Call for Submissions: The Nature Zine, issue 3

Issue3sumbissions

It’s that time of year, well, a bit past due but I was lucky enough to be doing field research for an extra 5 weeks this year. I’m looking for your submissions for issue 3 of The Nature Zine: (re)connecting with the natural world.

Get creative! Send your poems, stories, thoughts, illustrations, paintings, photos to be submitted in the next issue. Topics can include but are not limited to: favorite hikes, backcountry recipes (vegan only please), foraging tips, trail reviews, adventure stories, bike touring, species descriptions/identification tips, collages, places in the city to appreciate the natural world, permaculture, primitive skills,  fears of the natural world, train hopping, attempts to balance city and wilderness, essays, book reviews. I think you get the idea.

There will be a limited edition tape release with issue 3!

Thanks to everyone who has submitted to and supported the Nature Zine in the past and continue to do so. Issues 1 & 2 are still available, but there may be a delay on shipping as I need to focus on getting Issue 3 together for now. If you are in Chicago or New York City, you can pick up a copy at Quimby’s Bookstore or Bluestockings Bookstore.

Send submissions to batsnbikes at gmail dot com by December 1, 2014. If you prefer to snail mail your copy, please email for an address.

Thanks!!!

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Nocturnal Friends- A visiting photographer

A very long over due post…

This past summer I had the lovely honor of having a very talented wildlife photographer join me in the field to photograph bats and other creatures he came across. Michael Durham made his bed in the corner of our living room floor crammed between the couch and the wall attempting to sleep through the daily morning commotion of Porter Cove for the better half of the month. One of my techs named the dead end road we lived on, Porter Cove, as Mr. “Pappy” Porter seemed to own most of the land in Unicoi- his extensive family were scattered throughout the trailers sprinkled within the cove. Michael slept in his living room nest or in the forest with us in an extra tent. That summer we all slept on either air mattresses or sleeping pads on the floor in the house or on the forest floor. He battled the constant thunderstorms right there with us and with all of his fancy, expensive and non-waterproof gear.

Almost as soon as he arrived into town, we were out in the field, actually I think we left just 4 hours after he arrived to Unicoi, TN. It was the hottest and most humid night of the year and I also had to tell him that he’d be driving his rental car on a road that had begun to wash away down the side of the mountain. As long as it’s not raining…too much…we should be ok.

Every night we could go out, Michael went with us. We would set up our nets to catch the bats and other equipment to record bat calls, while Michael set up his extensive high speed camera equipment inside a family-sized tent on the edge of a dirt road, often surrounded by stinging nettles and poison ivy. Each bat we’d catch, we’d record the basics and if s/he was a species of interest, Michael would let an individual bat fly in the tent, catching their precise movements as they swooped around- their mouths open as they sent out calls too high for us to hear, the sounds bouncing back to their ears as they dodge every obstacle in their way. I’m not going to even attempt to go into his set-up because I would only fail to explain the details, but these details and his passion for wildlife photography are the main ingredients to the photos that allow us to witness the beauty of these nocturnal creatures that all too often escapes us.

Bats often only conjure up images of fear, or are rarely thought about. But I want to share some of Michael’s photos from my field season with all of you. Within those few short moments he spent with each bat, he captured what most people never have the opportunity to see up close. Maybe you are reading this because you already love bats, or you are curious, or perhaps you are an excellent friend and enjoy reading what I write. And maybe it’s something else all together. Either way, his photos offer a glimpse into the life of bats and their nocturnal friends- including wildlife photographers and biologists alike.

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Male northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis) photographed in the Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee. (digital composite)

Visit his site, DurmPhoto.com
photo captions taken from Michael Durham’s photo descriptions. Thanks!!

Pond Mountain Wilderness

We try to control our surroundings everyday.  We hide in rooms where we control the temperature.  We attempt to control the sounds around us by drowning them out with headphones or closing our windows.  We turn dials in our vehicles to create sounds we want to hear and to cool or warm ourselves.  We turn on lights when the sun fades.  The door to our house latches shut, an attempt to keep out what we don’t want in our homes.

We shut out the natural world everyday, and yet we constantly try to manipulate it.  Our actions and daily routines have impacted our climate, but we cannot control the weather.  Everyday that I work outside I am reminded of this- and I respect this constant awareness.  Sure, I’ll admit that this summer has been full of frustrations as it has stormed and rained almost every single day.  We take the risk of setting everything up to catch bats for the night, only to have a storm rush in ruining our chances at a full night of bat surveys.  Rain is only a reminder that I’m not working in a controlled environment-  I am exposed to the rain, wind, humidity, heat, cold, insects…. I have no control, nor do I want to control the wilderness.

—–

We could see lightning off in the distance, perhaps too close, but we heard no thunder.  We keep the nets open, stretched out across the old gravel road, between two metal poles- 20 feet tall.  The lighting becomes brighter, more frequent and the rain is quick to follow.  We close up for the night, but by the time our gear is packed my clothes are soaked, plastered to my body, and my hair is heavy with rain.

We’re out at Dennis Cove, near the pond and the Appalachian Trail crosses our site.  My crew departs for home, but Kyle and I make our way through the field and into the tent.  The rain continues for hours, and when it finally lets up I catch the sounds of bullfrogs and spring peepers scattered through the moments that I awake through the night.

I’d hardly had time to even think about where we could hike the next day- my first true day off since the field season began.  I browsed over a map in a region I knew we’d have to work- immediately attracted to the Pond Mountain Wilderness.  The trail climbs up a ridge and we can walk to the trail head from my work site plus it deposits us back into civilization at Watauga Lake- a jump into the lake after our hike.  A quick internet search, revealed little information about Pond Mountain Trail- most of what I found of the Pond Mountain Wilderness was in regards to the portion of the AT that cuts at an angle across the western portion.  I wanted to avoid the clutter of people, a wilderness trail is always more intriguing.  All I knew was that it was 4.5 miles long and runs along the ridge top, seems easy enough.  I only took a quick glance at the topographic map.  Hey, why not add on a bit more- just a quick, easy hike before starting the Pond Mountain Trail.  Laurel Fork Trail (39) next to Dennis Cove Campground would lead us south, where we would connect with FS-50F to head back North.  It would end where FS-50 crosses, and on the opposite side is where Pond Mountain Trail (40) begins.

Nine creek crossings followed by a 2.2 mile hike up a winding gravel forest service road was my definition of a “quick, easy hike.”  Well, it was actually easy but the whole taking our boots and socks off to cross 9 portions of the creek within a couple of miles- surveying each crossing for the least sketchy area to cross- made things not so quick.  The rain left the creek high, hiding any rocks that may have once been available for scurrying across with our boots on.  Other crossings found the creek to be up to my thighs.  With each crossing, we became more careless.  Looking at the topo maps now, it’s so clear to see that the trail crosses the creek many times- perhaps when it’s not a summer full of rain, a shoeless entry may not be required.

Trail 39 and 50F meet up near an open field- we filter water and what we had hoped to be our final creek session knowing that finding a water source on the ridge would be unlikely.  As we reach FS road 50F, the clouds begin to darken but only a small amount of rain finds its way down to us.  We pass the only two people we see on the trails, as they casually stroll through our last creek crossing with their fancy boot gaiters.  The next couple of miles were drowned out by the sound of gravel crunching under our boots with each step, our pace steady as we followed the road that would take us up along Rough Ridge and to Pond Mountain Trail.

We reach an open gate, 50F ends at FS-50, I point directly across the road, “That’s our trail.”  Kyle is doubtful as he looks across the gravel into the forest, no evidence of a trail to be found.  We look again at the map, Pond Mountain Trail should be directly in front of us.  It’s a wilderness trail, so I’m not really surprised that as we look ahead we see only vegetation- we hike in.  Maybe I saw a faint blue blaze, but soon enough we come across a post confirming that we are on the right path.  Suddenly it’s quite obvious, as we are on an old timber road, faded into a two track- the clearest portion of the trail.  It’s, of course, in the easiest portion of the trail that I trip over a downed tree sending myself flying through the air and slamming into the damp but still hard ground.  The fall is only a reminder that we skipped lunch, my head feels light but I’m laughing at my fall. Handfuls of almonds, pecans and some dried fruit allow me to regain my energy.

The trail narrows as it climbs the ridge.  We hike through rhododendron tunnels along the sloping slides, the path is relatively clear, the blue blazes are solid and bright but as we ascend both the blaze and the path begins to fade.  The steepness of the trail is suddenly a slap in the face as we bear right with a clear view of what lies ahead.  There are no switchbacks.  We climb the steep grade, our steps slipping on the forest floor full of decaying leaves that have absorbed weeks worth of rain.

Kyle pauses above me, periodically to wait for me to catch up to his pace.  We continuously check to make sure we are still on some sort of trail but all of a sudden we are on these large bolders, covered with lichen and surrounded by brambles with a few trees that have managed to squeeze life between rock.

The blazes are gone, there is no path.

Continue reading

Call for Submissions- Issue #2

issue2submit

Issue One of The Nature Zine is still going strong and I’m looking to put issue 2 together by September.  Please send me your stories, poems, hiking tips, backpackinging food recipes, thoughts on exploring the outdoors, your photos, your illustrations, trail reviews, escaping the city….. I could go on-  you get it.

Much thanks to my rad friends for their previous contributions, touring with my zines, adding them to their distro and spreading the word.  If you are in Chicago or NYC you can also pick up the Nature Zine at Quimby’s and Blue Stockings –  much thanks to them as well for keeping The Nature Zine in stock.

Looking forward to adding your stories and art to the next issue!  Please share widely.

The Nature Zine, Issue One

Earlier in the year I put out a call for submissions for the first issue of The Nature Zine.  In the spring, I set a deadline for myself- to finally complete a zine before the end of the field season.  With the contributions and support from friends, I finally put forth the effort to complete the first issue of this project.

The Nature Zine: (re)connection with the natural world  (Issue One)

The Nature Zine: (re)connecting with the natural world (Issue One)

Issue One consists of a few stories and thoughts, 3o pages in all, on adventures, childhood memories, thoughts on experiencing city and forest, and more.  For example, I used this as an opportunity to finally write out my experience of having an allergic reaction to bald faced hornets while in the middle of a forest, off trail, a couple of hours away from the hospital.  I gave away the first run of 50 to friends but have recently made another run of 50.   If you are interested in a copy, I’ll send you one for free, trade or a $1-$3 donation.  Donations just help to cover the cost of copies and shipping.  Just use the the paypal button below or email me for other options, batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

Donate for a copy of The Nature Zine

Eventually, I’ll provide a pdf version but I like this only being available as a hard copy for now.  Plus, it’s fun to get mail and keep with zine tradition.

Until then, I’ll at least share my introduction:

October 2012

Welcome to Issue #1 of The Nature Zine:

Over that last few years, I’ve spent more and more time away from my usual city life.  I’ve jumped back and forth from one extreme to the next.  For a few months, I would walk out my back door and into an alley in Detroit or Flint or any other various city street I’ve stepped into from my always temporary home.  Compare this to walking out my door and into a forest, or not having a door at all.  Just climbing out of my tent and into the crisp morning forest air.  I fall asleep to the swaying rhythm of katydids and the calls of owls, woodcocks and whip-poor-wills, sometimes even the drumming of a ruffed grouse as the sun sets.

Each year I spend more of my time in the forest.  Each year I learn more and my connection grows stronger.  Sometimes I need to slow down and not just analyze, learn from and understand my surroundings but enjoy them.  Reminding myself that it’s ok to hear a bird calling and not remember their name, I can still appreciate their songs.

Out here in the forest, with all that there is to explore, I sometimes still find loneliness.  I struggle to find that balance of my love of nature and my need to be around amazing people to share vegan meals with over both thought-provoking conversations and laughter. Social validation.  I need both in my life.  But as I walk deeper into the wilderness, I fear that I am often cutting myself away from my social connections.

As I near the end of my 8-month track of living in a house in the middle of a state forest in Pennsylvania, so many thoughts rush through my mind.  How do we find that balance?  For those of us that live in the city and crave the outdoors- we miss the smell of freshly fallen leaves on a dew covered forest floor.  In the city I miss the chorus of frogs and songbirds but in the forest I find myself escaping to the city so I can shout along with friends to my favorite punk bands.  I drive back to the forest alone but as my headlights brighten my surroundings and the tree branches arch over me I feel this sense of them welcoming me home.  I step out of my car that is polluting their air and I take a deep breath, I let it all out.

For each of us, that balance differs but we must never lose our connection with nature.  In a city, I always find myself in any park nearby.  I watch the pigeons for hours with friends or sometimes alone.  I observe the squirrels and catch them stealing glances at me.  We see plants bursting through the cracks of pavement.  Become mesmerized by the way ants can clean the sidewalk in a way similar to how they make use of a forest floor.  Birds build their nests in the cracks of old buildings and bats fill the attics and night skies of cities.  We have destroyed their homes and pushed them out, and unfortunately our actions continue.  The more we ignore nature around us, the less we will notice as more and more of it is destroyed.

This zine is about sharing those connections you’ve had.  It’s about reconnecting.  It’s about sharing your fears.  Sharing your adventures.  It’s about our love and respect for both city life and the natural world.  Both can exist.

Learn. Share. Explore. Connect. Respect. Enjoy.

Stand in solidarity with the natural world,

Nessie Grace

Both a creative outlet and a way to share our thoughts on connecting with nature, The Nature Zine will continue on with more issues.  If you are interested in contributing, please send your stories, thoughts, and art to me or contact me for more information:  batsnbikes [at] gmail [dot] com

Much thanks to everyone for who contributed to Issue One.  Cover art by Amanda Blodøks.

Alone in the Wilderness

It’s 21:00 Wednesday night and I’ve just pulled my Toyota into the dirt drive of the trailhead to Big Beechy trail off of WV150 Scenic Highway.  I turn off my car, and then the lights.  Everything goes dark around me.  I panic for a moment, a long moment and a million thoughts go through my brain:  What am I doing? Why am I so stubborn and why am I at this trailhead at night and most importantly- WHY AM I ALONE?!  Why did I think this was a good idea?!  What if someone saw me pull into this drive and they know I’m alone and they are going to wait until I get out of the car to attack me? WHY AM I ALONE?!  No phone service. Ahhh, I totally have to pee and now I’m too freaked out and don’t want to get out of the car.  CALM DOWN! Turn on your dome light, no wait, don’t- then people can see in and you can’t see out.  WHAT PEOPLE?!  Ok, turn on your headlights… but wait, that’s when it happens in movies: you turn on your lights and BAM there is someone right in front of you!  Just do it, Vanessa.  Ok… no one is around.  Calm down and get out of the car.  How do you plan to go into the forest alone if you can’t even get out of your car at night. OK! OK!”

I eventually got out of my car, headlamp on and knife in hand to pee right outside my car.  Don’t worry, I didn’t start hiking right away.  I decided to sleep in my car and wake up at sunrise to start my adventure.  It was a long drive and I figured it best to just be there at night and ready to go in the morning.  After folding up my back seat giving me enough room to lay down in the back of my car (Toyota Rav4) I got out the map printouts, copies I had made from a trail guide and my hiking GPS.  Something I’ve always done before wandering off into the forest:  take a GPS point of the vehicle.  I reread through the trail info I’d copied from a pretty awesome book I recommend checking out if you are going to hike the Cranberry Wilderness: Monongahela National Forest Hiking Guide.  Looking at maps and reading trail guides calms me.  An outline of the hike, followed by a bit of details and photos:

Sept. 13

  1. Big Beechy Trail:  2.0 miles
  2. District Line Trail:  2.8 miles
  3. County Line Trail:  4.0 miles

Sept. 14

  1. County Line Trail:  3.0 miles
  2. Middle Fork Trail:  2.5 miles
  3. Big Beechy Trail:  3.0 miles

Sept. 15

  1. Big Beechy Trail:  3.5 miles

Total:  20.8 miles  (I’m going to call it at least 21 because I wandered and check out some things off trail.)

Continue reading

Project Setup

I’ve watched the sunrise everyday this week.  The search crew has to get out to the site and start searching at sunrise.  Shortly after, the scavengers will be searching for their breakfast and we want to find what deceased animals we can before they do.  This makes it sound like we are fighting with crows every morning, but the nights have been too cold for much activity and the crows use their wits, not their strength.

So wait, all of this might sound confusing.  What are we doing out here? Scavengers? Carcasses? Sunrise? You may have gathered a few things from my previous posts, but I’ll explain more.  In case you forgot, I’m working on a bats & wind energy project.  Worldwide wind energy is becoming more common and I can support this, but wind energy companies and wildlife biologists need to work together to lessen and hopefully one day even prevent the negative impacts wind turbines have on wildlife- especially bats and birds.  Thankfully some companies are very willing to have this crucial partnership.

But back to the bats and birds.  Last week we all worked together to set up our transects.  We are searching the area under randomly selected wind turbines on the site.  Our particular wind farm is on ridge tops, so many of our transects are on slopes.  The searchers walk about 21 transect lines for each plot, but this can vary depending on the habitat and slope under the turbine.  We set up and labeled stakes and used flagging to define each transect line stretching north and south.  The searchers walk at a slow pace looking 3 meters out to each side in an attempt to find any bats or birds that were killed by the turbines.

So yes, we witness the direct impacts of wind energy and see dead bats and birds.  But when I compare wind energy to mountain top removal for coal and other coal energy sources, hydraulic energy and the impact of dams, oil drilling, and in general the use of these energy sources and their long term effects, their direct and indirect impacts on the environment- wind energy isn’t perfect, but in comparison I’d say it’s a much better option for the environment.  And if it’s something we are going to head towards and use less of these other options we need to do the research now and be sure to fully understand the impacts and what we can do to prevent or at least lessen them- and find ways to make it more efficient.

I’ve decided to not include images of fatalities, as many of my readers may not be comfortable with these images and also I can’t publicize a lot of this.  I’m ok with witnessing the fatalities, even as a vegan, and perhaps especially so.  I want to be aware and I want to help these animals.  (Duh! That’s why I’ve dedicated so much to conservation!)  The research will be published at some point though and previous project information can be found here.  I’ve included some photos of the turbines (they are HUGE- about the height of a 17-story building!) and our plots, that way you have a better idea of what these things look like.  Turbines are in restricted areas so most of you have probably never seen one up close, let alone stood directly underneath one.  It’s required that we wear hardhats, protective eyewear, orange vests and steel toed boots everyday.

When the field crew members find a bat or bird, I meet them at the location to identify the species and we collect all of the necessary data and photo documentation.  This week while they were searching I was recording habitat descriptions and collecting plot information using a Trimble GPS for the GIS analysis.  It’s a bit different to go from working with live bats to dead ones, but it feels good to be a part of such important research and too broaden my experience. And I LOVE working outdoors.  More to come soon, but I have the day off and I need to go out and enjoy it!

(Also, what I write in my blog expresses my personal views and may not represent those of the organization I work for.)