Sunday, September 01, 2013

Vacation Pictures, Part 1

Jim and I recently took a trip we’ve been dreaming about for a long time, and it was just great!   Isle Royale is a National Park in Lake Superior, the deepest, cleanest of the Great Lakes.  The island is the least used American National Park, and only 12 miles from Canada.   What a beautiful place, home to foot traffic only, wolves, moose, and a select few other special animals.   I’d been there twice before, but Jim had never been there, so we needed to make a trip for him to experience it.

We left home in Northern Indiana, drove through Chicago, and north through Wisconsin.   We spent the first night in a motel and arrived in late afternoon the second day at Porcupine Mountains State Park, at the Southwestern tip of Lake Superior, to camp the night.   It was wonderful to drive along the shore of that beautiful lake.    The shore alternates between old worn lava flow benches and white sandy beach.  

It’s so amazing, how the people use the park areas.   In our part of the country, on the great Lake Michigan, all beaches are privately owned and blocked off to the public, or special access areas are set aside as parks, and jealously regulated for use.   I do understand, with our population, overuse would quickly make the beaches unusable and overcrowded, but there, the population is so low, that for mile after mile, there are simple turnouts, with picnic tables, and people  park, walk a few feet to the water and enjoy. 

This water is so clean that you can see the bottom a dozen feet down, and cold enough that even on a hot day in August, you don’t spend long in the water.   But there were hundreds of blue-lipped people, enjoying the beautiful water, all along the way.  
We found our camping spot, and drove to the end of the Porcupine Mountains Park to see the waterfalls.
  So beautiful.  This is old worn lava flow area, with clean water splashing down the mountainside.  It’s dry enough at this time of year, that there were big areas of dry lava benches available for people to wander around on.   Just gorgeous, and well worth the tall stairstep access points to hike to get there.   Lots of trails wind through here, including the North Country trail, marked on the path we took to the waterfalls.

After a good wander there, we returned to the campground, and followed a short trail down to the water, just about 40 feet away from our camper, to soak our feet in the water.  

Jim laughed, said the line from the song kept running through his head, so he had to stretch out on the rock and act the part. “The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead when the skies of November turn gloomy.” It was hard to be too gloomy with the beautiful weather we had, and the wildflowers and lichen on the rocks made it a photographer’s joy.

I caught sight of my wet footprint on the hot rock, and thought about the ecology saying to “take only pictures, leave only footprints”   so I did. 
I'll add more pictures when I get the time and energy.   We took along three cameras on this trip, so there's lots of good stuff to share.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Mystery HISSSSssss! Solved. Whew!

We live pretty close to nature here at OwlsHaven.   We love being surrounded by owls, birds, and revel in all the natural things we share our world with.  But when I stepped into our garden shed a few days ago to put away some tools and heard a loud HISS, I leaped out faster than I went in.    I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the sound was, poking around with long handled tools, and clattering about with a lot of noise, but never could figure out what it was.   Each time I stepped into the shed the hiss returned, loud, insistant, and it set my reptile brain into fight or flight mode.

Finally, I gave up, reached in and put the tools away and retreated in defeat.   I just about decided that it was a raccoon that had made its home underneath the shed and when I stepped in, I was squashing it and the hiss was the protest.  The next morning, it was gone, so I figured it moved on--until this morning when I reached in to get the shears to harvest the garlic scapes that were reaching out in the garlic patch.   There it was again, HISS, loud and insistant.   This time I saw it.   A big hognose snake, curled up in the basket I carry around with me in the garden to hold seeds, labels, markers and small tools.    I mean a BIG Hognose!   That guy was at least 1 1/2" in diameter and 20" long, and plump from the mice that keep invading that inviting space.

I ran for the house to get the camera and called out to Jim, who brought out the long reacher, and he carefully lifted the snake out into the woods, out of the reach of the grandkids he might freak out.   Now I'm a big fan of the clever hognose snake with the patterned skin, black tongue and turned up nose.   He's usually a good thing around the place, helping to keep the rodents under control, and non poisonous.   His teeth are too small to do any harm, and he has no venom, and his act when threatened is always entertaining.

All hognose snakes everywhere go through the same series of gestures to protect themselves, and hissing a loud warning is the first step.   After that, he swells up, making himself fatter and more formitable, and if he still feels threatened, he'll proceed to the next step.  

Next he flattens out the skin behind his head, making himself look bigger and mimicing a cobra, raising his head and swaying back and forth, before striking.   Of course, he can't bite, so all he'll do is bump you with his little nose, but still, it's impressive.   If this fails, he'll curl up and go into convulsions, acting like he's dead before finally flopping over on his back like he's dead.   At this point, if you flip him over, he'll flip himself back over again, persisting to act like he's dead, with his tongue hanging out to the side.

We certainly didn't want to hurt this wonderful critter, so Jim carefully carried him out to the woods and released him.   If he comes back, we may just leave him there, our resident mouse catcher, but I'm very glad to know what was our mystery hisser in the shed.   Even though I love all our critters, there's something about that hiss that sets off the fear reflex in my mind.  It's good to know what was causing that startling noise.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Whew!  It's been such a wacky weather year this spring, that we thought we were going to miss out on Morels!   What an awful thing that would have been.  But finally yesterday morning, after we'd given up on hunting them, Jim was out walking with the grandson, and just happened to find two, right beside the path.

About 20 years ago, I read this technique of planting morels in a likely place and tried it.   Just save the salty water you soak them in, add a little molasses to feed the spoor, and sprinkle it out in a likely spot.   Every single year since then, we've found a few.  Usually much later than we expect, but a surprise and delight, nevertheless.  

So after searching the whole area for about a half hour, we came up with 5 decent sized morels, the yellow late kind, and Jim fried them up for an evening snack last night.    Heaven!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Music Goes On.....

 This year marks the 100th Anniversary of Woody Guthrie's birth.  As part of the celebration of that great man's contribution, his son Arlo has made a tour of the country, bringing his songs to audiences all over.  Last night, we were thrilled to be in the audience in little Dowagiac, Michigan for the last concert of that tour.  Like us, the audience tended to be OLD fans, but with a few youngsters sprinkled among us.  

I've been a fan of Arlo's since the 60's and seen him in concert 3 times.   Last night was the best yet.   At 65, he still has that wonderful relaxed, sing/talk way of performing that carries you along the trip through Arlo's fertile imagination to see life through his slightly skewed perspective.  This time, stories of his father's music, life and history were woven through the songs.  As always, what a trip.    He told us of remembering standing at Lead Belly's knee at the age of two, and of going to a rodeo with Rambling Jack Elliott at the age of 18 and seeing the woman he'd later marry, and stay with for 43 years.

Getting a peak into Woody's songwriting style was eye opening.   The family has discovered thousands of unpublished songs, written lyrics only, with no music, because neither Woodie or Arlo ever learned to write music.   Some of the songs are now being sent out to various musicians by Arlo's sister Nora, to add music and bring them to life again.  

What a great mix of songs old and new as Arlo talked about the Oklahoma dust bowl years and how Woody felt about the shabby treatment of migrant workers, and followed that with his, "Pickle Song."  I could never figure out which I loved more, Arlo the storyteller, musician or songwriter, but that evening was a great combination of all of them.

He did break into a small sampling of "Alice's Restaurant," but promised not to inflict that whole song on us.   Said if he'd known how popular it would have been, he'd have made it a lot shorter.

On the way home, I thought a lot about what a history of our country is wrapped up in this one person.    So many of the problems that Woody's songs protested are still/again/yet with us today but Arlo can still face it with a positive outlook and song.  Those songs ring as true today as when Woody wrote them so many years ago.

Friday, May 17, 2013

You've Got to be Smarter than the Squirrel!

We love our birds here, and have two feeders up for them.  We do have multiple hummingbird feeders up, and they're humming with life this time of year.   For the seed eating birds, we have settled on two special kinds of feeders, and they're constantly busy with a wonderful assortment of finches, nuthatches, woodpeckers large and small, juncos, cardinals, rose breasted grosbeaks and the occasional Baltimore Oriole, and lots of wrens and purple finches. 

 We feed only black oil sunflower seeds and both feeders have small openings, so that only smallish birds can feed there.   One has a spring loaded top and when a heavier bird or squirrel lands on it, it sags down to block the openings completely.   The other feeder is a two liter pop bottle, with a metal part screwed onto the top.   Fill it with seeds, and mount it on a tall slim pipe, and it's just perfect for two birds at a time to feed.   Perfect, that is, until the squirrels figured out how to shimmy up the pole and rob the feeder.  Then they'd hang by the tiny perch and gobble all the expensive feed in a few minutes and cheat the birds out of their meal entirely.

We've gone through many versions of these feeders, before finally finding solutions that worked.    Jim made a stovepipe sleeve for the pipe that hangs down and blocks the squirrel from climbing the pole.    This was great until recently, when the ultimate squirrel moved into the neighborhood.    First, he went down the rope onto the hanging feeder, pulled off the lid and swiped 3 pounds of seed in one helping.  I got better at screwing the lid on tight and stopped that problem.

Then it climbed the back of a chair, launched itself through the air, came to rest on top of the stovepipe on the pole, and again, emptied the feeder in no time flat.    We moved the chair away, and he used a nearby tree for his aerial act.   Moved the pole and hammered it down into the ground again and it slipped down enough that he could get to it from the ground!  Dinner last night was a frustrating experience, as we watched that squirrel leap up for a snack before we chased him away, over and over.

So, last night, Jim raised the stovepipe blocker, moved the chair further away, and we ate dinner in peace, while watching that nutty robber try his best to get to the goodies.    He'd troll under the feeder, look up and bob his head up and down to gauge the distance, then launch himself in a huge leap, only to miss by mere inches and crash to the ground.    He'd get up, shake himself, twitch his tail in anger and stalk away, only to reappear minutes later up the tree, only to try again, and again and again.   For about two hours tonight, that squirrel tried every angle to get to that feeder.   I couldn't get any pictures of his aerobatics, he was moving too fast for that, but I did get other pictures.   Cute little guy, when he's not being a thief.

We finished dinner and sat across the room, to talk about tomorrow's plans, only to see motion out of the corner of our eye, as this flying marauder tried the target from yet another angle, without success.   If we didn't see it, we'd hear his failure, as he hit the stovepipe baffle and sent it ringing like a bell, against the supporting post.

In the growing darkness, we saw him trolling the spilled seeds on the ground, still twitching his tail in anger, and now and then standing up to chatter his disgust at his failure to gain the easy pickings.    Hopefully he doesn't figure it out, there's not much else we can do to deter this audacious robber, but he sure is entertaining to watch.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Our Annual Miracle

 Each year about this time, this beautiful magnolia tree in front of our house bursts into joyous, exuberant bloom.   I realized this spring, that this is now 40 years, I've been able to enjoy this annual miracle.  

When we bought this house, 40 years ago now, that tree was just about 5 feet tall, and I was very young, moving into my first home of my own, with my then husband and daughter.     It was my dream home in the country and we planned chickens and home grown vegetables, and all the joys that go with it. 

Who would have known that I'd still be here, all these years later, 3 children grown and moved on, after many years here alone, and now with a husband who shares my joy in the natural world that surrounds us.

 Now the tree is taller than the two story house.  We've declared the place to be a nature preserve, and share these trees with barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, hummingbirds, woodcocks, the occasional turkey, and lots of other birds and animals.

With all the good and great things around us, one constant surprise is this magnificent magnolia, returning to bloom each spring in a slow, timeless beauty.  
What a marvelous thing this is, to be able to watch this tree each year. 

Life is very good.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

She's Back! And She Brought a Friend! It's Owl Love!

It must be Spring.  

The owl who came visiting a few nights ago has been returning most nights to sit in our trees around the back yard.   There have been two owls following her from tree to tree, and last night it was just one.   
This one sat next to her on the branch and reached over to groom her.   They both did a lot of staring off in different directions, then stretched their wings and preened. 
 I think they're in love!    We watched them come into two different trees, then sat next to each other on the same branch for quite a while. 
 He'd reach over to tenderly touch her with his beak, while she bent her head down. 
The show went on for about 45 minutes while we watched through binoculars.  
I got some pictures, but the distance and lack of light made it bad photo conditions.   
I'm hoping for baby owlets one of these days, on a tree nearby.   How I love living where nature comes close.