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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ravens and Roadrunners

The view from atop Capulin Volcano
by Julie Tollefson

I had a really great idea for this post earlier this week. I’m sure it was going to be something insightful and inspiring or maybe heartfelt and honest. But I was traveling with nine teenagers at the time, with no way to take notes, and now all I remember is the title: Ravens and Roadrunners.

Red-winged blackbird at Cheyenne Bottoms
You see, my husband sponsors the Science Club at his high school. Throughout the school year, club members work hard—recycling, highway cleanup, concessions—and their reward is a summer trip to explore different aspects of science and science careers. For this year’s trip, my husband drove a van full of kids, and I drove our truck packed with camping gear. We followed, roughly, a bit of the Santa Fe Trail through Kansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico.

Over five days, we stopped at Cheyenne Bottoms, a crucial wetlands for migratory birds on the Central Flyway; camped at Cimarron National Grassland, a vast swath of yucca, sage brush, and rocky cliffs; saw dinosaur tracks at Clayton Lake State Park in New Mexico; toured Los Alamos National Lab’s linear particle accelerator; viewed the night sky south of Santa Fe with Astronomy Adventures; and took in panoramic views at Capulin Volcano. We even turned a near-disaster (a severe thunderstorm rolled through our campground and swamped our gear) into a delight, a slow cruise down a dark road in the rain to catch toads (at least three different species) and one tiger salamander.

Tiger salamander
In short, the trip had a little bit of science for every taste—high-powered physics, geology, biology, astronomy—with a bit of history and foodie adventure thrown in for good measure.

Even for me, a non-scientist who is not in any way interested in how many millions of neutrinos or whatever bombard the human body on any given day, our travels proved wonderfully refreshing. For about an hour while the kids hiked canyon trails near the Los Alamos Nature Center, I sat on a rock and sketched a rough outline for a new short story. The plot and characters presented themselves so clearly and forcefully I had no choice but to drop everything and write.

If only I could say the same for my elusive Ravens and Roadrunners topic.


Jim Jackson said...

Ah – Ravens and Roadrunners. As part of the Corvid family, Ravens are one of the smartest birds, plus they have a great sense of play. I’ve watched a pair fly high and drop a branch, then dive after it, catching it in air. And there is a great video of a rook (an European corvid) snowboarding down a roof (I can’t find that one on YouTube anymore, but there is a more recent one of a Russian crow using a plastic lid to do the same thing.)

And for me, Roadrunner brings thoughts of that fun-loving cartoon character/trickster (beep-beep) and poor ol’ Wile E. Coyote.

Combining the two, we have intelligent, fun-loving creatures, who don’t always play by the rules, but we love them anyway.

~ Jim

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

what a wonderful trip! Good luck with your short story.

Julie Tollefson said...

Jim - Ravens are one of my favorites for all those reasons. We saw several ravens in New Mexico, including a couple who swooped close overhead as we were hiking the volcano. And just before we left the state, we saw one roadrunner, a shy, speedy little guy who dashed for cover as soon as he saw us. Every time I see roadrunners I think "beep-beep!"

I think you're on to something with your last sentence - ravens and roadrunners as character traits.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thank you, Margaret! If anything comes of the story, I'll be sure to report back.

Kait said...

Great photos of what sounds like a wonderful trip. The tiger salamander is gorgeous. Quite a catch--pun intended. Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote are so impressed in my brain I would have been on the lookout for signs of the Acme Explosive Company! Thanks for sharing.

KM Rockwood said...

It's dedicated teachers like your husband who instill a love of learning and a sense of competency (I can do it!) in our students. What a wonderful opportunity for kids.

Julie Tollefson said...

Thanks, Kait! I love the tiger salamander - so cute!

KM - I'll tell him you said that, and I totally agree with you. It was really super to be able to be part of the trip this year. I confess, I spent some time eavesdropping on the kids' conversations, and it gave me hope for our future. :)