“How to Read Water” by Tristan Gooley

Try scanning your eyes slowly from one riverbank to the other to see if you can find the area where the shift takes place from looking at only reflections – the far bank – to being able to see into the water…”  – Tristan Gooley

I’ve looked at many a river without once pondering what color it was and why. After picking up the book “How to Read Water” and opening it up at random to an entire chapter on the color of water, I now see the blues, grays and browns in every puddle, river or sea. That is the beauty of Tristan Gooley’s books on reading nature. Read just a paragraph, or the whole book, and find yourself surrounded by fun clues on how to navigate, be a better mariner and forecast weather. This book is a gem for nature nerds.

Conservation Canines

Sampson can’t read the alphabet but he is trained as a conservation canine to locate the scat of endangered species by smell. Dogs have a remarkable ability to detect specific scents and Sampson’s nose helps the Center of Conservation Biology at University of Washington to identify wildlife scat that can then be tested to determine an animal’s genetics, sex, stress hormone levels and toxic loads as indicators of overall health.

Sampson is a 13 year old black lab whose obsession for chasing balls made him a challenging house dog and an amazing conservation canine. His human sidekick, Julianne, shows him which species of scat to locate and then he’s off with his tail wagging. Julianne watches Sampson closely, factoring in landscape features and the wind and when Sampson stops at a scat she steps in to take a look. If it’s on target she collects the sample and rewards Sampson with his cherished ball. They spend days and weeks on the road gathering data with far more efficiency as a team than either could do alone.

Sampson’s CK-9 mates include Max who can detect the fresh scat of Orca whales by boat!

Thanks to Columbia Land Trust for organizing a field trip on Mt. St. Helen’s with my conservation heroes Sampson and Julianne!

Your Nature

What was nature to you as a child? Was nature a park, backyard, outdoor school, summer camp or somewhere in a forest far away?

Looking back, nature to me was where I hid for solitude, peace and relief from the chatter of humans. Growing up I shared a big bedroom with my two sisters. My family belonged to a close-knit community village and from sunup to sundown my days were spent with a cohort of kids. I was rarely alone. As an introvert, I found every private nook and cranny in our attic, basement, backyard and the woods beyond. In each place I built small forts where I could sit alone and just be. Little did I know that I was forging a lifetime practice of sit spots and connections to the bigger than human world. Connections that continue to bring me respite and great joy. As much as I love my human community, I also appreciate the quieter company of all the birds, squirrels, racoons and skunks that scurry around and about my sit spots.

 

 

Sun-wise

Tis the first day of fall in the North. As it happens it is also the first day since spring that I do not have strict plans to uphold. I tend to my beehive, slipping sugar water into a hive feeder, watching sun-striped bees hum with preparations for winter.

Slowly, slowly I move in bee time. Thankful for the ebb of the summer buzz. My biological clock in tune with the bees, both in turn with the sun. Lowering on the horizon by minutes each day, the air fresh with cooler, shorter spans of light. How right it feels to move sun-wise, to heed the natural shifts in temperature and set aside the busy summer to rest. If I move too fast, out of sync the bees tell me with a distinct buzz, bee slow please.

Homing to the Group

Do you pull dandelions in your yard because you dislike their bright, yellow flowers or because you’d rather not be judged by your neighbors? If you knew dandelions were a food source for pollinators, especially in urban areas, would that change your behavior? Our human tendency to orient to the herd may make us strangely similar to the pine processionary caterpillar.

Pine processionary caterpillars follow silk trails between their communal home where they shelter and their feeding areas out in the branches of trees. They normally travel out in the morning and back at night, but French naturalist J. Henri Fabre once observed a group that got caught on a rim where they circled for seven days straight. “None abandoned their evolved behavior pattern, where the others, and not the biologically relevant environment, had become the reference (Heinrich, 2014).” Homing to the group, rather than the surrounding environment meant the end for the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, passenger pigeon, the Eskimo curlew and the Carolina parakeet. All aggregated to an extreme extent where their behavior was informed by each other rather than by a place.

Humans are also social creatures where banding together has allowed us to prosper and become the dominant feature of the landscape, even in places ill suited to meet human needs. When our connection to each other becomes more important than our connection to the environment we risk missing important signs of environmental stress that could signal a change in behavior is needed. Learning to read, respond and vary our reference points may increase the odds that someone will survive the circular death march of group think

Inspired by a chapter of the book, “The Homing Instinct” by Bernd Heinrich, 2014 (p 285).

Salmon Season

Columbia Coho, 5.27.2018

You are the hands of my father filleting steaks

smell of alder in the smokehouse

roar of a diesel engine chugging upriver

ocean salt melting in my mouth.

Where the salmon run,

I am home.

 

 

Bringing Nature Home

The viceroy butterfly develops as a larva on willow leaves. Photo by Benny Mazur from Toledo, OH

Douglas W. Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home,” shares his passion for native plants and insects as the base of the terrestrial food web. Want to support birds, butterflies and bees? Plant a variety of native plants in your yard and they will come. With habitat loss threatening species small and large, Tallamy offers a solution through restoring native plants to our yards.

His experience as an entomologist and gardener include intriguing and inspiring stories on gardening with native plants to support insects, the majority of whom are adapted and highly specialized to specific families of native plants. Insects in turn feed 96% of all terrestrial bird species. In short, more native plants leads to more insects, which leads to more animals and ultimately a more biodiverse, healthy and resilient community. For those worried about insect predation of their favorite plants he outlines how, “In a balanced community, with rare exceptions, no one member of the food chain dominates another, and if one species in an essentially sound system does start to run rampant, it is soon brought back into equilibrium by the other members of the community.” – Douglas W . Tallamy.

The book is packed with photos of moths, butterflies and larva that are so beautiful and intriguing that I’m inspired to plant their food sources just to have a chance to see them. With a detailed list of which plants support which beneficial insects, I’m looking forward to gardening as fodder to support my wild neighbors.

 

 

 

 

“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Trained as a biologist I have spent many an hour peering at biological phenomena such as barnacles, seaweeds and juvenile salmonids. While hiking out to a field site at 3am in order to monitor sea creatures at low tide was an experience I treasure, I lost sight of the purpose and thus my motivation when expected to quantify things that aren’t truly quantifiable. Studying complex ecosystems challenged my western view of the world as discrete, objects that can be understood by their component parts. I spent a year and a chunk of change for a Masters in Holistic Science to begin decolonizing my training in western science, but author and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer takes us there in a beautiful 384 pages of her experience connecting “indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants.” Braiding Sweetgrass is a remarkable story that illustrates science in relationship to scientist, culture and subject. Her view of science through her life’s work as discovery, connection and story gives me hope that humans will join the world yet, not as  separate, objective viewers but as interconnected, awake participants. 

Excerpt (p. 6): “…One otherwise unremarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey. Among other things, they were asked to rate their understanding of the negative interactions between humans and the environment. Nearly every one of the two hundred students said confidently that humans and nature are a bad mix. These were third-year students who had selected a career in environmental protection, so the response was, in a way, not very surprising. They were well schooled in the mechanics of climate change, toxins in the land and water, and the crisis of habitat loss. Later in the survey, they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was “none.” I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? Perhaps the negative examples they see every day – brownfield, factory farms, suburban sprawl – truncated their ability to see some good between humans and the earth. As the land becomes impoverished, so too does the scope of their vision. When we talked about this after class, I realized they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between their species and others might look like. how can we begin to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine what the path feels like?…” – Robin Wall Kimmerer