A (Mostly) Living Nature Diorama, or What I’ll Be Doing with My Time as an Old Lady

For the past few weeks my son and I have been gathering materials and building an Itty Bitty Bungalow for a contest being run at our local greenhouse, Van Atta’s. After many hours of hunting down the perfect materials and construction, this is our entry:

itty bitty bungalow

The house walls are last year’s Japanese anemone stalks from the garden. The roof is shingled with pieces of pine cone (that took forever). The little trees on either side are maple seedlings growing as weeds in my garden. The door is pine bark. The lawn is moss from my driveway. The flag is yew bark and a bit of dried oak leaf shaped like Michigan’s lower peninsula. The acorns are a bench for the star of the whole scene: a dead stag beetle we came upon last summer.

Nature diorama cuteness

Our handsome beetle is raking his moss lawn with a rake I made from toothpicks and epoxied to his body. Then I suck a needle in his..ahem…nether regions and stuck him into the soil. Every time I look at him I crack up.

Nature diorama cuteness

I can see myself doing a lot of this sort of thing when I’m an old lady. So instead of being the crazy old lady with the nine cats, I’ll be the creepy old lady with all the dioramas of dead bugs in her house.

Yeah. That will definitely be me.

Voting on the entries happens this weekend at Van Atta’s Spring Open House. I won’t be there (I’ll be in Colorado visiting a friend) but my boys are going to vote in my absence. We’ll let you know if we win anything next week!

The One Thing You Need to Photograph Wildlife

Busy Chickadee hollowing out a home at Fenner Nature Center

At Fenner Nature Center on Sunday I observed a chickadee couple hollowing out a stump to nest in. I think chickadees are my favorite small birds. It took me a while of slowly creeping near to get close enough for a good photo. Then a jogger ran by and off the chickadees flew. I stayed in my spot for another few minutes, and they did come back.

The key to photographing skittish wildlife is always patience. Stay there, stay still, and they will eventually come near. It will always feel like it takes longer than it should, and because we’re programmed by everything in life not to wait silently you will want to give up, get up, and get on with it. Don’t. You have to force yourself to be still and be ready — that means you have your camera trained on the spot you believe the animal will appear, you have it focused, your eye is at the viewfinder, and your finger is on the shutter button. You can’t move your head or the camera or your hand after the animal has appeared, because that movement will frighten them. You have to be ready and you have to wait.

I guess one other helpful attribute is the ability to notice. I almost missed seeing this deer and her companion across the little pond where I was hoping to get a better look at the frogs I kept hearing.

White-Tailed Deer at Fenner Nature Center

One thing’s for sure: you will always miss moments like this if you never look away from that infernal smartphone. Life is out there. Go look for it.

Green Aurora Borealis on St. Patrick’s Day

The luck of the Irish must have been with me. I finally got to see and photograph the Northern Lights last night.

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I’m so grateful for this as I’ve been aching to see it. It’s far brighter in a photo where the shutter was open for 60 seconds than it was in real life. Most of the time it just looked like a hazy cloud on the horizon with a few brief little curtains. I wish I’d figured out the right settings on the camera sooner and caught those, but I am happy with what I have at the moment. There will be more opportunities later in life to catch more.

Spring Thaw

cardinal05I feel as though I’ve broken with tradition by not posting about the first day of March on the first day of March, which always feels like such a momentous achievement (getting to March, not posting about it). But this year February seemed to go by so quickly and March began with days just as cold as February and I was in no mood to post.

Now, finally, we are experiencing temps above freezing and hearing the meltwater in the gutters and spattering on sidewalks. It’s been sunny and lovely and dry sidewalk has been reported. My bird feeders are full and every day we hear the wooing melodies of songbirds. Male cardinals are chasing each other off. We anticipate the return of the robins soon — and, with somewhat less enthusiasm, the emergence of the dog poop.

It’s been in the 40s the past few days and it should be in the FIFTIES (I can hardly believe I’m writing that) the rest of the week starting tomorrow. Phenomenal.

“In the solitary forest, by the rushing Taquamenaw…”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second day of our hike, Alison and I ran across a number of areas with young maples sprinkled between the pines and firs and showing off their fall colors.

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The ferns in the open areas were browning and made an interesting color combination with large patches of fuzzy seafoam green lichens.

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The woods through which the second half of the Wilderness Loop winds are alternately close and open. The open areas would be hot in sunny weather, but we had clouds and some breeze the whole way.

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Here Alison takes a moment to enjoy the color in a rare ray of sunshine. I believe she is preparing mentally for the many more soggy spots we will encounter as we race the thunder on the way to Clark Lake campsite. (Little does she know at this point that her right foot is soon to be ankle-deep in cold, black swamp water.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is one of the very best “bridges” Tahquamenon has to offer in the backcountry.

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Seriously, this was one of the most sound structures on the trail, and it looked like it had been decomposing for nigh on a decade. There was one real bridge. As we passed over it we realized we were also passing yet another beaver dam, this one far taller than the last.

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So, campers, what have we learned from the above diagram? That’s right! The Department of Natural Resources can build a bridge…when it so chooses.

We passed by the wetland created by this second industrious beaver…

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…and soon arrived at the Clark Lake campsite where we were again the only people. We took a two-hour nap that afternoon as rain pounded down on the tent. It was glorious.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And we happily made use of this very handmade bench.

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We filtered water from Clark Lake. It’s always a little unnerving to drink brown water, even if you know the microbes and nasty little beasties have been filtered from it. Here’s some of the leftover water in a clear glass at home so you can see the tannins leeched from the cedars, which gives the falls their distinctive color.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe week after this hiking trip, my mother came to watch the boy while Zach and I traveled to St. Louis for ACFW. She was nice enough to wash all of my clothes–not just the really nasty ones from the hike, but from all of the hampers and baskets and dividers in the house.

The packs are still in my sunroom, waiting to be returned to storage, where they will wait patiently…for next year.