Archive for October, 2009

Dying Can Be So Beautiful

Friday, October 30th, 2009

     I watched an entertaining show the other day. 

     On a solid, smooth log in the forest, I took my front row seat and settled in to enjoy the action.  We are in the middle of fall, that aptly named season when nature reminds us that death too can be beautiful.  For several weeks past and for several more to come, the leaves on the maples, oaks, hickories, and others are letting go into death, their work of capturing sunlight and nourishing the trees complete.

     I looked about me, enjoying the forest’s calm that always soothes me.  Then my eye caught the movement of a dry, curled form, broken loose from high above and drifting down, wafting a little this way, a little that way, until it reached its resting place on the ground.  The course of the leaf’s fall reminded me of lightening;  seldom does it take a direct route to its destination.

     A few moments later, another leaf began its descent.  I watched as it lazily made its way down.  And I laughed out loud as it landed on its edge, perched there for a moment, and then fell over to lie flat, unmoving, among its fellows.

     No fair!  Now two leaves were falling at the same time!  My eyes, darting back and forth in my attempt to watch them both, focused on neither, and I missed out on really observing either one.

     Looking up, I noticed a curled leaf falling from a high chestnut oak branch.  But after only a few yards, the oak leaf’s journey was halted prematurely.  Catching in a tangle of leaves still attached to a branch below, the leaf will rest there awhile, until a breeze comes along and sends it on its way again.    

     Very near my log I noticed a shrivelled red leaf bobbing near a tip of a twig extending from a tiny, young red maple tree.  But the leaf was not even attached to the twig!  It appeared to be fluttering about in the air, all on its own!  Only when I got up and peered closely at that space between the little dancing leaf and the tip of the tree could I see that the thinnest of filaments was holding the leaf in proximity to the tree.  Was it a spider’s thread?  I don’t know, but it held the leaf firmly, despite all the leaf’s shaking.  This leaf too would have to wait to reach its final resting place.

     The sight of the dead leaves making their unique journeys to the earth was accompanied by another pleasure–the sounds they made.  Sitting on my log, I sometimes heard a light scratching sound as a leaf brushed past other leaves or branches on its way down.  And when the newly fallen leaves reached those who have gone before, on the ground, the sound of their meeting was dry and soft, a pleasing whisper.

     So I sat and enjoyed, waiting for the next leaves to fall.  Then I heard the sound of rain on leaves.  There were enough of them still fixed to the branches above me that the rain drops didn’t reach me.  But then the rain picked up the pace, and I heard the drops tapping on the leaves scattered around me.  Then I too started to feel the rain, on my head, on my hands.  It was time to go inside.  The show was over, at least for now.–April Moore

Artwork below by Aliki Mikulich

The “Jewel of Siberia”

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

     I recently had the opportunity to research and write about a particularly incredible place on our incredible planet.  It is Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world.  Part of my fascination for the place stems from my love of nature and the many marvels that are part of this lake’s ecology.  I am also fascinated by all things Russian.  My college study of the language left me with such a great appetite for Russian land, history, and culture that, if I believed  in past lives, I would be sure I had once been a Russian.

     Lake Baikal is located in southeastern Siberia, a place that  I once pictured as a mostly frozen, always cold wasteland.  After all, it was where the tsars and the Soviet government banished all the people they wanted to be rid of.  But Siberia is not a frozen wasteland.  It includes towns, even cities and industry.  It has a rich human history and great natural diversity.

     Unlike most of the world’s lakes that were formed in the neighborhood of 10,000-100,000 years ago, the crescent-shaped Lake Baikal is 25 million years old!  It was formed by a deep separation, or rift, in the earth’s crust.  The rift continues to widen about two centimeters a year.  The lake, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is so large it contains 20% of the world’s fresh water.

     Known as “the Galapagos of Russia,” Lake Baikal is an astonishingly rich ecosystem. In fact, of more than 2,600 known species of plants and animals in and around the lake, more than 80% of them are found nowhere else on earth!  

     For example, the nerpa is the world’s only freshwater seal, and it lives only in Lake Baikal.  And the omul salmon, widely regarded as Lake Baikal’s tastiest fish, is found nowhere else.  Many other species of fish, crustaceans, snails, and worms are also endemic to Lake Baikal.   

     The two main reasons for the extraordinary biodiversity and huge proportion of endemic species in Lake Baikal are the lake’s extreme age and its isolation.  Scientists believe that with 25 million years of evolution, as opposed to just thousands of years as with most of the world’s lakes, the species inhabiting Lake Baikal have simply had time to evolve much further.

     Besides, Lake Baikal has been largely cut off from surrounding areas because of the high, steep Barguzin Mountains that surround the lake.  Thus, Baikal area species have evolved with little contact with similar species beyond the mountains. 

     These forested mountains around the lake are home to bear, mink, sable, reindeer, ermine, moose, and many other species, some of which have become extinct in other areas.  Fortunately, much of Lake Baikal’s shoreline has been protected with national park status by the Russian government.

     Lake Baikal is an extraordinarily clear lake, partly because of bottom vents that bring in warm water that is then circulated throughout the lake and partly because of millions of tiny crustaceans who continuously filter the lake’s water.  Writer Ian Frazier creates a vivid picture of this extraordinary lake’s purity in his article, “Travels in Siberia,” about his trip across Siberia with two Russian companions, published in The New Yorker, August 10 & 17, 2009:

     “When a wave rolls in on Baikal, and it curls to break, you can see stones on the bottom refracted in the vertical face of the wave.  This glimpse, offered for just a moment in the wave’s motion, is like seeing into the window of an apartment as you go by it on an elevated train.  The moon happened to be full that night, and after it rose the stones on the bottom of the lake lay spookily illuminated in the moonlight.  The glitter of the moon on the surface of the lake–the “moon road,” Sergei called it–fluctuated constantly in its individual points of sparkling, with a much higher definition than any murky water could achieve.  Light glitters differently on water this clear.  I understood that I had never really seen the moon reflected on water before.”

     While this “jewel of Siberia” has received some important national and international protections, it has nonetheless been affected by pollution.  Industrial pollution, entering the lake’s southeast end from the Selenga River, as well as from other sources, has led to reductions in many species. 

     At the same time, with the lake attracting more attention and appreciation as a world treasure and popular vacation spot for nature lovers, efforts to protect this world marvel are increasing.–April Moore

The Lake Baikal shoreline

The Lake Baikal shoreline

the nerpa, a freshwater seal found only in Lake Baikal

the nerpa, a freshwater seal found only in Lake Baikal


Some Questions You Might Ask

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

     In the poem below, Mary Oliver expresses great respect for all the non-humans among our fellow beings.  I have a great deal of appreciation for her poems;  reading them is a balm to my soul.  She loves the natural world so much!  Enjoy.–April Moore

Some Questions You Might Ask

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?
I keep looking around me.
The face of the moose is as sad
as the face of Jesus.
The swan opens her white wings slowly.
In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.
One question leads to another.
Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass?

       –Mary Oliver


The Wondrous, Well-Hidden Walking Stick

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

     Fall seems to be the time of year when I notice the walking stick.  This long, super slender, light brown insect looks very much like a twig–with legs.  Lately I have been seeing these critters here and there, always completely still, attached to one of the sliding screen doors to our house, to a tool shed wall, or to a deck post.  Often, I will notice the same walking stick still clinging, unmoving, to the same spot hours later.  

     I have been curious about these insects, so I decided to do a little research.  I learned that more than 2,500 species of walking stick are known to exist, and they are found throughout the temperate, and especially subtropical and tropical parts of the world.  Walking sticks live all over the U.S., although they are more abundant in the southern half of the country than in the northern half.

     As you might expect from the walking stick’s strong resemblance to a twig, both in shape and color, camouflage is the name of the game when it comes to survival strategies.   

     I am pretty sure that the reason I notice these insects on our house and shed but not on the trees is simply that the ones attaching themselves to trees are so well camouflaged that I fail to detect them.  But when a walking stick really wants to hide, it can draw in its legs, so that they are parallel to and flush with its body.  The walking stick then stiffen its body and drops to the ground.  There it may remain motionless, a dead twig, unnoticed by predators. 

     Not only is the walking stick able to ‘impersonate’ a dead twig on the ground;  it can even imitate a twig moving slightly in the breeze!  The insect achieves this feat by flexing its legs, which causes its body to sway slightly from side to side,  just as a twig might do in a breeze.

     Camouflage is also a key ingredient in the walking stick’s reproductive process.  For example, the eggs of many walking stick species look very much like the seeds of the particular species’ main host plant! 

     The female lays her eggs in the fall, one at a time.  She lays from one to several over the course of a day.  An egg may stick to a leaf of a tree or bush where she has attached herself, or an egg may simply fall to the ground.  Eggs are likely to hatch the following spring, but eggs may wait as long as years. if necessary, until conditions are right.  A walking stick typically lives for about a year. 

     Even if the female lacks a male partner, she can produce fertile eggs.   And these eggs are always female.  In fact, only one in 1,000 walking sticks is a male, scientists say.  

     Walking sticks are herbivores.   In the spring the newly hatched nymphs feed mainly on understory shrubs.  As the nymphs mature,  they eat throughout the crown of their host plants.  Among the many common trees favored as host plants by walking sticks in the U.S. are apple, basswood, birch, dogwood, hackberry, hickory, locust, oak, pecan, and wild cherry.

     Walking sticks often feed during the nighttime hours in order to evade detection by their predators, who include many birds, reptiles, primates, and bats.  But the walking stick’s nocturnal strategy and its camouflage do not work with bats.  Thanks to their echolocation or ‘radar,’ bats can relatively easily detect the whereabouts of a walking stick. 

     For the rest of this season, I think I will be looking more closely at the trees around me to see if I can see a walking stick ‘hiding out’ there.–April Moore

the American Walking Stick

the American Walking Stick




Fall Celebrations from Basho

Friday, October 16th, 2009

     Posted below are several poems about autumn by the great seventeenth century Japanese poet Basho.  His appreciation of nature was deep, and he loved to wander about, even in wilderness areas, observing the natural world in every season.  A master of Haiku, Basho expressed in a few simple words the feeling of a moment or a scene in nature.  These poems are in translation.  I wish I could read the originals in Japanese!–April Moore

A banana plant in the autumn gale–
I listen to the dripping of rain
Into a basin at night.

Autumn moonlight–
A worm digs silently
Into the chestnut.

Along this road
Goes no one;
This autumn evening.

A caterpillar,
This deep in fall–
Still not a butterfly.

Blowing stones
Along the road on Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.




New Conservation Partnership Adds Protection in Pacific Ocean

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

     The world’s two largest protected marine areas are now joined in a partnership that will enhance the conservation of 300,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

     One of the two areas, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, was made a U.S.  national monument in 2006.  Encompassing 140,000 square miles, the monument was, at that time, the largest protected marine area in the world.  The monument’s coral reefs are home to 7,000 marine species, one-fourth of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

     The other protected marine area is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, an archipelago in the Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kee-ree-boss), located near the Equator.  When it was set aside by the Kiribati government for special protection last year, its 158,500 square miles of ocean and islands became the world’s largest protected marine area.  The coral reefs and bird populations of the Phoenix Islands are unique and have been hardly touched by humans. 

     Representatives of the U.S. and Kiribati governments met in New York on September 29 to sign the agreement to jointly manage the two sites which, together, comprise 25% of all protected marine areas in the world. 

     “The United States is very pleased to engage in this marine conservation partnership with the Republic of Kiribati,” stated Eileen Sobeck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, who signed the agreement on behalf of the U.S.  “In the face of challenges like climate change and increasing societal demands on ever scarcer marine resources,” she said, “challenges that transcend national boundaries and dwarf the ability of any single nation to address–partnerships like this one are critical to the success of our efforts to preserve this natural heritage for future generations.”

     The two sites provide “ocean insurance for the Pacific against the depletion of marine life that has accelerated across the globe,” added the Republic of Kiribati’s director of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Tukabu Teroko.  “Together we can more effectively address the complex challenges of managing such large ocean areas,” he added. 

     This strengthened protection for the two vast sections of the Pacific Ocean comes none too soon.  The Papahanaumokuakea National Monument has been invaded by 13 alien algae, fish and marine invertebrates, say scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, probably  through ’biofouling,’ which is when organisms collect on the hulls of ships and thus travel to new areas.  In the Phoenix Islands, coral reefs are recovering from a 2002-03 thermal event that killed off a great deal of coral.–April Moore 

coral in the Phoenix Islands

coral in the Phoenix Islands

Papahanaumokuakea National Monument

Papahanaumokuakea National Monument



Friday, October 9th, 2009

     A few nights ago, when the moon was full, I looked out the window and noticed a silvery light illuminating the trees and their leaves.  I was reminded of a poem I love, by Walter de la Mare, in which he describes the world around him on a moonlit night.  It’s a beautiful poem, and I share it with you here.  For added enjoyment, you might want to read it aloud!–April Moore

by Walter de la Mare

Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep;
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws, and silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver weeds in a silver stream.

Take Action to Stop Global Warming

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

     I have just learned about the international organization  Its mission is to get people all over the world to take action to help stop the harmful warming of our planet. 

     Why the name ’’  Scientists say that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is the highest safe limit for humanity.  But the carbon dioxide now in our atmosphere is an alarming 385 parts per million (ppm) and rising.  According to climate experts, if we do not act quickly to bring the proportion of carbon in the atmosphere back to 350 ppm or lower, we risk reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt. 

     Already, major life systems are in decline, and weather patterns are increasingly erratic.  Unless we successfully address global warming, we are all in deep trouble.

     So what can you do to make a difference for the planet?  You can join with people in more than 140 countries who are observing the Day of Action, Saturday, October 24.  Organizers with are asking people all over the world to organize an event at a central site in their community and incorporate into it the number 350 and then to upload a photo of the event to’s website.  The organization will deliver all the photos to world leaders and the media to show, before December’s decisive climate change talks in Copenhagen, that people all over the globe demand decisive action by the world’s governments to address global warming.

     It doesn’t sound hard.  And people are planning all sorts of activities: marches, bike rides, and rallies in cities and on campuses; teach-ins; creating a human line along coasts where global warming means higher water levels; river and beach clean-ups;  service projects like building weatherization and improving bike trails; and much more. 

     These actions can all be valuable in attracting the attention of the community and in educating people.  Planning an event for the day of Action  will spread the word about the meaning of ’350′ and why we must all get involved in lowering the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere to 350 ppm.

     Find out more about the science of global warming, and get ideas and information for planning an October 24 event by visiting  I hope you’ll get involved.  One of my favorite sayings is, “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”–April Moore 

The Persistence of Life

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

     Looking around me, it seems clear that life is the driving force on this planet.  Was it Darwin who said that nature abhors a vacuum?  I learned from reading his Origin of Species that any niche or ‘vacancy’ in the natural world will be filled.  Life always pushes forward, begetting more life.  And life finds ingenious ways to surmount obstacles, to adapt and change if necessary.  I think of Albert Schweitzer who observed that all beings, even the tiniest, strive to live.  The life force drives us all.

     I was reminded of life’s persistence this morning when I took a stroll into the woods.  Not very far down the hill was the stump of a chestnut oak tree.  It was very old.  The diagonal cut that had severed the tree from its base has smoothed, darkened, and the perimeter of the cut has rounded with time.  The stump’s bark is covered with the green of lichens that have made the stump their home.

     To my surprise, the stump was the center of a formation I had not seen anywhere else.  Surrounding the stump was a wide, thick, brushy ‘wreath.’  So large and wreath-like did it look that I could imagine its having been removed from a giant’s door and placed on the ground circling the stump.   

     What is this ring about, I wondered.  As I looked closer, I saw that it was largely made of woody sprouts, or suckers, hundreds of them, shooting upward all about the stump.  The suckers appeared to have been clipped at the top, perhaps by hungry deer.  But as I dug through the dry, brown leaves that had collected in the ‘wreath’ and that gave it its full, wreath-on-the door look, I found here and there small green chestnut oak leaves growing from the suckers.  This stump, ‘killed’ so long ago, and that looked so dead, was alive!  It was trying to reclaim its ‘treehood,’ as it reached toward the sun from all around its base, as it continued to make leaves.

     Another stump, a dead one, I am sure, was supporting life of a different sort.  This stump, cut in such a way as to just miss being a nice little chair, serves as home, now to one type of fungus, and now to another.  For the last several weeks, I’ve noticed that plump, firm, off-white fungi seem to burst from the long-ago cuts that had rendered the tree into a stump.  One of the growths seemed to squeeze forth from between two closely made cuts.  As I examined these recent growths, I recalled that the stump had looked different not long ago.  Then, it was another fungus’s turn.  Instead of plump, firm fungi living in its cuts, the stump then supported thin, rubbery brown striped ‘turkey tails,’ marching up one side of the stump in a surprisingly even line.

     Walking farther into the woods, I noticed that the same thing was happening with the dead logs littering the forest floor.  They too have become a source of life for several kinds of fungus.  Pale green, leafy-looking growths dotted one log, and tiny white fans followed a furrow along the bark of another log.  And many logs were brushed with patches of pale green lichen.

     As I was looking about, I did a double take.  What was the dark, round form encased in a very dead, driftwood-like formation  just a few feet away?  Nestled tight between the earth and a cave-like curve in the dead wood, it turned out, was a darkened and dead basketball.  How long had it been there, I wondered?  How many years ago did the ball slip from a child’s hand and roll down the hill, to be caught and sheltered until now in some dead tree’s grasp?

     Unlike the wood that has changed from one form of life to another, this basketball, once part of the life of a child (perhaps mine), and not biodegradable, is now simply dead.–April Moore  

turkey tail

turkey tail


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