Creative Connections: An Invitation to BEGIN

Begin!ShaunaP.

Keeping a journal is a powerful way to capture your journey. By looking closely, listening deeply, and capturing that experience, it allows you to discover, remind or reflect on the things you have seen, the remarkable places you have visited—even if this happens to be in your own backyard or beyond.

There are so many ways to utilize a journal—the scientific field journal, personal journaling, bioregional journals, art journals, travel journals, professional journals. The most important part of each of these is universal—you must BEGIN.

So as we start this New Year, this is heartfelt encouragement to grab paper and pen, dig up an unfinished journal or go find yourself a fresh one that can travel with you and BEGIN.

Journaling is actually one of my greatest passions. I began journaling through writing; utilizing journals both for studying the environment while in school and while doing field work as well as keeping personal journals to capture the chapters of my life. During this time, I never delved into drawing unless attempting to create a map of an area or capture some morphology of a plant or animal in order to confirm its identification.

Then—something remarkable happened. With encouragement, I was given safe space to try to draw in my journal—and these early drawings, I can assure you are not beautiful, yet served a valuable purpose, they gave me a place to BEGIN.

Journaling Shauna P.

Observing closely reveals details and patterns; it opens up a new level of understanding such as how the scales of a giant sequoia cone can hold nearly 200 hundred tiny seeds.

Now, with many rough drawings behind me, my journals have a new colorful and artistic element to them—which is not necessary, yet it demonstrates how continued dedication to journaling can transform itself over time.

If the thought of drawing fills you with fear then take this suggestion: write! Do what works for you—just BEGIN.

Don’t lose the opportunity to capture your experience because of fear of your writing or fear of your drawing. Be brave and put pen to paper, capture these fleeting moments and make them more powerful and concrete; create something meaningful and lasting. Today, you may have no idea how meaningful these early journaling efforts may become.

Don't miss the opportunity to get out there!

Don’t miss the opportunity to get out there!

Whether you would like to add journaling to your personal life, are looking for a meaningful family activity that can inspire young children to connect to nature, or if you want to add field journaling to your scientific studies, here are some great ways to get started, stay motivated and be inspired:

1)   Get out there! Grab paper and pen or pencil (one that you really like) and get outside. Slow down… sit quietly, observe and capture. What do you see? What do you hear? What time of day is it? Where are you? Write about your experience or draw what you see. Look at the landscape (big picture) or observe something small and close up. You don’t need fancy tools or training, you just need space to BEGIN.

2)   Take a journaling class: many art centers, nature centers and native plant nurseries offer journaling classes or nature clubs, which can introduce individuals to journal techniques and offer regular field excursions. This is a great way to get inspired, learn new ways of “seeing”, meet new people and… did someone say “Field trip”?!!!!!

3)   Families can journal together! This is a powerful way to encourage young scientists, writers and artists to observe closely and become connected to patterns, seasons, and ecology. This is also a way to provide quality family time and create something meaningful together.

4)   Pick up a journaling book, especially if you prefer to have examples and guidance; there are an incredible number of resources on journaling techniques out there. These can be truly inspirational as they often give you glimpses into other people’s journals and you can see how varied peoples styles are… and trust me, you will have your own style to add to this diverse mix too!

5)   My favorite rule is NO RULES! This is the primary principle in the journal classes I teach. Why? Because if constructs are going to hold someone back from beginning, then it isn’t serving them. So, do what feels natural—write, draw and BEGIN. As time goes on, there will be plenty of opportunities to hone and develop entries—so, do what works today—take pictures, do a collage, write a paragraph, poem or prose, whatever it takes to start!

Journaling is a powerful way to observe nature and the ecology around us. It can help us make connections by looking closely–such as what animals are around at certain times of year, when do the trees begin to leaf out, the flowers bloom and in what order, when do the acorns drop and the trees go dormant—or for this year… how cold is it or how dry?—depending on where you are. In addition, we can make connections not just within this season but from year to year, discovering variations and patterns.

It is also a profound way to capture our life journey and demonstrate how unique our lives are and how connected to place we can become. Our own journals can become our most profound teachers. We may capture moments and observations that serve as important discoveries in hindsight—answering the questions, “When did I see that last year” or “Is that how I was feeling then”? Through journaling, we may discover that perfect place that gives us the space we need to just be present.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who once introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

A drawing from student, Jesus Angel Dolores, who upon being introduced to writing and drawing in a journal has now kept a journal each summer for several years.

There is also no denying how transformative encouraging youth to keep a journal can be. With busy lives and student demands, the opportunity to slow down, observe closely, discover, question deeply, and fall in love with nature and the world around us, can be truly powerful.  Students can discover and hone their own writing, artistic and observational abilities. They can begin to capture the chapters of their lives and perhaps make profound discoveries we could never even imagine.

Of course, all of these amazing outcomes can only happen if we BEGIN!

Resources:

Books

Clare Walker Leslie: Great resources for getting started and staying motivated. http://www.clarewalkerleslie.com/books.htm

Michael Canfield Field Notes: Amazing book that shows an array of journal styles for science and field studies. http://www.canfieldnotes.com/

Classes (California… get inspired and look for a class near you!)

John Muir Laws: Features workshops, demonstration videos and information on a Bay Area Nature Club. http://www.johnmuirlaws.com/

Intermountain Nursery: Nature journaling class with Shauna Potocky, offered at a beautiful native plant nursery, Saturday, August 16, 2014. http://www.intermountainnursery.com/classes.htm

Photo credits:

Journals, Shauna Potocky;

Valley Rim and Shauna P., Kirk Keeler;

Journaling, Kirk Keeler;

Stellar Jay from the journal of student Jesus Angel Dolores; Jesus Angel Dolores.

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Staying Home: Cultivating place-based intimacy and awareness

Sierra Ancha Mountains

Sierra Ancha Mountains

“You can’t know who you are
until you know where you are.”
~ Wendell Berry

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Hells Canyon Wilderness

In a culture of immediacy and movement, we grow up believing in the value of relocation, mobility, and change. Very few of us can say we remain in the town of our birth. Many of us can even attest to living in more cities and towns than we can count on our fingers.

Likewise, for those of us who call ourselves naturalists and adventurers, the idea of roaming the world is appealing. Exploring unknown regions and adding thumbtacks to the “places we’ve been” map becomes something of a passion, if not a genuine lifelong pursuit. I have traversed the United States and Canada, as well as parts of Mexico, in search of new experiences, the perfect vista, the unknown cave or the ideal hot spring. While exploration and curiosity contribute to a sincere interest in the environment, I question whether our jet-setting culture helps or hinders an appreciation for the natural world.

Some might argue that through intimacy a greater sense of responsibility is borne, both to the land and our neighbors. I wonder, too, if remaining faithful to place encourages depth of knowledge and understanding of the flora and fauna and other bioregional characteristics. Ask most individuals the names of local mountains, canyons or forests and you will frequently get a puzzled shrug. Our lives are spent funneled from home to office, suburb to inner city. Rarely do we question what lies beyond the town’s edge, over the next ridge or in the forests behind the neighborhood boundary.

As Amanda Hooyhaas suggested in her academic work,  The Study of Placelessness: Toward a Conceptual Framework,  “Perhaps all we need to become placed in this chaotic world is to pause and breathe, though the paces of our countries, societies, and cultures attempt to dictate otherwise. Society offers little time for such necessities as place and demands like climbing the corporate ladder continue to urge us forward in a march towards placelessness.”

Is it possible to shift from this placeness way of living to embracing a place as we might  a loved one or a career?

Pinal Mountains

Pinal Mountains

Spanning the works of Yi-Fu Tuan and Gaston Bachelard to Wendell Berry and Jane Jacobs, we have come to appreciate the importance of place in urban planning and community development. Great strides have been made in retaining historic relevance, cultural influence, and green spaces in cities. But what of those spaces just beyond the areas we consider home – the landscapes that are being impacted by the pursuit of bedroom communities, OHV recreation, new freeways or solar tracks? Is it possible to re-frame our discernment of place-based intimacy and home to include areas not occupied or used by man, but paramount in their wildness and solitude?

Sierra Ancha Wilderness

Sierra Ancha Wilderness

Over the past few years, I have felt an ever-growing need to establish a bond to the land that is wild and undisturbed. Perhaps it is reminiscent of my childhood tendency to roam beyond the boundaries of our family farm in defiance of property lines and No Trespassing signs. Perhaps it resonates from the emails my siblings send, regaling details about their organic gardens and camp-outs in yards they’ve tended since graduating from high school or college. They have stayed faithful to what – for them – has become irrevocably home. Ask any one of them, or their dutifully rooted neighbors, about the local terrain or wildlife and they will often not only have an answer but also several anecdotal accounts. This connection to the land on which one dwells is easy to understand. However, it is my hope to feel such a sense of commitment to land that is public; to places I have no monetary or personal gain other than the joy of experiencing its beauty momentarily.

I have lived within an eclectic assortment of wonder-rich ecosystems – from the Canadian Shield’s granite, lake, and conifer terrains, to the hilly hardwood forests of Southern Indiana, to my current home in the watercolor landscape of the Sonoran desert. It was once my aspiration to live in as many ecosystems as possible – to be on the move, ever absorbing more information about the earth. There is still a wanderlust that prompts me to get out and walk across the bajadas and playas of the desert, but now I find myself hungry for detail about this land in particular. That old sense of curiosity that compelled more travel now commands more clarity. I want to understand this place as I might understand my closest friend.

Hells Canyon Wilderness

Hells Canyon Wilderness

On December 31st, I made my usual list of resolutions as well as a separate list of aspirations for the year ahead. This year my aspirations list was short: to choose three public lands within a 100 miles radius of Phoenix and really get to know them. The three natural areas I selected are Hells Canyon Wilderness, a Bureau of Land Management designated wilderness area northwest of Phoenix, the Sierra Ancha Wilderness where Edward Abbey once worked as a Forest Service ranger in a fire lookout, and the Pinal Mountains Recreation Area near Globe, Arizona, a birders’ paradise.

Pinal Mountains - Dripping Springs Mountains in distance

Pinal Mountains – Dripping Springs Mountains in distance

Over the coming months, I mean to develop deeper knowledge of the unique characteristics of these special places as well as an awareness of outside threats (invasive species, recreational impacts, etc..), legislative changes affecting their management, and opportunities for habitat rehabilitation and monitoring.  Likewise, I will write extensively about the native plants, wildlife, geology, and cultural resources of these wild lands.

I believe no matter where we live, there is an opportunity to learn about the ground beneath our feet. There is a need for place-based intimacy and sharing information, stories, and impressions of our native lands. By doing this, we encourage a more meaningful connection to place – an understanding beyond ownership or financial value. It is my hope to create a true relationship with these nearby mountains, deserts, and canyons, to feel at home in the unnamed, uninhabited spaces. Home is the place you know intimately, after all, and what you know you grow to love.

***

Aleah Sato

Please welcome Aleah Sato to The Ecotone Exchange. Sato is a nonprofit professional and creative writer whose work has appeared in numerous literary and environmental journals. She is a wilderness volunteer for the Tonto National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management in her Southwestern home of Arizona. As a wildlands volunteer she assists with wilderness trail work, habitat rehabilitation, water quality sampling, and wildlife monitoring. She is a frequent contributor to Plant Healer, SageWoman and other earth- and plant-based journals and maintains her own blog, Jane Crow Journal (http://aleahsato.wordpress.com/).

A Call for Writers and Visual Artists

Overwintering Robin Trail Wood 2013-12-14

An overwintering American robin at the Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary in Hampton, Connecticut. Copyright 2013, Richard Telford

By Richard Telford

The Connecticut Audubon Society is now accepting applications for the 2014 Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence at Trail Wood program.  Through the program, inaugurated in 2013, CAS invites written word and visual artists chosen through a juried process to spend one week in residence at the former home of Pulitzer Prize-winning naturalist writer 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 sanctuary still contains the trails cut by Edwin and Nellie Teale, for which they named the site Trail Wood, and these continue to be maintained by CAS.  Edwin’s site observations, as well as some of Nellie’s, are thoroughly documented in the two books he wrote about Trail Wood, A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm and A Walk Through the Year.  Prospective applicants are encouraged to read one or both of these works in order to more fully understand the intent of this program.  The sanctuary is open to the public but generally experiences low visitorship, allowing a solitary and contemplative experience conducive to the creative process.

Writing Cabin 2013-12-14

Edwin Way Teale’s writing cabin, modeled after the Walden cabin of Henry David Thoreau, whom Teale deeply admired. Copyright 2013, Richard Telford

While in residence, artists are encouraged to practice their craft in a way that is contextualized both by the natural dynamics of the site and by its role in American natural history writing.  Edwin’s writing study is still preserved exactly as it was at the time of his death in 1980.  The home’s caretaker can provide visiting artists with access to the study.Presently, residencies are scheduled for the summer months.

With planned further restoration of the Teale home, an 1801 center-chimney Cape Cod, CAS hopes to expand the residency offerings to a year-round schedule.

After the completion of the residency, participating writers and visual artists will be invited to attend a follow-up event, Trail Wood Under the Harvest Moon, held annually on-site in October.  At this event, each resident artist is expected to read and/or present a sampling of work completed during the residency. This work can be in process.  The residency application can be found here.  It provides a much fuller explanation of the program.

Should you have further questions, you can e-mail me directly at rtelford397@gmail.com.  I presently serve as the program’s Coordinator.  If you are looking to learn more about Edwin Way Teale, I have posted several essays on this site on or related to him, and these may serve as a starting point for a fuller inquiry.

Preserving Land and Legacy

Teale at his Desk

Edwin Way Teale in his study at Trail Wood. Copyright, the Estate of Edwin Way Teale. Used with permission.

By Richard Telford

When I first walked the trails of the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary in Hampton, Connecticut, I was struck at once both by the site’s natural beauty and by the instant connection that a reader of Teale’s writing cannot help but feel when navigating the trails that Edwin made famous in his 1974 book A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, and later in his 1978 book A Walk Through the Year.  By the late 1960s, Teale had won the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the John Burroughs Medal for distinguished natural history writing, and he had already served as the president of the Brooklyn and New York Entomological Societies respectively, as well as the Thoreau Society.  In 1961, Current Biography noted that critics had already “ranked him with John Bartram and Audubon and with contemporary naturalists Roger Tory Peterson and William Beebe.”  In 1962, Leonard Dubkin, writing for the New York Times, characterized Teale as “probably the greatest living naturalist in America.”  By the late 1960s, he received approximately 1,000 letters annually from around the world, setting aside one day per week to answer all of them individually.  He refused to use form letters.  Despite Teale’s stature in his lifetime, his legacy, for reasons that would require several more posts to start to delineate, has largely waned. Just prior to his death in 1980, he and his wife Nellie agreed to gift Trail Wood, the name they gave to their private sanctuary of 21 years, to the Connecticut Audubon Society to be opened to the public.

Hughes' Monument 2013-12-14 alt

Hughes’ Monument, atop Monument Pasture in the Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary in Hampton, Connecticut. Copyright 2013, Richard Telford

On my first day at Trail Wood, however, I was thinking little about Teale’s declined legacy.  I had just finished reading A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, and Teale’s characterizations of Trail Wood and his tremendous insights on the natural processes unfolding there reverberated through my mind both with clarity and feeling. Here I could ascend the short path up to Monument Pasture, named for a monument erected by an early twentieth century handyman on the farm to himself.  I could walk the edge of the Starfield to its highest elevation, which the Teales named Nighthawk Hill after they witnessed a group of sixty or more nighthawks flying there in a funnel formation during the start of their August migration, “like an apparition of beauty in the sky, […] gray, slim-winged, with silvery-white patches that shone in tinted rays of the sunset—turning without a sound.”  It is not hyperbole to say that I find myself unable to accurately characterize the emotional reaction I had that day, a reaction I will long remember.  Only in the weeks that followed did I begin to reflect on the degree to which Edwin and Nellie were almost entirely absent from the site for anyone who had not read the aforementioned books.  The trails bore the names the Teales had given them but lacked context.  Edwin’s documentation of the site, rich with natural history and insight into the human condition, was largely absent from the present sanctuary. This realization led me to the door of the Connecticut Audubon Society several months later.

Starfield View 1 2013-12-14

Looking up the Starfield toward Nighthawk Hill in the Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary in Hampton, Connecticut. Copyright 2013, Richard Telford

In February of 2012, during the first year of my graduate work in Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, I wrote to Sarah Heminway, Director of Northeast Programs for CAS, who oversees Trail Wood.  I sent her some rough notes on an early thesis proposal related to Teale.  In it, I had written, “I would argue that Teale’s admonition to go back to the land itself to find inner peace and meaningful existence is even more pertinent than it was when he was writing.”  Thus began our work together at Trail Wood to revitalize both the sanctuary itself and the legacy of Edwin Way Teale, which, though largely waned, is worthy of re-examination.  The simultaneous preservation of land and legacy presents both challenges and opportunities, but the latter, I believe, outweigh the former.

There are a number of notable sanctuary sites that are inextricably linked to the prominent authors who occupied them.  John Burroughs’ Slabsides and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden immediately come to mind.  The present-day Walden Pond State Reservation reflects one of the challenges of preserving land and legacy in tandem; even 166 years after Thoreau occupied his cabin at Walden Pond, visitor traffic is so heavy that the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation enforces a limit of 1,000 visitors per day in order to “ensure a positive visitor experience and to maintain the integrity of the resources.”  It is hard to dispute the effect of Thoreau’s legacy in this case.

While Thoreau’s legacy creates a heightened visitorship at Walden, the converse is true at Trail Wood.  During a full summer of field observations at Trail Wood in 2012, I could count on one hand the number of days on which my car was not the only one parked in Mulberry Meadow, the site’s sole parking area.  It is hard to dispute the effect of Teale’s waning legacy in this case.  Nonetheless, I believe that it is Teale’s revitalized legacy that can likewise revitalize interest in Trail Wood itself.  Further, increased public interest in the physical site, contextualized with infrastructure that facilitates a re-examination of its literary legacy, can help to rebuild and perpetuate that legacy for present and future generations.  Doing so can likewise up the long-term sustainability of the physical site through increased public support.  Thus, while the simultaneous preservation of land and legacy poses challenges, it can, if done through a deliberate process, achieve a significantly greater and longer-lasting result.  It is precisely this kind of result we hope to achieve at Trail Wood, and there are compelling reasons to believe 1) that it is possible to do so and 2) that this is a critical moment in which to do so.

Hampton Brook 1 2013-12-14

Hampton Brook, near Edwin Way Teale’s observation blind at Trail Wood in Hampton, Connecticut. Copyright 2013, Richard Telford

In the May-June “Best of New England” issue of Yankee Magazine, Trail Wood was chosen as one of the two best nature sanctuaries in Connecticut, a testament to the site’s rich ecological character.  In the summer of 2013, the Connecticut Audubon Society hosted its first group of resident artists for week-long residencies, the culmination of the inaugural season of the Edwin Way Teale Artists-in-Residence Program at Trail Wood.  This program resulted from a year of intensive planning and implementation efforts, and it attracted applicants from as far off as Kansas and Wyoming.  This spring I will submit my final thesis both to Green Mountain College and CAS, a comprehensive revitalization plan for the sanctuary.  In it, I argue that the long-term preservation and meaningful utilization of Trail Wood are inextricably linked to the preservation of the site’s literary legacy.  Proposed efforts include a revitalization of the site’s infrastructure, including the installation of a comprehensive trail kiosk system and visitor center, with materials divided evenly between the site’s natural history and literary legacy.

I recently learned from Melissa Watterworth Batt, the curator of the extensive Teale archive at the University of Connecticut, that Teale’s two most famous books, Dune Boy (1943) and A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm (1974), have again gone out of print after a short-lived reissuance under the Bibliopola imprint.  Thus, work to preserve Edwin Way Teale’s literary legacy is more urgently needed than ever.  With the support of the Connecticut Audubon Society, the University of Connecticut, and a dedicated group of Teale advocates, both the land and the legacy of “Two who loved this earth and loved each other,” as Nellie Teale directed their shared gravestone to be etched, can be preserved.  Such an achievement, effected through a synergistic approach, can serve both to foster long-term conservation-mindedness in generations to come and to avert the lost legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most important naturalist writers.

Edwin Way Teale: Scientist, Artist, Interpreter

The Ecotone Exchange

Teale in the Blind

Edwin Way Teale at work in the blind he constructed near Hampton Brook in his beloved home sanctuary, Trail Wood, in Hampton, Connecticut. Copyright, the estate of Edwin Way Teale, managed by the University of Connecticut Library System.  Used with permission.

When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea’s voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.

Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat,” 1894

By Richard Telford

During the summer of 2012, I was fortunate to be enrolled in a field journaling course with Dr. Laird Christensen of Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vermont, during which time I kept meticulous field notes for a period of six weeks while conducting observations in Monument Pasture, a site within the 168-acre Edwin Way Teale Memorial Sanctuary in Hampton, Connecticut.  Teale, though largely forgotten…

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Altering the Balance of the World

Helen Pic- Post 4

My daughter at three releasing an eastern painted turtle we rescued after it was clipped by a car.

By Richard Telford

This past summer, my five-year-old daughter and I discovered a small nestling on the ground beneath a venerable eastern white pine at the front edge of our yard. We spent the next few weeks driving sticks into the ground to mark off a safe perimeter around this fragile creature. Each day it would drag itself in one direction or another, maybe three to four feet, and we would move the perimeter accordingly to make sure we didn’t inadvertently crush it. All the while, the parent birds, white-throated sparrows, delivered a steady flow of summer insects, growing less wary of us as the days went on. Day by day the fledging process unfolded before our eyes until one day the nestling was gone. The absence of the parent birds suggested that the young bird had fully fledged or had gained enough strength to work its way back to the nest.

Why do we sometimes feel compelled to disrupt natural processes through the imposition of human values upon them? It is a question that most of us consider at one point or another in our interactions with the natural world, especially when we act or react emotionally to natural phenomena in ways that defy, or seem to defy, rational, scientific thinking. Often, we are aware of this dissonance but feel compelled to act despite our inner conflict. We free the ensnared butterfly though we know the spider must eat. The navigation of this dissonance, I contend, forms a central and necessary foundation upon which to build, maintain, and advance an effective conservation movement. Our emotional response is a needed counterpart to our scientific knowledge. As David Sobel notes in Beyond Ecophobia, we must let children “love the Earth before we ask them to save it.” If we are to succeed in conserving the Earth’s biodiversity to the greatest degree possible, we cannot leave that love behind in childhood, even if it sometimes renders us conflicted.

In his 1960 book Journey Into Summer, the second of his four-book American Seasons chronicle, Edwin Way Teale writes about a visit with his wife Nellie to the western basin of Lake Erie in late June of 1957. Teale notes that Lake Erie, the second smallest of the Great Lakes, provides “a vast incubator for mayfly life.” The Teales traveled to Lake Erie hoping to see a “mayfly storm,” and they were not disappointed. They arrived when “the insects, gauzy-winged and trailing thread-like tails, were emerging in numbers beyond counting.” The Teales traveled by ferry to Kelleys Island, in the southern part of the basin, and Edwin offers a moving account of an act framed by the dissonance discussed above:

I remember once we stopped and freed a mayfly entangled in the grass. It flew hurriedly away to join the dancers. Its progeny may live, may owe their lives to this act of ours. Why did we do it? We could hardly say. Here life was abundant, life was cheap. One more among so many—what could it matter? Perhaps our reason was that we were on the side of life and in so small a degree we had altered the balance of the world.

Though Teale acknowledges the biological frivolity of setting free one entangled mayfly among millions, he affirms the larger value of such a seemingly inconsequential act. He places himself, and Nellie, “on the side of life,” and this placement of oneself on that side cannot be selectively turned on and off. The fundamental impulse to preserve life is not contingent on reason. Further, though we can certainly discern to some degree which conservation actions are supported by reason and which are not, i.e. setting one mayfly among millions free versus setting free a net-entangled right whale, that discernment is inherently subjective and may not be borne out by on-the-ground facts. Here, Teale’s “mayfly storm” provides an apt example in two dimensions.

Mayflies photographed by Edwin Way Teale for his 1960 book Journey Into Summer.  Copyright, the estate state of Edwin Way Teale, managed by the University of Connecticut Library System.  Used with permission.

Mayflies photographed by Edwin Way Teale for his 1960 book Journey Into Summer. Copyright, the estate state of Edwin Way Teale, managed by the University of Connecticut Library System. Used with permission.

The first dimension of Teale’s apt example is hypothetical. He notes in Journey Into Summer that a single fertilized female mayfly will eject roughly 1500 eggs into the water, and these will promptly sink to the lake bottom. The eggs will later hatch nymphs that will burrow into the lake floor mud and remain there for one to two years before they swim to the surface, molt the last in a series of nymphal exoskeletons, emerge in imago (sub-adult) form, and take flight moments later. In the next 24 hours, they will molt one last time to take their imago (adult) form and mate. The females will deposit their eggs, and a whole generation of mayflies will die, having spent only one day above water. For the sake of argument, let’s accept that the single mayfly freed by the Teales was a fertilized female. If 5 per cent of her fertilized eggs produced surviving young, and half of those were female, only half of whom were then fertilized and survived long enough to deposit eggs, those eggs would total 28,125. With that generation of eggs, presuming a 5 per cent survival rate, with half being female, half of whom were fertilized and survived long enough to deposit eggs, those eggs would total 527, 344. These figures are, of course, terribly oversimplified, but they are sufficiently representative of the potential long-term effect of one more surviving fertilized female mayfly. Perhaps Teale was not far off when he suggested that his and Nellie’s momentary act might in some small degree change the balance of the world.

The Second dimension of Teale’s apt example is grounded in fact. Dr. Kenneth Krieger of Heidelberg University, writing for the Ohio Sea Grant Extension, notes that, by the mid 1960s, the once-abundant mayfly populations of the western basin of Lake Erie had completely vanished, a casualty of eutrophication. Algal blooms and increased vegetation, a product of anthropogenic run-off, such as fertilizers and phosphate-heavy detergents, produced dissolved oxygen levels far below the critical thresholds for the survival of mayfly nymphs and other bottom-dwelling invertebrates. Five years after the publication of Journey Into Summer, the fifth chapter, “Mayfly Island,” transmuted from a contemporary account to a footnote in history. The lessons here are cogent: 1) abundance, in the face of significant anthropogenic change, is ephemeral, and 2) no life is cheap, and no act to preserve it entirely insignificant.

Only one sparrow in my home state of Connecticut, the grasshopper sparrow, is classified as endangered, and none are classified as threatened. Worldwide, the IUCN lists the white-throated sparrow as a species of least concern. So, one might question the conservation value of the “sparrow watch” in which my daughter and I engaged. Biologically speaking, our actions were almost certainly inconsequential, but their long-term conservation value is immense, despite the apparent dissonance. For those few weeks of summer, we chose, like the Teales, to be on the side of life. What better impulse could there be to underpin the movement to conserve and sustain both the resources and the biodiversity of our world? What better impulse could there be to foster in the next generation?

As an interesting footnote, mayflies began repopulating the western basin of Lake Erie in the early 1990s and by 2000 had grown to sizeable populations. The repopulation, according to Kenneth Krieger and others, is likely due in part to the long-term effects of the passage and enforcement of environmental legislation, including the Great Lakes Quality Agreement and the Clean Water Act, both passed in 1972. The passage of these acts, no matter how grounded in science it might have been, likewise represented a choice to be on the side of life. While there is no possible empirical measure of the long-term effects of our individual conservation actions, those actions, no matter how small their scale, necessarily alter the balance of the world in some measure. Perhaps it is truly a question of scales, which, when elongated both spatially and temporally, beyond the range of our immediate and individual view, may shift dissonance to accord.

Corvus brachyrhynchos–One Scrappy Bird

Fuertes

 

By Neva Knott

Illustration provided by Michael Westerfield at crows.net

Crows sit and watch. They are opportunistic and calculating, swooping in a just the right moment to catch prey. They quickly leave the ground for the shelter of a tree branch without hesitation or investigation. Once there, they watch some more. Crows move in two ways, one that is an overall movement from place to place, an orchestration of wing-flap and gliding. The other way of movement is an almost stationary series of head thrusts paired with hops, thus allowing the eye to capture a broad view. Crows are never completely still while awake and out and about. They do not hold eye contact, and are constantly scanning and commenting on what they see with their infamous cawing. They are blue-black and shiny, seemingly impervious to all weather and affronts. Crows build stick nests in trees. In the city, crows seem ubiquitous.

The American Crow. A commonly known characteristic of this bird species is that it is omnivorous. They are not picky eaters, and their diet is astonishingly diverse. According to the University of Nebraska Wildlife Extension Specialist, Ron J. Johnson, crows eat over 600 different food items.  They will eat eggs from other bird nests. A year’s crow-diet is about a third animal matter, the rest is vegetable and plant matter. Crows feed during the day, and will fly 6-12 miles from roost to find food. In the ecosystem, the crow is a predator.

It is rare to see a crow alone. Research explains that crows are very social birds. They often scavenge in pairs or small groups, with one bird serving as sentinel. It is a family, even extended family, job to raise each year’s young to fledgling status. Parents are joined by the previous year’s offspring to help feed, watch over, and teach the new brood—usually four to six newborns. Fledgling crows spend several days on the ground before they are able to fly. In the winter, crows gather in extremely large roosts of several thousand. It is documented that crows can live up to 29 years in the wild. It is known that crows will damage crops, pick through garbage, eat road kill, are noisy, and carry disease. Even given these unfavorable characteristics, the crow is a smart and witty bird. Crows rarely are hit by cars even when foraging in the road, can count to three, and will employ such tactics as dropping large nuts for cars to run over and crack for them.

People and crows co-exist, but crows seemed to have earned this disfavor of humans.  In Native American folklore, the crow was said to alert buffalo herds to the presence of hunters, and an attempt to burn the crow in retaliation is what caused him to be black. Another legend suggests that the crow brought light from the south to the north. In one legend, the crow is left with the caw, caw, caw because his beautiful voice was stolen by the trickster Raven. The crow’s voice does seem to be the harbinger of human presence—threatening or benign. It seems that, culturally, the crow is disfavored because of the wit and intelligence, traits humans like to acknowledge mostly in themselves. It seems that there is a human lesson to be learned from the biology of the crow, one that teaches more about family and community, more about being smart in the use of the resources around us.