Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Friday, October 12, 2018
Wednesday, September 12, 2018
by Sol Hinami-Mayorga
The best adventures don’t happen in a pre-planned path. No self-respecting explorer of the past, present or future nor my 7 year-old daughter gets excited by looking at a mulched trail, graced by “stay on the path” and “don’t cut the flowers” signs. Adventure is fueled by hearing about other people's thrills, imagining them as your own and then advancing in a pathless direction. Imagination has always been fueled by the search of adventures.
For a city child, who might not have much access to the outdoors, adventures can happen in even the most dilapidated forests.
|This dilapidated urban forest is raising its caretakers; they are people |
who would not have had much exposure to nature otherwise.
I say – in an urban forest made accessible to children for playing, climbing, picking and digging a bit – that crop is called: people who love nature with all their senses. That crop is called healthy children whose minds and spirits thrive. Let’s call those spaces “play forests”.
|Today's kids need wide-eyed memories of exhaustion, elation and fear, |
mud under the nails and itchy scabs.
Now I live in Chicago and am raising my children in a beautiful, organized, and clean first world. But I can’t help notice that restrictions in natural spaces hamper the community’s ability to grow their next crop of lovers and protectors of nature. There’s an expectation that we should interact with nature only by walking around it or by restoring native plant species. Thus, a playable buckthorn mess turns into a crabby grandmother's living room, where the good tea set is never used, and the furniture is wrapped in plastic. Over-regulation of play in natural spaces takes away the adventure and risk by reducing the woods to a programmed activity with a clear start and a set end. Adults may not mind it because adult play may be mostly conversations rather than physical creation. Children do the opposite.
Today’s kids need autonomous and risky play in nature to grow up to be the best engineers, storytellers, policy makers, presidents, or whatever these bodies and minds will do in their futures. They need wide-eyed memories of exhaustion, elation and fear, mud under the nails and itchy scabs. They will remember cupfuls of flower-petal soup, cold toads stretching hind legs between the hands that hold them, and that half bunny in the woods that brought up so many questions. If they engage in climbing, building, finding and hiding miracles and treasures under logs – if they share the myths and the stains – then they will know with all their bodies what it means to love life outdoors, and they will imprint on their local surroundings.
|When we truly enter a forest, the forest finds a way to get inside us too.|
We read about Norwegian children growing in their Forest Kindergartens or the Welsh children in their Adventure Playgrounds. But the movement to engage children and Nature is already happening in the U.S.
In the City of Chicago there is one wise Nature Center that hosts a play forest within a conservation forest. North Park Village Nature Center cares for a 58-acre forest. Twelve of those acres are still overrun with gnarly invasive buckthorn. But instead of cutting them down and planting something else, the directors of the Center encourage nature-loving kids to turn fallen tree limbs into huts, tree branches into swings, and flowers into potions. After 6 years, this successful program is yielding its first crops. “Walking Stick Woods” now boasts Chicago’s first year-round outdoor preschool, a surreal public art gallery, and a summer camp loved both by children and parents. One mother who visited often became the steward of the woods and another became a Master Naturalist. This forest's crop is the raising of its caretakers; they are all urban people who would not have had much exposure to nature otherwise. They come here because this whimsical forest welcomes them for who they are.
Of course, not all nature should be subject to the whims of kids. We need protected nature preserves too. But we need more forests, prairies and woodlands inside our children. We need something to preserve and someone to preserve it. Something to be loved and someone to love it. We need Nature and its wild children.
Sol Hinami-Mayorga lives in Chicago with her husband and two children. She is the founder and co-director of Fraternal Forest, a social enterprise devoted to helping nature educators and children meet in the woods. Photos show children in the Fraternal Forest Wilderness and Adventure School. See: http://www.fraternalforest.org.
Thanks for proofing and edits by Eriko Kojima and Kathleen Garness.
Tuesday, August 28, 2018
|Woodland sunflowers seem to be taking over large parts of our savanna and woodland restorations. Is this good for biodiversity conservation – or a threat?|
|Diverse conservatives, laboriously restored. Might woodland sunflower wipe them out? Apparently, no one knows.|
|Each sunflower clump starts with a single seed, and then spreads densely, |
especially if the adjacent vegetation is of low quality.
To distinguish among the three species above, we first check out the bases of the leaves. The four leaves on the left narrow gradually, just above the stem. The two on the right have "flat bottoms" – without that narrowing.
The leaves of Helianthus strumosus are more than three times as long as wide.
If the plant is pure strumosus, it will also have a smooth lower stem and short green bracts beneath the flower.
The leaves of Helianthus decapetalus typically have longer stems, are wider, and often have bigger teeth.
If the plant is pure decapetalus, it will also have long, unruly, narrow-pointed bracts underneath the flower.
The main clue to hirsutus is its coarse hairs on the lower stems (in contrast to the two species above, which have smooth lower stems).
|Helianthus hirsutus has roughness and coarse hairs everywhere.|
Photo by Jan Thomas Johansson.
|When you're checking out the leaves, hirsutus has the blunt (non-decurrent) base. |
The two main veins meet the midrib less than 1 mm from the stem.
(Compare with the two decurrent species, above, where those veins end farther up the leaf).
We're currently analyzing a 32-year vegetation dataset for the Grove and will soon have a better sense of whether this species is eliminating others - or perhaps contributing to a more stable and conservative diversity.
Outside the Grove, it's scarier. Often there is little or nothing under the hirsutus and strumosus-hirsutus hybrids. We have little data on that. It's time to study.
Thanks to Kathy Garness and Eriko Kojima for proofing, as always.