Weekly Roundup – Kids Rule!


Note:  If the links to Facebook do not open automatically below, click on the date and you will be directed to the post.

Earlier this year I was a judge for the third annual Mexican wolf pup naming contestThe drawings and essays submitted by kids from around the country amazed me with their knowledge and thoughtfulness.  Pictured above is one of the winning entries.  Eleanor’s name, Monty, was given to male pup (mp)1386 (his official identification) a member of the Prieto Pack, a family of wolves that runs and hunts in the mountains of New Mexico.

A former winner in the naming contest, Turner Burns, started a Facebook page, Kids for Wolves,  several years ago after meeting Atka, one of the ambassador wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC).  Today, he has over 4000 followers and uses his page to educate both kids and adults about wolves in the United States and Canada.  In a post earlier this week, he reminded me that I needed to make a call to my representative in Congress about a pending bill that would remove protections for  endangered wolves.

Atka is also an inspiration to Peyton, seen howling in this video with the Arctic wolf.

Run Like A Wolf

11 year-old Peyton is helping to save the wolves by running 13.1 miles this October to support the Wolf Conservation Center and raise awareness for the importance and plight of the wild predators. Please check out Peyton’s CrowdRise page and support his effort here: http://bit.ly/1FIrv2bWith kiddos like Peyton, the world is looking a little brighter, Thank you, Peyton!

Posted by Wolf Conservation Center on Sunday, June 28, 2015


But it’s not just wolves.  Every few days I see stories about kids finding creative ways to help wildlife, trees, homeless pets.

Best friends, Caroline and Claire, raised money with a bake sale and donated the money to Friends of the Urban Forest in San Francisco.

Caroline (a sixth-grader) and Claire (a fifth-grader) sent us a donation accompanied by this adorable note. Thank you!Inspired? We appreciate donations of any amount: http://fuf.net/donate

Posted by Friends of the Urban Forest on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In New Mexico Dezirae saves her money from chores to give to the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

We are so thankful for Dezirae! This 15-year-old amazing teen saves her money from chores and donates incredible treats,…

Posted by Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society on Friday, July 3, 2015

It starts with field trips and camp outs: kids learning about  bats and butterflies, sunflowers and saguaros. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this little guy doing something great in the next few years!

Here’s a cute video of a kid telling us all about what he learned about bats with us here during Pollinator Week!

Posted by Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Thanks to each one of these kids for being an inspiration to us all!

The Whiskey Tree

Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite, and furthermore, always carry a small snake.” —W.C. Fields

Victorian Box Tree Photo Credit: Paula Nixon

I admit it. I watched way too many episodes of Cheers in the eighties.  When I called the Southside Spirit House I was certain that Coach or some 2015 version of him would answer the phone.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up.  A few months ago I wrote about trying to identify this tree in San Francisco. I was stumped until Ben at Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF) saw my post and had their arborists look at the photo.  They thought it was a Victorian box tree.  What did I think?

I compared the field guide with my photo and it looked like the same tree, but I wanted to see it again before confirming and completing the online profile for the urban forest map.

It was late in January before I returned, a Tuesday; happy hour was just getting started.  Four twenty-something guys were sharing a pitcher of beer at Southside’s window table.  Trying not to attract their attention, I took a tape measure out of my pocket and eyeballed a spot four feet up from the ground and measured the trunk’s circumference.  Studying the tree, it did appear to be a Victorian box: smooth, gray trunk with narrow, wavy-edged, dark-green leaves. It was covered with buds, all tightly closed.

I wanted to see the creamy white petals and inhale the orange blossom scent, just to be sure it really was a Victorian box, but by the time the blossoms opened I would be back in New Mexico. That’s when I had what I thought was a great idea.

I waited about a week to give the tree time to go into full flower.

The telephone rang and I could picture Coach wiping his hands on a bar towel and  answering, Cliff and Norm looking on over the tops of their beers.  He grumbles a little, but listens and then sets the receiver down on the bar.

He shrugs and says to Sam, “Some nut wants to know what the flowers smell like,” and shuffles across the bar out the door and disappears up the stairs.

But it didn’t happen that way.  The telephone at Southside rang a few times until voice mail picked up with a message advising that they rarely answer the phone or check the messages, best to send an email.

So, I did.  And within a couple of days I received a reply from the manager; she hadn’t noticed any flowers on the tree.

More weeks passed. Back in San Francisco I was impatient to see the tree,   It was blooming, but not showy—lots of small white blossoms nestled in the glossy leaves, smelling faintly of oranges, easy to miss unless you stopped to look and take a deep breath.

Tree #150163, a thirty-foot tall Victorian box, on Howard Street in front of a busy bar quietly does its job intercepting more than 400 gallons of storm water per year (if it rains, that is) and reducing carbon monoxide by 77 pounds.

I’ll lift a glass to that!









Weekly Roundup–Earth Day 2015

by Lola Ridge

The earth is motionless
And poised in space . . .
A great bird resting in its flight
Between the alley of the stars.
It is the wind’s hour off . . .
The wind has nestled down among the corn . . .
The two speak privately together,
Awaiting the whirr of wings.


Napa County. Photo By: Paula Nixon

Napa County.
Photo By: Paula Nixon

I didn’t spend Earth Day planting a tree or picking up trash, but traveling—from Sacramento to Stockton to San Francisco.  At a stop in Napa County, not in a picturesque vineyard, but in an industrial park where two huge yellow earth movers were silent, finished with their work for the day. A breeze riffled a small field of wild flowers just off the road and a pair of red-winged blackbirds flitted from cattail to fencepost and back again.  I am always amazed at how the natural world carries on, constantly adapting , until it no longer can, to  our improvements and developments.

Back in the car, Earth Day stories filled the airways and newspapers.  A few of my favorites:

This NPR story tells how the day got its name from Julian Koenig, the same adman who came up with  “it takes a licking and keeps on ticking” for Timex watches.  His simple “earth day” was a big improvement over the original “environmental teach-in” or “ecology day”.

On Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan interviewed Lester Brown, the president of the Earth Policy Institute, about how the politics and focus of Earth Day have shifted over the years.

In the Santa Fe Reporter, this week’s cover story was “Oh, Beehave!” It was encouraging to read about those in New Mexico working to save honeybees after the dire warnings about the collapse of their populations.

Tickle bees are not endangered like honeybees, but this is a fun story with a video out of Portland about ground-nesting bees and an elementary school that has adopted them.

Happy Earth Day!






Weekly Roundup – March 31st – April 6th

I’ve never been a big fan of reality television, but I’m hooked on this 24-hour feed from a camera trained on an eagle’s nest in northeast Iowa.  The female laid three eggs in February and by the time I started watching two had hatched.  The eaglets are tiny (much smaller than the one pictured below) and the parents take turns sitting on the remaining egg that has yet to hatch and the two babies.  Once every hour or so, the adult on duty gets up and tears small bites off a dead fish that they have stashed nearby to feed the little ones. What patience.

Photo Credit: nikonlarry via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: nikonlarry via Compfight cc

Today is the final day of women’s history month. The US Fish and Wildlife Southwest Region did  a series of “science woman” profiles on their Facebook page, focusing at the end of last week on nine women who work in the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. Not only do they work with the endangered wolves, but also with the community—it may take a few days, but I can always count on them to answer my questions about wolves and the reintroduction program.

In all, USFWS interviewed over 200 women doing a wide variety of jobs across the country and each of their profiles is posted here.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, dubbed the rock star astrophysicist, will soon have his own late-night talk show.   Hemispheres recently interviewed Tyson about “Star Talk” and he discussed how he plans to use a blend of comedy and science to engage the public.

And finally, this mini-documentary,The Journey of a 9/11 Tree, tells the story of the tree that survived the devastation at the World Trade Center.  If it sounds familiar, I wrote a post about it after a trip to the memorial.  Spring may not have made it to Manhattan yet, but when it does the hardy pear tree will once again bloom.

Have a great week and enjoy some time outdoors!








The First Dandelion
Simple and fresh and fair from winter’s close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter’d grass—innocent, golden,
calm as the dawn,
The spring’s first dandelion shows its trustful face.
Walt Whitman

 Photo Credit: Shardayyy via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Shardayyy via Compfight cc

Dashing around Santa Fe last week, running errands, I saw signs of spring everywhere:  delicate pinkish-white blossoms dressing up the gnarled apricot trees on McKenzie Street, daffodils nodding in front of the First Presbyterian Church, and two dandelions poking their yellow heads out of the grass next to the front door of Cedarwood Veterinary Clinic.

Reviled as they were when I was a kid—Mom had a long-handled tool with a forked end that we dubbed “the toad stabber” to keep the pests from taking up residence in our bluegrass lawn—the first sight of the cheery golden blossoms is as thrilling to me as the first crocus.

On the day after Whitman’s poem* was published in the New York Herald  in March of 1888 a blizzard buried the city.  The poet took heat from irate readers. That’s the spring I know.

Winter is likely to make a snowy, cold comeback in the coming weeks, but I’m willing to bet those two dandelions will be standing tall, ready for wishes, by the time I return to the vet clinic to buy more cat treats.

 *The Walt Whitman Archive

Weekly Roundup – January 18th

Photo Credit:  Eli Nixon https://www.flickr.com/photos/really_still_photography

Photo Credit: Eli Nixon

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m off to a very slow start in the new year, but the news keeps on coming! I will try this for a week or two:  a roundup of stories and photos,  most nature-related, some as follow-up my prior posts.

It was hard to miss this story– 2014 was the warmest year on record according to both NASA and NOAA.

In northern New Mexico we had a couple of cold, foggy days early in the week along with two or three of inches of snow helping, I hope, our new piñon trees put down roots.  But according to this article in the Santa Fe New Mexican the long term outlook for the Southwest’s piñon forests is dire.  As temperatures continue to warm the prediction is that we will experience longer droughts and the loss of our trees along with wildlife, like the squawking jays at our backyard feeder, that depend upon them for sustenance and cover.

The other big news in our region was this press release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) about changes to the management of the Mexican gray wolf recovery program.

Some of it was good news.  The wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), got their own separate listing as an endangered subspecies (Canis lupus baileyi) which will allow them to receive continued protection under the law even if the gray wolf is delisted.  The bad news is that the lobos will not be allowed to roam and  establish territory north of Interstate 40 in areas like the Grand Canyon where prime habitat exists for them to live and hunt.  This editorial  favoring more robust protection of the wolves, as I do, was published at azcentral.com  and covers more of the pros and cons of the new rule.

In California a few days into Tommy Caldwell  and Kevin Jorgeson’s barehanded climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, their story was covered on NBC Nightly News, capturing the world’s imagination.  I thought about them each day and was thrilled to hear that they succeeded.  Here is the New York Times article about their adventure.  And for another take on it, this poem published at PoetryFoundation.org.

And finally, how lovely is this soaring golden eagle captured on camera by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Have a good week!








Reflections on the Death of a Tree

Pinyon Tree 1901-2014 Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Pinus edulis 1901-2014
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

The forest stands at the door, a lone man in a light
green shirt. An owl sits in his hat, confessing
simple hymns that are scarfed into clouds.  The man
holds a small box of baby birds and insects covered
in leaves. The pathway he took to town
is a small umbrella of gems:  bloodroot and hickory,
trillium and oak, an avalanche of wise eyes sighing,
the constant monologue of hummingbird wings.
Stiff from walking such a distance through autumn’s
altar, his many limbs are twisted. He salutes me,
then gently stomps muddy feet on the doorstep.

From The Forest Man by Lauren Camp*

It wasn’t disease or drought that killed the old piñon tree last summer.

Dave and I tried to save it. An arborist took a core sample and counted the rings—113. In the end, to resolve a long-running dispute, we let it go. I didn’t watch the bulldozer knock it down.

The contractor brought in two trees from up north to replace the old pine and planted them a few feet away from the new driveway.

The transplants with no history of this place remind me of us twenty years ago.  It was a cold January afternoon and the sun was low in the sky, but one long look at the mountains in the distance and a deep breath of the pine-scented air convinced us. It has taken time, but we’ve made this quiet little corner of New Mexico home.

Last night, Christmas night, a few inches of snow fell, blanketing the trees and the earth beneath them.  The moisture will help the newcomers spread their roots and settle in.

*Many thanks to Lauren for allowing me to use an excerpt of her poem.  I recommend reading the entire poem  in About Place Journal where it was published in the spring of 2013.




Mapping the Urban Forest


I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.
–Dr. Suess


Howard Street Tree Photo by:  P. Nixon

Howard Street Tree
Photo by: P. Nixon

This tree is visible from a window in the San Francisco office where  Dave and I spend  a few days each month. For years I have looked around it, walked past it, taken pictures of the green neon shamrocks above it, but  never once did I give it a second glance.

It took this sign posted on a barricade protecting a newly planted tree on the other side of town to make me take a closer look at my neighborhood.

Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Friends of the Urban Forest is affiliated with a mapping project that began five years ago–its goal to identify and catalog all of  San Francisco’s trees with the help of city government, nonprofits, and citizens.  The result, the  urban forest map, quantifies CO2 reduction, water and energy conserved, and pollutants reduced because of the trees.

I went to the online map certain that my newly discovered tree on Howard Street between First and Second would be on it and it was.  Tree number 150163.  That was it.  No species identification, no trunk diameter to calculate it’s ecological impact.  Just the number, waiting for someone to finish its profile.

Suddenly, it became my tree.

I walked over to get a closer look.  The lone tree stands in front of the Southside Spirit House, a small bar in a one-story building huddled together with four or five other old structures in a neighborhood filled with cranes busily erecting office buildings and condominium towers.

I took pictures and studied the trunk and leaves.  Sitting down at my computer I used the urban tree identification guide, step-by-step, but couldn’t figure it out.

Dave went with me to take another look.   We gathered leaves and seed pods.

Back at the computer, this time armed with samples, I tried again.  Were the leaves compound or simple?  I followed both paths, but still couldn’t identify the tree.   Was it a floss silk or a cape chestnut or a Chinese fringe?  Maybe it was a ficus, my first guess.  I couldn’t be sure so for now it will have to wait.

On my next visit I’ll go into the spirit house, order a beer and ask the bartender if she knows when the tree blooms and what color.  For now I am calling it the truffala tree in honor of the Lorax.

Return from NYC

It’s no wonder Santa Fe seems so quiet after spending several days in New York City.  A million and a half people jostle for space on the island of Manhattan while two million of us spread out across the state of New Mexico. This week I have noticed every sound–the caw of a passing raven, the wind in the pinyon trees.

Amelia White Park Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Amelia White Park
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

While I was gone the last of the summer visitors moved on and autumn moved in. The cottonwoods on Alameda Street  turned gold, but the flowers didn’t completely given up–a stand of yellow hollyhocks is still blooming on Armenta Street.

Tuesday Dave and I went to the farmers’ market to look for apples. Most years I turn them into pies for the holidays, but after a week away from the kitchen I was not yet ready to wrangle with a rolling pin.

 Photo Credit: shoothead via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: shoothead via Compfight cc

I decided, instead, to make applesauce. We tasted samples  and poked around a box of seconds, filling a paper bag with golden supremes and honey crisps.  The simple recipe* called for baking the apples and didn’t tax my jet-lagged brain.  Now, if only I had a latke from Russ and Daughters on Houston Street to go with the tart, cinnamon-laced sauce.

*I left out the thyme and lemon and added a tiny bit of brown sugar and a healthy dose of Vietnamese cinnamon.




NYC Circa 1609

So what did the island of Manhattan look like 400 years ago when Henry Hudson arrived?

West Houston and La Guardia Place Photo Credit:  P. Nixon

West Houston and La Guardia Place
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

It’s hard to imagine.  Yesterday I spotted a brass plaque on a brick wall a couple of doors down from my hotel.   Site of John Seale’s Farm Circa 1638.  A farm–and  before that?  Streams, hills, forests.  It must have been so quiet.

A construction fence blocked my view of the old farm site, but I caught a glimpse of the huge bucket and heard the creak and groan of the crane.  Soon John Seale’s farm will see another transformation (how many has it already witnessed?).  By the time I make my next trip to the city, a sleek new apartment building will fill the space.

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist Photo Credit:  P Nixon

Photo Credit: P Nixon

Just a few blocks northeast of the old farm at a busy street corner in Greenwich Village the artist Alan Sonfist envisioned and created that earlier landscape. Conceived in 1965 Time Landscape became a reality in 1978.  One thousand square feet filled with beech trees, hazelnut shrubs, mugwort, milkweed, and asters, to name just a few.  I didn’t recognize most of the plants and trees and had to rely on my guidebook, Secret New York: An Unusual Guide, and the City of New York’s website to learn the names of the profusion of shrubs, trees, wildflowers, and ground covers that fill the twenty-five by forty-foot plot.

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist Photo Credit: P. Nixon

Time Landscape by Alan Sonfist
Photo Credit: P. Nixon

New Yorkers and visitors alike must enjoy this re-creation of an earlier time from outside the iron fence.  It is a work of art, not a park.

I visited on a warm fall day and walked around the perimeter a few times, trying to take it all in.  Outside the fence yellow leaves littered the sidewalk creating new patterns each time the breeze stirred.  Inside a squirrel scampered under the trees and unearthed an acorn, sparrows splashed in an improvised birdbath created out of a shallow pan, and bees buzzed the still-blooming wildflowers.  All of them seemed oblivious to the hustle bustle just outside the fence.