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The Hunger Moon

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February’s full moon which comes tonight is known as the Hunger Moon. The native peoples called it so. That’s because back in the day when most of us were rural dwellers, by February, autumn’s well-stocked larder had been largely depleted. People had only turnips and shrivelled, anemic potatoes in their root cellars, and maybe a squirrel or rabbit for supper and little else. Spring’s promise of new life and a bountiful garden and good hunting had not yet arrived.

As it mounts the icy sky, though, it sets stark patterns of beauty. Nature writer Hal Borland describes it: “Footsteps in the snow become laced traceries of purple shadows. Starless ponds of night sky lay in a meadow’s hollow. Roads become black velvet ribbons with winking frost sequins. Pines become whispering flocks of huge, dark birds. On hilltops and in pastures cedars are black candle flames. Warm-windowed houses and frost-roofed barns are all twins, each with its counterpart beside it on the snow.”

Environmental justice in action: Oakland's Fruitvale Transit Village

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The Fruitvale Transit Village project is the result of a broad-based partnership among public, private, and nonprofit organizations working together to revitalize a community using transit-oriented development. It’s located in California’s Bay Area adjacent to the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) station in Oakland. Fruitvale, one of Oakland's seven community districts, is a low-income, predominantly minority community experiencing economic stress. This case study focuses on the incorporation of environmental justice principles into the planning and design of the Fruitvale Transit Village.

Evidence of climate change in our own backyards

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Evidence of climate change isn’t always as stark or far away as melting polar ice caps or rising sea temperatures. In fact, says conservation biologist Richard Primack, unmistakable signs of climate change can be seen every day, in every backyard, in towns across America. Primack, a Boston University professor of biology, is working on an award-winning research project to demonstrate the local effects of global climate change. He’s using Concord, Mass., as a living laboratory, and he has teamed with Henry David Thoreau, America’s great 19th-century nature poet and philosopher, who lived in Concord.

Wendell Berry and others interviewed about sit-in in Kentucky governor's office

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Jeff Biggers has interviews with Wendell Berry, Stanley Sturgill, Teri Blanton, and many others from last weekend's sit-in in the Kentucky Governor’s offices to protest mountaintop removal coal mining in Kentucky.

Author Wendell Berry and 13 other environmental activists emerged from the state Capitol on Monday, Feb. 14 to roars of approval and applause, ending their four-day occupation of Gov. Steve Beshear's outer office.

The protesters joined several hundred people on the Capitol steps for the "I Love Mountains" rally, an annual event held to promote "stream saver" legislation that effectively would end mountaintop removal coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. Previous bills died for lack of action; similarly, this year's bills are languishing in committee.

Flocks that turn on a dime -- one of nature's deep mysteries

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We’ve all seen this – even if you live in a city. A flock of starlings consisting of maybe a few hundred or more individual birds turns on a dime all at once. It’s startling. It’s wonderful. How do they do that?

A murmuration – that’s the term for a large flock of starlings – rolls “like a drunken fingerprint across the sky,” as the poet Richard Wilbur wrote, “smudging the dusk horizon with the quickness of a pulsating jellyfish.”

The ancient Romans believed that the gods hinted at their intentions in the way birds flew. Scientists of the last century groped for such mysterious concepts as “natural telepathy” or a “group soul.”

Caring about workers through our food choices

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I wrote a previous blog about how we can opt out of factory farm animal cruelty by becoming a vegan. We can also opt out of cruelty to slaughterhouse workers by this choice. Cruelty may be a strong word, but when you look at the facts, that is truly what it is. In spite of the extreme secretiveness of slaughterhouse practices, the stories and data have leaked out anyway. And as Christians who are taught that what is done to the least of our brothers and sisters is done to Christ, we should care deeply about the welfare of the workers there. And especially when we are benefiting from their exploitation by eating cheap meat.

How I met God in a baby mouse

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I had taken a bucket of mulch from my compost pile and was putting it around plants when I found a small newborn creature in it. I held it in my hand for a long time and studied it with awe. About the size of a pecan, it lay in the fetal position, eyes still unopened, its smooth skin translucent. The long tail was the only clue to what it was. It was so absolutely vulnerable and precious, I almost wanted to cry. I felt a deep sense of love, protection, and oneness with this sacred innocent being.

February's night skies

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On a clear February night, even with the moon up, one can see what is called the Winter Hexagon in the southern sky. These seven stars might be called “beacon stars,” since they are very bright and most of them are very far away.

The band of the Milky Way runs through the center of the Hexagon, consisting of (listing clockwise) Aldebaran, Rigel, Sirius, Procyon, Castor and Pollux almost together, and Capella. Betelgeuse is at the center, while Praesepe, also known as the Beehive cluster and the Pleiades cluster lie outside.

It is entirely a winter spectacle. Within little more than a month the Hexagon will be gone as the sky gives way to spring.

But the Milky Way, that gigantic cloud of several hundred billion stars that form our galaxy, will never be gone from our nights. Perhaps it will become more visible than in the last decade. As more and more lights are switched off after midnight for environmental and economic reasons, it may reappear in all its glory.

Cool the Earth school program tackles climate change

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They did it for smoking. Now they’re doing it for pollution. Kids are confronting their parents’ destructive behavior and showing them how to live cool, in an earth-saving sort of way that is.

A new school program called Cool the Earth is teaching kids in kindergarten through grade 8 how and why it’s important to reduce their carbon emissions. It’s a free and adaptable extra-curricular program. Since launching in 2007 Cool the Earth has reached 59,654 students in 297 schools and Girl Scout troops across the U.S. and saved close to a billion pounds of heat-trapping carbon from being emitted.

Cool the Earth is a grassroots nonprofit based in Marin County, California that was created by Carleen and Jeff Cullen, two concerned parents eager to find practical ways to tackle climate change and encourage others to do the same.

Holy altruism: An instinct for self-sacrifice is evident in animal evolution

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One day years ago in early spring I took a walk with my 10-year-old niece through the forest and pastures surrounding our houses. At one point, we surprised a whippoorwill that was nesting on the ground in the midst of a grove of wild plum trees. Abandoning its lone nestling, the bird flew around us in circles, then landed on a nearby sapling. We could see that it was dragging one wing, trying to make us think it had been injured so that, if we happened to be hungry predators, we would go after the “easy prey” that was the parent rather than the newly hatched, more vulnerable child.

It gave us the opportunity to get a close look at a mysterious neighbor, often heard in the early evenings but seldom seen. About the size of a robin, the bird wore mottled feathers of about a dozen shades of grey, brown and black. Its oversized mouth bordered by whiskers, one could see it was well equipped for night hawking in the forest for moths. It perched on weak, spindly feet on the branch, teetering back and forth in uneasy equilibrium.

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April 11-24, 2014

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