For the Nature Observer in us All 

I will never forget the moment that I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I was sitting in an senior year high school Ecology class and it hit me, just like that, like a brick wall, that this is the kind of thing that I could do forever. Up until that point I had wanted to be a teacher and little did I know that I would eventually be led back to that via a path of loop-de-loops and U turns.

During my junior year of college I was walking through a hallway of one of the buildings and saw it. The ad for an internship working at Moraine State Park (through a non profit organization) helping with their Osprey Reintroduction Project. This was another one of those turning points that you can look back on and realize that my life will never be the same. I was fortunate and received the internship for 2 summers, It led to experiences that truly did change my life.

With the internship I was engrossed with other aspects of the Environmental field, and specifically Environmental Education. Different people began to routinely cross my path and I took note. Some of these people were brief blips in my life and others, even to this day, are mentors and most importantly good friends.

One of the educators/naturalists that was always there in the background of my early career was Chuck Tague. He was one of those names (just like Esther Allen) that when you saw a program they were offering you did all you could do to be a part of it. We briefly met a few times and I was in awe. He was excited, participants were excited, he took amazing photographs, wrote a newsletter all about nature in Western PA and I am pretty sure at one point he had an owl. To a young intern just finishing up college I realized – I wanted to be just like him.

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It has been heavy on my heart to hear of his passing this past week. I was thinking about the impact that he has had on so many of us in Western PA. A few years ago at a PAEE conference there was a silent auction. Someone had donated years and years of his publication, Nature Observer News for the auction. I HAD TO HAVE THEM. I am a little embarrassed to say that I even told a much younger girl (don’t worry I knew her) after she put her ticket in that I would tackle her if she won. I was the proud winner! And now I am honored to have them in my possession. I spent some time reviewing the past June issues and will leave you with this:

 (issue dated June 10, 2000)

The Summer Solstice occurs on June 20 at 9:48pm eastern daylight time. With the first days of summer begins a magnificent succession of colorful displays that will last through the frosts of late October.

During the next few weeks the sun will shine longer over Western Pennsylvaniathan on any other days of the year. But soon the periods of daylight will begin to decrease. On each day there will be only a minute or two difference, and for awhile, it will go unnoticed by people. However, there will be a profound effect on the plants and animals.

As the days continue to get shorter, the objectives of the plants and animals will change, from a strategy reductions and rapid growth to one of preparation for the hardships of winter. The trigger for all these changes is the change in the amount of daylight, or the photoperiods.

As the days get shorter the woodchucks get fatter, and each the chorus of bird song will have fewer and fewer voices. The work of the trees and shrubs will change from attracting pollinators to dispersing its seeds. Lavish display of flowers will be replaced by berries to feed small mammals, then energy rich fruits for migrating birds, nuts to be buried by squirrels and finally winged seeds to be carried by the wind.

The timing of the flowers is also strictly controlled by the photoperiods. Each species will only bloom when the sun is shining for the proper number of hours and minutes each day.

Now is time to take morning walks in the field and meadows, while the long days provide the maximum energy, the diversity of flowers I open place will reach its peak. The diversity of species in bloom will be reflected in the variety of colors that are sprinkled and splashed around the fields.

As you walk through the fields, patches of white – daisies, yarrow and Queen Anne’s lace – are scattered everywhere. Pastel blue chicory flowers stand tall along the edges, while bright yellow flowers are at a variety of heights; low clumps of birds foot trefoil, spindly stems of hawkweed, St. John’s wort, evening primrose and tall bushy sweet clover. There are deep orange circles of orange hawkweed sticking through the low grasses and the bright orange of butterfly weed emerges from spots of bare soil. Bits of magenta from the heads of red clover dot the field. Purple crowned spikes of thistle pop up sporadically, as do fragrant clumps of milkweed.

Variety of flowers in early summer attract a diverse group of pollinators. In midday the fields have an electric quality fo the constant buzzing of insects. Butterflies in an assortment of colors that rival the flowers, flit from one nectar source to the next.

The multi colored mosaic of the summer fields is just one stage in the changing color scheme as the seasons.  Soon the many small splashes of bright colors will be replaced by the uniform clumps of golden sunflowers, highlighted with the purples of Joe Pye weed and ironweed. This will give way to expansive stretches of goldenrods, and in early fall the goldenrods will be followed by the lavender and white of the asters. Each stage brings us closer to one of the most spectacular displays of color in nature, the changing of the leaves.

Celebrate the solstice. Soon it will be autumn.

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