Thursday, October 29, 2015

Nature Writing and Journaling Workshops

I've had a little tab for "Nature Writing Workshops" over on my sidebar there for a while now, but up until recently it held only a generic description of the kinds of workshops I can offer to local nature centers and nonprofits. Now I've finally got some actual classes scheduled and listed on that page. They're either free or very inexpensive and if you're local it would be fun to see you at one of them.

The upcoming classes are:
Family Nature Journaling ~ November 8, 2015
Pettengill Farm, Freeport
Nature Writing ~ November 15, 2015
Hidden Valley Nature Center, Jefferson 
The Winter Nature Journal ~ December 6, 2015
Hidden Valley Nature Center, Jefferson 
Nature Journaling ~ January 10, 2016
Harlow Art Gallery, Hallowell
I will also be offering a six-week nature writing class at Viles Arboretum in Augusta this winter. I'll post details on the Nature Writing page when registration opens up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ Aspen

Being from Colorado, I have a soft spot for aspen trees. Here they're derisively called "popple" and considered a trash tree, inferior in both wood and autumnal color, but they're actually quite beautiful when you give them a chance. We have two species on our land: bigtooth and quaking.

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is the same species we have in Colorado, but it has a different appearance and growth habit here. There it grows in dense, single-species stands on the edges of evergreen forests, but on our land it mingles with other trees (birch, cherry, beech, apple, alder, etc.). The trunks out west also appear a bright, waxy white, with big black eye spots and some black streaking. Here they're often grey (all of the trees in this picture are aspen), and when they are white, they have a lot of grey scarring.

The leaf stems, or petioles, are flattened perpendicular to the plane of the leaf, which makes them very flexible and allows them to "quake" or "tremble." Nothing is quite as lovely as an aspen tree covered in gold leaves that shimmer like a belly dancer's coins in the slightest breeze.

Bigtooth aspen leaves (Populus grandidentata), as you can see, have big teeth. They also have a silvery appearance in the early spring.

The leaves are also generally larger than quaking aspen's leaves, though there is a lot of variation among the leaves of both.

The bark is a pretty blah grey on younger individuals.

But bigtooth aspen grow larger than quaking and can tolerate shade better, and in our deeper woods, we have a few big ol' specimens with bark that has a beautiful, braided look to it.

The bigtooth leaves can have a more egg-like shape to them, though they also come in the traditional aspen shape.

They also sometimes turn red as well as gold.

Stands of both types of aspen grow near the end of our driveway and right now the ground is littered with their leaves, as if someone spilled a bag of gold coins.

And looking back, toward the house, most of the trees have lost their leaves, but those bright patches of gold rimming the canopy--those are aspen trees.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Most of my knits from the last year have come from my stash (all but my January hat, which I made from yarn I bought because I hadn't purchased enough for whole hats when I was in Ireland, and half of the yarn for E's replacement mitten). Otherwise, I haven't bought any new yarn in a long while! Yet I haven't quite made as much of a dent in my stash as I would like. It takes up the top shelf of my craft cabinet, and had gotten all jubled and tangley after a year of rummaging around for what I was looking for.

So this weekend, I pulled it all out to tidy it up, take stock, and make sure there was no sign of wool moth activity (there wasn't). There's a lot of uninspiring yarn in that pile--single skeins and leftover odds and ends and things I inherited from ex-knitters.

 I decided to choose my next projects based on the yarn I most want to play with and came down to a skein of grey angora I bought at the Fiber Frolic a few years ago, a skein of grey lace-weight cashmere that I got on really good sale somewhere a long time ago (I remember my sister was with me, but I don't remember where we were!), and a skein of Noro Silk Garden. I then had to patterns that use single skeins, are something a little different from the usual, and are a little bit challenging (but still TV-compatible). I settled on a pair of leg warmers with a little lace along the top edge for the angora, a slouchy hat for the cashmere, and a crocheted flower scarf for the Noro. Now I can't wait to get started!

Monday, October 26, 2015

October Knit ~ M's Mitts

Well, it looks like I'm back on the one-knit-a-month train (touch wood).

I whipped up these mitts/wristers/wrist-warmers/fingerless gloves/whathaveyous for M, who's been complaining that his hands are cold all the time. There is the school of thought that says mitts are pointless, because your fingers are still exposed to the cold, and there is the school of thought that says they are fabulous, because they keep your hand warm while allowing you the use of your fingers. I belong to the latter school, natch. The idea is that the blood flowing to your fingers is warmer when it gets there by passing though your insulated wrist and palm. I don't know if that really works, but I do know that if you're not wearing anything on your hands, your fingers are a lot colder, and if you need your fingers to do stuff (type, fill the bird feeder, draw, open doors, write), you'll just take your mittens/gloves all the way off and then what?

Anyway, fingerless philosophy and science aside, I love wearing fingerless gloves. I love knitting them. And I would love to keep my boy's hands warm. He says he can't wear them while playing guitar, but they should help when he's doing homework and computer-related things. They probably would work for playing the drums and piano, too.

Pattern info on my Ravelry page.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Recharge

I went away to a writing conference in Vermont over the weekend.

I was wishy-washy about signing up--it's very difficult for me to justify spending more money on writing when I'm not earning any.

But when I found out one of my dearest MFA friends would be able to join me there, I did not hesitate and performed some logistical acrobatics to get my family where they needed to be all weekend (thanks to fabulous friends).

I spent the weekend listening to presentations by really interesting people who do amazing things and then write about them, attending workshops that inspired and reinvigorated my own desire to write, meeting new people, reconnecting with a good friend, and having meaningful conversations about things that I care about.

I needed that, really bad.

On the way home, I went hiking in New Hampshire with a friend I didn't even know would be at the conference. We saw lots of fall color and the first snow of the year!!

It's easy for me to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to feed my soul. And it's hard to find a community of people who share one's passions--probably everywhere, but especially in a rural area. I'm so glad I went and I'm going forward keeping the lessons I learned, which are the lessons I always relearn at this kind of event, in the front of my mind: write, keep writing, don't give up, live a good life, spend time with good friends and smart people, and write some more. Onward!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ Red Oak

I was away over the weekend and did not have time to photograph and prepare a Wild post, so I thought I'd share these leaves from northern red oak (Quercus rubra) that I photographed the previous weekend.

Usually it seems that oak leaves just go straight to brown, but this tree was on fire. Maybe it's just that I don't notice the oak leaves until all of the other leaves have fallen. Oak, like American beech, are often marcescent, their brittle brown leaves rattling in the winter wind.

What's wild in your neck of the woods?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

September Knit ~ Dovetail Cowl

This actually qualifies as my May, June, July, and August knit as well (so much for one knit per month), and it was technically October when I finally finished it, but I'm already halfway through my next project, so it shouldn't have to cover this month as well. I had great hopes of knitting most of it during baseball season, but the pattern is a little fussy, with every row different, thus requiring too much attention for the sidelines. I did get a lot done on the way to Colorado, but on the way home it was too hot to go anywhere near wool, and, as always in summer, my knitting mojo fizzled to near-zero. But, a few recent car trips and some autumnal weather, and extra TV-watching gave me the push to finally get it done--just in time for the cold.

I bought this yarn many, many years ago, when I suddenly discovered I loved orange. It started life as a scarf, which was maybe my third or fourth knit (I worked on it as we drove to Quebec City when I was pregnant with M--15 years ago!!), but I never finished. I had picked a tedious seed stitch (that is knit, purl, knit, purl) and the back-and-forth of the scarf just didn't inspire me to finish.

I never start a knitting project without finishing the last one, except this one unfinished object that had been hanging over me for all those years. I'm so happy to be done with it! I still love the orange, and this pattern is so much more pleasing--both to knit and to look at--than a boring seed-stitch scarf. Things got a little nerve-wracking near the end--I came close to running out of yarn (I had used a bit of one skein to make a gnome's hat many years ago), but managed to finish with a yard or two to spare.

Pattern info on my Ravelry page.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wild Wednesday ~ Toothy Leaves

As the leaves begin to change color, each tree on its own schedule and in its own bright hue, the forest separates out from undifferentiated mass of green to individualized trees. The shape and appearance of each leaf becomes more obvious and easier to pick out than in summer. But still leaves can be confusing--once you've sorted out the oaks and maples, there are many leaves with similar characteristics left. I set out this fall to sort out once and for the various vaguely oblong leaves with toothed margins.

The most common (around here) of the trees with this sort of leaf is the American beech (Fagus grandifolia). Beech leaves are smooth and shiny, with single-toothed serrations, and nice deep, wide, parallel veins. Size is not a great identifier, since leaves can vary in size between individuals and on the same tree, but beech leaves are in general fairly large (3-5 inches long, and often longer than that on smaller trees). Beech trees, particularly the smaller ones, often hang onto their dried leaves through the winter, a habit known as marcescence that makes these trees easy to identify after most of their neighbors have shed their foliage.

Beech tree bark is smooth and gray, though older, larger trees often have the blistered look caused by beech bark disease (we only have smaller specimens on our land, and no obvious bark disease, yet).

While I've been familiar with beech for a long time, the next two trees have been giving me fits, not only because of their similar leaves, but also their similar names.

The American hornbeam (Caprinus caroliana), also known as blue beech, has leaves similar to the beech, but they're overall smaller than beech leaves and are doubly serrated. 

American hornbeam is also known as musclewood, because the fluted shape of the trunk and limbs gives it the appearance of muscles rippling beneath the smooth, gray bark. Because of this distinctive shape, I find hornbeam easiest to identify in winter, when all those distracting leaves are gone, although I have seen some specimens with marcescent leaves.

The trouble with identifying trees by their leaves is finding an individual with leaves low enough for you to reach. I knew we had tons of the next tree growing on our land, but finding a one was tricky, especially with shrubs growing everywhere that might or might not have been younger specimens of this tree (I have not yet begun to delve in the world of shrubs).

I can empathize with the botanists' aversion to common names when it comes to the previous tree and this one, Eastern hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). Why, oh, why make it so confusing? The "hop" part of the name comes from the fruit, which is roughly shaped like a hops flower, but why the "hornbeam" part? The leaves are similar, with multiple serrations, but hophornbeam's leaves have a faintly hairy surface and a thin, tissue-like texture.

The tree itself looks nothing like hornbeam, with bark that is broken in long, thin vertical scales. This isn't a good example, because it's a young tree, but you can see already there's nothing muscle-like about it. Hophornbeam is also called ironwood because of the strength of its close-grained wood. Hornbeam, hophornbeam; musclewood, ironwood. That's just cruel.

In my quest to find hophornbeam, I found quite a lot of trees with leaves like these:

American elm (Ulmus americana), has leaves similar to the hophornbeam, but they're wider and with larger and fewer teeth. The top surface also feels like a cat's tongue.

I can only describe elm bark as "messy," with long, narrow ridges that overlap and entangle. In pictures of bark of larger trees, it doesn't look nearly so tangley, but we don't have very large specimens on our property.

Whew! Well, it feels good to get that all sorted out. As always, when I become more intimately familiar with an element of our natural world, I see more of it; I can now walk through the woods and name each of these trees by gestalt, without plucking off their leaves and studying their twigs and bark. I know I've got a weird idea of fun, but I enjoy that interface very much.

What's wild in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Weekend Things ~ Microadventures

We had tentative plans over the weekend to go on an overnight hiking adventure on the coast, but as the weekend approached, my adventurous side began warring with my practical side--the one that kept reminding me of all the things that needed to get done at home, and the fact that I would be away again the following weekend, and that E and Z had big school projects due this week, and who would take care of those ever-lovin' ducks?

So, of course we stayed home, because if I'm not 100% committed to an adventure, it doesn't happen, since I need enough energy and enthusiasm to drag my reluctant family members along with me.

Instead, we had ourselves a few smaller adventures close to home, beginning with a hike around the China School Forest after E had a soccer game there Saturday (Z's shins are still healing and we've ix-nayed the rest of the soccer season for him).

This is a place I've been meaning to explore for years and years, but had just never gotten around to it. It turned out to be very cool, with a boardwalk across a pond, a big tree house, and a lot of other neat things to explore.

On Sunday, we all went hiking on a new-to-us trail in a nearby town (Clarry Hill in Union, if you're local). It's a place known to be great for viewing migrating hawks in the spring and fall--we were a bit late for the migration, but did see a northern harrier and a bald eagle.

Being a Western gal, I'm always starving for a view of the horizon in this treed state, so I was thrilled to climb up over this blueberry barren, with views all around.

When we dropped into the woods for a brief while, we were treated to a few enormous white ash trees and this fantastic sugar maple that was half hollowed out by fire.

We had some discussion about whether this is what moors would look like--moorland features prominently in the books E and Z are now reading (Warriors, not Wuthering Heights). 

They visualize more grass, but this is just how I picture the moors, only with heather instead of blueberries and more fog and and quicksand and howling spirits.

Finally, on Monday, E and Z and I went on the biggest adventure of all--setting off into uncharted territory.

We've been talking for about a year about biking to their best friend's house, but instead of going the long way around, by road, we (meaning I) wanted to try to connect two partials roads that used to be one but are now grown over in the middle--partly for the adventure of it and partly to spend as little time as possible on busy roads with narrow shoulders.

We made it a short way on an old dirt road, and then it turned into a howling swamp. We had to push and carry our bikes over roots and around trees and through ankle-deep water. The boys complained a lot, and we all got good and scratched up, but we made it through to the other side, coming out on a grassy lane. Horse droppings at both ends led me to believe there was another way through.

So after our friends fed us lunch and the boys played for a while, we ventured out again, despite pleas for a ride from Papa or our friends, or, barring that, to take the main road around.

We found that if only we had taken a left turn where the off-road road began, we could have climbed over a grassy trail, skirting the howling swamp altogether.

When we got home, E and Z rushed to tell C and M about our adventure, how hard it was on the way there, and how we found an easier route. I wonder sometimes, as a parent, if anything I do has an effect on my kids, and then we have an experience like this, where they confront adversity and (with a little nudge from me) overcome it, and their excitement and confidence soars. Who knows if this one experience will help them face challenges later in life, or if spending time outside on adventures with their family (even when they're being their little recalcitrant selves) will inspire them to be adventurous in life as they get older. But I like to think it will.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...