Monthly Archives: May 2016

Weekly Puzzler #113

Happy Memorial Day weekend! I hope you are able to schedule some time this weekend to do something outside that you enjoy. Can you believe we’re only a few days away from JUNE? It’s amazing!

You still have a few weeks left to qualify for the drawing to win this quarter’s prize–to be given away on the first day of summer, June 21st. All you have to do is use the comment box below the puzzler to give your guess. All correct answers will be entered in the drawing. This month I will be giving away one of my new blank notebooks–which I sell at Kress Emporium in downtown Asheville for $14.95.

So then, let’s get to the puzzler!

Have you ever looked closely below the surface of a pond or stream? Ever played in the mud or used nets to grab leaves at the bottom? Did you find anything alive? Ever wonder what it was?

Lots of critters live in that mud!

Lots of critters live in that mud!

There is so much life in a body of water that most of us never see. I am about to have company for the next two weeks–my nieces and nephew will be visiting from Colorado–and one thing I can be sure of is that we’ll be looking for creatures in the pond in our front yard. When they were here two summers ago we spent a lot of time searching for salamanders and learning about the critters that live in the mud. You would be amazed at all of the animals we found!

So I thought I would kick off the weekend with a puzzler from deep under the water. This creature was found buried in the mud at the bottom of the pond. Do you know what it is? Does it look familiar? Have you ever seen one?


If you want to guess, use the comment box below. If you can identify it correctly, you will be entered in the next drawing. Good luck! Click HERE to see the answer.

And have a wonderful weekend! See you again soon.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #112

puzzler-7692Did you know last week’s puzzler? Were you one of the people who sent in a guess? This was a challenging one as it doesn’t really look like what it is.

The mysterious growths on the forest floor –which may at first look like some kind of fungus–are actually an unusual plant that can be found throughout the eastern US and Canada under oak trees–especially red oaks. Like many plants, this one has it’s fair share of common names including American cancer root, squawroot, bear cone, and bear corn. Its scientific name is Conopholis americana, because it resembles a pine cone poking out of the ground–conos meaning ‘cone’ and pholos meaning ‘scale.’  This plant lacks chlorophyll so unlike other plants, cannot manufacture its own food. It solves this problem by stealing nutrients from its host plant–the oak tree. Thus, Conopholis americana is a parasitic plant

It turns brown later in the season

It turns brown later in the season

This plant has an interesting lifecycle: Seedlings grow underground for 4 years, sending out roots that will latch on to the root of an oak tree. They form large swollen knobs, which is perhaps where the common name of cancer root came to be. After four years the plant sends up a whitish stalk that is at first a pale cream color but as spring turns into summer, it becomes brown and may last all winter. It can be 3-7 inches tall. When the scales of the plant pull back, you can see small white flowers that eventually become seeds and drop off to begin the lifecycle again. It is pollinated by flies and bumblebees.

Many animals eat this plant, including deer and bear–hence the reason for another of its common names–bear corn or bear cone. Legend has it that when the bears are emerging from their long hibernations, this plant, which is just emerging from the leaf litter, is a favorite.

Another plant that lacks chlorophyll

Another plant that lacks chlorophyll

This plant reminds me of Indian Pipe–another plant that lacks chlorophyll You can read more about that HERE.

For the next puzzler, click HERE.

Amazed By My Dog’s Ability to do This

schr-1063If you’ve been following along you might remember that I adopted a puppy in December, after fostering him and his two siblings for 5 weeks after their mother was killed by a car. Well Schroeder, the puppy, is now just about 7 months old. A lot has changed in that time, including that he no longer sleeps in his crate, an adjustment that has taken some time getting used to because he growls and then barks at every unfamiliar sound in the night–though this has gotten better as he is learning we are not fans of this.

…and you remember I said I lived in the woods, right? Well all kinds of animals are out and about when we are trying to sleep. There’s no telling how many raccoons, opossums, fox, coyotes, owls, bats, bears, deer, skunks, and other animals pass by the house in the dead of night.

Outside of our house... a deer in a sunbeam

Outside of our house… a deer in a sunbeam

Last night Schroeder woke us up at 3:30am, and it was pretty obvious from his loud and insistent bark that this was more than a mouse scurrying through the underbrush. We thanked him for alerting us, then hushed him and listened quietly, hearing an odd sound that was hard to identify.

Now fully awake, I got out of bed and tiptoed to the kitchen in the dark to turn on the spotlight. And waited a few minutes. At first there was nothing, but then, very quietly despite his GIANT size, a lone black bear came around the bend of the deck and strolled out into the backyard, schr-6063disappearing into the woods.

When I checked this morning, all 3 of our hanging hummingbird feeders were empty, though interestingly, still hanging perfectly. This bear has learned that 1. sugar water is good, 2.that we have sugar water and 3.that he can get it without  breaking or knocking the feeders to the ground. I imagine him standing on his hind legs, using his front feet to tip the feeder, drinking from the feeder like a person would drink a beer! (We will bring the hummingbird feeders in for a few nights after this in case he is still in the area and hoping for more sweetness)

We learned that our dog has AMAZING senses, as do all dogs. He can be asleep in his bed on the floor at the foot of our bed, the windows closed, and yet he is aware of a bear outside the house. His bark telling us a bear is present is much different than other animals that pass by. How does he do it?

From my research on the senses of dogs it seems the answer is SMELL.

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Schroeder as a smaller puppy

Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell, so much more acute than ours that it is hard for us to fathom. They have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses–to our 6 million. According to a page about dogs on Nova’s website, “Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. “Let’s suppose they’re just 10,000 times better,” says James Walker, former director of the Sensory Research Institute at Florida State University, who, with several colleagues, came up with that jaw-dropping estimate during a rigorously designed, oft-cited study. “If you make the analogy to vision, what you and I can see at a third of a mile, a dog could see more than 3,000 miles away and still see as well.”

Schroder a month ago

Schroder a month ago

…”Put another way, dogs can detect some odors in parts per trillion. What does that mean in terms we might understand? Well, in her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, writes that while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.” (Click HERE to read more of that article from Nova or HERE to read 10 things you may not know about bears.)

Amazing right? If the senses of dogs is that amazing, imagine what it must be like in other animals–like fox, coyote, bears etc. Knowing that, it seems amazing that we ever get to see them in the wild! And fully illustrates why every time I get a glimpse, however brief, of a wild animal in its natural habitat, I feel lucky. Do you? What animal encounters have you had lately?

Quote of the Week #64

Several years ago I wrote a post titled “Magic comes to a backyard near you.”  It was very popular and got a lot of hits, likely because people wondered what it was about. Who doesn’t like magic? People obviously clicked on it, curious to discover more. They soon learned it was about fireflies… Well guess what? It’s that time of year again! which of course means the magic is back! Woo hoo! Is there anything greater than sitting in the backyard watching the pinpricks of light dancing in the  darkness?

As you’ve probably heard me say a time or two before, I live in the middle of the woods at the bottom of a mountain. Two nights ago my husband and I sat outside, watching as the last light of day faded to black. We watched the bats (all 2 of them!) above us in delight, knowing they were feasting on mosquitoes and listened to the call of the screech owl. And then, when nearly all the light was gone, we started seeing the Blue Ghosts…. My gosh, they were everywhere, writing secret messages on the black slate of night. Wow, this is awesome! Have you ever seen them?

Blue Ghosts are a kind of firefly–Phausis reticulata–that lives in the eastern and central United States. Unlike other fireflies that have blinking light patterns, the blue ghosts’ lights stay on–for 30 + seconds –as they move several feet above the ground. Watching them is a magical experience as it just looks like tiny lights moving through the black.

Watching the blue ghosts makes me think of a famous Rachel Carson quote–my personal favorite of all time about having a sense of wonder. It is fitting that she was born this time of year–on May 27th in 1907. I know she would love the blue ghosts as much as me and would revel in the magic they bring to the night. And though she died in 1965, before I came along, she is someone I admire and believe we all can learn from. She fought tirelessly to raise awareness about the connection between people and the environment, and her book, Silent Spring, was a powerful wake up call about the effects of DDT that thankfully, inspired change. In honor of her birthday I thought this week’s quote could be a few more of her words of wisdom.










“I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel.

If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. fir-0351The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil. Once the emotions have been aroused — a sense of the beautiful, the excitement of the new and the unknown, a feeling of sympathy, pity, admiration or love — then we wish for knowledge about the subject of our emotional response. Once found, it has lasting meaning. It is more important to pave the way for the child to want to know than to put him on a diet of facts he is not ready to assimilate.”  –Rachel Carson


“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
― Rachel Carson

full2--3And one more:

“This notion that “science” is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge. We live in a scientific age; yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priest-like in their laboratories. This is not true. It cannot be true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the what, the how, and the why of everything in our experience. It is impossible to understand man without understanding his environment and the forces that have molded him physically and mentally. “
— Rachel Carsonfull2--2

What is your favorite Rachel Carson quote? Have YOU ever seen the blue ghosts? Was this a magical experience for you? As always, I’d love to hear from you! Use the comment box below to share your thoughts.

Weekly Puzzler Answer #111

Years ago I spent 3 weeks traveling around Alaska and on that trip spent some time on a train riding through the Alaskan countryside. The scenery was spectacular and with nothing else to do, I sat glued to the window, trying to memorize every detail. One thing that surprised me was the number of porcupines I saw, ambling through the underbrush. Until then I had never actually seen a porcupine, though they live in places where I have spent time, including forested areas of NY state, the Great Lakes region, Canada and Alaska– basically the northern United States. (All my photos of porcupines are still on slides! so if you want to see a photo of one, check out these on Wikipedia)

owl-7614Last week’s puzzler was a picture of three porcupine quills. If you could reach into the photo and touch the ends of these, you would yelp in discomfort! They are sharp! You may have heard that porcupine quills are barbed, like a fishing hook, but that’s not exactly true.  In the end though it’s just a technicality–the quill tips have 700-800 diminutive scales–a bit like those on a fish,–that overlap so that the raised edges point backward, basically functioning in the same way as  barbs on a hook. Thus, these become embedded in the flesh of the offending animal and make it difficult and very painful to remove.

Amazingly porcupines have 30,000 quills of varying lengths on their bodies, everywhere except their face and underside. The quills are actually specialized hairs and they have about 140 per square inch! Porcupines have the ability to make the quills stand up when they feel threatened. They don’t however, despite popular opinion otherwise, have the power to throw their quills at offending predators. Instead, they lash out with their quill-covered tail, whacking a would-be predator and embedding quills on contact. Wow, imagine the pain of this! If a predator lives through this experience, they will be a bit smarter next time and avoid the quilled beast.

Porcupines are nocturnal herbivores and if you’ve ever spent time in the backcountry where they live, you might know they love salty things, this because their normal diet–things like grasses, clover, buds, aquatic plants, acorns, fruit as well as the inner bark of trees– is deficient in salt. Canoers in the Boundary Waters of Northern Minnesota or in Canada are probably aware that sometimes porcupines have been known to steal an unsuspecting sleeper’s paddle–having been attracted by the sweaty salt on the handle. Same goes for axes, signs or other wooden things that sweaty hands may have touched. I imagine it would be quite puzzling for a paddler to get ready to head off in the morning and not be able to find his paddle–or, to find it in a different shape than when he left it the night before! Has this ever happened to you?

I bet you didn’t know all of that about porcupines! Imagine  the practical application of this… like next time you are at a dinner party and really want to impress the crowd or when you are in the line at the bank and overhear the lady behind you asking about porcupines.

…I hope you’re smiling. And having a great weekend! Click  HERE for the next puzzler

Weekly Puzzler #112

Happy weekend!

Check out these pictures of the forest where I live from several weeks ago. Do you know what all of those orangish things are at the base of the tree? This is the puzzler for this week! If you know the answer–or even if you DON’T know the answer but want to give a guess–go ahead and try! If your guess is correct your name will be entered in the drawing for this quarter’s prize–to be awarded on the first day of summer–you still have plenty of time left to qualify! No harm done if your guess is totally wrong.puzzler-7692


If it’s rainy where you are here are  7 positive things about rainy days— rain can be beautiful! Let it water your flowers and kiss your skin, or, Here’s a great quote about rainy days.

Have a fabulous weekend!


Quote of the Week #63

Do you consider yourself an adventurer? Do you enjoy trying new things and pushing the limits of what you can do? Or is everyday filled with the same things?

I had a conversation recently with a friend about letting her kids try a treetop adventure course. She is nervous the kids will be too scared and admits being scared herself–and in order for the youngest to participate, she must go too. I was trying to convince her of the importance of allowing the kids (and herself!) to have challenges that take them outside of their comfort zones. I think this is so incredibly important and that doing so provides intangible rewards that will stay with the kids for their lifetimes. It is my opinion that kids who are scared of trying new things grow up to be fearful adults who sadly, lack a sense of adventure that will make their lives meaningful.

What do you think? When was the last time you did something outside of your comfort zone?

Here is a powerful quote I came across recently– love, love, love it!


“I learned early that the richness of life is found in adventure. Adventure calls on all the faculties of mind and spirit. It develops self-reliance and independence. Life then teems with excitement. But man is not ready for adventure unless he is rid of fear. For fear confines him and limits his scope. He stays tethered by strings of doubt and indecision and has only a narrow world to explore.”

 — William Douglas

What are your thoughts?