I’m a complete scaredy cat, so there’s quite an array of nighttime noises that make me sit bolt upright when I’m in bed. Only a few catch my undivided attention in a good way, though. The quiet sounds sneaking through my window right now are of that good variety, the kind that has me rushing outside, or to open the nearest window and turn my ear out into the darkness.
There are several Great Horned Owls calling back and forth in the woods behind the apartments. One is close, perhaps in the treetops just beyond the next building. The others–at least one or two more, but maybe three–are spread far and wide throughout those woods. Their calls are nothing more than a muttering that I have to strain to catch.
I knew the snow had started when I realized it was quiet.
Snow in North Carolina is an unusual thing, both in frequency and because of the general public response to it. East of the mountains, which are another beast entirely, we get a snowfall or two in a typical year, somewhere between January and March. More often than not, they are ephemeral, arriving in secret by night and melting away over the next series of mornings with little fanfare. But these usual non-events trigger an apocalyptic panic.
“Get your bread and milk now,” everyone will say with a wry smile when snow is in the forecast. It’s a tired joke, dry and self-deprecating. Even after you say it to a coworker with a roll of your eyes, you still make a note to drop by the grocery store on the way home.
As an end-of-year lunch with some colleagues was winding down earlier this month, a question was asked that took me by surprise, but later struck me as inevitable: “So, what are your nature connection goals for the new year?”
In the past, I’ve skipped making resolutions more often than not. I hadn’t given that dreaded December R-word a single thought, let alone come up with a resolution about nature connection. There are always nature topics I hope to learn more about, but it may never have occurred to me to set concrete goals for them before that moment.
I pondered for a minute, then said, “Improving my sea shell identification.” Continue reading
I have an odd ritual when I go to the beach. Once I drop my things, I make a beeline to the surf’s edge and stalk up and down the shoreline, hands on my hips, frowning down at the sand. Eventually, I’ll stop, bend forward, and snatch down with both hands, then examine my captured clump of shoreline.
If you guess that I’m shell hunting, you’re partially in the right. It’s not empty, abandoned shells that I look for, though. It’s live coquina clams.
When I was in elementary school, my uncle first clued me into the fact that there are more reasons to dig at the beach than just sandcastle construction. My family came down to visit him and my grandparents on the Florida Gulf Coast and–of course–went to the beach. I was hoarding fistfuls of washed-up shells and showing them off to the adults of the bunch. My uncle indulged my excitement and poked through my finds, noticing that I’d chosen several dainty shells composed of two pieces and still joined in the middle. When the two sides were splayed out fully, I thought they looked like tiny angel wings.
“Want to see something cool?” he said. I was certainly not going to pass on that opportunity. He waited for a wave to recede, then dug his hand into the sand and flipped over a scoop of it. My jaw dropped. A new wave passed over the upended pile and a half-dozen shining, gem-like creatures scooted back down into the sand: variable coquinas. Continue reading
Life is full of little compulsions. The friend who buys a lottery ticket every week, despite the odds. The roommate who has to have the dishwasher loaded just so. The dog that can’t help chasing every squirrel in sight. The moth to the proverbial flame.
I can’t help chasing lizards.
When I see a skink or an eastern fence lizard lounging on a tree trunk, I am instantly drawn to get as close as I possibly can without it spooking. I’ll chase it in circles, around and around like a dog after its own tail. And when I go visiting folks in Florida–oh, boy. Continue reading
If you measure the success of a week at nature camp by the number of times kids shout in excitement about reptiles and amphibians, last week was a pretty good one:
“I found a skink!”
“Come and see this newt!”
“There’s a salamander over here!”
If you consider accuracy, though? Far less successful; we went zero for three. We did see both skinks and salamanders, but the kids were confused about which was which. These creatures do have a lot in common, but each is awesome in its own way. Continue reading
When I moved into my summer housing, I noticed right away that the burnt-out lighting sconce by the entryway was stuffed full of debris–leaves, pine needles, twigs. I wondered if some bird had nested there, long ago. When I walked up to the house earlier this evening, though, a bird rocketed out of the alcove and right over my head.
Aha! Not an old nest, then, but a current one! I dragged a chair out to climb up and investigate, but the nest was too high for me to reach, even then. I went out to the porch to restrategize and found a visitor perched on the railing, watching me: a Carolina wren, with a bill full of nesting materials. Upon seeing a human blocking its path, it retreated hastily to a skinny tree opposite the gravel walkway, where it observed until it decided I wasn’t so scary after all and began working on the nest again.