Archive for February, 2010
Friday, February 26th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† “Whose woods these are¬†I think I know.”
¬†¬†¬†¬† Actually, I don’t know.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† According to the deed, these woods on the slope below our house belong to my husband and me.¬† But I certainly don’t feel¬†I ‘own’ them.¬† Standing in the hard-edged holes my feet have made in the crusted snow, I marvel at the quiet that I can hear only¬†when I stop walking.¬†¬†I feel¬†nothing at all akin to ownership.¬†¬†Instead, I feel I am being allowed into a sacred space, one¬†larger and¬†more wondrous than anything I ‘own.’¬† That line from Robert Frost’s¬†poem¬†”Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” rings soothingly,¬†but it also¬†reminds me how preposterous is the idea of¬†owning these–or any–woods.
¬†¬†¬†¬† After just a few moments of standing still in the snowy woods, the forest is filling me,¬† feeding me.¬† I take in the sky, the trees, and the snow all around me.¬†¬†The sky is blue, barely.¬† Not a¬†deep, bright New Mexico blue, but¬†a pale, winter Virginia¬† blue.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The sun is shining for the first time in days.¬† In the morning sunshine,¬†the tall, bare trees are¬†stretching southward from their bases, extending along the surface of the¬†snow in long, grey streaks.¬† A tangle of¬†young, thin trees commingle on the snow to create¬†an undifferentiated mat of grey.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I crunch¬†on down the hill to sit on a fallen tree, bare of snow.¬† And I make plenty of noise getting¬†there!¬† With the snow¬†on the ground for so long,¬†through high winds and melting,¬†walking has become an unpredictable affair.¬† One step may end on top of the snow,¬†while the next¬†may send¬†my foot crashing through the crust, down seven or eight inches.¬† I¬†lurch along,¬†making my way unevenly.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Sitting on the downed tree, I look around at the snow.¬† It’s dirty.¬† Although this forest is too far from the road to be blackened by soot or car exhaust, the snow here has¬†lost its¬†pristine, new-fallen¬†look.¬† All about me the snow¬†is dotted with¬†tiny bits of debris–a dried whorl of pine needles here, crumbs of organic matter there.¬† I surmise that these¬†bits have been blown here–tiny pieces of bark loosened from trees,¬†wood¬†dust from¬†woodpeckers’¬†drilling, shreds of brittle pine cones, all thrown¬†¬†up the snowy hill¬†by howling¬†winds from the west.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I notice another curious thing as I sit.¬†¬†Here and there I see slender dents in the snow.¬†¬†Each one, about an inch wide and a couple of inches deep, cradles a twig.¬† And each dent is¬†shaped perfectly to match the twig it holds.¬†¬†How could such small twigs have made these dents?¬† Surely they are much too¬†light to have dented this crusty snow when they broke off from a tree above.¬†¬†I am puzzled, especially since my¬†own weight does¬†not always dent the snow.¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† This question reminds me¬†of another curious thing I¬†have noticed in the days immediately following every¬†major snowfall this winter.¬† An empty¬†space¬†soon appears around each tree trunk, so that¬†every tree is standing in its own¬†tiny¬†’clearing,’ devoid of¬†snow.¬† At first I wondered if trees, living beings that they are, exuded¬†warmth, even a slight warmth that might be enough to melt the snow with which it is¬†in immediate contact.¬† But then I also noticed that even the stone statue of St. Francis is surrounded by his own little snowless ring.¬† Even if a tree¬†exudes heat, a stone statue doesn’t.¬† What then?¬† I am still¬†stumped.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† As I sit pondering, I hear a pileated woodpecker calling from the south.¬† Its call grows louder¬†as it approaches, and I wait for it eagerly.¬† Soon the bird flaps into¬†view, and I¬†ogle it until it¬†disappears again, its call fading into the north.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I sit¬†smiling, so¬†happy in these woods that¬†are¬†too wild and free for anyone to own.–April Moore¬†¬†
the forest under a clear sky
trees casting their shadows on snow
bits of debris on snow
a tree in the middle of a snow ring
snow dented by a twig
Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† I am starting to feel that spring is around the corner.¬† But it is still¬†winter for a few more weeks, so I will savor what’s left of it.¬† For my own enjoyment, and I hope for yours,¬†I would¬†like¬†to share with you a few reflections on the passing season from¬†a writer I love, Annie Dillard.¬† These excerpts are from her essay, aptly titled¬†Winter, included in her 1974 book¬†The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.¬† I thank my friend Seth Binsted¬†for¬†reminding me of how much I love this book that I first¬†read more than 30 years ago.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Annie Dillard is¬†both a naturalist and a gifted writer.¬† Her descriptions–and the wonders she describes–evoke many a ‘wow’ from me.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† “It snowed.¬† It snowed all yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud.¬† The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl.¬† The snow looks light and the sky dark, but in fact the sky is lighter than the snow.¬† Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than its illuminator.¬† The classical demonstration of this point involves simply laying a mirror flat on the snow so that it reflects in its surface the sky, and comparing by sight this value to that of the snow.¬† This is all very well, even conclusive, but the illusion persists.¬† The dark is overhead and the light at my feet;¬† I’m walking upside-down in the sky.”
¬†¬†¬†¬† “Sant-Exupery says that when flocks of wild geese migrate high over a barnyard, the cocks and even the dim, fatted chickens fling themselves a foot or so into the air and flap for the south.”
¬†¬†¬†¬† “Yesterday I watched a curious nightfall.¬† The cloud ceiling took on a warm tone, deepened, and departed as if drawn on a leash.¬† I could no longer see the fat snow flying against the sky;¬† I could see it only as it fell before dark objects.¬† Any object at a distance–like the dead, ivy-covered walnut I see from the bay window–looked like a black-and-white frontispiece seen through the sheet of white tissue.¬† It was like dying, this watching the world recede into deeper and deeper blues while the snow piled;¬† silence swelled and extended, distance dissolved, and soon only concentration at the largest shadows let me make out the movement of falling snow, and that too failed.¬† The snow on the yard was blue as ink, faintly luminous;¬† the sky violet.¬† The bay window betrayed me, and started giving me back the room’s lamps.¬† It was like dying, that growing dimmer and deeper and then going out.”
Friday, February 19th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† I hope you will click on the orangutan and the hound at the bottom of this posting.¬† You will be taken to a video that depicts a beautiful friendship.¬† Not a friendship we would readily imagine, between two people, or even between a human and a beloved pet.¬† This unlikely-seeming friendship¬†unites an orangutan and a dog!¬† And it is fascinating to behold.¬† According to the video’s narrator, orangutans and dogs are not normally interested in each other.¬† But when Suryia the orangutan met Roscoe the hound dog, it was love at first sight.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I am fascinated by¬†friendships between animals of different species.¬† I have read¬†numerous accounts of what seem to be genuine and loving relationships¬†between mammals of very different species.¬†¬†Are particular species naturally compatible with certain other species?¬† Or is there just something in the personalities of the two¬†individual animals that draws them together?¬† Or is¬†it¬†loneliness, a separation from others of one’s kind¬†that drives¬†two very different types of mammals together for some needed companionship?¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† And I wonder how similar animal friendships are¬†to human friendships.¬† Are animal friends like human friends in that¬†there is a¬†special spark each feels for the friend that just isn’t there¬†with most others?¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I have watched this video several times, and I am moved by the great joyfulness of the orangutan.¬† He seems made for pleasure.¬† His every move conveys happiness in being alive.¬† He rolls over and over in the grass;¬†¬†he splashes with abandon in the pool;¬† he hugs his arms behind his head and throws himself backward onto the grass;¬† he¬†grabs a railing above¬†his head and swings himself around and around from it.¬† He hugs the dog close, and, I swear, appears to be smiling!¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† When I watch Suryia, I feel a kinship with him.¬† How alike we are, I think, we humans and the orangutans.¬† I too have felt all I see¬† him express.¬†¬†I¬†am thankful that he¬†is so happy, that he has¬†a¬†cherished friend¬†with whom to¬†play and share his natural exuberance on a daily basis.¬†¬†And these two friends are fortunate to be cared for by a human couple who obviously love them and treat them kindly.
¬†¬†¬†¬† I may tend to¬†anthropomorphize, to¬†attribute human qualities to animals who don’t actually have such feelings.¬† But with our fellow primates, I feel sure that I am¬†looking in a mirror.¬† These animals truly are our close relatives.¬† They love, and¬†they exhibit a wide range of¬†feelings we humans know very well.
¬†¬†¬†¬† When I watch this video, and I look into the eyes of Suryia, this close relative of mine, I wish him well.¬† I want the best for him and his fellow orangutans, these endangered species who love life so much.¬† I want them to be able to live in the joy that seems to be their birthright.¬†–April Moore
Please click below:
The orangutan and the hound
Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† The National Audubon Society, long known for its work to protect our bird populations, has launched an exciting new initiative that¬†is helping¬†not only birds, but¬†thousands of people as well.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† For the last few years, Audubon has been establishing nature centers right in the middle of some of our largest cities.¬†¬†As¬†many cities have grown¬†in population and sprawl over the last¬† decades, birds have had an increasingly difficult time finding the habitat they require.¬† And many urban areas are hostile to migrating birds.¬† As they fly through urban areas, the birds¬†cannot find the trees, shrubs, and grassland they need, and so¬†are forced to land on concrete and metal.
¬†¬†¬†¬† The six¬†urban nature centers Audubon has created so far–in Phoenix, Brooklyn, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas,¬†and Columbus–¬†demonstrate that¬†a wasted industrial site can be transformed into a productive¬†ecosystem teeming with¬†life, even in the middle of a big city!¬†¬† In the heart of downtown Phoenix, for example,¬†a landfill was replaced with a natural Sonoran Desert habitat that attracts more than 200 species of birds and other animals.¬† Species once seen only rarely in the area, like owls, roadrunners, hawks, herons, and hummingbirds, are now common sights there.¬†¬†The¬†newly created¬†habitat includes an environmentally friendly structure, in which adults and kids alike can learn about the flora and fauna native to their area.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Another¬†urban nature center, New York City’s¬†Prospect Park Audubon Center, is housed in an historic¬†landmark boathouse in Brooklyn.¬† Around the building, natural habitat has been carefully restored.¬† As a result,¬†hundreds of bird species have been spotted, including such rare birds as the pied-billed grebe and the American bittern.¬†¬†The Center includes a cafe, interactive exhibits,¬†a nature theater, and a¬†learning lab.
¬†¬†¬†¬† In the cities where urban nature centers have been established, adults and children alike have been¬†observing the birds and wildlife¬†there.¬† That’s a¬†good thing, maintains Judy Braus, Audubon’s senior vice-president for Education and Centers.¬† Since most Americans today do live in cities,¬†many, many peoople¬†have little contact with nature.¬† But by visiting a¬†nature center close to home, city dwellers can gain an awareness of the wealth and beauty of living things that surround them, and have an enriching experience, Braus explains.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Braus is especially pleased that the urban nature centers are increasing children’s opportunities to experience nature.¬†¬†“We are especially worried that children raised in urban settings will grow up with no appreciation of or connection to the natural world,”¬†she explains.¬† “And if our children have no appreciation for the value of nature,” she asks, “what will the future hold for our birds and wildlife?”¬† She is hopeful that by providing young people with greater access to nature,¬†¬†these urban nature centers will help stimulate and develop a new generation of conservation leaders for the future.¬†–April Moore
Prospect Park Audubon Center, Brooklyn
Friday, February 12th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† Not only has this winter¬†been the snowiest of the dozen¬†I’ve experienced in Virginia; it is by far the ‘icicliest!’¬† In fact, I don’t¬†think I have ever seen such¬†giant, muscular-looking, sword-like icicles in my life!¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Now, I grew up with icicles.¬† Icicles formed part of the backdrop of my winter play in Minneapolis.¬† In fact, when thirsty, we kids would just snap off an icicle from a low-hanging eave and suck in its coldness¬†like a popsicle.
¬†¬†¬†¬† But here in Virginia this winter, the icicles are huge–longer, wider, ¬†more formidable than anything I can remember in the much snowier, much colder Midwest.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The icicles outside our kitchen window form almost a drapery, with many of them joined at the top in a wide mass that only separates into¬†individual icicles seven or eight inches below the¬†roof’s edge.¬†¬† Outside another window,¬†icicles are relatively thin from side to side, but they extend outward several inches, resembling¬†vertical window blinds.¬† And some of the icicles¬†don’t just head straight down.¬†¬†They take a short,¬†eastward detour at the tip, a shape I attribute to wind blowing from the west as¬†drops of ‘icicle melt’¬†are¬†clinging to the icicles’ tips.
¬†¬†¬†¬† But what has most astounded me is the length of some of these icicles!¬†¬†Some are–and I am not exaggerating–more than seven feet long!¬†¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† So why, here in¬†relatively mild Virginia,¬†are the icicles so much more a hulking presence than anything I remember in the Midwest?¬† ¬†Shouldn’t southern icicles¬†be, if anything,¬†tamer than their northern cousins?¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I have been pondering this question at I stare, fascinated, at the icicles obscuring more¬†of our window space with each passing day.¬† I shared my wondering with my husband Andy, who came up with a hypothesis that seems like it might be the answer.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Here in Virginia, he reasons, the temperature rises to around freezing on many days, unlike in Minnesota ,where the temperature falls way below freezing and just stays there.¬† With Virginia’s warmer temperatures, the icicles drip a little bit on most days.¬† Then when the temperature drops, the water dripping from the tips¬†refreezes into an icicle that is a little¬†longer than before.¬† Those Minnesota icicles, however, don’t spend much time dripping because the temperature rarely reaches¬†32 degrees.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† So if you like icicles, as I do, then a generally warmer place, like Virginia, is the place to be!
¬†¬†¬†¬† I invite you to take a look at my icicle photos below, taken at my house in the last few days.–April Moore
Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†I¬†invite you to spend a little time this weekend enjoying–and helping–the birds in your area by participating in the thirteenth annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), February 12-15.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Organized jointly by the Audubon Society and¬†Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab,¬†the¬†GBBC engages thousands of ordinary people across the U.S. and Canada in observing birds over a winter weekend, and then letting scientists know, by filling out an online form,¬†how many birds of which species they observed and where.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Bird Count is a great help to¬†our feathered friends!¬† It provides scientists with a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent.¬†¬†Bird populations are dynamic and in constant flux.¬† So by monitoring their numbers and whereabouts¬†year after year, scientists are amassing a great deal of data that¬†reveal trends over time,¬†that allow¬†researchers¬†to investigate¬† such far-reaching questions as how birds are responding to a changing climate and to changes in¬†available food sources.¬† In short, how are the different¬†North American bird species faring?¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† And why February?¬† “Winter is such¬†a¬†vulnerable time for birds,”¬†explains Janis Dickinson, director of Citizen Science at ¬†the Cornell Lab, “so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change.”¬† And there is only one¬†way, she says, to gather data on private lands where people live, and that is with thousands of people helping.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Our help is needed because no single scientist or team of scientists could possibly gather as much information as thousands of people,¬†all over the U.S. and¬†Canada, in urban,¬†suburban,¬†rural, park, and other settings¬†submitting data.¬† Last year’s GBBC was the continent’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever, with¬†more than 90,000 checklists generated, and¬†more than 11.5 million individual birds of over 600 different species counted.¬†¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† So wherever you live–in an apartment in a big city, in a¬†suburban neighborhood, on a farm,¬†anywhere–you can¬†join in.¬† You can make your observations from your window,¬†standing in your yard, in a neighborhood park, in the forest, in a field, etc.¬† As little as¬†15 minutes spent counting birds will be a useful contribution.¬†¬†If you wish, you can count birds each day, in different locations,¬†during the four-day¬†count.¬† And¬†don’t worry if you’re not an expert at identifying birds.¬† At the GBBC Web site,¬† http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/¬† you can find photos and sounds of the birds you are likely to see in your geographic area.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† Visiting the¬†Web site is the next step if you think you may want to participate this weekend.¬† There you will learn how to document what you see, how to avoid counting individual birds more than once, and how to distinguish between species that look very similar.¬† You will also find the online form you’ll need to¬†report your observations, as well as ideas for involving kids in the Great Backyard Bird Count.¬†¬† The site also enables you to track observations of birds in your immediate area over the last 12 years.
¬†¬†¬†¬† So I hope you’ll join me, and the thousands of others, who will be spending a little time this weekend focusing on–and helping these amazing little beings.–April Moore¬†
Friday, February 5th, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† I am told we are at the epicenter of today’s¬†giant Mid-Atlantic snowstorm.¬† That’s fine with me;¬† I love snow.¬† Snow is what makes the cold of winter¬†worthwhile.
¬†¬†¬†¬† Since I work from my house, staying home is not the treat for me that it is for¬†teachers, students, retailers, and the¬†many others around here who are forced to take today off.¬† But fortunately, even though I spend more time at home than most people, I usually love being here.¬† I¬†frequently stare out the windows, looking beyond the icicles¬†at the falling snow.¬† It¬†feels cozy to know that the snow won’t be stopping anytime soon.¬† In fact, reports are that it will continue late into¬†tomorrow evening.
¬†¬†¬†¬† This has been a banner year¬†for us snow lovers.¬† In the dozen winters¬†we have spent here on¬†our ridge in the Shenandoah Valley, this is the snowiest.¬† In¬†the past, each snowfall¬†has certainly been¬†a sensory delight,¬†punctuating¬†long periods of mere cold.¬† But this year¬†the snows have come in waves,¬†mighty and frequent, each one covering the last, still on the ground.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I am reminded of my Minnesota childhood;¬† once the snow began falling in earnest,¬† that was the last anyone saw of the ground until spring.¬† And I can’t forget my son’s childhood.¬† Even though he is now¬†21 years old, I¬†still¬†listen attentively to the¬†school closing announcements on the radio.¬† I¬†perk up as the announcer approaches¬† the ‘esses,’¬†listening eagerly for¬†’Shenandoah County Schools.’¬†¬† Hearing it gives me a little lift;¬† not hearing it is slightly disappointing.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† I’m happy that the kids¬†and teachers get the day off, and that the forest where I live is¬†silent, as the snow falls and falls.¬† I don’t plan to go anywhere for awhile, at least not by car.¬† I’ll be¬†skiing along¬†the ridge or tromping in boots down into the¬†snowy woods.
¬†¬†¬†¬† And here are some photos I have taken in the last few days–around the house and down in the woods.–April Moore¬†
Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010
¬†¬†¬†¬† More than 200 miles of shoreline and pristine beaches along Africa’s¬†southeast¬†coast are now protected.¬† The newly created Marine Protected Area is the largest such area in Africa, and it runs from southern Mozambique south into northeastern South Africa.¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† This international effort connects two existing reserves, Mozambique’s Maputo Special Reserve¬† and the¬†iSimangaliso Wetland Park in South Africa.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Mozambique portion of the new Marine Protected Area is home to rare and endangered species, and to many mammals and ecosystems.¬† The area¬†also includes sensitive breeding grounds of leatherback and loggerhead turtles, currently threatened by human encroachment and by uncontrolled harvesting of the¬† turtles’ eggs.¬† Southern Mozambique is also a major¬†nursery for commercially important fish populations, with larvae and eggs carried in south-flowing currents into¬†South Africa’s iSimangaliso Park.¬†¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† iSimangaliso, translated as ‘miracle and wonder,’¬†encompasses three major lake systems and eight interlinking ecosystems.¬† The park also includes South Africa’s remaining swamp forests and¬†the continent’s largest estuarine system.¬† iSimangaliso is home to more than 500 bird species.¬† And its 25,000 year old coastal dunes are some of the world’s highest.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† The Marine Protected Area designation is vital to the preservation of southeastern Africa’s coastal ecosystems.¬† The new status means that¬†such activities as¬†using¬†¬†explosives in fishing, fishing on coral reefs, industrial fishing,¬†and driving motorized vehicles on the beaches will all be prohibited.¬†
¬†¬†¬†¬† “All parties are to be congratulated on this transfrontier initiative which is desperately needed along a heavily exploited coastline, threatened under the weight of beach tourism,” according to the Zululand Wildlife eForum, a South African nonprofit organization.–April Moore
photo by John Nelson