Owl Be Home for Christmas

Text and Photos by Maymie Higgins

Sundays are usually the only day I can afford the indulgence of sleeping until awaking naturally, instead of to the incessant beeping of a rude and shrill alarm clock. However, on a recent Sunday I was abruptly roused from a deep sleep at 8 A.M. by the sound of the doorbell ringing, which was quickly followed by the frantic barking of all four of my dogs. I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. I will never be a morning person. Thankfully, my husband is. Although he was also asleep when the doorbell rang, he managed to run interference while I remained snug under the covers. But it was not to last.

My husband answered the door and a conversation began. Though I could not make out the words, I did recognize the voice of my neighbor. Both of their voices faded and I thought, “Paul probably just needs Darren’s help with something.” I pulled the covers in closer and closed my eyes with impunity. But only a moment later I heard my husband coming down the hall. As he entered our bedroom, he began to explain how I was needed next door because an owl is caught in Paul’s badminton net. Animals are probably the only exception to my non-morning person policy. I was on the mission within two minutes.

It was not surprising the species entwined in the net was a Barred Owl. Almost nightly we hear the classic vocalization of these large, stocky owls with round heads, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you”? After explaining that the badminton net could not be saved and that oven mitts are insufficient protection from raptor talons, I threw a towel over the owl. The fellows pulled the net post up and we lowered everything to the ground. The net was then cut on both sides of the owl and I placed him, still bundled in the towel, into a pet carrier. I had the thought that I may be able to cut the netting away and that his or her wings appeared to be without injury but I wanted to make sure.

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So off we went to the Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at the North Carolina Zoological Park. The owl spent a week in the center, where the netting was cut away and he or she was thoroughly examined by a veterinarian twice, who then cleared the owl for discharge the following Saturday. Ideally, the next part of the journey for the owl would be a release at the same spot in which it was rescued, with no difficulties. There were difficulties.

The owl had been secured for pick up in a cardboard box, which we were to simply cut away tape at the opening, open the box and the owl pop right out. But on the journey home, and in spite of our complete silence for the 50 minute ride, the owl was very active. With all the rustling within the box, the scene in the movie Tommy Boy  where the deer comes back to life came to mind. We kept looking back to see if the owl had escaped his box, half way expecting it to be perched on the backseat of my SUV, clicking its beak at us.

Fortunately, the owl did not escape from the box but it had somehow gotten the end of one of its primary flight feathers stuck in duct tape on the inside of the box. Here is where it is important to remind readers that wild animals are easily stressed by the sight, sound, smell and touch of humans. If you are attempting rescue of a wild animal, be quiet and avoid looking directly at their face as much as possible. Having an owl taped to the inside of a cardboard box made both of those tasks impossible. There was profanity. There was staring. I had to figure out what to do.

Fortunately, my college ornithology class and comparatively limited experience with birds served me well…..and, more importantly, served owl well. I sliced away the very tip of the feather from the tape and then gently ejected the bird from the box. Not surprisingly, the owl just sat there for about five minutes, probably due to the stress of all this hullabaloo. Heck, I wanted to just plop down a minute too! But then the most glorious thing happened. Owl flew into our neighbor’s Magnolia tree, hopped up several branches, looking down on us with the proper level of disdain. He then flew over to our pine trees before taking a long, beautiful flight up the street.

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Many birds moult, which means drop old feathers and grow new ones in their place. This involved only the very tip of only one feather and therefore did not impair flight at all. Eventually, the entire feather will be replaced and it will be as if this did not happen.

My understanding is that those few days owl was in the wildlife rehab center were likely not enough time for his or her mate to have abandoned their union. Since the release, I have heard again “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?” which now sounds more like a happy couple than just a couple of birds to me.

If you would like to know more about Barred Owls, check out the information at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Also, check out the Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where native North Carolina wildlife is given the best chance of returning to the wild.

Moments before taking flight.

Moments before taking flight.

A Place to Live, a Place to Die: Forging Deep Connections to the Land

The Starfield, a pasture in Trail Wood, the abandoned farm where naturalist writer Edwin Way Teale spent the last 21 years of his life.  His ashes were spread in the Starfield after his death in 1980.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2013.

The Starfield, a pasture in Trail Wood, the abandoned farm where naturalist writer Edwin Way Teale spent the last 21 years of his life. Teale’s ashes were scattered in The Starfield after his death in 1980. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2013.

By: Richard Telford

The quintessentially American poet Walt Whitman, in the 1892 “Deathbed Edition” final revision of his opus 52-section “Song of Myself,” writes the following couplet in the poem’s final section:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

American poet Walt Whitman in a photograph taken by Matthew Brady, circa 1860-1865.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

American poet Walt Whitman in a photograph taken by Matthew Brady, circa 1860-1865. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

It was section 52 of Whitman’s resonant and deeply moving poem that I selected as one of two readings for my father’s funeral more than a decade ago.  In the poem as a whole, Whitman conveys a striking duality—he extols both our individual significance and insignificance.  Whitman opens the poem with his famous declaration, “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, / And what I assume you shall assume […],” but he immediately acknowledges thereafter that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”  He ultimately articulates both the connectedness and the democracy of “Nature without check with original energy.”  In the end, Whitman argues, we are deeply connected to the land and to each other, whether or not we fully realize it; we are all “coaxe[d]” to “the vapor and the dusk” and ultimately “depart as air.”  And in this democracy of our return to earth—natural earth, atomic earth, final earth—there is, I believe, likewise a democracy of potential deep connection to the natural world, not just in the profound self-realization of facing our own deaths but in life, minute-by-minute life, from cradle to grave.  That sense of connection often lies latent, largely untapped, obscured by a parade of distractions—a truth not just for our era but all eras, though each manifests it in new ways as well as old—but that potential remains.  What is latent can be made vibrant, what is untapped can be tapped, what lies hidden can be made to rise—by our own conscious actions and by fostering such actions in others.  Whitman and so many others who have articulated a deep connection to the land offer us hope.  So too does the natural curiosity of childhood, an in-born impulse to explore which is often whittled away by the societal structures we impose upon it but need not be.  In a time when we face what Richard Leaky, Roger Lewin, Niles Eldredge, and others have termed The Sixth Extinction, the unprecedented anthropogenically-driven loss of biodiversity, the fostering of that impulse to explore, both in our children and in ourselves, is essential.

The author's two-year-old son romping under a sprinkler during the dog days of summer.  Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

The author’s two-year-old son romping under a sprinkler during the dog days of summer. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

During the last two decades, place-based education—championed by Laurie Lane-Zucker, John Elder, David Sobel, and many others—has risen to the forefront of the effort to foster conservation-mindedness and overall wellbeing in the general public, especially children. As Mary Rivkin has written in The Great Outdoors: Restoring Children’s Right to Play Outside (1995), “For the long-term conservation of the world, it seems reasonable that children need a strong base of firsthand knowledge.”  It is the absence of such firsthand knowledge that has rightfully sounded alarms over the future of the conservation movement and of the natural world at all scales. The effects of this experiential gap have most famously, and in some circles controversially, been characterized by Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods (revised edition 2008) as Nature-Deficit Disorder.  The picture painted by Louv in his many writings, by David Sobel in Beyond Ecophobia and elsewhere, and by many others, is a dire one, as it should be, but I draw hope from the literary record, from the naturalist writers who achieved in life the deepest connections to the land, leaving for subsequent generations an instructive record of those connections.  If many of these writers have themselves faded from the public consciousness, it is, I think, simply one more reflection of the societal shift away from the natural world in deference to one marked by consumption, by largely vacuous electronic communication, by hollowness and unsustainability.  As we consciously work to foster and to forge the latent, ready, critical connection between children and the natural world, naturalist writers can provide us a model, a guide by which we may foster and forge those connections first within ourselves.  How can we otherwise give to future generations what is largely absent in us?

When naturalist writer Edwin Way Teale moved in 1959 to Trail Wood, the 130-acre home and sanctuary where he would spend the remaining twenty-one years of his life, he noted in a newly started journal, “We are more fortunate than Moses—we saw our Promised Land and entered it as well […]; our search was wide but in the end we found our Eden” (September 18, 1959).  Ten days later, in a subsequent entry, he notes:  “Here is place to live in and a place to die in, too.”  Despite having just arrived to the place that he would later document in two books, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974) and A Walk Through the Year (1978), Teale had the vision to see the fulfillment, the sloughing off of the unimportant, that could be had in such a place.  We spend our lives seeking our own Edens, and the short-term targets of that search are often the illusory shadows of success as we are led to see it: material goods, social media adulation, the outward shows of status in all its forms.  What Teale and Whitman, Louv and Sobel, and many others knew and know is that it is through the permanence of the natural world, no matter how we alter it, that we can reconcile our own impermanence.  What better motive can we have for valuing, embracing, and ultimately conserving the natural world?  What better example can we offer to future generations?

In the early spring of 1921, naturalist writer John Burroughs was gravely ill, and he embarked upon a cross-country train trip in hopes of dying amidst his beloved Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.  He died en route, and a March 30 New York Times story reported that passengers aboard the train wept openly as the nationally beloved Burroughs was taken from the train.  Edwin Way Teale, dying of cancer in 1980, produced several rough sketches of a headstone to ostensibly mark his and Nellie Teale’s resting place, and to commemorate their only child, David, who was declared dead one year after going missing in action during heavy fighting along the Moselle River in Germany in 1945.  The following statement appears in penciled script along the top edge of one of Teale’s headstone sketches: “Ashes scattered over The Starfield at Trail Wood.”  Like Whitman, Teale wished to bequeath himself to the land he loved.  For both Burroughs and Teale, their deep connections to the land guided their lives to the end. Their final acts culminated lives deeply connected to the natural world and to the respective places that had profoundly shaped those connections. Such deep connections can be found in the work of living writers, as well;  consider Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Robert Michael Pyle’s The Thunder Tree or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Walt Whitman opens section 6 of “Song of Myself” with the following couplet:

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;                                                          How could I answer the child?  I do not know what it is any more than he.

In these lines, Whitman captures the natural, exploratory curiosity of childhood.  He likewise articulates well how comparatively small our understanding of the natural world truly is, rendering us, if we are honest with ourselves, always explorers.  In that sense, perhaps the sum of what we don’t know can drive us to keep the good impulses of childhood that we often shed too readily.  It is these impulses that allow us to make deep connections to the land, both in living life and leaving it.

Zawadisha: Creating Change, Inspiring Action in Kenya

Zawadisha

By Shauna Potocky

What if one of the best solutions to social and environmental change came in the form of empowerment? What if that empowerment was gifted to the most disenfranchised members of society? What if, in their empowerment, family units, communities and whole economies began to change? What if with that change, came the benefits of education, stable family economics, clean water, clean air, and entrepreneurial businesses operated from the heart while also based on sustainability? In such a paradigm, how might lives, economies, and ecosystems change?

The answers to such an empowerment paradigm are known and the non-profit organization, Zawadisha knows first-hand how profound the changes can be.

Zawadisha, (which meaning “to give a gift”), is focused on empowering women in Kenya with the means, training, mentorship and supportive structure needed to not just lift themselves up but to thrive as an emerging economic force in their home communities. Through an innovative and well informed micro-lending program, designed to set its members up for success, the program also requires the women it engages to create sustainable businesses. In doing so, it transforms women from not only being the backbone of their family structure but also empowering them with the tools needed to become an active part of the local economy. As women emerge into this new role, it shifts and shapes the economic and environmental stability of their community.

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Group leaders participating in a leadership development workshop held in 2014. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

In particular, by employing a culturally relevant and safe micro-lending program, Zawadisha has honed in on a successful focus, one that Jennifer Gurecki, the Chief Innovation Officer describes as, “pro-poor, pro-women and pro-environment.”

Specifically, Zawadisha leverages several critical factors into its successful program model; the first is that it fully engages the participants it serves by completely integrating them into the management of the program. Participants are engaged as members and actively participate in the fiscal and business management of the micro-lending program. This active participation and engagement translates into a partnership that members feel passionate about, resulting in a high degree of personal investment in the program outcomes. This empowerment results in an impressive success rate in the repayment of loans while supporting the much needed disbursement of products and services into communities with significant need.

Zawadisha meeting

Zawadisha’s Opportunity and Empowerment Director, Cindy Mayanka, facilitating a workshop with the Neema Women’s Group. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

There are two other elements that make Zawadisha’s program outstanding. Once the loans are dispersed and the members are engaged by a peer chair-lady, who organizes monthly meetings, the members also benefit through access to both leadership and business training opportunities. These opportunities further advance the women’s potential for success, ensuring that beyond financial investment in their business, they also have the additional tools needed to be successful in their endeavor.

Solar Light and Bright Smile Zawadisha

A solar lighting system and an opportunity for a brighter future. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

In addition, Zawadisha is taking a clear environmental approach to empowering its members. Current members are being “grandfathered” into a new vision, one that will offer training on sustainable business practices. The vision for future members, is that as requirement for obtaining a micro-loan, the women entrepreneurs must demonstrate that they are developing an environmentally sustainable business. It is clear that in communities where businesses are grown based on environmental degradation—future problems arise. Although there may be a short-term economic gain for the community—in the long-term, jeopardizing water, soil or air resources are not a good investment—for anyone. In recognition of this, Zawadisha will only invest in projects that build on sustainable practices or services—most of which are related to solar power lights, rain water catchment tanks and soon-to-be launched, eco-stoves for cooking, which will reduce dependence on coal.

How transformational can solar lighting, a rain water catchment tank or eco-stove be in a women’s life? Subsequently, what can the effects be on her community? Consider these remarkable examples that come directly from the women served in the environmentally impacted community of Maungu, located five hours south of Nairobi. Of note, Maungu is a community situated in a landscape that has suffered from desertification. The women of the community report that, “thirty years ago the area was covered in trees.” Today, the trees have been removed and the landscape suffers from a lack of water and is characterized by dry red dirt and low-lying shrubs. In such a scenario, here is how transformative an investment in what the women say they need, can be.

Maungu landscape Zawadisha

Maungu landscape and the future site of the Neema Women’s Group native tree nursery. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

When a woman receives a loan for a solar light, she directly changes two key aspects within her home—she eliminates the greatest health risk to people within their living quarters related to the use of paraffin burning lamps, which is known for its toxicity. Paraffin is directly related to elevated respiratory issues and significantly impacts the young and the elderly. Beyond elimination of this health hazard, she increases the productivity hours within the home, allowing her to focus her efforts on beneficial aspects of household management and significantly shift household expenses. Paraffin is costly to the household and can be offset by the use of solar lighting. One solar light loan is equal to the cost of a one month supply of paraffin, thus, the solar light can pay for itself within one month of use.

In addition, an unexpected benefit of the new household investment has emerged. Women who have received the lamps have indicated that they have been treated with more respect and support from family members as a result of their contribution to the household.

Rain water catchment tank Zawadisha

A rain water catchment tank can provide increased food security and help transform the landscape. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

For a woman who has received a rainwater catchment tank; her daily life is significantly changed—she no longer is required to spend six hours each day, walking to obtain water. This allows her to focus her daily efforts on activities that can continue to transform her living situation. In addition, with water catchment located at home, many women have started kitchen gardens that are able to supply food to the household and provide food for market, which translates directly into increased food security. These women have also indicated that they too have benefited by increased respect and support for their efforts in transforming and significantly contributing to their households.

JG and Group Zawadisha

Pictured here: Jennifer Gurecki, Chief Innovation Officer and group leaders; together they distribute or manage micro-loans on a financial scale that for $100, can provide a loan for either one rain water catchment tank, four solar lights, or new in 2015, four eco-stoves. Photo Courtesy of Zawadisha.

New for 2015, Zawadisha is excited to begin providing loans for eco-stoves. These stoves will provide a positive alternative to high coal consuming stoves, which have significant impacts on people and the environment. One significant difference in the roll out of the stove program as compared to other microfinance institutions (MFI) is that Zawadisha spent a significant amount of time listening to the women of the community to find out what the women needed and what type of stove will truly work for them. This is critically important because it has been observed that some MFI’s have provided products to communities without investigating the needs of the people and the products to be provided, in order to assure a beneficial match to the end user. This has translated into products being delivered into communities that subsequently were not utilized, as it did not meet the need of the people they were meant to serve. Zawadisha has been very mindful of this and has diligently inquired into the true need of the people regarding cooking alternatives. As a result of the investment in knowing what the women will truly benefit from, the new stove loans will become available to Zawadisha members in 2015.

Garden Zawadisha

An example of landscape transformation, this garden was the result of a rain water catchment tank. Photo courtesy of Zawadisha.

The coming year also offers another exciting development. Zawadisha will also assist the women of Maungu in establishing a native tree nursery. This nursery will supply seedling trees to the restoration market that is generated by local national parks and through the nongovernmental organization, Wildlife Works.

The women of Maungu represent many of the women of Africa, they are strong, family-minded, and community building. They are not defined by the demographic statistics reported to us and throughout the world. They are the smiling faces, the jovial laughs, the cultural shepherds and entrepreneurial spirit of their communities. They are also the game changers—when provided with the opportunity to empower themselves, without jeopardizing everything in unsafe loans; when they are given a truly supportive opportunity to change the economic expenses of their household, shift the environmental impacts of traditional supply chains, what emerges is a shift in health benefits, the obtainment of food security, and positive impacts on the environment and the local ecosystem.

The women of Maungu represent a deeper hope for all of us. They prove that impacted areas of Africa can be transformed and healed through the vision of its own women. They demonstrate for the world that many of the issues facing communities today can be addressed by engaging and empowering the members of society who may frequently be overlooked—a lesson we can all learn from.

That’s no monkey! That’s Kendall!

 http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/genetics

The common ancestor of great apes lived about 18 million years ago. Source: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Talk to any zoo keeper about great apes and you may see them cringe substantially when it comes to two topics. The first topic has to do with the discernment between monkeys and apes. We cringe when people reference apes as monkeys. Although both groups fall into the taxonomic order of primates, there are more differences than similarities between monkeys and apes. The most obvious morphological difference is that monkeys have tails and apes do not. But from an intellectual standpoint, the differences are substantial…not to say that monkeys are not intelligent, but apes are, by comparison, super intelligent. Apes rely more on vision than scent for survival. Apes create tools and are capable of learning and using language. They are complex problem solvers.

Great apes belong to the family Hominidae, which includes humans, bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans, while gibbons and siamangs are lesser apes. If you find this classification disconcerting, I do not mean to offend anyone. Perhaps if you read Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, you will find the concept a little less threatening. In the meantime, when you visit zoos, please reference the above mentioned animals as apes, not monkeys. It is a good way to show reverence and acknowledge the importance of sharing the planet by having a greater understanding of all the creatures that live upon it.

The second cringe worthy topic is one of far greater concern and perpetually burdens the heart and mind of those of us who advocate for wildlife in general and apes in particular. That topic is apes in entertainment, particularly chimpanzees. It seems that as soon as activists have gotten one company to understand the negative impact of the use of chimpanzees in entertainment and stop the practice, another offender emerges.

The International Union for Nature and Natural Resources classify chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) as Endangered due to high levels of exploitation, loss of habitat and habitat quality due to expanding human activities. When people see chimpanzees in entertainment, it undercuts an accurate perception of realizing that this species is endangered.

I cannot be more blunt or impassioned about this when I ask everyone reading this to boycott any product or service that uses chimpanzees for advertising or entertainment. If you cannot boycott the product or service, please take time to write the offending organization to let them know you wish for the practice to stop. The following story is one of hundreds of examples as to why I make this plea.

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Kendall chimp was born on May 31, 1999 at a facility that breeds chimps to be used in entertainment. He was hand-raised and later sold to Birds and Animals Unlimited, an organization that trains a variety of animals, including chimpanzees, for use in movies, television, and live animal shows. Some may remember him as the chimp that selected the winning number for Pepsi’s Billion Dollar Sweepstakes. He even appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show. When Kendall was about seven, his trainers noticed that he was beginning to challenge them when they took him out to do his shows. They realized that if he was beginning to challenge those he knew best, there was increased risk to audience members. Chimps are, pound for pound, about seven times stronger than a person. So, a 60 pound chimp could potentially seriously injure an audience member. In fact, no monkey or ape makes for a good pet.

Kendall was retired from shows and his care began to fall by the wayside. He was spending his days in a small holding area with limited stimulation, bedding, and of course, no other chimpanzees. Chimpanzees live in troops in the wild. Social structure and bonds are as important to them as they are to humans. Chimpanzees form social communities of 5 to 150 animals in the wild. An isolated life for a chimpanzee is a miserable existence.

In 2006, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan obtained and placed Kendall at the North Carolina Zoo (an AZA accredited institution), with the hope that he could be integrated into a group with 13 other chimps. From there, the dedicated keepers began the process of introducing Kendall to members of the troops at the NC Zoo. The process has taken years and he has made great strides in learning natural chimpanzee behavior. Kendall’s story has a happy ending but he is only one of so many chimpanzees that have been exploited for entertainment and science. Kendall’s story represents what I hope to be an ongoing positive story of the environment as it pertains to wildlife stewardship for all apes.

Photo courtesy of The Kendall Project

Kendall enjoying a hammock at the NC Zoo. Photo courtesy of The Kendall Project.

A Call for Writers and Visual Artists, Summer 2015

A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly.  Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood.   Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum), a late summer dragonfly. Edwin way Teale wrote about observing large numbers of Sympetrum dragonflies in his early days at Trail Wood. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2014.

By: Richard Telford

Connecticut Audubon Society is now accepting applications for the 2015 Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program.  Electronic application submissions will be accepted this year, which is a change from previous years. Through the program, inaugurated in 2012, CAS invites writers and visual artists, chosen through a juried process, to spend one week in residence at the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale.  The home is situated in the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary, which Yankee Magazine in 2013 named as one of Connecticut’s two best nature sanctuaries—the other being CAS’s 700-acre Baflin Sanctuary, which is a ten-minute drive from Trail Wood.  The sanctuary still contains many of the trails cut by Edwin and Nellie Teale shortly after their arrival in the summer of 1959.  These continue to be maintained by CAS.

Teale in the Blind

American naturalist writer and photographer Edwin Way Teale at work in his observation blind alongside Hampton Brook in Trail Wood. Courtesy of the Edwin Way Teale Papers, Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries. Works by Edwin Way Teale are copyrighted by the University of Connecticut Libraries. Used with permission.

One month after their move to Trail Wood, Edwin wrote in a July 6, 1959 journal entry, “We have the feeling here that whenever we look out the window there may be something exciting to see. Adventures lie all around us.”  Edwin, in his unpublished writings, often referred to Trail Wood as his and Nellie’s “Eden” and their “Promised Land.” He remained there until his death in 1980, and Nellie until hers in 1993.  Just prior to Edwin’s death, the Teales arranged to bequeath the site to Connecticut Audubon Society as a sanctuary open to the public, which it remains today.

Edwin’s site observations, as well as some of Nellie’s, are thoughtfully documented in the two books he wrote about Trail Wood, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974) and A Walk Through the Year (1978).  Program participants are encouraged to read one or both of these works in order to more fully understand the intent of this program, the site itself, and the important legacy of the Teales.  Alexander Brash, president of Connecticut Audubon Society, notes, “The residency program keeps alive the spirit of Edwin Way Teale, who opened American’s eyes to the small beauties of the natural world and the importance of conservation through close observation and precise writing, both here at home in Connecticut and across the country in his travel books.”

Writing Cabin 2013-12-14

Edwin Way Teale’s writing cabin at Trail Wood after a light December snowfall. Photo by Richard Telford, Copyright 2013.

Additionally, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut houses Edwin’s private papers, including four 500-page journals he kept while at Trail Wood. A catalog of the Teale archive can be viewed here. Residency program staff can help arrange a visit to the archive prior to or during the residency period.  Trail Wood is open to the public but generally experiences moderate visitorship, allowing a solitary and contemplative experience conducive to the creative process.  Edwin’s writing cabin, which has previously been undergoing restoration, will be available for use by resident artists this year.  The cabin, which overlooks a one-acre pond the Teales had dug in 1959, was built to match the dimensions of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond.  It offered Edwin a working space removed from visitors and the telephone.

While in residence, artists are encouraged to practice their craft in a way that is inspired both by the site’s natural beauty and its important role in American natural history writing.  The site contains diverse habitat, including mature eastern forest, abandoned pastureland, a three-acre beaver pond, a year-round running brook, and lowland swamps. The site offers excellent birding opportunities, with 88 species having been identified in the sanctuary.  Edwin’s writing study in the main house is still preserved exactly as it was at the time of his death in 1980, per Nellie Teale’s wishes, and CAS staff can provide visiting artists with access to it.  Presently, residencies are scheduled only for the summer months.  With planned further restoration of the Teale home, an 1806 center-chimney Cape Cod, CAS hopes to expand the residency offerings to a year-round schedule in future years.

After the completion of the residency, participating writers and visual artists are invited to attend a follow-up event, Trail Wood Under the Harvest Moon, held annually on-site in September.  At this event, each resident artist is asked to read or present a sample of work completed during the residency and to speak briefly about the residency experience itself. This work can be in process.  The residency application can be found here.  It provides further explanation of the program and an overview of the its logistics. Inquiries about the program can be sent to trailwoodresidency@ctaudubon.org.  The program’s coordinator, CAS volunteer Richard Telford, has published a series of articles on or related to Edwin Way Teale and Trail Wood at the Ecotone Exchange, and these articles, available here, may provide helpful background for prospective applicants.

A Greener Thanksgiving

By Christine Harris

For most Americans Thanksgiving is a day of overindulgence. We eat and drink too much. We travel long distances by car or plane. From an environmental perspective, Thanksgiving is not typically a green holiday. However there are many easy ways that you can decrease your emissions and use of resources and still have a meaningful holiday. Here are a few tips to make your Thanksgiving a bit greener.

American turkeys. Photo by Christine Harris.

American turkeys. Photo by Christine Harris.

Grow your own: In most parts of the country fruits and vegetables can be grown well into the fall. With a little planning many of your Thanksgiving favorites can come right from your own backyard or a plot in a community garden. If it’s too cold to keep the garden going into November, harvest earlier and freeze or can.

Check out your local farmer’s market: If you can’t grow it yourself, buy it from someone else who has grown it locally. You may even be able to find a locally raised free-range turkey at a farmer’s market or local farm.

Public market, Seattle. Photo by Christine Harris.

Public market, Seattle. Photo by Christine Harris.

Limit travel: Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel days of the year. Millions of us get on the road or in the air to celebrate the holiday with friends and relatives. Consider keeping your Thanksgiving celebration close to home. Technology has given us wonderful ways to connect with loved ones without having to burn tons of fossil fuels. Use face time or Skype to say hi to Grandma instead of making the 300-mile drive. If you are obliged to get on the road, make sure that your tires are well inflated to improve gas mileage. If your family has more than one vehicle take the more fuel-efficient option and carpool with friends and family if possible. Air travel uses far more fossil fuel than driving so if you are flying consider researching options for carbon offsets.

Plan the meal: If you are hosting, have a plan for what you will prepare and what your guests will bring. This will eliminate the possibility of having several of same dish and being left with too many leftovers.

Use what you have: Disposable plates and silverware are convenient, but using dishes you already have saves you money and lessens that amount of waste you produce.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Use natural decorations: If you like to decorate opt for natural decorations you can make on your own instead of elaborate store-bought centerpieces. Collect brightly colored leaves or cut some of that bothersome bittersweet in the backyard to use for homemade decorations.

Rethink Black Friday: One day of indulgence is often followed by another for those who partake in the retail “holiday” Black Friday on the day after Thanksgiving. If you plan to shop on Black Friday go into it with a plan. Figure out what you need and where you need to go to get it and stick to only those purchases and places. Don’t buy things you don’t need just because they are a good deal. If you can resist the urge to shop on Black Friday you can celebrate the counter-culture holiday of Buy Nothing Day instead. Avoid the crowds and spend a relaxing day with family and friends.

What ideas do you have to make this Thanksgiving a little greener?

National Bison Day

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November 1 is National Bison Day. You can get in on the celebration through the Beards for Bison campaign by visiting http://www.beardsforbison.org/ which is organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

While I adore all ungulates, next to pronghorn there is no North American ungulate that holds my fascination more than bison (Bison bison). They are an American icon and the largest land mammal in North America. During the months of January through May of 2009, I had the good fortune of interning at the North Carolina Zoological Park in the Northwoods Prairie section. The section includes red wolves, grizzly bears, black bears, elk and bison. The opportunity to work with such a combination of snorting beasts and large carnivorous mammals was indeed a thrill.

There are two recognized subspecies in North America: Plains bison (Bison bison bison) and wood bison (Bison bison athabascae). The historical range of plains bison extended from Northern Mexico to central Alberta. Wood bison range extended from central Alberta to Alaska.

North American bison graze and forage primarily in grasslands and meadows. Their historic range was the widest natural range of any North American herbivore, from the arid grasslands of Chihuahua State in northern Mexico, through the grasslands of the Great Plains, to the riparian meadows of interior Alaska. They can thrive in dry regions or deep snow, eating primarily grasses and sedges when resources are thin. Bison excavate snow by sweeping it away using side to side motions of their muzzle. In the summer and fall, they have a more varied diet that includes flowering plants, woody plant leaves, and lichens.

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In the 19th Century, we nearly lost bison throughout its entire North American range due to recreational hunting, market and subsistence. It is difficult for me to think of bison and not simultaneously replay in my head the scene from Dances with Wolves when the nomadic Lakota Sioux and John Dunbar, on a hunt for bison, come across a seemingly unending sea of dead bison, killed only for their hides and otherwise left to decompose. The numbers of bison destroyed and left to rot were in numbers far greater than wildlife could consume and certainly not fit for human consumption.

Fortunately, conservationists stepped in and took action before all was lost. In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt and William Hornaday founded the American Bison Society (ABS) at the Bronx Zoo to save the bison from extinction. In 1907, Bronx Zoo staff sent 15 bison by train to Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Preserve to help restore the western Plains’ depleted bison population. In 2005, Wildlife Conservation Society re-launched the American Bison Society, which built a network of bison experts, including ranchers, state, and provincial governments, Native American nations, scientists, and non-governmental organizations from western states, Mexico, and Canada, with the purpose of securing an ecological future of bison in North America over the next century.

But pressure on wild bison populations persists and they need all the public support that can be mustered. Bison are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as Near Threatened in light of its dependence on an ongoing conservation program and the fact that there are only five viable wild populations. There are approximately 19,000 total plains bison in 54 conservation herds (herds managed in the public interest by governments and environmental organizations), and 11,000 total wood bison in 11 conservation herds. Over 90 percent of bison today are under private ownership, raised like cows for bison meat. In fact at the turn of last century, ranchers often interbred bison with cattle to improve their cattle herds. Therefore, cattle genes are now present in many bison populations, and few genetically pure bison herds remain. Current policies and a tradition of fencing ranches discourage free-ranging bison herds in the West.

While bison have been “saved”, there is still much work to do. So sport your beard, real or otherwise, on November 1 and post your photo with #BeardsforBison on social media. Also, go to http://votebison.org/ and cast your vote for bison to be designated as America’s national mammal.

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