One of the great things about being a part of the Arkansas Master Naturalist program (www.home.arkansasmasternaturalists.org ) is the opportunity to expand your knowledge through training, on all things related to the outdoors. Since we have to have continuing education to maintain our certification, I had participated in a day-long workshop earlier in the year, sponsored by a nationwide nonprofit, called Project Learning Tree ( www.plt.org ). Completion of that training enabled me to be a part of the 2013 Teacher Conservation Tour, sponsored by the Arkansas Forestry Foundation, in conjunction with Project Learning Tree. The Conservation Tour was headquartered at the state's only four-year forestry school---The University of Arkansas at Monticello. This photo collage shows some of the other folks in the group, on our first assignment, which involved going out on the campus and finding examples of the different kinds of leaves we had learned about in the classroom.
This photo collage shows our state's only female soil scientist. She spoke to our group about how various soil types affects what can be grown on a particular piece of ground. She showed us the custom-designed truck she uses in the field, to take her soil samples. The photo on the right side of the collage shows the special device attached to the truck body that she can use to bore down into the ground, to bring up a soil sample, that can be taken into a laboratory for testing.
Our group traveled to nearby Lake Monticello to study water quality. This photo shows me with one of the "kick nets" that is used to gather up samples of the microinvertebrae that live in water, so that they can be looked at under the microscope and magnifying glass. By studying which tiny critters live in a body of water, the quality of the water can be determined. It is sort of like the "canary in the mine" test of a hundred years ago, that was used to warn miners that air quality was bad.
Once we had our water samples, we divided them into white basins, and further, into white ice cube trays. This enabled us to see movement in the water, and determine what living creatures we had collected. We had a waterproof, illustrated "key" that would help us give a name to what we saw, and accurately record our data.
We learned another way to measure water quality, which is by measuring the weight and length of fish in the water. To make this more of a scientific process (as opposed to just putting a hook and worm in the water to see what bites on it), the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has a custom-built boat with two poles on the front. These two poles are connected to an electric generator that can send a mild electric shock into the water, and stun the fish in the immediate area. Then the people in the front of the boat can use their nets to scoop up the stunned fish that float to the surface. They can be measured, then put into the holding tank. After they "revive", they are released back into the lake. While I was participating in this activity, I realized that if I had followed through with the college major I declared when I was a freshman at the University of Arkansas---Marine Biology---I would have been doing this my entire working career. Although I switched majors my sophomore year, to Human Nutrition, it is an interesting thought to ponder!
Our group trekked into the pine forests on several occasions, as shown in this photo. Fortunately, bug spray was included in the price of the event, and I made sure I applied it liberally!
Our group had foresters from both government agencies and private companies, teach us about how a pine forest is monitored, thinned, and studied, to produce the best crop possible. Thinning of a pine forest is necessary so that the trees will have adequate sun and soil nutrients to grow to maturity. The smaller pine trees that are taken out can be used for making paper and other wood products.
I liked this pine forest better than the one shown in the photo above, because it belonged to a private landowner, who had a well-worn hiking trail through it !
That private landowner was Mr. Kelly Koonce, shown in this photo with his vintage college tee shirt. When he graduated from the Monticello college with his degree, back in the last century, it was called the Arkansas A&M.
Mr. Koonce built his home, shown in this photo, from lumber that he cut down and milled, right from his very own property.
He also built a second building, which he said that he and his wife used to host church groups and forestry student groups, such as ours. We had a delicious BBQ meal in this picturesque location, which he preceded with a moving prayer of thanks to God, for the abundance of God's creation, that we all enjoyed that night.
Mr. Koonce was proud to show us this dining table he made from two different kinds of pine trees that grew on his property. He pointed out that the difference in color of the wood, is due to it being from two different species of trees.
Our group also had to opportunity to visit an actual, active logging site. Heavy equipment is required for today's timber harvests, and the operator stopped long enough for us to look inside his very high-tech piece of machinery.
The head of this logging company (shown in the red shirt) said his company has four generations of loggers in it. His ancestors started with a handheld long saw, and now the operation has grown to have millions of dollars invested in equipment.
I was fascinated by how quickly this special piece of equipment was able to load the stripped down logs, on to the truck waiting to take them to the lumber mill.
Our lunch meal on the day we visited the logging operation was a "down home" cafe in Fordyce, called "Red's". It was a delicious example of Southern food, and hit the spot for this group of hungry "lumberjacks" and "lumberjills"!
We had the good fortune to be able to tour the Georgia Pacific OSB (Oriented Strand Board) Mill in Fordyce. Although photos were not allowed inside the mill, we were able to take photos of the logging trucks getting on the truck scale, as they pulled into the mill, to unload their cargo.
In this photo, one can see the stacks of OSB covered in white, for protection from the elements, while it is being shipped to a lumberyard near you!
All this study about Arkansas forests made me realize that the lumber we use, comes from harvesting a "crop", just as we would harvest a corn "crop". From a tiny seedling, no bigger than the toe of my shoe, to a soaring pine tree that is 25 years old, and ready to be harvested, a transformation process is taking place. This "transforming" image is a visual aid to help me learn my First Place 4 Health memory verse (www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) that says "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18) . If you would like to learn more about all the resources available to help you understand land conservation and forest management, just click on www.arkforests.org . Seeing all those trees will give you "miles of smiles"! Tricia