Maria Center Bird Count

“Maria Center completed its 4th year participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count from the MoonTree lodge.

Despite the heavy rainfall, we saw 14 tree sparrows,  1 dove, 10 geese and 4 house finches.” (Jennifer Weinert, 2/19/18)

We discussed birds, climate change, and citizen science. We also looked at several bird occurrence maps on eBird. A good way to beat the cold drizzle!


I was going to end my ecology lecture today by looking at climate projections for the Midwest, which looks like will be shifting to more intense rainstorms in shorter periods of time, exacerbating flood risks.

A bit ironic that we had to cancel due to a historic flood, eh?

The Yellow River is now at 16.2 ft, which is major flood stage. It is expected to crest at 18.0 ft by tomorrow morning, exceeding the previous flood record of 17.1 ft in 1954.

Flooding, of course, is a natural phenomenon. It is a regular ecological force of disturbance that is necessary for certain species to exist. It can change the entire course of a stream or river in a single event. It uproots trees, creating log jams (which lots of critters call “habitat”). It exposes soil, giving space for seeds to germinate. It deposits new sediment and nutrients on the floodplain. It connects sub-populations of species (a friend of mine has researched some frogs who relying on “rafting” on debris during flood events to exchange genetic material across isolated wet spots).

Of course, floods are also damaging for humans. We rely on water bodies for many reasons, and we place our houses, roads, crops and infrastructure nearby. We build and pave straight roads across the landscape to get here and there. Floods are disruptive. When they don’t happen for awhile, its easy to get lulled into complacency (see: Houston, New Orleans, Miami, the Mississippi River, etc).

Flooding is not just a function of precipitation. It is exacerbated by impervious surfaces like parking lots and buildings, which accelerate water towards the river instead of allowing it to slowly seep into the ground. Agricultural watersheds, especially those with artificial drainage, also increase flooding relative to natural cover like grasslands or forests.

In our circumstance, we first had a lot of snow, which melted very fast, followed by 6-8 inches of rain over the last few days. We normally average about 2.3 inches for the entire month of February.

The image below shows rainfall over the last 7 days across northern Indiana (via NOAA).

The rainfall and land use to the Northwest of Plymouth – in the headwaters – determines what how high the Yellow River rises in downtown Plymouth.

Map via Marshall County Soil and Water Conservation District


When the rain started, the land was already water logged from melting snow. The land use is primarily agricultural, so artificial drainage accelerates the water away from the fields and towards the main course of the river.

Here are a few photos I took of the Yellow River in Plymouth today:


2:30 PM today…

~10:30 AM today…

More tomorrow, or soon, on climate change.

iNaturalist helps ID our neighbors

“What’s that fungus?”

I recently downloaded the latest version of the “iNaturalist” app. Armed with nothing but a smartphone, it allows users to identify everything from mushrooms to macaws to maples. This species-identification app available for iPhone or Android, as well as a traditional website.

So far, 553,981 users have submitted 7,356,302 observations, identifying 128,202 species.

I was going to write a blog post about it, but I found a very well-written and concise review/recommendation in the New York Times Magazine, so I’ll send you there instead! Click here or below…

reflection on Fossil Free Fast by Albert Escanilla, campus minister at Ancilla College

My colleague Albert Escanilla, Campus Minister of Ancilla College, joined us for our Fossil Free Fast watch party. It’s been a pleasure working with him and learning from his work and reflections. He wanted to share this with the readers of this blog:

It is nearing a week since I joined the Center at Donaldson Fossil Fuel Fast Watch Party, and yet the messages mentioned still strongly resonates within me. I am unsure where exactly it has taken its roots, as I pondered: was the feeling of wanting to stay longer, but needed to attend to family responsibilities, or that I already filled up my Honda Fit twice full tank this week after selectively looking for the cheapest gas station, or was it the failed attempt again to walk to the grocery store this week because of the single digit temperature? I am certain it was the combination, but at the very essence, it is the inability to accept that I cannot escape our fossil fuel hungry society, and “living off the grid” is not an option at the moment.

Therefore, with such acceptance, I have alleviated these internal uneasiness and desire to escape, by altering my perspectives in our mass fossil fuel consumption issue. One’s mindfulness and diligence in daily choices when pertaining to the ecosystem should be practiced. These entails simple choices with noticeable results, and even more so monumental with time and when practiced as a community. Some of these daily things are bringing ones’ own water bottle, inflating car tires to the appreciate PSI in accordance to weather (increase fuel efficiency) and proper disposals of hazardous household materials (batteries and paint). There are ample things that are within our control, and the more we can share these practices with others, the more our eco-minded communities will flourish.

Thus, as the article concludes with the quote, “Rome wasn’t built in a day…but they were laying bricks every hour”, and our future will be dependent on “how quickly we decided to lay these bricks”; I would like to contribute to our endeavors with the idea of increasing our “eco-likeminded bricklaying communities”, beginning with ourselves to  further hastening the paving of our 21st century eco-friendly Pax Romana.

”It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers’ not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”

-excerpt from Bishop Ken Untener of Sagnaiw’s Archebishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along the Way

SpaceX launch

On Tuesday, SpaceX executed a test flight of their new (and enormous) Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The rocket boosters are reusable. You read that right.

If you want to see how they get them back (or if they even did!), I highly recommend setting aside 34 minutes of time and watching the entire launch.

If you don’t have the time, here’s the story, but I highly recommend the video.

You’ll also figure out what is going on in the photo below (seriously, it’s not fake).

(Here’s the official SpaceX page).

Fossil Free Fast watch party

Last night we all got to stay up past our bedtime to watch “Fossil Free Fast”, a live watch party where we heard from a variety of speakers who are working for a just and rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Despite the late hour, we had a turn out of about 30 folks: Sisters, community leaders, retirees, and a student.

(As most are aware, climate change is well-documented within the scientific community, where it has been accepted for many years across many disciplines. The consequences for human communities and ecological systems vary, but from what we are now seeing, they are overwhelmingly negative with the potential to become quite catastrophic. I would encourage everyone to find time to read the executive summary from the 2017 Climate Science Special Report).

The full Fossil Free Fast video presentation can be found here.

The initiative was hosted by, but we heard from a wide-array of speakers. I was particularly impressed by the diversity of the lineup. For a long time, the environmental movement was overwhelming a white, upper-middle class concern. But as we’ve seen in NW Indiana and elsewhere, environmental racism is real.

Any movement towards justice is inevitably going to “intersect” with these other fractures in our society. A speaker from Puerto Rico detailed how the 2017 hurricanes compounded their long history of disinvestment and colonialism. A young women from Houston described how being undocumented made looking for aid after the hurricane that much more difficult.

The challenge to grassroots communities was simple and three-fold:

  1. Transform the energy system to 100% renewables
  2. Stop all new fossil fuel projects
  3. Divest our financial institutions from fossil fuel investment

In other words, Sun (solar energy), Sit (in the way of new fossil fuel projects), and Sell (divest our portfolios).

I’ll admit that’s a pretty clever little phrase.

These three points have been considered for many years as a hopeless pipe dream and the cause of many eye-rolls. There simply was no economic, technological, or cultural way to fulfill such an ambitious dream.

All that has changed in just the last couple years.

People are no longer discussing “If…” they are discussing “When…”. It’s now becoming abundantly clear that this transition will happen this century. The long and short of it is that you can’t beat free fuel. (See this article: Utility CEO: new renewables will be cheaper than existing coal plants by the early 2020s)

So the question is: will this transition happen rapidly? Or will the fossil fuel companies be successful in delaying the inevitable long enough to extract even more short-term profits at the expense of the health of the planet? It seems now that that is the question we are forced to ask.

After the presentation, our conversations turned local.

We reflected on the challenges we have in Indiana. We have some of the dirtiest air in the state, but it’s not really visible and not connected in people’s minds to the acute health issues like asthma, heart disease, and low birth weights. We produce a lot of food and manufactured goods, but these also have significantly impacts on our water quality and soil health. Our electricity is cheap, but it’s still mostly fueled by coal and the utility companies have no problem finding legislators willing to pass preferred legislation in the statehouse.

One local leader described her frustration at trying to access important environmental data on the EPA’s website. Lots of information had been simply removed during the recent change in Presidential administrations (more on the story broke recently). Just this morning I read about the administration’s desire to slash research into renewable energy, this at a time when it needs to be scaled up.

But I was also reminded of the wisdom, experience, and work that was present with us as well. And the hope and the energy we received from the event that evening.

In the end, I took a breath considered the deep history of the Poor Handmaids, who are celebrating their 150th year in the United States. I was reminded of the adage, “Rome wasn’t build in a day.”

I found online a clever addition to that phrase: “…but they were laying bricks every hour.”

How the 21st century looks may depend on how quickly we decide to lay these bricks.