Utah: A Love Story

Utah: A Love Story-Zion National Park Courtesy US National Park Service
Zion National Park, Courtesy US National Park Service
“…[A] word of caution: Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out…and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe.”

Ed Abbey penned those words waxing elegiac on a barstool in Hoboken, New Jersey. I read them decades later on yellowed pages in a rain-drenched tent somewhere in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. When the rain stopped and summer ended, I enthusiastically disregarded Abbey’s first cautioning. I jumped into my car and rushed to the desert.

Another decade has passed since then, and Utah has become home as I’ve spent those years heeding Abbey’s instructions: walking and crawling over sandstone, through thornbush and cactus, blazing trails with spots of blood, finding and falling in love with places. The Colorado, the Green, the San Juan; Bears Ears, Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge; Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion; the named and nameless places in between—the cloven topography where we slogged through flash flood debris, broke through the ice of slot canyon pools, and howled at the setting sun flashing shades of red we’d never seen. After a time, the trails I blazed no longer led to vistas, but to memories.

It’s not just the canyon country I fell in love with, though. I came for the desert, but I stayed for the mountains. And after walking their well-blazed trails, I shambled down the ones overgrown and choked with disuse; and when those ran out, crawled on hands and knees. And I saw things. More importantly, I found something: perspective—of place and of home—perspective gained from the many secrets divulged by mountains and running waters, red rock amphitheaters and alpine meadows. It has been a great privilege to share the stories of those places with you all. They are my love letters to their secrets. My family is off to find and fall in love with new places, now, but I’ll always be Wild About Utah!

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy US National Park Service
Additional Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin and Friend Weller
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling Utah A Love Story

Sources & Additional Reading

Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Ballantine Books (January 1, 1971), https://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Wilderness-Edward-Abbey/dp/0345326490

Boling, Josh, Author Page, Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/josh-boling-boling/

    Josh’s Pieces:

  1. Old Ephraim, The Infamous Northern Utah Grizzly, Wild About Utah, Aug 7, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/old-ephraim-the-infamous-northern-utah-grizzly/
  2. Tree Talk, Wild About Utah, Feb 27, 2017 https://wildaboututah.org/tree-talk/
  3. Water-Liquid Life, Wild About Utah, May 23, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/water-liquid-life/
  4. The Urban Ecotone, Wild About Utah, Nov 6, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/urban-ecotone/
  5. Kokanee Salmon in Utah, Wild About Utah, Oct 9, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/kokanee-salmon-in-utah/
  6. Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/
  7. Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, Dec 10, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-cats/
  8. A Desert’s Paradox, Wild About Utah, Dec 15, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/a-deserts-paradox/
  9. The Language of Ravens, Wild About Utah, Feb 189, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/language-of-ravens/
  10. Wild Children, Wild About Utah, Jan 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-children/
  11. Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Jul 9, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-neoteny/
  12. Josh’s Raven Encounter, Wild About Utah, Jun 11, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/joshs-raven-encounter/
  13. Wilderglyphs, Wild About Utah, Mar 30, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wilderglyphs/
  14. Hidden in Plain Sight, Wild About Utah, May 14, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/hidden-in-plain-sight/
  15. Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Nov 19, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  16. Habitat Heroes Explore More Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Apr 8, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/explore-utah-biomes/
  17. Josh Explains Wild Neoteny, Wild About Utah, Aug 19, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/josh-explains-wild-neoteny/
  18. A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, Dec 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/a-solstice-vignette/
  19. Beaver Creek Greenback Cutthroat Trout, Wild About Utah, Feb 25, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/beaver-creek-greenback-cutthroat-trout/
  20. The Henry Mountains’ Bison Herd, Wild About Utah, Jan 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountains-bison-herd/
  21. The River, Wild About Utah, Jul 15, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-river/
  22. The Bear River’s History and Contributions, Wild About Utah, Jun 10, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/bear-rivers-history-and-contributions/
  23. Habitat Heroes Explore Utah Biomes, Wild About Utah, Mar 4, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-biomes/
  24. Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, Nov 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/why-i-teach-outside/
  25. Utah’s Desert Paradox, Wild About Utah, Oct 14, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-desert-paradox/
  26. Rock Art, Wild About Utah, Sep 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rock-art/
  27. You, Too, Can Teach Outside!, Wild About Utah, Apr 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/you-too-can-teach-outside/
  28. Brand New Eyes, Wild About Utah, Aug 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/brand-new-eyes/
  29. Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, Feb 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/snowshoes-and-adaptations/
  30. The Henry Mountain Bison, Wild About Utah, Jan 20, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/the-henry-mountain-bison/
  31. Imaginary Wanderings, Wild About Utah, Mar 16, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/imaginary-wanderings/
  32. Questions, Wild About Utah, Mar 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/questions/
  33. A New Beginning, Wild About Utah, May 25, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/a-new-beginning/
  34. Karst Topography, Wild About Utah, Nov 23, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/karst-topography/
  35. Wandering Home, Wild About Utah, Oct 19, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wandering-home/
  36. Equinox, or Equilux?, Wild About Utah, Sep 21, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/equinox-or-equilux/
  37. Finding Remoteness, Wild About Utah, Feb 22, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/finding-remoteness/
  38. Utah: A Love Story, Wild About Utah, May 24, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/utah-a-love-story/

Questions

Questions: The Architecture of the Brain The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain. Courtesy NIH, NINDS
The Architecture of the Brain
The brain can be divided into three basic units: the forebrain, the midbrain, and the hindbrain.
Courtesy NIH, NINDS

Buttercup, bluebell, dandelion, fern.Questions

Mountain, river, and cascading falls.

Kingfisher, lark, cygnet, heron.

Adder, otter, and newt.

What? Why? How?: my favorite wild words of all.

Each step down the trail is a question. What is beyond that ridge?

Each pause to look, a reflection. Why is this here, and how?

There’s a cognitive reflex we humans have developed over the millennia called ‘instinctive elaboration.’ Basically, when our brains are exposed to a question—whether we’ve asked it ourselves or someone else is asking—every mental resource at our disposable is devoted to formulating an answer, or at least attempting to answer, elaborating on prior knowledge and the evidence in front of us. Our brains are bathed in serotonin in the process, and the mind’s natural instinct is to relax into diligent calculation. An example: “Why do California Condors have bald heads?” Your brain has probably just been hijacked by mental images of one of Utah’s rarest and most unpleasantly beautiful species; and I’m guessing you feel great about it.

Asking questions while exploring the natural world doubles down on this process of cerebral euphoria. Our brains are already hyper aware of our surroundings when engaged with nature. Asking questions about those things with which we are engaged magnifies that awareness—focuses it.

In a dry desert wash, I bent down to pick up what I had just kicked out of the sand. I turned the small chunk of petrified wood over in my hand a couple times, admiring the streaks of color, wondering what elements were there, what organic compounds they had replaced. After several seconds, I dropped it back into the sand and looked up to realize I was in fact several minutes behind my party. They hadn’t realized I’d stopped. I hadn’t realized they’d gone. My mind had been hijacked by questions about colors in the stone.

I carry a small, thin journal with me into the wilds. I write questions in it. Sometimes, I even try to write answers. Mostly, I just get lost in thought.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!Questions
 
Credits:
Graphics: Courtesy National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke(NINDS), National Institutes of Health(NIH), US Department of Health & Human Services(DHHS), https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Know-Your-Brain
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright J Chase and K.W. Baldwin, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Josh Boling

Additional Reading

Hoffeld, David, Want To Know What Your Brain Does When It Hears A Question?, The Science of Work, FastCompany, Feb 21, 2017, https://www.fastcompany.com/3068341/want-to-know-what-your-brain-does-when-it-hears-a-question

Cooper, Neil, What Effect Do Questions Have On Our Brain?, Mar 15, 2018, https://medium.com/@mr.neilcooper/what-effect-do-questions-have-on-our-brain-329c37d69948

Wild About Nature Journaling

Wild About Nature Journaling: Nature Journals Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Nature Journals
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
As a youth living minutes from the canyons east of Salt Lake City, I spent many Saturdays with my father carrying a backpack with sandwiches and his worn field guide to North American mushrooms. I don’t remember exactly which trails or natural wonders we encountered as we walked; we never carried a notebook or a pencil. That was decades before I’d carry a smart phone in my pocket. I wouldn’t say that our experience was without value just because I lack a tangible record of it today, but I wonder why it didn’t occur to either of us to document any of it. Now, when I am out exploring, I typically have my phone at the ready, snapping photographs of wildflowers and pinecones on the trail. My iNaturalist app and field guides provide identification facts instantly, and I move on. What am I missing when I don’t take the opportunity to slow down, sit down, and appreciate the wild details surrounding me? It actually wasn’t until decades later in a Utah Master Naturalist course that I opened a page of a nature journal and began capturing what there was to be wild about exploring the mountains, wetlands, and deserts of Utah.

Nature journaling is nothing new. Charles Darwin kept thousands of observation field notes. Lewis and Clark documented our American West as well. In Jacqueline Davies’ children’s picture book “The Boy Who Drew Birds,” John James Audubon says, “I will bring …my pencils and paper… I will study my cave birds every day. I will draw them just as they are.” As a school teacher, I ask my students as we explore the magic of Hardware Ranch, Bear River Bird Refuge, and Logan River to write and to draw. We carry composition notebooks, erasers, colored pencils, magnifying glasses, and rulers in sealable plastic bags. We date and title each entry, noting the weather and our location on outlines of Utah, and then get into the details from our five senses. What do we see, hear, smell, feel, and, sometimes even taste, like when we are at Antelope Island with Friends of the Great Salt Lake naturalists learning about pickleweed?
The children don’t always have the luxury of just snapping a picture with an iPad or smartphone on our place-based field learning experiences, and I hope that their engagement with and blossoming attitudes about keeping nature journals stick. In the book “Keeping a Nature Journal,” Clare Walker Leslie quoted Frederick Franck about just this: “I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen.” I know I am not alone in thinking, especially when I am not wearing my teacher hat, that I lack the skills to draw natural subjects in any recognizable way. That cannot be an excuse, though, for not taking the time to quietly contemplate what I’m experiencing, being mindful, as naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton wrote, once “the ripples of my presence settle and let nature resume,” and recording it on paper as a permanent memory. There are some who say that we should be present in the moment outdoors and create a journal entry of the most striking memories upon return, but I would submit that engaging in trying to capture nature in a field journal in the moment only heightens the entire wild experience. I’ll share two examples from my recent adventures.

Yellow Bee Plants, Peritoma lutea San Rafael Swell Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Yellow Bee Plants, Peritoma lutea
San Rafael Swell
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Along the trail down to the banks of the Muddy in the San Rafael Swell a few weeks ago I saw what I think, based on my iNaturalist suggestions and Deserts field guide, were huge yellow bee plants (Peritoma lutea). They were gorgeous exploding firecrackers of color complimenting the deliciously fragrant blossoming bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), so I stopped, crouched down, and took three photographs with my phone in varying degrees of zoom to capture the details. My intent was to go back to camp and draw it in my nature journal. I have the pictures, but I didn’t get around to writing or sketching a thing.

Flying Critter on My Pant Leg Cache National Forest Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Flying Critter on My Pant Leg
Cache National Forest
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

"The Flying Critter on My Pant Leg" Nature Journal Entry Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Illustrator & Photographer “The Flying Critter on My Pant Leg”
Nature Journal Entry
Courtesy & © Shannon Rhodes, Illustrator & Photographer


Last Saturday I was in Cache National Forest swinging in a hammock surrounded by fluttering aspen. A flying critter landed on my pant leg, and I immediately zoomed in on it with my phone’s camera. It didn’t move, and neither did I, as I scrambled for a paper and pen. I am not as good at identifying insects with my field guides, but I took the time to really get to know this hairy creature with huge black eyes. Brian Mertins, a naturalist who has compiled tips for a better nature journal, warns that drawing from observation “burns a clear image of whatever you are sketching into your memory.” That is certainly the case with this interaction I had: the way his antennae curved down in front of his face, the speckled colors of his hard outer wing, those mesmerizing eyes staring me down for an uncomfortably long time.

I am convinced that every time I open my nature journal to that page, I will remember that day with that hairy insect, and I am also convinced that I’ll never know all there was to appreciate about that bee plant I failed to take the time in the moment to capture in my field journal. There are so many resources online about nature journaling techniques, from a formal Grinnell-style field journal to tips for drawing flowers and bugs. There are also opportunities for citizen scientists interested in contributing to Notes from Nature projects sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute and zooniverse.org to digitally transcribe field journals. Explore the possibilities to be wild about nature journaling.

This is Shannon Rhodes, and I am wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/
Text:     Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

American Museum of Natural History. Keeping a Field Journal: Eleanor Stirling. https://www.amnh.org/learn-teach/curriculum-collections/biodiversity-counts/what-is-biodiversity/keeping-a-field-journal-1-eleanor-sterling

Davies, Jacqueline. The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon. 2004. https://www.jacquelinedavies.net/theboywhodrewbirds

iNaturalist, https://www.inaturalist.org/

Laws, John Muir. Opening the World Through Nature Journaling. 2012. http://sdchildrenandnature.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/CNPS_NatureJournaling_JMuirLaws_96p_2012.pdf

Leslie, Clare Walker and Roth, Charles E. Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You. 2000. https://www.storey.com/books/keeping-a-nature-journal-3rd-edition/

MacMahon, James A. Deserts, National Audubon Society Nature Guides. Knopf; A Chanticleer Press, 1998. https://www.worldcat.org/title/deserts/oclc/37144389
All Guides: https://www.audubon.org/national-audubon-society-field-guides

Mertins, Brian. Beginner’s Guide to Nature Journaling: 12 Tips for a Better Nature Journal. https://nature-mentor.com/nature-journaling/

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies. Introduction to the Nature Journal. 2006. http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/educators/lesson_plans/journals/smithsonian_siyc_fall06.pdf

Smithsonian Institution Field Guide Digital Transcription Project, https://transcription.si.edu/

Thompson, Elizabeth. Nature Journaling Binder. 2014. https://thewatershed.org/pdf/Education/NatureJournalingWebversion.pdf

You, Too, Can Teach Outside!

A few months ago, I shared a piece on this program called “Why I Teach Outside.” In it, I discussed the academic research and my personal anecdotes that reaffirm the education community’s movement toward experiential learning and learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. But it was mostly theoretical—an explanation more of WHY experiential learning in nature works than HOW it can be implemented. Then, my third graders were sent home for the year. And I started getting emails. Parents needed ideas to supplement the online curriculum and to ultimately get their children unplugged on a regular and healthy basis. So, here are a few of my ideas.

There is probably no greater privilege as an educator than to witness the natural and emphatic curiosity of youngsters. Use that to your advantage. You’ll find that it’s rather simple. Let’s start with that most boisterous and emphatically curious age group of all—the lower elementary students: Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Science is the low-hanging curricular fruit for this age group outside, but it’s also rich with wonder—things in the natural world that make kids say “Huh?! What? WHY? HOW?” We call those things phenomena, and you can find them in your backyard. Have your Kindergartner explore the plant life around your home, making observations about the similarities and differences they notice between the various species. Ask guiding questions of them to help them arrive at an explanation for those patterns they find in nature. Help your first grader investigate the various sounds made by natural objects found in your yard or neighborhood. Why, for instance, does a rock make a sharp, high-pitched cracking sound when hit against another rock but creates a dull, low-pitched thud when dropped onto the ground? Second graders can move into more complex explorations of properties of matter. Have your child make a house out of leaves and sticks. Then, have them explain why they used particular materials in specific ways? What is their reasoning?

Upper elementary students in grades 3 through 5 or 6 can begin making connections between the natural world and their own lives. Moving beyond the science curriculum, I sent my third graders on a socially-distanced driving tour of Cache Valley. Without leaving their vehicles, students were able to study their communities and identify necessary natural resources that humans in the area require to survive. Fourth grade social studies curriculum is focused on Utah. Wherever you live, there is an important and noteworthy social artifact nearby that you can explore while also observing conservative social distancing measures. That research I mentioned earlier tells us definitively that even just being outside helps our brains make new connections and create better understandings. Fifth and sixth grade social studies focus in part on the rights and responsibilities of humans. What better time to sit beneath a tree and think and write about those questions of liberty and social responsibility. That journal will become a primary resource for future generations eagerly asking, “What was it like? How did you handle everything?” I for one, have to get out into the bright, green world to be able to handle life quarantined indoors.

We can’t forget socialization, either, which is one of the most important parts of middle and high school. How do we combine the natural world, social networking, and social distancing?! My school’s staff discussed Earth Day activities recently as a way of getting kids and families unplugged and active. Have your older students brainstorm with friends via video conference, text messaging, phone calls, or social media ways in which they can, individually but as a group, promote the welfare and stewardship of our planet. Pick up trash around the neighborhood; plant a garden; write a letter to a legislator. They will find what’s important to them.

These suggestions are not an exhaustive list of course. But, no matter what you end up doing with whichever age group children you have, remember, more important than the academic rigor of your homeschooling is the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of your children. Help them flourish during this difficult time. Unplug the computer. Get them outside.

I’m Josh Boling, and though I’m stuck at home, I’m still Wild About Utah!

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Additional Reading

Boling, Josh, Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/why-i-teach-outside/

OutdoorClassroomDay.com, https://outdoorclassroomday.com/resources/

Third Grade Nature Activities, Education.com, Inc, a division of IXL Learning, https://www.education.com/activity/third-grade/nature-activities/

40 Wet and Wild Outdoor Science Projects and Activities, wearteachers.com, Shelton, CT, https://www.weareteachers.com/contact-weareteachers/