Getting to Know Your Neighbors

When you move into a new home, you might spend some time worrying about your new neighbors. What if they play their music too loud? What if they don’t keep up with their property maintenance? What if they get mad at you for not keeping up with your property maintenance? More often than not, though, having neighbors is a good thing. I’ve had some wonderful neighbors who helped me pull weeds, allowed me to use their fence line, and call the utility company when a waterline broke while I was away. I’ve also had the bass-booming-at-midnight neighbors. More often than not, though, I share an occasional smile and nod with them, and we all live our separate lives.

Most of us might not think as much about our furry, feathered, or scaly neighbors as we do our human ones, but becoming more aware of the wildlife around us can help us to appreciate and enjoy our natural world and become better neighbors.

While you might think that spring or summer would be the ideal time to spot wildlife, I find winter to be a great time to get out and explore, and in some ways, an easier time to get started. Since many species might migrate or hole up for the winter, identification can become easier. Bare trees can allow for easier visualization of birds, and snow covered ground provides a blank canvas for our wild neighbors to leave their clues behind.

Not a fan of the cold weather? Understandable. The thought of bundling up and clomping around in the snow to try to catch a glimpse of some animals might not sound super appealing. I am a warm weather girl, myself, but I started my winter wildlife watches by convincing myself to step outside for 5 minutes to see what I could see. I got in the habit of walking around my yard for a few minutes after coming home from work. Here are some of my finds:

Do you recognize this little guy? This is an Eastern Bluebird, a beautiful red, white, and blue bird found year-round throughout much of the eastern United States. I’m sure they were around all year, but this was my first time spotting one!

Tracks can be tough to identify in deep snow, but prints in a thin snow cover (coupled with a good field guide) are a great way to determine who has been hanging out in your yard. Do you recognize any of the tracks from some common backyard visitors? The top photo shows squirrel tracks. While the toes weren’t clearly visible, the pattern of the prints, coupled with the fact that they led right up to a tree, helped me land on squirrel, rather than rabbit.

The bottom two photos technically don’t belong to wild animals, but they do illustrate a helpful tracking tip. The photo on the right is from my own dog. This is a fresh footprint in light snow, so you can clearly see the four toes and the claw marks above each toe. Now compare that print to the photo on the right. Those are footprints from my neighbor’s cat (who apparently comes to visit my house during the day). Do you see the difference? Size, of course, but also note the lack of claw marks on the cat prints. Since cats have retractable claws, you won’t see the marks on their prints. While these examples are from domestic animals, it holds true for their wild counterparts: you will see claw marks on prints from coyotes or foxes, but not bobcats, for example.

What is the benefit from knowing your local wildlife? It can help us go from being the equivalent of those bass-booming neighbors to the ones who help you shovel your driveway. Once we know who is out there, we can start learning about their needs and their lifestyle. Small changes like planting native plants for birds and butterflies, avoiding pesticides, and providing sources of shelter can make a huge difference for your community of native wildlife. Remember that we moved into their neighborhood, not the other way around.

Are you interested in learning more about the wildlife in your backyard? Do you want to learn how to become a better neighbor to your wild counterparts? Consider visiting the National Wildlife Federation to find out how to provide food, water, and shelter for a variety of species, and even officially certify your backyard habitat:

Snow Day

Is there anything better than fresh snow on a quiet morning? How is it that snow makes me feel both peaceful and energized at the same time? As I crunched through my backyard to take these pictures this morning, I had such a sense of calm, but also a tingle of anticipation.

For what? Who knows. Perhaps it is just the change of scenery. A white, bright, fluffy coat over the soggy grass and faded leaves. A fresh start.

If only I could hang on to those feelings while shoveling the driveway. The struggles of winter!

Is it snowing where you are? Any snow lovers or haters out there?

Book Club for Nature Lovers

The past couple of days have been Indoor Days. We have had quite a bit of unseasonably warm weather in the past month or two, but yesterday the temperature took a nosedive. I’m actually quite happy to see some normal winter weather, but I admit that I was happier to see it from inside with a blanket, hot chocolate, and a good book (or five)!

This doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t get myself a dose of nature. I am one of those people who reads multiple books at once (you never know what you’ll be in the mood for!), and I’m currently in the middle of three books connected to our natural world:

  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: an amusing memoir about hiking the Appalachian Trail
  • Serve God, Save the Planet by Matthew Sleeth: a Christian perspective on the importance of environmental stewardship
  • Writing about Nature by John Murray: a guide covering different genres of nature writing, including examples, tips, and practice exercises….here’s hoping this blog will be good one day!

I do love exploring nature through books. As a kid, I wasn’t big into outdoor exploration, but loved fiction books like My Side of the Mountain and Julie of the Wolves, both by Jean Craighead George, and the Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen. These books helped me develop a sense of wonder, appreciation, and connection to the natural world, even while being surrounded by four walls and a roof. I name Hatchet as one of my favorite books to this day.

It wasn’t until college that I got interested in non-fiction nature writing. A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey are two I enjoy pulling off the shelf occasionally. Cheryl Strayed’s Wild put ideas of thru-hiking in my head (although I would much prefer the AT to the PCT), and Gary Paulsen has some amazing non-fiction books covering his own experiences in nature.

I’m always up for a good book recommendation, so let me hear it! What are some of your favorite books on nature? Have you read any of the books shared above?

Noticing the Small Things

One of my original inspirations for this blog is that appreciation for nature doesn’t have to involve a big trip, overnight camping, or some extraordinary experience. We can experience the beauty of the natural world by simply taking a step outside the front door.

A couple of weeks ago, I stepped outside to bring in the trash can, and ended up falling in love with frost.

Nothing but crystallized water vapor, there is something about frost glinting in the sunlight on a bright, crisp winter day that makes me feel energized and refreshed. I ended up spending several minutes walking around and taking photos of frost in my leaf-covered yard.

An addition to enjoying the beauty, I also appreciated the line of demarcation in my front yard between the frost covered area in the shadow of my trash can, and the frost-free areas already exposed to the sun. Not exactly rocket science: we know the sun’s rays heat the surface and that frost forms on surfaces at or below freezing, but it is somehow satisfying to see these simple laws of nature carried out.

What are some of the little things in our natural world that make you smile? Have you been enjoying any winter scenery this year?

Escaping the Noise

Imagine a winter walk through the woods. Not another soul in sight. You are walking among the bare trees, a carpet of fallen leaves underfoot. The air is crisp and cool. You spot a bird flitting from tree to tree, and as you follow it deeper down the trail, your ears are met with….a high-pitched metallic screeching sound, which continues incessantly for the next half hour. 

When we think about pollution, we tend to think about the things we can see: trash along the roadside, smog, oil spills, and so on. Noise pollution may sound like a frivolous concern, or maybe something that was made up by that cranky neighbor who just wants the kids across the street to keep it down. Unfortunately, it is a very real thing, and noise pollution is a problem not just for urban parks, but has even permeated our national protected lands. Studies show that noise pollution can have a negative impact on human health, and for animals, it can be a matter of survival. Think of birds, using their songs to communicate with each other and find mates. What happens if that song can no longer be heard?

This article from NPR highlights the results of a recent study on noise pollution in our national parks. This issue will likely only grow as our cities continue to expand, so it is good to see research being done and conversations happening on how to address it. 

This was not the blog post I wanted to write today. I had every intention of writing about the importance of green spaces in urban areas, but the truth is that I wasn’t refreshed by stepping outside today. Sometimes appreciating nature means that we also have to take a hard look (and listen) to how we are treating it. 

First Steps

Welcome, reader! I would love to use my first post to tell you what you can expect to find here, but the honest truth is that I don’t yet know.

This blog was born out of a combination of interests. My childhood loves of books and animals have grown over the years into a deep appreciation for creative expression (be it writing, music, or art) and the natural world. I suppose my goal for this space is to use my own creative expression to share moments in nature with others. Will that be through photos? Quotes? Book reviews? Nature essays? We’ll have to find out together.

Taking the world’s best dog out for a walk by the lake.

I put off starting a blog for months, telling myself I needed to come up with a firm plan before writing, but as Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” So, here I go! I look forward to sharing the journey with you.