Posts tagged ‘nature’

March 13, 2014

Winter Siestas

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 12, 2014.

I love Georgia winters because the weather here always offers us a few “siestas” or breaks in the cold weather. This winter has been especially cold, but that hasn’t stopped us from getting a few days of spring-like weather sprinkled here and there. I have even seen some trees blooming.

The blooms I’ve found always give me mixed emotions because I know a freeze may come and mess up the blooming cycle, but every spring Georgia seems to have plenty of beautiful blooms anyway. I can’t wait until the warm weather is here to stay, but I’m glad we’ve been taking advantage of the warm days in winter.

The boys are finally old enough to enjoy longer hikes, at least when the terrain isn’t too rugged. We usually go to Fort Yargo, and recently we were happy to discover that there is a trail that goes all the way around the lake – years ago when my husband and I hiked there while we were dating, the trail didn’t go all the way around.

We haven’t yet hiked the whole trail in one visit, but we’ve done parts of it, and my seven-year-old really wanted to see the dam, so we walked all the way from the parking lot near the beach to the dam and back. Ft. Yargo is a beautiful place, and if you live here in Barrow County, you’ll want to visit as often as you can.

Last week we went to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens, which has several miles of trails too. My boys love to hike on the trail that goes along the Middle Oconee River the best. Sometimes the river is high, but occasionally it’ll be low enough where they can venture down to a large sandbar and play by the water.

As soon as they saw the sandbar last week, there was no keeping them on the trail. My husband and I found a log to sit on, and we watched our boys build a “beaver dam” with driftwood and mud. Two little girls and their mother came out onto the sandy area, and we were delighted to watch our four-year-old chatter away with one of the girls who joined my boys in their pursuit to build a strong dam.

We were too far away to hear what our youngest son was saying, but later my seven-year-old told me that he was telling the girl what his favorite foods were, among other things. I guess for a four-year-old, there are only a few topics of conversation!

As for the cold days, they are perfect days to get more work done. More library books are read, math games are played, and of course, my son continues to work at this Legos and cardboard building projects. I recently introduced him to the game Minecraft, which is an app you can download on the iPad. It’s a popular game with kids, and it’s like building with blocks on the screen. He is hooked on that now too.

But I can’t wait until spring is here to stay. Park play dates, more hiking, and our annual attempts at gardening – while the gardening usually isn’t very fruitful, the attempts make me happy.

These hints of spring are full of promises. The birds are inspecting the birdhouses on our porch, and I’ve heard the frogs begin to sing. The budding plants and occasional warm days are just what I need to get me through the weeks of cold.  May the true spring come quickly this year, and may it fill us all with a fresh, cheerful spirit!

December 3, 2013

Find Me Elsewhere Today

I’m very honored to have some of my photographs from a nature walk featured on the wonderful, new nature blog, Mud Puddles to Meteors. I hope you’ll pop over there and take a look.  Click here to see my photos on Mud Puddles to Meteors.

In addition to this, a short article I wrote along with some of my photographs of the William Harris Homestead has been published in Atlanta Homeschool magazine. Check out page 22.  This is an awesome magazine that homeschoolers anywhere and non-homeschooling locals can get something out of. I’m honored to be part of it.

May 23, 2013

Garden Inheritance

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 22, 2013.

When I was a young girl I came to Georgia to visit my grandmother who lived in Athens. She kept a little red watering can just for me because I loved to help her water her plants. She lived in an apartment, but it had a courtyard where she grew flowers. Red geraniums were her favorite.

I used to love walking with her to Charmar nursery where I was enchanted with the rows and rows of plants inside the long greenhouse. Once she bought a little green fern for me, and I took it home on the airplane.

When we lived in Colorado, our house had a sunroom, and my mother filled it with Scheffleras, spider plants and jades.  I remember watching my father tend the garden that ran along the back fence. In my childhood memory that garden was very big, but it was probably just a modest house garden.

During my year in Japan, I had a very tiny apartment, but it had a small balcony, so it seemed natural to follow in my mother and grandmother’s footsteps and fill it with greenery. It was the least I could do to improve the view of the parking lot.

Now my children have inherited this love of plants and gardening. My six-year-old saves the seeds from his mandarins and apples and wants to plant them to see if they’ll grow. He found a half-sprouted acorn in the yard, so now we have a hardwood tree growing in a pot despite the fact that we have more than enough growing in our yard.

Every night he faithfully waters our garden where we planted green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and a few herbs. He likes watering our flowers in the front yard too, but I always offer to help because I don’t want it to become a chore for him.

My three-year-old loves to water and plant too.  One afternoon he carried seeds around from some plant found in the woods. His grubby little hands offered them to me, and they ended up in the cup holder of my chair. He, too, has an acorn growing in a pot, thanks to the help of his older brother.

A friend of mine owns a landscaping business, and she taught my son how take a cutting from the butterfly bush. Cut off one of the new shoots, strip the bottom leaves and cut the top leaves in half. Put the remaining part into a small pot with some seed starter mix, keep it moist and in a sunny spot.  Now my son is pulling the new leaves off the bush to try it himself. Come here in a few years, and you’ll probably find our yard full of purple butterfly bushes.

I’m making no attempts to stop my budding gardeners even though a landscaper might cringe at our attempts to grow full-sun plants in the shade or crowd the flowers together. My education in gardening has been through trial and error, and my sons are following in my footsteps.

Whenever I watch my three-year-old stoop over to water a pot with his blue watering tin, I think about the little red one I had at my grandmother’s. I think she would be pleased that I’m still outside planting, watering, and growing seeds. Someday I’ll have to take my boys on a trip to a big greenhouse too.

May 9, 2013

Raising Butterflies

Scroll down for a slideshow of our butterfly’s life cycle!

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on May 8, 2013.

Last year we raised toads from tadpoles, and this year we’re raising butterflies. This is surprisingly easy to do, and I’d encourage any family to give it a try.  It’s a wonderful experience for children and adults.

My sons received the Backyard Safari Butterfly Habitat as a Christmas present, but you can find other companies who sell butterfly habitats and the larvae online. The cages are around $15. The Backyard Safari Habitat came with a coupon so that we could order the larvae when we were ready for them. You need to wait for warm weather, if you plan to release the butterflies. (The larvae were approximately $10 with the coupon, but they are under $20 without it.)

We received six Painted Lady larvae (or caterpillars) in a small container with everything they needed to survive during this second stage of their life cycle. There were explicit instructions to not open the container. All we needed to do was set the container by a window (but not in direct sunlight). Note: I have read different opinions about leaving them in the container, so I suggest you do some of your own research.

Painted Lady Butterflies live almost everywhere, which is why they are often used in schools and homes for this purpose. In most places it’s okay to release them back into the environment. Another option is to find butterfly larvae in your local area and raise them, but each species has different needs, so you have to make sure you have the right food source.

We watched our caterpillars for less than two weeks as they stirred up the food, spun silk, and proved to be extremely bad housekeepers. When we got them, they were less than a centimeter in length, and in two days, they doubled their size. Right before they formed themselves into a chrysalis (or pupa), they were about an inch long and quite plump.

After the butterflies emerged, my son turned this into a project by making a model of the Painted Lady Butterfly! He studied it like a real artist!

According to the instructions I received, the caterpillars were supposed to climb to the top of the vial and attach themselves to the gauze that was placed under the lid of the container. There they would hang down and form into chrysalides, and then we weren’t allowed to disturb the container for two days. After that time, we could carefully remove the lid, and then pin the gauze with the chrysalides near the bottom and on the wall of the cage.

This is what really happened: The caterpillars made a huge mess in the container, and we couldn’t see through it very well. All of the caterpillars crawled to the top, but most of them didn’t stay there. In the end, there were only two caterpillars that formed chrysalides and hung from the top. We could barely make out one chrysalis on the bottom, and since there wasn’t any movement, I assumed the others down there were changing too.

Per the instructions, we waited two full days after the last caterpillar we could see formed his chrysalis. Finally we got out the butterfly cage, and found a small branch that fit nicely into it. Then I removed the lid to the container, and we discovered that the caterpillars had eaten most of the gauze! The two chrysalides were hanging from silk and the plastic lid. Luckily I managed to fit it over the twigs in the cage so that they hung down safely.

I had to scoop out the four other chrysalides from the bottom of the container with a spoon, and I laid them gently on the bottom of our cage. We had read that this can happen, and they should be okay, but unfortunately, two of these never formed into butterflies. We weren’t surprised.

After only five days, two of our butterflies emerged!  Two more butterflies emerged in the next few days.  They are beautiful, small orange and black butterflies, and we’re feeding them watermelon and oranges.

The whole process has enamored my six-year-old, and he wants to keep going, so we’re going to attempt to raise a second generation. Yep, call me crazy. If it turns into a good story, and I’m pretty sure it will, I’ll be sure to share it with you. Note: Yes, indeed, it’s turning into a story, and I will share it with you!

Below is a slideshow I created to show you our experience, and you can see the life cycle here too!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Notes you may be interested in:

  • The butterfly’s life cycle is in four stages: egg, larvae (or caterpillar), chrysalis, adult butterfly.  (I highly recommend the simple app Life Cycles by nthfusion.com to help with learning about nature’s cycles!)
  • The plural for chrysalis can be either chrysalides or chrysalises. (You can go here to hear the pronunciations.)
  • The word eclose is a verb which means to emerge from the pupa as an adult or from an egg as a larvae.
  • The red liquid that drips out off the butterfly after it emerges is meconium or the waste that was secreted while it was in chrysalis.
  • After the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it can live for about two weeks. During that time, they seek a mate, and the female seeks a host plant to lay her eggs.

If you like this, you might enjoy the slideshow I made of our tadpoles to toads last year.

Have you raised butterflies? Please share your experience!

March 22, 2013

Amicalola Falls State Park

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 20, 2013.

Earlier this year on one of those warm winter days, we made the spontaneous decision to take the boys to Amicalola Falls State Park, which is less than a two-hour drive northwest from Winder. When we got there, we weren’t quite sure where to go, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves starting our hike at the base of the falls, going up.

If you’ve never been there before, you may not know that Amicalola Falls is the highest waterfall in the southeast. True to its name, which means “tumbling waters” in the Cherokee Indian language, it’s a beautiful series of falls tumbling down 729 feet of rock.

There’s a footpath and stairs that take you to the top of the falls, and a bridge crosses right in front of the falls about mid-way. The views are amazing.

A few years ago I wouldn’t have hesitated to climb the 600 steps to the top of the falls, but now I was with my family, which included a six-year-old and three-year-old. I was remembering the last time we were out for an easy hike at Hard Labor Creek and how the three-year-old graced us with a temper tantrum at the beginning of that excursion because I didn’t pack the right snack.

At Amicalola, we were not the only ones who took advantage of the weather that day, so there were quite a few people taking the trek alongside us. I didn’t want a temper tantrum, and I didn’t want either my husband or me to have to carry a 37-pound three-year-old up those steps.

In the back of my mind, I wondered if I could make it up those steps too. During these past few years of child rearing, I have not been the healthiest eater, and I have little time for exercise that doesn’t include my little tag-alongs.

We easily hiked up the 175 steps to the bridge in front of the falls. The boys were on their best behavior, and they enjoyed the views. But my husband and I planned to go back down at that point.

The kids had a different opinion. They were determined to go to the top, and we couldn’t persuade them otherwise. After a few threats such as “if I have to carry you, I’m going to get really, really mad,” etc., we conceded and happily undertook the challenge. Secretly, I didn’t want to stop either.

We all felt like we accomplished something when we finished those last 425 steps without a problem. On the way down, we took another route through the woods, and we must have spent over 2~3 hours hiking that day. I was especially proud of the three-year-old who had no problem keeping up.

Our hike that day could be a metaphor for parenting. Though it’s a non-stop, daily challenge to raise small children, just when you think you can’t go anymore, your children surprise you. They show you just how far you can go, how fun life is and how resilient a family can be when working together to accomplish something.

If you’re interested in seeing Amicalola Falls, but you aren’t interested in climbing 600 steps, you’ll be happy to know that you can drive and take a short walk to where the platform is mid-way up, or you can drive to the top of the falls.  The top is where the Amicalola Falls Lodge is located, and it has a nice restaurant and beautiful views.

Also nearby is the access trail to the Appalachian Trail, and you can also hike up to the Len Foote Hike Inn, which is a wonderful overnight experience that I did many years ago, though you need to make reservations well in advance for that. You can learn about all of this and more at http://gastateparks.org/AmicalolaFalls.

What are your favorite family excursion memories?

February 24, 2013

Nothing Says Little Boys Like…

…this picture.  A warm February Sunday spent with sticks alongside a lake. Georgia red clay underfoot. It was a good day.

January 24, 2013

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on January 23, 2013.

If you want to take advantage of the warm spells we get during the winter in Georgia, one place I recommend going is Hard Labor Creek State Park. We visited there for the first time this past fall (early November) when the leaves were gold and just falling from the trees, and we wondered why we had never gone to this beautiful park before.

It’s located about 30 miles south of Winder in Morgan and Walton counties, and at 5,804 acres, it’s one of the largest state parks in Georgia. It boasts an 18-hole golf course as well as two lakes, camping, cottage rentals, swimming, horse trails, hiking trails and much more.

The park has a rich history.  Before the establishment of the park, the land was made up of corn and cotton fields, and due to poor land-use practices, it was not very productive.  During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a part of his New Deal program. The purpose of CCC was to create recreational areas while also teaching young men new skills and trades.

Between 1934 -1939, there were two CCC camps at Hard Labor Creek, and they together with the U.S. Forestry service built the park. You can still see many of their original structures and landscapes today, including Lake Rutledge.  They also cultivated over 850,000 trees!

My favorite outdoor activity is hiking, and the day we were there, I was determined to walk at least a moderate trail, so I coaxed my family onto the 1-mile Brantley Trail that took us on a tour of some of the beautiful trees that the CCC planted.

Now the trees are mature, and according to a leaflet we found at the beginning of the path, we walked under a canopy of loblolly pines and sweetgum trees, and we also spied white oak, river birch, hickories, red maples, and blackjack oak.

We skedaddled past this tree.

Here you can see how the area is still recovering from the farming.  In the late 1800s, “the upland forest in this area of the piedmont was almost completely stripped for timber and agricultural lands.”  However, it was too steep to farm along the streams, so there you’ll find taller, larger hardwoods.  If you look at “the upslope trees,” you see they are smaller, and there’s more pines and sweetgum.

When we were there this fall, hiking with a six-year-old and three-year-old still required a great deal of patience.  My three-year-old graced us with his first temper tantrum in the middle of the forest, and I couldn’t help but wonder if a child screams in a forest and no one is around to hear it… Ah, well, unfortunately, we were there, and yes, it was quite loud.  But it passed as all things do, and we had a pleasant walk. We also strolled over to the lake, and it offered some beautiful scenery.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps and Hard Labor Creek State Park, you might join one of several Historic Wagon Ride Tours offered in February, or perhaps you’d prefer Fireside Stories told by a retired park ranger who, according to the park’s website, has a passion for CCC history.  Go to http://www.gastateparks.org/HardLaborCreek for more information on these and other events at the park.

Where’s your favorite outdoor recreation area?

November 24, 2012

The Junior Ranger Program

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on Wednesday, November 21, 2012. 

Ever since I learned about the Junior Ranger Program, I’ve been looking forward to when my son could participate.  Any child age 6-12 can participate, and it’s a great way to get outdoors, explore nature and learn about Georgia’s history.  It’s also a good way to teach about setting goals and working toward something.

In order to participate, all you have to do is pick up a copy of the Junior Ranger Activity Book at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office.  You can also download the book online in pdf format at http://www.gastateparks.org/JuniorRanger

The book has a series of activities for children to complete, and a checklist for an adult to initial when they complete each activity.  Adults can help children with the activities.  There are three levels, and upon completion of each level, children will receive a junior ranger badge to display proudly wherever they want.

Level 1 is recommended for ages 6-7, and they must complete seven of the activities.  Level 2 is for ages 8-10 and requires 10 activities to be completed. Level 3 is for ages 11-12, and they must complete 14 of the activities.  Children may use the same booklet for each level, and the activities they did for their first level can count towards the next, if they want them to.

There’s information in the booklet for parents to read to the children so that they’ll become aware of things to stay away from when they hit the trails, such as poison ivy and venomous snakes. It tells you how to prepare and be safe while exploring the wilderness.  After this, there are several pages of activities for the children to complete.  Each page gives separate instructions for each level of participation.  My son is working on his first badge, Level 1, so the activities are fairly easy.

Some of the activities my son has done so far are identifying Georgia pine trees, taking a guided walking tour, observing wildlife, and visiting a historical site.  He only needs to complete three more activities to obtain his badge.

There are plenty to choose from.  He might identify plant and animal life in a body of water, or go fishing, go on a plant scavenger hunt, visit one more historical site, observe the night sky, or identify at least two nocturnal animals.  If my son isn’t into any of that, there are some other choices too.

With 63 sites statewide and a site 50 miles of every Georgia resident, it should not be hard for any child to participate in this program, especially since participants can take as long as they need to complete the activities.  You don’t have to do the activities in a state park either, although some of the activities such as visiting a historical site might require that.

When completed, all they need to do is present their checklist at any Georgia State Park or Historic Site office, or there’s an address in the booklet to mail the page to.  Participants who mail their page in will receive their badge in 2-4 weeks.

Occasionally there are Junior Ranger day camps or workshops that participants can attend.  These usually happen in the summer, and will be listed on the Georgia State Park and Historical Sites calendar of events: http://www.gastateparks.org/events.

Recently they have also started a Get Outdoors Georgia Gopher Badge too.  This is for kids 7-14 years old, and there’s a separate list of fun requirements for this badge too.  You can download the requirements for this badge here: http://www.getoutdoorsgeorgia.org/downloads/JrRangerGopherBadge.pdf.

If you are interested in this program, you’ll also want to subscribe to the Junior Ranger E-newsletter.  My son receives it at his own e-mail address, and he has fun reading about wildlife, viewing photos and doing some of the suggested activities.

For families able to travel, there’s also a Junior Ranger Program for the National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/learn/juniorranger.cfm.  I don’t know when we’ll get a chance to visit a national park, but my son has had fun using their on-line Junior Ranger program.  Children can play more than 50 games and learn about our national parks, monuments and historic sites. The website also tracks the children’s progress.

Whether you have some Junior Rangers in your house or not, I hope you get a chance to get outside and experience the healing qualities of nature this holiday season.

November 17, 2012

Ft. Yargo State Park

Note: This column was printed in the Barrow Journal on November 15, 2012.

Autumn is the perfect time for getting out into nature, and we residents of Barrow County can’t forget the treasure that is in our own backyard: Fort Yargo State Park.  At least 400,000 people visit Ft. Yargo every year, and aren’t we lucky to have it so close that we need travel only a few minutes to get there?  It’s located one mile south of Winder on Highway 81.

We love exploring Georgia’s various state parks and outdoor recreation areas, but as the boys grow up, I intend to make sure they feel at home in Ft. Yargo.

I went on one of my first dates with my husband to Ft. Yargo, and even before we had children, we would sometimes go there and hike to the fort, which was tucked away in the back of the park.  Now it has been moved to a more accessible location, and the Ft. Yargo Living History Society has begun fixing up the blockhouse, and according to their website, they will be building a blacksmith’s shop, hunter’s cabin and enlarging the cookhouse.

The last time we went by the fort was on a Saturday, and we were lucky to meet the living history demonstrators. (They are onsite the 3rd Saturday of every month.) The demonstrators, who were in period dress, were heating up the mud oven to bake bread, and there was a pot of venison stew simmering on the stove.  My picky boys weren’t eager to try it.

Back in the day, Fort Yargo was located in the border area between the Creek and Cherokee nation.  According to the Georgia State Parks website, “The state of Georgia contracted with the Humphrey brothers to build a string of four forts across north Georgia to protect white settlers from Indians.”  Fort Yargo was one of them.

According to roadsidegeorgia.com, “The western push of settlers from the Georgia coast had slowed during the Revolutionary War, but not long after the war ended, settlers once again began to encroach on Creek land. Near the Creek town of Snodon settlers created tiny Jug Handle, essentially a tavern and inn at the intersection of a heavily traveled north-south Indian Trading Path and an east-west trading route.  To protect the settlers from the Creek Indians, Fort Yargo was built in 1792 by a Virginia settler…Captain Joseph Humphries.”

You can read more about the history and legends associated with Ft. Yargo at the Living History Society’s website: http://www.fylhs.com/history_and_legends_.html.

Today the park encompasses 1,816 acres, and has a beautiful 260-acre man-made lake with fishing, boat ramps, swimming and a beach open during the warmer seasons.  There are 18 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers, and events take place there throughout the year.  Campsites, cottages, and yurts are for rent, and there are at least three playgrounds, picnic shelters, tennis courts, disc golf, basketball and so much more.

Fort Yargo is an oasis in Barrow County, and I’m so thankful to have it nearby. My boys don’t need most of the amenities that it offers, though.  We go there to walk on the paths and sit by the water while they throw rocks and twigs into the lake. I’m not sure there will be any more pebbles left on the shore by the time they grow up.

Another perk to having a state park so close is that my son can easily participate in the Georgia Junior Ranger Program, which is recommended for children ages 6-12. I’ll write about that in my next column.

Go to http://www.gastateparks.org/FortYargo to learn more about the park and plan your visit, but take note that it will be closed to the public on Dec. 4-5 for managed deer hunts.

What is your favorite state park?

July 2, 2012

Tadpole Update #3: We have Froglets!!

It’s been an exciting morning for us in the Pabis household!  We just checked on our tadpoles, and two of them have FRONT AND BACK legs!!  This happened overnight because we looked at them yesterday.  Two days ago I also took photos, and they had back legs then too.  You can see those photos and the ones I took this morning below.  I have put the dates on the photos for your reference.

We are still not completely sure what they are.  They look so much like the fowler toads in our yard, but I think the toad’s cycle would be shorter.  My guess is a Southern Chorus Frog.  I’m going to send this to a couple of experts, and I’ll get back to you on that! (Update: After looking at some more photos in a book and online, we’re thinking they are fowler toads.)

To see the first set of photos, click here, and for the second update, click here.

Exciting!

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