I was looking at the Florida Wildlife Federation email about a photo contest that starts May 1 and ran into something I thought I would share because it dovetails with my thoughts about the natural world.

The beloved author and neuroscientist Oliver Sacks wrote about the “restorative power of nature and gardens,” and noted that, “nature exerts its calming and organizing effect on our brains.” (“Why We Need Gardens,” appears in Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales.) The calming and restoring effect of gardens and nature in general, I might add, seems especially important during this time.

When I moved into my house in August 1984 and decided the ½ acre yard was going to be for birds, butterflies, bugs and native plants, I had no idea that in 2020 it would be my refuge for a number of weeks while a pandemic worked its way around the world. Some people would look at the property and think the yard is an unkept mess with plants everywhere. There are plants everywhere, but there is a plan and I work hard to maintain the mess.

Since I am certainly over 65, when the warnings went out to stay home, I pretty much did just that. I made one outing a week suited up with mask and gloves to pick up meals for the week and curb pick up from the grocery store for fresh veggies. Work moved to on-line.

I hate to even use this word in association with the quarantine and the awful times many people are enduring, but I have enjoyed my time in the yard during breaks from working at home. I started by making at least one eBird list a day as I worked around the yard putting out birdseed, pruning and planting. I found plenty of things in my yard to interest me AND plenty of fruit for snacks.

The dewberry bushes furnished 16 cups of berries which mostly turned into blackberry cobblers for three weeks!  Not only did the 4 mulberry trees feed hundreds of cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, scarlet and summer tanagers and crows, but they also furnished fresh fruit for the yogurt every morning.

I can only imagine the number of insects up there and on the ground that made use of them as they ripened and fell. As I write this I can hear a Downy Woodpecker finishing off the last of the loquats that are too high in the tree for me to reach. Those furnished my afternoon snacks most days lately. Blueberries, tomatoes, figs and the real blackberries are still green, but their time will come. Elderberries are still flowers now, too. It’s a shame I don’t eat cherry laurel berries, tiny Salvia seeds or acorns, but the birds and squirrels had to take care of those.

Besides the birds and fruit, I found many more living things in the yard worth observing and mentioning. For several years UWF Environmental Studies department sponsored a Bioblitz on the nature trails on campus. Teams of students and others recorded all the plant and animal species they could for a 24 hour period in spring and again in fall. Several members of our local Audubon chapter helped on this project.

They used an app called iNaturalist for keeping records and identification. It is easy to use and photos are easily added using your phone. I decided I wanted some record of what I was seeing in my yard so I started my own Bioblitz and have recorded 145 animal and plant species so far.

The app is fun to use because you take a picture first (if you can) and it will offer identification suggestions. Other people look at the entries to verify your ID and help if you have no idea. I’ve learned a lot about some not so obvious living things I’ve had time to examine during this slow motion time.

Who cares if it took me 15 minutes to get a good picture of a Gulf Fritillary on the passionflower vine? Time is what we seem to have plenty of right now. I plan to continue this even after we feel like we can get out a bit more. It is a calming time and worth the effort to notice details we are often in too much of a hurry to see. I’m interested to see how living things change as the seasons change this year, too. Give it a try. You might be surprised who lives in your yard    

By Jan Lloyd