Rattlesnake Rescue, Rattlesnake Ranking

On the heels of accidentally bringing a rattlesnake into our home as it slithered into our wind dried carpet, my wife Rene was out in the garden the other day only to hear the unmistakable sound of a rattling reptile.  I went out to take a look only and noticed that the poor creature had entangled itself in our veggie-protecting netting.

Rattlesnakes remain of the most unloved animals in our country.  There are rattlesnake roundups, folks that will go out of their way to crush them with their automobile, and if one  snake finds its way anywhere close to a house, the legless one is immediately destroyed.

When it comes to wildlife, we have our distance fear factor.  Seeing creatures in a national park or elsewhere bring the threat response level way down and perhaps the appreciation level way up.  The closer to home a coyote or skunk or snake comes, the less it is tolerated.

I felt bad that I was responsible for the rattlesnake’s plight so I located the smallest set of scissors I could find and started gently and carefully! removing the first of three loops that prevented the snake from retreating.

Snakes help save the lives of millions of people every year, as their venoms are being used to treat many serious health ailments like cancers, heart & stroke disease, Parkinson’s disease among others.  Fascinating research from Minnesota shows that rattlers reduce Lyme disease because they prey upon the Lyme disease source: mice.

A University of Maryland grad. student used published studies of timber rattlers’ diets at four Eastern forest sites to estimate the number of small mammals the snakes consume, and matched that with information on the average number of ticks each small mammal carried. The results showed that each timber rattler removed 2,500-4,500 ticks from each site annually.

As I removed the second of the mesh binds, the snake  seemed to sense that freedom was close and its squirming increased as did the rattling.  The last mesh piece was close to the snake’s head and the odds were high that I would be bit after removing the constriction, so I placed a small wooden board on the snake’s head and made my snip.

The snake made its way out of the garden.

If you wouldn’t mind dear reader, please rank the following animals as most liked to least liked and I’ll publish the results in my next Blog.  Thank you!

Rattlesnakes, ticks, deer, spiders, wolves, mountain lions, mosquitoes, bats, and wasps.

 

I love my rattle  I shake it for fun

I shake it as a warning  Not to bite anyone

So, tell all your friends

Please don’t hurt me I’m a vital part of

The E-cology

Compassion — compassion, compassion, compassion

Compassion — compassion, compassion, compassion

Really need compassion —compassion, compassion, compassion

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Little Parks, Big Wonder

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe most frequented public parks in the United States are not our national treasures.  Since 1634 when Boston created the first city park, people have been flocking to local recreation areas (400 million visits last year, 40 million folks enjoying New York’s Central Park).

We now have dog, Frisbee, skateboard, tennis courts and playground featured parks by the thousands.  City parks are still mostly acres of lawn which require untold maintenance dollars, play structures, recreational facilities and hopefully a few trees though rarely native species.

What city parks seem to lack are imagination and opportunities for wonder.  In Hood River, Oregon, city planners invited young people to design their own outdoor apace and voila!, Children’s Park became a reality.  In a distant Atlantic Ocean island, the city park in Ponta Delgada, Azores, gnomes breathed a magical world into existence.  The entrance to the Borges Garden initially alerts the visitor to same old – same old as the gravel path takes the visitor past lawn, a few shrubs, no shade and no interest.

Then the surprises start.

The trail arcs downward and suddenly one has entered the Shire! Did they film the Hobbit here?!  Caves, grottoes, stone windows to wonder invite children of all ages to explore and discover.  City sounds disappear replaced by joyful oohs and aahs.

And surrounding voices of birds,  even bats darting through the trees.  A pond of ducks awaits as well as one of the most awe-inspiring trees in existence, a gargantuan Moreton fig.  This gnarled giant extends its roots 50 feet away from the trunk as overground tunnels.  The monarch is impossible to resist. It is Shel Silverstein’s giving tree that is an old growth forest unto itself.

We have had 400 years to perfect local public places, and we are fortunate to have many city-run open spaces against the concrete backdrop.  In the future we could use a little more tree-lined parks of natural diversity and little less focus on recreation.~

 

 

 

Large Living Trees

“A chorus of living wood sings to the woman: If your mind were only a slightly greener thing, we’d drown you in meaning.  The pine she leans against says:  Listen.  There’s something you need to hear.”

Richard Powers from his most amazing book, The Understory

Everything from an old growth forest filters down.  Yes, all food chains begin with the Sun but the fun begins when the carnivores start the process from the top.   Sunlight is the engine that permeates every leave and needle, and then for a special effect shines magically and  ethereally through the canopy to the forest floor.  Lichen, and you’ll love this name (bladder wort), spiral to the ground during winter storms providing Manna from heaven for a myriad of hungry mammals.

While the focus of growth is skyward, the next generation is eyeing the soil.  Acorns plop, maple seeds whirlybird, and innumerable wisps of seeds attaching to their own hot air balloons are the original windsurfers.  Squirrels, jays and a host of diggers will bury other gifts, and a new generation will be born.

Almost all of the world’s coniferous forests are young’in trees, less than 15 inches in diameter and growing side by side thousands of even aged living poles.  The wildlife habitat value offered by these stands is minimal as diversity is limited.  In an old old forest, there are a million creatures in a handful of soil.  Large animals require large trees for feeding, resting, nesting, and perching.  A tree has grow high and wide before it brings meaning to the world.

And then there is carbon sequestration. The process whereby CO2 is captured from the atmosphere and stored for indefinite or long periods of time is known as carbon sequestration.  Until recently it was believed only young forests sequestered atmospheric carbon in early growth and that old-growth forests were only sinks in which the carbon was stored. Recent studies have identified that intact old-growth forests continue to take up carbon from the atmosphere even past the point at which they reach maturity. By measuring growth rates, researchers have identified that carbon sequestration in trees increases continuously because the overall needle or leaf area increases as they grow, enabling bigger trees to absorb more carbon from the atmosphere.

Large trees believe in life after death.  When they turn into snags, their biological and chemical defenses are gone and the hordes of micro and macro creatures stream in.  It is hard to believe that there is more life in a dead tree than a live one.

Visiting ancient forests is a quieting experience.  We humans are small when we walk among the leviathans.  While life abounds there, somehow everything is hushed in respect and wonder. Spend some time with the wondrous Ents this summer ~

 

 

Celebrating Spineless Wonders or No Bones, No Problems!

There are 15 million known species of invertebrates on our blue planet (only 4,500 kinds of we living mammals with a ‘spine.’)  To put it another way, spineless wonders make up 99.5 of all animals.  These tiny life forms are the most feared of wildlife, Arachnophobia being the 3rd most common of all phobias in America. Considering that there are at least 4,000 known spider species living in the United States, it’s not hard to see why so many people get upset about finding a spider in the house.

There are many benefits of spiders. These eight leggeds eat insects. The fact is that spiders keep the numbers of bloodsucking, disease spreading, crop destroying pests under control. That is something we can all appreciate.

Spider venom has the potential to act as a safer painkiller, and may be able to treat strokes, and muscular dystrophy. The silk spiders use to spin webs is one of the strongest materials ever discovered. The tensile strength of spider silk is comparable to high-grade alloy steel.

We probably can’t imagine being a body of jiggling organs held in place only by an outer shell.  This exoskeleton is made of chitin known for its tough elastic properties. Although chitin is the dominant constituent, other compounds such as proteins and calcium carbonate also play a crucial role in the formation of exoskeleton. The main function of this chitin is to keep the inner soft tissue safe from any sort of injury.  Most importantly, it prevents these delicate tissues from becoming dry, acting as a watertight barrier against dehydration, which is crucial for their survival.

 

Yes.  Invertebrates are vastly beneficial as vital ecosystem cogs. Especially bees.

The most distressing (of too many sad environmental news stories) blared “Winter was not kind to our honeybees.”  An annual nationwide survey revealed the biggest seasonal die-off our country has ever seen.  A whopping 35% of the world’s food crops rely on pollinators to reproduce, while according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), bees pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the United States. One out of every four bites of food people take is courtesy of bee pollination which is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year.

Helping bees locally is as simple as planting lavender.  Currently, our small lavender plot is in full purple splendor and every flowery stalk is being visited by bumblebees, honey bees.  It seems like every pollinating insect has shown up.  Another lavender bonus is that it is one of the mighty few ornamental plants that deer will not eat!

The national, Portland, Oregon based organization that promotes insect conservation is called the Xerces Society.  To donate:  membership@xerces.org

 

Going with Nature’s Flow

Morel Mushroom Picking in the Methow

With most vacations to destination resorts or hotels, places hemmed in by schedules, it may be difficult to change plans when the unexpected occurs.  Time spent outdoors can be different if one is adaptable to the vicissitudes of a natural world that has its own agenda, circuitous ways and plenty of surprises!

Memorial Day weekend is an interesting time to explore the Pacific Northwest if one is seeking uncrowded campsites.  For the past 22 years Marc, Peter and I have had great success finding free overnight natural nooks and crannies that are always located through patient wandering discovery.  We were successful again this year as we drove through a misty Okanogan Forest in north-central Washington.  I had never camped in a burnt forest before and as much as I believe in the ecological beauty and restoration of fire, spending a weekend surrounded by tree skeletons was an aesthetic challenge.  Still, life thrived through the ashes as insect whir and accompanying avian melodies kept us company.  A spruce grouse sauntered boldly up to us one evening.  Not happy with sharing its realm, it kept circling us pausing to nip and peck at our boots!

We would have been content to spend our time sitting and relaxing, but unexpectedly, we found mushrooms….hundreds of them…morels popping through the ground along the blackened logs, burned out stumps, and practically everywhere.  Nature can sometimes disappoint when one seeks a mountain view on a cloudy day or encounters swarms of mosquitoes at the lake, yet whenever we looked for mushroom treasures, they appeared.

The rain transformed to sun on Sunday so we headed toward a trail head in the Pasayten Wilderness.  Continuing our time in the post-fire forest, there were no mushrooms here at 5,400 feet in elevation.  Instead, the mountains came alive with wildflowers at our feet and flocks of  birds singing to our souls.  Without needled branches, views were more expansive.  The waterfalls seemed closer.  And on a picture perfect holiday weekend, we followed the trail as long as we desired…alone, unencumbered and carefree.  ~

 

Beyond Observation

“Shut your eyes and see.”     –James Joyce

I had never seen so many people and cars at the Rowen Point Overlook this afternoon.  Spring wildflowers at their peak coupled with world-class views of the Columbia River on the year’s first 80 degree weekend day (and a promo article in The Oregonian no doubt added to the crowds).

Throughout the Columbia River Gorge, today (and the last few weeks) have been a feast for the eyes.  Yet, are we missing the full experience if we only view the flowers and capture views from a camera lens?  The perfume of wildflowers is the perfect partner for their visual magnificence!  To walk along a riparian area when the mock orange are in bloom.  And in more domestic realms, lilacs may be the best indoor plant to lift anyone’s spirits!

Unlike our other sense smell needs no interpreter.  A scent can be overwhelmingly nostalgic because it triggers powerful images and emotions before we have time to edit them.  Research reveals that smells stimulate learning and retention.  When children were given olfactory information along with a word list, the list was recalled much more easily and better retained in memory than when given without the olfactory cues.

Spending many days at the Sandy River Delta last week with students, one of the activities we offered was called “Find Your Tree,” where one person leads a blindfolded partner to a tree and the second child spends as much time as possible  getting to know their tree with through touch (and perhaps smell) alone.  The blindfolded person is led back to the hub area, blindfold removed and then proceeds to try to locate the tree….which occurs almost 100% of the time.

Skin is beyond amazing.  It gives us individual shape, protects us from invaders, cools us down or, produces vitamin D, can mend itself when necessary, and is constantly renewing itself.  Weighing from six to ten pounds, it is the largest organ of the body.

It is true that when one sense is lost, the others are heightened.  It is also true that when our senses are combined, they are more than the sum of their parts.  When we are in the natural world our senses want to be put to use.  Try to find ways to open them all as you walk down the wildflower path with a picnic basket in your arms.~

 

 

 

Readiness

Imagine you are a cicada egg!  You have 17 years to get prepared for the big emergence (Some cicadas have it easy and only stay underground for 13 years).  You are first an egg placed in the woody part of a stem.  Somehow you find your way down the tree and into the ground within two feet of the surface.  How incredible to have at least a decade to meditate, eat, grow, get to intimately learn about the soil.  Then, when the soil temperature reaches 64 degrees you emerge, in full readiness for your brief life as an adult.  The insistence of life.

Mayflies really have to know what to do as they only live one day as an adult!

It is difficult to predict when spring will arrive — or any season really.  The non-winter of 2018-2019 unexpectedly shook off its temerity in February and blustered its way into the Gorge for seven full weeks bequeathing three feet of snow on the nearby hills.

Except for the robins who magically (and prematurely?) flocked in just before the snowfall only to re-appear a few days ago, the multitudes of flora and fauna seemed to bide their time, and after perking their ears to the season’s overture, are now courting, nesting, breeding, exploding in numbers, while also hunkering down in brand new homes. Perfectly timed to the spring symphony.

On cue, our brown meadow blob erupted into Oz green.  Blooms exploded in riotous color.  Buds, velvet seeds, sprouts, stalks, stems, spores are all elongating rapidly in all ways possible and expanding their size and territories.

Bees are frenetic in high buzz and a flock of 30 wild turkeys gobbled their joy, wobbling their way in front of our home.

My garden is two months late in planting…but who knew?  Who can ever know what surprises a season may bring  ~

 

 

 

The Envelope Please

In celebration of International Women’s Day

In all the 118 years of the Nobel Peace Prize, only 15 women have ever been honored.  The first woman to win the prize for environmental reasons, as a result of stunningly successful tree planting projects in Kenya was Wangari Muta Maathai.  The second person to receive the Nobel for environmental work was Al Gore.

World renowned primatologist and conservationist Jan Goodall has been nominated this year.  Ms. Goodall is certainly an outstanding choice as she is considered the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees after her 55-year-long study on the wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, but she’s also a dedicated advocate and activist on behalf of animal welfare and conservation causes. Her discovery of tool manufacture and use among the chimps led her to argue that “we’re not as different from the rest of the animal kingdom as we used to think.” Today, the Jane Goodall Institute works with people around the world to develop a greater understanding of how we can help humanity while still protecting the natural world.  Ms. Goodall’s Roots and Shoots project funded environmental education in the Columbia Gorge.

I also would like the Nobel Committee to consider Dr. Jean Cypher who created and tirelessly works at the Rowena Wildlife clinic.   The Rowena Wildlife Clinic in Mosier, Oregon was founded in 2000 by Jean Cypher. Dr. Cypher, a 1991 graduate of Washington State University, envisioned a charitable organization along the Columbia River Gorge that could aid wild and domestic animals and foster friendly relations between the human community and their animal neighbors. No injured wild or domestic animals are ever turned away and Dr. Cypher never charges for her surgery and post operative care.

Have you heard of Sylvia Earle? This groundbreaking American marine biologist and oceanographer, who was Time Magazine’s first Hero of the Planet in 1998, is known by her fans as the Sturgeon General! Sylvia Earle set a women’s depth record for suit diving and has helped design research submarines, but she is most well known for her advocacy for protecting Earth’s oceans. In 2009, she used money from a TED Prize to found Mission Blue, a non-profit dedicated to creating protected marine preserves around the world. Earle is also a best-selling author whose writing is increasing public awareness of the ecological importance of the ocean, which she calls “the blue heart of the planet”. And to the delight of her fans both young and old, last year LEGO created deep sea exploration building kits that are inspired by her work — and will inspire the next generation of ocean protectors.

Winona LaDuke learned early in her life about the challenges facing Native Americans: her father, an Objibwe man from Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, had a long history of activism relating to the loss of treaty lands. Within her tribe’s traditional connection to the land, she also saw the potential for a new model of sustainable development and locally-based, environmentally conscious production of everything from food to energy. Her non-profit the White Earth Land Recovery Project  has revived the cultivation of wild rice in Minnesota, and sells traditional foods under its label Native Harvest. She’s also the co-founder of Honor the Earth that provides grants to Native-run environmental initiatives. “Power,” she says, “is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.”

Like many girls in Gambia, Isatou Ceesay was forced to drop out of school at a young age — but that didn’t mean she was oblivious to the environmental challenges around her. The colorful plastic bags that she used to admire were now gathering as trash all over her village, injuring livestock, helping mosquitoes breed, and strangling plants… and unlike the woven baskets her community was used to, they never decomposed. So in 1997, Ceesay founded the Njau Recycling and Income Generation Group. This revolutionary community recycling initiative turns waste into wealth: women collect the recyclable materials and bring them to a center where they separate out the plastics and upcycle them into bags, mats, purses, and more. Today, she is known as the “Queen of Recycling in The Gambia” and over 100 women gain income thanks to Ceesay’s organization. You can learn more about her program or buy a bag at One PlasticBag.com

And the winner is….

Light is Life

“Ô, Sunlight! The most precious gold to be found on Earth.”
Roman Payne

How is it that we live on a medium sized planet that just happens to be 93 million miles away from its light source and situated at that astronomical distance, Earth is perfectly positioned to receive life-giving illumination and warmth?!  So sorry Mars and Venus.

Most every living thing on our depends on light to exist. While a few animals somehow persist in pitch darkness for long periods, life on Earth both needs and appreciates the light.  All of the terrestrial and sea-based food chains start with the Sun and are based on photosynthesis.  We teach, “The sun is the source of energy for living things.” Our spiritual well being is soulfully connected to the appearance of each dawn’s sun.  With nearly two feet of sun currently blessing the ground outside our door, knowing that it is mid-February and that the amount of day light is rapidly increasing takes away any possible winter chill.

Light bathes our world in many miraculous ways.  I’ve seen the ocean’s phosphorescence light up the surf.  I long to see the Northern lights. Harnessing lightning brought us fire.  Animals can somehow drum up the light as well.  Once when we were walking back from our neighbor’s home, halos on the ground revealed our first ever glow worm sightings.   And to anyone reading this Blog in the eastern United States, your summer delight is the nightly firefly show.  With the help of bio-luminescent proteins, glorious jellyfish can create the most beautiful underwater scenario as they emit an otherworldly glow. And we might be awestruck viewing the sea sapphire, a small, parasitic crustacean. Tiny and transparent, this creature is found in the marine environment all over the world. These animals don’t glow: they sparkle due to their iridescent, crystal plates inside the epidermal cells which catch light and reflect it back.

Sensing changes in daylight is a major trigger for bird migration, while the constellations guide their flights.  When blindfolded for an hour each autumn day, snowshoe hares turn white earlier in the season than do un-blindfolded rabbits, so intricately attuned to the waning light

Thank you Guy Murchie for your profound book Seven Mysteries of Life, where he writes “These are the merest hints at the influence of light upon life and its countless rhythms cadenced so inexorably to the motions of the  celestial spheres.  For, like gravity and temperature, light is as abstract as it is pervasive, and there is no known end to the constituents in its dominion.” ~

 

The Green World 50 Years Ago

People alive in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were witness to the only time in U.S. history where environmental protection was a nationwide priority for citizens everywhere.  That widespread concern prompted politicians to enact the most far reaching conservation legislation in history.  In his State of the Union Address of 1969, President Nixon (yes a Republican) detailed a 37-point message on the American environment that included goals ranging from monitoring motor vehicle emissions standards to halting all dumping in the Great Lakes. President Nixon’s endeavor would lead to creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Almost hard to believe!  This endeavor was the first attempt by any administration to specifically address environmental problems through a newly created, independent agency.  The first Earth Day occurred in 1970 and multi-millions participated.

Today, public interest in the environment is barely a blip.  When it comes to reasons to vote for particular candidates, “the environment” ranks at the bottom.  While global climate change mobilizes  people world-wide, we are light years away from the environmental fervor of 50 years ago.  Still, American viewpoints are finally shifting In 2014, the vast majority (87 percent) of scientists said that human activity is driving global warming, and yet only half the American public ascribed to that view.

Today, over half of Americans (58%) understand that global warming is mostly human caused, the highest level since surveys began in November 2008. By contrast, three in ten (30%) say it is due mostly to natural changes in the environment – the lowest level recorded since 2008.

While positive polling is a good sign, we need to reach out quickly to those 42% climate deniers.  We could start with a flurry of ads shown to the whopping 100 million Americans who will watch the upcoming Super Bowl game!  Imagine what half-time performer Maroon 5’s environmental-centric music could do to change the world! We need teach all children about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to global warming.  While we desperately need lawmakers to enact climate change reducing regulations, in the end, we will need hearts to change to drive deeply the fact that global warming is both an environmental and human-impacting phenomena that requires our utmost attention and lifestyle change work.

My deepest wish is for folks younger than me that didn’t see the sea change of environmental concern 50 years ago to experience not only a renewed Earth Day in the U.S., but also worldwide.  If we can see that day happen, we will turn the world green.