Sunday, February 6, 2011

It's Story Time!

Yup, for many of us it is wintertime, unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere of course. First, sorry for the gap in postings. I have been a little busy. Last summer I was working at two summer camps in CA and then after summer, I got a new job and Jen and I moved to CO. So now I get to learn all about a new ecoregion here in the Front Range of the Rockies. And I am no longer living in the woods, we have moved into an actual neighborhood. It is kinda strange. And I will get to explore a whole new area that is much more impacted by people. Anyway, it is winter, and for many of you in the United States you have been getting an amazing amount of snow this year! As you can see from the photo above, our half-husky Shasta is very happy to be in snow again.
Where I grew up in New England the Indigenous people who lived there had a wonderful tradition in the winter. It was sometimes called the "time of the longhouse", because with the winter months bringing cold weather and snow many of the local native people spent a good amount of time inside their longhouses in community. It was a time to work together on making new clothes, tools, and weapons. And one of the most anticipated events during this time at least for children, and I would suspect adults, was the telling of stories. In some New England tribes stories were not told until after the first great frost so that the animals would not be distracted from gathering food for the winter because they wanted to hear the stories. Being indoors a lot more in the winter makes a perfect setting for stories.
Sharing stories with family members and friends can be a wonderful experience. And there are plenty of resources to use that also allow you to inspire young and old alike about the natural world around us. A couple of great resources for nature based stories to share together are:
Earth Child-games, stories, activities, experiments & ideas about living lightly on Planet Earth. By Kathryn Sheehan.
Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth. By Lee Welles.
Keepers of the Earth. By Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.
My Side of the Mountain. By Jean Craighead George.  
While reading stories to kids and adults is a great way to spend time together and even learning some things about nature, making your own stories can be even better. Create some stories about what animals do during the winter, a child wandering in the woods in winter (like in My side of the Mountain), a story about a group of migrating geese, or anything that catches your interest while on a walk outside.
Another great way to experience stories is through song. Listen to some fun music and listen to the stories that are told in them. I had a WONDERFUL experience hearing a talk by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary last month at a conference and he talked about the power of song to build community. Here are a few musicians who have some great nature based music to listen to on a cold day while drinking hot coco!
Banana Slug String Band.
Steve Schuch.
Bill Oliver.
I hope you are getting to be outside just a little this winter. And there are times when enough is enough of the snow! As my friend Jessica who lives near Boston said, going outside with 4' of snow being covered in ice pellets is a little much today. But what a great time to stay inside and listen to some good nature music and tell stories. Until next time, keep exploring the world around you.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Treasure Hunt! What's Out There?

( A great tree treasure ) 
First, sorry to be gone for so long. The good thing is that I have been outside and traveling. I got to be in Maine for a week running a ropes course training for summer camp staff. The camp is in Denmark Maine, and a wonderful place. Here is the view of Moose Lake which is a home to many Loons! Yeah it was tough.
Anyway, before I went out there, I was up in the city with my some friends of ours and we were walking in a park in the Berkeley hills with their kids. Before we headed out I was talking to Lucy, the oldest at almost 4, and asked her what we should look for on our hike. She responded, "treasures"! I was going to suggest that we should on a scavenger hunt. Lucy's response of treasures, got me thinking why go on a scavenger hunt, when you can go on a Treasure Hunt. Treasure hunting sounds much more fun then scavenging. We ended up collecting acorns and rocks. It was a good day. 
So, let's go on a Treasure Hunt. If you want another hunt to go on, check out this previous postingThis hunt is a little more of a challenge perhaps then the previous one, but have a blast exploring!
-- Find a plant shading a second plant while being shaded by a third plant.
            How did so many plants get into such small area?
-- Find objects that are the following shapes: square, circle, triangle, heart, etc. What is the    oddest shape you can find?
-- Find something that is turning into soil. Find as many animals and plants that are helping.
-- Find two plants growing on another plant, and two plants growing on a non-living thing.
            How do they hang on?
-- Find five different shades of brown.
-- Find three trees with evidence of animals.  What have the animals been doing?
            How do you know?
-- Find a tree the same height as you.
-- Find a leaf the same size as your hand. 
-- Find a tree too big for you to reach around.

Of course you can add as many other things to find! Keep exploring! A fun challenge could be to see how many of these things you can find within 100' or so of your house. And how many items on your list did you have to go somewhere else to find?

Website to explore: Wildlife Observations is a web site dedicated to sharing your nature observations with others around the country. It is easy to join and fun to explore. 

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The Linking Trail

(A trail in the redwoods)
A little backstory on this posting. This weekend I was standing on my porch and looking down at the ground cover just below the deck and I noticed that there were strawberries growing down there. Now, I have never planted strawberries down there and they were not there last spring. Now I do have a small planter on the deck that does have strawberries in it. The strawberries on the ground are growing in a semi-circle just below the strawberries on the deck. I began thinking about how they got there. I know I did not drop strawberries down there, but something did. As I began thinking about the birds and animals I have seen on the deck recently, I began thinking about an activity I had done several years ago. It is called linking.
This activity can be done with kids at any age and you can start anywhere. Simply find something that attracts your children's attention. It could be a rock, a plant, an animal, a flower, etc. Then sit there for a second and look for something that is "linked" to the first thing you were looking at. Then, look for a link to that second thing, and then continue linking one thing to another. Do not be too attached to where you are heading, simply allow the links to show themselves. 
If you want to be more intentional in this activity, pick an object and then look for things that could or should be linked ecologically or logically. For example, if you are standing in the shade of a tree looking at the grass or clover that is growing there, you might look for signs of rabbits or squirrels that might be eating the grass or clover there. Then, follow the small trail you might see that goes into the small bushes nearby. Chances are is that small consumers that might eat the clover will approach from the closest area of cover, so by looking there, you will find a link. Then peer inside and see if you can find the trails those animals might use. Also look at the ground under the clover/ grass and see if there are consumer trails there such as those of voles or even insect trails that are under the cover of the grass. You are finding links that are ecologically and logically connected to the grass or clover. 
You could also begin with the Sun and then follow it anywhere! Or start with a producer and follow it through the food chain to a decomposer. Look nearby a tree and see what is going on below the tree with new growth, decomposition, predators and prey living under there. Pick a starting point and follow the linked trial! Enjoy the exploration! 

Websites to checkout: A site for a new short movie about getting kids reconnected with nature! 

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One of the trees seen in Jurassic Park!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears oh my!

( One of Nature's ways of saying "Do not touch"!)

In a previous post on the Three Sisters of Itch, I mentioned that Jon Young strongly suggests becoming knowledgeable about the plants and animals in your area that pose a hazard to you. It is a wonderful suggestion for at least two reasons; first, it is good to know what can hurt you, and second there are fewer things out there that are hazardous then are benign or helpful. So in this posting we are going to explore a little about some of the things in our environments that we should be aware of while exploring what is out there. This is by no means an exhaustive list, it is a primer of some of the more common, and potentially harmful plants and animals that you might encounter outside.
Let's start with the animals. A general concept is that most of the animals you see in the wild are just that, wild. Just because they are cute, does not mean that they star in a Walt Disney movie. Megafauna like Deer, Coyote, Elk, Moose, Bison, Raccoons, Porcupines, Bears, Armadillos, Horses, Cattle, and Mountain Lions, to name a few, should be treated with great respect and caution. They are wonderful animals that should be viewed from a distance and not annoyed. Ever year people are mauled or killed by some of these animals because the people wanted to get close to animals that are wild. As a result, most of the "offending" animals are killed by authorities for the actions of the people injured.  
First a bit on terminology. Animals-snakes, spiders, and many insects have venom, and are venomous. Plants can be poisonous. Now onto some of the wee-beasties that might cause you some harm. But first a quick side note, Shorttail and Common Shrews like the unknown number of insectivorous mammals are venomous. It is in their saliva, but the concentration is not strong enough to be a concern for humans. and Armadillos have been known to carry leprosy on their skin. So, do not pet the Armadillos!
The Reticulate and Banded Gila Monsters. These lizards, along with the Mexican Beaded Lizard, are the only venomous lizards in the world. The venom from these lizards is very potent. There are very few recorded attacks by these lizards in the wild. The recorded ones are from lizards kept in captivity, and up to 25% of those bites have been fatal. There is no commercial antivenin available.
I found 26 species of Rattlesnakes in doing research for this posting! While all the species are venomous, many will not cause death in humans. The bites will really hurt and medical attention should be sought. The Eastern Diamondback is considered to be the most dangerous rattlesnake in North America and considered potentially lethal. Rattlesnakes do NOT always rattle before they strike. Learn if they are in your area, and learn about their habits. 

There are three species of Cottonmouths, or water moccasins, in America. They are the Eastern, Florida, and Western Cottonmouths. The venom of the cottonmouths is very destructive and has caused limbs to be amputated. A good general rule is to avoid all unknown water snakes within the geographic ranges of the Cottonmouths. Seek medical attention if you are bitten by a Cottonmouth.

I found 5 species of Copperheads that you might encounter and they are the Southern, Northern, Osage, Broad-Banded, and Trans-Pecos Copperheads. There are no reported deaths of healthy adults from Copperhead bites. Young children, adults with weak hearts, and the elderly have been killed by Copperhead bites, but these are rare. The bites are painful, and Copperheads can be aggressive. You should seek medical attention if bitten by a Copperhead.  

There are 4 species of Coral Snakes in America. The Eastern, South Florida, Texas, and Arizona Coral Snake. They are venomous, and medical attention should be sought if bitten. Having said that, the only recorded Coral Snake bites have come from people handling the snakes. The Scarlet Kingsnake, and other sub-species of Milk Snake, can be confused with Coral Snakes because of the similar colors. The phrase "Red on yellow kills a fellow. Red on black, venom lack" is a way to remember to help determine if the snake you are looking at is a Coral Snake or a Milk (King) Snake.   

Virtually all spiders have venom. That is how they kill their prey. But the Black Widow is the most venomous spider in the world, and we have it here in North America. They tend to live in dark areas and under debris. If you are bitten by one seek medical attention as there is an antivenin.  

The Brown Recluse spider is a wide spread spider which can be found in houses. The bites are rarely fatal. The bites are painful and can develop into a large, deep area of dead skin cell tissue. The wound may take months to heal and can leave a scar.

There are about 1500 known Scorpion species in the world, with only 25 having lethal venom. Here in the states we have about 70 species of Scorpions. The Sculptured Scorpion of Arizona is one of the Scorpions that does have potentially lethal venom. So seek medical attention if you are bitten by a Sculpted Scorpion.

Many insects like the Saddleback and Io Moth Caterpillars have a mild venom in the hairs on their bodies which produces an irritation or itchy area if you contact them. Similarly, bees, wasps, and hornets have venom but are usually non-fatal unless the person being stung is allergic to "bee" stings. It can be a life threatening situation for someone who is allergic. 

There are many plants out there that will cause you stomach ailments if you eat parts of them. Many are benign, many have medicinal properties. All grasses are edible. They may not taste great but they are edible. Here are some common plants that can cause some harm, or death to humans. Plants can be tricky. Some poisonous species look very similar to species that are really tasty. So, exert caution if you get into using wild edible plants.  

Pokeweed is a tall , stout, large rooted perennial which has gorgeous purple-black berries that are inedible. While children have died from eating the berries, it is actual the roots that are the most poisonous. 

"I drank what?", are the last words Socrates is reported to have uttered after being poisoned by drinking hemlock according to Plato. Both Poison and Water Hemlock are poisonous, especially the roots and seeds. Poison Hemlock root can resemble wild carrots and Water Hemlock can resemble wild parsnip. In both cases one bite of the roots can kill an adult. If you have these it in your area, learn what it looks like. It is actually rather pretty and delicate. The Hemlock plants are very different from the Hemlock Tree whose needles can be brewed into a vitamin C rich tea.
Stinging Nettle has turned many a romp through the woods and fields into a painful and itchy experience. Stinging Nettle often grows in disturbed soils and moist thickets. The stinging usually last about an hour, but can last for days, and is not deadly. Nettle tea is actual very nice to drink and the fresh leaves can be collected and steamed like spinach. The cooking makes the chemical mixture that causes the itching to become inert. It is very tasty.

Make sure you can identify the Three Sisters of Itch in your area! Poison Sumac, Ivy, and Oak can cause a great deal of misery for folks who react to the oils on these plants. Also never burn any of the three sisters as the burning releases the oils into the smoke and then you can inhale the oils into your airway and lungs.  

Mushrooms are a whole other deal. Many mushrooms are wonderful to eat. Others will kill you with one bite. Collecting mushrooms is a huge cultural tradition around the world. Here in California the arrival of the winter rains means that the woods will soon be full of dedicated mushroom hunters looking for a variety of edible fungi. And every year there are deaths around the country from people eating misidentified mushrooms. The Death Cap (Cup) Amanita phalloides is responsible for the majority of deaths from eating mushrooms in the United States and is often called the deadliest mushroom in the world. The Death Cup is a rather attractive white mushroom that looks very innocent. Eating one however can kill you in a few days. It does this by shutting down your kidneys in 2-3 days. So, when it comes to eating mushrooms, you NEED to be 1000% sure of what you are going to put into your mouth. I suggest stick to cultivated mushrooms unless you really dedicate some time into learning about mushroom identification. 

So, that is it for a crash course on some of the things out there that can cause us harm, pain, or even death. I write this posting not to discourage you from your continued exploration and enjoyment of the natural world, but rather to inform you about what is out there. By learning about the things out there that can cause us harm, you are giving yourself and your children knowledge. With this knowledge, you can explore the natural world and keep yourself safe at the same time. The knowledge will also help dispel fear about the "unknown" things out there. It is a great way to help fight Nature Deficit Disorder. Have a blast learning more about our amazing world out there!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Like to move it move it!

( Many animals touch the ground daily)

I was watching the Discovery Channel series LIFE last weekend and I was totally enthralled with watching how primates move! I always enjoy watching animals move in their natural habitat regardless if it is in person or in a video, especially primates and large cats! Every species has their own method of moving that suits them best for where they live. So for this posting we are going to explore moving like animals. So put on your comfy clothes and shoes, do some stretching, and head outside!

You can approach this topic in a couple of ways: inside or outside. If you are inside and you have access to videos of animals moving, you can all sit down and try moving like various animals. Now of course you do not need videos. You could simply pick various animals and try to move like them. I would recommend trying to move like walking animals and not animals charging around at full speed indoors!   

Doing this activity outdoors allows you to negotiate uneven ground, and allows you to incorporate aspects of the natural world like trees, water, high grass, sand, etc. Try and explore a wide range of animals: birds, snakes, mammals, and reptiles. By having kids try and imitate animals they can begin to develop a greater understanding and perhaps empathy for the animals they mimic. In later posts we will explore several games that allow you to "become" various animals or explore animal adaptations. 

I would encourage you to visit a local park or zoo to see how a variety of animals move, and see if you can mimic their movements. Here is another link that provides you with a whole bunch of animal tracks you can use to work on animal behavior and movement. I would also encourage you to make the noises of the animals you are mimicking, it adds a little spice, and might make people around you giggle!

That's it for today! Short and sweet. I hope you had a good Earth day today. And remember, that if we can make everyday Earth day, we can ensure that our great grandchildren have a better world then we have! Have fun moving around! 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Let's go Clubbing!

(A redwood that has had a few issues)

So spring is in full approach in many parts of the country with spring rain, snow, pollen, and warmer temps. It is also a great time to get outside and explore! It's really always a good time to get outdoors! And while you are outside try some Clubbing! Yes, it is time to go Clubbing! No not dancing, but Nature Clubbing! Nature Clubbing is about going out with people and seeing how many clubs you can join. The outdoor education program I work with has a whole bunch of clubs the kids can join during the week. 

As the kids go through the week, they can join the clubs they want to, and even create new clubs. The kids love seeing how many clubs they can join and then asking their friends in other groups how many they have joined. Some of the clubs are easier to join than others. For example, to join the "Dirty Butt Club" all you have to do is sit on the ground. Now for some folks that can be a challenge, but overall pretty easy. The "Duff Shower Club", which involves letting someone hold a big handful of forest duff over your head and let it go giving the person a "shower", can be more of a challenge for people. 
As you get outside this spring, and really anytime, see how many clubs you can join. By looking for clubs to join, you will also find yourselves exploring new areas and hopefully having some fun! So here are some Nature Clubs you and your kids can join in your area:

- The Mud Club: Get some mud on your face.
- The Scat Club: Find as many different scat samples as you can.
- The Phenology Club: See if you can find two plants that are the same that are in different stages of  spring growth.
- The FBI Club: Find and keep track of as many Fungi, Bacteria, and Invertebrates as possible.
- Belly Up Club: Find a tree and hug it and look up for a cool view.
- Burnt Out Club: See if you can find charcoal left from a natural fire.
- Tracking Club: See if you can find 6 different animal tracks.
- Bush Head: Carefully stick your head into a bush and see what is in there.
- Wet Head Club: Find a clean body of water and dunk your head. The colder the better.
-  Dirty Feet Club: Find a nice area and spend some time walking barefoot outside.
- What Good Are Bugs Club: Try and find some bugs doing their work.
- The Hard Core Club: If you have an apple snack, eat the whole apple except the stem and seeds. 
- Funky Tree Club: See if you can find trees, like the one above, that have something unique about them.

You get the point. Have fun exploring and racking up your club memberships. I also encourage you to create your own clubs either before you head out, or on the spot. Also share your club list with other folks and see how many clubs you as a group can join! Have fun out there!

Nature Nugget:
Last week I was watching the Discovery show LIFE and they had an incredibly cool animal. Actually the whole show was cool. The animal they showed is a Pipa Pipa. A toad from Surinam. When the Pipa Pipa mate the eggs are brought to the back of the female by the male and then the female grows a layer of skin over the eggs to protect them! The eggs actually develop into full baby toads under the skin then they emerge. Check out some more info on these cool toads.



Sunday, March 21, 2010

A different perspective.

(A new way to view a flower)

I have been thinking about perspective lately for two reasons. The first is that I got to spend 5 days helping to rebuild some ropes course elements about 2 weeks ago. It was a great time with most of my days being spent 30-60' in the air working in Douglas Fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii). And the second is that I am still watching the remains of the mountain lion kill near where I live. Very different perspectives. 
So talking about perspectives, being in the trees for 5 days was a cool experience and something I have not gotten to do since July of last year. Being 5 stories up in the air does give you a very different perspective to be sure. But the event that had an impact on me was one afternoon I was sitting in a tree about 60' up waiting for a cable to get cut on the ground. As I sat/hung there I started hearing bird calls all around me. A slight chirping chorus all around me. I saw one of the little birds land nearby me. At first I though it was a chickadee. It looked like it had a black cap, and black and white colors on it's body. Then the little one flew into the sunlight and it turned yellow! The shade had dulled out it's yellow color and once it was in the sunlight, it's full color came out! It was a very cool optical trick on my eyes. Talk about a change in perspective! I am not sure about the species, I am still looking in some bird books, but I think based on my look at it for a brief few seconds at about 25' away, that it was a Townsend's Warbler. So for this posting, I am going to send you on a "photo" journey to look for different perspectives.

You will need at least 2 people for this activity. One person is going to be a "camera" and the other is the photographer. This activity is called Camera and is one of my favorite classic outdoor education activities from the New Games Foundation and Joseph Cornell. This activity is a great game to play when you are on a walk or simply in your back yard. It is also a great game to play in and around your anchor spot. 

The photographer guides their “camera” around in search of specific things to photograph. The person being the camera keeps their eyes closed most of the time until the photographer “takes” a picture. When the photographer finds their subject, they position the camera’s lens (eyes) at the object. Then the photographer taps a shoulder of the camera to open the shutter (eyes) and then taps the shoulder again to close the shutter. It might help for the photographer to say “open” and “close” when taking the pictures. Then the pair moves to the next subject. It is important that the camera keeps their eyes closed between pictures so that the 2-5 second “exposures” will have more impact and be a surprise for the camera. Sometimes it is neat to keep talking to a minimum until you both have had a turn and let the "pictures" speak for themselves.

The traditional way of doing this activity is for the pairs to take photos of whatever catches the eyes of the photographer. This is a wonderful way of doing this activity, and you can also try and look for specific things to photograph. Here are some examples you might try: 
Parts of trees, specific trees, the 6 plant parts, rocks, producers, consumers, decomposers, portions of the water cycle, proof of decomposition, tracks.

You can also practice taking close up shots and also big vista shots. It can really create a neat feeling to go back and forth between the two. Or do a series of mirco-close up shots, and then a whole series of marco-wide angle shots. Another great thing to do is to bring a real camera with you and take shots of the pictures you take. Have a blast exploring with your new camera! I also encourage you to seek out natural things to photograph in your house.

Nature Nugget:
(Photos by Liesl Pimentel)

So, to touch base a little with the other event that caught my attention around perspective, lets talk about mountain lions, pumas, rock cats, and cougars! Yeah they are all the same animal. I will preface this section by saying that the puma is perhaps my favorite mega-fauna of all time! I have always loved big cats, and since the mountian lion is the only really big cat  here in North America, I fell in love with it early in life. 

Anyhow, here is some general info about these amazing animals:
Males- 1020-1540mm or 3'3"-5' without the tail up to 6'+ with the tail.   
Females-  860-1310mm or 2'8"-4'3"without the tail and up to 6' with the tail.

Males- 36-120kg or 80-265 pounds.
Females- 29-64kg or 64-140 pounds.

Their weight and length depend a good deal on their habitat and available food supply. The recent sightings in my area place the lion at about 140-150 pounds, most likely a male. They tend to eat ungulates but will go for smaller animals like rabbits, raccoons, etc.

The adults are solitary animals except for the brief period of mating period in December through March in the northern latitudes. A female will have on average 3-4 cubs which are born blind and will stay with their mother for an average of 15 months before separating and finding their own home territory. A home territory ranges in size from and average for females of about 60 square miles and about 100 square miles for males.

There is great concern among many people about being attacked by a mountain lion. The odds are pretty good in your favor. In 13 years-from 1991-2003- there were 73 attacks in the U.S. and Canada with 10 of those resulting in death. 7 of those attacks were in California and 2 of the deaths. Having said that, one piece of advice I can give folks in general about going outdoors, learn about the things that will hurt or kill you. There are fewer of them, it gives you knowledge about where you are going, and it will help keep you safe. A site that has good info on pumas and details recorded attacks and deaths.

 And now you know!

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