Ground Cedar and just how special this plant is

Ground cedar

Ground cedar

I have always known that ground cedar (Lycopodium complanatum) club moss family,  was special, but I didn’t know why. Today, I read a post by Dr. Thomas Barnes, University of Kentucky at http://kentuckynativeplantandwildlife.blogspot.com/2012/01/plant-of-week-southern-club-moss.html.

You may enjoy reading the full article at noted link. I can’t get enough of this kind of learning. Every day is wondrous when we learn something new about Creation.

There is a small colony of ground cedar growing in the forest near spring fed snow runoff sites in the hills, at Winter Hill Farm, near Fitchburg, MA. There are large glacial bounders here. For one thing, I learned that it takes 10 – 15 years before the ground plant actually shows itself. First the plant must develop under the ground with a symbiotic relationship with fungi mycelium. The plant also requires a certain soil component, being a lack of nutrients in the soil, and the plant usually requires large boulders, in the near vicinity. Boulders are here because glaciers come through and large tumbling boulders were left behind in the hills. This is one of the beauties of the forest near Fitchburg. My sister lives here on 40 acres, in a protected watershed area, with her husband. The children are all grown now, but Winter Hill Farm is their retreat on weekends and holidays. I am here and will be living nearby come fall. I didn’t dream when I came here, July 11, for a family wedding, that I would be moving back to the East Coast. Pinch me!

I have been given the opportunity to come full circle. Now I can walk into my field work here and continue writing, publishing and observing nature in this environment. Yesterday, my sister gave me a rock that was engraved by an elder artist, who is now deceased. A butterfly was carved into the rock. Ronnie carried the rock up to the Wild Butterfly Habitat and placed the medium size rock on the stone fence at the entrance of the habitat.

Butterfly heaven

monarch birth 26 August 2012

monarch birth 26 August 2012

Today my sister’s grandchildren came calling my name, “Aunt Mary Ellen come quick. The butterfly is born.” I could hardly believe it was the  same monarch that was in a chrysalis this past week because it was too early in its development at this stage. Rather it turned out to be another monarch birth.

It took a child with eyes close to the ground to spot the newly emerged butterfly, which was resting on a blade of grass, after it emerged from a clear, see through chrysalis. Welcome to the world dear monarca. The caterpillar created a chrysalis right on a container pot. No one even suspected that there was a chrysalis there.

The other chrysalis we are watching is about ready to emerge. The wings are becoming more visible through the chrysalis as the hours pass by. It should prove interesting tomorrow. Here’s a shot of today’s chrysalis.

monarch chrysalis 26 August 2012

Dragonfly forest and other stories

Sympetrum olcinum dragonfly

Sympetrum olcinum dragonfly

Amelia, my niece was overhead saying to her brother and sister as they looked out the front door facing the expansive gardens and lawn, “It’s a dragonfly forest.” There were hundreds of dragonflies dive bombing mosquitoes and it did look like a dragonfly habitat.  We often see them by the masses at sunset around the pool area when we have our dinner out at the picnic table. Honestly, there are no mosquitoes because of the dragonfly patrol. No need to spray here. I did get a photo of the red or rust yellow-legged meadowhawk (Sympetrum olcinum). We saw a twelve-spotted skimmer (Libfellua pulchella). The skimmer has a white abdomen and several spaces on the wings that are clear, with darker accented markings. It is rather large and noticeable.

Looking in a field guide for vernal ponds, I learned that the eastern box turtle is of special concern in Massachusetts. I feel fortunate to have a shell that my dog Tia and I discovered near the pond that was on the back side of our property in Lusby, MD. In December 2000, I carried the shell with me when I moved to Wisconsin. Once I was there, I learned that the turtle was a significant part of Ojibwa culture in the Great Lakes region. There is no such thing as coincidence, seeing as I had moved to Indian Country and would be studying with the Ojibwa at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College (LCOOCC). I graduated from LCOOCC in 2003. You can read about my journey to the Midwest online at http://www.tribalcollegejournal.org/archives/8298

I was granted a Creative Writing Award from Tribal College Journal where the article was published along with other tribal college authors. I am thrilled that the prestigious Journal published the  issue online for prosperity.

Amelia, my grand niece

Amelia, my grand niece

Continuing our woodland walk, Amelia and I saw many frogs. I saw a wood frog  that wears a black mask across its eyes and has a yellow line that distinguishes this particular frog species. Frogs were not all we saw. There was cucumber root . My sister Ronnie told me what it was. Here is a photo of the plant. The upper set of leaves were growing through the beautiful ferns that exist within the woodlands.

Cucumber root

Cucumber root

The plant is unique because it as two separate sets of leave with berries within the top array of leaves that form a circle around the plant stalk. Ronnie also pointed out running cedar that grows near the far boundary of the property near the frog pond. . I have to jog my memory re: medicinal plants and look up both running cedar and princess pine. Something is nagging me about one of them being a medicinal plant.

On the walk down Ashby West Road yesterday, I came across lady slipper leaves visibly growing near one of my favorite grandfather boulders. I was really taken aback. There are at least eight sets of visible plants growing along the side of the road. I drove down the hill yesterday and Ronnie was able to be my eyes as we passed the large glacier boulder. Ronnie, being a plant expert herself, was able to spot the lady slippers. I love them because they are part of the orchid family and hardy enough to grow in our northern climate.

ladyslipper

Mushroom trails and other stories

One can hope that the moist forest has lots of different mushroom species. A few days ago I discovered mossy maze polypore (Cerrena unicolor). I am looking for Turkey tail mushroom. The algae-covered mushroom feels hairy in sections, then smooth in others. It is strongly zoned which gives it a false appearance of turkey tail. Mossy maze polypore grows on live deciduous trees or conifers.The polypore was growing on a live apple tree. Flesh has white with grayish zone separating it from a hairy cap surface. Spore print is white. I need to find colored paper for testing spores that are white. I tried getting a spore match on a white paper plate and of course I couldn’t see the print. Turkey tail grows on dead deciduous trees or in wounds. Mossy maze polypore grows throughout N. North America. Source: Field Guide to Mushroom by National Audubon Society. Not all species live on trees.

NOTE:  A few day later my eight year old great-niece Amelia and I went mushroom hunting. We found a few more species. I still am unsure of species, but want to add photos and any notations that I have that may help with identification. Along the way, we stopped at the wild butterfly habitat for me to check it out.

Amelia and Toby

Amelia and Toby

It wasn’t long before I saw Amelia kneeling down by a white cross where Toby, the dog, was buried in the butterfly habitat in the nearby woods. I was surprised to find her there quietly visiting the deceased dog whom Amelia and the family loved. To see her innocence and love for one of the Creator’s creatures was a heartrending sight. She said she wished she could pull the rocks away so she could see Toby once again. I knew how she felt. I told her my own story of wanting to dig up my dog Tia just too see her again too. I explained that we had to let our loved ones go when they walked on. It was respectful to them. Amelia understood. It wasn’t long before we were hiking on the trail once again.

Mossy maze polypore

Mossy maze polypore (Cerrena unicolor) Leathery , stalkless, grayish. Hairy, often algae-covered caps. Smoky pores. Spore print white. On deciduous trees mostly, overlapping. National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mushrooms, 2004.

NOTE: More mushroom photos follow.

Mystery mushroom

Mystery mushroom

Red mushroom growing in wet forest area

Red mushroom growing in wet forest area

I finally see where the mourning dove lives. For weeks I have been watching the mourning dove in his/her favorite roost perched on the barn roof. Yesterday I saw him fly to my father’s nearby Norway spruce tree. My sister Ronnie confirmed that this is where mourning doves live. I find it interesting that the bird likes to watch the family when they are in the pool area. It is here we have garden fresh casual suppers, sitting around a umbrella covered picnic table. The cooing bird also likes to watch human activity in the front gardens. Often I am out there smelling flowers or taking photos of pollinating insects on flowers.

Gills and spore side

Gills and spore side

Grasshopper carries pollen on its feet

Yesterday I caught a green grasshopper with hollyhock pollen on his/her legs. Now I know that even a grasshopper can be a pollinator. My sister and I love old fashioned hollyhocks. Ronnie has a scattered collection of near black, maroon and pink. We both planted a brilliant dark pink hollyhock last year and new first year leaves have been spotted both in our gardens in WI and MA. I collected seeds from the plant in an alley in WI. It is by far the prettiest color I have seen.

Let’s hear it for the pollinators! Without them there wouldn’t be a bio-diverse world nor the wonderful variety of vegetables and fruits that we often take for granted. We celebrate a thanksgiving each time we remember to thank and protect pollinators.

The mighty oak and other tales

Today I ventured a little farther down the road that goes by my sister’s old farmstead. It is a steep hill; each day I venture a little more down the road. This way I am able to test my breathing and build endurance in hill climbing to return home. The forest was loudly making her presence known today. Acorns were dropping on the forest floor. How mighty the old oak trees are with maple tree companions.

I am always amazed to observe plants along the way. There is lots of poison ivy growing in the ditch area and I saw darling jewel weed growing near the ivy. The sweet flower is the antidote to poison ivy. You rub it on infected areas and it clears up itchy skin patches. How do remedy plants know where to grow where poisonous plants exist? Do plants communicate? I believe they do. Plants release chemicals and essential oils. Trees are known to communicate when they are about to be attacked by predator bugs. They release chemicals that warn a companion tree colony that danger is headed their way. I suspect that all plant colonies have this chemical defense mechanism. How good of the jewel weed to come and grow near the poison ivy.

A few days ago I received a call from Mike Carpenter, caretaker, Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, WI. We had planted a three sisters garden at the habitat. It was growing profusely when I left WI on July 11. Well, it was growing so well that deer thought we had planted it just for them. Mike mentioned that the deer were coming in a night, making beds and sleeping at the habitat. They didn’t have to go far to forage. Deer have helped themselves to all the squash and baby pumpkins. Hungry critters have also eaten all the beans except a handful.

I think Mike made the gardens extra inviting by feeding the plants with fish juice all summer. He’s a fisherman and doesn’t throw anything out. I never saw our vegetable garden looking so good. Mike said he wants to put up a night hunter’s motion camera so we can see who lives in the habitat at night.

Long view of secret gardens

Aldo Leopold bench

Aldo Leopold bench

Yesterday afternoon I took the mail out to the Aldo Leopold bench which is under a maple tree and near a trail in the woods. This is my own secret garden now. I was content to sit there and read the mail.

Joe Pye Weed

Looking up I could see Joe Pye weed, one of my favorites. I love the story that goes something like this. Long ago a group of people who came over the big water from Europe became ill. A Native American came to their rescue and gave them a tea to drink. The pilgrims got better. One of the sick asked him, what is the name of that plant? The Native American said, “Joe Pye Weed.” You see that was his name. I can just imagine Joe Pye walking away after saying this.

Morning nature meditations

Monarch chrysalis extended near tomato plant. Looks to be same color as fruit.

Monarch chrysalis extended near tomato plant. Looks to be same color as fruit.

Before I begin this post, I thought you would want to know that the monarch butterfly caterpillar has changed into the next stage of its life. It is now a lime green chrysalis. I think it must of happened yesterday afternoon after the sun finally came out. The morning was rainy.

Monarch caterpillar classic J shape

I photographed a few shots of the caterpillar that just hung upside down for a day. It was cloudy out and a little cooler. I wondered if the caterpillar needed sun to give it energy in order to change into a chrysalis. Then the downpour came and I hoped the caterpillar would be safe. Rain drops can dislodge an adult monarch and cause it harm or death. I was concerned about the caterpillar. Would it be safe from the elements? After all it was hiding among tomato leaves and perhaps had enough cover not to experience the brunt of heavy rain pellets.

This morning was cool, a touch of fall crisp air. Dressed in a hoodie, I went outside to begin thanksgiving morning rituals. Old growth oak trees at the end of the driveway were whispering yes, fall is coming. They communicate a unique sound when the leaves move. It is different than summer serenades. The leaves resonate this truth.  As I stood on the back stoop for a few minutes, I heard hummingbird wings behind me. It wasn’t long before a female flew in front of me; I had a close encounter as I stood perfectly still. Evidently she decided I wasn’t a flower, even if the hoodie was pink. The hummer headed toward a moist colony of black-eyed-Susan and bright pink phlox. I think of my elder friend Phyllis DeBrot when I see hummingbirds. She loves hummingbirds and always sends me cards that have either hummingbirds or butterflies on cover.

I decided to walk out on the country road. It is very hilly; I figured it would improve my endurance if I start hill climbing. Yesterday I learned from Jack (brother-in-law) that Fitchburg is the second hilliest city in the country. San Francisco is number one.  We’re out in the country and what a hill it is for cars to get up my sister’s hill. Believe me, I am buying a four wheel drive vehicle when I return here to live starting in the fall. I have my eye on a used Suburu. There is a Suburu car dealer in Fitchburg. My brother-in-law swears by his. I heard that two other friends love their vehicles too.  The back roads here are narrow and I need a vehicle that I can trust.

Pink morning glory

Pink morning glory

My nephew’s morning glories are growing profusely at my sister’s. They appear to be illuminated from within. I imagine pollinators see the inner glow. Who is not attracted to radiating light when it beckons? Hope you enjoy the photos this morning. It is taking me awhile to learn my brother-in-law’s computer system and applications such as photos.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

Transformation and Healing

China

China

China, an 11 year old cat and I are healing together. She was injured on July 21. We think she was attacked by a feral cat. Her left shoulder was dislocated. For the past three weeks we have been recuperating together.Yesterday I felt like I was being called to come to the woods; I stated to walk out to the forest on a weathered trail. I didn’t walk very far before I heard a meow. I turned around and saw that China was following me. This is the first day that she has been outside and  already she was going way beyond a safe zone. China is still limping and wouldn’t be able to fend off another predator in this condition. Naturally I turned around and we walked home together.

It is interesting that we have been recuperating together. China on three legs and I slowly building endurance after a medical crisis with respirator exasperation and other issues that caused a perfect storm. I have learned patience from China and I am still learning. Both of us need to pay attention and not go beyond our limits.  She had no business being out in the woods. Perhaps I too am pushing it. My goal is to walk out to see the old Boy Scout camp. It is here where a wild butterfly habitat exists now. I want to see what shape it is in. In the meantime, there is a butterfly story that follows.

My brother-in-law Jack wanted to show me something in the garden. Growing among tomato plants there was a milkweed plant; a large monarch caterpillar was munching away on milkweed leaves several days ago. Yesterday Jack again wanted to show me something.

Monarch in classic J shape

Monarch in classic J shape

A monarch caterpillar was hanging upside down on a tomato stalk. The creature was in the classic J shape that indicates that it is going into the pupa stage. This is where it splits its skeletal skin for the last time and changes into the next stage of its life cycle. The day was cloudy and rainy. The caterpillar didn’t transform itself. When I was taking a photo I accidentally bumped into the plant and the caterpillar balled itself up in a protective mode. I questioned, does the caterpillar need sun to warm its body in order to allow the caterpillar to have the energy to change? Later in the day, the heavy rains came. I hope it didn’t get dislodged from its hiding place among the tomato plants. It does have some protection from surrounding tomato leaves. For now I will observe development. There is no such thing as coincidence. All thee of us are changing, China, the caterpillar and I. Each of us is coming into new life after being injured, ill or simply transforming.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

Moonglow

It is getting cooler in New England. Last night I choose to sleep on a couch in the living room instead of the open air  screened in porch. During the time of dreams, I awoke to the moon caressing me in light. I was thrilled to be loved by the moon. She was illuminating the front property and her healing light came right through the front windows. It reminded me of a story by Ray Bradbury. There was a girl who lived in a city, a place like Brooklyn. She was very ill. On a full moon night she somehow got her bed out to the street, where she could sleep with the healing light of the moon. I have always loved this story. When young I was always drawn to sleeping outside on full moon night when the sky was clear. Moonglow has always attracted me. When I sleep in moonlight, I always feel restored and I can sense happiness and well-being.

Day Journeys:

Jack and Ronnie placed an Aldo Leopold bench under a large maple tree out in the abandoned botanical gardens. It is near a trail through the woods. From here I can rest, meditate, and observe nature all around me. I see Joe Pye weed and other favorite native plants and trees. The gardens are going back to the wild. I can reclaim  some of these beds in time to introduce a butterfly garden, especially for the monarch butterfly. The changing flourishing beds provide landscape beauty where once botanical gardens abounded.

We took a ride to New Hampshire. Pinch me, it is only 9 miles away. At one time, my husband and I lived in Manchester, for a short stint. It is even more rural that central MA where my sister lives. There are state parks and hidden places everywhere to discover. I can hardly wait to make day trips. I love it because there are large mountains; I will be living once again near mountains and hilly areas.  I was raised in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains of Upper New York State. I can hardly wait to get to know the pristine rivers,  ponds, abundant lakes and water reservoirs once again in MA and NH. We stopped at the Cathedral of the Pines. It is a magnificent memorial that was founded by Dr. Douglas and Sibyl Sloane. Their son Sanderson Sloane and wife Margaret were to build a home there after World War II, but Sandy Sloane was killed when the B-17 bomber he was flying was shot down over Koblenz, Germany, in 1944. The memorial backdrop is a stunning view of Mount Monadnock. This mountain has  been climbed by more people than any other mountain in the world. The Cathedral was founded as an interfaith organization that is open and welcoming to all.

Later in the day, I took a stroll into the back woods, 40 acres, at my sister’s. There  are trails that lead into a pristine forest. A few years ago, central Massachusetts was struck by a blow down storm. It did extensive damage to the forest. Jack and Ronnie are slowly making a dent in cleaning up the trails. Along the weathered trodden way, I became reacquainted with a pine grove that I experienced in my youth. I used to sit within the younger white pine grove then and tune into the sounds of trees as they spoke to one another. The Pine needle soft ground was inviting; at times my friends would join me here in quiet reflection. I am not sure if they  sensed  the natural world around them. I hoped that they did. This is the world I knew, loved, and  lived in.

While out there this season, I discovered princess pine growing along the pathway and nearby woods. Another word for this special plant is running cedar.

UPDATE: My sister Ronnie told me today that running cedar or ground cedar is a different plant species that princess pine.

There is lots of hemlock trees and partridge-berry carpets the forest floor as a ground cover. The forest is shaded and high in moisture. I am looking for a boulder that is shaped like a table top. I hope to find one already placed at an elevated level; I want to use it as an alter for my rocks and special things. Sometimes I have noticed them on top of the stone fence that runs throughout the forest. They were placed there by property owners long, long ago. Then there are deposited glacier boulders throughout the forest. Some of these are so large that no human could move them. It is thrilling to discover them as I learn the forest once again.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

After the thunder

Over  the last few days I have witnessed the moon go from full moon glow to cloud cover to thunder storms with crashing thunder overhead. One night in particular I saw my father’s hydrangea lit up where Ronnie has a grotto to our Blessed Mother. It was pure white blossoms that pulsated in light.  Jack Hohos, brother-in-law, loves hummingbirds. I heard him ask Ronnie, my sister, if she had seen any hummers? It was then I started to pay attention and witnessing when I did see hummers. Then I told Jack where I saw the bird and what plant, shrub, or tree it was around.

I have been hearing little tree frogs. There was even a frog species that I didn’t recognize by voice. I have entered a more Zen way of Being. I love starting the morning off with ceremony. I find this slower pace restorative and contemplative. Recently while walking down a trail by the barn, I spotted a flat boulder on top of a stone wall fence. I was reminded that a similar setting could be found that I could claim as an outside alter for my rocks that I will now move from WI. Before this discovery, I wondered what I would do with beloved rocks from Great Lakes glacial bedrock, near Duluth, MN; sacred small rocks from Bear Butte near Lakota tribe; Pipestone from a sacred Ojibwa site on Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Great Lakes tribe in Hayward, WI. Jerry Smith, traditional medicine man, graciously permitted me to go along on a day bus trip with tribal youth group. Jerry teaches many about sacred Ojibwa culture. Again while on the trail coming back up the hill, I noticed what I believe to be Turkey tail mushrooms growing on a tree on front property. They did have a white bottom. I will need to look more closely to properly ID this mushroom species. Reason I am looking for it is that it is a cancer treatment. Learn about Paul Stamets, mycologist, Fungi Perfecta at http://www.fungi.com/ We were both speakers at Tesuque Pueblo in few years ago. You can learn more about the pueblo people at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesuque,_New_Mexico

I am amazed by the delicious taste of garden fresh fruits and vegetables, in forested central MA, near Fitchburg. As close as I can presently research, a theory is starting to evolve. I am not a scientist; rather I am a citizen scientist and researcher in my own chosen field, which is monarch butterfly and food safety issues. Central MA has a heavy canopy of luscious extended forest, with  giant glacial boulders that have lots of lichen on them. The lichen helps  desolve minerals in boulders, which then slowly leach into the earth; add compost of decaying tree leaves, and you have very rich nutritional soil. I am almost finished reading Patrick Moore’s forestry book Green Spirit Trees are the Answer. Moore’s book is outstanding. I am understanding forestry better because of his expertise and ability to write to the average citizen. Sandy soil in northwest WI, Washburn County, does not have the ability to offer much flavor simply because sandy soil does not hold water or nutrients. Of course, I compost and have added aged manure through the years, but still there is a definite difference between the taste of garden fresh vegetables and fruits. Massachusetts wins hand over in flavor.

Another passion I have is to publish monarch butterfly books. Visit http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Mary+Ellen+Ryall to see published books. Sure wish I knew how to make the link active. If someone out there knows how, please send comment. Thanks!

Another difference between MA and my beloved independent WI life is Massachusetts has banned smoking. I wish I could say the same for WI. There,  I am exposed to second hand smoke. A bar is next to the Visitors Center on Main Street in Shell Lake. Bars have built three walled shelters to their buildings. Smokers can bring their drinks out there and smoke their brains out. Unfortunately I have COPD and I smoked once. I know it is hard to give up, this addiction is harder to break than heroin. At Winter Hill Farm, where my sister created a botanical paradise, the air is fragrant from herbs, woods and flowers. I haven’t smelled such sweet air since the 1980s, when I lived on East Coast and could travel to MA or Upper New York State.

The continuing saga of journeying in the natural world.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

Even nature bows its head

I learned something new a few days ago. My sister had put fresh flowers in an antique flower base, she keeps on the kitchen table, that one of friends gave her. This was the first time I had seen the flower. Ronnie said the Latin name; she explained it was the obedient plant. She then showed me how individual flowers on a stem could be bent in any direction. It was as if the flower had joints. I was amazed because I had never seen this before. She said, “That’s way it is called the obedient plant.”

I witnessed a new discovery yesterday. I watched a small bumblebee land on wild bergamot blossoms. The bee grabbed onto a tiny extension (like a stiff string) at the very tip of the top petal. In all the years that I have gathered beloved wild bergamot for cold and flu season, I had never even seen this floral feature before. Then with patience, the bee was able to work its way into the open deep cave for nectar.

I heard the wood thrush again and loons flew overhead, even thought I didn’t see them. I could hear them. Loons have a primordial haunting song.

Ronnie had to return her grandchildren to the other grandmother, who lived closer to where the young couple live. Ronnie’s son Aaron and his wife Melissa live quite a distance from Fitchburg where the old farm ( Winter Hill Farm) is located.  It was the perfect time for solitude and aqua therapy after the hub was silenced.  While entering the pool, I saw a tiny tree frog swimming in the water. I scooped the frog up and deposited the amphibian on the cement pool patio. It was so sweet to see the frog leap away. Then I rescued a green cricket or grasshopper. Last but not least, I was able to gently scoop a nondescript moth up and land it on solid ground. The moth fluttered off.

I read somewhere that Buddhist monks would move earth worms so that no harm would come to them. Realizing that worms help make soil, I know how critical it is to ensure conditions that respect our under the soil relatives . We gardeners relish composting and mulching. Rich decaying matter can be broken down faster by worms. Isn’t it wonderful to rejoice because there is life beneath and above the soil?

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

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