Where The Wild Things Are- A Bee’s Life (and death)

It is the time of the year when things, while not necessarily slow down in nature, present less opportunities to see "new" things. All the flowers have come, and most have gone. Leaves are falling, animals either leaving or busy filling larders for the winter. Some have reached the end of their cycles, having passed on their genes to the next generation, butterflies and dragonflies being the most obvious of these. While some butterflies and dragonflies will migrate, most either winter over in the dead leaves, emerging in the spring to mate and then die, or they have already laid their eggs, which will lay dormant until spring and the begin the larval stage.

I haven't always given much thought to bees. Bumblebees in particular. This fall I have noticed that as I walk by thistle plants in the cool mornings and waning afternoon warmth, that many of the lingering blossoms have bees on them. Most times one sometimes two, they just seem to be sleeping there.

Upon further research I learned more about these bumbleing bees of fall. As fall approaches they switch from producing worker bees to Queen bees and mating males. Only the queens will survive the winter, already having mated and full of eggs. The males, once they have done their part of the job, eat, sleep and pass away. They like to cuddle into blossoms and I can imagine them, after a hard summer (6 to 8 weeks) they tucking into the soft petals, occasionally sipping some sweet nectar, until they pass to the other side.

So the next time you walk past a late blooming thistle or other flower, take a peek. The end of summer, wrapped up in a furry yellow and black jacket is taking it's final repose.

A Bee’s Final Resting Place

A Bee’s Final Resting Place

Where The Wild Things Are- Transitions

Transitions. The gradual, or not so gradual changes. Nature is always in transition. Fall is obviously a transition from the lush growing season of summer to the quiet, cold depths of winter. Eggs turn to chicks, which turn to birds which lay more eggs, caterpillars to butterflies, seeds to plants.

Larger changes take place right beneath our noses, so slowly that it is easy to miss them. As an observer in the wilds of Camphill for the past three years, I find myself noticing some of those longer term changes.

There are places I walk where it is obvious that man has been there. Fences, now falling down and rusting away, show where cattle once were pastured. Areas that were open, probably cleared and plowed for fields, now are filling in from the edges with saplings and brush. Remains of roads, tractor paths, and marl pits have become almost unrecognizable in the overall landscape.

Longer term changes predate mans interference. Along the river, you can see the bluff eroded by thousands of years of water. It shows the huge amount of gravel that lies beneath the shallow amount of fertile soil. At a point, roughly 11 thousand years ago, the land here was barren. Scraped by the mile high glacier, remnants of the dirt and rocks left piled deep as the ice melted. Slowly the soil was rebuilt. Seeds long dormant found new life along with those spread north from the unfrozen lands to the south. What we know now as the Minnesota landscape is a fleeting thing. The pines are moving north, plants that grow in warmer places are filling in behind them.

When I see the sumac filling in the open areas, I wonder how it knows where to grow and when. Does it realize it is a transition species, only there for a short time, soon shaded out by the saplings it gives space to, by shading out the grasses? Is man the only animal on the planet that contemplates these things? Large questions, to which I have no answers. Perhaps the next transitions will reveal some...

Bunchberry Leaves

Bunchberry Leaves

Where The Wild Things Are- Changes

Colors flood the landscape. Yellows, oranges, reds. The blue skies and waters. Green still adds contrasts, purple shadows fill in the darks. As a naturalist, those colors mean fall is here. There is no going back to summer, no matter how warm the reports are. As an artist, the colors fill my senses. The gentle shifts from green to yellow, the sudden bursts of orange maple leaves. As I soak in the colors, trying to fill up my soul before winter comes, I wonder many things. The one thing that lingers is the the thought that everyone sees things differently.

Like most people, looking out a beautiful landscape, I assume that anyone else there with me will experience it the same way. I know that isn't true. Everyone notices things in a unique way. Favorite colors, life experiences, they all color your world.

When painting colors in landscapes, you need to get past the surface. You need to see shadows, not as dark, but as pools of reflections. The sky isn't blue, the leaves are not green, or orange, or any one color. You play with contrasting colors to find emphasis, or depth, or just subtle ideas.

As the wind moves across the grasses it creates movement that cannot be captured by painting every blade of grass. Clouds form and dissolve again, part of the sky. Plants grow, change, twist to follow the sun, and slowly die away, once again part of the soil. Fungi pop up and in a few days they have disappeared, no sign they were ever there.

What to include or not in a landscape is as fickle a choice as the nature it seeks to emulate. There is no right way. There is no "this is the way it is". At some point you just need to allow yourself to become part of the landscape and allow that to become what flows onto the canvas or paper.

It is then that the hours spent immersing yourself in just being there pay off, if there is such a thing. Colors are not so important, shapes blend and change, feelings of what it was like come into play. Fall changes like the colors on an artists palette, wind pushes water into shapes never seen before.

Nature changes, people change, times change. Go out and enjoy the changes...

Where the Wild Things Are- Minnesota Mood

The weather has been showing it’s Minnesota mood swings. One day it is summer, then the next feels like November! Just when you think you should put away the summer gear, it is suddenly 80 plus degrees and sunny. There isn't anything we can do about the weather, at least in the moment, so being good Minnesotans, we roll with the punches. The creatures around us must do the same. They take every day as it comes. So they are busy storing up supplies for the long cold winter, or preparing to head south, or getting ready to hibernate. So what are you doing to prepare? For me going south doesn't seem to be an option. Hibernating seems like a good idea, but since I am human, not a bear or squirrel, I guess staying in bed all winter isn't an option either. So that leaves preparation of supplies to get me through the winter.

I am fortunate enough to live in a time where we don't need to put away all the food we will need to get through the snowed in times. A couple days and a plow will come by, town has everything I could possibly want even in the depths of the cold. So that leaves me to prepare mentally. The long dark, cold winter can be beautiful. Sparkling snows, frost covered trees, stark shadows on pure white snow. But it can also be cold. Dark. Seemingly endless white.

I must stockpile the green. The fresh bright greens of spring, the deep greens of summer, the fading greens of fall. The blue of the summer skies is different than the sky of winter, and none beats the October sky. Flowers and frogs, running waters and moss covered bogs. I tuck away memories of hot, hazy meadows and shadowed woods. The sound of the water hidden under the mossy trampoline I bounce gently on. Fields of yellow goldenrod, the deep reds of the sumac. All must be carefully observed and remembered. All my senses inhale and refuse to let it go. My camera captures seconds in time, moments in a longer day, just a fraction of what was out there. It triggers the memory. The scents and sounds flood back in. The moment is relived at a time when the world has changed so much it is unrecognizable.

Those memories feed my soul in the long winter. Browsing through photos, reliving the moment, timetraveling back to those days, only months before. I will appreciate the winter for what it is, when it is here. But, when the darkness seems unrelenting, I will have my supply of spring, summer and fall at arms reach.


Where The Wild Things Are- Feeling of Contentment

Sometimes I don't want to go out in the woods. When life gets hectic, the work of getting my things together, making decisions about what to bring with and where to go, seem like one more chore. But I go. And when I am out there it is so obvious that it is where I needed to be, especially in those times, that I wonder how I could have ever thought differently.

First, my steps are quick, my mind buzzing with things and thoughts. I try to slow down. I breathe. I listen. If nothing attracts my attention I focus on my steps. I forces me to be in that moment. Have you ever tried to think about how to walk while hurrying down stairs? If you are on automatic pilot, your body does it seamlessly. If you think about it, you cannot rush. You might not even be able to balance. It throws off your whole system. So when I think about my feet and where they are going, what they are stepping on, I am in the moment. I pay attention. Then I notice things that I would have just walked past a minute before. A frog jumping, a growth on a plant, a track in the ground.

It is then that the walk changes to an experience. The world unfolds before me. I have no expectations, no deadline. I am just open to whatever comes.

While in that mode of being, I entered the bog. Watching where each foot goes becomes looking at the mosses underfoot. Soon I am stuffing samples into my pockets. Tiny mushrooms dot the hillocks of sedges and needles. While kneeling down for that perfect shot, I hear the sound of water burbling. A few steps and there is a trench a foot deep with a small stream coursing through it. It seem to come out of no where, a spring or seep further back in the brush. Ducking beneath tamarack branches leads my eyes to a plant that I have not seen on the land before. White Rattlesnake Root! It was one straggly plant, but if it is there, there are others around. Then a few steps away I see white blossoms and familiar looking leaves. A few photos and time spent looking through the books reveals another "New to the list" species. Swamp Lousewort! The leaves looked familiar because I have seen it's sibling plant, Wood Betony, in the surrounding woods.

The overwhelming feeling of contentment lasts far beyond the walk itself. It stretches into my day, seeps into my art, and softens my sleep. So in the midst of life, make time for the things that bring you contentment and joy. They make the rest bearable.

White Rattlesnake-root plant

White Rattlesnake-root plant

Where The Wild Things Are- Changing Leaves

There is no denying it. The leaves are changing. First it was the sumac, but they are always early. Today as I drove along, I noticed the milkweed leaves have begun transitioning to yellow. If you look at the still plentiful green woods, at a distance you can see the shift from the deep green of summer to more of a yellowish green.

I was a bit further north this last weekend, only an hour, but the colors of fall are more pronounced there. Oranges are starting to show at the very tops of the maples in Maplewood State Park. More shocking was the two or three whole trees already dressed in their fall finery. Brilliant orange against the deep greens. At first I thought maybe it was because of a weak tree, savaged perhaps by illness. Nope. Just young trees, impatient as all youth are to get on with things, leading the latest fashion changes.

Every year I see the changes. Every year I am amazed that all that color is there all along, only visible when the green fades away. The only real mystery is how long we will have to enjoy the vibrant colors. It could be months, well, two anyway. Or it could be all wiped away in one windy storm, leaves torn away, beraggled remnants waving feebly in the breeze. There never seems to be enough time to enjoy it. So get out there and take the time to just look at the fall landscape. Drink it in. It will help sooth your soul when the winds are howling and the only color out there is the brightly colored jackets of people scurrying from shelter to shelter.


Where The Wild Things Are- Peace

Peace. That is an honorable goal in life. We should really work on just getting along. The lion laying down beside the lamb. It is a nice notion. Reality is a whole different thing! I looked out my window this morning just in time to witness a hawk landing on top of a pole at the end of my driveway. I scurried first to find the binoculars, then the camera. Lots of people like to see hawks. What is not to love about them? They are big and powerful, they can soar for hours. They have vision that beats our by a mile, literally. As I was watching this miracle of nature, I realized it was eating. So that meant one of those defenseless little birds or cute fluffy bunnies in my yard was no more. It gave me pause. Nature is not so peaceful. Most of the young of any species do not make it to adulthood to reproduce. That is the way it is supposed to work. Everything has to eat, lots of them include meat in their diet.

People generally don't think about that part too often, unless lunch consists of part of what they consider their livestock or family. Nature doesn't really care if their next meal comes from the field or your yard. Your chicken is just as filling as a wild pheasant, and probably easier to catch. Eagles, in particular, are known to prey upon cats and small dogs. They also do their fair share of cleaning up roadside kills. So man and beast reside side by side, sometimes benefiting each other, sometimes not.

So where am I going with this? I guess I just am thinking that nothing is as black and white as a Disney movie would like us to think. If every bird that was hatched survived, that would be great...for a short time. Math will tell you that soon we would be overrun. Lack of food, illness, a lot of suffering would happen, It is not how nature is meant to work. Some people think cats should not be outside. Ever. Because they do kill and not always eat, birds. I can only think that these same people must not live on a farm, where the rodent population thrives. There is a balance, and left to it's own devices nature works things out. Except in the case of man. Man could really use some work on the balance part. As for that hawk at the end of my driveway, eat well my friend. And don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't be a hawk.

Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

Where The Wild Things Are- The Difference Between Weeds and Flowers

Who decides what is a weed and what is a flower? People have always had opinions about their favorites, or their favorite plants to hate. Dandelions are a good example. They are not native. People spray them, pull them, mow them down. Other people blow the seed heads, eat the leaves, and make tea. If these people are neighbors it can be a problem! So how can you tell if you should just let them be or try to get rid of them? I wish there was a clear answer!

The Federal and the State Government has lists of noxious weeds. They would prefer that you got rid of them. Their lists include plants like Buckthorn, Field Bindweed, and Spotted Knapweed. The State also has a list of Prohibited or restricted plants which means that they are not supposed to to be sold as seeds or plants in Minnesota. Many of the plants on the first list are also on the second, because it makes sense that if they want to to get rid of any growing, they don't want you planting more! But some of these are really beautiful plants that people want for their gardens, like purple loosestrife and flowering rush. People say they just want it in their garden, it won't go anywhere else. If only that were true! Some of our worst invasives seemed like a good idea at the time.

Invasives are those plants that not only are not native and growing out of gardens, but are very aggressive and spread quickly.

Daylilies, Amur Maples, even Sweet White and Yellow Clover all are classified as invasives.

The last category is weedy pests. These are plants that spread out and take over places that should be filled with native species. This means that the fauna that depend on them exclusively for food and shelter have no way to survive. Fortunately a lot of species can feed or live on more than one type of plant, but we are still loosing species at an alarming rate.

Weedy pests include species like dandelions, alsike clover, and alfalfa.

So what do we do? I favor each landowner/caretaker do what they can to prevent the spread of invasives. Buckthorn should be cut down when it is found, before it becomes a big problem. Field Bindweed, while annoying to walkers, is harder to find and cut off. I think dandelions are not really a large problem. We should think carefully before introducing non native species to our landscapes. We cannot go back and a change what was done. We can choose better for our future.

So go down by the river and enjoy the Flowering Rush while it blooms. Hopefully it will be controlled and eradicated before it forces out the native species along the river.


Where The Wild Things Are- You Can't See The Forest For The Trees

"You can't see the forest for the trees." We have all heard the quote. We probably even think we know what it means. That you cannot see the big picture when you are focused on the small stuff. And it is correct. When I wander the woods and fields, my eyes are constantly drawn to focus down on this spot, or that leaf. Everything else around me just fades away. I need to stop occasionally and just close my eyes and listen to what I might not be hearing. I need to let my eyes just flow across the larger landscape and take in the land as a whole. It is impossible to see or hear it all. There is just too much going on. Except maybe in January. Then you might be able to see and hear it all.

But the opposite is also true. You can not see the trees for the forest. They run together, each mass of leaves the same as the next. Character hidden in the shadows. Across the grassy areas it is the same. All that green blends together into one anonymous mass. Until the flowers begin to show. Today the white spires of the Culver's Root plant stand out against the green. Last week I didn't even notice the tall green stalks. A few short years ago I didn't even know the plant existed. Now it is a pleasure to see those spires waving in the wind. Along the edges of the grasses Witch grass is in bloom. No showy flower, but a delicate spray of fine stalks and tiny seed. What else lies hidden in the green?

Soon the goldenrods and the asters will blanket the open areas with yellow, purple and white. They are already there. Tall and sturdy. Unnoticed until they are unforgettable. Remember to take it all in, and also to notice the small stuff. Go for a walk in the cooling air.

Culver's Root against Giant Purple Hyysop

Culver's Root against Giant Purple Hyysop

Where The Wild Things Are- Magical Places

There are places on the land that I cannot describe without the word magical. Part of what makes them feel that way is the journey to get to them. Perhaps they would seem more ordinary with out having struggled through prickly ash, waded through murky waters, or swatting at deer flies on the way. One thing is for sure, if they were easy to get to, people would. So after my "right of passage" these spots seem to be mine alone. And I am not sure that I want to share them!

So now that I have mentioned them, I guess I really need to share them with you, at least as wordy glimpses from the comfort of your chair. Rising above the bogs, the glacial hills appear unexpectedly from the trees and brush. You heart starts pumping harder as you climb through the prickly ash, following deer trails as they cut across the face of the rise. It is dark. Shady even on the sunniest days. The canopy of oak and birch keeps the under growth at a minimum. Fallen logs provide a seat, cushioned by moss, from which to catch your breath.

My focus, now that it is not occupied with keeping me upright and moving, changes. I hear the birds sounds, soft as they call from hidden locations. There are surprisingly few bugs out here. I scan the ground and log close to me for small bits of color that turn into mushrooms and tiny flowers. All that is missing is the flash of a fairy disappearing under a leaf.

I rise and continue to the crest of the hill. Surrounded on all sides by lowlands and rough ground, this land was never farmed. It doesn't show many signs of man at all, just an occasional dilapidated fence line, half buried as it becomes part of the woods. Cows may have once grazed here. I don't think they would have found much here, preferring the more open, grassy areas, but farmers would have wanted to use the land for "something useful". Too hard to get to, so no houses have been built that I know of, although there is a dugout hollow that may have been a cellar over 100 years ago. So now it is park like. Tall, old trees scattered by necessity as each seeks its own share of the sunlight above. Open areas, that when the sunlight comes streaming in at low angles seem to be just waiting for some mythical beast to appear, backlit and awe inspiring. I want to linger. To wait for that moment. Knowing that anything could appear...wandering down the slender trail.

Life calls, and I must leave, however reluctantly. But I know that these spots will be there when I return. Always changing in the light, different as the seasons roll on by. After I suffer through the right of passage, when I need them most, they appear before me. I hope you find you own magical spots out there, just not when I am there!