Saturday, March 24, 2007

I Go to Nature....

My mother and I visited the Great Plains Nature Center today for a quick look-see. She'd never been there and I was happy to introduce her. It's a great place to be introduced to Kansas wildlife and plants, especially for children. (Of course, don't we all still have a big kid inside? I still get a kick out of seeing the actual depth of big bluestem roots, "petting" skunk fur, hearing a white-tail buck snort, and seeing a visual representation of the roots literally under our feet.)

Anyway, that's not really my point.

My point is that a quote they have painted on the wall really spoke to me today. It encapsulates why Prairiewolf and I moved back to Kansas and, specifically, to acreage in the country.

"I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more."
- John Burroughs

Everytime I walk out the door into the yard, I feel myself returning to true pitch. We are so incredibly lucky.

I Think They Were All Waiting for the Official Okay....

Spring officially arrived sometime Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. I'd intended to post a blog for the occasion, but flu and life intervened. I'm happy to report that I'm much better...although life (and a "used" house) are throwing some curve balls our way.

Seemingly knowing that it's now officially spring, the rains have come and the leaves are simply bursting out of their buds. Tuesday was our big rain (2.8"); by Thursday the Bradford pears had gone from bud to full bloom.

...Okay, I know that I officially don't like Bradford pairs, but... their blooms sidelighted by the porch light and shining against the black night sky are truly breathtaking. For a week or so, at least, I'm almost happy to share my yard with them.

By the way, sniff those lovely blooms sometime. They smell like rotting meat. A real olfactory treat for the flies that they rely on for pollination! (Actually I've seen quite a few honey bees buzzing around them during the day too, so I guess the bees aren't always attracted just to sweet scents. At night it seems to be primarily flies coming around.)

In the past 5 days, our view out the kitchen door has transformed from a far-sighted westerly view through open screens of bare branches to the enclosed feel of a green-walled courtyard. I've been dreading this a little bit, not sure how I'd like feeling closed in, but it's rather fun to get enticing glimpses of the treetops in the swale and the prairie through the hedge-opening. Classic "enclosure and mystery beyond" gardening stuff. I'm going to have fun playing with this.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Psycho Woodpeckers

Several weeks ago I posted a picture of our poor little bur oak tree, with the bark sadly thinned by a pair of downy woodpeckers who've been systematically working on it. I'm still not sure how that tree is going to fare as spring progresses, but I'm keeping a close eye on it.

Recently I noticed a couple of fairly large holes drilled in a cottonwood out front. The picture here is of the largest of these. The hole is about 1 1/2" deep and located about 5' above the ground.

Obviously this is a very different kind of hole than the all-over bark thinning that the downies are doing on the bur oak.

The only woodpecker I've seen in this tree is a hairy woodpecker, so presumably he did the work. I can only hypothesize that he was after cottonwood borer larvae, or some other insect, as the limb is way too small to support any kind of nesting hole. I'm open for suggestions, though.

What Went Before

It turns out that our home is aptly named Windswept Cottage.

Before 1991, a horse barn and corral stood on this piece of land. They belonged to the house just south of us.

According to the neighbors, the infamous 1991 Andover tornado, an F5 killer that stayed on the ground for 46 miles and about 50 minutes, started near here and took out the horse barn, the corral, and the house to the south before heading on to the northeast. Afterwards, the owners simply sold off this 10 acres, rather than rebuilding the barn.

I did a little internet research yesterday and found out that, if it was the Andover tornado, this occurred on April 26, 1991. At this point in its lifecycle, the tornado would actually only have been an F2 or F3; it strengthened as it moved northeast. However, there was another "Clearwater tornado" that occurred that year, on May 16, 1991. This second tornado also took out several farms and homes. I think the only way I'll be able to find out which tornado actually took out the barn here will be to research in the archives of the Clearwater and/or Wichita papers.

The history of place. In knowing this, I can't decide if I feel more secure, assuming that "lightning doesn't strike twice in the same place," or if this makes me want to build a saferoom in the basement for sure!

Maybe it's my imagination, but to the northeast of our yard, the trees seem to be smaller and younger in a pathway that spans several hundred feet and continues for a quarter mile or more.

And there's the impression of a perfect circle in the grass of the front yard. It's large and hard to see from ground level, but it's very obvious from our closet window. The ghost, in land form, of the horse corral.

Remnants of what happened here and what went before? I think so...and it adds a textural layer to our new home. The hurricanes of the Gulf coast; now the tornadoes of Kansas. The weather shapes us and shapes our homescapes, whether we want to admit it or not.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Eyes for Spring Changes

It's funny, but many times when I sit down to blog, I don't really know exactly what I want to say, but I know that something is percolating that wants to break forth.

Today is a day like that.

I'm seeing the Kansas spring with new eyes this year, having been away for 6 years. Somehow even normal changes seem fresh, different, and rather miraculous for me right now.

We're into that part of spring where you can see daily changes whenever you go outside. The forsythia is beginning to bloom. (Remember to put that corn gluten down to keep summer weed seeds from becoming viable plants in the lawn!) The lilac leaves are visibly larger each day and the buds for the blossoms are easily visible, although they seem ridiculously small. My unknown maple trees are leafing out too, as is a mystery shrub by the forsythia. (Weigela?) Some of the willows around town are leafing out, but my black willows aren't showing green yet. Of course, the buds on my Bradford pears are swelling visibly each day.

Side note: Yes, we are the "proud" owners of 3 Bradford pears. Ironic, isn't it, for those of you who know my longstanding opinion of that particular variety/species? Why couldn't the prior owners have picked redbuds? They bloom at the same time of year, they have a beautiful branching structure, they do well here, and they're actually native. But there's evidently something about green lollipops on sticks....

We're noticing spring's arrival within the animal populations too. Prairiewolf called me outside early yesterday morning to listen to turkeys gobbling in the riparian area across the road. (That's got him all stirred up - the hunting gear is being gathered and the turkey calls are out for some serious practicing. He's assured me that he wouldn't hunt that close to home, though.) From the draw, spring peepers are serenading throughout the day and night, whenever the temperature is high enough. In fact, the entire early morning symphony yesterday was superb: the turkeys, the spring peepers, a couple cardinals singing lustily nearby, flocks of redwings in the slight distance, and a multitude of other birds greeting the day whose calls I couldn't tease out from the chorus.

The killdeer have come back, and there is a small flock of cedar waxwings grazing on something in my trees. (Cedar "berries", perhaps? I have no crabapples in this yard.) Grackles, red-winged blackbirds, and cowbirds are mobbing the feeders throughout the day lately. A small flock of gulls went overhead yesterday, but I couldn't make out enough fieldmarks to identify them and they flew silently. (Not that I'm good enough to I.D. gulls by their vocalizations anyway!)

On a smaller scale, the boxelder bugs have been congregating for weeks in the warm, southwest-facing nook of the foundation. A few moths are being drawn in to the lights at night, and I thought I saw a couple small ichneumon wasps clinging to the back screen the other evening. Of course, the real sign of spring is that we've started to bring home ticks from our walks through the "back 5". THAT's a portion of Kansas life that I certainly didn't miss down in Mobile.

Bear with me, please, as I document all of these normal spring changes. I'm really enjoying the experience of full seasons again.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Remnant of the Old Among the New

With winter fading and spring beginning to arrive, it feels especially poignant when I stumble across a remnant of last year's summer fecundity. At least, that's the way I felt when I stumbled across this cicada shell clinging to the side of a honeylocust tree. It almost had the feel of a fossil, or a ruin from another age.

Little Bit

It feels like a "little bit" time right now.

We've got a new "little bit" in the family: say howdy to Strider, our new English setter. He's 7 weeks old and doing amazingly well with such difficult issues as being away from his litter and learning about collars and leashes and kennels. With his dark, soulful eyes, I suggested that we name him Rudolph Valentino, but Prairiewolf didn't feel that the name sent the right image. I don't know - it seems to me like Valentino was quite the least of women!

It's also "little bit" gardening time. That's what I've decided to name the style of gardening (especially weeding) I've developed where I'm not really in the mood, but I go outside and say, "Oh, I'll just do a little bit. Then I can quit." Two hours later I look up and my "little bit" has morphed into an area many times what my original goal was. Last night's "little bit" was under a lilac bush by our deck. By the time I was done, I'd weeded all of the grass out of the entire corner, which was much more than the 1' x 2' area that I'd set myself to accomplish originally.

I can carry the "little bit" philosophy into the house remodeling too. We're moving forward a little bit at a time: yesterday the furnace was finally repaired. The day before most of our new carpet was installed. Today we hope to get the purple martin house up. And this weekend we hope to have the wall between the kitchen and the den reconfigured. Then we can have the rest of the carpet installed. And then, finally, we'll be able to have the household goods delivered. A little bit at a time....

Spring's continuing to come a "little bit" at a time too. We saw bluebirds in the front yard last week, so we put up a bluebird house last weekend, started playing a bluebird song tape, and I'm seeing a pair of bluebirds almost daily now.

This morning I saw a killdeer flying over the yard. And the lilac buds are swelling and showing green.

A little bit at a time. All things will come, a little bit at a time.