Category Archives: Animals

Art in the Time of War: The Children of Zaporizhzhia

Art in the Time of War:  The Children of Zaporizhzhia

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, President, Sister’s Sister, Inc.

“Zaporizhzhia” by Yuriy Martynov, age 13, Ukraine.

The unprovoked, brutal war against Ukraine sadly has entered its third year. It has brought much destruction and sorrow to the people of Ukraine. Millions were displaced internally. Millions became refugees elsewhere in the world. Countless Ukrainian children have lost their homes, have difficulties in accessing education, health care and even basic necessities such as drinking water. Bomb shelters and cellars have replaced their rooms, metro benches have become their beds, and air raid sirens on a daily basis drone instead of school bells. While many Ukrainian men and women actively fight on the battlefield for their country, culture and independence, others stay dedicated to the children who remain in Ukraine.

The Central Southern city of Zaporizhzhia is under constant artillery shelling and aerial bombing. But the Center for Children’s and Youth Creativity in the city continues to operate, and attempts to create a safe space to safeguard the children’s childhood. The Gradient creative Computer Design Circle at the Center has not closed its doors even when its teacher Ms. Nadiya Chepiga was forced to flee Ukraine to Poland in the first months of heavy enemy assaults on the city. Ms. Chepiga then continued to work with her students online for the entire year before returning back to her home city and to her students.

The Gradient Circle is now in its thirteenth year of operation. Hundreds of children between the ages of 6 and 17 have learned to create beautiful art there and connect with their inner spirit, bringing them one step closer to becoming professional graphic designers and artists. The Circle creates a comfortable environment for shaping children’s creative abilities, meeting their individual needs for intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and creative development, shaping a culture that includes a healthy lifestyle and organizing their free time. The children learn the principles of drawing art objects, creating drawings and 3D images, acquiring skills in making artwork in various media and styles, learning the basics of graphic design, creating postcards, posters, calendars, and memorabilia. The children search for their individual style of work and aesthetic preferences, develop their creative imagination and fantasy, learn to take creative initiative, and develop their independence.

The Circle’s founding director and teacher Nadiya Chepiga is a creative artist herself, who has implemented numerous creative projects with her students, has helped them realize their creative vision and brought them to life, and trained hundreds of creative individuals. Despite the ongoing war, the students and their teacher continue participating in various nationwide Ukrainian and International competitions as well as in art exhibitions.

Life goes on even in the extremely challenging circumstances created by the war. The students and their teacher continue meeting twice per week. Frequently, instruction needs to be done online because of constant air raid warnings. But on Sundays, the students try to meet with their teacher in person in the Center. And if an air raid siren goes off, they seek cover in the basement (see below) or in corridors where they continue their lessons. Since the enemy missiles and bombs focus on destroying power plants, there is usually no heat, and the students wear winter coats and jackets during their lessons. Yet they enjoy their meetings and continue creating beautiful, original works of art.

Gradient Students Continue with their Art Classes in the Institute’s Basement.

Fifteen of their art creations were exhibited by the humanitarian aid organization Sister’s Sister (www.SistersSister.org) in State College, Pennsylvania on March 23, 2024 during a benefit concert for Ukraine. Sister’s Sister provides humanitarian support to the Ukrainian people, particularly to children, hospitals, orphanages, and the disabled in Ukraine, including State College’s sister city, Nizhyn, located in the Chernihiv region. The artwork exhibited at the concert was created by the students and enhanced with computer graphics under the supervision and guidance of their teacher. Their work draws, in part, on Ukrainian art, famous for its folk traditions and exquisite embroidery, the red and black threads of which represent happiness and sorrow. Sadly, there is too much of the black threads of sorrow in these difficult times for the children of Ukraine, while Nadiya Chepiga, whose first name means “hope,” brings hope to the children of Zaporizhzhia through art. For more information, please visit the websites linked to the QR codes below:

The children’s creativity will continue to be realized despite the nearly impossible conditions and their spirit will remain indominable!

 

 

 

By Svitlana Budzhak-Jones, Ph.D., President, Sister’s Sister, Inc. (www.SistersSister.org

Hummingbird by Artem Lopatyn, age 10.


“Mystery” by Yeva Pavrianidis, age 10


“Free” by Zlata Khalayim, age 10.


“Music Inspires” by Vyacheslav Sukhanov, age 14.


“Autumn” by Oleksandra Patoka, age 9.


“Thoughts” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“I Am Ukraine” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 15. The central figure in color is represented by a traditional Ukrainian embroidery against a large city background. The Ukrainian text above says: CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (left corner), and in the right corner, Article 30. A child has the right to enjoy his or her own culture.”


“Zaporizhzhian Oak Tree” by Edik Boitsev, age 13.


“Lord of the Forest” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Ukraine, the Bountiful” by Kateryna Yuhayeva, age 14.


“Ukraine Right Now” by Polina Pustovit, age 17.


“The City in Your Head” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


“Unity” by Polina Zakharova, age 12. The poster says: “The Responsibility Starts with Me.”


“Lviv” by Oleksandra Chepiha, age 12.


“Ocean Dweller” by Artem Panov, age 13.


“Mars” by Danylo Yerokhin, age 16.


 

“Ukrainian Village” by Danylo Usenko, age 12.


“Hare” by Oleksandra Vasyliyeva, age 10.


“Kitty” by Diana Kardinal, age 9.


 

Watercolor Paintings by Chloe Onorato

Watercolor Paintings

By Chloe Onorato, American University, D.C.
 
When Chloe won the 2017 Skipping Stones Youth Honor Award for Hope Cards (stationery she designs and sells to benefit children in need in the U.S. and developing world), she realized that young people can be a force for good and make a positive impact on the world. Since winning the award, Chloe has graduated magna cum laude from the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in Honors Creative Writing and minored in Studio Art. She is now earning an MFA from the American University in D.C.
 
After taking a class on watercolor painting, Chloe fell in love with the delicate, expressive medium. Her admiration of nature in repose and the serenity of untouched winter landscapes led to her study of snowscapes near her Midwestern campus. Her bird watercolors were inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poem “’Hope’ is the thing with feathers” which resonated deeply with her during the COVID pandemic years. Chloe believes nature provides boundless inspiration for artists and writers alike.

Snowy  Path” This artwork was also published last spring in Re:Visions, one of Notre Dame’s literary magazines.


“A Male Cardinal”


“Eastern Bluebird”


“Frozen Field in the Midwest”

“Snowy Shores” Watercolor artist Chloe Onorato is a graduate student at the American University in D.C.

Dahu Park

Dahu Park

By Eason Lin, age 10, Taiwan

One Thursday, my classmates, teachers, and I went to Dahu Park to study nature. Dahu park’s moon bridge is one of the most famous places in the whole world. That’s because, at night, it shines bright like the moon! On the bridge, I saw something huge floating on top of the water. I wondered what it was, so I went down to look; when I saw what it was, I wished I hadn’t. There was a rotting, dead, ugly fish floating in the pond. My friend Jasper came over to see what I was looking at and he almost threw up. I asked him if he needed medicine, he said he needed me to get that fish as far away from him as possible. I poked it with a stick, I realized that it was hard and it’s eye was missing. I was totally disgusted. I lost my appetite. Our teacher, sensing what was about to happen, took us away from the pond.

We walked for a while, avoiding the lake and bridges. After a while, our appetites came back. We started to feel hungry when we arrived at the restaurant. After we ate, we kept exploring Dahu Park. As we crossed over a bridge, I tried not to look into the water.

Then, I saw three old men fishing. Two looked exasperated and nervous, the other was calm. They looked like they were competing. I got closer. One of them swore under his breath when a fish nibbled the bait and swam away. The calm one however, patiently waited for a fish to fall into the trap. He wore a hat that made him look like a cowboy and also had a lot of other fishing gear. When he finally caught a fish, I was so happy I could’ve jumped into the lake. But then, the fish managed to squirm out of the old man’s hand, falling back into the lake. I was so disappointed that I moaned in despair. After a while, he caught another one. This one was really small. I expected him to put it in a container or something, but no, he threw it to a nearby bird. It gobbled it up happily. The other birds looked at it with jealousy, then moved closer to the old man. I was shocked. He worked so hard and finally caught a fish, and he threw his first one to a bird!

I thought maybe the disgusting fish earlier had something to do with this old man’s actions. The fish he caught had been scrawny and looked sick. I was so close to him that I could hear him mutter something about the people polluting the water. That’s when I realized what he was talking about. The reason why we saw the dead fish earlier was because people were polluting the water. I noticed the fish he caught had the same black pattern on its scales as the dead fish. Those weren’t scales, those were the result of bad chemicals. I felt really bad for the fish. Maybe someone threw some trash with chemicals into the water. Then another person threw another piece of trash into the lake. Maybe when the two chemicals were mixed together, they created a new deadly substance that killed the fish. This doesn’t just affect the fish, it affects us too. If the smaller fish get poisoned, and the big fish eat them, the big fish will get poisoned. If we eat the poisoned fish, we will get poisoned. Then, Dahu park will not be famous for its moon bridge, it will be famous for it’s dead fish.

We, humanity, need to think about our actions before doing them. If we don’t stop littering, it will be our turn to become polluted and sick.

—Eason Lin, age 10, Taiwan. 

“I speak Chinese and English. I don’t care about anything else other than growing up healthily. I want to be an author when I grow up. My teacher and my classmates inspired me to write my submission. In my spare time, I like to read books. I like Taiwan because it’s peaceful and beautiful. So I wouldn’t want to damage it. I tell my classmates not to litter, or Taiwan will turn ugly.”

 

Sketching and Painting a Horse

Sketching and Painting a Horse

By Janelle Tang, High School Senior, England, United Kingdom.

Horse Sketch: This was originally the planning sketch for a painted piece following a photo shoot (capturing the vitality and movement of horses). But while sketching it from a picture, I realised that there was much more to the muscles and twitches in the musculature of the horse than I had initially thought. Hoping to learn more about the facial structure and how the animal uses each muscle, I started sketching it out in more detail, finding tiny veins in the photograph that I had looked past originally. Eventually, the pencil sketch turned into a detailed pencil drawing of the horse. This not only allowed me to finesse my pencil skills, but also it led to a more detailed understanding of a horse’s musculature, which was later applied to another painting.

Horse Painting:

This painting was created after a photo shoot to capture horses’ vitality and movement and my curiosity to explore digital tools like Photoshop. I layered multiple pictures of horses, saddles and reigns together, and juggled with the formats, colouring and opacity of each image, and used different filters on each to highlight multiple areas on each image. This allowed me to focus on fine details I was interested in each image, treating each of them differently and associating colours and tone with each image, while still capturing the likeness of the horse. The medium of oil paint allowed me to create details in the image, changing the opacity as well through thinning the paint down in different areas, finally creating a cohesive painting that blends and flows throughout using optical mixing.

About the Artist:

Janelle Tang is a rising senior at Wycombe Abbey School in England. With a passion for art that ignited during her early years, Janelle has been painting since she was a young girl. As she grew, her curiosity led her to explore the captivating worlds of ceramics and textiles. With an adventurous spirit, Janelle delved into the realms of oil painting and hand-building pottery, and her artistic horizons expanded exponentially. 

Janelle’s artistic interests encompass a deep fascination with the Romanticism period of art, as well as the captivating allure of Oriental styles, such as Ukiyo-e prints. Diving into these subjects, she has written essays and conducted extensive research, delving into the techniques and styles of these art forms. This process has not only enriched her knowledge but has also ignited an even greater passion for the world of art.

As the Head of History of Art Society at her school, Janelle strives to inspire her peers and create a thriving artistic community. Her artistic journey has been one of growth, exploration, and unwavering dedication to the arts. With her unquenchable thirst for knowledge and her desire to generate unique ideas and solutions, Janelle hopes to leave an indelible mark on the canvas of artistic expression and beyond.

Ramadan For All

Ramadan for All

By Zanjabila Khadija, age 8, Indonesia.

Asif was going to fast in Ramadan month for the first time tomorrow. He was still five years old. Eating was usually fun for him, so the first fast was a tough challenge for him. That night, he was restless. He wondered what would happen if he didn’t eat his favorite food. Too tired to think about it, he fell asleep at 8 p.m., even though he usually went to bed at 9 p.m. He was too flustered, so he fell asleep early.

In his dream, he found himself in the land of giants. On that land, a lot of giant-sized foods can be enjoyed, such as candy, ice cream, vegetables, fish, fruit, chocolate, and so on. He was full after eating many different food dishes. He laid down when someone’s voice startled him. It turned out that it was not a human voice, but a giant talking candy!

When Asif fell asleep, his mom and dad discussed Asif’s fasting. They tried to find a way so that Asif could fast comfortably without feeling too hungry or bored. His dad said, “What if we bring him a new toy that he can play with and thus get distracted?”

However, his mom said, “No! Asif was bored with toys. What about a pet? Chickens, cats, or fish. Let him choose it by himself!”

Asif’s dad agreed. The next day, Asif woke up very early to eat his pre-fast meal because he was so excited about his first Ramadan. After finishing his meal, his mom and dad asked Asif to pray at dawn. Later in the morning, Asif and his dad went to Nana’s house, a short walk from their house. Nana was his aunt. Nana had eight cats. Some of them were Persian cats, and the others were domestic short-haired cats. Asif was amazed to see those cats. He wanted three cats. He asked Nana, “Aunty, can I keep these three cats?”

“Oh, sure,” said Nana without hesitation.

Asif was allowed to bring one Persian cat and two domestic cats. He forgot his hunger during the month of fasting. He loved them when they jumped around and chased his toys. Also, they did not find any mice at home anymore. Asif named his first domestic cat “Mimi the Nimble” because he was the most agile at catching mice. The second domestic cat was called “Mike the Great Climber.” He loved to climb all the trees in their backyard and bask for hours on the rooftop. The Persian cat was named “Lulu the Groomer.” Almost all day long, she combed her fur with her tongue.

One evening, Asif went to the mosque. The mosque committee would hold an iftar. All people who wanted to break the fast were invited to come. Arriving at the mosque, he saw many people gathered there. He sat in the mosque next to an old man he had never met. The old man told Asif that he was a traveler and was going to the next town by bike. Asif felt very happy every time he broke the fast together with other people at the mosque. He felt warmth even though he didn’t know those people. He saw that rich people would sit on the same floor as the poor. He also saw that all people got the same food. No matter what their ethnicity. He then remembered what his dad had once told him: “All people are equal before God, except for the good deeds they have done.”

When he ate his Iftar meal, he remembered his cats. He thought they should feel the joy of breaking the fast as well. He set aside his empal, a traditional meat dish, for his three cats. After breaking the fast and doing maghrib prayer—an evening prayer, Asif ran home carrying that large piece of empal. As he opened the door, all his cats ran toward him. Lulu and Mimi rubbed their bodies against his legs, while Mike climbed onto Asif’s shoulders. The three cats then partied happily with that meat!

Zanjabila Khadija, age 8, Indonesia. She writes: “I love writing poetry and short stories.” She has won several literary competitions for young writers in Indonesia. In 2024, the Ramadan will begin on Sunday evening, March 10th and end on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. The festival lasts for three days.
Editor’s Note: Islam follows a lunar calendar and hence the Ramadan dates fall on different dates each year. Did you know that in 2030, there will be two Ramadans? The first Ramadan will be in January 2030, and the second one will be observed in the month of December. Also, on Dec. 25, as the Christians celebrate Christmas, the Muslims will be celebrating the festival of Eid!

It’s Time to Abandon War

It’s Time to Abandon War

By Kathy Beckwith, author and educator, Oregon

[These ideas were first shared by the author as a TED Talks program, at TEDxMcMinnville, Oregon, and we are now pleased to publish it for the benefit of Skipping Stones readers.  —Editors]

I grew up on a hog farm in western Oregon. I had my own pig. She was my 4-H project. But it was more fun to play in the woods with my brothers and sisters than train a pig, so she never got really tame. In spite of my lack of pig training skills, I still reaped the benefits of growing up on that hog farm—learning to swim in an irrigation pond, eating garbage that was collected for the pigs. Just kidding, well, sort of. What we ate were the “trimmings” from grocery stores, discarded produce that had begun to fade, that my dad had picked up on his route around town, gathering scraps to feed the hogs. So we ate artichokes, oranges, bananas, pomegranates—things too good to feed hogs that we wouldn’t get otherwise.

I never wondered if this was normal, but I don’t remember ever telling other kids at school about sharing the pigs’ trimmings. So maybe, it wasn’t totally normal, after all. I have not lost two minutes of sleep over the question of trimmings being normal

But there is something big, now, that we take as normal, that at times makes me cry from the cruelty of it, and other times makes me cry out against the injustice and the horrid destruction because of it. I’ve been learning more about how it comes to be considered normal.

Have you heard of the Green Frog in the lima bean pot? Green Frog hops into the pot where the lima beans are soaking overnight—in cold water—but in the morning, when the fire is lit in the cook stove under the pot, and the water starts to get hot, so does Green Frog—unaware. Because it’s his nature to adapt his body temperature to his surroundings. Sometime before boiling, Green Frog has to be startled into leaping from danger, or risk getting cooked.

It seems to me, that when considering war, many of us are quite like Green Frog. We’ve been adapting to our surroundings, to a culture that treats war as normal, and it’s getting hot.

I propose three things for your consideration:

  • War is not normal…
  • It is time to abandon war… and
  • It can be done.

Yet we do things ourselves that normalize war. We let assumptions take hold in our minds. Have you heard these?

  • War is inevitable. Things will never change.

Inevitable? Conflict is inevitable; but war is a choice, a decision that is made about how to respond to a conflict.

Things will never change? Dueling, to the death, was seen as an honorable way for gentlemen, including a man who became a U.S. President, to settle a rumor. Women, vote?! Ha! Things change!

There are other reasons we adapt to the “war is normal” lima bean pot.

  • Fear sells war, and we’re sold fear.
  • Carefully chosen words and PR (Public Relations) campaigns market wars such as
    “Rolling Thunder”, “Shock and Awe”, and “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
  • Kids watch the parades and ceremonies from toddler days on. They play with war toys bought for them, and—when older—with video games simulating war, normalizing war.
  • And then we put war in its own category and don’t challenge it like we would other things. If neighborhood problems were handled with the violence of war, we’d name it tragic, criminal—not heroic. If hometown parades included execution equipment from prisons past and present—electric chairs, firing squads, lethal injection kits—we’d say, “What in the world were they thinking, putting that stuff in a parade our kids watch?” But execution equipment of war—tanks…? “Wow!” If we heard teenagers down the street calling out the chants used in military training: “What makes the grass grow? Blood makes the grass grow. Who makes the blood flow? We do, we do. Blood, Blood, Blood!” … and “Kill, Kill!”—we’d call 9-1-1 for help. Never would we condone the “normals” of war in our communities!

But perhaps most normalizing of all, is the assumption that even though no one wants war, sometimes it’s necessary to protect human rights and our freedoms; that without war, we’d lose our freedom. The problem is, rarely do we finish that sentence. Our freedom to do what, exactly? What freedoms have our wars actually protected? Freedom to take land we wanted? To protect business investments in other countries?… To opt for war instead of using alternatives, over and over again. Our history is bleak, and sad. How many of us grow up believing that the horrendous killing and maiming of the American Civil War was necessary to get rid of slavery? We don’t learn to ask, “Why didn’t we join the rest of the world in eliminating slavery through moral and legal persuasion, instead of turning to war?” The more we learn about alternatives that were possible but not taken, the harder it is to accept war.

But wait. What about Hitler? I have been asked that question so many times, and heard Hitler used as justification for U.S. military acts so many times, that I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Hitler won the war, after all. Wasn’t he the one who believed that power and violence should be combined to reach one’s goals? That philosophy seems to have caught on.

When we discuss Hitler, let’s make sure we ask, and answer, because the answers are here, “What could have been done before and during Hitler’s rise to power that would have changed the course of that history? What could have been done to prevent Hitler’s brutality from being condoned?”

Never should we grant Hitler—or anyone—power over us to keep us from choosing alternatives that are wise, effective, humane, and that honor life and our precious Earth.

But are there alternatives that really work? That’s the good news! Alternatives abound. Education. Diplomacy. Negotiation, mediation, arbitration. Economic justice, crisis response teams, peace commissions—all are effective alternatives to war.

A more democratic United Nations could be used to advise wisely, instead of us bartering with its members to do our will.

Universities around the world have programs in international conflict resolution, and specialists ready to facilitate peace-making, as do religious and secular organizations, and the United States Institute of Peace.

People find ways! Women from Liberia barricaded men inside a hotel, preventing them from leaving until they got serious about negotiating the end to war.

Bulgaria was ordered by Hitler to ship the country’s Jews by rail to the death camps. The first group of 9,000 Jews were assembled at the railway station, in barbed wire fences, awaiting final orders for loading onto the trains. Members of parliament, students, and others from all walks of life, joined the clergy there, who said they would lie down on the tracks; these people must not be taken away. Those ready to give the orders, instead told the Jews to take their bags and go back home.

President Truman and the United States Air Force responded to the Soviet Union’s full blockade of West Berlin in 1948, not with a return to war or the threat of war, but with an airlift of supplies dropped into the city for months, until the Soviets recognized the futility of their actions.

The research of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth (TEDxBoulder) presents us with dramatic truths: nonviolent civil resistance works, it works better than violence, and it more often results in democratic systems in place after the resistance. There is no excuse for saying war is necessary.

So what can WE do, personally, to help bring about the end of war?

We can question. We can ask, “What alternatives are possible in this situation?” Question what role U.S. military bases around the world, our weapons sales, military spending, our rhetoric—what role do these things play in perpetuating war. Question why the U.S. government insists on spending a trillion dollars to modernize nuclear weapons of unimaginable destruction, designed for the mass murder of populations, when so many nations are calling for them to be dismantled.

Question. And assign ourselves a history lesson: Learn about wars, and what they do to real people, including survivors, and soldiers who actually fight on the ground. So much of war, for so many of us, happens someplace else.

We can learn about alternatives, including nonviolent civil resistance, and teach that history to children and teens. We can teach kids how to mediate conflicts for each other at school, and bring that training home and into their future lives. We can hold family meetings, so kids grow up knowing how to facilitate a meeting and brainstorm solutions. We can encourage youth to explore service in the Peace Corps, or take six months (or more) to volunteer somewhere around the world, because their work and experiences in different cultures will make a difference. Prevention costs a fraction of military action. And as they help others, they will surely grow in compassion and understanding.

We can stop feeling powerless and join others to share ideas and take action. We can stop honoring war and honor its opposite: “creative problem-solving.”

And if we wish, we can point out how mules cooperate—to swat flies.

I was walking on our road and glanced into the field where our mules…(video) were standing rump to head, swishing their tails, brushing the flies off each other’s faces. I ran home, grabbed my camera, and when my husband got home, I told him, “Your mules are amazing.” “Yep, they are,” he said, “but they do that all the time. It’s normal!”

Well, if mules can normalize cooperation, people can too.

In January 1929, the US Senate advised ratification and President Coolidge signed into law the Kellogg Briand Pact outlawing the use of war as a means of resolving conflict. Millions and millions of Americans said we are ready for the end of war. They raised such a voice that those in government had to listen, and join the effort, and make it the law of the land—it’s still the law of the land—a law that we can reclaim, if we will seek out and use alternatives to war.

We’re lucky to have three awesome and exceedingly fun grandkids. I love them dearly. I want the best for these precious kids. Down deep I think we know what’s normal, what we come home to—the longing we all have, to give the children the very best we can. They don’t need to inherit our messes. War is a monstrous mess. It has been normalized, but it’s not the way, and we don’t have to accept it.

We can abandon war. There are alternatives. I extend to each one of you a personal invitation, and permission, to help make that happen.

About the Author:
Kathy Beckwith is a school mediation trainer from Dayton, Oregon. She also volunteers as a mediation coach. She is author of PLAYING WAR: A Story About Changing the Game (winner, 2006 Skipping Stones Honor Award); A MIGHTY CASE AGAINST WAR: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now; and other books on problem-solving. Her latest work is a young adult novel, ENCOUNTER: When Religions Become Classmates—From Oregon to India and Back (winner, 2022 Skipping Stones Honor Award). She lives on a small farm with her husband (and his mules) and loves picking wild blackberries for summertime pies. She can be reached via her website at
www.kathybeckwith.com. Kathy’s TEDx Talk can be accessed online here.

Butterfly

Butterfly

By Richard Siyi HE, 17, P. R. China
 
It’s the antennae, then the wings, then…flight.

It slowly took off, the blue velvet-like sheen on its wings reflecting onto a large red enchanting flower below it, so intense; the obsidian-like eyes silently gazed at the sky that was inferior to its blue, disdainfully glanced at the flowers below, and slowly swayed in the soothing breeze.

“Hello, I should call you ‘Number 86’… Oh no, let’s call you ‘Flutterby’,” a young girl smiled at it. Her blonde hair and turquoise eyes blended in with the flowers, looking very natural and pretty.

“Oh, this blue-spangled butterfly turned out to have successfully emerged. I had thought it was a damaged butterfly. Having seen you take care of it day and night, I couldn’t bring myself to tell you.” Her father came to her side, “You know, in order to prevent these butterflies from becoming extinct, we can only evolve them into higher predators. Well, since those despicable interest-driven people have taken their habitat, on which they depend, away. But anyway, hopefully, we didn’t over-evolve them.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing, but we should go home for dinner. Let’s go!” The girl reluctantly followed her father out of the hexahedral simulated breeding greenhouse.

Not long after they left, Flutterby began to fly steadily. Its eyes slowly fixated on a praying mantis, which was also staring at it. As if provoked, the praying mantis pounced over with its sharp scythes waving fiercely. Flutterby took advantage of the airflow created by the scythes with just one slight flap of its seemingly frail and thin wings, dodged the fatal blow, and landed behind the mantis. It then plunged its proboscis into the head of the mantis and began sucking. The praying mantis twitched for a moment before falling to the ground, its scythes still swinging helplessly.

Soon, the first batch of butterflies was ready to be released into an artificially simulated natural environment. They came to a beautiful hillside and brought many newly emerged blue-spangled butterflies in boxes. “Don’t be nervous. This area has been equipped with a well-developed defense system. If the results are not satisfactory, we can easily eliminate them all. But the simulated environment here is no different from their habitat. Come on, let’s get started.”

The little girl nodded and prepared to gently open the lid with both hands, her palms sweating profusely. But just before opening the lid, she asked softly, “If the results are not satisfactory, is killing them all the only choice?”

“Oh, rather than saying we are killing them, let’s say it’s more like natural selection.”

The little girl reluctantly opened the lid, and the blue-spangled butterflies flew out continuously. In the company of sunlight and breeze, they flew towards the forest, lake, hillside, and stream. Up close they looked like slow-moving blue elves and from far away they looked like a large piece of blue silk rippling with the wind, slowly disappearing into the distance. The little girl smoothed her windswept hair and watched them leave.

“Oh, so sorry, I really didn’t expect to have such a massive outbreak of the butterflies. Hmm…Okay, I’ll be right there.” The little girl’s father hung up the phone and anxiously prepared to leave. The little girl asked curiously, “What’s wrong? Need my help?”

“Oh, the experiment results were terrible. They completely disrupted the ecological balance of that area. But it’s okay, you wait at home.” After that, he kissed her and left.

As soon as the little girl’s father arrived at the release site, he pressed the backup restart button. Time began to speed up, and then the butterflies began to reproduce in large numbers. Billions of blue-spangled butterflies densely covered every tree. The meteor shower made up of them in the sky searched for the trace of any prey. Whenever found, they would frantically wrap their prey. Their sharp proboscises pierced the prey’s body like needles and the blood that splattered on their wings made their wings full of blood-red eyes. Their larvae ate almost all of the leaves and dense black-red larvae wriggled together, even cannibalizing each other. But it didn’t take long for the reproduction rate of prey and host plants to slow down and a large number of butterflies starved to death…The blue-spangled butterflies were eliminated by natural selection. And this process only took a few minutes.

The little girl saw that her father’s face was very pale when he came back. Her father said weakly, “I’m sorry, we may have to terminate this experiment.” The little girl’s eyes welled up with tears. “Oh no, why? There must be a solution, right? Right? Please, please!”

“I’m sorry.” Both were silent, “Time to go to bed, okay?”

In the afternoon, when her father went out, the little girl quietly ran into the greenhouse to say a final goodbye to the butterflies. Flutterby gently stopped on her fingertip. It was so beautiful and charming, and then she was shocked to find that Flutterby was pregnant! The little girl bit her lip and took a deep breath, quietly taking it out of the greenhouse. “You can go. Although I don’t know if this is right.” But Flutterby didn’t leave, as if waiting for her to make a final decision, “Before I change my mind.”

Flutterby gently flew up and headed towards the sunset. Through her tearful eyes, the little girl seemed to see the blue light on the butterfly’s wings and the orange light reflected by the sunset meet to create a fireworks-like pattern of brilliant colors, dancing with the wind in search of light.

Underneath the angelic face of Flutterby, a devilish smile loomed.

—Richard Siyi HE, age 17, high school junior, People’s Republic of China. Richard adds: “I am obsessed with biology but also love writing. My favorite places are butterfly gardens all over the world (unfortunately, Beijing’s Colorful Butterfly Garden has gone). I am trying to breed butterflies and their host plants in the hope of protecting endangered butterflies.”

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

By Roi J. Tamkin, Georgia.

A great way to experience nature and the outdoors without traveling to remote parts of the country is a visit to a National Wildlife Refuge. There are 588 National Wildlife Refuges, or NWRs, across the United States alone. Chances are very good there’s a NWR near you.

NWRs are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their number one priority is to protect native species. Their second big purpose is recreation. NWRs are great for outdoor hiking, exploring and fishing. If you live near a refuge by the water, you can even go boating. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages land and water resources to create the optimal environment for all the plant and animal species that call these refuges home.

 

 

Downey Woodpecker in Cattails

I recently visited Pinckney Island off the southern coast of South Carolina. This NWR is part of a chain of islands along the Atlantic Flyway that attracts thousands of birds each year. The island is an important rookery for coastal birds.

Common Moorhens on their Nesting Site

Pinckney Island is named after the Revolutionary War veteran Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney who purchased the island to grow cotton. The refuge was established in 1975 and consists of 4,035 acres and includes many small islands around Pinckney, the largest one. These islands support a wide variety of plant and animal life found in South Carolina. 

A Coot

During my visit to Pinckney, I saw plenty of moorhens and coots in the freshwater ponds on the island. I also saw three very large alligators in one pond. That’s three too many for me! White-tailed deer roam the island, but are hard to find since they generally avoid people.

A Friendly Armadillo

But a friendly armadillo did come out of the brush to visit me. I also saw dolphins in the creek running along the eastern side of the island. There is also a historical shell mound built by Archaic Indians 4,000 years ago. Sadly, it is covered up by centuries of vegetation, but you can still walk to the spot where the mound is located. Nearby Hilton Head Island has a preserved mound you can visit and learn about the ancient people that migrated through the coast of the southern U.S.

 

 

Spanish Moss on Oak Trees

The NWR near you may not have alligators or 4,000-year-old relics, but it may have something unique to where you live. Check your local maps or do a search for a wildlife refuge near you and enjoy a day outdoors with nature.

—Roi J. Tamkin is a photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

 The Big Gardens

 The Big Gardens

By Geraldine De Goeas, California

The tall iron gates stood wide open in welcome. Nadine read the large overhead sign. The Botanical Gardens. She grinned. No one in Guyana called it that. It was ‘The Big Gardens,’ simply because it was big, and also to differentiate it from the Promenade Gardens, known as ‘The Small Gardens’.

Towering palm trees lined the main walkway. The sweet scent of Frangipani filled the air.

“Which way to the manatee pond, Brother?” Nadine asked.

“Stop calling me Brother.” Nadine’s older brother Julio wagged his finger at her. Then he said, “We’ll go see the flowers first, check out the band and…”

Nadine sucked her teeth. “I came to feed the manatees. I don’t want to see flowers or listen to any old band.”

“Too bad,” Julio retorted. “The manatees won’t come to eat until it’s cooler. I’ll buy you a shave-ice and…”

“So why bring me now?” Nadine interrupted, stamping her foot.

“Because Mummy told me to. But we can go home,” Julio threatened.

Nadine’s lips formed a tight line. I’m not going home, she thought. What I came for is right here. She thought back to the first time she saw the manatees. How she found them ‘So awesome.’ “God’s gentle giants,” her mummy had called them. Nadine pictured them moving, ever so slowly, in the water. No splashing or thrashing; making hardly a ripple on the water’s surface. She remembered their small round eyes that seemed to twinkle as they spotted the eager crowd, offering all that delicious grass. No, Nadine would not be going home. Now that her mother had finally declared her old enough, Nadine was here to feed a manatee, and nothing would stop her.

“I’ll have a pineapple shave-ice,” she muttered grudgingly.

The sweet pineapple juice poured over crushed ice did little to change Nadine’s disappointment. She lagged behind Julio, ignoring the circles of delicate roses, colorful zinnias, and bright yellow marigolds that surrounded her. She shuffled along the dirt path, angrily kicking up dust with the tip of her yachting shoes.

Suddenly, a black bee zipped past Nadine’s nose. Nadine’s head snapped back instantly, but her eyes followed the bee cautiously. She saw it circle, then zoom, into the dark center of a large golden sunflower. As she watched, Nadine’s eyes grew wide and round like matching silver dollars. “Awesome,” she whispered.

“You coming?” shouted Julio.

Nadine ran to her brother. “Oh, Brother!” she exclaimed. “I saw a bee with its head shoved deep into a flower sucking up nectar, just the way my teacher said,” she blurted out excitedly. “Awesome.”

“Hey, I’ll show you something really awesome,” was Julio’s reply. Leading Nadine away from the flower beds, across a metal footbridge that twanged loudly with every footstep, Julio guided her to the far end of the gently running stream they had just crossed.

Huge round leaves, like giant plates, lay on the water’s surface. Pure white flowers, big as water-coconuts, with pointed oval petals, sat between the leaves, gleaming like jewels in the brilliant sunshine. Nadine gasped. Her mouth formed a perfect “O.”

“Victoria lilies,” Julio explained. “Guyana’s special flower. Named after a queen.”

“Oh, Brother, this is double awesome. God sure makes beautiful things.”

And as if in agreement, music filled the air. Recognizing a folksong she knew, Nadine sang aloud, “There’s a brown girl in the ring…”

Julio grabbed his sister’s hand. “Let’s go!” he yelled. And with the wind whistling in their ears, they ran toward the music. Soon, the bright red dome of the bandstand loomed before them. Groups of people dotted the surrounding grassy area; some singing like Nadine to the tune the bandsmen, in their crisp navy uniforms and shiny silver buttons were playing, “She likes sugar, and I like plums.”

Julio threw himself on the lawn and pulled Nadine down with him.

Soon, Nadine’s shoulders were rocking and her body swaying as she sang along with the spectators. “This is fun, Brother. Will you bring me again?”

“Only if you stop calling me Brother.”

Nadine’s forehead wrinkled into a frown. She loved Julio. He was her brother. Why shouldn’t she say so? She’d be happy if he called her Sister.

“Now to the manatee pond.”

Delighted at Julio’s words, Nadine immediately forgot her brother’s threat and sprang up to follow him.

Noisy children, protective parents, and many teenagers stood or sat by the water’s edge. Brother and sister searched for clumps of clean, young grass, then squatted by the water and waited.

The late afternoon sun peeking between the over-hanging Poinciana trees made dancing shadows on the still water.

“Here they come,” someone whispered. Nadine’s eyes lit up. Her heart pounded with excitement. The crown of a manatee’s wrinkled head appeared inches above the water. Then another, and another. As the mammals moved closer, people waved their fists of clutched grass hoping to attract a manatee’s attention.

“The grass, Daddy, hurry!”

At Nadine’s right, a boy about her age sat, both legs in braces, leaning sideways straining to find his father.

In seconds, a manatee’s head popped up out of the water, close to Nadine and the boy. It’s thick round lips opened wide; the two halves of it’s upper lip jiggled as if signaling to be fed.

“Daddy, Daddy.”

Nadine saw the boy’s lips tremble. She saw tears flood his eyes. She knew that feeling. She remembered her anger and her tears whenever her mommy had said, “Not until you’re older.”

Nadine eyed the manatee’s jiggling lips. So close. Quickly she extended her arm and offered her fist-full of grass. “Here take this,” she said to the boy.

“But Nadine…” Julio began.

“It’s okay,” Nadine said. “You’ll bring me another day, right Brother?”

Julio’s eyes misted up. He hugged his sister and nodded, “I promise.”

By Geraldine De Goeas, California. She adds: “I was born and educated in what was then British Guyana. These botanical gardens were my playground of choice growing up.”

A Letter to my Grandchildren

A Letter to my Grandchildren:

How To Save Our Health and the Health of the World!

With Earth Day approaching I have been giving a lot of thought to how I can contribute to making this world a healthier and safer place for you. We have a number of issues that may be stressful for you… but I would like to share some of my thoughts on why the food choices we make can be powerful factors in improving the health and safety in your life as well as the health of the world.
What are some of the problems we face?

  1. Global warming leading to extreme weather (storms, floods, tornadoes, droughts, etc.)
  2. Species extinction due to loss of habitat
  3. Crime and violence
  4. Pandemic issues
  5. Obesity and increase in chronic illnesses (like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, etc.) 

What is one of the most effective ways to reduce these problems? It’s Food!

Why? When you look around the world…you will discover that certain populations live longer (into their 90’s and 100’s) and are healthier than others. The book, The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, documents the five regions of the world that have a number of similarities—a whole plant food diet, movement throughout the day, and good social support from family and friends.There are two sources of food available in our world—plants and animals. In the Americas, raising animals for our main food source contributes more to global warming than all the transportation we use. It uses more water and land than using plants for our main food source. And raising animals in close quarters has led to spreading diseases to humans and has contributed to antibiotic resistance. Animal foods are high in saturated fats, which leads to inflammation and clogging of our arteries. Saturated fats also are an underlying cause of obesity, diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses. Also, the processing of our foods to increase shelf life and to make food choices more attractive has increased the fat, salt, and sugar content, and at the same time, made them highly addictive. Addiction leads to anxiety, depression, and a lower quality of life. It may lead to mental illness and potentially to increased crime and violence. All in all, raising animals for our food is not only contributing in a huge way to making our health worse but it is also making our planet sick.

So what is the solution? The one thing we can all do is to start asking ourselves questions like: “Are the food choices I am making now because of my habits or will they help me reach my goals and help improve the health of our planet?” Greta Thunberg’s answer is to just eat plant-based foods. And eating plants as they have grown in nature (with only minimal processing) is the healthiest choice we can make.
What gets in the way of us making healthier choices?

  1. Family and friends
  2. Our culture
  3. Myths we live with…

Let’s look at some of the myths we live with.

Myth# 1. Our Genes Determine Our Health
We used to believe that our genes were the main determinants of our health. We now know that genetics account for about 20% of our health. 80% of our health is determined by our lifestyle (what we eat, how we move throughout the day, the chemicals we use, and how we deal with stress). A good analogy is this… If you put a bullet in a gun, no one gets hurt unless the trigger gets pulled. Our genes are like the bullet. If we choose unhealthy foods, live a sedentary lifestyle, use tobacco or alcohol, or do not learn how to handle stress, then our trigger gets pulled and we can develop the diseases that hurt us. So if you want to be the healthiest, do not stress out too much about your family history, but instead concentrate on the lifestyle choices you make. And eat healthy foods regularly to achieve your best health.

Myth# 2. The Best Source of Protein Is Animal Foods
The building blocks for protein are called amino acids. All of these building blocks are made by and found in plants—greens, beans, legumes, grains, roots and tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts, etc. Animals are like a middleman. They eat plants and plant products to make protein. Our teeth and long digestive tracts are meant to grind up plants and make our own protein, just like the strongest animals on Earth—elephants and gorillas. We have no need to eat other animals. When we eat protein from animals we decrease the fiber content of our diet. Dietary fiber is the main deficiency in the American diet—the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Myth# 3. Protein Is Deficient in our Diet
If you eat enough calories and a variety of foods in the day, you will get enough protein. Do not focus your attention on getting enough protein, but do focus on how you are going to get enough fiber. Why is fiber so important? Fiber provides bulk and makes us full so we do not overeat. Fiber hooks up with excess cholesterol, other excess hormones, and toxins and wheelbarrows it out quickly through our intestines. For every 10 grams of fiber you add to your daily diet, you decrease your colon cancer risk by 10% because the toxins pass through the intestine so quickly they do not have time to do as much damage to the cells lining your colon. Fiber is the food for the good bacteria in your colon. These bacteria are called your microbiome. When you feed these bacteria they feed you back with chemicals like butyrate and serotonin. Butyrate is an anti-inflammatory chemical which helps heal the body. Serotonin is a hormone that prevents anxiety and depression. Remember… more fiber from whole plant foods leads to better health.

Myth# 4. Carbohydrates Are the Enemy
Many of us are confused about this issue. We all know that eating more fruits and vegetables is healthy. But we are told not to eat carbohydrates. Yet fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates plus fiber. So, why wouldn’t we be confused?

Carbohydrates packaged with their usual fiber are healthy and not harmful. That is why eating whole plant foods as grown in nature is healthy, but processing these same plant foods by stripping away their fiber leads to inflammation and spiking blood sugars that lead to disease. So avoid all processed foods like white sugar, white bread, sugary drinks and sodas, and artificial foods that are not grown in nature.

Myth# 5. Willpower Is the Main Factor in Obesity
Willpower is not the main factor in the epidemic of obesity in the Western world. Our foods have been altered (processed) in such a way as to make them highly addictive. Like any other addiction, high calorie density foods light up the pleasure centers in our brains and keep us wanting to eat more…even though we know this is harming our health. Transition your food choices to low calorie density and you will not have to worry about your weight. It may take several weeks for your body to adjust to eating low calorie density foods rather than the high calorie density foods that you are used to eating.

Myth# 6. Milk Does the Body Good!
Milk has been promoted for its calcium. However, science shows that milk drinkers do not have lower rates of bone fracture. In fact, sometimes they have higher rates of bone fracture. Get your calcium from the beans and greens in your diet. 75% of the world population lacks the enzymes to metabolize lactose (the sugar in milk). This lactose intolerance leads to bloating, increased gas, and a lot of unnecessary abdominal pain. Milk has IGF-1 (a hormone that promotes growth). That is good when you are a baby…but it is not so good if you are older and happen to have some cancer cells whose growth might be stimulated by the Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 hormone.

Myth# 7. You Can Trust your Doctor or Health Care System for Nutrition Advice
Currently there are very few medical schools that share the science of ‘food as medicine’ in the curriculum. So do not be surprised if your doctor or healthcare provider actually learns from you. If you look around and see the number of people who are overweight, have diabetes, or other chronic illnesses, you might ask yourself, “Do I really want to trust the information (nutritional advice) that my healthcare system has been promoting for many years?” or “Do I want to do some research and find a better way?”

Myth# 8. Animals that We Eat are Well Cared for
This might be one of the biggest myths. Big Ag (agriculture) has taken over how animals are raised and killed for our food. Animals are kept in very crowded conditions (I think of these conditions like concentration camps) that require the use of antibiotics to prevent spreading disease in these animals. This use of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is an important issue because if a person gets an infection that our antibiotics no longer can treat…it could result in increased rates of disability and death. The way we treat others (and that includes animals) will influence how kind or compassionate we become as human beings. The way we have been treating our animals is not an example of how I wish to be treated. My choice is to not support an industry that treats animals inhumanely—as is currently practiced in the meat and poultry industry.

It took over 30 years for the United States to understand that smoking causes cancer and death. Food has become our new tobacco. Promote transitioning to a whole food, plant based diet and watch the reduction in deaths from most of our chronic diseases as we eliminate calorie-rich and processed (CRAP) foods from our diet. We will feel healthier as we replace these with greens, beans, legumes, grains, roots and tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts in our daily diet. Some of these can be eaten raw while others can be soaked and cooked—boiled or baked to make them digestible and palatable. Minimizing salt, oils (fats) and refined sugars and using whole grains (rather than white flour, white rice, etc.) in preparing meals, and fresh fruits rather than fruit juices ensures that we get that important dietary fiber in our digestive system.
The time is right to transition what we eat…let’s be thoughtful about the science of healthy food choices…not only for our individual health but also for the health of our planet!

Love,
Papa

By Dr. Charles “Charlie” Ross. Doctor Ross is a practicing osteopathic physician for over 45 years and a part-time Assistant Professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Oregon. He wants to change the practice of medicine from treating symptoms to treating the root causes of disease. He practices Lifestyle Medicine and co-teaches free community classes on the science of nutrition and food as medicine.