Wednesday, August 27, 2008

cranberry harvest

This one falls under the category of “one thing leads to another leads to another.”

While writing the entry about cranberry viburnum (see August 24 posting) I looked up cranberries and discovered the perfectly wonderful painting “Cranberry Harvest,” created in 1880 by Eastman Johnson.

Johnson (1824-1906) was an American painter and, as it turns out, a co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His name is inscribed at the museum’s entrance. (You have to take my word for this since I have yet to visit the Met, even though it’s high on my “Bucket List.”)

Johnson is known for his genre paintings, scenes from everyday life in early America. He also did portraits of everyday and prominent people including the writers Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Monday, August 25, 2008

nine years

This is the ninth anniversary of my weekly nature column "The Neighborhood Naturalist" that's published in the farragutpress. My first one ran on August 25, 1999. It was about flowering spurge.

To commemorate, the column that appears in this week’s edition – dated Thursday, August 21 – is also about the same roadside plant.

Special thanks to Dan Barile and the rest of the farragutpress staff. And many, many thanks to all who have telephoned or e-mailed over the years.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

read along part 3

"I am incapable of a profound remark on the workings of destiny. It seems to get up early and go to bed very late, and it acts most generously toward the people who nudge it off the road whenever they meet it."

(Also see August 8 posting)

- From “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham about her experiences in Africa. Published in 1942

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Too much rain
loosens trees.
In the hills giant oaks
fall upon their knees.
You can touch parts
you have no right to—
places only birds
should fly to.

- “Crown” by Kay Ryan (born 1945) American poet and educator. Last month, the Library of Congress announced that she will be the sixteenth Poet Laureate of the United States, and rightly so. Her work is simple, minimal, beautiful. Thanks, Karen.

Friday, August 8, 2008

read along part 2

“As the herd [impala, wildebeest, zebra] moved it became a carpet of rust-brown and grey and dull red. It was not like a herd of cattle or of sheep because it was wild, and it carried with it the stamp of wilderness and the freedom of a land still more a possession of Nature than of men. To see ten thousand animals untamed and not branded with the symbols of human commerce is like scaling an unconquered mountain for the first time, or like finding a forest without roads or footpaths, or the blemish of an axe. You know then what you had always been told—that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.”

(also see August 4 posting)

- From “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham about her experiences in Africa. Published in 1942

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

it means red

The only species of shrub or tree that’s native to all 48 contiguous states (and most of southern Canada), smooth sumac is now in bloom in the Tennessee Valley.

At Ijams Nature Center look for it along the Universal Trail near the solar panels, although, most people hardly notice the dense shrub until fall when it develops bright red leaves.

Its name “sumac” can be traced back to the Syrian word “summaq,” which means red.

The flowers are tiny, borne in dense erect panicles. They are followed by large clusters of hairy (yes, hairy) crimson berries that remain throughout the winter, much to the delight of mockingbirds.

Monday, August 4, 2008

read along

“I learned to watch, to put my trust in other hands than mine. I learned to wander. I learned what every dreaming child needs to know—that no horizon is so far that you cannot get above it or beyond it. These I learned at once. But most things come harder.”

- By Beryl Markham, “West with the Night.” 1942

Saturday, August 2, 2008


OK. Call me an old softie, but I’ve always had a tender spot in my heart for Polyphemus, the one-eyed Cyclopes in Homer’s “Odyssey.” It’s the same sort of warm, fuzzy feeling I have for Frankenstein’s monster, King Kong and Quasimodo—Victor Hugo’s bell-ringing hunchback. Don’t we all? After all, they were benevolent, misunderstood outcasts; gentle giants forced to violence by our exclusionary society.

If you remember Homer’s story, Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin) was a Greek hero and King of Ithaca, who took ten years to come home after the Trojan War. Along the way he had many adventures. During one of these, Odysseus and a scouting party landed on the Island of the Cyclopes and slipped into the cave of Polyphemus, stealing some of his food and ultimately blinding his one good eye.

Odysseus and his men sneak out of the cave by tying themselves to the bottom of the giant’s sheep. Because he was now blind, Polyphemus didn’t notice the subterfuge. The Ithacans got away and were crowned heroes, while Polyphemus was left sightless. Where’s the justice in that?

Perhaps then, as a bit of payback, this week I came to the rescue of another Polyphemus.

One evening after work, I discovered three teenage boys throwing things at a brown spot high on a block wall of a neighborhood supermarket. Going to investigate, I discovered they were harassing a large winged insect.

“What are you throwing at?” I asked.

“A bug,” one answered in their defense.

“A bug? What kind of bug?” I inquired. I was wearing my Ijams Nature Center staff shirt, so I looked official.

Inspecting it closer, I announced that their target was a male Polyphemus moth, probably in search of a female.

The boys could relate to his quest, even sympathize with it and helped me catch it.

Polyphemus moths are tan-colored giant silk moths. They have an average wingspan of six inches and their most notable features are large, purplish eyespots on their hind wings. Because of these eyespots the nocturnal giants are named in honor of Homer’s Cyclops but the obvious markings are of no help in finding a mate because they are active at night, using their sense of smell to locate females instead. As caterpillars, they are Herculean eaters, consuming up to 86,000 times their weight in a little less than two months. But as winged adults, they do not even have mouths; their eating days are over. Reproduce is the only thing on their little lepidopteron brains.

Bringing it home, I released the large moth into the safety of my woods but not before I took its photo.

Friday, August 1, 2008


“Trees are the earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven”

-By Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) Bengali poet. Asia's first Nobel laureate, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913.

-"Cherry Tree" by Vincent van Gogh painted in 1888.