The study of–

Earth Day. March for Science. Global weirding. Polar ice caps. Phenology, biology, meteorology, chemistry, zoology, entomology, geology…all the ologies: “The study of.”

Ways we learn about who and where we are and how to live where we are and with those who have been there before us and on whom we–usually without realizing it–depend.

Scientists tend to justify their work by citing how factual it is. They believe it is necessary to have facts. But there are people who question these facts and who peg scientists as dry, heartless unbelievers. How wrong that concept is. Let’s look at scientists as people who study. Observers. Curious, inventive people. People who push the envelope of the “known” and who inquire into assumptions. Science evolved from philosophy, after all.

And there is so much at stake. We are all stakeholders in this environment, in this universe that extends–as far as we mortals know–infinitely. But scientists are working on that.

 

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March for Science–Philadelphia.

 

So many reasons why “the study of” matters.

Spring cycle

This morning, five deer grazed languidly at the farthest edge of the meadow near the treeline. Some minutes after the small herd moved away, a lone doe hopped into view.

She was familiar to me. I have posted about her before–the doe with the missing leg, whose home base is located in our area. The University of Michigan’s Museum of Zoology website says odocoileus virginianus (the white-tail) lives an average of two years in the wild, but our semi-suburban region lacks large predators (other than cars) and offers quite a bit of protection. Maximum lifespan in the wild is 10 years, and I know that this particular doe is at least eight years old by now. She seems as spry as ever; very likely she is gestating another fawn.

The deer are pests in many ways–gardeners despair of deer depredations of ornamentals and native plants alike, and we also worry about their role as hosts of Lyme disease. Nevertheless, the deer and I co-exist peacefully, and their appearance at the fringe of the grassy field has signaled spring this year as they emerge from having “yarded up” in their camouflaged territory during the deep, snowy winter. They reestablish their familiar trails through the vines, thorn bushes, and grasses.

And there is something soothing about the cyclicality of the roving deer, the reappearance of their well-worn paths…even about my annoyance at finding the crocus leaves cropped and the branches of the pear trees nibbled.

Also, do forgive the pun–but what could be more endearing than this sight from May of 2011?

ann e michael

When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.
When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.
When foraging, females leave their offspring in dense vegetation for about four hours at a time. While waiting for the female to return, fawns lay flat on the ground with their necks outstretched, well camouflaged against the forest floor. Fawns withhold their feces and urine until the mother arrives, at which point she ingests whatever the fawn voids to deny predators any sign of the fawn.

 

Lawn vs. meadow, and a doe

I was outdoors this morning, raking leaves and silently cussing the grass. Spouse and I hold different viewpoints about the necessity and maintenance of a lawn, and while I gave into his desire for a lawn many years ago, my argument has proven correct over time: we live in a meadow, and lawn-grass is not happy here. Now, as I rake leaves from the spotty, weedy, too-long ryegrass, I get exhilarated by the exercise and the crisp autumn air but steamed at the need to rake at all.

We don’t rake the meadow; it takes care of itself. This is what “low-maintenance lawn” means, that nature takes care of things without human intervention.

Besides, I have never harbored a yen for the classic British lawn—acres of clipped greensward don’t appeal to me. I always feel the great lawn is missing something: trees, a bed of flowers, a crescent of blooming shrubbery. Great lawns’ main appeal for me is that there are edges all along them. Edges are interesting. Large, plain, even swaths work mostly to draw my eye elsewhere. While our meadow acts like an open space, it is ever-changing and often full of movement. Lawns, by contrast, are static. We mow the meadow once a year; the lawn requires considerably more time and gasoline consumption to stay in bounds because it is meant to be more-or-less unchanging.

Except that we live in a meadow. The expensive grass seed loses out to plantain and dandelion, chickweed, henbit, ivies, wild onion, queen-anne’s-lace, cinquefoil and other invaders that thrive on acidic soils that go dry in summer and turn to mud for months, circumstances that the thin-rooted, superficial, stoloniferous lawn-grasses cannot abide for long. I don’t relish the fight against nature, and my suggestion is to “naturalize” our lawn, even though—of course—the majority of these weeds are non-native species. But then, so are the lawn grasses.

I should mention the grazers, as well. Rabbits. Mice and voles that tear  up the root systems of lawn grasses. Deer:

A digression on the subject of deer—

This morning, I was startled by the sight of a large doe skirting the frost-covered goldenrod stalks quite close to the house. It’s deer-hunting season here, and there’s often an increase in the herd activity around our property as individuals and small herds lie low or avoid areas where there are hunters. This is one individual with whom I have long been familiar, a three-legged doe whose territory has included our yard for at least five years.

(In the photo, she is third from the left, the largest one; her right foreleg is missing)

She has borne a fawn every year but this past spring (the year before, she had twins—a male and a female). Some years back, I watched as she delivered her offspring in the meadow, which elicited a poem. In fact, she’s inspired several of my poems, so I owe her a debt of gratitude.

She was back-lighted by the early sun and, as usual, a bit graceless as she ascended the hill on her three good legs. The sun behind her outlined her in white, just as the  dry weeds were also rimmed with white, and she didn’t seem to mind that I had joined her. She just kept going until she vanished into the woodlot. I walked to the bottom of the hill and looked for her tracks in the soft lawn, followed them along the edge of the meadow, three hoof prints instead of four, one a bit deeper in the soil.

Well, we make our compromises, we do what we can with what we have, we choose our battles. My spouse has his lawn, I have my meadow, the doe treads her uneven path through survival at the edge of the suburbs.

I may as well pick up my rake and stop cussing the grass.