Currently viewing the tag: "On The Wild Side"

Climate Change: A Hoax?

by Christine Maccabee

No matter where you stand on the subject of climate change, no matter how skeptical or how impassioned you are, I am sure there are many things we all can agree on. Of the many concerns I have, personally, the one that stands out the most for me is the future of our children and what kind of world, or earth, we adults will be leaving them—climate change or no climate change.

Everybody knows that our modern-day lifestyles have led to multiple problems such as plastics in our oceans, what to do with all our garbage and recycleables, oilspills, danger to wildlife habitat from development and toxic chemicals, and on and on. We are all aware of these problems through TV, newspapers, and the internet. Fortunately, the human being has been beautifully equipped with problem-solving abilities, which all of us must use each day with everyday problems, be it surviving a heavy workload, or jobs that do not pay enough to do little more than help us with bills, or a place to live and healthy food to eat.

By the time we get through dealing with our personal needs and challenges, who in the world has time to think about climate change?

In truth—and thankfully—many people do find the time, and are actively doing things to help solve this huge problem we are having as a human race on earth, our only home.

If you think I am being overly dramatic, well, think of it this way. Our precious baby is in the bathtub with the water running. Meanwhile, we adults are out in the hallway with the door closed, debating whether there is enough water in the tub and if it is too hot or too cold. Meanwhile, the tub is filling, the water temperature might be dangerous, and the child is suffering. It does not take much to open the door and check, making adjustments as necessary.

Here in Frederick County, we are very fortunate to have many individuals who care deeply about the future well-being of our planet and its inhabitants. It takes political engagement in a bipartisan way to make broader significant progress. Individuals in Sierra Club, the Multi-Faith Alliance group, and certain council members, are wanting to form a working group that will be actively problem-solving for one year and presenting their resolutions to the Frederick County Council. Their goal is to ensure that future legislation around development, agriculture, air, and water quality will be enacted, as seen through the lens of climate change and protection of our precious natural resources.

However, too much skepticism at this critical time will inevitably work against positive progress. With all hands on deck, perhaps we can steady this ship, and save the baby as well! 

Even if you are not involved in politics, there are still many things you can do to make a difference. Some things may seem inconvenient, like not buying water in plastic bottles or using cloth bags for shopping, or perhaps driving 55 mph (something my parents did throughout their lives to save on gasoline).

However, if we accept these small inconveniences as a way of life, they will eventually become less of a burden and more of a benefit, and a joy. For it truly is all about taking care of that precious child in the bathtub. No debate there.

by Christine Maccabee 

Winter Musings: Seed Stratification

Through the many days and nights of this long, cold winter, trillions of seeds lay sleeping. They rest in their icy cradles of earth, awaiting the warmth of spring. Offspring of last year’s flowers, herbs, grasses, and trees, these seeds—though inactive—are preparing for change. Naked, these small capsules of life lay exposed to all the elements, without one word of complaint.

Yes, seeds of plants are in a state of dormancy, being prepared for germination by a process we humans call, stratification.

I have learned through trial and error that the germination rate of wildflower seed mixes is much higher if the seeds are sown in the fall or winter, or put in sealed containers in the freezer until late winter or early spring. Also, some vegetable seeds we save from the past year of gardening need a period of freezing, such as spinach. However, I find most vegetable seeds do quite well kept in a cool, dry place in sealed glass or metal containers to keep moisture and mice out. Mice will chew through plastic if desperate.

As humans, we experience many cold, sometimes difficult, times in our lives, perhaps a form of human stratification. Surely, out of struggle and depth of feeling have come some of our greatest symphonies, art masterpieces, writings, and other creative works. Even out of the depths of depress-ion, and through sheer determina-tion and inspiration, creative potential and genius are released through the cracking of a sort of protective epidermis.

I am thinking of Van Gogh’s prolific paintings, Beethovan’s music—in spite of deafness—and so many others whose flowering of inspiration inspire us all.

One of my favorite songs to sing is by Dottie Rambo, whose pain nearly drove her to suicide. Instead, she wrote a song called “Beside Still Waters,” a powerful song expressive of her pain, yet also of the faith and hope she had in order to overcome it. Human stratification…hmm.

Sitting by my window on this icy, cold day, I gaze out at the gardens, fields, and mountains, painted in shades of greys and browns. Difficult as it is, I must acknowledge my own need for this “down” time. For many of us, January and February can be too cold, too solitudinal, even depressing. To comfort myself, I reflect on the seeds out there of my favorite wild edibles, as well as medicinals for teas. Many of those wild plants depend solely on their seed progeny in order to come again in the spring. As I drink teas from the plants I dried last year, I find myself dreaming of spring, which cannot come soon enough.

Time passes all too swiftly, some say, so we must embrace the moment, finding joy beyond the sorrow. Even lonely, frozen days in January and February will pass more pleasantly if we contemplate the flowers to come, the potential within the soil, the seeds which are stratifying, and the potential within ourselves. All we need, like the seeds, is to weather the elements of our lives with patience and hope.

Spring is on its way! See you in March.    

by Christine Maccabee 

Where Have All the Large Moths Gone?

I will begin this article by asking a question: Have you seen many large moths, such as the luna, cecropia or polyphemus, these days? I am starting to research moth populations in upper Frederick County, and I would appreciate knowing of your sitings of these beautiful, large moths, as well as the slightly smaller ones, such as the gorgeous sphinx in the family of hawk moths.

I guess you might say my research started in high school in my back yard, south of Baltimore. It was there that I discovered a few fascinating green caterpillars of large moths. I put them in gallon jars with appropriate leaves, resupplying with fresh ones as needed. I watched the awesome green caterpillars grow to full size until they spun their cocoons, and I was rewarded for my efforts by seeing them emerge from their large cocoons in the spring. Of course, the best part was freeing them to fly away, back into my yard and sky beyond.

Since then, my personal sitings have been quite rare. Smaller moths of many species—some with colorful patterns, others quite plain—have found sanctuary on my property, yet, no large moths. When I say large, I mean with wingspans up to six inches. Just this past summer, I did see evidence of the luna moth up here in the mountains, but it looked like it had been shredded by either a predator or a mower. Where there is one dead luna moth, there will hopefully be a few more live ones!
Last month, I read an article in the National Wildlife magazine about the importance of litter (meaning dried leaves), dried stem of plants, and general yard debris, for the ongoing cycles of a host of wildlife species. In her article, “Life in the Litter,” Emma Johnson confirmed my understanding by writing about the importance of leaving litter in our gardens, where many insects (including moth pupae) go into a hibernation-like state called diapause, lying dormant until the ground warms. “ I will add that it is likely a death sentence to heap up thick mulch around our plants and trees, possibly inhibiting the emergence of these moths.

Fortunate to own property way off the track, I don’t care if my gardens portray a littered look. Unfortunately, in a suburban or city environment, people feel they must rake up all the leaves and dead stems around their azaleas, trees, and so forth, to have a kept appearance, little knowing that they are likely bagging up more than leaves. I shudder to think of all the moth larvae that are bagged up as well. Doug Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware, says that 94 percent of moth larvae drop off the tree (or host plant) and immediately dig into the litter and soft soil to pupate.

I also have to wonder if the occasional spraying of the hills and ridges near my property, to control gypsy moths, has killed off other harmless moths as well. Even though I was reassured that the spray was specific for the gypsy moth, I am still suspicious. Did the spraying affect other moths and insects as well? 
    So, I continue to observe and to allow ample habitat on my 11-plus acres, no matter how scruffy it may look to critical eyes. My little offering to the health of ecosystems and endangered species may ultimately count for nothing, or it may serve as a tiny Noah’s Ark for the little-understood and unappreciated creatures under our feet and all around us in Natures litter. By this spring, I hope to see more moths of many species—that is, if I stay up all night with the porch light on!

If you have seen any of these large moths or have any other questions or thoughts about habitat, I welcome you to write to me at songbirdschant@gmail.com.

Polyphemus moth is a North American member of the family Saturniidae, the giant silk moths. This moth is tan-colored, with an average wingspan of 15 cm; its most notable feature being its large, purplish eyespots on its two hindwings.

The Holly and The Ivy

by Christine Maccabee

The Holly

There are about 15 native hollies in America, which, if grown in moist soil, are quite beautiful if you are fortunate enough to have one around your home. They can grow tall, but tend to be more shrub-like. Hollies are famous for their reddish berries, which only the female bears, and shiny green leaves. Cuttings are sometimes used at this time of year to decorate our homes, churches, and businesses. Most importantly, the female’s white flowers provide nectar for pollinators, and the berries are an excellent source of food for birds throughout the fall and winter into spring.

Ironically, the raw berries are poisonous for humans, though I do not know about cooked ones. I don’t think I will try it!

In the 1990s, I found my holly tree, half dead in a large pot at a roadside stand where the owner was shutting his business down for the winter. Selling it to me at half price, since it was half dead, I brought it home with great hopes that it might thrive at the corner of my house where the soil is consistently moist. Over many years, I watched with joy to see it become a thriving, and very tall, holly tree. However, disappointingly, it bore no berries.

This tale could have a sad ending since over time it looked like it was dying, its leaves turning brown and dropping off, with no sign of new life. It was becoming an eyesore, so sadly I cut it down. However, the following spring I noticed new growth, beginning at the base of the stump. I watched with great interest and excitement, as over the summer the holly resurrected itself into what is now, after many years, another gorgeous tree. It is even producing some berries!

I know of a few female hollies in our area, mostly brought in by a kind arborist or naturalist. Two of those hollies were planted at the back of the Presbyterian Church in Emmitsburg (where I am an organist), and they are thriving beautifully. I love seeing their many berries turn slowly through the season from green to orangish red (see photo above).

There are several holly forests in Delaware, and one near the Bay Bridge, which I visited a few decades ago. I can only hope it is still in existence; one day in the future, I will explore that possibility. I worry that it may have been demolished to make way for more development, as has happened to many wild areas in my lifetime.

The Ivy

There are at least two ivies that most people are familiar with: the English ivy and the dreaded poison ivy. English ivy is not a native to America and by many naturalists is considered an invasive. Even though some homeowners value it as a ground cover, it sadly does its job all too well. It is an unstoppable creeper, taking over habitat where fern and other wild plants would ordinarily grow. Also, English ivy is very vulnerable to spider mites, scale and mealy bugs, fungus, and so forth, all of which are easily transferable to other wild or domestic plants. Thus, it is a good idea to avoid planting it in your yard.

Some homeowners like to have English ivy creep up the walls of their homes, and it does look beautiful to some eyes. However, its strong roots work their way onto mortar of bricks or cracks in wood, thus damaging the house. I try not to be in judgment of other people’s choices, so I can only make my recommendations, then let it go. This is true of many other facets of life, be they political or lifestyle choices. We cannot control everything, but we can try to help with damage control.

As far as I am concerned, the holly does indeed take the crown with its beauty and usefulness. The French carol “The Holly and the Ivy” is all about the thorns and blood inflicted upon Christ. It is not my favorite carol, but I do love its melody! As for ivy, it is not my favorite plant.

 I suppose we can find the desirable and undesirable in everything in life. May you find true joy this season in many desirable and lovely things.                                                                            

by Christine Maccabee 

I listen to C-SPAN on the radio, though some people watch it on TV. It is a great station that invites all sides of issues to be discussed, and even though I do not agree with every opinion expressed, I try to keep an open mind.

However, one issue I am passionate about is climate change, or disruption as I prefer to define it. I believe, after all the information I have read and heard, that many of the problems we see devastating the Arctic ice—and, yes, now the Amazon rainforest—are man-made. You may disagree, or not even want to think about it. However, I believe the vast majority of people do care and want to make changes that will improve quality of life on our planet.

Back in the 1970s when I lived and worked in Baltimore, my parents were actively advocating for improved air quality in that polluted city. The Better Air Coalition held hearings in order to let the peoples’ voices be heard, and they came by the hundreds to speak and to listen. I had just written a song called “Nature, I Apologize,” one of my first songs ever. My heart was thumping wildly as I went up to the mic with my guitar and boldly sang that song instead of speaking. The result was a standing ovation and an invitation to come back in two weeks and sing it again so it could be aired on national news, which it was. Those were the days, my friend…

Now, these days may be worse. From what I am learning, large corporate interests are, and have been for decades, expanding their profit-making interests into the rainforests of the world, not just the Amazon. Most consumers do not know that 80 percent of the Malaysian rainforests have been decimated, slashed and burned, in order to grow palm oil plantations. Going through a local grocery store with a friend, we made a survey of products with palm oil in them, and easily half of the products use palm oil, palmitate, or palm kernels. Palm oil is a huge business, and sadly all the rainforest animals and plants are being killed in the worst possible way, by fire and bulldozers. In addition, indigenous people are being driven off their land and some are being used as poorly paid workers, basically slaves. The icing on this cake is horribly polluted air and water.

So, now that the planet is losing precious habitat for a wide diversity of animals, plants, insects, and birds, and depleting Earth’s essential oxygen output, what are we to do? Many folks are following the lead of the well-spoken 17-year-old from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who practices what she preaches, traveling to America on a sailboat in order to speak before the UN and rally others who care. Then there is Pope Francis, who has been a long-time advocate of taking care of our precious planet Earth (God’s Creation, not ours), our “only home.” Millions of children and adults around the earth are speaking out in large and small ways by changing their consumer habits. Some are advocating for real political change, for maintaining and improving pollution regulations, which sadly are presently under attack.    

The issues of clean air and water, and preservation of ecosystems, is a consumer issue, is it not? We all eat, drive, use paper products, etc. So, in late 1900s-style, here is a short list of things we all can do to make a difference:

•    Plant trees and native plants on your property or in your yard, creating habitat and oxygen for all of us.

•    Try to eat lower on the food chain since methane from beef and pork is a potent greenhouse gas. Also, holding ponds of excrement overflow into creeks and rivers that is toxic to aquatic creatures.

•    Buy recycled paper products, which are rare in local stores, so let managers know of your interest. A good source is the Common Market in Frederick.

•    Use less gasoline by combining shopping trips to various stores, and going 55 mph on open road.

•    Use less electricity by turning off unneeded lights and your computer and TV when not in use.

•    Use your consumer power by checking ingredients in food you buy, boycotting anything using palm oil. Write to companies explaining your stance and share information with a neighbor.

•    Discontinue use of pollinator killing herbicides and pesticides.

•    Practice regenerative and permaculture gardening techniques (contact me for more information).

•    Take more time to be quiet in nature, cultivating a deeper relationship with the natural world. As you do, you will be more inclined to care for it.

I heard a fellow on C-SPAN expressing his feelings of helplessness about the fires burning out of control in the Amazon. I believe doing nothing is not an option, for helping to preserve the goodness of the Earth for future generations is all our job, every day. Be glad that you are doing something, and know that you are not alone in your efforts. We are all in this together!

by Christine Maccabee 

Summer Flowering

“When the pink mimosa blooms,

                   it fills the air with the sweet perfume

  of summertime fair,

butterflies everywhere.”

~ (lyrics from songpoem “Dreaming of Spring”

by Christine)

It is nearly impossible to believe that spring is over already. No sooner do the crocus and violets appear that they seem to be gone. Other spring flowers such as the wild phlox that graced our roadsides have also gone, with all their purple, white, and pink beauty. Luckily, their seeds, roots, and bulbs live on for next spring’s show.

Now that summertime is upon us, another stage of flowers is here, some coming sooner than others. The common milkweed, with its broad leaves as habitat for the Monarch butterfly, is beginning to get its round cluster of flowers. I have been surprised to learn that many people are not aware of these wonderful flowers, which smell heavenly to me. Bees and butterflies flock to these flowers for nectar and pollen, pollinating them at the same time, so as to produce their fluffy seedpods we all love to see in late summer.

Another favorite of mine is a non-native tree, mimosa, which also has wonderful pinkish flowers, serving as food for our pollinators. Native or not, I allow it to thrive here at Mystic Meadows. It, too, delivers an incredible fragrance to the air that, in my experience, is nature’s aroma therapy. Just to walk out my door and breath in the sweet air while it is blooming transforms my mood.

Other wonderful pollinator magnets—as I call them—are the light purple bergamot flowers and amazing red monarda. On the verge of blooming in my gardens, as of this writing, they attract not only bees and butterflies, but the fascinating hummingbird moth as well. The hummingbird moth looks like a tiny hummingbird, but it is actually a daylight feeding moth that needs nectar as its food. Most moths do, but usually at night. If you ever get a moonflower vine to grow with its large white flowers, which only open at night, you will see a wonder. I am attracted to its wonderful perfume like a moth.

So many flowers come and go, all too quickly, though there are always “second blooms” (another subject for another time). The variety of flowers in the world is astounding; just in our little corner of the world, the diversity is one of which some people are only now discovering. For 30 years, I have been allowing many wild plants to grow to maturity on my property, and have been rewarded by the tall evening primerose with its yellow blooms, orange day lillies, jewelweed’s yellow or orange flowers, the powder blue flowers of chicory, more subtle flowers of edible ground cherry and lambs quarters, wild blue lobelia, the flower spikes of mullein, various clovers, and many, many more. As well, I love many non-native flowers, such as the amazing red poppies and blue larkspur that pop up wherever they planted a seed last year. Sunflowers and zinnias are favorites of many, including our neighborhood bees!         

Yes, from season to season, the sometimes slow, sometimes fast, appearance and then disappearance of these flowering multitudes, leading to colorful late summer goldenrods, purple ironweed, and Canadian asters, is a show not to be missed.

Indeed, flowers are Creation’s painter’s pallet. Exquisite colors and shapes. Enjoy them while they are here, before the bitter, cold winds of winter blow in and we begin to long for spring all over again!

The common milkweed attract bees and butterflies, which flock to these flowers for nectar and pollen, (right) Non-native tree, mimosa, delivers an incredible,  pleasing fragrance to the air.

Noise Pollution

by Christine Maccabee

It is hard to believe that Charles Lindbergh, who made the first transatlantic flight in his plane in 1927, would say such a thing as in the above quote, but he did. Upon retirement, he and his wife, Anne, started a foundation that gave grants to persons who were working to “improve the quality of life through a balance between technology and nature,” discerning nature’s essential wisdom so as to “balance technological power with reverence for life.”

Through the Lindbergh Foundation, Gordon Hempton, author of the book One Square Inch of Silence, applied for and was given a grant in 1989 to explore and understand the problems with excessive noise, as well as the beauty of natural sounds. His mission was to cross the country in his old VW bus, starting in Washington State and ending at the nation’s capital to deliver his proposal to reduce sound pollution in national and state parks. Armed with his recording equipment and a decibel-measuring sound level meter, he preserved soul-soothing natural soundscapes, as well as the ever rising din of man-made noises.

I, too, have problems with mechanical noises, not necessarily as an ecological issue, but as a personal one. As I am getting older, my intolerance for traffic noise, loud music, and mowers has increased. However, as I reflect on my life, I realize that I have always had problems with loud noises. Sometimes, I think I am more bird than human! I love the songs of birds and have recorded many of them with my pencil on staff-lined paper, bits and pieces of exquisite notes, raw material for the creation of enchanting music on the piano.

Everyone loves birds, I am sure, but where loud noises are present, their mating calls can be disturbed and may never be heard by a potential mate. Noise also impacts young children, as I witnessed at an indoor concert, where the music was even too loud for me. The young children were fussy, even crying, but when the music stopped, they became peaceful and happy. That’s how I feel when I get back home after a long road trip or an open mic, where the twang of amplified steel strings and strident voices practically chase me out of the room.

Natural sounds are indeed soothing, even healing, as many of us know. In my research, anything above 120 decibels can be very painful, even harmful. A chainsaw can get as high as 85 decibels, depending on how close you are, and a large mower, though not as loud, can adversely affect a person who is just trying to quietly enjoy working in their gardens. A brief 20-30 minutes of mowing is one thing, but 3-4 hours is another. Those days, as the mowers drone on where I live, I stay in my well-insulated home, even though I would rather be outside. When the mowers stop, my entire body stops vibrating and I feel a physical drop in anxiety.

Some people have no problem at all with such noise. I suppose it depends on your disposition and your ability to ignore noise, but I just cannot. Having really good hearing can be a curse at such times. Also, a love of natural sounds and quiet are like food for my soul.

Gordon Hempton had great success reaching his goal of presenting Congress with his proposal to the National Park Service. I only hope legislators continue to take the noise issue to heart. There is a sign in the Rocky Mountain National Park that reads:

“The call of an owl,

The music of a flowing stream,

  The hush of a winter forest…

  Nature’s sounds and natural

quiet are just as rare as the

native plants and animals of

this park.”

Early June, out here in the Catoctin mountains where I live, there will be a couple Saturdays for people to come and just stop, look, and listen. Give me a shout if you are interested in visiting my nature sanctuary. I welcome any people willing to be quiet for a spell and learn about critically important plants as habitat for wildlife.

Meantime, I hope you find the quiet you need where you live. Sometimes, that even means turning off the TV and radio! Seek quiet time, soul-soothing time, as a gift to yourself.

Better Living Through Chemistry

by Christine Maccabee 

I am finding it difficult to decide what to write about during this magical time of year, when the crocuses are beginning to bloom and when the grays and browns of trees and fields will again become green. This is the time of year we all wait for with eagerness and joy.

At the same time, no sooner does the first bug appear and dandelions begin popping out on our lawns that a sort of warfare begins against the natural world. Bug zappers, which are helping diminish insects we deem as pests, have actually contributed to the depletion of vital food sources (bugs) for birds such as swallows and other birds, dependent on insects for food and survival. Frogs, toads, and dragonflies—even fish—need insects to survive.

Dandelions and clovers are also critical early-season food for our bees, so why poison them? Weed them out if you must, but don’t use chemicals. You may ask “why not?”

Actually, multiple herbicides and pesticides that consumers use regularly are killing both “bad” and “good” insects, as well as threatening the health of soil micro-organisms and human beings. Awareness of such problems in these difficult, even perilous, times is important. Aware consumers can be a powerful source for healthy change and a healthy planet.

Surely everyone has heard of the decline in honey bee and bumble bee populations, globally, and we wonder and worry as to why. Asking “why” is one of the first questions as we come into the world and start to observe the world around us, one of many questions we must continue asking into adulthood in order to learn and to come up with better solutions to our many on-going problems.

You may have heard of the detrimental effects of herbicides and pesticides to insect, bird, and human populations. According to the recent book White Wash by Carey Gillam, agrochemical industries such as Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and others, have taken over the west side of the Hawaiian island Kauai, popularly called the “Garden Isle.”  However, now that these agro-chemistry corporations have bought thousands of acres to experiment with their chemicals, there is a toxic soup poisoning this piece of paradise— air, water, and human. Serious health problems, such as cancer, are occurring in communities that live near what residents are now calling the “poison valley,” and alarm has spread as more and more people are sickened by such secret testings. I became horrified when I read the details of this misled corporate effort to get rid of unwanted insects and plants.

Similar experiments are carried on by Monsanto out west, the most popular product being Roundup, which contains glyphosate. It was embraced by everyone as the wonder herbicide until unintended impacts on the environment and human health were discovered, and now Roundup Ready crops are all the rage, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms….no space to write about that here, nor the heart.

Worldwide, chemicals in commonly used herbicides and pesticides are silently doing more harm than people know. Sadly, ever since DDT and Agent Orange were banned from use in the 1970s, other similarly potent chemicals with different names have taken their place. Chloropyrifos, a neurotoxin, which along with many other problems are linked to Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders. Enlist Duo and Glyphosate are highly toxic herbicides used on corn cotton and soybeans in thirty-four states. They are potent weed killers, wreaking havoc on all insects by killing vital host plants such as milkweed (though they also poison insects and birds, too). As for the bees, Neonics confuse their ability to navigate back to the hives. Once they do make it back, they contaminate the entire hive, creating problems with grooming themselves that, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to mites and disease. Also, because neonics disrupt bees’ gut bacteria, thus weakening their immune systems, the entire hive dies.

Since reading Rachael Carson’s intelligent research and book called Silent Spring (1962), I have not used any chemicals on my property. Instead, there seems to be a wonderfully balanced ecosystem here on my 11+ acres, with a wide diversity of insects, birds, and plants. However, I cannot control what others are doing, and so I am also affected—as are we all—by agrochemical farming. Traces of Glyphosate are found in far too many foods commonly sold at local stores, so I buy organic as much as possible.

 Better living through chemistry? Perhaps we should all continue   asking the question “why?”.

by Christine Maccabee

To De-Ice or Not to De-Ice, That Is the Question

I was a bit shocked, but not really surprised, when I read of the harm that is being done to the environment by the salt we throw on our sidewalks, steps, parking lots, and roads. After the Second World War, when the economy began to boom and more cars were manufactured—and, of course, more roads were built—the salt industry began to expand as well. Keeping people safe was the premise, but the environmental consequences became increasingly dire, and over many decades of use, has led to consequences most people did not see coming.

Until I began digging into some facts and figures on the subject, I worried a bit as to how the streams and rivers—the watershed, generally—was able to handle large influxes of salt during icy, snowy winters such as the one we have been experiencing this year. Increasingly over the years, I have used less and less salt on my walkways and porch due to this suspicion, and now I have some facts to support my concern that I thought I would share with you.

According to a 1991 study made by the Forestry Commission in the UK, 700,000 trees were killed annually in Western Europe by salt. Studies made by our U.S. Geological Survey has estimated 19 million tons of salt are used annually on our roads and other impervious surfaces each year. The increased use of salt since the 1950s has created long-term salination in 44 percent of 284 freshwater lakes in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. According to this study, lake ecosystems, human drinking water, fisheries, and certain aquatic lifeforms require pure, fresh, water. Our fresh water is increasingly being attacked on all sides by other pollution sources, such as overflow of coal and animal holding ponds, herbicide and pesticide run-off from farms and lawns, oil spills, other chemical spills, etc.

A pretty gloomy picture, eh?  Well, there are solutions, at least to the salt problem, and everyone can help out, if willing, especially caring homeowners and store owners and town and county officials. This winter, I have noticed a different approach to my road up here in the mountains, where the salt is applied in stripes, not thrown out loose. This may help. Also, there is salt with an additive called “deicer,” which is a combination of beet juice, alfalfa meal, or calcium magnesium acetate. However, it is still  recommended to use it sparingly.

One suggestion by National Wildlife is to shovel or sweep sidewalks early and often. I know I do, and it works quite well as melting can then occur more quickly, and sometimes even drying, all without the use of salt. Guess you might say I am on a low-salt diet!

When there is truly dangerous ice, however, I will sprinkle a bit of salt only on the area of the steps I plan to walk on. Otherwise, I am just careful, and sometimes I just rough it without any salt. I suppose roughing it, however, is not very popular anymore in this age of convenience, yet there are likely less broken bones and sprains.

Living lightly and with less is always best, as many of us are learning. As Hilary Dugan, a freshwater scientist from the University of Wisconsin said, “Chloride is an environmental problem that we could solve by purely stopping putting so much of it into our environment.” Most of us know that globally fresh water is increasingly less available as human populations increase, and this is becoming more and more of a problem every year.

So, the next time you begin to overdose with salt on your sidewalk or driveway, stop and think about where all that salt will ultimately go as it flows into our storm drains and further into our streams, rivers, and lakes.

If not this year, then next…stop and remember. Our precious Earth thanks you!

by Christine Maccabee 

Nature’s Valentine

Years ago, I began exploring design in nature and pressing many flowers, mostly dissecting them for their basic components of petals, stamen, pistil, and sepal. Once pressed, I used them to create designs—mandalas mostly—framing them and sometimes selling. I also pressed leaves of many shapes. Basically, I was exploring the infinite diversity of shape and form in nature, a rather mind-boggling adventure to be sure!

As I continued to explore, I discovered a petal design, which most serious gardeners know; I was thrilled to see rose petals with heart shapes! Even the multiflora rose, an invasive brought over from the British Isles, has wonderfully shaped hearts. So, I began seriously collecting and pressing hearts from them, and many other rose bushes, to incorporate in my mandalas. I also discovered little bird shapes in locust and red bud flowers, as well as the white and yellow sweet clovers, which grow here on my property. These, I sometimes added to my meadow scenes. It was my heartfelt craft.

Recently, while reading Dr. Rachel Remen’s book about healing, I learned that the rose “is one of the oldest archetypical symbols for the heart…appearing in many Christian and Hindu traditions and in many fairy tales.” Learning  this greatly inspired me, so for Valentine’s Day I am sharing with you some of her deeper understandings, for who does not love hearts? As children, many of us enjoyed creating special hearts for others out of red and pink paper, sometimes decorating them creatively with glitter and frills around the edges. Some people may still do this with heartfelt love. I find this affinity for hearts and roses very intriguing and deeply symbolic, not sappy.

Dr. Remen, besides being a compassionate, spiritual therapist for people in their last days of cancer, has also had an illness of her own that she has lived with all of her life: Crohn’s disease. In her short essays, she sprinkles stories of  her own suffering in small doses, but mostly focuses on the stories of others. One of her clients, being treated for ovarian cancer, said that she had no heart, and that her amazing success in business was a direct result of her ruthlessness. As her client’s therapy continued, she began to speak of her traumatic time as a young child during the Vietnam War and how she saw her family ruthlessly killed. She became homeless, was brutalized herself, even killed others to survive, leaving her filled with hate. She proclaimed herself to be a bad person—selfish and unloving—with nothing but darkness in herself, and she was despairing because of this.

Just as she thought she might die in despair from her cancer and the lack of love in her heart, with no resolution, she had a dream about a beautiful rose, its color an exquisite shade of pink. Weeping, she said “It is still there. All this time it is still there. It has waited for me to come back for it.”

This was a part of herself she had kept safe, hidden even from herself, said Dr. Remen. Perhaps, this was even a rose in the garden she remembers from her life before the war blew it apart. The rose was symbolic of a part of her that had never been touched, pure and unscathed by terror.

All of us have that rose with heart-shaped petals in our lives, in our gardens or in our own hearts. The Earth itself is filled with wonderful healing flowers and is, in fact, the heart of our hearts. Without Earth’s purity, we will die from fear, distress, and abuse; and we will take the Earth with us, unless we recover our hearts.

 Personally, I have had a love affair with the natural world since I was a little girl and feel profoundly blessed to have survived my trials and not lost heart.

So, if you are cynical about the heart shape that appears everywhere on Valentine’s Day, maybe this year try looking at it differently, perhaps even picking up a rose and discovering its heart shaped petals.                         

                                        Pressed Flora Mandala with rose petals.

Winter Greens: A Prescription for Health”

by Christine Maccabee

Are you eating your greens this winter? I ask this question because years ago in the winter, I neglected to eat as many greens as I did during the summer.

During the growing season, I could easily go out to the garden and get my hands full of fresh organic kale and collards, not to forget beet greens and my very favorite wild edible: lambs quarters. However, in the winter, store bought greens just didn’t make it for me, so I stopped eating my greens and wound up in the hospital. Tests revealed I was low in potassium and calcium.

Dark green leafy vegetables have high levels of potassium, calcium, and vitamin A, too. I have learned that bananas have far less potassium than greens, so I rarely eat them, except to flavor my cream of wheat. At the hospital, I learned that lack of potassium can contribute to irregular heart rhythms and can lead to an imbalance of inter cellular fluids, creating nervous and muscular irritability. I had all the symptoms; sickness has a peculiar way of educating us.

Spinach is a great green, with more potassium than kale and also rich in iron. Over many years of planting spinach and a few other greens in my cold frames out back, I eat greens well into the new year. However, with the onset of extreme cold, temperatures remaining in the twenties for weeks, the plants do stop growing, but they come back with gusto in the early spring!

I highly recommend growing greens in a cold frame. The frames I have cost me nothing. Back in the early 2000s, I saw long glass windows and shower stall glass, by someone’s curb, with a sign saying “TAKE”… so I took. With the help of a skilled handyman friend, I now have nice, long cold frames that at this very moment have lettuce, tah tsai (an oriental, slightly spicy green), purple mustard, and spinach growing. I plant in a French-intensive gardening manner, meaning all plants grow tightly together due to scatter sowing, which I believe contributes to their ability to survive even in very cold weather. Of course, when it gets below thirty degrees, I cover the cold frames with quilts.

Every other day, no matter the weather, I go out and selectively thin the tender plants, breaking off the roots and placing them in a container to eat with dinner. I also have created a small hutch (with the skill of a dear friend with engineering background), over an area of lush edible chickweed. Chickweed? You ask. Yes, wild edible chickweed, with its smooth leaves, is wonderful with an earthy flavor and delightful crunch. Ground cherry is another wild favorite of mine, which I allow to grow anywhere it appears. It is encased in a small Chinese lantern-like husk and the berry inside is exquisite. They ripen with colder weather, so they are not to be eaten until golden in color in autumn. For me, they are nature’s vitamin pill. Sweeeet.

I find there is nothing more satisfying then growing your own food, even if it is just a pot of tomatoes on the porch. However, for me, the more the merrier. Gardening of all sorts gets me outside to listen to bird songs; watch the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies on my flowers; and breathe deeply the fresh air. I also believe in stretching now and then to get rid of any pain from leaning over. For me, gardening has become my prescription for health, with greens as the centerpiece.

“Try it. You might like it,” I say to my grandson about eating his winter greens, but he might have to learn the hard way, like I did. I hope not.

 

“Amazing Insect Migrators”

by Christine Maccabee

Most commonly, we think of migration as a ritual birds and Monarch butterflies undertake, but a surprising variety of insects also migrate hundreds, even thousands, of miles to spend winters in warmer habitats. Like most people, I was unaware of these amazing aeronautical feats until I read an article about it in the National Wildlife Federation magazine, which I receive due to my membership in this great conservation organization (to read the entire article and see photos of these heroic insects, look up its August-September issue).

In the article, I learned that two of my favorite and regular visitors to our flowering plants here in North America are the painted lady and the common buckeye, which are both in the same family of brush-footed butterflies. They are considered inconsistent migrants, as some die with early onset of cold weather. In more southern states where the weather is a bit warmer, they can successfully winter over in log piles, old sheds, and loose bark on trees. However, brave painted lady butterflies (which weigh less than a paperclip), flying south from frigid northern climates, such as Canada, have been detected on radar to be traveling together in massive clusters of thousands!

Reading on, I learned that the large milkweed bug, which we commonly see on milkweed seed pods and which have the same coloration as monarchs, develop wings as they mature and fly south to Mexico in the autumn. In the spring, their progeny return north following the emergence of milkweed, along a pathway similar to the Monarchs. Such amazing journeys earth’s small, beautiful, orange and black winged insects travel in order to survive treacheries of weather. I cannot help seeing parallels between them and our southern human neighbors migrating north in order to escape danger, all of us together enduring impediments such as wind and rain of hurricanes, hunger and fatigue, even other human predators. In the case of insects, unfortunately many will die from the inordinate amount of pesticides and herbicides we use on our fields to grow our food.

The champion of insect migrants is the Wandering Glider which is a small dragonfly or damselfly which I see frequently around my pond and fields during the summer; they are busy all day feeding on airborne plankton and smaller flying insects such as gnats and mosquitoes. This amazing insect has been known to cover 11,000 miles in the Eastern Hemisphere, 2,200 miles of that while crossing the Indian Ocean.  It is the only transoceanic insect migrant. Are you blown away yet?!

There is not yet, and may never be, a complete record of all the insects which migrate, but researchers have compiled a list of at least 71 species ranging from butterflies and moths to grasshoppers and even some beetles. So far, butterflies are the largest group at 27 species, followed by 20 species of moths and 15 different dragonflies, according to entomologist Mike Quinn.

The diversity of lifeforms on our planet is astounding and all of them require natural habitat and have patterns of behavior which we as human caretakers/stewards should not only be amazed about, but also should protect to the best of our abilities. So, as I continue my research and work at providing habitat on my own property, I hope you too will join me and many others in this great, important effort to preserve precious life on our planet.

Go to www.nwf.org/nw and become a member in order to help their efforts and to receive their great magazine.

 

by Christine Maccabee

“Survival Time”

There are so many issues and problems in our faces every day that it is nearly impossible for us to navigate them all, either mentally, physically, or spiritually. I say “nearly” because, personally, I need to know what is happening in the world, and I believe most people do as well. However, the clamor of TV news and radio talk shows can become oppressive after a while, so I simply turn them off. Then, they go back on in short order, so I can keep up with problems related to Florence, such as toxic waste in the water from coal ash and hog farms; or the latest problems in Syria, our own refugee problems, the inner workings of our government, etc. etc.

Survival is definitely different things for different people. I am not hungry, while others are starving. I have a comfortable bed while others are sleeping on hard concrete. I have clean well water, while others have no water at all, except if they are lucky enough to have bottled water from some charity. You get the gist. Basically, most of us are spoiled by our comfortable lifestyles; yet, I believe everyone struggles with something. Everyone has personal problems they must deal with in order to survive. Rich or poor—and everyone in between—we all can count on something to happen to throw us off-kilter, and then we must be strong or clever enough to survive our capsizing boat.

I am a great admirer of creatures other than human, and I am guilty of worrying as much about them as I do people. I wonder how this last hurricane Florence affected the populations of bees and butterflies and rivers, which are so vulnerable and yet so essential for the health of Earth’s ecosystems. Fluctuations in weather affect them as much as humans, and yet all of us are resilient to varying degrees. A young child or a Veteran living through wartime trauma may or may not overcome it according to their own inner resources or whether or not they get help from others.

So, survival is variable, and messy. I have seen bumble bees drowning due to torrential rain, and I have saved some. Then there are the larva of certain butterflies rotting in their pupae beneath cold, month-long precipitation, which I cannot save. I weep for children separated from their parents at the border, and the parents who will never recover due to the loss of those children. Somehow, however, life goes on. The sun comes out and a few bees smart enough to hide out during the onslaught of rain can be seen buzzing and feeding on golden rod flowers. Then, my heart rejoices when I see a lone swallowtail flying gracefully and gratefully from flowers that I provide, flowers which also survived the storm. As for people, well…

A friend of mine said that survival of people in difficult situations mostly depends on others to reach out to them, or to reach back when they reach out for help. This is a mutual give-and-take that takes a lot of heart and courage. It takes courage to reach out and humility to receive. It takes courage to survive together, but it takes heart to even want to in the first place.

I suppose I am a survivor for sure. It has been a long, rocky life, and even though my boat is still unsteady, I have friends—and even angels—who come, and have come, to my rescue. All of us have, I hope. Now, however, it is more important than ever to help others in this fragile web of life to survive, be they human or bee or sea turtle or so many other entities in deep trouble. It heartens me to read about efforts being made to rid the oceans of plastic, or people challenging the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, or people eating lower on the food chain. Happily, I am allergic to pork and beef.

The will to survive even our own inventions, not all of which are life giving, must remain strong. The north pole is melting, so what are we going to do about it? Drive less perhaps? Maybe there is not a whole lot we as individuals can do to change the ways of the world, but we can try by joining with others who also care. It is never too late to reach out.

It is survival time.

“Late Blooming Native Wildflowers”

by Christine Maccabee

By now, you have likely seen the beautiful golden flowers of goldenrods along highways and back roads, and any other place they managed to escape the summer mowings. This is the beginning of the final amazing showing of wildflower blooms before colder weather comes in October.  Presently, the yellow flowers of the wild evening primerose are blooming and have been since July, serving pollinators very well. One place they are growing profusely are on both sides of the railroad tracks through Thurmont, but especially on the Boundary Avenue side. The beauty of this is that no one planted them there. They are happy volunteers!

All wild native plants are in a real sense, volunteers. As humans we often volunteer our time and talents for good causes, but so do wild plants and flowers. Spreading as they do by both seed and root, they feed precious pollinators their essential nectar and pollen. Therefore, I allow them to grow profusely on my eleven-plus acres and encourage others to do the same. In my gardens and fields, I have four species of goldenrods, ample evening primrose, lovely purple flowering teasel (which has bloomed out by now), four varieties of wild aster, yet to bloom, and many others. All of these can be very tall, especially this year with all the rain we have had.

These essential late-blooming, tall—sometimes gangly—plants are by far the most misunderstood wild natives, and yet, critically important elements in a healthy eco-system. Without their late season nectar and pollen, bees would perish during the winter, and what a sad world it would be without the wondrous buzzing of busy bees and the variety of colorful butterflies, and, yes, hummingbirds and moths as well.

You may have seen the pinkish purple flower clusters of Joe-Pye weed, which grow best in wet areas, even marshlands; however, many plants I’ve seen in the past have been mowed down along the sides of roads up here where I live. Folklore tells us that an Indian, Joe Pye, used this plant to cure fevers and aided early American colonists when treating an outbreak of Typhus. Many wild plants have such herbal remedy qualities if used properly, such as boneset, which happens to be blooming now. Early herbal doctors used it to help set bones, and it can be made in to a tea to treat colds, coughs, and constipation. Personally, I mostly admire these plants for their beauty and usefulness as food for our pollinators, though I have not yet tried them to cure fevers or set bones!

Soon to bloom on my property are the amazingly tall and graceful woodland sunflowers, though I have seen a smaller variety blooming already behind the guardrail off Rt. 550. Unlike the common striped sunflowers, which can win prizes for their size at county fairs (or our Community Show), these plants have multiple one- to two-inch flowers up and down the stems, which my bees ravenously feed upon. Then, after tiny seeds develop on each flower stem, small birds such as goldfinch, peck away at them, loading up on nutritious food for the winter.

There are many plants that I would like to write about here, but I have limited space. At least let me invite you to travel down the length of Woodside Drive in Thurmont and marvel at all the wild aster beginning to bloom. They will be flowering all through September and in to October, and the bees will be busily buzzing with joy!

One of the highest callings we have as humans is to protect the earth’s biological and botanical diversity. To have dominion over creation does not mean to usurp and pollute and mow it until earth is uninhabitable. It means to take responsibility for it. Many people are heeding this high calling, which gives me hope. Won’t you volunteer some of your property for the botanical volunteers just waiting to serve our important pollinators? As we become servants of all by preserving and creating precious eco-systems we will be preserving our own health and future. Have we any choice?

Christine Maccabee stands along the side of the railroad tracks on Boundary Avenue in Thurmont, admiring the yellow flowers of the wild evening primerose.

“Wonder”

~Emily Dickinson

I awoke this morning to the sound of soft fluttering of wings, unsure as to whether it was in the cottage or just outside my window.  I wondered what it could be: a bat, a large moth, a bird? It was flying around, but I could not see it, as it was too dark yet at 5:00 a.m. After a couple of minutes, the sound stopped, but I was now fully awake and full of wonder to get back to sleep.

Living as close to the natural world as I do, with wildlife of all forms very near me and all around me, my usual state of being is one of wonder. My cottage is located down a short wildflower pathway from the back of the big house, and summer is a great time to sleep out here, and to write. At the call of the first bird, I am awakened (no need for an alarm clock here!), and the musical chorus of bird songs swells as grey skies lighten, awakening the world.

I was going to write about Reverence for this article, but a sense of wonder naturally leads to a feeling of reverence for life. From the time we are born, we begin to wonder at the world, watching and soaking up everything as little babies, truly like a sponge. Not only do we grow healthy because of the goodness of our mother’s nurture, but our spirits are fed as well by our sense of wonder, of curiosity. I wish all children had the loving care I experienced, the opportunity to expand their spirits with a sense of wonder, but sadly this is not always the case. Too many children in the world are traumatized from a very early age by war, cruelty, negligence, and/or loss of a parent to begin that essential nurturing of their souls through wonderment. However, the spirit is unceasingly at work to heal all wounds, so there is always hope. I also know that Nature can be a healer.

I was fortunate to have a blessed childhood and grew up with adults around me who were sensitive to the beauty of nature. One of my first memories as a child of two or three years of age is standing at the base of my grandfather’s butterfly bush, which was flush with purple flowers and loaded with tiny butterflies of all varieties. I know I watched this phenomenon for long periods of time and was in a state of awe and wonder, which never left me.

Yesterday, I discovered a tiny insect on my wild spinach, otherwise known as lambs quarters, which is one of the best wild edibles (I eat steamed with other garden greens like kale and collards). This exotic-looking insect barely moved on its leaf, and looked like something straight out of the rainforest. Putting it on a fresh leaf last night and giving it a drop of water, I saw that it had moved about half an inch over night. I wonder if perhaps I have found a new, yet undiscovered insect. Here on my 11+ acres, I have an amazing variety of wild native plants, each one in service of specific insects. Such diversity is imperative to the web of life as we know it, and so much of that web is still not understood—or appreciated— by humans so busy with human things. I guess that is the awesome wonder of it all: There is always something amazing to discover. Everyone experiences that, even if it is just the wonder of another caring human being or a pet in your life. There are infinite, unending wonders here, where we dwell in the midst of this mystery called Life.

I don’t know what the fluttering was, and still is, that woke me up this morning. I am beginning to believe that it is a poor bird trapped between the inner and outer walls. Somehow, I will try to rescue it. I also do not know what that strange insect on my wild spinach is, though I intend to find out. Perhaps, I will have made a discovery worth writing about in a nature magazine!

Soon, I will be off on a vacation to see the awesome ocean. As much as I love the ocean, I also worry about the terrible assault upon it by the industrial world. I do wonder, or question, how and if we can deal with all the challenges we have ahead of us to clean up our materialistic messes of plastic pollution and on-going spills of toxic chemicals, etc. People dedicated to such cleanups have a strong sense of what is important. They, no doubt, understand the importance of wonder in our lives and are working to preserve that for our children and our children’s children. These warriors for the earth are my heroes.

I pray you and your loved ones and friends are having some awesome moments this beautiful summer, filled with wonder.

As for me, every day I walk out my door and smell the sweet perfume of mimosa and milkweed flowers, I hear bird songs, I see the bees and butterflies feeding voraciously on my Bergamot and Monarda flowers, my mood shifts from ponderous to wondrous. I guess you might say my sense of wonder since childhood remains intact, and for that I am grateful. May you never loose yours. God bless.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

by Christine Maccabee

The chilly, windy rainstorms of May and June are over, with much flooding and sadly loss of life and property in Ellicott City, Frederick City, and elsewhere.

The humid weather has now set in, which, of course, breeds gnats, mosquitoes, and other tiny flying pests; yet, swallows and blue birds need them to feed their newly hatched babies, as well as themselves. So, I try to appreciate them, even as I  transplant my peppers and tomatoes, which should have been planted a month ago, if the rain had just abated.

Many gardening friends, both professional and serious hobbyists, have expressed frustration about the quantity of cold rain this spring. Having read a bit from good sources, and even as I use my own intuition, I now believe I know what is happening. All during that cold, rainy spell, I kept saying “What goes up must come down.” I would say it to people I met as we ran into the Food Lion or CVS, sometimes taking time to explain my theory, which at this point is no theory at all, but actual. The earth’s natural air-conditioning system is disappearing as the many amazing glaciers, Greenlands white snow/ice shield and the polar ice caps are melting. Everything is melting three times faster than expected. (Once it is all melted, then we will see even hotter weather with wildfires and drought, already occurring in many places out west.)

Some of this melting ice flows into the ocean, and some evaporates into the atmosphere. All this is simple science, which even my twelve-year-old grandson understands. The Earth is becoming confused, and so are we. Human stress levels are soaring and suicides increasing. Yes, we can no longer deny what is happening on many levels, and many people are becoming more aware. Truth is, levels of CO2 emissions (and methane, as well) remain high and our lifestyles contribute to it daily. Did you know that mowing acre upon acre of grass on large estates is one of the greatest contributors to CO2 pollution? So, who cares, you ask.

Actually, we all should care. Even if many people in our own country do not care, many of us do and are working towards positive changes, such as alternative energy use and conservation practices. Yes, when the rain comes down it affects us all, even those of us who care, and it is not getting any better. According to studies made at the University of Pennsylvania, future hurricanes will be qualitatively different than ones we have seen thus far, possibly even worse than past ones. Allow me to explain.

Due to more moisture in the atmosphere and disruption of climate patterns, hurricanes are moving more slowly and linger longer over larger areas, thus perhaps all the very cold rain and wind we saw this spring in our part of the world. Future hurricanes, due to continuing melting of ice and snow (even our beautiful snow-capped mountains are in trouble these days) could see winds up to 200 mph or greater. Recent hurricanes, such as Irma, saw 185 mph winds in the Virgin Islands, and Patricia went as high as 200 already. These are winds far beyond a category 5. Experts are saying they are in a new category: 6.

Pope Frances, a wonderful advocate of caring for Creation, invited leading oil executives to a two-day conference at the Vatican. No matter your feelings about the Pope, he says it straight, and he said it there to CEOs of ExxonMobil and other energy producers. He said we can and must do better, and though “Civilization requires energy, energy must not destroy civilization,” and he encouraged innovation. I am sure he would also encourage living more conservatively, more simply.

So, as the rains continue to fall on us all, and the winds get stronger and sea levels rise, and fires and drought increase, we will all need to be inventive and conservative in order to survive. As for me, I will persist in growing my own food and herbs, support local farmers, provide  habitat for wildlife, and mow less. I will also vote.

Such a wonderful country and world we have. I thank God for the beauty and mystery of Creation every day as I work with it and explore it. I hope you enjoy it—gnats and all—and never take anything for granted, for it is a precious gift we should all cherish and protect.

by Christine Maccabee

“There is No Planet B”

When I heard that the President Macron of France was coming to the United States to meet with our president, I knew he had an important agenda. I knew in my heart that he would speak up for the need for our country to join with other nations to preserve the health of our precious planet Earth, and he did not disappoint.

True confession…I am a news junkie. I want, and need, to know what is going on in our country and around the world. Having no TV, I listen to C-span quite a lot, as I do chores or gardening projects. I like to hear many points of view, though not agreeing with all of them, of course. Who does?

A couple of weeks ago, I just happened to be tuned in at the very time the French President was speaking to Congress, so I stopped in my tracks to listen. I have always seen Macron as a truth seeker and a very good leader, who is not afraid to speak truth to power, and he did not disappoint that day! Perhaps you heard him, too.

Young President Macron, just thirty-nine, spoke boldly and eloquently, explaining the importance of us all to work together, for “in the long run, we will have to face the same realities, as we are citizens of the same planet; so we will have to work together to ensure the health of Earth’s oceans, its critical biodiversity, preserving these things for our children and their children.”

Macron said he sees the U.S pullout of the Paris Climate Agreement (signed by 176 nations in 2015) as “a short-term family disagreement,” and that he believes “it is the responsibility of lawmakers to ensure leaving our children a planet that is liveable in twenty-five years.” With those words, there was an immediate loud cheer from members of Congress, and a loud applause in my heart, for truth recognizes truth.

This amazingly intelligent and caring young man spoke for most of us, I am sure, for who does not care for the health of the oceans, which are filled with plastic debris that are killing aquatic life, left and right? Who does not care that the Polar ice caps are melting much faster than anyone thought, creating sea-level rise and confusion in weather patterns? And, who does not care that our rainforests are being clear cut, destroying untold diversity of plant and animal habitat and necessary oxygen, our trees being the lungs of the earth? I am sure our children care, as do Emmanuel Macron’s children. He is speaking for them and for the Earth, as we can’t have one without the other.

President Macron continued on, saying, “I believe we must transition to low carbon economies, because what is the meaning of life if our decisions, if our jobs, are destroying quality of life on our Earth? We must work together to create new jobs, new opportunities, so as we work [to support our families] we are also supporting our Earth.” Last I heard, France is phasing out all coal-related jobs within a few years. I have also heard that Finland is a totally fossil-fuel-free nation already, employing nothing but wind and solar; but then, these two nations are much smaller than the U.S., with fewer wealthy fossil fuel magnates, so it is likely easier for them to come to agreements about energy.

Still, I want to thank you, Emmanuel Macron, for lifting my spirits that day. I pray that your wise leadership and earth ambassadorship will create a ripple in our own country towards wise choices in the very near future, for there truly is “no planet B!”(at least not one that we have discovered yet).

by Christine Maccabee

Land Use

As a land owner, I could not agree with Andy Warhol more (quote above). Personally, I never wanted to turn my 11+ acres into a commercial commodity or a perfect landscape. I simply wanted to grow healthy organic food and allow for wildlife habitat. Back thirty years ago, and even now, more than ever, I feel the same.

There is both poor land management and better management, but I cannot go into every aspect of each perspective in this short space. All I know is that I side on the “better,” if not good management of the gift of the property I own.

After all, it is not really my land. This upper valley in the Catoctins where I live is a part of the earth’s ecosystem, and I am trying my best to honor that by practicing non-chemical warfare, as well as permaculture. So far, we all seem to be doing pretty well—that is, the birds, frogs, toads, bees, wildflowers, and me.

As Andy Warhol said, land is a precious work of art, not to be despoiled, and that includes all the residents here, “all my relations,” as native Americans think of them.

My biggest concern—and the concern of many caring people out there—is the use of the latest in a long line of chemicals developed by corporate giants (not mentioning any names). Back in the 1970s, DDT (a synthetic organic compound used as an insecticide) was banned due to its horrible effect on wildlife, which was brilliantly and sadly depicted by Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring. Unfortunately, new, just as potent, poisons are out there to devastate wildlife, again. So, what is the real bottom line? For me, it is the health of our planet and its inhabitants, not profits for big corporations. Will we never learn?

According to the latest studies made at the University of Saskatchewan, migrating birds are eating chemical-laden seeds on the large swaths of land, owned by farmers who are using neonicotinoids. According to an article in this spring’s National Wildlife magazine, many U.S. and Canadian farmers plant seeds coated with these toxic chemicals on more than 100 million acres, just as birds are stopping to feed on wild seeds to refuel on their journeys north to breeding grounds. Many of these birds become disoriented and can lose as much as 17 percent of their body weight due to eating from those fields.

Our pollinators, so critical for our ongoing food crops, are also dying in droves. Happily, at least in Maryland, our state, county, and towns are responding to this threat. I am hearing that some large stores are banning neonic pesticides from their shelves, so that gives reason for hope. However, everyone, especially people who wish to have perfect lawns, should be more careful when allowing chemicals to be applied. These are lawns that robins peck on religiously for worms and grubs. Also, bees suck the nectar from clovers and dandelions, two great early native wildflowers. I put both in salads, clipping the petals with scissors. The colors and taste, along with the purple of violet flowers, make a beautifully nutritious salad!

Here is a tidbit for you to chew on: according to Frederick County Master Naturalist Ann Payne, we pour more chemicals on our lawns than farmers apply to their fields. In a new UN report, 40 percent of pollinator species face extinction.

So, what can small land owners do? Much!

First, allow certain areas to go wild, perhaps along your fence line, if you need larger turf areas for children and cookouts.

Second, where-ever possible, allow violets, clovers, and dandelions to grow, controlling the seeds of the dandelion if you do not want it to take over. In doing so, you are taking time to enjoy nature, while you pluck the seed heads off the dandelions, perhaps making it a game for your children. I have been doing this for years, and it is easy.  Of course, I always allow some seeds to go for the next year’s growth. I love dandelions!

Third, plant native plants that are the most beneficial to our birds, bees, butterflies, and a host of other smaller insects, which are all a part of the ecosystem. Get curious and learn to identify wild plants coming up in your gardens, before marking them as useless and pulling them out. Of course, I am not opposed to the multitude of non-native beauties that also offer interest and sometimes nectar, such as red petunias for hummingbirds. Also, plant trees such as Dogwoods, which provide berries for birds.

Last, but not least, do not use chemicals on your lawns, or anywhere, as much as possible.

The adventure of allowing wild plants to grow on your precious property will not only benefit wildlife, but will enhance your own feeling of connection with nature. As smaller land owners, I believe we all have to do our part. It is our moral obligation and, if done in the right spirit, can indeed be an exciting artistic project. Thank you Mr. Warhol for your insight and wisdom. May we all be so wise!

We Are All Connected

by Christine Maccabee

At a very young age, children have a connection with the natural world in ways we, as adults, sometimes forget, perhaps never learned, or no longer have time for. The magic of tiny butterflies in a grandmother’s flower garden can touch the heart of the youngest of children, as it did mine, and the memory remains with me to this day. My world was very limited then—small you might say—and yet so very large with wonder.

As we grow older and learn just how large the earth is, and our understanding of the world expands, hopefully so does our empathy, our feeling of connection. If we are fortunate enough to study the science of ecology in depth, we begin to understand what the Native Americans called the “web of life.” We begin to feel the connections all living creatures have with one another, including ourselves. We also begin to see how our behaviors and activities as human beings impact the natural world, in large and small ways. Yes, we even begin to see that it is really not such a large world after all, but rather a small world, where absolutely everything affects everything else. Consider the butterfly effect.

We are all touched one way or another by the many wars our country has been engaged in, and still is, not to forget the war faring nature of other countries. The trauma of war is very real in all our lives. We feel it, even if we are not personally engaged. No one is exempt from the so called “toxic stress” created by our warriors coming home crippled, be it physically or mentally, or both. We read it in the news, in books, and hear it on the TV. And now, yes, the war is continuing here at home in our cities and schools. So, is it any surprise that in our country, we are experiencing more deaths due to drug overdoses, mass shootings, and suicides? No surprise at all, in my mind, though very sad.

Another more subtle type of war is being conducted against our precious planet, which is indeed our mother. Mothers provide the sustenance and caring needed for a child to grow, and, of course, fathers provide protection and nurture as well. But, not always. Broken families are a symptom of something gone very wrong. The same can be said about political strife and ecological damage, created by both war and consumerism. We want to provide and protect our own, but at what cost? It seems the world is getting smaller all the time.

However, as these various symptoms of greed and dysfunction come out of hiding, hitting us hard in the gut, people are waking up. At least, that is every caring person’s hope. As our worlds intersect and consciousness grows, better solutions are giving birth as well. One case in point would be the solar and wind industries, the expansion of which will play a huge part in the transition we direly need away from life-killing technologies, which have been—and still are—polluting and damaging essential natural ecosystems.

Our earth is one huge network of interconnections. The melting of the Arctic icecap and Greenland’s icy protection is already affecting the Gulf Stream, which is creating a much colder Europe. Just this winter, it made the water so cold that beaches in North Wales, England, are witnessing miles and miles of dead starfish and other small aquatic creatures, which depend on the Gulf Stream warmth. A recent photo of these beaches sent chills up my spine. Yes, dear friends, climate disruption is real, and I believe there is no answer in sight so long as we continue to live our consumeristic lives to the hilt as though there is no tomorrow. Some day there may be no tomorrow. Just sayin’.

A very wise man long ago warned us not to heap treasures up on earth. But we went ahead and did it, anyway. Living simply, with less, and closer to the web of the earth, recognizing our place in it as well as the importance of other entities besides the human being, are the first steps we must all take in order to turn this immense problem around. Then, of course, the next step is to be better stewards of the earth’s resources and to problem solve.

We are all war weary. We are all traumatized. We are all interconnected in this very small world that we once thought was so huge. I wish you all well on your journeys through these wild and difficult times.

My apologies for such a wild essay, but I do tend to be a bit “On The Wild Side.”

What Turtles and Birds Have in Common

by Christine Maccabee

At first glance, turtles and birds have nothing in common. Birds fly and have feathers; turtles mostly crawl or swim and are featherless. However, even amphibians—such as frogs, toads, and salamanders, who are mostly earthbound—have less in common with turtles than birds do, though that can be debated.

I read a lot. Mostly, I enjoy non-fiction stories that reflect the amazing mysteries of life, as it is and has been. All present day creatures on earth come from an amazing reservoir of ancient—mostly now extinct—relatives. Of course, we humans are no exception. Natural history, especially pre-history, before anything was written down, is especially fascinating, the evidence for evolution being found in fossils, some of which are hundreds of millions of years old.

So, the first thing turtles and birds have in common is that they are both unusually ancient creatures, having survived the fall of the dinosaurs. As Dr. Carr wrote in his Handbook of Turtles,“Turtles remained while the dinosaurs bellowed toward their doom in the Crustaceous, when the last Brachiosaurus laid down his fifty tons to rest.”

As for birds, yes, even the ones at our feeders, “they have more complex feathers specialized for flight than ancient dinosaurs did and are the sole remaining dinosaur lineage.”(According to a recent National Geographic article, “Why Birds Matter.”)

Due to a bird’s ability to fly away from danger (with the exception of a few, such as penguins) and a turtle’s amazing armor to protect vital organs, they are equally amazing survivors. Everyone knows the land turtle’s ability to hibernate and then emerge in the spring, even after the coldest of winters. Of course, many birds fly thousands of miles as they migrate to warmer climes, while others hang around and hunker down during periods of freezing rain and snow in trees and shrubs, their downy feathers providing enough warmth to survive. Incredible. If you have not seen it, I highly advise getting the film, The Great Migration, from the library. It depicts the awesome stamina and intelligence of migratory birds. Of course, turtles, in their own slow but sure ways, are mighty awesome as well.

Both birds and turtles are egg layers, but they deal with their offspring differently. As we all know, birds are fierce protectors and providers for their young, while baby turtles are totally on their own once hatched. Their eggs, however, are similarly in danger from egg-loving predators, such as snakes, birds, and humans (especially sea turtle poachers).

Both turtles and birds have no teeth. Birds use their beaks with great efficiency for catching and consuming prey. Similarly, turtles can tear an insect, fish, or plant apart easily with their sharp, horny bills. I avoid, at all cost, putting my fingers anywhere within reach of my turtles’ mouths, as they can indeed draw blood with a single bite.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of turtles is their strong shell, or exoskeleton, which protects their soft flesh and their endoskeleton. Birds, on the other hand have only weightless, hollow,  endoskeletons, allowing them to fly with the greatest of ease, unlike their brother, the turtle, who can only crawl or swim.

If there were to be a beauty show competition, because of their colorful plumage, birds would likely win over turtles. I would likely vote for the turtle, but then I am prejudiced. I have raised a variety of turtles over the years. As a child, I especially loved my map turtle, with its fascinating map-like markings. In the wild, the hawksbill sea turtle is wondrous to behold, with its impressive colors and designs all over its legs and head. Locally, the lowly male box turtles have gorgeous orange and yellow patterns, which distinguish them from the simpler females.

Both birds and turtles are precious entities and provide us mortals with inspiration and, hopefully, incentive enough to save them and their habitats, protecting them from plastic items that sadly now infest our oceans and waterways (affecting both birds and turtles that innocently consume them or become entrapped in them).

Not enough can be said for the need to protect these wonderful, ancient animals. As we protect them and their habitats, we are also protecting human life on this amazingly mysterious planet we all depend on to live.

by Christine Maccabee

Wild Cabins I Have Known

Sometimes a book comes along that speaks to us in very personal ways. Such a book was written by Gerard Kenney, whose discoveries of remote one-room cabins in the Canadian wilderness reflect my own need for peace and quiet. By canoe and by foot, he and a dear friend spent years adventuring together, contemporary explorers of flora and fauna and, yes, wild cabins.

All the cabins they stumbled upon were far off the beaten track, and each one was uniquely different from the other. Some were better furnished than others, with at least one cot, if they were lucky, and frequently a nice old tin wood stove. If they were lucky, the last people there left enough dry wood for them to take the chill off. Some were very well made, though not as aesthetically as a Tiny House, and others were slapped together quickly by someone many years before as temporary living quarters, while they fished and rested during their canoeing journeys.

Most of these cabins were so remote that they were mostly unused, so Gerard and his friend felt like they “owned” them, like the Philosophy Cabin, as they called it. They also felt like they “owned” the trickling brook, which they named Philosophy River. “Whose cabin is it?” someone once asked. “It’s ours,” they replied, “as are the pond, the forest, and the swamp.” They were like two kids on a playground where nobody goes.

While in my twenties, I had just such a remote wild cabin experience. I do not know the history of that tiny cabin, but surely someone had lived there at one time. It was pretty shabby and slightly tilted by the time I discovered it, but it served my purpose of needing to escape to a quiet place. It had no running water or electricity, of course, so occasionally I would use facilities at an old mill house nearby; otherwise, I roughed it. It was there that I wrote a song, which I still sing with my guitar now and then:

 

“In the morning of my youth I turned to you,

Sought the beauty of the deep and the friendly woods,

Sang your praises when I saw the sun that rose

Like a blessed lamp, sacred light upon the trees.”

Such experiences are indeed sacred, though sometimes lonely. Fortunately, I happened to have my two sweet dogs with me as companions. Of course, they loved the woods, too. Now, many years later, I live in a large house, where I raised three children, but I still long for the simplicity of a one-room cabin. Actually, I do have a nice little cottage, as I call it, just steps away from the house. Just the other day, I made a nice fire in the wood stove there. These days, I am not so eager to live there due to injuries I acquired over the years; but, every now and then, I heat up the place while I contemplate my life.

Prior to this little cottage, I had a yurt put up out back. “So what is a yurt?” you ask. A yurt is a round structure that is used by sheep and camel farmers in Mongolia, easily taken down and put back up, as they migrate in the summer and winter months. The concept is much like that of a tipi. Modeled after those ancient yurts, my yurt was a contemporary structure, sold by the Colorado Yurt Company, and brought here in pieces by an 18-wheeler—not very rustic, eh? However, it served its purpose for me as an escape from the “big house” and was beautiful inside. Outside, it did not look like much, but inside, it had antique furniture, a large yodel wood stove, a large bed, a sofa, a desk, tongue-and-groove wood floors, and many personal items. Sadly, five years ago, it was completely destroyed by a fire. Nothing lasts forever.

Memories last longer than things, and the memories I have of such one-room, wild “cabins” will last a lifetime. They served me well as part of my spiritual journey through life, and, like Gerard Kenney, they provided an escape to—not from—the wilderness, a chance to become better acquainted with myself and with nature.

I highly recommend Gerard Kenney’s book, Lake of the Old Uncles, especially if you are unable to have a wilderness experience yourself—he will take you there!

by Christine Maccabee

My Last Chicken

My last hen was a beautiful, little blue egg layer, an Auracana, originally from South America. I acquired her four years ago, along with two other larger hens of a different genetic heritage, whose large brown eggs I enjoyed until they both died, leaving me one last unhappy hen: Little Blue. As I always say, people need other people, and the same goes for chickens. Chickens need other chickens.

So began my long journey of finding an adequate new home for Little Blue, as I called her. It was not a particularly difficult decision to discontinue raising chickens, especially with a hard winter coming. My chicken coop is way down the hill in my main veggie garden; many a winter, I have had to push through deep snow, sleet, and rain to let the girls out. They always wanted to go out, no matter the weather, and were healthier for it, as was I. I also had to make sure frozen drinking water was emptied and replaced with warm water to hold them through the day. Then, before dark—and sometimes even in the dark—I had to slip and slide down the hill to close their hatchway door to keep them safe from predators. Now, that was roughing it! My chickens learned to rough it, too, with no electricity; cold oatmeal from yesterday’s breakfast; any greens I had on hand; and, sometimes, leftover spaghetti (without the sauce) made their day. Of course, I always had to refresh their feeder with sunflower seeds, corn, and other feed. The rewards for all our efforts were beautiful eggs and great manure for the gardens!

Those last three hens were not my only chickens by far. My history with chickens and roosters—and mallard ducks—is long and varied, with lots of drama, especially when the black snakes visited. Unfortunately, I cannot go into all of the stories I have concerning them, as that would take a Chicken ‘n Duck Tale book, and I figure such a book would bore other bird people since they, too, have their own stories to tell (note the word”story” in the word “history”). However, every story is unique, though similar in that we all have happy times and sad partings, be it through death or necessary changes.

Sending Little Blue off to a farm—run by a lady I will call “the chicken lady”—was no easy task, but it was one of those necessary changes. My Little Blue was more than a little blue here. In fact, she was extremely lonely after the death of her friend Big Red, with whom she felt safe. Then, after Red’s death, Little Blue became traumatized when a hawk swooped down twice, getting close enough to swipe off a portion of her lovely red comb. After that frightening encounter, she never went out of her coop again. I knew it was time for a big change.

And what a change it was, both happy and unhappy. At the chicken lady’s farm, Little Blue was greeted with some bullying from the top dogs (I mean chickens!). Although she rallied to show her tough side, I am told she is not coming out of her new coop to forage free range with the others. When I heard this, I became very sad for my traumatized chicken.

Yes, not all change is easy, so all I can do is hope that Little Blue gets stronger after trauma and works through her changes, as must we all as we go through difficult times. I suppose it is high time for me to get philosophical about it, according to the writer of the Ecclesiastes quote, for as the seasons turn and change, so must we all.

There are some things I can hold onto, however, and those are the love and the memories of my many birds over the years, and, of course, the great blue eggs! So thank you Little Blue, good luck, and I will miss you.

Note: Good News! The latest update is that my last chicken, Little Blue, is now learning the ropes and getting outside with the other chickens! 

Christine Maccabee

Consumer Power:

“Think Globally, Act Locally”

Some days I go shopping for food, with enough time to look at the ingredients; whereas, other days, I just speed in, get my few items, and speed out. I love the days I have time to be more discriminate, for, as I take more time to shop, I am giving myself an education as well.

This past year, I have been focusing on not buying anything with palm oil in it. Palm oil production has more than one problem associated with it. After four decades of production, a very small percentage of palm producers are exploring less damaging practices, but the majority have bulldozed close to 70 percent of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia. Such practices are killing and displacing orangutans, elephants, and every other wild creature that depends on the diversity only a rainforest can provide. These mega-companies also use lots of toxic chemicals, as well as inordinate amounts of precious water, affecting the health of underpaid workers and surrounding communities, both human and wild.

Lately, I have been using my consumer power as a modest protest. Sadly, I am no longer able to eat my favorite fig bars due to the palm oil ingredient. However, it is well worth the sacrifice. Some people might ridicule me, saying that my boycott of such products won’t make a difference, but my values and my determination are unrelenting.

If more people knew about this problem, then perhaps the boycott of palm oil products would make a difference. However, even if more sustainable practices are employed, habitat destruction will continue. As we all know, rainforest destruction proceeds at a disturbing rate, globally. Already, the palm oil corporation has its eye on forests in the Amazon, Congo, and Borneo, according to Guardian Sustainable Business News.

Just so you know, palm oil can also be found in margarine, some soaps, and even fuels, so read the labels if this is a concern of yours.

Many of us are familiar with the herbicides and pesticides that unfortunately are used with abandon on agri-business crops. Of course, when we buy our food, we never really know what chemicals were used on/in our purchases, so my approach to this problem is, first and foremost, getting accurate information. Did you know that some commonly used herbicides have glyphosate as a primary ingredient? According to a highly appraised book, White Wash, by Carey Gillam, this commonly used herbicide is carcinogenic (World Health Organization 2015 report). In 1974, it was considered a wonder weed killer, as “safe as table salt” (Monsanto). In her book, Carey Gillam writes, “Testing shows glyphosate residues in bagels, honey, oatmeal, eggs, cookies, flour, beer, infant formula, and the chemical was found in 90 percent of the pregnant women tested.”

So, what are we, as consumers, to do, anyway? For me, the answers are discrimination and action. I will be careful to consume as few chemicals in my food as possible, which means mostly buying organic foods and growing my own. I also plan to write to the companies that use them, asking them not to. In other words, I will use consumer power.

There is an ongoing war against the health of our planet and our people that must be acknowledged and regulated.

I remember the old slogan, “Think Globally, Act Locally,” and it still holds true these days as much as it did back when. But don’t worry, as you go shopping, for you are in good company. Remember, we are all in this together and we can all make a difference.

 

Christine encourages you to come to the films to be shown during Thurmont’s Fall Environmental Film Series. Watch for the dates and times as advertised in newspapers and fliers. Thank You. She also invites you to come up to visit her Sanctuary for Wildlife and Native Plant Preserve, just ten minutes north of Thurmont. You can write to her to set up a visit at songbirdschant@gmail.com.

Christine Maccabee

Birds in Paradise?

Most of us are quite aware of the problems birds and aquatic animals are having with plastic objects in our oceans and waterways. However, there are details that most of us would just as soon ignore because they are so devastating. I personally make a point of watching pertinent films and reading books and articles because, in a real way, I need to know all the facts, no matter how gruesome. I need to know not only what is right, but also what is wrong, and then I hope to convey some of this information to others.

Birds are indeed amazing survivors, and according to Jim Robbins’ book, The Wonder of Birds, many scientists think of them as “the dinosaurs that made it.” Robbins says that chickens and turkeys are genetically the closest dinosaur relatives with their “beast feet,” not unlike the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is a theropod.

Theropods brooded eggs, had bones filled with air pockets to make them lighter, and some had feathers and even a wishbone!

At this time of year, and even earlier in the season, many birds are migrating to their winter homes. How a tiny bird like the hummingbird, which weighs no more than a paperclip or two, can travel up to 3,000 miles annually, at speeds up to 30 mph, dodging hurricane-force winds and rain, is for me nothing short of a miracle. Here’s a fact that may blow your mind: “the record number of heartbeats in a hummer is a whopping 1,260 times a minute,” according to Robbins.

There is a wonderful film you can get at the library called “The Great Migration,” which I wish everyone could see. In it, multiple species are followed closely as they migrate, and the distances they travel by air defies belief—and to think they don’t need metal protective coverings and seat belts to travel as we humans do. They just wing it as they are, with awesome communication between one another to safely get where they are going, eating wild food along the way (hopefully not plastic).

As wonderful as all this is, worldwide, many species of water birds, as well as water turtles and whales, etc., are in trouble. Many are dying from starvation due to stomachs full of plastic objects, which they innocently see as food. In the film BAG IT, (which will be shown to the public in Thurmont this November and December), I witnessed the dissection of stomachs of Condors and out spilled the reason for their starvation. Birds, as innately intelligent as they are, are also innocent victims of the throw-away society that we, as humans, have created. Some people may discount this by saying, “Oh well, it is a dangerous world we all live in,” or “life is messy,” both of which are true, but it is also an equally amazingly miraculous life and one worth taking better care of.

Actually, many people are beginning to use cloth shopping bags and, of course, most of us recycle. Ideally, in a more paradisiacal world, we could use less plastic; however, just about everything we buy is wrapped in plastic! So, what to do? Perhaps there is no one answer, except to continue cleaning up our messes, and to try not to create  more. I heard recently of 800,000 people participating in a worldwide beach cleanup, and this is just one of many other efforts to help wildlife and the ecology by good-hearted, caring folk. Of course, no matter where we are, there is an ongoing need to pick up trash along walkways, in streams, or anywhere we see any.

It is impossible to write about all the perils facing birds, and there are many. Due to limited space in this column, I simply will end by quoting another wise person in history who said, “Whatsoever you do to the least of these you do unto me.” I believe “the least of these” implies not only human beings, but all other sentient beings as well. I am certain Chief Seattle would agree. Most of the holy men and women in the world owned very little and had utmost reverence for life (St. Francis, Ghandi, Mother Theresa). I am also sure they did not “heap up treasures on earth,” or use plastic bags when shopping!

Yes, we all can do something, and we all can do better.

by Christine Maccabee

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Once the gardening bug bites, you will never be the same again. Most of my best friends are gardeners, and each one has a long tale to tell of their gardening ventures. Each one could write a book, and each book would be as unique as the person writing it. Naturally, each garden is unique as well.

I think of my friend, Frances, in Westminster. Many years ago, she lived in the New Windsor countryside, atop a grassy knoll with a view. Her home was one of the oldest log houses in Maryland, and Frances had multiple gardens surrounding it, from clematis dripping off an arbor to herb and flower gardens just out her back door, to a veggie garden between the cabin and the garage. Her love of her gardens and their beauty directly reflected her beauty and determination, for gardening is not always a bed of roses, as most gardeners know!

To say that gardening is in her blood is putting it lightly. Frances eventually had to leave her precious cabin and gardens due to debilitating illnesses, but she now has new gardens surrounding her home in a suburb of Westminster. These gardens are a source of joy and healing for her, and she literally could not live without them. Whenever I visit her, I am amazed at the diversity of plant life she has in such a tiny area. The birds, butterflies, and bees are also a joy to watch, as we sit on her back porch for a visit.

Thurmont also has its share of garden lovers, whether they grow borders along the sidewalk, in small areas around the base of the house, in planters, or even in larger backyard areas. I remember how my parents had a victory garden after World War II, raising vegetables galore and raspberries from the old country. Of course, they would have done this without the war, as gardening was in their blood on both sides of our German families. They also had wonderful roses of many varieties, which sadly disappeared when my mother had to sell her property and move to a retirement home. Not all stories end happily.

There is much emphasis these days on raising wild native plants, and I am but one advocate. If you were to visit my property, you would see bumble bees of every size and variety and other interesting tiny pollinators, such as the tiny green metallic bees and the bee fly. One day I saw the green metallic bees flying from one purple comfrey flower to another, their green bodies shining in the sunlight, loaded with pollen on their undersides. Also, I am astounded at the variety of pollinators, such as the fascinating hummingbird moth that visit the lavender flowers of wild bergamot every summer. Also, the Japanese beetles seem to prefer the wild evening primroses that grow in abundance, instead of my roses, thank goodness. Every day, I go around to the primroses and capture the beetles in a container with one inch of water in the bottom. I feed these crunchy little morsels to my chickens that eat them enthusiastically. Good protein source!

I have seen beautiful gardens come and go in Thurmont, mostly because the gardener dies or must go to live in a retirement home. One such garden on Hammaker Street was the admiration of many. The owner grew vegetables and flowers in abundance, with just enough lawn to stroll. Another garden on Church Street across from Good Will had the most beautiful rose hedges and arbors, but sadly they are no longer there. Things change—not always for the better—so now it is our turn to create a place of beauty with the little piece of earth we own or rent. You may have seen the gardens full to overflowing on Carroll Street, especially the one on the corner, just before crossing the railroad tracks. Every inch is filled with plants, overflowing across the street around the telephone poles. Ah, such love.

So, how does your garden grow? Sometimes, it is a real effort to continue on in the heat of the summer, but most committed gardeners labor on, though they may occasionally complain about the bugs and the heat. Harvesting and canning, freezing or drying, the vegetables, herbs, and fruits of our labor takes time and patience, but, oh, the reward when the winter cold comes! Gardening is not all fun and games, but when the gardening gets tough, the tough get gardening.

So, guess it is time to stop writing and go catch me a few bugs for the chickens. I wish happy gardening experiences to all my gardening compatriots. You are one of a kind!