The Real March Madness

It’s hugely exciting times for college hoops fans, awash in basketball games where they breathlessly wait to see if, oh, the Grand Canyon University Antelopes beat the Iowa Hawkeyes, or if Creighton holds off UCSB, whatever that is. Wait, there is a Grand Canyon University?!

Some $1.5 billion will be bet legally over all the new gambling apps, almost 40 million Americans will fill out those brackets, gallons of newspaper ink will be spilled, and sports analysts will natter on for hours. “Bracketology” will trend on Twitter; coaches’ heads will roll. 

Over 19-year-old kids playing hoops. Welcome to March Madness. 

Meanwhile, receiving no fanfare at all, nature in March is simply exploding. Flowers have already begun opening, an elegant parade blooming in an orchestrated sequence begun back in February when skunk cabbages poked through the mud in wet areas, purple mottled hoods protecting a Sputnik-shaped flower. Just this week, the buds of red maples have popped to reveal tiny wind-pollinated flowers, little red spiders dangling from tree branches.  

Red maple

Sure, on our lawns there are snowdrops and crocuses and daffodils and tulips. But our forests will be bursting with ephemeral wildflowers with names as evocative as the flowers are stunning: trout lily, Jack-in-the-pulpit, bloodroot, shooting star, Dutchman’s breeches, Solomon’s seal… With all apologies to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (whose show is delayed and outdoors this year—great idea), here’s the real flower show.

Meanwhile, migrating birds are undergoing their own rite of spring, flying through in  progression, red-winged blackbirds and phoebes now, ruby-throated hummingbirds later. Waves of woodland warblers—tiny but unbelievably exquisite creatures wearing extraordinary coats of many colors—pass through like clockwork, pine and prairie warblers right now, blackpolls bringing up the rear at season’s end. And they are passing through in their breeding plumage, essentially wearing  their Sunday best for us. Just Google “Blackburnian warbler”: is there a prettier animal anywhere?

Blackburnian warbler

And while some of these birds are staying for the summer, many are heading to nesting grounds far north of here—think Adirondacks and Canada—only visiting the region for a few days on their journeys north and south. Blink and they’re gone. 

Those birds that nest here—cardinals and chickadees, titmice and robins—will be calling their love songs. One of my favorite sounds of spring is the first moment I hear a wood thrush. A cousin of the robin, the thrush’s song is like organ pipes or flute music: it is simply stunning, and stops me in my tracks every spring. 

Butterflies soon begin awakening, mourning cloaks first, painted ladies soon, swallowtails in late April, and monarchs, just now leaving Mexico, much later.  

Hibernators are crawling out of dens ready to start the new year. Already, painted turtles are basking alongside Fire Pond near the front door of the Schuylkill Center, and American toads will soon be crossing Port Royal Avenue on a dark and stormy night to get to their mating grounds up in the old reservoir across the road. And any day now I expect to see the first groundhog of the season, likely nibbling on roadside grass blades, likely on that high bench of lawn along Hagy’s Mill Road, on the old Water Department land.

That’s the real March madness, that here we are, on the very first days of spring, having survived another wild and wooly winter, having been stuck in lockdown and freeze-down and ice-down, and we’re not betting on the first day a phoebe arrives from the tropics or the first day a mourning cloak butterfly flitters into view. We’re not inviting friends over for a beer to watch our crocuses unfold. We’re not sitting in lawn chairs to admire the red blush of flowers blooming across the maples on our street.

We’re not writing in our brackets which species migrates through first, the yellow-rumped warbler or the great crested flycatcher. 

No, we’re debating whether David, the 16th-seeded Drexel Dragons, can slay the Goliath of Illinois, the Big 10 champions and top seed in the Midwest. (OK, here I relent: go Drexel!)

The struggle for me as an environmental educator is that, as a nation, as a culture, we have collectively decided, quietly but definitively, that college basketball matters. Just look at the air time. The ink space. Heck, coaches’ salaries—in many states, athletic coaches are the highest paid state employees.

But nature? Not so much. Sure, it gets a weekly high-quality hour on PBS, but how are those spring wildflowers doing? How are migrating birds faring? How are those monarch butterflies doing, actually on the bubble as a species? Where’s the Nature section of the city newspaper? The culture has spoken, and nature is far, far down our list.

There’s another part of this madness: nature’s elegant springtime succession of flowers blossoming, trees leafing out, and birds migrating is in disarray because the symphony has a new conductor. While climate change is rearranging ancient patterns to an as-yet-unknown effect, the biggest experiment in the history of a planet…

… we’re glued to TV sets arguing over who’s better, Gonzaga or Baylor.  

So the real flower show has already started outdoors, in your backyard, in a forest near you. But we’re stuck inside filling out brackets.  

That’s just madness.

Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

Water Nature Kit: At-Home Version

World Water Day is on Monday March 22. According to the United Nations, World Water Day “celebrates water and raises awareness of the global water crisis,” and this year’s theme is valuing water. Let’s celebrate our favorite liquid with these fun activities! (To learn more about World Water Day, and join in on the virtual celebration, visit https://www.unwater.org/worldwaterday2021/.)

Every Saturday, Nature Kits are given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 10:00 am-12:00 pm. Nature Kits focus on a different theme each week and are meant to be done along our trails and given back once completed. If you can’t make it out to the Center to pick up a kit, make sure to check our blog each week for ways to get in some nature exploration at home.

 

Activity #1: Drops on a Penny

There are many properties of water that make it unique. One of these is its high surface tension. Surface tension describes the strong “layer” at the top of water. It’s what makes it possible for the water strider to “walk” across the surface of water. But don’t take my word for it. Test it yourself!

Materials: penny, eyedropper, water

  • Place a penny on a flat surface. (Choose wisely—the surface will get a little wet!)
  • Use an eyedropper to slowly drip drops of water onto the penny.
  • See how many drops you can add before the surface tension breaks. 

Activity #2: What floats your boat?

Buoyancy is the force that allows things to float on water. A paper boat, for example, floats on water because the force of the boat pushing down towards the water is less than the force of buoyancy pushing up from the water. Test it out by making your own origami boat using the graphic instructions below.

Materials: 8.5×11 paper, bowl or sink full of water, coins/stones optional

  • See if your boat can float in a tub of water or a sink.
  • Place small stones or coins into your boat to see how much weight it can hold until it is no longer buoyant and sinks.

 

Activity #3: Water on the Move!

Water is the liquid form of H2O. As a liquid, it has some unique properties that allow it to move about. One way water moves is through capillary action. Simply put, capillary action is the ability of a liquid to move without—or even against—gravity through a small space. Water will wick, or draw itself upwards, because it likes to stick to itself and often also to the surface around it. See for yourself!

Materials: cup, 10×2 inch strip paper towel, washable markers, water.

  • Get a cup and fill it with about 1 inch of water.
  • Cut a 10×2 inch strip of paper towel.
    • Use washable markers of varying colors to draw a line of circles across the 2 inch width about 5 inches up the strip.
    • Fill in the circle.
  • Drape the paper towel over the edge of the cup so that the bottom is just touching the water.
    • Fold the top over the edge to keep it from falling in.
  • Now wait and watch!
    • Can you see the water moving up the paper towel?
    • What happens when the water reaches the dots of marker ink? 

Patti Dunne, Environmental Educator

Roxborough’s Michelle Havens Welcomes You to the Schuylkill Center

If you’ve visited the Schuylkill Center on a weekday, chances are you’ve met Michelle Havens, our receptionist, office manager, and gift shop manager. At the center for more than five years, Michelle has deep roots in our community, as she is a third-generation Roxborough resident.

Michelle has lived in Roxborough for most of her life. Born at Roxborough Memorial Hospital, she grew up on Domino Lane, attended Shawmont School, and even lived in the Scout House off Henry Avenue in her 20s. As a child, “I used to walk from Domino Lane to the Andorra Shopping Center,” she told me, and fondly remembers the Clover there not far from the movie theater. “And Ivy Ridge was way different too; Target was an A&P, and there was a movie theater there too. You could walk so many places and not have to worry about it,” she continued. “Everything was within walking distance.” And today? “It’s just way busier, more traffic, more everything.”

She also remembers playing along the trails of the Schuylkill Center. “This was the park on the other side of the Ridge from the Wissahickon,” she said, laughing. “I’d not only play here, but I came here on school field trips.”

Michelle loves Roxborough’s many greenspaces, and she also “loves the nosiness of the neighbors. Everyone knows what’s going on, so it’s got a small-town feel; we look after each other. But that’s also a downside, that everyone knows what’s going on!”

She’s become active in the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, joining its board two years ago, and worries that the civic’s work “is getting busier now with so much building going on. For the civic, “keeping up with COVID is a little hectic, and makes things much harder. We can’t meet in person, so it’s tougher to get information to people and get their feedback. But we’re still doing it.”

I asked her what Roxborough should know about the Schuylkill Center. “Some people aren’t aware of what we do back here, and some people are just afraid to find out—maybe they’re too set in their ways. But we’ve got great hiking trails that connect to the bike trail, and you can head north or south along the trail. We’ve got great ponds, and great views of the Schuylkill River. It’s just a great place to get away—you can lose yourself in the woods without really getting lost. And you can partake in our programs!”

Michelle noted that many people “are surprised that we’re not supported by the city,” and she’s right. The center is privately supported, is not part of Fairmount Park, and receives no city funding.

As the front desk receptionist, she’s met a wide variety of people– and living things. “I came in one day to find a flying squirrel sitting on the seed cart in the lobby. I mean, where else can you find that?” She’s seen great blue herons fly by the front door, and she’s among the handful of staff who have seen coyotes. “I’ve seen a lot of them outside,” she recounted, “and have heard them some evenings too.” 

She’s also met a lot of interesting people. “One Saturday,” she said, “an older visitor came who used to live in a house above Wind Dance Pond,” the Center’s largest pond. “She was in her 80s or 90s, grew up there, and really wanted to see the pond.” Wind Dance is the pond visible from Port Royal Avenue, and her home, long gone, was on that road back in the day. “Everyone who comes is interesting; everyone has a story,” she offered.

But the big downside of being our receptionist is facing the public in a pandemic. “That isn’t something everyone wants to do, “ she confessed. “Last year when we started preparing for summer camp and the prospect of visitors returning, I was nervous about people following the mandates and guidelines. Prior to COVID, people were constantly coming and going, chatting at the entrance and hanging out. I was concerned about the risk of exposure.

“For the most part, “ she continued, “everyone has been great with masks and distancing. Many of our visitors have been grateful to have a place to come to safely. As much as I worried about exposure, even these brief interactions with visitors allow me to feel some semblance of normalcy. It’s a connection to other people in a time where many are unable to have that.” 

Michelle runs our gift shop, which features “an assortment of nature, local, and eco-friendly products, a little something for everyone.” Of course it features the best bird seed around, plus lots of bird feeders and other products that bring nature into your yard. Members get a discount, (hint, hint), a great reason to join.

She has raised two kids in her Upper Roxborough home—a fourth generation—and both are enrolled in college locally, one in environmental studies and the other in computer science. “I’ve got one green and one techie!” Her green child has worked in our Summer Camp and substitute teaches in our Nature Preschool, so the Center has been a family affair as well.

To her neighbors, she invites everyone to visit, to “get out and enjoy the break in the weather. Not many nature centers are open right now, so we’re lucky. We’re following all the rules, but we’re open!” 

Michelle, all of us here thank you for so warmly staffing the front desk at such a ridiculously challenging time. We’re in your debt. 

By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

A Reflection on Making Space for Us

In my role as the Environmental Art Intern, I had the great opportunity to go through each and every one of the photos that were submitted to the amazing kaleidoscope of nature in the exhibition “Citizen’s Eye.” In the process of sorting through them, I had time to reflect on these snapshots, and on my own experiences in the outdoors throughout the pandemic. While there are many beautiful and eye-catching images, the ones that stood out to me most were those that documented time spent with other people. When I reflect on the time I spent outside over the last year, I am reminded of the close friends and family that I share these memories with. In a time of being hyper-aware of the spaces around us, nature provided a refuge and became the setting for all kinds of gathering. A place where we could still spend time with each other while also maintaining the distance we needed apart from each other to be safe and respectful.

Nature Preschool at the Schuylkill Center by Rose Hammerman

What I see when I look through these images is a process of placemaking. Each photograph documents a way in which we are embedding emotional significance and new meaning into our natural environments. When we give these spaces new life, making them significant locations for living, gathering and communicating, we have transformed them into a place. While indoor spaces closed their doors to gathering, we turned to the outdoors to create new places to create memories. Celebration, exploration, connection, learning, mourning and many more rituals all took place in natural environments. Restaurants looked at parking lots and sidewalks and imagined new places for dining. This process was important in 2020. Natural placemaking reflected our needs to adjust to the circumstances, and it also reconnected us to a natural world that we are often at odds with. Whether or not you spent much time in the outdoors before the pandemic, your view of natural space definitely changed during the pandemic.

My hope is that post-pandemic, however that future looks, we will continue this process and continue to embed meaning into our natural spaces, whether it be the patch of grass on the sidewalk or the forest you went hiking through. Many were already doing this long before Covid-19 took ahold of our attention, but for others, time in quarantine allowed us to be more reflective and more presently focused on processes like this. We found a need to create new places, not by building or defining a space, but by being intentionally aware of what a space means to us and the memories that are connected to it.

Photo by CJ Walsh

 I am glad to look through this collection of images and view the many ways in which we think about nature, both big and small, as important to our lives during a time of crisis and turmoil. As we imagine what futures await us, it is important to uphold these processes presently, and to imagine how natural space and its significance to us fits into these imagined futures.

 

By CJ Walsh, Environmental Designer and former Art Intern at the Schuylkill Center.

 

Schuylkill Saturday: Self-Guided Nature Exploration for Families

From the colorful autumn leaves to the fresh snow of winter to the budding flowers of spring and summer, discover the beauty and wonder along our trails in every season through this FREE weekly self-guided program. Pick up a nature exploration kit at our Visitor Center and then hit the trails with your family to complete the activities inside. Explorer kits can be picked up anytime between 10:00-12:00 on a first-come, first-served basis. Explorer kits have activities in them that are meant to be done along our trails and then returned when finished. All ages welcome. No registration required. Masks are required when picking up your kit and when at nature kit spots along the trails.

At-Home Nature Explorer Kit: Aquatic Macroinvertebrates

We’re talking about water bugs for this week’s Aquatic Macroinvertebrates themed nature kit. Aquatic macroinvertebrates—“macros” for short—are tiny water creatures that do not have a backbone and are large enough to see with the naked eye. Some are aquatic worms, crustrasians, or animals with a shell, like snails. Many others are the young stage of insects you are probably familiar with, like the dragonfly. From freshwater to saltwater and streams to ponds, each water habitat is called home by a unique variety of macros. These critters might be small, but they play an important part maintaining the health of the exosystem. 

Activity #1: Macro ID

When you find a macro in the wild, you will probably want to identify it. The tool we use to identify macros is called a dichotomous key. This key works by asking you a second question that will slowly help narrow down the possibilities until you are able to identify the specific macro you have found. Give it a try!

  • Use the dichotomous key linked here to identify the macros below.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the post to see if you identified them correctly.

      

Activity #2: Make Your Own Dichotomous Key

Materials Needed: 10 items in a similar category (details below); pencil; paper

Scientific Skills:

  • Observation
  • Identification
  • Categorization 

Instructions:

  1. Start by deciding what you want to categorize. You’ll need to be pretty familiar with your items since the end goal is to be able to identify them. Consider using familiar plants or insects you can find in your yard, or even sort something in your home, like kitchen tools or your stuffed animal collection. Get creative!
  2. Set out your items. I would suggest about 10 items. (If you’re using natural items, you don’t need to collect/pick them, but it does make the activity easier to be able to see them all at once.)
  3. Take a few minutes to make some observations about the items.  Ask:
    • What makes them similar?
    • What makes them different?
    • Do I notice any similarities among several of my items? 
    • Does any one item really stand out from the rest?
  4. Now you’re ready to start making your key. Begin by deciding what 2 main groups you could break your items into. Every item needs to fit into one of these two groups, so they should be pretty broad. To use stuffed animals as an example, maybe you could split them up into big & little or real & imaginary.
  5. Now pick one of those groups to focus on. In this group, are there 2 or 3 smaller groups you could break your items into? 
  6. Keep going. Continue this process of breaking the items into smaller and smaller groups until each item is named specifically. (If you feel stuck, you can peak at the example below.)
  7. Ask a family member to test it out! Give them a single item and ask them to follow your key to see if they can identify the item you gave them.
  8. Share it with us! Take a picture of your key and sorted items and tag us @schuylkillcenter on Facebook or Instagram. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

 

Activity 1 Answer:

Water Boatman (left) & Dobsonfly Larva (right)

 

Patti Dunne, Environmental Educator

 

The Rise and Fall of our Forests: from the Lenape to Smokey the Bear

The Pennsylvania landscape has undergone a near-complete transformation over the last 350 years, starting with the extirpation of the Lenape and the loss of their fire management practices. After European settlement, extensive logging and land clearing, the introduction of exotic insects, diseases and invasive plants, increasing deer browsing, and the Smokey Bear-era has led to unprecedented changes in forest composition across the eastern US. We’ve lost not only once-dominant chestnut trees, but many white pine forests too, and super-abundant white oak is in decline. Oaks, hickories, and pines are not regenerating, red maples are on the rise– and the climate is changing. Marc D. Abrams, Ph. D., professor of forest ecology at Penn State, explains the sweeping history of our once and future forests.

The First Wildflower of Spring is…Skunk Cabbage?

March comes in like a lion, the old saw says, but the last thing any of us needs right now is for March to roar in this; after the winter we’ve been through, we’re all completely exhausted by snow and ice. I’ll take a heaping helping of lamb instead, please, thank you very much.

And right now I’ll also take whatever sign of spring I can. Which explains why I ran outside last week when I heard the familiar honking of Canada geese overhead. I looked up, and there they were: two low-flying skeins of geese in beautiful V-formation flying exactly due north– avian compasses telling me spring is coming. 

In that same vein, desperately seeking spring, I hiked the Schuylkill Center’s Ravine Loop two Saturdays ago, slogging through the snow and ice in search of the very first wildflower of spring, which blooms right about now, amazingly.

It’s skunk cabbage, named for its large stinky leaves—that strong chemical keeps herbivores like deer at bay. Its leaves aren’t up yet—they come later—but I was looking for its flowers, as the plant blooms surprisingly early, as early as late February. And the flower is tucked inside a small mottled purple hood that resembles something like the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter universe. Incredibly, this hood is thermogenic, which means it is able to generate heat to melt the snow and ice around it. Temperatures around the hood are as much as 60° higher than the air around it. Crazy, no?

But that purple hood isn’t the flower. No, tucked inside the hood is a Sputnik-like knobby orb, rather Klingon-ish. Those knobs, unsexy as they are, are its flowers. And the flowers reek too, but a different smell, one akin to rotting flesh. This serves a huge purpose: attracting its pollinators, the flies and bees that scavenge on dead and rotting flesh. They crawl into the hood looking for dead meat, crawl over and across the yellow knobs, and accidentally pollinate the flower—a highly effective strategy. The purple mottling of its hood is surprisingly common in the pant world, as lots of plants have learned how to imitate dead flesh as a means of seduction.

And one of its pollinators is a blowfly with the wonderful species name of vomitoria. Need we say more?

Oh, the heat accomplishes multiple functions; it not only melts the ice around it, critical at this time of year, but also helps disseminate the smell. And pollinators are likely to come into the hood seeking the warmth that it generates. 

After blooming, its bright green leaves come up as well, some almost two feet long, their cabbage-like appearance lending the plant its name. 

As if all this were not cool enough, the plant’s stems remain buried below the surface, contracting as they grow, effectively pulling the stem deeper into the mud. In effect, it is an upside-down plant, the stem growing downward. As the plant grows, the stem burrows deeper, making older plants practically impossible to dig up. 

Sadly, I did not find skunk cabbage on that walk—I was just a little too early. So I’m going again this weekend, and invite you to do the trek yourself. Ask our receptionist for a Center map, and hike through the butterfly meadow, turning right and heading downhill on Ravine Loop. The loop makes a big left turn when it hits Smith Run, our lovely small stream, and it’s at that exact corner that you’ll see the skunk cabbage. Turn left to parallel the stream, then look on your left immediately for the wet, soggy, muddy spots—and the hoods will be interspersed in there. 

At that same corner and all along this stretch of the Ravine Loop, skunk cabbage will soon be joined by a raft of stunning flowers, the more traditional spring wildflowers with bold colors and big smells that look to entice the first butterflies and bees of spring. They’ve got sweet names too: spring beauty, Virginia bluebell, trout lily, trillium, Jack-in- the-pulpit, Jacob’s ladder, Dutchman’s breeches, Solomon’s seal. Colorful names. And great sights for very winter-weary eyes.

They’re coming, I promise! But for now, come see the first flowers of the coming season. And happy almost-spring.

 

—By Mike Weilbacher, Executive Director

 

This Topsy-Turvy Winter: Blame Climate Change

Last week’s winter storm piling first snow and then freezing rain on Roxborough and the entire region was just the latest in a long string of severe storms rocking us this winter—with more to come. And the storms have been far worse elsewhere, as several dozen Americans have now died from severe winter weather from Texas into New England. 

That’s a stark and strange contrast to last winter, when almost no snow fell at all, when there were no snow days the entire winter. Just when we thought that last year’s extreme might be the new normal, that climate change had made even snow an endangered species, Old Man Winter came roaring back this year with a vengeance. 

You’d think people like me who continually warn about global warming would be wrong. Think again.

“This week’s storms,” read an Associated Press story widely published in newspapers across the country, “fit a pattern of worsening extremes under climate change and demonstrate anew that local, state, and  federal officials have failed to do nearly enough to prepare for greater and more dangerous weather.”

And that dangerously liberal newspaper, USA Today, asked the key question last week in its headline: “Record cold, intense storms and tornadoes amid global warming: Could there be a connection?” The answer, sadly, is yes. 

Rae Hearts Design & Photography

For the last few years, I have been warning that Philadelphia’s climate was becoming hotter, wetter, and weirder. While this weather is decidedly not hotter—more on that in a second—it has been wetter this year, and wow is it ever weirder. That’s one of the downsides of climate change, that our weather wildly vacillates among extremes: too hot, then too wet, then too dry, then thunderstorms of too much intensity. 

For in addition to last week’s snowstorms, a tornado killed three people in Sunset Beach, North Carolina, the second deadly tornado and third significant tornado of a very young 2021. Tornadoes in winter? Yes, that’s weird.

Let’s start with the simple notion that what goes up must come down. A warming climate—remember, globally the six warmest years on record are the last six years—creates more evaporation: more water vapor rising into the atmosphere to form more clouds. All that water vapor can’t stay there forever; gravity makes it come down eventually, and in winter it may come down as snow or sleet. So last week’s storm covered a wide swath of the United States, dumping snow on 100 million Americans. At one point recently, some 75% of the country was under a blanket of snow. That’s weird.

About that cold. First, our winters now average almost five degrees warmer than they did 50 years ago, and the mercury has not dipped below zero in more than 25 years. Our winters are trending noticeably warmer, even with this cold spell.

To explain this year’s winter, we need to travel to the Arctic circle. In a more typical winter, the polar vortex—that gigantic circular upper-air weather pattern that covers the North Pole—is kept in place by the jet stream, which essentially pens it in. In any winter, the jet stream can wobble or weaken, allowing the polar vortex to slide down into North America. That happens every year. 

Enter climate change. “There is evidence,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd in that same USA Today article, “that climate change can weaken the polar vortex, which allows more chances for frigid Arctic air to ooze into the Lower 48.” Piling on, climate scientist Jennifer Francis, who has published a study on the phenomenon, said in 2019 that “warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south.”

And the data clearly shows the Arctic circle is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the planet, and Arctic Ocean ice has retreated to its lowest levels in, well, ever in recorded history. In January 2021, Arctic Ocean ice measured almost 400,000 square miles below the 198–12010 average. The Arctic is warming, and the jet stream is wobbling.

Francis called the recent weather “a major breakdown” of the polar vortex. “It’s been unusual for a few weeks now—very, very crazy,” she concluded. “Totally topsy-turvy.”

One last thought. Texas has been notably slammed by this winter’s wild weather, and people are freezing and even dying under blackout conditions. It’s absolutely horrible. But that state’s governor oddly chose to blame the Green New Deal and wind turbines for this breakdown. Please don’t swallow this whopper. Texas long ago decided to be independent in its electrical grid to avoid federal regulation, and has resisted advocates asking the state to weatherize its system. Texas is sadly paying the price for avoiding this action.

Wind turbines played no role there. But climate has played a huge role in the weirding of this winter’s weather.

–Written by Mike Weilbacher
Photos by Rae Hearts Design & Photography

Nature’s Music At-Home Activities

This week’s nature kits focus on the different sounds that we hear outside. From the calling of birds to the whistling of wind to the crunching of leaves—nature is alive with its own special type of music. 

Every Saturday, nature kits have been given out on a first-come, first-served basis from 10:00 am–12:00 pm. Nature kits focus on a different theme each week and are meant to be done along our trails. If you can’t make it out to the Center to pick up a kit, make sure to check our blog each week for ways to get in some nature exploration at home.

Activity #1: Sound Scavenger Hunt

In our own neighborhoods, there are sounds specific to nature and sounds not specific to nature.

  • Print out a sound scavenger hunt and go on a hike to see if you can hear the sounds on the sheet.
    • As you hike around, pause at a few points and cup your hands around the back of your ear to look like the ears of a deer. This helps to amplify sound or make it louder.
    • Animals like deer and rabbits have large cup-shaped ears so that they can listen for predators such as foxes and coyotes.
    • Which sounds on your scavenger hunt sheet are sounds from nature? Which are sounds that are not from nature? Are there any sounds that you hear that aren’t on the scavenger hunt sheet?
Activity #2: Animal Charades
  • Take a piece of paper and cut it into strips.
    • Brainstorm some animals that make distinct sounds and write (or draw for younger children) one animal on each piece of paper.
    • Put all of the slips of paper in a brown paper bag.
  • Go outside and find the perfect stage to perform your charades.
    • Have one person from your family pick a piece of paper from the brown bag and make the sound that that animal makes.
    • Can everyone else guess what animal it is?
    • Have another person take a turn.
      • For an extra challenge, split your family into teams and see who can get through the most animals in a set amount of time.
    • Which animal sounds were really easy to guess? Which were really hard?
Activity #3: Family Nature Band
  • It’s time to create your very own rock band!
  • Have each member of your family find a nature instrument.
    • Some examples include: using a rock and stick for a drum set, making an xylophone out of different sized sticks, or just grabbing some leaves to crunch.
  • Have one person from your family act as a conductor.
    • When the conductor moves their hands quickly, the music should go faster.
    • When the conductor moves their hands slowly, the music should slow down.
    • The conductor can also tell certain people when to stop or start playing.
      • Point to someone to tell them to start playing.
      • Act as though your hand is a mouth and clamp your fingers together to tell someone to stop playing.
  • Can you put together your own family song?
Activity #4: Jingle Sticks
  • Find a Y-shaped stick in your backyard or a nearby park.
  • Tie a piece of yarn onto one side of the stick.
  • String materials that would make sound through the yarn.
    • Some examples include: dried pasta, beads, or buttons.
  • Once your materials are added, tie the yarn off on the other side of the stick.
    • You can wrap the bottom of your stick in yarn or color it with paint.

 

If you do any of these activities, be sure to snap a picture and share it with us on social media (tag us @schuylkillcenter)—we’d love to see what you discover in your own backyard!