Week 6, Day 5: Sustainability

A young visitor makes music from recycled materials at PEEC’s Earth Day Festival in 2019. The drums were brought to the festival by Kevin Kinane, Recycle Man. (Photo by Thomas Graves)

Welcome to Take It Outside! We’re finishing off our Earth Day-birthday week with some thoughts about how to live sustainably and reduce your footprint on our Earth.

If you haven’t signed our birthday card yet, you can do so here. Your stories are warming our hearts! Thank you, PEEC community.

Upcoming Birthday Events:

Join us for a virtual family-friendly happy (half) hour from 5 – 5:30 PM TONIGHT to celebrate our 20th birthday. We want to celebrate with you and share some highlights from our first 20 years! There will be fun, games, and memories! Pour yourself a drink of choice and raise your glass to the PEEC community via Zoom. Be sure to wear your PEEC swag and party hats!

Finally, for the last event of this Earth Day week, Rick Wallace will explore the latest theories on the formation of our planet and solar system during a live-streamed astronomy talk at 7 PM tonight. During this presentation, Rick will also discuss the formation of other solar systems and talk about implications for life beyond our own system.

Blog Post:

Sue Barns, a PEEC volunteer and member of the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board, shares ways she’s found to live more sustainably and minimize her footprint on the planet. Learn about her efforts, and some ways you can reduce your footprint, here.


Ziploc baggies and individually packaged snacks may seem like a quick and easy solution when saving food and packing lunches. However, 40% of the plastic produced globally ends up as packaging.

Reduce the amount of plastic in demand by buying bulk and then making your own beeswax wraps to store food. They are simple to make and can be used for lunches, picnics, and in the refrigerator!

Find out more about the climate change impacts of plastic.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

This dog is pleased to show off how much trash she picked up this morning! (Photo by Sue Barns)

Make a difference today by picking up trash or dog poop (why should I care about dog poop?) in an area near your house. You and your neighbors will appreciate it, and the trash and fecal matter won’t end up damaging our ecosystem.

Be sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves and following COVID-19 guidelines, and wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.

Send a picture of your efforts to takeitoutside@peecnature.org, or share on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. Make it even better by challenging a friend or family member to pick up trash where they live!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Start thinking about how you can live more sustainably! Make it fun, and follow Sue’s advice and start with something that inspires you. Some ideas you could think about for outside your home:

  • Start a compost pile. Tune in to PEEC’s compost panel on May 12 for ideas. Keep an eye on PEEC’s website for more information on this event.
  • Identify places where you could replace existing landscaping with native and drought-tolerant plants.
  • Create outdoor wildlife habitat.
  • Consider harvesting water from your roof for your landscaping.
  • This is a great time to make sure your drip watering system is working properly!

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us how you like to celebrate the Earth! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us next week to explore our forest ecosystems!

More Sustainability, More Joy

Our backyard wildflower field sequesters carbon in the soil, attracts wildlife, and is a joy to behold. (Photo by Sue Barns)

By Sue Barns

When I think about it, reducing my environmental footprint is probably my longest-running hobby. From attending the first Earth Day with my mom in 1970, through joining the Recycling Coalition in my college town, to serving on the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board recently, I’ve been paying attention to this issue for 50 years! You might think that I have it all figured out by now, but to be honest, it continues to be more of a journey than an accomplishment.

My Personal Sustainable Swaps

What kinds of steps have my family and I taken to reduce our footprint? Some of the actions, like minimizing air travel, have involved some amount of sacrifice. Others involve buying “stuff”, like a hybrid car and high efficiency appliances, that have their own footprint. But, overall, I’d say that most changes we’ve made have not only reduced our impact, but improved our lives as well.

Upgrading the insulation of our home not only saves energy, but also saves money and increases comfort. Enriching the soil in our yard and planting wildflowers and native shrubs helps store carbon in the soil while providing year-round beauty and wildlife habitat. Opting for electric bikes (instead of a new car) is just plain fun! 

Identifying needs instead of wants, and reusing rather than buying new, saves time and money. Simplifying our lives has freed up time, space in our home, and cash, and helped us focus on the things that truly matter to us.

The biggest and best change we have made, for our health and that of the planet, was to our diet. A recent study shows that adopting a plant-based diet “… is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.” 

Of all the efforts I’ve made, choosing to eliminate animal products from my family’s diet, together with reducing food waste, has saved us the most money, improved our health substantially, introduced us to wonderful new cuisines, and reduced our carbon “foodprint” by as much as 85%. A win-win-win!

Changing to a plant-based diet significantly reduced our environmental “foodprint,” improved our health, and opened up a world of exciting new tastes! Here’s some vegan dim-sum that my family enjoyed in Portland, OR. (Photo by Sue Barns)

This sort of major overhaul of our eating habits came with challenges, of course. What can we eat? How do we cook? Where will we get our protein and other nutrients? What will our family and friends think? The answer to most of these questions was just learning new habits. 

There are now abundant resources on the internet and in the library to guide the way. And so many recipes and delicious plant-based products are out there! The family and friends part has actually been easier than we expected as well. Most are very accepting, and even accommodating, of our off-normal diet. Generally, they are just curious about why and how we have changed, since most have heard of the benefits of a plant-based diet and would like to try it out for themselves and their families. I am only too happy to help them!

Reducing Your Footprint

So, how could you proceed on your own journey to reduce your environmental footprint? A good first step is to use a calculator like this one to see where your footprint is heaviest and get ideas on ways to shrink it. There are some good resources out there that can tell you what personal actions would have the most impact. Of course, you’ll want to get the whole family involved in greening your life, and here’s a terrific, practical approach to getting started with climate and nature-healing activities.

I think the best way to really make a big contribution to reducing your footprint is to find some aspect of sustainability that inspires you. Does cooking or gardening make you happy? Great! Find amazing plant-based recipes to feed your family or start growing your own food using homemade compost. How about cars or finance? Check out electric vehicles, or research ways to divest from fossil fuels and invest in more sustainable technologies. Are you an artist, musician, or writer? The world needs your talent and vision to inspire us to care about the Earth! 

Whatever your passion, the planet needs you to put it to work for nature, for future generations, and for all of us right now.

Week 6, Day 4: Backyard Wildlife

Rosa the milk snake is getting into the partying spirit and is celebrating PEEC’s 20th birthday! (Photo by Elena Giorgi)

Welcome to Take It Outside! We’re continuing our Earth Day and birthday week with a celebration of our wild friends and neighbors — the animals you might see outside your home.

Please see the schedule of our birthday festivities, and join us to celebrate! Be sure to tune in to tomorrow’s family-friendly birthday happy hour at 5 PM!

Blog Post:

PEEC’s Field Science Specialist Mariana Rivera Freeman gives some tips for observing backyard wildlife. See her post here.

Birthday Challenge:

Even our critters are celebrating PEEC’s 20th birthday! The nature center’s resident animals are getting into the festive spirit by rocking some (virtual) birthday hats today.

Our ant colony will also be munching on a birthday cake throughout the day! You can check in on their progress via livestream throughout the day starting at 8 AM. Tune in here.

Your critters at home can join in too! Take a photo of your critter celebrating and post it on Instagram or Facebook with hashtag #PEECTurns20. If you’re not on social media, email your photos to takeitoutside@peecnature.org.


Invite birds and squirrels to your yard with a pinecone feeder. Have fun collecting pinecones, then coat them with peanut butter and sprinkle with bird seeds. Animals will love this tasty treat!

Don’t have pinecones where you live? Try using an old sunflower head from last year, or weave together some dried grass or plant stalks.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Can you find signs of wildlife near your house? Walk around your backyard or neighborhood and go on a wildlife scavenger hunt! Look for:

  • Tracks
  • Scat
  • Homes: burrows and nests
  • Places where an animal has been digging
  • Sounds of birds and other animals
  • Smells: especially skunks!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

A White-winged Dove wades in a backyard pond in White Rock. (Photo by Bob Walker)

Go outside and look for wildlife! How many of the following can you find?

  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Mammals
  • Insects and other small creatures

Try looking at different times throughout the day. Were different animals out in the morning versus later in the day? Share a photo of a creature you saw, or a picture from your wildlife camera if you have one!

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us how you like to celebrate the Earth! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss reducing your footprint on the Earth!

Sharing Your Space With Wildlife

Never approach wildlife of any size, no matter how big or small. Appreciate critters from inside your home or from a distance outside. The wildlife observation room at the nature center is a great way to see wildlife up close without disturbing it! (Photo by Bob Walker)

By Mariana Rivera Freeman

We’ve all heard the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which has evolved into something apart from its original meaning. But regardless of its Darwinian definition, I actually want you to forget the phrase entirely.

Instead, I want you to think of life on Earth as “survival of the sharers.” A healthy ecosystem is one in which not a single species dominates, but rather many species coexist and share resources. Humans are one of those species. So, in the spirit of “survival of the sharers,” let’s look at a couple of best practices for sharing our backyards with wildlife.

First, Keep Your Distance

It really is special when a wild animal walks through your yard or lands on your balcony, but wildlife is best admired from a respectful distance. Watch from your window, pull out your binoculars, or use a wildlife camera (especially handy at night), but do not approach wildlife.

Personally, I like the peeking-behind-a-curtain method. I’ve been witness to some surprising, even comical, behaviors while hiding my presence. My favorite was a gangly fawn attempting to spar with an antlered buck, who gently pushed the fawn away four or five patient times until the little guy dared to kick him, which you can imagine was not well-received.

Provide Some Resources

Providing water, shelter, and food sources in your yard will attract and provide necessary resources for wildlife, like this Great Horned Owl. (Photo by Hari Viswanathan)

Back in March, we featured an article on certified wildlife habitats. I plan on working on one myself this spring. However, if you aren’t able to certify your space, don’t you worry — you can still provide resources for your wild friends.

If you have trees, cones and acorns, berries, flowers, shade, or water in your yard, you have a resource for wildlife, at no cost or extra effort. The same goes for downed logs, overgrown bushes, and tall grass. Gladly, you needn’t provide for every element of habitat (good news for apartment dwellers!). If you don’t have a yard but you have a bird feeder on a balcony, you’ve got extra sustenance for the birds and they will find habitat somewhere nearby. You can offer other small resources on a balcony like nectar, little fountains, potted plants, and bird or bat houses. You can share your space no matter how large or small.

Set Friendly Boundaries

Of course, all’s well that ends without animals inside the house. Wildlife has a default attitude when it comes to resources: “If no one else is using it, I can use it.” This is the ecology behind survival of the sharers, and how biodiverse life forms can thrive in one ecosystem. 

But it also means that if a gopher can reach your tomatoes, those roots are hers. If a mouse can get into your walls, your house is hers (and so are your wires and insulation!). It takes a bit of extra work, but you can avoid conflict with your animal friends by simply setting some restrictions. Install wiring under and around your garden, erect fencing to protect your landscaping, fix little (or big) holes and crevices in your walls, close your garage at night, and so on. Wildlife can cause considerable damage to your property if you allow it to, even inadvertently, and misunderstandings can be hazardous for you and the animal. So keep everybody safe and happy.

With both caution and admiration, coexisting with wildlife can be as easy as it is natural. As Homo sapiens, our species has the advantage over resources on Earth, and we take up a lot of space. It’s our responsibility, then, to share what we can when we can so that the rest of the animal kingdom can satisfy their hunger, slake their thirst, and move where they need to move — even in our own backyards.

Week 6, Day 3: Connect with Earth!

2002 NASA Earth Observatory image of the Valles Caldera and Los Alamos created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Landsat data. (NASA)

Happy Earth Day! Welcome to Take It Outside! This week also marks PEEC’s 20th birthday. Please see the schedule of our birthday festivities, and join us to celebrate!

Today, on the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, find out about different ways people in our community connect with Earth, and spend some time connecting with Earth yourself.

Blog Post:

Members of our community, of all ages, share ways they connect with nature. Read the blog post here.


Show your connection to planet Earth by making a necklace to wear all year. Use salt dough to make your earth day necklace, then write one thing you do to help care for the Earth on the back. Wear your necklace proudly! See instructions here.

You can paint your necklace to look like Earth or you can make impressions in your salt dough with natural items like leaves or pinecones before baking it. Watercolor or acrylic paint can be used to paint after baking.

Special Outdoor Birthday Challenge:

Making connections at PEEC’s Weekend Horseback Outdoor Adventure. (Photo by Beth Cortright)

Today’s challenge is an easy one, and we want to get back to what PEEC is really about — getting outside! Connect with nature any way you can today. If you like, read today’s blog post for inspiration, or try one of the following ideas:

  • Go for a hike
  • Create nature art
  • Write in a journal
  • Look for wildflowers, birds, or rocks
  • Track the weather
  • Make a fort
  • Look at the stars
  • Garden
  • Sit in a quiet spot and soak in nature with your senses
  • Pick up trash

We’d love to see what you’re up to — take a quick video of yourself wishing us happy birthday or share a photo of your time in nature! Send your videos and photos to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or post them to social media with the hashtag #PEECTurns20 by midnight today. We can’t wait to see how you are enjoying the outdoors! We’ll share some messages from our community during our birthday happy hour this Friday, April 24 at 5 PM.

Other Resources:

  • If you can’t leave your home, you can still connect with nature. Here are some suggestions for enjoying nature from inside. We might add bird watching or sketching from a window, or leaving a window open, if possible, to feel the breeze and enjoy the sounds and smells of nature.
  • Earth Day is 50 years old today. Learn about the history of this day here.
  • Watch this short clip from CBS News from 1970, showing how a march by the United Mexican American Students during the first Earth Day in Albuquerque fit into the larger political and cultural milieu.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us how you like to celebrate the Earth! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to takeitoutside@peecnature.org or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to explore the wildlife in your backyard!

Making Connections With the Earth

Hikers appreciate the views from Cerro Grande Trail in Bandelier National Monument. (Photo by Sally King/NPS)

In honor of Earth Day, we asked PEEC volunteers and community partners to share the ways that they feel connected with our planet. Read some of their thoughts below!

How do you connect with the Earth? We’d love to hear from our community. Send an email to takeitoutside@peecnature.org to share your story.

A mountain lion visiting the pond in Selvi’s backyard wildlife habitat. (Photo by Hari Viswanathan)

“I started connecting to the Earth and loving nature through watching birds when I was growing up in India. It was a tradition in our family to feed the crows before we ate in the mornings and this was a chore that I was given. We didn’t eat until the crows had been fed.

I got married and moved to New York in 1967. My bird-watching hobby faded during this time, but I began to pursue it again when we moved to Los Alamos in 1996. We found a nice home located between two canyons — a haven for wildlife. We built ponds and started attracting animals to our yard, which has allowed me to deepen my connection with nature.”

— Selvi Viswanathan, PEEC Volunteer

“Many of my generation were advocates and activists for our environment on that first Earth Day 50 years ago. Since then, we have gained great knowledge on ecological principles and have experienced progress and setbacks with regards to policies and practices in the interrelationships of life and the environment.

None of us are comfortable with the current situation, yet it should bring awareness on how human behavior can minimize negative impacts. In just a matter of weeks, we have noticed major cities with cleaner air and an increasing presence of wildlife in nature preserves and other habitats across the world.

Perhaps a positive lesson of this coronavirus is that of the power of society and nature on the interdependence of all life. Hopefully we pay attention.”

— Tony Sena, Professor of Biology at Northern New Mexico College and PEEC Featured Naturalist

Ana and her brother, Olie, hike along the Blue Dot Trail with backpacks full of legos. (Photo by Natanya Civjan)

“During my time at home, I have been going on a lot of long walks with my family. We also made scenes of legos in different places we found on the trails. I like to play fun games with my brother in our awesome treehouse and also pretend we are mountain goats when we hike on Blue Dot Trail.

One of our favorite games to play outside is “I’m an animal”. When we are hiking on a cliffside with lots of rocks, we are mountain goats. We jump from rock to rock and sometimes rest in the shade. When we are hiking under a tree cover with lots of leaves on the ground, we are panthers. We pretend to sneak up on unsuspecting prey, and at the last moment, we pounce. When we go on family walks, we run up ahead and become wolves. We always hide from our parents and then scare them when they pass!”

— Ana Saenz, PEEC Volunteer

“My thoughts this spring naturally turn to the complex interactions between our view of nature and the viruses and other microscopic inhabitants of our Earth. Our experiences in the past few months have reinforced for me the complexity of nature and our connection to even the smallest parts of it.

I am reminded that nature is full of unexpected interactions and that we will continuously be surprised by the parts of the natural world that we do not yet fully understand, whether that is disease, climate change, wildfire, pollution, or endangerment of wild species. I am also reminded of the crucial role that science and education play in trying to understand and mitigate some of these unexpected complexities, and saddened by the willingness of some people to spread harmful, unfounded information based purely on ignorance or malice.”

— Rick Wallace, PEEC Board Member and Volunteer

Sue’s backyard is now full of flowers and has become a haven for insects, birds, and other wildlife. (Photo by Sue Barns)

“Two years ago, I decided to connect to nature by inviting it into my yard. I worked with Ecolutions to bury logs under my soil to hold water, brought in compost, and planted pollinator-attracting flowers and bushes.

What a delight unfolded the next spring! Wallflowers, Yarrow, Flax, and every color of Poppies attracted myriad insects. When winter came, the Black-Eyed Susans provided seeds for so many birds. This year, we have hundreds of Penstemons coming up. Deer, squirrels, rabbits, lizards, and snakes have come to life, and I know there are untold millions of critters at work in the soil beneath my feet.”

— Sue Barns, PEEC Volunteer