Look at Your Trout Lilies!

The trout lilies are blooming! This is a good sign that spring is really here, and a great time to go out in the woods and check out all the spring ephemerals before the mosquitoes come out.

Trout lilies also provide a great opportunity to do a little bit of citizen science. The Trout Lily Project is collecting basic data on some plant characteristics where you live to answer questions about plant-to-plant variation and pollen trails.

I think I’ve only ever seen red-orange anthers, but now I have to go out and check!

All you have to do is go outside and take a look at the trout lilies nearest you and see whether they have red or yellow anthers (don’t worry— it’s easy to tell!). You’ll make a few observations (detailed on the site if you have questions) on the following:

  • Date of observation
  • Location information
  • Number of flowers observed
  • Presence of yellow anthers
  • Presence of red-orange anthers
  • Estimated percent of anthers that are yellow
  • Distance covered
  • Photos (optional)

Once you do that, you enter your observations through the CitSci.org website. And then… you automatically become A SCIENTIST!!!

Please go look, post your data, and then tell us what you found!

Experience Real, Not Virtual, Nature

I am excited that the most recent episode of  The Big Bang Theory (s. 9, ep. 20) highlighted some science about the health benefits of spending time in nature. It starts off with Sheldon wearing a virtual reality headset to spend time in a fabricated nature in order to get the brain-boosting benefits and hesitant to go experience real nature because of the “mosquitoes, bees, bears, snakes, possums, poison oak, and … teenagers with guitars.”

As virtual reality technology grows, is it possible that people may actually choose to go this route? I have trouble imagining it, but it seems plausible. My cell phone came pre-programmed with tracks of nature sounds. There are also entire TV channels showing documentaries of cheetahs and lemurs living in places on the other side of the planet Continue reading “Experience Real, Not Virtual, Nature”

Nearest Nature: Spend Time in Your Yard

Do you want to spend more time in nature? If so, forget the scenic  vistas , popular parks, and wild destinations; there’s is an enormity of nature in your yard, even if it is the size of a postage stamp.

Here’s a starter list of ideas for easy ways to get more time outside.

  • Garden or tend plants
  • Watch or feed wildlife and birds
  • Paint or draw
  • Read
  • Cook
  • Run around and play
  • Entertain guests
  • Climb a tree
  • Play in the snow
  • Play with water
  • Collect plants
  • Cut flowers
  • Sit and contemplate
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Build or use a tree house
  • Grow food
  • Exercise
  • Roll down a hill
  • Spend time with pets
  • Raise animals
  • Relax
  • Nap
  • Play lawn games
  • Slack line
  • Zip line!
  • Sleep out overnight (tent optional)
What do you like to do in your yard?

Three Versions of Spring

After a long streak of no-travel, I had a long streak with travel. Three weeks of travel in a four-week period, seven states, lots and lots of meetings. It was fun, but it was exhausting.

The highlight? Experiencing early spring in three different locations.


Spring #1: Walden Pond

During my trip across much of New England, I finally had time to stop in and check out Walden Pond. It was about time, as after several starts and a long year of pecking away at it, I finally finished reading Walden

I think I largely read it out of obligation—after all, it’s one of those books that everyone seems to reference when it comes to nature, self-reliance, or sticking it to the man. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but it was good enough and I’m glad that I read it.

I went in late March, and it truly was an early spring day.

There was snow, but also bare ground. This was particularly noticeable on Walden Pond itself, where the ice was melting away from the shore in the sun along the north edge of the lake, while the south end remained solid in the shadows and a few ice fishermen stood out on the ice fiddling with their gear.

Walden Pond in early, early sping.
Walden Pond in early, early spring.
It was amazing to see bare ground on south-facing slopes. Bare ground!!
It was amazing to finally see bare ground on south-facing slopes after months of winter!
Foot selfie at Walden Pond!
Foot selfie at Walden Pond!
A current view from near the site of Thoreau's cabin.
A current view from near the site of Thoreau’s cabin.
A replica of the cabin, near the parking area.
A replica of the cabin, near the parking area.

Spring #2:  The Sand Counties

After my trip to New England and a brief time at home, we went back to central Wisconsin for the first time since last spring. Inspired by finishing Walden and some references to Aldo Leopold at the forestry meetings I attended in New England, I decided it was time to begin rereading A Sand County Almanac. 

So on the drive south, I started reading the book aloud as Sexy drove, which is much harder than audiobooks would suggest. When I needed a break, I looked at maps of Wisconsin’s ecological landscapes to verify that I’d in fact grown up in the same landscape as described in the book, making the phenological descriptions of the seasons that I was reading all the more pertinent.

Perhaps as a result of that, and/or some severe cabin fever, I think we spent more time outside exploring the area than we had in nearly all previous visits combined. We walked across much of a field adjacent to my parent’s house where I spent so much time outside growing up. We visited the monkey tree—a large, gawky willow that arches over the crik—that was at one time the world’s best climbing tree. We circled around the edges of my brother’s forty acres in our rubber boots with the dogs. We went to a small lake and looked at hundreds of ducks (his favorite) with binoculars and listened to cranes (my favorite).

At dusk on Easter, we listened for woodcock and watched the sky dance (just like Aldo).

The marsh. This is home.
The crik, the marsh, and the river.

Spring #3: At Home, Finally

After feeling the first bits of spring in other places, I was glad that I didn’t miss too much of it at home. We tapped trees before I started traveling, and I was home for bits and pieces of the change in season. There were signs that spring was coming: melting snow, a mud pit in the front yard, my first bike ride of the year, and even pulling the maple taps from the trees this weekend.

But it really wasn’t spring until today . That’s when I stepped out on the porch this morning and the woods were almost entirely rid of snow. As of today, only the teensiest patches of snow remain—the locations of old banks and piles that are barely holding on. Now it’s spring.

Other signs that calendar spring has been replaced by actual spring? It’s the first day I worked in the garden, raking beds and assessing where to begin this year’s planting. It’s the first day that the water to the hose spigot was turned on, since the need for outdoor running water is now greater than the risk of freezing pipes. It was the first day of sitting on the porch, and not inside, to write.

And, yes, it was also the first day of the mosquito, who knew enough about spring to find me sitting on the porch.

The woods behind our house (and all bare ground!).
The woods behind our house (and all bare ground!).