Take Time for Sunrises and Sunsets

“Take Time. Make Time”
Guest Blogger
Connie Sjostrom

Sunrise

Sunrise comes early in Summer.

After working 40 years of my life, I was fortunate to be able to retire early.  Always a multi-tasker while I was a working mom, you can imagine that much of my spare time was, well, not really spare. I vowed early on that my children should not miss out on “mom time” because I was working. That meant that some other things had to give a little.  Like housework…that was easy

to cut. The only “extra time” I allowed myself before the family began to stir was a cup of coffee and a scan of the local paper WHILE I blow-dried my hair   But getting back to my original point: when I retired, I knew it was going to take a bit to adjust to my new normal of no schedule. I developed two mantras –the first, “Slow Me Down, Lord”, and the second followed “Take time, make time.”

Like time to watch the sunrise.

Farm Life

Growing up on a farm I saw few sunrises mostly because I was already in the barn milking and there wasn’t a lot of extra time in those days. Milking 50 cattle morning and night…usually with only two people milking. You get the picture.

Arkansas sunset

Arkansas Sunset
Photo by Connie Sjostrom

But, I saw lots of sunsets — mostly from a tractor. Back then we worked until it was dark, and sometimes later depending on the season. Still no camera handy. And if I did get a shot, I had to wait until the roll was full to get it developed. And usually, a few weeks for it to come back not to mention the trip to town to drop it off and pick it up. It was a real thing.

Commute

When we first married my husband and I enjoyed small town living but that involved a 45-minute commute to work and little extra time to catch the sunrise. Even when we moved to the country 27 years ago, I was still up early and getting ready for my day. We had the perfect spot — on top of a hill facing East-southeast. But until I retired I was hit and miss on taking the time to actually catch the sunrise.  And then, I didn’t always have a camera at the ready, so very few were ever captured.

Fast forward to my retirement years. I now have hundreds (maybe thousands) of pictures of sunrises and I am so glad I can share those with others who may not have the time or the perfect location to view these masterpieces of creation. While Facebook has its drawbacks, being able to share a sunrise photo instantly is definitely a plus.

Sunrise this time of year is @ 5:30 a.m.  Take time, make time!

Texas Drawl in Alaska

You know Steve Brown is from Texas right away. Vernon, Texas, to be exact. Home of the Red River Valley Museum, that features native sons trombonist and singer, Jack Teagarden and singer-songwriter, Roy Orbison.  Brown’s drawl and easy manner draw you in. But, there is something else in his voice – maybe a hint of an Eastern clip? Perhaps a touch of wry Midwestern humor?  And, what about the creative way he describes raises chickens in the north?

Technology and Tinkering

All of these are part of Dr. Stephen Brown who has lived, studied and worked in Upstate New York, Kansas, and now Alaska.  “I grew up raising chickens since age eight,” he stated. “I love the soap opera of the coop,” he added. An engineer and self-professed “tinkerer” Brown is smart, innovative and ambitious. Above all, he is good with people. Pretty important qualities since he is District Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service Agent for the Mat-Su/Copper River District of Alaska. He integrates his specialties of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with agriculture and the environment.

He applies his advanced degrees in Environmental Sciences from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the State University of New York, and his numerous publications and presentations practically for those living in the far north.

As Alaskans learn to raise poultry, till the soil, and ward off predators Brown is right with them. “I get to remote homesteads by boat, airplane and snow machine,” he said.  “I may be the only extension agent in the country with reimbursement mileage for a snow machine,” he quipped.

Adapting the Coop

“Chickens can adapt to the cold when they have a safe coop,” explained Brown. After arriving in Alaska about a dozen years ago, he experienced some of the challenges of “high latitude farming.” He researched and presented keynote talks across the US and Canada. Then, he adapted methods that fit with homesteader lifestyles and pocketbooks. “You have to be practical because of the costs,” he explained. For example, temperature extremes make watering farm animals a problem.  Since you don’t want to haul fresh water out every day and everything in Alaska is expensive, Brown adapted dog water bowls to stay heated in the winter for the low cost of about 15 bucks.

Brown also addressed other barriers to raising poultry in the far north. “Frostbite and ammonia build up are the two largest killers up here,” he explained. To prevent frostbite on chickens’ toes, Brown simply installed flat perches instead of round ones, so the chickens’ feathers covered their toes when they roost. Frostbite solved.

Animals also need to be safe from predators – bears and mosquitoes. So, the coop must be sturdy, have mosquito netting inside heavily wired windows, and have good ventilation. He converted an old horse stall to a secure, ventilated and warm chicken coop. He affirmed that chickens can handle the cold and only adds a heat lamp when temperatures really drop into the double-digit minus degrees.

Tom Sawyer Method

The deep litter method works well to keep the coop fresh and prevent ammonia build up. Spread a thin layer of fresh litter about once a week and toss in some treats for the chickens to scratch and keep the litter turned over. A couple of times a year he uses the “Tom Sawyer” method of cleaning up the coop. “I invite local gardeners to come over to my place twice a year and clean out the deep litter. I show them how to use it in their gardens to improve their soil for better crops,” he explained. Win-win.

Some poultry techniques he teaches in “Chicken U” classes which fill up. These include such basics as how to safely catch, hold, and butcher a chicken. Classes are booming and so is poultry husbandry. According to Brown, in the past eight years, chicken orders have skyrocketed from single thousands to well over 120,000.  He gets to experience the great results of good husbandry and farming in part because he is president of the Alaska State Fair board of directors. The State Fair runs late August.

Marathon Man and Mountaineer

In his position, Brown is passionate about more than chickens. He has been on the cutting edge of promoting Rhodiola rosea as an important cash crop for Alaskans.

And, he is not all work and no play.  His recreational pursuits run deeply, too – literally. He’s a marathoner and mountaineer. Since 1979 Brown has summited numerous peaks and seeks to summit on all continents.  He even mused about taking a chicken to the top of Denali. “Even though I am no a spring chicken myself, I think it’d be kinda fun,” he said.

Call him up some time to chat chickens and crops.  You’ll know him at the Alaska State Fair by his drawl and friendly manner that draws you in.

 

March Magic

Don’t Miss March’s Launch of Spring

“If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy
it will in the end not produce food either,” Joseph Wood Krutch.

Too many people miss March’s majesty by staying indoors. After all it’s usually too warm to enjoy cross country skiing or ice fishing and it’s too early to plant the garden, go fishing, or play golf. March is the month of mud, fog, slowly melting grit-encrusted snowbanks, and clammy cold.

At Winding Pathways, we defy normal behavior and spend March days outdoors. It’s the month of great change and nature’s cavalcade is there for any observant person to enjoy.

Just consider the earth and how it’s turning toward our sun. Days lengthen the most around the March 21st Vernal Equinox. This means there is more sunlight each day allowing our yard to soak up more solar energy and spark spring’s revival of life.

March is the month to pull on mud boots and venture outdoors with eyes and ears attuned to the great seasonal change upon us. Here are some things to absorb with great joy:

 Birds.

Migration has started. Look up! Way up. Skeins of geese wing high overhead, perhaps so high they are mere specs. Binoculars bring them closer. And their distant and distinct song is music to winter weary ears. Salute their northward journey with a hearty, “Welcome Back!” Many smaller birds are on the prowl, but it may take a close look to notice them. Within a month juncos disappear shortly after red winged blackbirds make their annual debut. Sparrows begin crafting messy nests as goldfinches swap their drab winter outfits for glorious yellow garb. Barred owls fill the night air with haunting cries of WHO COOKS FOR YOU FOR YOU. Sometimes they are in a black oak almost over our roof and startle us awake with their lusty calls.

Mammals.

Even as winter’s song hangs on, baby squirrels are nestling in tree cavities and rapidly growing on a diet of mom’s rich milk. Squirrels are among nature’s most attentive mothers. In another month or two they encourage their babies to venture outdoors. Cottontails begin mating, buck deer begin growing new antlers, chipmunks are increasingly active, and raccoons and opossums prowl the nocturnal yard seeking dinner. On warm misty nights they gorge on nightcrawlers that have emerged on the lawn’s surface to mate.

 Plants.

We’re always delighted to find stinging nettles springing out of the still cold earth toward the end of March. There’s no better tasting or nutritious cooked green than a short pile of steaming bright green nettles on the dinner plate. It’s the best time of the year to enjoy tender dandelions leaves in salad. We like the non-bitter blanched leaves discovered under a carpet of oaks. By summer, these leaves are too tough and bitter to enjoy. But, now, they are delicious and nutritious. We can pluck them because we have a spray-free yard.

Spring’s miracle sound.

Sometimes this miraculous sound happens in March but always by early April. Nature’s most promising song comes at vespers each spring, usually in the calendar interval where Easter can fall – March into April. Spring peepers and chorus frogs herald the season each evening. As Christians worldwide celebrate Easter by saying HE IS RISEN, Chorus frogs and peepers enthusiastically seem to announce SPRING IS COMING!

Go Outside! Don’t miss the great vernal seasonal turn. March isn’t a month to huddle by the television. It’s a month to be outside.

 

 

 

 

Amazing Ice!

Ice is a miraculous substance.  Actually, it is water that is so amazing. Ice is just one of its three phases.

Water is essential for life and one of its unusual characteristics is how it behaves when its temperature drops. Like most substances water contracts as it gets colder, but unlike other substances, it reaches maximum density at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and then expands as it gets colder. Finally, when it freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit it expands.

That’s huge! If Ice were denser than water, it would sink to the bottom of a lake or pond. The surface would continue to freeze and sink until by mid-winter the lake would be all ice. Few creatures could live there.

Instead, when water freezes it expands and gets lighter. It floats on the colder water beneath and insulates the water, so it doesn’t freeze all the way to the bottom. Ice is merely a veneer floating on water, enabling life in the liquid below it.

It might be 20 below zero in the air above the ice but down in the water a fish basks in the relative warmth of water in the 30s.

When lake ice gradually cools as fall’s temperature drops a beautiful result happens in some years. On one cold, clear, calm night the lake will form a layer of crystal clear ice several inches thick. It’s hard and usually safe to walk on.

The walk reveals amazing patterns of cracks and fractures. Clear ice gives a lake walker the sensation of striding on air with a clear view to the bottom beneath the feet. For an idea of the beauty of ice, enjoy these photos taken at Cedar Lake, Denville, New Jersey, in January 2018.

Obsidian Gets Around

Today it’s easy to buy just about anything by touching a few keystrokes. In an amazingly short time, a package from Amazon or another company will arrive.  However, it wasn’t always easy to acquire important things. Consider obsidian.

Obsidian group.

Snowflake, Conchoidal shape, Apache tears.

Obsidian is a fascinating rock always formed by volcanic action. It’s essentially natural glass, and a chunk of it shimmers in the hand. It’s usually black but can be brown, tan, green, blue, red, orange or yellow depending on the minerals within it.

Although obsidian is found in natural deposits scattered around the world, in the United States it occurs mostly in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon with smaller deposits in New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming. An entire obsidian hillside is easy to see from the road in Yellowstone National Park just south of Mammoth.

In days long before Amazon shipped packages, obsidian was one of the most precious of commodities. Imagine you are Native American thousands of years ago. Some of this evening’s dinner may come from corn or squash you grew but more likely it would be deer, elk, rabbit or squirrel meat or even a big catfish fillet.

Back then hunting wasn’t recreation. It was a vital source of food, and hunters had to do whatever possible to make catching an animal successful. They spent hours crafting efficient spears long before the bow and arrow were invented. After bows replaced spears Native Americans crafted efficient arrows.

Obsidian was the very best rock to make spear and arrow points from. It fractures into flakes so sharp that it has been used for modern surgical scalpels. It makes beautiful and deadly spear and arrow points.

Most Native Americans had a problem.  There was no natural obsidian within hundreds or thousands of miles of their homes. Often, they used flint or chert for points.  These worked well, but Obsidian was better. It was a valuable commodity.

Long before history began recording events Native Americans had developed elaborate trade routes across North America. One of the most valuable trade items was obsidian.  We live in Iowa, and there are no known natural obsidian deposits. But obsidian arrowheads are relatively common.  There’s no doubt that it came here, and throughout most of North America, carried great distances by traders who walked around the continent and swapped it for items they needed.

Modern bowhunters use arrows tipped with razor-sharp steel points, but obsidian is still valued for its beauty and unusual shapes and colors. Today it’s zipped around the world in cars, planes, trucks, and ships. It’s even possible to order it from Amazon.

 

 

Lightning Strike!

Rich and Tree

This stately Oak took a full bodies hit that vaporized the sap and blew off the bark in four places.

An enormous explosion brought us bolt upright in bed. 10:44 p.m. just after we’d fallen asleep on April 27th. . The blast was so powerful it knocked pictures off the wall shattering the frames and glass. A quick check revealed no other home damage and a few low rumbles assured us that the noise had been thunder created by a very close lighting strike and not a bomb.

A few days later we discovered a massive white oak about 300 feet from our home with its bark blown off in four different places and loose in others. The lightning’s heat and force vaporized the tree’s sap and enormous pressure blew the bark off. It’s hard to imagine that so much damage could happen in a two tenths of a second-long lightning bolt.   The thing is, the tree top is lower than our home! Why did lightning strike there and not the house?

A lightning strike isn’t always a tree’s kiss of death. If only a narrow swath of bark is blown off it may recover. But we fear our magnificent oak was so damaged that its days are numbered.

The tree’s imminent death is good news for small songbirds, especially brown creepers that seek shelter between loose bark and a tree’s trunk. As the oak gradually deteriorates it will provide food and shelter for a host of insects and the woodpeckers that love dining on them. We anticipate a day when our pileated, red headed, red bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers nest in the old oak snag.  Eventually it will topple over and over time return nutrients from rotting wood to the soil.

View to House

The distance from the lightning strike to the house is about a football field.

Lighting can be both lethal and sneaky. Every year it strikes about 25 million times in the United States and kills an average of 49 people.  Many more humans are hit but survive, often with lingering physical problems. Ligntning is nothing to fool around with. As we learned on April 27th sometimes lightning strikes well before the main storm arrives and after it leaves. The safest place to be is inside a building away from windows, pipes, water, wires and landline telephones.

To stay safe, follow the 30-30 rule of thumb.  When you first see lightning, begin to count “One Mississippi, two Mississippi….” until you hear thunder.  If you hear thunder before you reach the number 30, lightning from the storm is in striking distance. Go inside!  And, after the last rumble of thunder wait 30 minutes before venturing outside again.

An outstanding source of information, including many safety tips, is on the US Government’s website.