Sunday, April 23, 2017

Earth Day 2017

Luna Moth found on nature walk with a school group

I usually love the hope and energy of Earth Day, but this year I was feeling pretty discouraged. Every day I read the news in horror and dread, seeing the slashed budgets, eliminated programs, reversed regulations. It's hard to think that so many important ecological and conservation gains made over my lifetime may be undone. I fear for our health, our wildlife, our clean air, clean water, clean oceans and public lands. I can't believe that we're fighting these battles all over again. I mean, really, who is against a clean and healthy planet? I'm not that old and I remember when our national symbol, the Bald Eagle, was endangered because of DDT and habitat loss and how populations were brought back. And I have traveled enough to know that clean water and air are not something to take for granted. I have been on board with ecology and conservation and environmentalism since I was a kid. But somehow, the message has not gotten to everyone.

Bee exhibit at Sandy Creek Nature Center. The day before Earth Day I was able to talk to the children about bees, habitat, pollination and recycling all in one lesson!

Earth Day 2017 was perfect and beautiful. The skies were clear blue, the temperature was warm and the trees were green. A cool breeze dried my sweat as my husband and I walked to the Athens Science March on this glorious Saturday. We joined a crowd of like-minded people, concerned but happy to be alive, watching the birds and butterflies as we listened to speakers talk about the reasons we need science. Again, it's hard to believe that we have to fight for these things--the tools, verifiable information, inventions that help us understand our world and maybe make our lives better along the way. Who is against science? It just seems crazy. I know who does support science--millions of people who gathered and marched in cities all over the US and all over the world. On Earth Day it felt especially important to stand up for the environment and this planet, the only one we have.

Praying Mantis Egg Sac spotted by children on nature hike

Later in the afternoon I heard Bill Nye (the Science Guy) on NPR talking about the main march, the March for Science in Washington, DC. The interviewer asked if Bill was worried about the future. He said, "First of all, as I say to everybody, if you like to worry about things, you are living in a great time. But you've got to be optimistic people, you've got to think that you're going to solve these problems or you're not going to solve them. And we can do this people--it's cool! The future's going to be exciting!"

Gray Treefrog--temporary pet

Bill Nye was right--there is still reason for optimism. It gives me hope to remember that I have a special opportunity when I work with children and with the general public teaching about nature. The groups of school children that I walk through the woods may or may not have spent much time in the woods before, but when they are with me, I try to calm their fears and to spark an interest in the processes around them. I try to teach them something, while at the same time having fun and exploring with all their senses, sharing and challenging. We watch for movement and colors and look at tiny things with hand lenses, smell wild onions and flowers, feel rotting wood and slimy fungus and hug trees, and listen to the sounds of birds and insects and the wind in the trees. Some kids love it, some can't wait for lunch and to get back to school. But at least they've been exposed to the ideas. And many will return and learn more. Senegalese conservationist, Baba Dioum, said "In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." I hope that I am helping people to understand and appreciate nature, and in the future they will grow up to love and conserve it.

A child shows his treasure--a pine cone covered with tiny mushrooms

Black Rat Snake spotted in the woods. We had the opportunity to talk about how snakes are helpful and that you don't need to fear them. What do they eat? Rats and mice! Who wants rats and mice around the house? Not me!

Witches' Butter Jelly Fungus--fun to see and touch

Carrion Beetle in dog poop on the trail. A great opportunity to talk about decomposers, and trail etiquette.

"It's a great day for cocoons!" We found several that day.

You can see the mental gears turning when the children see this flower and learn that hummingbirds and butterflies use it for a nectar source. Long flowers, long bill, long mouthpart. Hmmm...

Looking at this giant and memorable Cherry Millipede is a good way to reinforce what the children are learning about insects and spiders. 6 legs, 3 body parts = insect. 8 legs, 2 body parts = spider. With all those legs, this is definitely not an insect or spider! Arthropod is a great vocab word.

This boy had the Copperhead Snake at the nature center following his every move. 

We stopped our walk to watch these termites erupting from the soil and flying away to form a new colony. We discussed their role as decomposers and observed their part in the food web as the birds and lizards feasted.

So, don't give up. Keep working. Change takes time. There will be inevitable set backs. But we are making incremental progress. Regardless of what any political administration does, millions of people have learned to care about the environment and they won't change back to the old ways now that they understand. Other nations and growing numbers of businesses see that Green is the future. Solar energy is mainstream, people drive electric cars that get better mileage every year and don't pollute, and there are charging stations in our public parking garages and bike lanes and better mass transportation. Scout groups clean trash from creeks, classrooms adopt manatees and plant butterfly gardens, and college sports events have recycling bins and aim to be carbon neutral. Big changes since when I was a kid. Bit by bit, with education and ever increasing numbers of supporters, and with good scientific principals and innovations, I have to believe that we'll keep moving towards a more sustainable future. Happy Earth Day.