I run a monthly nature experience at Blackstone Park Conservancy where I’ll have an information table and art activity that extends into a way to explore the park. We’ve explored insects, spiders, broadleaf trees, and winter birds, among others. It’s an outdoor program, so weather is always a concern. So it was no surprise when rain forced us to reschedule the January event two weeks later. Of course, two weeks later, it was 17 degrees.
Our theme that month was cones and conifers. I was well-prepared with samples of cones from many types of evergreen, from Douglas fir to white pine. There were clip boards with infographics I had put together making it easy to type different conifer families. I even had information on the Wollemi pine, or “dinosaur tree”, that had been saved from the Australian fires
. But it was 17 degrees. And no one came.
The only other person out there was Harold. He comes regularly to tend to the ducks. There’s a raft of about 40 mallards that flock to him when his car pulls up. These ducks know Harold. And Harold knows them. Not only does he feed them, but he knows many of their back-stories. Some he’s released from fishing line. He’s seen two hit by a car and was only able to save one. He knows how another got its scars. Blackstone Park is a very popular place for bird watchers, and Harold can identify many of the waterbirds that visit. He’s more than just a visitor, though. He is a steward.
The following month I did not advertise well as it was February and I expected more inclement weather or cold. But I was there as faithfully as ever, setting up my table with a table cloth and new clipboards. No more taping pictures down! Remarkably, it was in the mid-forties that day. And people started to come…
People of all ages showed up! First, an older couple waiting for their grand-kids. Then families, other couples, a single woman. I invited them to explore the moss and lichen I had collected. We discussed symbiotic relationships, climate change, biomimicry… How moss can insulate buildings and and certain lichens are used in medicines, dyes, and other industries. Kids ran off with magnifying lenses to find their own. We looked at samples under a microscope and learned about the radical survival skills of tardigrades, also known as water bears or moss piglets.
Twenty two visitors in all took time in their day to learn about nature and how we can work WITH it, be part of the interconnected web. Do you have a lot of lichen on your trees? Maybe even the shrubby kind? The more the merrier! Many are sensitive to pollution, so if you see a lot, that indicates cleaner air.
And it’s not hurting your tree. Lichen is just a relationship between a fungus and algae and cyanobacteria. They work together to make a home and food. Similarly, we wouldn’t be able to live without the help of mitochondria in our cells. Perhaps by studying nature, we’ll find more ways to work together.