For Summer 2020, Dan and I have continued to hang out at home in the garden, yard and around the pond. I love the fact that Nature has gone on about her business as usual and in doing so has provided us with wondrous events and sightings. As a result I have spent more hours out than usual observing and working some in my little herb garden; trimming, staking, drying herbs and watering a lot due to the mix of heat and blast furnace Kansas summer wind.
Some years back I had Eastern Swallowtail Caterpillars invade the herb garden favoring the fennel and dill. Now I just plant extra to have some for the kitchen and then let them chow down on what they want. They are voracious eaters and quite feisty at times. I get such a kick out of gently touching them with a finger only to have them raise their little yellow “horns” called osmeterium, which are actually a defense against predators. The defense is a scent put out (by these little yellow horns) that I can only describe as weirdly stinky… if I was a bird I would not get near!
The caterpillar stage lasts 3-4 weeks so I hope the dill and fennel hold out! Then comes the chrysalis cycle lasting 10-14 days (at this time of year) with butterflies emerging for a 6-14 day life expectancy. I am looking forward to seeing the end result of these smelly little muncher’s life cycle with the Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly appearing later this summer. In the mean time I think I will go wash my hands… life by Green Heron Pond.
This Spring has had all the possibilities of disquiet and disruption. Instead the pond has been such a place of normalcy (well, normalcy of the creature world) and we have found it to be a haven of quiet, peace and wonder. I was thinking my birthday this week would pass with little change as we would not be going out to dinner or just going out for an event in the evening. Which was all fine with me except it was an overcast rather gloomy looking day… not the best day to sit and contemplate Nature in a misty damp chair outside.
We decided to take a little drive towards the Flint Hills, among the thunderheads and visit a CSA farm* that a friend’s family runs. I was not familiar with the term CSA really so I read about it. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture– as it gives the farmer and consumer a direct connection. Consumers buy “shares” of the farm’s harvest in advance and then reap the benefits of fresh produce, eggs, honey or whatever is produced or grown. I was hoping to score some fresh veggies to provide our dinner a celebratory effect.
And I did! Fresh colorful salad greens, magenta hued beets and strawberries for a little birthday cake idea. I had forgotten how bright fresh picked strawberries taste… full flavor sweet with a hint of tartness. The beets were just the right size for roasting and enjoying with a bit of goat cheese and thyme. I knew even though we would be doing dinner at home, it would be a cheerful preparation!
Dinner prep was accompanied by a parade of many of my favorites on the pond. We can always view the pond from the kitchen and stunning was the view that evening. Three Wood Ducks came up on the lawn to graze with the Mallards and their ducklings. Wood Duck drakes are some of the most stylish and colorful birds I have ever seen here. The Wood Duck hen is very subtle but what a fabulous eyeliner she sports! After they paraded through a Black Crowned Night Heron and Great Blue stopped by to do some meal prep of their own, fishing off the dock and in the low slung willows over the pond.
Gifts from Nature, her bounty, her creatures, the clouds disappeared and it was a lovely evening…. turning 67 on Green Heron Pond!
* Check out Rommey Farms Cassoday, Ks or check out a CSA farm in your area or at a farmers market near you! We had a great tour at Rommey Farms on Wednesday, Thanks Susan!
Recipe: Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese & Thyme
Set oven temp to 325 degrees. Wash 4-5 small whole beets with 1/4″ of stem left on and wrap in enough foil to totally surround tightly. Roast in oven for about 1 hour. Depending on size- you may need to check on tenderness at about 50 minutes. When done, remove beets from oven and allow to cool slightly and then using a paper towel you can remove skins easily by holding onto the 1/4″ stem. (Using a paper towel will keep you from having pink fingers for a couple of days) Slice the warm beets add a drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle on goat cheese and fresh thyme. Then enjoy the earthy goodness!
Spring and Autumn are the two seasons here on Green Heron Pond that lend themselves to open windows (screens always!). Autumn is filled with the sounds of brisk breezes and crunchy-crisp leaves; Spring, well Spring is filled with mystery, intrigue- both in sight and sound.
The other night around 3 a.m. (windows opened for the coolness) Dan and I were awakened by a sharp shriek that then turned into a mocking monkey-ish sound of “Ooh, Ooh, Ah, Ah” ending with the familiar “Whoooo cooks for youoooo?”. These nightmarish vocalizations are a rather startling departure from the usual Barred Owl questioning phrase. Apparently searching food sources in the dark does not require subtlety from a frazzled, fatigued parental owl. And the fact that this has now happened on several occasions with the same startling effect on us is astonishing.
Or recently an evening dockside, listening to the lulling water sounds of small fish pursuing insects, a Great Blue Heron’s raspy, raucous voice cut through the darkness and with it the realization of how it had stealthily moved close! It too had been attending to the fish sounds; following in hopes of a late meal to take back to its nest.
Our constant companions, the Mallards and the Cananda geese have nuances to their recognizable quacks and honks. Momma Mallards are not free from brutal, breeding tendencies of rogue drakes even with small ducklings in tow. You can hear them desperately calling to their ducklings as they have to take flight to avoid mass mating. (I have been known to try intervening at times.) So little anxious, bewildered “peep peep peeps” are heard until the hen can return safely to her brood. The geese are monogamous but quite territorial towards all other pond residents so their cackling and actions are just annoying…
However, both of these waterfowl have a very distinct and intense emphasis to their calls when an occasional Red Tail Hawk swoops in for a possible gourmet gosling or duckling dinner. Too, you can hear the swoosh of adult geese wings fanning out as they cover their young. Incredible to both see and hear.
Yesterday’s happenings I think may be the most mysterious of all and it happened in broad daylight. We had the door to the deck open for a breeze and began to hear a plaintive cry but we could not determine what animal was making such a peculiar sound. I looked out to see ducks and ducklings intently watching something in the murky water by the shoreline. I grabbed binoculars only to view a 2′-3′ snake writhing in the water with a larger juvenile Bullfrog hanging from its mouth. The frog was sounding a repeated yelp. There was nothing to be done but we did get the snake to leave the area away from the ducks. And within a few minutes a Greenback Heron appeared splashing to take out a second smaller frog. I could only imagine that the warmth and sun mesmerized the frogs and they were coaxed into feeling invisible.
Life on the pond is fascinating but one has to remember that there is a cycle in Nature that cannot always be denied. We have lost some ducklings, the goose nest eggs were stolen- empty shells strewn about and the small fish and frogs became a meal for someone else. But last night as I lay in bed I was consoled about the day’s events as I heard the big old Bullfrog croaking out its melodious “Harmpphhs” that were answered by another Bullfrog far across the pond. Life and Nature on Green Heron Pond.
But not a drop to drink, for my sink, to shower or flush… With apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it has been a long 24 hours without running water here at the house on Green Heron Pond. I keep staring out across the greenish brown pond and wondering in awe about water in our lives. Nature has been seemingly untouched by the many shifts in our daily lives over the last couple of months. The pond behind the house has been such a source of enjoyment, calm and peace for us and the amazing waterfowl that have migrated through or those that spend their lives here have been a treasure to observe…but as a possible water source on a desperate Sunday- no thanks.
Sunday is not the best day to encounter plumbing problems in what I used to describe as “normal times”, but amidst the “sheltering in place” and mask era this small crisis took on a bit different thought process. I wondered if someone would feel comfortable about entering our home and fixing a shower. How did I feel about this essential repair? Well pretty adamant after the 50th time I tried to run water in the sink to wash my hands or attempting to rinse something for dinner prep. Hand sanitizer came in pretty handy for the one aspect and I gave up on dinner and chose takeout.
Dan and I did come up with a great solution for toilet flushing however. The recent downpours have kept our sump pump busy so we syphoned off some of that water source (buckets full- out in the backyard- neighbors viewing) for the commode tank. I also had a few of those small plastic water bottles left from when we used to leave the house so teeth brushing and essential drinking (which of course becomes obsessive when you know there is a very limited supply) were still somewhat available. And you can imagine how many times one thinks about needing to go to the bathroom when the toilet can’t be flushed!
Now lest you think me just inconvenienced, impatient and griping about this small crisis- which was assessed by a kindly plumber yesterday- returning early this morning to fix it- know that I have had some moments of clarity to mull over the importance of water.
Water is essential. Fresh water is a luxury. Water refreshes. Water cleanses. Water soothes. Water is a potent aesthetic for all. I could go on but just know that when I turn on my kitchen or shower faucets today I will be thinking what a blessing it is to have this precious commodity at my fingertips…clean fingertips now. Musings on Green Heron Pond.
The Cottonwoods, such vast sprawling, towering trees that ring our pond. As I had a good look at them this winter the poem Evangeline by Longfellow came to mind.
Not for the poem itself but for its description of trees; the forest primeval, murmuring pines, hemlocks and the strength of the oak. It was a long, hard read back in junior high so I am not sure if it is set in my memory for its content or for the tortured moments in my English class- reading it out loud over the course of days (not all 13 year old people read with depth of emotion). We are not in Acadia anymore, we are in Kansas…
And in Kansas Cottonwood trees are our state tree and they are in my mind fabulous trees, well at least in three out of the four seasons. Winter reveals what I like to call the architectural structure or bones of the tree. The views of sky, a full moon through their long bare limbs always amazes me. Birds landing on the branches, squirrels; their movements easily tracked. Wind and breeze show stilted movement. It mesmerizes me.
Spring brings the dazzling dangling earrings of seedpods and small waxy leaves that will magically grow before our eyes. The breeze of Spring brings a lovely lyrical sound over the pond. The views of the horizon and birds, squirrels and their acrobatics begin to be hidden. The sounds of nesting avian friends and their broods will be clues to where their nests might be as the big Cottonwood foliage hides any trace of a view.
By late Spring and early Summer the leaves massive and glossy- with an encaustic quality begin to shudder and shake with the heated winds here in Kansas. I like to sit out on our little dock in late evenings, cooler then and the sounds of sway in the trees, frog calls and the night herons create a symphonic sound.
But, as hot Summer stretches out the seedpods explode and the winds and breezes send Cottonwood fuzz- we call it summer snow, all over our yard, the pond, my plants; suffocating all in a nasty dirty white. It does little good to sweep the deck or dock, clean off potted plants or stir a bit of the pond water up… and I am resigned to endure these few weeks with the promise of late Summer and then gratefully, Fall.
Fall’s fluctuating temperatures tease the Cottonwood leaves causing them to turn a golden yellow. The leaves take on a more brittle quality exhausted by Summer heat and wind, they clap and crackle as the wind and breezes come through. The mercury drops and we sit on the dock listening to these last leaves rustling. Watching them drop slowly down to float on the pond and coat the yard. And once again their structure, their sprawling architecture is slowly revealed. And we settle in for the new change of seasons. Life on Green Heron Pond.
In late December Dan and I began to hear a lone Great Horned Owl hooting from various perches in the cottonwoods during the night. By early January there were some returned “hoots” and then a bit of conversation from their respective perches above the pond. We decided a bit of “courting and sparking” was going on here. Then the rendezvous’ ceased and we thought the amorous couple had moved on. We didn’t realize until early Friday morning what a wonderful romantic resort Green Heron Pond is!
The tall lanky limbed cottonwoods, bare of all leaves and massive in size were perfect for two Great Horned Owls to perch and have a romantic chat. Since we were awakened by their hooting, we got up to see if we could actually find them in the darkness. Sure enough the view out our kitchen window provided a silhouette of the two side by side in intimate conversation. Binoculars in hand and a mad dash to turn out any lights in the house, we engaged in a bit of voyeurism as the owls then mated in the cottonwood tree next to our dock.
It was actually a stunning event taking place in Nature- these grand, fierce creatures in soft conversation with each other and their graceful movements on the high limbs- intimate and magical. We were in awe to have witnessed Nature in this way in our own little world by the pond. And they would return late that night to again hoot and converse for hours, moving from tree to tree, their calls echoing across the water. I would stay awake to listen to it all.
Excited to experience Nature so up close and personal (private), Dan and I have begun to think about where this owl couple might nest. There are still some isolated tree lines and cavities in a few of the deceased cottonwoods. As we take our walks around our neighborhood we will be looking to see subtle signs of their presence.
Nature has a way of helping me quiet myself and delight in the simplicity and honesty it provides, far removed from the many complexities we sometimes place on our lives. The Great Horned Owls- mates, companions engaged in sweet life affirming communication- I believe they are wise. Winter life on Green Heron Pond.
With cold weather expected to set in by dinner time tonight, I have been thinking about some of my favorite comfort foods. Foods that not only warm my insides but warm my soul on a wintry night. AS the temps have begun to plummet today I took a walk out in the yard (when feeding some cold hungry Mallards) and discovered some very green and cheery Italian parsley still growing in my herb garden. I wanted to utilize parsley in the kitchen before the cold could take it down, so I will share an easy and hearty winter standard here at Green Heron Pond. It is a variation on my usual- “flexible ingredient” chicken soup. And this soup is in honor of a new baby girl in Italy we have been thinking and dreaming about!
The Pond’s Italian Parsley & Pasta Chicken Soup
Ingredients: Use whatever type of chicken broth/stock (32 oz size) you like. (maybe add a chicken bouillon cube* or two and a little extra water), 2 chicken breasts or 5-7 chicken breast tenderloins, 2 bay leaves, 1/2 onion chopped, most of a small bag of baby carrots- chopped, 2 celery ribs chopped, 1 small container “baby bella” mushrooms cleaned and sliced thin, a handful of baby kale- rough chopped, 1/2 a can cannellini beans- rinsed, 1/2 can diced tomatoes, 1/2 cup dried pasta (I like whole wheat farfalle) fresh Italian parsley and salt and pepper as needed.
Directions: Just cover chicken with enough stock, add onions, bay leaves and simmer until chicken is tender, around an hour or little more. You may want to shred chicken a bit and then add rest of stock and the fresh veggies continuing to simmer for around another 30 minutes until veggies are tender but NOT mushy. Add rinsed cannellinis, diced tomatoes and pasta and simmer another 15-20 minutes. Top with fresh parsley and gently stir in and simmer for a few more minutes.
This recipe will double easily and I love it with crusty bread coated with melted butter and chopped garlic. Grate a bit of parmesan over the top of your soup bowl too! If I did not have the fresh parsley, I would use a pinch of dried oregano.
*OK, confession, disclaimer here… I have been known to use Knorr Chicken Bouillon cubes in conjunction with broth/stock to keep from using so much salt and to help fortify the soup! And Gasp– I love the hearty flavor!
Today marks the last day of 2019 and the eve of a new year, a new decade. At each year’s end I like to reflect on the happenings here at Green Heron Pond. In fact this year I have now lived on the pond for 10 years. So there will be many pond occurrences, events and my own life here to review and cherish. Yesterday, looking under the “still up with gifts gone” decorated Christmas Tree, it was quite charming to see our little cat Sofia nestled in and sleep ready at its base. She loves the fuzzy throw I use as a tree skirt and I liked thinking of her as our last seasonal gift under the tree.
I love the Christmas- the whole holiday scene- it is a favorite time for me to visit with friends, family, play and sing carols, bake special goodies and decorate. But on the other side of New Years Day I am always ready for decorations to go, eat healthier and look forward to the new year and all the promise it can hold. Sofia’s lone presence under the tree signaled the onset of that transition.
Part of that transition for me is always to write out a few resolutions…thanks to my mom’s relentless demand that we do so every New Years Day… that and eating black-eyed peas. But I have always found writing some intentions out at the year’s beginning is rather cathartic and hopeful. I don’t shoot for lofty goals necessarily but I lean toward doable nuances in my behavior and actions. It gives a bit of a reference point for the year and the feeling that I am starting with a clean slate.
2020 will also be the start of my fifth year writing from Green Heron Pond. It is with a heart of gratitude that I look at the opportunities that exist right outside my window and the chance to write and share them. Dan and I have witnessed poignant moments and amazing happenings in Nature here. Events that are very powerful and encouraging when we look outside ourselves. The Present is what is here, available to each of us, no matter where we are in life… may we take advantage of this gift- the present for 2020!
So, thank you sweet little Sofia for reminding me how precious the present-the now is. Oh, and friends, you might write a few resolutions for yourself… it would have made my mom glad… Happy New Year to all my readers! Life on Green Heron Pond.
It is a sunny, warm but windy Autumn day and I have spent as much time as I could outside in it. It has also been quite dry with very little to no precipitation recently. So, I am watering a bit. While inside prepping to head outdoors Dan hollered for me to “Look out the window!”. And there they were- right next to the deck pecking the sunflower seed hulls already harvested by the little birds and picking up a few bits of corn chops that the Mallards had not located.
The two turkeys looked in the windows at Dan and I, their heads tilted- assessing…then back to their grazing on the lawn. The sunlight illuminated deep iridescent brownish, bluish-green feathers perfectly aligned along their backs and little wizened faces with hints of red and pale whitish blue. These two were out for a neighborhood stroll… I am just not sure which neighborhood they thought they were in.
I lost track of them as they made their way through the neighboring shrubs and trees. A bit later I left the house to readjust my sprinkler when I heard the funniest little noise. At first I thought it was the water gurgling through the hose. As I rounded the corner to the front yard, there they were again. I had somewhat startled them and they let me know it with softly accented calls and sounds I don’t remember hearing from a turkey before. So I spoke quietly to them and backed away…they followed me. I have a somewhat checkered history with turkeys so I quickly rounded the corner of the house and fortunately, they went on their way.
These beautiful wild turkeys may have had a sense of security and tranquility strolling our neighborhood… no one caring to accost them, all eyes admiring as they gracefully paraded through. Rather daring though- exciting if you ask me. It is getting very close to turkey time… but it was with delight and gratitude that we viewed these birds today. May you find gratitude and delight in the small things this holiday! Happy Thanksgiving from Green Heron Pond.
Last Monday an article in the local newspaper caught Dan’s eye. The article was about a special event to be held at Quivera National Wildlife Refuge and sponsored by Audubon of Kansas: the 2019 Celebration of Cranes. We registered and started planning our Friday trek to Quivera; binocs, camera, cold weather gear, snacks, water and a sack lunch. I spent the few days prior just imagining what it would be like to see a real live Whooping Crane (endangered species with possible total around 600) and remembering the cacophony of sound that thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and Canadas make when gathered together in migration.
Fortunately by Friday, November 1st, the wintry weather had receded a bit and the sun was out and temps rose to the high 40s and low 50s. We gathered with other “birders” (have you ever been around “birders” we-they are an interesting bunch…), and readied to board 2 vans for the late afternoon waterfowl viewing. Our first stop took us by the Small Salt Marsh and hundreds of differing kinds of geese and ducks. There was a low murmur of the geese and ducks resting, fidgeting and their subtle annoying of each other.
Our next stop was a wonderful opportunity to see many migratory ducks, swans and shore birds. Everyone was excited as we unloaded the vans with binocs, big camera lens, gasps and camera clicks proceeding. There were Pintails, Shovelers, Green Winged Teals, Ring necks, Mallards, Ruddys, Avocets, Coots, a Tundra Swan, Redheads and Canvasbacks (the last two I always need a book along with binocs to know which is which) By the late dusky hour, I was getting a bit antsy to see if there would be any Whooping Cranes, as there had been 65 that had come and gone earlier in the week. (Whoopers, as these more experienced birders refer to them- in fact big time birders seem to have a lexicon all their own.) However, Dan and I see many of the migrant ducks here on the pond in small straggler numbers and we did not want to miss any Cranes if possible. We were not disappointed!
We arrived at the Big Salt Marsh to the symphony of sound Sandhill Cranes make as they call to fellow avian travelers; encouragement to land and rest for the night. The sun was sinking as I followed the shoreline through my binocs locating four Whooping Cranes, 3 adults and a juvenile; the 3, white- with the red mask and 1 a mottled brown and white. I have seen a small group in flight once and taxidermy specimens several times, but these large languid birds, gracefully quiet among the throng of Sandhills… it was incredible!!
Now I know that you might say “4 birds and that could create such a stir- how could that be so exciting? And too far to get a good photo? Are you sure you even saw them and can we believe you?” Maybe you need to get out and look for yourself… Take a drive to Quivera National Wildlife Refuge for their auto tour or in Oklahoma, Great Salt Plains to see amazing birds and Nature. Buy a little bird book and start looking out your own window. You may be amazed to find you create your own birdie lexicon and get excited about fewer birds than 4. Life on and away from Green Heron Pond!