On any week night we may often be found joining several friends for pre-dinner drinks and conversation in the Pub at Meadowlark Hills. To us, the most satisfying feature of this evening routine is...
December 7, 2017
I’m going to speak of a magnificent animal—also one of God’s creatures—that is a source of disdain for many of you: the eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger). The genus name, Sciurus, is related to their habit of “sitting in the shade of their tail” while resting or sunning on a horizontal limb. This squirrel ranges widely across the eastern United States, including all of Kansas. Yes, Meadowlark Hills also is blessed. The fox squirrel range touches western New England and extends somewhat beyond the 100th meridian in our West. Thus, these squirrels grace many woods, l
To quote Eli Sprenkle, fisheries biologist at Tuttle Creek State Park, “algae and blue-green algae are everywhere.” Including our Bayer Pond. Some would say the same for ticks and mosquitoes. Blue-green algae are now considered to be a form of bacteria (cyano-bacteria) possessing chlorophyll and capable of photosynthesis. Thus, like green algae, they, as a by-product of their photosynthesis, release oxygen back into air or water.
Horace Mann once famously remarked, “Go west, young man.” Several plant species do the same thing: their flower buds and flowers track the sun as it “moves across the sky.” And these flowers do it every day until the seeds developing within them begin to mature. Then they tend to remain facing some degree of east.
I suspect few people know that the various species of sumac plants have to their credit an especially long list of medicinal uses by Europeans in ages past, by American Indians, by our pioneers, and by early American physicians. Even the name “sumac” is thought to be of Arabian origin. We usually notice our sumac species—the smooth, or dwarf, sumac—only in late summer or early fall after its leaves and fruit have turned to that beautiful red. Unfortunately, I have space to mention only a smattering of the many ways the sumacs have been used medicinally throughout human history.
For many years, beginning in the late 1700s, a young woman or man in the Northern Hemisphere, hoping to increase the magic of that special date, might have applied a drop of “smell-good” that most likely contained some amount of an extract from the white verbena plant. This verbena, with lemon-scented flowers, a native of western South America, early on became one of the scents frequently used in the formulation of perfumes, colognes, and toilet waters.
Plants also have histories, and some of them are spectacular. During the next 2-3 months I hope to make a short exploration into the medicinal uses humans have made of certain plants. Some of them, e.g., the western yarrow prairie wildflower have had a significant impact upon human life. The western yarrow, mentioned in last month’s OE article, found in our MLH prairie, and which begins blooming in early or mid-summer, is a member of a famous plant group. One or another species from this group can be found in prairies, meadows, and open woods on all northern continents.
We are in The Great Unfolding of Spring, a most appropriate time for learning to have Nature come to us rather than always believing we have to go to Nature. Our Natural Area can show us many of these “unfoldings.” Just pick a nature-filled place and sit quietly, look carefully, and listen intently—as if you were studying pores in a brick instead of the whole wall.
I rarely salute water that flows from my kitchen faucet. Yet, one of the great unsung achievements of technology and science is the ability to produce huge and dependable quantities of potable water. In sharp contrast is the scene in the Third-World, where most every day, in a village somewhere, people rejoice in that first gush of safe water from some pipe in their village.
We have many “snowbirds” on campus during the summer. This led me, during 21 and 24 January, to hike every street and trail on our campus except for the line of trees on the ridge between Meadowlark Valley and the cottages along the east side of Meadowlark Road. I was involved in the “Sport of Kings:” a scouting and counting venture meant to impress all of us with the number of wild creatures with whom we share our campus during the “growing season.”
Those sturdy conifer and deciduous trees gracing our Campus and Natural Area prove each winter, by standing and taking the full brunt of whatever winter throws at them, that they are tough cookies. Some of how they do this is understood, but the adaptive mechanisms described below will safeguard trees only so far into the realm of freezing temperatures. A reason exists for the “tree line” across northern Canada.
2121 Meadowlark Road
Manhattan, KS 66502