science

Fall workshops — Nature Journaling and Nature Writing

Have you ever wanted to start a nature journal, or take the leap into nature writing? I’m offering two workshops on those subjects this fall at the Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, just west of downtown Tucson.

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Nature Journaling: Learn the art of seeing and recording the world around you

Friday, November 15 – 5 pm to 7 pm in the Tumamoc Library

Saturday, November 16 – 9 am to 3 pm at Tumamoc Hill

Sunday, November 17 – 9 am to 3 pm at Tumamoc Hill

$145 per person

Keeping a nature journal can both deepen your connections to the natural world and help you learn more about it. Neither science education nor art training is needed—you will develop the skills of a naturalist and a field sketch-artist along the way.

This 3-session class will introduce the tools and processes of keeping a nature journal, with instructor Roseann Hanson and guest instructor Paul Mirocha.

“Your observations, questions, and reflections will enrich your experiences and develop gratitude, reverence, and the skills of a naturalist . . . If you train your mind to see deeply and with intentional curiosity . . . the world will open before you.” - John Muir Laws, artist, naturalist, and author

In this class we will learn how to practice “intentional curiosity” as the core of nature journaling: to ask questions, to dig deeper, to focus our minds both intently and intentionally.

The class will include:

The nuts-and-bolts of journal-keeping (paper and ink types, archival systems, how to make entries that you can refer to later, laying out pages, prompts to jump-start observations, and tips on researching science questions sparked by your observations).

Easy tips that enable anyone to get started sketching and painting. Roseann will help free you from your inner critic and start sketching and painting. Art in a nature journal is not only lovely to see, but an important component of your skillset because the very act of drawing and painting something from life involves incredibly intense observation. Your brain is wholly occupied by only that thing you are observing and drawing—it is a kind of meditation that results in new insights, deeper understanding, and even reverence and gratitude.

Instructor Roseann Hanson, who has been keeping a nature journal for more than 30 years, will be your guide on the journey to becoming a naturalist, nature journalist, and artist.

TO FIND OUT MORE DETAILS AND TO REGISTER: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nature-journaling-tickets-69219225567


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Writing the Lives of the Sonoran Desert: Exploring nature with words

Friday, December 13 – 5 pm to 7 pm in the Tumamoc Library

Saturday, December 14 – 9 am to 3 pm at Tumamoc Hill

Sunday, December 15 – 9 am to 3 pm at Tumamoc Hill

$145 per person

In this class you will learn to explore nature with words, from poetry to fiction to science writing. You will learn to participate in nature fully and honestly, as well as to observe, record, and express nature in writing, without “purple prose.”

Nature writers Jonathan and Roseann Hanson will share with you their “secret” for a daily dose of wildness, along with a simple process of recording what you observe accurately, of researching facts and details, and then potentially producing an article or essay for personal enjoyment or publication.

The class will include:

Prior to the workshop: The Hansons will share a suggested reading list and a few easy assignments to give you content to bring to the first class.

On Friday evening in the beautiful Desert Laboratory library, which resonates with over a century of powerful words about nature (it is the birthplace of the field of ecology and the venerable journal Ecology), Jonathan and Roseann will introduce types of writing and share samples to discuss:

- Nature writing (more poetic writing; examples of writers: Terry Tempest Williams, Gary Snyder)

- Natural history writing (combining science with creative prose; examples of writers: Gary Paul Nabhan, Robert Michael Pyle, Ann Zwinger, Pete Dunne)

- Interpretive writing (careful interpretation of science-based facts into interesting writing for very general use)

- Or a combination of all three, such as Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses.

On Saturday and Sunday the class will spend time exploring Tumamoc Hill and engaging with its wildness through writing exercises. Bring a lunch each day to enjoy in the Sonoran Plant garden courtyard. Throughout the weekend we’ll share writing, and discuss ways to overcome common challenges such as overly “purple” prose or writer’s block.

By the end of class, you will come away with a new outlook on nature writing, along with new skills. Along the way the Hansons will challenge your perception of nature and your role in it—and spark your creative process.

TO FIND OUT MORE DETAILS AND TO REGISTER: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-the-lives-of-the-sonoran-desert-tickets-69223668857

The art of seeing instead of looking: reasons to keep a nature journal

A nature journal is about observing–questioning–reflecting. My pages often contain circled question marks, to remind me to research into a question sparked by close observation. They also contain ink sketches and watercolor paintings, not just because they are attractive to me and a great source of relaxation, but because the very act of drawing and painting something from life involves incredibly intense observation. The whole world of stress and deadlines and discord slips away and my brain is wholly occupied by only that thing I’m observing and drawing—a kind of meditation that results in deeper understanding and even reverence and gratitude.

A nature journal is about observing–questioning–reflecting. My pages often contain circled question marks, to remind me to research into a question sparked by close observation. They also contain ink sketches and watercolor paintings, not just because they are attractive to me and a great source of relaxation, but because the very act of drawing and painting something from life involves incredibly intense observation. The whole world of stress and deadlines and discord slips away and my brain is wholly occupied by only that thing I’m observing and drawing—a kind of meditation that results in deeper understanding and even reverence and gratitude.

I’ve been keeping journals for over 45 years, since I was 8 or 9 years old, and they became nature-oriented about 35 years ago, when I started studying ecology and evolutionary biology in college and began publishing books and articles about natural history. Data and sketches from my journals have been used in several books written by me and my husband, Jonathan Hanson.

This year I was fortunate to join the team at the University of Arizona’s Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill as Art & Science Program coordinator—where helping put together classes on field sketching and science notebooks is part of my job.

In the process of working up some new courses for fall 2019 and spring 2020, I’ve been delving into the question:

Why keep a nature journal?

Is it just to make a collection of pretty pictures?

Is it simply a list of places and plants and animals?

Does it accomplish anything of value beyond a record?

With the passion of a crusader, naturalist, artist, and author John Muir Laws (The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling) describes the value of nature journaling beyond being a mere record:

If you “train your mind to see deeply and with intentional curiosity . . . the world will open before you;”

and

“Keeping a journal of your observations, questions, and reflections will enrich your experiences and develop gratitude, reverence, and the skills of a naturalist.”

If the foundation of science is the ability to “observe-reflect-deduct,” then field notes are the key to the process. The primary skills of a naturalist—a natural scientist—include not just knowledge of the natural world, but more importantly the ability to observe carefully. A naturalist records field notes, which are about observing, questioning, and reflecting. And “observing-questioning-reflecting” = truly seeing, not just looking.

“Intentional curiosity” is a wonderful phrase, full of deeper meaning about the art of seeing. To be curious is to ask questions, to dig deeper, to learn something. When you make the commitment to take down an entry in your nature journal, you are focusing your mind both intently and intentionally. So even if I’m “only” sitting in my backyard, if I focus and pay attention with intention, I almost always learn something new. Just a few weeks ago I was drawing and taking notes on the flowers of a Mexican palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata), which I’ve seen 100 times. But by intentionally studying it, by observing-questioning-reflecting, I learned something new: the flowers have three color phases. Why, I asked? I learned that the top flower petals change color to red after pollination, to signal to bees that their nectar is no longer available and not waste their time on those flowers but to head to the yellow ones instead.

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I believe that keeping a nature journal—field notes, or field notes with sketches—and developing the skills of a naturalist is more important than ever in this digital age of noise and interruptions. The digital generation is adept at multitasking, but they could be losing the ability to focus and see deeply, to slow down and see not just look.

And with this seeing, comes gratitude and reverence for the natural world, according to Laws. And only from this will we as a society be able to come together to conserve the world’s ever-dwindling wild places and plants and animals.

I’m currently re-reading John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts’s 1941 The Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research, which is the acknowledged full and shared vision of their collecting expedition aboard the Western Flyer. The account is a supremely readable travel journal, philosophical essay, a nature journal, and a catalogue of species. Steinbeck described the purpose of the journey was:

to stir curiosity

And so we are back to the core of nature journaling.

Laws sums thusly: “The goal of nature journaling is not to create a portfolio of pretty pictures but to develop a tool to help you see, wonder, and remember your experiences.”

And Steinbeck concurs, in the manner of prose that made him justifiably one of our greatest writers (and a great naturalist and nature journaler):

It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars, and then back to the tide pool again.

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Feral watercolor & place-based art

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I’ve been experimenting with making pigments from locally sourced minerals (and plant matter) for "extreme" place-based nature journaling and art. I call it "feral watercolor." 

Because the pigments come from the location being represented in the art, the colors can be strikingly true and the sense of place profound.

The pigment (and resin binder) below is from the Sierra El Rosario in Northern Mexico’s La Reserva Pinacate del Gran Desierto.

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I collected magnetite and ground it into powder, then for a binder I added resin from a plant growing in a canyon in the Sierra — Bursera microphylla — and Sonoran Desert honey as a humectant. I also experimented with adding a little oxgall, although I’m not sure it made a difference in the adhesion.

The result is a paint that perfectly mimics the stark, nearly black mountains that rise out of the sand dunes (see the painting, top).

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I have mineral soils from all over the world, and have quite a few projects planned—in addition to a workshop in the near future—email me if you are interested!

Sierra Aconchi Expedition, Sonora, Mex., July 2013

Spent the last three days in Sonora, Mex., backcountry. Nine miles up 2500 feet--low and slow. Working on a biological survey with Sky Island Alliance.Our camp in a small meadow next to a sycamore-lines creek. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar camp setup. John Palting's JK working hard. John is an entomologist and spends all night with lights collecting species-- a number of them new to science. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceMopar off-highway trailer.A few of the species collected on this trip. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliancePhotographing a tiger rattlesnake. Beautiful.
Tiger rattlesnake discovered on the first evening next to our dining area. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceJonathan staking out a Sinaloan Wren nest to get some awesome video of nest construction and beautiful song. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceHow to put a lizard to sleep: tummy rubs. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceWe really like our new #Frontrunner aluminum and stainless table, which mounts under the overhang of the Four Wheel Camper. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceThe Frontrunner table slides mounted under the Four Wheel Camper overhang.Mud turtle. Could be undescribed subspecies. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandalliance
Tiger beetle. #mexico #sonora #biodiversity #skyislandallianceOut of the backcountry, spending July 4 at La Posada del Rio in Banamichi before heading back tomorrow. Lovely restored colonial style hotel.Courtyard detail, Hotel Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiDoor detail at La Posada del Rio. #mexico #sonora #banamichiLooking at the Sierra Aconchi from Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoBanamichi, Sonora, Mexico.
Old door, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoOld colonial hacienda "zaguan" entrance, Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoLa Posada del Rio courtyard at night.Truck art. Banamichi, Sonora, MexicoChuyita, the cook, gave us a lesson in making flan; open photos to read directions in the photo descriptions.Lesson in making flan
We spent four days in the Sonoran backcountry with Sky Island Alliance's MABA Expedition team (Madrean Archipelago Biodiversity Assessment) cataloguing insects, mammals, herpetofauna, birds, and plants. After four days in the field we headed to the colonial town of Banamichi along the Rio Sonora and stayed a night at La Posada del Rio, a restored hacienda along the plaza. It was a great combination of rugged backcountry exploration, camping, work, and then fantastic cultural experiences before heading home.

The Jesuit final exam




I wasn’t lucky enough to know Reverend Anderson Bakewell, S. J. (Society of Jesus) before he died in 1999 at age 86. But my friend Steve Bodio knew him well and hunted with him.

Hunted? Yes—Bakewell was not your ordinary priest, even for a Jesuit. In the 1930s he collected reptiles and amphibians in Mexico and South America for the St. Louis Zoo (and had several of them named after him). In 1941 he climbed Mt. Wood in the St. Elias Range, at that time the highest unclimbed peak in North America. He went on to be the youngest member of H.W. Tilman’s attempt on Mt. Everest in 1950, the first from the south, which would prove Hillary’s and Norgay’s successful route three years later. In the meantime he earned a bachelor’s degree and did graduate work in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Oh, and in 1942 he entered the Society of Jesus and did missionary work in India (where he helped prepare antivenom for snake bite treatment) and Alaska (where his parish comprised 35,000 square miles). And became a member of the Explorers Club along the way. And compiled a modest arsenal of fine weapons, including a .416 Rigby which a British officer friend got for him for $75 (they go for $20,000 today).


Bakewell in his Santa Fe home

Recently Bakewell’s biographer sent Steve a (presumably tongue-in-cheek) clip from a mid-80s Jesuit newsletter in his effects, titled “Jesuit Final Exam.” If you’re familiar with Heinlein’s classic “Specialization is for insects” quote from Time Enough for Love, this will strike you as sort of the same concept . . . on crack. Steve wonders whether, especially given the rifle reference, Bakewell might have had a heavy hand in concocting this.

INSTRUCTIONS: Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit: four hours. Begin immediately.

HISTORY: Describe the history of the papacy from its origins to the present day, concentrating especially, but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

MEDICINE: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have fifteen minutes.

PUBLIC SPEAKING: Storming the classroom are 2500 riot-crazed aborigines. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

BIOLOGY: Create life. Estimate the differences in subsequent human culture if this form of life had developed 500 million years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English parliamentary system. Prove your thesis.

MUSIC: Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. (You will find a piano under your seat).

PSYCHOLOGY: Estimate the sociological problems which might accompany the end of the world. Construct an experiment to test your theory.

ENGINEERING: The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual, printed in Swahili. In ten minutes a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

ECONOMICS: Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan in the following areas: cubism, the Donatist controversy, the wave theory of light. Outline a method for preventing these effects. Criticize this method from all possible points of view, as demonstrated in your answer to the last question.

POLITICAL SCIENCE: There is a red telephone on the desk beside you. Start World War III. Report at length on its socio-political effects, if any.

EPISTEMOLOGY: Take a position for or against the truth. Prove the validity of your position.

PHYSICS: Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

PHILOSOPHY: Sketch the development of human thought; estimate its significance. Compare with the development of any other kind of thought.


I’ve occasionally mused on how many of Heinlein’s human skills I could claim (at last count I think I was pretty sure about 16, not counting of course “die gallantly,” which no one can claim until it actually happens). But the Jesuit list? Um . . . I could certainly assemble the rifle, even without the instructions. I have a rough concept of the development of human thought, and some pretty good theories as to the sociological problems that would accompany the end of the world.

And that’s about it.

Steve Bodio, left, and a 75-year-old Anderson Bakewell in Magdalena, New Mexico, in 1988

Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert

Dung beetles, Sonoran Desert an iPhone video by ConserVentures on Flickr.

We frequently see dung beetles diligently working the cow droppings around Ravenrock. Earlier this spring we watched six beetles at one fresh cow patty, madly rolling up dung into perfect spheres and then surprisingly quickly pushing it away with their hind legs, usually two beetles to a ball.

But yesterday we found these two just outside the front door to our cottage—and were just enchanted.

I need to research what species of dung beetles are here in the Sonoran Desert; it's possible these 2 are in the genus Onthophagus. 

Has anyone seen any like this before? To describe them as "adorable" seems antithetical to a dung-harvesting insect, but it's true!

Asperatus clouds


Photograph by B.J. Bumgarner
This wonderful image of asperatus clouds was posted on a Tumblr blog "Science You Can Love."


Asperatus clouds

Asperatus clouds are so rare they managed to escape classification until 2009. Ominous and stormy as they appear, these clouds often break up rather quickly, without producing a storm. As with most other undulating cloud types, these clouds are formed when turbulent winds or colliding air masses whip up the bottoms of the cloud layer into fancy shapes and formations. More common in the plains of the United States (try Iowa), asperatus clouds are at their weird and swirly best during the morning or midday hours after a thunderstorm.

Photograph by B.J. Bumgarner


(via Trebaol of Arabia blog on Tumblr)

Summer Solstice 2012

Technically the northern solstice occurred last night at 23:09.

According to Wikipedia:
A solstice is an astronomical event that happens twice each year as the sun reaches its highest or lowest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the celestial sphere.

As a result, on the solstice the sun appears to have reached its highest or lowest annual altitude in the sky above the horizon at local solar noon. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the sun stands still in declination; that is, the seasonal movement of the sun's path (as seen from Earth) comes to a stop before reversing direction. The solstices, together with the equinoxes, are connected with the seasons. In many cultures the solstices mark either the beginning or the midpoint of winter and summer. 
The term solstice can also be used in a broader sense, as the date (day) when this occurs. The day of the solstice is either the longest day of the year (in summer) or the shortest day of the year (in winter) for any place outside of the tropics.
Solstice is one of our favorite times of year—in the heart of the Sonoran Desert it's blazingly hot (106 today), incredibly dry (6% humidity), and often windy. But the black-throated sparrows are singing madly, the summer Anna's hummingbirds are arriving back from California, the nighthawks and elf owls are trilling and peeping all night long—and it means the rains are coming, the desert is ready, the anticipation is palpable.

Darwin's notebook

Darwin's notebook by ConserVentures
Darwin's notebook, a photo by ConserVentures on Flickr.
This image of page 36 of one of Charles Darwin's 1837 journals gives us chills.

There is a tree with branches depicting a postulation on how related genera would be formed, main text reads:


Case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now. To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction.
"Thus between A & B immense gap of relation. C & B the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. — bearing relation

But the most evocative part is the small note in the upper left:

I think

Darwin's notebooks are available online through Darwin-online.org.uk. You can open a notebook and browse the pages as though flipping through them in person.

In early June, the New York Times published a story on the Open Tree of Life Project, the goal of which is to draw "a tree of life that includes every known species. A tree, in other words, with about two million branches."


[Source:  New York Times, June 5, 2012 "Open Tree of Life Project ]

Monsoons officially start




First official day of summer monsoons in the Sonoran Desert (as seen through ocotillo plant). The traditional date for the start is a week away—June 24, or San Juan's Day.

What is a "monsoon?"Some say that's a misnomer, but according to the Arizona State University School of Geographical sciences, the "Arizona Monsoon" begins after a "prolonged (3 consecutive days or more) period of dew points averaging 55°F" or higher." More from ASU:

The Arizona Monsoon is a well-defined meteorological event (technically called a meteorological 'singularity') that occurs during the summer throughout the southwest portion of North America. During the winter time, the primary wind flow in Arizona is from the west or northwest—from California and Nevada. As we move into the summer, the winds shift to a southerly or southeasterly direction. Moisture streams northward from the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This shift produces a radical change in moisture conditions statewide.
Such a change, together with daytime heating, is the key to the Arizona monsoon. This wind shift is the result of two meteorological changes:
  • The movement northward from winter to summer of the huge upper air subtropical high pressure cells, specifically the so-called Bermuda High (H).
  • In addition, the intense heating of the desert creates rising air and surface low pressure (called a thermal low) in the Mohave (L).
These two features combine to create strong southerly flow over Arizona. The southerly winds push moisture north-ward from Mexico. The exact source region for the moisture of the Arizona monsoon is unknown. Researchers have proposed the Gulf of Mexico and/or the Gulf of California as the source regions but conclusive evidence has so far been elusive.

MyRadar iPhone app showing the monsoon action on June 16, 2012

Here at Ravenrock, black-throated sparrows started singing right on cue as clouds build over the mountains.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Profiles in scientific courage

While today's scientific explorers face physical, intellectual, and financial challenges, their hardships hardly compare with those faced by science pioneers from years past. I recently found this interesting re-posting on Science News on Explorersweb. The question posed is: ""Historical scientists and their importance to society - What moves a person to give up everything in defense of truth?" Profiles include Hypatia (depicted in a painting, above; who ran a library in Alexandria 1400 years ago). A good quick read.


Tortoises are emerging



With the summer rains come our cavalcade of tortoises. We've seen little ones and really big ones; this young guy, a medium-sized one, was ambling down the trail on our morning walk today (on males you can see the hook on the front of the plastron or belly plate, that is thought to be used during 'combat' with other males for territory; the plastron is also slightly dished, to facilitate mating).