“We can discover the wonders of nature…”

22 March, 2015 “We can discover the wonders of nature…”

“…hiking with the dogs, down by the riverside.” – with apologies to Robert Hunter, Bob Weir and the Grateful Dead. For reworking the lyrics of Sugar Magnolia. After a cold, snowy winter I’ve been discovering the wonders of nature everywhere I turn. I was in the parking lot at the Tuckahoe Y this week and opened my sunroof and pointed my camera out for this picture of fresh White oak buds (I think): [[I stand corrected! As of 3/23/2015! My friend and mentor Betsy tells me Maples and Elms are blooming now – oaks not yet. She says this is a Red Maple (Acer rubrum) or a Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)]] 

White oak (Quercus alba) bud - if I'm not mistaken - and I might be!

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) or Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) bud 

Speaking of the Dead, Ev got me this great bumper sticker: 

Long time to be gone.

Long time to be gone. 

Depending on how long you’ve looked at this blog or how far back you’ve looked, you may have seen another post when I quoted the Grateful Dead in the title. In January of 2013, a couple of months after my Dad died I wrote a post called Attics Of My Life, the title to a Dead song a bit more obscure than Sugar Magnolia.  

Ev and I were at the Saint Stephens Farmer’s Market Saturday (21 March, the first full day of Spring!) morning when I saw an unusual shape high in a tree. Fortunately I had my camera and zoomed way in and got this picture:

Male Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

Male Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)

I showed it to Ev as we were driving home and she ID’d it – a male Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum). I’ve seen Brown Thrashers my whole life, including growing up in Maryland. And I have never seen one more than six inches off the ground. They are always under bushes. Thrashing – that’s what they do. So when I saw (and heard) this guy singing fifty feet up a tree I didn’t know what he was. And as I read up on them, I learned another “wonder of nature”: I was reading the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site and learned “During spring and early summer, males climb higher to sing from exposed perches.” Because on the same site they wrote, “It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery.” I also learned this from the Cornell Lab: “Although not as well recognized for its vocal abilities as the Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos), it is a remarkable singer with one of the largest repertoires of any North American passerine.” Very, very fun to see and hear and learn. Discovering more wonders of nature.

So after we got back from Saint Stephens I took advantage of the pleasant weather on the first full day of Spring and went out to West Creek to spend some time on my bicycle. I parked underneath another budding tree and the red buds looked so pretty against the blue sky I began snapping more pictures. Here’s one:

Bud and bee

Bud and bee

Look closely on the right side of that picture – there’s a bee on that bud! In March! I haven’t seen any bugs in months! 

This happens to me more than I would think possible. I’ll take a picture and when I get it home and look at it closely on the computer, I see something I had no idea was there. So it’s odd – and timely, on a post about discovering the wonders of nature – how much stuff I must pass by every minute and not even know is there. Odd and timely and fun to discover.

Anyway, currently I’m learning a lot about trees. My main guidance is now coming from a superb book called Seeing Trees by Nancy Ross Hugo. At this stage of my learning it’s like drinking from a firehose – the amount I’m learning is nearly overwhelming. And this is just about trees in Pony Pasture! A thousand walks there in over a decade and in the past week – once again – I’ve learned how much I don’t know. As in, did you know that trees have both male and female flowers? Did you even know trees had gender?! And what’s more – some trees have male and female flowers on the same tree (monoecious) and some trees have different gender flowers on different trees (dioecious). I’d give examples of the trees here but I encourage you to google it if you’re interested. In a blog entry like this you walk a fine line and risk turning it into a textbook entry. And I am unqualified to write a textbook. But the subject is fascinating. I’m very qualified to read a textbook. 

Speaking of textbooks (and of learning about trees), my current favorite place to learn is the Virginia Tech Department of Dendrology. It’s a wonderful subject even if you just want to find out a little bit. Or a lot, it’s all there. Anyway.

This morning I photographed a tree at Pony Pasture which I believe – I am currently uncertain – is an Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Eastern Red Cedar is dioecious – that means this tree is either male or female. At this early point in my dendrology self-education I am unable to tell which this tree is. I think females have berries and this does not, so possibly it’s male. I may know by next week. When I find out I’ll inform you. Here it is in its beauty and its entirety:

Eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)

This is a closeup of the bark: 

Eastern redcedar bark

Eastern red cedar bark

This is a closeup (a poor quality closeup) of its foliage:

Eastern redcedar foliage

Eastern red cedar foliage

One more brief note – it’s not a true cedar. It’s a juniper. Its name is “Eastern red cedar” but it’s a juniper. So there. 

This morning (Sunday, 22 March, 2015) at Pony Pasture, Mackey and Turner and I came across a fungus named “Witch’s butter” (one of its many common names) or, more precisely, Tremella mesenterica. In my research I read several vague hypotheses about why it’s called Witch’s butter – in my opinion they were all made up. The reason I think it’s called Witch’s butter is because it looks like butter. And it grows in the woods. It’s cool looking:

Witch's Butter (Tremella mesenterica)

Witch’s Butter (Tremella mesenterica)

Almost enough for this post, though there are regrettably few pictures. Last week’s post was What’s better than a Golden Spurtle? I had a picture of my excellent new spurtle in that post. But if you’re not a stove top oatmeal maker, or even if you are, it’s possible you’re still unaware how it’s used. I took a quick video of me stirring oatmeal (or “porridge”, if you will) with my new spurtle. Be forewarned that watching oatmeal being stirred is a close second place behind watching paint dry when it comes to boring things to see. But here it is: Me stirring oatmeal with my awesome new custom made locust spurtle

There’s a terrific picture in last week’s post of a gentleman named Dr. Izhar Khan who won the 2014 Golden Spurtle. There was a quote from that contest that I left out of last week’s post. It reflects my own experience with oatmeal and spurtles so I include it here, copied verbatim from the Golden Spurtle web site: 

“The delighted Dr  Khan said: ‘I achieved my aim to win and take the Golden Spurtle to the Granite City. I started eating porridge seven years ago. It is simple, versatile, healthy and very affordable.

I am traditional by nature and like the ritual of making porridge. It sets you up for the day.’

A winning bowl of porridge is testament to the cook’s spurtle, the essential porridge making tool, and Dr Khan explained that he was grateful to one of his patients, who crafted his spurtle for him. So fond is he of his daily oatmeal dish, Dr Khan takes his oatmeal with him when he goes on holiday. With a hectic schedule, Dr Khan makes porridge for his family at the weekend, with his wife Nino, owner of successful curry sauce business `Nino’s Masala` cooking the dish during the week.”

In my own experience, the ritual is lovely and it does set you up for the day. Who knew. 

I also neglected last week to post a link to a place where I bought several bottles of superb maple syrup – some of which I put in my oatmeal this morning! Click on this link to see Back Creek Farms in Highland County, VA.

I also intended last week to put links to blog posts I’ve done about the seven Maple Festivals I’ve attended with some combination of my nieces since 2008. If you’ve never visited Highland County or the Maple Festival, and if you sometimes think the world is changing fast, these blog posts are a good antidote to that sentiment. Because in Highland the world is changing, but it’s also staying the same. I still get “No service” on my iPhone while I’m up there, which is refreshing in its way. Here are the old blog posts, one week late:

2008: Highland Maple Festival – March 8, 2008 3/30/2008

2009: Highland Maple Festival, 2009                   3/14/2009

A couple more pictures from the Maple Festival [2009]:  3/15/2009

2010: Spring has vigorously sprung [Maple Festival, 2010] 3/25/2010

2011: Highland Maple Festival – March 12, 2011 3/12/2011

2011: A few more views from the 2011 Maple Festival 3/14/2011

2011: Back in the flatlands                                                  3/14/2011

2012: No blog post in evidence! 😦

2013: Unwasted dawns – Maple Festival 2013 and more 3/25/2013

2014: Easy to be happy                                                         3/25/2014

2015: What’s better than a Golden Spurtle?                     3/15/2015

I haven’t written one of my stories at the end of a blog post in some time. I’m attaching one to this post. I didn’t write it today; I wrote it in 2010 about a young lady I worked with back then. Her name wasn’t really Edna but that will be sufficient for this story. Read it if you have a minute, it’s fun. And see you next week I hope! Have a great week,


= = = = = = =

I’ll leave you with a fun little story about Monday at Stony Point. Actually it begins years ago at Stony Point with another client. Monday was just a little epilogue. The only female client I’ve spent a lot of years with was named Edna; she was in Ms. Smith’s class at SPMS. Ms. Smith knows her well. I can tell you a million fascinating stories about Edna; she was a brilliant teacher for me. At the time she lived in Richmond with her father and mother and younger brothers. Edna had a sort of non-specific developmental disability that mimicked autism in a lot of ways but 100% was not autism. When a professional describes autism the first two words they invariably utter are “communication disorder” and those are the last two words you’d think about with Edna. 

Edna wanted to say hello to everyone – to every single person she met. We met more Latinos than any other separate cultural group, and if Edna saw a person with dark skin she would invariably say “Hola, ¿como estas?” to every single one. At the park, at the store, at the mall, anyplace. She was so open and so outgoing and so guilelessly friendly that people always responded, without fail – I never saw a person ignore her. I must have seen her greet a thousand people. If they were some other nationality, they’d correct her. She could greet people in Chinese, both Mandarin and Cantonese, plus Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, she must have been able to greet people in over twenty languages. Perhaps well over twenty. We even learned some together. When she met a woman with a red dot on her forehead she knew the woman was Indian – I was with her when she learned this – and she’d put her hands together in a prayerful posture and lean forward and say “Namaste.” (Click on that link). It was beautiful to be a part of this. 

Anyway, one day we were at Stony Point and we were walking through to the restrooms and there was this janitorial crew coming toward us. The obvious boss was a very, very large middle-aged hispanic looking guy, much taller and bigger than average. My height, or close to it, and probably fifty pounds heavier than me. Very grave, thoughtful, calm demeanor. Somber, or close to it. Edna was always the anti-somber. Chipper and chirpy constantly. So she walks up to this giant guy pushing his trashcan with all the mop handles and brooms etc. sticking out from it and chirps “Hola, ¿como estas?” A tombstone would smile if Edna addressed it like that. And the giant guy smiled with his mouth but sadly it didn’t go to his eyes and he rested this huge hand on Edna’s shoulder and said “bien, bien” in this deep, kind rumble. That must have been five years ago and I’m seeing the entire experience in my mind’s eye right now as if it happened five seconds ago. It made a huge imprint on me.

= = = = = = =

About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
This entry was posted in Birds, Fun, James River, People, Pony Pasture, Rivers, Smiles (including "dog smiles"!) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to “We can discover the wonders of nature…”

  1. El Pee says:

    Nice post… as always. However, given the Dead start AND then a visit to St Stephen’s farmers market, how could you neglect this: http://www.dead.net/features/greatest-stories-ever-told/greatest-stories-ever-told-saint-stephen?

  2. Pingback: PP Flora | NEWFAZE

  3. Pingback: Wonders never cease | NEWFAZE

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