thankful

Sorry folks, it’s been 3 weeks. I’ve been pretty busy, and honestly pretty tired and worn as we head into the dormant season (ecologically-speaking). My soul needs a winter’s rest I think.

a vernal pool just off the main PHJC campus enters its long slumber, waiting for spring warm and rain, when it will come alive again with salamanders and ducks

Lately I’ve been relying on the strength of others to pull me along. I was grateful to hear in church the other week someone say that you don’t need to feel that you can always pray, or sing, or even believe. The Church can continue to pray or sing or believe around and for you, it is still there for you as a presence, even if you aren’t sure about anything. That is what community is for.

After a rough morning, a friend unexpectedly took a few minutes to make a simple bookmark for me, with a word of encouragement. I was reminded of what a special community we have and continue to build:

As long as we have breath, we can find something to be thankful for. As long as we wake up in the morning, we have a day before us. Pictured here are two reasons, for me, to be thankful:

community in the stillness

 

I’ve been to a couple funerals this year, memorials that came too early. I heard testimonies of community members struggling with being separated from their parents across borders, brothers and sisters dealing with a family member’s drug addiction, working mothers living in cars with their families.

Now, I’ll admit – it’s always rubbed me a little the wrong way when folks are encouraged to think about other people’s problems and use it as a benchmark for all they should be thankful for… and then proceed to just sit in a warm home with a full belly and simply “feel grateful.”

Well, just as long as we don’t stay there. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). I have often wondered how much of our (my) charity is done “to be seen by men” (Matt. 6:1), which in reality actively prevents us from asking the very hard questions that justice demands.

But before I get on that tangent… I just want to say that I’m grateful for all you out there in internet land, and for this tiny blue orb that continues it’s wild swinging and tilting and pulsing.

a wetland boardwalk near Sturgis, MI

 

scary news

It’s Halloween, so I suppose the timing is right for scary news.

The latest U.N. report:

The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

The authors of the landmark report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released on Monday say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the target, which they say is affordable and feasible although it lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C.

Some time ago we learned about a disturbing study out of Germany that observed massive insect losses even in well-protected natural areas:

Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

Lastly, a report just came out that documented the destruction of over 1/2 of the world’s vertebrates in my lifetime:

The populations of Earth’s wild mammals, birds, amphibians, fish and other vertebrates declined by more than half between 1970 and 2012, according to a report from environmental charity WWF and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Activities such as deforestation, poaching and human-induced climate change are in large part to blame for the decline. If the trend continues, then by 2020 the world will have lost two-thirds of its vertebrate biodiversity, according to the Living Planet Report 2016. “There is no sign yet that this rate will decrease,” the report says.

“Across land, freshwater and the oceans, human activities are forcing species populations and natural systems to the edge,” says Marco Lambertini, director-general of WWF International.

Source: Living Planet Report 2016

The main threat facing declining populations is habitat loss — caused by logging, agriculture and the disruption of freshwater systems such as rivers. Freshwater populations, which declined by 81%, are increasingly thought to be faring worse than those living in terrestrial regions.

I want to tell you the tide is turning, that we’re on the right track, etc. But in fact just looking at the data we are lacking the urgency requisite to address the challenges of this scale and speed.

From our businesses, our non-profits, our educational institutions, our religious communities, and elected officials… we’re failing. Inaction and incrementalism negate our responsibility to our children.

We often jump to happy talk and self-congratulations too quickly. What was good 10 years ago is no longer sufficient. I think we’d all do well to just let these reports sit and sink in before thinking of our response.

LARE report on Lake Galbraith

Last week, Tom Estrem of Cardno, Inc. presented his report on Lake Galbraith, based on data we gathered in 2017.

The goal of the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s Lake and River Enhancement (LARE) Program is to protect and enhance aquatic habitat for fish and wildlife, and to insure the continued viability of Indiana’s publicly accessible lakes and streams for multiple uses, including recreational opportunities. This is accomplished through measures that reduce non-point sediment and nutrient pollution of surface waters to a level that meets or surpasses state water quality standards. (I-DNR)

The report can be found online here. The Executive Summary is just a few pages long… if you only have a few minutes, that will give you an overview of what we did.

We are looking forward to using this data to improve the quality of our fresh water communities. Remember… you are about 60% water yourself… our health and that of the ecological community cannot be separated.

LEED-ing in Marshall County (guest post)

Here’s a guest post by our Moontree Studios Programs Coordinator, Matthew Celmer. Matthew joined our community earlier this year and has brought tons of new energy. He’s committed to the Mission of the Poor Handmaids and he’s also relentlessly positive. We are very glad to have him on as a leader at The Center at Donaldson!

It’s funny how we can become used to things that are part of our daily lives.  Even remarkable things can begin to feel ordinary if we are around them enough.  In my short time here at MoonTree and The Center, I often catch myself slipping into a familiarity with my surroundings that can tend towards an under-appreciation.

In my role at MoonTree, I have the benefit of showing first-time visitors around.  This interaction is a frequent reminder of the wonder and awe I experienced the first time I came here.  Seeing our world through the eyes of people witnessing the amazing accomplishments of the Poor Handmaids community is crucial in contemplating the theme of the 150th anniversary; Blessed Past, Vibrant Present, Empowered Future.

In September, The Center at Donaldson participated in the inaugural year of the Northcentral Indiana Branch of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) by hosting a tour of MoonTree Studios and an eco-walk (led by the capable administrator of this blog).  With over 20 attendees from all over Michiana, and one all the way from Louisville, it was a successful event that brought new people together centered around the theme of sustainable building practices.

Sr. Mary Baird discusses insulation… and so much more!

For those of you who may be unaware, the USGBC developed and oversees the LEED program which is a green building rating system.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Their mission is, “to promote sustainability-focused practices in the building industry.”  It is through following their New Construction v2.2 certification process that MoonTree Studios was honored with their Gold Certification.  The first, and still only, building complex in Marshall County to do so.  (There is a LEED Gold Certified home in Culver as well, but the certification is different.)

Matthew leads the LEED tour.

This was a big deal in 2010 and still is eight years later.  Those who attended the tour reminded me not only how lucky we are to have these buildings, but how much further we still have to go as a community and as a wider society.  The tour guests were a diverse group of individuals with a diverse range of experience and skills, all brought together by the common desire to build better things.  In order to understand how to accomplish this, one has to research past, present, and potential future building practices and methods.  What we have here at The Center is a wealth of information that can serve that very purpose.

It was nice to see MoonTree and The Center through their eyes and listen to their questions, especially the ones that made me realize how little I know about this place.  What of our own wonders do we under-appreciate or even outright ignore?  What questions should we be asking?  What lessons should we be learning from our own blessed past and vibrant present in order that we can ensure an empowered future?

Discussing the ins and outs of Moontree Lodge. Things we like, things we might reconsider.

Our future will be empowered only to the extent that we live vibrantly in the present, by opening our eyes to the gifts and wonders around us as if we are seeing them for the first time, and act in accordance with the blessings of our past, by not taking for granted what has been bestowed upon us.  Community is about shared responsibility.  We are all responsible for what we do now and how that will impact our collective future.

the late season flower rush

Fall is definitely here. Leaves are changing. Temperatures are dropping… though not by much yet it seems. But there’s a good chance of our first freezing temperatures Friday night.

For many creatures who make their living during the “growing season,” the rush is on. Time to fatten up, migrate, mate, and/or reproduce ASAP.

You can now see the last of the late-season flowers on the landscape. Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and Asters (Symphiotrichum spp.) are two abundant native taxa. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is our last woody species to bloom, usually in late fall but their subtle blossoms have been reported as late as Christmas time. Heck, my apple tree even flowered last week! I think it’s confused.

The blue-winged wasp (Scolia dubia) is a beautiful and common late-season insect, feeding here on some Riddell’s Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii) in my front lawn in late 2017. The mamas lay eggs on Japanese Beetles grubs, which their larva will consume.

I’ve been watching insects frenetically mob these decreasing-number of flowers and plants. Lots of bumblebees, blue-winged wasps (photo above, plus see this great link), and last night, a couple migratory Monarch butterflies (who flew away before I could get a photo).

But anyway, the flower that inspired this post was this beautiful red Dahlia:

Bumblebee nectaring on Dahlia flower, Oct 9, 2018.

Now, I am very passionate about my ecological beliefs, but I try not to be “fundamentalist” about it. I like to extol the many benefits of getting native plants on the landscape, plants which evolved complex relationships with the rest of the web of life, but non-native plants certainly provide a level of ecosystem services.

I like Dahlias for several reasons. They are beautiful, require little care, need no fertilizer, and don’t seem to spread or seed. They have long and late bloom periods, and I always find bumblebees on them. This perennial is not not cold-hardy in our area so I just grab the tubers before the hard frosts come and store easily in a bucket in the garage. Come spring, I just lazily plop them in spare spots around the yard and wait for them to pop up and surprise me! This is just a little extra work, but beats having them spread out of control where I don’t want them I suppose.

Fall is a desperate time for pollinators, so I really like the consistent and abundant blooms of the Dahlia. Bumblebees don’t seem to much mind which flower it is, as long as the nectar and pollen are available.

As one last aside, I had a student worker gather acorns recently, which we’ll sow on some degraded land. I came into the office this Monday to find these little grubs crawling all over my office. Apparently there was some insect that had laid eggs inside the acorns of this White Oak (Quercus alba).

Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice (Ps. 96:12)

public report on study of Lake Galbraith

Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ will receive the final results of a Lake Gilbert LARE Grant Study by Cardno, a natural resource and ecological consulting firm, and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

The results of the Water Quality Management Study for Lake Gilbert, (aka Lake Galbraith), will be shared, along with ideas for the lake, at a meeting on October 16, 2018, at 7:00 p.m. EDT in MoonTree Gallery, 9638 N. Union Road, Plymouth, IN 46563.

This Water Quality Management Study enables the Poor Handmaids to immediately begin implementing more Best Management Practices and Wetland Functional Quality Improvement Plans for the watershed area surrounding Lake Galbraith, which is part of the Flat Lake Watershed.

The public is invited. Flat Lake stakeholders and landowners are encouraged to attend.

wildflower tour with Maria Center residents

So this is a little belated, but I thought I’d share some July photos from our “wildflower tour” with Maria Center residents.

Many of the folks now in retirement have had rural or agrarian childhoods, so it’s always a great time of mutual sharing of personal memories and observations about life outdoors.

Some of our residents are very active walkers and cyclists, but others hadn’t seen the full extent of our property and what we have growing.

We discussed the ecological (and aesthetic) importance of having flowering plants in patches across the landscape, with varying bloom times from early spring to late fall.

I remember that one resident remaking, “I had no idea… I just thought they were all ‘weeds’.” You could imagine the smile on my face!

(Click to the photos to enlargen)

BIG news for NW Indiana

I know I’m behind on blogging, but there was some big news that dropped yesterday:

NIPSCO Eyes Plan for Cleaner, Lower-Cost Energy Future

Northern Indiana Public Service Company LLC (NIPSCO), a subsidiary of NiSource Inc. (NYSE: NI), announced today as part of its future electric supply planning process, that analysis shows the most viable option for customers would include moving up the retirement of a majority of its remaining coal-fired generation in the next five years and all coal within the next 10 years. Likely replacement options point toward lower-cost renewable energy resources such as wind, solar and battery storage technology.

Here’s the full press release, and the presentation slides if you really want to geek out.

Sunrise over Moontree, Sep 14, 2018

It’s clear now that the trend is inevitable (it’s been already clear to energy analysts for some time). Very few technologies will be able to compete with free fuel. It’s now a matter of finding the right mixtures of various fuel types, integrating that with usage patterns across a grid, and deploying them. The politics and social dynamics are probably the most difficult piece of the puzzle.

We already know we will make the transition to renewable, low/no-carbon energy this century. So… why not do it quickly? The science is telling us that to avoid the worst of ecological degradation, we have to do it fast, much faster than the current pace.

This means rapid deployment of renewable energy and increased research and development.

It means the complete electrification of the transportation system. We know that electric vehicles produced today will continue to get cleaner for every year of their ~20 year lifespan. Further investment in any fossil fuel infrastructure runs the risk of becoming obsolete, as well as morally dubious.

If that sounds drastic, that’s only because of how slowly we’ve been adjusting our frames of mind to the challenges that scientists are continually revealing to us. In this light, rapid transformation is the most conservative, cautious action we can take; doing nothing becomes radically irresponsible.

As always, I return to the words of Pope Francis in Laudato si’ (2015), a beautiful synthesis of science and faith:

We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition. In recent decades, environmental issues have given rise to considerable public debate and have elicited a variety of committed and generous civic responses. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world. Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities. (par. 165)

The news isn’t always so cheery, but yesterday was a good day for our children’s world.

(Bonus: Also yesterday we saw this from our neighboring state: “AEP Ohio filed plans for the single largest clean energy development in Ohio history – at least 900 megawatts of new wind and solar generation, would more than double the amount of utility scale clean energy in the state.”)

first solar array tilting

Our solar arrays were installed this June by Ag Technologies of Rochester, IN. Their SolarCAM(R) system allows us to tilt the arrays four times per year to maximize solar production. As the sun appears lower on the horizon in the fall and winter, we tilt the arrays up (steeper) to be perpendicular with the rays.

We actually like that the system is not automated. That would mean moving parts and motors, parts that will inevitably fail and need to be replaced. If you can put up a pop-up camper, you can tilt these arrays.

Interestingly enough, the tilting schedule is not evenly spaced across the year. We tilt on or around August 24 (37 degrees), October 7 (45 degrees), March 20 (back to 37 degrees), and April 18 (12 degrees). This is a function of the sun’s altitude on the horizon. All of these values can be calculated for any zip code, at any date in the future at this Navy website. Your tax dollars at work!

I’m blessed to have an ecological intern this fall from Ancilla College’s Earn to Learn Scholarship Program. I’m looking forward to working with Trace, providing him with a diverse set of experiences, and getting some extra jobs done that have been on my to-do list. We didn’t waste any time… after we met each other yesterday, we went right out to the fields to get tiltin’…

habitat update: fire effects, new bees, and an Unexpected Cycnia

Lots of odds and ends here… I apologize for the random nature of things, but I thought you’d enjoy hearing about this and that.

1) “Iron plant”

Sr. Mary and I were at the Moontree Lodge the other day and she pointed outside and said, “What’s that purple plant down there? I’ve never seen it there.” I took a look, it was Ironweed, (a Vernonia species, I forgot to check which one). “Did you plant that?” “Nope, it just showed up!”

Just before the tree line are several ironweed plants topped with deep purple flowers.

Ironweed is often found in pastures. We don’t hardly need to seed it, as it’s pretty common on the landscape and manages to show up often. However, this spot was just burned this spring. I have a hunch that the spring burn, which damaged the European cool-season grasses we are trying to eradicate, gave an edge to the ironweed and it took off.

The plants were a good six feet tall!

The more flowering species, the better. If we have dozens of species, there will always be something providing nectar and pollen throughout the long growing season. Sure enough, there were several Monarchs nectaring on the Ironweed. (It’s been a great year for Monarchs, if you hadn’t noticed).

Read more about this plant at this great ecology blog: A Tough Plant, Not A Weed

A Tough Plant, Not A Weed

2) The (honey) bees are back

Speaking of all those flowers, we thought we could turn some of that nectar and pollen in honey. We found a new friend who needed a flower-rich space to put his bees for the season. In return, we get pollination of our flowers (which leads to seeds we can harvest in the fall). Honey bees aren’t native to this continent, but these “white man’s flies” have been naturalized her for several centuries.

I’ve been playing around with my smartphone’s slow-motion video feature. It’s actually just a video shot at 120 frames per second, then you can do some editing afterwards. Anyway, I’m not a great photographer, but I thought I’d throw up my first take:

3) Unexpected Cycnias

You learned about these somewhat rare moth caterpillars from Cassaundra Bash’s recent guest post. So did I… I had never heard of them!

Imagine my surprise then when I found some of these the very next week, munching away on some butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), which is an orange-flowered native milkweed species. Since I’ve scanned hundreds of milkweed plants for Monarch and Tiger Moth caterpillars, it is probable that cycnias have passed before my eyes… but I had never truly seen them. This is a reoccurring part of ecological education. Once your eyes are opened to a particular plant, or your ears opened to specific birdsong, etc, you start finding it everywhere. Imagine what else we are missing right in front of us!

That was… well, Unexpected!

As I was researching some basic facts about these guys, I found a researcher’s 2015 blog post, where she was soliciting observations of the Unexpected Cycnia from across the continent. Of course, I e-mailed her and was now doubly pleased to contribute a very small piece to our body of knowledge about this incredible world.

4) More Butterflies

Ok, thanks for reading this far. As a special gift, check out this slow-motion sequence I observed in my backyard. After you click the link, pause the video. Hit the gear icon and change the settings so that you are watching in HD (720p), then click to open in full screen. The real big surprise comes in at about 23 seconds!