My busy science website for teachers, kids, friends, and other earthlings
Just me, relaxing by my backyard pond, writing to you. Nature beckons out here and ideas float free in the fresh air. Pull up a chair and join me.
Seasons may change, but I'm out here until my fingers shiver.
January 8, 2015
This is npot a peaceful, quiet scene
This morning, I am writing to the singing of ice on the pond. The bitter cold of the air resting on top if the ice is making it freeze even deeper and expand. Beneath the ice, the water is above freezing. The temperature stress on the ice makes it crack and boom, creak and moan endlessly. The sound could be confused with a recording of the humpback whale’s songs, but this is a far more ancient tune dating back before there was life on earth.
The roaring of surf, the rushing sound of rivers and wind, the ear-splitting hiss of geysers, the rumble of avalanche and rock slides, thunder of the vaster thundering of a volcanic eruption, and even the drip, drip, drip of rain are all from the album of golden really, really, really oldies.
October 22, 2014
A little notebook to hold concise gems of inspiration. Or Drek.
I don't have time to do the massive November challenge this year. I'm busy with book projects and, well, life.
Two years ago I completed NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. I managed to write a 50,000 word ROUGH draft in 30 days. I got the certificate and bought the tee-shirt. It was exhausting and exhilarating.
But I would love to earn that joyful feeling again, though my time is short. I'm going to do the Picture Book Idea Month PiBoIdMo instead. This creative workout challenges you to come up with one possible picture book idea every day in November. It will be like one intense priming of my creative pump. Though I know most of the ideas are likely to be clunkers, I'll have plenty of gems to work on.
And I'll have developed a good working relationship with my muse. (more…)
October 9, 2014
Common Reed a pretty peril
Crisp air, fall colors, and scenic marsh views like this hide a sinister story.
Phragmites is an invasive species. It is sometimes called "Common Reed" since it has spread (taken over?) wetlands across the New England states and beyond, growing dense, picturesque stands of stems. Their exuberant growth crowds out or shades native vegetation in fresh water and brackish wetland areas.
How do they out-compete native plants like cattails? Phragmites spread like wildfire. In fall, each stalk produces a feathery seed head (check my photograph) holding up thousands of blue-gray seeds, each equipped with along thin hair which helps the wind to pick them up and disperse.
But Phragmites works underground, too, claiming every inch of soil for itself, spreading 10 or more feet wide and several feet deep in one growing season.
It also sends out special root structures called stolons that can grow up to 43 feet from the parent plant in the one year. New Phragmites plants sprout along and at the tips of stolons, each creating its own network of roots.
This affects marsh animals, too. The intermeshed roots and stolons leave no room underground for the burrows of muskrats, mink, or crabs. Herons and beavers can't push through the thicket of tough stems. There's no space for animals to nest or hunt in the patch. Phragmites destroy a habitat by being superb invaders. But, oh, aren't they pretty as they bend and sway under a crisp fall breeze!
September 27, 2014
Rainbows are fleeting, so we love them. You have to be there at just the right moment to see a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis. It feels like a gift. Beautiful sunsets, shooting 'stars', northern lights - many of natures glories are short-lived and they will not repeat. For that reason we cherish these chance sightings.
Here is a photo of "Alpen Glow" in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Lasting 20 minutes, this otherworldly glow is the reflection of a dying sunset on mountains. It is named for the Alps, but Alpen Glow can graces trees, skyscrapers, and cliffs. Watch for these special moments of grace.
September 9, 2014
These three biographies will be reissued by Penguin Puffin!
I am SO excited!! I just heard that my Viking books, RACHEL CARSON, JULIETTE GORDON LOW, and HELEN KELLER, will be reissued in paperback format by Penguin Puffin. Two of them are still n print and selling steadily, but they'll all find fresh audiences with their new new releases, beginning in January of 2015. Even more exciting, they all get new covers! I'll post their face-lifts when I see them.
September 4, 2014
Sitting on a blackberry leaf a yard off the ground
Spring peepers fill the swamps, puddles and stream beds with their joyful choruses in the early spring. While each half-inch-long frog's pee-eep is sharp and loud, the chorus of them as they call their brethren in for a mating fest can be heard for half a mile. The ear splitting display lasts for a week or so before tapering off to silence - almost.
Suddenly, the tiny frogs seem to disappear.
They are still out there, gobbling up yummy gnats and other wee prey. Given a spring-like night, they will occasionally pee-eep right out loud at other times of the year. They don't gather to chorus, but their hopeful calls been heard during every month of the year.
The calls are easy to hear. The frogs, not so easy to see. They're too tiny, too shy, and too well camoflauged, avoiding predation by snakes and birds, bigger frogs and many, many others. But they are out there by the millions and sometimes, sometimes you get to see one. Keep your eyes open all year.
July 22, 2014
An abandonned Carolina Wren Nest
We humans are so lucky. We don't expect our babies to die. In the wild, infant mortality is a given. Some animal species have adapted to this fact by having so many young that the loss of many, many 'kids' doesn't really matter: a bullfrog can lay 500 eggs; a catfish, 5,000. Those mega-broods come cheap:the simple eggs take little energy to build and the parents don't bother to house, feed, or defend their huge families. That works out fine since only two of the babies need to reach adulthood to maintain the population.
Other animal species play the odds differently. They produce just a few well-developed young and then lavish energy on them. The Carolina Wren uses this strategy. As you can see in my photograph, the birds lay intricately constructed (and decorated) eggs. The wrens poured energy into building a protective nest. When a predator (a jay? another wren?) discovered the hidden nest site, broke into one of the eggs, and made a meal of it, the wrens cut their losses. They left one egg-child to die so they could start another nest, more secret, and hopefully more productive.
Those predators are important. So are the parasites and illnesses that trim a population down. Without infant mortality, there is wild growth in a population. The animals soon run out of space, food, air, or water. Then their population crashes. As I said, we humans have stopped expecting some of our young to die. We pour incredible amounts of energy (plus medicine, money, schooling, food, housing, tc.,etc.,) into insuring that each child reaches adulthood. So our population is ballooning. Around our globe you can already see water wars, famines, land grabs, and overcrowding-caused social breakdowns. Maybe we humans aren't so lucky after all.
July 6, 2014
A "Fowler's Toad" has a white line down its back. The American Toad is plain.
I'll bet you have a house toad like mine if you have a back door with a light and a water spout nearby. You probably have spider webs up around the light, too. You've made a feeder out of your back stoop by attracting insects all night long to your light.
A bird feeder full of seed brings in hungry birds. Toads and spiders get hungry, too, and they've come for your buggy handouts. You have nothing to fear from your new loyal friends. All those "warts" taste so nasty that any predator spits Toady out before swallowing.. For this reason, you should never lick a toad - even your own personal house toad.
Now go check the back stoop...and the moist corners near your well-lit front door. Then let me know who you find there.
July 5, 2014
A different sort of welcome mat
It feels quiet here and lovely. I am, for the first time in decades, not frantically searching for a snazzy new topic to write abut this week. The habit is so ingrained however, I can't stop looking (I hope I never do!)
Actually, nature sounds off all around me.I'm writing on my porch serenaded (?) by a birdhouse full of hungry English Sparrows. All the adult birds ever seem to say is "cheep-cheep-cheep-cheep ...." That's what the babies are chanting, but urgently and in a raspy voice.
Are English Sparrows pests? Not to me. They are the most people-tolerant of wild birds and dependably present at shopping centers and school yards, park benches and outdoor restaurants. They are neighbor-tolerant, too, building nests close together without all the territory battles that consume the days of other birds.
And their nest box - what a slovenly mess! Most songbird babies expel their waste in a tidy little "fecal sac" which Mom or Dad grabs in their beak and carries away from the nest. That way predators won't find them. English Sparrows are such jolly good fellows they don't worry abut trivia like that. The babes just hoist their little tails to the door and let fly.
Yes, they are an alien species and yes, they displaced native birds - but that is old news. These "English" Sparrows are American now, found all across the country, friendly and cheery. And a little messy.
June 12, 2014
Imagine! An old editor just emailed me and asked if I'd write a biography for Capstone, the new publisher where she works now. I love writing bios for kids (have done it 13 times) and gushed YES YES! So half of my mind is buried in research, back in the South Carolina hill country in 1781, where my heroine, teenaged Dicey Langston spied for the colonists. What fun!