A Patch of Prairie

Jerrold Gershone and Heather Holm, from Habitat Makers, share a 6 minute video of a prairie that I have been working at for more than two decades. Jerrold has several videos of other individuals who are dedicated to caring for the Earth. We are honored to share our project with you.

To see the video go to:

To see all of the Habitat Makers videos go to:




Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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/early fall is the Time of the Grasshoppers. In the past month 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.

Grasshopper Predators

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.”

Reader Becky Knickerbocker shared the following story:

Yesterday I was sitting outside on the patio at Chapel View Home in Hopkins. I was visiting with a 96 year old blind woman in a wheelchair. The sun was warming us and we were talking about the plants and animals I could see. Birds were singing, bees were buzzing, crickets were chirping, and squirrels and chipmunks were running past us with nuts in their mouths. All of a sudden a grasshopper landed on her knee. She said, “Oh, how fun. I like it. Don’t shoo it away. I can feel it!”

Posted in Insects | 2 Comments

Acorns to Oaks

Originally published in September 2013

How many acorns will survive and become mature oaks?  Even if none survive, the project will not be a failure, but a success, because the land had someone caring for its future.

Evergreen Park, Minnetonka, MN

Evergreen Park, Minnetonka, MN

There is a multitude of 100 year-old bur oaks in Evergreen Park near my home. However, there are no seedlings that will take the place of these old oaks when they are blown down or die from oak wilt. So what will this park look like in 50 to 100 years when the oaks die out? Buckthorn, box elder and green ash are not valued replacements to the majestic bur and red oak.


My neighborhood

My neighborhood


One of my neighbors is looking into the future and is protecting a young oak.

When I look around my neighborhood it is easy to see that this was originally a bur oak savannah. However, many of my neighbors, including myself, have not honored the land. We have planted lawns, where there was once a forest floor; we mow down seedling oaks; we rake up the leaves that would normally breakdown and feed the forest; we plant trees that don’t belong in a bur oak forest, like white pine and spruce.


What to do?

Acorns to Oaks

Red Oak acorns on the left and Bur oak acorns on the right.

Red Oak acorns on the left and Bur oak acorns on the right.

About 1 week ago the bur oak acorns began to fall like rain on my roof (Aug. 7, 2023). In mid September, the red oaks acorns will begin falling. Red oak acorns take two years to develop on the tree, while white and bur oak acorns take only one year to develop.

White or bur oak acorns should be planted within a week of dropping or kept in the refrigerator, until planted. The red oak acorns need a period of cold storage, called stratification. They may be placed in a plastic bag and left at a temperature slightly above freezing for a period of 4-8 weeks. They can be planted the following spring.


I did not use the acorns with holes made by the acorn weevil.







I selected the largest dark acorns I could find. If they had insect holes from acorn weevil larvae or were cracked, I did not use them.

The floaters are hollow and will not germinate.

The floaters are hollow and will not germinate.

To determine whether the acorns were viable, I put them in a bucket of water for 15 minutes. The ones that floated, I scooped out because they were hollow and would not sprout.

acorn weevil larvae

acorn weevil larvae

The sinkers were the ones I kept for planting. I did this for 3 days and each day there were a few more acorns that floated. There were some acorn weevil larvae which had come out some of the acorns and were laying in the bucket.

important note: If you are going to plant in a park, work with your city forester or natural resources manager and develop a plan for your project.

A decade ago, I planted over a thousand a acorns in my neighborhood. This year my goal is to plant 50 bur oak acorns. When you plant an acorn, dig them into the ground about 2-3 inches.  If I see a small buckthorn, I’ll pull it up and pop an acorn in the hole. Next year when the seedlings develop leaves, I am going to have to find a way to protect them from rabbits and deer. I am thinking chicken wire tubes might be the way to go.


The acorn weevil has an interesting life cycle. The adult acorn weevil makes a hole in the developing acorn and lays an egg. The weevil larva hatches and eats the developing acorn. When the acorn falls to the ground, it triggers the larva to leave the acorn. The larva will live in the ground 1-2 years and then emerge as an adult.

I wanted to find out how many acorns were infested with weevil larvae.  I collected 100 acorns to determine what percent of the acorns were infested with weevil larvae and will not sprout. After three days, only five acorns floated (so 95% of the acorns were capable of sprouting).

There are many predators on acorns that are lying on the ground. Including, squirrels, mice, blue jays, deer and turkeys. If I plant 100 acorns,  how many of those will survive when the small seedlings emerge from the soil in the spring? Predators on the seedlings include: deer, mice, rabbits, and squirrels (they dig up the acorn). Possibly only 5% will  survive the first year (some quick math – 100 x 5% = 100 x .05 = 5 oaks).  Even if none survive to maturity, the project will not be a failure, but a success, because the land will have had someone caring for its future.

Teacher and homeschoolers

There is a Utube video called the “man who planted trees” www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYlsIZXCQa4

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 9.16.07 AM

The book, The Man Who Planted Trees I found inspiring. I have also seen it for sale at Amazon. Also I have seen it on-line for free without the illustrations.

If you want to learn how to identify, age, and determine the height of trees get a copy of Nature Seeker Workbook at the Old Naturalist website or Amazon.com.

In addition, you can Google “planting acorns” and read about the projects that other classes have done.







Posted in Connecting to Nature, Fall, Nature Notes, Student Resources | 8 Comments

Winter Birds

All photos by Old Naturalist

Download the Winter Birds response sheet. Answer the questions using the text below.

Click here for the Winter Birds PDF.

Not all northern birds migrate south for the winter. A few birds eliminate the dangers of migration and take their chances with the weather and their ability to find food in the frozen northern climate. Since food is at a premium in the winter, you can easily attract birds to you home by putting out a feeder. My feeder is 20 feet from the house and birds have been readily coming to it all winter. I have two feeders: thistle feeder for goldfinches and a covered feeding station which has a suet feeder attached to it. I feed black sunflower seed only, because it is cheap and numerous species  eat the seed.


Blue jay

Most blue jays remain in Minnesota through the winter. However, some young birds migrate south in the fall. Jays can be easily told by the bluish color and the crest on their head. At the feeder, blue jays eat sunflower seeds and cracked corn. They will imitate the scream of a hawk to scare other birds away from the feeder. Blue jays can store a number of seeds or acorns in their gular pouch (part of their throat). Also, they store nuts in the hollows of trees and eat them later.

In March, blue jays begin singing their spring “pumphandle” song. Also, in early spring blue jays tend to flock together, calling “Jay, jay, jay” repeatedly. To hear the pumphandle call and other winter/spring birds go to: http://oldnaturalist.com/the-sounds-of-spring/



Male cardinal

The male cardinal can be told by its red color, black mask, and crest on its head. The back of this bird is a grayish red. The beak of the cardinal is orange and thick for cracking seeds. Cardinals will readily come to the feeder if sunflower seeds are available. In early February, male and female cardinals begin singing their spring calls, and establishing territories. In December and January, cardinals are not territorial and can be seen in small flocks of up to 20 birds. On cold winter days, cardinals seek protection in evergreen trees.


Female cardinal








white breasted nuthatch

The white-breasted nuthatch is a small grayish-blue forest bird. Nuthatches are often seen upside-down on trees and have been called the “upside-down bird”. This behavior helps them see eggs and wintering insects.  A nuthatch uses its strong beak to dig out insect eggs found under tree bark. Male and female nuthatches maintain a feeding territory all year long. In late winter, nuthatches start setting up their nesting territories which are usually in the same area as their feeding territory. In February, males can be heard calling in the woods. The spring call of the nuthatch is a nasal “eee-eee-eee” (to hear a nuthatch call and other winter/spring birds go to: http://oldnaturalist.com/the-sounds-of-spring/

Nuthatches eat sunflower seeds, suet and corn and readily come to a bird feeder.



The chickadee is a favorite of many birdwatchers. It is a small bird and has a black cap and black bib. Chickadees are found in small flocks which remain in contact by singing “chick-a-dee-dee… chick-a-dee-dee”. When they are not at a feeder, chickadees search for insects or eggs on twigs and outer branches. At night, chickadees may sleep in a tree hole made by woodpeckers or they may roost in a small flock in an evergreen tree. In early February, chickadee flocks break up when they begin to select their mates. By mid February they begin singing their spring call, “Feebee…Feebee”. It is welcome sound during a long winter.



Goldfinch in winter plumage


Most goldfinch remain in Minnesota through the winter. But if food is scarce, they may migrate south in small flocks.
Goldfinch change color in the winter from a bright yellow summer plumage to a drab greenish-yellow color. The wing bars remain throughout the year. They are often seen in flocks of 8-10 birds at feeders. Goldfinch readily come to thistle feeders.





Male red poll

Redpolls do not migrate to the Twin Cities every year, but some winters they invade Minnesota in large numbers. The winter of 2009 was a “redpoll invasion year”. Redpolls are usually seen in small flocks and feed on grass seed and weed seeds. In spring, Redpolls migrate to the Canadian tundra to nest.







Juncos are one of the few birds that migrate to Minnesota in the winter. They migrate from Canada and tend to return to the same wintering area each year. They are usually seen in small flocks and feed on seeds on the ground. Juncos tend to roost in the same evergreen trees each night. They usually leave Minnesota in March and migrate north to nest. Juncos are one of the most common birds in North America with a total population estimate of over 500 million birds.


Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in North America. They are about the size of a crow. Pileated woodpeckers live deep in the woods, but will visit backyard suet feeders. In February, they start setting up their mating territories and the loud spring call can be heard, “Kek-Kek-Kek-Kek-Kek-Kek”, echoing throughout the forest. A Pileated “drums” on trees to announce its territory. The sound is very loud and resembles an actual drum beating in the woods.

Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers

In Minnesota, the pileated woodpecker is commonly seen. However, in most parts of the United States, they are rare. Pileated woodpeckers eat carpenter ants. They search for the ants in diseased trees and cut large furrows deep in the wood. In fact, some trees are so “carved up” by pileated woodpeckers that they resemble wood sculptures in the forest.

Red bellied woodpecker








The red-bellied woodpecker can be told by its black and white ladder-back and the flaming red crown on the male’s head. The breast of a red-bellied woodpecker is tan and not red. Like most woodpeckers, they readily come to suet feeders.







Male downy woodpecker


The downy woodpecker is the smallest woodpecker in our northern woods. They are slightly larger than a chickadee. The male has a red spot on the back of the head and the female doesn’t.  Downy woodpeckers can be heard “drumming” in March. The sound resembles someone tapping rapidly on a tree. Downy woodpeckers will peck on a diseased tree over the winter, feeding on insect larvae and eggs.

The hairy woodpecker looks identical to the downy, but it is almost twice the size.



Do you want to keep track of winter birds you see in your neighborhood! You can print it out from the website (smaller size) or download a full-sized PDF. Click here for the Winter Birds PDF.

Illustrations by Amelia Ladd

Copyright Nature Seeker Workbook, April 2013.


Posted in Birds, Connecting to Nature, Winter | 4 Comments

El Ojo de la Ballena – Las Aventuras Español #3

Yo asistía a Español Interactivo, una escuela immersíon en San Andrés Huayapam, México en el estado de Oaxaca. Yo escribí esta historia mientras estuve estudiando allí.

El Ojo de la Ballena

Ballena aleta
Justin Thompson

Hace cuarenta y seis años yo era investigador de ballenas en el Golfo de St Laurent, Quebec, Canadá. Después de seis meses de estudiar ballenas, dieciséis horas al día, las ballenas empezaron a visitarme en mi sueños. Tuve el mismo sueño tres veces ese verano.

Yo estaba en la playa,
y una ballena aleta nadó hacia mi
y su enorme cabeza se levantó
del agua.

Recuerdo que su ojo me miraba, muy intensamente. No era un sueño ordinario, sino como una visión. Tuve la impresión de que la ballena me estaba llamando.

El  libro sobre las ballenas

Hace veinticinco años, escribí un libro sobre ballenas. Las ballenas estaban todavía en mi corazón.

La Antártida está llamando….

Hace seis años fui a la Antártida con un grupo espiritual. En La Antártida muchas   ballenas fueron matado por los balleneros. Este incluye más de doscientas mil ballenas azules, los animales más grandes del mundo.  Yo siento mucha verguenza debido a un acto tan indiferente. A veces, lo encuentro difícil ser un humano.


Hornos grande donde la grasa de las ballenas se estaba cocinada

Visitamos dos estaciones balleneras que ya no funcionaba (cerca de 1920). Yo veía los hornos grande donde la grasa de las ballenas se estaba cocinada en aceite de las ballenas. Con horror, me di cuenta de lo que se estaba viendo y lloré incontrolablemente. La energía del asesinato estaba todavía ahí después de cien años.

huesos de las ballenas

Habían los huesos de las ballenas en la playa. Sentí la agonía de las ballenas que asesinaban ahí. Cuando una ballena fue mataban, el agua se teñia de rojo con su sangre. La Tierra fue herida y nosotros rezamos para liberar el dolor.

Huesos de las ballenas en la playa
Hace muchos años
Todavía, el aire olío de agonía.
Humanos aspiran el dolor
Humanos respiran esperanza
Las lágrimas caen en la arena
Quitando la mancha de la Tierra
a ballenas y humanos.

Ballenas Jorobada
Photo by Jane Ball

Esa noche,había más de cincuenta ballenas jorobada cerca de nuestro barco. Hubo una celebración grandiosa de la vida por las ballenas y los humanos.

Para me la experiencia en la Antártida completó un ciclo que comenzó hace muchos años con el sueño del ‘ojo de la ballena’.



I attended Español Interactivo, an immersion school in San Andreas Huayapam in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. I wrote this story while I was studying there.

The Eye of the Whale

Fin Whale Surfacing
Justin Thompson

Forty-six years ago I was a whale researcher in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, Canada. After six months of studying whales sixteen hours a day, the whales started visiting me in my dreams. I had the same dream three times that summer. I was at the beach and a fin whale swam towards me and his enormous head raised up from the water.

I remember its eye looked at me very intensely. It was not an ordinary dream, but like a vision. I had the impression that the whale was calling me.

Getting to Know the Whales

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote a book about whales. The whales were still in my heart.

Antarctica is calling…..

Six years ago, I went to Antarctica with a spiritual group. In Antarctica, many whales were killed by whalers. This includes more than two hundred thousand blue whales, the largest animals in the world. I feel a lot shame because of such an uncaring act. At times I find it hard to be a human.

Ovens where whale oil was rendered.

We visited two non-functioning whaling stations (cerca de 1920). I saw the ovens where the fat of the whales was cooked into whale oil. With horror, I realized what I was seeing and I cried uncontrollably. The energy of murder was still there after one hundred years.

There were whale bones on the beach. I felt the agony of the whales that were murdered there. When a whale was killed the water was red with its blood. The Earth was wounded and we prayed to free the pain.

Whale bones











Whale bones on the beach
Many years ago
Still the air smelled of agony
Humans breathe in the pain
Humans breathe out hope
Tears fall on the sand
Removing the stain on the Earth
For whales and humans

Humpback Spyhopping
photo by Larry Wade

That night there were more than fifty humpback whales near our boat. It was a huge celebration for the life of whales and humans.

For me, the experience in Antarctica completed a cycle that began many years ago with the dream of the ‘eye of the whale’.


Posted in Spanish | 3 Comments

Orquideario La Encantada Oaxaca Aventuras # 2

Él señor Octavio Suárez

Cerca del pueblocito de Huayapam en el estado de Oaxaca, Méxíco es un tesero escondido. Se maneja por un camino de tierra y detrás de una puerta se encuentra una reserva de orquídeas, se llama, ‘Orquideario La Encantada’. Nuestro guía fue, Él Señor Octavio Suárez.

Él señor Octavio Suárez es un guardián de la planeta. Por casi cuarenta años, había estado estudiando orquídeas del estado de Oaxaca, Méxíco. Señor Suárez ha escrito dos libros sobre las plantas. Él dijo que la reserva orquideario es el proyecto de su vida. En su orquideario hay más de un mil quinientos plantas y mas de doscienos especies son del estado de Oaxaca . Cuando Suárez empezó su jardín botánica estaba tierra desnuda. Él plantó todos de los arboles en su reserva, y las llama, “Sus hijos”.

Hay hábitas diferentes en la reserva. Estos incluyen zonas húmedos y mesófilo (cálido) donde crecen especies orquídeas diferentes.

Señor Suárez tiene un permiso especial para coleccionar orquídeas. Él colecciona solo plantas jovenes y las ha cultivado en su tierra por más de cuarenta años. Por años, trataba de trabajar con otros científicos para proteger las orquídeas de Oaxaca y desafortunadamente ninguno estaba interesado. Casi todas las orquídeas de Oaxaca están en peligro de la extinción por el cambio climático, los fuegos, la deforestación, y la avaricia de colectores.

Aunque lo visitamos al fin de noviembre, todavía, había muchas orquídeas florecientes. La mayoriá de especies de las orquídeas florecen en la primavera y en el verano.

Las polinizadores son un parte esencial  del vida en el orquideario, porque polinizan las flores y las plantas crean las semillas. Hay muchos tipos de polinizadores incluyendo las abejas, colibrís, mariposas y las mariposas nocturnas.

Orquídeas tienen asociaciones importantes con los árboles, desde muchas crecen en los arboles. Orquídeas se llaman, “parasitas”, pero no tan verdadero. Tienen una sistema de alimentacíon que está independiente del árbol huésped.

Un hecho interesante es su simbiótica relación con hormigas. Algunas especies de hormigas forman una sociedad permanente en una parte de la orquídea. Las hormigas protegen la orquídea atacando cualquier intruso que toca la planta. Si una persona huele la fragrancia de esa orquídea, tendría hormigas enojados en su cara.


Él señor Octavio Suárez

Near the small town of Huayapam, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico is a hidden treasure. Drive on a dirt road and behind a gate, you find and orchid reserve called ‘Orquideario La Encantada’ (Enchanted Orchid Reserve. Our host was Mr. Octavio Suárez.

Mr Octavio Suárez is a guardian of the planet. For almost forty years, he has been studying orchids from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Mr. Suarez has written two books about the plants. He said the orchid reserve is his life project. In his orchid reserve there are more than one thousand five hundred plants and more than two hundred species are from the state of Oaxaca. When Suarez started his botanical garden, it was bare ground. He planted all of the trees in his reserve and called them, “his children”.

There are different habitats at the reserva, including moist and mesophilic (warm) where different orchid species grow.

Mr. Suarez has a special permit to collect orchids. He collects only young plants and has cultivated them on his land for more than forty years. For years he tried to work with other scientists to protect the orchids of Oaxaca and unfortunately, none were interested. Almost all of the orchids from Oaxaca are in danger of extinctionbecause of climate change, fires, deforestation and the greed of collectors.

Pollinators are an essential part of the life in an orquideario because they pollinate the flowers and the plants create seeds. There are many types of pollinators including, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and moths.

Aunque lo visitamos al fin de noviembre, todavía, había muchas orquídeas florecientes. La mayoriá de especies de las orquídeas florecen en la primavera y en el verano.

Orchids have important associations with trees, since many grow in trees. Orchids are called ‘parasites’, but that is not true. They have a system of feeding that is independent of the host tree.

An interesting fact is their symbiotic relationship with ants. Some species of ants form a permanent society in a part of the orchid. The ants protect the orchid attacking any intruder who touches the plant. If a person smells the fragrance of an orchid, she could have angry ants in her face.

Posted in Connecting to Nature, Nature Guardians | 3 Comments

La Tejatera – Oaxaca Aventuras # 1

Yo asistía a Español Interactivo, una escuela immersíon en San Andrés Huayapam, México en el estado de Oaxaca. Yo aprendí mucho de la cultura, la gente, y el español. Cada día tomamos una excursión y nos encontramos con una persona de la comunidad. Durante una excursión visitabamos con la tejatera, Señora Maria Isabel. Este es la primera de una serie de historias sobre que yo aprendi.

La Tejatera

El Téjate – La bebida de los dioses.

Qué es tejate? Tejate es una bebida de los Zapotecas que se originó en Huayapam. Los Zapotecas son una gente indígena de Oaxaca. La cultura Zapoteca es más de dos mil quinientos años. Los Zapotecas eran granjeros, artistas, guerreros, y constructores de pirámides.  El tejate es conocido por curar problemas con el estómago. Los ingredientes son maíz, cacao, la rosita de cacao, y la semilla de mamey. Durante la preparación, todos los ingredientes se tostaron en un comal y después se molieron en un molino. Todo el processo tarda, por los menos, cuatro horas.

La cantidad de cada ingrediente es un secreto del pueblocito. Así que nadie, nunca escribió la receta. Es una parte de su patrimonio.

Mamey Sapote. La semilla es un ingrediente de tejate

Los ingredientes son tostados en un comal.










Los ingredientes se mezclan a mano y es necesario que la tejatera es muy fuerte. El tejate necesita tener la cantidad exacta para el color y el sabor. Pero eso, depende de la preferencia de la tejatera. La Señora Maria Isabel mezcló el tejate con su mano y añadió agua por medio hora. Durante este tiempo, ella tuvo que revisar si grumos en la tejate. El color de la téjate cambia de café a blanco y cuando hay muchas espuma encima del tejate, la bebida está lista para probar.

La Tejatera, Maria Isabel mezcla los ingredientes para mano

La señora Maria Isabel de Huayapam, y ha sido una tejatera por veinte años. Su madre ha sido una tejatera por treinta cinco años. Han estado una familia de tejateras por muchas generaciones. Solo las hijas en la familia pueden ser tejateras. Hay un riesgo de perder la tradición porque hoy en día las niñas tienen muchas otra opciónes.

Cuando yo tomé la tejate me sentí muy calma. Yo preguntaba si la bebida estaba sacrado por la Zapoteca. Maria Isabel me dijó, ” La gente indígena , le llamaba, ‘La bebida de los dioses’ “.  Me parece que, el tejate es una parte de sus vidas y de sus ADN.

Español Interactivo los maestros: Karina, Erica y Luz

Gracias mis maestros a Español Interactivo por ayudarme con este mensaje.


I attended Español Interactivo a spanish immersion school in San Andrés Huayapam, Mexico in the state of Oaxaca. I learned a lot about the culture, the people, and Spanish. Everyday we took a field trip and met with a person in the community. During one field trip we visited with la tejatera, Señora Maria Isabel. This is the first in a series of stories that I learned at Huayapam.

Tejate – The drink of the gods.

What is tejate? Tejate is a drink of the Zapotecs that originated in Huayapam. The Zapotecs are an indiginous people from Oaxaca. The Zapotec culture is more than 2,500 years old. The Zapotecs were farmers, artists, warriors, and builders of pyramids. Tejate is known to cure problems with the stomach. The ingredients are corn, cacao, the florets of cacao, and the seed of mamey. During the preparation all the ingredients are toasted on a comal and then ground up at a mill. The entire process took at least four hours.

The amount of each ingredient is a secret of the small town. So, no one ever wrote down the recipe. It is part of their heritage.

The ingredients are toasted on a comal.

Mamey Sapote. The seed is an ingredient in tejate.










The ingredients are mixed by hand and it is necessary that the tejatera is very strong. Tejate needs to have the exact amount of each ingredient for the color and taste. But this depends upon the preference of the tejatera. La Senora Maria Isabel mixed the ingredients by hand and added water for half an hour. During this time, she had to check for lumps in the tejate. The color of the tejate changes from brown to white and when there is lots of foam on top of the tejate, the drink is ready to taste.

Tejatera, Maria Isabel mixes the ingredients by hand.

La señora Maria Isabel de Huayapam, and has been a tejatera for twenty years. Her mother has been a tejatera for thirty-five years. They have been a family of tejateras for many generations. Only the daughters in the family are able to be tejateras. There is a risk to lose the tradition because now days girls have many other options.

When I tasted the tejate, I felt very calm. I wondered if the drink was sacred to the Zapotecs. Maria Isabel told me, “The indigenous people called it the drink of the gods.” I believe that tejate is a part of their lives and of their DNA.

Español Interactivo teachers: Karina, Erica and Luz

Thanks to my teachers at Español Interactivo for helping me with this posting.

Posted in Spanish | 1 Comment

The Cloud People – Zapotec Culture Expressed Through Art

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. Zapotecs were warriors, farmers, builders of pyramids and artists. In the early 1500’s, the Zapotecs were conquered by Mexica or Aztec. Shortly there after, the Spanish invaded to further the oppression of the Zapotec people. However, the resilience and beauty of the Zapotec culture is visible today throughout the Valle de Oaxaca.

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.El tlacuache – possum

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.

Our guide, Elias, has been painting alebrijes for over 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 15 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 | 6 Comments

Off the Grid

Jim called, Want to go kayaking at Isle Royale?
‘Sure’, my 18 year old self said.
Oops! I’m 74.

Our ride to Isle Royale
photo by Jim Gregory

Isle Royale or Minong (in Ojibwe) is an archipelago 40 miles off the coast of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. It is the least visited National Park in the US and took 8 hours to get to our destination. Lake Superior is known for its quickly changing water conditions and weather. I was thankful for the calm water passage.

Minong means ‘The good place’ in the Ojibwe language.

North Shore Ojibwe paddlers travelled up the coast to Thunder Bay in their birchbark canoes, where the crossing to Minong was only 19 miles. They would take advantage of calm conditions and leave in pre-dawn hours. It would take many hours of hard paddling. Ojibwe travelers knew the danger in crossing, since lake conditions could change at any time.

The Ojibwe paddlers believed the lake was a living entity and that heightened their feeling of vulnerability. Before setting out, prayers were said for a safe crossing.

I should have said a prayer during the crossing to combat my negative self-talk:

Have to use a water filter pump just to drink the water.
It may have giardia in it.

It’s 39°, I should have brought gloves and long underwear.
Let go! You are off the grid now.

The volcanic rock on Minong is basalt and is over a billion years old. There are countless beautiful formations.

lichen covered basalt

The call of a loon
Warblers flitting in the aspen trees

What is this new feeling?
Fills my body
The sound of wildness
Touches a deep place within me

Characteristic rock formations at Minong. Folded layers of volcanic rock.
photo by Jim Gregory

Listening to the stories of the Grandfather Rock

Reader Angie Adamek captures essence of our experience with this comment:
The Great Lakes ‘water-meets-rock’ is so irresistible to me with its gurgles and splashes. Looking at your pics evokes the sounds and smell that go with them.

Untouched rocky beaches.

Treasures found on the beach.
To show respect for the land, I took nothing with me.


The crystal pool.
This quiet place had very calming energy.

This was a rock not a skull. So unique and beautiful.

Plenty of time to meditate?

Even the clouds were magical.

We are paddling
Just ahead
A dark cloud is pouring rain
But the wind is at our back
Pushing the rain ahead of us
The early morning sun shines through
Illuminating the golden rain drops
We stop
To embrace the beauty.

The water visibility was 50 feet or more.

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant
On one of the barrier islands there was a Spaghnum Bog.

Moose Scat
There are almost a thousand moose on the island.
(We didn’t see any.)

Mourning Cloak Butterfly


Alpen glow on the rocks, signaling sunset.

At the Temperance River, foam in the water created patterns that mirrored the currents and moved continuously.
Photo by Jim Gregory

As it happened, we visited the Temperance  River, my late wife’s favorite place, on the 12th anniversary of her death from lung cancer. We wrote her name in the froth on the surface, and watched it as the current carried it away. I looked at the pictures I took, and I became fascinated with the patterns on the surface of the water where the river flowed into Lake Superior.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

I decided to focus on foam patterns as a painting subject. First I attempted the macroscopic view of the overall patterns that were created, the swirls, the shapes and the flows. Then, after working with the painting, I realized that the microscopic view of the shapes of the individual floating pieces, were much more fascinating and worthy of capturing.  Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory

The smaller floating particles, were very similar to the dots I had practiced in my Chinese landscape painting classes.The larger floating foam particles, were similar to the brush strokes from my bamboo brush in my Sumi-e painting classes. Jim Gregory

Art Work by Jim Gregory

Studying these patterns found in nature, I had a greater appreciation for nature’s creations and for the beauty that is always surrounding us. I will be forever grateful to Larry for the homework he assigned to me and my willingness to follow through.

Jim Gregory

Art work by Jim Gregory


Art work by Jim Gregory

Posted in Nature Notes, Nature Poetry, Photography/Art | 17 Comments

Spring Beauty

So much is changing every day here in the North Country. After a winter of white and brown, Nature has burst out in a symphony of colors.

Thanks to all of the contributors who shared their photos and thoughts to this posting including Mary Goehle, Holly Einess, Jeff Saslow, Heather Holm, Sabrina Harvey, and Janine Pung.

Warbler Migration

During the week of May 9th, there was an influx of many different species of warblers. Warblers are extremely beautiful, but difficult to photograph because they are small and always on the move.

Yellow Warbler
Mary Goehle

Maybe the yellow warbler (pictured above) will take up residency here for the summer. I’ll have to listen for its ‘sweet, sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet’ song.

I’m a novice birder and have been enjoying watching warblers flitting about the trees as they pass through on their migration. Mary Goehle

American Redstart
Lawrence Wade

Magnolia Warbler
Mary Goehle

Black and White Warbler
Lawrence Wade

Chesnut-sided Warbler
Lawrence Wade


The Green Tinge

Big Willow Park  –  Minnetonka, MN
Mary Goehle

I love when the leaves are just starting to come out. They look delicate, almost like lace, especially in the evening sunlight. There are several ironwood trees in this area. They’ve finally given up the marcescent leaves they were holding onto over the winter to make room for the new. Mary Goehle


Tree Flowers

Tree flowers are an important food source for early pollinators.

Willow flowers
Holly Einess

Red Maple Flowers
Holly Einess



Text and photos by Heather Holm. For more info on Heather’s work go to:

Two-spotted bumble bee gyne (Bombus bimaculatus) collects pollen from wild plum.
Photo by Heather Holm

New bumble bee queens (gynes), have been emerging the last few weeks from their winter hibernation. Gynes, which later become queens once they establish a nest and produce offspring, are the longest lived caste in the bumble bee colony, surviving for approximately ten to twelve months. Their life begins the previous summer or autumn when they are reared to adulthood by their mother and sisters in a bumble bee colony. Prior to hibernating, the gynes feed on sugar-rich nectars produced by flowering plants, and mate with a male. The calories and nutrients from the consumed nectars are stored in organ-like tissues called fat stores, and the sperm in a separate organ – the spermatheca. While hibernating, they use the energy from the fat stores for nutrients and warmth, and an antifreeze-like substance circulates through their body to prevent them from freezing. The winter hibernation in a shallow burrow in the ground is precarious, and many gynes don’t survive because they do not have enough reserves or fat stores. Those gynes that do survive until spring are famished and need nearby food (flower nectar) to help them prepare for the week-long search to find a place to nest.

Two-spotted bumble bee gyne (Bombus bimaculatus) visits large-flowered bellwort.
Photo by Heather Holm


With over twenty bumble bee species in Minnesota, each have their unique phenology (and emergence time). Usually the first species I observe emerging from hibernation is the two-spotted bumble bee (Bombus bimaculatus). Last week, the two-spotted bumble bee gynes were beginning to collect pollen from plants, an indication that they have successfully established a nest because pollen is the primary food source they provide in the nest to feed their larvae. Other species I’ve seen in the last week include the black and gold bumble bee (Bombus auricomus) and common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens). These gynes were visiting flowering plants to feed on nectar or nest searching. Nest searching gynes fly low to the ground and spend time investigating cavities under logs, in the ground, gaps under leaf litter or debris, or similar sites that may have once hosted a mouse or chipmunk nest. This searching is time consuming and energy intensive, so frequent refueling (nectar) is needed. Once a nest is established, the queen produces multiple broods, beginning with females (workers), followed by males, then ending with the production of gynes. At the end of the summer, the queen will die as will all the workers and males, but her recently-produced daughters (gynes) will mate, then hibernate, and establish their own annual nest the following spring.

Black and gold bumble bee gyne (Bombus auricomus) visits wild plum.
Photo by Heather Holm

Some of the flowering plants gynes were visiting in my neighborhood this week include wild plum (Prunus americana), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), and common blue violets (Viola sororia). In the next week or so, look for bumble bees visiting prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) dogwood (Cornus spp.), Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum). 

Common eastern bumble bee gyne (Bombus impatiens) searches for a nesting site under leaf litter.
Photo by Heather Holm


No Mow May

In the upper Midwest, we love our lawns and many strive to grow the ‘perfect lawn’. But many cities have designated this month as ‘No Mow May’ to try to help early pollinators get a foothold during the warm weather.  A recent article in Rewilding Magazine, co-authored by Heather Holm, argues that although ‘No Mow May” is well intentioned, it does not meet the complex survival needs of  pollinators. To read the article go to:

Dandelions and violets in my lawn
Lawrence Wade


Spring Birds

American Robin and Cedar Waxwing.
Janine Pung

On April 30th, a very large flock of cedar waxwings descended on the crabapple in my front yard.  Over the course of several days, I watched them flutter among the branches as they feasted.  I saw a pair sweetly pass a berry back and forth, from bill to bill, until one of them swallowed it.  I even observed some flying upside down as they tried to land a spot on the crowded tree.  Of the many photos I took from my window, this is my favorite…a robin on one branch and a cedar waxwing on another.

Janine Pung

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in speckled alder
Holly Einess

Great Blue Heron
Holly Einess

Red Wing Blackbird singing “Okalee”  from the cattails.
Lawrence Wade

The striking beauty of a female oriole.
Lawrence Wade



Spring Ephemerals

The word ‘ephemeral‘ means ‘to fade quickly‘. ‘Spring ephemerals‘ refers to the wildflowers that are blooming now in our woodlands. Many of the blooms last no more than a week. But, oh, what a week it is….It is healing to feel so much joy at the sight of  such beautiful  flowers.
Lawrence Wade

Pretty little rue anemone! Prolific this time of year in Big Willow Park.
Mary Goehle


Here’s a lesson in slowing down. It would be easy to miss this bloodroot nestled in among the fungi. It stopped me in my tracks when I spotted it!
Mary Goehle


Showy Trillium
Lawrence Wade

Nodding Trillium – Common in our woodlands
Sabrina Harvey


Wild Ginger. Its red flower hugs the ground so creatures living in the soil can pollinate it.
Lawrence Wade

Jack in the Pulpit
Lawrence Wade

Lawrence Wade

Lawrence Wade

Trout Lily
Holly Einess

Spring Beauty
Holly Einess

Toads and Frogs

American Toad
Jeff Saslow

I slowed down and was made aware of the life in previous passed over places. The waters were teeming with procreation as the humid air held the croaking and calls to mate. The small spaces became everything.

Jeff Saslow, on his experience in toad world.


Chorus Frog Singing
Lawrence Wade

There is nothing better than opening a window at night and being serenaded  by the trilling of toads and frogs.

Spending an hour at the edge of a pond listening to the frogs, watching them mate, and fight is like being in a different universe.
Lawrence Wade

 The Readers share their experience

From Lizzie Schaeppi: “Our young naturalist out in Woodrill last weekend”.



Posted in Nature Notes | 4 Comments