Friday, September 30, 2011

The Wind Beneath Their Wings

Almost Ready
Okay, so referencing Bette Midler and the movie, Beaches, really dates me, but I just couldn't resist.  You see, the homing pigeons of Dodge are about to get a new landmark, thereby helping them find their way home.  While the price tag for your average pigeon is about five smackers, this new landmark was a little more pricey, with a value closer to that of the best racing pigeon of all time.  The new landmark, a 21st century hallmark of going green, is none other than a 120 foot wind turbine, or wind mill.  The turbine is going up right now, and as it does, Dodge is setting an example for our community by adopting a great sustainable practice.  To quote our Executive Director, Jason Sanders:

"In the long-term, Dodge’s 20-kw wind turbine will actually save general operating expenses by producing wind power that will reduce the power Dodge needs to purchase.  To put this into perspective, an average home uses 10,655 kilowatts of power each year.  A 20-kw wind turbine yields 15,000 kilowatts of power each year.  The estimated cost-savings from a 20-kw wind turbine is $14,484 per year – that’s almost $15,000 that Dodge can take off its bottom line and put toward restoring the prairie, feeding the animals, or conducting more programs!"

The vision of usefulness for the turbine is three fold:
-To be a leader in sustainable practice in our community
-To provide a powerful teaching tool for students and visitors at Dodge
-To offset energy costs and use a renewable resource

Now, "providing a terrific landmark for pigeons who are learning to home," was not part of the fundraising campaign around this turbine, but it is a nice benefit, if you are a pigeon, or Farmer Don, who trains the Dodge Pigeons (I feel another blog coming on...).

The preschoolers have enjoyed watching the construction of the turbine.  
Digging the Turbine Footings

It is big abstraction for them right now.  When we visit the northeast pasture, the site of the turbine, they see sheep running around workmen and a long lattice of metal.  We point to the old farm windmill and say, "Like that.  See?  A windmill."  One child peered up at the blades of the old mill creaking in the breeze and then cast his gaze out at the behemoth in the pasture.  "Well," he said, "it's really going to cool us off."  Easy to see why concrete experience is so important for young children!  It's also why Dodge will be conducting wind energy classes for school-age kids.  In these programs, kids will experiment with a kid-sized version of the real thing.  

Old Farm Windmill, Not a Giant Fan
At a recent retreat, thanks to naturalist Teresa Root, Dodge staff got to fiddle around with the mini turbines; grown-ups had great fun measuring their energy output and competing for wattage. 

We are aware that some large scale wind energy programs have sparked debate about avian flight, but here at Dodge, we see our project as a win-win-win-win:  great for kids, great for the community, great for the earth, and great for lost pigeons.

Did you know that pigeons are now replacing e-mail in South Africa?  Did you know that the Preschool has a pet chicken named, Pidge?  Have you ever been invited to a Pigeon Party?  No?  Well, stay tuned to this blog... Thanks to Jason, Jenny, Joey and Don for their blog inspiration, and thanks to all the generous supporters of the Dodge Wind Energy Project.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Before the Snow Flies

Now is the time to visit the prairie!

I know we are all super busy with hectic back to school schedules, but take a half an hour and go now, before the snow blows; you won't regret it.  The grasses have seeded out and yellowed, bending under their loads in the breeze.   Towering Big Bluestem prairie grass is turning an amazing purplish/red, exhibiting its "turkey foot" seed head.  Purple and white asters are in bloom with bees frantically gathering the last of the nectar and pollen.  Migratory birds are gathering and wheeling overhead.  Everything about the prairie speaks of the change to come and lavishly shows off the fruition of amazing summer growth.  It's time to harvest the sight of the fall prairie before nature's blanket insulates it for the long haul.

The Dodge prairies are a nice little slice of mesic, mixed height prairie, giving us an idea of what much of the state of Minnesota once looked like.  Keep in mind that our Lily Property, just south of 110 presents an extended prairie ramble--170 acres of savannah--while the prairie just off the Nature Center on Marie provides an opportunity to casually stroll a few loops, including a new path that circles the southern perimeter, taking you along the edge of the woods, where turkey and deer like to congregate (see the Trail and Ground Maps button on the main page of our website).

On preschool hikes, we've seen lots of interesting critters in the prairie,
including:  snapping turtles, frogs, deer, turkey, grasshoppers, bees, coyotes, leaf hoppers and snakes.  This time of year, the prairie is just plain fun.  Preschoolers especially enjoy doing belly flops in the increadibly tall grass, tickling with seed heads, playing hide and go seek, rolling down hill, resting on a prairie hilltop or simply running.  Bring a snack or a little picnic and enjoy!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mindfulness: A Tiny Little Vacation

What do a vacation in Ecuador, a stressed-out kid and Dodge have in common?

Well, I just returned from my first ever trip to a developing country.  (If you've never been to a developing country, I suggest you visit as soon as you can.  It is really, really mind-blowing, and humbling, to see how people thrive in places that are not America and I really wish that I had gone many moons ago, but before I digress...just go if you can).  I also have a highly contentious nine-year-old who tends to loose her marbles when she encounters multiplication home work.  And then there is lovely, lovely Dodge Nature Center, where I work every day.

Okay, so while in Ecuador, I noticed that I was living entirely in-the-moment.  I was not thinking about tomorrow (except perhaps to stop and try to coordinate transportation through the next frightening mountain pass), or making dinner, doing laundry or going back to school, or home work.  I was just really soaking it all up minute by minute (it was kind of like being a kid).  As I flew back to home, I began to think about the future, and about how I wanted to try to live more in the moment when I returned to Minnesota.  Now, I know that vacation is vacation, and one cannot go about your daily business without contemplating dinner and laundry, but I got to thinking about how our family can become consumed and preoccupied by the very idea of work, homework, mortgage, tornadoes etc, etc.  Plus, we generally have an embarrassment of riches here in the US, and it is embarrassing how much we manage to stress and worry about things that don't really matter at the end of the day.  Too much worry, and too much stuff, and too much worry about stuff.  Less worry, and less stuff.

Stress Reduction in Ecuador, or, Sleeping-In-the -Moment
So I vowed to take concrete steps to deal with daily stress, improve my coping skills and try to simplify by simply enjoying life a little more.  I finally enrolled myself in that yoga class that I've been putting off forever, I tried to organize my house a bit, I made my kids organize their rooms (or at least look under their beds), I made a list of meals to shop for and cook in the coming weeks (I said, "I made a list," which is not the same as actually cooking said meals) and I also checked some books out of the library.  One publication really struck a cord with me:  Parenting Your Stressed Child:  10 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Practices to Help Your Child Manage Stress and Build Essential Life Skills by Michelle L. Bailey.  Bailey plots out how to practice mindfulness with your child in order to help you and your child cope.  Think of it as being able to take a mini-vacation every day (maybe we should call it mind-less-ness?).  This concise primer presents very easy and common sense practices that are not too daunting to consider implementing.  And guess what?  One of the best ways to combat stress and practice mindfulness is to go for a walk outside, IN NATURE.  You see where I'm going with this, right?

Well, I have to tell you, I was both thrilled and mortified to realize that I spend most of my life in a job that is really, really good for managing stress.  Thrilled to know I'm in the right place, kind of mortified to realize that I still have trouble managing stress, although I'm in the perfect "therapeutic" setting.  But the take away for all of you is that the benefits of Dodge are available to our entire community.  Yes, our students get a daily dose of mindfulness as they walk and observe the world around them (countless studies show that this alone is a huge factor in reducing stress and promoting health; remember the study that proved invalids recover faster in a room with a window on nature?), but all of our visitors can walk and breath in relative solitude on Dodge trails.  You know,  just about every week, someone walks through the front doors of the Preschool (mistakenly thinking it is the Nature Center headquarters), wondering if we have a map and asking if they can hike.  Yes!  Yes!  "You can do that," we say.  And you know what?  You, really, really should enjoy our trails, with or without a map, whenever you can.

Mindo Community Preschool in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest

An Easy Mindfulness Walk:

First turn off your cell phone.  Walk on any trail at Dodge.  Notice your breathing.  Try to find the quiet spot between the inhale and the exhale as you walk.  Think about your body.  Notice where it might feel tense and focus on relaxing into that muscle as you walk.  Look around you.  Smell.  Touch grasses or leaves.  Keep walking and let your mind wander (I've read that it's good to think of your thoughts as clouds:  watch them blow by, name their shapes if you like, but try not to judge them, don't feel that you have to act on them, right at that moment,  just let them be clouds).  Try to give yourself at least a half an hour of this unhurried, easy-breathing, strolling.  A tiny little vacation.

Mindfulness Walk for Kids:

Tell your young wanderer that you are going on a Treasure Walk.  First run, and be silly, and loud, if you like.  Then try walking silently, and fairly slowly, for 5 minutes, looking and smelling and touching, but not talking.  Find a place to sit down and close your eyes.  Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth for a couple cycles, then try to remember 3 things you noticed on your walk.  The things that you remember are your treasures.  See if you can find more on your next walk.

Treasure I Found on a Walk in Ecuador