Friday, July 23, 2010

Sticky heat

According to the frequently tared scales at my gym, I lost 5 pounds this week. No change in diet, no manic running, no magic pill, simply a loss of water weight. If I eat the cantaloupe in the refrigerator, I'll gain it back, I'm sure.

It's a little unfortunate that vegetation monitoring season ramps into gear in the heat of July, but I'm not complaining. I never grow tired of placing the three sided quadrat tool over a thick bed of warm season grass and forbs.

Veg monitoring in the Ozarks (at least in the places where I do my work) is as much fun as those marathon tennis matches Alyssa and I used to play in the heat of August in Louisiana. We'd set out in the morning for the courts and play for hours. Over and over and over, game after game. It's an addiction, playing tennis, and similarly is vegetation sampling. Even after I've lost a couple pounds of water weight, I can keep going. But just as I lack patience for tennis partners who don't take the game seriously-- you know, the people who send lob shots over the fence or onto the adjacent soccer court and laugh about it-- I grow antsy when the species count in my quadrats is really low. So I dig. I look for little burned out guys like the remaining sherds of Arennaria serpylifolia or a raggedy gray Scuttelaria patula that flowered months ago. It's truly an addiction.

Take the deer-infested woods from last week: inside the exclosure I averaged 14 species/quadrat. Outside the exclosure: two species, Geum canadense (a veritable ground cover) and thick mats of Diarrhena obovata, a very pretty grass, but not...exactly...what's supposed to be there in such dense stands. But really, it's the future of our woodlands if we don't do something about the deer problem--in a matter of years, we'll have a converted landscape, one covered in low quality grasses, sedges, certain weedy ferns (the ones that cows didn't eat), and a handful of forbs unpalatable to deer (like Geum). Sampling won't be as much fun when that happens, but when it does, I'll just spend all my time inside the exclosures, remembering what once was.

There's no way to manage the heat in the field. My friends don't even consider backpacking during summer months in Missouri. It takes fortitude, just as veg sampling does. My trusty lightweight Patagonia trousers clung to my sticky and tick-covered legs every day this week; I remained sopping wet for hours, and when my clothes dried, they smelled like vinegar from all the bacteria growing on them. But it's worth it. Glades are full of life right now, and woodlands are magical in the late afternoon when the sun slants in between the trees and you can see all the spiderwebs in front of you.


Justin Thomas said...

I'm so glad to hear that there is at least ONE other sampling soul out there besides me. I share your sentiment. Each day in the heat is a new Everest. Stay cool, sista.

Allison Vaughn said...

It's a race against time. The sedges are burned out, and vio ped et al. spring wildflowers are hardly perceptible. My days are long on the glades and I love it.

Travis said...

i loathe the summertime woodland spider webs though. there was a time when i thought they were funny, but the past few years they just serve to drive me mad.
rarely see bugs in the webs either.

Allison Vaughn said...

You should walk behind tall people like I do. They clear the path, and pick up the seed ticks. Happy Chanterelle hunting! Got a whole sack today.