Monday, April 27, 2015

First Tick

This morning I have my first itchy tick bite of the year. Just sorta comes with the territory. I guess springtime can't all be wildflowers, wood thrushes, and fireflies. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vespers — Accomplishing Quiet

Sitting quietly with my dog, listening to tree frogs, letting my mind wander, I feel deeply thankful for my life.

I think I get more done staring into a campfire than into a television screen.

An owl in the distance seems to agree. 

Colors fade as darkness settles, and bats take to the air eating acrobatically above the house.

The owl calls again.

The fire fades to embers, but they glow long enough. 

Cool air flows down the hill, through the forest, across my bare arms, and around our house. The fire's glowing embers feel good and I lean in.

The stars begin to appear, and the fireflies join them dancing high in the trees. 

The owl calls again. And peace settles upon our house like spoken words of blessing.

Peace. Peace, be still. The day is at rest.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


"Beauty is composed of many things and never stands alone. It is part of horizons, blue in the distance, great primeval silences, knowledge of all things of the earth. It embodies the hopes and dreams of those who have gone on before, including the spirit world; it is so fragile it can be destroyed by a sound or thought. It may be infinitesimally small or encompass the universe itself. It comes in a swift conception wherever nature has not been disturbed." — Sigurd F. Olson, "Beauty," in Reflections from the North Country, 1976.
A sunset during our 2012 North Country canoe trip in the Boundary
Water Canoe Area of Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrating John Muir

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” 

This marginal note written by John Muir in his personal copy of Prose Works (vol. 1) by Ralph Waldo Emerson provides a glimpse into Muir's enchantment with the natural world. Doesn't it make you want to look for two pine trees just so you can see what's there?

Today I am especially thankful for the life of John Muir, who was born April 21, 1838. Thanks to his writings, he shared an infectious passion for nature that would bless generations. That's him on the right, next to Teddy Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite in 1903

"Between every two pine trees" notation

Monday, April 20, 2015

After the Storm

Surely the birds didn't get any more sleep than I did during last night's thunderstorm, and yet they sing as exuberantly as ever this morning. And they do it without coffee.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Spring View

Lush, verdant life,
fills every window in the house
this fine spring morning
—a forest renewed.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Spring Saunter

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)
I'd say I had a successful afternoon sauntering the woods at Montgomery Bell State Park. My goal was simply to get in a good dayhike while carrying my pack loaded as if for a weekend backpacking trip. I managed to cover the 11 mile Montgomery Bell trail in slightly over 5 hours. As I began hiking, I wasn't thinking too much about wildflowers but was pleasantly surprised by the current display. I was particularly delighted at the profusion of Dwarf Crested Iris along Wildcat Creek and by a large colony of Squaw Root next to Four Mile Creek.

In my hiking, I was testing out new shoes, a new approach to hiking socks, and continued overall refinement of my ultralight kit. I was quite happy to be carrying a pack weighing only 18½ pounds, including water and a weekend's worth of food. That's a long way from the 35-40 lbs I was carrying a few years ago!

A trail-side Wood Violet (Viola palmata) coated with rain splatter from our recent storms. Notice the palmate leaves easily distinguishing this violet from the more common but very similar and closely related Viola sororia.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Fire Pink (Silene virginica)

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)

Star Chickweed, Giant Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)

Phlox at Wildcat Shelter

Stream Crossing, III
(Yes, this photo might look familiar. I've taken the same basic shot in this spot on two previous occasions.)

I won't go into too many details, but I learned a few lessons on this walk. The most important is tip # 27 in Mike Clelland's excellent book, Ultralight Backpackin' Tips. I immediately thought of this tip when I went to treat my drinking water and reached for my reading glasses. They were gone! The pouch I carry them in was empty. I had no doubt laid them down when taking pictures somewhere, but I didn't have the foggiest notion where. To retrace the trail looking for the glasses would be futile, so I vowed to be more careful and thanked my lucky stars that wasn't on a long trip and didn't need to read the map. Mike's tip # 27 reads "Don't lose anything!" His explanation of this tip reads:
If you brought it, it's probably important.
Paring down your camping essentials to the bare minimum means there ain't much wiggle room if you lose something. If it wasn't truly NEEDED, you would have left it at home.
There is a minimal redundancy built into the UL system, so if any one item disappears, it could have big consequences. Every piece of gear should be considered essential. Don't dangle stuff off your pack. Don't hang sunglasses in trees at night. Don't leave your sleeping pad unattended when it's windy! Do a thorough camp sweep every time you pack up to hike. And do a good sweep after you take a break too.
I realize this would be even more true when you're hiking solo. As far as I'm concerned, tip # 27 should now be considered a rule.

Trail crossing Wildcat Creek

Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Quaker Ladies, Common Bluet (Houstonia caerulea)

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
Squaw Root, Bear Corn (Conopholis americana)
I guess it's not much to look at—certainly not what most people would consider a wildflower—but I find Squaw Root completely fascinating. You will notice there a no green parts. Having no real leaves or chlorophyll, Squaw Root gets its nourishment from the roots of oak trees, which it parasitizes. As hinted by the common name, Squaw Root, this plant was collected and used as a food source by many Native Americans. It is also a favorite food of bears, which gives rise to the name Bear Corn.

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), one of my very favorite wildflowers

Wood Betony, Forest Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis)

Four Mile Creek

Senecio sp. (I think. Yellow composites confuse me. )

Four Mile Creek

Thursday, April 16, 2015

First Firefly!

I saw our first firefly this evening while singing frogs and owls performed an improv concert in the woods. Senses filled to the brim. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

First Wood Thrush!

I heard the first Wood Thrush of the season singing in the back of the hollow this evening! Such beautiful, joyful, enchanting music! To me, it is the song of the summer forest.

get out into a mature forest soon and listen for the song yourself.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cedar Glade Visit

Taking advantage of a beautiful Saturday, Beth and I met up with friends at the Mount View Glade State Natural Area. I did some field work in the cedar glades near LaVergne, Tennessee while a biology student at David Lipscomb College back in 1981-82, and I must say it felt good to be back in the glades.

Although I had visited cedar glade areas many times (30+ years ago), I had never been here, and I was glad to get a tour from my friends, Steve and his brother Randy. Mount View Glade State Natural Area is the site where the Tennessee coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis) was rediscovered in 1968 by Vanderbilt University biologist Elsie Quarterman and her graduate student Barbara Turner. The Tennessee coneflower had previously been thought to be extinct. After this rediscovery the coneflower has also been found in a few other isolated cedar glade areas in Davidson and Wilson counties. The Mount View Glade is a little 9 acre site tucked in the middle of housing development. In my opinion, it will always be threatened simply because it is so small (but I digress into ecological studies).

Cedar glade areas are overlooked and under-appreciated by most people. At first glance, they certainly don't look like much. I have to admit, they basically look like abandoned parking lots. The cedar glades are home to a unique ecosystem, however, and they have come to be loved by many wildflower enthusiasts and other naturalists. In addition to the Tennessee Coneflower, there are several other plants that are endemic to the limestone cedar glades of the south. Among them are the Nashville Breadroot, Glade Violet, and Gladecress pictured below.

Nashville Breadroot (Pediomelum subacaule)

Long-styled Gladecress (Leavenworthia stylosa) -- yellow color form

Glade Violet (Viola egglestonii)

Glade Violet (Viola egglestonii)

Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)

We next went over to the Couchville Cedar Glade State Natural Area, a 122 acre site that seemed more like the cedar glade areas that I was more familiar with. I think I will return here for more visits.

Nashville Breadroot (Pediomelum subacaule)

Long-styled Gladecress (Leavenworthia stylosa) -- white color form

Long-styled Gladecress (Leavenworthia stylosa) -- white color form

Long-styled Gladecress (Leavenworthia stylosa) -- white color form

False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve)

My friend Steve checking out the stream that flows through this glade

Beth watching tadpoles and snails in the stream

Revisiting the cedar glades reminded me of two things. One, I'm glad I live in a hilly forest. I do love to be surrounded by hills and big, old trees. Two, I need to get back to the cedar glades again soon—and often.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Time is Short

Right now, there's a small spot in the back of our hollow that is completely covered with Celandine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum). If it wasn't for our trail, you couldn't walk through the patch without stepping on them. They last fairly long compared to some wildflowers, but soon enough the time for all spring ephemerals will be over and the poppies will be gone. That's the way it is with wildflowers; you only get so many chances to spend time together.

Emerging bloom of the Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Morning

My words always
fall short,
fail me

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Walk to Live

I know walking is good exercise and good for my health, but that's not really why I walk. I don't walk to live longer. I walk to live more.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Morning Saunter — A Call to Worship

To saunter without agenda is always a joy. On this Good Friday I couldn't help but feel profoundly blessed just to be alive in this wild wonderful world. Every spring is a resurrection.

This morning I was able to visit many of my wildflower neighbors: the Toothworts, Spring Beauties, Trilliums, Violets, Poppies, Lilies, and the odd little fellow know to most as Jack-in-the-Pulpit. I was delighted to see they are all doing well. This time of year they are single-mindedly and earnestly going about the business of blooming and making seed. They must hurry. There is little time. Soon the forest canopy will unfurl, leaving the forest floor in perpetual shade. They must work now while there is light.

I was reminded of the natural succession of forest life as I walked. As spring begins, all the wildflowers are white (surely there's a reason for that), but yellow and blue now join the color palette as poppies, lilies, and violets spread their petals. Green is becoming more and more common. Last week, blooming Toothwort covered the forest floor. Now Toothwort is going to seed and giving way to Spring Beauty. I find comfort in this ebb and flow.

Overall, the forest grows more and more green with each unfolding leaf. Soon the green canopy overhead will shade the whole woods. The time of ephemeral spring wildflowers will be over for another year. The timeless forest is ever changing—each week and each day a new season of its own. Each day is a call to worship.

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Sweet Betsy, green variant (Trillium cuneatum)

Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)