Recently I had the good fortune to be paddling just past dinner time, in the cool twilight of sunset with some friends. We noticed fins sticking up out of the shallow waters of the Bay (Chesapeake Bay to be exact). Soon, we found ourselves in the middle of a nice school of cownose rays. They were just at the surface of the water, splishing and splashing their wings, while diving back down to blow and suck water to expose tasty clams. Several hit the bottom of my kayak. Now for some people this might be a terrifying sight, and at least one of our paddlers didn't find the "magic" in it that I did (though here's a video of what one looks like, imagine this magnified by about 50 rays).
After posting on social media I discovered a general fear of the gentle cownose rays that I didn't realize existed, specifically many people wanted to know, "can a cownose ray sting and hurt you?" To answer this questions I've prepare five basic facts for you.
I don't often do blog posts that are just images, but occasionally I get inspired, so today I want to share with you images I've taken of spring here in the Eastern US. I know many of you are snow-bound right now, or you may live in the Midwest or Western US. In an attempt to share with you all the beauties here, I have created a photo gallery of images from here on the Chesapeake Bay. Enjoy!
As the weather cools and the thermostats go up, a major distinction starts to arise between those who feel cold, and those who tend to run warm, and usually (though there are always exceptions) there's a major difference between the sexes. Guys, how many times have you been nice and warm, only to have your wife, girlfriend, or partner snuggle up and place her icy digits on you? Ladies, how nice is it to find that nice warm guy and just rest your icy numb fingers on him to warm up? Do you constantly deal with thermostat battles for how hot or cold it should be in the house? There is a clear reason why women get cold hands and feet, that's right, biology.
Fall is just around the corner (though according to some stores Christmas is already here and we should be planning for Valentine's Day!) and as the weather turns cooler our feathery friends begin to depart on their migrations to the South. Bird migration has been studied extensively, from beginning to end, though we're just now really starting to make heads or tails of how it all happens. Birds can do such amazing feats of travel and navigation and no one quite knows how. For me, the question has never been about why the birds migrate, it seems pretty obvious that cold and lack of food is not conducive to creatures that can weigh mere ounces and need insects, nectar, or protein to survive. I've always wondered why it was that male birds wanted to beat the snot out of each other for three months (in Spring and Summer), calling, threats and warnings, and then suddenly they are buddies with the birds next door and can fly south with everyone else in big flocks. So, I did a little digging to find out.
Winter Searching for Paper Wasp and Yellow Jacket Nests
An aerial paper nest made by yellow jackets. (Photo: Karen McDonald)
Exploring Paper Wasp Nests (and yellow jackets too!)
Winter is the perfect time to look for things that are typically hard to see when trees are in leaf. This includes birds, mistletoe, and wasp nests. It's not unusual to see yellow jacket nests that are grey, round, and large in the upper branches of trees, but how much do we really know about paper wasps and yellow jackets? Are they still in there over the winter? Is it safe to approach? Let's look at these fascinating creatures in more detail.
Changing Consciousness from Consumerism to Gift-Thinking Awareness
The Possibility of Deviating from "Ownership" to "Responsibility."
I like to diversify my posts a bit, and I thought it would be interesting to share a new, yet old, idea that I came across in a book called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Potawatomi woman, botanist and ecologist. I haven't made it all the way through her book, because it's so full of wisdom and ideas that I enjoy savoring each chapter, reading it, putting it down, absorbing it, and then coming back. It's a slow process, but one I enjoy with good books.
The most recent chapter that I read was, "The Gift of Strawberries." In this chapter Kimmerer discusses the bounty and joy of picking wild strawberries and the gift of fruit. As a child she picked wild strawberries and then gave them to their mother to bake as a special gift for their father. In the chapter she states, "Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate." The idea that she develops is that the way that an object comes to you, the relationship of how you acquire it, colors how you use and own it. In modern store bought consumerism, objects that are bought do not have an "inherent obligation" to them because the reciprocity ends when you pay for that object. There is no relationship established between the manufacturer and the buyer. However, the author goes on to explain, when the relationship changes, from producer and consumer to giver and receiver, then a bond is created between the two people. In a "gift economy" there is no capital, or collateral. What develops instead is not "something for nothing" but a form of obligation between individuals. The gifts are not free because they come with an obligation to reciprocate by either giving back to the giver, giving the gift to someone else (thus increasing the value), or not asking for "too much" because what you are receiving is a gift.
In a classroom discussion about magnets, one student wonders, “Will magnets work under water?” Over the next few days, the class debates the question and designs and executes an experiment to get some answers. Okay, yes, they will work underwater. But then they continue, “What about this statement in our text that says some materials WILL block magnets?” If water won’t do it, what about plastic, or glass, or wood, or rubber, or cloth, or another magnet? And they are back to the drawing board, designing more experiments to test these materials, wondering if magnets work through gases and liquids, but not solids, trying ice in place of water and on, and on, and on. Finally, as a class we cry uncle – we can’t find anything that will block our magnets, and a very eager class is finally given permission to do a little research on the topic.
Another class is looking at a chart in our science text which illustrates the classification of animals by using the example of a wolf. It starts at the kingdom level and works its way down, gradually dropping all the organisms that don’t cut it as a wolf. After a few levels, we’re left with the cats and the wolf, the dog, and the fox. The cats get dumped in the next round. Makes sense. But in the next level, the fox is dropped with the explanation that this level contains only “dog like” animals. Now we’ve used this chart for years and years, and most of the time, the students smile and nod, and we move on. But this class is different – they’ve been “inquiring” all year long, and are used to questioning their text, their teacher, and themselves! When it seems like the fox has just been ousted from the club randomly, they start to wonder. “What is it about the fox that makes it less doggy than the wolf?” “If it’s not a cat, and not a dog, what is it? Where does the fox fit in?” For the next several days the class passionately debates the issue and delves deeply into the process of scientific classification. What specific traits make a dog a dog, and a cat a cat? Where does the fox fit in with these other animals? What traits make the cut into “dogginess” or “catness” and who decided all these rules? It is a fascinating journey