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Spring Photos – Turtles, Mayapples, and Insects, Oh My!

Large unripe fruit of the May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum

Large unripe fruit of the May Apple, Podophyllum peltatum

Eastern Box Turtle. Female by tell of eye color and flatness of plastron (bottom shell area). Copyright The Roaming Naturalist.

Eastern Box Turtle. Female by tell of eye color and flatness of plastron (bottom shell area). Copyright The Roaming Naturalist.

My red potatoes are flowering! Grown in a 5 gallon bucket. Copyright The Roaming Naturalist.

My red potatoes are flowering! Grown in a 5 gallon bucket. Copyright The Roaming Naturalist.

Another Eastern Box Turtle, obviously trying to take over the world. Ranger photo, Maryland Park Service.

Not sure of the common name - found "leather beetle" or "horned passalus." Odontotaenius disjunctus. Either way, huge. Photo courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

Not sure of the common name – found “leather beetle” or “horned passalus.” Odontotaenius disjunctus. Either way, huge. Photo courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

Luna Moth, courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

Luna Moth, courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

White Ermine Moth, Spilosoma lubricipeda. Photo courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

White Ermine Moth, Spilosoma lubricipeda. Photo courtesy of Ranger S. Andrucyk, Maryland Park Service.

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Watchful eye. Eastern Box Turtle. Copyright The Roaming Naturalist.

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Rivers of the United States

Hi friends! I just discovered these two very cool maps and wanted to share them with you.

First up is a map of the rivers in the United States, put together digitally by Nelson Minar. For you mappers and computer whizzes, Nelson designed this as a tutorial that can be found here or by going to his Flickr account via clicking the map below. There’s something mesmerizingly beautiful about it, isn’t there?

Nelson MinarNext is a map submitted to Reddit by user Gradeskee of the rivers in the US that drain into the mighty Mississippi River.

Amazing! Thanks for reading. :)

Mid-Atlantic Autumn Photos

This is my first real autumn in six whole years! After living in the shadows of mountains and being surrounded by striking sagebrush oceans, I’m back on the East Coast and remembering the autumns of my childhood. They come much more slowly here, giving you the chance to breathe in the colors and textures of changing leaves and landscapes. Have you noticed how different the angle of the light is during autumn and spring? After the blazing and endless sun of summer, it’s so spectacular to me how the light comes in more steeply, sifting through branches and brightening things with a cool fire.

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Even Superheroes Have Weaknesses

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! :)

Roaming Across America

roam: verb - To move about without purpose or plan; to wander.

Whew!

A whole month ago, I made the great journey across the country back to my home state of Maryland from Oregon. Six amazing years on the west coast have made a lasting impression upon my heart and spirit, but I sure have missed my family. It’s so great to be home for the holidays: seeing the nieces dress up for Halloween, gathering recipes for a grand Thanksgiving, and pondering Christmas crafts.

For a roaming naturalist, this was a huge, exciting adventure!

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If you’ve never driven across the country, the Great West has a Great Treat – high speed limits! I was hauling a trailer, however, and was restricted to driving about 50mph the whole way to avoid burning out the engine. I just  put-put-putted my way across Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, but driving slow gave me a great chance to enjoy the landscape.

One place that stuck out during the travel was Medicine Bow National Forest in the southeastern corner of Wyoming. Just driving by it was amazing – I can’t imagine how beautiful it must be on the inside! Well, okay, I kind of can, because there’s Google.

This pic is similar to some of the rock formations visible from the highway as you drive past the forest. (Thanks to Sylvia from Colorado Lifestyle for the amazing photo!) Those boulders are so enticing! It was hard not to pull over and check it out.

via Colorado Lifestyle blog – check it out by clicking on the pic

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Sunka sang songs after taking doggie sedatives to make the 7-day trip less stressful. Poor pup!

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My buffalo buddy kept us company too.

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This is pretty much how we both felt at the end of every day.

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Almost out of Ohio – check out those cool cacti.

I averaged about 400 miles per day, which wasn’t too bad with a neurotic dog, three snakes, and a thousand pound trailer. I feel very blessed to have been able to cross this spectacular country not just once, but twice now.

In Nebraska, I camped at a wonderful park and serenely drifted off to sleep with the sound of rain pattering on the tent – a sound that I think many campers can attest to being quite peaceful. On the other side of that, however, the camper also knows deep down that the rain could patter peacefully for a little while, or turn into a raging thunderstorm.

Well, guess what happened!

After several hours of intense thunder and lightening, a park ranger came through each campground and advised everyone to evacuate to the park’s lodge because the park was under tornado threat. That was pretty scary, but the storm passed with no tornado and we all eventually got back to sleep. What an adventure!! Now I know much more about the Midwest in autumn than I ever had…

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Sunka lounging at our beautiful Nebraska campsite.

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Discovered this lovely deceased dragonfly on our evening walk.

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Lovely morning fog on the Youghiogheny River.

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Ahhh, a beautiful sunrise to welcome me home to the East Coast!

While I will definitely miss Oregon, this is the first year in six that I will get to experience a real autumn! Woo hoo! It’s been so long. I’ve also already ordered a winter tree finder book, and a leaf book because, well, we have a lot of leaves over here that I don’t remember. Like, a lot. There’s also already a list of things I want to plant come spring because the growing season here is tremendous compared to the high desert.

Thanks for reading! :) Have you ever driven across the country? What was your experience like? I’d love to know, so put it in the comments!

Shaaark! (with 3 “a”s)

Yes! More nature comics: this time, Shaaark! creator Phil Watson (Aussie surfer and shark lover) promotes the good name of sharks through comics and animation.  Loving this – check it out at Shaaark!

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May 28th.

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.

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WHAT THE EF IS THIS THING

Okay, I know I’m the naturalist and all, but I just found this creature in my bathroom and almost fell over. Spiders don’t bother me, wasps don’t bother me, zombies don’t bother me, but THIS thing is somewhere in the middle of all that AND IT BOTHERS ME.

Edit: According to Dan Proud, intrepid invertebrate explorer, here’s what we’re looking at:

[These animals are incredible! They are arachnids, like spiders, but belong to the order Solifugae (formerly Solpugida). They are commonly called sun spiders, camel spiders, wind scorpions or sun scorpions. However, they are neither spiders nor scorpions!

There are many myths regarding the size and speed of these animals. They are quite fast for invertebrates but they tend to move in short bursts of speed and cannot sustain top speeds (roughly 10mph). There are only slightly more than 1000 species known, they are mainly nocturnal and most live in dry, arid desert or semi-desert environments, perhaps explaining why few people know of them.

You should definitely read more about them – here’s a good website: http://www.solpugid.com/Introduction.htm]

So there you have it. Still terrifying though.

Check out Dan’s awesome site here!

Roaming at Smith Rock State Park

roam: verb - To move about without purpose or plan; to wander.

On a blazing hot Sunday several weeks ago, I visited one of the most amazing spots in Central Oregon, a state park called Smith Rock State Park. It’s a haven for rock climbers, as tall cliff faces shoot into the air at steep angles and varying sizes. For hikers like me, it’s a spot of sagebrush steppe with meandering trails and an array of plants and critters that can keep one occupied all day. It was a beautiful day in the rocks and always an education: as I sat on a sun-baked rock enjoying my lunch, I glanced down to see that I had chosen a spot which ants had chosen  long before me. I’d disturbed their home, and they were haphazardly scurrying across both of my feet and up my legs. I leapt into the air, squawking and dancing and stomping like a madwoman. It’s a shame I don’t have it on video. After apologizing profusely for killing several of their tribesmen in my surprise and panic, I offered them a hunk of my lunch. They examined it and, after deeming it unworthy, returned to their subterranean home. Apparently ants don’t care for fried fish.

One of my favorite things about dogs is that they are happy to visit just about anywhere – desert, beach, forest, whatever. They are eternally up for adventure.

The beautiful carvings of beetles.

I have decided that the doggie backpack is an essential item for the owner of high-energy dogs. A few hot hours carrying his own water around and he’ll sleep for the rest of the day.

Smith Rock’s craggy peaks and thirsty slopes.

The sun shines through waxy Oregon Grape leaves and the air is thick with the perfume of the plant’s tiny yellow flowers. Drunk on nectar, bees float heavily from bush to bush.

This is the first time I’ve gotten to see Curl Leaf Mountain Mahogany in bloom in person! The flowers are utterly tiny and easy to miss, but upon close inspection they’re actually quite beautiful and fragrant. This is a tree of serious drought tolerance, a very cool species.

Another shot of the Mountain Mahogany.

Roaming along the coastline of Newport, Oregon

roam: verb - To move about without purpose or plan; to wander.

The Oregon Coast is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. There’s something about the walls of mist rolling through big, black rock outcroppings, the bent pines standing up to the ocean winds, and the booming power of the waves hitting the sand that really gets me out of my head. It’s one place that I regularly escape to when living in the high desert makes me feel claustrophobic.

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