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So what is the title of this page?

The essence of understanding and appreciation for nature is not achieved at a glance.

Only those curious (and sometimes courageous) enough to venture a closer second, third, fourth look and so on know the full joy of Warm Fuzzies in 3-D.

Few are those whose heart, mind and soul embrace to create a well-rounded sphere of perception. Each component of this one's being accepts and accomodates strengths and weaknesses, courage and fears, doubts and confidence, love and hate and pride and prejudice of the others.

The courageously curious and the curiously courageous continue to grow throughout life, forever enjoying the knowable finite and elusive infinity while likewise respecting abstractions best characterized as neither or, perhaps inexplicably, both. A vista or canyon can never be fully appreciated unless one carefully approaches the peak or edge, respectively.

~ Creations Most Misunderstood Creatures ~

Timber Rattlesnakes are present in some Southern Illinois counties.

CLICK ON PHOTO or visit the Illinois Natural History Survey web site to see a county by county account of snake species present in Illinois.
An account of all amphibian and reptile species is presented as well.

This rattlesnake species tends to be reclusive, preferring remote undisturbed areas where rocky cracks and crevices are abundant.

Their famous "rattles" consist of tiny, unattached bones encased in hollow, keratinous cells that are loosely segmented.

Sounds produced by Rattlesnake rattles have been described many ways.

As I stepped off a ledge that turned out to be this guy's shelter from a searing midday sun, this beautiful creature produced a sound very much like that produced by an old time pressure cooker's brass toggle, fluttering in a jet of steam (as eloquently described by my friend, Johnny). This specimen's warning sound reminded me of hollywood's classic "old west" soundtrack played when the "bad guys" are about to bushwack the "good guys." You know, where the musical crescendo is punctuated with the rattlesnake sound!

Incidentally, rattlesnakes are not bad guys. They are not satan incarnate. All snakes serve to help maintain natures balance. Without them, our crops would be devoured by unchecked populations of rodents, lagomorphs, birds, and even insects. Our homes would be perpetual battlefields of mice and men. Without nature's checks and balances chemical warfare might win man's battles but mice and roaches would ultimately win the war.

Other genera and species of snakes mimic the rattle of the rattlesnake. Countless reports of rattlesnake sightings are based on the sound-alike rattling sounds produced by harmless snakes, such as the black rat snake.

This timber rattlesnake measured 47 1/4" or approximately 120 centimeters (1.2 meters) and was preparing, as evidenced by its opaque eye, to shed its outgrown skin.

An eerily EXCELLENT photo is lost somewhere in cyberspace! Soon to be recovered I trust!

Squamata Viperidae Crotalus horridus

Photo by Johnny
(Homo sapien sapien)

This and other species create "rattling sounds" by nervously vibrating the tip of their tail against any convenient object. They often use dried leaves, twigs, paper-thin bark and the like to produce their effective rattle sound.

More often than not, the harmless rat snake's "rattle" forces its intruder into a dead run retreat. That evening "close encounter" rattlesnake stories will be repeated among family and friends.

"After all, if it rattles and you really can't see it all that well (while in a dead run) it must be a rattler!"


Time For Some, Matters

This "fog" of confusion concerning the war on exotics seems to arise from diverse perceptions of "time.'

You know, I think the single greatest factor responsible for the differing views on environmental issues stems from a lack of a consistent perceptual framework of geological and biological "time."

As I continue discussing environment0al matters with folks and reading various opinions it is becoming increasingly clear that many do not have a clear understanding of “time.”

Some, when thinking about environmental issues always refer to time as though it began when it began (a long, long time ago), others view time as having begun with the dawn of man’s intellectual bloom.

I find others somehow see time as having begun when Europeans first set foot upon the “American” continent. It seems, for some, time began with the signing of the U.S. constitution or any given political document, while others see time as having environmental relevance only as far back as they can trace their ancestry.

Many believe time began with mom and dad, and then there are those whose perception of time is only as encompassing as their memory allows.

Then there is that faction, the renegade environmental and neighborhood destroying ATVers of the world, whose perception of time at best extends, front to back, no longer than the buzz of an adrenalin rush.

Now, this concern for widespread “time warping” might sound trite but I am very serious.

For example why would a relatively well informed environmentalist allow, not to mention promote, the use of herbicides/pesticides in wilderness and natural areas? I think the answer is found in that mind’s misperception of time and, necessarily, its relationship to the meaning of “wilderness” and “nature.”

I think where life science education has failed most miserably is in its teaching about the vastness of time. Sure, the graphs and analogies abound but where is the necessarily consistent understanding and appreciation for the value of time, especially as time applies to the grand scheme of geologic history and biological processes?

Everything we see and experience in our lifetime happens in less than the snap of a high speed shutter when compared to the time that was. I am amazed at how frantic some become when one of nature’s plants creeps, flies, or otherwise extends beyond its borders (borders we “all knowing” humans define according to ridiculously recent data).

It is as though the invasion does not fit properly into our self prescribed time frame.

Most of our planet is water. Vast oceanic shifts in bio-mass occurs routinely. These are not human induced shifts but shifts created by nature. Weather patterns, climatic changes and solar system dynamics are the greatest sources of cause for these shifts in marine bio-mass.

This has gone on from the beginning. Now, in our split-second existence it goes on daily, mostly without notice. No one, excepting a small society of marine oriented scientists and curious on-lookers, cares unless it begins to affect human activities and pocketbooks.

Many of our terrestrial “invasives,” in this present day, are the result of greatly increased human activity around the globe. I am not inferring we, should ignore or trivialize terrestrial exotics but we should bear in mind that long before man dispersed botanical reproductive parts - wind, rain and migrating animals did the same. In general this is what species do. Each tries to expand its range i.e., survive. This is the natural order of things.

Plant and animal species see a weakness; they go for it. In fact these so-called “invaders,” in my view, should be considered “ecological health indicators.” In fact, they are considered such in many scientific circles.

Maybe we should control these so-called invaders... but we should, definitely, respect them for pointing out to us that which we cannot or refuse to see.

Is it too radical to conceive the idea that it could be the unprecedented levels of toxic chemicals (herbicides/pesticides and the like) in the air and soil that grant our so-called invasives passage into ecosystems that, before now, were comprised of natives tenacious enough to out-compete them?

I believe many of our invasives are doing just that. They are indicating weaknesses in heretofore stable ecosystems.

It is inarguable that human disturbance invites “invasives.” This is quite documentable.

I actually find it humorous that we refer to these botanical indicators as the invasive when in fact, humans with their chemicals and machines are the true invaders. If we want to control invasives, we should start with ourselves.

A great case in point, is demonstrated by the nationally recognized and deservedly applauded C r i t i c a l  T r e n d s  A s s e s s m e n t  P r o j e c t (CTAP) program, appropriately named RiverWatch.

One of the most widely accepted and reliable indicators of an unhealthy stream is the prodigious presence of algae. Is not algae merely an “invader” that should be eradicated or controlled? Well yes, but would it not be better to respect the algae’s role as an indicator and commence to eliminate the true invasives. Oxygen depleting chemicals, aquatic insect killing toxins, and animal wastes that contribute to nutrient enrichment, silt and other generally human activity induced factors are the true invaders of the stream. This concept is unanimously accepted among the thousands of RiverWatch scientists and volunteers across the nation.

Why are we land lovers less sagacious regarding this concept?

All we have to do to eliminate the algae is make the stream healthy again. The algae can’t compete in a clean, unpolluted, undisturbed stream.

PHOTO
by
ERICA TRAVIS

Does anyone think for a minute, Kudzu would have a snowball's chance in Hell of taking over a healthy, well-balanced and mature hardwood forest? Of course not. It could not withstand the deep shade.

Too bad we have so few forests of this description around to prove the point. Kudzu is reported to have consumed the south. Yes, but for the moment (in biological time).

Must we insist on employing, repeatedly, our obviously flawed human approaches to “manage” a natural world that has for eons done quite well without us.

Historically, virtually every human scheme ever devised to control or manipulate nature has proven, generally years or decades later, to be rather embarrassing. Thalidomide. DDT. Dams. Antibiotics. Stream Channelization. Biological Pest Management...... and on and on and on.

One thing these share in common is that each has been applauded as “highly successful” and beneficial for humans (one of this planet’s millions of living species) and but for a few short years or decades. Again, half a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of time.

Soon enough, even the one and only benefiting species admits it erroneous ways and, yet, we continue. The brainstorms keep coming...... and why not? There is great financial profit in selling ideas to the unwitting public. Where opulence reigns supreme, this message invariably fails.

Some reading this would say I have rambled and lost my point.

My point is, I believe we must employ, not more chemicals or any other band-aid approaches to achieving healthier ecosystems, but rather we must employ timeless “laws of nature.” We must “allow” natural principles, those set in “time” and unchanged by human thought and its resultant whiz-bang technologies and legislations, to guide us as we attempt to “allow” the natural restoration and stabilization of healthy ecosystems.

We must remember our ultimate goal.

Is our ultimate goal to eradicate species we are arrogant enough to label as invasives... or is our ultimate goal to do what we can to help restore and maintain healthy ecosystems? By eliminating chemical toxins and other forms of pollution and minimizing human generated disturbances we, in effect, achieve both? The costs to this approach are minimal. The greatest perceived costs will be measure by one’s willingness to restrain, refrain and use again (recycle). Yes, the greatest costs will be human costs in terms of comfort and co0nvenience.

For some, the response is and will always be, “God Forbid!!!........ I work too hard to give up anything....!!!”

Such a shift toward minimal consumption will be perceived by consumptive individuals and cultures much the same as a healthy diet is perceived by the glutton. Undeniably, in either case, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

I think this approach would be called, “getting at the root of the problem” or “cutting out the fat.”

As my “uneducated” and incredibly wise Grandma Clark used to say, as we sauntered along the banks of the beautiful Ohio River; mud between our toes, “time will tell.”

Grandma was so right.

Time will tell, a time older than dirt.

Duane Short, May 31, 2001

Imagine

So you're a Chemistry teacher. Your olfactory bulbs have been bombarded with hydrogen sulfide a million times. The phrase, "the incredible edible egg," to you, is an oxymoron. You can't look at a fried egg, much less consume one, but "incredibly" your cholesterol reading soars like an eagle!

You're an English teacher. You have read so many interpretations of Thoreau; if you have to read just one more you may tho'r up! Please excuse my French.

You're a Biology teacher. You've inhaled the entire Silurian fossil record in the form of calcium carbonate. You scoff at the threat of osteoporosis, while you anxiously await the arrival of that new digital projector you requested just three years ago.

You're a Physics teacher. You've sheared exactly 1.27 billion pieces of chalk into fingertip niblets while illustrating force vectors. Some days teaching what you love is about as much fun as manicuring your nails on that darn chalkboard. You become defensive every time you hear the words, "surface tension," and you dare not violate Laplace's Law lest you collapse or explode, as the case may be!

You're a Math teacher. You're convinced axioms have invaded your body. You dare not discuss this with anyone, so you wait quietly, patiently, and with hope that your right-brained counterparts soon develop that "anti-theorem" you dream about.

Ah...Physical Education is your game. "Your task is so huge I dare not jest! Friend...I feel your pain."

You make Music. You keep repeating, "music is the language of love...music is the language...music is the....." My students love music; M & M makes music....my students love M & M; I make music....and who do my students love? M & M! And those high notes keep gettin' higher and higher; some days just too high to reach.

And You...You Counsel. You solve everyone's problems. Right? Real life has become so bizarre, the first time you watched the sitcom, "3RD Rock From the Sun," you thought you were viewing a network profile of the average American family.

NOW IMAGINE THIS!

You're demonstrating diffusion near an aromatic honeysuckle thicket when a student excitedly interupts, "look, there's a nest and it has 'fresh' eggs in it!"

You're sitting quietly with your students by a crystal clear pool. Diamond droplets tumble rhythmically from great heights. A mid-day sun bounces refracted light from the water's surface onto an ancient wind and water sculpted sandstone bluff.

Bright combinations of chaos and order create, in the minds of your0 students, not only an understanding of what Thoreau wrote, but of what he felt.

"Wildflower breezes touch everyone."

You're a kid in a candy store! But wait, you're a Biology teacher!

Wow, butterflies and bullfrogs really do exist outside neat wood framed cases and glass jars!

Where do I begin???

~ Identification?

~ Competition?

~ Mimicry?

~ Adaptation?

Ah, but you don't begin; you look around and realize school is already in session.

Your class clown is fully engaged in a theater of survival. He's pullin' for the fly but he knows it's just a matter of time before it will be entombed in it's own silky shroud. He's out of the classroom...off stage. He has time to think.

You suddenly realize you've just spent the entire morning explaining the physics of skipping stones to eager students who sometimes find it difficult to remain conscious for just a few minutes indoors.

You pinch yourself as you watch students scramble to claim a tree so they can estimate it's height using, what? "Geometry?"

You catch yourself shouting, "get off those rocks," to kids who seldom get off the bleachers. Friend, there is hope.

Songbirds, cicadas, and hardwood breezes play harmony while exhausted musicians recline in a wonderfully acoustic shelter cave. Everyone remains silent.

Hope swells within. Jennifer, the untouchable, reaches out to help little James cross a crystal clear creek. Until now, James has believed he's needed help from nobody.

I am convinced whatever you teach; whatever you do; a day in the wilderness will refresh your efforts.

If your mission is to recreate, educate, inspire or achieve any combination of these, nature's cache of real life lessons awaits.

A gnarly, tenacious Eastern Red Cedar demonstrates the value of resourcefulness, determination, and perseverance.

Hardwood saplings show how they survive youth.

Eroded sandstone barrens clearly display how a trickle of patient, gentle water ultimately prevails.

Every rotten log is a study in recycling.

Red and black ants provide a fascinating model for maintaining a balance of competition and cooperation for the good of all!

A multi-channeled stream becomes an electronic circuit-board. And the beat goes on.

Use a WalkAbout as a reward for a job well done and/or to achieve specific learning objectives. Preparing for a day hike or camping trip, in and of itself, is a great project for students. The whole affair can become a vehicle for learning about teamwork, sharing, and organizing. Subsequent WalkAbout activities will reinforce those concepts while students learn new ways to learn from their natural world.

I am dedicated to providing pleasurable, educational, and inspirational wilderness experiences which will initiate or enhance greater understanding and appreciation for our natural world and heritage.

Southern Illinois is "One of North America's Most Fascinating Living Laboratories," a resource to be studied and appreciated. Not used...not abused.

It is my sincere hope that low impact, interpretive encounters will result in an increased interest in preserving and protecting nature's delicate balance.

PHOTO CREDITS:
Timeless Fog by Erica Travis
Purple Milkweed/Butterflies by Gale Cook