There is a plant that interests me as much in the depths of winter, as when it’s green and juicy. One of the last weeds still standing, gangly Pokeweeds’s bleached skeletons rear up along the forest edge, offering a few shriveled berries to animals sheltering there.
One of my favorite times to explore this little fragment is when it’s very cold. Last Tuesday’s daytime windchill reading was about 5 degrees, and I wanted to see how the forest birds were faring. Except for the creaking of trees and the occasional call of a woodpecker or wren, it was amazingly quiet down in the woods, as if all humans but me had suddenly departed the planet. Even more than usual, I marveled that I was in a forest in the middle of a city. Read More
I don’t know how many times I walked past this strange looking object before recognizing it as a living creature. It resides near the trail, attached to a small Spicebush at a height of two feet, looking most intentionally like a clump of dead leaves. It’s actually the winter survival capsule for one of North America’s largest giant silkmoths, the Cecropia, Hyalophora cecropia. And like many insects, it’s in a state of “diapause”, the pupa slumbering secure in its silken bag till spring.
Between the big trees and the herbaceous layer there’s an important but often neglected zone. In this little forest fragment, and many others, it’s the one occupied primarily by invasive shrubs. A popular feel-good activity for volunteer groups and scout troops is the removal of these plants. I’ve led many such events – by the end of the workday, viewing the clearcut of massive bush honeysuckle, there’s always the feeling we’ve done something good for the forest. But have we really? Read More
Once upon a time, the South Fork of Beargrass Creek meandered across a floodplain rich with spring ephemeral wildflowers. Though the passing millennia brought changes in climate, soils, and geology that slowly altered this flora, the rapid changes of just the past few hundred years have caused the local extinction of most of it. So when deciding what to plant and where, one can only draw on experience with similar sites that are less damaged. But sometimes it’s easy. In my mind’s eye I see another floodplain along a riverbank in southern Indiana, covered with acres of the purest cerulean blue. Virginia Bluebells, of course. Read More
Look through the boxes in your kitchen cabinet and you’ll likely see the word “natural” somewhere. Co-opted by marketers, it’s devolved into one of the most meaningless of words. The actual definition, “existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind” implies that it’s possible to draw a line between human and non-human causation (an increasingly difficult task in the age of the Anthropocene!) But if any place could be descibed as natural, it would surely be a forest, right? Read More
Just down the hill from the LNC is a weedy meadow that’s become an arena for sparring bucks. Yesterday in the rain, my approach interrupted this old guy’s shoving match with a younger deer. You can still see a clump of his opponent’s hair on the tip of one antler prong. As fascinating as it is to watch the show, I can’t help but think it’s bizarre that urban forests have become (mostly) unchecked deer population increase zones. We really wake up to this fact during the rut, when bucks and does rush across busy streets and venture fearlessly into nearby neighborhoods.
A few years ago, wandering around online, I found one of the writers that inspired me to start this blog. Scotty Westphal blogs at https://retrieverman.net/ and at first I thought his blog was mainly about dogs, for which he has a passion. But what kept me reading was his unique viewpoint, a combination of political liberalism, a strong conservation ethic, and a love of hunting. Hailing from West Virginia, his opinions are likely at odds with much of rural Appalachia, but his writing is steeped in a deep feeling for the natural and human history of his beloved hill country.
It’s good to hear a voice that can bridge the cultures of hunting and environmentalism, so often at odds with each other. I’m reminded of another nature writer from the early 20th century, Aldo Leopold. His most well-known book, “Sand County Almanac”, helped shape the growth of environmental ethics (it certainly had a great impact on me when I first read it as a twenty-something). Leopold was also a hunter, forester, and one of the founders of the science of wildlife management.
Here are some of my favorite posts from Scotty’s blog “Natural History”. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have. A lot of the work on his site is about dogs and canids, but not being a dog person, I was most drawn to his nature writing. Scotty is currently completing an MFA in creative writing, and like most artists is seeking a wider audience for his work. Please share your comments to his blog.
It already seems like a distant memory, those humid bug-ruled days of (very) late summer that ended so abruptly. I was in the jewelweed patch that last miserable day, but from what I could see it was a good day for the orthopteran inhabitants. One last chance to live and eat before the cold set in.
If you’re a migrating hummer looking for a place to refuel, the value of good habitat is immeasurable. Hummingbirds can travel about 20 miles a day, so our little forest is a haven in the midst of urban sprawl. An abundance of Spotted Jewelweed is the main draw during fall migration – hummers can both nectar and forage for insects before moving on. Read More