Thursday, June 26, 2014

Cascade Springs, in bright green and yellow

Ralph Waldo Emerson said “the earth laughs in flowers;” Gary Larson pointed out that the earth engages in sexual activity through flowers. Whether your leanings are emotive or biologic, there are a lot of beautiful wildflowers at Cascade Springs in Uinta National Forest, Utah. This past Saturday, it was my duty to deliver a guided walk at this verdant artesian spring (even though I work for the National Park Service.) The American Fork Canyon hosts a rare level of cooperation and partnership between the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service: Forest Rangers join the staff of the National Park Service visitor center, and Park Rangers deliver guided programs in National Forest areas. (The USFS and NPS belong to separate branches of the federal government, and have very different approaches to land management. Look it up on Wikipedia to find out more.) 

In preparation for the guided event, I visited Cascade Springs solo, and created the watercolor painting at the bottom of this page. Against the backdrop of purple mountains, the springs are quite full of yellow monkeyflowers, with aspen and water birch growing about the shoreline. Stellar's jays, hummingbirds, and western tanagers fly through and about; dragonflies dart through the skies in pursuit of tasty mosquitoes, occasionally a rubber boa slithers past. I took note of a web in the bush, the home of a tiny, almost translucent spider. I watched a small insect (I'll say a tiny moth) land in this web, and become tangled in its strands. The spider coiled back, and felt the web strands, to assess the situation. She prepared to spring into action. I got ready to see the drama of life and death which pervades nature at all scales, from spider and insect to grizzly bear and caribou. The moth thrashed about, ripped free of the web, and flew off. Also at all scales, the prey escapes most of the time.

My students a few days later were a few families and and a middle-aged couple. The kids were glad to learn about some trees and insects, and the art and science of field watercolor painting. (Or en plein air if you want to sound like a fancy artistic type.) And their mothers were not too proud to join and give it a try. I had one school teacher on vacation on board, and she could not resist but to jump in and help out with all setup and take-down. 

My next task was to rove Cascade Springs, and entertain questions and complaints which I wasn't much prepared to answer about entry fees for the Forest Service area. I also listened to gripes about the absence of running water (for the drinking fountains and bathrooms) at the Springs. I too was a bit puzzled as to why the water was still shutoff for winter, even on June 21st. I noted that I was of a different agency, then moved further from the parking lot and sought areas where there were more trees and fish to discuss. There is always a bit of tumult in the oasis, and that is why we have rangers.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The original interpretation of Wind Cave (and some new and youthful renditions)

Out of the blue, our physical scientist at Timpanogos Cave informed me that Wind Cave has a new sign up at its entrance. I was not involved in this project. The sign is great! While Wind Cave has many intriguing stories from the annals of its geology and history, perhaps none of these have the emotional potency of the Lakota genesis. The Lakota people claim Wind Cave as their place of emergence, and that of the buffalo (bison). To them, the bison is the living spirit of Tatanka, the shaman who sacrificed himself so that the people could live. This makes every bison meal and every block of pemmican a sort of Eucharist for Native Americans. In the new sign, members of the five tribes affiliated with Wind Cave explain the sacred site in their own words:

Although I cannot match the power of their interpretation, I wish to share some murals, which I and our visiting youngsters created together at Wind Cave. Each of these pictures accorded with one of our lessons in the Adventures in Nature winter educational programs. The kids colored the mural as a sort of warm-up, before undertaking a series of hands-on activities about the day's theme. The (deliberately pixelated) picture is from our "Underground Treasures" event. It shows Rangers Amanda and Matthew introducing the youngsters to caving, before the kids split into smaller groups, conducted experiments about speleogenesis, tried caving techniques on a model cave (made of cardboard boxes!), and visited the real cave. And the bigger kids even surveyed and mapped parts of cave! I drew the giant size coloring book style murals with a sharpie, and the kids went wild on the coloring. (And in some cases, they added their own objects and characters to the scenes.) The kids ranged in ages from three to fifteen, and so we see some varied approaches to color. When I was three, I too was a natural abstract expressionist. The images here are a little less produced than the usual sketchbook and comics entries which appear on this blog, but hey, it's untrammeled like the imaginations of children....


NPS work is non-copyrighted.