We are blessed to live on a property with trees as far as the eye can see. Our friend Jim, who owns the property, taps his maple sugar trees each year for sap. The sap is then boiled down into maple syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one quart of syrup so quite a few buckets must be hung in order to get a fair amount of syrup.
We were so excited to be able to help tap the trees this year. The process of making maple syrup is really interesting. Some facts if you'd like to read more.
Here is Ben waiting to get started tapping after loading the buckets into the trailer.
Finding sugar maple trees in the winter when they have no leaves is tricky. They must be identified by bark and tree shape alone.
Isis the bulldog spent the day running behind the tractor, barking at the kids. :)
Here is sweet Annie who brightens even the coldest occasions with her warm smile.
First, the tree is drilled to make a hole for the tap.
Next, the tap is hammered into the drilled hole. A large tree can take two taps.
Some trees drip sap within seconds of being tapped.
Next, a bucket is hung from the tap to collect the sap. You can see in the above photo the notch on which the bucket hangs. Some people use bags to collect instead of buckets. I like the buckets better.
Mary was a good sport and a hard worker.
Lastly, a lid is fastened on the bucket to keep out the elements, branches, etc. that might fall into the bucket.
The weather dictates how often the bucket will need to be emptied. During a warm spell, the sap runs faster and the bucket could need to be emptied daily.
After we tapped the trees, everyone collected wood so that there will be a big stack to keep the fire burning when it comes time to boil the sap.
Some people were helping...
...more than others. :)
So, now there is a decent sized stack of wood when it comes time to boil the sap. Right after the trees were tapped, we got hit with a huge ice storm and a cold spell so the sap may not run as quickly as it was running last week. The next step is to collect the sap and boil it down into syrup. If I am able to post more photos of the process, I will. Stay warm and safe everyone and thanks for visiting. :)
were a little out of hand this summer on Lake Erie's shores.
They are really very harmless, with only a 24 hour lifespan. They do not bite. But they are still creepy in a prehistoric kind of way. Many shoreline business remove their lightbulbs at night so they are not attracted to their storefronts. Here are some on the front of a drink (we call it pop) machine.
Lake Kelso is a glacial kettle lake, home to many rare species of animals, insects and plants.
Mary sketching the bog
A "yiddle baby turtle" that Annie spotted
Annie's renditions of above turtle
Ben on the lookout. There are many osprey in the area but we didn't see any on this trip.
Cinnamon fern growing around the bog. I like the way they slowly uncurl.
and their hidden blossoms. This was a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. We have quite a lot of local marshland as well as many small lakes in the area to explore. I am looking forward to getting to know them all with the kids.
The kids and I will be very casually studying birds this summer. We last studied them when Ben was in about second grade. My plans are simply to read about a bird from the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Comstock once or twice a week, try to spot one in nature and then sketch the bird in our nature notebooks. Our new home is such a great source for bird watching, because of the woods, pond and creek. We have several feeders around the property so it shouldn't be hard to spot a variety of species at any given time.
For a little inspiration to start off our bird sketching, I read aloud The Boy Who Drew Birds which is a picture book about John James Audubon. As usually happens with this type of study, we also learned a few other things and got to talking about migration, bird banding and the art of John James Audubon.
I will probably post their drawings each week, just for my own enjoyment and record keeping. I hope you enjoy them, too.
Kim has convinced me that you are, indeed, interested in the goings on of my life, despite my hesitation to get back to blogging. :) The last few months of the life of my family has been a whirlwind and a blur of activity, much of which I will update you in this post. Regardless, I am glad to type again and hopefully can keep a nice record of our activities. So, hello again to all of you. Thank you for stopping by!
We recently moved a bit farther out into the country. I have spent the last few months packing, moving and now unpacking. We are in a much smaller, more manageable place with quite a bit of acreage. The kids are enjoying the pond, creek and woods in general. Since it has been so long since I have posted, I will include several photos to catch up a bit. :)
The pond and one of many fire pits.
The creek that runs through the property.
The pond is chock full of snails. The girls go outside often and fill their buckets with snails, only to set them free a while later. We have been wearing rubber mud boots almost constantly since moving in.
I am expecting a baby girl, due in about 2 1/2 months. I had been hesitant to announce the news as I lost a little one this time last spring and because this pregnancy did not appear to be starting on the right foot. However, I have recently regained the weight I lost in the beginning and have gotten good news regarding my little girl's health. She is due sometime in July. I have wanted to keep a photo record of what my tummy looked like but, honestly, I only started showing a short while ago. I will try to get a belly shot up here on the blog as soon as I get a chance. In the meantime, know that I pretty much look just as I always do only with a basketball under my shirt. :)
I am so grateful to my friends for all of their help and support during the last few months. I have never been particularly good at accepting help from people and rarely ask for it (maybe it is the only child in me) but I have become humbled by the amount of love and support sent my way while moving and working through this pregnancy.
We spent the morning today pulling bushels of invasive garlic mustard from the property. It is actually an edible plant, valuable to foragers and has several medicinal uses as well. But it is taking over everywhere so we spent a couple of hours yanking it. Counts as Botany, right? :) Here is a picture for those of you who don't have it locally.
It has a strong garlic odor and can be cooked up, similar to spinach, if you choose the small leaves from the plant. We won't be having it for dinner tonight but you are welcome to come take a basket or two if you'd like some for your salad. :)
Also, this morning, the kids and I read from the Handbook of Nature Study about red winged blackbirds. We have quite a few around here because they live in marshland and on the edges of pastures, both of which are fairly prevalent out here. I haven't cracked open that book in a long while but I always enjoy it when we do. It is just a treasure of information. I don't have a photo of a blackbird at our feeders yet but here is a stock photo. You can tell the males from the females as the males have the striking military feathering, glossy black with the red and pale yellow shoulders. The females are plainer, with brown and mustard colored speckles.
Ben made pancakes this morning for breakfast. We love the recipe for Weekend Pancakes found in Leanne Ely's book Healthy Foods. We've been making them from that recipe for years except this morning we enjoyed them with some homemade maple syrup from my friends Anne and Nick (who tapped their own trees this spring).
The kids and I took a creek walk the other day. When we do this, we wear clothes and shoes that can get wet and walk down the middle of the stream as far as we feel like going. We have no agenda or goal to reach, we simply enjoy one another and the beauty around us.
Later the same day, we took another creek walk. That evening, Christopher said to me, "Mom this is the greatest day I have had in a long, long time."
"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." --Henry David Thoreau
The boys have been building a fort by the creek (we pronounced it "crick" back where I come from). Everyone has been doing a lot of fishing and frog catching. There's not much time for more words from me, or inclination for that matter. But I thought you'd enjoy the pictures.
Before the last snowfall, Ben found an owl pellet in the woods behind our home. He recently dissected it and found quite a few bones. We are not certain what kind of owl coughed up this pellet but perhaps we will catch a glance of him in the woods sometime.
Unfortunately, I didn't get a close up of all the bones. I just couldn't get the camera to focus correctly on those tiny little things. There was an awful lot of dark grey fur, probably from field mice or moles. Here are the bones he found:
1 skull 1 femur 4 lower jaw bones with tiny teeth 5 large claws (that looked like they belonged to a squirrel or cat) 2 vertebrae 9 unidentified random tiny bones
This was interesting for the younger children as well. Everyone wanted to have a turn poking around in the fur for bones. Ben was kind enough to oblige even though he had found the pellet himself. It is always fun to find nature to study, right in your own back yard.
We have never seen a pileated woodpecker, much less two, before this morning. Mary had just gotten up from the table and went to sit on the window seat in the living room. She called out in surprise that she saw two woodpeckers. We have other varieties in the yard on a regular basis: red bellied, red headed and downy. So none of us jumped up because they have become kind of commonplace.
When Ben sauntered over to see them, he called out, "Mom, it's a PILEATED! No, it's TWO pileated!". We, being the bird geeks we are, all ran to the window. We followed them around the property by running from window to window with binoculars and cameras. They are very large birds. I guess I never realized from photos I had seen, just how large they are. I would venture to say they were a foot and a half in length with a very large wingspan, over two feet.
They had a distinct call as they flew through the trees, landing and spending several minutes on a single tree before moving on. Interestingly enough, both were seen dropping large pieces of bark from the trees they excavated. We got to watch them for almost a half an hour before they flew farther into the woods.
Here are some more photos for all of you birders out there. :)
We thought they were really neat to have in the yard and hope they return again.
"The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go
outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens,
nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it
should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple
beauty of nature." ~Anne Frank
The kids and I spent time last week (prior to the Tarzan accident :) at the local arboretum where we do most of our weekly nature study. We have been going to the arboretum for the past eight years. It is neat to get to know a place intimately, in all four seasons. Coming back week after week allows us to really grow accustomed to the wildlife, plants and terrain of this diverse place. We spend most of our time around the pond and in the woods when we visit. While we are big fans of the arboretum, I'll admit to avoiding nature study in the depths of February when our temperatures hover right around 10 degrees. I like to study my fireplace and my knitting at that time of year. :)
We started doing nature study when Benjamin was a preschooler. He and I would come to the arboretum with Christopher in the baby sling or backpack. I began bringing along a sketchbook and camera after reading the books Wild Days by Karen Rackliffe and Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie.
Last week, many of the wildflowers were in bloom in the butterfly garden and in the meadows. I like to draw plants and flowers because they do not move around, making it easy for a person like me, who has only a public school art education, to sketch them. I like to add the Latin names as well. I don't know why but it seems so romantic. Lest you think I am a student of Latin, I copy the Latin names from our field guides. :)
I wanted to share a tip I use for those of you who are afraid to buy yourself a nature notebook and start sketching. I am not very adept at drawing three dimensional objects or creatures so I like to sketch things (copy them actually) from photographs or books. For example, if the children and I are out in the wilderness and we see a turtle crawling along, we try to identify it from our field guides. Rather than trying to sketch it there on the spot, I will come home and copy it from a book, again usually a field guide. While we were out recently, we saw a small snapping turtle and several snails. I knew that I could not sketch the turtle accurately while it crawled along so when we got home, I took out the Minn of the Mississippi book and copied a snapping turtle drawing from its pages. Maybe some folks would think that was cheating but it is the only way I know how to draw.
When we study nature, the kids and I each bring along a small field bag. Inside the bag is a small spiral bound sketchbook, a pencil and perhaps a small pair of field glasses. I carry the field guides in my own bag which is a big larger than the childrens'.
We have used these embroidered field bags for the past few years. They are made from a women's cooperative in Costa Rica. Really any old purse sized bag will do but we have gotten these as gifts and really enjoy them. There is a pocket for a pencil on the side and ample room within for a field guide, sketch book and small pair of binoculars.
I am very fond of the Golden Guide's St. Martin's Press field guides. They are relatively inexpensive, pocket sized, lightweight and fit nicely into the field bags. All of the pictures are illustrations rather than photos. For some reason, this appeals to me. We use them all quite often but the Pond Life field guide is by far our favorite.
We spend a lot of time just sitting around the pond, observing and listening to the sounds. Sometimes the kids try to catch frogs, sometimes they gather pond water specimens to identify water bugs, nymphs, mudpuppies and tadpoles. Rarely do we go away from pond study without finding something interesting to learn about.
(Here is a child who apparently likes bright, unmatching clothing. :)
Now that all of the leaves are fully grown on our local trees, summer is a nice time to identify various leaves. We spread out a blanket and the kids bring back some leaves. Everyone lays them out and we take out our field guides to identify them. I usually bring along several peeled crayons with which they can do rubbings and to label their leaves in their nature notebooks. Even the youngest children in our family can do this exercise and really seem to enjoy themselves. We have been using the book Stikky Trees which uses picture words and brief bits of text on each page to help botany students (of all ages) identify 15 of the most common trees in one hour. We love this book.
In addition to trees, there are so many other plants to study in the summer. We love to identify the different types of water lilies at the pond as well as other aquatic plants like duckweed.
This has been a very long post, hopefully none of you are terribly bored. :)
I hope to read some of your suggestions and posts about how you enjoy nature study, how you interest your children to join in and how you go about keeping record of your journey/studies.
"To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug." ~Helen Keller
Here in Northeast Ohio, we are so grateful to have such beautiful, diverse areas to explore. There are forests, rivers, ponds, dunes, beaches and marshlands within miles of our home, not to mention the Great Lake Erie! We spent an afternoon this past week at a nearby marshland. Here are some photos from our visit:
Male Redwinged Blackbird
His mate Their nest Another mama on her nest--couldn't get any closer without scaring her away--click to see better Beaver lodge-he was not out today but we have seen him swimming on other days
Turtles sunning themselves More turtles and a male Wood Duck.
Speaking of Wood Ducks, did you know that our small area of Ohio, specifically the North Chagrin reservation is one of the best areas in the world to photography Wood Ducks? I owe you a better photo than this fellow on the log. Will try to get a better shot next time. :) In the meantime, scroll down a bit on this page for a photo of a drake and a hen.
We have so been looking forward to a day of sunshine and fun. This morning we traveled to Headlands Beach State Park. Aside from the beautiful beach, the park is also home to Headlands Dune State Nature Preserve. You can read more about the dunes here. There are a large number of birds that make the dunes their home as well as many who migrate through the area. In the warmer months, monarch butterflies are plentiful in the milkweed. A wide variety of foliage grows at Headlands such as switchgrass, cocklebur, sand-drop seed and sea rocket. Cottonwood trees cover the further lying areas near the entrance to the park.
Here are some photos from our day in the sun:
Entering the nature preserve
A view of Mentor Lighthouse from the preserve
The dunes will be green within a month or so.
After walking a while through the preserve, we finally catch a glimpse of our beautiful Lake Erie.
We spent the day looking for beach glass.
We ended up finding a couple hundred pieces in all--a very nice catch for one morning. More on beach glass in another post.
Mentor Headlands, along with most Ohio beaches, are not combed and maintained until mid-May, in preparation for Memorial Day and the start of the Summer season. Until then, the beaches are covered with driftwood. Here you can see some large pieces of wood that had washed up from the Winter ice flow.
The kids had such fun making teepees and lean-tos with the driftwood.
Everything was going well until we heard a little voice say, "Eat beach."
After her initial happiness and pride at swallowing a handful of sand, she soon decided she wanted nothing more to do with the beach so we packed our belongings and headed for home.
We all agreed that this was the nicest day we've had in a long time. We plan to come back next week.
Thanks for stopping by. Have a beautiful, restful weekend!
I've been meaning to mention that a local naturalist named Foster Brown is one of the children's favorite singer/songwriters. His music is acoustic, sort of folk-sy, very pleasing to the ear and educational to boot! Our favorite CD called Songs from a Naturalist's Notebook. It is available for purchase here either in CD format or as a download. You can listen to some samples on his website. I can't tell you how much the children have learned from him and how many times a day I hear them singing one of his tunes. You might like to check it out for yourself. :)
We have had our share of April showers this past week! Our May flowers are always beautiful so I am not going to complain about the rain. :)
The children always have such a fun time in the temporary pond that fills our backyard. A few times a year we get rain heavy enough to cause most of the backyard to be covered in water. Our soil is composed mostly of clay, as our backyard used to be a streambed, way back when.
The other morning we awoke to find some new visitors in our yard, a mallard couple! I had hoped to get a better photo of them but they were a bit camera shy the first time I tried to take their picture so I kept my distance.
The mallard couple stopped by last year for a short stint but have been here three days this week. It is so funny to see ducks floating around in the huge puddle that is our backyard. :)
Here are some other signs that Spring has arrived in Northeast Ohio.
Snow Drops or as my little Grandma used to call them, Snow Peeps.
Speaking of my grandma, her Lenten Roses (or Hellebore) that are growing in my yard have begun to blossom! I am anxious to see the opened buds in the upcoming days.
As a side note, I thought I had re-uploaded all of the photos from my previous blog to this one but a kind visitor reminded me that I am missing all the photos in my Nature Study category. I will try to upload them sometime this week. Thanks for noticing!
I hope you have a wonderful, relaxing Sunday with your family.
Every spring the salamanders migrate on the first warm, rainy night of the year. Unfortunately on the first warm, rainy night of this spring, I forgot and we stayed home reading Swallows and Amazons instead.
So last week (on the second warm and rainy night of the Spring season), the boys and I attempted a trip to see if there were any straggling, slowpoke salamanders to be seen. The night was a bit colder that evening and, although it rained all day, it was not raining when we left the house.
The boys and I left the sleeping girls home with Mike. We brought our flashlights and lanterns and walked for quite some time around the marsh along the trail but did not see a single salamander. I think it was just a tad too cold and the fact that it stopped raining at dinnertime did not help our cause. What we did see, however, was a couple dozen spring peepers on the path. They are such cute little fellows! In addition to the peepers we saw, we heard hundreds of them. They made quite a chorus there in the dark.
Spring peepers are found in wetland areas where grass and water mix. They are hardy in the cold and become very vocal this time of year. Peepers let us know that the ground is thawing and spring is on its way. They are only about 1 inch in length and can be positively identified by the "X" on their back and the presence of toe pads. They also have moustaches. As the weather gets warmer, we will be hearing more from the peepers who make their telltale song "Peep in, Peep Out" by inflating sacs under their chins with air. They sound similar to a baby chick.
The neat thing about nature study is that many times we set out to study one thing and end up learning about another. We wanted to see the salamanders but found the spring peepers instead. To pass up the chance to study these little amphibians would be foolish. I am sure the kids and I will get out and see some salamanders this spring. We'll keep looking until we find them, under a rock in a shady spot near a stream I'm sure. If there's one thing we are, its persistent. :)
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