Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Meet Mr. Slug

Pacific Banana Slug
Ariolimax columbianus

I found this little creature on the road as I walked to work this morning. You can't tell it from the picture, but he is about 3.5" long and about .5" tall. Biggest slug I've ever seen. I looked up the species, these apparently are the second largest slugs in the world, the largest in North America. These eat lots of dead plant material and some mushrooms.

They coat their body with a slime that both keeps them hydrated and helps them slide along easier. It is said that the slime might actually make a good glue. And yes, they dehydrate easily. Don't pour salt on slugs!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back on Snowshoes

After almost three weeks of meetings, office work and a bit of office tension, I got back out on the ol' MSRs and hit the trail from Paradise. Friday, since the last trek had been a while ago, I went out to check snowpack and trail conditions. At this time of year, this is important! We check to see if there are any unstable areas (i.e. around tree wells or previously solid cornices) and mark the path that is most stable and easy to travel on. We hadn't had much snow lately; the snowpack was measured at about 13.5 feet on Friday, down from 16.5 feet that I saw the last time. Most of it was fairly solid and very easy to travel on! I made the whole trail, with some side trail testing (to see about shortcuts and alternate trailheads) in about 2 hours. I was set for my group on Saturday.

Yesterday, I was joined by a group of teachers from the Bellevue area. None of them had ever been on snowshoes before. We had a great hike! The weather wasn't nearly as cooperative as on Friday - which was a beautiful day on the mountain! - but everyone was set for cold weather and light snow. I was tired at the end, but energized at the same time, since it was a fun hike to lead. I'd love to have these teachers back next year!

At one point, they were joking about writing Mad Libs stories of their adventure. You know what? I think I'm going to steal that idea and use it for our future Flat Stanley mailings. ;)


I have pictures from Friday's hike. They are great. I'll post a few tomorrow or Tuesday. I didn't take any pictures yesterday (Saturday), although the group promised to send me a few of the good ones they took.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Another Factor in Springtime...

Bearproofing the dumpsters! Raise your hand if you think these nylon straps are going to keep hungry black bears out of our trash? Especially since they (most likely) haven't eaten all winter? I can't wait to get a picture of a bear falling in...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day... A Look At Rainier's Past

Today is Earth Day. We had a great afternoon's program set up at the nearby elementary school. Not the usual resource-based program. Today, we had three of our park's interpreters (Ranger Julia, whom you met earlier this week, Ranger Curt and Ranger Kevin) giving first person living history programs. They were awesome! We also had one of the park's climbing rangers and a local mountain guide talk about the gear - past and present - used to get people up on the summit and in touch with the mountain. The kids loved the programs, each of the five was very cool!

From Left to Right:

Ranger Julia, portraying Fay Fuller, reflecting back on being the first woman to summit Mount Rainier (in 1890).

Ranger Kevin, portraying P. B. Van Trump, talking about his experience as one of the two first white men to record a summit of Mt. Rainier (the other being Hazard Stevens, his climbing parter).

Ranger Curt, portraying James Longmire, discussing his experience of travelling the Oregon Trail westward to the Yelm Valley, climbing Mount Rainier and discovering the mineral springs that now bear his name.

Climbing Ranger Stefan and his old-fashioned gear, to discuss how people used to climb and spend time on the mountain.

Of all of the presenters, I think Kevin was FABULOUS. He is great with kids, has done oodles of research on the Van Trump family, and (most importantly) really enjoys his job. He was captivating!

Here Stefan is demonstrating how an ice axe was used to stop a person when they started sliding down an ice field. This guy really got into his demonstrations!
We have such a talented group of rangers here!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sometimes we have to go OUT to look IN...

Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Seattle with a couple of coworkers to attend the preview of Ken Burn's new series The National Parks: America's Best Idea. Local PBS folks gave a nice introduction; Chip Jenkins (Superintendent, North Cascades National Park) gave a few remarks on not only the film itself, but also our National Parks and their past and future. Ken Burns and his co-producer Dayton Duncan spoke about their work, answered questions and showed some clips from the film.

Geographies of Memory and Hope

I remember walking around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park when I was younger. The park offered a little booklet that told about the lake. Every so often along the trail, you see a small sign engraved with a bear paw and a number. The number corresponded with something significant at that location along the trail and you could read about that 'thing' in the trail booklet. My mom always read the information out loud to us. Dad was usually kneeling down, trying to take a close-up shot of a wildflower. My brother scampered about the rocks like a little (big?) squirrel. Perhaps I just took everything in.

It was experiences like this that drew me in. The last ten years or so, as I've traveled on my own, I've seen cities. I've seen farmland. I've seen some of our iconic rivers, shifting sand dunes, tiny wildflowers, soaring eagles, the highest peak in North America. Sometimes I've been with my friends, sometimes I've been on my own. Lots of amazing experiences and memories; I do my best to let those guide my practices here at work in our National Park.

It's amazing what happens to me at a trailhead. My ears tune into the songs of the birds. My stomach relaxes. My breathing gets deeper. My head clears of the clutter and crap of the so-called civilized world.

I am allowed to just be me. No pressure to dress a certain way. Or think a certain way. The natural world takes me as I am. I am allowed to feel and experience whatever comes my way. The joy of a little flower smiling up at the sun. A squirrel chattering in alarm as I walk through his territory. The water crashing in mighty waves over rocks. The warmth of the sun on my face. It gives me hope that the (again, so-called) civilized aspects of life will all work out just fine. Life at its finest.

The following are three old pictures that I still get a kick out of....

Me and my friend Whitney, the day we ran away from 'real life' for six hours to get out of Fairbanks and reconnect with the hills. Good times at Denali.

One of many snowshoe hikes to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The wind and the magpies make great trail companions. They love showing me their home.

Hannah Smith, wearing a hat that she knit herself, near the end of a snowshoe hike to Mills Lake with me and our friend Grannyheart. Does the snow taste good? You should have experienced it for yourself!

"Stimulus isn't just a set of zeros in the newspaper..." -Ken Burns on The National Parks: America's Best Idea

The local NPR station interviewed Burns this week about his film, his experiences, and his views on our parks. He talked about a lot of the people and the vision that set aside our special places. People like John Muir had a relationship with the land around him. He felt the need to protect the areas that nourished his life. From my standpoint, I see this as a give-and-take relationship. I give time and energy to not only experience these precious places, but also to protect them and connect my neighbors to them. In turn, I get peace, rest and a view of the world few Americans are lucky enough to experience.

Burns also asked, "What kind of country sets aside a place where they made huge mistakes?" Look at some of our country's historic sites. How about Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas? The National Park Service is charged with caring for these remnants of our cultural history too. Will these areas help us learn about ourselves? Will we let them teach us? I believe it was Stephen T. Mather (first director of the National Park Service) who called our parks "Vast schoolrooms of Americanism."

I really would encourage you all to listen to our local NPR station interview with Ken Burns from earlier this week. Go to THIS address; you can listen online or download the interview.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Meet Ranger Julia

Yes, Boots is still making noise when he comes home at night! But there is more intrigue than Boots to discuss.... But I'll save that for another day.

For now, meet Ranger Julia. She's the lead interp ranger for the east side of the park, and is my coach through some of the training classes I'll be going through in coming months. And for those of you who might remember my tiny little trip to Alaska a couple of years ago, Julia is married to Ranger Tom who I met in Coldfoot. The same Ranger Tom at Gates of the Arctic National Park who told bear stories. I only realized they were married a couple of weeks ago. Talk about small world. We had dinner together one night. Fun. :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Ways Away

I took this picture of the typical cloud cap of Rainier from north of Eatonville this afternoon on the way up to the city for some grocery and supply shopping.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sweet Little Note

I just got the mail from park HQ. I got a hand-written 'thank you' letter from one of the boys I sent information to a week or two ago. It was too cute! I wish I could send him more stuff about the park. Frankly, I wish I could remember what I sent him in the first place, to see if there is now more I could send him. :)

Something Amazing Happened.

I found a flower blooming!!!!


Spring is starting to take over here in the central Cascades!!

This is a Trillium of some sort. Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum) is the main species around here, but this little beauty and its neighbors are a bit smaller than expected. Trilliums are in the Lily family, whose flowers (petals and sepals) come in groups of 3. I tried to get a close-up of the inside of the flower, but it was blurry. I will try again after work. ;)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

About 7 a.m. this morning.

Yes, there was snow on the ground this morning! It's all melted now (about 5:10 p.m. here), but it's still much colder than it's been the past week or so.
But wait. I'm sure this will all change in five minutes!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Why, yes, it IS April 13 and snowing outside!

Ok, so this picture doesn't actually show the snow falling too well. Trust me, it snowed, hailed, sleeted, rained and was SUNNY - all at different times today!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Stellar's Jay

Aren't these beautiful birds? Yes, I know they are all over the western U.S. and I've seen them in plenty of other places. But I just think they are pretty. I think they are probably my favorite birds. :)

Friday, April 10, 2009

What 16.5 Feet of Snow Looks Like

This was taken Sunday at the Paradise weather station. Yes, that really does read almost 16.5' of snow...

And after the hike with the cub scouts, I took this picture. Look at the drifts behind the vehicles at the edge of the parking lot.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cub Scouts on the Mountain

Today I went out with a group of cub scouts. It was both tiring and energizing. I work for a division within our park staff that has, probably, the most complex job in the park. I talk about things that are constantly changing (like the weather and glaciers) to groups of park visitors, primarily kids, whom I don’t know. I don’t know their prior experience, their ability levels, their deeply-held belief systems, their interests – basically everything that a classroom teacher might use to connect his or her students to the subject matter of any lesson.

As an environmental educator, my job today was to teach these boys (and their sisters and parents) about winter ecology concepts that apply to Mount Rainier: why we have so much snow and numerous glaciers, why the ptarmigan grow white feathers, what we can do to be safe in the backcountry.

As an interpretive park ranger, my goal is to connect these youngsters and their everyday lives to the natural resources we see around us. Did you know that mammalian hibernation habits are where we get the sleep vs. hibernation mode designations for our personal computers?

My first two questions of the day today, before we even left the education center building and headed up the mountain were, “Will we see dinosaurs up there?” and “Have you seen Bigfoot?”.

How would you answer such questions? While the parents snickered a little bit, and the questioning boys did too, the question of Bigfoot came up several more times throughout the day.
To be continued...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Good Quote

I was going to write about April being No Child Left Inside month. Or maybe my latest set of Flat People who visited our park. But really, the topics just wouldn't write themselves. So I started catching up on some of the editorials posted at the National Parks Traveler website. In the course of various comments, I came across this quote from Aldo Leopold. I thought it was good...

“No servant brought them meals… No traffic cop whistled them off the hidden rock in the next rapids. No friendly roof kept them dry when they misguessed weather or not to pitch the tent. No guide showed them which camping spots offered a night long breeze and which a nightlong misery of mosquitoes; which firewood made clear coals and which would only smoke. The elemental simplicities of wilderness travel were thrills…because they represented complete freedom to make mistakes. The wilderness gave…those rewards and penalties for wise and foolish acts…against which civilization had built a thousand buffers.”

What do you all think?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day

It's snowing again.

No foolin'.