Archive for May, 2009

A Duck “Tail”

Sunday, May 31st, 2009
     I thank my friend Jude for forwarding me this amazing little story.–April Moore 
Something really cute happened in downtown San Antonio this week. Michael R. is an accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works there in a second story office.  Several weeks ago, he watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning outside his window as the unlikely place to build a nest above the sidewalk. The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10 feet in the air. She  dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon all of her ten ducklings hatched.
Michael worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching.  Tuesday morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off.  Office work came to a standstill as everyone gathered to watch.
The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above. In disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy newborn trustingly toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below. Michael couldn’t stand to watch this risky effort nine more times!  He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk where the first obedient duckling, near its mother, was resting in a stupor after the near-fatal fall.  Michael stood out of sight under the awning-planter, ready to help.
As the second one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the concrete. Safe and sound, he set it down it by its momma and the other stunned sibling, still recovering from that painful leap.  (The momma must have sensed that Michael was trying to help her babies.)
One by one the babies continued to jump. Each time Michael hid under the awning just to reach out in the nick of time as the duckling made its free fall. At the scene the busy downtown sidewalk traffic came to a standstill.  Time after time, Michael was able to catch the remaining eight and set them by their approving mother.
At this point Michael realized the duck family had only made part of its dangerous journey. They had two full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs and past pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the San Antonio River , site of the famed “River Walk.”  The onlooking office secretaries and several  San Antonio police officers joined in.  An empty copy-paper box was brought to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother’s approval, and loaded them in the container. Michael held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the  San Antonio River. The mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight, all the way.
As they reached the river, the mother took over and passed him, jumping in the river and quacking loudly. At the water’s edge, Michael tipped the box and helped shepherd the babies toward the water and to the waiting mother after their adventurous ride.
All ten darling ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and proudly quacking.
At last, all present and accounted for: “We’re all together again.  We’re here!  We’re here!”
And here’s a family portrait before they head outward to further adventures…
Like all of us in the big times of our life, they never could have made it alone without lots of helping hands.  I think it gives the name of San Antonio ‘s famous “River Walk” a whole new meaning!  Maybe you will want to share this story with others.  It’s too good to lose!

Enjoy the Outdoors!

Friday, May 29th, 2009

     Now that summer is just about here, and the earth is fully alive, the natural world beckons.  I believe we cannot underestimate the value of time spent outside.  The sunshine and fresh air benefit adults and children alike, and even the earth itself. 

     Of course there are obvious physical health benefits to outdoor activity.  Taking a hike, going for a bike ride or a swim, or even walking around the neighborhood will get the blood pumping and fresh air into the lungs.  And the price is right.  Who needs to spend $100 a month on a gym membership when fitness can be free, available simply by enjoying some regular outdoor activity?

     Outdoor time may be even more important for kids than for adults.  But few kids today spend much time running around outside.  And one need only visit a school to see that a shocking proportion of children are either overweight or obese.  Sadly, children are suffering in other ways as well from their ‘outdoor deficit,’ according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (2006). 

     Louv cites research which shows that kids who are missing out on outdoor exercise are far more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, and other mental and physical health problems than kids who play outside regularly.     

     Louv calls for parents to turn off the TV and video games and to get the kids outdoors, and for schools to include more outdoor activity in the school day, instead of crowding out outdoor play time in favor of more academics.  

     Regular outdoor time is also an investment in a healthy planet.  After all, why will we care about protecting the beauty and diversity of life if we have little or no experience of that beauty and diversity?  We don’t care about protecting what we don’t value.

     By getting kids outside, having fun and enjoying their surroundings, they will more likely grow into adults who care about the environment.  Direct experiences with the natural world during childhood may well stay with kids into adulthood.  

     So let’s all get outside this summer.  And bring the kids along.  Enjoyment of the outdoors is a win-win-win activity.–April Moore 

    

  

A Loving Experience

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
     Joan Brundage, of Tucson, sent me this write-up of a recent experience she had.  I found it moving and asked her if I could share it with Earth Connection readers.April Moore
     “I had a sacred experience with a bird on Sunday. 
     “My husband Alan and I were driving up a road near my house when I noticed a movement in the middle of the road.  We drove back and I ran out in the road to find a beautiful injured male Gila Woodpecker lying in the road.  I picked him up in my hands, and we brought him home in a car as cool as the AC would make it. 
     “Initially, his beak was wide open with his tongue sticking way out. He was struggling with heat stroke and, in bird fashion, was trying to cool off.  Birds don’t perspire the way we do;  they perspire through their beaks. 
     “We got a medicine dropper and got him to drink hummingbird water dribbled on his beak.  Then he calmed down and closed his beak. 
     “One eye appeared to have a pebble in it.  We took him to a wild animal rehab unit in Tucson where a volunteer first rinsed his eye out with saline solution, and that dislodged the pebble.
     “I was amazed by this bird’s beauty and trust.  He never once tried to pecck me or escape from my hands.  I think the Reiki energy flowing in my hands helped to soothe him, as well as my telling him that he was safe and should rest.  And he did rest in my hands, all the way to the rehab center.
     “To hold a bird in one’s hands like this is truly a sacred experience!  The bird will recuperate and then will be released back to the desert where he can live out his life.”–Joan Brundage
 

 

 

 

 

Renewable Energy Growing Faster than Conventional Energy

Monday, May 25th, 2009

     I am happy to report some very hopeful news on the energy front. 

     In 2008, for the first time, renewable energy capacity grew faster than conventional power capacity.  And this was true for both the United States and the European Union.  The shift, according to a global energy policy network based in Paris, called REN21, represents a ‘fundamental transition’ of the world’s energy markets toward renewables.

     Globally, power capacity from renewables increased 16% in 2008 over 2007, the Paris group reports.  And at least 73 countries now have renewable energy policy targets, up from 66 countries at the end of 2007.  At least 64 countries have adopted policies to promote renewable energy generation.

     Globally, increased capacity was documented for many different forms of renewable energy.  Grid-connected solar photovoltaic power grew the fastest, with capacity increasing 70% in 2008.  Solar heating capacity worldwide grew by 15% in 2008, and biodiesel production increased by 34%.  Wind capacity expanded 29% in 2008, to almost double the capacity in place at the end of 2005.

     These global increases in renewable capacity reflect growth in developing countries as well as in the more developed nations.  For example,  China doubled its wind generating capacity in 2008, for the fifth year in a row.  India emerged in 2008 as one of the world’s leading producers of solar photovoltaics, with new policies leading to $18 billion in new manufacturing investment plans or proposals.

     The REN21 report also showed that hundreds of cities around the world are planning or implementing renewable energy policies, as well as policies to limit carbon dioxide emissions. 

     Renewable energy seemed to resist the credit crunch that affected many other industries much more negatively last year, with new investment reaching $120 billion, up 16% over 2007.

     The recent growth in renewable energy capacity has surpassed all predictions, even those by the industry itself, according to Mohamed El-Ashry, of the Global Environment Facility, which provides grants to developing countries for environmental projects. 

     “By maintaining and expanding these policies,”  says El-Ashry, “governments, industry, and society will reap substantial economic and environmental rewards when the economic rebound requires energy markets to meet rapidly increasing demand.”–April Moore

To Be of the Earth

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

     We are all truly of the earth, as John Soos writes so eloquently.–April Moore

To be of the Earth is to know
     the restlessness of being a seed
     the darkness of being planted
     the struggle toward the light
     the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
     the love of being food for someone
     the scattering of your seeds
     the decay of the seasons
     the mystery of death
     and the miracle of birth.
                                       –John Soos

Plants and Communication

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

     We humans are quick to assume that other species are simpler, less complex and capable than we are.  One of our assumptions has been that plants are  passive beings.  They simply grow where they’re planted, defenseless against external threats like an  infestation of insects.

     But plants are proving more capable of defending themselves than we used to think.  Research shows that they are even able to ’warn’ their fellow plants of danger.  For example, in an experiment that included two similar groups of willow trees, a scientist infested one group of the trees with caterpillars.  The other group he left alone.  After two weeks, he plucked leaves from the infested trees and fed them to caterpillars in his lab.  The caterpillars grew very slowly.  When he fed caterpillars a diet of leaves from the non-infested willows, those caterpillars also grew slowly. 

     Upon closer examination, the scientist learned that both groups of willows had flooded their leaves with an unsavory chemical that discourages caterpillar growth.  Not only did the infested group defend themselves by making their leaves unappetizing to the caterpillars, but the trees also, the scientist surmised, communicated a danger signal to the non-infested trees.  The latter group responded to the signal by producing the same chemical to make their own leaves unappealing to caterpillars.

     In another experiment, a scientist potted 45 young poplars.  Thirty of the trees were placed together in an isolated chamber.  The other 15 were put into another isolated chamber, far from the first one.  The scientist ripped the leaves of 15 of the trees  in the first chamber, but left the other 15 trees in that chamber untouched.  Nor did he interfere with the leaves on the trees in the distant chamber.

     After 52 hours, the scientist analyzed leaves from all 45 trees for phenolics, noxious compounds that insects disdain.  The leaves from both the ripped and non-ripped trees in the first chamber showed a significant increase in phenolics, while the leaves of the untouched trees in the distant chamber showed no increase in the compounds.  The research suggests that the trees whose leaves were ripped, reacted to the damage not only by making their leaves unpalatable, but also by ‘tipping off’ the nearby undamaged trees of the need to defend against danger.

     Other scientists have studied the emissions of many plants and trees of the aspirin-like chemical methyl salicylate.  The chemical, emitted when a plant is threatened, such as during an attack by harmful insects, seems to have two benefits.   One is to attract beneficial insects that kill the ones that are attacking the plant.  The other benefit, scientists believe, is to ‘warn’ nearby plants to prepare for a pathogen in the environment.

     I am excited that scientists keep turning up new information about complexities in the natural world, complexities that help us to move away from our simplistic view that what we can observe of the natural world is the way it is, and toward a deeper understanding and appreciation for the intricacies and complexities that are all around us.–April Moore

Trees and Late Spring

Monday, May 18th, 2009

     It’s just past the middle of May, and most of the trees near our house are in full dress for the summer months.  But some trees are not quite there yet.  On a stroll around the place this morning, I noticed that many trees are still in the process of donning their summer attire.

     The white pines and Virginia pines were especially striking with their conspicuous new growth.  Pale green stalks, standing straight up several inches high, were affixed to the tips of branches.  They gave the pines the look of old-fashioned Christmas trees, complete with candles attached to the tips of branches.  

     As I looked more closely at these upright little stalks, I saw that the younger ones were covered in what looked like a green stubble.  But on the stalks that had developed a little further, the ‘stubble’ had grown into tiny needles, not more than a quarter-inch long.  Before much time passes, the ‘stubble’ will grow into full-length green needles. 

     The perky green stalks will relax their vertical stance to become horizontal.  The green will turn brown, and the once flexible stalk will be a woody branch, a seamless addition to the tree.  In fact, it will be impossible, before long, to tell where this year’s growth began!

     Then there are the spruces.  These giants also have some growing to do in the coming days.  Their broad, splaying branches are tipped in a lively, youthful green, a contrast to the dark, mature green from which they have come.  I was reminded of painted toenails on broad, many-toed feet.  And this new growth is soft and pleasing to touch, about as different from the stiff, sharp adult needles as is the skin of a baby from an adult human.

     I observe the red maples.  Only a few still have leaves that are slightly folded, hanging below their stems.  But it won’t be long before they are ready to lift and spread to receive the sun’s full warmth.  

     Walking farther from the house, I pause to enjoy the black cherry tree in the orchard.  Its delicate young leaves flutter on their thin, supple stems.  I am drawn to the blossoms, so different from the variety that we associate with spring in the nation’s capital.  These are tiny, tiny, white flowers arranged along a three- or four-inch stem.  (They have the faint, sweet ‘white flower’ smell that my husband has noted about the white flowers produced by so many unrelated plants.   Why so many types of white flower would smell so much alike is a mystery to us).

     As I walk back to the house, I pause to look at the saucer magnolia tree.  Its big, fat green leaves have completely replaced the big, fat, pink blossoms that covered the branches just a few weeks ago. 

     Amazing.  Like any other day of the year, this late spring day is full of wonders.–April Moore

Look for the Star

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

     Even if you’re not now in the market for a new dishwasher, stove, refrigerator, or other major appliance, you no doubt will be at some point in the coming years. 

      It matters what model you buy.  For virtually every type of appliance, some models are far more energy-efficient than others.  And the Energy Star seal on an appliance shows that it is among the very most efficient models available.  According to Go Green, Live Rich by David Bach, the Energy Star symbol can be found on energy-saving models in 50 appliance categories for home and office.  

     While an appliance that has earned the Energy Star may cost more than some other models in its category, the total cost of purchasing and operating the appliance will be less than a model that has not earned the Energy Star.  For example, an Energy Star washing machine may cost $150 more than a less efficient model, according to Bach.  But since operation of the machine saves $50 a year on electric bills, the machine pays for itself quickly, ultimately saving the owner a significant sum. 

     Other efficiencies may also be found through purchasing an Energy Star appliance.  An example is that Energy Star washing machine.  It uses 7,000 fewer gallons of water per year than its non-Energy Star counterpart, Bach reports.

     In 2006, Americans saved so much energy by using Energy Star appliances that the equivalent of  25 million cars’ worth of greenhouse emissions were not added to the air, according to Bach.  And Americans saved a total of $14 billion on utility bills, says Bach.

     For more information about how you can save energy–and money–through the federal Energy Star program, visit www.energystar.gov–April Moore 

When the Cardinal Comes Knocking

Friday, May 15th, 2009

     When this piece started forming in my mind a few days ago, it felt like a sad story.  I was going to call it, ”A Cardinal’s Lament.”  But now I am not so sure that the drama I have been witnessing is a sad one;  it might actually be a reasonably happy tale.  I am reminded that often what I think I am seeing is different from what is actually going on.  

     For more than a week, the sleekest, reddest, most gorgeous male cardinal has been our close neighbor.  That’s the fun part.  Every chance I get, I feast my eyes on this handsome fellow–perching on our deck railing, swooping from the deck down to a tree in the orchard, or balanced miraculously atop a tall, thin mullein plant.  I adore him.

     But  something this gorgeous little guy has been doing has disturbed my husband Andy and me.  What distresses us is his singular obsession of banging into our downstairs windows.  Every morning, when we get up, we hear him at it downstairs, flying against one window or another and hitting it with his feet.  And he persists with these attacks throughout the day!  We surmise that our cardinal friend sees his reflection in the glass and takes it for a rival who must be vanquished. 

      Between hits, the little guy may flit to a nearby branch, where he perches until it’s time to go at his ’rival’ again.  Sometimes he flies farther into the forest.  There, he may perch on a branch and sing for a little while.   And I mean sing.  These are not the usual chipping sounds that cardinals typically make, but a full-throated, sweet, sweet warble. 

      After a few trilling tunes that must surely be irresistible to any female in the vicinity (they have certainly won my heart), he is silent.  He may cock his head to one side, and then to the other, as if to say, “Wasn’t I good?  Any ladies out there?”  Some more sweet trills.  And then, you know, back to window duty. 

     That’s it, I thought.  He’s lonely, and he’s calling for a mate!  Maybe his obsession with getting rid of all the other imagined  males is distracting him from going for what he really wants.  All this window bashing is leaving him little time to pursue a mate!

     I had to help him.  Reasoning that he would quit hurling himself at the glass if he couldn’t see his reflection in it, I taped newspaper onto the downstairs windows.   Silence.  Minutes passed.   I felt hopeful.  “I think the newspaper is wor–” I exclaimed  to Andy, only to be interrupted by the all-too familiar hit against the glass.

     Only then did I realize that my taping the newspaper to the inside of the glass hadn’t prevented the bird from seeing his reflection!  I would have to put the papers on the outside instead to keep him from seeing himself!  Bother.   The windows are harder to reach from outside, and I would have to secure the paper from wind and rain.  

     I had to admit that, while I didn’t want this dear little bird to exhaust–or maybe even hurt– himself trying to drive away non-existent rivals, I also didn’t want him to go away.  I love having him around.  How I would miss that dear little face peeking in over the window sill, as he perches just outside, looking this way and that.    

     Why, why,why, I wondered, was there no female cardinal around?  I remembered seeing, not much more than a week ago, a female perched in a tree in the nearby forest with a bow-shaped twig or plant stem in her beak.  I assumed she had been in nest-building mode.  Could she have been this fellow’s mate?  But I hadn’t seen her since that day.  Did something happen to her?

     Then yesterday morning I spent some time outside just looking and listening.  From my own perch on a log at the edge of the driveway, I spotted movement among the brush on the other side of the driveway.  It was a female cardinal!  On the ground, she was flitting about, mostly hidden among all the green growth.  Had I not been watching actively, I would not have noticed her.    Maybe she was searching for ingredients for her nest! 

     Then I remembered the words of a master gardener I had consulted about the male’s behavior.   “By the way,” he emailed me, “if he finds a mate, he will be even more territorial.”

     So now I am thinking that our beautiful little red friend is the valiant, but not too bright, mate of the female who is busily building her nest.  While she works, preparing for their family-to-be, maybe he is protecting her from any possible interlopers, keeping her for himself. 

     At any rate, neither Andy nor I now see the male’s behavior as painful or unhappy for him.  He’s a ‘man on a mission,’ so to speak.  He has a full-time job doing what a male cardinal is supposed to be doing this time of year!April Moore

But We Have Only Begun to Love the Earth

Monday, May 11th, 2009

     This poem, full of hope and love for the earth and humanity, was brought to my attention by my friend Judy.

BEGINNINGS
     by Denise Levertov

But we have only begun to love the earth.  We have only begun to imagine the fullness of life.
How could we tire of hope?  So much is in bud.
How can desire fail?  We have only begun to imagine justice and mercy,
Only begun to envision how it might be to live as siblings with beast and flower, not as oppressors.
Surely our river cannot already be hastening into the sea of nonbeing?
Surely it cannot drag in the silt all that is innocent?
Not yet, not yet–there is too much broken that must be mended,
Too much hurt that we have done to each other that cannot yet be forgiven.
We have only begun to know the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle.
So much is unfolding that must complete its gesture, so much is in bud.

 

 

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