There’s a great story that my mom used to tell regarding her family’s dog. It involved her brother, who was at the time a young man just returning from three long years in the Pacific theater during World War II. When he stepped out of the car and onto the lawn, the dog walked up to greet him, took a good look and a sniff and then began to jump and dance around uncontrollably. She did that for about 30 minutes straight. When she finally settled down, it wasn’t two minutes before she got up and expressed her joy all over again. She repeated this 30-to-two-minute cycle for the remainder of the day.
“Citizen science” isn’t the study of all of us who reside in the U.S., but rather a way of collecting information that has become popular in recent years. The phrase refers to volunteers who work as field assistants for scientific studies. In a time when school and natural resources department budgets are tight, using ordinary folks to gather and record wildlife and environmental observations can stretch research dollars by getting reams of data for no cost.
If you’re a nature enthusiast, chances are that somewhere in your home you display at least one image of a wild animal in its natural habitat: a framed photo hanging on your wall of a black wolf peeking through the leaves, a calendar on your desk with 12 glossy shots of snow leopards in rocky places or several conservation magazines — whose covers depict eagles or hummingbirds in flight — stacked on your coffee table.
One in five Americans considers himself or herself a “bird watcher,” according to a report published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last summer. Going by the report’s guidelines, in order to qualify as a “bird watcher,” you either had to have taken a trip one mile or more away from home for the primary purpose of watching birds, or you had to have closely observed birds around your house. If you mostly spotted birds passively — while mowing the yard, for example, or while at a zoo — you would not be counted as a “bird watcher.”
National parks need to be killed.
It’s a shocking idea I came across recently. Ken Burns’s newest PBS series aside, they’re doing more harm than good to our places of natural grandeur and dwindling native eco-systems.
My son was visiting me during the holidays recently. I accompanied him to a local cell phone store, where he purchased a Droid. On the five-mile drive home, he entertained me by turning on its GPS feature; and we listened and laughed as the automated voice instructed us to turn left here and right there, over a route that we knew like the back of our hands. It did get me wondering, though, if it’s possible — in this information technology age — to get lost anymore.
It usually starts with one plastic water bottle or one beer can, casually tossed aside, just visible in the underbrush off the side of the trail where I’m walking. My thoughts are soon torn away from nature and “What a beautiful place this is,” to “What an eyesore; what the heck was that person thinking?” And then, all of a sudden, what just a moment ago looked to me like a pristine wilderness transforms into a one-item garbage dump. All I can focus on is that one rusty can or bent bottle.
I won’t have a computer, an iPod or even a cell phone on my nature trip. So don’t e-mail, voicemail, Facebook or even try to call me. Don’t even phone me on a landline. I can’t be reached. When I travel, I purposely sever all lines of communication with my everyday life. I think you should, too. Because when you don’t, I get annoyed.
“After” photo: ship is gone; more highlights (see the “Before” photo below). ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
It looked perfect through the lens. I had the shot all lined up: blue mountain in the background, a rocky trail winding through the middle, and wildflowers in the foreground that made up two-thirds of the composition. I rotated the polarizing filter just enough so that I had a bright blue sky. Click.
Only about 400 Spirit Bears remain. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews
It almost sounds mythical.
But there’s truly a place on the far western edge of our continent where a rare animal — a white black bear — can still hunt, fish, gather berries and raise cubs unbothered by humans. There are no roads here, no cut trails, few settlements and even fewer trappings of civilization. It’s a good place to be a bear.