Journey of the Potato

Journey of the Potato: Potato Harvest Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor The Herald Journal, Logan Utah
Potato Harvest
Courtesy & Copyright Eli Lucero, Photo Editor
The Herald Journal, Logan Utah

Potato Museum: Potatoes Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Potatoes
Courtesy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

When I walked into the Potato Museum in Blackfoot, Idaho, the first thing that caught my eye was a drawing of a farmer in the High Andes of Peru working the ground with a foot harrow. This is exactly what the Spanish Conquistadors saw when they marched into the area in the 1500’s looking for gold.
What they found instead was the potato. The Spaniards took the potato back to Europe, from where it eventually made its way to North America in the 1600’s. As for Utah, Brigham Young bought the potato here. Richard Jensen, writing for Utah’s LDS historical Society, tells us: “About noon, on July 24, the five acre potato patch was plowed when the brethren commenced planting their seed potatoes. The first irrigation in Salt Lake Valley was for the benefit of the newly planted potatoes.”

What Brigham Young didn’t know was that a small wild cousin of the domesticated potato was already here. In 2017 an anthropologist, Lizbeth Lauderback, was able to dig out the tiny bits of organic matter wedged into the stone grinding tools used by the Native Americans near Escalante. The organic bits proved to be potato starches. The stone tools were 10,000 years old.

But now the domesticated potato took over the field. The hefty Idaho Russet caught the eye of the McDonald food chain. They produced a fascinating video for the museum from inside their factory where the peeled potatoes were dropped in a fast moving water slide, accelerating to 50, 60 miles per hour. And BAM, they hit the slicer and came out the other side as slender, shapely strips now well on their way to becoming fries.

Back in Cache Valley, I was lucky enough to get invited to the Beutler Farm in Dayton to watch the potato harvest. Out in the field a giant harvester was forging ahead, scooping potatoes off the ground, bouncing them onto conveyor belts, and then sending them tumbling out a side chute into the bed of a potato truck keeping step alongside. Just as the truck filled to capacity, another truck sidled up behind and matched its pace with the giant machine.

The whole scene reminded me of the more formal dances in my high school, where couples would glide around the dance floor until another boy would sidle up behind the dancing boy, tap him on the shoulder, and take his place.

Keeping the rhythm of the dance of the potato trucks was the somewhat urgent beat of a ticking clock–potatoes still in the fields after a freeze would be ruined.

Falling in behind a departing truck, I was led to the above ground storage cellar where the potatoes were being piled into a massive wall that towered over my head. The wall was 22 foot high., and the potatoes kept coming. When the cellar was finally full, the doors were closed, the temperature and humidity controls set, and 8 million pounds of seed potatoes were left to wait out the winter at a cool 38 degrees.

The trucks moved on to filling the next cellar.

I was left standing there, marveling at just how many potatoes there were, wanting to sing the praises of all growing things, especially this farm’s successful mix of seed and sweat, of soil, of sun, of rain.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio upr.org
Text: Mary Heers, https://cca.usu.edu/files/awards/art-and-mary-heers-citation.pdf
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Wild About Utah Postings

Idaho Potato Museum, https://idahopotatomuseum.com/

First use of wild potato in N. America Four Corners potato previously unknown part of ancient human diet, University of Utah, July 3, 2017, https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/274/Bamberg%20Press/Four_Corners.pdf and Morning Ag Clips, https://www.morningagclips.com/first-use-of-a-wild-potato-in-n-america/

Eating a potato with 11,000 years of cultural history, Includes photos by BJ Nicholls, Imagine, The University of Utah, Spring 2021, https://magazine.utah.edu/issues/spring-2020/ancient-spuds/

Davis, James W. and Stillwell, Nikki Batch, Aristocrat in Burlap, A History of the Potato in Idaho, Idaho Potato Commission, December 1992, https://idahopotato.com/aristocrat-in-burlap/online/8

Harwell, William S. and Collier, Fred C., Manuscript History of Brigham Young 1847–1850, Collier’s Publishing Co., Jan 1, 1997https://books.google.com/books?id=u33Szoj3pFQC&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61#v=onepage&q&f=false
and https://www.amazon.com/Manuscript-History-Brigham-Young-1847-1850/dp/0934964041/

O’Connell, John, Idaho potato industry sees good signs for profitable fall crop, Intermountain Farm & Ranch, Post Register (Idaho Falls, ID), Jul 29, 2019, https://www.postregister.com/farmandranch/crops/potatoes/idaho-potato-industry-sees-good-signs-for-profitable-fall-crop/article_e9d4a968-96df-5bf5-9e53-ba6df41c5947.html

Flandro, Carly, From the classroom to the spud cellar: harvest break teaches life lessons, EastIdahoNews.com, September 22, 2022, https://www.eastidahonews.com/2022/09/from-the-classroom-to-the-spud-cellar-harvest-break-teaches-life-lessons/

Intelligent Tree Squirrels

Intelligent Squirrels: Squirrel Courtesy Pixabay
Squirrel
Courtesy Pixabay
Primates of the northlands. I consider tree squirrels to be on par with many primates for intelligence and agility. Those who have bird feeders may agree with me as they vainly attempt to thwart squirrel’s from invading their feeders. We have red squirrels visiting our bird feeder regularly. I’ve outsmarted them for the moment, but they continue to work on the problem I’ve presented them and feel a failure coming my way!

I’ve watched red squirrels manipulate fir cones with their front paws with amazing dexterity. Like myself eating a cob of corn, it spun the cone rapidly while shredding the cone scales to access the seed. Their tiny toes grip the cone identically to my fingers gripping the cob of corn. I’m amazed how they can unerringly navigate their way from tree to tree through our forest. There are many examples of squirrel intelligence witnessed by animal behaviorists.

Arboreal squirrels often build dreys that look like bird nests. Dreys are made up of twigs , moss, feathers and grass. All the items surrounding the dreys provide support and insulation. Chimpanzees exhibit very similar behavior.

Squirrels make use of several vocalizations to communicate with each other, they also create scents to attract opposite sex or communicate. They can create signals with their tails as well, by twitching it to alert other squirrels on the presence of a potential danger.

Tree squirrels display fantastically acrobatic movements, phenomenal adaptability to urban environments, and possess very cute little faces to boot. The 7th International Colloquium on Arboreal Squirrels was held 2018 in Helsinki, Finland. Studies routinely come discover new, amazing behaviors, especially involving the squirrel’s signature behavior, that it buries caches of its food to access later. One experiment found that they’ll try multiple tactics to open a locked box. Another found that squirrels remember the location of their caches without using their keen noses to locate them. Another found that they’re able to quickly learn from their peers.

A 2010 study found that squirrels actually engage in deceptive, or paranoid, behavior. When squirrels are being watched, they’ll construct fake caches, pretending to bury a nut by digging a hole, patting it down with their front teeth, and scraping dirt or grass over the top of it while concealing the nut in a pocket near their armpit, and will make the real cache somewhere else. Even while watching, it can be difficult to tell when a squirrel is making a fake or a real cache. How smart is that?

A study was conducted at UC Berkley in which students were placed in a competitive game to act like squirrels. They hid caches of plastic eggs, and then 15 minutes later returned to find them. This is a very squirrel-like test: memory, deception, location, observation, paranoia. Most students couldn’t remember their own hiding places. Squirrels bury about 10,000 nuts per year, making many different caches, and may not uncover them for months. They may dig up a cache and bury it somewhere else, and do that up to five times. Squirrels, unlike UC Berkeley students, are engaged in this intellectually draining activity while also avoiding predators and braving the elements.

This is Jack Greene for Bridgerland Audubon. I’m Wild About Utah and its amazing squirrels!

Credits:

Picture: Courtesy Pixabay, Alexas Fotos, Photographer, https://pixabay.com/photos/squirrel-rodent-animal-cute-nature-5158715/
Audio: Courtesy UPR
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

Utah Fox Squirrels, NHMU is studying Fox Squirrels, and we need your help!, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/citizen-science/utah-fox-squirrels

Types of Squirrels in Utah! (3 species w/ pictures), Bird Watching HQ, https://birdwatchinghq.com/squirrels-in-utah/



Haunted in the Forest

Haunted in the Forest: Witchy Ghost of a Plant Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Witchy Ghost of a Plant
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Leaf Skeleton Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Leaf Skeleton
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Jaw Bone Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Jaw Bone
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Tree Canker Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Tree Canker
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Costume Change Chrysalis Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Costume Change Chrysalis
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

When life throws scary at you, what do you do? As we increasingly consider mental and emotional health issues and strategies, I find that my answer is that I go to the forest. Of course, I go there when things are going smoothly too, but I agree with Henry David Thoreau when he wrote, “When I would recreate myself, I seek the darkest wood.” He, in fact, recommended the “most dismal swamp,” but that is a little too slimy for me. I will stick with solid soil.

A few weeks ago I spied a bat dangling from the bricks on my front porch as I gazed at the moon just as I had asked my young students to do. It reminded me of how in Janell Cannon’s picture book Stellaluna, a young bat survives a predatory owl’s attacks, falling “down, down…faster and faster, into the forest below.” She clings to a branch until her strength gives out, then “down, down again she dropped” into an unlikely predicament. Bats and harvest moons are iconic figures of this season, and as I ventured out for a sanity walk in the Cache National Forest, everywhere I looked I saw more.

Fall forests are full of chilling scenes, and I was first struck by a gruesome sap bleed from a gaping evergreen canker. The yellow ooze seeping seemed beautiful somehow. I don’t remember ever being so captivated by a wounded plant, and because I lingered, I also spotted a chrysalis containing a caterpillar’s costume change on a neighboring tree. Next to that were the witchy remains of other withering forbs.

Beneath my hiking boots was a toothy jaw grinning amid fragile leaf skeletons scattered on the forest floor. Even as I swapped away the cobwebs I didn’t see ahead until it was too late, the eerie beauty of nature eased the tormenting worries in my life. There’s a Chinese Proverb that says, “You can only go halfway into the darkest forest; then you are coming out the other side.”

A good walk outside is great for the distressed heart and mind. I needed to find the unlikely power in autumn icons. As Mary Shelley wrote for Frankenstein, “Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” Next time you are frightened by the unknowns or scarred by the realities, consider falling into a forest.

I’m Shannon Rhodes, and I’m wild about Utah.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Text & Voice: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah Posts by Shannon Rhodes https://wildaboututah.org/author/shannon-rhodes/

Cannon, Janell. 1993. Stellaluna. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. https://www.amazon.com/Stellaluna-Janell-Cannon/dp/0152062874/ref=sr_1_1

Shelley, Mary Woolstonecraft. 1818. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/84/84-h/84-h.htm

Thoreau, Henry David and Brooks Atkinson. 2000. Walden and Other Writings. New York: Modern Library. https://www.amazon.com/Walden-Other-Writings-Modern-Library/dp/0679600043

Ripple Effects: Enhance Backyard Birdwatching When You Feed & Protect Birds

Ripple Effects: Enhance Backyard Birdwatching When You Feed & Protect Birds: Downy Woodpecker Male at Bird Feeder Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer
[Downy Woodpecker Male at] Bird Feeder
Courtesy US FWS, Leah Schrodt, Photographer

Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window Courtesy US FWS Brett Billings Photographer Applying Anti-Strike Film to Window
Courtesy US FWS
Brett Billings Photographer

Birdwatching is a fun hobby for all ages and it is a great way to connect with nature and increase self-efficacy, so let’s discuss the benefits and the importance of a safe environment for feeding our backyard birds. First, the benefits of supplemental feeding, and second, preventable deaths from cats and window collisions.

Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds, especially through the winter months. Sites with bird feeders attract more birds over time than those without feeders, and the birds are in overall greater health than birds at sites without feeders. A higher percentage of chicks hatch at sites with bird feeders, and the survival rates are significantly higher, but supplemental feeding must be done in a safe environment.

Free ranging domestic cats and window collisions are leading causes of bird deaths in North America. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States alone. Approximately one billion birds are dying from window collisions each year in North America – that represents about ten percent of our birds dying from crashing into windows (1), and combined, that’s over three billion fewer insect eaters, fewer pollinators, fewer seed spreaders, and fewer parents for the next generation.

Cats should be kept indoors, and windows should be treated, especially if they reflect trees and shrubs. If you have seen a ghostly bird imprint or heard the sickening thump of a bird hitting your windows, then those are windows in need of treatments such as screens, translucent UV tape, or even tempera paint designs, because even birds that manage to fly away have potentially life-threatening internal injuries. Feeders less than 3 feet away don’t allow birds to build up too much speed before they collide, so it’s good to put feeders and birdbaths 3 feet or closer to a window or greater than 30 feet away.

Feeders placed on or near windows have the added benefit of being easy to access and monitor. In addition to a window suet feeder, one of my favorite window feeders is actually a clear plastic suction-cup toothbrush cup holder from the dollar store – it’s easy to clean and there’s no need for binoculars!

In addition to enhancing a backyard bird watching hobby and improving bird health and survival, the ripple effects of feeding birds, keeping cats indoors, and preventing window collisions include pest control in our gardens where birds feast on slugs, snails, aphids and grasshoppers. I for one particularly appreciate Black-billed Magpies when they remove wasp nests from my house! The Bridgerland Audubon website has tools, coloring pages, checklists, and science-based information on window collision prevention. Solutions can be as simple as the careful placement of bird feeders and keeping cats indoors. Find us at bridgerlandaudubon.org, that’s Bridgerland Audubon – A-U-D-U-B-O-N dot org.

I’m Hilary Shughart, and I’m wild about Bridgerland Audubon, wild about Utah Public Radio, and Wild About Utah!Supplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
Credits:
Images: Courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service, Leah Schrodt and Brett Billings, Photographers
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional ReadingSupplemental food and water are important ways we can reduce stress for backyard birds
WildAboutUtah pieces by Hilary Shughart, https://wildaboututah.org/author/hilary-shughart/

Procure Bird Seed from local Audubon Chapters:
Great Salt Lake Audubon
Bridgerland Audubon
Other Statewide Birding Groups

Hellstern, Ron, Build a Certified Wildlife Habitat at Home, Wild About Utah, July 17, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/build-community-wildlife-habitats/

Hellstern, Ron, Attracting Birds and Butterflies to Your Yard, Wild About Utah, May 28, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/attracting-birds-and-butterflies-to-your-yard/

Beorchia, Mykel, How To Create a Bird Friendly Yard, Wild About Utah, November 9, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/how-to-create-a-bird-friendly-yard/

Shughart, Hilary, To Grow Your Own Bird Food, Native Plants Are Key!, Wild About Utah, April 12, 2021, https://wildaboututah.org/native-plants-are-key/

Kervin, Linda, Bird Feeding, https://wildaboututah.org/bird-feeding/

Kervin, Linda, Cane, Jim, Feed the Birds, Wild About Utah, December 1, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/feed-the-birds/

Creating Landscapes for Wildlife… A Guide for Backyards in Utah, Written by Sue Nordstrom and Illustrated by Kathlyn Collins Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, Utah State University with Margy Halpin, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Second Printing 2001,
Updated for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, by Frank Howe, DWR Avian coordinator; Ben Franklin, DWR–Utah Natural Heritage Program botanist; Randy Brudnicki, DWR publications editor; and landscape planning illustrations by Stephanie Duer.,
Published by:
State of Utah Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife Resources,
Utah State University Cooperative Extension Service and
Utah State University Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning;
1991 updated 2001 https://wildlife.utah.gov/pdf/landscapingforwildlife.pdf

Sizemore, Grant, Cats Indoors–Cats and Birds, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/program/cats-indoors/cats-and-birds/

Bird-Strike Prevention: How to Stop Birds From Hitting Windows, American Bird Conservancy, https://abcbirds.org/glass-collisions/stop-birds-hitting-windows/

Messmer, Terry, Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, and Sullivan, Kimberly, Ask an Expert: Seven Tips to Keep Birds from Hitting Your Windows, Utah State University Extension, March 28, 2017, https://extension.usu.edu/news_sections/agriculture_and_natural_resources/bird-windows

Cowell, Samuel, Dietrich, Dietrich, Sullivan, Kimberly and Messmer, Terry, Reducing the Risk of Birds Colliding into Windows:
A Practical Guide for Homes and Businesses [NR/Wildlife/2017-01pr], Utah State University Extension, March 2017, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2682&context=extension_curall

Klem, Jr., Daniel, Solid Air: Invisible Killer: Saving Billions of Birds from Windows, Hancock House Publishers, October 5, 2021, https://www.amazon.com/Solid-Air-Invisible-Killer-Billions/dp/0888396465

For the Birds (Download Brochure PDF), US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, rev March 2001, https://digitalmedia.fws.gov/digital/api/collection/document/id/1107/download

Morse, Susan, To Feed or Not to Feed Wild Birds–Bird Feeders Can Be Sources of Joy — and Disease,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/feed-or-not-feed-wild-birds

Make Your Home a Safe, Healthy Home for Birds,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Sep 13, 2021, https://www.fws.gov/story/2021-09/backyard-birds

Celley, Courtney, Helping wildlife while avoiding common pitfalls,, US Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, https://www.fws.gov/story/helping-wildlife-while-avoiding-common-pitfalls

West Nile virus bird identification, , Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, October 20, 2017, https://wildlife.utah.gov/bird-identification.html

Dragon, Sydney, (Student Conservation Association intern), Conservation in Urban Areas: Backyard Bird Feeding, US Fish & Wildlife Service Bird Walks (Texas), U.S. Department of the Interior, Apr 27, 2021, https://youtu.be/2bkliew6aj8