Texas Drawl in Alaska

You know Steve Brown is from Texas right away. Vernon, Texas, to be exact. Home of the Red River Valley Museum, that features native sons trombonist and singer, Jack Teagarden and singer-songwriter, Roy Orbison.  Brown’s drawl and easy manner draw you in. But, there is something else in his voice – maybe a hint of an Eastern clip? Perhaps a touch of wry Midwestern humor?  And, what about the creative way he describes raises chickens in the north?

Technology and Tinkering

All of these are part of Dr. Stephen Brown who has lived, studied and worked in Upstate New York, Kansas, and now Alaska.  “I grew up raising chickens since age eight,” he stated. “I love the soap opera of the coop,” he added. An engineer and self-professed “tinkerer” Brown is smart, innovative and ambitious. Above all, he is good with people. Pretty important qualities since he is District Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service Agent for the Mat-Su/Copper River District of Alaska. He integrates his specialties of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) with agriculture and the environment.

He applies his advanced degrees in Environmental Sciences from the University of Texas at San Antonio and the State University of New York, and his numerous publications and presentations practically for those living in the far north.

As Alaskans learn to raise poultry, till the soil, and ward off predators Brown is right with them. “I get to remote homesteads by boat, airplane and snow machine,” he said.  “I may be the only extension agent in the country with reimbursement mileage for a snow machine,” he quipped.

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March Magic

Don’t Miss March’s Launch of Spring

“If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy
it will in the end not produce food either,” Joseph Wood Krutch.

Too many people miss March’s majesty by staying indoors. After all it’s usually too warm to enjoy cross country skiing or ice fishing and it’s too early to plant the garden, go fishing, or play golf. March is the month of mud, fog, slowly melting grit-encrusted snowbanks, and clammy cold.

At Winding Pathways, we defy normal behavior and spend March days outdoors. It’s the month of great change and nature’s cavalcade is there for any observant person to enjoy.

Just consider the earth and how it’s turning toward our sun. Days lengthen the most around the March 21st Vernal Equinox. This means there is more sunlight each day allowing our yard to soak up more solar energy and spark spring’s revival of life.

March is the month to pull on mud boots and venture outdoors with eyes and ears attuned to the great seasonal change upon us. Here are some things to absorb with great joy:

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Amazing Ice!

Ice is a miraculous substance.  Actually, it is water that is so amazing. Ice is just one of its three phases.

Water is essential for life and one of its unusual characteristics is how it behaves when its temperature drops. Like most substances water contracts as it gets colder, but unlike other substances, it reaches maximum density at 39 degrees Fahrenheit and then expands as it gets colder. Finally, when it freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit it expands.

That’s huge! If Ice were denser than water, it would sink to the bottom of a lake or pond. The surface would continue to freeze and sink until by mid-winter the lake would be all ice. Few creatures could live there.

Instead, when water freezes it expands and gets lighter. It floats on the colder water beneath and insulates the water, so it doesn’t freeze all the way to the bottom. Ice is merely a veneer floating on water, enabling life in the liquid below it.

It might be 20 below zero in the air above the ice but down in the water a fish basks in the relative warmth of water in the 30s.

When lake ice gradually cools as fall’s temperature drops a beautiful result happens in some years. On one cold, clear, calm night the lake will form a layer of crystal clear ice several inches thick. It’s hard and usually safe to walk on.

The walk reveals amazing patterns of cracks and fractures. Clear ice gives a lake walker the sensation of striding on air with a clear view to the bottom beneath the feet. For an idea of the beauty of ice, enjoy these photos taken at Cedar Lake, Denville, New Jersey, in January 2018.

Obsidian Gets Around

Today it’s easy to buy just about anything by touching a few keystrokes. In an amazingly short time, a package from Amazon or another company will arrive.  However, it wasn’t always easy to acquire important things. Consider obsidian.

Obsidian group.

Snowflake, Conchoidal shape, Apache tears.

Obsidian is a fascinating rock always formed by volcanic action. It’s essentially natural glass, and a chunk of it shimmers in the hand. It’s usually black but can be brown, tan, green, blue, red, orange or yellow depending on the minerals within it.

Although obsidian is found in natural deposits scattered around the world, in the United States it occurs mostly in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon with smaller deposits in New Mexico, Washington, and Wyoming. An entire obsidian hillside is easy to see from the road in Yellowstone National Park just south of Mammoth.

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Lightning Strike!

Rich and Tree

This stately Oak took a full bodies hit that vaporized the sap and blew off the bark in four places.

An enormous explosion brought us bolt upright in bed. 10:44 p.m. just after we’d fallen asleep on April 27th. . The blast was so powerful it knocked pictures off the wall shattering the frames and glass. A quick check revealed no other home damage and a few low rumbles assured us that the noise had been thunder created by a very close lighting strike and not a bomb.

A few days later we discovered a massive white oak about 300 feet from our home with its bark blown off in four different places and loose in others. The lightning’s heat and force vaporized the tree’s sap and enormous pressure blew the bark off. It’s hard to imagine that so much damage could happen in a two tenths of a second-long lightning bolt.   The thing is, the tree top is lower than our home! Why did lightning strike there and not the house?

A lightning strike isn’t always a tree’s kiss of death. If only a narrow swath of bark is blown off it may recover. But we fear our magnificent oak was so damaged that its days are numbered.

The tree’s imminent death is good news for small songbirds, especially brown creepers that seek shelter between loose bark and a tree’s trunk. As the oak gradually deteriorates it will provide food and shelter for a host of insects and the woodpeckers that love dining on them. We anticipate a day when our pileated, red headed, red bellied, hairy and downy woodpeckers nest in the old oak snag.  Eventually it will topple over and over time return nutrients from rotting wood to the soil.

View to House

The distance from the lightning strike to the house is about a football field.

Lighting can be both lethal and sneaky. Every year it strikes about 25 million times in the United States and kills an average of 49 people.  Many more humans are hit but survive, often with lingering physical problems. Ligntning is nothing to fool around with. As we learned on April 27th sometimes lightning strikes well before the main storm arrives and after it leaves. The safest place to be is inside a building away from windows, pipes, water, wires and landline telephones.

To stay safe, follow the 30-30 rule of thumb.  When you first see lightning, begin to count “One Mississippi, two Mississippi….” until you hear thunder.  If you hear thunder before you reach the number 30, lightning from the storm is in striking distance. Go inside!  And, after the last rumble of thunder wait 30 minutes before venturing outside again.

An outstanding source of information, including many safety tips, is on the US Government’s website.

Obsidian A Fascinating Rock!

Obsidian

A volcanic glass, Obsidian occurs in volcanic areas such as the western United States.

We’re honored to welcome visitors to our Winding Pathways website seeking information on obsidian. Many have probably learned of this rock through video games.

Ironically Winding Pathways is located in Iowa, a state where natural deposits of obsidian aren’t found. However, the rock was so useful to Native Americans that an extensive trade network existed in North America and it was carried far and wide by prehistoric traders. All Iowa obsidian was carried here by Native Americans and has only been found as artifacts.

Obsidian is an amazing rock. It formed when lava cooled so quickly that the molten rock could not form a crystalline structure. Usually black, obsidian can be of many other colors.  It occurs naturally around the world where volcanism occurred relatively recently. Fairly common in western states it has also been found in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. A well-known hillside in Yellowstone National Park is composed of this rock. It’s fun to see but collecting is not allowed in national parks.

Obsidian Points

The smaller piece is the back of a point. The larger piece is the broken tip of a point.

Because of its amorphous, or non-crystalline, structure obsidian breaks cleanly creating extremely sharp edges. It’s been used by people for at least 1.5 million years as the raw material that could be crafted into  knives, spear points and other sharp tools. Today obsidian is often made into jewelry, and there are reports of ultra-sharp shards of it being used for surgery.

An easy way to see obsidian and hundreds of other types of rocks and minerals is to visit a rock shop. They are common in tourist areas, and we’ve always found visiting them fun. Often the owner is so happy to see a customer that he’ll give a personal tour and share oodles of rock information, even if no money is exchanged.

Another great way to see obsidian……and buy a chunk……..is to visit a rock show. Held around the country they bring rock enthusiasts together to talk, barter, buy and sell. To locate a show near your home check RockNGem  and show-dates.

Eastern Iowa’s 2016 Cedar Valley Rock and Mineral Society’s big Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show will be April 16 and 17 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids.  Programs, demonstrations, pebble pits for kids, gorgeous jewelry, equipment and raw materials all will be featured.

Wherever you live, take in a rock show and rub elbows with rock hounds and lapidists, and invest in some cool rocks and crystals.