Friday, January 22, 2010

Caregiving: An action and an attitude.

(Muir Woods, CA)

I hope you are all getting out and enjoying nature in whatever way you can this winter season. Over the last couple of days we have been having some really wicked rain storms here in Bay Area. High winds, high surf, and a lot of rain-about 10" here at home in 4 days. Sorry for the delay in posting a new entry, I have been with out power for most of the week. While I was out walking in the woods I was noticing what the storms had done in the woods. There were lots of branches down, small and large trees pulled from the rain soaked ground, and a few small mudslides on the trail. Nature was doing some serious winter cleaning. As I walked this morning with the dogs, I began to remove fallen branches from smaller, still living, trees and shrubs. And it got me thinking about taking care of the word we live in.

Now I am not talking about large scale business or government driven plans here. I am talking about things you can do in your own neighborhood and places that you frequent. Some personal responsibility and local Care-Taking. Helping nature in little ways can be fun, adventurous, and an opportunity to help children develop a positive attitude about caring for the environment. For those of you who have gardens or even plants in your home, you probably do some Caregiving already. You water the plants (hopefully), you remove dead leaves and old flower heads (Deadheading my mom calls it), and some weeding. Well, why not take that same attitude outside and help nature with some Caregiving.

Caregiving is an activity that can be done be itself or in conjunction with other nature activities like Disco Hikes, Creating Nature Art, while sitting in your Anchor Spot, on an FBI hunt, or just walking the dogs. As you are out there exploring, if you see where a fallen branch has landed on a living tree or plant, simple remove the branch-try not to damage the live plant-and then break up the stick to help it decompose near the living plant or tree. You can also remove dead branches or leaves from trees or plants. The organism is no longer providing food for that dead area of the plant, and you can place the dead material at the base of the plant or tree for the FBI to begin decomposition and to add to the nutrient cycle.

Caregiving is not necessarily landscaping. I am not encouraging you to go out and clear out whole areas so they look like an English Garden. I am talking about actions like simply providing a little help removing stresses like a branch that is crushing a plant. Another example of care giving is to mow your leaves into the grass rather than raking them up and then mowing. By mowing the leaves into the grass clippings you are helping the nitrogen cycle keep nutrients in the ground and helping your lawn stay healthy. Or at least use your leaves to start a compost pile rather than sending them to a landfill.

Another way to Caregive is to join a local organization that helps remove invasive species in your area. You can also get involved with a trail restoration group, water way clean up days, or road side trash pick up days. By getting out and looking for opportunities to aid nature in processes that are already occurring, you can begin to build that habit in your kids, and develop an attitude of caring for the natural world. It is also a great opportunity to engage your friends, family, and neighbors and do a little community building at the same time.

A quick little story to end todays entry. About 4 years ago I was in New Jersey for a class. Part of the class was to do some caretaking for a cedar swamp in the Pine Barrens. This area had been logged in the mid-late 1800's and the loggers had left cedar stumps in the creeks and many off them had created jams by gathering lots of brush and silt. As a group we spent the better part of two days in the swamp removing logs and brush and clearing out two springs that had gotten clogged up with slit and mud. It was a wonderful group experience. A day after we had finished our caregiving in the swamp, there were frogs and fish in the areas we had cleared that were not there when we started. It was pretty amazing. I went back 2 years later and the area had continued to be very diverse and clear water was flowing in many of the areas that had been clogged by the logs left in the swamps. A great experience, and an example of caregiving on a slightly larger scale. Have fun giving nature a hand!

Nature Nugget:
As I was heading into town yesterday, I looked down into the valley where I live and it was filled with some great fog rising out of the forest.

It got me thinking about fog and how exactly it is formed and why. So here is what I have found out about fog. In short, fog is a cloud that forms or sinks to the surface of the Earth. The thickness of fog depends on the density and size of the water droplets in the air. And fogs are classified by the processes that produce them. Here are five types of fog for your exploration:
Radiation Fog:
This is the most common form of fog seen over land. It is a cooling fog which usually forms in still moist air overnight. This happens as heat radiates away from the Earth and air cools and reaches a temperature that equals the dew point. Yes Dew Point actually has a use. It occurs most frequently in valley bottoms where cool air accumulates after sinking from hillsides.
Advection Fog:
This is another cooling fog which forms when moist air flows over a cold surface. Most sea fog is Advection Fog. Advection-radiation fog which is also called Ground Fog and is generally only a few feet thick. It can also be called valley fog.
Upslope Fog:
A third kind of cooling fog, Upslope Fog is formed as air is forced upward along a surface and expands as it cools, due to lower pressure and temperature, and the then the water vapor condenses. Mt Washington in New Hampshire can experience Upslope more than 300 days a year.
Steam Fog:
A warming fog that forms as cold air passes over a warm water surface. It is also called sea smoke. As the warming air rises off the water, it condenses as it hits the colder air.
Frontal Fog:
A Frontal Fog, another warming fog, is formed with the passage of a warm air front as warm rain falls into colder air below. The evaporating raindrops saturate the colder air layer resulting in condensation. This fog occurs frequently after a prolonged winter storm.  

And now you know. Now get out there and touch a cloud!

Websites to visit:
 A very cool site of Lily the Brown Bear in MN, in torpor, having cubs on video in her den. At least one this morning! Perhaps two.
An artist who does some AMAZING art with nature! This link was sent to me by a reader of What's Out There.

A great story on how spending time outdoors can help children keep good eyesight.

A website dedicated to Therapeutic Landscape Design from one of our members Naomi Sachs.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Art of Nature.

A great example of living Art in Nature.
(Photo by Leisl Pimentel of Phoenix Zoo fame!)

Nature if full of absolutely amazing patterns, colors, shapes, and forms. I find that when I am taking a walk and I stop for a few minutes, even a few seconds, and look around I see an incredible amount of intricate details. I am constantly in awe of the rich collection of colors that change with the adjusting light, and the seemingly endless arrangements of patterns. So, how can we use this rich collection of inspiration to have fun outdoors, and create stronger connections to the natural world? Well, by getting outside to start with. And secondly, by creating some of your own art in nature.

Now I know that it is winter for all of us in the northern hemisphere and we here in America have been getting some proper and some unusual winter weather. It was 17 degrees in parts of Florida this morning! So getting out in the winter can be a challenge. And a good portion of this activity can be done indoors after a quick exploration outside. And really, doing art projects while drinking hot coco is a ton of fun.

There are a couple of options that come to mind when I think about creating art in and with Nature. The first one is to head outside, perhaps near your Anchor Spot and look for materials. I would also encourage you to explore all around your neighborhood or local parks as well for "art materials". The greater the variety of materials will lead to more diverse masterpieces!

Look for objects that are plentiful. We do not want to over harvest materials and risk harming the long term health of plants or degrading areas that others might enjoy. Some suggestions for materials are: acorns, various leaves both green and dead, twigs, fungi, rocks, pine cones, ferns, bones, feathers, bark, etc. You get the point. Try and collect materials that have a variety of colors, textures, and sizes. I also encourage you to mix materials and combine living plants or organisms with items you bring to a living item. Here is an example of such a mini-project:

I used the growing mushroom as the center piece and then built around it with various leaves from four plants/ trees. I also found another mushroom of the same species that had been knocked off of it's stem by something, and created another little piece.

  For these two pieces I chose to make them outside. However, you can just as easily collect your materials and bring them inside or to another location outside to create your masterpieces. Both of these options work well with one or two kids or even with a large group! Make sure that before you go out and collect materials that you talk with your kids about respecting the plants and other resources that they might choose so that they do not create too much damage to the area you are working in. We will talk more about Caretaking next time.

Another option is to head out with a camera (digital or traditional) and take pictures of patterns that you can find in area around your house. Then you can go home and create some great slideshows or even print out some of your best pictures and put them up in your house. Here are some examples of patterns I found within 50' of the house this morning on my walk with the dogs.

As you continue making Art With Nature, experiment with a variety of sizes, colors, and textures. Send in some pictures of your work ( so others can be inspired by your creativity. Also, if you are in an area with snow or ice, the white can provide a wonderful canvas to create on! Another option besides taking photos is to find items in nature that inspire you and draw them in a nature journal. A wonderful tradition to start might be to do some Nature Art each season, or even every month! There is no end to the amount of things you could create using the wonderful resources nature can provides. Enjoy connecting with What's Out There and releasing your creative skills!

Nature Nugget:
Today the Nature Nugget is an overview of the components of our Atmosphere. This ocean of air envelopes our small planet and provides us with the air we breathe and the colors of our sky. Our atmosphere is not a uniform mixture of material, it is a layered blanket that changes as it moves away from our planet's surface. So here is a basic primer of Atmospheric Explanation.
(Going from the Earth's Surface upward)
Earth's Surface:

Troposphere: From the surface up to around 9mi (15km).
This layer is the lowest, densest, and the thinnest layer of the atmosphere. Most weather occurs in the Troposphere. On average the temperature in the Troposphere drops about 3.5 degrees for each additional 1000' of altitude. At the upper end of the Troposphere the temperature is around -70 degrees fahrenheit. The Troposphere contains about between 80-90% of the mass in our atmosphere including most of the water vapor.
--Tropopause-- The area where the Troposphere and Stratosphere mix and the area of our Jet Streams.

Stratosphere: Up to about 30mi (50km).
The lower parts of the Stratosphere is around the same temperature as the upper level of the Troposphere, but then gradually warms in the mid to high areas of the Stratosphere as there is an increase in the amount of Ozone (O3). This warmer air over colder air inhibits vertical mixing and creates a fairly stable, stratified distribution of air. At the top of the Stratosphere, the temperature is about 30 degrees fahrenheit.
--Stratopause-- Air pressure is 1/1000 of the pressure at sea level.

Mesosphere: Continues up to between 50-56 miles up (90km).
The Ozone Layer here is almost non-existent and heat actually is radiated out into space and temperature decreases with height. At the top of the Mesosphere the temperature is about -130 degrees fahrenheit. This is the area of our atmosphere where meteors burn up when they enter our atmosphere.

Thermosphere: Up to between 350-700 miles high.
Here temperature also raises with a gain in height due to gases absorbing short ultraviolet waves from the sun. The upper Thermosphere has temperatures about 180 degrees fahrenheit. The upper area of thermosphere is where many of our man-made satellites orbit- including the space station and space shuttles. Above the poles in the Thermosphere is where the northern and southern lights or auroras are displayed through energy from the sun exciting gases.  In the Thermosphere is the Ionosphere. This region is where atoms have become ionized by ultraviolet radiation. This is the area where radio waves can be bounced around the world using predetermined angles, eliminating the problem of the Earth's curvature.

Exosphere: Any area above the Thermopause.   

So there you go, that is what's above us at any given time. So the next time you look up, keep in mind all the layers you are looking through. Our atmosphere can affect our view of sunsets, and sunrises and the clarity of stars at night.

If you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them here or email me at:

Until next time...have fun out there!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Anchors away!

(The view from inside an Snow Cave)

Just thought I would share one option of exploration in these winter months! This photo is from a snow cave class I taught last year near Lake Tahoe. Anyway, let's get this year of nature exploration underway! If you are new to this blog, or you have not yet done so, please make sure you can locate the cardinal directions from where you live. Also, discover what watershed you live in, and make sure you can identify harmful plants such as poison ivy, and stinging nettles. Also make sure you are aware of what wild animals might be of concern such as raccoons, coyotes, deer, bees, and skunks.

For this entry we are going to discuss selecting an Anchor Spot for you and your children. If you are working with kids in an environmental education setting, you can at least introduce your students to the concept of a an Anchor Spot. If time permits during your program, perhaps you can have your kids have at least one Anchor Spot experience.

An Anchor Spot is somewhere outside that is close to your house or a place you visit frequently. It is a place where you and your kids can sit comfortably and have a good view of the surrounding area. The spot you chose may be a spot that you already spend time in anyway such as a garden or porch. The idea of an Anchor Spot is to develop a spot where you sit and notice changes in the area around you. For our first visit simply head out and find a spot that you are attracted to or looks like a good spot to sit in. If you and your kids are choosing Anchor Spots together, you can decide if you want to have your spots together or separate. Either is fine.

Once you find your Anchor Spot, have a seat and get to know your area. Look around with normal vision and your Coyote Eyes. Use you Deer Ears and take a few sniffs of the area and see what you notice. Are you sitting in a windy spot, or is it calm? You can also start a Nature Journal, or continue one you already have. You could start by listing the plants and trees in your Anchor Spot. You do not have to list scientific or even common names. Call them whatever you want. We can get into naming things later. Also list any unique things in your area. We will use the Anchor Spot frequently during the next year. If you can, visit your Anchor Spot at least once a week for about 15 minutes. Try and visit it at different times of day just to see what your spot looks like at different times. If you live in a city, or area where you do not have a space outside, choose a spot near a window that provides you with a view of the outside world.

Your Anchor Spot(s) can be used to work on almost all of the activities posted in this blog. It can become an easy place to build awareness of the natural world just outside your back door! So get out there and just don't do anything, sit and enjoy the world around you!

Remember that if you have any ideas, comments, or thoughts please send me an email:

Nature Nugget: The Jet Stream.

Weather in the winter seems to occupy more of our nightly news than other times of the year. Constant reports of record low temperatures, snowfall, rain, sleet, etc seem to dominate the news. For example, it was -37 (without wind chill) this morning in International Falls MN. Now that is proper cold! One factor that is taken into account when weather forecasts are made is the Jet Stream.

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in out atmosphere. The main jet streams are located near the tropopause, the transition area between the troposphere (where temperature decreases with height) and the stratosphere (where temperature increases with height). The major jet streams on Earth flow from west to east. Their paths usually have a meandering shape; jet streams may start, stop, split into two or more parts, combine into one stream, or flow in various directions including the opposite direction of most of the jet. In short, Jet Streams are mobile things!

The strongest jet streams on Earth are the polar jets, at around 23,000–39,000 ft above sea level, and the higher and somewhat weaker subtropical jets at around 33,000–52,000 ft. Both hemispheres have a polar jet and a subtropical jet.

Jet streams on Earth are caused by a combination of atmospheric heating through solar radiation and the Earth’s rotation on its axis. Meteorologists use the location of the jet streams as an aid in creating weather forecasts. The other main relevance of the jet streams to us humans is in air travel. And one future benefit of jet streams could be to power airborne wind turbines. An estimation is that if we were able to capture around 1% of the wind energy in a Jet Stream, we could produce all the energy we currently need. 

The website below has a whole bunch of information on current jet stream movement.

Websites to Check Out:
If you live in a cold and or snowy area, check
out this website from NOAA: