great outdoors

The Small Black Bear

By Amy Miller

I was all set to write about a red-tailed hawk that’s made itself at home in our yard. And then.

And then a black bear ran right in front of my bookbag-carrying kids on their way home from school. It scurried across Paul Street just 100 feet from women working out at Curves, over the lawn of Seacoast Christian Academy, through a Berwick Academy soccer practice and up a tree at the posh private school.

When my 10-year-old son realized he had just seen a black bear, he dropped to the ground in delight.

“I’ve always wanted to see an eagle, a moose and a bear, and now I’ve seen everything except a moose,” said Benjamin, who is checking off his bucket list much younger than most of us.

My neighbor was far less thrilled. “Oh no, now I can’t let my kids outside to play.”

All ‘round town, people were celebrating, panicking or empathizing with the puppy-sized cub as it scuttled about the village.

Meanwhile, Adam Gormely, lieutenant with the Maine warden service at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, was mainly trying to explain his decision not to send in troops.

Black bears, he said, rarely attack.  He pointed out there are 25,000 bear in Maine – all of them black bear – and he cannot remember one attack on a person.

To those who were particularly worried because this was a baby and the mother might be lurking close behind, Gormely argued that a mother black bear, like deer and many other animals, will let her cub be taken rather than risk her own life. Unlike grizzlies, female black bears do not display the level of protectiveness that leads to an attack on humans.

Although newspapers were reporting and the public was ruing that the game wardens didn’t bother to do anything, Gromley explains that inaction was a well-thought out decision.

“The number one thing we can do to prevent damage is to leave the bear alone,” Gormely said, noting the state will not tranquilize animals during hunting season since the meat from this animal, if caught, will have poison in it for up to 30 days.

“The safest option for a bear cub, for wildlife professionals and even for the public,” Gormely said, “is to leave the animal alone and allow it to return to the wild.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Country Mouse

By Kelsey Sollner

In my 21 years on the planet, this fall marks my first time living in a big city. Of course, I have visited – made day trips to Manhattan, spent weekends in Philly and been to Dade County. But this is the first time I’ve had a permanent address in a metropolis, and this is my first job in an office building.

I’m from a farming area in New Jersey and go to a college surrounded by more dirt than asphalt and more cows than people. I spent all summer working in an orchard, climbing ladders and tending to fruit trees. I essentially got paid to work out and be outdoors, not to mention the endless produce! Once it came time to go back to school and begin my internship, I began to get nervous about being indoors for long stretches of time. I’d miss the breeze and sunshine, I’d miss the flora and fresh air, and I’d miss the warblers and sparrows singing. And to be honest, I’d even miss the farm’s enormous compost heap and the way it smelled in incredible heat.

Now that I’ve been thrust into city life, it’s taken some getting used to. How does a ragamuffin from central Jersey blend in with the hip crowd of DC? My work uniform was a ratty tank top, shorts and sunglasses, none of these blazer/pencil skirt/heels ensembles. Of all the pests I used to deal with on a regular basis at the farm, I can’t say I’ve ever seen a cockroach up close. And I’ve never felt like a bigger tourist than when I had to consult my subway map four or five times to find out I was on the wrong train.

If I can’t have my fresh air, though, I’ll make the most out of this city stuff. I’ve been making a constant effort to stay connected to my new environment. I found the oasis that is Montrose Park and spent hours in its sun and shade. My roommate and I just went to a Nationals game, on one of the most pleasant Saturdays of the season. I can even bird watch from my balcony, albeit just some pigeons, but still. For someone used to being surrounded by nature, it’s a little comfort. I’m steadily moving from being overwhelmed to becoming much more comfortable here.

They might make a city mouse out of me yet.

About the author: Kelsey Sollner is a senior from Susquehanna University majoring in journalism. She works as an intern in the EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New England Fairy Houses

By Amy Miller

The hundreds of little girls prancing around historic Portsmouth in pink tutus and silvery fairy wings were adorable. Of course. And even the mothers that put a splotch of glitter on their cheeks were endearing. But what really warmed my heart were the men – police officers? – directing traffic in flowing princess skirts and organdy wings.

For eight years, Portsmouth has welcomed the community for a weekend of viewing incredibly artful fairy houses. Fairy houses, for the uninformed, are essentially tiny houses made of twigs, leaves, pinecones or whatever else you find in the woods, the yard, in nature. And they are the residences of fairies.

The Fairy House Tour invited visitors to tour five dozen abodes tucked under maples, hidden among tomato plants, blooming from Prescott Park’s flower beds and sitting in the pathways of historic Strawbery Banke. Thousands of people came to see the diminutive garden center, the tea room, the yarn store, the dress shop and so on.

The fairy house craze has been a New England tradition for decades or longer. But in the last few years it has taken off as a way to encourage kids to be outside and enjoying nature.

Author Tracey Kane of New Hampshire set the tradition on fire and inspired the Portsmouth tour after her book “Fair Houses” came out about a decade ago. Her website suggests building fairy houses as an antidote for the so-called “nature-deficit disorder” affecting kids these days.

Nature deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in 2005, refers to the trend of children spending less time outdoors. After traveling the country, Louv concluded children are spending more time on either organized sports or inside on screens. He partly blames a culture of fear among parents that he says is exacerbated by the media.

Although my 10-year-old son watches nowhere near the average amount of TV, and neither of us is particularly fearful of the outdoors or the people you find there, he was predictably sullen about going to the land of girls in tutus. He was lured by his 9-year-old female cousin and the boats I promised he’d see from Prescott Park.

Still, when we got to the part where you build your own, everything changed. Benjamin’s testosterone (culturally derived training?) kicked in and he erected a construction site. A twig log here, a milkweed stalk there and he was off hunting the woods for more building materials.

And so it seems, the pull of nature once again is hard for a child to resist. Given half a chance.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Quiet Sunrise

By Jeanethe Falvey

It doesn’t matter how often I see the sunrise, I can never get enough. An indescribable sense of calm washes over me when I catch one, and I have yet to find something as warm and comforting to start the day.

This past Tuesday morning, I woke to the sound of cars hustling on the highway below my hotel room. As I awoke, I could see the hint of a warm glow beginning on the horizon. As if I’d miss it, I jumped up and walked to the window to take in the scene.

There were quiet houses tucked in between the highway and the beginning of larger government buildings. Looking over the Arlington rooftops and across the Potomac to D.C., a skyline silhouette took shape. Some office lights were already on and it was apparent that those on the road felt that they were already late to work.

Above all the rooftops stood the Washington Monument; much closer, the United States Air Force Memorial was gliding into the sky.

As the sun rose a little higher, it began to reach the walls of the Pentagon. Ever so gently, sunlight made its way into Arlington Cemetery.

It was peaceful. When cannons were fired and the smoke drifted across the trees it came as no surprise. I was not alone in my silence or in my reflection of what had taken place on this day, 11 years ago.

I remembered where I was then, and I was sobered by where circumstances had brought me now. I thought about that morning’s sunrise and all that had changed by that day’s sunset.

For whatever reason, I found some level of peace at the thought that every day since, the sun has risen again. I felt a level of comfort in remembering that, overnight, people changed. We slowed down, helped out, and collectively felt that first new day together.

So this morning came like any other, with the sun reliably cresting the edge of where we can see: waking us up, fueling us to make the world as we wish.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey writes from EPA’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, as the project-lead for Pick 5 and the State of the Environment, two projects geared towards learning, sharing and gaining a greater collective connection to our environment.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Outdoor Activities for Better Grades

Haga clic en la imagen para unirse a la conversación en nuestro blog en español... ¡No olvide de suscribirse!

By Lina Younes

As I was watching one of the morning shows covering the Olympics Games this week, I saw a feature story about a primary school in England that had incorporated cooking classes into the curriculum. The intention was not to produce future chefs, although many of the students had become quite skilled in the culinary arts. The objective was to get children outdoors, to teach them about gardening, to make them aware of where food comes from, and how eating fresh food makes them healthier. While their culinary talents were an added bonus, the program pointed out to many positive outcomes. The part that caught my attention was when the reporter asked the schoolmaster if there had been an improvement in their overall grades in traditional classes. The school master answered with an emphatic “yes!”

Many of the issues highlighted in the London school were similar to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative Let’s Move which focuses on fighting childhood obesity by improving access to healthy food in schools and in the home and by increasing physical activity. I would take the benefits of this program one step further. How about increasing opportunities for children to have healthy outdoor activities? How about exposing children to nature? What would be the impact on children’s health and knowledge?

In fact, there have been several small studies which show a correlation between environmental education and improved student achievement and success in the sciences. The studies indicate how hands-on learning experiences through outdoor or environmental education enhance problem-solving skills, improved performance in the sciences while fostering overall environmental literacy and stewardship. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

So, while we still might have time off with the kids during the remaining summer vacation, why not try engaging our kids in some outdoor activities away from the TV? What do you think?

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Summer Tips: Get That Car Ready Before You Hit The Road

By Lina Younes

Summer is my favorite time of year. Days are longer. There are more opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors with family and friends. As some of you may be planning a family road trip this summer, there is one thing that you should consider as part of your travel preparations. If you’re driving, make sure the car is ready to hit the road.

Proper car maintenance will make your car more fuel efficient, save you money and protect the environment by producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Keeping tires properly inflated is a simple step that can go a long way to improve fuel efficiency and enhance your safety on the road as well. By following the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule you’ll also reduce the overall wear and tear of the vehicle.

Do you want another useful tip to increase your gas mileage without any additional cost? No, you won’t find it in a store. Simply obey the speed limit! Avoid sudden stops and hard accelerations. Aggressive driving only wastes gas, increases emissions, and makes you waste money at the pump.

So, simple steps can go a long way to have a great summer this year. Do you have any special plans? We will love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes is the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA. Among her duties, she’s responsible for outreach to Hispanic organizations and media. She spearheaded the team that recently launched EPA’s new Spanish website, www.epa.gov/espanol . She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. She’s currently the editor of EPA’s new Spanish blog, Conversando acerca de nuestro medio ambiente. Prior to joining the agency, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and an international radio broadcaster. She has held other positions in and out of the Federal Government.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Don’t Let Your Child’s Summer Go To Waste

By Lina Younes

Summer is nearly here. Children are getting out of school. They are very happy to get away from tests, papers, and other school related tasks. However, we often see that over the summer months many students, especially in the lower grades, lose many of their academic skills during the extended time that they are away from school. So as parents, what are we to do?

Increasingly, there are many programs to encourage children to keep reading during the summer and camps to teach children special skills. Online you can also find a wealth of information, educational websites and games. However, there is another educational activity that might not readily come to mind, but is equally beneficial to a child’s well-being and learning experience. How about getting active and exploring the great outdoors? As children start exploring nature and outdoors activities, they awaken their innate curiosity and develop an interest in their surroundings and even in science. Those lessons stay with them throughout their life and may even lead to an interest in protecting the environment and pursing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) careers.

Just recently, as we were developing a Spanish webpage to highlight the contributions of Hispanic women scientists at EPA during Women in Science and Technology Month now in June, there was one thing that immediately stood out. Regardless of their background, these remarkable women all shared a love for the outdoors. They all described how as children they would explore nature and how they loved playing outside with their friends.

So, this summer, why don’t we take advantage of the opportunity now that we have more free time with our children to address the so called “nature deficit disorder” and pursue outdoor activities? I know we might hear some initial grumblings from our kids who may protest getting disconnected from all their electronic gadgets, but you’ll soon see how they embrace playing outside. Of course, we don’t all have a beautiful national park in our backyard, but I’m sure that there may be some hidden treasures in your local neighborhood that you can explore with your kids.

Any big plans for this summer? As always, we will love to hear from you.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Benjamin and the Animals

By Amy Miller

I was busy packing for a road trip and frankly didn’t hear the squawking. Not until Benjamin appeared did I notice the commotion in the trees: “Mommy, there’s two crows attacking a hawk,” said my 10-year-old son.

“Really?” I answered and kept packing.

“You know, I just love to wake up and be in wildlife,” he answered.

My village in southern Maine isn’t exactly Baxter State Park, but where there is wildlife,  Benjamin will find it. Since he was old enough to communicate – in other words always – he has shown a kinship for animals. And like children do, he has helped me see what I would have missed.

“I loved animals when I first saw them,” Benjamin said when invited to write this blog with me. “I wanted to know more about them, about the ways that they do stuff, like hunting and playing.”

Benjamin’s interest goes beyond learning the facts.

“I like to see animals from their point of view instead of from people’s point of view. I like to see an animal’s view of a mouse, or an animal’s view of a giraffe,” he said. “Like a giraffe, for us it’s like, ‘oh it’s a big animal’ but for a tiger or lion it’s like ‘oh, it’s food, we got to go eat it.’”

Even as an adult, I’m too restless to cast a fishing rod more than four or five times without a bite. At 2, Benjamin waited for hours on the end of a dock among the reeds at our favorite lake in Bridgton. He never gets bored on that dock.

“I just like to have patience. I like to test my patience, to see how long I can go,” he said. Plus,“I like to give myself a challenge and try to find the best or the biggest fish. I like to see what fish are in the pond. No matter how long I wait I know that they’re in there.”

I used to think an animal dying would be hard for Benjamin. Not so. “It’s the way of life, if they die they die,” he said.

This week Benjamin went to a neighbor’s to return something. When he came back, he reported on his latest wildlife experience.

“There was a chickadee that I came millimeters from,” he said. “It flew onto a hedge, but I didn’t move one muscle because I knew if I moved it would go away. And I wanted to see it more.”

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Meeting Tribes in Montana!

By Leah Tai

I was energized as I woke up at 4:30 am, grabbing my bag and a handful of almonds before heading to catch my flight to Billings, Montana. After three months of assisting and learning about my branch’s grant program to provide infrastructure to Native American Tribes, I was finally going to meet tribal recipients of this funding!

After college I traveled in Asia and South America before joining the Peace Corps in West Africa, and I always found that my favorite experiences involved chatting with locals about their community (or simply attempting to learn “Hello” in a new dialect). The personal connections and cultural understanding that comes from hearing the stories and seeing the favorite places of a new acquaintance­­ is irreplaceable. In Montana, I would have the opportunity to meet members of various tribal nations, Blackfeet, Crow, Northern Cheyenne, among others, at an EPA training to improve operation and management of tribal water and wastewater infrastructure.

On the first day I immediately took a liking to one of the few training participants, Tina, as she abruptly interjected with opinions and comments gained from 13 years of experience managing the water system in a town of 250 people on the Fort Peck Reservation. Throughout the next three days, Tina never failed to make her voice heard. She and other participants slowly began interacting with one another, realizing they had lots of knowledge and experience to share. One tribal operator was surprised and excited to hear that a neighboring reservation had their own equipment to lift out well pumps in order to do maintenance and started discussing future contact and mutual support. Others discussed their communities’ resistance to increased water and wastewater rates, realizing that they face similar challenges in educating their neighbors and elders about the true cost of clean water. Two members of the Crow Water and Wastewater Authority were happy to give us a tour of their federally funded wastewater lagoon; lagoons were a popular topic during the training because many tribes in the region use them but not all knew about the regular maintenance steps they require.

It was inspiring to talk, learn and work with tribal members on improving their water and wastewater systems. I fell in love with Big Sky Montana but was happy to get back to DC on Monday and continue working to help these underserved communities.

About the author: Leah Tai began her ORISE Fellowship in May of 2011 working with the Sustainable Communities Branch in the Office of Wastewater Management. After extensive travel abroad and work with the U.S. Peace Corps, Leah is excited to work with SCB programs supporting underserved communities around the U.S.A.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Upcoming Weekend Activities: Don’t Even Think About Leaving Town this Weekend

With temperatures hovering in the pleasant 80s, there is no excuse to stay indoors. Check out our list of things to do and add your own if we missed something fun.

Dog Friendly Fun – The first Saturday of every month is Coffee Bark in Prospect Park. Bring your pooch for off-leash play and enjoy free treats. Saturday, August 6 from 9 a.m.

New York City Triathlon – If you’re not competing, come cheer for the athletes!

Sunday, August 7.

Outdoor Ping Pong – Grab some friends and test your reflexes with free ping pong in Bryant Park. Daily from 11 a.m.

Roller Skating Under the High Line – Rent some skates and get grooving. Open daily at 11 a.m.

Sail the East River – A solar powered yacht is providing eco-tours this weekend. August 6-7.

Sand Sculpting Contest – Build a castle or watch the sculptors at work. Saturday, August 6, 12 p.m.to 5 p.m.

Summer Streets – From Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park, it’s time to take to the streets. Saturday, August 6, 7 a.m.-1 p.m.

Union Square Walking Tour – Free guided walking tour. Meet in front of Lincoln Statue on 16th Street. Saturday, August 6, 2 p.m.

Yoga Island – Governor’s Island becomes a giant outdoor yoga studio this Saturday, August 6 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tai Chi – Come practice this ancient martial art technique in the inspirational setting of the Socrates Sculpture Park. Sunday, August 7 at 11 a.m.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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