Ecology as Winter Moves In… squirrels, roses, straw, and kids learning

squirrel community

I was in the garden Friday and I was watching the squirrels build nests. What amazed me was two things: they were not building nests. They were building A nest. A half dozen squirrels worked together like on an assembly like crawling up and down the giant oak tree trunk to the ground, and then stuffing their mouths with comical bunches of oak leaves before scrambling back up. THEY WERE ALL WORKING ON ONE ENORMOUS NEST! I remember these same squirrels this spring, living up to their names, playing with abandon: chasing, leaping, chittering, and often falling from on high, landing with a thump and exhalation.  Those same juveniles are now mature, cooperating to build this beautiful big nest, which I assume they will share with each other as a cozy winter mosh pit. The other thing was the unusual fact that squirrels were in multiple colors: black, white, grey, and brown! I have never seen that before.

wrapped roses

Speaking of cooperating creatures in the garden, on Thursday the Autumn opened up a warm sunny window for a group of garden volunteers: Meredith, Rob, and Poppy, to carefully wrap and insulate our ornamental roses to protect them from the upcoming bitter cold and the hungry depredations of rabbits in late winter. These roses bloomed beautifully this year, but have suffered through winter for many years, and many have died and been replaced because we never got around to these “care” precautions. Well done and thanks!

straw bales

On Friday morning, with the use of a SUV provided by a long-time gardener, and the offer of a strong back from Nathan, another gardener, we were able to “rescue” seven straw bales used as ornamentation by some local, Lincoln Ave bars, from the dumpsters. These bales are now stored in the garden in one of the empty compost bins where they can be kept dry and mouse-free until next spring. Then we will use them to mulch our planting beds to maintain moisture, prevent soil-born plant infection, and tamp down weeds. Good job!

MA journal response

During this hiatus between field trips, I spend a good deal of time doing post-trip lessons with our Mighty Acorn students (3-5th grade) . With fourth grade, we compiled data and created charts in our journals about the plant communities of Sauganash. These amazing plants self-organize into distinct communities based (at least partially) on the specifics of their preferred habitat (soil moisture level, and ground sunlight levels). Describe to me the plants that you see, and I can tell you what ecosystem you are in! Smart plants!

Take a look:

With 5th grade

We compiled the data on our simulation game that described the dilemma of animals and plants that find themselves stranded on “islands’ of natural land surrounded by “oceans” of development.  It is an astonishing demonstration of how small and isolated “islands” have a hard time maintaining biodiversity, a measure of ecological health. samples of MA student work. After these lessons, I will come and collect the journals and spend many hours reading them and responding to them. This is one of my joys, a “best practice”, to be able to give students feedback, instead of a grade, to give them encouragement, and correct “errors’ in fact, or spelling, through a conversation on the page. Students love to read what the responders have written. They are writing for an audience, they connect with the broader community, and that is a very positive thing. So check my calendar and join me for coffee and a pleasant morning of journal response.

6th river lesson

I will be visiting all three sixth-grade classrooms this week to continue our study of the Chicago River. This week we will be looking at the old, historic, glacially created river, and how it has been altered over the past 200 years. It is an amazing story, mostly hidden from the general view. I hope this knowledge of river history, and its resultant environmental degradation will inspire our students to be better stewards of our natural world than previous generations have been.

2nd river lessons

I will be visiting with the three  2nd grades before winter break to teach about the water cycle, our river system, and the amazing journey of water molecules around the Earth. This lesson includes our adaptation of the Yoko Ono song: We’re All Water! It also includes an activity that results in the creation of a beaded “necklace” that represents the unique, probability-based, process that moves a water molecule from ocean to cloud, to glacier, to groundwater, etc.  WE WILL NEED HELP WITH THIS ACTIVITY as it involves lots of dice rolling around, and beads being strung. Look for the call out!

kinder song and story

I scheduled to visit with the Kinder-kids, these free spirits at the beginning of their “formal” education. I wanted to teach them two songs that went over well last year, during remote learning: a Woody Guthrie medley of”Put Your Finger in the Air”, and “This Land is Your Land”.  I am always amazed at how little ones will absorb a song like air, like they already knew it.  I also did a participatory reading of “The Fight Between Quiet and Noise” the little book I wrote and illustrated to raise awareness of how Noise infiltrated our lives. 

Thanks to all, 

Mr. Leki