Snow Pretty


February was an eventful month weather-wise for North Carolina. We had several bouts of snow and ice. Although those events were considered minor to folks from northerly parts of the country, it was enough to cause quite a stir—and brings things to a screeching halt—here in the south.

Perhaps I’m getting more cautious in my old age—and shaming my more northerly roots; but after seeing a Mini Cooper sliding straight at me on the ice recently, I opted to venture as few places as possible. I wasn’t a total bear in hibernation, though. I took some photos here and there—mostly around my house (such as the cardinal snow scene above) and in the Duke Gardens:


The century-old Roney Fountain in the Rose Garden


The Gothic pavilion in the Page-Rollins White Garden


Iris Bridge


Yellow finches and yellow-rumped warblers in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants


The Dawn Redwood, (planted as a seedling in 1949), in the Historic Gardens


A paperbush in the Memorial Garden


Culberson Asiatic Arboretum


Japanese apricot blossoms by the Arched Bridge in the Asiatic Arboretum

One of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, wrote many timeless works about everyday life and nature, including one about snow that is brilliantly reflective of the charming elements of winter:

by Emily Dickinson

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

A Blue Devil of a Pond

It’s been nearly two years since work began on a 5.5-acre pond on Duke University’s west campus in Durham, North Carolina. But it’s not just any pond—it’s a water reclamation pond designed to save 100 million gallons of potable water a year. The pond will collect rainwater and runoff from 22% of the Blue Devils’ main campus. Duke’s Chilled Water Plant, adjacent to the reclamation area, will use this water to cool the buildings on campus.

When I first read about this effort back in November 2013, completion seemed a long way off. Progress has been slow but steady. Recent estimates project completion by May 2015.

My excitement is mounting! In addition to its environmental benefits, such as water conservation, reduction of storm water run-off, as well as improved storm water quality, the 12-acre space will include a boardwalk, a pavilion, a nearly one-mile walking trail, and an amphitheater with lawn seating. Many of the trees originally cleared from the site were milled for use in building these structures.

Recent rainfall has filled the pond to a depth of nearly ten feet in some areas. To date, landscapers have installed 41,000 native plants—and counting! When completed, the green space will be home to 21 different types of shrubs, 40 species of herbaceous plants, and over 1,800 trees. Maples, redbuds, cedars, and magnolias will be among the 60 tree species planted. Altogether, the landscaping is designed to withstand both wet and dry conditions and blend into the existing Duke Forest.

Here’s a picture of the reclamation pond, taken on 15 February 2015:


Duke University’s water reclamation pond, on the corner of Circuit Drive and Towerview, is scheduled for completion in May 2015. When finished, it will include a pond that holds 6.7 million gallons of water, a walking trail, a boardwalk, a pavilion, and an amphitheater—all surrounded by native plants, trees and shrubs. (Durham, NC)

Check back later this spring, when I hope to have pictures of a completed and thriving natural showcase.

Sources for this post:
Construction To Begin on Reclamation Pond
Reclamation Pond Construction to Finish in May 

Wild Birds Always Shine

I’m obsessed with my backyard birds. There, I’ve said it.

Two weeks ago, I stopped by Wild Birds Unlimited and replaced my hanging birdbath with a model that clamps onto my deck. It’s been unusually brisk here in central North Carolina, so keeping the water from freezing has been a challenge but a welcome chore. According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, clean feathers provide the best insulation for birds in cold weather.


A yellow-rumped warbler at my new bird bath. (2/15/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)

Last week, my older sister gave me with a Squirrel Buster Mini bird feeder. (My past birds-at-the-feeder photos were voyeuristic snapshots out my backdoor of the neighbor’s feeder. I don’t think there’s a law against that, but now I have my own!)

Since making these improvements, the birds have gone wild. I’m replenishing the water and refilling the feeder daily. Although studies have shown that birds only get about 25% of their food from feeders, many experts advise that once you start feeding the birds in the wintertime, you ought to continue feeding them regularly until spring—thus a crack-of-dawn (COD) trip to my local Lowes Home Improvement store this morning.

My amateur bird watching has enabled me to get a little better at operating my Nikon D5000 camera. (Most of my previous photos were taken with a more portable Canon SX280 HS, which has a slick 20X zoom.)

Although bird watching is not for everyone—some prefer seeing a bird on their dinner plate—it’s been great fun for me. Plus, I’m learning a thing or two about the characteristics and behaviors of the various species.


Although eastern bluebirds eat mostly insects and wild berries, this female enjoys a tiny morsel from my feeder. (2/15/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)


The ice storm Monday night brought lots of colorful birds to my backyard on Tuesday. I was delighted to catch an eastern bluebird in route to my neighbor’s feeder. (2/17/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)


In fact, the eastern bluebirds were abundant—as were the northern cardinals. …Notice the bluebird flying away at about two o’clock in this photo. (2/17/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)


I’ve seen a lot of pine siskins this year. They migrate based on crop conditions (a behavior referred to as irruption), so it’s possible not to see them every year. (2/17/15; Durham, NC; Canon SX280 HS)


Pine siskins, which are a type of finch, are quite aggressive at the feeder. Here, two of them take on a yellow-rumped warbler. (2/17/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)


Birds use their tail feathers to communicate. I think this northern cardinal is saying, “It’s cold outside!” (2/17/15; Durham, NC; Nikon D5000)

Birds are very commonplace creatures. As such, they serve as frequent reminders of the variety and abundance of beauty in creation.

Duke Gardens in a Dusting of Snow

This evening, Durham was sprinkled with a dusting of snow—a welcome alternative to the ice that North Carolina received earlier this week. The trees were blanketed in a white powder. It was stunning. …And that was just the scene near the loading dock behind my building at work. I could only imagine what the Duke Gardens looked like!

It was nearly dusk and all I had was my trusty iPhone camera, but I headed to the Gardens anyway. The gates were open and there were plenty of people milling around, so I felt safe.

I headed toward the red bridge in the Asiatic Arboretum, where less than a week ago I saw a Japanese apricot tree in bloom. Today, I found the Japanese apricot covered in snow, with only a faint hint of its pink splendor showing. It was difficult to tease out the color with my iPhone camera and the increasingly poor light, so I caught this shot of a fellow shutterbug instead:red_bridge_snow I wanted to honor the Gardens’ visiting hours so I made my way back to the parking lot, passing through the Kathleen W. Moss Garden and pausing for this photo:Moss_garden_Snow Back at the parking area, I was enchanted by the twiggy arbor of the Doris Duke Center Gardens. (Just beyond and to the left is the Virtue Peace Pond that I’ve blogged about a time or two.)Doris_Duke_arbor_snow On my way out, I stopped by the Gothic Gate—that’s the Gardens’ main gate, which leads into the historic Rose Garden. If you stand in just the right spot, you can see Duke Chapel jutting majestically through the trees. Add a sunset and you get something like this:Gothic_Gate_sundown_DukeChapel