"Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection."
There are a few things that happen at the turn of every new year... changing of the calendars, eating sauerkraut and sausage, the first bird of the new year, and our annual new year's day hike.
This year didn't disappoint. For not snowing much so far this winter, it was wonderful to wake up on the morning of the new year with a fresh sparkling layer over everything. After our pork and kraut breakfasts, we bundled up to see what the new year had to offer.
The first bird Noah saw this year was a titmouse, however, my first bird remained illusive - every time I looked at the bushes or feeders at home, not a bird to be spotted. So as we were driving, about halfway to our destination, something stirred up a large flock of starlings from a tree, then just down the road a large red-tailed hawk appeared. I know it's the FIRST bird of the year but after a few more interesting encounters with the red-tails, there's something I need to learn from each of these birds.
If you're into the spiritual significance of birds/animals that appear, read on.
If not, skip down a bit.
So the very first bird was a Starling, this bird is known for traveling in large groups and teaches us, or rather brings awareness to how we behave in large groups and reminds us to pay attention and not behave inappropriately (note the starlings' tendencies to swarm and mob other birds). It also reminds us to mind our words as they are great mimics of others.
- Clearly a lot of good to meditate upon there, especially in such a busy gathering season-
The second bird being the Red Tailed Hawk. The messenger, the protector, and the visionary of the air. This bird can lead you to your life purpose so when it shows up, pay attention.
So on the way to the bog, we saw these birds, and enjoyed a cool crisp walk along the boardwalk, where ours were the only tracks most of the way. Taking the loop off the boardwalk two more hawks appeared, one first soaring between the forest and the field singing its song, then another appeared and they flew together side by side, one singing, the other strolling, I just picture them as a married bird couple promenading (just like me and Noah!) on this new year day!
Along this hike we found a good number of red-headed woodpeckers (it's been a long time since I've seen so many in one place - okay there were 4, but still!).
It was a lovely start to a new year. Life's purpose, I'm open to whatever you may be!
I hope you all have a beautiful 2020. Thank you for being here with us!
January: Named from the Roman god Janus, who is represented with two faces looking in opposite directions - as retrospective to the past and prospective to the future.
A new year, starting slow - the cold, muted snow, bit by bit will begin unfolding new traits, the rains come, a flower opens, the skunk emerges from its slumber. While it's easy to get caught up thinking about the future, don't forget to pause and enjoy this ever so brief moment of stillness.
Let yourself stand out in the cold, breathe in the cool stillness, only now, right now, on this day (whenever you're reading this) this breath is just for you and only you and will never be exactly like this, these scents, these sensations, ever again. How full yet fleeting a mindful moment can be.
Happy New Year one and all!
*Repost from 2018*
Hold onto your seat as we explore all the Smilaxes of Ohio to be able to identify this particular species
Smilax - genus of greenbriar, catbriars, sasparilla (let's call the whole thing off).
It always amazes me when out of nowhere I see a 'new' plant on familiar trails. I'm sure it's been there all along, sometimes the eyes just seek the familiar and block out the unknown. On this sunny snowy day I found a short, kind of stubby gathering of green in the woods. Recently I became aware of the unique parallel veining in the smilax leaves, so noting that on this plant I did a happy dance (I tend to do that when identifying new species to me in the wild)! When arriving home to put a name to the plant I became overwhelmed, much like the goldenrods and asters, there's many many many different species - 20 native to north america, 300+ to the tropics & subtropics worldwide -oof!
Through the various species the shape, growth, flowers, and berries vary so significantly it's hard to believe they're related so (but then again we all have family members like that right?).
But for today, let's narrow down this seemingly evergreen variety shown here with its very bristly vine/stalk/stem.
USDA has 26 defined native Smilax species (check out the location maps here).
Out of those 26, 9 are marked as found in Ohio:
Smilax bona-nox saw greenbrier - prickly vine with smooth upper stems, triangular/ovate leaves, very prickly lower leaves
Smilax ecirrhata upright carrionflower - smooth herbaceous central stem growing 1 - 3' tall.
Smilax glauca cat greenbrier - Iiana (new term to me) meaning it is a woody plant with vine-like growth form (woody but can't support itself). Has a simple leaf blade with one leaf per node along the stem. No teeth on lobes. Bristly spine. (looking like a match) BUT leaves drop off in the winter.
Smilax herbacea smooth carrionflower - viny but smooth stem - cool clusters of green flowers that smell like carrion - pollinated mainly by flies - round clumps of round blue/purple fruits then grow.
Smilax illinoensis Illinois greenbrier - qualities are that of a possible hybridization of the upright carrion flower and the smooth carrion flower (still not the drones we are looking for (anyone else find these quips amusing? I do :) ))
Smilax lasioneura Blue Ridge carrionflower - Threatened species in Ohio - has tendrils where the other carrionflowers don't.
Smilax pulverulenta downy carrionflower - Endangered species in Ohio - absent prickles
Smilax rotundifolia roundleaf greenbrier - tendency to become quite weedy in the northeast (can create vines up to 20 ft) leaf shape and veining are correct but the vine has thorns instead of bristles.
Smilax tamnoides bristly greenbrier - Woody vine growing to 10 - 20 ft long. Ovate leaves with parallel veining. Stems covered in stiff bristles. ***We have our winner***
The Smilax genus is divided into two similar but separate groups - woody vines with thorns and herbaceous vines/shrubs with no spines.
The bristly greenbrier is a good example of the first group (woody vine with thorns). The various carrion flowers are good examples of the second (herbaceous with no thorns)
Totally unintentional having the winning species be the very last on the list but it makes for a good read through!
Four studies, started in January, are now complete, finished, finalized.
December swooped in like the Cooper's hawk that monitors the yard, now here we are, mid December and all my projects are -technically- wrapping up nicely, but it just doesn't feel like the end. I keep telling myself Christmas is just a few days away, the New Year peeks around the corner saying "Just over 2 weeks!", but I'm just not here yet. Something's missing but I don't know what. Snow perhaps. I think it's time to take a lesson from our animal friends and hunker down, take stock, and use this time to rest!
I don't know what next year will hold for us, Through The Woods, but my intentions are to put together some fun programs, events, and opportunities for all of you.
But for now, looking back over 2019.
2019 One Year Studies
Click on each image to be re-directed
Tis the season to - deck the halls with boughs of holly (fa la la la la la la la la la)
But why holly? What is holly?
Ilex opaca (American Holly)
Leathery evergreen leaves, 2-4 inches long and 1-2 inches wide, with a sharp-pointed tip and spiny-toothed margins (occasionally smooth). Growing up to 50 ft tall, this slow growing, shade tolerant tree has thin, gray, warty bark. Branches forming a pyramidal crown. Light green/greenish white flowers. If both the male and female trees are present, the flowers will produce the bright red berries that adorn so many living rooms this time of year.
American Holly is native to the eastern/south eastern US. There are many different varieties of holly (ie winterberry, possumhaw, even Yerba mate - Ilex paraguariensis) as well as different cultivars of each species. The very similar looking English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) has become a noxious species along the West Coast of the US but doesn't seem to be able to grow well in the Eastern States.
The wood has been used for many, many, different things throughout history: inlays in cabinetwork, carvings, rulers, handles.
The berries were used by the Native Americans for buttons and to barter.
Holly is toxic to humans but birds and woodland mammals enjoy the bitter berries.
Holly is rich with symbolism
Romans would send boughs of holly and gifts to their friends during Saturnalia*.
In Britain, people decorated their homes with holly in the winter to invite sylvan spirits to shelter there.
Christian legend says that holly sprang from the footsteps of Jesus, its thorns and red berries representing his suffering and blood.
Symbolism in heraldry, holly represents truth.
NeoPagan lore, the Holly King rules the dark half of the year (from the autumn to spring equinox) being strongest at midwinter, his counterpart and adversary the Oak King is the inverse.
The Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, thought to have magical powers. Cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck but hanging the plant in homes was believed to bring good luck and protection.
Holly is also believed to protect homes against lightning strikes.
*Saturnalia: Ancient Roman holiday to celebrate the God Saturn, held December 17-23rd. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival-like atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, social status was equal, gag gifts or small figurines were given.
The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".
The American Crow, one of the smartest, most adaptable birds, has learned to make man's world his own.
They can be found everywhere from corn fields, open beaches, to town centers and forests. Their diet consists of earthworms, insects, small animals, seeds, and fruit. They have also been known to eat garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests.
In flight they have a unique style of consistent, even flapping, very rarely gliding (this can help to differentiate between crows and turkey vultures).
Although a crow family maintains their territory (all living and foraging together), during much of the year individual crows will spend part of the day with their family and the other part out with large flocks of other crows at dumps and agricultural fields.
They have been known to make and use tools - using a cup to gather water and carry it over to a bowl of dry mash - shaping a piece of wood then sticking it into a hole in a fence post to search for food.
Crafty as foragers they'll work with (or against) other animals to get what they want - distracting an otter to steal its fish - following Mergansers to catch minnows the ducks were chasing into the shallows.
The crow in folklore.
The crow knows it's the smartest of birds and embraces this knowledge to the fullest. It is said it is so smart it has chose to stay a crow rather than move on to some other area of evolution. Being able to outsmart most birds, animals, and even humans, it is the master of its world.
Black is the color of creation, night gives birth to a new day, the crow reminds us that magic and creation are potentials very much alive during the day.
Wherever crows are there is magic, symbols of creation and spiritual strength reminding us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.
They are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world everyday and is always available.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest of all the North American nuthatches. These birds can often be found at feeders where large seeds and nuts (sunflowers and peanuts) are provided otherwise they can be found in mature woods and at woodland edges where nut trees are found.
Their name comes from their habit of wedging large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then using their sharp bill to split (hatch) the seed from the inside.
Often you will find them accompanying flocks of titmice and chickadees at feeders, generally grabbing one seed at a time. If you watch closely as they creep along tree trunks and main branches, you can see them hide seeds for later.
Probably the easiest bird to identify is the Northern Cardinal. A non-migrataory and non-molting bird, its bright red body and upright crest makes it stand out through all the seasons. This bird is so loved it has been named the state bird for seven different states (more states than any other bird) - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina; the meadow-lark comes in second being represented in 6 different states!
There is much folklore and symbolism surrounding these birds, what I've always heard (but can't seem to find in any of my books on symbolism) is when a cardinal comes to your yard, it's a loved one who has passed on coming to visit. I've always found that to be comforting and many a cardinal I have talked to as if they were my late loved ones.
The bright red color of the cardinal reminds us to take charge, be bold, have courage to stand out, be proud of yourself and your achievements.
Add color to your life, and remember that everything you do is of importance.
*Original post 2017*
Now there are many, many thoughts, opinions, and whatnot about guns and hunting but let's just take a moment to understand why there is a hunting season.
I've been watching this grove of burning bush for a couple of years now. Last year an ice storm and snow hit before any prominent red could show on the leaves leaving them a pale yellow. In my reading I read where when this plant gets overcrowded (like in a dense grove) it no longer changed color, so I assumed that's what happened.
This year, however, the conditions have been most ideal for this highly invasive shrub and the grove has turned into a terribly beautiful surrealscape.
Like cherry blossoms in spring, bursts of pink can be found at every turn.
While I wish this property was better managed, it has proven to be an invaluable resource in studying invasives (privet, burning bush, o. Bittersweet, etc). Silver linings I guess.
*Original post 2018*
The fall leaves have fallen, opening the canopy to a wide variety of sights. One of the most easily noticeable is the bright yellow casing with the bold red berry of the Oriental Bittersweet found vining around any number of things - trees, fences, anything it can climb.
It was brought to the states in 1860 from China as an ornamental plant, its berries looking (unfortunately) lovely as fall and winter decor.
This plant is a fast growing woody vine, growing so fast as to crowd out native vegetation. The vine will climb trees, sometimes girdling (wrapping around and cutting off the flow of water and nutrients to the tree) and killing large trees, but often climbing to the top, blocking out the light for any other plants. This canopy of vines spreads fast (one source stated it can cover an entire acre of forest in only 5-7 years!) creating excess weight on the trees, often heavy snow and ice accumulation will force these trees to fall under the weight.
The beautiful fruit with which the plant was brought here for is also attractive to birds and wildlife which aids in the spreading of this dangerous plant.
There is a native to the US bittersweet (American Bittersweet) that can be differentiated from the oriental variety in a number of ways.
- Oriental has round leaves
- American has elliptical leaves
- Oriental fruit capsule is bright yellow-orange & arranged in the leaf axils
- American fruit is an orange capsule & arranged only at the end of the vine
This plant has both male and female species - the males don't produce berries but still cause the same amount of destruction.
To help stop the spread of this invasive plant there are a few things you can do - most importantly DO NOT MOVE THIS PLANT. Fellow DIYers I'm looking at you - I know it's tempting to cut this to use in crafts and wreathes but this is one of the biggest ways the plant spreads.
If you find you do have this on your property, cut and treat it before it fruits. Other resources for control can be found at this link.
*Originally posted 2018*
Known by a variety of names - burning bush, winged spindle, winged euonymus.
Native to Asia it was introduced to the US in the 1860s as an ornamental shrub - the stunning red fall foliage from which it gets its name.
In the North Eastern states it has become invasive often over growing its intended planting. Can grow up to 20ft tall and wide if left alone.
The images below show a year of the burning bush - winter/early spring - spring green flowers - summer dense foliage - autumn*
*the interesting thing about this autumn, one or two things have happened here - notably there is no bright red foliage - prior to the bright red, the leaves turn incredibly pale, at this stage we had quite an ice storm and from there no red has been noted beyond a pale pink in the grove. On further research, when the burning bush gets left to take over, it can stop producing the brilliant red due to age and growing to close to one another.
As this is my first year finding and observing this plant, we'll see what the other years bring. The small shoots that were closer to the ground did produce the red coloring, however.
We are now taking orders for 2020 calendars!
*Through The Woods*
*Wooster Memorial Park*
Profits will be donated to the parks (WMP calendar to the Friends of WMP group - Barnes Preserve calendar to the Friends of Barnes Preserve group, TTW calendar to Conservation Groups around Ohio (ODNR, TWC, TNC)
Calendars are 8 x 11 wall calendars with stunning color photos.
Calendars are $25 each (or 3 for 60!)
To pre-order, follow the link to the shop here or send me a message with your information and we'll go from there! All orders will ship in early December to arrive in time to be given as presents (or for you to prepare for 2020).
Eastern Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus)
A native member of the bittersweet family. Grows as a shrub or (rarely) a small tree.
Also known under the common name "Burning Bush" (why it's so important to use proper Latin names).
Can grow up to 25 ft but is more commonly found around 10-15ft tall.
Large ovate leaves. Flowers form in late spring/early summer and resemble those of the "Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) -invasive" but are dark purple growing in forking cymes of 7-20 flowers, developing from the axils of current or former leaves. 4 spreading petals, 4 sepals, 4 short stamens with yellow anthers, and a pistil with a short stout style (I can relate "short stout style" hah).
In fall the leaves turn red, the fruits form in showy red/pink pods (sturdy almost plastic feeling) which split open to reveal scarlet seeds.
The name Wahoo is a Dakota Native American term for the plant which literally means arrow-wood. Native Americans also used the powdered bark as a purgative.
All parts of this tree/bush are inedible.
Some mornings you wake up with all the energy of the world. These mornings everything feels magical, so sharp, so in focus, you can see through the layers of mind clutter that somehow filters the eyes and their perceptions.
This was that kind of morning. Every tree stood out as an individual telling its personal story. Stories about the animals its known, the leaves it holds, the nutrients its found.
The cat-tails on the pond sway gently remembering the song of the redwing blackbird, watching them you can almost hear the song on the breeze.
This past Sunday, Noah and I made our way back up to Summit County to enjoy the beautiful fall day and knock a few more trails off our Hiking Spree forms. Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that these parks mean the world to us. Living up there, most of our free time was spent exploring the parks and trails along the Cuyahoga River, we lived very close to the gorge and the giant sandstone cliffs never ceased to amaze and inspire. These parks also spurred Noah's ambition to go back to school and get a degree in Natural Resource and Wildlife Management - which is why we moved back to Wooster - last year he graduated at the top of his class (I'm super proud of him).
So, while we don't live in Summit anymore we still make a point to venture up that way and participate in the Hiking Spree and reconnect with all that we love so much. Sunday we hiked a few of my absolute favorites - the Chuckery, the Overlook, and the Glens trails.
The hiking was lovely, the weather splendidly fall-like, and the people friendly.
But since starting this blog and my journey into meeting and knowing all the plants I come across, I'm amazed at the number and size of invasive species we saw on our hikes. I never noticed, or I never knew before just how bad it was. I had to key out a grove of 8ft tall honeysuckle bushes because I couldn't believe they could get so large, the O. bittersweet was thick around as the trees it's weighing down, and on and on. BUT you can see where teams of (I'm assuming) volunteers have come in and are fighting the good fight, the constant fight, fighting back these overtaking species allowing native species to have a chance.
I know that I know just the tip of the iceberg that is park and land management but I'm glad to see the progress being made. With just the little experience I have with invasive species, I know it's a constant ongoing process, an uphill battle, but that moment in the spring when you see one of the early spring ephemerals blooming that hadn't had a chance due to shade of the invasive, then it's worth it.
You never know what's waiting, just under the soil, for the right conditions.
So there we were, standing in the kitchen, Noah cooking breakfast, me pouring my first cup of coffee, when out of the shrubs, at the base of the giant black locust tree, hops out the teeny tiny harbinger of winter - the Dark-eyed Junco!!!
Dark eyed juncos can be found only in North America, in the winter all across the US, enjoying feeders, fields, forests, parks, and gardens. Their colors are reminiscent of a winter's day, snow on the bottom, dark cloudy skies above.
There are many different dark-eyed juncos, those that visit us are the slate colored variety.
In the summer they nest in Canada, the Western US, and the Appalachian Mountains often in coniferous forests.
It was at one time fabled that the dark-eyed juncos were chipping sparrows in winter plumage due to their size and similar songs (they're not).
They have also been used to predict the weather - early in the winter if many juncos are congregating at a feeder, cold and snow will soon follow. Once they are no longer around, winter's end is near.
Before we know it, the gift giving season will be upon us and this year I'm rolling out some great new products for your nature loving family!
Last year the park calendar fundraiser was such a great success we'll be doing it again this year! Profits from the calendars will go to the parks they support.
We will also be offering magnets, ornaments, stickers, year view calendars, playing cards, and of course any image you want, framed and ready to hang on your wall!
We will have product images and begin taking orders soon!
We're ten months in on the newest phenology studies.
Two at Barnes Preserve
Two at Walton Woods
Some studies have multiple images throughout the same month. To read about what was happening at the time the photo was taken, go to the one year study page!
Barnes Short Loop
Barnes Long Loop
Walton Woods Burning Bush
Walton Woods Lower Trail
There is something beautiful yet mournful about this time of year.
The extreme seasons both have this deep soulful sense of urgency.
One to start new things, to make, to create, to grow.
The other, the present, calls to your being to let go. To allow time to think about things, what is and isn't serving you along your journey, and while it can be hard it's calling you to let it go.
Sometimes we don't realize what we need to let go, or rather that ideas can be let go.
For example, I am one who held themselves back without realizing it. That internal voice saying "Don't disturb other people's lives by trying to make plans with them." or "They only hired you to be nice, they don't like your work." and so on.
I never realized that was something I was in control of, I can chose to say no to my inner bully. I can allow myself to ask friends to dinner and if they say yes it's because they want to hang out, not because there's some unspoken social rule that they have to say yes because of manners.
And that is something I can let go.
What is holding you back from living the life you desire?
October is such a unique month. It will go from lush green to bold reds and golds to empty trees in one month flat!
Currently out at Walton Woods many leaves have fallen but everything up in the trees is still bright green. Do these fallen leaves fall green then turn brown? Do they turn one by one on the tree and fall, taking turns "there goes Joe, it's your turn to turn and fall Suz!"? "WHEEEEE" - Suz
Most everything that blooms has bloomed and is either in seed or turning. The clearweed (Pilea pumila) is finishing its bloom with a ghostly clear/yellow coloring (see in the photos below), and the White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) still has a few doll-eye-like fruits.
The fungi, however, is having a wonderful time, especially after that rain we had.
Notably the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) here has overgrown so much that it no longer turns red, just a weird yellow-green-white (similar to the clearweed).
So the other day there was a group hike out at Wooster Memorial Park - this one was to learn about the Salamanders in the park. It was lovely, we learned some new things, found some really cool salamanders, frogs, and a ring necked snake! But beyond that I took a few moments to stand back from the group and just observe.
There is something wonderful that happens when nature brings folks together.
Beyond learning about cool things in the woods it brings people of all ages, all races, all genders, all backgrounds, all education levels, all political beliefs, all professions, all anything, together to bask in the glory of the great outdoors.
Some come to teach, some to learn, some to connect with others, some to herd, some to do something new, but we're all together and we're all open and it's so beautiful.
Maybe nature brings us back to our most basic form - homo sapiens, where we can just be as we are.
Maybe I'm thinking too much about it.
But there's something special about these groups, all the nature groups, be it WMP or the Wilderness Center or Barnes Preserve or some park group out in Utah.
I'm not sure where I'm going with this thought, I guess I'm just grateful to have some of these nearby and I hope you'll get out with a group near you!
Recently I found a tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta) on one of my pepper plants - or rather on the stalk of what had once been a pepper plant that was instead dinner for this guy. So, since I don't like killing things needlessly, I cut the stalk, pruned back a few of my tomato and pepper plants, and took him home to see how a hornworm changes.
I had no idea how different it was from the swallowtails!
So after eating all the chow provided it too got a bit wander-y, but this guy I put in one of those clear gallon ice cream buckets so it couldn't escape. Talking to friends and reading about this species, to morph into the pupal stage they dig down into the dirt, about a week after they've burrowed it's safe to unearth them. So I put a planter pot filled with dirt for it to burrow. One week later I went to carefully dig him out. Upon lifting the planter it sounded like something was shaking inside like a maraca, so I carefully dug, not sure what I'd find, there a few inches down was a great hollow space with the pupa inside. The pupa doesn't just sit there like a cocoon or chrysalis though, it can move, gyrating its lower half (insert disco reference here), probably to scare off predators. I know if I didn't read in advance that it could do that I'd be freaked out. So I moved the pupa to a plastic strawberry container and added some sticks for it to climb when it emerges.
Then just like that, 11pm, I'm getting ready for bed, when I hear an odd noise from the strawberry container. There it is, as big as the palm of my hand, a Carolina Sphynx Moth!
Beautiful bark colored wings, bright yellow spots running down both sides of its abdomen... a truly beautiful specimen.
But now the dilemma, I removed this specimen from its habitat for being a nuisance and to learn about its life cycle, so I can't rightly let it go to lay more eggs, but I don't like needlessly killing things. After thinking for a few days I ultimately decided to freeze it and continue to use it for educational purposes. Yesterday I put it in the freezer, in a few more days it will be a 'late' moth and I will be able to use it to learn to mount large winged creatures as well as get a closer look at its pieces and parts to fully understand how this type of moth functions.
Mounting and up-close study notes to follow!
What a great late summer it's been!
On September 21st Noah and I got married at the overlook at Virginia Kendall Ledges (part of CVNP)!!! It was a perfect day spent with friends and family in the most gorgeous park!
We are so blessed and grateful and I'm still beyond words for how amazing of a day it was!
But now that means I can switch my focus from wedding planning back to all of this and more!
Most recently I found a tobacco hornworm on one of my pepper plants - or rather on the stalk of what had once been a pepper plant that was instead dinner for this guy. So, since I don't like killing things needlessly, I cut the stalk, pruned back a few of my tomato and pepper plants, and took him home to see how a hornworm changes.
I had no idea how different it was from the swallowtails!
- Check out the next post to read all about it! -
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.