Celebrating Earth Day with a new Labyrinth

I designed and built my first labyrinth before I learned what a seed labyrinth was, and before I learned how to draw a seven circuit labyrinth. The double spiral reflected the natural form of the ubiquitous land snail shells and the duality of nature. It was loved by the community, but in 2016 we mowed it down to lay out Amazing Space. While the site is still there (the area was peripheral to the project), the tallgrass prairie has been allowed to regrow. It is time to create a new labyrinth.

The first Labyrinth I designed, in 2012.

When a friend recommended the new labyrinth be a Baltic design, I balked a bit. I had no idea what a Baltic pattern was. I had spent a lot of time designing the double spiral, and replicating it would have been easy. But I’m also quite curious, and after doing a bit of research I was convinced and excited.

The Baltic labyrinth, while technically being unicursal, does offer choices. Which means a visitor can walk directly to the meditative center, follow the labyrinth path to the center, or follow the labyrinth path to the center and then back again. This provides three different lengths, and three different experiences.

The layout of the Baltic Labyrinth

There are a number of labyrinths in the area, but none of them are a Baltic design. This gives the labyrinth community something special. I love creating things, so the idea of learning a new pattern, and laying it out, seemed like fun. I am extremely grateful for circular graph paper.

To celebrate Earth Day, Alliant Energy volunteers laid out the new Prairie Labyrinth. The field of flags denotes where I need to mow. Within a month, the path should be established enough that they can be removed.

 

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.

Earth Day Adventures: rainbows and wildflowers

This is a magical season in the forest, as the spring ephemerals are just beginning to bloom. When we think of forest, our minds immediately go to the trees. Right now, with the trees in various stages of budding out, there is not a leaf to be seen. But there is a whole rainbow of color to be found.

Cottonwood tree inflorescence, brought down in a windstorm (Red).
OK, I havent seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside ICNCs Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. If you want to see flying orange, try setting out a half an orange on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract Baltimore Orioles.
OK, I haven’t seen any orange butterflies yet, but these fun chairs are sitting outside Indian Creek Nature Center’s Butterfly Hoop House, beckoning a visit. Or…
...set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, created by artist Brenna OHara, is a permanent resident along ICNCs woodland trail orange).
…set 1/2 an orange out on a tray feeder or deck railing to attract the Baltimore Oriole. This one, painted by artist Brenna O’Hara, is a permanent resident along ICNC’s woodland trail (Orange).

Lots of life is beginning to emerge from the ground.  Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull is a great resource to put in your backpack before setting out. If that’s too big, try the laminated Woodland in Your Pocket pamphlet. Finding flowers is fun: knowing what you’re looking at is thrilling.

Bloodroots are one of the first spring ephemerals to explode in the spring (Yellow).

Delicate, small forbs take advantage of all of that sunlight streaming through the bare branches to send up their own leaves, flower, and reproduce.

Wild Ginger is just beginning to peek out, with soft folded leaves (Green). Open your copy of Hunting Red to preview the ginger in bloom.
A blue jay was here. As the feathers of most birds are protected, take pictures, not the feathers (Blue).

To help identify feathers you find, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s free online Feather Atlas.

These bluebells have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color the species has Indigo)
These bluebell flowers have not fully opened, but show some of the great diversity of color within the species (Indigo).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad Violet).
The petals of the wild violet are edible, and are a beautiful edition to any salad (Violet).

Spend Earth Day outside, exploring what is happening with the earth as spring surrounds us in a rainbow of color. What colors will you find?

 

 

Earth Day Adventures: forage

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Pick nettles that are approximately 8″ tall, taking the top 6″.

By mid summer, moist woodlands are thick with stinging nettles. Long pants and long sleeve cotton t-shirts are a must, to keep waist-high plants from assaulting skin with trichomes. But right now, the stinging nettles are just beginning to emerge. Celebrate Earth Day by enjoying hunting for, gathering, and eating this delicious plant.

 

The leaves are tender and full of iron, vitamin A and vitamin C. The tiny hairs are just beginning to produce trichomes, so they aren’t nearly as painful if you break them off into your skin. Grasp the plant gently at the base and break the stem cleanly off. It won’t hurt the plant. If you can’t seem to get the knack of it without getting stung, wear a pair of gardening gloves or use a pair of clippers. As the nettles are a ubiquitous invader throughout the woods, stick a paper sack in your pocket to collect them in.

Once home, rinse them off and boil them for about five minutes. The boiling breaks down the toxins, making them safe to eat. Treat the leaves like spinach, adding a little bit of butter, salt, or lemon juice before serving. IMG_20150409_154827535

 

 

 

Dry the rest. The trichomes also break down as the plant dries. Add a teaspoon of dried nettle leaf to the teapot whenever you make a cup of tea, to take advantage of the nutrients in the plant long after the plants leaves are large and tough, and the trichomes are vigorous about defending it.

This book is older than I am, but the information in it is still a great foundation for foraging  for food in nature.
This book is older than I am, but the information in it is still a great foundation for foraging for food in nature.