Backyardsafari's Blog

Environmental Inspiration in Your Own Backyard

Nature Set in Stone November 30, 2010

Brick lined streets, open store fronts, new built on old, planes, trains, and undergrounds! My husband and I recently returned from a brief whirlwind tour of London, during which we walked (and walked and walked) through the streets, ate delicious food, and saw what we could see. I also want to say a quick thanks to all of the great people we saw there, some of whom have made the jump from my husband’s cricket blog over to my nature one–it was wonderful to meet you!

It is always fun to go explore a new place, and I saw a lot of great city nature like pigeons, magpies (extremely smart birds that can recognize themselves in mirrors), and little parks blooming green through the gray limestone buildings.  In addition to the nature itself, though, there were many other signs of the great influence it has on us as humans. One of these is all of the plants and animals that make an appearance in the art and architecture all over the city. I have never thought to look at these specifically before, but I am sure that in the future I will see it in every city and town, not just London.

Once I noticed this I spent the rest of the trip on the lookout for creatures carved out of stone and metal in addition to the living ones. As with so many things, once I noticed I realized they were everywhere! I continued the search into the British Museum, where I found a bounty of nature represented in historical artifacts.

Below are just a few of what I found during our trip:

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A deer running through a forest on a wall carving in the British Museum

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A cricket (I believe?) as a hieroglyphic symbol in Egyptian writings from the British Museum

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A large fish (catfish? koi?) adorns a lamp-post on the street in London

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A close up of part of an ungulate (hoofed animal) of some kind from the Egyptian section of the British Museum

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A close up of a sunflower held in the hand of a Hindu god in a statue in the British Museum.

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A lion stands guard over Trafalgar Square in London.

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A close up of one of the many animals adorning the gate leading into Shakespeare’s Globe Theater near London Bridge.

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A close up of a ram’s head in the Egyptian section of the British Museum

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A close up of a conch shell in the hand of a Hindu god on a statue in the British Museum

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A close up of hieroglyphics, which contain many animal symbols to represent letters and sounds, like a goose, a cricket (or is it a wasp?), and a falcon.

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As I mentioned, once I started looking I found nature represented in art, architecture, and artifacts all over the city. It was especially interesting in the British Museum–I had planned on going to the Natural History Museum, but when I realized we only had time for one decided on the British Museum instead, and it was exciting to see how much nature was still there after all! I am excited to keep looking for this kind of representation in the future, especially at other art and history museums. Who knows how many examples of this are hiding all around us that I’ve just never noticed before!

What kind of examples of this are there where you live? Is there something you walk by every day and just haven’t noticed before? Have you ever incorporated natural themes into decorating your own room or home? We are all more strongly influenced by nature than we realize, and as always, you can find nature anywhere if you look hard enough!

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Activity for parents/teachers: Take kids on a scavenger hunt through a city, town, museum, or even your own house to see how many representations of nature they can find! How many different types or species can the recognize? Are there more animals or plants? Were they made recently or a long time ago? If cameras are available take pictures of each example and make a collage to hang up at home or in the classroom. Optional: Make a bingo board of different plants/animals for kids to take a long–see if anyone can find enough examples to win!

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Backyard Exploration the Video September 14, 2010

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What bits of nature do you walk by on the way to your car, into work, or to the mailbox every day? What secrets do they hold?What kind of magic is hiding all around us? My latest video hopes to answer these questions! This video is inspired partly by this earlier post, and partly by this unbelievable stop motion film.

This video is all about seeing beyond the surfaces into what could be! It was created using only natural or found objects, all of which were things that I just came across as I was walking around. I had thought about trying to plan the video, but decided it would be better to just be inspired by whatever I found on my walk!

Unfortunately I cannot host videos off of WordPress without paying $60 a year, so Youtube is the next best tool available. I would recommend making it full screen if possible, though, so the details are more visible.

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In case anyone is interested in the “making of” details, I created this by taking about 300 still photographs on my iPhone, e-mailing to myself, and piecing them together using iMovie software. I recorded the sounds of myself walking on pavement, grass, and stones, as well as leaves rustling and acorns rolling around using the “Voice Memo” app on my phone, and then played them back to the computer.

If you are waiting for me to get back to a regular ‘ole post, please come back on Friday (or sooner!) when I will post my first submission to the Science @ Home Teach/Learn Blogging Carnival.

I hope this video inspires us to look closely at the objects around us and see them in a new light. Blowing leaves, shadows, and even litter can hold a secret life that might make us better for noticing them. Is there something you see every day that inspires you? I would love to hear about it!

As always, I’ll see you out there!

 

Octopus Dines Out September 12, 2010

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My latest attempt at combining nature and stop motion video. In this edition of our “Dines Out” series, an octopus goes searching for something delicious to eat. Once sated, he moves on to look for bigger and better prey…

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If you like this video, please check out the others in the series: Rattlesnake Dines Out and Raccoon Dines Out

 

Backyard Festivals September 7, 2010

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What is better than a community coming together?

I’ve been to a few festivals in the past, mainly in cities where they sometimes pop up unannounced, but this was my first time volunteering for one.  This festival was put on by the organization I work for, with the goal of raising money for the environmental education program. The amount of work the volunteers put in for this cause is staggering, and I’m so grateful for it!

Festivals are a great way to get outside and see something new without having to travel too far. At this one I was able to spend the entire day outside interacting with local children and getting their hands dirty. There were also plastic duck races in a nearby stream, animals to meet, workshops about using cold frames, growing your own food, and identifying wild herbs, and lots of great local food.

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All of these tents are put up early in the morning by a slew of volunteers–the one on the far left had local musicians playing throughout the day.

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This station was run by a family who lives in mountainous (by East Coast standards) Pennsylvania, almost completely off the grid. They have a variety of animals, and brought many of them down to the festival, which were a big hit! The man in the overalls also built a compost-able sawdust toilet complete with hand-washing station just for the event, which he carried to and from his property.

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I ran the kids’ activity station. I came up with three options to choose from: nature journals, butterfly magnets, or a scavenger hunt with a prize. Kids could choose to do any or all of them, and some made multiples of each craft.

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The nature journals were a big hit, which I should’ve known because they were the messiest! I wanted to do this craft because, as you probably know by now, I am a big believer in nature journaling! For this craft I cut up old manilla folders for the covers and then 10 pieces of white paper for the inside. I punched holes in the top and tied them together with string. Kids were then able to decorate the cover or the pages using paint and natural materials. As one co-volunteer pointed out, it was fun to watch the kids realize that there were no paintbrushes, and then decide what to do next. I brought some natural materials with me that I found outside my house, like leaves, acorns, acorn caps, walnuts, feathers, and stones, and the kids experimented to see what kinds of shapes they could make with each. Some of them also glued the leaves to the cover itself. It was a lot of fun!

I really enjoyed seeing what the kids came up with, including many things I had never thought of when I planned the activity. I highly recommend this as an activity to do with kids, and as one you could do in a variety of settings. They tried using the different parts of feathers, dipping a stone into three different colors of paint at a time to make interesting blends, rolling a walnut around the paper, and so on. Some of them even went searching around the tent for their own materials.

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Here are some of the materials we used.

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Next, they had the option of making butterfly magnets. I was mainly working with younger kids so for this activity I cut wing shapes ahead of time and then let them decorate them. They also decorated a clothespin and glued it on to the wings to act as the butterfly’s body. A pipe cleaner around the clothespin for antennae, a sticky magnet to the back, and viola!–you have a colorful refrigerator magnet that you can clip important papers in. This was a fun activity but there a few things I would do differently next year. For one, I would like to find more reused materials, instead of going through so much construction paper. One idea I thought of too late was to cut the wings out of old seed catalogs or other magazines people were going to throw away. I also would like to have some pictures of butterflies changing from caterpillars next year, so it is a bit more educational.

One important thing I have learned from working with kids is to always be flexible with what you want them to do! Some of them have their own ideas and I would always rather them be creative and explore their options then make them stick to my original plan. For example, one girl really wanted to make a flower instead of a butterfly. She knew what she wanted and had come up with the idea herself, so I quickly cut a flower shape out of extra paper and she colored that in instead. I poked one of  the extra pipe cleaners through it as a stem and not only did she walk away happy but I got a great idea for a future craft!

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The last activity choice the kids had was to go on a scavenger hunt. Usually when I do scavenger hunts with kids I list items for them to find in nature, like a yellow flower, or a mushroom, or something red. This time, however, I made it more community based and interactive. Kids (and adults!) had to accomplish tasks like: Meet an organic farmer, Meet someone who composts, Find a piece of trash and throw it away, Name 3 signs an animal might leave behind, and Meet someone who eats food they grow themselves.

People picked up a sheet with ten of these tasks to complete, a pencil, and went off. This activity attracted a wider range of ages, which included a few adults and some teenage groups–some of whom made it into a competition! The prizes for completing the scavenger hunt were these animal totem stones:

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I had seen these stones a lot as a kid in American Southwest gift shops. There are many areas with petroglyphs out there, and people make these stones into magnets or sell them in baskets next to the cash registers. A recent post by Marghanita Hughes of The Little Humbugs reminded me of them, and I decided to make them for the scavenger hunt! I especially wanted to do this kind of prize instead of giving out some plastic doodad that would end up in a junk drawer, the trash, or worse, swirling around the ocean somewhere.

To make these animal stones I simply looked up some pictures of ancient petroglyphs for inspiration and then drew on the stones with a sharpie. I also drew footprints of local animals–a wonderful idea from a fellow volunteer.

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I tried to keep track of what type of drawing people liked best. It seems that adults tend to like the footprints while kids like the animals, and everyone likes the swirly turtles!

In the end, it was a wonderful day. One of my favorite things about this festival was the way it used everyones’ strengths to make something magical happen. It was really a convergence and showcase of all of the different skills in the area.

As I mentioned, it was my first time being part of something like this, but I will definitely do it again in the future! It was a great chance to get outside, eat delicious food, and connect people to their local environment. What more could you ask for than that?

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Rattlesnake Dines Out – Claymation August 29, 2010

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In this video a timber rattlesnake hunts for something to eat. He uses his tongue to “smell” the air and see if there are any mice approaching. This is the second in my “Animals Dining Out” claymation series–you can watch the first one here. I made this using a hand-held video camera and the iMovie software that came on my Mac computer.

Warning: A little clay mouse gets eaten in this video!

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Raccoon Dines Out – Claymation August 26, 2010

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Note: Click the right side arrow to speed up the pictures!

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This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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My first attempt at claymation since I was a kid! I don’t have a video camera at the moment so I had to rely on the WordPress “slideshow” option. I wish I could speed it up a bit. I forgot to give the crayfish claws, so for now you will have to use your imagination!

This is just a quick experiment. I will try to do some more later with more detail and hopefully with a real video camera!

FaceTweet it!

 

Into the Forest August 25, 2010

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In honor of “Wordless Wednesday” I will make this short!

Trying out a new set of “blend-able” markers I bought on sale yesterday. They seem promising! I’ll have to add them to my field journal “tool kit.”  Is there anything you just need to have with you when it comes to pencils, books, pens, and other writing/art supplies?