Facilitating spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion and care.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Virtual Wildlife Tour: Algerine Swamp Natural Area

I am very excited to share this with you today! For a five-minute virtual wildlife tour of a boreal bog located at the south-west corner of Tioga County, PA, follow this link:


Sunday, March 29, 2020

Keeping company with Balsam Fir at Algerine Swamp Natural Area March 29th, 2020

Balsam fir branching pattern
I spent some time at the south-west corner of Tioga county, PA this-afternoon in the Algerine Swamp Natural Area. It was most definitely worth the visit! Below is my reflection of today's experience along with some photos and a video.

At the edge of thick balsam forest
All is quiet at the Algerine Swamp. A stillness fills the air and it is unlike any place else around here. Perhaps it's the unique character that balsam fir contributes to this forest community. The balsam fir, with its stiff yet not spiky vibrant green needles splayed outward on either side of each branch, dark brown bark speckled all over with light gray lichen, and conical profile with narrow pointed crown is clearly a species representative of the far north.  What joy to spend an afternoon in a boreal bog this far south in latitude!

In the midst of this spruce-fir forest, balsam fir pressing in against my jacket on all sides as sweet balsam fragrance fills the air; in my mind I am transported to the Adirondacks. Though its a stretch of the imagination, I feel just as likely to meet a boreal chickadee as a black-capped, and a black-backed woodpecker as a hairy.

Today I thank God for you, my wild neighbor, balsam fir; for you are my mental and emotional retreat to wild spaces far removed. As you press in on me from all sides in this thick forest, all of my present fear, worry, and anxiety is pressed out. Where to? I don't know; but I'm thankful for the way that the one who is the personal embodiment of the Source of Divine Creativity ministers to me through the gift of wild spaces; through the gift of balsam fir today.

This is a place to cherish and protect for the sake of the inhabitants of this boreal bog as well as those who may visit, to know the sense of community and tranquility of mind and heart that I experienced today.
Balsam fir profile
Balsam fir bark
Balsam fir end bud

Here is a short video clip from the Algerine swamp:

Saturday, March 28, 2020

My Wild Neighbor: Black-capped chickadee

Yesterday I had such an excellent time getting to know some of my wild neighbors that I wasn't able to fit it all in one blog post. It would be overwhelming!

In fact, I felt a bit overwhelmed (in a good way) with Spot the American robin perched on the lawn in front of me while a pair of black-capped chickadees flitted about behind me, foraging in the branches of the maple trees that line the street. It seemed to me that they wanted their turn in the spotlight too; or at least, that they were curious about my presence.

There are a couple things I enjoy about our black-capped chickadees. First, they are full of energy and it seems, always on the move; communicating, exploring, and foraging. Second, as far as songbirds go, these little black, white, and gray fluff-balls are often the leaders of mixed species flocks; always curious and bold enough to be the first to investigate new locations and food items. For this reason, when I hear or catch sight of a chickadee, I'm always on the lookout for other species that may be keeping the chickadees company; sometimes nuthatches, finches, sparrows, warblers, and even woodpeckers have been known to follow chickadees through the woods (and into neighborhood backyards!).

Here is a photo as well as a short video of my wild neighbor, the black-capped chickadee:

Friday, March 27, 2020

My Wild Neighbor: Spot the American robin

The first time I mentioned Spot in one of my blog posts was June 10th, 2019. I'm pleased to announce that Spot has been back in town for several weeks already this year.

Here are a couple photos that help to show Spot's varied diet as well as a video:

Spot foraging for worms and insects on the lawn.

Spot picking berries from a nearby tree.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

My Wild Neighbor: Common grackle

I spent some time watching the common grackles on Waln Street in Wellsboro again today, except this time I was not on a ladder, I was on the roof. An excellent vantage point, to say the least. A birds eye view!

Here are a couple photos of a common grackle perched in the cedars where they've built their nests and a video from the rooftop.

Do you have grackles living in your neighborhood? What wild neighbors have you seen in your yard today?


Here is a rabbit and a great-tailed grackle in my friend Ken's yard in Tucson, Arizona:

Photo by Ken Cooper

Photo by Ken Cooper

Monday, March 23, 2020

Florida Reflections: Finding God among the mangroves

What follows are entries from my personal journal during my recent trip to Florida's Gulf Coast. I think that what I have to share here displays something of my spirituality, relationship with God, and sense of call at this time in my life. While some may find it boring and irrelevant, I wonder if others may find what I have to share helpful and encouraging.

Mangrove forest
At some point during each day, it is my rhythm to set aside at least some time to engage in what I call the 5 R's Method and in doing so, nurture my relationship with God, who I know as The Source of Divine Creativity. In Christian tradition I have come to know Jesus Christ as the personal embodiment of The Source of Divine Creativity. As the one who is called "Immanuel" by the prophet Isaiah, which means "God is with us," it is my understanding and experience that Jesus Christ makes God accessible to humankind. Furthermore, humankind may commune with God by nurturing a relationship with Jesus Christ through the presence and power of God's Holy Spirit who animates all that has life and lives within us so we may communicate with God through prayer.

The 5 R's Method can be summarized as follows: Retreat, Read, Rest, Reflect, Respond.


Venice beach looking towards the Jetty
3/5/2020, 7-8:45am- Started the day with a walk down Venice Ave. to the beach and then north to the Jetty. Found a few interesting shells along the way. Thick fog rolling in from the Gulf made for very low visibility. Nice to see small flocks of sanderling as well as black-bellied plover. Lots of pelicans hanging around the Jetty; must be location of greatest fish density. Ruddy turnstones on the Jetty rocks; a curious bunch, seeming always to be on the move, navigating all the nooks and crannies of the bouldery tidal zone. Sat down at a rock near the Jetty to read Luke 7-8. Today is about resting at the feet of Jesus, the one who I believe to be the fulfillment of the Law of Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament, and the personal embodiment of the Source of Divine Creativity. Amen. I continued along the bay inlet back to home base.

The Jetty
3/6/2020, 7:15-9am- Started the day off at the Jetty. Read Luke 9-10. Visibility is much better today. White-tipped waves rolling in towards the coast. Enjoyed watching the pelicans and dolphins get their breakfast. Two or three dolphins riding the waves, leaping totally out of the water through the front of the waves! Wow! Also was glad to have met and prayed with a photographer named Adam. Who is my neighbor? What is the nature and scope of the Kingdom of God? My neighbors are those to whom I extend mercy (love, kindness, compassion, and care).
The Kingdom of God is...
love among neighbors
good news for the poor
release for the captive
sight for the blind
freedom for the oppressd
healing for the sick
comfort for the brokenhearted
hope for the hopeless
help for the helpless
new life in Jesus' name.
The Kingdom of God is all-encompassing.

Brown anole
3/7/2020, 2:30-3pm- Read Luke 11-12 sitting by the pool. Cumquat trees to my right and to my left; the fruit of which I find to be extremely tart yet zesty and refreshing, especially in this Florida sun and heat. A brown anole rests on the branch of a tree next to where I sit.
Where is your treasure?
-In my relationship with God
-In my sense of community with wildlife and wild spaces
-In every manifestation of the Kingdom of God

Pelicans fishing off of the Jetty
3/8/2020, 7:45-8:30am- Jetty again. Pelicans fishing just off the rocks. Dolphins out and about just off the Jetty. Snowy egret stalking a fisherman's cooler, the stealthy thief trying to get the award for easiest catch of the day. Read Luke 13-14. I am the fig tree who struggles to produce vital fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, thank you for being the gardener who never gives up on this fig tree. Nurture this life to fruition for you. Equip and empower me to produce much fruit for the Kingdom of God, in your name.

Mangrove forest at Casperson Beach Park
3/9/2020, 8:55am-12:20pm- Casperson Beach Park- Through the land of cabbage palm and sea grape into the land of red-mangrove where the peninsula narrows. Mangrove roots reach into salty water like long legs near the place where I sit. No wonder red mangroves are called "walking trees." Read Luke 15-16. Faithfulness to the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the aim; faithfulness to God's call upon my life with regard to the Kingdom of God. How may I describe my understanding of my call at the present time? Inspire spiritual and cultural transformation through connection with wild spaces, with the help of God and neighbor, to create a world where wildlife and wild spaces are known as neighbors worthy of our love, kindness, compassion, and care.
It was in March of the year 2006 that I sat among red-mangroves in the everglades. Given the task of finding a quiet place to rest in God's presence and pray for a while, instead I made a spear from a mangrove limb and tried to impale the bonefish for an hour. Of course, I was unsuccessful. Today, about 14 years ago to the day, I rest in God's presence among mangroves at Casperson Beach Park, and as I still my soul, reflecting on Luke 16:8-11, the bonefish are jumping up out of the water just like I remember from years ago, bodies like silvery torpedoes glimmering in the sun over green waters next to this mangrove forest. I have no desire to cut a branch off of one of these mangrove trees to make a spear. I have no desire to hunt or kill a fish. My sense of community with this wild space and its inhabitants is as profound as what I feel in the mountains, but is uniquely different in countless ways. I've changed a lot over the course of the past 14 years.
Lord, my God, thank you for the love which you've given me or wildlife and wild spaces.
Thank you for giving me a heart that is tender and responsive to your work in me;
thank you for giving me a mind and a heart that are open to continual growth and transformation. Thank you for this deeply meaningful experience with you among the red mangroves and silvery bonefishes at Casperson Beach Park today.
Lord, my God, I promise, to the best of my ability and with your help, to invest in my relationship with you, and to live each day in a way that is faithful to your call upon my life as it relates to the Good News of the Kingdom of God. I promise, with your help, to respond to your presence and work in my life with an openness to continual growth and transformation, in Jesus' name. Thank you!
As I sit here writing a yellow-crowned night heron is foraging for fish along the edge of the mangrove forest! Up and walking a little farther along the Casperson Beach Trail, a bobcat crossed the trail 25 feet in front of me! Casually lumbered along giving me excellent looks at its long legs, bob tail, and even the spots behind its ears!

Big Buddy Banyon
3/10/2020 7:56am-10:20am- Big Buddy Banyon Tree (The largest banyon tree in Venice, I've given it the name "Big Buddy Banyon.") Perched on a bench beneath the shade of this mighty tree that is native to India. Interesting that two exotic species from two different parts of the world share this spot. The banyon tree, native to India, and the brown anole, native to Cuba. Read Luke 17-18. When/Where is the Kingdom of God? "The Kingdom of God is already among you." God, who hears our cries for justice, will respond in good time.
For whom do you cry out for justice?
Lord, my God, you've given me special love for wildlife and wild spaces. I cry out to you on behalf of wildlife and wild spaces. I pray that wildlife and wild spaces who suffer under the weight of human captivity and oppression would be set free. Also, my prayer is that those people whose lifestyle and activities do harm to wildlife and wild spaces would be given new sight and transformed hearts by your grace. And I know I must include myself in that. I pray that for all people, that our selfishness, greed, and apathy would give way to love, kindness, compassion, and care for all that has life.
Jesus, I know you can bring about this change because you're doing it in me; though I know that I have a long way to go to more effectively treat wildlife and wild spaces as neighbors to me. Jesus, I am not worthy of this calling but I understand that enjoying my relationship with you and responding to your call upon my life with your help is a gift. I understand that its not about being worthy but about accepting the gift. THANK YOU!
Please, Lord, hear my cries for my wild neighbors as well as for my human neighbors. I pray this prayer in a general sense but also specifically for the vitality of the following today:
-the Venice and Casperson beach habitat
-Casperson beach bobcats
-Florida scrub habitat near Venice, FL
-Gopher tortoises around Venice
-Florida scrub jays around Venice
-Red-cockaded woodpeckers at Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area
-Manatees around Venice
-The injured laughing gull whom I saw at the beach today but was unable to capture.
In the name of Jesus who is the healer of our brokenness and hope for all the world, Amen.

Bay cedar
3/11/2020, 7:55am-11:55am Stump Pass Beach State Park. Walked out to the inlet along the beach and sat down for a while on the big rocks at the end, beyond the plover/tern habitat. Read Luke 19-20. Jesus, like Zacchaeus who went out of his way and even climbed a tree to see you, I've been very intentional about taking time each day, while on vacation this week, to retreat to wild spaces to nurture my relationship with you; to be present, to read of your life and teaching, to listen, to reflect, and prayerfully respond. I hear you speaking into my heart that this is a rhythm that you're inviting me to continue so that my relationship with you may be continually strengthened, and so I may be filled and refreshed by you, equipped and empowered for you.
Lord, my God, thank you for being present with me, and thank you for the invitation to continue this rhythm in the wild spaces of the Pine Creek Gorge and of the Susquehanna River where it enters Pennsylvania for the second time. Thank you for the time I have to take each day, that with your help I may continually deepen my relationship with you. Amen.
Located some black mangrove trees in the mix with red mangroves. The black mangroves identified by oblong pointed leaves, brown scaly bark, thick mats of finger-like breathing roots, an salt sweating leaves. The leaves were perspiring very profusely. I touched one with my finger and tasted the water from the leaf- salty as the sea! Wow!
As I made my way to the interior trail I met PJ. It turned out that PJ knew his native florida plants and is a member of the native plant society. How fortunate to have met him! He was kind enough to let me join him on the park trail and pointed out a great diversity of native plants, including the one I most wanted to see on this trip, the bay cedar. A beautiful plant with soft thin leaves and attractive small yellow flowers. It forms a bush that apparently can become quite large. Some other plants that PJ pointed out are as follows:
Knickerbean (big spiky seed pod!)
Marcene (leaves like small rhododendron)
Strangler fig (rhododendron-like leaves; wraps around cabbage palms)
Beach sunflower (blooms year-round; great for butterflies)
Cocoa plum (edible pinkish-red fruits)
Ink berry (deep purple fruit (berry) which is inky when broken)
Snow bush (distinctive leaf shape)
Buckthorn (PJ located his first one years ago at Stump Pass Beach State Park; I enjoyed his expressed appreciation for it.)
Hercules club (crushed leaves have a very pleasant and distinctive odor)
Spanish needle (disctinctive compound leaf structure.  2 smaller leaves on either side of stem with larger pointy leaf protruding from the end of the stem.)

Ink berry and sea oats on the dunes
3/12/2020, 7:35-8:44am- Sand dunes between Sharkies Restaurant and Casperson Beach. Interesting diversity of hardy yet sensitive dune species. Sea oats. Beach sunflower. Purslane. Ink berry. Fiddler crab burrows. Sand-colored grasshopper.
Read Luke 21-22. Blessing, bread, wine, The Lord's Table, the Kingdom of God among us.
Jesus, I want to commune with you; to be continually filled and refreshed by you; to live for that which is eternal; to work and pray for justice for human as well as wild neighbors; to extend love, kindness, compassion and care to people and to wildlife and wild spaces as well as to the environment as a whole, in your name.
Thank you for inviting me to commune with you, Lord my God, with granola bar and water among the sea oats, ink berry, purslane, and beach sunflower, nestled between the dunes at Venice Beach this morning. Let me be filled and nourished by you so I may be strengthened and sent for you. In the name of Jesus the Christ of all, Amen.

A look at the Gulf from Venice beach
3/12/2020, 1:30pm-4:15pm Venice Beach. Watched terns and gulls for a while. Went for a swim parallel to the shore. Perched on the sand, looking towards the Gulf. Light dances on the waves rolling in, shimmering at the tips as I currently reside at the precipice of two great biomes; LAND and WATER. Read Luke 23-24. HOPE. For me. For all people. For wildlife and wild spaces and for the whole world! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work everywhere. Resurrection power. New life. Transformation. It is the power of God's love.
Lord, my God, Source of Divine Creativity, let me be equipped and empowered to carry and to share this hope as I continue to take time each day to nurture and deepen my relationship with you, for te sake of Jesus who is the Christ of all. Amen.

One of the tallest palms in the town of Venice, backlit by the moon.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Florida Reflections: Red-cockaded woodpecker

I made a trip to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area with my Father-in-law, Lynn, on our third full-day in Florida. This was a quest. A quest for a very rare wild neighbor; the red-cockaded woodpecker.

Lynn and I arrived at Babcock-Webb WMA at about 8am on March 7th. After making four stops in the areas where longleaf pine trees are marked with white paint, signifying a potential nest cavity, we happened upon a flock of three red-cockaded woodpeckers off of Seaboard Grade Road. With them were at least two red-bellied woodpeckers and a couple of Northern flickers. There were some warblers in the area who seemed to be loosely associating. The whole flock moved slowly westward through the open pine forest, each bird foraging as it went.

It was an incredible experience to watch the three red-cockaded woodpeckers interact. Their very active nature reminded me of downy woodpeckers while their habit of flaking off bark reminded me of their relative in the far north, the black-backed woodpecker with whom I had the joy of making the acquaintance during my trip to the ADK's in December.

The red-cockaded woodpeckers chattered back and forth with short rhaspy notes, working the trunks as well as the outer-branches of longleaf pine as they went; from middle to top, then moving on to the next one. Sometimes each worked its own pine tree yet not too far off from the others, and in at least one moment during the thirty minutes of our observation all three red-cockaded woodpeckers were in the same tree picking for insects while two flickers worked the ground beneath them and a couple of red-bellied woodpeckers foraged on adjacent trees.

In addition to this amazing experience, some of the other wild neighbors we encountered at Babcock-Webb WMA included a great variety of bird species, alligators, deer, and fox squirrels as well as a very interesting carnivorous plant, the sundew.

Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area is another area with which I was very pleased and it's a place I'd recommend visiting if you ever get the chance.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Florida Reflections: Spectacular Scrub

It was early evening during our second full day in Venice, Florida. Erin and I went for a walk at Shamrock Park. Lots of interesting 'plant people' as John Muir would call them; Saw palmettos, Sable palmettos, and Scrub oaks as well as a very interesting assortment of ferns and smaller plants.

 Here are a few of my photos from that saunter:

Some variety of fern growing on the trunk of a Sable palmetto (cabbage palm)
Another variety of fern growing on the trunk of another Sable palm.
Some kind of succulent plant that was prolific in a couple of spots.
Prickly pear cactus
My thoughts are that this may be some variety of lupine, but am unsure.
An area of Florida scrub that was managed by controlled burn sometime during the past couple of years.
An area of Florida scrub that is a little older succession than the area depicted in the previous photo.
It's hard to believe, having been so intensely focused on the birds, that I overlooked the botanical diversity of this park the past couple of years; but it's easy to see how one can become so enthralled with the avian life of this place that he or she becomes blind to other beauties.

Florida scrub jay; a bird that provides scrub habitat with amazing character!

Gopher tortoise
Scrub jay and gopher tortoise are the two wild neighbors that define this scrub habitat for most moderately attentive and knowledgeable visitors. It is true, and there is also much more to appreciate about the unique Florida scrub habitat; there is always more to appreciate about a place, especially a place like Shamrock Park within which such unique and rare habitat thrives with such vitality.

Plus the neighbors are so welcoming! During our visit we watched a Florida scrub jay alight over the tops of palmetto and scrub oak come and perch just 5 feet from where we stood! Also, a gopher tortoise who was busy munching on small flowers walked right over to me and touched his or her nose to my shoe and then immediately resumed eating flowers. I'm not sure what that was all about, but I think I'll count it as a friendly gesture.

If you should ever find yourself near Venice, Florida and wish to immerse yourself in the unique and beautiful Florida Scrub habitat, I highly recommend Shamrock Park.

Here is more information about the habitat type called Florida Scrub for those who may be interested in learning more about it: https://www.fws.gov/verobeach/MSRPPDFs/FLScrub.pdf .

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Florida Reflections:Day 1

I went to Florida on vacation with the intent to experience the rejuvenation of wild spaces and to deepen my relationship with Jesus whom I understand to be the personal embodiment of the Source of Divine Creativity. I'm happy to say that I found the gift of wild spaces very rejuvenating, refreshing, and inspiring.

Over the course of the next week I plan to highlight a number of the wild spaces I experienced during my Florida trip, the wild neighbors whom I encountered there, and my overall experience.

For now, I'll leave you with a photo of me with a beautiful wild neighbor which happens to be the official Florida State Tree, Sabal Palmetto, also called Cabbage Palm.

Me with a Sabal palmetto at Shamrock Park, Venice, FL

More to come tomorrow.



Sunday, March 1, 2020

A Thousand-Mile Journey

It's only March but its been a busy year thus far. The last time I took a vacation was my three days in the Adirondacks at the end of December. It's about time for a retreat. For those who invest substantial energy pouring into others in an effort to make the world a better place (that's most of us, I think), vacations are not just nice but also essential.

Erin and I will be making the thousand-mile journey to Florida by car (starting Tuesday). We'll be away for almost two weeks.

I'm looking forward to receiving the welcome of some very beautiful wild spaces and their inhabitants, and I'm also eagerly anticipating the opportunities that I'll be given to get to know some wild neighbors who are new to me.

My experience has been that with new experiences comes renewed vision and rekindled vitality. I'm going to take this time to allow grace to wash over me through the gift of some of Florida's wild spaces. I hope to renew my sense of connection with the source of Divine Creativity who brings all things into being. I desire to deepen my relationship with Jesus, who I understand as the personal embodiment of the source of Divine Creativity, whose teaching, example, and presence in the world equips and empowers me to live my best life in relation with my fellow human-beings as well as with wildlife, wild spaces, and the environment as a whole.

I'll be taking this time not to work (this includes not blogging), but to open myself to whatever gifts, sense of peace, and personal transformation might be the fruit of the next thirteen days.

Until next time, peace to you.

Manasota Beach Sunrise. Manasota Beach, Florida; March 2018