A Fun-Loving Guide to the Natural World for Kids and Adults


Rebecca and I have been experimenting with eating different grains, and are quickly realizing that here in the United States we’ve developed a pretty narrow viewpoint of grain. Here, wheat and oats rule. There’s nothing wrong with wheat and oats, both of which are quite yummy, but the more we explore, the more we discover that there is a whole planet’s worth of wondrous grains out there, all with different flavours and nutritional benefits. Our latest discovery was teff.

The most remarkable thing about teff is its size. It’s apparently the world’s smallest grain, as the carefully posed photo below displays.

We soon learned that teff is used to make one of our favorite flatbreads — injera — which we had often eaten at a favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the Twin Cities. The huge plate-sized flatbread is served with a variety of colorful bean, vegetable, or meat mixtures set in piles on its surface, and you eat by breaking off bits of the bread and using this as an edible ‘spoon’ to eat the mixtures.

Teff comes in different colors — ours is a dark variety, which has a nutty flavor. We’ve only begun experimenting, thus far having had it only as a breakfast porridge, which was very delicious. We’re excited to discover new ways to use it.

Another wonderful thing about teff is that it’s a species of Lovegrass, and it’s always nice to eat something that has such a ‘lovely’ name. It’s a very important grain in Ethiopia, and it’s interesting to think that even a tiny pouch of this grain would be enough to sow an immense field. It’s also highly nutritious.

We’d encourage people to give this grain a try, and if anyone has any good recipes for using teff, feel free to post them on the comments below!


The Balance of Nature

Wandering through a book shoppe a few moons ago, we came across a musty old book by John K. Terres, entitled From Laurel Hill to Siler’s Bog, The Walking Adventures of a Naturalist. Among the many observations that John makes is this: “In the South, from February to July or August, the cottontail may have six or seven litters with an average of five young in each. In one summer, she can produce thirty-four young rabbits, and some of these may breed and have young before the long summer has ended. After five years, if Cottontail and all her progeny still lived, 3,779,136 rabbits would be swarming over Mason Farm.”

That’s a lot of bunnies.

He goes on to point out that the red-tailed hawks, the foxes, the feral dogs, the snakes, the weasels and the hunters all work to keep the cottontail race sustained at fairly even numbers.

This fact can be blithely ignored. After all, we’ve all heard about the ‘balance of nature’. Yet, if we pause for a moment to consider what that means, it should leave us astounded. How is it that so many factors can interweave so perfectly, keeping the cottontail alive through innumerable generations? Indeed, it is from a few years back (37 million or so to be more precise), in the Oligocene period that fossils of a critter named Palaeolagus have been found. Palaeolagus was a lagomorph (that’s what a rabbit is — not a rodent, as is often thought to be the case), and probably looked much like our modern rabbits. So cottontail-like creatures have been living in this state of balance for a rather long time.

It’s not just the rabbits benefiting from this. The hawks and snakes and weasels benefit as well, as do all the plants and insects and other animals who are woven together and interconnected via tooth and blood and unfolding leaf. How amazing it is that somehow, without a guidebook or instructions, every animal and plant and weather system and disease (the list could go on) plays its role, with the result being long periods of stability where different species get their chance on the stage of Life on Earth.

Of course, the system collapses now and again, but each time new species have filled the void left by others, so that a look back at the history of life on Earth is a beautiful progression of the appearance and disappearance of species. If history continues as it has, we too will play our part and then disappear.

This book on our shelf, recounting the rambling adventures of a Homo sapiens called John K. Terres, will continue to grow ever mustier, its pages yellowing and finally crumbling away, to be recycled into the bodies of future species that don’t yet exist, even in our dreams.

Visit our Adventure Journal, and learn about our wilderness awareness/martial arts classes here and our Wild Living classes here.


The Best Seafood Choices

We’re always trying to be responsible when it comes to our food, and for us that means planting our own gardens, purchasing as much local or organic food as possible, and looking at local sources for meat. When it comes to fish and seafood, though, things can get pretty confusing. Luckily, we were lately turned on to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Super Green List”. This provides information on what seafood to eat based on three criteria:  levels of contaminants such as mercury and PCBs, Omega 3 levels, and environmental concerns.

Here are their current top eight choices -

Albacore Tuna, caught by pole or trolling from waters off of British Columbia or the United States.

Farmed Mussels

Farmed Oysters

Wild Caught Pacific Sardines

Wild Caught Pink Shrimp from Oregon.

Wild Caught Salmon from Alaska.

Wild Caught Spot Prawns from British Columbia.

Farmed Rainbow Trout

Their report, found here, contains a wealth of other information. The only warning — it’s a large .pdf, and takes a while to load if you don’t have high-speed internet.

Our own research led us to a wonderful discovery last year. We were trying to find a canned tuna that would be healthy, delicious, environmentally responsible, and affordable. After a long time on the computer, we placed an order with Oregon’s Choice. Their website fulfilled our desire to know everything we could about their tuna — how it is caught, how it is canned, and its nutritional content. Spend some time on their site and you’ll be fully educated about the tuna situation.

Best of all, their tuna is GOOD! We get the regular gourmet albacore lightly salted, canned in its own juices (tuna and salt and nothing else), and were pleasantly surprised to find that it is totally different than the cat-food quality tuna we had previously eaten at the grocery. There are big flakes of meat, the flavour is exceptional, and if you add the juices to your meal you get an extra dose of Omega 3 fats. If you enjoy tuna, it’s definitely worth the purchase. When comparing prices, note that they have two can sizes — one of which is quite a bit larger than the standard grocery cans.

The life in the sea is being hit hard by the impact of fishing. We do enjoy eating fish, but it tastes a lot better when you know that you’re eating a species that isn’t on the brink of destruction.

Here’s our favorite tuna fish sandwich recipe: Take one 7.5 oz. can of tuna and mix with 1/4 cup finely chopped carrot, 1 green onion (the long thin ones), and 1/2 cup finely chopped purple cabbage. Add your choice of mayo or miracle whip. Squeeze in one slice of lemon, and get liberal with the cracked pepper. A dash of garlic salt and some hot pepper flakes, and you’re ready to serve on some nice whole-grain bread. Yum!


House of Herps #1

One of the things we love best about Blog Carnivals is all the wonderful new blogs we get to learn about. We are honored to be featured in the first-ever House of Herps — a carnival all about reptiles and amphibians!  How cool is that? We were delighted to see many of our nature blogging friends, and are exploring many of the new bloggers featured in the carnival. Be sure to pay it a visit!


A Clouded Sulphur Butterfly! In the winter!

Today, to our astonishment, we found a butterfly in our kitchen. It’s not unusual for us to find insects or other creepy-crawlies in the house during winter. Spiders find their way in (or crawl up from the basement), and Asian Lady Beetles are always peeping in. But with the temps at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, we weren’t expecting to see a creature we usually associate with summertime.

We think it’s a Clouded Sulpher, Colias philodice, and we’re pretty sure that it’s not supposed to be active this time of year. We’re not even sure where it came from — the best we can suppose is that it came in on some of the firewood.

We’ve provided it with a bowl of homemade nectar, and are watching to see what it does. So far it’s been rather inactive, not flying at all, and just walking about on the edge of the bowl. Really, we’re quite unsure of what to do.

If anyone knows how we might best keep this little critter alive until spring, we’d sure like to know!


360 Panoramas

Doing a little exploration on the web, Rebecca and I stumbled across a site that allows you to see 360 degree panoramas of all sorts of interesting places — from Mount Everest to the tomb of Ramses IV. Using your mouse, you can look all around you (don’t forget to look up!), and you can even visit the moon.

We’re not techno-phobes — we can appreciate all these new advances in technology — but in our minds, at least, there is no replacement for actually getting outside and breathing the air, starting a campfire (even if the smoke keeps getting in your eyes), or climbing a real, live tree.

Perhaps we’re being old-fashioned, but there’s that whole Zen thing about taking a single breath and really EXPERIENCING it. We’ll still do our share of virtual exploration (Google Earth is fun!), but somehow just taking a walk with the dogs is a lot more amazing.

Hopefully, as a species, we’ll never settle for getting all of our experiences ‘virtually’. Sometimes it seems that that’s the way we’re headed! We have faith, however, that there is something in the human heart that will always yearn for the feel of wind, of rain, of that subtle thrill when you’re sitting in a tree and the wind rocks it just enough to invoke a little fear.

We’d love to hear your perspective on this subject! Are these new virtual tools positive or negative? Will we be able to use them wisely? You can see another entry we wrote on this topic here.


Falling Star Alert — Leonids!

The Leonids are coming, and it sounds like it’s going to be a big one this year!  With the new moon keeping the skies dark, all we have to hope for is a cloudless sky. Asia will get a much more impressive display — estimates range as high as 300 per hour — but we can hope for 30 or so, with the possibility of some wild fireballs thrown in to the display. Get up in the wee hours of the morning, bundle up, and head outside. It might just be a night to remember =)


Mystery Skull #4

This is a particularly challenging skull, so we’ll give some clues. We found this on the side of the road near a large field, and we had to do extensive re-construction to get it looking like a skull again. The bone of the skull is particularly thick, giving the skull a ‘dense’ sort of heft.

Another clue is seen when we observe the canines. Notice the self-sharpening canines that wear themselves into very sharp points.

Another odd thing about this skull is the way that the lower jaw connects to the upper. See the hinge-like structure? It keeps the jaws from dislocating, and gives this animal a mean bite. However, it also reduces the jaw’s mobility, so that the jaw cannot twist and angle as much as most other mammals’.

Can you guess who this skull belonged to? For your answer, click here!


Persistence Hunting

“Well, I had no idea,” I said.

We put down the book we were reading — Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.  Among other things, Mr. McDougall talks about ‘persistence hunting’ — a mode of hunting that is almost forgotten today. The idea is that humans run their prey down — which seems quite impossible when you consider that humans seem pretty slow compared to most other animals.

I had said ‘I had no idea’, because a couple of years ago I decided to embark on a strange and rather crazy quest. Spurred on by a sort of mid-life crisis and wanting to test my physical limits, I decided to chase after and catch a wild turkey with my bare hands. I devoted a year to the endeavor, training harder than I had ever trained and spending the whole winter chasing turkeys in the hills and valleys behind Sweetwater. The contest didn’t really seem fair, considering that turkeys can run at 25 mph. A world-class sprinter, at the most, might clock in at 27-28 mph, but I’m not a world-class sprinter. And if ground speed isn’t enough, they’re capable of 55 mph flight. Despite being rather outclassed, I had some great adventures, and wrote a book about the whole affair. Now I have an agent and we’re in the process of finding a publisher. On her advice, I can’t tell you the result of my quest, but I can tell you that I’m pretty impressed by the idea of persistence hunting (my quest was to catch a turkey and let it go, so I wouldn’t really call it ‘hunting’, but the basic idea is the same).

You see, despite the fact that we’re not very impressive sprinters, humans are superb endurance runners. In distance races against horses, humans often come out the victors. Some people are suggesting that during human evolution, it might not have been our intelligence that gave us our best advantage (there is some evidence that Neanderthals were the more intelligent species), but rather our running ability, which allowed us to secure game. The remarkable truth is that humans may very well be the best endurance runners on the planet — outpacing all other species.  This video records a persistence hunt by San tribesmen, and gives an overview of how a human can run down a Kudu (a type of antelope).

I discovered that many of the elements of persistence hunting that Mr. McDougall wrote about (many of which are also portrayed in the video above), had come naturally to me during my turkey quest. Toward the end of the winter, I began to ‘think’ like a turkey, and stayed on the turkeys’ trails for long periods by tracking and ‘intuiting’ where the turkey might have flown. In effect, I had observed them long enough and spent enough time in their environment that I understood the way that they reacted when they fled danger.

Rebecca and I are now becoming ultra-running aficionados. We’re going for longer and longer distances, often barefoot, and are discovering that running can be incredibly enjoyable when you relax into it and just let your legs carry you over the hills. It’s an amazing thought to consider that our ancestors might have used this skill to bring meat home to their families. We may not be using it for hunting, but there’s something magical about running over the ground and wondering if, indeed, we are following the pathways of an ancient tradition that shaped human evolution.

Read Kenton’s Latest Nature Column Article in the Dunn County News! (Sorry, the online version is lacking Rebecca’s awesome photography)

Visit our Adventure Journal to learn about our latest adventures!


Falling Star Alert — Orionids!

Hopefully you’re not covered in clouds like we are, because if our experience of a couple days past is any indication, the Orionids could give us quite a  display this year. While coming home very late (after midnight) a few nights ago, the sky was suddenly illuminated by a bright green fireball streaking down from the sky — the largest and brightest we’ve ever seen. It moved very slowly through the sky, dropping out of sight below the horizon line. The picture above is not a real photograph (as you’ll quickly be able to tell if you’re familiar with constellations since the star field is just random dots), but is a re-construction made with a photo-editing program so that we could re-capture from our memories the vision of this amazing sight.

If you get clear skies, it might be worth it to brave the cold and sit for awhile, gazing upward. The Orionids are not known for a high volume of falls, but they do have a reputation for producing some spectacular fireballs, and for us, at least, that reputation is well deserved. Happy Viewing!

Visit our Adventure Journal at Live the Juicy Life! to learn about this week’s adventures, and visit Zen Inspired Self-Development to get an interesting perspective on the process of making movies.

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