Saturday, May 28, 2011

Where would you spend the end of the world?

Thanks for bearing with a reduced Natural Capital schedule during some crazy 60 hour weeks at my day job.

It's been almost a week since the world didn't end, but I've been thinking about this question ever since last Saturday afternoon, when Matt and I went to go see the mountain laurels blooming at our favorite DC-area mountain laurel location. All through our walk we kept saying, "this would not be a bad way to spend the end of the world." Looking at beautiful flowers together, in one of our favorite places.

Where were you last Saturday on that beautiful spring afternoon? And how would you spend this weekend if you really thought the world was going to end?

Friday, May 20, 2011


I know, I took a week off and I come back with ticks? That's no fun. But you really should look for them. On yourself. Regularly.

tick chart
Credit: CDC
We now know three people in the DC area who have had Lyme disease. One otherwise healthy adult friend of ours who ended up in the hospital for several miserable days of fever, extreme body aches, vomiting, and misdiagnoses before the doctors figured it out. A two year old who had several days of fever and rashes. And another adult who got Bell's Palsy, a complication of Lyme that paralyzes half your face.

All got better with antibiotics. But seriously, have you had a high fever (or paralysis) lately? Why even go there?

To transmit the disease, a tick must remain attached to you for at least 24 hours. So if you check yourself regularly for ticks after going outside, your chances of getting the disease are a lot lower. If you find a tick, pull it out with tweezers, without twisting.

And don't freak out, you probably got it in time. My tick bites usually start itching within a few hours of having been outside, which helps find them. But if you develop a high fever that doesn't seem explained by a cold, tell your doctor you spend a lot of time outside. The textbook description of Lyme disease shows a bull's eye rash, but NONE of our three friends had one, at least not that they ever noticed.

According to the CDC (above), we're on the edge of the biggest hot spot in the country for this stuff. So don't mess around.

To prevent ticks in the first place, the most foolproof technique is to wear long pants tucked into tube socks when you're walking in the woods. (How realistic is that in the DC summer?) Your other option is to use insect repellent, especially around shoes, socks, and lower legs.

Have you found a tick on you this season? Do you know someone who's had Lyme disease? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is it time to reassess the Natural Capital Calendar?

UPDATE: I continue to be completely slammed at my "real" job, so I'm leaving this poll open a little while longer. Please give us feedback! The Natural Capital posts that you love will be back soon, I promise.

How do you use the Natural Capital calendar?

Which calendar items are you most interested in?

(folks reading in RSS and email: those two questions are polls...if you don't see them, come on over to our post and give us your answers!)

The last couple weeks have been a perfect storm of super-busy at my day job, plus amazing weather that has me doing anything but looking at a computer when I'm not at work. And I've fallen a little behind...okay, a lot behind... on keeping our nifty Natural Capital calendar up-to-date.

With all the great info people send me, I'm now up to over 50 organizations on my calendar list (see our calendar page). As much fun as I have seeing what everyone is up to, this has gotten way beyond what I'm able to do for fun, even when I'm not super-busy at work.

I'd love to ask the organizations or Natural Capital reader-volunteers to help put things on our calendar but I can't figure out how to set that up in Google Calendar (my current platform). Does anyone out there have any tech savvy ideas for how to set this up?

Any other ideas or feedback on our calendar? I'm all ears...

Friday, May 6, 2011

When it all comes together

We've lived in this house for six years. In that time, we've removed grass and weeds from probably 5000 square feet, planted hundreds of plants, and hauled many, many truckloads of leaf mulch from the Takoma Park DPW. This is not a is good work, restorative work for us and for this tiny piece of land. (Plus, it serves as propagation for our landscaping business.)

All this time, we've also been studying the world of nature: reading books and going on walks with other people who know about lots of cool stuff and looking things up for this blog...and just watching and listening and spending lots of time outdoors.

And then, sometimes, everything just seems to come together.

The flowers are blooming, and a sphinx moth is feeding on them.

Woodpeckers are visiting the feeder. (They've found something nearby to drum on that has the timbre of a marimba, much better than the metallic tone of our gutters.)

A bess beetle comes out from under its log and starts walking across the yard.

A yellow-rumped warbler stops by to take a bath in our pond.

And an oriole comes and starts taking nesting material from the old flowerstalks.

Somehow, knowing what all this stuff is makes us appreciate it all the much more. We know how hard it can be to spot an oriole since they're usually up in the tree canopy. We know that funny drumming noise is probably one of the woodpeckers that we've been feeding. We know that the sphinx moth's larval host plant was probably the muscadine grape vine in our garden.

And all this, dear friends, is another reason I love writing this blog every week. I hope we've helped you appreciate something you've seen this spring a little more by knowing something more about it. We'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Family Hiking 101

This is a guest post by Jennifer Chambers, founder of Hiking Along. Do you want to contribute to the Natural Capital? Email us at

Do these questions or thoughts enter your mind when you think of a “family hike?”
  • How do I fit another activity into my overscheduled family calendar?
  • There are dangerous things in the woods.
  •  I don’t know where to go hiking. Where are the closest and best trails for my beginning family?
  • I have never been on a hike before. How do I start?
The word “hike” can be intimidating to parents. Some parents visualize scenes of skyscraper mountains, deep canyons and vast, never ending forests. Big scenes that can be a little scary. Some parents can’t visualize anything because they don’t have a point of reference or connection.

Let’s break the word down and use the less intimidating word of “walk.” More parents can visualize this word – a walk down their neighborhood street (with or without the dog), in a neighborhood park, or along the beach. These are known, provide a point of reference, and create a connection. Now, think of a walk in the woods, along a stream, to a pond, in a wetland, or many other possible places.

A hike is synonymous with it takes a long time to do - an all day event. Whereas a walk means a shorter period of time – an hour....When does your family have an hour in its schedule? Where is the nearest trail to walk for an hour?

A family hike in the woods in Bandelier National Monument
Photo credit: wfryer
Many sites or resources aren't geared to help families navigate which trails or “walks in the woods” are best for kids, but below are some.
Don’t feel comfortable taking your family for a walk in the woods because danger lurks around the next tree or you have never taken a hike? Don’t fear, Washington DC and many major cities have organizations that guide families to explore and experience fun adventures on kid-friendly trails. These hikes provide opportunities for parents to feel comfortable in an unfamiliar activity in an unknown place and everyone can participate in unstructured play in a structured event. There are many on the Natural Capital calendar, or check out this hike I'm leading.

Family Hiking 101: Exploration, Safety and Leave No Trace
Sunday, May 15, 2011
2:00 – 5:00 pm
Join two expert guides from Hiking Along and The North Face on a two mile circuit hike around the perimeter of Theodore Roosevelt Island. The trail is natural surface and raised walkways through two ecosystems, a deciduous forest and wetlands. The hike is great for children of all ages with fun natural playgrounds: rocks for climbing, water for skipping rocks, and the monument plaza for a game of hide and seek. While hiking, learn about hiking safety, Leave No Trace, and the plants and animals surrounding the trail. Enjoy an afternoon in the middle of the Potomac River engaging in the great outdoors! The cost is $15 per family. To register, email

This spring, make it a family goal to venture outside of your familiar comfort zone and embark on a hike or a walk, if that word feels more comfortable. Seek out the extraordinary amount of resources available both on the web and with organizations whose mission it is to get more people, including families, outdoors. Hiking isn’t a scary word in your family? Then, step it up a notch and venture to adventure on a new level or outdoor activity. Happy trails!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Calendar: Mushrooms, Flowers, and other Wild Edibles

This week's picks are all about wild edibles: our favorite way to explore the outdoors!

Morels and Tomato in Pinot Noir Reduction with Artichoke Pasta
Morels and Tomato in Pinot Noir Reduction by norwichnuts
Tuesday is the annual wild food tasting of the Mycological Association of Washington, at the Kensington Library. A couple of dozen cooks come out and cook up delicacies made from mushrooms and other wild edibles (venison, anyone?) in a spirit of friendly competition. It seems like it just gets better every year. $20 if you're not already a MAW member; $10 for non-cooking members; free for members who bring food (just be sure to read the rules).

Wednesday night at Meadowside Nature Center, there will be a presentation on the American Chestnut Foundation's efforts to breed a blight-resistant chestnut tree that might one day replace the once-dominant and food-producing trees that were wiped out in the early 1900s by an imported blight. I've heard stories of people making it through the Depression largely off the nuts of this once-amazing tree. Free.

We haven't highlighted our own wild edibles walks lately because they've been full well before they come along...but there are still a few spots left on Sunday afternoon's "Shoots and Flowers" walk. We'll sample milkweed "asparagus," locust flowers, and whatever else we can find. If you've never had the experience of eating sweet flowers off a tree by the fistful, you might want to join us. $20.

As always, there's plenty more on the calendar. Enjoy!