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Pullquote: Just think of your property as a sanctuary — for people, plants, and wildlife.

There are different ways to think of the greenery that surrounds your house. Some of the most familiar are <lawn, yard, or garden>. While each of these words has positive associations for most of us, and connotes a certain level of functionality, what if we started to think of the greenery that surrounds our homes in other terms — <habitat, ecosystem, or sanctuary?> How would those words change the way that we conceptualize, plan, and care for that space?

Many of us moved out to the suburbs looking for more space, but not all space is created equal. A little more indoor space is nice, sure, but it’s the verdant outdoor landscapes that tend to draw us away from the cities. Countless studies have been conducted on – and literature written about – the deep and basic need of every human being to connect with nature. Even the science shows that the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of greenery – from a 100-year-old oak tree towering above, to a single blade of grass underfoot – fill us with a unique brand of joy and tranquility.

Nature is often thought of as wilderness on a grand scale, not a small outdoor space with a patio. But, I believe that such an all-or-nothing approach alienates us from the very accessible nature that is available every time we open our back door. Connecting with the proximate soil, plants, birds, and insects links us to the land and beneficial wildlife the world over; it grounds us in our history and imbues us with the importance of protecting our future.

So, how do we create sanctuaries to surround our homes? While every person’s vision will yield something different, there is one rule of thumb that can make the process pretty easy: work with nature, not against it. Try to use the systems that nature already has in place, rather than dismantling them and artificially reconstructing them. A good example of this is how we use our fallen leaves in the autumn. Leaves are nature’s compost, good enough to feed the most spectacular forests in our country. So, rather than having someone come in to blow, gather, and dump them in the fall, and then cart in and spread mulch in the spring, just shred the leaves and put them on your beds, or leave them in a thin layer on your grass. As an added benefit, many important insects like to live in leaf litter.

Another wonderful example of working with nature is using plant material native to our area. Native plants are naturally pest-resistant, support a vast array of insects – and, in turn, the birds that eat them. They have adapted over millennia to fare well in our soil and water conditions. When deciding where to add native plants, it’s key to remember that layers matter. So, think in terms of groundcover, shrubs, taller shrubs, smaller canopy trees, and then towering canopy trees.

Aside from saving yourself the hassle of caring for a non-native plant, by planting native species of plants you also are advertising to every songbird, butterfly, caterpillar, bee, and ladybug, that your garden is a friendly place for them eat, shelter, and nest. (Just make sure you have a birdbath to provide water to the grateful wildlife.)

So, no matter how big or small each property is, let’s forget about trying to make a perfect <lawn> – that flat, huge expanse of immaculate grass. Let’s aspire to something far loftier. Consider turning it into a <sanctuary> – for beneficial wildlife, for our community, and for you. And add a birdbath

<— Andrea Alban-Davies, Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee >

By Andrea Alban-Davies, the Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

 

Getting those hamburgers, chicken wings, nachos, omelets, and fish sticks that we all love to our tables is one of the leading causes of climate change.

 

A simple Internet search yields dozens of studies and reports illuminating the monumental, calamitous impact of animal agriculture on our environment.

 

On average and conservatively, it takes roughly 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef.

 

I recently made a startling discovery – there is actually a topic that even most conservation groups don’t want to talk about. That’s right, organizations that are constantly advocating extremely unpopular positions — live in smaller homes, drive less, fly less, consume fewer products — are reticent to touch on one subject. And this isn’t a subject that has a peripheral impact on the future viability of the human race on our planet. On the contrary, it is the factor with one of, if not <the>, largest impact.

 

What single thing could be so profoundly destructive, you ask? Animal agriculture. Yup, getting those hamburgers, chicken wings, nachos, omelets, and fish sticks that we all love to our tables is one of the leading causes of climate change. (That goes for 100% pasture-raised, “certified humane” organic products, same as it does for those that are factory-farmed in detestable conditions.) 

 

Animal agriculture is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, the second-leading cause of worldwide deforestation, and is <the leading> cause of ocean dead zones, destruction of wildlife, and the pollution and depletion of our fresh water resources. Given the facts, it’s hard to believe that this isn’t even on the radar of most individuals that consider themselves conservationists, and I include myself in that statement. I considered myself an environmentalist through and through; but I fed my family chicken <every day>, ate a breakfast chock full of eggs and dairy multiple times <every week>, invited friends over for steak barbeques <every weekend>… I mean, for the past two years, my husband’s and my donation to the auction at our kids’ school has been a dinner party described as an Argentinian-style all-you-can eat meat extravaganza. (I’m serious.)

 

I know now that, although this information wasn’t being publicized by most environmental groups or hitting headlines the same way that single-use plastic bag and bottle reduction was, the only reason I didn’t know about it is because I wasn’t looking. A simple Internet search yields dozens of studies and reports illuminating the monumental, calamitous impact of animal agriculture on our environment; the evidence is everywhere. Worse yet, it’s been known for a long time. I’m talking not only about studies conducted by organizations like the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN or the EPA, but also about statistics coming out of the USDA, an organization whose mission statement includes words like ‘helping rural America’ and ‘promote agricultural production’.  

 

Said USDA, whose main concern is the threat that climate change presents to U.S. farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners (not the other way around), puts the figure of global greenhouse gas emissions attributable to global agriculture – overwhelmingly dominated by livestock production and the grains grown to support it — at a staggering 24%-30%. That figure includes emissions caused by related deforestation and land-use change. Studies conducted by the UN estimate that the total greenhouse gas emissions <directly> attributable to livestock production (without including the knock-on effects that the USDA did) is approximately 15%. If this seems low to you, consider that this level is more than the exhaust emissions attributable to the <entire> transportation sector.

 

Some of the other micro-level and macro-level statistics are breathtaking. It’s tough to pick just a few, but even a small selection gives a view into the scope of the problem. On average and conservatively, it takes roughly 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef. The figure for one gallon of milk is 1,000-2,000 gallons of water. (While some quibble over the exact numbers, and it’s true that all food production requires water and land, one thing is clear and irrefutable: animal agriculture requires more – much, much, much more! – even when it’s stacked up on a protein basis.) The World Bank has found that animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 90% of the razing of the Brazilian Amazon, the “Lungs of the World”. In our country, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, about 130 times more animal waste is produced than human waste. Run off from animal agriculture operations pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. The same excrement also pollutes our air, filling it with toxic gases; for example, approximately 80% of ammonia emissions in the U.S. come from animal waste, according to the EPA. Domestic governmental organizations have decimated the wolf populations in the Pacific Northwest and rounded up masses of wild horses primarily in order to protect the interests of the livestock industry, whose animals graze on public lands. The list just goes on and on.  

 

Obviously, this is an urgent and pressing issue for a number of reasons, not least of all because we can each change it tomorrow. It’s as simple as making different choices the next time we go to the supermarket. This was tough information for me to learn – my family loved eating all of the foods that I mentioned – but, ultimately, it filled me with hope. Hope because, together, we can easily make an immediate, huge difference. All that’s required is what I’ve come to consider, in the grand scheme of things, a small change in habit.  

 

 

In the next four Greenspace articles, I will share more of what I’ve learned about the widespread effects of animal agriculture as it pertains to our environment – the air we breathe, the we live on land, our waters (both ocean and fresh supplies) – and the simplicity of the solution, which conservationists the world over have embraced.  

Sometimes it feels like it’s just all bad news when it comes to our environment. Climate change seems to be upon us – with daily reports of glaciers melting, ice sheets breaking off, oceans warming, and ecological systems breaking down – and it’s promised to only get worse from here. That’s why finding stories of inspiration is particularly important right now. While it’s true that we’ve already surpassed certain key metrics pertaining to greenhouse gas and other pollution levels from which there’s no turning back, hope is the key element to preserving what can still be a bright future. It’s what will motivate us to make the often-difficult changes necessary to minimize the severity of our environmental fate. And there’s nothing that fills us with hope quite like tangible examples of individuals that have committed to making a difference, their way.

That’s why I was so pleased when the Wellspring Program at The Osborn — a program designed to inspire the members of The Osborn community to enjoy life to the fullest by embracing the seven dimensions of wellness that enrich life at every stage — partnered with Friends of Rye Nature Center to bring just such an example to our community. They invited Top to Top to speak about their global climate expedition, because connecting with nature and working to conserve it satisfies some of the goals of both of these organizations. As a happy byproduct, Rye residents got an up-close and personal look at one family’s approach to making the world a better place.

Top to Top is a Swiss nonprofit volunteer organization that aspires to sail around the world and climb the highest peak on each continent (hence “Top to Top”). It promotes outdoor sports as a key element to getting children and older people alike interested and invested in the fate of environment, which makes a lot of sense. Surfers, after all, usually care deeply about the health of our oceans; skiers about mitigating global warming, which is making mountainous regions more temperate; and hikers about the protecting our forests. The expedition is led by Dario Schworer and his family. Throughout their travels, they also visit with the communities most affected by climate change, work with schoolchildren on developing ideas for an environmentally sound future, and undertake efforts to clean up natural settings around the world. They rely on wind, solar, and human energy to propel all of their travels and initiatives.

Each person in attendance surely found his or her own source of inspiration from the presentation. For me, the most encouraging thing was to see an intergenerational gathering of people eager to hear someone talk about his personal efforts to address our climate crisis. Not even a torrential rainstorm was able to stop them from coming.

It wasn’t your usual Q&A session — questions were fielded from elementary school children and octogenarians in turn — and it filled me with hope that many people of all ages in our community care deeply about conservation. While education efforts often focus on children, who we think of as the inherent nature-lovers and conservationists, why not include everyone in the conversation? We all have a stake in the future of our planet. Everyone, from young children to the eldest among us. And the latter act as an important bridge from the what was and what is to what will be when it comes to the health of our planet and the viability of the human race on it. By linking everyone into the conversation, we can come up with better habits and maybe even better solutions.

— The Rye Garden Club Conservation Committee

By Jana Seitz

I’ve been handed 18 chances while living in the Northeast to learn that the funk I fall into in winter is bigger than I am, but I’ve blown it every year. As in love and labor, one forgets the pain and jumps right in to do it again.

I was born in a hot sunny climate, so didn’t have to cultivate survival skills for January, February, March, and sometimes April. I am missing the circadian rhythm required to weather winter, skipping a beat and putting myself in a minor key. I hibernate at first, but only out of post-Christmas exhaustion, a survival of the fattest approach that doesn’t sustain me for three months. Next, I revel in doing indoor tasks long on my list. Then begins the downward spiral.

I take to writing “JOY” on the tender whites of my arms in hopes that a glimpse of it will trigger the Pavlovian response of a smile, thereby triggering my missing joy, a God-given gift horse I seem to have looked in the mouth and caused to flee the stable. But “JOY” fades unless its continually refreshed. I do so with various colored Sharpies, considering a tattoo. That’s when I realize it’s happening again. I remember I am helpless in pulling out of the winter blues by staying warm and inside.

I’ve studied the various survival skills of the indigenous peoples of Westchester, and hibernation seems to be the most common. People just disappear. Poof. Ours is a ghost town for months. The wise curl up like bears in a cave, reading in front of a roaring fire that mimics the sun. Others busy themselves with ski trips, paddle tennis, and charity events. Some cook, others rearrange furniture. Some drink.

Cultures have been dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder much longer than ours has been reducing it to a pithy acronym. The seasons are set up with clear patterns, giving mankind time to prepare and evolve:

Spring: Life begins.

Summer: Life ripens.

Fall: Life is harvested.

Winter: Life dies to make way for new life.

Naturally, we as a species may get a little down come winter, given all that darkness and death. In my native Louisiana, we have a handy antidote called Mardi Gras, a month-long party which propels us through the doldrums of winter like a charm. My body is accustomed to this survival method, hurling music and booze at the blues to banish them.

My first winter here I was naively shocked to discover no one celebrating Mardi Gras. A local eatery claimed to, but had no live music and just the usual suspects at the bar. I waited until St. Patrick’s Day, thinking “Ah, yes, THAT must be the antidote for the people.” But again was shocked to find it was just another school night. I reckon people here are just tougher than in the South, choosing to go it alone rather than seek solace in mass revelry. But I still roam around in search of a campfire to share.

I think I’ve got it licked this year with a new formula: Twenty minutes under a sun therapy lamp every morning, 5,000 units of Vitamin D daily, and a whopping dose of the outdoors. I have to continually fight the power of the heated home to suck me in and pin me down (Nursing Home Syndrome). I’ve made it through unscathed thus far. I realized the other day that I felt better than I had in months and wondered why. No endorphins flooding my system from exercise. Hadn’t had a drink all week. No good news from the homeland. What was this familiar feeling of peace and wellbeing? Then it dawned on me: DAYLIGHT! Time for the 6:30 news, and the sun’s still here. I’d made it to Daylight Savings Time…again.

Who cares that it’s dark when I wake up? I’m a beast before coffee, light or dark. But the return of The Golden Hour made everything all right again.

What a difference a day makes.

Captions

A winter hike with the Appalachian Mountain Club

The author snowshoeing at Apawamis

Canopus Lake from the top of the trail

Forging ahead at Fahnestock State Park

BOX – NEEDS OUTDOORSY RULE (woodsy ?)

(parks.ny.gov/parks/147/maps.aspx)

Carmel, NY (45 miles from Rye)

Snowshoe on the Appalachian Trail, cross-country ski around Canopus Lake. Rental equipment and café onsite. Incredibly beautiful and so easy. Or snowshoe Rye Town Park, Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary or local golf courses (especially pretty by moonlight.)

Warwick, NY (50 miles from Rye)

Favorite solo weekday ski trip. Rental equipment and café.

Patterson, NY (40 miles away)

Small, but a fine replacement for the treadmill.

 Millbrook, NY (70 miles from Rye)

Shooting instruction for all levels. Beginners welcome. Gear provided. Café and great shopping for Orvis gear on site.

(amc-ny.org)

Join the NY/NJ chapter for amazing weekly outdoor opportunities headed by experienced leaders. Emailed to your inbox.

By Bill Lawyer

 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the weather, mostly because I have a dog, and I need to determine what the weather conditions will be when Max has to be walked.  

 

Of course, there is some flexibility in the dog-walking schedule, and I have a variety of paths that I can follow — long, short, sheltered by trees, puddle-free, etc. But at some points during the day and night it can’t be put off.  

 

My concerns about the weather are also triggered by health and safety, and we’re always trying to figure out how to deal proactively with threats being forecast.

 

Now in terms of dog walking over the years, the primary weather features that have always interested me are temperature and precipitation. And those are ones that are easiest to find out about. 

 

The weather services have created detailed historical records of what the average temperature and average precipitation have been from day to day. This is done thanks to the ability to collate the changing conditions from hour to hour in particular locations and then averaging them. Therefore, I can look at the New York monthly weather chart for the previous month and see what the temperature and precipitation actual averages are, and how they compare to previous years (i.e. “normal”).

 

Last month, for example, the actual average temperature was 41.6 degrees, which was 5.3 degrees higher than the normal average. And the precipitation was .6 below normal.  

 

All this is leading up to get to the most important weather concern I’ve had in recent years: how windy it is in Rye! While not as much statistical analysis has been done about wind, we all know how many things are impacted by dangerous wind conditions.  

 

Not that wind is all bad — it can be pleasurable on a hot day, and it makes beautiful sounds blowing through forest of pines — as well as beautiful music with wind chimes.  

 

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but it’s my impression that we get lots of windy weather on normal days, not just when there’s a tropical storm or Nor’easter taking aim at us, sitting right by the Atlantic coast with nothing between us and the gusting ocean winds except Long Island.  

 

One thing that is different about wind measurements is that at any given time there are two variables — general wind speed and direction, and gust speeds. And sometimes there is a large difference between the two.  

 

Enter WeatherSpark, a relatively new website that was developed to enable weather information organizations to create historical as well as projected weather information.  

 

As of yet they have not provided specific, day-to-day wind data, but they have worked out some monthly details in given locations. The nearest one is Flushing, Queens. At that location, the average wind speed for February is 13 miles per hour. The minimum is 5, the maximum 20.  

 

Nineteen percent of the time in February the wind comes from the south. Next are west and northwest, at 15 percent.  

 

The Weather Underground website shows daily gust speeds. On February 10, the maximum was 26 mph, but we don’t know how long these gusts occurred.  

 

In the past month we’ve had a number of windstorms where trees were toppled, power was lost, and things were dangerously blown around on the streets, sidewalks, and buildings under construction.

 

My goal is to find out more about measuring wind conditions, and determining if indeed my sense that wind conditions are getting worse is accurate.  

 

And everyone should be checking out how battened down their hatches are right in their own backyards.