Archive for October, 2011

Birdland

Friday, October 28th, 2011

     I decided the other morning to go outside for awhile to nourish my spirit.  I thought I might shuffle through some leaves and enjoy the fall color.  But as often happens when I go out for a little ‘spirit time,’ the wonders that I actually experience turn out to be different from those I’d imagined.

     As I strolled down into what was formerly an orchard, I noticed movement in the nearby butterfly bush.  There, in the cover of leaves and branches was a little grey bird.  Could it be a junco?  This early in the season?  While I couldn’t see whether this bird had the distinctive grey and white junco breast, this fellow did sport a short, stout junco beak.  And it was making those slight, sweet chipping sounds that juncoes make.  And then I noticed a second grey bird a little higher in the bush.  Yes, both were juncoes!  Soon, the first bird flew up and out, to perch in the top of a big oak tree farther down the hill.  Within seconds, the second junco swooped off to join the first.

     No sooner had the juncoes flown off than I began to notice quite a bit of avian activity right around me.  At the center of the action was the nearby pole bird feeder.  Titmice made their way to it from at least 100 yards off, from beyond the other side of the house.  I watched individual titmice, as they flew under the deck, close to the ground,  navigating with ease around deck support posts.  Once out from under the deck, the birds would make several stops en route to the feeder.  After perching for a second or two in the corkscrew willow, a titmouse would lift and then settle in the magnolia tree a few feet closer to the feeder.  Then closer.  Once a bird reached the tree just over the feeder, it would let go and glide down, gracefully wrapping its little feet around the feeder’s edge.   

     Standing on the hillside below the feeder, I watched each titmouse, perched on the rim of the feeder.  It would turn its head sharply from side to side, as if to satisfy itself that it was indeed safe to dip down and pluck out a sunflower seed.  Then, having done so, the bird would take off.  Back under the deck it swooped, to eat its snack in peace in an undisclosed location.–April Moore 

 

the center of the action--the pole and umbrella shield are liberally greased with shortening in an attempt to deter squirrels

the center of the action--the pole and umbrella shield are liberally greased with shortening in an attempt to deter squirrels

 

 

Food Day: A Worthwhile Observance

Friday, October 21st, 2011

     This Monday, October 24, is Food Day.  The purpose of Food Day, according to its organizers, is to transform the American diet.   It’s a big task, they admit, but an essential one.  ”We want to inspire a broad movement of people all over the country who want healthful, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way,” explains my old friend Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Day’s sponsor.   In other words, Jacobson says, “we want people to eat real.”

     CSPI has worked for decades to educate the public about the importance of building meals around vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.  And the goals of Food Day are to get Americans to cook real food for their families again, to spend less time at the drive-through and more time at the farmers’ market, to celebrate fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and the farmers who produce them. 

     “What we eat should be bolstering our health,” says Jacobson.   ”But it’s actually contributing to several hundred thousand premature deaths from heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancer each year.”  Just as important, he adds, “the way our food is produced is all too often harmful to the environment, farm workers, and farm animals.”

     Food Day is about all of us making changes in our lives to support healthful eating and sustainable agriculture.  But it’s also about making societal changes, such as federal policies that support small and mid-sized farms, rather than pouring billions of dollars each year into huge farms that produce monoculture commodity crops.  Farmworkers deserve protection from the harmful pesticides used to grow these vast acreages of commodities.  And ‘factory farms’ that hold millions of chickens, pigs, and cows should be replaced with farms that minimize suffering and avoid the pollution of our soil, water, and air, say Food Day organizers.

     Eaters all over America are celebrating Food Day in some creative ways.  Here are just a few of the planned activities:

  • In Homer, Alaska, local farmers will provide high school students with a lunch of roasted root vegetables.  The lunch will follow a “sensual journey lab” in which students will focus on reawakening a sense of taste in their writing.
  • In Richmond, Virginia, the Uptown Community Garden will host a pot luck.  People are invited to bring a healthful dish prepared from local products, and enjoy meeting others interested in good, local food.  People can also sign up for a plot in the community garden.
  • Missouri State University volunteers in Springfield will coordinate a letter writing campaign calling on Congress to support Food Day principles.
  • At Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Downtown Growers Market, city folk will have the chance to meet some of the farmers who grow fruits and vegetables in Albuquerque.  Visitors to the Market can also meet representatives of organizations working to conserve local agricultural land and to promote more healthful school lunches.
  • Volunteers in Jeffers, Montana will lend a hand in the end-of-season community garden clean-up, plant perennial crops, install signage and bird houses, a toolshed, and more.  Participants are then eligible to attend a community dinner of locally made foods.

     I am heartened by the growing movement to support healthful, locally grown food, sustainable agriculture, and humane treatment of animals.   And I am impressed by the great number and variety of activities planned all over the country in conjunction with Food Day.  To find a Food Day-related activity near you, just visit the Food Day website at  http://foodday.org/participate/  April Moore

my sister, my niece, and I LOVING lunch at a restaurant in Meadowview, VA, which serves primarily locally grown foods

my sister, my niece, and I LOVING lunch at a restaurant in Meadowview, VA, which serves primarily locally grown foods

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

  

All over the country, people will be holding events designed to get all of us thinking about the importance of

Fall Is Coming Along

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

     Fall is here.  The forest near my house is an autumn painting in progress, gaining color every day.

         A couple of days ago, I took a short walk to get a good look at how some of my favorite trees are coming along.  It was a joy to be among them, to look at their leaves, so green and fresh a few short months ago, now so completely altered.

     The red maple outside our bedroom balcony is still mostly green, save for a small, internal pocket of red, red, red.  I am reminded of a teacher of mine long ago, who fascinated her students with her jet black hair interrupted by a sudden streak of pure white.

     But this red maple is so different from the one that leans over our back deck.  The leaves of the tree in back are being consumed by a deep burgundy.  Some leaves have been completely overtaken, and all green has been erased.  On other leaves, a little green is still holding on in the middle, near the stem.  Only a few leaves on the tree still retain most of their green.  On them, the burgundy has advanced no farther than the tips.  But I know what’s coming!

     Then there are the stalwart giants that I love, those chestnut oaks that dominate our forest.  The last to leaf out in spring, they are also the last to shed their leaves in the fall.  Today most of the chestnut oaks’ leaves are still green.  But a few leaves are a dull yellow, well on their way to an even duller brown.  The nearby chestnut oak saplings, however, these masters of camouflage, are completely brown–every leaf and twig. 

     Finally, I take in one of my very favorites–the giant sugar maple farther down the hill.  Looking at the lower branches on a level with my eyes, I see hints of the glory to come, dots of orange speckling the green leaves.  I imagine the spread of these unassuming dots, that will transform the leaves into tongues of orange that will join with its fellows  to form a massive blaze of orange, from the highest to the lowest branches.--April Moore 

a red maple tree, with its swath of red

a red maple tree, with its swath of red

 

the leaf of a red maple, being overtaken by fall color

the leaf of a red maple, being overtaken by fall color

 

 

Goats to the Rescue!

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

     The little bog turtle is threatened with extinction, but it is getting help from an unlikely source–goats! 

     This turtle, which, even when full-grown can fit into the palm of your hand, lives in sunny swamps–marshy places that are filled with low-growing plants and waist-deep mud pits.  These mud pits are actually hidden streams that the turtles use as freeways.  But the fens (spring-fed wetlands) that are home to the bog turtle are disappearing throughout the bog turtle’s range, which extends from Vermont to Georgia and as far west as Ohio. 

     A key reason for these swampy meadows’ disappearance is the rapid invasion of a non-native grass called phragmites.  Phragmites quickly grows into a dense thicket that steals the sunlight and dries out the soil.  Mowing and pulling the weeds by hand have not kept up with the spread of phragmites because it grows back so quickly.

     Now for the good news.  For several years, goats have been ‘employed’ in efforts to control the spread of phragmites in the swamps where bog turtles live.  And these animals have achieved what human efforts could not!     For example, in New York, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to bring in goats to tackle the phragmites in one of the last remaining homes of the bog turtle, the Hudson River Valley.  When the goats arrived, the swamp had become one big, dried-out weed patch, explains Jason Tesauro of EDF.  But the hungry goats ate everything in sight.  A year later, that dry patch was once again a sunny swamp.  And bog turtles returned and began to lay eggs, says Tesauro. 

     While the goats eat native plants right along with the invasive phragmites, the natives bounce back quickly, Tesauro explains.  The invasive phragmites, however, can’t stand constant grazing.  

     Prescribed grazing has successfully restored bog turtle habitat in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, as well as in New York.  In addition to goats, cows and sheep have also been brought in to graze down the phragmites.  It’s a win-win situation.  The bog turtle is an obvious winner, and so are nearby farmers who gain a new source of grazing land for their livestock.

     By the way, if left alone, the little bog turtle lives about 80 years!–April Moore

 

 

a bog turtle

a bog turtle

 

       

      

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