March 26, 2011
On a quasi-serious note, my son informs me that his school has a much better version of this software that students have been using for the past 3-4 years to create fun video cartoons. It makes me wonder...at what point do (1) students forget they can be creative, or (2) college teachers forget students can be creative. Maybe there is a mutual loss of creative memory when students enter our courses at the University?
I think I should expect more of my students on a regular basis if they've been doing this stuff since elementary school... Anyway, enjoy! As you can tell, I had a relaxing Spring Break.
March 25, 2011
March 23, 2011
Leopold's February chapter is fraught with symbolism. To heat his weekend cabin, he cuts down the "Good Oak." With its growth rings easily visible, Leopold follows his saw...cutting backwards through the years. The oak has watched over great changes in the landscape and in wildlife populations--and human-kind's interactions with wildlife.
I've traveled to Leopold's "Shack" in Sand County, and I've stood at the spot where the Good Oak grew. There's a plaque to mark the spot...kind of spooky for Aldo-ites who know the story.
I spent the day, today, at the Public Library in Nebraska City. The city served as the launching-off point for ox wagons that serviced the various forts on the Frontier, and people like Morton (salt fame) grew exceedingly rich. Small town now, but it has quite a history.
I was digging through history in the library, much like Leopold was digging through history as he viewed the Oak's stump. I happened upon a real gem: A. J. Leach's "Early Day Stories." Published in 1916, the book relates stories experienced by Leach, who journeyed into Nebraska as a pioneer teenager in 1852. He eventually settled in Antelope County, home of current-day Neligh in eastern north-central Nebraska--in the transition between the Sandhills and the former tallgrass prairies of eastern Nebraska.
There is an especially poignant set of paragraphs, where Leach describes the bounty that existed in Antelope County in 1869, as he traveled in search of a homestead:
“I doubt if the Garden of Eden was more beautiful than was Antelope county
before it was desecrated by man. I do not see how the Garden of Eden
could have surpassed Antelope county in beauty, for God created both, and no
doubt pronounced them both good. The results were different—in the
first case God drove man out of the garden—in the second case man drove out
or marred many of the beautiful things that were found in Antelope county.
He has driven out the elk, the deer, the antelope, the wild turkey, the
curlew, the otter and the beaver. He has ruined the prairie grass and
all the most beautiful of the wild flowers; but let him be given credit for
what he has done in compensation. He has planted orchards and has
dotted the county all over with thousands of acres of planted groves, which
has partly changed the face of the country from that of native prairie to
one of diversified prairie and timber, and by his railroads, telephones and
telegraphs has made communication easy with the rest of the world. If
a strike occurs in the morning in the coal mines of Wales, or if the emperor
of China abdicates his throne, or if there is an earthquake in Italy, we
read of it in the evening papers. Therefore, it may be that things are
about evened up after all.”
By the end of this paragraph, Leach appears to convince himself that the loss of wildlife may be just an unavoidable hurdle in the path of progress. Amazing to think that 100 years ago, people were marveling at the speed at which information travels!
But, Leach takes up a very Leopold-like (writing 35 years before Aldo took his trip down memory lane across the growth rings of the Oak) style as he recounts what exactly happened to some species in Antelope County:
- skunks had been scarce when he came in 1869; by 1916, they were very abundant.
- swift fox (now only found in far west and southwest Nebraska) were easily trapped because they did not enjoy the cunning of their cousin, the red fox; Leach thought they had probably been extirpated by 1890.
- jackrabbits had dramatically decreased in number, except where there were large patches of pasture land.
- buffalo were gone by July 1872 (3 years after he arrived to homestead); he had described their omnipresence when he entered the state in 1852.
- elk and mule deer (he calls them 'black tails') remained for 5-6 years beyond the buffalo; "white tails" were mostly gone after 1890.
- wolves followed the buffalo and were mostly gone by 1872
- beaver were gone by 1880; they had been in every stream in 1869.
- otters were gone by 1888.
- wild turkey, magpies, ravens, and curlews (all once common) were rarely seen by the time of his writing in 1916.
- wild geese, wild ducks, prairie chickens, sharp-tailed grouse, pelicans, "blue herons", and "white swans" (probably trumpeters) had been "greatly diminished" in his time.
These are stories we read, in generality, in textbooks about the American West. But, to read the witness of a single person about a county I know in Nebraska is especially impressive.
Leach's words are like the Oak's growth rings. A testament to the passage of time and the potential for humans to have dramatic impact (positive or negative) on the fellow passengers on the voyage, as Leopold would say.
Something to ponder on a late winter day. "Rest! cries the chief sawyer, and we pause for breath."
Image is public image of modern-day Antelope County taken by Matt Steinhausen.
March 12, 2011
By a river that stretched to the horizon.
The wind, the grass, and the
Water were enough to remind him of her.
He wanted to take her hand and
Watch the sun sink into the braided landscape.
But he was alone.
“Cwrrr, cwrrrrr, cwrrrrrrr.”
Cranes called in the distance as they
High in the sky,
The flock divided over his head,
Twisting, gliding, positioning,
To become one again.
Tornadoes of feathered chaos
Filling the air with redundant noise.
Now, waves of cranes,
Careening through the sky to
And rising again.
Uncertain and anxious,
But determined to
God, he missed her.
The sun slipped below the prairie
To paint the clouds with shades
Of purple and orange.
And, like a band without a drum
Major, the cranes continued to parade
Back and forth
Across the dark sky.
Slowly organizing and losing
Their cries now comfort.
The beat of their wings matched
The pulse of his heart.
By the time the last bird had landed
Safely in the river,
He was surrounded.
Disorder had become order, and
He was no longer alone on the prairie.
He had found his way home.
He was with Her again,
Among the cranes.
Kearney, NE 11 March 2011
For D., and anyone else who has found themselves while listening to the cranes.
March 6, 2011
Aldo Leopold begins, appropriately (!), "A Sand County Almanac" with "January". The essay is entitled "January Thaw" and it describes a hike over Leopold's property in Sand County, Wisconsin. The theme of the essay is deduction and hypothesis development--Leopold spots several signs of animals (tracks, dive-bombing hawks, darting mice), and he makes predictions about what is going on in their lives on this warm winter day.
I use this chapter in my senior-level capstone course to discuss the art and science of hypothesis development and the scientific method. Good stuff.
One of my favorite sections in the essay happens after Leopold bumps into a meadow mouse, who darts quickly away. Leopold suggests the mouse is...
"...grieved about the thaw. Today his maze of secret tunnels, laboriously chewed through the matted grass under the snow, are tunnels no more, but only paths exposed to public view and ridicule. Indeed, the thawing sun has mocked the basic premises of the microtine [Microtus is the genus name for 'voles'] economic system!"
As I blogged earlier, I participated in a student workshop at a TNC property near Wood River, NE. We had just experienced a February thaw, but winter had descended upon the prairie for at least another day.
I took a quick walk around a prairie to hide some radio-telemetry transmitters for an activity that afternoon, and I was amazed at the number of trails cut through the prairie by big and small animals. Although I hadn't planned it, the above passage in Leopold popped into my head. It was pretty obvious where these little highways had been, and were now exposed. Ironically, the snow was beginning to fall, and it would soon cover the mouse-highways up, again---along with the transmitters and little blue flags that I planted for our students! Doh!
It was darn windy out on the plains, and the snow was smacking me in the eyes. I found it pretty easy to think about how vegetation and snow cover would make for important habitat for creatures that don't have toasty, brick houses with heaters waiting for them.
I plopped down on my chest to try to get a mouse-level perspective of the prairie. Is this a safe haven for a mouse? I heard something rustle under the grass...so, I like to think so. I'd give anything for a 'snorkle-cam' with infrared light source to see the world beneath this matt of grass.
"The mouse is a sober citizen who knows that grass grows in order that mice
may store it as underground haystacks, and that snow falls in order that mice
may build subways from stack to stack: supply, demand, and transport all neatly
organized. To the mouse, snow means freedom from want and fear."
To emphasize how snow can protect mice, here's a most hilarious (and illustrative) video of a red fox in Yellowstone National Park, hunting mice under the snow. The snow does a pretty good job of hiding most of the mice. Luckily for the fox, it doesn't hide all of the mice! Watch the fox tilt its head...triangulating on the sounds.
It's fairly clear to me that I probably miss 95% of what is going on in a prairie (or a forest, or a wetland) when I walk through it. Leopold's lesson for January seems to be to keep your eyes and ears open. Too bad I can't hear as well as a fox!
My Year with Leopold is a blogging project in which I'm forcing myself to read a chapter of "A Sand County Almanac" each month, and find a way to experience one of the themes in my own way. I'll share my experiences during the year. Play along if you want to. Send comments or links to your own blog!
Thanks to Chris Helzer for reminding me about diving fox videos!
It's an interesting movie.
But, it got me thinking...because I enjoy blogging...what could a person, in my field of wildlife ecology/management, do for a year as a blogging project?
Well, maybe there are several things a person COULD do. You could select a different campground in Nebraska and camp out once each month (would be fun in the winter!). You could cook a different game recipe every week, following the tradition of the Julie/Julia Project. You could read an article every week from the Journal of Wildlife Management---that doesn't sound fun.
Then, it hit me---Leopold's "A Sand County Almanac" is almost made for such an adventure. Aldo wrote it with monthly themes...perfectly made for a year-long adventure. Living in the paths of Leopold, the Father of Wildlife Management.
For those unfamiliar, "A Sand County Almanac" was written by Aldo Leopold and published (posthumously) in 1949. The first section of the book is split into 12 sections---one adventure and reflection on his interaction with nature in Sand County, Wisconsin for each month. Hence, "almanac." The second section of the book is composed of several essays, including the concluding essay, "The Land Ethic." Obviously, that essay is this blog's foundation.
So, I've got my direction. Once a month, I'll read the appropriate chapter and select some activity to either mimic or build upon a theme in the reading. And, I'll blog about my adventures. At some point, this might be fun to do with a class of students. And, anyone is welcome to play along. I'm NOT calling this "Larkin and Leopold" (although the alliteration is almost too good to pass up) because I think it's something anyone should be able to do!
Of course, you may be noticing...it's March. And the year normally starts with January...so, I've got a bit of catch-up to do. But, this should be fun---a forced, personal adventure with Aldo Leopold at my side.
March 2, 2011
March 1, 2011
Entry level positions were where college graduates used to get on-the-job training: the hands-on stuff that they didn't get in college classes. As my colleagues and I wrote recently (see page 45 of this on-line publication of The Wildlife Society), Universities are starting to feel the pinch to fill the gap of real-life experience for students. Agencies expect our graduates to be ready to hit the ground running.
So, it stands to reason that students with more experience and longer resumes will be more successful!
Last week, some of my colleagues in the Nebraska Chapter of The Wildlife Society stepped up to the plate to provide a day of valuable experiences to students. The Nature Conservancy helped plan the day, and we had 15 professionals from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, TNC, Pheasants Forever, and the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory on hand. The theme of the day was 'grassland ecology and management'.
I really enjoyed the day, and we had about 40 students attending from UN-Lincoln, UN-Kearney, Chadron State, and Wayne State. They learned about each other's programs, and we'll look forward to more student/professional collaborations in the future!
Students had a change to try their hand at finding hidden radio-transmitters with telemetry (photo by Chris Helzer). The new snow made the challenge a bit harder than normal. I led this session, and can attest to the pleasures at being outside for 3-4 hours in the cold wind! Reminds a person that they live in Nebraska...
Chris Helzer, with The Nature Conservancy, shared his experience with prairie management. The TNC's property near Wood River, NE is a great resource for these field outings, and they have conducted experiments with patch burning and other management treatments.
Students had a chance to provide some data to the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge (photo by Chris Helzer). Biologists brought several crops (the first storage stomach in birds) from pheasants, prairie-chickens, and sharp-tailed grouse. Students dissected them and attempted to identify the contents to develop an assessment of their diets. Poison ivy was a big contributor to their diet, along with some small, mysterious (and yet unidentified) seed that had a bright blue core.
Gerry Steinauer, a botanist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, explained how prairie restorations are accomplished with these seeders (pulled by ATV's). Students saw the processing facility where seeds of prairie plants are sorted, dried, and mixed to create high-diversity seedings.