Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Spiders, ridin' shotgun...

For many years I have driven Chevy pickups, for the most part the little four cylinder models. They've given me reliable transportation, and I don't ever have to pay extra for the spiders that roost in my side view mirrors every summer.

Caution: Objects In The Mirror May Appear Larger Than Life

This summer, as the above photo attests, is no exception.  The way these mirrors are designed seems to be an ideal habitat for certain types of small (thank goodness) spiders.  Obviously, there is the mirror itself, but more appealing is the plastic housing that surrounds it.  For the busy arachnid on the go, nothing beats an aerodynamic, virtually unbreakable shelter for when the weather forecast or highway speeds become threatening. 

There must be millions of these trucks (and their mirrors) on the road, so I figured that I can't possibly be the only one who has observed this phenomena. True enough, a quick search on Google finds truck owners who have also found spiders in their mirrors - and some seem none too pleased about it. 

As for myself, I don't mind having a little (literally) company as I make my rounds. I have noticed that sometimes, first thing in the morning, the resident spider will have spun a little web the night before. Here's a shot from July of 2008, six years ago, almost to the day.  Another year, another truck, another spider:

"Some Human!"

The spider will smartly construct it's web within the bounds of the plastic housing and wait for its prey to come along. I'm assuming that this species of spider is comfortable in such a highly engineered setting, and is successful in getting regular meals. This is exciting, because for all I know I could be witnessing a tiny evolutionary step forward in the spider kingdom. Will such incremental behavioral adaptations favor the savvy spider that has learned to hitch it's wagon (so to speak) to one of the millions of cars that are now rolling around the Earth?   

Or maybe not. There have been times where the spider will inexplicably not run for cover after the opening and/or the closing of the door. At times like this I have observed the spider, hanging on tight, as the web flaps in the wind as I drive down the road.  Eventually, I assume, at the first opportunity he or she dizzily retreats for cover, or falls off along the way.  I'm ashamed to admit that I don't keep track of their comings and goings nearly as closely as I could. 

Ashamed, because I'm reminded again that there are extraordinarily famous tales about spiders out there, and maybe I (and my truck) need to slow down, and get to know our tiny summertime traveler a little better. For the time being, E.B. White's legacy is safe.   

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The monitor's progress

Earlier this year I signed up for a tour of duty doing some volunteer butterfly monitoring. I'm clearly in an insect/pollinator chapter of my life.  This is all good, as this experience will hopefully bolster my future hedgerow-type plans that I have simmering.

Remember: it's all about the hedgerows.

It's probably a good thing that I'm a little bit crazy when it comes to roaming around the countryside. For reasons that are beyond me I have discovered that I'm fairly content when I'm up to my neck in vegetation - even without a path under my feet. This aspect of my personality suited me well for the wet prairie remnant where I have been assigned to monitor butterflies. That said I'll admit that I was a bit daunted as I walked along the edge of the road, looking for the beginning of the route that was I was to follow.

I looked in vain for a trail head, and after some head scratching, I jumped in. (To be fair, said route might indeed be out there somewhere and I just failed to find it). Jumping is is a useful phrase because after about 20 feet in I found myself walking through ankle deep water into cattails waiting at eye level.  At least I got those feet baptized right away. After slogging forward, sans path, into the greenery I found some relief in a patch of sun drenched ferns (Eastern marsh ferns, I reckoned later) that were about knee high. The biggest thing in this neighborhood was an Elderberry that was blanketed in white flower discs.

This gave me an opportunity to re-check my map, my route, and my bearings. The aerial photo I was working with showed a few large trees that were scattered here and there. These were the best signposts on hand, so I soldiered on to a sedge meadow that was somewhere towards the east.  By now I was already getting a little scratched up from brambles and thistles that I brushed against.  It wasn't too long after that that I felt a sting in my thigh that I guess came from a bee or a spider.  

My monitoring work wasn't going as well as I'd imagined - and to be honest, I hadn't imagined much.  Other than the most obvious species (monarchs, swallowtails, etc) I was in uncharted territory.  There had been a training workshop, but I knew from past experience that it would just take time. By this point I'd only seen a couple species, and I was stumped for a couple minutes trying to ID something that ultimately turned out to be a white moth,with black spots.  A little later on I sketched a little off-white creature - also not identified - that looked something like this:

As walked (climbed, really) through the weeds I wasn't having much luck connecting the proposed route with what I saw in the field.  And I do mean field. I had been out for close to an hour, and I hadn't yet covered a third of the circuit.  On top of that, the clouds out to the west started to look like rain - and so I headed back towards the road.

Somewhere out there on the return route E called me, and I related my current situation to her. She of common sense would have never followed me into such an adventure.  I wonder sometimes where these ideas of mine come from, but then I saw a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers cavorting among dead trees within a sedge meadow and I realized I was in a pretty amazing place.  

I'll be back.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hiking.....in Stravaig #3

I'm very pleased to announce that my essay Hiking the Neo-Carboniferous is included in Stravaig #3 published by the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics.  As their website says "It’s bigger and better than ever with 8 essays and 14 poems on the theme Geopoetics in Practice ranging from Aberlady Bay to Saudi Arabia, from Illinois to Iona."   I'm assuming my essay is representing Illinois!

What does geopoetics mean, anyway? Again, from their website:  

"It looks for signs of those who have attempted to leave ‘the motorway of Western civilisation’ in the past in order to find a new approach to thinking and living e.g. in the writings of intellectual nomads such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Rimbaud, Henry Thoreau and Patrick Geddes."

On definition of the word stravaig is to wander around aimlessly. I hope you too can wander among some new writing and perspectives from around the world.  Enjoy!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Could this be the Golden Age of Hedgerows?

I know, I know it has been some time since the "H" word has been mentioned around here. Fear not, however, since the start of the new year there has been quite a lot of personal activity on this front.  Along with everything else, my grad school coursework trundles along.  This particular term gave me the opportunity to write in more detail about hedgerows, biodiversity and their potential in the modern landscape.

As many of you know, there is tremendous concern about the fate of bee and other pollinator populations, and as a result there is quite a bit of new learning about the potential that hedgerows can offer the environment. This link from the Xerces Society gives one example of this, and practitioners such as the folks at SAGE are actively promoting the use of the post-modern hedgerow in conservation and biodiversity.  In another exciting hedgerow development I was invited on to the Mike Nowak Show to broadcast the value of hedgerows across the airwaves.  (A link to the podcast is here).

Mike Nowak admiring the last of my native bee nests!

So, will 2014 be the year that hedgerow fever takes over the Midwest?  I don't know about epidemics, but I can say that the last couple of months have brought about good conversations. Even better, some good ideas are in formation for some potential next steps.

Stay tuned - there's life in those margins yet! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Intermission #13 - Happy Birthday, Sun Ra!

Happy Birthday to Sun Ra, who would have turned 100 on May 22, 2014!

sun song 
Sun Ra (1956)

Friday, May 09, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A little something for the bees...

Over the past few weeks I took a bundle of old bamboo canes off the hands of a neighbor and churned out seven native bee nests.  Two were deployed in local gardens this weekend, the remaining five will soon find their way out into the wide world - hopefully to help the pollinators.  Why not make one for your garden this spring?  This guide from the Xerces Society will give you some ideas!