Taming the Mountain

We’ve talked about it for years. We both wanted to do it. We would do it. Someday we would pack our gear and get it done. On Saturday, someday arrived. We hiked to the peak of Mt LeConte.

For weeks prior, I was plagued by doubts. LeConte is the third highest peak in the Smoky Mountains. We’ve done the Alum Cave Bluff portion a year and a half ago, and I remember it being a real challenge. This time around, we would be in the company of the Padawan’s Webelos den. Would I be able to keep up with the kids? Would I be that mom who slowed the whole group down? I didn’t want to ruin it for my husband or my son, especially since our den leader had planned the whole trip so he could award the boys their Webelos rank at the top of the mountain. It was a big deal.

Husband and I had some disagreements prior to stepping off the trail. I let him win on both counts, but I still resent it a little. He talked me out of taking my “real” camera, and I had to settle for my daughter’s point-and-shoot. He also balked when I packed my book in my backpack. “You’re not going to have time to read, and you’ll be sorry for the extra weight.” Yeah. I did, and I wouldn’t have. But whatever.

On the way up, I couldn’t stop smiling. It’s not every day I get to cross something off The Dream List. The trail was so much easier than I remembered, maybe because I didn’t have a thirty pound preschooler dangling off my back this time. We got to Alum Cave much faster than I expected, and it was actually fun. It wasn’t a fear of heights that made our last trip so terrifying, it was a fear of Squish plummeting off the side of the mountain. No Squish, no worries.

Yes, it's as steep as it looks.

Yes, it’s as steep as it looks.

 

We tagged about 1/10th of a mile behind the Padawan’s group, well ahead of the middle-of-the-pack. My husband and I hiked essentially in solitude. We talked. We are at our most honest on the trail. Being in the moment brings the things that matter into clearer focus. We can solve the world’s problems at 6,000 feet. As the path grew more difficult, the talking stopped, and our thoughts turned inward.

We hit the top after just under three hours of hiking. Actually, we hit it sooner than that, but we missed the trail to the lodge and kept hiking another 1/4 mile before I realized our mistake and we got turned around. While we waited for the last group, we took a side trip to the actual peak.

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

Please ignore the cheesy grin. Please?

I must have framed a thousand shots that I did not take. The breathtaking peaks and valleys; tiny deer mice scurrying across the trail; tangles of tree roots spilling downhill like so much water; my husband, rosy-cheeked and smiling, mist hanging over the hills; my son grinning with the triumph of 11 conquered miles.  I carry those images in my heart.

old_glory

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: A Fortune Cookie and a To-Go Box

Remember this guy?

Yep. That's a fortune cookie, alright.

Yep. That’s a fortune cookie, alright.

The next day, this is what it looked like.

That's its tail. When I touched it, the turtle would curl its tail up. I think it's ticklish.

That’s its tail. When I touched it, the turtle would curl its tail up. I think it’s ticklish.

I would show you a photo of the finished product, but I can’t. Because there are eight of them now, and I have no idea which is which. Eight. I was pretty wrong. And there are still a couple of eggs that might hatch. We’re almost at 50% as it is. Not bad considering their story.

Full to the top with cute? Ready for that to-go box? Coming right up.

I want to stick it in my pocket and take it home. I won't. No, really.

I want to stick it in my pocket and take it home. I won’t. No, really. Can you see that egg tooth.? It blows me away!

Here's your to-go box. Box turtle, that is. It hatched yesterday. It's an Eastern Box Turtle, Tennessee's state reptile.

Here’s your to-go box. Box turtle, that is. It hatched yesterday. It’s an Eastern Box Turtle, Tennessee’s state reptile.

Its plastron is completely different from the snapping turtles'. You can see the beginnings of some yellow, though it may take a few years for real color to appear. Note how its yolk is almost completely absorbed.

Its plastron is completely different from the snapping turtles’. You can see the beginnings of some yellow, though it may take a few years for real color to appear. Note how its yolk is almost completely absorbed.

This post is for my friend, sj. I hope she knows why. All the purty turtles to you, sj!

Happy Monday! You Won’t Believe This!

Remember our little friend from Thursday’s post?  It looked as though a handful of other eggs had the potential to hatch. Based on egg condition alone, I guessed there would be a total of six. I guessed wrong.

The incubator has been busy. There are a few more turtles just waiting to hatch. Click to enlarge the photos.

Looks like my guess was too high, doesn’t it? Wait.

Note the domed shell. That's from being squashed in the egg. The turtle is actually very soft and squishy right now. Give it a few days and it will be a lot flatter.

Note the domed shell. That’s from being squashed in the egg. The turtle is actually very soft and squishy right now. Give it a few days and it will be a lot flatter.

Overnight, three other turtles hatched, so we’ve got four that have completely emerged, and three others that are on their way. Plus any surprises that get thrown out there. If you only click on one to enlarge, click on the left. It is hard to appreciate the weirdness in a thumbnail.

And let’s not forget this guy.

Not coming out. Sorry. I like it in here just fine!

Not coming out. Sorry. I like it in here just fine!

 

Here’s an upclose and personal of his egg-tooth. He used that to shred the egg in order to make his escape.

He looks like a little shark with that tooth.

He looks like a little shark with that tooth.

I’ll be watching the clutch with even greater interest over the next few days. Who knows what miracles will emerge?

They now have water to swim in. Because that's what turtles do. But he has some towels so he can haul out of the water if he wants to.

They now have water to swim in. Because that’s what turtles do. But he has some towels so he can haul out of the water if he wants to.

 

I’ll keep you posted!

Making Things Right

Sometimes bad things happen. This summer, I have been able to watch as an unfortunate circumstance was made right.

Turtles and tortoises are pretty much hard-wired to do what they were made to do – find food, find shelter, mate, lay their eggs, hibernate, repeat. Being so instinctive has helped them to survive for a very long time, but sometimes those instincts work against them. They don’t adapt quickly to changes in their environment, such as roads intersecting their nesting routes.***

This summer, a female eastern snapping turtle, Chelydra serpentina serpentina, was struck by a car and killed while crossing a road. A quick-thinking observer picked up the turtle and took it to the local vet school. The turtle turned out to be a gravid (egg-carrying) female. Her eggs were promptly removed and were brought to the zoo for incubation.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Snapping turtle eggs in early June. 19 eggs is on the low end of average.

Incubating reptile eggs is a trickier business than hatching other critters. When the eggs are retrieved from a nest, they must remain in the exact position in which they were found. If they are turned, the embryos can separate from the egg and drown. They need to come with a giant “This end up!” sticker.

I don’t have a lot of experience with turtle eggs. I’m a tortoise gal, myself. When I looked at these eggs, I didn’t have a whole lot of hope. So many of the eggs were dented, and those bright white spots are calcifications. Weird. But It have learned enough to know that we will always err on the side of caution. The eggs were carefully placed in vermiculite and set up for incubation.

The eggs were also candled. Candling is when a light is shined through the egg to check for any development.

snapper_eggs_2

As expected, no development was noted. It would be very unlikely to see growth in recently-laid eggs, anyway, so the eggs were incubated with crossed fingers.

A few weeks later, the eggs were candled again.

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo!

Note the veins running through the egg. This egg is fertile! The shadow beneath is the developing embryo.

Holy cow! Several of the eggs showed signs of development.

Yesterday, I got an email telling me there was someone waiting to meet you all.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that's a quarter for size comparison.

Check him (her?) out! Yes, that’s a quarter for size comparison. The turtle is covered with vermiculite. Once it has its first bath, seeing features will  be much easier.

Click to enlarge any of them you’d like to see more closely.

Looking at the tray of eggs, I would guess there are at least five others that will hatch. How soon? Hopefully really soon. Once the babies have emerged, they will stay at the zoo only a week or two before they are released back into the wild. They know all that they need to know to survive. That’s where the hard-wiring has the advantage.

I hope to post updates and pictures of any subsequent hatchings.. Fingers crossed that a few more make it. About 70% of nests in the wild are lost to predation, so this little guy is ahead of the game, despite its precarious entry into the world.

***Turtles sometimes cross roads to get to and from breeding grounds. If you ever find a turtle walking across a road and want to help it, put it across the road in the direction it was facing. If you put it back where it came from, it will only turn around and head back to where its homing device is telling it to go. Also, don’t stop in the middle of a busy, busy road. You’ll both get squashed.

Don’t Look Now…

Remember my little friend? I dropped it in a pot of dirt like a hot potato and haven’t touched it since. Or even looked at it until yesterday. It looks kind of the same as it did two months ago, actually. See? Then:

I took this picture a little less than 2 months ago when trying out the new camera. Doesn't look like much, does it? All wrinkly and pitiful.

I took this picture a little less than 2 months ago when trying out the new camera. Doesn’t look like much, does it? All wrinkly and pitiful.

Now:

I may be sick…

Nekkid Chicks

No, you’re not in the wrong place. It’s still a family blog.

Look what I found yesterday in a cooler on my back porch.

What a strange bundle of leaves. And a strange location. That's the cooler where I feed my snake.

What a strange bundle of leaves. And a strange location. That’s a little soda cooler.

A closer look? Okay, then.

Click to enlarge. The gallery pics show up tiny, but the photos themselves have some great detail. I love my new camera!

My mother has a great deal of experience with birds, and she believes that they have just hatched, and she’s probably right. There’s not a single feather on these little nekkid chicks! I am trying to figure out the species. It’s a tiny one. I know because mother bird and I scared the poop out of one another, and she flew right by my head.

I love that she has built her nest inside a cooler. The temperature will stay nice and cozy without getting too hot. Who says they are bird-brains? And here’s proof that most birds have a poor sense of smell. I use that cooler to feed a snake.

*    *   *

On a totally different note, I am preparing my first review post for our awesome children’s book club. It should go live on Monday. If you have already done a post about a favorite kids’ book, send the link to me so I can include it in the post. If you want to do one, include a link to Monday’s post somewhere in yours, and a link to your post will appear as a trackback. That way we can all find each other’s awesome children’s reads.

Also, you are welcome to click the Goodreads widget in the right hand column and join the club On Goodreads. Until that site is completely taken over by Amazon Zombies same diff a huge, multinational corporation and we are forced to hold meetings in my playhouse. I’ll make the gingerbread.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Nature Is Weird

Remember my best decorating scheme ever? Things are happening there.

Click to enlarge. It’s insane!

My kid has the coolest teacher. Look what else is growing in her classroom!

Note the egg tooth on the end of its beak. The kids got to watch them hatch, too!

Note the egg tooth on the end of its beak. The kids got to watch them hatch, too!

The One Where I Shock My Readers

You opened the post. I’m so glad I didn’t scare you away. Do you ever find comfort in the sameness of things, of knowing exactly what to expect, be it reading a blog or ordering your same vanilla latte every Friday morning from the same employee at the same little coffee shop? Yeah, me, too. And sometimes you walk in to that coffee shop on a Thursday, or that familiar face has been replaced by someone you’ve never seen before, and it’s jarring. The safe place has been compromised. Brace yourselves. The battlements have been breached.

You come here to see this:

Pyxis planicauda. One of the rarest of the Malagasy dwarf tortoises. Critically endangered. Hatched this week. You're welcome.

Pyxis planicauda. One of the rarest of the Malagasy dwarf tortoises. Critically endangered. Hatched this week. You’re welcome.

 

But today, I bring you this. Click to enlarge them. I double-dog dare you!

 

I know. They’re mammals, not reptiles. Sometimes I need to shake things up.  I do hope you’ll forgive me.

 

*** Just so’s you know, these aren’t my puppies. I have the privilege of puppy-sitting for a friend. Photographing newborn puppies? Sure, twist my arm, why don’t you?

I Didn’t See That Coming.

My husband took me hiking on Mother’s Day. The big kids opted to stay home and watch Squish. Mostly so that they didn’t have to go. My Mother’s Day didn’t involve any actual children. I’ll unpack that guilt later. They bought me MoonPies and Junior Mints, so I know they love me. Back to the tale.

As we were hiking, I found a prickly pear cactus that had been squashed nearly flat by the bulldozer that blazed the trail. I never take anything from a park, but prickly pear, a favorite food of many tortoises, is non-native and invasive, so I didn’t feel the least bit guilty for breaking off a small section to take home.

Let me explain a little about me. Spring is in the air, and I have a physiological need to plant as many things as I can. I need to see things growing. If the seeds I planted yesterday aren’t growing yet, I’ll just plant some more. This sad little plant needed me. My hope was to get a bit of it into soil to see if I could get it rooted. It was the ultimate challenge.

Prickly pear. Look at those awesome spines. I wonder if it would keep the neighbors' dogs from pooping in my flower bed.

Prickly pear. Look at those awesome spines. I wonder if it would keep the neighbors’ dogs from pooping in my flower bed.

2:00 pm Choose the piece with no large spines and put it in my pocket. Wonder if a little rooting hormone might give me a better chance at starting this plant.

2:01 pm  Begin to feel stinging in my leg. Whoa. I forgot I am wearing my Columbia switchbacks. My pocket is mesh. No worries .The spines are so small as to be nearly invisible. How much damage can they do? Wonder if big spines need to be removed before offering to tortoises at Zoo.

2:05 pm Stinging becomes rather uncomfortable. Remove it from my pocket, wrap it in a leaf, and slip it into an outside pocket. I can’t wait to get it home.

2:06 pm My finger is stinging. I can barely see the tiny spine embedded in my fingertip. Wow, this plant is good at defense! I scrape the spine away with a fingernail.

2:06:10 om Spine becomes embedded in the other finger. Good grief! I remove it and carefully wipe it on the ground.

2:08 pm Calf begins to sting as tiny spines are dislodged and work their way through my pants and down my leg. Feel like I am being eaten by fire ants. Check to make sure cactus bit is still nestled in its leaf wrapping.

2:09 pm Dislodge spines from my finger tips with more energy than is absolutely necessary. High-tail it back to car.

2:30 pm Remove cactus bit from pocket and look for something, anything, to wrap it in to get it home. Find box to throw it in. That should keep it safe.

2:31 pm Attempt to scrape spines from fingers and from legs. I vaguely wonder if any of these will penetrate my skin, travel through my bloodstream, and kill me dead. That would be bad.

3:00 pm Arrive home, carefully unwrap cactus bit without touching it and dump it in a pot of soil. Warn kids not to even look in its direction for the rest of their lives. Wash hands in hopes of removing remaining spines. Wonder why I didn’t just buy a potted prickly pear.

10:30 pm Undress for shower and realize that my left leg is still riddled with spines. Remove them to the best of my ability. Leg now looks like a golf course for bedbugs. Throw pants in wash to get rid of any remaining spines.

10:40 pm Remove spines that have relodged in fingertips.

7:00 am Take clean pair of jeans from closet and put them on.

7:01 am Remove pants to dislodge new spines that have somehow become embedded in my leg. When will this end?

Stupid cactus. It is the work of the devil. I hope it dies.

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Decorating With Heather

In the market for a new centerpiece for Spring? So were we. And here you are.

Another reason they don't let me on Pinterest.

You know you want one. Admit it.

What is it? I’m so glad you asked.

Yeah. They're bullfrogs.

Yeah. They’re bullfrogs. Because it’s me.

New pillows? New centerpiece?Just call me Martha Stewart.

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Conservation note: These are captive bred and will not be re-released. It’s illegal here to take animals out of the wild, and there’s a fatal fungus that can be transmitted to wild populations if they are released into a local pond.