Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mulberry Gleaners

On my bike ride home today, I stopped to chat with a young couple harvesting mulberries.
Me: What do you do with them?
He: Use 'em anywhere you'd use blackberries.
 . . . pause . . .
He: They're not as sweet as blackberries.
She: But they're cheaper!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Going West in Search of Wild

Open Phenology collaborator Jim shares his field guide and expertise.
As Open Phenology attracts participants, the project's collaborative nature is taking shape. For example, this week's survey benefited from Jim's knowledge of botany and his intrepid impulse to explore the western fringe of the Walker's vicinity. So we left the manicured landscape of lawn and garden to investigate the wilder environs of wetland and forest.

Well, that begs the question: "What is wild?" What do terms like 'wilderness' or 'nature' denote, and what do we mean to exclude by using these words? It's an enigma to ponder because 'nature' seems to encompass everything, and yet most of us harbor the notion that nature has boundaries.

Once outside the urban yard's monoculture and the garden's cultivated display, does the land revert to its natural state? To the casual glance, perhaps it appears so. But upon examination, the answer is emphatically no. At every turn, introduced species were flourishing. And so we challenged ourselves to piece together, through observation and speculation, a semblance of this ecosystem's 'natural state.' And we wondered about the near future of this piece of land. Would our city or this neighborhood support and sustain the maintenance work necessary to keep invasives at bay?

What: Select observations described below
Where: Less than 1/2 mile west of FlatPak House, map above
Observers: Abbie, Jim, Martha, Renner
Date/Time: June 24, 10 to 11:30 am
Conditions: Sunny and warm

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Myth of Phenological Time Travel

In the 14 days since my last post, I traveled from the forty-fifth to the fiftieth parallel and back. Could a trip to Canada be phenological time travel? Would I find myself stepping back to an earlier point in spring?
Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Location A (Minneapolis Sculpture Garden)
Location B (western Ontario)
Well, that's a nice theory, but it turns out that contrasting Location A with Location B is a bit like the proverbial comparison of apples to oranges. Sure, up North the foliage was still tinged with spring's yellow-green, the lilacs were freshly blooming, and the water was colder. But the ecological landscapes were vastly different from one another. By traveling 5° north, I had left the deciduous forest and entered the boreal forest. The phenological players (plants, animals, etc) were so different that their life cycle events were not so much behind as they were simply incomparable. So, while I was on leave from Location A, here's a quick survey of phenological events at Location B:
    Common Loons with chicks; Yellow Warblers tending a nest; Small-mouth bass nesting; dragonflies abundant; mayflies present; tiger swallowtails frequently sighted; mosquitoes scarce; no saturniids (Luna or Polyphemus moths) observed; Flowering plants included: pink lady slippers, star flowers, mountain ash, wild blueberries, wild iris, bunch berry, wild rose, columbine, and spotted coral root; Mosses' calyptra were still in place over developing capsules (click here for diagram, here for photo)
And as for Location A? A quick glance back to how I left things:
May 27: Nasturtium in the Garden's Arbor
June 10: American Robin

Phenology is about continuity. To succeed at this science, one must tend to a given locality with regularity. So, tomorrow as I resume my periodic surveys of the familiar Location A, I wonder what changes (incremental or monumental) may have occurred for this nasturtium plant? Or this robin?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Music and Musings

While Abbie spends this week exploring Canadian flora and fauna I will be filling in with my own (more primitive) Minnesota observations.

I rolled out of bed this morning with the expectation of spending a quiet, meandering morning being delighted by childlike discoveries of my surroundings in and around the Walker Sculpture Garden. Though my wanderings were pleasant, the field and garden were fluttering with activity. Of course! It's a mere day before Rock The Garden, the Walker's annual outdoor music festival. The field and garden were bustling with Walker staff, news crews, and contracted help zipping around like Fraggle Rock (the garden) Doozers to prepare for the event. There also appeared to be a morning wedding ceremony taking place in the Cowles Conservatory. In the midst of all the bustling I did manage to make some exciting discoveries.

I begin with my red-winged blackbird sighting not because they are uncommon to the area but because of my fondness for them. When I moved to Minnesota they were the first new bird I was able to identify.

What: Foraging red-winged blackbird
Where: West side of Walker Sculpture Garden
Observer: Lindsay
Date/Time: June 17, 10:15am
Conditions: Sunny and humid

What: Musicians warming up before a ceremony
Where: Cowles Conservatory
Observer: Lindsay
Date/Time: June 17, 10:18am
Conditions: Cool and stagnant

I have just recently become interested in the act of birding and have great respect for those who do it well primarily because I am realizing that it requires a level of patience that I have not yet cultivated. The above image is one I made while stalking a cardinal, a beautiful bright red cardinal that was not interested in my photographic advances.

I like the anticipation of this image. When will the dahlias begin popping out of the soil? I'll have to go back throughout the summer and check in.

What: Honka dahlia markers
Where: Alene Grossman Memorial Arbor and Flower Garden
Observer: Lindsay
Date/Time: June 17, 10:35am
Conditions: Sunny and humid

I love watching ducklings following their mothers. They look like they must be attached by a magnetic force of some kind. When I was a child I had this game called "Are You My Mother?". It's a little traumatizing now that I think about it. It was a board game with a farm scene depicted on it. Around the board there were little cardboard hens with magnetic bases. The player was a baby chick that also had a magnetic base. The object of the game was to move around the board and find out which of the hens was the chick's mother. The parent hen would reveal itself through its "attraction" to the chick (or a magnet with the opposite charge). Clever, really. Because of this game I will forever associate motherhood with magnets.

What: Ducklings dutifully following mother duck
Where: Under Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry
Observer: Lindsay
Date/Time: June 17, 10:45am
Conditions: Sunny and humid

Thank you to Abbie for letting me fill in. What a pleasure to spend the morning taking in the activities of a sunny June day, camera in hand and eyes wide open. It should be a mandatory activity for us all.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Mysterious West End

I accepted Abbie’s invitation to guest host during her absence this week and realized that I hadn’t walked the entire length of the Garden for more than a year. Well acquainted with the east entrance of the garden, my objective was to explore the unknown west end. Laura Robards Gantenbein, MN Artist Fellow, joined me on my excursion, where we passed by little creatures moving about. What really caught my eye however, was the space beyond the garden, a patch of trees on the west wall of the entrance near Dunwoody Blvd.

This mostly banal and unimpressive landscape included a particularly curious tree. Aesthetically I've always been drawn to the grotesque, and this tree was oozing with it, literally.

I’m not much of an arboriculturist, but I’m identifying this as a pine tree, what do you think? This particular pine was completely unabashedly secreting sap amongst its more modest peers. The sap was in various stages of sticky liquid and crystallized residue; I was fascinated. I don’t often analyze sappy trees, but this was the perfect opportunity to indulge.

Nestled in the tree was a morning dove, which didn’t seem to mind the sappy contents. Laura and I tenderly named the bird Cargill, after one of the lounges in the Walker. Having our fill of sap and new friend Cargill we made our way back to the museum and spotted a chipmunk. We named it Bazinet.

Bazzie, Bazzie 2, Bazinetta, were other chipmunks we spotted on the way back that crossed our path shortly after, but to be fair, the original Bazinet stole the chipmunk show.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for next week’s sightings!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Further Opening Phenology

The "Open" in Open Phenology has multiple meanings.
  • Making the science of phenology accessible to more people
  • Welcoming all levels of expertise and involvement
  • Valuing transparency, collaboration, and spontaneity
  • Expanding the scope of phenology—observations are not limited to 'biological phenomena,' but encompass the social, cultural, and technological aspects of our environment
  • Acknowledging a blend of objective and subjective approaches
I'm pleased to open up the project to include two guest facilitators/leaders: Adriana and Lindsay.

June 10, 10 am: Open Phenology led by Adriana
Join guest facilitator Adriana for the weekly experiment that is Open Phenology. As usual, the exploration and the conversation start at FlatPak House in the Garden.

June 17, 10 am: Open Phenology led by Lindsay
Join Lindsay, volunteer explorer and nature enthusiast, for this installment of Open Phenology. Meet at FlatPak House in the Garden to see for yourself what's going on around the Walker.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nocturnal beings and night visions

Click to enlarge --- it's worth it!
What: A Polyphemus moth
Where: Window screen at my home
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: June 5, midnight to 1 am
Conditions: Still and partly overcast
Zoom out with me, if you will, from Open Phenology's 'micro-local' focus to a 'macro-local' look at our cities on the 45th parallel. It was the night of Northern Spark, the Twin Cities' first nuit blanche featuring participatory art activities from dusk to dawn across Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was at home working on a painting when this spectacular moth alit on my screen. It clung motionless and permit me a few photographs. While it's difficult to judge scale from this image, this species has a wingspan of about 6". As my friend David aptly observed, it's like a lucky rabbit's foot with wings attached.

The Polyphemus is an astonishing creature. Its larva hatch in synchronized broods and undergo a series of moltings followed by a final metamorphosis into the adult moth. Their existence as moths is remarkably fleeting. Individuals live only a few days, just long enough to mate and start the next generation.

Above: Vortex Navigation Company perform "Let's Light a Light," YouTube media by Sean Connaughty (recorded March 2010)

View from within Sky Pesher
By 2 am I had left the lone moth and was nestled into Sky Pesher for Nightshift's headphone concerts. As I listened to Vortex Navigation Company perform "Let's Light a Light," I gazed into the square of sky and envisioned a choreography of great moths, aloft on plumes of pheromones and lured by the light. And I thought of the city, pulsing with blinking bike lights and illuminated with creative phenomena.

Open Phenology is teaching me that for every event I witness, a staggering multitude of events go unseen. As I drove home in the 4 am darkness, the American Robins discerned and heralded the light, commencing a dawn chorus 90 minutes prior to sunrise.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Google placemarks make the scene

Today on Walker Open Field, a team installed this vinyl graphic.

And I added another marker to the Open Phenology Loci map.

Just able to fly

What: This little one remained still for several minutes of observation. Then it made a short flight, perching on a low branch of the nearby arborvitae. I think it might be a young Common Grackle.
Where: Between Mark di Suvero's Arikidea and Jenny Holzer's The Living Series
Observer: Abbie
Date/Time: June 3, 9:10 am
Conditions: Warm, sunny, hazy

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A feast fit for a fledgling

What: A fledgling American Robin being fed by a parent, perched within the protection of the hedges. (The young individual was not in a nest and I didn't spot the nest or any siblings nearby.) The adult made ceaseless and hurried runs from the fledgling's open beak to the ground directly below and back up again, always with a little worm, grub, or bug to bear. Who knew the dirt was brimming with such bounty!
Where: Arborvitae hedges, east edge of Arikidea's quadrant
Observers: Abbie 
Date/Time: June 1, 2011 at about 5:30 pm
Conditions: Mostly sunny