Sunday, January 18, 2015

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

Passenger Pigeons, Extinct

It’s nice to think that things we value last forever but it isn’t always so. Case in point – the Passenger Pigeon. The New Jersey State Museum in Trenton is paying homage to the bird. Through June 27, 2015, it commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the very last passenger pigeon in the world, who died on September 1st, 1914.

The birds once numbered in the billions but within a few decades became extinct. They were over-hunted and their forest nesting areas were decimated for agriculture. It’s ironic that the largest bird population in the world came down to zero, because of us.

Yes, we humans have needs – for housing, for sustenance, for reproduction. But so do other creatures. Should our needs always supersede those of others? We’re smart, surely we can figure out how to live within nature rather than decimating nature.

We can ask this about people, too. Can we respect all life, even if it is dissimilar to our own? Can we make room for those who look different from us, who hold various opinions, who have other beliefs? Or are we destined to be passenger pigeons, extinct by our own hands?

Facts about the Passenger Pigeon:

A state-by-state look at the Passenger Pigeon:

Go see the exhibit for yourself!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Coping with Winter

Coping with Winter

We’ve had a few cloudy days here, some rain, a bit of snow these past few weeks. Things look bare and winter-worn and we are only a third of the way into the season. The trees reveal their hidden nests, small ones for birds, larger ones for squirrels. The natural world seems to be in waiting mode.

What about all the excitement of the new year? Has it disappeared already?

Not for Mother Nature, it hasn’t. Nature is alive and active: there is life to protect during the cold months. The leaves may be gone but the trees have merely slowed down, conserving their energy in a process called dormancy, waiting for Spring. Squirrels are busy fattening up for the coming cold weather still to come. Birds fluff up their feathers to keep themselves warm as they munch on the seed in the feeders or wherever they can find it and seek shelter in coniferous tree branches. Deer huddle in groups, slow their metabolism, and watch out for each other. Chipmunks semi-hibernate, lowering their body temperature, though they don’t actually sleep.  They are coping with winter in their own special ways.

And what about us? How are we coping with winter?

Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we have to hibernate. It’s a good time to reconnect with friends who are busy all summer. Libraries offer programs like book discussions, art exhibits, author visits. Forget resolutions – follow your intentions to do what feels right to you. Every year, every season has its excitement. It’s called life.

How trees survive winter:

Birds keep warm in winter:

Monday, December 29, 2014

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Pumpkin Recipes for the New Year

Well, Thanksgiving is over and winter is officially here. It was time to dig into the pumpkin that has been gracing our front steps. What should I do with it? The seeds were the easy part- bake and eat. But what about the rest? Time to consult prior recipes and find new ones.

Pumpkin soup is one of my favorites and I make it each year. I like to try new things, however, so I looked online and came up with some possibilities that sound scrumptious. The good part of all of this is if I run out of pumpkin I can always use butternut squash, which the market seems to have all season.

Surely I’m not the only one who is eager to experiment so if you have a pumpkin recipe that you love and are willing to share, please send it along. Meanwhile, let’s try some of these. Happy eating.

And BTW Have a Happy and Healthy 2015!

Chocolate Pumpkin Muffins:

Chef John’s Pumpkin Scones:

Pasta with Pumpkin Sauce from Circle B Kitchen:

100 Ways to cook a pumpkin from Endless Simmer:

Pumpkin Oat Pancakes from Cookie & Kate- it’s gluten free:

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

Cozy in Our Indoor Backyard

This past week has been cold and often rainy so I decided to enjoy our backyard inside. We stacked firewood from a two-year-old cord (now nicely weathered) in the fireplace in our den then added branches that had fallen onto the lawn during the windy Fall days for kindling. The logs were lit and blazed with delicious warmth. The scene cozied up the den. We planted ourselves on the sofas and read books in the light and warmth of the flames. Ahhh.
            We tend to make fewer fires than most people who have fireplaces which means that the leftover wood in the cord is nice and dry for the next season/s. We discovered how wet wood can be really smoky so we appreciate letting the wood age.
            But what about the environmental cost of having a fireplace? Well, there is a cost but that impact depends on the type of fireplace, the kind of wood, even the kind of fuel. Whether a tree is burned or dies it oxidizes, just at a different rate. Trees are a renewable resource – we can replace them. Reputable wood harvesters know how to actively manage their wood lots.
            I admit I like my fireplace. I also confess that I am concerned about its consequences. Isn’t that like so much of life? We make choices and hope they aren’t harmful as they support us in how we choose to live.

What kind of wood is good for the fireplace?

Pros and cons of different kinds of fireplaces:

And what about the environment?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hawk in Suburbia

Hawk in Suburbia

I am used to seeing hawks off in the distance, wings spread, floating on the air currents beyond the height of our neighborhood trees. There is a grace to their flying, so smooth that it almost seems they aren’t flying at all.

Occasionally a hawk will come closer, just above our backyard trees. No doubt it is scoping out the movements on our bird feeders. Most of the time the birds are savvy and disappear when the hawk is around, though not always. I have found splashes of feathers on the lawn, usually from a mourning dove that didn’t move off fast enough. And we have enough squirrels and chipmunks to satisfy the hungriest hawk.

This week I was surprised, however, to find a hawk right in our backyard, sitting in the maple tree near our patio. It wasn’t the kind of place I would expect a hawk to be. It was high for people but not typical hawk height. And it was close to an inhabited site. The bird sat on a lower branch, another unusual activity. It seemed to be aware of every move we made near our back storm door but it wasn’t inclined to leave. Eventually, it took off across our yard to places unknown.

I admit I was shaken. It is one thing to see such a creature in the distance and quite another to have it within whistling distance, which I couldn’t help doing. Was it getting used to us? Not necessarily a good thing. Our living needs are obviously different. Can we live together in peace? As people take up more land space from the natural inhabitants the question becomes urgent. I hope we can do a better job of co-existing with the hawks than we often do with people who have divergent lifestyles.

A common bird in America:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

Woodpecker Munching on Seed

The woodpeckers found us again this year. It’s a treat to see them. We have a male and female munching on the black oil sunflower seeds. They are a nice size and lovely to look at.

I used to think that all woodpeckers only came in the Woody Woodpecker persona but that was incorrect; woodpeckers come in lots of variations. I believe our kind is a Northern Flicker. I know that dedicated birdwatchers need to identify what birds they see but I am not obsessed with identification. It’s the visual aspect of bird watching that gets me. I don’t have a life list of birds, either, documenting the birds I see in my travels though I have been privileged to see many different kinds. A birder likes to observe birds in their natural habitats. My backyard may not qualify as natural because when I put out seed for the birds, it automatically changes the environment. I say that the birds will find food wherever it is so why not in our backyard? I’m pretty accepting of whichever birds show up.

I’m sort of like that with people, too. I am always impressed with how much variety there is in humanity. It’s amazing to think that the category of person can come in so many sizes, colors, shapes, and individual details. Like the birds, each person has his or her own characteristics and personality. Pretty remarkable, I say, whether bird or person. And inspiring, too, that our world can support so much diversity, as long as we value it.

Lots of woodpeckers have red heads:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

Squirrel – Master of All He/She Surveys

For some reason, the squirrels like to sit on our patio chairs. Usually they sprawl flat out along the top or laze quite comfortably on the seat. They are aware of the people who live in the house but we don’t seem to bother them unless we open the door and chase them away.

This time a squirrel was upright on the back of the chair, facing the yard. He (or was it she?) knew we were watching but it did not bother him. He was relaxed and seemed to be taking in “his” property, observing the colors of the leaves, the birds as they flew on and off the feeders, the other squirrels zipping along the ground around him. He had the look of being master of all he surveys. We didn’t have the heart to shoo him off.

We have lots of squirrels in our backyard. They make nests in the trees, eat the seeds that drop from the feeders and sometimes find a way to get around the baffles and onto the feeders themselves. They chase each other during breeding season, run strangers away, or sometimes they scrabble just for fun. We complain that they share too many of our vegetables and use our patio for their own social gatherings. Occasionally, one will look in our kitchen window and stare at our table as we eat. We can almost hear the question, So, what’s for dinner?

This was different, however. The squirrel wasn’t looking for handouts. He wasn’t in breeding mode or protecting his turf. There was a peacefulness about him, unusual for a creature who seems constantly active. The squirrel’s tail stretched long and rested down the chair’s back, not twitching like I was used to seeing.

He/she stayed there for quite a while. I was transfixed with every turn of the creature’s head. There was something sacred about the scene. Did the squirrel feel connected with what he was seeing? Once, he turned and looked toward the glass door through which we were watching but did not register any fright or inclination to scoot away, then turned back and continued what now seemed like a vigil.

I couldn’t tell if the squirrel was owning what he/she saw or being embraced by it. It didn’t matter. As I watched, I felt a connection – to the squirrel, to what was being observed, to the larger sense of nature. Suddenly everything seemed new.  It was a broadening experience propelled from a very simple cause. It made me aware that the world is always different, depending upon one’s view. 

I turned away before the squirrel did. In the morning, the backyard was once again bustling with activity. I couldn’t tell which squirrel was the philosopher but I could appreciate the idea that everyone, whatever our size, has a personal perspective to offer.

An overview of the Eastern Gray Squirrel: