That Yard had been visited by a Turkey, but not yet by a Turkey Vulture.
These large birds are often seen soaring over highways, looking for carrion. They are distinguishable from other large soaring birds by three main traits. First, they have red heads. Second, they fly with their wings lifted upwards in a V shape. And third, when seen from underneath their wings are two colors: dark along the leading edge, and silvery along the trailing edge.
Vultures aren’t the most popular birds, but they provide an important service. Few other animals are able to eat not-so-fresh carcasses. Without vultures, we’d have to clean up a lot more roadkill ourselves.
Nurseries and garden stores are often stocked with ornamental exotics – many of them pre-treated with pesticides. Healthy native plants can be harder to find. These sources are local, well-established, and happy to send free catalogs:
If you’d rather grow edibles, Seed Savers Exchange specializes in heirloom varieties of herbs and vegetables.
Native plant sales are another great source, and tend to occur in the spring. The Plant Dane! program offers plants by pre-order only; order forms may be submitted until March 23. Another upcoming plant sale will be mentioned in next week’s post.
That Blog does not endorse any particular source of native plants.
Snow: It gets dumped on your property uninvited, and you have to clean it up. Can we find any reasons to see snow as a resource instead of as a problem?
One reason to see snow as a resource is that it can help you learn about your site conditions. Yes, you already know you live in a snowy climate. But look more closely at the fresh powder before you shovel or blow it away. What animals have visited your yard, looking for food and shelter to help them survive the winter? Maybe you can find the distinctive tracks of rabbits. (The tracks may lead to a little pile of dung. This will become great fertilizer for your plants in the spring.)
Also notice the pattern of snowfall. Where is the snow piled up? This tells you how wind moves across your property. Where is the snow already melting? This is the warmest spot in your yard – a sunny place, or maybe a leak in your insulation.
A second reason to see snow as a resource is that – somewhat counterintuitively – it improves your insulation. Being mostly air pockets, snow is great at trapping heat. A thick blanket of it on your roof helps keep warmth from escaping through the attic. How wonderful of Nature to throw some extra insulation on our houses, just when we need it!
It may be hard to think of snow as helping us stay warm, when it’s so cold – especially because the presence of snow makes the whole planet colder. This is because one factor affecting the average temperature of the Earth is albedo, or reflectiveness. Light-colored features, like snow and ice, reflect more of the Sun’s energy back into space than dark-colored features do. When more solar energy goes back into space, the Earth stays cooler. In other words, letting a layer of white snow stay on your black driveway helps fight climate change!
To answer the question from the last post, consider the benefits of snow when deciding how much of it needs to be moved. You may find that a few minutes of shoveling strikes the best balance between the advantages and frustrations of our bountiful Wisconsin snow.
From an environmental perspective, the answer is clear: Snowblowers consume fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, while shovels are powered by carbon-neutral human labor.
From a health perspective, the answer is a little more complicated. The strenuous physical effort involved in shoveling can cause heart attacks. For this reason, some people choose the easier task of walking behind a snowblower.
However, the exhaust from snowblowers can also contribute to heart attacks. While the person operating the snowblower gets the heaviest dose of fumes, other people nearby also breathe in the unhealthy exhaust, so their risk of heart attack goes up too.
Similarly, both the person operating the snowblower and other people in the neighborhood are negatively affected by the snowblower’s noise.
What is the most appropriate technology for clearing snow? One part of the answer is to consider how much snow really needs to be cleared. This question will be the topic of the next post.
Many people move to the suburbs looking for peace and quiet. Unfortunately, over the past few decades suburbs have become increasingly noisy places to live. Much of this noise comes from yard equipment.
Noise is not often discussed as a health issue. However, it is known that noisy conditions cause stress. Human beings are very resilient, and adapt to most kinds of stressful conditions. However, evidence suggests that people do not adapt to noise: they continue to be stressed by it until the noise stops. Stress from any cause is a risk factor for heart attacks.
How loud is yard equipment? A gas-powered push mower can exceed 100 decibels – loud enough to cause hearing damage over time. And the noise carries: a person mowing a quarter-acre lawn can be heard across 100 acres of neighborhood.
Replacing motorized mowers and blowers with unmotorized equipment would help to restore the quiet neighborhoods suburbanites are looking for. Replacing lawns with native plants would go one step further, offering us the musical chirping of birds instead of the roar of machines.