The Red Hat

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member

Last summer, as we entered Glacier National Park, Sara (WWW’s Social Media Coordinator) commented on the classic wood welcome sign, “You could watch me grow up through photos with those signs.” Sara’s family, Adventure Pass holders, stopped for a Kodak moment by the welcome sign to every park they visited.

I had something like that too, I realized. You could watch me grow up through photos with my red hat—the knit cap I always bring on outdoors trips because it’s too bright to wear in civilization. Ironically, it hails from the most urban of places, New York City. My mom bought the hat for me from a street vendor for ten bucks, when I was ten years old. Seventeen years later, I’m still wearing it. But only in landscapes too grand for it to compete for attention. Places where it becomes just a cheerful fleck of color.

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Section 16, Colorado Springs, Colorado

There are two schools of thought on apparel color in the outdoors. One is to wear muted colors and blend in with the scenery, the better to see wildlife. The other is to wear brilliant hues, because while it may be a drawback for wildlife to spot you, people spotting you is probably a good thing. Moreover, the vibrant trend seems related to the expense of new apparel. If The North Face is asking for $200 for a jacket, it had better come in appealing colors.

Because seasoned outdoors-folk already have the gear they need, and often take pride in their old threads, the color war tends to fall along generational lines. I saw this exemplified at breakfast at a hotel in Julian, California, a stopover for Pacific Crest Trail hikers. About six twenty- and thirty-somethings were like a flock of parrots in their neon puffer jackets, jabbering excitedly about their trail experiences. Meanwhile, three or four hikers in their sixties, dressed in well-worn dark fleeces, took their time sipping coffee, hardly speaking at all.

Growing up, my dad took me shopping, and since he’s of the thrifty coffee sipping generation, my outwear has always been navy blue, forest green, black, and brown. I’m still wearing the black fleece I’ve never grown into, and the brown rain shell I can barely fit layers under. (Children’s extra-larges and women’s extra-smalls tend to be a bargain.) But then there’s that red hat.

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Somewhere in Utah

Looking at my red hat/dark outerwear photos, I’m reminded of those t-shirts that say “Same shirt, different day.” The photos could almost be from the same trip except my face is changing and my hair gets longer and shorter. I wear the hat in different ways through the years—rolled like a skullcap, flipped at the edge and sticking up at the top, full length so it slouches in the back. It’s like that famous photograph of the Hole in the Wall Gang, where all the men are wearing bowler hats, but each at different angle that says everything about their personalities. I don’t know what the variations convey in my case. But no matter what phase I was in, on any given cold night, the red hat was pulled down to my nostrils, my sleeping bag drawn around my chin. In some sense, it has all been one trip.

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Age 11, summit of Mt. Massive, Colorado 2001

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Age 13, Appletree Campground, Angeles National Forest, California 2003

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Age 14, Angeles National Forest, California 2004

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Age 16, La Sal Mountains, Utah 2006

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Age 17, Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado 2007

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Age 20, near Woodland Park, Colorado 2011

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Age 26, Two Medicine Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana 2016

I’m the one in the red hat.

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Swimsuit Season

Header image from xoJane’s “real beach bodies”

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

Every day, I see how deeply ingrained we are by body image standards. I work at a swimwear store.

In an aggressively progressive city, where “body-positive” is attached to every event description, the customers I work with don’t strike me as women who judge others’ figures. The store is almost a “sacred space,” where women step out of the dressing rooms and no one stares. Yet when it comes to their own bodies, the same non-shallow women feel besieged by age-old ideals. This includes women who embody those ideals! Dressing rooms grow hot and sweaty, and echo with declarations of, “I need a drink!” (We serve beer.)

Swimsuit season is here. No one should let the summer pass without getting in the water. So here are some strategies to combat self-loathing, and guide you to a suit that suits you!

  • Start shopping well before your outing or trip. You’d be surprised how many women put off shopping till the day before. The time pressure adds to their anxiety. No one wants to make more than one shopping trip, but leave yourself enough time so you can. That way you can hold out for a suit you really like, not just one that “does the job.”
  • Know your size. Dress size, band size, cup size. Swim sizes do vary somewhat by brand, but that goes for all the rest of clothing-dom too, so you should never get out of the range you wear day-to-day. The thing that makes me the saddest at work is when I clear a dressing room, and find a customer was trying on suits obviously too large for her. It’s amazing how our feelings can skew our perception.
  • Start with what genuinely appeals to you. Trying on everything that’s the right size is not an effective way of hedging your bets. It’s a recipe for overload. It’s also easy to simply lose track of how many suits you’ve passed onto me, the helpful sales associate, to put in your dressing room. Do yourself the favor of making your dressing room a curated gallery, not a museum. You can always branch out from there.
  • Don’t make concealment the point. When customers would say, “I hate my [part of body],” an old coworker used to respond, “What part of your body do you like?” Certainly go for that “tummy control” feature or that skirt to cover your thighs. But make sure you also choose something with an accentuating feature or design point of interest. This will keep you out of “granny suit” territory. You’re cooler than that. You’re still you!

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Sarah Jane Adams reflects in “Me My Body” for Advanced Style, photograph by Ari Seth Cohen

  • Something to keep in mind: Do you spend your time at the beach, lake, river, etc. judging others’ paunches, sags, wrinkles, stretch marks, cellulite, and veins? It’s true we’re not used to seeing these things, they can be surprising. But you just think, “Oh, well there it is” and move on, right? Which is not to say you discount the person. Trust that others won’t discount you either. If someone is that shallow, you can feel bad for them. 

    “…those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”
    –Dr. Seuss

Finally, when you notice a swimsuited woman with your same symptoms of a life lived, don’t you kind of admire her and feel a little more confident yourself? You can be that woman to someone else.

swim3Jazzmyne shared her first bikini experience with the world.

Don’t Mind Me, I’ll Just Be Sweeping

This post is a reflection on Wild Wilderness Women’s first annual Babes Off the Beaten Path (BOTBP) trip to Glacier National Park. This trip was an opportunity to explore what it really means to be a “babe” while taking new and experienced backpacking women out for an exceptional outdoors experience. If you’d like to share your words on “babe-dom” with us, or if you’d like to chat about how you can support BOTBP 2017, please contact us!

Submitted By: Allison StraussBoard Member & Wilderness Ambassador in Portland, OR

By late morning, the rain mellowed to a mist and the wind died down. I was serving as ‘sweep’ at the time. The sweep is a steady hiker who acts as the caboose. She ensures no one is behind and unaccounted for, and by default, provides motivation to those in front of her. It was a position many of us took turns at. We took turns at the head of the pack too. I was pleased by our fluidity with this, changing positions throughout the day.

The gal in front of me and I found the rest of the gang waiting at a trail junction. Regrouped, the Babes made to start off again, turning toward the wrong branch in the trail.

“Um, I don’t think we’re going to Twin Falls…” I spoke up. I’d briefed the group on our route over a map before we broke camp.

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But there was no mistake. While waiting at the fork in the trail, the Babes had agreed Twin Falls was worth a detour. It was a third of a mile there, meaning another third of a mile to return to the junction so we could continue on our route. As I did the math, I was hit with pride. Despite our rough start that morning with the weather, the group was game to add over half a mile to the day in order to see some waterfalls. And they made the decision collectively without me. It was a leader’s dream. The falls were nice too.

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Photos credit: Sara Gassman

The Backpacker’s Wardrobe

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Excitement is building around Wild Wilderness Women’s backpacking trips this summer. For some, it will be their first such expedition, potentially mixing in nervousness with the excitement and raising many questions.

When someone else is doing the planning, the area you have the most control over before a backpacking trip is what you’ll wear. The clothes you bring will affect your comfort, and therefore how great a time you have. So discussing clothing seems like a good place to start in building first-timers’ confidence, whether you’re coming with us this summer or preparing for your own walk on the wild side.

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First, put REI out of your mind. But everything’s so cool! Says the excited You. But everything’s so expensive! Says the nervous You. Tell them both that those cool and expensive things are variations on just a few necessities. Over time, the backpacking wardrobe has been honed down to a standard set that applies anywhere in the continental U.S. This guide will “unpack” that set, sharing its reasoning and its options.

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1) Synthetic Underwear

Backpacking clothes are all about materials. Underwear should be made of some kind of synthetic (polyester, nylon, etc.). It wicks sweat, dries quickly, and minimizes odor. We tend to think of cotton underwear as the ultimate in comfort, but cotton is banned in backpacking, because it gets wet, stays wet, and smells. The cotton ban is particularly relevant for underwear, to prevent yeast infections. That said, I backpacked in cotton underwear for years and never got a yeast infection. The aim of this guide is to impart an attitude of intentionality, not fatalism.

–How many pairs?

One for each day, plus one or two extras. No need to get radical on your first trip!

2) Sports Bra

No complicated straps or plastic bits that might dig into you.

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3) Wool Hiking Socks

The thick toughness of these socks is absolutely necessary to keep your feet from blistering. And wool wicks moisture, which also keeps your feet from blistering.

–How many pairs?

As with underwear, there’s no need to go radical here. It’s more important not to get athlete’s foot. For short trips, you might as well bring a pair for each day. For trips of five days or more—not that you should be doing that your first trip–I’d say a pair for every two days.

Note: Some backpackers are firm believers in liner socks–specialty thin socks worn under wool socks to reduce friction. I haven’t found they make any difference, so I say one less thing you have to buy. You can always try them in the future if you get into backpacking.

4) Sacred Socks

Many backpackers bring a pair of comfy, warm socks just to sleep in. So they stay clean, these “sacred socks” are usually packed in the bottom of the sleeping bag and never leave there.

5) Camp Sandals/Shoes

Lightweight footwear to give your tootsies a rest from hiking boots. Many backpackers bring Teva-style sandals they can wear over their socks. Backless sandals or shoes are discouraged.

6) Knit or Fleece Gloves

Fingerless recommended!

7) Knit or Fleece Hat

8) Sun Hat

Baseball, bucket, or safari style, so long as it can be stuffed in your backpack.

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Rigid hats like those made of felt or straw are discouraged for two reasons. 1) The stiff brim in the back may bump against your backpack and drive you crazy. 2) The only thing to do with a rigid hat if you don’t feel like wearing it is to strap/tie it to your backpack. I encourage minimizing the number of things on the outside of your pack to keep items from getting damaged, tangled, or lost. This will also make it easier to pull on a pack cover if it rains.

9) Thermal Top and Bottoms

Think of thermals as your second skin. Their job is to insulate. Many backpackers sleep in their thermals.

Thermals come in silk, synthetic, and wool. Synthetic is ideal for backpacking, as silk can be too delicate for long-term use and wool can be too hot. But if you already own either silk or wool thermals, no need to run out and buy synthetic.

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Thermal Tops!

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Several examples of the popular thermal bottoms with shorts combo.

Note: Most of the folks in the photo above are wearing gaiters, those sheaths around their lower legs. Gaiters have stirrups that go around your hiking boots, keeping snow, sand, pebbles, etc. out of the boots. But I haven’t found them to make much of a difference, and am more comfortable without them. Unless your trip leader advises gaiters because of specific conditions, I’d say this is another item you can skip for a first trip, and test out on future ones.

10) Hiking Pants

These don’t have to be explicitly for hiking. Check the thrift stores! What you’re looking for is a tough material and a comfortable fit. Consider whether they’ll protect your legs if you’re pushing your way through bushes. You should be able to wear thermal bottoms underneath.

Note: Seriously, check the thrift stores. I’ve found Helly Hansen pants and Marmot shorts, both with the tags still on. And you’d be surprised at all the North Face jackets.

11) Hiking Shorts

These do not have to be explicitly for hiking either. Take them for a walk to make sure they don’t chafe or ride up between your thighs. Leave the shorts at home from late fall to early spring.

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Note: Pants that zip into shorts are great!

12) Synthetic T-Shirts

I used to make a cotton exception with t-shirts and you can too. But I noticed a B.O. improvement when I switched to synthetic, and the armpits don’t get holes with wear. Invisible mesh gives great breathability. Swab with an anti-static dryer sheet before your trip.

–How many?

I’d say 1 shirt for every 3 or 4 days. If that means only one shirt for the length of the trip (as it probably will on your first), then bring an extra in case you spill hot chocolate down your front.

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Note: Lots of women wear tank tops backpacking, but to give yourself the best shot at comfort (and therefore an enjoyable trip), I’d advise against tank tops, to minimize risk of your backpack straps from rubbing your shoulders. You can try tanks the next time, once you’ve decided you like backpacking come what may. Bring a t-shirt in case it doesn’t work out.

13) Fleece or Compressible Down Jacket

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14) Fleece Pants

Wear over thermal bottoms at night and/or to sleep. Leave them at home in the summer.

15) Fleece or Compressible Down Vest

If you bring a fleece vest, you should be able to wear a fleece or down jacket over it. If you bring a down vest, you should be able to wear a fleece jacket under it. (No point in bringing a down vest and down jacket, since they can’t be effectively layered.) Think of yourself as a matrioshka doll—everything’s got to nest. Leave the vest at home in the summer.

16) Rain Jacket and Pants

These should be shells, meaning not lined with any sort of insulation. That way they’ll be comfortable if you need rain or wind protection but aren’t cold. Make sure they are marked Waterproof, that they’re not just windbreakers. These are your outermost layers and should fit over everything.

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17) Hiking Boots

If you haven’t hiked in hiking boots before, or have not owned a pair you really liked, go to an outdoors store and try on an assortment of boots with a shoe department clerk. Tell him/her about the trip you’re going on. As you test different boots, describe what you’re feeling so the clerk can steer you in the right direction. Don’t be shy about taking however much time is needed and making the clerk go back and forth to the stockroom. (Go at a slow business time if possible.) If the clerk is pushing a boot that you don’t think is right, don’t settle for it just because (s)he is more familiar with boots. They’re your feet, and this is your big-money item in the backpacker’s wardrobe.

Before your trip, take your new boots for a hike or some walks on a dirt path. (Avoid wearing them down on concrete as much as possible) This will mold them to your feet and make them uniquely yours!

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In Review:

  1. Intentionality, not fatalism.
  2. Synthetics and wool are your friends. Cotton is banned.
  3. Lightweight and compressible.
  4. Be a matrioshka doll. Make sure your layers actually nest.
  5. Check the thrift stores.
  6. Set your feet up for success.

See you in the backcountry!

 

Field Notes, Part 2

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

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See Part 1 here.

April 26, 2011

Ponderosa Pine Forests

Field Example: Black Forest, Colorado

“Of all the pines, this one gives forth the finest music to the winds.” 

—John Muir on Ponderosa Pines

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Young ponderosas hugging at Section 16, Colorado Springs

Introduction to Ponderosa

“The range of ponderosa pine essentially defines the West. From Nebraska to California, and from Southern British Columbia to Northern Mexico, ponderosa pine is the dominant forest tree of the montane zone in Western North America.”

—Audrey Delella Benedict, The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies

There are three kinds of ponderosa, the one in the Southern Rockies being the Rocky Mountain Ponderosa Pine.

Ponderosa is the Goldilocks tree. It likes a temperate climate—not too hot, not too cold, not too wet, not too dry.

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Ponderosa Dispersion & Fire

Ponderosa ideally grow in clumps in open grassy areas. American pioneer accounts describe ponderosa forests as “park like” with grass “stirrup-high.”

Trees, like most large species, favor longevity over high reproduction. Ponderosa saplings therefore grow in the open grass, away from the clumps of their mothers, sparing the mature trees competition. Each clump of trees, therefore, is of one generation.

Clumping in the grassland keeps fires regular and low impact. Fire, like water, takes the most direct course, which in this case is through the open channels of grass. Most saplings burn, but those that make it to maturity are then out of harm’s way.

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But Black Forest, like most ponderosa forests today, is not park-like. Europeans brought the practice of fire suppression to North America, and the U.S. Forest Service has followed in this tradition, putting out all fires, not distinguishing between emergencies and regular low-level ones. Without their population control mechanism (channels of grass), ponderosa forests have grown dense so now virtually all fires are emergencies.

Black Forest is in fact named for its density, displaying a random pattern of dispersion. The trees are all about the same age, probably around 100 years old, rather than there being clumps of different generations.

The European perspective sees forest fires as wasted lumber. Ponderosa pine is the second most harvested type of lumber in North America. (#1 is Douglas fir.) The irony is, now there’s nowhere for fires to go without burning these very trees.

This is further perpetuated by aggressive brush clearance, which has also taken a toll on wildflowers.

Ponderosa’s Best Friend

Underground truffles (fungi) are integral to ponderosa and other pines. They wrap around the tree roots, essentially becoming one with them. This combination is called Mycorrhiza (fungi-root). Mycorrhiza increase the tree’s intake of water and nutrients from the soil.

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Being underground, untouched by the wind, truffles rely on animals for dispersion. Animals dig them up, eat them, and poop out the spores elsewhere.

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Abert’s squirrels also eat ponderosa phloem (part of the trunk that transports sap), which they live off exclusively through the winter, making Abert’s squirrels an indicator species of ponderosa forest health.

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Ponderosa’s Enemy

Dwarf mistletoe is a parasite to ponderosa. It can only produce 3-4% of its own energy, so it grows on tree branches, sucking out the carbohydrates (sugar) and water, the tree’s own food. This makes it hard for the tree to photosynthesize, and may render it barren.

Dwarf mistletoe disperses its seeds in summer, when the fruit explodes, shooting gooey seeds as far as 20 feet at up to 50 miles per hour!

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Black Forest is highly infected with dwarf mistletoe.

Gamble’s Oak

There are also Gamble’s oak in Black Forest, the only oak native to Colorado. Like other oaks, Gamble’s mast. Masting species let seed heavily in some years, and little to none in others, but all members of a local population let the same amount at once. For example, one year, a population may drop all of its acorns, but then drop a few to none in the next three years. They’re “irregular and synchronous.”

Black Forest also has a ground cover of delightfully named kinnikinnick, which bears eat.

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Field Notes, Part 1

Submitted By: Allison Strauss, Annual Adventure Maven

Professor Marc Snyder left his one non-EV majors class for the last academic block of the year. By April, it was a pleasure to take general-requirement kids out to the woods every day and show them stuff.

In 2011, I was one of those general-requirement kids. The class was called Forest Ecology of the Colorado Front Range. That’s a colloquial term for the eastern edge of the Rockies where the state’s major cities are, including my school’s home of Colorado Springs. (Yes, Planned Parenthood-attack Colorado Springs. But sometimes known for Pikes Peak and the U.S. Olympic Training Center.)

Each morning, we piled into a van, and Marc would drive to a spot that exemplified whatever type of forest or ecological phenomenon he wanted to talk about that day. I’d jot down his commentary and sketch things in a small notebook that would inevitably get wet and crumpled.

In the evening, I’d convert my chicken-scratch to long form in a journal, then take notes on the night’s assigned reading, primarily from The Naturalist’s Guide to the Southern Rockies by Audrey Delella Benedict.

By the end of the course, my journal had become something of a guide book of its own, a layperson’s introduction to Forest Ecology of the Colorado Front Range. Now, with some editing and personal photographs, I’m sharing that guide here. Welcome to the first installment!

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April 25, 2011

Forests by Altitude & Direction

The Southern Rockies Life Zone (where there are complete ecosystems) falls between the upper and lower Tree Lines. Trees only grow so far down a mountain because of draught, and so far up a mountain (approximately 11,500 feet) because of cold and wind. Different kinds of trees have their elevation preferences within the life zone, so the type of forest changes as one moves up a mountain. These forests distinguish different ecosystems.

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North-facing slopes get less sun, meaning they’re cooler and hold snow longer. Higher elevation species, like spruce and fir, are more prominent on North-facing slopes, because the all-over climate is more like that normally just at high elevation. By the same token, South-facing slopes are the most temperate.

Ecosystem Participation

When a glacier melts, or a forest burns, or a quarry is a abandoned, the site becomes available for a new ecosystem. The order in which species appear there is called Succession.

First come the Colonizers. “Good colonizers exhibit rapid growth and a high tolerance for the sorts of environmental extremes associated with disturbed or newly exposed sites” (Benedict). Aspen and Lodgepole Pine are common colonizers.

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Aspen at Crater Lake, with view of the Maroon Bells, Colorado

Most species are Generalists. They can adapt to and are therefore found in a broad range of ecosystems. Probably the Southern Rockies’ most successful generalists are the coyote and deer mouse.

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Opposite of the Generalists are the Specialists. These species only live in specific conditions, like pika in high elevation talus, and Abert’s squirrel (Professor Marc Snyder’s specialty—I suspect he is one) in ponderosa forests.

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Pika and Abert’s squirrel

Because of their sensitivity, specialist presence indicates the health of a given ecosystem. So specialists are also known as Indicator Species.

 

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Much of this seemed obvious, things I had a sense of just by spending time in the environments described. Of course ecosystems change with altitude, for instance. But I hadn’t recognized that they do so in a consistent way from mountain to mountain. I’d imagined more of a patchwork where there were distinct horizontal bands. Having such realities parsed out and learning the vocabulary to sum them up gave form to my free-flowing observations from the trail. The overarching lesson for me was that very little in nature is arbitrary. The natural systems at work became all the more impressive.