Monday, December 26, 2011


Warm holiday wishes from my family and possibly a thousand Canada Geese. They live in Jamaica Plain and spend most of their time between the golf course and the different ponds.

One have to wonder what they are cackling about and what's so important that they all have to speak at the same time, even while flying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A slower pace

Although it still feels more like fall than winter around here, one sure sign of winter has arrived. Viruses and colds are keeping some of us indoors and there were a few veeeery long and eventless days. Good thing that I have my little back porch bird feeding station to keep me entertained, and a few very short walks in the afternoon sun helped too.

Red twig dogwood stems in the Arnold Arboretum

Unknown tree with fantastic seed heads

One of my friends, the whitebreasted nuthatch, comfortably perching upside down

The most common of all my visitors, this Downy woodpecker and his mate are never far from the feeders.

Mr Housefinch sat and rested in the tree but never landed on the feeder. Hopefully he will be back with his extended family soon.And look at the pretty purple maple buds.

Oakleaf hydrangea in my community garden 

witch hazel seeds

Virginia Sweetspire, a native South-easterner that is getting good attention in gardens for its butterfly appeal.

Native hibiscus seedhead

Pretty little Nine-bark seeds. Related to roses and brambles, it has fragrant five-petaled flowers.
Outside the fence of the gardens, sun plays on trees and trunks.

Red leaves of Greenbriar

 And all the little aster seeds, like millions of stars in a galaxy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Up in the tree tops

 Rutland State Park, MA

I've gotten a new hobby. In February I went to a Saturday workshop about winter tree pruning at the Arnold Arboretum. The instructor mentioned that she was hosting a Women's tree climbing workshop in September and I immediately felt attracted to it even if I had no real idea of what it meant. But I sent in my registration, and eventually, September arrived. In a beautiful old mansion with a garden outside Boston, currently run by a non-profit educational organization, I spent a weekend together with women from all parts of the country and all walks of life, hosted by the New England chapter of ISA, International Society of Arborists.
The instructors were all certified, experienced, and excellent women arborists who wanted to encourage more women to become involved in this very male dominated line of work. The participants were aspiring arborists, horticulturists, gardeners, nature lovers, most of us professionals or students of different "nature" oriented fields. Together there were about 25 of us. We learned about each other, why we had chosen to come, and eventually, of course, we learned about ourselves as well. We learned about equipment and safety routines, and how to never climb alone and how to get the most out of this truly humbling - and empowering - experience.
Through a network of climbers I have been fortunate to find experienced climbing friends close to where I live, so I have already gone on a few more outings - the pictures are from some of them.

Here, the instructors at the workshop are showing saddles or harnesses as they also are called. These come in many different styles and it's a good thing to try a number of them to find a favorite.

One of many knots that one needs to know to be safe. This is the Anchor hitch and I've practiced it at home for the past weeks - it needs to be so ingrained that my hands themselves know what to do, without me even thinking.

Here the group is out practicing throwing throw lines - the way to actually get the ropes up into the trees. It can be quite challenging.

This picture is from my latest climb, where me and my friend are struggling with getting the throw lines up in a good spot. It certainly takes time. Before you hit the branch you want to reach your line will go over other branches, get stuck in twigs or hooked on bark, tangle itself hopelessly, get caught on a dead limb or just never go where you want to. It takes a lot of practice - and usually a better half of the time we have to climb is spent just trying to get a line in.

Eventually I got mine positioned and I could attach my rope and pull it up over the branch, and with a lot of help from our instructor Andrew Joslin I was soon on my way up. This is a big, old, strong white oak tree, and the three of us were climbing it together.
 And it is beautiful up there!

The low stonewalls tell us of the history of the land. Once the woods here were cleared and this was an animal pasture.

Here my friend Alana is hanging comfortably in her harness, taking a break on her way up.

About halfway up we saw the deer family, the doe with her two fawns. We were watching them from 40 ft up and even though they saw us we were apparently nothing to fear.

 This was only my 4th climb ever, and I've never been any higher than 40 ft or so before. That's about as high I can throw my line anyway. But this time Andrew climbed almost twice as high, and when I reached the top of my rope he had prepared a second rope for me so I could safely switch to the new rope and climb an additional 20 ft. Here is how happy I am...

When you see this picture you can't hear that the I-93 runs to the right of the wetlands and that we could hear the distant traffic noise all the time. But the peace and mindful serenity one finds up in the canopy is not disturbed by that. I can't wait to get up again.

Some of the deer pictures and the pictures of me and my friend were taken by Andrew Joslin. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Still thankful

I'm sorting through the pictures I took during Thanksgiving weekend and I realize I do have enough for a post - better get it done before it already feels old!

What a nice, long, lazy weekend we had, all to ourselves. The warm weather took us outside for hours, exploring the woods and natural areas we find around here. While the turkey was roasting in the oven we walked - as usual - to Franklin park, where only a couple of golfers enjoyed the afternoon. I found this great Highbush blueberry I haven't noticed before.

At the back end of the golf course we entered an overgrown "island" of pinetrees. Suddenly, with a loud thump, a redtailed hawk landed right in front of us, securely grabbing a mouse with claws and teeth, not bothered by us at all. The mouse squeaked a little, then the hawk took it in its mouth and flew away to a pine tree where it continued to eat.

The next day we packed our lunches and went to Blue Hills Reservation, a large hiking and recreation area. In the summer we often swim in Houghton's pond, and during the year we often take walks on any of the many trails.
We sort of aimed for the highest hill without knowing if the kids would really make it, and we were not in any hurry. We sat down for lunch on a boulder, next to a little busy brook of water. A tree was merging itself with the rock.

Moss covered rocks lightened up the woods.

 Old Indian pipe flowers.

 The busy brook

 Almost neon-colored moss

 But the biggest excitement of the day was the discovery we made by the water side. A skull, not intact but with the missing pieces lying about, a piece of spine, bones from legs and hips.


 We are city people with little experience of larger animals, and we thought it might have been a dog or coyote. After going home and asked friends, and friends of friends, we were eventually told that it was a fawn - a young deer. We googled fawn skulls and indeed, there was a match.

We passed this beautiful evergreen leaves by the trail, and I was proud to be able to remember - Downy rattlesnake plantain, a native orchid. City people as we are, we pinned the site in my phone's gps system so that I can return in spring to see the flowers.

An old log covered in all sorts of mosses and lichens.

The following day we were back in Franklin park - we all really like it there. The ground was covered in paper thin beech leaves.

A little flower I've seen there before - I thought it might be another orchid but I couldn't find a match. I could have just waited until it flowered so I could identify it from a flower book, but I was too impatient, so another nature blogger helped me name it: Shinleaf, or Pyrola. Not too showy, but at least I know its name and I will like it even more now when I know what it is.

Our second mystery occurred. Who did the feathers belong to, and what happened? We didn't see any bones or other signs of a fatal incident, just these feathers. Maybe a bird got lucky that day. But what bird? These are big feathers. Could it be a wild turkey? And what attacked it?

After thanksgiving I went back to garden work. When I was working in a very neat, landscaped, tiny backyard I lifted up a couple of wet hosta leaves and found this:

Three tiny redbacked Salamanders. I was a little surprised at first but then remembered that this garden has a little pond with decorative plants around it. 

 I moved them carefully to a corner where I made sure I wasn't raking anything.

So Nature is so full of wonders, death, life. Signs, mysteries, so much taking place that we don't know anything of. And sometimes just peace - as with the little sleepy salamanders, or this little woodpecker who after eating sat on the feeder for a good 30 minutes, just taking a break.