Favorite Animals: A List
Published on June 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

10. Alligators

9. Monkeys

8. Sloths

7. Bald Eagles

6. Deer

5. Seals

4. Dolphins

3. Raccoons

2. Turtles

1. Bears

Of Bathtubs and Herbs
Published on June 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley offers some insight into the art of growing herbs in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"If you don’t have room for a garden, containers are a good way to keep fresh herbs on hand, and fresh herbs in your supper and your salad is one of the easiest ways to bring summer into your home. Last weekend we had several extra visitors at dinner, and we stretched out our salad of baby lettuce and spinach with mint, lemon balm, oregano, chives and wild amaranth. It was so good that the next night we made a salad of mostly herbs, with just a little lettuce mixed in.

We’ve made fine container herb gardens in strawberry pots — those tall terra cotta pots with a series of openings in the sides. Each opening can hold another herb — parsley, rosemary, thyme or whatever you love most — and the top can hold taller herbs like chives or basil. One year we gave one to the friend our hen KinKin is named after, and she kept it on the steps outside her kitchen door. She could step outside and pinch fresh herbs as she was cooking."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Feline Houdini
Published on June 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I wonder whether there's any advantage to owning an intelligent cat.

My conclusion: No.

Here's an excerpt:

"My cats are both about 13 years old, which means that they’re getting on in years and should be slowing down. But from what I can tell, they’re just as energetic as ever, with the exception of when they were kittens. For instance, my cat Paul is so spry and lively that she could be mistaken for a much younger cat. I’ve begun to fear that she will never die.

After all these years, I sometimes delude myself into thinking that I’ve got my cats figured out. But that is not the case. Paul has recently developed a new annoying habit of bolting outside whenever the front door opens, and sitting in the window meowing to go out after I capture her and close all the doors. (I usually leave the door to my apartment open so that my cats can run around the hallway.) What mystifies me is the sudden fascination with the outdoors. Since I rescued her from an alley in Birmingham, Ala., this cat has spent very little time outside. Now she decides to protest her imprisonment?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Dark Side of Penguins
Published on June 11, 2012 by Sara Foss

Long-suppressed research on unusual sexual activities among penguins is finally being made public. Apparently, biologist George Murray Levick's report was too shocking for the post-Edwardian era, and his findings were removed from official accounts of the 1910 trip.

Shocking stuff!

Click here to learn more.

Summer Traditions
Published on June 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about summer traditions.

Here's an excerpt:

"The first hot days of summer came early this year, a month before real summer, not as a tease but as a promise.

The long weekend last week felt like summer vacation — we went swimming in the lake, worked for hours in the gardens, took long walks and short bike rides, sat outside at night by the fire pot and forgot what day it was.

It wasn’t really summer vacation. The water was cold and so were the evenings, and we had to go back to work or school too soon.

But then we had summer-style thunderstorms, with hail and wind that blew the tent around the front yard and tossed the plant shelf when its plastic covering became a sail. No damage done, just the excitement of pulling instantly flooded tomato plants out of what had become a bag of water. And the feel of a summer evening."

Click here to read more.

Planting Time
Published on May 30, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the planting season in her weekly column, Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"Beyond the parades and backyard picnics, the flags and the hotdogs, Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time for garden planting.

Some of you, those in the tropics of Albany and Schenectady, may have already put in your tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other heat-loving plants that cannot tolerate a frost.

Up north where I live, we prefer to wait. Our plants are growing nicely in their little pots, strawberry boxes and coffee cups, staying out in the day and getting tucked in at night like the babies that they are.

Our garden beds are ready for them but really, it doesn’t hurt to wait. Where they are — hanging out in a plastic-covered shelving unit that we refer to as the incubator — they are gaining size, girth and root systems, and a lot faster than they would in the still-warming soil.

And we’ve been known to have frost as late as June 6, although that’s not likely this year."

Click here to read the whole thing.

A Pile of Pill Bottles
Published on May 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes talks about the challenges of recycling pill bottles ... as well as the useful things you can do with them.

Here's an excerpt:

"Ever since my husband acquired a few chronic health conditions, we have developed a chronic prescription pill bottle problem.

They keep coming in. The pharmacies won’t refill them, so every month more and more show up at our house.
Of course, they are useful little bottles, straight sided with lids that screw on tightly, and we are lucky enough to receive three different sizes. Or four, or even five some months. They are handy for holding small things, including nails, bolts, screws, hair pins, seeds, fishing hooks or those little gripper things that pop off our ice creepers and need to be put back on.

Our tool boxes and junk drawers are full of the bottles, stripped of their labels and marked with content info with a Sharpie: 'okra seeds,' 'thumb tacks,' 'roofing nails.' The tackle box has a few, the seed drawer has more. There are some in the freezer and spice cabinet, holding caraway seeds and xanthan gum, and in the sewing box, holding pins and buttons.

Click here to read the whole thing.

Carnival of the Chickens
Published on May 14, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about chickens, and their quirky antics.

Here's an excerpt:

"Four chickens huddled together, braced themselves, then marched out as a pack, tails up, heads poking forward with each step of their orange legs. A stray hen scurried out from another corner of the yard, peeking warily over her shoulder, and the four biddies reacted as one: squawking, clucking, shushing and finally herding and prodding the stray hen back into the group.

It could have been our own backyard.

Instead it was on stage, at a rehearsal of my daughter’s ballet company’s production of 'Carnival of the Animals.'

'That chicken dance is spot on,' I told my daughter who, for the record, is a swan.

Observers — and impersonators — of animals look for the telltale movements or postures that differentiate a chicken from, say, a duck. Or a swan."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Corn For the Table, or the Tank
Published on May 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her column Greenpoint over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the use of corn for ethanol, rising food prices and the benefits of growing your own food.

Here's an excerpt:

"It’s almost time to plant the corn — and I’m talking about corn in our own gardens, grown for food, not fuel.

But the use of corn for ethanol has changed our food supply, and is changing how people eat and how much. And it’s affecting food prices.

It stands to reason. If fertile agricultural land is being used to grow corn for ethanol, it’s taking land out of food production. Subsidies for ethanol keep corn prices high, which also makes animal feed expensive, which makes meat expensive.

Of course, there are a lot of things affecting food prices. The World Bank reported late last month that rising fuel costs, bad weather in Europe and the United States, and increasing demand in Asia combined to push food prices up 8 percent worldwide between December and March. Because our food supply is no longer local, problems far from home — tsunamis in Japan, droughts in Australia — affect both prices and supply in our local stores.

The globalization of our food supply is not all bad, of course. It keeps us in oranges and coffee, and gives us cheap rice and cinnamon."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Trees For Birds
Published on May 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her column Greenpoint over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the fondness birds have for trees, and how planting trees is a good way to attract birds.

Here's an excerpt:

"In the Faroe islands, there are no native trees. A series of volcano tops sticking out of the North Atlantic about halfway between Scotland and Iceland, the Faroes are naturally home to grasses and some shrubby plants — good sheep country.

But over the past century, people have been planting trees there, in areas sheltered enough from the winds that they can take root and grow, albeit slowly. These trees offer shelter to the sheep, but also something else: a comfortable hangout for migrating birds.

Like other islands in the North Atlantic — the Shetlands, the Hebrides, Iceland — the Faroes are a natural landing zone for all kinds of migrating birds. Faroese birder and blogger Silas Olofson says those migrations can make the islands loaded with birds sometimes, and almost empty at others. The tree plantations (the U.N. estimates them at about a total of 200 acres) offer an added incentive for touring birds to land on the Faroes, and to hang out for a while."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Bear Attack
Published on April 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

My favorite story of the day brings together bears and the media.

Go Outside And Celebrate Earth Day
Published on April 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about Earth Day, spending time outside and how daunting changing the world can be.

Click here to read it.

Good News About Bats
Published on April 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

I like bats. I don't want them flying around my home or anything, but I appreciate the fact that they exist, because they're interesting - how could a flying mammal that uses echolocation to interpret its surroundings not be interesting? - and because they eat mosquitoes.

My fondness for bats explains why I was so saddened when bats began dying due to a mysterious illness known as white nose syndrome. White nose syndrome was discovered in caves outside Albany, and eventually spread to 19 states and Canada. Nobody knew what caused it, but it was decimating the bat population.

A few years ago, I traveled to the Adirondacks with scientists who were capturing and releasing bats, recording information about them and looking for signs of white nose syndrome. I was there as a reporter, but I did end up helping out a bit, which might explain why I feel so concerned about bats, and don't want them to keep dying - once you've assisted scientists in taking a bat census, you feel invested in the future of the species.


Dreaming Of Gardening
Published on April 17, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about her love of gardening.

Here's an excerpt:

"From spring through fall, my family is thinking garden. I’ve been planting a few more seeds every morning in whatever used containers I’ve saved — plastic clamshells from strawberries, foam containers from mushrooms. All the paper coffee cups mined from my husband’s car floor are cleaned and ready for when it’s time to transplant tomatoes and peppers into individual pots.

In the morning I look at a window full of 1-inch sprouts, but what I see is full grown plants out in the garden, heavy with ripening vegetables.

I see gardens wherever I go, and where there aren’t gardens, I imagine them.

When we pick up the neighbor kid for school in the morning, I look at his sloping, south-facing lawn and see terraced gardens. The grass is spotty there anyway, and interspersed with moss, so I imagine sweetening the soil with wood ash and dumping piles of well-composted manure, maybe building up terraces with stone edges. I see it overflowing with vines of eggplants and squashes, poles of beans and tomatoes, edged in the back by towering sunflowers.

Then my daughter brings me back to earth.

'I don’t think they want a garden,' she says."

Click here to read the whole thing.

City Birds Sing Louder
Published on April 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her column at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how the birds in the city are singing louder, to be heard above the noise of traffic.

Here's an excerpt:

"When visitors from more populated areas sleep over at our house they are always surprised at how loud the birds can be. The mornings start with a call or two, then erupt into whistles and shouts as the avian opera fills the air. Nights are loud too, with woodcocks and owls trying to drown out the frogs and coyotes.

It reminds me of the city mouse-country mouse story, where the city mouse came to the country for peace and quiet but couldn’t tolerate the noise of birds and animals.

That city mouse would be surprised to know that birds in the city are louder than birds in the country.

A study published in this month’s Animal Behaviour journal found that city birds have altered their songs to be heard above the noise of traffic. Two biology professors — David Luther of George Mason University in Virginia and Elizabeth Derryberry of Tulane University in New Orleans — studied sparrows in San Francisco, comparing their calls from the late 1960s with today’s sounds, and tracking increases in traffic."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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