I've found that backpacking has sparked my interest in several areas that I hadn't really thought about much before. I'm finding myself googling things more often to learn the answers to questions that come up during a hike. Backpacking puts you more in touch with the natural world that we usually don't see or think about.
Trees are the first thing you begin to wonder about in the forest. You feel stupid not knowing what these trees around you are. After I'd been on a few hikes I began to wonder what kind of trees I was seeing and what were the nuts I kept finding on the ground so I began asking questions. Now I can recognize a Hickory nut and I know which tree it comes from. I never knew what Hickory trees were before. Now I'm wondering if it's Hickory trees that give the Ozarks their particular smell. The smell is subtle but quite nice. The other day I took out one of my tarps and had the family smell it compared with the smell of a brand new tarp that I'd never used. "That's the smell of the Ozarks" I told them. However I don't know yet that it is Hickory that I'm smelling.
I always knew what an Oak tree was but after reading Allison Vaughn's recent blog entry I'm anxious to get back and see if I can tell which of the oaks I'm seeing are post oaks and which are the red or black oaks. Apparently the post oak is adapted to the fires that once were common in the forest. Now that we stop forest fires the red and black oaks (that can't tolerate fire) are taking over.
Last Thursday night on top of Taum Sauk Hyrum and I were struck with the perfect view we had of the stars. We were on top of the highest mountain in the state, far from any major town, with no leaves on the trees and no clouds in the sky. As I looked around I found that I wished I knew more about the stars I was seeing. I could recognize Orion's belt but that's about all. Here's a picture I stole from the web somewhere. You can see the stars that make the belt. I figured the two bright stars underneath must be his feet and the two upper ones were his hands. A very rough approximation of a person I thought. I started reading about the constellations and found that Orion is the big winter constellation. After spring it falls below the horizon. I also learned that there is more detail in the constellation than I originally thought.
You see that bright area just below the belt? That is often called the sword. Now look to the right of the upper stars. There are 4 smaller stars in a semi-circle. That is the bow that Orion is shooting.
The stars in Orion are among the brightest in the sky. Including Rigel (bottom right) and Betelgeuse (top left). The sword is actually not a star, it's the Orion Nebula.
Pretty cool. I'll have to study up to see what other constellations there are to see and how they change with the seasons.
We all see bugs from time to time but we mostly step on them, shoo them away, or ignore them. In the woods I see some pretty cool bugs sometimes. This fall while on Bell Mountain I stopped to cook lunch and when I finished and turned around to get my pack I met this fellow.
It's hard to get the scale from the picture but he was about 5 inches long. Learning names of insects is much harder than birds or animals because there are so many. But the variety itself is pretty incredible. I never really cared before but while hiking I have time to look at these things and now I'm wishing I knew more about them.
All kids are interested in rocks as a rule. Very few adults are. But once again the fact that you have more time while backpacking makes all the difference. Here's me picking up a rock while hiking with my brother near Council Bluff lake. You can't see the rock very well. It looked almost like a geode to me but not quite. These things were everywhere.
This winter I returned to this same general area to hike the Middle Fork section. The northern end of that trail is near Council Bluff. Here's a larger stone of the same kind. I just had to stop and look at it and take this picture. What in the world is going on here? It's softer than a geode. It seems to be made of sand but why these bumps instead of flat layers like most sedimentary rocks?
Hmmm. Still got a lot to learn.