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.

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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?

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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…

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…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.

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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.

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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.

Sign2


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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Plant Intelligence

Say what?

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Whoa…killer view, dude. (Western pasqueflowers, also known as Hippies-on-a-Stick.)

 

A new branch of plant science is researching what some call “Plant Intelligence”.

But for many other plant scientists, just seeing the words “plant” and “intelligence” side-by-side is enough to send them into paroxysms.

“Preposterous! It is impossible to think WITHOUT A BRAIN! Don’t spread this foolishness! Next thing you know, bloggers will be publishing ridiculous posts about “Plant Intelligence”, and rational thought will grind to a halt.”

But, the research shows there is something going on—if it’s not intelligence, or intention, then what is it?

DDahnPlant

 

Michael Pollan recently published an interesting article called “The Intelligent Plant” in the New Yorker about the new research into plants and the debates it has stirred up. He also discussed the topic with Ira Flatow on Science Friday in a segment called “Can Plants Think?”

According to Pollan, the research data clearly shows that plants are a lot more sophisticated than we ever knew. For one thing, they have more senses than we do—they have all of our five senses (including hearing) plus up to 15 senses that we do not. They “communicate” with friends or enemies, can recognize their own kin, even wage war. They hunt, forage, trick their enemies, and even “care” for their young.

They just do it all so slowly or discretely that we never paid much attention.

So, is this all a bunch of overblown hooey? Some say yes. But it is not the research they argue against…it is the descriptors. Care, hunt, think, communicate…to many scientists, these are terms that belong only to the Animal Kingdom.

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And, no one is questioning the scientific data. It is clear plants are a lot more complicated than we knew. The sticking point seems to be how to describe it. Are plants really exhibiting intelligence? How can anything without a brain, without a single neuron, think?

 

DDahnLeaf

 

I like the way Pollan turned the debate upside down. It’s not that plants are like us, but that we are like plants. After all, he argues, we have always considered that our brains are the locus of the Self, sort of like a Central Command Center. Yet, when you look at the brain, there is no one location you can pinpoint as being “in charge”. The brain is a network—much like networks found in the plant world. For example, in forests, trees are connected to each other through amazingly complex fungal/root networks that seem to show “behaviors” like awareness and sharing. (I wrote about this in a post last year, called Mother Trees.”

 

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I find the subject fascinating. Intelligence, competence, instinct—whatever you call it, I think we’ll end up finding out the plant world is much richer and more interesting that we ever knew.

I can’t wait to find out more.

 

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WHAT DO YOU THINK?

 

Are you are scientist interested in plant behavior? Check out the Society of Plant Signaling and Behavior

 

Black Mesa Nature Preserve

I just completed an interpretive signage project for my clients in Oklahoma. I started this project last summer, just a few days before the tragic tornado hit the town of Moore. When I heard the news, I contacted my client who lived a mile from the path of destruction. Although many of his friends and neighbors suffered damage, he and his family were spared. He wrote in his email that Oklahomans are a resilient bunch, and pull together in disasters. They’ve certainly had a lot of practice.

The project is located in Black Mesa Nature Preserve in the panhandle. Its claim to fame seems to be that it is the “highest point in Oklahoma”.

But I think they’re just being modest. It turns out to be a really interesting place.

Welcome

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.

 

My clients provided the background information and I wrote text, painted the watercolor illustrations and did the design. The final signs are 3 x 4 feet.

The Mesa is actually the remnant of a giant lava flow that filled up an ancient valley. The hills eroded away, and all that’s left is the black basalt-capped mesa.

 

MesaFormation

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.

 

And how do we know this? Geologists, of course. Those rock-loving scientists revealed the geologic history layer by layer, like reading pages in a book.

And, sometime back in the swampy Jurassic, dinosaurs roamed over this landscape, leaving their tracks in the stone. I chose an Allosaurus to illustrate. She doesn’t look as fierce as they are usually portrayed, but I’m sure even Allosauruses mellowed out once in a while.

Geology

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn.

 

And, there’s history too! The famous Santa Fe Trail passed right by the mesa. The Santa Fe trail linked Mexico and the States and was mostly used by freighters rather than pioneers. The trip was wild, rough, and dangerous.

History

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn

 

And, it wouldn’t be a Nature Preserve without wildlife. The mesa is a classic “edge habitat”, where overlapping plant communities result in rich species diversity.

Wildlife

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn

 

If you visit, you can climb a trail up the side of the mesa and southwest until you reach the trail destination spot: the “Highest Point in Oklahoma”. It is marked by a beautiful granite monument.

But personally, I think the geology, the history, and the plants and animals are the true high points of this trail.

TrailMap

Design and illustration by Denise Dahn