Friday, March 30, 2012

Richard Louv in New Bedford, Massachusetts

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principal speak at Tifereth Israel in New Bedford. I've quoted Louv here before and strongly encourage you to read his books and check out the Children & Nature Network if you haven't already done so.

Louv had much to say in a little time but I'd like to share some of the highlights.

He wishes there were another word he could use besides "sustainability" to describe what he believes we need to do to keep nature alive and well. He feels sustainability implies stasis- maintaining things as they are. We need to do more. Conservation is no longer enough. We need to create new habitats for ourselves and for other species by re-imagining where we live. We also need to paint a positive picture of a hopeful future.

When Louv gave a talk for a group of students a while back, a young woman stood up and asked him to describe that hopeful future because she "couldn't see it." He did his best to answer. That night he worked his ideas out more and wrote an 800 word essay response.  (It will appear in the paperback version of The Nature Principle). He read it to us last night. There was no way I could get it all down, but here are a few points that really jumped out at me.

Imagine a society in which...

  • the point of education is not rote and drill learning but wonder and awe.
  • natural history is as important as human history.
  • connection to the natural world is seen as a human right.

He further gave us this question to ponder: What would it be like to live in a society that spends as much time in nature as with technology?

Toward the end he offered basic suggestions for ways all humans can reconnect with nature and create new natural places.

The simplest thing you can do right now is plant native species in your yard, rooftop garden, vacant lot next door, etc. Louv and his wife did this in their yard in San Diego to attract native species of butterflies and birds. The great part is, native species are just that- native- so they will thrive exactly where you live with little intervention from you. You don't need to have a "green thumb" to do this. Visit your local, independently owned garden center and ask for advice (not a big box home center). They'll usually be able to advise you. Some nurseries even specialize in native species.

Louv's wife had the idea that instead of giving a little jar of jam to her neighbors each holiday season they'd give neighbors a native plant. Then maybe the neighbors will do the same and soon enough they will have created a wildlife corridor right through their neighborhood, through private land.

We don't need government to act. We just need to act. Through this action, your children will see that they have the power to bring back nature.

Many thanks to the Southcoast Outdoor Network for bringing Louv to our neck of the woods and to Tifereth Israel for hosting. Louv is keeping a busy travel schedule these days so he just might turn up in your hometown. If he does, please make time to go see him.

Related Posts:
Loose Parts Play
Loose Parts Play, Part 2
Loose Parts Play, Part 3
Gardening Without a Yard
Reading the Land

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Herring Are Running!

I hope my regular Travel Tuesday readers don't mind one more day of diversion... I just have to post about something that's happening right now. If you live in Southeastern Massachusetts or on Cape Cod, try to get to a herring run. I've been watching this annually since I was a kid. It's still quite amazing!

Take a look. Can you see how the water is "boiling" with herring (fish that are also called alewives)? Look at those fins sticking up!

They're all swimming upstream, against the river, to reproduce!

Here's the river. Instead of going up that waterfall, they'll go up the man-made fish ladder that starts on the left side of the picture.

Here's the ladder. It gradually rises to water level on the other side of the road the river passes beneath.

These fish successfully made it over this step. It's not unusual, however, to see fish fall back as they get tired from swimming so hard.

Once they get over a step, they can rest a bit on the edges of the ladder where the water doesn't flow as fast.

Here's a video I shot yesterday. It's a bit hard to see, but you can get a feel for how many fish are there.

I sure am glad that traveling isn't as hard for me as it is for these fish!

Have you noticed any new animals migrating in your area? Many songbirds have appeared in our area over the last few weeks. How about you?

You might also like::
Travel Tuesdays: Wood Frogs Are Traveling
Travel Tuesdays: Consider the Health of Our Planet

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lyme Disease Prevention

Since I promote outdoor activities so heavily, I also like to stop now and then to remind folks of some basic heath and safety issues.

Today, a reminder to take precautions against insect-borne diseases. This time of year, in my neck of the woods, the most pressing concern is Lyme disease, which is carried by deer ticks. Experts warn that this year (in the northeastern part of the U.S.) could be a particularly bad year for the disease. The reason: a bumper crop of acorns lead to an overabundance of a particular kind of mouse that is a deer tick host.

The best way to prevent the disease is to take precautions. Wear light-colored long pants and long-sleeved shirts. If possible, tuck your pants into light colored socks. Then spray your clothes with bug spray. (Follow directions on the package). When you return indoors, remove your clothes and check your body for ticks. It's always wise to enlist a family member to help check places you can't easily see such as behind your knees. Deer tick nymphs are really small (like the size of a poppy seed) so check carefully. If you have dark skin, sweeping a flashlight across your skin, CSI style, may help.

I'm not a medical person, so ALWAYS listen to your own doctor, but here are some facts from my kids' Pediatrician:

  1. A deer tick needs to be embedded in your skin for a minimum of 36 hours (probably more like 48 hours) for you to get the disease from an INFECTED tick.
  2. Obviously, not all ticks are infected. 
  3. So... if you find one on you or your kids, don't panic. 
  4. If the tick is "free," simply remove it and flush it.
  5. It the tick is "in," you need to remove it carefully without leaving the head inside. The method that works best for us is one I learned from my child's pediatrician, but again, ask your doctor for advice. Using a wet, soapy cotton ball, make small counterclockwise circles over the tick without lifting the cotton ball. It can take a few minutes, but the tick will come out. Flush it down the toilet. 
  6. Clean the site, then apply antibiotic ointment and a bandage.
  7. If the tick is in a tricky place, such as the ear, having a doctor remove it may be advisable. Check with your doctor.
Please don't let fear of ticks keep you indoors. With these precautions, the risk of infection is minimal. 

In other parts of the world, different diseases and insects are of concern. Learn how to stay safe in your part of the world.

How do you protect your family from insect-borne diseases?

Related Posts:
Mystery Rash (Poison Ivy)
Insect Safety (This post, written last year, goes into more detail and provides links to more info).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: A World of Beauty, Charm, and Adventure

My reflection and a submerged frog.
As you know, I've been totally immersed in the wood frog migration around here. I haven't been traveling anywhere far- just hiking the mile and a half round trip from my house to watch those frogs do their thing. Truthfully, I've gotten behind in my blog schedule because I've been so invested in observing and photographing the frogs.

Today, I even saw an otter. An otter! That's the first time I've seen one in that pond, though my dad said he saw one there about 20 years ago.

Usually I prepare my "Travel Tuesdays" posts in advance and schedule them to post automatically. Alas, I have nothing in the queue today. I was feeling guilty about it- I have a blog and a schedule to follow, after all. Then I thought of it this way... aren't I doing exactly what I'm encouraging you to do with your kids? Get outside! See the world! Connect with nature!

And so, I won't share any travel adventure stories today. Instead, here's a travel quotation that fits with my wood frog excursions:

“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” – Jawaharlal Nehru 1889-1964

Boy have my eyes been open this week! (And my ears. And my nose.) If the wood frog migration eventually settles down, I'll be back with a regular Travel Tuesdays post next week. If not, you might need to send a search party out to find me.

What nature adventures have you had this week? The weather in the Northeast has been amazing. How about in your little corner of the world?

Related Posts:
Travel Tuesdays: Wood Frogs are Traveling
Travel Tuesdays: Mark Twain Quotation
Travel Tuesdays: Be A Traveler in Your Hometown or State

Friday, March 16, 2012

Signs of Spring

Spring has sprung here in Southeastern Massachusetts. The signs are everywhere.
Here are a few from my parents' farm taken this morning:

Have you gotten outside lately? What's happening in your neck of the woods?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Wood Frogs Are Traveling

Today, I diverge from my usual kind of travel post, mostly because "traveling" (as in migrating) wood frogs are so cool, I want to tell you more about them!

Yesterday morning I asked my friend to go out on a photo shoot with me. After seeing wood frogs last Thursday, I hoped to see even more. It got cold again over the weekend, so they wouldn't have been out. Yesterday, however, was 70 degrees. Perfect weather for wood frogs.

When we met at the pond at 11:05, there wasn't much happening. We decided to work our way around to the back side where there tends to be more action. After a bit of scouting, we ended up on a bank where the earth slopes gently into the pond.

We both settled in on our stomachs facing the water hoping some frogs would reveal themselves. Finally, perhaps 25 minutes after we first arrived, frogs started to surface.

After a few minutes, I heard a small animal in the brush over my left shoulder. We joked that it was getting closer. Then I heard it behind me. I assumed it was a bird that was flitting around. But then, the sound was coming from several places at the same time. My friend kept shooting, but my curiosity got the best of me. What was making that noise?

As I sat up and turned to look, I saw bunches of frogs hopping to the water, looking slightly out of control, like they might crash at any time. I laughed out loud and told my friend what it was.

They continued to hop down the hillside for several more hours. Two hours after they really started migrating, literally hundreds were in the water.

The hopping frenzy continued. One landed on my friend's leg.

Then on a camera bag. One hopped into my back then let me gently pick it up before it hopped into the water. The two of us just kept laughing at the sight. I've witnessed this before, so you'd think I'd be a bit jaded, but it's still exciting.

We spent nearly 3 hours out there. Then, I went back to get my kids from school and brought them out. By 4 pm, very few frogs were still hopping out of the woods but we did see a few. We saw more frogs in the water mating by this time, though.

And what did my kids do? Climb out on the same trees I was on earlier in the day. At least they come by it honestly! 

Have you ever seen wood frogs migrate? How about spotted salamanders? Or is there an animal native to your area that migrates that you'd like to tell us about?

You might also like:
The Big Day
No Eggs Found
Big Day for Wood Frogs

Friday, March 9, 2012


Ok, so yesterday morning's post started out pretty bleak. I was having a tough time dealing with the fact that logging has destroyed much of the wood frogs' habitat near our house. But, I didn't give up on those little guys.

Yesterday afternoon was a warm 61 degrees here- perfect wood frog weather. I grabbed my backpack with my camera, water, and notebook and headed out to the frog pond.

I rushed past the cleared parts straight to the pond. Upon arrival, I saw a little movement near the water's edge. As I crept closer, a tadpole (or as I prefer to call them... a polliwog) darted away. (It was probably a bullfrog because it was BIG!) I sat down to wait and watch. Little by little, my ears picked up on a faint clucking sound on the other side of the pond. I know that sound! I tramped through the brush to the other side.

Along the way, more evidence of life continued to present itself:

Squirrels' midden
Deer droppings
That fungi we call turkey mushrooms because they look like turkey tail feathers.
I crossed an old stone wall- evidence that the area was once open fields.

As I got nearer to the pond's edge, the clicking sounds grew louder. Then, as I emerged on the bank, it stopped. They knew I was there. I watched them scatter toward the area I had just left.

I worked my way over to a tree that had fallen into the water. I walked out onto it and just sat. And sat. And sat. And then they went back to business as usual and revealed themselves.

(It was really windy yesterday , so I wasn't able to capture any good video with sound. But my first ever blog post has terrific sound. I hope you'll hop over and listen to The Big Day).

As if I weren't happy enough already, a bat (yes... A BAT!) swooped down low to the water, skimmed the surface and flapped back up. It came through, back-and-forth several times in the erratic way that bats fly. I tried to get a photo, but bats are just too erratic to get a good shot. Here's my best photographic evidence:

You can see it, right? In the top middle? Seriously... a bat at 1:00 in the afternoon-just out getting some lunch! 

So, while the lessons I received from nature on Wednesday were subtle, yesterday's was a big exclamation point: nature will continue!

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Help Build Children's Connections to Nature.

NOTE: I wrote this post this morning (Thursday) and scheduled it to be posted tomorrow morning. This afternoon, there were more signs from nature for me. I'll share them tomorrow, so please come back for brighter news.
*         *           *
I've been struggling to write this post for several weeks. I've wanted to share an important nature experience, but it's not a positive one. And this blog is supposed to be about positive experiences in nature.

On Wednesday afternoon, I grabbed my camera and notebook and headed out in the woods hoping to find the positive message I needed. As always, nature did not let me down.
*           *           *
For weeks, my husband had been telling me that I needed to go walk the trail to the frog pond. He told me there had been logging going on and I really needed to see it. Not surprisingly, I didn't jump at the chance. Destruction of nature is not what I want to see. Finally, about a month ago, I walked that trail. As I approached the area, I stopped cold. My chest tightened.  I felt my face pinch tight as I tried not to cry. I held my breath a few moments and then I did cry. The devastation was overwhelming. All of the hardwood trees had been cut out.

Giant wheels had mashed the mound of soil where my favorite little clump of violets bloomed each May.

The corner where only dappled sunlight used to reach the forest floor blazed bright. The decaying log covered with the "turkey mushrooms" my kids and I love so much, gone.

I continued to the hill where the wood frogs winter over and found this:

Squishy machinery tracks beneath my feet made me wonder what happened to the wood frogs. Would vibrations have driven them out or were they too deep in their winter slumber to move? Were they crushed while they slept?

I couldn't take it. I turned and walked home.

I returned with my children a few weeks later. The weather has been ridiculously warm this winter. The wonky weather caused snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils to bloom weeks early. Maybe some wood frogs would be out.

I don't know why, but I didn't tell my kids about the logging. I wish I had. I SHOULD have.

As we rounded the bend and saw the results of the logging, my son stopped his bike and just stared. My daughter stopped walking. Her shoulders stooped. Her face crumpled and she cried, "I don't want them to cut down the trees." She completely fell apart sobbing. My son said, "I'm mad!"

I didn't know how to comfort them. For children, what is the upside of a treasured natural landscape being demolished for human consumption? I did my best. I expressed my own sadness and hugged them tight.

But my daughter never recovered that day. Her shoulders remained slumped. She was whiny. She cried at the simplest thing. My son was quieter than usual.

I've been looking for the positive. As I sat there beside our beloved frog pond yesterday, nature brought me the answer. (I sat in a different spot than usual- a place where the devastation was not in my view). It wasn't the answer I was hoping for- no frogs are out- but in just 15 minutes time, three little animals visited me: a common house fly, a daddy long legs, and another little fly (I don't know what kind).

What were they telling me? Life continues. Our forest will continue to grow. Sun-loving pioneer trees- white pines- will sprout in the sunny cleared patches. Over time, those pines will grow so tall that they'll choke out the sunlight. Then shade-loving hardwoods- maples, oaks, and beeches- will grow in their shadow and eventually become kings of the forest.

Maybe some day, 100 years from now, my descendants will walk through the forest to our frog pond to watch the descendants of the wood frogs I love so much come out of their winter slumber to mate.

This, I hope. And it will be true if we take the time to bring our children to natural places. My kids love that landscape, and with that love comes a desire to protect it. They are our future. Your children are our future. What can you do to reconnect them to the earth that provides their food, their shelter, and the air they breathe?

Please, get your kids outside. Let them play. Let them explore. Let them love nature.

Related Posts:
Reading the Land

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Mark Twain Quotation

Hyderabad, India

Today, a little food for thought from Mark Twain.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."
                                                                        ~ The Innocents Abroad

I couldn't have said it better myself. He is Mark Twain, after all.


How might you ensure that you and your children get out of your "one little corner of the earth?"

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Encourage Free Play and Tinkering

One day last week, my kids were disappointed because  a scheduled playdate had to be cancelled.  The weather was beautiful, so I sent them outside to ride their bikes. After about 20 minutes, I realized I didn't see their bikes whizzing back and forth in the driveway so I went outside to investigate.

This is what I found:

They were trying to rig their bikes together to create a bicycle built for two. Some people might have been concerned about kids disassembling a bicycle, but I was pretty excited they were working together to create something new. And really, why can't they take their bikes apart? Plus, I trust my son not to do anything that will endanger his little sister (at least not too much).

I left them to work but kept my eye on them from inside.

When they were unsuccessful in getting the mechanical connection to work, they tried using ropes. First one, then two. Here they are trying it out.

Alas, they were unable to make it work. 

How much did I contribute to their efforts? Nothing. Basically, I stayed out of it and let them problem solve. All I did was give them permission to get a rope from their father's supplies and remind them to keep all of the nuts, bolts, and tools together so they wouldn't lose anything. They kept at it for several hours. Even a sudden rainstorm didn't bring them in. 

I know my son is still working this around in his mind planning new ways to hook the bikes together. I can't wait to see what they build this weekend.

How have you encouraged your children's free play and tinkering? 

UPDATE 5 March 2012: 
Two blog readers suggested related links over on Facebook:
  1. Julie Littlefield Leonard (whose unschooled kids tinker all the time) suggested Tinkering School. From their website: "Gever Tulley founded Tinkering School in 2005 in order to learn how children become competent and to explore the notion that kids can build anything, and through building, learn anything."
  2. Anton Neilsen (a tinkerer who, among many other things, built a plane and later flew it) suggested Home-Built Tandem Bikes.
So far, my kids haven't succeeded in making a tandem bike. But, yesterday my son built this:

Because what else is a kid to do when he has two bikes he can't ride due to flat tires? 

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