Friday, May 28, 2010


THERE it was again - a mewing in the bushes at the back of the park. We investigated, expecting to come across a lost kitten or a nest of ferile felines. Instead, we found a rather drab bird, almost completely grey. And he was miaowing. There was no mistaking it - it had to be a Grey Catbird. A look in our bird book at home confirmed its appearance, call and habitat. What a surprise that it really does sound exactly like a cat! You can hear its call here. Even more surprising was hearing it again a few days later in our own back garden. And besides just miaowing, the catbird also has a beautiful song which it demonstrated to us quite proudly. Some fun facts:

  • Catbirds can recognise their own eggs and remove any laid by imposters

  • Besides their usual diet of berries and insects, they will eat odd things from feeders such as cheese, crackers and milk

  • The phrase 'sitting in the catbird seat' means being in an enviable, winning position. During breeding season, catbirds compete with others of their species by singing from higher and higher perches. The bird that reaches the highest perch wins the territory.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Special Day

SINCE Emma's birthday falls in the summer holidays, she celebrated hers at school before school breaks up at the end of May. Our whole family was invited to attend. At the appointed time, Emma invited us into the classroom where we sat with her at the place of honour at the table. She was given a crown and cape and lit the birthday candle. The children sang a special birthday song then we ate cake as I told the children a little story about her first few days on this earth. Emma was presented with a special gift from her teacher and a book of drawings from all her classmates. Finally, at the end of the day, each child left with a mini God's eye made by Emma & Co (in the photo). The celebration was sweet and beautiful and how can my baby be almost five!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Edible Ivory

GERMANS are a little obsessed with asparagus. White asparagus, that is. As soon as the season begins in April, little farm stands pop up at the side of the road and all restaurants from the smallest eatery to the classiest establishment offer at least one special dish featuring local harvest. Far away in the US, we thought wistfully of the tender shoots, until we received a lovely surprise package full of the yummy veggie! We quickly cooked it up and served it traditionally with a hollandaise sauce and boiled potatoes.

Once in Germany at the appointed time, I was looked at in astonishment when I asked if there was any kind of 'pick your own' we could go to. I've since discovered there is great skill involved in harvesting asparagus, which is all done by hand. The shoots are kept from turning green by keeping earth piled up around them, preventing the production of chlorophyll by exposure to sunlight. Workers scour the mounds of earth looking for cracks, which would indicate a spear is about to burst through. Then they dig around in the earth and cut off the shoot at its base. To give the shoots maximum growing time yet prevent them ever seeing a sun ray, a field is harvested two or three times daily. Asparagus season always ends on June 24, the birth date of Saint John the Baptist. After this time, no asparagus may be bought or sold by law.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


WALKING along a boardwalk in some wetlands, I heard a delighted cry of: "Fairies!" I'd never seen this before, but the silky fluff surrounding the seeds falling from above could only come from the cottonwood tree. We couldn't actually see which tree they came from, the canopy above was so high and dense.

With a lifespan of often over 100 years, cottonwoods must see a lot of seasons pass. It is said that those travelling the prairies always welcomed the sight of a cottonwood, for it meant water was close by. These noble trees have inspired poets, storytellers and muses. I would like to hear the Native American story about a curious little star that hid in a cottonwood tree so it could always be near the people on earth and listen to their beautiful music, their laughter, and the kind words they say to one another. As for the children, they busied themselves collecting curved dried magnolia petals and filling them with cotton fluff to make little beds for woodland creatures.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Goslings and Froglings

THE children and I have spent lots of time this month carrying out reconnaisance for ('reckying') my hash. It's my turn to lay trail in a few weeks, and it's prudent to know where you're going ahead of time. So we've spent many an afternoon driving around strange neighbourhoods and taking exploratory walks through interesting-looking pieces of wood, scrub or other 'shiggy'. (For more info on hashing, see .)

Some areas have not proved useful for this particular purpose. But they have provoked some great discoveries. For example, in an industrial park, we came across a beautiful pond. A mama and papa goose escorted six goslings around the grass in search of tasty tidbits. We found it interesting that the posse approached us (apparently used to being fed), but as soon as they got close, the parent birds started hissing. Why come close if they suspected danger? Also in the pond were turtles, and enormous tadpoles. They could only come from the bullfrog.

Bullfrog tadpoles can be up to 15 cm long! Bullfrogs spend one or sometimes two years in the tadpole stage, compared to just a few months for many other frog species. The tadpoles are very dark green – almost black – in colour, with an arrowhead-shaped body and a dorsal fin that begins behind the body. Never mind the hash; but we've been back a couple of times to visit the pond.
Photo: Jason Gibson

Monday, May 3, 2010

Empress Tree

REMEMBER the seed pods we found back in the autumn, which when shook, created a percussive maracas-like instrument? After some research, I identified them as the seeds of the royal empress tree. I had never seen these before - actually not even heard of them. Now that we know what to look for, we see them everywhere! They have large, lime green, heart-shaped leaves. But in the spring, empress trees make their presence most obviously known through their flowers. Fragrant and beautiful, they decorate many a garden and road. When they fall, these trumpet-shaped purple blooms are sticky to the touch. Emma loves to gather them and try to make them stick to her clothes.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Here's a Snowy Branch of May

WE were lucky to participate in several wonderful celebrations to welcome May. In preparation, the children and I gathered flowers in the back garden to make crowns. We used honeysuckle vine as the base, decorated with little roses and other blooms found in the garden. Of course baby (doll) had to have her own crown. Later, we enjoyed maypole dancing and singing, laughed watching the mamas try to do it, made tambourines and anklets with little bells, ate delicious cake decorated with grass, flowers and a maypole and above all spent many fun-filled hours with good friends.

Here's a snowy branch of May
The branch the fairies gave me.

Who would like to dance today
With the branch the fairies gave me?
Holding high, holding high
Holding high the branch of May.