Sign spotting: Part 1- Personal Safety

My little brother loves the Signspotting books. He owns them all. I know this, because he has shown them all to me. Repeatedly.

He typically goes through phases where he is fairly obsessed with one particular set of reading and/or movie materials (sometimes there is a clear connection between the reading materials and DVDs in his stack, other times not). He’s really into series of things, like, say, all of the Star Wars movies, or Uncle John’s Bathroom Readers, or a stack of Cleveland Cavs paraphernalia and Media Guides from the past five years, from which he will regale us with various statistical tidbits, staring intently at me over his glasses, and talking as if I know anyone other than LeBron on the team– wait, he left, right? Haha, just kidding. That’s a terrible joke. I’m sorry).

Anyway, the Signspotting books are on regular rotation. Over the years, I’ve seen most of them. Repeatedly, as I may have mentioned. So I started taking my own sign-spotting pictures as I traveled.¬†And here they are.

To make it even more fun, they’re going to be spread out across a few posts. Then you have to come back and read my blog for more. Though I’m sure you come back regularly and read it anyway. (Thanks Grandma, I love you ūüôā )

 

So here we go:

Lauren’s Sign Spotting: Part 1- Personal Safety


 

Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick, Canada

Grand Manan Island New Brunswick

Caution: if you run enthusiastically off the cliff, popcorn will fall out of your feet.


 

Somewhere in Florida, USA

no fireworks at gas station

“No fireworks discharge within 300 feet.”

 

This is a gas station, somewhere in Florida, that sells fireworks. And gasoline. One stop shopping. Because I generally want to buy fireworks and diesel fuel at the same time. Doesn’t everyone?

But at least there is a fire extinguisher handy. Just in case you don’t pace out those 300 feet quite right.

I took this picture a few years ago, as I was driving back to Ohio from Titusville, Florida, where I had an internship at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

I am alarmed that this needs to be put up as a warning on a gas station. And why only 300 feet? I’m fairly certain I don’t want someone shooting off fireworks 400 feet from where I’m pumping gas, let alone 300. And does that 300 feet start from the door, or from the furthest gas pump?

 


 

Phi Phi Island, Thailand

phiphi island thailand

 

Remember, our body is not a life buoy. Because we, collectively, only have one body, and apparently it doesn’t float all that well.

Also, getting run over by a boat is bad.


 

Prince Edward Island, Canada

The sign: Prince Edward Island lighthouse sign

Interpretation: It is unstable to stand on a tilty platform on the edge of a kite, because you might fall on the floating rocks.

Honestly, that picture doesn’t make the bank look all that steep. That’s barely one body length. In real life, the drop is much, much, much steeper. Also, in real life you can’t even get to the edge because they put up a fence. Probably because all the tourists accidentally drive their cars off or something.

This is next to the East Point Lighthouse on PEI, which is on the northeastern tip of the island. It’s all open and exposed around the lighthouse¬†(which I was too cheap to pay to climb, because as I visited on a rainy day, I suspected the view would be similar to the one from the ground– foggy).

If they’re so concerned about erosion, then they probably shouldn’t put unsecured platforms on the cliff edge. Or lighthouses, for that matter.

Conclusion: They are very concerned about you falling off the edges of things in Canada (see first sign).

 


 

Thác Datanla, Dalat, Vietnam

dalat vietnam waterfall

This sign was posted along the edge of the waterfall, either because the slippery rocks are dangerous and they don’t want you to fall and get hurt, or because it’s poisonous. Slightly different things. If you read neither English nor Vietnamese, I would think you’d be a little confused. Though I’m sure that if you drank the water in the waterfall you’d probably get sick, so maybe that’s what they meant.

Oh, and this was the waterfall where a man dressed in an elaborate red monkey costume stuck his finger in my ear. He almost got an elbow in the jugular¬†(since I’m taller than most Asian men, the elbow meant for his gut would have hit a bit higher), which would have definitely knocked him into the “poisonous” area behind the sign. Because where I come from, we don’t do that. I do realize that I’m a visitor to your country, and that Ohioans can be a strange breed sometimes, but there are a few core values that I refuse to compromise. Such as having foreign objects and appendages stuck in my ears. That would be a no-no.

As my sister would say:

False. You will not be doing that. 


 

And there we have it. Look for part 2 coming soon!

For more entertainment until then, you should read more about Eric in this blog post:

Things My Brother Says 

It makes me giggle every time I read it.

 

A Few Things That Make Me Happy

A Few Things That Make Me Happy

A List In No Particular Order

 

Anhinga, Everglades Natoinal Park, Florida

Anhingas also make me happy. Because they’re awesome. I mean, come on. Look at that eye makeup and hairdo. ¬†Red eye, blue eye-liner, green eyeshadow, artfully disarrayed frosted spikes. Hotness.¬†
Everglades National Park, Florida

 



 

  • savoring a cup of tea while wrapped in a blanket in front of the woodstove.

cape breton highlands national park

Or savoring a cup of tea while sitting on a rocky beach in Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia, because you don’t have any pictures of leisurely tea drinking by the woodstove.


  • waking, realizing there is no real reason to be up yet, and staying in bed, eyes closed, half awake/half asleep, dreaming.

Memorial Day in the Mountains

Camping up on Black Balsam, in Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina.


  • the smell of walking through a pine forest in the cool ¬†just after dawn.

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest Oregon

H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon. I took this in May 2010. If I recall correctly, it rained pretty much the entire three months I was in Oregon.


  • the sound of woodpeckers tapping and hammering on branches.

red-cockaded woodpecker Carolina Sandhills NWR

Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Carolina Sandhills NWR, South Carolina. I spent a great deal of time chasing them around in the woods. It was fun. Other than the chiggers and the poison oak.


  • getting sucked into a good book for hours, and only coming up for air when you desperately have to pee. Or eat.

Galapagos Islands lava gull

This has nothing to do with reading a good book, but surprisingly I don’t have any pictures of me reading. So here’s a picture I took of a Lava Gull and chick in the Galapagos Islands back in 2008. The adult is in breeding plumage, which is why it has the red eye-ring. And, it’s eye is closed. It’s napping. Parenting is exhausting, from what I hear.


  • having progressively logically ridiculous conversations, that are in turns creative, silly, and in a strange way logical.

Like planning our post-apocalyptic commune, or our skunk ape/NASA/unicorn conspiracy theory, or pretty much any time Meghan, Patrick, and I opened our mouths.

 

Dave Shealy's Gorilla Supplier

Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, Ochopee, Florida. Based on the drawings (which are based on a first-person description from someone who wasn’t the artist) in the “Skunk Ape Research Handbook,” that is totally a gorilla statue, not a skunk ape.


  • the smell of a rock wall, on the 2nd or 3rd pitch of a multi-pitch route.

 

Rock Climbing Utah

Climbing Castleton Tower with Max. I¬†recommend climbing desert towers with someone who doesn’t say, “You know, if this tower fell over we’d be screwed” as you reach the belay on the 3rd ¬†of 4 pitches. Near Moab, Utah.


  • singing along as loud as I please to a good song on the radio.

everglades national park, florida

Thankfully I have no pictures of myself singing, so here’s another cool bird picture (you can never have too many). This is a Purple Gallinule, a sweet bird that lives in Florida. They live other places too, but this one lives in Everglades National Park. Well, that’s where I saw it. Maybe it was just on vacation.


  • snuggling with my dog in my tiny bed

I prefer blonds in my bed

Extra happiness: snuggling with both a dog and a cat. All those blond pet hairs covering your person and clothing are just pet love stuck all over everything in your life.


  • riding my mountain bike down Game Creek trail, where I discovered one of the meanings of the world “exultation.”

Jackson Wyoming

One of the many beaver ponds along the trail. Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming.


And here’s a video of what is probably a Ruffed Grouse on Game Creek. It’s a good thing I ride slow, otherwise I might have run it over. These birds could definitely use some street-smarts.

Look both ways before you cross RUGR!

Black Vulture

everglades florida

Everglades National Park, Florida. 2009.

I have no doubt that one day I will be an old black vulture, my face a mass of wrinkles and sparse hair. I will sun myself along the boardwalk, and stare down anyone who gets too close. My walk, ungainly, slow, will take me along. I will pick apart dead things, old things, the decaying bits of conversation no one else wants. Those will be left for me, to have my way with. I will stare death in the face and not blink, I will circle it, be drawn to it, draw life from it.

It is how we gather, all of us, drawn together to bring life from death. To consume death, and become stronger because of it.

26 Things I’ve Learned in My 26 Years

Here is the world.

Beautiful and terrible things will happen.

Don’t be afraid.

— Frederick Buechner

Canyonlands National Park Utah

Canyonlands, Utah

1. Not everything in life has to be hard.

Sometimes the easy path is the one you’re supposed to go down. Sometimes it’s the universe showing you where you’re supposed to go.

lily in sunlight

Oregon

2. If you throw the candy wrappers away in the trash, Mom will never find them.

If you stuff them in the couch she will find them and you will get in trouble.

 

imageswhisper-words-of-wisdom_615x454 3. Let it be.

As in, the microwave/car/laptop/whathaveyou that is malfunctioning will probably start working properly again if you let it alone for a spell. Granted, this doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. I have in fact “fixed” a microwave and a few car problems this way.

 

4. A sense of humor will take you far in the world.

I honestly don’t know how you’d get by without one. Life is ridiculous, there’s no getting around that. So just enjoy it. Laugh and be merry.

winter camping Wyoming

5. Go camping.

If you want to get to know someone really well, go camping with them. Hopefully you realize that they’re awesome, ‚Äėcause if not it’s going to be a looong weekend.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

6. Travel.

Traveling is imperative for any well-rounded individual. Even if you can’t physically travel to far-off lands, mental travel can be enough. Read a book, or watch a documentary/movie that transports you somewhere else and teaches you something about other people and the world around you. The world is a large place, but not as big as it seems. The people living on the other side of it are just like us. It is not as scary as you think out there. GO!

blue springs state park florida

Another travel perk: hugging manatees.

7. A good book is always worth its weight in your checked bag.

These are your reserve books for the travels home, because of course you will have finished the books in your carry-on bag. You should have a book to read on your person at all times.

8. It’s better not to tell Mom what you did until after you make it back safely.

Or ever. This includes skydiving, almost getting arrested in Washington DC for sleeping in your car, and picking up hitchhikers in foreign countries. Especially that last one.

skydiving Ohio

9. If you make cookies, they will be eaten.

Especially if you live in a bunkhouse with other field biologists. And especially if they are male.

10. If you simply expect things to work out, they probably will.

The world does not have it against you. It might not happen exactly how you planned, but it will work out in some fashion.

Adopt a kitten, get some sweet corn!

11. Going for a walk is an excellent way to generate thoughts.

galapagos islands

12. There are many people in this world who do not know how to put toilet paper on the holder.

Perhaps they purposely didn’t change out the empty roll because they wanted you to have the joy of doing so.

change toilet paper brain damage sign

13. Not speaking does not mean not caring.

Or not being intelligent. Sometimes we just can’t speak, or don’t know what to say.

Blue Ridge Parkway North Carolina

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina

14. Just because that’s how it’s been for a long time doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be forever.

15. My family will always be odder than yours.

Therefore, there is very little you can do to weird me out.

Lauren and Grandad with hats

16. It is very hard for me to be happy if I can’t go outside every day.

Sunshine, trees, fresh air, blue skies, and some mountains would be preferable. That’s all I need. And some birds.

Nepal Annapurna

17. Sometimes you just want to do nothing.

And that’s okay. You don’t have to be working on something all the time. It’s okay to take a break every once in awhile and just breathe.

Teton Science School Wilson Campus bunkhouse

18. Though sometimes you might think otherwise, it’s probably better that you didn’t actually say what was on your mind.

Stupid can’t be taken back, and neither can unkind words (no matter how deserved they are).

Darn it, if only my parents hadn’t raised me to be such a polite and respectful person…

Grand Teton National Park Wyoming

19. Climbing up a mountain on your own steam is a powerful feeling.

The view is always better when you work for it.

trekking Mt. Kinabalu Malaysia

It is not always advisable to wear Teva sandals and socks to climb mountains. But I find them to be excellent hiking foot attire.

20. Be excited about something every day.

I learned this one from my dog, who, for all of his 14 years, was excited to the point of backflips for his food. I‚Äôm not sure I’ve ever been that excited about food, and, thinking about it, I‚Äôm not sure why not. Food is exciting stuff. Life is exciting stuff. So get excited about it, and don’t bother with what other people think.

food truck moab utah

21. You can’t outrun your past. Or a charging moose.

And of the two, I can personally attest that the charging moose is much more terrifying.

Fundy National Park New Brunswick Canada

22. Birds are cool.

Like really cool. For instance, migration. Ruby-throated hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. RTHUs weigh 2-6 grams (0.1-0.2 oz) and are 7-9 cm (2.8-3.5 inches) long. At elevations of 2,000 to 5,000 feet, in 11-18 hours, the tiny birds fly 600 miles over the Gulf. Woah.

Ruby-throated-Hummingbird-52

23. Send postcards.

Everyone loves to get mail. I mean really, is anyone going to say “Don’t send me any more mail, I don’t like getting a little personalized note that lets me know you’re thinking about me”? No.

24. People leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.

On that note, the middle of the road on a blind curve is not a good place to stop to take a picture when there is traffic coming from both directions.

Also, when the sign on the visitor center says “Hours 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.” that doesn’t mean we employees want to sit here another half hour while you use the bathroom, ask detailed questions about the refuge, and browse the gift shop. But by all means, go right ahead. I get the equivalent of 87 cents an hour for this internship, and no, I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time right now. I really don’t want to go home and eat dinner or anything like that.

south carolina hiking

25. Make music.

Sing. Play an instrument. Music is the language of the soul. And it just feels good.

Especially when it involves boomwackers and Call Me Maybe.

26. Love like sunshine.

Love should warm you, brighten up your day, help you to see things you didn’t before. It should be everywhere, illuminating everything.

033_461x615

Also, I wanted to mention that I have learned a great deal of other things in my 26 years, this is only a sampling. Just wanted to clarify.

The Cuteness Scale: A Poll

The Cuteness Scale: Bird Edition

Mostly just for fun, and because I wanted an excuse to go through all my cool bird pictures, I made this poll. Please take it, and rank the following 15 birds on their level of cuteness. This is a highly-scientific research study, in case you were wondering. I even have funding from the NSF– the National Smith Foundation, which provides itinerant Smith children with food and shelter while they are in-between field jobs. The only requirement is that you are a biological child of Mike and Vicki Smith, so luckily I don’t have much competition for funding.

This is just the first edition of this poll, I feel like improvements can, and probably shall, be made. I think it would be really fun to do a cute baby bird one next, but I’ll have to go on a picture-gathering mission first. Or just do a few more field jobs.

For more information on the birds included in this poll, check out these links: 

Black-capped Chickadee

Yellow Warbler

Red-eyed Vireo

Black Vulture

Brown Creeper

Anhinga

Blue-footed Booby

Florida Scrub-Jay

Cooper’s Hawk

Waved Albatross

Mourning Dove

Wilson’s Snipe

Red-naped Sapsucker

Common Raven

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Thanks for taking my poll!

Hope you had fun! I know I did.

Dave Shealy’s Gorilla Supplier

I suppose that’s inaccurate, because I don’t know for sure that Dave got his gorilla here, but if you’ve ever wanted a giant concrete gorilla just like the one outside of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters in Ochopee Florida (and I know I have), then I know where you can get one: Bethune, South Carolina,¬†conveniently¬†located just 7 miles from McBee, South Carolina, which is not conveniently located near anywhere.

If you ever happen to journey to Ochopee FL, the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters are a must. I can honestly say that conversing with Dave Shealy was one of the more interesting conversations I’ve had, and I’ve had some pretty interesting conversations. If you’ve ever talked with my little brother or my friends Max, Patrick, or Meghan, you’ll know what I mean. Also, let me just mention that I’m the only one who actually talked with Dave Shealy, as Meghan and Patrick were both suddenly attacked by the shy bug, the poops. Yes Meghan and Patrick, I just called you both poops. On the internet, where it never goes away. So HA.

The Skunk Ape website:
http://www.skunkape.info/

Bethune, South Carolina
Ochopee, Florida
(the one in the middle is the gorilla)
Outside the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters
(and campground, reptile and bird exhibit, $5 per person, 5 and under free).
Not a Skunk Ape, but we love it anyway.
The place to get your very own genuine concrete products, including gorillas, giraffes, giant roosters, fish, bears, elephants, pigs, palm trees, and an intriguing variety of fountains and statues. Not sure if they ship, but I could be convinced to rent a UHaul and drive your concrete giant rooster to you (in the continental US, of course).

They also have giant giraffes, like the one I saw on the side of the highway at a fireworks store near Pioneer, Tennessee. And giant roosters, and a hugging Jesus, and palm trees, and a lighthouse, pretty much anything you could want made out of concrete. If they don’t have it you don’t want it!

I know what I’m putting on my Christmas list this year:¬†giant concrete rooster.
It’d look lovely in our garden at home, don’t you think Mom?

Bethune Pottery. I like the giant roosters (they have more than one out front, in different colors) and the Jesus under the palm tree.
Outside a fireworks store off I-75 in Pioneer, Tennessee. They don’t have pink elephants at Bethune Pottery, but they did have grey ones.
I took this photo on a road trip in early 2010, when my trusty road-tripping companion and I drove from Ohio to Colorado via the Florida Keys.  It was a long drive.

Merritt Island: Heart and Soul

Part of my soul lives in the mountains. The steepness, the rough and smooth edges, peaks sharp or rounded, a barren summit or a wooded grove on the hillsides, the view, and the breath of fresh air that carries a special taste of true nature. I feel free of the weights I wrap around myself, the ones I didn’t realize were there.

“Mountains inspire awe in any human person who has a soul. They remind us of our frailty, our unimportance, of the briefness of our span upon this earth. They touch the heavens, and sail serenely at an altitude beyond even the imaginings of a mere mortal… They are cruel, dangerous, and possessed of a beauty one can never grow weary of.”
~ Elizabeth Ason, from The Exploits and Adventures of Miss Alethea Darcy

Part of my soul lives in the desert, in the barren rock. When I look out into the wide-open space and gaze at a rock tower rising up into the sky, I just am. Everything is quiet, and I’m just there. The starkness absorbs all the internal moaning and rattling, and all that’s left is the rock, the dirt, the sun, the endless sky.

Gopher Tortoise, Merritt Island NWR 2012

These places speak to me, resonate with me deep inside, and I feel a special sense of completeness when I am there. They feel right, like walking around your childhood home in the middle of the night. You know the exact number of steps without counting, the placement of each table and chair, so that even in the dark you can find your way without tripping. My soul can live in the mountains without tripping all over itself in confusion. Sometimes I feel that I am laying on the floor in the dark, waiting for someone to turn the light on and notice me, quietly moaning. I tend to feel that way most often when I’m stuck in boring, flat places, probably because I find it easier to have adventures when I’m in the desert or the mountains.

When I was heading down to Florida and Merritt Island, I was not particularly looking forward to my time there. Florida is flat, hot, buggy, boring. Coming from a cross-county road trip, camping in Utah and Wyoming and rock climbing in Colorado, Florida was not where I wanted to be heading. And, well, I found that Florida is flat, hot, buggy, and boring. But, to my surprise, I loved it anyway.

Roseate Spoonbill and Snowy Egret
Heading into the sunrise to look for Scrub Jays

I leave bits of my heart everywhere, tucked in with the people and places I go. Quite a bit of my heart is in Ohio, but there are pieces in other states and countries too, in places I have and have not been, in places only seen by those I love.

White Pelicans
Black-necked Stilt
Playalinda Beach, Canaveral National Seashore

And part of my heart is at Merritt Island. There are some places you stay and you know you are home, even if it’s just for a short while. This is one of them. No matter where I travel, I will always remember that place, that time, those people. Especially those people ūüôā

Me, Betty, and Connie (refuge volunteers) after kayaking with dolphins and manatees at Merritt Island NWR
Meghan and Angie kayaking at Blue Springs State Park
Patrick. Blue Springs State Park
Patrick and I are expert kayakers, can’t you tell? Blue Springs State Park

Adventures in Florida: Part 2

A little late, but here it is!
This is the rest of the pictures from our weekend road trip down to southern Florida a couple weeks ago.
The second part of our Great Southern Florida Adventure: Part 2, the final chapter of our epic two-part journey of discovery, hilarity, and deliciousness. In this chapter our trio of heroes visit the Everglades, hunt for skunk apes in the wilds of Big Cypress, and succeed in not seriously maiming themselves by doing odd physical feats in Shark Valley. Also, they see lots of cool birds and other assorted wildlife and have more than a fairly good time in the process.
Enjoy!

I got a NASA badge!

 Last week I finally got my NASA badge, which means I can go into the restricted areas on the refuge and over by all the NASA buildings! 
So, on the way back from the badging station, Candice (the acting refuge manager) and I went on a little drive around the Kennedy Space Center and took some pictures. She’s been on the KSC tour so many times she could tell me all about everything, my own personal tour guide.
The Vehicle Assembly Building. Each stripe on the flag is wide enough for a tour bus to drive on without touching another stripe.
The Vehicle Assembly Building, with the display shuttle in front.
Not an actual shuttle. This is the model that was inside. It has been moved outside because they’re putting one of the actual shuttles on display.
Closeup of the shuttle replica.
NASA News!
The countdown clock.
Note the large rectangular door on the side, one way to tell this isn’t a real shuttle.
The long gravel path is how the shuttles are moved from the VAB to the launching site. They are transported on a vehicle called a Crawler, and it takes something like 8 hours to move the shuttle.
Where the shuttles are launched.
The Beach House, where the astronauts spend the night with their families before they are blasted up into space.
View from the Beach House.
View from the Beach House.
View from the Beach House.
The Crawler– how the shuttle is transported from the VAB to the launching platform.
Not sure what the purpose of this structure is.
So we had to get out and walk underneath it.
This is 1 side 2. Whatever that means.

Kayaking with manatees

Great Egret on the lookout for idle manatees.
No manatees over here.

Monday I finally took a kayak out to Bair’s Cove boat ramp, the notorious manatee hangout. Those manatees are a brassy ¬†bunch, they just swim right up to you and shove your kayak around like they own the place. I believe there was some, ahem, bedroom activity going on, which is why they were so active this morning. There was a lot of twisting and possibly some shouting going on by the looks of it.

Barbara Manatee (manatee, manatee) / You are the one for me (one for me, one for me) / Sent from up above (a manatee from heaven) / You are the one I loveYes, that is a Veggie Tales song, sung by Larry the Cucumber.  It gets stuck in my head every time I see a manatee, which is not as often as I would like.
I’ve got your nose!
Manatees can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes (according to myfwc.com) but typically surface to breathe noisily every 3 to 5 minutes.
To see my video of some manatee action, click here:
Manatee poo floats. And is very smelly. (Max, this picture is for you).

Manatees can grow to be up to 12 feet long, and I think I may have seen a few that were indeed that large. It’s a bit disconcerting to see the real big guys floating around passively under your kayak and then realizing that, if they decided to get at all frisky, you would be taking a dip. But then you could say that you were attacked by a manatee, so it’d probably be worth it.

I’m going that-a-way
If I was a Brown Pelican I’d stand on that rock too.
Sing a joyful noise, all ye pelicans!