Solving Problems

Often at Crossroads at Big Creek, whether the topic is  astronomy, wildlife or politics (wait–we don’t talk politics at Crossroads), the discussion seems to lead to the question:  “what constitutes intelligent life?’

Last August, I attended the Wisconsin Space Grant Conference at which an administrator from NASA gave the keynote address about the possibility of intelligent life on planets beyond our solar system. During the question and answer session, I got the courage to ask: “What definition does NASA use for intelligent life? ”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “Chipmunks and above.”

Chipmunks certainly are intelligent if the criteria is “the ability to solve problems.”  At Crossroads, at home, and at my summer job at Interlochen, I feed birds, which is to say, I feed squirrels and chipmunks. These critters have no difficulty solving problems or outsmarting me.

Several years ago, I moved my supply of sunflower seeds inside the rustic nature museum where I work each summer. This wooden building is not airtight, nor is it rodent-tight, especially after a chipmunk gnawed a hole near the door. Understand that this chipmunk was not intending to eat. Instead, the petite striped creature was intent on collecting  and caching food for the winter.

He gnawed into the seed bag and quickly stuffed  his cheeks with seeds. Chipmunk cheeks expand, and according to my students (who conducted a little investigation),  a chipmunk can cram as many as fifty black oil seeds into his chubby cheeks. After stuffing his cheeks, he  scampers back to his borrow, stashes the seeds  and hurries back for another cheekful.

On one particular trip, the chipmunk must have been nearing  his capacity, for when he reached the hole by the door, cheeks protruding so much that he looked like he had the mumps, he couldn’t get out. He knew this immediately because when his cheeks are are fully extended,  touch-sensitive whiskers stick straight out and warn him if his head is wider than the opening. It was.

So, the chipmunk had a problem. What to do? Body language and tail flicking demonstrated frustration and puzzlement. But then, the chipmunk jettisoned  two seeds and tried the opening. Nope. Three? Four? Leaving five seeds inside the building , he was able to squeeze through the opening and run to his  burrow. In no time flat, he was back, nabbing the five seeds and returning to the burrow with the full load.

Chipmunks encounter problems, and they seem capable of solving them. Humans also encounter problems…. as soon as they get outside in the spring. How does one handle problems in the garden? with growing native plants? and with insect, disease and drought problems in a forest? Or for that matter, the shortage of good water throughout the world?

Well, a good start in problem solving would be to attend a program Crossroads.

Wild Ones of Door County is an organization dedicated to landscaping with native plants.  The  plant species found here have spent the ages adapting to this particular mix of temperature, moisture, soil, ph, etc. and are unique in the world. Over the millennia they’ve formed what Aldo Leopold called the “land organism.”  They’ve developed expertise; think of it as floristic wisdom… they know how to deal with these specific conditions.

On Saturday, April 13,  at 2:00 Wild Ones  invites the public to the free  program “Nurturing Biodiversity. Presenter Dale Goodner and his wife Mary  will  “discuss modeling and structuring their  own backyard ecosystem (garden), in order to better fit in with this place.  While our landscape includes vegetables, and also features horticultural varieties of plants, they use native flora to better establish a sense of place, and also to better attract animals.”   The Goodners  moved to Algoma in May 2010, after 34 years in Peoria, IL, where Dale served as Chief Naturalist at Peoria Park District’s Forest Park Nature Center for some 20 years, and then was Supervisor of Interpretive Services, overseeing 5 facilities, including the George Luthy Botanical Garden, before retiring in 2009.   Mary is a professional horticulturist. The Goodners will report on decades of experience, illustrating the lecture with stunning photographs of Door County flowers and landscapes.

As spring begins, Door County Master Gardeners  are scouring seed catalogs, dreaming about this year’s garden, and making plans to correct the nagging problems that have faced their home gardens in the past.  At the same time they are budgeting for seed and plant purchases, they are also working to discover the best way to economically fix those things that went wrong last year.

On Tuesday, April 16  at 7:00 Master Gardeners invite fellow gardeners to join them for a program called  “Garden Survival 101- Small Projects to Fix Big Problems”  designed to help Door County gardeners navigate the treacherous waters of home garden improvement projects.  The guest presenter is  Jason Feldman of Jason Feldman Landscapes, Sturgeon Bay.  Jason will discuss the wide range of problems gardeners typically face here and then focus on several of them in detail (for example, rainwater runoff issues) to show how down-to-earth common sense solutions can be found to correct them.  Utilizing common sense, gardeners can correct almost any problem they face, so understanding how the process works to provide down to earth solutions in specific examples gives the home gardener another tool he or she can use to fix the unique issues they face at their own homes without spending a fortune.

While gardeners worry about problems in the garden, members of DCIST, the Door County Invasive Species Team, are thinking about the problems in the forest.  On Wednesday  April 17, at 2:00, DCIST will present the program Insect and Disease Issues from 2012.  Linda Williams, a Forest Health Specialist from the Wisconsin DNR , will speak on last year’s weather events, specifically the drought and heat, and how it has impacted (and will continue to affect) our trees and forests.  The program will include a discussion on insect pests that caused problems last year, the impacts of weather on forest pests, and what we can expect in the future. Updates on emerald ash borer and beech bark disease also will be provided. This program is free and open to the public.

The Door County Environmental Council begins their 2013 educational series on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:00  with a  free screening of a powerful documentary “Last Call at the Oasis“. Because America has had ample water until now, we tend to be spoiled, blasé and unaware when it comes to the international water situation. Make no mistake, as the film says, water is about to become more valuable than oil — it’s the element the wars of the 21st century will be fought over. We are using too much water, and fouling what we use.

Though the crisis is global, “Last Call” for the most part focuses on situations in the U.S. with a case study of Las Vegas. The real problem is that the city has been allowed to grow more than it should given how little water it has. The city relies entirely on the massive Hoover Dam and enormous Lake Mead to provide water, but that lake is shrinking at an alarming rate, dropping 10 feet a year. The time is in sight where there will be so little water that the dam will stop producing electricity, a situation no one ever thought was possible.Water crusader Erin Brokovich,  family farm protector Lynn Henning,  Johnny Cash, Julia Roberts  and a host of other concerned activists convey the important water message in this powerful presentation. A short discussion will follow the film.

If we are intelligent life, perhaps we can work on ways to solve our problems.







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