Field Notes Friday 0020: Star Milkvine (Matelea biflora)

DISCOVERED: starfish alien flower life form!

I ecstatically soaked up information and enthusiasm at the 5th Annual the State of the Prairie Conference. I’m beyond glad that the Coastal Prairie Partnership decided to host the conference in Fort Worth, the Prairie Queen City of Texas. I might never have heard of the conference otherwise, and would be truly impoverished if I never met this group of knowledgeable, engaged, and proactive biologists, conservationists, land owners, and practitioners.

One of many great features of the conference was the field trips. My chosen trip was to the McFarland and Hilmont ranches. Jason Singhurst of Texas Parks and Wildlife and Dana Wilson were along, and their wealth of plant knowledge was as useful as it was stunning. I saw and touched plants I’ve never even heard of before. One of them was Matelea biflora, a vine I’ve never seen. LOOK at this thing!

Matelea Biflora

Notice the hairyness. Also, did you see the reason it’s called biflora (two flower)? There’s a green bud in the frame. These plants usually have two flowers together – no more, no less. (I’ve heard Star Milkvine is also called two-flower milkvine. Have you heard something like “two-flower milk weed vine” as its common name? I couldn’t find any references to that name online, but I only made a cursory search.)

Out of context, this plant may seem weird, or perhaps even wonderful, but it’s as disjunct as a factoid on a cereal box.

Only when you climb a hilltop in a generational ranch which is ecologically managed, and see this plant in its full range of life stages, scattered amongst other glorious flowers and inconspicuous green life, and take in the air and clouds and breadth of view – and realize you’re standing in a precious ecosystem that we have the power to save or wipe out – do you realize any plant’s significance. Star Milkvine is a harbinger of habitat, an ecological beacon. Whether it’s on the Floristic Quality Index or not, this plant is associated with good prairie, and if you live in the DFW metroplex (or any other urban area in the central US which is bursting at the seams) you understand how vanishingly rare that is.

McFarland Ranch

Star Milkvine in context at the McFarland Ranch

I’m proud to have ‘discovered’ this weird life form and to have documented it. I’ve been re-introduced to by Michael Fox, and I think I’ve finally got the impetus to fully participate, so I’ll be uploading my finds from this conference to iNaturalist soon. I’ll also be sharing more photos via my Facebook and Tumblr page, so stay tuned.

Thank you for participating in Field Notes Friday by reading my observations and and by sharing yours. We make a difference in others’ lives when we share our field notes; we’re educating and enchanting our friends and the public with the otherwise unnoticed life all around them.


Dear [Undisclosed] United Methodist Church: Please Don’t Litter!

Imagine enjoying a vacation in one of your favorite outdoor places. You come upon trash tangled in the grass by a river: a card attached to a pink ribbon and the remains of a ragged green balloon. The card has a friendly message from a church and a request for you to respond with where and how you found the card.

A group I was with last month was in this position. This is my response.


Dear [Undisclosed] United Methodist Church,

I received your Easter card attached to a balloon. Thank you.

But please consider finding another way to share your message.

The Story

I was in LLELA (the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area), a 2,000 acre nature preserve in the heart of the metroplex. The group I was with hiked and explored beautiful forests, prairies, and aquatic ecosystems for three days. On April 26 we were surprised to find your card near the river, tangled in the grass. We read your message and although no one disparaged it, three people in the group are members of United Methodist churches and seemed to cringe at their denomination being associated with litter.

About the Nature Preserve

I do not represent LLELA when I send this letter, but I’m someone who cares about the place and all the life within it. Putting LLELA in context, the land is recovering from a history of harsh use by humans. The forests were cleared, the prairies were plowed, the wildlife was killed, and the land was used as a dump. LLELA staff and volunteers work diligently to restore ecosystems, reintroduce and care for native species (like Wild Turkey and Texas Bluestar), and ensure that our natural heritage is here for future generations. Slowly, LLELA is again becoming a refuge for wildlife and native plants and a place people fall in love with.

What’s the big deal about a balloon?

Plastic pollution is a crisis for our wildlife, fisheries, and fellow humans. (More info at

Ribbons, string, nets, and fishing line are devastating to wildlife, including birds. LLELA staff show pictures like these to fishermen to encourage them to clean up their trash:

Balloons and plastic bags, once in water, look like jellyfish. They tempt and choke countless wildlife, including turtles.

You and I may seem landlocked in prairie, forest, and city, but we share a watershed connected to the Trinity, which flows to the Gulf.

Trinity Basin and Texas Counties

Trash, just like water, rolls downhill.

The Gulf of Mexico, as you probably know, faces plenty of pollution problems. Seagulls, pelicans, dolphins, turtles, fish and humans contend with oil spills, agricultural and suburban fertilizers, chemicals pouring in from our storm drains, and humanity’s ceaseless flow of unnecessary trash.

But it’s not just the Gulf that suffers. The problem is local, too. People at LLELA find wildlife tangled in fishing line and ribbon too often, and usually only after the situation has become fatal. There are lakes, ponds, and rivers near you, too, and if you look closely, scenes like this are common:

Great Egrets are a common Texas shorebird, and often end up fatally tangled in fishing line, rope, and twine:

A Great Egret (a common Texas shorebird) with a mangled leg wrapped in fishing line:

Due to ocean currents, even places where humans don’t live, or where humans don’t produce plastic, are swamped with debris.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the terrible plight of the Midway Atoll Albatrosses, where thousands of young birds die each nesting season because they eat plastic debris. Long after they perish and their bodies completely decay, the plastic remains, to be eaten by the next generation of chicks. One piece of our throwaway plastic can contribute to untold deaths.

Chris Jordan's heart-breaking photography of Midway Atoll Albatrosses:

Chris Jordan’s heart-breaking photography of Midway Atoll Albatrosses:


I implore and encourage you to use your creativity, passion, and love to find another way to share your message.

  • Send paper airplanes off a tall building, or leave little cards on benches, on buses, or in restaurants. You might be shocked to hear a conservationist propose strewing paper about, but paper is biodegradable and, in the United States, usually sustainably sourced.
  • Join the Geocaching community and leave messages of hope and love that way. When you add to or create geocaches of your own, you’re tapping into a network of engaged, interested searchers.
  • Start a sustainability club or committee to consider your outreach, even looking at your utensils, cups, and plates. I hope you ascribe to the well-founded belief that every action and choice an individual or organization makes changes the world – for good or ill. With more information, we can make decisions that better all species.
  • This website suggests alternatives to balloons.
  • You’ll find even more info and alternatives here.

I understand.

I’m sure you’re not intending to cause harm. I’m sure, like me, you’re trying to reduce suffering in the world.

I also understand that your balloon release was intended to be a joyful and community-enhancing event. My horror at finding a balloon in the wild doesn’t squelch my curiosity: I’m fascinated by the distance this balloon traveled: about 25 miles in 6 days (as the crow flies). I have lots of questions I’d love to ask you about how many responses you received, where they were from, and more. I’m not writing to squash your joy or outreach; I’m writing to help you do less damage.

I recognize your denomination and possibly congregation face many challenges in the future. As you decide your path and actions, please carefully and compassionately consider the environment in your ethics. Your decisions affect humans and all other species, the least of these, who have no voice in our society. With just a few habit changes, you can profoundly influence the world for good.

I have mailed this to [four staff members] and also posted it on my blog. I didn’t include the full name of your church, because that might expose you to undue criticism. I’m not here to gripe; I’m here to help.

Please, please find another way to share your message, and consider the environment when you do.


Don’t Mess With Texas!

Sincerely and hopefully,

Erin Taylor

The Happy Naturalist

Idea for Lent (or any time): REFUSE Plastic

You want to make your life and the world better. Do both by reducing your plastic footprint! Here are some tips (just in time for Lent) about refusing single-use, disposable plastic.

What do I do?

Reduce how much plastic you buy and throw away. Find reusable, recyclable, compostable alternatives to plastic and Styrofoam. (Want to make it official? Take Plastic Pollution Coalition’s pledge.)

Why refuse plastic?

Pollution: In all production stages, plastics produce chemicals we end up breathing and eating. Single-use plastics (e.g. bags, straws) become plastic pollution.

Energy: Plastics are made from oil and require energy to produce. Let’s use our resources more wisely; it doesn’t make sense to create something permanent for a temporary use.

Health: All water (and trash) rolls downhill… and much of our trash ends up downstream. If you eat seafood, you ingest chemicals leached from plastic.

But you don’t have to eat seafood to be affected. Plastics are already in you, and even in newborns. Plastic additives (like BPA) are linked to cancer.

At best, we’re not sure how plastic affects human health. At worst, we’re poisoning ourselves. Diminishing the plastic waste stream can only be a good thing for our health and the planet’s.

What about recycling?

Recycling isn’t bad, but it gives a false sense of security.

  1. Most plastic isn’t recycled or recyclable. It ends up in the landfill, taking up precious space.
  2. Most “recycled” plastic is actually down-cycled. Bottles aren’t turned into more bottles; they become something of lesser quality that will be thrown away shortly. That’s not a continuous cycle; it’s just one added step before the landfill (or the plastic gyres in the oceans).
  3. Recycling saves energy, but produces pollution. Recycling isn’t as straight-forward as you think.

Can I make a difference?

Every thing you do makes a difference, especially setting an example. What if, through your example and others, American’s decided to go just one day without buying plastic water bottles? That would save 576 million bottles!!! (Americans throw away 2 million plastic water bottles EVERY 5 MINUTES).

How about inspiring people to use reusable bottles? Millions of bottles could quickly become billions of bottles saved. That’s a lot of plastic and oil saved, and a lot of trash that wouldn’t end up in our streets, our drinking water, and our food chain. Change starts with you, and continues because you set an example.

But plastic is everywhere!!!

If you’re overwhelmed by how much plastic you use, pick one item you regularly purchase and find an alternative. Change one habit a week, and by the end of a month you’ll significantly reduce your plastic consumption and start great habits.

Don’t throw out perfectly functioning plastic items. If you’ve already bought it, use it till it can’t be used any more, then recycle/repurpose it, then buy or create a non-plastic alternative.


There are lots of ways to reduce your plastic footprint. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more tips, and share yours! Together, we can make this a #plasticfree world. #RefusePlastic!

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

Cougars and Wolves

Occasionally, online exploration can be as fruitful and exciting as outdoor exploration. Here’s the story of a digital hike as winding, breathtaking, and memorable as a mountain or forest trek.

I’ve recently toyed with committing to reading a scientific paper once a week. This week as I read Song of the Dodo I was inspired to look up papers about my growing obsession: wildlife corridors.

Like getting pleasantly sidetracked in the woods, I’m not sure exactly how it happened… somehow, reading “Do Habitat Corridors Provide Connectivity?” – perhaps it was the pregnant phrase “urban matrix likely impenetrable to bobcat and cougar” – led me to a Google search on Cougars (Mountain Lions, Puma concolor).  Shockingly, cougar hunting was an auto-complete option as I typed. A few clicks later, I learned that Cougar hunting is legal, and in my state (Texas), it’s legal any time, by any means.

I find this barbaric.

And I’m not alone. I was so grateful to digitally stumble upon the Cougar Fund that it brought tears to my eyes. I had never heard of it before, and as I let them know:

[The Cougar Fund appeared] among lots of websites promoting hunting, so I was wary, but as soon as I saw the intent of the website and [the video with] Jane Goodall, I was hooked.

Yep, that Jane Goodall. She’s a Director of the Cougar Fund, and in this heart-wrenching video, she explains why sport hunting of cougars needs to end. There’s also a handy donate button on that page, which I gladly used.

Like an unexpected wildlife sighting, in the same internet session the Sierra Club’s efforts to help the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) popped onto my digital trail. So I’m now, for the first time in my life, a Sierra Club member, and have signed the petition to continue the protection of the Gray Wolf. I urge you to do the same. (And if you join, there’s an option to receive a Sierra Club bag. I would have joined anyway, but cool!)

I never thought I’d be political. I never thought I’d be an activist. But these aren’t just charismatic megafauna. They’re living beings, with rights as unalienable as ours. When we spend just a little time studying them, we see their innate worth immediately.

And if we’d stop extirpating species – yes, the cougar and wolf were both native here*! – then people would stop saying about Texas (and I’ve heard this with my own ears several times) “there’s just not much nature there.”

Not much nature?! In the land of mesas and mountain lions, prairies and bison, forests and rivers and alligators and bobcats and armadillos? We’re not just wiping out species; we’re wiping out humanity’s memories of wilderness!

So help the Cougar Fund. Help the Sierra Club. We owe it to the future, for humans and megafauna.

* Gray Wolf range

Cougar range

Hunting Mountain lions is downplayed on the TPWD site, yet cougars are classified as ‘nuisances’.

Cedar/Juniper: AAAAAAH! (choo)

Is this how YOU feel about cedar?

The Cedars are coming

Current pollen maps reveal the entire Southern US blazing yellow with high levels of pollen. Even higher on the density scale, the heart of Texas is ember-red and orange (nature’s warning colors). The primary perpetrator: “Cedar/Juniper.” I’ve newly discovered my allergy, and I know I’m not alone in my suffering.

Coincidentally(??), the Native Plant Society of Texas has re-circulated two articles defending one of the species we call “cedar/juniper.” (Mountain cedar – does it deserve such disdain? and Mountain cedar – water guzzler or not?)

I don’t (yet) know my ashei from my virginiana, but I know where to start (Wikipedia and the “plant bible”). My guess based on their ranges is that the pollen blowing in from the southwest is from Mountain cedar (Juniperus ashei), but the cedars I typically see are Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana), which I’ve started calling ERCs in my field notes. In this entry and until I’m more familiar with them, I’ll use the layman’s terms interchangeably: cedar/juniper.

Even before the sneezing and itchy eyes started, I was intrigued by junipers as I noted my Impressions of the Drive to West Texas. I saw growth patterns and associations I hadn’t noticed before. I wondered how junipers historically fit in the ecosystem.

Junipers seem to march in tight formation onto prairies, belly-crawl into Cross Timbers forests and choke out undergrowth, and generally muscle their way into areas and spread. Just take a look at land turned from prairie to ranch to available real estate in Dallas/Fort Worth suburbs. Most sites look like Christmas-tree lots.

So I have a negative reaction to scenes like the one above (which I photographed on a seed-collecting trip). To me, these trees represent ecological encroachment – change for the worse. I’m exploring whether that’s a fair assessment.

But whether ERCs are useful, native, pushy, pretty, allergy-inducing or not, I caution myself that management decisions shouldn’t be solely human-centric. After all, as I often point out on hikes I lead, even poison ivy has a place in the ecosystem. We don’t extirpate the species because some humans react negatively to urushiol. Birds eat PI seeds, deer and grasshoppers eat the leaves, and poison ivy has been part of the ecosystem far longer than we have.

And so has juniper/cedar, even though the conversation about how “native” it is continues. I recognize, begrudgingly, that just because a species is relatively new doesn’t mean it’s a harbinger of doom. Ecosystems are always in flux.

As I learned from Rob Denkhaus of the Fort Worth Nature Center, we all make value judgments. We humans have the power to make crucial decisions about ecosystems based on our values. We reap results based on how informed our decisions are.

So I’m trying to inform myself. And yes, the jury is still out. If our goal is encouraging native biodiversity, edging junipers out of prairies and forests seems advisable. But if we’re interested in carbon sequestering, that may be another matter…

A Photographic Journey through a Wilderness Survival Weekend, Part 2

Happy New Year! I want to share with you the final photos from the wilderness survival weekend at LLELA led by Mark Suter of Primitive Texas. (Here’s part 1, and here are LLELA’s photos.)

Note: We had permission to harvest certain plants. Every part of a habitat is important; please do your best to Leave No Trace.

Frosty CatbriarFrosty Catbriar (I think that would make a great stage name!) as evidence that we were indeed roughing it. Look – there’s even ice on the ground that looks like snow!

Frozen plantsMore frosted plants. I know Dewberry (top right). If you know the others, please enlighten me.

Iced Cottonwood LeafIce-crystal-encrusted cottonwood leaf on the aptly-named Cottonwood trail at LLELA

Yucca SoapAfter a day, night, and morning of adventuring, we washed with yucca root. A little water plus agitation made the natural saponins froth, cutting dirt and grease.

Campfire morningI love this shot of our morning together as a survival class: sassafras tea in my mug, pounded yucca fibers in my hand about to become twine, sunlight and fire providing warmth, gloves on the ground.

Making RopeMaking rope: my favorite skill learned from the weekend, and one that I’ve already used several times since. It’s surprisingly fun, and the rope – which I’ve tested several times – is quite strong.

debris shelter stagesMaking a single-person debris shelter from fallen logs, branches, and leaves. Shelter takes a long time to make, even with teamwork. I understand why survivalists encourage us to find/fix shelter FIRST.

Debris ShelterThe debris shelter was cozy. This one would stave off hypothermia in nights around 50°. For freezing weather, the frame should be so loaded with leaves that it looks like one big, rounded mound.

Grapevine DetailMark found a near-dead grapevine branch and used it to secure the logs at the entrance of the shelter. I love the details.

More Grapevine DetailI’m fascinated with all things twining and tendril-y.

Fuzzy StickTop: The best student-made fuzzy stick, held by its creator. Bottom left: mine. Clearly I’m not used to close knife work yet, but the stick still functions. Bottom right: I think this was Mark’s. The purpose a fuzzy stick is to increase surface area and dryness when kindling is damp or unavailable.

Brands to Buy and to AvoidTop: A student’s saw, which she graciously shared and we all liked. I’ve added it to my shopping list. Bottom left: a full-tang Gerber knife Mark recommended. Bottom right: NOT recommended – the Gerber machete. Two people brought one and BOTH blades were chipped within 48 hours. Mark said to buy machetes from army surplus stores.

Primitive ToolsA primitive skills toolbag. At the beginning of the weekend, this looked like sticks to me. Now I see discreet tools: tongs, soap, the makings of rope and twine, fire drill bits…

Cattail seedThis picture captured how we felt at the end of the weekend – tired, but happy enough to enjoy the whimsy of floating cattail seeds in the setting sun.

Parting WaysI deeply enjoyed learning and bonding during the survival weekend. I hope to adventure with these folks again soon.

A Photographic Journey Through a Wilderness Survival Weekend

I was forever changed by a wilderness survival weekend. Mark Suter of Primitive Texas led us successfully through a freezing night, shifting weather, edible plant collecting, and wild habitats at LLELA (the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area). If you want to see even more pictures, visit LLELA’s Facebook album.

Please note: We obtained permission to harvest certain plants. LLELA is a wildlife preserve; every part of the habitat is important to wildlife survival. This training was a special circumstance; please always do your best to Leave No Trace.

Edible plants so common they’re probably in your yard: Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium), Wild geranium[?] (Geranium carolinianum), and Chickweed (Stellaria and/or Cerastium species). And they were delicious!

Edible plants so common they’re probably in your yard: Storksbill (Erodium cicutarium), Wild geranium[?] (Geranium carolinianum), and Chickweed (Stellaria and/or Cerastium species). And they were delicious!

We REALLY ate them! Raw and cooked.

A cool tree on the Cicada trail. Commonly in areas managed for wildlife, trees are only cut and moved if they fall on the trail. Otherwise, dead trees (“snags”) are left as great habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

A cool tree on the Cicada trail. Commonly in areas managed for wildlife, trees are only cut and moved if they fall on the trail. Otherwise, dead trees (“snags”) are left as great habitat for mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Mark demonstrates how to start a fire with a hand bow and drill. I didn’t learn it well enough to make a “fire kit” for myself, so I look forward to attending the next fire-making class Mark gives in North Texas (probably at LLELA).

Mark demonstrates how to start a fire with a hand bow and drill. I didn’t learn it well enough to make a “fire kit” for myself, so I look forward to attending the next fire-making class Mark gives in North Texas (probably at LLELA).

Feeding the fire is just as important as starting the fire. Left: A teepee of sticks with a “door” ready to receive the “bird’s nest” style tinder. Center: The nest of tinder is a perfect place for the tiny, delicate coal created with a hand drill. Right: Ah, a snack and break from making shelter.Feeding the fire is just as important as starting the fire. Left: A teepee of sticks with a “door” ready to receive the “bird’s nest” style tinder. Center: The nest of tinder is a perfect place for the tiny, delicate coal created with a hand drill. Right: Ah, a snack and break from making shelter.

Monarda citriodoraLemonmint/Horsemint/Beebalm (Monarda citriodora) in the winter

Wildlife TracksLLELA was alive with wildlife! Top left: Bobcat print (Lynx rufus) with gloved fingers and boot print for size comparison. Right: Whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Bottom left: Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), raccoon (Procyon lotor), and deer.

Bobcat TracksMore turkey and lots more bobcat tracks. It seems very wet and soft trails are required for bobcats to leave tracks, so I took photos excitedly.

Gathering GrassesSurvival is about teamwork; it took nine people several hours to build our shelter. According to Mark, shelter is of primary importance in a survival situation. (“Shelter, water, fire, food: that’s the sacred order, dude!”). We gathered pre-approved grasses to add insulation to our shelter.

Panicum virgatumAs the sun set on our second grass-collecting trip, I was captivated by the beauty of warm light through the Switch grass (Panicum virgatum). After a very cold and cloudy day, the light and warmth were welcome. But a clearer sky meant the evening would get colder…

Survival ShelterGood thing we built our shelter with plenty of time! Top: we roast a snack by the shelter’s frame. Middle: done! And proud. Bottom: A morning view from behind the shelter. Note smoke from two fires (cooking fire and sleeping fire).Where I Hang My Hat

This is actually, literally, where I hung my hat. I thought that log looked like a face.

I’ll leave you with a warm, cozy image, and tell you about the second day another time.

Happy New Year!

Cozy Campfire

Field Notes Friday 0002

Yep, I chose that ambitious number as a sign of my committment, and as encouragement to me and to you. (I’m referring to the number of zeroes, indicating room for 1000+ posts before I have to change my numbering system.) But I won’t just be Erin of the Thousand Days; you and I are getting something big going. When you post your field notes via whatever social media you choose, you’re encouraging others to be more cognizant of their surroundings, more scientific and considerate in their thought processes, more creative and more sharing. You’re helping change the world for the better. And hey, you’ve got a lot of Fridays coming up! You could choose any of them to do one little thing to make the world a better place. (Remember to use #fieldnotesfriday to more effectively share with others.)

Field Notes Friday 0002

My main lesson from this #FieldNotesFriday is that I do a good job capturing reminders of my myriad thoughts, but I need to finish the thought, or else my notes look like cryptic nonsense.

Now for the interpretation of my chicken scratch [and my additional translations of the seeming nonsense in square brackets]:

  • Date: 12-18-13
  • Number: Unknown + 12 [I lost count earlier this year, so restarted from “unknown”]
  • Location: Pioneer Prairie
  • 57 degrees
  • winds 4mph
  • humidity 60%
  • [Mostly] clear sky but high level fluffy cirrus
  • # vol[unteers] _________

What gives us the right? [to rescue/remove plants from a prairie] – Should have seen it since ’83, said [Dr.] Ken [Steigman]

I felt better as seeds popped off when I gathered [meaning I wasn’t removing ALL the seed]

Paper bag = good; DON’T USE PLASTIC BAG!

Near new hackberries, not with maroon curly [plant], dif[ferent] colorish, thick dewberry close [Wow, this makes no sense without explanation. I was searching for patterns in the vegetation to make my seed gathering easier and more efficient.]

Gathering is good work for learning [plant identification]

I want to create cans with labels of colorful spring photographs for storage of tinder… by species! [Will be] good for species ID and for teaching fire making. [Drawings of cans, labeled thusly] Cattail, Maximillian [sunflower], shredded cottonwood bark

? Why is so much Rattlesnake master lying flat? Trampled? By us? Chewed?

Echinaceae & r.s.m. [Rattlesnake master] seed heads look like sisters

Echinaceae liked this plant, which appears maroon [arrow to next page, where I have a sample of Little Blue Stem]

“Prairie Pirates!” [the volunteers (and I) really resonated with this term that was thrown out for our “motley crew”]

A Wilderness Survival Weekend

My weekend forecast changed from normal to amazing when I decided to participate in Primitive Texas’ Winter survival trip at LLELA (the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area).

For two days, seven ‘students’ and myself were guided by Mark Suter, a master survivalist and primitive living skills guru. We learned not just to survive but to thrive in winter weather using our wits, skills, and natural, local resources.

And yes, it was below freezing overnight. We deserve ‘polar bear’ credit.

I’ll share photos from this trip soon (and if you want to see more, visit LLELA’s Facebook album), but first I’ll share some things I wasn’t expecting to learn.

Machetes are actually useful.

I thought machetes were an anachronism from bygone explorer days, or else a ridiculously hyperbolic tool. I thought they were only used for shock effect or for cool book titles. But no, we used them – often, for all kinds of tasks – and shared, because I don’t have one. Now a machete is truly, unexpectedly, on my shopping list.

The best plant-learning is experiential.

You might think remembering plants is not your forte, but when you interact with a plant intimately – hunting for it, identifying, tasting, harvesting, cleaning, cooking, and eating it, or fashioning it into a digging tool or soap or rope – recognizing a species will be like recognizing a family member.

Sometimes it’s ok to cut down a tree.

Let me be perfectly, completely clear: we had express permission to harvest certain plants. Cutting a tree is NOT a normal part of leaving no trace or enjoying a wildlife preserve. This was a survival skills class, and some skills require using trees. (It was weird to cut down my first tree, even if it was a sapling. Watch for a later blog about the experience.)

Soapberry and poison ivy have differently-shaped leaf scars.

This was very practical information where we set up camp. The two plants share shady habitat, look similar when the tree is young and the poison ivy grows in shrub-form, and are deciduous (lose their leaves). Here’s a drawing I jotted. I’ll go back and take a photo soon.Image

This is a great way to build teamwork and camaraderie.

Our group bonded very quickly because we were meeting a common challenge: group survival. Gathering wood for a fire, leaves for a shelter, plants to eat… lashing fallen logs together, clearing sleeping space, hunting for animal signs, sharing tools and expertise… The bond we formed and time we shared were deeply gratifying.

I highly, highly recommend this trip (and other primitive living skills classes) if you want to:

  • feel an all-encompassing sense of accomplishment
  • develop profound respect for European settlers and Native Americans
  • deeply appreciate modern conveniences
  • feel more comfortable and able outdoors
  • change your perspective.

Besides, when is the last time you slept outdoors in a shelter YOU made…Image

and opened your eyes in the early morning and saw this?Image