Local(ish) Earth Day Events

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This year’s Earth Day falls on a Monday (this April 22, to be specific). Taking the time off to properly celebrate our communal home may be difficult because of that. However, with the Easter weekend taking place directly before Earth Day, finding the time may be easier. In fact, many of the events celebrating Earth Day will be held during this upcoming weekend.

So, if you’re out of ideas for things to do for Earth Day, here are a few highlights to give you a head start.

Local Events:

Metro Events:

Many Statewide Locations:

  • Saturday, April 20-Monday April 22. 167 State Parks Across MN. Any Time – One of the best things about living in Minnesota is the variety of landscapes we have. To the forested areas to the North to the plains to the South, you can find a location that speaks to you. Dotted throughout Minnesota are 167 state parks. From historical locations to sites that celebrate our state’s natural beauty, there are so many to choose from. You’ll be sure to find one to your liking. All you gotta do is get outside!

 

 

 

Soil Health for Earth Day

By Allison Rian

My 6 year-old daughter wanted to help make soil mix for planting vegetable seeds this weekend. As we got our hands dirty mixing compost, peat, and nutrients, and then adding water, I was treated to a passionate oration on the importance of plants for food and trees for clean and fresh air. (I was one proud mama.) “It all starts with the seed,” she told me. “What about the soil?” I asked her. “The seed grows in the soil,” she answered.

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My 6 year-old helping prep for garlic planting last fall.

Yes, the trees and plants grow in the soil, but it is more than just a medium. It is a living ecosystem, capable of providing the essentials of life to plants and animals. Leonardo Da Vinci said, “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” True in the Renaissance Period and still true now.  

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Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 21 (Part1): Foraging 101, a Q&A With Travis Grimler

A few weeks ago, we were able to sit down with local news reporter Travis Grimler, who is fanatical for foraging! We chatted with Travis for over 90 minutes and picked up so much good information, we were able to split the recording into two episodes. This is the first part.

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Travis brought a bunch of foraging books and examples to the recording.

In this episode, we talk about proper foraging safety, nutrients vs calories, and even The Walking Dead.

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Earth Day, a History

In 1969, Americans were preoccupied with the divisive Vietnam War. But another battle was occurring on the home front, with rivers and lakes polluted, cities like Los Angeles blanketed in smog, and litter a common sight everywhere.

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US Senator Gaylord Nelson was instrumental in the creation of Earth Day.

Meanwhile Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson had witnessed the effects of the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Nelson, a Democrat, decided a “national teach-in” about the environment was in order, and he asked Pete McCloskey, a northern California Republican, to serve as co-chair. Groups representing causes including oil spill prevention, air pollution, toxic dumps, wilderness destruction and endangered species began to realize they were all part of a greater movement.

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Turtle Talks Podcast – Episode 20: Water Scarcity and You, a Q&A With Bob McLean

We are very fortunate at Happy Dancing Turtle to have leaders who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty. In this episode, we were able to sit down with our very own Principal Executive Officer, Bob McLean, who is also the District Governor Elect for Rotary District 5580.

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The Bob and Colin Show. We’ll see how long it takes to get into syndication. 

We were able to talk about the looming problem of water scarcity, which is troubling many parts of the world, but we also talked about the many people and service organizations that are working very hard to help solve that problem.

We also talk about how you can act locally to help these water stressed areas.

 

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Water, Water Everywhere

Happy Dancing Turtle is fortunate to be located in the middle of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Actually, it’s 11,842 lakes, but who’s counting. A person can hardly drive a mile down the road without passing a lake, pond, river, or stream, often seeing one or the other on both sides of the road. With such an abundance of water around us, it can be easy to take it for granted, which is exactly the reason we make it a point to include lessons on water in all of our youth educational programs.

Starting with our youngest learners, preschoolers at Tiny Turtles learn that around 60% of their bodies are composed of water, which always blows their minds! From there, they brainstorm the different ways that not only people but plants and animals as well, use water. Finally, we discuss different ways that we can use less water, not letting the water run while brushing your teeth being the easiest for them to relate to!

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Tiny Turtles seeing how much of their body is made of water.

Second graders in area schools get a water lesson as well, when Happy Dancing Turtle staff visit their classrooms to teach them about the water cycle and all of the different places on Earth that water is found. One of the kids’ favorite facts every time is that (for all practical purposes) there is the same amount of water on Earth now as there was millions of years ago and that the water they drank after gym just might be the same water that a dinosaur drank!

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Conserving Water in Your Garden

One of the most difficult problems that gardeners face is proper use of water. They either use too much or too little. The ones that use too much will set a sprinkler on and forget about it during the day (wasting way too much water) and the ones that use too little simply forget to set the sprinkler out (for those keeping track, I’m one of ’em!)

So, what do you do if you are either of these bad examples? Do you simply wait for the rain? No! You prepare your garden with a drip irrigation system.

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HDT has their gardens hooked up with hundreds of feet of drip irrigation hoses. Easy to monitor and maintain.

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Outdoor Adventures: Tracking Animals in Winter

Siggy walk .jpgA large majority of my free time is spent wandering through the woods and fields with my dog in tow (alright, normally I’m the one in tow as he impatiently waits for me to keep up). Although I am occasionally rewarded with a neat critter sighting, most of the time, my pup does a pretty good job scaring off any wildlife within the vicinity. Instead, I’m left to look for signs that animals have been there: tracks, scat (the very scientific word for poo), feathers, bones, nests or other homes, rubs, scrapes, chewing marks, etc. Of course, this is assuming my dog hasn’t destroyed and/or eaten any of the artifacts before I can find them. During the summer, when our landscapes are bursting with vegetation, birds, insects, and more, these signs can be hard to notice! Unless you’re traversing a mud pit, tracks largely disappear in the carpet of last year’s leaves, grasses, and under story plants. But in winter, if it’s snowy,  it’s like a veil has been lifted and animals are no longer capable of sneaking about undetected. Suddenly our yards, forests, and fields come alive with activity, all documented by footprints left behind. Following animal tracks in the snow is one of my all time favorite winter activities (… okay, I love everything about winter).

Deer and Turkey TracksSo how do you begin to know what kind of tracks you’re looking at? We’re going to break it down for you. Chances are, if the track is in the snow, it belongs to a bird or a mammal. Our reptiles and amphibians are hibernating for winter and our fish obviously don’t leave tracks in the snow. Bird tracks, as a group, are pretty easy to identify and we’re not going to delve into identifying bird tracks by species. I’m not sure that anybody delves into that! So the first thing you need, is a field guide to mammals in you area (see resources at the bottom). Once you identify a few characteristics, the list of potential mammalian suspects narrows pretty quickly. First, there are two major things a beginner tracker needs to observe.

  1. Clear, Individual Print –  Yes, it must be clear! Not all snow is going to provide you with a crisp print. Super dry, light, fluffy snow isn’t the best for tracks. Neither is super deep snow, as the actual track is so far down you can’t see it. If you don’t have a clear print with distinct details, skip ahead to number 2. If you do find a high quality print, there are 4 aspects you want to observe: toes, shape, claws, and size.  

A. Number of toes – groups of mammals can be identified by how many toes are in the print. Some mammals may have different numbers of front and back toes, so be careful!

B. Overall shape – Is the track mostly round? Oval? Does it look human-like, but tiny? Is it heart-shaped? Are the toes very long and skinny? Noticing the overall shape can help identify the correct group of mammals. Many animals have differently shaped front and hind tracks – do you see two different shapes?

C. Claws – are there claw marks present? These can be very difficult to see at times, but they can also be really helpful, especially when identifying between dog and cat groups (cats have retractable claws, so they typically don’t show in their prints).

D. Size – It can be very useful to bring a small measuring tool with you on your walks to determine the front and hind track size.  Make sure if you see two different prints, as in a front and hind track, to measure both if you can. If you don’t have a measuring tool with you, try to get a picture with something in it for scale so you have an idea later how big or small the print was.

Mammal Track Summary Chart

This is a helpful summary chart & quick reference for individual mammal tracks.

2. The Track Pattern – Even if you have deep snow or unclear prints, you can usually still study the track pattern, or the gait of the animal. There are four basic track patterns: walking, galloping, bounding, or waddling.

A. Diagonal Walking – Created when an animal moves its right hand and left foot at the same time, then its left hand and right foot at the same time. Tracks are fairly equally spaced and appear as “double” prints. Diagonal walkers include: cats, dogs, hoofed animals, opossums, and badgers. You’ll also want to note the stride, or the distance between two hind tracks. Strides of diagonal walkers are typically about the shoulder to hip distance of an animal, so this can help you quickly identify the relative size of the animal that left the print.

Diagonal Walker

Direct Register: When the hind track lands directly on top of the front track. Includes cats and fox.

Indirect Register: When the hind track overlaps a little behind the front track. Includes all other diagonal walkers.

B. Galloping –  Created when the larger hind feet land in front of the smaller hind feet. Gallopers include: rabbits/hares, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, & shrews.

gallop walkers

C. Bounding – Created when the front feed land together at the same time, and then the back feet land where the front feet were. Bounders include: weasels, otter, mink, marten, & fishers.

Bounder

D. Waddling (aka Pace Walking) – Created when the weight of an animal shifts from side to side – both the right hand and foot move forward, then both the left hand and foot move forward. Waddlers tend to be heavy-set mammals, including: bears, porcupine, muskrat, raccoons, beavers, & skunks.

Gait patterns

Keep in mind, these are general rules for walking animals and there are always exceptions to rules! In addition, the speed of the animal and the terrain can affect the track pattern created. These general rules should be used for walking animals on relatively flat ground. Once you’ve mastered this, you can dig deeper into tracks made at various speeds and so on.

Here are some of the tracks I’ve come across in my wanderings.

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So head out there and enjoy! Take a small ruler or measuring device, a notebook, and a small camera on your wanderings. Then you can always ID them later, hopefully by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate!

Resources That May Help! 

Books:

Mammals of Minnesota Field Guide – Stan Tekiela

Mammals of the North Woods (Naturalist Series) – Roger Powell

The Tracker’s Field Guide: A Comprehensive Manual for Animal Tracking – James Lowery ** Would highly recommend if you’re ready to move beyond the basics!

Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Signs – Paul Rezendes

 

Websites:

Outdoor Action – Princeton University

The Wilderness Arena

And, surprisingly, The United States Search and Rescue Task Force 

If you’re having trouble with an ID, have a good picture, and are in Minnesota – try posting it on this KAXE Season Watch Facebook group – there are a lot of eager & knowledgeable people who will help you out!

Cold Weather Comfort Foods

As a lifelong resident of the Midwest, I’ve come to the realization that there is no escaping winter. It will have it’s way with you. Some people have chosen to embrace it, like our beloved Nora, who can be seen, even on the most cold and daylight deprived days, out frolicking in the ice and snow.

Other, more rational, people have made the choice to fight against the oppressive, bitter winds and the unrelenting below-zero temperatures by turning to the kitchen. There, they’ve fortified themselves through the magical art called “Comfort Food.”

I’ve asked the staff here at HDT if they have a food or recipe they use that combats the onslaught of red noses and frosty feet, and I got a bunch of goods ones. If you have any you’d like to share, please comment below!

Gluhwein

gluhweinAllison R. talks about her favorite comfort food and reminisces a bit about when she first experienced it. She says she first tried Gluhwein (“Glow Wine”) while walking a Christmas market in Germany while visiting her husband, while he was on leave. She loves the hot, citrusy, and spicy flavor. She claims it makes you warm from the inside-out.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 medium orange
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
  • 20 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry red wine
  • Rum or amaretto, for serving (optional)
Directions:
  1. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange in wide strips, taking care to avoid the white pith; set aside. Juice the orange and set the juice aside.
  2. Combine the water and sugar in a large, nonreactive saucepan and boil until the sugar has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat and add cloves, cinnamon, star anise, orange zest, and orange juice. Simmer until a fragrant syrup forms. Takes about 1 minute.
  3. Reduce the heat further and add the wine. Let it barely simmer for at least 20 minutes but up to a few hours. Keep an eye out so it doesn’t reach a full simmer.
  4. Strain and serve in small mugs, adding a shot of rum or amaretto and garnishing with the orange peel and star anise if desired.

Shepherds Pie

shepherdspieIn my book, for a recipe to be considered “comfort food” it has to fulfill two requirements: 1) Is it warm? 2) Is it filling?

This shepherds pie hits both of these criteria in stride. After you’ve had a long day of either slogging through the ice fields on Greenland or the green fields of Iceland, you’re going to be happy to dig into this bad boy.

Ingredients:
  • 2 lbs freshly ground burger
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 4 carrots coarsley chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1-2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 oz frozen peas
  • 2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 tablespoons butter
Directions:
  1. Preheat over to 425F. Heat a large skillet over high heat. In two batches, cook burger until no longer pink, about five minutes each. Transfer burger to a colander set in a bowl; let fat drain off and discard.
  2. Add 1/4 cup water to the skillet, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium; add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (about 5 minutes). Stir in tomato paste. Add flour, cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
  3. Add Worchestershire sauce, 2 cups water, and burger. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in peas; cook 1 minute. Divide among eight 8-oz ramekins; or two 9-inch glass pie dishes.
  4. Potato Topping: In a medium saucepan, cover potatoes with salted water by 1 inch; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer until fork tender (about 15-20 minutes). Drain.
  5. In pan, bring milk and butter to a simmer, remove from heat. Return potatoes; mash. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Spread potato topping over pies; use a fork to make peaks. Bake on a baking sheet until tops are browned, 25-30 minutes. Cool slightly, serve.

 

Cornish Pastie

I asked around the staff and our resident chef, Chris G. came up with this neat little recipe. He said it reminded him of gatherings, church basements, and the way that a good meal can bring people together, which he claims is the true meaning of comfort food.

Ingredients:
  • pasty1-1/2 lbs pie crust
  • 1 lb chuck steak cubed
  • 6 oz potato cubed
  • 6 oz rutabaga cubed
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp savory
  • 1/2 tsp sage
  • pinch salt & pepper
  • 1 egg (beaten)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Divide dough into 6, roll out into round shapes
  2. Mix steak, veggies, herbs & season. Then spoon equal amounts onto crusts
  3. Brush edges with water then pinch together firmly, (it must seal!)
  4. Transfer pasties to a lined baking sheet. Brush each pasty with egg, then place in oven.
  5. Cook for 15 minutes at 425F, then reduce heat to 325F and then cook for an hour.