This past weekend, I revisited Brush Creek, a wetland not far from my home. I profiled the site in a previous post, highlighting an aspect of its chemistry: nutrient removal from the water (wetlands “clean the water”). My purpose for this most recent visit also related to chemistry, specifically Carbon chemistry. This works a bit differently in wetlands — they can store quite a bit of carbon, as I described in the peat at Becky’s Fen.
Anyway, this particular experiment involved digging small holes, burying packets of organic material, and then going back about 90 days later to retrieve them.
As I feared, finding my buried packets after 90 days proved a challenge. As I stumbled around, I found the challenge less like a treasure hunt (“X marks the spot!”), and more like playing a game of hide-and-seek, but against yourself.
It shouldn’t have been so hard. I had previously laid out a straight line (transect) along which I buried the samples at designated distances from the zero mark. The wetland was built by the Iowa DOT, and included a permanent monitoring station (a metal fence post wrapped in a bright plastic sleeve). I measured 21-and-a-half meters from that spot, to where I had placed my own small marker as “Point Zero” on the transect. But I couldn’t find that spot. Looked up and down the shoreline of the wetland pond, trying to find any of the smaller markers (yellow plastic tent stakes) at the 10 stations along my transect line. No luck. I did it all a second time. Still couldn’t get my bearings.
It was cold and rainy. I was tired and grumpy. I was thinking about just walking away from the whole thing, when I heard a rough snorting noise. I looked up to see a big, handsome deer. He had quite a few points on his antlers, and a perfect coat. [What a lovely photo he would’ve made, but it was raining and my camera isn’t waterproof. You’ll just have to picture him in your mind.] Anyway, I just stared at him a moment, and then softly said hello. He grunted, and nodded his head, and took a step forward. I took a step towards him, asked how he was doing, and he again grunted and took a step closer. The he turned his head, looking over his shoulder as he grunted yet again. I followed his gaze, and saw a lovely doe nearby. She looked at him, then me. She started walking casually onward, in the direction of an adjacent corn field. The buck looked at me briefly, then walked towards the doe and they proceeded on together, presumably to get some lunch in the recently-harvested corn stubble.
I had stumbled along a few steps admiring the deer, and now I felt something hard sticking out of the ground. Could it be one of my markers? Did that deer help me reorient myself, and find what I had been seeking? I looked down at the ground, and found…a root. No marker. Sigh.
Hey, the deer helping me find my transect would’ve been an awesome story, right? Well…in a way, they did! Because after that little encounter, I felt relaxed, and even rejuvenated. I took a deep breath, and started all over again, but with a renewed resolve. I measured the distance to where my flag should be.
And there it was, trodden down among the vegetation: my little flag marking the end of the transect. I affixed my measuring tape to it, and paced a straight line bearing towards a distant cell-phone tower. At the appointed distance where I should find my first station, I looked down…and there it was: the tent stake. Literally, exactly, under the measuring tape at the designated distance. Wow.
I still had a lot of work, finding the other stations, and the 20 little holes, and the buried contents in the holes. But from then on, it went along just fine. I felt my spirits lift a little higher, each time I successfully recovered a sample. I finished the task with daylight to spare–cold, wet, but with satisfaction from a job well-done.
Hopefully the later lab work from this activity, will lead to useful data, contributing to our understanding of carbon chemistry. But in any event, I will enjoy the memory of my encounter with those deer, and how it made me feel. Even an ecologist/naturalist faces a daily grind of paperwork, and meetings, and other necessary work back at the office. Moments like these come along all-too-seldom. It’s worth pausing to appreciate these moments in life. Thanks for sharing it with me.