Peace of Nature

Inner turmoil
ends when I see you
 
Swirling storms
calm with your words
 
Floundering spirits
stand strong when you guide along the way
 
Worry dies
when I look into your eyes
 
Confusion clears
when your voice hits my ears
 
Pain becomes
pleasure when your heart touches mine
 
And it does.
 
When I see the leaf sway and hear the singing voice of the breeze and the bird pointing the way to the eye of the storm,  my heart lies safely embraced in the heart of Nature.
 
The heart, voice, eyes, guidance, words and vision of Nature keep us whole.

 

The warmth of the sun

A green leaf, singular, still
While all the others sway in the breeze
This one is motionless, peaceful in the shade of the trees
For it, the chaos around holds no great thrill.

Sun shines down on some
Others are cloaked in shadows
Creating an effect of color that grows and grows
Reminding me once more of the vibrant times yet to come.

Though the wind ‘round us blows
The still leaf is undisturbed still; the others yet sway
Each has its own fate and its own way
Each with its own secret only it knows.

They know all is one
That still and swaying are the same
Even when our thoughts refuse to be tame
We can still feel the warmth of the sun.

Still breeze, thrilling trees
Some shadows to my toes came
They blow and sway and know their own way
One and the same, they cannot tame
the warmth of the sun.

 

Manatees at Wakulla State Park, Florida

While attending the recent Natural Areas Conference in Tallahassee, Florida, naturalist William Hudson and I took a little side trip to Leon Sinks, and then to Wakulla State Park.  Wakulla Springs is the largest and deepest spring in the world, with a flow rate of something like 400,000 gallons per minute of water coming up from the aquifer and creating a river.

The landscape in the park is pristine.  It has never been logged or abused.  There is great wildlife and plant diversity.  If you have seen the old Tarzan movies, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, you know what Wakulla looks and sounds like.

The only disappointment is the aquifer has become nutrient enriched due to land use and wastewater.  The nutrients cause the spring to be green and less clear.  The water used to be crystal clear and you could see in further, but even now it is a wonderful sight to behold. While we were there, we took a little boat ride ($8 per person) and explored the river a bit.

While on the boat, we observed numerous large and small alligators, including the ones pictured here.

Alligators at Wakulla Springs

Alligators at Wakulla Springs

There were also scores of  Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), Grebes, Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga), Ibis…well, you get the point.  It was just great. But the coolest thing of all was that there were manatees everywhere.  We got up close, but none of my pictures really captured the grace of the creatures.  I was able to capture some video from a deck above the spring itself.  Ignore the audio, which is just Bill and I having random conversation, but here are two video clips of the Sea Cows playing in the spring.

 

3 great ways to enjoy Nature in Summer

A beautiful pond in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Visit a park and soak in the serene beauty of the natural landscape all around you.

Now that Summer is upon us, don’t just turn on the air conditioning and crank up the video games. Get outside and connect with Nature!

That doesn’t mean mowing the yard. Take the family or nudge a friend off the couch and go do something fun. Going outside is good for your physical and mental health. Getting immersed in Nature is also soothing to the spirit, and it is a sure way to dissipate stress. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking, and hopefully moving to your door.

Visit a Park

We in Ohio are blessed with a plethora of parks to choose from…Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland Metroparks, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, Hamilton County Park District, and the Columbus and Franklin County Metroparks are just a few of the great places to choose for your next outdoor adventure.

Take a hike to a waterfall

My favorite summertime activity is to check out places with waterfalls. Yes, the flow is sometimes less during the less rainy parts of summer. However, the feeling of coolness and the sounds and sights of rushing water in summer is just soothing and refreshing to me. If waterfalls might tickle your fancy, here are a few trails you might explore to see small waterfalls.

Go Geocaching

Maybe you want some fun and games thrown into your outdoor time. You could try geocaching. All you need is a handheld GPS (Global Postioning System), and the coordinates to a geocache, which you can find on multiple websites, including Geocaching.com.

Any of these will get your blood pumping, allow you to feel the breeze in your hair, and let you feel the sunshine on your skin. The most important thing is to get started. Go out the door and enjoy some Nature today!

 

In search of the elusive Massasauga Rattlesnake

The federal candidate species Massasauga Rattlesnake

A rare Massasauga Rattlesnake found during a scientific survey in northern Ohio

Working with conservationists, biologists, naturalists and other Nature-loving folks has lots of advantages.  A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a small expedition to count and measure Massasauga Rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenatus catenatus) in northeast Ohio.  Because these snakes are a candidate for the federal endangered species list, you can’t just go out and catch them.  You have to have a permit.  So, it was a real treat to get invited along on this little excursion into the wild.

These small rattlesnakes are reclusive and generally hang out in wet meadows and forest edges near wet meadows or old fields.  They do not move far, so the populations of Massasaugas are fairly localized.  That means that if you wipe out the hibernation habitat for these snakes, they will not persist in the area, and rattlesnakes from other populations are not likely to immigrate to fill the void.

According to Herpetologist Greg Lipps, gravid (pregnant) females do not go more than 40 meters from their hibernation spot.  That means that if you find a gravid female like the one in the photo above, you are in the breeding habitat for the Massasauga.  These areas are key for conservation.

There aren’t many of these snakes left, and there aren’t many places where they still thrive.  Conserving the right habitat in the right places is critical to the future of these snakes in Ohio. Greg helps groups like Western Reserve land Conservancy and agencies like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources inventory and understand these fascinating creatures.  Much of the habitat preserved for the Massasauga recently by these groups has been due to Greg’s scientific pursuits.  He tags the snakes with small electronic tags, takes blood samples, weighs them,  and replaces them in the exact spot they were collected from.  His data and knowledge have substantially advanced efforts to understand the populations, ecology, and habitat needs of the snake.  We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to be in the field with such a great herpetologist.

Here’s a video of the trip, including Greg and Western Reserve Land Conservancy Field Director Brett Rodstrom talking about the snakes.  You can catch me at 1:22 on the video munching on a snack and admitting that “I’m a little afraid…”

I might have been a little afraid, but I can’t imagine a greater experience…seeking out a rare venomous snake in northern Ohio.  How wild is that?

 

How do you make a park?

Beautiful Hemlock trees in a northern Ohio Park
Hemlock woods in a peaceful park

Parks and natural areas are vital to living a full life. Everyone loves them. But, do you know where parks come from? Do you know how they are created or could you name one person involved in creating a new park?

Some of you might be able to answer that question. Great. Many more of you will have no idea.  That’s fine too. We all use parks  and have no idea how or when it was created, or who did it.  What really matters is that the park is there, not who did it.

In many cases a park agency, like the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks buys the land, develops the park infrastructure, and then manages the park for the benefit of the public and the plant and animal life found there.  Sometimes though, it is more complicated.  Just as in Nature, everything is interconnected and many factors can play a part in the process.

Park-making has its own ecology. A forest has its canopy trees, mid-level understory, saplings, shrubs, groundcover, soil, leaf litter, microbes, animal life, moisture and light conditions.   Park-creation does too. When one organization with a fixed budget and staff has to do all of the pieces-parts of identifying a potential park, making a deal with the landowner, raising the funds to pay for the park, developing the park infrastructure, staffing and maintaining the park, you have a less robust ecosystem in the world of parks. We don’t expect an oak tree to do the work of a trillium. We don’t expect a warbler to provide shade. Why would we expect agencies that are good at managing parks to also create them?

Luckily, there are some smart park agencies in Ohio. The Geauga Park District, the Portage Park District and MetroParks, Serving Summit County are just a few. These agencies work to effectively and efficiently create new parks in partnership with nongovernmental conservation groups. Working with partners lowers the overall cost of park creation. Savvy agencies are able to focus on their core strengths of managing and interpreting the nature within the parks. This specialization creates a better experience for the park visitor because it frees naturalists and park managers to interpret nature and keep the park running smoothly. Creating a new park takes a completely different skill set.

New parks are real estate deals. Negotiations, contracts, environmental due diligence, title reports, grant applications, private fundraising, bank loans, lot splits, lawyers, CPAs. If a nature-loving park administrator has to deal with these things on a daily basis, how would they ever run the park? Luckily, in the park-making ecosystem, the naturalists can be naturalists, if they understand that there is help out there. In northern Ohio, the complex and often tedious work of creating new park land is often played by Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The Land Conservancy, its trustees, staff and volunteers, all work together with willing landowners and partners to create an interconnected network of protected open space across northern Ohio. They work from Sandusky Bay to the Pennsylvania line, and south past Canton.

Through the Conservancy’s public land program, they help create new public parks. With a professional staff of over 30 experts in each aspect of park creation, the Conservancy provides massive value to all of northern Ohio, even though most people will never know about them. The Conservancy uses its own resources to purchase or finance land for parks when public funds are not immediately available. It then uses its expertise to raise funds and build effective partnerships in order to complete the acquisition of new parks for the benefit of all.

Beyond their public park-making, the Conservancy works with hundreds of landowners to preserve private land. Their efforts are important for plant and animal habitat, water quality protection, and scenic beauty. They also work to ensure agricultural land is protected, which in turn allows the region to rest assured that there will always be land available for the growth of local food. An example of this is Silver Creek Farm in Hiram. This organic farm was conserved by private buyers in partnership with Western Reserve Land Conservancy and will continue to provide wonderful, tasty, wholesome locally grown food.

To date, the Conservancy has helped 400 families leave a legacy by permanently conserving nearly 25,000 of natural and agricultural land. Most of that private preserved land is not open to the public, but it is vital for the region and to all of us personally, whether we know it or not!

People need parks, but parks cannot be created without the efforts of many people.  So,  parks need people too. If you want to take a personal stand for efficient, cost effective land conservation, take a moment to become a member of Western Reserve Land Conservancy today.