Sign up for Harvesting Garden Water, at Green Springs, 25 February

Green Spring Gardens Park, 4601 Green Spring Road, Alexandria

25 February 2018, 1.30-2.30 pm

Water harvesting involves strategies to manage and enhance the water resources on your land, leading to healthier plants and lower water bills. Understanding and implementing just a few simple water harvesting techniques, such as swales, hugelkultur beds, and rain gardens can improve the way water moves through your yard and how effectively your plants are able to use it. Designer Michael Judd shows you designs that best fit your land, how they are created and how to make them look good. These principles will help make your land more diverse, productive, and ecologically friendly. Register via ParkTakes. Fairfax County residents $10, others $12.

Counts toward continuing education credits for master naturalists.

The Fairfax County volunteer website has LOTS of service opportunities

Do you need fresh ideas on where to find meaningful volunteer work? The Fairfax County volunteer website has a special section listing volunteer opportunities for people who are interested in the environment, parks, recreation, or sports. 

You will need to register, but it only takes 10-15 minutes to complete the application. Dozens of opportunities qualify for FMN service hours (e.g., volunteering at our county parks, rec centers and other public lands).  

Don’t forget to check the County website for new opportunities from time to time; you can even search for opportunities by date.  If you see more than you can do yourself, share them with the rest of us!

Review of Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren

Reviewed by Sarah Glassco

Lab Girl (2016, 512 pp) recounts the life and career of a research scientist in the field of  geobiology. Because her roots are relevant to her present, Jahren writes about  her childhood in Minnesota, where she was raised in an unemotional, uncommunicative family. She spent her days with her mother, who gardened to put food on the table and studied literature to earn a college degree by correspondence course. In the evenings, Jahren played in her father’s laboratory. (He taught college physics and earth science.) Here she felt she “transformed from a girl into a scientist,” so she took the necessary steps to become a plant scientist with a gift for writing. Her anecdotes are as compelling as her insights. Clear-sighted, funny, and unromantic, she describes the professional challenges for a female scientist.

A failed experiment early in her career caused her to shift her approach to botanical research. “I tried to visualize a new environmental science that was not based on the world that we wanted with plants in it, but instead based on a vision of the plants’ world with us in it.” Much of what we study in our master naturalist training backs up this sensibility. The whole field of ecology is based on understanding the complex interrelationships of unique organisms. In our naturalist training lecture on botany, we learned about the importance of fungal mychorrizae to the growth of plants. We also learned that the invasive garlic mustard is particularly destructive because it poisons the arbuscular fungal mychorrizae on which many native plants rely.

Science is complex, but good storytellers like Jahren make it as simple as possible. To this end, she structured the book in layers, with essays about plant lives that parallel phases in her life and career. She recounts the latest research into plants, and gives us glimpses of discoveries that are changing scientific ideas about their natures.

Her observation that “perhaps I was destined to study plants for decades only in order to more fully appreciate that they are beings we can never truly understand” is relevant to all of us, no matter where we are in our own quests to be worthy, engaged participants in the natural world. Now, when I see a maple tree, I remember that the saplings beneath it rely on water drawn up and shared from the mature tree’s roots for their survival. When I see a willow tree, I remember that its annual growth rate is nearly twice that of its closest competitor, and that it stores nutrient reserves in older branches and sheds them to send colonists out into the world.

You too will be amazed by the stories this masterful naturalist tells, and inspired to share her appreciation of plants as complex beings with lives of their own.

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Invasive cleanups at Salona Meadows

There are several volunteer opportunities coming up to help control invasive plants at Salona Meadows in McLean. Alan Ford, president of the Potomack Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society, leads the Saturday cleanups on the following dates:  Feb. 17, Mar. 3, Mar. 17, and Mar. 31. Volunteers will work from 11 a.m. to about 1:30 or 2 p.m.

Email Alan at amford@acm.org if you’re interested! The property is protected by a conservation easement that Northern Virginia Conservation Trust monitors, and it is slated to become a Fairfax County Park.  Salona Meadows is located on Dolley Madison Blvd. and Buchanan Street, and parking is available at Trinity United Methodist Church, just across the street.

College Scholarships for Natural Resource/Conservation Students

The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts annually offers several $1,000 scholarships to graduating high school seniors for college study. The scholarships support studies related to natural resource conservation. Fairfax County students must submit their applications to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, which will select one student for consideration by the state committee. Applications can be found online and are due by March 12, 2018.

Apply for the 2018 Youth Conservation Camp

For over 35 years, the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts has sponsored a week long summer conservation camp in July for Virginia high school students on the campus of Virginia Tech. The camp provides a week of learning about Virginia’s natural resources from conservation professionals and university faculty. Youth Conservation Camp is a selective program. Interested students must send their applications to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, whose staff will select which students will attend and be eligible for partial scholarships. The pre-scholarship cost is $550.

Rain Barrel Spring Workshop Dates Announced

The Northern Virginia Rain Barrel Partners’ have announced the spring dates for their popular build-your-own workshops and pre-made rain barrel sale. Build-your-own workshops will be held on March 24th and April 14th, and the pre-made barrel sale will be April 20th-21st. Online registration and ordering will open in early-to-mid February.

Get ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count!

Enjoy observing local birds? You can make your observations count. The Great Backyard Bird Count, running from February 16-19 is a fun, free, family-friendly event that asks us to observe and count the birds in our backyards, building balconies, parks, schools–anywhere we may find them. Learn how to sign up and get started counting here.

Help spread the word with pre-made resources here.

In support of the bird count, DC Audubon is organizing a bird walk on Saturday, February 17 at 10:00 am at the U.S. Arboretum. For details and other updates, sign up here.

Join citizen scientists around the world for this annual tradition!

See the Tundra Swans at Mason Neck

 Saturday, February 10, 2018, 2:00 PM

Woodmarsh Trail, Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge

 

Join the Friends of Mason Neck State Park on Saturday, February 10 on a walk to see the Tundra Swans! Each year, the Mason Neck area is host to one of Northern Virginia’s largest concentrations of Tundra Swans. Depending on the day, you may see between 200 and 400 swans and hear their haunting calls. You will also see other waterfowl, including Northern Pintails, American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Black Ducks and Mallards — and who knows what else? Bring your binoculars if you have them. If not, there will be binoculars and telescopes for people to share. The tide will be high when the group gets there, which will maximize the likelihood that the birds will be close.

The group will gather at the Woodmarsh parking lot at 2:00 PM. It is on the left of High Point Road about a quarter mile BEFORE the Mason Neck State Park Contact Station. It is about a 1-mile walk on level ground to the bird blind at the marsh.

There is no charge for the hike, and there is no need to pay the State Park entrance fee since the group will be outside the park.

Review of Act on Climate, by Michaela Zint, on Coursera

Reviewed by Tami Sheiffer

I’d taken a lot of Coursera classes for fun and personal edification before I was a Fairfax Master Naturalist and could get continuing education credit for them. Act on Climate, taught by Michaela Zint of the University of Michigan, is the Coursera class I would recommend to the broadest audience because it encourages students to put what they learn from the class into practice. I’ve found that it has had more impact on my daily life than other classes have—by encouraging lifestyle changes like eating less meat, and introducing me to new groups and volunteer opportunities in my community. I would recommend this class to family or friends who may be interested in living in a more environmentally friendly way, without getting bogged down in heavy climate science.

The first week’s introductory material briefly covers the science of climate change, and introduces the concepts of mitigation and adaptation. But it quickly turns to the focus of the course, which is not the science of climate change but steps to take action.

The next four weeks of the class are topical, covering food, energy, transportation, and the built environment. For each topic, material about climate impact is covered, as are steps to reduce the climate impact. The solutions suggested for each topic are divided into type of action: individual, community, political, and adaptation. The solutions are all ones that students can put into action themselves, individually or together with others in their community. So political action may be something like attending a town hall or writing a letter to a representative, not the larger political actions that a state or country should take.

For example, we learn that we can act individually to reduce our energy usage with energy efficient appliances or by minimizing drafts in our homes, and act in our community by seeking out community-supported agriculture and community gardens. We can take action politically by attending a transit authority meeting, and we can practice adaptation actions by planting trees.

Even if much of the information was not new to me, I appreciated that this class prompted me to look into resources and opportunities for action in my community, and to make a plan to act. Because of this class, I discovered resources and groups in this area that I was previously unaware of. I learned that Fairfax County Libraries have thermal cameras available for residents to borrow to check for drafts and hot spots in their homes. I discovered Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture near me–I had unknowingly driven past it many times because it is not visible from the road—and I began volunteering there. And I came across the Fairfax Master Naturalists website, which led me to fill out an application.

Act on Climate has short quizzes to check understanding, and at the end of each unit the student is asked “What Actions Did you Take?” The culmination of the class, during the sixth week, is the creation of a peer-graded “Personal Climate Action Plan.” The class wraps up with a conclusion in the 7th week. Discussion in the forums is encouraged but not required to pass the class. The Personal Climate Action Plan makes up 40% of the final grade, and quizzes compose the rest of the grade. As with other Coursera classes, you may take the class and receive a grade for free as long as you don’t need the Statement of Accomplishment.

This class counts toward Master Naturalist continuing education credits.

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