Category Archives: Naturalist Notebook
Notes, stories, and pictures from my adventures.
I have an itch to work with wildlife. A bad itch. An itch that tugs at the back of my brain all day, every day, day in and day out. No matter what I’m doing, I’d rather be sharing space with an animal. I’m not picky: I’d even take insects and spiders over a desk job if I was in a real bind.
In Oregon, I’d been accepted into a spectacular captive animal management program, but couldn’t procure the funds to attend. Heartbroken, I returned to the East Coast, trying my best to believe that something equally as incredible was in the making. (I’m the kind of person that believes if a thing isn’t in your best interest, you don’t get it, no matter how badly you thought you wanted it; but walking away from zoo school was a doozy.)
Fast forward six months, and a combination of coincidence and free time led me to email a local wildlife rehabilitator to see if she needed volunteers. Wildlife rehab is a world of unpaid, tireless work for creatures that will bite you, shit on you, and most likely hate you with every fiber of their being. But more importantly, it’s a world of creatures whose lives are only a passing whisper to most humans, a glimpse of what is otherwise just mystery. It’s a world of injuries and orphaning, of human-caused suffering, but of healing, resilience, and the return of a living being to its home. It’s a world of hope; fur and scales and teeth and hope. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve had my Rosy Boa Isis and my two Rubber Boas for several years now. Amongst the other thousand reasons that I love spring, these three slithery friends give me one more reason: they wake up from their winter sleep.
My three boas hibernate during winter, even though I have their heat lamps on at all times. Their internal clocks just know when it’s time to rest and right around August or September, they’ll all lose interest in eating and start slowing down. The two Rubber Boas will bury themselves into the wood chips and hardly emerge for more than six months. The Rosy Boa, however, doesn’t dig down or curl up in her hideout: she likes to lay right out in the open on the cold side of the tank and snooze. Every few weeks she’ll rouse herself for some water and a quick bask under the heat lamp, but then she’s right back to rest.
Any offer of food during winter is duly ignored, so I get really excited for that first meal of the year. This year, the Rosy started to get more active in early March, while the two Rubbers didn’t appear until the end of March.
The last time I moved, I needed somewhere safe to keep my giant Sugar Pine cone so I put it in the tank thinking at least it would be safe til I arrived at my new place. Turns out the Rubbers love climbing all over it and sleeping on it, so, well, it lives in their tank forever now.
There was a full bowl of fresh, clean water in the tank but they apparently preferred slurping it off the walls after I sprayed the tank to raise the humidity a bit. Which seems weird, but I suppose I’m not one to judge weird.
The Rubbers readily take pinkies by hand now, which is spectacular because it’s much easier to keep track of how many each snake eats when you’re giving them food individually. If I ever had to leave food in the tank overnight for them to eat, I had no way of knowing which one ate all the grub. These two happily each took three pinkies without hesitation. The male (pictured in the back, with the darker skin color) seemed a little confused as to how to find them and kept trying to eat my hand, but that’s pretty typical for him. The female (lighter color, up front) eagerly snatched her mice and wolfed them down faster than the male.
Here’s a great shot of her jaws stretching wide and her using her coils to push the mouse into her mouth.
Usually the male is the feistier of the two when it comes to being handled – he’s musked me countless times (and it smells TERRIBLE). This time around, the male didn’t put up much of a fight (maybe he’s still sleepy) and the female was the one to get testy after eating. Understandable, since they hadn’t eaten in close to nine months, I’d be testy too!
Once I put her back in the tank, she actually coiled up into the typical Rubber Boa defense pose: the tail, which resembles the head but has a bony plate to protect it from jabs and pokes, sticks up above the coils to mimic the head while the head is protected beneath the whole body. Rubbers will sometimes even wiggle the end of the tail to confuse predators. She’s slowly coming out of the posture in the pic, but I wanted to share it with you guys anyway since it’s a neat one.
They’ve grown so much! The female is finally noticeably larger than the male and they’ve both developed their individual colors, with the male being a darker olive brown and the female being a paler, sandier brown. (Their faces actually look quite different too!)
I didn’t take any pics of the Rosy eating this time around because I get worried about disturbing her too much with the first meal (the Rubbers were both on their third pinky by the time I took these shots), but if you want to check out pics of her eating you can go here! If you like reading about these guys, you can see some baby pics here and here too.
How do you feel about snakes? Do these pictures freak you out? I hope not – these boas are incredibly gentle, amazing creatures, and they play such an important role in the ecosystem that humans would be in a bad way without them! :)
Thanks for reading!
Do any of you ever have that experience where you’re looking at your amazon.com wishlist and you’re so overwhelmed because there’s so much to READ and LEARN and DO and TRY that you have to just walk away and take a deep breath because how can you possibly accomplish it all in one measly lifetime?
No? Okay, well, it doesn’t happen to me either, I was just being hypothetical. Tooootally hypothetical.
Books are, for me, one of the greatest things mankind ever came up with, next to cars, the post office, and waffles. To be able to disseminate such vast amounts of information so easily and widely is priceless, even in the age of Google. I haven’t taken the dive into the Kindle or tablet reader yet – have you? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.) There is something so intimate and tactile for me about sitting down with a new tome and folding the corners of pages I want to remember. And really, it even starts before that: there are few more kid-in-a-candy-shop experiences for me than buying myself something at a bookstore and excitedly rushing it home to put it on the dresser. Or, as is more common, pouring through webpage upon webpage of books to select the exact one I want to order, and then checking the mail every day (even though I know it will take many days) until it arrives.
Books are like people I know. They have things to tell me. They stay with me. Sometimes I share them with others. Sometimes I read them so much that their pages wear and their spines wither, but they always forgive me.
Okay, I’m starting to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so let’s get to the point of all this rambling before I float off into space. Really, I just felt like sharing a few from my library with you.
To be fair, I’ve only read two of them. Weed ‘Em and Reap: the weed eater reader by Roger Welsch is one I bought forever ago and never got around to reading, so it’s been pulled out and placed in the “Time to Read This Now” pile.
The other two are strong favorites.
Making an Impression by Geninne Zlatkis is an instructional book about carving your own stamps and producing a wide variety of items or art pieces with them. This of course appeals to me greatly as a printmaker, but even more so because of Geninne’s deeply individual style. Her nature sketches are simple but evocative, and she encourages the reader to go on their own journey in finding a style. She gives you lots of projects and patterns to try on your own, and just looking through her photos is like perusing an art catalog. I love her work. In fact, this book has been a huge influence in my stamp-making and printing recently and whenever I’m feeling stuck in the mud creatively, I can pull this one out and refresh instantly. I don’t want to give away too many goodies, but if you’re artistically or craftily inclined, I highly recommend this book. (You can also check out what Geninne is up to at her blog) You can click on the photo to go to Amazon, where you can actually flip through some of the pages and see what I mean.
The other book I wanted to share with you is called Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade. Holy cow, you guys. I could not put this little gem down. It’s produced by Wooden Books, which is a UK company, and most of their books follow a similar formatting: small, simple designs, and enough info and illustrations to get you excited about the topic. Some of those topics are little known in the Western world, like the study of Li, or the Golden Mean (which will be my next Wooden Book purchase).
So what’s “Li,” you ask? Well, let’s see if I can explain it without completely butchering it. So there was this Confucian scholar named Zhi Xi who lived in the 1100s. He brought the idea of Li from the I Ching, and taught it as being the underlying organizational principles of the universe. These principles show up in nature as patterns, mostly that we take for granted but that actually are related and have particular causes. (I hope I got that right – if any of you out there know more about this topic, please comment, I would love more information!)
I had heard about this idea briefly while watching a video on our magical universe, and then got to work looking for books about it. I either broke the internet or it’s just not a thing here, but David Wade’s book was the only book I could find solely on the idea of Li without diving too deeply into Chinese history.
I’ve snatched two sentences from the Introduction in hopes of summarizing what this book is about:
What we are dealing with here then are graphic expressions of a great range of archetypal modes of action, whose traces may be found throughout the natural world. They present, in a traditional Chinese view at least, an order that arises directly out of the nature of the Universe.
Still confused? That’s okay, here’s a picture to make it all better.
I don’t want to give away all the goodies in this book (as Wade has both written the book and illustrated it) but hopefully this little peek will intrigue you. This chapter is on the “Rivas,” or river-like drainage systems, which, Wade writes, “are representations not of mere conduits but portray the most active part of the earth’s hydrological cycle, and as such are important energy distribution patterns.” (p. 38) So it’s not just about lines – it’s about energy, movement, and the constant not-sameness of the planet. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and if you aren’t into the ethereal part of it, that’s okay: if you’re a naturalist in any sense, you will love seeing nature’s patterns pulled out of context and how they associate with one another, or what causes them. Each image is unlabeled on its page (Wade tells you what each image is in the text), so I had a great time trying to guess what was represented in each illustration before reading the text.
This book also makes a great gift for your loved ones that enjoy art, design, mathematics, physics, printmaking, geology, etc. The list could go on. I love this book, have I mentioned that already?
I’ll get back to you on the Weed ‘Em and Reap book, but in the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed these two. Do any of you out there have either? I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever heard of the Chinese concept of Li, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day! :)
When I lived in Portland, Oregon, I took the bus everywhere. Sometimes it meant standing in the rain or being crushed against a damp herd of strangers, but it also often meant walking through beautiful neighborhoods and getting to see things blossom in the springtime.
On one such jaunt, I happened to be walking through a small park; really, more of a median to get from one side of a main road to the other. I almost missed it, but noticed this sign taped to a tree:
So I did.
I wish I had better photos, but I only had my cell phone with me that day. I was so excited that I told everyone I knew about this magical mushroom and the sweet, amazing person that told me about it via hand-written note. I wondered how many people had noticed that day, or, perhaps equally as curious, how many hadn’t. I wondered if the anonymous nature-lover had posted more signs around the city, or if this was a regular gig whereby said interpreter sought out secret goodies to expose via note. It was so exciting (and I don’t give one shit how dorky that is) that I wanted to run around the city myself and recreate the experience for others.
What would the world look like if we took the time to point out things of beauty and curiosity to strangers? I love this random act of interpretation.
Have you ever seen anything like this before? If so, please tell us in the comments! :) Thanks for reading!
I’ve been working at a good friend’s farm a couple days a week, helping her to prep for winter. It’s been awesome. But today something traumatic [read: not actually traumatic to most people] happened, and I thought I would share it with you.
She has this great cat. To preserve his dignity and anonymity, we’ll call him Agent Orange. Agent Orange is usually out keeping the farm free of thieving mice, but today when I arrived, he was inside. He made sure I was aware that he wanted to go outside with much mewing and making pretty cat faces at me. I explained that, as a member of the primate family, there is a social protocol I must follow: whatever the alpha team decides, goes. If Agent Orange was inside, he was to remain inside.
He wasn’t impressed with my explanation. He sat solemnly by the door, watching the gray rain clouds roll by. After giving him a little sympathy affection, I noticed a dark, fat, oblong berry on the floor. My boss is always growing exciting things and so I bent down to pick it up, wondering which plant it had escaped from.
Then I noticed the berry had hairs. Six of them. Just on one end.
And then the hairs each began to move independently.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a full tick, and out of sheer horror, I dropped it back onto the floor and let out a yelp. At this point, I should tell you that out of everything in the natural world, the only critters that give me the heebie jeebies are ticks. Like big heebies. Huge ones. Uncontrollable heebies. I’m actually itching right now, just remembering the little monster.
It must have fallen off of Agent Orange, as Agent Calico – the other house kitty – doesn’t travel out-of-doors. After several minutes of uncontrollable spasms and “BLEH!” sounds, I finally calmed down (okay, so I’m still making “bleh” sounds right now) and got rid of the little bugger. I thought to take a picture of it for the blog as proof, but, well.. ew.
I then quietly informed Agent Orange that we were no longer on speaking terms, and got back to work.
Can you believe it? A silly little tick can give a naturalist the shakes! What gives you the hibbity jibbities? Is it ticks? Snakes? Leave it in the comments and thanks for reading! :)
There’s a little patch of bright green grass I’ve found, hidden by a surrounding of junipers.
Tonight I sat there in the perfect cool of a vernal Central Oregon evening as the light faded.
Scrub jay, quail, meadowlark.
Robin. Cow mooing. Sparrows.
Crickets, quail. The gentle coo of a mourning dove.
A far-away Great Horned Owl, only twice.
A Red-Tailed Hawk is sitting on a powerline post that reaches high into the air. He screams, responding to a distant relative. The second appears, alights beside him, and they scream at each other until the first flies off. The second continues to call, perhaps displeased at the dog, who is wandering about quite contentedly, sniffing the bases of tall plants and short trees. He is never so at peace as when he is in open space; he requires a certain kind of freedom to be truly satisfied and I find that it is the same kind I deny myself because of all the things I “have to do.”
A magpie drifts by silently. Thunderclouds move in. I put a yarrow leaf between my front teeth, but it’s older now and too bitter. The golden currants are still covered in veiny, green bulbs; I wonder what chance I have of beating the birds to a single ripe berry. Crescent deer tracks are everywhere, but I still haven’t seen them. I watch for them carefully, though, because the dog loses all mind and goes pure instinct when he spots one.
He runs laps as we head back, kicking up the loose, dusty ash that is the substrate here. A quote by Rumi comes to mind: I am the dust that dances in the light.
A peak at Vision Quest camp 2012, hosted by Four Winds Foundation, dedicated to continuing the traditional ways of our ancestors. Learn more at http://www.fwfoundation.com!
You know how when you see a few things converging at once from a distance, you pretty much know exactly what’s going to happen? And then when it does, you can’t help but laugh? And then when you do, the person it happened to spots you laughing and you feel like a jerkpants?
So this morning I’m walking the Pudge along the river, where there’s a sidewalk and on the other side, grass and ponderosas. As we approach one corner of the path, there’s a pair of goose parents guarding their deliciously adorable little brood, all huddled on the sidewalk. Sunka and I give them a wide berth, and I look at them from the side of my sunglasses, not head-on. Momma Goose still hisses, lowers her head, and raises her wings at us. I love her tenacity and after we pass the family, Sunka and I turn back and up onto a small hill where we can watch them without disturbing them.
As we watched, a woman approached with her schmoodle (that is to say, a small froofy, fluffy dog whose breed is a mystery to me). I thought at first she would do the smart thing: make a wide berth and keep walking her tiny predator past the goose family. No such luck. She paused about three feet away from them and took out her camera phone. Whilst waiting for the perfect shot, Momma Goose lost her temper. There was hissing, wings, and the chase was given. The goose chased that little schmoodle around its human’s legs three times before the human (her own squawking mixing with that of the goose’s) jerked up so hard on the leash that schmoodle went airborne and landed safely in her human’s arms. Human ran off, and Momma Goose returned to her goslings, no doubt with a deserved sense of accomplishment.
I felt terrible after the woman caught me laughing, but.. well, you don’t mess with Goose Mommas. Especially when you have a little predator with you! There’s your nature lesson for today. :)