Field Notes Friday: Bonton Farms

Broken bottles so thick you couldn’t walk – that’s how he remembers the lot that’s now a thriving farm in south Dallas.

Q is giving us a tour of Bonton Farm-Works, or at least of the life-packed 2 acre portion of it where the organization first bloomed (…excuse the pun).

People didn’t want to come to this area, and now look, he says, gesturing to our small group. This is how the community should’ve been all along: people of all races and walks of life enjoying a place. He touches his chest when he talks about his youth in the area.

He lived the struggle, he says.

Now he’s grateful to have a different trajectory, but in the same location, a place that’s dear to him. Home.

This community is being transformed by a little farm, a green space, a place to grow food and connect with the earth and with other humans.

Even as I grappled with my stroller, pushing it over mulch and through the chicken yard, the goat pen, and rows and rows of produce — Even in the June heat and humidity as I sought shade under short fruit trees or against fences — Despite these distractions, I noticed how green, how beautiful, how happy a little space can be. A few acres and a few simple ideas, put to the right use, can bring life to a community and change individual lives.

Transformations. Q said it was so inspiring – nothing like it in the world – to plant a few seeds and in a few weeks or a few seasons see so much progress, so much change.

That inspires me. How would I feel if I gardened regularly? How much would my kids learn if they planted seeds and saw the results? (My oldest is only 2, but I still think lots of the lessons are available to him.) How would the world be different if more people saw that kind of positive change and knew they were able to be part of the change?

On the way home, we drove through neighborhoods that are actively being bulldozed to make way for more expensive housing – housing the current residents won’t be able to afford.

Is the handwriting on the wall for urban centers in the crosshairs of gentrification? Would more urban farms and tighter communities help turn the tide against further disenfranchising the poor? I don’t know.

I do know a little more farming, a little more outdoor time, a little more connection with nature and each other, and the realization you can make a positive change can’t hurt.

Below are a few photos from my visit. I especially liked that the goats get exercise and enrichment during a “goat walk”, which I didn’t get to participate in but enjoyed watching. Check out Bonton Farms here.

 

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On Safari (Vicariously)

Wow. While I was writing about looking at the moon through my window while doing laundry, my sister was on safari in South Africa… with National Geographic! Luckily for us, NatGeo filmed the whole thing and you can watch it here.

The highlight for her (and by the sound of the audio, for the guides, too) was a leopard who they watched stalk and successfully kill a warthog.

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Aside from the charismatic megafauna, I quite enjoy the philosophical fellow who points out plants along the way. I learned from my botanist friends that if you know plants, you can learn a lot about the soils and animals of a place, without even seeing them.

Below, I’ve included some screen shots of the three-hour safari, so you can skip around to some of the highlights. (Even as I write this I’m painfully aware of the curse and blessing of the modern era – we have more access to information about the wild, and less inclination – or ability – to be out in it.)

As the last image shows, you can’t escape the cycle of death and life when you study nature. Perhaps that’s why some people just don’t want to know. It’s an interesting mark of our society that we can be so far removed from death on every level – we may never see animal kill other animals, we can ignore the fact that we kill animals (or hire someone else to do it) to eat them, and that no matter what, beings die.

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Field Notes Friday: The Moon, From Inside

You don’t always have to be outside to have nature moments, I discovered just a night ago. And remember, your nature journal entry – which can easily become your #FieldNotesFriday entry – can be as simple as a few sentences or as poignantly short as a haiku.

Here’s a picture of my latest entry. I’ve typed it out below.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

9:30pm

Our courtyard

weather: 81, warm, humid, sticky, still

I was walking down the hallway after dealing with some laundry. I noticed how bright the light coming into the hallway from the outside was. I knew from the angle and color [of the light that] it was the moon. I looked out our glass sliding door and up at the zenith, where the waxing, half-full moon hangs.

Right at that very moment, a cottonwood seed floated in front of the moon. What perfect juxtaposition of time and spacing. It took my breath away! I couldn’t see a cloud or a[nother] seed or a star in the sky – it was just me and the moon and that little seed, perfectly aligned for a fraction of a second.

The moment deserves a haiku.

[The facing page is a few lines I experimented with, and these two sets of three bracketed together as potential mementos of the moment:]

The moon gazes down

A cottonwood seed floats past

I catch my breath, awed.

Riveted by light,

I stare, and so does the moon,

as a seed floats by.

Which one do you like better?

Something Different This Year

Was there something different about the Bradford pears this year? Did you see it, too?

Bradford Pear Blossoms

Think back – back 8 weeks ago, when the nights were still chilly and the mornings were cool, but the days were warm and you thought Spring is here. There were no leaves on the oaks, but you saw the Bradford pears doing what Bradford pears do: bursting into white blooms to decorate suburban roadsides (and some wildspaces) before most other flora has awakened.

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I used to dislike Bradford pears. A lot.

They’re a cultivar of the Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), which is native to China. Part of what makes them successful as landscape plants also makes the successful as an invasive species: they grow fast…  ‘like a weed’. They also produce a ton of fertile little fruits, and their progeny pop up where they do not belong, interbreeding and proliferating.

As an employee of a nature preserve for seven years, I detested the Bradford pear. To me, it was yet another escaped landscape plant that crowded out native, beneficial species.

The Bradford pear has even fallen out of favor with the landscape profession that brought it here and made it so popular in previous decades. The trees are notoriously short-lived, and have brittle branches that break easily in North Texas storms, endangering houses and cars.

In fact, when I googled “Bradford pear” to see if I should capitalize the second word, the top 5 hits were about why this tree is ‘the worst.’ (I like the Grumpy Gardener’s 4 reasons why.)

Even as I type this, a neighbor is chopping down and chipping up a Bradford pear.

I’ve seen reasons to hate the things and not to plant them.

But now I’ve had a few years away from wrinkling my nose at escaped pear trees, away from hand-pulling privet and nandina out of habitats preserved for wildlife. I’ve had a few years of less (much less) travel to wild spaces (no Big Bend or state parks for me lately). I’ve acquiesced to some of suburbia’s siren song, at least for now.

This time, when the pears bloomed, instead of wincing, I wondered.

The trees seemed …different.

They were… beautiful.

But why?

I was full of questions. Were the blooms bigger this year? More abundant? Were the trees’ crowns more full for some reason? Had it been a bumper season for trees in the pear family (which is the rose family, Rosaceae)?

Were they blooming earlier, and therefore standing out more than usual? I wondered if my friends involved in Project Bud Burst noticed. And that curiosity made me want to join PBB myself. And that caused me to wonder if Bud Burst is a good citizen science project for families with kids.

Kids.

Plural.

I’ve been the surprisingly happy mother-of-one for two years now. The ‘surprisingly’ part is because I wasn’t ever quite sure I wanted kids; it took my husband and me almost 10 years to decide. Then when I had my son everything changed; or rather, I changed, and thoroughly. I realized there was nothing more fulfilling or important to me at that time than raising my child. I wasn’t expecting to feel that way. I wasn’t expecting to want to quit my job, with people I love and have known for years, to dedicate all my time to a little human whom I’d just met. I miss the job, I miss the people more, and I miss my identity as a naturalist – a professional naturalist. Motherhood in our society is fraught with issues, and maybe I’ll write about that someday. And yet, I made the choice, and I still embrace it now.

I’ve embraced motherhood enough that I’ve been willing to add another little primate to our tribe. More on that momentarily.

It was in this new frame of reference, sans profession and with a new begrudging appreciation for the benefits suburbia offers families, that I saw Bradford pears differently.

It was March,

when the nights were still chilly

and the mornings were cool,

but the days were warm

and I thought

Spring is here.

I was traveling home with my husband and child in the car, due to give birth any day to new life. I had my camera with me, and I had been thinking for days, Something is different about these trees this year. …Or is my perception different?

This year I could see why these plants were brought from China. I could see why landscapers wanted to use them, and homeowners wanted to display them. My husband even clipped a branch from a neighbor’s tree and used it as a centerpiece on our kitchen table. The artful shape reminded me of Asian watercolors depicting cherry blossoms (and not coincidentally; cherries are also in the Rosacea family).

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I even, shockingly, felt a thrill of joy when I saw saw the escaped pears popping up in wild (but still suburban) forests. Seeing the bright blossoms against the grey branches and skies of late winter was like witnessing hope spring out of the gloom.

We stopped the car in a parking lot, and I stepped out and tried to capture the newness I was seeing.

Here’s a lop-sided Bradford pear in its native habitat, the suburban parking lot.

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Here’s a close-up of those strange blooms, which smell like perfume to some, and body odor to others.

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And here are the beautiful, blossom-covered branches reaching up to the jewel-blue sky, like hope incarnate.

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Maybe this year the blossoms reminded me, subtly, of the fleeting nature of youth. Maybe the don’t-look-away-or-you’ll-miss-it onset of the leaves and shedding of the petals reminded me how fast time changes our circumstances and aspect. Maybe carrying life within me made me more appreciative of all life, invasive species included.

I went home after taking these photos and found our beloved cat, a family member for 22 years, collapsed on the floor. By that evening, she was gone. Only a few days after that, I gave birth to new life, our daughter Evren Jane, named for the Turkish word for “universe” and Jane Goodall. Before she was a month old, the pear petals had all fallen.

Birth. Death. Life. Renewal. Identity, cycles, and changes.

The Bradford Pears were different this year. Or maybe, I am different.

 

I encourage you to participate in #FieldNotesFriday to see your world a little differently.

 

Field Notes Friday: Frost and Sun

One day it’s freezing precipitation, the next it’s sunshine and playing outside. I’m embracing the highly variable winter weather we get here in North Texas. If it’s warm and sunny, I enjoy the chance to get out without having to layer up much. If it’s frosty and cold and windy and maybe even wet, I appreciate that it actually feels like winter.

Some people say “if you don’t like the weather in Texas, wait 5 minutes.” But I’ve also heard locals in other states say the same thing about their own locale. Maybe variability is more the norm than we realize (except for those who live in places like Hawaii).

And the variation plays tricks on our memories. Is this an unusually cold winter? A late one? A warm one? A wet one? It’s hard, even for someone like me who’s only been alive a handful of decades, to keep the trends in the seasons straight. My husband and I recently had a conversation about our perceptions of this winter; he thinks it’s been cold, and I think it’s been warm.

That’s why, as I noted in my field journal this week (picture below), data is so important: centuries-long logs, quantitatively measurable factors, accurate tools… good thing we have such records. Without them, it would be harder to determine the changes in our climate. We’d still have ice cores and tree rings and other means to determine prehistoric climate, but it’s nice to have a nearly continuous record. It helps overcome our biases and fallible perceptions. It’s like Richard Dawkins said: “Science replaces private prejudice with publicly verifiable evidence.”

Now, to go check whether my husband or I were right about this winter. 😉

Here’s the frost:

And here’s the sunshine:

When I encourage people to participate in #FieldNotesFriday, I let them know an entry can be as simple as a photo or a scribble. Hope you’ll join in the fun.

Field Notes Friday: Fake It Til Ya Make It

I’m not in the mood to write right now. But I’m doing it anyway. I wasn’t in the mood, or didn’t prioritize the time, to jot a few notes over the week about my time outdoors. But I did it today. This week I was, however, in the mood to be outdoors, and that was nice after last week’s cold snap. So this week is about success (including several good times outdoors with my kiddo) and a significant challenge: overcoming inertia to form new habits.

A motivational video gave me a new perspective about habits: they make willpower almost unnecessary. At least, they short-cut the quagmire of emotion and effort usually involved in creating lasting change in your life. And hitting the trail weekly, and getting back into #FieldNotesFriday, are ways I want to change my life.

So right now I’m choosing to forge habits. I’m ignoring several chores, and the siren song of social media, and the downward emotional spiral inherent in reading the news lately (ugh to Nassar’s abuses, political corruption, etc). Instead, I’ve jotted a few notes in my 2018 travel-size nature journal (which is a lot easier to carry than my big beautiful sketchbook in a backpack full of toddler snacks and clothes) and will be pairing them with some pictures I took with my ‘fancy camera’ – my Canon PowerShot SX50 HS. (That’s ‘fancy’ versus the camera on my iPhone, because my iPhone is so problematic it’s nearly unusable lately.)

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Most of the above notes are from the local Free Forest School outing this week. If you haven’t found a FFS group near you, consider starting one of your own!

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Here’s my kiddo on the way to our weekly FFS gathering, finally allowing a hat to stay on his head for more than a moment. Maybe the chill in the air has convinced him it’s a worthy piece of clothing.

Speaking of worthy clothing, I bought that blaze orange jacket after the first Free Forest School meeting I attended, when I noticed another of my kid’s jackets made him completely blend in with the brown winter landscape (see the photo below). Yikes. I’d rather have an easier time spotting my roaming toddler. 

P.S. I love it when he chooses to use driving time as reading time.

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Above is the aforementioned nearly-camouflage jacket. Imagine it with a few branches or bends in the trail between us.

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Big kids do the coolest things, like stop to draw in the sandy soil of the Cross Timbers Forest.

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I love seeing the kids spread out and explore at their own pace.

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It’s also great to see them learn from each other, especially when they’re learning cool things like treating a fallen log as a fun obstacle.

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It’s hard to get good photos of what’s really going on during such active outings. This is the top of my son’s head, because he spent a lot of time falling and getting back up, without drama. It’s hard to overstate how much he learns from such experiences.

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Long vistas are severely lacking in a suburban world, but you can occasionally find them at good parks. Notice it had warmed up enough that the jacket was no longer necessary, even for a small-bodied human cub.

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And here’s a bonus shot of my little guy exploring the backyard, particularly the barriers keeping him from exploring even farther. I definitely count the backyard as an outing; previously it’s been an inaccessible wilderness to him. It’s amazing how a few months of time have changed him, and make the backyard seem changed as well. His ability to explore on his own is blossoming.

Thanks for sharing in my outdoor adventures. If you want to encourage yourself to get out more, I suggest using #FieldNotesFriday as one method of enticement (and even accountability). I know it’s helping me, especially when I need a little push to keep up good habits.

 

Field Notes Friday: Cosmic Connection

Happy New Year! Hopefully, you’ve been enjoying your local climate, flora, and fauna whenever you can. I hope you’ve also been participating in #FieldNotesFriday, but if you haven’t, consider this entry a little nudge of encouragement.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to take myself and my son out on a trail at least once a week. I started things off right by visiting one of my favorite trails in DFW. It’s replete with oak trees, undulations in topography, and a flowing creek that visits you often on your journey. It’s the Black Jack Trail at the LLELA Nature Preserve.

These thoughts accompany the observations I made in my new Rite in the Rain Journal.

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Foremost in my mind is the embracing feeling I had when I set my toddler down in the leaves, right as we passed the trailhead. He silently took my fingers in his hand, and we walked side by side through the long morning shadows, out of the icy reach of the gusty cold front that was blowing in, and into the magical warm heart of a tiny remnant forest.

I had the overwhelming sense that this — parent and child walking hand in hand, calmly, happily, quietly, among a wilderness that’s welcoming but not too tame — this is both primal and joy-inducing, and is what parents have been doing with their children since humans were humans (and even before!). I felt at peace, and powerfully connected to others, even though we were alone*.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but it reminds me of another primal parent-and-child duo I have felt cosmically connected to since becoming a mother. Once, before humans had distinguished themselves from our ancestral lineages, one of our distant humanoid relatives walked with her child through the African savannah. We know she was there, and we know she was walking upright, because she walked through recently laid volcanic ashes and her prints were preserved, along with those of her much smaller companion. They may have been hand-in-hand; their tracks are close and evenly spaced. I’ve heard speculation that this was a mother and child, and even before I was considering becoming a mother myself, the situation made sense to me. Now, it makes even more sense.

I don’t always feel a cosmic connection with living and past humans when I explore trails, and I don’t always feel joined by tiny threads to every living thing when I’m under the open sky, but I can tell you it happens more often than when I’m scrolling through social media or fretting about finances or listing my chores.

If you need some peace this year, get outside. Find a place that speaks to you. Listen beyond the traffic on the ground or in the sky. Look beyond the signs of human disturbance. You’ll find connection.
*Yes, my safety-minded friends, key people knew where we were and when to expect us to check in. I’m glad you thought of that.

Seven Reasons To Take The Nature Photography Challenge

 

Post your original nature photos seven days in a row, then tag others to do the same. These are the reasons I’m enjoying the challenge. What about you?img_8153

  1. You have photos in your camera (or phone) you haven’t even downloaded yet. You deserve a little time to look at those photos and assess what you have. I can almost guarantee you have some gems in there.
  2. You’ll enjoy a review of how much time you’ve spent observing the natural world. Yes, humans are natural, too, but there’s something ineffable about interacting with a tree that no human planted, or a bird who no one has tamed, or a mammal who’s nobody’s pet. Even urban wildernesses have these wild spaces and untamed creatures.
  3. You might get inspired to make some resolutions. I know I have. I resolve to get outside more next year, and to share my photos in a more timely manner, including on iNaturalist. (I spent a lot of time indoors this summer after giving birth… understandable, but still! Don’t want that to become the new norm.)
  4. You’ll learn about your photographic strengths and weaknesses, as well as your interests and habits. I discovered that my photos aren’t as in focus as I’d like, or I’m pushing the limits of my Canon PowerShot SX50 too far (or I need to read the manual)… I’ve discovered I could justify buying equipment to do macro photography, since I would actually use it. My photo cache shows the pattern clearly: I enjoy tiny details like the veins of leaves and the texture of a mushrooms.
  5. You’ll relive fun outdoor memories! And who knows better than you how much fun you had? I think the original idea was to post anything from the previous 12 months, but I’ve stretched that a little bit. You could also challenge yourself to post a photo from each current day. THAT would give you a lot to choose from for Field Notes Friday!
  6. You get to inspire your friends. Not only do people get to see the cool things you’ve seen, at the end of your week of photos you tag your friends to challenge and encourage them to do the same thing!
  7. You’ll flood social media with cool nature photos rather than (insert whatever current fad or trending topic is just. too. much.) I love going to Instagram because I have filled my Instagram feed with high quality nature photographers. I look at their photos and I breathe more calmly and feel my face relax. You can do that for others, whatever social media platforms you use. [I’ve been posting my photos on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Find me there!]

What reasons am I missing? Let me know!

Whatever inspires you to get out there, be observant, and commune with the wilds – just do it. Get out there. [And believe me, I will take my own advice!]

 

Step Closer

What draws you in, entices you to step closer?

There’s a Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica) in my neighborhood I’ve never, ever noticed before, and this Fall it’s multi-colored. I suspect, though I haven’t taken careful note, that Blackjack Oak  leaves usually turn paper bag brown like the leaves of Post Oaks (Quercus stellata), my favorite trees. But not this year, not in my neighborhood. There are delicate shades of turning in these remnants from ancient Cross Timbers forests.

This tree captured my attention so thoroughly on recent a drive home that I turned the car around, parked, and hopped out to get a photo.

And here’s the photo.

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This photo is an unpoetic, unskilled, simple copy of my view – what my eyes could take in. But it in no way captured what my mind focused on. The criss-crossing power (or telephone?) lines detract, the pavement dominates, and only the barest hint of color shimmers in the leaves. I was surprised with the result, and disappointed. So I stepped closer.

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The second photo is more like it – the pavement and power lines are relegated to the background where they belong, the azure sky frames much of the tree, and the color of the leaves is starting to tantalize. But I really, really wanted to capture that rare color, and I hadn’t yet. So I stepped closer.

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And, look! I got some color. There are golds in them thar leaves! But, I thought, the grandeur I see in this tree just isn’t showing. It looks the tree is pushing you away with a suddenly raised branch, or trying to distract you by dangling a confusing mass of leaves in your face. You can’t see the scale of the tree; the trunk looks scrawny. So I stepped closer.

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Now I looked up. The leaves were illuminated by the warm sunshine and contrasted with the dark bark (which I presume gives the tree its name). I wanted to scale the tree like a spirit squirrel and revel in the dappled light and lounge on the branch hammocks all day. But the picture didn’t quite portray that longing. So I stepped closer.

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This one. This one is framed like I wanted, and draws me upward into its branches. It makes me want to reach toward that rare gold which shines like a beacon above the darkness of the writhing, rippled bark. I had to hug the tree, lean against it to get this shot. I experimented with framing, with attempting to capture the fractal-lightning branches silhouetted against the sky.

There is a wildness in this untamed, untrimmed remnant of ancient Cross Timbers forest. Maybe that’s what drew me in after the splash of color caught my attention.

I had to get closer to capture the feeling that drew me in from afar.

If you want to see something better, step closer. If you want to understand something better, step closer. Of course, there’s a time to step back, and a time to step away. To everything there is a season. But right now, in life, there are a lot of things that puzzle me, and I’m choosing to step closer to get a better look.

The next time you want to step closer, will you?

 

These photos were taken with my husband’s iPhone 6 and are completely unedited. If I learn photo editing it will be to help my photos better convey the feelings of longing and appreciation each subject inspires in me.

Field Notes Friday: Outdoor Meditation

Yes, I still do #FieldNotesFriday, and so should you! As my parents would say, “It’s good for what ails ya.” This entry is an example of exactly that: reflective time outdoors calming the mind. Lately for Field Notes Friday I’ve been posting photographs to my other social media sites (Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr), but today I’m sharing a nature-focused entry from my personal journal.

Thursday.

I have a beautiful view. Yes, the soundscape is urban – traffic, landfill trucks, buzzing power lines overhead – but at least the trees & grasses are rustling & there are crickets chirping. The sun & clouds tousle over who will win the day. The dragonflies hunt. Sagan is asleep in the carseat, which I’m leaned against as I face out the car door, East, toward water towers & buildings far away on the horizon, but forest & field between them & me. And power lines & their obligate gangly structures. Trees rustle. Leaves turn color. Grass bows. A fly searches.

It’s hard to make sense of the events of the past few weeks, some of which I share with the nation & world & some for which only a few close to me have endured. I seek solace in these moments, but I’m not open to it – not yet. Right now I feel raw & negative & aimless. I need to settle my mind with some meditation! That will help me sort out what needs doing, & appreciate the beauty before me, rolling toward me like the moments of life. I can either appreciate the moments, the view, the sounds, the smell, the sensations — or I will miss the whole thing.

After I wrote the above, I put on my headphones and listened to this guided meditation: Sam Harris Guided Meditation With Atmospheric Music

This was my view. Not the Grand Canyon, but it did the trick. I needed a long vista, both physically and mentally. img_7957

This is the original handwritten entry…img_7967 …and a detail from the page which reflects my mental state, not what I was seeing.img_7967

You should also think on paper and with your camera, and share with the rest of the online nature community! Here’s how to #FieldNotesFriday.