Slow Earth Day

 

We’ve been celebrating April 22nd as Earth Day since 1970.  It’s a day when people flock outside to volunteer for eco-restoration or to work on other environmental or community-minded projects. It’s a great time to get involved, be active, and make a difference.

But now I think it’s time Earth Day had a companion: Slow Earth Day. We need a day to simply look, listen, and above all appreciate nature.

Let’s start today… or maybe tomorrow.

April 18th is hereby Slow Earth Day.

DDahnDouglasSquirrel

 

Even ordinary things in nature can be amazing, if you look beyond notions of “good nature” or “bad nature”. Just look, and appreciate. At least for one day.

 

It may not be that great…but it’s a pretty good piece of turf.

 From: Is Weedy the New Wild?

 

Earth Day is a day to get yourself outside. Slow Earth Day is a day to get outside yourself.

What would you look like to a woodpecker? Try seeing the world through wild eyes.

I did this illustration for my Federation Forest Project. We were trying to promote meaningful nature connections for children.

 

We’re all just big clumps of carbon-based molecules, arranged differently.

Ah, but what beautiful arrangements!

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Happy Slow Earth Day!

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You might also like:

Forest Sketch

Old Growth Forests

Slow Nature

 

Wild River

Last year, I wrote about a proposal to build a dam on the South Fork of the Skykomish River—one of the last wild rivers in Washington. Today, there was an announcement of a decision to modify the project. Read the about the new developments here.

The original post from last year:

Rivers Are Us

If you want to study a single topic to help you understand history, the environment, politics and the economy…choose rivers.

From: Rivers Are Us

A watercolor I did of the Skykomish River

 

What other topic is so intertwined with everything on earth? Rivers sculpt landforms; living beings depend on rivers for food, shelter, transportation, and water; people struggle to control rivers for their own purposes. It’s all there.

Rivers are dynamic—moving and changing constantly. They meander, they rise and fall, flood, dry up, erode here, deposit there. Like a caged animal, rivers often do not respond well to confinement.

Many of my interpretive projects have been about river restoration. After a century of large-scale damming, diking and diverting, we have figured out that we’ve been too heavy-handed in how we treat rivers—people and wildlife have suffered as a result. Many agencies and organizations are hard at work to restore some of the natural ways rivers work.

What is a wild river worth?

There aren’t many rivers left in Washington State that are free-flowing—unrestricted by dams. One of the last major wild rivers, the South Fork of the Skykomish, may be losing its wild status. As of spring 2012 there is a plan underway to give the Skykomish its first dam. The project is hugely controversial, and has resulted in the river being added to the List of America’s Most Endangered Rivers by the organization American Rivers.

In any dam project, there are winners and losers. When the Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula was completed in 1913, many people prospered from the access to cheap electricity. But, the Klallam Indians saw the wild river and salmon they depended on virtually disappear. And now the Elwha is the site of an enormous, unprecedented restoration project: removing the dams and restoring the habitat for salmon, wildlife and people.

In Snohomish County, many people want access to affordable energy, and some see damming the Skykomish as an efficient way to achieve it. The area is growing fast, and the economy is always slower than we would like. And, since there are no salmon in the upper reaches of the Skykomish anyway—they are prevented from moving upstream past the waterfalls—it seems to many like the perfect place for a dam.

But, what is lost when we use up the last bit of something? If there is only a tiny fraction of something left…old growth forest, or tall-grass prairie, or peat bogs, or wild rivers, shouldn’t that loss be figured into the cost/benefit of using it up? Do we have a responsibility to future generation to leave some wild things? What is wildness worth?

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your comments! Just click on the light gray “thought bubble” next to the title of this post.

For more on the Skykomish Dam:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018315558_skykomish30m.html 

For more on the Elwha Dam:

http://www.nps.gov/olym/naturescience/elwha-ecosystem-restoration.htm

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/specialreports/elwha/

For more on the Skykomish River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers:

http://www.americanrivers.org/newsroom/press-releases/2012/south-fork-skykomish-river-among-americas-most-endangered-rivers-2012.html

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The Slow Nature Movement

 

Slow Nature is catching on fast.

 

“Slow” Movements are really popular right now: Slow Food, Slow Fashion, Slow Parenting, and many more.

Now, there’s Slow Nature. (It’s about time, right?)

 

Why Slow?

Slow Nature isn’t claiming there’s anything wrong with speeding through a forest or natural area. It’s fun to sail through a forest canopy on a zipline, hurtle over obstacles on a mountain bike, or run really fast on a trail. You get your exercise and your nature-fix all in one brisk outing. It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

 

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But, when you speed, you miss so much.

And in places where wild nature is scarce, it makes sense to reserve natural areas for, well, nature.

Connecting with nature in a meaningful way is the idea behind Slow Nature.

 

DDahnForest

 

There are whole worlds in the layers of a forest, from gazillions of tiny microbes in the soil, to the massive, centuries-old cedars, hemlocks, and Douglas firs. But, you don’t need a pristine old-growth forest to practice Slow Nature. Most any natural area will do, even ones that have already suffered from invasive species. Slow Nature is not about pristine, it is about recognizing our fellow living beings: plants, animals, insects, and everything in between.

 

Connecting with nature happens when you slow down and look closely…

 

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These tiny mushrooms were only about the size of a quarter. I have no idea what they are. Maybe I’ll invent a name. Knobby Puffballs.

 

You don’t need to be an expert. You don’t need to know anything at all…just how to put one foot in front of the other and to keep your eyes open.

 

A trio of life on a fallen log: fungus, moss, and lichen. You can't compose a more interesting design that this!

A trio of life on a fallen log: fungus, moss, and lichen. You can’t compose a more interesting design that this!

 

 

I found these tiny mushrooms huddled together like they were waiting for a bus in the rain. Hidden in the soil lives the mysterious fungus—the non-plant, non-animal being that sends up these “fruiting bodies” when it’s time to reproduce. Wikipedia tells me fungi are genetically closer to animals than plants.

Something to consider if you’re a vegetarian, I suppose.

DDahnFungi

 

Springtime is my favorite time in the forest—I love the joyful unfurling of the ferns. They make such cool spiral shapes. I’d love to see a time-lapse of this. Reminds me of those things you blow on New Years Eve.

 

DDahnSFern

 

 

There is even a lot to appreciate in the beautiful, sharp-tempered nettle. Look, but don’t get too close—she is covered with tiny, chemical-filled stinging needles. What a brilliant defense mechanism against nibblers! But, if you cook them, nettles are delicious—the needles lose their sting. I wonder how long it would take nettles to evolve cook-proof needles?

DDahnNettle

Next time you get stung by a nettle, try this: Find a sword fern with sori—the spots with the spores. Rub the spores gently into the sting. Voila! Pain gone.

 

Practicing Slow Nature, you will sometimes see magnificent things that take your breath away…

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Aaaah. Cue soaring background music…

 

 

Other times, you’ll see more humble things—or even those considered “bad” for one reason or another. But, aren’t they wonderful in their own way…if you look closely?

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Hey! Where’s MY background music?

 

 

Connecting with nature is best done slowly.

You don’t need expensive equipment, just a good pair of walking shoes, and a good attitude. You can be any age, background, or income level. Slow Nature is fun, healthy, and essential for well-being.

 

Plus, slowly and quietly, you’ll have a much better chance of seeing wildlife, too. (I’ll save that for a future post).

But, one thing I can guarantee you will NOT see…

DDahnGreenMan

 

…the Boogeyman.

Forests—and natural areas in general—are no more dangerous than pretty much anywhere else. Even natural areas in cities. Especially in cities. If you need convincing, check your local crime/accident statistics. The real ones—not the hyped-up ones.

 

Join the Slow Nature Movement today!

 

Learn More About the Slow Nature Movement

(This is all there is so far – I just started it)

but…it wouldn’t be a movement without a Facebook Page – so I just started one. You can “Like” the page to keep up with new developments as they happen.

Help us preserve natural areas and greenspaces in Seattle.

Seattle Nature Alliance (join by “liking” our Page)

 

Read and Be Inspired

The Urban Bestiary, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

River-Walking Songbirds & Singing Coyotes, by Patricia K. Lichen

The Hidden Forest, by Jon R. Luoma

 

And yes…those are all photos, taken with my trusty ipod-touch and fluffed-up in Photoshop. Photos from forests in Seattle Park forests, and on the Olympic Peninsula.

 

You might also like:

Primordial Valentine – a video I made while spying on some sword ferns reproducing

Old Growth Forests – why I’m a forest creature

Forest Bath – another way to walk in nature

Forest Fright – To be afraid, or not to be?

 

Please leave your thoughts in a reply! I love hearing from you!

 

Monarch Butterflies and Roundup

Due to the recent news on monarch butterflies, I’m re-publishing a post from last year on the subject. First, here are a few updates:

The bad news

Monarch butterfly population has plummeted to one-tenth of what it was historically. This coincides rather symmetrically to the ten-fold increase in the use of Roundup, thanks to the genetically-modified corn and beans I wrote about the post below.

The good news

The Natural Resources Defense Council has called for a curb on the use of Roundup.

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I hope that the debate on genetically-modified products will expand beyond how nutritious they might be and include the effect they have on other species and the environment in general.

For more information, check out the most recent article in the New York Times on monarchs.

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Here’s my original post published May 15, 2013

 

There might be a few good reasons for genetically modified food crops—increased nutrition or drought tolerance perhaps—but Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans were “invented” for one purpose.

You can spray the heck out of them.

Roundup Ready plants won’t die from heavy herbicide use—that’s their claim to fame. (Plus they encourage increased use of Monsanto’s other big product, the herbicide Roundup itself). But all other leafy life in Roundup’s way will shrivel and die, including one of agriculture’s most despised plants, milkweed.

But what Big Ag hates, butterflies love. Milkweed is the one and only plant that monarch butterflies use as a “host” plant. Without it, they cannot survive as a species.

This is a section of a large watercolor illustration I did for the State of Minnesota. The intent of the poster was to encourage prairie habitat preservation.

This is a section of a large watercolor illustration I did for the State of Minnesota. The intent of the poster was to encourage prairie habitat preservation. It shows an adult monarch and a larvae. The pink flowers are milkweed. Pretty, isn’t it?

 

Milkweed is a native grassland plant that used to thrive along with thousands of other grassland plants and animals in prairie regions of North America. Even before the introduction of Roundup Ready seeds, tallgrass prairie habitats had already been reduced to less than one percent of their extent prior to European settlement and agriculture.

DDahnPrairie

The watercolor painting I did for a poster on native prairie plants for the State of Minnesota, educating people about preserving habitat.

 

 

Since most prairie land was converted to agriculture, milkweed grew only in remnant prairies, preserves, private gardens, or in between row crops—which actually added up to quite a bit of habitat, when you consider millions of acres of corn, beans, and other crops.

Not anymore, though, thanks in large part to Roundup Ready. Loss of milkweed habitat in row crops is thought to be the reason—along with extreme weather—that Monarch populations plunged dramatically this year. (note: this was published a year ago, new figures are much worse.)

Monarch butterflies are a marvel and a mystery. Their unique migrating behavior is still not fully understood. They migrate thousands of miles on a round trip between the U.S. and their wintering grounds in a forest in Mexico. But, how do they find their way? No single individual makes the entire round trip…there are never any older adults to show the young ones the way, as with other species. Are monarchs born with some kind of “map” of the route already in their brains?

Two days ago, Monsanto won a huge victory in the U.S. Supreme Court (in May of 2013). They were suing a farmer for illegally using their patented Roundup Ready soybean seeds. The farmer claimed the beans had (more or less) sprouted of their own accord, and were exempt from the patent, but the Court ruled against him and he ended up with an $84,000 fine. Justice Kagan rejected what she called a “blame-the-bean” defense.

She’s probably right about that. We can’t blame beans for sprouting, or farmers for wanting to save time and money by using new products at their disposal, or Big Chem for making Big Chemicals, or Big Ag, or even Big Politics.

If monarchs go extinct, it will be a tragedy. But, it will be our own fault. You, me, and most everyone else living in North America. We live the richest lives in human history. We vote with our ballots, and we vote with our dollars. We’re running the show.

Each migrating monarch makes individual butterfly-decisions that guide the whole species on one of the most amazing, most unlikely migrations of any lifeform. And they have a brain the size of a…well really, really small.

What can we do? Can we find better ways to live individually that added together will collectively guide our species to a more sustainable future?

What do you think?

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So, what to do?

If you live in monarch range, plant milkweed!

Buy organic!

Vote green!

Go outside, enjoy nature, butterflies, birds…everything.

Learn More:

High Country News article about Monsanto

New York Times article about Monsanto

New York Times article about monarchs

Yale 360 post about Monsanto and monarchs

Monarch Watch – an organization dedicated to studying, tracking, and preserving monarchs

 

You might also like these previous posts:

Leave it to Beavers

Frogs in Peril

Puget Sound – Our Inland Sea Needs Help

 

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Kruckeberg Botanic Garden

I recently completed an interesting interpretive sign project at the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden in Shoreline.

DDahnKruckeberg4

 

This beautiful garden is a life-work, a work of art, and a tribute to the wonderful flora of the Pacific Northwest.

It was created by Arthur and Mareen Kruckeberg.

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This massive sequoia was planted by the Kruckebergs when it was only 4-feet tall.

 

 

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This is a detail from one of the signs showing Art Kruckeberg and his wife Mareen Kruckeberg.

 

It all started in the 1950s when a young botany professor at the University of Washington and a grad student met and married. Their shared love of plants, the outdoors, and Pacific Northwest ecology became a cornerstone of their marriage, family and life work.

Together, Art and Mareen Kruckeberg transformed their 4 1/2 acre lot in Shoreline into a beautiful oasis of flowers, shrubs, and trees representing over 2000 species, many which they collected themselves from Washington and other similar zones around the world.

The Kruckeberg family spent much of their free time exploring the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, collecting rare native plants.

Below is one of the interpretive signs I did for the site. It introduces the visitor to the Kruckebergs and their life-long work at the garden.

The center photo shows Art and Mareen in later years. The black and white photo shows the house on the property when they first moved there in the 1950s.

 

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In the design, I used illustrations by Mareen Kruckeberg, who was a talented botanical artist.  The final sign is 3 x 4 feet.

 

 

 

This is a second sign on the theme of the present-day garden, describing the current management and mission of the garden.

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Actual size 3 x 4 feet. (Background illustrations by Mareen Kruckeberg.)

 

If you visit, be sure to wander through the whole property. In back is the Nursery which specializes in rare and native plants, and behind that are trails which wind down through the garden itself.

 This is the kiosk where the signs will go — still under construction at the time of this photo.

This is the kiosk where the signs will go — still under construction at the time of this photo.

 

 The nursery.


The nursery.

 

 

Beyond the nursery, the path leads you further into the garden…

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This garden has such a distinct Northwest feeling. It’s not surprising, since the Kruckebergs were experienced naturalists as well as botanists. One of my favorite books is “The Natural History of Puget Sound Country” written by Art Kruckeberg in 1991, about the landforms, waterways, and native plants, animals and people of the Puget Sound basin.

And, when I was researching this project, I discovered what a fascinating person Mareen was (she died on New Years Day in 2003. Art is still living). She was an internationally known horticulturalist with an artistic flair who spent her life advocating for rare and native plants.

The two of them created a beautiful, living legacy for the Pacific Northwest.

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