By Amber Veverka

Walk into Ernie McLaney’s backyard in southeast Charlotte and for a moment, you may forget you are in a neighborhood of more than 6,000 residents.

It’s a serene and private place, enclosed by trees, shrubs and a fence and lined with a curlicue paver path. But it’s ticking with life, even in midwinter. Carolina chickadees scold from oak branches. A woodpecker flashes its black and white banner of wings on a dead limb high above. Even on the leaf-litter ground cover, a gray moth rests, neatly camouflaged. Ernie and his wife, Debbie, have developed a backyard where birds, insects and animals are welcomed, and in the process, they’ve created an oasis for people, as well.

The McLaneys and other experienced wildlife-welcomers offer easy tips for turning your yard from a mowed-lawn wasteland into a rich habitat for animals and humans alike. Read more.

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


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.

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