Schnitzel

c2ce42f4df2d11e28c1522000a1fb2b2_7

We found Schnitzel resting on a bunch of spidergrass in the front yard. Throughout the day there had been a racket of noise coming from that corner of our front porch (there are starling nests all over the place) so I wasn’t surprised to discover our little starling had fallen/jumped/been pushed out. He is at an in-between stage where he’s too young to be on his own but old enough to only need a little more help before he’s flying off into the world.

A friend from Springfield, Missouri was staying over last night on a work trip and has fostered all kinds of  baby birds successfully. She gave us some tips on how to keep him fed and happy, at least until he’s big enough to start hopping around in the grass and getting used to being on his own (remember Mr. Grumpyfeathers?).

Schnitzel is a good sleeper, a very good eater, and a good pooper – all extraordinary traits when dealing with baby anythings. In fact, he’s a better sleeper than my baby human was (and still is, at times). If you’re curious about the name, we collectively decided on Schnitzel because:

a) we’re big fans of the cartoon Chowder

b) we’d just had wiener schnitzel for dinner at Ingrid’s Kitchen

c) Mr. Grumpyfeathers was already taken

Schnitzel’s favorite treats? Softened dog food and hard-boiled eggs. Elle is a bit creeped out by a bird eating eggs, but Schnitzel loves eggs. Seriously, he gobbles them up.

IMG_1333

Fledgling Watch 2013

Last summer, I found a bird egg on my porch and researched a little bit about the House Sparrow, learning a lot about their invasive ways. Then yesterday I found a terrified little baby bird on my front porch. He was only mere seconds away from becoming a snack for Teddy, who has been vigilantly guarding the family from squirrels and is overeager to prove his Pointer hunting skills, I think. I can’t tell for certain if this little guy is a Starling or a House Sparrow because all the online gallery photographs seem to look the same. What I do know, though, is that both bird species are invasive and absolute jerks in their adult forms.

But this one is far from an adult, so I think he’s kind of cute:

baby starling or Mr. Grumpyfeathers

baby starling

My friend Katy nicknamed him Mr. Grumpyfeathers. His feathery hair tufts are a little Einstein-ish and he seems to be giving me a dirty look for interrupting whatever it was he was doing before almost being gobbled up by a 70-pound puppycat (Katy is also the one who dubbed Teddy a puppycat – she’s good with words). Knowing he wouldn’t be safe in my yard or the yard next door, which is overrun by a family of feral cats, I took him to the other neighbor’s yard, where there are absolutely no pets, and placed him on the ground while listening to his mother curse at me violently in Sparrowese, or whatever.

Later that evening, I watched the mama bird feed the other baby bird and realized how Mr. Grumpyfeathers most likely left the nest. I don’t think it was willingly. Mama hangs outside the nest and makes the baby lean precariously over the ledge to get food from her mouth. I’m expecting that one to tumble off my roof any minute now…

French Lake and the Longhorn Trail

longhorn trail

The beauty of this place is ridiculous, especially on such a gorgeous day. The morning started off chilly, as we expected it would be in the middle of March, and as we piled out of the car for our hike around French Lake I took stock of all my layers: comfy t-shirt, jacket with hood, insulator jacket with plenty of pockets, and a scarf. Matt loaded his backpack with drinks and snacks and we finally made our way to the trail.

For the sake of argument, I must confess that I cannot tell the difference between hills and mountains so I will refer to all of them as mountains. I am a flatlander from Florida, after all, and get deliriously happy when I’m anywhere significantly above sea level.

French Lake

French Lake

I’ll admit that the first part of our hike was absurdly tranquil and stress-free. There were no inclines, not a single reason to exert ourselves. A pair of playful otters even added some excitement to our casual stroll around French Lake. I don’t know about the rest of my family, but I found it kind of surreal that I was dodging bison poop while studying the handiwork of beavers from afar.

beaver's work

We were really enjoying our morning out on the trail so we decided to go a little further. The Longhorn Trail would bring us right back to the parking lot after 2.4 miles. This much was made known on the signs and trail markers along the way. What was not disclosed, however, was the gradual incline toward the top of a mountain. Or maybe it was a hill. (Refer to my earlier note, though, as it is apparent that I cannot judge such things.)

Not too long into the trek going up, the layers started coming off. The removal of the scarf was soon followed by the removal of my insulator jacket. Being away from the lake got us out of the way of the wind and out of the way of the cold. I had to rest a couple of times because my legs aren’t used to much more than the weekly up-and-down jaunt into my basement to retrieve clothes from the dryer or a pound of beef from the freezer (coincidentally, longhorn beef). But the views.

Oh, the views!

longhorn trail

longhorn trail

longhorn trail

We rounded our way back to the parking lot after about an hour and a half and chatted about the highlights of our two-day trip to Wichita Mountain. Elle was delighted to have seen otters at play in their own habitat. I think Matt was happy to just get us two girls out of the house and into a tent, onto a trail, and jokingly planned to prepare us for a backpacking trek in the near future (at least, I hope he was joking…for his sake, I’m pretty sure he was joking). Me? I got everything I wanted out of this trip. I saw prairie dogs and otters, roasted marshmallows on a campfire, and stood on top of a mountain.

Oh, and I finally got to meet my bison.

IMG_0745

IMG_0791

IMG_0792

Blue Sky Morning

1960s shading WM NWR

It is safe to say we all caught enough sleep to keep us going through the day. I also like to believe that the beautiful sunshine that greeted us when we awoke helped, too. Matt cooked up a delicious breakfast of eggs, hash browns, and pork sausage and we sat around the picnic table to put together a plan for the rest of our short stay.

our "good morning" campsite view!

After breaking down the campsite and packing up the van, we headed over to the museum to stretch our legs a bit and talk with some people about finding an agreeable hiking trail. In the parking lot, we were greeted by a longhorn bull. Behind him was an entire herd of fenced-in longhorns so, naturally, I assumed he had busted himself loose. With my good intentions, I found two park officials to warn them and learned the longhorns are part of the free roaming animal population.

longhorn bull

A helpful employee in the gift shop showed us a few trails on the park map that would suit us. We eventually decided on a particularly easy and scenic hiking trail that provided distance options and might even treat us to an otter sighting. Elle couldn’t have been more thrilled, except when she learned that Prairie Dog Village was nearby.  Otters and prairie dogs – the kiddo’s two favorite animals.

prairie dog village

Another couple just happened to be setting up photography equipment to capture the prairie dogs so the place was still pretty empty of people. The three of us tried to be as quiet as possible, but the little animals scurried about poking their heads above ground and piping and chirping to the other families. I can’t imagine how frantic the scene must have been deep down in that network of underground tunnels. Faraway and nearby, the prairie dogs bustled with squeaky warnings.

IMG_0753

IMG_0750

If you look closely, right in the center, you’ll see a prairie dog’s head popping out of his hole.

The sky was still perfectly clear and sunny, nothing at all like the overcast and chill from the day before.  The forecast promised temperatures in the mid-60s and we were grateful that we had held off our hike for an entire day in hopes of better weather. That decision paid off big time.

IMG_0749

Coming up: mountains views, the blue waters of French Lake, and a winking bison.

Swamps in Oklahoma

bald cypress trunk

It’s hard to believe that this distinctly southeastern tree was so unrecognizable to me here in Oklahoma. My neighbors across the street have a beautiful bald cypress in their yard, yet for months I had no clue what it was without it being accompanied by swampland and alligators. Not that I want alligators hovering around all the time. I’m quite happy these days being able to walk near a body of water and not have to be on the lookout for surfacing eyeballs and slide trails, thank you very much.

That photograph above is from my walk through the Jacksonville Arboretum in North Florida earlier this year. It looks right at home doesn’t it? The lush greenery, the ferns, the cypress roots digging right into the soggy ground. So you can understand why I was really surprised to learn that Oklahoma has a small but happy colony of native bald cypress trees. They live and thrive in the southeastern corner of the state, right at home with the swamps and alligators! (Yep, apparently Oklahoma has swamps and alligators.)

A local tree expert told me not too long ago that bald cypress trees find it difficult to grow in this area where so many ecoregions collide, although my neighbors’ tree says differently. Sure, I was disappointed at the reality of never having one in my yard but it’s not like I have to go far to see it.

Besides, I found some cypress stumps in the nearby city park, sans alligators.

IMGP6403

IMGP6342

And for any of you alligator enthusiasts out there, this is Virgil. Our office building on the campus of University of North Florida was right next to a retention pond which became home to a few different species of animals, naturally. Herons, turtles, softshell tortoises, catfish, and a couple of alligators. Virgil was “relocated” after he decided to run across the feet of our maintenance director who was trying to clean up the pond a bit. Virgil thought he was fishing. Virgil II showed up a few months later. We weren’t alligator-free for very long.

Virgil, the office alligator

The Biophilia Theory

I think it is safe to say that I was not born with a sunny disposition. The majority of my life has been spent observing, contemplating, and fretting internally about things over which I have no control. Few and far between are the times when I feel completely at peace with myself and the world around me. Sleep doesn’t count because the ache in my jaws every morning only assures me that my anxious brain was still working overtime even after everything else shut down for the night.

It’s exhausting.

But I found solace this past weekend, if only for a few hours, and that peace eventually crept into my later hours when I was tranquilly asleep. Earlier in the day, I watched a documentary called Happy, which provides both a personal and scientific look at what makes us happy, how people achieve happiness, and how much of it is actually the product of opposing sides from the nature vs. nurture debate. More importantly, I felt validated in defending my personality (to a point) and the film responded to my biggest question regarding personal happiness: Is there anything I can do about it?

Seeing as I had already planned my first trip to a local nature park with a friend that afternoon, my answer came in the form of spending those couple of hours outside. We explored a  nearby creek, crossed over bridges built into the sides of red rock walls, watched a deer graze in the woods, and just enjoyed the sun and the fresh air beneath the canopy of autumn colored trees. It was a long moment of bliss for me and I noticed how happy I felt.  Happy and exhausted, but this time I was exhausted for all the right reasons.

I crawled into bed after exclaiming to my husband, “What a fantastic day I had!” and before I closed my eyes for the night, I read a few pages from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. I learned for the first time of a term called biophilia and a newly emerging interdisciplinary study on the biophilia theory.

The biophilia theory, though not universally embraced by biologists, is supported by a decade of research that reveals how strongly and positively people respond to open, grassy landscapes, scattered stands of trees, meadows, water, winding trails, and elevated views.

It certainly works for me.

IMGP8256

IMGP8235

IMGP8244

IMGP8322

IMGP8343