Coyotes in the Neighborhood

coyote_final_sm
Coyote illustration by Gretchen Baker.

Friends of Ryerson Woods hosted a panel discussion on “The Hidden World of Wolves and Coyotes” in November 2012.  Afterwards, our executive director, Sophie Twichell, was invited to write an article on misconceptions about coyotes for the Lake Bluff Open Lands Association’s newsletter. We thought our readers might be interested in this information as well.  Let us know if you learned something new after reading the article. Enjoy! 

by Sophie Twichell

Do you hear coyotes howling at night? See them trotting down the sidewalk or crossing streets? Without a doubt, coyotes are active members of our North Shore communities.  But, how much do we really understand this medium-sized member of the dog family (along with wolves and foxes)?  Coyotes are often misunderstood, as well as underappreciated for the valuable role they are playing.  Learning more about these elusive creatures is the best way for us to live harmoniously with coyotes.

Coyotes, Canis latrans, are native to North America and currently occur throughout most of the continent. Their historical range prior to 1700 was restricted to the prairies and desert areas of Mexico and central North America. But over the past few centuries, coyotes have dramatically expanded their range across North America and now are found in an increasing number of cities in the United States and Canada. In addition to occurring in natural areas, coyotes are also found in a range of human-populated areas, including rural farms, suburbs and cities.

Stan Gehrt, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources at Ohio State University, has been leading a team of researchers studying urban coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan region since 2000.  Gehrt’s team has caught and marked 661 coyotes, including radio collaring 379.  He recently shared fascinating facts about coyotes with 200 curious community members at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago at an event sponsored by Friends of Ryerson Woods and Conserve Lake County.

Stan Gehrt has been studying urban coyotes in Chicago since 2000. Photo courtesy of S. Gehrt.

Here is a sampling of what Gehrt’s team has discovered about coyotes on our region:

–          Most adults weigh between 25-35 lbs. A few big ones weigh in the 42-43 lbs. range. There are no 50 lb. coyotes.

–          They have individual personalities. Some are shy, others aggressive. Some howl often, others hardly at all.  Individual variation is tremendous.

–          Packs are made of family members and are very territorial.

–          Howling is a way to bring family members together, as well as to establish territory; it is not a sign of aggression or hunting.

–          Coyotes are monogamous for life; pairs only split upon the death of a mate.

–          The average litter size is 4-7 pups, although can range from 3-15.

–          Male coyotes help raise the young just as much as females.

–          February is the peak of mating season for coyotes; litters are born in April.

–          During mating and gestation is the only time coyotes will voluntarily use a den (a burrow in the ground or hollowed out tree); otherwise, coyotes usually sleep above ground in the open or in cover.

–          In captivity, coyotes can live 13 to 15 years, but in the wild, most die before they reach three years of age. Gehrt’s study found that coyotes generally have a 60 percent chance of surviving one year.

–          Coyotes inhabit virtually every green space of any significant size throughout the Chicago metropolitan region; if they are removed, new ones will move right in.

–          Coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area confine most of their activity to nocturnal hours, whereas in natural areas, coyotes tend to be diurnal (active during the day) or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). This reduces the likelihood of interacting with humans.

–          Coyotes are incredibly adaptable. Gehrt showed video of coyotes crossing city streets and even interstates safely, apparently looking both ways before crossing the street and following green lights.

Over 200 people came out to the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.
Over 200 people joined us at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in November 2012 to learn more about coyotes. Photo courtesy of Conserve Lake County.

Much controversy revolves around what coyotes eat.  Gehrt’s study has provided fascinating information, including some unexpected results.  A study of coyote scat (poop) revealed that the most common food items are small rodents (42 percent), fruit (23 percent), deer (22 percent), and rabbit (18 percent). They also will eat birds, frogs, skunks, insects and the occasional beaver or muskrat. Apparently the majority of coyotes in the region do not, in fact, rely on our pets (1%) or garbage (2%) for their diets.  (Scats often have more than one diet item; therefore, frequencies do not necessarily add up to 100 percent). As coyotes need to eat about 10% of their body weight each day, this preference for rodents can result in a diet of 3,000 rodents per year!  Further, coyotes serve as the primary predators on fawns. One surprising find was that coyotes control Canada Geese populations by eating the eggs. Geese parents can fight off raccoons but not coyotes. 97% of goose nest predation is carried out by coyotes. Geese and deer are often overabundant and difficult to manage. Thus, coyotes play a key role in naturally controlling rodent, deer and geese populations.

But, what about our pets? There are a few things to consider. It is natural canid (dog family) behavior to kill smaller canids. This is about instinct and survival. Given the opportunity, wolves will kill coyotes, coyotes will kill fox, and so on. This is less about getting a meal, but instead about eliminating competition. So, you want to keep an eye on your small dogs. Coyotes also may kill domestic cats for food or again to eliminate competition, but Gehrt’s study reveals that cats make up a very small part of their diet. Also, other predators eat cats, including Great Horned Owls. If coyotes live nearby, do not let pets run loose, especially domestic cats. When hiking in preserves, keep dogs on leashes.

Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.
Attendees enjoyed viewing the mounted coyotes, pelts and information provided by the Wildlife Discovery Center and the Lake County Forest Preserves.

In general, coyotes will avoid humans. Considering how many live around us and how few incidents we actually have with coyotes, it is clear they are staying out of our way. But, there are many ways we can minimize the possibility of conflicts with coyotes.  Most important is not to feed them. Many people unintentionally feed coyotes by leaving pet food or garbage out at night or by having large bird feeders. Coyotes are generally not interested in bird food, but bird feeders often attract rodents, especially squirrels, which then attract coyotes. Although coyotes seem to have a natural inclination to avoid human-related food, this can change when prey populations are low, or if the coyotes are young and haven’t yet learned to hunt effectively. If you encounter one or more coyotes on a trail, do not run away. It is part of canid (dog family) instinct to chase something that flees. That is how they chase down prey. Instead, you should make a lot of noise, as well as throw something at them.“Coyotes in the Chicago area are successful in spite of us, not because of us,” Gehrt contends. “They eat their own food, not ours.  They hunt as if we weren’t even here. They do their best to avoid us.”

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coyote mount
A close up of the Wildlife Discovery Center’s mounted coyote.

FIVE EASY STEPS TO AVOID CONFLICTS WITH COYOTES

Conflicts with coyotes can be avoided by taking simple precautions or by altering behaviors to avoid confrontation:

1. Do not feed the coyotes.

2. Do not let pets run loose.

3. Do not run from a coyote.

4. Repellents or fencing may help.

5. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately.

To learn more about the Cook County Coyote Project, visit www.urbancoyoteresearch.com.

FREE EVENT: What Will Food Taste Like in the Future?

Meet Josh Schonwald , a Chicago-based journalist and author of The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food and listen to his book discussion on how people, trends and technologies are transforming the world of food. Chicago Tribune writer Bill Daley promises that this book is a fun read and writes, “Schonwald has the talent to explain serious, complicated issues in ways the average reader will understand. He does it in an entertaining, often irreverent way that keeps you turning the pages.”

Thursday, September 27
7:00 to 8:30 p.m.
Friends of Ryerson Woods — Brushwood 
21850 N. Riverwoods Road
Deerfield, IL 60015

Register for this FREE event by calling 847.968.3321.

This program is presented in partnership with the Lake Forest Book Store and Liberty Prairie Foundation. Books will be available for purchase at the event. 

1491 and Passenger Pigeons

IJoel Greenberg at Markham Prairien late August, FRW executive director Sophie Twichell hiked in the gorgeous Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois with author and historian Joel Greenberg.  In honor of FRW’s programming theme, LESSONS FROM THE PRAIRIE, they discussed future programming ideas for Friends of Ryerson Woods.  While talking about the upcoming book selections for the Ryerson Reads book discussion series, Joel expressed some strong feelings about Charles C. Mann’s treatment of the passenger pigeon in his celebrated book 1491.  Sophie invited Joel to submit a blog entry about it, and here it is. Enjoy!

by Joel Greenberg, Research Associate, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and the Field Museum

After being immersed in the literature of the passenger pigeon for going on three years now, I want to address a canard that was fueled by its inclusion in 1491.  Although fossil remains have been found as far west as California, it would seem that the principal range of the passenger pigeon was a large region of eastern Canada and the United States, bounded on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, the west by the headwaters of the Missouri River, the north almost to Hudson’s Bay, and as far south as the gulf states. The bird’s foremost scholar placed its population in 1500 as some where between 3 and 5 billion. The birds aggregated in flocks that would darken the sky for many hours at a time: when in Kentucky, Audubon noted a three day period when the masses of birds blocked the sun for the entire duration. As late as 1860, a single flight near Toronto likely exceeded a billion birds and maybe three billion. But due to unrelenting exploitation by humans for food and sport, they were virtually gone from the wild by 1900 and the last individual died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

A paper in 1985 by archeologist Thomas Neumann claimed that the absence of passenger pigeon remains in archeological digs demonstrates that the species existed in small numbers during prehistoric times due to predation and competition for food by Native Americans. It was only after Indian populations plummeted due to the diseases brought by Europeans were passenger pigeons able to attain historical abundance. This increase in pigeons was further helped by the reduction of deer, turkey, and other non-human competitors due to the appetites of the new arrivals.

Unfortunately this assertion was stated as fact by Mann in 1491 and the popularity of the book spread the falsehood widely. It has resonated with many people who still support it even after learning that subsequent work has largely refuted it.  I think a lot of people find reassurance in the idea that passenger pigeon abundance was due to Euro-American activities: the bird’s extinction at the hands of those same immigrants would somehow be less significant or awful. That we created the abundance exculpates us in our avarice that destroyed it.

Neumann, however, omitted many of the sites, including most of those mentioned above, where pigeon remains did appear. He also missed many of the earliest European descriptions depicting vast flocks of passenger pigeon. And finally, he greatly over estimated the degree and impacts that human competition and predation would have had on the pigeon population. For these and other reasons, archaeologists have largely repudiated this argument.  A detailed refutation based on a comprehensive review of  passenger pigeon remains in southern archeological sites is presented by H.E. Jackson of University of Southern Mississippi  (“Darkening the Sun in their Flight: A Zooarcheological Accounting of Passenger Pigeons in the Prehistoric Southeast.”  In Engaged Anthropology, edited by M. Hegmon and S. Beiselt. University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology: 2005.)

Professor Jackson’s work does suggest that pigeon numbers in the southeast began to rise during the period between 900 and 1000 AD, about 500 years before the appearance of Europeans. But even if this is true, the reasons for the increase are difficult to divine.  Fortunately, though, we have the opportunity to learn more about the early history of the species. The Smithsonian and other institutions are currently extracting DNA from the toe pads of passenger pigeon specimens (there are over 1600 throughout the world) in an effort to seek insights on how the passenger pigeon lived and died.

Joel Greenberg writes about natural history and has been most recently a principal in Project Passenger Pigeon, an international effort to use the 2014 centenary of the species’ extinction to help promote conservation. He is writing the first book on the bird since 1955. It is being published by Walker and Co., and has a publication date of January 2014.

To learn more about the Gensburg-Markham Prairie, visit:

http://www.chicagowilderness.org/CW_Archives/issues/summer2000/gensburg.html

WHAT TO READ by Tom Montgomery Fate

Tom Montgomery FateFriends of Ryerson Woods seeks to contribute to the development of an environmentally literate citizenry that has the skills, knowledge and inclinations to make well-informed choices that consider future generations. We believe environmental education extends beyond science to embrace human interaction with nature and its expression, including literature.  As such, we periodically invite individuals we respect to share a list of books that have influenced their thinking about nature and the environment.  As such, we invited our friend, author Tom Montgomery Fate, to share a list of books that have made an impression on him and his writing.  Some excellent food for thought here.  Enjoy!

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“What is religion?” Thoreau once asked in his Journal.  His response:  “That which is never spoken.”  He describes taking a bath each day in Walden Pond as a “religious experience.”  From William Wordsworth to Mary Oliver there are dozens of books by writers who attempt to explore the spiritual components of observation and engagement with the natural world.  That said, I can recommend a few in recent years that might be of interest:

Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature by Kathleen Dean Moore

In an effort to make sense of the deaths in quick succession of several loved ones, Kathleen Dean Moore turned to the comfort of the wild, making a series of solitary excursions into ancient forests, wild rivers, remote deserts, and windswept islands to learn what the environment could teach her in her time of pain. This book is the record of her experiences. It’s a stunning collection of carefully observed accounts of her life—tracking otters on the beach, cooking breakfast in the desert, canoeing in a snow squall, wading among migrating salmon in the dark—but it is also a profound meditation on the healing power of nature.

The Force of Spirit by Scott Russell Sanders

Scott Russell Sanders reveals how the pressure of the sacred breaks through the surfaces of ordinary life-a life devoted to grown-up children and aging parents, the craft of writing, and the natural world. Whether writing to his daughter and his son as each prepares to get married, or describing an encounter with a red-tailed hawk in whose form he glimpses his dead father, or praising the disciplines of writing and carpentry and teaching, Sanders registers, in finely tuned prose, the force of spirit.

The Creation by E. O. Wilson

Called “one of the greatest men alive” by The Times of London, E. O.
Wilson proposes an historic partnership between scientists and religious leaders to preserve Earth’s rapidly vanishing biodiversity.  With his usual eloquence, patience and humor, Wilson, our modern-day Thoreau,
adds his thoughts to the ongoing conversation between science and religion. Couched in the form of letters to a Southern Baptist pastor, the Pulitzer Prize-winning entomologist pleads for the salvation of biodiversity, arguing that both secular humanists like himself and believers in God acknowledge the glory of nature and can work together to save it.

Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

Living for almost 40 years on a family farm in Kentucky has led Berry to place a high value on local knowledge born of a long and affectionate engagement of the intellect and imagination with a particular place. To readers of his poems, novels and essays, it will be no surprise that in his latest essay collection, he argues cogently and passionately against the proposition E.O. Wilson puts forth in Consilience, that our best hope for preserving the biosphere lies in linking facts and fact-based theory across disciplines under the hegemony of the natural sciences.

Writing the Sacred in the Real by Alison Hawthorne Deming

Descended from the great American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, Alison Deming appropriately begins this philosophical autobiography along the shores of the North Atlantic – on Grand Manan Island, in the Bay of Fundy. Moving on to Provincetown, Massachusetts, and then to Tucson, Arizona, and Paomoho, Hawaii, Deming describes places that are dear to her because their ways are still shaped by terms nature has set, though less and less so. With vivid ideas and passion, Deming writes about the importance of nature writing for these peripatetic times. Because people’s lives are materially less connected to the natural world, they are also spiritually less connected. Through the arts – through the story of the captain whose boat honors the Kwakiutl “Wild Woman of the Woods” or the fisherman who sacrifices his catch to save two whales – people fall again “into harmony with place and each other”; they write the sacred into the real.

The Sacred Depths of Nature by Ursula Goodenough

In this eloquent volume, eminent biologist Ursula Goodenough reconciles the modern scientific understanding of reality with our timeless spiritual yearnings for reverence and continuity. Looking at topics such as evolution, emotions, sexuality, and death, Goodenough writes with rich, uncluttered detail about the workings of nature in general and of living creatures in particular. Her luminous clarity makes it possible for even non-scientists to appreciate that the origins of life and the universe are no less meaningful because of our increasingly scientific understanding of them. At the end of each chapter, Goodenough’s spiritual reflections respond to the complexity of nature with vibrant emotional intensity and a sense of reverent wonder.  A beautifully written celebration of molecular biology with meditations on the spiritual and religious meaning that can be found at the heart of science, this volume makes an important contribution to the ongoing dialog between science and religion. This book will engage anyone who was ever mesmerized–or terrified–by the mysteries of existence.

And if you prefer audio to print, here is a wonderful series exploring the relationship between science and religion from PRI’s To the Best of Our Knowledgehttp://www.wpr.org/book/GOD/index.html

Tom Montgomery Fate is a professor of English at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and the author of five nonfiction books.  The most recent is Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild.  For more information on Tom’s work, please visit:  http://tommontgomeryfate.com/

Book descriptions drawn from Amazon.com.

Genius Loci: Learning from Nature’s Muse

Genius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson Woods

The art and design exhibition Genius Loci: Learning from Nature’s Muse opened Sunday, July 8 at Brushwood, the historic home at Ryerson Woods.  We had a great turn-out: over 130 people viewed works by 12 artists, designers, and architects.

Each work selected for the show captures the spirit of a particular natural environment.  The concept was to find artists and designers whose work is not only inspired by these places—prairie, woods, and lakefront—but seems to be born of these landscapes.

Topo House by the Milwaukee architecture firm Johnsen Schmaling is a great example.  This private residence blurs the line between what is landscape and what is architecture.  Located in the “driftless region” of Wisconsin, it’s green roofs seem to spring up from the earth’s natural topography. The building is represented in the exhibition through scale models, architectural renderings, and photographs of the (nearly) completed structure.

Another architect, Jessica Calek, presented designs for a Studio in the Woods.  The branch-like framework of the building’s structural system pays homage to its wooded surroundings, but also recalls the “primitive hut” of Vitruvius and Laugier, a metaphor for architecture’s roots in the natural world.

Cynthia Winter (also an architect) displayed a series of watercolors titled Roadtrip: The Seasons at Ryerson Woods. Seen together, these near-abstract, small-scale images—painted on postcard-sized paper—read as stills from a film, capturing a sense of movement through time and through the landscape.

Jennifer Hines displayed a very different series of works.  The simplicity of her individual ink drawings, Untitled Abstractions, is deceptive.  But viewed collectively, her images capture an entire ecosystem: seemingly separate organisms which together create a holistic environment.  Another series, displayed with the mini-dioramas in the Library, takes a more psychological approach. Forest Photos are imaginary arboreal landscapes where trees serve as metaphors for human existence. Here, Hines’ depicts states of being, rather than actual physical places.

Also in the Library is a conceptual work by artist Rachel Kauff.  Her series Field Books documents three distinct ecosystems: prairie, woods, and wetlands.  By leaving the hand-bound wordless books for 20 days in each landscape—open to the elements—Kauff allowed Nature to record her own stories in her own language.

Also charting conceptual territory is Doug DeWitt.  The long horizontal lines of his constructions, made from found materials, recall the flat Illinois prairie.  These psychological landscapes capture the essence of the rural Rustbelt: its faded wooden architecture, rusted steel equipment, and overgrown vegetation—nature reclaiming the land.

Also working in a hoGenius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson Woodsrizontal format is photographer Michael McGuire. His images reflect a kind of surreal or dreamlike remembrance of Lake Michigan. By reproducing one section of the lakefront over and over, he captures an illusion of the lake’s vastness. The particular location represented in each photo might remain ambiguous, but the subject matter—and spirit of the place—is unmistakable.

Another photographer, Barry Phipps, photographs trees in different seasons while subtlely addressing the relationships between humans and nature.  In his photo Cahokia (Winter) the long shadows of giant trees reach toward earthen mounds made by humans nearly 1,000 years ago.  The scene captures the mystery and monumentality of this ancient site, as well as the quality of light on a typical Midwestern winter’s day.

Anne Kauff (Rachel Kauff’s mother) captures light and color in her masterful oil paintings of northern Illinois prairies and woods. She paints outdoors which brings an immediacy to the images—a freshness and vitality that is difficult to achieve within the confines of the artist’s studio. Her approach is perhaps the most traditional of the group, but allows her to effectively capture the spirit of prairie, woods, and sky.

Meaghan Burritt, Genius Loci opening, Friends of Ryerson WoodsLooking to the Des Plaines River for inspiration, conceptual artist Meaghan Burritt created a site specific installation for the show.  Project In Situ: Des Plaines River Specimen 1 (PI:DPS1) reconstructs a fragment of the landscape inside of Brushwood, shifting its context and challenging us to reconsider an overlooked part of the natural environment: a “debris pocket” on the river.  The installation—including found objects collected from the river banks—is a meditation on time, movement, and the interconnectedness between humans and nature.

Finally, furniture designer Jacob Wener of Modern Industry displays three of his designs in the Great Room: a coffee table, a console, and several benches.  Horizontal lines reflect the city’s flat terrain. Reclaimed wood recalls Chicago’s motto Urbs in Horto—a city of parks and tree-lined boulevards. The recycled steel framework references Chicago’s legacy of architectural innovation and structural engineering feats.  The final synthesis of form and materials captures the spirit of the City of Broad Shoulders.

When organizing the show, I purposely chose this diversity of artists and range of approaches to the shows themes.  Each individual artist, in his or her own way, is listening to the genius loci and creating pieces that are in harmony with the natural environments that inspired them.

—Franck Mercurio, Curator

Franck Mercurio is an independent arts consultant, curator, and writer based in Chicago.  Before starting his own consultancy business, Franck served for eight years as an exhibition developer for the Field Museum.  Last year he curated the Art of Green (10 July 2011 – 31 August 2011) for Friends of Ryerson Woods, an exhibition that featured the work of twelve regional artists and designers who are creating art and designing objects in sustainable ways. 

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Genius Loci: Listening to Nature’s Muse is on exhibition in the Brushwood Gallery at Ryerson Woods in Deerfield, Illinois until August 31, 2012.  Brushwood is open to the public:  Tuesday – Friday, 10am-2pm; Sunday 1-3pm;  or by appointment. For more information, contact Friends of Ryerson Woods at 847.968.3343 or visit www.ryersonwoods.org/Programs/Art/ArtExhibitions.html.

WHAT TO READ by Marion Cartwright

As we are about to launch our 2012 programming wrapped around the theme Lessons from the Prairie, we’ve decided to offer a new aspect to our blog.  Several times a year, we will invite individuals from the conservation community to share their list of recommended reads with our readers.  Here read about the books that have influenced our good friend Marion Cartwright.  With vast experience in organic gardening, ecological restoration and environmental education, we are so pleased to share Marion’s list of must-read books.  Enjoy!

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The Garden at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, a recent project of Marion Cartwright’s.

The current 5-year Farm Bill is set to expire this September 30 and the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are working on recommendations.  Now is the time to write your members of Congress.  What do you want to tell them? What will you recommend be kept, dropped, changed in this next farm bill?  How much can any of us be expected to know about how our food is raised, transported, processed, made safe for consumption?  How much say do we have about soil and water health in our country? What is a healthy American diet anyway, given the way recommendations keep changing over the years?  How many U.S. citizens don’t have access to the healthy foods?  How are other countries dealing with agricultural policy and practices?  Big picture questions.

Then there are the personal, in my backyard questions.  If you want to grow more of your own food and flowers following organic practices, how do you go about that, in the place you live?  What if you want to raise chickens for eggs or goats for milk and cheese?  What if you want to take out the Scotch pines and Norway maples and plant native trees?  Do you know what pesticides and herbicides and fertilizers your neighbors and local government agencies are using? Is your soil and water healthy?

These questions have been front and center for me both personally and professionally for 35 years.  I have read a lot, attended lectures and conferences and town meetings, started gardens at schools, grown gardens for my own family, and created 1-2 acre organic market gardens in more than one place.  I have also spent over 10 years working to restore degraded native woodlands, prairies and wetlands and delivering environmental education focused on keeping native ecosystems healthy.  The need to read has been intense.   Here are a few of my go-to sources, the ones that provided either inspiration or factual information to guide me.

Older, but also wise, and still relevant and inspirational today:

A Sand County Almanac, by Aldo Leopold, Ballantine Books, 1966

If you haven’t read it yet, it’s time.  If you have, this in one book to read again (and again) ‘nough said.

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The Albrecht Papers: Soil Fertility and Animal Health, by William Albrecht, Acres, 1975.  A soil consultant recently summarized the life and career of soil scientist Albrecht by saying, “Everything this man ever wrote is 100% correct.”   The health of plants and animals on a farm (and ultimately human health) are dependent upon the soil health.  We hope to breed plants to tolerate diseases, but if plant nutrition is deficient that will remain a vain hope.  Why didn’t more farmers and university professors and U.S.D.A. and extension service staff study read this book?

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Forest Farming: Towards a Solution to Problems of World Hunger and Conservation, by J.Sholto Douglas & Robert A de J. Hart, with  a foreword by E.F. Schumacher, Rodale Press, 1978. Agriculture in mountainous, rocky or dry regions is a disaster and is happening more and more with the pressure of overpopulation, but trees are salvation, providing food, clothing, fuel, shelter, soil retention, water cycle balancing. This book will lead you to read more about Permaculture.

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The Unsettling of America, by Wendell Berry, Sierra Club Books, 1996. Wendell Berry is an articulate and knowledgeable advocate for family farms, local economy, the value of human work, and the cultural and spiritual life of farming.   A distillation of years of Berry’s thought can be found (on-line) in his April 2012 address for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He was selected this year to give the annual Jefferson lecture, the most prestigious honor the national government bestows on academics.

More recent:

Reclaiming The Commons: Community Farms and Forests in a New England Town, by Brian Donahue, Yale University Press, 2001.   Helpful example about how a community can organize and support a local farm (with animals) for the local community and also harvest a local woodland for syrup and wood for the community. Still going strong today in Weston, MA.

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How To Grow More Vegetables (and fruits nuts, berries, grains and other crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You Can Imagine, by John Jeavons, Ten Speed Press,  1974 first edition, 2006 7th edition.  A primer for the backyard gardener with limited space.  Though I don’t find the need to double dig my beds as frequently as Jeavons, there is a lot of helpful information to help you with a garden plan and an extensive bibliography and supply catalogue list.   Jeavons is all about soil sustainability and encourages gardeners to grow their own compost crops rather than bring compost in from the outside (robbing Peter to pay Paul as he sees it).

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The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements, by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2006.  Chock full of facts and figures on where modern industrial agriculture and the food industry have gone awry and ideas for positive change, both at the policy level and in our own homes. Each chapter includes a list of Action and Information Resources.  For people interested in taking more direct responsibility for their own health and nutrition, this book goes into detail about how to grow it, forage for it, ferment it or cook it yourself and it gives lots of examples of how food was grown and prepared “traditionally” for years.

And even if most of you have already heard about these or read them, my personal list just wouldn’t be complete without them:

In Defense of Food (2008) and The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006), by Michael Pollan, Penquin Press.

“Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is Pollan’s simple, clear message in the former.  It’s all here: how we produce and market food and learning how to eat healthily again.

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The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Pollan provides an inside look at industrial farming and organic, sustainable farming practices.  You will also go on foraging and hunting trips with Pollan.

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Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture by Wes Jackson, Counterpoint, 2010. Agriculture has gone through an Age of Monoculture.  And it is not sustainable.  If we hope to continue providing food in perpetuity, we must transition to the Age of Perennials. Jackson has been doing research since 1976 at his Land Institute in Kansas to help us make this transition.  The new farm bill needs to support this research and effort.    Write your government representatives and senators.  Come to the Smith Nature Symposium at Ryerson Woods on May 19th to learn more from Wes Jackson himself, the keynote speaker!

Marion Cartwright is a long-time member of Friends of Ryerson Woods and previously a member of the Board of Directors. Thank you, Marion!

Guest Post: Emilian Geczi on Richard Louv

In anticipation of best-selling author Richard Louv’s upcoming talk for FRW, we invited our good friend and esteemed colleague Emilian Geczi to submit a guest post on our blog about the significance of Louv’s writings to him and his work.  Enjoy!

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Emilian Geczi on Richard Louv

Like many conservationists, I came across Richard Louv’s writings well after reading the works of Thoreau, Leopold, Carson, and others who popularized the environmental cause in the United States. Louv, like his predecessors, has been able to strike deep chords by utilizing an accessible, almost poetic, language to describe our relationship to the natural world. I read these authors’ works as much for their message as for their expressive and lyrical style.

But there was something about Richard Louv’s writings, particularly his Last Child in the Woods, that set him apart from most other nature or environment writers I had read. American environmental ethics and nature writing are largely discourses between individuals and nature, or individuals and the land. Aldo Leopold, for example, went to great lengths in A Sand County Almanac to argue that people are part of a larger natural community and that the land is entitled to ethical considerations as much as our fellow human beings are. This land-based ethic has been a powerful force for positive change ever since.

But this conceptualization of our role in the world has its weaknesses. The land, for example, is an alien concept to many youth growing up in our nation’s cities. For many – too many! – Chicago high school students who participate in service learning trips at local forest preserve sites, the trips are their first experience of a safe, green space where they can explore, laugh, discover, unwind.

Richard Louv points to a different and complementary ethical philosophy: an intergenerational ethic where the focus shifts from the relation between the individual and the land to the relation, mediated by the land, between a child and a parent figure. What are the outdoor experiences that you remember fondly from your childhood? What outdoor family traditions – picnicking, hiking, fishing, gardening – do you hope to pass on to your children? These are the kinds of questions that Louv asks us to consider. Our family practices and cultural heritage become as important in this conceptualization as the land, and this allows conservation organizations to engage new and non-traditional allies in their work: libraries, faith and community service organizations, health agencies, and others.

I draw on Richard Louv’s philosophy every day in my work at Chicago Wilderness. Our member organizations’ Leave No Child Inside programs are predicated on the value of childhood experiences in nature, not just to children’s emotional, social, and physical development but to nurturing the next generation of conservation leaders and supporters. The Leave No Child Inside initiative’s premise is that our children will not become the next Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, or Henry Thoreau unless they have fun outside with a parent, grandparent, teacher, or other adult role models while growing up.

Emilian Geczi coordinates the Chicago Wilderness Leave No Child Inside initiative. He works with environmental, educational, faith-based, and other organizations to support programs that connect children with the outdoors. He has an M.S. degree in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont. To learn more about the Leave No Child Inside initiative, visit the kidsoutside.info website or contact Emilian at emilian.geczi@chicagowilderness.org.

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Friends of Ryerson Woods is thrilled to offer our supporters and the residents of our region the opportunity to hear from acclaimed author Richard Louv, who coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder.” His ground-breaking bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, linked the lack of nature in children’s lives with the rise in obesity, attention disorders and depression. This galvanized an international movement to reconnect children with nature.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear Louv discuss his new book, The Nature Principle, which offers a new vision of the future, in which our lives are as immersed in nature as they are in technology. This event is presented in partnership with the Institute for Integrated Environmental Education, Lake Forest Book Store, Lake Forest Open Lands and Liberty Prairie Conservancy.

An Evening with Richard Louv

Friday, April 20

7:30 p.m.

Prairie Crossing Charter School Gymnasium

1531 Jones Point Road, Grayslake

To sign up for this FREE event, click here.

April is National Poetry Month

“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.”  Robert Frost

Were you aware that April is National Poetry Month, a month-long celebration designed to increase the visibility of poetry and poets in our culture?  As an organization that celebrates the intersection of art and nature, we wanted to offer a few ways for those interested to further explore nature poetry.

Orion is celebrating National Poetry Month a special curated selection of poems that will be updated daily.  Visit their website daily to see their selections, or get poems delivered to you by following Orion on Twitter or Tumblr.

From one of our favorite poets:

This is My Letter to the World

By Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Emily Dickinson was an American poet who lived an introverted and reclusive life. Thought of as an eccentric, she was known for her penchant for white clothing and her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her room. Although a prolific private poet, fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime.

Friends of Ryerson Woods is increasingly interested in exploring how nature and culture are linked.  As such, we recommend Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry by Camille T. Dungy published by the University of Georgia Press in December 2009.  Black Nature is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated.   It features poets including the writers Harryette Mullen, Ed Roberson, Evie Shockley, Natasha Tretheway, Camille Dungy and Al Young.

Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world. By creating an anthology of nature poetry by African American writers, poet and editor Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a “new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black  Americans.”— BOOKLIST, starred review

You might enjoy viewing this video from the Black Nature: A Symposium on the First Anthology of Nature Writing by African-American Poets at The Berkeley Institute of the Environment in 2010.  They read from their work and participate in a discussion on the literary and environmental issues raised by the new anthology.

A closing poem in celebration of the trees that define our landscape here at Ryerson Woods.

TREES

By Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I THINK that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

“Trees” was originally published in Trees and Other Poems. Joyce Kilmer. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1914.  Best known for this poem, Joyce Kilmer was killed in action during World War I while serving in France on July 30, 1918.  

Wolves + Moose in NYT

We invited our friend, Benjamin Goluboff, to submit a guest post to our blog about a recommended read.  We love his mind and we think you will too!  Ben has led our Ryerson Reads book discussion series for eight seasons and is a professor of English at Lake Forest College.

One of the many reasons to be an obsessive reader of the New York Times is the first-rate reporting on wildlife and wildlife conservation that the Times has offered over the years. Since 2010 theTimes has featured a section called Scientist at Work: Notes from the Field. This is a series of blog posts by researchers in various disciplines studying wildlife around the world. The Times calls the series a “modern version of a field journal, a place for reports on the daily progress of scientific expeditions — adventures, misadventures, discoveries. As with the experditions themselves, you never know what you will find.”

Featured scientists have included the Field Museum’s Doug Stotz conducting a biological inventory in Peru’s northern Amazon, and Stanford University’s Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell studying elephant societies in Namibia. A particularly fascinating blog appeared last year by Roland Kays of the New York State Museum who tracked radio-collared fishers in urban and wild settings around Albany New York. Do Fishers really prey on house cats? Do Fishers really scream? Read Kays and find out.

This winter I have been reading a series of blog posts (just concluded) by John Vucetich a wildlife ecologist from Michigan Tech who leads the wolf-moose Winter Study on Isle Royale National Park. Isle Royale is an island wilderness in Lake Superior. Roadless and accessible only by ferry, Isle Royale is a kayak and backpacker destination in the summer; in winter it is the site of the longest continuous study of predator-prey dynamics in the world. Since 1958 ecologists have monitored the shifting populations of wolves and moose on the island, deriving insights about the life-cycles of both species, and dispelling the myth that predator-prey interactions are governed by the “balance of nature.” Learn more about the Winter Study here: http://www.isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html

Vucetich’s posts describe a winter spent flying transects over the island and snowshoeing across its interior following the Chippewa Harbor pack as it pursues moose in the island’s deep snows. Along the way we learn something of the personality of the pack, the craft and determination of the researchers, and the shifting emphasis of the long-term study. Vucetich writes: “During the first two decades that scientists observed the wolves on Isle Royale, the predators had a very strong influence on moose abundance. Then climate replaced the influence of wolves over the next two decades. Understanding nature and the lessons of long-term research may require adjusting our sense of what counts as normal.” The writing is crisp and the story is well told. A recommended read for Friends of Ryerson woods, Vucetich’s blog can be found at: http://scientistatwork.blogs.nytimes.com/author/john-vucetich/

Benjamin Goluboff

American Chestnut

A post by Sophie Twichell, FRW’s executive director:

Tonight our RYERSON READS book group will discuss Susan Freinkel’s American Chestnut: The Life, Death, and Rebirth of a Perfect Tree. I am looking forward to the group’s discussion of this book, led by Professor Ben Goluboff of Lake Forest College.  The group will explore this lost North American tree and the Chestnut blight that killed millions of trees in the first decade of the 20th century.  The blight (a type of fungus) gained entry to this country on an imported chestnut tree from Asia, which Americans began bringing into the US in the late 19th century.  The fungus could kill a mature tree in just 2-3 years.  By mid-century, it was estimated that the blight killed between 3-4 billion trees!  That’s enough trees to fill nine million acres . . . enough to fill Yellowstone eighteen hundred times over. The book also assesses the blight’s impact on forest ecology and human culture, as well as discussing the ongoing project to breed a disease-resistant Chestnut. Lots of good discussion material for tonight.

Although the book explains in detail the measures taken to try to stop the blight, to develop disease-resistant trees and more, while reading I focused on imagining a landscape filled with wild chestnuts.  You know how people ask, “if you could go back in time, who would you like to meet?”  For me, it has always been “what would I have liked to have seen.”  My answer is “skies darkened for days by migrating passenger pigeons” or “millions of acres of uninterruped prairie” or “the migration of millions of American bison.”  I look at the landscape around me and try to imagine what it would have been like to be a part of it 500 years ago.  This book added a new vision for me . . . witnessing wild chestnut trees filling the forests of Appalachia.

The dominion of the American Chestnut tree sprawled over more than 200 million acres, spreading the length of the Atlantic seaborad and west to Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. Unlike other parts of the world where the chestnut was a cultivated tree (a family with a chestnut orchard would never go hungry), here this tree was never tamed — it remained a wild forest king.  According to Freinkel, “legend has it that a squirrel could travel the chestnut canopy from Georgia to Maine without every touching the ground. Along the way it would pass over at least 1,094 places with chestnut in their names.”  Appalachia was defined by the chestnut, where they could account for as many as one in every four trees. Trees there were giants — 12 feet wide and ten times as tall!

Although the tree wasn’t really ever formally cultivated for its nuts,  people certainly gathered the nuts, which were sweeter than other types of chestnuts but also smaller (little acorn-size kernels that were difficult to peel).  The trees produced nuts every year, and a single tree could bear as many as 6,000 nuts. Did you know that “nutting” parties were an annual autumn ritual in the cities and growing suburbs throughout the chestnut belt? “Not only country boys — all New York goes a-nutting,” observed Henry David Thoreau.  Believe it or not, there was even a specific term, “chestnutting,” for the collecting of the beautiful shiny, smooth nuts whose sweet flavor could be enjoyed raw, as well as boiled or roasted.  Thoreau also wrote, “I love to gather them, if only for the sense of bountifulness of Nature they give me.”

The Cherokee protected their chestnuts by burning competing trees. The tree was the source of many remedies, including: tea for heart trouble or to stop the bleeding after birth, leaves for sores and as cough syrup, and galls to make an infant’s navel recede.

The Iroquois celebrated the chestnut tree in their story, Hadadenon and the Chestnut Tree.  “Hadadenon lived alone with his uncle; the rest of the family had been killed by a group of seven evil witches. Their only food was a cache of dried chestnuts that was magically replenished at every meal. One day, Hadadenon foolishly destroyed the last of the magical nuts. His uncle cried that they would starve, so Hadadenon resolved to steal more chestnuts from a grove of trees jealously guarded by the seven witches. After many tries, he managed to get into the grove and take the nuts he needed, an act that broke the witches’ curse and restored his family to life. Hadadenon gave each of his relatives a chestnut and told them to plant the seeds everywhere.  The nuts, he declared, were a sacred food, to be shared forevermore with all who wanted them.”

The majesty of the chestnut was also captured in well-known poems, such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem published in 1841 The Village Blacksmith which begins “Under a spreading chestnut tree / the village smithy stands.”  Although not considered one of his major works, Robert Frost wrote a poem about the chestnut blight:

Evil Tendencies Cancel

Will the blight end the chestnut?

The farmers rather guess not.

It keeps smouldering at the roots

And sending up new shoots

Till another parasite

Shall come to end the blight.

Robert Frost (1936)

To learn the status of the chestnut tree today, I hope you’ll join our discussion tonight (7:30pm at Brushwood, $15 or $10 for FRW members) or read the book on your own.

The selection of books for next season of RYERSON READS (our 9th season!) will be announced next week.  Be sure to check our website at http://www.ryersonwoods.org/p/RyersonReads.html.