Tag Archive: knowledge


I know, I know, you are thinking, “Jacque, you are covered in ants. Shouldn’t you be jumping around like a freak?” No, I shouldn’t. You know why? I am a man! No not really, I am only covered from head to toe in red ants.

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Native red ants and not fire ants. You know WHY I am covered in red ants to include inside both my pant legs? I am happy. Why am I happy? That’s a great question. You see I know you are expecting some insightful, poetic, deep and meaningful answer. You want to hear all about how a life event has changed me or made me ponder life and it’s meaning once again.

Phooey! Screw life and its meanings. I just got to tromp in the woods. Simple. It’s been a freaking long week already. Once of those weeks that makes you really think about whether or not to come home FROM the woods. I really wanted to say to the team I was with, “Hey worky pants, I am going to just hang out here for a few days until mother nature stops pissing on me. I will catch you all later – ants and all!”

But instead, I left the cool damp woods next to the small river. I turned my back, once again on what I know is right. I walked out the scarred surveyor’s path and went on about my grown up business. Left behind was the healing sounds of the woods. The soft voice of the river calling to me like it always does.

I could have stayed you know. Could have laid there on the banks of that river and solved all of my life’s puzzles. I should have stayed in the poison ivy and vine-covered trail that would hide anything. It would have hidden my furrowed brow, my tired eyes, my unshed tears. It would have hidden my doubt and expectations of myself.

It would have been easier. The coward’s way. But instead I stood in the bright sunshine. It is apparent I have a hangover, it’s obvious something is amiss, but you know what?

Nothing worth having is easy!20161207_111258

 

Repost – Ancient Landscapes

Once connected by an ancient land bridge to the deserts of the southwest, the Lake Wales Ridges State Forest boasts some similar species that were later trapped in this area when the ice receded. The wave action and shallow waters created a most unusual landform which is still visible today from the air.

Hiking out of the scrub and into the cypress dome was quite surprising.

What you will find on the ground is equally interesting. In the midst of shallow grassy marshes, there are two cypress domes. I know – that’s crazy right – cypress domes don’t belong on the ridge. Well, they are there. And they are gorgeous. Of course they differ from the swampy cypress domes in that they rely on water travelling underground through seepage rather than flowing over the surface.

Just standing in the middle of the dome after hiking through scrub habitat dominated by white sand and scrub oaks – sharp things and arid conditions – I looked around in total wonder at the soft ferns and mucky loam I was standing on. This seemed to me to be a very unique kind of forest. I felt lucky to be taking photos while my field partner Kevin rejoiced in the beauty as well.

It’s not hard to admit that we feel fortunate to be able to see these places. Truth is, everyone can as they are part of the Lake Wales Walk In Water WMP and are totally publicly accessible. You can even bring your horses and camp! IMGP0082  http://www.floridaforestservice.com/state_forests/lake_wales_ridge.html

As always, these areas are home to some very special plants and animals. Even the soil can’t be disturbed. Please enjoy with your eyes and take no prisoners!

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The transition from upland scrub to cypress dome!

 

We study them to make sure they behave!

When you’ve been doing this as long as we have the way we have, you sort of forget that you are actually practicing science/art! In the beginning, we worked hard to read until our eyes bled. We wanted to know what other scientists had found that worked. We wanted to absorb the data, feel the methods, develop hypothesis…then, we went out on our own and began to attempt to regurgitate it all out into the world.

It was amazing what we found that didn’t work. It sounded so sure on paper. It was cool what did work – some of it just intuition. I think we mostly have more water and mud in our veins than blood and now we think and breathe streams. We can walk up, smell the mud, catch some bugs, have Josh look at the fish, and know which ones need us the most.

Sometimes we go through a lot!

Most people have no idea what we do. What we do is, in Jacque talk, very simple. We study streams. We see what’s wrong and we prescribe a sort of medicine for them so that they function better and make the world a better place. I like to tell people that, not so many years ago, it was normal for some company to have a guy drive a backhoe in a wiggly line and then let the water meander. That was stream restoration in the past.

We found all those wiggly ditches. Companies spend millions of dollars fixing them now because they don’t work right. That’s what we do – fix wiggly ditches and make them act like proper streams (or as near as we can) and we don’t build streams with backhoes much anymore. We like to do things a little differently.

So, here’s my attempt to explain some of the ways we do things.

We start by studying real pristine streams of all kinds. We study them to death. We live them, breathe them, smell them, taste them and generally go to sleep with them until we are them! We take what we learn and literally build streams that will look just like them. We fix sick streams to act more like the proper ones.

Things that should be there.

Don’t beat me up all you nay sayers….we don’t put back microbes and every grain of frigging soil….this is reality! We aren’t god…

We put things in the streams that should be there so the living things can be there too. We help simulate many years of flow that would have carved a new stream. We try to mimic as much of what nature gives to make a new stream! We can’t do it all, but every day we try to give more and more.

We watch the baby streams and the streams we’ve fixed. We make sure that they are behaving and not acting up. We fix them more if need be. We count things like bugs and plants and trees. We take out nasty things that could ruin the place. We love them, nurture them, care for them, are proud of them, and hope that one day – you will too.

That’s what we do. And it’s really cool – and we love it!

Well, in the beginning, we really had no idea what we were doing. At least not as it related to surveying. We understood the basic principle but hadn’t really done it right in the field. John wanted to survey a particular stream that he had worked on for another project. Can’t say the name here so we will call it Moon Bay.

John was in a very good mood (at least for now). We parked, and proceeded to the stream to find a reach to survey that represented the “natural” system. Funny thing about Florida, there probably aren’t any truly natural systems left. It’s actually a sad thing. You go miles into the wilderness and voila’ there’s a balloon on a nylon ribbon – deflated and sad-looking – ruining the wildness – making fun of it.

Pristine Creek - by Allison Levine

Anyway, John found what he wanted and we began moving up and down the system flagging each place for survey. John has a back issue sometimes. We were ducking under a lot of trees that had fallen over the stream in the last big round of hurricanes in 2004. He began to lose his sense of humor – this same sense of humor which has us in stitches most of the time.

We finished flagging the reach and went to get the survey equipment. Kristen and I had practiced and thought we pretty much knew what to do. We set up our temporary benchmarks (we are not surveyors so it’s all temporary). We began to shoot the stream survey. John continued to lose his sense of humor. It was hot, uncomfortably messy, vine ridden and lots of ducking and climbing. I remember Kristen and I thought how awful this site was. There was so much to go through, vines, palmettos, and underbrush. This was hell!

Somewhere near the end of the reach, John checked the survey data. There was a problem. A serious problem. At some point someone had made a mistake and now the whole thing was useless basically. John was not happy. I was not happy. Kristen was not happy. This meant that, at some point, we would have to come back. The very thought of fighting this mess of vegetation was too much to bear.

It made me wonder if i could really do this. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I would never want to come and do this with just Kristen and me. This place was too wild. There were too many dangers. I wouldn’t be able to see her at some points in the survey. Would we ever get this right? It was all too much to even think about. We were mortified.

I would and will never forget this day. I was sweaty and scratched to heck. I was upset and doubted myself. I felt like I had let the team down in some way by feeling this way too. I felt that I had wasted a chance to make an impression on John and Kristen too. How could this had gone so wrong? Now, it had to be done all over again. The fear, the stress, the pain, the risk of busting the survey again…..it just seemed impossible to bear.

It was going to be hard to make myself do this again. This was horrid. I hated the way I felt – DEFEATED.

Transformation

You stand by the edge of the water, it mimics the answers you seek

Only fingers beneath the glass surface lurk the things that inhabit the creek

Fragrant Lily - Oak Beach

So you wade in just up to your kneecap praying warmth shares her blanket of wet

but  your skin tingles white in the moonlight as you lay deeper just to forget

So the stream washes gone all the tear stains and the sand scrubs away all the sins

and your gills flutter pink with the current as you wiggle to test your new fins.

It was a day much like any other. Kristen and I were clad in our drab and stained field pants and shirts. Completing the look that all women (and men) love were our beloved snake boots. Now, let me tell you something about snake boots. Snake boots are the most amazing footwear to ever be gifted to humankind. They are durable, protect you from snakes, guard your shins, shield your toes, break in pretty well, and are so darned cool that everyone will look at you if you were in them in public. How do I know this? Five years of wearing them – that’s how!

Kristen and I have very different types of snake boots. Without going into brands and such – hers are largely leather with zippers and mine tie all the way up. Both are 17″ and serve the same purpose – making us look decidedly cool. We do, however, WORK IN WATER!!! Imagine, if you can (although I hope you really can’t) the effect of long-term water immersion on leather….get there yet? That’s right – it ROTS. It’s animal hide….yup! Well, sitting in the truck, one day, I got a whiff of the most horrid stench. I asked Kristen what was dead and rotting…she replied, “My snake boots.” You know folks – she was right. They were so nasty that I wish I could have thrown them out the window! Problem with that is – Kristen is attached to her snake boots as I am to mine. When something protects you and makes you comfortable in the swamps, you develop a relationship with it – we LOVE our snake boots. Anyway, I guess other people found it unbearable and bought her these little plastic shoe balls (ha ha) and they really work. So, here it goes….

I smell snake boots!!!! Arrggghhhhh

Lesson 1: Purchase snake boots with the above in mind. Also, note that the tie ups are more secure. Zippers get sandy and silty and are hard to operate. They really do protect you from snakes – I got bitten on my boot before by a moccasin. They really do look cool with shorts and people will NOT forget you! They will secretly envy you wandering around the mall in camo shorts and snake boots and a pony tail. Men’s snake boots work better for me because I like more width. They are waterproof – that only works if the water is shallower than 17″ ha ha. They last about a year in deep water. Please go out and get some snake boots. You can find them at most outdoor stores. They cost around $100 but are worth millions. Plus – just think of your reputation! We are actually famous all over Florida as the Chicks with Ticks in snake boots!

If you have any questions about snake boots, please submit them as comments! Take a photo of you in your snake boots or hiking garb and send our way! We want to start sharing YOUR adventures as Chicks with Ticks and Guys who Love Chicks with Ticks (don’t forget the Little Chicks with Ticks)!! I hope the lesson has been helpful.

Boots + Shorts = SEXY!!

Snake boots can even be worn over waders!

So Jacque and I were to become surveyors and survey dozens of streams around the state for our nerdy research project. We had this fancy total station that Jacque had figured out how to use and we were ready to begin our adventures shooting streams and floodplains through crazy vines and branches.

But then time stopped… John was really busy, and if we wanted to keep the project rolling we were just going to have to survey on our own. You are probably thinking that you have already heard this story, and that’s true. When I read Jacque’s story about how she put a smile on her face even though she was scared and felt like she had no idea what she was doing, it was news to me, and so I felt compelled to admit that I too was feeling the same way! I couldn’t let Jacque throw that admission out there and not share my side. We are a team afterall!

I was the grad student, which apparently meant that I should have some clue as to what I was doing… but in reality, I didn’t! Sure, I had plenty of textbook knowledge, but I had very little field experience at that time. But Jacque expected me to know what I was doing and she sure as hell seemed to know what she was doing, so I pretended. I just kind of did what I had seen John do, which meant I would hop right into a stream without a care in the world, without giving much thought as to what may be lurking beneath the waters. To Jacque, I was brave and experienced (or stupid), but in reality I was just naively doing what I thought I was supposed to in order to get the job done.

Back then I wasn’t aware of the danger we were putting ourselves into each and every time we left “the real world” and stepped into a world that very few humans had probably ever been. Each day brought new experiences, some amazing, some terrifying. We shared these experiences together. I don’t know quite when the pretending became true knowledge and understanding, but I do know I will never forget any of it and that I have been forever changed because of it. I applaud Jacque for taking the initiative to share our stories and to hopefully inspire others to discover the world around them!

 

This guy blends right in!

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