Basket Making: Maine Cottage Door Basket. Sunday, March 13, 2016: 12:30 - 4:30 p.m..
This medium sized pouch basket measures approximately 8” x 10” and is about 1” wide. A good basket for beginners. It’s made to hang on your door but it can serve other purposes as well. Fee: $15.00. Supplies are limited. Pre-registration is required. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 472-4421. Participants will need to bring along an old towel or an apron. Class meets at the Jefferson County Park nature center.
Spring Break Day. Tuesday, March 29, 2016: 9:30 - 11:30 a.m..
It’s Spring Break for the Fairfield School System so kids 2nd - 6th are welcome to join us at Jefferson County Park for a morning of hiking and exploration. Pre-1st are welcome if accompanied by a parent. Pre-registration is required. Call 472-4421 or e-mail email@example.com or call 472-4421.
Monarchs and Milkweed. Saturday, April 23, 2016: 1:00 p.m.
Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on the leaves of milkweed. As such, milkweed is critical for the survival of monarchs. Without it, they cannot complete their life cycle and their populations decline. Join us for this Earth Day program. You’ll learn about the natural history of the monarch, the factors currently affecting its numbers, and what each person can do to alleviate the plight of this iconic butterfly species. No fee.
Need more info? Call Therese at 472-4421, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy Your County Parks This Summer! Did you know that every county in Iowa (99) has a county conservation board? The Iowa County Conservation system was established in 1955. Since that time, over 1,832 county conservation areas, encompassing over 193,624 acres have been established. 24 million park users spending 851.5 million dollars visit Iowa’s county parks each year.
Of the over two dozen trees in my mom’s yard there are five that many people would say have seen better days. All of them are box elders. Two still have some life left in them, but the others are all but dead...and they’ve been that way for some time. But while others might see “dying trees in need of a chainsaw”, my mom sees “character”. Haggard and gnarled, limbs lost, profile lopsided, these old trees appeal to her artistic nature. And so, since they pose no threat to the house or the neighbors property, they remain standing.
Box elders are actually in the maple family and like all maples they produce sap in spring which can be boiled down into a sweet syrup. Most people would label the box elder a “weed tree” since it tends to pop up just about anywhere, as long as it has enough sunlight. John Eastman in his book The Book of Forest and Thicket says that although box elders “generally ignore human standards for an attractive tree” that in the past “farmers and city planners, however, needed a tree that would grow fast and reliably….thus today we see old box elders lining city streets, shading yards and farmstead, and rising from vacant lots and old fields.”
While my mom’s reason for keeping the aging box elders is aesthetics, they have turned out to be a valuable asset to the local wildlife. Their nooks and crannies are used by critters to store food while other cavities in the dying wood provide a place to live for birds, bats, and squirrels. Thirty years ago I never saw a nuthatch or a chickadee in my mom’s yard but her now-dying box elders provide an important ingredient in the habitat requirements of these cavity nesters. Not only can they find a place to nest and roost, but the dead wood contains a smorgasbord of insect eggs, larvae and pupae.
The largest box elder, located in the backyard, was once our “swing tree”. Forty years ago it also held my brother’s tree house. Made out of scrap lumber, the tree house came complete with a sun roof, two escape routes, electricity and, I believe, some shag carpeting (it was the 70’s after all!). While the tree house in this large box elder once gave us kids a bird’s eye view of the yard, this past winter a Cooper’s Hawk, perched in the tree’s dead branches, had a bird’s eye view (pun intended) of the backyard bird feeders, which confirmed the fact that one of the benefits of snags (standing dead trees) is that the higher branches often serve as excellent look-outs for birds of prey!
According to the National Wildlife Federation “dead trees (either snags or fallen logs) provide vital habitat for more than a 1000 species of wildlife nationwide…. By some estimates the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in an ecosystem.” While mom’s box elders and the trees around them hardly make up a forest ecosystem, I do believe that the removal of the dying box elders would be a loss to the small ecosystem that surrounds my mom’s home.
The five remaining box elders in mom’s yard have guarded the property since before the family home was built in the mid-1950’s. No doubt, if my mom has anything to say about it, they’ll continue to do so for years to come, appealing to her artistic nature and proving to be a valuable asset to the local birds and mammals.