Thursday, August 25, 2005
Overheard at the Botany conference:
"Enemies are dominant; friends are recessive."
It made more sense in context, but that was as much as I wrote down at the time.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Read a blog post today that referred to "Dysney" instead of "Disney". I think the misspelling was unintentional, but it seems entirely appropriate considering the tendency of Disney to present us with its skewed utopian visions, in effect a Disneyesque brand of dystopia where fathers are well-meaning but foolish, mothers are evil, and only precocious children and fuzzy animals can save the world. A quick Google suggests that Dysney has not been used in that way, at least on-line, so I'm going to grab credit for it right now :) (ObDisclaimer: I actually like many Disney movies, esp. Bambi, whose father was definitely not foolish, and Lady and the Tramp, which is one of the most romantic movies ever made and caused me to have a tiny crush on a cartoon dog)
Topic on my mind these days is the intelligent design debate. Read excellent articles by Paul Krugman in the NY Times and Jerry Coyne in the New Republic. I feel that I must prepare myself against the inevitable questions an evolutionary biologist will face. The temptation is to hear creationist drivel and just laugh, but it's wrong of me to take actions that widen the gap between the scientific community and the general public. I'm told often that it's my responsibility to help bridge that gap and to enhance scientific learning among all people, and I'm trying very hard to learn how to do that. It's difficult, though; it's one thing to say that science is important for everyone, and another thing entirely to operationalize that.
First meeting with professor for whom I'm TAing is in an hour. Must exude confidence! Must not confess I don't know where the copier is! (actually, not true - I figured that out yesterday. but I have yet to master the stapling function.)
Weather has cooled off to sunny 75-ish days and I'm in heaven. The summer heat was really dragging me down. There's a definite pattern here - I don't mind heat as long as it goes away eventually, and ditto for cold. Late winter and late summer therefore really suck.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Don't mess with...
Got home today from the Botany conference in Austin, where it was *freakin'* hot. Rumors of dry heat are grossly exaggerated; my glasses kept fogging up when I went outside. To compensate, every building in the city has its a/c cranked up too high. I was very cold in the dorm (where the thermostat was apparently a placebo) and had goosebumps during most sessions of the conference. Although, the latter may just have been a ploy to get us to buy long-sleeved commemorative t-shirts.
I kept expecting to see hot blonde women in sundresses, crusty men in cowboy hats, and other indicators of life in sunny Texas. Instead, the people could have been sampled from any city in the U.S., and Chicago women are way hotter. I did see a 30-ish man wearing canary yellow pants, but I'm not sure such a fashion "statement" is appropriate in any climate.
I was happy to be reunited with Schlotzsky's after a long separation. Austin pizza is crap. Never had a chance for tex-mex or barbecue - the thought of partaking of local flavors all by myself made me feel lonely and gloomy so I stuck to impersonal chains and granola bars.
Trip report and pictures later.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Words I hate this week
Am TAing the History of Life class this fall. This makes me v. happy for many reasons, including it's a fun class, I have taken it, and there is no actual teaching involved. My worries about having to confess that I'll be in the Caribbean for a week have been put to rest. Now I can concentrate on finding the proper clothing to wear to said week in the Caribbean. And speaking of hot places, I'm going to Austin soon, so I checked to see what sort of weather they're having these days. This week's forecast was full of 99s. If one person tells me "But it's a dry heat" I may have to do something desperate.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Field Trip, part 2
Hiawatha West, continued...
Exited the forest rather unexpectedly and had to double back, at which time I drove a winding gravel road and saw *hundreds* of butterflies clustered in little clumps on the gravel. I tried to avoid them, I really did, but I am afraid I may have driven over some. I felt awful.
Emerged from Hiawatha West on US-2, which ends up skirting along the edge of Lake Michigan. The nasty rainstorm had passed by, leaving a flawless blue sky, and the lake was electric blue. Along the road, people just pull over on the shoulder and park, and go swim in the lake 100 feet away. Sand occasionally would blow from the beach across the road to the dunes, and there were some spectacular blowouts. I located my campground (the creatively named Lake Michigan campground), sandwiched between US-2 and the lake, where just a short trail over the foredune separated my campsite from the lake. I spent some time on the beach in late afternoon, then turned in.
Day 4 (August 5) - Hiawatha National Forest, East Unit
Awakened before the sun was over the trees, slipped out to the deserted beach, and had a lovely swim and washed my hair in the lake. Not a cloud in the sky... I felt like the only person on the planet (except for the sound of traffic on the highway). I liked thinking about this very same lake being near my house hundreds of miles to the south. I also felt oddly possessive. My lake! Mine! Headed eastward just a short distance and visited the welcome center for a trail map; this area actually has better-marked trails than the other two forests, and the North Country Trail map even had descriptions of some of the vegetation I would find. Hallelujah! I walked the North Country Trail for a short while, though it was *very* overgrown with blackberry bushes, which scraped my legs up terribly, and *very* buggy. Then I emerged at the Brevort River and a more open woodland of white pines and ferns and gorgeous silvery lichens. Then I checked out the Sand Dune Trail, a cross-country trail that is also very little-used in the growing season. I followed the road north towards a neighborhood of tiny houses on a small lake (and mailboxes shaped like bass with wide open mouths... *very* classy), turned off onto a forest road, and discovered a treasure trove of plants in a beech-maple-birch-fir woodland. I even saw the elusive Epifagus, though it was last year's growth. Just beyond the woodland was a meadow filled with butterflies and flowers, and between the sunshine and the warm dry air and the fact that I'd just found a hundred of one of my obscure species, I felt on top of the world. The scenery and camping were lovely throughout the trip, but the work itself sometimes made me so miserable and hopeless that my tiny successes were cause for celebration and dancing (which I did a bit of, in the meadow!).
Drove farther on that road until it dead-ended, and startled a peregrine falcon that was on the ground for some reason (a juvenile?). He flew onto a branch and watched me warily and made funny whistling sounds. I took pictures and kept an eye on the sky in case those whistles were signals for Mama to divebomb my head. I don't know where a peregrine would nest in that area...I didn't think there were many rocky cliffs. I am glad I had the good camera, though. Zoom lenses are nice to have.
One more stop on the road towards Brevort Lake campground to get my oaks, and then I said screw it, I'm *done*, and started for home. I stopped at the viewing area for the Mackinaw Bridge, since the only other time I'd seen it was in March and it was barely visible in the snowy haze. This day, it was vivid and majestic - and only $2.50! A bargain! I left St. Ignace at about 1:00 Chicago time and got home at 9:30, after stopping twice for food and once in Vestaburg to redo my maple collection.
Thoughts in general? Fieldwork can really really suck. Talk about your needles in haystacks! That is exactly why I want to work with common species, things I should find absolutely everywhere. Many of the trees fit that bill, and the trillium, although it's out of season, and the false Solomon's seal to some extent. I saw other plants that might be good, such as the little yellow Baptisia that lined the roadsides throughout the U.P., and a certain goldenrod, and the yellow Tanacetum. Seeing the landscape and getting a feel for what's there was very valuable and I'm glad I went. Plus, I hope I actually collected enough species from enough sites that I can do something useful this winter in the lab. I need to know more about the logging history of the woods, and extend my information beyond the U.P. to Ontario so I can think about sampling even farther next year. With any luck, I'll have company next time, though, and won't feel compelled to rush so much to get home to my husband and my doggies, all of whom I missed muchly. Also, next time I will go to the Mystery Spot, and look for the Paul Bunyan statue, and eat a pasty, and buy some fudge. I'll practically be a native!
Field Trip Report
Went on my first major collecting trip this past week. The pictures are on Actual Film instead of being digital, so it'll be a while before I can post them. Meanwhile, a play-by-play:
Day 1 (August 2) - Kettle Moraine State Forest - North Unit
Left in the morning with what seemd like half the contents of our house in the truck. There is no light travel when camping! Drove to Kettle Moraine North, which is in eastern Wisconsin southeast of Lake Winnebago. I was expecting to be blown away by KM and the glacial landforms for which it's famous, but, well, I wasn't. I think I just wasn't visiting the right places, and forested glacial forms are hard to see. Nothing there packed the visual punch of, say, Camelback Kame in McHenry County, an improbable hill rising out of gently rolling grasslands like the Glastonbury Tor. Anyway, I collected some white pines near the forest HQ building, only to realize that most or all were planted, not natural, and I had to chuck them out. I found a lovely beech-maple woodland where I found many of my plants growing together, but as I hiked I had to keep my hands clamped over my ears to keep mosquitos from climbing into my brain. It was *so* hot and muggy, mid-90s, just awful, and I was wearing long pants and dying a thousand drippy, sticky deaths. Lesson learned, re: clothing in the forest: a layer of Deep Woods Off and a few scratches is far preferable to dying of heat. Just wear the damned shorts, and watch out for poison ivy. I stumbled across another of my plants when I stopped off to look at a kettle bog. I finally left KM, grateful for the a/c in the truck, stopped for some awesome gas station pizza (seriously!), and headed north.
Eastern Wisconsin - there's something about it I don't like much. It doesn't really look much different from northern Illinois, except more cows, but I found the patchy farm-and-forest landscape infuriating for some reason. Maybe I was just frustrated by my marginal successes at KM. I looked forward to the steel bridge over Green Bay but it was a disappointment. Green Bay has completely failed to take advantage of its waterfront; it looks like Gary. No wonder they're such rabid football fans; there's nothing else there to instill a sense of civic pride.
Wriggled my way up to Iron Mountain and then northwest to Iron River, not to be confused with Iron City, which is farther up. The highway wanders across the state line a few times. The country up there was much nicer, mostly wooded, dotted with small, depressed towns. It took me longer to get to Iron River and my campground than I anticipated, and when I got to the campground darkness was falling and I didn't have exact change for the self-service fee station. I drove around a long time, got change, and finally set up camp by the light of my lantern. It rained later, but I was cozy and dry in a virtually empty campground. I awakened at dawn to the sound of a loon, swam in crystal clear Golden Lake, broke camp and got on the road.
Day 2 (August 3) - Ottawa National Forest
Stopped first in the visitor's center, which has a very nice gift shop. I was very tempted by the hats and t-shirts and cute little stuffed porcupines, then realized I was just stalling and made myself leave. A display at the visitor's center described how the forests were clearcut in the early 1900s, which sent me into a panicky crisis - were the trees I was sampling all *planted*?? I called my contact at Ottawa and she confirmed that the hardwoods are natural but the pines may be planted or descended from plantations. The pine question, I have to look into some more. Sampling at the edges of the old-growth wilderness areas may be an option, but sampling *in* those areas is out of the question, even for a privileged science type like me. And a note: there are no white oaks here, and no record of starry false Solomon's seal in the past several decades. I wanted to find it and be famous, but no dice.
I spent much time driving aimlessly and getting more and more frustrated, debated just going home, fought off the urge to pull over and cry, etc. It was not a good day, although at least it was cooler. I finally found some of my plants in various places, including a terrible little gravel road sprinkled with what appeared to be chunks of pointy basalt. I was grateful for the truck's 4WD on this road, which kept trying to shake me off into the ditch. Listening fearfully for the sound of popping tires, I drove into the forest and collected oaks and maples and such, and took what I hope is an interesting photo of a pine plantation. Plantations are interspersed with the hardwoods throughout all of these national forests, and the abrupt change in forest character is startling. However, I'm happy to see that the resources are being managed so carefully. I can't imagine what it must have looked like when pretty much the whole U.P. was clearcut. It must have looked like the moon. Did the loggers experience any remorse, or was it all about taking everything the land offers and then moving on?
So, Ottawa's collection was disappointing. Next time - get a better map that delineates which parcels are forest and which are private. It was very fragmented and difficult to tell. At one point, I was cruising down the road and gazing at oak trees, wondering if they were on forest land, when a yellow sign caught my eye. I pulled over to read it; it said this is a national forest survey marker, and everything behind this sign is national forest. Can't get much clearer than that!
Left Ottawa, headed east toward Marquette, an actual city! Stopped at a Beef-a-Roo in Negaunee. This was the Beef-a-Roo that time forgot, though, with 1970s menuboards and fries that were very much like canned shoestring potatoes. Was creeped out by the people in the parking lot - carloads and vanloads of teenagers and adults, just...hanging out. I guess this is what you do when you live in Negaunee. An old guy who had been sitting in a van parked bumper-to-bumper with me started up just as I was pulling out, and I thought he was going to follow me. Good luck, I thought, gearing up for the chase. I'd become one with the truck over the last couple of days and there was no outdriving us. But he went a different way. Sigh.
The road followed Lake Superior for a while, and I stopped more than once to look at it. There are lots of roadside parks and rest areas on these roads that edge the lakes, probably so people don't feel compelled to stare at the lake instead of traffic. Lake Superior is gorgeous but since I do live a short way from another lake that extends to the horizon, it was less overwhelming than it could have been. Plus, was hazy and overcast. I stopped in at a welcome center where two bored employees engaged me in conversation and threw maps and guidebooks at me and told me about the eagles nesting nearby. Finally got to the Bay Furnace campground at Christmas, where every shop is Santa's this and Santa's that. Campground was very busy and there were lots of shrieking children. Lovely.
Day 3 (August 4) - Hiawatha National Forest, West Unit
Next morning, went to see the actual Bay furnace, and drove to Munising, the gateway town for Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Briefly visited Munising Falls, and saw some of my plants there and was sad that I couldn't take them. Grumbled at the overcast weather, which eventually turned into driving rain. Nothing like driving in unfamiliar territory, somewhat lost, and being blinded by rain. Looked for an AM radio station for a weather report. The radio scan went all the way around and found not a thing.
Drove south on Forest Highway 13, which bisects the forest, and took occasional side roads to see where they led. Found a *gorgeous* place for pines and oaks off what may have been a dirt logging road. Picked wild blueberries and ate them, more because it's so charming to pick wild blueberries than because I like them. Pondered the policy that encourages people to go blueberry picking but freaks out when I want a few tree twigs to further my education. Had lunch at Island Lake campground, where tiny fish lined up in the shallow water when I approached, waiting for handouts. I obliged with crackers, and they churned the water like vegetarian barracuda.
Saving... more in the next post.
So I get this call from some chick who works for the Botanical Society, and she basically says I reserved a room at the conference and was I planning on ever paying for it? I said I hadn't been given instructions on how to pay, and figured I would pay when I got there. She said in a snippy trixie voice that, uh, NO, the email told me what to do, and she's not sure how someone as clueless and illiterate as myself was given membership in the BSA in the first place. Or something along those lines. I just now dredged up the email in question, and it says *nothing* about payment. Bitch.