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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.