What Joyce Taught Me About Nature

hyalophora_cecropia1

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

goose-close-sm
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.