Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter Sun

Winter Sun
Mother Nature appreciates Father Sun when he takes the low profile of winter. Sometimes having him a few extra miles away is pretty nice. It aslo allows me to let the Northern Hemsphere slow down and relax while I get busy in the Southern Hemisphere. Seems like I am always picking up after Father Sun.
Amazing how some people get all worked up because it is cold and snowy. They do not appreciate what I am doing by giving them long nights and short days. Time to reflect on your life and what you are trying to do. Christmas is a reasonably nice distraction for the month of December, but many people make it a competitive shopping experience. Sometimes I send a bit of snow and some cold weather to slow them down and maybe stay at home and do something with the people the live and love with.
The solar panel at the Train Farm is still generating up to 2100 watts at peak times, just like summer. The train guys tilted the panel so it is more perpendicular which keeps snow off it and also captures Father Sun's rays at the same angle as during the summer. Of course days are shorter, so total sunlight converted into electricty is much less. And, the train guys are smart enough to use less electricity in the winter to compensate.
Last year, I dumped a lot of snow on the Train Farm on December 2 and it stayed on the ground until middle of March. Mother Nature felt that was a good test, but this year I think I will be a little more lenient and start the snow later. However, you people are still dumping lots of Greenhouse Gases into my atmosphere, so I end up putting some extra water into it (can't help myself on that one) and then the cold air condenses it and you end up with lots of heavy snow. It is coming, but just a bit later this year.
Enjoy December, it really is a very nice month for thoughtful reflection.
Yours truly,
Mother Nature

Friday, November 5, 2010

Notes From Mother Nature

Mother Nature sends November greetings to everyone.
What a peaceful time I sent to all of you in Iowa in the last five weeks. Mother Nature is not always mean or spiteful as some of the media people like to play it. I can be very nice and I proved it once again this October. Very little rain, nice warm days, cool nights, and just a nice hard freeze here in November to get most of the leaves off the plants. OK, there were a few windy days with sustained winds above 35 mph and gusts up to 65 mph. Imagine if I had thrown some rain or snow with that wind. If you are complaining, you have the problem, not me.
This month I was thinking about wooly bear caterpillars. They are kind of contrarian, and Mother Nature likes contrarian characteristics once in a while to spice up the gene pool. Traditionally, we all think that caterpillars are formed in the spring and summer, do their growth activities, and then blossom into spectacular butterflies. That is all pretty and good and simple. Wooly bear caterpillars actually survive through the winter and finish their life cycle in the next year.
Wooly bear caterpillars are crawling around now on sunny days and you know it is too late in the year for them to turn into a butterfly now, just would not have enough time to even procreate for the next generation before the hard freeze. What I have done with the wooly caterpillar is kind of neat.
In the late spring of summer, the female woolly bear caterpillar, like other caterpillars, hatch during warm weather from eggs laid by a female moth. They spend the remainer of summer and fall growing into a relatively large sized caterpillar. As winter approaches, the mature woolly bears search for overwintering sites under bark or inside cavities of rocks or logs. When spring arrives, woolly bears spin fuzzy cocoons and transform inside them into full-grown moths.
Not many humans care about moths, but I have many species of moths and to me they are just as important, if not as attractive as, butterflies. They do all kinds of good things in my overall plan. Humans are busy planting butterfly gardens, but have you ever heard of a moth garden? To Mother Nature, they are all important creations and I love them all. I make my own moth gardens.
Now Mother Nature does not like to predict what I am going to do; I prefer to just do what I need to do to try to get everything in balance. I cannot really predict winter because it depends somewhat on how much crap you humans keep throwing into the air. Last winter the air was warmer and that holds more moisture, so you got a lot more snow. If I was a gambler, I would say that Mother Nature has not really changed anything this year and the air will still hold lots of moisture, so you put it together to figure out what is going to happen.
Anyway, you humans do have people who do good research to try to understand how I work. In addition to good old fashioned, rigorous research, sometimes you have some fun. I believe you call it folklore.

So, for my wooly bears, you have come up with some observations on the brown and black portions of the caterpiller. Typically, the bands at the ends of the caterpillar are black, and the one in the middle is brown or orange, giving the woolly bear its distinctive striped appearance. When the middle band is very narrow, winter is predicted to be very difficult. A wide band indicates a mild winter.
Dr. C.H. Curran did a lot of the initial research in 1948 and using a very small sample of 13 creatures, he sort of accurately predicted winter weather. He duplicated this research over the next eight years and the folklore got widespread attention.
Now Mother Nature endorses all research, good research as well as not very rigorous research. Using the non rigorous standard and the observation of one wolly bear at the train farm shown in the picture above, you can easily see that there is very little brown on this caterpillar. She rolled into a ball (like she is supposed to do) when one of the train guys picked her up and put near a pile of wood to help her find a nice spot to overwinter. Therefore, based on one data point and continued bad behavior by humans, Mother Nature will help you deduct that this is going to be a rough winter in central Iowa.
Maybe you could use your snow shovel a little more than your snowblower this winter to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions. I will provide adequate snow for you to practice on.
Talk to you next month.
Mother Nature

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Mother Nature sends her autumn greetings to all her readers. After a rough winter, hectic spring, and wet summer, I am able to relax a little this fall. As you know, Mother Nature merely reacts to what humans are doing to me, but for a while, I will take it easy. When the days and nights are almost equal in length, my world is somewhat in balance.

This month I was thinking about frogs and toads. The train guys now have two ephemeral ponds (thank you train guys). The original is at Lake Woebegon and the new one is in the drainage way from the grape fields. Ephemeral ponds are really great for frogs. Lots of water in the spring for the tadpoles to develop in, then slow dry out so as they become frogs, they leave the area. The big snapping turtle comes to visit each year and he has plenty of food in and around the pond. Plus some sun and shade and a pretty safe place for him to hide from his predators.

This year, with all the water, the ponds did not dry out. Even now, in October, there is water standing in Lake Woebegon. So, Mother Nature produced a record number of frogs this year. They are everywhere. When the train guys walk in the tall grasses or run the tractor, there are always lots of frogs jumping. When they move dirt, there are usually a few toads in each bucket load. The train guys are very nice to take the time to grab the toads and frogs and throw them in deeper grass or water so they do not get hurt during railroad operations. (Mother Nature thanks you for protecting my small creatures).

One picture is of a northern leopard frog. They are very common in Iowa and there must be hundreds this year at the train farm. They seem to be pretty annoyed when the train guys are working where they are living. The seldom move until the train guy is just about stepping on them; then they glare at the guys as if they are saying, "Get out of my area."

The butterfly picture is also interesting. Mother Nature put out a record number of butterflies this year, which made the frogs and butterfly predators very happy with an abundant food supply. This butterfly has had a run in with a predator. Notice that about 1/2 of the left wing is gone and a good chunk of the right wing is also gone. When the train guy found him on a Sunday, he assumed the butterfly would be finished off in a day or so. When the train guy returned the following Saturday, the injured butterfly was in the same spot! He was doing what butterflies do in cool weather, just slowly moving his wings to absorb some sun. Amazing that he lasted six days in the gravel without someone finding him.

So, life goes on. The butterfly will be a meal for maybe a frog. The frogs are big and will make great meals for the hawks and other predators that need them to survive. The frogs have done their duty eating lots of mosquitoes and other insects this summer, and now they become another part of the food chain. Of course, a few will survive to breed again next summer and the cycle will be repeated.

I have not decided how much rain to send next year, but I think there will be plenty again. After all, Mother Nature is a bit annoyed by the actions of humans putting so much junk in the air and warming it up. All I do is react to what is happening and I will probably continue to drop a lot of rain in each storm. When will you learn?

Have a nice October and enjoy the warm sunny days and cool nights.

Talk to you later,
Mother Nature

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Notes From Mother Nature

Black Dirt
Mother Nature enjoys her black dirt and I really don't get to look at a cross section of it very often. It took me a few million years to create it and Iowa used to have a lot of it. I designed it so that it could hold a lot of water and be very fluid when saturated; then dry out and be extremely hard in only a few days. This allows my native plants to send out deep routes when the soil is viscous and then makes it hard for the invasives to do well when the soil dries out. It also made it good for traditional farming to feed humans.

This year, Mother Nature decided it was time to really saturate the soil. I used to do that every decade or two. Now, I am forced to do it more often because people are putting too much crap in the air and warming it up. Warm air holds more water, so you get heavier rains. Your fault on that one, don't blame me.

Anyway, the train guys were too dumb to take the warning in 2008 about how much water the soil could hold and what happens when I drop more rain on saturated soil.
They ran a field tile into the house tile to save a few bucks. The field tile moved in the viscous black dirt and got plugged up. So water goes where the pressure is least and that would be in the tiles around the house and then between the wall and floor slab in the basement filling the basement with water several times. More dumbness points for them.

However, they were nice enough not to blame Mother Nature for the problem. They know they screwed up. They are probably the only people in Iowa who are not blaming Mother Nature for the weather impacts this year. They dug out the tiles; separated them; and will run them out far enough so that they should not have a problem in the future.

All this digging got me thinking about how to make more good healthy black dirt. On the train farm, there are several acres that have not been disturbed significantly, some with just pasture land for grazing over the last century. There are some very nice spots where the black dirt is more than five feet deep, some of my deepest concentrations of spectacular soil anywhere on the planet. The picture in this blog isn't the best, but the tile was under at least five feet of some of the finest soil on earth and they still could not find the clay under the soil.

Iowa at one time was part of Pangaea about 250 million years ago. My memory is a little hazy on the exact dates back then. Anyway, Iowa was at about the equator which made it nice and hot. I also created an inland lake of several hundred thousand square miles (maybe you could call that an ocean?). So I put lots of life as well as decaying materials together with heat and water and over a few million years, I created lots of black dirt. I am very happy when I see my work that is undisturbed and pretty much in original condition and I thank the train guys for being careful while digging out their tiles. Remember, it is good to keep Mother Nature happy.

Mother Nature was thinking how long it took me to make the dirt and how quickly humans have stripped it from the land and sent it to the Gulf of Mexico. They earn many "stupid points" for that travesty. Let me think: a few million years to make it; less than 150 years to destroy it. Who is going to take the blame on that one?
And how is mankind going to redeem those "stupid points" they have earned?

Fortunately, the train guys have had a prairie re-creation for just about 20 years now on the crop land that had been stripped to clay. Lots of native material to decompose; any occassional burn; some invasive control; and no grazing or tilling. After 20 years, there are spots that now have about 1/4" of black dirt. In another 100 years, they should have close to one inch of good dirt again across the prairie. Mother Nature approves of anything that will restore my assets, especially on my century by century timetable.

Well, Mother Nature has to get back to her work, which is keeping all my components in flux as they try to balance each other. Hope you can do something useful this month that helps me out.

Talk to you later,
Mother Nature

Monday, August 2, 2010


Mother Nature tries to pay attention to all my creatures, but sometimes the pleasant ones just escape my attention. That is what happened this year with my butterflies. Lots of rain, heat, humidity, and sun have made the prairie plants thrive this year. The plants are strong and vibrant and the invasives are struggling. They put out shallow roots with all the rain because they are lazy; now with the heat and sun they are being overwhelmed by the natives.

This was a great year for butterflies. I think the vibrant native plants with their bigger leaves and flowers provided a nice hiding place for the caterpillars to develop into butterflies. The surplus of plants due to careful weeding last year and large flower production this year has created lots of food sources. The train guys dug up lots of mud trying to control the excess water (they are silly and wasting their time). Add in some heavy rains that may have affected the bird and predator population and you have a spectacular butterfly year. Mother Nature is very proud of her work this summer. Hopefully, the snakes and spiders that eat butterflies may not be as prevelant in the late summer.

Sulphurs, fritillaries, and skippers are the largest populations, but there are several swallowtails, buckeyes, and hackberry emperors. The normal Monarch population is quite thin this year, maybe due to the loss of the milkweed near the turntable. Dumb train guys read something about lowering the milkweed density to make it easier for monarchs. Dumb advice.

Finally, the top picture was taken by Bob of a buckeye on one of the big purple coneflowers. Also, a nice picture of Girls Gone Wild -- several female cloudless sulphurs enjoying the sun and mud at the drainage ditch across the driveway. Picture by Jonathan Smith.

Come out and enjoy the trains and butterflies. Wear some bright purple or yellow and the butterflies will think you are a flower and ride with you on the train.

Mother Nature thanks you for enjoying her work.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Notes from Mother Nature

Wow, Mother Nature likes rain. Those silly train guys tried to put some drainage in to get water out of the balloon loop. During the winter I raised the drain pipe about 1/2" which trapped a lot of water. Some of the water made it to the pipe, so the train guys thought the land was draining, but it was not. Then I sent a lot of rain which caused the soil to compact a bit and now there is about an inch of standing water. My goal is to make a new prairie pothole. At an inch a year, I should have a nice ten foot pothole within a century or so. But who is in a hurry.

Mother Nature will enjoy watching the train guys try to solve this problem by digging and moving dirt and all kinds of mankind activities. Instead they should just work with me, not against me. Mother Nature always wins.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Notes from Mother Nature

I have been very busy (with the help of the train guys) in trying to re-create what Iowa looked like 200 years ago. The train guys are trying to make models of Iowa railroads in the 20th Century. Mother Nature is trying to re-create my beautiful tall grass prairie.

Prairie: The prairie re-creation uses local ecotype seeds as well as some seeds that were buried during the 100 years of farming operation on my ground. When the farming ended and the railroad construction began, many seeds that had been dormant for the last century were brought up to enjoy Father Sun and Sister Rain and they have bloomed profusely.

I do have a variety of plants that thrive in different weather conditions. So, sometimes I will throw them a hot and dry year, sometimes a cool and wet year, sometimes a normal year. Each year, different plants will dominate the prairie depending on the weather conditions. I use lightening sparingly and the train guys help with an occasional prairie burn. Please stay out of the prairie and do not pick the flowers. I need all the seeds that I create each year for the birds that stay here each winter as well as for planting more flowers. The train guys do some selected seed harvesting and planting that helps speed things up a decade or two.

Woodland: My timber needs a lot of work. I have mostly native Iowa trees and the farmers and cattle did not do too much damage to the woodland on the south side of the creek. I have a nice variety of native trees that attract a wide variety of birds. The tree spacing is not too dense, so it is easy for the birds to move around from tree to tree.

However, I have too many invasive trees and shrubs. While I love all my plants, the trees and shrubs from Europe and Asia really belong back where they came from. My Iowa plants have some trouble competing with these invaders. The train guys are working on keeping the invaders out, but it is a challenge. I could probably do it on my own, but it would take me about a 1,000 years or so to get the native plants organized. I am in no hurry, but some of the train guys are, and I welcome their assistance.

The area north of the creek is being planted with native trees and shrubs and it will be a few decades before they are strong enough to dominate the ground. All that hemp planted in World War II created quite a dense route structure that will take a while for the new plantings to overcome.

Hazards: Mother Natures has lots of ways to help my plants and animals survive; but, some of them create hazards for humans. There are mowed pathways and you should always walk on the mowed paths. If you wander into the un-mowed areas, you will find lots of ticks. My ticks like to catch rides on animals passing through and they will crawl up your legs as they look for the most convenient form of transportation, not to mention a quick snack on your leg.

I also have plants that can cause some distress to humans. Poison ivy is a nice plant that protects the other woodland plants. My animals know what it looks like and they avoid it, which allows the neighboring plants to grow without becoming a snack for deer and bunnies. Unfortunately, humans do not recognize it and you will know the next day if you walked in the poison ivy.

Unfortunately, the rabies virus is present in many animals. Not much that Mother Nature can do about that pesky problem. If any animal does not run from you, it probably has rabies or another virus that makes it very sick. DO NOT approach any animal that does not move or moves very slowly. Tell one of the train guys immediately and they will know what to do.

There are lots of insects of all kinds present. I love my insects. They make great food for the birds and it is fun to watch the swallows swoop and dive into the swarms of mosquitoes and gnats. As Father Sun retires for the night, lots of bats will come out of the trees for their snack time. I enjoy sending them out in swarms at sunset. People with sensitivities to mosquitoes should wear some sort of mosquito repellant.

Father Sun and Brother Wind are often present. Humans should always put on sunscreen and bring a windbreaker, even on a hot summer day. The farm fields heat up during the day and this creates a lot of wind movement. The weather is usually hot and windy, cold and windy, or wet and windy. Bring appropriate clothing.

Solar Panels: Despite the presence of the train guys, I enjoy what is occurring on the 18 acres of the railroad. The solar panels have made the railroad carbon neutral. They calculated how much energy they use for the house, railroad operations, and travel to and from the railroad and designed a solar collector system to offset the carbon usage.

My trees, plants, animals, and insects provide a nice environment at the train farm and are almost in a natural balance the way Mother Nature intended the earth to be. I wish a few other humans would try to do the same thing. After all is said and done, I always win. Sometimes it takes a few hundred years, but I have lots of forces at work to try to achieve balance on earth. Your assistance is appreciated. Mother Nature thanks you for your efforts.