Cambridge Outdoors

playing, learning, and being outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.

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Cambridge’s Baird Creates “Human Nature Dictionary”

Cambridge Resident Freedom Baird’s open-source participatory project, the Human Nature Dictionary, is part of an exhibit running through August 8th at the Massachusetts College of Art.

Shocked that the Oxford Junior Dictionary had removed basic vocabulary words related to nature, the artist devised the Human Nature Dictionary as a form of protest. She saw the publisher’s pruning as a codification and endorsement of humankind’s divorce from nature, particularly as its locus was children’s access to language. It was an act needing correction.

field desk

Field Desk, Human Nature Dictionary

Baird’s “dictionary” invites the public (including children) to invent, share, and restore  an English lexicon that conveys or reflects human perceptions, uses, and other relationships with the natural world. According to the main page for the online Human Nature Dictionary, it

“proposes not simply to reintroduce words about nature, but to create new language that shows that humans and nature are part of the same pan-natural system, and that our fates are inextricably merged.”

Examples of publicly-sourced Human Nature Dictionary entries include “Disney’s Law of Evolution,” the process by which animals found cute by humans experience population growth and habitat protection; “root-kilter,” a slab of sidewalk forced out of place by a growing tree root; and “april dregs,” garbage left behind after snow melt.


Root-kilter. Photo by Freedom Baird.

Visit the Human Nature Dictionary online here.

Information about the Secret Life of White Oaks walkabout at Fresh Pond Reservation

A Single Species: An End-of-January Investigation

There is sometimes too much, or too little, simplification that goes on when “environmental education” takes hold. Starting with a single species, as Fresh Pond Reservation staff in Cambridge, Mass., will do on January 31st with “The Secret Life of White Oaks,” can make a path for kids, families, anyone, to start small and grow curious from there.

White oaks are the ones with rounded lobes on their leaves; and oaks, in general are trees that keep their leaves well into the winter.

Information about the Secret Life of White Oaks walkabout at Fresh Pond Reservation

What’s your single favorite or familiar species—the one that drew you in to a fascination with nature more broadly, or that you still hold in your mind’s eye, or that’s a talisman in everyday life? Flora or fauna notwithstanding, a single species is a direct line from the human to the natural world.

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.

Be Iridescent

There’s nothing better than wearing something with a little iridescence to bring out a smile on your face.

The Honk Festival’s parade will be graced by what may constitute a swarm of Wandering Gliders and Blue-Fronted Dancers, residents of our 162-acre urban habitat here in Cambridge, Mass.

If you’re a resident of the vicinity of Fresh Pond Reservation, in Cambridge, Mass. , join us in walking as Fresh Pond creatures in the October 13th Honk! Parade.



Honk! Honk! The parade is almost here!

Honk! Honk! The parade is almost here!

Wandering Gliders (dragonflies), Blue-Fronted Dancers (damselflies), pond algae (hand puppets), two Great Blue Herons and a gaggle of other animals will muster at the 8th annual Honk! Parade from Davis Square, Somerville, to Harvard Square, Cambridge, this Sunday. Trees also play a role in our party at Honk!
Brought to you by Neighbors and Neighboring Schools of Fresh Pond Reservation.
Tune in here again for the HONK!down to Sunday’s revelries!

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Dragonflies and Damselflies and Algae, Oh My!

Here in the Greater Boston area we’ve just had a discharge of the combined sewer overflow system due to recent heavy rains. This affects the entire Mystic River watershed of which the Alewife Brook watershed is a part.

Sewer separation work in Cambridge, Mass. residential area, July 2013

Sewer separation work in Cambridge, Mass. residential area, July 2013

The announcement of the overflow comes at a time when I need a reminder of the reasons why I can’t get onto and off of my street these days—construction crews are separating what is now a combined sewage and stormwater system into separate systems.

Damselfy  at Fresh Pond by In the Big Muddy, July 2013

Damselfy (tentatively identified as a Blue-fronted dancer) taken at Fresh Pond by In the Big Muddy, July 2013

This  work will eventually—when this ever ends!–mean a great deal less toxics and untreated sewage flow into Charles River and Alewife Brook. Currently, only 40% of the collection system in the City of Cambridge has been separated in this way, according to the city’s department of public works. Kudos to the many people who support, volunteer, and work for clean water in this area, in particular, the members of the Mystic River Watershed Association.

On the playing-outdoors front, battalions of parents have been organizing a terrific event called “Getting Ready to Honk!,” in which kids who live or go to school in our little corner of Cambridge, Mass., will make dragonfly and damselfly costumes and algae handpuppets in preparation for the Honk! Parade on October 13th.

The “Getting Ready to Honk!” event, from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, August 10th will be held at Fresh Pond Reservation. Co-sponsored by Tobin Friends of Fresh Pond Club (er—that would be me, actually)  and open to any and all Cambridge families with kids ages 5–11 (ummmm…what was I thinking?), this crafty and unusual project is just the beginning of a massive and massively community-building undertaking: Fresh Pond Creatures at Honk!.

If you are a local, please come, either to participate with your kids or to help out. If you’re not from these parts, please send positive vibes and any algae or odonata items of interest toward me as I navigate the thin line between puppetry and chaos. I will be covered in hot-glue, panty hose, and pipecleaner stab wounds by the time the afternoon is over and I will need to lie down on the peaceful boardwalk and watch real damselflies at Black’s Nook for half an hour to recover from the event.

Here’s a preview of the prototype dragonfly wing apparatus, sans pantyhose (“bring me your tired, your worn…”). Eyepieces are in development. I think they’ll be worn like headbands. The tricky part is making it all easy for kid-parent pairs to assemble. Then I get to worry about making sure everyone saves their costumes and remembers to come to the parade on a Sunday in October (falling on a three-day weekend).

wing armature for dragonfly/damselfy costumes for Honk! 2013

wing armature for dragonfly/damselfy costumes for Honk! 2013

I’ve proposed to some parents of older kids in the city the making of a giant puppet or puppets to add biodiversity to the blue heron backpack puppets that Michelle Lougee and I made last year (rather frenetically, at least on my end). Alas, the event comes nearly at the beginning, not the end, of the school year, and some wheels turn slowly.  I’ll be thrilled to bits to see a giant raccoon sashaying down Mass Ave, held aloft by a triumphant corps of Cambridge Public School middle schoolers. Maybe it won’t be this year. Maybe the idea will percolate enough by 2014 to come to fruition.

Two great blue heron backpack puppets at Honk! 2012.

Two great blue heron backpack puppets at Honk! 2012.

My kids will be glad that I don’t plan to burn the midnight oil again this year dressing and painting those babies like I did last year. They’ve (the herons) have hung out in various nooks in our household all year. Currently, one heron has a reprieve from the basement and is in our living room, very much in our way.

Apropos of dragonflies, I am a new follower of the blog The Dragonfly Woman, written by professional odonatologist Chris Goforth of North Carolina, who, among other things, has a form for reporting static swarms of dragonflies. Her project is an interesting example of citizen science:

Have you seen a dragonfly swarm? I am tracking swarms so I can learn more about this interesting behavior.  If you see one, I’d love to hear from you!  Please visit my Report a Dragonfly Swarm page to fill out the official report form.  It only takes a few minutes! Thanks!

via Swarm Sunday (On Monday) – 7/14/2013 – 7/20/2013 | The Dragonfly Woman.

Apparently, dragonfly swarming (the static, feeding-related kind, that is) happens most frequently at dusk and dawn. Goforth displays swarm report information she collects on a map, updated periodically. I like the unrequited love she expresses for all things odonata on her blog. Perhaps these creatures (bless them, they eat mosquitoes!) aren’t to everyone’s taste, but one must ask why the bird and not the dragonfly captures the imagination of so many.


Our Tobin Friends of Fresh Pond club made algae hand puppets in the spring during one of the last sessions.

Scenedesmus (unfinished), made by G. (fourth grade)

Scenedesmus (unfinished), made by G. (fourth grade)

Chlamydomonas, made by H. (fourth grade)

Chlamydomonas, made by H. (fourth grade)

At “Getting Ready for Honk!” on  August 10th, kids will be able to make these as well. It kind of goes with the white-glove brass band-turned-upside-down idea, doesn’t it?

Lyngbya, made by F. (4th grade)

Lyngbya, made by F. (4th grade)

Exploring the Urban Outdoors in Cambridge, Mass.: Events

 BOTANY WALK, April 26, 1 p.m.

Botanist Walter Kittredge is conducting a region-wide herbarium project to bring attention to the local New England flora, its presence and value, and is looking closely at vegetation at Alewife Reservation. Walter is Senior Curatorial Assistant at the Harvard University Herbaria, a world-wide research collection of over 5 million dried plant specimens.Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation. (usual time for this monthly event, beginning in June, will be the First Friday of the Month, 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm)

Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Maynard Ecology Center, lower level of Neville Place
650 Concord Avenue
When you and your dog visit Fresh Pond Reservation, your dog is probably far more aware than you are that the Reservation is the home of coyotes, skunks, raccoons, opossums, and many smaller mammals. Sightings of wild animals, especially coyotes, are increasing and have raised concerns about what we should do when we encounter these critters. John Maguranis is the Belmont Animal Control Officer and the Massachusetts representative for Project Coyote ( He will share with us his knowledge and experiences, tell us about coyote behavior, and instruct us on pet and human safety.  After the formal presentation, we’ll walk outside (weather permitting) to look for coyote tracks. Please register. You will receive important information on parking after you register. E-mail Elizabeth Wylde at or call 617- 349-6489 and leave your name and phone number.



Join Anne Marie Lambert for a guided walk through Alewife Reservation with Poet Richard Cambridge and Frederick Law Olmstead re-enactor Gerald Wright.  Sponsored by Friends of Alewife Reservation and the Cambridge Citizens Forum.  Participants will meet at the Alewife Brook parking lot at Cambridge Discovery Park at 100 Acorn Park Drive in Cambridge. Families welcome. Call (617) 415-1884 for more information.


Nick Woebske and Galen Mook lead a bike tour at dusk around the perimeter of the Alewife Reservation.  Edible plant expert David Craft will educate riders on the vast amount of edible plants in the area at periodic stops.  Sponsored by the Friends of Alewife Reservation. Participants will meet at the at the passenger pickup of the AlewifeT-stop in Cambridge. Visit the Friends of Alewife Reservation’s site for updated information or call (617) 415-1884.