Where the Wild Things Are- Enjoy the Colors

Grey and cold. Not so much fun to go out in that! The leaves are dropping fast in the wind. Seeing through the woods is easier now. The large crashing noises that could have been anything including Bigfoot, now are mysteries more easily solved...deer and squirrels visible as they head for the hills.  

The focus has shifted from what is in bloom to what fungi is popping up, how dry are the wet areas, and are those leaves turning color yet. It is wet enough for interesting fungi finds. Bright pops of color that will soon blend into the fallen leaves, the understory dying back and revealing the forest floor. It is easy to imagine a fairy perched on the large toadstools.

The wet areas are surprisingly dry. Walking in the tamaracks is less about hopping from hummock to hummock and more about looking around my feet for mosses. Spaghnum moss showed up at the base of a tree and a sample was taken home to the terrarium for closer examination. With a steady PH of 7, many plants that require acidic conditions don't grow hear, but I am always on the look out. The wetter areas are from springs in the hills, seeping out into the lowlands. Highbush cranberries are hanging heavy on the bushes. 

The leaves are yet to turn on the oaks and maples, yellows from poplar and birches come and go quickly in the wind. With wind and rain in the forecast, it will affect the over all lea cover, making for a shorter fall. Get out and enjoy the colors while you can!


Where the Wild Things Are- Letting Go

It is a time of endings. Each leaf that falls has ended the life it knew and is beginning a new life, one of letting go of the energy that makes it a leaf and becoming building blocks for next years plants. Endings are mostly recycling in nature. Being human, we tend to view each ending as a loss, instead of the next step in a continuous cycle. We get drawn into melancholy, missing the moments of beauty. There are lessons to be learned here in the woods. 

A dragonfly landed on my hand the other day. A little red Meadowhawk. It paused for a moment, soaking up some of the warmth, then it was gone. Dragonflies live short lives compared to us, from a few months to a few years. Most of that life is as a nymph, in the water. When it finally crawls out of the water and sheds its skin one last time, the actual dragonfly that we recognize lives only for a few weeks. It eats, mates, lays eggs, and dies. If it is not eaten before it can complete the cycle. Up to 90% of dragonflies are a food source for birds, small mammals and other dragonflies. So when you see them flitting about on these last warm days, pause a moment to relish a fleeting sight.

Other things are flying these days. Young birds, fresh from the nest, are making their way into the world. Some with family around, some solo. My walk the other day was interrupted by a harsh call. A raven was circling the woods, calling to something. By the time I made it across the meadow, it was long gone. Maybe it was a lone young raven, scoping out territory. Maybe it was an older one encouraging a young one to fly. Why do humans need stories about what they see? Can you imagine a coyote, pausing at the edge of the woods. It sees a human walking in the distance and contemplates where the human is going, and why. I don' think so.

Maybe today's lesson is in just being in the moment. No need to add anything to the day. Be a leaf, gently floating down to earth on a breeze. Just letting go.

Where the Wild Things Are- Nothing In Life Is Stagnant

The sumac is mostly turned red now. I can no longer pretend that the summer is still here. As much as I love fall, there is a part of me that wants to cling to the summer flowers and long days, begging them not to go. I didn't have enough walks, enough time to bask in summers glory. I didn't see it all. 

But the wheel of the year turns, whether or not we want it to. Time to focus on the here and now. Fall. Bright blue skies, cool breezes, wet grass in the morning. Asters and goldenrod fill the fields and woods.

Bottle Gentian are blooming. Sneezeweed flowering nearby. The ground has finally dried up some, the river has dropped low enough that rocks form ripples in it's surface. Swampy areas are passable, if not too overgrown with fern and prickly ash. Cattails rise over my head, blocking any view of deeper waters. 

Yellow shows more and more in the canopy. Soon the reds and and browns will come into sight. Strong gusts of wind send leaves scattering. Fall. It is properly named. Flower heads droop under the weight of seed heads, grasses bend and break as they come to the end of the season. The roots have stored away food and energy to get the plant safely through the winter months, the stems and leaves no longer required. They will break down and become energy for the next generation. 

As I walk, color catches my eye. Fungi on the forest floor. Yellows and reds, browns and whites. All shapes and sizes. They are there only for a few days, and then are gone. So many that I do not have a name for. Always something more to see, something more to learn. I guess that is why the seasons change. So that there is always new reasons to learn, new things to see. Nothing in life is stagnant. Look now. Look again.

Where the Wild Things Are- Spreading Seeds

I was only gone a week! Suddenly the leaves are turning, the air is brisk, the migration of birds and butterflies is in full swing! Berries and seed are all over the woods and fields. As annoying as it is to find stickers clinging to you, remember that these seeds are the way these plants have survived for eons. Seeds need to be distributed in order to give the plant a chance to pass on it's genetics to the next generation. I like to try and remove them before I leave an area, so I am not bringing them with to a different place. 

Seed are also spread in other ways. Right now the jewel weed, or Touch Me Not, are in full bloom and seed pods are ripening. You would think the name "Touch Me Not" would be a warning that this plant will harm you in some way. Like Poison Ivy or Stinging Nettle. Nope. I don't know why it is named that. If you squeeze the pod gently between your fingers, it explodes and sends the seeds flying. It tickles. So if you are out and see this beautiful little flower, look for pods (about 1/2 inch long). If you squeeze it and nothing happens, it isn't ripe yet. If it explodes, take a good look at the parts left over and see the tightly curled springs and maybe a seed or two. 

Seed are also distributed by just dropping off the plant, or in the case of the milkweed family, by being attached to fluff that catches the winds and blows them along. I found the Whorled Milkweeds slender pods yesterday, still green. The Common Milkweed is already starting to dry out and blow around.

Of course, some seeds are encased in berries. These are eaten, pass through the digestive system and are expelled with fertilizer to give them an even better chance to succeed. 

Seeds do more than spread the plants. They are a necessary source of food for many out there in the woods. Birds and animals are working to either store up the energy needed to make a long migration, or tucking them away for later in the year. The less popular seed will linger on the stems, providing food in the depths of winter when there is nothing else left to eat. 

So when you are out and about, look around and see how many different types of seeds you see! 

Touch Me Not

Touch Me Not

Touch Me Not exploded seed pod

Touch Me Not exploded seed pod

Where the Wild Things Are- Go Explore

Most people have ideas of what it is like out in the woods in the summer. Mostly they think MOSQUITOS! Large and voracious. Swarms of them. While I really like my alone time in the woods, I also would really like more people to actually go out there and see it for themselves. So let me start by saying that the mosquitoes are a lot less of  problem than you think. Remember, back in the day, when you watched action shows and someone was always getting caught in quicksand? That tricky stuff must be lurking under ever innocent looking puddle out there! But now, looking back, I can't say that I have ever heard of anyone getting caught in quicksand, much less dying in it. Mosquitoes get the same bad rap. Yes, I use a repellent, mostly for ticks. I can walk for hours and hardly see any mosquitoes. I can lay down on the forest floor to photograph flowers and not get eaten. That being said, don't try it early in the morning or as evening come on. Mosquitoes are out in force then. Breezes also help.

The other thing that seem to stop people is having to push through brush or grasses. Prickly ash is a pain and stinging nettles are nothing to sneeze at. But these do not cover the woods. Wear long pants and real shoes (not sandals). Long sleeves are a good idea. 

In the interest of sharing the woods with others I have started a trail of sorts, by trimming out prickly ash and other small branches in the way on deer trails. This trail begins by the pines, by Susie's Sunshine Cottage. If you follow the south edge of the pines going east, you should see yellow marking tape indicating the trail, as it cuts through the prickly ash and onto an old field road that runs north. Mostly you should be able to see the trail as it goes through the waist high goldenrods. I have tried to mark it well enough to take you along north, through the woods, along a deer trail, then on to the crown of the hill in the woods. You can follow it through to where a gully cuts across the crown. 

If you cross the gully, I have trimmed a bit of a trail up the other side and along the crown there also. It is not as well marked, but I should be getting to it soon. If you follow it you will eventually come to a deer stand. Technically you are over the edge of camphill property, but it made more sense to connect to the existing trail that is there and cut another one 10 feet over. About 20 feet north of the deer stand my trail veers sharply to the left (west) and cuts through the woods to the field/pasture. From there you can see Prairie Wind and can find your way at your convenience.

Now this trail is not mowed. It is rough ground, branches to be dodged and trees to step over. It goes up and down some steep ground also. So take your time. Enjoy the walk. Maybe someday there will be maintained trails for everyone to enjoy.


Where the Wild Things Are- An Artist's Eye

It feels like the depths of summer out there. Hot and humid. Bugs flying, just enough breeze that you cannot say there isn't one. But at the same time, signs of change are out there.

Perhaps it is my artist eye that picks out the subtle changes in the landscape. The greens sliding to the yellower side, seed heads changing the over all greens of the fields. Here and there a leaf has changed to red. Berries add to the feel. Turning red and purple, they dot the foliage. 

It makes me hope for cooler nights, temperate days, clear blue skies. Goldenrods are starting to gild the edges of the fields and roads, asters cannot be far behind. So even if you are sure summer will never end, and you will melt into a puddle long before winter chills you to the bone, remember autumn. It is the reason many of us stay in the frozen state of Minnesota, tolerate wet springs and spend summer avoiding the heat as much as possible. Those clear crisp, colorful days. They are out there under a fragile coating of green...

Where the Wild Things Are- Be Present

When I go into the woods I find I must make a conscious decision to be present. It is easy to just start walking and trample through the grasses and under the trees and never really connect. Sometimes I really need to walk and think. I need to be moving and able to lose myself in thought. I have paths for that. Safe paths that carry me home again even if I don't remember anything I saw on the trip. And then there is walking in the woods. I slow down. I stop and look around. I listen. I breathe in the fragrant woods. Then I walk. Step by step. 

The first things that catch my eye are colors that aren't green. Berries are ripening on the forest floor. White and Red Baneberries, pretty much indistingushable the rest of the year are unmistakably either red or white. Raspberries still dangle in thickets. The Solomon's Seal berries are a brown cluster nodding at the end of the stem. 

Seed heads are forming on some plants, their petals long dried and gone, while others are just popping out. Yellow loosestrife adds color, with the oxeye daisies and the woodland sunflowers. Bergemont is fading, but the purples are filled in with Giant Blue Hyssop and Heal all. The first asters and goldenrods are just about in bloom.

Some times it is the smell that gets your attention. The pungent odor of some fungi makes you slow down and give a second look. This week I found fungi growing on fungi, as shown in the photo attached. Also worth a trip to the woods is Indian Pipe. If looks like a fungi but is really a plant. It is white because it does not have chlorophyll. When the flower heads are down, they haven't been pollinated. They turn upright and slowly dry out with seeds in the pod at the top of the plant.

So whether it is the sights, sounds or smells that attract you, the woods is full of thing to discover. The nature walk will be on Sunday afternoon at 3, starting at the woodshop.

Fungi on fungi!

Fungi on fungi!

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe

Where the Wild Things Are- Magic of Milkweed

If you walk anywhere in the village these days, where milkweed happens to bloom, you will notice the beautiful fragrance. The common milkweed, besides being a host plant for Monarch butterflies, is one of the most varied of the species. It can have blooms from dark magenta to white. It can be a foot tall or 4 feet tall. If you stop to stare at the blossoms for long, you will see a multitude of amazing creatures, gathering nectar and eating or laying eggs on it's broad leaves. Common milkweed is not the only of it's family to reside in the village lands. In the wetter areas, also blooming now, is the swamp milkweed. Tall enough to rise above the grasses and reeds, you will see it's red purple flowers waving. If you get close enough you will see that the leaves are much thinner and pointed.

Other family member include the dogbane family. There are two of them on the land. Spreading Dogbane is in bloom in some of the south pastures, and along the field road you will see Indian hemp. Tiny white blossoms on the tops of the stalks, the smaller version of the rounded leaves of the common milkweed climbing tightly upward. 

The most exciting thing of my weekly walks was the discovery of a fifth member of the milkweed family. Whorled Milkweed! I didn't even suspect it of being a milkweed when I first spotted it. I dutifully photographed it, noting it's location. When I was at home I realized what it was. This is the first time I have seen this plant. And it is not previously recorded in Todd County, so I went back and collected a sample to submit to the Bell Museum Herbarium! That is two species in two weeks to add to the science of the world! The whorled milkweed has the same flower type as the common and swamp, but much smaller and white. The leaves are thin grass like blades that whorl around the stem in sets of 6. If you wanted to see them, walk out on the field road south of farmhouse, go east of the pine trees and follow them to where the lane opens up to the pastures at the south end. There, on the ground by the pine trees is a healthy population. 

Whorled Milkweed

Whorled Milkweed

Common milkweed showing the white and purple varieties growing side by side.

Common milkweed showing the white and purple varieties growing side by side.

Where the Wild Things Are- Heat and Rain

Heat and rain. It seems like that is all we have for weather these days. Spending time outdoors is more challenging as the temp climbs. Even with the adverse conditions, we managed to get out there two weeks ago for a nature walk. The vernal pool was observed and differences noted between it and the "swamp" only feet away. We dipped a net in the still open water and captured water boatmen. They paddled around our holding pond as we took turns with magnifying glasses. 

We swung the net at butterflies, but they proved faster than us! We saw Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphers hovering in the puddles on the road. Summer Azures and Common Wood Nymphs fluttered through the pasture grasses. A Monarch floated overhead. Could it have been one of the two we released the day before? Jeff thought it could be! 

Moths scattered as we hurried through the pines, pushed by persistent mosquitos, pausing only to see the ferns for a moment.

The swamp was covered in vegetation and we took a good look at Arrowhead leaves, finding tiny holes where some insect had eaten its lunch. Cattails and reeds stood head high. Field horsetail was abundant and we took a moment to look close at the joints that pull apart like legos. 

Come out and walk with us, or just with me, or on your own. Nature is waiting.

   One of the two released Monarchs.This is the female that choose to hang around for a while.


One of the two released Monarchs.This is the female that choose to hang around for a while.

Where the Wild Things Are- Vast Landscapes

One of the things I most enjoy about wandering around Camphill is the variety of landscapes. When I posted some photos online from one of my latest walks, some one commented that they hoped I didn't touch the sumac. We don't have poison sumac around this part of Minnesota, but because the rest of my post was photos of boggy ground plants he assumed that it must be what he was familiar with. He didn't know that to get to the boggy ground I walked through agricultural land, a wooded road, a pine forest, an overgrown abandoned pastureland, old growth oak woods and finally to the tamarack bogs. The other night I walked through a freshly cut hay field, native prairie plantings, pine woods, tamarack bog, springfed cattail marsh and oak woodlands. 

There are not many places that this can happen anymore! And all within half hours stroll. Of course the half hour doesn't include time spend observing. 

Really slowing down and looking at things takes perseverance. It is easy to get lost in your thoughts and just keep walking without noticing anything around you. When I find myself doing this I stop. I just stand there and look around me. What am I hearing? What do I see? What do I smell? This reconnects me to what I am doing, and why. I seek a deeper connection to the earth around me. I want to see and appreciate each new plant or bring that crosses paths with me. I want to understand it's place in this world and how it connects to me and all other living things. 

Sometimes I just sit down. A change of perspective can bring to light all sorts of things you never would notice towering above them. 

Sometimes I lay down to get a good shot of a plant. This brings an even better understanding of how much we miss when striding by, lost in our thoughts. 

So next time you go out for a walk, maybe take sometime to just slow down, or even sit down. You might be surprised what shows itself to you!

Showy Ladyslipper- our state flower!

Showy Ladyslipper- our state flower!