Huge Black Bristly Caterpillar!

The David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge comes to end today!  Or tomorrow if you missed a day.  That would be our family.  Earlier in the month we enjoyed a day with my parents — space museum visiting, dining out, and swimming at their hotel pool.  That night I was horrified to discover that we hadn’t had any nature time!  We failed!  Alas, our habit was broken and the challenge lost.

However, out we went again the next day and the next, and the next… And we’ll go out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…  As Dr. Scott Sampson says in his new book How to Raise a Wild Child, it’s “abundant experiences in wild or semi-wild places, typically close to home” that forge the deep connection with nature that I’m hoping to create with my children.

Discovering a HUGE black caterpillarOn one of our “close to home” outings we came upon a huge, black, bristling caterpillar.  Imagine a solid black wooly bear, traditionally seen in the autumn, twice the usual size.  My son picked it up and as it crawled over his hands we noticed that between the black bristles, the caterpillar had skin of dark red.  Even I took a turn letting it crawl on my hand to experience the disconcerting feeling of its myriad of scratchy, sturdy feet marching relentlessly forward.

After everyone had a turn to hold this amazing creature — he really was huge — my daughter set him on a fallen log a few feet off the path from where we’d found him.  And on we went.

Huge black caterpillar with spiky feetWhen we got home we searched online and found a link that fit our description of “huge black bristly caterpillar” and as I scrolled down through the pictures, I knew we’d found a match: The Giant Leopard Moth!

But when the actual picture of the moth appeared, I jumped up — I’d seen this moth before in Hunting Red! I found our copy and started thumbing through.  I had to go through several times before I found the picture on the dedication page.  Yes, there it was — the moth and the caterpillar.  Very exciting!

We found a huge, black, bristly caterpillar -- turns out it was a Giant Leopard Moth fromAccording to the article, the caterpillars eat the non-native invasive honeysuckle.  We enjoy plucking the honeysuckle blossoms and sipping the tiny drop of liquid nectar.  If you’ve never tried this, The Magic Onions has a short post on how to experience this sweet summer foraging ritual.

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Crus-galli Grove

Forests in the not-too distant-past once provided primary sustenance for people, not just the other mammals and the birds. Today, agriculture and urbanization have made that relationship more challenging. The felling of many trees has reduced both the size and species composition of the woods. Forests are increasingly unhealthy, and lack many of the sustenance-providing species they once held. Among the foods we do eat regularly, it is a crop’s harvestability and transportability that have become valued over many other traits. Foods are increasingly single-sourced, and bear little resemblance-including nutritional value-to the myriad of plants on which we once depended.


This spring, we planted six cockspur hawthorn¹ (Crataegus crus-galli) trees at Indian Creek Nature Center, as part of a woodland restoration project. For restoration purposes, the hawthorns are native trees that only grow about 25 feet tall, easy to overlook when we discuss the grandeur of the mighty oaks and hickories. Yet they provide a lot of ecological benefits, with their thicket-like tendencies that protect young nestlings, blossoms for pollinators, and edible berries for wildlife.

For human guests, the hawthorns² are the latest addition to the native edible forest at the Nature Center. Both the blossoms and berries are good to eat. The trees were planted in a wide circle, forming a grove around one of the maturing oaks. In the not-too-distant future, guests will be able to come, spread a picnic blanket in the semiprivate shade of the grove, listen to the birds all around them, and harvest a handful of berries³ for tea later that evening.

A few notes:

1. The hawthorns serve as a host plant for Cedar Apple Rust, which is hard on apple trees.

2. To find out if a species is native to your state, visit

3. Consuming hawthorns can help lower blood pressure. To learn more about the medicinal benefits, check out an herbal book, such as the Woman’s Book of Healing Herbs. If you’re under the care of a doctor for a blood pressure condition, talk to your doctor first.

Indian Creek Nature Center’s Living Building Challenge

When I think about nature, the impact it has on me, and the relationship I have with it, I tend to think about the joy of being in nature, and that all-encompassing sensory experience that we can only barely begin to understand. But I suspect, if nature were to think about me, the relationship is less positive. I drive on paved roads; I put things in the landfill that will never decompose; some of the products I use leach toxins into the water; and, I predominantly burn coal for my electricity. Now, I also work full-time to care for the environment, I am making great improvements in the products I choose, and I am conscientious about my energy use. But that doesn’t change that homo sapiens are by far the most ecologically invasive, permanently destructive species on the planet-and I am part of that problem.

The solutions are often neither obvious or easy.  So I am thrilled to be part of Indian Creek Nature Center’s new construction project that is rising to meet the standards set by the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge. Not obvious and not easy (and my posts are likely to be far less frequent). But being on the leading edge of the green construction revolution will help us-all of us-live in better harmony with the environment and sustainably care for our natural resources.

Return of the hummingbirds

The ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned. I haven’t seen one yet, but I’ve been keeping a casual eye on to track their migration north, and they have definitely been spotted in this area over the past few days.

That means it’s time to put up the hummingbird feeder. The hummingbirds will stick around for the summer and find plenty to feed on without our help. Putting out the feeder gives us an opportunity to watch their aerial acrobatics up close on a regular basis. They have distinct personalities, and don’t hesitate to find us in the yard and complain loudly if we don’t keep sugar water in the feeder. We have columbines planted for them as well, but the flowers haven’t quite started to bloom yet.

sample, spread1
By Gabrielle Anderson, from the pages of Hunting Red.



Poison Ivy :(

My challenge in loving nature  isn’t usually the “getting outside” part, its avoiding the poison ivy that thrives in the woods. Poison ivy is beautiful, especially in the spring and fall, but the oil causes my skin to break out in open, weeping, ever-expanding, never-healing sores, which causes me to go to the doctor for prednisone, which wreaks havoc on my immune system. Last summer, I  avoided the doctor/prednisone, and I am going to do my best again this summer.

Step 1. Identify.

I nearly walked into this poison ivy branch, hanging face-high from a tree.
The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.
The fine hairs on the main vine gave it away.

Step 2. Avoid.

The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.
The young leaves in the spring are a deep red.
Step 3. Wash thoroughly, assuming avoidance wasn’t good enough. Always a good idea after playing outside, because it provides an opportunity for a thorough tick check.
If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If Im fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.
If I was in the general vicinity of poison ivy, I just use soap and water. If I’m fairly sure I actually contacted the plant, I use Goop first, which binds with the oil.
Step 4. At the first sign of breakout, start drinking copious amounts of tea made from reishi mushrooms, stinging nettle leaves, and budding goldenrod flowers. The challenge is on-we’ll see how this season goes!
The stinging nettle leaves that emerged mid-April are getting too big too harvest, but there are young plants still coming up around the edges of the nettle patches.

Earthing at the Hydra’s Lair on the First Morning in May

Happy May Day!  Today, being the first day of May means we listen to “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight” by Lisa Theriot.  The song has a rich and varied historical basis which you can read all about on Wikipedia.  Some day, maybe next April, I plan to research it myself!

Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight - a song for the first morning in May
Hunting Red’s artist sketched the opening scene

My children disagree with the term “Elf Knight” — they claim he is neither elf nor knight, but rather one of the Fey.  I’ll leave that research to them.

Also since it is May 1, we started our 30×30 Outdoor Challenge — with a 40 minute walk to the Hydra’s Lair.  This is a retention waterway at the base of a hill in a nearby neighborhood.  I have yet to see the hydra, but today there were 1000s of tadpoles wriggling in the shallows.

Checking out tadpoles on the first morning in May
No hydras, just tadpoles

By checking off our 30×30 Challenge, we are also on our way to completing the 30×3 Challenge!  After dinner we took a 20 minute walk as well.  So 60 minutes for Day 1!

Earthing!  Walking barefoot on the earth...
A little EARTHING in the last snow of the season

I learned a new word today.  Earthing.  Earthing is the process of absorbing earth’s free flowing electrons from it’s surface through the soles of one’s feet.  So that’s why my children are always barefoot!

May your May be filled with music, successfully completed challenges, and a little earthing!