August 30, 2010

The Dragon Fly Wand

What joy a simple thing can bring!

Remember me telling of my bamboo walking stick, aka: "vine and branch pulling" tool? Remember me telling you of how a bright red-orange dragon fly decided to lite upon the end of it and then did so again while picking wild blackberrries with Deni?

Well, it is now officially known as my "Dragon Fly Wand". Yesterday, after church, I placed a rhinestone hair clip on the end of it, and look what I caught!

August 29, 2010

Well, "GALL"-Y!

Remember Gomer Pile? He used to use the expression, "Well, GAAAAALLY".. This post has nothing to do with 1960's sitcoms or Jim Neighbors; but it does have to do with "Galls". You may be asking, “And what on earth are “Galls”? You wouldn’t be alone in your inquiry.

I can't help but to conclude that few people know what a gall is. After all, I have lived almost 50 years without knowing what a "gall" is and yet there are tens of thousands of galls and they are all around us.

It all started with the "oak balls" or "oak apples" . There were thousands of them hanging on the branches of the oak trees in the Secret Garden. There were big ones and little ones; dark brown ones and light yellow ones; round ones and kidney bean shaped ones. We discovered these during our first week at the apartment. I had seen oak balls throughout my life, but never really knew what they were. My aunt actually incorporated a few of them in the wreaths he would make during the Christmas holiday. She would make wreaths from different varieties of pine cones and acorns that she had gathered throughout the year and give them as gifts to family member and friends. The one she gave Grandpa and Grandma had an oak ball glued in among the other varnished items.

Michael and I decided to take one of the oak apples, that had fallen to the ground, back to our apartment. The idea was to cut it open. We had no idea what we might find. Had I known what we would discover, I probably would have rather cut it open outside on the porch than on the kitchen counter. eeeeeuuuuuuuu!

In addition, had my aunt known what was inside that oak ball, I have a feeling, she may have decided that it was not a good choice for a Christmas wreath. Yes, that little white think in the middle of the oak gall, is a living larvae.

The oak ball discovery was just the beginning. After researching oak balls "Galls" we felt very educated. This education came early on in the Secret Garden. It did not, however, prepare us for what we would discover months later.

Just recently, during one of our evening walks in the garden, Michael stopped near an old Blue Oak and exclaimed, "Wow, what on earth are these?" I hurried over to see the most beautiful and unusual little pink crowns growing on the underneath of a blue oak leaf.

We took the leaf home, took pictures, and placed it in a jar. I tried to find something similar on the internet; but could find nothing. So, I decided to send a picture to the Botanical Society of America asking them what these beautiful things were.
Yes, you may have guessed, these were also a type of "gall". Here was the answer I received:
The structures on your oak leaves are Spined Turban Galls and are caused by a tiny, gnat-sized wasp, Antron douglasii . This is a gall we don’t see here in the Midwest, as it occurs primarily on Blue oaks (Quercus douglasii) in California. As far as the tree is concerned, the galls are harmless. I agree they are beautiful, but I only know this gall from pictures. It’s a great find on your part.

You can find additional information about this curious insect by Googling “Antron douglasii”. Click on Google Images to see more pictures.

There is a Bay Area resident and naturalist by the name of Ron Russo who has extensively studied plant galls and written the field guide “Plant Galls of California and Other Western States” (UC Press, 2007). You can also find several articles online that he has authored, including and
Here is the little wasp that will eventually crawl out of those pretty pink crowns.
How wonderful! We have since discovered numerous other types of galls in the Secret Garden. Next time you are out among trees, I might suggest you take a closer look. There is a banquet for the eyes out there of God's magnificent creation and yet so many of us our are starving simply because we do not open our eyes to the feast all around.
More to come....

August 28, 2010

The Blackberry Massacre

Not only did we discover mulberries on a tree growing right along our second story balcony, but we also discovered that there were all kinds of fruit and nut trees lining the creek that ran behind our apartment. Wild plums (three different varieties) figs, walnuts, cherries, and what we think may be hazel nuts. Among all the fruit and nut trees are also giant eucalyptus, redwood, palm, Japanese silk, and lotus trees; and, of course, three or four varieties of oak trees. All of these trees are extremely old, and are not cared for by anyone. They grow wild in a protected area which is bordered by a cemetery, a major highway, and the apartment complex where we live.

We discovered that this area was once called, "Foothill Farms" and was primarily orchards and gardens prior to being developed. The trees and all the plants lining the creek were all part of Foothill Farms and are the only ones remaining since the area was developed.

Well, while out walking in the garden, we also discovered wild blackberries! The mulberries were good, but they were very tiny and limited to one tree. The wild blackberries, on the other hand, were everywhere and they were ripe. The hunt was on!

I invited Deni over, early one Saturday morning, and greeted her at the door, dressed for the hunt!
Deni and I went out determined to find and pick every ripe blackberry that we could find. We spent, probably, two hours walking from one end of the secret garden to the other. Deni did most of the actual picking of the berries. I used my bamboo stick, which had a large hook on the end, which I had fashioned from a large bobby pin and secured with gold jewelry wire wrapped tightly around the base. I would use the hook on the end of the stick to pull vines that were out of reach, or so they thought. Deni would then pluck the juicy berries off the vines and place them in the basket that I wore around my waste.

As Deni I were walking along, she noticed a dragon fly following us. I shared with her that, one late afternoon, while Michael and I were out walking along the creek, a giant, bright orange dragon fly had landed on the end of my stick. Well, guess what. He decided to land on my stick again to both of our delight!

The most fascinating thing we discovered were berry vines growing up in old trees. We could hardly believe our eyes, as we glanced up to find wild black berries hanging 10 feet above us from the trees.

Well, the hunt was exhausting and it was getting warm. We couldn't decide who got massacred worst: the berry vines or Deni.

Up the stairs we went to wash: both Deni and the berries. Here in California, people pay a pretty steep price for certified organic blackberries. Well, we figured that we picked at least $40 worth (at fair market value) and were determined to eat them all.

After a thorough washing, I made blackberry and cream cheese stuffed pancakes, with warm blackberry topping drizzled over them and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

We ended up having enough to freeze at least enough for two more meals. In fact, Michael picked up a pound cake and tonight we will be smothering it will warm blackberries and blackberry syrup. Probably will add fresh whipped cream topping, as well.

More to come...

What are those miniature blackberries growing on a 40 foot tall tree anyway?

During the first week here in California in our little apartment; one of our favorite places to spend time was on the balcony. The trees where so close that we could have reached out and grabbed them if it wasn’t for the bug netting that completely enclosed the balcony from any outside unwelcomed visitors, i.e. wasps and bees. It seemed to us that the bug netting; although we could see out clearly, must have been almost like a two way mirror to the birds and the squirrels, as they would come within a foot from us while perching in the branches of the trees.

This, of course, delighted both of us. We felt as though we had our very own private nature arboretum. We could sit for hours watching the squirrels play in the trees, while occasionally stopping to munch on the little berries. However, with the bug netting enclosure, we felt, at times, that we were the ones in a cage, and they were actually watching us.

Back to the tree. This tree with its liitle berries fascinated both of us. Neither one of us had ever seen such a tree.

My best friend Deni stopped by for a visit and the three os us spent a great deal of time out on the balcony; visiting and enjoying God’s creation. She noticed got to witness the squirrels in the trees and commented on the berries as well; but, without her glasses, she seemed to think they looked more like blueberries. We told her that the actually looked more like little blackberries and then the conversation turned to other things and she departed for home.

The next day, as we were leaving the apartment, Michael noticed that some of the lower branches, near the bottom of the stairs, contained plenty of ripe berries. He remarked, “Hey, let’ bring one over to Deni’ house, so that she can see the berry close-up. He pulled on off the tree and placed it in a bottle cap. As this was a spontaneous, unplanned trip, we did not find Deni home upon our arrival. So, we left the little bottle cap on her kitchen counter.

Before leaving, I told Michael, “Knowing Deni as well as I do, I think I better leave a note”. I took a post-it note from the desk and simply wrote, “DO NOT EAT!” Deni can through caution to the wind at times when it comes to experimenting with the unknown. I on the other hand, am too caution at times; but, I have not yet died from the ingestion of an unknown wild plant food.

Deni called later that day and left a message saying, “Wow, is that one of the berries from the big tall tree? Up close, it does look more like a blackberry—Oh, and don’t worry, although I was tempted, I didn’t eat it.”

Well, that got us thinking, “What kind of a tree is this? Are those berries actually edible? If the squirrels and birds eat them, they must not be poisonous.” So, I goggled, “Tree with miniature black berries?” and the first hit in the search was a post from someone else who was asking the same question. Well, come to find out, that tree is a fruiting mulberry tree. And, yes, the berries are edible. I was amazed. I had heard of mulberry bushes. In fact, as children, we used to sing a song, “Here we go around the mulberry bush” every time we were in the car with grandma and she was getting on or off a freeway entrance that looped around. However, I had never heard of a Mulberry tree and here we had one right outside our apartment.

We researched mulberry trees and recipes for mulberries. That evening we decided to “go-a-harvesting”. The berries were in different stages of development- light green, light pink, red, and, of course, black ones being the ripest. Because of their size and the limited number of black ripe berries, we did not come away with a bushel. Instead we ended up with maybe a cup of mulberries to work with.

That night for dinner we had oatmeal mulberry pancakes, topped with fresh mulberry syrup. That was just the beginning. That was what sparked our interest in exploring the rest of the wilderness area which we now call “The Secret Garden”. And yes, the mulberry tree, with its tiny berries was just the beginning of the wonders that we would find in this most enchanting place.

More to come...

How It All Started...

On May 18th, 2010 we were married and would spend the following week driving from North Carolina to California where we would begin our life as a married couple. I had procured a small one bedroom apartment and had spent the month prior to the wedding preparing our new dwelling. The apartment was an upstairs unit with a balcony that faced a County owned wilderness area. My desire was to make that balcony space into additional living space; but, that would entail a great deal of creativity.

The balcony was outside the sliding glass doors, and the idea was to create an enclosed, bug free room, which would allow us to keep the sliding door open.

I purchased bug netting, a large rectangular market umbrella, and a sea grass area rug. After an entire day devoted to this room, it came together.

Growing near the balcony, to the right, was a large oak tree; and to the left a beautiful tree that the squirrels loved to play in. The tree to the left had, what appeared to be, miniature black berries on all the branches. Before leaving for North Carolina, I would watch the squirrels balance themselves on branches while eating the juicy morsels. I had no idea what kind of tree it was; but I could hardly wait until Michael would be here with me to enjoy our little oasis on the balcony.

After our week-long journey across the United States, we arrived late afternoon on May 26th. The next day would begin our adventures and discoveries in what we now call “The Secret Garden”. It all started with the strange and lovely tree filled with (what could best be described as) miniature black berries.
And thus the adventure begins...

August 13, 2010

The Secret Garden and Dry, Dead Bones!

In Ezekiel 37:1-14, we are told of the vision given which speaks of the Israel of God as being like a valley of dry bones. The prophet is asked the question by the Almighty, "Son of man, can these bones live?" To which the prophet answered, "O Lord God You know."

God, in His infinite wisdom, has given two kinds of sight to most of us whom He has raised from the dead. The first is of a natural order of which most are partakers of to see the beauty of the glory of God in creation and the ugliness of this fallen world. I say most, because some are born physically blind or lose their natural eye-sight in this life for the glory of God. The second is of a spiritual nature, to see beyond the natural into the realm of God Himself, of which all of His children are partakers of; so that even in objects which speak to most nothing but death and decay, He brings His Word to mind by the power of His Spirit, because of the finished work of Christ at Calvary, for the express purpose of His glory, our enjoyment of Him, and to be the means through which others will be brought to know the glory of His grace, to know that He alone Is the Lord as one generation commends His works to another.

Recently, Dianna and I made a discovery in the "Secret Garden" of which some may think to be absurd, but it happened to be the skull of what we believe to be a horse or a mule.

Where it came from, how old it is, or how it got to be under a bush by our door we have no idea. It had become a little hotel for snails, as the hollows were full of them. Deni, our friend, upon Dianna's request, took the skull cleaned out the snails and then soaked it in Clorox for several days. The skull was so old, it broke in two as a result, but the teeth remained in tack. Dianna began to take pictures of the remains, blow them up, adding color with contrasting light shadows, and then low and behold these images appeared.

As I pondered this vision of dead men seen in these teeth, I thought of how Samson by the power of God had slain a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass, and then from the same bone there came forth a spring of water to quench his thirst. Oh How mighty and awesome our God is to slay all of our enemies through the death of Christ and to give us fountains of living waters through his resurrection.

The vision of Ezekiel also came to mind, and the following poem came as a result.

Can God breath then life
Into dead and dry bones,
And raise for His glory
In those He now Owns,
A great congregation
By His Son to His praise,
And show forth His power,
The Ancient of days?

Look closely and you will
Then see in this image,
The semblance of life
Through these, then the visage,
Of men who are dead
With no hope in this life,
For judgment is sure,
O' remember Lot's wife!

And yet if you breathe
Though dead while you live,
The power of Christ
Can give life to forgive,
And raise you to praise Him
By the power of His blood,
His child by God's mercy,
You'll be understood.

A new threshing instrument
Made then with teeth,
To show forth the power
Of His Spirit underneath,
His watch care and grace
Which comes from above,
Through Christ He gives life,
Who answers in love.

So if you have eyes now
To see in this art,
The faces of doom,
Then from judgment depart.
Through Christ for His glory
Who only bestows
New life from the dead
By His Spirit to know,

On the sure day of
God's great resurrection
Some will be raised
By the cross to perfection.
Others will also be
Raised then in gloom
And show forth the judgment
Of God in their doom.

That He for Your sins
By His blood He did pay
The judgment of God
Meant for us on that day,
And yet for His glory
He'll show in that hour,
There's no other Name
Like Jesus in power!

Michael E. Wood
August 11, 2010