A Story of Song

I’ve recently realized that I prefer songs that tell a story that I can follow. Brandi Carlisle and Judy Collins come to mind. The listener is able to follow the story and image it unfolding visually as its being told. What is the purpose of a song? Is it to tell a story?

Around 7:00am I heard a familiar song coming from outside of the house. I paused. This is mid-January in northern Colorado. There is snow on the ground and it is 20F outside. There should not be singing. But on it went…

(c) Joan Wiitanen, Feederwatch.org

Huh.

A quick peek at the Google led me to an answer I was not expecting. See, birds tend to sing to attract mates and while I am watching Red-tailed hawks and Bald Eagles pair up all over the Front Range right now, it doesn’t seem that it’s time for Black-capped Chickadees to be wooing their mates this early in the year. And they are not. Instead, chickadees are using song as they travel in flocks during winter to establish territories. I wonder if my yard bird feeders have been claimed and the birds are telling others to stay away.

This all got me thinking about how song is used by people and if it is used to court a potential mate. While there is no recorded evidence that in primitive human song was used to establish territory, it has definitely been a factor in romantic relationships. I recall a conversation with a friend years ago who said something along the lines of, “If she can sing, I’ll give her anything she wants” when referring to the qualities of a good match for him. Who isn’t attracted to a lovely voice that can carry a tune? Song writers express their affection through song intended to be heard by the one they love all the time. Perhaps you have fallen for a performer in a musical after hearing them sing.

Song is made up of a series of sounds and many animals on Earth sing for various reasons. We humans use songs for a variety of reasons many which are tied to our emotions and how we are feeling. Animals may also use or respond to song for similar reasons, If you are interested in learning more about this, click here.

Morning Sunrises Color My Days

Sunrise in east Fort Collins, Colorado. September 2019. (c)Amanda J Morrison

Three years ago I changed school districts which doubled my commute but also has me headed east five days a week as the sun rises above the horizon. In winter months, after the autumnal “fall back” of time change, I wake up to cold, dark mornings where I fumble around the house for coffee and breakfast not ready to greet the artificial light I could turn on. This is something I have realized I need to do to start my day off on the right foot – not turn on the lights. Letting the natural progression of light slowly fill the indoor spaces is a kinder, more gentle way to start the day.

On work days, I leave the house when the first color appears in the sky above the horizon. It is a mad dash for me to get outside of town for the best full view of the radiant color that greets me. Away from the streetlights, stoplights, and lights flickering on inside homes as the city wakes up. Out I go to the grassland where trees won’t block my view and I can see across this vast flat land called the shortgrass prairie. As I slow my pace, I take in the changing colors of the landscape before me. Pale colors morph into bold and brilliant colors, fading back into pastels that brush the grassland around me, and lie like a curtain on the continuous chain of mountains behind me.

Occasionally I will head toward small ponds or lakes in an effort to capture the color in flat or rippled water. This tests my patience as most days this effort falls short and I return to the indoors unsatisfied. However, on the occasion that I do experience the color from above and below, it’s as if magic has happened! I sit in awe of the light surrounding me – amazed that particles of dust, ice crystals, and pollution are responsible for creating THIS!

Sunrise in Timnath, Colorado. December 2019. (c) Amanda J Morrison

There is something about the early morning light changing from the cool shades of blue into the warm colors of yellow, oranges, and reds, and finally morphing into pinks and purples before the sky becomes its consistent and reliable blue. Experiencing this sets up my day very unlike days I don’t catch the sunrise. On a sunrise day, I feel refreshed, hopeful, energized and optimistic. I feel as if I have absorbed some of the energy put out by the light show that surrounded me, and have that energy to release back out into the world that day.

In The Garden Today

04206BCF-88F7-4879-896F-7925B99C1BA5I’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!

Photography

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Photo taken in Fort Collins, CO

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.

I’ll keep you posted!

Edge of the Arctic – Day 2

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.

imageToday, 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.

imageBack 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.

imageWe 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).

Edge of the Arctic – Arrival

imageI 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.

imageI 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.

imageIt’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.

 

Return to the Rainforest (Part 7)

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Dinner always includes a mystery dessert.

Food in Costa Rica deserves its own blog post.

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.

Enjoying a fresh coconut at the fruit and vegetable stand.
Enjoying a fresh coconut at the fruit and vegetable stand.

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.

My favorite foods from Costa Rica ready to be sent to the United States.
My favorite foods from Costa Rica ready to be sent to the United States.

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.

I have had one beer, from Nicaragua.  Lite, mild flavor.
I have had one beer, from Nicaragua. Lite, mild flavor.

 

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!

Moch creme filled pastry from in town.
Moch creme filled pastry from in town.

 

Return to the Rainforest (Part 6)

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This photo is not staged! I turned around and this is what I saw.

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.

 

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Me on the bridge before heading to Tower #2

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.

 

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Caiman on the river bank

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.

Return to the Rainforest (Part 5)

A Howler Monkey lazily looks at me from his perch high up on the bridge.
A Howler Monkey lazily looks at me from his perch high up on the bridge.

What a change of pace!

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.

 

The Three-Toed Sloth sprawls out high up in the tree branches, soaking up the sun.
The Three-Toed Sloth sprawls out high up in the tree branches, soaking up the sun.

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 relax in the rocking chair and read a book.
I relax in the rocking chair and read a book.

 

 

Pura Vida!

Long-Nosed Bats hang from a dead tree throughout the day.
Long-Nosed Bats hang from a dead tree during the day.

A Strawberry Poison Dart Frog sits motionless on a leaf.
A Strawberry Poison Dart Frog sits motionless on a leaf.

The peccary wades into a mud puddle and stands there for awhile.
The peccary wades into a mud puddle and stands there for awhile.

Return to the Rainforest (Part 4)

Chestnut-collared Woodpecker
Chestnut-collared Woodpecker

Birds, birds, birds!

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.

Anhinga along the Sarapiqui River
Anhinga

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.

Chestnut-mandible Toucan
Chestnut-mandible Toucan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Volcano Hummingbird
Volcano Hummingbird

Please enjoy some of my favorite bird pics from this trip so far.

Pura Vida!

 

 

 

 

White-crowned Parrots
White-crowned Parrots

Great Kiskadee
Great Kiskadee

Crested Guan
Crested Guan

Great Curassow
Great Curassow

Slaty-tailed Trogon at 100ft above the forest floor
Slaty-tailed Trogon at 100ft above the forest floor

Passerini's Tanager
Passerini’s Tanager