Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Awesome Walrus - Search for the Golden Fish

The Awesome Walrus

Guest post by Theo Miller

It was the frosty winter of 2006 and snow was falling from the Northeast. A sudden flash of light came from behind me, then everything went black. When I awoke, I thought I was back home, but there was no wind, frost or even snow on the ground. When I turned around, I realized what happened to the snow...

There was a 25 foot tall, glass window and people were watching me. There were little kids, old kids, smelly kids and teenagers taunting me. The parents were on their phones not aware that kids were dangling themselves over the wall, almost falling into my habitat. It looked like I was going to have the same day for the rest of my life.

One day a child got pushed into my enclosure. I brought him to the glass wall and showed his mom. I climbed a rock and gave him to his mother. That was the right thing to do until I realized I was out of my pen. Now the chase was on!

The Zoo Crew chased me to the San Diego beach. I used my swimming ability and swam hundreds of miles back to the Artic. There, I rejoined my herd and told them about my adventure. I told them it was frustrating but fun. I announced to them that it was so fun, I was going to swim to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. I would search for the Golden Fish that would feed the herd for many years. They let me go on my adventure and wished me luck.

Note: This week's post featured a guest writer, my 11 year old son, Theo. There is a curious tradition of modern artists studying children's art. Their work contains a certain, naive charm. Kids don't know the rules so they express themselves more freely. A "Child's Spirit" is almost impossible to recapture once you reach your mature style. I have two young boys and their sudden, creative outbursts are fascinating. I discovered Theo's story in a stack of papers and thought it would be fun to share.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes - A Surreal Landscape

The Great Sand Dunes

Earlier this summer, curiosity propelled us to go investigate The Great Sand Dunes National Park. On the way there, I was struck by the desolation of the high desert region known as the San Luis Valley. The dunes first appear as a small, pink band sprawling out humbly beneath the jagged, blue peaks of the impressive Crestone Needles. Not until you arrive at Medano Creek do the tallest sand dunes in North America begin to flex their muscle. It's a surreal landscape and the sheer scale of the dunes is breathtaking.

It took more than 400,000 years for nature to sculpt this masterpiece. Water, wind and sand are the ingredients of a process that continues to this day. Sand from the river flood plain are picked up by strong, westerly winds. The tiny particles are deposited in a pile against the foothills. Zebulon Pike is credited with the first written account of the dunes. In 1807 he wrote, "Their appearance was exactly that of the sea in a storm, except as to color, not the least sign of vegetation existing thereon."

It's remarkable inside the dunes. With no designated trails, you are encouraged to explore freely. The endless waves of sand are steep and hot. It's also very quiet but the solitude is a peaceful escape from the chaos of day-to-day life in the city. A unique feature of the park is Medano Creek, a flood plain that forms the eastern boundary of the sand dunes. The wide, shallow creek is a great place to cool off and splash around. I would definitely recommend making the drive across Southern Colorado to experience one of the Rocky Mountain's most fascinating environments.

The San Luis Valley

The impressive Crestone Needles

Set against blue peaks, the dunes appear pink.

It's remarkable inside the dunes

The dunes are hot and steep

The solitude is a peaceful escape

Medano Creek is a great place to cool off

A San Luis Valley, blood-red sunset

Friday, July 13, 2012

Troublesome Creek - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Troublesome Creek" Colored Pencil

After a storm blankets Noble Meadow with fresh snow, Troublesome Creek is swollen with spring runoff. Normally this gulch is parched but now the proud, little creek rushes down into Buchanan Ponds. The diffused light neutralizes the colors but this time of year even the snowy landscape can be expressed with warm hues.

In March we get milder temperatures but more extreme snowfall amounts. The snow seems to come every day and the wind screams down through this draw making it an inhospitable place. A person can get the local weather forecast by gazing up into Squaw Pass. If Squaw Mountain gradually disappears into dense clouds that is a sure sign moisture is on the way.

This unassuming meadow is teeming with wildlife. Some of the more notable, local inhabitants include Elk, Mule Deer, Yellow-Bellied Marmot, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl and Garter Snake. Near the ponds I've seen a Turkey Vulture, Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks, Swallows, Turtles, Frogs and Crayfish.

The compelling drama between predator and prey is less conspicuous but action packed. Within this vibrant ecosystem, I've watched a Great Blue Heron fish for trout with it's spear-like beak. I've seen a Red-Tailed Hawk swoop down and snatch a gopher with it's lethal talons and I've watched a Coyote hunt for field mice by pouncing through the snow.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake - A Beautiful Creature

Western Terrestrial Garter Snake

I have a fear of heights, but I love to climb mountains. I'm scared of snakes, but I will eagerly handle them. A few days ago while hiking the shoreline of a small mountain lake, we encountered a Western Terrestrial Garter Snake.

My first reaction was to recoil in fear. Surprised to see a snake at this elevation, we cautiously observed the reptile for a little bit. He was about two feet long and a striking yellow-gray in color with dark patterns. He appeared fairly harmless.

Modern symbolic traditions tend to stress the negative role of the snake - like the fear inducing danger of it's venomous bite. As a teenager in Western Nebraska working on a cattle ranch, we were under direct orders to kill any rattlesnake seen near the homeplace. That's something I couldn't do today.

Older legends and myths, however, often include mysterious, positive traits of the snake. The snake is often associated with healing and reincarnation. Native Americans revered the serpent and it's symbol related to transformation, fertility, patience and feminine powers.

We easily captured the snake and because of a calm manner and gentle handling, it settled down quickly and seemed quite tame. We studied the beautiful creature intently and then set it free. These amazing, non-venomous snakes live in mountain habitats where most other reptiles can't.

They have been found high above treeline. It's pretty cool that the Western Terrestrial Garter Snake has adapted to life in the cold and snowy montane and subalpine life zones where few other reptiles could survive. Snakes, snakes, snakes... I hate 'em but I love 'em.

Shoreline of a mountain lake

Fairly harmless

A beautiful creature

Lives where other reptiles can't

Adapted to life in the mountains

I hate 'em but I love 'em

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Impression Evergreen - Colored Pencil Drawing

"Impression Evergreen" Colored Pencil

An impression of peace and calm. Heaven blends into the earth on a late fall afternoon. The distinct contour of Bergen Peak melts away into the background while elk graze in the foreground. The scene is described by cool, gray tones and soft, feathered edges. The aspen leaves have fallen to the ground and the bluebirds have flown to the south. The air is cold and crisp. This is the way nature tells us winter is coming.

I love this time of year because the trails are void of human activity yet the mountains are full of life. If I listen closely, I can hear chickadees and nuthatches chirping in the forest. If I keep my eyes open, I might see a humble mountain cottontail quietly staying close to the rocks. A confident red-tailed hawk intensely gazing from a snag or playful Abert's squirrels happily chasing each other up and down the ponderosa pines. Maybe I'll see a shy red fox easily leaping across the creek. A nervous mule deer cautiously descending from the ridge or a daring coyote openly loping through the meadow.

The diversity of flora and fauna in the Evergreen area is amazing. Whenever I go hiking I try to identify every sound I hear and every creature I see. It has become obvious to me that each species has developed special characteristics that enable it to fit within a certain niche in the environment. The interaction between the different plants and animals can be very complex and difficult to understand but if I concentrate very hard on observing the local inhabitants things begin to look differently. My vision of nature becomes clear and the way life works in the wild makes sense. I believe van Gogh was right when he said nature is perfect.