What Joyce Taught Me About Nature


by Thea Miller Ryan

I was one of those horse crazy kids. Every tree in my backyard was a barrel, a pole or the finish line on a horse race track. If I wasn’t riding my pretend horses, I was a horse, thundering through the back alley of my Rapid City home.

One day, I remember “whoaing” my horse next to a big Aspen in my backyard. There was a bug there about the size of my head. It was fuzzy, red and white striped and had huge wings with half moons on them. I wasn’t sure if I should scream or dismount my invisible appaloosa and become a scientist. That’s when the screen door opened into our backyard and this really pretty lady came out on our patio with my mom and dad.

“Look at that!” she pointed into the tree where I stood. “Do you know what that’s called?” She was so pretty, standing there in a blue skirt with her golden yellow hair. I wasn’t sure someone so pretty could know what that scary bug was.

“No,” I squeaked out, still uncertain if I was afraid.

“It’s called a cecropia. See the moons on its wings?”

I looked at my dad. He nodded. “This is our friend Joyce.”

“Hi,” I mumbled, knowing if should have shaken her hand and introduced myself. All I wanted to do was go inside and look in the encyclopedia and see if she was right. “What letter does it start with?”

“C,” she said.

Joyce Hazeltine stayed at our house in Rapid City a few times during her first campaign for Secretary of State. When we moved to Pierre a year later, my mom went to work for her in her Secretary of the Senate office. Since school was so close to the capitol, I would go sit in the senate gallery after school and watch the proceedings. One day I even drew a picture of some of the things I heard Joyce say, like “hog house,” and “smoke out,” illustrating the terms with pig-looking legislators with big cigarettes in their mouths. I showed her and the next day my drawing circulated on the floor of the senate. Joyce pointed up to me in the senate gallery each time a senator burst out in laughter.

A cercropeia caterpillar
A cecropia caterpillar

She and her husband had a café in downtown Pierre: The Liberty Café. Her daughter was a skate guard at the roller rink. She won the Secretary of State election and didn’t mind if I hung out in the lobby of her office, doing my homework while I waited for my mom or dad to get off work. I seriously thought the Hazeltines were the coolest family on the planet.

It’s been a long time since I saw Joyce, but now I do see cecropia moths a lot with my job. Every time I do, I think back to that day when that really pretty lady told me about the big bug in my backyard. Was it the one thing that got me interested in working in this field? It might have been.

Rest in peace, Joyce. I learned so much from you – starting with the letter “c.”





Observations by a Phenologist

Observations by a Phenologist

By Laurie Root

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

What is a phenologist you ask? You probably are one! Phenology is the study of changes in plants animals as they respond to weather, climate and the seasons.

I love being in the field in October to watch the big flocks of birds migrating. My favorite are the Canada geese, but it is mesmerizing to watch the huge flocks of blackbirds working a field in the fall too. We have learned about the birds migrating since we were little but when you think about it, it is still amazing how far they go, and how they find their way. Much of how they do it is still a mystery and I am good with that.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

When I am sitting alone watching geese fly, I think of “Lessons from the Geese” written in 1972 by Dr. Robert McNeish of Baltimore. Dr. McNeish, for many years a science teacher before he became involved in school administration, had been intrigued with observing geese for years and first wrote this piece for a sermon he delivered in his church. Words to ponder. Enjoy your fall!

Lessons from the Geese

Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #1 – As each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird following. By flying in a “V” formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent greater flying range than if one bird flew alone. Lesson Learned – People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the strength of one another.

Fact #2 – Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. Lesson Learned – If we have as much sense as geese, we will stay in formation with those who are ahead of where we want to go and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to others.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #3 – When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position. Lesson Learned – It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership.

Fact #4 – The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Lesson Learned – We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, and not something else.

Photo by Keith A. Anderson
Photo by Keith A. Anderson

Fact #5 – When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again, or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or they catch up with their flock. Lesson Learned – If we have as much sense as geese do, we too, will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

Laurie Root is a naturalist at Outdoor Campus – West in Rapid City.

5 Things You Might Not Know About the Interns

5 Things You Might Not Know About the Interns

By Jensen Goodell

1.We are sarcastic 92% of the time.


Although it pains us that we cannot be sarcastic all of the time, the other 8% of our job is pure seriousness. This is reserved for when we are discussing the importance of safety and instruction in our classes to ensure that everything can go smooth and everyone can have fun.

2. The tan lines are real, and they are awkward.

photo 2

Everyone has heard of the farmers tan, but the interns at TOC put those farmers to shame. The tan lines also make it extremely awkward when we do decide to go sleeveless. Kudos to the brave interns that wear Chacos on an everyday basis; those tan lines are close to impossible to hide. P.S. this is the actual foot of Intern Erica Jurgensen.

3. Long after work hours, we still smell like fish and campfire.


Who needs perfume when you have wondrous smells on campfire and fish? The smell is a true stamp of pride that you are an intern at TOC. Spending your days outdoors making delicious smacos and fishing for hours on end is just part of the job description.

4. It’s always a battle: Fitbit vs. Food.


If you have been to TOC, you might have noticed the majority of the interns wear a Fitbit. So you would think that we are really healthy, right? Well it might come as a surprise to know that if there are any treats in our reach, you can bet they will be gone in a matter of minutes. Our Fitbit only provides an excuse to eat as much as we want. Ya know, because we take so many steps!

5. We are “happy to be here.”


Being an intern at The Outdoor Campus also means you get to work with a lot of great people. You would think that we might get sick of each other from working together all day, every day for an entire summer, but we don’t. We even hang out outside of work because we cannot get enough of each other.

From Cold Stone and Finding Dory, to hanging out at Erica’s house and our staff development days also known as “Family Sunday Funday”… on a Friday, we enjoy each other’s company. Contrary to popular belief, we do indeed work as well. Although our family and friends might not believe it, because they only hear about all the fun things we do! Getting the opportunity to work with great people and teach some super fun classes, when we say we are “happy to be here”, we mean it.

Thanks for a good summer!

Jensen is a naturalist intern for The Outdoor Campus this summer. She is currently studying at Augustana University as an elementary education major.

The Best Seeds for Your Road Trip

The Best Seeds for Your Road Trip

sunflower-seeds-537652_1280by Brian Long

The Step Outside crew is always on the road and when on the road we have become sunflower connoisseurs. Snacking is important on long road trips and every time we stop at the gas station our snack of choice is always a bag of sunflower seeds.

We usually mix it up and go with a different flavored bag every time. Being on the road so much we have been able to try pretty much all of them. It’s important with sunflower seeds if you are eating a lot that you will want a flavor that does not destroy your mouth. Some flavors such as buffalo wing or some BBQ flavors are really good but, they are kind of hard on your gums.

It is also important to have a drink with your sunflower seeds such as tea or water because your mouth will get a little dry as well. With so many different brands and different flavors, we would like to share our thoughts on what are the best.

We ranked our top five sunflower seeds flavors and brand names. The one kind of sunflower seeds that made all of our top 5 was Giants Salty Sweet. This is a favorite because it has the best flavor and it is not hard on your gums at all so you can eat them the entire road trip. So next time you are on the road feel free to take our advice on our top flavors of sunflower seeds.


Brian Tom Andrew
1 Giants- Salty Sweet Bigs– Barbeque Giants – Salty Sweet
2 Spitz– Dill Pickle Bigs– Sizzling Bacon Bigs– Buffalo Wing
3 Giants– Black Pepper Bigs– Dill Pickle David– BBQ
4 Wild Dutchman Giants– Salty Sweet Giants– Bacon Ranch
5 Dakota Style– BBQ Bigs– Original Spitz– Cracked Pepper


Brian Long is SD Game, Fish and Parks outreach naturalist. He travels all over southeast South Dakota to teach kids about the outdoors. This summer he traveled with his two interns, Andrew and Tom.

7 Things to Pack When Birding

7 Things to Pack When Birding

By Thomas Docken

1. Binoculars


Having a good set of binoculars when birding can make a day birding more enjoyable. Most birds are skittish when humans come near. So keeping more distance between you and what bird you are looking at can increase the amount of time you can look at that bird’s characteristic. A wise individual once told me that when you buy binoculars “you get what you pay for.” Binoculars range in price from $10 to $300 any pair will work depending on the magnification and quality.

2. Bird Field ID Guide

There are many guides published that will help aid in bird identification. An idea to look for is a guide that is specific to your location. Many guides can be big and bulky having many birds from around the world making it difficult to find a bird right here in South Dakota. Another thing to look for is a guide that has pictures of male, female, and younger birds. The same species may look different depending on gender and age.

3. Bird TunesBirdTunes-full

One thing I find helpful when you can only hear a bird and not see it is a bird song app. The app I personally use, Bird Tunes, has 674 species with different calls for what behavior is being carried out. Bird Tunes is $9.99, but there are free apps out that have songs of many birds you see in your backyard.

4. A Watch

A watch sounds like a silly item to need when birding but knowing the time of day that a bird stops at a certain location can be fun. Birds like other animals are creatures of habit and will stop at a bird feeder or sit in a tree and sing at specific times of the day. Knowing the time and location of a bird can be helpful by showing fellow birder what you had seen previously.

5. Proper Attire

When outdoors, it is always best to be prepared for the weather. You will want to judge your best attire based on what terrain you will be birding around. Such as, if you are looking for a type of bird that spends most of its time by the water consider wearing rubber boots or waders.

6. A Camera

Personally I use my camera as my binoculars so I can capture a picture of the bird at the same time. That way if I only get a glimpse of the bird I am looking at and have a picture I can look back at the picture I have taken. With so many different species of birds it is near impossible to memorize what every bird and their song is. I often take pictures of a bird I have never seen before and later refer to my field guide or the internet to identify the species.

7. Log Book

Logging any outdoor experience is good to do for future reference. Things to log about are camping trips, hikes, fishing, hunting, or birding. I log about the activities done and what other activities could have been done. I usually date and label the location the outdoor activity was done including the weather.

Thomas is a naturalist intern at The Outdoor Campus. He attends South Dakota State University as a wildlife and fisheries major. His favorite activities are hunting, fishing and birding.


5 Obvious Signs You Are a Fisherman

5 Obvious Signs You Are a Fisherman

By Brian Long

1. You always have a rod and tackle box.


No matter what vehicle you own, it is never without a tackle box and a rod. You keep these in there for the “just in case moment” of the possibility of making it to a fishing hole on your daily routine. This might sound strange to some people but to anglers it happens more than we can admit. It’s not that we accidentally come around a shore line, but that when the weather is right we don’t want to miss a minute of fishing.

2. You have Coon Eyes.


The permanent sunglass tan lines don’t disappear even during the winter months. The people who you are around most can’t tell if you are wearing sunglasses or not.

3. Vacation is never vacation.


When you plan vacation it isn’t based locations where you will be able to relax, it is based upon fishing reports and opportunities. Really, what is the point of going somewhere else if you don’t get a chance to fish? There will be no sleeping in, no fancy suppers, and no sitting on a beach chair. Your time planning the trip will be finding your spots, researching carters, and packing gear.

4. You Can Tell a Lie.


That fish that got away? Yes it was a state record, and it was the third state record you caught that day. The fish you caught 3 years ago grows an inch every time you talk about it. You can make up anything to avoid telling someone your secret spot. You don’t care what anyone says, you couldn’t keep them of your hook a week ago in this spot.

5. The Only “Good” Pictures You Take Are Ones with Fish in Your Hands.


Snapping a picture at a wedding? You can’t get out of there quick enough. Holding a proud angler? You can’t take enough pictures. You also know the best way to hold that fish so you can say it is whatever size you want, depending on who you’re talking to. These photos are the only ones you would consider framing as well, don’t worry about your family.

Brian is an outreach naturalist at The Outdoor Campus. He coordinates our Step Outside program as well as any other outreach for outdoor education. He is also, clearly, an avid fisherman.