ENVIRONMENT: One Day, Four Venues, Nine Films







On the heels of Cambridge’s Screen-Free/Screen-Wise Week, in which I’ve had a hand, here is a screenful dessert: The Boston Enviro-Film Festival arrives Sunday, May 18th, for one day only. One film showing is “Symphony of the Soil.”

From the program of the (6th annual) event:

Symphony of the Soil examines our human relationship with soil, the use and misuse of soil in agriculture, deforestation and development, and the latest scientific research on soil’s key role in ameliorating the most challenging environmental issues of our time. Filmed on four continents, featuring esteemed scientists and working farmers and ranchers, Symphony of the Soil is an intriguing presentation that highlights possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants creating healthy humans living on a healthy planet. bostonenvirofilmfest | Symphony of the Soil.


Panels and speakers during the film festivalTrailers for filmsFilms listed by schedule


Airport Owls, Hooting Toddlers: A Feathered Friend in Cambridge

Owls visited our fair city last weekend and kids were there in droves to see them.

Licensed wildlife rehab maven and Massachusetts resident Patricia Bade (given the punchy name “Owl Woman” by her Penobscot elders before she could say “boo”) brought her un-releasable saw-whet owl and screech owl to Maynard Ecology Center for a family program on Sunday, February 9, 2014. The venerable Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation and the Cambridge Water Department sponsored the visit. Much hootin’ (the three- to seven-year-olds) and hollerin’ (the babes in arms) resounded through the halls of the center, housed in the basement of Neville Place, an assisted living community within spitting distance of Fresh Pond.

Compared to the snowy owl, these species are diminutive. Bade spread her arms to illustrate a snowy’s wingspan—five feet. She’d gotten up close and personal to an injured snowy owl brought to her recently, though it had expired upon arriving her doorstep. “She was magnificent,” reports Bade, who examined the owl afterward.

Snowy owls such as the one Bade examined have appeared in large numbers this year in Greater Boston.

The first consideration in an upswing sightings of any predator (such as the foxes seen in residential areas of North and West Cambridge earlier in the fall) must be the status of their prey population. There are multiple factors, however,  behind the snapshot of  what’s plentiful and what’s not in a “food web” (think food chains, intersecting) at any given time.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported that by late November 2013,

the first wave of owls was making headlines (literally: see this article in the NYT and this article) in even the greatest metropolitan areas of the Northeast. Numerous visuals show the distribution of these movements, and one project has sought to take advantage of this unique opportunity to track the movements of these birds (check out Project SNOWStorm). It appears that a combination of factors may be responsible for this season’s invasion, but the jury is still out as to what is causing this influx. Are these movements the results of an overabundance of rodent prey items in portions of eastern Canada yielding a bumper crop of young Snowy Owls that are dispersing en masse?

Climate is also the elephant in the room.

The Cornell Lab continues,

Or is the movement we are seeing part of a much larger set of changes occurring in the Arctic related to rapidly changing climate?

via Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Brief Notes on Some Late 2013 and Early 2014 Movements.

Whether the elephant is merely in the room examining its cuticles rather than causing tremors we may not know. Science doesn’t allow for leapfrogging, but it does allow for educated guesses, labelled as such.

In her response to an adult asking why so many snowys showed up at Logan Airport this winter, Bade said the landscape there resembled their home turf—the tundra. There’s a little more to the story, however. These tundra mammal-predators, during the period December through April, apparently travel to openings in the Arctic sea-ice to feed on waterfowl, who are in turn using that type of environment because they can feed there. The 2013-2014 “irruption” of Hedwig and her crew at places like Logan, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports may represent a signal departure from that practice, perhaps by necessity rather than by choice.

Put yourself in Hedwig’s shoes, and wonder whether, like the itinerant snowy owls, increasing numbers of humans will need to seek something that “looks like home.” Wonder whether humans will need to take refuge from our coastal cities or our failed fields of plenty. Wonder whether, in the coming decades, human migration by necessity rather than by choice, will be on the upswing. Even if that possibility seems like something you can’t swallow—dystopia doesn’t, admittedly, go down well—keep those snows in the mind’s eye. That complexity, incorporating vast flocks of many species, the worldwide bird migration patterns interdependent on food webs; the operation of those food webs in cities, towns, rural areas—whether in airport, marshland, watershed, or suburb, it behooves adults to try to grasp a piece of this puzzle, and to get our children hootin’ and hollerin’ like owls and coyotes and slithering like snakes in the meantime.

Logan Airport shows the way as snowy owls alight

Amid reports that in the last few days a Snowy Owl has perched at the Boston Museum of Science (on the Cambridge side), easily viewed by passersby, I offer this news on air traffic and owls in one city.

Logan Airport shows the way as snowy owls alight – Metro – The Boston Globe.

Kevin Foster

I’m all for reducing our carbon footprints. It’s a metaphor that works well for all ages. I like the extension of the metaphor to tracking in Cycle Style Boston, a blog that profiles bicycle commuters.

Here, akin to a raccoon print in the mud, is another kind of eye candy—the Yellow-Coated Internal-Gear Mathematician. Native to the South, and naturalized in Brookline, this particular specimen is married to my cousin.

Cycle Style Boston


Kevin Foster works as a Survey Methodologist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. His daily commute takes him from his home near Coolidge Corner in Brookline to the Federal Reserve building at Dewey Square. He cycles every day of the year there isn’t ice on the ground. Rather than the direct route through Kenmore Square, he chooses a longer but more relaxing route route through Brookline to near the BU Bridge, where he gets on the Charles River Esplanade bike path towards downtown. Says Kevin,

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Free-Range Meets Children and Nature

Free Range meets urban planning meets the play outdoors movement—this trirumvirate is like a pitch you’d make to a film studio. Bend It Like Beckham meets Totoro meets Stand By Me. We’d get Claire Danes to play Lenore Skenazy, who starts the new movement, Ralph Fiennes to play Richard Louv struggling to turn off his iPhone as he enters his off-the-grid bunker-with-a-view, and Roberto Benigni to play an under-employed historian mother-of-two accidentally impersonating an ecologist (That would be me. It’s my blog so I get to do the casting).

A recent post by Skenazy in her blog reports on an outlier example of outright un-neighborly neighborhood design:

One impediment to spontaneous, outdoor meeting/greeting/playing is simply a lack of city planning. Or at least, a lack of planning that prioritizes helping people connect.  it’s hard for a group of kids to meet up at the park, if it’s across a major access road with few stop lights and a sea of cars.

from Free Range Kids » Backdoor Neighbors Have to Drive 7 Miles to Shake Hands.

People connecting with people? No one’s going to object to that goal outright, you might think. Yet cities have their peculiar geographies. As bizarre a circumstance as traveling seven miles to shake hands with next-door neighbor—that stands out. That’s a headline . Other peculiarities are as quotidian as segregated neighborhoods; mixed-zoning areas that are “under the radar,” where environmental pollutants may be less regulated; or the allocation of shade trees along class lines. These are the features that go unexamined to the majority of city dwellers because they are—precisely—part of the landscape.

I’m looking forward to hearing Skenazy speak at Wheelock College when she comes to Boston next week.

Her constant questioning whether our parenting in this era has gotten ridiculously overprotective probably makes a lot people even more uncomfortable in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings. What is the right amount of safety, or more to the point, what is safety itself?  I’m one to say that physical safety, what our gut-level parent instinct tells us to protect, deserves a new look. Preventing our kids from suffering from immediate physical harm from school-shooters, pedophiles and the like, while important, is the low-hanging fruit. Gun control is a no-brainer. Some other things—to name just a few—such as the prevention of noncommunicable diseases, climate-change environmental catastrophe, Internet addiction, relegating people with autism to second-class citizenship, and so-called lifestyle-related diseases, require a bit more coffee (or a few more brain cells) to solve. So, here’s the manifesto (cue ironic brass band music):

Ralph Fiennes: Out of the hammocks and into the trees!

Claire Danes: Out of the cars and onto the streets!

Roberto Benigni: Zone for the Voles, Owls,  Toddlers, and Myriapods!

Not coming to a theatre near you. But to your neighborhood? I hope you’ll go the seven miles (if necessary) to shake hands with your warm, fuzzy city planner and your city councillor and ask them to option this film.

A Toolkit for Community Planning with Regard to Open Space

Fresh Pond

A Toolkit for Community Planning with Regard to Open Space

Caveat: this array of links from Mass Audubon may not be fully up to date. However, I offer it here for those of us relative newbies interested in understanding and working on open space issues.