Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

Water and Light (a 4-minute video)

January 12, 2014

The ancestors told me to observe the elements of nature and find their energy within myself. I have become a student of water and fire—since fire is the source of light. Perhaps there is a portal at the nexus of water and light.

Kids and nature deficit

June 27, 2010

Do you remember playing outdoors as a child?  I remember climbing a five-trunked maple tree, playing house in the shady gaps of a honeysuckle thicket, tasting the nectar of columbine flowers, stripping the seeds from plantain stems, for that satisfying prickle along the fingers.

If you have kids, I hope they’re getting to have their own outdoor explorations. A growing number of experts (see www.childrenandnature.org) have observed that children these days spend much less time out in the natural world than any previous generation, and that this lack may be unhealthy. Studies show that problems such as obesity, depression, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) improve when kids are exposed to natural environments.

The problem was dubbed Nature Deficit Disorder and described in detail by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods (Workman Publishing Company, 2005). He blames such influences as the loss of green space, a cultural obsession with safety, educational pressures, and the easy fascination of TV, computers, and video games. Louv’s research shows that contemporary environmentalists had childhoods involving plenty of time exploring nature, either alone or with a mentor who modeled a respect and appreciation for the wild. Today’s efforts to deliver nature to children tend to be overly structured and sanitized, with national parks resembling theme parks and children forbidden to leave manicured paths to play in the woods. Louv wonders, where will the next generation of protectors of the environment come from without youthful experiences to inspire them?

In one study, researchers examined stress levels of children in an area of upstate New York. They correlated the quantity of green space near the children’s homes with their scores on psychological tests and with questionnaires on their behavior filled out by parents. The results showed that children with ready access to nature had more success at handling the stress in their lives.

Other research found that children diagnosed with ADHD showed a reduction in symptoms after a guided walk through a park as compared with walks through a downtown area and a neighborhood.

The 2008 edition of Last Child in the Woods lists 100 suggestions for connecting kids and nature. For example: buy a truckload of dirt to play in; go for a family walk when the moon is full; buy field guides; plant a butterfly garden; study animal tracking. Even here in the Catskills, where such opportunities are abundant, kids may be mesmerized by electronic devices and require a parental push to get outside, or even gentle guidance to discover the details they tend to overlook, which may provide unexpected and nourishing enchantment.

Since the first edition Louv’s book was published, it has sparked the creation of a Children and Nature Network (see www.childrenandnature.org), which promotes public awareness, organizes community events, and pushes for legislation. Check it out!

Waterfowl: chinstraps, dabbling, and more

December 24, 2009

One of my favorite activities in fall and winter, when much of nature has gone into hiding, is watching waterfowl, which don’t seem to have a big problem with cold water. Feeding wild ducks and geese is frowned upon, but along the shores of public lakes, where visitors entertain their children with scatterings of stale bread, the water birds are available for close-up viewing, even to the breadless. I recently enjoyed a visit to Prospect Park Lake in Brooklyn, where mallards, Canada geese, swans, and seagulls are drawn magnetically to any human who approaches the water’s edge. As usual, I was surprised to observe details I had never noticed before.

What makes Canada geese so striking in appearance is the chinstrap—the white marking that goes under the throat and up the sides of the black head. Individual chinstraps vary in shape. Some are nearly triangular, some are flat-topped, some have a sort of knob at the top, and others have a notch below the knob. If one wanted to identify individual birds by appearance, the shape of the chinstrap would be a good place to start.

I must have seen the tails of male mallards before, but now I noticed two curved sets of feathers on the top side of the tail.

Some distance from shore, a flock of northern shovelers—small ducks of the type known, like mallards, as “dabblers”—swam in circles. The males were brown and white, with iridescent green heads and long dark bills. The females were a mottled brown. At moments, a pair—male and female—would swim together in a circle, head to tail, dipping their bills in the water. Generally there were about a dozen in a general scrum, most of them moving either clockwise or counter-clockwise, the rotation shifting as individuals changed direction. It looked like they were setting up a pattern of centrifugal movement in the water and then feeding on the result. The Internet informs us that the shoveler feeds by passing water through its bill, which contains comblike filtration structures along the sides.

A great blue heron flew low over the water and landed in the reeds at one end of the lake. It stood there for a long time, its gray plumage barely discernible against the reeds. Although the plants were tan, it was the same intensity of color as the bird, which, at a distance, faded into the background. What stood out for me was a horizontal white line, which turns out to be the bird’s chin—although the beak is yellow-orange, the lower part of the head is white, and it supports the long bill, extending partway along the bill’s narrow length.

These little details appear only after long contemplation, helping one settle into the calm of (mostly) unhurried nature. I like to seek out details when my mind resists rest.