Saturday, June 30, 2007

Storm-swept beach

"The wild wind raves, the tide runs high, as up and down the beach we flit, one little sandpiper and I."
--Celia Laighton Thaxter

NJ beaches don't look like this the weekend before the 4th of July. There's little solitude now and very little protection for beach nesting birds. Despite the efforts of many to keep them safe, piping plovers face a multitude of dangers. Here's the story of one of those dangers.

Friday, June 29, 2007


I finally got my hair cut today - only about 5 months overdue. My hairdresser is lucky to see me twice a year and while she often mixes up the personal details of my life (tonight she was convinced that my husband worked as a nurse) she somehow can remember just how I like my hair cut so that I won't end up looking too much like Shirley Temple on crack. Curly hair is funny. People fawn over my hair until I tell them that I never comb it. I guess they must imagine that I spend hours each morning in front of a mirror. It looks worse if I fuss at it too much. The past week of unbearable humidity was enough to convince me that cutting most of it off was the only viable means of control. What I wouldn't do for straight, well-behaved hair.

My hairdresser and I chatted about my new job at length; she's very involved with her church and, as a result, has some experience with homeless families as oftentimes they're put up in church buildings for a few nights when they don't qualify for the help that my agency can provide. She was upset that people should have to sleep in church buildings on cots. If she only knew! People end up sleeping in churches here because they make too much money to qualify for the services offered to really poor homeless people. The families she knows of may be homeless, but they're too rich for our programs.

I told her about the cases I'd been involved with this past week, my first few days spent at a desk and on the front lines:

* a woman and her son who had been evicted because she hadn't bothered to pay her rent since December. We couldn't help them long-term, but we offered them placement in a motel for a few days until they could make other arrangements, but they never showed up.

* a single man who's been living on $140 a month who presented at our office last week drunk and disorderly and was taken to the hospital, by the police, for detox. He was discharged from the hospital without shoes and without anyplace to go. We put him up in a motel.

* a young mother who is about to be discharged from a residential drug treatment program; her family has turned its back and she has nowhere safe to live while she continues in recovery. It doesn't look like we'll be able to offer her anything.

* a young woman who's wheelchair-bound, a victim of domestic violence, and who was put out of the nursing home she's been living at because she's a problem there. Her own parents won't take her in because they fear the ex-husband as well. We turned her away, too.

* a homeless man who we know only by first name so far, reported to us by a phone call from a concerned neighbor who sees him living behind the dumpster of a bakery in her neighborhood. She says he is sick and dying, but has refused any help so far. As I was leaving the office today, we were trying to get someone out to look for this man.

So that's been my week. Any wonder why my hair is looking a bit frazzled? Maybe a little more gray, already? Honestly, it doesn't much faze me. I think that's what bothers me most of all.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

U-pick (Your choice)

For the last month or so I’ve been reading Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life about her family’s attempts at changing their food habits in such a way as to buy only locally grown food, grow the food themselves, or learn to do without. I’m only just half way through the book so I don’t know how their experiment with eating locally turns out, but already I find myself becoming more aware of the food choices I make. I haven’t made any changes in my food-buying routine yet, but this book has me thinking.

I’m mentioning this today because I had one of those oddball experiences that make you stop and scratch your head at how illogical things can be. I stopped during my lunch hour at a hugely popular orchard/garden center/gourmet food place with the idea of buying some loose strawberries. I like to buy them that way because I prefer the smaller local berries over the humungous, but tasteless, prepackaged berries that come from California. Parking my car I noticed a sign for u-pick raspberries at the back of the lot and was excited at the prospect of fresh raspberries instead of the half moldy ones that come from California. Of course I didn’t have time on my lunch hour for picking raspberries, but assumed there’d be pints of berries available for purchase inside the market. You know what they say about assuming, don’t you? All I found for sale were the prepackaged raspberries from California, despite the acre or two or fresh and locally grown berries in the back lot! Did I buy them? No, of course not. On my way home, I stopped at the farm stand around the corner and bought raspberries from the farmer who is my neighbor. The farmer whose berry fields had woodcock this spring and who waves at me from his red tractor when he has to drive it through the neighborhood, past the Hummers and McMansions that are the norm here anymore. In addition to the gourmet fare this area seems to demand that he provide, he also makes an effort to support other local farmers and artisans; he sells fresh mozzarella and bread that’s handmade locally and colorful heirloom tomatoes that you’ll never see in any supermarket. Plus, he grows his own sweet corn, not here in our backyard, but a few miles away where the McMansions haven’t yet encroached on the space necessary to grow a field of corn.

Eating locally is all the rage right now and it seems almost possible for someone like me who loves fruit and vegetables and could easily go a month or more without eating meat. This is the season of bounty here in the Garden State and there’s lots of fresh produce. If I had to rely on my own vegetable garden I’d quickly starve, so I’m glad for the local farmers who grow berries and apples, or broccoli and collard greens, and then let me walk their fields and pick my own bounty from their labor. It feels good to me to do this. It’s a small thing really, but if we value the land and the farms that feed us, I think it’s worth the challenge to find and purchase locally grown food.

I came across this list of ten reasons to eat local (from Eat Local Challenge - an excellent blog:

Eating local means more for the local economy. According to a study by the New Economics Foundation in London, a dollar spent locally generates twice as much income for the local economy. When businesses are not owned locally, money leaves the community at every transaction. (

Locally grown produce is fresher. While produce that is purchased in the supermarket or a big-box store has been in transit or cold-stored for days or weeks, produce that you purchase at your local farmer's market has often been picked within 24 hours of your purchase. This freshness not only affects the taste of your food, but the nutritional value which declines with time.

Local food just plain tastes better. Ever tried a tomato that was picked within 24 hours? 'Nuff said.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables have longer to ripen. Because the produce will be handled less, locally grown fruit does not have to be "rugged" or to stand up to the rigors of shipping. This means that you are going to be getting peaches so ripe that they fall apart as you eat them, figs that would have been smashed to bits if they were sold using traditional methods, and melons that were allowed to ripen until the last possible minute on the vine.

Eating local is better for air quality and pollution than eating organic. In a March 2005 study by the journal Food Policy, it was found that the miles that organic food often travels to our plate creates environmental damage that outweighs the benefit of buying organic. (

Buying local food keeps us in touch with the seasons. By eating with the seasons, we are eating foods when they are at their peak taste, are the most abundant, and the least expensive.

Buying locally grown food is fodder for a wonderful story. Whether it's the farmer who brings local apples to market or the baker who makes local bread, knowing part of the story about your food is such a powerful part of enjoying a meal.

Eating local protects us from bio-terrorism. Food with less distance to travel from farm to plate has less susceptibility to harmful contamination. (

Local food translates to more variety. When a farmer is producing food that will not travel a long distance, will have a shorter shelf life, and does not have a high-yield demand, the farmer is free to try small crops of various fruits and vegetables that would probably never make it to a large supermarket. Supermarkets are interested in selling "Name brand" fruit: Romaine Lettuce, Red Delicious Apples, Russet Potatoes. Local producers often play with their crops from year to year, trying out Little Gem Lettuce, Senshu Apples, and Chieftain Potatoes.

Supporting local providers supports responsible land development. When you buy local, you give those with local open space - farms and pastures - an economic reason to stay open and undeveloped.

All good reasons to stand behind and buy from the local farmer. Plus, the berries are delicious!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Puddle party

I mentioned that I went out the other day to photograph insects at two of the local parks. It was a beautiful day to be out, but not so great for taking photos because of a constant breeze. I was hoping to find some colorful butterflies, but other than a few impossible skippers, the butterfly of the day was the cabbage white. They were everywhere, thick as thieves! The red clover and thistle seemed to be a favorite at one park, whereas the herb garden, and specifically the lavender patch, was the hot spot at the botanical park. I’d forgotten how well these butterflies like lavender since I don’t have it growing in my own garden any longer.

Anyway, while checking the pond edge for dragonflies, I came across this group of cabbage whites puddling along a damp place in the path. I’ve seen photos of swallowtails doing this – Larry has posted a few on his blog – but I’d never seen it for myself. I read tonight that it’s usually the males that do this as the minerals they collect from the soil or manure or whatever is thought to increase their breeding success.

There’s been very little butterfly activity in my own garden so far this season. The swamp milkweed is blooming and I saw my first monarch this past weekend. I’ve been checking the plants for eggs or caterpillars, but haven’t found any. There are lots of aphids and a few milkweed beetles making their living out there, though. The black swallowtail caterpillars that I posted about last week grew very fat and disappeared – I have my eyes out for a cocoon, but don’t have much hope of ever finding them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Borage blue

Have you ever grown borage? Is there a prettier shade of blue? Well, I don't think so, or at least this is another to add to a very small assemblage of true blue flowers. I've been seeding these for the last few years after seeing them at the local botanical garden, and finally this year I have some flowers! The bees adore this plant and the flowers are edible; all parts of the plant are, in fact, but I don't have the heart to taste test it just yet. It's just too pretty!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Clammy weather

I've been saving this pic for just the right day and today's it! This wild rhododendron of the Pine Barrens is known by a few names: Swamp Azalea, Swamp Honeysuckle, or my personal favorite: Clammy Azalea. The flowers are very fragrant and covered with tiny hairs that give it the *clammy* name. They are said to fill the gap between when Swamp Magnolia and Sweet Pepperbush bloom, filling Pine Barrens swamps with fragrance from May through September. I didn't find Swamp Magnolia in bloom this Spring, but Sweet Pepperbush was just waking up on my last visit to the Barrens.

The weather here in NJ has been lovely so far this season; today is the first day that it's been clammy and summerlike. How's the weather by you? Are you looking forward to the heat and humidity?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bath day

She's got the hose and the shampoo. Quick - find a place to hide!
After I'm wet down and soaped up, there's nothing better than a good roll in the grass...
and then a good shake to get the *clean* off.
After my rub down and brush, I still refuse to look at the camera to show off how handsome I am!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Cross-eyed glances

I was out with my camera today to photograph insects at two very public parks; one is popular with rollerbladers and joggers, the other popular as a site for weddings because it's so lavishly planted with roses and other photogenic flowers. In both places I was knee-deep in the weediest patches lush with milkweed and daisies focusing my lens at bumblebees, beetles, and butterflies. I got more than a few cross-eyed glances from passerby! Birdwatching gets a person used to the odd looks from others, I think. There was a time when I was very self-conscious going out with binoculars around my neck; lately I've added a camera slung over my shoulder as well as the bag of extra lenses, just in case. If rollerbladers don't feel funny with those big wheeled-boots on their feet on a ninety degree day, why should I?

This tiny butterfly, the size of a dime, is an Eastern-Tailed Blue I think, feeding on yarrow.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday bunny fix

Delia at Beginning to Bird was fixin' for a bunny fix so here's a pic of Freckles lounging in the clover patch beside our pond.

Freckles is the most unassuming of bunnies; she's as happy to nap all day as she is to race around the living room when given an opportunity. She's hardly ever grumpy and never bossy. She doesn't get as much attention from me as she ought to simply because she is so undemanding compared to the others. She loves to sit on my lap in front of the TV and be petted, but there's something about her fur that sends me into fits of itchiness so I don't treat her to lap time very often.

After her photo shoot outside today I took the opportunity to pluck some of the offensive fur that she's been shedding like mad the last few weeks. I was glad to see the tufts of fur landing like feathers on the lawn, but I think half of it found its way right back into my eyes. Argghhh!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guesses, anyone?

This is another in the pea family, like yesterday's vetch, but the only obvious similarity is in the foliage. I think the flowers are stunningly beautiful - pink and yellow - and when I first came across it I thought it must be something very exotic, but once I figured out what it was I saw it everywhere along the sandy roadsides of the Pine Barrens. The only hint I'll give you is that the plant contains the chemical rotenone and is thought to have been used by American Indians to stun fish, among other things. I'm not exactly sure how fish are stunned using a plant, but it's fun to imagine how that might be accomplished.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A fetching vetch

"Love all the Earth, every ray of God's light, every grain of sand or blade of grass, every living thing. If you love the Earth enough, you will know the Divine Mystery." --Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Someone's been awful busy

Suddenly our little backyard pond is full of baby fish. In fact, I think we have more babies than grown-up fish-making fishies. It's quite a surprise when your pond population seemingly doubles overnight. Makes you wonder how you could have missed the fish being so busy! Some years are like this; the fish are very fertile and make lots of little gold and black speckled babies, other years there are none or at least none survive long enough to be visible to us. I wonder why that is?

My husband and I have been amusing ourselves the last few days by trying to get an accurate count of just how many babies there are, but it's next to impossible. They dart and hide very efficiently. We're guessing whether they're goldfish babies, koi babies, or mutts of some sort. The fish aren't telling; neither is the fairy who keeps watch over their antics.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Name me

The good idea file is empty today, my camera battery needs recharging and I have all these photos of wildflowers from the Pine Barrens that I don't feel like writing about. So instead we'll have a little ID quiz with some hints for those of you that don't frequent NJ's bogs.

Many of the photos I took at Webb's Mill Bog last week look sort of *impressionistic* like this one; I didn't mean for it to be that way and instead think I may have had one too many cups of coffee that afternoon. I like the look anyway and I knew what these plants were so didn't need a tack sharp photo to help with ID. You don't really need it either, as the photo shows the relevant parts, but you do need to know that this is another carnivorous plant that grows in wet, sandy bogs.

Happy guessing!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A man and his sons

Can you see the happiness in this man's face and his sense of good fortune for having such handsome sons? This is among my favorite photos of him; from a time before I was born and a time that I imagine to have been among his most contented.

As fate would have it, he lost his eldest son Neil, the freckle-faced redhead on the left and another son, Stephen, before I was even born. Two brothers I claim but never knew.

I wonder about whether he was a different father before the loss of two of his sons. I'd guess he was and think this photo must give a hint of the man he was before.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Not the only ones

Bunnies aren't the only ones...
who enjoy fennel...
and dill...
and parsley!

I found four of these black swallowtail caterpillars yesterday munching away on the parsley in the herb planter that Mary included in this post. I'm reasonably sure that the caterpillars in the other photos (taken in previous summers) are black swallowtails also. Unlike monarch caterpillars which look the same throughout their growth, swallowtails change with each instar and there's a lot of variation among individual caterpillars. This one I photographed looked like a bit of bird poop yesterday when I first spotted it.

So in addition to providing fresh herbs for our table and the bunnies' twice daily salads, my little garden herb patch feeds the next generation of flutterbies!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bog beauties

Bogs are unique places; the sphagnum mats (if you’re daring and foolish) allow you the chance to walk on water, you can watch plants eat animals, and you’re offered a view into the past. Bogs that I’ve visited in upstate NY have that primeval sort of feel because they've remained untouched and unspoiled since the last ice age. Webb’s Mill Bog in the middle of NJ doesn’t have that same sort of effect because it’s relatively small and next to a major highway, but I’m sure there are similar bogs elsewhere in the Pine Barrens where one can witness this topsy-turvy world without the rush of cars speeding by in the distance.

At the edge of the water, on the buoyant mats of sphagnum moss, tiny orchids gently nod in the soft breath of a late spring afternoon. These wanderers from a much more lush tropical home rub shoulders with sundews and purple-veined pitcher plants, half-filled with rainwater, digesting the days’ catch. The orchids also have their tricks to lure insect pollinators; a colorful lip or beard covered with fleshy hairs that serves as a landing platform for insects. Of the pink orchids that bloom in the Barrens, the Grass Pink Orchid is the one with its beard on the uppermost petal.

I don’t imagine these plants to be rare elsewhere in the country, but for me they’re a colorful reminder of times spent in less urban wildernesses.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Just about done

I’m almost finished with the 3 weeks of *classroom* training for my new job. It’s going well and I’m learning about a lot of social service programs that I never knew existed, even though I’ve worked at the agency for more than ten years. That’s one thing I’ve figured out about social workers; we’re expected to be a resource for our clients and a good social worker should know all of what is available to help people. There are simply too many programs for anyone to know very much about all of them. As a caseworker I worked in the Medicaid program and knew it very well, but didn’t know much about anything else. We spent all of about 10 minutes learning about Medicaid in training today, so you can imagine how little the others were able to pick up and *know* about that particular program. At least I’m an *expert* at one of them!

To begin with I’ll be placed in the homeless services/emergency assistance unit taking applications and finding placement for homeless individuals and families. Next week, our training time will be spent making site visits to some of places where the homeless are provided with temporary housing – shelters, motels, rooming houses, and transitional housing sites. I’m looking forward to the chance for some field time, although I imagine it will be eye opening.

Speaking of eye opening: I learned that my county spent more than 9 million dollars last year providing services and housing for the homeless. Can you imagine? Typically, families are put up in motels, at a cost of approx. $1800 monthly due to a lack of any more affordable alternative. Do you or I spend $1800 on housing each month? That $1800 isn’t buying a room at the Hilton either – those welfare motels in our shore towns are some of the most run-down places! I'm curious to hear how much you know about the homeless in your own communities; I think if I asked my neighbors the same question, most would say that they're not aware of a homeless problem in our area. I mostly thought that the homeless were found in cities, not in an affluent area like the one I live in. Clearly I was wrong - what about you?

So anyway, that’s the update on how I’ve been occupying my workdays. I miss the routine of my old job and my friends, but life is good.

The pretty yellow flower is Hudsonia ericoides – Pine Barrens Heather. Great patches of this plant cover sandy places in the barrens, but this one was just about finished for the season.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Another sundew

I know that I had promised wildflower pics, but these other Pine Barrens oddities have me enamored. I'll save the pretty bog orchids for another day.

I shared a pic of a Thread-leaved Sundew a few weeks ago; today I have this Spatulate-leaved Sundew. Isn't it pretty for a bug-eating plant? Please click on the pic for an enlarged view! These plants are thought to lure insect prey by their attractive red coloring and the beads of sticky liquid secreted on the leaf tips.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Small wonders

"Maybe the idea of the world as flat isn't a tribal memory or an archetypal memory, but something far older - a fox memory, a worm memory, a moss memory.

Memory of leaping or crawling or shrugging rootlet by rootlet forward, across the flatness of everything.

To perceive of the world as round needed something else - standing up! - that hadn't yet happened.

What a wild family! Fox and giraffe and wart hog, of course. But these also: bodies like tiny strings, bodies like blades and blossoms! Cord grass, Christmas fern, soldier moss! And here comes grasshopper, all toes and knees and eyes, over the little mountains of dust.

When I see the black cricket in the woodpile, in autumn, I don't frighten her. And when I see the moss grazing upon the rock, I touch her tenderly,

sweet cousin."
-Mary Oliver, Winter Hours

Not a moss, but a lichen, which I learned are composed of both fungi and algae growing together in a mutually beneficial relationship. The fungi provides the structure, as well as water and minerals. The algae, because of their chlorophyll, produce the food and the whole organism is happy.


These are British Soldier Lichen, so named because their red fruiting bodies reminded some botanist of the Redcoats of the Revolutionary War. I wished I'd had my hand lens along to have a better look at these - they're so tiny!

Watching the other naturalists during our walk the other day in the pinelands made me appreciate how different we nature-enthusiasts are from ordinary people who walk through the world without really seeing much. The *plant person* along spent most of her time trying to separate the various members of the heath family by their leaves alone. Would you know a blueberry, from a huckleberry, from a dangleberry without the flowers to give a clue? Would you taste a bit of teaberry leaf to confirm your ID by the spicy wintergreen flavor? We did! We oohed and aahed over the perched barred owl, even offered scope views to passersby - all of whom refused to even stop for a look. What's up with that?

I wonder if it doesn't simply come down to a lack of curiosity. Maybe I think of it that way because I seem to be curious about most anything. Also, I imagine that we place a value on these things that others do not. Why is it, do you think, that some people can sense wonder and others just wonder what all the fuss is about?

Monday, June 11, 2007

A few aerialists

I won't pretend to know what I'm talking about here, so take anything I say with a grain of salt! I find dragonflies and damselflies to be a nice distraction when there's not much else to look at and an integral part of any streamside, pondside, or bog experience. Identifying them is quite a challenge, but I pay the most attention to their differing behaviors and flight styles.
I found this Blue Corporal dragonfly at Webb's Mill early in the spring; in fact I think they are one of the first you might find flying in the Pine Barrens. They seem very territorial and like to perch on the ground.
I wouldn't even atempt to ID this bluet; they're so tiny that even seeing them clearly is a challenge! Bluets are damselflies; they rest with their wings closed and have very thin bodies.
This is a beauty of a damselfly from yesterday at Webb's Mill Bog - I'm calling it an Ebony Jewelwing because I don't know any better. Unlike a bluet, this damselfly was hard to miss as it flew butterfly-like along the path ahead of me. While its' body looks mostly blue in this pic, it also looked green when the sunlight hit it at a different angle. Really stunning! I also saw a similar-looking brownish damselfly, which I assume is the female.

A great book I've recommended in the past is the Stokes' Beginner's Guide to Dragonflies - it's by no means extensive, but a beginner like me doesn't need the added confusion of a complete guide.

I've also had the experience of dragonflies laying eggs in my backyard pond and often come across the nymphs when doing pond maintenance or cleaning out the skimmer. I wish I had pics to share with you because they are so interesting to look at. I'm not sure what exactly the nymphs find to eat out there, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they prey on goldfish fry.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Memorial walk

There are more than a million acres of Pine Barrens in NJ and I’m determined to wander through them all! Today’s odyssey was to the Brendan T. Byrne State Forest in Burlington County. I tagged along on a memorial walk sponsored by NJ Audubon for a birding buddy who passed away this past winter. He loved the Pine Barrens and was very knowledgeable about the typical flora and fauna of the area.

My main focus today was on botany, but we also saw a few really great birds. It was a treat to be out in the woods with people who know wildflowers. I learned plenty and took enough photos to make your eyes roll in boredom for the next few weeks. Every trip there reveals some new treasure.

We spent an hour or two exploring the white cedar swamp and had a nice long look at a Barred Owl perched way back in the swamp. That was a first! I’ve heard their call a number of times, but have never actually seen a Barred Owl. Sweet!

Another place we visited had Red-headed Woodpeckers – another treat! I’ve only seen them once before and was impressed with the gorgeous pattern of their wings in flight. I wish they were more common.

There’s been a lot of talk in the local newspapers about this year’s gypsy moth invasion. I’d read that the spraying program had been stepped up because they were so bad, but wondered what all the fuss was about. Well, I got a sense for it today and it’s really dreadful. Whole areas of the forest are just decimated and the caterpillars cover everything – if you’re quiet enough you can hear them eating – honest! The immediate area surrounding the state forest headquarters was as black and leafless as if a fire had gone through. I suppose the cuckoos will be happy with so much to eat, but it was sad to see.

So… I’m off to sort through my pics from today and hope you all had an enjoyable weekend. There’ll be more to come from the Barrens.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Bath interrupted

All the neighborhood birds, especially the robins, love the shallow end of our pond.
Have you noticed that one bathing bird seems to draw others? I focused on the robins, but there were a few house sparrows and a mourning dove waiting their turn on the sidelines.Raccoons or wading birds could have a feast with the *walk-in* design of our pond, but the fish have plenty of hiding places and like to tickle the bird's toes in the shallows while they bathe.
My husband says we have the biggest and nicest birdbath in the neighborhood. I think the robins would agree.

Friday, June 08, 2007

A tree's prayer

"To the Wayfarer-
Ye who pass by and would raise your hand against me
Harken ere you harm me!
I am the heat of your hearth on cold winter nights,
The friendly shade screening you from the summer sun
My fruits are refreshing draughts,
Quenching your thirst as you journey on,
I am the beam that holds your house,
The board of your table,
The bed on which you lie,
And the timber that builds your boat,
I am the handle of your hoe,
The door of your homestead,
The wood of your cradle,
And the shell of your coffin.
I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty.
Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer; harm me not."

A notice originally found nailed to a tree in Seville, Spain and found by me reprinted at the local arboretum.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Huckleberry whine

Is it just my aging eyes or is most of the type on this page suddenly very small and a different font than usual? Something wonky happened with my Blogger template yesterday, I think.

Anyway, I've been exhausted most of the week and haven't done much of anything after work. The training for my new job has me all discombobulated - it's amazing how tiring sitting on your butt for 8 hours straight can be! Thank goodness the classroom part of the training only lasts 3 weeks - I'm feeling like a caged animal when I get off work, yet when I get home, all I want to do is go to sleep.

Enough whining - sorry! The shrub pictured is Black Huckleberry, very common in the Pine Barrens, and a favorite of mine. I love the color of the flowers. There are a number of similar shrubs that grow in the Barrens, all in the heath family, and I've been trying to find most of them this spring. Some of the earliest bloomers are leatherleaf, which has little white flowers and which I saw most everywhere, bearberry which I didn't find, but which has pretty white flowers edged with pink, and the highbush blueberry. In May and June the huckleberries bloom, as do staggerbush and fetterbush. All have the bell-shaped blooms that you associate with members of the heath family. Huckleberries produce edible fruit, but I've read that there are too many seeds for them to be enjoyable eating, yet I'm pretty sure I've heard mention of huckleberry jam and pie. Anyone know?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

6/6/07 Mid-week bunny fix

Sunshine (on top) and Boomer (down below) are still figuring out how to be friends. They started off really strongly, but then had a bit of a setback that made me separate them for a week or so. They're just now getting back to spending the evenings together when I can supervise them. Sunshine goes back to her (Great Dane-sized) dog crate while I'm at work and overnight.

For some reason they had a fight one night and I woke up to find them chasing one another and fur flying everywhere. Boomer lost the most fur in that tussle and was scared of Sunshine for a few days. When he got over being afraid of her, all he wanted to do was mount her! I honestly didn't think Boomer had it in him, as I never saw him act that way with Cricket. He seems recently to have gotten over his friskiness (ahem!) and is content to lie beside her and groom her ears. From what I've read, this is pretty typical behavior with bunnies who are bonding, as they have to work out who will be the boss and other important living arrangements like who will wash whose ears and who gets to eat the choicest bits of cilantro.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Little gifts

The chickadees from the box in the front yard magnolia chose today to fledge and my special birthday treat was the chance to *rescue* this little one from my neighbor's steps. Getting out of my car from work, my neighbor was almost frantic at the baby bird who had taken up residence just outside his front door. He said it had been sitting there for a few hours and every so often another little one would come along and try to help it. Bird whisperer that I am (lol!) I was able to pick up the little chickadee and place it in a bush without so much as a cheep in protest. The parent scolded me from above, but we both felt the baby would be safer off the ground. A few minutes later when I returned with my camera, I watched it make a very deliberate flight to the pear tree where it perched for its' first photo. I often poke fun at my neighbor because any sort of wildlife encounter makes him very nervous. He'd have left the baby bird alone, but worried over it endlessly. I'm glad he knew enough to leave it alone. So often, well-meaning people *kidnap* perfectly healthy baby critters in an effort to help them. I'm wondering now where the other five babies are. I haven't seen them, but consider that to be a good sign. I'm sure they'll show up in a few days at my feeders with their parents. Baby birds are the sweetest things and the chance to hold one, even for just a second, is a nice little gift on my birthday.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Moving on

Training for the new job starts tomorrow! My friends at work gave me quite a send-off this past week; there were multiple parties and lots of baked goods and gifts, leaving me to think maybe they’re glad to see me go.


Really, I’m not going far. I’ve been assigned to another office for a while, but I’m not sure where I’ll end up after the training period. You know how it is; with certain people you’ll be close regardless of the distance that separates you.

At day’s end today I boxed up my few things and tried to get my pending cases in some sort of order for my coworkers who will have to pick up where I left off. There’s no one to replace me right away, so everyone’s caseload will increase in my absence. I ought to be glad they weren’t throwing things at me as I left, for that reason alone.

Meaningful words of encouragement have come to me from surprising places. The reaction of some others to my promotion is not so surprising. I’ve been making the joke that I’m going over to the dark side by transferring to a social work position; among many caseworkers, social workers are often viewed as too softhearted and enabling. As a caseworker, my job was to know and to follow the rules – there wasn’t much room for leeway or kind-heartedness. It was also my job, I think, to know the loopholes in the law, or at least to know how to make the laws work for my clients. A lot of caseworkers don’t do that; everything is done by the book.

One of the awful questions I was asked during the interview process was to define a *good* social worker. Gosh! How could I answer that question without knowing much about the job? I mumbled some foolishness that must have been close enough to the *right* answer so as to not immediately flag me as inadequate, but really, I don’t know.

A clerical worker that I’ve known and respected since I first started at this job congratulated me today on the promotion and admonished me to be a *good* social worker, “Don’t be like most of ‘em,” she said. I hope tomorrow I’ll begin to learn just what that means.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Back to bluebells

I know we're way past bluebells in terms of seasonal progression, but I'm still looking over the many wildflower photos I took earlier this spring with the idea of finally identifying some of the unknowns.
One of the earliest that stumped me were Virginia Bluebells. I couldn't ID them from any of my wildflower guides because the buds were still tightly closed when I first found them. Despite what you all said here, I found it hard to imagine that the flowers would change form that much, but sure enough they did.
When I returned two weeks or so later, the plants looked like the bluebells that are in my field guides. So for all of my early confusion with this common wildflower, I don't think I'll ever mistake it again, now that I've had the chance to watch it as it progresses through its bloom period.
Bluebells go dormant during the heat of summer and I'm watching that happen right out in my own little woodland garden in the backyard; the plants I purchased at the beginning of May are slowly deteriorating as the days grow hot.

Anyway, I found some interesting info about bluebells that you plant geeks might also enjoy:

"Virginia bluebells have two interesting properties that contribute to their success as ephemeral wild flowers. Virginia bluebells form buds that are pink in color due to the anthocyanin (from the Greek anthos meaning flower and kyanos meaning blue) or colored cell sap that they contain. When the flower is ready for pollination, it increases its alkalinity to change the red pigmentation into blue pigmentation, a color that is much more attractive to pollinators. When the flower is pollinated and seed formation begins, it falls to the ground so that subsequent pollinators will only find those that still require their ministrations. The ubiquity of bluebells in their preferred riparian habitat... is testimony to the success of their adaptations to attract insects."

from the Hiker's Notebook which looks like a good source of info about things commonly found in the woods. If you look at my photos you can see that progression from pink to pollination-ready blue, as well as the way some of the flowers have already fallen away from the plant.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

That time of year

My friend Debbie sent this along to me last weekend - her way of suggesting, perhaps, that I treat myself to a pedicure. My feet never look quite this awful, but I have very dry skin and go barefoot often.

The Open-Toed Shoe Pledge

As a member of the Cute Girl Sisterhood, I pledge to follow the Rules when wearing sandals and other open-toe shoes:

I promise to always wear sandals that fit. My toes will not hang over and touch the ground, nor will my heels spill over the backs. And the sides and tops of my feet will not pudge out between the straps.

I will go polish-free or vow to keep the polish fresh, intact and chip-free.
I will not cheat and just touch up my big toe.

I will sand down any mounds of skin before they turn hard and yellow.

I will shave the hairs off my big toe.

I won't wear pantyhose even if my misinformed girlfriend, coworker, mother, sister tells me the toe seam really will stay under my toes if I tuck it there.

If a strap breaks, I won't duct-tape, pin, glue or tuck it back into place hoping it will stay put. I will get my shoe fixed or toss it.

I will not live in corn denial; rather I will lean on my good friend Dr. Scholl's if my feet need him.

I will resist the urge to buy jelly shoes at Payless for the low, low price of $4.99 even if my feet are small enough to fit into the kids' sizes. This is out of concern for my safety, and the safety of others. No one can walk properly when standing in a pool of sweat and I would hate to take someone down with me as I fall and break my ankle.

I will take my toe ring off toward the end of the day if my toes swell and begin to look like Vienna sausages.

I will be brutally honest with my girlfriend/sister/coworker when she asks me if her feet are too ugly to wear sandals. Someone has to tell her that her toes are as long as my fingers and no sandal makes creepy feet look good.

I will promise if I wear flip flops that I will ensure that they actually flip and flop, making the correct noise while walking and I will swear NOT to slide or drag my feet while wearing them.

I will promise to go to my local nail salon at least once per season and have a real pedicure (they are about $35 and worth EVERY penny).

I will promise to throw away any white/off-white sandals that show signs of wear... nothing is tackier than dirty white sandals.

I do not consider myself a member of the *cute girl sisterhood* nor do I have any desire for such, but a pedicure is a nice treat once in a while. I treated myself this afternoon and have pretty pink nails and less offensive heels. For a year or two I had my nails done every two weeks, but it started to seem silly to spend the hour and the money only to go home and submerge those pretty fingernails in pond muck. Nowadays, mostly I just try to make sure not to go out of the house with too much garden dirt beneath them. I wonder about the rest of you - are you *high maintenance* or something in between?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Clock flower

Legend has it that counting the number of breaths it takes to blow off all the seeds of a dandelion globe that has gone to seed will tell you the hour. Mentioned just in case you needed some way to amuse yourself this weekend. Have fun!