Par Rasmussen, Earth Steward

Par's personal journey to earth stewardship inspires me.  What you don't see in this video is that Par has spent his life in service caring for Creation.  His motto, "Let's do service!", isn't just a tag line on his emails, it is what he does daily. I hope you'll enjoy this video he has created -- the first of what we hope will become many as we lift each other in our efforts to serve our Creator and creation.

Sky Gratitude

 Image photo from Benjamin Davies.

Image photo from Benjamin Davies.

My father taught us to marvel at the changing cloud patterns and sunrise and sunsets with gratitude to our Creator. Have you been inspired by the sky's molten mirror?  Here are some sky images to inspire -- please send me a photo of a sky that has inspired you and I'll post it here.  (merikays@verizon.net)  

Click on the photo below to see slideshow.  Photos from Terri Pitts, Ralph Johnson (2), Matthew Wahlquist, Merikay Smith (4).

Venus Flytrap

A young friend has asked me to post about the Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant that is native to our region.  I remember on one of our beach trips walking on a trail where signage indicated we might see the Venus flytrap which is found in North and South Carolina, primarily within a 60 mile perimeter of Wilmington.  

Photos above show the open flytrap and the plant's small flower.   Dionaea muscipula catches its prey—chiefly insects and spiders—with a trapping structure triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap prepares to close, snapping shut only if another contact occurs within approximately twenty seconds of the first strike. Triggers may occur if one-tenth of the insect is within contact. The requirement of redundant triggering in this mechanism serves as a safeguard against wasting energy by trapping objects with no nutritional value, and the plant will only begin digestion after five more stimuli to ensure it has caught a live bug worthy of consumption. If the prey is too small it will escape and the trap opens again within 12 hours.  If the prey squirms vigorously this triggers faster digestion.

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Most carnivorous plants selectively feed on specific prey. This selection is due to the available prey and the type of trap used by the organism. With the Venus flytrap, prey is limited to beetles, spiders and other crawling arthropods. In fact, the Dionaea diet is 33% ants, 30% spiders, 10% beetles, and 10% grasshoppers, with fewer than 5% flying insects. When the trap is shut it seals forming a "stomach" and digestive enzymes are released. 

Carnivorous plants specialized to survive in places that were poor in nutrients like bogs. You can purchase a Venus flytrap but keeping it is more like having a pet than a plant in some ways.  It's important to know the source of any purchased native plants, especially those that are vulnerable.  In the case of the Venus flytrap, it is a felony to remove it from a natural area in North Carolina. (summarized from Wikkipedia where you can learn more)

There's a local nursery that specializes in carnivorous plants, owned by Michael Szesze. There are more than 650 carnivorous plants in the world and Michael Szesze guesses he’s got about “four to five hundred” of them growing outside his house in Derwood, Maryland.   Szesze is a science educator who has created a business from his life-long interest in carnivorous plants.  His website has useful information if you want to create a bog garden with carnivorous plants. It also includes some free educational kits related to the Venus flytrap.

 https://carnivorousplantnursery.com/blogs/education/

For info on other interesting plants and animals that live in our region, select "Our Nature" from the Eartheast main menu.

Summer Sunshine

This is a great week to visit McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area to see the fields of sunflowers.  Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower is one of 70 Helianthus species, 67 of which are native to North America.  Sunflowers are grown for oil and seeds as well as its sunny yellow flowers.  There are three large fields of sunflowers at McKee-Beshers and all are in full bloom now.  Park to the side of River Road just before Hunting Quarter Road to walk to the main field which is not visible from the road. There's a wood sign at the entrance. Photos above were taken on July 8, 2018.

If you visit plant to take the side roads nearby (Hunting Quarter Road and Sycamore Landing) to explore the wetlands which provide great birding and a variety of native water plants including hardy hibiscus which are beginning to bloom.  There are miles of trails through forests, fields and wetlands as well as the C&O canal.  Nearby is an interesting Buddhist temple with two large stupas.  They welcome visitors and it's worth stopping by, about a mile north of the main parking area for McKee-Beshers. 

For lots of other great ideas of places to visit nearby, select "Our Nature" from the home page and you'll find posts on trails and other natural areas to visit.

Local photographer Terri Pitts shares her sunflower shots, including one with goldfinches and her photos from the nearby wetlands. Click below to see slideshow. 

"We've Come This Far By Faith"

Looking ahead at Pleasant View it's helpful to remember the song sung at the 150th celebration, "We've Come This Far By Faith."  Leaders at Pleasant View are working to renovate the historic church and school so they can teach local history and be a resource for the community.  Our group will continue to care for the native plant garden we have created as a place to educate others on sustainable habitat creation.  Our efforts are making a difference.  Many of our ~250 Pleasant View volunteers have also begun to increased their efforts to plant natives on their own properties. 

Merikay and Jeff continue to work in the garden as they can. If you have even just 30 minutes to share please pull weeds at the garden or around our trees. It makes a difference as small weeds pulled now don't mature to spread or drop seeds.  If you want company when you're there contact Merikay and she will join you.  merikays@verizon.net

We've added plant tags for many of the plants so visitors and volunteers can learn from our garden.  Volunteers who don't know anything about gardening are very welcome to help and ask questions.

Grateful to Dara who is arranging for another 100 donated native plants from Pope Farm.  Thanks also to the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Montgomery County Watershed Protection Fund for the $25,000 grant which has provided for the plants and supplies to create our native plant garden.

Click on photo gallery to see more.

Preparing for 150th

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I'll be at the native plant garden this Thursday evening, June 21, starting at 7 pm to prepare for Saturday's big event.  If you can't come Saturday, consider stopping by to help me weed, put out plant name tags, and otherwise do what we can to make the garden look its best.  Youth needing SSL hours are welcome.  No need to RSVP, just show up.  Hope to see you.

150th Celebration

Pleasant View, June 23, noon to 4 pm

Our native plant gardens are looking good and will be an added attraction during the festivities celebrating Pleasant View's 150th anniversary.  Hope to see you there.

To RSVP visit http://pleasantviewsite.org/junefest/

Photos are from last year's JuneFest at Pleasant View.

Tree Loss at Pleasant View

During the recent heavy rain storm a large section of the one remaining large tree at Pleasant View has fallen.  Jeff and Merikay visited PV on May 19 and saw the damage, reporting it to the PV Trustees.  This has huge implications for our shade garden which we have been installing around this tree.  At a minimum we lose this side of the tree and its shade.  The fallen limb has crushed one of the new redbud trees we planted and some of the small plants nearby.  It's likely we'll have more damage to the garden as arborists cut the damaged limb.  It's even possible that we will lose the entire tree.  This is a HUGE loss.  

You Can Do It

Control flooding, replace lost habitat, remove pollution from our waterways, sequester carbon, moderate local weather:  You can do it!

Replacing lawn (or part of our lawns) with native trees, shrubs and other native plants helps hold water during rain events to control flooding and improve water quality.  Plants are great at holding and breaking down pollutants that would otherwise do harm if washed into streams.  Trees are powerful at capturing carbon and releasing oxygen -- they can also reduce nearby temperatures by 10 - 15 degrees.  Their roots and leaves hold water during rain greatly reducing flooding and during drought their roots can bring water up through their leaves into the atmosphere.  Millions of acres a year in the U.S. are developed -- going from natural habitat to impervious surfaces (roads, roofs, driveways) and lawn -- lots of lawn.  If each of us chooses to we can help moderate the loss of habitat by planting native plants.

Check out this diagram showing the difference between turf grass root depth and other plants.  Think about the difference this has for land use -- when much of our surface in developed areas is either impervious or lawn.  Recent storms and resultant flooding are reminders of the need for better stewardship.

You Can Do It!

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Ninebark (that lovely shrub with very long roots) and black-eyed susans shown above are planted in our Pleasant View garden.  Come check out the various native plants we have there and get ideas for your own home garden.  Check our posts under "Pleasant View" for volunteer dates.

James Baird Tree Planting

James Baird passed away this past February unexpectedly after serving only a relatively short time as President of the Washington DC Stake.  He was much loved, not just by family and friends but throughout our Stake and in the community beyond our faith.  Below is part of a talk given by James Baird to his congregation when he was their bishop.  As I prepared for the native tree planting to honor James, I had the text of this talk in mind.

"One of my weaknesses that I’m aware of, is the fact that I am basically a telestial man. I love this earth. I like to work in the dirt. I love to watch the sunset on warm beaches. I love the taste of a fresh toasted tomato sandwich with mayo, sea salt, and fresh-ground pepper. I love to stand in cold streams and try to outsmart the fish who have a brain the size of a pea. I love all of the physical sensations that my physical body experiences, like the way my stomach feels when you go over a rise too fast in a car. I love so much of what comes into my ears, my mouth, my nose, on my skin. I have spent much of my life pursuing these pleasures, and trying to provide them for others. I justify all this by reading in Genesis that God created all this for the use and benefit of man, to gladden his eye and lighten his heart. Certainly He wants us to appreciate His beautiful creations. While not a complete epicurean, I am well aware of how much I love all that God has placed for me on this earth, and have trouble imagining that it is any better up there.
Maybe there are a few of you who feel this way too. Then why should we work to get off this planet that God placed us on and created for our use and happiness? How can we enjoy all this beauty and still... try to rise above it all?"

James is no longer a telestial man. Knowing how marvelous our natural world is, we can have confidence and complete faith that our loving Heavenly Father has prepared for James joys and experiences beyond our ability to imagine. I feel much as James, that God wants us to appreciate His beautiful creations. To do that we need to spend time in nature, learn more about and show greater care for Creation. We can enjoy all this beauty and in the process, we are often inspired "to rise above it all".

Some of the stalwart volunteers who arrived two hours early to get our trees planted before a major storm hit.  We were joined by about 30 volunteers with others who certainly would have been there except for the storm and change in schedule.

Photos from Merikay Smith and Chalice Leaman.  Thanks to everyone who came to help honor James Baird by planting an area of native redbud trees.  If you missed this activity, join us in the fall as we add native ground cover plants, remove more invasive plants, and continue to make this an area of the DC Stake Center where people will remember James Baird.

Earth Day 2018

We had ten young people join us for our Earth Day project on April 21 at Pleasant View (and 19 adults).  They were all helpful and seemed to enjoy the day.  What an opportunity for the SSL student who got to work side by side with Bill Phillips (Nobel Prize in physics, 1997).  Turns out we're all about equal when it comes to working at Pleasant View.  Even young weeders can recognize and dig out wild onion and teens are great at moving mulch by wheelbarrow.  More details and photos under "Pleasant View".

Click on photo to see more.

Free Native Trees

 Redbud and white pines in Merikay's garden -- mature examples of some of the trees available.

Redbud and white pines in Merikay's garden -- mature examples of some of the trees available.

FREE TREES: Just got word that my order of 350 native trees from the Maryland DNR is available this week. I'll pick up the trees on Thursday and will be distributing them from my house at 14909 Spring Meadows Drive, Germantown, MD on Friday from 9 am to 11 am and Saturday from 10 am to noon and 2 pm to 4 pm (between conference sessions for our time zone). Each person/family can take up to ten. I distribute them on a first-come basis and can't guarantee that I'll have particular trees. 

What I expect to be getting are:

50 white pine
50 willow oak
50 swamp white oak
50 eastern redbud
50 redosier dogwood
50 hazel alder
50 southern magnolia

Please note that these are small bare root seedlings, about one to two feet tall. They should be planted as soon as possible after pickup. Though it has been cold if the ground is not frozen it's a good time to plant the trees. They'll have more time to get established before summer heat arrives. Bring a bucket or plastic bags, also newspaper if you have some -- it helps to wrap trees in wet newspaper for transport.

Some of you live too far away to benefit from this tree give away, but I'd encourage you to check online -- it's likely that your city or county offers some kind of incentive to plant native trees.  You might even consider helping distribute native plants to your community.  It's a great way to meet neighbors as well as to make a positive and lasting impact on your local habitat. 

World Day of Prayer - March 2

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World Day of Prayer

Each year people from 170 countries join in prayer focused on a scriptural theme and with the intent of learning and caring about each other.  This year's theme was chosen by the women of Suriname.  I hope you will join us in prayer, whatever your faith tradition, for inspiration and guidance to care for Creation.

Genesis 1:1-31
A heri grontapu di Gado meki bun doro, dóro!

From the women of Suriname, in preparation for World Day of Prayer on March 2:

As in the beginning, God created from chaos. But everything that was created found its place in creation. All were related to each other – the earth with the light, the waters with the sky, the tree seeds with the living creatures, and the humankind with God. None could exist without the other, and the source of all was God.

There was goodness in that integrated system of relationships. But essential to that was the commitment to care.

Women from Suriname lift up their voices to remind us that we are caretakers of God’s creation! They are bringing to our attention the urgent need for caring at a time when more than 180 countries have signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. A commitment to keep the earth cooler depends on public policies implemented by governments, but also on our personal lifestyle.

“Prayer is rooted in listening to God and to one another.” What is it that we can do to keep God’s creation good?

Learn more at http://worlddayofprayer.net/suriname-2018.html

'Popsicle' Wood Frogs

We've jumped from winter to spring in the past few days. Wood frogs, AKA 'Popsicle' frogs have thawed out and are croaking like crazy. About two dozen have been croaking night and day calling to their mates in my garden pond. It's a case of build it and they will come -- adding a water feature to your garden, especially if you have plentiful native trees, shrubs and ground cover means you'll have lots of wildlife, including frogs. I love how the season unfolds in frog time, first with the wood frogs then the spring peepers and on until fall with a new batch of eggs and tadpoles arriving to the pond just as the last hop out.

When my energy to do earth stewardship starts to fail, I spend some time outside and am awestruck by Creation.  Imagine, these wood frogs create an antifreeze from their body fluids in the fall and are able to stop their hearts and freeze entirely then thaw out again as temperatures rise.

Learn more about wood frogs at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fjr3A_kfspM
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLPeehsXAr4

James Baird

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Many of us in the DC area are mourning the sudden loss of James Baird, President of the Washington DC Stake.

Please continue to pray for his family and friends for comfort in the days and months ahead. 

I would like to suggest that our Earth Stewardship East group plant a grove of native trees in honor of James Baird. Later this spring I will contact Lindy Baird to see if this would please her.

I remember in several conversations President Baird telling me how much he loved nature and felt close to God when he could spend time in the woods or looked up at the stars. He loved fishing and spending time camping, hiking or boating. He didn't have time to join our ESE activities but he was aware of us. I treasure the book he gave me as a peace offering. After a difficult interview with him, he surprised me with a gift, the book "Evolving Faith" by BYU evolutionary biologist Steven Peck. From that time on I felt I had a friend in James Baird.

A quote from a talk by James shared by Rachel Klein: “Many people have said they would die for the Lord or for his Gospel. I say, let us live for it. We will all die and that soon enough, until then let's live for our beliefs. Do you love Jesus? Then act like it by following his teachings.” — James Baird, November 2017

President Baird inspires me to be more kind, Spirit-guided and spontaneous, generous, faithful.

Fairy Diddles and Other Surprises

 Photo:  Paula Jean Hallberg

Photo:  Paula Jean Hallberg

Known as fairy diddles in West Virginia, this red squirrel invites you to leave the comfort of home and explore our winter wonderland.  We'll be out picking up trash along the Muddy Branch on Monday, January 15 (see our event post).  It will be cold but satisfying.  Hope you can join us.  If not, venture out and see what you find.  Would love to post your photos here.

Merry Mistletoe

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Did you know there are mistletoes native to the Chesapeake area? 

Mistletoes are flowering plants in the Santalaceae family. Yes, Santalaceae. It seems unlikely, but the family’s name has nothing to do with Kris Kringle. It is derived from the sandalwood genus, Santalum, which is also a member. There are around 1,300 mistletoe species worldwide, and 2 rough groups in North America: American mistletoe and dwarf mistletoe. 

All mistletoes are hemi-parasitic, meaning they parasitize trees but are not fully dependent on them for all functions. Mistletoes attach to stems of live trees and send root-like structures under the bark to tap the tissues for nutrients and water. Mistletoe leaves are green in color and can complete photosynthesis for energy, but would be unable to survive without the tree. 

The berries either fall off and colonize stems below or are dispersed by birds. The sticky seeds can adhere to the plumage, feet, or beaks of birds to be scraped off onto new stems while preening, or get eaten to and later deposited on branches in droppings. Bird droppings are the primary way the plants spread; indeed, the word “mistletoe” means “dung on a twig” in Anglo-Saxon.

Dwarf mistletoe berries are not spread by birds. Instead, water pressure builds up in the berry cells. Eventually, the pressure builds to a point where the berry explodes, expelling the seed at up to 50 miles per hour, with a range of up to 60 feet! 

 A dwarf mistletoe seed being shot out by built-up water pressure. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

A dwarf mistletoe seed being shot out by built-up water pressure. Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service

Though we often only think of mistletoe at holiday parties, it plays a significant ecological role in our forests. American mistletoes, while toxic to humans, are important food sources for many forest wildlife species. They bear fruit from late fall through early winter, a time when there isn’t much else for resident wildlife to eat. The berries are an important food for birds and small mammals, and the foliage is eaten by porcupines and larger mammals like deer and elk if they can reach it. Dwarf mistletoes are less important for food but the thick, scruffy, “witches’ brooms” that they create are excellent nesting sites for songbirds, red squirrels, flying squirrels, hawks, and owls. Studies in the western US have shown that a whopping 43% of spotted owls and 64% of Cooper’s hawks build their nests in “witches’ broom” tangles resulting from dwarf mistletoe infections.

 Oak mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) berries are very important for wintering wildlife. Photo by Mary Keim.

Oak mistletoe (Phoradendron leucarpum) berries are very important for wintering wildlife. Photo by Mary Keim.

Mistletoe is important for many insects too. Their early-blooming flowers are important nectar sources for bees and other pollinators when not much else is available, and many insects only live on mistletoe foliage. Three butterfly species in the US are mistletoe obligates (meaning their caterpillars can only feed on mistletoes), but only one, the great purple hairstreak (Atlides halesus) is found in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

American mistletoes rarely kill their host tree; their life history strategy is to remain with the host and produce berries as long as possible, so they need their host to survive. 

Like many of our traditions, appreciation for (and yes, kissing under) mistletoe developed and evolved as societies rose and fell. European mistletoe (of the genus Viscum) closely resembles leafy American mistletoe, so European colonists and subsequent immigrants easily transferred their customs over to North America.  

As Christianity swept through Europe the old traditions became muddled, but mistletoe remained an important winter symbol. It was often hung in doorways to deter demons and witches, and was widely thought of as a universal healer. The custom of kissing beneath it may have come from the belief that it stimulated fertility, or perhaps from an ancient Norse myth that resonated through the centuries. In the story, the beloved son of Frigg, the goddess of love and beauty, was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe. The gods all agreed that the plant should never hurt anyone again, but rather be dedicated to happiness and usefulness. Frigg’s tears became the white berries of mistletoe, and the goddess swore that she would kiss anyone who walked beneath it.  

No matter what the origin of the kissing custom is, American mistletoe makes a lovely winter decoration. Rather than an excuse to smooch, it’s a great opportunity to talk to guests about forest ecology and the fascinating biology and cultural history of this strange little parasite. Look up into the empty branches of oaks and sweetgums for a cheery clump of mistletoe this winter. It will likely be too high up to reach, but that’s a good thing; mistletoe is a valuable member of our forests and will do a lot of good up there in the treetops.

Above information is excerpted from:

https://www.allianceforthebay.org/2017/12/mistletoe-a-merry-parasite/