Saturday, October 20, 2012

No Shortage of Fall Natural Wonders

In these first weeks of fall, we have been
richly blessed with sights and sounds of
natural wonders all around.  Like this
uncommon early morning rainbow Judy saw.

And how about this cooperative praying mantis who
posed on our birdbath?

He's the only insect that can turn his head.
But he didn't try to prove it that day,
ignoring me completely.

Checking under logs around our woodpile to see
what we could discover we were delighted to find
North Carolina's wonderful Red-spotted Newt.
Click that link to learn more about this salamander.

The link shows the remarkable changes in appearance
the newt undergoes during its life cycle.

The same day, this butterfly decided to put on a show
for Bri and Hunter.

In this humorous video, they observe the 
butterfly, shrieking with delight when it
takes off.  They are off in hot pursuit to
keep up, crouching to watch it again.
Hunter keeps blowing on its wings, I guess
to help it fly.  Finally we mercifully leave
it alone.

I'm sure you've seen plenty of these
beautiful colors around courtesy of
crape myrtles and dogwoods.

Bri and Hunter didn't have a monopoly
on wild things.  Claire and Evan got to
watch this hump-backed orb-weaver at work.

Next to watching a spider build a web, the
second coolest thing is to feed them.  Not
many bugs were handy, but I found a small
sowbug (pillbug/roly-poly bug) and tossed
it into the web.  After a few moments, its
slight twitching assured the spider it wasn't
just the wind, and he made his move.

Here's about a minute of video of the
spider tightly wrapping his tasty morsel,
perhaps to save for an evening snack.

That wasn't the last nature discovery that
day.  Out in our field, we noticed small 
flying insects floating everywhere.  I tracked
them down to a spot on the ground and called
Judy and the kids over.  These are ants setting
out to establish new colonies for next spring.
No wonder we have the little anthills everywhere.
Not to be confused with winged termites, which
also swarm seasonally.

Well, how's that for a full load of nature, 
without even leaving the yard.  Gotta go now,
though.  It's time to feed the spider!

A Red-Letter Day: Transplant Reunion and Rock Ridge Park

On Saturday, October 13, Judy and I were
pleased to attend her fourth Liver Transplant
Reunion.  It was at White Oak Campground
on Jordan Lake and we celebrated with dozens
of other transplant recipients and their families
as well as some UNC Hospital staff that are
very dear to us.

There was some extra good live music to
accompany our great barbecue picnic.

But even better than the food and entertainment
is renewing friendships with folks that have
been through what you've been through.
Meet Danny and Re, who we always have
a great time swapping stories with.

It was a cool but beautiful fall day for families
to celebrate the gift of life.

Judy, like many others, stepped to the microphone to
share just what her transplant has meant to her.
Especially the good health to fully enjoy our grandkids!

Here's Judy with our dear Transplant Coordinator,
Noriko, and her daughter.  Noriko was one of Judy's
nurses during her transplant in March 2007.

Here's a simple and true statement.
Are you an organ donor?
To make a full day of it, we stopped off
at a new park just south of Pittsboro on our
way home.  The 3M corporation donated
land to the town and the park has only been
open since November 2011.
Click  Rock Ridge Park  to find out more about
the wonderful facilities at this new park near Pittsboro.

Here's a wide view as you enter the central activity
area.  All trails are paved and fully handicapped
accessible.  Many plans for additional features are
still on the drawing board.
This is an ultra cool German Pendulum Swing.  A
video at the end will demonstrate how much fun it is,
both for kids and grownups.

We really liked this rustic log seesaw, which was
also perfectly suitable for adults or kids.

And it's equipped with rubber shock absorbers under
end in case your partner decides to hop off abruptly
(not recommended)!
This young man agreed to demonstrate the 80-foot
zip line for us.  It doesn't go very fast, it's not very
high, but the price is right!  FREE!

We didn't play on this super duper fort
playground since the grandchildren weren't
with us.  But I was certainly tempted!
80 feet is a pretty good ride!
Ride 'em, cowgirl!
Now for a couple of videos to
wind up today's blog offering.

First, the zip line.
At the end of this video I utter a little "BOOMP."
That's specifically for the grandkids.  And
predictably, Evan demanded that I show this
video repeatedly Friday.  And he would look
up, grin, and add the "BOOMP."  Precious!

And last, the German Pendulum Swing!

Many of my readers are a short ride from
this nice, new adventure park.  Directions and
 more information are at the link cited above.
Even more exciting things have been happening
to us since that great day and more blogs will
follow soon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

5th Graders "Hit the Dusty Trail"

Okay, first things first: SNAKE ALERT!!
But you'll have to wait till the end.
Because I've got a couple of exciting nature
hikes to tell you about.  This time it was
SFL 5th graders of Mrs. Cioccolanti's and
Mrs. McFadyen's classes.

From the moment we enter the trail, students are
encouraged to utilize all of their senses to study
and evaluate everything they encounter on the walk.

We wonder how many more years "Old Man Poplar"
can survive before its own weight topples it in
some high wind or violent storm.

In an ecosystem, even dead organic material like
this standing dead dogwood tree are a crucial part
of nature's cycles.

Every student was glad to get the unusual view at
our iconic trio of poplars: Jack, Will, and Tom.

This view is hard to beat!

Students survey the canopy of trees above.  With the
fall of leaves, the appearance of the forest will change
dramatically over the next few weeks.

Fall is when God plants His garden.  Almost every
plant in nature forms and drops its seeds at this time,
in contrast to most human gardeners and farmers.
These red berries are the seeds of Jack-in-the-Pulpit,
one of our favorite wetland herbs.

Mushrooms are a plant that can appear unexpectedly
from one nature walk to the next.

This netted-chain fern is dying down.  The more fragile
ferns have already died down.  But the trail's Christmas
ferns will continue to display green fronds year-round.

We encountered numerous spider webs along our
stroll.  Most were orb-weaving spiders like this one.
There were also spiny-backed spiders.  We observed
how webs are attached and where spiders are likely to
hide from predators.

This millipede was one of numerous examples of
small wild creatures we identified.

It's always nice to see water in the stream, signifying
adequate rainfall in recent days.  This 30 year-old
bridge leads off the "official" trail.  We crossed it
anyway and proceeded a little ways farther.

Fall leaves are beginning to cover Big Rock and to
float downstream.

Students crowded the stream bank for a better look
at Big Rock.  Miraculously, no one toppled in, either
accidentally or on purpose!

We stopped a few times for me to use a bird call to
try to stimulate some bird conversation around us.

Many students were familiar with St. John, "The
Toilet Tree."  They had remembered it from nature
walks in 2nd grade or from being told by other students.
If only we could make the rest of our curriculum
so memorable!

Everybody loves MOSS!

Moss grows well on rotting wood, mainly due to
its high moisture content.

We paused for a "Sourwood Snack" just before we
returned to the school for lunch.  Most students spoke
favorably about the tasty leaves.  But they were
cautioned not to try this without a leaf expert around!

We saw that the dreaded kudzu continues to be a
threat to the native trees of our trail.  First frost will
stop its growth for this year, but it is relentless and

As we returned to our starting point, we gave a
herculean effort to try to straighten Old Man Poplar.

Do you think we made much progress?

I took a little time to scientifically explain how to
"POP" a poplar leaf (or any broad, tender leaf).
My grandchildren also demand this, repeatedly.

Is the SFL Nature Trail a worthwhile way to spend
an hour of our school day?

ABSOLUTELY!  Just ask these boys, who found an
owl pellet, and have already spotted tiny bones in it.

Or ask this young lady, who found a most
remarkable specimen of a sugar maple leaf.

The teachers sent the students forth with specific
learning goals.  Their observational skills were
challenged, and they will have opportunity to
chronicle their findings in science class.

On the way to my car, I took a peek at a cluster of
pine trees near the tennis court.  For three decades,
I've been able to find the discarded exoskeletons of
cicadas, the locusts that breed and hatch here year
after year.  Look in the dead center of this photo and
you'll see that I found what I was looking for!
Nature is both predictable AND unpredictable.

As a postscript to our two days of nature walks, let
me explain that I was back at school the following
Monday.  As luck would have it, (like Bilbo Baggins,
I was born with a good share of it-- just ask Gandalf),
I was summoned by Pam Cameron to deal with a
little zero-legged friend.  My favorite.  Thank you,
Pam, for the great photos.

Mrs. Auman's class took time from their busy schedule
to pause for a brief, impromptu snake show in a crape
myrtle tree.  Then we left the snake alone, perhaps to
contemplate a suitable spot for winter hibernation.
One thing is certain, there will be more black rat
snakes around campus for years to come.  And I
trust there will be eager, inquisitive students still
walking those trails for many years to come, as well.

If you haven't been to the nature trail recently, I invite
you to take a fall or winter stroll.  You will be delighted
with the trail itself, and you are certain to see something
you've never seen before.  As I told the students, I have
walked the trail hundreds of times in 37 years, and I
see something new every single time I visit it.