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World Animal Day and Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Today is World Animal Day. Started in 1931 by a group of ecologists and celebrated on 4 October every year World Animal Day brings focus to the needs and plight of animals around the world. The founders selected 4 October because it is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, ecologists and merchants and one of two patron saints of Italy.

Francis taught that man had a responsibility to all creation on two accounts. One that we were stewards of the creation and two that we are created ourselves and have an obligation to honor our creator and His creation. He taught that all creation sings Gods praises and that all creation brings glory to its creator.


  • To celebrate animal life in all its forms
  • To celebrate humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom
  • To acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives – from being our companions, supporting and helping us, to bringing a sense of wonder into our lives
  • To acknowledge and be thankful for the way in which animals enrich our lives.

Mission from World Animal Day Web Site

This year’s World Animal Day brings us pause to consider Threatened and Endangered Species. The number one threat to species is loss of habitat. With the increasing world population this will become more of an issue rather than less as more people compete for a set amount of space.

This challenges us think. What action am I taking now and how does it affect the world I live in. This can be overwhelming to the point of making us not want to think. Or, it can make us wonder what small thing can I do to better share this world with all the rest of creation. If even 3.5 billion people (only half the current human population) all think about the small next thing they could do to better share, can you imagine the difference? I can! I can imagine the difference if only the western world takes this action and how others will follow.

Animals have made my life much better, from the pets that I share my home with to the humming birds chttering over the feeders out my window as I type this. I can’t, and won’t, imagine a world without them. I think it would be wonderful if you’d share, in the comments, how animals, wild or domestic, have made your life richer for their presence in your life.

Hula Hoop ecology

Kids love hula hoops

Hula Hoop Girl from FreePhoto.net stock photo

Ecology is simply the study of how organisms interact with each other and their environment. It can often feel too overwhelming to study if you are not trained as a scientist. How do you keep track of all those interactions? To get a simple overview of ecology the idea is to scale it down using a hula hoop. A rope circle with 3 foot diameter will work as well.

Place the hula hoop on the ground somewhere and study what you see. Using a paper or a note book record everything.

  • Start by recording the date and time of your exploration.
  • Then describe the weather. Is it sunny, cloudy, or somewhere in between. Guestimate (technical term 🙂 ) the percent of the sky that any clouds cover. Record the air temperature.
  • Now look at the airspace immediately above the hula hoop. Is it shaded by trees or something else? Is part of it shaded and part not, and what percent?
  • Look at the ground cover. What is it? Is it grass? Is it something else? Is it a mixture? Again, describe the percentage of the mixture. Is the ground cover tall or short?
  • Now, look for any animals that you may see within the bounds of the hula hoop. List them by name and or description. For example: you may see two or more variations of something we classify as ant. Look for everything you see. Count every individual in a group.
  • Finally, move some of the ground cover away and examine the soil in three or so places within your hula hoop circle. Describe it. Is it dark and moist? Is it sand, like my yard? Take the soil temperature in each place. If you want, you can get a soil moisture meter from a garden store and measure the moisture content. Garden stores will also have soil pH kits as well.
  • Look for any living organisms within the soil. List, describe, and count each type. For each of these entries you can draw pictures of what you see.

Once you have completed your observations can you make connections between what you have described and the environment? What factors seem to have the most effect on what is happening? What other connections can you make?

You have just described a micro system within your yard, park or garden. This is a micro ecosystem. All of the parts are somehow connected to each other. This can be extended out to the rest of your yard and your neighborhood.

If you are doing this as part of a homeschool activity you can have members of your homeschool community do these in their yards and compare the results. How do the observations change for different areas of your town? You can repeat these steps at different times of the day and of the year.

If you want to do this activity several times, record the location of your hula hoop locations so that you can study the same areas again and learn whether they change their ecology throughout the year.

This is an activity that is suitable for kids about 12 years and older. It can be simplified or expanded to better meet the needs of a variety of ages. If you have questions about how to do this feel free to ask in the comments or to email me at bchase dot 1128 dot edu @ gmail dot com.

Wangari Maathai

It all began for Dr. Maathai from a memory of a stream near her house where she played and got water. As her life continued Dr. Maathai noticed that destruction of the local environment and its ecology were linked to poverty. In fact, she was one of the first to state this observation publicly. But Dr. Maathai didn’t stop there, she went on to establish the Greenbelt Movement in her native Kenya.

The Greenbelt movement started to take action to reestablish ecosystems by paying women to plant trees near where they lived. This had multiple effects. It helped the environment because trees stabilized soil, by stabilizing soil trees help keep both water and air clean and they provide food and cover for a host of organisms.  These are only three benefits provided by trees, I am sure you can think of many more.

By paying women to plant these trees the Greenbelt Movement helps women reconnect, in a positive way, to their environment. It gives the women working a voice about what their environment looked like and it helps them earn money to care for their families. These are just a a few of the benefits the women receive from their participation.

The Greenbelt Movement has many more projects now.

For her efforts with this program Wangari Maathai earned the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr Maathai didn’t stop there. She went on the fight for the environment, women’s rights, justice in government and other values. For this she earned both derision and respect.

Dr. Maatha died today at the age of 71. She will be missed but her legacy will live on in the work she started and the women she inspired. You can read more about Dr. Maathai here and here and many other places on the web.

From the memory of a stream, the insight to connect environmental degradation with poverty, and the power of will to act, Dr. Maathai became a powerful force for the environment and women. She is also an excellent example for the rest of us.

Overcoming fear

I had to admire a grandfather who was out at a local birding site I was visiting today.

Poppy was there with his young, 6ish granddaughter, to look at the birds and see the sights.

As you enter the site there is a big sign advising people that they are in alligator territory and telling them not to leave the boardwalk.  For this little girl alligators are the stuff of nightmares and the fact that the boardwalk was a good 3 feet over the water was not enough to calm the girl’s fears. (We all know that monsters are not daunted by a mere 3 feet, they can leap out of the water.) I mentioned that I had hardly ever seen the alligator on all my visits there (true) and Poppy was able to coax the girl onto the boardwalk that extended out over the water.

The birding site is over a large, I’m guessing 20+ acre, brackish pond that is popular with all sorts of wading birds, black birds of all types, ducks, grebes, turtles, snakes, and of course the alligator. Today was a quiet day there. I saw a few American Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Cormorants, Anhingas, a Pied Billed Grebe (one of my favorite wild birds), some Brown Pelicans, a turtle but thankfully, no Alligator. I wanted to have the little girl enjoy her day and overcoming the fear of walking into Alligator country was enough to conquer for one day.

I commend the grandfather because he was calm with her, was willing to let her turn back but kindly urged her on, and gave comfort and encouragement to her when she did go on. I walked with them till we reached one of the turn outs where I left them and gave them space to walk to the end of the viewing platform. When I left, Poppy and the little girl were still at the end of the boardwalk, with the little girl leaning comfortably into her Poppy’s arms, pointing out birds to each other. Way to go Poppy. We all need strong arms to lean on sometimes as we move through our fears.

Public Lands Day

Children from FreePhoto.net no photographer listed

It’s National Public Lands Day here in the US. I hope that you will get out and celebrate by taking part in one of the many activities available.

An use the interactive map here to find something in your state.

In addition to that link, the home page for NPLD has links to a variety of other ways to find activities through out the year including their Daily Calendar and the Boy/Girl Scout Sites.

Got to the web site, find something to do and let me know what it was you did to support public lands in your area.

Nothing showing up on the calendar/web site? Find a local public land, be it city, state, or federal and go visit. Have a picnic, fish, run and play, and take away more trash than you made during your day.

Have Fun! I hope you’ll let me know what you did.

Autumnal Equinox

Berries by Simon Howden @ FreePhoto.net

Today, at 9:04 in the morning the sun hit autumnal equinox, one of two days where, in a brief moment, the center of the sun crosses the plane of the equator. For those of you south of the equator you are having the vernal equinox and of course, those on the other side of the dateline have already seen the equinox pass for the season.

Equinoxes happen because the earth is tilted on its axis. The tilt is what gives us the seasons that delight so many of us. People who live for statistics of course use the equinoxes and the Solstices as a neat dividing line for defining seasons. So, today is officially the first day of fall.

Being less statistically minded, I see the seasons in a more transitional way. Spring and fall are the transition seasons between summer and winter. Spring and fall can last  for longer or shorter periods of time depending on your location but they are always times of transition.

Spring and fall are times of changes and this makes them more interesting to me. In the fall this is what you can look for:

  • Animals are moving from their summer homes to their winter homes.
  • Animals, that don’t move, are stocking up on their supplies so that they can weather the winter ahead.
  • Plants are slowly shutting down and preparing to go dormant leading to the vibrant change in colors of the leaves.
  • Berries are ripening.
  • The light is changing as the angle of the sun moves lower in the sky for its daily arc.
  • The smell of the air is changing.
  • The feel of the air is changing.

I see these changes at my feeders each day. Recently I have had three Baltimore Orioles, one brilliant male and two females, pass through. I gave them a reason to vacation here by making sure they had access to nectar feeders and grape jelly. They stayed for nearly a week. I have three Hummingbird feeders that I am keeping stocked for hummers that are passing through. (I usually have only one out.) This year I am blessed with a Rufous Hummingbird, a species I have not had as a guest before. For the seed eaters, I am keeping my sunflower feeder full. Finally, of course, I keep my water supply stocked and clean.

I look forward to the fall and spring every year because I love observing what is changing. What’s changing in your neck of the woods? Leave a comment below and share! Thanks.

Connecting to nature is not about scale

“What mattered to my father (Edward Kennedy) was not the scale of an accomplishment, but that we did our share to make the world better,” Kara Kennedy.

Kara Kennedy died today. I know this because of an NPR headline that I saw my iGoogle page. Were it not for that fact I would not have become aware of that quote. It is a quote that struck me and that inspired me to type up this brief post.

When we undertake projects it is easy to get trapped by grand visions into a position where we do nothing. I know that I am often guilty of this. My ideas far out reach my abilities to enact them in any given moment. Because I can’t achieve the picture I see in my mind, I fail to attempt anything at all. I think nearly all people have to face and then ignore the grand vision in favor of the small thing that they can do right now.

So what does this have to do with a nature blog?

It has to do with the fact that in order to connect others to nature and to stay connected to it ourselves we must just begin.

For example, when I was teaching in the classroom I didn’t have all that many chances to interact with nature. There were two main reasons for this. The first had to do with my lack of confidence in my classroom management skills and my fear that I would not be able to control 20 something wild teenagers once they were not corralled by four walls. The second was, at the time, the curriculum didn’t cover nature all that much. Even so, I found ways. For example, to teach microscope skills, I brought water from different ponds and water types, fresh, saline and hyper saline, for kids to examine. This helped my students see that the kind of water and the location of the water would affect what was found in it. It was a tiny connection to the nature in our city. Many of my kids had never been to beach much less to some of the other water bodies that I gathered samples from. It was a big deal to them to see it and it sparked questions. Questions are a form of connection.

At the time, I thought this activity was too small to matter. In light of the quote above I realize it does matter. It matters a lot. I did connect kids (and myself) to nature in our city. I can even see how I would scale it up the next time by asking kids to bring bottles of water from places near their homes that collect water. It could be standing water in a puddle or a pond or a beach. Doesn’t matter. The thing is that the kids would be looking at their microscopic neighbors. And after all, aren’t we all curious about who lives next door? Yet another connection.

So, in the end, it wasn’t the scale of the activity that was important, it was the nature of it. I wanted, with limited time and resources, to connect kids to nature in the city and I found a way to do so. You can also begin where you are to connect yourselves and your kids to the natural world around you. The operative thing to remember:

It is “not the scale of an accomplishment, but that we did our share to make the world better,” Kara Kennedy.

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Open request to those people who are following me. I am trying to set up an email subscription to this blog using the g-lock double opt in for wordpress. So far I have not been able to get the widget to work. For those of you who are trying to subscribe and have not heard from me, this is why.

If there is anyone out there who is more tech savvy than I, I would welcome your help. You can send email via this blog or leave a comment in this post.

Thank you for your patience.

Staying connected to nature when the weather is awful

Copyright Porbital from FreePhoto.com

This has been a tough year for weather. Here in Texas we are experiencing the worst drought in the state’s history. In the coastal bend of Texas the temperatures have routinely been in the high 90’s and in other places of the state the temperatures have topped 100 for many, many days. With weather like that everyone and everything suffers. Today it is hot enough that I feel like I could bake cookies on the sidewalk. I have no desire to play outside on days like this.

There are things that you can do to keep in touch with nature when you can’t go out.

Make use of windows

It is common practice these days to keep all the windows blinded. In part this can help conserve energy on hot days. The side effect is that it keeps us isolated from our neighborhood and our neighbors, human and non-human alike. In order to conserve energy and still have the ability to connect with outside open the blinds during the early morning and evening hours when the sun is low and won’t shine inside to heat up the house. During the hot weather this is when most animals are most active anyway. Another alternative is to plant trees or shrubs in such a way that they will shade the windows from the hottest times of sun. I have a large mesquite tree that provides shade to my window so I leave the blinds up all day.

To take advantage of my window, I have set up a shepherds crook feeder pole with a seed feeder hanging from it. In addition, I have a humming bird feeder hanging from a hook under the eave where I can see it from nearly everywhere in my room. So, as I sit and type my reports I can watch the hummingbirds come to feed.

Set up watering station near a window

The primary need of all living things is water. During a hard drought like this one water is a major attractant. Because I like watching birds I set up a 4 tiered birdbath outside the window where I work. Each level is designed to attract a different size and behavior bird. The big bowl is popular with the large birds like the grackles and the white wing doves. The smaller bowl on the top is favored by sparrows and other small birds. The shallow low bowl near the ground is favored by the local squirrels and I sometimes see a toad near it.

Set up a feeding station near the window

The second need is food. Lack of water kills everything, plants, insects… everything. Larger animals are dependent on these two base food sources. Insects are by the largest protein base food source and nearly all animals make use of insects in their diets. Plants, that should be seeding right now, are dry brittle stalks with no food value. Putting out seeds will attract seed eating birds and animals. The most popular of all bird seed, the seed that is eaten by the broadest number of animals, is black oil sunflower. It is high in protein and fat, two essential nutrients for animals. It is possible to put out live meal worms in a small dish to attract the pure insect eaters. Most insect eating birds will not eat dead insects. Finally, raisins are a popular treat for birds that thrive on fruit.

Provide cover

After the spring rains stopped I let my garden run to seed and become overgrown with grass and nutsedge. I knew, from past experience, that there were few plants that were going to stand up to the heat that was expected for the summer, even if I kept them well watered. When the fall rains come, I’ll pull all the weeds and plant a crop of seeds to feed the butterflies and bees throughout the fall and into the beginning of the winter. In the meantime thanks to the “weeds” and the two types of jasmine shrubs that I planted, I am enjoying the benefits of having a garden that provides cover. I have a healthy crop of Anole lizards. I occasionally see a toad hoping about. The smaller birds come to the shrubs for cover when the y feel threatened. At night I am with the tiny flying stars that we call fireflies. None of these creatures would be able to thrive if I had done the typical suburban garden thing and pulled all the weeds.

With a little planning you can stay connected to nature even when it isn’t possible or desirable to be outside. I would love it if you would share, in the comments, some of the things that you do to stay connected to nature, even when you are stuck inside.

Image credit: Porbital

Dealing with a fear of nature

We live in fearful times. Terrorists. Amber alerts. West nile. Lyme disease. And the latest and greatest, killer amoeba.

I’d started writing this post before the latest headlines took over the news with a small boy being the third person this year to die from this amoeba. It is understandable to be afraid of this type of thing. Very few people, on average three each year, die from the creature. 5 people can swim together and only one will be affected. Once affected, there is no cure. That’s scary. How do you prepare for that?

The answer is you don’t. You can’t. And that’s the scary part.

I mean, if every time we go into warm water this little critter will attack then we can deal with that. We avoid warm water. It’s that simple. If there was a treatment then as soon as we suspected the attack we’d go for the cure and we ask for treatment even if we weren’t sure that we were infected just to be safe. But none of those options are available. When it is hotter than all get out, as it has been this summer, then we are going to go into the water. It’s a matter of mental survival. We need to cool off and we need to play. But when we do, we are afraid. Some people will just avoid these natural places and the fun that goes with them because they aren’t willing to become part of the microscopic statistic.

Many of us will also avoid going into the woods to avoid Lyme disease, or outside for fear of West Nile, or climbing trees for fear of a broken arm or leg. We want to be safe. We especially want our kids to be safe.

We think that by protecting them from tragedy we are helping them grow and become strong.

The research is against us. Study after study show that children who are too protected grow up with a lower belief in their abilities to solve problems and do things on their own.

Think back on the things that you did that made you feel proud of yourself. Think of all the problems that you solved on your own. Do you remember the day that you were allowed to cross the street on your own? What about walking to school on your own? How about the day that you rode your bike to the corner store for some candy and a soda? Or finding your way back to the camp site after you were allowed to go for walk in the woods on your own? Was there ever a time when things didn’t go quite according to plan and you had to work your way out of it? I am guessing that because you are reading this you were successful.

How did that make you feel? I know that, as scared as I was when I got on the wrong school bus home one day, I was proud that I found my own way home. I never said a word to my parents but I learned to trust my instincts to find my way home.

If you haven’t already, watch the video above. What do you notice?

First there are no parent eagles anywhere to be seen. We know they’re there and if something threatens the eaglets the parents will be all over the threat. But they aren’t interfering with the eaglets wing practice.

What else do you notice? The eaglets bounce back and forth from branch to branch getting a little farther from the nest with each attempt. This is just over 6 minutes of tape but eaglets will practice for a few weeks before they take that first flight. Each wing flap, each trial flight from branch to branch builds strength and confidence. Finally, the eagle takes flight.

We all want to feel safe and in control. The best way to do that is take well calculated risks so that we stretch our wings and build their strength before we leave the nest.

Benefits of risky play in childhood.



http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/australian_journal_of_early_childhood/ajec_index_abstracts/outdoor_play_does_avoiding_the_risks_reduce_t  he_benefits.html

Leave a comment: What frightens you? What do you do to keep fear from holding you back?