Tag Archives: Nature

Wow! Poop!

We have recently noticed, as we build the back deck on our cabin, there there seems to be a lot of extra…poop on the deck.  I guess it literally is a poop deck as the other decks do not seem to have as much.  It’s the deck highest off of the ground so I figured this would be the domain of only birds.

Critter poop Critter poop

Sure, other critters can climb but I am not sure why they would climb just to take a poop (although, if my poop deck is becoming a “destination” in the wilds, maybe it would be worth the trip).  Some of the evidence is very clearly from birds (apparently big birds), but some trophies seem like they might be from other sources.  Dear friends, do you have thoughts on the source of some of these poops?

Bird poop! A new door!
Anyhow, the poop deck is nearly completed and I couldn’t be happier with that progress.  Additionally, we added a door that opens onto that deck which makes it doubly nice.  We had always planned to add a door so it was already framed into the studding.  I just had to cut a huge hole in the sheeting and install it.  Once we get railings, it will be a really pleasant place to sit and watch for whatever creatures see the worth in taking a poop with a view!


We love Mother Nature out at the cabin we are building but this story may freak out some readers.  Honestly, it gave me quite a start as well.  As you know, dear friends, we are building this cabin from scratch.  Emily and I are doing the work ourselves so we get into a little bit of everything.  Plumbing has long been on the list but we had to get the bathroom floor finished and the stem wall built and a hundred other things.   I promise there is a plan to our madness, even if the plan itself is mad.

Wolf spider on her egg sac
Wolf spider on her egg sac

Anyhow, hooking up the bootwasher was pretty high priority for obvious reasons.  I took a day off of work to be on the job.  We loaded up a bunch of pvc pipe up and I headed off to the site.  I measured and cut and fitted and glued.  I then cussed and cut all of that pipe down and cussed some more when it almost fit.  If you know about pvc pipe, you know that it is rigid.  There may be some play in a plumbing system but generally there is not a lot.  When things work, that is a good thing as you don’t want pipes full of…stuff…moving.  So I almost had things hooked together but something just didn’t meet up like I had planned.  I had to cut it all back out (because pvc glue sets fast and does not forgive) and do a bunch of it over..to the tune of $45 wasted.

Wolf spider on her egg sac

So, I was aggravated but that’s just construction it seems.  I flopped back down on my back and wiggled up under the bathroom floor in the underneath of the house.  As I was about to begin work again, I turned my head and not a foot away was a gigantic spider sitting atop a bag of baby spiders.

Wolf spider - spiderlings
Wolf spider – spiderlings

Spiders don’t freak me out but I have to tell you, I sort of startled a little bit.  It’s just weird when something you don’t expect presents itself…and I think people are sort of programmed to be wary of spiders anyhow.  Anyhow, I let her be as she was just preparing to raise a family of spiderlings (yeah, that’s the technical term), apparently without a father figure around.  Who am I to try to mess with a mother doing her best.  I finished the plumbing and was on my way.

A few days later, I was back by and the spiderlings had hatched.  There were literally hundreds of itsy bitsy spiders on a web that Momma spider had spun very close to our initial encounter.  I couldn’t get a decent picture as they were tiny, but to the eye, it was quite a sight!  I don’t know what the survival rate is, but I may have hundreds of wolf spiders under my new place eating other critters that aren’t welcome!

The new American stealth fighter

We were working on the deck at the deluxe shed last weekend and we heard this incredible sound.  Circling about overhead was this oddly shaped black flying machine.  It wasn’t a black helicopter so I began to wonder if my tinfoil hat was screwed on a little too tight.  The black flying machine continued to circle though and finally came into my field on approach!  Honest to goodness, the new technology is amazing!  This new stealth fighter landed on one of the boards for the deck on which I was working!

Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge!
Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly? You be the judge!

We moved over slowly to where it had landed, not knowing if we should be honored or afraid.  I pulled out my camera figuring it would be the moment of truth…either the flying machine would remain still and let me take a pic or I would feel its sting.  I felt bold and alive and the tingles of adrenaline poured over my body!

Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge! Stealth fighter or giant black horse fly?  You be the judge!

I looked back at Abigail who had first spotted this stealth fighter and she said, “Dad, you’re an idiot…it’s a fly.  Take a picture before it flies off!”  Parenting is so humbling!  I think this baby is a horse fly (Tabanus atratus) but I don’t think I have ever seen a solid black one or one of this size!  He was a beauty and he posed very well for a pic…no bites at all!

Some bugs and stuff

Not much been going on around here lately.  We are mostly laying low, trying not to get anyone hurt.  School starts in a week and we sort of just want to make it to that point without any more drama…so, I took a few pics of stuff I have seen around lately…

Bumblebees on coneflower Bumblebees on coneflower


I love both bumblebees and coneflowers.  This is a perfect picture I think!  I like to sort of trick bumblebees to land on my hand and walk on me.  Honeybees do it naturally but you sort of have to trick bumblebees.  It’s a cool feeling!

Huge spider

I was cleaning out a shed and this big spider was hanging around.  I think he wanted to eat my leg but I left him alone and he wandered off to eat someone else I guess.  Impressive though!

Robber fly

We installed new motion lights on the house and this pesky robberfly would not leave me alone.  There is a variety of robber fly that eats bees, called a beekiller.  I used to have an observation hive and one of this guy’s cousins hung out near the pipe that lead from the hive in my house to the outside.  He picked off bees all day long.  I never could catch him with my shoe…

Size 15 shoes!

Speaking of shoes, we went shoe shopping for Isaac the other day in preparation for school…size 15s!


If I wore size 15s, I might have stepped on these roly polies…I generally live and let live but pill bugs like these creep me out in numbers and this is only a portion of the ones that I saw in this pile.  I never knew it but these things are also known as wood lice.  No wonder they creep me out.  Anyhow, with my mere size 10s, I walked on without disturbing the pile!

Boats at the levee - Charleston, WV

I was in town the other day and took this cool pic of boats docked on the levee downtown.  It may not look it here but there was a good storm going on and I was stuck under a huge metal lightning rod…I mean shelter…freaky!


Gordon the girl turtle

I caught a swarm of bees a few weeks ago.  A swarm is usually a lot smaller in number than a full sized hive and they are often a little weaker and disoriented so I usually try to keep them separate from the bee yard for awhile until they get themselves together.  By consulting the bee gods, I determined that this weekend was the weekend to move the swarm to the bee yard in the country.  I usually catch swarms in a smaller “nuc box” which is easier to manage and seems to be better for the smaller swarm too.  As I transferred the swarm to a full sized hive, I found the queen and did a general “once over” of the colony.  They looked great so I called the move a success and started on some other clean-up tasks in the apiary.

Eastern Box Turtle Eastern Box Turtle

Turtles are master hiders

We have had some serious winds lately so a pile of junk had toppled over.  While I was suited up, I decided to work on that a little too.  As I started to gather things up, I noticed a small turtle hiding out under some stuff.  Friends, I have always wanted a pet turtle.  I don’t know why but I am fascinated by them and they are just cool to watch.  I stop on the road to get them to safety, almost every time I see one.  They are fascinating and I am curious so it’s a good match.  I had to check out this turtle that was right before me…he was in my bee yard after all!  This turtle had a crack in its shell but did not seem to be bothered by it.  Still, being a turtle sympathizer and seeing an opportunity for a pet turtle, I picked him up.

Eastern Box Turtle

Like all kids, I heard the story of the tortoise and the hare.  Of course, I know this was a box turtle and not a tortoise but my turtle was more hare-like than I expected.  He paddled and squirmed and when I set him down, he moved quite well.  I wanted to call him Flash, like the speedy super-hero.  Of course, we already have a cat named Flash, like the super-hero, so I knew that wouldn’t work.  I decided, instead, to name him Gordon, like the super-hero’s last name.

Eastern Box Turtle

That crack in his shell worried me…

I got permission from Emily and I was all prepared to have a new pet turtle.  I did a little reading on pet turtles and found out that it’s probably not cool to grab turtles from the wild as the breeding range is fairly limited and though momma turtles lay hundreds of eggs in their lifetimes, only 2-3 survive to adulthood.  Taking potential breeders out of the area can really mess with turtle populations and I want lots of turtles at the cabin.  Turtles in captivity also are very susceptible to dry-eyes and other ailments including nutritional issues and pneumonia.  I didn’t know it but turtles need calcium and all sorts of other minerals and they need light but not too much heat, but not too little heat either.  They need to roam some and dig some and…well, it seemed like more than I expected to keep a pet turtle.  With enough work (translate: money and time), some folks are able to manage keeping turtles in captivity but I don’t want to hurt the local turtle population and I certainly don’t want to have to work at it.

Eastern Box Turtle eating a raspberry

Turtle eating a raspberry

Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that, in my reading, I determined Gordon is a girl.  Sexing a turtle is an interesting process.  They don’t like for people to peek inside their shells so…aw shucks, just kidding…it is easy.  Boy box turtles have red eyes, girl turtles have orange eyes.  Gordon definitely has orange eyes.  So, next weekend, I will return Gordon the girl turtle to where I found her so she can breed (if she is so inclined.  I like to think I raised her as  liberated turtle who doesn’t cave to societal norms) and keep moist eyes and eat all the slugs she wants.  If anyone asks, I once had a pet turtle though and her name was Gordon and she made me very happy!

A good lesson from a tree

I have a tree that shades my driveway and makes me smile every day. No matter where I stand or how I look at it, it just looks amazing and beautiful to me. Regardless of the season, it has something to offer visually. I am not sure if Emily or the kids even notice it, but I hope they do. Anyhow, here are a few pics I took of this beauty back in April.

Beautiful tree in early leaf Beautiful tree in early leaf Beautiful tree in early leaf

Click on the pics to enlarge…I just love the tree in detail

This same tree, however, is the one that sheds hickory nuts every fall. Our house is at the top of our long and somewhat winding driveway. We have become pretty proficient at backing up and down it. When we first moved in, however, I did not recognize the importance of keeping the nuts from the tree off of the driveway. One rainy day while backing down, we happened upon a sea of hickory nuts. As I turned the wheel to follow the driveway, the car continued straight. I applied the brakes but the car kept on rolling. There were so many nuts that we just kept sliding until we slid into another tree in the yard which stopped our movement…luckily because we were at the edge of a small drop that would have been very bad to roll over. We literally (yes, I am using that correctly there) would have rolled over. As it was, the car stayed greasy side down. We spent a few hundred on a wrecker and a grand or so on body work. I did learn a lesson…keep your pathway clear of nuts. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good motto, tree or not!

There’s tiny stuff down there

I was outside pouting about something the other day and somehow, out of the corner of my eye, spotted movement.  I rose from my self-pity to discover a swarm(?) of newly hatched praying mantises (mantii?).  I suppose they were newly hatched though I didn’t see still-attached umbilical cords or anything.  Anyhow, they were itty-bitty and there were tons of them.

Baby praying mantis

We have miserable English ivy at our place and though I hate the stuff, I was delighted by its greenness which is the only way I could have seen the little critters.  They scampered as well as any baby 6-legged creature could scamper.  I guess they liked being in the sun though mostly they stayed hidden.  It was awesome!

05_28_2013 004a Baby praying mantis

I looked around some more and noticed some cool lady bugs though I couldn’t get a good pic to save my life.  I figure they were probably eating my baby mantii anyhow so I didn’t want to stick around for that show.    I moseyed over to the driveway and found a cool collection of ants.  I am not sure what ants do in their spare time but they were certainly busy doing it, whatever it was.  Ants can be sort of hypnotizing to watch, much like rushing water.  Does anyone else ever get the (sort of) urge to get closer and closer to running water?  Maybe it’s just me but I am drawn to water as if I being compelled to jump in.  Of course, that sort of water would end me so I am lucky to have some power over my compulsion…anyhow, ants…back to ants.  I took some video and they just make me want to stand and stare at them.  I suppose I could jump into them.  They are not nearly as dangerous as rushing water!

Ants video

My video isn’t great but I still love to watch the ants

I guess it was good to look down and see some small stuff.  It made my pouting go away.  That was small stuff too..

Planting sorghum

I wrote a few weeks ago about wanting to grow, process and eat sorghum.  The first step in that process is, of course, planting some sorghum seed.  Really, before that, we had to prepare some ground to plant.  Larry, Granny Sue’s husband turned over a bit of earth at our place.  I don’t know if you have ever tried to cultivate a new piece of land for garden space, but it is bone jarring, punishing work if you don’t have big equipment.  One could certainly take to it with a rototiller and it will work but you’ll feel a new kind of pain.  Anyhow, Larry ran his plow and tractor over a nice chunk of our land to do the initial “turn-over” which I followed up with a smaller tiller to break up the ground further.

Planting sorghum

I got about half way done with the tilling when another neighbor, Tim, stopped by with his tractor which he used to save my life finish tilling the land.  Everything was bone dry and dusty which made this whole process a messy endeavor.  Still, Emily and the kids pitched rocks into the woods while I set up the rows and drove row stakes.  We carefully planted a dozen or so rows of Sugar Drip sorghum seed.  Sugar Drip is an old-time variety good for our part of the country.  It matures in around 102 days and makes nice sweet 8-10 foot tall stalks.  I ordered seeds from 2 well known heirloom seed suppliers and one says it is a rare breed while the other says it is common across the South.  Who knows?

Planting sorghum

So, we marked our rows and planted the beautiful little seeds (which we will collect from our plants this year and save for next year) and covered them carefully with the freshly tilled dust dirt.  Luckily, it rained some this week so things should start growing well.  Sorghum is an African native so prefers warm temperatures but does well in heat and dry once it is established.

Planting sorghum

I have learned that sorghum is one of the top grain crops grown around the world.  Varieties can be used for syrup but most sorghum is planted as fodder for animals or as grain for daily consumption by humans.  Many people are considering using it to make biofuel as it thrives in most warm locations.  For folks with gluten allergies, it also is a common grain source for gluten free beer (hmmm…another project?).

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Sorghum seed

So, our sorghum is in the ground though possibly a little early.  I will keep a close eye on its progress but am hopeful for some awesome looking cane in a few months.  Now, I really have to get back on track with restoring those cane mills I have sitting out in my yard!

My cane mill/sorghum stuff

Frog time!

Emily’s grandparents have a small pond at their place and every year Mr and Mrs Frog raise their babies there.  We usually try to time it right to experience the sheer joy of frog season.  I don’t know if you are familiar with how frogs work but Mrs Frog lays huge caches of gelatinous eggs which very quickly  hatch and turn into tadpoles and eventually frogs.  If you watch carefully, you get to see all of the steps in between tadpole and frog which might be the stuff of nightmares if you didn’t know better.  Seeing a pond full of tadpoles is simply amazing!  They swim so awkwardly and yet not.  When they start growing legs and losing their tails, things get really interesting.  It is an absolutely amazing transition and a lot of fun to witness!

Looking for frogs in the pond Tadpoles!

Anyhow, we were around the pond last week and got to enjoy the tadpoles in the pond.  Abigail loves to catch them in her hand and sing to them.  She caught a few and while singing, spotted Mrs Frog.  Mrs Frog had a protective eye of course (we could tell) but seemed content to watch us watch her babies.  Of course, what are her options?  We don’t have ferocious frogs here in West-by-God-Virginia.

Mrs Frog Mrs Frog!

Abigail decided she wanted to give Mrs Frog a pat on the back, congratulating her on a job well done with her latest crop of babies.  She squatted at the edge of the pond (I had my camera ready fully expecting Abigail to fall into the water) and reached out to touch Mrs Frog.  With a flash, Mrs Frog leapt into the water upon feeling Abigail’s fingers.    She swam across the pond and under a rock where we could see her one back leg hanging out.  We decided to leave well enough alone and just watch from afar.  Spring is just the absolute best time of year!  There are so many opportunities to experience in the spring.  The Frog family delights us every year!

Under a log

We are doing a little bit of fancy building out in the back yard to convert a bit of space from grass to a food plot.  A few years ago I cut down and old tree that was both ugly and in the way.  I had high hopes of sawing the tree into boards (just to see if I could) and doing something interesting with it.  Three years later, the log is pretty well rotted…and in the way like the tree before it.  I rolled it out of the way so we could work and we found a regular entomological wonderland!

Big black beetle Big black beetle Big black beetle

These two huge beetles dashed around in circles.  I dubbed them vampire beetles because they just wanted out of the sun.  I think they were actually Patent Leather beetles (Odontotaenius disjunctus).  I let them crawl around on my hands and arms a bit, trying to get the kids excited (in a “my dad is so brave and awesome” kinda way).  It didn’t exactly work as I expected but I was delighted that the kids at least wanted to touch the beetles.  I am a country boy trying to raise city kids to not be too much city and a little more country…touching bugs is a good step on the path.  I delivered both beetles to a safe spot nearby…I do not want to harm such cool and beneficial bugs.

Long Brown Centipede

We also noticed a large millipede cruising around quickly once we moved a chunk of bark.  We could not pick him up but he was super cool though a little shy.  He had no interest in posing for a photograph.  I am not sure about exactly what type of centipede he is but I think he is in the genus Cryptops.  I also learned a little something about centipedes versus millipedes.  Millipedes have 2 leg pairs per segment while centipedes have one leg-pair on each segment.  Centipedes have venomous legs while millipedes do not.  Centipedes are fast while millipedes are typically not.  Gosh, there are so many other differences…read some more here.

Girl picking up a worm

Anyhow, I think what made me happiest about this log was the worm family we found there.  Abigail bent right down and grabbed up a worm.  It’s a simple little thing but I love that my darling little daughter will pick up a worm without worrying about it being slimy or wiggly.  She relocated a family of worms the other day while some other little girls looked on in shock.  I have city kids but even in the city, under a log, lies adventure and wonder and just a little bit of country!