Monday, March 29, 2021

Book Review: "Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I heard about this book through some independent booksellers on the PBS Newshour. While it isn't brand new, it is vital reading if you want to make a positive difference in the world.

Braiding Sweetgrass; Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Milkweed Editions 2013

Imagine how different the daily operations of our federal government might be if each convening of the U.S. Congress began with our elected officials first agreeing that all people and all living things had the right to clean air, clean water, and a sustainable life. How could they build solutions, if they agreed that the water had an obligation to be clean and to flow naturally so that it could play the roll it was meant to play for the planet and for the living beings. How different would we look at our planet if we saw ourselves as part of its natural processes and not separate from them?

Robin Wall Kimmerer is that rare human who lives both in the world of modern science and indigenous culture. Can the two intertwine and compliment one another? Kimmerer reveals her own path to combining new knowledge with ancient wisdom. She provides insight from ancient language that can name challenges our English language has no words for. 

There is no lecturing here, but there are challenges to a Western European mindset of conquer and subjugate. The Earth gives all that it can to us, what do we give back?

hummingbird nest in native Catalina cherry

This book has won a spot on my nightstand. I know that I will go back to it time and again, finding greater depth in my understanding and discovering new layers in its wisdom. For now, I have put my hands back into the earth to grow some of my own food. I renew my efforts to bring native plants into my yard to feed and shelter the flying families and "four-legged peoples." I will tend my "standing people" because the trees provide shade from the summer heat and clean the air for us all. 

Channel Island fox

"Reciprocal" is the word you will walk away with. In Kimmerer's stories I found insights into my own relationship with island fox conservation and the human relationship with island foxes.

What will you find in these pages to enlighten your own journey? 





Other Book Reviews:

"The Big Ones" by Lucy Jones

"Life in a Shell" by Donald C. Jackson

"Feathers; The Evolution of a Miracle" by Thor Hansen

"The Geese of Beaver Bog" by Bernard Heinrich


Monday, March 22, 2021

Hummingbird Egg Laid Today

I'm always happy when I find a new Allen's hummingbird nest. I know this egg was laid this morning because it wasn't there yesterday. A second egg will probably be laid tomorrow or the next day. It typically takes 19 days for them to hatch.

Allen's hummingbird nest P1-3/22/2021

This nest is actually last year's patio nest refurbished. The nest is a bit incomplete and even unstable, but that is a trait of this female. She is a bit haphazard in her building and her mothering. I knew she was rebuilding the nest, but it didn't seem finished. The egg this morning caught me by surprise.

This female was successful with her first nest last year. The second attempt both chicks perished just after hatching and the third attempt came too late in the season. The chicks did not survive the multiple days of temperatures over 100 degrees that we had in late June into July. Despite our attempts to provide shade, the heat was too much.

We've had two nesting attempts by other Allen's hummingbirds this season. One chick successfully fledged on March 14th. The other nest with two chicks was taken by an unknown predator. March is typically when second nesting attempts are started, but we are way behind the 5 successful chicks by March 2019. Nests 2019

The weather has been cold. Most females have waited to nest.

I discovered a fourth nest a few days ago, in a location also previously used. This female has a type "A" personality. Her nest is pristine. She was on the nest constantly for the past four days. She was keeping hatchlings warm in our cooler than usual weather. So on this first Monday in spring - one hummingbird egg and two tiny chicks. 

Spotting hummingbird nests 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Lawn Shrimp - Really I'm Not Kidding

Have you ever moved a pot on your damp California patio and seen quarter-inch-long critters hopping away? They look something like shrimp, but propel themselves on hopping legs–sort of like a flea. 

For years we've seen these tiny creatures and wondered: What are they?

It just happens that new findings on island fox diet on the Channel Islands is showing that island foxes are eating small hopping crustaceans on the beach called "beach hoppers." These little guys are the critters erroneously labeled "sand fleas." Beach hoppers are decomposers. They live in burrows in the sand and eat kelp washed up on the beach. Find out more about island foxes at

I wondered if the crustaceans in my backyard were related to these beach hoppers.

They are, but it turns out they are exotic relations. They are known as "lawn shrimp"–kind of a fun name. Arcitalitrus sylvaticus is in the same family as the native beach hoppers that we see on CA beaches, but the lawn shrimp is native to southern Australia.

It is believed these Australian crustaceans arrived in California in the early 1900s in the damp soil surrounding blue gum eucalyptus that were being imported and planted as wind breaks on ranches and agricultural land. While most of those large old eucalyptus trees are gone, their descendants and the lawn shrimp are still with us.

As decomposers, lawn shrimp contribute to the breakdown of organic matter into the soil. They are not known to have a negative ecological impact. In fact, some birds may eat them. 

Despite being crustaceans, these little gals drown in water. When moisture levels fluctuate, the lawn shrimp move from soggy soil to sidewalks, where they escape drowning but may become dehydrated and die. When it is dry, they may end up in pools or water dishes and drown. 

While they may come into buildings to escape too much rain, they pose no threat to people or pets. They perish quickly in dry areas and turn red when they die. That's when they really look like "shrimp." 

Other creatures displaced by rain: