Culinary & Land Management

During the course of this internship myself and my co-intern collected lots of seed. Probably more than all the other interns at all the other forests. I ate each of the seeds we collected to see what they tasted like, here are some my thoughts:

Anaphalis margaritacea
The seeds are very small and connected to a cottony pappus. Did not make for good eating as they were barely palatable. The pappus got caught in my throat, leaving an everlasting sensation of discomfort that lasted for weeks. (1/10)

Artemisia tridentata
Small, but numerous with a slight sagey flavor. Bit strong on their own and left me with a severe runny nose; I may be allergic. Regardless, I see the appeal. Could be used as a poultry seasoning. (3/10)

Bromus sitchensis
Large and hard seeds, very grain like. Had an almost salty and metallic flavor. Though, they stabbed into my gums when consumed at the wrong angle. It hurt to eat certain foods for weeks. (3/10)

Calamagrostis rubescens
Very small and chaffy. Lacking flavor and substance. Not much to say. (1/10)

Carex aquatalis
Small, but kind of dense. Not much flavor, which could be a good thing. Better eaten as a “cob” rather than as individual perigynia, which is true for all the carexes collected. (2/10)

Carex lasiocarpa
Large perigynia, but kind of hairy which I did not like. Best thing I can say about it is that it did not have any noticeable flavor. (2/10)

Carex utriculata
A lot like Carex lasiocarpa, but without hair. Very enjoyable to nibble on the little cobs, made me feel like a squirrel. (4/10)

Chamaenerion angustifolium
Like Anaphalis margaritacea seeds, but smaller and with more fluff. Had cotton stuck in my throat for days. Absolutely terrible, no redeeming qualities. (0/10)

Cinna latifolia
Like a larger Calamagrostis rubescens in terms of texture, but had a bitter taste. I guess it was nice to feel something. (2/10)

Elymus glaucus
Like Bromus sitchensis, but with a longer awn which did not make for good eating. (2/10)

Eriocoma nelsonii
Like Elymus glaucus, but with a longer awn which did not make for good eating. (1/10)

Eriogonum heracleoides
The seeds were really hard and difficult to chew. Though, they did not taste bad. Perhaps cooking them would have yielded a more pleasurable experience. (3/10)

Erythranthe guttata
Very small, no flavor distinguishable. Felt like having a mouthful of sand. Potential value as a powerful laxative. (1/10)

Glyceria elata
Small and rotund with an almost sweet taste. Unfortunately, the seeds were covered with bugs. The squirmy feeling of bugs in my mouth was unable to offset the boost of a higher protein content. (3/10)

Glyceria striata
Like Glyceria elata but with fewer bugs (still some though). Could be the next quinoa. (5/10)

Lupinus sericeus
I read that lupine seeds are poisonous, so to be safe I only ate one. Still, this was enough to make me violently ill. Better than Chamaenerion angustifolium though. (0/10)

In conclusion, most of the seeds we collected lack any sort of culinary value, but they may be valuable for native habitat restoration. I guess that’s good enough. 

Some Garbage I Found

The idea of eating yogurt in a forest seems so foreign to me, yet in 2010 an unnamed Colville National Forest visitor downed a Yoplait mixed berry 6 ouncer while driving down the Marias Creek Road between mile markers 1.5 and 2. What possessed this visitor to carelessly fling their discarded yogurt cup out their window into the drainage ditch paralleling the road, I may never know. The discarded cup was found thirteen years later almost completely submerged in dirt and leaf litter. I found this cup while walking back to my rig after a long day of plant surveying along Marias Creek; a lovely little trickle surrounded by downed logs, thorny plants, cow pies, and discarded garbage.   

The yogurt cup in question

I have found garbage all over the forest this summer while conducting plant surveys. Of all the garbage I have found, very few pieces stand out. For every exciting piece; like a license plate, ammunitions crate, hot dog wrapper, or golf club; there is a discarded beer can.

I found this partial license plate near the summit of Mt. Bonaparte. I suspect the owner may have been involved in some illicit activity. Because Tonasket does not have a police department, I may have to take matters into my own hands. 
This ammunitions crate is likely from the Vietnam War-era, when U.S. forces repelled the seldom discussed Vietnamese invasion into North-Central Washington. 
The contents of this hotdog wrapper were nowhere to be found, despite an exhaustive search. 
Golf club found off a forest service road, miles from the nearest course. Someone must have been really mad. 

Beer cans are by far the most abundant pieces of litter in the Colville National Forest. Though, I am sure you are wondering which beer brands are most commonly found discarded in the forest. To answer this question I conducted some statistical analyses. All analyses were done in R (version 4.0.3). Funding for this project was provided by a bank I robbed. 

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Table 1: Raw data of discarded beer can abundance across two areas in the forest. Natty Ice and Natty Light were separated into different brands due to the belief that drinkers of these beers account for two entirely different demographics.

First, I conducted a t-test on the seven most abundant beer brands in the forest. Based on the results of the t-test, Coors was found more frequently than all other beer brands (P<0.05). Other pairwise comparisons were not statistically significant. 

Figure 1:

Results of the t-test. Coors was found significantly more often than other beer brands. 

Next, I used a Tukey p-value adjustment to account for the number of individual tests done. Based on the results of the adjustment, Coors was found significantly more often than Natty Ice, Natty Light, and Rainier (μdiff≠0, with 95% confidence). Other Coors pairwise comparisons were no longer significant.

Figure 2:

Results of the Tukey adjustment, showing that Coors was found significantly more often than Natty Ice, Natty Light, and Rainier. 

Overall, the results of this study show that, when not factoring in differences in beer popularity, Coors drinkers may have a proclivity to discarding their empty beer cans more often than some other beer drinkers, mainly Natty Ice, Natty Light, and Rainier drinkers. More work should be done exploring patterns of beer can disposal in a wider variety of forests. 

The Unibrome

Awn the subject of grasses I have very little to say because I know very little. Much of my work this past month has been IDing grasses during plant surveys. This is difficult because all grasses look the same to me. To aid in grass identification I made the following dichotomous key: 

  1. Does it look like a brome?
    1. Yeah- 2
    1. No- 3
  2. Is it a brome?
    1. Yeah- Bromus sp.
    1. No- Festuca sp.  
  3. Could you use it to tickle someone? 
    1. Easily- Agrostis sp.
    1. Would be a challenge- 4
  4. One seed per spikelet? 
    1. Yeah- Poa sp.
    1. No- 5
  5. Hairy leaf margins?
    1. Yeah- Calamagrostis sp.
    1. No- 6
  6. Does it grow in a wet area?
    1. Yeah- 7
    1. No- 14
  7. Does it look kind of stringy?
    1. Yeah- 8
    1. No- 9
  8. Seeds rotund?
    1. Yeah- Glyceria sp.
    1. No- Cinna latifolia  
  9. Awns?
    1. Yeah- 10
    1. No- Phalaris arundinacea
  10. Looks like a corndog?
    1. Yeah- 11
    1. No- 12
  11. Describe the corndog
    1. Short and fat- Phleum pratense
    1. Long and skinny- Alopecurus aequalis
  12. Poofy?
    1. Yeah- Dactylis glomerata
    1. No- 13
  13. Droopy?
    1. Yeah- Deschampsia elongata
    1. No- Elymus glaucus
  14. Bulbed?
    1. Yeah- Melica bulbosa
    1. No- 15
  15. Spikelets on opposite sides of the stem?
    1. Yeah- 16
    1. No- 17
  16. Bunchgrass?
    1. Yeah- Pseudoroegneria spicata
    1. No- Thinopyrum intermedium
  17. Unkempt look?
    1. Yeah- Hordeum jubatum
    1. No- 18
  18. Comb-like?
    1. Yeah- Agropyon cristatum
    1. No- 19
  19. Poofy?
    1. Yeah- Koeleria macrantha
    1. No- Eriocoma nelsonii

When da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa he described the feeling of a divine presence guiding every brushstroke.1 Making this key felt sort of the same way. 

In the key I did not key many genera down to species-level because I feel that keying a grass down to genus-level often times suffices. Anything else just feels pretentious. I especially feel this way with the genus “Bromus”. I am of the correct opinion that, in an effort to make our jobs easier, all bromes should be combined into one species (the unibrome). 

Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is a noxious weed invasive in much of the Western United States. But, there are a number of brome “species” already native to this area. If we combined all the bromes into one species then cheatgrass would no longer be invasive and we will save a lot of money by no longer needing to invest time and resources on invasive management for this species. As an added benefit, mountain brome (Bromus sitchensis) is one of the target seed collection species for myself and my co-intern. We are having some difficulty locating suitable populations for this species, but if mountain brome and cheatgrass get combined into one species then we could just collect cheatgrass seeds. This would save us a lot of time because the cheatgrass is everywhere, even in disturbed environments where you would expect to see mainly invasive species. I suspect the reason plant taxonomists have not thought of these changes is because they are cowards. Unfortunately, there is not a Nobel Prize in biology.

1 I made this up

Chemtrails, An “Exhaust”ive Exploration

Work in the Colville National Forest over the past month has been filled with many rewarding plant surveys. Three new rare plant populations have been discovered, and thousands of acres of forest have been surveyed in total. The majority of surveys this month have been in wetlands or riparian areas. Most everyday has ended with me wet in some form or another via many different methods (e.g., stepping in a surprisingly deep hole while wading through a creek (x5), falling off a log into a creek (x3), slipping on rocks and falling into a creek (x2), unsuccessfully jumping across a creek, stepping into a creek because I thought I was wearing waterproof boots but I wasn’t, stepping on what I thought was the ground but was actually an extension of a creek, and successfully avoiding stepping on a cow pie by instead stepping in a creek).

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I fell into this lake

If I had to categorize myself before I started this job it would be somewhere between “obedient sheep” and “follower, complicit in my own undoing”. But not anymore. 

It was at the end of my first week at the job that I first sighted the chemtrails booth at the Tonasket Farmer’s Market. I had never taken chemtrails seriously before, but seeing them here with titans of industry such as the lady who knits clothes for stuffed animals and the friendly Dutch goji berry vender, it was difficult not to take notice. I picked up a couple of fliers printed on glossy paper (like I said, these guys are pros). The amount of information packed on these flyers was immense because the font size was very small.  

Over the next few weeks the contents of the fliers flew around my head, leaving behind traces of knowledge and insight, much like the planes that fly over us and leave behind toxic chemicals that destroy the environment, and make us sick, and change the weather, and put a hole in the ozone layer. A couple of weeks later I felt I was ready (mentally, physically, and emotionally), so I returned to the booth to pick up the 17-page informational guide. Based on how the pamphlet was written I could tell the authors were outsiders who’s minds were not poisoned by indoctrinating forces such as science education. I had looked the booth vendor in the eye and promised I would return the next week to ask questions, so I did. The next week we talked for over 30 minutes about chemtrails in an open air farmer’s market that was attended by many of my coworkers who all gave me weird looks. I may have entered the conversation a stranger, but I like to think I left as a friend. At the end of the conversation the following wisdom was imparted on me: 1) watch a 2-hour chemtrails documentary, 2) don’t listen to everything you see on the TV, and 3) keep making observations. 

Since then, I have made many observations. One observation being, when you try to discuss chemtrails with your co-intern, she will start to gaslight you into believing you are mad. The next month myself and the other botany interns plan on ramping up our seed collection efforts. We currently have identified over 15 potential seed collection locations from six species and hope to start collecting soon. 

Life in Tonasket, WA

Tonasket, Washington is a land of extremes. Surrounded by low valleys and high peaks, it is full of hippies too liberal for Seattle mingling with folks too conservative for Spokane. Of all the Tonasketers (as I have been told they are called) I have ran into my favorite is probably the nice fella at the co-op who is always up for a conversation. At our first encounter he gave me a rundown of his life. His mother was an L.A. socialite/burlesque dancer who may or may not have known Lenny Bruce. With his mother’s connections he reckons he could have been a Hollywood star, but decided to rebel and move to Tonasket. He regrets this choice every day. At our next encounter he was wearing a cowboy hat and a cross necklace. In the week since we had last seen each other he had either found Jesus, or found a necklace. Either way, I hope it brought him some solace. He did not recognize me, but really wanted me to buy an amino acid based soy sauce which he claimed contained “the healthy salts”. I did not purchase this item, a choice which I may too one day regret. Such is the nature of life. 

The Tonasket real estate market is in shambles. Luckily, my landlord has generously provided me a trailer to stay in. I share the trailer with many mice, one of which has an affinity for pooping in the kitchen sink. I have had worse roommates. In lieu of rent I have been doing odd jobs around his property. Mainly I have been pulling weeds and organizing rocks into piles next to a pond. The frogs and newts that live around the pond will use the rocks as a refuge from predators and the hot sun. Who would have thought that filling a bucket with rocks from a pile and then moving the rocks to a secondary location where I arrange them into a new pile could be so fulfilling?

My other work has been going well too. I have been conducting plant surveys in the Colville National Forest, paying special attention to observing sensitive plant species. To date I have seen four species from our sensitive plant list, and discovered three new sensitive plant populations. It has been a thrill to conduct these surveys, and I hope to conduct more in the coming months. As far as seed collection goes, myself and my co-intern have located many populations of silky lupine, mountain brome, and fireweed. In the coming weeks we plan to return to these populations to monitor phenology. Hopefully we can begin seed collection soon. 

Some sensitive plant species of the Colville National Forest. I love them all.