Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Collector’s Garden is Open for the Season! March 13, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Bugs,Children's Interests,Fossils,Geology,Rocks — saltthesandbox @ 10:44 am
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The Collector’s Garden is a special rock garden where children can pick the rocks and shells (instead of picking flowers). It’s on our front lawn in south Oak Park:

Kids can collect rocks, shells, and fossils in the Collector's Garden.

Children can collect rocks, shells, and fossils in the Collector's Garden.

If you visit the Garden, please follow the rules:

Each child can take home the five best things they find each day.

Each child can take home the five best things they find each day.

We stock the Garden with dozens of kinds of rocks and shells, plus shark teeth and other fossils:

You can find all sorts of natural things in the Garden.

You can find all sorts of natural things in the Garden. The exact mix varies from day to day.

Please be careful — the shark teeth are still very sharp! And please excuse the dead leaves left from last fall. The worms and bugs will eat them up over the next month or so. (Or maybe you didn’t want to think about that.)

Here are some resources to help you identify the rocks you find:

Where do we get these specimens? Many types of rocks are sold in 50-pound bags at hardware or garden stores. We buy some shells and fossils in bulk at the local rock club shows or various Web stores. We find other things on trips, or folks give them to us. We’re just always on the look out. Here’s a Web page with information about some of the specimens you may find in the Garden, including where you can get them: http://www.saltthesandbox.org/wonderworks/saltedsandbox.htm

Why do we do it? Because we’re trying to make our densely populated neighborhood a better place for nature-loving kids. When my boys were little, I used to feed their collecting interests by “salting” their sandbox with small specimens of natural things. Now we salt our gravelly garden for the whole neighborhood.

By the way, if you don’t know where we live but want to visit, please e-mail me at eric@saltthesandbox.org.

 

Finding Fossils We Can’t Collect March 12, 2009

Filed under: Fossils,Geology,Rocks,Soil,Upcoming Events — saltthesandbox @ 2:54 pm
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While living a life consumed with raising boys and exploring living things for this blog, part of me is always thinking of the past. Sure, I think about my childhood and how it compares with the ones my boys are living. I also think about folks who built and visited Columbus Park a century ago.  Heavy rains bring ancient lakes and beach ridges to mind. But some things take me even further back, like a certain gray stone found in many buildings in the Park:

These blocks of limestone make the brick building stronger and more attractive.

The blocks of limestone make the brick building stronger and more attractive.

Looking closely at the blocks of limestone, there are fossils — evidence of ancient life and clues to the origin of this stone:

The yellow arrow points to a fossil stick coral. The red arrow points to a cross-section view of a brachiopod shell.

The yellow arrow points to a fossil stick coral. The red arrow points to a cross-section view of a brachiopod shell.

The rock is limestone, made of tiny bits of broken fossil hashed together and then cemented with a mineral called calcite. Because the fossils, like corals and brachiopods, are only found in sea water, this rock must have formed on the bottom of an ancient sea. Because these particular fossils match extinct species that lived about 350 million years ago, we know that’s when this limestone formed.

This limestone has other uses in the Park. On the covered terrace of the Refectory, limestone has been carved into urns and made into steps and building decorations:

Limestone urns and steps on the Refectory's covered terrace.

Limestone urns and steps on the Refectory's covered terrace.

A closer look at this limestone reveals another common fossil from the ancient sea:

The blue arrows point to fossil crinoid stems. can you find more examples in this rock?

The blue arrows point to fossil crinoid stems. Can you find more examples in this rock?

This type of limestone was quarried in Indiana and has an appropriate name: The Indiana Limestone. The fossils that we see today have been etched out in bas-relief as decades of acid rain dissolved the once-polished surface of the rock.  Go here for more information about fossils found in Indiana Limestone (photos half way down the Web page).

For the collectors in our family, finding fossils can be frustrating when we can’t take them home. So Dad’s found other ways to let kids collect fossils from the Indiana Limestone. Over years of collecting in southern Indiana, he’s scraped up several gallons of rusty-red soil from hilltops formed on Indiana Limestone. The dirt is filled with tiny fossils dissolved out of the rock over thousands of years (by rain less acid than what humans make today). Go here to see close-up views of the fossils we find.

Our family takes this “red dirt” to special events where kids collect its fossils. The next event will be the ESCONI Gem, Mineral, & Fossil Show on March 14-15, 2009:

ESCONI activity: Collecting fossil sealife from weathered Indiana Limestone.

ESCONI activity: Collecting fossil sea life from weathered Indiana Limestone.

Perhaps we’ll see you there?

 

Upcoming Events: Gulls, Pets, Dinosaurs, and Rocks February 18, 2009

Here are some events we will participate in during the next month:

Gull Frolic: Saturday, February 21. Starts 8:00 a.m. at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club at the North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor, IL.  We should see rare gulls and ducks, in addition to more common winter birds. The best part is that when we get cold, we can go inside the warm building to eat, drink hot chocolate, talk to other birders, and see the exhibits. Web address: http://www.lakecookaudubon.org/Gull_Frolic_Illinois.php

Baby Shower at the Animal Care League in Oak Park: Sunday, February 22. The ACL holds their 3rd Annual Baby Shower on Sunday February 22nd from noon until 3 pm at the shelter. This shower is for the kittens and puppies that will soon start showing up at ACL’s doorstep, needing shelter and care as they prepare for adoption. They ask for items to be donated off their wish list (like food, toys, and supplies), but also appreciate monetary donations. (Full disclosure: We adopted our kittens from ACL, and we volunteer there as a family once or twice a week.) Web address: http://www.animalcareleague.org/

Paleofest at Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois: Saturday and Sunday, March 7 and 8. OK, let it be known that Ethan and Dad still love dinosaurs, even the ones that didn’t evolve into birds. We’ll go for the lectures by paleontologists from around the country. Families with younger children will enjoy the workshops and museum exhibits. (We’ll look for Rough-legged Hawks and other living raptors as we drive I-290 to Rockford from Oak Park.) Web address: http://www.burpee.org/education/paleofest09.asp

ESCONI Gem, Mineral, and Fossil Show: Saturday and Sunday, March 14 and 15. ESCONI is the Earth Science Club of Northern Illinois, and our annual show brings exhibitors and dealers from around the Midwest to the College of DuPage for two days. Dad and one or more of the boys will help run the ESCONI Juniors activities booth days. (We’ll probably go birding on our lunch breaks.) Web address: http://www.esconi.org/esconi_earth_science_club/esconi-gem-mineral-show/

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Will we see you at one of these events?