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!


Where The Wild Things Are- In Search of the Shinleaf

Today I walked to search for the elusive Shinleaf. I found it several days ago, unexpectedly in another part of the village land. Since the weather was perfect, and life gave me time to go, I was off! First I needed to walk through the prairie, enjoying the Coneflowers and Purple Prairie Clover in bloom. My wet feet didn't matter as I pushed through the long grasses.

Reaching the edge of the woodlands, I heard a strange chuckling sound. I have know idea what it was, I didn't see anything on the walk that could have made it. Just one of those mysteries that may never be solved. I climbed the fence, and ducked my way into the hazelnuts. Tick trefoil cover the forest floor, by their stickers are not quite formed, so I just pushed them aside.

I searched the valley from end to end, with no sign of the Shinleaf. My walk was filled with many other things though. Northern Pearly-eye Butterflies were flitting around me, along with many tiny moths, unidentifiable. Tiny mushrooms sprouted on moss covered logs. Jack in the pulpit, Blue Cohosh and Solomons seal are full of berries.

The hazel nut bushes are loaded with green fruits, a squirrel dream come true.

Back in the prairie, on the way home from my unsuccessful, yet fulfilling walk, there was Bergemont, and purple Coneflowers, Bees were buzzing and monarchs soaring over the blooming milkweed. Widow Skimmer and Halloween pennant dragonflies were performing their impossible flights over the rising bluestem grasses. It was one of those incredible summer mornings that we long for in the depths of winter. I refuse to think about summer winding down and will grasp every chance I get to go outside and enjoy nature.


Where The Wild Things Are- Nature Calligraphy

I have spent a lot of time this summer learning calligraphy. Not the typical alphabetical type. Nature calligraphy. The subtle patterns in the light and shadows that, to the human eye, are seen as leaf and branch, flower and land. When trying to paint nature scenes there are as many ways to do it as there are artists. Some times just the flow a paint across the paper, a dot, a swoosh, and it is done. Everyone who sees it knows what it represents. Other times it is painstaking details, each line and spot adjusted for color and shadow. I vacillate between one extreme and another in my paintings. I want to be accurate, so a person could look at my painting and identify this plant and that one. The trees specific varieties. The fauna the correct age and species for the location. But I also want to paint loose, flowing, expressive paintings that draw you in, that make you feel. So, learning what will make an eye see foliage, without painting every leaf is practiced. How a shadow will push forward what is next to it, giving depth to a flat piece of paper. What to include, what to just hint at, what to emphasize. All those marks on paper or canvas have to start with observations in the field. It is a lifetime of study leaving in it's wake a littering of papers and canvas strewn in my path.

I have learned that my memory isn't enough. To capture and share what I have seen requires more. You cannot write a novel by looking at some type written pages, and then freely spread some of those letters, words and groups of words on a page. You need to know what each one means. How it is written. How it works next to the other letters.

So sometimes my time in the woods is spent just looking. Taking photos of details with no intention of them, on there own, becoming any great work of art. Trying to see how the shadows play across the landscape and change everything they touch.

All of this, so when you chance to see my artwork, you might, for a moment, feel like you were there. In that place. At that time. Take time to look for the calligraphy of nature. It has a lot to say...


Where The Wild Things Are- Birds!

Lets talk about birds! There are many that call Camphill home, some year round, and some as summer or winter visitors. One of the largest is the Sandhill Crane. You will hear their prehistoric call echoing around the hills in the spring. It has been present on earth over 2.5 million years. The oldest fossil known was found in Florida. At 5 feet tall, with a 7 foot wingspan, it is hard to miss them. They weigh 5-8 lbs. They are known to mate for life and to return to the same areas year after year. But the most remarkable thing is that they live up to 40 years. In the wild! So the pair that comes around the village each year may well be the same pair that has been here since the village started!

Another large bird that lives in the village, has a different type of existence. The Barred Owl lives here year round. They do not migrate anywhere, and since they also mate for life, they may spend their whole life within a 6 miles territory. And they can live up to 24 years. So the ones that are in this area are the same ones, or decendents of the original owls that lived here at the villages inception. They are about 17-20 inches long and weigh 1 to 2 pounds. While you are not so likely to see the owls, you can frequently hear them calling in the woods and swamps. Their call sounds like "Who, who cooks for you!" I was honored to see two of these owls while out hiking along the East side of the village the other day. I was able to capture a photo or two which really made my day!

The Barred Owl

The Barred Owl

Where The Wild Things Are- Summer days, Light Breezes and Flowers

As I walked this morning, I was thinking many things. How spring was so late, and went by so fast. How June went by so fast, and when did these goldenrods get so big. Wondering whether or not I would find any species that were new to me this summer. Then I was interrupted by a buzzing. It brought me back to the here and now quite quickly!

I was walking through chest high sumacs. If you have never stopped to look, you probably have never noticed their blossoms. A cone of light yellow flowers, tightly packed. In the fall and winter the berries are dark red and show up in the winter landscapes. They are in full bloom right now. And full of bees! There were other pollinators crawling and flying around them also. The whole area buzzed and while I was surrounded by bees, none gave me a second glance. Summer is a busy time, gathering food, getting the next generation off to a good start. Nature has no time to waste!

I know that I have little time to waste if I want to "catch" flowers in bloom. In the spring I found last years leaves of a plant I had not noticed out there before. The Shinleaf. I have seen it's cousins the Pyrola, deep in the bogs, but the Shinleaf is a woodland plant. I have been looking in the area where I saw them, hoping to catch them in bloom. When I was in that area on Sunday, I didn't have much time as there was an impending cloud of doom approaching. Trying to find the basal leaves, and looking for a single stem, 6-8 inches tall turned out to be an impossible task that day. The other plants in the area have turned into a waist deep thicket of heavy foliage, foot snagging vines, and mosquitos.

With thunder rumbling and a several minute hike to the van, I had to give up for the moment. It is a good thing they might bloom from the end of June through August. I still have time to look. So here is to summer days, light breezes, and flowers that are waiting for me to discover them! Get out there and discover some of your own!

Where The Wild Things Are-Leaving the Nest

It is the time of eggs and nests, young following around the grownups. Some hatched long ago this spring and now look much like an adult. Others are eggs just laid in hidden bowers. So you probably know that baby birds are generally called chicks. Unless it is a duck. Then it is a duckling! But before I wander down off that path, lets learn some vocabulary for dealing with baby birds in general.

Fresh out of the egg, most birds are naked and have their eyes shut. These are called Hatchlings, for a few days. Some birds (like ducks) do not go through that stage. After a few days they are covered in down, eyes open. These are called nestlings! They don't leave the nest at this stage and are totally dependent on the parent birds. Then the feathers grow in, the young birds start climbing out of the nest and practicing flying. These are the fledglings. These are the kind usually found by well meaning souls who think they are abandoned. In reality, the parents are still feeding them, where ever they are around the nest. They are at increased risk from predators, but that is part of the cycle of life in the bird world. Lots of eggs are laid, a good number of them hatch, some make it to adult, and a few come back and start the process over again.

As I said earlier, not all birds go through all three stages. Woodducks are fluffed out at hatching, and almost immediately go out the edge of the hole or nest, usually 10 feet or more in the air, and jump! To survive the ducklings need to get to the water as soon as possible. Ducks do not feed their ducklings in the nest. Most water fowl abandon the nest soon after hatching. The nest is an easy sight for predators. The ducklings, goslings, cygnets (goose), loonlets, are on the move, resting by riding along on the backs of the adults.

Turkeys have poults, guineafowl have keets. Cranes have colts. All of these young are built ready to run. A baby puffin is called a puffling. and hawks have eyas.

Now you know what to call those babies, not that they really care, but you will sound knowledgeable to those who listen! So go out in nature and if you find a nest, leave it be! Those nestlings have a rough life ahead of them. A quick peek is fine, but the parents are really busy feeding those not so little mouths!

Where The Wild Things Are- Stairways at Hogwarts

I am convinced that the woods are like the stairways at Hogwarts. I am sure that I saw something in one place, and when I go back...nothing. I begin a trail from one end of the woods. Next time out I come from the other end, figuring on meeting in the middle. Long narrow woods, trail on crest of hill. Nope. No meeting of the trails. I couldn't even find the first trail. I think I need to carry trail markers that I can see for more than three feet away.

There are always interesting things to see, even if I cannot find them again. The iris are still coming up, but should be blooming in a couple weeks. In the mean time the grasses are filled with Golden Alexanders and Canada Anemone. The whorled milkweed, with the other varieties of milkweed are popping up out there. I saw one Monarch butterfly today, no doubt looking for the blossoms.

The ostrich fern are waist high, with columbine still providing dashes of color among them. It is also prime time to search out fungi. Yellow oyster was a surprising find. "Toad stools" popping up in unexpected places are fun to find.

Dragonflies have taken flight in swarms. It has been cold for them, setting back their hatch and feeding. They will eat almost anything they can catch, with mosquitos being high on their menu. The mosquitos are also delayed this year, not that we really miss them, but those that count on them for a food source do.

Keep and eye along the Marlspring road, across from the woodshed. The Showy Ladyslippers will be blooming soon! So watch out for dive bombing Swallows and get out there!


Where The Wild Things Are- Ladyslippers and Turkeys

Trails or no trails. When you have a trail to follow, your way is easier. Whether deer have created it, or it is man made, trails can get you into places with less dodging and ducking, better footing. It can be very peaceful to stroll along and just take in the woods around you. But if deer go along it, they browse while they walk, meaning you miss out on seeing some things. You also are limited by where the path goes. You may walk within feet of something remarkable and never notice it. With no trails you pay more attention. You move slower and need to look around more, just to see where your next step will land. But you need to duck under, climb over, push through. You need to backtrack and rethink your plan. You cover less ground, but more thoroughly. You see things that you might never of seen otherwise. Of course it is easier to get "unsure of your location". If you walk looking down, you can get turned around easily, especially on cloudy days. 

Like most things in life, there is a balance. Sometimes the trails, sometimes off. So I have been enlarging existing deer trails through some of the wild area. Trimming back branches, whatever can be dealt with using a hand pruner. If you are interested in knowing where some of these trails wander, just ask me. I'll be happy to show you! 

On another train of thought, do you know where turkeys nest? I didn't. I didn't really give it any thought. I was surprised to come upon a hen turkey sitting on a nest in the middle of a tamarack bog area! We parted ways peacefully, as I was looking for Small Yellow Ladyslippers, not turkeys! The Ladyslippers are at the end of their bloom, but I was happy to see 5 blossoms this year instead of the 3 from the past two years! In the whole village I have only found this one clump. Maybe next year I will get out at the right time to look over some other good areas. 

Things are changing out there in the woods on a daily basis. Get out there and breathe in the peace!