The Moth Mans Dastardly(?) Scheme

It was a dark and blustery night. Vigilante crime fighter; The JackPott and her sidekick Stone Throw sit perched atop a lone tree amongst the vast plain of prairie grasses. A breeze speeds across the landscape, birthing rippling shadows in waves of grain.

“Do you smell that?” JackPott inquires, inhaling a swath of the sweet scented air.

Stone Throws gaze unfocuses from the murky crystal which had captured her attention, miles away from the tree she currently occupies. *Sniff sniff*. “Crime….”

“Precisely!” With the speed of a pronghorn, the dynamic duo launches from their roost, landing in the front seats of their super-charged hover truck: The Grassmobile. The roof closes overhead as a dim green glow floods the cabin. “Stone Throw, time to turn it to 11!”

“On it boss!” Stone Throw swiftly inserts a cd into the stereo and cranks the volume knob as far as it goes, where a piece of tape labeled “11” has been placed over the 10 setting. YMCA by the Minions nearly fries the speakers.

“Lets ride!” And with the press of a button, The Grassmobile zips away with the unfathomable speed of a shooting star.

After a few minutes of zoomin, a shadow emerges and smashes into the winshield. The truck screeches to a stop, launching the figure forward. Our heroes leap out of the vehicle with the grace of two toads. The shadow raises from the brush, illuminated by the headlights. Large brown wings, red glowing eyes, and bushy antennae morph into clarity as the duo approaches. “Mothman!” They shout in unison.

“Yeeeees it is I, THE MOTHMAN,” he shouts in a cheesy 50s mobster accent, shaking a fist to the sky. “I have plotted and traveled for months to achieve my goal, and you two goons won’t stop me now, see!” With a powerful flap of his wings he zips into the air.

“He’s escaping! Get him!” Stone Throw summons a swarm of rocks from the surrounding landscape, preparing to launch the mineral mass at the fleeing criminal. Just as she’s about to launch her attack, however, The Mothman diverges from his trajectory, and makes a beeline, a mothline if you will, straight towards the still beaming headlights of The Grassmobile, bonking his head and knocking him cold.

When he awakens he’s tied up and unable to move. “There’s no escaping this time evil-doer! What have you been scheming?”

“Wahahahahah! Its too late fools! My plan is complete! The bugs have been released! Sweet Clover shall be no more!”

“Wait… you don’t mean to tell me your plan was to release bugs to eradicate sweetclover?”

“Yes… YES! Its the perfect plan! I’ve smuggled the grumbo bug which heavily preys on sweetclover into North America in order to eradicate one of the most prolific invasives to ever plague this landscape!”

“Oh, well I mean I guess that’s technically illegal but, uhh, well, does the gurmbo eat anything other than sweetclover?”

“Just Alfalfa.”

The two crime fighters look at each other and shrug. They untie Mothman and he flies off into the night.

Moral of the story: I really don’t like sweetclover.

My friend Collin: An Account of Events That Actually 100%, No Exaggeration, Happend

It was a hot summer day when I first met Collin. The sun was high, searing my back with radiation, meadowlarks sang on fenceposts, cows mooed cordial greetings. I’m working hard collecting biomass clippings at our Cedar Pass field cite, making sure to properly sort my species. Cool season grass in one bag, warm season in another, work which would otherwise be tedious if not for the sweet sweet strummings of Masayoshi Takanaka massaging my brain through pale earbuds.

I clip the final blade in my rectangular quadrat and grasp at my canteen. Out on the prairie it’s essential to remain hydrated, especially on certified steamers such as this. “Alass! ‘Tis empty! Whatever shall I do?” I announce to the world. A nearby cow responds with a sympathetic, “Moo”. I reel back, shaking a clenched fist at the sun, cursing the infernal radiator which sears my skin. I quickly come to my senses and remember the large cooler filled with ice cold water residing within our vehicle. With a newfound purpose I stagger towards the truck, trudging slowly through the brush. After what feels like 30 seconds I’m no more than 50 meters from the truck, and that’s when I see him.

A small creature dressed in an olive green burlap sack, hunched over like a gargoyle on the tailgate of our truck. “Must be the accursed sun playing tricks on mine eyes, a mirage of sorts, says I,” but as I continue my approach, the creature remains. I reach the truck and the creature stands to greet me. Assessing its features: pointed ears, knobby knees, and a long hooked nose, I conclude the nature of this odd organism; I have come face to face… with a goblin.

“Greetings friend,” the goblin croons, “I have been waiting for you.”

I respond calmly (for I am used to such things), “Salutations, what brings you round these here parts?”

“You, brave mage, I am here for you. My people have lived here for generations, supping from the earth its bountiful gifts. We have flourished by living in balance with the ecosystem which supports us. However, I am afraid our times of peace and prosper are nearing their end. For you see these lands are suffering; plagued by the industry of man, unable to sustain natural equilibrium. Our village seer foretells a great warming of the globe, which spells the eventual destruction of not just our people and our home, but of yours as well. I am but one herald of thousands, sent to seek people such as yourself and forewarn them of this forthcoming doom”.

“Tell me, wise one, what role do I have to play in this epic? What shall I do?”

“What you can, young one, what you can. My goblin intuition tells me the work you are doing here could potentially aid in maintaining the balance of these lands. Apocalyptic weather conditions await us, and the data you are collecting now will serve as a roadmap, or foundation for future generations to survive the storm. You must continue collecting and surveying, for knowledge and science are a powerful magic, human.”

“I will try my best,” I state, looking out at the beautiful landscape surrounding me.

I fill my flagon, and begin to return to my work. Just as I cross the barbed wire fence, I realize, I never asked the name of this brave messenger. “Wait! What is your name wise goblin?” I shout before even turning around, but as I do, a powerful gust of wind rips at my clothes, blowing off my hat. A cloud of dust bellows, swallowing the goblin. When the dust settles, he is gone.

Forlorn, I stare at a lone cloud in the sky. “Collin…” a voice calls out to me as the cloud slowly starts to form the shape of the creature, “my name is Collin, and child…”

“Yes?” I ask the sky.

“Tell my story.”

As I hear these final words, the Collin cloud slowly forms a thumbs up and smiles, revealing the sun hidden behind. I wince, raising my arm to shade my eyes. Once my vision refocuses, the cloud is gone, and Collin with it. For a second I doubt he was ever there to begin with; just the heat playing tricks on my mind. My heart, however, knows the truth.

“I will Collin… I will.”

Kneeling over to pick up my hat, I soak in the beauty of the earth for a brief moment before returning to my work, to save the world.

My intro to the DRyiNG project

It has been a little over a month now since starting my work on the DRyiNG (Drought RecoverY In Northern Grasslands) project out here in South Dakota and I have already learned a ton about the mixed-grass prairie ecosystem of Buffalo Gap. I’m currently able to confidently identify over a dozen species found in the prairie, many of which are grasses that look nearly identical to each other.

We spent the first week going over the defining characteristics of plant families we frequently come across and collecting some samples to enhance our visualization of some common species. Some grasses are easy to identify as they have very unique characteristics when compared to their neighbors. Pascapyrum smythii for example, is the most common grass we come across and it is easily identified by the purple coloration on its collar. Others are much harder like the three Bouteloua species we often encounter: B. curtipendula, B. dactyloides, and B. gracilis. These took me a while to get the hang of as they are all fairly simillar and usually only distinguishable by the location and quantity of hairs on the culm and leaves when not flowering.

B. gracilis

So far, our daily tasks have consisted of collecting aerial cover and stem count data within quadrats. This involves first identifying every species in the quadrat, estimating the area covered by each species when seen from above, and then counting the number of stems per species in a smaller quadrat.

Practicing aerial cover estimation. The smaller quadrat represents 10% of the larger quadrat and the paper square is 1%.
When collecting data, boardwalks are used to prevent trampling in the plots.

So far, I have had a great time. Every day I learn new species and deepen my familiarity with those I already know well. I never imagined I would be able to go on a hike with my friends and not only annoy them by identifying all the cool flowers but all the grasses too! As the summer continues I am excited to continue my training as a grass wizard and learn more about other cool projects going on in the area.

Attempting to convince a friend that Devils Tower is actually a really big tree (He didn’t buy it)