Sunday, April 9, 2017

From buckthorn jungle to oak savannah

Another day cutting buckthorn, this time at Forest Glen, a site new to me, and new to restoration. The buckthorn are so big here they are trees, big, thick trees. The goal is to turn the place back into prairie, rolling into oak savannah. I'm so excited! As you might recall , prairies are my jam.

I also enjoyed looking for tiny little sproutlings.

I was very proud of myself for recognizing these as trout lilies.

There were also spring avens, which are common but native, and loads of these low-to-the-ground spring plants with yellow flowers and which name I can't remember, dangit, but which are invasive and everywhere (anyone?). There were also the soft, fuzzy-leafed beginnings of what looked like mullein, which was brought over by Europeans for medicinal purposes. I wish I'd taken pictures of these things.

Chief Forest Preserve Friend, Josh Coles, showed me some other things growing there: cow parsnip, golden alexander. He said they'd put a seed mix a few weeks ago and some of the other tiny bladelike sprouts we were seeing were likely from that.

Little baby cow parsnip
Little baby golden alexander
We couldn't figure out what this is. Does anyone know?

The anticipation of spring is so fun, plant-wise. I'm looking forward to visiting and working at this site again, watching the plants we identified grow and change, and seeing what else comes up from the ground.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Stewardship day at Labagh

Saturday was another stewardship day Saturday cutting buckthorn, this time at LaBagh Woods. The group was large and included a crew of diligent kids from Curie High. 

Most of the buckthorn was fairly small—we used loppers and hacksaws. No chainsaw crew on this site. More time consuming than the actual cutting is disentangling the brushy, thorny, spreading branches from other trees. The stuff is like velcro, catching on anything when it falls.

Maybe one day I'll actually be able to recognize buckthorn with a degree of certitude, but for now I followed the steward's spray-painted orange marks to know which tree to cut and which to leave. There are hawthorns and oaks in these woods, native flora that belongs in this ecosystem.

There is also invasive honeysuckle, which was let stand, with some reluctance, to appease the birding groups, who just want cover for their birds and so operate under different priorities from the restoration folks.

It has rained throughout January and February, but snow has barely fallen, and what has fallen hasn't stuck. On this day it was appropriately seasonally cold and the brushfire provided welcome warmth, but the  dusting of snow that came midway through the morning still disappeared almost immediately. I'm glad I snapped the picture when I did. I miss snow.

For break, the stewards grilled hotdogs on the buckthorn brushfire, and a couple called the Martons brought out delicious home-made beans and cole slaw, apparently a regular perk of volunteering at LaBagh. The students also brought marshmallows for roasting, after the work was done. 

Note: I made a correction to the name of the food-making couple. Previously I had written "Hortons." Sorry about that, Martons!


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A letter to Starbucks

I read this concise and useful post by Sarah Wilson about ways to reduce plastic, and it led me back to a refrain that repeats often in my head:

Why does Starbucks continue to produce so much garbage?

Starbucks is an excellent corporate citizen, treating its staff and suppliers as humans who have aspirations and needs and are deserving of respect. They are big-picture and root-cause-based about it. Why don't they apply this thinking to their use of packaging?

They do have an environmental and climate-change policy, including a page addressing container waste, but it doesn't seem to add up to enough.

So I wrote them a letter. Here it is:


I really appreciate that you are an excellent corporate citizen when it comes to your staff and suppliers. It makes a difference and provides a model for other companies. I also read on your website about your environment-related efforts, and appreciate those...but I still hate that when I walk in to a Starbucks all I see are throwaway items. *Sometimes* the Starbucks has a recycling area for *some* of the elements, but it is absolutely not enough. Recycling shouldn't be our go-to, anyway: reduce, reuse, THEN recycle. I feel that there are so many ways you can do better, especially given the innovative and thoughtful ways you address other social issues.

--Can you have washable plates, cutlery, and mugs for people who stay? I understand this will up your energy because of washing needs. So, if not...

--There are SO many compostable options now. There are compostable-plastic cups, food containers, cutlery, and more. Certainly for customers that are staying with you, you could give them their stuff using compostable packaging and add a composting service to your garbage pick-up. People could throw out almost all of their packaging and their food leftovers into the compost; it would reduce your garbage immensely.

--Unless you live in a city that has composting, the compostable stuff won't help to-go customers as much. But there have GOT to be better recycling options for your lids, cups, food packages, cutlery, napkins...Your efforts in this area just do not appear to be very sincere. This effort could be combined with a lot of very clear reminders to customers about recycling, and maybe even marketing-type accountability incentives such as pledges to sign or photo contests or something, since most of your customers are to-go and won't be tossing their empty containers on site.

--You could offer a pretty steep incentive for people to bring their own (Starbucks-branded if you like) reusable packaging. You website says you encourage this but I definitely have not seen that. Some serious public education needs to happen with your customers.

--I'm going to suggest, too, given your influence as a popular and ubiquitous business in most places, you might be able to leverage your opinion and suggest to many of the cities and towns where you are located that they start regular composting. It is part of the cycle of life -- this notion that we use a thing once and its waste is garbage is insane -- and we must must MUST get ourselves out from under the mountain of garbage we are burying ourselves in along with the rest of the world.

Those are all the ideas I've got at the moment, but I'm sure you and your team could generate a ton more, and from those develop an innovative and smart suite of changes that not only reduces the garbage Starbucks produces but actually helps launch the groundwork for a healthier environment for all.

Thank you.

I'll report back if they respond. Meanwhile, I'm going to finish my cup of coffee.

Er, home brewed. I don't really like Starbucks coffee. But I do appreciate their business practices!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Back at it with the loppers

Saturday I finally got back outside to do some restoration/stewardship work with North Branch Restoration Project and Forest Preserve District of Cook County. It felt SO good to be outside, and to be helping a hawthorne grove near Linne Prairie grow stronger. I wish we'd taken before-and-after photos — we cleared a ton of buckthorn! But I only took photos on the walk there through Linne Woods.


It was a beautiful, muddy morning—very springlike, wholly unFebruary-like. I don't think we've had snow since December.

Once on the prairie, I recognized a few plants in their winter guise, but only the most obvious, such as this compass plant and prairie dropseed. 

Linne Prairie is interesting because, while it's come a long way, according to the site stewards Marian and John, it is still recovering from its degraded state as former farmland and fill pit. I look forward to walking here, and working here, in the spring and summer.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Loss, and growth

Since mid-November, I have been writing every day for hours — it's the most disciplined I've ever been with writing — with anything,  actually — in my entire life. I have been writing and sending out a newsletter about daily actions anyone can do to strengthen democracy, a free press, a healthy environment, and people's civil rights and liberties.

It has not seemed relevant to this blog so I haven't been posting in this blog. I don't think I want it in this blog. But it leaves this blog neglected.

This blog has morphed over time as well; it started out being largely about my search for a more responsive education system that supports and respects teachers and students. When I observed the wedges being driven between various education stakeholders in Chicago and across the country by the privatization movement, I created an education idea-exchange, H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk, and this blog became a companion for that. As my freelance and my personal work changed, my interest in nature-based formal education changed to a love and fascination with local greenspace more generally.

I have considered letting the blog morph again into an instrument of civic participation and activism. I don't think that's the right fit for this blog. You can receive my daily five-minute actions by going to (click on the red link to see an archive, and yikes please excuse the massive typo in the first sentence of today's letter). You can also find me occasionally guest blogging about activism on, a lively space for unique interviews with fascinating people and examinations of work, life, family, and society.

This blog may morph again; actually, it might be bound to. I think I need to embrace my tendency to wholeheartedly explore many things — all kinds of things, interlocking things and very different things, things that do not meld into one cohesive Big Picture — as a feature rather than a bug.

I have been thinking about this tendency, and this blog, and my work, and my interests, and my way of going through the world, and I do perceive a thread. What I want to do in all these things is facilitate equitable access to things that make life free and worth living — access to nature for all people, access to a good and respectful education, access to the resources needed to do one's job right, access to civil rights and liberties.

In my consulting work, I do an array of things — line editing, curriculum development, content architecture, nonprofit program development. I have been advised to narrow my focus or it'll never all work. But I have accepted, I think, that I can't; or rather, that narrowing my focus means doing a wide array of consulting with one thread in common: helping people and organizations with a mission to better help their clients access their content.

Meanwhile, while Resistence is Necessary and Not Futile, I sorely miss my forays into the urban wilds. I hope to continue to explore nature in and around Chicago and elsewhere, and I hope to explore this thread of access more; and I hope my newfound writing discipline will actually benefit, not continue to silence, this blog!

Thanks for your support while I sort out these new priorities for this new era.