One of the things Covid19 has done is isolate many of us from one another. It has also inspired a lot of us to get outside into nature to go climbing, hiking, swimming, kayaking, boating and camping. This is one positive out of this horrible pandemic. I am currently climbing the mountains in Maine and New Hampshire, as well as kayaking and swimming with family here. We are a "pod" and take every precaution during our adventures. It has been a glorious summer with awesome weather! I am truly impressed with the amount of families and others who pass us on the trails. Hiking groups are continuing, now with masks and social distancing, but these are becoming a part of our new normal. When I sit on top of a mountain like Willard in the White Mountains or Pleasant Mountain in Maine, I am amazed at the sheer beauty of our earth. The sounds of birds and crickets, the laughter of little children running down the path, the still quiet in the deep woods, the smells of pine and earth, the majestic changing hues of a sunset over sparkling waters, the broad expanse of stars spread out over the night sky. So put down the electronics and get outside!
I've been thinking alot about planting a "Victory Garden". This is a FUN activity to do with your children during our "Stay at Home" quarantine! I noticed our yard had a large, unused area in front of our house in the woods that MIGHT work as a vegetable and herb garden. I have always wanted to grow a garden again, but normally I am gone so often I could not weed or water it. So this year, forced to be home by the Corona virus, I decided to try my hand at a garden again. The other issue I have is that we live in a thick woodland but last winter we lost three huge oaks to oak wilt, so this opened up a bit of sun for my plot. First step was digging up the soil. UGH! I discovered a layer of huge rocks underneath the ground cover. What? So after pitchforking the rocks up, I lined them up around the garden. Next, I set out to prep the soil. This meant pulling out weeds, myrtle, pachysandra, and grass. Next, I made a trip to a local store for rich, organic soil to mix into the earth. I pulled out a variety of pots from the garage to start my seedlings in. Due to the area being still rather shady, I decided to try beans, lettuce, spinach, brussel sprouts, some herbs, cherry tomatoes (they'll go in the only sunny spot on the porch in a large pot) and snap peas. I'll post updated photos once the weather warms and I can plant everything (after Memorial Day here in Michigan).
Earth day this year is strange and different... Yet these are the times we need to be extremely vigilant. Though some good has resulted in our being quarantined inside our homes such as lower car emissons (fewer cars on the road) and cleaner air due to many shuttered plants, the picture is not all rosy. Legislation is slipping by unnoticed while we are focused on our own survival. Recently, pollution laws have been relaxed to allow coal ash to be poured into rivers and creeks, killing fish and polluting the watershed.https://www.npr.org/2019/11/04/776174139/trump-administration-proposes-relaxing-rules-on-waste-from-coal-plants Now, with a wink and a nod, companies have been invited to disregard air pollution limits (such as limiting the dangerous release of methane and benzene). A March 27, 2020 article in the Guardian reported, " the Trump administration said it will not expect compliance with the routine monitoring and reporting of pollution and won’t pursue penalties for breaking these rules." The worst in my mind have been changes to the Endangered Species Act, allowing for easier destruction of critical habitat for endangered animals. Please do your own research on the current administration and then VOTE this fall for the candidates who will protect our earth and its creatures. This year, every single vote will count! https://www.cnbc.com/2019/12/24/5-major-trump-climate-rollbacks-you-might-have-missed-in-2019.html
We are struggling through an unprecedented time with this world-wide pandemic. One positive change I have seen personally nearly every day is this - people are outside hiking, biking, running and enjoying nature. This is so awesome to see! Today as I jogged around our lake I saw ducks skittering along the shoreline...I heard a loon calling with its beautiful tremolo. I heard tiny chickadees flitting from tree to tree, and I watched sandhill cranes flying overhead. It is so important for our mental health that we get outside (still practicing social distancing) and LISTEN to the earth's creatures, NOTICE the emerging beauty around us, and smell the leaves and damp soil beneath our feet. I know I tend to get "busy" and need to remember to slow down, meditate and be more present in the moment. I am deeply grateful for the beauty of our earth!
If you live near a lake, even just lake access, I highly recommend that you stop using Tru Green or any lawn fertilizer services! Why? Fertilizer runoff enters the groundwater carrying harmful chemicals such as phosphorus that eventually work their way into nearby lakes and streams, causing harm to the water quality. Pishaw you might say! Do the research...check your local lake's water quality...it really does make a difference! Our subdivision's lake, Dunham Lake, has experienced a degradation of quality due to people using excessive amounts of fertilizer (even those without nitrogen and phosphorus) and it is directly affecting the lake. Sadly, people prefer a "perfect lawn" to a clean lake. So let's all do our part! Let a few weeds creep in. Raise the blade a little higher and let the clippings stay on the lawn. Cancel that contract with the fertilizer company. For more info, read the resources on this link: http://www.canandaigualakeassoc.org/get-involved/lake-friendly-living/
Additionally, follow the below step-by-step guide to a healthy, lake-friendly lawn. http://www.canandaigualakeassoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Cornell-lawn-care-guide.pdf
While in Costa Rica this week, I visited an ancient Rainforest in Nosara. This protected space was teeming with wildlife covered by a canopy of huge, ancient trees that were hundreds of years old according to our guide (one was over 600!). I was reminded of America's redwoods and giant sequoias. These massive trees are protected and it is illegal to cut them down, but only within the ecological preserve. As we rode along on our horses, we heard the strange, haunting howls of howler monkeys, beautiful bird songs, and saw multi colored lizards and iguanas, red and black crabs, butterflies and trees with huge, emerald green leaves. After our horseback ride through the forest, we left the preserve and I thought I could hear the distant sound of chainsaws. As we came around a sharp bend, the dense forest opened up and I saw row upon row of hundred year old trees that had just been logged, lining the road. Sadly, they would never grow into the giants we had just encountered. Our code of life must include caring for our earth. Our treatment of the environment around us MUST change, before we lose the beautiful, incredible diversity of plants and animals we have been lucky enough to enjoy. I am reminded of a song by Crosby, Stills and Nash...
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good-bye.
Teach your children well,
Their father's hell did slowly go by,
and feed them on your dreams
the one they pick
the one you'll know by...
As spring brings warm weather and the snow has melted, creeks and rivers are flowing stronger and spring peepers are busy calling for a mate. Thinking of kayaking in this warm weather reminds me of the importance of keeping our waterways and water sources clean and pure. There are simple things we can do to make a difference - from properly disposing of medications (drop them off at the pharmacy or police station) to keeping our waterways clean (don't pour oil or chemicals down drains, sewers or on the ground. They will eventually end up in our water. These can either be taken to hazardous waste day (check your local government website) or take car oil or antifreeze to a car repair facility that can recycle it. Don't fertilize lake lawns but if you must, be sure to use low nitrogen lake-friendly fertilizer OR plant native plants to replace grass. Finally, nothing belongs in the toilet except toilet paper (septic friendly) and human waste. Let's all do our part to keep our water clean and safe! For more information, visit this website: https://www.basementguides.com/water-pollution/ Thanks to Tyler and The Green Teens Club for this important information!
[Photo by Bob Moul}
Monarchs in North America are amazing in that they cover vast distances of up to 3,000 miles during their migration (or rather, several generations of monarchs eventually help complete the journey). Key to their survival are milkweed plants, the caterpillars only source of food. The trouble is many open fields that had milkweed have become subdivisions. Also, farmers spray weedkiller on their fields killing the important milkweed plants - not good for our faithful and beautiful monarchs. Can we help? Certainly. Plant milkweed! Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Lobby for protection of the oyamel fir tree forests and preserves in Mexico. Small steps DO make a difference.
My neighbor thinks he is zapping all kinds of harmful biting insects with his non-stop all night long bug zapper. Sadly, mosquitoes and gnats are not attracted to the zapper, but far too many beneficial insects are! So bugs that eat gnats and mosquitoes such as dragon flies, are zapped when they are just what we need.to naturally eat thousands of the female mosquitos that bite us. Moths are important night time pollinators, important for our flowers and fruit trees. Studies have shown that the vast majority of insects that end up zapped are moths, beetles, fireflies, and other insects that are attracted to the ultra violet light with few being biting insets. Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide we breathe out, NOT to the zappers. Put a strong fan out on the deck or just skip night-time on the deck. Best too not to use any bug zappers - they are not good for the environment!
I think what is most disturbing to me about the current administration (and I will not go into politics here) are the changes to our environmental policies. Believe what you want, but there are real statistics available to us on how our animals, plants, trees, and oceans are being harmfully affected by what we humans have done in the past 200 plus years. First, if you haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth, watch it. If you have no idea what is happening to our climate, seek out vetted news, read and explore scientific information. If you are wealthy enough, visit the arctic circle and watch polar bears and penguins. Travel to Africa and observe poaching first hand. If you are not wealthy (like me) take the time to watch Nature or other shows about what is happening to our planet. I am deeply distressed that our country is not doing everything we can to make a difference for the animals and creatures of our planet. Climate change and things like the hole in the ozone layer (which we DID do something about) are not "fake news". I wish all this was fake news. It is not. Things like melting glaciers, loss of animal populations, and destruction of animals and animal habitat are measurable.
My husband sometimes kids me that I care more about animals than I do about people. Well, possibly... because animals do not have a voice! They can't do the things that need to be done to reverse this dangerous trend. Animals can only try to adjust, not an easy task when natural adaptation or finding a new habitat (if it is even possible) can take centuries... When I see the extensive bleaching of coral reefs, starving polar bears, monocultures devoid of healthy ecosystems, slash and burn farming in the rapidly disappearing rainforests, animal species going extinct - I am not proud to be a human. I am sad.
So of course, there are thousands of websites that offer constructive suggestions for how to make a difference. I suggest at a minimum you do this: Study the views of future candidates and vote accordingly. Teach your children how to care for all animals, how to plant a garden, how to cherish the earth's creatures, how to sit still and watch the wildlife around them, how to be empathetic, how to make a difference, how to live differently. Then do the same!
Invasive plants are a sad reality for Oakland County and all of Michigan. Yet there is good news! Highland Township is spearheading a unique opportunity to treat phragmites (see above photo) and other invasvies in our county. This must be done before the first frost, so Jim Lloyd and Lynn Hansford of the Highland Conservancy have been working with the Lisa Burkhart of Highland Township to GPS target areas for treatment. A contractor will be treating phragmites in the next few weeks throughout Highland Township, now that the paperwork has been completed.
In addition, each of us can educate ourselves on what to look for and how to remove invasives on our own property to help prevent their spread. Why does it matter? We have dandelions and worms and they were once invasive species right? Think of the Asian carp. This invasive fish has taken over a key spot in the food chain and wiped out a lot of other species as a result. Plants like Kudzu may be more familiar but here in Michigan, Phragmites, Garlic Mustard, Swallow-wort and Oriental bittersweet are just as harmful! With plants, we need to be alarmed when that plant turns a local field or forest into a monoculture, overwhelming and destroying that food web. A dandelion will happily live alongside the grass in your yard but doesn’t cause the grass to die out, or wipe out the local population of birds or insects. Not so with invasives such as Phragmites (frag-my-tees), a huge, towering, water-loving reed. It will take over a wetland area wiping out cattails and native reeds that birds and mammals rely on for a food source. This is when we need to step in and fight!
Be careful to do your research. Pulling up a plant like garlic mustard and throwing it on the compost pile or in a ditch can do more harm by spreading the seeds. Also, some plants such as oriental bittersweet or swallow-wort have root systems that need to be completely removed. Each species is different and has a different method of removal. Also, don’t plant invasives as ornamentals such as Purple Loosestrife or a food source for birds such as Autumn Olive or Oriental bittersweet (American Bittersweet is ok).
Finally, if you have Phragmites, contact Highland Township to join in on the latest effort to combat it. Currently there is a grant that will provide for a contractor to remove Phragmites from your yard free of charge, or in common areas in subdivisions, public spaces, and lake areas. Please call Lisa Burkhart at Highland Township immediately (248-887-3791) to arrange to be part of this important initiative!
An excellent guide to terrestrial invasives and how to handle them:
For a good visual with photos of invasive Michigan plants, click on this link:
This is a link to the Michigan Invasive Species Initiative of which the Highland Conservancy is a member:
Here is the Oakland County chapter of this network:
For more information, contact: Emily Duthinh
OC CISMA Chair
Earth day is celebrated every April in Highland Township and Milford, Michigan with a very special afternoon of family fun! On Sunday, April 24, 2015 from noon to 4pm, the Huron Valley Green Team and Carl's Family YMCA off Commerce Road in Milford will host a free earth day event at the YMCA packed with activities for families, children - anyone can attend! There will be face painting, arts and craft activities, dancing, music, free food, free saplings, and the International Academy will put on a "green" fashion show (one year there was a dress made entirely of brochures!). There will be a wide variety of booths such as how to protect your lake's water quality and green building techniques to the "reptile man" with turtles and other reptiles. I might even bring my snake again this year! Finally, winners of the Huron Valley earth day poster contest are given their awards and the YMCA is decorated with dozens of awesome posters created by local students. This is an annual event put on by the Huron Valley Green team so if you missed the fun last year, I urge you to mark your calendar to attend this afternoon of family fun! Below are some photos from last year's event.
EARTH DAY POSTER CONTEST: In celebration of earth day there was a poster contest for all Huron Valley elementary and middle school students. The theme this year was Live Green through the 3R's: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. A wide variety of excellent posters were submitted by elementary and middle school students and many even used recycled materials. Many of these posters will be displayed around the gym, so everyone can enjoy the ideas and creativity of our Huron Valley students.
As an environmentalist, one of the most disturbing trends I am seeing is the widespread destruction of animals and animal habitat all around the world. In just 300 years, our planet has been transformed - and not in a good way for earth's animals! I'm sure everyone has heard about the steady burning down of the Amazon Rainforest. Yet habitat destruction takes place in America too. Gone are the tall grass prairies of the American midwest and the ancient old growth forests that covered America. Habitat is fragmented with each new subdivision and city. As alarming as this is, loss of habitat is only a small part of the picture. There is also the impact of climate change, the explosion of our human population, and the widespread extinction of earth's diverse plants and animals. So what? Who cares? I strongly believe that it is our job to educate our families and children about the importance of every creature in a food chain - to introduce them to nature, plants, flowers, insects, reptiles - and teach them the beauty and fragility of every living thing. It should never be "what's in it for me" rather "how can I help and give back to the earth"?
As an educator of young children, I regularly teach units on animals, trees, food chains, ecology - not just for earth day. We investigate habitat loss, are animals endangered by melting polar regions and warming seas, what happens when animals are hunted for ivory or fur, how important is each animal to the food web? We think about and brainstorm what we can do to make a difference. Simple actions like turning out the lights, using less plastic, or planting milkweed plants for migrating monarchs can help! I invite you to examine the impact you are making on our earth and investigate how you can make a difference. Then teach your children. They are the ones who will inherit this fragile earth.
It was Halloween and as we walked the streets with my sons, it was thrilling and exciting to come upon a lighted porch - candy! Yet each year when Halloween is over, far too many of those welcoming lights are still on, flooding nearby homes with unwanted light. As our neighborhood has changed and car dealerships built a few miles away,far too many bright lights are polluting the night sky. I understand the need for safety, but wonder if a different kind of shielded, diffused light might not be just as effective? Better yet, turn out the outside porch lights and floodlights and instead lock your doors and car for safety. Let's protect our rural atmosphere and enjoy the canopy of stars..
Let me begin by saying I am somewhat biased since I was raised by an avid environmentalist, Audubon enthusiast and scientist - my mother. In her kindergarten classroom, five year olds sorted and classified feathers matching them with actual bird mounts. Her children went on wildflower walks and mixed baking soda and vinegar to make volcanoes. Science was fun! As a Huron Valley art teacher with a minor in science, weaving science into art lessons has been a passion for me as well.
I strongly believe that science is crucial to our understanding and appreciation of the world around us! It has been a disturbing trend in recent years that what is tested too often is the focus of what is taught. Thus, language arts and math have been the primary focus in elementary grades, with science falling by the wayside. On a positive note, I am thankful that our school district (Huron Valley) will be adopting a new science curriculum this year.
So what can we do in the meantime? Children and adults would greatly benefit from time spent outside observing animals and their interactions. I recall lazy summer days lying in the grass watching ants and insects interacting...wondering about ants and how they evolved their intricate societies. There were summer nights my brothers and I lay outside on blankets watching the stars and chattering away about life on other planets. Let's put the wonder back into the lives of our children! Let's encourage them to collect and classify leaves, then make an artwork from them. Let's take them on a canoe trip on the Huron River and watch for different turtles splashing into the water or scan the skies for hawks and migrating sandhill cranes. Nature has so much to teach us, yet it is our charge to instill not just awe and wonder, but also to teach a sense of empathy, reverence and responsibility to the earth and animals around us.
For a good article by Warren McLaren on this subject, visit this link: http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2012/11/12/3629731.htm
For a very interesting NOVA special (which sparked this blog), watch Lord of the Ants featuring Harvard scientist Edward Wilson and his important research on ecosystems:
This is our ongoing blog with articles on the environment, local news and events, and issues related to land conservation.