Monday, July 18, 2011

A Quick Peek at Eagle Creek

Indiana is in the middle of a heat wave, and Todd has been working nonstop on his dissertation. We're both feeling a bit tired, and so together decided to take a break - one day to shirk our responsibilities and have free time to do whatever we wanted. As it turns out, what we wanted to do was get out of the house and go hiking. Followed, of course, by a big lunch out and a multi-hour board game marathon!

Eagle Creek, the fourth largest city park in the nation, is a mere twenty minutes from our house. It contains a 1,400 acre lake, and hiking along the shore, in the shade, is a really relaxing and peaceful experience.

Beautiful wildflowers are growing everywhere.

A spotted cucumber beetle (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) finds plenty to do on this dog rose. Spotted cucumber beetles only live for 8 weeks, so several generations might plague a region in a single summer. They're quite destructive. Not only do they eat tender seedlings and later attack full-grown plants (mainly vegetables), some harbor a bacteria called Pseudomonas lachrymans. Lachrymans is similar to the word lachrymose, which means tearful or given to weeping. Farmers must feel this way when confronted with plants affected with Pseudomonas lachrymans, because it infects and then rots leaves and fruits.

Many berry bushes are growing along the water...

...which does not interest this tree swallow in the least. Especially in the summertime, tree swallows eat insects. They prefer to nest around water and are quite social, sometimes forming flocks of thousands. This tree swallow wasn't a bit afraid of me and let me get quite close.

Small fish and minnows hug the banks of Eagle Creek Reservoir. We've seen many herons on visits here, who make regular meals of them.

After circling the lake, we crossed a small stream to enter the forest.

A great many birds nest at Eagle Creek and we saw some beautiful feathers.

A line of fungus crawled up this tree trunk. This particular fungus, which looks like smoky bracket fungus, probably got a toehold here through an open spot on the trunk - maybe a slash caused by an animal, or an open area left from a falling limb. The fungus absorbs sap, water, and nutrients from the tree, causing rapid decomposition.

It must be high season for assassin bugs, because we saw several on low-hanging branches. I think they're such beautiful insects, but they do have a nasty bite, so we steered clear.

Above all, I was impressed by the spiderwebs. Orb weavers create perfect circles.

How do they do it?

But even more interesting were the webs created by grass spiders, a member of the funnel web spider family. Look at this one...a conical web within a web. Amazing!

And this one...a sort of twisted, inverted web that must have been two feet long. Absolutely incredible!

Grass spider webs aren't sticky, so insects blundering across them aren't caught in that way. Grass spiders are fast. They have a complicated system of 'alarm threads' that let them know the second their web is disturbed. They are upon the insect before it knows what happened!

At the edge of the forest we found a small, moss-covered pond. To me, that means one thing: frogs and dragonflies! I scoured the perimeter and heard the tell-tale plops of frogs slipping beneath the surface of the pond, but I couldn't seem to catch sight of any. Not in the water, anyway...

A large shock of vegetation grew at the water's edge, and I was astounded to see the leaves covered completely...with tree frogs!

Some no more than an inch long and completely unfazed by our presence, the frogs remained motionless on the leaves.

They looked like some kind of prehistoric creature!

These tree frogs don't really live on trees. They are easy targets in water, too, so they tend to live near water, on vegetation like this.

I didn't see any dragonflies, but when I got home, I found one in the back yard! Odd, since we don't live around water. This is a blue dasher dragonfly. Dragonflies are great to have around because they eat mosquitoes. They're quite quick...they can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour! It's good that they're such champion fliers, because despite having legs, they are unable to walk. Their eyes, too, are amazing. They have a nearly 360 degree field of vision!

Dragonflies were once known as "the Devil's darning needle." Parents would tell their children that the Devil would come in the night to bad children and use the dragonfly to stitch their mouths closed while they slept. That's quite an incentive to behave!

All in all, we had a wonderful day off and felt ready to get back to the daily grind.

Since it's been so hot lately, I've been focusing on small knitting projects, like this pair of ringwood gloves. I'm using Misti Alpaca yarn in a deep red color, which I've been saving for something special. These gloves are so soft. Their construction is unique - a seed stitch cuff, with a switchover to ringwood stitch for the body of the glove. Ringwood stitch is easy. You simply knit two rows, followed by a row of knit one, purl one, all the way across. Repeat these three rows and you'll have ringwood stitch, a really interesting texture.

I like the cuff, too. One down, one to go!

Last week I posted about pie crust. Now, you're almost certainly going to have leftover dough after you make your pie. Trust me, you want leftover dough. I came up with a really basic recipe for a miniature apple pie. I make mine in a shallow 5 x 4 inch dish, but you could use tart pans, or ramekins, or whatever you've got!

The recipe is really simple.

Two-Apple Pie

2 apples, peeled, diced
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and cook on stovetop for about 15 minutes, until soft. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease your containers, lay your dough within, and spoon your apples on top of it. Cover them with another thin sheet of dough and crimp the edges. Pierce with a fork a few times and bake for about 20 minutes.

It is so good. Forty minutes to homemade apple pie? Oh, yes!

Now that I think of it, I've got a few apples in the refrigerator...I think I know what I'm making for dessert tomorrow! :)

I hope you give it a try...have a great week!

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