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

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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

Sights and Sounds of Spring 2018

Please Note: The Spring bird and frog recordings only works using Safari as your browser.

The wonder of Spring is finally upon us. If you can learn a few Spring calls, it makes the experience even more glorious.

Below are four common spring calls. How many can you identify?




The answers to the birds call are:

  1.                                            2.                                        3.                                      4.


Male CardinalRobin:Wormnuthatch

       Chickadee                                                   Cardinal                                                       Robin                                     Nuthatch
Male wood duck

Male wood duck



Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird



Migrating Canada geese

Migrating Canada geese

 male red-wing blackbird calling in the marsh

male red-wing blackbird calling in the marsh. Listen for the “Okalee” call.


A soaring turkey vulture (photo by Mike Farrell)

A soaring turkey vulture
(photo by Mike Farrell)

Pussy Willows

Pussy Willows

A groundhog feeding in early Spring.

A groundhog feeding in early Spring.

Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloak




Painted turtle sunning itself.

Painted turtle sunning itself.

Hepatica is one of the first to bloom

Hepatica is one of the first natives to bloom.


Bloodroot blooms in mid-April

Bloodroot has finished blooming.

Trillium blooms in late April and May

Trillium is at the peak of its bloom.

A chorus frog calling in early spring

Chorus frogs started calling as soon as the ice went out of ponds.



American Toads beginning calling at the end of April

American Toads began calling at the end of April.



Canada goose nesting on muskrat hut.

Canada goose nesting on muskrat hut.

Canada Goose Family.
May 16, 2018

The first week of May the Orioles and Grosbeaks returned.

May 1st is oriole day. Put your orange slices out.

Northern Oriole – Put your orange slices out.

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Rose-breasted grosbeak











Warbler Migration
The first wave occurred during the first week of May. There are still several species of warblers in our woods.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow-rumped warbler

Yellow warbler

Yellow warbler


Blue-wing warbler

Blue-wing warbler

Posted in Birds, Connecting to Nature, Spring | 6 Comments

Hidden Gem – Coon Rapids Dam

I have lived in the Twin Cities for 30 years and have never visited Coon Rapids Dam until last weekend. What a treasure! A lot of birdwatchers, photographers with ultra long lens, families, and bicyclists. Many thanks to Jane Ball and Celeste Rouse who contributed their beautiful photos.

White Pelican with the “horn” on the top of the beak that develops during the breeding season.  Photograph by Larry Wade


The White Pelican has one of the largest wing spans (9 feet across) in North America, second only in size to the California Condor. White Pelicans nest in Northern Minnesota, North Dakota and Southern Canada.

There were 4 or 5 loons at the dam, possibly because most of the lakes in the area and north are still frozen. Photograph by Larry Wade

Loon eating a crayfish. Photograph by Larry Wade


Most of the birds that were at the dam were migratory. I came back next day and 50% of the birds had left. The wind had changed from a north wind to a south wind. Spring migratory birds usually move when the wind is from south because they can get a free ride and not have to expend as much energy.

Red Necked Grebe in breeding plumage. Photograph by Larry Wade

Eared Grebe with a grub.
Photograph by Celeste Rouse

Eared Grebe is on the left and a Horned Grebe is on the right. Both are in breeding plumage.
Photograph by Jane Ball

Male Ruddy Duck or “bluebill”.
Photograph by Larry Wade

Male Northern Shoveler. The bird gets its name because of its large beak that it uses for filtering plankton.  Photo by Celeste Rouse

Both the Northern Shoveler and the Ruddy Duck nest in the pothole region of Northern Minnesota and North Dakota.

Male and Female Blue Wing Teal. Blue Wing Teals nest throughout Minnesota.
Photo by Larry Wade

Hooded Merganser is a fish eating bird. It has a serrated beak and is sometimes called a “sawbill”. Photo by Larry Wade

Male wood duck in the foreground and the female in the background. Wood ducks nest in the Twin Cities.
Photograph by Larry Wade


Great Blue Heron  Photo by Celeste Rouse


The Great Blue Heron is 4 1/2 feet tall. They use their sharp beak for spearing fish, frogs, mice and insects. Blue Herons nest mainly in trees.

Osprey   Photo by Celeste Rouse


There is an osprey nest on the  west side of the Coon Rapids Dam. On Sundays there is an osprey watch volunteer monitoring the nest. He has a very large telescope for interested people to observe the birds.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Land Untouched by Humans

Spending a few days up on the Gunflint trail, North of Grand Marais, MN changed my emotional outlook. We did not have all of the comforts of suburban life. We became more a part of nature rather than observers from afar.

White Pine at Sunrise

Off the grid
Changing gears
Beauty exists everywhere
It wasn’t there yesterday.

Ice Sculptures formed by wind and water

Sun halo
formed by the ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.


Only the wind in the pines
The gentle touch of nature

An otter slide at the lake’s edge
Moose tracks across the lake
A trance-like state

Pristine beauty of a frozen lake

An uprooted pine

Land untouched by humans.
The life outside of me
Is also inside of me.


Camp Visitors

Pine Marten
30 seconds of wonder


Gray Jays or “Whiskey Jacks” will eat out of your hand

The “drumming” of the pileated woodpeckers sounded like the playing of a djembe in the woods.

Red Breasted Nuthatch.
Laid claim to the camp.

In the presence of wildness
Early morning ski
Fresh Pine Marten tracks
A wisp of its presence in the air
I drink it in
Time slows down.
Nearby, the marten’s den
A sacred space
But invaded by a human
Who must get a photo
To share on Facebook
The beauty and wonder is lost.

Fresh Pine Marten Tracks

Bear claws on a dumpster near the car




We stayed at the Tall Pines Yurt that is off the Gunflint trail, 28 miles North of Grand Marais. It is reasonably priced.
Barbara and Ted Young/Boundary Country Trekking  / 11 Poplar Creek Drive
Grand Marais MN 55604
They provided: bunks wood for the heat, water, and outhouse.



Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Winter | 2 Comments

Eyes of Wildness

Observing nature is a process of discovery – of finding the story behind what you are seeing – of SEEing more and so finding yourself woven into the story as well.

Great horned owlets

Over the past week I have been tracking the development of two young owlets who have fledged their nest, but their flight is very limited, making them vulnerable to predators.

Fast forward 5 days, we got out of the car and immediately heard the “mobbing” of crows. Usually an indication that an owl was in the area. An adult great horned owl flew in front of us, carrying what looked like a rabbit and the crows were in tow. We found the fresh remains of a raccoon and fox tracks. A predator was near.

Further down the trail, we saw the smaller owlet of the two on the same branch it had been on days before.The larger owlet was nowhere to be seen. The sun was in our eyes, so we went to a location that we hoped would have a better view. The owlet was hunkered in a defensive mode (photo above). We were too close and made a quick exit.

owl track

Owl pellets. Owls cough up the fur and bones of the animals they capture

We climbed up on a ridge and had a tree-top view. We saw some owl tracks in the snow and two owl pellets and found ourselves drawn into the sacred web of life.  We were both worried about the whereabouts of the larger owlet. It was nowhere in sight. The adults  seemed to have disappeared, as well.  Not even the crows were  giving us a hint of activity. I said something like, “I am not feeling them anywhere nearby.”

My companion describes what happened next: “Larry went down the trail a ways while I stood silent and seeking. I finally turned around, and there, only 15 feet away, was the owlet, sitting silently watching us from a tree branch. I called to Larry to turn around and when he did we burst out laughing with delight at having the tables turned.”

We moved a safer distance away. Both relieved that the larger owlet was still alive.

great horned owlet

There was humor and delight, there was the struggle for survival, and the respect for the role each living critter plays (humans included). These experiences nourish the soul!

Adult Great Horned Owl
was within 50 yards of the owlets.

One of the adult owls started calling from a large oak 100 yards away. Was the adult trying to draw us further away from the owlet? Then the crows started mobbing again and the owl flew deeper into the woods.


I was reminded of last year’s nesting of owls in our local park. It became a circus: dogs barking, people approaching the nest too close, crowds of people making noise. Each day these young owls survive is a blessing.

I got the following note from Ann West, who has been following the development of the owlets for weeks.
“I saw both of the owlets Thursday looking very healthy.  Thank you for not disclosing
their location. As we know that would be so unfair to these amazing creatures “

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Borneo – Out of Sight!

Text and photos by Gary Friedrichsen. Other photos by Robert Lockett.

Oriental Pied Hornbill
We were fortunate to see all of the species of Hornbills that live in Borneo. Interesting birds that seal the females into a tree cavity nest and the male then feeds her until the chicks fledge.


I feel extremely blessed to have visited many parts of this amazing planet, and been awed by the grandeur of both human and natural wonders. But after a near lifetime of exploration, research, and exposure to many cultures it is a fantastic pleasure to be completely taken off guard.  I recently had the pleasure of accompanying a good friend on an excursion to the island of Borneo.

Cinnamon-rumped Trogon

Male Proboscis Monkey
The Jimmy Durante’s of the Bornean rainforest. These large primates travel in small groups along the river feeding on leaves and shoots.

Phone rings…. “Hello!” “Hey there, this is Bob Lockett. Have you ever thought about going to Borneo?”
Well no, not really. My mind immediately conjured images of bones in the nose headhunters and endless miles of humid, hot rainforests. Didn’t Margaret Mead study natives there and rock our thoughts about male-female roles in society?

Pygmy Asian Elephants
We had an hour with a group of 19 of these small elephants as they bathed, feed and “played” as these two young males are doing.

I did know that the rainforests there, like others around the world, were being devastated by logging and slash and burn farming and that those activities were putting many of the native birds and mammals at risk.  I jumped at the chance.

A Rafflesia blossom can reach 100 cm in diameter. This is the largest single blossom in the world. Their smell attracts the carrion insects that spread the pollen. Very stinky!

Borneo is the third largest island in the world following Greenland and New Guinea (where Dr. Mead actually did her research). There are over 200 species of land mammals; more than 400 native birds, and an amazing botanical display.

One of the 164 species of pitcher plants in Borneo, this one was the largest we encountered and measured about 16 cm.

This is the land of the “Old Man of the Jungle” the Orangutan. It is the home of Pygmy-Asian Elephants, Giant Flying Squirrels, the almost extinct Asian Rhinoceros, the Proboscis Monkey and eight other primates.

The “Old man of the jungle”. This male Orangutan was bored by the attention given him by the eager passengers in the boats below. He often turned his back on the crowds much to our dismay.

 It was wonderful to share in seeing so much fantastic nature. Hornbills, Trogons, Broadbills, Barbets, Babblers and Bulbuls were seen in profusion. Close encounters with Macaque and Langur monkeys, Orangutans and even the big wild-eyed Western Tarsier. The latter is a very small (~12”), long-tailed primate that jumps from tree to tree feeding on smaller animals at night.
Palm oil plantation in Malaysia. This is one of the two large threats to wildlife and ecosystems in Borneo.


Two major environmental issues facing Bornean wildlife are unsustainable timber harvest of hardwood forests and additional deforestation for palm oil plantations. According to a recent scientific report ( Feb. 2018), Borneo has lost over 100,000 orangutans ( half its population ) in just 16 years due to habitat loss from logging and palm oil plantations.
While flying over the Kinabatangan River, we could see hundreds of miles of cleared forest and a very small buffer of native habitat along the river. The cleared area was solid palm oil production. This was an unending view of monoculture that provides very little habitat to the native animals.


Pig-tailed Macaque (above) and the Long-tailed Macaque were our most commonly encountered primates. Very enjoyable to watch as they scampered through he trees or, like this mother son pair doing a bit of grooming.

   Once on the river we were astonished by the richness of the thin strip of native forest. Here were Pygmy Elephants, comical Proboscis Monkeys, Smooth Otters, and an array birds that defy our imagination.

Pua kumbu

Remember my first thoughts of the inhabitants of Borneo?  I was in for an education, when we visited a museum dedicated to Iban* culture Sarawak. Bob and I were both awed by the delicate tapestries and garments on display. These were artifacts of very high culture that we were totally ignorant of and that pre-dated Columbus’s voyages. We also saw Iban natives weaving patterns that have been passed down for over 700 years.


Pua kumbu is the cotton cloth woven by traditional Iban women from weavers who have past the designs and know how down for hundreds of years with no written language only hands-on training from an elder.

*Iban tribal members were one of the first settlers in Borneo. Their culture dates back over 700 years and despite no written language their verbal history recounts early interactions with other tribes vying for prime agricultural land. They adopted headhunting as a method to produce fear in their rivals yet held strong religious views. Most are now Christians and Muslims. Their production of brightly colored cloth for ceremonies and wood carvings are rich in texture and historic tradition.

Joss House Temple Kuching
The Chinese have had dealings in Borneo for over two thousand years and they have a large population living throughout Malaysia and Indonesia. We learned a good deal of history along with our quest for wildlife!

We had come for the birds and mammals but our enlightenment towards this and other unknown cultures was the real reward.


Guide Service:  We traveled with “Field Guides” as our tour group organizer. They were “spendy” but excellent.

Acommodations: Batik Boutique in Kuching (

Old Naturalist’s note: “I first met Gary Friedrichsen when he was living in a shack in Humboldt Bay, Northern California. There was an outhouse, no running water or electricity. Gary spent over 45 years plying the seas as marine biologist, specializing in whale and dolphin identification for NMFS, Cornell University, and Scripps Institute of Marine Biology. He also was a commercial salmon fisherman for a number of years off the coast of California and Oregon. Besides being an entertaining writer and excellent photographer, Gary is a wonderful person to be around.”

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