Josh Explains Wild Neoteny

Josh Explains Wild Neoteny: Annual Wildflower Festival Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Annual Wildflower Festival
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
“Hey, stop the truck!” my wife called from the passenger seat, her nose pressed against the window. I already knew what this was about; she was out the door before the dust had cleared the hood, kneeling in the grass. While she hovered over something newly found with purple petals, I stared out across the high, open meadow of blooming wildflowers, the urge to run surging into my feet. I turned at her exclamation several seconds later, half a football field of colored space between us now. Arms spread wide; grins from ear to ear. In a field of wildflowers, we were kids again.

Scientists call it neoteny, the retention of juvenile features in the adult of a species—basically, the harboring of a playful nature into adulthood. The research into the benefits of play, especially outdoor play, is becoming more replete by the day. In humans, play puts the right hemisphere of the brain into gear, that portion responsible for artistic and creative notions, imagination and insight, and holistic thought. The cerebellum and frontal lobes light up as well, increasing attunement to coordination, executive functioning, and contextual memory development. Neoteny, scientists say, is the key to a species’ adaptability and, therefore, its survival.

Alpine Pond Upper Flowers Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Alpine Pond Upper Flowers
Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Wild neoteny could be the term used to describe the human affinity to explore one’s natural surroundings, to wander off into the hills in search of something new and interesting, to learn the nuance of a place and to gain some intimacy with it—to call it home. We do that, I think, when we go on hikes into the wild hinterlands, catapult ourselves down the turbulent waters of our rivers, or climb the rock faces we stumble upon. It’s an adrenaline rush to be sure, a high on life as they say; but it’s also an act of survival—and of remaining human.

Robin Moore, a professor at North Carolina State University, says “the natural environment is the principle source of sensory stimulation….” “Sensory experiences,” he says, “link [our] exterior world with [our] interior, hidden, affective world.” The outdoor environment is a medium of human connection where, as Moore puts it, the “freedom to explore and play…through the senses…is essential for healthy development….” Dr. Stuart Brown, clinical researcher and founder of The National Institute for Play, behooves us in his Ted Talk on the subject to explore our individual histories of play. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself at play, where are you? The open water, a deep forest, a mountain peak, or maybe a field of wildflowers?

In his national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls nature a “reset button.” It is the place where we are reminded of ourselves and our purpose. Australian musician Xavier Rudd sings, “Take a stroll to the nearest water’s edge/Remember your place.” It’s often proffered that in a time of industrial expectation and hyper-communication, we need the wild spaces more than ever. There’s some truth to that; but I think I’d go play there anyway, even if it wasn’t to escape the, quote-unquote, “workaday life.” I’m most human when I’m running through a field of blooming wildflowers.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service, Cedar Breaks National Monument
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Cedar Breaks, Plan Your Visit, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/event-listing.htm?eventID=68A2C9C9-155D-451F-679007F885E5FA1A

Cedar Breaks National Monument, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/index.htm

Neoteny, Reference Terms, ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/neoteny.htm

The River

The River: River Rapids Per Josh Boling See: https://pixabay.com/photos/river-rapids-gulch-water-stream-1209025/
River Rapids
Per Josh Boling
See:
https://pixabay.com/photos/river-rapids-gulch-water-stream-1209025/
“There isn’t a mathematical formula to describe how water moves here. It’s just impossible to predict,” he told me. I was visiting Utah State University’s Water Research Lab; and a grad student had just unleashed an impressive torrent of water into a 4-foot-square, 20-foot long, hollow plexiglass column for my viewing pleasure. He was trying to demonstrate for me the physics of the Venturi Effect. The Venturi Effect in hydrology is the reduction of water pressure after water is forced through a constriction. There’s a formula for it. Likewise, there is a formula for the increase in water’s velocity upon entering said constriction according to the principle of mass continuity—which basically states that, because water is incompressible, it inevitably moves faster as it’s continually forced through tight spaces. I understood all that, but I was more interested in the frothy madness happening in the middle of the column—the wild torrent threatening the bolts and seals of the plexiglass; the phenomenon, I was told, for which there is no formula, no predictability.

There were three of us in the boat, friends who had met guiding rivers back east nearly a decade before. We had brought an 11-foot bucket-raft against one of the gnarlier western rivers at high spring runoff—a dinghy taking on a white whale. You can always hear the whitewater before you finally see it, especially the big rapids. We had come upon it faster than anticipated. Limestone outcroppings constricted the river into a bottleneck here where it makes a dog-leg to the left; and, at 20,000 cubic-feet-per-second, the river curls back onto itself at the crest of a frothing wave. There is no formula for it; no predictability. “What do I do?” the one in back steering shouted at me. “I don’t know!” I shouted back. We tilted down into the trough of the wave.

A river is never the same twice. Fluvial geomorphology says so. Fluvial geomorphology is the study of the ways in which a river moves, changes, and interacts with its channel and the landscape around it. People who study this sort of thing talk about the character of a river and how it changes with the smallest variability. A misplaced cobble of the riverbed causes a riffle where there once wasn’t one previously; an eddy develops, changes directional flow; the river is never the same again. I have always been fascinated by this. The fluid mechanics at work in a river must be respected and understood, even if they can’t always be predicted.

We rode the wave to its frothy crest where we were thrown like rag dolls, luckily, to the center of the boat rather than overboard. At the apex of the wave, we were stuck like glue to the water as it boiled in all directions—inward, outward, upstream, and back down. “Paddle hard!” one of us shouted as we scrambled back into position, jamming our paddles into the teeth of the wave. We spun this way and that and almost back down the wave before the river released us. We shouted in triumph for the sheer thrill of experience, and because we had all managed to stay in the boat. Something I wouldn’t have predicted.

If you could freeze time and analyze the cross-sections of a whitewater wave, you might come up with a formula to explain water’s frozen movements; but the formula would never be the same twice. The river says so.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Image: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, 2019, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Utah Water Research Laboratory, Utah State University, https://uwrl.usu.edu/

The Bear River’s History and Contributions

The Bear River's History and Contributions: Bear River Basin Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250x354.jpg
Bear River Basin
Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
bear.river_.basis_.waterrights.utah_.gov_.250×354.jpg
The Bear River meanders almost 500 miles from its headwaters in Utah’s Uinta Mountains to its mouth at the Great Salt Lake, making it the longest river in North America which does not empty into an ocean. Instead, the Bear River serves as the main source of fresh water for the Great Salt Lake, a vast terminal lake in the Great Basin with no outlet except evaporation. This hasn’t always been the case, though. The Bear River once flowed north, serving as a tributary of the Snake River, and ultimately reached the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River. That is until about 140,000 years ago when the earth erupted in present-day southeast Idaho and spilled lava across the Bear River’s path.

The Bear River's History and Contributions: Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Canoeing on the Bear River, Cutler Reservoir
Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon, Photographer
Now obstructed by expansive lava fields hardening into immense walls of basalt rock, the Bear dog-legged to the south and became—for the first time—a source of fresh water for the ancient inland sea that would eventually become the Great Salt Lake. The river was tenacious, though, and spent its time not only feeding fresh water to ancestors of the Great Salt Lake but also chiseling away at the basalt columns that obstructed its way toward the sea. The river was finally rewarded for its efforts millennia after having been cut off from the Snake and Columbia River Basins, and once again became a tributary of the Snake River. This fate would not last, however. Roughly 35,000 years ago, violent geology would have its way again. More lava flows around present-day Soda Springs, Idaho, bent the Bear River back toward the Great Basin where it still empties today.

The Bear River's History and Contributions: the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer

the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley. Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
the Bear River between Benson and Cutler reservoir in Cache Valley.
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
And this has been a boon for the millions of residents—Homo sapiens and otherwise—of the Wasatch Front here in Utah. Let’s consider for a moment what life in central and northern Utah would be like if not for the Bear River. For starters, the Great Salt Lake would lose 60% of its annual inflow, drastically reducing its volume. I wonder if Brigham Young and his Saints would have even considered settling in the Salt Lake Valley after enduring the many lake-bed-dust storms courtesy of the Great Salt Lake that are becoming a growing concern today. We would certainly be deprived of the world-class migratory bird and wetland habitat supported by the Bear River at the famous Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. Last fall, Ogden’s Standard Examiner newspaper reported that, quote, “the river had disappeared into a vast mudflat that used to be Bear River Bay.” Experts cited irrigation, municipal, and habitat uses in addition to a host of environmental and climate factors as causes of the Bear River becoming “tapped out” before it reached the Great Salt Lake. A snowpack that has doubled last year’s total according to the Salt Lake Tribune has the Bear River Basin’s snowpack brimming at nearly 300% its average this time of year. This promises to turn things around for the Bear River and the many species which depend upon it.

A complex and interdependent collection of variables impact the Bear River and its hydrologic fate—not least of which are humans, ecology, climate, and the occasional volcanic eruption.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Images:
    Bear River Diagram Courtesy Utah Division of Water Rights
    Courtesy & Copyright Bryan Dixon
    Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound:
Text: Josh Boling, 2019, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, The Bear River, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-river/

Beck, Russ, America’s Caveat River, Wild About Utah, Nov 16, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/americas-caveat-river/

Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes

Utah is a wildly diverse place. Ecological and biological diversity are usually tied to an abundance of water; but here in Utah, despite our relative lack of the wet stuff, we boast of at least nine unique biomes spanning from the low-elevation Mojave Desert around St. George to the high Alpine Tundra of our many snowcapped mountain ranges. You can think of a biome as a large community of similar organisms and climates or a collection of similar habitats. Just recently, my third grade students wrapped up a semester-long investigation into seven of those biomes found in Utah including the high Alpine Tundra, Riparian/Montane Zone, Sagebrush Steppe, Wetlands, and the Great Basin, Colorado Plateau, and Mojave Deserts. We explored those biomes by way of researching a specific animal endemic in Utah to each of those biomes. We called our project “Habitat Heroes.” I’ll let a few of my students explain their findings.

(Student readings)
Zach's Rubber Boa  Head, Tongue and Scales Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Zach’s Rubber Boa
Head, Tongue and Scales
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
(Full Student Name Redacted)
Zach’s Rubber Boa:
My name is Zach, and my animal is the rubber boa. The rubber boa lives in the riparian/montane biome in Utah. The rubber boa eats shrews, mice, small birds, lizards, snakes, and amphibians and is usually found along streams and in forests and in meadows.
Noah's Ringtail Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Noah’s Ringtail
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Noah’s Ringtail:
This is Noah, and I’ve been studying the ringtail. The ringtail lives in the cold desert biome on the Colorado Plateau in Utah. The ringtail is gray and furry with a long black and white tail. How ringtails catch their food: number one-being very sly and waiting for the right time. They live in rocky deserts, caves, and hollow logs.
Muskrat Collage Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Muskrat Collage
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
The Muskrat:
My animal’s the muskrat. The muskrat lives in the wetland biome in Utah. Muskrats live in Mexico, Canada, and the United States where there are marshes, ponds, and vegetated water. Muskrats go out at night and find food like aquatic plants, grass, and fish. They have special abilities that can be used for a very special reason to help them survive.

Elizah's Long-tailed Weasel Courtesy & Copyright EBLS (Full Student Name Redacted)
Elizah’s Long-tailed Weasel
Courtesy & Copyright EBLS
(Full Student Name Redacted)
Elizah’s Weasel:
My name is Elizah, and my animal is the long-tailed weasel. The long-tailed weasel lives in the Great Basin biome in Utah. They are brown and yellow all year long except for winter. They are white during winter. [The] long-tailed weasel’s scientific name is Mustela frenata. They are mostly nocturnal.

In addition to researching the different biomes and learning about the adaptations animals must possess in order to survive there, these third graders have been visiting the several biomes local to Cache Valley and investigating their research animals’ habitats. These experiences have been powerful in helping students realize what it’s really like to exist in the wilds of Utah.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Habitats Along Temple Fork
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Exploring an alpine-type biome along beaver creek
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Flying like the birds; Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Looking at tree migration in Green Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS
Investigating Beaver Curtis Creek wanderings; Hardware Ranch; Blacksmith Fork Canyon
Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, EBLS

Credits:
Images:
    Artwork Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling’s 3rd Grade students
    Photos Courtesy & Copyright Eric Newell, Edith Bowen Laboratory School Field Experience Director
Sound:
Text: Josh Boling, 2017, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Sources & Additional Reading

Boling, Josh and students, Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/

Edith Bowen Laboratory School, https://edithbowen.usu.edu/

Biomes, Kimball’s Biology Pages, http://www.biology-pages.info/B/Biomes.html

Mission Biomes, NASA Earth Observatory, https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/experiments/biome

The World’s Biomes, University of California Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley, https://ucmp.berkeley.edu/glossary/gloss5/biome/