Field Notes Friday Explained

I just got back from my first NAI Region 6 conference, and I am hooked. I grew so much (and in such a short time) learning from fellow naturalists and interpreters.

I’ll write more about the wonderful experience and people later, but more pressing is a need to further explain Field Notes Friday. A lot of people at the conference asked how they can participate, and I want to make clear to anyone from any walk of life that it is easy, fun, and worthwhile to participate.

Check out the new Field Notes Friday Tab for further explanation.

And you’ve still got time! You can post field notes today! And you’ll see from the explanation above that it’s easy to do, and there are lots of benefits to you and to others. Join the fun and the learning.

My field journal with items found at Fort Parker State Park between Groesbeck and Mexia, TX, February 2014

My field journal with items found at Fort Parker State Park (between Groesbeck and Mexia, TX), February 2014


Field Notes Friday 0010: If I Can Sketch, You Can Sketch

A compilation of my faltering, embarrassing, improving sketches… as encouragement to anyone who feels his or her skills are not good enough to share!

1. Sketching is a practice-able skill. No one is born able to do it.
2. Sketching hones your observation skills, encourages you to think in new ways, and adds life to your notes.
3. You are not the worst!

Here is clear, undeniable evidence that you MUST be able to sketch, and you can now be brave enough to share your sketches on #FieldNotesFriday.

I mean, come on. I’m sharing these.



Guest Blog: Seeking Wilderness Everywhere

Today, I’m sharing something different. Linked below is a powerful essay about where I work, volunteer, and recreate. It’s written by David Taylor of Center for Humans & Nature. I find this piece so moving that I want to share the writer’s words, experiences, and ponderings directly. I think you’ll feel inspired.

Here it is:

Look for these and other themes ~

  • the value children, juveniles, and adults find in nature
  • how repeat visits to wilderness can lead to deep ecological understanding
  • life skills developed through free exploration
  • the inherent value of wilderness, especially amidst urban development

What else did you encounter in David Taylor’s words? I always want to hear your thoughts.

The Elm Fork of the Trinity River, just below the Lewisville Dam

Field Notes Friday 0009: This is Not a Snake

A photo from my recent trip to Fort Parker State Park just south of Mexia, Texas. This photo was taken on Saturday, February 8, 2014 around sunset on the Baines Creek Trail.

Snake or plant?

Snake or plant?

So what is this amazing, deadly-looking, snake-like thing??

As always, let me know if you have a more accurate diagnosis or ID, but I’m pretty darn sure this is Supplejack. That’s a common name that can apply to several plants, but it turns out in Texas it only applies to one plant: Berchemia scandens. Don’t let the Latin intimidate you. I only know the scientific name because of a Google search for the common name. And I heard the common name from another naturalist, my boss and friend.

This is part of how knowledge is passed: from explorer to explorer, naturalist to naturalist, scientist to scientist, learner to learner.

But knowledge progresses through other means…. through a quest for answers. I don’t know enough about this plant to ask questions that haven’t been answered. Maybe someday I will. And that’s the glory of science and discovery – we want people to ask questions that haven’t been answered. That’s how knowledge progresses! So if you’re an interpreter and educator, or anyone who shares the love of nature in any way, don’t be afraid of the questions you can’t answer. Embrace them, whether they’re from you or a student or another learner. Those questions are the door to more knowledge.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Creationism: Answer Fear with Love

In all things, answer fear with love.

Just before Darwin’s birthday (February 12, also Lincoln’s birthday), enthusiastic science spokesperson Bill Nye publicly debated Ken Ham (Creation Museum founder) about the merits of science, particularly evolution.

It’s no surprise that Bill Nye won (as the NCSE explains). Nye exposed Ham’s flawed thinking and made clear Ham doesn’t represent most Christians.

What’s surprising is a side story that bloomed concurrently. At the debate, a Buzzfeed staff member photographed creationists with their handwritten questions for the ‘other side.’

The photos expose the very human face of creationism. Look again, without the questions.

These are real people with real questions. People with lives, smiles, brains… and curiosity.

I give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re actually interested in answers. Unfortunately, they’ve been handed mostly condescension via the internet.

But one blogger (Ethan Siegel, StartsWithABang) raised the standard by answering with kindness, sincerity, and science. (Read his stellar [*ahem*] response here. Thanks to TheBlaze for bringing Siegel to my attention.).

Maybe the photographees will never read the answers. But someone with those questions will. So I’m grateful for Siegel’s tone.

Please note: I’m not saying that people who make a career of undermining scientific progress don’t occasionally need a swift kick in the pants, or to be singed with searing, enlightening rebuttals. Sometimes what’s needed is a hailstorm of political-legal action, or a maelstrom of sharp-tongued truths. AronRa is a great example of the latter in his Foundational Falsehoods of Creationism, and the NCSE of the former. Neither of these tactics is my specialty, but I appreciate them.

I resonate with Siegel’s response because he honed in on the rawness, and perhaps without even knowing it, the fear underlying many of the questions.  These people are not stupid; they’re ill-informed, and many fear their worldview is at stake. That’s a scary feeling.

If you want to reach people with truth, avoid:

  1. exacerbating fears and negative emotions. We need more bloggers, vloggers, educators, politicians, and peers to personally reach out with love and sound science. This requires preparation, and luckily there are resources for those in creationist crosshairs.
  2. mocking and alienating anyone who asks sincerely, who’s interested in truth, who might become an ally or at least gain understanding and common ground.

With just a little more intellectual freedom and caring guidance, the people who asked those questions could become science’s new advocates. Look again. Seen through a discerning lens, the folks who thought they were asking rhetorical, unanswerable questions are revealed to be probing the cutting edge of science. How can we describe physics “before” the big bang? How did life begin, and where do we draw the line between life and non-life? How about between humans and other hominids? These are questions with scientific merit. Let’s not shrug them off. Let’s share the answers.

Oh, and I love this person’s enthusiasm for nature (below).

The world is amazing. On that we agree.

Field Notes Friday 0008: Cycles of Life

This week I’ve been powerfully reminded: I’m constantly participating in a cycle of creation and regeneration. But wait! It’s not as new-age as it sounds. I actually got to participate in the very tangible life cycle of a particular plant in the last three months.

In December I helped with a prairie plant rescue, and described my interaction with Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccifolium), a relatively unknown but interesting native plant. But there was another plant that was also a focus of the plant rescue: Penstemon cobaea, aka Foxglove (and a few other names).

We sifted through fields of gold looking for tall, stately, dark strangers (can you see them?): Penstemon cobaea

Here’s Penstemon, ready for harvest ~ Penstemon cobaea

And here’s the gold. Penstemon cobaea seeds. Penstemon cobaea seeds

And for those who follow me on Twitter, you may already know that I attended a Friends of LLELA meeting and won, as a door prize, a two year old Penstemon grown by the same folks who arranged the prairie plant rescue! Penstemon cobaea

Now these pictures may seem humble enough (though I find winter plant forms fascinating, as David Gaylord Chizum of the Native Plant Society also does – he published “Winter’s Botanical Strip Show” the very day after I went on the winter plant rescue!).

If you find the above photos underwhelming, you’re not alone. My Google searches returned not one photo of Penstemon in winter. Not one! I was shocked; the internet seems to have everything else. But perhaps Penstemon doesn’t attract enough attention in the winter, or its winter habit is known by plant lovers yet eclipsed in their minds by its Spring form. Just take a look at this absolutely glorious representation of what’s in store in my Penstemon’s life (from Dallas Trinity Trails’ blog):

Yes, it’s gorgeous. I’m excited to see it. But all stages in a life cycle have their own beauty, winter included. So… I haven’t yet participated in the full Penstemon cobaea cycle. But soon. And I predict it will feel very, very rewarding indeed.

Find out what Field Notes Friday is all about and how you can be part of the movement: #FieldNotesFriday.

5 Reasons You Want to See Animal Inside Out

Do you need a little convincing to go to Animal Inside Out? Let me help you with a few reasons to enjoy this exhibit:

1. The Opening Video

It may sound like exaggeration, but I think the price of entry was worth it just to see the two-minute video at the entrance of the exhibit. Without words, with only music and powerful images, the editors portray the connection of life on earth, especially the similarity of humans with the rest of the animal kingdom. If you enjoy feeling connected to the world, to other humans, and to nature – if you enjoy the mental rush of cosmic perspective that Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about – then this is a transporting two minutes. Worth your time, and worth a second (or third) copy 10

2. You’re (Already) Interested

The Animal Inside Out exhibit is a haven for people of myriad interests, like:

  • anatomy
  • veterinary science
  • human medicine
  • visual art
  • ecology
  • conservation
  • health studies
  • exercise and sports
  • birds
  • mammals
  • sea life
  • exotic species
  • domestic species
  • adaptations
  • strange sights
  • interesting photo ops
  • artistic presentations of real specimens beautifully and respectfully treated

Even if none of your interests are represented above, I think you’ll find something compelling in the exhibit.

3. Ethics, Evolution, Ecology

For those who are a bit concerned (as I was) about the ethical ambiguity of the exhibit, breathe easily. Gunther von Hagens & Body Worlds wisely answer your questions up front:

photo(2) copy 3

If you wondered about the scientific and educational value of the specimens, you’ll like the quality information and its cohesive theme of adaptation and relationship. I was delighted to find conservation emphasized, especially toward the end of the exhibit. Conservation is important to Body Worlds, and they know it’s important to us.

4. Support Art & Science in Our Time

This crossover art form is science and sculpture – a natural interpretive dance frozen in 3D. Would you have gone to see Andy Warhol’s work when he was alive and still creating? What about the same chance to see Van Gogh’s? DaVinci’s? Or perhaps it’s a better comparison to ask if you’d see the Beatles or Beethoven in concert if you could. I know I would. To me, Animal Inside Out is the same chance. It’s a modern breakthrough in science and art, von Hagens is still creating, and there are masterpieces waiting for you.

5. DFW’s time is extended!

You now have till February 23 till the exhibit leaves North Texas. Go! And while you’re there, take time to enjoy the Perot Museum’s other exhibits on minerals, space, dynamic earth, sports, and evolution. The architecture, gift shop, and living roof are pretty cool, too.

Go to Animal Inside Out. Your time and money will be well spent. You won’t look at other animals (or in the mirror) the same way again.

See more #insideout pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Animal Inside Out