Friday, December 31, 2010

Life Happens Outdoors...Our Year in Pictures

January - Mike and Layla, Long Island Sound
February - Ryan cross country skiing in Connecticut
March - Ryan and Jim, Central Park, New York City
April - Ryan, Washington D.C.
May - All of us, Indiana University graduation
June - Ryan with our new puppy Dakota
July - Mike and I celebrating our 25th anniversary, Bar Harbor Maine
August - visiting family in Michigan
September - visiting Jimmy in Indiana
October - Ryan and Dakota at home
November - Ryan and Jimmy at home

December - Ryan and Dakota at home

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Three Gifts I Cherish from 2010...

For those that know me, they understand how hard it has been for me to move every 2-5 years over the last 25 years whenever my husband received a job transfer. While it has been nice to experience new places and meet new friends over the years, in my heart I have always wanted a place to call home. A place that reminds my husband of his boyhood home of New Hampshire and me of my native Michigan. Surprisingly, Pennsylvania accomplishes that. It has the progressive attitude of the Northeast, the laid back friendly vibe of the Midwest, and the beautiful hardwood forests of both. Unlike anywhere else I have lived since meeting my husband, this place fits me and everything has clicked here for us. Finally...home...
After struggling with public schools and all that is broken with that system for 4 years, and then dealing with a radical unschooling group whose members had different personal and educational values than myself, I have finally found the perfect educational fit for my son. Located on 30 acres, my son's "school" offers up experiential natural learning with the freedom he needs, in a group setting with 20 of his peers. My son attends three full days a week which allows ample time outside of school to explore his other interests.
Like many families today I am sure, my siblings and I went our separate ways when we left home. One of my brothers stayed in Michigan while my other brother and sister left for points west, making it tough to spend much time together. This year, my son Ryan and I were able to visit my brother Kirk and that time together went a long way toward renewing our relationship for me. Since that time, we have had the opportunity to talk via phone on a regular basis which I love! My sister and I are also starting to take the time needed to become closer as well and I hope we can get together sometime in the next year.

I have a huge sense of gratitude for everything that has come my way this year and I hope 2010 has brought you some special gifts as well...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Turning Back the Years

I have spent many hours the last several days in my backyard with my 14 year old son Ryan and dog Dakota, sledding and snow boarding down the hill toward the pond below. While I may not be as nimble and coordinated as I once was, I certainly have not forgotten how much fun one can have enjoying something as simple as a hill covered in snow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Recycle Your Christmas Tree for Wildlife

Rather than putting our used Christmas tree at the curb after the holiday, we recycled it by placing it in our yard to be used as habitat for wildlife. The tree will provide cover for birds, chipmunks, raccoons and other small animals, protecting them from predators and shielding them from harsh weather.
After seeing a red fox in the brambles along the side of our yard, we decided this would be a good place to put the tree, enabling smaller animals to have somewhere to duck into. As we tucked the tree into a nook filled with low hanging branches, I envisioned small animals taking refuge there, sheltered from cold winter winds and just out of reach of the fox.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Discovering a Deer Bed

Jennifer Schlick's post about white tailed deer on her blog "A Passion for Nature", intrigued me and encouraged me to get out and make my own deer discoveries this morning. With a fresh snowfall providing me with a roadmap, I was able to follow the tracks of my local white tailed deer family and essentially walk right into their bedroom. The picture above shows the area of brambles where I discovered the deer sleeping area. Just yards from my house, but worlds apart.
The picture above shows the entrance to the deer sleeping area. I had to stoop way over and brush up against many brambles and thorns to gain access.
The sleeping area was comprised of a clearing surrounded by brambles on four sides- a very protected spot! From what I could tell, there were two places within this clearing where deer had slept.
The picture above shows the deer bed itself, a slight depression in the snow with cover overhead comprised of bent branches growing close together. I felt a bit uncomfortable spending much time in what obviously was a great place for deer to sleep and worried that my scent would keep them away. I took a few shots and then quickly departed.

Had I not read Jennifer's post this morning, I may never have known to look for a deer bed. That is what I love most about blogging. Learning from others and letting that knowledge guide you into making new discoveries of your own.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Michigan "Winter Wonderland" Memories

The snow falling upon the woods in my backyard today remind me of my native Michigan and the words "Winter Wonderland" come to mind. Winter Wonderland is a slogan Michigan is known for and as a child I found the state lived up to its name as I spent many winters sledding, ice skating, building snow forts and skiing with my siblings. Due to those early experiences, winter, unlike any other time of year, brings back special memories and makes me feel like a kid again.
Nightfall is upon us now and there is a driveway to be shoveled. But tomorrow with a fresh snowfall on the ground, I will look forward to spending some time outdoors and letting the years fall away.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Is the Branching Pattern of Trees Species Specific?

Glancing out my window this morning, I couldn't help but notice the different types of branching patterns found in the trees in my backyard. Just as every human has a different fingerprint, I wondered if the branching patterns of trees were like fingerprints, helping to determine one tree species from another.
As I looked skyward, I wasn't considering if the branches were alternate or opposite, a common way to differentiate tree species, but rather how the branches in the crown looked. Were the branches straight or crooked? Were they fuzzy or more feathered looking, suggesting many small twigs rather than just a few as the branches came to an end? After doing some research on branch density, I discovered the term bifurcation ratio, which is the ratio of numbers of distal to proximal branches and is a quantity which can be used in conjunction with other parameters in order to understand branching strategies. Additional research determined that bifurcation ratios are indeed species specific with some exceptions.
It seems certain species, such as Acer, will have higher bifurcation ratios when grown in open areas with lots of light and less competition, compared to those found growing closer together in forests. Bifurcation ratios for Quercus and Fraxinus don't show variability when grown in different environments, for some reason still yet to be understood.
Of course I found all of this information fascinating and was amazed at what one can learn when a simple question is asked. Now I just need to put a face or name to each different branching pattern.

For sources used in this post, click here or here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Yuletide!

While most trees appear to be dying, having lost their leaves at this time of year, the evergreen tree stands as a symbol of hope as it lives on cloaked in its beautiful green leaves. Carry this symbol of hope inside and decorate it in celebration of the return of the sun. Feast and exchange gifts, sing and dance, the Yuletide is upon us!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

After My Own Heart...

I was gone all day today, leaving my 14 year old son home alone to do whatever struck his fancy. At dinner he told me he had read some and worked on his novel some. It wasn't until later when I rounded a corner and happened upon the above scene that I realized how much he is like me. Next to the chair he had piled up his favorite books, the laptop resided on the ottoman, a music player was atop the kitchen counter and the dog bed had been pulled in close. All of his favorite things gathered round, making for a cozy spot to attend to his interests.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Creating Peace...

My minister at my local UU church has been doing a series of sermons on peacemaking to coincide with the UUA's recent adoption of peacemaking as a UU Statement of Conscience. Last Sunday's sermon was on interpersonal peacemaking. How to be peaceful at the local level, with those people in our lives we come in contact with regularly- our family, our friends, our neighbors. My minister suggested that we come to know our neighbors as we know ourselves and that this would heal many of the problems that arise between folks. For when you know someone more intimately, you see their humanness and are able to find common ground.

I agree with my minister on his idea of finding common ground and understanding as a way to strive toward peace with others. What came to mind for me as he was delivering his sermon though is I don't think finding common ground is so simple. Many people carry around their personal agendas like a badge of honor and it is usually the first thing you notice or find out about someone after meeting them. It may be a political affiliation or an environmental stance. The way they believe their children should be educated, a gender or race bias, or a religious belief. These agendas get in the way of dialogue. It can be hard to have meaningful dialogue when each party continually falls back on their agenda rather than looking for common ground.

I feel peace can be created if folks check their agendas when first meeting others and allow a relationship based on the common ground of being human to develop with the focus on living and loving. It then becomes possible to bridge the gap through authentic and caring conversations. This can be a difficult task I know when the person you are coming to know refuses to step back from their positions for just a moment to give peace a chance. Trying to stay present and see the humanness of someone who is pushing their agenda at you while you try and have dialogue or see the good in them can test your will. But this effort is worth it. Putting aside your agenda long enough by example, may cause the other person to do the same and thus cause a bond to form, leading to true peace and compassion. Once this bond is formed, people can then begin to slowly open up and let their true selves be known surrounded with the spirit of love.

I have many friends whom care about me even though we have huge political or religious differences. These friendships were borne out of care for one another first and then respect and understanding as we revealed our true selves to one another. Because we respected one another, we were allowed our differences without an expectation of needing to mend those differences. It can be hard to come to hate someone you have loved just because you later find out they have a different way of seeing the world. Just as we love our children for how they are different from us, this to we can do with our friends and neighbors.

Create peace in your relationships, create peace in this world.

If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations, there must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities, there must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the hearts.

-From the UU hymnal

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Longest Night Sundown

Many people celebrate the Winter Solstice by taking time to reflect on themselves and honor nature. The shorter days of late fall encourage a slowing down of sorts and the long nights provide plenty of time for introspection.
This December I have tried to have a month-long Solstice celebration by focusing on making connections with the natural world each day rather than getting caught up in the human imposed call to make merriment in the form of partying and shopping.

Tonight as the sun set, I thought about how different this December with its nature focus has felt compared to past Decembers filled with human busyness. A few words came to mind. Peace, Silence, Wonder, Love, Present (as in being present, not buying presents...a big difference!), and most of all Gratitude. I have never felt all of these emotions with such depth before and I believe getting away from the focus on consumption or the meaningless small talk found at so many holiday parties this time of year made all the difference.

Touching the trees, looking up into the star-filled sky, walking beside a flowing creek, listening to the voice of the wind, and breathing in the scent of pine made me feel so alive. I feel as though I have awoken from a long, dull, sleep. The longest night of sleep, I suppose, and ready to embrace what the new day will bring.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Here comes the full moon, rising up in the eastern sky. A few hours from now, on the day marked by the winter solstice, we will witness a lunar eclipse. NASA reports that this is the first time an eclipse has coincided with a solstice since 12/21/38 and the next one won't happen until 2094 which means this is the only lunar eclipse happening on a solstice I will have the opportunity to witness in my entire life. Momentous!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Touch the earth

Leaving the glow of my computer, I step out into this cold December night, in search of the glow of an almost full moon. Looking to trade in the two dimensional experience of gazing at a screen, for the three dimensional experience of observing nature. But simply observing nature, staying removed from it and not being a part of it, is really not much different than how one would view a TV program. There is still a distance between you and what you are viewing, whether it be a video on your laptop or checking out the scenery as you walk along a trail at a forest preserve. They are both very much two dimensional in nature because you are removed from, rather than immersed in.

This fact was pointed out to me today as I was reading David Abram's "Becoming Nature". David talks about how we spend so much of our time in front of screens, we are missing out on the opportunity to experience the richness of nature. David also says that most of what we know and learn about the natural world is delivered to us in a two dimensional format- either via a program about nature or as we pass through a preserve looking at the scenery. For this reason, we are missing out of the depth of nature. To understand we are a part of nature and it is part of us.

Reading David's words confirms what I have been feeling for awhile. That something valuable is being lost as we drift further and further away from the ancient wisdom of the land that resides within us and around us. Technology, while valuable in its own right, can not replace the value that comes from knowing and understanding wildness. We need to get closer to nature in a more intimate way, a more experiential way, and not continue to distance ourselves from it.

Tonight as I stood outside in the dark under the moonlit night, I touched the bark of a tree and considered that we are all a part of one whole. I reside within the tree and it within me. I held my hand on the bark of the White Pine residing in my side yard for quite some time and I enjoyed the exchange, feeling closer to nature as a result. Touch, it soothes a crying babe, or those hurting and needing to be consoled. Becoming closer to nature through touch, going from a two dimensional to a more three dimensional experience, may be what we need to soothe our ailing earth as well.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Should Dogs be Allowed on Public Trails?

This afternoon I headed out to a local preserve where dogs are allowed off leash in one flat mowed area of the park and on some of the trails. In the rest of the park, dogs are required to be leashed but some people don't follow those rules and consequently many dogs run free on all of the trails. This doesn't appear to be a problem because most everyone who visits this park comes there to run their dog off leash.
But what happens when a non-dog lover visits this park only to be jumped on by an overly friendly dog or worse to be met by an aggressive dog? What if said person has a young child in tow that gets knocked down or steps in a "present" left by a dog. On the other hand, what about the creek beds that suffer from erosion or habitats that are destroyed by loose dogs?

As a dog owner, I want to let my dog be free to run but also want to respect the natural lands we visit. Should dogs be allowed on public trails? For me, the answer would be that we need to set aside a few dog friendly trails in every community and sign them accordingly. This would give dogs a place to visit with other dogs in a free environment while restricting the negative impact dogs could possibly make to just a few of the trails within a natural preserve. It's OK to have rules regarding usage of parks and dogs, just don't make them too restrictive or unfair.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Good Read...

My pup may want to go out and play today. To break into a wide smile as she runs across the yard embracing the outdoors. But today, I find myself pulled in a different direction as I immerse myself in the words of David Abram in his book "Becoming Animal". David's words are captivating me, causing me to consider the possibilities of the kinship between man and nature and I really don't want to do much of anything else. I will give Dakota an abbreviated run of course, if only to keep her calm enough to allow me to read, but will hurry back inside to sit with my coffee and book on this cold winter day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Home for Wildlife...

Not only is it beautiful to look at perennial plants with a dusting of snow on them, but plants left standing all winter long serve a useful purpose for wildlife as well. Mammals both large and small, along with birds and insects use herbaceous plants for anything from food to shelter. I like to think of the hydrangea plant in my side yard pictured above as a mini kingdom brimming with life.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dogs on Thin Ice

Because dogs don't have a natural fear of thin ice, they may walk out onto it and find themselves in a whole heap of trouble if the ice gives way under their weight. That is why it is suggested you keep your dog on a leash during the winter when walking anywhere near water which may not be sufficiently frozen. This safeguard may save the life of your dog as well as yourself. Both dogs and the humans that have tried to save them have lost their lives when venturing out onto thin ice.
With the pond in our backyard skimmed over with a thin layer of ice, I knew I needed to do something to keep our dog Dakota safe. Rather than restrict Dakota to a short leash, I purchased a length of rope about 40' in length and use it in place of a leash. This gives Dakota almost as much freedom as if she were off leash, yet keeps her safe. We allow her to venture a short distance out onto the ice and when she gets too far out for comfort, we pull her back in.
As you can see from the picture above, the ice was way too thin to support Dakota's fifty pounds today so she spent most of her time breaking the ice and then wading along the shore line. Hopefully soon the ice will be stronger and we won't have to deal with a wet muddy dog on cold winter days.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wind Words...

The wind spoke to me last night as I lay in bed. It roared and tumbled about like one of the Great Lakes, blowing through the trees beside my house, tossing my thoughts around as I considered the wind and what meaning it brings to my life.

I have always looked to the wind for its cleansing properties. I think of the wind as being able to whisk away the bad and usher in the good. To clear the way for change. Something to lean into when times are hard, with hopes that good is just around the corner. My oldest son who lives in Indiana is coming for a visit today. As he flies through the skies from there to here, I will think of the gift the wind is bringing me.

This morning as I spent some time outside with my dog Dakota, I found the cold air the wind brought in overnight refreshing. The trees with their "talking", as their branches squeaked in the wind, appeared to be bidding me good day.

So with these thoughts of nature I begin my day, ready to enjoy all that will come my way! And may you enjoy what the wind blows in for you as well!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give this Gift to Your Children...

Sometimes all a kid needs is to spend some time outdoors...
To breathe the cool air.
To fly across a frozen pond.
To reflect.To jump into the air.
To search.
To ride across an open field.
To play.
To hike.
To spend time with a friend.

Put "spend time outdoors" on your wish list this holiday season and throughout the coming year and watch what unfolds for your kids....