This week, guest blogger Karen Johnson enlightens us about making a smart choice for efficient, cost effective, environmentally friendly lighting. Karen gives weekly tips for sustainable living in her newsletter, Earth For All Ages.
For us humans, light helps us see and influences our health and wellbeing. Different aspects of our internal chemistry are triggered by light and darkness. It’s not accidental that we wake and become alert when the sun comes up, and settle down as the sun sets. Lowering light levels in the winter send many people into the winter blues while spring sunshine makes many people feel happy and contented. Even a few minutes in the sun can lift our mood.
How about the lights we use in schools? Experiments to evaluate the impact of light on learning show that some levels of brightness and color are good for general lessons, while cooler colors support increased concentration during tests and warmer colors can help calm down hyperactive children. Imagine schools in the future where lights can be modulated throughout the day to support a calm, focused learning environment. That may not be too far off!
Since we humans can’t create our own light, we have to put light into our environment. And that starts with a light bulb. Kind of like the single light in a firefly.
However ... producing light bulbs is a complicated technological feat. Unlike the little firefly that is born with a light, when we create a light bulb, we mine metals, create glass, build factories for production, and enlist all kinds of transportation to deliver parts and materials from around the world. The energy used to actually light the bulb involves burning fossil fuels (until we come up with something better) in giant facilities, which produce emissions that go back out into the atmosphere. We then must dispose of the used bulbs. That adds up to tons of wasted material, some of which is toxic and seeps from landfills into our rivers, streams, and oceans, where it enters the food chain and potentially lands back on our kitchen table!
So it matters what we choose at the individual level, because it will add up at the global level.
What is the average person to do? Get some information and make a simple, wise choice.
When buying a new bulb or switching out an old one, choose an LED bulb. These are the newest generation light bulbs, and are different in many ways from the older incandescent bulbs (the glass ones with the little filament inside) or more recent CFL’s (Compact Florescent bulbs, the curly white ones.)
Why change to LEDs?
1. You can save MONEY. Yes, they cost a little more at first, but they last so much longer. Each LED bulb is rated to last over 100,000 hours. That means if you left it on all day, 24 hours a day, it would last for 24 years. You save money by not paying for new bulbs or the cost of having someone install them. The older incandescent bulbs only last about a year before they need replacement.
2. LED bulbs are very efficient, requiring considerably less energy to operate. That means you save on your monthly electric bill.
3. LED lights are better for the environment. Why? Because when electrical energy is produced and consumed, carbon dioxide is released into the environment. Less energy needed equals less CO2 produced and released into the atmosphere. Fluorescent lights release small amounts of mercury into the environment while in use and CFLs have mercury in the bulb itself. This is a problem if the bulb breaks in your home, and if it breaks in a landfill, the mercury seeps into the soil and leaches into the global water supply. LED lighting, however, does not contain mercury.
4. LEDs provide better light. All light is not created equal. Some lights are considered “warmer,” some “cooler,” and some more like natural light. Different types of light affect color perception, our moods, and even our ability to concentrate or relax. LED lights are available in warm and cool tones.
5. LED’s improve safety and decrease liability. Well-lit areas reduce the risks of both injury and crime. Because LED light bulbs last so much longer, there is less risk of bulbs burning out, leaving an area in the dark.
This week, guest blogger Karen Johnson talks to children about animal-light (bioluminescence). Next week she’ll write for adults about people-light (LEDs). Karen gives weekly tips for sustainable living in her newsletter, Earth For All Ages.
Isn’t it nice that we can turn lights on in our houses? With a flip of a switch, we can have light coming from our TV, computer, and even our car, so we can see at night as well as during the day. But what about the other creatures? They must live by natural daylight, moonlight, or – their own light, which is called bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence is the ability of an organism to create its own light. It is one of nature’s most amazing accomplishments – like something straight out of a science fiction movie.
On land, fireflies and some fungi can make their own light, but bioluminescence is actually more common in the deep sea. Bacteria, jellyfish, starfish, clams, worms, crustaceans, squid, fish, and sharks are some of the groups of marine animals that have bioluminescent family members.
Bioluminescence (nature’s way of bringing your own light) may help creatures find food or a mate, or it might help with self-defense.
Check out this TED-Ed video for kids.
On a summer night, tiny lights blink on and off in the grass and the woods. They are either fairies carrying lanterns or fireflies creating their own light through bioluminescence – depending on your state of mind. They are equally magical.
Kids love to catch fireflies, but they’re fun to watch, too. Notice the location of the lights blinking around you. The male firefly is the one in the air, flashing his green or yellow light to attract a female. When the female firefly (perched on a blade of grass or a shrub) finds a male that she takes a shine to, she flashes back.
Notice the rhythm of the blinking. Different species of fireflies have different signals. Each species has its own pattern of flashes and pauses. A female predator firefly called Photuris can mimic the flash of other firefly species. When a male blinks, she blinks right back in the same pattern, but when he comes to her, she eats him!
See if you can attract a firefly with a small flashlight or penlight. Watch a firefly carefully. Two seconds after it flashes, give a quick flash with your penlight. Keep responding to the firefly to catch its interest.
Fireflies can’t be kept as pets, but you can catch them, put them in a jar with a wet paper towel for moisture, enjoy watching them, and then release them. You can also look for firefly eggs or larvae. They both glow too! The larvae, which look something like meal worms, are called glowworms. Look for glowworms in moist places under leaf litter or decaying bark.
Riddle: How do fireflies start a race?
Answer: Ready, set, glow!
Next week, guest blogger Karen Johnson will explain the science of bioluminescence for us.
If the world held a Bug Olympics, we would be amazed by astounding athletic feats and new and different world records set by tiny competitors. Of course there would be gold medals for strength and speed and agility, but there would be new categories of competition, too, like the most explosive bug and the best glue stick….
Please send me your favorite bug athletes. I’ll add them to the list.
Email me at email@example.com.
Best glue stick: Weaver Ant larva
Weaver Ants build their nests by rolling up leaves and sticking them together. They get the “glue” they need by picking up a larva and squeezing its abdomen to make it produce a sticky silk thread. The larva isn’t hurt and doesn’t struggle. Maybe it likes being a glue stick.
Worst dressed bug: Assassin Bug nymph
The Assassin Bug nymph dresses itself in sand grains and dead ants. Its outfit isn’t very attractive, but it provides good camouflage and attracts other ants, which the Assassin Bug nymph is glad to eat.
Most explosive bug: Bombardier Beetle
When a Bombardier Beetle is threatened, it squirts burning chemicals from the tip of its abdomen in a series of explosions of heat, color, and noise.
Fastest sprinter: Tiger Beetle
A Tiger Beetle, the fastest insect on earth, can run two feet per second, which is only 1.5 miles per hour, but if the beetle were as big as a horse, its speed would be 250 miles per hour.
Best gymnast: Springtail
A Springtail can jump 40 times its own length to escape predators. As it flies through the air, it does one or more back-somersaults.
Coolest bug: Wooly Bear Caterpillar
A Wooly Bear Caterpillar can survive an Arctic winter with temperatures as low as -90 degrees. The caterpillar produces a natural antifreeze that enables it to slowly become frozen except for the very innermost part of its cells. In the spring, it thaws out and crawls away.
Best weight lifter: Rhinoceros Beetle
A Rhinoceros Beetle, which is as large as a mouse, may be the strongest animal on earth. It can lift about 850 times its own body weight.
World’s smallest insect: Fairyfly
Fairyflies are tiny, tiny wasps less than .2 mm long, the size of a period at the end of a sentence.
World’s largest insect: Titan Beetle
The Titan Beetle can reach more than seven inches in length. It can inflict a painful bite, too.
Best sleeping pill: Pill Millipede
When a Pill Millipede is attached, it oozes a special chemical that makes its attacker sleepy. The Pill Millipede can put a Wold Spider to sleep for 12 hours. Maybe it should be called a Sleeping-pill Millipede.
Best soldiers: Army Ants
Tropical Army Ants march in an army of millions, up to 65 feet across. They eat almost anything in their path, including small animals.
Best snorkeler: Whirligig Beetle
Whirligigs have compound eyes that are divided into two, with one pair above the water and one pair below. Since they can see both above and below the water surface, they can watch for enemies such as a heron or a fish at the same time.
Most numerous: Leafhoppers
There are more leafhopper species worldwide than all species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians combined. In a field full of leafhoppers, there may be several million per acre.
From Busy with Bugs by Toni Albert. Check it out!
Important note: Don’t pick up a spider. Many spiders bite and two are really dangerous –the Black Widow and the Brown Recluse. A Black Widow is shiny black with a red hour-glass on its underside. The Brown Recluse is yellow-brown and has a dark violin on top.
Spiders have spinnerets on their rear ends, which spin out silk. A single spider can spin different kinds of silk for different purposes: for traps and nets, ropes for binding prey, safety lines and parachutes, egg sacs, and nests and sleeping bags. Spider silk is stronger than steel of the same thickness. It’s stretchier than rubber.
When I walk in the woods, spider webs often catch my eye -- especially after a shower when the webs are lined with water droplets. A newly made web is perfect and precise, just right for catching the spider’s prey. An orb web is made to trap flying insects. A funnel web or a sheet web catches crawling insects. And a cobweb may net both flying and crawling insects.
Look for spider webs in corners or around windows in a basement or garage. Look around the foundation of your house. Look in grass, shrubs, or trees. When you find a web, take a photo of it. You can make a photo collection of different kinds of webs. Jiggle the web with a tiny twig to draw the spider from its hiding place if you want a photo of the spider too.
To collect a spider web, you’ll need a large piece of sturdy paper, a can of black spray paint, and a can of spray adhesive. (You can find spray glue at a home improvement center.) Find a web that can be reached from both front and back like a web between two trees or two posts. Scare the spider away with a twig. (Don’t worry, it will make a new web.) Lightly – very lightly! – spray one side of the web with the black paint. Then spray the back side of the web with spray adhesive. Bring your paper against the sticky side of the web, so that the web sticks to the paper. To protect the web, you can cover the paper with clear contact paper when you get home.
Bees and pollinators
When we admire flowers, we usually look at their colors and shapes, but the most interesting parts of a flower are in its center. That’s where all the action is. The center is like a factory where seeds are quietly made. The trick is getting the male part of the flower – the yellow dust called pollen – to the tiny seeds-to-be in the female parts of the flower. Most flowering plants can’t make seeds without outside help. Bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, birds, and bats brush pollen onto the female parts of the flower as they land on the flowers and move around. They act as pollinators.
Bees and pollinators and us
A third of our food supply depends on pollinators. They’re essential to food production. When we lose bees and other pollinators, we lose more than honey. We lose apples and pumpkins and cranberries and strawberries and avocados and more than 140 other fruits and vegetables. In the US, we could lose more than $15 billion a year in agricultural production. Pollinators also support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soil, and support other living things, both animals and plants.
Bees and pollinators and us and them
Last year we lost 44% of our honeybee colonies. Since 1990, almost 970 million Monarch butterflies have vanished. Diseases, pests, and climate change are contributing to the decline of pollinators, but growing scientific evidence points to pesticides containing chemicals called neonics as the biggest culprit. The largest neonic producers, companies like Bayer and Syngenta, coat seeds and provide pesticides for crops, which result in killing pollinators as well as pests.
Bees and pollinators and us and them and the future
What can we do to help protect pollinators – and apple pie and guacamole?
Friends of the Earth – BeeAction.org
The League of Conservation Voters – Stop the Bee-pocalypse!
Bees and pollinators and us and them and the future and our new backyards
It’s fun to plant with pollinators in mind. Whether you’re planting a potted plant for a city roof garden or landscaping a backyard, consider pollinators and their favorites.
Honeybees – anise hyssop, aster, beebalm, black-eyed Susan, catmint, columbine, coneflowers, goldenrod, lavender, sage, thyme, yarrow
Common Eastern bumblebee – clover, rosemary, sunflower, willow
Hummingbird moth – phlox, bee balm, honeysuckle, verbena
Native bee – anise hyssop, blazing star, fruit crops
Pollen wasp – Western wildflowers
Karner blue butterfly – butterfly weed, leafy spurge, blazing star
European honeybee – sage – lemon balm
Monarch butterfly – milkweed
Hoverfly – yarrow, wild mustard
Bee fly – Desert and alpine flowers
Drone fly – alyssum, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, lupine
From Martha Stewart’s Living magazine
A brilliant idea
Katie Martin-Meurer teaches a three-dimensional design course at the University of Wisconsin. She wanted her students to design bird houses for a local park. But then she found out that there might not be enough insects for the birds to eat. In the last 35 years, the number of insects, worms, and other small creatures has almost been cut in half – mostly because of loss of habitat and the use of pesticides on plants.
So Martin-Meurer had another idea. She had her students build bug motels. She asked Daniel Young, an entomologist (someone who studies insects), to help them. Their assignment had two parts: they had to build a correct habitat for a particular insect or bug and they had to provide information on why that little animal is important in nature and needs to be protected.
Isn’t that a wonderful idea? When the students’ bug motels were finished, all 90 of them were placed at nature centers and hiking trails throughout the state. Each one has a QR code, which visitors can scan to find out about the bugs that might make their homes in that bug motel.
Build a bug motel
If you’d like to build a bug motel, think of some of your favorite bugs. Find out what kind of natural habitat (home) they need. Then find out why we should protect them.
Here are some ideas to get you started. A good motel room (habitat) for daddy longlegs, millipedes, and pill bugs might include a layer of soil topped with leaf litter. Add a piece of damp, rotting log or bark. Add an apple core for food and always keep the room moist with a mister.
A motel room for cicadas, click beetles, and grasshoppers could include a few inches of dirt with some leafy branches to climb on. Add plants and some pieces of leafy vegetables. Keep a moist paper towel in their room.
Crickets like a motel room with two inches of sand and a container of wet sand for egg laying. Add things to hide in like small sections of toilet paper rolls. Load their frig with lettuce (for water), dry cat food, and vegetable scraps. Keep their room warm but away from direct sunlight.
Why do we care?
All living things are important to our environment, but partly because of their great numbers, bugs are especially important. Bugs provide food for many animals, including birds, bats, lizards, frogs, and fish. Some bugs are decomposers, which clean up everything from dead leaves to dead bodies. Others, especially certain flies, bees, and wasps, are pollinators. Bugs also help keep nature in balance. They keep “invader plants” and insect pests under control by eating them.
What can we do?
Like all animals – including us – bugs are harmed by polluted air, water, and soil. So everything we do to take care of our Earth helps us all. You know what to do: recycle, turn off lights, don’t waste water, etc.
Don’t use pesticides on your lawn or garden. They kill good bugs as well as bad ones.
Don’t buy mounted butterflies or beetles collected in rainforests.
Plant a butterfly garden or a caterpillar garden or any kind of garden. Any garden will be a habitat for bugs.
Bugs are little animals
When I was writing the book, Busy with Bugs, I had a surprising thought: Bugs are little animals. And getting to know them helps us understand the entire Animal Kingdom. Bugs live in every kind of habitat: mountains, deserts, rainforests, caves, rivers, oceans, fields, backyards – and our houses. Some bugs are predators; some are prey. Some are diurnal (active during the day); some are nocturnal (active at night). Some bugs hibernate; some migrate. Bugs fly, hop, crawl, and run. They eat, drink, rest, hide, communicate, build homes, raise young, attack, fight, die. They are little animals.
And since bugs are animals, we must treat them with respect and care. If you’re interested in catching and keeping live bugs, you’ll need to handle them gently and take care of them responsibly. By learning to love and protect all living things on our planet, you’ll become a better caretaker of our Earth.
Keeping bugs alive
Whether you catch a bug with a bug trap (see “My 5 favorite bug traps”) or find a bug when you’re exploring, use a paintbrush to push the bug into your collecting jar. If you find bugs under a rock or rotting log, gently replace the rock or log in its original position after you collect your critters.
Make sure your collecting jar has openings to let in fresh air. And put a damp, crumpled paper towel in the jar. That will keep bugs from losing moisture and give them a place to hide. These two simple steps will keep your bug alive. You can learn so much more from a living bug than from a dead one.
Taking care of a pet bug
How many children put a bug in a jar and give it grass to eat? But that doesn’t work, because each kind of bug has its own diet. It would be like putting you in a room and giving you grass to eat. You’d probably say, “Don’t they know that I like french fries?”
You can’t feed a bug until you know its name. You can start by counting its legs. All insects have six legs – and two antennae and three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen). Other creepy crawlies, which I call bugs, may have eight legs (like spiders or daddy long-legs, which are not spiders) or fourteen legs (like a pill bug) or two pairs of legs on each body segment (like a millipede). Your job is to observe your bug, describe it carefully, then look online or in an insect field guide until you can identify it. You may need some help from an adult.
Once you know your bug’s name, you can find out more about it. Google “What do ladybugs eat?’ or “How can you keep a cricket for a pet?” Sometimes you can take a shortcut if you find a bug on a plant and see evidence that the bug has been eating that very plant. A feeding caterpillar will leave big holes in the leaves of a plant and also frass (caterpillar poop). Then you know exactly what to feed that caterpillar.
I worked very hard to make a Keeping-Bugs Chart for my book. It tells exactly what kind of food and shelter is right for different kinds of pet bugs. It also tells how to provide water with a damp paper towel, a mist or spray, or a certain diet. It even tells which bugs can be kept together in a terrarium. Working on the chart made me understand that you can’t keep a bug as a pet unless you know exactly what it needs.
But … once you’ve done your research and set up your bug’s home, it’s not difficult to care for a pet bug. And it can be extremely interesting. Suppose you’re keeping several crickets in a terrarium. You might observe them eating, chirping, kicking, head-butting, wrestling, establishing territories, or laying eggs. Be sure to keep notes and take photos. It might take care of your science project next year!
Have you ever spread a picnic on the ground and then wondered how so many bugs could suddenly find you? Our world is filled with insects and bugs. More than a million species of insects have been described and classified. Scientists believe there are millions more. If you spent your entire life counting bugs on Earth, you wouldn’t have time to finish. You would have to count a billion billion bugs!
But if there are that many bugs around us, why are they so hard to find when you want one? Suppose you're all ready to go bug hunting. You have a bug container and a magnifying lens and maybe even a field guide to insects. But you can’t find any interesting bugs. Well, you need a bug trap.
In my book, Busy with Bugs, there are directions for making ten different bug traps. Sometimes they work – and sometimes they don’t. (It depends on where you live and the time of year and when and where you place the bug trap.) But m y five favorite bug traps are practically guaranteed to catch bugs.
Make a Beat Sheet by putting a white cloth under a tree or shrub. Beat or shake the branches. Did any bugs fall on the sheet? Scoop them up into your collecting jar. This is a good way to find cicadas, ladybugs, or beetles.
Note: A good way to collect bugs without harming them (or being harmed) is with a paintbrush. Use the brush to gently push bugs into your bug container.
Creep-Under Bug Trap
Spread a thick mat of grass clippings in a shady place. Lay a large plastic garbage bag or a piece of lumber on top of the grass. (If you use a garbage bag, secure it with rocks at each corner.) After a few days, lift the trap carefully and see who moved in.
Fly-Right-In Bug Trap
To catch flying insects, put bits of ripe fruit in a wide-mouth jar. Or at night, put a glow stick in a jar to catch insects that are attracted to light. Place a funnel in the jar opening with the small end of the funnel pointing down. The wide mouth of the funnel balances on the rim of the jar, so that when bugs fly into the jar through the funnel, they won’t be able to get out again.
Note: Ripe banana attracts fruit flies.
This couldn’t be simpler, but it works for me almost every time. Put a clay flowerpot on its side in a deeply shaded area where small plants are growing. Check the flowerpot every day to see if a daddy longlegs is resting in it. You may also find snails, slugs, millipedes, or pillbugs.
On a warm summer night, if you provide a light, the night will provide bugs. You can easily observe moths, beetles, and many kinds of flying insects with a Shining Sheet. Hang a white sheet over a railing or between two trees. Set up a flashlight behind it. Then sit quietly in front of the sheet and watch for visitors.
I don’t try to catch moths (or butterflies), but I love to see them. If you do this experiment every few days during the summer, you’ll see the most amazing variety of flying insects – new ones each week.
Have fun catching bugs!
By guest blogger, Alex Robbins, SafetyToday.org
There are few things more important than choosing the right daycare facility for your child. Whether you are picking a learning environment for your 3-year-old or 9-year-old, the tools for success remain the same. Here are eight must-haves that you should find in your child’s potential daycare center.
Age-appropriate toys and activities
A daycare center is almost useless if your child can’t grow using age appropriate toys and organized activities. If you visit a potential daycare center, but find little information about ongoing learning experiences, themed days, and toys geared toward different age groups, you may want to continue looking. A center with staff members that truly care about your child will have a variety of activities, toys, and methods to help him or her grow. Learn more about the importance of daily routines and age appropriate activities through PBS.
This must-have mostly revolves around safety equipment. Is the daycare center properly secure against intruders? Are there baby gates to keep younger children separated from older children? What kind of equipment is available for toddlers? You should see baby proofed doors, appliances, gates, outlets, and more on your first visit. Even if you don’t have a toddler, you should pay close attention to how much your potential daycare values safety.
Educated and qualified staff
You’ll have a good idea of the education and qualification level of staff members on your first visit to a potential daycare center. You should be introduced to the members who will be working directly with your child. As you meet with them, you should feel welcome to ask any questions you’d like about their prior experience. If you don’t feel comfortable or your questions aren’t being answered, you might want to look elsewhere. The staff members of a daycare center are the most important cog in the wheel. They make everything run smoothly.
Any professional daycare center should have an easily accessible handbook filled with safety regulations that will help keep your child (and other children) safe from harm. These regulations should include information about vaccinations, required at-home periods of rest after contagious illnesses, and other restrictions. If your potential day care center doesn’t have these rules on hand, they likely don’t enforce them. This could become a serious problem in the future.
Your child should only be eating healthy food at his or her daycare center. This means you should be introduced to the kitchen, the meal plans, and the daily functions involved in preparing food for your child. Transparency in the kitchen is essential to providing a professional daycare atmosphere. After all, you want to know what your child is ingesting.
Clean and safe facilities
It goes without saying that your child should only attend a daycare that is both clean and safe. This could be a matter of location, safety equipment, or general cleanliness. If, when touring the facility, you notice any serious problems with sanitation, you should probably walk away. Not sure what to look for? Parents.com recently published an article outlining what to seek in a professional daycare center.
A trial period
Most great day care centers offer a trial period option for your child, allowing him or her to gain access to the facility for a few days. Based on the reaction of your child, you can make a more informed decision about whether or not the daycare center is right for your family.
The final must-have for your potential daycare center? Trust. If you don’t trust the staff members or if you feel as though something is being hidden from you, relaxing during the day will be nearly impossible.
Quick tip for kids: Stranger danger
It can be a little scary being in a new place surrounded by unfamiliar faces. Daycare is a lot of fun and you’ll make so many new friends to play with, but don’t forget to be cautious of strangers. If you ever come across someone you don’t know or if someone unfamiliar approaches you during outside playtime, let your teacher know immediately.
Now let’s get back to the parents. Still struggling? Care.com offers some useful questions to ask when touring a day care center for your child.
If you search for these must-haves and take your time, you’ll find a quality daycare center that your child will love for years to come.
Have you ever heard someone say, “It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk?” Did you ever think of trying it? Many people have experimented with finding ways to cook with heat from the sun. The key to success is to build a sun cooker that reflects the rays of the sun and concentrates heat on the food that needs to be cooked.
Building a sun cooker is a cool experiment. But for the three billion people in the world who have to cook their meals over an open fire or with a stove that pollutes the air, a sun cooker can improve their lives, their health, and the air they breathe.
You can make a bowl into an efficient sun cooker. Find a bowl with as small a base as possible. If you have an aluminum bowl, polish the inside of the bowl until is is smooth and shiny. That will make a bright surface that will reflect the sun rays. If your bowl is not aluminum, you can line it with aluminum foil. Make sure the dull side of the foil is against the inside of the bowl. Your job is to make the foil-covered bowl as smooth and shiny as possible. Smooth the foil with the back of a large spoon, or roll a rubber ball over the foil to remove every single wrinkle. Try to make the bowl as bright as a mirror.
To cook a small potato, first place a little suction hook inside the bowl at the bottom. (Straighten the hook with pliers to form a spike.) If you’re working with an aluminum bowl, simply attach the suction hook directly to the bottom of the bowl. But if you have a foil-covered bowl, open a small slit in the foil, so that you can attach the suction hook to the surface of the bowl. Push the potato onto the spike.
Take the sun cooker outside at noontime when the sun is hottest, and point it directly at the sun. As the sun moves lower in the sky, change the position of the bowl so that the sun shines directly into it. Check the potato with a fork. When the fork slips easily into the potato, it is done! How long did it take?
There are many experiments you can do with a sun cooker. Try designing your own cooker. Try placing it in different locations. Does it work better when placed in the grass or on the sidewalk? Try cooking different foods. Make up a sun recipe.
From A Kid's Summer EcoJournal by Toni Albert.
Christiana Figueres is one of my “eco-heroes.” As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) between 2010 and 2016, she was responsible for leading the annual UN climate change conferences, which eventually led to the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Last year, she was a candidate for the role of secretary-general of the United Nations. When she wasn’t elected, I wondered what wonderful work she would do next.
. . .
Figueres is skilled in policy-making protocol and diplomacy, which is exactly what we might expect from the daughter of Jose figures Ferrer, a three-time President of Costa Rica who founded democracy there and abolished the nation’s standing army. Her US-born mother, Karen Olsen Figueres, served in Costa Rica’s Congress and as ambassador to Israel.
Costa Rica is a small country that has become a model for sustainable ecological development. They have set aside 26 percent of their rainforests and coastlines in national parks and kproved that ecotourism could become their most important industry. Christiana Figueres, small (five feet tall) but mighty, approaches her work with passion and energy.
When I first read about her in “Climate Controller” by Clara Germani in the Christian Science Monitor Weekly, I was struck by references to her deep concern for the environment. Here are some things that made her weep:
What is Christiana Figueres’ new project? She’ll join a group of global leaders and business executives on the Leadership Council for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. Nearly three billion people around the world depend on wood, charcoal, animal dung, or coal in open fires or in inefficient stoves for their daily cooking needs. Their cooking emits pollutants, such as black carbon, carbon dioxide, and methane, which contribute to global climate change and pollution. Figueres will be working to improve health, empower women, and protect the climate and environment.
Happy World Turtle Day!
How should we celebrate?
I have a few turtle stories. (Doesn’t everyone?)
One: On a cold spring morning when the ground had just thawed, Bob and I were walking along a path in the woods. He said, “I smell a turtle.” I was doubtful. “Really? I don’t smell anything.” Early spring doesn’t offer much to interest your nose.
But he insisted, so we started looking for a turtle. Nothing. We looked more carefully. No turtle. We stirred some leaf litter. There was the turtle just emerging from his winter hibernation-home in the mud. The turtle, a box turtle, looked at us somewhat cynically with his red eyes. “This is my first day in months to open my eyes and move my body and pick up my turtle life. Did you ever think I might want some privacy?” No, we never did.
Two: I once bought a painted turtle at a pet store to release in our pond. I saw it once sunning itself on a floating branch but never again. Then I found a painted turtle on a dirt road where I like to walk. I picked it up and carried it back to our pond. I thought, “Now we have two turtles. Unless the turtle I found was the turtle I bought….” Now, a decade later, we have painted turtles in all sizes. Our two turtles have populated a pond.
Three: I was sitting in the back seat of my son’s car, while in the front seat, he and his wife were having an escalating argument. Their voices were becoming shriller and louder, and I was getting worried. We drove around a turtle that was crossing the road. As the argument continued without a pause, my son turned the car around, stopped by the turtle, my daughter-in-law got out and moved the turtle to safety, we turned around again and continued on our way. The argument was not yet settled, but I was. Beneath the disagreement of the moment was a perfectly executed dance of agreement.
. . .
World Turtle Day was founded in 1990 by American Tortoise Rescue as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. American Tortoise Rescue has placed thousands of rescued tortoises and turtles in caring homes.
Turtles are more threatened than birds, mammals, or amphibians. In 2010, almost 50% of all modern turtles were either extinct or threatened with extinction. They are collected for food, medicine, cosmetics, or to be sold as pets. They are subject to loss of habitat in its various forms: deforestation, drained wetlands, and rivers converted to stagnant reservoirs. They are often killed by traffic as they move around to feed and nest.
71% of all tortoise species are either gone or almost gone.
. . . . . . .
NatureReconnect: Continuing to follow the Carolina wrens:
Keep feeding your birds
When nesting birds have a ready supply of food, they don’t have to spend as much time away from their eggs or from their babies. Then there’s a better chance of raising all their young successfully.
Put out nesting materials for them
You can invite birds to nest in your yard by putting out nesting materials for them. Look at the list of nesting materials in the previous blog, “What’s in a nest?” Gather any of those materials, such as dried grass, pieces of moss, or bark and lichen. Add some interesting things that birds love – cat or dog hair, dryer lint, or bits of string. Hang the materials near your birdfeeder in a mesh bag or a basket, or drape them over a pinecone suspended on a string. Or just scatter them on the ground. (There is hardly a bird that can resist pet hair. I have a friend who brushes her huskies on their porch, and birds come down to steal the fur even while the dogs are still there!)
Have a messy yard
Another way to attract birds is to have a messy yard. Birds like to nest and raise their young where they feel safe and sheltered. They look for dense shrubbery, tall trees, brush piles, trunks of dead trees, and high grass. Is there room in your yard for some wilderness?
Build a birdhouse
Did you know that every species of bird has its own special requirements for an ideal home? For example, when you build a birdhouse, it’s important to use precise measurements for the size of the entrance hole. A wren is comfortable and safe in a house with a 1-inch entrance hole, but a bluebird prefers a 1 ½-inch hole, and a robin nests in a box with no hole at all. Before you build or buy a birdhouse, check the nest box requirements below.
Become a nest watcher
Bird nests are fascinating to observe, but it’s against the law to collect them. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is a federal law that makes it illegal to kill, injure, or take any migratory bird or any of its parts. That includes taking feathers, nests, or eggs. You can see how this law protects the birds we love.
When you find a bird’s nest, don’t touch it, but do look at it as closely as you can. Take a photo – disturbing the birds as little as possible – and make some notes.
Where is the nest located? – On the ground, in a shrub, in a tree, in a cavity of a tree, in a hole in a dirt bank, on or near a building?
What is the nest made of? – List the materials. Anything man-made?
What is the nest lined with? – Something soft, such as downy feathers, moss, fine grass?
Return to the nest every few days, always approaching quietly and respectfully. Take more photos. Make more notes. Remember to record the date each time. Now you’re acting like a scientist – especially if you begin to have questions and try to find the answers!
Try building a nest
Once you’re familiar with some birds’ nests, try your hand at building one yourself. First gather materials that a bird might use. You can try weaving the materials together or use mud to help stick them together, but don’t use anything that a bird couldn’t use (like glue or chip clips!). Then test your handiwork by putting your nest in a tree or shrub and placing a chicken egg from your kitchen in it. Did your nest pass the test?
From A Kid's Spring EcoJournal by Toni Albert.
What’s in a nest? (They’re awfully homely….)
For this blog, I planned to look at the various materials that birds use to make their nests. But “What’s in a nest?” prompted me to check on the Carolina wren’s nest with the five cinnamon-spotted eggs in it. The tiny altricial babies are undeniably homely!
For children and the young-at-definitions: Altricial means having young that are hatched or born in a very immature and helpless condition so as to require care for some time.
While the wrens were hunting insects, Bob took several photos, which we examined minutely.
Toni: Is this in focus?
Bob: It is. Look at the fine grass that lines the nest.
Toni: They’re not very pretty.
Bob: I think they’re a work in progress.
Well, back to “What’s in a nest?” Now I’m thinking about more than nesting materials and skill in weaving and hiding a nest. Now I’m focused on how a bird’s nest must shelter, protect, and hide a brood of tiny helpless birdlets. Nests, nesting materials, and nesting locations are as varied as birds. Once you identify a bird and its nest, you’ll be able to recognize another nest like it and know what kind of bird made it. Because robins often build their nests near or on our homes – even in a wreath hanging on a door – many children are familiar with their “robins-egg blue” eggs and their finely woven grassy nests.
Although it’s against the law to collect birds’ nests, you can certainly examine a nest (without touching it) after the bird family has left. When you look closely at a robin’s nest, you’ll see that it’s made of mud, grasses, weed stalks, and found objects like string or cloth and that it’s lined with fine grasses.
This is a partial list of nesting materials used by birds in our area:
Leaves or leaf mold
Plant down (like milkweed silk)
Found objects: string – cloth – paper – aluminum foil - (I once found a nest with a tea bag woven into it.)
This is the time of year to keep our eyes open for birds’ nests and nesting birds, tiny bits of eggshells, often dropped away from the nest so as not to give away its location, and birds returning repeatedly to a single place (where they are feeding young?). I never tire of watching this cycle of life repeated and repeated.
In the Old Testament, “Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.” Men and women have always ordered the world by naming and classifying. It’s not enough for a birder to spot a bird he hasn’t seen before. He has to identify it and add its name to his life list. Nature lovers live with field guides.
In our home, we have field guides to birds; trees and shrubs; wildflowers; mushrooms; Eastern butterflies; insects and spiders; North American wildlife; animal tracks; edible wild plants; mammals of PA; rocks and minerals; fossils in PA; fishes and sea life; and coral reefs. And even a field guide to Eastern birds’ nests!
That’s how I identified a Carolina wren’s nest that is built under our deck and, at this very moment, has five tiny eggs in it. (There were only four when we took the photo.) Later, we confirmed the ID when we saw the wren fly from her nest.
From the field guide:
Habitat: Brushy forests – check!
Nest: Built in … nook or cranny around human dwelling – check!
Rarely higher than 10 feet – check! About 4 feet above the ground.
Bulky mass of twigs, mosses, rootlets, strips of inner bark – check!
Side entrance – check! The photo may look like one taken from above, but it was taken from the front, looking in.
Lined with … fine grasses – check! Messy on the outside, good camouflage, but neat and tidy inside.
Eggs: Commonly 5-6 – check! There are five today.
Short-oval shape. Smooth with little gloss. – check!
White, pale pink; typically marked with heavy brown spots, often concentrated at larger end – check!
So why do we love field guides? They help us identify what we observe. And think of the rich education one entry in a field guide provides. By the time we answer our question, “What is this?” we have a sense of ownership. I think it’s thrilling to investigate the great diversity of nature and, at the same time, to acknowledge the perfect individuality and consistency of each member. At a simpler level, it’s fun to recognize and call by name the living things around us. It’s a way of knowing a tree or a flower or a butterfly like a friend.
I’ve spent all month blogging – and thinking – about butterflies. A good way to conclude for now is to review Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Flight Behavior, a novel that mixes science and song and explores the intimate story of an individual and the universal experience of living through a time of enormous change on Earth.
Dellarobia, a young mother in Appalachia, discovers a colony of migrating Monarchs diverted from their normal flight behavior by the erratic weather of a warming Earth. To her, it appears to be a miracle and she’s awed by the beauty of the butterflies weighing down the limbs of trees. But Tennessee is not the place for wintering butterflies, especially during a year of torrential rains and mudslides.
When Ovid Byron and his team of scientists arrive to study the Monarchs, Dellarobia’s world opens. She’s poorly educated but smart and curious, hungry for a wider understanding. She becomes his assistant and he becomes her first real teacher. In the book’s apocalyptic ending, we see her determined to learn more – even how to protect our endangered world.
Favorite quotations and ideas from Flight Behavior
Dellarobia’s first realization that what she was seeing was millions of butterflies:
“The density of the butterflies in the air now gave her a sense of being underwater, plunged into a deep pond among bright fishes. They filled the sky. Out across the valley, the air itself glowed golden. Every tree on the far mountainside was covered with trembling flame, and that, of course, was butterflies…. The fire was alive, and incomprehensibly immense, an unbounded, uncountable congregation of flame-colored insects.”
I love the way this description evokes color: “bright fishes,” “golden,” “flame,” “fire,” and “flame-colored.” Orange, orange, orange!
“… she watched her son love nature so expectantly, wondering if he might be racing toward a future like some complicated sand castle that was crumbling under the tide. She didn’t know how scientists bore such knowledge.”
“Once while she and Ovid were working … he had asked her what was the use of saving a world that had no soul left in it. Continents without butterflies, seas without coral reefs, he meant. What if all human effort amounted basically to saving a place for ourselves to park?”
Dellarobia meets a mother and daughter who have been making knitted butterflies and hanging them in trees to help make people aware of the plight of the Monarchs.
“The impulse to keep the hands moving, feeding tiny answers to vast demands. Like spooning peas into a child who would still be hungry for decades. It wasn’t wrong.”
What if “tiny answers” – like tiny butterflies – when combined, can create a great cloud of answers? Surely, it’s worthwhile for each of us to do what we can.
Dellarobia is shocked when Dr Byron tells her that the events of the winter are destroying the Monarchs. He speaks as a scientist: “We are seeing a bizarre alteration of a previously stable pattern. A continental ecosystem breaking down…. Climate change has disrupted this system.”
She responds in the heart-deep language of the Bible, “One of God’s creatures of this world, meeting its End of Days.… Not words of science, she knew that, but it was a truth she could feel.”
The language of literature can be powerfully evocative, like music or art. It engages us in an entirely different way from factual scientific material. I’m so glad this book was written.
Children and Butterflies: Activities for Kids
Plant a butterfly garden to attract butterflies to your yard. Choose a sunny location and plant flowers rich in nectar, such as butterfly bushes, lilacs, zinnias, phlox, bee balm, lantanas, and marigolds. Include flat rocks where butterflies can sun themselves.
Make a shallow, damp mud puddle for male butterflies. They will land on the mud to take in salts that they need.
Sometimes a butterfly will land on you. When you see a butterfly feeding, approach it slowly, and gently hold out one finger near its legs. In the eastern and southern United States, the Hackberry Butterfly often lands on people. It’s fun to hold a butterfly on your finger, but don’t touch its fragile wings.
Visit a butterfly exhibit at a botanical garden, zoo, or nature center. Watch butterflies eat and fly. Which is your favorite? Does the exhibit also have caterpillars and chrysalises?
Make a “Butterfly Field Guide to My Backyard.” Allow at least one page for each butterfly. Include the name of the butterfly, a sketch or photo, information that you gather, and notes about your own observations. (Use a field guide or search online to identify your butterflies.)
There are many organizations that provide opportunities for children to do “citizen science.” Two of my favorites are the North American Butterfly Association, which hosts a Butterfly Count to collect data about butterfly populations, and Journey North, where children can track the Monarch migration.
A wonderful list of other citizen scientist opportunities can be found at Monarch Joint Venture, which partners to conserve the Monarch butterfly migration. (http://monarchjointventure.org/get-involved/study-monarchs-citizen-science-opportunities#tracking-the-monarch-migration.
From the award-winning book, Busy with Bugs, by Toni Albert.
Every year, millions of Monarch butterflies make a long journey from the United States and Canada to winter in the high mountains west of Mexico City. Some of them travel 3000 miles on their fragile wings, Fueled by flower nectar and carried by ascending warm-air currents, they travel for months, landing and resting each night. What an incredible migration!
But there’s more. Monarchs have a surprising system to support their migration. Since adult Monarchs live only three to four weeks, it takes several generations of butterflies to migrate north from Mexico, but for the trip south, the Monarchs produce what scientists call a Methuselah generation, born near the end of summer and able to live up to nine months. This generation doesn’t breed in the north. It will arrive in Mexico by November, rest during the winter, and breed there. Then by mid-March, the Methuselah generation will complete the first leg of the journey back into the US and Canada.
After several generations of Monarchs work their way north, another Methuselah generation will be produced, and without ever having made the trip before, it will know how to migrate thousands of miles back to Mexico. Isn’t this process elegant?
. . .
A few years ago, Bob and I were privileged to visit the El Rosario sanctuary, part of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. We had flown to Morelia, the capital city of Michoacan, to attend a quinceanera (a lavish fifteenth-birthday celebration) for the daughter of good friends. Knowing how much we wanted to see the Monarchs, our friends came with us and made all the arrangements, which are tricky because the sanctuary is so remote. Yes, one leg of the journey was in the back of a wide truck.
It’s cool in the mountains where the Monarchs gather. It’s “breath-taking” too, because the altitude is 10,000 feet. We climbed up a steep trail, stopping often to sit on a well-placed bench along the path. We began to see a few butterflies. We admired the hemlocks and wildflowers. Then the trail narrowed. A sign advised us to turn our phones off and to speak softly. We began to walk silently in single file exactly like a procession of pilgrims approaching something sacred.
The hemlocks looked strangely gray and unnatural. Their evergreen limbs were hanging close to their trunks like trussed Christmas trees ready for sale. As we drew nearer, we could see that the branches were held down by the weight of millions of butterflies, layer upon layer resting quietly in the cold. When a shaft of sunlight warmed them, the Monarchs would flutter and fly, a cloud of orange jewel-light.
I’m so grateful to have had this experience – to be surrounded by butterflies, to marvel at their life story. I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to be able to stand here surrounded by the whisper of butterfly wings. But sadly, Monarchs are disappearing along with the trees that are illegally logged in the Biosphere Reserve and the milkweed that is poisoned in the US. When will we learn to cherish and care for our Earth, our home? Do we want to live in a world without butterflies?
A few years ago, we received a wonderful surprise. An entire garden of milkweed planted itself in a grassy meadow near our house. We didn't buy them or plant them or tend them. They were a gift freely given. Knowing that milkweed flowers attract pollinators and that the plant is a host to Monarch caterpillars, we welcomed these plants. They bloom for several weeks in summer. The gorgeous purple blossoms are fragrant and irresistible to bees and butterflies and many other insect pollinators. Last year I was so curious to see who was visiting that I checked the milkweed three times a day. I saw tiny multicolored hoppers, little flies with long wings, ladybugs and Japanese beetles, several kinds of bees and butterflies, and the exquisite Great Spangled Fritillary. But I didn't observe a single Monarch in our milkweed garden and there were not nearly as many bees as we would expect.
Milkweed is essential for the Monarch population. It's the only plant where Monarch butterflies lay their eggs and it is the only one that the caterpillars will eat. Milkweed contains a natural chemical compound that makes the caterpillars poisonous to predators.
When the agri-tech giants like Dupont and Monsanto developed crops that are engineered to survive the use of weed-killers, farmers began to use more herbicides like Roundup. Environmentalists believe that the loss of Monarchs is caused by farmers and homeowners spraying herbicides on milkweed, which serves as a nursery, food source, and habitat for Monarchs.
In an effort to help, the Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with the National Wildlife Federation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to plant milkweed seeds along the butterflies' migration corridor. Scientists are also considering other possible reasons for the decline in Monarchs, including habitat loss, disease, parasites, and climate change.
What can children do to help the Monarchs?
Children can plant milkweed seeds to help provide habitat and nectar for pollinators, especially bees and butterflies. Check out the Milkweed Seed Finder. Ask seed vendors if the milkweed seeds they sell are native to your area. Or collect your own seeds to ensure they are a native species. This is a wonderful project for children in fall (mid-October in our area).
Some nurseries are beginning to sell milkweed plants. You only need to buy a few plants. When the large milkweed seedpods burst open, revealing the intricately packed rows of brown seeds, there will be explosions of flying white silk carrying the seeds to new locations. If you wait until the seeds are ripe, children can shake them loose from the pods directly into your milkweed garden. A very messy and fun project!
Children can write letters to your state's Department of Transportation. Ask them to stop killing milkweed along highways and to start planting it instead.
Try a Tadpole
As long as there have been kids and tadpoles, kids have been fascinated by tadpoles. And perhaps tadpoles have been fascinated by kids. We don’t know.
If you have never watched a slippery little head-with-a-tail change into a fat-bellied frog, it’s time to try it. The first step is to visit a pond in early spring to collect frog or toad eggs, or spawn. Frog spawn looks like a mass of cloudy jelly; toad spawn looks like long strings of black beads; and newt spawn is found as single eggs, each surrounded by clear jelly. Collect about a handful of one kind of spawn. Don’t mix frog and toad or newt spawn in the same container. Put the spawn in a gallon jar or aquarium filled with pond water, and add some water weeds.
Your part in growing little frogs is easy. Keep the aquarium out of direct sunlight. Change the water once a week – always using pond water, not tap water. And once the tadpoles have hatched, provide water plants or decaying lettuce for them to eat. When the tadpoles begin to grow their back legs, their diet will change to meat. You can hang a tiny piece of meat in the water. Or simply feed them bits of dog or cat food.
As the tadpoles lose their tails and begin to breathe air, place rocks in the aquarium so that they can climb out of the water. Keep the aquarium covered or they may jump out! When the young frogs become this active, it’s time to release them at the pond where you collected the spawn. Then they will be in the right environment to catch the insects they need to eat.
Releasing tiny frogs in this way – after keeping them safe from predators while they were growing – is helpful to the frog population, which sadly is declining.
From A Kid’s Spring EcoJournal by Toni Albert.
Early in March, before any sign of spring, a chorus of frog song disturbs the winter silence. Frog song! Many frogs migrate back to the pond where they were tadpoles, where the males call and croak to attract females for a splashy spring fling. (That’s literal. There is much splashing.) Each species of frog has its own call, and even those of the same species may alternate their calls, so that the complete song is rhythmic and complex – and loud. At first I think it’s like the overture to a symphony, but after a few minutes, I admit it’s more like the instruments tuning up.
After hearing frog song, it’s time to look for frogspawn (frog eggs). The singing – and flinging – will go on for weeks until our pond is dotted with clumps of white jelly or clear jelly. The frog eggs, which are black, are clearly seen inside the clumps. Later we’ll be able to see the eggs develop inside the jelly until tiny black tadpoles are visible. It’s exciting – like looking at a sonogram.
Bob and I took our dog Jazzy to walk through the woods to our pond. The water is tea colored because of the leaves that have fallen into it but absolutely clear. It only took a minute to find the first clump of frogspawn at the water’s edge. While we took photos, Jazzy lay in the sun, gnawing on a deer shoulder bone she found. Across the pond from us, the sun was sparkling on the water in tiny points of light. More frog eggs? Surely not that many, enough to cover 15 square feet. But, yes, there were more frog eggs than we’ve ever seen in one place. It’s going to be an interesting spring!
Note: When I direct children to look for frogspawn, I sometimes use a definition that was written by a six-year-old in one of my writing workshops. After studying frog eggs in a large jar, she wrote, “Frog eggs look like a little ghost that drowned at the bottom of a pond.” Have children look for milky white globs of jelly, usually about the size of a fist or two fists, or clumps of clear jelly with black eggs inside them. And of course, don’t let children explore a pond without adult supervision.
Aldo Leopold has been called “the father of wildlife management” and “the father of wildlife ecology” and the “father of conservation ethics.” Have children read about Aldo Leopold’s life and work. Ask them to list the “firsts” that Leopold accomplished. Then discuss what it means to be called the father of a movement or of a new way of thinking. What qualities does a person need in order to think in a new way and to become “the first” in his field?
Have children choose one month’s entry in A Sand County Almanac to read and study.
Aldo Leopold wrote, “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”
This is Aldo Leopold Week and communities throughout our nation are celebrating his life and legacy. The events vary from interactive discussions of his ideas to family nature outings, from readings of A Sand County Almanac to viewing Green Fire, an award-winning documentary film about Leopold and his work. I'm celebrating all week by trying to see our woods and pond and creek through Leopold's eyes.
This is Aldo Leopold Week, a good time to get to know more about him. Born in Burlington, Iowa, in 1887, he would become a scientist, ecologist, conservationist, philosopher, forester, teacher, and author. As a boy, he loved and explored nature, so when Gifford Pinchot donated money to Yale to develop one of our nation’s first forestry schools, he determined to go to Yale and become a forester. After graduating, he joined the Forestry Service and worked in Arizona and New Mexico.
Leopold was one of the founders of the Wilderness Society, and in 1924, he initiated the first Forest Wilderness Area in the United States, the Gila National Forest. In that year, he was transferred to the US Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin, where he was an associate director. He founded the profession of game management and wrote the first important book on the subject. In 1933, he was appointed Professor of Game Management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was the first professorship of wildlife management. Shortly before his death in 1948, he was assigned as a conservation adviser to the United Nations.
This is Aldo Leopold Week, time to re-read his Sand County Almanac, an environmental classic. In Wisconsin, Leopold bought 80 acres in the sand country of central Wisconsin. The land had been deforested, overgrazed by cattle, and repeatedly burned by wildfires. It was a perfect laboratory for testing his theories of conservation and ethics. He advocated that each public and private land owner should manage and conserve wildlife habitats and diversity of species on the land. It was also the perfect place to write his almanac.
A Sand County Almanac is eloquent and funny, compassionate and determined, wise and important. It ranges from keen descriptions of nature on his Sand County property, month by month (the almanac), to essays on man’s destruction of the land and a “plea for a Wilderness esthetic.” The book begins: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”
Favorite passages from A Sand County Almanac:
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”
“I have read many definitions of what is a conservationist, and written not a few myself, but I suspect that the best one is written not with a pen, but with an axe. It is a matter of what a man thinks about when chopping, or while deciding what to chop. A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”
“But all conservation is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish.”
“… I am glad that I shall never be young without wild country to be young in. Of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?”
“Parks are made to bring the music to the many, but by the time many are attuned to hear it there is little left but noise.”
“A little repentance just before a species goes over the brink is enough to make us feel virtuous. When the species is gone we have a good cry and repeat the performance.”
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”
"That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics."
"A society grows wise when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit."
“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
We (he) mounted the squirrel house in early January, because squirrels are very cautious about moving into new quarters. They need time to investigate. Then if a couple decides to move in, they need more time to furnish it with huge mouthfuls of leaves and twigs. Gray squirrels mate in late winter and mid-summer, and the litters are born 40-44 days later in March/April and July/August. (Yearling females only mate once.)
Squirrels live high in trees, so Bob mounted the squirrel box about 20 feet up a sturdy maple tree. We had a 16-foot ladder and extended it by placing the foot of the ladder in the bucket of our Kubota tractor. Bob carried the heavy squirrel house, a portable screw gun, and four #8x3-inch screws up the ladder. I held the camera down below. His job was to balance the house while securing it to the tree with two screws at the top and two at the bottom of the mounting board (the vertical board attached to the back of the house). My job was to take a picture and try to breathe normally.
If you plan to mount a squirrel box, be very careful. It will all be worthwhile when you see those little squirrels peeking out, venturing out, and finally playing freely like digital acrobats.
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”