t have to do it.

The student who skipped class the first week, arrived late with a smirk for the second class, but then produced a perfect Origami crane while I floundered to make something resembling a box as a demonstration of the value of background knowledge when reading.

I like for them to surprise me. I’m glad to find these good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.

Have you ever had a moment where you wondered how on earth you got to that point? I often feel that way in the classroom. I came across this picture, my college graduation pic, this evening while searching for an old friend’s address. I was 22 and engaged to be married and had no clue what I would be doing the following week, let alone near 15 years later. Never would I have imagined myself to be teaching college. I look at it and wonder what my college profs thought of me, the quiet girl who always sat in the front row, but never said a word. I was terribly shy and hated to speak in front of people. How I find the courage to teach puzzles me, still. My knees sometimes shake, but I’ve learned to stand behind the desk at those times!

I like to think of what the students I have known will become and how they will find their place in the world. Most I never hear from again, but a few do keep in touch and will email me once in a while. I like that they do that and wish that more did. I think it’s the nature of the course I teach, and the way I try to do it, that leads some of them to want me to know that they’re doing well and that they’ve beaten the odds. That they’ve surprised themselves, even.

9/28/06 Mid-week bunny fix

This is the sight that greeted me on Tuesday when I got in from work. The general mess with hay strewn about is normal, the collapsed hidey-box is not. It’s been threatening to give way for a few weeks now and I’ve been on the lookout for a new box to replace it with. But I hadn’t found one in time. This box was huge and once held 50 pounds of hay shipped across the country from Nebraska for the spoiled rabbits. I haven’t ordered from that company in a while, so don’t have another.
I didn’t expect to find Boomer happily snoozing the afternoon away inside the busted box, but I should have known better. That bunny can nap!
I threw away the box and cleaned up and set out their bed and they snuggled inside it, as they do. But it just wasn’t right… these bunnies need a box to *hide* in. None of the others have ever had a box, but I’ve always given one to the flemmies. They chew the doorways to their liking and shred a back entrance hole. Boomer especially loves the box and I have to rouse him morning and night to eat. He prefers his salads and his hay in bed. Lazy boy!
Before the night was over I had replaced it with the only box I could find that is almost big enough, but not nearly. Boomer seems happy to have a roof over his butt, if not his head.

Weeds or wildflowers?

My garden goes all to hell this time of year. I’m tired of weeding and dragging the hose around. The shorter days don’t leave much time for it, even if I were inclined to be out there doing those things after work. The wild things that have been quietly growing beside their more manicured neighbors take full advantage of my neglect and shout out to the neighbors that a lazy gardener lives here. There is beauty in this chaos, but it’s hard to see that from curbside. My husband, with his inclination towards neatness (only in the yard!), is aching to cut this flower bed down. It has no sense of propriety and is arching over and falling onto *his* precious lawn. So far I’ve kept him at bay by pointing out that this bed of white snakeroot, swamp milkweed, and Joe-Pye has nestled two monarch chrysalises in its shady depths and there could be others who need just a week or two (or three) more to finish their business here.
I never planted the snakeroot, but it found its way here from somewhere and wants to take over. I leave it be because it’s not very noticeable until it blooms and then it’s beautiful. The pokeberry in the picture above is something we fight all spring and summer long, but now in fall we leave it to flower and fruit. The small white aster (maybe aster vimineus?) is a new volunteer brought on the wind. I’m amused to find wildflowers growing here of their own accord, when there are so many flowers that I nurture with little success.
This summer we suddenly have goldenrod growing in the bog garden beside the pond. Where did that come from? I tried to figure out this evening what type of goldenrod it is, but was only able to determine that it is very different from the *cultivated* one I grow across the yard. This is where the writing spider made its pretty web a few weeks ago, and each evening I go out to see what new bugs are feasting on it. There is an assortment of flower flies that I don’t know how to identify, and fuzzy bumblebees, and locust borers that mimic wasps.

One summer a guy that worked for my neighbor mowed my *wildflower patch* down in late summer, just before all the plants were to bloom. He was mowing the lawn and got carried away with himself, I guess. By rights, he was entitled to do so, as part of this garden is technically on my neighbor’s property. I was most fit to be tied though when he told me he did it because “it’s just weeds, man!” If that’s the way you see the world, well, so be it. But, they’re beautiful weeds. My husband takes care of the neighbor’s lawn now. Out of the goodness of his heart. 😉

Have decoy, need jig and frozen lake

Have you ever heard of a fish decoy? I hadn’t until I came across them at the show on Saturday. Sheepishly I asked the gentleman selling them if they were just decorative or if they actually had some use. He explained that yes, some people collect them, but in places where spear fishing is allowed these decoys are used to lure bigger fish to a hole made in the ice of a frozen lake. Lines are attached to the decoy, then to a stick or *jig* and the decoy is made to swim in a way so as to attract other fish that can be speared from above the ice. Like duck decoys, fish decoys are quite popular as folk art, in addition to their more practical use. Who’d have guessed it? Me, I just thought it was pretty. It’s a Lake Trout, carved from white pine and only 8″ long with a beautiful curve to its body. It’s surprisingly heavy for its size, due to the weights placed in its belly to make it *swim* properly. The carver suggested I try it out in the bathtub to see how it works.

I had a hard time choosing which I liked best, but think I chose a good one. The artist, Rich Brooks, has won many awards for his decoys and lures and the one I chose was featured in a display this summer at the Tuckerton Seaport where he was the *artist in residence*. A nice pic of my decoy is available here and more info about fish decoys in general is available at this website.

What I love most about the decoy show is the chance to chat with the people who make such beautiful things. They all seem to love to talk and share their expertise. I’d imagine it’s difficult on the ego to set up a booth filled with things you’ve worked hundreds of hours on and poured your soul into, only to see so many people pass by without much more than a glance. Those of us that do stop to ask questions (and to buy) are richly rewarded with a peek into the heart of an artist. Each decoy I own has been bought this way, after the telling of a story or a conversation about some aspect of their craft. That personal connection is what makes each decoy unique and special to me.

Sorting through the shelves

Randa at Garden Geek tagged me with another book meme. I love an excuse to talk about books, but felt like I needed to narrow the focus a bit, so decided to think in terms of nature books only. As you can see in this pic of one of my bookshelves, my book collection (and my thinking about books) is not very well organized. I tend not to think of books in the terms used in this meme; maybe that’s what made this so very difficult for me. Anyway, here goes…

1. One book that changed your life: Changed my life? I won’t go that far, but should mention Equinox: Life, Love, and Birds of Prey by Dan O’Brien. I remember wandering around a Barnes & Noble and being drawn to this book in the “Discover New Writers” section because it had a falcon on the cover. I was just getting interested in birds and this was the first of an endless series of nature books I’ve devoured in the 10 years or so since reading it. I read each of Dan O’Brien’s books that I could find in the library and have purchased each new one as it is published. I read the authors who wrote *blurbs* for this book and found Jim Harrison, Rick Bass, and Stephen Bodio each of whom has lead me to other authors and other books.

2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Prior to reading books on the natural world I had been reading a lot of gardening essays. Naturally, I began to find myself favoring those garden authors whose books intersected with my interest in the outdoors. Sue Hubbell is one such author and her A Country Year: Living the Questions is a book that I’ve read over and over when the mood strikes me. It’s the type of book I can pick up and read for an hour or two and return to six months later. Hubbell’s books cover varied topics like bee-keeping and living in the country, but also sea life and bugs among other things. Good stuff that I always enjoy.

3. One book you’d want on a desert island: Easy question! Sundial of the Seasons by Hal Borland.

4. One book that made you laugh: Nature books as funny? The only ones I can think of are by Pete Dunne, but he gets less funny the more you read him; he needs some new one-liners! Sorry, Pete!

5. One book that made you cry: The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter. Wonderful book that I enjoyed immensely and have often given as a gift. It tells the story of a Cherokee boy growing up the Appalachians in the 30’s.

6. One book that you wish had been written: I’d love to see someone write a book about Sandy Hook and its environs, something like Season at the Point: A Birder’s Journal of Cape May by Jack Connor. I know quite a few people who have the knowledge to write a book about the Hook; maybe someday one of them will.

7. One book that you wish had never been written: I won’t bother finishing a book if I’m not enjoying it, so can’t really answer this one. The most recent book that was disappointing to me was On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon by Alan Tennant. It got good reviews, but nearly bored me to death.

8. One book you’re currently reading: Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast by Joanna Burger. I haven’t made much progress with it yet, but it’s there on the nightstand. I loved one of her other books: A Naturalist Along the Jersey Shore, so I’m bound to enjoy this one too.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read: I want to find the time to re-read Scott Weidensaul’s Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds. Every one of his books is great, but this was a favorite.

10. Now tag five people: I’m not sure that I want to trouble anyone with a tag, so I’ll just extend a general invitation to anyone that might feel like doing this. In particular, I would love to hear (maybe just in comments to this post) about your favorite book about the natural world. Nothing is better than a book recommended by a friend! I’d also like to know if anyone has read any of the books that I mentioned here and what your thoughts were. Let’s talk books!

Decoy show

This weekend was the decoy show at the Tuckerton Seaport. My husband and I go to visit the seaport museum and look at the decoys for sale. In addition to all the stuff for sale, there are contests throughout the weekend. As usual, we missed the retrieving contests, but got to see some very wet Labs. The decoy pics from yesterday were from a *working rig* contest; this year’s bird was the Green-Winged Teal and a hen and drake were judged, each in breeding plumage and carved in contemporary style. There’s also a duck and goose calling competetion (whch was hilarious to watch) and a skeet shooting competition. We bought a few decoys (I’ll post pics another day) and had softshell crab sandwiches for lunch. Here’s some other pics from the day:

Decoys in a display at the seaport – I love decoys, but these traditional style are a favorite.

We walked past dozens of tables filled with decoys. Shorebirds are my favorite, but my husband goes for the fancy duck decoys.

Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge had a display table with this gorgeous Barred Owl. This bird is unreleasable due to injuries, but is a well-adjusted educational bird. He was also pretty sleepy-eyed. His table got more attention than the Lab puppies for sale; that made me happy to see.

Bird quiz!

Silly ducks with their backs turned and butts in the air – how are we supposed to know who they are?
At least these were a bit closer – can you name them?
Close, cooperative ducks, finally! What are they?

* Note: Don’t bother checking the photo tags, most of you won’t find any hints there. The only hint I will give is that these ducks are not what they seem to be. Have fun!

To Autumn

“O sacred season of Autumn, be my teacher,
for I wish to learn the virtue of contentment.
As I gaze upon your full-colored beauty,
I sense all about you
an at-homeness with your amber riches.

You are the season of retirement,
of full barns and harvested fields.
The cycle of growth has ceased,
and the busy work of giving life
is now completed.
I sense in you no regrets:
you’ve lived a full life.

I live in a society that is ever-restless,
always eager for more mountains to climb,
seeking happiness through more and more possessions.
As a child of my culture,
I am seldom truly at peace with what I have.
Teach me to take stock of what I have given and received;
may I know that it’s enough,
that my striving can cease
in the abundance of God’s grace.
May I know the contentment
that allows the totality of my energies
to come to full flower.
May I know that like you I am rich beyond measure.

As you, O Autumn, take pleasure in your great bounty,
let me also take delight
in the abundance of the simple things in life
which are the true source of joy.
With the golden glow of peaceful contentment
may I truly appreciate this autumn day.”

— Edward Hays

Autumn is my favorite season of the year – I love the colors and the cooler air, but I loathe the shortening days. The hours of daylight have been decreasing since the summer solstice, but the shortened twilight becomes most noticeable now. No more do I have an hour or so outside after my evening coffee when I get in from work. It’s darker when I get up too, which makes it next to impossible to rouse myself from bed. The cooler nights make wonderful sleeping weather with the windows wide open, and the crickets and katydids still sing me to sleep, albeit a bit slower now. The last few weeks I’ve been hearing the great horned owls and even a screech owl one night very late.

The farms I pass on my way to work are advertising u-pick pumpkins and apples. The weekend traffic heading west becomes unbearable on the local roads through the *country*, filled with people from away who come to pick apples and pumpkins. The summer beach crowds are gone, replaced with these same people to harvest peaches, then apples, then pumpkins. Before long it will be Christmas trees. I’m seeing deer again in the fallow fields and the young horses that I’ve watched grow up on the horse farms on the way to work are gone to begin their training for the racetrack, I suppose.

One of these weekends I need to get to Cape May and spend a little time at the hawk watch there. If no hawks are moving there is always the monarchs to see, or the huge numbers of flickers, or maybe a fallout of migrant robins. There is always some magic to be found at Cape May in the fall. What do you love about the coming season; what magic does it hold for you?

9/21/06 Mid-week bunny fix

Toileting as a social activity

If you have a visitor counter on your blog, you might pay attention to the searches that bring people to your site. I’m not sure how useful this info is to us bloggers, but it can be an amusing look into what deep questions the internet-using public is pondering. Here, I get quite a few hits that relate to rabbits and more specifically to rabbit poop. I thought I’d share a list of these search terms for your amusement (and mine). I’m certain it’s this post from March that interests searchers.

bunny poops too much
is rabbit poop clean?
rabbit care smaller poop
how much rabbit poop in the veggie garden?
rabbit poop smaller
what does rabbit poop look like?
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photo of rabbit poop
rabbits poop a lot
bunnys poop
rabbit poops on couch
rabbit poop orange
rabbit poop health indicator