Snowshoes

Maliseet Snowshoe
Photo Courtesy & Copyright Hudson Museum, University of Maine

Imagine yourself living in Utah hundreds of years ago – before cars, before horses, before European influences. Summers provide you with abundant game and a multitude of plants for food and other materials, but the winters are harsh and full of snow. How did Native Americans manage to survive winter without modern amenities like snow plows and grocery stores? These hearty individuals owe their ability to hunt and travel in our snowy climate to one important tool – the snowshoe.

Snowshoes have been a part of life for humans in cold-weather climates for at least 6,000 years. From what historians can tell, people living in central Asia learned to strap thin planks of wood to their feet in order to help them travel through deep snow. Snowshoes work by increasing the surface area of the wearer’s foot, which distributes his or her weight across more snow – allowing them to basically float on top of the snow.

Western Subartic Antique
Indian Snowshoes. circa 1890 – 1920.
Photo Courtesy & Copyright VintageWinter.com

From this common ancestor in central Asia, both snowshoes and skis arose. Over the years, people began to spread out and move to new locations. Those who went west, into Europe, eventually developed the ski and those who went east across Siberia and into the Americas developed the snowshoe. The early snowshoes used by Native Americans were constructed of a wooden frame which was laced with babiche, un-tanned animal hide.

While we will likely never know why that first person decided to strap a plank of wood to their foot, perhaps they took their cue from Mother Nature. You see, humans are not the only ones who have figured out how to keep ourselves afloat on snow – some members of the animal world have too, and Utah holds two standout examples: the aptly named snowshoe hare and the Canada lynx. Both of these animals have extraordinarily large feet, which act much the same as our snowshoes, distributing the animal’s weight across a larger surface area.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that both snowshoe hares and Canada lynx share this amazing adaptation. These two species are closely connected to each other in a special relationship: that of predator and prey. Leaving us to ponder the question: whose snowshoes came first, the lynx or the hare?

Eastern Subartic Indian Snowshoes. circa 1855 – 1900
Photo Courtesy & Copyright VintageWinter.com

For more information and photos of traditional snowshoes, please visit our website at www.wildaboututah.org. Thank you to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting the research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

For the Stokes Nature Center and Wild About Utah, this is Andrea Liberatore.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Hudson Museum,
University of Maine
www.umaine.edu/hudsonmuseum/
Nick Thomas, SkiEO, VintageWinter www.vintagewinter.com
Text: Andrea Liberatore, Stokes Nature Center

Vintage Snowshoe Slideshow
Visit the Vintage Winter Sports Museum
Courtesy & Copyright VintageWinter.com

Additional Reading:

Prater, Gene. 1998. Snowshoeing, 3rd Edition. Seattle: The Mountaineers

Zeveloff, Samuel I. 1988. Mammals of the Intermountain West. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press

Botanical Velcro® aids seed dispersal

Burdock Flower
Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

The splendid blooming meadows of summer are fulfilling their reproductive imperative now as they mature and disperse the fruits and seeds that resulted from pollination. Plants can’t walk or actively fly, so to disperse from the mother plant, seeds need to catch a ride. Wild gourds bob down flooding arroyos, thistledown floats on the wind, and red barberry fruits hope to catch the eye of a hungry song bird.

Certainly the most annoying means of dispersal is employed by seeds that stick in fur and socks. Some like cheatgrass are driven home by sharp barbed seeds that poke and hold like the porcupine’s quill. Others form evil pointy burrs, like those of puncturevine, that can flatten a bicycle tire. And then there is burdock. This European weed infests moister disturbed sites in Utah. Its burrs cling tightly to hair and clothing.

Burdock Hooks
Courtesy & Copyright 2009 Jim Cane

Sixty years ago, the Swiss engineer, George de Mestral, became intrigued by the seed heads of cockleburrs and burdocks. They had entangled his dog’s fur and stuck to his pant legs during a montane hunt. How did those burrs cling so steadfastly? Aided by a hand lens, you can see what de Mestral saw: ranks of hook-tipped bristles that snag clothing and fur. Burdocks inspired de Mestral’s invention of Velcro, whose patented nylon bristles are hooked over just like burdock’s and latch on just the same. When next you are beset by burdock burrs, inspect one closely and admire the inventiveness of nature. Then please terminate its dispersal by placing it where the seeds of this weed can’t germinate and grow!

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Credits:

Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Jim Cane

Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Velcro ® brand is a registered trademark of Velcro Industries B.V. www.velcro.com

Velcro USA Inc. Celebrates 50th Anniversary, (Press Release)

Invention of Velcro ® brand Fasteners, Fastech of Jacksonville, Inc., http://www.hookandloop.com/extra/inventionnew.html

Greater Burdock, Arctium lappa L. NRCS Plants Database, http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ARLA3

Seed Dispersal, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.mbgnet.net/bioplants/seed.html

Boxelder Bug Poetry

Boxelder Bugs
Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

Bill Holm wrote and taught in the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University for 27 years. He helped me come to terms with one aspect of Utah nature that I found troublesome at first —the ubiquitous and abundant boxelder bug.

“My boxelder bugs have odd preferences,” Holm wrote. “They love radio dials, phonograph speakers, amplifiers, pianos, and harpsichords. Some would argue that this is because of the warmth and vibrations, but I prefer to think it is because of their taste for Bach and Vivaldi.”

According to Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension, the red and white bugs are essentially harmless. They stain walls or carpets if you squish them. However, they are annoying primarily because they enter homes and other buildings in large numbers. Once in, they’ll find their way into your personal effects. Like your hair or your toothbrush or the glass of water you keep on the bedside table.

After hearing me go off on a boxelder bug rant, a friend gave me Holm’s book Boxelder Bug Variations: A meditation of an idea in language and music. It changed my attitude toward with household invaders, as now I think of them as poetic. Maybe if I read a few verses, you will feel the same:

First, a boxelder bug prayer:

I want so little
For so little time
A south window,
A wall to climb,
The smell of coffee,
A radio knob,
Nothing to eat,
Nothing to rob,
Not love, not power,
Not even a penny,
Forgive me only
For being so many.

And finally, three boxelder bug haiku:

(1) Careful if you kill him!
There may be an afterlife
For both of you.

(2) Those black spots in your lamp?
Only bugs who didn’t make it
Into the next world.

(3) The piano string stops trembling
But boxelder bugs
Keep dancing.

Thanks to Jen Levy for introducing me to boxelder bug poetry, and to Milkweed Editions for permission to reproduce Bill Holm’s work.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Michigan Department of Agriculture
Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Boxelder Bug Variations: A Meditation on an Idea in Language and Music, Holm, Bill, 1985, Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions http://www.milkweed.org/

Boxelder Bugs Fact Sheet, Erin Hodgson, Alan H. Roe, USU Cooperative Extension:
http://extension.usu.edu/files/factsheets/boxelder.pdf

April Light by May Swenson

May Swenson, 1965 in Tucson
Copyright © L.H. Clark
Courtesy Utah State University Press

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

In Logan Cemetery a granite bench marks the grave of May Swenson, a native Utahn and eminent poet. She was born in Logan in 1913 and attended Utah State University where she published her first poem. She moved east in 1936, and eventually, she became one of America’s most inventive and recognized poets, She won many awards including Guggenheim and Rockefeller grants, the Yale Bollingen Prize, and the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Utah State University conferred an honorary doctorate on Swenson in 1987. Despite her many achievements and her years living away from Utah, Swenson never forgot her Mormon heritage or her identity as a Westerner.

Nature played a prominent role in Swenson’s work. In fact, she published a collection of poetry called Nature: Poems Old and New which is brimming with imagery that evokes the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

An example is a poem called April Light. Here it is read by Dr. Paul Crumbley, a professor of English at Utah State University.

April light

Lined with light
the twigs are stubby arrows.
A gilded trunk writhes
Upward from the roots,
from the pit of the black tentacles.
In the book of spring
a bare-limbed torso
is the first illustration.
Light teaches the tree
to beget leaves,
to embroider itself all over
with green reality,
until summer becomes
its steady portrait
and birds bring their lifetime
to the boughs.
Then even the corpse
light copies from below
may shimmer, dreaming it feels
the cheeks of blossom.

To learn more about May Swenson and her work, come to Stokes Nature Center on May 1st at 10 AM. Paul Crumbley will present a program entitled “May Swenson’s Poetics of Natural Selection.” For more information, see www.wildaboututah.org

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Credits:

Readings: Paul Crumbley, English Department, Utah State University, April Light by May Swenson

Text: Stokes Nature Center: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Knudson, R.R. and Suzzanne Bigelow. 1996. May Swenson: A Poet’s Life in Photos. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Swenson, May. 2000. Nature: Poems Old and New. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.