an upstate vacation with new friends and life lessons from a former gang member

last week, i spent a perfect 5 days in upstate new york on a nature/art vacation with two new and wonderfully gracious friends. both are talented artists. one, Jennifer Scott Schlick, is photographer/blogger/naturalist and the other, Kathleen Tenpas, is a poet/textile artist and an extraordinary baker. the story of how we met is a short one. the journey to our meeting developed after 6 years of following a blog called “a passion for nature“. for my upstate friends, the week was a stay-cation. for me, it was an opportunity to see and experience the beauty that surrounds them every day. here is a link to winter woman’s first post about the stay-cation. there are three posts in all, covering 5 days. we visited several natural areas, made art, took photos of the morning mist in pajamas, and just had a fabulous time. it turned out to be one of the best vacations i have ever had. thanks to both… and their significant others, for welcoming me into their lives during a perfect autumn week…

i took more than 800 photos during my time there. after severe weeding out, i posted 214 to my flicker account. more weeding could be done, but every image posted has a story and a context. they reflect the moments and discoveries that stand out most strongly in my mind.

going to a new place does not always mean visiting the popular tourist sites. there are trips that renew the soul. this was one of them. mornings on a farm in the middle of amish country, pears, picked from the tree for breakfast, morning mist, soaking wet boots and pajamas, wine, quiche, conversation and bookmaking, rock climbing, spider watching, the smell of fermented apples, bear scat, skunk cabbage, the refections of autumn leaves in water on a sun-kissed afternoon, meeting 4 teens at the Jamestown Audubon Center to watch them discover nature, meeting moms, games and good food, art crimes, a poetry reading, an art expo featuring the work of winter woman… so many memories in such a short time. i am truly blessed.

then there was the train ride from eire, PA to boston, south station. i met an interesting young man who opened my eyes to a world so far removed from my reality that i realize how disparate our experiences can be. we have a long way to go toward understanding because we are locked in different worlds, unable fathom the lives of others. the previous paragraph is a testament to this. while i enjoyed a restful vacation, this young man was visiting his son in south chicago. he told me about how he was abandoned by his parents at the age of 9 and had to turn to the streets and gang life to survive. he is trying to change his life, has left chicago but not before killing his first victim at the age of 13, being shot and stabbed multiple times, serving time in juvie and the penn for drug and violence related crimes. he spoke to me of the recent school closings in chicago. he said that when schools close in one area the kids have to walk through enemy gang territory in order to attend the schools that remain open. how tragic. there is little escape and even less hope for those who try to avoid the conflict.

how do we even begin to address our history of suppression and intentional neglect of minority populations? when will these children travel to some state park to view sculptures in the woods, the autumn leaves reflected in a creek that runs through a luscious gorge in a forest, land forms that date back to the glacial age? when will they know the joy of reading about space travel, when a trip to the market might be the last of their lives? the challenge is great, as is the divide in my heart when i contemplate  my blessings on a national canvas riddled with black holes.

i am left only with the words of my grandfather that have followed me for more than half a century: “to whom much is given, much is required.”

dancing on air

The Spider’s Web
The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
— E B White

How to watch the sunrise

Avoid her direct gaze.


focus on her handiwork;

the way every treasure or blemish she touches

becomes a morning jewel.

For her beauty is best seen where it is reflected.

in flight

while walking along shelby farms agricenter road the other day i enjoyed flocks of doves flying like a chorus in nearby fields.

Bambi spots

bambi spots

fawn in the grass

it’s been a summer of bambi eyes… and spots. this little one strayed from its mom and stayed almost 2 hours in my friend’s back yard leaping and by turns resting in the high grass. she seemed unencumbered and carefree in the absence of her mom. typically fawns are born between april and july. they have soft fur and over 100 spots that serve to camouflage the baby. they lose them as their first winter approaches and their coat changes from a reddish to grayish brown.

did you know fawns are odorless at birth and the mother will stay away from the babies for several crucial days so that her smell will not rub off onto the newborns?

want more info on white-tailed deer fawns?

let’s talk, deer…

spiny backed orb weaver

commonly known as crab spiders, these are easily distinguished orb weavers; small, brightly colored spiders with noticeable thorns radiating from their sides. their orb shaped webs also have a distinguishing characteristic; tufts of silk built into the structure. It is believed, though not proven, that these conspicuous tufts serve as a warning for birds that might fly into and destroy the web. only the female occupies the center of the web, while males dangle nearby.

i have two spiny backs in my front yard. two females, two webs. i was fortunate to come outside just at the moment that one of the spiders was wrapping up her breakfast burrito. she gingerly used some very fancy footwork to cover the fly in his silky deathbed. here is a video i made of the action.


featured creatures: spinybacked orbweaver, Gasteracantha cancriformis

beneficials in the garden

Wooly aphid

It looked like lint on the leaf of my winged sumac. Then it moved!!! (Scary music here). I took pictures and then came inside to investigate. It’s called a wooly aphid and the white cottony film covering it’s body has a waxy coat that protects it from some predators. Meanwhile, the aphid sucks happily on plant juices! 

For more details, check out this post:


They could be acanalonia conica or or ormenoides venusta. They belong to the group of plant hoppers and they do the coolest thing… When you touch the stem they all move synchronously to the back side in attempt to hide. My trumpet vine is full of them, and this stem, in particular is suffering from a paucity of leaves! Here’s more info:


Ummidia (trap door spider)

this spider is related to the tarantula but much smaller in size and with less hairy legs. The trap door spider builds an ingenious tunnel covered by a trapdoor and uses this to catch prey.    For more info, check out this link


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