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Memories

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Have you ever noticed how a song can take you back to your childhood or some long stashed away memory?  The same can be said about a smell, like a special recipe your mom made when you were a child or perhaps a particular flower. Even taste has its place in the storing of your lifetimes worth of experiences. The fact is that “all” of our senses seem to help attach themselves to a special moment of our lives and have the ability to open that part of our mind as if giving us an old unique key to a hidden door that we can suddenly peak into.  Amazingly our senses give us the ability to add a sort of protective layer around particular moments in time that might have been otherwise forgotten. Each second of everyday we are bombarded with information of some kind or another and its easy to see how many of the details become lost in the pile of countless pieces of information. By heightening the overall experience at the time of the event, it’s like using a yellow highlight marker on a particular sentence buried in 10,000 words. Suddenly its easy to find that particular spot.

Image from healthmango.com

Understanding how or why that works is fairly simple, think of it another way; imagine if you were to eat 1 bowl of plain oatmeal every day for 100 days and I asked you about your experience on one “particular” meal you probably would have no idea. You would also be pretty sick of eating oatmeal. Sure maybe you would remember the first bowl, or the last might stand out a bit but most meals would sort of blend over time. Now imagine one particular meal you were surprised because unexpectedly added into the bowl was smelly and super powerful hot sauce. Suddenly, that meal no matter which of the 100 days, stands out as unique. Years later if you smell or taste that same hot sauce you would certainly remember that moment in time and a large part of that day would probably come flooding back into your mind.

As we grow from childhood our young minds associate the many things we see, taste, touch, hear and smell with our experiences and those in many ways help create the building blocks of our minds. Since the nature of growing up means many of our memories are from a younger time, we tend to perceive the world with a heightened and nostalgic view. Perhaps an old street you lived on, place you visited as a young person etc becomes sewn into your mind.

Early Spring Nature Walk

Knowing this is a powerful thing for a parent. That means you have the ability to help ensure the experiences and reflections in the life of your child are wonderful ones worthy of that hopefully nostalgic view.  That is exactly why it is so vitally important that we all remember to take our children for walks into natural habitats to admire wildlife and appreciate “their” world. As we walk through a forest, meadow or watershed (or any other habitat) the smells of the trees and flowers, the songs of the birds all fill the senses with the wonder of “life” itself. Something all of us can relate too. That positive impression left in the mind of the child can last a lifetime and the love and endearment of the natural world means that you are helping to building a better future by ensuring people still “care” in future generations.

Imagine a person in government being asked to develop a particular habitat and suddenly hears the song of a bird reminiscent of his or her childhood. Perhaps that will mean that same person has pause before making a decision that would destroy the place that they hold close to their own heart because they would also understand its importance.  Now when I was raised before the internet, cell phones even “cordless homes phones” there wasn’t much reason to stay indoors. In fact I spent all my time outdoors so much so that I grew up to do things like become a conservationist (I like the term “preservationist” better btw). So my experiences as a child did directly impact the course of my own life.

The beauty of a healthy wild place

In today’s high tech world of the iPad and smart phone ensuring constant online communication with websites like Facebook it’s hard to imagine that people have time to be outdoors. As we spend more hours in front of a computer, sadly that means less time to see what is happening in a nearby forest preserve for example.

These experiences are not to be missed at any age, but it is absolutely imperative for a child to see. In nature the scent of wildflowers in a meadow, the sound of a birds, whales and wolves singing or the feeling of bark on a pine tree all create a world of wonder and awe that locks in to your consciousness for a lifetime.  I can remember watching a Luna Moth flying at night against the back drop of the moon or and eagle landing on a salmon and flying off. Those images have forever blended into my heart and my mind is inseparable from that humble feeling of respect. They are so powerful even as the years go by and I forget little things like “why did I just walk into this room” or “what was I looking for in this drawer” I never forget those magical moments exploring the beauty of Mother Nature and I never will. That is the point I suppose. Our “memories” are built on “experiences” so ensuring we spend quality time in places that reflect the best things in life i.e., “Nature” will ensure we hold a lifetime of wonderful building blocks for our future.

Mark Fraser

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The Jersey Barrier

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

Many of us have a common path to commute from each day. Part of our normal routines headed both towards and back home from our place of daily work. Along my own commute I drive along this one particular highway that cuts in to the middle of some local conservation land. It’s a nice area with a lot of deciduous trees on either side of the highway and I have seen many species like Deer, Hawk and Fox on several occasions.

Some years back a project to widen the road began as a part of Massachusetts “Big Dig” project and the state began to open up the highway infrastructure in and around the city of Boston. For along time this had not impacted the commute in my area away from the city until finally they decided to work on the highways further north of Boston and then my normal predictable commute suddenly changed dramatically. That small little highway near conservation land was becoming larger and the work took off at a feverish pace for a couple of years or more. It took a long time for things to settle back down but in time, it eventually did. Although the daily roar of heavy equipment had stopped one legacy of the construction work remained, the “Jersey Barrier”.  For those of you who don’t know what a Jersey barrier actually is; they are those approx 3 foot tall cement walls made of snap together sections along the highways and even secondary roadways. They are made by pouring concrete into a re bar filled mold and have become all the rage in the construction world because they can be poured “as needed”. So widespread is there use as a highway traffic barrier that there hasn’t been much thought about their ecological impact. Imagine being a Mouse, Skunk, Porcupine, Opossum etc and being on the wrong side of a 3ft high smooth surface that you absolutely can not cross.

"Many species like this female Snapping Turtle run into serious problems trying to lay their eggs because they can't cross Jersey Barriers. This often causes them to become fatally trapped on the roadway."

What about a turtle trying to reach a pond? It is not a small unimportant consideration; it is becoming a very big deal. Once they were installed the forest on either side of the road was totally separated for smaller wildlife since between the north and south bound lanes were endless miles of tightly connected barriers, each tied together neatly in a long and seamless string stretching far beyond the actual conservation land and across countless towns. That habitat has been “fractionalized” into two separate non connected realms each only half of what its original size was. There are places that have water on one side in the form of a marsh and forest on the other.  The problem is that often individual towns conservation commissions miss the point since they simply see this as part of the highway department and are not necessarily thinking about the “connect-ability” of protected conservation land along the highway and rather just the single parcels themselves.

One of the most important things to consider when protecting wildlife is undoubtedly the preservation of habitat and lots of it. It seems simple enough at first thought; I mean what can be so difficult about remembering to leave some forest and wetlands aside so that our wild neighbors have a place to live? The problem comes down to more of a “big picture” scenario. By that I mean most towns and municipalities make jurisdictional laws specific for their own region, and list of conservation parcels.  This does not mean they consider the connection points between parcels especially when they intersect other towns or jurisdictions. Wildlife on the other hand doesn’t really care about what we humans call a town, state or nations border.  They are living with something we humans often idealize and rarely actually come to know and fully understand ourselves, called “Freedom”.
They will roam wherever they need to based on food availability, the search for a mate, curiosity about a new territory etc.

They don’t worry about taxes or town councils or even passports for that matter. They live a truly “free” lifestyle and do their best to live around and with, all of us. That is, until we create a physical barrier preventing them from moving across from one side of a habitat to another. Just imagine in an urban environment,  there are many roads with many Jersey Barriers.

Image from the Florida D.O.T Website

That means we can literally create “boxes” of island habitats where nothing small and flightless can get in or out from. Keep in mind “nothing will dig under a Jersey Barrier in the middle of the asphalt highway”. Just imagine if you were a small mammal and during the night attempt to cross the road to get to your drinking water, you could be in very big trouble. Wandering miles to find a place to cross trapped up against the Jersey Barrier and traffic. Too many times I have witnessed first hand turtles, opossum, skunks etc trapped up against a miles long barrier with traffic whizzing by on one side and the cement wall trapping them on the other. That being said there is a simple solution after all; why not create gaps at every few hundred feet?

It can be done and is in some case like in the image below where a simple gap has been left for wildlife.

Image from D.O.T Federal Highway Commission website

What is ironic is that image is actually from the “Department of Transportation” Highway Commission website and even comes with caption about the gap allowing wildlife to cross. Before any traffic engineers tell me that they need to connect to provide the safety benefit allow me to point out that I have also seen a few cases where there was gaps connected by a steel plate but leaving an obvious opening. I don’t know if that was made for wildlife or not but I assure you it works for their benefit. That simple act doesn’t come with a big price tag in fact it probably costs the same as not having them since you will save money buy needing slightly less Jersey Barriers to begin with but then buy the scrap steel connection braces (made from scraps of steel “Guard Rail” Material 2 ft or 3 ft long). A net cost of close to zero. It’s simple, it’s easy, it’s cheap and it “works”.

You can help me spread the word on this one. If you like what you read in this article and live in a region where Jersey barriers are common without a gap for wildlife to cross please call or write to your local highway Department. Let me know what response you get by sending me an email at mfraser@naturewalkswithmark.org.  Working together we can make a difference and it’s about time we proved it. This simple and common sense consideration and action “will” positively help the lives of wildlife thanks to your own assistance within your community.

Mark Fraser

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Radioactive Rain

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

There are two things that I think should not be used in the same sentence, “radioactive” and “rain”.  It is already serious enough to live with the impacts of “Acid Rain” on our watersheds thanks in large part to the use of Coal. There was a time when news like “Radioactive Rain” would have sent people into a serious frenzy. Officials saying “nothing to worry about” would have a very bad day as the concerned public would be out making statements of protest showing real and honest concern for the health of our environment and families. My, the things we can get used to hearing about are truly surprising. Over the years subjects that were once cause for real concern and even uproar seem to be old hat these days. Take “climate change” I remember not long ago when that was a serious subject, yet these days when I speak with people about it, I often hear people say they heard it was not an issue or even a political hoax. Even more scary; is when people say “I don’t like snow anyway”. Of course there are so many things that could be said about all of that but I will sum it up as that it leaves me sort of baffled. When exactly did that happen? How did we get so desensitized to the things going on around us?

I suppose that is why I was not very surprised seeing a lack of uproar at the local weather report. I was listening to a meteorologist the other day in the Boston area talking about “radioactive rain”. He proclaimed that it was no big deal and that it was less then getting an X-Ray exam. My first impression was “so is this person a physicist and also a PHD who studied the impact of radiation on human health over time?” If not, respectfully we all need to ask our own questions, and I feel we should be concerned for the potential “long term” impacts as the ecosystems around us are now absorbing radiation from this disaster.

You see being a conservationist I pay close attention to pollutions impacting on the natural world. Things like lead, mercury and plastics have an impact that has a very unique characteristic. It’s called “bio-magnification”. Basically that term describes how pollutants magnify in the food web. One example is when something consumes something else as prey, when the prey has been contaminated. The predator eats many of the prey, and therefore has a far greater amount of exposure to the pollutant. This works its way right up the food chain and includes you and I by the way. There are real examples of that all over nature. Takes Loons, they are contaminated by lead and mercury pollutants from things like “lead sinkers” used by fisherman that for some reason are still sold in stores to this day (crazy, I know).   Since Loons eat many fish that are contaminated and lead stays in their bodies a very long time, it then magnifies as more and more lead is ingested. This problem is not only very real but actually threatens their very survival. This same bio-magnifications impact Eagles as well.

Image from USGS

In fact, to some degree it can impact nearly everything. Salmon, considered a super healthy food for humans because of Omega3 fatty acids is also a fish that comes with a warning. If you eat Salmon too often then you can increase your own exposure to mercury (Hg) and so on. Ok so now that we understand “bio-magnification” lets talk about the radioactive rain that keeps popping up on the news. It doesn’t require a physicist to explain how the radioactive particles traveled around the world on the wind and are now washing down in the form of rain. There are lots of warm and fuzzy reports about it stating that “you can get more radiation from flying or from an XRAY”.  The problem is that as this crisis at the Fukushima plant is ongoing. It continues day after day while TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) tries to battle this horrific environmental disaster but each day those same radioactive particles continue to dust across entire the ecosystem. They concentrate in rain and on to our crops. That would include grass, eaten by milking cows that we get our milk from by the way. So “biomagnification” can occur right in our own home.  As always there are lots of would be experts speaking about how everything is fine and that there is nothing to worry about. It reminds me of the BP Oil spill how for a while the news reports about the oil inteh Gulf said “it just evaporated” while local residents continued to try and report the truth about what they actually see on the site- and they still do by the way.  Now in this case, this catastrophe is no doubt causing serious ecological impact. Radioactive water has actually run into the ocean. What sort of impact does that have on sea life and how long will it last? I do not think anyone really knows.  One thing is for sure. We are seeing the truth about our choices for energy. Nuclear, Oil, Coal, Natural Gas all come with “very serious” ecological impact often overlooked because those who support it are backed by billions of dollars of profit (also called lobbyist) while those who fight to protect the health of the world are often not funded at all. I believe we need to pay “very” close attention to what is going on in the world around us. Our insatiable appetite for more and more power needs to employ far more wisdom with each of the steps we take.

Like DDT, Mercury, Lead and other environmental pollutants, when “our” habitat has been contaminated the ramifications can be vast, especially when considered over time.  Even when readings start off very low, we need to carefully monitor the complex web of ecological relationships now infused with the offending pollutant. Considering the long term potential health impacts of even small amounts of radiation, I wonder if this Nuclear event combined with the massive BP Oil spill, will finally allow us to take a far more serious look at our choices going forward. Hopefully in time, we can use these tragedies as a catalysis to make better choices about the real use of Geo Thermal and renewable energy sources in the future. In time I’m sure we can learn to make the right decisions, I hope so because as I type this article and look out my window, I see that it’s raining…

Mark Fraser

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The End of the World

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

If I had a dime for every time in my life that I heard the end of the world was coming, I would have a lot of dimes. Many people talk about end of days predictions and put them in to religious context that fit neatly into one belief or another. Now that may be convenient when trying to understand life on this planet from a religious point of view but I have to say in my opinion that doesn’t have anything at all to do with the future of our home world. There is no need to sell your house or live frivolously since you might feel that very soon “it won’t matter anyway” in fact, that would be a bad plan and lead you in the wrong direction. You see the world has been around for “billions” of years so long in fact that our species entire existence on this planet is a mere blink in the context of history. End of the world predictions make great headlines and get lots of attention from their sexy media hype and fear factor. All that emotional momentum  is great until the day “after” the supposed end when everyone who publicly believed that the end was actually arriving and ran around at the brink of insanity suddenly is left with that Y2K feeling of “whoops”.  H.G Wells knew all about the power of that belief and also how upset people get the next day.

I do not live life worrying about not being alive,  that doesn’t make any sense at all to me as I would much rather spend life paying attention to the wonder of being alive in the first place and cherish the time I do have.

From George Pal's "War of the Worlds" 1953

See when we incorrectly think “it doesn’t matter anyway” that false hopelessness creates an opportunity for excuses causing some to take the easy route in life. That in turn can actually incorrectly justify a behavior that is bad for the health of our home, the Earth. When you think it makes no difference then why recycle?  Why spend time worrying about preservation of wildlife habitat, etc. That kind of thinking is what needs to come to an end of days.  The Earth is a special place, truly a sacred gift. Just for a moment take a deep breath and appreciate you are floating in space in this mostly liquid bubble. There are millions of life forms on the planet right beside you that all do their part to represent the overall bounty of life on this planet which also “includes” us humans.

Once along the banks of a lake in the mud I found a great fossil, which upon review turned out to be a Trilobite. Now this species has been extinct for over 350 million years. So I am looking into a window in time, showing me a world of life long before we were worried about the end of a Mayan calendar. I suppose all things considered the end of days did come for the Trilobite – they went extinct after all; but that came at the end of a mass extinction when the Permian epoch came to a close. Many species were lost during that very difficult time and yet even then, life continued. Hundreds of millions of years later as humans showed up on the scene we certainly have made an impact on the planet.

Trilobite Fossil Image from South Dakota Museum

We are capable of such amazing and wondrous things and sadly are also capable of so much destruction. All things considered we are an amazing species in our own right. Sure we stumble and make mistakes some much larger then others but we are also capable of music and art, dancing and love. We can help other species when they are in harms way and possibly, one day even protect the entire planet from a comet or asteroid.  So for all our flaws we carry our own beauty to the planet we share.

So let’s get back to the “End of the World”. It does happen according to species like Mammoths that have gone the way of the Trilobite. They are gone now so to them their world really is over.

Some day, our own species will exist no more as well and we will actually go to the place that all those who came before us have gone.

I just don’t think it will happen on a specific predetermined day. I think we can certainly carve out our own niche for now and someday if we are in fact faced with the end of our own specific epoch of history then I would rather have “lived” as well as possible long before that time comes to fruition. The truth is we need to plan on being here for a very long time which means we “do” need to watch how we utilize our natural resources and monitor our impact on the planets health.   If we treat the world like the sacred gift that it really is and learn to truly respect the health and well being of all the other species we share this amazing planet with, then I believe our time here will be a happy time.  Let’s ” discuss saving our planet ” this way  instead of the so called “End of Days” lets think about the “beginning of a new day” when we celebrate life on the beautiful gift, “Mother Earth”.

Mark Fraser

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The Social Media Revolution Solution

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

In the natural world, species that are considered “prey” often use a common tactic by joining forces with others and taking advantage of the “strength in numbers” benefit. This can both confuse and overwhelm the predator that is challenging them. In the human domain, that applies just as much, we “are” animals after all.

Watching the people in countries like Egypt and Libya rise up and struggle to bring about change in their homeland is literally about that same strength in numbers that applies to any species.

History itself will inevitably decide both the positive and or negative outcomes of this new and powerful social capability.

Those are stunning examples of people uniting their own voices to a common cause. In a world of instant communication and constant social media, broadcasting a viral “thought” is a new hi-tech approach to the phenomena of social change. The message is instantly capable of traveling like a living breathing organism working its way through the minds of the masses. Sometimes the sway of society’s popular opinion can turn on a dime sounding the bells of freedom and the end of oppression or in some other cases to strange directions that seem to fly in the face of reason.

Recently I watched major news reports of Charlie Sheen as they seemed to morph the stories from a drug riddled public meltdown into a Twitter superstar posting comments like #winning.

Suddenly the social media “Flock” sprung into action and millions connected to watch. Was this shift of millions to help better the world, save wildlife, help with poverty or end social oppression?….um…no.

Of course the money hungry marketers have no doubt stepped in and as long as the eyes of the masses are still watching Charlie’s party you’ll see lots of drinks, phones and untold products magically appear on tweet photos. Some stars are paid by the “tweet”, very lucrative deals because the commercial real estate on their Facebook and Twitter pages are enormous.

Odd, isn’t it? I actually find a healthy forest and clean river far more important and, well “valuable”.

Perhaps it’s our definition of the word “valuable” that has taken a serious turn into the Twilight Zone. According to my quick search on “Google” looking to define the term value, I see one of the top 3 definitions that seems to apply. “The quality (positive or negative) that renders something desirable or valuable; “the Shakespearean Shylock is of dubious value in the modern world”

I would say that there is overwhelming evidence that a beautiful healthy forest with wildlife brings a positive quality to life making our own lives on this Earth more desirable. Letting it die and harming it, brings upon a negative impact and so on.

So how is it that we do not seem to “value” the most important things yet we flock to the stories of the strangest and most bizarre behavior? Not that Charlie is all that bizarre, he actually reminds me of my late uncle both in looks and in character. After all it’s not like he suddenly shaved his hair off or anything.

No matter how you slice it there seems to be a huge void between “ethics” and “value” and that discrepancy, well makes me concerned for our future and the fate of all that wildlife that I keep blogging about. We teach ethical guidelines to our children and they will make the decisions of tomorrow. That means it is vitally important for our generation to provide a healthy moral compass to our children to invest in the future of the entire world. Is this really needed in our tech savvy society? Well, look at the influences of today’s online world. Any research on the most popular films seen on Youtube demonstrates the point as the most popular films tend to avoid any social or educational “value” albeit some are certainly fun to watch.

The people in Egypt and Libya from what I see on the news seem to value their
basic freedoms and their rights as a people. They look like they are standing up
for “We the People” hmmm, boy that sure sounds familiar.

What I find hard to understand is that many of us seem to be “bored” with
real-world issues like caring for the natural world (you know, just the health
of the planet that gives “us” life) and lately are fascinated by a wealthy mans public
meltdown. What exactly does that say about “us” as a society and our own moral
compass?

I think its time that we had our own “Social Media Revolution Solution” and
start to put “ethics” back in front of “value”.

Living on this Earth made us rich by birth; we just seem to have forgotten that.
There is no greater wealth then the smell of a healthy forest, the view of an
Eagle in flight and the admiration of a young Deer fawn in a meadow.

You see, we could “create” our own “Social Media Revolution Solution” by helping promote “good” in the world. Imagine what we could do if caring about the natural world could once again be seen as “valuable”.

That is, if we could just allow ourselves the joy of understanding that in the first place.

Then, perhaps we really would all be “#winning”.

Mark Fraser

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Social Media and Conservation

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

In our lives we are faced with so many challenges in today’s super hi-tech society. The new generations are growing up with social media like Facebook and Twitter being part of their daily lives. Films on Youtube are replacing their televisions and Smart phones seem to be able day able to even replace the almighty home computer. Information is now available at speeds beyond the collective imagination of the kids of even my own childhood.

The fast paced change of today’s world creates so many questions however like everything in life, I look to nature for examples and guidance.  You see with millions of years of evolution there really is no greater teacher then the natural world itself – that is of course if we all simply choose to listen.

Nature teaches us that species who adapt to change survive and even thrive while those who do not adapt are in trouble. Like the changing climate, social media is a shift in the sociological weather pattern. A new paradigm where information and communication create a global network that like it or not, we are all a part of.

We often think “how could technology be natural?” I mean isn’t anything made by people unnatural by definition? Well consider this; we ourselves are “of” this world. We are a species on this planet, made of the same material with the same origins of all things on the Earth. So if that’s true, then perhaps social media is a natural step in the growth of humankind?

To put it another way, let’s look at Spring Peepers, a small northern frog that happens to live in my area of the northeastern United States. After winters long chill leaves us, and the air is still brisk you will begin to here a faint call of 1 or 2 frogs singing their beautiful high pitched call.

As the days and weeks follow, more and more frogs call out until it sounds like one massive song made up of thousands of individual frogs.

What if the social media of today used in our own lives, is really no different than the call of the frogs and other species trying to communicate? It creates a way of reaching out across the darkness and distance allowing us to call out to each other? Perhaps we are a species coming out of the winter of our own evolution and instant global communication is the next step like so many frogs using sound waves to communicate across an entire pond. So in that way it is also natural it’s just that In our example we happen to  sing “communicate” our spring song on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.

Social media changes social consciousness:
The impact of media and how we are raised can’t be overstated. Our culture and beliefs around the world provide a social compass as we navigate through our lives. We are very much products of our environment.  This is so powerful that behaviors that one culture may see as wrong or ethically bad, in other cultures are considered completely normal. That’s why Cannibals and the Pizza delivery person have the same genes. They are not born different, they simply “learned” differently. So in conclusion, what happens to the social media society of today if we don’t get involved and teach important life lessons like protecting wildlife habitat? Well, we run the risk of creating a gluttonous society capable of self destruction, like a cannibal.  If we are “involved” with social media ensuring the important “life lessons” are still a part of the information we teach our children and ourselves, then our world has a great future where clean waters and forests, wildlife and even ourselves can still exist. I like that future…

Mark Fraser

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