winter’s unappreciated efforts

It has been a dry winter here in the Colorado Front Range. To date, our snowfall is 81% of average and 64% of 2011. Temperatures have been a few degrees higher than normal. Most of the days this January have felt like early spring. Global warming or just a natural cycle? Who the hell knows. My vote is a cycle compounded by global warming. What I do know is that I miss the tranquility and process of snow.

I love spring; the shy auditions of cinquefoils, the bold expression of insect hatches, and the artistic composition of sounds and smells. There is a lightness in emerging and the sense of having survived. I look forward to it every year. This morning, however, while reading Barbara Kingolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (www.AnimalVegetableMiracle.com) I was reminded that what we appreciate in spring are products; the end results of overlooked natural contributions. We regard winter’s, and specifically snow’s, unseen benevolence as a time of inactivity.

Winter is typically thought of as a time of rest. The temperature drops, down comforters make their annual appearance, snow falls, and the crack of logs burning in the fireplace signals a time of quiet. (OK, a bit Norman Rockwell, but you get the idea.) Yet underneath the snow, sandwiched between our shroud of inattention and the circle of life, millions of small processes are preparing the world for the explosion of Spring.

Snow provides a layer of insulation protecting soils from cold, desiccating winds and shelters soil dwelling organisms. These little guys play a significant role is helping to  recycle soil nutrients, such as carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, from dead and decaying plants and animals. The freeze/thaw processes that accompany changes in temperature contribute to aeration and water drainage. Winter is not the poetic death, instead it is a precocious period of preparation.
So, this Spring, when rejuvenation seems so automatic, stop and thank your new friend winter for all the hard work. Oh yea, and pray to Ull for snow.

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3-D (no silly looking glasses needed)

I am not a parent. I have no desire to be, sorry Mom. At the age of 46 this seems a reasonable stance. I am also a PhD student and therefore tend to be on the selfish side of life when it comes to my time. However, the combination of age and lifelong learning has helped me start to appreciate the lessons and perspective children can unknowingly place in your lap.

I spent the Martin Luther King holiday with two of my best friends, their 5 and three-quarter year old daughter and nine year-old son, in Olympia, Washington. I have not spent much time in the Northwestern United States. The threat of fog mixed with rain, everyday, has scared me away. Such is the narrow mindedness of someone who lives in Boulder, Colorado where less than 300 days of sun a year would classify as depressing. However, my desire to catch up with friends rendered geographic threats unimportant.

My PhD research on habitat fragmentation and its impacts on ant communities in Eucalyptus forests takes place in Australia. Notwithstanding the 14 hour plane ride and a distinct change in dialect, I know I have arrived in Australia because the air cradles the sweet smells of eucalyptus and each morning is met with the symphony of Sulfur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) and the Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen). My arrival in the Northwest was no less distinctive. The forests surrounding Olympia gifted me the soft aroma of moss on cedars and fern infused understory supported by rich, dark soil. It was a greeting to cherish.

The arrival at home, after the hour drive from SEA/TAC, was something to remember also. “Hello, Jeffie!” from Cole and a leaping, all encompassing hug from Eleanor signaled the beginning of new friendships. Over the course of the next four days I played witness to the vicissitudes of youth, and the attempts at even-keeled parental navigation through one day liking chicken and the next day hating it, he is on my side of the car, and she is pointing her finger at me. These ebbs were accompanied by the flow of peaceful interaction, including impressive displays of reading, discussions about who founded Rhode Island, and detailed analysis of proper Valentine Day card design.

During one of our outings we visited Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (www.fws.gov/Niaqually/). For the first time in my life I was actually able to pick out bald eagles. I caught myself looking up, smiling, and being fully rooted to the ground amidst the undergrowth. I was, at this very moment, hit with an overwhelming sense of three dimensionality. The day before I had been engulfed in the smells from a new landscape and on this day, I was standing on that same ground, craning my neck to look at two bald eagles sitting observantly in a pine tree. My experience with the children had been similar in many respects. The texture and topography children bring to the world is one to be celebrated and embraced. Nature, too, offers us this dynamic interaction. Natural topography is sometimes steep and unwelcoming, unexpected, daunting. At other times gently rolling, rewarding, informative.
It struck me, that perhaps I have replaced one with the other, children with nature. I still do not want children but I am thankful that Cole and Eleanor expanded my appreciation of the world around me.

corrected vision

A change of scenery. It is a cliche until you feel the heartbeat of the two words that give life to the statement: scenery and change. Every experience has scenery, and all scenery requires interaction of an observer in order to exist. Yet all too often the natural scenery that surrounds us is subliminal background, negative space, surrounding the experience of making it through the day. And when the effort of making it gets too big, and pushes even harder against that negative space, we opt to shift locations, to alter the external artwork, to change where we are in the world.

Desire to change where we are, however, overlooks the high likelihood of seeing the same world wherever we go. The expectation is of a magical force of place altering the motion of plate tectonics and realigning our inner landscape. We may not even realize desire is masking the urge to flee.
It is at this point when we need to take a breath, raise our eyes and encourage the background to come forward, if for just a moment. Notice the subtle way 4 inches of snow peeks and bends over a stone wall. Let the flick of a deer’s ear inform the power of the present. Let the play of squirrels usher in the desire to enjoy where we are. Instead of changing the scenery, try changing the vision.

roots of my blo…

Aside

roots of my blog

ecology/nature

Show people that ecology/nature is always present.

Encourage people to see the interactions and patterns in ecology/nature as a way to understand how we interact with the world around us.