Small Wild Girls

December 13th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

I sit on the edge of everything.

There is nothing sudden.

Everything is slow.

We stretch like taffy.

And then you’re gone.

So silent I hear just your footsteps.

Dragging around my heart.

Letting handlebars go.

Flying off stonewalls.

Meeting people I may never know.

I am the red balloon.

 

I made this.

I made this moment.

I am the queen of small wild girls.

 

Held by just a string.

 

 

The Last Tomato

August 17th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

The thing you can count on in life is that although summer seems endless when you’re little, it just zooms past you like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 Super Sport when you’re big.  I’ve missed you these past several weeks—a crazy month that entailed (Geez!  Here we go again!) way too much to do within just a scrap of time.

Summer entails behind-the-scenes work—harvesting carrots, radishes, garlic and peas; juicing lemons for the stand; keeping squash tendrils at bay and tying up tomats; getting poison ivy; catching bullfrogs; making pesto; and then making more and more pesto.  It’s just now that I glanced up and realized summer is just about through, and while I should be enjoying every last morsel of it and then licking its plate, I can’t help but dwell on the fact that fall is fast approaching.

Suddenly the days will be cooler and shorter, and we’ll pick the last sweet fall tomato.  I feel it.  Now it is here.  The time of change.  The greens of summer will yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns.  Carefree days of p.j. pancake breakfasts, grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, dirty hands, late night treats, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, sanitized hands, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.

Fall’s structured pick-ups and drop-offs trigger a new urgency for imaginative exploration and messiness.  This is the ultimate challenge—finding time for your smallish people to examine life’s perplexing puzzles while enveloped by the grind of everyday.  If you live nearby me, groups like Pottery on Hudson, Art Academy of Westchester, and Jacob Burns Center are certain to get creative juices flowing.  And few things make me happier than discovering a new program like that of Robin Dellabough’s Rock, Paper, Scissors.  Artistic ventures and active outdoor exploration merge in this hands-on Irvington cairn-building, finger-knitting, labyrinth-designing, wool-felting young-ish kids program.

Consider putting a handful of these events on your calendar:

 

I know this much is true: This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids—when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing Main Street or Beekman or Broadway, when we valiantly help save caterpillars from small puddles, make secret codes and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting.  So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.

 

 

 

 

 

The Seed Bomb

May 31st, 2012 § 15 comments § permalink

Seed bombs are magical little nuggets of clay, compost and native seeds used to surreptitiously improve areas you’re unable to reach.

To determine native species in your area, ask a smart friend, or visit the Native Plant Database.  My family and I live in the Northeastern U.S., and our seed bombs include (among other seeds) eastern red columbine, red milkweed, butterfly weed, New England aster, joe pye weed, lanceleaf coreopsis, blazing star, wild bergamot, sweet coneflower and rigid goldenrod.  Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care.  As mentioned previously, choose seeds wisely.  You certainly do not want to select invasive species that will threaten biodiversity.  Consider species that create habitats for other native critters like butterflies and birds.

To determine your soil type, do the squeeze test:  take a handful of moist (but not wet) soil and give it a firm squeeze.  Most likely, one of three things will happen:

 

 

  1. The soil falls apart as soon as you open your hand.  This means you have sandy soil.
  2. The soil holds it’s shape, and when you give it a little poke, it crumbles.  This means you have loam.  Perfect for a garden—it retains moisture and nutrients, but doesn’t stay soggy.
  3. It holds it shape, and when you give it a little poke, it sits stubbornly in your hand.  This means you have nutrient-rich clay soil.  Perfect for this project.

If you have dreams of a yard-ful of annuals, perennials and veggies, yet have the horrible misfortune of heavy clay soil (I can relate), today you are in luck.  There is little need for clay amendment in your seed bomb recipe.  Just head to your backyard and collect some clay soil.  If your soil is sandy or loamy, however, you must add natural clay (often found in natural stream banks), terracotta clay powder or air-dry clay (found in art supply or health food stores).

Like making a mudpie, making a seed bomb is not an exact science.  Use the below recipe as a guide, but your measurements needn’t be exact.

Seed Bomb Recipe:

3 parts clay (see note above)

3 parts dry organic compost or worm castings

1 part small native perennial seed

1 to 2 parts water (added by the Tbs)

The mixture should be moist, but not wet. Knead it with your hands, being sure to incorporate all seeds.  Roll it into 1 to 2 inch balls.  Set them on newspaper to dry for 2 days before using, or store on a sunny windowsill before throwing over a fence.  Your seed bombs are ready to wreak havoc on green wastelands.  Just throw and they will grow.  Rich in nutrients, the clay and compost aid in germination and help strengthen plant root systems.

Nicely packaged in a handmade bag, seed bombs make fantastic handmade gifts for friends, family and teachers.  Include a nice note or quote like one of these:

  • Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.  –Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.  –A.A. Milne
  • Once there was a tree, and she loved a little boy.  –Shel Silverstein
  • The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.  –Roald Dahl
  • Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart. –A.A. Milne
  • Small as a peanut, big as a giant, we’re all the same size when we turn off the light. –Shel Silverstein

Once you have perfected the seed bomb, you may get the urge to branch out and attempt other small-scale unlawful acts. Do not mention my name during your interrogation!

Now, Joanie or Johnny Appleseed, plant something already!

 

 

 

The Guerilla Gardener

May 20th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

It’s time for unlawful mischief.  It is time to plan swift small-scale attacks and organize aggressive mini mobile units to exhaust opposing forces.  It’s time to take back orphaned land all but forgotten.  To arm yourself with trowel, seeds, bulbs, saplings, and a vision of verdant green.  It’s time to plant everywhere.  Anywhere.

Fare-the-well sterile orphaned lots with rubble and rubbish—vacant unloved spots thrust between broken buildings and wildness!  It’s time to whisper plans to each other—to break ground and work silently, stealthily—to race home and dance with heart exposed and arms in the sky.  We will win!  We will win!

Guerilla Gardening.  Unbeknownst to you perhaps, this (slightly) unlawful silent underground movement—the unauthorized cultivation of plants on otherwise neglected public or private land in response to dwindling green space—is cropping up all around us.  The idea is to reclaim green space, regardless of who actually owns it.  Technically, guerilla gardening is illegal.  You must accept the fact that some might view seedbombing as vandalism, just performed with plants instead of spray paint, rocks, matches or eggs.  One part beautification, one part eco-activism, guerilla gardening is a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts—free-range planters on a mission.

But, it’s more than just planting.  It’s putting green where it’s not expected—putting something common in an unusual place or something uncommon in a usual place—surprising people and making them re-evaluate their position in the natural world.

Never underestimate the power of a plant.

Before grabbing your spade (Holy moly!  I can’t wait!), ask yourself the following:

  • Will you be part of an organized gang (launching your green thumbs into an unstoppable offensive of wax myrtle at Calumet and Main) or will you work solo, impulsively scattering shooting star seeds in pavement cracks on your way to the post office?
  • Will you be a one-time guerillero, or will you be making this a regularly scheduled habit of dogwood debauchery?  You’re far more likely to avoid trouble if you bring smallish people with you.  This lends some credibility to your act.
  • Will you work in the early morning, evening, or furtively at midnight?  I highly recommend early morning hours to avoid detection from suspicious passersby.  Or, you may opt to be discovered.  If so, wear THIS.

Where Do I Plant?

If not working alone, you should meet with your trusty gardening team (mine has small, steady hands) and do some research.  Look around you and consider a few unloved orphan spots close to home—empty pots or concrete planters, abandoned public gardens, vacant car parks—even a gap in pavement can serve as a modest blank canvas.  Now, let’s be clear.  I don’t advocate tossing seeds or planting plants in your neighbor’s weedy flowerbed, and you don’t need to plant a farm or a community garden.  Just one plant will do for now.  You do need a sunny spot and good soil.  You may consider planting at first in a portable pot.  Placed near a street sign or next to the barber’s door, this may be the ideal start to a career of gardening with intention.  Of course, you should sneak by to water it every so often, or leave with it a kind sign: I’m yours.  Water Me Please.

What Should I Plant?

If possible, find a generous gardening friend with a good plant or seed selection.  Otherwise, purchase species from a local plant or seed supplier. Often, native wildflower seed mixes are available.  Select low-maintenance drought-tolerant native species that can thrive with intermittent care.  Choose perennial species wisely.  You certainly do not want to select invasive perennials that will threaten biodiversity.  Consider species that create habitats for other native species like butterflies and birds.  For a list of recommended native species in your area, visit the Native Plant Database.

The following are your planting options:

 

Before…..

Native Bulbs:  Usually planted in the fall, these miraculous little storehouses are simple to plant and bring a spring surprise.

Native Plants, Shrubs and Trees:  Just pop in a plant.  Choose hardy, preferably perennial native plants that are easy to maintain.

Annual Plants with Big “Wow” Factor:  Choose plants that will catch someone’s eye—plants with a powerful punch.

 

After….

Classic Clay Seed Bombs: These little fistfuls of compacted clay, compost and native perennial wildflower seed break down over time and eventually plants sprout in place of dirt, weeds and invasive species.  Seed bombs are used to surreptitiously improve areas that a guerillero is unable to reach.  Locked vacant lots or roadside embankments—all are promising native plant nurseries.  Keep in mind that seed germination is highly dependent on water.  Keep track of the weather.  Scatter the seed bombs on the ground—over a fence onto an empty lot—right before an early spring rainy spell to ensure germination.

Pre-made seed bombs may be purchased HERE and HERE.  Or, check back in a few days for my GREAT GUERILLA SEED BOMB RECIPE.

Please send me your before and after photos–I’d love to see.

Now, go forth and garden!

 

 

The Walk

May 7th, 2012 § 7 comments § permalink

When I am an old woman, thin white crazy hair like whispers, I will wear electric green.  Today I walk in the woods—your smallish calloused hand in mine.  You say someday you’ll live here.  In a cave.  I will visit you and bring berries.

Long before you were here, we ran wild deep into the trees, and cut willow whips and made critter traps with pocketknives and hatchets. We skateboarded home, poison ivy all up our arms, tadpoles in hand, helmet-less.  We piled into old 8-track tape rust wagons, small brown limbs and inner tubes everywhere, no seatbelts, no sunscreen.  Heads out of windows like pups licking air.

You are amazed.

But we did not crash.  We did not die.

Don’t use your teeth, you will crack them, I say.  Wash your hands.  Don’t fall.  Don’t throw rocks.  Zip up.  Watch your thumb.  Check for ticks.  Don’t poke your eye out.

Today we laugh, you say, mouths open wide.  Today we climb the highest tree, higher than any squirrel, and lean our bare backs against the bark.  And listen for waxwings.  Way up there.  Today and tomorrow we do not care.

You say great ideas come from great walks.

And just like that you have changed me.

 

 

Your Wild Backyard

January 18th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

When my workday has ended, and I have carefully put to bed my small spicy accomplices, I look forward to at least a light snack and a footrest in recognition of my achievement.  It would be a shame if this did not happen.  I am sorry to say, this is the case with many hardworking beings—nimble industrious laborers who endlessly whirl about finding food, making babies and cultivating crops only to return to, well, an empty snack bowl and an unfurnished apartment.

Small beings have the same basic needs as you and I—food, water, a place to live, and a healthy environment.  Amphibians, birds, small mammals, and beneficial insects—many of these busy little creatures, neither destructive nor aggressive, are an important part of our ecosystem.  However, due to fast-paced environmental change and habitat reduction, it has become increasingly more challenging for them.

It is easy to encourage these critters and to be good neighbors.  Generally, larger areas with diverse vegetation have greater species diversity, but a well-laid-out modest backyard with a variety of food, cover and water can entice a wide assortment of wildlife.  The relative location of food, water and cover is what creates usable wildlife habitat.  Below are some simple steps to take.

  • Do nothing. Allow half of your garden to remain unmanicured.  Leave some wild, untamed areas in your backyard.  Allow the weeds to grow up and the insects to move in.
  • Go organic, or minimize pesticide use.  Use compost, not chemicals.
  • Reduce the size of your lawn.  Instead, plant a wide variety of flowering native plants to attract beneficial insects such as ladybugs, ground beetles, rove beetles, lacewings and praying mantises.  Choose long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers and plants that bloom at different times of the season.
  • Feed them and they will come.  Plant bushes and trees with edible fruit. Don’t snip dead flowers.  The seeds within them provide essential food for many animals. Leave fallen trees or leaves in place whenever possible to allow birds to hunt for insects. Keep birdfeeders stocked with thistle, safflower and black oil sunflower seed.  If you start feeding, don’t stop during the winter months.
  • Landscape with features that appeal to you.  A bed of vibrant flowers, a shady spot under a tree, a privacy hedge, colorful fall berries, and evergreen winter shrubs are pleasing to everybody, including backyard critters.
  • Add a birdbath.  Birds need a dependable supply of fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing.  The best birdbath mimics nature—gently sloping, shallow, and shady at ground level.  Change the water once a week.
  • Provide nooks in the backyard with a variety of nesting material.  Hang concentrated stashes in tree crevices, berry baskets, or mesh bags. Fallen leaves, unraked twigs, dry grass, straw, pet fur, sheep wool, feathers, bark strips, pine needles, small sticks and twigs, yarn, string, and thin strips of cloth all make excellent nest materials.
  • If you have a birdhouse, add a roost box.  Birds only nest during spring and summer.  Overwintering birds such as chickadees, titmice, nuthatches and small woodpeckers require large nesting cavities during winter months.

Be patient.  Depending on your property size, it may take several years to see all the desired results.  Make a plan now, and, come spring, put out a vacancy sign.  Give vegetation time to become established, and the tenants will move in.

Soon, you will receive tiny handwritten messages regarding extra storage space, laundry and parking facilities; high-pitched calls about hooking up teeny home theater components and keeping microscopic exotic pets; and little notes about room service and spa treatments.

 

 

Heading to Bed: The School Garden

October 31st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Seeing as I’ve had a few of those crazy weeks (and I know you know what I mean), in lieu of a highly descriptive and captivating post about barely completing our mummy costumes for tonight’s Halloween events due to a surprise “winter” storm and loss of power, I hope you’ll accept some gratuitous photos of times I’ve recently had working in the school garden with all the kids.  We’ve been busy putting everything to bed for the upcoming winter—harvesting the hearty fall beans, lettuce, tomats, carrots; cleaning up the beds; planting the winter cover crop.  It’s important.

G’night garden!  Sleep tight!

Where You Will Find Me: Whipup Action Pack

September 12th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

If you’d like to find me anytime soon, you needn’t look far.  Recently, my little team and I made a few zesty concoctions for Whipup’s latest issue of Action Pack.  Themed around the concept of Zap and Zest, this issue is jam-packed with enough recipes, crafts and science projects to keep an active family busy throughout the fall (and longer).  Joining me in contributing to this issue are Whipup’s very own Kathreen Ricketson, Lisa Tilsa (The Red Thread) and Pascale Mestdagh (Between the Lines)—a double 60-page issue (without advertising!) full of electricity and battery experiments, poppy and fizzy reactions, zesty recipes and concoctions, and hands-on games and activities.

Diagrams and photos illustrate each boredom-busting step-by-step kid-friendly project—generating and understanding static electricity, assembling a lemon battery and a citric acid fizz popper, cooking up lemon syrup cake and lemon cordials, concocting zesty bath fizz, and making top secret lemon-y messages and spooky orange candles.

Be sure to check out this download-able, 60-page, paperless e-magazine for an affordable $6, featuring Mossy’s recipes and detailed instructions for candied citrus peel and citrus body scrubs.

Have fun mixing it up!

Click HERE to find out more info.

 

Before the Fall.

September 1st, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

Fall bootsFall fast approaches the Hudson Valley.  The days got slightly shorter and the warm moist ocean air rose and met cool air, forming storm clouds and raindrops and converging, strong winds.  Hurricane Irene rushed in and out and left us damp and powerless.  For much too long.  In the midst, our girls got taller and picked the last sweet summer tomato, zucchini, and cuke fruits from the garden.  We harvested the lavender, rosemary and chamomile as they flowered, blossoms and all; we watched the last of the catbird nestlings fledge and roam the neighborhood, and the squirrels start their collections of plump acorns and beech masts; and we sowed another crop of peas, Swiss chard, radishes, lettuce and carrots for the upcoming cool fall harvest.  I feel it.  Now it is here.  The time of change.

The greens of summer will soon yield to yellows, reds, and rich browns.  Our carefree days of grass-stained knees, salty un-brushed hair, backyard campouts, and lazy late-sleeping kids will soon silently surrender to organized chaos, breakneck breakfasts, structured pickups and drop-offs, and scheduled playtimes and appointments.  A swarm of busy bees.

Grassy fieldI know this much is true.  This small sliver of time when our kids are our kids, when we hold sticky popsicle hands while crossing busy streets, when we valiantly help save worms and caterpillars from small puddles, twirl through grassy fields, and cram pockets with special sparkly rocks—it is fleeting.  With each fall comes the school bus and a stretch toward new independence and exploration away from home—paralyzing reminders that, with fall, new adventures are unfolding.

So, drink up the last delicious drops of summer, and feel it—the coming of fall—the cool morning drizzle, the crunch of a leaf.  And, together, begin another year of learning in earnest.  Since sometimes, many times, it is within these times that all of us grow.  Of this, I am sure.

A Bird in the Hand

June 15th, 2011 § 9 comments § permalink

ChickadeeTwenty thousand years ago, before the babies arrived, before the Era of Massive Laundry, I spent some time living in the woods.  It was during this time that I could smell the dusty sweet scent of an approaching storm, could lean on a tree and determine its type by the bark, could work out which direction the fox was heading from its tracks, and could decipher just about every forest snap, cackle, and peek—separately noting, unriddling and interpreting each sound in my mind.  Each revealed something of importance— bird-twittering love, hawk overhead, nestlings being fed—and each evoked a vivid image of feathers or fur and a sense of belonging to it all.

I did this unknowingly.  Would just sit there and listen.

I am rusty now.   And everything takes more work.

Field GuideThis spring at our house we’ve been making homemade field guides for these kinds of things.  And we’ve been trying to get a good look and listen.  We hold hands and hold our binoculars and hold our sharpened pencils and little guides, and we just sit there and listen.

PhoebeThe past two weeks were spent attempting to find out who moved in next door—a hardy fly-catching little guy, with a creamy belly and olive-colored wings.  And just this morning we got a good look at him while heading out to school.  A phoebe.

Looking at nestThere are over 10,000 species of birds in the world.  About 925 have been sighted in North America.  In New York’s Hudson Valley, where we live, there are just over 100 commonly breeding species.  With practice, these birds can, of course, be identified by sight.  But a good birder can identify a species just by hearing their call or song.  There is something to be said about “seeing” a bird with closed eyes.  Some species like our cedar waxwing have just one single simple call.  Others, like our brown thrasher, can sing over 2,000 songs.  No kidding.

NestlingsLearning bird songs takes patience, perseverance, persistence and a great deal of practice.  Ideally, while in training (which could literally, if you are like me, take a lifetime), you would befriend  (or preferably marry) a spirited warmhearted nature-lover, who, energized by your incessant pestering, repeats excitedly, “That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yup, that’s a Dark-eyed Junco; Yes, sir-eee, Bob!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco; You got it!  That’s a Dark-eyed Junco.”  And just when it’s fairly clear you’ve perfected it all—well, just that one single passerine—the same patient friend will suddenly announce “That chipping sound is an alarm call of the Dark-eyed Junco, but the call before that was it’s contact trill note” and so on and so on as the tireless bird goes through its repertoire of 200 zillion sounds.  That’s an actual number.  It is potentially overwhelming.

My birding advice:

  • Listen to one instrument, not the entire orchestra.  Pick out the piccolo, then the oboe, the cello, the bass, etc.  Find individual notes from each instrument.
  • Learn one or two common local birds first.  Use these calls and songs as the standard for new ones that you hear.
  • Imitate what you hear.  If you can, count the notes and sketch the bird and the sound.
  • Use gimmicks.  If a bird sounds like a perky R2D2, then take note of it.  You can use your own gimmicks, putting words to a bird’s song, or you can use the widely accepted ones—called mnemonics.
  • Use field guides and online resources like Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Song Mnemonics, Nature Songs and What Bird
  • Write everything down and keep it close.

Nestling in HandWhy?  Birding provides a fantastic opportunity for us to connect to the natural world.   It allows a deeper understanding of habitat requirements and intra- and inter-species relationships, provides an even playing field—with both parents and kids starting at the same level, actively listening and working together for a common purpose, and requires no fancy terminology, musical training or conceptual framework.  By putting a teeny, feathered face on the world outside us, birding helps foster a sense of unity with nature and prompts interest and involvement in local green issues.  It can help teach an environmental ethic and can demystify basic ecology concepts.

More importantly, it can stimulate curiosity and passion.  Like you’ve never seen before.

Mnemonics we often use:

Bubble, bubble, glee-gleek 

Cheer-a-lee, cheer-up….

Cheer-a-lee….fancy Robin-y song

Cheer, cheer……woop, woop, woop

Robin with sore throat, and Chick burr

Chik-a-dee-dee-dee

Chipping trill (mechanical)

Chirping trill (softer than Chippy)

Chirr, chirr, chirr

Conk-a-ree

Drink your teeeeeeea!

Drop it, drop it!  Cover it up! (repeat)

Fee-bee

Here, here, come right here, dear

Here I am.  Where are you?  (repeat)

Meeee-ew…. and mocking phrases

Oh, sweet Canada Canada Canada

Cheeva, cheeva, cheeva, cheeva

Pee-a-wee…. Pee-yer

Queer, queer, queer

Teacher, Teacher, Teacher

Three-A….. Three-A

Wich-ity, witch-ity, witch-ity

Whinny (downward)

Whinny (evenly-pitched rattle)

Wik, wik, wik, wik, wik, wik

Wolf whistle, squeaky squeal, clucks

Who are you, you, you (sadly)

Yenk, yenk yenk (with a cold)

Zeee-zeee (high-pitched crickets)

Zee-zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee

Zur-zur-zur-zree!! (raspy)

Cowbird 

Robin

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Cardinal

Scarlet Tanager

Black-capped Chickadee

Chipping Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red-winged blackbird

Eastern Towhee

Brown Thrasher

Eastern Phoebe

Northern Oriole

Red-eyed Vireo

Gray Catbird

White Throated Sparrow

Tufted Titmouse

Eastern Wood Peewee

Red-headed Woodpecker

Ovenbird

Yellow-throated Vireo

Common Yellowthroat

Downy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

Flicker

Starling

Mourning Dove

White Breasted Nuthatch

Cedar Waxwing

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated blue warbler

Just walk outside and listen.


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