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Wild observations

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By Nancy Oakes

For starters, I'll talk about my nature observations, and then to celebrate the New Year, I'll have a little fun with words.

A baby raccoon walked by the back of the cabin, checked a water dish and continued along the fence row. Raccoons remind me of animals like wallabies that have longer hind legs than front legs. It gives them a peculiar slanted look, their hind end higher than their front end. Raccoons don't exhibit such an extreme difference between front and hind legs, but still it's noticeable.

I've been hearing distant calls of sandhill cranes in the direction of the woods. A friend told me of seeing masses of sandhill cranes in the U of F Cattle Studies feed lot off 121 in south Gainesville. The next time she drove by the lot, she saw fewer cranes, but still a dozen or so. Also in Gainesville, I observed bright golden hickory leaves and scarlet red maple leaves. These were native trees, not ones planted for landscaping.

Chipping sparrows, identifiable because of their small size and rufus head, come to peck at the leftover seed, mostly millet, that I throw outside each day. These winter residents prefer to feed on the ground. Squirrels around the place can go nuts over all the acorns dropped off of the live and laurel oaks growing around my cabin, along the driveway and in the woods. Some trees produced so many acorns that have fallen that it's like walking over tiny ball bearings. On a morning walk in these woods with a mist still in the air, I saw a number of long-tailed skipper butterflies. One skipper found some Indian pipes newly emerging from the leafy soil. A type of hairstreak likes the grapefruit skins I throw out. I usually see three or four of these butterflies on the fruit.

OK, that's my usual column entries. Now please bear with me as I puzzle over marketing choices for names of housing developments.

I'll start with names that include the word "meadow." Misty Meadows, The Meadows, Meadowlands etc. Why "meadow" and not "pasture"? Misty Meadows has a nice poetic rhythm. What about Pleasant Pastures? Guess it sounds too much like a graveyard or a nursing home?

What do people imagine when they think of meadows? Open sunny spaces? Pastures can be open and sunny too, but perhaps they evoke a place where cows and horses graze. Meadows evoke an empty natural place? Cows and horses don't bother most folks, but they produce brown lumps that smell and attract flies. I guess we won't see many housing developments named The Pastures, Misty Pastures or Pasturelands.

Some other favorite choices of development marketers are not particularly familiar to many Americans. What's a "glade" or a "grove" or a "glen." How about "chase"?

Do you know what they mean? With the aid of a dictionary I can tell you that glen is a valley. Glade is an open space in a forest, and a grove is a small wood lacking dense undergrowth. Chase, a British word, describes a privately owned unenclosed game preserve. I'm wondering if the people who chose Valley Glen, Forest Grove, Sunny Glade or Summer Chase knew the meaning of these words? It gets a bit redundant what with Valley Glen (valley), Forest Grove (wood) and ... well Sunny Glade will do. I doubt many folks want to buy a house built in a game preserve, but "chase" is a cool sounding word.

I'll just mention some other development names featuring trees such as oaks, maples, magnolias and hickories or animals such as quail, deer, turkey and eagle. The marketing people use these words for a reason. For the majority of potential home buyers the words produce positive feelings. This leads me to think that the natural world, the meadows, glades, quail, oaks and maples are important to most people. I hope people will observe that naming a place using descriptions of nature does not a natural habitat make. Until next time, good observing.