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 “

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians, Nature Notes, Photography/Art | 3 Comments

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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My Yard is the Garden of Eden

All photos and text by Celeste Rouse

  Why am I so obsessed with Nature? Because it breathes life into me, it encourages me, it embraces me and gives me permission to take time to listen. To listen to the intense silence, to listen to the calamity and noise of the creatures and to listen to that little voice inside of me that lets me know I am loved by God, Family and Friends.
Celeste Rouse

Celeste Kissing a Junco

I lived in Minneapolis for 45 years where I had to venture away from my house to find the animals and birds that I craved to see. Then my husband and I fell into good fortune a year and a half ago and we bought a lake home in Wisconsin. Well, I now have a yard that I call “The Garden of Eden.” Over 75 species of birds have come to visit, 16 mammals, 11 reptiles/amphibians and more insects that I can count. I would now love to share some of these beautiful gifts with all of you. I hope you enjoy….


Red headed Woodpecker

Hubby and I were having breakfast when I looked outside at the feeders and saw a bird with a red head. I almost choked! I ran to the window to grab a shot through the window and lucked out. I thought I would never see him again. I was wrong
as three more times he visited my yard through the summer. Hope he remembers where I am!

Barred Owl

I love owls, in fact, I wear my lucky owl earrings anytime I go out searching for them. I have traveled many a mile to find and photograph them. Well, the first time I heard a Barred Owl in my yard was late afternoon. I came around the corner from the lake and there he was, sitting up in a close tree watching my feeders. He flew to a nearby tree which gave me plenty of time to get his portrait and say hi and thank you before he flew off. He has visited me three more times.  

Bald Eagle in my Front Yard

I was looking out my kitchen window doing dishes when I saw a large Bald Eagle swiftly fly into the bushes and trees down at the lake. He then came out and landed on the shore of the lake. I grabbed my camera and got one shot off. If you look closely, you will see blood on his beak. I walked down after he had left and he had gone for a turtle. It was still alive but passed three days later. Good Old Nature…


Eastern Towhee

Each day I wake up and think, there is nothing new that could possibly come through this yard. I am usually wrong, thank goodness. Again, I was at my window just looking out at the feeders when an Eastern Towhee flew by and started enjoying the seed. A Towhee in my yard? I was at the right place in the right time as he stayed for just a few moments and then flew off, not to be seen again.

Scarlet Tanager

I decided to take a walk to the end of the driveway to see what was up in the trees. As I was scanning, a bright red flash went from one branch to the next. I knew it was not a Cardinal as I have not seen them since I moved here. But I looked closer and it was a Scarlet Tanager! I had never seen one in my life but heard they come in with the orioles and Rose Breasted Grosbeaks which I already had in my yard. Is he not gorgeous???

Male Indigo Bunting

This summer my yard became streaks of color darting about. I had the bright blue of the Indigo Bunting, the red of the Scarlet Tanager, the orange and black of the orioles, the red, white and black of the Rose Breasted Grosbeak. In late spring, I would sit out on my deck in awe that they all showed up about the same time.

Male Northern Oriole

The orioles and grosbeaks stayed all summer and even nested here. The tanager and buntings only a few weeks but again, I had these glorious creatures in my yard.

Female Northern Oriole Eating Grape Jelly

Male Rose Breasted Grosbeaks.

In the past, I used to drive hours to find search for birds and mammals, but now all I have to do is to look out my window. It is a thrill to wake up each morning.

Brown Creeper

I was sitting out in the yard when I saw a little bird going UP the tree. I zoomed in with my camera and realized it was a Brown Creeper. Well, this was a “lifer” for
me. Even though I had never seen one, I knew what he was. I was thrilled…plus I learned the difference between a Creeper and a Nuthatch. A Creeper goes
UP the tree, the Nuthatches go down. How exciting for me!

Cedar Waxwing

I was using the pontoon on the lake and came across some Cedar Waxwings out on the island. Well I was thrilled!  I took some pics but I had to go a long way to get them. The next day, I was on my dock and I looked to my left and there were five of them right in the trees near my dock and lake. I spent two hours photographing these beauties and when I finished, I thanked them.

Common Nighthawk

My friends and I were out driving around near my house. We noticed these birds and realized they were Nighthawks! Could not get a picture, for the world, because
they are so, so fast. I came home and took my friends out on the pontoon and looked up and there was more than a 100 Nighthawks zooming over our lake. The pic above is
not the best, but they are not easy to shoot. Tons of flying ants had hatched that day in my yard and others and they were having a feast! Lucky for us!


Yellow Warbler

I have had some smaller birds come through this yard. I believe I get so much variety because my land is attached to a deciduous forest and a wetland. I am fortunate to get warblers that travel through here during migration. I was stunned when I saw the following birds: A Common Yellowthroat (“lifer”), Yellow Warbler, I have had many sparrows, such as Fox and a White Throated plus a Tennessee Warbler (another “lifer”) came through to visit. Such variety…..

Tennessee Warbler

Common Yellowthroat

White Throated Sparrow

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

I was in South Dakota when I saw my first Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. Who knew they would grace my yard all summer long. They kept company with my Downy, Red Bellied, Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers whom we call “Phil the Pill”.

Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated woodpeckers are fascinating birds but can cause havoc when it comes to searching for carpenter ants, their favorite food. They can take down a tree which our “Phil” is in the process of doing. My picture shows two males whom I think are brothers.

Great Crested Flycatcher

When sitting outside I noticed a new visitor darting in and out of an old birdhouse carrying nesting material. To my delight and being another “lifer” for me, it was a Great Crested Flycatcher. Even though I watched closely, I never saw them fledge, but saw the young being taught how to fend for themselves by both parents. I also had Bluebirds, Phoebes and Eastern Kingbirds nesting in my yard.

Red fox kit

I was out on my deck when something on the left caught my eye. Darting and playing around a cabin we have on our property were three Red Fox Kits. I never realized I had a  Fox den 30 feet from the house. They were great entertainment and made for a nice photo opportunity.

Polyphemus (large) and Io (yellow) Moths

Like most mornings, we eat breakfast out on the deck. As I opened the screen door, I noticed some really unusual moths on the door. I could not believe my eyes! For the next two weeks, the first thing I did in the morning was check the screen door and there were different moths every day. This picture is just a small assortment of what I was treated to daily.

Common Loon

And then there is my lake. A small 49 acre lake that holds life in abundance. Loons, Green Herons, Beavers, turtles, frogs, bass and the list goes on. It also gives me back incredible reflections in all its’ stillness.

Young Green Heron


Fall Reflection

August Sunrise

I was asked what is my passion for Nature about? Such an easy answer. It is what it gives me. My belief is God made this world for our enjoyment. When I fish or sit on my dock or go out in the pontoon, I can breath and take it all in.

Nighttime in the front yard

I hope you have enjoyed seeing my yard through my eyes as much as I have enjoyed sharing with you. I want to thank “The Old Naturalist” for encouraging me through this process as it is a first for me. These are just a few of the delights I have witnessed but so thankful for each and every one of these new experiences. I am sure I will have more in the coming months. Thanking you and letting you know I am so “Thankful For Nature” and you.

Super Blue Moon
January 31, 2018

















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Imbolc- From Darkness Towards the Light

Early Morning Ice Fog, Minnehaha Creek                Photograph by Lawrence Wade

Imbolc, Candlemas or Groundhog’s day has always been one of my favorites because the light returns in the seasonal cycles that earth travels in. It is the hope of springtime and warmth. A time to begin planning and planting and growing things. It is a time of renewal. People, way back before calendars, found ways to celebrate and mark the changes in weather, light and the length of their days that happens because the earth is tilted in it’s rotation around the sun.

Imbolc or Imbolg, also called (Saint) Brigid’s Day, is a Gaelic traditional festival marking the beginning of spring. Most commonly it is held on 1 February, or about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. In pre-Christian times, it was the festival of light or candlemas. This ancient festival marked the mid point of winter, half way between the winter solstice (shortest day) and the spring equinox. Some people lit candles to scare away evil spirits on the dark winter nights. People believed that Candlemas predicted the weather for the rest of the winter just as, in the United States we have the groundhog that sees it’s shadow.
RMaya Whirry

The Twin Cities has almost 10 hours of sunlight; one hour and 15 minutes more sun than on the winter solstice. We are gaining three minutes of sunlight each day. The sun angle is higher, and hope is creeping into the dark places of my soul.
Lawrence Wade

Frozen pieces of art
Photograph by Lawrence Wade


Photograph by Steve Casper

It was a couple of weeks ago during the deep freeze and I had some days to spend with my 14-year-old daughter during holiday break. She said, “How about you help me bake cookies and then we’ll go out walking on Lake Calhoun?”

There we were late in the afternoon, with a temp of 1 degree and windy, walking across Lake Calhoun, and enjoying every minute. We spent lots of time looking at the depth of the ice, the frozen bubbles, the cracks with new crystals forming, the way the wind forms the snow cover like waves, running and skating across the glare ice; just some great father/daughter time in extreme winter weather. I’m so proud she chose to do that on that particular winter day. And that simple hike with my daughter, who obviously has my love for the great outdoors, was certainly a highlight of my winter.
Steve Casper


Snow Diamonds – Linda Jensen

Photograph by Linda Jensen

Walking a dog in the suburbs,
with city-ish trappings,
the quiet of snow,
silence of falling flakes.

The fencing of space
but not air.
The snow makes a frosted sculpture
of everything in sight.

A temporary magic
if you are still – long enough to see
the contrast of light and grey,
the white-out that is not white.

It’s peaceful. It’s snow,
crystalized water and light.
Linda Jensen



Fence Post Henge  – Dean Hansen

I have five acres of land just into WI from where I live in Stillwater, MN.  On the top of a hill I have a set of steel fence posts–a standard (gnomon) post and then three posts, each about 30 feet away.  I line up the top of the standard post with the top of a post to the SW; the latter is placed so that the setting sun perches on the top of this post as it hits the horizon on Dec. 21, as seen from the top of the gnomon post.  Ditto for a post marking where the sun hits the horizon at sunset on March 21 and September 21, and finally for the summer solstice, June 21.  Observations are through the filter from an arc welders helmet. 
Dean Hansen

The Gnomon post is the foreground. The Winter Solstice post is in background and the top of it lines up with the horizon line. Photograph by Dean Hansen.


Sunset during the Winter Solstice. The Winter Solstice Post is in the foreground. Photo taken through a filter. Photo by Dean Hansen


Horticulture Therapy – Dale Antonson

One of my indoor gardens at the Hopkins Center for the Arts
photo by Dale Antonson

As a lifelong Minnesotan, I have cultivated some ways to keep myself connected with nature year round. I often refer to my hobby as ‘Horticulture Therapy’. I enjoy renewing the soil ‘under my fingernails’ during the winter by caring for plants at the Hopkins Center for the Arts, municipal buildings in Minnetonka and throughout my light filled home. I created an LED light stand with an automatic timer and heating mats for my normally 60℉ basement.


The two shelf basement light stand that I created.
photo by Dale Antonson

I’m able to propagate new plants by taking stem cuttings, including colorful aglaonemas and succulents, nurse back ailing plants and germinate seeds. This is a fun way for me to stay connected to ‘the garden that we live in’, even during the coldest of months.
Dale Antonson




Eagle Visions  – Jim Gregory

An Eagle hunting a rabbit on a lake left the evidence in the form of its wings and body. Photograph by Jim Gregory

Eagle                    Artwork by Jim Gregory





I find the opportunity to express myself about nature through painting to be especially rewarding. When I connect through the artwork, there is a feeling that I am a part of nature and my painting confirms that relationship. It takes courage to face the challenge, but always pays off when I do.
Jim Gregory

Rooster snow drift                       Photography by Lawrence Wade


My dog Bravo and I get out twice each day, NO MATTER WHAT!  There’s something about the air, the sounds, the lack of other sounds, the light, the snow laden branches, the critter tracks in the snow and the beckoning woods – it makes it all worthwhile for a farm girl at heart and her frisky British Lab.
Gretchen Alford

River Otter plunge hole and slide
Photograph by Lawrence Wade

I have never actually seen a river otter on Minnehaha Creek, but otter slides, plunge holes, scat and chewed up fish heads are joyous sights to behold.
Lawrence Wade


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Secrets of the Sax Zim Bog

The Sax Zim Bog is “actually about 300 square miles of not only bog, but aspen uplands, rivers, lakes, meadows, farms and even a couple towns! It is not just a giant bog, but rather a “magic mix” of habitats that boreal birds love” (

The bog is located about an 1 hour north of Duluth, MN on Highway 53.

Photo by Pam Starr

“We were driving and saw two animals in the road. We weren’t sure what they were, maybe wolves, but they looked too small. Perhaps pine martens, but these animals were larger than a marten. The two animals ran across the road and into the trees. Then all of a sudden, from the left side of the road, out popped this bobcat. It was still pretty far away, but stayed long enough for a few snapshots.”  Pam Starr

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

Great Grey Owls are residents of the Sax Zim bog (In fact, there is a nest that is visible from Admiral Rd). Bogs and swampy boreal forests are ideal habitat for Great Greys. They hunt mice at night and in the dusk and at dawn and will eat up to 7 mice a day.

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

Great Grays are very hard to spot if they’re sitting among the trees. As you can see, they are very well camouflaged.

Great Gray Owl
Vivian Mueller

The Great Grey is the largest owl in North America, with a wing span of 60 inches. However, they only weigh about 2 lbs. The facial disk of the great gray acts as a sound receptor.The feathers in the facial disk direct the sound to its ears. It can hear even the slightest movement of a mouse under the snow or in the leaves.

The red light behind the moose is an approaching train.
Photo by Floyd Luomanen

It was 7:20 in the morning and still dark. In the distance, I saw what appeared to be cars silhouetted from the headlight of an oncoming train. As I got closer, these 3 huge moose were blocking the entire road. I pulled over probably 200 feet short of them and tried to take some pictures. One knelt to the ground and my first thought was it might be injured. Then all 3 started licking the road, probably because of the salt. The craziest thing is they all bolted across the railroad tracks not 3 seconds in front of that train. I thought for sure I was going to see at least one of them get hit. Thankfully they all made it across.
Floyd Luomanen

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

The Northern Hawk Owl is a resident of Sax Zim. They are non migratory owls who hunts during the day and usually sits high on top of the trees. This smaller owl does not have typical owl traits.  They do not have silent flight like most owls. They do not have a keen sense of hearing that would allow them to locate prey at night.

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

Hawk Owls have excellent eye sight. Researchers could routinely attract hawk owls perched a mile away using a fake mouse attached to fishing line. Even if a hawk owl is not hungry, it will continue to hunt and then stash its prey for later when food is scarce.

Northern Hawk Owl
Vivian Mueller

Researchers have observed that the Northern Hawk Owl diet varies as prey populations fluctuate. Their primary food is voles (meadow mice). However, if the vole population was down, hawk owls would kill squirrels and young snowshoe hares. Researchers even observed them killing adult snowshoe hares (possibly 4 times heavier than a Hawk Owl).

Photograph by Celeste Rouse

“I drove around a corner and this beautiful Coyote was standing nearly in the middle of the road. I first shot through my window thinking he was going to flee but he did not. So I got out and shot in the crack of the door. He stayed for about 30 seconds, went to the right and then came back to the same spot in the road and stared in my direction. It was like he wanted something on the other side of the road and maybe I interrupted his plan. He finally dashed off the road but gave me a few more seconds of shooting while on the side. I was exhilarated to see him as I never expected to run across anything at the Bog except birds. I made sure to put my camera down for a moment to just admire him. I have seen coyotes from a distance but never up this close or for this long. That moment lasted me all day long. So exciting!”
Celeste Rouse

Pine Grosbeak (male)
photograph by Celeste Rouse

Many neighbors of the Sax Zim Bog have winter feeding stations set up for visiting birdwatchers. One of the favorite stops is at Loretta’s.

Pine Grosbeak (female) Vivian Mueller

Pine Grosbeaks migrate south from northern Canada to spend the winter at Sax Zim.

Evening Grosbeak
Vivian Mueller

They are named “grosbeak” for their thick beak which it used to break seeds. One of the oldest observation records of Evening Grosbeak is from 1825, when an Ojibwa boy shot one and called it “Paushkundamo”, an Ojibwa word meaning “berry-breaker.” One observer watching an Evening Grosbeak eating wild cherries could hear the “pop” of a breaking pit 100 feet away!

photo by Pam Starr

The porcupine was in a tree on McDavitt road. It’s little buddy was walking around at the base of the tree. I really wanted a picture of the porcupine on the ground but it was camera shy. Pam Starr

Gray Jay
Vivian Mueller

Gray jays are year round residents of the Sax Zim Bog. They are very curious and may take a peanut from your hand. Gray Jays are also called “whiskey jacks”. The name was taken from “Wiskedijak” an Algonquian word referring to a “mischievous spirit who likes to play tricks on people.

Vivian Mueller

Redpolls breed in Northern Alaska and Canada, migrate down for the winter months when food is scarce.


  • Thanks to Vivian Mueller for generously sharing her photos.  To see more of her work go to:
  • Floyd Luomanen – Moose photo and text
  • Celeste Rouse – Coyote and Pine Grosbeak photo/text and editing support
    Pam Starr – Bobcat and porcupine photo and text
  • References
    1. Sax Zim Bog Blog (
    2. Northern Hawk Owl
    3. Cornell Lab of Ornithology
    4. Gray Jay –
Posted in Birds, Connecting to Nature | 8 Comments

The Cloud People – Zapotec Culture Expressed Through Art

Last month, I had the honor to visit the taller (workshop) of Jacobo and María Ángeles, from San Martin Tilcajete a pueblo near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.

They are artists who carve and paint alebrijes, magical wooden creatures. To the artists, who spend so much time creating the pieces, the creatures have a spirit inside them.

The taller of Jacobo and María Ángeles is dedicated to keeping their Zapotec culture alive. The designs reflect the artists’ spiritual connection to their Zapotec roots. Zapotec culture dates back 2500 years, where they were warriors, farmers, builders of pyramids and artists.

The Zapotec believed that bats or murcielago were the keepers of the Underworld.





According to Zapotec legends, some of their ancestors emerged from caves, and others came from trees or jaguars. Still others are believed to be descended from supernatural beings who lived in the clouds. That is why they are called “Be’ena’Za’a” – “The cloud people.”










The sacred dog of the Zapotecs, Xoloitzcuintli was hairless. “Xolo” symbolizes the importance of  family, positive leadership and spiritual power.

photo by Jacobo and Mária Ángeles

Jacobo and María employ over a hundred artists and administrators. In addition, they have a school where they train interns that live in the community.

The Zapotec symbol for the caracol or snail represents the value of contributing to the community.  This symbol is used in Alebrije designs and it is the emblem for Jacobo and Mária’s workshop. Other animals honored in Alebrije designs are:
Ants  (hardworking)   and   fish  (respect).

Zapotecs believed that iguanas represented creativity and sensitivity.

Many of the carved creatures are based upon the sacred Zapotec calendar. This is the artist’s way of keeping their culture alive and honoring nature. Jacobo says, “Our identity is deep from our origins.”

Photo by Jacobo Ángeles

Most of the Alebrijes are carved from the sacred Copal tree. Before starting to work, they burn the resin of the Copal to help cleanse their energy and connect to their ancestors. Mária Ángeles is the woman on the right. The woman on the left has caracol designs on her arm.

All of the work is done by hand using primitive tools: machetes, knives, and chisels. Photo by Jacobo and Mária Ángeles

“Carvers need to study the woodblocks to find the hidden “nahual” or spirit, using their imagination and skill at using a machete. The “nahuals” are waiting patiently inside the trees for the artist to discover them by using their senses.”
Jacobo Ángeles

An unfinished jaguar that our guide, Elias, was working on. The entire body will be covered with Zapotec symbols. The jaguar is the protector and signifies leadership.

Elias had been painting alebrijes for 25 years. He and other artists only use natural pigments: copal bark (black), cochineal bugs (red), the skin of the pomegranate (yellow), flowers and other materials.


Elias and other artists paint the designs without following a pattern, using their innate creativity.  Elias said that painting the Zapotec symbols all day long can be a meditative experience.

A large piece may take 1.5 years to complete from start to finish and 10 weeks to paint. Elias and a team of other artists worked together on this lion project.

Copal Tree
photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

Unfortunately, the Copal tree has been over harvested. To honor this sacred tree, and ensure its survival, Jacobo and María’s community began a reforestation project over 10 years ago. They grow the plants in a nursery for two years and then plant 2,500 Copal seedlings in the mountains annually.

The row on the right are one year old cutting grafts. The row on the left are seedlings planted from Copal seed.

8 year old Copal Tree

The trees will be harvested after 40 years. At that time the trunk will be a meter in diameter.

Yearly planting project that involves the entire community. photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

photo by Jacobo y Mária Ángeles.

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Photography/Art, Spanish | 2 Comments

Raw Beauty Unleashed

All photos and text by Alex Munoz
Editor’s note: I am proud to say that Alex Munoz was raised in my home town of Fillmore California. He grew up at the base of Mt San Cayetano and spent a lot of time around that mountain as a boy. I went to school with his younger brother, Raul. Alex currently lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona.

The Granite Dells, is a geological feature north of Prescott, AZ. The Dells, consist of exposed bedrock and large boulders of granite. I am not from Arizona and these granite boulders still blow me away. I’ll spend hours taking close-ups of the veins in the rocks.

The next four photos were taken in each season of the year. I’ll revisit places several times to try to photograph something different.

The peaks in the background of the photo below are the San Francisco Peaks, the tallest mountains in Arizona. At the base of the peaks is the city of Flagstaff, Arizona.

I’ve spent a lot of hours out there in the early in the morning and evening because the light is better  for photography.

Ten years ago, I joined the local photography club and developed a passion for what has become a gift at my age and a wonderful hobby as well.

In Sedona, this fall, it was a steep hike up to Devils Bridge. However, it was well worth the hike, as you can see from the next two photos .


I feel a very strong connection to the land. That is why I am always getting outside.

In the next two photos, you can see the light changing in the afternoon, as we made our way back to the trail head from the Devil’s Bridge.

Whatever light I had at any given moment was the light I needed to work with.

The next three photos show our approach to Cathedral Rock in Sedona, 2016.

The cloud patterns in Northern Arizona are very unusual.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona, AZ

Cathedral Rock Spires

Sedona Sunset

I’m not a professional photographer, but I am a person practicing a profession that I enjoy very much.

Alex Munoz

Posted in Photography/Art | 1 Comment

Close encounters with White-tailed Deer

photograph by Dale Antonson

If you live in a suburban area, white tail deer can be pests eating the hostas and the vegetables in your garden; destroying a young tree by making it a rubbing post during the rutting (mating) season.

But white tails are the largest wild mammal in our neighborhoods, and are incredibly beautiful and sleek. There is something special about taking a morning hike and watching doe and yearling bound away with their tails “flagging” in the air.

White-tail “flagging”
Photograph by Larry Wade

Below are some stories about white-tail encounters:

  •  On an October morning, I walked out to get my mail, it was during the rutting season, and a buck was trying to mount a doe in the street, not 50 feet from me (Hormones can be overwhelming for all mammals sometimes).   Larry Wade
  •  My wife and I were hiking and our dog, Hug, was barking wildly ahead of us. She had recently weaned her pups. We rushed up to see a wobbly newborn fawn nursing from Hug’s teats. The dog was standing with a bewildered look on her face, not sure if she  should try to take bite out of the fawn or lick it. Time slowed down to one frame per second. My wife, picked the fawn up and cradled it. Then we both realized what she has done and she laid the fawn down in the weeds. We continued down the trail, wondering if the whole event had even happened.
    Larry Wade

Photograph by Dale Antonson

  • I had the good fortune to have a free hour to spend before our worship service last Sunday, so I ventured over to Lake Ann in Chanhassen for a hike in the beautiful forest there. I was alone, so I prefer to move through the woods carefully and quietly. I was pleased to come upon a pair of deer. I paused and took some of the photos for this posting. Look carefully in the photo above and you can see the doe who blends so well into the background. As I began to walk away from them, the buck began to follow after me, which made me a little nervous. Thankfully, I was able to move up a hillside and lose his sight line.
    story by Dale Antonson
  • Many years ago, I was working with a group of 6 graders at a nature center. We were doing a deer study near a deer feeding station. I was showing the students how you could tell the age of the deer by looking at the scat (poop). I was getting less than 10 % interest from the group. So, having a few milk duds in my pocket, I reached down pretending to pick up some deer scat. I said to the group, “You don’t need to be so freaked out, because deer scat tastes pretty good”. Then I popped the milk dud into my mouth. I’ll never forget the look on those kid’s faces. Their jaws dropped and eyes bugged out, as they tried to fathom what had just happened.
    Larry Wade

 If you have a favorite white tail story post in the comments section.

Deer Population Study

Do you have a deer herd in your neighborhood? What is the population make-up the herd? By recording some simple field observations, you can get a good idea what age groups of deer live there. Below are three tools for studying deer populations including: scat analysis; measuring the size of deer beds; and analyzing hoof size.

Deer bed

What to do: Go out into woods looking for deer signs: including scat, tracks, and beds. You will need a tape measure to determine the deer bed size. When it comes to analyzing scat, count individual clumps. Make a tally for each of the signs that you find. The number of tallies that you make for each age class, will give a good idea what the population structure is in your neighborhood.

Photograph by Dale Antonson

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Mammals, Winter | Leave a comment

Nature School

Gatewood Elementary is becoming known as an environmental school in the west suburbs of Minneapolis. 4th grade teachers, Jeremy Hahn and Amanda Van Wye have incorporated environmental studies into their regular science curriculum. For many years, they have brought their students to Lone Lake Park for a fall environmental camp. This is an all day outdoor learning event.

photo by Amy Weber

On the nature hike, Mr. Hahn gave the students some “solo” time in the woods. They took notes, and or wrote poetry.

In the cold, Fall space I share
Beautiful long trees surround me with air
Fear not, I hear the bear stands here
Singing songs of joy that he hears.
Up in the trees with the beautiful colors
such as rose red stand right there.
Look down from every branch,
Getting darker by the time is near
After that, “Bye” I say to the calm and cold Fall air.
Queen Okunola

Jenny and Mia
photo by Amy Weber

Mrs Van Wye taught the macro and micro invertebrate class, using pond water from the lake. For the micro invertebrates, students used 30x microscopes. Students had to identify, draw and describe the behavior of the aquatic creatures.

Tree identification was the 3rd class that was taught. Students had to make leaf rubbings from leaves collected from trees in the park, identify them and write a note about them.

Tree lab
Photo by Amy Weber

The art work below was created by using plant pigments, dirt and Buckthorn berries.


Every Friday, Mr. Hahn and Mrs Van Wye take their students out for environmental studies. Below is some of their work that was completed during the peak of fall color.

Art work by Kayla

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Nature Poetry | 3 Comments