Cierva Cove, Antarctica

Photos and text by Jane Ball. Jane is a frequent contributor to the Old Naturalist. She has traveled the Earth and is a true guardian of our Planet.

Humpback Spyhop
Photo by Jane Ball

To me, Cierva Cove in Antarctica is one of the truly magical places on Earth. I have been there twice. The first time, in 2016, the glistening serenity of the water and the sky and the partnership of the icebergs and the clouds all blending together lifted the spirit of the place and made it tangible. Being there was like floating in the ether. There I saw my first beautiful floating berg of rare black ice.

Black Ice
Photo by Jane Ball

My second trip was in 2017. January 9, 2017, was my friend’s 70th birthday. For her birthday, she wanted to go to Antarctica, so I happily went again. On January 9, our boat pulled into Cierva Cove so that the guests could have a few hours in Zodiacs investigating whatever we found in the Cove. The Cove was filled with icebergs, as it usually is, and plenty of big flaky snowflakes filled the air.

What we didn’t know was that at that time, the waters of the Cove were also apparently filled with krill. Krill are tiny crustaceans and are a keystone species and essential food source for most marine species in Antarctica and around the world, including whales, seals, penguins, and various birds. Krill populations are declining in many areas which is cause for concern. But this day, they were providing a feast for dozens of humpback whales.

Eight or so Zodiacs were loaded with guests and spread out in the Cove, along with a half dozen kayaks. As we were bobbing in the water, getting our bearings and excited to see a whale in the distance, a humpback surprised us with a spyhop right in our midst, I suppose taking a minute to check out all the new flotsam in the water. From that point, the game was on!

Two Humpbacks  surfacing beside a kayak and Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball


The captain and crew stopped their duties to stand on deck and whoop and point. The people in the Zodiacs and kayaks tried to be everywhere at once. There was something exciting to see in every direction.

With Icebergs on the horizon, another humpback alongside a Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball

Two humpbacks lunge feeding.
Photo by Jane Ball

At one point I was furious because everyone in my Zodiac was standing up between me and a lunge feeding whale that I could hardly see. The next minute I was hanging over the side, watching a whale come directly at me and dive just before it reached the Zodiac.

Humpback fluking-up close to the Zodiac.
Photo by Jane Ball

All the while, a heavy snowfall gave an otherworldly feel to what was already an action-packed and thrilling experience, my camera alternately focusing on the whales and the snowflakes. Dozens of birds surrounded the feeding whales, getting their portion of the feast.

Humpbacks and Gulls
Photo by Jane Ball


Gulls feasting
Photo by Jane Ball


Even a raft of penguins swam next to us.  So much life! and all because of the tiny krill.”

Gentoo Penguins
Photo by Jane Ball

I’m told we were out for over three hours, but to me it seemed like 10 minutes. The crew said they had never seen anything like it and that there were at least 50 whales. If I could have stopped time, I think I’d be there still.

For more of my images of  Antarctica go to:

The Ethereal World of Antarctica
Photo by Jane Ball




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

Open Ocean Odysseys

Readers Robert Pitman, James Cotton, Diane Kaplan, Jen and Jordan Ganley share their stories about being at sea.

A sperm whale swimming away from the ship. The blowhole is at the upper left hand corner of the photo.
Photo by James M. Cotton, NMFS

Mom’s the Word
Robert Pitman, Whale Biologist, NMFS
I was aboard a Japanese research vessel and we approached a pod of sperm whales. The adult females were 30 to 35 feet long, lying side-by-side and moving slowly away from our vessel.
We had cut the engines and just by chance our vessel glided to a stop where the group had reassembled. Just as we were getting ready to leave, we noticed for the first time that there was a newborn calf in their midst.

Our tiny calf was spasmatically flailing at the sea surface with a tail it clearly had not gotten the hang of yet. It looked like a newborn fawn trying to get up on wobbly legs for the first time.

Sperm Whale cow and calf.
Photo by James M. Cotton, NMFS

Then, an utterly miraculous thing happened. One of the females appeared to suddenly become aware that the struggling calf was positioned between her and the ship only meters away. She dropped her massive lower jaw, carefully took up the calf in her mouth, and rolled over, depositing it on her other side, putting herself between the boat and the baby!

There was stunned silence onboard our vessel. Everyone on the boat had connected to what just happened: a concerned mother had, without a moment’s hesitation, put herself between her young and a perceived threat. I was standing on the bow and immediately swung around to see everyone on our little expedition staring at the water, visibly shaken. We engaged our engines and slowly pulled away.



Green Sea Turtle
Photo by Lawrence Wade


In 2018, I was honored to visit the Galapagos which are truly enchanted islands.  Often I felt like I was walking in a dream and wondering whether the experience was real. Being so close to this beautiful green sea turtle was the high point of my snorkeling experience.

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

Contributor Alex Munoz contributed the following story:
I once had encounter with a large sea turtle, It’s back was green with a light undercoat, I was swimming 100 ft from shore at the pier in Ventura, California. We swam together for about 5 minutes, I was astonished at how graceful it was and huge in comparison to  myself at age 17. An experience I have never forgotten.



Whale Shark Photo by

Video by Jen Ganley

This video is from the Sea of Cortez, Baja California and was shared by Diane Kaplan, Jen and Jordan Ganley.
“I felt excited to swim with the whale shark. It was humongous and I thought was it going to suck me up.” Jordan Ganley, 7 years old.
“All my fears disappeared when I saw how gentle the creature was.  The animal was so HUGE under the water.”  Jen Ganley.
“I had to swim on the side of the whale shark and keep up with it because  it could slam me with its tail. My entire body felt this intense calmness and excitement all at once. The whale shark was so powerful and calm. The whale shark  was on some level connecting with me.  It allowed me to share its presence like I was another fish. The whale shark touched me deeply and I felt at ease with it.”  Diane Kaplan



Humpback Whale Breaching. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Photo by Jen Ganley

“Getting to see these majestic, gentle creatures breaching was incredible. Of course, I know that whales are huge, but it wasn’t until they breached that I got a real sense of their size.”  Jen Ganley

Humpback whale splash after breach.
Photo by Jen Ganley

Diane Kaplan’s observation of  the humpback whale’s breach:
“It is impossible not feeling the powerful energy that emanates from Humpback Whales.  When you are close and they breach the full size and power of them is amazing.  Everybody always gasps and “oohs and ahhs” when their bodies slam against the water.  Tremendous gift.”

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Whales & Oceanography | 5 Comments

The Beauty and Value of Fungus in a Forest Ecosystem

A fungus photo essay by Jen Ganley who is from New England; Janine Pung who is from Minnesota; and Jim Cotton from Redwood country, Northern California; Maria Montero, from Minnesota. Thanks to Ron Spinosa of the Minnesota Mycological Society for identifying the fungus.

Purple Crust Fungus            Phlebiopsis crassa
Photo by Jen Ganley

When most of us think of fungus, we think of mushrooms sprouting out of the ground. A mushroom is actually the “fruit” of the fungus. Most of a fungus grows underground and is a large network of tiny threads called “mycelium” that intertwine with trees.

American Caesar’s Mushroom, Amanita Jacksonii
photo by Jen Ganley

This attractive mushroom is found in hardwood forests of New England. Most types of Amanita are highly poisonous, whereas this one is edible. It is a close relative of Caesar’s Mushroom, which grows in Italy, was a favorite of the emperors of the Roman Empire. The mushroom has a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees.

How large can a fungus get? The largest known underground fungal network in the world is a honey fungus in Oregon that measures over 3 miles across.


Tremella foliacea.
Photo by Jen Ganley

Jelly fungus is usually found growing on fallen logs or stumps of trees in deciduous forests.

In a healthy forest, trees are inter-connected with other trees by the fungus’s mycelium network. The mycelium allow trees to share water and nutrients.

Violet Cortinarius
Photo by Jen Ganley


The Violet Cort emerges after a fall rain. As the fungus grows, its brilliant color fades.

The future of our forests may depend more upon what is beneath the ground rather than above. Most trees have underground fungal partners that channel water and minerals from the soil into trees. In exchange trees supply the fungus with energy-rich sugars from photosynthesis.

Laetiporus sulfphureus
Photo by Jen Ganley

Giant Puffball
Photo by Jen Ganley

Giant Puffballs feed on decaying organic material and are always found growing on the ground rather than on a tree. As the puffball ages, it turns brown and releases its spores. The spores were used by Native Americans to treat bleeding and prevent infection. The largest puffball on record was 59 inches around.

Honey Fungus
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Some species of Honey Fungus are bioluminescent, meaning they glow in the dark.

Amanita muscaria guessowii emerging from the ground
Photo by Jen Ganley


Amanita Muscaria Guessowii fully grown
Photo by Jen Ganley

Amanita is one of the most recognizable mushrooms in the world. The mushroom is featured in the video game “Super Mario Brothers”and in the movie “Fantasia”. It is  highly toxic if ingested. It has a symbiotic relationship with various types of trees. It sends nutrients into the tree’s roots and receives sugars from the tree’s photosynthesis .

Jack o Lantern
Photo by Janine Pung

 We saw the Jack o Lantern on August 14 at Minnewashta Park.  I remember we both thought it was kind of surreal or “other worldly-looking”.  It had a unique energy.
Janine Pung

I was with Janine and we saw a few clumps growing in a hardwood forest. The Jack O Lantern is poisonous and is said to glow in the dark, thus its name, “Jack O Lantern”.
Lawrence Wade

Indian Pipe
Photo by Janine Pung

Whenever I see an Indian Pipe in the woods, my first reaction is, “What’s that?”. Lawrence Wade

Indian Pipes are not actually mushrooms but a unique form of plant also known as the “ghost plant”. It grows in the shade and lacks chlorophyll, thus it has a pale color. Since it is not able to photosynthesize, it “steals” nutrients from the mycelia of fungus who are interconnected to the roots of trees.

Laetiporus cincinnatus
Photo by Janine Pung

The “Chicken in the Woods”  is not only colorful, but a culinary favorite of mushroom hunters. It can be found growing on the base of dead or dying hardwood trees.

Photo by James Cotton

Loved the color variation and Redwood habitat.  James Cotton

Tetrapyrgos nigripes.
Photo by James Cotton

Really like the architecture with nature’s skylight. James Cotton

Mycena sp.
Photo by James Cotton

So tiny and delicate.  Another micro world that is so easily passed over.  A reminder to slow down and take it all in.  James Cotton

Amanita Muscaria
Photo by James Cotton

Like Gondwana land the white surface fragments of the cap breakup into other patterns as the cap evolves.  Startlingly beautiful coloration! Perhaps a cautionary signal not to eat.  James Cotton

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Upper Pennisula MI.
Photo by Maria Montero

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Upper Pennisula MI.
Photo by Maria Montero

Contributor, Cindy Eyden shared the following link: How Trees Secretly Talk to and Share with Each Other


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

Good Use for a Road-kill Deer

Guest Posting by Dean Hansen.
Dean has contributed to Old Naturalist over the years.

I noticed a road-killed deer near my land just east into Wisconsin from my home in Stillwater.  I registered the deer online and dragged it onto my five-acre lot.  A simple Moultrie “trail cam” was strapped to a tree a dozen feet from the carcass.  It didn’t take long for hungry animals to find the carcass.

Crows on the carcass
December 29, 2019

17 March, 2020: First Spring visitor was a mature Bald Eagle.


17 March: After surveying the scene, he started to open up the chest cavity to get at the lungs and heart.


18 March: A Red Tailed Hawk joins the dining club.


21 March: The Red Tailed Hawk continued feeding in the chest cavity.


22 March: The surprise of this whole experiment was the appearance of a Red Shouldered Hawk on the carcass. This is a Threatened Species in Wisconsin. A WDNR worker told me that it was quite unusual to see this species at carrion.

29 March: The Bald Eagle returns and enlarges the hole to the chest organs.

3 April: A late spring snowfall doesn’t keep the Bald Eagle from returning. That’s a really large bird, I’d say.

7 April: Vultures appear. Again, the chest cavity is the preferred dining site.

April 8:   A curious deer


29 April: Vultures continue feeding through the month. Note the grass greening.

May 10: Finally–a coyote appears. I was hoping for a bear, but that was a no-show.

May 11 The coyotes worked on the hind quarters (the “thighs” of the deer), and they even dragged the carcass noticeably to the upper right of the frame.


Posted in Animals, Nature Notes | 4 Comments

Finding Balance in Nature

I am thrilled to share this posting that includes the voices of so many people who love nature. I hope you have time to enjoy the creative energy that they have expressed through their photography, stories, poetry and art.


Holly Einess is a naturalist and contributor to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Nature Notes.

American Goldfinch
Photo by Holly Einess

I took this photo of a goldfinch in September as he was feasting on coneflower seeds. I love how fluffy and bedraggled he looks as he’s transitioning from his bright breeding plumage to his more drab winter colors. What is it about birds that I find so charming? That makes me want to know them? I took up birding several years ago with a local Audubon chapter, and while I now can identify more than the usual suspects (robins, cardinals, crows, and chickadees), I feel as though my appetite for avian knowledge will never be sated. What a challenging endeavor it is, to become an expert birder! Not only do the males often differ in appearance from the females, the juveniles can have their own look distinct from the adults. And then there’s breeding vs. non-breeding plumage, migratory vs. non-migratory… A naturalist I know once said, it’s not so important that I  hang a name on every bird I see. It’s about being out in nature, or even my own backyard, noticing the life around me and getting curious about it. Expert or no, sharing habitat with these feathered miracles brings me untold joy, and for that I’m very grateful.  


Dale Antonson is a frequent contributor to Old Naturalist.

Back to the Garden
A global pandemic and climate change. Difficult headlines to avoid. To relieve ‘cabin-fever’, people are returning to the outdoors.

Clouds above my house.
Photo by Dale Antonson

There are many more people out walking, biking and paddling these days. When I was recently hiking in a state park midweek, I saw many families hiking the trails through the forest. The Earth offers ever changing opportunities to notice what’s going on around us.

Bur Oak in Kelly Park, Minnetonka
Photo by Dale Antonson

Observation of the world we’re part of can provide an endless commercial free show of wonder. Entertainment by nature. It is a hidden Blessing in these changing times.

An egret in Purgatory Creek
Photo by Dale Antonson

Across the street from my house.
Photo by Dale Antonson


Sandra Cowing has contributed previously to Old Naturalist.

This work was inspired by a late afternoon walk this summer at Staring Lake in Eden Prairie, MN. It was rainy all day, the clouds were finally breaking up and the sun came streaming in through the vegetation. The sun caused an ethereal, misty effect shining through the wet trees. It was a magical moment.



Jen Heyer is a 3rd grade teacher at Highlands Elementary, Edina, MN.
To learn more about Jen’s Program go to :

My third graders and I went on a noticing walk and happened upon a rabbit “murder” scene. It was incredibly interesting and I literally had to pull some of them away. There were bones sticking out and all of the organs and intestines had been removed and placed next to it. We made our predictions regarding what happened and then, real close to the scene we found this feather.

Photo by Jen Heyer

With the feather in hand, we made some guesses regarding which bird of prey could have done this to the rabbit. While looking through feather guides, the children debated between the feather belonging to a red-tailed hawk or a great horned owl, but could it possibly be a Cooper’s hawk? Barred owl and bald eagle came into the discussion as well, but were quickly removed from the list.

Our class reached out to the Minnesota Tracking Club with our two main predictions and heard back from them: “Sherlock and Watson were investigating a murder when Watson called out to Sherlock, ‘I found a knife! It must be the murder weapon.’ Sherlock in a calm voice replied, ‘My dear Watson, just because you found a knife in the kitchen, do not assume it is the murder weapon.” Are you sure the feather is associated with the crime scene?” I read the response to the students and one student jumped up, “We don’t know that the rabbit died from a bird of prey!” The search was on; what bird could have left a feather this large, and not be a bird of prey? After much discussion and a little bit of research, we solved the mystery. Have you?



Christina Gregory is an artist and poet and has contributed previously to  Old Naturalist

Photo by Christina Gregory

The Sculpture Garden

Christina Gregory

Sculpted frozen trees

their artwork formed in time and wind

stretch their arms in praise.

And so we also stand as naked fragile souls

before our Maker , seeking His embrace.

 Their art-formed trunks in shapes grotesque or elegant broken lines

 groan with only a rusty, frozen leaf to blow

 in brittle memory of a past life.

 Winter’s butterfly.

 These spirited statues in motionless frost

 embrace the silence

 caressed by stillness.

 And so I view in quiet awe their majesty

 a tapestried reckless mass of threaded branches

 a lesson in frozen time.

 Like pen and inked objects before me

 they quietly teach the lessons of the universe.

 Stripped of life, save a fragile leaf or two,

 in bitter cold each branch moans and snaps

 some failing winter’s test.

Helpless and trusting they stand waiting for nature’s next event

 when bubbling life inside decorates with new spring greens

 and clothes the forest once again.

 And so I stand, as do we all, as God’s little works of art

 Shaped by tragedy and time yet filled with life waiting to be reborn:

 “clothed in the newness of life”.


Paul Gagner has contributed previously to Old Naturalist

Most of these photos were taken within a couple of blocks from our house.

Photo by Paul Gagner

Being outdoors is one  of the only places I would rather be during this period of confinement.

Twelve Spotted Skimmer
Photo by Paul Gagner

Nature is really all that counts after  waking up (not including family and friends).

Photo by Paul Gagner

Rather a tree than a human?
Not in all cases, but I think you know what I am saying.

Photo by Paul Gagner

Photo by Paul Gagner



Alex Munoz is a frequent contributor to Old Naturalist.

These are Grizzly bear cubs, mother was killed in Montana, the cubs were donated to a sanctuary for wildlife, near flagstaff, AZ. Where they are being raised to date.

photo by Alex Munoz


Carnivore, herbivore, omnivore
Some of them squeak – some of them roar! 
When they get older they start to walk
Start to grunt and start to hunt.
Some animals are endangered species,
These kind of animals need more space.

Photo by Alex Munoz


Photo by Alex Munoz

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

New! Fall Nature School

The Old Naturalist has been getting outside as we leave Summer and enter Fall. It’s a beautiful time of passage for Nature, and there are many things She has to teach us!

Use the Nature School navigation link above to look at our Fall Nature School lessons, and check back frequently for new ones!

Posted in Nature School, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Teach me How to Be a Forest

Ancient Sugar Maple
Photo by Janine Pung

Most humans walk by us and think, “It is just a tree.” But a few humans stop and listen and realize we are so much more than “just a tree”.

Listening to trees
Consider this a “mindfulness” activity that includes a tree. Many people “talk” to trees, but in doing this activity, you will be learning how to listen to the trees.

  • Find a place that has a sense of wildness with some big trees
  • Find a tree that you are drawn to
  • Choose a place where you feel safe and will not be disturbed
  • Slow down your energy – pay attention to your breath
  • Be present – quiet the self-talk and chatter
  • Ground – send your roots down below your feet and let them mingle with the roots of the tree
  • Listen to your heartbeat and let the tree join with your heartbeat
  • Inhale Oxygen – a gift from the tree / exhale CO2  – a gift for the tree
  • Listen with your whole body, not just your ears
  • Listen without expectations – let your mind be a clean slate
  • Listening can come to you in feelings, colors or sounds inside of your body and it may not be in words
  • Learning how to listen is a skill that needs to be developed over time

Red Oak snag
photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest – A human asks an old red oak snag –  “Why is it you seem so alive, when you are dead?”
We don’t think/live like you do. You think that when something “dies” it has no more life. Nothing actually “dies”, but is part of a continuum that is in constant change. There is no end or beginning.

Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest
Put down your phone. Don’t be afraid to open yourself up and receive. Trust the deep connection being created, for it is within this space that you will fully experience what you see, hear, feel and sense.

Blue Dasher
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest  – You have to let go of the “I” and be part of the “We”.

False Solomen Seal Fruit.
Photo by Janine Pung


Teach me how to be a forestWhen you touch one of us with an open heart, you touch the whole forest.

Photo by Lawrence Wade


Teach me how to be a forest  –  You have to let go of  your dead wood.

Tree Wound
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach Me How to be a Forest –   You can heal from your wounds.  All you need is within you.

Jack O’Lantern – Highly poisonous
ID by Ron Spinosa
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest – Be deeply rooted to the planet and connected to the sky at the same time.


Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest     You will find freedom in embracing uncertainty.

Chicken in the Woods
Photo by Janine Pung

Teach me how to be a forest  Just like all things in this forest, you have a right to exist.

Photo by Lawrence Wade

Teach me how to be a forest  –  Slow down. Walk and breathe with the forest inside of you.  Become One with us.

Reader Dale Antonson shared the following:
Connecting to the trees creates an awareness of the timeless life that exists all around us.  It’s important take the time to get out of our own way and connect ourselves back to the energy of the soil.

Performing ‘Healing Touch’ on an ancient Bur Oak that suffered major trauma in 2014.
Photo by Dale Antonson

 If this posting resonated with you, I would highly recommend, Finding the Mother Tree by Susan Simard. Dr. Simard is a forest ecologist whose research has shown how interconnected and conscious trees are .

At a forest clear cut, Simard writes, “The beauty is that with a little momentum, a little help at this site, the plants and animals will come back. They’d make the forest whole again, help it recover. The land wanted to heal itself.”

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians, Photography/Art | 11 Comments

Mind in the Waters

Some of us would rather spend our lives underwater. The welcome arms of nature allows us to become part of something that is greater than ourselves.

Editor note: Click the photo to get a full screen view.

Bluegill School
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Eye to Eye with a Northern Pike
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Poetry by Cynthia Eyden

I take in the surface of the stream –
    weeds and lily pads rising above
    ducks and fishing bobbers skim
    clouds, trees and sun reflect

Black Crappie
Angel of the waters
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Lying on the water, masked and snorkeled
     aquatic realms and rooms divided by the plants and rocks that were inferred at the surface
     Crappies and sunnies, muskies and carp, northern and bass find me curious or frightful
I grasp a branch or a rock to stay as still as the fish do without struggle

    To watch in awe and delight, and then follow through ribbons of plants.

Mixed school of bluegill and bass.
Photo by Jane Ball

To the shadowed spaces beneath a thick mat of algae.
     The bigger fish seek this out, sitting at the edge of light and dark
     They move into and out of this mystery with ease, appearing and receding 
     It is their domain to know and for me to ponder what riches reside there.

Northern Pike
Beautifully Camouflaged
Photo by Lawrence Wade


The silty water of mid summer allows clear awareness of only the closest myopic view.    
     A few fish glide into this layer of clarity
     More are softened and less and less defined as the distance grows
     Reminding me of my own limited consciousness.

Carp School
Finding Beauty in an invasive Species
Photo by Lawrence Wade


Rupturing the surface I return to the air and earth. 
    With its familiar breath and vision
     I drip with evidence of the liminal sacred layers beneath
     My heart and mind open, grateful, elated by this venture across boundaries of awareness.
Poetry by Cynthia Eyden

Water Color
Cynthia Eyden

The bowfin or dogfish is snake-like. It is a primitive fish that was around during the time of the dinosaurs.
Photo by Jeff Saslow

Poetry by Jeff Saslow

Under surface of air, trees and grass
Underwater, creek water
My insides open up to a fluid world
That has a different pulse
My frenetic stiff awkwardness slaps the weeds, rocks and tadpoles
Until I settle, watch and wait
Using my flippers to gently move
I then drift in and out of currents
As my land thoughts recede I am lulled by the undulating movement of water, plants and creatures.

Photo by Jeff Saslow


It is not until later that I am aware that my heart is open
My body has become electric
I am two feet away from a bluegill
She is staring at me for a long while
Her gills are moving water in and out
Mesmerized, my sides gently ache
As we breathe together

Jeff Saslow

Photo by Jane Ball


Minnow schools were everywhere.
Photo by Jane Ball



Have you ever had a walleye swim right up to you and look you in the eye? It changes you.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Restless Poetry by Jeff Saslow

I hear the loon call out
On the humid summer evening
I miss crowds of people
While the fish school under water
The performance has stopped
Or viewed at a distance from parked cars

The big bass swam right past me and the light danced off its back.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Paranoia has stepped in where
Covid has left off
No one gets away free
Even though we posture the charade of control
It is today, tomorrow or next week or . . ?
We don’t know

The news announcer’s mouth
Bites through our security blanket

When November comes
Will the blanket keep us warm?
How about in January?

The rock bass is in the sunfish family. It can be identified by its reddish eye.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

The mother duck with her little ones
Moves close to the sandy shore
I kayak and swim
Fish gather
And the loon cries through the night 
Poetry by Jeff Saslow

Photo by Lawrence Wade

We saw this fish several times during the summer. It had sores on its mouth from being “caught and released”. Its left gill flap was torn off. The fish was roughly 4 feet in length. A lion in the water – A top predator.

The muskie slowly swam away.
Photo by Lawrence Wade

Reader and contributor, Paul Gagner shared: “When we lived on Gray’s Bay (Lake Minnetonka),  12 years ago, there was a “friendly” muskie that I could feed and pet it’s head! It also had a scar on the top of it’s back. It may have been attacked by another fish or hit by a small prop.”
Paul also added, “Did you know that the grooves that emanate outward along the snout is a sight line for lining up prey?  Amazing creatures, eh?” (click on photo to enlarge.)

Photo Paul Gagner


Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art, Summer | Leave a comment

A Quarter Century at the Friends of the Trail Prairie

For the past 25  years, a few of us have transformed an abandoned lot into a native prairie.

The prairie is right beside a bike path and walkers often look at us in disbelief. One of our favorite quotes is: “What are you doing down there, do you know?”.  When we first started it was one acre of European spurge, Canada thistle, ragweed, and brome grass.

We have created a booklet about planting a vacant lot:

One Vacant Lot

If you live in the Minneapolis, please visit the prairie. It is across the street from “The Marsh” health club. at 15000 Minnetonka Blvd, Minnetonka 55345

Native Big Bluestem
In the early going, we planted over a hundred grasses and flowers a year. We used the burlap to control weeds so the plants could get established. We have never used any herbicide or pesticide on the land.


Lessons learned at the prairie:
“The land knows us and gives so much as we work among the plants.”

Garter Snake – Over the years the diversity of life at the prairie has increased.

Lessons learned at the prairie: 
” Nature can balance the rough places inside you.”

Cup Plant
The leaves of the plant form a “cup” that birds and insects drink from.

 Lessons  learned at the Prairie:
“Let the beauty go deep into your bones”.

Pale Coneflower

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Every living thing has a unique vibration. Share your vibration with the plant.”

Mountain Mint
An August favorite of many pollinators.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
“Be appreciative of the life that is around you”.

Queen of the Prairie
A wetland plant in the rose family with beautifully scented flowers.

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
” Life is so much better when your hands are digging in the Earth.”

Rattlesnake Master
A favorite of pollinators in July. The plant is a a northern type of agave .

Lessons learned at the Prairie:
Respect the weeds, they are teachers too.
(vetch, thistle, canada anemone, and European Spurge).

wild rose

Lessons learned at the prairie:
“Say “good morning” to the plants and to the people walking by on the trail”.


Lessons learned at the Prairie ( from reader Dale Antonsen)
A true guardian is one who finds their encouragement (and benefit) from a simple flower, the flutter of wings and the buzz of happy bees.

Blooms in late July to early August

Lessons learned at the Prairie:  “Work with others whom you care about.”

Friends of the Prairie
25 years later

Posted in Nature Guardians, Photography/Art | 2 Comments

Was Tinker Bell a Firefly?

Photo: Angeli Wright/

For the past three nights (mid June) I have watched as many as a  hundred fireflies blinking in my yard. This is so hopeful because for years I have rarely seen them. Twenty-five years ago, I remember walking out at night with my kids on a warm summer night. In the field below were hundreds of fireflies with blinking lights. The kids ran down in the field shrieking with joy.

Yes, they are magical, but they don’t come from pixie dust.

Adult Firefly
drawing by Jeanette Dickinson

The greenish glow or “bioluminescence’ of adult fireflies comes from a light-producing organ in its abdomen. The light is produced by a chemical reaction in its body and the reaction is triggered by oxygen from the breath of the firefly. So a firefly can control its flashing pattern with its breath. Each species of firefly has a specific flashing pattern that helps it locate a mate. In observing fireflies you may see the male flash once and then flash again 5 to 10 seconds later. Typically a male will fly just above the grass flashing for a female of its species. It will continue this flashing until a female hiding in the grass, flashes back to it. There are also species that flash twice instead of once.

Firefly underside showing the bioluminescent organ. photo by Heather Holm.

Early Summer Firefly watching:

  1. Track a firefly and make a map of where you see the firefly go.
  2. Try to find female flashers in the grass.
  3. Keep track of the number of flashes a firefly makes and the amount of time between flashes. How many different flashing patterns (species) can you find?
  4. What is the most common type of firefly? Make a chart of the different types:
    One Flash – Two Flash – Other Patterns
  5. Catch some fireflies in a jar, enjoy them for a few minutes and then release them, so they can mate and complete their life cycle.

There is danger in the weeds!

It all sound so simple, a male firefly flashes and a female waiting in the weeds flashes back. Some female fireflies are predatory and mimic the blinking pattern of another species, to draw the male to her. Imagine a male locating its mate and just when the male thinks it is going to mate, the “female mimic” kills and eats the male.

Firefly life cycle

firefly larva
illustration by Jeanette Dickinson

Fireflies are not flies or bugs but actually a type of beetle. The adults live only long enough to mate and lay eggs (usually 1-2 weeks). Mated females lay up to 100 eggs under leaves and the larvae hatch in about a month. Surprisingly the eggs of some species of firefly glow dimly in the soil. Most of a firefly’s life is spent underground as a larva. In fact, some firefly larvae live underground for almost two years. They are found under leaves and mulch in moist soil. The larvae are predatory and feed on earthworms, slugs and snails. Many species of larval fireflies have “lights” and have been called “glowworms”. In late spring or early summer of the next year, the larvae makes a mud chamber and forms its pupae. While in the mud chamber, the larvae metamorphoses into an adult flying beetle in 2-3 weeks.

September firefly watching:

  1. Look in your moist leaf pile for firefly larvae.
  2. Once you find one, look at its light-producing organ with a magnifier.

Mating fireflies. Notice the large size of the female.
photo by Heather Holm

Where have all the fireflies gone?

Alert! Have you noticed that you don’t see as many fireflies as you used to? This is not happening just in your yard, but researchers are seeing firefly populations disappearing around the country. It is not really clear what is causing the drop in firefly numbers, but there are several things you can do to create a friendlier environment for fireflies and other invertebrates in your neighborhood.

  1. Don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Keep your yard friendly to fireflies and pollinators by using natural fertilizers. Chemical fertilizer may harm the ground-dwelling firefly larvae. Spraying pesticides or herbicides in your yard may kill adult fireflies and adversely effect ground-dwelling creatures like slugs which are food for firefly larvae.
  2. Don’t over-mow your lawn. Frequent mowing may disturb local adult firefly populations. Leave an area of your yard un-mowed from mid June through July because adult fireflies like to hide in tall grass for protection.
  3. Build a small pond. Fireflies like standing water and moist areas and tend to congregate in these areas.
  4. Keep a leaf pile . Firefly larvae live underground and feed on creatures that live in the leaf litter. Rotting logs and leaf piles are also excellent microhabitats for fireflies.
  5. Turn off outside lights Too much light pollution can disrupt the mating behavior of fireflies. If they are unable to find mates, then they will not be able to complete their life cycle and lay eggs.
  6. Catch and Release – If you are going to catch fireflies in a jar make sure you release them so they can find a mate.
  7. Make a brochure about fireflies – Give it to your neighbors and alert them about the plight of fireflies. Tell them some interesting facts about fireflies and let them know what they can to do make their property better for fireflies.
  8. Join Firefly Watch Citizen Science and participate in a firefly study near your home:



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