Archive for August, 2008

Precocial and Altricial

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

I was fascinated by the following passage from Terry Tempest Williams’ book REFUGE.   Evolution is truly wondrous;  birds born in trees are helpless for much longer than birds who are born in ground nests.  What a perfect plan, since birds born in ground nests would be easy prey if they were helpless like the tree birds.

This reminds me of another type of perfection in nature.  Mammals who nurse their young frequently, like humans, have thin milk.  Other mammals, like whales, who nurse very infrequently, have milk as thick as cream.  Each is perfect for the animal’s circumstances and the baby’s needs.–April Moore 


      “Most of the gulls I watched at the Bird Refuge were incubating eggs, an activity which takes from 23 to 28 days.  Both sexes share in the responsibility.

     “I wondered in the midst of so many gulls and so many eggs, how the birds could differentiate between them.  They do.  Parental recognition.  The subtle distinctions in patterning and coloration among individual egg clutches test my eye for discrimination.  Each brood bears its own coat of arms.

     “Young gulls are precocial, which means they are relatively well developed at hatching.  They are covered with a thick coat of natal down, can leave the nest soon after they hatch, and can feed themselves within a short time.  Precocial young are typical to most waterfowl, an adaptation against predators of ground-dwelling birds.

     “In contrast, altricial young are those birds born helpless, usually naked and with closed eyes, completely dependent on their parents for a sustained period after hatching.  Altricial young are more common to passerine birds, which have the advantage of tree nesting.  They can afford to be helpless.”  

The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees

Monday, August 11th, 2008

This excerpt from Stephanie Kaza’s book The Attentive Heart:  Conversations with Trees is so attuned to the life and beauty of trees.  I am stirred by the way Kaza feels surrounded by trees in the wood in her home.  Yet she feels the pain and sadness of the fact that we alter trees’ natural shapes, straightening them into boards that conform to the rectangular shapes we feel are ‘right’ for our buildings.  I like this passage very much because the author deeply ‘gets’ trees.–April Moore 

I have woken up at the end of a long week of tiredness, I am tootired to go anywhere. Too tired to seek out a tree for comfort. Tootired to walk in the forest on the mountain. Too full of sadness andtenderness that speaks through me as I teach about how we are living

with the environment, how we are dying with the environment. It is a

difficult work to be present with the state of the world. The more I

pay attention to the economic and political forces driving

environmental deterioration, the less certain I am that anything I do

will stop it. My heart aches for the thoughtless deaths of so many

trees. Sometimes I long for a break from the destruction and grief.

Here in my home I find some comfort in the beauty and simplicity of

this house. I am grateful to be surrounded by wood and the memory of

trees. Wood walls and ceilings, a beautiful oak floor, paned glass and

wood windows, kitchen cupboards crafted of wood. From all sides I am

embraced by wood. The presence of trees soothes my eyes and soul. The

natural warm brown color is restful. It is just what it is, nothing

extra. No decorations, no wallpaper, no paint, no layers of anything

masking the wood. The simplicity is refreshing. I appreciate the

unevenness and random variation of the wood.

All these trees – the oaks in the floor, the firs and redwoods in the

walls, the cedar in the yarn chest – are trees of the Pacific forest,

trees of my homeland. But here in the house they are quiet and alone,

no longer dancing in the wind or singing with the birds. It feels a

bit like a tree cemetery – in elegant form, of course. It is hard to

think of the wood as dead. It doesn\’t feel like I live in a house of

death. The grain of the wood is too alive. Its memory is too vivid,

etched from the experience of lifetimes. I feel the histories of

individual trees; they resonate in each beam and board.

One thing is wrong though – the straightness. All of the wood has

been cut into straight forms. Trees, however, are not entirely

straight, especially the hardwoods. It is convenient to live in this

straightness. It makes walking and organizing things easier. It works

well with gravity and the desire of the inner ear for balance. But I

miss the graceful curves of the living tree. I miss the tangle of

branches, the intimate spaces between the twigs and the fingers of

each limb. Planed surfaces in a house have all the intimacy ironed out

of them. They have been flattened, standardized, regulated, cut to

conform to the human design. In the process the trees\’ own naturally

beautiful shapes have been altered beyond recognition.

So this is the pain of it: in leaving its life-form behind, the wood

has become an object for human use. Object – where is the heart in

that? An object is something to carry around, to count, to purchase,

to collect. It is something separate. The process of objectification

begins with the first cut toward straightness. After the tress are

felled the conspiracy of object continues in the timber sales report,

lumberyard accounts, and architectural plans. The carpenters perhaps

cradled the wood in their hands as they built this house, but did they

remember the once-living trees? I wonder who among the many people who

deal with wood as product have walked in the forest of these trees and

listened to their voices. When the memory of tree has vanished and the

connection is broken, the wood becomes corpse, or not even corpse, but

something that appears to have never been alive.

Prairie Dogs Exhibit Language

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

     Prairie dogs apparently communicate in a fairly complex ‘language,’ according to animal scientist Temple Grandin.  The following is an excerpt from her book ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION.–April Moore

     “Con Slobodchikoff at Northern Arizona University has done some of the most amazing studies in animal communication and cognition.  Using sonograms to analyze the distress calls of Gunnison’s prairie dog, one of five species of prairie dogs found in the U.S. and Mexico, he has found that prairie dog colonies have a communication system that includes nouns, verbs, and adjectives.  They can tell one another what kind of predator is approaching–man, hawk, coyote, dog (noun)–and they can tell each other how fast it’s moving (verb).  They can say whether a human is carrying a gun or not.

     “They can also identify individual coyotes and tell one another which one is coming.  They can tell the other prairie dogs that the approaching coyote is the one who likes to walk straight through the colony and then suddenly lunge at a prairie dog who’s gotten too far away from the entrance to his burrow, or the one who likes to lie patiently by the side of a hole for an hour and wait for his dinner to appear.  If the prairie dogs are signaling the approach of a person, they can tell one another something about what color clothing the person is wearing, as well as something about his size and shape (adjectives).  They also have a lot of other calls that have not been deciphered.

     “. . . . .the prairie dogs reacted differently to different warnings.  If the warning was about a hawk making a dive, all the prairie dogs raced to their burrows and vanished down into holes.  But if the hawk was circling overhead, the prairie dogs stopped foraging, stood up in an alert posture, and waited to see what happened next.  If the call warned about a human, the prairie dogs all ran for their burrows no matter how fast the human was coming.”

     “Dr. Slobodchikoff also found evidence that prairie dogs aren’t born knowing the calls, the way a baby is born knowing how to cry.  They have to learn them.  He bases this on the fact that the different prairie dog colonies around Flagstaff all have different dialects.  Since genetically these animals are almost identical, Dr. Slobodchikoff argues that genetic differences can’t explain the differences in the calls.  That means the calls have been created by the individual colonies and passed on from one generation to the next.”


Prayer for the Great Turning

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

Here is a beautiful poem by Joanne Sunshower: 

 May the turning of the Earth save us.
May the turning of the seasons & the turning of the leaves save us.
May we be saved by the worms, the beetles & the microbes turning the soil.
May we be saved by the turning of vegetation into compost
& the turning of compost into rich soil.

May the turning of seeds into plants & the turning of flowers
into fruits save us.

May the grasses & weeds, the vines & mosses all conspire to save us.
May we be saved by the turning of sprouts into saplings, of saplings into trees,
& the trees into forests.
May the scurrying, foraging, pouncing & lumbering of the animals save us.
May the breath of heaven in the breezes & the stormy winds save us.
May the dance of the butterflies, & the musical flight & return
of the birds save us.

May we be saved by vapors turning into clouds & by the turning of
the ever-changing clouds into rain.
May the waters flowing from springs into the lakes save us.
May the streams flowing into rivers, the rivers into seas,
& the great heaving of the oceans save us.
May we be saved by the patient turning of the rocks, the hills,
the mountains, & the volcanoes.

May the metabolism of the climates of the Earth save us.
May the turnings of all Beings great & small move us to find wisdom in our own turnings.
May we be saved by our waking & sleeping, by the rhythms of our blood
& our appetites,
by the cycles of birthing & nurturing, injury & healing,
mating & nesting, loss & discovery, joy & mourning.
May we find in time the grace to turn to one another, & may this turning
also become our salvation.

May we learn to benefit the life of Earth with peace, humble in our needs,
& generous in our giving.
May we learn to celebrate the abundance of life with gratitude, & to embrace
the Earth with our bodies in return.


10 Tips for Saving Gas

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

     John McCain has mocked Barack Obama for urging Americans to save fuel by making sure their tires are properly inflated.  Well, Obama is right.  Properly inflated tires do make for more efficient fuel use.  And here are 10 more tips to help you use less gas.  All are better for the planet–and for your  pocketbook.

1.  Get rid of dead weight.  If you’ve been driving around town with a box of books in your trunk, take them out.  Avoid traveling with unneeded weight.  Weight affects gas mileage.

2.  Don’t make a trip for nothing.  When planning errands and other outings, make sure you’re not wasting gas and time.  For example, call ahead if you have any doubt that the store has the items you’re looking for.  Check to make sure the store, library, etc. is actually open. 

3.  Check your driveway for gas leaks.  Even little ones can waste plenty of fuel over time.

4.  Use your GPS.  It will quickly pay for itself in wasted gas and time, as you avoid extra driving in search of your destination.  If you don’t have a GPS, make sure you consult your map or atlas before you set out, so you’ll be sure to reach your destination without any wrong turns.

5.  Turn the key and get moving.  Today’s cars don’t need to be warmed up.  Even on cold mornings, 30 seconds is plenty of time.

6.  When driving in the city, try to keep your speed below 40 mph.  Exceeding 40 mph forces your car to overcome tremendous wind resistance, which significantly reduces your gas mileage.

7.  Any time you’re stationary for 30 seconds or more, turn off the engine.  If you’re stuck in traffic that is not moving, or if you’re stopped at a long light or a railroad crossing, turn off the car.  For every hour your engine is idling, you’re burning a gallon of gasoline. 

8.  Avoid jack-rabbit starts.  When starting from a dead stop, accelerate slowly.  A good rule of thumb is not to push the pedal down more than 1/4 of the total foot travel.

9.  When driving at highway speeds, keep the windows closed.  Open windows cause air drag, which can reduce your gas mileage by 10%.

10.  Park and walk.  Wandering all over the parking lot looking for a really close space wastes gas.  Don’t be afraid to walk a little.  It will be better for both you and the planet.

The Genuinely Ecstatic

Monday, August 4th, 2008

     I was moved by a single line I read by the poet Coleman Barks.  This renowned translator of Rumi’s poetry wrote: 

     “These poets, Rumi and Sanai, nourish us by pouring the genuinely ecstatic into our lives as surely as children do, or dogs or trees or river or rain.”

     I am quite struck by the image of a non-human entity, like a tree or a river or the rain pouring the ecstatic, or ecstasy into our lives.  Wow!  I do feel deeply fed, deeply joyful, in the presence of a magnificent tree.  It can indeed be an ecstatic experience to stand on a riverbank and see only river and riparian forest in either direction.  

     Of course a child can pour ecstasy into me (especially my own child), but I love the notion that even the quiet steadiness of a river or the rain can pour ecstasy into me.  Such strong words–pour and ecstasy.  But not too strong.  The joys of being in the presence of nature, unaltered by humans, are indeed STRONG!–April Moore

A Dramatic Rebirth for a Dead River

Friday, August 1st, 2008

     A river that was virtually dead a century ago is now home to 45 species of fish.  A flyway for migratory birds, this river also supports muskrats and herons.  Even a beaver was recently spotted–for the first time in 200 years! 

     The river in question?  The Bronx River!  Right in the middle of New York City! 

     Once upon a time, dozens of freshwater rivers flowed through the five boroughs of New York City.  Most were filled in long ago, leaving just one, the Bronx River.  In the 1830s, the Bronx River was so pure that government officials considered tapping it for drinking water.  But with construction of a railroad along the river’s corridor, and burgeoning industrialization, the quality of the river deteriorated.  By the end of the nineteenth century, an official commission referred to the damaged Bronx River as “an open sewer.”

     Decades passed.  The lifeless river became the repository of a growing volume of trash, including thousands of discarded auto tires. 

     Finally local residents got mad enough to do something about it.  Working together to come up with ways to clean up the Bronx River, they appealed to local, state, and federal officials, including their Congressman Jose Serrano.  And they got results.  Within a few years, pledged restoration funds from local, state, and federal sources totalled more than $100 million.

     Thanks to the dedicated efforts of local residents, working with such organizations as the Wildlife Conservation Society (which administers the Bronx Zoo), riverbanks were rebuilt, floodplains were reopened, water quality was restored, fish populations were restocked, and industrial wastelands were transformed to parklands, reports Adam Spangler in the April 5 online issue of Vanity Fair.

     The Bronx River is once again healthy enough to sustain populations of herring.  Two years ago, more than 200 alewives, a type of herring that had disappeared from the Bronx River, were reintroduced.  Their presence improves the river’s health by attracting large game fish, wading birds, and raptors.

     These days, canoes can be spotted on the Bronx River in pleasant weather.  This is an activity that would have been deemed unsafe just a decade ago.   Canoeists pass through the 700+ acre Bronx Park, where forested floodplains and rock outcrops provide a buffer against the urban environment.

     Rep. Serrano puts it well when he says, “Some people might think I’m romanticizing the river too much.  But cleaning up the river has been more responsible for the resurgnce of the Bronx than any other person, organization, or issue.  The river is a symbol of hope.”

     I share Jose Serrano’s sense of hope, given the transformation that concerned citizens have brought about.  It feels wonderful to learn of such a dramatic turnaround.  And it sparks my imagination–to try to visualize New York when it was forests and rivers, teeming with wildlife!  What a thought!–April Moore

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