Category Archives: Nature

Fall chore

Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.
Ron picks the meat out of a cracked walnut.

For the first time in about 30 years, I harvested black walnuts this weekend.

We had a tree in our yard when we were a kid. Mom and I used to go outside in old shoes we didn’t care about and stomp the soft outer hulls off of them so we could bring them in, crack them and pick out the meat. Then the tree died, and I didn’t have access to walnuts again until last year, when we moved here. The tree in the yard next door overhangs our driveway and throws sap and nuts all over our cars.

We didn’t get any walnuts last year, because the squirrels stole them. This year, we gathered the nuts as they fell and kept them in a basket in the garage.

Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see filled the basket before i removed the hulls.
Black walnuts with the outer hulls stripped from them. The nuts you see above filled that basket before I removed the hulls.
Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.
Hulls. Never put these in your compost or garden; they contain a natural herbicide that will kill anything you try to grow.
Here's all the nut meat we removed from the shells.
Here’s all the nut meat we removed from the shells.

Black walnuts are a pain to process — you have to stomp off the outer hulls, let them dry for a week or two, crack them with a hammer, and pick out all the meat, which takes foreeeeeeever — but the payoff is pretty good, as you know if you’ve ever had black walnut beer or chocolate-chip cookies with black walnuts in them, and it was kind of satisfying to do something I haven’t done since I was a kid. I might pay someone else to process them next time, though. We’ve got another 250 I stomped the other day, and I’m sure another 50 to 100 have fallen from the tree since then. There’s a limit to how long I’m willing to spend processing walnuts in one season.


Nature facts

Here are some facts about nature:

1. Tiger mosquitoes love hiding out under cucumber leaves.
2. Tiger mosquitoes can bite through denim.
3. Tiger mosquitoes are a-holes. I think the only part of my body that doesn’t itch at the moment is my pancreas. But I’m sure the little SOBs will find a way to bite all the way through my torso to get to that next.
4. Homegrown heirloom cucumbers are totally worth it.


Eco-Saturday: Protecting pollinators


Here’s a quick, super-easy project for anyone who owns a pond, pool or other water source.

Pollinators will see backyard ponds and pools as ideal spots to stop for a drink, especially as the weather warms up. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a safe spot for them to land, they’ll drown.

If you have a backyard pond, your best bet is to toss a water lily or maybe some water lettuce or water hyacinth in there. (Be careful with water hyacinth and water lettuce, as they are invasive species that can wreak havoc if they get into waterways in some areas. They’re OK for small, ornamental ponds that aren’t connected to any streams, creeks or rivers, but I wouldn’t use them in low-lying areas where floodwaters could carry them into local waterways. They do have the advantage of being relatively cheap and spreading quickly, however, which makes them a good choice for shading ornamental ponds to prevent algae bloom.)

If your plants haven’t started growing well yet — or if your water source is a pool rather than a pond — you can recycle wine corks, plastic lids or polystyrene cups into landing pads for pollinators. I cut the bottoms out of polystyrene coffee cups and tossed them into the pond this spring before my plants took hold. They weren’t pretty, but they did the job and kept my bees safe until I got a good assortment of plants.

If you don’t have a pond or pool but would like to provide a safe place for bees, wasps and butterflies to grab a sip of water, cover the bottom of a shallow dish with pebbles and pour just enough water in it to reach the tops of the pebbles so critters can get a drink without drowning.


Small hint of spring

Before the sky decided to dump another round of ice on us, the weather warmed up briefly, and I caught a flash of yellow peeking from the layer of leaves huddled around my front porch.

I brushed back the leaf mold to find this:



One of the best things about moving into a new house is spending the next year finding the surprises previous occupants planted for you along the way. At our old house in Tulsa, we discovered grape hyacinths, one regular hyacinth, crocus, calla lilies (until too many years of drought killed them) and — once — a single red tulip. To that, we added a flowerbed full of peppermint and chocolate mint that release fragrance as you brush against them on the way to the front door, a prickly pear from Texas in one corner of the front yard, and a wisteria vine that festoons the pergola with clusters of soft purple blossoms from April to October. I hope the new owner enjoys them as much as we did.


Scenes from a relaxing afternoon

I spent part of last Saturday unwinding on the Makanda Boardwalk and wandering around Giant City and Carbondale a little bit. Here are a few visual highlights:

View from the log where I stopped to play ukulele and sing old Dylan songs quietly to myself.
Found this little guy in the garden behind Rainmaker. I can’t decide whether an eroded, crumbling Pan-cherub is cool or just creepy. Maybe both.
I will never get done being impressed with these crazy metal trees. Also, I am in love with that retaining wall.

In other news:

1. All my seeds have sprouted, and my mini-greenhouse has created a wonderful micro-climate. I need to put a rug or something under it to protect the floor from excess moisture, but it’s wonderful to open it up once a day and breathe in warm, moist, earth-scented air while I wait for spring.

2. A stylist recently informed me that my hair is now 50 percent gray, so I have spent the past few days diligently seeking a viable means of either lifting my henna or masking my roots while they grow out. I still think henna is the most magnificent dye on the planet, in terms of both color and conditioning properties, but ginger will never be as sexy as salt and pepper, no matter what the Doctor might think, and the plan has always been to use henna as a way to showcase my gray streak and keep my hair healthy until it’s ready to go full-on Emmylou. To that end, after fading the henna from auburn to copper with Color Oops! (which I’m told would strip out all of the henna if I had the patience to endure another nine hours’ worth of sinus-crushing brimstone fumes, which I don’t), I rustled up a red mousse that precisely matches the remaining color, rinses out in a single wash, and should keep my roots from looking too unkempt while they grow out. I caught a three-for-two sale, so by the time I run out of the stuff, the transition should be complete. W00t!


Little feet



Y’all know I pretty much hate winter. One of the few things that makes it tolerable: itty-bitty footprints in the snow. I think these are little squirrel footprints.

One of the other things that makes it tolerable: the contrast when you walk out of a warm gym on a cold night after a good workout. I don’t like being out in the cold very long, but the walk to the car is a nice way to cool down. (A nicer way to cool down is to walk out of a warm gym on an 80-degree night and hit a shaved-ice stand on the way home, but sadly, we’re still a good three months from that.)

Ah, well. By my calculations, there’s only one day of winter left.

That’s right, kids: Phillies pitchers and catchers report tomorrow. Whee!


Eco-Saturday: Thermophilic compost

Compost is a gardener’s best friend.

If you’re planting a garden this spring, now is a great time to start a thermophilic compost pile.

First, some vocabulary: The type of composting we’re talking about today is thermophilic composting. The term thermophilic means “heat-loving” and refers to the type of bacteria you’re trying to encourage to grow in the pile. As these bacteria break down organic materials, they give off heat. You’ll know you’ve got a healthy thermophilic compost pile when you plunge a pitchfork into your compost pile and see steam coming from the middle.

To get a compost pile to heat up, you need four ingredients:

1. “Green” (nitrogen-heavy) organic material, such as grass clippings, vegetable scraps or animal manure.
2. “Brown” (carbon-heavy) organic material, such as dry leaves, sawdust or peat moss.
3. Water.
4. Oxygen.

Grass clippings are great compost starter.

Start with roughly equal parts greens and browns. Lay down about a six-inch-thick layer of browns, cover it with a six-inch-thick layer of greens, and water it until it’s about as damp as a wrung-out washcloth. Repeat until you have a pile about four feet wide, four feet long and four feet high.

Still kicking myself for giving that outfit to Goodwill. 

Once a day, use a pitchfork to turn the pile. The best way to do this is to leave a space next to your pile that’s the same length and width as the pile itself. To turn the pile, simply move it into this space, one forkful at a time, watering it several times as you go to make sure it stays damp. (Just water as needed; if the pile is sopping wet, you obviously don’t need to add any more moisture.) The next day, move the pile back to its original spot, one forkful at a time. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.

Use a container with a lid, such as a one-gallon ice-cream tub, to collect kitchen scraps to add to your pile. Add the scraps to the center of the pile, where they’ll break down faster. Avoid putting meat, dairy or grains into your compost, as they can attract rodents.

Happy composting!


Warm drink on a cold day.


It’s cold out, and getting colder. We’re supposed to get several inches of snow before the day is out, and we’re looking down the barrel of subzero temperatures. Days like this make me miss my woodstove. I hope the guy who bought our old house is enjoying it. Today would be a good day to have posole simmering on the stove.


A road trip was out of the question today, so Ron and I just went to breakfast at the Sands Pancake House on Highway 61, made a trip to the hardware store and then spent part of the early afternoon at the Sears tire shop after pulling into the driveway and noticing one of the tires on the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcar looked low.

When we got back, Ron started laundry, and I put a clothesline in the basement so we don’t have to run the dryer so much.

Now I’m just sitting around listening to Joan Baez and sipping ginger lemonade while the snow falls outside.

Ginger lemonade is nice on a cold day — warm and spicy, and it tastes like candy. Here’s the recipe, in case you’re cold, too:


1. Start with fresh ginger root. You can get it in the produce section of just about any grocery store. It’s a popular ingredient in Asian food, so a lot of stores keep it near the bean sprouts and snow peas.


2. Cut off a chunk about an inch long and peel it.


3. Use a garlic press to mince the ginger and squeeze the juice into a microwave-safe cup. You may have to cut it into smaller pieces and squeeze it several times to get it minced up. It’s OK if it doesn’t all mince; the juice is the important part.



4. Squeeze a lemon into the cup.


5. Add honey to taste and microwave about 30 seconds, then add enough water to fill the cup and microwave for another minute or two until it’s good and warm. Stir it up and add more honey if needed.


6. Enjoy with a warm blanket and your favorite folk record. Ginger will warm you up from the inside out.

Stay warm, wherever you are.


Go listen to this.

This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard. It’s crickets. CRICKETS. The sound you hear in that link above is being produced by those nasty little jumping-cockroaches-with-good-press that the cat likes to stalk and eat and then yakk up all over the carpet.

Apparently when crickets chirp at night, they’re actually just having a big ol’ cricket flash mob, like that choir that pops up and performs Handel’s Messiah at shopping malls. We just don’t notice because they’re singing really fast; after all, they only live a few days, so for them, a four-minute song would be the equivalent of a human singing for several weeks. When you slow them down to human-lifespan-pace, you get an angel choir.

I’m gonna have to rethink my position on crickets.

(Just don’t expect me to start tolerating cicadas. I don’t care if those creepy bastards secretly sound like Emmylou Harris and Mary Travers singing backup for Judy Collins on an album of Joan Baez covers; I still don’t want them body-slamming my front door every time I turn on the porch light, because ewww.)