Monday, August 31, 2009

Natural Happenings: 8/31-9/7

Each week, we list opportunities to get outdoors or learn about nature. Click through to the organization hosting each event for more details -- some events require registration or charge a fee.

This week's highlight: The Maryland Native Plant Society is leading a hike at Fort Dupont on Sunday at 10. At over 376 acres, this is the second largest park in the District. Come check it out with some folks who really know their plants.

Sign up now for MAW's Camp Sequanota (Jennerstown, PA) mushroom foray weekend, from Friday evening, September 11 to mid-day Sunday, September 13. One year, the total number of mushroom species identified was 260! Edibles may be added to the Saturday evening meal. Cost is $110 per person, in a 2-person room, with 5 meals. Registration by Friday, September 4, is strongly encouraged. Contact Jon Ellifritz at to register or for more info.

Also this week:

Sierra Club
Sat: Mason-Dixon Trail, Otter Creek Campground to Lock 12 (PA) (10 mi, 3000 ft elev. gain)
Sat: Big Schloss and Little Schloss. (17 mi., 3,000 ft. elev. gain)
Mon: Easy Hike & Ride: Lake Fairfax Park and Colvin Run Mill Historic Site (4 or 10 mi)

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Many cabin and trail crew work trips.
Tue: Little Devil's Stairs (17 mi, 4500 ft elev. gain)
Wed: Tuscarora Trail (no mileage listed, but route sounds long, with 2400 ft elev. gain)
Wed: Burke Lake (5 mi)

Center Hiking Club
all weekend: Campout in WV
Fri eve: Walk from Zoo to Rosslyn (4 mi)
Sat: Skyland to Cresent Rock (8 mi, from Vienna Metro)
Mon: Lake Frank with both hiking and biking (5-6 mi, from Shady Grove)

Capital Hiking Club
Fri eve: Moonlight Hike, C&O Canal Towpath, Great Falls
Sat: Assateague Island National Seashore (bus)

Maryland Outdoor Club
Thu: Gunpowder Falls State Park
all weekend:
camping in Thomas Jefferson National Forest

Northern Virginia Hiking Club
Sat: Big Schloss (12 mi)
Sun: Great Falls (4-5 mi)
Sun:Sherman Gap, George Washington National Forest (8 mi, meets at Vienna Metro)

Sun: Paw Paw Bends and Paw Paw Tunnel (10-15.5 mi, Farragut and Grosvenor Metro pickups)

Mycological Association of Washington
No monthly meeting this week -- postponed to next week.
Sat: possible foray at Seneca Creek State Park

National Arboretum
Tue: Lecture on Sustainable Sites Initiative: Measuring Sustainability in the Garden

United States Botanic Garden
Mon and Thurs: Lunchtime tours of the conservatory
Sat: Tour of the National Garden's native plants of the Mid-Atlantic region

Bladensburg Waterfront Park
Tue-Fri: free tour by pontoon boat at noon
Sat-Sun: free tour by pontoon boat at 5PM

Potomac Conservancy
Sun: talk - Voices of the River: Knowing Native Waters, followed by Irish music


Audubon Naturalist Society
Fri: Insects that Fly (Ages 18 mo-3 years)

Rock Creek Park
check schedule for planetarium events.
Wed: Art in the park - drawing outdoors (ages 10+)
Wed: Pierce Mill walk (ages 5+)
Thu: Nature journal (ages 9+)
Thu: Owl pellets (ages 5+)
Fri: Creature Feature (all ages)
Sat: Aquatic life in the Melvin-Hazen Trail (ages 6+)
Sun: Ranger-led horseback tour (ages 12+)

United States Botanical Garden
Register now for preschool "Sprouts" program, Wednesday mornings - must register for a month at a time. September session starts on 9/9. Ages 3-5.

Museum of Natural History
Daily tarantula feedings in the insect zoo and museum tours.
Tue: Hands-on activities in the Dig It! soil exhibit
Wed: Look at specimens or artifacts with a scientist in the Ocean Hall

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Attachment (to Nature) Parenting: 10 Tools to Give Kids a Passion for Nature

Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature. - Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

If we want kids to have an attachment to nature, for whatever reason -- it's good for them, it's good for the planet -- it's no longer going to just happen automatically. Here are 10 ways parents and other adults can help kids develop a passion for nature.

  1. Structure unstructured time outdoors. Do you set aside time to make sure your kid can just be outside, free to play and explore? What would you have to do to make it happen? Being outdoors shouldn't be a special event that gets squeezed in when there's a gap in everything else. Make sure there's time.

  2. Show some enthusiasm. Rachel Carson once wrote, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." If you model disinterest, there's a much slimmer chance that your child will find a long-term passion for the outdoors...maybe as part of a teenage rebellion, but it may be too late at that point.

  3. Detach from electronics. The whole family. Turn off the tv and the computer and get outside. And turn off your MP3 players, cell phones, and PDAs when you're out there. Engage.

  4. Don't make being outside like school. Let kids come up with their own theories about what things should be called, or how they work. Ask questions that get them to observe and look closely at things -- but don't quiz them too much.

  5. Find a natural spot close to your home. What's the closest patch of greenery in your yard or on your street? Explore it daily: What lives there? How does it change over time? Don't wait for a big trip to the mountains or even the park to get your kid to engage with nature.

  6. Share books that love nature and adventure. Think of all the classics that tell stories of kids outdoors: Huck Finn, Julie of the Wolves, Island of the Blue Dolphins...I'm sure you had your favorites as a child.

  7. Keep a nature journal with your child. Fill it with their drawings or impressions of what they saw outside. Use it as another way to encourage them to observe closely and create a relationship with the things they're seeing. (See our previous post for more ideas on keeping a nature journal.)

  8. Find a space for a fort, a treehouse, or a special hiding spot. Kids like to have a space to call their own, where they can hide from the outside world. If you don't have space where you live, encourage your kid to find a little hideout in a local park: a hollow tree, a space in the bushes.

  9. Get together with other families outdoors. You may find you all have a longer attention span for being outdoors if the adults socialize while the kids make up their own outdoor play together. And forming friendships with other people who enjoy being outdoors will help you find the time and inspiration to get out there.

  10. Start a collection. Looking for small items to take home creates one more way to engage with the outdoors, and it brings part of the outdoors into your child's room. Just be respectful of park rules and of other outdoor explorers who might also enjoy that thing you're taking home. We have a friend who collects "fairy" items with her daughter: acorn caps as hats, grape tendrils as magic wands. It seems unlikely that removing a few things on that scale would have a major impact, even if hundreds of children start doing it.

There could be many more than ten things on this list. What do you do to get your kids engaged with nature? What engaged you as a child?

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

LOOK FOR: Dragonflies

Why do we love dragonflies so? The iridescent grace of finely veined wings, the constant motion over a sunny pond, the bright colors and striking patterns...

Plus the eating of mosquitoes. As adults, dragonflies use their legs as a basket to catch other flying insects, like mosquitoes -- thus their nickname, "mosquito hawks."

But they don't just eat mosquitoes in the air. Both dragonflies and mosquitoes lay their eggs in water. And dragonfly nymphs are voracious eaters, with mosquito larvae on their menu. Some dragonfly nymphs also eat much larger prey, like small fish, tadpoles, and other aquatic critters.

When it's ready, a dragonfly nymph crawls out of the water, splits its back open, and emerges as an adult. Fast forward to 2:20 in this video to see the process, greatly sped up:

There have been at least 120 species of dragonfly recorded in DC and Maryland. Here are a few you might have noticed:

Common Green Darner
Anax junius
Halloween pennant
Celithemis eponina
Common Pondhawk
Erythemis simplicicollis
Blue Dasher
Pachydiplax longipennis
Autumn Meadowhawk
Sympetrum vicinum
Common Whitetail
Libellula lydia

In the wild: Look for a sunny pond or stream. You may notice that you see different species depending on the size of the body of water, whether it is moving or still water, and how shaded or sunny it is.

In your yard:
You're much more likely to have dragonflies if you have water. This is our third summer having a pond in our backyard, and we have started to see dragonflies relatively regularly. Which makes me a very happy camper.

What's your favorite spot for watching dragonflies? Do you have a favorite species that I left out? Leave us a comment!

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; click to go to Flickr and see more by the same photographer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Car Free DC: Huntley Meadows

Huntley Meadows Park is 1,425 acre park of wetlands, meadows, and forest just south of the Beltway in Fairfax County. The varied environments create wonderful habitat for wildlife, including over 200 species of birds, as well as beavers, otters, frogs, dragonflies, and other wetland-loving animals.

The core attraction of the park is a .7-mile boardwalk trail from the visitor's center, through the wetland area, to an observation tower.There is also a network of official and unofficial trails through the park that will take you through woodland and wildflower meadows. This map is the most thorough I've been able to find; the official map centers on the boardwalk and the Cedar Trail, which creates a loop.

The fate of Huntley Meadows has been under debate. The wetlands are in decline, but there is controversy over whether humans or nature can better restore them. The current plan is to build an artificial dam that will do the work of beavers who have moved further downstream.

Getting there: From Huntington Avenue Metro station, you can take Fairfax Connector Bus 161 or 162 to the main entrance of the park; it's another .3 mile to the visitor center.

Huntley Meadows is a little over 3.5 miles from the beltway -- take exit 177A (Richmond Highway /Route 1) and go south to a right on Lockheed Boulevard. The park entrance is approximately a half mile down at Harrison Lane.

Admission & Hours: Free. Open dawn to dark every day. See website for visitor center hours.

Bikes: Bicycling is not permitted on the boardwalk trail from the visitor center. However, there is a hiker-biker trail which has a separate entrance to the park at South Kings Highway near Telegraph Road. This 1.2 mile trail ends at another observation tower.

Aren't allowed on the boardwalk, but are allowed on other trails.

Huntley Meadows Park
3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria, VA 22306

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Natural Happenings: August 24-30

Each week, we list opportunities to get outdoors or learn about nature. Click through to the organization hosting each event for more details -- some events require registration or charge a fee.

This week's highlight: I suspect the fact that two different hiking groups have chosen the York County Heritage Trail as their destination for Saturday has to do with the fact that Yorkfest - an arts and music festival - is this weekend. Also, it's just a nice spot, and likely a little cooler than DC in the August heat. Catch a ride for $10 from Forest Glen Metro with the Center Hiking Club, or for $28 you can follow a different itinerary, including a stop at the farmer's market, with the Capital Hiking Club bus. Sign up ahead of time via the information on each group's website.


Sierra Club
Sat: Big Meadows area of SNP (9 mi)
Sun: Sugarloaf Mountain (8 mi)

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Many cabin and trail crew work trips.
Tue: GWNF Trout Pond Recreation Area (17 mi)

Center Hiking Club
Sun: Overall Run, SNP, with swimming hole (8 mi)

Northern Virginia Hiking Club
Sat: Doyles River Trail (8.4 mi)
Sun: Burke Lake Park (5 mi)

Sun: Swimming hike to Buck Ridge, Hazel Mtn, Hot-Short Mtn, and Nicholson Hollow Trails, SNP (8.9-11.6 mi)

Washington Women Outdoors
Sun: Maryland Heights (5 mi)

Audubon Naturalist Society
Thurs: birding in Rock Creek Park

Maryland Native Plant Society
Tue eve: Summer Wildflower Identification Workshop


Rock Creek Park
Various planetarium programs.
Wed: Design an Animal (ages 5+), Drawing outdoors (ages 10+)
Thu: Nature journal (ages 9+), What's for Dinner - what do animals eat? (ages 3+)
Fri: Creature Feature (all ages), Sensational Senses (ages 3+)
Sat: Bugging out - role of insects in nature (ages 5-10), Peirce Estate Tour (1.5 mi, ages 8+), Predators and Prey (ages 7+)
Sun: Ranger-led horseback tour (ages 12+), Dumbarton Oaks (ages 8+), Sensational Senses (ages 3+), A Deer for a Day (ages 5+)

Museum of Natural History
Daily tarantula feedings in the insect zoo and museum tours.
Tue: Hands-on activities in the Dig It! soil exhibit
Wed: Look at specimens or artifacts with a scientist in the Ocean Hall

Friday, August 21, 2009

Air Conditioning and the Outdoors

I spent my high school years, and some college summers, living in Gainesville, Florida. One of those summers, I biked a few miles to work every day. Some days, the air was so thick with humidity it felt like you could cut it with a knife. Most afternoons, the humidity would come to a head in a brief thunderstorm -- and when it was over, the rain would rise right back up as steam.

I spent a lot of time outdoors that summer -- especially some memorable evenings on my friend's front porch. She was renting a house with no air conditioning, so the porch was just as comfortable temperature-wise as the indoors -- plus there was a big hammock. It was a full evening of entertainment just to sit out there, chatting with friends, having a beer and watching the people go by.

To this day, I am a big fan of porch-sitting. So is my next-door neighbor, who's in his 70's. We'll sit and watch the birds in our yards, and chat across the banisters for a bit. Almost every house in our neighborhood has a porch, but we rarely see anyone else just sitting on theirs. My theory? Air conditioning has killed the porch, and along with it, part of people's experience of the outdoors.

Consider this: with the windows closed and the a/c on, it's harder to hear anything outdoors. And we don't really want to go outdoors, because it's so much nicer inside. When we do go out, the heat feels worse because we're not used to it. And, in the long run, we're each doing our tiny little part in making it even hotter out there, by using electricity to run the a/c in the first place.

I'm not a purist -- Matt and I do turn our a/c on several times every summer, usually when we're having people over, or when it's still so hot and humid at 10:00 PM that it's hard to sleep. But do I think leaving it off most of the time makes us more willing and able to go outdoors.

How about you? Is a/c the only way you can live through a DC summer, or do you try to moderate your use of air conditioning? Do you think it makes you more or less willing to spend time outdoors?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

LOOK FOR: Sumac Berries

Lemonade is a major staple in our household over the summer months. For a special treat, we make lemonade without lemon juice -- we brew it from lemony sumac berries.

There are actually several varieties of sumac in our area. All get extremely distinctive clusters of dark red, hairy berries in the late summer. And they all have pinnate leaves (multiple leaflets on a stem form the larger leaf) that turn gorgeous shades of red to purple in the fall.

Rhus typhina, staghorn sumac, is the giant of the genus, growing up to 25 feet tall. It has fuzz on the stems very much like the fuzz that covers new antlers on a deer. Rhus coppalina, shining or winged sumac, has "wings" on its stems; Rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, has smooth (not winged or fuzzy) stems. And the distinguishing characteristic of Rhus aromatica, or fragrant sumac? Its leaves have a distinctive odor when crushed.

Worried about poison sumac? It's actually an unrelated shrub (Toxicodendron vernix) that is not very common in the DC area. Its berries are white, so it is not likely that you will confuse it with non-poison sumac if you are out looking for red berries. But you're right to worry -- it will give you a rash, just like its much closer relative poison ivy (Toxicodendrum radicans).

To make sumac lemonade, cut off a few heads of berries with some garden clippers. Soak them in a half-gallon of water for half an hour or more. This will leach out the ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and its lemony flavor, along with enough color to give you pink lemonade. You can crush the berries a little with your hands to help the process along. There's a sweet spot you're looking for -- too little soaking won't give enough flavor, but too much will start to leach out the tannins and make your lemonade taste more like tea. Pour the liquid through a strainer to get out the hairs, then sweeten to taste.

There's one catch: just like the lemony goodness of the sumac berries will leach out into your pitcher of water, it will leach out in the rain. So you may find lovely bunches of sumac berries that have very little flavor. Before picking, take a little taste test of one of the berries. It should be noticeably tart. If not, look for another bunch -- preferably one that's been more sheltered from the rain.

In the wild: Sumac is very common in the DC area. We see it most frequently on roadsides -- it likes the sun. All four varieties of sumac native to our area are growing around Lake Artemesia -- take an ID book and see if you can find each species! The berries are good food for birds, so please don't take too many heads of sumac, and be sure to use whatever you do pick. Also be sure not to pick in a park that doesn't allow it.

In your yard: Sumac has a reputation for being very aggressive -- it spreads by underground roots and can take over an area. Which makes it great for roadsides, but not so much in your yard -- unless you have a lot of space.

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

More Butterflies: Wings of Fancy

Wings of Fancy is a walk-through exhibit at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, that allows you to be surrounded by hundreds of North American, Costa Rican and Asian butterflies flying freely inside a greenhouse. "Come witness the butterfly life cycle," says their website, "as tiny eggs hatch into crawling, chewing caterpillars, which then encase themselves in jewel-like chrysalides and emerge as sipping, flying adult butterflies." It's a great spot to try your hand at close-up photography, or just to sit and be delighted by the colorful creatures flitting by. You can also learn quite a bit about local butterflies, including the host plants that DC-area caterpillars rely on.

It's best to visit in the morning. Wings of Fancy is in a greenhouse, which is usually ten degrees warmer than the outside temperature, and more humid. The exhibit may close during extreme heat advisories or during emergencies. A telephone hotline (301-962-1453) and the web site are updated frequently in the event of a temporary closure.

Open: Saturday, May 2 through Sunday, September 20, 2009; 10 AM to 4 PM daily.

Admission: $6 adults; $4 ages 3-12. Children 2 and under are admitted free, but strollers are not allowed. Tickets are good for re-entry all day.

Location: Brookside Gardens South Conservatory
1500 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20902

The closest Metro station is Glenmont, which is about 1.3 miles away; the C8 bus runs between Glenmont and College Park stations, and stops about a half mile away at Randolph and Heurich. (From there, you'll go south on Heurich and east (left) on Glenallan to the park entrance.

More info: Wings of Fancy
"Butterfly Hotline": 301-962-1453
Brookside Gardens General Information: 301-962-1400

Monday, August 17, 2009

Natural Happenings: August 17-23

Each week, we list opportunities to get outdoors or learn about nature. Click through to the organization hosting each event for more details -- some events require registration or charge a fee.

This week's highlight: There are a lot of activities scheduled in Rock Creek Park for this weekend. Come celebrate National Park Service Founder's Day!

Hike, bike, and ride horses:

Dumbarton Oaks - Discover the trails of this naturalistic landscaped garden turned public park. 10 AM Sat - Meet at the “Lover’s Lane” entrance sign. (Ages 8+)
Teddy Roosevelt Hike- Take a rigorous two-mile hike up the Teddy Roosevelt Trail to Pulpit Rock and return to Peirce Mill via the Valley Trail. Discover the story of the Jusserand Memorial, dedicated to one of Roosevelt’s closest friends. 11 AM Sat from Peirce Mill. (Ages 8+)
Ranger-Led Horseback Tour - This one-hour tour travels south along Rock Creek. Participants must be 12 years old or older and weight limits may apply. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance. Fee $35. For further information call (202) 362-0117. 11 AM Sun at the Horse Center.
Bike Hike - Explore Rock Creek Valley from the Waterfront in Georgetown to Peirce Mill and back. 10 AM Sun at Thompson Boat House. Bring your own bike and water; helmets required. (Ages 10+)
Fort DeRussy Hike -One-mile hike to learn how this little fort and the soldiers stationed there helped save Washington, DC. 2 PM Sun from the Nature Center. (Ages 8+)

Go to a Ranger Program:

Children’s Archeology - Explore the world of archeology by attempting a simulated archeological dig! 11 AM Sat at the Nature center. (Ages 8+)
How to Draw an American Landscape - Step back into the 1800s and learn about various changes to the Rock Creek valley. Review basic drawing techniques. 1 PM Sat at Peirce Barn. (Ages 8+)
Stones, Bones and Sticks - Watch a ranger demonstrate early Native American tools and discuss their uses. 3 PM Sat at the Nature Center. (Ages 5+)
Owl Pellets - Discover what owls eat for dinner by dissecting the remains – owl pellets! 2:30 Sun at the Nature Center. (Ages 5+)
Film: A Thin Green Line - Celebrate a day in the life of a ranger! See what it takes to protect our national and international parks. 3 PM Sun at the Nature Center. (Ages 8+)

Check out the Planetarium:

Summer Night Sky: When I Wish Upon a Star - View the stars, planets, and constellations of August and learn their stories. 1 PM Sat and Sun at the Nature Center. (Ages 5+)
Native American Sky Stories - Native American legends of the night sky. 2 PM Sat at the Nature Center. (Ages 5+)
Exploring the Universe - Sun, moon, stars, planets, and other space phenomena. 4 PM Sat and Sun at the Nature Center. (Ages 7+)
Oasis in Space - Journey through the solar system on a quest for water in this half-hour planetarium presentation. 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM Sat at the Nature Center. Reservations recommended. Tickets are free and are released 30 minutes before show time. (Ages 5+)

And, last but not least:

Explore the Sky with Telescopes - Join the National Park Service and members of the National Capital Astronomers in Rock Creek Park for their monthly viewing of the stars, planets, and other night sky phenomena with telescopes. This month: Andromeda Rising. 8:30 PM Sat at Picnic Grove 13. All ages. Rain or severely cloudy weather will cancel this event.

Also this week:

Sierra Club
Tue: George Washington National Park (18 mi)
Sat: Bike ride - Capitol Crescent / Rock Creek (22 mi)
Sun: Central SNP to Corbin Cabin & swimming hoes (12 mi)

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Many cabin and trail crew work trips.
Tue: Great North Mountain Bucktail Hike, GW Natl Forest (18 mi)
Thu: Family Hike: Appalachian Trail To Annapolis Rocks (5 mi)

Center Hiking Club
Fri eve: C&O Canal evening hike (5 mi)
: Skyland to Big Meadows (8 mi)
Sun: South River Falls in SNP (10 mi)

Capital Hiking Club
Sat: AT to Gathland State Park (6 mi)

Northern Virginia Hiking Club
Sat: Canoe on Shenandoah River
Sat: Duncan Hollow (12 mi)
Sun: Wolf/Chimney Rocks (8.7 mi)

Sun: Fairfax Cross County (CCT) Trail from Oak Marr Park to Difficult Run. (9-15 mi)

Audubon Naturalist Society
Thurs eve & Sat: Dragonfly and damselfly studies
Sat: Delaware shorebird workshop
Sun: birding at Hughes Hollow


Rock Creek Park
Various planetarium programs.
Wed: Design an animal (ages 5+), Art in the Park (ages 10+)
Thu: Grandfather tree hike - see some of the oldest trees in the park (1.5 mi, all ages)
Thu: Nature Journal (ages 9+)
Fri: Creature Feature (all ages), Predators and Prey (ages 5+)
Sat & Sun: see highlights above.

Museum of Natural History
Daily tarantula feedings in the insect zoo and museum tours.
Tue: Hands-on activities in the Dig It! soil exhibit
Wed: Look at specimens or artifacts with a scientist in the Ocean Hall

Friday, August 14, 2009

Nature is Good For You.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. - John Muir

In a review of how nature can be good for you, Howard Frumkin cites Oliver Sacks’ description of going outside for the first time after a serious leg injury:
This was a great joy—to be out in the air—for I had not been outside in almost a month. A pure and intense joy, a blessing, to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, to hear birds, to see, touch, and fondle the living plants. Some essential connection and communion with nature was re-established after the horrible isolation and alienation I had known. Some part of me came alive, when I was taken to the garden, which had been starved, and died, perhaps without my knowing it.

-- from A Leg to Stand On
Sacks credited this garden as an important factor in his recovery. The idea that contact with nature is physically and mentally good for you is intuitively true to many people, but scientists are starting to try to actually gather evidence to bolster the case for nature. Consider these studies that Louv cites in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder:

  • People in hospital rooms a natural view recover faster than those with a view of buildings (Ulrich, 1984).
  • People in jail cells with a view of nature go to the clinic less often for health problems (Moore, 1981-2).
  • Kids with more nature near their homes do better on measures of stress and self worth, especially during stressful times (Wells & Evans, 2003; see their lit review for many other benefits of nature).
  • Kids with attention deficit disorder (ADD) do better in an environment with greenery: after play in natural, green settings, they are more able to concentrate and focus than when they play in non-green settings, even outdoors. (Faber Taylor et al., 2001)
The authors of the ADD study make the following recommendations. But it seems to me they don't just apply to kids with ADD -- they should be good for all of us:
  • Encourage children to play outdoors in green spaces, and advocate recess in green schoolyards.
  • Plant and care for trees and vegetation at your residence, or encourage the owner to do so.
  • Value and care for the trees in your community. Caring for trees means caring for people.
Or, as Louv puts it: "time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own)."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

LOOK FOR: Monarch caterpillars (and raise them!)

monarch caterpillar The life cycle of a monarch butterfly is pretty amazing. And you can not only watch, but be a part of helping to make it happen.

Over the summer months in our area, there are multiple generations of monarchs. Adults mate and then lay their eggs on the leaves of milkweed plants. Caterpillars hatch from the eggs and proceed to devour as much milkweed as possible for the next two weeks or so of their lives, shedding their skin several times as they grow.

When they're ready, the monarch caterpillars will look for a good place to pupate, attach themselves upside down with a strong mass of silk threads, and shed their skins one more time. Their next skin hardens into a beautiful chrysalis, like jade decorated with sparkling gold.

Inside the chrysalis, the monarch pupa takes another two weeks or so to transform into a butterfly. The night before it is ready to hatch, you can see the butterfly inside: the chrysalis looks as if it has turned from green to black.

Early in the morning, the butterfly will split open its chrysalis, crawl out, and hang from the empty shell. It must pump fluid into its wings before they will stretch out to their full size. Here's a video we made a few years ago of the whole process as it took place in our kitchen:

Want to try your hand at it? To find caterpillars to raise, look for milkweed. Try looking along roadsides, the edges of playgrounds, or other "waste" places. Remember the caterpillars can be very small when they first hatch. They're probably trying to hide from you and the birds -- look on the undersides of leaves.

Before you bring any caterpillars home, make sure your schedule will allow you to replenish their food supply (milkweed leaves) every day or two. The leaves need to be kept fresh -- the best way seems to be picking whole stems and keeping them in water like cut flowers. We usually do this in a jar with holes poked in the lid, so the caterpillars can't fall into the water (we've drowned a few).

monarchYour caterpillars will be so intent on eating that you don't have to do anything to cage them until the end of their larvaehood. But when they're ready to pupate, they will wander. We put ours in a small aquarium, and they attach themselves to the sides or the screen on top. You can also get a container made especially for raising butterflies.

Report back in the comments and let us know how it goes -- or share your own tips for raising butterflies!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Car-free DC: Glover Archbold Park

This is the eighth article in a series on hikes in DC that can be reached by public transportation.

Glover-Archbold (not Archibold, nor Archibald, I've just discovered) is a long, narrow park that follows Foundry Branch from Van Ness Street in Tenleytown to Canal Road, just west of Georgetown University. It's yet another green oasis in the middle of our fair city -- and less well-known than many other parks. And with its proximity to Georgetown, you may get in some celebrity sightings as well -- I once saw Madeline Albright hiking here with her Secret Service detail.

According to folks at the DC Audubon Society, the most interesting birding section of Glover-Archbold is just north of Reservoir Road -- perhaps because the stretch between here and Fulton St. is the widest section of the park.

There are several points in the park that are easily accessible by public transportation. You can follow along on this Park Service map, which covers both Rock Creek Park and Glover Archbold. From north to south:

Van Ness Street: From Tenleytown Metro station, head south on Wisconsin, then go right on Van Ness St. You'll be at the north end of the park.

Massachusetts Ave and Cathedral Ave: The N6 runs between Dupont Circle and Friendship Heights. Get off at Massachusetts and Macomb, then walk up Massachusetts to where the trail crosses the road. Or get off on Cathedral Ave. as it crosses the park.

Reservoir Road: The D6 from Farragut West and Dupont Circle runs along Reservoir Road and stop near the entrance to the park.

Canal Road: After crossing the park on Reservoir Road, the D6 heads south on Foxhall Road and stops at the intersection with MacArthur Blvd. You'll walk a short distance southeast as Foxhall merges into Canal Road; the trail is on the north side of Canal Road.

From the south end of the park (or any other spot you choose along the route, really) you can make a 6 mile loop: go north into the park, then head west over to Palisades/Battery Kemble Park via the greenway between Edmunds St. and Fulton St., then head south to the canal, and southeast along the canal back to the bottom of Glover-Archbold.

Bikes: The trails through the park are marked on the Park Service map as foot trails only.

Dogs: Allowed. Please scoop your poop.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

August 10-16

Each week, we list opportunities to get outdoors or learn about nature. Click through to the organization hosting each event for more details -- some events require registration or charge a fee.

Rescheduled for September: This week's highlight: At the Potomac Conservancy's River Center at Lockhouse 8 on the C&O Canal, a talk Sunday from 1:00 to 2:00 called Voices of the River: Knowing Native Waters. Abby Ybarra will speak on the Native outlook of stewardship and tribal relationships with water. Followed by a free workshop on Canoeing 101 (register with by August 14) from 2:30 to 4:00. Inside the River Center, the Conservancy also has a new exhibit, “Backyard to the Bay,” that connects what happens on land to the health of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay.


Sierra Club
Sat: Shenandoah River SP (11 mi)
Sat: Overall Falls Northern SNP hike & swim (11 mi)
Sun: Lake Artemesia (3 mi)
Sun: Greenbelt Park (5 mi)

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Many cabin and trail crew work trips.
Tue: AT, Thornton & Piney Rivers (18 mi)
Thu: Family Hike: Appalachian Trail At Bear Rocks (2-3 mi)
Sat: Natural History Hike, SNP
Fri-Sun: Family Backpacking Trip, Dolly Sods

Center Hiking Club
Sat: Rocky Mount, SNP (10 mi)
Sun: W&OD from East Falls Church to Ballston (4 mi)

Capital Hiking Club
Sat: Calvert Cliffs/Solomons Island (up to 10 mi)

Northern Virginia Hiking Club
Sat:Rapidan Camp (7.2 mi)
Sat: Turk Mountain, SNP (9 mi)
Sat: Tuscarora, Massanutten Loop and Milford Gap (11.5 mi)
Sun: Cacapon State Park (5-10 mi)

Sun: Swimming Hike, Jewell Hollow Overlook to Nicholson Hollow, AT (7.5 - 11.5 mi)

Audubon Naturalist Society
Wed: half-day birding trip to Woodbridge/Occoquan Bay NWR

Virginia Native Plant Society
Sat: Dyke Marsh

Rock Creek Park
Sun: Ranger led horseback tour (ages 12+)

United States Botanical Garden
Wed AM: Butterflies and Butterfly Gardening lecture


Rock Creek Park
Various planetarium programs.
Wed: Art in the Park - drawing outdoors (ages 10+)
Nature Journal (ages 9+), What's For Dinner? (ages 3+)
: Creature Feature (all ages), Animal Track Hike (ages 5+)
Sat: Habitat Hunt - look for animal signs (ages 6-12)

Museum of Natural History
Daily tarantula feedings in the insect zoo and museum tours.
Tue: Hands-on activities in the Dig It! soil exhibit
Wed: Look at specimens or artifacts with a scientist in the Ocean Hall

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nooks and Crannies, Boutiques and Hot Spots

Last summer on my way to the Silver Spring metro in the mornings, I often passed by a vacant lot on Fenton St. that had lots of chicory growing in it. And perching on the chicory were often goldfinches. Some days, I'd be treated to whole, swooping flocks of them. It made me appreciate the little nooks and crannies in this otherwise-urban landscape that allow nature to creep in. You don't always have to go to a big park to see nature.

Then, one day, someone mowed down all the weeds, and the birds moved on. The lot is now slated for development.

My little plot of chicory wasn't exactly Paradise. But I'll miss the goldfinches on my walk to work. And, soon, in their place, we probably will actually have a boutique and a hot spot. Which brings me to our special guest appearance for today:

Do you have a little patch of nature that you appreciate within the hustle and bustle of the city? Leave a comment and let us know about it (before it's gone).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

LOOK FOR: Meteors

August has been recorded as a peak date for meteor showers for centuries. Tiny grains of sand entering the Earth's atmosphere glow so brightly, they look like falling stars. The Perseid meteor shower is already going, and peaks around August 12. Get out there and take a look. Maybe even make a wish.

The darker it is when (and where) you're looking for falling stars, the more you should see. If you can, go somewhere away from artificial light sources. Your best bet in DC is probably Rock Creek Park; the Capital Astronomers like to use the field just south of the intersection of Military and Glover Roads NW, near the Nature Center (they'll be out there with their telescopes the evening of August 22). But on a good night, you may be able to see things from your backyard or rooftop, if you can turn off or block out any nearby lights.

Also avoid natural light sources. The sun sets around 8:00 PM, but it starts getting truly dark around 9:00 PM. But the moon is just past full tonight; it will rise around sunset and will create enough light to make it hard to see meteors. Each night over the next week, the moon will get smaller and rise later. Starting on Sunday, there should be several days right around the peak of the Perseids with nice, dark windows of opportunity in the evening:

Sunday, August 9 - 9 PM to 9:30 PM
Monday, August 10 - 9 PM to 10:00 PM
Tuesday, August 11 - 9 PM to 10:30 PM
Wednesday, August 12 - 9 PM to 11:00 PM
Thursday, August 13 - 9 PM to 11:45 PM
Friday, August 14 - 9 PM to 12:30 AM
Saturday, August 15 - 9 PM to 1:30 AM
Sunday, August 16 - 9 PM to 2:45 AM

The final thing you'll have to consider is the weather report. Clouds, obviously, will make it much harder to see the meteors. But so will humidity, which creates a haze that makes it harder to make out anything in the sky. Perhaps we'll have some more of the nice, low-humidity weather we've been having this summer at some point during this window.

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More Resources for Planning Your Hike or Bike on Trails in the DC Area

We've been enjoying compiling our own descriptions of some of our favorite parks, and hope to continue. But we also thought we'd pass along some other excellent resources for finding trails in the DC area.

Running Around Town ( has an extensive collection of trail descriptions, complete with mileage counts, directions, and even suggestions for nearby restaurants. Although they were compiled for runners, most are also relevant for hikers.

The Washington Area Bicyclists Association has a good set of links to maps of local trails.

Trail Voice is a new website that posts once a week about local trails, and the organizations and individuals that preserve and protect those places. Each post has a brief trail description and links to a relevant map.

Local Hikes has a big mix of hikes that may or may not seem "local" to you, but there are certainly several inside and near the beltway. Most trail descriptions are short, but they give a sense of what you're in for; additional comments (with star ratings) are posted by other hikers.

Hiking Upward has hike descriptions for several parks in Virginia and West Virginia. As suggested by the name, most are well outside the beltway, in the mountains. But a few closer-in hikes along the Potomac are included. There is a helpful summary page that allows you to pick hikes by location, or by any of the other factors they're rated by: difficulty, streams, views, solitude, and camping. On each trail's page, there's a trail map, a trail description, and a Google map that can be used to get directions. Many hikers have also posted their own reviews in comments.

If you want to plan your own route, you can use Map My Walk or Map My Run (basically the same site) to estimate mileage. Unlike Google Maps (which we also use extensively), these sites will allow you to draw a route that doesn't follow a street. In some parks, the trails are clearly identified on the maps; in others, you'll have to estimate the route based on another map.

To figure out your own car-free routes, try a combination of Google Maps and the WMATA Trip Planner. Find the park you're trying to visit, then zoom in on the Google map until you can see a nearby street address to plug into the trip planner.

Did we miss any good resources? Let us know in comments...

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Natural Happenings: August 3-9

Each week, we list opportunities to get outdoors or learn about nature. Click through to the organization hosting each event for more details -- some events require registration or charge a fee.

This week's highlight: The Audubon Naturalist Society is hosting a session called How to Get Moths to Land on Your Bedsheets at Night on Friday night (7:30-11 pm) at Woodend. "Come discover why moths constitute about 90% of all the Lepidoptera on the planet: not bad for a group of animals that flew with some of our most well-known dinosaurs! Join Dr. David Adamski in reviewing the most common moth families found in the Capitol Region. After sunset, he’ll help us identify the moths that are attracted to his blacklight set-up on our Woodend grounds." Members $20; Nonmembers $28. Registration required.


Mycological Association of Washington
Tue eve: Monthly meeting at Chevy Chase Library - practice identifying mushrooms
Sat: possible foray to Cosca Regional Park, Clinton, MD (check website/contact leader)

Sierra Club
Sat: Hawksbill Mtn, SNP–Setting Sun/Rising Moon Hike & candlelight potluck (9 mi)
Sat: Austin Mountain and Jones Run Trail (16 mi)
Sun: Piscataway Park plus Chapman State Park (10 mi)

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club
Many cabin and trail crew work trips.
Tue: North District, Shenandoah NP (16.5 mi)
Thu : Family Hike: AT at Weverton Cliffs (6.2 mi)
Sat: Austin Mtn Trail to the Doyles River, Jones Run Trail, and Furnace Mtn Trail (17 mi)

Center Hiking Club
Sat: Tumbling Run/Lewis Rocks, Michaux St. Forest, PA (10 mi)
Sun: Lake Accotink (6 mi)

Capital Hiking Club
Sat: Jeremy's Run, SNP (9 mi)

Maryland Outdoor Club
Sat: Bike ride on the North Central Railroad trail

Northern Virginia Hiking Club
Sat: High Knob- Catoctin Mountain Loop, Gambrill State Park (5 mi)
Sat: Woodstock Towers/Edinburg (12 mi)
Sun: Elizabeth Furnace/Tuscarora (8 mi)

Sun: Swimming hike to South River Falls, SNP (7-10 mi)

Washington Women Outdoors
Sat: Potomac Heritage Trail/C&O Canal (9.5 mi)

Audubon Naturalist Society
Thurs eve & Sat: Grass identification
: Birding Delaware Coastal Areas

Rock Creek Park
Sun: Ranger-led horseback tour (ages 12+)


Rock Creek Park
Various planetarium programs
Art in the park - basics for drawing outdoors (ages 10+)
Nature Journal (ages 9+)
Thu: Woodland Trail Hike (ages 5+)
Fri: Creature Feature (all ages), Sensational Senses (ages 3+)
Sun: Fort DeRussy Hike (ages 8+)

Museum of Natural History
Daily feedings in the insect zoo, and museum tours.
Tue: Hands-on activities in the Dig It! soil exhibit
Wed: Look at specimens or artifacts with a scientist in the Ocean Hall

Like the photo in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.