Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Berry Good

A Bohemian waxwing eating Rowan berries In Plyos, Russia
Photograph: TASS/Barcroft Images

The sight of ripening berries for birds and other wildlife in autumn is always heartening, especially after so many months of severe drought in this part of New England. With recent beneficial rains, shrubs and trees have been fruiting with  abundance, attracting large flocks of Cedar and Bohemian waxwings. 

Watching them feast on berries near a wetland area that I visit is thrilling. Their black masks and crested heads make them ideal subjects for water color work and photography.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lonely Princess

Princess misses Daisy

It is now two weeks since we lost Daisy and while Princess’ grief is easing, the process is slow and she remains lonesome for her sister. There is an unmistakable look of sadness in her eyes.

I kiss and hold her, tell her how much I love her, brush her and give her treats. I wish I could do more, but I understand that she needs to grieve in her own way after losing her sister and closest companion of 14 years.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Leaving a light on for Daisy

Daisy in May 2016

Today marks one week since Daisy died and we miss her terribly. Her sister Princess is very sad and lyrics from a song by Three Dog Night seem to express our grief perfectly: "It's just no good anymore since you went away..."

When Daisy got sick with intestinal cancer and eating became so difficult, she would wake me in the middle of the night and we'd go down to the kitchen so she could try to eat. Turning on a little night light there in the early evening and leaving it on until morning became a ritual of caring

I still turn that little light on every night, just as before. It doesn't feel right to turn it off yet. We are leaving a light on for Daisy. Her spirit still lingers here. Click on the photo to appreciate her sweet nature and dark beauty.

Monday, August 22, 2016

She was a nice cat


I lost my Daisy today, just shy of her 14th birthday. She leaves me and her sister Princess in deep mourning. 

This is the time of the big empty. We feel her absence keenly. She was just here and now she's gone. It's all I can do to stop myself from looking for her beneath her favorite giant hostas. She won't be waiting in the driveway with her tail high in greeting when I come home. Her days of patrolling for mice and chipmunks are over. No more running like an Olympic track star from the far edge of the woods, all the way without stopping, to speed through the cat door like a bullet. 

I never realized how much the outdoors meant to her until her final weeks. That she would fall ill on the summer side of life was a blessing. She loved sleeping in the breezeway with her sister. Listening to the night chorus of crickets and frogs was a kind of magic medicine that soothed them both as her health failed. 

My brave, good girl died at home. After the vet gave her a sedative, I took her out to the garden for the last time. She stayed awake long enough to take it all in: her ears twitched at the sound of birdsong and she breathed in the refreshing sea breezes that arrived after days of tropical heat. Then she fell asleep. The end came easy.

Both my wonderful vet and her assistant took exceptional care of Daisy. Her assistant and Daisy formed a special bond. When I thanked her for the warm and loving way she had held and comforted my Daisy, her eyes welled up, and she said, in the most heartfelt way, "She was a nice cat."

She truly was and caring for her was an honor and a privilege. We will meet again, my daughter. Love never ends. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The reef that was

Lizard Island National Park is the only continental island group close to the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
Many years ago in June, I had the privilege of visiting Lizard Island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Spending time in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

I feel fortunate to have visited at a time when the Great Barrier Reef was still astonishingly pristine. I was amazed to learn that the reefs are about 8,500 years old and sit above layers of reef and alluvium dating back at least 2 million years. 

Much as I would like to return, I know the sight of the now bleached corals would be extremely disheartening. Ocean acidification is one of our most urgent climate change concerns and at this writing, very little is being done to address it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Bag it, grab it and take it away

A bag of dog poop flung perilously close to the water's edge

I am fond of water and love to walk around a lake set like a jewel in the crown of a mixed hardwood forest. The diversity of wildlife there is astounding: toads; frogs; salamanders; ravens; double-crested cormorants; ospreys; northern flickers; pileated woodpeckers; goldfinches; orioles; and yellow warblers.

A water quality scientist who monitors the lake tells me, “Of all the sites I visit in Massachusetts, this is my favorite. Except for the dog poop.”

For reasons that confound me, dog walkers take the time and trouble to scoop their pet waste into bags and neatly tie them closed. But instead of taking the bags away, they hurl them close to the water’s edge and into the woods. I often bring a plastic bag and pick up what I can.

I worry most about dog poop entering the waterway. When dog owners watch me pick up bags, I feel like I’m making progress in changing their behavior.  Some ask why I bother when I don’t even have a dog. I explain that dog waste is an environmental pollutant and especially harmful to waterways. And then I smile and say, "All you have to do is: bag it; grab it and take it away.” 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Save Snags for Wildlife

This post continues a series on simple things you can do to help the planet. 
A snag is any dead or dying standing tree. For wildlife purposes, snags should be at least three inches in diameter at breast height and at least six feet tall. However, I have a couple of snags that are about two feet tall that chipmunks, field mice and shrews inhabit. 

Today is Arbor Day and wood is good. A tree that outlives its ornamental value can serve as habitat. Wildlife use nearly every part of a dead tree in every stage of its decay for a place to live and raise young, as a food source and hiding place. Snags also serve as nurseries for insects, mushrooms and lichens. 

Think of snags as condos, townhouses and rest stops. Let them soften with age and blend into the landscape. Allow vines to trail over them and leaves to fall inside them. Dead trees help wildlife and when you preserve those that are safe to leave standing, you do your part to help the planet.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day Every Day

I'm glad we celebrate Earth Day. But instead of once a year, I think every day should be Earth Day. Now more than ever.

The beginnings of this environmental movement were so full of promise, but in the 46 years since Earth Day began, we haven't accomplished much. Nearly 50 years is a huge window of time in which we could have worked wonders. Now it seems we've gone into reverse and destroyed a lot more. Need proof? Climate change, coral bleaching and ocean acidification, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I'll stop there; it's too painful.  

And what about our forests? Earth Day Network is a fine organization and I love the work they're doing, but in urging the planting of trees, I can't help wondering: what about halting the practice of cutting them down?  

Preserving and protecting the trees we already have and planting new ones are just some of the simple things we can all do to help Mother Earth, our one and only home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Say no to neonicotinoids

Photograph: Michael Kooren/Reuters

This post continues a series on simple things you can do to help the planet. 

In the past 20 years, neonicotinoids (pronounced nee-oh-NIK-uh-tin-oyds) have become the fastest growing class of pesticides. A series of high-profile scientific studies has linked neonicotinoids to huge losses in the number of queen bees produced and big rises in the numbers of "disappeared" bees – those that fail to return from foraging trips. Read my previous post to learn more about these and other pollinators at risk.

Neonicotinoids have been banned in Europe and the ban should be extended worldwide. Until then, we can all do our part by refusing to buy these products, helping others learn about them and ignoring the profits-before-public-health push back from Bayer and other manufacturers. 

Excellent information can be found at Friends of the Earth and at the Center for Food Safety. Click here for a list of products to avoid

Monday, April 4, 2016

Consider the bees

Photographed in the wild then released unharmed, these North American native bees—not life-size but proportionate to each other—hint at the vast diversity of our most important plant pollinators.

This post continues a series on simple things you can do to help the planet. 

Bees matter. It's that simple. They ought to be valued for their own intrinsic right to exist, but our best efforts to help them must focus on the dire consequences that a bee-less, and zero-pollinator world would have on our food supply.

And right now, bees are in super serious trouble. Colony-collapse disorder has massively reduced honey bee populations and President Obama has taken action with a federal strategy to protect bees and other pollinators. 

It's a good start, but it's not enough and time is of the essence. I'll have more to say in my next post. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reasons to be hopeful

Plant food for pollinators

The environmental story, as it's currently unfolding, is sad, but there are reasons to be hopeful. 

This post begins a series on simple things you can do to help  turn things around.   

ONE: Now that spring is here, your backyard is a great place to begin helping pollinators, which are endangered due to habitat loss, monoculture, insecticides and pesticides. 

You can help bees, butterflies and moths (and their caterpillars), hummingbirds and bats by planting flowers that provide nectar and pollen. For example, plant milkweed for butterflies, especially Monarchs, which are in steep decline, and choose native plants whenever possible. You can even create a Monarch Waystation.

City dwellers with access to a patio, balcony or rooftop can participate as well with containers and window boxes. Watch this video for tips and learn more here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

All your stories are sad

Wild Sri Lankan elephants search for food in a dumpsite on the outskirts of a small town bordering the Wasgamuwa National Park. As their habitats become more fragmented, wild elephants are increasingly forced to venture into areas where people live. Photograph by Sean Gallagher

A friend and I were discussing the “sixth extinction” and what it’s like to be writing about the natural world today. What he said next continues to resonate: 

“Teetering on the edge as we are, I bet all your stories are sad.” 

The environmental story, as it's currently unfolding, is sad, but there are reasons to be hopeful.

I’ll have more to say in my next post.   

Friday, February 19, 2016

Remembering Marguerite

Queen of the Lyman Estate Greenhouses

The camellias are in bloom at the Lyman Estate Greenhouses and so are many of the orchids, but one flower, the most alluring of all, has faded and passed into spirit. For 15 years, I photographed Marguerite, the cat in residence. I would call her name and Marguerite would come running to greet me. How she loved to pose for me!

In the last year of her life, Marguerite bravely battled cancer; one of her legs had to be amputated, but she healed well and her prognosis was good. The last time I saw her she was lounging in her favorite sunny corner, drenched in warmth.

It has been a year since Marguerite's passing, but I'm not ready to return to the greenhouses. I would feel her absence too keenly.

May she rest in peace.