Category Archives: It’s Only Natural: Geology, Environment

Adventures with the natural world.

A Good News Story: Florida Turtles Get a Helping Hand by Tamia Nelson

There aren’t any turtles making the rounds in the Adirondack foothills on these winter days, but they are plenty who are already out and about in warmer climes. Of course, whatever the season, a turtle’s life is never easy. Their survival strategies, evolved over hundreds of millions of years, didn’t take speeding automobiles into account. It’s an unequal contest, with the turtles always coming off second-best. A case in point: the portion of US Highway 27 in northern Florida that cuts across an arm of Lake Jackson, creating an isolated impoundment known, logically enough, as Little Lake Jackson. These lakes lie at the center of a rich wetland, and they’re home to a great diversity of wildlife species, many of which cross back and forth between the two bodies of water—running the gauntlet of the busy roadway every time they do. Not surprisingly, then, this stretch of highway has a well-earned reputation as a killing zone for turtles, with over 2,000 being struck every year by speeding cars.

The terrible toll hasn’t gone unnoticed. Some big-hearted … Continue reading »

Family Matters: A Picnic in the Dark by Tamia Nelson

I work at my desk on summer evenings, under a large open window that admits breezes and mosquitoes in roughly equal measure. And occasionally something more, besides.

I work at my desk on summer evenings, under a large open window that admits breezes and mosquitoes in roughly equal measure. And for as long as I can manage to sit still, that window is my only eye on the outside world. It is also my ears and my nose. The small sounds of the night enter unmuted, and an ever-changing medley of subtle smells drifts in from every point on the compass.

Lately the sounds have been dominated by a gentle, persistent scraping, interrupted from time to time by soft grunts. It didn’t take me long to identify the source: a pair of young skunks, striped tails waving proudly, foraging for grubs and seeds under the lilacs that grow near my window. I’m pretty sure they’re siblings, and I’ve sometimes glimpsed a larger skunk keeping what I can only presume to be a motherly eye on … Continue reading »

Hanging Out in High Places by Tamia Nelson

Can chipmunks climb trees? A lot of readers want to know…

If my site stats can be believed, a lot of folks come to Outside seeking answers, and one of their most pressing questions is this: “Do chipmunks climb trees?” Until today, however, the question has languished unanswered, at least by me. But that’s about to change. In my never-ending quest to give the public what it wants, I’m going to resolve this burning issue once and for all. So here goes…

Do chipmunks climb trees? Yes. That was easy, wasn’t it? Chipmunks do climb trees. Of course, most of us think of these tireless little foragers as ground dwellers, and so they are. Chipmunks make their homes in underground burrows. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t equally at home up high. After all, chipmunks are squirrels, and squirrels are well-known climbers, quite capable of hanging upside down, prevented from tumbling into the void by their hind feet alone.

Descending Squirrel

And when I picked up my camera, this fine fellow was doing just that: suspended from … Continue reading »

Otterly Unbelievable! Mother Saves Children From Onrushing Torrent by Tamia Nelson

I heard the cries loud and clear above the roar of rushing water. I was out on an island in The River, photographing tadpoles in a nursery pool, and the caterwauling seemed to be coming from every point of the compass. I climbed to highest point on the little island to get a better look. What did I see? A female river otter was bounding sinuously along the far shore, her nose lifting rhythmically as if searching the air for a familiar scent. Suddenly, she dove into the swift current and began to swim upriver.

Distraught Mother!

Riverine Operations

Then I saw the reason for her headlong rush. Two young otters clung uncertainly to a midstream rock. I didn’t know how they’d managed to swim out there, but that wasn’t important. They had. And now they didn’t know how they were going to get back. I’d heard their cries for help. So had their mother. And help was on the way:

Family Portrait

She bounded up onto the rock, shaking herself till water flew in every direction. Her kids’ mood … Continue reading »

The Mysterious Appeal of Skunk Scat by Tamia Nelson

Thirteen months ago I published a short article about wildlife scat, and included a photo of skunk scat.

Beetles, ants, and sunflower seeds were dinner for the skunk who left this calling card. Three skunks live in the area, and I’ve met them all at one time or another. Sometimes all three of them will dine on seed left behind at the bird table outside my office window. Their bright white stripes glow in the moonlight, and each skunk is easily distinguished from the others by the unique shape of the white stripes. I’ve become rather fond of Pepé, Pierre, and Big Momma. I’ve crossed paths with them when taking nighttime strolls onto the hillside to get a breath of air before bed. In all the years I’ve lived close to skunks, none has sprayed me with their formidable deterrent. We all give one another elbow room and treat each other with respect.

So where’s the mystery? It’s only this: Since “Who Passed This Way,” there has been a steady trickle of visitors to Outside Continue reading »

Of Time and The River: A Study in Potholes by Tamia Nelson

Potholes are one sign of spring that no cyclist welcomes. They loom large around this time of year, too, as early thaws reveal the true extent of winter’s damage to streets and highways. But not all potholes require immediate evasive action. In fact, some are part of the scenery—though paddlers are more likely to see them than cyclists. I’m thinking of the potholes scoured in river rock, of course. These hold a special place in my memory, since several of my earliest independent forays took me to the cliffs along the river on which my grandfather’s camp stood. And those cliffs were studded with potholes. I can still remember my puzzlement at finding water and pebbles—not to mention the occasional trout—in sculpted hollows many feet above the river’s surface. The mystery was only resolved when I realized that summer storms had raised the river to flood stage only days before. It was a eureka moment of sorts, and it helped awaken my interest in the science of geology.

Anyway, many years later, my childhood memories … Continue reading »