Animals Unleashed at Magazine Beach

Image © Bimal Nepal, BimalPhoto.com.

Several animal celebrities of the Cambridge Wildlife Puppetry Project (CWPP), whose activities are supported by the Cambridge Arts Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council this year, visited picnicking families and others at Magazine Beach Park Friday for a Walk/Ride Day celebration. Stay tuned for the CWPP’s four-day Fly, Buzz, and Honk! wildlife festival, August 7–10, 2017, every day from 10:00 to 12:00 in Riverside Press Park. Art and games and performances at the festival highlight the species that live in our city.

Saturday’s Moth: National Moth Week 2017

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Common Looper Moth (Autographa precationis), photographed in Cambridge. Copyright (c) by Mark Rosenstein.
We continue our celebration of National Moth Week. All the images we’ve posted this week are of moths that live in Cambridge, and today’s Common Looper Moth is no exception.

Through Sunday, July 30th, you can see beautiful moths from near and far by searching the hashtag #nationalmothweek on Instagram and elsewhere—or better yet, by heading outdoors.

Friday’s Moth: National Moth Week 2017

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Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis), photographed in the city of Cambridge. Copyright (c) Mark Rosenstein.

Sphinx moths like this one are daytime pollinators.  It’s National Moth Week.

Gather your neighbors for a Cambridge “mothing” event.

Thursday’s Moth: National Moth Week 2017

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Grape Plume Moth, Geina periscelidactylus, photographed at Alewife Reservation, Cambridge. Photo (c) Mike Mulqueen. Used by permission.

Moths come in a variety of shapes, as this plume moth demonstrates. It’s National Moth Week. Find your own moth!  Here’s a guide  to attracting and identifying moths…and having a “mothing” event.

Wednesday’s Moth: National Moth Week 2017

(c) Tom Murray

Our National Moth Week species of the day is shown here in its caterpillar form. Meet the Goldenrod Hooded Owlet (Cucullia asteroides)!

The closest public event during National Moth Week to our city is at the South Shore Nature Center, this afternoon (Wed. July 27th). But check out this guide to finding moths.

All of our moth images this week are photographs shot in Cambridge. The image here was photographed at Fresh Pond Reservation by Tom Murray, author of Insects of New England and New York.

When you’re out looking for moths this week, include caterpillars. You can post a photo of it on iNaturalist.org or bugguide.net and ask for identification help.

A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change

The following news is reprinted with permission from the Mystic River Watershed Association:

For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.

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This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort—from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.

Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA’s Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.
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The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn’s Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.

One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn’s Brook, Wellington Brook—and the Mystic River itself—over the next five years!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.

Locals Offset Carbon Footprint to April 29 Climate March

If you’re traveling to Washington, D.C., for the April 29th People’s Climate March from Greater Boston, you can now offset the carbon footprint of your travel through a GreenCambridge program that will provide  education and support local urban trees, plants and climate through the purchase of biochar.soil for climate.jpg

About Biochar (from the International Biochar Initiative)

The 2,000 year-old practice of making biochar converts agricultural waste into a soil enhancer that can hold carbon, boost food security, and increase soil biodiversity, and discourage deforestation. The process creates a fine-grained, highly porous charcoal that helps soils retain nutrients and water.

Screen Wise Cambridge’s Snow Day Challenge: February 2, 2015

Make something using these items only:

  • 5-7 cylindrical household objects like cardboard tubes or water bottles
  • 5-7 rubber bands (hair bands are ok), and
  • 5-7 crayons or pencils.
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Materials you can use for the Screen Wise Cambridge Snow Day Challenge.

Your creation can be a building, a human or animal figure, an abstract sculpture, a machine, a tool, a poem or story, in fact anything at all! Use the above items only. You can use scissors or other tools as long as you don’t add any additional items. i.e., no tape, no glue! (If you absolutely can’t resist using tape or glue, don’t give up—we’re still interested in what you make, but do try the real challenge first).

Post the photos of your finished creations (and a caption or description) to the Screen Wise Cambridge Facebook page or post them as a comment below. (Be sure to say if you have used tape or glue)

Also post your questions here if you have any. Multigenerational teams are welcome to participate, whether parent-child or not. There are no age restrictions.

Wild Medicine, City Medicine

Cambridge, Mass.’s Healthy Children Task Force (HCTF) examined Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) throughout the 2012-2013 school year as its window onto child and youth wellness.

Pardon me. That lead sentence should have read:

You have deep, deep problems. But our time is up.

Let me explain.

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ACES sure has that wonky ring to it—just another one of those nasty healthcare sector acronyms. It’s as if we can cure a problem faster if we can say it faster. Experiencing abuse or neglect or growing up with an imprisoned parent are the more obvious ACES, but there is fuller list. Are they the lodestone of prevention measures, or hype? Researchers at Kaiser Permanente and the CDC have indeed correlated various concatenations of early trauma experiences  with graded levels of risk behaviors and disease in adulthood, showing that the childhood end of the timeline can make or break the health of an individual years later. The study surveyed 17,000 adults.

Check your own ACE score here.

HCTF gatherings are  lunchtime meetings, both efficient and informal, punctuated with the occasional repartee and salad fork sounds. The city staff from all reaches of Cambridge together to learn about a particular concept, problem, or perspective. Interested public school parents like myself sometimes attend, but most often you’ll see school committee members, Cambridge Health Alliance staff, a random sampler of clinicians, nutritionists, early childhood education specialists, MPHs, and people whose jobs are more on the front lines of defending the mental and physical health of urban youth and kids.

It’s a bit odd to sit in that windowless room around a square of conference tables, as I do every few months, thinking to myself, “Does anyone else in the room feel like there’s no air in here—no bit  of sky to see?”

The reason I’m in that room is to understand how we could give a jumpstart to kids’ wellness with a particular prescription: Cambridge’s vast and vastly under-appreciated open spaces.  By open spaces I don’t mean the manicured parks, nor the new artificially turfed soccer fields rimmed with highly adaptable trees.  I don’t mean our city’s many beloved pocket parks, whimsical playgrounds, or the CitySprouts gardens that thrive at every public school in Cambridge. Those outdoor resources are indispensable in their own right.

I’m thinking of those areas that—whether ecologically restored and kept in shape by human labor (think Lusitania Meadow) or not (think parts of Alewife Reservation)— provide shelter to animals, old specimen trees, and serve as wildlife corridors. I’m thinking of places where a child can run, not just a few hundred yards, but perhaps a bit farther.

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What the squirrel left. Winter in an open space in Cambridge, Mass.

Perhaps in such places, a kid can even slip away to the secret folds of the woods where play and fantasy (as well as jeans) are smudged with dirt and broken wild berries.  I’m thinking of the abandoned farm next door to my third-grade friend’s house, the trees we climbed there, the territories we invented in its spaciousness.

We have the equivalent of such places here.  It’s good for all kids. My theory is that they offer something more to certain kids—a kind of complementary therapy for children who experience trauma, or who may do so in their future. Open spaces could be a kind of medicine—not as panacea, but as kind of pemmican for childhood’s journey. Richard Louv has recently commented

parks with the richest biodiversity appear to have a positive impact on psychological well-being and social bonding among humans. Those

While we can’t say with certainty that these influences play a direct role in early brain development, it’s fair to suggest that the presence of nature can soften the blow of toxic stress in early childhood and throughout our lives. It’s understandable that researchers have yet to explore the natural world’s impact on brain development because the topic itself is rather new. Also, scientists have a hard time coming up with an agreed-upon definition of nature – or of life itself.

via Do Early Outdoor Experiences Help Build Healthier Brains? | Psychology Today.

Brain research has also contributed to an understanding of the role of trauma in health. ACES Too High News, a blog devoted to the unfolding view of the original ACES study and its offshoots, reports:

Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.

552px-Smoking_(9418449684)What all this means…is that we need to prevent adverse childhood experiences and, at the same time, change our systems – educational, criminal justice, healthcare, mental health, public health, workplace – so that we don’t further traumatize someone who’s already traumatized.

via ACES Too High News

Black's Nook, Fresh Pond Reservation, 2013
Black’s Nook, Fresh Pond Reservation, 2013

Resiliency, of course, is a factor that cuts across exposure to different levels of trauma. Arming children (and adults) with the building blocks of resiliency could be a critical corollary of  identifying the many faces of trauma. Nature alone may not lead to resiliency, but I’d be willing to bet that it could play a significant role, and without side effects.

Giving kids a chance to spend regular and sufficient time in full-fledged habitats, more wild than not, isn’t possible in many cities. Even here in Cambridge, our habitats of caliber lie mostly in the north and west of the city, with little to no functional habitat in East Cambridge, Cambridgeport, Riverside, Central Square, and adjacent areas. To Though I enjoy and value Northpoint Park myself, it doesn’t provide East Cambridge residents the equivalent of what Fresh Pond Reservation does to its neighbors. The Charles River Reservation is a critical open space for its adjacent communities, and meets the needs for respite and democratic enjoyment of nature. The more intact habitat within it, however,  is concentrated in the western part of the city.

The HCTF members have immersed themselves in the subterranean factors that make a child an unhealthy adult. These same factors make it difficult if not impossible to learn at school, particularly if the child is inadvertently re-traumatized by unaware teacher or youth workers.  Staff of agencies and departments that work with children and youth are getting an overview of the teachings of the ACES study at a November 21st event convened by the city’s Kids’ Council. The next step is titrating policies to reduce and mitigate children’s experience of trauma in the schools and other places where municipal government has a role.

Tree time is quality time.
Tree time is quality time.

There’s a bigger step I’d like people in the city to take—reframing nature (not just playground) experiences for kids as essential, not optional, as in the program launched this week by Massachusetts General Hospital and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Richard Louv prompted members of the American Academy of Pediatrics with this idea in 2010.  It’s not a new shtick by any means, but perhaps the time is ripe. Traction time for Vitamin N, you might say.

Let’s not underestimate the power of modeling an individual connection with the environment, either. Doctors, out-of-school-time programs, teachers, counselors, parents—we can all put aside our cell phones, iPads and e-readers and take the kids outside.

Deep problems, indeed, define the field of trauma,. Those deep problems may need deep, essential, but simple solutions, including, but not limited to, romping in the woods.

I hope it can happen before our time is up.

Next installment: Communities Get Serious About Nature.