behavior · creativity · environment · happiness · health · mental health · play

Penguins get their own watery highway

I recently posted about the Philadelphia Zoo’s plans to open up their overhead walkways to a variety of different mammals. Well now an aquarium in Tokyo has opened a similar skyway… for penguins!

From Inhabitat:

The Sunshine Aquarium is the only place where you can see penguins fly (almost). -Inhabitat

At Tokyo’s Sunshine Aquarium, penguins are getting a taste of what flight might be like. The aquarium is currently hosting a special penguin exhibit that involves letting the penguins swim in the “Sunshine Aqua Ring”— which is normally reserved for the sea lions — for one hour each evening. So while they aren’t exactly taking flight, it’s still a unique way to view penguins that probably can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world.

On the roof, the open-air “Aqua Ring” is elevated about 7.5 feet off the ground, giving visitors an opportunity to view sea lions — and now penguins — swimming from beneath. (This videoshoes sea lions swimming laps in the Aqua Ring.) The “flying penguin” exhibit currently runs from 6:30 and 7:30 PM, and it is expected to run through September 2, 2012.

IF you just happen to be in Tokyo soon, do “fly” by and let me know what you think. This sounds like a great enrichment for the penguins as well as human visitors.
autism · behavior · children · health · Social

Dogs trained to help disabled kids lead more enriching lives

Your feel good story of the day, brought to you by the New York Times: a nonprofit organization trains dogs to help kids with all kinds of disorders, from autism to muscular dystrophy to seizures.

In October 1998, Shirk assembled a board and founded 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit corporation. She rescued Butler, a German shepherd mix, from a shelter; hired a trainer to prepare him for mobility work with the 12-year-old; and became a pioneer among service-dog agencies. “People started calling from all over to ask, Am I too young? Am I too old? Am I too disabled? Am I disabled enough?” she says. “I said, ‘If your life can be improved by a dog, and if you and your family can take good care of a dog, we’re going to give you a dog.’…” “We place dogs with kids in wheelchairs, kids on ventilators, kids with autism, kids with dwarfism, kids with seizure disorder and cognitive impairments; but if your dog does tricks, other kids want to meet you. Kids will ignore your disability if you’ve got a cool dog.”

Watch the video at the New York Times:

A trainer works with a dog on behavior modification techniques. Click the image to see the video.

It is also an amazing relationship dynamic to see occur between the children and their dogs, how the children with cognitive disabilities in particular are helped to see the world, in a way, through their dog’s eyes:

Alan M. Beck, the director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is among those intrigued by it. “There is a real bond between children and animals,” he told me. “The younger the child, the greater the suspension of disbelief about what an animal understands or doesn’t understand.” According to Beck, more than 70 percent of children confide in their dogs, and 48 percent of adults do. “The absolutely nonjudgmental responses from animals are especially important to children,” he says. “If your child with F.A.S.D. starts to misbehave, your face may show disapproval, but the dog doesn’t show disapproval. The performance anxiety this child may feel all the time is absent when he’s with his dog. Suddenly he’s relaxed, he’s with a peer who doesn’t criticize him.”

environment · health

Infographic: How Bikes Improve Everything!

Ok, maybe a bit of an overstatement, but I still like the infographic; sometimes it is easiest to explain really complicated, heavy issues using an image:

From Sustainable Business Oregon:

If the entire European Union boasted average cycling miles like Denmark’s the region’s emissions would drop by 25 percent. This according to the European Cycling Foundation.

But a cool infographic from a Northwest coalition of health care management advocates also points out the health benefits of bike commuting. For example: The average worker will lose 13 pounds in their first year of biking to work.

The group also posits that Portland’s investment in bike-commuting infrastructure will save the city millions in health care expenses.

Created by: Healthcare Management Degree

anthropology · behavior · creativity · happiness · health · mental health · play

The Shape of Enrichment – ICEE conference taking place this weekend in Portland, Oregon

There are people who get paid to come up with games and toys for animals. Just like people, animals need something to do all day to keep themselves fit and healthy, both mentally and physically. This has been dubbed “enrichment” by people who study this kind of thing, but it basically is just looking at ways to encourage animals to play.

This weekend enrichment experts are all getting together to discuss different ways to provide better enrichment (i.e. toys, games, crossword puzzles) for animals that live in zoos, aquariums, research centers, and so on.

I am sorry I am missing this conference; it sounds amazing!

The mission of the ICEE is to improve the wellbeing of captive animals by providing a venue for the exchange of information among the many diverse groups that participate in environmental enrichment. A key feature of the ICEE is the participation and interaction of animal welfare scientists and all those responsible for the care of captive animals. To further this mission, the ICEE Committee organizes a biennial conference, with published proceedings, in locations around the globe.

more via The Shape of Enrichment – ICEE.

I wish I could go, but I’m doing a little bit of self-enrichment this weekend so am otherwise engaged (plus $400 is a bit steep for me), so I will just lurk on the website for awhile and see what updates pop up. OR, if you’re going you could post in the comments and let me know what I missed? Or, even better, if you know of other events coming up soon, share them here! Thanks!

behavior · children · community · environment · family · learning · Nature

7 Creative Ways to Experience your Local Farm this Spring | Inhabitots

A pastoral farm scene near Traverse City, Mich...
Image via Wikipedia

Where I grew up and where I live now, though focusing on very different kinds of agriculture, were both very farm-focused communities, and I always encourage people to  go out and see what a working farm is all about. It is a great way to learn about where your food comes from, different jobs, and all about nature.

Beyond simply stopping by to view the animals at your local farm, there are many other hands-on and creative activities you can do with your family — and the spring is a great time to go. Visiting your local farm during the spring comes complete with baby animals, plus the weather is warming up and it’s the perfect opportunity for outdoor learning time with your children. To get the most out of your springtime visit to the farm, you’ll want to explore it with a different lens and look at your local farm as more than just a place that keeps animals and agriculture. Read on to learn seven creative ways to experience your local farm this spring with your family.

more via 7 Creative Ways to Experience your Local Farm this Spring | Inhabitots.

community · environment · happiness · Me · Nature

Appreciating the daily commute

South Lake Union, Seattle, Washington 2
South Lake Union, Seattle, WA. Image by tedeytan via Flickr

I originally wrote this essay as a response to the daily prompt at StoryPraxis, a very cool project that encourages people to write for just ten minutes a day. The particular prompt inspired me to write about my current hometown, Seattle, and how enriching its natural environment is. For example, I probably have one of the prettiest commutes in the United States. You can read the original post here.

Seattle is probably the prettiest city to have to commute through. You drive over lakes, over sounds, past mountains, past forests. You cross microclimates, and probably experience at least three kinds of weather in 20 minutes or less.

Cresting over one of the many hills the Olympics suddenly burst out onto the horizon in front of you, the bright morning sun making the snow caps shine just below the cloud layer so it looks like a clear, sunshine day “over there.” The sky above you is filled with gray clouds, but today they are more textured than a gray blanket, allowing the light to bounce off creating interesting shapes and textures.

Each neighborhood you pass is very distinct, either due to geographical divisions like water or hills, or more cultural markers like Buddhist prayer flags mixed with solar panels on 1950s bungalows which two blogs later transform into modern condos with Priuses parked out front.

Coming up over the I-5 bridge you’re now high above the city, the commercial waterways 100s of feet below. From here you can see almost all of Seattle’s signature neighborhoods in a 360 degree view – University district, Wallingford, Fremont, Ballard, Queen Anne, South Lake Union, Downtown, Capitol Hill. You see the Olympics on your right, and now the sun is reaching its fingers over the Cascades on your left, injecting the gray clouds with pink and purple, adding bursts of color to the gray sky above.

The freeway has ivy and trees growing over the sides, threatening to spill onto the roadway. You merge onto one of the eastbound bridges, and suddenly you’re cresting over a giant lake, now so close to the water you’re almost floating. To your right off in the distance across the water is Mt. Rainier, shooting its head above the clouds, fighting to keep them from swallowing it whole. A great blue heron casually floats over the morning commuters, and a bald eagle stands vigil on top of one of the lamp posts dotting the bridge.

You pull off your exit, the trees and shrubs now practically enfolding the off ramp. On a sunny day they call to you, “come climb in my branches, come run through my meadow fields.” It’s good that it’s so damp and gray today, or you’d never get to work. The tulips and crocus popping up in the road dividers, almost weed-like in their determination to grow anywhere and everywhere, add some color now that the sun has risen above the clouds, taking the pink streaks with it.

You’re sad to go inside, but know you’ll have a literal birds-eye view into the trees growing just across the street of your office building.

You’re thankful to have one of the most beautiful commutes in the world, and just sad you have to experience it all from a car.

environment · Me · mental health · Nature · play · smell

A morning communion

deciduous azaleaEnrichment is…

Waking before dawn, and being called out by the morning birds to go participate in the celebration of dawn.

I lie in bed, awaken from being overheated under my down comforter. I had been cold and left the heat on last night, foolishly, for now I am up and alert, at 5:30 in the morning. I toss and turn a little, and lie on my back, hands resting on my chest and stomach, almost as if in meditation or prayer.

I don’t know how long I lie there, but soon enough the light outside changes from cold, harsh street lamps to a softer natural light. Suddenly I hear a bird announcing his presence in the tree above my bedroom. His song is joined by a second kind of beat, the first lolling, the other more short and chirpy. A third chimes in with his sing-songy notes. For whatever reason, I am moved to join them. Not in song, but a need to be witness to this ageless ritual of the morning, of virility, of male posturing, of spring.

It is spring; after a long rainy winter, it is finally starting to be spring. In the dark of my bedroom I feel for my grandfather’s work shirt and a pair of leggings. I find a pair of Converse waiting by the back door. Slowly, so as not to wake the dog or my husband I left behind both soundly asleep, I unlock the door, tie my shoes, and I am gone.

I could easily just stand out in my backyard, listening, still as a newly budding daffodil in this morning gray. But I must move. I must be a part of it. I want to deeply breathe in the cold wet air, to feel the morning on my hands and face. While it is a warmer morning than I’ve felt in awhile, the air is brisk with only one layer on, but walking keeps me just warm enough. I walk north past the church where last weekend the boy scouts had their gardening fundraiser, the yard now empty, abandoned in this pre-morning gray. There are no cars, no people. Just me and birds, and they are the only ones brave enough to break the silence.

I see fat robins picking at things in the street; they must have better eyes than me to make out anything edible in this pre-dawn light, or maybe just being closer to the ground helps.

A pair of runners and their dog cross my path a block up, reminding me that I am not the only human alive. Gaining momentum before charging up a small hill, they do not see me, they are lost in their own morning meditation.

I pass under a series of pink blooming plum trees, and as I pass their fragrance fills my nostrils. It is glorious. I breathe in deeply, letting the fruity blossom smell reach all the way into the back of my throat. My pace is perfect so that I am able to perform a deep, yoga-like breath under each tree, taking the smell in, considering the slightly different fragrance each tree puts off. One is farther along in its blooming cycle, and the white flowers are less fruity than the pink ones, more subtle. As I walk under them the air temperature changes to just a few degrees warmer. It is a pleasant respite from the cool morning air.

The houses on the street are all darkened, except for the occasional porch light or living room lamp left on. They are still asleep. Wise souls. Foolish souls for missing the morning.

The street dead ends onto another cross street, and I turn, starting to make my rectangular route around the neighborhood. Each garden’s plants are in a different state of bloom, from sticks to buds to a few purple and pink azalea blooms already in full show. Some gardeners have already started their new beds this year, others haven’t touched them, or let them go to weed.

My study of the local architecture is distracted by another human; a homeless man with shaggy graying, sun-bleached hair, in baggy clothes and a plastic bag tied to his shirt is walking down the other side of the street, slowly but with a purpose. He ignores me as we walk towards each other on opposite sides of the street. As he passes from my peripheral view I wonder what he is doing out wandering around the neighborhood this time of morning, then realize he could just as easily think the same of me; what is this strange girl doing in just a large flannel work shirt and leggings doing wandering the neighborhood this time of morning?

I see another runner reach his front walkway as I make the final turn onto my street. The light is finally starting to turn yellow, streaming up under the clouds, lighting them with streaks of yellow and orange. The birds are now in full chorus. My hands are chilled, but I am filled with gratitude that I got to see this morning arrive. I lift my up my back gate and carefully swing it open so it won’t scrape the pavement, still trying to keep quiet.

I take a moment, standing on my back porch, letting the bird song and wet, cold morning air drift over me. I want to share this with my entire household. I want to share this moment of awakeness, aliveness, and sense of being a part of the world. But the secret to this moment’s success is that it is a solitary event, it is alone and quiet. Just me and the birds, the plum blossoms, the rhododendron bushes, and the cold wet air.

I go inside to get warm just as the sun splits the clouds open and it starts to rain.