I’ve been thinking about how to keep using The Outside Within to cover more than just my photography and house older blogs about my outdoor experiences. As I reflect on the past few years, the majority of my spring and summer outdoor time has been spent gardening. I think constantly about how growing my own food has made me healthier and happier. Not only do I get to watch my food grow right before me eyes, I get to enjoy tastes that no grocery store produce gives me! I have learned how to grow almost anything here in Colorado. I’d like to share these successes and failures and a few recipes I’ve come to love that can be made with fresh produce.
Gardening is most definitely one of those things you can do in life (outdoors) that impacts your well-being (within). Check out the IN THE GARDEN TODAY tab for these posts. Cheers!
It’s 2017 and time to get serious about a few projects I’ve dabbled in here and there over the past few years. Life’s gotten busier, and as I find myself glued to screens 7 days a week, I need more now than ever to return to what I love and what motivates me – being outdoors, writing, and photography!
Today’s efforts involve learning how to post photos on this site so that a) you may enjoy the world through my eyes, and b) you may purchase these photos if you so desire.
I’ve just gotten started and it’s going to take me a few weeks to get everything up and ready, so check back in around Valentine’s Day.
This morning we hooked up with the Zona Research Lab crew here at the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation (UIC). This is one of MANY research groups here in the Barrow and the North Slope Borough. This land is leased by the UIC from the CH2M Polar Services for scientific research. Since the 1970s, scientists have been coming to Barrow to study all aspects of the coastal tundra ecosystem.
Today, a handful of miles north of the town of Barrow one can easily see metal towers dotting the seemingly flat landscape along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. These towers collect data on current atmospheric conditions. This is where we meet with a NOAA researcher who gives us the tour of his site. We enter into a small 4 room building and climb a set of stairs to the roof where a few of the data-gathering instruments are located. A very tall tower stands to the east. It is explained that these towers collect gas samples and the amount of gas in the atmosphere a certain distance away is measured. Gases such as carbon dioxide*, methane, and various greenhouse gases are measured as the air passes by the instruments’ sensors. Measurements are taken 10 times per second, resulting in huge amounts of data. Albedo (reflection) is also measured.
Back inside, we enter a very warm room filled with laptops all connected to the instruments outside by a maze of wires. Screens show the raw data coming in, and at the same time, the data is stored on various hard drives and in programs that will be used to analyze and interpret these data.
A short walk to the south across the tundra, we arrive at the Zona Lab group’s tower. Here they measure CH4 and CO2 flux emissions which will add to knowledge about terrestrial contributions of this ecosystem to climate change. This tower is small and wires run into what looks like a giant blue cooler that houses the computer collections and recording the data. From the computer living in this box, the data is transmitted to a computer back at the main laboratory a few miles away. Here, graduate students and post docs receive the data on their computers and work on it right away.
We are shown raw data and we are shown graphs that are produced from the data. As science educators, we are thinking of ways to use what we have learned, and brainstorm with the Zona Lab group about what data would be usable in K-12 classrooms. They are excited to work with us and be involved in educating youth with real data. We part with happy thoughts and good feelings about future communications through which we will work to engage students in the study of atmospheric and climate sciences.
*In case you were curious, the CO2 readings while we visited were hovering at 392 ppm which is the lowest they have had this summer. They have recently started to drop because primary plant production has stopped (in other words, plants are no longer growing and respiring as much as the season turns to fall).
I seem to have good luck with teenage boys on flights in Alaska. For some reason they tell me intriguing things, about their great state. My first visit in 2012, I met the brothers from Anchorage who were city kids to the core with some experience in the wilderness. Today, I met a nice Junior in high school who told me a bit about his life in a small village about 200 miles west of where we both departed the plane in Barrow, Alaska. I asked him if he traveled much and he gave me a pained smile and said, “no, not really.” Further conversation told me he was maybe going to college far from home, because he did not like being stuck in the same area all of the time. I can’t say I blame him.
His is village is on the Arctic Ocean, like Barrow, only much smaller. Barrow’s population is roughly 4,500 and his village’s population sits at about 300. He tells me they have AT&T cell service, travel mostly in winter by snow machine to other villages because it’s easier, and that there isn’t anything to do
While I can only imagine what life as a teenager is like in a small remote coastal tundra village, I was also wondering what my visit to Barrow was going to be like.
I walk off the plane and into the one room airport. It’s crowded with both passengers and folks picking up. Everyone knows everyone. Local children walk by, poking their heads through the open doors, calling out hellos to people working there. Children go wherever they want here, unattended by adults. It’s refreshing. They do not seemed concerned in the least about being a snack for a Polar Bear.
After a 10 minute drive to our home for the next 3 days (more about that in a future post), Mary and I grab binoculars and money and head out to the biggest grocery store in town in the Ford Ranger we have been given. We decide on canned chili and Fritos for dinner. We buy about $25 dollars worth of food for breakfasts and lunches. I am relieved to see sale prices ring up as we do not have a discount card for any market in Alaska. I go to pay for our food – $68.00 for what would cost us $25 in Colorado. Stunning. How anyone can afford to eat here, I have no idea. Hunting and fishing are my best guess answer to this question.
It’s 9:30pm before we have dinner but it feels like 6:00pm. We are, after all, on the very edge of the Arctic Ocean where the cold beach sand meets the coastal tundra, and where the sun doesn’t set in the summer.
We eat 3 meals a day in the commodore (a semi-outdoor dining hall). There is ALWAYS rice and beans at each meal, prepared differently some times, but mostly it is just plain rice and beans. There is a rotation of red and black beans, whole and mashed beans. The rice is white or brown, occasionally made into fried rice with cauliflower, onions, and carrots. Only 2 meals so far have been without beans but there is always rice. I love rice and beans so much that I eat them about 3 times a week at home, but 3 times a day is a bit much and I have to say I am pretty tired of seeing them.
One thing I remembered very fondly from my visit to Costa Rica 6 years ago was all of the fresh fruit. It is just a bit sweeter and more flavorful here, most likely because it is grown locally and cut up within a day. Breakfast is the best time for fruit and there is always fresh mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple, and bananas. It is so refreshing when the rest of breakfast is heavy foods like eggs, various meats and sausages, pancakes, french toast, and rice and beans.
Coffee is goooood in Costa Rica! Of course, it grows here on plantations. It is dark and rich and smooth, and lacks the acidity of coffees we buy in the United States. So far I have bought 6 bags of it to take back to Colorado. I’m sure I will pick up more one I start traveling on the west side of the country.
Another favorite Costa Rica made food is the Lizano Salsa. It is made in San Jose and is a vegetable puree with a tang. One bottle is enough for me to take home but I have already found a place online I can buy it.
I don’t do large meals well but I do well snacking throughout the day. The food at meals is typically a meat (fish, pork, chicken), cooked squashes, broccoli, and cauliflower, and various vegetable salads. It is all prepared in fairly healthy manor and typically lacking in spices and sweetness. Even the daily fresh fruit juices are not sweet because they are diluted with water. So, the first time I had the chance to go to the Supermercado, I stocked up on a Costa Rican cookie, Chiky, which my aunt and uncle introduced me to 6 years ago. They are also not as sweet as any cookie in the United States but it gives me just enough when I crave it.
We are definitely well fed here at La Selva but I think all of us are anxious for a change in food in coming days!
When the work is done for the day, we like to play!
Our first excursion was a boat trip up the Sarapiqui River. We taxied to the boat launch in town and then onto a tour boat with just one other family on board. For two hours we travelled slowly up the swollen river, stopping to look at any and all wildlife we could see. It was relaxing and exciting at the same time. I was able to take seem good shots of birds, caiman, Howler monkeys, and a Two-toed Sloth.
Despite the constant rain, we have gone on a few night hikes in hopes of discovering snakes, spiders, and mammals. It hasn’t been great and we mostly see spiders. During the rainy season it seems that at night the animals hide away and are not out feeding as much. There is still plenty to see during the day so it’s been satisfying.
One particular day after lunch we were able to go with one of the La Selva staff to the towers. We hiked out into the rainforest and climbed one tower, crossed a bridge, and climbed higher still on a second tower. We ended up at about 46 meters and just at the tops of the trees. The view was incredible, looking out over trees extending as far away as the mountains to the northeast. The towers would sway in the wind, reminding me of being a child climbing as high as I could go in trees so that I too could sway in the wind.
When you are working indoors in a lab all day it is necessary to get out and do something to keep you sane. These types of things are exactly what was needed to keep us motivated and happy.
Eleven days ago I was running around like a mad woman trying to juggle so many things I thought I might just crash at any moment. Today I am completely relaxed, with no agenda except to make it to meals in the dining hall. Each day the work has gotten less and less as we accomplish what needs to be done. Being physically separate from my normal life has helped me to mentally separate from it as well. Here, the work I do is not the same as what I do in the office and I need this change to break up the monotony of routine.
I am starting to relate to the sloth a bit. There is no rushing around, but rather a leisurely pace. I feel as if my movements are slower, my thinking is clearer, and I do not feel a sense of urgency about anything. There is ample time to sit and just be, where I can rock in the rocking chair outside and just watch things happen around me. There is freedom to take rainforest hikes and sneak off for some yoga whenever I feel the need. We take breaks when we need it. No pressure.
I credit this birding addiction to Joel and Vicki Simon, who in 2004 taught me all about birds and migration in 2004 at a Hawkwatch International site in Corpus Christi, Texas. I have not been normal ever since, as I find myself constantly searching the ground, sky and everything in between for flapping wings or the flick of a feathered tail.
I have gone from being satisfied with just viewing them through my binoculars to obsessing about photographing them. Here in Costa Rica, after one week of using my binoculars, I have put them down and have taken up the camera instead.
I like bird watching because it is relaxing. Those who know me well know that I do not sit quietly for long. This is why bird watching is good for me – it forces me to be quiet, patient, and still. It forces me to concentrate on one thing at a time.
Here at La Selva there are 400 species of birds, and of these I have seen 40 species so I have a long way to go! That is another thing I enjoy, the challenge of finding different birds, and there is always a thrill upon discovering one you have never seen before.
Please enjoy some of my favorite bird pics from this trip so far.
The flora and fauna is definitely interesting and pulls me away from the work we are doing here. And we are working – I promise!
And what exactly is the work we are doing?
In a nutshell our team of 3 science teachers (Alex Melendez, Marty Buehler, Jaime Miriam), 2 scientists (Ann Russell, John Moore) one lab manager (Greg Selby), and myself are here to learn about the soil food web.
This means riding bicycles through the forest to research plots that have existed for years and have been used by Dr. Ann Russell of Iowa State University. Soil samples are taken at these plots and brought back to the lab.
A few days of sample preparation is done and then there are a few days of wait time for the soil fauna to be extracted, using different techniques. We then look at what has been extracted under a microscope and can determine what lives there. We are looking specifically at Arthropods, Protozoa, Bacteria, and Fungi.
For those familiar with my Ten Days On The Tundra blog a couple of years back, this is an extension of that project. Once we have data collected in the rainforest, we will have this information from the tropics, shortgrass steppe, and arctic tundra.
It is the rainy season in Costa Rica, there is no mistaking that! Each morning I wake up to rainfall. Or so I thought…I have discovered that what I am actually hearing is the water on the leaves from the night’s rain storms, dripping to the ground. But then it rains again by 7:00am.
Rainforest leaves are generally large, with pointy tips where a water drop rolls down the leaf to the tip and then drips off. When there is a heavy downpour, I run for cover beneath a tree because the number of drops that will hit me is significantly fewer than if I were out in the open. Hooray for large leaves!
It rains nearly all day and all night. There are different intensities of rain, from a mere mist to a sprinkle, to a steady stream, to heavy downpours and everything in between. When it rains, you experience all intensities, in a seemingly random order. Often there is a lot of thunder and lightening.
The Sarapiqui River next to my cabina rises and falls depending on where the rain has fallen (upstream or at La Selva). In a 10 hour period, the river rose a good 8 feet, but about 12 hours later it was back down where it had previously been. Flash flooding is not to be taken lightly here!
Pools of water form above ground, creating ephemeral ponds waiting for a chance to seep down through the soil. The birds take cover in the trees but continue to call, the insects go quiet, and the monkeys sit tight on their branches and continue to howl as thunder rolls around above. I take my rain gear on and off half a dozen times a day, as I try to maneuver the drops between the dining hall, lab, and cabina.
10 minutes of sunshine lights up the forest and brightens our moods, and then the rain returns.