Birth Announcement–We Hope

by Barbara Walvoord

(From Lathrop Lamp Post, Jan. 26, 2017)

Our  black bears are mostly sleeping away the winter  in their dens, but mama does wake up in January or February for one important event–giving birth.  She’ll have 1-4 cubs, though 2 are most common.

The newborns, less than a pound, are blind and hairless.  Mama stays sufficiently awake to avoid lying on them and make it easy for them to nurse.  Her milk must get them up to 4-6 pounds by spring.  Nursing, with no food for herself, she may lose up to 1/3 of her body weight, while non-nursing bears lose only 15-25%. Continue reading Birth Announcement–We Hope

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It’s a Mini-tree! It’s a Wildflower! It’s a Moss! It’s a Fern!

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 19, 2017)

Walking in our woods in winter, I often see these strange plants that look like miniature evergreen trees. Wondering about their name, I looked in my tree book. Nope.  Hmm.  My wildflower book.  Nope.  So I asked north campus resident Helen Armstrong, who knows a heap about native plants, and she said, it’s Lycopodium obscurum, commonly called tree club moss, though my web sources classify it as a fern or “fern ally.”

The ancestors of our tree club moss were100 feet tall, growing 300 million years ago in the swamps of the Carboniferous geological period, rising among the early amphibians, spiders, and 800 types of cockroaches, and then falling, eventually to form coal. Continue reading It’s a Mini-tree! It’s a Wildflower! It’s a Moss! It’s a Fern!

Secret Tunnels Revealed at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

(First appeared in the Lathrop Lamp Post Jan. 12, 2017)

There are secret tunnels all over the world–in Egyptian tombs, medieval buildings, prisons, battlefields, and under walls meant to keep people in or out.

Tunneling seems part of our DNA: When our grandchildren found a huge snowbank left by snowplows near our townhome, they set about digging a tunnel  into it. 

Our grandchildren only got a few feet, but there are yards, perhaps miles, of secret tunnels all over Lathrop land.  When the snow is deep, these tunnels, made by mice or shrews, are invisible to us.  But as snow partially melts, the tunnels become visible, and we can see how extensive is the under-snow life on our land. Continue reading Secret Tunnels Revealed at Lathrop

The Castle Abandoned, the Workers Dead, the Queen in Hiding

by Barbara Walvoord

Walking Lathrop land a few days ago, Sharon and I found this paper wasps’ nest hanging from a tree.

It looks like a tragedy from the tales of King Arthur.  This was once an elegant castle, with many chambers, many workers, and a pampered queen who was waited on foot and foot, never needing to  work–just lay eggs and bully all the other wasps so they know who’s boss. 

Now, in this winter photo, the nest is abandoned, full of holes, its walls shredding in the wind.  Its inhabitants are dead, including all the males and all infertile females.  The only survivors are some pregnant females, hiding out in the bark of a tree somewhere, trying to survive the cold. 

But the real story behind this wasps’ nest is a story of survival, regeneration, and nature’s rhythms.  If a mated female survives the winter (and many don’t), she will emerge in spring homeless. She doesn’t return to her abandoned castle, but starts a new home.  She chews wood and mud to build a tiny house with a few chambers, where she lays her eggs. When the larvae hatch,  she feeds and cares for them until they get old enough to shop, clean, do the dishes, bring her everything she needs, and build more chambers on the castle–all without having a sex life. Toward the end of summer, however, the colony starts producing fertile females and males, who then mate.  The guys then die, along with the unmated females, leaving only mated females, who leave the nest to hibernate,  and the cycle begins again. Continue reading The Castle Abandoned, the Workers Dead, the Queen in Hiding

Winter Walks at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in Lathrop Lamp Post Dec. 29, 2016.)

Lathrop’s snowy woods are “lovely, dark, and deep,” in the words of Robert Frost.  Our brooks are stunningly beautiful, with icy rime along the water. In our meadows, juncos and blue birds flutter among the underbrush. A winter walk can exercise your heart and also fill it with joy.  Trail maps for both campuses are at https://lathropland.wordpress.com/.

But how to get out there, when we’re not as steady on our feet as we used to be?

Sharon and I use cleats and snowshoes to help us walk on Lathrop’s land all winter.

Sharon and I used snowshoes to go to the mid-woods meadow on the east campus to plant wildflower seeds in the snow. 12/17/16.
Sharon and I used snowshoes to go to the mid-woods meadow on the east campus to plant wildflower seeds in the snow. 12/17/16.

For icy trails, buy cleats (one brand is called “Yaktrax”)) at the local hardware store or online.  When you come to the trail, slip them over the bottoms of your Continue reading Winter Walks at Lathrop