Last April wildflower walk of the year…and a few other beauties

The spring wildflowers are in their second flush, as the wild plums and bloodroot are nearly finished blooming. The warm weather has brought new hues to the forest, in a crescendo of vibrant colors.

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Trillium are in full bloom, adding a deep red to the woodland forest.
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The red oaks rely on wind for pollination, so their pollen is usually viewed as a radiating golden hue in the tree tops. This small branch was brought down in the wind, allowing me to admire the rich color and delicate leaves more closely.
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No true morels, yet. But we found a large patch of these rusty-eared gnarly beauties, with their untraceable folds and delicate ripples.
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The jack in the pulpit’s green on green provides subtle grace and requires a careful look, before the show-stopping red berries in the fall..
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Bellworts add their bright yellow to the edge of the woodland.

Beescaping for Earthday

An apiary must be more than a wooden box in an ecological desert. The honeybee is imperiled not because we cannot make enough wooden boxes to house them in but because we are all too prolific at creating and maintaining ecological deserts. From the corn field in which we are unwilling to share space for milkweeds, to the  Kentucky bluegrass lawn in which we are unwilling to share space for clovers, our meticulously maintained monocultures create the ecological desert that cannot support bees and most other creatures. Save the bees, and we will be well on our way to sustaining the ecology of our planet.

These cedar top-bar style bee hives will ensure good pollination of the trees and plants. And honey!
These cedar top-bar style bee hives will ensure good pollination of the trees and plants. And honey!

For this earth day, I have the rare opportunity to celebrate our ecology and life by dynamically increasing the diversity of Indian Creek Nature Center-a place that has incrementally been making such positive changes since it started in 1973. The bare ground from the Amazing Space construction zone is ours to create a new sustainable ecology for both the wildlife and the people.

Alliant Energy employees volunteer to plant trees. The Lindens will be the dominant shade-producing trees for the driveway.
Alliant Energy employees volunteer to plant trees. The Lindens will be the dominant shade-producing trees for the driveway.

The foundations of a good landscaping plan:

  1. Relationship to place. All of the species selected are native to Iowa. This recognizes and celebrates the value of the natural ecology. Having evolved here, the species will be self-sustaining, able to handle Iowa’s harsh winters and summer droughts. They will support the wildlife that lives here.
  2. Relationship to people. From the linden trees that will shade the driveway to the New Jersey tea plants that border the walkways, the plants and trees are species well suited for urban landscaping. They were selected to demonstrate how native plants and trees can enrich yards, providing beauty, shade and pollination. They also have edible nuts, flowers, and fruits, creating a multilayered edible landscape.
  3. Relationship to plants. Nature is a mosaic of diverse vertical layers. The lindens will provide some shade for the sassafras and bladdernuts. Sunny areas will be dominated tallgrass prairie species. Taller plants will rely on shorter plants for support.
The flowers of a native landscaping plan support bumblees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
The flowers of a native landscaping plan support bumblees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

The root of the rose

Being involved with a Nature Center is about creating spaces and opportunities for people and nature to come together. People understand and relate to the glory of being outside on a summer day full of birds, butterflies, and flowers. But the dynamics of what is happening behind the scenes and underground, the natural systems and processes that ultimately create that precious beauty, those stories are harder to see, understand and tell.

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To start with, plant roots (for example) are deep, big, and completely underground. Before the invention of the plow, people cut trees and planted crops and gardens in the forest soil because there wasn’t the solid mats of prairie roots to cut though.

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The Tallgrass Prairie Center recently gifted us with a real wild rose root. Displaying it required a 10′ tall case. In the wild, the roots go deeper. Fortunately for display purposes, the Tallgrass Prairie Center grows the native plants for three years in a 10′ tube, giving us a “manageable” root to work with. I only said, “we’re going to need a bigger ladder” twice.
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Before giving us the root, the Tallgrass Prairie Center soaked it in a solution of glycerine, acetone, and ethanol to preserve it. The first step in displaying the rose root was to tease apart the root fibers after storage, so they would hang naturally.

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While the glycerine solution preserves the root against decomposition, it was still very fragile and bits of the finer hairs would fall off over time. Terry Brown, owner of Museum Professionals, donated a day of his time to preserve the root, forming it into a natural shape and then spraying it with a stabilizing solution. He then helped us install it in the display case.
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In a few short months, the root will be joining us in Amazing Space to form the centerpiece of our tallgrass prairie exhibition. If you want a sneak peak, it is on display in the Nature Center’s existing auditorium.

Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent

As a part of learning to survive, appreciate, and maybe even love our new desert habitat, I took the children to a program called “Desert Survival” at the nature center of a large (3500+ acres) regional park yesterday.

Desert Survival: Prepare & Prevent

 

We did not learn how to extract water from giant saguaros.  Nor did we learn how to create a bow drill to start a fire.  We didn’t even learn how to fight zombies with cholla cactus spines.

Instead, we learned about the importance of preparation and prevention.  Proper preparation is something every hiker in every climate can do to prevent a survival situation from happening in the first place!  As the fabulous ranger explained in at the beginning of the talk: his information does not make for popular TV shows, but it will keep you off the TV news!

Here are 3 new-to-me ideas for staying safe in the desert (or any hike!):

1-Instead of trying to find water, bring more water than you think you need.  Yes, water is heavy. Yes, it can be awkward to carry. But in the desert, by the time you start to feel thirsty, you’re already becoming dehydrated.  Bring the extra water.

In fact, bring an extra-extra bottle of water: Drink at your car until you feel satiated, then hike, then when you get back to the car, drink the rest of your extra-extra bottle.

2-A cheap emergency blanket has a variety of uses.  The park sells them for $3 each and I plan to buy one for each of us when we go back for a hike.  They look like these (excellent reviews & sold in a 10 pack).  Not only can an emergency blanket keep you warm in the cold and cooler in the heat, it makes a great distress signal!

3-Leave a detailed note about your hiking plans: Where you’re going, where you’re going to park, when you plan to be back.

“Took the kids hiking in the Superstition Mountains” is not the level of detail that is going to get you found!

Leave a detailed note: Desert Survival is about Preparing!

While I feel better about going for a family hike in the desert now, I guess we’re on our own for designing zombie-stopping cholla cactus weapons!

And if you’re ever in Arizona, stop by the Usery Mountain for a fabulous presentation or hike!

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Full Moon Walks 2016

Take a Full Moon Walk in 2016 with a FREE printable trackerDid you walk by the light of a full moon last year?

As a family, we tried to get out each full moon to take a walk. It didn’t always happen…it rained, it snowed, someone had to work late, or had a evening class. But we did try! And having a calendar showing when the full moon would be did help us remember to get outside at night.

Take a Full Moon walk with your family in 2016

Download your free printable full moon walk calendar here.

January’s full moon is the Wolf Moon — leave a comment and share about your walk this month.

Take a walk by the light of the full Wolf Moon this January!

Space.com’s 2016 Full Moon Calendar has more information about the Native American names for the full moons and information on the moon’s phases.

Also, visit EarthSky.org if you’re wondering why there is no blue moon in 2016!

Want even more full moon viewing inspiration? Check out Wilder Child’s Moon Gazing post — hint, she’s got an awesome free color download of all the full moon’s of 2016!

A New Habitat to Explore

 

As an occasional contributing poster here at Pocket Mouse Publishing, I’ve enjoyed posting about how my children and I got out into nature regularly.  How we had consistently enjoyed forest freeplay and learned through the book Hunting Red.

Our Former Habitat

Then, we moved.  A job-relocation across the country.

Our habitat is no longer the lush green forest and small creeks of the temperate East Coast pictured above but rather the Sonoran desert of the Southwest: a place of dry sands, endless sunshine, and prickly cactus.   See below.

Our New Habitat

We’re adjusting.  Adapting. We’re ready to explore our new habitat. We’re reading about desert life in books like 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Phoenix, The Nature of Arizona, and Critters of Arizona Pocket Guide.

Desert Book recommendations

We’ve even ventured to take a couple walks in the desert and are planning some more. It’s not the forest freeplay we had grown to love. In fact, one child refers to it as “desert doomplay” due to the sheer number of opportunities to interact with cactus spines.

One thing remains the same, despite this new habitat: the night sky.  The stars are the same. The constellation Orion is still the only one we all recognize.  I wrote about that nearly a year ago in Walking the Nature Talk. And the moon!  The moon is still the same. Did you know that we all see the same side of the moon, all the time?

In a few days it will be the first full moon of 2016!  I’ll be making a calendar to share the dates of each full moon — check back soon.

And enjoy your habitat, whatever it may be!

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