We had about 3 inches of snow on Saturday into Sunday. Nice snowman making snow. But very heavy to shovel or sweep. I can’t resist snow shadows and the colors of the snow.
I love being out at night when it is snowing . I got up early Sunday morning to sweep the snow off the patio and the walks. It was magical.
A little later…
We can all agree that 2020 was a radically different year than we had envisioned. All our goals and plans for the New Year quickly vanished by the middle of March. That is when I began my sheltering in place and working from home (until my retirement in May).
When making retirement plans for this summer, I had intended to immerse myself in volunteering at Shades and Prophetstown State Parks and NICHES and Nature Conservancy Properties. My hopes were to find a volunteer project or projects to fulfill my hours needed for the Advanced Indiana Master Naturalist Certification. Hopefully I can proceed with those plans next year.
Jody Heaston, our Volunteer and Master Naturalist Coordinator, has been really helpful throughout all this in sending out emails connecting us with opportunities for distance education and volunteer hours.
One such project was collecting acorns from one white oak tree in your area for the White Oak Genetics and Tree Improvement Program, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Kentucky, Research headed by Laura De Wald. Since we had dubbed our property “Windy Oaks” when we moved here twenty-eight years ago, obviously due to having several oak trees, it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me. No commute time. Easy social distancing. No mask required. Total Zen time each day circling a beautiful, stately oak tree looking for acorns.
I have always loved acorns, but I’ve never noticed just how beautiful and how varied the colors are. They remind me of jewels.
It was a very educational time for me.
Things I learned from Laura De Wald in her instructions and further emails:
- Acorns needed to be brown, not green.
- The caps of the acorns need to come off with slight touch of finger or not have a cap on at all.
- Acorns dropped in water that floated are not viable – will not grow – so I only kept those that sank to send to her.
- Once acorn weevil larvae leave the acorn they will not burrow into another acorn.
Things I learned on my own or from subsequent research:
- My particular oak tree is 102 inches in circumference. The height to the first branch is over 13 feet.
- Acorn weevils infest a lot of the acorns.
- Acorn weevils are looking for soil to burrow in to complete their life cycle.
- The viability rate is around 40% or less of those I collected (I was a bad Citizen Scientist and forgot to log the first 3 days).
- I need to pay closer attention to the small details in nature to really learn.
- Acorns from the same tree come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.
- Viable acorns come in many shapes and sizes.
- A single acorn can contain many colors.
- Some acorns have the larva of the acorn weevil in it just waiting to escape the box lid the acorn is drying in so it can scoot across the kitchen counter! (I cannot believe I did not take a picture of the larvae.)
- Does the size of acorn denote how successful the seedling will be?
- Why do acorns that are not brown drop from the tree?
- What causes one acorn to be viable and another not?
- Do squirrels and chipmunks eat or bury only viable acorns?
My time walking around this mighty oak – starting at the center next to it and walking around farther and farther each time until I get past its drip line and into the direction the wind might blow the acorns down – has been really good for me to slow down and connect with God, Nature, and myself. The breeze and the sunshine feel more relevant to my skin. I notice the small things – the shiny, bright acorns, the brown leaves or the more colorful clusters of leaves, a beetle or fly that might go past while I’m walking, the songs of the birds in the trees and at my feeders, the butterflies in my garden zinnias.
After sending the package to the University of Kentucky project manager, I received the email that my collection looked great and she had already planted them. She said that my acorns were of great quality, which relieved my mind as the weevil situation worried me. I cannot wait until the spring to hear how my new crop of oaks are doing!
And especially in these stressful Covid-19 times of racial injustice coming to the forefront again and political and economic unrest, and family health problems, I have enjoyed taking the half hour to walk the spiral labyrinth around a mighty oak tree and slowing my mind and thoughts to God’s creation and my connection to it.
Sometimes you just have to make a snowman.
I noticed Sunday morning after I had filled the feeders, that there was a strange chipmunk eating at the table feeder. I started sketching the differences and notice it didn’t have any stripes on it and that it didn’t have a chipmunk tail. And it had a lovely creamy belly and an orange, foxy blush on the top of its tail with a dark border; darkish on its side with orange/foxy color along its spine. And such lovely big eyes with thick white eyeliner.
I can’t believe I thought it was a chipmunk. Probably just because we seem to have millions of them on our property getting into all kinds of mischief!
My Peterson’s Mammal guide says it’s a Red Squirrel. I had no idea we had them here. This is a FIRST OF YARD!!! Peterson’s says they are between 7-8 inches with tail 4-6 inches. It is also called a Spruce Squirrel. (The windbreak we planted 20 plus years ago is planted with 100 Norway spruce!)
Our regular squirrel species is the Eastern Fox Squirrel. They keep us extremely entertained with their antics around and around the trees they go. One quite often looks out of the screech owls’ box or lays sprawled on top in extremely hot, humid (i.e. typical) Indiana summer weather.
I have seen the squirrel regularly every day since Sunday. It has become quite fond of the sunflower seeds I put out for the jays, cardinals, titmice, nuthatch, chickadees and not for the chipmunks (grrr). By the way, I counted 12 sunflower seeds going into a blue jay gular pouch before it flew off today!
It is nice in the greys and brown of the late autumn/early winter season when it is bleak, to get splashes of color. Today’s was just a pretty clump of soft lush green moss with its pretty orange sporophytes.
I don’t always get to see the yellow shaft in the flickers on our property, but this male visited our feeder and the camera was on the table the other day so I snapped it through the window. Not a great shot, but the yellow shafts are amazing!
We went to Shades State Park to hike on the day after Thanksgiving (AKA Hike Friday or #OptOutside in our family). We decided to hike the Backpack Trail because it is one of the trails that we rarely meet many, if any people while hiking on it.
It was perfect hiking conditions, partly cloudy with sun peaking out now and then, no wind, about 46 degrees. I hadn’t intended to walk the entire trail as it is about 7 miles long total there and back, but with husband in the lead is our usual hiking order, he took off and I am always the caboose. I like to linger and check out fungus or birds or anything else that might catch my eye or ear. Or even hug a tree.
I have been having heal problems the last two months, so I was really slowing down on our way back to the truck. I decided to take a short cut to the campground and wait for the cavalry to come pick me up. I’ve gotta get my hiking mojo back. I did get 6.26 miles in according to Map My Walk and daughter was channeling Samwise when I told her to go on and she said, “I won’t leave you, Master Frodo!” We do try to have fun when we are outdoors and make the most of it.
Needless to say, we are all a little out of shape and feeling it today, but we are very glad to have been out there Opting out and getting out fresh air and Vitamin D.
Just a shot of last month’s Hunter’s Blue Moon taken by my daughter. A little late due to internet issues.