NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Listen to Your Mother, Nature That Is

In May, the tradition is to celebrate Mothers.  One thing all mothers have in common is that they want to be listened to and heard.  There is a lot of wisdom in what most moms have to say, and Mother Nature is no different.

Depending on which cultural context you are interested in, there is an origin story that relates to the creation and expansion of life.  Nature, derived from the Latin word natura, meaning birth or character was first used to describe the entirety of the phenomena of the world, and was further personified as Mother Nature.   Anywhere from a goddess and a mythical being, the concept of Mother Nature or Earth Mother has served to help humans have a “thing” on which to place considerations of the natural world.  In America, the term Mother Nature provides a parental figure-connection that affords some of us a comfort, as well as expectations, as to how to treat Earth, since she provides us sustainable life through plants, animals, water, and minerals.  It helps us see our role and connection into the larger natural family portrait.  Humans are not separate from nature; we are part of nature.

When we begin to see ourselves as part of nature, then it is easier for us to treat nature with care.  Using our human ears, we can sometimes hear far more than we will ever see.  Plus, to really listen, one must stop talking, and probably stop moving. The desire to listen to nature can be a great excuse and way to slow down, rest, and reflect.  

The human ear allows us to enjoy the sounds of nature.  Our ears are designed to capture auditory stimuli (sound waves) from the atmosphere and transfer that information into the brain for processing, which results in us hearing something.  We actually intake far more sound waves than we hear, because our brain does a great job at filtering out the noise. 

A fun activity to do is to sit and listen.  Whether you are in your office in town or out on the trail, take a few moments to simply stop moving and listen.  If you are inside, open the window, if you can.  Start to register all the sounds you are hearing.  Closing your eyes will also help you focus on your hearing.  Slow your breathing, and simply listen.  Do this for a few moments.  Then, open your eyes, move a bit, and do it again.  See if you hear more the second time.  In the 21st century, within our busy lifestyles and noise-filled world we tend to ‘tune out’ so much of what is happening around us.  But when we start to listen and train our brain, Mother Nature is consistently speaking through her creations.  The wind through trees, songs of birds, and the chirps of crickets, throughout the day and night, Mother Nature is speaking.   

Humans and everything we create is part of nature, so wherever you are, you are in nature.   This perspective helps us connect with Mother Nature and has the potential to improve how we treat the natural environment within and beyond city limits.   Get outside, or simply open your window and listen, Mother Nature has something important to say to you.

Springing to Life

Now that we are knee deep in spring, it is time for us to trade in our winter coats for our raincoats and our snow boots for our rain boots! We may live in The Great Basin Desert; one of the hottest driest regions in the country, but that does not mean we experience a permanent dry spell. In fact, as we transition from spring to summer, we will begin to experience some of our wettest months!

Typically, during this time of year, the Ruby Mountains will receive the remnants of storms rolling in from the Pacific Coast. Between these storms and  warmer air temperatures,  snowfall will transition into rainfall.  Snow in the Ruby Mountains will begin to melt and provide fresh run-off to empty streambeds or shallow depressions on the valley floor. These low-lying areas are labelled as intermittent or ephemeral streams.

Unlike Ruby Lake or the Humboldt River, intermittent and ephemeral streams are not perennial, meaning they do not retain water or streamflow throughout the year. For further clarification, intermittent streams are seasonally flooded; they only flow during the spring in response to snowmelt and then dry up by the end of the summer. Ephemeral streams only flow in response to precipitation. According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, about 90% of our state’s streams are intermittent or ephemeral. Both are vital in our desert ecosystem as they provide nutrients and habitat for desert dwelling species.

Intermittent streams flowing from the south-facing slopes of the Ruby Mountains provide ideal breeding habitat for frogs, insects, and other macro invertebrates that are preyed on by fish. Every year frogs will migrate to these streams.  Seasonally-flooded shallow depressions are known as vernal pools, and they serve as mating grounds for many frog species. Their jelly-like egg sacs can be observed along the banks or edges attached to rocks, twigs, or debris.

Ephemeral streams are important sources of nutrients needed for growth in desert plants. During  the dry season, ephemeral streams accumulate layers of nutrient rich soil.  When it rains, these nutrients are carried downstream where they are deposited along the riverbank, replenishing nutrients for the riparian vegetation. One location you can locally observe ephemeral streams is in Elko’s Peace Park.

Rain or shine,  get outside and look for evidence of streamflow! While empty streambeds may not look like much during most of the year, now you know how important they are  for desert-dwelling species. Water is what allows the desert to spring to life!