Sunday, April 26, 2009

Yellow Wildflowers, Old Farmhouse

Here's another view of the yellow wildflowers shown in the last picture, with the old farmhouse in the background.

I love these rural landscapes. When I was very small, I used to beg my parents to live in the country. "Why can't we live on a farm and have horses?" was a constant, pesky question.

I guess some childhood dreams don't die.

Land of Flowers, and a Vanishing Way of Life

Not all of our spring wildflowers are purple. Here are some beautiful yellow ones, although I'm not sure exactly what they are—they could be blackeyed susans or maybe coreopsis, the state wildflower.

"Florida," after all, translates from the Spanish as "land of flowers." Evidently the early Spanish explorers were so impressed with the native flora that they named this area for its flowers. I hope that over time, more and more people will come to appreciate and encourage these wild beauties. 

I love the old barns in the background of this picture. They stand as silent reminders that an old, honored way of life—that of the family farm—is fast disappearing, although not entirely gone.

I have been heartened recently to see that there is a growing movement that encourages people to eat locally-grown food; perhaps this will inspire more farmers to stay in business.

Carpets of Purple Phlox

The spring wildflowers are blooming, providing feasts for the eyes on nearly every rural roadside.

The phlox are my favorites, so thick in places that they look like purple carpets along the roads and in the fields. Here, above, is a glimpse of what I see every day on my commute to my new job. (Remember, you can always click the picture for a better view.)

The key to encouraging the wildflowers is NOT MOWING THE GRASS. I've noticed this year that some places that used to be thick with phlox have been mowed, so of course there are no flowers at all where there used to be many of them.

In our front yard, we have some phlox that we are trying to encourage, so last year we didn't mow until all the phlox had gone to seed. I'm sure our neighbors looked askance on that particular practice, but our spot of phlox has expanded this year, so we will again follow the same practice. It would be wonderful if our whole front yard could one day be covered with phlox!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Mind

The mind is the mountains,
rivers, trees, and grass,
and the mind is the sun,
the moon, and the stars.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Springs Trash

Over the past year, I was stunned to find out that in addition to the one water bottling plant that's been in operation near Ginnie Springs for a number of years now, there were no less than four requests—some active, some dormant—to construct water bottling operations on one three-mile stretch of the Santa Fe River.

Looking at the trash left at our neighborhood spring today, I'm reminded that the vast majority of those plastic water bottles don't get recycled—they end up in landfills.

Do we all really need to drink bottled water? Water from the tap is just as good; in fact, lots of bottled water is simply tap water, bottled from the same municipal water sources that supply water to your home.

There are many alternatives to plastic water bottles that can be had for just a minimal investment. I use a Sigg bottle; Klean Kanteen and L. L. Bean both make nice stainless steel bottles, and I'm sure there are other alternatives as well.

Afternoon Light, Easter 2009

My favorite time to take pictures is in the late afternoon. Actually, that's my favorite time of day, period. I love how the light slants through the trees and makes shifting, dappled patterns all around as the sun goes down. It's a magical time.

The photo above captures some of the afternoon magic at our neighborhood spring, looking from the woods out toward the river. If you look closely, you can see more cypress knees.

If We're in Florida, There Must Be a Football Somewhere

Folks in the spring today were having the kind of fun we like to have here in the home of Gator Nationfootball!

Note the ramp in the background is partially underwater. The spikey-looking objects in the foreground are cypress knees, which are thought to provide stabilization for the cypress trees that are so common here in swampy areas.

Rising Water

About a week ago, we had several inches of rain. To our north, south Georgia got a lot more rain than we did. That extra water has been slowly percolating through the aquifer, and rivers to the north of us have flooded—forcing roads to close and forcing people out of their homes and into shelters above the floodplains.

The Santa Fe is the last of Florida's rivers to receive the water from south Georgia; west of where we are, the river is expected to reach near-record flood levels in just a couple of days. So when Forrest and I drove down to our neighborhood spring this afternoon, I expected to find the whole place underwater, but it wasn't.

The brown river water was high enough, however, that it had encroached upon the normally crystal-clear spring and the ramps into the spring, which for several years now have been above water, are now underwater.

The tree, above, is also underwater.

The idea that rain in Georgia can affect the rivers hundreds of miles away in Florida is just one of many examples of the truth of that environmental slogan, "Everyone lives downstream."

Each of us is downstream from something. What is upstream from you?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Steve's Sycamore, and a Late Freeze!

Here's my neighbor Steve's big sycamore tree. If there's a better barometer of the changing seasons, I don't know what it is. Delicate green leaves in the spring, bigger and deeper green leaves all summer, finally turning golden-brown in autumn and then shedding all over the place just like yellow feral cats.

Look for this same view of Steve's sycamore as we move through spring into summer and then fall and winter. (As with all pictures on this blog, if you click it, you'll see a bigger version.)

We've been lucky lately; we've had rain (spring into early summer is our dry season). Now, tonight, there is a forecast of a freeze that is expected to set records for our area—down to 31 degrees! This isn't unheard of in April in North Central Florida, but it's rare.

If I'm up early enough tomorrow morning, I'll try to get a picture if we have frost—but since frost doesn't really photograph well unless it's heavy, I'm not sure I'll have much luck.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Twig Among Pines

Here's our dog, Twiggy, among the pine trees in the back yard.

We rescued Twiggy when she appeared on the street in front of our old place in Jonesville, fur matted with leaves and twigs (hence, her name). We tried and tried to find her owner, with no luck, so we adopted her. I wasn't really wanting to be a dog mom at the time, but she is a sweet soul and we've had her for so long now I don't know what we'd do without her.

Based on a hint from my friend Kathi, I searched on the web for other canines like her and think I have finally identified her mix: part cocker spaniel, part Portuguese water dog (are you listening, Obamas?).

I have another picture of Twiggy with a large orb above her head that I will post a bit later, when I can find it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Bobwhite Quail

After hearing the call of the chuck-will's-widow this morning, this afternoon I am hearing the distinctive call of a bobwhite quail: bobWHITE, bobWHITE.

According to information on the Audubon Society's Common Birds in Decline web site, the northern bobwhite—the species we have here in Florida, even though the word "northern" can be confusing in this case—is one of the 20 common North American birds with the greatest population declines since 1967.

Like many creatures throughout the world, the bobwhite is struggling because of habitat loss—so much so that the population of this species has declined 82 percent in the last 40 years! That's a stunning loss.

I hate to think that a year may come when I will not hear "bobWHITE, bobWHITE." Fortunately, the Audubon Society has good information for people who are interested in helping the bobwhite and the other 19 birds on this particular list of threatened species.

The images above are from the Audubon Society.

Liberation Through Hearing: Tibetan Buddhist Mantras for Animals

A number of years ago, I was given a wonderful tape of the Buddhist teacher Kalu Rinpoche chanting for the benefit of animals. The story, according to Lama Yeshe Gyamtso—who translated for Kalu Rinpoche at the beginning of the tape—was that a barrel full of cockroaches had been exterminated in New York City, and Rinpoche was chanting mantras so that the roaches would have better rebirths—as humans, perhaps, and with better chances of meeting authentic dharma teachers in their next lives.

Over the years, copies of the tape were made and passed around among those of us in our local dharma group. Many of us played the tape when we had animals who were sick or dying. When I mentioned the tape on a Buddhist discussion list to which I belong, the Kagyu list at Yahoo Groups, quite a number of people asked if I could send them copies. The world is obviously full of animal lovers!

More time passed, and with the realization that people were interested in recordings of teachers chanting for the benefit of pets and other creatures, our local dharma group asked our guiding teacher, Bardor Tulku Rinpoche, if he would make a recording that we could sell as a fundraiser for the Florida Tibetan Buddhist Center at Osprey Cove on Lake Santa Fe—an ambitious project, over 100 acres in size, that will create a place where people from the Southeast can benefit by receiving dharma teachings.

Bardor Tulku Rinpoche kindly and generously agreed, and the result is the CD Liberation Through Hearing: Tibetan Buddhist Mantras for Animals.

The CD includes the following recitations: Words of Auspiciousness, Mantra of Buddha Shakyamuni, Manta of Amitayus, Mantra of Medicine Buddha, Mantra of Avalokiteshvara, Karmapa Khyenno, Mantra of Tara, Longevity Mantra of White Tara, Mantra of Guru Padmasambhava, Sukhavati Aspiration Prayer and Amitabha Mantra, Mantra of Generosity, and Dedication of Merit.

Single copies of Liberation Through Hearing can be purchased from Namse Bangdzo. To purchase bulk quantities at a discount, contact the Gainesville (Florida) KTC, P.O. Box 358824, Gainesville, Florida 32635.

A side note about the history of this project: The original tape recorded by Kalu Rinpoche came to me from my first local dharma teacher, Frances Norwood. Frances was a wonderful person who was instrumental in starting me on the Buddhist path, and I miss her all the time; she died in 2001.


Near dawn this morning, I heard—for the first time this year—the call of a chuck-will's-widow.

The call, which is much louder than the whip-poor-will's call, sounds just like the bird's name: chuck-wills-WIDow, chuck-wills-WIDow.

Both the whip-poor-will and chuck-will's-widow are goatsuckers (family Caprimulgidae). These nocturnal birds are insect eaters with erratic flight patterns; I've heard them described as "mouths with wings."

By day, the birds rest on the ground or on tree limbs; at night, they hunt for food. I've never seen one at rest, only in erratic flight at twilight—hunting bugs.

Florida gets a lot of migrant bird species. While we have a small year-round population of the magnificent sandhill cranes, we get thousands of cranes as winter visitors. Then, after the cranes leave in February and March, we wait for the arrival of the chuck-will's-widows, who spend their summers with us.

It's always exciting to hear the first call of the chuck-will's-widow because then we know that warmer weather is not far away.

Most of the pictures I found on the internet were copyrighted; the image, above, is of a chuck-will's-widow in the Florida Keys.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ferals' Progress, Part 4 (Tracey)

Here's Tracey, sister of Bill, Julius, and Bootsy, and mother of Grover, Angie, Baby, and Horty, enjoying the afternoon sun on the "sun deck" Forrest made for the ferals.

Tracey has the most lovely green eyes, but the girl ferals are much more shy than the boys, so it will be a challenge to see if I can ever get a good picture of her lovely little face.

Tracey is named for the young woman who helped my mother with the ferals down in Orlando. Thanks to Tracey and her partner, Mark, all the ferals have been spayed and neutered, so there's no chance they can contribute to more feral overpopulation.

Ferals' Progress, Part 3 (Julius)

We suspect that Bill and Julius (above) may be twins. They are both big, handsome boys, and it's hard to tell them apart.

I sneaked up on Julius while he was napping on the porch, and he let me get close enough to take this picture (with a little help from the zoom lens on the camera).

Julius used to let us pet him, but then he got a urinary tract infection and had to be caught in a fishing net and carefully lowered into a carrier for a trip to the vet. I don't think he was our vet's favorite patient, but she did a good job healing him.

When he came home, Julius had to be confined to the "hospital" (the bigger of our two bathrooms) for a week so he could take medication that we sprinkled on his food. That confinement pretty much ruined his ability to accept human friendship.

When Grover (Julius's nephew) got the same problem a year or so later, we lucked out because the vet then offered the option of giving Grover a shot that lasted about a week, so he didn't have to be "hospitalized." Grover is now making good progress toward housecat-ism, though he likes Forrest better than he likes me since I was the one who had to net him and drive him to the vet. I saved his life! I guess that doesn't count for much when you're a feral.

Ferals' Progress, Part 2 (Radiant Bill)

William of Orange (Bill) has been discovering the joys of being a housecat. One of those joys is being picked up and loved on.

I didn't correct the radiant glow to his eyes imparted by the flash, because this reminds me of some of the pictures that get used on Cheezburger with funny captions that make us giggle for days! Plus, I like the idea of calling this picture "Radiant Bill." He radiates love!

Mr. Shumard

Here is Mr. Shumard, the Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) I planted right after I moved into my house. The back of the lot is filled with planted pines—probably slash pines—and if they were longleaf pines, I'd cherish them, but they aren't. So, the plan is eventually to have the back of the lot shaded by large oaks and other native trees.

Mr. Shumard telepathed to me, right after I planted him, that he was very happy here and would do very well. And so far, he has done well—unlike Mrs. Shumard, a companion that we planted near him, who has "passed on" (euphemism for "died" in this part of the world).

Shumard oaks are native from North Carolina south to central Florida and west to Michigan and Texas. I picked this tree because when it's mature, its leaves will turn deep purplish red to red in autumn. Autumn is my favorite season, so I want a lot of autumn color in my yard.

My copy of Gil Nelson's Florida's Best Native Landscape Plants (University Press of Florida, 2003) lists the following as among good companion plants for the Shumard oak:  pignut hickory, magnolia, flowering dogwood, and redbud. So far, I have at least one of all of these trees. Another listed companion is witch hazel, which I have searched for far and wide, only to be told that it doesn't do well this far south. Bummer; I'd love to have a witch hazel tree!

Mr. Shumard appears to be growing in kind of a cattywampus fashion. We are hoping he will straighten up as he gets a bit bigger.

Narrow Road, Looking North

Speechless before
these budding green spring leaves
in blazing sunlight

-Matsuo Basho, Narrow Road to the Interior, translated by Sam Hamill, Shambhala 1991, p. 8

Thistle Mandala

We have a couple of thistles popping up in the yard. The picture above shows one, although I'm not sure what species we have here. These prickly plants are the national flowers of Scotland and according to Wikipedia, ancient Celtic symbols of nobility of character as well as birth.

Thistles are members of the family Asteraceae, from the Greek word meaning "star."

Looking at this thistle from above—it's still kind of flat and low to the ground—I am reminded of looking at a Tibetan mandala, one of the sacred diagrams that represents all or part of the cosmos or, in Jungian psychology, the complete integration or unification of the personality.

Looking at Tibetan Buddhist art was one of the first things that inspired me to explore that particular form of Buddhism; I was magnetically drawn to the images in a way that I couldn't explain. It wasn't like I had seen them before, but there was something there that magnetized me.