Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Science Goes to the Dogs

Here's my first post for Austin Culturemap, about scientists using dogs in the field. Cute dogs and even cuter sea turtle hatchlings!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Austin CultureMap

I'm now contributing to Austin CultureMap, mainly science-related topics.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Perspectives on Dandelions

Every spring, my neighbor emerged, sharp spade in hand, to attack the dandelions in his yard. Sometimes he came after the ones in ours, too, before they could blow up like tiny bombs, their feathery shrapnel spreading offspring that know no property lines. Like most adults, he saw dandelions as unsightly and unwanted, bumps on the road to a pristine lawn of grass.
My children, though, viewed dandelions in an entirely different way. A yard that looked ugly and unkempt to the grown-ups was, to them, a wonderland of shimmery orbs just waiting for a breath to turn them into floating fairies. When I wheeled the stroller around our neighborhood, they stretched out their arms to grab dandelions growing along the curb. Holding the fragile spheres to their faces, they blew with all their might, cheeks puffing out, to scatter the snowy seeds. I remembered doing the same thing when I was young, back when I, too, thought of dandelions as marvelous inventions. For a time, my son blew on every flower he encountered.
This spade-wielding neighbor adored my children and went out of his way to share the wonders of nature with them – baby birds hatching in his birdhouse, squash flowers in his garden. Yet, he frowned every time he saw down blowing on the wind. “Hey!” he would yell over the fence. “Stop that!” To him, those seeds represented only more work.
It is one of those “Oh!” moments of parenthood, to realize that a bane of adult existence can be a charm of childhood. My children forced me to take another look at the world, to rethink some of what I had come to accept as given. To see some things in a new light. I recommend it highly.
Take doggie poo. We had a large yard and a large dog, with obvious consequences. Periodically, my husband or I made a sweep through the yard with a shovel, removing the offending byproduct of doggie kibble and digestion. It wasn’t a task we particularly enjoyed, especially in the summer when heat seems to hold the smell. But this little ritual became great fun for the kids. I can still see my oldest daughter at a young age, toddling along after her father and his shovel. She reached down and triumphantly held up a little trophy, calling to dad, her satisfaction at being so helpful plain on her face. Her younger brother dashed about the yard with delight when he saw one of us with a shovel. When he’d hit pay dirt, so to speak, he would stop and yell “Poo! Poo!” until we dutifully scooped it up. Neither of us adults could fathom why “poop patrol” was so much fun, but I must admit, their participation made the chore less of one.
The entire family enjoyed the trees that shaded our yard, but the adults weren’t particularly crazy about raking up the leaves they shed every fall. But, again, for the kids, their cousins and friends, a pile of leaves represented not hours of hard labor, blistered hands and sore backs, but a colorful playground, nature’s trampoline, a fort, or any number of other places their imaginations could take them. They ran full-speed and flung themselves into the piles, grabbing handfuls and throwing them gleefully into the air and all over each other. They burrowed into the largest ones, creating caves from which came peals of laughter and squeals of delight. Their fun ultimately meant more work for us, re-forming those piles of leaves, but it was hard not to laugh along with them.
I remember being struck, as a new, first-time mother, by how small, everyday things brought wonder to my baby’s face. Leaves blowing in the wind. Clouds. Stars. Noisy grackles. Birthday candles. When we get older, it takes so much more to thrill us. We need comets, flocks of flamingos, riotous colors on thousands of trees.
Why do we lose the thrill of the ordinary, and when does it happen? It must be a process so slow that we don’t even notice. We just turn around one day and there we are, real adults, jaded and skeptical. Digging up dandelions instead of blowing on them.
I wonder if children come to us partly to force a change in our outlook, to allow us to take pleasure once again in simple things. Maybe I’ll leave a few of those dandelions in the yard this year, on the side farthest from my neighbor.

More Hikes

A few more hiking routes great for winter outings that I mapped for backpacker.com:
Part of the 4C Trail in East Texas
Canyon of the Eagles Juniper Ridge Trail
Enjoy!

Great Winter Hikes

Some hiking routes I mapped for backpacker.com, great in winter:
Death Valley Mosaic Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon State Park Lighthouse Trail
Arizona's San Pedro House

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trinity River Center

The Trinity River Audubon Center near Dallas turned an old dump into a beautiful treasure. Read part of my story about it from the April, 2010 issue of Texas Highways.