#Kayaking – Sign of Spring

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

Raccoon Lake in western Pennsylvania

We brought the kayaks down from their storage place, where they hang all winter upside down under a second-story balcony. Before we could load them up in the truck, we had to remove the very large nest taking up residence in one of them. I felt badly about that, but we have some robins that set up shop in some very strange places around our house.

We live about twenty minutes from Raccoon Creek State Park, but for some reason we’ve spent very little time there. We’ve never been on Raccoon Lake which is created from the water dammed on Traverse Creek. Raccoon Creek doesn’t even touch the lake but travels on the outskirts of the park. We had an adventure on Raccoon Creek several years ago when our kayaks capsized after ramming into a large tree downed over the creek where it runs its fastest.

The cruise on Raccoon Lake this past weekend didn’t bring any adventures, except when my kayak banged up against what I thought was a rock as we approached the end of the lake and shallow, muddy water.

“It’s not a rock,” my husband said. “I saw it raise it’s head. It’s a turtle.”

Sure enough, the red, green and brown shell looked ancient and massive–two feet long at least. I didn’t have my good camera, so this is all I could manage to shoot of the creature in Raccoon Lake. It’s an outline at best.

freshwater turtle

freshwater turtle

I’m guessing it’s a snapping turtle because I couldn’t really get a clear view either with my naked eye or through my camera lens. When my kayak nudged him, I worried it might wake the sleeping giant, but it just swam away from me leaving me intact in the kayak.

We also saw an osprey guarding its nest. I will never again leave my good camera with zoom lens at home for even the shortest of nature explorations. My little pocket camera couldn’t zoom far enough to capture the osprey standing on a branch high above the banks. I didn’t even try to pull the camera out of the ziplock baggie. In a way, there was relief in not worrying about capturing the moment. I could just enjoy the majesty of this bird and rejoice in its population resurgence in western Pennsylvania.

The warm spring day makes me yearn for more lovely days when the trees are green and flowers bloom along the shore. We plan to spend more time in this lovely spot in our backyard. After all, the day we found our house four years ago, we were on our way to the Wildflower Preserve within the park. I haven’t been back since 2010, but this is the year to explore nearer to home.

Eastern Painted Turtle sunning

 

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

Raccoon Lake in Raccoon Creek State Park

#BP Oil Spill Four Years Ago – Let Us Not Forget

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

BP’s oil spill in 2010 still haunts us today as scientists study the lingering effects of the millions of barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. At the time of the spill, I worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a public relations director. Immediately, our agency became watchdogs for oil headed toward Florida’s waters and beaches. I wrote about the oil spill in my novel, Trails in the Sand, using it as the backdrop for a family racing to save itself from destruction.

April 20, 2014 represents the forty-fourth anniversary of the first Earth Day, and it’s also sadly, the fourth anniversary of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Click here to grab your #.99 cent Kindle copy

Trails in the Sand is on sale during April for .99 cents on Kindle. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of Trails in the Sand:

As I sipped the aromatic brew, I glanced at the morning’s headlines before the television and George Stephanopoulos diverted my attention.

It was only a blip on the charts of the day’s news stories. I would have missed mention of it if I’d gone to the bathroom when George said an oil rig had caught on fire in the Gulf of Mexico the night before. On the morning of April 21, 2010, other news took precedence over this minor incident occurring miles off the coast of Louisiana.

As I flipped the channels to find more news, I learned that volcanic ash from a recently erupted volcano in Iceland was costing airlines $1.7 billion to combat the loss in flights. The day before the Supreme Court overturned a ban on videos depicting animal cruelty. Matt Laurer announced the death toll after the April 14 earthquake in China now topped 2,000.

CNN reported that a former coal miner at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia decided to give an interview detailing the unsafe conditions at the mine prior to the explosion two weeks earlier.

But nothing more on a little oil rig burning in the middle of the ocean. Since the fire occurred the night before, the morning newspapers contained no reports.

I took another sip of coffee, trying to determine the level of my reporter’s barometric pressure climbing up the back of my neck.

“Were you listening to NPR in the kitchen?” I asked Simon as he came back to bed with his cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice.

“No. Why?”

“Just a curious little footnote to the news this morning, but I’ve only heard it on ABC so far,” I said. “It seems an oil rig caught on fire out in the Gulf last night. The report said eleven men are missing, but officials are confident the men are on lifeboats that haven’t been found yet because of the smoke on the water.”

“It sounds like it has the potential for a real disaster,” Simon said.

“They also said a former miner decided to talk about conditions at Upper Big Branch mine,” I said. “Sure wish I could have gotten that interview.”

A couple of the channels gave a brief account of the oil rig fire, but all agreed everything was under control. I hoped that was the case, but it bothered me when all the reports said the fire still burned. How did they have any idea what lay below the surface of that fire?

“Yesterday, April 20, was the eleventh anniversary of Columbine,” I said. “And the fortieth anniversary of Earth Day is tomorrow.”

“And the West Virginia explosion occurred on your mother’s birthday, April 5,” my husband said.

He knew very well I kept track of dates and wondered at the curiosity of so many significant occurrences in history coinciding with other dates important to those closest to me. In my family, birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths more often than not occurred on important historical dates. Two of my aunts had been born on December 7, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor – a day of infamy. My best friend Holly was born on Christmas Day, and my sister died on the Fourth of July just two years earlier.

“I guess I better make some calls,” I said. “I’m a little skeptical that all is well in the Gulf.”

“Getting one of those hunches?” Simon asked.

“My ears are starting to tingle, so I better listen.”

I wouldn’t say I was clairvoyant or possessed powers of prescience, but I had a journalist’s instinct for news whether I was dealing with my job as a freelance environmental writer or as a woman assessing a person’s intentions. I learned over the years to follow those instincts. First, I felt something akin to hair rising on my neck. However, when I felt the tingling in my ears that sent a shiver down my spine, I began to pay attention to every little detail. The skeptic in me was still simmering beneath the surface even though my marriage to Simon the year before took some of the sharper edges off the knife of my cynicism. Love works miracles, but my transformation was still a work in progress. For the sake of my career, that was probably a good thing. I needed to question everything, or I’d never have a story.

I wondered where to start finding out about the fire. For nearly three decades, I made my living by writing about the environment and wildlife, with human interest thrown in the mix. One of the most recent stories took me to the Panhandle of Florida where a bear wandered into a residential neighborhood only to be darted with a tranquilizer by a wildlife biologist with the state wildlife agency. The drugged bear stumbled into the Gulf of Mexico before collapsing from the tranquilizer. The biologist wanted to knock the bear out temporarily, not drown him. He swam out to rescue the unconscious animal, dragging it back to shore. Photos of the rescue taken by a resident went around the world.

I wrote investigative pieces about illegal dumping of hazardous waste in rivers in far too many places in the United States. I wrote about environmental disasters and crimes whenever I received a tip from my sources that I’d cultivated and coddled over decades of trying to find the perfect quote. I wrote a story a few years back about a wildlife CSI lab in Oregon. I traveled across the country for stories filled with dramatic flourishes that somehow touched lives. I waded through the swamps of the Everglades hunting the invasive Burmese python, and I followed a group of camel traders in the deserts of Morocco, all in pursuit of the story.

When Simon came back into my life, I made the decision to give our marriage my full attention. I curtailed the scope of my writing, concentrating on stories from the southeastern Atlantic coast.

“Just when I thought our lives might settle down,” Simon said as he sat on the edge of the bed, flipping through the newspapers.

“You and I will never settle down. It’s our karma to be perpetually stirred up,” I said as I leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek.

 

Here’s to remembering the past lest we repeat our same mistakes.

 

#Civil War Begins

Click on cover for Amazon page

Click on cover for Amazon page

It’s been 153 years since the first shot of the Civil War was fired on April 12, 1861. Here’s the take of the weeks leading up to it and the aftermath from the viewpoint of a Union soldier, my great grandfather, Harmon Camburn. This is an excerpt from his memoir, Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier.

Spring 1861
It had been my intention to continue working summers and teaching winters, and with the money so earned to work my way through college. But the political ferment that had been so long brewing between the North and South began to assume proportions that boded trouble to the nation. The threat of the Southerners to dissolve the Union was being discussed all over the country.
Rumors of troops being raised to resist the government began to reach us.
The excitement was growing so intense that little else was talked of in the family circle, on the streets, or in public gatherings. Resistance to southern outrages was even preached from the pulpit.
While watching the course of events with absorbing interest, I had made up my mind to embrace the first opportunity, should there be any call, to enlist to help put down the coming rebellion, which no one thought would be more than a summer campaign.
Notwithstanding the boasts and threats of the South, the firing on Fort Sumter fell like a thunderbolt on the people.
[On April 12, 1861, Confederate warships fired on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, to begin the Civil War.]
Immediately, the whole North began to organize military companies; and war meetings were held everywhere.
Then came the call of President Lincoln for seventy-five thousand men for three months. Michigan was asked for one regiment of ten companies under this call. Two companies were started in Adrian: the Hardee Cadets and the Adrian Guards.
The Guards being the oldest company, I thought they would be the first accepted; and consequently chose that company, thinking that perhaps that would be the last chance I would ever have to serve my country as a soldier.
On the morning of April 20, 1861, my father said to me at breakfast, “If you will harness the horse, we will go to Adrian and hear the latest news from Washington.”
On our arrival at Adrian, Father left me at liberty while he transacted some necessary business, and I made my way directly to the recruiting office of the Adrian Guards where I signed a pledge to enlist in the company for three months. I soon met Father and told him what I had done. After presenting all the arguments at his command to dissuade me from going into the army, and finding me still resolute, he said, “Go and do your duty, and if I was as young and strong as you, I would go, too.” When my father had gone home, I returned to the recruiting officer and signified my readiness to begin the life of a soldier at once.
Being required to write my age upon the enlistment paper, I wrote “nineteen years.” The recruiting officer sarcastically remarked, “Yes, three years ago.” And when I assured him of the truthfulness of my statement, he laughed immoderately.

My great grandfather served for the next three years until he was shot and captured in the Battle of Knoxville in late 1863.

Slow Start to Garden

It’s been a slow start here in western Pennsylvania after a tough winter. My husband has been preparing the soil and raised beds for a few weeks. The seedlings are growing under grow lights. He puts the trays outside each day for a few hours of sun, if possible.

Peas under cover

Peas under cover

This weekend, he finally put the peas in the ground. And spinach seedlings will be put in the raised bed next to the peas later this afternoon.

Two years ago we put in raspberry plants and asparagus. My husband spent a few hours this weekend pulling the raspberry roots that invaded the asparagus bed. So far, we can’t see any asparagus coming up. Let’s hope the raspberries didn’t invade too far. We didn’t realized how invasive raspberries can be, but perhaps this is why most folks put their raspberries in a separate garden.

Where's the asparagus?

Where’s the asparagus?

 

 

 

 

 

How’s your garden growing?

Click on cover

Click on cover

 

Here’s an excerpt from From Seed to Garden on raised bed gardening.

Raised Beds
Robert has been gardening using the raised bed method for several decades. I’ve come to appreciate its benefits as well. He rakes the soil into eight-inch mounds in three- to four-foot wide rows. He forms the raised bed from soil raked into a mound. The space left forms the paths between the raised beds and is an excellent place for mulch application.

raised beds

raised beds

The mulch we place on the garden serves as its own compost bin. We use straw from a local farm—we buy six-eight bales total in summer and fall. They cost approximately $7 each. I use them as decorative items in the yard until Robert’s ready to pull them apart for use as mulch. We also use mushroom manure, grass clippings from our lawn, leaves from our trees, compost from the bin, plants that have bolted, remains of vegetables, such as cornhusks, pea pods, or bean ends and strings. This material goes into the valleys between the raised beds to form a path between rows. It’s very easy to reach all the plants in our garden from the mulched paths.

When we first married, I was cautious about going into Robert’s sanctuary because I didn’t want to do something wrong or step on anything. After the first year of working with him in the garden, I realized his way of laying out the garden made it extremely friendly for me to go out and pick vegetables. Also, with the heavy layers of mulch between the rows, there’s very little weeding to do in the garden.
Raised bed gardening provides several benefits over regular garden beds. Because the plants are above the ground, drainage from the beds is very good. It also helps in aeration of the soil and the plant’s roots. It increases the depth of the bed. And my personal favorite, it provides excellent demarcation of the plants and the walking paths.

Signs of Spring in the Yard

???????????????????????????????Short little post today to remind us all, spring is here. I’ll keep reminding myself of that this week. I’m in shorts today, but the weather experts keep saying there’s a chance for snow later this week. In the meantime, I’m enjoying a little color in the yard.

 

I planted pansies in an old bird water bath and in pots for the front steps a few weeks ago. So far they’ve survived a light frost. I don’t know how they’ll do in snow.???????????????????????????????

And the finally, I spied the daffodils in full bloom under the front bushes. Tulips have yet to burst out, but hopefully they won’t be long behind. ???????????????????????????????

 

 

 

 

 

What’s going on in your yard?

Mutant Ducks of Raccoon

I’ve written about the mallard ducks in our neighborhood in previous years. And then there were threeThey come in March. Three males hang out for a bit with a female until the female goes to her nest either out by the mailbox or under our deck. These ducks have been inbreeding for years. A creek is just down the hill in the our backyard yet they stay in the neighborhood, mainly at ducklings6-13-12 010the farm where they originated.

I’m guessing that years ago someone bought a couple of cute ducklings for Easter presents. Now those ducks number in the dozens and really have forgotten that ducks belong near water. When it rains they play in the mud puddles at the farm. A few go in the tiny puddle while the others wait on the sidelines patiently. We don’t have mud puddles. However, this year when my husband lay plastic on the raised beds so the soil wouldn’t get too wet, the dips in the plastic formed places for water to collect.

Yep, we now have a duck pool.

Raccoon Creek Pond

Raccoon Creek Pond

#BP Oil Spill Four Years Later

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

Deepwater Horizon well BP oil spill 2010

Almost four years after Deepwater Horizon caught on fire and opened up the well that gushed millions of gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, some of the long term effects are being felt. BP’s oil spill may be with us for many decades to come. Let us not forget the lessons learned. Safety standards must be followed and enforced.

oiled wildlife during BP's oil spill in 2010

oiled wildlife during BP’s oil spill in 2010

NWF Gulf Wildlife Report EMBARGO 2014-04-08

In 2013, I published the novel Trails in the Sand, which begins on April 20, 2010, the day of the BP oil spill. The novel chronicles the race to save sea turtle hatchlings as the oil approaches Florida’s beaches and lands in the sea grasses that serve as home to the infants for months before they venture further into the sea.

Loggerhead hatchling 2006 Photo by P.C. Zick

Loggerhead hatchling 2006
Photo by P.C. Zick

I ended the environmental part of the novel with hope that perhaps the barrels of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico dispersed enough to save wildlife. It’s disheartening to read what I probably have known all along in my heart.

To celebrate Earth Day 2014, which ironically shares the same anniversary date with the BP oil spill, Trails in the Sand is only .99 cents for the #Kindle version during the month of April. I hope you enjoy reading this novel of love and redemption.

 

 

Click on the cover below to go to the Amazon purchase page.

Trails in the Sand - Oil spill, sea turtles, and love

Trails in the Sand – Oil spill, sea turtles, and love