Sunday, September 29, 2013

Back in the Field

My land, it's been a long six weeks since surgery, but last week I was finally able to hike hills and glades and unburned woods in White River country. Palafoxia was in bloom, the summer wildflower that is quite common down there (and also on the Hwy 54 corridor from a planting)...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Glade Verification

The glade mapping project I’ve been engaged in for more than four years is coming to a close, with over 85,000 glade polygons mapped. While it’s unrealistic to step foot on each mapped glade, field verification has shown that the methodology we’ve employed has worked well. Most recently I learned that there are hundreds of glades around Tuscumbia and St. Anthony, though driving through the area I never would have suspected this rolling country would harbor so many—of questionable quality like most glades in Missouri, but glades by definition. The same situation occurs around Truman Lake in the Western Ozarks where hundreds of glades rest quietly, waiting for restoration.

But in the intergrade region of the Cole Camp quadrangle, where the former prairies meet the Ozarks, the line of demarcation between former prairie and rocky, dry woods that support shallow bedrock communities depends more on the topography than on any signature one can glean from infrared and leaf-off images. The quadrangle is literally split in two: wooded hillsides with a few scattered glades in the southern part of the quad, and overgrazed pasture with little elevation change and barely a shred of native vegetation in the north half. Regardless, row by row, I look for glades, scanning for the signatures.

Using only the infrared imagery, cedar-choked woods on broad, flat pastured plains can carry the glade signature. However, the methodology includes close examination of other layers on ArcView. In the Cole Camp quadrangle, the topography helps tremendously to tell the story to delineate glades covered in cedars and flat ground old pasture covered in cedars. But then I thought about the Springfield Plain and all of those little limestone glades in the middle of gently undulating fescue pastures. Or the sandstone glade that provides a scenic overlook in the middle of a tallgrass prairie with a high quality stream below. The vegetation is more aligned with a glade than a prairie (for example, it’s the only place in 3,000 acres that I encountered Coreopsis palmata; it’s C. grandiflora country throughout the landscape). In the Cole Camp quad, I’m going to trust my judgment that the glades are in the southern portion with the wooded Ozark country, and the north is dominated by pastures with wall-to-wall cedars. Perhaps on my way to Eichenberg Winery I’ll do some field verification just to make sure.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Trying to Manage Seed Ticks

They must be the only downside to late summer hiking in Missouri, those millions and millions of seed ticks that end up on trouser legs after busting through a rich grass-forb mix. I made my first foray into seed tick-infested woods to finish my sampling last week (ill-fated and it set back my recovery by at least two weeks). But this time, I heeded my colleague's advice to help manage the overabundance of ticks in deer problem woods.

Starting around May 1, before heading to the woods, I wrap my trouser's ankles in duct tape which invariably leads to duct tape residue on my field clothes. I really don't mind what my trousers look like after days in the field, and certainly appreciate the level of security this practice affords as a preventive measure to keep ticks away. But this year, my colleague tried something new: Wrap the duct tape around the ankles with the sticky side out to keep the adhesive from staining trousers and to trap seed ticks which you first encounter with each step into the woods. After about twenty paces into rich woods last week, my sticky-side-out duct tape looked like this, hundreds of seed ticks and hundreds of Desmodium seeds:

I've always had romantic notions of backpacking for my mid-September birthday, but having been absolutely destroyed by seed ticks on September 6 and still recovering from surgery, I won't be venturing out to the St. Francois Mountains until after a tick-killing frost.

The sticky side out duct tape managed to trap literally thousands of seed ticks that day in the field, and yet I'm still covered in welts from where the seed ticks made their way into my clothes. When I revisit the hospital for post-surgery followup appointments, I'll have to explain that no, I don't have bedbugs in my house, and no, I don't live in squalor. I just go to the Ozark woods in late summer.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Recovery Reading List

Today marks the end of Week 2 of four weeks of prescribed bed rest following major surgery. Yes, cabin fever is setting in, and yes, one person can only read so much before said person wants to hit the tennis courts, a trail, or just a bath. I'm trying very diligently to remain still, spending hours in my dilapidated Adirondack chair in the backyard surrounded by desiccating Solidago canadense, Desmodiums and the suite of Eupatoriums that comes along with urban areas. I want to run but it's painful to walk. So I read books from my shelf, and I sulk. I make great company these days.

Among the books I've read in the past few weeks, one was a gift from my mother, a terrific book by the esteemed Douglas Brinkley, a book about Katrina. So many people sent me Katrina-related books after the storm, and I haven't had the stomach to finish any of them until now, 8 years after the storm. Laid up, I finally finished David Eggers' Zeitoun, a sort of biography of the man who painted my two story Marigny walkup a few years before the storm. I stopped reading it three years ago because he wrote about all of the abandoned dogs whom he heard howling every night. The book offers redemption and a good insight into how frustrating it must have been to return home in late 2005. But Douglas Brinkley's book, The Great Deluge, is a well-researched (which translates into very frustrating) book about the bureaucratic failures that led to over 1,000 deaths in the city and irreversible changes that have kept me in Missouri for 8 years. Next up, maybe in another year or so, I'll break into Chris Rose's One Dead in the Attic. A Reed graduate and long time columnist for the Times-Picayune, Rose stuck around after the storm and had to live through the horrors that I fled. A compassionate writer, he tells stories of citizens and of his own travails of trying to manage life in New Orleans after the storm.

I pulled a couple of Annie Dillard books from the shelf last week, both gifts in 1995 from my housemate in Brooklyn, an NYU film major who thought I was "curious" because I was passionate about natural history but majoring in the Classics. He also thought I was "strange" because I was reared as an Episcopalian in a largely Catholic state. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) is a terrific read about the natural world around Roanoke, Virginia and An American Childhood resonates with me as an adult view of growing up around natural systems and how a small family fit into it. Dillard is a very skilled writer who is reminiscent of Caroline Dorman, my childhood hero, the author of the first illustrated Wildflowers of Louisiana. Dillard has a rawness about her writing which is, at the same time, honed to a craft that celebrates the fluidity of nature while recognizing the human element that comes with observation. I haven't read her books since the summer before graduate school, so these books were fun departures in my backyard chair.

A must read for anyone interested even vaguely in the natural world we live in today, Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreckage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenburg is a truly fabulously depressing book about natural history in the age of wildlife agencies who work arduously to remove top predators from the landscape. Oh, he writes of early studies in aquatic systems--remove the sea otter and you have a sea full of anemones and no other life, and then moves to my arch-enemy, the white tailed deer. He references that wonderful work conducted in Wisconsin over the course of 50 years wherein botanists tracked species decline due to white-tailed deer infestation and the continued adamance of wildlife agencies to remove predators to favor the deer tags that bring them revenue. This book can easily be placed in the context of Missouri, with wildlife agency folks "discouraging" the reproduction of mountain lions and even bears. We have a serious problem with deer herbivory in Missouri, but no one (besides me, my boss, maybe a few others, maybe some farmers who apply for depredation tags) really seems to give a damn about the impacts of deer overpopulation on biodiversity. Mr. Stolzenburg does, so I love this book.

The book I'm reading now came from Doug's mother who is a fine MFA writer and poet from Oregon. She not only sent me a darling Eileen West nightgown for my hospital stay, but a few days later this travelogue with a potentially marketable but not accurate title: Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific by J. Maarten Troost. Carolyn was wise to explain in a post-it note that the title didn't reflect the book's character; she's never steered me wrong in recommendations, so I delved headlong into it. In the book, Troost set out with his girlfriend to live in a very impoverished island in the South Seas. No, not a Fiji sort of place with haute cuisine, but a horrific place of poverty, on an atoll, where not even the beaches are fun to visit because of all of the defecating that goes on there. It's been a fun read, and it's been a travelogue, and considering that I can't even walk up a hill to a restaurant in Columbia at this moment in my life, it's nice to transport even to a place where the only music available is a continuous mix loop of La Macarena.