Shawnee News-Star Weekender Jan. 12th 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg The balloon was still hugging the ceiling where it has lived since last October.   Our two-year-old granddaughter was admiring the shiny helium filled bag when its ribbon somehow untied itself and the balloon was set free.   An 'oh no' brought us into the front room where […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender Jan. 12th 2019

Snowy Road

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The balloon was still hugging the ceiling where it has lived since last October.   Our two-year-old granddaughter was admiring the shiny helium filled bag when its ribbon somehow untied itself and the balloon was set free.   An 'oh no' brought us into the front room where we looked up to the place she was staring.   There, twelve feet above our heads, was the balloon comfortably nestled against the white ceiling. The consensus was it would soon yield to gravity/loss of helium and drop to reachable height.   The balloon preferred its lofty point of view and anchored itself against the highest surface in the room for over twelve weeks.   This week the family noticed the balloon was beginning its descent.   Renewed interest in the balloon was generated.   Nothing says 'Happy Birthday' longer than a balloon that loves the high life.

Compared with the first week, this past week was mild and wet for January.   On one hand, the heat pump thawed and inside our home was warm.   After nearly two inches of rain, followed by snow rain which transitioned into snow that accumulated to a depth of 1 ˝ inches, we thought the well water turning bronze was our only problem.   Why did we keep hearing helicopters hover overhead?

Sloshing outside to check the greenhouses, we turned to look at the heat pump.   What met our eyes was a box sitting on a square of concrete totally covered in frosty snow and ice except the very top.   The broom dislodged little.   The unit was turned off and doused with warm water.   That worked for a short period of time until it refroze.   The coils inside were frozen. The pump was turned off again. The HVAC system was supposed to have a defrost mode that activated from time to time, but apparently the system had been overwhelmed.   The house was chilly as night descended while the heat pump sat quietly outside defrosting itself.   The well-above average temps the next day helped melt the rest of the ice and the HVAC unit was back in business.

First Day-Gingerbread House Outside

On the twelfth day, right on schedule, the gingerbread house was readied to go outdoors.   The foil-wrapped Santas were undressed and the candy canes pried off.     I picked up the fairy tale structure to move it off the plastic base onto a transport plate.   The walls came apart as the roof abruptly came down on top, giving the appearance of an over-decorated cookie flower gone amok. Stacking up the pieces, the entire edible creation was carted outdoors and spread across the rock designated to serve as the wildlife dining table.

The next day the roof had been either eaten or carted away to places unknown.   The four walls had no decorations and all the candies with sugar frosting were gone.   The gingerbread boy was missing his frosting hair as he stood all alone under one bird feeder surrounded by pieces of white frosting and gumdrops.   Who knows where the gingerbread girl was.   No gingerbread at all by the third day.

The Deep Fork Audubon Society display can be viewed through January at the downtown Shawnee Public Library.   Books of birds, examples of seeds, bird feeder ideas, photos, and step by step instructions on how to identify birds are on exhibit.   Inside the separate glass case across from the display is a gigantic bird book donated by one member turned to two pages with huge hummingbirds.

Deep Fork Audubon display at the Shawnee Library

The winter is a great time to watch birds.   Mark your calendars for February 15th-18th and take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes as little as 15 minutes to do just one count and submit to birdcount.org.   Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society accumulate valuable yearly knowledge about birds, their situations and how to protect them.   Last year 160,000 people participated.   Help our birds.   You may be surprised by the birds that live in your yard.

Sunday mornings I often visit Japan.   On PBS.   Last Sunday on 'Journeys in Japan-Iriomote Island: A Small Piece of Paradise' I discovered a tiny outcropping southwest of mainland Japan (very close to Taiwan) that is part of the Yaeyama Islands of Okinawa.   Tropical rainforests and mangroves cover 90% of this mountainous volcanic island home to the critically endangered Iriomote wildcat (only found on Iriomote) and the Crested Serpent Eagle with numbers rapidly decreasing due to traffic accidents and habitat destruction.  Nearly 2,400 humans (2005) share over one third of their island with the Iriomote National Forest Park and 390,000 tourists that visit during the year!  In January, average temperatures range in the 60's Fahrenheit both day and night with 75% humidity and 6.65 inches of rain.   Hoshizuna-no-hama beach has star-shaped 'sand' created from the shells of small single celled protists called foraminifera.   Google foraminifera and go to images.   Be dazzled by the diverse and beautiful shells of these miniscule animals that form sand.

Nearly 300 species of birds live in the Yaeyama Islands.   One is an introduced species, 16 are globally threatened, and dozens of species of seabirds are vulnerable or threatened.  Jays, crows, swallows, flycatchers, owls, ducks, cuckoos and hawks live on the islands.   Oklahoma hosts 480 species of birds, 7 introduced, 7 endangered/threatened and 4 extinct with many of the same species found in the Yaeyama Islands. It's a small world after all.

The 23 Yaeyama Islands, many quite tiny and isolated, cover 228 square miles and pack in a treasure trove of tropical plants and animals.   The inland rivers link the forests and seas.   Compare this to the state of Oklahoma with 69,960 square miles and 10 distinct ecoregions dotted by innumerable lakes crossed by dozens of rivers.   A state humid subtropical in the southeast to semi-arid in the west.  Countless independently different ecosystems harboring a huge array of biodiversity barely describes what lives in, on or above the entire earth.

The tropical forests are called the 'lungs of the planet.'   The people of Iriomote Island have a strong connection with nature through plants, fibers, textures and colors.   Filaments derived from the cold-hardy Japanese Banana tree (Musa basjoo) are used to make durable threads.   Young people sit side by side with their elders as they learn not only to make thread but fabrics used in the kimono and other apparel. During Iriomote ceremonies, the elders are in charge of introducing the young to nature and their unique ways of life. Traditional knowledge and skills are handed down from generation to generation, something we don't seem to do, value or respect in our own country.

But (on a positive note), have you heard high-pitched chirping outdoors in the evenings?   The Strecker's chorus frogs have emerged from underground in central Oklahoma and are now peeping during the warmer winter evenings.   Less than 2 inches in size, they are the largest of chorus frogs, yet still hard to see. Spring Peepers are smaller, but live in extreme Eastern OK.   These are the frogs I knew and listened to at sunset as singing arose from Caston Creek and ponds in fields bordering the tree-covered ridge behind our home.

Second Day- Only the gingerbread boy remains

Take a stroll outside on these calm January evenings.   You just might experience a melodious sweet-sounding serenade courtesy of nature.