Right so, I’ve been informed by my most favorite students, that my blog has been lacking humor. Everyone’s a critic.
In response, I asked them to write my next blog entry, shockingly, they did not jump at the chance to exercise their grammar and narrative skills, instead they simply provided me with story ideas (I say ideas, but really I mean complete nonsense, incomplete thoughts, and other things that would make no sense for the reader). What follows is my interpretation of what they shared with me about their day and what they felt I ought to be including for our readers to enjoy. I’ve done my very best to provide some context but my dear reader, keep in mind, I’m with 11 teenagers.
I want to immediately throw some individuals under the proverbial bus because not all of the group can be blamed for this entry, since only “Dishpiration” was included in the discussion. Each night we get divided into the Dinner Group, Quest for Knowledge group, and of course, Dishpiration. While the Dinner Group is cooking and the Questers are preparing our after dinner presentation, Dishpiration is supposed to be journaling. We transformed our journaling activity into blogging. The group being Richie, Ellie, Carter, Bridget, myself and of course, the elusive but deadly snowball thrower, Mr. Hurley.
Mr. Hurley truly was the star of the day. He not only “destroyed” Carter Cooper in a snowball fight (please see video evidence to back up this outrageous claim) he also taught us about a new vegetable, the varsatona. So, the next time you are playing the alphabet game in the car with the category of vegetables, and you have to come up with a V vegetable, now you know, varsatona. It might be a root vegetable or perhaps a leafy green, but Mr. Hurley was lacking in specific detail, so we are still not sure.
Mr. Hurley also made quite an impression on Richie, apparently, they bonded over flossing. Through Mr. Hurley’s coaching, Richie has not only learned why one should floss, but also the proper technique. In return for this secret knowledge that many seek but few find, Richie destroyed Mr. Hurley in aforementioned snowball fight (there is no video evidence of this, so we have only his word, Mr. Hurley vehemently denies the claim).
Wolf watching day is an early start day, so we had to be up by 5am. Unfortunately, someone does not know how to set an alarm correctly, and that same individual (who shall not be named in order to ensure their safety now that they’ve entered the Witness Protection Plan but for this story I’ll refer to them as Miss Knoll) woke us all up at 4am. This had the unintended consequence of depriving Ellie of so much needed rest, that she was incapable of speaking in anything but an Australian accent for the rest of the day. When questioned about this magical occurrence, she responded, “I’m giving the people what the people wanted.” Actually what we wanted was to sleep an hour later, but Ellie talking all day in an Aussie accent is almost as good.
If you recall from a previous posting, we met with Rick McIntyre, the wolf expert. Carter quipped, “Rick was sick.” For my readers over 40, let me help you, Rick does not have tuberculosis or a fatal disease. He was awesome and interesting and cool and quirky. Otherwise known as sick. He also hinted I might make a good cougar (I’m really hoping that was a Yellowstone reference since the big cats are known to inhabit the northern territories of the park) and that if they make a movie about the wolves of Yellowstone, that my part could be played by Sandra Bullock. Yes, I’m afraid I must agree with Carter, Rick is sick.
On our way to the most important part of the day, we chased a coyote down the road and had the delight of watching him “do the thing.” You know, that thing coyotes and foxes do in the snow to get prey. Just picture it in your mind, you know what it is. It’s the thing. And it’s awesome. We got to see it from 20 feet away. Yep. In case you don't know what the thing is...
The day ended as any good day should end, with a wedding! Jackson and Bridget got married with the entire crew (Paul, Emil, Richie, and John as groomsmen; Kylie, Carter, Audrey, Natalie, and Ellie as bridesmaids) sharing the joy of their winter wonderland wedding. Okay, okay, none of these kids got married, but our good friend and guidance counselor Miss Ann Bixel did, so we recreated a little scene to congratulate her from afar - we hope her tropical Florida wedding was much warmer than this one. All in all, it was a pretty rocking day.
We crushed it.
Two days ago, the students had the unique opportunity to meet with Dr. Chris Geremia, a bison biologist with the National Park Service. Dr. Geremia came to our lodge and met with us after dinner to share a little of his story and the story of Yellowstone’s bison. He fielded lots of questions and engaged all of us with his passion and commitment to bison. Did you know that in 1902 there were just 23 wild bison left in Yellowstone? Bison have roamed this land since pre-historic times but modern humans almost drove them to extinction. An intensive management plan has returned their numbers to over 5,500. While this might sound like a success story, there are critiques who say there are just too many bison leading to the bison migrating out of the park and creating conflicts with ranchers and other landowners. There are concerns about the spread of brucellosis to livestock and on the hazing and culling of bison, the national mammal. You can learn more by listening to this podcast that explores all sides of the bison issue.
Dr. Geremia and Ecology Project International arranged for our students to spend two days in the field with members of the bison research team (Anna, Beth, Carly and Owen). Students learned about the research projects, field protocols, data collection, and most importantly, spent time with scientists learning about their work. These scientists were so open and sharing with our students, they discussed colleges, majors, job opportunities, different career avenues in environmental science, biology, wildlife ecology, and natural resources. Also, they were just superbly cool to hang out with on a bitterly cold, windy day in Yellowstone National Park even if we were collecting poop samples. Really, we hunted down bison and deer poop or scat as we like to say around here. You can learn an awful lot about an animal by investigating it's poop - what it ate, it's hormone levels, you can even do a DNA analysis!
This morning, we met up with Yellowstone superstar and wolf expert Rick McIntyre as the dawn broke over the Lamar Valley. Rick and his team (affectionately referred to as the wolfies) head out every day to track and observe the wolves of Yellowstone. We tracked him down at one site where he began to debrief us on the radio telemetry technique they use to find collared wolves. He shared some wonderful stories of wolves, the step dad who defended his adopted pups against much stronger alpha males, the strong female who took down a grizzly, and the sisters who ruled enemy packs. News came in that wolves had been spotted at Slough Creek, so we headed over there and sure enough we got to watch a black juvenile wolf chewing on a bison skull near the pack’s den up on the ridge. Here’s an opinion piece that gives you a real sense of Rick and his passion for wolves.
By midmorning, we headed to the northwest corner of Yellowstone to learn about snow science. After snowshoeing in to a beautiful clearing, students dug snow pits to learn more about snow. It turns out snow science can help ecologists understand how animals live under the snow while being hunted from above and snow science can help predict avalanche risk. Students learned how to measure depth, density and hardness of snow.
We wouldn’t be Pirates if we didn’t end a lesson on snow science with a snowball fight.
Day 2 of our Yellowstone adventure was spectacular! We left the lodge and headed in to the Gallatin National Forest in Jardin. The drive up the mountain was beautiful:
Once we reached the trailhead, we needed to get everyone in snow shoes and teach the basics. We didn't have too many experienced snow shoers in the group, so it took a little work to figure out how to get them on and an effective technique that hopefully involved not tripping over your own shoe.
It didn't take long for everyone to get the hang of snow shoeing and after just a few minutes of practice we headed up the trail.
Out on the trail was gorgeous, and we spent a couple of hours enjoying nature. Here's a peek at what it was like:
While in the field, the students were learning a ton about the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Today’s focus was on tracking – spotting tracks, collecting data and measurements about tracks, and determining what tracks can tell us about the animal(s) that passed through. But we also learned about food webs and ecosystem functions. Students discussed trophic levels, predator-prey relationships, animal migrations, and the interactions of biotic and abiotic factors. On our drive, we discussed the differences between National Parks and National Forests and also started to explore the issue of bison leaving the park and what is being done with those bison. Students have started to formulate some of the questions they want to ask the scientists they will meet this week studying these animals.
We finished our winter wonderland hike with an epic snowball fight that ended in what has to be one of the greatest white-outs ever caught on camera.
Oh yeah, they also made snow angels because how can you not make a snow angel in fresh powder?
From sea level to a mile high and from 75 degrees to 29 degrees in 1500 miles is a whole lot of difference! As our Ecology Project International Guides welcomes us to Montana, the wind was blowing through the Paradise Valley along the Yellowstone River. Maybe it wasn't as welcoming as our guides - notice the shivering, foot-stamping and huddling:
After being outside for less time than most of us spend brushing our teeth, the kids were chilled to the bone. We let them into the lodge where they started to thaw out a bit. You can see they made themselves at home pretty quickly.
So what's the plan for tonight? Well, since we've all been up since before 5am this morning, the energy level is waning and I'm predicting an early bedtime so we are ready to take on the wilderness tomorrow! But despite the lack of sleep, students are already busy, some are learning about tracking and preparing a presentation for after dinner, another group is studying the journaling of previous EPI participants, and the last group is busy cooking up a feast for us in the kitchen.
And by now some of you might be wondering, where is Mr. Hurley?? No worries, he's working very hard.
Next time I write, it'll be about our first foray into Yellowstone to learn how to snow shoe - I have no doubt that will be an excellent photo op.
Sleep tight Pirates!
About this Blog:
I am a former Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow, a program of the U.S. Department of State. I have completed graduate level training in Global Education and traveled to Senegal in April with the program to explore their educational system. This blog is a piece of the global education guide I have created to support other teachers and students in globalizing their classrooms. My focus area is life and environmental science and understanding the interconnectedness of Earth. For more information on the fellowship please visit the IREX website.