Today, January 7 is the birthday of British zoologist and writer, Gerald Durrell who was born in Jamshedpur, India in 1925. Durrell loved animals from an early age and to the distress of his mother, brought many specimens home. He became interested in rare and endangered animals and his dream was to one day open his own zoo. At the suggestion of his brother, novelist Lawrence Durrell, he began to write of his adventures to many parts of the world to collect animals so that he could finance his projects. In 1953, he published his first book, The Overloaded Ark, which was a great success. He went on to write over 30 more books and was eventually able to open his own zoo on the Jersey Islands. The zoo led to the development of the the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, an organization whose mission is to save endangered animals from extinction.
In a letter he wrote to seal in a time capsule, he says: "We hope that there will be fireflies and glow-worms at night to guide you and butterflies in hedges and forests to greet you. We hope that there will still be the extraordinary varieties of creatures sharing the land of the planet with you to enchant you." I hope so too.
Looking for a break from the holiday hustle and bustle? Try a more relaxing weekend this Saturday, December 20th by joining up with the Washtenaw Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count. Each year for over a century the Audubon Society has organized local groups of birdwatchers to compile a list of all the birds spotted across the continent. The results help researchers track bird populations and identify habitats at risk. You can be a part of this international effort (and hone your bird identification skills) by signing up with the local chapter of the National Audubon Society.
"Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country." With these words, Truman formally dedicated Everglades National Park. This event culminated years of effort by a dedicated group of conservationists to make a national park in the Florida Everglades a reality. For a fascinating and comprehensive history of this amazing wetland, check out Michael Grunwald's The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise. Thinking of visiting the park? Check out Hidden Florida Keys and Everglades or Adventure guide to the Florida Keys & Everglades National Park.
The edible estates project consisted of tearing up the manicured front lawns of several households and replacing it with plants that produced edible food. The goal was both to make a statement and to be practical. This is remenicient of Victory Gardens during the World Wars where thanks to Eleanor Roosevelt even the White House lawn had some vegetable production. Similar ideas are also implemented in community gardens, but this project specifically picked the front yard as the area to attack, making the garden front and center. Here's a video of one of the gardens to give you an idea:
Here's a video interview with Fritz Haeg about the project:
The book consists of the plans for these gardens, homeowner stories, the drive behind the project and a few guides of what you can grow in your zone. What most homeowners were worried about, as can be expected, was what would the neighbors think? However, in most cases there were positive attitudes from the community and even a closer relationship between people in the neighborhood. The front yard was no longer a buffer zone between people but an active center of activity. The book also includes a few tidbits to think about:
Of 30 commonly used lawn pesticides, 13 are probable carcinogens, 14 are linked with birth defects, 18 with reproductive effects, 20 with liver or kidney damage, 18 with neurotoxicity and 28 are irritants - National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns
Homeowners use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops. - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
"Suits fly against the national lawn-care companies, and interest is kindled in ''organic'' methods of lawn care. But the problem is larger than this. Lawns, I am convinced, are a symptom of, and a metaphor for, our skewed relationship to the land. They teach us that, with the help of petrochemicals and technology, we can bend nature to our will. Lawns stoke our hubris with regard to the land. What is the alternative? To turn them into gardens. I'm not suggesting that there is no place for lawns in these gardens or that gardens by themselves will right our relationship to the land, but the habits of thought they foster can take us some way in that direction.
Gardening, as compared to lawn care, tutors us in nature's ways, fostering an ethic of give and take with respect to the land. Gardens instruct us in the particularities of place. They lessen our dependence on distant sources of energy, technology, food and, for that matter, interest."
Bandemer Park, on the north side of town, is a hidden gem of Ann Arbor. This forty acre park borders a beautiful turn of the Huron River and provides access to a paved bike path on the west side of the river, and a wooden bridge on the east side of the river. With ample parking and convenient access off Route 14 or Barton Road, getting there is easy. Once you've arrived, take advantage of the opportunities for adventure, including a dirt bike jump course, a nine hole disc golf course, the Ann Arbor Rowing Club, and canoeing and kayaking on the river. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the Argo livery, just a mile away. For a relaxing afternoon, there are picnic benches, pavilions (must be reserved), fishing spots, scenic walking paths, and pleasant vistas for observing wildlife. For more activities on the river, check out the Huron River Report, and The Fly Fisher's Huron available at the AADL.
What a great way to spend a fall day: paddling down the Huron at the River Ecology Paddle this Saturday, Sept. 27, 12:30 p.m. ~ 4 p.m. The tour starts at Dexter-Huron Metropark and includes a stop at the Dexter Cider Mill, home of the greatest donuts in the world and the oldest continuously operating Cider Mill in Michigan. To register for the paddle call 1-800-477-3191 or 734-426-8211.
If you have looked at the woods next to the Traverwood branch parking lot lately, you can't help but notice that some of the leaves are already changing color. These are highly motivated trees, as the autumnal equinox is not until September 22nd. If you enjoy the season, you may be interested in planning some activities to celebrate the official start of Fall. The library carries books on fun fall activities, such as gourd crafts, fall gardening, pumpkin decorating, and how to make your own scarecrows.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture and DNR confirmed the first known case of chronic wasting in deer in Michigan at a private deer facility. There is no evidence that it has spread to the wild population yet but DNR is asking hunters this fall to take their deer to check stations for sampling so the wild population can be better studied.
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