Monday, January 26, 2015

Fossils, Interns, and Witch-Hazel

Jamie and I were fortunate last week to spend a couple of days working outside in the sunlight.  I've had so many weeks working in the office that I was beginning to forget the joys of getting paid to be outside.  It's amazing how a few days of working in creek beds in the mountains can really make the work week speed by.  

I always enjoy working in streams.  I like the fish, bugs, and wildlife, but also the sunken treasures.  Last week I found the coil from a stove-top buried in the sediment.  I had so much fun excavating this treasure that I decided to leave it for the next explorer.  I'm generous that way.  Even better than buried trash, this stream had fossils.  Pretty spiraling fossils, like the one embedded in the rock pictured above.  This one was a keeper.

I also took the rock above home for my fossil collection.  It looks to me as though there are different types of organisms fossilized in this small stone.  How amazing to see evidence that what is now a forested stream flowing though rugged mountains was once the bed of an prehistoric ocean.  I wonder if my oven coil will eventually be preserved in stone for explorers of a future millennium.      

Despite the sun, the air and water were very cold, so we were taking risks by walking on the slick bedrock of the stream with only our muck boots.  This reminded us of a long ago summer intern, who on her first day on the job stepped from the truck to the creek, and within two steps fell backwards, and through some strange body contortion, that I think was intended to help her levitate above the water, managed to land on the back of her head, and completely submerge her entire body in about eight inches of cold water.  Ah!

The wind was blowing, so we were working quickly to grab our water samples before the impending storm.  As we helped the half drowned girl to the shore to assess the damage to her head, the strong winds blew a tree over on the hill slope above the stream, which sounded as if it was going to continue to crash through the undergrowth as it come our way.  The rest of, recognizing the sound of a falling tree crashing through the forest, ran from the base of the hill in an effort to save our lives, but the poor intern just sat there in her sodden clothes and looked up the hill toward the danger.  What's that noise?, she asks.  Thankfully the tree stopped before she was smooshed, and the rest of us were wearing enough layers that we could sacrifice a few clothes so she didn't have to ride home soaking wet, because of course, she had brought nothing as a back up.  This is when I realized that not everyone has heard a tree fall in the forest, and that not everyone has experience walking on slick rocks, or thinks to bring at least a dry pair of socks.  Since then, I've probably been annoyingly cautious with newbies.  I can't keep them from slipping on slick rocks, but at least I can warn them that if they hear a loud scary noise in the woods - run!  

I saw something last week that I've never noticed before.  She these small greenish flower shapes on this twig?  I didn't recognize this small tree growing on the banks of the stream, and there were many of them.  It turns out that this is witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), which blooms in the fall, and leaves these flower shaped structures once the real flowers are gone.  I know witch-hazel when it has it's leaves, and I've seen the strange yellow flowers in the fall before, but this was the first time I ever paid attention to it's winter appearance.  There's always something new to see.  

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