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WHAT ARE THE CHANGES
IN MY BACK YARD
TRYING TO TELL ME?

There are signs that life is changing, telling us that we need to be concerned. Our lifestyles, our everyday choices really do affect theenvironment.

The media is constantly reminding us about some of these changes, such as global warming and the correlating melting of polar icecaps,rising sea levels and the disruption of life in the oceans.

But what about the changes in our own backyards? Are they trying to tell us something as well?

In my home state of New Jersey, which these days is my backyard, the first changes I encountered startled me, but then quickly disappearedlike evaporating puddles before I realized they might mean something.

Traveling through the mountains of beautiful northern New Jersey in Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren counties, I saw a bird in the sky. Not so unusual. Except that the bird was a seagull. I looked again, there were more seagulls. The problem was, there was no sea. The closestsea was hundreds of miles away. Yet, here in the woods, along with bears and deer, where seagulls.

Was it a sign that things were changing here?

Some miles away, in central New Jersey, another bird caught my attention. In the middle of an inner-city I got chills, goosebumps, as mycar approached what looked like a scene from a National Geographic safari.

I remember as a boy watching National Geographic and seeing hyenas and vultures eating the remains of dead animals. For some bizarrereason, that image suddenly ran through my mind. As I got closer, I realized why. Something that looked like a vulture was eating theremains of a dead animal, here on a city street. (It was, in fact, a member of the vulture family- a turkey vulture, also occasionally known as abuzzard.)

Back up in North Jersey, turkey vultures were once a dominant bird. It would not be surprising to see many of them circling over the skiesof undeveloped Warren County. Seeing a turkey vulture eat what now clearly was the remains of a dead dog in the middle of a city, however,was eerie. But was it an indication that something was also changing here?

As a boy I remember catching crayfish in a little stream around the corner from the same house where I now was living. I rememberwatching tadpoles turn into frogs and seeing salamanders scuttling from under a rock. Today there are houses and an apartment buildingwhere the stream once flowed and those creatures are a distant memory.

Something was also changing around my house, right in the yard itself. There were big holes all over the lawn. The lawn looked like it hadbeen attacked by some miniature invaders from outer space. Putting a stick into a hole I was able to pull up a grub about the size of a halfdollar.

There were no more crayfish, no more tadpoles, no more salamanders- but now we did have scary looking grubs that might have seemedmore at home in a sci-fi movie.

Down the block an attractively painted van stops. Pictures of green grass and flowers decorate its sides. A man walks out dressed in safetyclothes, takes out a hose and starts spraying somebody's lawn. A sign on the truck reads something like, Chemical Lawn- Keeping YourYard Beautiful!

Something triggers in my brain. I ask my mother, What's keeping our yard beautiful? She tells me that she's hired ChemicalLawn for the past six years or so. I think about the holes, the monster grubs. I wonder if they are radioactive.

Down in South Jersey, there are other birds. They dont live here. They visit us as part of their global migration. At the bottom of ourstate there are estuaries and bays where migrating birds stop to feed on their way to South America.

In these estuaries and bays there is something in our water called the food chain. It works something like this; plankton convert sunlightinto food, smaller creatures like shrimp and clams eat the plankton; they get eaten by crabs and smaller fish which get eaten by lobsters,bigger fish and then the birds.

But something has happened to the food chain in New Jersey's estuaries and bays. This one I didn't notice. The scientists did. Apparently, amain source of food for migrating birds is the eggs of horseshoe crabs. What has made some scientists concerned is that it seems there areless eggs available to the birds every year.

Why? No one knows for sure. But less eggs could mean less food for migrating birds. If something happens to the food chain in New Jersey,could something happen to the food chain on our planet as well?

Scientists tell me that the number of migrating birds coming to New Jersey has decreased in recent years, along with the decrease ofhorseshoe crab eggs and yes, they are very concerned.

Back up in North Jersey, near the top of the state, I see a red fox dart in front of my car. I'm happy. Wildlife is running free.

But something is changing there was well. I talked to the principal of a local elementary school who tells me that a den of foxes waspoisoned a couple of months ago. The den was on the outskirts of the school's property and many of the children were upset because they hadseen it. Who would do this? Wildlife was sacred here in the mountains. That's why many of the residents moved here in the first place.

Only a quarter mile away from the school something else was changing. The trees were being cut down and condominiums were being built.Already there was a Wal-Mart, a Starbucks and several strips malls rising fast. And a lot more sea gulls swooping down and eating the litterin their parking lots.

I asked my environmentally concerned friends, how did the seagulls get into the mountains?

The consensus seems to be something like this; as development took place and the population increased in New Jersey a lot of garbage wascreated by us people. Much of this garbage was put into landfills. Many of the first landfills were built near the ocean, the sea. Thus the seagulls were given a free meal at the landfills. The landfills brought them inland.

As New Jersey developed, the landfills increased, attracting more sea gulls and bringing more of them inland. Now they had made it to themountains.

So here are some scenes, some signs, some changes from my backyard- turkey vultures in the city, sea gulls in the mountains, monstergrubs underground, foxes being poisoned, less horseshoe crab eggs and less migrating birds coming to our state. Does it mean anything?

I look for a sign. Any sign. Yet the more I look, the only real sign I see around my state these days reads; More Condoscoming.

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Written by: Dave Street

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