A day for outrage, a year for exponential change


Today my twelve-year-old daughter and I joined hundreds of men, women and children at Brayton Point, a coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts. We were with Mothers Out Front and 350.org; we were with an angry mother from West Virginia coal country; we were in a community that deserves not to be the seat of protest, but rather the locus of hope that a radical turnaround in the use of fossil fuels could bring.

Indeed, it’s the economic predicament of towns like Somerset and coal towns in Appalachia that seem to give my daughter the most pause.

It’s the feeling of imposing, even intruding, on a community, that made me balk, even as I walked and shouted in view of the plant. There were a few protesters who voiced their support of the Somerset community to the onlookers whom we assumed to be local.
“We want you to have good jobs,”
called out one, passing a teenager with two adults (and a dog) who stared at the procession en route. However weak the delivery, however it may have raised more questions than answers, that sentiment was–is–right. And if it’s not right up front, and backed with deeds, not pledges, then this isn’t a transformation that’s going to have wings. I’ll trade you those for the lead boots of political pandering and the duplicity of coal companies any day.

We’re tired, and a bit dehydrated, but with much more to say later about our experiences. Stay tuned for profiles of some of the people we met in the shadow of the power plant today. Meanwhile, my twitter feed will give you a window on our day of outrage and incredulity that coal still plays a role in our power supply.

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)

Dr. Michael Rich at CCFC’s Consuming Kids Summit: A Liveblog

Michael Rich (Ask the Mediatrician) is at the podium at The Center for Commercial-Free Childhood’s summit this morning. Here are my notes:

•as of 2010, 75 percent of kids age 0-1 in the U.S. watch DVDs
•CCFC was able to prove that what babies learn from television…is how to watch television
•What does the growing infant brain need? Not neurons, synapses…

Pardon my newbieness at the liveblog medium, but sticking to Twitter’s 140 characters just got a little too frustrating this morning. These bullets will be fairly selective excerpts from Rich’s presentation. Rich shows small children fighting each other after watching Power Rangers.

•Violence in media is one of the best researched area in effects of screen time on children’s mental health.

•About 1,000 good papers show, consistently, one or more of 3 outcomes:

-increase in fear and anxiety in younger children (inflates presence of violence from real situation).

-desensitizes all of us. The more we see it, the more we adapt.

-in some children, there are increased aggressive thoughts and behaviors

•For bullying to occur, you need a bully, a victim and bystanders. These three parties correspond to the three effects above.

Rich: All Media are educational………whether about Big Macs, Killing, or How to Read.

National data from 2010 shows average time use of 8-18 year olds. The average is 7 hours and 38 minutes every day, does not incl 33 min of talking and 1 min and 35 secs of texting (this was 2010).

But because of multitasking, there is 10 hours and 45 minutes average exposure to media content.

•There is a dose-response relationship between media time and obesity.

•Manchester Public Schools (NH) Media Study is analagous to the Framingham Heart Study

In the May issue of Pediatrics will have the paper that shows that attention to commercial television is the strongest predictor of increased obesity in individuals. No relationship beween computer, video game, or cell phone use and obesity.

Does media use influence risk for early alcohol use? There is positive dose-response rel between media multitasking and early alcohol use.

Goings-on for Kids at the Harvard Museum of Natural History

Yet more shilling for the Harvard Museum of Natural History…seriously, these look like terrific programs.

Harvard Museum of Natural History Goings-On

Kids’ classes, clubs, and programs – Harvard Museum of Natural History.