Photo: Jacob Mills, Alligator River NWR
By Amber Veverka
Dusk is softening the edges of forest and swamp to an auburn haze when one of us spots it: A smudge of black at the edge of a stubbly field.
“BEAR!” the kids shout from the backseat.
Without field glasses, the bear is a blur, but it’s the first wild one the 8- and 10-year-old have seen, so they’re ecstatic.
The black bears and other charismatic fauna set the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge apart from other wild places in North Carolina. This 152,000-acre refuge in Dare and Hyde counties is home to one of the largest population of black bears in the eastern U.S. and is the world’s last stronghold for the imperiled red wolf.
River otter, bald eagles, bobcats and alligators roam here. In winter, the refuge skies whiten with wheeling flocks of tundra swans, sweeping down from the Arctic. Read the rest of the story.
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What lies beneath: An archaeology team has discovered new secrets at N.C.’s Town Creek Indian Mound. Photo: Tony Boudreaux
By Amber Veverka
This last summer, Tony Boudreaux picked up a shovel and traveled back – way back – in time.
Boudreaux, an archaeologist who teaches at East Carolina University, along with a student team, was on a job excavating near Town Creek Indian Mound in Montgomery County.
They had just shoveled 2 feet of top soil from a series of 10 foot-by-10 foot squares – “making that dirt fly,” as Boudreaux put it.
Suddenly the soil color changed. The team members abandoned their spades, picked up masons’ trowels and got down on their hands and knees to slowly scrape away slivers of soil.
Right away, this new layer of undisturbed soil gave up its secrets: Dozens of dark, circular stains. The archaeologist and his students realized they were seeing the remains of buildings. The stained soil circles were post holes from long-gone buildings, and from disposal pits. What they revealed was a way of life long misunderstood.
Read the rest of the story…
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School is back in session, and it’s all too easy for families to find themselves indoors most the day and evening. It’s important to push back against the feeling that every moment must be scheduled, and to allow children to experience nature in an unscripted fashion.
How to do that? A few ideas:
- If you live near your children’s school, considering walking them there, leaving enough time to note seasonal changes, “adopt” a favorite tree, listen to birds calling.
- After school, look for ways to move a traditionally indoor activities outdoors, taking snacks or homework to a deck or under a shade tree.
- Consider planting a small fall garden. It’s time now to start lettuce, cooking greens and sugar snap peas. At the end of October it will be time to plant cloves of garlic. Don’t have garden space? Try large pots near your front walk. As long as they’re in the sun and watered, they should do fine. Kids can spend a few minutes every week with their plants, caring for them and weeding, and research shows children are more likely to eat vegetables they had a hand in growing.
- Try not to load up Saturdays with car-focused activities or fill the entire day with organized sports. Instead, bring a low-stress picnic to a park or nature preserve (try a breakfast picnic, if the day already is busy), take a walk on a greenway, or spend the evening outdoors as dusk falls.
- Nurture your child’s interest in flora and fauna by attracting birds and moths to your yard. You don’t even need a fancy bird feeder – you can simply put out some seed or bread crumbs on a deck and watch for squirrels and birds to arrive. If you have a budding entomologist in your family, mix up potion of overly ripe banana, cheap beer and molasses and let it steep in a warm place for a day. Then paint it on tree trunks. Moths may be attracted to the bait, and you and your kids can head outside after dark with flashlights to see who’s feeding.
Finally, for teachers, here are some great suggestions for incorporating the natural world into your lessons. – Amber Veverka
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Mulberries from a tree in Latta Park in Charlotte.
Mulberries are ripening through Charlotte and the surrounding communities, drawing flocks of cedar waxwings and robins. Alert foragers can spot the mulberry, Morus rubra,
Mulberries attract flocks of birds.
by looking in parks and weedy parking lot edges for trees with dropped black and red berries circling the trunks. The berries look similar to blackberries but have a sweeter, less complex taste.
Mulberry jelly and jam recipes abound. This was made by cooking four cups of mulberries with four cups of sugar and a quarter-cup of bottled lemon juice until the mixture thickened. Process in a hot water canning bath to be shelf-stable. This recipe made four half-pints of jam.
Mulberries hybridize easily, so berries can vary widely in taste from one tree to the next. Though it’s a tree many people regard as a nuisance – birds eating the fruit can blanket nearby cars with purple droppings – it also provides the basis for a jelly or jam that has a more sophisticated taste than the berries themselves. The berries also make a great addition to smoothies.
Mulberries are high in anthocyanins and Vitamin C and have a strong showing in Vitamin K and iron.
There’s another, less common type of mulberry tree: The white mulberry, Morus alba, which is more delicately flavored than the red mulberry (whose ripe fruit actually is black) and whose leaves are eaten by silkworms in the silk industry. For our common mulberries, don’t count on fast picking as in a blackberry patch, because berries ripen singly. Still, they’re a healthy berry, pretty tasty, and they’re free. Grab some the next time you walk the path through Latta Park in the Dilworth neighborhood, or in Freedom Park, where they flank Little Sugar Creek. There are plenty of mulberries growing as unplanned “weed” trees in city parking lots, as well. -Amber Veverka
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