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Field Book of Ponds and Streams

I have another incredible vintage field guide to share with you: Field Book of Ponds and Streams, by Ann Haven Morgan (published 1930).

This gorgeous book is filled with beautiful illustrations, colored plates with identifications on tissue-paper overlays, and, as typical with the vintage guides, beautiful and entertaining text.

This is another book recommended by Tamia Nelson, who says about it,

“It was published almost 80 years ago, but it’s still one of the most comprehensive — and handiest — guides to freshwater life.”

As always, I bought my copy for less than a dollar used on Amazon — if you are interested, keep your eyes peeled for inexpensive copies there or on one of the other used internet book sites (e.g., abebooks) or in your local used bookstore. Remember that field guides are for using in the field! So you don’t need a perfect copy. (Although this book is so lovely, that wouldn’t be a bad thing — except you’d be afraid to ruin it!)

We’ve been using this book to look up some of the water bugs and other creatures we dredged up when we collected water for the tadpolarium, but we’re going to sit down and just start reading it beginning to end. It’s that good!

This book began in ponds where frogs sat on the lily-pads and by swift brooks from which mayflies lew forth at twilight. It originated where water plants and animals live and I hope that it may be a guide into the vividness and variety of their ways. Most of all I hope that it may help toward wider enjoyment and further acquaintance in the field of water biology that offers abundant opportunity to all explorers, both beginners and seasoned investigators. — from the Preface


Amphibians are timid animals and their chief defense is in flight or concealment. They do not bite and they neither scratch nor sting. None of our native species is poisonous or harmful. It is true that the skin of a maltreated toad gives off a milky fluid which is peppery and irritating; any dog which picks up a toad usually drops it quickly, but is rarely badly poisoned by it. — Chapter XVIII: Amphibians



newly hatched tadpoles

collecting pond water

The frog eggs hatched!

We knew from our reading that we shouldn’t put the tiny, new tadpoles in with our big, established tadpoles or they might get eaten.

So we decided to make them their own tadpolarium.

Our eggs were in our pool, and the decaying plant matter that we put in with the big tadpoles is long gone, so we headed off to a local pond. (The eggs had hatched in regular well water — country well water, unlike town water, doesn’t have chemicals added in.)

First, we collected a jar of pond water. We also collected some tasty green algae.

Then we collected a few live plants from the edge of the pond.

Every few days we take out some of the water in the big tadpoles’ tank and add in some fresh water. We’ll do the same for these tiny tadpoles.

We put them all together back at home, then carefully poured in our new baby tadpoles.

They seem very happy in there.

live pond plants

finished tadpolarium


slow down

black raspberry blossom

Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast — you also miss the sense of where you are going and why. — Eddie Cantor


forest gardening

black raspberries

Do you have a forest garden?

Our woods provide us with food during the year — morel mushrooms in the spring, black raspberries and gooseberries in the summer, walnuts and hickory nuts in the fall — and I’m sure we could harvest a lot more if we were more knowledgeable and/or adventurous.

(Right off the top of my hat, we don’t eat our dandelion greens and we leave the mulberries for the birds and raccoons.)

If you don’t already have woods, you can plant your own woodland garden, which will take care of itself, provide you with fruit, nuts, berries, salad greens, herbs, and more!

Read more about it:

“Imagine a garden that needs no weeding, watering, digging or feeding and can be left to look after itself for weeks, even months, on end. Go further: it’s organic, wildlife-friendly, disease resistant, reduces your weekly food bill and brings fashionable foraging to your doorstep.” — The Garden of the Future?

“The idea behind forest gardening is that natural forests produce an abundance of food. People the world over have harvested food from the forest, reaping where they did not sow. Forest gardeners imitate the forest’s natural structure to take advantage of this abundance, but they increase yields even further through careful planning and management. The result is a productive fusion of garden, orchard and woodland.” — Plant an Edible Forest Garden

“Picture yourself in a forest where almost everything around you is food. Mature and maturing fruit and nut trees form an open canopy. If you look carefully, you can see fruits swelling on many branches — pears, apples, persimmons, pecans, and chestnuts. Shrubs fill the gaps in the canopy. They bear raspberries, blueberries, currants, hazelnuts, and other lesser-known fruits, flowers, and nuts at different times of the year. Assorted native wildflowers, wild edibles, herbs, and perennial vegetables thickly cover the ground. You use many of these plants for food or medicine. Some attract beneficial insects, birds, and butterflies. Others act as soil builders, or simply help keep out weeds. Here and there vines climb on trees, shrubs, or arbors with fruit hanging through the foliage — hardy kiwis, grapes, and passionflower fruits. In sunnier glades large stands of Jerusalem artichokes grow together with groundnut vines. These plants support one another as they store energy in their roots for later harvest and winter storage. Their bright yellow and deep violet flowers enjoy the radiant warmth from the sky. This is an edible forest garden.” — Edible Forest Gardens

“Starting as relatively conventional smallholders, Robert soon discovered that maintaining large annual vegetable beds, rearing livestock and taking care of an orchard were tasks beyond their strength. However, a small bed of perennial vegetables and herbs they had planted was looking after itself with little intervention. This led him to evolve the concept of the "forest garden". Based on the observation that the natural forest can be divided into distinct layers or "storeys", he used inter-cropping to develop an existing small orchard of apples and pears into an edible polyculture landscape consisting of seven levels.” — Wikipedia



from nova scotia: whatever the weather

rainy day at Crystal Crescent Beach, Nova Scotia

…we can’t wait for the “good weather” to get out the door. So many surprises are waiting for us whatever the weather…

striped snailRead more at Dawn’s blog: To the Outskirts


frogs’ eggs and tadpoles

outdoor laboratory

The annual spring collection has been done.


see his face?!

Jack collected about 15 to 20 tadpoles before we cleaned the pool. We have a lot of treefrogs and spring peepers, so we imagine these tadpoles will grow up to be one of those types of frogs.

This year Jack was determined to find frogs’ eggs, which he saw last year but didn’t collect because he didn’t realize what they were until he read about them later.

He described exactly how they looked to his dad — “Black on one side, white on the other, suspended in jelly” — and was rewarded this week when dad saw some in the pool! He said he only knew what they were because of Jack’s excellent description.

frogs’ eggs!

observational drawing

Jack collected three dozen eggs and is keeping them in a separate container from his tads. (If you are collecting them from the wild you should probably not collect more than a dozen — but these poor eggs were laid in our pool and were doomed anyway.)

In a warm room frogs’ eggs will develop and hatch in about a week. Cooler temperatures will delay their hatching. Use a magnifying lens to examine an egg. Each egg has a black part and a white part. The white part is the yolk. It is used for food by the developing tadpole. Each day you can see changes in the dark part. You’ll see the head and the tail of a tadpole develop. You’ll see the tadpole begin to move in the jelly. — Pets in a Jar: Collecting and Caring for Small Wild Animals

studying the eggs

observational drawing

today jack realized these eggs were no longer round!

illustration from the “pets in a jar” book (see above for link)

jack’s observational drawing of the older eggs

So we have two graduations to look forward to — the eggs turning into tadpoles and the tadpoles turning into frogs. We will keep you informed as the situation develops.

See also: Tadpolarium


camping with kids

great smoky mountains national park
We dropped everything last week and took a week-long camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.

I’ve seen quite a bit in the news lately about more families going camping this year due to the economy. It is an inexpensive way to vacation … if you already have your camping gear.

You might want to borrow some or most of what you need if you are trying it for the first time — or you might find you spend just as much! Some universities and camping outfitters rent gear, and Craigslist is a good resource for finding used tents. You don’t need much — err on the side of less and take an overnight trip to see how it goes!

Here are a few of my tips for camping with kids:

Kid Gear. Make sure your kids have versions of all your gear. Unless you enjoy walking through the woods looking ahead at your children wearing and carrying all your stuff. I have no trouble differentiating between photos of the beginning of the hike and the end of the hike; I simply check to see who is wearing my hat.

my hat .. my jacket .. my kidI am not willing to buy my children outdoor gear the same quality as mine. I will be wearing my fleece jacket for years to come. (When they’re not wearing it.) They will wear theirs one season. By the time they pay attention to labels, hopefully they will be old enough to get a job and buy their own stuff.

Forget about the Sponge Bob flashlight; your child would rather have the flashlight from the dollar store that looks like a “real” one. It’s cheaper, too.

(In fact, the dollar store is a treasure trove of “looks like mom and dad’s”. After finding atlases there, I realized I would never again open mine to negotiate a tricky detour only to hear a chorus of “CAN I SEE THE MAP” from the backseat.)

The boys do carry their own bags to entertain themselves in the car — see them here and here.

bug huntIf you are camping with other families, you may be tempted to do typical adult math like so: “Let’s see, we have seven kids so I will bring two bug nets, two flashlights, four bottles of bubbles…” However, camping is not like running a daycare. If one kid wants to catch bugs, they *all* want to catch bugs. Right now. I would rather have seven bug nets and fewer alternatives. This isn’t the time to teach kids how to share. Instead, appreciate how much they learn when they are all sharing the same activity together. (Also, so much more peaceful — especially if you remember to bring an extra one for when the inevitable occurs.)

21-month-old hiker with stickThe best camping toy is free and available on site; it is called “stick”.

Packing. Like most journeys, the advice stands: When you’re done packing, halve your stuff and double your cash.

I keep a camping list (it is a matter of fact that even disorganized people enjoy making lists that pertain to a favorite hobby) and I ruthlessly cull things we didn’t use on the last trip. All the stuff you don’t use is just keeping you from easily putting your hands on the stuff you do.

As it turns out, we need very little. Our outdoor toys are down to a collapsible nylon kite, a Nerf football, and a tennis ball.

Indoors, we entertain ourselves with travel Scrabble, travel chess, a deck of cards, and a single read-aloud book for the whole family.

Most of the time, of course, we are communing with nature. You won’t need to bring along too many entertainment props — most of the time you’ll be busy doing things you can only do while camping.

When packing clothes, eschew the normal “Mom’s bag, Dad’s bag, Jimmy’s bag, Susie’s bag” formula and pack like with like. One bag for swim stuff, one bag for cold weather gear, etc.

I pack cheap lightweight duffels with three outfits for each person. Pulling one bag out is immensely easier than four.

exploring a creek

State of Mind. The point of camping, in my opinion, isn’t to “rough it” but to realize what is essential and what is not. Don’t make the mistake of sacrificing comfort. Being cold, wet, and tired doesn’t make for a fun, memorable trip. Make sure you have something warm to wear even in the summer — mountain summits and early mornings are chilly. Make sure you have comfortable bedding and a good pillow — a good night’s sleep means a great day tomorrow.

Don’t treat necessities as luxuries — if you have to have hot coffee in the morning in order to be pleasant and enthusiastic about the day ahead, for goodness’ sake, make sure you have hot coffee!

Finally, to increase your enjoyment, lower your expectations. Lower them as much as possible. If you can, let them rest on the ground.

Much like the child who ignores the expensive toy and plays with the cardboard box it came in, children will enjoy themselves doing the simplest things. If you keep trying to force your idea of the experience on them, you may miss watching them make their own experience. Relax.

catching minnowsIf you are a camper, please share your tips in the comments!