Thursday, January 5, 2017

Best of Days

We walk outside into a deep freeze today, and at lunchtime, fat snowflakes float in the air, in no particular hurry to settle on the ground. Birds mass at the feeders. So why am I thinking about wildflowers?

When I first moved to the Ozarks, I was impressed with its beauty, but I didn't feel like I belonged. On the west coast, where I grew up, I was used to watching anemones in the tide pools and searching the beach for sand dollars and Japanese floats. I listened to the cry of seagulls, breathed in the salt air, and found sand not just between my toes, but in my hair and clothes and even, occasionally, in my food. The greeting card I wrote came straight from my heart:

Seagulls on the ocean breeze,
Sandpipers and shimmering seas..
The best of days are made of these.


It takes a little while to make a new place home. After that first winter, when the wildflowers appeared, I started taking notice. I picked flowers by the armload and sandwiched them between 2 layers of tissue paper. The tissue paper went between layers of a wool army surplus blanket cut to size, and when I had a few layers stacked up, lasagna style, I pressed them all under a stack of heavy books. Before long, I'd purchased a microwave press to speed up the process and was using the flowers to design greeting cards.

purple coneflower

In doing this, I learned the flowers' names. After a few years, I knew the rocky hillside where I'd see the first toothwort, and when to start looking for the purple coneflower and bird's foot violet. It became somewhat of an obsession. While I was focusing on the beauty around me, something else was happening. This place was becoming home.

Bluebells bobbing in the breeze,
Buttercups and bumblebees...
The best of days are made of these.

Zazzle Floral Fiesta

I've moved on from my pressed flower phase, and on more than one occasion, have come close to discarding the 2 large binders full of now yellowing pressed flowers. I'm glad I didn't. Recently I was thinking it would be fun to create a gift wrap with bright flowers, and then I remembered those binders. I pulled them off the shelf and chose some some flowers and leaves to scan. In Illustrator, I turned them into vector images, and arranged them into a seamless pattern in Photoshop. This could get addictive.

Zazzle Smilesink Shoes

There are a lot of things you can do with a pattern besides gift wrap. I chose to put them in my Zazzle store on a variety of products, including a tote bag, fabric, a phone case, a pillow, and my favorite, tennis shoes. You can check it out here, if you like.

It's still cold outside, but the pressed flowers from my binders has made a bright spot where I work. Now I'm counting the days till the toothwort blooms.

Lidija Paradinovic Nagulov has written a clear and illustrated tutorial 
on making seamless patterns that I found very helpful. To see it, click here.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ten Seconds

There will be plenty of people counting down the seconds to the new year tonight. 
Since I hope to be sound asleep by then, here's my own countdown a little early--
10 of my favorite animal sightings of 2016:

Fox Kit

10. Fox Kit

Wood Duck

9. Wood Duck

Eastern Chipmunk

8. Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern White-tailed Fawn

7. White-tailed Fawn

Eastern Wild Turkey

6. Eastern Wild Turkey


5. Raccoon

Monarch Chrysalis

4. Monarch Chrysalis

White-tailed buck

3.White-tailed Buck

Male Cardinal

2. Male Cardinal

Golden Retriever

1. Golden Retriever, Barley

Happy New Year!

Linking with Saturday's Critters

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Avian Testimonials

Red-bellied Woodpecker on suet

Early this week, with the ground dry and parched and the temperature plunging like an elevator in free-fall, the birds at our feeders were ravenous. It seemed like a good time to mix up some suet.

Suet is easy to make. Here's my recipe:

1 cup lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup oatmeal
2 cups unsalted sunflower seeds, shelled
1 cup flaxseed meal or yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup raisins

Melt the lard and peanut butter in a large saucepan, and mix in the other ingredients. Spoon into  molds (I used the bottom 2 inches of plastic cups), press the mix together, and freeze. Sometimes, I also press the mix into pinecones.

Downy Woodpecker on suet

When the suet was frozen and out of the molds, I made a hole with a skinny nail through the center of each one, then threaded a thin wire through the hole, and hung them in a tree near our feeder, where the birds were sure to notice them.

Tufted Titmouse and Carolina Chickadee on suet

It's always nice when your cooking is appreciated. 
When the food is devoured and they come back for more, it's better than 5 stars on the internet.

Carolina Chickadee on suet

Consider these photos visual testimonials for the suet. Make of it what you will.

Cedar Waxwing eating winterberry

Of course, there's Winterberry for desert.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Mountain Lion Hollow

male cardinal on winterberry

It's good to see the sun after several gloomy days, which had closed in on us like grey felt in a flower press. The hunting season finally over, Barley and I have taken to walking in the hollow below our house. Where the trail makes its final descent into the hollow, winterberry trees have put on their Christmas decorations, bright red candy-colored balls. Birds flee at our approach, receding as waves into an ocean of weeds, or wildflowers, depending on one's perspective. I stand still, holding my breath, and the birds return, one by one, drawn by the fruit, devouring the ornaments like a child who can't wait for Christmas.

Barley holds his breath, too, standing motionless several paces behind me.

The hollow is quiet this morning, except for the twitter of birds, but this place is not always without drama. One October, in the early morning dark, Don walked down the trail and set up with his bow in a tree facing the valley, overlooking the creek. As the first rays of light streamed across the hollow, he noticed movement in the tall amber colored weeds, about 75 yards away. He fixed his gaze on the area for a short time before a tail appeared, swishing slowly back and forth. Then the steely eyes of a mountain lion came into focus, staring straight at him. A chill went down his spine.

Don remembers thinking that he’s always preferred to deer hunt alone. It was more true that day than ever before. Looking down at his bow, he calculated his chances of getting off a clean shot at a charging cat. Not good. He decided to begin his retreat. Then, if the mountain lion charged, he’d have time to get his back against a large tree and pull out his hunting knife. He got his feet on the ground and took one step sideways up the hill, keeping an eye on the path, and one on the predator below. The mountain lion didn’t move. Its tail twitched, but its eyes were steady.

Don continued to sidle up the hill, judging, with each step, the distance to the next tree. He was home before he could breathe easy. 

I think about that mountain lion once in a while when Barley and I are walking in the hollow, and my fingers tighten, momentarily, on the knife in my pocket.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Every once in a while, when we start thinking that this place where we live belongs to us, 
we are reminded that our opinion is not universal.

eastern wild turkey gobblers

Most mornings lately, four Eastern Wild Turkey gobblers have been gathering on our back patio.

eastern wild turkey gobbler in birdbath

They like the convenience of fresh water (or sometimes ice) in the birdbath, a chance to admire their reflections in the window glass, and the exceptional acoustics. If volume had anything to do with ownership, when they gobble, they would have the deed to the house in their feathery back pocket. The turkeys retreat a little when we pass by the windows, but seem only mildly inconvenienced by the other occupants of this place, namely us. Their forebears, after all, were here long before ours were.
Before dawn yesterday morning, Don watched a skunk saunter away from the back of the house, while a fat raccoon sat in the bird feeder, eating a bedtime snack. We've been wondering why the bird feed disappeared so fast, and now we know that it's been going to two more residents.

mother raccoon with kits
In the summer, a mother raccoon and her two kits would come in the evenings to eat... 

raccoon kit in oak tree

...before climbing up to their nursery in a large oak tree behind the house. 
In the nighttime, the place belonged to them.

button buck

Deer have always been occupants of our woods. 
Of the seven we see regularly, one button buck has taken to the dog kennel, and helps himself to fallen acorns. 

white-tailed buck

We see the larger bucks less frequently, but in the shelter of the darkness, they may consider this place their own, too.

barley golden retriever

Barley is the only four-legged creature with a key to the house.

So far.

golden retriever postage stamp

Barley just got his 15 minutes of fame with this custom stamp on Zazzle.