National Pollinator Week, June 18-24, 2018

Image

Here at our home, every week is “pollinator week.” It’s great to know that eleven years ago the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week.” Because our vital pollinator populations are declining at an alarming rate (down 25% since 1990), there is an international celebration of the contribution our bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles make to our ecosystems. Pollination makes our food supply possible. E. O. Wilson, in his introduction to The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan, said, “Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator.” Our kids can understand this a lot better when we tell them that we can’t have pizzas without bees and others to pollinate wheat for the crust and tomatoes and vegetables for the sauce and toppings.

Our great-granddaughter, Sydney, was fascinated watching bumblebees from our laps on the porch at six months of age. She quickly progressed to pointing, questioning, and learning the wonderful world just outside our back door. We have many adventure walks to observe nature and pollinators at work. She helps plant flowers in our garden to attract them, and helps harvest herbs and flowers we grow from our saved seeds each year. She knows this would not be possible without pollinators.

There are many websites with information and facts about every aspect of pollination. Just type a key word or two into the search bar of your device; “bees” or “pollinators” will get you to many interesting sites. My book, Lemon Trees and Bumblebees, was inspired by our own experience which is described in the November, 2011, blog post on this site.

The video below shows Sydney talking with me about one of her favorite subjects, pollination. She loves to play “teacher” and give me science lessons we have shared. We also cook together using the variety of foods that have grown because of pollination. She is always willing to eat what she has learned about and helped prepare. In these ways, Sydney is keenly aware of the importance of providing for and promoting our pollinators, and we hope your family will celebrate the addition to our lives and future that they bring.

The Birds and The Bees

When most parents think of the birds and the bees, they dread THE TALK. There’s a whole other meaning to this conversation which needs to begin with pre-school, and that is the role of pollinators in our food supply. To a curious, mind-wide-open pre-schooler or elementary-age child, the drama of the pollination process and how it relates to people, directly, is utterly fascinating.

Imagine a world without pizza. If we begin to explain to our kids how the birds and the bees help us get our favorite pizza ingredients, we get attention. Tomatoes, peppers, onions and other vegetable toppings require pollination to reproduce and grow. There would be no pizza crust without wheat to make flour for the dough. Every fruit and vegetable is part of our diet because of the vital role of pollinators. They are responsible for every third bite of food we put into our mouths. Bees are the superstar pollinators, but many others such as hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, ants, flies, wasps, and beetles carry out the transfer of pollen among plant parts. This pollination enables seed production, without which we would face widespread crop extinction and a major shift in our food supply.

We are halfway through National Pollinator Week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the small winged creatures we often take for granted, but who make our very existence possible. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and disease have been responsible for declining pollinator populations. For those of us along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is still a good bit of animal habitat, but agricultural practices as well as building and clearing land are responsible for diminishing pollinator populations in alarming numbers. Pollinators need us to provide cover, water, native plants for food, and a place to raise young. The National Wildlife Federation website has information on how to plan our gardens or even very small spaces to attract and protect pollinators. When we create habitat for our pollinators, we help prevent loss of plants we depend upon for food, as well as help our gardens bloom.

There are many books for children which spark their desire to nurture their surroundings and understand the interdependence of plants and animals. Some of my favorites are MY GARDEN by Kevin Henkes, ON BEYOND BUGS! All About Insects by Tish Rabe, and A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston. My book, LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES, was inspired by watching the bees in our garden. When my little great-granddaughter, Sydney, was six months old, we spent hours of adventures following, watching, and falling asleep to the humming of bees. Now about to celebrate her fifth birthday, Sydney still loves bees and enjoys telling about all the pollinators, plant parts, and the process of pollination. It’s so exciting to plant the best seeds early in a fertile mind!

National Library Week – 2015

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Dr. Seuss

 

I’m skidding in on the last day of National Library Week this year, but it’s not really the end of the celebration. Around our house, every week is library week. We live in a bit of a remote area if judged by city dwellers, but after 15 years among towering oaks and more than a few wild animals, we have our own library branch! We existed until quite recently (and throughout the fallout from the direct hit of Hurricane Katrina) with a sparsely stocked grocery store, but the one lack of amenity we lamented most was a neighborhood library.

Now don’t think for a minute that we don’t also celebrate technology or that we shun it in favor of the printed book. We own an iPad, a NookColor, and a Kindle, but we love our always growing library of books and the ability to access many more through our library. We can have the convenience of driving three minutes to pick up any book that they have or can order from their network of library branches. I missed the easy access to research and entertainment that had been mine before we moved from a bustling city to a bucolic countryside.

Now I’m thrilled to have even more reason to call attention to National Library Week. We have a little great-granddaughter who loves our outings to the library. Ours has a Mark Twain theme in the children’s room, so she always asks to see the jumping frog of Caliveras County, the mural where Huck Finn adventured on his raft, and sit inside the dock-side hut where we can read books she chooses from the low shelves. We have watched her progression from toddling through the door on her first library visit, to asking to go often, to bringing home her books to “read” by herself.

The library is one of the very best ways to prepare your child for the world. It was one of my best early experiences where I realized the magic of animals and people in their times and places. It made me want to go home and write my own stories. It’s free, fabulous, and fun for a lifetime!

IMG_3060IMG_3078IMG_3088IMG_3062IMG_6722 2

 

My Unexpected Ghostwriter

When I’m asked to give a nutshell description of my latest book-in-progress, I say that it’s Thoreau for toddlers. It’s widely known that Henry David Thoreau knew how to convey the exuberance of a fresh morning. He didn’t have to leave the close environs of Walden Pond to examine and learn from every living thing, whether animal or plant, right in his own “back  yard.” In his words, “the only medicine I need is a draught of morning air.”

I have always gotten stopped in my tracks while on the way to the mailbox, my gardening chores, errands, or whatever may have led me outdoors. Something always scuttles, buzzes, flies, or sings my attention away from what may have been intended. Even if I just want to amble or think, I know the new and unexpected will be just outside my door. Now I have some surprising help writing my world.

A two-year-old great-granddaughter has become a vital part of our lives, so the unexpected in nature brings even greater thrills, squeals, and baby questions. Her eyes see the wonder she constantly investigates, and my latest manuscript is influenced greatly by her “ghostwriting” observations. I don’t have to wonder what to present to a young child or how important it might be to choose certain subject matter. Sydney gives me great material.

The other day, we were holding hands as usual while walking down a length of flowerbed. A very long, fat earth worm wriggled over the dirt searching for a “door” down under. Sydney stopped short and squeezed my hand hard. “What’s that? What’s he doing?” Our walks and play times are packed with “Look, doves” or “Look, mockingbird.” Before she was two, she could identify several bird species after one or two sightings, much to my surprise. This gave me insight about what could be meaningful in my new book for one- to five-year-olds. Their curiosity and sponge-like ability to learn makes it so much fun to include new vocabulary and knowledge about their world. Rather than keep all the words short and simple, I think it’s a good idea to stretch children a bit by giving them some challenges in pronunciation. They can understand a great deal by context and illustration. This gives the adult reader a great way to talk about the story and bond with the child – the special time that encourages a love of reading. Our little Sydney enjoys looking through her books alone, too, after we have read them together and she is familiar with the contents and pictures.

My current book is underway, with every page influenced by Sydney’s discoveries in the natural world. She has registered her reactions as clearly as if she had written them, so she is a reliable “ghostwriter,” representing her toddler generation. These babies of the 21st century are different in many ways from those of just a few decades ago, but their zeal for everything in sight begins as soon as they open their eyes each day. Just as with all the babies ever born, they want to know; all we have to do is tell the stories. Sydney and I will be working on HELLO MORNING, and I’ll post news of our progress on the new book in the months to come.

IMG_2688_2

IMG_2887IMG_3267IMG_3291IMG_4860IMG_5196_2

Story Seeds

Stories grow from the seeds of words. When I think of reading, though, I think in terms of more than words on pages. When I think of the broader meaning of “reading,” my writing is enhanced by these abstract ways of applying the idea of reading.

To me, reading is reading nature, reading people, reading everything in my environment, using all my senses. This began in early childhood, when my parents and grandparents filled our homes with what they read in the outside world, with all the experiences we shared. They brought nature, art and music indoors so that we were constantly surrounded and enveloped in a lush, sensorial climate. When they read to me or I read to myself, I could better envision the descriptions through experience, and I felt the need to translate and share my feelings in my own ways. This was how my stories were born. Now I’m always writing as I walk, see, hear, smell, feel – in other words, as I read my world.

Below are some photos of bird nests and other bits of nature collected from around our garden, walks, and travel, and brought inside to decorate tabletops and mantel. Many pieces of our furniture and art have nature themes. Framed family photos of generations, including the house in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and handwritten letters, give me stories and voices that told them to me. My hope is that you will read the world, and that your children will read it with you so that they will write it for their children. Story seeds are everywhere.

Wren’s nest on mantel

Wren’s nest on mantel

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

 

 

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Chimney Swift nest

Chimney Swift nest

Bluebird nest

Bluebird nest

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest under glass dome on side table

Nest under glass dome on side table

Wax myrtle berries

Wax myrtle berries

Bird of Paradise painting

Bird of Paradise painting

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Antique mirror frame with leaf detail
Antique mirror frame with leaf detail

Partial wall of seven framed generations

Partial wall of seven framed generations

 

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings
House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings

Even my sox have bluebirds

Even my sox have bluebirds

 

 

 

A Low-Tech Childhood Easter

My brother, David, and I grew up when Easter preparations were more homemade than commercial. Iced Lebkuchen bunnies and chicks (honey and almond cookies) were nestled in baskets ringed with crepe paper ruffles. When we outgrew the riot of Easter egg hunts in her garden, one of our grandmothers raided her sewing box and our Grandfather’s ties for silk to cut, wrap, and dye eggs. Our other grandmother always dyed eggs wrapped in yellow and purple onion peels. They taught us with endless patience, and finally we couldn’t wait to unwrap our surprise masterpieces and compete for the “best egg.” There were days of cooking and baking, and choosing outfits for Easter Sunday church. But there was one thrill at the top of the list.

We could receive a brightly colored chick or duckling for Easter, before the age of political correctness, environmental fanaticism, and all the other recent catch-phrases behind which many masquerade. Looking as though they had just popped forth, sprightly and downy, from dyed eggs of rich purple, fuchsia, turquoise, and green, the chicks regarded us warily through shiny black dots and let out faint cheep-cheeps. As soon as the important choices of which color to claim and a name for each were out of the way, the new babies were gingerly carried home to a waiting pen in the back yard. We watched their daily progress while attending to the necessary aspects of feeding, watering, and changing paper. Caring for them taught us that pets are dependent, but have vastly different needs, one of which was that these little guys needed to be handled a little rather than a lot.

The soft round fluff matured into larger oval bodies with white feathers which would run on spindly three-toed stilts to meet our call and perch on our laps and shoulders. We understood that these pets lacked the devotion of a dog, but did not require the long-term commitment from us. Each animal was to be treated responsibly, was not a disposable toy, and had needs which sometimes required attention before our own. These values used to be called duty, pride of ownership, and delayed gratification – qualities that come in handy growing up and which seem natural when acquired early. We didn’t have to waste a lot of adult time feeling inadequate since we had practiced capability early in life.

Fortunately for our parents, our maternal grandmother raised chickens (as did many other women who began this practice during the Great Depression to help feed their families). We were taught that, just as with wild birds nursed in cardboard boxes from time to time, these little Easter chicks and ducks would eventually need to be freed with others of their kind so that they could lay eggs, have more chicks, and participate in life’s cycles. It was always a greatly anticipated event to pack a picnic and take the ducks to a farm pond or a park where we watched them claim their freedom. There we carried them flapping outstretched wings, melding into a blur of white, gliding effortlessly with others until, at last, squinting, we lost track of just which ones were the new arrivals.

The same was true for our chicks. We would run to our grandmother’s chicken coop and exercise yard for after-school visits until the last color left their fully feathered bodies, making recognition imperceptible. Now they were grown birds with duties of their own, and we were impatient for summer pursuits in our own “secret garden.” We played in sunny patches at the fringes of a huge oak planted from an acorn the day our mother was born. There were searches for that elusive four-leaf clover, pill-bug counting contests, and butterfly catch and release chases.  At last, we’d collapse into shady lawns to search out cloud animals drifting through blue above, our fingers aromatic and sticky with homemade fruit juice popsicles and grass. This was our Walden.

At day’s end, scrubbed and tired under cool white sheets, listening to crickets sawing sounds outside our open window, we were barely aware of a far-off train whistle as our heavy lids gave up their struggle to the peaceful dreams of a tender childhood.

Chicken Little and Big Isaac

Sometimes Mother Nature overtakes the reading road as it did last week. Hurricane Isaac arrived on the seventh anniversary of Katrina. We no longer say “Hurricane Katrina” because she is famous enough to be known by one name. Once again, we had to decide whether to outrun a powerful weather event, or hunker down. “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” I couldn’t shake the refrain from that old nursery story, Chicken Little. We heard it everywhere because we, along with countless others along our Gulf Coast, had lived through the utter devastation of Katrina. For those who may not be acquainted with this tale, Chicken Little got bopped on the head with an acorn, and started a comical chain of events. Everyone he met heard his extreme warning, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”Jim and I busied ourselves with preparations while keeping an ear to announcements of coordinates, tropical development, and water temperature. We knew what was coming.

Every creature in the path of the 30-odd feet of rolling wave as Katrina made landfall has his own sensory and emotional memories of all that happened on August 29, 2005. Most of us have photos which can only begin to show the dimensions of Katrina’s effects. So many words have been put to paper that I have chosen to wait, to think deeply about it from the perspective of time elapsed. Now that we have felt the fear again, I can talk of it in relation to the way it is part of all nature rather than an isolated incident. A hurricane isn’t one malevolent tree in a dark fantasy forest; it’s one force of an entirety which drives the forest and all other systems around our planet.

The world’s cycles were here before us. They continue to prove that they are more powerful than all our advances. They catch us unaware, though we have the intelligence to expect them, put them into perspective. All the aspects of our lives that we treasure bow before the forces of nature. A hurricane is simply one way to know that we are not in control. Love and loss, joy and grief; these wax and wane throughout our years. The moments between the raindrops are triumphs, sparkling in their fleeting intensity. They remain in our subconscious alongside the terror. We store them, but sometimes forget to call them up when we are faced with another unknown. A hurricane is a time to remember, to listen, to see and feel more than what is obvious.

Certain Indians are known to have burned all their belongings every few years so that they would not become dependent upon material possessions. Hurricanes sometimes rid us of ours, because none of us would have the courage of the Indians. Of course, Indians didn’t have computers and TV’s and iPhones and, especially, all the photos which hold the faces we love and our best days. We assign such value to our possessions that we are forever in their service, often failing to live fully in each day. I know this, but am guilty.

I try to be thankful for the things I cannot control. They usually are things which make me realize how human I am, and how I would tremble to have complete control. I can see that there would be no right decision for all, and the weight of responsibility would seem unbearable. The best we can do is protect those within our reach, those we love, and those who need understanding. This example of forbearance is present in all of nature, so all we have to do is pay attention. When the howling, assaulting wind finally quieted on Isaac’s third day, and the rain became a silent silver sheet across the landscape, I looked up to see a lone seabird winging across the gray ceiling outside. It probably followed water farther inland than usual because of Isaac’s tumult. The bird was headed south toward the beach, so one more mile would offer it a more familiar place. Things would begin to look more as they had the week before.

And so the sky is not really falling, all you Chicken Littles. All signs of approaching autumn are murmuring that the annual cycle is undisturbed. Migrating hummingbirds zoomed through the heaviest downpours of the hurricane to circle the end of the back porch where their feeder, full of nectar, had hung. As soon as I was able to re-hang it from a climbing rose branch, their staccato chirps were in my ears. The Duranta, now more tree than shrub, dripping lavender flower clusters and golden berries, is host to a few dozen bumblebee drones – male bees banished from the colony once their job of fertilizing the young future queens is done. Now they fly and feed until they soon die. The female worker bees have died, and those fed, fattened and chosen to become new queens have searched under leaves and quiet sheltered places to hibernate until next spring. We hope that hurricane season is having its last hurrah of 2012. The moon is full, the silent drama is performed; the sky is not falling. It is full of stars.

********************************************************************************************************************

Snapshots two days post-Katrina from our golf cart:

A video clip of Isaac’s third day should appear as soon as I can complete edits.