A Purple Prairie

One of the extraordinary things a prairie reveals is the great color palette of nature. Now that we’re in July, and the heat of summer, the purples are abundant. A few treasures from my latest walk:

Leadplant
Bergamot-pick the flowers and top few inches of stem and leaf for tea.
Purple Prairie Clover
Swamp Milkweed with bumblebee
Hoary Vervain
Prairie Blazing Star

 

These, you may have noticed, are growing in mulch, not the dense grasses that provide the structure of a tallgrass prairie. This was just my walk from my office to my car! They are newly planted around the parking lot at Indian Creek Nature Center. Everyone should be able to enjoy the natural beauty of a prairie, even if they aren’t up for a hike. The diverse flowers will attract butterflies and support native pollinators. The deep roots are drought tolerant. What more could you ask for in a landscaping plan?

 

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Celebrating Earth Day with a new Labyrinth

I designed and built my first labyrinth before I learned what a seed labyrinth was, and before I learned how to draw a seven circuit labyrinth. The double spiral reflected the natural form of the ubiquitous land snail shells and the duality of nature. It was loved by the community, but in 2016 we mowed it down to lay out Amazing Space. While the site is still there (the area was peripheral to the project), the tallgrass prairie has been allowed to regrow. It is time to create a new labyrinth.

The first Labyrinth I designed, in 2012.

When a friend recommended the new labyrinth be a Baltic design, I balked a bit. I had no idea what a Baltic pattern was. I had spent a lot of time designing the double spiral, and replicating it would have been easy. But I’m also quite curious, and after doing a bit of research I was convinced and excited.

The Baltic labyrinth, while technically being unicursal, does offer choices. Which means a visitor can walk directly to the meditative center, follow the labyrinth path to the center, or follow the labyrinth path to the center and then back again. This provides three different lengths, and three different experiences.

The layout of the Baltic Labyrinth

There are a number of labyrinths in the area, but none of them are a Baltic design. This gives the labyrinth community something special. I love creating things, so the idea of learning a new pattern, and laying it out, seemed like fun. I am extremely grateful for circular graph paper.

To celebrate Earth Day, Alliant Energy volunteers laid out the new Prairie Labyrinth. The field of flags denotes where I need to mow. Within a month, the path should be established enough that they can be removed.

 

Creating biophilia: the plant press

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We harvested big bluestem grasses from the prairie and cattails from the wetland last fall.
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Using 3/4″ plywood and buckets full of sand, we created a 4’x8′ plant press that dried the grasses flat over the winter.
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We shipped the grasses to 3-Form, a company that presses organic materials into resin. The see-through panels that resulted are one of the ways Amazing Space merges nature and interior spaces.

Emerging Spring

Spring is emerging all around, from the chorus frogs and red wing blackbirds calling from the wetland to the wildflowers emerging in the woodlands.

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Snow trilliums are the first of the spring ephemerals blooming this year. They are as important to the spring pollinators as the pollinators (in this case, a fly) are to them.
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The squil is also just starting to bloom. While not native, it is not posing an invasive problem here. As more of it blooms, it will provide a critical source of pollen for the honeybees.
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The skunk cabbage are just emerging up Bena Brook.

Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent

As a part of learning to survive, appreciate, and maybe even love our new desert habitat, I took the children to a program called “Desert Survival” at the nature center of a large (3500+ acres) regional park yesterday.

Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent

 

We did not learn how to extract water from giant saguaros.  Nor did we learn how to create a bow drill to start a fire.  We didn’t even learn how to fight zombies with cholla cactus spines.

Instead, we learned about the importance of preparation and prevention.  Proper preparation is something every hiker in every climate can do to prevent a survival situation from happening in the first place!  As the fabulous ranger explained in at the beginning of the talk: his information does not make for popular TV shows, but it will keep you off the TV news!

Here are 3 new-to-me ideas for staying safe in the desert (or any hike!):

1-Instead of trying to find water, bring more water than you think you need.  Yes, water is heavy. Yes, it can be awkward to carry. But in the desert, by the time you start to feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated.  Bring the extra water.

In fact, bring an extra-extra bottle of water: Drink at your car until you feel satiated, then hike, then when you get back to the car, drink the rest of your extra-extra bottle.

2-A cheap emergency blanket has a variety of uses.  The park sells them for $3 each and I plan to buy one for each of us when we go back for a hike.  They look like these (excellent reviews & sold in a 10 pack).  Not only can an emergency blanket keep you warm in the cold and cooler in the heat, it makes a great distress signal!

3-Leave a detailed note about your hiking plans: Where you’re going, where you’re going to park, when you plan to be back.

“Took the kids hiking in the Superstition Mountains” is not the level of detail that is going to get you found!

Leave a detailed note: Desert Survival is about Preparing!

While I feel better about going for a family hike in the desert now, I guess we’re on our own for designing zombie-stopping cholla cactus weapons!

And if you’re ever in Arizona, stop by the Usery Mountain for a fabulous presentation or hike!

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A New Habitat to Explore

 

As an occasional contributing poster here at Pocket Mouse Publishing, I’ve enjoyed posting about how my children and I got out into nature regularly.  How we had consistently enjoyed forest freeplay and learned through the book Hunting Red.

Our Former Habitat

Then, we moved.  A job-relocation across the country.

Our habitat is no longer the lush green forest and small creeks of the temperate East Coast pictured above but rather the Sonoran desert of the Southwest: a place of dry sands, endless sunshine, and prickly cactus.   See below.

Our New Habitat

We’re adjusting.  Adapting. We’re ready to explore our new habitat. We’re reading about desert life in books like 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Phoenix, The Nature of Arizona, and Critters of Arizona Pocket Guide.

Desert Book recommendations

We’ve even ventured to take a couple walks in the desert and are planning some more. It’s not the forest freeplay we had grown to love. In fact, one child refers to it as “desert doomplay” due to the sheer number of opportunities to interact with cactus spines.

One thing remains the same, despite this new habitat: the night sky.  The stars are the same. The constellation Orion is still the only one we all recognize.  I wrote about that nearly a year ago in Walking the Nature Talk. And the moon!  The moon is still the same. Did you know that we all see the same side of the moon, all the time?

In a few days it will be the first full moon of 2016!  I’ll be making a calendar to share the dates of each full moon — check back soon.

And enjoy your habitat, whatever it may be!

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Waldeinsamkeit

Usually I celebrate full moons, eclipses, solstices, and anything else I can think of outside walking with friends, followed by a little fire.

While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.
While the browns and greys of tree bark and leaf litter dominate the woodland winterscape, some of the smaller plants stay green all winter in the woods.

This season has been unusually hectic between Amazing Space (of which I love every moment, it just takes a lot of moments), the construction of the natural amphitheater, preparing the apiary for 2016, and everything else I normally do.

I've never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.
I’ve never known it to flood in December before. It is usually a light precipitation month for us, and the precipitation is usually in the form of snow, not rain. But Wood Duck Way and the silver maples in the floodplain are under water, as the Red Cedar River and Indian Creek spill over their banks.

For this winter solstice, I opted to take a break and enjoy waldeinsamkeit. It literally translates into woodland solitude, and I find it is a beautiful way to connect with myself, and with the natural world around me. I actually had to visit waldeinsamkeit twice, once during the day and once after dark on the solstice. The warm temperatures, moist air, and clouds skittering across the moon were beckoning me back outside. Since English is based on German, why we didn’t we keep that word?

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The unseasonably warm winter and frequent rains are supporting a prolonged mushroom season in the woods.