Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Earth Day

So Earth Day is kind of like Mother's Day. We love our moms and we try to be nice to them every day and they love us back and take care of us and remind us to brush our teeth. The earth is the same, it loves us and provides for us and we love it back and try to be nice to it as best we can on a daily basis. But every once and a while we need to give the earth a card and make it brunch to say "hey, thanks for everything".

So, Earth, thanks for being awesome. Thanks for food and air and sunlight. Thanks for animals and fish and clouds and lakes. I know we haven't always been the best kids, but we love you and we're trying.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Beans' Nature Party

I don't normally do "lifestyle" type posts, but this one is kind of a crossover as Beans chose a nature theme for her 6th birthday party this past weekend, so I thought it might provide some nature themed activities in case anyone wants any. We planned for a nature hike with some bird-friendly activities, a plant pot craft and a chocolate mud puddle cake. The weather was less than cooperative, with snow in the morning and temperatures hovering around 0C for the day, but that didn't stop the determined little group of girls from tromping over to the park to help out the birds, who with the late thaw this year could probably use a little assistance.

As her guests arrived the birthday girl greeted them with her Red-tailed Hawk. She thought up the glove thing herself, which I thought was awesome (also awesome is this nest cam!). When you squish him he even makes the real call.

She then took them on an indoor "nature viewing" in our living room, where Beans and Bunny had set up a number of stuffed animals.

The elusive couch-climbing mountain goat

Penguins and owls, together at last
The couch pond

We then tromped over to the park around the corner, which as it turns out was covered in ice. On the way there we used field journals to record all the signs of spring we saw - words or pictures, depending on ability. Since there weren't many we ended up with a list that was something like "bird nest from last year, old leaves, grass, rocks, mud, puddle, water, melting snow". We also may have stomped in a LOT of puddles.

We brought a bag of black-oil sunflower seeds, which are pretty much the best all-purpose bird seed out there, and a bunch of paper cups and the girls had a great time sprinkling them (flinging them) all over the grassy and treed areas (ok, on the ice too and maybe some in the playground... and along the street back to our house. There are now a lot of seeds in our neighbourhood).

After we had sprinkled to our hearts content we gathered up a whole lot of sticks, grasses, pine needles and assorted other things we thought birds might like to make their nests out of and trucked them back to our yard and made a giant (ok, giant is a relative term here) pile of nesting materials for the birds to choose from. We also added pink, purple and blue yarn in case they need something wuzzy, because it's pretty cold out at night. The added bonus of this is that the kids can look for their coloured yarn in birds nests in the neighbourhood. If you have a backyard tree you can hang the material from the branches or in a net bag, but we don't, so we went with a pile. Beans has promised her friends to report on who comes to take the goodies.

Back inside to warm up decorating plant pots with some bling and some juice, snacks and an impromptu tissue paper/stuffed animal dance party.

And no party is complete without "cake", or in this case a delicious chocolate mud puddle (brownies and pudding).

Despite the weather it was an awesome afternoon, which I think goes to show that kids really don't care what the weather is, they just like being outside. I know Beans and Bunny sure do.

Happy Birthday Beans!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Spring Freshet

Yesterday I wore only a t-shirt under my jacket and there were 11 robins spotted on the walk to school. There are above freezing temperatures forecast for every day this week (we're ignoring the nights, ok?). At the risk of jinxing things, I think it might actually be spring - not calendar spring, on which we had a snowstorm, but actual things melting, birds returning, plants growing outside spring. Heck, Beans and Bunny even went scootering on Sunday - avoiding ice patches is a newly acquired skill.

BUT - if you read our last post you know that we get a lot of snow here. And yes, we still have a lot of snow. There are still giant snowbanks, particularly in parking lots and with the freeze-melt-freeze-melt cycle of the last few weeks, many of them are glacier-like in their consistency.

The beginning

This led to our recent discussion - where does all the snow go? That is a LOT of frozen water to get moving. The simple answer is the lake obviously - they both know that Lake Simcoe is nearby and the water goes there. But we get what we refer to here as the "spring freshet" - which is basically a flood caused by the spring thaw - but it's not like a rainfall flood that happens quickly. It happens over a period of time as snow and ice melt and travel to rivers and the rivers themselves melt. The amount of snow accumulation that winter along with how quickly it melts are both factors in how big a "flood" it will be - that is how high up the water will go in the floodplains (which hopefully don't have any stuff in them). It seemed a good opportunity to talk about river systems, their catchment areas and how all that snow moves through the system and our world turns from snow to slush to mud.

Heading to the sewer

If you will, picture a river system like a tree shape. The trunk touching the ground is where it flows into the large waterbody (for us, Lake Simcoe). Everything from the tips of the tallest branches downward flows into that tree - that's how a watershed looks. Everything off the landscape surrounding that tree until a dividing point (usually a high point of land, the red dashed line below) also flows into that system.

It can be scaled upwards depending on how large you are looking at - for example you could look at everything that flows into the Great Lakes, or everything that flows into Lake Huron, or everything that flows into the Nottawasaga River - each of those is that system's "catchment" - it's water supply. In the case of a lake it probably has multiple systems each with their own catchment flowing into it, and each of those has it's own source of water - ground water, snow melt, rain runoff, etc. It all accumulates and makes it's way down the system. We live in an area that flows into Lake Simcoe, so our watershed looks like this:


So our snowbanks melt, flow via storm sewers and stormwater ponds into our local creek. That creek then takes them down the system to drain into Lake Simcoe, which also happens to be where our drinking water comes from so it means later on we may drink our snowbanks, which is cool (but only cool after treatment obviously, the snowbank is kinda grey right now). 

Mmmm snowbank

But it doesn't end there - Lake Simcoe is a part of the Great Lakes basin - so our water hangs out in the lake for a while and eventually will make it's way through the rest of the system. 


So you can see our little lake nestled in between Georgian Bay and Lake Ontario there, a small piece of a large system - and that we are in the Lake Huron Drainage Basin, so our water goes there next. Which is cool because we swim in there a lot, so it's possible that this summer we can swim in the same water that was our snowbanks, which is awesomely cool.

Heading through the system

And moving up another step - the Great Lakes eventually flow out the St. Lawrence and into the Atlantic Ocean where they complete their journey.

Not bad for a lowly grey snowbank. So, Mama... how exactly does the stormwater pond work... ?