Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Watershed Education Network Internship by Kate Kinney

“Look out for the hawthorn!”
Swish! Thwap! Ouch.
Bushwacking isn’t necessarily a new skill in the educational career that I’ve chosen. But it does seem to be one that never gets easier for a smallish person who always has her arms full of stuff.
On this beautiful sunshiny Sunday, we were slowly crawling our way towards the West Fork of Lolo Creek, a normally docile little stream up Lolo Pass that has been monitored by the Watershed Education Network in past years. Today the spring runoff turned it into a raging beast of a stream, and we wondered whether we would be able to place cross sections on the stream at all. That, of course, was all secondary to the actual locating of and getting to the cross section… That seemed to be the current hurdle. But WEN volunteers are made of tougher stuff than some spiny shrubbery, and sure enough we made it to the site with naught but flesh wounds.
WEN’s weekend Stream Team is comprised of a group of hardy volunteers who spend Sundays monitoring various streams near the Missoula valley. The streams are monitored for a variety of factors that can tell us a number of things about the health of the stream. Our first step at the site is to establish a level cross section across the stream, a process that involves a brave soul in waders and some logger’s tape. Once that transect is set up, two more can be established 30 feet on either side of the first, and the monitoring can begin!
At the cross sections, data such as sediment size, flow, and depth can be determined. We also monitor stream chemistry, and look at factors such as turbidity, dissolved oxygen, and pH. On the banks of the river, there’s some other exciting science going on. Riparian vegetation assessments are done, as well as evaluations of erosion factors and sediment sources. Macroinvertebrate identification is also done on the banks. Bugs are collected from the stream by “washing” rocks into nets, which are then dumped into tubs to be examined on the banks. (Do you know how to tell your mayflies and stoneflies apart? I’ll give you a hint… it has to do with knowing your dance moves! I’ll tell you later.)
All the data collected from a site is recorded on data sheets, which are later processed and analyzed in the office. This data is particularly useful in comparisons on how a stream may change year by year, and the influence of not only environmental factors, but human factors as well. WEN has the unique opportunity, beginning this year, to monitor how the Lolo watershed was impacted by the recent fires that devastated the area. Since WEN has data from pre-fire monitoring, it’s going to be very interesting to observe how the factors of the stream will change over time with a disturbance.
How does this reflect on Wilderness and Civilization? What we’re monitoring for deals with both; the changing health of this stream not only reflects environmental factors like fires and changing climates, but also the effects of human constructs like roads and water usage. WEN’s mission also seeks to bridge the gap between Wilderness and Civilization by cultivating a group of students and volunteers that not only care about the health of their watersheds, but also want to be part of the monitoring experience. By fostering a love of watersheds in the people who use them, we hope to be creating a generation of responsible and caring users who will pass on their knowledge to others. It’s an exciting prospect, and a wonderful program, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.

(I didn’t forget! I promised you a dance lesson. Follow these steps for some fun macro ID!)
These wacky moves are how mayflies and stoneflies move in the water.
Dance Move 1: The Mayfly Mambo
1. Raise arms above head.
2. Loosy-goosy! Keep your elbows and knees wobbly like you’re a gangly teen again.
3. Do the worm with your whole body, starting at your hands and ending with your feet.
4. Now do it really fast, like you’re swimming away from a big fish!
5. Congratulations, you’re mamboing like a mayfly!

Dance Move 2: The Stonefly Shuffle
1. Raise arms above head. Keep your elbows at approximately 90 degree angles.
2. Pop your hip to a side. Either side really, just remember to pop it like you mean it.
3. Now, this gets a little trick and requires some coordination. Take your arms and raise one higher while lowering the other. Rock this motion back and forth.
4. Remember that popped hip? Shake it in the opposite directions your arms are moving. Don’t be afraid to use some sass!
5. Look at you! You’re doing the Stonefly Shuffle!
Not only do you now know some awesome dance moves, you also can ID these two types of macroinvertebrates! Now go forth and impress all your friends!

Clark Fork Organics By Sarah Capdeville

Previous to this internship, I wouldn’t have guessed that farming started out with so much time inside. Well, inside a greenhouse, that is. Though snow from this year’s brutal winter remained piled up two feet deep outside, spring had already arrived to the greenhouses of Clark Fork Organics, run by Kim Murchinson and Josh Slotnick.

We began with some spring cleaning: clearing out the dusty hanging tomato plants, basil, and peppers from last year’s crop. The chickens were also residing in the warm interior of the greenhouse, enjoying leftover squash and corn. With all the plants hauled out, we replaced the space with wooden tables that would support the thousands of seedling in need of planting. With blocks, dirt, and shovels, we leveled the tables on the clumpy ground so that there would be an equal distribution of water for all the trays.

Then began the planting. We mixed dark, rich soil with extra nitrogen and mycorrhizal fungi spores (which would provide nutrients through the plants’ roots) and filled dozens and dozens and dozens of trays, mainly ones with 72 cells. From previously sorted packets and bags, we dropped gritty seeds, smooth seeds, fat seeds, slim seeds, pokey seeds, slick seeds, long seeds, and round seeds into fingertip depressions in the cells. With a sprinkling of water, the trays were set on the table to soak up the sun and heat, and tray by tray we filled the entire greenhouse.

We planted a great variety of vegetables and herbs: scallions, kale, chard, peppers, tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce, onions, dill, basil, and many varieties of each. In a short amount of time, those minute seeds had cracked open and the green arm of the seedling had pushed through the soil and into the open air. Soon the greenhouse was a lovely speckled green and smelled, quite wonderfully, like spring.

Farming is hard work, but there is something so satisfying about the repetitious tasks of dropping a pinch of seeds into soil, carefully tugging a seedling out of its home for transplanting, or mixing wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of deep, dark soil. Even as I found myself crouched down to the ground, plucking tiny weeds from newly-sprouted carrot rows, I found a certain enjoyment to being so close to the earth, among the roly-polies and crab spiders and tiny shoots of carrots that will be so sweet and crunchy come summertime. When we can so easily stroll into the supermarket and pull a bunch of kale from the rack, we don’t take into account the mountain of effort and resources it takes to turn a tiny round seed into a delicious addition to a meal. I’ve learned so much about farming from Kim and Josh, and most importantly I’ve learned to appreciate the food I’m eating. We all start small.

Bad Goat Forestry Internship by Wyatt Trull

This semester, I’ve been spending a lot of quality time with wood. I’ve been milling logs into rough dimensional lumber and slabs. I’ve also been planing, edging, and trimming those rough boards into building materials. And, my culminating project is a storage cabinet designed to hold some of the woodworking tools I’ve learned how to use over the last several months.

But, as with most pursuits, I’ve spent most of my time learning about people. Not to bring a spotlight where it isn’t wanted, but the head honcho at Bad Goat Forestry is one hell of a guy from what I can see – and I’ve definitely been taking notes.  Mark Vander Meer, a Kris Cringle looking figure who most often smells like he’s burnt down the elve’s workshop,  has taught me a couple of things about how to run a business or any other group venture properly. The best part is he’s never articulated any of these things out loud to me, and funny enough I don’t think I could get him to if I tried.  I remember once he said, “the only reason I’m the boss is because I got here first!” That pretty much sums up Mark’s deprecating wit – a tool he may or may not realize makes everyone listen ever more closely.

Until recently, I barely even noticed that I’ve not gone a single day at Bad Goat without seeing and talking to Mark. I usually spend 2-4 hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays each week in the shop or near the mill, and I always end up seeing Mark at some point. It wasn’t until  a few weekends ago while helping with a controlled burn that I realized what Mark was up to. Mark has a special way, something I’m sure he does almost entirely without realizing it,  of fully delegating work without losing touch. It never feels forced or like he’s running an errand. It feels like he’s just genuinely curious about the work your doing and likes to see what your capable of doing. The Saturday of the burn,  he spent the morning with the burn crew giving advice as if were just another laymen trying to recall how he’d done the same task in the past. I asked him a lot of questions, not so much because I felt I was working for him, but because I had a lot of respect for his perspective. I find that kind of relationship springing up in the conversation between Mark and a lot of his employees.
It seems like the more people I meet in missoula, the more people I meet who know Mark – and have a story to tell about him.  Mark has huge network of acquaintances and I think it’s,  in part, because he has a business venture for every letter in the alphabet. Today, he has a collection of employed people working under different sub-business which together can accomplish conservation tasks of almost any sort. He has found a way to keep the majority of the in’s and out’s of a project in a closed loop. In the long run, this means he keeps well-trained people around and makes them better and better at working together all the time. It also means that overall he can do more with a lot less because there’s less friction in the middle. All of this, tucked away in a hideout under the bridge, aside booming railcars,  makes the people he employs, including me, feel like they are part of a pretty powerful thing – stripped of all the haughty and superfluous trimmings that power usually comes with. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Clark Fork Organics Internship: Fostering Seeds to Food By Melinda Horne

Today fellow Wilderness and Civ student Sarah Capdeville and I arrived at the Clark Fork Organics headquarters: the home of Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick, a border collie named Jupe, an indistinct number of cats, quite a few chickens, and Kim and Josh’s two daughters.

Past Reserve street in rural Missoula, their estate consists of a smattering of buildings. There’s their home, of course, a small yellow one-room “Shack” as a sign denotes above the doorway, a barn, a shed with a covered outdoor work area, two garages (one they rent out), a greenhouse attached to the main home, two larger greenhouses, two miniature 11'x15' houses behind the barn, and a series of chicken coops. There is also a field out back, whose churned soil looked soft and warm under today’s thoughtful blue sky.

I have been an intern here for two months now, along with Sarah Capdeville and Rory Davenport of Wilderness and Civilization. But rarely are we alone. Often, in addition to our crew, Kim, and occasionally Josh, former interns help out around the farm. Emily, a Resource Conservation student whose last name slips my mind, is often there when Sarah and I arrive every Wednesday and Friday. Today her friend also by the name Emily tagged along. A few weeks ago, a recent grad named Julia came in and helped us plant as she interviewed Kim about which plants she should grow on the farm in Oregon she would be starting soon. It would seem that once some people dip their hand into fresh, damp soil that they want to come back for more.

I am rapidly turning into one of these junkies: the type that knows the difference between dirt and soil, the type that looks forward to the time in the wake when you can lose yourself in the zen of planting, transplanting. It’s not all easy work, though. For the first week of the internship we cleared out the greenhouses: dismantling dried and dead tomato plants that were still garnished with pruney rancid tomatoes, prying dried oregano and basil roots out of the greenhouse floor, and leveling maddeningly crooked and dilapidated tables on which we would put plant trays.

Since then we have planted seeds. Now we are transplanting the buds of those seeds in slightly larger trays. It’s not easy to do this; standing for hours on end is never easy. And repetitive though it may be, it is never tedious, never boring. And it never ceases to amaze me just how much a tiny dried little seed can grow over the course of one week, two weeks. All they need is water, sunlight, and a little room to grow. Wish that our lives were so simple.

Today Kim told me to grab one of the trays to transplant. I stood in the center of the greenhouse, looking all around me at the various sprouts, shoots, buds, and leaves, unable to identify the marigolds by sight. I have little aptitude or knowledge of plants, and how to make them grow. Especially when compared to Kim, who has been at this gig for so long that the right number of seeds to plant, or even the crops to choose for her farm seems second nature.

It amazes me that this is food production. Soon, someone will eat the months of work that Kim, Josh, and company have put into their plants. I find myself wondering if they will appreciate it, if they will thinking about all the transplanting it took for their vegetable to get to the size it is. Or will they down the food at the pace of a sprint, thoughtlessly, like so many, like myself at times.

It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t magically appear at a grocery store. That is hasn’t been conjured out of nothingness to appear at that location at that exact time for the sole sake of my own convenience. It reminds me of processing turkeys: the process of this food production is what sets it apart from regular Albertson’s food. The fact that it’s been grown in our city by our hands makes it special in a way I never really saw before these experiences.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation by Danny Dresher

            For my internship this semester, I have been creating a hand drawn watercolor map of bike touring routes in the Missoula area. The four or five routes to be included all begin and end in Missoula. Prints of the final map will be available to Missoulians as well as traveling cyclists for free in bike shops around town as well as online. Bob Giordano of Freecycles and the Missoula Institute For Sustainable Transportation has been providing support through route information, distribution and production ideas, as well as contacts for more information.
            You may be thinking, sounds interesting, but would I really want to use an inaccurate hand drawn map when I have Google maps with street view and an internet connection with seemingly endless resources for every kind of travel? It is true that at no other time in history have we been better able to conceptualize and represent the surface of our planet. On YouTube, if you type in “summit video,” you can literally see the view from the top of the world. In the last few weeks Google released the Street View Trekker tour of the Grand Canyon. You can now “hike” the Bright Angel Trail from your desk. If the purpose of maps is to represent a landscape, is it possible for them to be too successful?  Maps that once read, “There be monsters here” are being replaced by trip reports with extensive GPS information, photographs, and videos. What does this mean for the future of exploration? 

            One of the most challenging parts of the project has been deciding how much information to provide. We have considered a range of options from a to-scale map with information about camping, water, and other relevant information, to nothing more than rough suggestions of directions or areas to explore. The final map will be somewhere in between. It will include route suggestions and ideas for finding additional resources. It certainly won’t 
include photographs, but there will be illustrations. I think this is a good middle ground that conveys my own experiences as well as provide some information for prospective travelers to get started.
            The Wilderness and Civilization program has taught me about landscape connections. Connections are built through experiences. I have built connections with places through human-powered travel. My goal for this semester is to explore how this interaction is affected by preconceptions about what a place is going to be like while still facilitating and encouraging people to build connections to the places they live and travel.

I chose to draw a map and paint instead of take pictures in order to encourage human-powered travelers to create their own experiences, instead of search for an experience someone else has already had.