Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tribute to a Nature Lover

It's that time of year to look back.  When I do, I look back at my mom who recently passed away at the age of 90.  I would like to dedicate my blog to her and her memory.  I may not write as often as I would like--life, work, the commute-- all get in the way sometimes, but I am hopeful to do more in the coming year.  If nothing else, as a tribute to my mom, a life long nature lover.

My mom was my nature guru....no, it isn't that she knew so much about nature, it is that she LOVED so much.  Growing up, our family enjoyed many nature experiences together.  We would go on early morning breakfast picnics in the city park and evening walks too.  In the summer we would camp in state and national parks, being the cheap way for a family of five to travel.  I vividly remember the trip to the Tetons where bears ransacked the neighboring campsite.  Or the evening star gazing in the Black Hills.  Those stars were the biggest I had ever seen.  Or sitting on the dock at Lake Okoboji watching my glasses fall to the lake bottom!

Although I grew up in a big city, these outings in the parks led me to college studies in nature...ornithology, limnology, mammalogy, etc. and eventually to my career.  As I got older and had a family of my own, I began sharing nature with my children just as mom had shared with me and my siblings.  We stopped to watch an eagle on our way to school, sat by the river to see sandhill cranes, or traveled to the ocean to observe the strange life in the coastal waters.

With my mom's passing, it was my daughter who pointed out that she still lives.  She lives in the memories of those nature experiences, big and small.  She lives when I look at the clouds at sunset.  She would say, "That's gorgeous!".  She lives when the trees sway in the wind..."dance" as she would say.  And she lives when I take my grandchild on a walk through the woods... smelling the skunk, feeling the moss, or watching the birds.

Sharing nature with children is a passion of mine, a passion ignited by a wonderful woman who not only loved nature, but loved sharing it with others.  So, I dedicate this blog...this sharing ...to her.  In this new year, won't you share nature with someone you love?

Monday, November 11, 2013

If a leaf falls, does it make a sound?

We have all heard the saying about trees, and even watched the cute commercial showing a tree talking as it fell.  That is what I was thinking about today as I walked one of our paths through the woods.  The path was covered in leaves making it impossible to hear anything but the sound of leaves crunching underfoot as I walked.
When I stopped I heard the familiar sounds of the woods, the crow "cawing" in the distance, the woodpecker "pecking" a tree near me, and the chickadee's unforgettable chickadee song.
I continued along the path and wondered how did the early settlers and natives do it...how did they walk in the woods in the fall?  I tried to be quiet, but to no avail.

I love the fall, but the noise was starting to get to me.  I wondered how much longer til all the leaves were on the ground.  Then it might be worthwhile raking the trail.  I looked up and saw some trees with no leaves, but many still had a long way to go.

I think those leaves will be making a sound for a long time to come!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Nature IQ

What is your nature IQ?  I mean, what do you know about nature and how did you learn it?

I was raised in a big city with few real nature experiences while my husband grew up in a rural setting and spent most of his childhood in the woods. I have been trying to catch up with him ever since we met.  I love nature, don't get me wrong, but that is a different question.

Recently I took my 2 year old granddaughter for a walk in the woods.  As we headed down the path she pointed to the edge of the trail and said, "That's moss!"

She was right.  My husband had pointed it out to her weeks earlier.  The reason for her correct identification and familiarity with nature struck me.  I had been in a third grade classroom working with students out of field guides.  One of the guides mentioned moss, and several of the students said they didn't know what that was.

What did this 2 year old have that the third graders did not??  A nature IQ.  And how did she get it.....I would say, direct experiences with nature.  There is no substitute.  But haven't the third graders been outdoors where moss occurred?  Probably.  In this case, the difference was the presence of an adult that fostered the appreciation and knowledge of what was in plain sight.

In the words of Rachel Carson, "“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”

My granddaughter knows moss (and a whole lot more). But what she doesn't yet know is this: she is lucky to have had the companionship of an adult who shared with her the mystery of the natural world.  One day, she will know this.  Right now, all she knows is the fun she has with "pa pa".

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Learning About Birds is Child's Play

My granddaughter, now two years old, and I have always enjoyed birdwatching together.  She and I  sit in my swivel rocker in front of my living room window and "watch the birdies" at the feeders.  She could spot them from a very young age.  During her last visit, about two weeks ago, we again shared the same nature activity.

This time, knowing that she was learning her colors, I decided to use the book, Bird Calls by innovative Kids.
It has color coded pull out tabs that correspond to the color coded audio that can be played by a push of a button.  What was amazing to me was the rapidity with which she learned the bird calls.  Colors--we're still working on that.  But by the end of a mere 3 or 4 days, she could recognize 4 of the 8 birds by song and sight!!  She learned the call of the Barred Owl (that ends in Who--all).  When reading another book and seeing an owl, she says, "Who-wah. Owl say that".  She also says "Titmouse..Peter, Peter, Peter." Precious and precocious.

It is a passion of mine to share nature with children, and this grandma can't help but brag.  It is a special experience we have shared, and I will always cherish.  Like it or not, I think we have a budding birdwatcher.  But I think she will rather like it! 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The benefits of winter weather

Normally, I don't appreciate winter in the Midwest AT ALL!  But sunrise today brought a change of heart.  At sunrise, I caught a glimpse of our forest through the living room window that would not be possible in a more southern climate.

The eerie look of the fog in the forest, the bare lifeless tree limbs and the blanket of snow made a spectacular sight to behold.  The view was breathtaking but fleeting.
As I stepped outside in the morning chill, I could hear the birds chirping as if spring were here.  Their cheery calls broke the spell of the foggy forest followed soon after by the sunshine which "burnt" off the fog.

Yes, winter is here...but not for long!  Let's appreciate it while we can.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Environmental Hero

Last night, I was adding my profile to a new site that I had recently joined. One of the questions, "Who is your hero?" got me thinking.  Of course, my first reaction was Rachel Carson for her work in drawing attention to the dangers of DDT.

This got me thinking about my childhood. "Who is MY hero?"  The answer--my mom is my personal hero. No, she didn't stand up against a powerful industry.  No, she didn't write a bestselling book.  But what she did for me, and my siblings, is priceless.  You see, my family has a love of nature.  Two of us even have careers in the field.  How did this happen?

I have read that many of our early naturalists attributed their appreciation of nature to experiences in nature at an early age.  So, a few years ago, I asked my mom, "What did you do?" I really wanted to know why all three of us had this interest in the natural world, especially since we grew up in a big city.

My mom's humble answer: "I just took you outside for walks in the park."  I'm sure it wasn't just a walk in green space in a big city.  I'm sure there was discussion, perhaps like this: "Look at that bird; I wonder what it is doing?" or "Do you see that turtle; I wonder what kind it is?"

It was Rachel Carson who said:  “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”   This, then, is what my mom did for us!

I remember having many pastimes in my youth like jumping rope, playing the clarinet, or collecting cat figurines.  Those pastimes are long past.  But watching nature...this is something that has stayed with me and that I enjoy each day.  My mom, nearing 90, frequently talks about the jays that come to the peanuts she puts on her railing.  Nature is a joy we continue to share and one I hope to pass on to my grandchild.

Watching nature is a joy instilled in me at a young age.  It is a joy that remains through the worries of the work day, the pressures of parenthood or the time spent with the products of the technology revolution.  Yes, my mom is my environmental hero.  She gave me the gift of nature appreciation.  Isn't that where any real environmental change happens....in the heart of a child!

Monday, January 21, 2013

What Inspires You?

On a day like today, Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day, I started thinking about inspiration.  Watching today's activities fills one with a sense of patriotism like no other activity can.  And the fact that it coincided with the MLK holiday observance was not forgotten by some observers.  We look for what we will remember in the Obama speech


We know what has been retained from King's  "I Have a Dream" speech.

I recently have become interested in history and discovered that King started the speech with a negative references to how segregation and prejudice were still prevalent in the country; however, he ended with the hope and inspiration part--and that is what we remember.  That is the inspiration.

But we need inspiration more often that once every four years (as is the case of inaugural years) or once in a lifetime ("I Have a Dream..").  Where does inspiration come from?  What speaks to you?

For me, nature has always been my inspiration...no more than that.  I have always needed nature to restore my spirit.  Researchers today call it Restorative Therapy.  I call it daily life!  You can read about the research in this paper:   Healthy Parks, Healthy People: The Health Benefits
of Contact with Nature in a Park Contex
and here is an excerpt from the introduction:
"Many researchers have come to the conclusion that humans are dependent on nature
not only for material needs (food, water, shelter, etc) but perhaps more importantly for psychological,
emotional, and spiritual needs "

For me, there is nothing like a run through the woods.  Sometimes I walk.  Whatever the pace, there is nothing like it.  A walk or run on a treadmill in the gym can not recreate the sights, sounds, and smells that permeate my soul.  I love the wind against my face (not the fan on the treadmill) which brings the fresh earthy smell to my nostrils.  I look for the images of the wingbeats on the trail ahead of me and in the next minute hear the bird calling from behind me.  We play this little "cat and mouse game" as I continue on the trail. Finally the bird reveals himself and I run on to find another flutter of wings.

At the end, I feel refreshed.  It isn't just the endorphins from the exercise or the fresh air in my lungs that brings more oxygen to my brain.  It is much more. Communing with nature truly does restore my soul.

So, on a day like today that inspires a nation, I recall that I can be inspired every day--just by walking out the door!

Friday, January 18, 2013

On the Hunt for Owl Pellets

I had spent the entire day in front of the computer--something I hate!  The sun was shining and temperature warm for a January day in Illinois; nature was calling me.  So I headed out with my dog for a walk in the woods.

The purpose of this walk, I told myself, was to look for owl pellets.  I know we have a nesting pair of Barred Owls and a pair of Great Horned Owls.

And I have found a Great Horned Owl pellet in the past. I just stumbled across it while walking through the woods.  I knew to look for the whitewash on the tree or leaves under the tree.
So on this day, when I finally came across some whitewash, I began to get excited.  And looking up from the whitewash, the tree looked perfect for a roosting owl.  In fact, I have hear our Barred Owl calling from this direction.  My anticipation was growing.

But, no luck.  So I continued on.  Pretty soon, I found myself lost in thought.  My day in front of the computer left me brain dead, but now, all of a sudden the ideas came flowing one after another.  I was planning my next teacher workshop in my head.  And I couldn't wait to get back to write them down.  (Note to self: take notebook on the next walk.)

Maybe it was the fresh air in my lungs that inspired the fresh ideas I was imagining.  Whatever it was, my short walk in the woods did not fill my original purpose of finding owl pellets, but it did so much more.  I am ready to begin work anew with fresh ideas and inspiration.