The Cock of the Rock Adventure

Mindo Cloud Forest, Ecuador. For two days,  we took early morning hikes with our superb birding guide, Lucia, who pointed out numerous species of tanagers and other birds.

Photo by Carol S Wade
Golden Tanager
Photo by Lucia Pilco
Golden Tanager
Photo by Lucia Pilco
Vermillion Flycatcher
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Chocó Toucan
Photo by Lawrence Wade
  Common Potoo   
Photo by Lucia Pilco

After two days, Lucia told us about the Cock of the Rock. But in order to see the bird, we had to do the following:
4am Get out of bed
4:30am Cross the river on the trolley
4:45am  Take a taxi with Lucia
5:15 am Get dropped off on a remote dirt road in the jungle
5:20am  Be completely stunned when three other taxis arrive -filled with 10 serious birders.
Shortly after 5:30 the owner showed up and opened the gate. The group hustled down to the bird blind and jostled for a viewing position. The blind fit around 6 people comfortably, but on this morning there were 13 people and many of them had huge cameras with 3 foot lenses.

That is Lucia trying to get through the camera maize.
Photo by Carol S. Wade

 Listen to the cacophony of Cock of the Rocks calling :

  Cock of the Rocks do not pair up, like most birds. Every day the males come to the same location (lek) and display (head-bobbing, and wing flapping) Their goal is to attract a female and then be chosen to mate with her.

Finally, it was light enough to see the birds and get a photo. But first, I had to stake out a spot in the crowded bird blind.

male Cock of the Rock

This was a surreal experience: seeing these unusual birds in this remote area. Sharing the space with all the birders. The friendly and helpful owner, collected $10 from each person. Lucia said that he fills up every morning (over a $100 a day).

That is Lucia between the two old people.

Reader Jim Evrard shared his adventure with the Cock of the Rock:
While serving in the Peace Corps in Peru in 1965-66, I had an opportunity to see the Cock of the Rock along a wild, rapid-filled stream in the high selva on the eastern slope of the Andes. I served as a technical advisor to the Peruvian Wildlife and Forestry Service based in Cuzco and saw the bird while on a working expedition involved in evaluating private land with the ideal of possibly establishing a sawmill.

P.S. Just so you know, that area was a hotbed of communist activity led by Che Guevara, Fidel Castro’s second in command. I was hauled into an army checkpoint along a road because I couldn’t produce my identify card (stolen by a pick-pocket). The soldiers had machine guns and had grenades strapped to their chests. Since I spoke Spanish with an accent, they thought I was a Cuban until I could identify two other Peace Corp Volunteers who were working and living in that area.

Posted in Birds, Nature Notes, Photography/Art | 11 Comments

Galapagos: Islas Encantadas

Editor Note: View all videos on full screen.

The Galapagos Islands truly are enchanted, often I felt like I was walking in a dream and wondering whether it was really real.
Lawrence Wade

I have never been in an area where such care is taken to preserve and restore the natural habitat. The authorities encourage people to visit, but the number of people and the places they can visit are carefully controlled so there are never large crowds in the uninhabited areas.
Robert Sable

Photo by Carol S. Wade

Video by Carol S. Wade

It was an amazing experience being around animals who had no fear of humans. We could easily get within 6 feet of most of them.
Lawrence Wade

Photo by Alan Sable

Advice from a Giant Tortoise
Access your ancient wisdom
Listen deeper
The Earth is your mother

Move slowly, everything will be accomplished
Your past will only pull you back, keep growing, live now.

Speaking of the past history of Giant Tortoises…
Up to 200,000 Giant Tortoises were taken by whalers and pirates from the Galapagos Is. They were stored upside down in the hull of their ships for up to a year and eaten for food. On Española Island, researchers from the Darwin Center found a remnant population of tortoises ( 2 males, 14 females). The Darwin Center was also able to reclaim a male from the San Diego Zoo that was taken off of Española in the 1930’s. The Española tortoises are breeding at the Darwin Center and to date, 1800 Giant Tortoises have been repatriated to the island.

Photo by Alan Sable

Photo by Lawrence Wade

Photo by Robert Sable

Frigatebirds swoop just at the surface of the water with their wings spread and scoop up fish with their beaks.
Robert Sable

Frigatebird Nesting Colony
Photo by Robert Sable

Nesting pair of Frigatebirds. The male has inflated it’s gular pouch.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Frigatebird feeding its young. Video by Alan Sable

Flamingos over-head
Photo by Robert Sable

Our group watched the flamingos flying toward us. Some were taking photos, others  watched in awe. But all were thankful for the opportunity to see something so magnificent.
Lawrence Wade

Flamingos feeding
Photo by Robert Sable

Green Sea Turtle
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Dancing with a Green Sea Turtle
Floating together
Back and forth with the surge
Experiencing wonder
Such beauty and wildness
Never to be forgotten

photo by Lawrence Wade


Waved Albatross mated pair. The largest breeding colony in the world is on Española Island, Galapagos.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Wave Albatross courtship dance. Bill clacking and head nodding. View on full screen. Video by Carol S. Wade

Waved Albatross chick
Photo by Robert Sable

Tree Cactus, Santa Cruz Is.
Photo by Alan Sable

Tree Cactus, notice the Land Iguana who had set up its territory underneath the cactus.
Photo by Alan Sable

Galapagos Land Iguana is up 4 feet long and weighs 30 pounds.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Land Iguanas feed on tree cactus pads. They scrape out the large spines and are able to eat the smaller ones.
Photograph by Robert Sable

During times of drought, many land iguanas die.
Photo by Alan Sable

A land Iguana and marine iguana battle for nesting territory.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

The fight went on for over 15 minutes. The land iguana was flipped over on its back 2 times and its neck had bite marks on it. Our group left before the end. It was unnerving to witness the rawness of these two species battling for their survival.
Lawrence Wade

Very young Sea lion pup.
Photo by Carol S. Wade

A pup trying to nurse from an unwilling mom. Video by Alan Sable.

The pup wanted to keep nursing and the mother waddled away. The pup followed braying mournfully.
Robert Sable

Young Sea Lions swimming intertidal pool Video by Carol S. Wade

Sea Lions are awkward and “comical” on land. In the water, they are breathtakingly sleek and acrobatic.
Robert Sable

Bleached bones of a Sea Lion.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Life and death was continuously around us, interwoven into the fabric of the land. For instance, you might see a plump sea lion pup nursing, take three steps and find a  sea lion carcass or a young pup who is starving because his mother was killed for unknown reasons.
Lawrence Wade

Marine Iguana is the world’s only sea-going lizard.
Photo by Robert Sable

Note the long fingers and nails that the marine iguana uses for climbing steep cliffs on their way out of the water.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Marine Iguanas spend most of their time on land basking on rocks. They must get warm enough to feed in the cool nearshore water on algae. Their diet causes them to have an excess of salt in their body which they “snort out” through their nose.

Photo by Lawrence Wade

Blue Footed Booby.
Photo by Robert Sable

Blue footed Boobys dive from great heights with their wings tucked in until they are torpedo shaped. They dive deep in the water for fish.
Robert Sable

Blue-footed Booby Mating Dance.
The male is displaying and trying to attract its mate.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Red-footed booby Photo by Lawrence Wade

Nazca Booby Colony
Photo by Robert Sable

Nazca Booby breeding colony. Video by Alan Sable

American Oystercatchers
Lawrence Wade

Swallowtail Gull
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Blowhole Video by Alan Sable

Undersea World of the Galapagos

Many large schools of Surgeonfish.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Sea Star
Photo by Lawrence Wade

King Angel
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Photo by Lawrence Wade

Sting Ray in the surf
Photo by Alan Sable

Sally Lightfoot Crab. The name “lightfoot” comes from their ability to “walk quickly across the water”.
Photo by Carol S. Wade

Lava Heron eating a Sally Lightfoot Crab
Photo by Robert Sable

The curtain closes on our adventure.
Photo by Carol S. Wade

Trip of a lifetime!
Robert Sable


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Notes | Leave a comment

Holiday Books for Nature Loving Kids

During the holidays, you can buy my books at a 60% discount off of the retail price. Each book is priced at $10 + $3.50 shipping = $13.50 I will sign all books. If you don’t like them, books can be returned for 100% refund.

Nature Seeker Workbook

Wade Cover 020913_flt@300 copy 2Nature Seeker Workbook is the product of 20 years of work as a naturalist in the Upper Midwest. Over 800 books have been sold in three years. It is a unique personal field guide to the natural world in Upper Midwest.
More than 50 field-tested activities. Hundreds of detailed and original drawings.
Highlights natural history through all seasons
Entire units for forest and wetland ecology.
Includes Nature songs, poetry, weaving and more
For students  1st – 6th grade 157 pages  (2013)

To learn more about Nature Seeker Workbook go to:
or go to the pull down menu at this site  –  go to Publications. Click on Nature Seeker Workbook.

OceanographyOceanography includes challenging activities on physical oceanography, biological oceanography, interviews with oceanographers and a teacher’s key. For students 4th-7th grade. Over 10,000 copies of this book has been sold. This book is in its 6th revision (2015). 144 pgs. topics:
Plate Tectonics          Marine Communities
Geology of seafloor   Marine Plankton
Mapping the Seafloor   Marine Food Webs
Ocean currents               Food pyramids

To learn more about Oceanography and Getting to Know the Whales go to: or go to the pull down menu at this site and go to Publications. Click on Whales/oceanography.

This book had to be written because of the author and illustrator’s passion for whales. Whale biologists have readily contributed data to make whales come to life for children. For students 4th-7th grade. Over 10,000 copies of this book has been sold. This book is in its 5th revision (2015). 146 pages

Whale Biology Topics
Draw a whale   Prehistoric whales   Whale and dolphin key  Whale dissection
How Whales feed       Lunge-feeding flip book           How Whales Breathe
How long does a Whale dive?    A Day with a Blue Whale  Whale Speed
Whale Migration              Year in the life of a Humpback Whale

How to purchase:
1. Send a check for $13.50 to the address below.
2.  order by email:
3. call me to order:  (952) 288-5025
4. You can also pay by credit card through PayPal go to: /  and scroll down  ( Nature Seeker only – $13.50 includes shipping)

Larry Wade
15524 Day Place
Minnetonka, MN 55345

Will ship within 24 hours. Send me your email address and I’ll get the tracking numbers to you. The last day for the sale is Dec. 25.


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Listening to the Giants

This Fall a group of seekers visited the Coastal Redwoods in Northern California. The learning and impact was glorious. In this post many people contributed their love of the Earth and the Redwoods.

Prairie Creek State Park
Photograph by Ken W. Brown

We have been given the responsibility to be guardians of all these sacred places, like the redwoods, and to keep them safe and holy. But so many life forms are in peril of going extinct because of our greed and our belief that this is “our Earth”, and we can do whatever want with it.
Donna Taylor

Today, only 5 percent of the original old-growth coast redwood forest remains, along a 450-mile coastal strip.
Save the Redwood League

Photo by Diane Kaplan

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.

from The Talmud

Redwood Spirit Tree
Photo by RMaya Briel

The beauty and rarity of this Albino Redwood and it’s ability to find a way to live and be useful to the forest astounded me. It does not create it’s own chlorophyll and is fed by the trees around it. In return it takes on the heavy metals for the others. This lesson of interdependence and being yourself is worth pondering.
RMaya Briel

Photo by Diane Kaplan

Being with the Redwoods touched my soul. I feel the Redwoods within me.

Diane Kaplan

Humboldt Redwoods State Park.
Ken W. Brown

And the Redwood said:  “I have seen humans eating cookies”

Human: “It is an advantage of being human”

And the Redwood said: “We have creatures and plants living on us
Roots that are connected to the Earth
And our crown is bathed in the sky.
We have the rain and the fog.
We are not full of cookies,
But we are full of life.”
Channeling a Redwood – Donna Taylor

A very old and wise maple tree nestled in the Redwood Forest
Photo by Robin Sanislo

I was thinking of writing a poem about the trees, but I couldn’t because, really, the trees themselves are the poems. An epic poem.
Annie Kitaeff

Redwood Burl
Photo by Annie Kitaeff

Shadows in the Redwoods
Photo by Annie Kitaeff










Being in the Redwoods, I became aware of the urgency of life, the enormous power of the life force, the precious nature of life, and the need to live in harmony with other life forms. As teachers, the Redwoods are unparalleled.
Annie Kitaeff

Ken W. Brown Photography

I had come to the Redwoods to help them, and yet was so exhausted that I didn’t feel I had the physical strength to do so. I did what I could. However, at one point, I just felt that I needed to lay down. I laid on the forest floor and fell into a mystical, sleep-like state. I felt the redwood trees healing me with their roots growing into my heart as I lay on my back on the forest floor. I wished to give to them, but they gave to me so much.

I said to my friend, Larry, I didn’t have much strength to bring because I was so physically tired. He said to me, “But you brought your truth and that was your strength”.

Dr. Jedidiah Krauss

Humboldt Redwood Tree Prayer
Ken W. Brown

Human: Grandfather, Grandfather
You said I was small.
But you weren’t just talking about my height.
Grandfather, Grandfather
Teach me not to be small any more
Help me to remember who I was

Redwood: “One tree never stands alone
One tree never has all the answers
We are all one root system
Let the sky and the Earth talk to you
It is almost like a singing”

Human: I am the forest.
I am interconnected with all living things
I am unique and can contribute to the whole
I listen with my whole body
I am the sky
I am the Earth
Grandfather, Grandfather
It hurts to feel this good.

Human:  Lawrence Wade
Channeling a Redwood – Donna Taylor

Redwood Root System
photo by Veronica Smith

Let the Roots Run Deep – Lyrics and song by Lawrence Wade


View on full screen. Shared by Veronica Smith.

Life is a big circle and many forget that when any part of our ecosystem is gone, it diminishes who we are and our potential.
Jim Cotton

Ken W. Brown

Breathing with the trees
Joining their breath.
I am with you and you with me,
woven together…humble, patient

Barbara Goodman-Fischtrom

Photo by Barbara Goodman-Fischtrom

Sunlight through the Redwoods
Photo by Annie Kitaeff

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians | 5 Comments

Hawks on High

Every Fall, thousands of hawks migrate past Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, in Duluth, MN.

A juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk


Hundreds of bird watchers come for the annual Fall migration.


Phil Fitzpatrick is a poet and is writing a book about Hawk Ridge. Phil said that he is writing this book to bring the “Magic of Hawk Ridge alive” for the readers.

Release of Sharp-shinned Hawk

Phil’s poem about a release:

Release III

like you are holding a cup
he tells me
my eyes intent
the hawk’s too
make a C now
the head is turned
they can do that
close your fingers
around mine
wildness in our hands
bony yellow legs
long talons stretch
hold him up
we all watch
hawk and people
all quiet
streaked brown beauty
hold him up
like The Statue of Liberty
perfect images
cup statue
raised up
one two three

Artist Penny Perry

Penny will be illustrating the book in pen and ink.

I have spent a good part of my life observing and drawing birds. Penny Perry

Phil needs to raise some money to pay his talented artist Penny Perry and publish his book, Hawks on High. He has started a KickStarter campaign to pay for the project. Any profits for the book will be donated to the Hawk Ridge Sanctuary.

To see a video about Hawk Ridge, and to read more of Phil’s poetry go to :




Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Nature Poetry, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Field of Dreams

Jim Cotton and Kim Puckett live on less than an acre of land along the foggy coast of Humboldt County, California. Below they share their story, by living their commitment to the Earth.

My father passed on the values of being self sufficient, not being wasteful, and growing organic food. As a biologist, I value the natural world, if we can have less impact and reduce our carbon emissions, the planet stands a better chance of surviving. I am going to do everything I can to help.
Jim Cotton

I like to have good food. Food is fuel, but it is more than that to me. It is one of the glories of life. The tastes, the textures, the smells. Also, I really like getting my hands dirty. Working in the soil and producing my own food, it satisfies something deep inside of me. I like the satisfaction of saying to myself, “Okay, this is for dinner”. I know what has gone into it, since we grow everything organically. It is a good feeling.
Kim Puckett

Several types of lettuce

Broccoli and kale









Grow what you like to eat. If you have a small space, I would not grow broccoli because it takes up a lot of room. I would grow lettuce because you can rotate it quickly. Also, part of why I love growing food, is being able to share it with other people.


Designing and building is my personal art form. Some people are musicians or painters. Working with my hands and my mind,  is my creative outlet. The greenhouse expands our season; allows us to have higher production; and to grow tomatoes and peppers along our foggy coast. I have decided to go with a glass greenhouse because it is sustainable. You don’t have to re-skin it with plastic every year. This greenhouse is generated from 50 sheets of recycled sliding glass door glass which I gathered over 5 years. The wood for the greenhouse came from a local mill. The wood is from a fallen cedar snag, so no live trees were cut down to build this structure. Also, working with a local sawyer, I got the wood for a fraction of what I would pay at commercial lumberyard.
Jim Cotton

Inside the greenhouse, we went with raised beds made out of recycled cinder blocks because wood tends to rot in 5 years. Before filling the bed with compost, we lined it with hardware cloth to protect the plants from gophers. Then we filled the beds with a soil mixture that was made locally from composted plants and cow manure.

We grow our tomatoes by twining them up with string because it increases production. It keeps the air flowing around the plants better. The vibes in the greenhouse feel good and I’ll bet that the air is a purer form of oxygen .

Heirloom Tomatoes

I save the seeds from the heirloom tomatoes, so in a way they will come back next year – part of a cycle. Unfortunately, you can’t save seed from the hybrid varieties. The heirlooms don’t have as much disease resistance, are odd shaped, and will not last as long as a hybrid. However, the taste of an heirloom tomato can’t be compared to even a home-grown hybrid tomato. Heirlooms are misshapen, but they are beautiful. The hybrids are supposed to be the “perfect” tomato. At the end of the season, I thank the plants before I pull them up.

Garlic harvest (variety “Music”). Pure Joy. Kim is on the right with Kate Christianson. Look at all the garlic on the ground!


I plant garlic here along the coast and inland at Willow Creek. I grow 13 types of garlic, including varieties named: Turkish Giant, Music and  Zemo. When we harvest garlic, we hang it up to dry. The best garlic is replanted and I exchange garlic with other growers.  Once I have planting stock separated out, then the rest is for eating. I love garlic, and it can make the blandest food taste phenomenal.

Solar Panels on the roof

This 9 kilowatt system is converting solar energy to electrical and feeding it back to the electrical grid. We haven’t got a bill from the utility company for a year. The energy for this system is supplying all the electrical needs for our home. In the future, we want to buy an electric car because our goal is to be divorced from fossil fuels. This is our way of reducing our carbon footprint.

Worm Juice

Worm Bin









This is a cattle watering trough that we converted into a worm bin. All of our kitchen scraps go in here. All you do is dig a hole, dump in your kitchen scraps, then turn your bin with a pitch fork. The real benefit of this bin is the “worm juice” that slowly drips into the bucket. We dilute the “juice” 1:5 with water and then put it on our plants and you can just about see them “jump out of the ground”, they grow so fast. It is a wonderful nutrient.

This flower bed is my way of not having to mow. As you can see, it is good for the pollinators. We never have to replant this bed because the flowers re-seed. Once it gets established, especially the calendulas, poppies, borage, and sunflowers, they self-seed and choke out the weeds.

Adjoining our property is what is called a CSA or community supported agriculture. They have 7 acres under organic cultivation. I believe in CSA’s and donate the water from our well to them for a dollar a year. The CSA has worked out to be really beneficial for the community. People can buy food that is grown locally and not shipped here from out of the country.

Blueberry Patch

This is our blueberry patch, I got tired of mowing the lawn, so I planted the blueberries. We’ve got over 40 plants and several varieties that produce fruit throughout the season. During peak production, we get a gallon a day of blueberries. We freeze most of them. There is nothing better than having a blueberry smoothie in the middle of winter.

Fig Espaliere

I love figs and these do well in a coastal environment. Figs tend to grow tall and overshadow everything. So I am getting these trees to grow sideways rather than up, using “espalaire” technique. This allows us to have row crops in between rows of fig trees. This is a learning process for me and I have no formal training.

I prune all of my trees so that I don’t have to get on a ladder. I have bent the branches in such a way that they get more light and produce more fruit. I use the “scions” (cuttings) from other varieties and graft those on to the existing trees. Some of our trees have six different types of apples grafted on to them, including King, Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Mutsu. It is way of getting a variety of apples without have a lot of trees.

I don’t like canning, it is a lot of work. But the middle of winter, I am going to open these jars of roasted tomatoes and I am going to remember when I harvested them. When I put the sauce over pasta, it is going to taste so good! We also can plum jam and  apple juice from our trees, pickled beets, and apple sauce. Also, I make baba ganoush from roasted eggplant and freeze it.

Frozen blueberries and beans

We vacuum seal all our food that is frozen. In addition, we dehydrate apples, pears, vegetable for backpacking.

Kim Puckett and Jim Cotton

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians | 1 Comment

Time of the Grasshoppers

Thanks to Amelia Ladd for her beautiful pen and ink sketches.

Time of the Grasshoppers   

Bush Katydid
photo by Lawrence Wade

For the past 20 years I have been working with 2nd graders studying grasshoppers. When you spend as much time as I have in the weeds looking for grasshoppers, their uniqueness and beauty goes right to your heart.

Grasshopper Life Cycle
Nature Seeker Workbook

Late summer is the Time of the Grasshoppers. In the past two weeks I have noticed that the number of adult grasshoppers/crickets in the neighborhood has increased dramatically. It has taken the whole summer for the hoppers to go through their life cycle and most are now adults.  In the spring, the eggs hatch, however, if the rains come before the eggs hatch, many get washed out. The young hoppers go through at least five nymph stages. During this time they cannot fly. The last stage of their lives, they “get their wings” becoming adults, and the singing begins.

Katydid calling at night.


Snowy Tree Cricket
Songs of Insects

One of my favorites is a night singer that calls from the trees, the snowy tree cricket.  It makes a continuous pulse, and is also called the “temperature cricket”, since the pulse changes with the temperature. You can figure out the outside temperature by counting the number of pulses in 15 seconds and multiply by 4, adding 32.

Snowy Tree Cricket calling at night.

The formula to determine the temperature from a snowy tree cricket is as follows:

________________   X   _____4_______ + 32  =  ______________
# of pulses in  15 seconds        (4 x 15 =60 seconds)                temperature in °F


Short -horned Grasshopper laying eggs
Nature Seeker Workbook


As soon as a hard frost hits, the “singing” drops from 100% to 0%. It is a shock and difficult to deal with emotionally since  it tells us that the seasons are changing. There is also a “quiet beauty” in knowing that the grasshoppers have completed their life cycles. The eggs resting in the ground, promise the continuation their species next year.


Carolina Grasshopper
Photo by Lawrence Wade


The Carolina grasshopper or locust is normally found on bare ground. It is one of our largest grasshoppers in Minnesota (2-3 inches long). They are easily identified when they fly because they have black wings.


Male Meadow Grasshopper calling from the grassland.
photo by Lawrence Wade


Female Meadow Grasshopper showing her sharp ovipositor at the end of the abdomen.
Nature Seeker Workbook



Meadow grasshoppers are found in tall marsh and prairie grass. The males make a repetitive buzzing sound in the grass during the day. The females are attracted to the sound. After they mate, the female will lay her eggs in a blade of grass  using her knife-like ovipositor.



Meadow Grasshopper calling in the weeds during the day.

Argiope or Garden Spider
photo by Lawrence Wade


The Argiope spider is a predator on grasshoppers and I often see them in weeds. They make a beautiful web up to 3 feet across.  Grasshoppers that fly/jump into the web are quickly wrapped up and mummified by the spider. The female Argiope is 4 times larger than the male.


Leopard frog
Photo by Lawrence Wade



The leopard frog is also a predator on grasshoppers and other grassland insects.





Grasshopper Laboratory



Download the Grasshopper activity pages from Nature Seeker Workbook
GrasshopperActivitySheet copy

Reader Bob Bigham added the following comment about grasshoppers:

“While growing up in Pinckneyville , Illinois we would go bug hunting and grasshoppers was one of our favorites. they would “spit tobacco juice” if we held them too tight. One day we flipped one over and it had a bright red hour glass on its belly, just like a black widow.”

Posted in Insects | 1 Comment

13 Rays of Hope for Our Future

A workshop developed by ArtStart director, Carol Sirrine, challenged 13 students to create an “Earthly Shrine” that honored the wonders of nature and addressed the impact that humans have had on the Earth. The artists/naturalists ranged in age from 14-17 years old. At the celebration marking the end of the workshop, artists had a chance to share their finished work, their process and their caring for the Earth.

Anissa Wallingford


Songwriter, Anissa Wallingford sang her song, “Quicksand”.


Maeve Murphy


With the use of clay, glass, rocks and many more earthly objects, I hoped to show that we are meant to create a world that complements natural life instead of using its resources for selfish consumeristic actions. I have used recycled plastics and metals to display the reality that we do live in a universe that is plagued with pollution created by man. I hope to demonstrate that there can be beauty in both the natural and unnatural world as long as we continue to love and care for the earth with which we have been granted.
Maeve Murphy

Flannery McGreevey


I wanted to portray the story of an animal living in our present world. I chose to create a chicken that embodies the chaos in our universe. By using many bright busy colors it shows the turmoil that many beings experience. The different textures represent the complexity of the issue we are facing. Although at times the problems of climate change seem overwhelming, there are still things you can do!
Flannery McGreevy

Serena Raths

I wanted to create a piece which literally jumped off of my canvas. I was inspired by our days spent walking beside the Mississippi River. I tried to add as much detail as possible, to demonstrate all of the intricacies which reside within nature. By making the diorama scene out of recycled materials, I wanted to represent the ways in which humans can strip nature of its most beautiful elements and leave it barren.
Serena Raths

Justine Anderson

For my first foray into stained glass, I chose to depict a great blue heron. We saw many of these birds at the refuge and along the Mississippi River, where I first saw the giant trees where the birds nest. Their stately and graceful movements inspire the kind of reverence I wanted to capture. I thought that stained glass was a fitting medium for a piece meant to honor the sacredness of nature. 
Justine Anderson

Adi Banks

My piece represents the commodification of animals and nature by humans. Some humans go hunting and kill creatures just for their heads so they can be displayed as trophies. It is detrimental to the populations of the creatures and to the ecosystems that they’re a part of. I was inspired by the topic of “Earthly Shrines” and thought this was a fitting expression.
Adi Banks

Hajar Ahmed

I write poetry to change your perspective
I write poetry to raise awarenesses
I run to the battlefield with my pen in hand
I raise my arms to the sky and feel the breeze running through my fingers

All this imagery wouldn’t have been possible without experience.
The Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge provided a safe  haven where
you can be one with nature and escape a world of urbanization that’s
too familiar. Taking a moment to take in other life forms unifies the
living with the dead and the empty with the full.

It’s an accurate representation of life.
Hajar Ahmed

Haley Larson

My piece was inspired when we went out into the woods, and we connected with the biggest tree we could find. While doing this, we were given a chance to feel how the life in the forest communicated with each other. Looking around, I was really inspired by the layered feeling the forest has when you’re in the center of it: trees and plants and bushes stack together to create one big picture that one tree could never establish on its own. The leaves are organized in a mosaic fashion to evoke the feeling of a stained glass window, allowing light to flow through freely. The frame is made of styrofoam to symbolize the restricting effect synthetic goods have on nature.
Haley Larson

Adi Banks, Haley Larson
Serena Raths

We took inspiration from the Minnesota prairie lands: the colors, as well as the specific species that reside there. Our goal was to demonstrate the ways in which humans will need to work with nature to maintain environmental sustainability in our modern world. By using recycled materials, we show how humanity must design their urban spaces and consumer goods to work with the environment instead of against it.
Adi Banks, Haley Larson, Serena Raths

Ana Kirshner

My original idea was very vague, and it was supposed to be paintings of human activity that resulted in global warming and environmental damage, like deforestation, factories, pollution, etc., as well as paintings of natural disasters. Eventually I moved on to the slightly more subtle, like flooding from rising sea levels or floods that are occurring from human actions and making them more devastating and irregular. Originally the paintings were just arranged in a cluster, but then I settled on a tree-like arrangement to represent connectivity and a symbol of nature. The main point of this piece is to prompt self reflection. Are you going to help preserve and protect the environment, or not? Will you carry a shovel to plant a tree or an axe to cut a tree down?
Ana Kirshner

Greta Shore


In making this piece, I sought to represent that the epidemic of plastic pollution can be partially attributed to multi-national corporations whose products are either not biodegradable or are not easily disposed of effectively, which in turn relates to ideals of convenience and profitability upheld by these corporations. The general population also neglects their responsibility in preserving the earth and dealing with waste effectively.

The artwork contains a hand-drawn and cut map of the world affixed onto blue paper, which is then disrupted by shards of broken glass, highlighting areas that produce the most pollution. The unaltered map appears more balanced and visually appealing, as it fits our idea of what our world looks like, while the impact of corporations and the ignorance and wastefulness of the general population disrupts this. This is done to redefine our default view of our planet and shine a light on humanity’s wastefulness and disregard.
Greta Shore

Get ready world! It won’t be business as usual with this group.
Photograph by Michael Croswell

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Honoring the Earth Through Art

ArtStart director, Carol Sirrine and the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge sponsored 13 serious artist/naturalists. Their charge was to create art through the lens of nature using various mediums.

Flooded Long Meadow Trail
Photo by Anissa Wallingford

The Minnesota River flooded trails in the refuge. A serendipitous hiking experience…

Skyholes at the Bass Ponds Photo by Michael Croswell


 Carter Antin worked with Michael Croswell capturing field recordings of nature sounds at the Bass Ponds and then mixed in some synthesized tones to create an ambient music composition using Garage Band.

Trail less traveled, Bass Ponds, Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge.
Photography by Michael Croswell.

We could feel the wildness of nature at the Bass Ponds, even though the Mall of America was less than a half mile away.

Adi Banks – Woodland meditation.


Storm sewer trash from the Mall of America

After heavy rains, the storm sewer from the Mall of America showed us that we were not far from humans.

Garter snake feeding on grasshoppers. Slithering through the grape vines.

Anissa with a toad friend.

Anissa Wallingford is an accomplished song writer and she composed and performed the song “Quicksand” at Youth Express studios in Saint Paul.   Many thanks to Michael Croswell for generously sharing the sound recordings from the studio.

Monarch Caterpillar
Photograph by Anissa Wallingford.

Temporary Art Sculptures using clay from the Minnesota River.

Flannery McGreevey


Leo Anderson/Carter Antin

Ana Kirshner

Art from Plant Pigments

Maeve Murphy

Ana Kirshner

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary – Olivine Sand
Photo through 30x scope
Haley Larson

Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary. The internal organs of a leech. 30X.
Photo by Justine Anderson.


Prairie Nature Notes

Greta Shore – Sketches made on hand-made paper

Adi Banks

Serena Raths

Haley Larson

My Inner Spirit

Anissa Wallingford


Flannery McGreevey

Greta Shore

Maeve Murphy


SoundScape experience with Michael Croswell. Flannery McGreevey (L), Serena Raths (C), and Adi Banks.
Photo by Julie Boada

Studio Time

Hajar Ahmed working on some of her poetry.
photo by Julie Boada

Adi Banks incorporated deer antlers to create his work.
Photo by Justine Anderson.

Ana Kirshner created a whole series of nature-based art.
Photo by Justine Anderson

To create her sculpture, Maeve Murphy use recycled materials.
Photograph by Justine Anderson.


Maeve Murphy cut-out leaf shapes from recycled materials.Then painted each one in a unique way. The leaves will be placed on her tree (see above).
Photo by Justine Anderson

Haley Larson working on her group prairie flower installation using recyled materials. Photo by Julie Boada

Adi Banks, Serena Raths, and Haley Larson created a prairie installation using recycled materials.
Photo by Julie Boada.


Justine Anderson


Justine had never worked with stained glass and with the help of artist Jeanette Dickinson, she worked tirelessly on her Great Blue Heron.

Justine Anderson
Photo by Michael Croswell

Leo Anderson and Carter Antin created a mix  in the studio which they titled “Nature Gang”.


Leo Anderson (L) and Carter Antin (R).  Composer Michael Croswell is in the background.


Julie Boada, Our Fearless Leader
Photo by Anissa Wallingford

Get ready world! It won’t be business as usual with this group.
Photograph by Michael Croswell

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art | 6 Comments

Touch the Sky

Photos and text by Julie, Jim, Curran Ikhaml, and the Old Naturalist.

The town of Luverne is in the Southwestern corner of Minnesota and is a very interesting areas for a naturalists, geologists, and historians.  The Ikhamls take us on a trip to Blue Mounds State Park, Touch the Sky Prairie and Jeffers Petroglyphs.

Blue Mounds State Park

Sioux Quartzite Cliffs at Blue Mounds State Park


Blue Mounds State Park is in Rock County, Minnesota near the town of Luverne. It got its name Blue Mound because the cliffs appeared “blue” to settlers going west in the 1860’s and 1870’s. 

Sioux Quartzite cliff


Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vultures are not early risers. They wait on cliff  tops until the first updraft allows them to take off . On days of no wind, a vulture may stay on the cliff all day – unable to leave because they are too heavy.

Blue Mounds Trail

When walking the trails at Blue Mound I felt like I was back in time. It made me want to be a full time plant witch. There were jumbles of rocks and many little caves.
Julie Ikhaml

Blue Mounds Trail


An ancient astronomical laboratory.Compliments McGhiever Gallery

This rock alignment is almost a quarter of a mile long. It was possibly built by the plains Indians and marks where the sun rises and sets on the Spring and Fall Equinox.

Great Horned Owlets

We could hear the owls calling at night. We were in the campground and I couldn’t sleep due some issues with other campers. The blessing was that the owls came flying in and I found where they roosted during the daytime.
Jim Ikhaml


Where the bison herd was, I  felt like I was on top of the entire world. Nothing else mattered. You could look out and see two different states (Iowa and South Dakota).
Curran Ikhaml

Fredrick Manfred House

The gift shop is now closed and was once author Frederick Manfred’s home. One of the walls of the home was part of the rock face. Staff had to run 10 dehumidifiers continuously because the rocks would sweat so much. Also, there was a stream that ran through the house. Not only that but each morning there might be snakes inside the “gift shop” that had to be removed.
Jim and Curran Ikhaml

Touch the Sky Prairie

Touch the Sky Prairie

The Touch the Sky Prairie was super rocky and had never been “under the plow” by white settlers,  but they ran cattle in there. Once the land was not grazed, many of the prairie plants came back after 100 years of being dormant.We also saw rocks  that humans had placed in a circular form. You really felt like you were on holy ground.
Jim Ikhaml

Sioux Quartzite rubbed by buffaloes

Buffaloes rubbed against the Sioux Quartzite making the rock smooth as glass. The rocks were ancient back-scratchers and helped the buffalo rub off its thick winter coat. The rocks remind us of a time when there were huge herds of buffalo on this land.



Jim Brandenberg, the famous photographer is from Luverne, MN and created a foundation to purchase the Touch the Sky Prairie. At the dedication of the land, Lakota elders pointed out where they would hold their vision quests. One of the elders said, “We wanted to be here to give the prairie our blessing. It is seldom that ‘white man’ gives anything back.” This was his ancestral land.


A storm blew in quickly  from the west. It got super windy and unfolded in front of me. I stayed to photograph the event, while everyone else ran for cover.
Julie Ikhaml

Mammatus Clouds. Indicators of unstable air in the atmosphere.


The storm blew through and cleared near sunset.

Jeffers Petroglyphs

Jeffers Petroglyph

Jeffers Petroglyphs is a living sacred site that has been used by native peoples for 1000’s of years. Native Americans still come to Jeffers and pray. The staff onsite work with tribal elders to make sure the site is treated with respect for the Native culture.

Jeffers glyph. Medicine Man’s bag



Jeffers Petroglyph Historical Site is thought to have 5000 petroglyphs carved into the rocks. Pictures in the rocks include: humans, deer, elk, buffalo, turtles, thunderbirds, atlatls, and arrows.

Ripples in the Rock

The geology of the Jeffers site illustrates that this area once a beach environment at the edge of a shallow sea (300 feet deep). The ripples in the rock were produced by waves on the shore, 500,000,000 years ago. The wave-like pattern is similar to the wave pattern you would see at a lake’s edge.



Posted in Nature Notes, Summer | 5 Comments