Tuesday, November 13, 2012


“The old hunger for voyages fed at his heart....To go alone...into strange cities; to meet strange people and to pass again before they could know him; to wander, like his own legend, across the earth--it seemed to him there could be no better thing than that.” 
--Thomas Wolfe

“...people lose perspective. It is a cultural trait in America to think in terms of very short time periods. My advice is: learn history. Take responsibility for history. Recognise that sometimes things take a long time to change. If you look at your history in this country, you find that for most rights, people had to struggle. People in this era forget that and quite often think they are entitled, and are weary of struggling over any period of time” 
--Winona LaDuke

What have you been up to lately?  Taken any interesting trips?  Where did you go?  What did you see?  What did you do?  What are your kids up to?  What activities are they in?  How are their grades? Where will they go to college?  How's work going?  Still in the same job?  How much money are you making these days?  What kind of car are you driving?  Where did you get those jeans?

Life in America is a bit frenetic.  This is nothing new.  We've been on the move for some time.  Westward Ho!  Keep going, keep pushing ahead.  Across the landscape and up the ladder.  It comes as no surprise that some of us yearn for a sense of place.  Where do we come from?  Where do we belong?  I myself have no small amount of anxiety about this.  I come from all different kinds of people:  English, Irish, Polish, Norwegian, even U.P. Ojibwe.  I've moved no less than fourteen times (I really had to stop and count the houses and apartments from childhood on).  I was born in Maine and my parents live in a house that I have never lived in, more than a thousand miles away.  I've been here in Minnesota the longest.  Is this home?  Can I go home?  Thomas Wolfe, "famous American writer" said, famously, "You can't go home again."  But Winona LaDuke, famous Native American activist and writer, says, in so many words, "Yes, you can."

My colleague, Kristenza Nelson, and I had the privilege of attending the Minnesota Naturalist Association's annual conference up at Deep Portage Learning Center this past weekend.  We had a great time meeting new people and making a presentation about snow and ice play with young children, but the best part of the Conference was Winona LaDuke's keynote address.  Perhaps you know all about this woman, her work and her organizations already, but if you don't, I urge you to learn all you can.  LaDuke is an advocate for the land and she has a message for us:  We can all go home because we belong to the land.  We belong to the land.  The land does not belong to us.  We don't own it.  And if you think you do, you're really kidding yourself.  LaDuke wonders, "Why are such big mountains named after such small men?"  She asks us to imagine the hubris it takes to name something as huge and ancient as a mountain after something as tiny and ephemeral as a single human being.  Maybe you've seen this t-shirt:  "Got Land?  Thank a native."  LaDuke reminds us that we people are tiny and deeply flawed, but if we have the courage, we can apologize and make amends for our sometimes (often) wanting behavior.  We can try to do our best for this Earth, the only one we've got.  So we're talking about a land-based ethic.  A land-based point of view.  And, if you are a teacher, especially one at a Nature Center, land-based learning.

Kristenza had a chance meeting with LaDuke last summer on Madeline Island.  By serendipity, Kris and her boys found themselves at a small land blessing ceremony with LaDuke.  When LaDuke met Kris' young son, Alex, she embraced him and said, "Welcome home."  It is good to be reminded that we belong here.  People may be predators on the earth, strip mining and combusting our way across the land, but I'm reminded that I should strive to do my best for here, for now.  We can turn off the lights, we can compost, we can stop using those infernal plastic bags (LaDuke says, "We are not entitled to plastic bags.")  We can stand still for a minute or two and listen, and think.  We can think about giving young children the opportunity to love the land like a mother, to think of themselves as members of very big family, shoulder to shoulder with their brothers and sisters:  wolves, ants, worms, turkeys, fish and so on.  And we can think really hard about what it means to be a Nature Center and a community.  Where do we go from here?  What can we do to sustain the earth, recover the land and invest in this place, with its people, here and now?  

“One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.” 

--Winona LaDuke

LaDuke is the founding member of The White Earth Land Recovery Project and Executive Director of Honor the Earth.  She is a successful advocate for climate and environmental justice, particularly for native people, world-wide.  LaDuke's organizations are moving forward with plenty of interesting initiatives.  (The White Earth Reservation chose not to de-list the wolf, by the way.  LaDuke pointed out to a room full of well-intentioned, mild-mannered naturalists that sometimes you have to "get in their faces" when you care about something.  Sometimes you have to stand in front of city hall, in front of the state house, or in front of DNR headquarters.  119 Minnesota wolves have been killed so far this hunt and I haven't yet stood in front of DNR headquarters, or the Governor's Mansion have you?).  But one WELRP project focuses on sustainable and nutritious food production.  White Earth is growing flint corn and hominy with great success, and feeding people too.  These traditional plants are drought and frost-resistant, ready to grow in the face of climate change; the folks at White Earth can teach us a few things about sustainability.  

We have a lot of land here at Dodge (once upon a time it was Dakota land), a lot of farm land too.  We have a preschool on site, an environmental magnet elementary school across the street, a STEM middle school up the road and a high school around the corner.  Maybe we could all learn to grow old corn...maybe we could feed some people too...

What could we do, right here at home, right now?

Send me an e-mail:  mbrand@dodgenaturecenter.org

Thanks to Winona LaDuke for the inspiration and the spirit.  It is great to have a hero-guide.  Migwetch.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

White-tails Bound and Abound Around the Metro

There are more than 1 million White-tailed deer in Minnesota right now.  Finding deer in your own Twin Cities neighborhood is easy, especially in late autumn, with all the leaves down.  Deer in suburban neighborhood parks are often super-accustomed to people and are actually less likely to run away from you when you see them.  Our Dodge deer are so accustomed to our passivity and benign interest, they seem sort of like pets; I half expect them to beg for a treat.  So take a kid out to track deer.  It's fun, and you are often rewarded with a sighting.  Please don't hike and track in hunting areas though, Deer Season just opened and I don't want anyone mistaking you for a venison roast.

If you visit your local park or nature center, you can look for these signs:

Buck Scrape
Where a male deer scrapes a tree with his antler, signaling that he and his nice big antlers are in the area.  More scrapes can be seen in the fall, in conjunction with breeding season, also known as “the rut.”  For more on scrapes, check out this fascinating link

Deer poop.  Usually dark in color, about the size and shape of plump jellybeans, usually found in a little pile.

A deer-sized depression in tall grass or vegetation where a deer has been resting; you’ll often see scat nearby, or in the bed.

Deer tracks can be seen even in dry dusty conditions; once you train your eye, you’ll see them everywhere.

Look at bushes in your park.  Check on plants like Dogwood; look at deer munching height (eye level on a human adult).  Often you will be able to see where the tips of branches and vegetation have been chewed, or browsed. 

Deer are crepuscular, meaning they are likely to be active in the early morning and early evening.  Taking a walk in your park at these times of day could increase your chances of seeing deer.  Bucks, or males, can also be active at night, especially during the rut.  Bucks drop their antlers in the winter, after the rut, and you can look for these “sheds” in the woods in your park too (get ‘em before the mice do).

More info about Whitetails: MN DNR

Great places to see deer in the metro:

Dodge Nature Center, West Saint Paul
Lebanon Hills, Eagan
Ritter Farm Park, Lakeville
Steve Michaud Park, Lakeville
Murphy-Hanrehan, Lakeville & Savage
Terrace Oaks, Burnsville
Tamarack Nature Center, White Bear Lake
Afton State Park, Afton
Carpenter Nature Center, Afton/Hastings

Happy Tracking!