The Northern Waterthrush is a small songbird with a brown back and a whitish, creamy underside with dark stripes. They winter from Florida to South America, and spend their summer at their breeding grounds from Alaska to New Jersey. They’re also a bird with of paradox. Despite being widespread, they’re tricky to find. Despite being called a thrush, they’re actually a warbler. Unlike most warblers, waterthrush feed on the ground. Instead of the canopy they prefer low, dense, shrubby vegetation. They specialize in wet spaces such as wooded swamps, bogs, and lakeshores. They prefer still water, but that doesn’t mean they like to stay still. Perhaps the most defining trait of the Northern Waterthrush is its constant tail bob as it strolls through the underbrush. One theory for this behavior suggests that the movement flushes out insects for meals on-the-go. Another says the bounce warns predators that this little bird is agile and attentive to its surroundings. Clearly, the motionless perching mourning dove is a better bargain for lunch.
On April 21st, 2018, I participated in a sacred sites tour led by Jim Bear Jacobs and Sanctuary Covenant Church. What follows is my summary of the day, but I must say upfront that there’s no substitute for living the experience, the stories, the space, the place, of the tour itself. Gleaning some parts of it and plugging it into the web is important though, because this is real life Minnesota history, and has a real life impact on us today.
On a personal level, I see that it’s my history, too. Literally. Thanks to my Grandmother’s genealogy skills, I know that I’m descended from German/ Russian-German steamboat captains that piloted along the Mississippi into what was then known as St. Paul’s Landing. I can drive and walk to an exact tombstone of my ancestor overlooking the River in South Saint Paul. Saint Paul’s Landing by way of steam boat was the main entrance for white settlers. Many of which of German heritage, their pioneering was the Western frontier in the 1850’s. This is me, my ancestors, my literal genetic unfolding. It’s our responsibility as Minnesotans to know and grapple with.
Where do we start? At the Dakota place of Genesis. If you’d rather skim the written version, there’s a great website from the MN History Center with resources, photos, and videos.
In the last two parts of this series, we looked at metal music as a strategy for cultivating a sense of empathy and connection to a place. When it comes to cultivating a sense of empathy for a place, we looked at Freeman Tilden’s six principles of interpretation.
1. Interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile. Interpretation should be personal to the audience.
Malcom X at the nature center. Malcom X at a National Park. These don’t seem to go together, do they? Well, why not? There isn’t a way to answer without including some aspect of racism. The cultural forces of the past 50, 100, even 200 years have shaped “nature” in the US to be catered to a culturally white space. Where there is land ownership, decision making, and wealth, there is power. In the US today, that power rests predominately in the networks of white folks. To understand how this power works, let’s look to Malcom X’s autobiography. Although Malcom X is a common historical figure to look to in the topic of race, let’s look a little deeper for an insight to the land. After all, he did say that “to understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient” (p.153).
There are four situations, or “ingredients” in Malcom X’s autobiography that I’ll highlight which pertain to the natural world and his relationship with it. After that though, we’ll be better able to re-frame our sense of place -both in the US and beyond- towards a reflection of a diverse, democratic humanity.
When learning about plant ecology and plant natural history we often focus our attention outdoors. Well, that’s obvious! But how about our indoor habitats and the plants that help compose them? The lobby, coffee shop, and library plants we stroll past daily all have their own natural histories. These plants bring life to our indoor spaces, and get us through long wretched winters. But what’s more, lets take a look at how the stories behind these plants can inform and enhance our indoor living spaces.They are our living history.
Here’s three common house plants you may see around town this Winter:
MICHIGAN U.P.– Over the past week I had the amazing opportunity to trek across the North Country Trail for 6 days, covering about 50 miles from Trout Creek to the Trap Hills near Berglund.
The immensity of the Ottawa National Forest and the beauty of these forests are still leaving their impression on me days after my return to a bed. My legs miss the hills, my eyes miss the grand views, and my ears miss the haunting, wild calls of the coyotes and wolves. Compared to the Porcupine Mountains and Minnesota’s Superior North Shore, this is unfortunately a less-traveled segment of the North Country Trail. This segment, which is the Peter Wolfe Chapter, holds so much for both adventure seekers and history buffs alike.
CONSERVE SCHOOL– A few weeks after moving up to the Northwoods, the adjustment process was well underway. It was exciting, beautiful and wild. Despite a bit of nostalgia for the common smells, sights, and sounds back home in the Twin Cities… it was freeing to be living up close to the forest. But, to my surprise there was a discomfort after the initial excitement faded. I noticed a dissonance to the copious pine trees that surrounded me daily… especially the Balsam Fir.