February 10, 2016

Life Under the Arctic Blast

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Rabbits, rabbits, everwhere! Did you notice (above) the rabbit-sized impression at the base of the sled?

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I'm thinking a rabbit was resting here on a warmer day when the snow was slushy.

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Evidence is everywhere in the garden--rabbit tracks, scat, chewed branches, and telltale angular bite marks on the shrubs.

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I had to cage the Dwarf Dogwoods (Cornus pumila), because rabbits were chewing them down to the ground.

But, enough about rabbits. Rabbits will always live here.

In other news, it's bitter cold this week in the Midwest, with highs and lows hovering near 0F/-18C. But before the Arctic blast, I wandered around the garden on a mild day, taking stock.

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Fortunately, the Hellebores, Epimediums, Roses, and other plants in the stone wall garden are covered in a toasty blanket of snow. They'll be fine. They've survived much worse.

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The toad sundial greets me as if to say, "Really? You left me out here all winter?"

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Spotted Deadnettles (Lamium maculatum) are confused--alternately greening and browning with the waves of warm and cold weather. They'll bounce right back in a few days. They may even flower later this month if we get a dramatic thaw.

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Among my favorite discoveries in the winter garden: areas where moss meets ice meets rock meets lichen. Interesting that rodents seem to choose these spots to store their winter food.

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Apologies for this is a horribly bright photo of Cranberrybush Viburnum (V. trilobum) berries. The flash went off, and it's too cold today to venture out for a better image. Anyway, a few berries remain, although birds have eaten most of them by now.

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The fishman roped up the Christmas tree in the woods, to serve as wildlife cover. I haven't noticed much activity here, but a few animal prints weave around the area. The tree looks pretty, and I'm sure birds fly in and out of it for cover, even if I can't see them from the house or through the binoculars.

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However, I can see this chewed log from my kitchen window. On closer inspection, I'm wondering what animals have been gnawing here? Squirrels, raccoons? The elevation above the ground is a little too high for rabbits. Chipmunks are hibernating.

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In some of the areas where the log is chewed and decaying, fungi are forming. They're so beautiful.

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I noticed this one latched on the end of a small branch.

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OK, so it's cold this week. So what? Miniature Daffodils (Narcissus 'Tete-a-Tete') are waiting patiently for warmer weather. It's only a matter of time.

What's happening in your garden this week?

January 28, 2016

Epiphytes, Wildflowers, and Gators!
(At Myakka River State Park)

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This place is a "must see" for visitors to Florida's gulf coast. Myakka River State Park is located about nine miles east of Sarasota. One of the state's largest and oldest parks, it offers excellent hiking trails through various park ecosystems--including wetlands, rare dry prairies, hammocks, and pinelands.

My family visited the park last year in early March. It was a highlight of our time together, and it's funny: We didn't know anything about this place until we researched things to do the day before our visit.

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The first amazing thing I noticed was the Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium antustifolium) surrounding the parking lot. I posted about this plant in May.

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The hiking trails we used were extremely well-maintained and easy to traverse. We covered only a small area, but the park includes about 39 miles of loop trails through shady Live Oak/Palm hammocks, sandy Pine flatwoods, sunny dry prairies, and marshes--all teaming with fascinating plants and wildlife.

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Soon after we entered the park, we headed for the canopy walk.

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Along the way, we walked through a "jungle" of Oaks and Palms.

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Just as I found myself wondering what species of Palm I was seeing ...

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A sign described the differences between Sabal Palms (Sabal palmetto) and Saw Palmettos (Serenoa repens), both native to Florida.

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I think most of these young plants I captured in photos are Sabal Palms.

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This tree had a fascinating growth pattern. I wonder how this happened?

Soon, we reached the canopy walkway, suspended 25 feet above the ground and extending 100 feet through the hammock canopy.

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So awesome!

But before you move to the next photo, I must share a personal story: I'm afraid of heights. I find it extremely difficult to climb open-air towers. Guess what? Part of the canopy walk includes climbing an open-air tower!

I don't have any photos of the climb, because I was hyperventilating and shaking most of the way up. (Here's a great video of what you can expect.)

My family encouraged me all the way ... to the pay-off ...

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Jungle wilderness as far as the eye could see, in every direction! I'm so glad I didn't miss out on this!

Completed in 2000, the canopy/tower walkway was the first public treetop trail in North America. The tower extends to 74 feet above the forest floor.

No photos of the climb back down, but that was much easier (for me). Still so much more to see ...

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This moss really was this bright green!

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Mosses, ferns, lichens, and fungi were everywhere. I found the epiphytes particularly fascinating.

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Just imagine how many life forms were living on this tree trunk!

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Did you see the lizard?

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Of course I had to snap a photo of this colorful mushroom. Based on quick research, I'm guessing it was a poisonous Russula emetica?

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There were several benches along the trails for resting and reflecting.

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And numerous wildflowers, including this Iris, which I believe is a Savanna Iris (I. hexagona var. savannarum).

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And this St. John's-wort, which I think is St. Andrew's-Cross (Hypericum hypericoides).

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Boardwalks stretched through the wetland portions of the trail.

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Easy walking with more benches along the way ...

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Warnings along the trail alerted us that alligators were present, but looking at this scene I never would have guessed danger lurked below the water's surface.

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Judging from the behavior of water fowl, I never would have guessed it either.

In fact, we saw no gators until we began driving out of the park. We noticed numerous parked cars near a bridge over the river, so we stopped to check it out.

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Perfectly pastoral, safe, and innocent, right?

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But, did you see this? Fortunately, I had my optical zoom camera with me ...

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Oh yeah.

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Turns out, I didn't need the telephoto: The gators were all around us in the water and under the bridge!

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They sure blended in to the water's color and its rippled surface.

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I don't recall seeing gators in the wild before: Just one of many reasons our trip to Myakka River State Park was incredible. And I want to go back!

January 21, 2016

No FOMO for Me

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Female House Finch

Do you ever have a "fear of missing out"? In modern times, this "emotion" has been shortened to the term FOMO, defined by Google's dictionary as, "anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website."

Lately, with all the embarrassing American political events, I have no FOMO for social media.

But I realized this past growing season that I do have FOMO for gardens and nature. Any time I'm stuck indoors, and especially when I don't have a window, I long to go outside and see what the plants and animals are up to! I don't want to miss out when butterflies are flitting through my garden, when deer are wandering through the woods, or when my favorite plants are about to bloom.

The only exception to this type of FOMO, for me, is winter. I honestly don't care. I don't feel the urge to go outside at all ... especially when the temperatures hover around or below 0F/-18C, and the wind howls around every corner.

On these bitter days, (non-workdays, that is), I'd prefer to curl up with a good book or a crochet project and two cats in my lap.

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Yes, on these coldest of days, I occasionally glance out the kitchen window briefly.

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I look up into the gnarly, old Oak trees, and realize the scene might as well be black and white.

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On the colorful, sunny days the temperatures are often the coldest. Still, no FOMO for me.

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I glance at the gazing ball and dream of other seasons.

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I contemplate stories surrounding life forms that leave tracks as evidence of their existence.

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Dark-Eyed Junco

Usually, there's a tiny Dark-Eyed Junco or two scaling the snowy landscape for bits of seed--even when temperatures are subzero.

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Eastern Gray Squirrel

On slightly warmer days, the squirrels and other common songbirds have winter parties in the shrubs and at the feeders.

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Male House Finch

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Mourning Dove

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Cardinal

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American Goldfinch

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Mourning Dove

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Various Finches

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House Finch and Black-Capped Chickadee

But not me. I stay inside, briefly watch the show, lower the shades as the sun fades, and dive back into my computer, my book, or my latest project.

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How about you? Do you have winter FOMO? If so, enjoy the season!

(Things are looking up! No subzero days are in the foreseeable forecast!)