(Click to enlarge then zoom in!)
Do you see them? No, your computer screen is not dirty– those are birds! Crows to be exact! As I walked home from work at the middle school last night I witnessed this large and beautiful murder of crows flying over head. And the noise? It was a caCAWphony.
Anyone who has known me for a long period of time knows crows are my favorite animal. I have loved them ever since high school when I was lucky to study them in depth. A mentor of mine took me under his wing (eh ehh…) and let me help with crow studies both through his class at my HS and his class at Boston College. It was such an exciting and formative experience for me. Thanks to Dr. Auger, if you are out there! Ever since then I have been enamored with them. They are beautiful, intelligent, and resilient beings. Crows form bonds with one another, make and use tools, and learn to recognize people. The crows outside in my parent’s neighborhood on Cape Cod got so accustomed to me throwing peanuts out to them in high school (which they were able to shell on their own!) that they would fly to our roof when they saw me walking home from school. Many cultures have superstitions or omens surrounding crows, most of which are negative, but when I hear or see crows I take it as a call to consciousness. When crows are near me it brings me back to myself and helps me put thoughts into perspective. I looked for them again today as I was walking home but there were none to be seen and that just makes it all the more magical.
Tags: bird jokes, birding, birdwatching, corvids, corvus brachyrynchos, crows, flock, luck, Nature, omens, photos, puns, roosts, supersition, viroqua
Today was the Kickapoo Valley Reserve‘s Winter Festival in La Farge.
While I didn’t make it for any of the morning activities (flint knapping, dog sledding, ice cave hike, live raptor talk, and more!) I did get to go on a brilliant hike with Chuck Hatfield and learn about beavers– I absolutely loved it!!!
Hunting is allowed here so they just ask nicely that people don’t.
Chuck explaining beaver teeth in front of a beaver lodge. Beavers live in lodges which are different than dams and have bedrooms and eating rooms.
We had a big group!
So this deer pooped on a beaver dam… There’s a joke there…
An older, smaller dam
Across the water you can see some “Beaver Art” as Chuck called it.
A very large beaver dam!
Beavers are fine woodworkers leaving spears of wood sticking out everywhere.
Who dug this? This who was about 6 inches in diameter and was deep!
Amazingly effective beaver dam!
To give you an idea of how strong this must be, keep in mind that the water below was approximately 4 feet below the water up top. Spectacular!
And older washed out dam
Beavers enjoy eating the outer layers of bark and inner cambium but not the inner woody part. This was probably eating off to take the log to the nearby dam.
Beautiful bluff area with Eastern Hemlocks, ferns, and other plants growing straight out of it!
Guess who hollowed out this tree!
A Pileated Woodpecker!
Someones been walking here!
[ Click the first picture then go through the slide show if you want to read the captions or see bigger versions of the images!]
I learned quite a bit about beavers in college but it was nice to get a refresher and actually see some dams and lodges! Coincidentally I also read about beavers last night in Wintering by Diana Kappel-Smith. She made some interesting notes about them, my favorite being that even when it is below freezing outside, it is still cozy inside of a beaver’s lodge thanks to all the warm bodies in there. Chuck told us that beavers don’t leave home until 2 sometimes 3 years old meaning that at any given time there could be upwards of 10 beavers living in a lodge! Something else that I find fascinating about beavers that wasn’t touched on today is that the have a special gland inside their body that pumps super acidic juices into the beavers stomach so that they can process all the cellulose. Wood is made of cellulose which is undigestable to most except for mushrooms and apparently beavers! Other things that eat diets high in cellulose like ruminants actually have micro-organisms inside their bodies that help them break it down. The beaver just gets cooler and cooler! My last fun beaver fact, that I just learned through the wonders of the internet, is that beavers exude a substance called castoreum for marking territory that was often used in medicines. Turns out that since beavers favor willow that this exudant is actually high in salicylic acid (aka aspirin) which explains its medicinal effects! Fascinating! Thanks Kickapoo Valley Reserve and Chuck Hatfield for putting on such a fun and thought provoking hike!
Tags: Beaver dams, Beaver lodges, Beavers, diana kappel smith, ecology, environmental education, fresh water ecology, frozen rivers, hiking, ice, Kickapoo River, Kickapoo Valley Reserve, La Farge, Nature, outdoors, photos, snow, winter, winter festival, wisconsin
Last night I went and saw Mark Shephard talk about his new book Restoration Agriculture. Mark is a Driftless Area permaculture guru. The book deals with how one can mimic the native environment and biome to create an agricultural system that is high in calories and nutritional content per acre and is an ecosystem in itself rather than a lack of one. I haven’t read the book yet but I definitely plan to once I finish the 4 (yes 4) books I am currently reading. Mark’s farm is well known in the area for his hazelnut operation and the hard apple cider he makes. He’s also well known for his hilarious band Synister Dane, being friendly and jovial, and taking on several interns each year. I loved his talk and afterwards my mind was really spinning with dreams for the future.
I am an educator at heart. It is what I am good at and what I am passionate about. I am also deeply connected to the earth. I dream of forming a relationship with a piece of land and sharing it with others. What that means is still unclear to me. Will I someday own land and operate an environmental, outdoor, and farming education center out of it? Would that land be mine or would I own it cooperatively? Will I find an educational community that I can make my home and educate from there? Will I simply live close to the land like I dream and keep education as my day job working at a school or park or writing curriculum? I have worked with summer camps, outdoor education programs, public schools, a semester program, an alternative high school, and others and I have loved them all. Even the experiences that were less than ideal at the time taught me valuable lessons about my values, strengths, and desires. Where I am in life right now there is much uncertainty. Where will I be a year from now? Where will I be six months from now? Who will I be with and what will I be doing?
When I imagine my future I see images behind my eyes like vivid memories I have yet to live. I am leading hikes in the rain and discussing vernal ponds. I am shelling beans into a bucket as the sunsets. I am chopping wood for future fires and looking up to watch others neatly stack it to season. I am singing songs round a campfire. I am harvesting tomatoes with a baby on my hip. I am skiing through snowy fields in the bright sun. I see fresh baked bread, a pantry full of canned goods, teenagers in waiters ready for adventure, and little kids with fairy wings and nature journals. I see a room of ecology supplies that always smells faintly of mildew in the best possible way. I see children overturning rocks in the stream looking for salamanders and frogs. I see my feet hanging from a handbuilt tree house as I read and sip on a tea of wild mint and nettles. My journal is filled with drawings of encounters with wild animals and new plants. My hands are rough from hard work. My schedule is busy, challenging, and always changing. And best of all, I am happy.
As I walked home from Mark’s talk last night I decided it is time to embrace the uncertainties in my life. I don’t know what the future holds for me. No one does. My professor Marty at Warren Wilson always to said, “Start small, go slow, but go.” You can’t sit around and expect your dreams come to you if you don’t work towards them. With that I am going for a walk and see what this rainy, freezing day has to teach me.
Tags: adventure, aspirations, dreams, ecology, environmental education, farming, future, gardening, happiness, mark shephard, Nature, outdoors, permaculture, restorative agriculture, viroqua, Warren Wilson College, wild foods, winter, woodstoves
Our house in the snow!
I shoveled the driveway all by myself!
From the edge of our neighborhood you can see our friends’ farm just out of town!
Most often when you see a conifer around here it was planted. They are still my favorite when covered in snow.
The edge of town. You can just barely see the Viroqua water tower!
Around the corner and down a hill from my house, is a fabulous tract of woods on the edge of town called Hubbard Hills. The woods are owned (as much as any woods are owned) by a family on the street who have built many trails through the land and allow people to use them for recreational purposes. It’s a really spectacular place and is beautiful in all seasons. On one of those trails, at a specific spot, is my super secret special place I like to go to ponder life, work through things, and just be with nature. It is a place just for me. It is so secret that this is the first time I have ever mentioned it to anyone. That’s right interwebs, I’m telling the whole world before I ever say it out loud.
Today is a very special day. It is the 3 year anniversary of the day I graduated from college, the day I stopped religiously editing my grad school application and finally put it in the mail, it is the day I had my first snow day off from work, and the day I almost got shot at my sit spot! To celebrate and reflect on my accomplishments, adventures, and misadventures over the past 3 years I decided to go on a hike through the snowy woods to my sit spot. I hiked and I hiked through the magical woods. It was peaceful and beautiful. I saw fun little tracks in the snow and followed them around for a while. Eventually I came to beloved sit spot. I’ve been going to this spot since June and this is the first time I have ever been there in snow. I took out a plastic bag for a seat and settled in for a while. The trees I have grown so used to gazing upon looked extra enchanting with inches covered in snow on them. I thought for a while about all that has happened and made some wishes for the next three years. Then the magic exploded.
BANG! BANG! Gun shots. I’ve been there so many times and never encountered anyone that it never even occurred to me that it would be a great place to go hunting. How silly of me. I live in Wisconsin and it’s hunting season! My first instinct for some reason was the jump up and scream , “PERSON! I’M A PERSON!” Seriously, Annie? I got no response, heard no snow crunching near me, and saw no other footsteps so most likely the person wasn’t even near me but I said good bye to my spot anyway and left immediately.
Next time I go out there, I will remember to wear orange.
[Note: None of these pictures are off my sit spot but simply from my walk around my neighborhood. I refuse to take any pictures there because it is my sacred ground.]
Tags: Celebration, hiking, Hunting, Magic, Nature, photos, Reflection, Sit spot, snow, viroqua, winter, Winter Wonderland, wisconsin