Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa

Outdoors: Renaissance of trees

Jul 29, 2020

From 1450 to 1620, dramatic changes took place in Europe. The period, now called the Renaissance, resulted from a complex interaction of factors that brought about changes in politics, religion, economics and the arts.

I've recently read a number of articles that suggested that a pandemic led to the Renaissance - a hopeful thought, because during that time, educated people came to believe they could learn from nature.

Science as we know it came to be.

Outdoors: Crepey bats

Jul 22, 2020

The annual Gilbert and Sullivan operetta used to be a highlight of the Interlochen camp season. Usually, one or two bats made an appearance sometime during each show.

This was particularly appropriate during the performance of "The Sorcerer," when John Wellington Wells referred to bats as "creepy things with wings."

Or did he say "crepey"?

Apparently, the original Gilbert lyrics have sometimes evolved over time.

Outdoors: Maunder minimum

Jul 17, 2020

"Solar minimum" is defined as the period of least solar activity in the 11-year cycle of the Sun.

This essentially means there are fewer sunspots and solar flares for a while. It usually does not last for long and is not a cause for concern.

But back in the 1600s, a solar minimum lasted for 70 years. During that time of low solar activity, temperatures on Earth dropped.

Scientist are not positive there is  a connection — it might have been volcanos, or something else.

Outdoors: Turtle shells

Jul 16, 2020

About this time every year, female turtles drag themselves out the lake in order to lay their eggs. They seem to have no fear.

If a turtle survives  for five or six years, its shell has become rock hard. 

When danger threatens, the turtle merely retracts its head, tail and four stubby legs.

The top and bottom of the shell fit so perfectly that the turtle is safe from any enemy (except, perhaps,  a moving vehicle).

Though a shell offers support and protection, it also presents a few problems. For one thing, there is no such thing as a graceful turtle.

Outdoors: Whining mosquitoes

Jul 15, 2020

Will there still be mosquitoes at Interlochen this summer? Does corduroy swish?

Most folks are aware that male mosquitoes are more or less innocuous, living on nectar and plant juices.

They may even be pollinators, but they don’t bother us, aside from the fact that they mate with the females. 

Once she has mated, a female mosquito requires a blood meal - sort of a prenatal protein supplement - in order to produce healthy eggs.

Outdoors: Baby raccoons

Jul 14, 2020

Wildlife habitat is a combination of food, water, shelter and space that meet the needs of wildlife. 

That definition can describe Kresge Auditorium, where, over the years, thousands of wild creatures have made their homes.

Bats and birds, chipmunks and squirrels have grown up in Kresege. 

But perhaps the most memorable was back in 1991. 

A young raccoon’s first venture into the New World was a bit of a downfall.

Outdoors: Toads and violins

Jul 13, 2020

Many years ago, we had faculty member at Interlochen who was a great teacher and fine violinist but who was reluctant to work with Junior campers.

Turns out, she was afraid that they might be hiding toads in their instrument cases.

That  wouldn’t have surprised me. In a way, it’s sort of a tradition.

Outdoors: Possum actors

Jul 10, 2020

Opossums may be ugly, but what they lack in grace and beauty, they make up for with their abilities to reproduce and with their acting skills, which are remarkable.

Well, their acting skills are remarkable but limited. They do a superb death scene.

Should danger threaten, an opossum really does “play possum.”

It wilts to the ground or goes limp,  falling over on its side, eyes unfocused, mouth agape with tongue hanging from between rows of fifty pointy little teeth. Copious drool.

Outdoors: Bird lighting

Jul 9, 2020

Many years ago, a lighting technician made a comment that stuck with me.

She said, “If we do our job right, nobody notices us. If we don’t — ooh, boy.”

And that is the reason for at least some of the anxiety that precedes the first tech rehearsal of any show.

How will the scenery look under the lights?  And the costumes?

Different materials reflect and refract light differently and under bad lighting, to quote my friend, “Ooh, boy.”

Any bird watcher will tell you the same thing.

Outdoors: Petoskey stones

Jul 8, 2020

Visual artists always have been aware of geometric shapes. 

The Great Masters were all about geometry. 

Pablo Picasso captured  his world in shapes.  M. C. Escher combined shapes with his tessellating designs, and architect Buckminster Fuller demonstrated that tessellating triangles form a hexagon, which is a shape with great structural strength.

This structural strength is demonstrated by  a coral fossil we call a Petoskey stone. 

Outdoors: Baby skunks

Jul 7, 2020

When I think of Interlochen, I can’t help but thinking of lines. Morning line-up, lines for meals, lines for tickets, lines at the Melody Freeze.

The animal kingdom is filled with lines, too.

Take baby skunks. Skunk kits look just like adults, only cuter.

They develop musk glands when they are about eight days old, and they learn how to spray after a few weeks.

Kits stay in their nests for about the first three weeks of their lives, but when they do emerge, the stubby-legged infants  follow their mother in a single-file line.

Outdoors: Shakespearean flowers

Jul 6, 2020

The plays of Shakespeare are filled with references to herbs and flowers. 

“There’s fennel for you and columbines.  There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.”

In "Hamlet," when Ophelia mentions flowers, Shakespeare was making statements that probably were quite obvious to his audiences.

In Elizabethan times, fennel was the symbol of flattery, while columbines signified marital infidelity and ingratitude. Daisies were symbols of unhappy love. 

Outdoors: Federation squirrels

Jul 3, 2020

The rodents that thrive in dry sandy fields at Interlochen are called thirteen-lined ground squirrels. At least, that’s what we call them now.

Around Independence Day, I like to recall their original common name: federation squirrels.

These grasslands creatures have thirteen stripes, alternating dark and light, that are interspersed with little dots that look rather like stars.

Outdoors: The river of the Saw Beaks

Jul 2, 2020

The Little Betsie River connects the two lakes at Interlochen. Then the Betsie River flows from Green Lake to Lake Michigan.

They were named for a duck: a merganser.

Early maps of Lake Michigan bear names given by the French. They called the Betsie "la Reviere du Bec-Scie," or "the River of the Saw Beaks."

The French called mergansers “saw beaks” because of the serrations on the ducks’ narrow  bills. These sawtooth edges aid the birds in capturing and holding onto the slippery fish that make up the bulk of their diet.

Outdoors: Loons' breath control

Jul 1, 2020

At Interlochen, breath control is a big deal. 

Singers, wind players, actors and dancers all have to deal with the basic need to have enough breath to produce their art.

Our beloved loons have breath control under control.  These remarkable birds can dive and stay under water for about three minutes, maybe more. And that is while undergoing strenuous exercise!

You can watch them disappear beneath the surface, but it is anybody’s guess where they might resurface.

Outdoors: Countersinging birds

Jun 30, 2020

I love antiphonal music! 

The ethereal back and forth of double choirs in European cathedrals. The African American call and response form in jazz and gospel music.  And my personal  favorite: several brass choirs  stationed around the sides of Kresge Auditorium echoing back and forth through the hall and into the mall.

The dawn chorus at Interlochen is rather like antiphonal music. Birds take turns singing.   

Outdoors: The flowers that bloom in the spring

Jun 29, 2020
CC BY-SA 4.0

Have you ever noticed how often singers sing about nature?

Take Gilbert and Sullivan.  Librettist Sir William Schwenk Gilbert was remarkably knowledgeable in matters "vegetable, animal and mineral."

For example, in "The Mikado," Nanki Poo and Koko, addressing the shade intolerance of woodland wildflowers, sing,  “The flowers that bloom in the spring / tra la / breathe promise of merry sunshine.”