Thursday, September 11, 2008

Respect (and fear) Mother Nature

There are few people who get excited about the prospect of a hurricane hitting the U.S., and I’m pretty sure most of them are kayakers.

Last week, as news of Hurricane Gustav grew more and more grim, I began to feel like I did as a kid waiting for guests to arrive for the celebration of my eighth birthday. Hours felt like days, and days like eternity. Every hour on the hour, I checked the weather forecast online, jumping from AccuWeather to the Weather Channel and from the local news stations to Weather Underground. It was too good to be true. After a serious drought, the rain was coming…3 to 5 inches of wet and wonderful rain!

As forecasted, it rained all day Saturday. Jack and I stayed in bed, watching the drops fall.

First thing Sunday morning, before I had brushed my teeth or made my coffee, I checked the American Whitewater Association Web site for stream flows. I saw that gauge for Octoraro Creek in the Conowingo-area was reading 4.5 ft. This Class II creek, is navigable, according the AWA at 2.4 ft. Normal height appears for be 2.8 ft, according to data from the USGS.

We immediately began packing up, and headed out. We dropped Jack’s car off at the take-out point on Moore Rd, just off Port Flats. Then Jack jumped in my car and we made our way to the put-in on New Bridge Road in Rising Sun. Here’s a map of the route.

The water was relatively tame until we passed under the Route 1 Bridge. Suddenly, the water was rushing, creating white caps and waves that crashed against the nose of my kayak, soaking me from head-to-toe. There were not many strainers, as the water was well-above normal levels, but there were plenty of tight chutes and zig-zags to navigate.

At one point, Jack attempted a dare-devil run of a rapid fell out of his kayak. I had been following his tail, and was unable to stop before running him over and knocking the kayak from his grip. I paddled after his kayak, which was only half floating as it was upside down and full of water. I got a hold of his boat tried desperately to paddle ashore but the current was too strong. Jack was trying to run through the water after me, screaming for me to “STOP.” But I couldn’t stop. The water was over my head and I was being pulled through rapids, gripping a kayak in each hand.

Finally, I hit a slower moving, rocky patch and was able to direct my body towards shore as it bounced against the rocks below. The kayaks were too heavy for me to pull ashore, so I had to wait for Jack. By the time he found me, I had managed to choke back my tears. Unfortunately for him, my fear turns to pure rage once the immediate threat is over. We fought while we drained the water from the kayaks. We eventually got over it and continued downstream.

Jack managed to fall out a second time. He held onto his boat this time, but had bitch of a time getting on to shore, as the water was well over his head.

With the two “swim” breaks, the entire trip was about 2.5 hours. The take out spot consisted of some stairs carved into the bank. Tired, bruised and wet, we pulled the kayaks to the gravel parking space. I drove Jack’s car back to the put-in, got my car and drove back for him and the kayaks. Together, we went back for his car, and that was that.

The very next day I registered for a white water safety class with Liquid Adventures on Sept. 27. Next is CPR certification, and, in the Spring, water rescue and wilderness first aid certification. Mother Nature is no joke.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bloddy knee, crushe ego (Deer Creek)

This past Saturday, Jack and I did a 5.5 hour paddle down Deer Creek. We started at the access point on Rt. 1, just south of Trappe Road, and ended at the Susquehanna State Park pumping station. According to USGS Real-Time Water Data, the water gauge read 2.25 ft.

We started paddling right at 1 p.m., quickly realizing that 2.25 ft is not sufficient for paddling this creek. Thanks to low waters, Deer Creek was essentially a giant rock garden, which provided good practice for making zig-zag turns and scouting appropriate chutes.

Just as we were nearing the Churchville put-in, I got pinned between a few boulders and had to climb out of the kayak and start walking. My Keens, awesome as they are, were no match for the wet, slimy rocks. I slipped, fell forward, busted my knee and totally soaked my front side. With blood gushing, I paddled ashore and broke into the first aid kit. I cleaned the wound with alcohol, applied a bandage and got back in the boat. There was no time for crying and whining, we had to get on the move to complete the trip before sundown. Jack was thoroughly impressed that I wasn't a "girl" about the injury. Later me knee was so swollen it looked like I had two knee caps.

By the time we reached the pumping station at 6:30, I could barely drag my kayak out of the water. Between my crippled knee, tired arms and over-worked abs, it was a task.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ecological Field Studies Program

Written for the Smithsonian's staff newspaper, The Torch

Getting out of the classroom and into the field
By Mara Jonas
OPA Staff Writer

Teachers who participated in the National Science Resource Center’s summer Ecological Field Studies Academy are returning to the classroom this fall equipped with new skills and techniques for teaching science.

Eight teachers spent six jam-packed days working side-by-side with scientists from the National Zoo learning to apply field techniques to classroom education and doing everything from setting up a biodiversity monitoring grid to using a Global Positioning System and setting camera traps. The program was hosted by the Zoo’s Center for Research and Conservation in Front Royal, Va.

According to David Marsland, director of the NSRC Professional Development Center, the over-arching goal of the Ecological Field Studies Academy—and other NSRC Smithsonian Science Education Academies—is to connect teachers with Smithsonian science and the museum world. The specific goal of the Ecological Field Studies Academy is to help secondary school teachers develop inquiry-based course content, using the natural world as a living laboratory, Marsland says.

The teachers used CRC’s lush campus as their own living laboratory while earning three master’s-level credits through Virginia Commonwealth University.

For one of the “living lab” activities, academy participants awoke before dawn on a sunny Thursday morning and made their way from their hotel to CRC’s campus, where researchers from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center’s Neighborhood Nestwatch Program had already set up a number of almost-invisible, J-shaped, silk mist nets.

The nets are designed so that a bird unknowingly flies into the vertical top portion of the net, drops down unharmed into the curved bottom and is trapped until a researcher removes it for study and banding.

The team caught an indigo bunting and a male orchard oriel, among other species of song birds. Academy participants witnessed the researchers in action—measuring and weighing the birds, determining their sex by gently blowing the feathers on the birds’ bellies to reveal a brood patch for females or cloacal protuberances for males, and ultimately, banding and releasing the birds.
While all of the participants enjoyed the mist-netting demonstration, some felt that the logistics of such an activity might be difficult to replicate at their schools. However, CRC Education Manager Jennifer Buff points out that those challenges are an opportunity to engage the community. “Almost every area has a nature center or another resource that can be tapped,” she says.

Most of the research techniques taught at the Academy are easily replicated on school grounds. “There are many barriers for schools when it comes to teaching outdoor education, especially off-campus,” Buff says. “That’s why we promote this idea of using a piece of the school’s grounds—whether rural, suburban or even urban—as a living, learning laboratory,” she continues.

Many of the Academy participants have plans to do just that.

Amanda Gonczi, a middle-school teacher from The Plains, Va., and Bob Fuhrman, a high-school teacher from Charlottesville, N.C., both plan to study small mammals with their students.

“Studying live animals will get the kids excited about science,” Gonczi says. Fuhrman agrees: “With all the focus on standardized tests in schools, I want to get my students outside to appreciate what’s out there,” he says.

Another participant, Mike Jewell, a teacher at St. John School in Fenton, Mich., plans to set up a long-term aquatic study of a creek that runs through his school’s grounds using the data collection, management and reporting techniques he learned at the Academy.

Justin Rasmussen, a teacher at the International Berne School in Switzerland, plans to replicate with his students a predator survey experiment conducted during the Academy. For the experiment, the teachers placed real quail eggs and and small clay models in fake nests at various locations on CRC’s campus and left them overnight. The next morning, the group noted which nests had been disturbed and examined bite marks left in the clay eggs to infer information about predators in the area.

For those teachers unable to stretch the bounds of customary science activities, the butterfly and vegetation surveys they conducted during the Academy may be more viable options.

“Students can conduct these surveys on their own just by exploring their own backyards,” NSRC Education Specialist Juliet Crowell says.

“Science education is about wonder and exploration and need not be confined to the classroom,” Crowell continues. “It is NSRC’s mission to help our fellow educators—to not only educate the next generation of scientists, but also to inspire students to be proactive, informed citizens.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Penn's Creek

Olympic material it ain't, but what fun!

This past weekend, Jack and I went to Penn’s Creek, PA for a quick, weekend getaway. His parent’s own a rustic cottage on Buttonwood Lane, equipped with all the boonies' essentials—kayaks, paddles, a canoe, fishing rods, a tackle box and an outdoor shower. The cottage is right on Penn’s Creek and has a wooden dock (which Jack and his father built), as well as a screened-in porch that is easily the size of my living room.

Anyway, enough back story. We decided to make the drive to Penn’s Creek on Friday, after my dinner “date” with Natasha and Monica at Tsunami in Baltimore’s Little Italy. Around 10 p.m., stuffed full on cosmos, sushi and a side of cow, I hopped in the car with Jack and we were off.

Somewhere between York and Harrisburg, I fell asleep in the passenger seat. When I woke up, we were lost. Not too lost, but lost enough to cause some bickering. A couple corrective measures later and we were on the right path again. Then, about 10 miles from our destination, we encountered detour signs as a bridge was out. Trustingly, we followed the detour signs, only to be led down a dark, long, windy road past farm land and more farm land....and, well…more farm land. When the gas light came on, we decided to head back to civilization to find a gas station. As I filled the tank, Jack found out from the cashier that there was a much easier way around the bridge. Sometime around 1 a.m. we finally arrived at the cottage.

The next morning, around 8 a.m., we were awoken by roaring thunder and pouring rain—music to our ears! The heavy rain meant that the creek would be high-enough for some kayaking. We went into town for a nice country breakfast and then did some fishing. Jack caught a small large-mouth bass that he threw back. No more nibbles, until a larger something-or-other stole two lures. At this point we went to the beer distributor in preparation for our triathlon.

A case of Magic Hat and a cooler of ice later, we were ready for our adventure. Except…woops…no attachments for my roof rack! We worked it out though, stuffed one kayak in the trunk and tied the other one directly to the rack.

We drove a mile and a half upstream to a public access point and put in there. Once on the water, we cracked our beers and meandered down the lazy creek. I know what your thinking…”beer and water sports don’t mix.” To that, I say this: There are serious paddling creeks and beer drinking creeks; Penn’s Creek is the latter. There is no white water and the water depth is 3 feet or less.

The water in Penn's Creek appears to be relatively healthy, despite all the farm runoff. Aquatic plants bloomed below the surface of the water which was pretty clear. We heard the banjo-like croak of bull frogs and saw blue herons, a turkey vulture, water skimmers (which have always creeped me out), guppies, Monarch butterflies and a colorful orgy of dragon flies.

The trip was short and sweet…however long it takes to down for two people to down a 12-pack. Once we got back to the cottage, Jack fished some more but caught nothing. Finally, sobered-up and getting hungry for dinner, we walked back to the car, thus completing our triathlon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Stay-cation" vacation

Returning back after five days away from the office, all of my colleagues have the same question: "Where did you go?"

Being an avid traveler and thrill-seeker, I am somewhat embarrassed to say "nowhere, just stayed home." Though, according to my mom, taking a "stay-cation" is all the rage.

Here's the synopsis of events:

Day 1: Heat in the Kitchen!
In preparation for our housewarming party, I spent the most of the day in the kitchen. From brownies to veggie dip, and loose beef sandwiches to gallo pinto, I put a lot of work into the housewarming party menu. Also, I went to an a.m. pilates class and got a manicure. Not bad!

Day 2: Party-time!
The party turned out great...small and intimate. My rum punch concoction was the biggest hit; the deviled eggs were a close second. Though I told invitees that gifts were not necessary, we got a sage plant, a beautiful floral arrangement, a 50$ gift card to home depot, some cash $, booze, hand soaps, a bowl, and, my favorite, a hand-me down mongoose mountain bike. Anyway, this was a great day....beautiful weather, good company and some nine hours of steady drinking.

Day 3: What time is it?
Nine hours of drinking....seemed like a good idea at the time. Then, I woke up around 9 a.m. Sunday morning, barfing my guts up. After an hour of unpleasantnesses, I went back to sleep and did not stir again until, what time.....3:30 p.m. : 0 I spent the rest of the day watching such quality movies as Love Guru and Brother from Another Planet.

Day 4: Sticky Floors...
Ahh...they'll be there. Instead of tending to the sticky floors or writing thank you notes for the lovely housewarming gifts, I took my new (used) bike out for a spin. I peddled over the hills and through the city streets to Patterson Park. What a great public space....rolling hills, tress, a pond, sports fields, historical structures and paths galore!45 minutes of peddling later, I made my way home for a shower. Clean and refreshed, I took to Eastern Ave to explore the shops. Mostly crap. Some notable places include, a sneaker shop, Cinco de Mayo grocery and, of course, Docs. Finally, I went for cranial sacrum therapy at Studio 1 Pilates. CS is somewhere between massage and energy work--throughly relaxing!

Day 5: Final Frontier
I woke early to go for a nice bike ride, which I started on the Canton Promenade. Bikes are not allowed on this trail. The path leads through a marina and past other high-priced amenities...boring. Then, I went back to Patterson Park. An hour and a half later, I had to get showered and ready for a reiki session at Studio 1 Pilates. The session was great, very relaxing and enlightening. The reiki master told be that the energy at my knees and feet is very active, apparently meaning that I am an open and grounded person. However, according to her, the energy at my head and heart are quiet, meaning that I am emotionally guarded. Who me? I can't imagine why...Anyway, with my energy in balance, I spent the rest of my final day off wrangling the laundry, cleaning the house and cooking some food.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kayaking on the Antietam

Or, should I title this posting, "irrational fear?"Or, maybe, "Rain, and lot's of it."

For the 4th of July, I planned a kayak trip for my boyfriend and I on the Antietam in Boonsboro, MD. We arranged for a kayak shuttle with Antietam Creek Canoe, a one-man operation currently housed in a gravel lot across from Devil's Backbone. Greg (the one-man mentioned above) was very nice and the service was reasonably priced ($25), but the description of the run on his Web site is totally inaccurate.

This is where the irrational fear comes into play.

The Web site describes the dangers of the run...strainers, rushing water, fallen trees, rocks, exhaustion, insects, pollution.....DEATH, DOOM and DESPAIR!!! This Web site's hyperbolic, extremely exaggerated description of what may have been the tamest creek I've ever paddled, had me totally freaked out.

All in all it was a fun trip--a nice combo of calm, but fast moving, water and a few mini-rapids. The water is kind of dirty, I suppose that's thanks to Hagerstown being upstream. Also, there is a lot of traffic--canoeists, kayakers, fishermen, etc. on the water.

Total, we did eight miles, the last three of which it poured down rain. Between the stinging nettle lining the takeout spot, and the buckets of water that splashed us each time a car went by while we tied the kayaks up on my car, this trip required some good humor.

Tired and wet we headed towards 70, kayaks full of water atop the Honda. Just before reaching the highway we saw a Sleep Inn with a liquor store next door. We took that as a sign, and stayed the night.