Ecology news

Winter and embracing the cold!

Dear Friends,

Making our way into the winter ecology program is like riding the surf (I suppose), or doing downhill slalom (I suppose). At every moment, something might go wrong, sending everything topsy-turvy.

That’s why I cross my fingers and double-check every day as winter field trips draw near. We’ve had to cancel (for cold weather) 2 of the first four trips. Oh, well.

They are being rescheduled and starting early in the year, giving us time to have a new date IN WINTER, with snow and cold and tracks, and ice. So, tomorrow we are off, with 4th Grade Room 307. They are so excited. And think of the weather!  Yesterday and today were polar! Tomorrow the temperature will rise to the balmy ’20s, and the kids will have a fantastic winter experience in the wild.  Whew. I hope.

Next week there is more in store, but I am particularly happy to have scheduled the 8th grade to come on out into the Winter Garden. Our main task is to eat the roasted potatoes that we grew, to drink spiced apple cider, and to process the lovely mints into tea bags, and maybe shovel snow, or do some other garden tasks. The great thing, is that we will have access to the “old” Annex, west side. We called this the “Green Wing” when it was built. (It has a green roof, solar hot water, floor heating, southern exposure….) And it was supposed to be the new home for the ecology program, displaced by the destruction of the old, lovely fieldhouse.  I had the western section of the Green Wing for a year (except during lunch time). We had classes there, art and cooking and processing. It was great. Then we got overcrowded and the school needed the space for a Kinder class. For a year I shared the room with Ms. Novak and had the pleasure of overhearing her kind and brilliant pedagogy.

Then, we became more crowded and the space was taken over by our awesome arts program. I shifted myself to the teacher’s lounge/conference room, where I am today. It was all good. 

I give this history to say that it will be great to have that same space, with the southern view of the garden, available to host 8th grade classes. BUT, I NEED HELP. BECAUSE I HAVE OTHER CLASSES TO COVER, AND GETTING THE FIRES GOING IN THE GRILL (RECENTLY DONATED BY A FRIEND) right on time to produce perfectly cooked garden, organic potatoes, needs careful attention. ANY CHEFS OUT THERE?  Anyone willing and able to start the fires and have potatoes ready for dressing with butter, yogurt, chives, mushrooms????

Each class lasts 45-50 minutes. We will have the luxury of inside/outside access, with sinks and bathrooms. 
This thing, of kids, students, growing, harvesting, cooking and sharing delicious food, is life changing (anyway, they remember). Want to help?? With parents and teachers and neighbors involved, it becomes a community building thing.Can you help??

Let me know.

Mr. Leki

Winer Trips!

Dear Friends, 

Lovely snow blankets the ground. Sunlight streams in through the south facing window, warming my back and legs, and coffee.The lengthening of daylight is becoming obvious now, one month past the Winter Solstice. And that should buoy our spirits. Dare we hope that Omicron is the last variant, and that Covid will fade into the past? Not yet, but hope is an eternal flame.

This week in ecology we continue tree study with the 1st Grades, and preps for upcoming Mighty Acorn trips. 

On Wednesday, January 26, 3rd Grade Room 217, will have its first taste of Sauganash, tracking animals, testing their own cold weather mettle, and removing the invasive Buckthorn from the Preserve. Parent volunteers meet at the fish tank at 9:00, we leave at 9:30, and return by 12:30 for lunch (in a warm place). Please join us, if you can.

On Thursday, January 27, 4th Grade Room 307, will visit Sauganash on its  first Winter trip (having missed out last year). I taught them about Buckthorn ID, a kind of intro into winter tree identification. If you have a fourth grader, ask them about it! Below is a photo of  my drawing of buckthorn, and the 6 ways to ID it in Winter. For all classes, we went over strategies for staying warm in winter, the science of heat transfer, insulation, the burning of sugar in our cells to keep us warm, the risk to extremities, and wood craft techniques for staying warm: don’t get your feet wet! That said, the class last week reported that the slough was covered with ice and walkable, skateable, and break danceable. The slough is a shallow wetland. The river on the other hand, is completely off limits in winter. Observe ONLY.

I am in conversation with the 8th grade teachers to bring their students to the garden, to do some work, roast potatoes and drink spiced cider. (They missed out during last Fall’s Harvest Day). I am wondering if anyone has a spare Weber grill to donate. Our last one succumbed to rust. Let me know. 

I also wonder if anyone has an extra flat sled to donate (or loan) to haul our tools over the snow to the worksite at Sauganash. Let me know, as well. Please remember that our field ecology calendar is updated and posted on the website

The Room 216 Sauganash trip canceled because of cold last week is tentatively rescheduled for Wednesday, February 16.

There are regular volunteer workdays at Sauganash. During winter, tasks include cutting and burning buckthorn, an awesome spectacle in the cold of winter with bright new snow. Below I have copied the invitation sent out by steward Jeff Skrentney (former Waters Dad) that explains the procedure for participating.

Stay well,

Mr. Leki

We Need Volunteers for Sunday’s Third LaBagh Restoration Workday of 2022. Please email Jeff if you can join us. This is the only email I will be sending out… Grove #3, 945am Sunday!

LaBagh Restoration Volunteers, I continue to be pressed for time and need anyone not on the list below who can join us for the workday Sunday, January 23rd, to email me with a confirmation that you will attend.  Right now my list for the day has 13 confirmed attendees:  

January 23:
Jeff Skrentny (xH, VWL, SS, BB), Linda Marton (H, VWL, SS, BB) & Dennis Marton (H, BB, Saw), Dave Katzman (H, SS, BB, SAW), Alan Sanders, Nate Bartlett & Jenna, Ellen Farar, Jim Hanson, JJ McLuckie, Janet Dawson, Deb Long Phillips, Becca Hallstedt (H22), Sharon Parmet, Megan Bernard (15 /13).
PLEASE, do not just show up Sunday.  Send me an email letting me know if you can attend, so I can build our workday crews.  BUT, please sign up.  We could easily use another 15-20+ volunteers to do trail work and remove buckthorn this Sunday, January 23rd.  

Our Sunday workday will run from 10am to 1pm, arrive 9:45am, and the weather Sunday looks pretty enticing!!!  Morning snowfall of 1-3 inches, followed by sun.  It will be a bit cold though.  

For our second workday of 2022, we had a GREAT turnout.  The January 16th LaBagh Workday Crew:  Maureen, Ben, Barbara, JJ, Becca, Pete, Molly, Joel, Cesar, Zac, Rob, John, Dennis, Debbie, Mike, David, Katie, Linda, Quinn, Ed, Allison, Kate, Patty, Ryan, Heidi, and not in photograph, burn boss Dave, and the photographer Jeff
****You are receiving this email because A) you have volunteered to help us at LaBagh, and thank you;  ORB) you are part of the core LaBagh restoration team, as defined by your commitment to our restoration efforts, and thank you;  OR C) you are one of our FPCC / NBRP / FOTFP leadership contacts, and thank you.****

As you all know, typically I send a day before the workday email to the crew, but this will serve as my ONLY email for our third workday of 2022, this Sunday, January 23rd.  Those listed above, plus anyone who emails me saying they can join the crew, will be working to continue removing buckthorn and do trail upgrade work.  Depending on who shows up, we need to herbicide A LOT of cut buckthorn, and we have seen to spread in the 1-3 inches of newly fallen snow we should have Sunday morning when we get to LaBagh.  DRESS IN LAYERS.  HAVE WARM BOOTS.  We will have a fire, and that means, as best you can, avoid synthetic material winter coats.  It is going to be a nice day, but a cold one Sunday.  Double up on those socks, wear those LJs, and have a good hat and warm gloves.  We will meet in the Grove #3 area, look for Dennis’ truck “Ella” and the “Volunteer” sign.  That is where we will meet.  Sign up at 945am, workday starts at 10am.  Break will take place at 1130am.  Questions, problems or worries, send Jeff a text message at 773.677.8852.  Though I will be busy tomorrow at Robert’s sectionals (see photo below), I will have time to respond to all messages.    

Please, Please, Please, sign up for these upcoming LaBagh workdays.  

We are also looking for volunteers for all of these winter / early spring workdays which are:February 5th, 13th & 26thMarch 5th, 13th & 26thApril 3rd, 16th & 24th

PLEASE JOIN US!  You can do so by replying to Jeff, listing the dates you can volunteer.  From those volunteer responses, we will build our crews for those dates listed above.  
We are only successful with our LaBagh restoration because of our volunteers.  Please consider helping us this weekend, next weekend or for a workday in the winter of 2022.  We just can’t do this without the help we get from our community volunteers.   ****************************************************************************************************AS ALWAYS, please remember, 

if you don’t already have a FPCC Volunteer Profile, we would REALLY like to encourage you to create a profile on the FPCC website at:
Additionally, if you are not aware, we have two groups on Facebook that you may find of interest.  Please join these groups for updates and photos from LaBagh, if you are interested:My Years Birding at LaBagh Woods – (Lower North Branch) Habitat Heroes –
Finally, we are always interested in having our volunteers learn more about doing restoration in the FPCC.  There are many classes that can greatly enhance your volunteer experience.  Here is a link to see what classes are currently available:,520
Our LaBagh team is always looking for volunteers to take the Invasive Species ID class, and we always need more volunteers who can be Brush Pile Burn bosses after taking that class and doing the appropriate observations.  We always need more folks to apply herbicide, and we will let everyone know when the sign up for the class for the one year license to use herbicide is available.   
Thank you ALL, for everything you all do for LaBagh Woods.  It is a small, but critically important urban FPCC holding, and we can’t do what needs to get done there, without the volunteer energy we get from each of you.  


Jeff Skrentny

Chicago Ornithological Society (COS) Board of Directorslead volunteer for the LaBagh restoration project

Order of the Buckthorn inductee 773.677.8852

MLK Day: Sing and Celebrate!

King Holiday. Celebrate, Dance, and Sing!

Dear Ecology Volunteers, Parents and Friends,

It seems to me that I often collide with Holidays, unprepared to properly celebrate them. So it is with MLK Day. I would like to have shared with our students the whole breadth of King’s life and work, the courage, the love, and the fury. Furious Love.  I would have liked to share the music, the music of Freedom and struggle, of joy and celebration. But time moves too quickly. It is a fool’s errand to even attempt it. I’ve come to think that we need to teach the culture of justice, struggle, and activism from the first day of school to the last. And with our lives and actions demonstrate for our children our determination to challenge racism and discrimination, inequality and inequity, poverty and despair.  A profile of our city from downtown to the west side would create a graphic model of disparity: the skyscraping peaks of the wealthy down to the scrabble, rubbish-strewn streets of the poor and working classes. It was, arguably, King’s pivot to addressing social inequality and the role of the rich and mighty in using military force to dominate the wealth of the world that brought about his tragic end. Some years ago our students were taught a popular Mexican song: Por Un Mundo Mejor, which ends with a powerful refrain: 

For a better world
Where there is a new sun
Because love is a color thing
For a better world
I want a ray of light
Enlightening everyone equally

It would be a fine thing for our students to carry with them this message of hope and commitment to a better world. I recently encountered a version that we recorded in 2004 at Waters with Ms. Zelle conducting and me on piano. A link to the original song is below as well as lyrics in  Spanish and English.

This week, in ecology, we begin our Winter field trip schedule! On Wednesday, January 19, Third grade, Room 215, will bundle up and explore a Sauganash dressed in white, to track animals and remove the invasive species European Buckthorn. On Thursday, Jan 20, Room 216 will do the same. Winter trips are quite a miracle. Many things must come together: the Forest Preserve must approve the trip and order the buses, CPS must approve the trip, AND the weather must cooperate. Temperatures are ideally below freezing and above 15 degrees. In this range, the ground is frozen, the snow stays "dry", and our students will generally stay active and warm. We have taught them about basic heat loss and transfer, insulation and strategies to keep our bodies warm. Parents and volunteers meet by the fish tank at 9:00 for a briefing. We return to Waters at 12:30, so students can have lunch in a warm place. 

Stay well and warm,

Mr. Leki

Por Un Mundo Mejor

Si entendieran que nada se logra
Con las guerras

Siempre por la paz
Puede haber una solución

No queremos ver contaminado el mar
Quiero ver ballenas
Volver a emigrar

Que vamos a hacer cuando
Los árboles no existan
Cuando el cielo azul
Se vea sólo en las revistas

Por qué no acabar con esta polución
Cuiden las especies que hay en extinción

Por un mundo mejor
Donde haya un nuevo sol
Porque el amor es cosa de color

Por un mundo mejor
Quiero un rayo de luz
Iluminando a todos por igual

Que vamos a hacer cuando
Los árboles no existan
Cuando el cielo azul
Se vea sólo en las revistas

If they understood that nothing is achieved
With wars
Always for peace
There may be a solution

We don't want to see the sea polluted
I want to see whales
Migrate again

What are we going to do when
Trees don't exist
When the blue sky
Look only in magazines

Why not end this pollution? Take care of endangered species

For a better world
Where there is a new sun
Because love is a color thing
For a better world
I want a ray of light
Enlightening everyone equally

What are we going to do when
Trees don't exist
When the blue sky
Look only in magazines

Brrrrrrrrrr! Glorious snow, bitter cold, Wiley Variant

Winter Solstice ~ Turtle, Heron, and Willow

A new year greets us with glorious snow and bitter cold, a fast-spreading Covid variant, and complicated. If calculations to keep ourselves and our students safe and healthy. If we have enough stamina (and great clothing) we could do all of our school activities outdoors and freeze the aerosol covid droplets as soon as they leave our breath. I have been busy scheduling our winter field ecology trips with the hope that we will get past this latest surge. Part of that preparation is giving our students some background in staying warm, insulation, and energy conservation. Last year a teacher told me that they were studying heat transfer, and so I spent some remote learning time exploring terms like convection, conduction, radiation, evaporation, etc, in our winter clothing choices and in keeping our homes warm.

 Principal Rutkowski has reorganized the Waters School website to make access to the ecology program ( and my up-to-date field ecology schedule. I hope this will make it a bit easier for volunteers to plan to join us on our explorations. Thanks Mr. R!

Stay warm and well,

Mr. Leki

Winter Solstice Greetings

Dear Friends, 

This is the holiday season and there are many faith-based celebrations to share. But, the  Solstices are Planetary Moments,  events recognized by humans (and non-humans) everywhere since we gained consciousness. It is a moment that brings into our consciousness our place in Space, in the Solar System, our relationship to the Sun, and the uncanny forces of Gravity and momentum. On December 21 I will celebrate the Solstice with a fire to represent the beginning of the return of our Sun, and a sparkling cold beverage to remind me of the cold days ahead. I’ve attached a little story I wrote last year. I hope you can share it with the kids on Winter Solstice, 2021. The best to you, and us all in the new year, and thank you for your help and support, 

Mr. Leki

Winter Solstice

P. Leki

Long time ago,

before Hanukah,

and Christmas,

and Diwali

and Kwanza.

In fact, before humans roamed the Earth,

the planets and the Sun did their dance,

circling around and around each other,

in a tipsy celebration of Time.

On Earth, creatures big and small,

plant and animal,

watched the dance carefully.

And they noticed that at a part of the year, 

the days started getting shorter,

And the Sun didn't come up so high into the sky like before.

A Snapping Turtle was talking to a Great Blue Heron.

"Feels like there is a chill in the air. I'm thinking about taking a deep breath and hunkering down in the mud for a long nap."

Heron looked with her big eye and said:

"Well, I ain't doin' that! Get's too cold.  I'm out of here. Goin' south"

A nearby Black Willow said, in a creaky tree voice:

“Happens every year, this time.  Days get short,

my leaves fall off, I suck in all the chlorophyll I can handle,

and take MY rest, too."


But alot of animals worried, especially the young ones.

A Skunk said to a Possum:

"You notice how each day gets shorter?

And the Sun keeps sinking and sinking?

Now what if, I'm just saying, what if it kept sinking and the daylight disappeared totally?

Then what?

Then what? Why, you'd freeze, and I'd freeze. No Sun, no heat."

"What we gonna do Skunk?"

Skunk scratched his head, and neck, and tail, and then said:

"Let's talk to Bur Oak"

"Scuze us! Hello! Scuze us ma'm”, Skunk said to Bur oak.


Possum and Skunk looked at each other, and Possum began to cry, then wailed : "Yahhhhhhh"

"What? What?" said bur oak, wakened from the start of her winter nap.

"What is it?"

Skunk and possum explained about the days getting shorter and the Sun going down further, and it getting colder....

Bur oak groaned a cranky groan, like a mom or dad might do when waked up by a whining kid in the middle of the night. 

"Now, why do you think you got those nice fur coats??? All stylish and warm? Do YOU think YOU are the first people to go through a Winter??? Have you noticed that EACH day the Sun is slowing down as it lowers itself in the sky?"

Skunk and Possum looked at each other, a little embarrassed. 

"No" said Possum, "We didn't. We were busy playing. I was hanging by my tail. And Skunk was spraying her perfume on a coyote. We just noticed the Sun and got to thinking..."

"Well", said Bur oak, "pay attention. In a few days it will be the Winter Solstice. The Sun will stop its journey to the south. The days will STOP getting shorter. And slowly, gradually, the Sun will start back up into the high sky, and the days will get longer, and, in a month or two, you will start to feel the first warm breath of spring.

Possum and Skunk looked at each other.

"But how do you know????" asked Skunk.

"Go on away with you. You know how old I am??? I been through this for more than 350 cycles and I can tell you, for sure, this is the BEGINNING of the END of Winter. Oh, there will be cold days ahead, wind and snow. But there's no stopping it. Spring is on its way."

Skunk and Possum's eyebrows shot up. "Yeah! Let's go and play. You play dead," said Skunk.  And I will play perfume counter...."

"Oh my" Bur Oak moaned. "Let me sleep"

What Bur Oak predicted, came to pass. And each year after, Skunk and Possum shared this wisdom with their own worried children. And instead of worrying, on the day of the Winter Solstice, they danced and sang, and ate and drank, watched the Sunset, and the Moonrise, and the stars circling in Space.


December 15, 2020

The Cycling of Water ~ Round and round we go

Dear Friends, This week 2nd grade will perform the Water Cycle necklace activity

(Rooms 203 Monday, Room 204 Tuesday, and Room 202 on Wednesday). 

Classes begin at 8:30 and last about 90 minutes.

This is a kinetic demonstration of the random flight of a water molecule through nine possible places where water is found on earth: ocean, clouds, glaciers, lakes, rivers, soil, groundwater, plants, and animals. So we create nine stations, each one equipped with its own unique die (singular of dice) and a bowl of beads. The students start at one of these stations carrying a cord, knotted at one end. They take a bead from the bowl and thread it onto the cord. Then they roll the die. The die tells them where their water molecule will go next. For example, from ocean to cloud. The student goes to the cloud station and threads a cloud bead, then rolls the cloud die. It might land in such a way that it instructs the student to go to the cloud. That means the student stays at the cloud station, threads another bead, and rolls again. The student rolls 20 times, creating a unique trail, a unique story about the motion and experience of one water molecule in this world. After twenty rolls, we attached barrel clasps on each end of the cord to create a necklace, suitable for gifting or keeping. The students also write about their molecules’ journey. Part of the profound meaning of the water cycle is its endless dynamism, a masterpiece of recycling. We can tell the students with a good degree of certainty that some of the water molecules currently in their bodies were once in clouds, glaciers, dinosaurs, and spiders. Truly we are all part of everything in this living world. Another wonderful realization is that the water cycle is powered by two fundamental forces: the Sun to raise the water to the skies, and gravity to return it to Earth. Also, the great flow of waters from the Mississippi into the Gulf carries with it the taint of our civilization: eroded soils, fertilizers, and chemical pollutants of every sort. The Water Cycle, Mother Nature, bails us out by evaporating that spoiled water, thereby distilling it, and returning it to us as pure, drinkable water. How lucky can we be? One can imagine 30 students cycling through nine stations, rolling (throwing) 9 large dice, threading beads, and accidentally letting their beads slip from their cord. It is very kinetic! Volunteers are greatly appreciated. If you can help, you will witness a very fun and important lesson. I teach the kids a song about water and us. I borrowed it from Yoko Ono and added my own verses.

We're all Water
(Ono / Leki)

We're 90% water
We're like the plants and algae,
We're mostly water
We're 90% water
Like the surface of our planet
Our Mother Earth.


We're all water from different rivers
That's why it's so easy to meet
We're all water in this vast, vast ocean
Someday we'll evaporate together.

We're cousins to the glaciers
The raindrops are our aunties
Because we're water
We're like the streams and rivers,
The lakes and ponds and oceans
Because we're water


Hope you can join us!
Mr. Leki

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

Turkey’s flying, Puckered soils, and a Tiny Green Machine

Dear Ecology friends,

You may have heard a strange distance gobbling from somewheres up on high in the past few days. I have. So did my little neighbor girl. She said, “Look Mr. Leki Gobble Turkeys”. High, high overhead they hovered, in ranks of 30, 40, 50, sometimes circling, catching the wind, and then streaming again southward. She thought they were turkeys fleeing Thanksgiving. But they were Sandhill cranes making their annual pilgrimage to Florida. The sound of their chorus is unforgettable.  They were probably heading to the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife area in Indiana, a roosting and resting sight. There, the birds congregate at dusk, to spend the night in collective safety. The sight of them arriving there from all directions, coming in for a landing with their long legs extended down, and the great collective roar of their voices is a great hope-giving uplift. It is a marker of the season, Fall passing into winter. Another sign is the crunch, the feel and sound of soil beneath your feet after the first hard frost. The soil “puckers” as bits of moisture freeze and expand, opening tiny cavities in the ground. It is the perfect time to sow native seed: the tiny crevices offering winter protection and await a blanket of snow.

For the past month, egged on by the shortening daylight, the trees are undergoing their almost magical transformation: the life-giving, energy-harnessing chlorophyll is being broken down, and stored safely in the tree’s trunk and underground, to be re-assembled in spring. Left behind are the other pigments: the  Carotenoids, yellow and orange, and the Anthocyanins ~ purple and red.

That’s what I’ll be teaching the First Grade today, our first-in-class lesson in our year-long study of trees. I wrote this song during remote learning, to raise our awareness and appreciation of chlorophyll:

Tiny Green Machine

Chlorophyll Breakdown (Lyrics)

By P. Leki

Chlorophyll is green

A tiny green machine

It lives inside of leaves

And makes food for the trees.

When Autumn comes around

The chlorophyll’s broken down

It flows into the trunk

And underneath the ground.

That’s the way it works

That’s the way things go

That’s the way things end

That’s the way things grow.

A blessed holiday to all,

Be well, and

Stay well.

Mr. Leki


Leo Rosie Juliana and mom Kate

Hello Dear Friends, 

Fall is truly falling, with bluster and a chill, a sprinkle of rain, and dust of snow.

Many things are wrapping up, including the garden and the riverbank.

Several families came out to the riverbank stewardship day on Saturday, and I am still hoping that we can get the 8th graders out to do stewardship in the Garden and to eat roasted potatoes and drink spiced apple cider. If we can set a day this week, I hope we can get some help supervising and cooking and all. I am meeting with the first-grade teachers to start up weekly tree lessons. I am meeting with the 4th-grade classes to review the plants that live in each ecosystem at Sauganash.

On Wednesday, November 17, Report Card pick-up day, parents will be able to have a look at their child’s ecology journal, from 3-7th grade, while waiting for your teacher conference. During the week I will start responding to student journals. If anyone would like to help learn “journal response”, to read and write back to our students, please let me know. I have 240 Mighty Acorns journals to read. Coffee?? Cookies??

I am looking for a used Weber (or other) grill to use with classes coming out to the garden during this chilly season. I am also asking for everyone to keep an eye out for straw bales that we can retrieve to use as mulch next year.

Be well!

Mr. Leki

The Beauty and Power of Nature (and Grubs)

Dear Ecology Volunteers!

We made it through our Fall Field Ecology schedule without mishap or cancelation. More importantly, our students and volunteers were able to experience the tremendous beauty and power of our wild natural places. What a difference from on-line learning. Heartfelt thanks to the scores of volunteers who made these adventures possible.Our Harvest Day potato / cider / firepit storytelling was postponed until tomorrow, November 1, 2021 for pre-K through 2nd grade. Today I will be cutting and wrapping potatoes in the garden at  3:00. Want to help? Bring your favorite knife and cutting board. We need to prepare 300+ servings!  I am relieved to have dedicated volunteer fire keepers / potato chefs ready to light the oven early tomorrow. Because of the postponement because of rain, the issue of additional volunteer help is unsure. We will need help buttering and salting potatoes, getting our little ones seated, serving hot cider and generally watching over things. Can you help? The schedule is attached here, disregard the Field and Face painting activities.  5cuNPmLZzW1ZtOwjVd/view?usp=drivesdk

One reflection, during this lovely, mysterious time of year: Our 5th grade Mighty Acorns  ecology lesson is about Habitat Fragmentation and Biodiversity. It explains that the disruption of vast, connected ecosystems results in our protected natural areas looking like and acting like islands in a sea of development. One way we judge the health of a natural area is by keeping track of the number of species living there. Higher species diversity signifies ecological health and resilience. If diversity drops over time, the preserve is in trouble and our management techniques are inadequate.  One ecological rule of thumb is that islands (preserves) that are larger, and closer to each other will likely maintain biodiversity better than those that are smaller and farther apart.  We were running a simulation game in the picnic grove last Thursday, in a light drizzle. We were on the 20th round of this game when the kids let out a shriek. They pointed to a very large buck white-tailed deer in flat out pursuit of a large doe. They thundered across the grove like racehorses. I’ve never seen anything like it. We joked that they were looking for a bigger island to live on. Which brings me to Welles Park and the grubs. The thing about monocultural lawns is that they lack resilience. The ideal is to have one species of grass growing to the exclusion of everything else. This means that if some insect or disease is attracted to that species of grass, they can tear through that community like those deer racing through the grove.  And they leave behind…. nothing. The same goes for corn and soybean fields. To maintain those monocultures, endless pesticides are used. These are unstable ecosystems constantly in conflict with Mother Nature’s determination to create bio-diversity. So, rather than be grossed out by the grubs, we should consider these vast grass plantings, and remember that the grubs have contributed their copious waste products (and many of them, their own bodies) to that waste area. Birds have eaten them and left their own waste, enriching the open ground. Maybe now is the moment to plant a perma-cultural forest of edible fruits there. Grubs create a problem in low diversity ecosystems. Why not diversify and, as a bonus, create a space to involve neighbors in agriculture and the harvest of delicious food. The grubs have raised our consciousness!

Mr. Leki