where have all the flowers gone?

Category : Art, Nature, Plants
Date : September 11, 2017
Comments : (7)

Incredible floral arrangements graced the Westbeth Art Gallery at the opening of Strange Flowers last Saturday night. Flowers and their strange beauty unite the artists assembled by the show’s organizer Elisabeth Condon, but their approaches vary widely. From backyard weeds and blooms gone awry; hyper-realized blossoms gleaned out of the corner of one’s eye; roses stained on ancient cloth literally marking the passing of a dear friend; perfectly rendered arrangements drawn in colored ink; ancient botanical images on wallpaper newly arranged to form an architectural temple pattern; plants gathered and dipped in wax laid against a perfect blue sky; larger than life-sized blooms and blossoms that one can escape into; butterflies and birds residing amongst leaves and streams of paint in an urban landscape; to a set of vintage wildflower identification cards placed on a shelf set against plant-dyed paper on the wall.

On the night of the opening, some visitors presumed that the wildflower cards were there for the taking. Was there a sign posted that said, “Please take a card, courtesy of the artist”? Absolutely not! Slowly the deck of 49 cards became 19. Unlike the stacks of candy found in the participatory work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, for example, these cards are irreplaceable parts of the artist’s work, not meant to be taken from the piece.

What led some viewers to literally pick these flowers without seeking permission? What did they think would happen when the 49 wildflower cards were gone? Did they think that they would just be replaced? Is this any different from one visiting a museum and simply taking a painting off the wall to put in one’s home?

If you take all the goldenrod from a particular spot, what will the foraging fall pollinators have to fuel them for the long cold winter?  If the forest is cleared to make way for a pipeline, where do all the insects, birds, and animals go when their habitat is removed?

Are art & nature for the taking?

———————————————————————————-

Strange Flowers on view at  Westbeth Art Gallery until September 30, 2017.  Gallery open Wednesday to Sunday, 1-6pm. 55 Bethune Street, New York, NY


in common

Category : Farm, Kitchen, Nature, Textiles
Date : July 31, 2017
Comments : (4)

Sometimes the most wildly different can be the most similar. What do the minimally elegant garments worn by Georgia O’Keeffe and the wildly exuberant clothes of the Counter Culture have in common? The clue may be found in the subtitle, “Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture.” Yes, the handmade. Both O’Keeffe and members of the Counter Culture movement used their hands to make their garments.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s hand sewn silk garments.

 

Recently I had the fortune of seeing Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum and Counter-Couture at the Museum of Art and Design. When one enters the first room of the O’Keeffe show, there are four white silk dresses, and upon examination, one may see the perfectly tiny, couture quality stitching. All made by O’Keeffe. Throughout her life, she continued to sew her own clothing. There is not much pattern found in the O’Keeffe clothing, mainly black and white and the occasional rainbow of color in her wrap dresses, yet the opposite rules for the counter-culture: pattern upon pattern, jubilant tie-dye, proliferating embroidered floral motifs, wildly textured crochet – vividly, abundantly they exploit the hand-sewn in their garments.

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

The Counter-Couture wall text states:

“The works on display reflect the ethos of a generation of makers and wearers who-against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement–rejected ideals of the American Dream, which they identified as rooted in consumerism and waste, social conformity in personal appearance and behavior, and a political establishment invested in maintaining the status quo. They embraced a vision of a new, homegrown civilization rooted in self-reliance, resistance to mass-market consumerism, an affirmative connection to nature, and forms of communal engagement to forge new relationships between self and Other.”

Step back. Look. Examine. And now ponder self-reliance.   In one of the exhibition videos, O’Keeffe talks about growing her own food and working hard to make a garden, so she would not have to undertake the long drive down the mountain to purchase food. We see her kneeling amidst the rows of food and picking lettuce, carefully placing it into a folded newspaper. Similarly, the Counter Culture was rooted in the Back-to-Land movement, growing their own food and living off the land, often residing in communes practicing “sustainable agriculture and permaculture, bartering, self-reliance and pacifism.”

Georgia O’Keeffe’s sewing kit

 

How did we go so wrongly awry from these self-reliant times in the 1960s and 1970s? Furthermore, how did we get so far from making and growing to boxes of sugar-laden cereals on the store shelves and cheap t-shirts bearing company logos made in sweat shops in other countries? More importantly, where can we go now for inspiration and guidance?

The newly formed Food and Fibers Project asks us to question where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and how we can better connect both fiber and food to the land. Their mission states, “There are so many intersections of food and fashion, from the soil that grows our food and fiber, to the plants we can both eat and dye textiles with, to the political acts of cooking our own food and mending our own clothes.”

Garments on view in Counter-Couture

 

Summer seems the ideal time to start on a new path, making ‘re-connections’ as Food and Fibers states. Shop at your local farmer’s market, filling your basket with greens and fruit for your next meal. Make a garment from organic cotton grown in the USA with a pattern from Alabama Chanin. Visit a sheep farm and purchase yarn to make a hat or pair of socks for cooler days to come. Fire up a dye pot from plants grown on the land and re-dye faded, stained clothes from your closet, rendering anew. Mend those blue jeans with the holes in the knees instead of purchasing a new pair.

Each and every time one contemplates a purchase, ask who made this, or where was it grown? The time to ponder and choose is now.

Quoted text from exhibition wall text of Counter-Couture Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture, Museum of Art and Design. On view until August 20, 2017.

 


Ideas and Influences on Two Coats of Paint

Date : April 16, 2017
Comments :

Recently, Sharon Butler of award wining blog, Two Coats of Paint, asked me to compile a list of ten current “ideas and influences.”  The text of the blog is below. Please visit Two Coats for the full post with images.

page from my grandfather’s herbarium

 

“Artist and citizen naturalist Brece Honeycutt lives in Massachusetts, on a colonial farmhouse in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains. Fascinated with the history of her home and the surrounding land, she reads handwritten antique diaries at the local library, gathers old textiles, and creates natural dyes from the plants she collects on her morning walks. During her walks, she closely observes changes to the landscape, making notes that become the basis for new projects. On the occasion of her solo show at Norte Maar, Honeycutt has compiled the following list of ideas and influences that inform her work.”

1. Henry David Thoreau. “It will take half a lifetime to find out where to look for the earliest flower,” noted Henry David Thoreau in his journal. [1] For seven years (1851-1858), Thoreau walked his environs around Concord, MA and recorded his observations noting when plants sprouted, trees leafed out, and birds returned.  An inspiration for us all to be become Citizen Naturalists.

2. Citizen Naturalist. Recently I started participating in the USA National Phenology Network as a Citizen Naturalist, using Nature’s Notebook app. Phenology, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as in bird migration or plant flowering).” In fact, Thoreau’s findings have become the basis for comparative studies being conducted by the scientist Dr. Richard B. Primack that demonstrate climate change and how the warming of the planet is affecting the cycles of our environs.  Daily I note the returning ducks and birds, the flowering coltsfoot and the occasional spotting of a bobcat.

3. Emily Dickinson. Like Thoreau, Emily Dickinson was a keen observer of plants and a magnificent gardener. I wondered what plants were found in her area of Massachusetts in the 1800s and might we have them here?  Dickinson wrote to her friend, Mrs. A. P. Strong, in 1848, “The older I grow, the more I do love spring flowers. Is it so with you? While at home there were several pleasure parties of which I was a member, and in our rambles we found many and many beautiful children of Spring, which I will mention and see if you have found them–the trailing arbutus, adder’s tongue, yellow violets, liver leaf, bloodroot and many other small flowers.” [2]

4. Spring Ephemerals. Indeed, all but the trailing arbutus are found on the grounds of Bartholomew’s Cobble (Ashley Falls, MA). In a few weeks, the Spring Wildflower Festival will begin at the Cobble and for the second year, I will be leading tours. I am busily reviewing my notecards, guidebooks and poems that I will read to the guests. The most important “tool” is to go and walk the trail, slowly, ever so slowly. Stopping, and really looking around. As Thoreau noted, the earliest flowers are the hardest to find.  Spring ephemerals–plants that grow for a short time span due to the intense sunlight and the particular soil found at the Cobble–are fleeting and glorious.  This year I want to embark on a project, “To know you is to draw you.”

5. Herbariums. Plants & Place, Deerfield. What did that particular plant look like when it first sprouted? Gardeners, Citizen Naturalists like Dickinson and Thoreau made Herbariums to both identify and document their native flora and fauna. Each year, I vow to start my own Herbarium and to jump start this year’s process, I look forward to the upcoming symposium at Historic Deerfield–Plants and Place:  Native Flora of Western Massachusetts. We will review various herbaria, including the early collected plant pages of Stephen West Williams.

6. Susan Howe. I had the pleasure of attending a lecture at The Morgan Library with Susan Howe and Marta Werner regarding the current exhibition I’m Nobody! Who are you? The Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson. The exhibition catalog is a treasure trove of essays and images including a conversation between Werner and Howe, “Transcription and Transgression.”

Werner asks Howe about seeking “small, out-of the way archives.”

Howe responds:  “Yes, I also enjoy small local libraries. Usually they have local historical collections where you will find things that historicists have neglected, or you find an old book with the odd spelling from seventeenth century. I don’t know. It’s the peace found in the landscape of place.” [3]

7. Webster’s Dictionary. Howe discussed also that Dickinson used a particular dictionary, Noah Webster’s 1844 An American Dictionary of the English Language. In a post-lecture conversation, Howe said that not only were Dickinson’s words defined by this exact dictionary, but that her gaze across the pages of the dictionary influenced her writings. I procured a facsimile 1828 Webster (also found in the Dickinson home) and have been looking up words found in her poetry, Thoreau’s writings and even to see if a spring ephemeral can be found on the pages of this book, evidencing that a plant was very much in residence. What a treat to read Jennifer Schuessler’s article “A Journey into the Merriam-Webster Word Factory” in the March 22 edition of the New York Times.

8. Mending. Sewing. Georgia O’Keeffe. Alabama Chanin. The current exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn Museum charts her life through drawings, paintings, photographs and clothing. Her friend Anita Pollitzer noted that O’Keeffe was “extremely industrious, her hands are seldom idle. She loves to sew—not fancy things, but Chinese silk blouses and loose clothes that become her.” One wall label noted her to be a “conscientious mender” of clothes.

Inspired by Alabama Chanin a few years ago, I found the determination to make some of my own clothes. Stitch by stitch.

9. Clean Air. Clean Water. Rachel Carson. Where will we be without clean air and clean water?  After watching PBS’s documentary American Experience:  Rachel Carson, I sought the pages of Silent Spring, first published in 1962.  Carson’s intensely factual, yet lyrically written, scientific book exposed the devastation occurring from the use of synthetic chemicals on all living beings.

Carson states:

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.

“I contend, furthermore, that we have allowed these chemicals to be used with little or no advance investigation of their effect on soil, water, wildlife, and man himself. Future generations are unlikely to condone our lack of prudent concern for the integrity of the natural world that supports all life.” [4]

10. Wendell Berry. Now. Wendell Berry asks us to remain in the present with our actions in regards to climate change and land abuse. He posits that if we are only thinking of what can be accomplished in the future, we are missing the opportunity for what we can do right now. He invites us to “save energy now for the future” by beginning with small acts today. Berry states,

“….so few as just one of us can save energy right now by self-control, careful thought, and remembering the lost virtue of frugality. Spending less, burning less, traveling less may be relief. A cooler, slower life may make us happier, more present to ourselves, and to others who need us to be present.” [5]

Footnotes:

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Geoff Wisner, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 16.
[2] Emily Dickinson, The Letters of Emily Dickinson, 1845-1886, Google Docs, page 38.
[3] Susan Howe and Marta Werner, “Transcription and Transgression,” The Networked Recluse:  The Connected World of Emily Dickinson, (Amherst: Amherst College Press, 2017), pg. 135.
[4] Rachel Carson Silent Spring, (Greenwich: Fawcett Books, 1962), pg. 22.
[5] Wendell Berry, Our Only World Ten Essays, (Berkeley:  Counterpoint, 2015), pgs. 174, 175.

“bewilderNew Work by Brece Honeycutt,” Norte Maar, Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY. Through  April 23, 2017.


citizen naturalist

Category : Nature, Plants
Date : February 14, 2017
Comments : (2)

Do you keep a weather journal? Make notes when the hummingbirds arrive in the spring? Sketch and date the unfurling of the bloodroot along the forest trail?

For the past seven years, I flip open my “Record Book” and note the morning temperature as well as other memorable natural occurrences of the day. On February 10th, my husband noted that ten red-winged blackbirds appeared at our birdfeeder and asked if I thought this was unusual. My notes indicate that on February 22, 2016, red-winged blackbirds were at the feeder, and in 2014, on March 4th, we spotted them as well. These observations give us context for our slice of land.

the tips of skunk cabbage poking up on January 13, 2017

 

It seems of utmost importance now more than ever to participate in the natural world around us. Perhaps it is time to become part of Nature’s Notebook, sponsored by the USA National Phenology Network (USA-NPN). Webster’s Dictionary defines phenology as “the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate and plant life.” The USA-NPN notes:

“Phenology is a key component of life on earth.  Many birds time their nesting so that eggs hatch when insects are available to feed nestlings.  In turn, insect emergence is often synchronized with leafing out in their host plants. For many people, allergy season starts when particular flowers bloom—earlier flowering means earlier allergies.  Farmers and gardeners need to know when to plant to avoid frosts, and they need to know the schedule of plant and insect development to decide when to apply fertilizers and pesticides. Many interactions in nature depend on timing.  In fact, phenology affects nearly all aspects of the environment, including the abundance, distribution, and diversity of organisms, ecosystem services, food webs, and the global cycles of water and carbon.”

One might wonder how notes scribbled down in one era might have any impact or advice for later generations. Look no further than the early citizen naturalist Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) residing in Concord, MA. From his daily walks, he kept detailed records of his observations of wildflowers, leaf-out for trees and spring bird sightings during the years 1851-1858. After making his observations, he charted the findings in tables. Fast forward to spring 2003, when the scientist Dr. Richard. Primack and his team begin walking the environs of Concord, following in Thoreau’s footsteps and taking their own observations. Primack’s findings and ongoing conclusions have been published in his book, Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreaus’s Woods. By using Thoreau’s and other proximate naturalists’ records, Primack demonstrates that climate change and the warming of the planet is affecting the cycles of plants and wildlife.

Primack notes:

“One thing that made Thoreau so effective as a thinker and writer was his ability to gain insights from observation in the natural world. If our goal is to protect the environment and deal with the problem of climate change, then part of our strategy should be for each of us to immerse himself or herself in nature in order to understand what we are trying to protect. At the most basic level, this means walking through natural landscapes and observing what is there; we should learn the names and characteristics of birds, mammals, plants and other species. We should observe their behavior, their migrations, and their seasonal changes, to better understand their and our place in nature. As we develop this understanding, we will become better advocates for their protection.”

The time is now. Start making notes about your natural world. Chose a method of keeping track. Perhaps, your approach will be similar to the poet Mary Oliver, and you’ll have a notebook always in your back pocket for jotting down fleeting thoughts and observations. If you are more comfortable in the digital realm, then download Nature’s Notebook app and log in. Birds are returning. Skunk cabbage will soon be showing its fronds. Don’t leave any natural arrival unnoticed.

Phenology as described by the USANPN website: https://usanpn.org/about/why-phenology. Accessed on 2/13/2017.

Richard B. Primack, Walden Warming: Climate Change Comes to Thoreaus’s Woods, (The University of Chicago Press, 2014), pgs. 54-55, 226

Two Thoreau Notes:

New biography of Thoreau by Kevin Dann, Expect Great Things: The Life and Search of Henry David Thoreau (Tarcher and Perigree, 2017).

This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal exhibition will be on view at The Morgan Library (6/2-9/10/2017) and Concord Museum (9/29/2017-1/21/2018).

 


naturalists

Category : Books, Nature, Plants
Date : August 22, 2016
Comments :

What is a naturalist? Must a naturalist be a scientist? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of a naturalist is “…a person who studies plants and animals as they live in nature.” By this definition, then, anyone of us could be a naturalist if we paid close attention to the world outside. And by extension, if one took notes, made charts and kept detailed accounts of these observations over space and time, might this person be termed a “Naturalist extraordinaire”?

At the moment, I am reading two books by Naturalist extraordinaires: Thoreau’s Wildflowers (masterfully edited and introduced by Geoff Wisner) and Natural Color. Each author, Henry David Thoreau and Sasha Duerr, respectively, defines their location by the surrounding indigenous plants. Duerr’s environs are the hills of Berkeley, CA, whilst Thoreau lived across the continent in Concord, MA. Separated by land and centuries, they are anchored together in their respect for the natural world and the desire to caretake.

We accompany each author on a year-long journey, progressing from Spring to Winter. Duerr forages plants from Oakland sidewalks and farmer’s markets to make splendid colors, guiding us through the year with seasonal ”palettes”. Thoreau’s observations of wildflowers – through scent, leaf and flowers – provide clear images of his peregrinitions in and around Concord throughout the four seasons.  Both books are graced with sumptuous visuals (photographs by Aya Brackett in Natural Color, and detailed drawings by Barry Moser in Thoreau’s Wildflowers), better allowing us to ‘participate’ with the authors in their explorations, but more importantly helping us to refine our natural vision and to prepare us for our own observations.

Sasha Duerr, The Seasonal Color Wheel

Sasha Duerr, The Seasonal Color Wheel

As both a dyer and wildflower guide, these books are wonderful practical tools for me. Duerr, an expert natural dyer, provides not only the nuts and bolts – from gathering to extraction to finished project – but also writes a manifesto to counteract and contend with the today’s fast-paced fashion and food world.  Thoreau’s minute observations – when a plant’s leaves first emerge from the earth, how long it blooms, and when it puts out seeds – is instructive and invaluable to the naturalist in each of us.

Thoreau states:

“If a man is rich and strong anywhere it must be in his native soil. Here I have been these forty years learning the language of these fields that I may the better express myself. If I should travel to the prairies, I should much less understand them, and my past life would serve me but ill to describe them.”

Duerr posits:

“Mapping and getting to know your own neighborhood and botanical region is another way of cultivating your natural dye practice, caring for the landscape, and working in harmony with ecological systems. Working with natural color can inspire you to make an authentic stewardship of the land itself.”

It would be among my greatest pleasures to accompany Duerr and Thoreau on a nature walk, listening to their conversation as they delight in the depth and breadth of Nature’s flora.

Note: Natural Color is released on August 23, 2016. For full information on where to purchase the book and a listing of Sasha’s upcoming book signings, http://www.sashaduerr.com

www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/naturalist

Henry David Thoreau, Thoreau’s Wildflowers, edited by Goeff Wisner and illustrated by Barry Moser (Yale University Press, 2016), pg. 256.

Sasha Duerr, Natural Color, (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2016), pgs. 125, 203.

 


only what you need

Category : Nature, Plants
Date : July 20, 2016
Comments :

The time draws nigh for collecting herbs for drying and dyeing. Whilst reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s thought-provoking book, Braiding Sweet Grass, I came across these guidelines for the Honorable Harvest.

Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may
      take care of them.
Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.
Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
Never take the first. Never take the last.
Take only what you need.
Take only that which is given.
Never take more than half. Leave some for others.
Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.
Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.
Share.
Give thanks for what you have been given.
Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.
Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever.

So this morning, prior to gathering St John’s Wort, I sat with the plant and thanked it for cropping up in our yard and explained that I required just a few more flowers for my oil infusion. I spoke with Calendula, introducing myself as the one who planted the seeds and congratulating the plant for blooming under the hot summer sky. I took only what I needed for future remedies, thanked them both and went on my way.

The fields are about to burst forth in a bounty of golden rod. One can bet that the bumblebees and honeybees will find the ochre-topped plants before I do. Often, there are others—insects and birds—that depend on the nectar, pollen and seeds found in some of the plants that I forage for, such as the lovely white and red clover dotting our lawn. Whilst I do not use the white clover, I do harvest some of the red clover to dry and use later in the winter. We leave as much white clover as possible for the honeybees, and we suggest that others do the same. If you doubt that honeybees utilize the clover, go outside, find a clump and just stand there. Guaranteed a bee or two will buzz by you.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweet Grass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants, (Milkweed Editions, 2013), pg. 183.


buccaneers of buzz

Category : Nature
Date : May 18, 2016
Comments : (2)
Bees are black - with Gilt Surcingles-
Buccaneers of Buzz-
Ride abroad in ostentation
And subsist on Fuzz-

Fuzz ordained - not Fuzz contingent
Marrows of the Hill.
Jugs - a Universe's fracture.
Could not jar or spill.
      

Emily Dickinson (poem 1426)

When leading a recent wildflower walk on Bartholomew’s Cobble, I asked the group to be quiet for a moment and listen for the ‘buzzing’ of the Bumblebees. Wild Ginger, Spring Beauty, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trout Lily, Bloodroot, both Purple and Yellow Violet, and the odd Dandelion carpeted the forest floor. All of the spring ephemerals provide fodder for the early foraging Bumblebee.

Wouldn’t you rather hear the buzz of the Bumblebee instead of summer’s omnipresent sound of the lawn mower, trimmer and leaf blower? As you may recall, dear reader, we have been replacing our lawn with flowerbeds and wild areas. Lately, our patch of Ajuga is the major gathering ground for the hard-at-work Bumblebees.

Bumblebees pollinate many of our foods including “…every cucumber, aubergine, runner bean, black currant and pepper…” reports the scientist Dave Goulson in his book A Sting in the Tale. Goulson, founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in England, encourages all of us to consider planting “an old fashioned cottage garden” filled with “lupines, hollyhocks, scabious, lavender, chives, sage, thyme and rosemary” for the foraging Bumblebee.

One queen Bumblebee may visit up to 6,000 flowers a day. When she emerges in early spring, she gathers nectar and pollen from the early flowers in order to feed herself, lay her eggs, and store feed for the young as they incubate, thus starting the process of making a hive of new Bumblebees.  Bumbleebees don’t dither. Venture outside and watch them. They forage with vigor and direction.

Go ahead, give up the ‘american lawn’ for a patch of flowers!

“We need worms to create soil; flies and beetles and fungi to break down dung; ladybirds and hoverflies to eat greenfly; bees and butterflies to pollinate plants; plants to provide food, oxygen, fuel and medicines and hold the soil together; and bacteria to help plants fix nitrogen and to help cows digest grass. We have barely begun to understand the complexity of interactions between living creatures on earth, yet we often choose to squander the irreplaceable, to discard those things that both keep us alive and make life worth living. Perhaps if we learn to save a bee today we can save the world tomorrow?”

 

The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by R.W. Franklin, (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999), pg. 541.

Dave Goulson, A Sting in the Tale: My adventure with Bumblebees, (Picador, 2013), pgs.186, 222-3, 16-24, 240-1.

Note: The Emily Dickinson Museum is restoring her gardens. Incredible article in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/17/science/emily-dickinson-lost-gardens.html?ref=todayspaper


preserved, conserved & landmarked

Category : Nature
Date : March 28, 2016
Comments :

Our feet have trod the paths of Bartholomew’s Cobble from time to time over the last eight years, but not until last week did I realize it is designated a National Natural Landmark. The National Park Service bestows this honor on sites “for their outstanding condition, illustrative value, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education.”

The Cobble, as it is affectionately called, started underwater as part of a sea, with sand and coral reefs, as much as 500 million years ago. At the forming of two mountain ranges, the Taconic and the Berkshire, the Cobble was born. The Cobble’s calcareous rock (formerly the ocean floor) now supports a specific diverse ecosystem and, in the spring, the calcium loving ephemeral wildflowers burst forth along the Ledges Trail. Indeed, we marvel at these wonders every year, but also savor visiting the Cobble monthly, often climbing up Hurllburt’s Hill to be awed by the sweeping northern view of the Berkshires and noting the seasonal changes in the landscape.

What is it about rambling around in the woods and up mountains, going on ‘expotitions’ as Christopher Robin termed them, that gives one great joy? Kathryn Aalto notes:

“Walking sets the mind adrift, clarifying and organizes thoughts—a vital process for writers. Walking allows a pace for discovering small, new things: how gorse has the faint smell of coconut in spring, that the red dragonflies hovering over bogs are actually rare, and that the nocturnal bird calls are from the threatened night jar.”

Indeed, it was a pleasure to wander the pages of her latest book, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh, exploring the fictional landscape of The Hundred Acre wood and to learn that A. A. Milne (the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh series) was inspired by the very real Ashdown Forest (East Sussex, England). Ashdown Forest, it seems, is not dissimilar to The Cobble, for its geography and geology support a particular rare ecosystem, thus designating it both a “Site of Special Scientific Interest” and a “Special Area of Conservation.”

We as walkers are most fortunate to have organization such as The Trustees of Reservations (managers of the Cobble) and Friends of Ashdown Forest to maintain and support these landscapes for us to savor and ramble upon. Often, we take for granted that these and other sites will be preserved forever. However, as Heather Bellow warns in her recent article, another natural area — the Otis State Forest in Otis, MA – is now under threat by the ‘claim for eminent domain’ by Tennessee Gas Pipeline. Bellow notes that the forest, with a stand of 300-year old hemlocks, is protected under Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution; as you can guess, Tennessee Gas, Kinder Morgan, and their stable of attorneys will be fighting the legality of Article 97 and any other law to ensure that nothing stands, literally and figuratively, in their way of seeking revenue.

Kathryn Aalto, The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: a walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood, (Timber Press, 2015), pgs. 110, 198-199, 214, 209.

Heather Bellow, “Kinder Morgan pipeline project scorns state constitution, could set precedent,” The Berkshire Edge, accessed on 3/25/2016

Note: This spring, trained guides (myself included) will be giving daily tours of the wildflowers during the Cobble’s Spring Wildflower Festival, Saturday April 16-Friday May 6. Tours depart at 10, 12 and 2pm. For more information, Bartholomew’s Cobble, 105 Weatogue Road, Sheffield MA 01257, 413-298-3239 x 3008.

Note: As of Friday March 25, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has issued a Request for Additional Information to Tennessee Gas Pipeline (Kinder Morgan’s subsidiary). For the full request letter, please read, “FERC to Kinder Morgan, ‘Sandisfield Pipeline? Not so fast,” in the Berkshire Edge.


winter metabolism

Category : Nature
Date : January 7, 2016
Comments : (1)

Greetings & Best wishes for 2016, dear Reader. We very much appreciate you following along with our musings and workings through the seasons on our colonial farm.

All across the northeast, temperatures dropped dramatically this past week and each morning dawned brisk and crystal clear. Heavy frost clung to the grasses and reeds in the field, and a thin glaze of ice formed on the ponds.

IMG_5830

As I walked out the back door this morning, a group of startled chickadees burst from the nearby cedar shrub. I wondered if and why they had rested in the shrub, rather than in some seemingly more snug nests in tree cavities, during the preceding evening. Thankfully, Bernd Heinrich explains this behavior in his eloquently written book, Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival. Apparently, black-capped chickadees (Parus atricapillus) do not use their nests in the winter for shelter and warmth, but instead “…may sleep in almost any tight cranny or cavity (as can sometimes be deduced from their bent tail feathers in the morning); in dense vegetation such as vines; in conifers; and possibly in snow.”

Heinrich further explains that chickadees, as do other small birds and mammals, activate torpor in the winter, setting down the body temperature to conserve energy. Chickadees stoke up their body fat during the day by foraging for food and, as evening comes on, lower their body temperature by two degrees, thus allowing for winter survival. By visiting our bird feeder, these active birds hopefully eat enough on a daily basis to make it through each night.   And, Heinrich further notes, that in addition to their dense plumage, they tuck their heads under their shoulder feathers to maintain warmth during the night.

IMG_5833

So, during cold winter months, eat well during the day and plump up your feathers in the evening.

Bernd Heinrich, Winter World The Ingenuity of Animal Survival, (Ecco Paper Back, 2004), pgs., 9-11, 135-139.


nests

Category : Nature
Date : January 10, 2015
Comments : (2)

Bundled up with my walking stick in hand, I head out each morning for a brisk stroll. During the winter months when the trees display their trunks and branches like dark lines on a white sheet of paper, I play the “nest game.” Bird’s nests are now visible in the crooks of branches and wedged amongst brambles. Weather–rain, snow and wind–causes unfurling, and strands of straw and grass hang and move in the breeze, and it is this movement that I catch out of the corner of my eye, stopping me in my tracks, so that I may examine the nest. The nests are made of varying materials, and come in all shapes and sizes. Without binoculars it becomes hard to see the details, but happily one can reference America’s Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser.IMG_2182

Kiser explains in her Preface that she happened upon a display featuring a copy of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History en route to begin her new job as an assistant librarian. Perhaps it was the visual juxtaposition of the oversized book next to the tiny label that caused her examination. The label “explained that the book was the accomplishment of the Jones family of Ohio: the daughter, Genevieve, had conceived of the idea and had begun drawing and painting the illustrations with the assistance of a childhood friend: the son, Howard, had collected the nests and eggs; the father, Nelson, had paid the publishing costs; and after Genevieve died, the mother, Virginia, and the rest of the family spent eight years completing the work as a memorial to Genevieve.”

It is no wonder that Kiser lingered at the display, for each delicate plate shows a nest rendered in exquisite detail in its natural setting, as well as the Latin and common name of occupying bird. Rows of eggs are drawn and painted to scale with three views per oval. We are treated to informative text with poetical descriptions of the birds, their nests, eggs and habits (flying pattern, songs, mating, nocturnal or not, etc,).

One of my favorite plates shows the nest of the Parus atricapillus (the Black-capped Chickadee) in a cut away view inside a tree trunk. Chickadees place their nests in the cavity of a tree and it “…is composed entirely of moss and very fine downy feathers, the lining being similar to the exterior except that the fibers are more numerous within.” A perfect bowl of moss lined in feathers–what more could one want? Of course, the Chickadee’s nest will be much harder for me to see on my morning walks, for only the exterior hole is evident to the passerby. I will watch more closely the openings, ever hopeful to see one emerge from a nest hole.

Likewise, I will keep my eyes alert at yard sales and antiquarian bookstores for a copy of the original book made by the Jones family. Kiser notes only twenty-six of the fifty-three hand colored copies and eight of the thirty-seven uncolored have been located. Pay attention.

Joy M. Kiser, America’s Other Audubon, (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), pgs. 10,13, 160-161.

Note: Kiser’s full introduction as well as selected plates are on view on line courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries—http://www.sil.si.edu/ondisplay/nestsandeggs/index.htm


when

Category : Nature
Date : May 15, 2014
Comments :

Recently, M has been asking me a series of “when” questions:

–when did the hummingbirds return last year?
–when did we move the chickens to the summer coop?
–when did the cat birds come back?
–when did we plant the peas and other spring crops?

When indeed? In order to answer each question, I pull out my ‘Record’ book. For the past four years, at dawn, I record the daily temperature as well as notable natural occurrences. Gathered over time, these become invaluable, for we know when to put out the hummingbird feeders (May 17, 2013 & May 4, 2012) and when to look at dusk for the first lightning bugs (May 21, 2013 & May 9, 2012). This past winter was particularly harsh, and we seem to be experiencing a consistent two-week delay this Spring in many of Nature’s “events”.

Seasonal notes and marks may take on many different forms by using the actual ‘windfall’ leaves and flowers on an observer’s paper and cloth. India Flint describes this process in her article in Surface Design Journal, “Marking the Way Home” through the art works of Roz Hawker, Isobel McGarry, Judy Keylock and myself. Silversmith Roz Hawker lives in Australia and gathers both plants and weeds from her garden, dyes both paper and textile, and binds these into delicate books with silver covers. Similarly, flora finds it way onto my pages. Flint states:

“These exquisite pieces are as much a record of Honeycutt’s environment as they are lyric odes to the plants whose memory is ingrained in the surface.  They echo her daily journal entries, in which she notes the minutiae of the weather along with the plants and animals that make appearances on her property.  In the tradition of a hortus siccus, her reflections, together with the work of the day, literally become arrangements of dried botanical delights.”

If one is seeking advice on starting a weather journal, pick up a copy of This Book Was a Tree:  Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natural World by Marcie Chambers Cuff.  In chapter 6, she walks one through the steps to make an “Ecological Calendar,” not only how to construct one from recycled materials, but how to hone one’s observational skills.  Cuff notes that one does not have to live in the country to do so, but one can adopt a nearby tree in a park and watch as the leaves unfurl, noting the monthly changes.  Branch out, and note when the nearby flowers bloom, when the honeybees are active and when the butterflies appear.

Note:  For further inspiration, visit the Yale Center for British Arts for their current exhibition, “Of Green Leaf, Bird, and Flower”: Artist’s Books and the Natural World, on view from May 15-August 10, 2014.

India Flint, “Marking the Way Home,” Surface Design Journal, Nature Bound/Spring 2014, Vol. 38 No. 3, pgs. 28-33.

Marcie Chambers Cuff , This Book Was a Tree:  Ideas, Adventures, and Inspriation for Rediscovering the Natural World, (Perigree Book, 2014), pgs. 79-93.

And, thank you to Resurrection Fern for alerting me to Cuff’s book.


wrens

Category : Nature
Date : November 3, 2013
Comments :

A few dandelions are popping out on the lawn and the bees are very grateful for this needed dose of pollen, as they hurriedly gather the last morsels of outdoor food to tide them over the winter.  The little jenny wrens are chirping by the woodpile in the mornings, and frost has covered the blades of grass and fallen leaves.  We are moving into the long days of winter here in western Massachusetts.

Earlier in the week, I began reading Christian McEwen’s World Enough & Time and have not been able to get this passage out of my mind:

In 2009, the editors at Oxford University Press removed a swathe of nature-related words from their latest Junior Dictionary……The familiar names of flowers and trees and birds and fish and animals vanished from the page.  Primrose and dandelion, hazel and walnut were replaced by terms like blog and voicemail, BlackBerry supplanted blackberry.  The heron and the kingfisher, the magpie and the raven, even the tiny wren flapped their ancient wings and flew away.”

How would Emily Dickinson have been able to write her poems without knowing the names and the qualities of countless plants, flowers and birds, I wondered.  One might argue that writers use the words, and the technology, of their time.  Today, writers undoubtedly pull out their handy Blackberry or Android to jot down verses as they hurriedly go about their day.  This is not dissimilar to the method Dickinson employed, for she would reach into her pocket, pull out her pencil and write snippets of verse upon saved scraps of envelopes; however, she probably relied upon her own erudition as well as the dictionaries and encyclopedias of the day in her explorations.  If words are eliminated from the landscape of the Junior Dictionary, how then will children know about what they are observing and write their poems?

detail for Euell #8--Brece Honeycutt, work on paper, 2012

detail for Euell #8, Brece Honeycutt work on paper, 2012

If Dickinson were alive today, would she use her PDA to write about the wren?

For every Bird a nest —
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round —
 
Wherefore when boughs are free,
Households in every tree,
Pilgrim be found?
 
Perhaps a home too high —
Ah aristocracy!
The little Wren desires —
 
Perhaps of twig so fine—
Of twine e’en superfine,
Her pride aspires —
 
The Lark is not ashamed
To build opon the ground
Her modest house —
 
Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice?

 

Christian McEwen, World Enough & Time:  on creativity and slowing down (Bauhan Publishing LLC, 2011), pg. 65.

The Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. by R. E. Franklin, (Harvard University Press, 2005), pg. 50

Thanks to India Flint for alerting me to McEwen’s thoughtful and provocative book.  An antidote to the harried world of the now.


Website by Roundhex. Adapted from Workality Plus by Northeme. Powered by WordPress
@