Monday, March 31, 2008

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches

My best shot at an ID: Dicentra cucullaria
Plant family: Fumariaceae (Fumitory - Bleeding Heart)
Habitat: Rich moist woods, shaded ledges and banks, especially north slopes. Locally abundant especially the mountains.
Range: North Dakota to Quebec and south as far as northern Georgia. Very scattered locations in the southern part of range. Also found in a few northwestern states.
Plant Type: Native perennial.
Flower description: The flowers are irregular in shape and are up to 1.75cm long (0.7 inches). Flowers actually have 4 petals, the inner ones are very small. The pair of outer petals form a swollen 'V' making the hanging flower look like a pair of breeches hung upside-down.
Lore: Native Americans used Dutchman's Breeches as a love potion and in making love charms.

We are pretty much at the southern limit of this unusual little flower's range. Jo and I have only found it growing in one location in the area we normal frequent. It's abundant exactly where the guide books say it should be: A rich woodland shaded by a ledge on a north slope, although I don't know how rich and loamy the soil is in ledge crevice where the individual shown above is trying to grow.


Sunday, March 30, 2008


Devil's Walking Stick

(Aralia spinosa)

Not all handholds along the trail are suitable for grasping.

More Info:
Cooperative Extension Service


Saturday, March 29, 2008



Other Common Names: Field Pansy, Wild Pansy
My best shot at an ID: Viola bicolor (Pursh)
Plant family: Violaceae (Violet)
Habitat: Fields, waste ground, disturbed sites, meadows, roadsides, railroads, lawns (just about any open area)
Range: Throughout most of eastern and central North America and into western Canadian provinces
Plant Type: Native annual
Description (from Illinois Wildflowers): Each flower is about ½" across, consisting of 5 petals and 5 sepals. The petals are pale to medium blue-violet with dark purple lines, becoming white near the throat of the flower. However, the lowermost petal has a patch of yellow near its base. Also, the two lateral petals are bearded with white hairs near the throat of the flower.
Lore: Native Americans used Johnny-jump-up to treat colds, coughs, headaches and boils. It was also used to prepare a spring tonic.

Getting an ID on this little flower was more difficult than I expected, especially since I started out thinking that I knew what is was. It has three scientific name synonyms. Some sources attribute it's common name to a different plant. And, there is disagreement about whether V. bicolor is native or not. (The USDA says it is native.)

Johnny-Jump-Up spreads by seeds and is usually found in clusters. We have several patch in our yard and garden. Illinois Wildflowers says it is sometimes used as one of the parents of pansy cultivars developed for the mass market.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Road Work

First Caterpillar of 2008: CHECK

Thanks to the intercession of my neighbor, the county dispatched a road grader to even out the rough spots in our road out. (It helps to have a local on your side.) The road is much improved and I don't have to worry about high-centering the pickup or van. The places with the deepest ruts are still a little rough. As the grader operator said, he didn't have a lot to work with up at the top of the hill -- meaning that the rocks to dirt ratio was skewed too far in favor of the rocks.

Now we have deep ruts filled with loose dirt and rocks. A hard downpour would quickly wash them out again. A moderate rain would turn them into mud holes. Therefore, Jo and I have placed an order for a half dozen light rains and have specified that drying out time between showers be included.

Bucket has given her approval of the road work while Rusty is still checking things out prior to christening the improvements.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cutleaf Toothwort

Photo taken 3/16/08

Cutleaf Toothwort

Other Common Names: Pepper Root
My best guess at an ID: Cardamine concatenata
Plant family: Brassicaceae (Mustard)
Habitat: Woodlands
Range: Throughout eastern and central North America
Plant Type: Native perennial
Lore: The roots (rhizomes) are said to have a peppery taste and can be eaten pickled, fermented (to make them sweet), boiled and eaten raw with salt. I haven't done a taste test.

This plant is the most prolific early-blooming wildflower in our woods. It doesn't have the most showy bloom, but is appreciated for it's abundance when little else is blooming. Cutleaf Toothwort is currently blooming throughout our woods.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Photo Tips

There is a porch running the full length of our house on the south side. Sunday morning while sitting at the computer, I noticed movement out on the porch. A roadrunner was investigating the porch. The roadrunner is a regular feature around our place. I've seen him several times over the past couple of weeks, but always at distances impossible to photograph with our camera. This shot would only be highly improbable.

The smart thing to do would have been slowly and quietly getting up from the computer and fetching the camera, but of course, that's not what I did. Instead, I yelled for Jo to "Come see". Jo heard but couldn't make out what I said, so she started shouting back wanting to know what I said. All the shouting convinced Bucket there must surely be a visitor outside so she tore off through the house barking loudly. Roused from his nap if front of the stove, Rusty was clueless but assumed he should join in the cacophony. Needless to say, when the riot subsided the roadrunner was long gone -- probably into the next county.

Photo Tip #1: When intending to photograph a roadrunner, "Be Quiet!!!"

Later Sunday, I decided the below freezing temperatures forecast for overnight indicated I should split a few more pieces of firewood. (There's no need to get too far ahead with wood splitting at winter's end.) One of the log sections I split was full of photographic subject otherwise known as ants. I'd only taken a few (not very good) photos when the camera indicated its battery was low. Back inside the house I popped in a fully charged battery pack, but when I returned to the split firewood, I discovered that this photo shoot was over. Most of my subject matter had been eaten.

Photo Tip #2: When photographing insects, do not leave a robin guarding your photographic specimens.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday in the Woods

The Dog-Tooth Violet (Trout Lily) blooms are just starting to open.

The Trillium blooms will be opening very soon.


Another Violet

Photo from 3/14/08

Violet (Viola triloba)

The flowers on this violet are virtually impossible (for me) to tell apart from those of Viola papilionacea. Both can have flowers that vary from almost white to deep purple. The difference between the two species is that the mature leaves on V. papilionacea are heart shaped while those of V. triloba are deeply lobed.

V. triloba prefers dry rocky open woods, thickets, bluffs with acidic soil.


Saturday, March 22, 2008


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

The loop that Jo and I (and the dogs) usually walk every afternoon is only a couple of miles long, but contains a variety of habitats. There are hard-scrabble hillsides, pastures and one small area that I'd call a "rich woodland". On Friday, our treat for the day was finding bloodroot in bloom in this rich woodland area. I took numerous photos. These are not those photos. Jo's shots were much better than mine so I appropriated hers.

(Mon@rch has an excellent series of bloodroot photos showing the entire plant in various stages of bloom. Be sure to have a look at those.)

Bloodroot is a member of the Poppy family. Its name is derived from the red juice that can be extracted from it's red-orange roots (actually rhizomes). Various medicinal and mystical properties have been associated with this juice in the past. However, since the juice is escharotic (a substance that causes tissue to die and slough off) and an incorrect internal dosage is toxic, the FDA recommends that bloodroot not be used by herbal healers.


Ringneck Snake

Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus)

Common throughout eastern and central North America, and found elsewhere where the climate is not too arid. Thrive in a variety of habitats. Prey upon small salamanders, lizards, and frogs, as well as earthworms and juvenile snakes of other species.

Ringneck snakes don't tend to bite and are never large enough to do any damage if they did.

First snake of 2008. CHECK

(Or, am I not allowed to count this one because I handled it?)


Friday, March 21, 2008

Early Bird

You know what they say: The early birds gets all the sunflower seeds -- or something like that. Even though it was still before sunrise, this flightless bandit was actually running a little late making its appointed rounds. It usually gets the sunflower seed munchies in the wee morning hours. As you can see, we are thoughtful and caring wildlife enthusiasts and have provided a platform for the raccoon to stand on while raiding the feeder. Having the coon strain and struggle to hang on just wouldn't be humane. (We gave up on those baffles months ago and should remove them. They are ugly as well as useless.)

(Jo gets the credit for this photo. While it wouldn't win any prizes, I think she did a pretty good job considering she was hand-holding the camera and using only the porch light for illumination.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thursday, 3/20/08

Today we walked our regular route through the pastures and woods for the first time since receiving that 10.5" of rain earlier in the week. Everything was still a bit damp, but in pretty good shape. We were able to wear hiking shoes instead of rubber boot. Hiking in those ill-fitting, heavy and hot rubber boots takes half the fun out of taking a walk.

There was some erosion in places along the trails leading down the bluff and in the woods, but nothing too severe. The cows evidently did a pretty good job laying out those trials. Most of the wildflowers that are emerging were still small enough that they were not damaged either by the rainfall itself or the running water. Bloodroot, trillium, dog toothed violet and may apple are the primary species growing down in the woods.

I don't think I've ever seen our pond quite this full.

There was an abundant supply of tadpoles and frog eggs in the pond before the big rain and there still is. As the extra water drains from the pond fairly rapidly, some of the frog eggs are hanging up on recently submerged weed stalks.

Are the tadpoles eating the eggs are just using them for cover?

This unfortunate creature is a cicada grub. It was forced from underground by excess water, I imagine. The grub uses the heavy duty, claw-like forelegs for digging its way out from underground when it's time for cicadas to emerge. This individual is about two months early.

Washed Out

Nice shot of the creek, huh? Unfortunately, it's our road back to civilization.

The weather finally cleared Wednesday afternoon. Jo and I (and the dogs) walked up our road out to check out its condition. Most of the road is in pretty good shape. However, they say that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Likewise, when you need to drive off our place, the road out is only as good as it's worst section.

This is the worst section. You can see the blocked water cutout on the right of this photo, and get an idea of the depth of the rut by looking at the wall height on the left. If I'm careful, I think I can get our van out by straddling the deepest part of the wash out. It will be a bumpy ride, but I think I can do it. At least I won't have to worry about getting stuck with all those rocks to drive over. Getting our Nissan pickup out is another story. With it's lower ground clearance, I don't think the Nissan will be able to make a trip out until the road is graded -- and that may be a while. Every road in the county no doubt has sections that look like this. A road serving only one household won't have a very high priority, I'm afraid. (Obviously, there's no way I can drive around the washed out sections.)

Jo is inspecting a rough section down near the house. If not careful, I could bet stuck in this flatter area. It is topped with clay and hasn't washed away all the way down to the rocks.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Soggy But Okay

The little creek out back isn't back to normal, but quite a bit less water is moving through than this time yesterday. Actually, the water level fluctuated considerably during the day, depending upon how hard it was raining at the time. That little wet-weather creek drains a relatively small area so there isn't any danger of a wall of water roaring down the hillside. However, the area it drains is steep, so it responds quickly to changes in rainfall amounts. (I reckon all the leaves I complained about in an earlier post have gotten flushed out of the creek bed.)

Since this rainfall event began Monday evening, we've received a total of 10.4" (26 cm) of rain. More rain is in the forecast for today, but sunshine is promised for Thursday. The cold front that triggered all this rainfall has finally move through. Yesterday it was 58º (14ºC) and today it's only 38º (3ºC). Despite all the rain we received, the storms that brought the rain were relatively mild. There was little severe weather and only a couple of tornado warning in the state Monday evening.

Jo and I live up in the hills near the top of a ridge so there really isn't much chance of flooding. It's the towns down in the valleys -- often built along streams and rivers -- where rising water can be a problem. The only problem up here is flash flooding if you're out and trying to drive around. There are few bridges on the county roads and almost all creeks and streams are forded via low-water crossings. People anxious to get home (or someplace) forget you cannot drive through high, rushing water. It doesn't matter how many drive wheels you have. And, it's very difficult to judge exactly how high the water is until you drive off into it.

I hope all the folks to our north and east who received this weather system after it passed through our area are fairing as well as Jo and I. Right now, I just want the rain to stop so I can get outside and walk. I especially want to check out our road out. Hopefully, we won't need to have bulldozer work done before we can leave again.

(Note: Our telephone service survived all of Wednesday's rainfall, but our ISP drowned sometime during the day. They didn't get their servers bailed out until this morning.)


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Rain and More Rain

Surprise! Surprise! I was able to sneak online. With any luck, I'll even be able to get a blog post made.

Thunderstorms moved into our area Monday evening. Abundant lightning forced us to shut down and unplug the computer. By midnight two or three squall lines had passed through and all was quiet. However, the rain drowned out our telephone again. The telephone outages are effecting several of our neighbors too. Obviously, there's a problem with something getting wet that should stay dry, and it isn't being permanently repaired. (Grumble, grumble at the telephone company.) The phone started working again mid-morning.

Overnight we received a total of 1.8" or rain. Jo was able to take the dogs on their regular morning walk during a lull between storms. Mid-morning brought another thundershower. There wasn't much lightning or strong winds, but it really rained. We picked up another 2.25" before noon. These photos were taken during that downpour.

The photo above shows the little winter creek at the back of our yard.

Where the creek comes under the fence is normally about a foot wide.

The front yard normally doesn't have a creek running through it. I hope it doesn't wash away my firewood.

After another lull it is raining heavily again. I hear thunder moving in too and need to get off the computer. With any luck I'll get this posted.


Monday, March 17, 2008


These particular little violets (Viola papilionacea) really cannot be counted as "spring" blooms because this plant is growing in its own little micro-climate and has been blooming off and on for a couple of months.

The plant resides in a crack in a large rock, a rock about the size of a small house. The crack is in a little bit of a recess in the side of the rock which faces southwest. During the winter when the leaves are off the trees, the rock face catches every available bit of sunlight, and because of its mass, retains the heat. During the heat of the summer, the rock is shaded by the surrounding tree.

Violets of this species are very variable. Leaves can be a variety of shapes and sizes and the blooms can vary from deep purple to white and can even be variegated. Additionally, several species of violets can easily hybridize in the wild. Purple is by far the dominant color around our place, though we have found some specimens that were a molted mixture of purple and white. They are a native perennial and spread via rhizomes and seeds.

This second violet is a recent spring wildflower. It was growing in a more conventional manner -- in the ground -- nearby.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Less than a week after our last snow (I hope it was, indeed, our last snowfall of the winter), wildflowers are beginning to appear. On Thursday I noticed a few dozen of these tiny bluets (Houstonia pusilla, I think) scattered around the pasture. By Friday, there were several hundred scattered in various places, and many were beginning to emerge in small clusters which is typical for the species. A single small bluet -- a purple-blue flower 1/4-1/3 inch across -- is easy to miss, but a cluster adds a splash of color to the glades, rocky ledges, outcroppings and dry open places where they typically grow. Bluets are native annuals that seem to do a very good job of reseeding themselves.

Another sign of spring that we've been experiencing is thunderstorms. Storms on Thursday evening knocked out our ISP for about 18 hours. More storms Friday night took out our telephone service while I was in the process of making a blog post. Doing anything online has been a challenge the past few days.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


Our first fully open daffodil bloom of the year. This is one on the plants transplanted by the bulldozer, but not one of those trying to grow in the road. A strong and gusty south wind was doing it's best to shred the bloom and made taking an in-focus photo difficult.

Aside from the wind, Wednesday was a beautiful day. The temperature made it up to around 75º (24º C). It's almost impossible to believe that we had nine inches of snow on the ground just six days ago.

On our afternoon walk, Jo and I saw a large herd of does on the upper pasture and a covey of bobwhite quail at the bottom of the trail off the pasture.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Snow Plow

Bucket in the snow. (3/7/08)

Our recent snow was the most either of our dogs has ever seen -- or tried to move around in. Rusty's solution the the mobility problem was to proceed in leaps and bounds. He resembled a large, short-eared rabbit as he made his way through the snow. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to capture his antics with pixels.

Bucket tried the hopping technique, but her legs are shorter. Bounding through the snow required too much effort. She eventually settled upon just plowing her way through.

Rusty soon discovered that walking behind everyone else was the best solution, but Bucket wasn't about to abandon her position in the lead.


Random Locations

Surprise Lilies photo taken on 2/29/08.

Bits of broken glass and pottery shards.
Multitudes of nails, a few horseshoes and numerous other rusty metal fragments.
Bulbs planted in random locations around the yard.

People have lived on our little plot of land for a long time.

We find tiny traces of their lives almost every time we dig
-- and, sometimes, after a hard rain.

It's impossible to know very much about the folks who lived here before us from the rusted and broken bits they left behind,
except we know that someone among the previous inhabitants liked flowers
and planted bulbs.

The location of the plants probably once fit into the overall layout of cabin, fences and outbuildings, but all those structures are long gone.

We still enjoy the flowers, though.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Persistent Daffodils

In August, 2006, the local water district laid a water line down to our place. Jo dug and replanted a cluster of daffodil bulbs growing in the ditch's path, but missed a few. The neglected bulbs were unceremoniously dug up with a dragline's scoop and rudely replanted with a bulldozer's blade. We now have daffodils all over the general area, including these growing in the road. They've reemerged and are trying to bloom again this year despite being driven over for a year and a half.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Nine Inches of March Snow

We ended up getting a little over nine inches of snow. That's quite a bit for our area at any time and a lot of snow for March. Most of the snow fell on Thursday with a couple of inches more falling early Friday morning.

A shed on the edge of our yard.

I reckon we won't be going anywhere in the old van for a few days.

Not that we could actually drive out. This is our "driveway".

Our front steps.

Our handy-dandy snow measuring tool.

The little pickup I took into town Thursday afternoon.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Snow Flurries

"Snow flurries" covering one of our firewood racks Thursday evening.

Our forecast called for a chance of snow flurries mid-day on Thursday, and a high probability of significant snowfall overnight. It had been over a week since either Jo or I had made a trip into town, so I figured I'd better hitch up the pickup and venture into the grocery store. There wasn't any need to get up and get moving since the snow wasn't going to start falling until overnight, right? Wrong!

Snow began late morning -- and it didn't stop. There was an inch or so on the ground by the time I left for town. As I drove down off our ridge, I was thinking that I should have gotten an earlier start -- like yesterday. I seriously considered aborting my town run, but we needed groceries. It wasn't like we were going to starve to death if I didn't make it to the grocery store. We keep enough bulk grains and other food on hand that going hungry wasn't going to be a problem, but our menu selection would be a bit boring for several days. ("Would you like rice with your beans or prefer some beans with your rice?") Besides, unless we replenished our pantry, severe coffee rationing would be necessary. The prospect of caffeine withdrawal headaches convinced me that I was going to town. If I couldn't make it back up Star Mountain on my return trip, hopefully I'd be rescued by someone with a coffee pot because I'd have an ample supply of java.

Driving along Bear Creek Valley into town was no problem. Snow continued falling, but the ground was still above freezing so a layer of soft slush on the roadway was all I had to contend with. I spent a couple of hours in town and made a half dozen or so different stops. That's the way it goes when you only venture into town every week and a half or so. The local grocery store had their special "Springtime" tent erected in the parking lot. I wish I'd had our camera so I could have photographed all the snow covered bags of potting soil and bark mulch. I hope their supply of plants had not arrived yet. Our forecast calls for 17º (-8º C) tomorrow night.

With a lighter wallet but considerably heavier load in the pickup bed, I headed home. The highway out to our place really isn't the best way to get anywhere, unless you happen to live along it. Close to town, I had some nice ruts through the slush to drive in. The farther I got from town, the less pronounced the ruts became. Still, I had no problem until I started climbing up the mountain. Even though I'd stacked everything I bought (groceries, feed, propane) as far back in the bed as I could get it, I could feel our two-wheel drive pickup doing a little slipping and sliding in places where the slush was packed and my tires didn't break through down to the pavement. I made it to where our county dirt road leaves the blacktop with only one semi-interesting skid.

All along I'd known that the first section of dirt road was going to be my biggest challenge. It's steep, and you've lost all your momentum when you slow down to make the turn. I'd hoped that somebody had recently made the trip up and left me a nice set of ruts to follow. No such luck. There were ruts, but they weren't freshly made and had filled in with snow. With considerable spinning of tires I started up the hill. The ground was still unfrozen, so if I could keep the truck in the road and spin my way down to the gravel, forward progress was possible. Twice I had to come to a complete stop because the rear of the truck was starting to come around the front and sliding over into the ditch. Surprisingly enough, both times I was able to get restarted and finally made it to the top of that first hill.

The rest of the trip on the county road was uneventful until I got to my nearest neighbors house where there is another hill. This hill is just as steep, but shorter. That's good. You can get a straight shot at it and build up some speed. That's good. You have to make a 90º turn while climbing the hill. That's bad, very bad. I hit the bottom of the hill with a decent head of steam, lost most of my momentum when I went into a skid, but ended up lined up pretty good for making the sharp curve. With a bit more tire spinning, I made it to the top. The last 3/4 of a mile home is all downhill and I made it without incident.

I've made a mental note to not put off going into town so long next time.

Snow continued falling all afternoon and evening, although for several hours the snowfall was so light it was hard to tell if it was new snow falling or old snow being blown around. I'd say we've accumulated five or six inches thus far -- and now the predicted heavier snowfall has begun. Who knows how much snow we're liable to end up with? They're talking about a March record snowfall for Little Rock.

I reckon I'll have another cup of coffee and watch it snow.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

March Snow

Heading down the slope on our afternoon walk.

Our high temperatures over the past weekend were pushing seventy degrees (21º C). Monday it rained all day, dropping a total of 3.5". Early Tuesday morning we had a couple of hours of sleet followed by 2-3" inches of snow. By early afternoon on Tuesday, the sun was shinning and the temp was up near fifty degrees (10º C). With sunshine on top and warm, wet ground on bottom, the snow was melting fast.

More snow and cold temperatures are in our forecast for Thursday night and Friday. Getting our worst winter weather in March seem kind of strange.

Lots of deer tracks in the snow.



If It's Not One Thing......

Since chores associated with loading up the new hard drive were winding down, I decided to add more RAM (no problem) and replace my CD writer with a DVD burner (a problem). It took a couple of days before an online Samaritan told me to move the DVD burner to the top position on my desktop's tower (i. e. at the end of the IDE cable). That's where Windows wanted it. Sure enough, after I swapped positions with the new DVD burner and the existing DVD ROM, Windows correctly recognized both units, and both worked.

Unfortunately, my computer and I did not live happily ever after. About the time I was ready to get back to blogging, my Internet connection flaked out. I'm not sure if my ISP was having a problem -- they said no -- or if there was a problem with the telephone line. All's I know is that I wasn't receiving data fast enough to consistently load web pages. Often, I wasn't receiving any data at all. Right now, I'm back to blazing right along at 21 Kbps, and I hope it stays that way.