Archive for June, 2011

In Saving Energy this Summer, Timing Matters

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

     We can use our household appliances more efficiently, not just by running them less often, but by paying attention to the time of day when we do run them.

     During the summer months, the 3 pm-7 pm period is typically the time when demand for electricity is greatest, according to electricity providers.  Many utilities– municipal, investor-owned, and co-ops alike–urge consumers to avoid running appliances during those hours if possible.  Utility managers are trying to spread the demand for power throughout the day, rather than concentrate it in a single three or four hour period.

     There are two reasons why it is better for us to run our appliances earlier or later in the day to avoid the peak demand hours.  The first is a matter of convenience for ourselves and our neighbors.  The second is an environmental issue.

     By spreading demand for electricity throughout the summer day, rather than concentrating it in the 3-7 pm period, we help avoid power outages that can result from a demand that is greater than the system can handle.

     Since utilities determine the need to provide greater capacity (i.e. build a new power plant) on the utility’s ability to meet peak demand, it makes sense that consumer efforts to reduce peak demand will help avoid the need to build a new plant.  A new coal-powered plant increases the amount of mercury and other toxins in the air, and also means more carbon dioxide emissions.  A new nuclear plant saddles future generations with the burden of containing radiation for a very long time.

     So next time you’re about to run the dishwasher, clothes washing machine, dryer (if you’re not using Mother Nature’s dryer–the clothesline), air conditioner,  automatic swimming pool cleaning sweep, or other electrical appliance, you might want to check the time.  If it’s between 3:00 and 7:00 pm, ask yourself if the job can wait until after 7.  Or even until the next morning.  –April Moore 

 

    

Nature Surrounds Me, Wherever I Am

Friday, June 24th, 2011

     I post here a short piece from the book, Green Spirituality, by Veronica Ray.  This piece reminds me that we are never removed from nature.  We cannot be.  No matter how far the concrete and steel of a city may seem from the natural world, everything around us is from nature in some way.–April Moore

     “Many of us live in large urban communities filled with concrete and steel.  We may think that nature is far from us, out in the country somewhere, and we can’t get to it.

     “But nature is everywhere, all around us, all the time.  It’s not just found in our dogs, cats, and potted plants.  When we look at concrete, we can think about the sand, gravel, and water that went into it.  When we see houses and furniture, we can remember the trees that gave us that wood.  When we put on our clothes and make our bed, we can think of the cotton plants, the woolly sheep, and the downy geese that contributed to our warmth and comfort.

     “The natural world is all around us.  Metals and precious gems are mined from the earth.  Even many plastics come from petroleum products, which come from crude oil.  Everything, everywhere, is part of one whole natural world.  We can see it, think about it, and remember that we’re part of it too.”   

Great News: Permanent Protection for Boreal Forest

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

     This is just the kind of news I love to report!

     Nearly two million acreas of Canada’s boreal forest has received permanent legal protection.  The provincial government of Manitoba took action recently to protect this dense, northern forest from mining, road building, large scale logging, and transmission lines.  The protected land is about the size of Yellowstone and will be managed for wilderness values by a native group that has inhabited the region for thousands of years.  The group, the Poplar River First Nation, will also have access to the dense woods for sustainable community development.

     This decision by Manitoba’s government is a victory for the whole world.  Encircling the globe just south of the treeless polar region, the boreal forest is similar to the Amazon rainforest in the natural services it provides to the planet.  The boreal forest’s trees and peatlands, for example, comprise one of the world’s largest carbon sinks.  Boreal wetlands filter millions of gallons of water daily.  And vast reachess of intact forest, along with thousands of lakes, act as a nursery for 40% of North America’s migratory waterfowl and about 30% of the continent’s land birds, including our common backyard songbirds.  The dense forest is also an important refuge for gray wolves and caribou.

     Manitoba’s decision is the result of hard work by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Canadian First Nation groups, and others.  And these boreal forest advocates do not consider their work complete.   Neighboring First Nation communities are working to win similar protection for boreal forest near the protected area.  And that broader area will soon be nominated as a United Nations World Heritage Site.  If established, the World Heritage Site would encompass 10.6 million acres of boreal forest in Manitoba and Ontario, two provincial parks, and the traditional territories of involved First Nations. 

     As a World Heritage Site, this large segment of Canada’s boreal forest would receive international protection.   Currently, less than 8% of the boreal forest is protected, and large swaths of the forest have already been devoured by clearcutting timber operations, mining, and massie hydroelectric projects.

     Historically, the Canadian government has not included indigenous peoples in the management of areas where they have lived for many generations.  The success of indigenous people, along with conservation advocates, to get a provincial government to allow First Nation people to manage the protection of the heart of the boreal forest is a breakthrough, with positive implications for such efforts in the future.–April Moore

What’s In a Name?

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

     We all know the line from Shakespeare, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.”  But I’m not sure that’s always true.  For example, I noticed recently that I have a different feeling about rivers with names like the James or the Charles than I have about rivers called the Shenandoah or the Nishnabotna. 

 

     I realized that, at an unconscious level, I had imagined rivers with English names as tame, and rivers with Indian names as more wild and unspoiled.  How could a river with a name like the St. John’s be akin to the Ichetucknee, even though both rivers flow through north Florida, not far from one another?

 

     Once I noticed my unconscious assumption that rivers with Indian names had to be more wild and scenic than those with Anglo-Saxon men’s names, I began to think about names for waterways from other languages.  What about the Rio Grande?  It is a much, well, grander name for the giant, riparian border between Texas and Mexico than would be its English translation, the ‘Big River.’  After all, ‘Rio Grande’ implies a foreign culture on the river’s far banks.

 

     But in fact, not all English river names connote blandness for me.  On my cross-country bicycle trip many years ago, for example, I remember crossing Whitewoman Creek in Kansas.  There must be a story behind that name, I thought as I pedaled across the stream.  Had it been called Jones Creek, I certainly would not still remember it 35 years later.

 

     I guess I’m not the only one who feels that the name of a natural formation matters.  Many, many people loved it when Alaskans replaced the name Mount McKinley with its earlier name, Denali, meaning ‘the high one.’  How much more evocative is that Indian name than that of a U.S. president.

                        .

     Maybe the point is that names really do affect how we experience things, such as natural places.  Depending on the type of name, we may conjure up an image of great natural beauty, of wildness.  Or we may come up with an image of domestication, a result of our own culture’s efforts to establish dominion over the natural world.  

 

     But, in fact, whether we call North America’s tallest mountain Denali or McKinley, it is still the same wondrous earth formation, home to an entire life system of plants and animals.

 

     And, similarly with the river named James, after an English king.  Driving across it recently, I saw birds swooping close to its dark surface, diving for insects.  The banks looked green and full of life.  Despite its stuffy-sounding name, the river that runs through Virginia’s heartland is a glory.—April Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eco-Friendly Driveway

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

     An eco-friendly driveway?  What does a driveway have to do with the environment anyway?

     Well, the answer is ‘more than you might think.’  Here’s a surprising fact:  One inch of rainfall on the typical home’s asphalt driveway results in about 900 gallons of runoff water that enters local storm drains and finds its way into streams, rivers, and ultimately the ocean.

     And what’s wrong with water running off the driveway and into the sea?  “Waters that run off hard surfaces like pavement do not have the opportunity to soak back into the earth,” writes David Helvarg, founder of the ocean advocacy organization Blue Frontier.  “Instead of being absorbed and filtered through the soil, the rainwater pools and floods, picking up debris, oily wastes, and other contaminants and depositing them in local waterways,” Helvarg explains.

     But a driveway made of gravel, crushed seashells, or wood chips is permeable.  Rain water soaks into the ground, and runoff is greatly reduced.  But if you still want a hard surface driveway, says Helvarg, you can still minimize runoff by installing widely spaced concrete slabs or bricks and filling the gaps with sand or grass.  Or you can choose paving blocks called “permeable pavers.”  They look like ordinary bricks but have channels that funnel water between the blocks, allowing it to percolate into the ground.–April Moore

Fireflies

Friday, June 10th, 2011

     Last week I saw my first fireflies of the season.  In honor of those early ones and of those  yet to come this summer, I post here Mary Oliver’s lovely poem “Fireflies”–April Moore

FIREFLIES
      by Mary Oliver

At Blackwater
fireflies
are not even a dime a dozen–
they are free,

and each floats and turns
among the branches of the oaks
and the swamp azaleas
looking for another

as, who doesn’t?
Oh, blessings
on the intimacy
inside fruition,

be it foxes
or the fireflies
or the dampness inside the petals
of a thousand flowers.

Though Eden is lost
its loveliness
remains in the heart
and the imagination;

he would take her
in a boat
over the dark water;
she would take him

to an island she knows
where the blue flag grows wild
and the grass is deep,
where the birds

perch together,
feather to feather,
on the bough.
And the fireflies,

blinking their little lights,
hurry toward one another.
And the world continues,
God willing.

It’s Mountain Laurel Season

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

     It’s early June and peak season for enjoying mountain laurel in the Shenandoah Valley.  This is the time of year when ornate blossoms adorn these hardy evergreen bushes that thrive on the Valley’s rocky slopes and forested hillsides.

     For about a week now, I have been enjoying the mountain laurel flowers blooming in the forest near our home.  And over the weekend I had the chance to spend many hours among mountain laurel, as my husband, our son, his friend, and I hiked in the Shenandoah National Park.  The mountain laurel’s white blossoms dotted single shrubs here and there, and formed a profusion of white in other spots where large numbers of the shrub grew close together.  And now and then, at the higher altitudes, it seemed, some of the even prettier pink mountain laurel flowers bloomed.

     The blossom of the mountain laurel is truly something to see.  Its complex structure and dainty appearance are a delight to behold.  The flowers ”are shaped like upside-down ballerina tutus, with the petals fused together,” writes Jennifer Frick-Ruppert in Mountain Nature:  A Seasonal Natural History of the Southern Appalachians.  I also like the rest of her description:

“Each of the 10 pollen-bearing stamens arches outward and anchors its tip inside the rim of the flower in a tiny pocket until the pollen has matured.  Then, when an insect lands on the flower and touches the stamen filament, its tip pops loose from the flower, snaps over, and smacks the insect on the back, dusting it with pollen.  Once tripped, the stamens remain curled. 

“When the insect visits another flower and brushes against the female stigma, it transfers its load of pollen.  You can imitate the insect by sticking your finger into the flower of a mountain laurel.  Poke the spring-loaded filament and it should snap forward to leave a yellow dusting of pollen on your fingernail.  If you play this game, however, finish it by transferring pollen to another flower’s stigma.  If the flower is on another plant, the likelihood of successful seed set is greater.”

     I just went outside and tried Frick-Ruppert’s experiment.  The results were not quite as dramatic as she described, but the thread-like stamens did break loose from their hold on the inside edge of the flower and then curl a bit.  The amount of pollen I found on my finger, however, appeared negligible.

     Despite the beauty of its flowers, the mountain laurel is quite poisonous.  Everything about it, including the flowers, is toxic to deer and other animals.  But the mountain laurel’s wood has proved valuable for generations in the making of furniture.   One of the plant’s names, Spoonwood, comes from the Native Americans’ use of the wood to make spoons. 

     Although mountain laurel’s usual name suggests it is a mountain plant, it also thrives in non-mountainous areas, as long as the soil is acidic.  Mountain laurel ranges from southern Maine to northern Florida and grows as far west as Indiana and Louisiana.  Connecticut and Pennsylvania have chosen it as their state flower.–April Moore

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The Sweetest Sound

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

     I can think of no sweeter sound than the song of a wood thrush.

     As dusk closes in on a summer evening, and I am in the kitchen washing dishes, I hear from down in the forest the singing of a wood thrush.  Sometimes I must stop what I’m doing to get closer to the sound.   I stroll down the hill into the woods in the day’s fading light, and I am immediately soothed by the singing of unseen musicians.  The sounds of one bird singing its trilling song and another piping its response make their way directly into my heart.  And all cares, thoughts, preoccupations vanish.  I am in the moment, in love with the sound and with the forest around me.

   The song of the wood thrush is like no other bird’s song that I know.  Its incredible sweetness is hard to describe.  Each sequence of notes may be different from the last, one ending high, the next low, with tuneful warbles in between.  The song of the wood thrush seems more like music than the songs of other birds.  And the reason, apparently, is that the wood thrush has a more complex syrinx (song box) than other birds, enabling it to sing two notes at once.  The wood thrush can harmonize with itself!   

          Sometimes when I am in the forest enjoying the wood thrush’s music, a romantic picture comes to my mind.  I see Pierre, the earnest, anguished, idealistic aristocrat of Tolstoy’s War and Peace strolling through the Russian forest with his wife Natasha.  I’m not sure whether I am recalling an actual scene from the book, or just imagining it.  But since I love the character of Pierre, I imagine him drinking in the wood thrush’s evening serenade deeply, as I do.

     One writer who definitely wrote about the wood thrush was Henry David Thoreau.  He said of its song, “Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and nature is in her spring;  wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.”  Wow. 

     For such a magnificent singer, the wood thrush seems a modest soul, seldom making an appearance to us humans.  If you do see a wood thrush perched on a tree branch or hunting for insects on the forest floor, you may be surprised by its unassuming appearance.  The bird’s head and back are brown, and its white breast is dotted with spots of bright brown.  Only its large dark eye, encircled in a white ring, gives the bird a distinctive look.  This is a bird that blends in with its background–except when it sings.  And then it is the star of the forest.

     If you would like to watch and listen to a wood thrush as it sings, just click on the link below:

Watch and listen as a wood thrush sings.

A few facts about the wood thrush:

  • The wood thrush is a robin-sized bird.
  • Only the male is known to sing.  Typically, he sings in the early morning and at the end of the day.  At the height of breeding season, however, he may sing anytime during the day.
  • The wood thrush spends the summer breeding season in forest areas throughout the eastern United States, and winters in Central America.
  • The bird is an interior forest bird, rarely seen outside of deep woods.
  • A pair of wood thrushes may raise more than one brood each year.  Both parents feed the young.
  • Wood thrushes have been seen ‘anting,’ picking up ants and rubbing them on their feathers.  The reason for this behavior is not well-understood.  Is the bird acquiring defensive secretions?  Is the bird supplementing its own oily coating?
  • The wood thrush eats ants, moths, caterpillars, and more.  In the late summer and fall it eats the fruit of such trees as black cherry, tupelo, elderberry, and spicebush.–April Moore

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