My Last Post

Goodbyes are hard. After 11+ years, I am leaving the neighborhood around Van Horn Park, ending my daily walks here. I take with me memories…

– of exquisite trees – with needles, leaves and bare
– of delicate blooms and scents
– of sacred encounters with wild things
– of fine and caring people I met on that loop around the pond.

However, I can’t leave off without stating a bitter truth, – my observations of nature here record the steady decline in environmental quality, species diversity and population size. This is bad news, not only for wildlife, but for human beings who call Springfield home, too.

During these years, the City of Springfield could have acted to prevent and reverse degradation at Van Horn and other city parks, – no money, no capital required. The parks department could, today, just stop doing bad things like this:

– Using high-decibel, gas-powered blowers to move leaves along a wooded walk… and to push roadside trash into the ponds… and to send dirt, pollen and other respiratory irritants into the air. — Walks are spoiled, health is compromised, and waters are wantonly despoiled. Park visitors are not offended by leaves on the ground. On the other hand, trash ignored by work crews is deeply offensive to everyone.

Snow plowing (with heavy, noisy, polluting machinery) walking areas closed to vehicle traffic (including Saturdays, Sundays & regardless of melting temperatures in the weather forecast. — People want clear streets and sidewalks in winter. Keep tractors and trucks out of the park; this practice disturbs wildlife, erodes soil, and creates dangerous icy conditions for walkers.

– Random removal of trees (and undergrowth). — With the exception of trees that block or threaten to fall across a roadway, cutting trees is thoughtless despoliation. Any removal should be balanced by replanting native species.

In prior posts, I’ve noted other cities, blessed with wise, visionary and committed leaders, have stepped up to the responsibility of environmental stewardship, and their people will enjoy improvements to health and quality of life. Springfield has not been so blessed.

I don’t expect to see thoughtful and sustainable management of precious, public , green space in my lifetime, but I nurture hope that I will live to see the city stop some of the waste, pollution and destruction.

So, farewell my Van Horn Park friends and readers. I wish you quiet walks in fresh air, greenery to soothe your eyes and songs of birds to lift your heart.

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“…in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity”

A very hopeful article landed in my email queue this morning, entitled Six Promising Trends for the New Nature Movement” – by Richard Louv, syndicated from blog.childrenandnature.org, Jan 07, 2015 –  http://www.dailygood.org/story/940/six-promising-trends-for-the-new-nature-movement-richard-louv/

Of course, this bit popped for me:

2. Greater understanding that, in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity.

 

There’s more than one reason to create a park or preserve open space. Urban parks with the greatest variety of species (emphasis is mine) are the ones with the best impact on human psychological health.

 

As the new Washburn Center suggests, biophilic design (the creation of living buildings through the addition of green roofs, hanging gardens, abundant natural light and many other features) is beginning to enter the vernacular of mainstream architects, urban planners, health officials, educators and business people. Biophilically-designed workplaces and schools are seeing an increase in productivity and decrease of sick days taken. Across the country, some libraries are assuming a new role as connectors of people to nearby nature and centers of bioregional knowledge.

 

In recent months, The National League of Cities – an organization that supports leaders in 19,000 municipalities across the U.S. – has taken a leadership position on this issue, and NLC and C&NN will soon announce a major initiative to connect children and families to nature.

Imagine that Springfield were one of those 19,000 municipalities. Someday, the children in Greenwood School could look out back and see flourishing of native plantings ensuring food, cover and homes for wild birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians. Someday Springfield folks might walk through Van Horn and never be disturbed by earsplitting machinery noise, or choked by vehicle and heavy equipment fumes, because the city would respect such a precious resource for our generation and those to come. – Let’s hope.

Caring for Nature is Caring for People

Well, on the plus side, someone, I will presume it was Springfield’s Parks Department, finally removed the trash barrel and the two toddler ride-on toys from the small end pond in Van Horn. – On the other hand, all the plastic bottles, cans and other trash were left floating, because…?

So to keep positive, click through to this interview at the uplifting Yes! magazine about solutions for “Nature Deficit Disorder”.

I hope one day that the City of Springfield will get the gist of the article that – “Taking care of nature means taking care of people—and taking care of people means taking care of nature.” Presuming, again, that anyone in city government has an interest.

Some Nice Surprises

As I wrote last month, 2014 marks the first in 11 seasons that no Canada geese bred here. I am aware plenty of people hate the geese and would consider this good news, but that would be a serious error, as it indicates the serious degradation of habitat.

I had all but despaired of ducks, too, but a single mother mallard has a half dozen healthy chicks! Now the littles scramble among the other adults for a bit of breakfast bread … and that single, out-of-place, domestic duck.

Mallard mama and ducklings/

Mallard mama and ducklings

I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron several mornings of late, which is always a magnificent treat, – and a small Egret was near wood ducks at dawn Thursday last!

Screech owls have been trilling. The Hermit Thrushes who have been serenading me so long now, I’ve been taking their lovely song for granted, have diminished, and were silent this morning, yet I still saw one in the messing about in the underbrush.

Rabbits seem a staple these last months; I’ve seen as many as five of them in a morning. When they adopt the freeze mode, I am happy to pretend not to see them, but they usually bound away, – the classic white tail disappears into the undergrowth.

On-going is the need to pick up plastic and glass bottles, bags, cigarette, cigar and food packaging, worm containers, and fishing line that strangled a foot-long snapping turtle I discovered reeling in the near-invisible line attached to a branch in the water at the Armory Street bridge. I focus on the positive, but there is always the heartbreak.

 

Nature Wars

I write often about the things I see in this park that disturb me; but this time I’m writing about a book that disturbed me, – Jim Sterba’s Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds, – and getting jostled out of complacency is a good thing.

Book cover of  Nature Wars by Jim Sterba
Sterba is a noted journalist and Maine resident, who grew up on a farm and sees animals as food, animals as commercial goods, and animals (wild or domestic) that affect human health, or human enterprise as pests, –as such the intelligent thing to do is to kill them. While I certainly do not agree, with him there, Sterba has produced an engaging read that provides a basis for understanding the increase in conflicts between people and wild things. We need to be concerned about rising rates of Lyme Disease, animal- vehicle collisions, and panicked calls from homeowners about bears, raccoons, skunks and other critters in their yards, garages, cellars and attics.

Sterba provides an excellent history of the landscape in the Eastern United States, its many alterations by humans, before and after the arrival of Europeans, and subsequent changes in land use for economic and industrial purposes. He makes valid points about the current and younger generations’ general ignorance of, and isolation from the natural world, – and the impact that entertainment media, from the movie, Bambi, to award-winning nature documentaries have had in promoting unrealistic depictions of unspoiled beauty and harmony. He also opened my eyes to an ad campaign of half-truths run by animal protection organizations in the 1990s motivated well intentioned folks, like me, to outlaw “cruel” Conibear traps, that are less cruel than the live traps now used. It is horrifying realize I may have unknowingly added to the suffering of the trappers’ victims.

I rankle and take strong exception to Sterba’s dismissive attitude toward “kinder and gentler” folks, toward religions and philosophies that hold all life sacred, and with his blanket criticism of people who feed birds to experience a connection to nature. Also, science is well on the way toward proving Sterba wrong for castigating those who imbue animals with human attributes of thought and feeling.

A growing body of research has demonstrated many animals think to solve problems, that animals form deep emotional relationships, and that some animals in groups feed injured individuals that would be unable to survive alone. When we add DNA to the mix, – given the tiny percentage of genetic differences between human and animal species, – it could be argued that it is likely that we inherited our ‘human attributes’ from the animals.

Now that’s out of the way, here are the points on which I agree: (1) Most people are  clueless about the natural world and that’s a bad thing. (2) Conflicts with wildlife demand humane solutions and thoughtful stewardship, –  right now.

There are chapters in Nature Wars I haven’t touched on here, which are also important considerations for this complex, life-and-death topic. While you may not feel good after you read this book, you will feel smarter.

Some Life Fails to Return

I haven’t written for some time, because it is painful. Witnessing decline in the resurgent beauty of spring is particularly poignant. Since the ice thawed, I’ve wept to watch as a few mallard ducks and Canada geese drink water at the pond’s edge that is topped with the blue iridescent sheen of gasoline.

Mallard Duck (male)

Mallard Duck By Cameron Rognan

By this time in every other year, adult waterfowl were on the pond shepherding dotted lines of little ones. In 2012, I recorded the first six goslings on May 7. Last year (2013) there were six on May 10, and on the next day, there were two families with 11 young. On May 22,  the baby count went up to 13 as another pair of parents joined the pond community.

Ducks used to breed here aplenty, too, but their numbers plunged precipitously since 2006 and 2007, when in July and August, I took pictures of the pine-needled shore covered with mallards and American Black Ducks, which outnumbered the geese! Though I may yet spot a brood of geese or ducks to tell you about, I have no basis for optimism.

On Monday my heart went to my throat as a beautiful mallard male stepped into the pond with a mess of fishing line dragging behind him… then the end in his mouth pulled free! After three attempts, I found a suitable branch, extracted the deadly stuff and got it into a trash can. I feel joy, but it is tempered. I know tomorrow I’ll find more fishing line and plastic bags here, and I carry memories of animals I found too late to save.

The rules for Springfield parks are neither posted, nor enforced at Van Horn. So unlicensed fishing, open fires, drinking, drug taking, and worse things go on unchecked. On any day you may encounter unleashed dogs or off-road vehicles that are potential dangers to kids and seniors, as well as to wildlife.

Then, the city itself dozed, graveled, and erected white and orange markers at two manhole covers – that have always been perfectly visible to the Water / Sewer folks. They stand monuments to stupidity, insults to nature, and wasted taxpayer money.

Meanwhile, the city has not picked up bags of garbage tossed by the south gate last fall, or removed electronic components leaching toxins on the north side since last summer, or collected the tires and shopping cart that have sat in plain sight for years, – but I digress.

The point is that Springfield’s mismanagement of natural resources has exacted a cost in the environmental health and quality of life that an ordinary citizen can see. The park department’s relentless incursions with fossil-fueled, noise-making, and pollution-belching machinery have disturbed and degraded the precious pockets of green wood, ponds, and marsh. The dead, drab and dirty urban wasteland closes in.

Though I thrill each morning that I hear the songs and calls of a  thrush, catbird, or flicker. I can’t help but smile when the bullfrogs harmonize. But I am grieving for the absence of babies this spring, – and for what that signifies for our future.

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

American Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana)

The fallacy that cities are devoid of nature

I thought I’d share a link to this piece by Beth Buczynski:
How Cities and Wildlife Can Be Friends Instead of Enemieshttp://www.care2.com/causes/how-cities-and-wildlife-can-be-friends-instead-of-enemies.html

Live Fish Trapped on a Tree

As I gazed across the pond at sunrise from the pine shore, I noted fresh trash strewn over the open spot (at one time, a boat landing) and including a bag hanging on a tree, as I figured in the extra time it would take me to clean it up.

On arrival at the far shore, I could see plastic wrap, coffee cups and lids… and that the bag suspended from a broken branch was large, clear plastic, and contained water. The water contained about a half dozen fish, about three inches in length, and swimming. I was too shocked to waste time trying to ID the species. I unhooked the bag and carefully poured the fishes into the pond, hoping only that they might live.

 

Poop Bags Nailed to the Trees

Shopping cart and tire on a lovely spring day.

Shopping cart and tire in the pond on a lovely spring day.

Granted, no one enjoys the dog poop left by thoughtless people, but at least poop is biodegradable, and a good rain pretty much takes care of it.

One of 3 plastic bag dispenser nailed to living trees in Van Horn Park.Van Horn Park’s wooded area recently received attention in the form of three dispensers of dog poop bags…nailed to living trees.

When will the Parks Department do something about the deposits in Van Horn that will never disappear by themselves?

Missing Chipmunks

When I saw the first Canada Goose chicks on the pond Saturday (5/11), it struck me that another sign of renewal is late. The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has been scampering across my backyard for weeks, but I haven’t seen one here in Van Horn Park. These are dates from my notebooks for first chipmunk sightings past:

  • 2012    April 30
  • 2011    April 12
  • 2010    March 17
  • 2009    May 8

I walked today (5/13) and still no luck.  It troubles me because 10 years ago my relationship with the park began as an enchantment with chipmunks.

In those early days, there was a man who came late in the afternoon, and walked at a leisurely pace with a bag on his shoulder and tossing its contents onto the ground as he neared a stand of  rhododendrons. When I drew close enough to recognize the peanuts, something else made me gasp, – mind boggling numbers of chipmunks.

They swarmed from beneath the shrubbery, fearlessly, eagerly toward the man with the peanuts, – as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was one of many who witnessed this delight. People instinctively hung back and kept quiet, so as not to frighten the animals and spoil the moment.

After a time, the peanut man stopped coming and I never again saw the spectacle, but every year, from spring through fall, I recorded an average of 4-5 chipmunks in the park every day.

I am afraid the Springfield Parks Department’s thoughtless and repeated onslaughts and wanton destruction of living trees and fallen ones under which chipmunks live. They intruded as recently as March – when pregnant females and this year’s young may have been killed by heavy machinery.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their  burrows. This is what's left.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their burrows. This is what’s left.