Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Change in Play

We've heard it before, but the St. Louis Post Dispatch writes on the changes in play for today's kids.

It wasn't always this way. It was once a neighborhood thick with children playing baseball and capture the flag, says his grandmother Cindi Whalen, 54. Forty-five years ago she and her brothers and a brood of neighborhood kids swung sky high from a neighbor's tree swing, coasted their bikes down neighboring streets, roamed the woods and scoured the creek for crawdaddys with hardly a parent in sight.

"Every parent had a different whistle," she recalls. "We just knew our whistle, and then it was time to come in."

It was cow bells in my neighborhood. Sunset in the summer brought out a bell chorus worthy of a World Cup Ski Race.

Worth a read.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Killing Camping

The Economist weighs in on why they think we don't go outside...
We have always blamed the decline in camping and interest in National parks on electronics, quoting the fifth-grader: “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” The Economists disagrees, and suggests that we should "blame conservationists, not video games."
Food for thought.

Read more at Treehugger.

Update: I don't want to give the impression that I agree with the Economist, but the notion that some Ntional Parks are less friendly for folks from today's society is worth considering.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A New Backyard Model

Bradford Plummer at the New Republic comments on the idea of creating communal lawns as a way of building community, and the roadblocks that would get in the way of doing such a thing.

Not everyone wants to share a yard, of course, for a whole slew of reasons, but I do wonder if, with the rise in gas prices, we'll start to see more experimenting along these lines. Anyway, this reminds me to link to Elizabeth Kolbert's New Yorker essay on the cultural history of lawns. In Britain, lawns were originally seen as a status symbol, a preserve of the rich; nowadays, in many suburban neighborhoods, they're seen as a necessity, a patch of green to be trimmed and watered and doused in chemicals no matter how often you use it, because it demonstrates your commitment to the local community. (In Orem, Utah, one 70-year-old woman was even arrested recently when she fell afoul of local "weed laws" by letting her grass go brown.)

This started with a post by Jonathan Zasloff after he watched the Backyardigans with his son.

When you think about it, the front lawn is somewhat of a relic of 1950's family structure: Dad goes to work and the kids play on the lawn, supervised by Mom. But now, Mom is at work, too, and the kids are in child care. It is completely wasted space from a planning perspective--not to mention the extraordinary waste of water that comes from everyone having to manage lawns that they never use, gasoline from mowing, etc. Ditto with backyards.

So why don't more neighborhoods have this? Because in most suburbs, it's illegal: you can't share a lawn--there are setback requirements, fencing requirements, lot size requirements, etc. Developers won't build what they can't entitle. And so we assume that single-family neighborhoods mean far lower density, and transit accessibility, than we should.

Interesting notion which should be food for thought for designers of new communities. Communal lawns could inspire a feeling of safety that parents have lost much of today.

I have enough trouble dealing with my yard, as the warm weather and heavy spring rains, coupled with vicious invasive exotics, turns things jungle-like in a matter of days. Lucky there's no community associations in my village.

thanks to The Daily Dish for the tip.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Green Campus

I'm heading into a LEED charette for our campus this week. We designed and built our place before LEED was in existence, although much of what we came up with has become pat of the LEED ranking system.

Getting LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) certification is a big thing on college campuses today, and there are a number of publications that provide rankings.

More on this here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Parent Day at Camp

A contributor to nature deficit is the fact that parents are far more protective of their kids. We simply see too many hazards nowadays to just let the kids roam outdoors. We're all guilty of this, although at different levels.

I still hold my breath when my 15 year old heads out for a run--she's training for cross country next fall--but we let her go, with an agreed upon time for return.

Summer camps, generally very safe environments are dealing with this parental concern more nowadays, and some are hiring counselors, not to deal with kids, but to deal with the kid's parents.
One camp psychologist said she used to spend half her time on parental issues; now it’s 80 percent. Dan Kagan, co-director of Bryn Mawr, has started visiting every new family’s home in the spring and calling those parents on the first or second day of camp to reassure them.
When I went to camp, my parents dropped us and fled the scene. We did not see them or hear from them until pickup day. Not that we had time to think about home, there was too much to do. In this new information age, there are far more ways to communicate, and camps like some of the techniques and reject others.

Cell phones, for example, tend to be forbidden. But parents are sending kids with two cell phones to camp, so if one of the outlawed devices is confiscated, the other can still be used.

Camps have reacted to parent's worries by using the internet to post photos of the kids, so parents can log in and check out the latest activities. My friend Rob's camp does this, along with an ongoing narrative from his Dad, the Camp Director.

"Yes, mom and dad are gone and now real camp may commence. Hurray!"

More here from the NY Times, and a slide show that tells the whole story.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I remember a night at Gray Knob when the whole sky lit on fire with the aurora. It was 27 years ago tonight.

My friend Steve Weber, aka Swebco, was there that night, and we sat on the edge of Knight's Castle, a rock outcrop a few hundred feet above Crag Camp, and grooved on the incredible celestial fireworks. I even got some great photos.

from Knight's Castle looking at Crag Camp

I finally hit the sack at 3:00 am, only to be awoken by Swebco, who a half hour later was pounding on the wall of the building yelling:

"Get back out here, it's better than before."

Here's my log entry the next day, July 26, 1981 (scroll down on the link):

July 26 - Incredible Northern Lights last night.The whole sky was lit up with curtains and streaks of pulsating light. We sat up on Knight's Castle and watched the incredible celestial fireworks.-- SMC, Caretaker.
I've seen the aurora a number of times since, including the amazing red aurora that most of north America apparently saw in November of 2002 (saw it out in my backyard in VA!)

Wired has a new article on the mechanics of the Aurora, worth a read.
The ghostly flickering of the Northern Lights is caused by explosions of magnetic energy, say astronomers.

Until now, nobody knew why the aurora sometimes shifted and danced across the sky. And all it took was a fleet of five satellites positioned in the magnetosphere and a team of ground-based observers who caught the beginning of a magnetic storm about 80,000 miles from Earth, or a third of the way to the moon.

Want to see where the aurora might be seen? Click here and then click where you live on the globe for a daily forecast.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Urban Gym Design


Check out this new human powered gym design. problem is you're still indoors...
Have you ever pedaled on a stationary bike at the gym and thought to yourself: ‘What if this energy I am exerting could be used for something better than just making me sweat?” Well now a new proposal from architect Mitchell Joachim promises to take all that energy expended at the gym to the next level, by capturing all that exertion and using it to transport people around the rivers of New York City. The River Gym concept is a human-powered floating gym that will provide the user with the one experience that no other gym can provide: floating your workout around Manhattan.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Virtual Jackson Hole

Check out this site. These high definition 360 degree photos are amazing.

Better to be there in person, but vistas like this would get anyone excited to head out.

Thanks to The Mountain Culture for the tip.

More Farm Based Education

This time near my hometown in Connecticut, Granby's Holcomb Farm gets folks outside.

Find out more here.

More Vacation Variations

More from the Globe--unlimited vacation policy?!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sports Therapy

Using sports to rehab folks with disabilities. It's working
"I thought, I could get summer back," says Pope. "I was never much of an athlete, but I've always loved summertime and being outdoors." Now she windsurfs once a week, using a one-person board with a support rail attached. "Where else can I go and have fun?" she wonders. "That's what I was really looking for, having fun. And I have."
More here from the Boston Globe.

Monday, July 21, 2008


The NY Times reports on the the pressures hitting our vacations.

Skimping on vacations comes with physical and mental costs, psychologists say. In a nation where 35 percent of employed workers already leave some vacation days on the table, according to one study, this can lead to what the author and work-life coach Joe Robinson calls “vacation deficit disorder.”

Men who shrugged off vacations for five straight years were 30 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack than those who took an extended break from work every year, according to a multiyear study by Brooks B. Gump, an associate professor of psychology at State University of New York, Oswego, and a colleague, Karen A. Matthews. Vacations may boost what psychologists call the brain’s “reserve capacity,” which helps it “cope with stressors that come up,” Dr. Gump said. Vacation, he added, “is a buffer.”

Get out there and relax.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Out on the Farm

I meant to mention this event up in Connecticut last month, but missed it.

Flamig Farm, operating for more than 100 years in my hometown of Simsbury, is an island of enlightenment in the sea of the suburbs. They make getting out on the farm fun, and they are practicing what they preach, Their event Eggstock is a big late spring festival. We'll need to check it out next year.

Read about Eggstock here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Urban Wildlife

It really is there.

Humans are hard-wired to avoid dark places, especially the forest. “We are daytime mammals, after all,” Ms. Winn writes, “and evolution has programmed us to respond to failing light by crawling into a safe, snug place and going to sleep.”

Except for New Yorkers.

From the NY Times.


See the new index here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

National Park Blog

Grand Teton National Park Jumps into the blogosphere with its online ranger station.

the site has a ton of info, including route info:
Grand Teton - Wall Street to the Upper Exum
Some snow in Wall Street gulley. Golden Staircase and Friction Pitch dry, with patches of mostly avoidable snow in sheltered zones. Axe/crampons not required. 3rd rescue on 7/8/08 was more of an assist as a 31 year old woman dislocated her jaw while yawning. No joke. Assisted down to the Lower Saddle and flown down to Lupine Meadows.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Critter Cam in CT

We used to love to catch snapping turles when I worked at Camp Tadma. Today the Hartford Courant reports on a new cam project, working with a common snapping turtle.
Tuesday, snapping turtles joined the list as "Jawless" — after being weighed and measured by a team of researchers who are studying the animal's eating, mating and nesting habits — was outfitted with the cylindrical camera glued to his shell and sent back into the cove. Once the glue wears off, the camera is supposed to float to the surface, where researchers track it down with ultrasonic signalers and radio transmitters.

"As soon as you let the animal go is when I start getting nervous," said Kyler Abernathy, director of resources for National Geographic's mission programs. "When they're out of your hands they're out of your control."

Camp Years

I spent several summers at Camp Woodstock in northeast Connecticut when I was 10-12 years old. I still remember swimming across the lake, sleeping out in the woods under the stars, and endless tetherball games.

My sister was a counselor there, and my niece is there right now, so the tradition continues.

Woodstock has a website and some scant alumni pages that include the two camp songs. Damned if I don't still remember every word 35 years later.

OK, it is a little corny, but the place really had impact:

Camping in the pines of Woodstock
Down by the lake
Happy hours we've spent together
Down by the lake
Everybody's happy always, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, all the weekdays and on Sundays
Down by the lake
Camping in the Pines of Woodstock
Down by the lake
Lifelong friendships in the making
Down by the lake
Over woodland paths we wonder, these happy memories we'll always ponder, of Camp Woodstock we're growing fonder
Down by the lake

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Farming in the Sky

The NY Times reports on the design and development of urban vertical farms, where crops are grown on specially designed skyscrapers.

When Mr. Stringer heard about the concept in June, he said he immediately pictured a “food farm” addition to the New York City skyline. “Obviously we don’t have vast amounts of vacant land,” he said in a phone interview. “But the sky is the limit in Manhattan.” Mr. Stringer’s office is “sketching out what it would take to pilot a vertical farm,” and plans to pitch a feasibility study to the mayor’s office within the next couple of months, he said.
More here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Good Advice

from Florida.

At a parent meeting to prepare us for our son’s week at Cub Scout camp, we were told that the biggest change for our boys would be the amount of time they spent outside.

At camp, the boys would be playing out of doors most of the day.

There would be plenty of shade and water to keep them healthy, but so many hours out of doors might be an unpleasant surprise to youngsters who weren’t accustomed to it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Turtle Patrol

Since my daughter was little we have always been on turtle patrol as we drive our hilly and twisted country roads. At first sight of an eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) in the road we quickly stop and escort the slow moving fellow to the woods or nearby creek. We then make sure that everyone we meet that day hears about the turle rescue, so they too will be ready to act when they see a turtle on the pavement.

Here's another turtle story from another part of Virginia.

MS Follow Up

Here's a follow up on the Obesity Report release last week, from the epicenter of the problem, Mississippi.

Kids Fishing

The Oregonian reports on efforts to get kids out fishing.
Youth fishing in Oregon, as in the rest of the country, has been dropping steadily for years: The number of Oregon anglers ages 14-17 has fallen by 45 percent in the past three decades.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Flying Between Towers

A new outdoor sport has folks flying between rock towers in the Czech Republic.
ADRSPACH, Czech Republic — Exactly a decade has passed since a man called Oxygen first hurled himself across Amerika. Known for his jumping ability, Oxygen, a lanky Czech, catapulted to legend status by leaping a nearly 10-foot-wide abyss separating two 100-foot sandstone spires.
More here, from the NY Times.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sierra Club Leadership

The Sierra Club has been a leader for some time now in connecting kids and the outdoors.

Check out their website here.

Kayak Info

We're always looking for kayak resources on the web. Here's one.

And here's a video of my friend Hunt going over Bull Falls on the Shenandoah River in Harper's Ferry, WV

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Outdoor Industry Seminar

From an Outdoor Industry Association press release:
"The outdoor industry needs to build appreciation for all outdoor places – from iconic wild lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the 1/8-acre restored lot in Brooklyn," commented Larry Selzer, "Both are powerful and important in engaging people in the outdoors and developing future stewards of the environment. To motivate urban children to visit and relate to Yellowstone National Park is a gigantic leap. We need to start small and take many steps to bring them along."
More here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Ummm, Hot Dogs

The contest went into "overtime," which was decided by a 5 hot dog eat-off.

36 Nathans Hot dogs=6120 calories and 540 grams of fat. This description of the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is quite graphic.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Essay Contest

I've carried an Osprey pack (long discontnued) for a long time now, so it's good to see that Osprey Packs has developed a contest to engage kids. They've set up a writing contest that asks kids 6-16 to write about their experiences backpacking and talk about how they have contributed to the Leave No Trace ethic. Winners have their essay printed in an Osprey catalog, featured on the website, and get to pick a pack as an award.

Pretty cool. More here.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bogged Down

Crazy green sports department, click here.


When I a kid and climbing every day, I would sit at night and gaze at George Meyer's book Yosemite Climber, with its incredible photographs and stories of climbing in Yosemite National Park. Long out of print, my copy sits in our living room bookcase with other valued mountaineering and adventure books I have collected and taken special care of over the years.

One highlight in the book is the great granite wall, El Capitan, which has always captivated the imaginations and the skills of climbers around the world.

This photo, of Westbay, Bridwell, and Long after their one day speed ascent of El Capitan in 1975, really shows the culture of climbing at that time.

Speed climbing El Cap has been an ongoing thing since then, and the other day, two guys made it up the 3.000+ foot wall in 2 hours, 43 minutes and 33 seconds. Damn.

Here's the route:

and more on the ascent from the SF Gate.


Two hours, 43 minutes and 33 seconds is the new record for speed climbing El Capitan's 2,900-foot Nose route (at about 17.7 feet per minute) by a duo.

-- That's a minute faster than the average length of a major-league baseball game in 1986 (but those have generally gotten longer since then).

-- It's the same length as the epic 2004 Brad Pitt-Orlando Bloom film "Troy."

-- And it's two minutes shorter than the time it took for the Titanic to sink below the surface after its iceberg collision on April 14, 1912.

Here they are after the climb.

For more on El Cap speed climbing, go here.

Sunday, July 6, 2008


RFK jr. has a damn good plan.
The United States has far greater domestic energy resources than Iceland or Sweden does. We sit atop the second-largest geothermal resources in the world. The American Midwest is the Saudi Arabia of wind; indeed, North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas alone produce enough harnessable wind to meet all of the nation’s electricity demand. As for solar, according to a study in Scientific American, photovoltaic and solar-thermal installations across just 19 percent of the most barren desert land in the Southwest could supply nearly all of our nation’s electricity needs without any rooftop installation, even assuming every American owned a plug-in hybrid.


Calorie Lab reports on the fattest states of 2008.

Mississippi wins.
West Virginia passed Alabama to become the second fattest state in 2008. The four states of Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, and Louisiana have obese populations that exceed 30 percent over a three-year average and two-thirds of the citizens of Mississippi and West Virginia were either overweight or obese by CDC standards in 2007.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wet Exits

I used to teach whitewater canoeing, but a never had the kayak bug until a few years ago. My friend Hunt tried hard to teach me the eskimo roll, but as of today, no good.

I really do want to learn it, as a good "combat roll" is needed before someone can really do decent whitewater kayaking. I've had luck roaring through waves, doing class III drops and surfing som small waves. When I screw up, wet exit.

So here I sit, a perpetual advanced beginner kayaker. Maybe I should stick to canoeing.

At least I'm not alone. Check out this link and it's attached video, where all of the kayakers make it look so easy...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Hitting back on Email

How many emails do you go through every day? Cutting into your time a bit too much? You can break the vicious cycle and pull back. I try to use the phone more as it provides personal contact and eliminates those little misunderstandings that a poorly or hastily crafted email can bring on you.

My wife has a better method, she refuses to use it. But she is a dying breed.

The Times has a good article today on how someone was able to cut back email considerably. Check it out here.
I stopped using e-mail most of the time. I quickly realized that the more messages you answer, the more messages you generate in return. It becomes a vicious cycle. By trying hard to stop the cycle, I cut the number of e-mails that I receive by 80 percent in a single week.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pyle Update

Orion has the latest post from Bob Pyle.  Here.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Pluggin in to the Outdoors

Good post from a young leader of the Movement.

Today, Louv and others, including The Conservation Fund, are leaning heavily on a budding network of individuals and corporations aiming to get kids back outside. Dubbed the “National Forum on Children and Nature,” this motley crew of governors, CEOs, real estate and technology developers have rallied to reposition the issue of children’s health as front and center in the environmental movement.