Monday, December 15, 2014

"CITIZEN SCIENCE" EXPEDITION!

Although you cannot tell by looking, this is a group of "citizen scientists", who, less than 24 hours earlier, had all been complete strangers to each other!  However, they all had at least one thing in common---a desire to make the world a better place through wise use of our natural resources.

The group met at the Harp Environmental Field Station, located on a mountain top, above the Buffalo River at Toney Bend.  We were there to participate in the longest running Citizen Science Survey in the world!

A plaque on the wall at the entrance to the field station, gives a history of the person for whom the station is named.  The Field Station is under the "umbrella" of the National Park Service, and serves many purposes in the on-going mission of the park service, to be a steward of the Buffalo National River.

The large space has several rooms with bunk beds: there are also conference rooms, dining room, laundry room, restrooms, kitchen, and expansive outdoor decks.

Our host for the event was National Park Service Ranger/Interpreter, Michael Simpson.  He arrived with five large pizzas from the prize winning artisan pizza making spot called "Nima's", of Gassville, Arkansas

Seeing the beautiful design on top of this pizza, makes it easy to see why they have won numerous national pizza competitions!

We were told that preparing the ingredients for a pizza like the one in this photo, takes two days, because of the special marinades they use on the fresh ingredients.

Even though it was a bit of a drive for the park ranger to get from Nima's in Gassville, Arkansas, to the Rush, Arkansas, area where our group was located, the overwhelming delight of the diners showed the trip was worth it!  We owe a big THANK YOU to the Buffalo National River Partners (www.BNRPartners.org ) for making it possible for us to enjoy such a gourmet treat!

After supper, we had a program by Jack Stewart (A Director for the National Audubon Society), that taught us about the Christmas Bird Count.  This is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere done annually by volunteer birdwatchers, and administered by the National Audubon Society ( www.audubon.org ).  Previous to the twentieth century, it was a common practice in the days around Christmas to have "side hunts", where the only goal was to see how many birds could be killed in a single hunt.  However, in 1900, a U.S. ornithologist proposed counting birds at this time of year instead of killing them.  Since then, the counts have been held every winter.  The first year, there were 25 observers in 27 places in the U.S. and Canada.  During the 113th count (2013), 71,531 people participated in 2,369 locations!

Jack Stewart explained to our group that the census is performed in a "count circle" with a diameter of 15 miles. 

To make sure our volunteers were "bright-eyed and bushy-tailed", there was plenty of hot coffee prepared for us, as we all got up long before dawn!

It was a beautiful sight to see the white fog above the Buffalo River Valley in the first light of the day, as we emerged from out mountain top location, to greet the birds!

We started out with flash lights, but slowly the morning light revealed the vastness of the landscape in front of us. 

It is customary for every small group to have a recorder, who writes down the name of the bird seen, and makes hash marks, to indicate how many of that particular species. 

It was an interesting coincidence that two of the ladies in the group---both of them graduates of Harrison High School (albeit in different centuries!)---would each be sporting embroidered patches that read "Ski Marble Falls--Dogpatch, Arkansas"!! 

As our group was finishing up their dawn bird census, the sun was just beginning to rise above the horizon.  We had done an "owl prowl" the night before, but the birds heard from that experience could not be counted, because the Christmas Bird Count does not officially start until one minute after midnight on December 14, and runs through January 5, 2015. 

It wasn't until I started writing this blog, that I realized that the people shown in this photo are doing what Jesus Himself told us to do!  Jesus said, "Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?"  Matthew 6:26.

Participation in the Christmas Bird Count is open to all, and is free.  I was there as a volunteer from the Arkansas Master Naturalist group ( www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ), but other folks helping with the count were not members of any particular organization; rather, they just wanted to be a part of such a worthwhile endeavor as the Christmas Bird Count.  If you would like to participate, go to the Christmas Bird Count ( CBC ) section of the Audubon web site, to find out more details.

I
want to thank National Park Service Ranger Michael Simpson for being an inspiring host/interpreter for our group, and recommend you check out the park service website ( www.nps.gov/buff  ) to find out more about the wonderful outdoor opportunties that await you in the Ozarks!  It will give you "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia

Saturday, November 22, 2014

WRM EXPEDITION!

The White River Marathon is well-established event that takes participants along the beautiful White River, in Cotter, Arkansas.  It is a Boston Marathon Qualifier Race.  It consists of a full marathon, a half marathon, and a 5K.  
 2014 marks the 11th year for the White River Marathon for Kenya ( www.whiterivermarathon.com ), and one of my "rituals" of this event, has been to get a photo made with David and Roxanne Johnson.  This year was no exception!  The Johnsons have had the opportunity to travel to Katito, Kenya, and be an eye witness to the benefits that the community has received, from the thousands of dollars raised by the White River Marathon. 
The
photo with the Johnsons took place before the race, and this photo with my friend Diane Quinn, took place after the race.  We were both very stoked to have won a medal in our age division!

At the finish line, I wanted a photo with the Race Director, Paul Gigliotti.  That too, is a bit of a tradition, because I had a photo made at the very first race with the kind lady who originally envisioned this worthwhile event---Laurie Kaysinger---who served as the Race Director for many years.  Next year the race is scheduled for Saturday, November 21, 2015.  It is limited to 700 participants, and since it completely filled up this year, I would recommend that you get your application in early!  Registration opens January 30, 2015. 
I have a collection of
cotton tee shirts with this logo on it in just about every color imaginable.  This years tee shirt starts a new trend, however, as it is the new light-weight, quick drying synthetic fabric that many races are switching to.  Also, the logo and print appear pale gray, but when light shines on the pale gray it glows bright white!  Since one of my first status updates on Facebook after the race was "PTL", which means "PRAISE THE LORD", it seems appropriate that this would be an appropriate visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that starts out with "PTL"!  It says, "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."  Psalm 103:2    You can be sure that I am praising the LORD for the White River Marathon/Half Marathon/5K, and praising the LORD that I was able to finish the 5K with a first place medal for my age division!  Likewise, I am praising all the race workers, volunteers, and businesses who donated money and supplies to make it such a success!  You have given us 11 years, filled with "MILES OF SMILES"!  Tricia

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A TOWERING EXPEDITION!

I was absolutely DELIGHTED when I found out that the regional Project Learning Tree workshop ( www.plt.org ) I was attending in southeast Oklahoma was going to include climbing a fire lookout tower!  The last time I climbed a fire tower was on the final day of my senior year of high school, when some girlfriends and I drove to the top of Boat Mountain in Boone County, Arkansas, and climbed to the top of the fire tower there.  The details in my mind are fuzzy of that day, but it is possible that we skipped school, and it is possible, that we were not authorized to be climbing that tower.  However, since the statue of limitations has long since expired on the endeavor, it is time for "true confession"!  Fortunately, for this "climbing expedition", we had staff members from the Oklahoma Department of Forestry giving us some history on the use of fire towers, and what life was like for those who had this job.  The tower was at the end of a very steep and rough dirt road, that climbed to the top of one of the tallest mountains in the Ouachita Mountain Range of that area.  Besides the tower, there was the home for the fire tower worker and his family, as well as several out buildings.


Climbing the tower was an "optional" activity, so anyone that had a fear of heights was welcome to stay on the ground and have an alternate course of study.  However, since the Master Naturalist who was climbing ahead of me seemed to be doing okay, I decided to proceed upward and onward!

These days the fire tower serves more as an "anchor" for a multitude of communication antennas, than as a full-time location for a forest service employee.

Once I made it to the top, and was inside, I had to have my photo made with one of the forest service employees who staffs one of the few remaining fire towers in Oklahoma.

It was a hot and sunny day in October, when our group climbed up to the top of the fire tower, and entered its tiny enclosure.  You can be sure, we were GREATLY outnumbered by the hundreds of wasps swarming the inside compartment, as well as the stairs on the way to the top.  Our guide told us they would not hurt us, as long as we did not accidentally lay our hand down on one of them that were crawling on the hand rails.  Between watching where I put my feet on the steep ladder, and watching where I put my hands on the wasp-covered railings, it was an exciting adventure!

This photo shows the "trap door" in the floor of the fire tower that can be locked, to keep out uninvited human beings from getting inside the tower.

As you look down from the top of the tower, and see how old the rust-covered supports appear to be, one begins to wonder if this was the wisest decision or not!

Our guide was skilled at "hollering" down to those below, to see if anyone else wanted to make the climb up to the top. 

One final thought:
While I was being greeted by a WASP at every step of the ladder, and the WASP buzzed my head when inside the top compartment, I felt very intimidated and a little scared.  It reminded me what a visitor from another race or culture might feel like when they are surrounded by the WASP ( WhiteAngloSaxonProtestant) members of my Bible study group.  I can see why my group of human "WASP" might be scary and intimidating to a foreigner.  Therefore, I resolved to make such a person feel welcome, and not scared!  So although this experience of climbing a wasp-infested fire tower might be viewed as a hardship, or a persecution, or a difficulty, or an insult, or an activity to point out a weakness, but if it was done for Christ's sake, to make me a stronger person, then I can delight in it!  In fact, I can use it as a visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses:  "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  2 Corinthians 12:10    The experience of climbing this fire tower taught me a lesson about wasps, but it also gave me an appreciation for the hardships, persecutions, and difficulties, that those forest "watchtower" folks have endured over the years!  Thanks to their endeavors, we can continue to enjoy our beautiful forests, and have "MILES OF SMILES"!


Monday, November 3, 2014

RCW EXPEDITION!

This is a photo of a "Wildlife Technician".  Until last week, I had no idea there was such a career position as "Wildlife Technician", but thanks to a workshop I was able to attend as part of my training for being a Master Naturalist ( www.home.ArkansasMasterNaturalists.org ), I learned that a person who enjoys working in the outdoors, and has either an associate degree or bachelor's degree in Wildlife Management, can be paid to spend time outdoors climbing trees!  According to various Internet job posting websites, the pay can range from $30,000-$35,000.  I would suggest if you take such a job that you also like solitude, because the site where the man in the photo worked was VERY remote, and about as deep in the back woods as one can go.
One reason that his location in Oklahoma is so remote is because he is in charge of protecting the habitat of the (rarely visible) Red Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW).  The RCW is on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species List, and you can read more details about the bird on their website at www.fws.gov .  The wildlife technician is holding up one of the birdhouses that have been designed to serve as a "refuge" for the RCW, and so I am using this image as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."  Psalm 46:1 . The RCW is the only woodpecker that uses exclusively LIVE trees to excavate their nesting cavity.  An additional criteria is that the cavity be in a mature pine over 80 years old.  With such narrow criteria, it is easy to understand why their habitat is shrinking due to urban development, agriculture, timbering, and hunting.  The Wildlife Technician is in charge of caring for a "cluster" of cavity trees that usually takes up about 10 acres. 

Our group got to see the technician climb this very old and tall pine tree in a matter of minutes---without any assistance from anyone---to demonstrate how he climbs up to various nests he is monitoring, to see how many eggs are in the nest, and make sure that predators such as rat snakes have not eaten the eggs or fledglings. By the way, the ladder does not stay on the tree all the time.  He carries the various sections of the ladder on his climbing harness, and assembles them as he goes higher and higher up the tree.

This is a photo of one of "his" RCW that he showed us.  The actual birds are about the size of a cardinal (7" long), with a 15" wingspan.  The male has a small red streak on each side of its black cap, called a cockade.  (A cockade was a word that came into use in the 1800's to refer to a ribbon or other ornament worn on a hat.)  The female RCW does not have the red streak.  One reason the RCW is considered so important is because it is classified as a "keystone" species because their cavities are used by other animals---27 other species, to be exact!  The RCW are the primary cavity nesters--meaning they build the cavity, which allows for "secondary" users.  I think I detect a tiny little smile on this bird, and I know learning this new fact about nature gave me MILES OF SMILES!  Tricia

Thursday, October 30, 2014

BEAVERS BEND STATE PARK EXPEDITION!

Beavers Bend State Park consists of 1300 acres of woods and water in Southeast Oklahoma.  It has several different entrances, and the green logos on the entrance signs give a clue about what activities are available in the various sections of the park.  There are also explanations and maps of the park on the website www.TravelOK.com .

One of the Beavers Bend State Park areas is home to Lakeview Lodge, that looks out over Broken Bow Lake.  It is an elegant facility, and may account for the fact that Beavers Bend State Park is one of the most visited state parks in all of Oklahoma.


The three stories of guest rooms have balconies, and are situated on a hill overlooking the water. 

For those who prefer to camp, there are tent sites, as well as RV sites.  Many of the camping sites are adjacent to the water.  The hammock shown in this photo looked very inviting!

My purpose in visiting Beavers Bend State Park was to participate in an advanced training workshop to obtain the continuing education necessary to be certified as an Arkansas Master Naturalist ( www.Home.ArkansasMasterNaturalists.org ).  The workshop participants had reserved the "Group Camp" area of Beavers Bend State Park, which was the former location of the housing for the CCC guys that built the park.  This photo shows the rustic cabins where we slept for two nights.  Each cabin was equipped with ten bunk beds, but since there were only four women per cabin, we were able to have ample space.  I thought it was interesting that the random room assignments ended up putting four ladies in my cabin---three of whom were given the name "Patricia" when they were born!!

Our group received a special "after hours" tour of the park's Nature Center, and the Director of the Nature Center (shown in the photo) was able to give thorough explanations about all the displays and tell their significance in the history and preservation of the natural areas of the park. 

Beavers Bend State Park is well known for its good fishing, so we had the opportunity to learn some fly fishing and casting techniques from an expert angler that was part of the teaching staff.  I am using this photo as the visual aid for one of my First Place 4 Health memory verses that says "Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you." I Peter 5:7.  Since the lady shown in this photo is holding a fly rod, it means she has advanced from the first part of the class, which consisted of us practicing with a two-foot long stick, with a string on the far end of it, and the stick held beneath our wrist, with a thick rubber bracelet.  Of course, the purpose of this first part of the fishing clinic was to teach us not to bend our wrist when we were doing our casting.  We got to keep the rubber bracelets, and I am going to use mine to remind me NOT to be anxious, but instead CAST my worries to the Lord! 

I am using this photo that I took of a tree in our camp that was shrouded in fog, as a reminder to say that one of the sponsors of the weekend workshop was Project Learning Tree ( www.plt.org ) which provides environmental education for teachers in both formal settings like schools, and informal settings, such as park volunteers/scout leaders/etc.  If you ever have the opportunity to participate in one of their training days, GRAB IT!  You learn a tremendous amount of important information, and receive some fantastic teaching resources!

Our workshop participants took most of their meals in the dining hall that was also part of the original CCC camp.  Although it is now equipped with a modern, institutional-style kitchen, our first meal when we arrived on Friday, had all been prepared outdoors---old style---in Dutch ovens.  The wonderful aroma that permeated the air on the porch, was a hint of how delicious it was going to be!

Water sports of all kinds are possible at Beavers Bend State Park.  There is a concession that rents canoes, kayaks, standup paddle boards, pedal boats, and even bumper boats!  In the main body of the lake, motorized boats are also popular, as is scuba diving.

Another one of the sponsors of the weekend workshop was Project Wet ( www.ProjectWet.org ).  This is a non-profit foundation that provides water education curriculum to students, and explains about the wise use of our water resources.  This photo shows an Oklahoma entomology professor straining a section of the trout stream to see what insects can be found there.  By regularly collecting and recording the type of insects in a stream, we can assess the water quality over a given period of time. 

Early on the last day of the workshop, I was out for a walk beside the lake, and the fog coming off the water was still encircling the trees.  My eye caught what looked like "steps" going up one of the very tall trees.  (Of course, closer examination showed that they were not man-made, rather nature-made "steps" of beautiful shelf mushrooms, ascending the trunk at regular intervals.)  They serve as a reminder to encourage everyone to TAKE STEPS to get outside and enjoy God's great outdoors!  It will give you MILES OF SMILES!  Tricia

LOUISVILLE BELLE BIRTHDAY EXPEDITION!

In
December of last year, I wrote in my blog about a big celebration planned in Louisville, Kentucky, in the fall of 2014, to honor the 100 year birthday of the steamboat Belle of Louisville.  By the grace of God, I was able to be on board the famous boat on October 18, 2014, to be a part of that birthday party!

The
cruise I took was the first one of the morning, and some of the participants chose to participate in a breakfast buffet that was offered in the spacious dining room. 



I knew I would be more interested in being out on the deck taking photos, so I chose the "sightseeing only" option for the cruise I took.  One of the sights we saw was this huge civil engineering project to construct a new bridge for Interstate 65 across the Ohio River, connecting the states of Indiana and Kentucky.  I am eager to return, to drive across that structure when it is completed!

One of the first homes we sailed past, had put out a huge banner with birthday greetings to the "Old Lady" of the river!

The
three area cities--New Albany, Jeffersonville, and Louisville--of The Belle's home port were all joining in the celebration to welcome the visiting boats from up and down the USA waterways.  One of those visiting was the Spirit of Peoria, with its ornate deck rails, banners, window shutters, and paddle wheel.



Our
sightseeing cruise took us by river marinas where locals kept their houseboats and "wannabe" paddle wheelers!

We also cruised by the location where the gigantic American Queen www.AmericanQueenSteamboatCompany.com ) was moored.  This is the largest steamboat ever built and the only authentic paddle wheeler offering overnight trips on the Mississippi River.  Though it features the style of classical steamboats, the vessel is also outfitted with modern cabins and dining rooms.   Notice how much bigger it is than the Spirit of Peoria which is sailing past her. 

We were able to get views of the Louisville skyline after the boat pushed away from Riverfront Park.  The tall hotel in the photo---The Galt House---is where I stayed, which was the headquarters hotel for the Centennial Festival of Riverboats.  My room had a great view of the Ohio River, as well as the wharf where the Belle of Louisville, and its accompanying ticket office, is moored.

All the boats providing cruises for the Centennial Festival of Riverboats, had re-enactors aboard, dressed in the colorful wardrobes of 100 years ago. 

One of the interesting sites we sailed by was the Louisville Water Tower ( www.LouisvilleWaterTower.com ).  The tall white tower on the left of the photo is the oldest ornamental water tower in the world, built BEFORE the more famous Chicago Water Tower.  Both the white tower and its pumping station are on the National Register of Historic Places.  The industrial nature of the water pumping station was disguised in the form of a Greek temple complex.  The tower began operation in 1860.  The location of the pumping station on the Ohio River made it easy to deliver the coal needed to operate its pumping station.  The tower ceased operations in 1909.  The building is still used for special functions, and there is a waterworks museum in the west wing of the original pumping station. 



This photo shows the Belle of Louisville in front of the city skyline who owns her.  Since this famous boat is sort of "the firstborn" of the remaining operational riverboats, I am using the image as a visual aid for my First Place 4 Health ( www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verse that says, "Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."  Romans 8:29.    I hope YOU are predestined to get to make a fun trip to the Louisville waterfront sometime in the future!  Even if you missed the 100 year birthday party, you can still enjoy an upcoming river festival called "The Great Steamboat Race", held annually in conjunction with the week of the world-famous Kentucky Derby.  Just as the Kentucky Derby is always the first Saturday in May, "The Great Steamboat Race", is always held the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby.  The event is free of charge, and you can find out more details from the Kentucky Derby Festival website at www.kdf.org  .  I am giving thanks that I was able to participate in this great riverboat celebration, and hope such a trip is also in your destiny---it will give you MILES OF SMILES!  Tricia