Shaler North Hills Library series offers chance to 'Get in Tune with Nature'
Shaler North Hills Library is offering a workshop series designed to educate about the great outdoors.
Retired teachers Pat Milliken and Gil Pielin of Ross are planning the informal lectures to obtain the 30 service hours they need to become Pennsylvania master naturalists, or “master volunteers and service providers dedicated to the understanding and management of natural areas within their communities,” according to the initiative’s website. They also attended 55 hours of training, including classroom instruction and field trips.
Milliken said that she and Pielin want to become master naturalists because some people are more focused on their electronic devices and are “getting away from nature.”
“We wanted to try to influence how people might see things in their backyards or how they might plant things in their backyards or what they might use in their gardens or their lawns,” she said.
Nearly 20 patrons met Sept. 18 for “The Six Senses of Nature,” the first part of the “Get in Tune With Nature: A Partnership With the PA Master Naturalist Program” series.
The session provided a general environmental science overview along with interactive activities illustrating how animals rely upon their senses.
The instructors briefly spoke about the food chain’s levels prior to explaining how animals use their senses of smell to locate food, navigate and communicate. Olfactory neurons are present in insects’ antennae, and vultures can detect gas leaks through scent, Milliken said.
“Whoever thought that a bear could smell 18 miles away?” said attendee Madge Boyer of Shaler, after learning about the American black bear’s food-detection abilities.
In order to test their own olfactory skills, attendees formed teams and each received a marked tin containing a pungent herb. Each team’s goal was to find the unmarked tin within the room containing the matching scent.
During a bingo game, the teachers played recordings of nature sounds, then the class worked together using their senses of hearing to identify the animals making the noises. People marked their bingo cards when the cards contained the correct species’ names.
Patrons gasped when a star-nosed mole’s image appeared on the library’s projector screen. With its poor vision, the unusual-looking creature uses appendages, or rays, to search for prey in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
“Rays have about 100,000 nerve endings compared to 17,000 in a human hand,” the slide noted.
People attempted to mimic moles’ experiences by reaching into brown paper bags without looking and determine if the items inside were meant for consumption. Meanwhile, their teammates timed the results and kept track of the number of correct responses. Items inside the bags included sticks, pretzel sticks, marbles, gum drops, marshmallows and beads.
Using a sense that is poor in moles, the guests relied on their vision to identify leaves. They also ate mint-chocolate cookies while covering their noses to demonstrate the relationship between smell and taste.
Finally, Milliken described why she and her colleague consider “tranquility” the sixth sense of nature.
“Contact with nature aids mental health, cognitive restoration, stress recovery and social interaction,” she read, prior to ending with a slideshow of her nature photography set to John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.”
Future fall topics include “Oh Deer: Mammals in our Area,” 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 and “Conservation,” 6:30 p.m. Nov. 13. Registration for the free programs is required by calling 412-486-0211 or visiting www.shalerlibrary.org. It is not necessary to attend all classes.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.