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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The winds are cooler, the rains no longer soft. Bird feeders empty faster and the flowers look defiant rather than content.

I love summer, of course, but there’s something special about a hot bowl of soup and a warm blanket and crisp blue days and brightly colored leaves.

It’s a wonderful time of year for just about anything, but especially for taking stock and making plans.

Welcome to Fall.

Autumn equinox is the first day of fall. How is that different from a solstice? : NPR

Fall starts at 9 p.m. ET Thursday, a day officially known as the autumn equinox.

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Twilight Surprise

The sky burns down,
A rim of coals glowing gold and red,
Limned with orange again
And kissed with hints of pink.
The clouds reflect tangerine and plum,
Overshadowing the silent glory.
Darkness and light,
Balanced upon this equinox,
Dance together like old lovers …
… and beget beauty.

― Elizabeth Barrette, From Nature’s Patient Hands

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Photo by Samuel Ferrara on Unsplash

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And now, a brief promo for Canada’s national animal.

An unlikely ally in the face of wildfires and droughts: the humble beaver

In the face of increasing wildfires and droughts, scientists are looking to a highly skilled “environmental engineer” to help fight climate change: the industrious beaver.

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Photo by Tim Umphreys on Unsplash

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It’s firefly season* again, and I am there for it. 

Fireflies as a species are under pressure but there’s a lot we can do to help them. Short version: Turn off the lights and get (your yard) a little wild.

Tonight, dim the lights. Find the darkest patch of green you see. If it has tall grass and lush, moist undergrowth, even better. Wait.

Do you see it? That yellow-green flash of light? Bioluminescence, they say. 

Yes. 

Also magic.

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* To be fair, June is actually prime time for firefly mating in most areas but given good weather and habitat they can be seen throughout the summer.

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Photo by Evan Leith on Unsplash

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A Touch of Magic

“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”

― Caroline Gordon

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Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

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I woke this morning with a story start in my head, and it’s using up most of my mental bandwidth at the moment. So instead of something new, here’s something old, from a trip journal I took to Latin America in 2000. I’m laughing at the memory now.

April 26
Wednesday
San Jose

I’m late writing again today because we got up at 6:30 a.m. for a rainforest canopy tour and just got back. It was a lot of fun. I was a little worried that I’d need strength, you know like hand-over-hand on a wire, but then the guides started talking about how they’d had an 80-year-old man on tour a while back who was fine. It was a lot of fun (again!).

We drove north 45 minutes or so into the woods, a bit of protected land that’s part of a larger park containing 6% of Costa Rica’s land. We were the only ones on the tour and had a total of four guides. We parked at the “Canopy Adventures” headquarters and were outfitted with harnesses, caribiners (climbing rings), and gloves. We got back in the car with our gear and drove another kilometer or two up a very rocky and steep road. It wound up into the mountains, through a farm and past pastures. After parking at a little turnabout in the trees we proceeded on foot.

The hike was only 20 minutes or so but through the forest and steep. In some parts we walked along a road paved 60 years ago by farmers who needed to get their milk to market despite heavy winter rains. The rocks they used were hauled from a far-off river bed, then set carefully enough that the road is still useable today. The rest of the walk was over a path paved by tree rings, given added traction with metal mesh embedded into their tops. Along the way our guide pointed out different flowers and plants native to the rainforest. I remember the bromeliads (a relative of the pineapple that grows on trees and air), plants to eat if you get lost in the mountains, and plants used to weave coffee-gathering baskets.

Suddenly we were at the base of Platform 1 and the real start of our adventure. Our first task was to climb a wooden ladder up into a tropical oak tree, then out onto the first platform high up in the tree. Each of us carried our gloves and pulley attached to the climbing harness we’d been wearing since HQ. At this point, we were hooked onto a cable with one caribiner, then told what how to move along the wire and land safely. I felt a little like a side of beef, hanging from the wire by my belt and hoping my tippie-toes were enough to keep me on the platform.

We were to travel from one platform to the next along these wires through the trees. At each platform a guide would stand facing us as we held the cable running between platforms. Pulling the cable down in a modified pull-up, the guide held the pulley on top of the cable while connecting our second caribiner to it, just below the cable. Once this clamp was secure the guide unhooked the first caribiner from the cable and clamped it to the pulley, in the opposite direction as the first. Now there was nothing keeping me on the platform but the guide’s hand in front of the pulley. Upon hearing an answering cry of “¡Listo!” from the team at the receiving platform, that hand too was removed. Feet up, head back, one hand on the caribiners and one on the cable behind to brake, and I was off.

There were nine platforms, all fun, with the longest and steepest drop being the best as far as I was concerned. At each I was unhooked from the pulleys, then secured to the tree, which I climbed up or around or through to reach the next jumping-off point. The trees were huge, and seemed to carry the weight of the wooden platforms with ease.

After one or two jumps I noticed that a light touch on the caribiners attached to the pulley would keep me facing forward as I shot through the overgrowth. I also got quite good at braking and had lots of fun zooming at full speed just to the platform’s edge, then stopping right in front of the startled guide. Very fun. They got me back at Platform 9 though. Rather than climbing down from our final jump we rappelled, although the guides controlled the descent. No problema, I thought, I’ve done this before, and I’d be happy to go first. Rope between my legs, hands gripping the locked caribiners, I sat into the harness and eased slowly past the platform’s edge. Humph, I thought, this isn’t too baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddddddddddddd!!!!!!!!! And almost swallowed my tongue as I was playfully dropped half the distance to the forest floor. The guides thought it was funny as hell, especially when all I could say after that heart-thumping, stomach-inspiring drop was “Jesus Christ!” Total free fall, unexpected, scary, and yes, funny as hell. I was still laughing five minutes later.

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Not me but it gives you the idea; I was too busy to take photos for most of this trip.
Photo by Mam NC on Pexels.com

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It’s summer and I’m enjoying a bit of vacation time (yay!) and what do I spot on my new Asclepias tuberosa? A monarch butterfly caterpillar!

 

I’ve seen a monarch or two in the neighborhood this year but not many. (Not like during my childhood down south, when my mother used to pull the car over just about anywhere to find caterpillar-rich milkweed by the side of the road.) There’s a reason why these butterflies are listed as at endangered in Ontario:(

That said, awareness of the issues around butterflies and their disappearing habitat is rising, and it’s not all bad news. I’m happy to see milkweed left to grow by the roadside, to find native milkweed varietals at the garden center, and to watch butterflies flitting in the park. If we had more sun and space I’d plant a butterfly meadow, but for now, we went with butterfly weed. Glad we did:)

As an added bonus, I also saw fireflies in the yard a couple of weeks ago for the first time north of the border:) Here’s wishing you a happy and constructive summer!

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That’s right, today is the summer solstice. At 15:54 Universal Time (that’s 11:54 a.m. in my neck of the woods), summer officially starts in the northern hemisphere! For more on the analemma, or figure-eight described by the sun as it arcs across the sky (think the calendar Tom Hanks etched on a rock in Castaway, or check out this composite photo from NASA). And NatGeo has a nice, detailed piece on the solstice here: What is the summer solstice? The answer might surprise you.

What is summer? So many things, not least light, glorious light to do as you will. Or, you know, mess up bedtime;)

In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson

Have a wonderful summer day!

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Finally!

Today was the last day of snow here at Maison J. Very exciting! Sure, the south-facing neighbors have been basking in the beauty of Spring for ages now (days at least;) but today was finally our day. Snow has melted, cardinals are singing, the trees out front are just about to bud and all is well.

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?”…
“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”
― Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden 

Also, the Easter Bunny says hello!

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What I’m reading today:

Pretend It’s Aliens
A neat mental trick to understand the climate battle ahead.
By Farhad Manjoo

It’s Valentine’s Day today, and I love this essay! (Also Mr. Man and my family and unicorns, but this I can share:) It’s a genius way of identifying one of humanity’s main flaws when it comes to making change, and then (here’s the good bit) finding a way around it.

…climate change is not war. There is no enemy, other than ourselves. And we are very bad, as individuals or collectively, at fighting ourselves over anything.

This thought chilled me.

Then, one late night after taking a dose of a kind of sleep medicine that is now widely available in California, I had an epiphany:

Pretend it’s aliens.

For years I’ve been saying that if aliens invaded, we’d get over our internecine squabbles pretty damn quick. Sadly, it would also require an actual alien invasion. And while movies of same tend to end with triumphant human victories, they generally don’t show the part where we have to bury all the bodies.

Unless it’s not pretend at all?

Just, you know, saying!

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Today is the autumnal equinox, or the official start of Fall. I like to think of it as the Universe giving all of us here in the Northern Hemisphere a pat on the arm and a kind word to prepare us for that whole Winter thing.

What is It saying? When it comes to the grand workings of the Universe it’s always difficult to be sure, but I imagine the conversation goes something like this:

“Now now, Winter’s still a ways off and hey, you had a good Summer, right?”

(inarticulate mumblings about sunburn and too many mosquito bites)

“Well, not to worry. We know Winter is hard so We try to ease you into it with the likes of apple pie and hot cider.”

(sniffles, with a muffled acknowledgement that pie is really quite nice)

“And remember how much you liked that new recipe for spicy beef stew? Pull yourself together, dear, it will be fine.”

For those who prefer a slightly more technical explanation of the experience on which we are all about to embark, a few more details…

Solstice: occurs when the Sun is the farthest away from the celestial equator, or the imaginary line above the Earth’s equator. This happens twice a year, around June 21st (when it reaches the northernmost point) and December 21st (when it reaches the southernmost point).

Equinox: marks the time when the Sun crosses the celestial equator. Day and night are (close to) equal length. This happens twice a year, around March 20th (vernal) and September 22st (autumnal).

Would you like to know more? Check out Time & Date or Royal Museums Greenwich or EarthSky for additional information, helpful diagrams and fun facts (like Chichen Itza’s Snake of Light).

I do love pie and cider and crisp autumn days and bright red leaves. Today I’m also grateful that marking such astronomical events no longer requires human sacrifice, for the word “phenology,” and for the reminder that in spite of everything, we all see the same sky.

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