Is beauty enough?

“Where nature is concerned, familiarity breeds love and knowledge, not contempt.”
–Stewart L. Udall

I don’t know that this quote holds true for mute swans, but I do believe it to be true for most other things in the natural world. I think we’re more inclined to curiosity once some love and knowledge is gained, don’t you?

For all their beauty, mute swans are maligned by many for their aggressiveness. In many places their numbers have increased such that they are edging out native waterfowl and destroying aquatic vegetation. They are known to drive away least terns, skimmers, and native swans like the tundra from roosting and feeding areas.

The more you know about these elegant birds, the harder it is to look upon them as anything but pests. Like many other introduced or invasive species, the mute swan thrives, perhaps because of its great beauty, despite our knowing it so well.

Color(ful) for One Deep Breath

leafless trees
just beyond the brown hilltops
spring waits there

This week’s poetry prompt at One Deep Breath is color(ful). You might’ve noticed lately that I enjoy photographing the landscape when there is snow cover. There’s not been very much of it this winter, but I especially like a view like this when there is nothing but a range of browns, made even more noticeable blanketed in white. I love the contrasts, and play them up when I edit a photo like this.
On this particular day I was anxious to walk along the field’s edge and to see the wet bottomlands where skunk cabbage should be emerging. Soon, on a warmish and windless night, the woodcock will make its first twittering display flight from the stubble to the right of the path. Later into the season will come the mourning cloaks and the bluebirds and a kestrel to hover above the newly green fields on the welcoming breeze of a spring day.

But not yet. I couldn’t take a step towards that hillside or the marsh beyond the scene I captured here. The ice-crusted snow made it all unreachable. Spring is there, over the hilltop, and after the thaw.

Let it snow!

Like a little kid I’m hoping for a snow day tomorrow. I have to say this quietly because if my husband hears me, he’ll get angry. He can’t enjoy the snow the way I do; it just means working all night for him. Right now it’s snowing those huge wet flakes that make me want to run out and play. I tried to take some pictures out the back door, but they didn’t turn out so well. Instead I added some *digital* snow to this image from last weekend. Sort of a neat trick that I learned and have been playing with for the last hour or so.

I know you’re all sick of the snow, but would you sleep with your pj’s inside out for my sake? Maybe put a spoon under your pillow too? Anybody know any other snow superstitions I can try out?
Note: The *unsnowy* image was part of this post if you’re curious to see what it looked like before. What do you think?

Kitchen dancing

When I’m out and about running errands on Saturday afternoons I like to listen to The Saturday Show with Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC. It’s an interesting mix of Jazz, classical and American Standards with a little Neil Young mixed in for good measure. Not my normal choice in music, but every so often I hear something that just knocks my socks off and I appreciate being exposed to good music that I might not otherwise listen to. Today I heard a medley of In the Wee Small Hours/Leaving Again by jazz singer Kurt Elling – his first album will be released in April and while I don’t know that I’d buy the whole album, I’ll be sure to look for that track on iTunes.

My favorite part of The Saturday Show is that he plays nearly a full hour of Frank Sinatra. Hearing Sinatra this way brings me back to when I was a kid and a similar radio show my mother listened to that played nothing but Sinatra standards on Saturday night. She loved his music and always tried to grab one of my big brothers for a dance around the kitchen. I smile thinking of it.

Other music that I learned to like growing up was whatever my older brothers were listening to. I know all the songs by The Eagles, Styx, Kansas, Boston, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got way more than my fill of Lynyrd Skynyrd; my brother Brian played the drums and had a band that used to practice in our rec room and they played Freebird and Sweet Home Alabama over and over again. I can’t exactly say that I smile remembering that!

What music reminds you of your childhood? What makes you want to grab someone for a twirl across the kitchen linoleum?

Hug a bee (or a moth, or an ant or…)

Pollinators are an essential part of a healthy ecosystem and play a significant role in the production of more than 150 food crops in the US. Wild and domestic bees do the majority of the work to provide us with apples and almonds and cranberries, but other invertebrates like butterflies, beetles, and flies, as well as vertebrates like birds and bats also play a role. In addition to increasing the productivity of food crops, pollinators are also responsible for the survival and reproduction of many native plant species.

It’s easy to appreciate the beauty of flowers, but I’m fascinated to consider the myriad ways that flowers and pollinators have evolved together to ensure that plants produce offspring. The challenge to plants being that they’re stationary and can’t wander off to a singles bar on Friday night to be fertilized. Instead, they entice pollinators to come to them with scent and shape and color.

Populations of native pollinators are declining for the same reasons we know to affect other wildlife: habitat loss, pesticide use, pollution, poor agricultural practices, introduced species, etc – we’re all familiar with that list. It’s important to make people aware of the problem and the ways that they might help to mitigate the damage we do. I’d imagine that most flower and vegetable gardeners have some experience with pollinators, both positive and negative. It’s the people who have never grown a tomato or who are convinced that *nature* is out to get them that could benefit the most, in my opinion, from a basic understanding of plant biology and how it affects the food on our table and the landscape outside our front door.

The image above is the new *Pollination* stamp series from the US Postal Service due out in June of this year. “The intricate design of these beautiful stamps emphasizes the ecological relationship between pollinators and plants and suggests the biodiversity necessary to ensure the viability of that relationship.” A sure way to dress up the monthly bills.

Five things

I’ve avoided doing this meme thing, but am clueless tonight for anything to write about. The most interesting tidbit I’ve come up with so far is to tell you about the student I had to speak with after class last night because his behavior was so inappropriate. Anyone care to guess what this 18 year old young man’s excuse was? Turns out that the 20 year old sitting next to him was tickling him. Since when are young men still tickling one another in college? I left elementary-level teaching because I’m ill-equiped to do deal with this type of silliness. 10 year olds don’t understand my sarcasm, but you can bet this young man did.

So I’m supposed to come up with a list of things you don’t know about me. The challenge here is to make it entertaining.

  • When I was 15 or 16 years old I decided that I wanted to join the Peace Corps and travel to exotic places and help poor people, so I sent away for the information packet and application, but when it arrived it scared the crap out of my dad and I got a talking to. I also dated a guy from Costa Rica for a few years and my dad was afraid I’d run off and be living on a coffee farm.
  • I love green olives. Now that’s entertaining!
  • I’ll listen to a song I like over and over and over until I get sick of hearing it. I do the same with food. There was a time when I ate tuna on wheat with american cheese for lunch every day until it didn’t taste good anymore.
  • I have hyper-sensitive hearing for oddball sounds. Mostly annoying ones that drive me to distraction. Like the sound the ceiling fan is making all of a sudden, or the rattle-and-hum of my car. My husband, Mr. Fix-It, never hears this stuff.
  • I am useless with diagrams – especially in instruction manuals – I need a verbal list, preferably in number order, to understand how to do things. My husband has this intuitive sense of how things work that baffles me. I routinely have to ask students to help me set up the overhead projector so that they don’t have to look at things backwards and upside down. Plus, this semester my classroom is *technologically enhanced* – but I still need a student to help me get my laptop hooked up so that I can use PowerPoint to teach.

So that’s five things you didn’t need to know about me. Hopefully, I’ll be a bit more inspired tomorrow.

2/21/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Mr. Bean – ATB 2/21/04

I’m overly sentimental about my rabbits. That’s probably true for plenty of us when it comes to our pets, but for lots of people the definition of *pet* doesn’t extend far enough to include rabbits. I figure that’s only because they haven’t had the chance to fall under the spell of a long-eared companion yet. Lots of people don’t *get* how or why you’d keep a rabbit in the house, or keep a rabbit as a pet at all. Sure, they get into trouble and you have to mind their teeth on your furniture and electrical cords, but that’s easy enough to do. Having a house rabbit is a lot like living with a puppy that never grows up; there’s occasional puddles and they’ll chew the laces right off your sneakers if you leave them under the coffee table, but what’s not to love about the exuberance of a puppy, despite the havoc they cause?

Not all rabbits are so loveable, depending on their breed or temperament. Some have been abused or mishandled or ignored and never really get over it, but we love them despite the huge chip they carry on their shoulders. Often these are the ones who appreciate the chance at a new lifestyle the most, even if they won’t show it. They box and lunge and try to bite, but they dance while they think you’re not looking. They pretend to be ferocious even as they melt beneath a kind hand that touches them with love.
Mr. Bean, in the photo above, was loveable from the start and remained so for all of his short life. He was the first of my rabbits that I fell totally in love with and I still think of him and the ways he endeared himself to my husband and I. He’s still safe in my heart all these years later.

Water lily

How significant that the rich, black mud of our dead stream produces the water lily; out of that fertile slime springs this spotless purity! It is remarkable that those flowers which are the most emblematical of purity should grow in the mud.
– Henry David Thoreau, from a journal entry

I felt like looking at water lilies today, so I’m posting this pic from last summer of one that grows in my little pond. I’ve forgotten the name, but water lilies tend to be mislabeled when I buy them anyway. It’s beautiful, that’s enough!

My guilty pleasure for the day was going to a bookstore during my lunch hour. I bought a charming book of nature quotes, poetry, short essays, and watercolors called Meditations on Nature, Meditations on Silence published by Heron Dance Press. Their books are beautiful and I snatch them up whenever I come across one. Heron Dance also has a website that you might like to explore.

Focusing (or not)

There are certain things I like to do each day to make me feel as if it’s been worth the effort of dragging myself out of bed. I’m not a morning person and other than that delicious cup of coffee first thing, there isn’t much to lure me from the warm covers. The workday is something to be gotten through, unfortunately, and mostly I look forward to my time in the evenings. I stay up too late trying to fit in all the things that make a day worthwhile to me. When the weather and increased daylight allow it, I’m outside for as many hours as possible. Weekends and other days off from work are filled with as many postive and fun things as I can manage. I go to bed early and contented on the weekends.

I’ve often thought that I’d be happiest in a job that allowed me spend most of the workday outdoors. This realization only really came to me after I finished two degrees, both of which confine my days to a desk or a classroom. Before deciding to start my master’s so that I could teach and have the summers off, I used to daydream about a job picking vegetables. Or delivering mail. Anything to avoid sitting at a desk all day surrounded by people and their negativity. And office politics. I taught full-time for a few years and enjoyed summers free of any responsibility but to my own joy. I then decided to teach just part-time and took courses in horticulture and volunteered with a few favorite environmental organizations. I took a second part-time job with the park system as a naturalist. I learned to play the tin whistle, although not well.

Then other stuff came along and I had to go back to full-time work because, while I was having plenty of fun, I wasn’t making enough money at any of it. Being a grown-up stinks. So now I have the full-time job and all the drudgery that entails, plus I teach part-time, and still volunteer for a few groups. I’ve had to let the tin whistle fall by the wayside. I wasn’t making very much progress with it anyway, plus it scared the bunnies. My point (I think) is that all of our lives are very full and that’s a good thing. At least, for me it is. I’m not really focused in my interests and I’m as likely to pick up something new as I am to let something go when I find that it’s not working for me. Must be the Gemini in me.

One constant in my life and something that keeps me focused is nature and a love of the outdoors. Everyday I try to find some little bit of time to spend there. I look to it for optimism and strength. I look to it for the beauty that is so often lacking in other aspects of daily life.

Five beautiful things that I’ve spotted recently are:

  • 9 deer browsing in the woods where I like to walk the dog. I’ve never seen deer there, and was happy to see 5 of them with antlers proudly raised to watch me as I passed by.
  • Snowdrops blooming in a neighbor’s hillside garden, amid ice-covered branches that fell in the recent icestorm.
  • The endless shades of brown in a field of corn stubble, weeds, and winter trees.
  • Sandy Hook Bay is mostly frozen; if I focus on the near distance instead of the houses and naval base on the far shore, I can imagine that I’m looking at glaciers in the Arctic. Some seals would add to that effect.
  • The crows who have been warily visiting my feeders this week, snatching up peanuts and stale bagels. They never seem as beautiful as they do in the stark days of winter.

A multitude of small delights constitute happiness. -Charles Baudelaire

Stitch count

I’ve put aside (given up hope for) that gorgeous tree sampler cross-stitch I showed you a while ago and instead started something else (sound familiar?)

I found another design (something entirely different) online and special ordered the charts and special ordered the fabric and just finally this past week received everything I needed to get started. I’m good at starting – not so good at ever finishing.

So in an effort to stay on track and use the power of peer pressure (maybe it will help) I’m going to post a photo of my progress every month or so. My goal is to spend an hour at it each day. What you see here represents about 5 hours work, most of it done well after any normal person has gone to bed. Stitching when the rest of the house is dark doesn’t help my eyes, but it’s a handy excuse for my sloppy stitches, plus the quiet helps me concentrate. That and a bunny snuggled along beside me on the floor.

With the idea of keeping these posts marginally interesting to anyone but myself, I won’t be sharing the whole design with you or telling you what it’s supposed to be. You can watch it develop as I stitch it. For those of you that don’t stitch, that’s part of what makes it fun, but also what makes it so frustratingly tiresome. You stitch and stitch and spend hours and your work looks like nothing. Then all at once the design comes together and it’s at that point that I’m motivated to continue with it. I could use your help in getting to that point.

Hours this update/total to date: 5/5