The Real Story Behind Groundhog Day

Oakmoss Education:

Encore posting of a previous blog regarding the concept of “Groundhog Day”.

Originally posted on Oakmoss Education:

The Woodchuck (Marmota monax) is the largest member of the Squirrel family (Sciuridae) and the 2nd largest North American rodent.  Its other common name, Groundhog, relates to the fact that this rotund fellow makes its home in an underground burrow.  Burrows often have two entrances allowing for quick entry and escape as protection from predation. The name Woodchuck comes from the Algonquin name for this critter, wuchak. woodchuck_2

But how did the Woodchuck get associated with the coming of Spring? Its ability to foretell the start of the warming season is not so much about a talent for meteorology but more about reproduction. The Woodchuck is a true hibernator, so its metabolic processes slow considerably in Winter allowing it to survive during the time of year when its main food sources (greens and grubs) are not readily available. However, the irresistible urge to mate seems to awaken this…

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Make the Most of Holiday Trees

If you were unable to take up our suggestion of using a live tree in your holiday celebrations but, instead, employed a cut tree, do not toss the remnants on the curb. The best option is to put the tree in your landscape, at least temporarily, and offer a refuge for wildlife over the next few months. Many birds, small mammals and other critters will appreciate it and make great use of a fading conifer for protection from weather and predation.

Don't toss that tree on the curb - make it work for healthier ecosystems!

Don’t toss that tree on the curb – make it work for healthier ecosystems!

Better still, you can begin building a brushpile with your tree and the downed limbs or twigs that accumulate over the Winter. The brushpile breaks down over time enriching the soil around the area and you can simply keep it going for many years adding to the pile as material presents itself in your landscape. Just be sure to locate the tree and/or brushpile away from any structures so to avoid creating an infestation problem with insects and rodents.

If your property does not allow for building a brushpile, you can always dispose of the tree in a public forest (off trail) and allow it to decompose naturally – this adds to the health of the forest ecosystem and provides cover for wildlife there, as well. Another option is to check with a local tree farm to see if they wish to use your spent tree for compost. Better yet, check with a local wildlife rehabilitator who might be able to make use of the tree for bedding, housing or even food.

Although many municipalities offer roadside pickup of holiday trees and use them in creating a community mulch, it’s still a better environmental bet to place the tree back in the natural environment. Municipal mulching does use gas-powered equipment to shred the trees which adds polluting fumes and greenhouse gases to the atmosphere so should be the last option in holiday tree disposal.

Mimicking these natural processes is a great way to finish off your holiday festivities!

Remembering Wounded Knee

December 30th marked the 124th anniversary of the massacre of Lakota people at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota. We honored their spirits with the Facebook post linked below. Mitakuye Oyasin.


Remembering Wounded Knee

Nature, Magic and Faeries

Oakmoss Education:

An encore of last year’s post on the Winter Solstice and the magic of the holiday season. Happy holidays all – enjoy!

Originally posted on Oakmoss Education:

The arrival of the Winter Solstice seems to bring with it an enchantment. The return of the Sun to the northerly latitudes offers hope, warmth and awakening. So it is no wonder that this time of year seems magical as we anticipate the seemingly miraculous return of life to a subdued and quieted world. Yet just under our awareness, the Earth is alive and vibrant. When we are at our most connected to these vibrations, can it be possible to get a glimpse of a more secretive domain?

Glittering fireflies... and you thought faeries did not exist Glittering fireflies… and you thought faeries did not exist

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky must have been a great believer in the ethereal realm. His compositions were unparalleled in visualizing the unseen, the mythical, the magical. Never mind that he is the ultimate master of the crescendo and likely unsurpassed in his ability to orchestrate, interweaving complex melodies and applying ingenious instrumentation; his sublime…

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Tree-friendly Holiday Celebrations


Former holiday trees continue on for future generations.

If you celebrate the holiday season with a conifer tree, consider using a live tree instead of a fresh-cut or artificial. While they should only remain indoors for a short period of time (no more than 10 days, watered sparingly), using a living tree is the most environmentally friendly method when employing them in holiday decor.

If you live in an area that experiences true Winter weather, after the celebrations are finished move the tree to a protected outdoor area that receives some Sun. A porch or near a building offering a wind block is perfect. Water lightly then insulate the root ball in straw, snow, blankets, or other suitable material. (Note – if the tree is kept on a porch, check the root ball for dryness during any thawing period. If completely dried out, water very lightly then re-insulate.)

Once the ground is workable in Spring, the tree should be planted in a suitable location for its future growth. No room to plant a tree on your property? Then donate it to a school, park, neighbor or friend.

We’ve planted many holiday trees over the years. One is now nearly 30 feet tall and a focal fixture in the landscape of a former home, providing much-needed shade in Summer and an energy-saving wind break in Winter. A real sense of accomplishment and joy surges through me whenever I drive past that house.

The photo above shows some of the holiday Spruces from the last dozen years that were all just a mere 3 feet tall when planted. These have provided nests for several generations of American Robins along with important weather and predation protection for many critters.

Go “live” this holiday season and consider employing such “seventh generation” concepts in your celebrations. The warm feeling it generates certainly will add to the festive nature of early Winter.


White Pine – sacred tree of the Hodinöhšönih Confederacy



Our leaders were instructed to be men of vision
and to make every decision on behalf of
the seventh generation to come
to have compassion and love for
those generations yet unborn.”

Oren Lyons (Faithkeeper)
Onondaga – Hodinöhšönih

Caring About Nature is… Depressing

In reading reviews submitted by students in the Field Ecology course I teach, it is humbling yet somewhat euphoric to discover how much they enjoy the class and their instructor. One remark oft-repeated is how they appreciate my enthusiasm for the material. Motivating students has to be a top priority for any teacher and the best way to do that is to have passion for your work. But some days (even weeks) can be so difficult, at least for me. Perhaps I’ve become too connected to the natural world? Its “pain” becomes my pain.

Oil Sands mining at Ft. McMurray, Alberta (Associated Press)

Oil Sands mining at Ft. McMurray, Alberta (AP)

In isolation, watching only the “wild” beings, there is such wisdom imparted. I hesitate to put the human good/bad spin on Nature, but even in the most “difficult” moments, like predation, enormous sagacity is imparted as we gain understanding of the processes at play. These important perspectives have allowed me to abandon many fears, particularly that of death, because Nature clearly demonstrates all is cyclical – nothing ends, it simply changes form.

However, one of the most significant lessons Nature shares is, for me, the most burdensome to internalize – living in the moment. All the wild creatures have this innate skill. Even the most socialized recognize and experience grief but, at the same time, let go of it enough to continue on. Elephants are an excellent example of this behavior. But the continual exposure to humankind’s assault on Nature and the inevitable helplessness one can experience in combating the onslaught often can be overwhelming. Concern about the future of the planet and all its wild inhabitants is inevitable for those of us who live in close relationship with the natural world.

Consider these headlines from just the past year:

“Snipers” in Britain Target Fox
Most Americans Support Keystone Pipeline
Bill to Force Intelligent Design Instruction
Governor Devotes $2 Million to Kill 500 Wolves
Invertebrate Species Populations Plummet
Wildlife Devastated by Sudanese War

Photo courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation

Photo courtesy of Missouri Dept. of Conservation

Ugh… But one must trudge on, particularly with students who look up to you for guidance and knowledge.

So how does one cope with the seemingly endless parade of travesties perpetuated by humans? I’ve no firm answers other than to continue to practice a lifestyle as sustainable as possible (dietary choices are most profound), teach these concepts to all who will heed the message, and spend more time in Nature if for nothing else than its ability to heal. Also, distancing oneself from social media might be helpful, particularly those hot button issues where derogatory commentary from both the pro and con sides can be quite demoralizing.

Please feel free to share your coping mechanisms in the comments below. As the adage says, misery loves company!