Friday, December 31, 2010
Worm Dirt Coffee: A Brew for the New Year -- and the fish
|photo by Jonathan Schechter|
Good coffee. There is nothing like it in the world. I've had my share of coffee in my travels. I am not a Starbucks kind of guy. But I'll drink that too-- if it's my only available choice.
Coffee goes best with adventure.
Last year, on the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro at an elevation of 17,000 feet, my drink of choice in the frigid pre-dawn darkness before the final ascent to the summit was a rich Tanzanian coffee laced with dark honey and 125 mg of Acetazolamide to combat altitude illness. And I will never forget a border-crossing trek encamped almost twenty years ago with a small group of Israelis and Bedouins in Egypt's Sinai Desert near an ancient monastary. We huddled under a star-studded sky and sipped coffee from small glass cups. The coffee pot water was brought to a boil on a smoldering camel dung fire.
Life doesn't get much better than that.
And as my co-workers today know - and some dread - I need my coffee. Or give me a cozy roadside cafe in a small town offering endless steaming coffee in a mug and the local newspaper and I'm happy
Get your mugs ready for the New Year!There is new kid on the coffee block: Worm Dirt Coffee!
Worm Dirt Coffee is a fund raising effort of Project Fish. What is Project F.I.S.H? It's the involvement of our youth in a long term and continuous community supported sportfishing and aquatic resources education program. Part of their vision is to preserve a natural heritage that ensures the future of fishing, natural resources and environmental awareness, ethical fishing practices, fisheries stewardship, and positive developmental activities for children, families and the community.
According to Mark Stephens of Project Fish-Michigan State University, "It's a full City Blend with a hint of French Roast ---roasted and packed in Mid-Michigan. The Worm Dirt coffee supplier uses only hand selected 100% Arabica coffee beans." I nudged Mark a bit more and have his word that the title "worm dirt" is simply meant to be an eye-catching slogan for a fisheries related fund raiser. No worms! No dirt in the coffee. I ordered and taste tested a 12 oz bag of Worm Dirt. It's vey good. It's for a good cause and is sure to raise eyebrows if you leave the worm dirt bag on the counter top.
If you want to get hooked on Worm Dirt and help create caring stewards of our natural resouces, contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org
of explore http://www.projectfish.org/
. It's $10 a bag plus shipping and if you are interested in selling the coffee directy to aid Project Fish inquire on wholesale prices for larger quantities.
Happy New Year! Try WormDirt. You'll get hooked. It's "Always Fresh Ground."
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
A Tale of Two Squirrels: A time to eat. And a time to die.
|Fox squirrel: photo by Jonathan Schechter|
The annual squirrel wars at my bird feeders are underway. The leading combatants in their race to quick death because of their risky gluttonous behavior at the feeder are gray squirrels and fox squirrels. For those not in the know on squirrel names, the gray squirrel is usually gray but may be solid black. Gray squirrels are the nut-crunching, tree-dwelling, leafy nest master builder squirrels that chattered down from great unbroken oak forests as Daniel Boone wandered west, the squirrel-eating colonists got uppity (and acquired a love of squirrel stew) and the British navy set sail. The orange-hued fox squirrel - like the one waiting paitently to leap for the feeder from the top of my country porch - is a common visitor to urban feeders and well adapted to our ways.
And why is their seemingly insatiable gluttony at the feeder so risky? My behavior makes it so. So does yours. When you or I put out food in unnatural abundance - and that is what a bird feeder does - creatures that munch on seed gather. And in large numbers. And lose caution. The list is long: birds, mice, meadow voles, rabbits, squirrels, turkeys (guess we will call turkeys BIG birds) and of course deer. I find deer tracks under my feeder almost every dawn. (DISCLOSURE: I try warn the deer the feeder is not for them with a DNRE ban on deer feeding.)
And here is the risk: Predators rapidly adapt to unnatural gatherings and what better place for a coyote or fox or the neighbor's free-roaming bird-killing cat, or a keen-eyed red tailed hawk to wait for a moment of opportunity and then snag a fattened furry squirrel entree in the closing days of December. Or January. Or February.
The fox squirrel perched in the top photo is not in the least aware of what may be soaring overhead. And the 'Got to eat it all till I burst!' gray squirrel on the spillage pile is so self absorbed in his pleasurable, "This must be manna from heaven" thoughts that he has become easy pickings for the predators. All of this is just another chapter in the ways of nature --altered by man.
|Gray squirrel: photo by Jonathan Schechter|
Friday, December 24, 2010
It's Christmas in Israel: Arise, Walk Through The Land (Genesis 13:7)
Snow-capped Mt Hermon towers over Israel's Upper Galilee on Christmas Day.
All photos by Laurie Schechter Rimon
As I write these words on Christmas Eve, the faint light of dawn has already added a glimmer of light to the Sea of Galilee, snow-capped Mt Hermon on the Golan Heights and the historic pastoral landscape of the Upper Galilee and Jordan River. And as this short visual visit will show you - a diversion from my usual Earth's Almanac in Oakland County- The Land of Israel is far more than desert lands. These pictures speak for themselves: Israel, a country that takes on a special meaning for Christianity. And on this day the landscape of the north is rich with beautiful wetlands, birds in migration, a wealth of wildlife, incredible hiking trails, living history, ancient archaeology, diverse cultures, forests and peaceful scences - -and pilgrams and visitors walking the land of the Bible.
If my plans fueled by wanderlust fever all fall in place, come this spring, when carpets of flowers are in spectacular bloom and the land is lush, I hope to"Arise, Walk Through The Land" on an west to east hike on the Sea to Sea Trail, a new hiking trail that meanders from near the waves of the mighty Mediterranean Sea on the western side of northern Isreal to the historic Sea of Galilee on the eastern edge of Israel near the Syrian border. And at the Sea of Galilee you are standing next to the lowest freshwater lake in the world: 686 feet below sea level at the surface!
Natural beauty and trail adventure, like birds in flight, know no borders!
But now, a few pictures (courtesy of my sister) and a Merry Christmas to all!
|The Jordan River in the Upper Galilee cuts its canyon deep on its journey towards the Sea of Galilee (Dec. 2010)|
Cliffs rise sharply from the edge of the Sea of Galilee: 686 feet below sea level! (Dec. 2010)
An exhubrant hiker on the ancient volcanic rocks of the Golan Heights. (Spring, 2010)
The Jordan meanders south through the hills with rapids, twists, turns and the surprise of low hanging branches. I kayaked here about 20 years ago--a near disastrous, but memorable adventure.
Coots take flight from a wetland on a windy day in the Galilee a few days before Christmas. (Dec. 2010)
Hikers in the Golan Heights explore one of many day hike trails. Some will set foot on the new cross-country Israel National Trail, a 1,000 kilometer world class rugged trek from the northern border with Lebanon south through the Negev Desert and on to the Red Sea! (Dec. 2010)
Cattle and cowboys are part of the rugged Golan landscape. (Dec. 2010)
|Tracks in mud in a dry wadi (seasonal stream) tell the tale of predators. Wolves (Canis lupus) and jackels are both very much at home in Israel (Nov. 2010)|
|Spring turns the hills above the Sea of Galilee lush and green in spring. (Spring 2010)|
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Reindeer Rumors: The Shocking truth and cover up on Rudolph! (WARNING: This material may not be appropriate for children under 7 years of age and does not represent the views of this newspaper.)
This is not a reindeer! Not having any 'reindeer' photos I substituted a photo of a white tailed deer buck for Santa's high-flying sled master of questionable gender. This buck spent a good part of the summer loitering in my tall grass meadow next to my barn -watching me. photo by Jonathan Schechter
In just a few more days good old Santa will herd his reindeer off the hidden bait pile and hook them up to his sleigh. And then it's that long flight from the North Pole; dodging comets, space debris and notifying endless nations of his air space intrusions before their missles launch - -all of this on his way to reach the chimneys in the world that lead to good boys and girls. If that's not enough of a stress factor to make the jolly guy work up a big sweat there are rumors that Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer are all females. Even the fish and wildlife folks in the State of Alaska are getting involved in the gender fray for they know that reindeer are just another name for caribou. Alaska has lots of caribou. Now here is where it gets tricky. The antlers! Alaska biologists know the entire truth, but perhaps fearful of losing their jobs and rocking their politically correct sleigh they refused an interview. Or maybe they were more worried about a certain caribou shooting ex-governor tramping about their tundra with her high powered rifle, not wanting the truth on Santa's fabled creatures from her home state to be exposed.
Here are the facts: Unlike our Michigan deer where only the males sport antlers, in the world of reindeer it is just not so. Reindeer (AKA caribou) are unique in the deer world in the fact that females grow large antlers-- just like the males. That might make uninformed humans and overworked elves assume Santa has an equal rights mix of male and female reindeer pulling the sleigh and Rudolph is 100% male. But not so fast! My relentless fact digging for truth, justice and total disclosure on eight flying reindeer that don't even seem to age disclosed another startling fact: Female caribou keep their antlers from one spring to another while the males drop their antlers in autumn!. And that inconvenient truth leads to an inescapable conclusion: Male reindeer (caribou) are anterless on Christmas Eve. Santa's reindeer still sprout big racks, trophy size antlers! The fact of the matter is now clear. Rudolph is a lady.
I asked Santa for a comment. "No comment." He then mumbled under his breath, "Should have just used elephants with big flappy ears or a bunch of kanagroos to pull my sleigh and be done with this silly willy boy girl antler stuff." ( I think the jolly guy is getting over-worked with an attitude like that. But he knows the truth. And now so do you.)
Monday, December 20, 2010
Totally Hot Lunar Eclipse plans rendezvous with Frigid Winter Solstice! And you can watch.
A total lunar eclipse in 2003. Photo courtesy of Jim Fakatselis and NASA
Unlike all the silly space hoaxes floating on the Internet this "Tell all your friends" event is real and should be beautiful! So trudge outside for a view of a coppery red moon shining down on fields of snow between 2:41 and 3:55 a.m. EST in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. (December 21st). According to the good folks at NASA Science, "For 72 minutes of eerie totality, an amber light will play across the snows of North America, throwing landscapes into an unusual state of ruddy shadow."
You've got to love poetic and descriptive writing like that from NASA. More facts: The actual eclipse starts at 1:33 a.m. At that moment the shadow of Planet Earth will appear as a dark-red bite on our lunar disc. It will take about one hour for the bite to expand enough to swallow the entire moon! Note:
As one who believes in science in decision making, I do not think our moon is really made of cheese. But the moon will be 'swallowed' just the same.
And if you only want a quick peek in the cold before heading back to warm sheets, here's a tip: Set your alarm for 3:17 a.m. EST. At that very moment our moon will be in the deepest shadow of the eclipse and will be displaying her best shades of coppery red!
And don't forget that this eclipse also marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and official start of winter. The last time these two celestial events had a heavenly encounter was in the year 1638! This will be quite the reunion after an absence of 372 years. Log onto http://www.spaceweather.com/
for real time coverage including live webcasts, observation tips and a scientific look at the connection between lunar eclipses and our Earth's climate.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
WILD WORLD AFRICA: A Detroit Zoo Widlife Film. A Free Kenya Adventure!
|Free roaming zebras in Tanzania. Photo by Jonathan Schechter|
The Detroit Zoo has a wildlife Kenyan holiday treat for you free with payment of regular zoo admission. The action packed 10 minute wildlife adventure film "Wild World Africa" presented by Kroger, will be shown free every half-hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. December 20-31st. Executive Director Ron Kagan said, "The 3-D/4-D experience is visually stunning and wonderfully fun... and it's a lot less costly than going to Kenya to experince it first hand." Zoo staff added "Wild World Africa contains a few graphic images and may not be suitable for children under 5 years old; parental discretion is advised." Although I have not yet seen the film I take that to mean this short film is realistic and presents it like it is: Predators kill their prey. That is nature's way and part of wildlife behavior in Oakland County as well as East Africa. It's been over a year since I have last been in Africa and I can still feel the dust and recall the scent of the land as a herd of zebras thundered by. A few stood and faced the lion.
Located on the zoo grounds in the Ford Education Center, The Wild Adventure 3-D/4/D Theater delivers a high definition viewing experience in 3-D with 7.1 digital audio surround sound, enhanced with full-sensory 4-D special efffects such as wind, mist and scents. The Detroit Zoo is open all winter and located at the intersection of 10 Mile Road and Woodward Avenure, just off I-696 in Royal Oak. Information on exhibits, fees, hours and special events: http://www.detroitzoo.org/
While at the zoo don't just visit indoor exhibits! Take a hike around the grounds, winter is a great time to explore the ways of wildlife and you are sure to be presented with photographic opportunties that are hard to capture with summer crowds. And if you are hungy there is plenty of good food at the indoor Arctic Food Court. (The Arctic Food Court is near the must-see Arctic Ring of Life where you can enter a 70 foot viewing tube and look up at harp seals and sometimes polar bears swimming overhead!)
Saturday, December 18, 2010
Hiking Into Surgery
I have been told I have an obsession for hiking. I tend to deny that and tell friends I just like to hike.
But perhaps the truth is out: Obsession may be the best word, as the post surgery picture in the hospital recovery room tends to document.
Jump back 2 days: I had been instructed to, "Put on your gown and take off everything but your socks." Surgical nurses Jackie, Rebbeca and Marylyn were preping me for Lala Land so I would be unaware of the surgeon's knife that was about to slice. And just before I "went under" I heard Rebbeca comment, "He's wearing hiking socks." (Smart woman. She knows her socks!) And yes I was, for with the knowledge that it would be a week or more before I could stomp about my woods or any woods for my Oakland Outdoors weekly hiking column for the Oakland Press, I went for a quick pre-dawn wander in my snowy woods with my SmartWool socks. And that was before my 4:30 am departure for the hospital. And a few days before that I hiked two trails to have trail fodder ready for this Sunday and next Sunday's columns. Got to keep editors happy.
So what am I doing now? Wishing I could cross country ski or hike in our winter wonderland of northern Oakland County. That must wait for awhile. And so today I sit and watch birds peck at sunflower seeds at my window feeder. An unplanned adventure of life in this chapter of "Earth's Almanac". And on my feet, another pair of SmartWool socks. The socks of choice for obsessed hikers! (And a pesonal note to friends who know me well: That small cup is filled with coffee! By my request.)
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
No ice is safe ice!
|Kearsley Creek meandering through the Village of Ortonville. Photo by Jonathan Schechter|
The great freeze is on. From the edges of our Great Lakes to the beautiful wooded banks of 'my' meandering Kearsley Creek, water is on its slow and unsteady transfomation to ice. And if you are not careful it can kill you. Pay no attention to the old sayings on how many inches of ice you need to be safe. Ice does not freeze evenly and in much of Oakland County streams have thin ice covered with blankets of snow. Lakes and ponds are fed by springs and sun and surface melt can cause illusions of thick ice after a night's freeze. If you want to be safe- stay off the ice. I am all for taking the youngest of children out into woods in the early days of winter. Everyone did that before we became wired to hand held devices.
But the obvious is needed too. Teach them a touch of fear. Fear based on reality and science.
Every year we hear tragic stories of toddlers that wandered off to the frozen pond. And drown. And it's not just preschoolers that don't comprehend the danger. Before the winter is over we will learn of a snowmobile operator - fueled with alcohol in many cases ("Alcohol may have been a contributing factor") that took the great final plunge into the deep, often on midnight runs over not frozen lakes. Nature does not give second chances when it comes to ice. Enough said.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
EARTH IS ON A COLLISION COURSE: Impact on December 13th! - or sooner
A Geminid fireball explodes over Mojave Desert in 2009. Photo by Wally Pacholka
If you are lucky like me, and live away from the curse of urban light pollution, you are in for a sky show that peaks beween midnight of the 12th and sunrise of December 13. Earth is on its annual collision course with the most intense meteor shower of the year: the Geminids! If there is an absence of clouds you could be rewarded with up to 120 meteors per hour. And according to the good folks at NASA these rich fireballs can be seen from almost any location on Earth. But if you are surrounded by street lights, neon and the glow of thosands of homes you will miss the show. I will head down to my lightless meadow down by the barn, bundled up against the winter cold and snow and sprawl out on a lawn chair with my eyes to the sky and my ears to the coyotes. Life doesn't get much better than that!
But even modern science has mystery, the Geminids not excluded.
According to NASA astronomer Bill Cooke, "Most meteor showers come from comets which spew ample meteoroids for a night of 'shooting stars'. The Geminids are different. The parent is not a comet but a weird rocky object named 2300 Phaethon that sheds very little dusty debris - not nearly enough to explain the Geminids." And you got to love it when Cooke in his press release also states "This makes Geminids the 900 pound gorilla of meteor showers" even though 3200 Phaethon is "the 98 pound weakling."
I'm not going to worry about the science mystery in our sky. I've got a hot date with a sizzling debris stream and her name is Geminid.
An artists concept of an impact event on the asteroid Pallas, a possible mother to Geminid. Credit: B.E. Schmidt and S.C. Radcliff of UCLA
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Stony Creek: On the dawn before winter
The images below are an addendum to the published hiking column on the "Blue Trail" of Stony Creek Metropark that appears in the Sunday December 13 Oakland Press. That column can be found at http://www.theoaklandpress.com/
. Type my name (Jonathan Schechter) into search box and all previous published hiking columns also appear.
|Dress for the weather with good foot gear and you are good to go!|
|This sign is a warning to cross county skiers and mountain bikers of a steep twisting descent.|
|Some trees are padded along the trail. Most are not.|
|These are multi use trails shared by hikers, mountain bikers and cross country skiers. No horses or snowmachines!|
|A powerful storm swept through the park in August of 2010 snapping many oaks.|
|Pay attention to trailhead maps---have a plan! And if you bring a dog leashed is the law.|
|Most trail juntions have indicators showing your location and a small map.|
|Keep an eye on the summer storm "damage"( nature does not use the word damage), good places to see woodpeckers and chickadees.|
|The creek still flows and is about to be edged with snow.|
Friday, December 10, 2010
Feral Swine and Wild Boars: Prepare to be BACONIZED!
A wild hog standing its ground in Congaree Swamp National Park. (S. Carolina)
Our native wildife, invasive species and domestic livestock gone wild share one important charecteristic: Adaptabilty! That is the way of nature. That is the science of evolution. In Michigan we are at the cusp of a new crisis: Big and nasty hoofed bacon. Be warned. These beasts have attitude and are armed with tusks! Fact of the matter is clear: We've got ourselves one heck of pig problem in our state. Feral swine have been confirmed all over Michigan and they pose a clear and present danger to native wildlife; especially ruffed grouse, wild turkey, reptiles, salamanders, white-tailed deer and pheasants. Domestic stock, agricultural crops (they are oppotunistic feeders and their wallowing behavior in fields is disasterous to crops) and humans are also at risk. In addition to the very real chance of wild boars causing physical injury to humans, wild boars transmit a host of diseases to humans; among them, brucellosis, leptospirosis, salmonellosis, toxoplamosis, sarcoptic mange, E.coli, trichinosis and tuberculosis.
Kudos to DNRE director Rebecca Humpries for signing an order to make feral swine and wild boars an invasive species in Michigan. She stated the obvious, "Feral swine pose a significant risk to Michigan's wildlife, ecosystems and agricultural resources, and they are a serious disease threat to humans, wildlife and domesticated pigs." Our State Legislator has until July 8th, 2011 to get off their hams, stop snorting and wallowing about in the mud of politics and enact strong effective laws to regulate the facilities that currently provide wild boar breeding and fenced in hunting pens to shoot an exotic pig trophy. Contrary to denials, it does not take a detective or wildlife manager to see that these private operations are the root of our Hogs Gone Wild problem. We have ignored the source too long.
If the Legislature does not act by the July deadline the Invasive Species order will go into effect, making it illegal to posses wild boar in Michigan. That is a start. No enough. I see a fault:
Too little, too late. Similar battles are being waged and lost
in many states. In Texas it is an expensive losing battle with big bacon on the move, breeding in the wild and adapting to our ways faster than we can adapt to theirs--and kill them.
Strict regulations and massive public education combined with a shoot on sight policy (where the discharge of a firearm is legal and safe) is the way to go. For more info on feral swine go to www.michigan.gov/feralswine
. This site includes feral swine reporting forms.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Highway Patrol accelerates lethal roadside enforcement ---of Nature's Way
|photo by Jonathan Schechter|
Consider this an open letter to squirrels, rabbits, rats, mice and voles: BE WARNED! With winter at the door red-tailed hawks (such as this fence-sitter near I-696) have stepped up their keen eye patrols from lookout perches; tree limbs being a favorite. Unlike in summer when these Michigan natives are more likely to be seen lazily soaring on rising thermals over meadows, they have taken advantage of a great food opportunity and have adjusted their behavior accordingly. Call it road patrol, road patrol from stationary hunting platforms. Just like a deer hunter in a tree stand selects an observation location to silently wait for deer, a location that he or she believes will be productive, the red-tailed hawk does the same. Except for them it is a matter of life or death and they want small mammals.
They are skilled hunters. Fresh meat is their thing. They are not after rancid road kills like the turkey vultures that already winged south sniffed out. And why flap around in the cold on endless airborne hunts when they can find barren tree limb perches along I-75 ( a favorite haunt for hunting) and wait for motion in the snow. And if that movement is a vole, rabbit or squirrel near the highway, they take off in flight and quickly sink their powerful talons into dinner. That is nature's way in the cold season. There are no warning tickets issued by these highway patrollers with their distinctive red tail feathers.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Hiking the Detroit Zoo: A great winter adventure!
Saturday, December 4, 2010
Forest Fires Rage in Israel: The International Response, Politics,The Press and our Earth
|A foreign firefighting plane passes over the Mt Carmel fire. (photo from Israeli media)|
|Satellite Image of Fires Burning in Israel: Provided by NASA|
Greece, Bulgaria, Cypus, Jordan, England,Turkey, Egypt, England, Russia, France, Italy, Croatia, Rumania, Azerabaijan, Spain, USA and the Palestinain Authority. As of today (December 4th) that is the list of countries that have rushed specialized wildfire fighting equipment, firefighting aircraft and wildland firefighters to aid Israel as the worst natural disaster in their history continues to char the landscape and threaten lives. And you may wonder just what I am writing about? Israel? Forest Fires? Sadly, this unprecidented wildfire that has killed 41 people in and around the Carmel Forest (near the port city of Haifa) has barely been mentioned in our news. Today's paper has just 3 sentences buried on page 10. And if the scope of the fire that has created near apocalyptic scenes and horrifying images (many fatalities were young female prison guard trainees trapped in a bus by the inferno while racing to evacuate prisoners) as it spread with unprediticable speed over the parched landscape was not enough to make headline news, the international response should be. In a word: Impressive. Perhaps a better word would be: Gratifying.
Look closely at the list of those countries again. Many of the countries are not what you would call best buddies of Israel. But the world's firefighting community came to Israel's aid with more than condolences - they sent their best specialized equipment and manpower. And they breeched diplomatic standoffs. Most notably is the Muslim country of Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan was quoted by the Israeli media as stating, "In the face of such a natural disaster, we needed to help as a humanitarian and Islamic requirement. Our planes will remain in your country until the fire is brought under control." And three Palestinian fire engines remain on the Israeli firelines. As nightfall darkened Israel on this Saturday, the orange glow from wildfire on hillsides near homes and livestock remains.
At sunrise Sunday the pilots from Europe and the Middle East on their flame retardant dumping mission will once again to take to the sky, among them this time a Boeing 747 Super Tanker from Arizona. The international armada of planes great and small is oddly reminiscent of the world wide pilot cooperation in the movie thriller Independence Day when we battled alien invaders. Incidents such as this wildfire should remind all of us it is one Earth we live on and we are one community. And natural disaster is sadly often the best common bond.
A Russian bomber-tanker drops water on flames advancing on Village of Nir Etzion
|A small firefighting plane from the international flotilla of aircraft scouts the scene. (Photo from Israeli media)|