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Happy Holidays

As I write this holiday wish I can see four pheasants running across my neighbors lawn. The suet feeder just outside my window is a very popular place and Blue Jays, Nuthatches, Chickadees, Titmice, and Downy Woodpeckers are all visiting frequently. Out over the lake I see two giant white birds and from this distance it's hard to tell but I think they are Mute Swans. Cardinals are on the ground just outside my window and Ms Beanz is sitting at her favorite place on my desk where she watches the bird feeder. It's a Good thing she's small—there isn't much room on my desk. Bo is at my feet under my desk and Rob is upstairs teaching a systems class online. I am reminded that life is good and minding the small stuff is sometimes a very good thing!
Despite a lousy economy and a bad year for business in general, I'm a happy camper. We survived the year, overcame two incredible health issues (his and hers), and added to our family (Ms Beanz). We are hopeful for our future and thankful for our family, friends, and followers! And we wish you the best of holidays.
I thought you might enjoy seeing these photos of Bo and Ms Beanz helping to decorate (or should I say deck?) our Christmas tree. If you don't have pets I highly recommend it. These photos say it all!
Happy Holidays and wishing you the very best for a wonderful new year!
Jane & Rob

Become A Citizen Scientist TODAY!

I admire high schools that require their students to do some kind of community service in order to graduate. I think we should all volunteer for community service at least once during our lives and preferably more than once. I also think that schools should require students to become citizen scientists. Perhaps elementary schools could adapt a citizen scientist requirement for graduation. They might if they knew what it meant to be a citizen scientist, how easy it is to participate, how much their students would learn, and how valuable their contributions would be to our environment.
A citizen scientist program is one in which everyday people (like you and me) volunteer to make scientific field observations and report their observations to a group of scientists. This sounds veryscientific but it isn’t. For example, in Cornell Laboratory’s Project FeederWatch citizens observe the birds at their backyard feeders for 15 minutes a week and report the species and numbers of each species that they see. Scientists benefit from this information; learning more about the movement of species, food preferences, eruptions, and general populations. Subscribers benefit by learning (from Cornell) how to identify species, from observing nature (which is proven to be beneficial to our health), and from knowing they are contributing to science while feeding and supporting wild birds. Besides all that, it’s fun!
From birds to frogs, stars to butterfly migrations, wildflowers to buds on trees, there is a citizen scientist program to suit every taste. Because these programs are designed for “everyday people” (like you and me) they are also well suited for your children to participate.
So let’s get together and ask our schools to promote (and someday require) participation in citizen sciencry (I just made up that word). And until they do, let’s you and I participate with our families. Take baby steps. Start with one simple program you can do with your kids.
Here are some programs, suggestions, and further reading:
A National Wildlife Federation article regarding Citizen Scientist Programs with links to programs.
Some of the most popular citizen scientist programs in the world are from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
Like sunflowers? Help follow bees
A magazine and website for Citizen Scientists from the Society for Amateur Scientists: 

Whatever a Blue Jay Feels He Can Put Into Language

The title of this blog is from Mark Twain's
"Jim Baker's Blue Jay Yarn"
There is a group of Jays that live in my neighborhood who come when I call them. You can often hear my out on my deck calling "Peeeaaaaaanut" and those jays will fly to the trees closest to my deck. I've even seen them turn in flight at the sound of my voice. Once in the nearby trees they wait quietly as I toss peanuts over the rail or place them on the table on my deck. Then the birds fly quickly to retrieve the peanuts and retreat back to the trees. They will do this as long as I continue to toss nuts. The group of jays can grow to as many as five.

Sometimes they eat the peanuts right away, other times they bury them. I recently read that jays will move their cache during the winter to avoid predation. How do they remember where they buried them the first time, let alone the second or third?

What amazes me most about the jays is how they seek me out. My office is located in my walk-out basement. My computer is right next to a window. When the jays want peanuts they fly to the ground just out side my window and hop around trying to get my attention. They make a two syllable call that, with some imagination, could sound like "Peanut! Peanut!" They sometimes perch on the hose winder which sits just below my window. From there they can see me closely as I sit at my desk.

The jays definitely observe me and know which floor I'm on in the house. Some mornings, if my bedroom curtains are open, the jays perch in the very tops of the trees and call and call until I get out of bed and feed them. My neighbors must hate that.

Here's another interesting observation. I don't feed the birds in the summer. It's nesting season so and the jays don't come around. But come fall, every year, for about six years now, those jays remember where to find food and how to get it easily. I hadn't seen them since spring when they showed up about two weeks ago.

Outside my windows they look for me. Calling "Peanut Peanut" - at least, that's how I hear it. I'm so impressed with the minds of those jays. They've done a great job of training me.

April Showers

This is the month to get outdoors and explore nature. It's the month in which we celebrate Earth Day (April 22) and Arbor Day (date depends on your state). It's the perfect month to take a nature walk. Need ideas for your walk? Here are a few: this podcast will tell you what to look for and what's happening. And these two video challenges will help you to discover even more. Have fun. Splash in a puddle or two!

Nature Challenge #2: April Flowers

Nature Challenge #1 Red-Winged Blackbirds

Avatar and the World We Live In

I love that J. Letteri said in his acceptance speech for his Visual Effects Oscar: "Remember, the world we live in is just as amazing as the one we created for you". WOW

This was the acceptance speech I’ll remember the most from the Oscars of 2010. Avatar was by far my favorite movie of the year and I think its message about nature is as important a message as we can give our children. But to hear these words from someone whose work depends on technology and who was awarded an Oscar for this technology was amazing to me.

Thank you Joe Letteri for reminding people that we live in an amazing world filled with amazing creatures every bit as amazing as those we saw in Avatar. And if you doubt his words or mine for even a second, here’s a visual reminder of what awaits us this spring and summer.

Discover it for yourself. Go outside and “Take A Minute To Be In It™”


Top 10 Signs of Spring

These are my top ten signs of spring for southeast PA. Are there others for you? Where are you located? Share your favorites….

  1. Red-winged blackbirds calling
  2. Spring Peepers peeping
  3. Children playing outdoors
  4. Aroma of mud after a rainfall
  5. Frogs and toads crossing roads on a warm rainy night
  6. Warm sun on your face
  7. Shorts being worn before their time
  8. Open windows
  9. Bulbs popping up
  10. Winter coats put away 
One of our earliest spring wildflowers, due to arrive soon, is Purple Dead-nettle.
Like many of our plants this was introduced from Eurpoe.

Winter Warm Up in Manhattan

Imagine an event in northern Manhattan that celebrates being in the outdoors. A happening where kids and their families can learn about outdoor activities—from sports to nature walks. A place to meet and greet, have your photo taken on the top of Mt. Everest, get lots of very cool stuff. Where you can play games, sample foods, dance to music, and take a nature walk with yours truly. And all of it free! Doesn’t this sound perfect?
Now imagine the event taking place in the dead of winter (yesterday the 13th of February) in Swindler Cove Park along the East river on the northern tip of Manhattan. Imagine no sun but instead an eerie flat-gray sky. Imagine an average temperature of 28 degrees and a foot of crusty, soiled snow on the ground. Imagine a mild breeze blowing off the river—just enough to factor in a mild wind chill—the kind that makes your lips chap. Brrrrr!
It took 3.5 hours for Rob and I to get to Swindler Cove Park  (via car, train, and cab) and we arrived at 9 AM to a hustling scene of tents being erected, boxes being unloaded from trucks, and people moving things by wheel barrow, hand truck, and anything else they could muster. It was darn cold and there was snow and ice everywhere. As we navigated the walkway to find our place at the event I sang to myself “ice on the ground…ice on the ground…walk very carefully with ice on the ground”.  I kept questioning “what self respecting New Yorker is going to leave the warmth of their home to come outside on this cold, dreary day? No one will come to this event”.  But boy was I wrong. So wrong.
Kids with their Planet Explore bags of free stuffI was thrilled to see a large crowed attend the “Winter Warm Up”. People came for the free stuff from The North Face. They came for the entertainment. They came to see Swindler Park and to learn about the New York Restoration Project. Some came because they are fans of NYRP and benefactors of their community programs.  They came for the nature walks and ice fishing lessons. They came for the food. But mostly, they came for the fresh air and a reason to be outdoors with their children in the dead of winter. There were children young and old and there were adults old and young. It was fantastic!
I don’t know how many people came but it was easily in the hundreds. I heard no complaints about the cold. Believe me it was cold—too cold for me to take my gloves off. People bundled up and there were lots of activities to keep them moving. A DJ helped to keep the crowd warm, too. There were people dancing everywhere—even during our nature walks.
Shadale, an event volunteer and my new friend from Albany, helped me lead my nature walks. Shadale and I in our “BFF” (Best Friends Forever) pose for Rob’s camera He found a small paper wasp nest and he also found a Praying Mantis egg case. He was very excited to share his findings with anyone and everyone! Despite the crowds and the music, we saw Canada Geese, Ring Billed Gulls, Mallards, and Cormorants near the shore. We saw House Sparrows, Chickadees, and Titmice flitting around the park. We saw evergreens, bushes with berries, and bare-naked deciduous trees. We found seeds from grasses and trees. And we found an old oak tree that was still hanging onto its gigantic brown, dead leaves.
This Winter Warm Up was a fabulous success. Everyone had a ball! It also marked the launch of a new website by The North Face called “Planet Explore”.  Visit this site and you can find outdoor activities in your neck of the woods. As the site grows so will the calendar so give it a little time if you don’t find events close to you the first time you visit. Become a member of the site and you’ll receive notification of events. I’m proud to say that I’ve been chosen as a “visionary” by The North Face and you’ll soon see my face and my public events in the visionary section of Planet Explore.  
Many people took our nature walk and learned about migration, hibernation, brumation, and all types of winter survival.I would have bet a lot of money that the cold weather and snow covered sidewalks would have kept people indoors yesterday. I’m so glad I was wrong. And I’m darn glad I’m not a betting person! On the train ride home I was stuck on a line from a Beatle’s song: “imagine all the people”. I think the turnout at this event speaks to our hunger to be in the outdoors. In Swindler Cove, NYRP has given New Yorkers a green space to return to the outdoors. I’m proud to have been a part of this Winter Warm Up. Watch our calendar and the Planet Green site for more such events.

Snowmageddon, Snowpocalypse, SnOMG

t's also been cold (in the 20's) and windy. Add to the mix that I had major surgery four weeks ago and the result is that I haven't been out taking photos of nature. Excuses or call it sensibilities, either way I haven't done any tracking, birdwatching, or deer spotting. But I have managed to spend hours outdoors with Rob and our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Bodhi. 
We have two feet of snow on the ground. That's a lot of snow. And another two feet could be coming in the next 48 hours. I have to admit, even I have some difficulty getting around (walking) in two to four feet of snow. 
Bodhi (B), Brandy (C) and Emma (T) taking a break..
 Bo loves the snow and thrives in the cold. He has become the mayor of our street - he knows where all the dogs live and he hasn't met one he doesn't like. He stops by their doors every day on the way to his play area - a large hill at the end of our street. He gathers his dog friends and they play till they can hardly walk.  
Bodhi waiting for friends.
The dog owners stand around chattering and making sure their dogs stay off the road, with the pack, and picking up anything the dogs leave behind. The dogs exhaust themselves and go home with balls of frozen snow stuck to their fur.
This weekend I was particularly pleased to see kids on the hill, too. Kids with sleds! Imagine that - children who were allowed to play outdoors. Of course these are my neighbors and I know them but that doesn't make it any less exciting to see them busy at unstructured and unsupervised play. No adults were standing by saying "do this" or "sled here". At the same time, all the adults in the neighborhood had an eye on the children, watching them and ensuring they were safe. 
Just a few of the neighborhood kids
This weekend was a real step back in time. The snow brought most things to a halt (driving, shopping, working). People bundled up and walked around the neighborhood (no runners this weekend) and gathered together in impromptu groups to chat. There were sounds of children playing and laughing and dogs playing and barking. People were cleaning off their cars and sidewalks and helping their neighbors to do so, too.
I baked cinnamon buns for anyone who wanted them (it's a snow day tradition of mine). Rob and I spent several hours out in the cold but we layered smartly and the warm sense of community and belonging helped protect us from the cold winter winds. 
So this weekend wasn't about nature - at least it wasn't about plants and animals (except of course, canines). But it was about the nature of people. And how a small "blizzard" can bring us outdoors and bring out the best in us - as we reached out to help, to enjoy, and to gather together. 
I hope you had a similar experience. If not, there's always tomorrow with another 14 to 20 inches predicted. I hope your power stays on and that you stay warm. Please remember elderly neighbors and lend a hand if you can. And when the snow stops falling and the sun shines, please take your children outdoors. Enjoy the snow while you can. Spring will be here soon.
Yours in the outdoors,
P.S. If you canm't get enough of dogs and snow see my photos at Flickr 

OMG-I was a walking time bomb-WK?

I spend a lot of time in the outddors—much of it leisurely walking as I observe my surroundings. I look for and photograph plants and animals and it walks patience to do so. I sometimes cover a lot of ground but it takes me all day to do it. In other words, I’m not a power walker.

Last August Rob and I adopted our dog Bodhi (Bo-dee). My walks changed. Bodhi wants to explore, run, exercise. so now I take dog walks in addition to my nature walks. Bodhi loves to go to the park and we walk the same path every day to take him there. That path includes a very long and rather steep hill. Going down was easy. But coming home, we had to walk up the hill.
The hill is difficult for me. By the time I got to the top I’d be seriously short of breath and I had chest pain. I’d walk the rest of the distance home slowly and by the time I got to my house I recovered. Rob didn’t have that much trouble on the hill. I figured I did because I used to smoke. Or maybe because I need to lose weight (doesn’t everyone?). So I pushed myself from August to October trying to get to the top of the hill with no problem. It never worked. Rob suggested (more than once) I tell my doctor about the chest pain and shortness of breath. Instead, I kept pushing myself.

Finally in November I had my annual checkup. I did mention the hill to my doctor. That started a chain reaction. There was a stress test, lab tests, echo-cardiogram, heart catheterization, and finally—I was told that I had a blocked artery that couldn’t be repaired except with open heart surgery. A heart bypass! Over some shortness of breath! Who knew?
So, here it is February. I’m back to work. I’m just fine. I had the surgery—it was this new minimally invasive (through my ribs) surgery. I’m almost back to 100% and I can walk the hill without chest pain or shortness of breath!
It’s mortifying to think that every time I tried to master that hill I was pushing my heart to its limit. The doctor told me that the location of my blockage was such that had I had a heart attack, I’d be dead before I hit the ground.
February is National Heart Month. Have a checkup. You can’t be a mentor, leader, and activist from your grave. In between your teaching, nature walks, gardening with kids, and listening to kids, be sure listen to your body. One of my doctors said you should never be aware of your heart. In other words, if you have chest pain (at all) shortness of breath, tire easily, tell your doctor. I am living proof that we shouldn’t poo-poo signs and warnings.
I’m grateful to Rob and all of my doctors. Grateful we adopted Bodhi and I had trouble on that hill. I was a walking time bomb with no clue I was in danger. Now I’m 25 lbs lighter and watching my carbs, and eating a heart healthy diet (BTW, not difficult at all).

As for you—please get a checkup. You and I are doing very important work by helping to connect children with nature. I heart you! Don’t be a statistic!

My Log Cabin Life: November Colors : 2

My Log Cabin Life: November Colors : 2

Nature Deficit and Seasonal Affective Disorders - related?

Author Richard Louv coined the phrase nature deficit disorder (NDD) in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. He defines it as “the human cost of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and a higher rate of physical and emotional illnesses.” And while he focuses on the need to get our children outdoors, NDD is hardly exclusive to children.

Many adults suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) this time of year, which is also known as winter depression or winter blues. One theory about SAD is that its cause may be from increased melatonin produced in dim light and darkness by the body. So if SAD if brought on by lack of sunlight doesn't it qualify as one of the costs of human alienation from nature?
If we go to work or school in the dark and come home in the dark, when do we get our daily dose of sunlight? For me, a day without sunlight is indeed a than happy day for me. I often need to leave my work to get out into the sun. Sunlight through the windows just doesn’t do it for me. And winters can be depressing. I find I have less energy in the winter than in the summer and I sleep more.
I tell adults and children to “Take a minute to be in it™” – that is, to take some time in the outdoors even if it is only a minute or two. Take that time to stop and look around, take in the smells of the outdoors (hopefully, you will not be standing in the middle of a heavily congested traffic area), look up and down, and listen to bird calls, insects, mammals, whatever sounds nature is offering at that moment. Every time you stop, look, and listen you will see or hear something new in the outdoors. You’ll discover plants and animals you hadn’t noticed before; and the more you notice, the more you’ll be interested and excited.
We are part of nature, no matter how much we insulate ourselves from it. Right now it is Friday in the afternoon on a beautiful fall day. There's a little breeze and it is in the high 70's. Bodie (,ydog) and I are going to go take a minute - or about 30 - to go outside and get some sunlight.
I hope you do, too

Sightings Boards for Schoolyards

When putting together a list of items for your school nature studies, consider a whiteboard. When it becomes your “sightings board” it can be a key player in motivating students to observe nature.
A “sightings board” is my last topic of discussion when I visit a school. Typically my school day is comprised of two assembly programs; one for lower grades one for upper. Beyond that, the balance of the day differs from school to school, depending on their needs. When a school books me they have me for the entire day. So they might plan Q&A sessions in grade-groups or classrooms. They might want a student writing workshop or a nature walk in the schoolyard. They might want a teacher workshop at the end of the day or a parents program in the evening. From school to school each day is different. The only consistencies are the assembly programs and my end-of-day 10 minute wrap-up with the Principal (as per my request).

During the Principal wrap-up, I thank him/her for the opportunity to visit with the students, give a gift and ask for a gift. My gift is our CD which contains our theme song “Take a minute to be in it”. That slogan is one the students had heard many times throughout the day and I want to perpetuate the message. I leave kids with the challenge to “Take a minute”. Nature isn’t the only recipient of good things when people observe their environment. Kids benefit, too. Children that are keenly aware of their surroundings are more astute, better students and listeners, safer kids. I give the CD to the principal to encourage him/her to play all or part of during the morning announcements—starting the next day and continuing throughout the school year.

Then I ask for my gift—a white board. A large white board hung near the front door of the school where students, staff, faculty, student families, and visitors enter and exit on school days. The board will be their "Sightings Board". My photo here is of course, a chalk board:

Each day, when students come and go into the building, they will have an opportunity to list something they saw in nature- either in the schoolyard, at home, while on the bus, or in the neighborhood. I warn the principal that in the beginning, some kids might list impossible sightings (dinosaurs) but that over time the listings will become more serious. How? The Faculty and staff will ignore (or even erase with no fanfare) the "silly" sightings and award the serious sightings by including them in the morning announcements or mentioning them in class. Should they run out of space on the board, they can limit the sightings to the schoolyard only.

Kids get excited when given the opportunity to write on the board and excited when they can contribute to such a project. Every day kids will be listing sightings or trying to see the birds, animals, and plants listed on the board when they are outside. A sense of place and community can build from something as small as a sightings board.
As much as I would like to believe that every principal will hang a white board the very next day, I know better. The biggest hurdle is money. If I had the resources, I’d bring one with me to every school. But I can’t.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to suggest/request that the principal procure a whiteboard. And teachers, please consider a sightings board at your school—with or without a visit from me. I promise you will all enjoy and benefit from your nature observations.

P.S. If anyone out there knows of a white board manufacturer or supplier that would be interested in working a sightings program with us by donating a board for every school we visit, we’d be happy to return their kindness with free advertising at our website and mentions in our teacher’s book.
Note: Excerpted from Appendix G of "No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to your Schoolyard", Jane Kirkland, to appear in first printing of 2010.

Using Social Networking to Get Kids Outdoors

Summers are a slow time at Take A Walk® Books. There are no school assemblies and few educator conferences. And although I could certainly stay busy writing, I find it nearly impossible to work on new books and research when the sun is shining. I want to be outside exploring and photographing.

Even marketing efforts slow down. After all, teachers are more available during the summer months but they are also less accessible. How can I reach them when they are at home or on vacation without feeling as if I’m intruding? This year I’m trying something new. Next week I’m kicking off our first Webinar: a one-hour live presentation of “No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard”.

I figure that every teacher has some time during the summer that they are working and preparing for the next school year. I also figure that every teacher who spends an hour in my Webinar will have the basic knowledge to start a Field Guide Project™ when they return to school. A single Field Guide Project™ can affect every student in a school. In other words, one Webinar attendee could reach as many as 600 students with the Field Guide Project. One to 600! WOW! My head is spinning at the thought of so many kids learning about the birds, trees, insects, and flowers in their schoolyards and neighborhoods.

Please help me to spread the word about our new Webinar. You could even register your favorite teacher! The cost of the hour is only $35.00. The power of the Field Guide Project to help reconnect our kids with our planet is enormous. Let’s work together this summer so the outdoor days of summer stay with our children when they return to school and year-round.
Learn more:

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