Friday, August 27, 2010

The Art of Seeing in the Outdoors

One of the characteristics that separates the outdoors person from the city person is the ability to see in the outdoors.  In previous chapters I talk about interpreting ecological landscapes. It is the ability to see what is different in a landscape that will make your outdoor experience richer and meaningful.  Ok, look at the picture above.  What do you see?

First, what signs of man do you see?  Nature abhors straight lines.  Mankind likes straight lines.  So any straight line is likely to be a sign of man's activities.  See the straight lines on the hill in the middleground and in the background?  Those are roads.  Look carefully at the meadow.  Do you see the two straight lines?  Those were old fence lines from the period of time the meadow was farmed and grazed and now grown in with shrubs.   You know this meadow might look natural, but it has man's imprint. 

There are very few books about seeing in the outdoors.  I have only found one, "The Outdoor Observer:  How to See, Hear and Interpret in the Natural World" by Charles Elliott.  I was stunned to find it in a used bookstore.  I am even more surprised that another book on the subject has not been written.

There is a reason for the words "earth colors".  Most landscapes are blue, green, and brown.  This is why "Forest Service flowers" tend to be shocking pink, orange, and yellow.  Now as a Forester, I was always looking for signs of man's activities such as property lines, roads, and other evidence of "prior" foresters.
So early on, I learned to look for straight lines and "forest service flowers".

However, natural landscapes also offer clues.  When you look at a landscape try to see what is different.  In many cases, it will be an elk or a deer at a distance.  It just looks different.  Like those old comics that asked you to identify what does not belong in the picture.

Look at this picture.  What is different?

Next time, I will not put it in the middle of the picture.  That shrub is much bigger than the other shrubs in the meadow.  Lets look at it from the other side.

Well, that explains it.  There is a spring in the middle of all that vegetation. So while other shrubs had stopped growing due to drought, this one just kept growing.

I did find some pipe around, so somebody knew there was a spring here in the past.  But the elk have also found the spring and created this elk wallow.  Wow, if the local Department of Ecology found out about this they would probably write the elk a ticket.

Bugaboo on the other hand thinks the elk wallow is just fine.  Now Bugaboo can find water by smell and using his other skills.

You, however, need to learn how to interpret the landscape and see the world with new eyes.  It is not hard.  In this case, it was simply the case of looking to see what is different and then finding out why?

So as I wandered around the meadow taking these pictures, I noticed something about this aspen grove.  Can you tell what it is?

There are what foresters call two age classses.  Notice that there are two sizes of aspens.  So what happened sometime ago to allow the second set of aspens to start growing?  Was it the end of domestic grazing on the meadow?  A drop in the population of the elk herd?  Did that fence post in the foreground have anything to do with it?  I am not sure.  One of these days I will take out my increment borer and core the trees to find out how old they are.  That will give one clue.

Seeing in the outdoors, coupled with the question: Why?.  That will help you discover the wonders of nature and the wild places missed by so many visitors.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Hmmm. You've opened my eyes in a new way. Thank you.