I found my old nature journal this week. My last entry, dated Fall 2008, inspired me to fulfill a dream I’ve been scheming for some time now. I woke up early Sunday morning to begin gathering schizocarps–those helicopters that fall from maple trees–from around my neighborhood. Thanks to the three friends who helped me gather these wonders throughout the day. I will still need to gather more before our next snow fall, if anyone else is interested in helping 🙂 First I’ll share the journal entry, then I’ll tell you about my dream that will soon become reality…

Fall 2008
I have become enamored by schizocarps. Seriously?! Billions of twirly-birds all falling to the earth in unison?! Billions of winged maples-in-embryo spiraling over the Northern Hemisphere. Billions over BYU’s campus alone.
One afternoon I gathered 4 grocery sacks of schizocarps. It took no more than two hours with 2 of us gathering. The street gutters were lined with them. The grass cupped them like children hoarding candy on Halloween. The sidewalks were blanketed with them- all facing the way of the wind.
In the half-inch cracks between cemented sidewalk slabs, schizocarps were packed tightly, nose down, just like an over-zealous litter of piglettes all trying to get a mouthful of teat.
I like that metaphor: the Earth as a giant mammary gland, a wellspring of mother’s milk. Countless numbers of tongue-like roots pressing earth-ward, pulling in moisture and nutrients, grabbing hold to the solid ground. Filling and stabilizing. Supporting and nurturing.

My plan is to  find a nice courtyard with high walls from which the thousands of schizocarps can be let loose. While the magical spirals descend, people will dance and frolic. Doesn’t it sound lovely? I’m excited to make it happen.

Let me know if you have a decent pile of schizocarps near your house.


a magical childhood.

I had a magical childhood. My family lived in a large old Victorian house, where the ballroom-sized attic and the dungeon-like basement made for wonderful play-time adventures. The house is in a small town in southern Wisconsin, a place where I still know dozens of people when I walk into the grocery store. The small-ness of Baraboo made me feel very important. A large-sized photo of me made it into the city newspaper many times each year– for attending a parade, for reading a book on the steps of the library, for setting up a lemonade stand, for participating in a basketball game or a cross country race, for going to a highschool dance…

Today I was home sick (trying to sooth way a sore throat), and started to feel a little homesick (wishing I could just walk into that old familiar grocery store and chat with people who knew me back when I was an adorable toothless toddler). So, I was grateful that google images could take me on an at-a-distance tour of some of the places and things that contributed to my magical childhood. I thought you might like to join me, so I kept a log of my google-travels.

Here’s a view of one of my favorite hikes and swims, a 3 mile drive from my house. I went here with my mom this summer, and will have to share some of those photos soon:

Baraboo’s ‘International Crane Foundation‘, where you can see all 15 species of crane on one reserve. In grade school we learned how this organization brought the Whooping Crane from near extinction to it’s current thriving population. I felt so proud. It’s a magical thing to see this bird dance and play in the water near my home.


Aldo Leopold’s Shack is the site of both the writing of ‘A Sand County Almanac‘ and a contributor to my environmental ethic. It’s a ten minute drive from my house, but it took traveling half way around the world to discover how famous both Leopold and his shack are. I’m hoping some day to name a son Leopold.


Jewel Weed, Impatiens capensis, was one of my first magic plants. I learned to identify it very quickly because the juice from its stem will instantly remove the burn and sting from poison ivy or stinging nettle. And, to top it off, the seed pods spring out in confetti-like spirals when touched just right.

Devil’s Lake State Park. These bluffs were once part of an ancient mountain range. I remember feeling so proud when I learned that the ice-age glaciers stopped and melted when they reached these rocks. I felt like, if the bluffs could stop a glacier, they could protect me from anything.

Forevertron, a random sculpture behind Delaney’s Junk Yard. I don’t know the story behind it, but I always looked for it when we drove along Hwy 12 toward Madison.

Al Ringling Theater, modeled after a theater in Versailles (palace of the French Sun King). I performed in Cinderella and Pinocchio and numerous band and choir concerts on this stage.

The Circus World Museum: Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. In the summer months, you can hear circus music all over town. I used to dream of being a contortionist and running away with the circus. It’s a shame that never happened. But, my mom does use elephant dung to fertilize her garden each summer.

The Ho-Chunk Nation. They treated me to my first pow-wow. Afterward, I begged my mom for fry bread so often that she taught me how to make it for myself.  (That was before I’d learned about the unfortunate and sad history of how fry-bread came to be a traditional food for Native Americans…)

Amish and Minnonites. My grandparents sold their farm to a Mennonite family, and I was lucky enough to become friends with Norma, a young girl my age. I felt sorry that Norma only went to school until she was 15, but I was also jealous of her connection to her community and the land. I still dream of moving back to be a midwife for the Minnonites…one day.

Canopied roads. I love the mountains of the west, but my soul feels most at home in a forest.

Well, thanks for joining that little journey.

Lessons the hard way…

It was cold and early and dark, and I thought I’d save some time by running to my car. Ha.

Sometimes, when you’re about to collide into something big, time slows down. I wish that had been the case last Friday. Instead, when I tripped on the sidewalk crack, if felt like the sidewalk flew up to meet me half way. My backpack was heavy. That, coupled by the fact that I’d just woken up 15 minutes earlier, translated into my body accelerating towards the earth much faster than my reflexes could respond. I timbered like a tree, bruising my knees, pelvis, ribs, and chin.

Just the day before I’d sat through a 2-hour lecture on traumatic brain injury. I’m not sure how reasonable it was to think I could do a self-assessment of my own mental status, but I tried.

  • Yes, I can remember the fall: Memory intact.
  • I know who I am, where I’m at, and what got me here: Alert and oriented x3.

The pain radiated from my chin to the back of my head, and I thought about coup contra-coup injury, where both the impacted and non-impacted sides of the brain become injured due to the brain ricocheting back after the blow. I reasoned I should check to be sure my cranial nerves were all intact… Then, my tongue brushed across my teeth. That broad front tooth that stuck out just a little bit in front of the others was now jagged and short. When I saw the blood pooling on my right hand, the realization of pain set in.

I carefully made my way back to my house, acutely aware of my newly-acquired phobia of sidewalk cracks.

I spent that entire weekend trying to recover from my decision to save a few minutes of time. I wish it hadn’t required being banged up-side the head and handed a hefty dental bill for me to learn a lesson about slowing down.

Just a few days after my accident, my car was impounded. The night before I’d inadvertently blocked a small dirt driveway which led to 4 or 5 different houses’ parking spaces. A $300 mistake. Along the drive to pull my car out of jail, I was wallowing in self-pity and feeling more poor than I’ve felt in years, when I heard an enormous crash of metal behind me. We turned the corner and saw that just one car behind my friend and I, a car was smashed into an un-driveable state. Given our basic skills in trauma and first aid, we stepped up to see if there was anything I could do to help.

Reaching out to that traumatized mother and daughter made all the difference in my own mood. I’d been so self-absorbed. That same evening I was called on by some church leaders to bring a meal to a young man who was recovering from major abdominal surgery. Another layer of self-pity washed away.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that there are many people in this thing-called-life together. I’m grateful to be both a recipient and giver in a community of fellow humans. I’m grateful for the experience of falling, and the help I received in getting up. I’m grateful for  dentists and chiropractors and the inventors of icepacks and creatively-shaped bandages. I’m even grateful for the person who stuck that colorful note under my windshield wipers when I was parked in front of their driveway. I’m grateful for what I’ve seen and learned by trying to take things more slowly.

Mostly, I’m grateful for a dear friend’s helpful reminder that sometimes some unsolicited pain helps us to slow down enough to allow our souls to expand in a new direction. I’m really hoping that by sharing my embarrassing story, others might be vicariously inspired to slow down… and not run (or park illegally) in the dark.

Here are some photos to document that day 11-11-11:

my face:

my hand:

The lunch I was carrying in my hand when I fell:

The sidewalk crack I didn’t see:

Before and After:

Color Migration

(Maple Canyon. Mid September.
 ps- I didn’t even saturate this photograph. These colors are the real deal.)

Fall colors. I guess that’s what they do. Colors fall. Over a month ago I danced in firey trees, but I had to drive high into the canyon to find the most extreme color palettes. In following weeks, the yellows and oranges and reds came dripping down towards me. The lowest skirts of the Wasatch Range were an unbelievable patchworks of lobulate colors, decorating the dips and channels where water flows.

Then the colors flooded down to the valley floor, starting at the upper tips of branches and working inward to each tree’s core. During summer months, plant life agrees on various hues of green. But come fall, each family proudly flags a different color. And the heavy branches reveal how successfully each species reproduced.

Now the high mountain paths are fading to brown and the valley floor is swallowing up its rosey copper meal. Only the lowest tree branches still wear firey gowns. The earth will hold the fallen colors in until spring.

As the earth thaws in spring time, the valley floor will awaken and the colors will travel—in reverse direction now—slowly across the valley floor, up into the tree canopies, and then up the mountain sides. It’s a journey that takes many months. Not until very late summer will the mountain tops again be decorated in a rainbow of flowers.

(Big Cottonwood Canyon. Late August.)

Science Moment.

I spent all  Saturday with hundreds of science-loving middle school girls at Utah’s Expanding Your Horizons. The girls had dozens of workshops to choose from. I taught one on light.

The event is put on to “motivate young women in science and mathematics”, but from the conversations I had with these girls, most of them are already there. Beyond motivated. One quiet 6th grader pulled me aside and asked, “what’s your take on the recent finding that a neutrino traveled faster than the speed of light? How will it impact science if Einstein’s theories are wrong?”

. . .

During the final assembly, I sat by a 7th grader who cupped her hands over her heart and exclaimed:

–“This has been the best day of my whole year!”

me, smiling: “You’ve had a good time today, huh?”

7th grade girl: “OH yeah! I couldn’t come last year because my parents couldn’t afford it. But this year I saved up my allowance money so I could come.”

me: “Wow. You paid your own way to come here? How much did it cost?”

7th grade girl: “$16”

me: “How much money do you get for allowance?”

7th grade girl: “1 dollar a week.”

me: “That’s impressive. You saved your allowance money for 16 weeks to be able to come spend a full Saturday doing science?”

7th grade girl: “Well, one week I got 2 dollars.”

I still regret that I didn’t reach into my wallet and hand her the $20 bill I had sitting there, to help her come again next year.