Thursday, September 24, 2015


I’ve been caught up in reading the book Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. At first I thought it was going to be a book about how to walk through the trials of life – and in fact gave it to a friend, having never read it, who had been diagnosed with cancer. After skimming through an article in Time Magazine at a doctor’s office, I thought it might be appropriate for her and bought a copy. A practice I don’t really recommend. The book turned out to be not so much about learning to walk through our dark times but, fortunately, a delightful and thought-provoking book about how to reframe metaphorical and accept actual darkness. With the Super Harvest Full Moon Lunar Eclipse about to take place, reading and blogging about this book seemed serendipitous.

Ms. Brown took a year to study the dark and write about what it could potentially teach us. She dined at a trendy restaurant where real blind servers wait on customers in blindfolds. She spent half a day in a “wild” cave…the kind not open to the public. She walked in the dark to a meadow and waited for the full moon rise. She brought new light to the “darkness” often referred to in scripture, challenging some of the old dualistic ways of thinking. In the end, she concluded that we need as much “endarkenment” as we need 

There is something about the absence of light, AFTER the sun goes down, that has always comforted me. It is a time of no expectations. Work is done. No one is going to call or need anything. It feels freeing. When I go outside for my dog’s last circling of the grounds, the dark night feels claustrophobic, which is also comforting to me.  Her book resonated within me because I have always loved the night more than the morning. I considered myself a “night person” all through high school and college and the first 10 or 15 years of my 32-year marriage. As far back as I can remember, mornings were a struggle. Most fights with my mother were about getting up and getting going. Most of my marriage I always felt a bit guilty staying up late and getting up later than any of the other women I knew. Most “morning people” were complete enigmas to me. How could they possible wake up and bound out of bed, ready to take on the world, or at the very least their daily work? I need more transition time. After all, I was just doing something completely different in my dream as far as my brain and body were concerned.

I had a revelation once that I both hate to go to bed and hate to get out of bed, which can be quite the dilemma. Night people generally don’t get their vision for the day until sometime in the afternoon. It’s when the creative juices begin to flow, ideas come, energy increases…then it’s time to make dinner. Damn! This is probably why night people have not taken over the world. And once night people are in bed, that’s where they want to stay. My motto has always been,

“I don’t want to get up until I’m bored with lying down.”
I guess I enjoy my Theta and Alpha waves; those slower, more calming and creative brain waves we experience as we drift from deep sleep (delta waves) to being fully awake (Beta waves). In her book Ms. Taylor shares a theory that proposes humans were never meant to sleep continuously through the night. It theorizes that since the invention of artificial light, we stay up later (after it gets dark) and so our bodies need longer, deeper sleep, but it was not always this way. He believes that humans used to sleep for a sleep cycle, wake slowly, and then remain in that dreamy, sub-conscious state, when creative and spiritual thoughts were allowed to incubate for longer periods of time before entering a new sleep cycle. Now, when we wake in the middle of the night, we head for the medicine cabinet and don’t necessarily see it as something to embrace. But maybe we should.

One evening last week I decided follow Ms. Taylor’s lead and take a walk in the dark up our long gravel drive to view the night sky from the top. My German Shepherd, Cyon, well-equipped to maneuver without hesitation, trotted ahead of me until I couldn’t see her at all, coming back only to check on me now and then. I took a flashlight, purposing not to use it, unless I heard rustling in the bushes or up in the trees.  I failed miserably at this intention. 

At first I took my time, in order to both alleviate the only fear I had…falling…as well as let my eyes fully dilate to fully take in the light from the stars. But the further I got from the house, with its glowing windows and porch light, the darker it got and the more fearful I became of a 90-degree ankle turn or a full-fledged face plant. So the flashlight kept coming on just to see the condition of the rough road for the next few yards, then back off again. It wasn’t until I got to the top of the drive, overlooking the black fields and the shadows of distant hills, that I was able to spend time with the embracing darkness and the 200 billion stars of the Milky Way.
"Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."                 -Psalm 139:12
And this was one of her points...if darkness is as light...then both are Divine. She even goes so far as to say that, according to the Bible, God dwelt in darkness before light was even created, challenging our notion that darkness is bad and only light is good. And that maybe our negative perspectives of darkness have been learned.

While I stood there letting my eyes adjust, I kept thinking about all the nocturnal animals out in that opaqueness, some of them probably staring at me at that very moment. How much better their eyes are designed to see what remains cloaked for us. How much better their ability to hear and smell, embellishing night time instincts of hunting, caring for their young, or finding a mate. The darkness is almost as light to them, too. So much happens outside after we turn the last light off inside.

A few nights later I woke up and looked over at the bedroom window to see what tint of daylight was seeping through the curtain. When I saw none, I checked the clock, which, from my perspective, warned me in red lights that it was only 5:00 in the morning! Then I wrestled with a foreign idea: What if I got up right now and went outside? 

What?! But I’m very comfortable right where I am and still pretty groggy, I internally protested

What would Barbara do, I asked myself?  She would attend this fleeting darkness and be a guest of the sunrise.

Twenty-minutes later on the back deck, wrapped in a fleece blanket and sipping hot tea in the dark, I heard, for the first time in the morning, the Whipp-por-will singing his heart out. Way past breeding season, I wondered if he was now just praising the darkness of the night, or the coming light. 

I hope you will spend time outdoors experiencing the darkness of the Lunar Eclipse on September 27...make it a family affair.

In North America, the crest of the moon’s full phase comes on September 27  10:51 p.m. EDT with total eclipse at 10:47 pm
9:51 p.m CDT with total eclipse at 9:47 pm
8:51 p.m. MDT with total eclipse at 8:47 pm
7:51 p.m. PDT with total eclipse at 7:47 pm

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Curious 'Shroom

I TOOK A WALK TODAY....and thought, "What a great summer to be a Mycologist!"

While strolling along the upper prairie and into the woods this morning, I couldn't take more than four steps without having a colony of mushrooms at or near my feet.  The forest floor is coated with them, all at various stages in their short life cycles.  I have never seen so much fungi my life!

All the wet weather we have had in Ohio this summer is to blame...or thank. And you know it's wet when even the fungus has fungus growing on it!!

 Mushrooms can seem magical...just a small ball crowning the surface of the leaf litter...and the next day it's a full blown toadstool!  This is especially true after a rain because for mushrooms all you need to do is "just add water!"  Unlike plants and animals, the fruit of the fungus (what we call a mushroom) does not grow by cell division at its early grows by cell expansion, as water fills each compacted cell it already possesses.  Nature's sponges.

 The true mushroom or fungal body actually lies beneath the fruit, spreading underground or within wood. Like the apple and its tree, the mushroom is connected to tiny "branches" or filaments called hyphae, that acquire and store nutrients as they break down organic matter. Because they gather and store nutrients this way, instead of through chlorophyll and photosynthesis, they are called saprophytic organisms.

Some mushrooms have a special relationship with trees and shrubs, penetrating their roots and delivering nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, while taking carbohydrates and moisture from them  This mutually beneficial relationship is called a mycorrhizal association.

Mushrooms are not only full of B vitamins (some are a favorite food of the box turtle), hold moisture, and recycle decaying organisms...they are also ephemerally beautiful. Below is a gallery of a few more responding to the recent rainfall.  You don't need to know their names to enjoy their beauty or appreciate their role in the ecosystem.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Trout Lily
All along the little spring-fed creek at Prairie Pond Woods and the larger Hickman Run that it flows into, wildflower ephemerals are announcing the season of spring is here. First came the Trout Lilies and Bloodroot. Now the Rue Anemone, Purple Cress and Jacob's Ladder are in bloom. Next, Wild Columbine and Hepatica will cover the rock outcrop that shades the spring creek.

I know there are nature preserves or even private properties where large patches of these wildflowers dazzle the beholder, and I'm glad they exist and are protected.  But I get as excited about my little patches dotting the land here and there, as I do the spectacular ones.  I brim with joy at the first Moneywort (especially since I rescued several from an ATV trail) or the first Cut-leaved Toothwort, even if it is standing solo among the other vegetation. 

Rue Anemone
I'm thrilled because these are WILDflowers...and each holds potential for the spectacular. They are feral. No one planted them. Who knows how old some of these individual perennials may be? These, or their offspring, are the ones that survived logging of the forests. These are the ones that have been quietly cloaking the forest floors for decades and centuries.  

They need nothing from us. No cultivation. No fertilizing. No pampering (except for removing alien species on occasion). They are right where they are supposed to be, needing nothing but the soil, the light, the rain and insects for pollination. When their petaled performances are finished, they will release their seeds or spread out their roots, and the show begins again next spring.

Wild Columbine
My only mission at Prairie Pond Woods is to let them flourish. Let them perform their encores year after year. Let them fill as much space as the space will hold. To simply just let them be.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I ended up only going for two very brief walks this morning in between thunderstorms. The folds of clear blue-gray clouds, outlined in back-lit sky, kept rolling in then clearing out, leaving only the dirty white rags of full cloud cover. I'm hoping these next few days of rain will bring out the morels! I'm ready to go hunting because it has been slim pickins', especially after one huge harvest a few years ago when I caught the fungi fever.  

When I sat down to record my morning sightings/hearings in my phenology journal, I noticed how different the years have been on April 1. Today, the only plants I could add to the two bloodroots from yesterday were one other bloodroot bud and one anemone in bloom along the spring. I compared that to April 1, 2012 and 2007, when it appears everything was in bloom: columbine, purple cress, violets, Virginia bluebells, golden ragwort, dogwoods and redbuds, etc.  

Most of the bird sightings are about on target...although I still haven't heard my first thrasher that everyone else seems to have encountered.  Usually, he announces his return on the tips of the pines that surround the deck. But I did hear turkeys in the hills, a barred owl at 8:30 am and saw a pair of yellow-bellied sapsuckers. The phoebes are I see every year up by Kavanah (though she never nests in it) and the one scouting out the guest room exterior shutter again. For the last two years they built a nest on top of the black shutter underneath the eaves and hidden by the lilac bush. We accept the mess and wash it off in fall. 

Yesterday, two chickadees spent most of the morning and into early afternoon flying around in the garage rafters, I assume trying to find a suitable cavity to nest in.  Finally, after a few hours of puttering and loudly listening to The Signature of All Things on audiobook, they left and haven't been back.  Evidently, not literary avian.  

And this morning two rust, white and black Eastern towhees spent a good deal of time duking it out in the blue spruce tree out front for the affection of their duller-in-color female counterpart. Actually, you'll notice a fair amount of territorial defense behavior going on all over the place if you pay attention.

Some years flora and fauna can be predictable and some years not. I love recording it in my journal and comparing it...although sometimes my documentation skills can be just as sporadic as spring flowers. But one thing that is fairly predictable and heartwarming in my life is my dog's nap time. 

Cyon paces and hints by walking over to the basement door. I check my watch-usually between 10:30-11:30. I let her inside. She gives me a "see you later" look, and immediately lays down on her blanket. I tune in NPR on my I-Pod and she falls fast asleep for an hour or more. Just enough time to write my blog posts...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015



For me, April 1 is Opening Day.  For my baseball-loving husband it is on April 6 this year. But every April Fools day, Prairie Pond Woods opens its doors and invites all the Nature Fools, Spiritual Fools and Creative fools to come immerse themselves in the outdoors, in the Spirit or their own artistic endeavors.  

You know who you're the one everyone else thinks is way too into the environment, way too intense about Life or way too "flaky" or esoteric.

But you're also the fool who knows that going against our fast-paced, left-brained and nature-deficient culture is how truth, beauty and wisdom can be found. 
So check the Calendar and contact me to see if we can set you up for a few days of utter foolishness!  And don't forget, the Bird Watching as Meditation retreat is coming up soon.  Registration Deadline is April can register online HERE or click on the button in the upper left corner.  How convenient!

On the walk today, either I was being stalked by one Pine Warbler or there were many trilling in different parts of the property, which is wonderful!  I also heard or saw Phoebes, a Kingfisher, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, a Red-shouldered Hawk, American Goldfinches, Chipping Sparrows, and a Crow clicking away under the walnut tree. And the Juncos are still around. 

It was a bad winter for Pines along the path.  The Refresher Course had no less than 5 Virginia pines, both dead and alive, blocking the trails and making future work for my poor husband. But maybe not. Perhaps Wisdom is suggesting we create some new paths and let the old ones recover and regenerate...and truly what wisdom there is in that!

Sometimes we need to seek out new paths on our life's journey...especially when there are obstacles that don't allow us to go forward...and this is true for me now in my life. It is a win-win situation most times, really.  If I stop  walking (and mowing) the same old paths, plants that have been stunted will begin to flourish and reproduce.  And if I choose a new, wise path (maybe cutting right through patches of invasive deer tongue), plants or seeds that have been struggling in the shade might bloom along the edges, as they are now allowed to soak up the sun's light and warmth. Something to ask ourselves...are we walking the same old routines, patterns, habits, jobs or relationships that don't really move us in the directions we want to go? 

In the direction I went this morning, I only found two Bloodroot plants getting ready to bloom along the spring...looks like it's still a bit early here.  So I decided that this would be a day of preparation...meaning getting my little gardening corner of the garage purged and organized, weeding the front garden bed, charging the camera batteries and getting my systems into place. This way, when the rest of the Ephemerals burst on to the scene...I'm ready to go!

Oh, and I pulled the FOY tick off the front of my neck, which hurt like you-know-what!  Spring is here...