Citizen Science at Badlands National Park

Steve & I spent 5 days at Badlands National Park in South Dakota last week. One of the highlights of our adventure was finding what I think is a fossilized bone. This post is my way of reporting that find to a Physical Science Technician in Paleontology at the park. I don’t have a GPS device to help him locate the find, so I’m walking him (and any other readers) to it through this blog post. If you happen to visit the park and find this bone (or any others), please leave it undisturbed. It is essential to have it in its original place in the sedimentary layers of rock in order to determine vital information. 

I initially spotted and photographed the bone on September 22 and filled out the reporting form at the Visitor’s Center. The next day, I returned to take additional photos to help lead the paleontology team to its location.  I just got home last night, and can now download my photos to this blog and share them.

The crosswalk over Hwy 240 at the Visitors Center leads to a creek wash that starts at a lone cottonwood tree and goes west toward the rocky ridge. There is a separate rocky hill to the right of that wash. Follow the wash beyond that hill as it curves to the left.  The peak with the squared-off top is a primary landmark. The fossil I saw is in the face of a hill to the left of that peak. Click on the first photo of this gallery to see the series in a slideshow. 

I was absolutely thrilled and humbled to discover this little white tubular thing. I hope it’s a genuine fossil. Even if it’s not anything significant to science, the invitation to observe and participate in sharing this observation is significant to me.

I am a huge fan of the National Parks and happy to purchase an Annual Pass in support of America’s Best Idea. I hope that future generations continue to value, respect, and protect these places that show the unique and autonomous nature of the Earth.

*** Update 10/4/2018***
From a letter from the Paleontologist at the Park:

“That is a humerus or upper arm bone (the bone that articulates with the scapula in the shoulder).  It looks to be in relatively complete condition, albeit weathered and fractured.  It also looks like there may be additional fragments of bone eroding on that slope.  Unfortunately, I can’t see enough of them to make any interpretations on what they might be.

Based on the size of the humerus and it’s general shape, however, I would make an educated guess that it probably came from an oreodont (of the family Merycoidodontidae).  As you may be aware from your visit, oreodonts are the most common, abundant, and widespread mammal found in the fossil record here at Badlands.   From 36 to 27 million years ago (during the Eocene and Oligocene Epochs), they were an exceptionally prosperous group of herbivores that dotted the landscape, probably living together in large herds.  They would have been a key prey item for many carnivores, such as dogs and the ancestral cat-like lineage called nimravids (family Nimravidae).  As a group within the animal kingdom, the last known oreodonts finally disappeared from the planet during the Pliocene Epoch some 4 to 5 million years ago.”

So very cool! *smiles*

 

An American Adventure: Part Thirteen

Geography 101 with Ranger Erin

Dinosaur National Monument is probably the coolest thing in America for dinophiles. I don’t mean because of the kitschy colored brontosauruses advertising every roadside establishment within 100 miles. I mean because it has 1,500 actual fossilized dinosaur bones on display, still embedded in the rock quarry where they were found. For real!

Driving up to the park entrance, you can see right away that these rock formations are unusual. They look so much older and seem to be at an odd angle compared to the surrounding mountains. If I were simply scanning the landscape for a dinosaur bone, I might pick this spot just because it looks…likely. It turns out there’s a good reason to look here. The deep layers of  rock stick up at a 70 degree angle, giving a vertical look at hundreds of millions of years of history.

Picking a particular age is like selecting a product in a grocery aisle, according to Ranger Erin. And how did these layers become exposed like this? Ranger Erin demonstrated with a thick catalog of pages, striped horizontally on the edge. Pressure from the movement of the Rocky Mountains in the east and the Uinta Mountains in the west squeezed this section of Earth’s crust up into a kind of bell curve shape. Then the top was sliced off over time by the Green River. This provides unique access to layer upon layer of fossil history. It’s called the Morrison Formation.

In 1909, Andrew Carnegie hired Earl Douglass to hunt for a dinosaur skeleton for his museum. Douglass (who was really into mammal fossils) went out to the Morrison Formation and found 8 tailbones of what came to be known as Apatasaurus louisae (named after Carnegie’s wife).

“This discovery was the beginning of a dinosaur quarry that achieved worldwide fame. In 1915, Dinosaur National Monument was established to protect and conserve that dinosaur quarry.” 

Ranger

 Erin called it a “dinosaur logjam”. I call it breathtaking. 

There is so much here to learn, so much to imagine, so much to study. This one slice of Earth is fascinating, ancient, and full of stories yet to be discovered. I had to wonder at all the young children running through the exhibit. How much do they comprehend about dinosaurs? What is popularity of dinosaurs about, really, to them? How might their visit to Dinosaur National Monument inspire them?  

 

Advent Day #16 – Sleep

Reblogging my list of free gifts from the Universe:

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.
~D.H. Lawrence

Now, blessings light on him that first invented sleep!  It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot.  It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.  ~Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605

All men whilst they are awake are in one common world:  but each of them, when he is asleep, is in a world of his own.  ~Plutarch

I imagine that sleep is a gift for all, but some may disagree.  They might attribute sleep to the just, the innocent and the carefree and argue that it is refused to many who would try to attain it.  I propose, then, that it is meant for all, for health, rest, and restoration.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, “New evidence shows that sleep is essential to helping maintain mood, memory, and cognitive performance. It also plays a pivotal role in the normal function of the endocrine and immune systems. In fact, studies show a growing link between sleep duration and a variety of serious health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and depression.”  Two of my family members were diagnosed with sleep apnea, one with the addition of Periodic Limb Movement Disorder.  For each of them, a CPAP machine was prescribed.  That’s a Constant Positive Air Pressure mask which blows air into their nose and mouth all night long to keep their airways open.  How anyone could sleep with that thing on is a mystery to me.

The CPAP seems like a very scientific approach to something that may be more of a spiritual process.  Sleep, relaxation, the natural cycle of repair and regeneration can be picked apart and studied, but will chasing it down and corralling its components help us to enter into its presence?  If we approach it calmly and reverently, will we be more likely to be invited into its sanctuary?  It seems like such a gentle grace, a benevolent angel of mercy.  I’d be afraid to scare it off.

Many people contend with sleep.  I do a bit.  I gave up my super-comfy, air-controlled, king-sized bed to my daughter, and now I sleep on a futon mattress with a sleeping bag and a suede comforter tucked under the sheet to make it a bit more yielding.  It’s not really the same, but I could do worse.  I’ve always been a light sleeper, a result of having 4 children, but I’ve always gone to bed pretty early.  I’m not good at sleeping late, and I do enjoy napping.  Sleep is not elusive for me, simply delicious.  And I dream.

I was thinking this morning that I live in two alternate universes, something like Plutarch mentions in the quote above.  In the world of my sleeping dreams, my dead husband keeps popping up.  He very calmly occupies a place beside me, and eventually in the course of the dream, I will mention that he’s supposed to be dead.  Last night, he was driving when I mentioned it, and then suggested that I take the wheel.  I have the feeling that he’s supposed to vanish when I say that word, but he didn’t.   He just slid into the passenger side and kept talking.  This is my brain working on “what’s right” and “what’s real” about death.  I still don’t have it figured out.  I have a lot of anxiety dreams that also have to do with this preoccupation of mine about “doing things right”.  Performance anxiety is a big theme.  I’m often onstage, backstage, in front of a classroom, or trying to get to a class.  When I was married to Jim, the worst nightmares I had were about the two of us being angry or false with each other.  I feared anything that would threaten our togetherness, and it was manifested in some social context.  I never had a big monster carrying me off or something adventurous like that.  I suppose you could call that a “girlie” nightmare.  My son has huge, plot-driven adventures in his dreams.  He’s got to fight, to battle and overcome in his dreams.  I just get upset and wake up.

I did have a nightmare two nights ago.  I had indigestion when I went to sleep, and I dreamed a horrible dream that ended in watching someone eat their own limbs.  “Someone” in that weird way where you are everyone in your dream.  So I was eating myself.  It was unsettling for my brain.  My stomach was already unsettled.  Peculiar how the sleeping mind works.  I do have a favorite phrase to throw in when someone is describing a dream.  The disjointed narrative goes on and on, and then I interject, “Oh, I know that dream!  Yeah, that all happens, and the next thing you know, the pope comes in with a tray of enchiladas and…”   Yup.  Absurdity.  It’s pretty entertaining, really, this alternate universe.

I feel lucky to be able to sleep when I am tired, to dream when I am perplexed, to regenerate every night and wake to a new day each morning.  Wagner describes it musically when Brunhilde wakes to Siegfried’s kiss.  Listening to it is like going through the resurrection, weeping tears of joy and wonder.  Once again, music gives voice to life’s mysteries.

Well, the sun is shining through the west window making puddles of warmth on my bed.  Think I’ll take a catnap.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Complexity.  Wow.  There’s an important concept that we’ve invented to describe our Universe.  It’s based in observation and experience.  We can feel that our world is complex and give myriad examples.  And we often have a reaction to that complexity.  Awe.  Anxiety.  Does simplifying make you feel more comfortable….or uncomfortable?  Does digging deeper or looking wider make you feel more anxious or less?  Does acknowledging the limitations of your grasp bother you or free you? 

I actually feel both.  I like to be in control, and I like to be reminded that I’m not in control.  I often set out to “fix things” and then realize that they don’t need to be fixed, and so I let them be.  “How does it work?  Oh, never mind.  It’s amazing.”  I have seen a few David Copperfield shows, and I laugh at my reaction.  I’m not content to be entertained; I want to figure out how he creates those illusions!  And then I give up and admit I’m amazed.  Visual aides of this complexity concept are always engaging to me because of that dynamic.  Here are a few examples: my photo and a link.  First, the photo…

cone headNow, the link.  This is a Science Project created by two 9th-graders, and it is absolutely outstanding!  I may have posted it before, but I don’t hesitate to do it again.  Enjoy The Scale of the Universe 2! 

When 900 years old you are…

…look this good you will not!!

yoda selfieStar Wars Day at Discovery World museum is this Saturday.  I’m the OLDEST female guest service team member; most of my colleagues weren’t even alive when the first movie came out!   Yoda is going to be my alter-ego for the day.  I’m old, wise, and I know what an introductory adverbial clause is! 

Things I Learned on Mother’s Knee (or some other joint)

Steve’s mom had knee replacement surgery yesterday.  He called his sister after work to see how the procedure went (all well), and then asked, “So, did you get the old knee?”  She laughed, of course, but I was thinking it would be a great addition to our museum cupboard in the dining room.  Then Steve asked if it was legal to keep human bones.  Huh?  Hmmm.   I’ve discovered that there are no federal laws prohibiting the ownership or sale of human bones.  Prior to 1987, most bones were imported from India, and until 2008, China also exported human bones.  No more.  There are some state laws restricting the import and export of human remains across state lines, and Native American material is very much protected under the Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.   So we have a right to bear arms and bare bones.

She had her hip replaced a few years ago.   I wonder what they did with that?

The Museum

And It’s Still a Mystery!

Yesterday’s post featured some views of Aztalan State Park in Wisconsin.  You can read about it in the Wikipedia article here.  The pillars formed a stockade that enclosed an open area that contains a few pyramid-shaped, flat-topped mounds.  Excavations have produced some burial remains, but re-constructing the way of life of these Mississippian people is still largely guesswork.  It didn’t help that the area was sold for farming and plowed in 1838 after its initial discovery and survey.  In 1941, the stockade was re-constructed from post holes that were excavated, but there were gaps…were there always gaps?  No one knows, for sure.  So all of you who guessed that the area may have been used for keeping animals in or animals out or for fortification or for rituals or for farming…you may all be absolutely correct!  And you may all be incorrect.  Pre-history is great for people who like open-ended answers.  It’s humbling to those of us who tend toward perfectionism.  We can’t ever really know The Truth, but we can observe and imagine and learn about ourselves by the stories we tell about the world.  Change is all around us.  Our experience seems to be the truest thing…until the next experience comes along.   Maybe a good way to look at all of life is with a wink and a smile!

  

Over the River

Happy Friday the 13th, everybody.  I’m not superstitious, but why is it that the printer is on the fritz today when I need to get my tax forms copied and out to the post?  Never mind.

I have selected another batch of photos from our camping trip to Wyalusing and found a way to tie in the NaPoWriMo poetry challenge as well.  I promise I’ll get to spelunking and sunsets, but not today.  Today, it’s about the river….or rivers, as the Wisconsin and the Mississippi meet up.  Riparian zones (as scientists call the interface between river or stream and land) are great habitats for lots of diverse flora and fauna.  I told you about the wild turkeys in my last post.  More majestic in flight and about the same size, I found turkey vultures (or buzzards) and a bald eagle also enjoying all the area has to offer.  Bluff skimming, aerial gliding and diving, wind surfing…I think it would just be a blast to be one of the soaring carnivores.  You have to forgive me for not being equipped with the kind of camera equipment that can capture some of that flight.  Imagine instead that a swift shadow passes your peripheral vision, and you instinctively look upward, like any small mammal might.  Your gaze follows this heavenly creature until the last feather passes from view, and you realize you’ve forgotten to breathe.  They do that to me.  I don’t even think about trying to take a photo.   I also didn’t photograph the little field mouse we saw on the path we had just trekked a few minutes ago.  It wasn’t there the first time around.  It was obviously dead, but not marked or chewed.  My guess is that it was a fresh catch that got accidentally dropped from the height of flight and left for lost.  That picture stays in my mind only, out of respect.

The poetry prompt for today is to compose a “ghazal”Here’s the description from the NaPoWriMo site:

This is an old Persian form of poetry, and rather strange if you’re used to European meter-and-rhyme forms. A ghazal is made of couplets. Traditionally, the the two lines of the first couplet end with the same word or phrase, and then that same word/phrase is used to end the second line of each succeeding couplet. All of the lines are supposed to be of about the same length, although there is no formal meter or syllable count. If you want to get super traditional/technical, the last couplet is supposed to refer to the poet, either by name, or through some kind of allusion.

Photos first, I think, then the poem.  Hope you enjoy!

High up on the hilltop, the breeze makes me shiver

Pushing cloud shadows gracefully over the river.

 

On invisible gusts, buzzards hover, each feather an instrument

Tuned to the wind, sailing the currents here over the river.

 

Spring greening the banks, sheltered nests in the reeds,

Weeping willows’ and cottonwoods’ pollen and seeds cover the river.

 

A sand bar glows golden, inviting for rest any swimmers

Grown weary in late evening’s quest to cross over the river.

 

As the light glances, changing mood, color and hue, I am breathless

And dreamy, entranced. Miss Priscilla, in awe, can’t get over the river.

I’m Bein’ Schooled

There’s always more to learn, and I want to be a life-long learner.  Today, it’s history, science, art and poetry! 

In History, my big assignment is to learn about 19th century life in Wisconsin.   That’s right, friends; we got the job!  Steve and I will be working at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum in the town of Eagle.  We will be costumed interpreter/educators.  Steve will be in the Wagon Shop on Tues/Wed/Sat, and I will be in the 1870s German Schottler homestead on Tues/Thurs and in the 1870s St. Peter’s Church on Sat/Sun.  Training starts on April 16.  I’m sure I’ll be posting more details and photos on that subject in the coming weeks.  The season runs through October.  Thanks for all your encouragement!

We went on a Science field trip yesterday.  My birthday girl, Becca, and the birthday boy, Josh, requested a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as their gift.  I haven’t taken them there since they were quite little, and now, they are in their 20s.  My oldest, who is on Spring Break from grad school, jumped at the chance to tag along.  I remember visiting with my family as a child in the 70s.  It has changed a lot in some ways, not at all in others.  My perception has probably changed the most.  As a child, I didn’t have any ethical questions about industry.  I certainly do now.  Like, why is it so great to be able to genetically manipulate corn plants so that they have pesticides in their DNA?  Does that make them tastier or healthier?  Why is it so great to be using larger and larger tracts of land to grow only one crop to primarily feed one type of animal that only some humans eat?  Things like that.  After seeing the John Deere side of farming, I’m all the more eager to learn about pioneer models.  On the fun side, how many short Italian Galasso kids will fit in the wheel of a tractor?  I counted three:

Emily's in Miami, otherwise, we might have squeezed her in, too!

Two old favorites in the museum harken back to the days I remember: the chick hatchery and the human body models. 

Hatching must be utterly exhausting. This chick fell asleep on his feet!

The March of Dimes hall of birth defects is defunct, but these are still in the stairwell. A brand new body exhibit takes up the upper balcony.

I’m counting the photos as Art, so now it’s on to Poetry.  It’s day #4 of the NaPoWriMo, and the challenge is to write an epithalamium.  Yup, I had to look it up.  It’s a poem celebrating a wedding, basically.  It’s traditionally written for the bride as she goes to her wedding chamberIt can even be sung…think small cherubic boys and girls throwing rose petals and singing about love, happiness, fertility and all that.  I actually envisioned writing to my 21-year old self and came up with this:

Epithalamium: To Have and To Hold

What will you have, young bride? And what will you hold?

That which spreads before you on the long damask board

Goes beyond the pretty souvenirs, traditional and fecund.

Ecru or ivory, embossed or engraved – this is the chaff.

The seeds in the wind are the weightier fare.

The blossoms tossed up are the days of your youth.

They fall to grasping hands, twist apart and scatter,

And what will you hold?

Planting your preference in calendar rows,

There grow the roots of a living, a life

With offshoots and upsprouts, the tender

Begging for tending, pulling on your exhalations,

Fastening to your breast, having as you give

A tug-of-love like war.

And what will you hold?

In the night beneath dark sheets,

In the crowded arena,

In the frightful, bright hallway,

In hushed canyons of stone,

In the places of secret or public adventure,

This man. Until you are parted by death.

Then what will you hold?

An open space, the shape of him,

The great restraint that won’t cave in…

Until you are parted as well.

 

School’s out.  Time to run outside and play!

Nature’s Neighborhoods

I completed another training session at the Wehr Nature Center today.  We learned about different habitats from a kindergarten perspective.  Food, Water, Shelter and Space contribute to the supportive habitat that living organisms need.  We talk about the animals and birds who live in the Wetland, Woodland, and Grassland areas surrounding the nature center.  The kids meet the live animals that live in the building and then go out on the trails to explore.  I have so much to learn!  I don’t have any problem imagining the curiosity of the young and the excitement of discovery.  Here’s a sample of what I found today:

Scilla siberica scattered all along the wooded trails by the pond. 

Spring beauty

The wetland wildlife is really interesting to me.  There are beavers and muskrats and mink around, but they don’t pose for pictures very often.  We see their tracks and traces and homes, though.  The turtles do sometimes pose nicely.  They keep their distance by staying in the pond, so they don’t rush away as readily.

Painted turtles looking for warmth

Yesterday, when I didn’t have my camera, we found a baby turtle in the stream bed.  It was only the size of a silver dollar.  Today, though, I found a biggie.  The snapping turtle.  This mud monster has very powerful jaws.  No teeth, but it is reputed to be able to snap a broom handle in half. 

Unfortunately, my camera is just the point and shoot kind with a standard zoom lens.  The snapping turtle looked like a boulder out there on the log, with a painted turtle a respectful distance away.  I looked through my binoculars to convince myself that yes, that was a turtle, with its front legs and head down in the water, keeping its shell balanced.

Kids get a thrill from anything with an “Ewwww!” factor, and skunk cabbage provides the right stuff.  It looks weird, and it stinks.  I broke off a leaf and passed it around.  It’s more earthy and green veggie-smelling than actual skunk spray, but it is reminiscent of that unforgettable odor. 

I had the most fun today with our American Toad, whom we call Savannah.  She has two special tricks: she walks and she eats.  Well, a toad doesn’t hop; it kind of waddles.  And Savannah is FAT.  She also puffs herself out to look more threatening.  Her movement is just comical to me.  She doesn’t see very well, so she has to eat food that is moving.  We feed her live crickets.  I didn’t get a photo of her today, but I did get down on the floor on my belly to watch her, like a 4-year old would.  That picture is in my mind instead. 

If I could have another life, I would choose to be David Attenborough.  The Nature Neighborhoods he got to explore absolutely overwhelm me.  I am in awe of a common toad, and he’s paddling around with platypuses!  Comparisons don’t matter, actually.  Everything is spectacular when you pay attention.