Friday, January 30, 2009

Power's back on, time to help out

Late Thursday night, our power was restored. Hopefully, folks still without power won't have to wait much longer. Our power was off for 2 days, but luckily we have a fireplace, gas stove, and a small generator that made the 2 days a little easier to bear. We also have many blankets and plenty of cold weather camping gear and clothes. Unfortunately, many folks out there don't have the ability to keep themselves warm. Since our power was back on, my wife really wanted to help those folks who haven't been so lucky. She is such a thoughtful person, and I am really lucky to have such a positive influence in my life. So, after calling the Red Cross, we found out there was a second shelter opening in Fayetteville at the United Methodist Church on Dickson Street, and they were needing help getting the shelter ready to open. We met at the church and began helping them get the shelter open. There were several different groups represented including Fayetteville Parks and Recreation, Red Cross, University of Arkansas, and Fayetteville citizens. Here are a few pictures.

The University of Arkansas provided cots and bedding for the shelter, which meant that cots in route from Little Rock Red Cross could be diverted to other shelters. Many thanks to the University students and staff that helped get these cots available, get them loaded at the University, and unloaded at the church.

Getting ready to unload cots at the United Methodist Church on Dickson Street. Big thanks to the Red Cross, Fayetteville Park and Recreation, and the church for opening this shelter! Please visit the Red Cross website for more information on volunteering.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Using Manly Tools (otherwise known as a chainsaw)

We spent most of today cleaning out our driveway, so we can use our vehicles. We had two tasks, 1) get the large branch down that was still part way propped up in the gum tree, and 2) cut up and remove all the smaller branches. To get the big branch down, my wife and I rigged up a 3:1 haul system using an old caving rope I have. It was a bit crude, because I don't have enough pulleys to rig it correctly, and we could really tell that the carabiners were adding friction to the system. After several pulls and repositions, we got the branch down. The rest of the day was spent cutting and piling up branches, and we were very fortunate to have a friend drop off a chainsaw to cut up the larger pieces.

We're always joking with a couple of grad student friends of ours about how many "manly" things we can do. I definitely got to use a "manly" tool, today. I just hope my "manly" muscles won't be so sore I can't get out of the bed tomorrow!

We rigged up the 3:1 haul system from the tree branch to the trailer hitch on back of our Toyota 4runner. It's possible that we could have pulled the branch down with the truck, but I was worried about controlling the fall of the branch in order to keep it off the porch.

Me, using the chainsaw (or manly tool) to cut some of the branches down. Parts of these two branches are still on the side of the house because they didn't break off clean from the tree. Big thanks to my wonderful wife, Christy, because as I cut them into manageable sizes, she would pile them up out of the way.

Other picture of me using the chainsaw. I have to admit, I really enjoyed using the saw!!!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Ice Storm cometh...

I'm sure everyone has at least heard about what is being call "ICE STORM 2009". We have been hit with a pretty good ice storm, here in Northwest Arkansas. In Fayetteville, we've recorded over an inch of ice. At my mom's house in Gentry, over 2.5 inches of ice accumulated. Luckily, both of our mom's now have their power back, but we'll still without. In a weird twist of technology, wires, and non-falling tree limbs, we can access the internet using a generator for power. It's a bit funny to think about having internet access, but no power.

Our trees took a pretty good beating during the storm, and the beautiful, large sweet gum tree in the front yard is severly damaged. We'll be cutting up some 5-7 inch diameter branches, hopefully, tomorrow to clear out the driveway. Christy and I got out, today, for a walk around an took some pictures. She posted them at the following web address:

Many of the photos are around our house, but we also walked up to the University of Arkansas campus to have a look around. Trees up there were pretty damaged as well. We did get to watch Cedar Waxwings, American Robins, and Gray Squirrels trying to eat frozen holly berrys in the holly trees next to Old Main. Here are a few pictures.

Looking at the front of our house, and our once beautiful sweet gum tree.
The view south, towards our house, from the University of Arkansas parking deck.

Although the ice was damaging, it is still pretty. Here is a tree on campus that made it through the storm. The blue sky behind the tree, and the sunlight hitting the ice, make for a nice picture.

Self portait of the two of us on campus, while we were walking around.

Cedar Waxwing, near Old Main.

The South Tower of Old Main.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Latest Addition to the Backyard Bird List

Today, we discovered a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in our yard, which adds another species to our backyard bird list. Technically, it was in the trees along the side of the house, and not actually in the backyard. But, we count any bird within the perimeter of the house as "in" our backyard. Other than that, it's been a slow day. This evening, the weather deteriorated into freezing rain. By Wednesday morning, we are expected to have about 1 inch of ice on the ground. That translates into the possibility for significant power outages from falling trees and tree branches. Over the weekend, we got some extra food stuffs, picked up some additional firewood, and borrowed a generator from Christy's mom. Hopefully, it won't be as bad as expected. We'll know by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Vertical Rope Training

On Saturday and Sunday, my wife and I took a Personal Ropes Skills course taught by Madison County Search and Rescue. The course teaches how to ascend and descend a rope using various techniques, styles, and equipment. The course also taught how to pass knots when ascending and descending, how to negotiate rebelays, how to rescue someone stranded on rope using a second rope, and to rescue someone on rope using the same rope. For me, the course was a good refresher on ascending and descending, and I had a chance to use several different devices including Petzl handled ascenders, Petzl Tiblok, prusik knots, rescue figure eight, regular figure eight, racks, and an Anthron Double Stop Descender. I also really enjoyed learning the double rope and single rope rescue techniques. Hopefully, we'll never find it necessary to use these rescue techniques, but it's always better to be safe (and trained) than sorry.

My wife, Christy, was really excited to take the course, because she wants to go with me on some vertical caving trips. Our next step will be to head out to the local climbing area, drop a rope down the bluff, and practice the techniques we learned this past weekend. Once we are confident ascending/descending rope on a bluff, we'll head out to a cave with a short, less than 30 ft, drop and give it a shot!

Christy ascending rope using a frog system. Here, she is practicing passing a knot in the rope.

Here, Christy and I are practicing a 2 rope rescue scenario. Christy, as the patient, is on one rope, and I am in the processing of moving her onto my rope using the blue pick off strap. Once I got her down, we switched roles, and she "rescued" me. I'm glad to know she can do this, in case I ever get in trouble on rope!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Counting Threatened and Endangered Cave Animals

On Thursday and Friday, I worked with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to monitor populations of the threatened Ozark cavefish and the Benton cave crayfish in northwest Arkansas. We visited two caves, spending 7 hours in the first cave on Thursday and 3.5 hours in the second cave on Friday. (I'm deliberately not mentioning the names of these caves since they'd be easy to find if I did. Access to both of these caves is restricted to protect the animals living in them). The Ozark cavefish is found in less than 10 caves in Northwest Arkansas, but it is also known from sites in Oklahoma and Missouri. The Benton cave crayfish in found in only 4 caves in northwest Arkansas, and it is one of the rarest crayfishes in the world. In both caves, populations of these to species appear to be stable, with a total of 194 cavefish and 43 cave crayfish counted. Because unrestricted human visitation to these sites can greatly effect the populations by stressing animals and/or killing individuals by trampling, we only monitor every other year.

Self portrait after snorkeling 600+ feet of cave passage counting Ozark cavefish and cave crayfish. I'm wearing a 3mm wetsuit and dive hood.

Friday, January 23, 2009

1/2 Marathon Training

I started my training for running another half marathon this March. Last October, I ran my first, here in Northwest Arkansas. The 2008 Tour de Cure Run was held October 11 in Rogers. It was my first 1/2 marathon, and I trained for 2.5 months prior to running it. My goal was to finish without walking or stopping, and I also wanted to finish with a race time of 2 hours and 24 minutes. Luckily, I found a great training schedule at which allowed me to only train 3 days a week. It's called FIRST, and having some flexibility in arranging workouts around field work was a definite bonus. The training focuses on a combination of sprints, fast paced runs, and long runs, which really seemed to help me build endurance and speed. In fact, on race day, I beat my expected finish time significantly by running it in 2 hours and 8 minutes.

Me, on the big day last October.

Now, I'm in my 3rd week of training for the 2009 Little Rock Half Marathon which will be on March 15. I'm again using the FIRST training method, and my goal is to run it under 2 hours. It's a lofty goal, because the race route is much more hilly than my first race. We'll see...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Saturday night bowling, Sunday morning birding, and Sunday afternoon biking

Last night after going for a good run at Gulley Park, Christy and I went bowling with some grad student friends. Bowling's a fun alternative weekend activity, when you can't be out in the woods.

This morning we woke up to a new bird species for our backyard, the Eurasian Collared-Dove. The bird is not native, but regardless, it adds another species to our backyard bird list.

Late this afternoon, I went for a 2-hour bike ride to try out part of the trail system Fayetteville has been working hard to improve. I hopped on the paved route near my house and rode north along the Frisco/Scull Creek trail. The trail follows Scull Creek downstream for a nice ride, past Wilson Park, and then past the University of Arkansas Experimental Farm where the Chile Pepper Cross Country Festival is held every October. The trail continues north, goes through a long tunnel under the Fullbright Expressway, then veers east to become the Mud Creek Trail. It was a great ride along both Scull Creek and then Mud Creek. Although these two creeks flow through town, you can still catch some wildlife if you're observant. Along Scull Creek, I saw Cardinals, Starlings, Bluejays, and Cedar Waxwings; along Mud Creek, I saw a Great Blue Heron fishing in the shallows. Scattered along both trails were scats from coyotes.

Getting ready to ride. It's been awhile, though. Hopefully, I'll do just fine without the training wheels.

Heading north on the Scull Creek Trail along Scull Creek.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Reminiscing Last Weekend

Not much going on this weekend, so it's given me time to reflect on last weekend's backpacking trip in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness. I met up with friends, last Friday night, and we camped near the trailhead to Hawksbill Crag. Our plan was to hike down Whitaker Hollow to the Buffalo River, camp Saturday night at the mouth of Whitaker Hollow near the Buffalo River, and then hike up and out of Dug Hollow on Sunday. Friday night was mild, until the front blew through, dropping temperatures into the mid-20s by morning. We hiked down Whitaker Hollow with snowflakes falling. It was a great hike into the wilderness and a good chance to visit with some friends I have't seen a few years.
Here we are below a really neat waterfall. Water was going over the falls, but also through the limestone bedrock and coming out part way down the drop.

Creek in Whitaker Hollow.

Another cool shot of the creek in Whitaker Hollow. Here the stream is dissolving and eroding out the Pitkin limestone.

Later on down the hike, my friends took me to see a cave they'd found previously. I was a little skeptical that it would amount to anything, but I was pleasantly suprised. The cave had about 250 feet of passage, and I found four troglobites (cave-limited species) living in it!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Brrrr.....and Snow!!!

This morning we woke up to a brisk 12 degrees F and a light dusting of snow. We sat and drank our coffee while watching a kalidescope of birds at the feeders in our backyard. At the feeders and in the trees were:

*Morning Dove *Blue Jay *European Starling *House Sparrow *House Finch *Carolina Wren *Carolina Chickadee *Downy Woodpecker *White Throated Sparrow *Junco *Northern Cardinal *Ruby Crowned Kinglet *Cedar Waxwing

Here is one of the many Northern Cardinals we saw this morning. This past summer we had two breeding Cardinal pairs that sucessfully fledged younglings. All winter we've had 10 or more Cardinals at the feeders.