National Pollinator Week, June 18-24, 2018

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Here at our home, every week is “pollinator week.” It’s great to know that eleven years ago the U.S. Senate unanimously approved and designated a week in June as “National Pollinator Week.” Because our vital pollinator populations are declining at an alarming rate (down 25% since 1990), there is an international celebration of the contribution our bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles make to our ecosystems. Pollination makes our food supply possible. E. O. Wilson, in his introduction to The Forgotten Pollinators by Stephen L. Buchmann and Gary Paul Nabhan, said, “Every third bite of food you take, thank a bee or other pollinator.” Our kids can understand this a lot better when we tell them that we can’t have pizzas without bees and others to pollinate wheat for the crust and tomatoes and vegetables for the sauce and toppings.

Our great-granddaughter, Sydney, was fascinated watching bumblebees from our laps on the porch at six months of age. She quickly progressed to pointing, questioning, and learning the wonderful world just outside our back door. We have many adventure walks to observe nature and pollinators at work. She helps plant flowers in our garden to attract them, and helps harvest herbs and flowers we grow from our saved seeds each year. She knows this would not be possible without pollinators.

There are many websites with information and facts about every aspect of pollination. Just type a key word or two into the search bar of your device; “bees” or “pollinators” will get you to many interesting sites. My book, Lemon Trees and Bumblebees, was inspired by our own experience which is described in the November, 2011, blog post on this site.

The video below shows Sydney talking with me about one of her favorite subjects, pollination. She loves to play “teacher” and give me science lessons we have shared. We also cook together using the variety of foods that have grown because of pollination. She is always willing to eat what she has learned about and helped prepare. In these ways, Sydney is keenly aware of the importance of providing for and promoting our pollinators, and we hope your family will celebrate the addition to our lives and future that they bring.

The Birds and The Bees

When most parents think of the birds and the bees, they dread THE TALK. There’s a whole other meaning to this conversation which needs to begin with pre-school, and that is the role of pollinators in our food supply. To a curious, mind-wide-open pre-schooler or elementary-age child, the drama of the pollination process and how it relates to people, directly, is utterly fascinating.

Imagine a world without pizza. If we begin to explain to our kids how the birds and the bees help us get our favorite pizza ingredients, we get attention. Tomatoes, peppers, onions and other vegetable toppings require pollination to reproduce and grow. There would be no pizza crust without wheat to make flour for the dough. Every fruit and vegetable is part of our diet because of the vital role of pollinators. They are responsible for every third bite of food we put into our mouths. Bees are the superstar pollinators, but many others such as hummingbirds, bats, butterflies, moths, ants, flies, wasps, and beetles carry out the transfer of pollen among plant parts. This pollination enables seed production, without which we would face widespread crop extinction and a major shift in our food supply.

We are halfway through National Pollinator Week, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the small winged creatures we often take for granted, but who make our very existence possible. Loss of habitat, pesticides, and disease have been responsible for declining pollinator populations. For those of us along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is still a good bit of animal habitat, but agricultural practices as well as building and clearing land are responsible for diminishing pollinator populations in alarming numbers. Pollinators need us to provide cover, water, native plants for food, and a place to raise young. The National Wildlife Federation website has information on how to plan our gardens or even very small spaces to attract and protect pollinators. When we create habitat for our pollinators, we help prevent loss of plants we depend upon for food, as well as help our gardens bloom.

There are many books for children which spark their desire to nurture their surroundings and understand the interdependence of plants and animals. Some of my favorites are MY GARDEN by Kevin Henkes, ON BEYOND BUGS! All About Insects by Tish Rabe, and A SEED IS SLEEPY by Dianna Hutts Aston. My book, LEMON TREES AND BUMBLEBEES, was inspired by watching the bees in our garden. When my little great-granddaughter, Sydney, was six months old, we spent hours of adventures following, watching, and falling asleep to the humming of bees. Now about to celebrate her fifth birthday, Sydney still loves bees and enjoys telling about all the pollinators, plant parts, and the process of pollination. It’s so exciting to plant the best seeds early in a fertile mind!

National Library Week – 2015

“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Dr. Seuss

 

I’m skidding in on the last day of National Library Week this year, but it’s not really the end of the celebration. Around our house, every week is library week. We live in a bit of a remote area if judged by city dwellers, but after 15 years among towering oaks and more than a few wild animals, we have our own library branch! We existed until quite recently (and throughout the fallout from the direct hit of Hurricane Katrina) with a sparsely stocked grocery store, but the one lack of amenity we lamented most was a neighborhood library.

Now don’t think for a minute that we don’t also celebrate technology or that we shun it in favor of the printed book. We own an iPad, a NookColor, and a Kindle, but we love our always growing library of books and the ability to access many more through our library. We can have the convenience of driving three minutes to pick up any book that they have or can order from their network of library branches. I missed the easy access to research and entertainment that had been mine before we moved from a bustling city to a bucolic countryside.

Now I’m thrilled to have even more reason to call attention to National Library Week. We have a little great-granddaughter who loves our outings to the library. Ours has a Mark Twain theme in the children’s room, so she always asks to see the jumping frog of Caliveras County, the mural where Huck Finn adventured on his raft, and sit inside the dock-side hut where we can read books she chooses from the low shelves. We have watched her progression from toddling through the door on her first library visit, to asking to go often, to bringing home her books to “read” by herself.

The library is one of the very best ways to prepare your child for the world. It was one of my best early experiences where I realized the magic of animals and people in their times and places. It made me want to go home and write my own stories. It’s free, fabulous, and fun for a lifetime!

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My Unexpected Ghostwriter

When I’m asked to give a nutshell description of my latest book-in-progress, I say that it’s Thoreau for toddlers. It’s widely known that Henry David Thoreau knew how to convey the exuberance of a fresh morning. He didn’t have to leave the close environs of Walden Pond to examine and learn from every living thing, whether animal or plant, right in his own “back  yard.” In his words, “the only medicine I need is a draught of morning air.”

I have always gotten stopped in my tracks while on the way to the mailbox, my gardening chores, errands, or whatever may have led me outdoors. Something always scuttles, buzzes, flies, or sings my attention away from what may have been intended. Even if I just want to amble or think, I know the new and unexpected will be just outside my door. Now I have some surprising help writing my world.

A two-year-old great-granddaughter has become a vital part of our lives, so the unexpected in nature brings even greater thrills, squeals, and baby questions. Her eyes see the wonder she constantly investigates, and my latest manuscript is influenced greatly by her “ghostwriting” observations. I don’t have to wonder what to present to a young child or how important it might be to choose certain subject matter. Sydney gives me great material.

The other day, we were holding hands as usual while walking down a length of flowerbed. A very long, fat earth worm wriggled over the dirt searching for a “door” down under. Sydney stopped short and squeezed my hand hard. “What’s that? What’s he doing?” Our walks and play times are packed with “Look, doves” or “Look, mockingbird.” Before she was two, she could identify several bird species after one or two sightings, much to my surprise. This gave me insight about what could be meaningful in my new book for one- to five-year-olds. Their curiosity and sponge-like ability to learn makes it so much fun to include new vocabulary and knowledge about their world. Rather than keep all the words short and simple, I think it’s a good idea to stretch children a bit by giving them some challenges in pronunciation. They can understand a great deal by context and illustration. This gives the adult reader a great way to talk about the story and bond with the child – the special time that encourages a love of reading. Our little Sydney enjoys looking through her books alone, too, after we have read them together and she is familiar with the contents and pictures.

My current book is underway, with every page influenced by Sydney’s discoveries in the natural world. She has registered her reactions as clearly as if she had written them, so she is a reliable “ghostwriter,” representing her toddler generation. These babies of the 21st century are different in many ways from those of just a few decades ago, but their zeal for everything in sight begins as soon as they open their eyes each day. Just as with all the babies ever born, they want to know; all we have to do is tell the stories. Sydney and I will be working on HELLO MORNING, and I’ll post news of our progress on the new book in the months to come.

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Story Seeds

Stories grow from the seeds of words. When I think of reading, though, I think in terms of more than words on pages. When I think of the broader meaning of “reading,” my writing is enhanced by these abstract ways of applying the idea of reading.

To me, reading is reading nature, reading people, reading everything in my environment, using all my senses. This began in early childhood, when my parents and grandparents filled our homes with what they read in the outside world, with all the experiences we shared. They brought nature, art and music indoors so that we were constantly surrounded and enveloped in a lush, sensorial climate. When they read to me or I read to myself, I could better envision the descriptions through experience, and I felt the need to translate and share my feelings in my own ways. This was how my stories were born. Now I’m always writing as I walk, see, hear, smell, feel – in other words, as I read my world.

Below are some photos of bird nests and other bits of nature collected from around our garden, walks, and travel, and brought inside to decorate tabletops and mantel. Many pieces of our furniture and art have nature themes. Framed family photos of generations, including the house in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and handwritten letters, give me stories and voices that told them to me. My hope is that you will read the world, and that your children will read it with you so that they will write it for their children. Story seeds are everywhere.

Wren’s nest on mantel

Wren’s nest on mantel

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

Paper and tape became part of this nest.

 

 

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Unhatched Bluebird eggs collected from several nests

Chimney Swift nest

Chimney Swift nest

Bluebird nest

Bluebird nest

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest in fork of our fiddle leaf fig tree

Nest under glass dome on side table

Nest under glass dome on side table

Wax myrtle berries

Wax myrtle berries

Bird of Paradise painting

Bird of Paradise painting

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Shells collected at Sanibel and Captiva Islands, Florida

Antique mirror frame with leaf detail
Antique mirror frame with leaf detail

Partial wall of seven framed generations

Partial wall of seven framed generations

 

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

1929 letter written in German from great-grandmother to my mother

House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings
House in Germany where my maternal grandfather was born, and a group photo of his parents and siblings

Even my sox have bluebirds

Even my sox have bluebirds

 

 

 

This Writing Climate

What I’m about to say may sound odd to the 21st century community of writers, as well as many who know me. It’s not so much that I’ve changed my mind about digital technology as it is that I’m seeing a desperate need to strike a balance in how we introduce reading to children.

Regarding ebooks/apps versus print books, my whole emphasis is not an either/or attitude toward literacy education. Increasingly, there are blogs, news articles, and marketing efforts directed by traditional publishers vs. ebook and app developers – all producing exclusive arguments for either print books or newer products on digital readers, depending upon which publishing method they represent. Even the staunch traditional print book publishers are phasing away from print and competing in the digital marketplace. They haven’t completely abandoned print, but their attempt to compete with newer ways to publish and profit further narrows the field for children’s print books.

The key word “profit” is a prime motivation. Digital publishing affords many publishing opportunities that seem almost magical to educators and children. Many innovative processes have evolved rapidly, and there’s no doubt that fireworks get attention and sales. Some of the products are excellent, but too many apps are games disguised as education. If a child has only to tap an element to get a sound or cartoon-like movement, he is simply being entertained. Education should definitely be enjoyable, but there are basic elements which need to be grasped and interspersed with the fun.

There is a difference between interactive ebooks and apps. With interactive ebooks, a child might touch a word which becomes highlighted, and then immediately moves the reader to the glossary. Another touch in the glossary takes the child back to the word in the story. Fun facts and extra information, recipes, puzzles, and other things related to the story allow the child to read and interact without as much “razzle-dazzle.” Ebooks definitely can have spectacular illlustrations. They can be an enhancement to classic ways of helping children love to read.

Apps allow much more movement and sound, with many exciting eye-catching special effects. This thrills, but can also lead to a kind of tech device addiction. So many factors are part of reading, not the least of which is the creation of a story world inside the head. The activation of the thinking process, and the interaction of communicating with others are necessary learning for life. What is better than listening to the re-telling of a story, hearing it read, face to face. There is a time for the fun and opportunities of digital devices, and a time for quiet reading and developing individual ideas. It’s possible to share exciting learning and stories from both digital readers and print books, but a constant use of one without the other is missing out on half the benefits. Each has its own contributions to childhood literacy and the development of future possibilities. It’s all about balance!

Just to punctuate my thoughts, I’m including some completely candid photos of young children as they discover the wonderful world of books. They cannot yet read, yet are fascinated with books and digital devices. It’s up to us to make sure they get a taste of variety in their learning, with ways to light a fire of curiosity which will propel them into their best future. This is Children’s Book Week, which seems the perfect time to think about reading with our children.

The Taming of Tech

Technology is alternately exhilarating, frightening, time-consuming, or maddening (or any combination), with long tentacles exploring the unknown depths of human possibilities. So many words about tech are written and discussed, with differing opinions and experiences. Since my website is not only for children, parents, grandparents, and teachers, but also a dialogue with and for other children’s writers, I’m finally ready to share my thoughts about how technology is impacting the writing life – mine and everyone else’s.

My last 18 months have been consumed with care for my daughter during her battle with cancer. My blog and website have sat idle from my end, but have received wonderful emails from readers who are helping promote and sell my first nonfiction ebook. In this way, technology of the internet and tablet readers has made possible the connections I would not otherwise have enjoyed. However, increasingly I receive requests for information about how to navigate every aspect of digital publishing, including research and writing, time management, negotiating distribution and royalties, public appearances, and all-important marketing. There is no substitute for dogged research, trial and error, and communication with other writers. Writers today must be adept at the language and requirements of tech, handy with software and hardware, and trouble-shooting glitches. When information gathered from years of experience among other writers yields the same conclusions and recommendations, you’ll know you are on the right track. These contacts can be made at conferences, in writing critique groups, and through email.

Like every innovation, technology has afforded new ways for the greedy and unscrupulous to scam those seeking knowledge. So much of the “how-to” information on the internet is false in suggesting and selling the quick and easy way to publication. The internet is rife with individuals and companies springing up every day, offering direction for pay. Many are simply capitalizing on the rapidly spinning changes in print and digital publishing. For those just beginning to follow the dream of writing, the choices overwhelm rather than inspire. The production of an excellent children’s book is neither quick nor easy. It isn’t a path to fast fame and big bucks, except in instances where celebrities with name recognition can sell anything associated with them. It IS immensely gratifying to hear the words of children and adults who love what they read, learn from it, are inspired to create on their own – and yes, those royalty checks are the icing when they arrive.

Begin at the beginning. That is, plan time to read and write as much as possible. Most of us have family demands and spontaneous unavoidable interruptions which cause us to adjust our writing time. Having a specified time doesn’t work for me. Being organized, with flexibility worked into the schedule, allows me to make the best use of my writing time. Sometimes it’s 4:30 a.m. before the phone starts ringing, and sometimes it’s 11:00 p.m. when things have settled somewhat and I can’t sleep until the ideas which have been tucked into a brain folder can finally be recorded on paper or computer. Sometimes if I’m afraid I’ll lose the “perfect” words, I have to stop the car or pull off the gardening gloves or stick the chicken back into the fridge so I can WRITE. Then I’m calm until I can get back to a quiet place to work on the story. Another thing that works for me is to utilize the technology of my food processor, microwave and convection ovens, freezers, and others to make food for a week so that I’ll have uninterrupted writing time. Tech encompasses so much more than use of the internet, smartphones, and tablets. These devices are wonders our grandparents didn’t even dream, but we can use them in ways which enhance our main purposes, rather than using them in mindless, rote ways which devour our time.

Tech is a temptress, but we can tame her to suit our true needs. My enforced time away from writing during the past months has been an awakening rather than a detriment. Now, I’ve decided to write blogposts only when I feel inspired. I no longer feel an urgency to blog because of self-imposed deadlines. I don’t want my writing to read like a diary or stream-of-consciousness thoughts. It isn’t necessary to write simply to see my words in print. It seems better to give thought for a while before writing and sharing my perspective. The best writing comes from inner peace, however we achieve it.

Like many who are now becoming more vocal, I don’t see the value in leaping among the social networks for hours each day. It will become apparent if any efforts work for you. Don’t allow the frenzy of 21st century technology races to derail your focus. We can’t corral all the wild horses; study and learn to choose the ones with the most promise, and ride them to your own definition of success.

 

 

A Low-Tech Childhood Easter

My brother, David, and I grew up when Easter preparations were more homemade than commercial. Iced Lebkuchen bunnies and chicks (honey and almond cookies) were nestled in baskets ringed with crepe paper ruffles. When we outgrew the riot of Easter egg hunts in her garden, one of our grandmothers raided her sewing box and our Grandfather’s ties for silk to cut, wrap, and dye eggs. Our other grandmother always dyed eggs wrapped in yellow and purple onion peels. They taught us with endless patience, and finally we couldn’t wait to unwrap our surprise masterpieces and compete for the “best egg.” There were days of cooking and baking, and choosing outfits for Easter Sunday church. But there was one thrill at the top of the list.

We could receive a brightly colored chick or duckling for Easter, before the age of political correctness, environmental fanaticism, and all the other recent catch-phrases behind which many masquerade. Looking as though they had just popped forth, sprightly and downy, from dyed eggs of rich purple, fuchsia, turquoise, and green, the chicks regarded us warily through shiny black dots and let out faint cheep-cheeps. As soon as the important choices of which color to claim and a name for each were out of the way, the new babies were gingerly carried home to a waiting pen in the back yard. We watched their daily progress while attending to the necessary aspects of feeding, watering, and changing paper. Caring for them taught us that pets are dependent, but have vastly different needs, one of which was that these little guys needed to be handled a little rather than a lot.

The soft round fluff matured into larger oval bodies with white feathers which would run on spindly three-toed stilts to meet our call and perch on our laps and shoulders. We understood that these pets lacked the devotion of a dog, but did not require the long-term commitment from us. Each animal was to be treated responsibly, was not a disposable toy, and had needs which sometimes required attention before our own. These values used to be called duty, pride of ownership, and delayed gratification – qualities that come in handy growing up and which seem natural when acquired early. We didn’t have to waste a lot of adult time feeling inadequate since we had practiced capability early in life.

Fortunately for our parents, our maternal grandmother raised chickens (as did many other women who began this practice during the Great Depression to help feed their families). We were taught that, just as with wild birds nursed in cardboard boxes from time to time, these little Easter chicks and ducks would eventually need to be freed with others of their kind so that they could lay eggs, have more chicks, and participate in life’s cycles. It was always a greatly anticipated event to pack a picnic and take the ducks to a farm pond or a park where we watched them claim their freedom. There we carried them flapping outstretched wings, melding into a blur of white, gliding effortlessly with others until, at last, squinting, we lost track of just which ones were the new arrivals.

The same was true for our chicks. We would run to our grandmother’s chicken coop and exercise yard for after-school visits until the last color left their fully feathered bodies, making recognition imperceptible. Now they were grown birds with duties of their own, and we were impatient for summer pursuits in our own “secret garden.” We played in sunny patches at the fringes of a huge oak planted from an acorn the day our mother was born. There were searches for that elusive four-leaf clover, pill-bug counting contests, and butterfly catch and release chases.  At last, we’d collapse into shady lawns to search out cloud animals drifting through blue above, our fingers aromatic and sticky with homemade fruit juice popsicles and grass. This was our Walden.

At day’s end, scrubbed and tired under cool white sheets, listening to crickets sawing sounds outside our open window, we were barely aware of a far-off train whistle as our heavy lids gave up their struggle to the peaceful dreams of a tender childhood.

WIK12 Blog Tour: Meet Jodi Wheeler-Toppen!

It’s such a pleasure for me to introduce Jodi Wheeler-Toppen, the science teacher I wish everyone could have! You’ll understand when you meet her at WIK12 where she will be on the faculty sharing her love of teaching and writing. Go HERE to make plans to attend.

Don’t forget to ask Jodi about rockets, explosions, gushers, shooters and blobs – or you could just go to her website, www.onceuponascience book.com and read about her books. Our conversation is a preview of the excitement Jodi generates.

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen

Jodi, when did you first become fascinated with all things “science?” What area(s) of science were most compelling for you?

You know, it’s funny. I didn’t even like science until high school biology. I think I hadn’t had very good teachers. I only read fiction, and I went off to college planning on being an English major. Then I took a great zoology course my freshman year, and eventually even got fascinated with chemistry. I ended up a high school biology teacher, myself.

What sort of childhood did you have? Did you live in a city, the country, or what was your environment like?

I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, which is a great place to enjoy nature. My high school biology teacher passed on her love of the salt marshes, and all the wonderful life inside. I still long for that pungent, salty smell as I drive around Atlanta.

Besides your biology teacher, were there other adults, a family member, or particular books that had an influence upon you?

My high school biology teacher, Jacqueline Baker, was wonderful, but I also had a college professor, Larry Davenport, who helped me see how to join my interest in science with writing. He’s a botany professor at Samford University, and he also writes a nature column in the Alabama Heritage Magazine. He shared some of his columns in class, and they were excellent models for merging science and human interest. He’s also has a book out now, and I was touched that he sent me a copy when it came out.

You have said that you began writing nonfiction in college. Did you write in other genres earlier?

Yes, I started proclaiming a desire to be an author in elementary school. Of course, then I always assumed it would be fiction. I have done some fiction, and I had a fiction story published in Spider magazine a few years ago, but at some point I decided I wanted to focus on one thing and do it well. Science writing seemed like the logical place to settle. I don’t rule out doing more fiction later in life, but I’m passionate about this, and enjoy it.

I agree with you that kids need the “WOW!” factor when learning about science. How do you teach science teachers to help kids become excited about the natural world without realizing they are “learning?”

The biggest thing I push is to let kids have the hands-on experience first. Traditionally, teachers lecture or assign reading first, and then have the kids do a lab to “see what they were talking about.” It makes such a difference for kids to explore the actual stuff first, and then they are ready to learn all the vocabulary and principles afterwards.

Please talk a bit about your work with special needs students.

As a teacher, I just ended up as the go-to science teacher for placing a lot of the special needs students in my school. Later, working for the University of Georgia, they needed someone to teach a course for teachers titled, “Teaching Science to Students with Special Needs.” I volunteered to supplement my experience with more research, and took over the class. It was very fulfilling.

Do you feel that many students are generally unprepared in reading comprehension, or do you think that science literature presents special reading challenges?

Science reading is my area of research; I often do staff development with teachers on this topic, so I could go on and on about the reasons students struggle to read science. One huge problem I encounter when reading with students is that they don’t have the background knowledge that the text assumes. So the writer starts explaining something, but starts the explanation way ahead of what the reader knows, and the reader never has a chance to understand. Now that I’m in writing, I know a lot of times editors cut that crucial background information in the interest of word counts or keeping the writing energized. But it’s hard on struggling students.

Please share some of your favorite authors/titles.

I read a lot of preschool books with my children right now, and I recently came across a wonderful piece of non-fiction for preschoolers, MY GOOSE BETSY, by Trudy Braun. It managed to entice even my fiction-only daughter. I’m terribly jealous of Vicki Cobb’s work. I especially love her book, I FALL DOWN. I also love an old middle-grade novel that’s out of print now, WHERE THE RIVER BEGINS, by Patricia M. St. John. But, of course, my favorites change with whatever I’m reading.

If you could invite people from the scientific world, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be and why would they interest you?

Right now, I think it would have to be Michael Welland, the author of SAND: THE NEVER ENDING STORY. He’s a geologist who has poured his lifetime of studying sand into this densely-packed, beautifully written book. It’s truly a work of love. I mean, there just can’t be an enormous audience for a book on sand, so he wasn’t after fame and fortune! But he has mixed fascinating history tales and complex scientific discussions with some fabulous, literary-quality writing. It must have taken years to research and write, and I’d love to meet the man behind the passion.

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Thanks for your thoughts and words, Jodi! “Passion” is a great final word in our conversation, because that is what you convey in your pursuit of science, and that is what you are inspiring in your students who will need to understand the world they will inherit.

Meet more of the wik12 faculty by following their blog tour!

Aug. 15                Sharon Pegram at Writers and Wannabes (http://www.writersandwannabes.com/)

Aug. 16                Sarah Campbell at Alison Hertz’s blog, On My Mind (http://www.AlisonHertz.blogspot.com/)

Aug. 17                F.T. Bradley at Laura Golden’s blog (http://authorlauragolden.com/blog/)

Aug. 20               Chuck Galey at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog (http://dulemba.blogspot.com/)

Aug. 21                Jo Kittinger at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales (http://tenacioustelleroftales.blogspot.com)

Aug. 22               Irene Latham at Robyn Hood Black’s blog, Read, Write, Howl (http://www.robynhoodblack.com/blog.htm)

Aug. 23               Vicky Alvear Shecter at S.R. Johannes’ blog (http://www.srjohannes.com/)

Aug. 24               Doraine Bennett at Cathy Hall’s blog (http://cathychall.wordpress.com/)

Aug. 27               Virginia Butler at Bonnie Herold’s blog, Tenacious Teller of Tales (http://tenacioustelleroftales.blogspot.com)

Aug. 28               Jodi Wheeler-Toppen at Diane Sherrouse’s blog, The Reading Road (www.thereadingroad.com)

Aug. 29               Ellen Ruffin at Sarah Frances Hardy’s blog, Picture This (www.sfhardy.blogspot.com)

Aug. 30               Donna Jo Napoli at Writers and Wannabes (http://www.writersandwannabes.com/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Black Bears to Bumblebees

In an earlier post, I said that one thing always leads to another along the reading road, a.k.a., my life. Mental meandering has so often become fascination, so “over the river and through the woods” from black bears to bumblebees seems natural. Good science requires time and patience; getting to the last page isn’t exactly instant gratification. It’s more like a treasure hunt where you have to dream, delve, and, often, literally dig in the dirt. Complicating all this is the fact that I have a family, with all the maintenance, surprises, holidays, advice given and taken or not, and daily love which often present detours around any other project underway. During all the stirring of pots and bandaging of bumps, thoughts and curiosity tug and won’t leave, ever.

A few years ago, I returned to academic life and jumped into a course in environmental literature. While reading and researching, I began to think about black bears with their history and their present state. Their decline affects so much more than the bears, themselves. A phone call put me in touch with a wildlife biologist who introduced me to a couple of experts studying bears in other states, and we began a five-year discourse, including particular details of radio-collared bears and others in the wild. I tried not to be side-tracked by more creatures, like birds and bees, but habitats in two states were a big playground/discovery center for me. I couldn’t know that this would lead to a rare invitation to accompany biologists into the field one summer to capture a black bear. Armed with hundreds of facts and years of study, I joined them in Tensas National Wildlife Preserve in northern Louisiana. My husband, Jim, carried my cameras and field equipment, and off we went.

Our ATV rumbled along through dense brush beneath towering old giants of oak, American elm, green ash and sweet gum. Palmettos had been grouped to form a path to a brush-covered foot snare that would not harm the bear. A nearby paw-paw tree yielded its melon-shaped fruit as well as a sack of raspberry scent (visible in the photo below). The coup de maître were honeybuns hung from trees and scattered in the brush just beyond the snare. With five traps laid, would luck be with us?

Anticipation was palpable that early morning. After finding the first trap empty, we moved on toward the second a few miles away. We found bear tracks crisscrossed with raccoon tracks parallel to a row of randomly bent corn stalks and nibbled cobs along a corn field bordering the woods. Around a bend, suddenly, “There she is!” A female black bear had flattened a 15-foot circle of brush permitted by the length of her snare attachment and sat in the middle registering typical displeasure by an intermittent snapping of the jaws and blowing with the lips. Then noises in the brush directed us toward a huge elm about 20 feet into the dense embankment above a crook of a tributary of the Tensas River. We watched a fuzzy cub heed its mother’s guttural signals and scamper to a vantage point on a limb about 25 feet up the trunk. A small, solid black head would alternately peek and retreat behind the limb, tiny ears at attention. We judged it to be about five months old, and approximately 15 pounds – about the size of a cocker spaniel.

Female black bear secured by foot snare. Note raspberry scent sack in tree.

Black bear cub

We needed to work fast so Mother Bear could return to nursery duty. We tranquilized her with a dart, examined, weighed and measured, and then outfitted her with a radio collar for tracking and further research. Care was taken to allow for any weight gain before the collar would wear away in a year or two. A glance up to the leaf canopy revealed a fast-asleep cub stretched out full-length, squirrel-fashion, belly flush and four legs limply dangling from either side of the limb. I knew there were yet a couple of fleeting minutes for me to rub the head and back of this wild creature in repose — silent minutes eloquent enough to convey to the most skeptical the value of preserving its kind, indicator of the well-being of so many other species of our forests and, ultimately, man. There is much more about this day, and my longer account was published in the Louisiana Conservationist magazine.

Me, with female black bear

Not letting go of black bears, and that one special black bear, fast forward a few years through new technology and new ways of communicating and publishing. One sleepy spring morning along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I opened the back porch door and was overcome with the fragrance of blossoms, the incessant hum of an undulating halo of bumblebees around our Meyer lemon tree, the music of water spilling over the fountain bowls. I forgot breakfast, grabbed my camera, and that’s how my first ebook was born. The words wrote themselves in my head, and I forced myself to turn back to the house to write the story for children, to help them understand. They need to know that without these quiet, ongoing activities underfoot, out of sight, on the wing, here and gone in the space of moments, we would not exist. It really wasn’t such a stretch from black bears to bumblebees. It was logical/magical.

I hope you’ll let yourself enter the world with new eyes. Grab a book about what catches your imagination, really see, walk and hunt, poke under things, ask questions and find answers. There are friends connected to those answers. You will be comforted, surprised, thrilled. It works. Whether black bears to bumblebees, or anything else, you’ll see how everything is truly connected. You’ll make sense of your happy unlikelihoods!