Sunday, May 30, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Wrap Up!

A beautiful Swallowtail butterfly flew into my windscreen today as I was driving.   Zap, its short life diminished to a smear; there wasn’t much I could do but say a quick prayer of gratitude for its life, accept responsibility for its death, and be relieved upon exiting the highway to see lots more of them, fluttering in all their glory! Thankfully they seem abundant, unlike so many other species that are facing challenging times.

This is my last post in the series that has focused on the song I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! since we have arrived at the last verse!  I hope it has provided some insight into of the abundance and diversity of species living all around us, even in urban centers and inspired ideas for introducing children to these neighborhood characters!
I know that I write from a place of privilege since much of my childhood was spent in nature.  For me, hours spent watching water bugs, tadpoles and dragonflies was the norm; collecting wild flowers and then carefully pressing them into books was a precious pastime and summer afternoons lying under the horse chestnut tree dreaming of the pony express riders somewhere in that vast land called America gifted me with a treasure chest of memories.  

My family was not wealthy; sure, we lived in the country, and our garden bordered on a forest and fields with ponds and streams, but my rich experience of the natural world came from the fact that I was not allowed to stay indoors.   I was told to go and play outside!  I’ve heard the excuses given by many parents today and I don’t dispute that the world is a different place now; it does appear scarier and there do seem to be more dangerous people around.  I am not here to diminish the very real fears that plague parents today. 

However, I do believe that we are robbing our children of a valuable lifeline if we do not find ways to connect them to nature; one that is inherently important to their own well being and creativity as much as it is vital for the future preservation of the planet.  Increasing research, particularly that of author Richard Louv, demonstrates that Nature Deficit Disorder is real and needs to be addressed.  

A recent article in Wired magazine illustrates how the Web “Shatters Focus and Rewires our Brains.” It certainly made me step back and assess how much time I spend a day online (I purposely kept myself off the computer most of this weekend!).  Kids today live vicariously through their screens; they text, surf the web and socialize on Facebook, Twitter and other networks and watch a lot of TV.  Lets get kids back outdoors!  It’s not about money, its about recognizing that we have a problem here and making a concerted effort to address it anyway we can; we owe it to our kids and to the planet which gives us all life.
  Verse 5
Well I didn’t go far, just stepped outside,
Cost no money to take this ride
It’s quite amazing what you see,
When you open the door and feel the breeze!
Lesson Ideas!
1.  Step outside! Gather up jars, tweezers, magnifying glasses and off you go!  Create a Scavenger Hunt, just begin!  Kids are naturally curious and nature is full of opportunities to nurture that curiosity!

2.  Take kids outdoors to the backyard, park or schoolyard (if it is not covered by concrete) and ask each child mark out a square of land approximately 3’ by 3’ (you can use something like cornmeal to demarcate the boundaries).  Have them study that piece of land, noting down every living thing that is there, or that visits the patch while they are observing. They can use their magnifying glasses and dig up a piece of the earth to see what is underneath.  In the Secret Life of the Suburban Garden you will see that quite the variety of species was discovered!

3.  A Day in My Backyard!   Write a “Backyard” Play all about the creatures that live there.  First identify some of the species that you see; learn about them; draw pictures of them and then collectively write a story about a day in the life of...the little brown rabbit...the little black snail, or whomever you choose!  You could make it a musical – I have quite a few songs about animals , (bats, spiders, skunks, raccoons, chickadees) and so do other artists!  Here is a great Critter Catalogue that can help to identify species.

Urban centers have grown and sprawled across this planet.  Yes, there are thankfully still large tracts of land preserved as National Parks and conservation sanctuaries, but for wildlife, particularly migrating species, they must seem few and far between.  Creating Wildlife Corridors  is one way in which we can help many species. Once you have begun to learn what species live or travel through your neighborhood, explore what kinds of plants and trees could be planted to benefit them.  In doing this you will also create a beautiful oasis that lives and breathes in amongst the concrete! 

Grandmother Spider, the Chickadee Blues, Bats, Punk the Skunk, Rocky Raquino and I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  All these are up on my MySpace page.  My new CD, all about the backyard, will be ready by mid July – if you would like to be the first to get a copy please sign up on my Kickstarter page! 
One of my most favorite books as a child was The Secret Garden  If your kids or students have not read this timeless classic, then I would recommend that they do so.  There is also the Secret Garden Movie, which would be a pleasant rainy day activity!

Have a great week, enjoy the days out under the trees exploring this magical earth!
In gratitude for life, and this beautiful planet upon which we live!


Photo of Swallowtail butterfly Mila Zinkova
Photo of young girl by Tessa Emery
Other photos by Rosie Emery

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Bridge

The sweetness of an early summer evening, the soft sunlight shimmering through the green leaves; the smell of lilacs, oh such delicious perfume!  When I am in Montreal, I live on the edge of a beautiful neighborhood, with lots of trees and parks.  I’m happy to say there are more and more gardens with wild edges covered in dandelions and greenery, providing a biodiversic (not sure if that’s a qualified word, but it should be!) haven for the birds and the bees!

I saw a bat as I was walking home tonight, flitting fast through the air catching early insects for dinner.  Bats are having a hard time right now with the onset of White Nose Syndrome, which is decimating hundreds of them.  Bees, bats, frogs, coral reefs -  the canary is singing really loudly in the coal mine!  The good news is that people are trying to make changes in any way that they can; planting native gardens, buying food from local farmers markets, taking public transit, recycling, saving energy and water, writing to politicians and just paying attention.  You cannot focus on the enormity of it all, you just have to keep doing whatever you can, to raise the quality of life for all sentient beings.  Don’t get bogged down by the bad news, the constant barrage of negativity; it numbs us and creates apathy and that is the last thing we need.

This week we’re on to the bridge of the song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”.  Here we go:
As the sun went down
Saw a little brown bat,
Flying through the air catching all those gnats!
Had me a wish on a star in the sky
Just before I left I saw a firefly!
Lesson Ideas!
One of the most abundant bat species in North America, these nocturnal mammals have been impacted by the White Nose Syndrome  Introducing kids to bats early on is a good way to quell the irrational fear that seems to surround them.  Bats are important to ecological balance as well as being extremely Beneficial  to farmers.  With the onset of diseases like West Nile disease, which is primarily spread through mosquitoes, having bats around is instrumental in diminishing its spread.  Bats feed on a variety of insects and of course some bats feed on fruit and berries.  Vampire bats do indeed exist, feeding off the blood of  sleeping animals.  Which kind of bat species live in your neighborhood?  Have any of the kids seen one?  Investigate which species lives nearby and learn everything you can about it.  If you can, build a Bat House, or ask someone in the community to help you build it and put it up. This Website  has some fun information and activities on different Bats.
2.  Why do we wish on a star?  Ask students to think about this, discuss it with them; what is it about stars, that captures our imagination so much that we would wish upon one?  What are stars?  NASA has a nice program you can explore, called StarChild; look at some incredible photos such as the one above which is the Birth of Stars or Stars – beautiful images captured by the Herschel telescope.  Have your students ever seen a night sky filled with stars?  Living in the city, many of them might not have had this experience.  Find out if there is a Planetarium close to you that you could possibly visit with students. The NASA Kids Club Club has some fun activities you can use. We are made up of Stardust, so perhaps that is why the stars hold so much fascination for us; or maybe it is just our innate sense of curiosity about the mystery of this infinite universe in which we live!  Our cosmic heritage!

3. Firefly!  There is something magical about witnessing fireflies sparkling in the darkness of a summer night! Fireflies  are actually a kind of beetle, with wings that are in the same family as glowworms.  Ask students if they’ve ever seen a firefly?  Maybe they haven’t; here is a Video showing them glowing in the dark. So, how do fireflies produce their light?  They use Bioluminescence; and how does Bioluminescence work?  Glowing animals typically create light through Luminescence, mixing together chemical compounds to produce a glow.  Plants and Animals use bioluminescence including many Sea Creatures  So, the big question for inquiring minds both the male and female fireflies flash their lights?  Does the female have an ulterior Motive?

Bats, insects, stars and fireflies...hmmm let me see!  Bats predate on insects and help to maintain an ecological balance; fruit bats are crucial for seed dispersal.  Bat Guano is an effective natural fertilizer that can be used to enrich soil that is deficient in organic matter.  The larvae of fireflies help to maintain ecological balance in the soil since their diet consists mostly of cutworms, snails and grubs.  As for the stars, well since we are all made up of stardust, that make us pretty interconnected, no?

In addition to “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”, you will find the Bat song on my MySpace page, and here is a cute Video  of that song too. 
These Native American Sky Legends have some good stories. The Legend of Quito shows how a city was founded because of a falling star!  Here's some more Folklore about stars and meteors.

Have a great week and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are!  If you enjoy my songs and would like to support the music, please join my Kickstarter Fundraiser which will give you a copy of my new CD!
In gratitude for life and this precious Earth!

Information on Bats
For Fun – Here’s 50 signs of Good Luck from around the world!
More information on Fireflies
Make a “Firefly Diorama

Photo of Lilac Sten Porse Wikimedia Commons
Little brown Bat photo by Don Pfritzer US Fish & Wildlife
Firefly on leaf by Cyphonocerus, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of firefly with light by Emmanuelm, Wikimedia Commons 

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing: Verse 4

I’m healing from some minor surgery; it wasn’t too serious but nonetheless an invasion of the body, and any such intrusion leaves one’s system shaken and one’s heart grateful for the precious gift of health!   Imagine how the Earth must feel, with the daily invasions ubiquitously seeping into every nook and cranny.  The oil continues to gush into the pristine waters of the Gulf of Mexico; so many crushed lives, both in the ocean and out.  Will this be the final straw that pushes both the US and Canadian governments to finally recognize that we must embrace alternative energy?  I sure hope so.

Here in Montreal, I think I can safely say that we are on our way to summer!  The trees are in bloom, the leaves such a vibrant green, its luscious and glorious and I am forever stopping on my walks to gasp at the beauty!  So....this Post is Verse 4 of I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Who are we going to find in the backyard?  It's all about birds this week!  And while the three species of birds I am featuring are all quite common, each one has their own particularities!  Everything in nature is intricate and fascinating if we just dig a little!
                                                   Verse 4
Heard me the cry of a red-tailed hawk,
A big old crow went “cawk, cawk, cawk”!
Listened to the cooing of a little grey dove
As he sidled up to his life-long love!
Lesson Ideas
1.  Red-tailed hawk  You are unlikely to see a red-tailed hawk in the center of the city, although these days anything is possible!  However, if you are close to a large park, or on the edge of town near open fields, you might be lucky enough to see one.  They are a magnificent bird to study with an easily recognizable call.  As carnivores, they play an important role in maintaining the balance of ecosystems, feeding on small mammals such as rabbits and rodents as well as snakes.  Teaching children how to identify these birds helps to spark their interest as they become able to identify them both visually and auditorily; encourage children to keep an eye out for them when traveling, makes the journey more interesting!  I love to spot raptors along the roadside.  Here is an in-depth Lesson Plan called Radical Raptors
2. Crow  Crows and other birds in the Corvidae Family such as ravens, rooks and blue jays, are all survivors; they are adept at adapting to their surroundings, which is why they do so well in urban centers.  They are wily birds, not afraid to intimidate others to get what they want, and new studies have revealed how wild crows use Tools.   Begin by exploring some of their similarities and differences – just being able to identify a crow from a raven is a start!  Invite kids to list some of the variations such as: the shapes of their bills, wings and tails; the sound of their calls; their size; where they live and what they eat.  How many different species of crow and raven are there in the world?  Here are answers to some Frequently asked questions about Crows and here is another interesting Website that has a research component attached to it.  Ravens have long been featured in indigenous mythology and scientists are beginning to discover just how Smart they are!
3.  A little grey dove!  Just to give you an idea of how many kinds of pigeons and doves there are in the world, take a look at this Website! The bird that I was thinking about when I wrote the song, is the Mourning Dove, a graceful bird, whose distinctive call frequently greets my Florida mornings! In addition to learning about this bird, explore with children why the dove has become a symbol for Peace.  Invite kids to draw their own pictures of doves and to write a short story or poem to go with it. Here are some birds that are used as Peace symbols in other cultures.  It is thought that Mourning doves are monogamous, and while there seems to be continued discussion about this,  watching them perched close to each other on a wire, or rooftop, it's easy to imagine that they share some kind of strong bond!
Here is a short Video to watch with students, showing how habitat is one of the most important ways to identify birds  Finally, here's a question - where does the Mourning dove get its name from?

While all these birds are common we would be wise to teach kids about the demise of the Passenger Pigeon.  In this fast changing world, even the most adaptable species can suddenly become at risk.  Learning how species interact with their habitats is a good way to discover the interconnections of life.  This Website has some great links that demonstrate how the red-tailed hawk and other species are intertwined with different habitats.
Song  In addition to I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  Here is a cute song about Crows
There are many legends and stories that include ravens and crows, here is one from the Tlingit Nation, simply titled Raven and while I did not find a story about Mourning dove, I did discover that a woman called  Mourning Dove was a very interesting Native American novelist!

I hope you all have a great week, enjoy this beautiful time of year when everything is so fresh, well that is here in this hemisphere!  Please do feel free to contact me if I can be of any help in your seeking of educational content on nature.
In gratitude for Life and this Earth!

Photo of Close-up of red-tailed hawk 
Red-tailed hawk by Derek Ramsey,  Wikimedia
Crow photo by American Crow – Wikimedia
Mourning dove photo by

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Verse 3

Thank you to my mother, who inspired great strength in me!

It’s Mother’s Day this Sunday, and I thank Michael Pata, a Twitter friend and Animal Enthusiast, who shared these wonderful Wildlife Photos of Animal Mothers earlier this week!  The Dalai Lama often says, “We have all been somebody’s mother, and everyone has once been our mother.”  In other words, we should treat every being we meet with the respect and kindness that we would show to our own mother.  

I am a mother of two beautiful human beings, a son and daughter, and they continue to be my greatest teachers.  I am grateful to know them both and love them dearly.   For many Indigenous people the Earth is our mother and as they so aptly say: “Mother Earth can live without us but we cannot live without her!” Cultivating a deep respect and caring for the Earth and all its creatures in young children can help encourage a lifetime of earth stewardship.  I remember my favorite hymn as a child, was All Things Bright and Beautiful!  In hindsight, I think that song has resonated through my life!

This week I am focusing on Verse three of my song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!”; it is amazing to me how this one song could provide an entire semester’s curriculum, and you get to have the kids sing the song at the end!  It is also a nice reminder of the biodiversity that is inches away from our doorstep!  Here we go...

                                                     Verse 3
Caught me the scent of a wild pink rose,
Felt soft grass between my toes;
Followed the trail of a little black snail,
Found me the feather from a blue jay’s tail!

Lesson Ideas!
1.  Wild Rose In today’s world, roses are often thought of as simply flowers to give someone special on a variety of Hallmark occasions.  Wild roses, however, like many other plants and herbs, provide important sustenance, medicine and delight to those who understand their gifts.   Teach students about the properties of the wild rose, rosehips and the wood rose.  Make a list of all the different ways in which humans can use this delicate flower, its leaves and root.  If you can, go on a walk to a park or field where wild roses might be growing – often they are in back alleys or gardens.

2. Grass! “Felt soft grass beneath my toes!”  Unfortunately a lot of the grass on modern lawns isn’t as soft as it used to be!   One of my favorite childhood memories of summer is of running barefoot on the grass, no fear of pesticides or anything else.  As it turns out, the evolution of the grass lawn is quite a history lesson and as with so many things human, it's a story tied to a Machine!  And then of course there is the evolution of Grass, which is in fact a flowering plant.  Prairie Grass which made up so much of the grasslands, is now one of the most endangered habitats in Canada.  Perhaps you could plant a patch of prairie grass in your schoolyard!  Lots of ways in which you can explore grass with students, from its evolution to its relevance to so many different species.  
3.  Little black snail!  Snails don’t tend to be on most people’s favorite critter list, and slugs can certainly be ubiquitous and harmful to a garden!  However, as with all species, they play their role in the interconnectedness of life and have some fascinating traits!  All About Snails will give you some insight into the biology of snails.  The Black Mystery Snail originates from Brazil, and as its name suggests, it is a bit of a mystery!  Invite students to learn about snails, to list what their role is in an ecosystem.  With older students you could explore The Living Machines – these are a series of ecosystems designed to clean waste water – snails are one of the species used in these beautiful, non-toxic systems.

4. Blue Jay !  One of the prettiest of the more common birds, and certainly one that’s easy to spot in urban environments!  Have a Blue Jay spotting contest, to see who manages to see one first!  Invite kids to draw and color pictures of blue jays.   One of the easiest ways to identify blue jays is their call – you can hear them coming because they are like the alarm system of the neighborhood!  Here is a cool Website that plays it for you.

Interconnections!  Birds, snails, flowers and grass; all important elements of  Biodiversity Oftentimes emphasis is focused on the larger species, the more flashy, endearing characters of nature.  But in real life, it is the ordinary, not so flashy species and people that weave the fabric upon which all life and society flourish.  Teach kids how every lowly snail and ant working away inconspicuously is just as important as a polar bear or an elephant.  Similarly, it is the multitude of people working hard in so many different jobs, that builds the foundation upon which a healthy society is formed.  Each one is important in his or her own way.  

Songs I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today, is obviously one of the songs for this Post; the Ant song can also be used.  I found this fun little Snail song – Bob the Snail

Story  Here is a Legend about Blue Jay from the Cowichan Tribe, the Coast Salish History; and for young kids, here is the story of  Slimy the Snail!

Wishing everyone a great week, may the qualities of motherhood inspire us to be kind and compassionate with ourselves, everyone we meet and all living beings.
In gratitude, for my mother, for life and this precious Earth!
PS. If you like the song Butterflies Kissing, you can help support the CD and get your own copy as soon as it is released by pledging $10 at Kickstarter.

Video and more information on Prairies
Photos of wild pink rose by Silberchen – Wikimedia
Photo of Lawn SB _Johnny - Wikimedia
Black snail by Hakan Scensson (Xauxa) - Wikimedia
Blue Jay by Fish & Wildlife Service - Wikimedia

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today! Verse 2

Just when we thought spring had sprung, an April snowstorm literally knocked the leaves from the trees here in Montreal!  Thankfully the snow didn’t stick around, though it did pull down quite a few branches and dampen the joyful glee of many a tulip and daffodil!  

To further diminish our spirits, the oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is heading for shore portending devastation and misery for so many species and people, who must surely be feeling Solastalgia. Thankfully the Obama Administration has now abandoned their intention for future drilling in those waters.  Wake-up calls can be painful, but if heeded can prevent further damage and save lives.

Today is glorious,  the sun gradually warming the Earth in this northern place; each day bringing a veritable flurry of activity outside my window as birds begin to build nests and insects venture out from winter hideaways.  The gardens and parks are filled with activity, there’s plenty for a curious young mind to discover!   Continuing on from last week I’m exploring the creatures featured in my song “I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!” aiming to show how one song can provide a wealth of lesson ideas!
                                                 Verse 2
I saw me a spider, yellow and black,
A column of ants and a Whisky Jack!
Hummingbird with a ruby throat
A little brown rabbit with the softest coat!

Lesson Ideas:
1.  Black and Yellow Garden Spider Argiope aurantia!  Many people are scared of spiders (myself included), and yet most spiders are harmless even if they look intimidating.  Introducing children to the ecology of spiders early on can help to mitigate these fears and instead spark an interest in arachnids.  Spider’s Silk, for example, is one of the strongest materials in the world, relative to its weight; spiders can lay between 2 and 1000 eggs, depending on the species and some spiders weave new webs every night!  Learn about the species of spider that live in your neighborhood.  Are there any poisonous ones?  If so, make sure the children can recognize them.  Here are some more Ideas for creating a lesson plan on spiders. 

2.  Ants! Here is a previous  Blog Post that I wrote about Ants, which has Lesson Plan ideas and stories. 
3. Whiskey Jack also known as the Canada Jay or Grey Jay is resident from Alaska east across Canada in Boreal forests; and in the western mountains own to New Mexico and Arizona.   These birds are omnivores that feed on meat, insects, fruits and seeds; they have a reputation as rascals and camp robbers, frequenting campsites and stealing any food they can find!  The name Whiskey Jack is derived from the word Wesakechak used in the Algonquin family of Aboriginal languages of eastern Canada to describe a mischevious, trickster character who liked to play tricks on people. Introduce Kids to this hardy bird that survives well in its northern environment.  Has anyone ever seen one?  What other birds manage to survive through cold winters?  How do birds survive such cold temperatures?

4.  Ruby-throated Hummingbird One of the most fascinating birds to learn about; from their amazing flight abilities to the thousands of kilometers they travel during migration, these tiny power houses are a great species to study with kids.  Use the journey of the hummingbird as a geography lesson; where do they migrate to and how long does it take them to get there?  Invite young children to draw pictures of the hummingbird; what do they eat?   What does a hummingbird nest look like, and what materials do they use to make these tiny constructions.  Why do hummingbirds play an important role in pollination? Finally, hummingbirds have one rather unusual enemy, an insect that can prove to be a deadly opponent, Preying Mantis
5. Rabbits are small mammals in the family Leporidae, of the order Lagomorpha (which includes hares); the most common rabbits are the European and Cottontail rabbit which have spread out across the world.  Are there any rabbits in your neighborhood?  Have the children seen them?  Maybe some kids have pet rabbits!  Rabbits have been around for a long time and fossil remains have been found in Mongolia  that date back 55 million years!   Learn about rabbits and how they affect the communities in which they live.  With older kids you can really study the toll that they have had in countries like Australia.

Nature is a delicate balance and when there is imbalance, trouble arrives.  The example of rabbits in Australia serves as a reminder that when humans introduce species, there can be grave consequences.  Spiders and ants might not be the most attractive insects and yet they are vital to their ecological community.  Many biologists believe that some plants have evolved the shape of their flowers to attract hummingbird, evolving the color and shape of their flowers to be more attractive to them.  All things are connected and no species can prosper in isolation, not even human beings.

The Story of Arachne Arachne  and of course, How Grandmother Spider Stole the Sun
Songs:  I Saw Butterflies Kissing Today!  The Ants Song,  Grandmother Spider are uploaded to my MySpace page.  The Chickadee Blues is there too - a fun song about a bird that survives cold northern winters!

If you enjoy my songs and would like to help support my new CD you can help by pledging $10 to get your copy on Kickstarter!  Have a wonderful week exploring the wonders of the backyard!
In gratitude for Life, and this beautiful Earth!

Bird in Tree by Carolyn Herriot
Spider by Patrick Edwin Moran – Wikimedia
Whisky Jack by Mdf – Wikimdeia
Hummingbird by Michelle Lynn Reynolds – Wikimedia
Rabbit by US Fish & Wildlife Service