a final post

“Change is never painful. Only the resistance to change is painful.”


After a run of 5 years and 251 posts, the Ecological Relationships Blog has run its final race. I’m happy to have been allowed to continue to write this long, especially because my 3rd post was titled “Don’t farm naked!” 🙂 Anyhow, after some discernment, I found that it was the proper time for me to conclude my service at The Center at Donaldson and take a step into a new chapter.

I wanted to say that writing isn’t much use without a reader… but I have to say selfishly that I’d probably blog even just for myself, as it helps me synthesize my thoughts and keep a record of them. Nonetheless, I’m deeply appreciative of everyone who has read along through the years, wherever in cyberspace that you are, whether you’ve commented or not. I’m grateful to have been able to explore and learn about the ecosystems we call home, and to try to help elucidate their goings-on.

If ecology teaches us anything, it is that change on this planet is constant. Sometimes it’s abrupt, often it is subtle and slow, but adaptation is the name of the game.

To keep up with The Center at Donaldson, you can visit their website and Facebook page.

You can find me on LinkedIn or email me (my first and last name at gmail.com, no spaces or periods).

So long, and thanks for all the plants!

Juniper-Apple Rust
Virginia Bluebells
Wild Turkey
A vernal pool, temporary and vital habitat for frogs and salamanders.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?… See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these… Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6, NIV

a Common Loon passes through

I don’t really go “birding” on a regular basis. That is, setting out to a natural area with equipment, guidebooks, and a firm intent on locating something. I’m usually more of the incidental birder, or monitoring for a specific pair or population. ButI do like to write here about birds whenever possible.

I was working in the greenhouse earlier this week and heard the unmistakable call of the Common Loon. At first I was thinking… why did they add a Loon sound to the podcast I’m listening to? That didn’t make sense. I stepped outside and heard it call again. Common Loons around here aren’t, well, that uncommon. But they aren’t as friendly as Mallards and they are only migrating through to their breeding grounds a couple hundred miles to the north. As such, I rarely see them and I don’t think they tend to vocalize when they are just resting on a lake during their journey. It was the first time I heard one in Indiana. I wasn’t able to record the vocalization, but I did get some shots of it putting around, preening, and relaxing.

You can read more about the life history of the Common Loon here.

I was joined in the observation by Maria Center’s own intrepid naturalist, Elsa. Since she lives here, I like to think of her as my own eyes and ears in the twilight hours of the day when I’m home with my family. There are a lot of occurrences that seem to happen around dusk and I always love hearing about the goings-on from her. It was nice to share this moment with her.

Elsa and I went out to the lake in January to observe the strange arcing lines across the frozen surface.

Here are a couple still photos. I used my phone to take a photo through a spotting scope at about 200 yds. It’s definitely not “wildlife photography” but it allows me to accurately ID different creatures and observe their behaviors.

2022 renewable energy update

I’ve been crunching the numbers for our institution’s electricity consumption and production. We now have two full calendar years of data on our latest solar energy installations, so let’s take a look.

The short-statured and drought-tolerant Spotted Horsemit (Monarda punctata) fits in well between the rows of solar panels and feeds lots of bees.


These numbers include consumption data from the ~24 NIPSCO electric meters located at the facilities around Lake Galbraith, west of Plymouth, IN. For the sake of data consistency, this includes Marian University’s Ancilla College, who is now an independent entity.

(ADS = Ancilla Domini Sisters)

Overall electricity consumption declined 3% overall from 2014 to 2021. Significant changes during this time frame included the addition of two residence halls, the demolition of a couple structures/trailers, and an LED lightning retrofit.

During this time, solar energy systems were installed, with Phase 1 coming online in 2018 and Phase 2 in 2019. The wind turbine at Moontree has been operational since 2022, but its impact is not visible on the scale of this chart.

For the 2021 calendar year, these renewable energy systems produced 18% of the electricity needs overall.

Emissions associated with electricity generated by NIPSCO have been falling steadily over the previous decades. NIPSCO has reduced their rate of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 17% from 2016 levels and 63% from 2005 levels. Current, approved plans to phase out their coal-burning power plants and replace them with renewable sources has the utility on track for a 90% reduction in GHG by 2030 (from a 2005 baseline). So while consumption has only dropped 3%, and renewable energy reduced purchases by an additional 18%, total emissions are dropping even further. Adding all of these effects, ADS electricity-related emissions are approximately 35% lower in 2021 than they were in 2014.

In early 2022, ADS’s renewable energy systems surpassed a new milestone: production of over two million kWh of clean electricity. For scale, that’s enough to power an average home in Indiana for about 180 years.

College Solar Arrays

The college solar arrays came online with Phase 2 in 2019. They provide approximately 75% of the electricity needs for the residence halls and the classrooms. I have worked with the installer (Green Alternatives Inc.) on troubleshooting some software and hardware issues, but they generally are performing as expected. 

Water Reclamation Facility (“Wastewater”)

The water reclamation facility arrays came online with Phase 1 in 2018. It provides 40-45% of the electricity needs for the water reclamation facility. I have worked through minor issues with the installer (Ag Technologies) as they have arisen, but generally it is performing as expected. 

Lindenwood Retreat and Conference Center

The Lindenwood arrays came online with Phase 2 in 2019. They provide approximately 1/3 of the electricity needs for Lindenwood during normal operation. I have worked with the installer (Green Alternatives Inc.) on troubleshooting some hardware issues. We had a long wait time for replacement hardware from the manufacturer in 2021 and that reduced production for that year. Otherwise the system is performing as expected. 

The wind turbine was installed at Moontree in 2011. The solar array came online with Phase 1 in 2018. Together they supply a little over half of the electricity needs for the Gallery and the Shop. The systems are performing as expected. Over the course of the year, the two systems are countercyclical. Solar energy production is maximized during the long summer days, while wind is strongest and most consistent in the winter. We use net metering, so it doesn’t really matter from a billing perspective, but it feels nice to see!


In summary, the systems are working about as expected. When fully operational, they are hitting the production targets we expected. There are inevitable issues that arise in regards to hardware, software, infrastructure, etc. That’s where we are fortunate to have two local installers who do their best to keep us up and running. Solar energy requires zero fuel cost. It is low maintenance, but not zero maintenance. Opportunities exist for co-locating pollinator friendly plants between the panels… an update on that initiative will be due after this year’s growing season.

news update: late winter edition

Only the growth of a global appreciation for our common human past will wipe out assumptions that a site belongs to the person who temporally owns the land above it.

Ellen Herscher, “A Future in Ruin” (1989)

What I’ve been reading/watching lately…

Study: Gas stoves worse for climate than previously thought (AP) Gas stoves are contributing more to global warming than previously thought because of constant tiny methane leaks while they’re off, a new study found. The same study that tested emissions around stoves in homes raised new concerns about indoor air quality and health because of levels of nitrogen oxides measured.

You don’t want a gas stovetop (Vlogbrothers 4 min video)

How I’m helping to save the birds by keeping chickens (be warned – this is satire, and spot-on 🙂 )

What’s driving the remarkable decline of urban sprawl in the US? (Fast Company) A new study finds that a primary culprit has been rising gas prices—spurring denser development in communities across the country.

Proposals could give South Bend one of the largest indoor farming campuses in the Midwest (South Bend Tribune) The city council gave a unanimously positive recommendation Monday night for two tax abatements that could put South Bend at the epicenter of the hydroponic produce market in Indiana, and possibly the Midwest, for years to come. 

Conversion of Minnesota grasslands to crops threatens wildlife, water, climate (StarTribune, MN) Across the state, conversion of key biome into crops threatens wildlife, water and climate. 

Environmental Groups are Enthusiastic About New Actions Taken by the Federal Government Regarding Coal Ash Disposal in Indiana (Indiana Env Reporter)

Climate Change Is Already Rejiggering Where Americans Live (The Atlantic) Some Hurricane Ida survivors may have no choice but to leave. Sooner or later, people across the country will be in the same bind.

Get a free charge for your electric vehicle: Mishawaka and Goshen get EV chargers (South Bend Tribune)

In the misinformation wars, renewable energy is the latest to be attacked (NPR) The spread of misinformation about solar and wind energy is leading some states and counties to restrict or even reject projects. The Energy Department calls it a key threat to decarbonizing the grid.

Extend your opinion to Purdue Extension

I recently had the pleasure of joining the board of our local Marshall County Extension.

Wait… what is “Extension” you ask?

All universities engage in research and teaching, but the nation’s more than 100 land-grant colleges and universities have a third, critical mission — extension. Through extension, land-grant colleges and universities bring vital, practical information to agricultural producers, small business owners, consumers, families, and young people


In Indiana, Purdue University is our land grant institution that administers Extension Services.

Their mission: We deliver practical, research-based information that enhances lives and livelihoods.

Their vision: We will be a leader in providing relevant, high-impact educational programs that transform the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities in Indiana and the world.

Each county in Indiana has an extension office staffed with specialists. Typically this covers Agriculture and Natural Resources, Health & Human Science, Nutrition Education, and 4-H.

Our local Extension team has a calendar full of events and programs available to the public.

Extension helps local farmers adapt to changing diseases, pests, and markets. They also operate the Master Naturalist and Master Gardener programs, which I suspect many readers are familiar with. Last month, I shared with the Master Gardeners about invasive species in our county and how to address them.

Anyway… all that to say, Purdue Extension is currently conducting a statewide survey with two purposes:

To reflect on the Extension vision – delivering practical, research-based information that enhances lives and livelihoods, and on the Extension mission – leading in providing relevant, high-impact educational programs that transform the lives and livelihoods of individuals and communities in Indiana and the world.

To assess the Extension value and impact on Indiana families, businesses, operations, organizations, and communities.


This survey is valid for anyone who resides in the state of Indiana, not just Marshall County. I just took it… it doesn’t take too long. If you live in Indiana, please head on over and fill it out.

last chance to join the Northern Indiana Solar Co-op

We are entering the last month to sign up for the solar co-op, a group purchase program coordinated by Solar United Neighbors that is open to residents in and around St. Joseph, Elkhart, Marshall, and Kosciusko Counties.

We are happy to report that we are up to 175 members. Of those, 12 systems have already been installed, another 35 contracts have been signed, and dozens of proposals still out there waiting to have a decision made.

odds and end(s) of year

Just a few quick pictures & thoughts as we head into the Longest Night, and tie up the end of 2021. Can you believe it?!

I did some final supplemental seeding on a 5 acre field of Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) that we will be grazing next summer for the first time. Big bluestem is a native, warm-season grass. 95% of the pastures in our region are cool-season, which produce most heavily in spring and fall. Warm-season grasses (surprise!) provide most of their growth and nutrition during the summer heat. It is commonly grazed out west, but almost no one in the area does it. For more reading, see Iowa State U. on incorporating prairies in multifunctional landscapes.

all the good stuff packed in one photo!

I recently read that Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis), a native legume, is also used in pastures, so I put down several pounds of this as well. It’s a favorite of our Maria Center resident Elsa, who faithfully scouts our existing plants and collects seeds for me. I supplemented her harvest with some from commercial growers, who really help us scale up.

Legumes pull nitrogen out of the air and put it in the soil, helping other plants grow. The seeds are also great for game birds.

I started another little experiment over at Moontree, related to the timing of prairie sowing & the use of fire. More details next year.

It required mixing up a small, custom mix of species. The next photo looks a little suspicious, but I assure you what I’m doing is perfectly legal! 😉

The seeds are quite beautiful…

I recently took a little spiritual retreat at GilChrist and stayed in the Hawk’s Nest cabin. I certainly love to see all the prairie incorporated thoughtfully in the landscape. However… it’s kind of like I didn’t leave work, so it was a challenge for my headspace to not be distracted. “Hmmm… I wonder how they manage prescribed fire. Oh, there’s an invasive species someone should take care of…”

A drone photo would be much better, but here’s an oblique look at their prairie labyrinth, which is quite large.

I easily made it there at highways speeds & cold temps in the electric LEAF, and I knew I’d get a full charge upon arrival thanks to their solar-canopy charger:

Speaking of which, a car dealership by Wal-Mart recently installed this DCFC (direct current fast charging) station. Fortunately it looks like it’s operated by Blink, one of the major networks .This will improve the odds that it will be properly maintained over time. Reliability can be a challenge with DCFCs when the commitment is lacking.

The funny thing is that I doubt I will ever use this station. Almost all EV charging is done overnight where cars are parked, so DCFCs are most needed on highways a good distance from your origin point. My trip to GilChrist was in another state and I didn’t even need a DCFC. Nonetheless, this was a very needed unit near the intersection of US 30/31 and I suspect will be occupied frequently. Plymouth actually has another station coming in 2022/2023, location TBD.

Let’s just keep going with the odds and ends, shall we?

This was fairly unique… a large branch that fell and was caught by the much smaller branches of another tree. The branch was a dead pine and so less dense than one would normally suspect.

And lastly, since we are finishing up our sophomore year of COVID-19, with such angst and pain and suffering, I’ll offer the slightest bit of humor, since I think we could all use it right now.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, for clarity in the circumstances that are before you, the courage to do what needs to be done, and the assurance that it will be all right in the end.

news round up, Christmas edition

IMPA Obtains Building Permit for Bremen Solar Park (Max 98.3) IMPA officials have obtained a building permit for the 35-acre solar park to be located on 1st Road in Bremen.

Marshall County Commissioners Receive Update on Proposed Regional Sewer District (Max 98.3) Jones said in a previous meeting JPR was initially hired by the Marshall County Health Department to conduct a study of underserved areas of the county in terms of wastewater treatment.

Cars killed less amphibians during COVID-19 shutdown (The Wildlife Society)

Prairies Are Making Headlines. But What Exactly Are They? Here’s an Explainer (WTTW)

Techno-optimism for 2022 (Noah Smith) What you should be excited about: advances in medicine, space exploration, and clean energy

Why it’s time to reconsider the ecological contribution of introduced species – even in New Zealand (The Conversation)

The Battle of High Hill (The Atlantic) When two megafires converged on a small town in Oregon, the community faced a choice. People could flee, leaving the town to its fate. Or they could stay and fight.

Federal Infrastructure Money Could Help Indiana Highways Withstand Expensive Climate-related Damages (Indiana Env Reporter) Indiana’s cut from the bipartisan $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be about $6.6 billion in federal funding for state and local projects and $401 million for bridge replacement and repairs. That is in addition to other funding for the state, including $751 million for improving water infrastructure, $673 million the bill allocates for improving public transportation, $170 million for airport infrastructure development, $100 million to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging network and at least $100 million to provide broadband internet across the state.

Poison in the Air (ProPublica) The EPA allows polluters to turn neighborhoods into “sacrifice zones” where residents breathe carcinogens. ProPublica reveals where these places are in a first-of-its-kind map and data analysis.

Wisconsin’s deer population is at a critical high (Wisconsin Public Radio) Advocates say hunters, scientists and legislators all have a role to play in managing the state’s population of white-tailed deer

Wolves make roadways safer, generating large economic returns to predator conservation (PNAS) We show that, for the average county, wolf entry reduced Deer-Vehicle Collisions by 24%, yielding an economic benefit that is 63 times greater than the costs of verified wolf predation on livestock

Groups celebrate win in Kankakee wetlands protection case (Indiana Environmental Reporter) Judge condemns Corps of Engineers’ approval of feeding operation that could damage protected ecosystem.

This company is earning money with second-life Nissan LEAF batteries (Charged EVs) B2U’s solar/storage facility is located in Lancaster, California, on the edge of the Mojave Desert. It consists of a 1 MW solar farm and several small structures, each containing around 20 LEAF batteries, all in their original cases.

Planting Prairies at Airports Could Make Flying Safer (PBS) By turning hundreds of acres back to prairie, Dayton International Airport is reducing its environmental impact––while cutting back on maintenance costs.

How SARS-CoV-2 in American deer could alter the course of the global pandemic (NPR) A recent survey of white-tailed deer in the Northeast and Midwest found that 40% of them had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.

Rethinking Midwestern Agriculture (Indiana Environmental Reporter) $10 million USDA grant will allow Purdue researchers to look at how diversifying crops and modernizing current support systems will help Hoosier farmers survive climate change effects.

even more solar cometh

A couple weeks ago I went before the Plymouth City Council to give up an update on the Complete Streets Committee’s tactical urbanism project, which aimed to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety at a critical juncture in the city’s greenways trail.

While I was there, I was happy to watch the City approve a $1.6M, 1.0 MW solar energy system with Telemon Energy that will power the city’s water reclamation facility (aka wastewater plant). Construction is expected to start in the spring of next year.

This would have been the largest solar energy system in the county… had Bremen’s new 35 acre, 6.75 MW project not already started construction!

Once this system is installed, Plymouth’s per capita solar energy capacity will be nearly on par with Denver, CO, which is 10th in the nation among major U.S. cities!

With these new systems coming online, that will push our solar installations back to merely 4th largest in the county. Which, of course, is what I want! A friendly solar competition is the best kind of competition.


If that were not enough, Wednesday night the Plymouth Community School Corporation approved a deal for solar systems at two schools, also with Telemon Energy. The news stories I saw didn’t mention exact size, but judging by the aerial it looks to be in the ballpark of 700 kW (0.7 MW).

drawing of proposed array at Riverside Intermediate School

By 2022, Marshall County will have solar energy installations at a school corporation, a City, an electric cooperative, a private industry, a County facility, a non-profit, a college, and multiple residences. Coming soon we will also see pretty enormous utility-scale projects as well. It is indeed an interesting time to be alive.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that the county is about to have it’s first fast charger for electric cars come online (DCFC, or Direct Current Fast Charger):

If you’ve been feeling a little dreary about the headlines, read this piece for some optimism about what technology has the potential to bring us, with a major component of that being the energy transition that is unfolding right now.