When the Catbird’s Seat is the Bird Bath

June 24th, 2017

 

the bird bath awaits its next visitor

the bird bath awaits its next visitor

   There I sat, at a little table on our balcony, sipping wine and pondering stinkbugs.  Yes, stinkbugs.  Thinking others might share my curiosity about what the infestation of these annoying creatures is all about, I planned to do some research and then publish it on THE EARTH CONNECTION.  

     Then a solitary, distinctive ‘sploosh’ emerged from the late afternoon quiet.  Happy to set aside my joyless research, I craned my neck to see what was going on in the bird bath across the driveway from my perch.  

     Peering around balcony railing slats and between holly branches, I smiled to see an actual bird in the small, stone pool that rests in the grass just yards away.  

     There, in the nest-shaped bath a catbird stood up tall, his bearing almost kingly.  He nearly filled the bath, his private pool for the moment.  Then the dark grey bird’s wings became a blur, stirring up a summery spray of water.   He rose up even taller then, fluttered those wings again, and kicked up more spray.

     But the catbird did not linger in the bath.  After those two flurryings of wings, he hopped onto the pool’s rough stone rim, wiggled his tail feathers, turned, and hopped back into the water.  After another whirring or two of wings, he hopped onto the opposite rim, shook water from his tail, turned, and jumped back into the water.  Then he actually did linger for a bit before darting up to a maple branch, where he completed his ablutions–shaking wings, tail feathers, wings again, until satisfied that he was adequately dry.

     Since that serendipitous moment, I have been watching the bird bath for other visitors.  I have since seen shows put on by chickadees and robins.

     So why do birds visit bird baths?  Do birds need to bathe?  Is it for fun?  Do all birds like bird baths?

     It wasn’t hard to find answers to my questions.  Apparently, all birds need a source of clean water for bathing and drinking.  Hawks, warblers, owls, hummingbirds, and many other species will take advantage of a clean, fresh bird bath.

     I was surprised to learn that a shallow bath is much better for birds than a deep one.  Two to three inches at the deepest is recommended to ensure that birds do not drown.

     I was also surprised to learn about the importance of keeping a bird bath clean.  Stagnant water can harbor an unhealthy concentration of bacteria, which can cause avian diseases.  Thus, an improperly maintained bird bath can be a greater harm than a benefit to birds.

     Here are a few tips for keeping the bird bath clean and healthful for birds:

  • Dump out the old water before refilling.
  • Use the pressure of a hose to help remove slimy build-up.
  • A frequent scrubbing with a scrub brush helps keep the water clean.

    I am going to be paying attention to the bird bath this summer.  And I’ll be keeping it clean in order to entice more birds to come and entertain me.—April Moore

 

 


 

 

Namaste, Wood Thrush

May 24th, 2017
photo by Blaine Rothauser

photo by Blaine Rothauser

     Oh, wood thrush, how I love you.  

     To my ears, your song is the sweetest of all forest sounds.   Yet I almost never see you;  you hide yourself so well, deep among the leaves.  That gorgeous trilling music of yours is the only way I know you are near.  

     Although it is not yet June, you have already broken my heart–both with joy and with grief–this spring.  First, the joy of your arrival, when early on a morning in late April, I heard the clear, trilling notes of your song wafting through the open bathroom window.  ”You’re back!” I thought.  ”I’m so glad you’re here!” What pleasure to stand at that window, eyes closed, taking in the sweet song I had not heard since last summer.

     You weren’t the only wood thrush who had returned from the distant south, for later that very day I heard one of your relatives, musically trilling, as my  friend Leslie and I savored a rare opportunity to meet up and walk together along a forest trail.   Those pure, sweet notes added to the day’s pleasure.

     That day, when I knew the wood thrush was back, reminded of the time their forest music startled me and made me gasp.  It was January.  My husband and I were in Costa Rica, and I heard the wood thrush warbling in the dense tropical forest.  Oh yes, I suddenly realized.  Costa Rica is the ‘south’ where wood thrushes go when our temperate Virginia forest gets too chilly for them in the fall.

     And then there is the grief part of the story I mentioned.  I actually did see one of these elusive birds recently.  But the reason I could see it was a sad one;  it was dead.  I discovered the small spotted body about a foot outside the sliding glass door to our deck.  The little fellow must have been killed by flying into that  invisible yet unforgiving glass door, another casualty of our human desire to enjoy the view.

     The little bird must have died just a short time earlier because it lay so soft and pliant in my hand, not at all stiff.  I placed him gently on the ground, in the lee of a tree trunk.  And since I so seldom see a wood thrush, I took his picture.

photo

     If you would like to hear–and see–a wood thrush singing in the forest, you will find this YouTube video a treat.  Especially fascinating to me is the way the lower part of the beak vibrates up and down to make the trilling sounds.

     And so I say to every wood thrush I hear, in honor of the divine spark that animates it–and all of us– “namaste.”–April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stopped in My Tracks

April 22nd, 2017

IMG_1211 - Copy

     A few weeks ago, on one of my wanderings in the forest down the slope from our house, I saw a sight that stopped me in my tracks.  There, just inches above the ground were what looked for all the world like a pair of tiny breasts!  The two cream-colored globes, complete with perfectly placed, protruding nipples, seemed to have burst proudly from some gauzy-looking material.

     I stood and stared.  Then I noticed another one of these ‘breasts’ a few feet farther down the hill.  Then another and another, all within a small area.

     How could this be?  I have walked in this forest many, many times, in all seasons for 20 years, but have never seen anything like this!  Wouldn’t I have noticed?  Or could these ‘breasts’ have developed only this year, and not before?

     Of course I took pictures of them.  And since I had no idea what they could be, I sent a photo to my friend Chris, who knows far more about forest flora than I do.  She wrote me back, saying that they are likely ‘lattice puffballs,’ or, in Latin, colostoma lutescens.

     Now that I had a name to go on, I decided to do a little research. Chris was right.  These little ‘breasts’ are indeed a kind of puffball.  And puffballs are a type of fungus.  But unlike other forest fungi, such as mushrooms, whose spores are located on the outside of the fruiting body, puffballs’ spores are contained inside the fruiting body, in this case the little breast.

     When the spores inside this puffball mature, all that is needed is a little rain.  The drops exert sufficient pressure on the puffball to force the white powdery spores out through the ostiole, or what looks like the nipple.  Hence, the flecks of white powder I noticed here and there on the dead leaves surrounding the colostoma lutescens.  How I would love to be on hand sometime to see spores spewing from a puffball in the rain!

     I learned that these breast-like puffballs are mycorrizal, meaning they have a symbiotic relationship with plants.  In this case, the puffballs colonize the root system of the nearby oaks, increasing the trees’ absorption of water and nutrients.  The trees, in turn, provide the puffballs with carbohydrates the trees create during photosynthesis.

     A few days later, I went outside to see how the colostoma lutescens might have changed since I’d seen them.  Well, I could find no trace of them at all!  They had completely vanished.  I assumed they had completed their life cycle and dried up.  Still, I was surprised to see not even a hint of the previously fulsome little beings.  

     I wonder if I will ever see their like again!–April Moore 

 

Tiny Odes to Our Earth

March 18th, 2017

    I am greatly pleased to offer here several very short–and lovely– poems composed by my friend Fred Andrle.  

Hairpin Curve in the River Saar

the slow river
forks around the tiny island
forever

 

 

 

rain against window

thunder
slams against my window
spring obstreporous

 

 

dogs in park

new spring morning
park wide-greening
dog after dog after dog

 

 

too hot too cold

too hot, too cold
too damp, too dry
the seasons humanized

 

sun and fields

everywhere I go
mother sun
brethren fields

 

Fred is a poet, playwright, and journalist living in Columbus, Ohio. His most recent poetry collection is “What Counts,”  (XOXOX Press, Gambier, Ohio, 2012).  Fred’s poetry was featured in the anthology “Prayers to Protest: Poems that Center and Bless Us”  (Pudding House Press), and his poem “The Book”, was read by Garrison Keillor on his public radio series “The Writer’s Almanac.” 

Fred has received Ohio Public Broadcasting and Regional Emmy awards for his radio and television programs. He currently writes as an independent journalist. His opinion columns have appeared in newspapers nationwide.

 

Paradise for Birds and People

February 17th, 2017
photo by Andy Schmookler

photo by Andy Schmookler

 

Greetings from Israel!  My husband and I are exploring this fascinating and beautiful country.  Here is a short piece I wrote recently:

It is late afternoon now.  Andy and I just spent the last few hours glorying in the sights and sounds of thousands and thousands and thousands of cranes.  These graceful birds, with their long and very slender necks, made quite a scene in an agricultural field in the Hula Valley in the northern Galilee.

This field is part of a broad, green, marshy area called the Agamon HaHula. “A Paradise for Birds and People” reads the sign at the entrance, and that certainly is the case.

Clearly, the birds were in paradise.  As we stood watching, open-mouthed, thousands of cranes whirled around and around in the sky a few hundred meters from us.  And the object of this hubbub was a plain, simple-looking red tractor.  We watched it inch along a dirt road, stirring up thousands of squawking, flapping cranes as it went.  The giant mass of birds moved slowly along, continually mobbing the tractor.

And why do the cranes love this tractor so much?  It is the Corn Tractor.  As the Corn Tractor makes its regular rounds, it dispenses corn, which the birds love to eat.  The Corn Tractor feeds these birds well, dispensing 13,000-15,000 pounds of corn for them every day!  

Certainly the Agamon is a paradise for people too.  Smiling, excited tourists like us walked, biked, and drove golf carts around the 8.5 kilometer paved trail  that surrounds the fields, enjoying not only the cranes, but the many water fowl and small birds who are also attracted to the reserve.

Since the only moving object that evokes no fear in the cranes is the Corn Tractor, our LONELY PLANET book tells us, some clever person came up with a way to use a tractor to offer tourists a great way to watch the birds.  We saw several tractors pulling long trailers that were open on one side.  These trailers were filled with auditorium-style seating–three rows, with the back row highest and the front row lowest.  This mobile auditorium faced sideways.  The people riding in it  could get a close-up view of the cranes, who were not at all disturbed by their friend The Tractor rolling past.

The corn tractor is actually at the heart of what makes Agamon a grand and creative experiment.  In providing regular and abundant food for the cranes, the corn tractor is working hand in glove with the humans growing peanuts in the fields.  By devoting one field to the cranes and feeding them plenty of corn every day, the birds leave the nearby peanut fields alone.  The birds are happy, and so are the farmers.

This successful experiment, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, represents an important restoration.  The Hula Valley was once a vast wetlands, far, far larger than it is today.  It was vital to the lives of millions of birds who migrate between Europe and Africa every year.  With the development of Israel as a nation in the 1950s, the Hula Valley wetlands were rapidly drained to make way for agriculture.

But the dramatic loss of wetland habitat proved devastating to the cranes and the many other birds who depended on the Hula Valley to provide nourishment and a safe resting place during migration.   In the late 1950s, conservationists sounded the alarm.  Efforts were launched to protect the remaining Hula Valley wetlands and the birds who depend on them.  And in 1964 Israel’s first national nature reserve was established, here in the Hula Valley.

This is a wonderful win-win-win story—for the birds, for agriculture, and for all of us who love birds.–April Moore

 

A January Swim for our Climate

January 16th, 2017
photo by Ira Shorr

photo by Ira Shorr

Everyone who knows me understands that I am passionate about climate change.  I truly believe it is the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced.  And we must deal with it for the sake of all we hold dear–our children and grandchildren, all the other species with whom we share our earth, even for the sake of civilization itself.

This month’s posting is different from what I normally post, in that I am asking  for your help.  In a few days I will dunk myself in the Mediterranean Sea at Tel Aviv, Israel!  And I will be doing so to raise needed funds for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN).

Every January, CCAN gathers dozens of crazy, committed climate activists at National Harbor, outside Washington, DC, for a plunge into the cold, cold Potomac River.   All of the ‘plungers’ raise money for CCAN’s climate change-fighting work by inviting friends and family to sponsor their plunge with a donation to CCAN.

I have participated in CCAN’s Polar Bear Plunge five times before and have been able to raise well over $10,000 to fund CCAN’s work throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC.  

But this year my husband and I will be in Israel on the day of CCAN’s Plunge, so I assumed I would have to miss out.  And while I didn’t exactly mind missing a dip in numbingly cold water, I did mind foregoing a chance to raise money for the organization called by international climate leader Bill McKibben “the most effective regional climate action group in the world.

Then it occurred to me that I could still participate!  I’ll just jump into a different body of water on a different continent!  The CCAN staff is up for my participating at a distance, so I am planning to take my plunge into the–I hope–warmer waters of the Mediterranean.  

I can honestly think of no better way to address climate change than to raise money for CCAN.  With Trump poised to undo the progress we’ve made on climate at the federal level, many climate activists believe we must redouble our efforts at the state and regional levels.  I agree.

And even for people who do not live in the mid-Atlantic region, a donation to CCAN makes sense.  CCAN has helped expand renewable energy, has stood up to those who want to build fracked-gas pipelines, and has educated many, many people throughout the region.  Besides, given the global nature of climate change, effective action anywhere benefits all of us everywhere.

So.  I earnestly invite you to sponsor my upcoming march into the Mediterranean!  Please help make CCAN’s work even more effective.  If you  click on my fundraising page below, you can donate to CCAN, easily and quickly.

https://www.crowdrise.com/aprilmoore-CCANPolarPlunge2017/fundraiser/aprilmoore

And I promise to send photos from Israel to all who sponsor my plunge.  Thanks!–April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to Basho

December 28th, 2016

BashoMatsuo

One of my truly sweet memories from a mostly unhappy year of teaching fourth grade was when I taught my students about a Japanese poet who wrote beautifully about nature.

Basho, the seventeenth century master of haiku, is beloved in Japan still, more than 300 years after he lived.

I had long taken pleasure in Basho’s haikus, these 17-syllable slivers of nature, lovingly and creatively wrought.  But only when I found myself enchanted by the description of him in the fourth grade literature book did it occur to me to share him with my students.

Through tender story-telling and rich illustrations, the lit book portrayed Basho as a kind and gentle soul.  He deeply loved nature and took long sojourns, on foot, all over the Japanese countryside.  And in these woodland wanderings he found inspiration for his poems.

Although Basho did not invent haiku–the three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, and five in the third–it is fair to say that he popularized it.  And in addition to his many nature-themed haikus, Basho also wrote humorous ones, some gently poking fun at himself.

My students responded wonderfully to Basho!  They were fascinated by his peripatetic life, and they delighted in the immediacy of his tiny poems.  We read many of them and talked about how they made us feel, about the pictures they evoked in our minds.  And we had fun writing our own haikus.

I know that much of why I found sharing Basho with my students so rewarding is that I was giving them something I truly love.  And they received it in the same spirit.  Kids can readily tell when their teacher’s enthusiasm for a subject is real, when he or she is coming from the heart.

Recalling this experience from more than a decade ago made me decide to learn more about the nature-loving Basho.  So I was surprised, although I probably shouldn’t have been, to learn that the real Basho’s life was not as ideal as that portrayed in an elementary school literature book!

While Basho was famous and revered in his lifetime, he was often lonely and dissatisfied. A star in fashionable literary circles, he later renounced the social, urban, literary life to live instead as a recluse.  But the solitary life did not make him happy either.

It was after his little hut that some disciples had built for him burned down and his mother died, that Basho decided to take to the road.  This was considered a very dangerous act in medieval Japan.  Basho himself expected to die in the middle of nowhere or to be killed by bandits.

To the poet’s great surprise, the wandering life brightened his mood; his depression lifted.  Basho enjoyed his days spent walking, taking pleasure in the changing scenery and seasons.  His poems took on a less introspective tone, as he observed—and delighted in—the natural world around him.

But historians tell us that Basho never found lasting happiness.  He could never feel at peace with himself and was constantly in the throes of mental turmoil.  At one point, he wrote a friend, “ I am disturbed by others.  I have no peace of mind.”

I was surprised to learn of Basho’s deep discontent.  I wondered if his idealized wanderings were actually attempts to escape his inner torment.  Perhaps like me, and many others, he was able to lose himself in nature, there to live in the moment, not plagued by the worries and obsessions that plagued him at other times.

Here are a few of Basho’s poems.  (note that, in translation, haiku can lose its 5-7-5 structure)

About nature:

A cicada shell;
it sang itself utterly away.

An ancient pond…
a frog leaps in
the splash of water.

A little irreverent:

Bush warbler
shits on the rice cakes
on the porch rail.

A little self-deprecating:

Now then, let’s go out
To enjoy the snow. . . .until
I slip and fall.

Finally, I love this line from Basho’s final work, his masterpiece, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE INTERIOR.  “Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.  Seek what they sought.”April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

From a Nature Lover’s Broken Heart

November 18th, 2016
What an amazing sight--the sun coming over the ridge seemed to focus all its illuminating energy on a single dogwood.

What an amazing sight–the sun coming over the ridge seemed to focus all its illuminating energy on a single dogwood.

   

 This morning my daily exercise routine was punctuated by a surge of joy.  

     Looking out the window, I noticed a handful of dried leaves suddenly fly off a little red maple, swirl rapidly around each other, then quickly disperse.

     Moments like this one gladden and feed my heart.  But these nature delights, for me, have their shadow side as well.

     Never far removed from my great pleasure in nature is grief.  How quickly my joyous heart becomes my broken heart.  I grieve that the natural beauty I see from every window of my home is far less healthy than it once was;  I grieve for the many species silently disappearing all around me;  I grieve that we are not acting nearly fast enough to prevent climate change from making my little granddaughters’ future very difficult.

     For me it can be a challenge to let myself feel all of this, both the great joy and the great grief.  But as the poet Stanley Kunitz says, “the heart breaks and breaks, and lives by breaking.”  To be heart-broken is to be truly alive.

      When I think of our efforts to protect the planet, the decades-old saying, “little victories, big defeats” crosses my mind.  We do win victories;  the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have truly improved the quality of our air and water;  some species, through great effort, have been saved from extinction; and certain pristine lands have been set aside for protection.  

     But meanwhile, we are rapidly losing so much more than we are gaining.  Scientists tell us we are in the Sixth Great Extinction in the earth’s four billion year history.  Species are disappearing at a rate that has been matched only five times before.  Ever.  What’s different this time is that it’ a living creature–namely humans–that are the main cause.  And that’s why scientists have named this period the Anthropocene.  Man has become the main driver of changes in the biosphere.

     And now we are entering a new era, the era of  President Trump.  As frightening and discouraging as it is to hear him vow to scrap the Paris climate accord, to open up all of our public lands to oil and gas drilling, and to undo the federal Clean Power Plan, I am heartened by the determination I see on the part of environmental organizations to work  harder than they ever have to prevent Trump from sacrificing our treasured planet for the short-term greed of the fossil fuel industry. 

     I will continue to let my heart break open to the beauty that surrounds me.  And I will remember the words of Jane Goodall, “there is still a lot left that is worth fighting for.”   We cannot know how successful we will be in saving our planet, but we can never give up on Mother Earth.April Moore 

 

 

 

 

You Are Still Amazing

October 20th, 2016

turned tree photo 

   On a recent morning, my forest wanderings drew me to look at a downed tree.  This mighty chestnut oak, who once soared high above the earth, has lain on the forest floor now for quite some time.

    I have seen this dead tree many times.  But this day it was a marvel.  Some fierce wind had once pushed it so hard that its giant root base was ripped right from the earth.  Standing near the broad, tangled, sandy mass of roots, I looked out over the trunk’s length.  On and on it snaked along the ground.  Walking its length was a journey of more than 30 steps.

     Imagine being this tall, thrusting so far away from the ground.  As I bent down and felt the furrowed bark along the tapering trunk, I thought how seldom I am this close to the top of a giant tree.  Typically, I can observe a tree’s top only from far below.  Those top branches are so far away.  And here is the top of the tree, right beside me, so close, resting on the ground. 

      I love the chestnut oaks that dominate the forest near our house, whether standing and flourishing in leafy extravagance, or lying dead on the ground.  Even this tree, the flow of life through its trunk stilled, feeds my spirit.–April Moore

An Ode to Dead Leaves

September 24th, 2016

IMG_1110

 

Dry brown leaves
Resting on the forest floor,
Brittle,  thin, lifeless.
Their work is done.

Once they were young,
Fresh, supple, and oh so green,
Open to the sun’s rays
And carrying that sunshine
Straight into the tree,
Bringing the tree exactly what it needs
To live and grow.

And once a leaf’s work is complete,
Its life drains away
And the leaf lets go.
Sever
ed from the tree from which it came,
The
 tree the leaf fed for many months.

Now the leaf lies shriveled and curled,
Lying among its fellows
On the forest floor.

Yet even in death, the leaf gives life,
Each dead leaf returns to the soil,
To support and feed a new tree,
This time from below.-
-April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

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