What a fabulous day! We departed home at 7 a.m. for the drive to Fossil. Despite a few setbacks, we arrived safe and sound just after 10 a.m. where we met with Will Boettner, the Executive Director of the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute. After introductions and a stop in the necessary or lu, we drove the short distance to Wheeler High School whereby we listened to a volunteer as she explained a little about the geology of the area and what we could expect to find.
The fossil beds were formed 30 million years ago when volcanic ash fell during the formation of the present day Western Cascade Range. The ash was washed into the lake basin along with leaves and other plant material, level after level piling up. The ash preserved the leaves long enough for impressions to form under the pressure of the overlying layers.
About 35 species of plants, most of them belonging to genera that are no longer native to the Pacific Northwest, are found there. The most common plants are alder, maple, beech, dawn redwood and pine in what appears to represent a deciduous hardwood forest. This implies, according to Will Boettner, that the climate at that time was much more moist and more temperate than is presently the case in the shrub steppe and savannah of today.
We spent about an hour ‘excavating’ in the shale behind the high school. Everyone was successful in finding fossils. I was delighted with how intrigued the kiddos were as they diligently picked up piece after piece of shale in hopes of finding a little treasure preserved between the layers. Prior to departing, we were able to browse the many fossil samples that have been found previously, including several amphibians and fish species.
We took a break for lunch … whereby Will shared more about his experiences, the geology of the John Day Basin, and about the community of Fossil. We then proceeded southwest to the Clarno Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds for a guided nature walk through a canyon.
It was a delightful walk. Everyone was entranced by one thing or another. We all had an opportunity to ask questions and explore the region more closely. We saw first hand how the layers of sediment had built up over millions of years and how the rocks formations had changed over time due to weathering. We talked about the impact man has had on the water table in just the past 150 years or so… changing the once temperate, deciduous forest to the dry scrub land of today (mostly Juniper and Sagebrush). Everyone walked away with a new awareness and appreciation of the natural history of our region.
Thank you to Will Boettner of Oregon Paleo Lands Institute for providing such a wonderful learning opportunity for us all.
“Do what you can
with what you have,
where you are.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Ever since the kiddos and I participated in the Let’s Pull Together Community Weed Pull in June they have been asking, “When can we do the weed pull again?” When DH hears them he always replies, “Right now! There are weeds that need pulling in our backyard!” The kiddos do that regularly in the warmer months but it isn’t the same as working together with others to make a difference for the environment.When we decided to spend 2 weeks in Maui, I started a quest to find as many educational opportunities as I could. The Pacific Whale Foundation is a phenomenal resource and with a variety of activities for all ages. One of the links I explored was their Volunteer on Vacation site which provides listings of all the projects that we can take advantage of while on vacation.
There were several that were of interest but we settled on the Hoaloha ‘aina Weed Pull on the Monday before we departed. We met the team at the Kamaole II Beach Park in Kihei and were provided volunteer vests (they didn’t have enough for everyone so I opted to not wear one). There were two distinct areas to choose from… one on shore that involved using power tools to remove an invasive woody shrub that had taken over the bluff.
We opted for the other area… one uphill from the adults in an area that had been roped off and thereby kept Buddy contained within a manageable area.We worked for two hours pulling invasive weeds. In doing so, we of corse encountered many insects. We took a few minutes to observe them closely but unfortunately I didn’t have the camera so no pictures. DH took these photos shortly after we got started – he thereafter departed to do some work at the condo – Yes! He worked on vacation!
Just as everyone was finishing up, an adult discovered the nest of a young Wedge-tail Shearwater (ua’u kani). It was presummed that all of the fledglings had left for open water by this time. We all got a chance to observe the fledgling closely before returning him to his nest, recovering it with vegetation, and closing off the area again. Admin note: Please follow this link – it is a very interesting bird!
When DH returned, we immediately took him over to the area where the nesting burrows are located and told him of our discoveries. The kids were delighted. The next day, we received our Volunteering on Vacation t-shirts as a thank you from the Pacific Whale Foundation. The smallest size is an adult small – so of course, they are huge on the petite 6 year old and a 3 year old – but the are so proud of their shirts!
While we were in Maui, Sweetie completed several activities at the Haleakala National Park to become a Junior Ranger. When we arrived, the ranger at the counter gave her a booklet and explained that for her age, she would need to complete 4 booklet activities (as there were no talks scheduled for the time we were there). The activities we selected were:
#2 Who is Native to Hawai’i?
Whereby she learned about the species that are native to Hawai’i and those that are not.
#3 What Animals Live Here?
Whereby she learned about habitats.
#4 Where is the Volcano?
Whereby she learned about volcanic rocks.
#5 Ancient Ways and Words for Today
Whereby she learned two Hawaiian words: malama ‘aina (to respect and care for the land) and alu like mai (pull together, work together)
Upon completion of the activities, Sweetie sat down with a ranger and was interviewed about what she had learned. I videotaped the interview and hope to post it here as soon as I can figure out how to download it off the video camera. During the interview, Sweetie described to her what she had learned about invasive species before our arrival. “I want to go to a luau so that I can eat bad pig!” (We didn’t explain to her that the kahlua pig isn’t likely the wild pig that is destroying the forests.)
Sweetie also told her about a snail that she had helped get across a trail so that it wouldn’t get stepped on. The ranger asked us to describe the snail and in doing so, we learned that based upon it’s size and color, it was likely the invasive African Cannibalistic Snail. “The native tree snails are found higher in elevation.” Sweetie was distraught, “Oh no! I should have stepped on it then!” The ranger got a chuckle out of that.
Most National Park Service sites that have a Junior Ranger program award participants a plastic badge for completing the program. Some award a patch; a few award a lapel pin. Some do both. Haleakala awarded a badge. However, they had patches available for purchase so we bought one as they are our preference. As she completes future Junior Ranger programs, I’ll make a banner for her to display her badges & patches.
As a teacher, I’ve had some amazing opportunities over the years. For a while now, I have wanted to write a post about them here to share some insight into who I am – to describe how I came to be the person I am today. I wanted to share some of them with you in hopes that I might inspire you. Accordingly, some of the posts you see around here in the near future may be a bit of a departure from your garden-variety homeschool blog. Sometimes, I just like to get these things in print so I’ll remember that they actually happened. For today, here’s a snapshot of one of those teaching experiences that changed my life.
People are pretty jealous when I tell them I’ve recently returned from a trip to Ecuador. They immediately ask, “Did you go the Galapagos?” Did you stay at a beach resort?” I have to be honest and answer, “No, I collected caterpillars.” While this may seem a bizarre way to spend ones vacation, I really did venture into the rainforests of Ecuador for two weeks as part of an Earthwatch expedition.
The purpose of this particular expedition was to assist a team of scientists in their investigations of caterpillar defenses against their natural enemies, particularly parasitoids. The principal investigators, Dr. Lee Dyer (Assistant Professor at Tulane University), Thomas Walla, and Craig Dodson (Associate Professors at Mesa State College), had four major research goals. The first was to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness caterpillars have against their natural enemies. Secondly, to examine caterpillar diets (generalist versus specialist feeders), hoping to clarify to what extent plant chemistry and natural enemies affect the diet of herbivores (more specifically, caterpillars). The third goal was to relate the results to agriculture as an alternative to the current use of pesticides. The fourth goal was to inventory the biodiversity of an ecosystem that is disappearing at an alarming rate.
After several years of caterpillar study at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, Dr. Dyer and his colleagues are pioneering a companion project in the lesser-known and threatened Ecuadorian rainforest. My expedition team was the first to work at Yanayacu Biological Station in Ecuador, a privately owned preserve on the eastern slope of the Ecuadorian Andes.
Caught between plants, predators, and parasites, caterpillars have been forced to develop a bizarre armory of survival skills. For the most part, while many butterflies are well known as adults, the details of their life as caterpillars (the longest part of their life), is poorly known, and many inter-related questions need to be answered. Getting data to provide answers for these questions is what the expedition was all about, and in order to obtain that data, many mundane chores and practical tasks needed to be carried out.
A typical day of research usually involved a lot of hiking. In order to study caterpillars, you need to find them first. We usually set out with our collecting kits, to scour the roadsides and other disturbed areas (prime caterpillar habitat) for these elusive creatures. Finding one elicited shouts of joy in the beginning. After a few days in the humidity and nearly constant drizzle of the forest, the excitement wore off (but it was always exciting to find a new or interesting species).
In the lab, another group of volunteers was ready to process the new arrivals. Essentially, each individual caterpillar was given a unique number, identified taxonomically, and the behaviors, coloration, and morphology were recorded. The caterpillar was then ready to be placed in the “zoo”. The caterpillar specimens are then cared for until they pupate and either emerge as adult Lepidoptera or a parasitoid emerges. Each day, volunteers cleaned the bags of frass (entomological term for caterpillar droppings) and condensation, and assured that each bag had fresh plant material. As we did so, we also checked the status of the caterpillar and noted any changes (presence of a parasitoid or pupa).
In the Classroom
So, how will I use all this in the classroom? As a fifth grade teacher, one of my favorite (also the most popular with students) thematic units is on invertebrate animals. Since caterpillars are considered to be one of the most serious pests of agriculture, it was only natural that part of the study included trying to find a more natural way to control their population. Using their natural enemies against them, parasitoids seem to be a logical solution. This would be something that my students could explore locally.
But much more important than any facts which I can teach my students are my experiences and adventures in the rainforest. One of the main things I have learned is that we need a new “law of the jungle.” Biodiversity and the interconnectedness of all the creatures of the rainforest show us that we must honor the balance of nature. These are the great lessons of the rainforest which I hope to pass on to my students: attitudes and perspectives which provide a new vision of the world, one celebrating life’s diversity and offering an alternative to the 19th century views which still persist. That’s my lesson plan.
I wish to thank the other Rainforest Caterpillars of Ecuador volunteers – Kristen, David, James, Bruce and Joanna; the Principal Investigators – Lee, Tom, and Craig; and our host – Harold Greeney, for helping to make the expedition so enjoyable. I would also like to thank the Earthwatch Institute for providing the opportunity for the expedition. And I offer special thanks to the Society of American Foresters, Menasha Corporation, and Dr. Craig Stephenson for making my part in the expedition financially possible. It was the adventure of a lifetime and a dream come true.