Sunday, January 29, 2012

~ Necedah National Wildlife Refuge ~

This post has been moved!

This post about the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge has been moved to my new blog.

~ Mara The Ornery Biologist 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

~ Short Stories - #1 ~

A twig snapped beneath my foot, startling me. I was breathing heavily, terrified at the creature that I knew was following my every move. Crouching down behind a bush, I took a long, cool drink from my canteen and rested for a moment, listening to the sounds of the forest - or, I should say, listening for the sounds of the forest… there were none to be heard. The mountain lion would make no sound, for he placed his feet ever so carefully and rarely alerted his prey until it was too late. Let me go back to the beginning and explain why I am even here…
I was an orphan. I had always been an orphan; in and out of various orphanages for 16 years. When I was 17, I ran away for the last time and started singing at every run-down saloon I came across. It kept clothes on my back and food in my stomach, but I got the feeling I wasn’t very good at the only thing I knew how to do. I would sing at one place for a few nights, get paid, then told to move on; they had found someone better to fill my place. I traveled for miles, looking for another weather-beaten old excuse for a place to eat. While I traveled I learned many things about the woods, the animals that lived there, and the signs they left behind. Once in a while I would strike up a conversation with an old-timer and they would teach me something I did not yet know. One time I even met an English-speaking Indian, Racing Deer, and learned how to track the bear, the cougar and the woodpecker. Or as he said; the meat for man, the killer of man, and the model for man. I was puzzled as to why the woodpecker, of all creatures, would be the model for man. I had always thought the model for man to be the ant. Racing Deer told me that the woodpecker was always at work. He worked for the land; ridding the forest of bug-infested trees, and he worked for his food; pounding hour after hour just so he could feed himself and his family. I pondered the moral of this and nodded in agreement. I knew what Racing Deer meant.

My traveling went on for quite some time before I decided that my purse was full enough and my mind sharp enough to explore the wilderness not often touched by man. So I left my life of singing, chose a direction, and started off, saying goodbye to the people I had come to know in that area.

Now almost 19, I am not sure how far I have gone, but I will never go back. For the farther North I’ve gone, the more beautiful the land has looked to me. I hope to one day have a home of my own, situated on a green hill, surrounded by tall pines, with a sparkling creek running through. A real home where I can stay, rule, and never have to leave. Now for the part that may or may not startle you, my reader… I am a girl.

I could tell the cougar was getting closer to me now. I could not see or hear him, but I had the feeling that he could see me and knew what I was doing. I sat and tried to come up with a plan. In front of me was the way I had just come, and I kept a close eye on this area so I would not be surprised by the cougar. Behind me was a large hill, dotted with grey rocks and gnarled tree stumps, and it made me think of Ireland. I had seen a book once with pictures of Ireland in it, and ever since then the beautiful country was always in the back of my mind. To my right all I could see was forest. Deep, dark forest getting darker by the moment as the sun started to set. To my left I knew that I would eventually run into other people; for a while now I had seen signs of this. The view from the last hill I climbed showed me a large clearing in that direction, though I could not see past the tall trees to see who it was that lived there. There were also frequently-used trails winding through the woods, and I could tell that they were not made by any four-footed creature. As I sat wondering where I would be safest, I reached into my sack for some jerky and found that it was gone. Now I was not only alone, but also hungry and being hunted by a fierce beast that almost always got what he wanted. For the first time since running away, my mind drifted back to the safety of the orphanages. But I quickly dismissed the thought, for there had been much hunger there as well. A slight rustle of leaves in front of me and to my right snapped me out of my thoughts and I picked a way in which to go. I started off to the left.

For hours I trudged on, my gun loaded and ready for any sign of trouble from man or beast. I could not be sure the cougar was still following me, but I still had the eerie feeling that something had it’s eyes on my every motion, listened to my every breath, and could feel that I was nervous. For in the dark I stumbled over hidden objects, my breaths became faster with every minute, and I was jumpy. Every noise, even those I made myself, caused me to stop and look around. I had to admit it to myself; I was terrified. When I felt that I could walk no longer, I looked around for a place to sleep for the remainder of the night. I find it very inconvenient that cougars can find their way into every place I looked at… I found a tree that could easily be climbed and had a large limb that might be good for sleeping on, but I would be easy pickings up there. As I was gathering wood for my fire and ferns for a mattress, I bumped into something hard. I moved the plants away and felt around… Why, it was a cave! I had bumped myself on the low roof at the entrance, and when I moved the ivy away, I found a small, round room inside. I built my fire directly outside the door, keeping my gun handy as I did not know how deep the cave went, or whether the cougar was still around, watching for the right moment to attack. While tending to the fire, I used some of the string that I had in my sack to tie ferns around the end of a large stick, and when the fire was blazing nicely, I lit the make-shift torch in the flames.

Torch in one hand and gun in the other, I carefully made my way inside the cave. I was fortunate enough to be a small girl for my age, and did not find it hard to move around inside. The width of the cave was about four feet across, and the length was not much more. The entrance at the front was the only way in, and I had been smart enough to build my fire there just in case. I went out to get the ferns that I had collected and laid them on the floor of the cave to make a bed for myself. Then I added more wood to my fire, and carefully pinned the hanging ivy above the cave entrance so that it would not catch on fire. When everything was done I curled up on my bed and made a mental note to wake up and check the fire in an hour or so. The next thing I knew it was morning. The birds were singing and I startled a deer when I poked my head out of the cave. My fire had died early in the night and did not pose a threat of wildfire, which was a good thing because all of the water left in my canteen I needed for myself. I stepped out of the cave, slung my sack up onto my shoulder, jammed my gun into my belt and started off in the direction of civilization. While walking I listened to the bird calls. I prided myself in knowing most of these songs by heart, and whistled an occasional “good morning!” to the chickadees. I did not worry about the cougar anymore, because of the deer outside my cave this morning.

At around noon I noticed moccasin tracks in the dirt trail. My heart jumped a little, for I never did learn how to tell what tribe of Indians left what signs. I knelt down to examine them; they were no older than this morning, and were headed in the same direction I was. I stood up and looked around, noticing that they emerged from the woods on my right. I took a deep breath and kept walking, knowing that I needed food, shelter and new clothes, and hoping with all my heart that I would find the people ahead of me pleasant and understanding.

Several un-eventful hours passed, and I rested along the side of the trail, sipping water and eating some wild blackberries I had found a short way back. Until I had sat for a few minutes, I did not realize how exhausted I was. Laying my head against a tree trunk, I closed my eyes.

20 minutes later…

My eyes flew open and I looked around me, knowing that something had awakened me but not knowing exactly what it was. I stood up and turned around to see something dart behind a bush. It did not look like an animal, and so I walked towards it, my hand on my gun, and almost screeched a “Hello.” A young face, belonging to an Indian boy of about 7, looked up at me with wide eyes and an open mouth. He looked scared of me. I immediately dropped my arm to my side, wishing the gun was not so visible, and reached out to shake his hand. He stared at my hand, then at my face and said, “Eyes of blue and face like moon when full and white. You white man?” “No,” I said, dropping my hand back down to my side. “I am a white lady.” The little boy flashed a wide grin and pointed to himself. “I Hopping Sparrow. What name of you?” “My name is Jane,” I replied. It was the first time I had talking to another person in weeks, and for some reason it really did feel good to tell someone my name… “Where do you live, Hopping Sparrow?” I asked, looking around. I thought it odd that a little boy should be exploring the woods by himself. He pointed down the path a ways. “Village there, behind vines. You come see?” I told him yes, I would love to come see where he lived. I was also curious as to how he spoke English so well. He led me down the path for about twenty feet or so, around a curve, thrust a thick mass of vines aside and led me in.

I stood on the edge of a perfectly round clearing in the middle of the woods. Tall pines surrounded the small village made up of tipis and crude cabins. It was a beehive of activity; there were half-naked children running everywhere, women tanning hides, making jerky, and standing over great kettles of food, and men and older boys racing ponies around the edge of the clearing. I suddenly felt very small, where before, alone in the woods, I had felt big and important. Hopping Sparrow led me to one of the crude cabins and tugged at the skirt of a middle-aged woman. “Mother, this white ma- lady name Jane and want see village.” For a moment I was afraid I was going to be scolded, or perhaps even thrown out, for her small black eyes narrowed as she looked at me from head to toe. By this time, the children had gathered around, pointing and staring, and the pony races had stopped. I knew I must look a sight, for my hair was a mess and my clothes torn and stained. My stomach growled in hunger and the woman looked shocked, then her face softened and she took a bowl from a shelf inside the cabin, poured a dark stew into it, and handed it to me saying, “Eat. I find clothes.” Then she walked away, leaving me to eat the stew with my fingers, which I found difficult because it was hot. I was so hungry, I hardly noticed after a few bites, and it was only a few hours later when I wondered what meat I had eaten…

It was evening when I had enough time to stop and think. After I had finished my stew, the children grabbed me by my hands and clothes and dragged me to the largest cabin of all. Here I saw a sort of store-house. These people were very smart; on one side were clothes of various sizes, on the other was bowls upon bowls of food and seeds, and at the back of the building were tools of every can and for every purpose. I found the woman holding a new deerskin skirt and skirt, fringed and beaded, and a new pair of beaded moccasins. I was honored to receive such a beautiful outfit, and told her so. She laughed a little laugh and said, “Beautiful outfit on beautiful girl. Change.” She placed it on my outstretched arms, walked out of cabin, and closed the door. I could hear her shouting to the children in their native language. I quickly changed, laid my old outfit on the nearby bench, and walked out into the fresh air. There was a young brave waiting for me. He motioned toward a large tipi and told me to follow him. Inside I found men, old and young, sitting around a large fire in the middle. Apparently it was the council, and I had the feeling that they had been discussing me.

The young brave who had escorted me to the tipi shook out a dusty buffalo hide and motioned for me to sit on it. I thanked him and sat down, noticing a smirk on the face of the oldest man there. He was all wrinkles and had the longest, whitest hair I had ever seen before. I timidly said hello and they all replied with gruff hellos and much nodding of their heads. Then one of the younger men started the meeting by asking, “What name? What you doing here? Why you alone?” I gave myself a moment to settle the nervous butterflies in my stomach. What were they going to do with me? “My name is Jane,” I replied timidly. “I am here because I ran away from home. And I am alone because I have no friends.” Here there was much whispering a hand gestures, then the old man with the white hair said, “Enough! We talk to girl, not to selves.” The members fell silent, and the young brave that had stood next to me sat down and crossed his legs in the same manner as his elders. I had a feeling that it meant the meeting would be a long one. One of the younger men now spoke “Chief Silver Moon, what we do with girl? We sell her?” I froze in my seat and looked pleadingly at the old man. “Chief Silver Moon, please do not sell me! I promise I will work hard to earn my keep here. I will wash clothes, tan hides, cook food, care for the children; anything!” He chuckled and replied, “Slow down talk. We not sell you.” This did comfort me some and so I sat silently while they talked among themselves. After what seemed a very long time, though it was only about ten minutes, Chief Silver Moon and the other members of the council stood. One of the middle-aged men spoke; “I Darting Horse, father of Hopping Sparrow who bring you here. You stay in my cabin. Be my daughter.” I was pleased that I had been accepted into not only the tribe, but a family. And I was to be Hopping Sparrow’s big sister!

A week passed and I grew accustomed to the different ways of living, the daily chores, and the people themselves. I loved it, and was always busy, so I was always content. At night, when the work was done I would lie under the great big sky and look at the stars, dreaming of the future. Darting Horse and his wife allowed me to call them Father and Mother, and Hopping Sparrow was always right at my heels all day long, showing me to all of the other children and saying I was his big sister, and his name for me would be Bright Star.

~ Mara

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

~ Sand Mines & Cleaning Operations Have a Negative Effect ~

"Perhaps Someday"

The leaves rustle quietly as the gentle breeze blows and the robin sings it’s song, hidden somewhere in the bright green boughs. The deer forage in the field attached to the farm that is for sale. So many times I have admire that farm, with it’s many acres, roomy barn, and two houses... Perhaps someday I could buy it.

The elusive Pileated calls from somewhere in the woods beyond the field, and I wish that I could go exploring in the dense, mysterious wilderness that is hidden from my view. People drive up to the farm and begin looking around. I hope they dislike it... Perhaps someday I could buy it.

Not long afterwards I hear the news; a sand cleaning operation has bought the farm. My somewhat foolish castle in the air vanishes, and I forget about the farm for a while. Then I see what a sand cleaning operation is and how it can ruin an entire township. The houses are now offices, the woods and fields abandoned and un-cared for, and mountains of different-colored sand stand out everywhere. Towers stand taller than trees with powerful lights mounted on top, dump trucks a semis constantly roar in and out of the gates, and fine particles of sand fill the air, choking surrounding vegetation. Perhaps someday the operation will move on.

The constant roaring of the trucks night and day, the clanging of the doors as the sand is dumped, and the incessant beeping as the trucks back around is deafening. The roads are never smooth now, as the truck drivers slam on their brakes at the last possible moment, tearing up the blacktop on both sides of the road. Our modest country road is now cluttered with weight and speed limit signs, and the ice collects in the ruts, making it fatal to drive at anything more than a snail pace. Perhaps someday they will realize what they are doing.

By now the people of the township have become angry; limited ability to get sleep will do that. They ask, and then beg, for the company to cease operating during the night; yet they are ignored. After a while they are completely fed up, and meet with others to discuss the problem. The operation agrees to some suggestions, but do not bother being very faithful about it. The trucks still run at night and the lights still shine, marring the beautiful country sky and brightness of the stars. Perhaps someday they will listen.

A car swerves off, almost tipping into the ditch, as the dump truck roars past in the very middle of the road. It is not a rare sight, as the drivers know how big they are and how small the mini van is. The sheriff is called, and the driver goes to the operation’s office and complains; yet nothing changes. I highly doubt they will ever listen.

stand on the edge of the road in November of 2010, camera in hand, and gaze at the beautiful sight before me. A flock of nine Whooping Cranes wander about the field searching for those little delicacies that birds find so appealing to them. A dump truck roars past above the speed limit and I walk down to stand in the ditch, out of the way of the vehicles I have come to fear. I notice that the Whooping Cranes also shy away from the road every time a truck passes by. After a short while, and many photographs, I inconspicuously retire to my vehicle and drive on, leaving the cranes for another day. I wonder how long they will stay...

They end up staying for almost a week, and during that time I observe and photograph them. Each day I see them shy away and nervously “dance” every time a truck passes by, though I don’t think about it too much at the time. As an amateur ornithologist, I am excited to find out that this field is an annual stopping place for the Whooping Cranes during the migrations. Perhaps someday they will return during the migration back North.

Spring finally comes, and I watch desperately for the cranes to return. Not only the Whooping Cranes, but the smaller Sandhill Cranes as well. I am disappointed that none come, but I just assume that they have a slightly different path coming back North. Perhaps someday they will return on their way South again.

The autumn months of 2011 arrive and my camera is ready to grab at a moment’s notice. Family members help me watch for the cranes to return. While doing chores around our small farm, I hear the distinct sound of a Whooping Crane and, looking up, I see one flying with a small flock of Sandhill Cranes. A few days later, one lone Whooping Crane flies over the sand mine itself. None stay around our area for very long now, as the noise and activity are just too much for them. All autumn and into early winter I watch, and only two Whooping Cranes stop over in the general area, but they stay only a couple of days and are never close enough to the road for photographs. Perhaps someday things will quiet down and they will want to return.

For now I can only hope that my efforts will bring more people to the realization that the sand mines will not only effect endangered birds, but could also be effecting the habits of other animal species in the area. More research must be done, the right people informed, and the sand mines confined to areas that are not populated by humans who need rest, and animals that will be negatively effected.

Perhaps someday we can make a difference.

~ Mara

Monday, November 28, 2011

~ Wild Beauty ~

This blog post has been moved!

This post, Wild Beauty, has been moved to my new blog.

~ Mara The Ornery Biologist 

Friday, October 14, 2011

~ October Farm Update ~

I shall attempt to make a list of all the animals we now have on our small 8.5-acre hobby farm. Bear with me here; it’s a long list. ;)

We have 1 dog named Crockett. I have blogged about him before and praised his cuteness.

We have 4 (soon to be even more) cats.
Grey C. is the eldest and has been with us longer than any of the other animals.
Baby is second, has had 2 kittens and is now expecting again.
Zorro and Tiger Lily are Baby’s kittens. And the cutest you’ll ever see!

We have 3 rabbits.
Hero is the male. I wanted to name him after some hero, but could not decide on one, so I simply named him Hero.
Missy belongs to my 8yo brother.
Bitsy belongs to my 3yo brother.
These three meat rabbits are going to be kept as breeding stock. I know it sounds horrible to some people, but we’ll be eating their offspring. (sorry!)
The plan is for me to train my brothers in how to take care of the rabbits so that they may one day take over the operation if and when I move away.

We have 6 Pekin ducks.
Mason. Named after Perry Mason in that awesome old TV show.
Drake. Named after Paul Drake in afore-mentioned show.
Della. Named after Della Street in… yes, you guessed it. ;)
Stella. Because it rhymed with Della I suppose.
And then come Molly and Dolly. I don’t know where those names came from, but they’re cute.

Then we have my favorite chicken, Ivory, who is a White Polish hen. She thinks she is a duck, following them wherever they go, drinking from their pond, and sleeping with them. She is definitely the funniest bird I have ever seen.

We currently have 34 chickens. I never knew that chickens could be so different from one another in the way they act. They all have their own attitudes and some are so naughty that they shall be sent to The Eternal Deep Freeze soon.

Well, there you have it. Our Cedar Cottage Farm has exactly 45 animals right now. When I am able to get some photos of our new rabbits, I shall post them here.

~ Mara

Thursday, October 13, 2011

~ Home is Where the Heart is ~

This blog post has been moved!

This post, Home is Where the Heart is, has been moved to my new blog.

~ Mara The Ornery Biologist

Thursday, September 29, 2011

~ Fall Weather ~

I love Autumn! The trees turn gorgeous hues of red, orange, and yellow and the weather is always a surprise. Today was in the 60's with light showers off and on and wind gusts harder than I ever remember seeing before.

This is what the sky looked like today. I find trees against a stormy sky a pretty contrast.

~ Mara