I’m always on the lookout for great new natural history books to read, but 2012 has been such a busy year that I haven’t paid as much attention to new publications as I usually do. Hence my delight in seeing the titles chosen for Audubon Magazine’s 2012 List of Notable Books.
A few of the authors on the list are familiar names—I eagerly skim bookshop shelves, looking specifically for their new titles. But most of the authors are unfamiliar to me, and that is a delight in and of itself. Read more
I didn't give much thought to America's prairies until I moved to South Dakota. I grew up loving the hardwood forests of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states, then discovered the great western mountains as a college student. The grasslands of North America were something I skipped over, believing them flat, unvarying, and dull. What little I knew of prairie came mainly from childhood. Fourth-grade geography lessons, Little House on the Prairie, and the favorite Apple IIe game of eighties educators, Oregon Trail—these were the sources of the vague impressions I had about an ecosystem that historically occupied more than 1.4 million square miles of North America.
When I first came to work at Badlands National Park in 2008, the prairie took me by surprise. Far from being a pancake-flat plain with a boring lack of biodiversity, the grassland teems with life.
For Thanksgiving, a quick post singing the praises of that humblest fruit, the cranberry.
Growing up, I never cared for the gelatinous cranberry sauce my relatives turned out of a can each year at Thanksgiving. The wobbly, alarmingly-colored goo made me leery of cranberries for years, in fact. I didn’t discover the delights of dried cranberries until my early twenties, when I started studding my oatmeal with them at breakfast. And it wasn’t until last Thanksgiving that I discovered how I love to eat fresh cranberries: minced into a relish with a whole orange and a bit of sugar, no cooking required. Read more
The Badlands just disappeared. From where I sit next to my kitchen window, I can usually lean slightly to my right and have a nice view of the formations to the north. They have been fading for some time now, first veiled by fog, then whitened by falling snow. The big flakes, carried nearly horizontally by the prairie winds, are now falling thickly enough that the buttes and spires a quarter of a mile away have vanished.
Townsend's solitaires are fairly common in Badlands National Park and the surrounding areas in the winter months. You don't see them just anywhere, though. They tend to hang out in places where juniper trees cluster. In Badlands, that generally means places like Cliff Shelf or Deer Haven—areas where the steep badlands formations have slumped, leaving a ledge of relatively level ground. The gentler topography of the slumps retains a bit more moisture, allowing the growth of a shrubby woodland. This is a rarity on the prairie, where the climate is generally too harsh and dry for trees.
Art and I have an uneasy relationship. I enjoy looking at art. I admire people who create original works. I often wish I could draw, or paint, or sculpt; I long for the artistic ability to capture the beauty I see in wild animals and plants. Every now and then I take a stab at sketching in my nature notebook ... but I always fall back on words to describe what I see. Writing is far easier, for me. It comes more naturally. Drawing is mildly scary. Painting or using pastels, or introducing color in any way? Terrifying!
The eastern yellow-bellied racer is a common snake in the grasslands of western South Dakota. True to their name, racers are speedy snakes, long and slender. They’re nonvenomous and, in my opinion, beautiful: the archetype of what a snake should be. I was delighted to see this blue-green adult racer, roughly three feet in length, as I walked home for lunch today. Read more
Eeek! Giant spiders have taken over the roof of the Seattle Center Armory, terrorizing visitors to the Space Needle!
… Or maybe not. A Mental Floss blog post yesterday includes this photo of the trompe l’oeil painting created by artist Marlin Peterson:
Artist Marlin Peterson’s painted giant daddylonglegs look like they’re going to walk right off the roof of the Seattle Center Armory. (from Marlin Peterson)
The painting is beautiful and well-executed and slightly creepy and awesome. But the blog got one important point wrong: the giant painted critters aren’t spiders at all. They’re daddylonglegs, also known as harvestmen. Read more
I’ve been in my new home in Badlands National Park for just over two weeks now. I arrived here in summer, and within a week the autumnal equinox carried us over into fall. On cue, the cottonwood trees turned from green to gold, and the nights became crisp and clear. Read more