Hoot Owl Hoot, by Peaceable Kingdom

Reviewed by Marilyn Kupetz

I heard about Hoot Owl Hoot from a colleague with a 3-year-old, and I live in a neighborhood with lots of small fry who come visit. A cooperative rather than a competitive game (think oxytocin rather than cortisol) to play with my guests? Eco-friendly packaging? Nature-friendly theme? Fifteen-minute time commitment?

Had to try it out. My test subjects over several sessions were one 3-year-old, three 8-year-olds, one 33-year-old, one 56-year-old, and me.

The goal of Hoot Owl Hoot as a game is to help six young owls make it back to their nest before the sun rises. The goal of Hoot Owl Hoot as an activity is to make it possible for the players to help each other help those owls. 

Because the luck of the draw tends to interfere in competitive games, in this one, any player can move any owl. In fact, the instructions suggest that players be encouraged to talk about their hands and plan their strategy together. The game dynamics otherwise lend themselves to the skills and emotional cadence of pre-school- and elementary-age children and others who are young at heart. No reading necessary as the board and pieces are graphical.

Feedback from the test group: 

  • “I want a sun card!” (3-year-old)
  • “Oh, wow, we can help each other?!” (8-year-old)
  • “Cute!” (56-year-old)

Pluses: if you lose a piece, Peaceable Kingdom will replace it gratis. The entire kit is biodegradable.

The game reinforces the most central message of the human role in nature and nurture: We are all in this together.

 

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Encourage students to submit to Next Gen Capture Conservation Film Contest 2018

 The American Conservation Film Festival is sponsoring its annual  youth-targeted short film initiative to encourage young people ages 5 to 18 to explore their relationship with nature and the world around them through the medium of film and video. Deadline for submissions: 1 September 2018

Submission Guidelines 

1. All films must be uploaded to Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/groups/456630 and submitted online no later than September 1, 2018. 

2. Films cannot exceed four minutes in length, including credits. 

3. All films must be produced in 2017 or 2018 and feature the entrant’s relationship with environmental, cultural, and/or historic conservation. The theme is intentionally wide-reaching to allow for diverse creativity, interpretation, and message. 

4. All youth submitting films must be age 18 or younger on the day the film is submitted. Actors or interviewees in the film can be any age. If working under the direction of a teacher, mentor, or parent, that person must describe his/her role in detail. 

5. Film categories are: Students age 10 & under; students age 11 to 14; students age 15 to 18; and team projects of two or more students (up to 5 persons) age 18 or under. 

6. All entries must be accompanied by a submission form including student name, age, mailing address, email address (if applicable), phone number, and title of film. 

7. The film must be accompanied by the tagline “This film was created for the American Conservation Film Festival – Next Gen Capture Conservation Contest” in the credits. 

8. All videos must be the original work of the entrant. Entrants should NOT use music, graphics, or footage that was created by others without obtaining rights (a license) to use it. 

9. Winning filmmakers will be asked to sign a release form granting the American Conservation Film Festival the rights to use, display or distribute the film. The American Conservation Film Festival does not limit the original creator’s use of the work in any way. 

10. Entrants can help promote their film and the contest using the hashtag #NextGenCaptureConservation on social media sites. 

Learn more

Your field guide to battle ticks in Fairfax County

Tick-tock… According to mother nature’s clock, it is tick season again, which means it is time to start thinking about protection and prevention.

Ticks are a concern every spring and summer because they can transmit infections that can cause people to become sick. Lyme disease is still the best known and most common disease spread by ticks in Virginia, but there are others such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis.

Factors like weather, habitat and the availability of host animals can affect the tick population from year-to-year and make it hard to predict their numbers. “What we do know is that ticks are found throughout our area, so it’s important to take steps to prevent tick bites when you are working or playing outdoors,” says Josh Smith, an environmental health supervisor with the Health Department.

There are three tick species regularly found in Fairfax County that can transmit disease to humans:

Black-legged or Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)
Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)
American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

Learn about tick behavior, how to avoid tick bites, and more!

Reston joins the Biophilic Cities Network with the help of Virginia Master Naturalists

Doug Britt

In his 1984 book, Biophilia, Harvard ecologist E. O. Wilson popularized the premise that people need contact with nature and that humans are inherently hard-wired for this attraction. Since then, the scientific community has reported that humans derive substantial physiological, psychological, and behavioral benefits from interacting with nature. More recently the concept of biophilia has taken root in the fields of architecture and urban planning. 

Building on the concept of biophilia, Dr. Timothy Beatley (Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities, School of Architecture, University of Virginia) suggests that, as people across the globe become ever more urban, making life sustainable requires increasing the density and compactness of urban centers to reduce our energy use and carbon footprint.  The task of increasing urban density while simultaneously remaining in contact with nature is such a challenge that Beatley argues calls for a different approach to urban design. He suggests creatively incorporating nature into the daily lives of their residents, an activity already underway in many progressive large cities. To this end, he has spearheaded a project that attempts to link such cities together to help them share their experiences and become even healthier and more resilient communities. The resulting Biophilic Cities Network currently has 13 participating cities around the world, with many more in the application stage in an effort to join. 

In Virginia, Reston led the way into the Biophilic Cities Network 

In 2018, Reston officially became the 13th partner community, joining such biophilic cities as Singapore;  Sydney (Australia); Wellington (New Zealand); Oslo (Norway); Edmonton (Canada);  Portland; San Francisco; Austin; and Washington, DC. Dr. Beatley presented the Reston Association Board of Directors with the Biophilic Cities Network certificate on 22 March 2018. 

In 2017, Reston Association (RA) charged its Environmental Advisory Committee with the task of assessing and documenting the environmental conditions of the community to establish a baseline against which future changes could be measured. Consequently, the Committee formed a nine-member Working Group [the Reston Annual State of the Environment Report (RASER) Working Group] to undertake this task.  Among the group members were six Fairfax Chapter VMN program graduates: Doug Britt, Don Coram, Robin Duska, Linda Fuller, Lois Phemister, and Claudia Thompson-Deahl. 

The final 2017 RASER was published in July 2017. It evaluated 16 separate environmental attributes of the Reston community, concluding with a postscript arguing that Reston is a biophilic community by design and intent of its founding principles. Reston’s particular way of connecting its natural areas to its residents (through its many walking paths, trails, Nature Center, recreation areas, and education/outreach programs) maximizes such connectivity and promotes more frequent, longer duration, and more immersive interactions. The preservation of Reston’s green spaces also creates healthy viewscapes from much of the built environment. 

The RASER authors recommended to the RA Board of Directors that they consider applying for inclusion in the Biophilic Cities Network. The Board accepted the recommendation and tasked the RASER Project Director, Doug Britt, with drafting the application. Britt then contacted Dr. Beatley and explained the many ways Reston manages and monitors its natural resources and promotes connectivity between its residents and its natural areas. Dr. Beatley indicated an application from the RA would be given serious consideration.  

How the application process works

The application involves an official resolution by a city’s mayor (or a community’s primary governing body) stating that the community intends to join the Network and become a biophilic partner community. It requires documenting the key ways the community already is biophilic. It requires a statement of goals and aspirations for the future. It also requires specifying at least five different biophilic metrics that will be collected and annually reported.  

The successful applicant is expected to share best practices; participate annually in at least one webinar, workshop, or Skype/conference call; respond to requests for assistance from partner communities, if possible; host visits from delegations from other partner cities; attend where/when possible yearly or semi-yearly Biophilic Cities World Conferences; assist individuals and organizational members of the Network; and other expectations consistent with serving as a leader in the Biophilic Cities Movement.

There is a nominal $250 application processing fee, and the applicant must identify an individual to serve as the primary Biophilic Cities Network Coordinator.   

Your community may benefit as much as ours has 

The benefits include the ability to share best practices, lessons learned, and effective policies with other progressive urban communities. It identifies the community as a leader in the international biophilic movement. And it is designed to promote urban development strategies that improve public health, enhance environmental quality, and create a more resilient and productive community.

Additionally, ever more large corporations are adopting a biophilic philosophy, creating more productive and healthy work environments, and using biophilic architecture to recruit and retain employees in a competitive labor market. Being designated as a biophilic community may help attract such progressive companies, further strengthening a community’s commitment to see its residents connect with nature where they work, live, and play. 

There are certainly other communities in the Commonwealth that have biophilic attributes and a desire to protect and enhance their connectivity to nature. It would be wonderful if Virginia could become the first state to have multiple communities designated as partners in the Biophilic Cities Network.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors, by David G. Haskell

Reviewed by Ann DiFiore

“To listen to the songs of trees is to know their communities, their network of family of which we and our voices are members”

David Haskell’s most recent book, The Songs of Trees (2017, 252 pp) continues his examination of forests and the interconnectedness of organisms. This book, however, is marked by a feeling of particular urgency as he explores not only the natural history of trees, living and dead, wild and cultivated, but the impact of climate change, deforestation, and political pressures on trees, the populations that depend on them, and the planet as a whole.

Haskell divides his work into three parts. Part I profiles individual trees and their environments, from the rainforest to the boreal forest; part 2 covers living and fossilized trees; and part 3 introduces cultivated, or urbanized, trees, ranging from cottonwoods to bonsai.

By tree songs, Haskell means the music of water, sunlight, insects, rock, machinery, fungi—every living and non-living thing with which trees interact. For example, the rainforest’s Ceiba pentandra tree’s song incorporates the rush and patter of rain flowing from canopy to roots, across the myriad bromeliads, ferns, and philodendrons that make this tree ecosystem a “sky lake.”

Sensors on the trunk of a Bradford pear growing at 86th and Broadway records the rumbles of the subway beneath its roots and the screech and blare of taxis hurdling down neighboring thoroughfares. A ponderosa pine’s melody combines the whine of windswept needles, the grating of a sapsucker probing for ants, the pop of wood cells thirsty for water, the grinding of beetles under its bark.

For Virginia Master Naturalists Haskell’s book serves as both inspiration and guide to ways in which we can enlighten and engage the public. By helping people interact with trees and experience them—seeing, listening, touching, smelling, tasting– the trees become animate. When we educate the public on their role as living community centers, we communicate their value and the interconnectedness of all lives.

As in The Forest Unseen, Haskell provides fascinating insights into the ecology and evolution of the forest. In this book, human attitudes and ethics vis a vis their environment play prominent and compelling roles. To the Waori people of Ecuador, ”the Ceiba is the tree of life in their creation story “ (p. 16). They view the forest as a whole organism, made up of living things, “spirits and dreams:” that can only exist cooperatively (p. 18).

While Haskell believes that few Westerners can match the Waori’s connectedness to their environment, he implores humankind to try harder to interact, learn, and care for the trees and ecosystems vital to our survival. The abandonment of centuries-old olive groves on the West Bank epitomizes the upheaval and loss that occurs when populations are uprooted, due to environmental or political change.  A loss, he laments, of both their knowledge and identification with the land. While he addresses the exploitation of both rainforests and boreal forest, which he describes as our last and greatest terrestrial carbon store, Haskell looks for signs of redemption among the devastation. The fossilized redwood in Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument that mesmerizes a young girl and her family is a promise of engagement. Street trees in New York championed by the people who value their shade and flowers give him hope.

Like the Yamaki Japanese white pine, a bonsai tended by the Yamaki family for four hundred years and gifted to the US National Arboretum by the government of Japan, trees are “living strands of relationship.” The tree survived the bombing of Hiroshima and is now a symbol of friendship between the two nations. While carefully cultivated and often non-native, bonsai’s miniaturized forms let viewers access trees in a way that is more personal, more intimate.  “Trees are masters of integration, connecting their cells into the soil, the sky, and thousands of other species.“(p. 153).  Haskell’s book will strengthen FMNs’ resolve to help  their communities renew those strands of relationship.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Explore, Learn, and Record with iNaturalist

Reviewed by Ana Ka’Ahanui

As naturalists, we have many tools out there to help us record, learn and share information about the nature we love. One of my favorite tools is a free app called iNaturalist, aka iNat, available for iPhone and Android. Easy to navigate and with a simple interface, the app makes recording my nature observations on hikes and other outings fast and painless. After snapping a few photos and entering some basic information, I can share my findings on iNaturalist and its community of over 575,000 users worldwide.

You don’t have to be an expert to use it because one of iNat’s nifty features is crowdsourcing identifications. Not sure of that bird you just posted about? No problem! iNat bird lovers and ornithologists can see your post and help you out by suggesting an ID. The more people that validate your finding, “Yes, that’s an Eastern Bluebird!,” the faster your observation becomes “research grade.” So why not become a citizen scientist and share info about the kinds of critters you love? Your findings can be added to almost 7.7 million observations and over 140,000 observed species. Not only will you be contributing to science, you’ll be helping to map out our region’s biodiversity.

While I enjoy using iNat to keep track of my personal observations, I also love using it for local bioblitzes and events such as the City Nature Challenge, a friendly annual contest among cities to record the most nature over a 4-day period. I encourage you to download the app and practice making observations before the next City Nature Challenge, which runs from Friday, 27 April through Monday, 30 April. The national capital area is competing against over 60 other cities around the country and the world to make the most observations, identify the most species, and recruit the most volunteers. With your help, we can put the DC metro area, including 15 counties in Northern Virginia, at the top of the leader board!

Edge of Extinction, by Two Sisters in the Wild  

Reviewed by Kristina Watts

Looking for a fun and low-maintenance game to play with young naturalists or to get kids excited about nature? On a whim, I picked up Edge of Extinction (2017, 15-30 minutes playing time) for my kids, because visiting national parks is one of our family’s big things and anything that teaches about ecosystems is fun to us. I was afraid that it would be one of those educational tools that the kids can see right through and refuse to play. I was wrong. My three sons, nature lovers all, immediately opened their packs and started to play. And LOVED it.

At first, the rules seemed complicated, but in this age of Pokémon and Magic the Gathering, the 10-year olds had no trouble. The object is to earn the most points by building the most complicated ecosystem within 10 rounds. Each player must have their own deck of cards, which represent a park or regional area. The cards depict ecological regions (e.g., forest, running water, grassland) plants, animals, fungi, and humans (e.g., botanist, woodsman) that are likely to be found in that area. Each card represents something that affects the ecosystem, either positively or negatively. Each turn, players draw a card and play as many from their hand that they can.

Players start with a region, the foundation of the ecosystem. The plants are the next easiest to play, as they may simply require a region. It gets more complicated as animals require certain combinations of regions, plants, and other conditions. The human cards have powers of protection (e.g., the botanist protects ecosystems from invasive plant species.) Within several rounds, the ecosystems grow robustly. (Competitive players can always throw out a multi-player card like Early Frost to slow down their opponent.) Players learn about relationships and dependencies within their ecosystem as they play. Different decks introduce players to different species and conditions of that area. My son Logan particularly enjoys the “Did You Know” questions on the Region cards with fun facts that he can share.

This game is recommended for ages 10 and up, with each game taking 15-30 minutes. The fact that the game was invented by two young nature-loving girls  just makes it more appealing. My 10-year olds had so much fun with it that I ordered two more decks so my husband and I could join in.

I would recommend this game as a tool for teachers to have in their classrooms as well as for young master naturalist-in-training family fun night.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Review of Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and Citizens Can Save the Planet, by Carl Pope and Michael Bloomberg

Reviewed by Wendy Cohen

Climate of Hope (2017, 277 pp) avoids the usual gloom-and-doom discussion around climate change by offering up two premises: First, if we shift the focus from international treaties to projects in local municipalities, much work can be done to mitigate climate change. Second, rather than view the multiple causes of climate change as problematic, seeing them as numerous opportunities for solving the problem of rising earth temperatures can help us make headway with the problem. Every sector of society can help with climate protection. In other words, “think globally, act locally,” and above all, act. These two tenets are also at the core of the work of master naturalists.

Citing example after example of actions that have had a proven positive impact, Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and current head of Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Carl Pope, longtime environmental activist and former executive director of the Sierra Club, give the reader cause for hope in the fight against environmental threats causing rising temperatures. In addition to showing how innovative public/private partnerships have helped fund greener technologies, Climate of Hope points to the natural world as “an enormous, largely unread library of solutions.”

Bloomberg and Pope show examples of something naturalists have long known: investing in more sustainable agriculture and forestry practices is key to combating climate change. In their words, maintaining healthy ecosystems allows them to “do what they are equipped to do–suck carbon out of the atmosphere and turn it into soil and vegetation”(p. 178). One example they give is mangroves: According to their research, if half of what has been lost of the mangroves found mostly in Asia were restored, 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide could be stored, a number that matches total U.S. emissions each year! An additional advantage would be greater protection of the tropical coastline from typhoons.

Climate of Hope demonstrates how local efforts to protect our ecosystem can have a ripple effect. Promoting environmental stewardship goes a long way in helping to counter rising global temperatures. This book validates the work of master naturalists.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

Review of The Forest Unseen, by David George Haskell

Reviewed by Ann DiFiore

A square meter of Tennessee forest can give us insights into all forests.

This is the premise of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (2012, 288 pp). Haskell, Professor of Biology at Sewanee, the University of the South, visits a corner of old growth forest every few days over the course of a year to record his observations. Inspired by the intricate sand paintings, or mandalas, created by Tibetan monks to represent the cosmos, Haskell lays down a hula hoop to mark the boundaries of his mandala. Armed with a hand lens, he uncovers within this microcosm stories of creation, evolution, adaptation, life unexplored, and man’s relationship to the natural world.

For Master Naturalists, this book deserves a place of honor on our bookshelves, alongside A Sand County Almanac and other classics of ecology/natural science. Through Haskell’s penetrating lens, readers are able to see and appreciate the often unseen organisms that populate the forest’s soil and upper layers. He then switches to a wide-angle lens, educating the reader on larger ecological issues and emphasizing always the interconnectedness of life on our planet.

In his January 1 entry, “Partnerships,” Haskell discusses the amazingly successful union of fungi and algae—the “world-conquering” lichens and the first living thing he encounters in the mandala. Lichens cover 10% of the earth’s surface. How symbiotic relationships push evolution forward–microbes living in digestive tracts, the interdependence of fungi and plants—is a recurring theme in the book.Humans, he notes wryly, “… are lichens on a grand scale” (p. 5).

A sense of humor infuses his writing. In “Faces,” he reluctantly confesses to finding a trio of young raccoons adorable (naturalists aren’t supposed to make such judgments)—and then analyzes human responses to animals. In “Earthstar” he debates removing golf balls from the mandala and decides to allow geological forces to return them to their elements, reminding us that humans are part of nature and “our biggest failing is a lack of compassion for the world, including ourselves” (p. 158).

Haskell’s sense of wonder at nature’s ingenuity and variety is evident in each entry. The firefly’s incandescence, the turkey vulture’s ability to destroy anthrax bacteria and cholera viruses through digestion, the snail’s reproductive strategies—fascinate him, and his enthusiasm is infectious.

Haskell takes the scientific community to task for its alarm cry that the recent rise in deer population is ruining our forests. He argues that historical and archaeological records point to deer being plentiful inhabitants until the 1800s, when they had been extirpated. “The deerless forests of the early and mid-1900s were aberrations” (p. 31). For 50 million years, large mammalian browsers—wood bison, oxen, tapirs, peccaries, herbivorous bears, and mastodons—feasted on forests until they were hunted into extinction. Only the deer remain. In “Flowers,” he credits deer for dispersing wild flowers from their post Ice Age home along the Gulf Coast across the continent, arguing that ants who travel little more than a few feet from their nests would not have been able to accomplish the task so quickly.

The author laments that while science informs and educates us, it does not help us “listen” to nature. In “Epilogue,” Haskell urges us to create our own mandalas for ecological exploration. His advice: To leave behind expectations and to be present—see, listen, smell—and return, over and over again.

“The desire to name, understand, and enjoy the rest of the community of life is part of our humanity. Quiet observation of living mandalas offers one way to rediscover and develop this inheritance” (p. 245).

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.

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.

Want to review a resource? We’d love to hear from you. Instructions for submission await your click and commitment.