Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday in the kitchen

My blogging friend Michele (aka The Northwest Nature Nut) has been taunting me with images of homemade English muffins off and on for the last year or so (she recently posted photos of muffins topped with homemade marmalade that made me drool). Every time I would see them I'd think to myself "I have got to try making my own English muffins!" Well, yesterday was the day. Thanks for the inspiration, Michele. They turned out wonderfully!

Mmmm... especially delicious topped with some of the blackberry jam that we made this past summer. Yum!

Follow this link if you'd like to see the recipe I used. It was super easy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A reminder to connect

You would think I would know it by now.

Know it, remember it, and practice it every day, no matter what. But it fades from my mind quickly, which is kind of a shame.

I should know by now that connecting with the earth is the thing that sets my mind right. After a stressful day at work (or, conversely, a less than stimulating day on the job), coming home and just walking around the property, slowly and deliberately, with my focus on the trees, the ground, the sky, the birds - it is enough to bring me up from wherever else I have been during the day. To bring me up to clearing thinking, calmer being. I do know this, but something about today's time outside made it really =click= in my head.

Today I came home and walked a simple loop through the woods and down the driveway, stopping to notice ice cycles clinging to moss, to ponder at the distribution of the trees, to check in with our ailing rhododendron, to examine some arboreal damage, to survey the lackluster leaves of the mullein plants. I heard the calls of 3 distinct Barred Owls, hooting back and forth. Mating season should be under way soon. I talked to that rhododendron, touched its leaves, looked for signs that it might actually make it through to bloom this spring (the odds are not good, unfortunately), and then I gave it some love vibes and blew it a kiss - maybe that will help it. I picked up a piece of Aspen bark that was left behind from the tree top that came down, appreciating the beauty of its color and texture - no artist's palette could be more perfect.

All of this took 10 minutes or less. Such simple actions, such little time - but the benefits were immeasurable. I came into the house feeling renewed, no longer feeling drained from the day. No dragging my feet about getting the woodstove going, making some dinner for myself, doing the dishes, preparing tomorrow's lunch. And would you look at that - I'm actually inspired to make a blog post for the first time in many weeks.

So I have to make a commitment to myself to truly spend more time outside, connecting. I know it will be easier come spring - as things come alive, the outdoors become so much more inviting! While the weather is cold and crappy, though, I know this will be harder to do, and so it will be that much more important to make the effort. I encourage you to give it a try too, if you're not already. I wish us luck!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cleaning up after "What the wind did"

Back in mid-December we had some pretty high winds which caused damage to some of our trees. What the wind did was to drop the top of an aspen tree right alongside our driveway. It was easy enough to drive around, but it needed to be removed eventually.

Aspen tree top lining the upper leg of the driveway

While we hadn't yet decided what purpose this wood would serve (it's crap for firewood, so it won't get burned in the wood stove), I convinced Dave that this would be a good opportunity for me to practice using the chainsaw. You see, I have a little bit of tomboy in me, and also a desire to know how things work, so it was no surprise to Dave that I asked him to show me how to operate the chainsaw not long after he got it a number of years ago. So, once we reviewed how to check the chainsaw's oil and fuel levels, and I donned the necessary safety apparel, it was time to put my Lumber Jill skills to the test. (Thanks for taking these photos, Dave!)

Safety first! Ear and eye protection, chainsaw chaps, steel-toe boots... all keep the operator safe!

Making some of the first cuts

Now we're getting somewhere!

Setting up the Timber Jack. This is an incredibly simple but handy tool that gets the wood off the ground, making it a tad bit easier to cut and keeping your chain from digging into the ground.

I was amazed at how easy it was to move this log with the jack. It was a pretty heavy piece of wood if I would have just tried to pick it up, but the jack made this maneuver a piece of cake!

Are we done yet? No, still got a ways to go...

Emmett blends in with the wood chips while I bring out the tractor.

After the wood was all diced up the next thing to do was to haul the it to an out-of-the-way location. The best tool for this is the tractor. That bucket can hold quite a bit of wood.

Driving in reverse is a little nerve-wracking for me, but I managed to get where I needed to go just fine. The wood now sits in a pile near the garage (but not up against it, in case anyone is wondering). No need to drive around a big piece of tree in the driveway anymore!

This post is the first in a small series that I am planning that centers loosely around the theme of "homesteading," for lack of a better term. I will be posting about some of the little bits of "rural housekeeping" that need to be done around here to keep things humming.

Not sure what "homesteading" really means? The definition has changed a lot since the 1800s, but there's a great article about the term (and what it means today) over at Mother Earth News.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Visting Old Man's Cave

I have two favorite "natural" places to visit in the state of Ohio: the Wilds, and the Hocking Hills region. You already know that we spent the day at the Wilds last weekend. So it made my month to spend some time at Old Man's Cave in the Hocking Hills this weekend! There are 6 natural attractions spread throughout the Hocking Hills, but Old Man's Cave is the most central among them. And what a great place to meet up with a friend for a winter hike, right? I met my blogging friend Meg (Art of Rustic) there yesterday for a lovely couple of hours of hiking. Meg and her husband have a farm that I hope to visit someday, where they have two lovely horses and lots of trails. She asked me if I would come birding at her place sometime. Heck yeah I will!

The last time either of us had been in the area was last summer, when things were pretty dry. Winter and spring, however, are great times for high water levels, meaning that you can take those obligatory waterfall shots.

The Upper Falls

The Devil's Bathtub

Water cascading over the rocks

There were also many other beautiful things to observe, even in the middle of winter. I was grateful to have a walking companion who understood my need to stop, look, and touch things every 5 feet or so, and who indulged my need to photograph all along the way, too. Everything was damp, and the place was alive with color.

L: Bark of the Eastern Hemlock tree
R: Moss, looking almost phosphorescent

Lovely, dainty fungus

Twisty downed branch

We didn't see very many birds during our hike, which was kind of surprising to me. In fact, the only birds we saw were two Rock Doves (AKA pigeons), but we did see evidence that a much larger bird had been in the area.

First I noticed lots of wood "shavings" on the ground all around the base of this hemlock tree. Then we looked up to see this:

Yup, a Pileated Woodpecker (or perhaps multiple woodpeckers) had been working on this tree. There were sets of holes like this on 3 sides of the tree!

Even though the temperatures have been moderate over the last week or so, there are still some pretty large chunks of ice clinging to the rocks in areas where the sunshine doesn't reach.

Nature's chandeliers

I've mentioned before the cooler micro-climate that exists within the parks of the Hocking Hills, and this fact hit us especially hard yesterday as we wound our way up and out of Old Man's Cave and headed toward the parking lot: off came all those layers, 'cause man it was hot up in the real world! Well, not hot, but it reached almost 50 degrees yesterday, which is much warmer than it had been down in the cave.

After our hike we drove to La Cascada, a great Mexican restaurant in Logan, and had some fantastic authentic Mexican lunch.

Some people say "cheese" when they take a picture... I say "La Cascada!"

Thanks for the companionship, Meg. I had a great time!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Did you know birds can play the guitar?

Dave alerted me to this very strange, intriguing, amazing video. Gives new meaning to the term "birds rock!"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Southern white rhinos at the Wilds

An added bonus to our birding trip to the Wilds was a chance to see a very special animal, a baby Southern white rhinoceros. She was born on Halloween night 2009, weighing in at 70 pounds upon her entrance into this world. She's the daughter of a female who was also born at the Wilds, 5 years ago. To learn more about Southern white rhinos and why conservation efforts like those taking place at the Wilds are so important for their survival, go here or here (will open in new windows).

Mama and baby were inside when we got there, but they wandered outdoors within a minute of our group's arrival.

Have no fear, though, because that baby wanted us to see her! Well, she wasn't quite sure about that...

She would stick her head through the flaps, and then retreat.


... or out?

Finally she made up her mind. It's so interesting - here's this rhino who's only a few months old, and she's already got quite the personality. I thought it was a pretty brave move on her part to come on in without checking with mama first.

"C'mon mom, we have to go back inside! These people want to pet us!"

The animal management specialist told us we could touch them if the animals presented themselves to us. No problem. There were a total of 7 rhinos in the building, and most of them were up for contact with us.

Baby at eye-level, communing with a human.

She really enjoyed having her horn rubbed!

I mean, really, REALLY loved it!

This is one of the other rhinos in the building. Will you look at the size of that beast?

And check out those horns! That's one deadly weapon there.

I found myself fascinated by their body parts. Like rhino toes...

... and rhino ears.

But the best are rhino eyes...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Birding the Wilds

Yesterday was the Winter Extravaganza at the Wilds, sponsored by the Ohio Ornithological Society. The temps were mild for January, and lots of folks showed up, but our group did not see a whole lot of birds. There was apparently a Golden Eagle spotted in the area, but it was not meant to be for us to see it.

It wasn't for lack of trying, that's for sure. We made many stops on roads close to the Wilds (roads that are actually on land owned by American Electric Power), and searched and searched, but we just didn't see much bird action at all. We did spot a Horned Lark (quite a few, actually), which was a life bird for me. I did a little boogie for it.

This guy. He's awesome. I tell him, "so we're gonna have to leave at, like, 6 a.m. to get there on time." "Okay," he says. Look at him in his Midwest Bird Symposium hat and Bird Watcher's Digest binocular harness. I'm so glad he came to the Wilds to go birding with me!

There were lots of spotting scopes around yesterday, a necessary tool of the trade. Especially when trying to pin down a bird that's somewhere out in the middle of huge expanses of grassland and hills like this...

Before lunch, our group saw Horned Lark, American Kestrel, Eastern Bluebird, European Starling, Blue Jay, Trumpeter Swan, Rough-legged Hawk (dark morph) (AND lifer!), Red-tailed Hawk, and Downy Woodpecker. Folks were hoping for more raptors, but there just wasn't much activity.

What're y'all lookin' at?

There are lots of lakes of varying sizes around the Wilds, but there seemed to be only one that had some unfrozen water, and of course that's where all the waterfowl went. Accordingly, all the scopes were lined up after lunch to observe said water and waterfowl. I could only identify the Canada Geese and Trumpter Swans. Even through a scope, they were still pretty far away, so it was difficult for me to know what else I was seeing (this girl's no good with her waterfowl ID!). I heard folks say there were Ruddy Ducks, Ring-neck Ducks, some kind of Merganser, Mallards, and perhaps a Green-winged Teal.

Oh look, I managed to get photos of some birds! Two Trumpeter Swans, and if you notice the road behind them, there are some Canada Geese to the right of that road. I know... booooring.

Aside from seeing birds, we were able to get some good views of several of the species of mammals that are managed by the Wilds, including a meeting with a very special southern white rhino. Here's a sneak peek:

Stay tuned!