Natura Longa, Vita Brevis

‘Natura Longa, Vita Brevis’ – this aphorism literally translates to ‘nature is long, life is short’. Meaning that nature will be around forever and we as human caretakers (and naturalists) have but only our lifetimes to nurture it. As John Muir wrote in his journal, My First Summer in the Sierra:

“What pains are taken to keep this wilderness in health, — showers of snow, showers of rain, showers of dew, floods of light, floods of invisible vapor, clouds, winds, all sorts of weather, interaction of plant on plant, animal on animal, etc., beyond thought!”

Of course, John Muir was journaling about how natural forces are in constant motion as a systemic, cyclical process of self-preservation but as the aphorism implies, we must be stewards of nature and take pains to ensure those natural processes stay in motion by actively sustaining the health and vitality of our earth’s natural mechanisms.

Cathy Ledec

To that end, Cathy Ledec (FMN 2017) has worked tirelessly for many years to “keep this wilderness in health” and will be honored on November 20th with the 2020 Sally Ormsby Environmental Stewardship Award recognizing her 17 years of volunteer service at Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) and for the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA). The award will be presented at the 2020 Elly Doyle Virtual Awards Ceremony.

As the award letter points out, “Cathy’s outstanding leadership and volunteerism, including President of Friends of Huntley Meadows Park (FOHMP), have contributed significantly to the long-term preservation of natural resources at Huntley Meadows (HMP) and throughout Fairfax County. Her advocacy on behalf of the Fairfax County Park Authority has successfully educated many about the importance of a healthy environment in maintaining Fairfax County’s high quality of life for residents, businesses and visitors. Her work is firmly focused on improving the environment and on protecting and restoring irreplaceable natural resources, including native wildlife.”

Cathy has contributed to a wide spectrum of high-impact causes such as supporting FCPA budget proposals, defending parkland from development, hands-on field projects, and serving on advisory boards or commissions that influence policy as well as others of a simpler type, such as the one I personally took advantage of as I walked the trails at HMP – the donation of a trail side bench.

Trail Bench at HMP

Karen Sheffield, Park Manager (HMP) wrote, “Cathy is a citizen steward. Cathy became a park volunteer at Huntley Meadows in 2003 monitoring bird nesting boxes for species presence and breeding success. Cathy also volunteers at the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center front desk, welcoming visitors, listening to visitor’s park experiences and answering questions, and sharing her expertise and stories with them. Environmental stewardship is one of Cathy’s main messages when interacting with visitors. Cathy also volunteers on large natural resource projects and leads community group projects, like tree plantings. Cathy’s 17-year service to the park has made and continues to make a positive and lasting impact, not only on the natural resources in the park but also on the visitors and volunteers she interacts with. Cathy truly embodies Huntley Meadows Park’s mission: To inspire community engagement through mindful management and meaningful encounters.”

Mary Cortina, former Park Authority Board Liaison to Friends Groups added, “There are so many smart, educated, talented, and passionate people in Fairfax County and it is truly an inspiration to serve in this County, if only to get to know a few of them.  Cathy Ledec stands out because she just works so hard and keeps at it – long after everyone else has called it a day – she’s there with one more letter to write, another tree to plant, another meeting to attend, another park to save, another community to build.  Cathy Ledec is truly a champion for the environment and parks in Fairfax County. We LOVE Parks in Fairfax County, and all the people who work on their behalf, including the staff and volunteers, deserve our gratitude for improving our quality of life.  Thank you for the service you provide to Fairfax County and for recognizing the important contributions of these special volunteers in our community.”

Cathy’s unique ability as an advocate and planner for our county parks coupled with her passion for nature and humble spirit make her a true steward for nature. She encourages others to first identify areas of personal interest and then find out how to get involved in those areas. She suggests checking out web sites such as Friends of Huntley Meadows Park (FOHMP), Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), Volunteer Fairfax, Leadership Fairfax and others as launching points for your volunteer journey. Engaging with fellow VMN colleagues and reviewing the FMN service catalogue are additional resources to identify volunteer service opportunities.  Do you have a favorite county, state, or national park? Perhaps one that is in your immediate vicinity. Starting in your local neighborhood park cuts down on travel and enables you to witness immediate improvement to your community. To expand your horizons, most county and state parks have an associative ‘Friends Group’ that can be joined; this can lead to more service or advocacy opportunities. A Friends Group is not officially sponsored by a park but collaboration is frequent as well as mutually supportive and beneficial. Of course, most parks can be contacted directly to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Another good option would be to join a non-profit board through Volunteer Fairfax for example.  Once opportunities are identified we need only to take the next step to begin our own personal journeys.  Links listed at the end of this article are good examples to get you started.

Cathy’s leadership journey to the Sally Ormsby Award serves as a motivational model that others can follow.  Ledec says, “it is important that each of us find our passion and shape our volunteerism around this.  Learn from every volunteer experience and along the way you will meet many that inspire you to ramp it up to the next level.  Expand your base of knowledge and embark on new adventures.  Along the way you will meet, be inspired by, and learn from others.  Fill your journey with experiences that build on prior activities.  Lead by example and with enthusiasm.  Before you know it, you’ll be the next Sally Ormsby Awardee!”.

Example resource links:



Volunteer Fairfax –

Volunteer FCPA –

Volunteer VA –

Knowledgeable Volunteers Sought for FLAP Pollinator Garden

Photo by Mary Keeser

Lake Accotink Park
7500 Accotink Park Road, Springfield VA
Pollinator garden up the hill from the marina parking lot

Enthusiastic, energetic President of Friends of Lake Accotink Park has transformed the former pollinator garden into a professionally designed, all-native landscape. This garden will become a learning center with a path, interpretive sign, and a “talking box” with buttons to press for plant information. Tri-fold pamphlets will be available for visitors to take to learn to plant a pollinator garden at their homes. Fourteen species await your TLC!

They need: 1) Advice on how to care for the garden, knowing seeds will be dropped.
2) Knowledgeable volunteers to help clean the bed of unwanted plants.

Be part of the forward progress of this inspirational project! To volunteer or learn more, contact Mary Keeser at [email protected].

Master naturalists, obtain service credit under code S105: Accotink Creek Cleanup and Service Projects.

Befriending the butterflies all winter

Article and Mourning Cloak Butterfly photo by Plant NOVA Natives

Where do butterflies go in the winter? If you are picturing the adults hibernating like bears, that’s actually not that far from the truth for a few of them, including Mourning Cloak butterflies. This handsome creature reappears very early in the spring because it overwinters as an adult in crevices of bark or in leaf litter. Most butterflies and moths overwinter as eggs, larvae or pupae, starting off in the tree tops and riding the leaves down in the autumn. Once they land in our yards, what happens next is up to us. To support butterflies, planting the native plants that are their food source is only half the job. The other half is to create the conditions that allow the butterflies and other beings to complete their life cycles.

Many of us were raised to think that dead leaves should be ejected from our yards as quickly as possible. The concern was that they would smother the grass. Green grass all winter was seen as a sign of a healthy landscape. It turns out that we had that exactly backwards, because the natural color of winter in the Mid-Atlantic is golden brown with a sprinkling of dark green evergreens, not the light green of turf grasses that were imported from Europe. But for those who want a green lawn, dead leaves add valuable organic matter to the soil, making fertilizer unnecessary. It is surprising how quickly dead leaves shrivel up and disappear if there aren’t too many of them. If they are piled too thickly on the grass, they can be spread under shrubs or trees where the shade makes lawn a poor choice anyway, or added to a flower bed, or consolidated in a pile to turn into compost. They can also be left in place on the lawn by mowing them over with the lawn mower, although of course shredding the leaves may also mean shredding the butterflies.

Another landscaping misconception that has been turned on its head is the idea that garden beds need to be “cleaned up” for the winter by cutting the plants down to the ground and removing the stalks. If instead the native plants are left standing over the winter and the leaves left underneath, the garden will provide a source of seeds for the birds and shelter for a myriad of other little critters including native bees and fireflies. What formerly might have been a dead landscape made up of empty mulch beds is transformed into a scene of life and growth, even if most of it is not immediately apparent to the human eye.

In some ways, caring for a landscape that supports life means working less, not more, with less work needed for tidying. Admittedly, humans have devised ways to save even more labor (and labor costs) by turning yards into barren landscapes where every weed is suppressed by chemicals or by thick expanses of toxic mulch that have been sprayed with herbicides, barely a step removed from asphalt in terms of ecological value. Fortunately, as a species we are coming to see that welcoming life into our yards benefits us as well as our fellow beings. For some basic tips on how to achieve these benefits, see the management plan page of the Plant NOVA Natives website.

Call of the Wild Conference, Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference, November 20-22

Eastern painted turtle, photo by M. Prysby

November 20-22, 2020
Cost: $50 for one day, or $100 for all three days.
For More Information, Conference Schedule, and Registration: Wildlife Center of Virginia Call of the Wild Conference

The Wildlife Center of Virginia invites you to the 25th annual Call of the Wild Conference on wildlife rehabilitation, co-sponsored by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Wildlife rehabilitators, veterinary professionals, wildlife biologists, environmental educators, and wildlife enthusiasts from Virginia and beyond will share ideas and knowledge that can benefit wildlife, the environment, and the continually evolving field of wildlife rehabilitation. 

Octobird Fest at The Clifton Institute, webinars October 16th and 30th

Winter Bird Identification
Friday, October 16, 2020
7 – 8 pm
Register here.
$20 registers you for both webinars.

Every season brings its own challenges for birdwatching. In winter similar-looking sparrows can be hard to tell apart and birding by ear becomes more difficult as birds start singing less and calling more. Join the leaders of The Clifton Institute bimonthly bird walks, including Executive Director Bert Harris, to learn some tips for identifying winter birds. Managing Director Eleanor Harris will quiz them with tricky calls and pictures and you can play along as Bert talks through the identification process. And then come out for one of their bird walks and put your new skills to the test!

Evolution and Biology of Bird Song
Friday, October 30, 2020
7 – 8 pm
Register here.
$20 registers you for both webinars.

Bird songs are beautiful and diverse and they have played an important role in the evolution of birds. Bird songs also give us the opportunity to see animals learning and sexual selection in action. In this presentation Managing Director Eleanor Harris, Ph.D., will give an overview on the biology and evolution of bird songs. And she’ll highlight some of the questions about bird songs that scientists still don’t have answers for. Throughout the talk she’ll focus on local examples.

NOVA’s Annual Green Festival 2020, Waste and its Impact on Habitats, October 28th

Photo by Gary Robinette

Wednesday, October 28, 2020
10:15 am – 3 pm
Online – Via Zoom

Free! More information and registration here.

Keynote Speaker: Chad Pregracke – 10:15 a.m.
Cleaning America’s Rivers

Everything Counts / Waste Prevention / Habitat Loss – 11:30 a.m.

Richard Reynolds, Wildlife Biologist, DWR — 1:00 p.m.
Bats and Wind Energy Development

Raptor Lecture / Live Birds – 2:00 p.m.
Secret Garden Birds and Bees

Great Lakes Water Conference, “Water in the Courts,” webinar November 6th

Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

Friday, November 6, 2020
9 am – 12:30 pm
Registration by November 4th required.

Water-related cases of international, national, regional, and local import will be the focus of the 20th Annual Great Lakes Water Conference. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s conference will be conducted virtually online as a live webinar.

Titled “Water in the Courts,” the half-day conference will feature six legal experts addressing litigation about the Enbridge oil pipeline underlying the Straits of Mackinac; an interstate groundwater allocation case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court; the Court’s recent County of Maui decision affecting permitting under the Clean Water Act; challenges to the new federal “waters of the United States” rule, high water levels and flooding in and around Lake Ontario; and the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.

This conference is sponsored by The University of Toledo College of Law and its affiliated Legal Institute of the Great Lakes.

Registration for the conference is free for the public. The deadline for registration is November 4, 2020. For more information and to register, visit the conference webpage.

Friends of Mason Neck State Park Owl Moon Program, Zoom session October 17th

Saturday, October 17, 2020
7 pm
Register here

It’s nearly time for the Friends of Mason Neck State Park’s annual presentation of OWL MOON! This year, they will be bringing the event to you right in your own home using Zoom.

You will meet and learn about all the owls from raptor rehabilitator Secret Garden Birds and Bees, their favorite presenter. A special treat will be the introduction of Phantom – a beautiful barn owl. Find out what makes him unique as you also explore the life of a barred owl, great horned owl, and screech owl.

You will be able to ask questions about all the raptors in the program.
Get the whole family together. This event is appropriate for all ages and is open to the public. Registration is only $10 per person or family, which will help to offset the cost of the program. Don’t miss it!

After you register, they’ll provide you the instructions you’ll need to join the program.

Planning for a Pollinator Landscape, videoconference October 22nd

Thursday, October 22, 2020
Register here.

Join Landscape Designer Barbara Ryan as she addresses questions about creating a good design for a pollinator landscape. Submit your questions on the registration page, and please send photos of the area in question to [email protected]. This videoconference will be recorded and posted to YouTube.

Northern Virginia Conservation Trust Nearby Nature Bioblitz, October 14th – November 14th

Click here to learn more and get started!

Northern Virginia Conservation Trust Nearby Nature Bioblitz, October 14th-November 14th

Northern Virginia Conservation Trust invites you to participate in their first ever BioBlitz! Become a Citizen Scientist by exploring nature and helping gather valuable data in your very own neighborhood.

How? They’ll be using iNaturalist to conduct NVCT’s first ever BioBlitz. With a fun, easy to use app and website, iNaturalist enables people to capture and share information that helps us all learn about nature.

Why? A BioBlitz helps people connect with the nature around them and every observation, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed, can contribute to our understanding of the world around us. All you have to do is observe and have fun.

What? A BioBlitz is an organized communal effort to record as many species as possible within a designated location and time period.

Where? Literally anywhere outdoors in Northern Virginia.

When? October 14 — November 14, 2020