Mission Statement

Bearing Witness to Local Natural History-- from the wildness of Indiana

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Since 1980 I have kept journals. They are prized possessions. They have primarily been used to record observations, experiences, thoughts, poems, and phenological data. I would often sketch but writing was primarily the task. The last several years I have used the hibernation of winter to do more sketching.

During this past winter of 2014-2015, I decided to focus on improving my ability to sketch in my journal by sketching several times a week, studying my books, reading blogs, watching videos, and joining the Facebook page, The Nature Journal Club. I surprised myself. I enjoy this greatly and have continued now into late fall. It has been liberating. I enjoy the freedom it allows me. With my photography (which I still love), I have to carry heavy equipment which becomes tiring and limits me at times to where I go and how far I can travel. I also felt a little vulnerable being out alone with all the equipment. Now I grab my field bag and binoculars and I am out the door. 

I need to share a disclaimer about nature journaling. I do not consider my journals works of art. It is NOT about being a great artist or having a depth of knowledge on the skills of drawing, colored pencils, and watercolors. It IS about the experience-- being observant, documenting what you see, asking questions, being curious, and sketching/journaling often. It is also about shutting up the inner critic that loves to squash your creativity. So if you think you can not do this, you are wrong. You do not have to be born with a “talent” for drawing. It can be developed through practice and the desire to journal. I do it for me. No one else. I don’t care if others “like it”. Do it for yourself.

I am seeing differently these days. Instead of the eyes of the photographer-- seeing compositionally and frame-wise, I am really seeing my subjects. I see shapes and parts of the body/structure and how they all connect with each other to create the whole bird, tree, plant, etc. I notice the subtleties of color, shadow, and posture. It is new territory and I love it.

I enjoy thumbing through my journals because I immediately see my observations, experiences, and the phenology of the season unfold visually. I am doing much more sketching than writing but am still recording my observations. 

When nature journaling I prefer working with pen, colored pencils, or watercolor pencils and paints. So for now when I find time to add to my blog, I will take the reader along on a walk and share my observations from my nature journal. I hope you will enjoy it. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

It Was Diaphanous

© Joni L. James Photography

It Was Diaphanous

In its stillness Rock resides.
I yearn to be Rock.

Its fire cooled form is a history of crystallization
Mine is a history of change—forming and shape-shifting.

Rock allows the cool creek currents to caress and embrace its hardness.
Each moment passes and I try to surrender.

Reflections surround Rock expressing what is or what isn’t
Yet that which is reflected stands as a sentinel over its presence.

My reflections are built of light and shadow and brushed with iridescence
Yet a Great Mystery guides me as I reflect Its omnipresence.

It was diaphanous but I felt it
Rock and I are One.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What's Hiding in the Garden?

“We must look for a long time before we can see”.
Henry David Thoreau

What is hiding in your native area? Thoreau says we must look a long time before we can see. It is easy to walk through and around your native plants but how closely do you look?

There are times I do not saunter enough with my legs or my eyes.  When I take the time to really see, I usually discover dramas I could easily miss.

Photographing is a task that requires my close observation. When I am looking for interesting subjects or dramas to photograph, I use my binoculars which allows me to view from one vantage spot and discover hidden subjects.

One day as I was sauntering through a native prairie, I spotted this sycamore seed (through my binoculars) dangling from the underside of a Black-eyed Susan. The seed had ridden the wind quite a distance since the nearest sycamore tree was far away.

(NOTE: This is my September 2014 blog post for Beautiful Wildlife Garden. You can read the rest of this post at this link: Beautiful Wildlife Garden.). 

Finding Solace in the Native Garden

My Native Plot

(NOTE: I am now a member of Beautiful Wildlife Garden Team and will be posting once every four weeks about all things "Wildlife Gardens"! This is an excerpt of my first blog installment in July. You can click the link and it will take you to my Beautiful Wildlife Garden post so you can read the complete post.)

In preparing for this post—my first one—I contemplated my topic. What kept coming back to me was to share my recent personal experience. The experience was a reminder to allow time to enjoy my passions and to find solace in my native garden.

I have been a naturalist since I was a child. I always ask myself, what can I do for my local wildlife? What can I do for the ecosystems on my property?

After reading Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, and learning of the interdependency of native plants to insects to birds and to pollinators-- I made it my mission to learn more and plant native.

Since then it has been a perspective of, “Ask what you can do for your local ecosystems.” But a couple of weeks ago, I discovered what my native garden can do for me. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Snowiest Winter

It has been the snowiest winter here in my part of Indiana. The snow is beautiful but it has been accompanied by brutal cold this winter. They called it the Polar Vortex-- I call it challenging. We have had over 50 inches so far! I must say I am looking forward to spring. Today was the warmest day in a long time-- 50 some degrees! It felt wonderful! 
To commemorate this winter, I will share some of the scenes I captured-- this too shall pass and cycle continues!

"To us snow and cold seem a mere delaying of the spring. How far we are from understanding the value of these things in the economy of Nature!"  -- Henry David Thoreau (Journal -March 8, 1859: Vol.XII)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Gardeners Can Change the World! Ecosystem Gardening!

Don't Mow! Grow! I have done much reading about gardening with native plants and ecosystem gardening. This past spring was the beginning of my serious attempt to make a difference with one of my yards. Even though I live in "the country" (for now--as urban sprawl continues this direction), my goal was to change my monoculture of grass-- my lawn into habitat. Less lawn means less mowing, less money, less pollution, and more biodiversity and beauty!

Tilling of East Yard-Preparing Ground

There is a great deal of info on the internet and I will share some really helpful sites at the end, but let's talk about some background.
Gardeners can make a difference in a time when natural acreage is shrinking. We continue to have more people, more parking lots, strip malls, roads, etc. and less natural land and less biodiversity. Habitat that does exist is highly fragmented. Wildlife need food, shelter, and nest sites. Enter the gardener who can make a difference for wildlife by planting native plants, trees, and shrubs-- practicing what is known as ecosystem gardening.

A book I highly recommend is Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Doug Tallamy. This book is an easy read about the reasons why you should create native plantings. Tallamy, a professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, states that the success of our plants/gardens will determine the diversity and numbers of wildlife that survive. Gardeners are who decide what plants they will grow on their properties and therefore the responsibility of our nation's biodiversity lies with us--the landowner/gardener.

Ground Tilled--Seed Bank was released. I do not use herbicides or fertilizers

Biodiversity runs the ecosystem on which we depend. The more diverse our ecosystems are, the more services they provide us. Services they provide us include watershed protection, oxygen, carbon dioxide sequestration, water purification, soil building and stabilization, pollination services, garbage recycling, moderation of weather systems, etc. 
Human population continues to increase which means we need even more ecosystem services but as we kill off our biodiversity, we get fewer and fewer ecosystem services from them. Tallamy states, "Because 54% of the U.S. is now in a matrix of cities, suburbs, or fragmented habitat too small to sustain wildlife, and 41% is in agriculture, biodiversity will have to survive in those areas if it is to survive at all."

Plants beginning to flourish-- Prince's Feather growing profusely!

Insects are the most important group of animals that transfer energy captured by plants to other animals. A food web soon collapses if insects are removed. Why? Because so many animals depend on them for food. According to Tallamy, "For example, 96% of all terrestrial birds rear their young on insects. No insects. No baby birds."

Then there is the problem of introduced or invasive plants-- plants that evolved from outside of the United States but are planted here and often overrun the natives . Our native insects (90%) that eat plants require native plants to complete their development. These insects have a co-evolved with these plants. They have not been exposed to plants from Asia or Europe for a long enough period to develop adaptations necessary to use them for host plants. Tallamy says, "Every time we plant an introduced plant, we are reducing the local insect population and thus depriving the birds and wildlife of the food they need to survive and reproduce.

Plants peaking. The smaller in height plants are not visible.

So I am very pleased with my plot of native plants. I hired a local man to till 90% of my east yard. I knew this would disturb the seed bank of plants lying dormant in the soil and I would grow many plants that were not what I preferred but was content to see what would grow. I do not use herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers. I refuse to put these chemicals into the ecosystem regardless of "safe claims". I want a natural area so natural it will be. 

I bought wildflower seed mixes from Prairie Moon Nursery and after the tilling, I hand  broadcasted the seed mixes. I also planted Sunflowers to add additional bloom and food for birds and pollinators. A few of the species in the PDQ Mix were Purple Coneflower, Wild Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan, Purple Prairie Clover, and Yellow Coneflower. Early Summer: Foxglove Beardtongue, Early Sunflower Side Oats Grama, and Little Bluestem. Fall: Showy Goldenrod, Sky Blue Aster and Little Bluestem Grass. I also tried planting Common Milkweed-- a great plant for Monarch Butterflies! 

I allow the field behind my house to grow wild. I keep it mowed every 2-3 years to stop the process of succession-- the growth of woody plants (although it is a battle with Locust tree saplings). The most common plants that grow in my field are Goldenrod, Ironweed, and Common Milkweed. All are great prairie plantings for your garden or property as these support many wildlife species.
Did you know that the best plant for Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) is Goldenrod?
Goldenrod (Solidago), supports 115 species of butterflies and moths! Plant use by butterflies and moths is correlated with high usage by other insects and wildlife as well.

Goldenrod growing in late summer in my field

 Besides all the benefits I have discussed in this blog post, the other benefits for me are the stunning beauty on my property, the knowledge that I am making a difference, the increased biodiversity, less time and money spent mowing lawn that supports virtually nothing, interesting dramas that occur every day with the bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, moths, katydids, anglewings, pollinating flies, songbirds, frogs, toads, mammals, caterpillars, etc. using my prairie area for cover, shelter, food, nesting, and life cycle completion. And lastly, it is a prolific source for my nature photography!

Cope's Gray Treefrog Resting Inside a Leaf of a Plant

Pollinators at Work on Sunflower-- Laden with Pollen!

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Early Morning in the Native Garden

Male American Goldfinch Feeding on Sunflower

Beauty in my Prairie

Bee To Partridge Pea
I hope the information provided will help you rethink the way you garden or landscape your yard. My native plant plot required very little work. The only time I weeded was when I noticed Ragweed growing and I pulled it. I also know many of the plants people consider "weeds" are some of the best plants. Remember--weeds are simply plants growing where someone does not want them.

Start small. Perhaps do a small flower bed. Instead of designing where you will develop flowerbeds in your large lawn, design where you need lawn for walking areas and place the rest in native plants, trees, and/or shrubs.
We are in late summer with autumn approaching. This is a great time to begin to prepare the areas for planting. Be sure and check out the "How to Grow a Prairie From Seed" below for details on how to prepare & plant your ground. I plan to place more lawn into native plantings. I have shady areas that I can tackle next in the front of the house and more sun/shade area in the west yard. Be the change you wish to see and start planning! Let Nature take over while you sit back and enjoy the biodiversity!

Helpful Links: (These are tremendous resources!)

Top 10 Herbaceous Plants to Attract Wildlife to Your Ecosystem Garden

Top 10 Woody Plants in Ecosystem Gardening

How To Grow a Prairie From Seed *

Beautiful Wildlife Garden
Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens  

Wild Ones

Doug Tallamy: Plant Native

Doug Tallamy: Ecosystem Gardening Hero

Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS)

Midwest Invasive Plant Network 

Prairie Moon Nursery (Great Interactive Guide to Proper Selection of Plants & Seed/Plant Source)

Cardno JFNew: (Seed Source & a Great Interactive Guide for selecting appropriate plants for your site)

Go Botany: ID Key for Plants