We’ve moved again!

As of today, 12-5-14, Dirt Time at Dahlem has a new address:  www.thedahlemcenter.blogspot.com

The adventure continues!  Hope to see you there!


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Change of Address

Due to difficulties with WordPress, we are moving our blog over to Blogspot.  You can now read Dirt Time at Dahlem at www.dahlemcenter.blogspot.com.  See you there!

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Hunger Games III

August 8 & 9 found us hosting our third Hunger Games here at Dahlem.  As usual, Friday is the day we spend training the participants in a variety of outdoor skills, which they must demonstrate with a certain level of competence the next day in order to acquire food, water or bug spray.

We had 22 kids, ages 11-17, sign up, and a whole passel of volunteers (and staff) to help make the games a success, either teaching and testing the skills, or walking the perimeter of the Arena on Saturday.  These are the unsung heroes (and heroines) who make so many of our programs possible, and we couldn’t have done it without them.

Bob spent the first part of the morning teaching basic knots, knife safety, and first aid.

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Then we headed outdoors, where Michael did a wonderful demonstration of how to set a couple different types of snares.

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This was followed by a hands-on demo on fire-building, both with a bow drill and a hand drill.  The kids found out it isn’t quite as easy as it looks!

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From there we moved on to shelter-building.  Each team had to build a weather-proof shelter.  Some were more successful than others, but they all had a good time, especially when we had them tear them down afterwards.

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Our next stop was a visit with Pat, who demonstrated different techniques for gathering water.  It’s a good thing we had water available for the kids, because if one had to count on these methods, one would probably get very thirsty waiting for enough moisture to collect to fill one’s mouth.  Still…it is a great skill to know…just in case!

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We taught them how to make cordage.  We cheated a bit, though, by starting off with raffia, rather than having to gather fibers directly from plants.  Still, many of the kids found this to be quite challenging.


Those who were return players couldn’t wait for the camouflage and sneaking training!  It seems to always be very popular with the girls…not so much so for the boys.  Go figure!

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Some REALLY got into it!


When Saturday arrived, we started off with a group shot…everyone nice and clean and eager to begin.


We had a new Arena this year, which had a lot more open space.  The starting point, the Cornucopia, was in the grassland.  The six skills stations were scattered through the Arena.  At the beginning, everyone was 50 feet from the Cornucopia, and when the horn blew, the charge began!


I did not get many shots of the action this time around…I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  I got one video, and it will cause motion sickness if I post it, so you will just have to use your imagination, picturing people in pink running through the woods and fields trying to keep their bandanas from being captured by their pursuers!


Halle does her best to demonstrate snares.


Bob tested both knots and first aid.




Gary ran the cordage station…and watched birds.


The fire skills station was so well hidden that Holly only got one person to stop by for testing!  Pat’s water station, also in the grasslands, had a good number of visitors.

This year we ended up with five “winners,” whose names all went into a hat and one was drawn as THE winner.  Congratulations Maddie Girard!

DSC_0161We’ll be doing the Hunger Games again next August.  Hope to see you there!

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Botanical Foray

We had a mystery flower out in the fen, so we had to go out and try to identify it, right?  It was cloudy and looked like it could threaten rain at any moment, but regardless, we piled into the golf cart and headed out.

Along the way to the fen, we encountered some other flowers, like this lance-leaved loosestrife.  It’s a lovely little yellow flower, and one that can be easily over-looked if one isn’t paying attention.  Look for it in the open area by the shelter just before the grasslands.

DSC_0074 lance-leaved loosestrife Right now our native bee balm, or monarda, is coming into its own.  The fields all over are just loaded with plants whose buds are ready to burst.  Be careful not to confuse it with the spotted knapweed, which is also blooming right now and is the same light lavender color.


I was very excited by this plant, which is growing in our grasslands right alongside the trail.  It is a new life plant for me: colicroot, Aletris farinosa.  It’s a member of the lily family, which one would realize easily by the leaves, but the leaves are not “out” right now.  They will be visible at the base of the plant later in the season.

DSC_0079It has a variety of other, very colorful, names, like unicorn root (don’t you love that?), crow-corn and white stargrass.  And, it was one of the five original ingredients in Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, which was used (until the 1930s) by women who suffered from “female complaints”.

DSC_0082 colicroot And just because I find such things interesting, here is a copy of the label from the famous compound.  You can still buy the product today, but the formula has changed somewhat.  Of the original five ingredients, only two remain, neither of which is colicroot.

Lydia_E._Pinkhams_cures_and_claimsAnother tall white spire of flowers is also in bloom right now:  Culver’s root.  This plant, too, has a history of medicinal uses; it is known to be high in potassium and magnesium and is used as a relaxer and supposedly has a “tonic effect” on the liver and stomach.  Good for diarrhea, purifying the blood, reducing fevers, and syphilitic conditions, according to one website.   Bees like it, so that’s a good enough reason to plant it in my book, and it’s native.


As mentioned the other day, the coneflowers are starting to bloom.  Right now the grey-headed coneflowers, with their narrow, back-swept yellow petals, are beginning to dot the grassland.

DSC_0086Mmm! If you see this flower, take a leaf, roll it between your fingers and give it a sniff.  Ahhh!  It will clear your sinuses, and refresh you at the same time.  This is narrow-leaved mountain mint, and it’s delightful fragrance will have you coming back for more!  Look closely and you will see little purple dots inside each tiny white flower.


For lily fanciers, now is the time to go out and see two of our native lilies:  the Turk’s cap,


and the Michigan.  They look very much alike, and unless you know what to look for, you might not be able to tell them apart.  The easiest thing to look for are the stamens – the long dangly parts sticking out from the center of the flower.  On the Turk’s cap (above), they extend well past the curved flower petals, while on the Michigan (below), they are much shorter.


Now, this lovely yellow flower is the one that had us going out to the fen.  After seeing the other loosestrife earlier, I knew this what what we had here, but it couldn’t be the same species – the leaves are all wrong!  It took some searching, but we finally discovered it is narrow-leaved loosestrife, a plant that favors the alkaline conditions of our fens.


I still remain amazed that sundews are in the fen.  Apparently they aren’t too picky:  acidic bog or alkaline fen, it’s all good to them.

DSC_0117 round-leaved sundew

And who wouldn’t be impressed by a flower in a pin-striped suit?  I just love this flower – white with green stripes.  It is, quite simply, dapper.  Grass-of-Parnassus; aka bog-star.  Is it a grass (as the name would have you believe)?  Nope.  It’s in the saxifrage family.  No one seems to know why it’s called a grass.  It is on the flag of the British county Cumberland, though…just a bit of trivia for you when you go to your next cocktail party.

DSC_0127 grass-of-parnassus

On the far side of the fen is a tall plant with large yellow flowers.  How large – oh, they can be 1-2″ across, these blooms.  It is great St. Johnswort, an impressive member of the Hypericum family, and one that is native to our lands (unlike common St. Johnswort, which is not).  In some states this wetland plant is threatened or even endangered, but it seems to be doing okay here in Michigan.  That said, please do not tramp through our fen to get a close-up look at it!  The fen is a fragile ecosystem, and we saw significant evidence today that folks have been tramping through it.  Ladies tresses (an orchid), sundews, grass-of-Parnassus…lots of plants were crushed under the trespassers’ feet.

DSC_0128 great st. johnswort So, here at the midway point of July, with summer in full swing (despite the refreshingly cool temperatures we are enjoying right now), our grassland and fen flowers are getting ready to put on their annual show.  Now is the time to come out with your cameras and field guides to enjoy the blooms of the season.  While you are at it, bring along your binocs and your dragonfly and butterfly books – there is so much to see in our open spaces!

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Out in the Grasslands

It’s time to start exploring the grasslands, here and elsewhere!  Summer is in full swing and the grassland flowers are starting to bloom.  Along with them, the insects are out and about as well.  You just never know what you might encounter.  Here is a sample from the last couple of days:

First up, grey tree frogs.  I know, they look green, but that’s because they can change color.  The really important question, however, is this:  are they just plain ol’ ordinary grey tree frogs, or are they Cope’s grey tree frogs?  The two species are so difficult to tell apart that even the experts have some difficulty, so of course, I don’t know which these are.  But they are very tiny and they are all over the place out on the grasslands – look for them perched on the milkweed leaves.  But do leave them there – that is their home.






Last year, Gary and I found one lone green milkweed.  We were very excited to see it back this year, but even more excited to find a small patch of them out on the grassland.  They are in bloom right now.  Not very show, but up close they are lovely…and you can see the definite milkweed flower shape.


And where there are milkweeds, you might just find these!  I was so excited to find this monarch caterpillar today!


We saw several monarchs out on the grass land yesterday, and I saw a few again this morning.  The one I was able to sneak up on and photograph was looking a bit worse for wear.  Her colors were quite faded.  I hope she’s laid plenty of eggs!


There were LOTS of these beautiful metallic flies all over the milkweeds.  I believe it is a long-legged fly in the genus Condylostylus.  Are there any entomologists out there to confirm this?


The Turk’s cap lilies are just starting to open.  This one was a bud yesterday.  This morning I drove by and it was open.  (Drove?  On the trails?  Yes – I was headed out to the grassland on the golf cart to work at scrubbing paintball paint off the plexiglass of our kiosk; got one panel about 90% cleaned before I had to stop.)


Of course, the common milkweed is blooming all over the place.  Milkweeds are great for long-term study.  Not only are the flowers fascinating to look at, but the plants are ecosystems in their own right – so many insects call them home!


Yesterday I caught this very dark common wood nymph with the camera.  There are lots of them flying around the grasslands – look for very dark butterflies.

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This assassin bug is one of the many denizens of the milkweed.

DSC_0421 Zelus luridus assassin bug

And some of the coneflowers are starting to bloom, too.  Right now you can also see spiderwort in bloom, and hoary alyssum (not native) and yarrow (also not native). Oh, and the spotted knapweed is also in bloom (highly invasive non-native) – those are the little purple ones you see in the photo below. The natives are slowly coming along and the season is upon us to make weekly forays out to the grassland to see what’s open.

DSC_0398Plan your visit(s) soon, and let us know what you find!

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Earth Day Celebration

Earth Day is April 22, officially.  When that falls on a weekend, it is great, but when it doesn’t, we make do with the next best thing, and this year that was April 26.

Every year Dahlem joins other Jackson outdoor organizations for an afternoon at Cascades Park to celebrate the wonders of our home:  planet Earth.

Here are some highlights from this year’s event:

DSC_0475Taking the Naturalist’s Challenge at the Dahlem table.

DSC_0476Learning about Geocaching in Jackson.

DSC_0477Barefoot Homesteaders shared their knowledge of backyard homesteading.

DSC_0478Kids got to make their own slushies with the Fitness Council.

DSC_0479 Bicycle Roundup – taking donations of bicycles for those in need.

DSC_0480Learning about some of the insects that live in our waterways with the Grand River Watershed Alliance.

DSC_0483Leslie Science and Nature Center shared some of their education birds, like this barred owl.

DSC_0484Cascades Humane Society had some of their adoptable dogs with them.

DSC_0487There were lots of games and activities.

DSC_0486 DSC_0493 DSC_0494And people could try paddling canoes and kayaks, thanks to the Grand River Environmental Action Team (GREAT).  Even this little dog wanted to give it a try!

DSC_0495 DSC_0500From recycling to how to raise chickens, there was something for everyone!

Did you miss it this year?  Be sure to look for it again next Earth Day!  And follow Earth Day Jackson on Facebook!

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Night of the Amphibians

On mild spring evenings, if you are anywhere near water, you will hear them calling:  the love songs of spring peepers, chorus frogs and wood frogs.  The males gather in any nearby water and sing for all they are worth to attract the attention of the females who are lingering nearby.

It’s a great time to spend quality together time outdoors with the family.  And every spring we offer this opportunity to our visitors as we take them out for Night of the Amphibians.

This year we ran the program two nights:  April 24 and 25.

The first night it was a little chilly and overcast.  About 16 hardy souls came out and after a quick introduction indoors on what different calls we might hear…

DSC_0292…we gathered nets and collection containers and walked out to the glacial pond.

DSC_0296Our first attempts were not too successful.  The chilly air was conspiring against us.  Even so, the kids sallied forth and gave it their best attempts at searching for frogs. DSC_0306 DSC_0314 DSC_0337Eventually, as the sun set, we started to hear the peep-peep-peeps of the spring peepers on the far side of the pond.  The group waded around the edge and soon had cast aside their nets in favor of grabbing frogs with their bare hands.

DSC_0348One adventurer caught a very cold painted turtle.  We soon put him back in the water where he could sleep until things warmed up a bit more.

DSC_0341Frogs were everywhere by now and soon containers were full.

DSC_0354On the second night we had close to 40 visitors join us.  The sun was out this evening and the frogs turned out to be plentiful all over.

DSC_0434 DSC_0439Spring peepers are one of our smallest frogs.  They can be very difficult to spot because they blend in so well, but once you catch one, you can easily identify it by the X on its back.

DSC_0451 DSC_0463Watch this great video we shot of a little girl catching her very first frog:  Girl Catches First Frog

No one knows how to have a good time like we do at Dahlem!  Come visit us.

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