Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Trees Abloom

For months, the limbs are bare. 
Red-shouldered hawk sticks to the noonday shadows near the trunk of the gnarly oak, 
lest its aquiline silhouette scatter the foraging squirrels below.

Nearby, however, maple breaks ranks with her bare-branched kin; 
at long last, a tree abloom! 

Weeks before the cone-bearers release their clouds of golden dust, 

their deciduous neighbors discreetly erupt in a silent explosion of reds and yellows. 

These intricate organs, attended largely by equally inconspicuous pollinators, 
will bear an abundance of winged seeds a few weeks hence;

for now, however, 
they're content to color the leafless shore with their subtle hues,

their true splendor lost on all but the most careful and curious watchers,
here at the brink of spring...

Farther along the way, a favorite patch of wild chickasaw plums prepares the way for a late May feast at nature's table,

abundant tiny blossoms bursting forth,

each a potential plum, 
soon to be plucked by other clever inhabitants of this sandy spot just beyond the shade of the long leaf pines,

but simply eye candy for now, 

a lovely libation for the keen-eyed few who pause to drink them in...

The vines have awakened as well, 

the woody cords and weathered leaves of native Carolina jessamine, 
Gelsemium sempervirens
now adorned by spectacular golden trumpets,
declaring unequivocally the advent of spring,

bearing priceless gifts,

free for all who will but pause to partake of the bounty...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Tree and the Air That We Breathe

The massive old trunk has been rooted right here in this spot for some eighty years, maybe more. Liquidambar styraciflua, sweet gum. 
So named by humans for the "liquid amber" which flows from its flesh when wounded, early European visitors to North America spoke of the sap's pleasing aroma when burned, and it has long been a commercially important timber species.

But today, standing here in silent communion with this magnificent individual, 
we ponder the sweet gum as a fellow living being, 
child of a shared Creator;

a healthy, mature deciduous tree in its prime, 
awakening, as it were, from a long winter's nap.

A profusion of blossoms;
hundreds of delicate snowball clusters,
fertile, alive, beautiful!

Each flower cluster attended by a tiny dangling "gum ball", 
repository for fifty or more tiny tree seeds,
part of this year's crop of thousands,
most of which will become food for fellow creatures, 

a few of which might someday take root in the soil below and become tiny saplings,
and then,

...who knows...

And don't forget the leaves, 
tender, gloriously green stars,
dancing in the brisk spring breeze, 

as though to break free from their terrestrial tethers and ascend, 
swirling gaily, 
straight up into the bright blue heavens above.

And as we stand in wonder before this complex and beautiful organism, 
we breath a silent prayer of gratitude,
for life, and beauty, and the very air we breathe,
and for this amazing creature,
whose dancing leaves of green renew the depleted air,
making possible our next life-giving breath...

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Spring Is In the Air - Enraptured Raptors

We returned to San Lee Park on a gorgeous late winter morn to check on the progress of the early-blooming native wildflowers;
we found the trout lily colonies exploding, and a few more liverwort in bloom, 
but few other species blooming just yet. 

As we made our way back toward the dam, we wandered from the path for a closer look at a red-shouldered hawk calling from just up the ridge.

Perched high in a majestic oak, her rusty breast glowed like smoldering embers against the brilliant blue sky above.  

As we stealthily switched to a longer lens, the solitary female was joined by an apparent suitor; 

with muted vocalizations and very little in the way of pleasantries,
the pair proceeded with their ancient rite of spring.

Historically, red-shouldered hawks may have been the predominant species of hawk in this area, but over the past century, they've been supplanted by the red-tailed hawk throughout much of our region. Most of this shift is associated with habitat loss; the red-shouldered hawk prefers mature forest with an open understory and ready access to water, and much of this habitat has been lost to agriculture and other forms of human development.

Fortunately for the hawks and for us, Lee County is still home to a decent amount of habitat suitable for the red-shouldered raptors. We're aware of at least four or five red-shouldered pairs around town; three in area parks, and one in a wooded residential development built around a substantial stream.

Nature is resilient, and never fails to amaze and astonish us, particularly in those few remaining places where human development has been limited. 
Here on the wooded ridge, overlooking the stream-fed lake below, we experience yet another of those moments; glad that someone who came before us had the foresight to conserve and protect this little hundred-acre wood, and determined to do our part to ensure that it remains protected.
For the hawks and their progeny, and for us and ours...