Field Notes Friday 0039: Sneak Preview of West Texas

I’m in a beautiful place that’s inspiring me to sketch. Photos are wonderful but they just can’t catch the full scale of the views I have… I only have a few moments of wifi so will have to give an update later. Guess where I am! 


Dear Curiosity: An Open Letter to the Curiosity Rover

Dear Curiosity, I heard about your wheel troubles recently and wanted to write to encourage you.

We’ve been your supporters since you were a baby – an idea, really. We were so excited to hear about the planning that went into making you, the testing you endured… you were bringing such promise of discovery into the world!

We were with you during your long trip, and we were with you during your harrowing landing. How tense we were during those 7 minutes – or were they 7 hours? It felt like it! – of silence as you plummeted through thin atmosphere, facing searing heat and blowing sand… and then your amazing landing! What skill! I admit we were worried – skeptical, even – about your vertical landing, which was so dependent upon 4 thrusters and a lot of other technology, but WOW. You pulled that off beautifully. It was a great start to your excellent career.

When you sent your first picture home (a photo of your foot safe on firm ground) I almost cried. You’ve continued to work steadfastly ever since then, and humanity is already benefitting from the knowledge you’re sharing. Do you have a favorite discovery yet? A favorite picture you sent, or a favorite place you’ve visited? Which of your images or discoveries do you think will impact humanity the most?

I bet the terrain looks oddly familiar. Weren’t some Earth deserts included in your training? Those rugged, red rocks, the sand and dusty horizon… although they’re Martian, the images you send home remind me a little of Arizona & New Mexico.

Which makes me wonder, are you homesick at all? Or does Mars feel like the place you belong? In a deep sense which no living creature (at least that we know of) can boast, you were made for Mars. I hope you feel a sense of awe knowing you are one of the only explorers on a planet almost as large as the entire land surface of Earth.

Let the grand scale of what you’re accomplishing buoy your spirits. Don’t focus on the state of your wheels. I know you have to travel more slowly now, and some paths may not be open to you. That’s ok. Every explorer has faced similar challenges at some point. If you continue despite hardships, and take setbacks in stride and continue to do the best work you can to benefit humanity (and the Earth and Mars of course; I don’t want to sound too human-centric), that’s what makes you a hero.

Yes, traveling through space, flying through the atmosphere, exploring for years through uncharted terrain, sending telepathic messages across millions of miles – those are all exciting endeavors, and make you worthy of the title Explorer. To be sure, your powers are like a super hero’s! But its your day to day commitment to persevere in the face of adversity that makes you a real hero.

Keep up the good work.

With gratitude,

Erin Taylor

The Happy Naturalist

Dear Curiosity

Kayak for Better Eco-Vision

There’s nothing like seeing wild places via river! This is a mix of thoughts and images from a February 15 kayak trip down the Elm Fork of the Trinity River with I’ve made the trip before, but it’s enticingly different every time. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to explore, too.

Here’s Mike Swope (owner of, demonstrating 1) a cut bank being eroded by the river, and 2) his dislike of being photographed. It’s great to review geology and hydrology while floating on the water and basking in sunshine.

I love kayaking along tight lanes and tangled banks. Tangled Banks and Tight Turns

Have you noticed certain spots that are favorites of, and apparently often visited by, wildlife? This one wouldn’t be visible to me except via boat. This pile of barely-digested hackberries says ‘raccoon’ to me. What do you think? Raccoon Scat?

One of those tangled banks I love. I haven’t figured out how to photograph them and do them justice. The wilder the river, the more beautiful sites like this.Tangled Bank

In a side channel, I ventured out of the kayak, walked around and found stark differences in soil types exposed by the river. The yellow is sandy/rocky, and the grey is clay. The clay was sculpted by the ripples of the years. I’ve felt skeptical about ancient wave patterns becoming fossilized, but after seeing this clay preserve wave shapes so faithfully, I don’t doubt anymore.Clay and Sand

I thought this was the largest bobcat track I’ve ever seen… but the animal appears to have sunk in the mud so deeply that claw marks show. I reminded myself with a little research that bobcat tracks have an ‘m’ shaped palm or ‘interdigital pad’. But the track is so wide! I know a large male bobcat lives at LLELA near where I took this photo – I know it’s male because I saw him mark a tree – so I thought maybe this track was his. LLELA is an urban wilderness, so this could be the track of a very large, wide-footed dog. What do you think? Coyote? Bobcat? Dog?

It was a spot well traveled by several species. Again, inaccessible unless you’re willing to get wet.Well traveled waterway

Soil horizons? Urban upheaval? Different flood deposits? I look forward to spending more resources (like time) learning about soils. To me, this looks like Blackland Prairie soil overlaid with Crosstimbers soil. That might make sense along the Elm Fork, which has spent centuries blurring the boundaries between the two in its floodplain. Rivers lay bare the secrets of the soil. Soils

A tree which budded out very early. Elm?Elm?

The remains of a bridge from Old Town Lewisville. Was it for trains or regular road traffic? My kayaking companions debated.Old Town Lewisville Bridge

A perfect bank for a rest, a snack, and a sneak photo from a hill. I’ll take another rest now and keep my 500-or-fewer words promise. Please join me for Part II of the river trip!River bank offers paddling trips down the Elm Fork of the Trinity River starting from LLELA on the third Saturday of every month.

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.



Field Notes Friday 0005: Impressions of the Drive

Here’s a new way to look at road trips which I highly suggest: Impressions of the Drive. On a trip (even a flight), take a look around and note the changes you see. You’ll start to discern the hidden, underlying geology, watersheds, eco-zones, and more. Every moment can be a lesson, if you’re paying attention. This is the first time I decided to write down what I noticed, and it made a big difference in the quality of my observations.

Thanks to inspiration from The Ecology of Ignorance and a few great naturalists, I’ve started including sketches. They’ll start small, and I’ll get braver as I practice. Most skills are practice-able and improvable.

Field Notes Friday: Impressions of the Drive

Entry 002

  • continued, but refreshed
  • Friday, January 3, 2014
  • 12:30 pm (12 hours after the first entry!)
  • winds 25-35mph!
  • 54 degrees
  • Humidity 29%
  • “abundant sunshine”
  • I need to review cloud types – there’s haze to the south, fluffy high clouds on the northern horizon, a patch of cirrus to the west
  • Driving from Snyder to Inks Lake State Park

The Story of Cedar through Brooke’s eyes

As I understand it from a brief conversation yesterday: Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) encroached upon the prairie when settlers removed native grazers, suppressed fire, and put up fencing to partition the land. As I sat on top of a 20′ storage tank looking around the 360-degree view, I asked if I’d have seen the landscape covered in cedars 300 years ago. No, was the firm & solid answer. There would have been ‘cedars,’ I think I remember – maybe in the lower areas by creeks, less fire – but not the ubiquitous puff-balls throughout the landscape. Brooke says I need to read Water from Stone, about the Bamburger Ranch. Apparently he cut the cedars and his springs started flowing again.

Impressions of the Drive

Snyder –> Inks Lake State Park

  • Just N of Snyder: sloping, hilly, carved by water into rivulets
  • Between Hermleigh & Rosco on 84. Ack the wind noise! Flat fields of cotton & windmils. They’re majestic, these windmills. Not sure what I’d be looking @, otherwise. Telephone poles, power lines… dark exposed dirt. A 1/2 cylinder storage makes the most sense of what I’ve seen, but I think in high wind a geodesic dome makes the most. SAW MY FIRST EVER TUMBLEWEED! Big as an innertube or laundry basket! rolled right across the highway, full of some sort of what detritus like plastic bags… maybe cotton
  • Sweetwater – what the heck? We’re suddenly in hilly and scalloped terrain again. We seem to be bordered on the South by the same high plains – a ‘caprock’, perhaps
  • S of Sweetwater on hwy 70. Very hilly, hills covered in green of Junipers. Hills have the familiar shape I’ve come to know in Weatherford. Plus with windmills! Exposed chalky white soil @ roads that cut through hills.
  • Junction of 70 & 153. The roar of the wind on the car window announced we were on top of the caprock again. There had been beautiful quiet in the hilly valley below.
  • Live oaks, more mesquite, dense juniper as we continue S on 153, nearing intersection of 277 (just N of 1170). Old mesquites on fence lines. Live oaks wild & by houses. More low ‘dry creek’ feeling depressions.
  • Taylor county line! (my last name)