Anyone Can Be A NASA Scientist


If the gringa were to attend a NASA recruitment conference, she would be sitting front and center. When the question was asked who would like to work for NASA the gringa would be the first to raise her hand and wave it like a madwoman. When the next question was asked, which would most certainly have something to do with appropriate qualifications and credentials, the gringa would then have to shamefacedly shrink into the background. No prestigious college degree here. But do all of us science fans have to live a life of utter disappointment and complete disenfranchisement of being a contributor to the world’s bank of scientific studies? The gringa is happy to announce that, no, we science buffs who, for whatever reasons, never achieved the glory of a diploma can still participate. NASA has many “citizen scientist” programs from astronomy observances to laboratory inventions of innovative technology. Take your pick. And, if you happen to live in the northeastern United States, you can be a part of a program that monitors algae blooms that develop in Lake Erie.

Your point of contact would be NASA’s senior scientist, Dr. Rafat Ansari. As the originator of the citizen science campaign, Ansari, along with airplane pilot Terry Schubert, work to mobilize citizen volunteers to monitor Lake Erie’s water quality as well as its coastline and conditions in related tributaries and waterways.

The goal of the program is to alert the coastal communities surrounding Lake Erie of conditions that contribute to algae blooms when they are in the early stages of development. Who could be a citizen scientist and participate in scientific service to their community?

  • Pilots
  • Folks handy with a GPS
  • People who can operate wing mounted, infrared cameras
  • Detail whizzes that can collate data
  • Computer savvy geeks for uploading data
  • Anyone who has a cellphone with a camera and likes to take nature walks

Who, in particular, uses the data collected from the images?

  • Students
  • Teachers
  • Researchers
  • Water quality experts
  • Legislators

What’s the point? I mean, the gringa likes to look at cool pictures and read interesting facts and trivia, but how is the data actually useful?

  • Determine quality of a community’s water source
  • Predict if fish and game need protective measure to be taken to preserve environmental integrity and their survival
  • Alert the public if water conditions are unsafe for recreational use

Why is a citizen scientist program preferred to the amazing technology of satellites in orbit? The real time factor is the main reason. It takes data about three days to travel from satellites to Earth. Then there is more time involved in disseminating the data into usable information. Citizen scientists in low flying aircraft and on the ground can provide usable information within hours. They can also obtain images at lower altitudes that escape the abilities of orbiting satellites. Volunteers can also reach areas in rivers and streams that are simply not on a satellites “radar”, so to speak.

So, if you feel the need to contribute, this is a great opportunity. Even if you are not a pilot and don’t know any pilots to partner with, if you have a cellphone with photo capability, you are sufficiently equipped to engage. If you have snorkeling or scuba gear along with an underwater camera, that, too, is an angle of participation. For more information visit the NASA page for this program. Dear readers can take their time and read all the interesting information posted and then scroll down to the bottom for contact information to begin your new adventure as a citizen scientist.

Source & Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov

 

 

 

Suicide Forest


Every weekday the gringa looks forward to 4pm.  That’s when my oldest son calls me as he drives home from work. He is a bit of a political revolutionary, young, passionate, ready to change the world. Although he loves to talk politics, current events and debate solutions, the very first thing he asks me is, “How was your day?” I usually tell him boring, just the way I like it since I am a “no drama mama”.

Although he doesn’t read my blog, he always asks me what I’ve been writing about. In a recent conversation, when I told him about my underwater Japanese mystery city post, he said, “You should write about the Suicide Forest.” I had never heard of such a thing so, of course, it totally piqued the gringa’s interest. Although I usually like to keep my stuff focused on science, mysteries and the interestingly inane, a dark, macabre cultural piece has begun a creative itch that simply must be scratched.

In Japan there is Aokigahara which, roughly translated, means “Sea of Trees”. Sounds romantic, right? Well, it is more commonly known as the Suicide Forest and is situated near the northwest base of Mount Fuji, covering almost 14 square miles of raw woodland. Thick with foliage and set against the backdrop of a majestic volcano, it would seem to be the perfect spot for a picturesque photo safari for a tourist until you realize what the locals do here, the hike of no return.

Why is Aokigahara such a select place for suicide? Perhaps it is because the undergrowth is so dense a corpse can go undiscovered and undisturbed. Local officials estimate that roughly 100 persons kill themselves in this forest annually. However, because many go undetected, the suicide victim count could be much higher. Despite instituting prevention methods such as surveillance cameras  and posting encouraging signs throughout the paths that have messages reminding folks how precious their life is to loved ones, Japanese people determined to take their own lives still succeed in their mission.

The favorite method of self-inflicted death is hanging. However, ingesting poison runs a close second and then there’s option number three, a drug overdose.  But why here? Officials point to a popular romantic tragedy written by Japanese author Seicho Matsumoto. His 1960 novel  depicts a failed love story. The heroine ultimately ends her life in the Sea of Trees. She chose the Sea of Trees, according to the story, because, referenced within the tale by the author, she reads the book The Complete Suicide Manual which describes the forest as the “perfect place to die”. This novel has been found with many of the victims.

Every year volunteers gather to roam the thick stands of old trees and deep undergrowth to search for human remains. Officials have ceased to publicize the results of these grisly corpse hunts. Curious people like the gringa can only refer to earlier published reports that clearly indicate an average of 75-100 bodies returned to families for burial annually.

In the West, suicide is stigmatized. This is greatly due to our religious conditioning. Even if a person is not a practicing Jew or Christian, Western culture still considers suicide as anything but honorable. Some consider it self-murder. In fact, that is how it is considered by much of Western law. It is against the law to kill a human being, including yourself. Many religious sects believe a suicide victim’s remains have been desecrated by the act. Such bodies are not allowed to be buried in hallowed church cemeteries. But suicide is considered very differently in Japan.

In the Japan of old, ubasute was considered an honorable solution to ignoble suffering. In other words, desperate times called for desperate measures. If years of famine or drought rolled around, a head of a household would have to consider the effect it was having on his family. How many mouths were there to feed? How much food was there to go around? In order to survive, the least productive family member with no future, basically the old folks, would be led up into the mountains and abandoned to their natural fate of a slow death by exposure. Whether or not ubasute was ever widely practiced is irrelevant. All that matters is that it is a strong feature of Japanese historical myths and legends which has helped to shape their cultural practices and beliefs. Suicide is noble if it preserves the honor, integrity and prosperity of the family.

Although ubasute may be the stuff of legends, noble Samurai suicides are well documented throughout Japan’s feudal history.  It was the honorable way to go out. Seppuku culture views it as a way of taking responsibility of a situation that has gone bad.

Because suicide is considered a virtuous solution and is not stigmatized the way it is in Western culture, Japan ranks the world’s leader in suicide. When the entire world became mired in an economic crisis in 2008, over 2,000 Japanese chose suicide over living a life of financial ruin.

Should you, like the gringa, find the disturbing allure of Aokigahara irresistible and mark it as a place to visit and satisfy your own curiosity, or perhaps meditate in an effort to bring peace to a place that must be saturated with anguish, there are a few things you may want to know before you arrive:

  • Hauntings – It is said that the Sea of Trees is filled with yurei, or, ghosts. And these are not your average ghosts. They are mourning and vengeful. They desire company, your company. Legends go that they attempt to lure you off the beaten path so that you become lost in the wilderness and die like the ubasute victims of old.
  • Camping – Overnight camping is allowed. Be aware that local forest patrols are trained to consider tents as a sign that someone is taking their time about contemplating suicide. Don’t be surprised if a ranger shows up and begins conversing with gentle words of affirmation and encouragement. If he suspects you are engaged in a mental suicide debate, he will probably urge you to pack up and leave.
  • Tape – As you explore the forest on nature hikes, you may see tape looped in the branches of trees and bushes. These are the signs left behind to mark the path of corpse searchers in their attempt to not become lost.
  • Demons – What is attributed to demonic interference by local legend is more likely the result of geology. The area is rich in iron which affects magnetics. GPS systems, ye olde compasses and cellphone are pretty much useless. If you can’t navigate by the stars, for heaven’s sake don’t get off the trail!
  • Be Prepared – Like a good boy scout who is prepared for anything, mentally brace yourself for the very real possibility that you could stumble across a decomposing body, skeletal remains or personal effects of a victim of the forest.
  • More Than Death – Despite the ghastliness of the Sea of Trees being called Suicide Forest, there is still much more to be appreciated. Don’t let a macabre history put you off as a tourist. There is, of course, the fantastic opportunity to be near Mount Fuji. Great photo opportunities also await on the lava plateau, ancient centuries-old trees and the bewitching ice-scape of the Narusawa Ice Cave.

The gringa would love to go there and contemplate respectfully. Although I am a bit of a prankster and once staged a tragic fall down a rocky cliff when the caveman and I hiked about the Smoky Mountains, I’m certain this knowledge of Aokigahara will keep me in a more subdued state of mind.

Source:  www.mentalfloss.com

image: www.jennyjinya.deviantart.com

 

 

Hiking Cochiti Pueblo’s Tent Rocks


If you ever find yourself near Albuquerque, New Mexico with a free day on your hands, you should spend that time at the Pueblo de Cochiti, specifically at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. It is an unforgettable landscape that is absolutely breathtaking. The fifty-five mile drive north is well worth it to explore this beautiful plateau that is expertly painted by nature.

The Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is located on the Pueblo de Cochiti. The people of the Pueblo speak their native language, Keres and live their cultural heritage with no private employers or private economic enterprise. Their claim to fame is stunning handcrafted jewelry, beautiful pottery, and artistic native drums. The primary source of revenue for the Cochiti people are lease agreements with private investors of residential units on Lake Cochiti. The Cochiti people live in the heart of their original homeland and consider responsible management of the land, air and water of the reservation of primary importance because it enables them to maintain their cultural traditions.

The Bureau of Land Management considers the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument to be an outdoor laboratory of nature. Agents study the geologic processes that continually take place to shape this unusual landscape. A visit is incomplete without hiking the trails. They are quite rugged so wear proper hiking boots, unlike the gringa who wore cute little sandals. When the caveman and the gringa made their trip, it was a day after some heavy rains. Often, along the trail, there would be puddles of water or the trail would be muddy. Usually I could go around. In the image above, the caveman and I had reached a spot where the trail was so narrow and muddy, my only option was to crabwalk the rock walls to go over. So, if you do plan to be cute rather than practical, be sure to take a hiking buddy who can give you a hand over the muddy spots.

Also take lots of water, pack a picnic and make sure you have plenty of gas in the car. There was one little cafe about fifteen minutes away but, being a mom and pop operation, if the day was slow, they would just close up shop early. There’s no guarantee you can resupply if you have a need. So, arrive at Tent Rocks fully prepared. Also note that no pets are allowed in the park and there are no exceptions. Don’t make the mistake of showing up with Fido in the car on a hot day and realize you can’t stay. Rather than suffer that disappointment, leave Fido at the hotel.

These unusual rock formations are the result of volcanic activity from the Jemez volcanic field that happened millions of years ago. Pumice, ash and other debris piled up about 1,000 feet thick. The cone rock formations occurred when fiery rock fragments were violently flung down the slopes of the volcanoes, like an avalanche of fire. This is called a pyroclastic flow.

A fascinating feature of these formations are caps on top of many of the cones. Huge boulders precariously balance atop the formations. It made the gringa imagine the child of a giant race playing little games with rocks to see how many he could get to stay and not fall. These cap rocks are actually protective to the earthen cone, protecting it from erosion. The tents that have lost their caps are disintegrating. Some of the tent rocks reach as high as ninety feet.

The caveman and I chose the “long” trail to hike and, after an hour and a half of hiking, finally made it to the uppermost peak. The view was fabulous and well worth the effort. Once again he found it fascinating that throughout all the mud on the trails, clambering over rocky obstacles and jumping down from rugged ledges, when we finally returned to the car my cute little flip flops were still shiny like new and the gringa didn’t even have a streak of dust on her black leggings. He believes I must possess some form of magical powers. The gringa thinks the power was only within the earth we were exploring. Maybe that power likes me as much as I appreciate it and responds with some kind of enveloping magical aura to keep me clean! Yes, my imagination ran away with me while hiking that conically hypnotic fairyland landscape.

A Day at Nambe Pueblo


When the caveman and I took a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, we spent a day at the Nambe Pueblo. I enjoyed photographing a pretty church with old mission style architecture. The highlight of our day, however, was hiking to the top of Nambe Falls of Rio Nambe and seeing a panoramic view of the Pueblo stretched out before us. The hiking paths were quite rugged and the river rushing full and muddy after receiving record rainfall just days before we arrived.

This spectacular waterfall is situated amidst 20,000 acres of high desert. A recreation area centered around the falls is open to visitors for camping, hiking and fishing. Although at the time of our visit no fishing was allowed as they were undergoing a restoration project of the fish population after a catastrophic fire affected the Nambe Reservoir and resulted in a devastating complete fish kill.

The hike to the falls is a quarter of a mile, uphill, in rough, rocky terrain so it’s pretty slow going. The nearest restaurant or food store is twenty minutes away. If you decide to go for a hike, be sure to pack a picnic and plenty of water. Also, wear good shoes that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy. The caveman got pretty muddy and could not understand how the gringa arrived back to the car after traveling the same trails and the white trim around my cute little flats was spotless. I just say, “It’s all part of my mystery and charm.”

If you’re not too pooped out after the hike to the falls, you might want to check out the tribe’s buffalo herd. The Inter Tribal Buffalo Council has been tending their herd since 1994. When the buffalo were decimated by Europeans throughout New Mexico, the Pueblo peoples suffered greatly. To reintroduce them back into their culture has great meaning and significance and is symbolic of renewal and triumph. The traditional Buffalo Dance has taken on new meaning at Nambe. The herd is not reared simply to be seen and as a reminder of history. Occasionally the tribe slaughters in the traditional respectful manner in accordance to their traditions in order to feed the elders and tribal members. A trail loop two miles long can be traveled where hikers can view the buffalo at pasture against the stunning backdrop of the Pueblo lands framed by the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Being a patio gardener, the gringa also took pleasure in the Pueblo’s community garden and vineyard. The tribe grows four grape varieties, corn and a few various other crops and herbs. The abundance of the community’s harvest feeds the seniors living on the Pueblo as well as the entire community at the harvest festival held at the end of the growing season. The community garden also provides an educational opportunity to pass down the Tewa language with the youth learning the native names for the plants and foods they help to cultivate.

The tribes settled in the northern New Mexico region have populated the Pueblo of Nambe since the fourteenth century. Situated in the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountains a short drive from Santa Fe, it makes a great day trip with the opportunity to appreciate the picturesque beauty of the landscape, experience living history, and bring home handcrafted textiles and pottery.

Peru: Miles and Miles of Beaches


Hiking the beaches of Supe Puerto in Peru with the caveman and our youngest son. That’s my little seizure-alert service dog, Abby, wrapped up from the cold. We started out with some general directions to an area where there were some old ruins. We never found them but, sometimes, a wrong turn is an adventure all its own.

We hiked all day and were the only three humans around. Vultures followed us. The gringa is certain they were waiting for us to drop dead. We discovered a lighthouse and rested in craggy inlets where the surf crashed into the rocks a few feet away from us and the spray would shoot way over our heads. The geography of this coastal area was that of a coastal desert. Although it was barren, it had its own rugged beauty and lonely, melancholy charm.

We hiked to a small island and stayed too long, The tide came in so quickly we almost got stranded. I got bootfuls of water slogging through the surf. Luckily my hand knitted wool leggings I had purchased from one of the local market stalls dried out pretty quickly.

We had a wonderful time and were absolutely exhausted by the time we got back to town.