Josh Explains Wild Neoteny

Josh Explains Wild Neoteny: Annual Wildflower Festival Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Annual Wildflower Festival
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
“Hey, stop the truck!” my wife called from the passenger seat, her nose pressed against the window. I already knew what this was about; she was out the door before the dust had cleared the hood, kneeling in the grass. While she hovered over something newly found with purple petals, I stared out across the high, open meadow of blooming wildflowers, the urge to run surging into my feet. I turned at her exclamation several seconds later, half a football field of colored space between us now. Arms spread wide; grins from ear to ear. In a field of wildflowers, we were kids again.

Scientists call it neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult of a species—basically, the harboring of a playful nature into adulthood. The research into the benefits of play, especially outdoor play, is becoming more replete by the day. In humans, play puts the right hemisphere of the brain into gear, that portion responsible for artistic and creative notions, imagination and insight, and holistic thought. The cerebellum and frontal lobes light up as well, increasing attunement to coordination, executive functioning, and contextual memory development. Neoteny, scientists say, is the key to a species’ adaptability and, therefore, its survival.

Alpine Pond Upper Flowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Alpine Pond Upper Flowers
Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Wild neoteny could be the term used to describe the human affinity to explore one’s natural surroundings, to wander off into the hills in search of something new and interesting, to learn the nuance of a place and to gain some intimacy with it—to call it home. We do that, I think, when we go on hikes into the wild hinterlands, catapult ourselves down the turbulent waters of our rivers, or climb the rock faces we stumble upon. It’s an adrenaline rush to be sure, a high on life as they say; but it’s also an act of survival—and of remaining human.

Robin Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University, says “the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation….” “Sensory experiences,” he says, “link [our] exterior world with [our] interior, hidden, affective world.” The outdoor environment is a medium of human connection where, as Moore puts it, the “freedom to explore and play…through the senses…is essential for healthy development….” Dr. Stuart Brown, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, behooves us in his Ted Talk on the subject to explore our individual histories of play. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself at play, where are you? The open water, a deep forest, a mountain peak, or maybe a field of wildflowers?

In his national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls nature a “reset button.” It is the place where we are reminded of ourselves and our purpose. Australian musician Xavier Rudd sings, “Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge/Remember your place.” It’s often proffered that in a time of industrial expectation and hyper-communication, we need the wild spaces more than ever. There’s some truth to that; but I think I’d go play there anyway, even if it wasn’t to escape the, quote-unquote, “workaday life.” I’m most human when I’m running through a field of blooming wildflowers.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Cedar Breaks, Plan Your Visit, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/planyourvisit/index.htm

Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Neoteny, Reference Terms, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neoteny.htm

As a Child I Loved Nature

Chickadee Courtesy edbo23, photographer and Pixabay
Chickadee
Courtesy edbo23, photographer and Pixabay
As a child I loved nature. Not liked: loved.

I consumed it. I learned the names and types of animals especially, from all over the world. My love was ceaseless, carefree, and itself consuming.

There were phases of course, too. First it was bats, then dinosaurs but back before they had feathers, then penguins, dogs, spider monkeys, and sharks. With each new kind of animal I learned about, I was drawn in closer by what makes them special and sets them apart. I could imagine myself as any one of a million kinds of critter. I could play as if I were one, hunt or forage like one, build a den or nest like one. I was what I imagined myself to be and I loved it. My world was infinite.

Those days though are decades behind. For a long while now, I’ve thought about what happened to that child; what happened to that infinite world? Years of schooling and structure had pushed my attention into books, screens, and facts. The world did not leave me, I neglected that infinite world, and so it too became schooled and structured and sterile.

This realization of what had happened first hit me when I began student teaching kindergarten a few years ago. One day at recess a child asked me to play with them. I realized then that I couldn’t remember how to play and imagine and see the world as infinite still. I awoke from the dream of education and discovered that I had not learned but books, screens, and facts.

Since then, it’s been hard to relearn how to play and imagine. This relearning casts a shadow of struggle over you, especially as a teacher. It can drive you to try and find what obscures and what shines.

My search for reprieve from a knowable world has taken me all over this country: from coast to coast, and from northern desert to southern swamp. Just the other day though I finally found a true breadcrumb back to the infinite world: a black-capped chickadee.

Sitting in my springtime backyard, one came to my only, lone bird feeder that I got at the grocery store. As it sized up the plastic tube full of food, I began to do something that I hadn’t done for a very long while: I just watched it. It was not like how I watch ducks or deer or loose neighborhood turkeys, as food if only it came in range or the city ordinances were a bit more forgiving, but instead I watched it just to see what it did and who it was.

The small songbird flew from its perch and simply rummaged through my discount bird feed until it found a black sunflower seed and flew back to a higher branch. It worked the shell off the seed with diligence, determination, and intelligence. No schooling required. After eating the morsel within, it flew back for another and ate that one in the same wild manner. It then called out, perhaps to pay the good fortune forward, and flew off without giving the feeder another glance. The momentary abandonment of gluttony is the privilege of spring.

It felt strange to just watch a bird for a few minutes. It felt foreign. My mind kept asking me why I was watching such an unassuming creature and for why. There were books that need reading, screens that need seeing, and facts that need knowing. In the end though, it felt good to stick it to what organized my wild instincts and to just watch the chickadee like a true human being again.

I could in that moment imagine that I was that chickadee: wild, rebellious, and free. Never before had I thought of myself as a chickadee though, truth be told. If any bird, I would have before liked to be a Canada jay, or a raven, or a Swainson’s thrush. But after seeing that chickadee, and thinking on it, the chickadee seems the best of me now and the best of who I want to be. It can be humble, measured, and cooperative, or proud, excitable, and driven, depending on the needs of the season. It’s easily seen, easily unnoticed, and easily pleased.

Importantly, though it reminds me of that child with the infinite world. It reminds me why I loved nature. It gives me hope that I can again.

I’m Patrick Kelly and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy and Copyright Stephen Peterson, Photographer
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Kelly, Patrick, The Canyon, Wild About Utah, Jan 28, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-canyon/



Lawn Reduction

Lawn Reduction: Riding Lawnmower Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Riding Lawnmower
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Traditional American landscaping focuses on maintaining a manicured green lawn. However, the National Wildlife Federation has some better environmental choices for people and wildlife by including native trees, shrubs, ground cover, prairie or meadow patches, flower beds and attractively mulched areas.
Did you know

  • Approximately 20 million U.S. acres are now planted as residential lawn.
  • 30-60% of urban freshwater is used for watering lawns.
  • 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually.
  • Areas of lawn that include only one type of plant, such as grass, offer very little habitat value for wildlife.
  • Yard waste, mostly grass clippings, makes up 20% of municipal solid waste collected, and most of it ends up in landfills.
  • Reasons to reduce your lawn
  • Save time and money that you would normally spend on mowing and fertilizing grass.
  • Provide habitat and food for wildlife.
  • Conserve water.
  • Reduce lawn mower pollution and decrease run-off from fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Here are some ways to reduce your lawn and help wildlife
  • Use native plant species as ground cover instead of grass.
  • Install native trees and shrubs
  • Create a rock garden
  • Use mulched pathways
  • Provide meadow or prairie patches
  • Install a hedgerow
  • Plant an organic vegetable garden
  • Create a butterfly or hummingbird garden
  • Taking Action
    Make a plan of how you want your yard to look. Check with your local municipality, neighborhood, or homeowners’ association for regulations. Once you have decided on an area of your yard to convert, follow these simple suggestions:
  • Cover your turf grass with 6-10 layers of black & white newspaper or brown cardboard. There is no need to remove the grass first.
  • Make sure the sections overlap one another so that grass and weeds will not come up between the cracks.
  • Wet down the newspaper or cardboard.
  • Cover the newspaper or cardboard with a 4”- 6” layer of mulch or soil.
  • Allow turf grass and weeds to die back for 4-6 weeks.
  • Plant directly through the mulch and newspaper/cardboard. If you know you’re going to be planting trees or shrubs, dig the holes before putting down layers of paper.
  • Some other things to consider
  • Determine what native plants are already thriving in your site. Encourage the native plants already present and replace exotic invasive species with native ones. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state at www.wildflower.org/collections. There are 158 listed for Utah.
  • Organic mulch can reduce weeds, prevent erosion, improve soil nutrients and increase water holding capacity.
  • Borders of rock or weed can bring a sense of order to a “wild garden” in an urban or suburban neighborhood. This may make your natural landscape more acceptable to neighbors.
  • And don’t forget to make a place for people as well. A bench or path will accommodate this nicely and add to your enjoyment.
  • This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
     
    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright
    Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Lawn Reduction, The National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/-/media/PDFs/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Lawn-Reduction_web.ashx?la=en&hash=FAC102D0BDBBC0CCD97ECE01BB9A8E2F91E7C150

    Hadden, Evelyn J, Less Lawn, more life, LessLawn.com, http://www.lesslawn.com/

    Plant Lists & Collections, Recommended Species by State, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, www.wildflower.org/collections

    Silent Spring Revisited

    Silent Spring  First Edition Cover Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Publisher.   Note, rights exist for the designer/illustrators Lois Darling & Louis Darling Courtesy Wikimedia and Abe books.
    Silent Spring
    First Edition Cover
    Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Publisher.
    Note, rights exist for the designer/illustrators Lois Darling & Louis Darling
    Courtesy Wikimedia and Abe books.
    We can be part of the problem, or part of the solution. It is a marvel at how some people have an “ I don’t care” attitude when it comes to the outdoors and the natural world. Whether a person believes that God created the world, it happened via evolution, or never really think about it at all, our lives are directly connected to the natural processes of this planet.

    For those who live in the somewhat hectic world of urban employment and the frantic rush of crowded traffic lanes, it may seem that there may never be a moment where they can relax and enjoy the quiet sounds of nature, whether it be the ripples of a stream, the calls of a songbird, or the breeze rustling through trees. We can become so disconnected from nature that its very existence may seem like a foreign land to us as we are absorbed by work, television, transportation, and household bills.

    Then again, you might be the type to schedule an occasional escape to a national park or forest. Or perhaps you will be content simply to bid farewell to Winter and welcome the warmth of Spring, the sounds of songbirds claiming territories and seeking mates, or watching gorgeous butterflies drifting among floral bouquets. But what if some of those natural sights and sounds we seek are no longer there?

    In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring. Think about that title: Silent Spring. What would it be like to walk outside and never hear the songs of birds or the humming of pollinating honeybees?
    Carson was concerned about the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment, especially those being sprayed to control insects on large scales. She was concerned about the near constant presence of such chemicals in our foods and suggested that these products are cancer-causing. And, in certain cases, many insects were developing resistance to new pesticides. Her recommendations were that people use biological controls whenever possible by using natural predators, such as ladybird beetles to attack aphids, rather than spraying for them.

    Humans have developed powers to change our environment in wonderful, or drastic, ways. We need to remember that whether we think about it or not, we are connected to the “natural” systems that support human life.

    So let’s consider a few ways that we can help ourselves by helping those natural systems.

      First:
      Protect your soil. Be careful about chemical additives and fertilizers.
      Second:
      Be prudent about your use of water. It is essential to all life, and we don’t have an unlimited supply.
      Third:
      Reevaluate your affinity for lawns. Their value in the West is overrated. Consider planting more native flower gardens that will feed the pollinators which help provide our food sources.
      Fourth:
      Plant trees. They provide shade, purify the air, provide housing for birds, and raise our property values.
      Fifth:
      Help wildlife. Plant milkweed for declining Monarch Butterflies, place birdfeeders in your yards, and provide a water source for birds and butterflies.

      We can be part of the problems, or part of the solutions.

      This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
       
      Credits:

      Images: Courtesy & Copyright Houghton Mifflin, Lois Darling and Louis Darling, Illustrators
      Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, UPR.org
      Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

      Additional Reading

      Silent Spring, RachelCarlson.org (a memorial site, see Linda Lear), http://www.rachelcarson.org/SilentSpring.aspx

      Silent Spring First Edition Hardback on Amazon, Rachel Carson, Houghton Mifflin, 1962 https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Spring-Rachel-Carson/dp/0395075068

      Silent Spring Anniversary Edition, Rachel Carson (Author), Linda Lear (Introduction), Edward O. Wilson (Afterword), Houghton Mifflin, 2002, https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Spring-Rachel-Carson/dp/0618249060

      Silent Spring First Edition, Abe Books, https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22902965763

      Wilson, Joseph F, Messinger Carril, Olivia J., The Bees in Your BackYard, Princeton University Press, 2015, https://www.amazon.com/dp/0691160775/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_ep_dp_oRgkCbAF08452
      Bees on a Sunflower, from The Bees in Your BackYard, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0RGx70zNHA&feature=youtu.be

      Q & A with Joseph S. Wilson & Olivia J. Messinger Carril, Princeton University Press, https://press.princeton.edu/interviews/qa-10593

      Wilson, Joseph S.; Forister, Matthew L.; and Carril, Olivia Messinger, “Interest Exceeds Understanding in Public Support of Bee Conservation” (2017). Biology Faculty Publications. Paper 1570. https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2520&context=biology_facpub