Memories

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Have you ever noticed how a song can take you back to your childhood or some long stashed away memory?  The same can be said about a smell, like a special recipe your mom made when you were a child or perhaps a particular flower. Even taste has its place in the storing of your lifetimes worth of experiences. The fact is that “all” of our senses seem to help attach themselves to a special moment of our lives and have the ability to open that part of our mind as if giving us an old unique key to a hidden door that we can suddenly peak into.  Amazingly our senses give us the ability to add a sort of protective layer around particular moments in time that might have been otherwise forgotten. Each second of everyday we are bombarded with information of some kind or another and its easy to see how many of the details become lost in the pile of countless pieces of information. By heightening the overall experience at the time of the event, it’s like using a yellow highlight marker on a particular sentence buried in 10,000 words. Suddenly its easy to find that particular spot.

Image from healthmango.com

Understanding how or why that works is fairly simple, think of it another way; imagine if you were to eat 1 bowl of plain oatmeal every day for 100 days and I asked you about your experience on one “particular” meal you probably would have no idea. You would also be pretty sick of eating oatmeal. Sure maybe you would remember the first bowl, or the last might stand out a bit but most meals would sort of blend over time. Now imagine one particular meal you were surprised because unexpectedly added into the bowl was smelly and super powerful hot sauce. Suddenly, that meal no matter which of the 100 days, stands out as unique. Years later if you smell or taste that same hot sauce you would certainly remember that moment in time and a large part of that day would probably come flooding back into your mind.

As we grow from childhood our young minds associate the many things we see, taste, touch, hear and smell with our experiences and those in many ways help create the building blocks of our minds. Since the nature of growing up means many of our memories are from a younger time, we tend to perceive the world with a heightened and nostalgic view. Perhaps an old street you lived on, place you visited as a young person etc becomes sewn into your mind.

Early Spring Nature Walk

Knowing this is a powerful thing for a parent. That means you have the ability to help ensure the experiences and reflections in the life of your child are wonderful ones worthy of that hopefully nostalgic view.  That is exactly why it is so vitally important that we all remember to take our children for walks into natural habitats to admire wildlife and appreciate “their” world. As we walk through a forest, meadow or watershed (or any other habitat) the smells of the trees and flowers, the songs of the birds all fill the senses with the wonder of “life” itself. Something all of us can relate too. That positive impression left in the mind of the child can last a lifetime and the love and endearment of the natural world means that you are helping to building a better future by ensuring people still “care” in future generations.

Imagine a person in government being asked to develop a particular habitat and suddenly hears the song of a bird reminiscent of his or her childhood. Perhaps that will mean that same person has pause before making a decision that would destroy the place that they hold close to their own heart because they would also understand its importance.  Now when I was raised before the internet, cell phones even “cordless homes phones” there wasn’t much reason to stay indoors. In fact I spent all my time outdoors so much so that I grew up to do things like become a conservationist (I like the term “preservationist” better btw). So my experiences as a child did directly impact the course of my own life.

The beauty of a healthy wild place

In today’s high tech world of the iPad and smart phone ensuring constant online communication with websites like Facebook it’s hard to imagine that people have time to be outdoors. As we spend more hours in front of a computer, sadly that means less time to see what is happening in a nearby forest preserve for example.

These experiences are not to be missed at any age, but it is absolutely imperative for a child to see. In nature the scent of wildflowers in a meadow, the sound of a birds, whales and wolves singing or the feeling of bark on a pine tree all create a world of wonder and awe that locks in to your consciousness for a lifetime.  I can remember watching a Luna Moth flying at night against the back drop of the moon or and eagle landing on a salmon and flying off. Those images have forever blended into my heart and my mind is inseparable from that humble feeling of respect. They are so powerful even as the years go by and I forget little things like “why did I just walk into this room” or “what was I looking for in this drawer” I never forget those magical moments exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and I never will. That is the point I suppose. Our “memories” are built on “experiences” so ensuring we spend quality time in places that reflect the best things in life i.e., “Nature” will ensure we hold a lifetime of wonderful building blocks for our future.

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Federal Budget Cuts and the Environment

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

When thinking about something’s “value” we often get confused by just exactly what that means. Seeing value in only direct monetary terms is short sided and can easily lead us astray. Think of it this way, compare the “value” of lets say gold, to the “value” of air. We think of air as free, and gold is – well, valuable – how odd is that?   Just imagine that if you take gold away, your fine but take air away and you’ll die. Seems to me that air should have far more value then gold since we can not live without it. Compare diamonds and water – do you see my point? These days we seem to describe something as valuable based on a flawed system. All too often we loose site of what’s really important and take them for granted. The children then grow up in a world where they are taught to hold monitory things as far more important then the natural world, which is dangerous for the well being of everything and is something we need to correct right away. If you replace the word “valuable” with the word “precious” it helps but still we see terms like “precious metals” as opposed to “precious forests”.

Image from forestpolicyresearch.com

How does this poor use of the term valuable lead us astray? Take the recent budget cuts here in the United States. The goal was to cut spending so they pulled money from things considered less important, or to put it another way, less valuable. Being a naturalist all my life I knew what that meant long before anyone itemized the cuts because I have seen this many times. It means that laws protecting the environment, agencies whose job it is to enforce environmental protection even protected wildlife habitat all come under attack. That’s because of the confusion about value. There are those in government that want very much to exploit the natural world for profit and have a long track record of doing exactly that. Trading (air) and (water) for (gold) and (diamonds) when you think about it.

The irony is that I know we are better then this and so do you. I believe the majority of us care, I mean who wants their family to not have air and drinking water?  What I can not understand is why so many of us are all but unaware when these “precious and valuable” natural resources come under attack. Our future depends on our society learning to live “with” the natural world and not in spite of it. We all would rather see a clean and healthy watershed and forest then a devastated one.

Image from Care2.com

In the recent federal budget cuts were things like “lifting protections for gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. Now I am no economist mind you, but how exactly does failing to protect an endangered species help federal budget shortcomings? What that really is all about is special interest groups out west in this particular case, called “ranchers” who have been trying to open up wolves to hunting since they were reintroduced. The Wolf has as much right to exist on public land as any other species does and certainly more right then free roaming domestic cattle in my opinion. They are public lands we are talking about not just a particular piece of private land. Now in my case after being involved with these discussions and paying attention to what has been happening I no longer consume beef. I made that choice many years ago after hearing multiple reports of ranchers killing wolves. I figured that was the one thing I had the immediate power to do and that no one person or organization had the power to control. So instantly I was no longer their customer and therefore stopped supporting their business. When you purchase beef you are funding them after all. We have all heard the term “the customer is always right” because in business you want to protect the relationship with your customers because that is literally how you are paid. The point being if enough of the beef consuming public wants to “protect wolves” we could then demand it of the ranching community by our own purchase decisions. There are some ranchers, that have stood up and “do” actually work with environmental groups to protect their cattle but at the same time not harm the wolves. Those ranchers should get more publicity for their positive contributions and also provide a venue for those in that market. In this way, protecting wolves would become a reality because in the end of the day don’t “we the people” control that money. We just need to put our money in the right places where we see the most “value”. Imagine that instead of the flash mob phenomena simply dancing in a mall, we instead used the power of social media to take control of protecting wildlife by shifting our purchase power.  Rest assure that there is nothing that gets attention to a cause like moving our buying power money around from folks who hold that, as the most… “valuable”

Wolves are “valuable” because a clean and healthy natural world does consist of apex predators.

Image of Earth's water cycle from NASA.gov

Other recent cuts that gave me direct pause were things like the gut wrenching $1 billion from Environmental Protection Agency. Remember the EPA enforces laws to protect against greenhouse gases, clean drinking water etc. Think of what will happen at the hands of coal plants for example, without that level of monitored and safeguards in place. Other groups that received cuts were the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) consisting of industry scientists around the world dealing with the impact of climate change. There was even $407 million from energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. Ironic when you think about how they are cutting the funding protecting against greenhouse gases and then cutting the funding for new sciences to help break our dependency on things that produce, greenhouse gases. Projects like high speed rails not only help reduce greenhouse gases by providing alternative commuting but also create jobs so I found that odd that they have even cut funding to a high speed rail system. At the same time as we are talking about federal “overspending” I was curious about how much money was being spent overseas. What does it cost to be in Iraq and Afghanistan these days etc? A quick online search shows that we spent over 1.1 “trillion” (with a T) dollars overseas fighting battles in places that produce oil. A source of energy that creates greenhouse gases. I found this website with a chart showing how fast money is being spent overseas that is actually a near real time view. http://costofwar.com/en/ I am not affiliated with the site so I cant speak about it other then they have a great chart showing the cost.

Now let’s talk again about our use of the term “value”.

According to dictionary.com the top three definitions of value are as follows:

1. relative worth, merit, or importance: the value of a college education; the value of a queen in chess.

2. monetary or material worth, as in commerce or trade: This piece of land has greatly increased in value.

3. the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange.

I still am not really seeing the point of why we think “money” is more “valuable” then “Clean Air”, “Clean Water” and “Wildlife”. I believe we have become confused about what’s important in life and those who would sacrifice all we have for a quick profit are making decisions that will profoundly impact each one of us, our children and the world we all share.

Nothing is more valuable then Mother Earth and its time we recognized that.

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The Jersey Barrier

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Many of us have a common path to commute from each day. Part of our normal routines headed both towards and back home from our place of daily work. Along my own commute I drive along this one particular highway that cuts in to the middle of some local conservation land. It’s a nice area with a lot of deciduous trees on either side of the highway and I have seen many species like Deer, Hawk and Fox on several occasions.

Some years back a project to widen the road began as a part of Massachusetts “Big Dig” project and the state began to open up the highway infrastructure in and around the city of Boston. For along time this had not impacted the commute in my area away from the city until finally they decided to work on the highways further north of Boston and then my normal predictable commute suddenly changed dramatically. That small little highway near conservation land was becoming larger and the work took off at a feverish pace for a couple of years or more. It took a long time for things to settle back down but in time, it eventually did. Although the daily roar of heavy equipment had stopped one legacy of the construction work remained, the “Jersey Barrier”.  For those of you who don’t know what a Jersey barrier actually is; they are those approx 3 foot tall cement walls made of snap together sections along the highways and even secondary roadways. They are made by pouring concrete into a re bar filled mold and have become all the rage in the construction world because they can be poured “as needed”. So widespread is there use as a highway traffic barrier that there hasn’t been much thought about their ecological impact. Imagine being a Mouse, Skunk, Porcupine, Opossum etc and being on the wrong side of a 3ft high smooth surface that you absolutely can not cross.

"Many species like this female Snapping Turtle run into serious problems trying to lay their eggs because they can't cross Jersey Barriers. This often causes them to become fatally trapped on the roadway."

What about a turtle trying to reach a pond? It is not a small unimportant consideration; it is becoming a very big deal. Once they were installed the forest on either side of the road was totally separated for smaller wildlife since between the north and south bound lanes were endless miles of tightly connected barriers, each tied together neatly in a long and seamless string stretching far beyond the actual conservation land and across countless towns. That habitat has been “fractionalized” into two separate non connected realms each only half of what its original size was. There are places that have water on one side in the form of a marsh and forest on the other.  The problem is that often individual towns conservation commissions miss the point since they simply see this as part of the highway department and are not necessarily thinking about the “connect-ability” of protected conservation land along the highway and rather just the single parcels themselves.

One of the most important things to consider when protecting wildlife is undoubtedly the preservation of habitat and lots of it. It seems simple enough at first thought; I mean what can be so difficult about remembering to leave some forest and wetlands aside so that our wild neighbors have a place to live? The problem comes down to more of a “big picture” scenario. By that I mean most towns and municipalities make jurisdictional laws specific for their own region, and list of conservation parcels.  This does not mean they consider the connection points between parcels especially when they intersect other towns or jurisdictions. Wildlife on the other hand doesn’t really care about what we humans call a town, state or nations border.  They are living with something we humans often idealize and rarely actually come to know and fully understand ourselves, called “Freedom”.
They will roam wherever they need to based on food availability, the search for a mate, curiosity about a new territory etc.

They don’t worry about taxes or town councils or even passports for that matter. They live a truly “free” lifestyle and do their best to live around and with, all of us. That is, until we create a physical barrier preventing them from moving across from one side of a habitat to another. Just imagine in an urban environment,  there are many roads with many Jersey Barriers.

Image from the Florida D.O.T Website

That means we can literally create “boxes” of island habitats where nothing small and flightless can get in or out from. Keep in mind “nothing will dig under a Jersey Barrier in the middle of the asphalt highway”. Just imagine if you were a small mammal and during the night attempt to cross the road to get to your drinking water, you could be in very big trouble. Wandering miles to find a place to cross trapped up against the Jersey Barrier and traffic. Too many times I have witnessed first hand turtles, opossum, skunks etc trapped up against a miles long barrier with traffic whizzing by on one side and the cement wall trapping them on the other. That being said there is a simple solution after all; why not create gaps at every few hundred feet?

It can be done and is in some case like in the image below where a simple gap has been left for wildlife.

Image from D.O.T Federal Highway Commission website

What is ironic is that image is actually from the “Department of Transportation” Highway Commission website and even comes with caption about the gap allowing wildlife to cross. Before any traffic engineers tell me that they need to connect to provide the safety benefit allow me to point out that I have also seen a few cases where there was gaps connected by a steel plate but leaving an obvious opening. I don’t know if that was made for wildlife or not but I assure you it works for their benefit. That simple act doesn’t come with a big price tag in fact it probably costs the same as not having them since you will save money buy needing slightly less Jersey Barriers to begin with but then buy the scrap steel connection braces (made from scraps of steel “Guard Rail” Material 2 ft or 3 ft long). A net cost of close to zero. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cheap and it “works”.

You can help me spread the word on this one. If you like what you read in this article and live in a region where Jersey barriers are common without a gap for wildlife to cross please call or write to your local highway Department. Let me know what response you get by sending me an email at mfraser@naturewalkswithmark.org.  Working together we can make a difference and it’s about time we proved it. This simple and common sense consideration and action “will” positively help the lives of wildlife thanks to your own assistance within your community.

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Radioactive Rain

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

There are two things that I think should not be used in the same sentence, “radioactive” and “rain”.  It is already serious enough to live with the impacts of “Acid Rain” on our watersheds thanks in large part to the use of Coal. There was a time when news like “Radioactive Rain” would have sent people into a serious frenzy. Officials saying “nothing to worry about” would have a very bad day as the concerned public would be out making statements of protest showing real and honest concern for the health of our environment and families. My, the things we can get used to hearing about are truly surprising. Over the years subjects that were once cause for real concern and even uproar seem to be old hat these days. Take “climate change” I remember not long ago when that was a serious subject, yet these days when I speak with people about it, I often hear people say they heard it was not an issue or even a political hoax. Even more scary; is when people say “I don’t like snow anyway”. Of course there are so many things that could be said about all of that but I will sum it up as that it leaves me sort of baffled. When exactly did that happen? How did we get so desensitized to the things going on around us?

I suppose that is why I was not very surprised seeing a lack of uproar at the local weather report. I was listening to a meteorologist the other day in the Boston area talking about “radioactive rain”. He proclaimed that it was no big deal and that it was less then getting an X-Ray exam. My first impression was “so is this person a physicist and also a PHD who studied the impact of radiation on human health over time?” If not, respectfully we all need to ask our own questions, and I feel we should be concerned for the potential “long term” impacts as the ecosystems around us are now absorbing radiation from this disaster.

You see being a conservationist I pay close attention to pollutions impacting on the natural world. Things like lead, mercury and plastics have an impact that has a very unique characteristic. It’s called “bio-magnification”. Basically that term describes how pollutants magnify in the food web. One example is when something consumes something else as prey, when the prey has been contaminated. The predator eats many of the prey, and therefore has a far greater amount of exposure to the pollutant. This works its way right up the food chain and includes you and I by the way. There are real examples of that all over nature. Takes Loons, they are contaminated by lead and mercury pollutants from things like “lead sinkers” used by fisherman that for some reason are still sold in stores to this day (crazy, I know).   Since Loons eat many fish that are contaminated and lead stays in their bodies a very long time, it then magnifies as more and more lead is ingested. This problem is not only very real but actually threatens their very survival. This same bio-magnifications impact Eagles as well.

Image from USGS

In fact, to some degree it can impact nearly everything. Salmon, considered a super healthy food for humans because of Omega3 fatty acids is also a fish that comes with a warning. If you eat Salmon too often then you can increase your own exposure to mercury (Hg) and so on. Ok so now that we understand “bio-magnification” lets talk about the radioactive rain that keeps popping up on the news. It doesn’t require a physicist to explain how the radioactive particles traveled around the world on the wind and are now washing down in the form of rain. There are lots of warm and fuzzy reports about it stating that “you can get more radiation from flying or from an XRAY”.  The problem is that as this crisis at the Fukushima plant is ongoing. It continues day after day while TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) tries to battle this horrific environmental disaster but each day those same radioactive particles continue to dust across entire the ecosystem. They concentrate in rain and on to our crops. That would include grass, eaten by milking cows that we get our milk from by the way. So “biomagnification” can occur right in our own home.  As always there are lots of would be experts speaking about how everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. It reminds me of the BP Oil spill how for a while the news reports about the oil inteh Gulf said “it just evaporated” while local residents continued to try and report the truth about what they actually see on the site- and they still do by the way.  Now in this case, this catastrophe is no doubt causing serious ecological impact. Radioactive water has actually run into the ocean. What sort of impact does that have on sea life and how long will it last? I do not think anyone really knows.  One thing is for sure. We are seeing the truth about our choices for energy. Nuclear, Oil, Coal, Natural Gas all come with “very serious” ecological impact often overlooked because those who support it are backed by billions of dollars of profit (also called lobbyist) while those who fight to protect the health of the world are often not funded at all. I believe we need to pay “very” close attention to what is going on in the world around us. Our insatiable appetite for more and more power needs to employ far more wisdom with each of the steps we take.

Like DDT, Mercury, Lead and other environmental pollutants, when “our” habitat has been contaminated the ramifications can be vast, especially when considered over time.  Even when readings start off very low, we need to carefully monitor the complex web of ecological relationships now infused with the offending pollutant. Considering the long term potential health impacts of even small amounts of radiation, I wonder if this Nuclear event combined with the massive BP Oil spill, will finally allow us to take a far more serious look at our choices going forward. Hopefully in time, we can use these tragedies as a catalysis to make better choices about the real use of Geo Thermal and renewable energy sources in the future. In time I’m sure we can learn to make the right decisions, I hope so because as I type this article and look out my window, I see that it’s raining…

Mark Fraser

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Renewable Energy

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Finding an abundant energy source is not restricted to the realm of humanity, in fact the quest for energy exists throughout the natural world. Looking for sunlight is a common beginning to that quest. I mean it makes sense, the sun is right there only 8 “light” minutes away and thankfully shining on our planet. This abundant energy source allows living species (plants) to take advantage of that energy derived from sunlight with the process of photosynthesis. I think we should give plants credit because they seemed to have solved the energy crisis without having to ask the question about renewable energy in the first place.

The problem when you think about it comes when we get greedy. You see at some point, life forms on Earth realized they could steal energy from other life forms that collect it in the first place. Another way to say that is “Predator – Prey” relationships. When you think about that,  it is a species (predator) taking the energy stored in the (prey). Even herbivorous prey species like Deer for example get their energy from plants that in turn get their energy from the sun.

Image from NASA.gov

So the renewable energy seems to work its way throughout the natural world both directly and indirectly. Remember food “is” energy, it’s easier to wrap your mind around that statement when you call food “fuel” then it makes more sense.

Ok so back to renewable energy. When you hear about horrible nuclear disasters like what has happened in Japan after the tragic Earthquake and Tsunami, people quickly look for alternate sources of renewable energy. Since Coal causes Acid Rain (which is extremely bad) for the natural world, finding “clean” energy is also critically important. Nuclear is so popular simply because it creates an awful lot of heat, which makes steam, which runs turbines and makes electricity. The added and very impressive benefit is that it doesn’t create Acid Rain in the process. It does however have many problems of its own, especially when dealing with the so called spent rods (they are radioactive after all).

Now let’s look at things from a different point of view. Nature does a really good job at showing us the way when we give her a patient glance with an open mind. Some forms of life on Earth do not even use Photosynthesis for energy, they instead take advantage of the hot thermals on the oceans floor. So there are chemical forms of energy as well. Taking advantage of hot thermals is a very interesting idea. Any trip to Yellowstone national park will quickly show you just how hot the world below can be as you witness amazing blasts of steam erupting from the Earth. There are even incredible forms of bacteria tinting the watersheds with impressive pastels that are using the nutrient energy themselves.

Image from NASA.gov

Taking advantage of the warmer subsurface temperatures is not new to science and creates several opportunities for renewable energy since the Earth is heating itself and we can take advantage of that. Geo-thermal power is not new and does exactly that by creating electricity from the naturally occurring heat generated at thermal vents. This process is already being used in several countries. Taking that down a notch to a residential version is important when trying to bring a renewable resource to fruition.  The first and what I would argue to be the most important step is to make “all” homes Geo-Thermal capable. There are two basic types; the closed loop and also an open loop system for residential application. The principle for both is the same. Take advantage of the stable water temperature below the ground then use that to cool your home in summer and heat it in the winter. Below the frost line in the ground the water temperature is very constant between 50 and 60 degrees all year “regardless of the season or temperature” above ground.  So you can use

Image from NASA.gov

that constant resource to control the temperature in your own home. You would only heat from approx 55 deg

rees to 68 or whatever your normal temperature is and for those who need coolant more than heat, the same applies in the other direction. The net benefit is enormous savings per month especially at the extreme climate times. It also means far less demand on other sources of heat and coolant nationally and or globally if we all adopt this method.You might wonder why everyone doesn’t do this. That’s because the cost can range from 10 to 20 thousand dollars to create depending on the contractor, etc. However, if “all” new construction was required to be geo-thermal compliant, wouldn’t that create jobs? A boom in the Geo-thermal market means people working in manufacturing, maintenance and construction and all that for a far reduced heating and cooling demand. At the same time making this process common would dramatically reduce the cost as we see in any other growing business. Therefore, when we talk about renewable energy methods such as wind and solar solutions are great augmentations to the electric grid but let’s also put focus on each of our homes own consumption with a Geo-Thermal “renewable energy” type solution.

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The End of the World

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

If I had a dime for every time in my life that I heard the end of the world was coming, I would have a lot of dimes. Many people talk about end of days predictions and put them in to religious context that fit neatly into one belief or another. Now that may be convenient when trying to understand life on this planet from a religious point of view but I have to say in my opinion that doesn’t have anything at all to do with the future of our home world. There is no need to sell your house or live frivolously since you might feel that very soon “it won’t matter anyway” in fact, that would be a bad plan and lead you in the wrong direction. You see the world has been around for “billions” of years so long in fact that our species entire existence on this planet is a mere blink in the context of history. End of the world predictions make great headlines and get lots of attention from their sexy media hype and fear factor. All that emotional momentum  is great until the day “after” the supposed end when everyone who publicly believed that the end was actually arriving and ran around at the brink of insanity suddenly is left with that Y2K feeling of “whoops”.  H.G Wells knew all about the power of that belief and also how upset people get the next day.

I do not live life worrying about not being alive,  that doesn’t make any sense at all to me as I would much rather spend life paying attention to the wonder of being alive in the first place and cherish the time I do have.

From George Pal's "War of the Worlds" 1953

See when we incorrectly think “it doesn’t matter anyway” that false hopelessness creates an opportunity for excuses causing some to take the easy route in life. That in turn can actually incorrectly justify a behavior that is bad for the health of our home, the Earth. When you think it makes no difference then why recycle?  Why spend time worrying about preservation of wildlife habitat, etc. That kind of thinking is what needs to come to an end of days.  The Earth is a special place, truly a sacred gift. Just for a moment take a deep breath and appreciate you are floating in space in this mostly liquid bubble. There are millions of life forms on the planet right beside you that all do their part to represent the overall bounty of life on this planet which also “includes” us humans.

Once along the banks of a lake in the mud I found a great fossil, which upon review turned out to be a Trilobite. Now this species has been extinct for over 350 million years. So I am looking into a window in time, showing me a world of life long before we were worried about the end of a Mayan calendar. I suppose all things considered the end of days did come for the Trilobite – they went extinct after all; but that came at the end of a mass extinction when the Permian epoch came to a close. Many species were lost during that very difficult time and yet even then, life continued. Hundreds of millions of years later as humans showed up on the scene we certainly have made an impact on the planet.

Trilobite Fossil Image from South Dakota Museum

We are capable of such amazing and wondrous things and sadly are also capable of so much destruction. All things considered we are an amazing species in our own right. Sure we stumble and make mistakes some much larger then others but we are also capable of music and art, dancing and love. We can help other species when they are in harms way and possibly, one day even protect the entire planet from a comet or asteroid.  So for all our flaws we carry our own beauty to the planet we share.

So let’s get back to the “End of the World”. It does happen according to species like Mammoths that have gone the way of the Trilobite. They are gone now so to them their world really is over.

Some day, our own species will exist no more as well and we will actually go to the place that all those who came before us have gone.

I just don’t think it will happen on a specific predetermined day. I think we can certainly carve out our own niche for now and someday if we are in fact faced with the end of our own specific epoch of history then I would rather have “lived” as well as possible long before that time comes to fruition. The truth is we need to plan on being here for a very long time which means we “do” need to watch how we utilize our natural resources and monitor our impact on the planets health.   If we treat the world like the sacred gift that it really is and learn to truly respect the health and well being of all the other species we share this amazing planet with, then I believe our time here will be a happy time.  Let’s ” discuss saving our planet ” this way  instead of the so called “End of Days” lets think about the “beginning of a new day” when we celebrate life on the beautiful gift, “Mother Earth”.

Mark Fraser

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A Universe unto Itself

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Living our daily lives we hardly notice the goings on in the natural world. I suppose in all fairness they probably do the same. A close observation of a flower will reveal to you that it is not only a place for an insect or hummingbird to find nectar, but it is also a home for a wide variety of insects looking like representatives from an alien world. The range in color in body shapes is as varied as their roles. There is everything from miniature predators like spiders waiting to ambush other species looking for nectar to herbivores taking advantage of the plant itself. In some cases there is even species looking to simply catch a ride on other species like some sort of a biological bus station.

Each zone in the natural world is like its own world with its own set of rules just like each continent on Earth has its own unique accent of plant life and fauna. These same rules apply both above and below the waterline where each habitat range provides a bounty of sustainability to its own fauna and plant life. During a recent dive into Lake Champlain I found that depth and lighting created a universe unto itself allowing specific species and survival techniques to flourish.  Just imagine that this particular lake is 120 miles long. However it varies in depth from very shallow to an amazing 400 ft depth.

The amount of sunlight varies greatly as well so the deeper you go the less sunlight makes it to the bottom. This means the greatest amounts of algae are in the areas that allow near constant bathing in sunlight.

Life in the Shallows” seems to be driven by the very sunlight it self. The abundance of light allows for blooms of algae that in turn is food for species including filter feeders like invasive Zebra Mussels whose razor sharp shells seem to cover the bottom until you go deep enough that they are starved for algae due to the eventual decrease in sunlight. Amazingly some species of birds and fish do actually feed on Zebra Mussels so although they are invasive, they are now another food source and also abundant.

In the coming years biologists will need to perform long term studies to understand the impact on the overall health of species like Yellow Perch that now include the Zebra Mussels on their dinner menu. The shallow zones of Lake Champlain are now synonymous with these prolific mussels but the well lit areas also have many other species carving out a niche in this shallow aquatic universe. It is hear that large predatory fish are taking advantage of those beams of light that makes their prey stand out in the brightly lit water. While exploring by scuba on water approx 8 to 15 ft I found they seemed to be patrolling parallel to the beach along the longer part of the lake and looked like some sort of aquatic bird of prey soaring like a Hawk waiting to flush out its prey as its eyes gazed with  deep intent at the world below.

With colors reminiscent of camouflaged soldiers trying to remain hidden the Log perch Darter fish blends perfectly against the grasses along the bottom. Their colors look like a beautiful design blending of jaguar and tiger patterns with a yellowish hue background against the black stripes. Like their namesake they seemed to “Dart” about within the small rounded rocks on the bottom quickly looking for food before once again finding a hiding place as the ominous shadows of the predator fish species like Smallmouth bass move with and eerie glide nearby.

With the lake having over 80 types of fish they come in may sizes. Some species in large freshwater lakes such as Lake Champlain can be enormous like Channel Catfish weighing well over 30 pounds to Sturgeon that can be 7 feet long and over 300 pounds! I did not see any during the recent series of diving expeditions however; I did come across a very large and exciting species to swim with which included the somewhat skittish Fresh Water Drum. I saw several of these very large fish in the shallows in water that was about 12 ft deep. They were very large and at least at a glance appeared to be well over 10 pounds. They added to the excitement of the exploration and gave an amazing sense of wonder to the shallows.

Like all things in nature, the most amazing things come when we actually pay attention to the fine details.

Seeing species taking advantage of “Life in the Shallows” introduced me to a beautiful world of amazement just beyond the beach and the glitter of the sun dancing on the waters surface. Understanding that each unique zone within such a massive watershed forms a universe unto itself means we can have a greater understanding their secret world.

Admiring the myriad of life in the shallow water zone is undoubtedly key to our own species appreciation of the health of the watershed and also the raw beauty that resides just beyond our site. I suppose that is what it’s really all about, taking the time to understanding our wild neighbors then gaining a better appreciation of them.

Mark Fraser

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Early Warning for Earthquakes

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

The massive Earthquake and Tsunami on March 11th 2011 is a humbling reminder of the power of Mother Nature. The exact dynamics of what precise factors trigger an Earthquake has baffled scientists for many years. Despite dedicated research they still seem happen without much warning at all. This costs lives as people are unable to take shelter before the earthquake hits. Some have even theorized a possible connection to solar activity actually “triggering” Earthquakes albeit directly or indirectly by creating localized warming and setting off a chain of events like a form of a butterfly effect scenario. I have an opposite belief in my own humble opinion that perhaps solar activity interacting with the Earths magnetic field might help point us to an early warning system since the behavior of Northern Lights seems at least in my own experience to change prior to an Earthquake. Even during today’s massive Earthquake there was a report in Northern Minnesota of a powerful Aurora Borealis that peaked during the time of the Earthquake. Of course that could very well be a coincidence but I have to admit it is certainly curious and worthy of review.  This subject is something I have pondered many times due to a very strange experience I had back on April 19th 2002 in Upstate NY. I was camping in Franklin County in the northern Adirondacks with a friend of mine. It was a super clear night so there were a multitude of stars visible. It was during this star gazing that something very unusual happened.

Image of Earth's Aurora courtesy of NASA

We could see the Aurora Borealis shining bright green to light blue in the sky. Now I have seen northern lights many times in my life but this was radically different. Instead of having their normal look if a slowly twisting green mist or flame these looked like bands or waves like a massive conveyor belt. The lights began in the northern most point and looked to originate from deep space and at unimaginable speeds grew in size getting closer to Earth and then in a flash whipping across the entire horizon as fast as you could blink. It was as if this banding created an actual belt and the thicker banding features allowed me to see the incredible speeds. This was neither subtle nor brief and went on for hours in fact it was such a long lasting event that I hurt my neck from looking up in the air for so long and finally I had to retire and get some rest. I would guess it was about 3 or 4 am by the time I finally slept with the lights still going strong. Then at 6:50 AM on April 20th 2002 I was awoken to violent shaking. I was in a small camper pulled into the forest at the time and bounced to my feet then staggered to the window and saw something incredible as I watched the trees seemed to be dancing. Branches rattling as the trunks swayed like some kind of a slow moving belly dancer. I was shocked by the event and it took a while for my brain to process what just happened. There was also an aftershock and I was far more awake the second time. So I was ready for it and instantly stared intently into the forest looking at the swaying trees. I watched them dance for several seconds in complete amazement. News reports indicated a 5.1 on the Richter scale.

AP Photo - Kyodo News

Now this obviously was nothing as compared to the massive Earthquake of today “March 11th 2011″ that hit Japan causing the huge Tsunami as we are all watching the tear jerking news footage of the loss of life.

Our hearts go out to the people of Japan and it certainly makes me think there is very much a need for a better “early warning” system for Earthquakes. Back in 2002 after waking to the shake of a 5.1, I had actually forgotten about the amazing northern lights the night before the quake simply because the amazement of what the forest looked like during the quake that following morning. As remarkable as it all was, I was more fascinated by the Earthquake itself.  After the camping trip I heading back to the office to the hustle and bustle of the work week.  A long while passed before I started to reflect back about the strange chain of events.  It came a couple weeks later when I got a call from the friend of mine who was there the day of the quake.  He actually reminded me of the connection of the two events stating “Now that was amazing, lights and quakes all at once”.  Instantly a light bulb in my head had a flash and I theorized that perhaps the strange lights were reacting to a disturbance in the Earth’s Electro Magnetic Field due to the energy of the subsurface plates shifting.

It is certainly possible and seemed to make sense at least in my own opinion. I mean in this case there certainly was a very strange reaction between the Aurora and how it seemed to bounce back out into space. What if there really was something to that? What if the EMF field was pushing the solar particles back into space? Could we monitor the Earths magnetic field as a way to indicate pressure building up? I don’t know the answer to that and can only speculate based on my own personnel experience. I would say that better early warning systems would save lives and that in itself makes it very much worth researching.

Mark Fraser

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You Are Not Alone

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

A long time ago in North America, a great man that came to be known as the “Peacemaker” met with representatives of many northeastern indigenous nations to demonstrate the power of unity. He held a single arrow in the air and with a quick snap demonstrated how easily it could be broken as a single individual. He then took many arrows and bound them together, and tried to break them with all his might but could not. “Together we are strong” he proclaimed. That inspirational meeting led to the founding of the “Haudenosaunee” also known as the Iroquois Confederacy. The social implications set into motion a chain of events which eventually traveled around the entire planet as European settlers in America were inevitably introduced to their first democratic participatory system before the United States ever even existed. That amazing political and social model of representatives from different groups and nations to vote for the overall benefit of everyone created a model that influenced everything from the United States constitution to the assembly of the United Nations. Though today those facts are often overlooked in many of the history books, a little digging clearly demonstrates the power of unity of thought, or another way to look at it is “To be of one mind”.

“We Are All related” and very much so in fact, every atom in our bodies has the same origins as every thing else on this amazing planet. That is not a gesture; it is science and is one of the amazing truths to life on the Earth. So we are connected in ways that most, hardly even understand or are aware of. Knowing that together we really are strong and that we each are connected is a great place to start from when talking about the environment as whole.

With the world economies in serious turmoil, what environmental laws there are to protect our forests and watersheds seem to be on the chopping block yet again. Unlike the social activism of the 1960s and 1970s recent generations have quieted down to a point where many of the things we believe in and care for have honestly come under very serious and real threats. If we do not stand up for what we believe in, then who will? Our willingness to preserve natural resources is the only thing stopping big business from literally leveling everyplace we know and hold sacred for the pursuit of money, a particular kind of hunger that can “never” be satisfied.

Remember that many arrows bound together will not break; the point is that when we all stand together with pride and honor then we are strong enough to be capable of creating real social change. You are “not” alone at all in fact there are millions of us who really do care about wildlife and the health of the natural world. Even many environmental groups have become businesses as opposed to voices for the people so efforts to protect wildlife often focus on cute cuddly species that are easy to raise money for.

It is time for “all” of us to be heard. The natural world is not an object to be bought and sold like a product at a retail store; it is the habitat that “we” need to survive. Humans and wildlife all share a common destiny, what happens to wildlife really does happen to us. That is much more then a nice saying, it’s a fact… When you hear about species extinctions on television or online remember you are also a species and the habitat loss causing that extinction is working its way into your own habitat as well.

We have reached a fork in the road of our history like never before and have to now decide which way to go. Do we sit back and let big businesses decided what happens to the clean and wild places we all love and cherish or do we grab the steering wheel and change the course of our destiny to a better place?

“We decide”. Just know this for those of you who do stand to help preserve clean and healthy wild places, to raise your voices to be heard in your communities you remember that “You are not alone” and I am standing right beside you, we all are.

Mark Fraser

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Evidence of Alien Life

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Today I woke to news reports of a NASA scientist stating he has found confirmation of life beyond Earth. That is going very well with my morning coffee.

Now let’s face it most of us new sooner or later we would finally hear about conclusive evidence of alien life. Ironic when you think about how not long ago that might have sent some running into the streets while religious scholars tried to explain away the implications.

Our current generation is just a wee bit more desensitized to new information.  Now since I make films and write specifically about the preservation of wildlife you might wonder what is the connection?  Being a naturalist simply means I spend my life in the admiration of the natural world.  I have always included space in that belief because our whole planet literally floats in the sea of space and when you start to look at the unimaginable size of the known universe it gets really tough to think that life wouldn’t be plentiful in the oceans of the cosmos.

The problem for us is a small one, literally. You see compared to all that, we are not even microscopic. I don’t just mean us, or even our planet for that matter, I mean our entire solar system is just a tiny spec.  Our life giving Sun is actually one single star floating in the Milky Way galaxy with somewhere between 100 and 400 billion “other” stars. It is even estimated there may be as many as 50 “billion” planets in our own galaxy and a real possibility that a huge number is residing in the so-called “habitable zone” distance to their own stars.

It’s so close and yet so very far?

The distance to our nearest neighbor star, “Proxima Centauri” is only 4.24 light years . Ok in miles, each light year is 5,865,696,000,000 miles (that is a really big number) so if you multiply that by 4.24, then you’ll know how many miles to the closest star. It gets super interesting when you think that the other approximately 400 billion stars in the Milky Way are all “much further” to us then Proxima Centauri and very much so in fact.

All that is just in our own galaxy of stars of course so everything else is further on entirely different scales. There are hundreds of billions of Galaxies, just as large as the Milky Way.  So like I said, we are tiny. Now when you again consider the Milky Way could have as many as 50 “billion” planets, and as many as 500 million habitable zone worlds, then the jaw really begins to drop to the floor.  Suddenly life beyond Earth is no longer possible it actually becomes “very” likely and even dare I say, plentiful?  Of course I no longer have to make the argument about extra terrestrial life. Thank you Dr. Richard B. Hoover an astrobiologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. What does this incredible discovery mean?

I’m talking about the big picture, of our understanding of our own place in the universe? Well it means something we already knew, life is amazing, resilient and we are all lucky enough to be a part of a magic time in history where a scientist can openly share a ground breaking discovery and not be thrown in prison by religious fanatics.  It also means that we are of course not alone and that perhaps we should all pay a little more attention to the beautiful night time sky.

Will we ever communicate with an intelligent species?  I am not sure but I think so.  Since our own species is a part of the natural world I believe all the same rules apply.  Maybe one day we will hear a voice coming from the blackness of space across the great void like a frog singing across a quiet pond. When they first sing early in the season there are few, but quickly are joined by many others across the untold distance of their domain and eventually thousands of singing frogs join in for the beautiful nightly chorus.

Perhaps one day that’s what it will be like for us beginning with a faint call of a distant species looking to connect.  In time more and more until our songs unite our species across space and time.

Not yet though, this first discovery seems to be more about ancient fossilized bacteria blasted into space from some distant world and eventually raining down here on Earth with a meteor so we won’t be striking up a conversation any time soon.   It does mean though we are now entering a new time. From now on we can stop saying “if” and start asking “when”.

That’s exciting to someone like me.

One of the greatest joys of my life is finding a new species that I didn’t know about.

With the millions if not billions of forms of life on our own world just imagine what could be out there…

Maybe one day there will be a “Nature Walks in Space” episode… hey- you never know!

Mark Fraser

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