Huge Black Bristly Caterpillar!

The David Suzuki 30×30 Nature Challenge comes to end today!  Or tomorrow if you missed a day.  That would be our family.  Earlier in the month we enjoyed a day with my parents — space museum visiting, dining out, and swimming at their hotel pool.  That night I was horrified to discover that we hadn’t had any nature time!  We failed!  Alas, our habit was broken and the challenge lost.

However, out we went again the next day and the next, and the next… And we’ll go out again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…  As Dr. Scott Sampson says in his new book How to Raise a Wild Child, it’s “abundant experiences in wild or semi-wild places, typically close to home” that forge the deep connection with nature that I’m hoping to create with my children.

Discovering a HUGE black caterpillarOn one of our “close to home” outings we came upon a huge, black, bristling caterpillar.  Imagine a solid black wooly bear, traditionally seen in the autumn, twice the usual size.  My son picked it up and as it crawled over his hands we noticed that between the black bristles, the caterpillar had skin of dark red.  Even I took a turn letting it crawl on my hand to experience the disconcerting feeling of its myriad of scratchy, sturdy feet marching relentlessly forward.

After everyone had a turn to hold this amazing creature — he really was huge — my daughter set him on a fallen log a few feet off the path from where we’d found him.  And on we went.

Huge black caterpillar with spiky feetWhen we got home we searched online and found a link that fit our description of “huge black bristly caterpillar” and as I scrolled down through the pictures, I knew we’d found a match: The Giant Leopard Moth!

But when the actual picture of the moth appeared, I jumped up — I’d seen this moth before in Hunting Red! I found our copy and started thumbing through.  I had to go through several times before I found the picture on the dedication page.  Yes, there it was — the moth and the caterpillar.  Very exciting!

We found a huge, black, bristly caterpillar -- turns out it was a Giant Leopard Moth fromAccording to the article, the caterpillars eat the non-native invasive honeysuckle.  We enjoy plucking the honeysuckle blossoms and sipping the tiny drop of liquid nectar.  If you’ve never tried this, The Magic Onions has a short post on how to experience this sweet summer foraging ritual.

(Book links are Amazon Affliates: read our full disclosure here)

Earthing at the Hydra’s Lair on the First Morning in May

Happy May Day!  Today, being the first day of May means we listen to “Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight” by Lisa Theriot.  The song has a rich and varied historical basis which you can read all about on Wikipedia.  Some day, maybe next April, I plan to research it myself!

Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight - a song for the first morning in May
Hunting Red’s artist sketched the opening scene

My children disagree with the term “Elf Knight” — they claim he is neither elf nor knight, but rather one of the Fey.  I’ll leave that research to them.

Also since it is May 1, we started our 30×30 Outdoor Challenge — with a 40 minute walk to the Hydra’s Lair.  This is a retention waterway at the base of a hill in a nearby neighborhood.  I have yet to see the hydra, but today there were 1000s of tadpoles wriggling in the shallows.

Checking out tadpoles on the first morning in May
No hydras, just tadpoles

By checking off our 30×30 Challenge, we are also on our way to completing the 30×3 Challenge!  After dinner we took a 20 minute walk as well.  So 60 minutes for Day 1!

Earthing!  Walking barefoot on the earth...
A little EARTHING in the last snow of the season

I learned a new word today.  Earthing.  Earthing is the process of absorbing earth’s free flowing electrons from it’s surface through the soles of one’s feet.  So that’s why my children are always barefoot!

May your May be filled with music, successfully completed challenges, and a little earthing!


Challenges to Getting Outdoors Daily

Is getting out into nature daily a challenge?

Or do you need a challenge to get out daily into nature?

Getting out into Nature a challenge? {}Tomorrow is May 1.  Nothing like a new month to take on a new challenge.  And MAYbe this is your month.  May is spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere — not too hot, not too cold, just right for getting outside and getting a daily dose of nature time!

But…maybe you’re feeling too busy.  Or maybe you’ve had a nature walk go wrong.  Or maybe you can’t seem to remember a single benefit to time outdoors when the kids beg for just 30 more minutes in Minecraft. Or is that only at my house?

Getting outside, every day, can be a challenge — so here are 3 challenges to get you there:

1. Starting May 1, the David Suzuki Foundation has a 30×30 challenge.  That’s 30 minutes outdoors for 30 days.  Do you have 30 minutes?  Just 30 out of 1440 a day — about 2% of your time.

100 Trees, 100 Chances to Get Outside! Free Worksheet Download

2. Want something less time-bound? Wilder Child offers a chart called 100 Trees, 100 Chances in the fantastic article 6 Ways to Get Your Kids Outside (When They Don’t Want to Go).  Color a tree every time you go outdoors and watch your forest grow!

3. Is a purposeful, structured  time more your style?  Back in 2008, the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge began — and is still going.  Years of challenges to get you started and keep you outside!

Do you know of another challenge that encourages getting outside regularly? Share it in the comments! Or tweet to @pocketmousepub and let us know!

And after you’ve been outside, check out the Nature Chills Challenge to share what you’ve discovered!

I just read a 2010 study that found kids ages 8-18 spent 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen daily, about 27% of their day.  Has technology use gone up or down at your house in the last 5 years?

Earth Day Adventures: Lyrid Meteor Shower April 2015

How are you celebrating Earth Day 2015? If enjoying all the abundance of the Earth – like the wildflowers and rainbows under the sun isn’t enough, you could get up before the sun rises to see a spectacular shooting star show! The Lyrid Meteor Shower 2015 will peak in the wee hours of April 23, 2015.

Are you ready to watch the next meteor shower?First some vocabulary:

A Shooting Star is bright streak of light caused by a meteor.

A Meteor Shower is the Earth passing through the wake of the comet and named for constellation nearest the point the meteors seem to radiate from.

A Comet is an icy-rock ball that orbits the sun and has tails of dust and gas streaming away from the sun

Meteoroid – relatively small particles in space

Meteor – a meteoroid that entered Earth’s atmosphere (shooting star)

Meteorite – a meteor that didn’t burn up before landing on earth

The Lyrid Meteor Shower seems to radiate from the constellation Lyra. Lyra is from the Greek word for lyre and is connected the myth of Orpheus, a musician who charmed all with his playing. The Classical myth ends sadly for Orpheus, but if you’d like to hear a folk version with a happy conclusion, I highly recommend the song “King Orfeo” written by Lisa Theriot and sung by Ken Theriot on the CD Human History.

But I digress!

Lyra Constellation Map (creative commons use)
Lyra Constellation Map (creative commons use)

The constellation Lyra contains the star commonly known as Vega — 5th brightest in the sky and part of the Summer Triangle. To learn more about Lyra check out Solar System Quick’s guide.

The comet wake or path that causes the Lyrid Meteor Shower is called Comet Thatcher and was seen in 1861 — and isn’t expected again until 2276, according to EarthSky. Add that to your smartphone’s calendar before you forget!

Astonomy Magazine has an excellent 5 minute introductory video on How to Observe Meteor Showers.

So, this Earth Day, celebrate by looking up after dark and before dawn, and view the Lyrid Meteor Shower of April 2015!

Think Nature is Boring?

Do you think nature is boring?  Do your kids?  Just another walk in the woods?  Same nameless green trees, same nameless green plants, same —

Another boring nature walk? I think not.

What would you do if you came across an orange tentacled blob in a cedar tree?  And not just one?  But another, and another, and one with even more tentacles?

a) Run screaming?

b) Call the police?

c) Email the county’s pest control department?

d) Pluck to one to dissect in the name of science?

e) Call…whoever would be interested in an alien sitings?

After coming home and finding some of these bizarre apparitions on the cedar trees in both my neighbor’s and my yard, I chose answer C.

And the calm, kind urban forester who replied to my email assured me that this was fairly common in my county and not of concern unless I had an orchard.  Which now I’m glad I don’t have an orchard because this is Cedar Apple Rust (not an alien invasion).

Doesn't it look alien?
Doesn’t it look alien?

These are Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae galls with spore horns (not orange tentacled blobs): a complex pathogen that requires both the apple tree and the cedar tree (with other species such as hawthorn and juniper standing in), adequate moisture, including a rain, and has a two year life cycle.  You can read all about these fascinating galls on Cornell University’s Integrated Pest Management Fact Sheet.

So, the next time you think just another boring nature walk, think again.  And carry a camera — might just find something incredible for your Earth Day Celebration rainbow walk!

Chirping on Twitter as @pocketmousepub!

Connect with Pocket Mouse Publishing on Twitter @pocketmousepubPocket Mouse Publishing is on Twitter!  Yes, you will hear Jean (itsabeeslifeforme) and Lee (brightskymom chirping tweeting as @pocketmousepub now!

Since we’re brand new, we will bumble around like the fledgling social media-ites that we are.  If you’re on Twitter, we’d appreciate well-known, obvious, how-could-you-not-know tips — I don’t think we’re ready for amazing insider secrets yet!

We hope to see & hear you in the fields and trees, tweeting interesting tidbits about #nature and #forage and #organic and all kinds of things!  After all (to quote Robert Louis Stevenson, April IS National Poetry Month!):

The world is so full of a number of things,
I ’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

How Nature is like the Library and why it matters

How Nature is like the Library

Sitting in traffic on my way home from the library the other day, I got to thinking:

Nature – the great outdoors – is a lot like the public library.

Nature is space free for all to visit, all to peruse, all to enjoy – paid for by tax dollars, public & private benefactors, and citizen fundraising; maintained by forest rangers and naturalists (the librarians of their wild spaces) and the enthusiasm of volunteers.

We go to the library to learn: a vast collection of non-fiction books on every topic imaginable, waiting to be read and gleaned from. There is always something new to be found on a library shelf.  We can go to nature to learn as well.  Every walk in the woods will reveal something new.

Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher. ~William Wordsworth

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books. ~John Lubbock

You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters. ~St. Bernard

Let Nature be your teacher

We go to the library for enjoyment: genre upon genre of fiction, poetry, picture books, movies, comics, how-to books. We can go out in nature for enjoyment too.  A mud-puddle and a mountain are always ready to provide a new experience.

when the world is mud-luscious…[and] puddle-wonderful. ~e.e. cummings

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Khalil Gibran

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail. ~John Muir

How Nature is like the Library and why it matters

Just as our minds long for ideas that we can find in a book at the library, so our hearts and eyes long for nature – photos of breath-takingly beautiful nature scenes abound on Pinterest, are shared on Instagram, and hang on the walls of homes & offices around the world.

With innovation and technology, seems we have forgotten to cherish the true beauty the world has to offer. ~A.C. Van Cherub

Yet, unlike the library – still a place of generally hushed reverence (except during toddler story time!), nature is often carelessly used as a dumping ground – tires, empty cans, golf balls, and a large collection of half-filled plastic water bottles litter the creek near my home. Would you ever find these in your local library? Who keeps the library clean? Who keeps the natural spaces around your home clean?

If we all treated nature more like the library, I think the world would be a better place. We borrow. We return. We pay our fines when owed. We preserve. We respect. We enjoy!

May you find yourself out in nature or in a library today — better yet, both!