Nothing to See Here? Ha!

This time of year exposes all the bird nests that were hidden right under our noses last spring and summer.

I think today was the warmest day we’ve had so far this year in our corner of Ohio. My car thermometer said it was 72F late this afternoon. In dire need of fresh air and a dose of Vitamin N (nature), I headed out to one of my favorite places, a Nature Conservancy property called Salamander Flats, where I often study dragonflies and butterflies in the summer. It’s a wetland that was recently restored after having been converted into farmland for many years.

Driving past it, you might think it looks like a huge ‘nothing burger,’ a big flat field of weeds. And especially at this time of year, you might think there’s nothing of interest there. No wildflowers blooming yet, no insects feeding on flowers, just a bunch of ‘dead’ brown plants. To that I say, “Ha!” Let me show you a few things.

First of all, this is my favorite time of year to enjoy the golden brown hues of the acres and acres of little bluestem. Add to that the movement caused by a brisk wind, and you’ve got yourself a lovely symphony of dancing grasses. Here’s a one-minute feast for your senses:

Did you notice a sound that wasn’t wind in that video? Yes, you sure did! Here’s another 30 seconds of zen — the songs of chorus frogs in the pond.

There were the first signs of blooms on the pussy willow:

And mosses starting to show new growth. This is a very common one in the haircap moss family:

A shrieking killdeer drew my attention as it flew over, and I was surprised that I managed to capture a pic with my macro lens. I wasn’t planning to photograph birds today.

Along with red-winged blackbirds and turkey vultures, killdeer are one of the birds that signify spring for me. Killdeer are common shorebirds that lay their eggs on the ground, often on gravel driveways. Here’s a picture of one on the beach at Lake Erie in the summer:

There were lots of teeny tiny wolf spiders crawling all over the ground. I managed a passable pic of this one:

I had a momentary thrill when a bright yellow insect flew up out of the bluestem and continued to fly just above the tops of the grasses as I watched it in my binoculars for about 20 seconds. It looked like a butterfly–it’s crazy early for them here, but I can’t imagine what else it could have been. I texted a friend who knows more about butterflies than I do, and she rushed over to help me try to relocate it. Unfortunately, the wind picked up a great deal and it got pretty cold. We never did find it, but had a good time seeing each other’s faces after a long, lonely winter.

It’s so incredibly rejuvenating to be outdoors without a coat, feeling the wind in my face, and having hope for a more normal year. Spring is best appreciated when you can see it, feel it, hear it, and touch it, all at once. Full immersion, so it gets into your heart and soul.

Longhorn beetle stowaway

And as I write this, spring is in more than my heart and soul — it’s in my house too. Something kept buzzing around my lamp near my head, and I finally caught it. This looks to be one of the longhorn beetles. I would imagine it hitched a ride home with me from Salamander Flats. When I uploaded the photo to iNaturalist, it suggested the Tanbark Borer (Phymatodes testaceus). I’ll have to wait to see if that gets confirmed by the real entomologists on iNat, but it’s a new species for me if that’s right.

Our weather is supposed to turn colder and wetter for a while now, but I’ve got enough of a taste of spring that I’m pretty sure I can make it through to the next warm spell. I hope you’re taking advantage of any chance you get to immerse yourself in the transition to this most amazing season!

You Need Some Vitamin N

That’s Vitamin N as in Nature, and most of us are deficient in it. There have been lots of books and articles written about the health benefits of ecotherapy lately, but many of them are supported primarily by anecdotal evidence and sloppy research. But now we have proof that time spent outdoors is essential for mental health and positive patterns of social functioning, based on rigorous research conducted by Frances Kuo at the University of Illinois. She says, In greener settings, we find that people are more generous and more sociable. We find stronger neighborhood social ties and greater sense of community, more mutual trust and willingness to help others…. In less green environments, we find higher rates of aggression, violence, violent crime, and property crime — even after controlling for income and other differences. We also find more evidence of loneliness and more individuals reporting inadequate social support.”

I encourage you to follow the link above to read more about the study. If that doesn’t make you go outside, I don’t know what will! In fact, as I was gathering info for this article I had an urgent impulse to take a walk around our woods. So I did. And it felt gooood.

I’ve also been reading The Nature Principle, by Richard Louv, and find myself highlighting passage after passage for future reference. Did you know that exposure to the natural world can actually increase intelligence for some people? According to Louv, it apparently stimulates “our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative, even in dense urban neighborhoods.”

I think most creative types will be familiar with the inspiration that can strike during a walk in the woods or a stroll on the shore. I get lots of good ideas when I’m driving on a pretty country road, or even in the shower (I consider that “nature-like” since I’m in the water….). Other studies cited in this book (done by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan) suggest “that nature simultaneously calms and focuses the mind, and at the same time offers a state that transcends relaxation, allowing the mind to detect patterns that it would otherwise miss.”

I just found another book on this subject that sounds pretty good: Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature. I’ve just ordered it and will let you know what I think after I’ve had a chance to read it. In the meantime, here are a couple of my recent “therapy pics.” Enjoy!