TLC's Blog (170)
Change is hard. And, every change is for better or worse, depending upon your perspective. Change is particularly hard when it happens quickly. I’m sorry, but telling me “it’s easier if you just rip the bandage off real quick” doesn’t lessen the pain.
I have no doubt the 400 acres of trees and shrubs bulldozed and left burning in giant brush piles looked “worse” to the hundreds of neighbors on the north side of Woodstock a couple of weeks ago.
Today, most people know that birds migrate by flying south during winter, and then fly north again as the days grow longer and temperatures rise. We also understand that some birds fly great distances each year to move from their summer homes to their winter spots.
Did you know that our understanding of bird migration is a relatively recent development?
A friend of mine in New Mexico is descended from a Spanish family that has been in Albuquerque since 1593. His ancestors were among the first settlers given land grants by the church when Spain first settled that area. Wow. Four hundred and twenty-one years ago. Nearly 200 years before the United States was founded.
Over the past 544 million years, Earth's had five major extinction events. A major extinction is one where between 70% and 90% of all species on the planet are lost – never to be seen again. Each of the five was caused by a cataclysmic event – like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs when it slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago.
My husband and I have subscribed to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) service since 2007. For 18-20 weeks during the growing season (typically late June to early October), we receive fresh vegetables grown at a local farm. We like knowing the farmers, and have learned to prepare some vegetables we never would have tried otherwise.
I heard a story the other day about a situation where one neighbor did not like another neighbor’s pine tree because the branches grew over part of his yard and he thought the roots were going to crack his foundation. So, the fellow cut all the branches on his side of the tree back to the property line, and then dug a trench along the property line to sever the tree’s roots.
McHenry County government has been working for three and a half years to develop something called a Unified Development Ordinance, UDO for short. Essentially, it is a document that combines the zoning, sign and subdivision ordinances into one document. If done right, a UDO resolves any conflicts that may have existed between the various separate regulations and streamline the regulatory framework for development projects.
What is the law if a tree is on your property, but the branches hang over the neighbor's property?
Does your neighbor have the right to cut the branches that are hanging over his property?
Did you know that nearly one-third of the produce (fruits, nuts, vegetables) consumed in the US is pollinated by honeybees? And without honeybees, those items would not be available – at least not in the quantities they are today.
I understand that it is welcome to see something green in the woods after winter - especially after the winter we just had - but just keep in mind that the welcome glint of green you see spells trouble for our native trees shrubs and wildflowers.
That green you see is honeysuckle. Soon to be followed by buckthorn.
On my daily commute, I’ve been listening to a series of interviews that Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell in the 1980’s called The Power of Myth. The interviews were first broadcast on PBS in 1988 – a year after Campbell died at the age of 83.
Most readers will have heard of Moyers, a regular on PBS for many years, but may not be as familiar with Campbell. In fact, this is my first foray into Campbell’s works that explore the role of mythology in human culture.
Yes, I am the one driving my car 25-40 mph on Route 14 between Bunker Hill Road and Hughes Road from Harvard to Woodstock and back again most days of the week. If you have not yet experienced this stretch of road this winter, well, I suggest you plan to avoid it for the foreseeable future.
The road became particularly rough shortly after the first major cold spell broke in early January. Road heave, also called frost heave, occurs when moisture underneath pavement freezes and expands, forcing the asphalt up. It gets worse as the ice melts and then refreezes – again and again. Eventually the pavement starts to break apart. The more traffic, the faster the road breaks up.
The section between Deep Cut and Dunham Roads is particularly awful. Like driving over a series of unmarked speed bumps for half a mile. If you ever accidentally hit an actual speed bump at full speed, you probably thought: “Ouch, I hope I never do that again!” (At least that’s what I thought, only “ouch” was replaced with a different 4-letter word.) Now, imagine doing that every 20-30 feet for half a mile at 55 miles per hour.
This morning, two cars decided to pass me in this stretch of Route 14. I just shook my head as I watched them bounce down the road ahead of me. Apparently they didn’t care about the neck and back injuries they are likely to sustain (maybe hoping for a Worker’s Comp claim), nor did they mind the extra wear and tear on their cars’ suspensions (must have been leased vehicles).
The driver of a semi-truck that was right behind me – much too close for comfort or safety – was so annoyed by my turtle-esque pace that he passed me in a no-passing zone shortly after Dunham Road. (Note, I could still see him about one-quarter mile ahead of me when I reached Dean Street a few miles later.)
I’m telling this story because it occurred to me that maybe some people drive full speed down bumpy roads because they don’t understand the effects such behavior has on their bodies or cars? Specifically, the jarring movement of driving quickly across a bumpy road results in:
$1- Neck and back injuries. The result is higher medical costs, more time off work due to pain and injury and an increased likelihood of chronic neck and back problems as one ages.
$1- More accidents. Drivers are more likely to lose control of a vehicle when driving at high speed on a rough surface.
$1- Increased vehicle maintenance costs. In fact, driving on rough roads adds an average of $400 each year to the cost of maintaining a car as the suspension, tires, and many other parts wear down more quickly. The increased costs are higher in areas that are more heavily developed.
$1- Increased fuel costs. Plain and simple, a car uses more fuel when driving on bumpy roads – and driving fast on a rough road uses more fuel than driving slowly on the same road.
It also crossed my mind that some folks may not understand the extra costs society bears as the roads breakdown more quickly and require more maintenance. The costs of maintaining and repairing public roads are paid by tax-payers, whether the roads are maintained by the township, Village, county, state, or federal government.
Personally, I would rather see my taxes spent on something other than the constant repair of roads that are prematurely disintegrating because so many people refuse to slow down a little when driving on a bumpy road.
Most years, I dread January – cold, sleet, ice, and heavy grey skies. But not this year.
Because winter started in earnest last November, I am already acclimated to the cold. I’ve slipped on the ice (once) and shoveled snow – multiple times. Instead of being tired of winter, I was actually quite comfortable with the winter routine when we hit January.
In fact, I still haven’t worn my winter coat – that’s right. I’m wearing my fall canvas field coat with a fleece vest on top. Unprecedented! (For the record, I did not leave my house on the two coldest days of the year. But that's part of acclimating to winter, as you will learn below).
Acclimatization is a natural process where plants and animals adjust to seasonal (or other temporary) changes in their environment. For instance, as average temperatures slowly decrease from fall to winter, one’s system will adjust to the changing temperature. (Note: acclimatization is different than adaptation. Adaptation is what happens when species evolve over generations to have different characteristics than their parents.)
Plants that are meant to grow in a northern climate have genes that cause them to go dormant for a period of time when there is less light and the temperatures are cold. The reason that plants from more southern climates often die during northern winters is because they do not have the ability to adjust to the seasonal change in temperature.
Humans are warm-blooded (endotherms) like all other mammals and need to take steps to reduce heat-loss during the cold weather.
Like many birds and mammals, people add layers of insulation to stay warm during the cold. In our case, the insulation is in the form of clothing – for our feathered and furry friends, it may be more feathers, a thicker coat, or additional layers of fat.
Some animals (and people) stay warm in winter by moving south. Others choose to hibernate for long-periods, conserving energy by dropping their metabolism to just 1-5% of what it is during active periods. Some birds and small mammals, like chickadees and shrews, enter a lower-energy state called torpor at night, dropping their body temperature as a way to reduce heat-loss while sleeping.
Another way to stay warm on a cold winter day is to be active. Cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing or taking a hike will all cause the body to generate heat. For birds and mammals, the most common daily activity is finding food. Maybe we humans would put on less weight during the winter if we had to work a little harder at feeding ourselves!
TLC’s winter oak rescues are a great way to warm-up. Cutting and stacking brush gets one’s blood flowing, and a brush fire keeps everyone toasty. Harvard area events will be held on the following dates:
- January 20th, Maguire Woods, 5507 Irish Lane, 10am – 1pm. From the intersection of Route 14 and McGuire Road in Harvard, take McGuire 3.6 miles to Irish Lane and head north 0.3 miles to the work site.
- January 25th, Gateway Park, Heritage Lane and Route 23, Harvard, 9am-noon.
- February 17th, Van Maren’s Woods, 20202 Lembcke Road, 10am – 1pm. Take Route 14 south from Harvard to Lembcke, turn right, and proceed 1.2 miles to the work site.
TLC is offering a free Winter Tree Identification class, January 18th, 10am-2pm at Hennen Conservation Area, 4622 Dean Street, Woodstock. Join TLC’s Ecologist, Melissa Hormann, to learn how to identify trees using the twigs and bark. The first hour will be inside looking at twig samples, and the next three hours will be spent walking the hiking trails and using your new skills. Wear clothes appropriate for an outdoor winter hike.
TLC’s Annual Celebration Brunch will take place January 26 from 11-2pm at D’Andrea’s Banquets in Crystal Lake. Join old friends and new as the organization marks another successful year of land preservation. This year, TLC is excited to welcome special guest Mark Hirsch, a photojournalist who gained international acclaim for his daily photos of “That Tree,” a lonely bur oak on the edge of a farm field near his home in Platteville, Wisconsin. Tickets are $50 for non-members ($40 for members) and are available at www.conservemc.org or by calling 815-337-9502 by 5pm Wednesday, January 22nd.
photo by Harris Wishnick, taken at TLC's Woodland Hills Conservation Easement in Lakewood
Why is it so cold? Simply put, cold is caused by the absence of heat. Sometimes conditions are such that there is much less heat in an area. For instance:
Snow cover reflects solar radiation. That means, that if the ground is covered in snow, even on a sunny day, the sun doesn't warm the earth because the sunlight is reflected back into space.
Shorter amount of daylight mean less time for the sun's warming rays. Plus, during the winter season, the sun strikes the earth at a sharp angle, meaning the sun's rays are spread out further (less concentrated), so they have less warming power.
Lack of cloud cover at night allows heat to escape into space. While I love those beautiful winter nights when the sky is clear and the stars are bright, I know that the lack of cloud cover means that any heat that may have accumulated during the day will be lost to space. When there are clouds, the cloudcover helps to trap the heat in the troposphere (lower level of the atmosphere).
The jet stream brings cold air down from the Arctic. The jet stream is a meandering band of air that circles the planet. (There are four jet streams circling the planet from west to east - two polar jet streams and two tropical jet streams) Click here to see a short animation (from NASA) of the jet stream. Sometimes, the polar jet stream dips further south, due in part to increased snow cover across large areas of land - which means... less heat.
“Bitter cold” is a term that’s getting a lot of use this winter – and with good reason. The word bitter – while typically used to describe something that has a disagreeable taste – means something that causes a harsh or stinging sensation, which is exactly what very cold weather will do.
With a high of -15º forecast for Monday (January 6th), and wind making it feel even colder, I think it’s safe to say that Monday’s cold will be bitter indeed.
From a health standpoint, there are many reasons to be cautious when venturing outside in this weather:
Hypothermia. This is defined as the body temperature dropping from the normal 98.6º below 95º. Hypothermia can occur when outdoors in extremely cold weather for a long period of time, even if dressed warmly. It can also occur rather quickly when someone is outside for even s short period of time if they are not dressed for the cold. Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, slurred speech, irrational behavior, shortness of breath and eventually, unconsciousness.
Frostbite. Freezing temperatures can cause exposed part of the body to lose feeling and color. Nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are the most likely to be affected. In extreme cases, frostbite will lead to amputation. Symptoms to look for include numbness, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and skin that appears white or grayish-yellow.
Heart attack. If you have a heart condition, high blood pressure, or a family history of heart disease, be careful not to over-exert yourself if shoveling snow. Sudden physical exertion in cold weather – which occurs when lifting and throwing a heavy shovel full of snow – has been linked to heart attacks. Take lots of breaks to rest and warm up.
- Falling down. I’ve fallen down once this winter due to slipping on icy pavement. I wasn’t hurt, but I know several people who have broken wrists, hips, arms and ankles due to slipping on ice. A couple of tips to avoid slipping on ice:
1) wear shoes with good traction. If you don’t have any, invest in slip on traction devices like Yak Trax – they work like chains on tires by providing metal cleats that bite into the ice to keep you from slipping.
2) Use a walking stick, preferably one with a pointed tip. This will improve balance while walking across a slick surface.
If you do find yourself falling, try to remember not to put your arms out to catch yourself – that is the cause of most wrist and arm fractures when falling. Instead, try to remember to tuck your arms in, relax your body and roll so that you land on your shoulder and then roll onto your back. The rolling motion helps dissipate the energy from striking the ground. Trust me, I’ve done this, and it does work.
In general, there are commonsense steps you should take to stay safe in the bitter cold:
Wear a hat. Mom was right – wearing a hat in cold weather is one of the smartest things to do, as a lot of heat will escape through your head if you don’t.
Dress in layers – layers trap air between the layers, and air is a great insulator.
Stay dry. If you get wet, change into dry clothes as soon as practical. Moisture will speed heat loss.
Eat food and drink water. Being outside in the extreme cold causes the body to burn more calories. Also, the air holds less moisture as the temperature drops, so it is important to make sure your body is well hydrated. But, avoid alcohol – it can cause your body to lose heat more quickly.
If driving in the cold, be sure to have your cell phone with you, as well as a set of jumper cables, a bag of sand or kitty litter for traction if needed, and an ice scraper.
Finally, when it is cold, don’t leave your pets outside for very long, unless there is a sheltered, warm spot that they can go into. Pets can get hypothermia and frostbite just like people!
photo by Gail Moreland, taken at TLC's Weers Conservation Easement as part of the Art of the Land Photo Contest in 2012.