Archive for November, 2013

A River Returns to Life

Saturday, November 30th, 2013


I love a good environmental success story!  

     It gives me hope to know that at least some rivers, once virtually devoid of life due to pollution, have been brought back from the dead, and are once again teeming with fish and other critters associated with river health.  

     One such river I learned about recently is the Cheat River in West Virginia.  In the early 1990s, this 78-mile long waterway that winds through the  Allegheny Mountains to the Monongahela River was in sad shape.  Decades of coal mining in the area had leached toxins into the river system. And, making matters worse, the coal company T & F Fuels illegally dumped millions of gallons of acid mine drainage into one of the Cheat’s  tributaries in 1994, and then again in 1995.   All the abuse had turned the tributary, Muddy Creek, the color of tomato soup.  The water smelled bad, and physical contact could sting the eyes and stain the clothes.  And the pollution, of course, made its way to the Cheat.

     By the mid-1990s, the Cheat was virtually dead.   After the two illegal dumpings, the West Virginia government did some interventions.  But local residents felt the state’s actions were inadequate.  People wanted the river restored.  So local residents, boaters, and fishermen formed Friends of the Cheat River (FOC) to work together to bring the river back to health.  People wanted boaters, anglers, and others to again be able to enjoy the recreational opportunities the river had once so abundantly offered. 

     ”We all knew that it would take a lot of resources” to restore the river, recalls FOC’s executive director Amanda Pitzer.  The group got to work.  They obtained federal funds through a Clean Water Act program dedicated to addressing polluted runoff.  They also got help from the state government, academia, and industry to implement water treatment systems, like neutralizing acidity and reducing metals in the watershed.

     The results have been dramatic.  Today, a diversity of fish can now be found throughout the Cheat River.  One fisherman reported catching at least seven different species.  And the river, with Class 4 and 5 rapids, is a popular destination for river rafters.

     Friends of the Cheat continues to work on behalf of the river.  Based in Kingwood, WV, the citizens’ group does remediation, clean-up, stewardship, and education.–April Moore





God, I Am Very Happy That I Live On You

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

I came upon this appreciation in the book EARTH PRAYERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD,  and I like it.  It is hard for me to believe the author is so young.  


Goodnight God
I hope that you are having
a good time being the world.
I like the world very much.
I’m glad you made the plants
and trees survive with the
rain and summers.
When summer is nearly near
the leaves begin to fall.
I hope you have a good time
being the world.
I like how God feels around
everyone in the world.
God, I am very happy that
I live on you.
Your arms clasp around the world.
I like you and your friends.
Every time I open my eyes
I see the gleaming sun.
I like the animals–the deer,
and us creatures of the world,
the mammals.
I love my dear friends.
–Danu Baxter, age four and a half years old





10 Tips for a Green Thanksgiving

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

    One of my very favorite holidays is almost here.  

     I love Thanksgiving.   There’s no stress of shopping for gifts, just the pleasure of feeling thankful for the gifts I already have.  And the joy of sharing the same meal I eat every Thanksgiving Day with people I love.  

    I just read that the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s accounts for 25% of the waste the typical American household generates in an entire year. So I went online and found some pretty easy tips for making Thanksgiving greener and less wasteful.  

Here are 10 suggestions for making your Thanksgiving more earth-friendly this year:

1)  When you go shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner ingredients, remember to bring along some canvas bags, so you don’t have to accumulate yet more plastic bags.  And if you don’t have reusable bags to bring, just grab some of those plastic bags that have been piling up at home, and reuse them.  Either way, you won’t be fueling the production of still more plastic bags that are so environmentally unfriendly.

2)  Buy local.  This is always a good idea, but the website estimates that each ingredient in the average Thanksgiving dinner travels 1500 miles to your table.  Buying local has so many benefits–fresher, tastier food, a boost for local farmers and your local economy, and a reduced carbon footprint.  So, to the extent that you can, patronize farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture when you shop for Thanksgiving dinner.

3)  Buy organic.  Organic food is better for your health because you can avoid hormones, pesticides, and other harmful chemicals.  And of course these substances also harm our rivers and streams and the fish and other wildlife that live in them.  But since organic food costs more than ‘regular’ grocery store fare, you may want to focus your organic buying on certain foods.   Full-fat dairy products, beef, chicken, eggs, leafy greens, berries, and apples are the foods most heavily treated with pesticides, so they are the ones where the organic alternative makes most sense. 

4)  Try to minimize your travel.  If your loved ones live nearby, you’re fortunate.  If you must travel, driving will yield a lower carbon footprint than air travel.  But if you have to fly, you may want to look into countering the tons of carbon your flight will emit by purchasing carbon offsets.  You can learn more about them by clicking here:

5)  Go natural when it comes to decorating your Thanksgiving table.  No need to shop for an expensive centerpiece.  Pine cones, autumn leaves, and some shapely branches, arranged attractively, can make a lovely, seasonal centerpiece.

6)  After the meal is over, and the leftovers have been put into containers, refrain from putting them into the refrigerator until they are no longer warm.  Your refrigerator will use more energy cooling warm or hot foods than foods that are at room temperature.  But don’t leave food out longer than necessary;  you don’t want it to spoil.

7)  Compost the dinner waste.  All plant remains–peels and such–can readily be composted.

8)  Recycle glass bottles and jars used for your Thanksgiving meal, as well as paper and cardboard packaging, and tin and aluminum cans.

9)  Skip Black Friday.  After all, isn’t staying home and enjoying your family more pleasant than navigating throngs of shoppers and using gas?  

10)  If you’re looking for a fun family activity for Thanksgiving weekend, consider planting a tree.  Digging a hole and planting a tree is good exercise and a fun group project.  Besides, the average tree absorbs 26 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and during that time also returns enough oxygen to supply a family of four.



Shrinking April

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

    Last week my husband Andy Schmookler and I took a walk in the woods.  Andy described our adventure on his Facebook page (Andy Schmookler for Congress), and I am reposting it below.–April Moore


Look How Much April Shrank

She was in the woods and came across this mushroom with a note on it saying, “Eat me”. So of course she did, and immediately she became smaller and smaller. To illustrate how much she shrank, we posed her here with this leaf we found on the ground.

april with big leaf

An Autumn Encounter with a Praying Mantis

Friday, November 1st, 2013

     Out on the deck on a sunny October afternoon, I spotted something interesting.  A praying mantis was making its way down the drain pipe attached to our house.  Facing downward, it moved slowly.  

     I had to stare.  The long, pale abdomen bulged.  Never before had I seen so prominent a ‘belly’ on a praying mantis.  Normally, the praying mantis’s abdomen appears tucked under the insect’s long, straight, brownish or greenish back.  But not only was this one’s abdomen bulging;  it was  throbbing!  I gawked at the thin, papery, slightly shiny surface of the abdomen as it pulsated.

     Was this a pregnant female, I wondered, about to lay her eggs?

a praying mantis, moving down the drainpipe, her swollen abdomen throbbing

a praying mantis, moving down the drainpipe, her swollen abdomen throbbing

     Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hang around long enough to see what actually happened next.  But when I returned later, I searched the drain pipe and the surrounding surfaces for a praying mantis egg case.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find one.

     But I do believe I was witnessing the prelude to the laying of praying mantis eggs.  After all, praying mantises do mate in late summer, and they do lay their eggs in the fall.  Apparently, the eggs are released in a spit-like mass that hardens and attaches to some surface above the ground.  The egg case weathers the winter months, and opens in the spring to release 100-200 baby praying mantises.


     Anyone who has been curious about praying mantises’ mating practices, where the female devours the male’s head, will want to read the following excerpt from The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, written by one of the best nature writers ever, Annie Dillard.  I read this amazing description in horrified fascination.–April Moore



It was several years ago that I witnessed this extraordinary procedure, but I remember, and confess, an inescapable feeling that I was watching something not real and present, but a horrible nature movie, a “secrets-of-nature” short, beautifully photographed in full color, that I had to sit through unable to look anywhere else but at the dimly lighted EXIT signs along the walls, and that behind the scenes some amateur moviemaker was congratulating himself on having stumbled across this little wonder, or even on having contrived so natural a setting, as though the whole scene had been shot very carefully in a terrarium in someone’s greenhouse.


I was ambling across this hill that day when I noticed a speck of pure white. The hill is eroded; the slope is a rutted wreck of red clay broken by grassy hillocks and low wild roses whose roots clasp a pittance of topsoil. I leaned to examine the white thing and saw a mass of bubbles like spittle. Then I saw something dark like an engorged leech rummaging over the spittle, and then I saw the praying mantis.


She was upside-down, clinging to a horizontal stem of wild rose by her feet which pointed to heaven. Her head was deep in dried grass. Her abdomen was swollen like a smashed finger; it tapered to a fleshy tip out of which bubbled a wet, whipped froth. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I lay on the hill this way and that, my knees in thorns and my cheeks in clay, trying to see as well as I could.


I poked near the female’s head with a grass; she was clearly undisturbed, so I settled my nose an inch from that pulsing abdomen. It puffed like a concertina, it throbbed like a bellows; it roved, pumping, over the glistening, clabbered surface of the egg case testing and patting, thrusting and smoothing. It seemed to act so independently that I forgot the panting brown stick at the other end. The bubble creature seemed to have two eyes, a frantic little brain, and two busy, soft hands. It looked like a hideous, harried mother slicking up a fat daughter for a beauty pageant, touching her up, slobbering over her, patting and hemming and brushing and stroking.The male was nowhere in sight. The female had probably eaten him. Fabre says that, at least in captivity, the female will mate with and devour up to seven males, whether she has laid her egg cases or not. The mating rites of mantises are well known: a chemical produced in the head of the male insect says, in effect, “No, don’t go near her, you fool, she’ll eat you alive.” At the same time a chemical in his abdomen says, “Yes, by all means, now and forever yes.”While the male is making up what passes for his mind, the female tips the balance in her favor by eating his head. He mounts her. Fabre describes the mating, which sometimes lasts six hours, as follows:The male, absorbed in the performance of his vital functions, holds the female in a tight embrace. But the wretch has no head; he has no neck; he has hardly a body. The other, with her muzzle turned over her shoulder continues very placidly to gnaw what remains of the gentle swain. And, all the time, that masculine stump, holding on firmly, goes on with the business! … I have seen it done with my own eyes and have not yet recovered from my astonishment.

I watched the egg-laying for over an hour. When I returned the next day, the mantis was gone. The white foam had hardened and browned to a dirty suds; then, and on subsequent days, I had trouble pinpointing the case, which was only an inch or so off the ground. I checked on it every week all winter long. In the spring the ants discovered it; every week I saw dozens of ants scrambling over the sides, unable to chew a way in.


Later in the spring I climbed the hill every day, hoping to catch the hatch. The leaves of the trees had long since unfolded, the butterflies were out, and the robins’ first broods were fledged; still the egg case hung silent and full on the stem. I read that I should wait for June, but still I visited the case every day. One morning at the beginning of June everything was gone. I couldn’t find the lower thorn in the clump of three to which the egg case was fixed. I couldn’t find the clump of three. Tracks ridged the clay, and I saw the lopped stems: somehow my neighbor had contrived to run a tractor-mower over that steep clay hill on which there grew nothing to mow but a few stubby thorns.So. Today from this same hill I cut another three undamaged cases and carried them home with the others by their twigs. I also collected a suspiciously light cynthia moth cocoon. My fingers were stiff and red with cold, and my nose ran. I had forgotten the Law of the Wild, which is, “Carry Kleenex.” At home I tied the twigs with their egg cases to various sunny bushes and trees in the yard. They’re easy to find because I used white string; at any rate, I’m unlikely to mow my own trees. I hope the woodpeckers that come to the feeder don’t find them, but I don’t see how they’d get a purchase on them if they did.

— From Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Annie Dillard
©1974 Harper & Row





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