Since Botanical Voyeur is about getting people interested in the prairie and native landscapes, it has to be done on public lands that are accessible to everyone. I can’t get people all worked up over plant sex if the only way to see it is in books. Voyeurism isn’t porn, it’s more personal than that. It pulls back the curtains and presents you with something to take in, palpable and within your grasp.
So then, the first step in getting Botanical Voyeur going is to take a close look at the public places around the state that are native, natural and wild. I quickly discovered that that information about public land is scattered and isolated on the web. The information is out there but it is a challenge to find and rarely links out to the community as a whole.
So, I’ve spent the last few days milling about the web looking into maps and map services. Most of today was spent looking at open mapping initiatives across the globe and today I pull back and start figuring out how best to proceed.
The plan is to have the public lands in Iowa on an open, publicly accessible map. It needs to be able to differentiate between different types of land use and allow for marking areas/boundaries. It should be easy to export data from and be accessible on mobile devices.
The next several days will be spent focusing on this particular issue and I plan to choose a map site and begin to create a map of the Iowa Prairies within the next week.
Writing my land ethic, a philosophy about the interaction of man and world, is a lofty task not lightly taken by a woman whose mind is brimming with questions about the nature of consciousness and the evolution to thought. These questions which are the very basis for philosophical study hold the key to understanding how man has been able to reach a point of seemingly disharmonious existence on the sanguine possibilities of future survival.
I dare say that the trouble we are in is birthed by the perceptions of abundance and expectations of a “life worth living” promised to us by deities guiding the actions of the very minds that create them. We are our own worst enemies and it is through the collective actions of each man living, and having once lived, that we’ve became separated from the consequences of our actions and lost something true and pure about ourselves. The quest for knowledge is simultaneously our liberator and our captor.
We are trapped within an existence which limits perceptions to inputs received by and filtered though a complex network of chemical and electrical pathways. These pathways change over time with the ebb and flow of learning and experience. The mere act of recalling a memory has the power to alter. It. So, perhaps it is false nostalgia that tells us, we as a species, were at one time in harmony with nature.
It seems the earth is constantly undergoing changes that impact the organisms living here and what may seem a balance to our eyes could be, when viewed on a geologic or planetary time scale, outliers to the larger system of chaos and entropy.
The earth formed some 4.6 billion years, only 1.2 billion years ago did multicellular life come about and man has existed for a mere 200,000 years; life is the result of co-opted chemical processes and molecular chance spat out by iterations on scale within our ability to comprehend.
I seek to find a balance between the nature of man and the needs of the world in which we came about. If all that man was driven to possess were shelter, food and reproduction, the matter would be vastly different, alas, we are a species driven by self preservation and curiosity. In the 15th century Johannes Kepler proposed the idea of viewing the earth as a singular organism, though this idea has little scientific validity, it is a perfect way to view the impact of ones actions because it reduces the overwhelming complexity of ecological relationships to a single unified variable.
Fear of want drives “civilized” man to seek excess, and cultural norms at best accept this while at worse reward it. Possessing not only the awareness of our existence but also the ability to use tools and to plan for the future, we are the perfect storm of form and function. But it is not just our physical and mental capacities that threaten the land; we have, over thousands of years, built a society in which destruction and disharmony are accepted byproducts of living.
Examples of cultures that have caused their own extinction are many and those of cultures existing closer to an equilibrium are becoming fewer with each passing day. I have little doubt that within my lifetime we will see the end to indigenous peoples along with the disappearance of untouched wilderness and the reduction of biodiversity. Is this part of the natural progress of the conscious mind or is it an outgrowth of misguided teaching? Can man hope to find a balance and if so, how will that balance be defined.
Consciousness is perhaps a gift of evolution, it is plausible that awareness of self and surroundings came as a beneficial adaptation to prolonged survival. It is however my belief that consciousness, though beneficial to the human species, is in fact a detriment to the diversity and complexity of life. We are a species evolutionarily equipped to dominate the land, and culturally driven to use that which we can touch.
Most people are aware to varying degrees, the environmental factors which are impacted by their act of living. Caught somewhere between oblivious mistreatment and willful neglect, people heed their impact only when it is convenient for them.
But whether I spent the remainder of my life in a vegetarian buddhist monastery or driving a Hummer through marshland, my existence would impact the ability of other organisms to survive. Some choices simply have a lower impact on the world around me, a smaller harm to the organism called Earth, if you will.
Since I recognize that is it in mans nature to confuse want with need and it is in this societies expectations to seek economic profit as a primary goal over natural equilibrium, I am pessimistic about mankind’s ability to cease the spiral of abuse and neglect of the natural world. With the belief of manifest destiny so deeply engrained that it is almost a subconscious drive, I do not know if the general populous will ever pull head from sand and take a stand for the land.
I cannot expect to change the world, how it works or how mankind functions on a broad scale. My land ethic does not set forth calls to recycle or to take shorter showers or to grow your own food. It rests closer to the heart and the mind than to the hands. If thought is the origin of reality, it is there that all change begins. So I ask you, open eyes, take notice of not just what is around you but how those things relate to you. Ask questions and seek answers. Think critically about what others present to you as truth. Seek out the natural world and build a connection with the organism which saw mankind step from the cerebral shadows into the light of consciousness. This, is my Land Ethic.
Often, it’s the simple things in life that bring me happiness. A book and a warm cup of coffee, the breeze across the prairie which carries the scent of a coming rain. Though the simple pleasures are wrought by the minimal, I have begun to find that technology, when used appropriately, can heighten the experience and interaction. A little tech can go a long way in building knowledge and familiarity with the natural world.
Earlier today when I posted to the Native Plants list-serve about using the Field Notes Pro app on my iPad to do field work I received a huge response with questions on what I was doing, how it was working and asking for advice and suggestions. I thought this might be a good opportunity to write a post detailing how I work with my iPad in the field. Almost all of the work I will do on Botanical Voyeur, if funded, will be done with my iPad.
Having a 3G enabled device is key to being able to automatically geotag pictures, log coordinates, pull up maps and guides, and pull in weather information. You can certainly go without and just manually enter those kinds of details but I find it to be a key to productivity and data handling. Fully charged my iPad will last me about eight hours of constant use.
A styles is a must if you are planning to take hand written notes or take field sketches. There are many brands to choose from but I love the Bamboo brand stylus. It’s well balanced, nicely weighted and fells like I’m almost using a real pencil. Coupled with the Paper app my sketches can as detailed and beautiful as if done with lead and cellulose.
I prefer the inCase Origami Workstation though I rarely have my keyboard with me in the field as most of my notes and writing are brief enough to be handled by the onscreen keyboard or hand written on the iPad. I do however frequently have it in my car or campsite so I can sit down to type out expanded notes/observations/ramblings while eating a meal or enjoying a coffee.
This is an essential for in-field use of the iPad. There are many commercially produced, high-end, pricey solutions for watering-proofing your iPad but the Ziplock bag does it exceptionally well. The buttons and touch screen are completely reactive behind the plastic. It senses your touch without a problem. I know it sounds crazy but it totally works. After putting the iPad in the bag, push out the air, seal it and fold over the excess plastic. Use the velcro strap around opposite corners which will hold the bag in place, safe and sealed, and you can use the straps as a handle. The second strap can be used to hake a shoulder holster if desired.
Update: After forgetting to put an anti-glare cover on my iPad for a hike this weekend I was reminded how important this is for outdoors use. There are several options out there but I really like the Powersupport Anti-Glare HD Protector. In the past anti-glare covers reduced the clarity of the screen a bit, the new HD protectors are much better and do not have that same problem. Again, I HIGHLY recommend that HD proctetors for added clarity.
I am also looking at getting a Ballistic Toughjacket in the near future.The plastic bag is a cheap and simple solution but with the amount of time I am spending in the field using the iPad, I think it will be worth the investment. I’ll post a review down the road when I can afford the $45.00 to get one.
Prepped and packed for an adventure, my iPad is often my guide to the chosen spot. If I’m heading to a new location I use Google Maps to plan the route, locate rest areas, ranger stations, or whatever else I might need for the trip right from the device.
On location I turn on cellular data to activate location services. Remember: you must have a 3G enabled iPad to use location services.
I begin a new note in an app called Field Notes Pro, I pull in weather information like temp, wind, pressure, etc. and log the geographic coordinates. As I tour the site I will take pictures, video and or audio from the app which are all geotagged and saved automatically to the field note so I can access them later or even export the information to email or to an app like Pages if I will be writing a paper or extensive notes after the visit.
I have several plant and animal identification guides on my iPad for quick assess. The Audubon guides are available in an app that makes identification a snap and I even have digital versions of several illustrated identification guides and keys at my fingertips without adding weight to my backpack!
Frankly, its kind of amazing to be able to see, record and research all while standing in the middle of a marsh. Certainly there are drawbacks like needing to have your devices charged, the pictures are good but aren’t as good as an expensive camera, 3G service costs around $20 a month, but these drawbacks seem minor when I see how much my experience is enriched by having my iPad with me.
Fostering interest in the native world seems a difficult task in the age of constant contact and instant information. Going on a hike and seeing a pretty bird will raise a mans spirits for a few moments but being able to quickly take a picture of that bird, identify it and learn about its lifecycle and habits garners a deeper understanding and builds connections.
If we can get people interested in being part of nature, not just watching but participating, we can get them to care about what goes on there and how their lives affect the world around them. What better way than to offer tools like this, loaded and ready to assist in their explorations.
I’m trying to raise money to do a project this summer called Botanical Voyeur: A Guide to Sex on the Prairie, it is to be a fun yet information packed book covering reproduction and relationships between plant, animal and fungi that may be hidden from the casual observer. It wont be your typical field guide and my hope is it will draw the interest of the nature minded and layman alike. If you want to check it out or maybe even help fund it, check it out on Kickstarter.