Monday, June 30, 2008

Indian Creek Nature Center, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Flood Recovery Effort. My Birthday Wish

On July 27, 1983, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my parents gave birth to me. It was the hottest day of the year.

The summer of my 10th birthday, 1993, Cedar Rapids experienced severe flooding. The Cedar River crested at 19 feet. I remember flood waters level with the highway bridges. Yet, immediately afterwards, people developed the flood plain, destroying the land’s ability to soak in swollen waters.

This year, 2008, I am turning a quarter of a century old. My hometown is flooded. This June, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, experienced the worst flooding in its recorded history. The Cedar River crested at 31 feet, 12 feet higher than in 1993.

Images of homes submerged in water, stories of destroyed belongings, and NPR sound clips about Cedar Rapids have flooded my mind for the last month. Over 25,000 people lost their homes, 1,300 city blocks were inundated, and 9 miles of the city flooded. Despite all that, people are pitching in to help their neighbors survive this trauma.

One of those places is the Indian Creek Nature Center. When I was growing up, the Indian Creek Nature Center, where my dad is director, was my second home. The Nature Center is where I first tapped maple trees and fixed trails, restored wetlands and prairies, and learned about our wild world. It is because of the Nature Center that I am an interpretive ranger in Yellowstone today.

The Nature Center sits on the banks of Indian Creek, which flows into the Cedar River. It has never flooded before. When the river crested, a foot of water flooded the main floor of the Nature Center. After gutting the building and tossing handmade displays, staff estimated damage at $100,000. Yet, despite that figure, they are optimistic, working together to take hold of the opportunity offered by this disaster to improve the Center’s design.

An innovator in sustainability, wild land restoration, and non-profit development, the Indian Creek Nature Center will use this disaster to improve hands-on exhibits for children to explore their natural home. This optimism gives me hope in our resilience. Even through difficulty and strife, disaster and grief, my home town is working to improve itself. Always a leader, the Indian Creek Nature Center is projecting its hope for a better future to the Cedar Rapids community.

I am almost 25 years old. This birthday there is no possession I need or want. There is only one thing I desire: that my family and friends help the Nature Center achieve its goal to continue educating our community about the importance of sustainable development, resource protection, and environmental awareness.

Please, for my birthday gift, make a contribution to the Indian Creek Nature Center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to help them recover from the 2008 floods.

Thank you,

Nancy Patterson

Send checks to:

Indian Creek Nature Center
6664 Otis Road
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 52403
(319) 364-0664 (phone is still out due to flood)

For images of the flood:
The Gazette Newspaper:
Creepy Sleepy Media:
Talk Radio News Service:

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Junior Ranger Question

Today I gave a twenty minute talk about Early Explorers of Yellowstone. The talk starts with information on Native Americans, then fur trappers, and then expeditions into the park. I conclude with a little environmental talk and tell everyone they're explorers too. It normally makes people feel good.

During the trapper section, I talk about how mountain men were looking for beaver pelts. The reason for this was that men in Europe and in the Eastern part of the USA liked to wear beaver felt hats. A kid's hand shot in the air.

I also talked about Jim Bridger, the tall-telling mountain man. He told a story about Yellowstone that goes like this:

Out there in Yellowstone Country there's a place called Petrified Tree. Jim Bridger swears the place was cursed by a Crow shaman. Well, he came upon it one day and noticed it seemed very strange. The grass crunched under his feet as he walked. The air was still and all was silent. He noticed a bird up in the tree and he said, "I'm going to shoot that bird." So, he pulled out his shot gun and shot the bird. It cracked in two. He thought, "Well, that's odd. I'm going to chop down this here tree." So, he pulled out his axe and started to chop the tree. His axe blade broke! He looked around and noticed the tree was made of stone! The grass was stone. The bird was stone. Everything was stone! And at night the air was so heavy it felt like obsidian pressing down upon him. No one could believe this story it was so tall! How could a place be so magnificent!? But, Jim Bridger's stories helped open America's eyes to the wonders of Yellowstone.

At the end of this another kid's hand shot in the air. I waved at both to hang on until the end of the presentation. And at the end of the presentation, these Junior Rangers had some astounding questions. Here goes:

Jr Ranger I: "Is Indiana Jones' hat made out of a beaver pelt?"
Me: "It's a leather hat, probably made from a cow."

Jr. Ranger II: "Is the petrified tree frozen?"
Me: "It's made of stone. It's a stone tree. Everything was stone."

Jr. Ranger III: "Yeah, but, in that story, wouldn't the bird have flown away faster than it could have been turned to stone?"
Me: "Jim Bridger said the place was cursed by a Crow Shaman that had turned everything into stone. So, everything was stone when he came upon it."

Jr Ranger III: "Yeah, but it would have flown away."
Jr Ranger II: "I think it's all frozen."
Me: "I'll be happy to sign Jr. Ranger papers now."

Apparently that story really left an impact on the kids. Not the explorers or wonder or theme, just Jim Bridger. Just goes to show, he really did open people's eyes to the wonders of Yellowstone.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Getting Charged By Elk

It started as a normal, beautiful early June day. I walked happily out my door and headed towards work, proud to be sporting my snappy staw ranger hat. Briskly I made my way down Officer's Row to the Visitor Center.

A body caught my eye. Almost unseen underneath the tall coniferous tree, lay an elk. A female elk. An elk that had recently calved. A psychotic, manic, female elk mama. There is hardly anything worse than coming upon a psychotic, manic, female elk mama. Believe me, underneath that tree lay trouble.

Slowly I inched towards it, maintaining my distance while speaking calmly to it, "it's okay Mama Elk. I just want to walk to the Visitor Center, that's it, Mama Elk. Nothing else." While still over 75 feet away from her, I saw her ears go back in nasty alarm. It's already horsy mouth elongated as a feral snarl seemed ready to explode from her face. She labored to her feet, virtually foaming at the mouth. Her long legs propelled into high speed action.

"Oh, shit!" I exclaimed (in uniform) as I took off at full speed (in boots, might I add) around the limestone house of the Superintendant to get away from the manic female. She came after me like a speeding bullet. Images of crasing hooves went dancing through my head. Imminent death and destruction surrounded me. What a way to go down under the hooves of a crazy female elk.

I careened around the corner of the building and chanced a look behind. No sign of the manic elk. Was I safe? My pace didn't slacken as I reached the Chief Ranger's house. Much to my embarassment, Rick was standing outside (also in full uniform with an orange safety vest on) watching my sprint. He looked at me and said, "I saw that elk bolt and then you run around the corner. Was she attacking you?" "Yes," I replied. He commented, "Nothing like getting your blood running in the morning."