Archive for 2012

People are ‘Getting’ Climate Change

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Two recent polls show that Americans are increasingly concerned about global warming.  And they want action.

It appears that people are linking this past winter’s unusually warm temperatures, last year’s blistering summer, and recent floods, droughts, and tornadoes with a warming world.

More than 70% of the adults questioned in a poll commissioned by Yale University and George Mason University either  strongly or somewhat agreed that global warming contributed to the warm winter just past.

Majorities almost as large cited global warming as a likely factor in 2011′s record summer heat waves and drought in Texas and Oklahoma.  And smaller but still substantial majorities cited global warming as a factor in record snowfalls in both 2010 and 2011 and in Mississippi River floods in 2011.  These views are consistent with scientific evidence which suggests global warming is causing higher precipitation in all seasons.

The data suggest that most Americans no longer see global warming as something distant in space and time, affecting polar bears or people in Bangladesh, not themselves or their own friends and family here in the U.S.  But that perception seems to be changing.  Now, 35% report having been affected by extreme weather themselves in the past year.  Indeed, in 2011 the U.S. was hit by a remarkable string of disasters–droughts, floods, tornadoes, and heat waves, affecting every region.

According to Gallup, which has conducted polling on global warming for years, public opinion on climate change has waxed and waned over time.  Since 1989 Gallup has asked people how much they personally worry about global warming.  The proportion of people who expressed concern peaked at 66% just before the recession.  But concern fell to a low of 51% in 2011 as the economy overwhelmed other concerns.  And Gallup’s most recent survey, conducted in March, showed that concern was back up to 55%.

I take heart from the rise in concern over global warming.  Let’s hope concern continues to rise and results in decisive action at the highest levels.–April Moore


Defeated by Squirrels

Thursday, May 31st, 2012
my gnawed, Crisco-smeared bird feeder

my gnawed, Crisco-smeared bird feeder

I used to like squirrels.  They’re adaptable, resourceful little creatures.  And so cute when they eat.  I used to love watching them take staccato bites from a morsel held in their front paws, and chew it faster than I ever could.  And that tail–jaunty and luxuriant at the same time.

Sure, squirrels can be cute.  But now I hate them!  I know that’s strong language.  But I have good reason.  They have forced me to give up feeding birds in a feeder on our window!

For quite awhile, I had a see-through plastic bird feeder stuck to our living room window.  What fun it was to sit on the couch and watch a titmouse or a chickadee perch on the rim of the feeder, pluck out a sunflower seed, and fly off with it.

But this pleasing entertainment was not to last.   After awhile I would occasionally hear a crashing sound from outside, in front of the living room window.  Looking up, I saw only two suction cups left on the window, with no feeder attached.

Damn.  Once outside, I fumed to see on the walkway the feeder, scattered birdseed, and a squirrel scampering away.

Okay, I thought. I’ll just have to make it impossible for squirrels to leap onto the feeder and knock it down.  So I stuck the feeder back onto the window, only higher up this time.  For a few days, I saw no sign of squirrel activity.  I felt pretty smart to have beaten these guys.

But my smugness was short-lived.  Soon a determined squirrel figured out how to jump a little higher.  Down crashed the feeder again.

But how, I wondered, did the crafty squirrel manage to leap onto the feeder?  Then I noticed that part of the outside edge of one of the shutters framing the window was missing.  A big piece had been gouged out.  What could have caused that kind of damage?  Oh, I get it.  That #%!* squirrel had gnawed away part of the shutter to make itself a perch, closer to the feeder, from which to leap!  What a little bastard!

Was I mad!  Because of a greedy, determined squirrel, I was not only missing out on watching the birds, but I had to buy a new shutter.  In the coming days, I monitored the shutters for signs of squirrel mischief.  Fortunately, the new shutter was still intact.  But even though the squirrels weren’t gnawing the shutters, they were still getting to the feeder.  Finally, the feeder was so battered from its many crashes, so cracked and chipped that I was compelled to throw it in the trash.  I’d been defeated.

But I missed the birds!  And I couldn’t let some little squirrels beat me.  Surely I could find some way to prevail.  So I vowed to try again, and I asked for a new bird feeder for Christmas.  My niece and her family gave me one.  And I liked the looks of it.  Its ‘conquistador helmet’ shape suited my sense of resolve.  With this feeder, the birds and I would win!

All too soon, those squirrels figured out that the free food was back.  I would hear a thud, not as loud as the crash of a feeder being knocked down, but not the soft thud of a bird’s feet landing on the feeder’s edge either.  Rushing to the scene, I saw a squirrel sitting in the feeder, its well-fed body filling the feeder almost completely.  As it stuffed itself with seeds, I could swear it gave me a taunting look.  Only my most threatening sounds and gestures could rouse him from his feast.

Thinking that the squirrel was getting into the feeder from the top of the ‘conquistador’s helmet,’ I thought that if I made the top of the feeder slick with Crisco, the squirrel could not hang on and would give up.  I wasn’t happy about marring my cool-looking feeder by slathering shortening on its top, but if it would stop the squirrels, I was willing.

The Crisco ploy seemed to work for awhile.  I rejoiced cautiously.  But it wasn’t very long before the squirrels were using the feeder as their personal dining room and dinner at the same time.  And then I noticed that two big holes had been torn into the screen adjacent to the window with the mounted feeder.  So now these guys were ruining the screen too.

Was I bummed.  Now we had to replace a screen too.  Nothing I’d tried had kept the squirrels away for long.  Sadly, I took down the ‘conquistador’s helmet’ smeared with Crisco.  I wrapped it in a plastic bag and put it away.  I hate to admit I’ve been defeated by squirrels, but it’s true.   Who wouldn’t hate them after all that?–April Moore

The Inchworm

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

The other day I had to stare, as an inchworm made its way along the railing of our deck.

Lacking all but two or three pairs of legs at the very front and about the same number at the very back, the inchworm’s method of locomotion is quite different from that of its fellow caterpillars, who seem to glide along on scores of  rapidly moving legs.

No, the inchworm does not glide; it inches.  First, the front stretches out.  Then the back is brought forward to meet the front, with the body in between looped upward.  The inchworm then stretches out again as the front is propelled forward.  Loop and flatten.  Repeat again and again.

Watching this entertaining process, I found myself wondering what evolutionary niche was filled or what advantage gained by the development of caterpillars with legs only at each end.  So I did a little research.

I didn’t find the answer to my question, but I did learn some interesting things about inchworms.  I learned that they are the larval stage of geometer moths.  The term ‘geometer’ refers to the way the caterpillar appears to ‘measure the earth’ as it moves.  And of the 35,000 species of geometer moth, about 14,000 are native to North America.

Unlike other types of caterpillars, inchworms are generally hairless.  Most are green, grey, or brown.  As soon as the inchworm hatches from its egg on the underside of a leaf in spring, it begins eating.  Inchworms typically eat leaves, although some species also eat lichen, flowers, or pollen.

After about a month of continuous feeding, the inchworm makes its way to the ground.  In early summer, the inchworm burrows into the soil and pupates.  It makes a cocoon of silk and soil near the earth’s surface.  The moth emerges in November and lays its eggs in the winter.

The inchworm has a great defense against predators–its resemblance to a twig.  This resemblance is heightened by little appendages that look like tree buds.  When disturbed, the inchworm often stands erect on its prolegs (back legs), further enhancing its twiglike look!–April Moore

I Did Not Know

Friday, May 18th, 2012

forest_orchestra1

When I was a child, I did not know how much I loved the world.

I did not know how much I loved the sweet scent of lilac as I roller-skated around and around the block, past our neighbor’s hedge again and again.

I did not know how much I loved the way the sun made the quilt hot, as I lay on it eating grapes on lazy summer afternoons.

I did not know how much I loved making the snapdragons in our neighbor’s garden ‘talk.’

I did not know how much I loved the early morning chorus of meadowlarks, as they perched on phone wires near our house.

I did not know how much I loved watching maple seed helicopters twirl perfectly around and around as they fell to the ground.

All these things, and so many more, I took for granted.  Does a fish love the water that makes its life possible?

Because the natural world was always there, whether I was paying attention or not, I could afford to be careless in my love, to enjoy these wonders thoughtlessly, when I wasn’t doing something else.

Now that I am 60 years old, there is nothing careless about my love for the natural world.  I love it deeply, fiercely.  With each passing year, it seems, my heart opens more.  I notice more.  I love more. For example, I have recently been overtaken by an intense love for birds.  I listen.  I watch.  I marvel.  How I love them!

And I worry about them.  No matter how much joy and delight I take in the natural world around me, there always lurks the painful knowledge that the planet’s well-being–and ours as well–is ebbing away.  So much of what I love is being lost.

I sometimes wonder if I would love nature so much if the facts of global warming, habitat destruction, and the fouling of water and air did not exist.  Would I continue in my childlike, careless enjoyment of the earth as my playground?  Or would I love it as deeply, as achingly as I do now?

The answer is unknowable.

But what I do know is that my ability to love the world around me is deepening with age.  Maybe when I am 80, I will realize that I love the earth more than I did at 60.  Time will tell.–April Moore





It’s a Two-Fer!

Saturday, May 12th, 2012

bike-monthMay is National Bike Month.  And when it comes to the environment, human health, and even having fun, what can beat biking?

Riding a bike instead of driving a car lessens our dependence on climate-disrupting dirty oil and saves gas money.   Biking is an excellent way to get in shape and stay that way.  And who hasn’t loved pedaling along, enjoying the scent of flowers and the cooling touch of a breeze?

If you haven’t gotten on your bike in awhile, May is the perfect time to get started, not too hot and not too cold.

Cycling groups, local governments, climate change groups, and many others are organizing a variety of events all over the country to celebrate National Bike Month and to get people into biking.  To find events planned for your community, you can check the website of the League of American Bicyclists, National Bike Month’s sponsoring organization.  http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bikemonth/events.php

Some of the planned events include Bike to Work Days, Bike to School Days, bike safety and bike maintenance workshops, community bike rides, and other bike-related activities for kids and adults in many communities.

If nothing is planned in your community, you could always organize a bike ride with family or friends.  And be sure to get the kids involved.  Kids are born to ride a bike, but some may need a little coaxing to get out there.  Including them in a group ride may be especially fun for them.

And what if your bike is out of shape from neglect?  This month is a good time to take it to the bike shop for a tune-up, so you can get started.

Despite the many benefits biking offers, some communities are not at all bike-friendly.  Crowded roads, high-speed traffic, and a lack of bike lanes or even decent sized shoulders in some areas understandably make people afraid to venture out on a bike.  If your community’s infrastructure makes biking difficult, I urge you to click on the link below and join the Sierra Club’s Mobile Action Network.  You can follow the Sierra Club’s instructions for urging your state’s governor and your U.S. senators and representative to work with state and federal transportation officials to develop more options for a safer community with more biking options.

https://secure.sierraclub.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=8703

Happy biking!–April Moore


Reveling in Moss

Sunday, May 6th, 2012

It was a ‘misty-moisty morning,’ a perfect day to stroll down into the woods and look for turtles.

But as it turned out, I didn’t spot a single one in the wet woods that morning.

The mosses, however, more than made up for any absence of reptiles.  After the night’s rain, the brilliant green of the mosses was startling.  “Look at me!” the plump green mounds almost shouted.   Shaped into necklaces around the base of tree trunks and forming fat green lines above  long-decomposed logs, these luscious green patches were as bright emerald as any mosses I’d ever seen.

Emerald.  I pondered the word.  Used to describe the most brilliant of greens, emerald is also a gemstone.  But no stone, even an emerald, I thought, could match the green of verdant mosses after a rain, when they are bursting with water and clorophyl.  Instead of using  a stone’s name to describe the greenest green, maybe ‘mossy’ would be a more apt term.  But then, I guess ‘mossy’ connotes a texture more than a color.  Oh well.

While all the mosses I looked at that damp morning were a mossy–or brilliant–green,  many patches contained two or three different kinds of moss, all blended seamlessly together.

Once back at the house, I decided to pick up a lovely little book about mosses, Gathering Moss:  A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  As I browsed through its pages and reread passages I had underlined several years ago, I appreciated once again how beautifully the author’s scientific knowledge combines with her sense of wonder at the amazing little plants.

I am reminded that mosses are the most primitive of land plants.  They lack flowers, fruits, roots, and seeds.  Each of the more than 22,000 moss species in the world “is a variation on a theme, a unique creation designed for success in tiny niches in virtually every ecosystem.”    The first plants to live on land, mosses have been around for 350 million years.

I especially love this passage from Kimmerer’s book:

“Like a jealous lover, the moss has ways to heighten the attachments of water to itself and invites it to linger, just a little longer.  Every element of a moss is designed for its affinity for water.  From the shape of the moss clump to the spacing of leaves along a branch, down to the microscopic surface of the smallest leaf; all have been shaped by the evolutionary imperative to hold water.  Moss plants almost never occur singly, but in colonies packed as dense as an August cornfield.  The nearness of others with shoots and leaves intertwined creates a porous network of leaf and space which holds water like a sponge.  The more tightly packed the shoots, the greater the water-holding capacity.  A dense turf of a drought-tolerant moss may exceed 300 stems per square inch.  Separated from the rest of a clump, an individual moss shoot dries immediately.”–April Moore

mosses1

mosses2

Help Save the Bees–and the People

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

honeybee1

Perhaps you have been following the alarming reports over the last few years of massive die-offs of honeybees. Beekeepers and others in the U.S. and many other countries report steep declines in honeybee populations.  In some parts of the U.S, honeybee populations have fallen by as much as 70% in just a few years.

While I always find it painful when any of our fellow species is threatened, this rapid loss of honeybees could have a dire impact on all of us humans.  Honeybees pollinate so many food crops that scientists say about one in three mouthfuls we humans eat is made possible by honeybee pollination.

After several years of study, many scientists believe the main reason for what they call ‘colony collapse disorder’ is a pesticide called clothianidin.  Used on corn and other agricultural crops, clothianidin is part of a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which have been in use since the mid-1990s—the same time mass bee disappearances began occurring.

Scientists believe that honeybees are ingesting clothianidin on their daily pollination rounds.  Like other neonicotinoids, clothianidin blocks specific neural pathways in insects’ central nervous system, thus impairing communication, homing and foraging abilities, and also interfering with insects’ flight and their ability to  discriminate by smell.

Clothianidin has been banned in Italy, France, and Germany.  But in the U.S., clothianidin has been used widely for well over a decade, even though it was never officially licensed by the EPA. While the EPA is required by law to license only pesticides that meet standards for protection of human and environmental health, pesticide law allows EPA to waive those requirements and to allow the use of a new pesticide on a ‘conditional’ basis when health and safety data are lacking.  Even though the pesticide manufacturer is required to submit valid safety to the EPA by the end of the conditional use period, clothianidin’s manufacturer Bayer, has never done so.  EPA has failed to follow its own rules, failing to protect human and environmental safety.

The future of honeybees and our own future are inextricably linked.  Please strengthen the public call for a halt to the use of neonicotinoids like clothianidin.   Please help stop honeybees’ decline and restore their populations.  You can help by doing the following:

  • Contact the Bayer Corporation, and insist that they stop marketing clothianidin because it is a serious threat to our ability to continue to grow the foods we depend on.   https://secure.bayer.com/bayer/contact.aspx?lang=en
  • Call EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at 202-564-4700.  Urge the agency to suspend the registration of clothianidin to stop the rapid and steep decline of U.S. honeybee populations, essential to the continued pollination of necessary food crops.
  • Learn more about honeybees and the threats they face by checking out the Beyond Pesticides website, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/   April Moore

Earth Day Inspiration

Friday, April 20th, 2012

With Earth Day just a few days away, I have been thinking and thinking about what I want to post on TheEarthConnection.

I considered posting Al Gore’s 2012 Earth Day remarks which pay tribute to one of my heroes, Rachel Carson.  But while important, his remarks did not convey a feeling of celebration.

I also considered a series of photos with the message that in just a generation we humans have done more harm to our planet than all previous generations combined.  This message, while also important, felt too heavy for the one day of the year set aside to celebrate Planet Earth.

I even considered writing about a painful experience I had this morning.  A robin flew into our window.  During the hour or more that the bird remained almost motionless before flying away, I thought about how all of us humans, even those of us who truly love birds, are living in ways that make their lives very difficult.

Then I read a Biblical verse sent to me by my friend Patsy.  Job 12:8.  “Speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee.”

Yes!  This short verse reminds me that by speaking to the earth–when I acknowledge my deep connection with it–nature offers me valuable lessons.  It shows me that calmness, peace, a deep feeling of rightness, come from opening my heart and mind to nature.  The earth is an always available source of strength and healing.

So, despite the horrific damage being done to our gorgeous planet every day, on Earth Day I will focus on ‘speaking’ to the earth, to opening myself to its healing lessons.

I invite you to play this short video, to take a few minutes to revel in the beauty of this planet we are lucky enough to call home.–April Moore

watch?v=dwF5XomHvcg


The Buzz in New York City–a ‘New’ Bee!

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

I love hearing about discoveries of ‘new’ animals and plants!  Such discoveries remind me that the web of life is even more complex and intricate than we’ve known, that despite the great knowledge science has amassed, there are species sharing our planet about whom we know absolutely nothing.

Several insect discoveries of the past few years are especially exciting because of where these ‘new’ insects have been discovered–New York City!  Yes, four ‘new’ bee species, previously unknown to science, have been living right alongside human beings in one of the most urban areas on the planet.

All four of the ‘new’ species are sweat bees, small bees named for their attraction to human sweat.  And of the four, the one getting the most attention has been nicknamed the Gotham Bee.  That’s right–Gotham, as in New York City.

The Gotham Bee, or Lasioglossum gotham if you want to get scientific about it, was first noticed in 2009 in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx and in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden by John Ascher, a bee researcher at the American Museum of Natural History.  Ascher was conducting a citywide bee biology survey in New York City’s parks and forested areas.

“This little bee has been quietly living in the city, pollinating flowers in people’s gardens for years,” says Jason Gibbs, co-author with Ascher of an article about the discovery in the journal Zootaxa.  Because the Gotham Bee looks so similar to other sweat bees, no one realized it was a distinct species.

But now we have new techniques for identifying species.  DNA bar coding and digital imaging enable scientists to distinguish new species from others they resemble closely.

As it turns out, New York City seems to be a great place for bees.  More than 200 bee species live in and around the city, performing their vital function of pollinating flowers all over the city.  This rich biodiversity, Ascher explains, is the result of the city’s large number of parks and the presence of such ecologically rich areas as Jamaica Bay.

One reason the discovery has brought pleasure to so many is that the existence of ‘new’ bee species, even in a well-studied urban area, suggests that there are many other animals yet to be discovered.–April Moore

gotham-bee




Life In the Nest–Up Close and Personal

Friday, April 6th, 2012

I thank my friend Elizabeth for forwarding me the links to two bird cams. It’s fun to be a ‘voyeur,’ to observe birds’ nesting activities without disturbing the birds.

In the first cam, you can watch a red-tailed hawk incubating three eggs in her nest.  The nest sits atop an 80 foot-tall light pole on a Cornell University athletic field.  The eggs are expected to hatch around April 13.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2422

In the second cam, you’ll see a great blue heron sitting on her four eggs in a nest high above a pond in a woods near the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.  Her eggs are expected to hatch at the end of the month.  I especially enjoy looking at the heron because I’ve never seen this long-legged bird with folded legs, sitting on a nest.  I have only seen great blue herons stalking fish in a stream, perched in a tree, or in flight, but never before on a nest.

http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2433

In addition to the chance to check in periodically–and even to plan a ‘visit’ when the eggs are hatching–these links also provide informative text about these two bird species and their habits.  Enjoy.–April Moore

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