Saturday, May 31, 2014

White-tailed Squirrel

 They were called "unique" by a newspaper in Iowa newspaper two years ago. Vince Evelsizer, a wildlife biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, called them "relatively rare" in that same story which appeared in the Globe Gazette (Mason City, IA) on June 4, 2012.

 He had never seen one.

 Since that time, there have been more reports in Illinois and Indiana. Now I've spotted my first here in Ohio. This one has been scampering about Pinehaven all spring.

 The squirrel is not an albino. They have normal-colored eyes and body fur. The white tail is a recessive trait of gray squirrels. The mother must have a white tail, too.

 The four pictures I'll post are each different even though they appear quite similar. The squirrel was sitting on our back porch last evening. The sun had not set and I was shooting into the light, not a good angle for a clear photograph. I was also shooting through the back storm door.

 When the squirrel runs up a tree, it looks like he is being chased by a ghost.

 The white tail is an extension of the fur on his underbelly, also snow white.

 It'll be interesting to see if we see others of this type in the years ahead.

[Credit: Globe Gazette]

Monday, May 26, 2014

Showy Flowers

 The season is underway and those flowers that survived last winter's brutal cold seem to be celebrating. In recent days, as I walked in the neighbor's lane, I noticed her iris's were in full bloom. I walked the extra distance just so I could admire them.

 It was early morning - perhaps not much later than 7:30 am - and the dew still clung to the petals. And what a heavenly subtle scent does the iris exude. The scent takes me back to my childhood when I would walk across the street with my grandfather, holding his four-fingered hand, to my aunt's house on Memorial Day. She'd have buckets of flowers cut, standing in cold clear water, ready to take to Hill-Grove Cemetery.
 My aunt, even in her 90's, loved flowers. Her showiest were on the south side of her garage. I loved a purple lilac that bloomed there, flooding her yard with that deep smell of luxury. Once, when I was sick with the flu, she sent me a bouquet which Mom placed on my dresser. I think that bouquet helped with my recovery. It certainly demonstrated the healing power of flowers. I have been hooked ever since.

 Millie's iris's are exquisite and I could stand and admire them all day. When we first moved to Pinehaven, we had this same flower at the eastern edge of our driveway, right in front of the house. Mom hated them. "Too showy," she said. And so, slowly, we dug them up and planted grass.
 In fact we no longer have any flowers in our front yard. It is just green grass, trees, brick house.
 On the north of the house is an entire flower bed of ferns, a plant that appreciates the cool shade. On the north of the garage are hosta, an entire row of green leaves all summer, delicate purple flowers in the fall. The idea is understatement. At the rear of our garage, we have our regular flower bed ... roses, statice, baby's breath, poppy, yarrow. Around the corner, Russian sage.
 Mom never likes a showy display. Thus the iris's are gone and all of our flowers are neatly trimmed and generally of small, delicate stature.
 So yesterday, when we were at the hospital for lunch, I stopped to admire a hibiscus. Mom pulled back. "Oh, that thing's too showy," she argued. I, of course, loved it.

 Showy, indeed! Any flower that can blend shades from red to pink to orange to yellow on a single petal gets my vote. This flower screams "Look at me!". Mom turns away. But like the Pied Piper, I follow. Does this appreciation for beauty lead me to eventual destruction? Then I still go willingly.

I suppose we will never grow one of these. We will favor shades of green for most spots. But I won't look away when one of these call my name.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How Cold Was It?

 For the past two nights, I've covered my tomatoes and peppers. I carried six terracotta pots out of the henhouse and turned them upside down over the plants before I came in for the day. I also did the same with six lavender plants Mom started on our inside porch last winter.
 I removed them each morning before the sun got too "hot".

 Friday night we had a low of 37° and I didn't see any frost.
 Last night, Dan (who lives about four miles north of me) recorded a low of 36°. Another electronic weather station in Farmersville recorded 37°. Mom said that's the lowest she saw on the thermometer we have mounted outside the kitchen window. Obviously it got colder.

 When I took garbage out to the compost hole in the garden at 7:30 am, I was amazed to find the rainwater in the top of our burn barrel (a 55 gallon metal oil drum) was frozen.

 I tried to lift the edge of the ice so it would better show in this photograph. But it was thin and brittle and it cracked whenever I tried to break surface tension with it. Still, I think you can see that this is ice.
 The burn barrel is open to the full sky and removed from the house. It sits at the edge of the garden and on the north side of the garage. It could not have frozen unless the temperature in that spot made it down to 32°.

 As I looked across the lawn (mowed yesterday), I saw patches of white frost in the back yard, though nowhere else.

 The "date of last frost" for the Dayton area is generally considered to be May 15. It is most common in late April but seldom beyond the first few days of May. I understand the record late frost for our area was May 21. So, unusual as frost may be, it can happen.

 But ice?

 Still, the recorded lows do not show this happening. And yet, here at Pinehaven, it did.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Curious Georgette

 For the past several years, we've had a couple of tiny squirrels running about the yard. I think these are part of a group I saw as infants, tiny things that were scared of their own shadows. They've grown up, though they're still quite small compared to most local squirrels.
 Last winter I'd see then gathering feed beneath the bird feeder, else combing last fall's maple seeds from the frozen grass. Lately one has been visiting the back porch each evening, picking seeds out of the cracks between slabs on concrete. Usually when they see me they run.
 But not last evening.
 I walked into the kitchen about 8:15 pm just as the sun was setting and I heard a metronome-like chirp. I thought I was hearing a bird. So I walked to the window and scanned the nearby maple tree for whatever was making such noisy protests.
 On the horizontal branch nearest the window sat one of the squirrels, directly above where we have a hummingbird feeder attached. Perhaps the bright red of the feeder attracted her attention. Perhaps she was simply in the mood to complain.

 Her chirping - it was not the usual squirrel "bark" - came at about the rate of one per second, an arboreal clock with some notable precision. She seemed not to be able to help herself, as though the sound was some sort of hiccup. I stood at the window, pressed my face close to the glass, moved my arms about, and still she sat running her time piece.

 I suspect she was not happy about something. Maybe she was calling to the bright hummingbird feeder, expecting it to answer or fly away? Maybe she was calling her sibling? She stared straight into my eyes as she chirped, her little lungs pulsing with air, her lips jerking.

 She didn't budge, even though I gave her plenty of reason to. Eventually I left and went into the living room to watch some TV. I came back 45 minutes later and she had not moved an inch. She had, however, quit making any sound. She sat there still as a rock, staring me down. I thought she might be getting ready to make her bed there.

 It's hard to say what goes on in the mind of a squirrel. At 9 pm, as I readied myself for bed, I walked to the window one last time. The sky had darkened and the tiny squirrel was gone, taking the mystery along with her.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

None is a Lonelier Number

 Give us credit for trying.
 Another early morning jaunt in the woods - this time again with Sue Barlett and Dan Poffenberger - but another day coming out empty-handed. The morels this year are elusive at best.
 Still, by 8:30 am we are pushing our way through the tangles in Bob's woods - a "virgin woods" as Dan calls it, never having been hunted for mushrooms - but the spring scenery is exquisite if almost barren of fungi.We spread out, each going our own way. I tried to use a "Z" pattern to cover as much of the woods as possible in my section.

Podophyllum peltatum - Mayapple (Mandrake)

 I first came upon a patch of Mayapples, standing in the dense woods, their green umbrella tops standing stiffly. They pick the rare sunny spots, where the spring sun angles just right between the tall trees. I've always used these as a sign of the morel's timing. The two go together. Usually.

Trillium erectum - Purple Trillium

 Unlike the usual white Trillium, the purple variety - while said to be the most common variety - holds these small royal flowers which seem forever closed. I did not smell them but I understand they attract carrion flies for pollination with their foul scent. They are part of the Lily family.

 Dan noticed this fresh fungi growing on a rotting log. He broke the upper piece off and I turned it upside down to photograph the delicate gills underneath. I have no idea about the edibility of this fungus so I limit myself to true morels which I can easily - and surely - identify.

 As I pushed out of the woods on the east side of Bob's pond, Dan had already exited opposite me and was sitting on a bench. The pond's most vocal residents at the moment are frogs, hundreds of them, which squeak like frightened mice as we walked by. Plop! They swim swiftly away. Dan saw a few tadpoles, already mostly developed into full-fledged frogs.

Derelict Outhouse

 Does Bob know there's an outhouse in his woods? Surely this speaks of earlier inhabitants of his land. He still uses a small cabin and this is just south of there. So maybe it is not so old? Maybe this was more of a hunter's camp, a fisherman's gathering place?
 Sue exited the woods behind Bob's house and we all grouped at the turn-around and talked a few minutes about what we saw on our walk. We all agreed on this: no morels. Not a one. by 9:30 am we were finished.
 I suppose it is about time to give it up for this year. I may check a local site a few more times but it seems the year is getting too late for these marvelous mushrooms.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Morels are Up

 Finally. May 2. I walk into the woods and check my "never fail" spot. There I see a nice yellow sponge. "About time," I whisper under my breath. It's a pretty one, too, though grown on its side rather than vertically. The unsubstantial branch of a winterberry is laid across the mushroom and so it has grown sidewalks, hugging Mother Earth.

Yellow Sponge

 I'm surprised I saw it so easily, partially buried as it was. But when I pulled back the branch, this is what I saw: a glorious yellow sponge, perfect in every way.

Grey Sponge

 Nearby was a single grey sponge. I had already stepped on it, or the debris above it, and snapped it off at ground level. It's a gorgeous sight to a mushroom hunter, even though small. The typical morel smell is there, musky and earthy ... primal.

Compare: Yellow (l) and grey (r)

 The yellow measured about two inches in diameter. Comparing the two, you can see that the grey is quite small. Nice to say, regardless of size, they taste the same.

Sliced and ready for lunch!

 Mom sliced both of the mushrooms and will add them to fried potatoes for lunch. Typing here on the second floor, I can smell that lovely aroma already. There's only two but it doesn't matter. It's something, and that is enough to satisfy us ... for now.
 So, time for chow!

Later (May 4): After two days of mowing I went back to the woods to see if any more morels had popped. Yes, but just two and both in my special place. The first is large ... it covers my hand with outstretched fingers top to bottom. The other had been broken off - probably by me on a previous trip - and was dried. We'll use both, though.

"Mr. Big"

Already dehydrated and broken off