Mission Statement

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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful On This Day

This day dawned cloudy, misty and 41 degrees cool. The field is damp and the ponds and lake are empty of pooled water. No bald eagles are present at this moment. As I reflect today on what I am thankful for . . .  many blessings come to mind. Of course my family, friends, home, work, and health are always at the top.

But I am especially grateful for the small "things" at work in our lives which we are often unaware of. This presence usually goes unnoticed. But if we look closely . . . we can deepen our awareness.

Beauty exists in the details. I am grateful always for Nature. Grateful for the beauty of this earth. For the bounty, the connectedness, the unity, and the processes that are always present.

We are all connected. We are all related. It is this Greater Mystery that underlies it All. It has been described as " . . . the ceaseless, restless, creative flow of energy in the universe" by Jack Kegan.

Gratitude fills me. May it fill you too.
What are you grateful for beyond family, friends, and home?

©Joni L. James

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ponder Thoreau: November 12, 1859

A little Henry David Thoreau to ponder . . . written in his journal on November 12, 1859:
"I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?"

Cloud Reflections or not?                                           ©Joni L. James 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tree Roots and Your Life

Tree roots anchor, support, and stabilize trees in the soil. Tree roots absorb water and also take nutrients and chemicals out of the soil and use them to produce what is needed for the tree’s growth, development, and repair. Tree roots have character and can be fascinating in their shapes and designs. There is a beauty in their perseverance and struggle to maintain a healthy hold in the soil for the survival of the tree that continues to grow and change high above.


Beech Tree Roots I                                                     ©Joni L. James

Beech Tree Roots II                                           ©Joni L. James

 Tree roots can be a symbol for our own lives. How do tree roots relate to your roots? How are you anchored, supported, and stabilized? What about the character, beauty, and perseverance of your growth and survival? I invite you to add your comments to these questions. Click the comment button and share your thoughts! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stories in Nature 1

It does not matter where you saunter in Nature, but you will encounter a story just waiting to be interpreted. Walk the edges of a wetland. Wander through a forest. Find your way through a field. There is a story awaiting you. At times you may need to alter your perspective and get on your knees or lie down. Other stories require you to crane your neck high.

We are use to reading stories from paper or the "ink" of an electronic device. These are easy stories. They roll off the page quickly. They require much less thought. Reading Nature is another story-- pardon the pun. To read Nature you must engage your mind and curiosity. You must use deductive reasoning as a nature detective.  You must ask many questions. We all learned in school about the "W" questions-- who, what, when, where, and why-- and don't forget "how".  Are there lessons to be learned within the story?

Story #1 Fallen Tree Trunk      ©Joni L. James

Story #2 Fallen Log      ©Joni L. James

Here are stories I discovered a few days ago. Can you identify the objects? What story/stories do you think are waiting to be read? What story could you create? (Please post a comment below).

When I find tracks, signs, and remains, I often wonder about the events and dramas that occurred in my absence. I can attempt to piece a story together through my knowledge of wildlife, weather, plants, ecosystems, tracks, and signs. Perhaps I will interpret it with accuracy or perhaps not. But what ultimately occurs, is that I learn something and deepen my connection to Nature. And that is the best ending to the story.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Let the Trees Teach Us (Autumn): Thoreau's Journal Anniversary

Today is the 174 year anniversary of the beginning of one of the most momentous journals in history. On October 22, 1837, Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal--

“What are you doing now?” he asked. “Do you keep a
journal?” So I make my first entry to-day.

To be alone I find it necessary to escape the present,—I avoid
myself. How could I be alone in the Roman emperor’s chamber
of mirrors? I seek a garret. The spiders must not be disturbed,
nor the floor swept, not the lumber arranged.

Oct. 24. Every part of nature teaches that the passing
away of one life is the making room for another. The
oak dies down to the ground, leaving within its rind
a rich virgin mould, which will impart a vigorous life
to an infant forest . The pine leaves a sandy and sterile
soil, the harder woods a strong and fruitful mould.
So this constant abrasion and decay makes the soil
of my future growth. As I live now so shall I reap.

I have spent many hours recently photographing and enjoying the autumn forest nearby. I traveled to Morgan-Monroe State Forest to immerse my senses in the beauty of autumn. I spent time at Cherry Lake photographing near the water's edge. Cherry Lake was a mirror of colorful reflections. The multitude of colors, ripples in the lake surface, and spent leaves that rode the subtle current, transformed Cherry Lake into a nebula of inner and outer space. Mesmerizing abstract images were everywhere. 

              Autumn Nebula                                             ©Joni L. James

I so love this time of year. The air resonated with blue jays, crows, red-bellied woodpeckers, and the drip of leaves which had released their grip from the trees. The sound of a light "tick" broke the quiet as a leaf landed amongst the other spent lives below or on the lake surface. At times a breeze traveled through the forest and a congregation of them would flutter downward.

Autumn Maples                                                      ©Joni L. James
 Trees have much to teach us. They are an apt symbol for our lives. Trees show us how to live. Just as with people, there is great diversity among species of trees in the forest. Living in communities, they are interdependent upon other life forms and the resources around them. And yet they have much in common.

Autumn Dogwood                                             ©Joni L. James
Trees share their bodies with other creatures such as woodpeckers, owls, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, as well as a myriad of insects, bacteria, and fungi. They allow other lives to live with them in their space and they provide food for many. They share their bounty whether it is fruit, seeds, nuts, flowers, or sap.

Autumn Reflections                                ©Joni L. James

During their lives, trees endure many challenges from wounds, pollution, clearcuts, disease, chainsaws, wind, lightning, insects, and more. Many lose their homes or are removed from their homes. They are resilient. They are flexible in the strong winds and they adapt to the tragedies that befall them. Some trees survive and some don't. Those trees who do, often find their bodies altered in some way.

Leaves on the Final Ride                           ©Joni L. James
Yes, trees show us how to live. But they also show us how to die. Trees cycle through seasons each year, yet there are seasons within seasons. They witness the births and deaths of those around them. Often what affects one, affects the neighbors and families in close proximity. Each year the leaves of the trees must release themselves from their lofty positions. They cycle through seasons within seasons too. Leaves are shed. They surrender and let go. They join the thousands below.

Surrender--Beech & Maple Leaves on Lake Surface         ©Joni L. James
One day the tree will die. Each death may be swift or slow. But through the process they will  still be giving. Giving of themselves to other life forms. Creating conditions for others to thrive or be born. The tree will transition and release their hold on the soil. They are onward to a new adventure-- one of rebirth.

Death of Trees                                             ©Joni L. James
As Thoreau stated in his journal entry, "As I live now so shall I reap." Let the trees teach you.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Burkhart Creek Park Wetland Development

Recently I visited Burkhart Creek Park to check on the construction of the wetland. This is an area that was a wetland already but is being "enhanced" I do not have the history about it but when I find out, I will pass the info on here on my blog. These three photos below were taken on September 30, 2011.

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                          ©Joni L. James

Wetlands are my favorite habitat/ecosystem. There is such plant & animal diversity in these areas. I am excited and pleased that a wetland is being constructed here. I look forward to watching it develop and flourish. It will be a great place to photograph and study/observe. Below is an image I photographed on August 30, 2011 before construction. You can see wetland vegetation such as the willow trees, sycamores, and sedges & rushes.

                                          ©Joni L. James

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sycamore Land Trust: Beanblossom Bottoms Trail Native Seed Collection Workday

I woke at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to the coolest (I believe) morning so far since last spring-- 42 degrees. I drove to Bean Blossom Bottoms in Monroe County to assist in collecting native plant seeds and volunteer my photography services for Sycamore Land Trust. The seeds we collected today are to be used to restore the wetland area along the trail where they are eradicating invasive reed canarygrass.

Bean Blossom Bottoms consists of 570+ acres (with a two-mile loop of wooden pucheon and boardwalk) of diverse habitats which include emergent marsh, sedge meadows, hardwood forests, and old fields reverting to forest. Trees and shrubs in the bottomland include red osier dogwood, pin oak, American sycamore, green ash, buttonbush, white oak, and shellbark hickory. It is an Indiana Nature Preserve and certified as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society.

Seeds from woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and several sedges were harvested. It was a gorgeous morning with plenty of wind and cool temperatures. The sunshine was comforting as we began collecting along the boardwalk and beyond.

                                                        ©Joni L. James

                                           (A stand of woolgrass at BBB- Bean Blossom Bottoms)

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                          (Closer view of woolgrass at BBB-- windy day)

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                                           (Buttonbush seed heads)

My task (as well as a few other volunteers) was to collect woolgrass seeds. Once I would locate an inflorescence that had fully gone to seed, it was easy to strip the fine wooly seeds from the spiklets. Shaken or rolled between my fingers the seeds were like a downy powder or flour. Collecting was a meditation. For over three hours we harvested what will become new life in another area of the bottoms.

Sycanore Land Trust (SLT) is dedicated to preserving our disappearing landscape. I invite you to visit their website and become involved. If you value our local landscapes and their beauty speaks to you--- speak to SLT.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Calling

The Calling

She calls.
It begins as an infrequent calling.
A beckoning.
A summons.
She converses with your spirit.
You begin to answer.
You go to Her.
She tempts.
You surrender.
Until one day, you commit.
And you carry the Calling within you

A poem about Nature from the book Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History by Joni L. James. Available through my website at http://www.jonijamesphotography.com/.

                                            ©Joni L. James

Monday, August 29, 2011

Burkhart Creek Park & A Little Frass

I visited Burkhart Creek Park on Saturday morning for some photography and nature study.  The park is located in Morgan County (Indiana) off State Road 67 on Duckworth Road. Burkhart Creek County Park is the first established county park and was opened in 2010 by the Morgan County Parks & Recreation Board. Currently the park has 1.5 miles of trails, picnic shelters, and tables for public use.

It was a lovely morning. I walked along the loop trail with the intention of investigating the area which will soon be an established wetland. It is obvious by the wetland plants present that this area is often wet. Of course we are behind on our needed precipitation this summer, so the area was devoid of standing water.

Thanks to the generosity of Mary A. “Sal” Hench, a lifelong philanthropist, a gift from Hench’s estate was
donated to the Community Foundation of Morgan County to be used to construct and preserve natural wetlands at Burkhart Creek County Park near Paragon.

A five (5) acre wetlands area will be created by the Wildwood Dam Conservancy District as an effort to ensure the survival of Wildwood Lake. With the assistance from the Hench gift, a variety of educational opportunities will become available for exploring wetlands plant and animal life. (Info from Community Foundation of Morgan County website).

I am drawn to wetland areas and have studied and photographed them for many years. I am thrilled that this wetland area will be enhanced and available for educational purposes. Thank you to Mary "Sal" Hench and her family for their generosity and foresight.

During my short visit I watched bluebirds, Carolina chickadees, blue-gray gnatcatchers, pileated woodpeckers, red-wing blackbirds and numerous butterflies. Below is an image of the proposed wetland area. Note the wetland loving vegetation already present.

                                          Wetland Area      ©Joni L. James

Below is a photo I also took of a Japanese Beetle. Note the material protruding from the rear abdomen of the insect. I believe this would be frass-- insect excrement. So for all of you who wonder what insect excrement looks like or what the correct term is . . . here you go!

                                                        Japanese Beetle & Frass
                                                        ©Joni L. James

I encourage those of you who live in and around Morgan County to stay informed about Burkhart Creek Park. It is a work in progress and is evolving. The County Park Board meets once a month alternating between locations in Martinsville and Mooresville. The public is always welcome.

I would love to see more green spaces and especially nature parks here in our county. Support your local natural areas! Get outdoors!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer Symphony: Summer Nights

Driving home last night along rural roads with windows down and cool air circulating through the car, the summer symphony of insect songs serenaded me from the roadsides. Once home, I heard them singing from the trees and fields thick with vegetation. I realized how much these songs are a part of my summer nights.

They are the background music to my life as the sun sets and the night blankets the landscape. I unconsciously depend on them to keep me company. When cold nights arrive, the landscape becomes silent except for the persistent cricket. It is then that I notice their absence.

These insects are invisible companions . . . rarely seen but always heard. Last night Common True Katydids, Nebraska Coneheads, Greater Anglewings, and Lesser Anglewings graced the darkness with their lovesongs.

                                           Waning Light on Pond   ©Joni L. James

                                           Night Falls    ©Joni L. James

                                                        Greater Anglewing Katydid (??)
                                                        ©Joni L. James

                                           Note tympana on right front leg. ©Joni L. James

Singing insects produce their sounds in many ways. Many insects in the order Orthoptera (Crickets, Katydids, & Grasshoppers), produce sound via stridulation. They rub one body part against another. The base of the forewings of katydids and crickets are designed for sound production. They possess a sharp edge/scraper at the base of one front wing. It is rubbed across a uneven ridge or "file-like" structure at the base of the opposite wing. Wings are elevated and moved rapidly back and forth  during sound production. The wings produce the song through vibration.

These Orthopterans have oval-shaped eardrums/tympana on their front legs near the base of the tibia. (Note the tympana on the right front leg of the Anglewing in the bottom image). Most of the songs are for attracting mates by males.

In general grasshoppers sing during the day and usually the hottest hours. Ground and Field Crickets sing anytime. Katydids and Tree Crickets sing mostly at night (especially early hours until around midnight) -- some often do during the day.

Listen tonight for the beautiful singing of crickets, katydids, and more.
Summer evenings impart memory markers onto our lives through our senses and we all respond differently. What are the pleasurable characteristics of summer nights that create fond memories for you? What defines a summer night?

(Please take a moment to respond via the comment link below this post. I invite discussion and sharing on this blog. I look forward to hearing from you!).

Listen tonight . . .

Monday, August 8, 2011

Beauty in a Retention Pond: Lotus & Water Lilies

Beauty. I am always in search for beauty--the obvious and the not so obvious. I discovered beauty in a retention pond in Brownsburg (at least I assume it is a retention pond--right next to a road in a subdivision). I have never seen a RP that was beautiful. Most are mowed to the edge with no wetland vegetation. No management for diversity of vegetation or control of runoff of water or any chemicals. This one is very different.

The water was filled primarily with Lotus and Water Lilies around the edges. These are some of the most beautiful plants and a favorite of mine.

These images speak for themselves.

                                                        ©Joni L. James

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                                        ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                                        ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sodalis Nature Park

Thanks to my friend, Jennifer, and her sweet little girl, Heidi, I discovered Sodalis Nature Park last week. I returned on Friday to do some photography. Sodalis is a new park which is home to the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). It consists of newly reforested woodlands, mature upper woodlands, riparian corridor, and a 5 acre pond. The park was created through a unique partnership with Hendricks County Parks, Indianapolis Airport Authority, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Near the pond are picnic tables, a floating fishing pier, an observation platform, and five trails. The trails range from 0.5 miles to 1.2 miles in length. Fishing is allowed but please note it is catch and release only. No swimming, wading, or boating is allowed. The park is open from dawn to dusk. Hendricks County residents are very fortunate to have another beautiful park set aside for the enjoyment of nature.

It was very peaceful the day I visited, although hot and humid even with cloud cover. We have set a new record with our heat and humidity this summer. As of today, we have had 21 consecutive days with temperatures 90 degrees or higher.

I am fascinated by the reproductive parts of flowers. They are miracles at work as are the metamorphoses of butterflies & moths and frogs & toads and much, much more in Nature. There is an amazing diversity and beauty in the stamen (male) and pistil (female) organs and their parts (anther, style, stigma, etc.).

I believe the flower images here are Swamp Mallow Rose in the Hibiscus family. (If I incorrectly ID any species in this blog at any time, please contact me with the correct name. I welcome confirmations of my identifications).
Notice the pollen and beauty in the reproductive parts.

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

A view of the pond--

                                          ©Joni L. James

                                           ©Joni L. James

I watched an adult dragonfly (teneral) emerge from its last larval skeleton (exuviae) along the edge of the pond. Can anyone help in identifying this dragonfly? I believe it is in the Skimmer family-- perhaps a Halloween Pennant?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Frog Dangling in Water: How to Spend a Brutally Hot Day

                                           ©Joni L. James

We have had brutally hot days and uncomfortable nights (as most of the U.S.) the last couple of weeks. It was a small break to receive a brief rain and cloudy skies today. The humidity is still thick. I decided to post this photo as a way to cool down. But . . . with heat indexes of 100-120 degrees, one could be in hot water. (And I mean that literally). Stay cool & safe folks!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Caution: Antibacterial Soap & the Effects

I read an interesting article the other day which has me rethinking the use of antibacterial soaps. According to studies, antibacterial soaps do not clean any better than ordinary soap and water. An active chemical ingredient called triclosan can have a strong impact on our environment in many ways. Triclosan is added to approximately 75 percent of soaps and other consumer products as an antibacterial agent. It breaks down in water and sunlight into forms of dioxin. University of Minnesota researchers have found dioxins derived from triclosan in Mississippi River sediments. (Regular soaps that do not purport to be antibacterial do not have triclosan).

One of the problems with triclosan is it damages genes in bacteria which creates immune strains of bacteria. The other potential danger is the effect on our watersheds and the living things which use them-- that includes us. The chemical structure of triclosan looks very much like thyroid hormone. In studies with tadpoles by Caren Helbing of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, they found that triclosan can disrupt thyroid function in frogs and hence their development. This could have implications for human development.

I want to mention that my writing here is not exhaustive and was gathered from several sources. There is much more to this story so I encourage anyone wanting more info to seek it on your own. This is simply food for thought. No doubt we and our children are exposed to an exorbitant number of chemicals everyday. Use caution. You may go to Living on Earth: http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=06-P13-00044&segmentID=1 as well as other sites--just Google them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Songs of Insects & Indiana Raptor Center

                                          ©Joni L. James

Songs of Insects
Check out my Songs of Insects Jukebox in the right margin! Learn to identify sounds of the night & day!

One of my goals this summer is to begin to learn the songs of insects. Last fall, I purchased the book, Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott & Wil Hershberger. It includes a CD of numerous insect songs. How gratifying to be able to identify the many beautiful sounds of the summer night. I did not realize how ingrained and comforting these symphonies of warm (or hot!) nights were to me.

I highly recommend this book and their website: http://www.musicofnature.org/songsofinsects/index.html. Be sure and check out the sounds of these common songs-- I know you have heard them!

Common True Katydid, Fall Field Cricket, Greater Anglewing, Lesser Anglewing, Nebraska Conehead, Scissor-grinder Cicada, Handsome Meadow Katydid, Swamp Cicada.
These are just a few of many you can listen to at their website.

Indiana Raptor Center (formerly Return to the Wild)
Yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the facilities at the Indiana Raptor Center located in Nashville, Indiana. The nonprofit organization is operated by President and executive director/rehabilitator Patti Reynolds and master falconer and education director, Laura Edmunds. Between them and their assistant, KayLee Witt, they have hundreds of hours training/education in the medical care & rehabilitation of raptors. Their mission involves rehabilitation, education, and conservation.

They currently have over 40 birds at their facility. Raptors I met included barred owls, screech owls, great-horned owls, Eurasian eagle owl, barn owl, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, Harris' hawk, African augur buzzard, peregrine falcon, gryfalcon/peregrine hybrid, American kestrels, bald eagles, turkey vulture, and one pigeon. I hope I did not leave "anyone" out. All were very endearing.

I also visited with Marcus Dopatka, a master taxidermist. His bird mounts are exquisite and his work can be seen at the Indiana State Museum as well as numerous parks.

Their work depends on funding through donations, fundraising events, and other non-profit organizations. They provide many educational programs to children and adults. Get involved and support their work through donation. Tours are available through appointment only--they are busy! Their website (although I don't know if this will be changing due to their recent name change: http://returntothewild.org/).

Thank you to the dedicated staff at IRC for not only the tour but for the service you provide to the raptors of Indiana.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Becoming Part of the Harmony

[The] sound of the waters is audible to every ear, but there is other music in these hills, by no means audible to all. To hear even a few notes of it you must first live here for a long time, and you must know the speech of hills and rivers. Then on a still night, when the campfire is low and the Pleiades have climbed over rimrocks, sit quietly and listen for a wolf to howl, and think hard of everything you have seen and tried to understand. Then you may hear it – a vast pulsing harmony – its score inscribed on a thousand hills, its notes the lives and deaths of plants and animals, its rhythms spanning the seconds and the centuries.
     - Aldo Leopold

                                                       Lake Edgewood ©Joni L. James

"I am driven to embrace this land, to protect it, to know all its moods and secrets.I must know who lives here, whether it is dragonfly,chipmunk, cattail, kingfisher, or cricket frog. These are my neighbors. They have taught, inspired, and sustained me all my adult life."
--from Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History by Joni L. James

I so agree with Aldo Leopold. To really know a landscape-- is a great gift. Boundaries are dissolved and you are no longer an observer . . . you are part of It. You are a part of the harmony -- part of the rhythm-- no separation. You become One.

" . . . I need to know a landscape intimately."
--from Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History by Joni L. James

Have you ever felt the boundaries dissolve and became part of the harmony & rhythm?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The True Source of Joy . . .

The true source of joy is love — love of God, love of beauty, love of wisdom, love of another human being, it does not matter which. It is all one love: a joyful awareness of dissolving boundaries of our ordinary narrow self, of being one with the reality beyond, of being made whole.
     - Irma Zaleski, from the essay The Door To Joy

                                           ©Joni L. James

I do believe it is about dissolving boundaries. Losing oneself. A feeling of unity results . . . of oneness with All. When this occurs, it is not just joy though. It is Ecstasy!

If you have read my book, Dancing With Herons: Bearing Witness to Local Natural History, I expound on the subject of opening oneself in Nature to the possibilities. Opening oneself to the connection that can occur in which you feel you have merged with all living things including the landscape before you. I have known ecstasy in many encounters & experiences in Nature.

Any comments from my readers? Share your thoughts!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Heron Stalks Placid Pond

                                          ©Joni L. James

Early morning light
The heron stalks placid pond
Ripples mirror life.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Fireworks or The Big Bang!

I am a seeker of Beauty . . .
Although these images are not directly related to Nature-- when I uploaded them to the computer from my media card, I was stunned by their resemblance to photos of deep space. There is a beauty in the patterns, and lines of light, dark, and color of the explosions.

Beauty abounds everywhere. I hope you will enjoy of few of the images I took this past July 4th.

Beauty . . .