Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Vow for Always - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 43

For the 43rd week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read A Vow for Always by Wanda Brunstetter. Earlier in the year, I read A Revelation in Autumn – the fifth book in a six-book series called The Discovery – A Lancaster Count Saga.

The fifth book left the reader wondering if Meredith – a young widow (or so we think) – will marry Jonah, a young Amish man who has been courting her after Meredith’s husband passed away unexpectedly.

Since I did not read books 1-4 in the series, I found out that Luke was presumed dead after the bus he was supposed to be on crashed and the passengers were burned beyond recognition.

In reality, what happened was the Luke was severely attacked at the bus station and another man stole his wallet, identification, and clothing. He was found and was recovering in hospital, and then taken to further recover at one of the nurse’s homes.

Gradually his memory came back to him after he suffered from amnesia. He remembered his name (which up until the end of book 5 was “Eddie” since he was found without any identification on him.

The challenge was that while Luke was slowly regaining his memory, Meredith and Jonah were making wedding plans. Up until almost the end of the book, the reader is left wondering if Luke will be able to find his way home to Meredith before she meets Jonah. And, if it gets to that point, what will happen? What will be Meredith’s reaction…not to mention his family’s reaction?

Like the fifth book in the series, this one was equally as easy to read. It was suspenseful and one that I didn’t want to put down until I reached the conclusion of the book.

I have ordered other books by this writer now since I like her style of writing and that it gives a glimpse into the world of the Amish.

Hildegard von Bingen - Composer Study

The first composer that we focused on for the 2014-15 homeschool year was Hildegard von Bingen who was also known as Saint Hildegard. She was a German writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subject areas; and draws on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. The term is often used to describe great thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, each of whom excelled at several fields in science and the arts, including: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Bacon, and Michael Servetus.

Hildegard wrote theological, botanical and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs, and poems. She also created and supervised miniature illuminations and mandalas.

Cultivating the Cosmic Tree

At a time when few women wrote, Hildegard produced major works of visionary and theology writings. When few women were respected, she was consulted by and advised bishops, popes, and kings.

Hildegard used the curative powers of natural objects for healing; and wrote treatises about natural history and the medicinal uses of plants, animals, trees, and stones. She founded a convent where her musical plays were performed.

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a noble family. As was customary with the tenth child, which the family could not count on feeding, and who could be considered a tithe, she was dedicated at birth to the Church. As a young girl, she started to have visions of luminous objects at the age of three. She realized that she was unique in this ability and hid this gift for many years.

At age eight her family sent Hildegard to an anchoress (a woman who chooses to withdraw from the world to live a solitary life of prayer) named Jutta to receive a religious education. Hildegard’s education was very rudimentary, and she never escaped feelings of inadequacy over her lack of schooling.

During the years with Jutta, Hildegard confided of her visions only to Jutta and a monk named Volmar, who was to become her lifelong secretary.

Through her music, she gave certain instruments a special function and meaning:
- Tambourine – inspires discipline. The skin of the tambourine is spread tightly over the frame, like that of a fasting body.
Flute – with its intimate sound, it reminded her of the breath of the Spirit.
Trumpet – clear, strong, wakeful, like the voice of the prophets.
Strings – correspond to the earthly condition of the soul as it struggles back to the light. The sounds of the strings stir up the emotions of one's heart and lead listeners to repentance.
Harp – instrument of heavenly blessedness. It brings back thoughts of one's holy origins and helps listeners remember who they are and who they are called to be.
Psaltery – a plucked instrument with strings stretched over a soundboard and played by one or two plectra. It represented the unity of heaven and earth since it was played both on the top and bottom strings.
Organ – as an instrument capable of playing harmonies, it helps create community.

After a prolific composing and writing life, Hildegard died on September 17, 1179, at the age of 81.

Das Weltall.
Manuscript illumination from Scivias (Know the Ways).

Below are the pieces that Sophia and Olivia listened to and what their thoughts were as they listened to each one.

Voice of the Living Light (1:16:57 - though we didn't listen to the entire piece)

Sophia thought: Is this opera? (No.) There are parts that I really like,  but then it goes quiet and I don't like that as much. It reminds me of the Titanic - it has kind of a lilting tone to it. You would hear it in a church.

Olivia thought: It sounds like something I've heard on a movie that Sophia was watching yesterday (Lord of the Rings). It's not bad. It makes me feel sad, thoughtful.

Spiritus Sanctus - (7:56)

Sophia thought: This sounds the same as the other one. The mood seemed slightly happier and not as longing.

Olivia thought: It sounds the same as the other one, except slightly louder. It seems like happier music than the first one (Voice of the Living Light). The mood for the song was mellow. I wouldn't mind listening to the song again.

From the CD entitled Illumination: Hildegard von Bingen: The Fire of the Spirit. 

Kyrie (3:59)

This piece was done with keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, cello, and vocals.

Sophia thought: They sing this at church sometimes. I like this song. I would like to listen to this while doing homework. Could you put this on my iPod?

Olivia thought: I like this one. I could listen to this while doing something to...not something I need to focus on, though.

The Fire of the Spirit (4:44)

This piece is done with keyboards, synthesizers, cello, low whistles, acoustic drums, djembe, and Native American tree, and vocals.

Sophia thought: It reminds me of a little bit of a Native American song. Or a song from Narnia - like the song that Tumnus was going to kidnap Lucy.

Olivia thought: It sounds like a song that you'd hear around a fire. Also, it sounds like music from Narnia - from different parts of the movie - like when Lucy was at Tumnus' house and he was playing his instruments.

Tree of Wonders (5:05)

This song also has keyboards, synthesizers, low whistles, and vocals. It also has breath effects.

Sophia thought: The beginning - like 5 seconds - sounded like it was from the "12 Dancing Princesses." The middle section sounds like music from "The Titanic."

Olivia thought: The middle part sounded like "The Secret Garden" - when Mary Lennox was still in India.

Beata Nobis Gaudia (2:47)

As we scrolled through the songs on the CD The Origin of Fire - Music and Visions of Hildegard Von Bingen, both Sophia and Olivia commented that the songs sounded the same.  All the songs ae sung by four women who are part of the group Anonymous 4. 

We listened to the 17th track on the CD and they laughed when it started. "It sounds like how the other ones started."

Sophia thought: It's kind of the same as the other ones that are on this CD. It's something I would listen to; but if I listened to this entire CD it wouldn't be a song I could pick out from the other ones.

Olivia thought: It sounds like the same thing for the entire song. I like it, but it's not as good as the ones on the other CD (Illumination).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Burdock - Outdoor Nature Hour

When I first moved to the farm back in 1995, I was pleasantly surprised to see - what I thought was - rhubarb or wild rhubarb growing all over the place - in the backyard and pastures.

Burdock in the backyard.

My dad came out one day, and I showed him my discovery thinking he'd be equally happy since he, too, loved rhubarb (rhubarb sauce, rhubarb name it).

As someone who grew up on farms during the Great Depression, he was very familiar with a wide variety of plants. Needless to say, his enthusiasm was not evident when he saw what ended up being burdock.

"That's a weed. It's not rhubarb. You need to get rid of it," he said.

"Really? There's no purpose in keeping it?" I asked.

A burr stuck in Bailey's forelock.
I took it out as soon as I noticed it.

"Not with sheep and a horse. They'll get burrs in their wool, manes, and forelock. You don't want to spend your time removing burrs from your livestock."

A tangled mess of burrs and hair from Hoss' mane.

And that was the end of the discussion. Even though burdock does have some redeeming qualities (which we found out by doing this nature study), they are not worth it when you have livestock or horses.

As noted, the distinguishing characteristic of burdock is its dark, green leaves. They are generally very large (they can grow up to 28" long), coarse and ovate, with the lower ones being heart-shaped. They are woolly underneath. The leafstalks are generally hollow.

According to the Handbook of Nature Study, "...the leaves are broad and long...and sprawl out from the growing stem in every direction, covering up and choking out all the lesser plants near them.

"The long basal leave are stretched out flat; the next higher, somewhat smaller ones are lifted at an angle so as not to stand in their light .... each higher leaf is smaller and has a shorter petiole, which is lifted at a narrower angle from the stalk; and all the leaves are so adjusted as to form a pyramid, allowing the sunlight to sift down to each part."

There are a tremendous number of flower heads which develop on one plant. The Handbook of Nature Study notes: "When in full bloom, the burdock flower-heads are very pretty .... In winter, the tough, gray stalks of the burdock still stand."

The issue my father had (and I have come to have) with burdock is what happens in the middle of summer (mid-July), throughout fall, and part of winter. The burrs have a hooked part that easily attaches to the " or covering of the passer-by; and when one gets a hold, mayhap a dozen others will hold hands and follow.

Small burrs.

"If they catch the tail of horse or cow....the animal switching about with its uneasy appendage, threshes out the seeds, and unheedingly plants them by trampling them into the ground."

Bailey in the west pasture.

 Thus, burrs are excellent mechanisms for seed dispersal.

Bailey rolling in the pasture. 
This would be one way that seeds could be pressed into the ground.

The Handbook of Nature Study speculates that "probably some of the livestock of our Pilgrim Fathers came to America thus burdened; for the burdock is a European weed, although now it flourishes too successfully in America."

On Wikipedia, it said that the prickly burrs were the inspiration for Velcro.

It also said that "....burrs cause local irritation and can possibly cause intestinal hairballs in pets. However, most animals avoid ingesting these plants." In the case of our dogs, Cooper will often get them caught on his fur which is longer (a German-Wirehaired Pointer mixed with a Golden Retriever) while burrs don't seem to attach themselves to Aspen (an American Staffordshire Terrier mixed with a Siberian Husky).

When Cooper comes indoors with burrs on his fur, he attempts to remove them himself by pulling them off with his mouth. Sometimes he ingests part of the burrs, and other times he doesn't. Often, though he needs help removing them since they get easily tangled in his fur.

The horses, likewise, get the burrs tangled in their forelocks; and Hoss (the miniature horse) also gets them in his mane. In just a few hours or less than a day (when they are first noticed), they are very tangled and need people to remove them.

Wikipedia also noted that birds are "...especially prone to becoming entangled with their feathers in the burrs leading to a slow death, as they are unable to free themselves."

Now...for the positive aspects of burdock. According to Wikipedia, "The roots of burdock, among other plants, are eaten by the larva of the Ghost Moth. The plant is used as a food plant by other Lepidoptera including Brown-tail, Coleophora paripennella, Coleophora peribenanderi, the Gothic, Lime-speck Pug and Scalloped Hazel.

"The taproot of young burdock plants can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable. While generally out of favor in modern European cuisine, it remains popular in Asia .... Plants are cultivated for their slender roots, which can grow about one meter long and two centimeters across. Burdock root is very crisp and has a sweet, mild, and pungent flavor with a little muddy harshness that can be reduced by soaking julienned or shredded roots in water for five to ten minutes."

In addition to the root, immature flower stalks also may be harvested in late spring, before flowers appear. The taste is supposed to resemble that of an artichoke, to which the burdock is related. The stalks are peeled, and either eaten raw or boiled in salt water.

The stem of a stripped burdock plant.

Leaves also are eaten in spring in Japan when a plant is young and leaves are soft.

Nutrition and You notes that burdock has many health benefits:

=> Burdock roots, young shoots, peeled stalks, and dried seeds contain numerous compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health-promoting properties.

=> The root is very low in calories; provide about 72 calories per 100 grams.

=> Burdock root contains good amounts of the electrolyte potassium (308 mg or 6.5% of daily-required levels per 100 g root) and is low in sodium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.

=> The herb root contains small quantities of many vital vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyridoxine, niacin, vitamin-E, and vitamin-C that are essential for optimum health. Both vitamin C and E are powerful natural antioxidants help the human body stave off infections, cancer, and neurological conditions.

=> It also contains valuable minerals such as iron, manganese, magnesium; and small amounts of zinc, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus.

=> Burdock has been used in many folk remedies as one of the best blood purifiers. It contains certain diuretic principles, which help expel toxic products from the blood through urine.

=> The herb is used in the treatment of skin problems such as eczema (dermatitis), psoriasis, and skin dryness. The plant parts have been used as an herbal remedy for liver and gall bladder complaints.

=> Burdock leaves and stems are an appetite stimulant and a good remedy for indigestion.

After we learned about burdock, the girls worked on their nature journals. Sophia included a flattened burr on her page.

Sophia's nature journal entry.

Olivia focused on the size of the leaf and that the burrs were the inspiration for Velcro. Thus, there are two pieces of Velcro on the lower-right hand side of her page.

Olivia's nature journal page.

Next, we went outside for a walk to see where the burdock is growing. With the exception of one plant in the backyard, we didn't see any growing in the yards or east pasture.

So, we headed to west pasture. The pond is now dried up and the landscape more of a shade of tans and browns than the rich greens earlier in the summer.

Looking west towards the neighbor's cornfield.

My favorite oak tree has changed colors. It always amazes me when I think that this had been the color of the tree all along, but the green in the leaves hid this color for the entire summer.

My favorite oak tree.

We were now able to walk through the pond area to see the variety of plants that grew there during the summer and early fall.

A view looking southwest. 
The pine trees in the distance are the back part of our property.

The girls rested under the big oak tree for a while after exploring the corner forest area.

The girls are sitting next to an area that the horses roll in.

Some of the trees still had brilliant leaves.

The birches and aspens still had leaves.
The contrast between the leaves and beautiful blue sky was breathtaking. 

I was happy to see that our little pin tree - a tree that started on its own - is doing well.

This was a "freebie" tree that came up on its own.

Sophia was enjoying relaxing under the oak tree. With the absence of mosquitoes and other insects as well as low humidity it makes for a pleasurable time outdoors.

Sophia by the oak tree.

Bailey accompanied us as we walked around the pasture.

Bailey giving Sophia a kiss.

 Looking back from the pond to the house, it is nice to see how protected the house is getting with the growing trees.

The trees are providing nice protection from the wind
as they get taller.

As we were walking in the muddy area of the pond, Sophia spotted paw prints. There were several possibilities: cat, coyote, fox, dog, or raccoon. After looking up what the tracks look like online, we determined that there were one or more raccoon that were exploring the pond. The pond is adjacent to the neighbor's cornfield, so they surely had plenty to eat.

A bit blurry, but one of the paw prints we spotted.

The paws were a good size. We compared them to Olivia's hand.

A raccoon print in mud next to Olivia's hand.

The pond area had plenty of cattails left. They were so dense that the girls were invisible when they went into them.

The girls are hiding in the cattails.
They wanted to know if I could see them. I couldn't. 
They were totally hidden.

They discovered that the horses had made a passage way through the cattails.

Sophia and Olivia on the pathway through the cattails.

 We went to another area of the pond and discovered even more prints.

Front and back paw prints were all over the mud.

The cattails now have burst open and all the fluffy innards are either on the stem or are carried away on the wind.

One of many cattails that have burst open.

In one section of the pond area there were tall plants that have burrs on them. They do not have prickly stems or leaves, so they aren't thistle. Yet, the big leaves that are seen on burdock also weren't present.

This plant is growing in the pond area. 
It has burrs at the top of each stem.

In some ways, they reminded us of goldenrod. However, goldenrod doesn't have the burr-type bases at the bottom of the fluffy tops.

The top of these plants is soft, but 
the base of the fluffy part is very prickly.

They are very tall plants and the tops of all the stems have the burrs. We are thinking that they may be a type of burdock, but we're not quite sure.

The burrs are at a perfect height for 
free rides on hair, clothes, and horses.

Nonetheless, these burrs do get tangled in the horse's forelocks and manes, as shown above. For all practical purposes, we're considering these burdock since they have burrs and get entangled in clothing, fur, and hair.

Burdock seems to have advantages and disadvantages depending on where it is grown and who or what is around it. This nature study certainly opened our eyes to seeing the wide range of uses of what has been seen here as only a troublesome weed.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Unit - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 42

During the 42nd week of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I realized that I enjoy reading dystopian stories. This past week I went to the library and looked on the shelves in the fiction area. After realizing that there aren't a lot of books that begin with "U" (I don't count words like "a", "an", and "the"), I was happy to find The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist.

The Unit, originally written in Swedish in 2006, was supported by a grant from the Swedish Arts Council. It is a thought-provoking book about extreme social engineering that is not all that far-fetched from reality. Perhaps that is why it is such an unsettling premise - that it bears a familiarity to some attitudes and practices that are common in contemporary society.

The story revolves around Dorrit Weger who, upon reaching 50 years old and without children, is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. Although she has know that because she does not have children and isn't employed in a progressive industry that she is "dispensable" (along with men who are over 60 years old and without children and non-progressive jobs) and must transition to the unit, it doesn't make the change any easier.

It reminded me of people who go into assisted living or a nursing home - leaving behind a home, pets, much of their belongings, and a connection to the "real world" - whether it be with their spouse/family and/or connection with others via computers. 

As Dorrit explained, "I didn't want to be alone...I didn't want to [think] about the fact that I would never again experience the feeling that flooded through me that morning in March each year when I opened my door and saw the first crocus of the year in bloom on my lawn. Or the first scilla or the first hepatica or the first scented violet. Or when I saw the cranes, trumpeting as they flew over in wide skeins on their way north to Lake Hornborga.

"Above all I didn't want to think about Jock (her dog), about the fact that we would never again run together in the forest or by the sea. Or take our walk along the tractor route to Ellstrom's farm to buy fresh eggs and vegetables for me a pig's heart for him."

Interestingly, Dorrit doesn't so much miss her friends and colleagues (both which were limited), but rather her dog who provided the love and companionship that she enjoyed. It  bothers her that she couldn't fully explain to her dog what was happening. 

As she said, "Nils (her casual romantic partner) could at least explain to me why he couldn't be with me properly and make me a needed person, and I could understand that. But how will Jock...ever be able to understand why I drove away without him that day? How will he ever be able to understand why I never came back?"

She said that people who don't have animals don't understand that you can miss them so much it can hurt. Dorrit said, "The relationship with an animal is so much more physical than a relationship with another person. You don't get to know a dog by asking how he's feeling or what he's thinking, but by observing him and getting to know his body language. And all the important things you want to say to him you have to show through actions, attitude, gestures, and sound."

So, once people leave behind their lives and enter the Unit, they are sequestered for their final years. They are expected to participate in psychological and drug testings, donate parts of their bodies that their lives are not totally dependent upon (e.g., kidney, lung), and then ultimately make their "final donation" (donate their body so that various parts can help those in "the community" who have children and jobs in progressive industries be healthy and functional. What body parts aren't used are stored until they are needed.

Despite the ruthlessness of the practices of the Unit, the residents are connected with and support one another. There is a level of compassion and love that many have never felt in their day-to-day lives in the Community because they felt isolated and different based on their life choices.

The Unit has many attractive features to it: state-of-the-art recreation facilities including a swimming pool, indoor track, and sauna; movie theater; live theater for plays and concerts; fine dining options (that are free for all residents); fine clothing (also free for residents); and indoors gardens (since there are no windows and views of the outside world).

The gardens - a Winter Garden and one inspired by Monet's paintings - are impeccably tended so that flowers are always in bloom, the fragrance is pleasing (a mixture of cypress, rose, jasmine, lavender, and eucalyptus), and looking at them is enjoyable and relaxing. 

The entire facility is designed to provide comfort to the residents (despite the surgeries and experiments) while they are there. Invariably, deep friendships and relationships form. 

Dorrit falls in love with Johannes who has been a resident at the Unit for over three years. Dorrit ends up pregnant, which she believes may be the ticket for her and Johannes to leave the Unit and begin a life in the Community as a couple. She dreams - even before she finds out she is pregnant - of a home with a fenced-in yard, her dog, and walking on the beach together with Johannes.

Ultimately, this doesn't happen for a variety of reasons - all of which I found to be particularly sad. Even Dorrit's final choice - when presented with freedom - came as a surprise. Yet, in some respects, perhaps it was a wise choice when it came to the needs of the child she ultimately birthed.

At the Unit, none of the residents are there for the long-term. In fact, about four years is about the length of time that a resident would stay in the Unit.  At that time (or before, if requested), they are provided a form that they complete that indicates when they want to make their final donation. In essence, it's physical-assisted suicide of a healthy person whose body is harvested to help others.

Interestingly, despite the closeness that these residents feel towards one another, the one thing they don't share is the date of their final destination. Other residents often find out about a friend or partner's final destination unexpectedly: a visit to a room only to find staff throwing out the person's possessions in trash bags or being told that the person to whom they developed a loving relationship with was in the process of making their final donation. There's no chance to say goodbye. The person simply gone. For me, this was particularly disturbing. 

The Unit is a well-written and translated book; and is one that I finished in less than two days. Once I started reading, I didn't want to put it down. It was an engaging story and one that I would highly recommend. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hilda Conkling - Poet/Poetry Study

Hilda Conkling was an American poet who lived from 1910-1986. She was the daughter of Grace Hazard Conkling, a poet as well as Assistant Professor of English at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts.

Hilda was born in New York.When she was four years old, her father died. She had one sister, Elsa, two years her senior.

Hilda is notable for having composed most of her poetry as a child, between the ages of four and ten years old. She never wrote down her poems. Instead, they came out in conversation with her mother, who would write down Hilda's words either right at that time or from memory at a later time.

If the latter, she would read the lines of poetry back to Hilda, who would then correct any words or phrases that weren't her original words.

As Hilda grew up, her mother stopped writing down the poems. Hilda is not known to have written any poems as an adult.

Most of Hilda's poetry is focused on nature - both descriptive and fantasy. Other common themes are the love she had for her mother; stories and daydreams; and pictures or books that she enjoyed.

Three collections of Hilda's poetry were published during her life: Poems by a Little Girl (1920, preface by Amy Lowell), Shoes of the Wind (1922), and Silverhorn (1924). Her poems also were included in the anthologies Silver Pennies (1925) and Sing a Song of Popcorn (1988).

Prior to her first book, Hilda was published in many magazines, including Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, The Delineator, Good Housekeeping, The Lyric, St. Nicholas Magazine, and Contemporary Verse.

Below are six of Hilda's poems and the thoughts that Sophia and Olivia had about each one. This poet and poems are among the favorite ones that Olivia has listened to yet as part of poet/poetry study. She liked them so much, in fact, that she is copying some of them into her Commonplace Book so that she can remember them and read them often.


Moon Song

There is a star that runs very fast,
That goes pulling the moon
Through the tops of the poplars.
It is all in silver,
The tall star:
The moon rolls goldenly along
Out of breath.
Mr. Moon, does he make you hurry?

Sophia: It's an interesting one. I like the name. Most poets don't talk like that. Her's is more childish.

Olivia: It makes you think about what she was trying to talk about it. I really like that one. It reminds me of things that I've read about in books.


The chickadee in the appletree
Talks all the time very gently.
He makes me sleepy.
I rock away to the sea-lights.
Far off I hear him talking
The way smooth bright pebbles
Drop into water . . .
Chick-a-dee-dee-dee . . .

Sophia: I think I like this one a little more than the other one. I like the sound of it better, especially the beginning.

Olivia: She's talking about a bird. They are both very good. I can't decide if I like the other more or this one more. I like the end of it and the part about how the pebbles drop into the water.

Red Rooster

Red rooster in your gray coop,
O stately creature with tail-feathers red and blue,
Yellow and black,
You have a comb gay as a parade
On your head:
You have pearl trinkets
On your feet:
The short feathers smooth along your back
Are the dark color of wet rocks,
Or the rippled green of ships
When I look at their sides through water.
I don't know how you happened to be made
So proud, so foolish,
Wearing your coat of many colors,
Shouting all day long your crooked words,
Loud . . . sharp . . . not beautiful!

Sophia: I like this one the most because I like how she described the rooster - the colors and the feathers.

Olivia: That poem reminded me of Chanticleer because he was foolish enough to follow the fox.

Tree Toad

Tree-toad is a small gray person
With a silver voice.
Tree-toad is a leaf-gray shadow
That sings.
Tree-toad is never seen
Unless a star squeezes through the leaves,
Or a moth looks sharply at a gray branch.
How would it be, I wonder,
To sing patiently all night,
Never thinking that people are asleep?
Raindrops and mist, starriness over the trees,
The moon, the dew, the other little singers,
Cricket . . . toad . . . leaf rustling . . .
They would listen:
It would be music like weather
That gets into all the corners
Of out-of-doors.

Every night I see little shadows
I never saw before.
Every night I hear little voices
I never heard before.
When night comes trailing her starry cloak,
I start out for slumberland,
With tree-toads calling along the roadside.
Good-night, I say to one, Good-by, I say to another:
I hope to find you on the way
We have traveled before!
I hope to hear you singing on the Road of Dreams!

Sophia: I like the beginning part of the poem better than the second half because it sounds prettier.

Olivia: I like the beginning of it. The shadows remind me of a Dryad - it's a spirit that lives in trees in Greek mythology.


O little soldier with the golden helmet,
What are you guarding on my lawn?
You with your green gun
And your yellow beard,
Why do you stand so stiff?
There is only the grass to fight!

Sophia: I like this one the best. It's really cute. I could picture it.

Olivia: I like this one too...especially the ending. I could picture the dandelion like a little person with a gun.

Autumn Song

I made a ring of leaves
On the autumn grass:
I was a fairy queen all day.
Inside the ring, the wind wore sandals
Not to make a noise of going.
The caterpillars, like little snow men,
Had wound themselves in their winter coats.
The hands of the trees were bare
And their fingers fluttered.
I was a queen of yellow leaves and brown,
And the redness of my fairy ring
Kept me warm.
For the wind blew near,
Though he made no noise of going,
And I hadn't a close-made wrap
Like the caterpillars.
Even a queen of fairies can be cold
When summer has forgotten and gone!
Keep me warm, red leaves;
Don't let the frost tiptoe into my ring
On the magic grass!

Sophia: I like the part about the frost, but that's about it. Out of all the poems, it's my least favorite ones.

Olivia: I like the beginning part when she was making the ring of leaves. The caterpillars that wound themselves in winter coats reminded me of the woolly bear caterpillars. 

Thistle - Outdoor Hour Challenge

This week we focused on thistle as part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge. To be honest, thistle isn't one of our favorite plants here on the farm. Thankfully, there aren't a lot of thistle plants in the pastures (there are none in the front- or backyards). Yet, it is important to understand more about the plants that are growing here.

Thistle during the summer.

In researching information about the thistle, we stumbled upon a site that said the Thistle is Scotland's national emblem. According to Scottish at Heart:

The Scottish Thistle is the oldest recorded 'National Flower' and is probably one of the most well-known, and easily recognized symbols of Scotland.

But although it may look familiar, you probably don't know the legends that surround it's adoption as a national Scottish emblem.

A humble weed might seem an odd symbolic choice, but really what could be better than a native-born plant which is as bold as it is beautiful?

There's a rich history and several legends surrounding the thistle, and we'll take a closer look at some of it right here.

This resilient little weed has always bloomed across Scotland's landscape, but it wasn't until the 13th century that its place in the country's symbolism and written history began.

One of the best-known thistle legends takes place in the mid-13th century during a surprise invasion by the soldiers of the Norse king, Haakon, at Largs one of northern Scotland's coastal towns.

The story has it that after coming ashore, this Viking force planned to creep up on the Scottish Clansmen and Highlanders and overcome them while they slept.

This amount of stealth required that they go barefoot - which proved to be their undoing.

Unfortunately for these unwary invaders, one of their soldiers bare feet came down hard on a Scottish thistle and his cries of shock and pain were enough to wake the sleeping Scots.

Leaping to their feet, the clansmen charged into battle and the rest, as they say, is history... and yes, the fiery Scots were victorious.

Legend has it that because of the heroic role the plant played in the outcome of the battle, the thistle was immediately chosen as a national emblem.

There are seven different types of thistle that grow in Minnesota. The Friends of Eloise Butler have an interesting chart that compares the seven thistle varieties. The three that have links (Canada, Field, and Bull) look very similar to one another, and we're not sure what variety is growing in the pastures.

There are other links about Common Thistle and Canada Thistle that have range maps to determine what type of thistle is more common in what part of the United States and Canada.

Regardless of the type of thistle, according to the Handbook of Nature Study, it is a perennial and an invader of gardens, grains-fields, and meadows.

It seems like the way to prevent the weeds from spreading are to cut them at the root - right above the ground - repeatedly so that the plants can't seed. Also, if the ground is tilled and the plants made into smaller parts, the roots still can grow...and not just from one end: from both ends!

Root system of thistle.

The stem of the thistle plant is strong and woody and is covered with pricky leaf stems. The dark, green leaves are placed alternately on the stem and have rough and bristling hairs. There are spines that grow on the edges of the leaves which make them difficult to handle with and without gloves.

The thistle flowers are purple in color and very fragrant. the Handbook of Nature Study notes that "of the individual flowers in the head, those of the outer rows first mature and their pistils protrude; the pollen grains are white."

Since thistle - a weed - is an unwelcome plant in our pastures and takes valuable space away from grass for the horses, we were curious if it had any beneficial purposes. Indeed it does. The seeds are an important food for goldfinches as well as other types of finches. The foliage is used as a food by over 20 species of butterflies, including the Painted Lady butterfly which is common in Minnesota.

The Handbook of Nature Study states that "Butterflies of many species, moths,  beetles, and bees - especially the bumblebees - are the happy guests of the thistle blooms."

The thistle plants are prolific seed bearers. "A single head of the lance-leaved thistle has been known to have 116 seeds."

Goldfinch on Feeder
A goldfinch at one of our thistle feeders.
Taken on February 13, 2010.

In addition to being beneficial to birds and insects, according to Wikipedia, the roots are edible and can be consumed by people. However, they are rarely used because many people's digestive system cannot tolerate them. The leaves are also edible, though the spines make their preparation for food too tedious to be worthwhile. The stalks are edible and more easily de-spined. Out of all the parts of the thistle plant, the taproot is considered the most nutritious.

We watched two videos on YouTube. One video was about Bull Thistle and the other video was about Canada Thistle.

Since thistle is past its prime in Minnesota, the girls used a drawing found Activity Village for their drawings of what thistle looks like here during the summer and beginning part of autumn.

"On looking at the thistle from its own standpoint, 
we must acknowledge it to be a beautiful and wonderful plant. 
It is like a knight of old encased in armor and with lance set, read for the frey.”
Handbook of Nature Study

The girls worked on their nature journals.

Sophia's nature journal entry.

They incorporated facts they learned about as well as traced an outline of thistle and colored it in.

Olivia's nature journal entry.

After we spent time learning about thistle, we spent some times outdoors looking for thistles and observing the changing landscape.

The milkweed now is in the stage of seed dispersal.

The milkweed pods are open, revealing seeds 
ready to be dispersed by the wind.

Bailey was relaxing in the sun. She was enjoying the warmth of the sun on her body.

Bailey resting in the sun.
Her dark fur absorbs and retains so much heat
which is welcome on cooler mornings.

The girls had fun taking milkweed seeds and tossing them in the air. The wind gently carried the seeds away.

Sophia watching the milkweed seeds float away.

We didn't notice any thistle in the backyard which is good. However, the minute we got into the east pasture, thistle was evident. The first area we looked at was near the compost pile.

Thistle that is dried.
The seeds are eager to be dispersed.
We are not so eager to see it spread.

As we looked at the thistle, we realized that we should really cut all these tops off so that more thistle doesn't grow next spring.

With 100+ seeds per seed head, 
the potential for this weed to spread is huge.

The stem and leaves have prickly edges.

This is a highly uncomfortable weed to touch.

Even dried, the stems and leaves look painful.

Such an unfriendly looking plant.

We explored the east pasture. Much of the ground is covered with leaves.

Such a change from a couple weeks ago.
It definitely looks like autumn.

There is a lot of milkweed in the pasture because we spread the seeds each fall.

The girls helped the milkweed spread by 
releasing the seeds in the wind.

The milkweed that doesn't receive the girls' help drop the seeds to the ground.

One milkweed plant dropped many of its seeds to the ground.

Sophia and Olivia enjoyed putting the milkweed on us all so that we would carry the seeds around and they would randomly drop off.

Olivia covered with milkweed seeds.

As we walked back towards the barn, Olivia said, "It's raining leaves!" And indeed it was. The oak tree's leaves were falling gently down as the wind rustled through the branches.

One of the oak trees in the east pasture.

The leaves were so beautiful against the cloudless sky.

Looking up at the oak tree.

We noticed as we were walking that the thistle was throughout the pasture. We stopped at one and took the fuzzy top off the top of one stem. At the base of each one there was a seed. It reminded us of milkweed and dandelions.

Many seeds from just one tiny part of a thistle plant.

Bailey was curious to see what we were doing.

Stopping for a moment to enjoy the weather.

The thistle plant is clearly an unfriendly plant. It has sharp edges all over it.

Close up of a thistle plant.

The downy part of the thistle is incredible soft.

The seeds are attached to a very soft, downy silk.
It was amazing to see how many seeds were in such a small area.

As we were in the east pasture, Olivia spotted the bluebirds that were going in and out of the bluebird house that we built in 2013.

One of the bluebirds is sitting on the post.

The bluebirds flew away and settled in nearby trees. It gave us a chance to look at the birdhouse.

There was an empty nest in the bluebird house.
Looks like we need to do a bit of repair work on the roof.

The birds watched us as we were exploring the house. Hopefully they return next year and use the birdhouse to raise their young.

This bluebird was sitting in a tree.

We found a burdock plant that still had purple color on it. It resembles the thistle plant in color, but has burs on the top instead of the downy seeds that disperse by the wind.

Burdock that still has some purple color to it.
It is similar to the color of thistle.

We enjoyed our walk outside, and were happy to explore the pasture looking for thistle. So many changes are happening each week. Going outside regularly helps us document these changes.

We used OHC More Nature Study #9 Thistles and Thistles - Starting a Year Long Study on the Outdoor Hour Challenge as inspiration.