Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Conserving youth and urban areas

Today I read a wonderful article about a friend, Dave Magpiong, who is doing great work with urban children and in enhancing diversity in conservation (see Focus on Diversity III - Changing the Face of American Birding Conference on Facebook or at The article on Dave's work can be found at

Twice this week, I heard pieces on WHYY out of Philly about Camden that, of course, focused on the bad -- the abandoned industrial plants, the crime, the violence...the poverty and unemployment. A lament for a city that once made major contributions to the world wars, but now was a scar on the promise of the "American Dream." But Dave's story is a different take on the city. It is the type of story about initiatives that will not only change the lives of children he works with, but of an entire community. And kudos to NPR's Marketplace for showing how Camden might be perceived as a leader in some areas:

One of our graduates this spring is going to Cooper Medical School in Camden, a destination of choice for her. Her senior Honors project was on "Inequalities in Health Care Access", and her dream is to be of help in poor, blighted areas - a place where she believes that she can truly make a difference. So many students say this in their application essays and interviews, but few would be willing to prove it to this degree. Best of everything to you Margaret.

My place of birth, Detroit, is getting hammered in the media these day for its financial woes. For quite sometime, this beleaguered city was known by most as "the murder capital of the U.S." I lived there until I was almost 6, and my memories are of a different Detroit. My great grandmother's backyard cottage garden. Small, but lovely. No one could grow roses like she could. She was a lone "hold-out" white person in a neighborhood of African Americans, a spunky Polish immigrant whose native tongue was better than her English. But those neighbors protected her during the race riots of the 1960's. I remember sitting on our front porch with my dad as he called out to the Bob-white Quail in the field across the street.  Flash floods during summer thunderstorms, picnics, and walking to school - something I have not done since kindergarten.  I remember great deli stores, and of course, the auto companies. Ford was omnipresent.

I loved the 2011 Super Bowl commercial about Detroit, done by Eminem and Chrysler. It certainly showed Detroit in a different light.

I am not an urban gal. I have lived in Detroit and Philadelphia, but I am most comfortable on my rural farm or on the shores of one of the Great Lakes -- away from crowds and noise. But I realize the importance of worrying about our urban kids and streets, the parks and waterfronts, the heat islands and safe green spaces. Perhaps a bit more of our conservation efforts should focus on these places and the people that inhabit them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A summer evening walk

After taking a stab at poetry yesterday writing an Ode to August (, I decided it was best to return to a form of writing that I am more familiar with - scientific reports.  But then I was interrupted.

After a rather rainy day, it cleared out nicely in late afternoon. The drier air and clear skies were calling, pleading for me to leave behind the report writing, if just for a little while. I love distractions. Heck, this report was due last May, so what are a few more hours? And enjoying a walk on a refreshing  and unusually cool August evening makes perfect sense when you are writing a section of a report on climate change and agriculture in Pennsylvania.

I was immediately rewarded with eight, yes eight, Red-spotted Purples on a single shrub! Limenitis arthemis – at least the subspecies in this region – is a mimic of the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor), and the same species as the very different looking White Admiral. Arthemis is likely an epitaph of Artemis – the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth, and protector of young girls. This deity was one of my favorites as a child; her Roman equivalent is Diana. I doubt that my mother named me after her, but I thought she was pretty cool anyway. These eight specimens appeared to be very fresh – not a tattered edge or faded spot of blue or orange among them.

Lately, I have been seeing large numbers of Spicebush and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (genus Papilio – Latin for butterfly). They are particularly fond of my phlox and all the Monarda (bergamot, bee balm) growing on our property. I learned today (if Wikipedia is a trusted source) that this genus was named for Nicol├ís Monardes, who wrote a book in 1574 describing plants found in the New World. I think I would have enjoyed traveling around the world finding new plant species, although there weren’t too many women along on those early expeditions. (A great book on this topic is Flower Hunters by Mary and John Gribbon. The cover alone is worth buying the book for.) I digress. This plant, Monarda, has a long history as a medicinal plant being used as an antiseptic, a stimulant, or to treat everything from headaches to fevers to excessive flatulence. I wonder what it does for butterflies!

As I stopped to get Revi the crazed retriever, a family of Pileated Woodpeckers flew from a big old dead oak. I had heard the tapping while I was watching those black, blue, and orange goddesses, but hadn’t looked up to see who was making the noise. We have many different woodpeckers here. Lots of insects, lots of dying trees. And yes, our dog is named with a 4-letter code for a particular bird species. Do you know which one? They are common and quite noisy in our woods, although quieter now that it is August.

We went in the back woods, past the old pastures, and kicked up a covey of Ruffed Grouse – at least 5, some of which were obviously this year’s brood. Earlier this summer, Joren had spotted a mother with very young cheepers. He even got to witness the broken-wing dance that mothers do when they are protecting their babes. Growing up in Upper Michigan, I sort of took grouse for granted. Hunted them even. But they are much more uncommon in eastern PA, so it is good to know a) that they are breeding here and b) that some of the young made it to be teenagers.

Being a bird dog breed, Revi was quite pleased that he found me some game birds. I guess he decided that he deserved a reward, and ran off for a quick swim in the quarry ponds on the neighboring parcel. We haven’t been over there since last fall. These flat-coats sure have good memories. He returned soaking wet, saving his shake until he got very close to me. Thanks for sharing bud. But he looked so pleased with himself. I don’t know if it was because he flushed some birds or that he got to swim or that he drenched me with muddy waters.

When we returned, I checked one of our young peach trees – producing for the first time. Yup, more were ripe. This tree only teased me for the last few years, but now it is producing about ½ bushel a day. I don’t spray, so the fruit are far from cosmetically perfect, but they taste like heaven. I don’t think you can eat too many peaches when they are in season. Well, I suppose you could, and then you might need some of that medicinal bee balm. A good peach is something we never got in Upper Michigan. Only hard, tennis ball-like fruits that were never sweet and juicy.  Maybe someday, with global warming and all.

The sun had dropped behind the mountain when I brought Revi to the barn. Up in the old chestnut beams, the larger-than-head beaks of the latest round of barn swallow babies were all I could see above their nest. Always chirping, always hungry. Mom was no where around. Out collecting insects, I suppose. Hirundo rustica – nice name. This gang wouldn’t fledge for at least another week. I wonder where they go for winter. Will these same birds be back in our barn next spring? In April they return, about the same time our orchards begin to come into blossom. Which reminds me, I had better get back to that report chapter.