I Sleep with the Windows Open

It was my turn to write the newspaper article this week. Here’s what I submitted:

I Sleep with the Windows Open
by Jennifer Schlick

After my brother was born, dad and the neighbors transformed the attic into a bedroom for my sister and me. Tongue and groove knotty pine boards on walls and ceiling created an atmosphere of rustic log cabin. The men also created a built-in table that served as both desk and vanity, a big double closet, and even a little sewing nook with built-in cabinet storage and a top big enough for laying out and cutting the fabric. Twin beds were placed on either side of the south-facing window, each with its own reading lamp. It’s a sweet space that I use to this day. I’m typing this article at a computer I’ve set up on that built-in desk.

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Katydid: “Katydid! Katydid!”

Being just under the roof, the temperature of the room varies widely with the season and the weather. The heat of a summer night can be mitigated by a window fan placed in the north window, blowing out, pulling cool night air past the beds. It works brilliantly on all but the hottest and most humid nights. The cold of winter can be managed by leaving the door at the bottom of the stairs open and opening a floor vent that allows heat to rise from the 1st floor furnace. But I like it cold and I like wearing sweaters, so I rarely resort to these measures. In fact, I only close the windows when an unruly wind blows the rain in, or when the winter temperatures are truly frigid.

I realized recently what an intimate relationship I have with nature in my neighborhood as a result of those open windows, an intimacy that goes beyond an awareness of seasons and weather brought to me by variations in temperature and humidity. That realization started with a scritchy-scratchy noise outside the south window, just under the roof. It didn’t take me long to decide it must be a bat. The next day, when it was light enough to see, little “chocolate sprinkles” attached to the screen added evidence to support my guess. Guano. I was pretty sure. It was months before I finally saw the dark silhouette of a bat in flight swooping from under the roof just after hearing the scritchy-scratchy noise.

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This is not the Screech Owl I heard outside my window. At least it is doubtful this is the very one.

One morning, awake and procrastinating the start of my day, the sound of bat’s return coincided with the whinny of an Eastern Screech Owl, and that got me thinking about the soundscape outside my window. I began a mental list of the dusk-night-dawn animals I know are out there because I’ve heard them. In spring my lullabye might be the high clear peeps of Spring Peepers and the elegant trill of American Toads. In summer I fall asleep to the chirp of crickets and katydids calling out their own names. There are times of year when I don’t need to set an alarm because the dawn chorus coincides exactly with the time I wish to awaken. Robins, phoebes, cardinals, chickadees, titmice, crows, and others sing me awake, or a Red Squirrel might chatter in the boundary line of spruces. The soundscape might include the non-animal conversation of winds, sometimes gentle and sometimes aggressive, rain or hail on the roof, long low rumbles of distant thunder, sudden explosions of nearby thunder, or a muffled snowy quiet.

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American Robin: “Cheer-up! Cherio!”

Odors come through the windows, too: that fresh air smell that doesn’t have a name, the smell of rain that does (petrichor). A skunk went through the neighborhood more than once over the years. And let’s not forget that humans are a part of nature: the smoke from summer campfires tells tales of friendly gatherings and is often accompanied by guitar music, songs and laughter. The winter fireplace smoke is quiet and feels warm and cozy.

When I’m outside during the day, I favor my sense of sight and neglect my other senses to a certain extent. When I’m in my room, sight takes a back seat, but isn’t totally useless. I awoke at 1:00 a.m. a fews days ago thinking I had overslept. A glorious full moon was flooding my room with light. And I love to put sleep aside and don my glasses during a thunderstorm so I can get glimpses of lightning bolts.

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Full Moon

I work at an organization whose mission is to connect people with nature. To that end, we often implore you to get outside. Today, I invite you to connect with your backyard by sleeping with your windows open.

Jennifer Schlick is program director at Audubon Community Nature Center. ACNC is located one-quarter mile east of Route 60 on Riverside Road between Jamestown, New York and Warren Pennsylvania. Visit auduboncnc.org or call (716) 569-2345 for more information.

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Hepatica

It was my turn to write for the weekly newspaper column. It is in the Saturday Post-Journal on February 25, 2017. Our web guru only used two of the pictures as below. But the P-J used all the pictures I sent. Guess that’s because I didn’t write enough words. AND they put it on the page that prints in color. Hooray! Here’s how it appears on the Audubon website:

More than one person has asked about the picture on the front of Audubon’s March-April newsletter. “It’s not a crocus,” they say. Correct. It’s not a crocus, but it blooms equally early in spring. One of the questioners remarked that he had never seen this flower before. That surprised me since he is no stranger to the woods. In his defense, the bloom is small, only one half to one inch in diameter, and it has a very short blooming period of only a couple of weeks in early spring. Many of my photographs of this early bloomer were taken on days when there were still patches of snow on the ground.

Newsletter cover shot. The petal-like sepals can be blue, purple, pink, or white.

Hepatica is in the buttercup family. It produces extremely variable flowers. A green center with numerous white stamens is surrounded by five to twenty (usually six) petal-like sepals which can be white, pink, lavender, or blue. Each bloom rises from the forest floor on a leafless, hairy stem and behind the sepals are three hairy bracts. The three-lobed leaves that you find near the base of the flowers were formed last year. New leaves won’t be formed until the blossoms have given way to seed heads.

Back in the day when the Doctrine of Signatures prevailed, the shape or color of a plant was used as an indicator of its medicinal value. The liver is three-lobed as are Hepatica’s leaves, and the color of the aging leaves is similar to that of raw liver. So Hepatica was used to treat the liver. We now know that Hepatica does NOT treat liver ailments; it is, indeed, poisonous in large doses.

Hepatica is one of several springtime flowers whose seeds are dispersed by ants, a strategy known as myrmecochory. The seeds of flowers that employ this strategy are attached to a food reward called an elaiosome that is filled with proteins and lipids, irresistible to ants. An ant carries the entire seed with elaisome to its underground nest and eats the rich food or feeds it to larvae. The unharmed seed is carted off to the waste disposal area of the nest where, surrounded by frass, dead ants and various other nutrient-rich debris, it germinates and grows into a new plant. It is estimated that about 30% of early spring forest flowers disperse seeds in this way, including Trillium, Dutchman’s Breeches, Trout Lily, and Spring Beauties, to name a few.

If you are interested in hunting for Hepatica, a good strategy is to familiarize yourself with the leaves and watch for them on the forest floor noting their location. Whenever I see the leathery three-lobed leaves that start out shiny green in spring and darken to burgundy or brown just before winter, I try to memorize the location so I can return for a springtime visit. I checked my photo inventory and found that I have Hepatica pictures taken anywhere from March 23 through April 30, depending on the year. Accounts I have read report them blooming as early as January if the weather is mild, and into May if it isn’t. Sunny days are best for fully open flowers. The blooms are also pretty on rainy days with partially open drooping flowers. Rich deciduous woods are your best bet.

Hepatica leaves have three lobes.

Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. Visit at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown, or online at auduboncnc.org. The trails and Bald Eagle viewing are open dawn to dusk. The Nature Center’s winter hours are Sundays-Fridays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. On March 1, spring hours begin.

Jennifer Schlick is Program Director at ACNC and can probably be talked into helping you hunt for Hepatica.

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P.S. After writing this last week, I went for a hike along a hemlock-lined creek in Allegany State Park. In between patches of snow, it was hard NOT to step on Hepatica leaves. I didn’t see any blooming though.

Winter Walk

Well, sort of winter. Forty degrees. The ground under foot was mushy under the melting snow. The creek that was probably frozen a couple of days ago was clear of ice today.


American Beech


Eastern Hemlock


Oak (and other leaves if you look closely)


Black Cherry


Yellow Birch


Hawthorn


White Pine

Nice walk with wonderful company.

What is this Stuff?

I wrote on New Year’s Day about a hike to a spot in southwestern New York where there used to be an orphanage. Now, only the foundations of the buildings remain. There is a plant growing all around the site that I haven’t been able to identify. We took a few cuttings and I put them in water to force them. Here’s what came out:


Three compound leaves all came out from the end of one of the cuttings.

Here’s the leaf:

Be sure to click back to the New Year’s Day hike to see the thick twisting vines that grow up and completely engulf the trees. Every new shoot coming up through the snow was this plant.

The name that keeps popping into my head is wisteria. But is there a variety of wisteria that can withstand our western New York winters?

January 8, 2017

Why do we wake up some days in lethargy with little interest in or desire for the day’s unfolding? That was me this morning. And then the light began to reveal a perfect winter day fresh with powder. I knew I didn’t have the energy for a full day of hiking. I also knew I would regret it if I didn’t get out there.

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Just under 1.5 miles with elevation change of around 100 feet, it was a good length and it refreshed my soul. We were only “lost” for a short distance. We’ve walked this trail dozens of times and know it well. Conversation and playing with the dog got us slightly offtrack.

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Snowshoes were a must. In some spots the powder was quite deep. The return trip was by road without snowshoes.

1.4 miles
+ another 1 mile loop with Lolli after supper.
#365MileChallenge

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New Year’s Day 2017

Terry says my jaw dropped when he turned onto the unplowed Holt Run Road. “The road less traveled is seldom plowed,” he said. New snow tires and 4-wheel drive got us to the trail head – and back out again after the hike.

Last time we came out this way, we found the foundation of a building which we later learned had been a school / orphanage. We wanted to find it again, this time with a camera. I had forgotten to load the waypoints into the GPS, but we remembered the general area and found it.

The most perplexing thing to me is a vine that grows all over the area. Just about all the new growth coming up on the forest floor is this plant, and just about every tree near these old foundations is covered with the stuff.

I will HAVE to go back in spring to see what it looks like when it’s in bloom… if it blooms.

3.7 miles

Fine Day for a Walk

The only bad thing about a day like today is knowing how to dress. Highs predicted to be in the upper thirties with the “real feel” the same. When in doubt – go with layers.  I picked well.  The extra layers I carried in my pack were never needed.  Go me.

We had to pick a section of the park north of France Brook Road to avoid the hunters.  The Park used to always be “no hunting” on Sundays.  This year, though, hunting IS allowed on the Quaker side, south of France Brook.

We parked at a new (or at least new to me) marker commemorating the location of the first capture and release program of turkeys in the park.

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According to the plaque, this is the site of the first trap and transfer program.  The sign reads, “Allegany State Park – Founding site for the N.Y.S. Conservation Dept. Wild Turkey Transfer Program. Birds trapped at this site helped reintroduce the Eastern Wild Turkey to the northeastern U.S. & southeastern Canada. 1959.”

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We walked France Brook to the Horse/”Jeep” trail, then headed uphill.  After getting tired of walking roads, we headed toward the sound of a gurgling creek and followed that all the way down to Horse Trail 11 up above Camps 10 and 12, then followed it to Camp 12, and roads back to the truck.

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There was no snow down at France Brook.  But as we climbed, the hills were covered.  Saw lots of colorful fungi, as well as some deer and coyote tracks.  But my favorite was the bear:

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The walk was about 5 and 1/2 miles.  It was a good day.

And my new thermos worked!  Hot soup for lunch.

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(No, the color isn’t off.  It’s vegetarian borscht!)

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P.S.  I love the new GPS I bought myself for my birthday last month.  It’s fun to turn it on and track my hikes.