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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Planet or Plastic

These are the latest additions to the bag that functions as my purse but which is actually an 18L daypack.  They are a to-go ware set of bamboo utensils with a steel straw that I tucked in there and a collapsible Sea to Summit container with leak proof lid. These live in their own zippered compartment along with an occasional stainless steel mug. I am stepping up my efforts to remove single use plastic from my life.

National Geographic has launched a Planet or Plastic initiative aimed at protecting the ocean by reducing the amount of plastic that gets washed into the sea. Since most of the plastic comes from developing countries with insufficient trash and recycling infrastructure I know that my part to reduce single use plastic will have practically a negligible impact on the amount of plastic in the ocean.

And yet. In modeling carrying reusable utensils and collapsible food container as well as beverage container and shopping bags, I am making a difference in my riverside community.

It's not only the oceans that have too much plastic in them. There's too much of it everywhere including right here. Below is a picture of the plastic I picked up during a 5 minute walk in the park along the river yesterday.

5 minutes! I didn't have to stretch or scramble for them, either. It was right there on the ground a few steps off the path. This is an example of where thinking globally but acting locally will make a difference locally.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

John Muir, journaler

John Muir, the founder of the Sierra club, explorer of Alaskan wilderness, champion of Yosemite park, was a journaler.

The University of the Pacific maintains many of John Muir's papers and has made them accessible by putting the digital images online. They have invited the public to participate as citizen curators and assist with transcribing the journals to make them more accessible.

From the university website:

Word-for-word transcriptions open up many more possibilities for researchers and the general public to find, read, and understand Muir's thoughts as he experienced them. It also facilitates online searching to locate information by specific topics. Volunteers can transcribe an entire journal or even just a single page. Even transcribing one or two pages increases the discoverability for historians, Muir enthusiasts, students, or anyone searching the internet.

I spent the better part of a Friday evening recently trying to decipher two short sentences from Muir.  Between the faded ink and the sprawling script, the challenge was real. I ended up projecting the journal entry I was attempting to transcribe onto a TV screen and lying on the living room floor, looking at it for about 10 minutes. And then, like that, I saw the words.

Most of them, anyway. I thought his journal said "changeabul world" but the professor in charge of the project wrote it as changeful world and on second inspection I would have to agree.

What John wrote on the last page of his journal on a trip to Yellowstone and Columbia Park:

In all our pilgramages through this changeful world whichever betide, in poverty or wealth sickness or health
May we all grow gray in peace & love.
Amen.




Tuesday, May 8, 2018

In a Seattle state of mind.

I traveled to Seattle for a few days between my last post and this one. This was my first visit and according to the locals I was there during a stretch of especially nice weather, sunny with temps in the 60's and 70's. Indeed, I expected more rain and Starbucks.

My work required staying on a ship which did not sail anywhere. The ship was docked in the port of Seattle next to massive fishing trawlers that were so huge that I did not take a picture because I knew I could not do justice to their size. My colleague on this trip, John Mitchell, wondered at the biomass these trawlers take out of the sea.

One of the trawlers in port was the SS Ocean Phoenix. At 680 feet long, it is as long as city block. I don't know how tall it is but 10 stories at the highest point above the pier feels about right to me. It can hold 4,200 tons of what Pacific Premier calls product or the all the different forms of Pollock it fishes and processes. I suppose this helps answer the question about biomass.

With numbers like these, I better understand the pressure this could put on an ocean fishery. I have never really liked fish but after hearing of the overfishing of our oceans I am less likely to eat it. I now only eat fish if I know where it comes from which usually translates as someone I know has caught it. For those that enjoy seafood, there are apps to help you eat in good conscience. I've heard good things about the Seafood Watch app from Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Overfishing is a thing. I learned this on my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship expedition when we stopped at Siglufjörður, home of the Herring Museum. The town was the site of a herring processing plant until the fishery collapsed due to overfishing in the early 1960's. The fishery never recovered and the town lost its livlihood. The fishermen were convinced that they knew the herring better than the scientists.

And to be clear, I don't know if Pacific Premier or the SS Ocean are complicit in overfishing. But after seeing these trawlers I have a much better idea of how overfishing happened. My hope is that Pacific Premier and all sea food companies are part of a movement to establish aggressive management of fisheries.

Alarm about trawler size and overfishing aside, I enjoyed my time on ship. Even though the ship didn't sail, it still moved after a fashion, rising and falling with the tide. When I went to bed at night I was eye level with the bottom of the pier (my cabin was on the second to lowest level). When I awoke the next morning, I could see under the pier and by mid day the barnacles were exposed on the pier pilings.


Twice I saw a heron that liked to perch on the rocks under the pier.  I dithered about this because what if the tide came up quickly and the heron got trapped under the pier? Can herons swim under water?

This did not happen the two days I observed the heron. Like I said, I dithered.

But back to the barnacles.

I have noticed how the barnacles stop attaching at certain rung on the pier ladder in the picture. There are a few scattered individuals above that line but the demarcation between good barnacle habitat and not good barnacle habitat is pretty clear.


I don't know enough about barnacles to explain what makes a good habitat and what doesn't. If I'd had more time to just observe barnacles and do nothing else, I probably could have developed a working explanation. Instead, it will remain a mystery until I either return to a place with barnacles or get a chance to look it up. Past experience has taught me to leave plenty of time for such work because a quick internet search can turn into an hours long self-created mini-course.


Monday, April 30, 2018

The Trace of an Explorer


Being an explorer means being responsible. It's not just me saying this, it's National Geographic. Responsibility is one of the attitudes of an explorer, an essential attribute of the explorer's habit of mind and approach to life.

In case you are fuzzy about what being responsible means allow me to clarify. When I spoke to the middle and high school girls Women in Science conference I told them that responsibility meant being respectful of everyone, having integrity, and—this is the big one—to do no harm to and help where you can, both people and the Earth.

Leave No Trace or LNT is an excellent organization that equips you with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do no harm to the Earth and be responsible in both the back and front country.  I think their training should be required for everyone who considers themselves an explorer because being LNT competent and compliant helps protect and conserve wild places.

And even if you don't think of yourself as explorer, even if you are "just" someone who likes to get outside to a local park, get aware about how to do this responsibly. As Jane Goodall says, we all have an impact. It's up to us to decide what kind of impact we will have. Becoming Leave No Trace aware (or even better trained) means our impact will be positive because it will be minimal on the outdoors.

Full disclosure, I have yet to go through an in person training. I've done the online awareness class and repeated it to brush up on my LNT knowledge. As I head out for another season of hiking, camping, and even just walking through a park I want to make sure I am on my A game for responsibility.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ant struggles, the updated score

In my post below I talked about the struggle of an ant to remove a small sprout of vegetation near the opening to its nest. I promised I would return the next day to give an update.

Well, the next day was rainy and cold and I got busy. You know how it goes.

I did go back the day after the next day. The first time I went back it was about 10am. A sprout was there... but it looked like it was in a slightly different place. I could not tell if it was the same sprout or a new one. After all, we've had a lot of moisture lately and all that warming. A new sprout was possible.

As an aside, this is why EXACT siting is so important in research. The human memory is not that good at precision recall.

I decided to call it uncertain, determined to be more precise in the future. I returned a few hours later, around 1pm, and noted a completely sprout free surface around the ant nest.

Regardless of whether or not the sprouts were the same or different, they were gone.

Ants - 1 (or maybe 2). Sprouts - 0.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ant Struggles Are Real



I read Thoreau's essay ant war in high school, or maybe it was first year composition in college— more than a few years ago—but the essay topic was sticky enough that throughout my adulthood I have stopped and watched ants whenever opportunity and time presented themselves. 

I had a happy confluence of both on a walk yesterday. I came upon many ants, Harvester ants, huddled around the hole with a few busily scurrying in and out carrying small pebbles.

I don't know what the huddlers were doing (beyond huddling, though I doubt that is the proper ant behavior term), nor why. I suspect it had something to do with this being early days of ant activity and just coming out of whatever dormant state they enter during the winter.

The huddlers while interesting were not as interesting as this stalwart little ant in the video who was determined to cut down a sprout of vegetation. Harvester ants clear the areas around their holes of any vegetation and I imagine this ant was tasked by genetics and instinct with removing the offending greenery. 

While perhaps not as dramatic as an ant war, you can see the struggle is real for this ant. I didn't stay long enough to see which prevailed-ant or plant-or assuming the ant prevailed how it actually played out. I will return to the nest to get a literal on-the-ground update.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

A Really Good Badlands Day


My first real trip to the Badlands for this year. I hiked around with a friend on this sunny, fine day of spring; a treat as I usually go by myself. The grass was just beginning to green up and we saw this little plant which I know as wild parsley but the guidebook calls desert biscuitroot.

Interesting facts from the guidebook:
1) When you crush the leaves it smells like celery. I did not try this so I can neither confirm nor deny.
2)Men of the indigenous Plains people used the fruit in love charms. Again, I cannot confirm nor deny since I am not a man of the indigenous Plains people.

You can tell the wild parsley/desert biscuitroot is a plains plant because of the wooliness of the leaves which minimizes the impact of the heat and wind. Many plains plants have this adaptation. The hairs minimize direct contact with the air which slows evaporation and creates shade. Having been on the Plains during the scorch of summer, I know how vital this is.

Close up of a leaf and stem wooliness


Wild parsley is one of the first forbs to be bloom and indeed there were no other flowering plants. We saw some sort of cool season grass, I'm not good at grass ID so I can't tell you what it was, that was starting to green up but everything else was dormant.

Animal wise in addition to prairie dogs, we saw many big horn sheep, deer, a few bison in the distance and two burrowing owls hanging out at prairie dog holes.

Any day spent at the Badlands is a good day but when there are owls, it's a really good day.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Cumulus clouding


Cumulus cloud!

A cumulus cloud is the true sign of spring. Cumulus clouds are formed by convection, heat radiating from the Earth. Cumulus clouds only form in the warm weather since in the cold weather the Earth simply doesn't put out enough heat.

I snapped this several days ago. As I write this, a huge spring snow storm is bearing down on us and already impacting much of the state. Clouds are nimbostratus, bringing some icy now.

I know the sun will prevail and eventually the Earth will warm enough so it will feel springlike. But until then, I will semi-stoically endure more cold and snow.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Sicangu Oyate



 I went to the land of the Sicangu Oyate, known more commonly to those who are not Lakota as the Rosebud Reservation. I was invited by Sinte Gleska University, a tribal college, to facilitate a special seminar on water and environmental education.

We were busy. Project WET, GLOBE protocols, the GLOBE Observer App, and the National Geographic Certified Educator Phase 1 training.

I won't lie. I'm tired and I imagine so are the participants.

I am always honored to be invited to the reservation. It's not a particularly comfortable trip since you are confronted with the impact of decades of the genocidal policies of the US but it is always an honor.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Access Points, Formerly Known as Manholes

I haven't been everywhere the past ten days but I feel I come kinda close. Since March 23 I've been to Sioux Falls twice, Washington DC, West Lafayette, Indiana, and Omaha.

Ok maybe I don't come close.

Most of my trips I was inside various meetings rooms. In Omaha, I did get outside to walk my son's dog.

He lives in an older part of town which is actually inside the Bellevue city limits. The days mostly were cold, gray and raw. It was a challenge to keep my explorer's googles on, to feel the call to explore.

And yet, I would have missed these manhole covers, had I not.




I don't know enough about these covers to know how unique-if at all- they actually are.But I think they are beautiful in their own way and I find it touching the someone took the time and effort to design these.

There is beauty everywhere, if you are willing to go outside and look for it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Jolly Good Fellow

Fellows and National Geographic staff toast

This past weekend I returned to National Geographic to help mentor the next cohort of Grosvenor Teacher Fellows. A bittersweet experience, to be sure, since it marks the end of being part of the current cohort and the beginning of being a part of a previous cohort.

But once a Fellow, always a Fellow.

National Geographic is practically synonymous with exploration and in many ways is the impetus for this blog. Because of this blog and a couple of other explorer-y projects I am working on, I can honestly say that the close of this year does not feel like the end, but rather the timely transition to the next thing.

I'm not being coy or mysterious when I say I don't know fully what the next thing will be but I suspect it will involve the following:

  • Build the field of exploration education.
  • Inspire and equip educators to first see themselves as explorers and then teach exploration.
  • Spend time in the outdoors not just to recreate but to observe.
  • Write about what I see and do, and sometimes about what I think and feel.
  • Learn. Always learn.
  • Go further.
  • Explore.
I did not start doing these things as a result of becoming a Fellow. I was already doing them. I would not have been selected otherwise. Rather becoming a Fellow has meant that I do these things better and at a higher level. This Fellowship has had a quantum impact on my professional and personal lives.

Thank you, National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions.  Here's to Year 2 and beyond.




Monday, March 19, 2018

Scenes from a Sunday

The birds are arriving. I drove out to Farm Island on Sunday and saw a flock of meadowlarks, warblers by bird feeder and heard a red wing black bird, also by the bird feeder. I hiked all the way out the old Izaak Walton league cabin, 3 miles one way if you believe the trail map though I'm not sure I do.


The birds were still not in full voice way out on the island. And there are still a lot of Canada geese left flying about town, probably because it is still cold and snowy further North. I should not be so impatient for spring. We need the moisture and an early spring can mean a dry summer.

While hiking I saw a burl. I see a textured beauty in these burls. Burls are caused by a tree's response to some sort of injury or disease. Something to keep in mind about life.



On the way back in to town I stopped at the greenhouse just to enjoy the sight and feel of growing things. Art, the owner, told me that it's only with their second and third shipments that they have enough plants to increase the humidity in the greenhouse and humid it was. It was also warm in a pleasant kind of way.






Saturday, March 17, 2018

Technically, it's late winter.

Daylight savings time started last Sunday. So not only are the days getting longer, it is getting dark much later thanks to our fiddling with the clock.

Unfortunately, spring is slow to arrive here in Pierre. We've had several winter storms lately and when it is not storming the weather is raw and cloudy. We have had a few days of flirtatious sun but we can tell it's not ready to commit yet. We are due for another storm this coming Monday, I believe.

But still. She approaches. I noticed that there was a bit of golden light left this evening when the clouds cleared so I zipped up and went for a walk around the neighborhood. The temps were in the upper 30's and with no wind it wasn't bad. The snow and ice had melted off the sidewalks, even the unshoveled ones, so the footing was sure.

I heard multiple bird species: mourning doves, robins, finches. Such a difference from the winter silence when you maybe-maybe-hear the contentions of house sparrows on a sunny winter day. I was out of town earlier in the week so I think missed the arrival of more robin waves but they were thicker than I remember.

The robin calls are still mostly peek and tut but as I headed into the house I did hear one singing a true song.

I snapped a photo of one of the many I saw and heard this evening. 

In a month this tree will have leaves and the robin will be invisible. He will, no doubt, be going to town on his song to keep away interlopers and protect his territory. But for now, it is enough just to be in a tree on  an early spring evening.

Modeling Arctic Exploration

This past week I went to Sioux Falls for a few days to present at the Sioux Empire Water Festival. Doing these sorts of things is one of the favorite parts of my job.

My presentation was How Hot Is Ice? This was an introduction - when you only have 20 minutes almost everything you do is an introduction - to the Arctic in general and sea ice and glaciers in particular.

I showed them video and photos from my expedition as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow to Svalbard, Greenland and Iceland. I used to think no one but my nearest and dearest would ever want to see these but changed my mind after several conversations on social media where we talked about how the photos we saw as children from our teachers impacted us. And, indeed, when I was 10, I saw a photo from my 5th grade teacher's trip to Europe that made me realize the world was bigger than what I knew. That photo made a lasting impression.

In my photos and video we looked at sea ice and glaciers, talking about how scientists are very interested in these things. I showed them my walrus on sea ice photo to explain how sea ice is habitat not just for walruses but seals and polar bears too.

We then looked at the Elementary GLOBE What in the World is Happening to Our Climate book which features the GLOBE kids. There wasn't time to read the whole thing so we only looked at a few pictures. This was part of connecting students to being explorers themselves.

We looked at the Glacier picture

We looked that picture of the GLOBE kids on sea ice.

And we ended with students at the research station, taking surface temperature data. I pointed out the infrared thermometers that the kids were using and then showed them the IRTs we would use for our research.

I then explained how I did my own research with an IRT on open water and ice.

One of the challenges I faced was how to replicate the surface temperature research in this Water Festival setting. Since taking them all to the Arctic or even outside was prohibitively time consuming, I chose instead to use a model of the sun, open ocean and ice. We use models in science, I explained, when things are too small or big or far away for us to actually study. When you use a model you don't need to have all the parts. You only need the parts that you study.

I showed them how this model had an energy source that represented the sun (the heat lamp), the open ocean (blue sheet) and the ice (white sheet). 

After a few instructions on how to use an infrared thermometer, each child wrote the data on the board where we analyzed it as a group looking for patterns and relationships.





And, indeed, even though my readings were different, the relationships between the open water and ice data were the same. The open water was warmer than the ice.

I would have liked to have gone deeper into the lesson but that was my 20 minutes. My objective was to make the Arctic and some of its issues more meaningful through storytelling, literature and experiences with real world instruments and data collection.



Saturday, March 10, 2018

Of Explorers and Clouds

I've mentioned the Prairie Ecologist blog before. Chris's most recent post dedicated to his friend and inspiration hit me right in the emotional xiphoid process. I noticed immediately how Chris described his friend Ernie as an explorer of landscapes and philosophy who was "incessantly curious, thoughtful and kind". That description checks two big boxes on the NatGeo Learning Framework which describes the mindset of an explorer.

In case you are wondering, those boxes would be the curious and responsible boxes.

I also like the post because, well, clouds and sky. I've been nattering a lot about robins lately but clouds via GLOBE observer app is one of my two other citizen science activities, iNaturalist being the third.

During the winter we have lots of cirrus, stratus, and nimbostratus clouds around here. I am not-so-patiently awaiting the first cumulus cloud of spring which is a surer sign of warm weather than even robins. Cumulus clouds, the Rorschach fluffy, sheepy, pillowy looking clouds, are found in fair weather on warm days. One of my favorite ways to teach cloud types to littles is to have them role play what they are doing when different kinds of clouds are in the sky. Their role plays for cumulus clouds always include a lot of going to the beach and lying out in the sun as if any first grader ever did that for more than 2 minutes.

The clouds outside my window as I type this are stratus. If I were a first grader role playing this type of cloud, there would be napping. These clouds were recently nimbostratus and may yet be again as they brought us alternating rain and flurries all day today. If you look in the dictionary for March you should find this picture of a gray, raw day. In this picture you can see the Ponderosa pine and skein of Canada geese (you may have to enlarge) and the top of a Russian Olive not planted by us but which we haven't gotten around to cutting down.