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Meteor falling during the Perseid meteor shower in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jared Tennant, courtesy of Creative Commons

Meteor falling during the Perseid meteor shower in Austin, Texas. Photo: Jared Tennant, courtesy of Creative Commons

By Amber Veverka

Standing near a Cabarrus County soybean field in the dark, the silvery starfall overhead made one thing clear: Some things are worth a 3 a.m. wake-up.

The Perseids meteor shower opened this week to rave reviews, four of which came from our family as we leaned back against our minivan on a gravel farm field track.

“There’s one!” and “Ohhhhhh!” were the most-heard comments, but the annual August showing of meteors sparked thoughtful conversation, as well as awe. The pieces of ice, which scientists tell us are typically rice grain-small, streaked like single fireworks across the southeastern sky, prompting the 12-year-old to ponder everything from cosmic distances to supernovas, and the 10-year-old to quote Psalm 8’s lines about the stars and heavens.

Meteors fall all the time. But mid-August sends them to us like salt from a shaker. The Perseids – they’re named for the constellation Perseus, from which they seem to originate – are probably the year’s best falling-star show. The Perseid meteors are flying bits from the Comet Swift-Tuttle, and this year some of those bits, as I learned this week from the New York Times, were born before Columbus reached the New World.

Most of the meteors we watched were swift and small, but some elicited gasps with their slow, bright arc. One, deemed the winner of the night, took so long to burn across the dark that its golden tail lingered afterward, and we all watched it until it faded entirely.

A pre-dawn rising brings magic, regardless of what’s overhead.

As we stood in the gravel road (a Midwestern upbringing teaches you to never, ever walk in a farmer’s planted field), above the curtain of cricket calls came a higher song: coyotes.

The moist air brought their yipping close and I could see, even in the dark, my kids’ wide eyes. A farm dog barked alongside them – in solidarity? in protest? – and then they were silent. Our old winter friend, the constellation Orion, rose sideways from the eastern horizon.

Finally, the edge of sky lightening to gray and the traffic on the country road behind us beginning to pick up, we gathered ourselves to leave. Two more streaks of fire lit the sky.

“They’re saying goodbye,” said my daughter.

For more information on the Perseids, check out this page from EarthSky.

 

 

 

A golden-laced Wyandotte chick.

A golden-laced Wyandotte chick.

 

For those interesting in starting — or enlarging — a backyard flock of hens, it’s time to get chicks and get started. Renfrow Hardware in Matthews, North Carolina, is just one location for buying baby chicks, though at that store, they go quickly, with chicken-buyers lining up outside the door on the morning the chicks are first in.

Chicks need warmth from a heat lamp, an easy-to-eat kind of feed called starter crumbles, clean water and safety. You can provide all of that in a Rubbermaid-style bin or metal washtub in a garage or other spot safe from cats, dogs and other predators. The heat lamp clamps to the side and keeps the young birds warm and dry. Chicks purchased now will begin laying in early autumn. Handling them carefully allows them to somewhat imprint on you so that they are easier to handle when they’re adults. Remember that chicks can pass along salmonella, so young children or those with compromised immune systems should avoid handling or should carefully wash their hands afterward. 005

For a good primer on raising your first flock, check out “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens,” by Gail Damerow, or, for a more photo-heavy book, try “Chick Days: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens from Hatching to Laying,” by Jenna Woginrich.  —Amber Veverka

McAlpine Creek Greenway fern fronds

Spring

By Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889

Nothing is so beautiful as spring —

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring

The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;

The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush

The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush

With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

 

What is all this juice and all this joy?

A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning

In Eden garden. — Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,

Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,

Most, O Maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

By Amber Veverka

Jim Matthews walks through the damp woods, and as he does, he pays no attention to the branches dripping with last night’s rain, the mucky path or the scolding of jays overhead. Those things don’t matter to Matthews. Not when he’s trying to explain the sex life of ferns.

“This is the sterile leaf and this is the fertile leaf,” he tells a visitor. “This is about to release its spores and they’re going all over the place. They’ll form gametophytes. The sperm swim in the water that’s in the soil to reach the eggs. They mature at different times so the plant doesn’t self-fertilize.”

Matthews’ impromptu biology lecture may be lost on his fellow hiker, but there’s no missing Matthews’ intense focus, his dedication to discovery. Matthews, a retired UNC Charlotte biology professor, is a botanist whose mission is to collect and catalog the plants of the 15-county region of the North Carolina Piedmont—preserving a record of what we have, before it’s lost.

The work is taking on new importance—and urgency—as the region explodes in growth. If current trends continue, by 2030, 97 percent of Mecklenburg County’s land will be developed, up from 71 percent today, according to research by the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.

And so, at age 80, Matthews keeps climbing ridges and descending ravines, gathering plants in places that are on their way to becoming parking lots. Read the rest of the story here.Jim Matthews, botanist, treks the woods at Reedy Creek Nature Preserve with herbarium curator Catherine Luckenbaugh.

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