Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Once More with Feeling March 7, 2011

Yesterday, a gentle rain fell over central Pennsylvania, saturating the struggling earth and melting away the last remnants of ice clinging along the roads.  It was that good kind of rain, the kind I imagine makes the earth sigh and open its arms. I thought about how soon my husband and I will play catch in the yard. I picked out clothes for a “30 for 30 challenge” I started today, including flip-flops, capris pants, and two dresses. Spring was coming and I was ready.

In the late afternoon I sat watching the rain out the window when suddenly, shockingly, it turned into snow right before my eyes. The snow got heavier and heavier, swirling around in a miniature blizzard just outside the glass. It snowed for the rest of the evening and through the night, leaving us buried in a winter wonderland that rivals anything we had in December or January.

When it first started snowing yesterday I was sad about it, but this morning I woke up and the branches were stacked with snow, the sun was bright and reflecting off every surface, and I just wanted to go outside.  I can’t explain it, but my number one rule besides “Try to make yourself go out even if you don’t want to because you will be happy once you get there,” is “If you DO want to go out, go NOW NOW NOW before it is too late!!!”

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I dug my long underwear out of the closet and my winter boots out of the car (Note: Do not keep winter boots in your car! The walk from the house to get them will defeat the whole purpose), and set out to see what I could see.

The air was crisp but not freezing, in the way that it sometimes is when snow keeps everything close and muffled. My boots squeaked and crunched and the sun shone on everything. The snow was stacked high on every surface, and the low bushes and rocks were now just mysterious lumps along the ground.

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I am not a morning person but today was out early enough to enjoy the empty sidewalks before anyone shoveled (sorry, neighbors, for packing the snow down with my boots so it is now impossible to remove!). There weren’t even animal tracks yet, as if the squirrels and birds were as stunned as I had been to see a finally green world erased and white.

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In one spot there was a “wild” overgrown area right off the path. The sun was hitting it directly and it looked really beautiful. Welcoming and magical and quiet. I took a series of photos of it using my iPhone, which is currently the “camera” I use for everything. I am not a professional photographer, and I was amazed when I got home at how much the scene didn’t translate into the photos at all!  I had to laugh to see this three-dimensional wonderland show up as a flat and tangled place.

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I think it would have been better if I had kneeled down to take the picture instead of standing, so you felt like you were on the same level as the plants. To my photographer readers, anything else I could do in the future to capture this kind of busy space more accurately?

I continued on, craning my neck and standing right at the base of trees to get a “squirrel’s eye view” of all of the bright snow on the branches. I like how the snow makes this branch look like a feather from underneath:

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All in all, it was a lovely walk. I came in with red cheeks to the smell of coffee I had started in the coffeepot before I left. I hung my jeans up to dry by the door, and sat in front of my window to watch the world go by and write this post. I am making the effort not to be miserable about this snow for at least a couple more days, but really I didn’t have to work for my happiness this morning. Sometimes the yellow sun is reflecting off the brilliant new snow and what can you do but feel joy that you were there to see it?

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Winter Feelings February 21, 2011

Just a few days ago I was sitting right in this same spot, all of the windows in the house open, letting the spring air blow in, watching the hardened ice packed along the roads melt away. Today I sit and hear the cars splatter cold slush and watch the snow nestle onto tree branches. All of the grass that peaked out on Friday is covered once again.

I would like to be a person who is continuously thrilled by the things around them, no matter what they are. I am very happy, and love nature, and can always find something good in an outing, but when a close friend recently said the name ‘February’ should be changed to “Self-Esteem-Killing Darkness Home Stretch,” I had to agree!

Many times for my job I am in and out of classrooms and teacher meetings, but sometimes, especially in the dead of winter, I work from home. There are a lot of great things about this, but it can also be lonely. Finally, in an attempt to just get over it already, I moved my desk from a dark area of our main room to the second bedroom (until now still filled with boxes from moving 7 months ago) under a window.  It has made a world of difference and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner! I feel closer to the world and out of my own head. I sit in the sunlight and can see how it changes throughout the day.

One of the things I loved most about visiting southern India was that there was always something happening. People riding by on scooters and bikes, older aunties out for walks in their saris and running shoes, people selling snacks on the beach, a movie set going up, a game of cricket with a ball made from old bike tires.

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You might think that someone who loves nature and was raised as far from crowds as possible wouldn’t like being in the middle of this, but I really enjoyed the activity and still miss it just over a year later. My husband had different views of growth and expansion than I did and it’s been a great experience to consider different opinions and evaluate where I stand. I think I have a deeper love of people now than I used to. After all, people are nature too.

I recently read this post from a blog of a couple called “Married with Luggage.”  It is about a couple who ended up selling their belongings and are currently 143 days into traveling the world for as long as their money will let them. I like the post best, though, because they do not start off as people who don’t think they need a lot of things or don’t want a house or car, etc. They got to the point they are now over a few years by thinking carefully about what they really wanted, making lists, and working towards those things.

I am working on my list now. What do I really want? This Mary Oliver quote from “The Summer Day” poem gets around a lot on nature and inspirational blogs, but I have been thinking about it recently–

“…What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

What do I want? I want to live in both worlds–quiet dark forests and bustling streets, lonely stony outcrops and crowded shops. I want to dare to be happy. I want to make and write and teach. I want to see the great natural spaces of the world and I also want to know the habits of the bird living outside my window and the leaves fallen on my sidewalk. I want to be okay with feeling the cold now because next it will be warm and then it will be hot and then it will be cold again, and each is worth experiencing if only because it is my life. This is my only life! I will not have another.

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Sunrise

…”the sun

blazes
for everyone just
so joyfully
as it rises

under the lashes
of my own eyes, and I thought
I am so many!
What is my name?

What is the name
of the deep breath I would take
over and over
for all of us? Call it

whatever you want, it is
happiness, it is another one
of the ways to enter
fire.”

– Mary Oliver

 

 

Fox in the Snow – Reader Submission February 2, 2011

*Edited to include more photos*

As you may have seen scrolling across the green screen maps on your local news station, the east coast of the United States has been locked in snow for the past week. The area where I live had it a little easier than some places–in the morning I planned on writing about the branches encased in ice and the snow turned hard and sharp overnight, but by afternoon could have written instead about the bright sun glinting off a thousand reflective surfaces, the ice dripping away into the gutters.

The home of today’s reader submission, however, is in an area that has been repeatedly buried in snow, resulting in school closings, treacherous roads, and power outages. Regardless, reader John G. knows that magic is around every corner, and has sent in the following pictures of winter wonder in his backyard.

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The first is this great sighting of a red fox walking along a forest path just past his backyard–he could see this from the window of his house! Red foxes are such beautiful animals, and I like that this one is getting a break from the tough travel through snow and brambles by walking on the same path as people, dogs, and horses.

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Here is a close-up of the same fox. What a wonderful animal!  Love the coloration and its small pointy face.

Next, he sent a really beautiful picture of a place in the snow where a bird must have suddenly taken flight.

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Can you see it?

I haven’t noticed any of these myself yet in my search for animal tracks in the snow, but I will definitely keep my eye out from now on! What a great find. It’s amazing how each wing tip is so distinct in the glimmering snow. I wonder if this type of print look different depending on if the bird is landing or taking off? If you are interested in more pictures like this, I would recommend just google image searching “bird wing prints in snow.” There are some really neat ones, like this and this.

Finally, he sent in these pictures of the ice-covered brambles, pine trees, and other plants near his house–a result of the most recent snow/freezing rain storm. You can see just the kind of gray low-hanging weather we are dealing with in the background in some of them. They are great photos, so I will just let them speak for themselves:

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So how is this season treating you, readers?  Are you frozen solid in snow like John G., and myself? What kind of things are you doing to stay happy? What kind of plants and animals are making themselves known in your neighborhood? For our friends in more tropical or southern hemisphere-ical (I can make up words, right?) locations, tell us something bright and warm about your day!

Many thanks to John G. for sending in his backyard wonders! I love seeing what people all around the world are finding in their backyards, so please send pictures toaskbackyardsafari@gmail.com or post them on the Backyard Safari Facebook wall to share.

As always, I’ll see you out there!

 

Winter Exploration January 27, 2011

Yesterday I was working out at the school just as the day was ending. The sky was gray and cold and all of the after-school activities were canceled because of the impending snow.  It was just starting to fall as the buses pulled away, and I decided to stay behind and go for an exploration of the woods behind the school building. I changed my fancy work shoes for heavy winter boots, my ruffled button up shirt for some thermal layers, and headed out into the snow.

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There is a special magic in walking when it is still actively snowing. Everything is hushed and tucked in. Snow slowly covers you as you walk, camouflaging you just like the trees and underbrush. You are alone, but you see the tracks of other animals and realize just how much is going on out here when you are not there to see it.  You think about how many animals must cross this path in the summer and you just never know about it.

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I love looking for tracks. A few years ago I helped track a woman lost in a national park, and it is was a very emotional and, truthfully, exciting experience. I was actually sent to follow those tracks because they didn’t think it was her, but wanted to look at every possibility–otherwise they would have sent someone with more (any) experience!  She had accidentally followed a wash instead of the trail, and in the desert they do look pretty similar. The amazing thing was that you could see in her footprints the moment she realized she was lost. You could just feel it, and know that she suddenly looked up and saw something was wrong. We followed her out across the open desert, where she eventually climbed onto some rocks to try to get a look at the surroundings. We had to circle the rocks carefully to see where she had stepped off again. In the end, it got too dark to safely follow her into a maze-like area of sandstone and we had to go back, but the next morning they sent a helicopter down and found her. She was fine, and did a great job staying safe though out the cold desert night. I never met her but I think I will always remember her name and feel like I know her just a little because of following her tiny footprints over the sand beneath a darkening sky.

Anyway, I highly recommend looking for animal tracks any time you are in the snow, sand, or mud. It can be a great way to learn what kind of wildlife is around even if you can’t see it.  If you live in a suburban area with snow, check the base of trees lining the sidewalk–you will often find a whole series of tracks from squirrels going up and down the tree.

I walked along one of the paths through the snow, plodding my own tracks through the deer and squirrels’. I am always amazed in the winter how an area that was once thick, dense, and lush is now transparent. I stepped off the path and walked easily across an area that was full of growth just a few months ago, and finally came out of the forest into a neighboring field.

There is something satisfying about stepping from a covered area into a wide open one, and I stood looking across the yellow corn stubble into the gray mist of the snow storm that had come down while I was walking.

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I decided to head back.  On the way I found this adorable set of tracks–I knew that animals often walk across the tops of fallen logs to avoid walking through deep snow or thick underbrush, and I love the way the tracks outline this tree against the rest of the snow.

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I also saw this great arch/magical doorway to nature (read more here!). I took some pictures of arches in this same forest back in May, and it is almost shocking to me to see the color difference now.

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Taken in May of 2010

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I eventually broke out of the forest and tromped back to my car. I changed out of my winter boots, shook of my hat and gloves, and started to head home.  It turned out the amount of time I spent exploring was the difference between the roads being just-a-little-snowy and treacherously-snowy. I creeped along and came upon an accident almost immediately. Thankfully, the passengers were fine, and mostly embarrassed about how many people were stopping to make sure they were okay.

I was moved by how many people did stop, putting on their flashers and jumping out into the snow to make sure no one was injured and see how they could help. You see a lot of stuff on the news about the state of the world but I believe that deep down most people do care for one another, and they will do what is needed when that time comes.

It was a long, slow drive but I eventually made it home and curled up on the couch inside my apartment. It was warm and dry, but I knew that out there somewhere in the dark forest, the animals were out and moving through their habitat, covering my boot tracks with their own.

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Winter Windows January 24, 2011

Proof that nature really is everywhere! While we should all try to get outside, there are definitely exciting things you can see while sipping cocoa wrapped in a warm blanket! Here is what I woke up to this morning:

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“For frost to form on the windowpanes as well as on trees and grass certain conditions are necessary. Frost is made up of tiny crystals of frozen water. It forms when air that has a lot of moisture in it is cooled below the freezing temperature of water. This temperature, which we call “the freezing point,” is 32 degrees Fahrenheit and zero degrees centigrade, at sea level. When air becomes cooler, it cannot hold as much water as before. The excess water condenses on such objects as the windowpane. Now, if the temperature falls below 0 degrees centigrade, this water becomes crystallized. In other words, it freezes into a coating of interlocked crystals of water. What causes the patterns to appear in the frost on the windowpanes? For one thing, the tiny crystals have a certain structure which gives them a pattern. In addition, there may be tiny scratches in the glass, dust particles, air currents all of which help create the designs that “Jack Frost” makes on your windows.” Source

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For more information on why frost occurs, you can go here. This site also includes info on how to “grow your own frost,” although I’m not sure how safe it is!  I was going to tell you to find frost pictures by just google image searching for it, but when I did a bunch of pictures of women getting.. intimate.. with snowmen showed up as well. Who knew! This might be a better option.

Do any of you have frost on your windows? What kind of patterns does it form? According to the same source listed above, frost covered windows used to be more common when most windows used to be a single pane of glass. Now most windows are made of 2 panes, and are more insulated than before, and thus get less frost. If you do have frost, though, I would love to see a picture! You can always send photos, questions, or ideas in to askbackyardsafari@gmail.com.

If you don’t have frost growing on your windows, try watching the water coming down your window panes the next time it rains! Are running droplets attracted together? Do they follow the same paths or make a new one? Do they splash, splatter, bounce, trickle?

There is always something new to notice, in every place and every season!

 

 

Wordless Wednesday – Summer to Snow January 12, 2011

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08/31/2010

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01/12/2011

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For more pictures of how this same tree has changed with the seasons, check out our backyard transition challenge here!