Environmental: Journeys, Methane & History

Environmental: Journeys, Methane & History

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By: Becky Hammond

Backyard Habitat News: I keep reading about the need to plant milkweed and more milkweed, as monarch butterflies struggle and decline in numbers. Advice to plant it usually comes with a warning about it taking over.

What actually does takes over a yard? Anything left alone. Grass, especially, takes over places we don’t want it, while usually resisting growth where we do. There’s nothing more troublesome in borders and beds than grass. Milkweed and other natives are, in comparison, easy. Pull up a milkweed stalk, it’s gone. Milkweed struggles a bit at first anyway, especially in Ferndale’s sand. I had it quite a few years before it started to flourish. It would be nice to see Ferndale become a truly butterfly- friendly city, and maybe also a bat-friendly city, with ever- increasing numbers of bat houses and butterfly gardens.

The small ring of open water surrounding our pond de-icer is often surrounded by birds. Apparently dehydration causes more winter bird deaths than starvation. That deicer, by the way, uses too much electricity to run 24/7. I plug it in for an hour or so each morning. What the fish need (this is kind of obvious when you consider the frozen lakes that will still be populated with fish come spring) is a relief from the buildup of methane, produced by rotting vegetation. It’s my understanding that our backyard ponds, usually made of or lined with plastic, become sealed-in methane producers, and fish can’t breathe.

A British pond-care book states that any tubular plant stem protruding through the ice will allow methane to escape, but we Americans tend to distrust solutions that don’t involve spending money (the Brit book runs in the direction of “it’ll go away in a few days” while American advice is solidly “buy Product X, pronto!”) I compromise, let plants remain in the ice, and turn on the heater part of each morning. If it’s a sunny day, fish gather in the open water, and appear to enjoy it. I know I do.

Environmental Gadfly Department: We are lucky to live in a big city ringed by state and county parks, and I visit them often. While I continue to blame you winter-haters out there for chilly, drab, damp, snowless days (attitude counts), I also get out to Holly or Proud Lake as often as possible when days are freezing. The ice on the lakes and streams is a sort of never-ending art exhibit, always different, always interesting. A shallow bay in the Holly Recreation Area that we’ve nicknamed Turtle Cove for its carpet of turtles every March recently had an interesting series of freezings.

Bubbles from the methane rising regularly had frozen in perfect layers all over the cove, neatly stacked atop each other, three, four, even five in a row. While I took 1,000 or so photos, a muskrat kindly swam by under the ice, bland and relaxed as could be, every movement the picture of enjoyment.

That Time of Year: Some people love seed catalogs in January. I love guidebooks, and adventure books like those by Gary and Joanie McGuffin. They’ve done multiple journeys in multiple ways, on foot, year-round, and in a variety of self-propelled watercraft (I covet their decked canoes; more canoes than kayaks, yet not fully either, they look the perfect touring boats). Their books are full of photographs, as much coffee-table books as adventure tales. I’ll leave you with the opening quote from Superior, Journeys on an Inland Sea: “Journeys germinate like seeds. They depend upon the fertility of the mind they fall upon.” There are many ways to fertilize a mind that may have gone a bit slack. Common wisdom holds that 90% of what we worry about never happens. Maybe 90% of the adventures we plan never do, either. Plan enough to do enough. A great adventure is likely to be distilled down out of many possibilities.

Rebecca Hammond is 57 years old and hopes to enjoy many more decades of Michigan’s outdoors. So far, so good.

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