the thirty years later expedition   10 comments

Dr. Fred Schueler (left), and Adam Zieleman (right), in the 30 Years Later Expedition vehicle

With the exception of my couchsurfer-visitor from France, the dogs and I have spent almost the entire summer at Round Hill in our own company. We occasionally wander over to visit our closest neighbours, but apart from that, we pretty much stick around home while I work on the house. However, the alone streak was broken a couple of weeks ago when the Thirty Years Later Expedition rolled up the lane to spend a few days working in this area of Nova Scotia.

Before I write more, I’ll let Fred and Aleta introduce themselves in their own words from their website:

Biologist/artist team Fred Schueler and Aleta Karstad revisit the landscapes they have traveled over the past 20 to 40 years, checking the condition of ecological communities and populations of plants and animals, some of them now Species At Risk. Aleta will paint and draw enroute as Fred adds valuable new data to historical records, in a database partnership with the Canadian Museum of Nature. Building on a database of over 86,000 records, this is a rare long term study in an age of short term projects.

I first came to know Fred and Aleta about 30 years ago. Don and I were keeping dairy goats at that time, and somehow or other, Fred and Aleta were referred to us in their search for a good milking doe. They acquired a wonderful goat, and we gained what was to become a long term friendship. Although we may go a year or two between seeing each other, our lives continue to intersect from time to time, and in between, we keep in touch by email and through our postings on the eastern Ontario NatureList. Over the year’s, with Fred and Aleta’s encouragement, I along with many other naturalists in eastern Ontario, began recording and contributing our observations to the NatureList. Once again, I refer to their words on the value of ecological monitoring:

Naturalists often complain that species and phenomena are neglected unless they are of direct economic interest. So many aspects of natural history are ignored that “everyplace” is effectively unknown. Environmental change makes everything different than it was before, and requires re-exploration of every territory. The more we learn, the more detail and complexity unfolds to us. Henry David Thoreau ‘travelled a good deal in Concord’, providing an unparalleled public record of the species he recognized and their relationships in natural communities, and making major advances in theoretical ecology simply by constantly re-exploring his ancestral ground.

Anyone can do for their home range what Thoreau did for Concord: notice, record, monitor, analyze, and publicize natural phenomena. Many people are out there enjoying Nature, but relatively few of them record what they see. Every one who goes out as a serious observer, with a field notebook or journal, is adding to what we can know of nature.

Many observations go unrecorded, and many scientific datasets not included in publications languish in files. Fragile Inheritance is mandated to support long term ecological monitoring, as well as archiving and databasing the observations of both amateurs and academics, historical and current. Beyond the tasks of gathering and keeping data, it supports and encourages the essential tasks of analysing, publishing, and disseminating the results of long term monitoring, both to the general public, and to decision-makers.

And so it came to pass that Don and I became more serious about recording our observations – mainly in the form of Don making notes while I would take photographs – and then I would write up field notes to post to the NatureList. In recent years, with the many complications that took place in our lives during Don’s illness, our record-keeping eventually diminished to naught, but I do hope that situation will change once I’ve got more of a home base established here and also become more adept at traveling alone as I criss-cross the continent each spring and autumn. Anyhow, more about my friends.

Aleta Karstad, working on a plein air painting in my garden

As part of the expedition work, Aleta Karstad has been creating plein air paintings at the rate of almost one per day. I will refer you to her website, Biodiversity Paintings for the 30 YEARS LATER PROJECT: adventures in the colour of Canada where you can see the paintings alongside of Aleta’s notes and natural history observations associated with each site. In the above photo, Aleta is working on a painting of one of the old Black Locust trees that shade the front garden of my house and seem to be providing food and something of a gymnasium for a family of Pileated Woodpeckers. You can read Aleta’s notes here.

a small sampling of Aleta Karstad’s plein air paintings from the expedition

One afternoon, while Fred and Aleta, and their very able assistant, Adam Zieleman (the go-to tech guy who has put together their solar power system and other wondrous things), were busy working at their tasks, I checked out Aleta’s storage box filled with recent paintings. I laid them out on the grass to photograph a few. Aleta paints in oils on 5 x 7 inch canvases. Each is a wonderful jewel-like vignette of nature, capturing the essence of the time and place where it was created. To see an array of them spread out upon the grass was like being given a kaleidoscopic glimpse into their travels (click on all photos in this post to see larger views). In addition to recording that which is seen during the expedition, the sale of Aleta’s paintings also helps to defray some of the costs associated with their field work which is only partly funded by the Canadian Museum of Nature. If you’re interested in her works, please do visit her website.

Aleta Karstad’s painting of a Phoebe on the Moira River in Ontario (see her notes about it here.

It’s been nice to have old friends visiting at my new-old place – especially friends who are quite “self-contained” and used to roughing it in the bush, so to speak, as I’m not able to provide much in the way of accommodations as yet. This week, I’m in the process of wrapping things up for this season. In some respects, I’m a little disappointed with not having finished up the exterior of the house, but with the weather as it has been – rain every third or fourth day – progress has been continuously interrupted. I could just slap some paint on the upper sections that remain unfinished, but I don’t think that’s the best strategy. Instead, I’ll try to be happy with what has been accomplished, take a break over the winter months, then pick up where I left off when I return next spring. Now I’m down to the wire with making a few last-minute repairs, putting tools and materials away for the winter, and packing my van for the long journey that lies ahead this autumn. This afternoon, I’ll be taking Sabrina to the vet’s office for a “going away” laser therapy treatment which should hold her over until we arrive in Arizona at the end of November. She’s getting around so much better these days. I can only conclude that the treatments have made a difference to her mobility. Yesterday, I actually found her part way up the stairs to the second floor of the house – twice! As I pack the van, she’s becoming more and more concerned with sticking to me like a burr. I think she’s worried that I’ll drive off without her. Not a chance of that! I’ll try to post at least once more before I depart from the house. After that, watch for new posts written along the way – by which route, I still don’t know. The weather and my mood will sort that out once we’re on the road.

Just a bit of time-sensitive information for those who are interested in Fred and Aleta’s work. On September 22nd, 2010, Fred and Aleta will be presenting a lecture and exhibition at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, in Halifax, N.S. It is entitled Stalking the Wild Conspicuous – a Schueler/Karstad presentation on 30 Years Later Expedition research, illustrated with Karstad’s biodiversity paintings, original paintings on exhibit. Then, on September 25th, Aleta will be giving a painting workshop entitled Plein Air Painting with Aleta Karstad Out-of-doors painting in oils or acrylic, also at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History.

Thirty Years Later Expedition as it rolls away to its next destination

Written by bev on September 16th, 2010

10 Responses to 'the thirty years later expedition'

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  1. How lucky and wonderful to have such fine house guests, bev. I love reading about their work and seeing Aleta’s paintings. It is a serious thing, this effort to try to really know a place, its details and inhabitants, and tremendously important. I read the numbers of species of plants and animals that disappear everyday, and it is a disheartening reality. But this work is the kind of thing that sheds light and hopefully will help to maintain our “fragile inheritance.” I send my gratitude and appreciation.

    robin andrea

    16 Sep 10 at 10:30 am

  2. This is a charming tale of friendship.

    What a fortuitous bit of luck that those goats brought you together!

    Their mission statement is so beautifully put.

    And how wonderful are those paintings?!

    Good things all around when neat people come together.

    Cathy Wilson

    20 Sep 10 at 7:18 pm

  3. robin – yes, I do feel lucky to have such good friend as guests here at the house this summer. I’m glad they came and hope they will find their way back here again! Fred and Aleta have done a lot of excellent work, especially increasing awareness of many issues that would otherwise fly under the radar of most of us.

    Cathy – It’s funny, but our goats were responsible for a good many of our friendships over the years!!


    20 Sep 10 at 8:02 pm

  4. I kind of envy you the trip. I don’t get to travel much these days except by plane, and I hate that. Poor old Sabrina. I hate to see a worried dog.


    22 Sep 10 at 7:19 am

  5. Mark – for the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling kind of anxious about everything, including the road travel. However, just over the past couple of days, I think my trip mode finally engaged. It seemed to happen right after I reviewed the closing dates of Ontario provincial parks and discovered quite a few that I’ve never visited, but that will be open for camping until Oct. 11th. Also, some plans for the western leg of the trip seem to be falling into place. Now I’m beginning to feel ready to get on the road. One stop at my mom’s for a few days and some van maintenance, and then it’s westward ho.

    I don’t like to see a worried dog either. A couple of days ago, when I had the trailer backed up and the tailgate ramp down, Sabrina walked inside and didn’t want to get out again! She has never even been inside the trailer before, so it’s a little odd that she would do that, but I guess she remembers the trailer being attached to the back of the van for the trip out here in the spring. If she can’t get into the van, I guess she’s decided that the trailer is almost as good! I’ll be glad to get all finished up here and let her get into the van for our departure. A few days ago, I made a nice little carpeted ramp for her to use to go in and out of the van on her own. She just loves it and knows just what it’s for. This is going to make the trip much easier for both of us – her for being able to come and go on her own, and me for not having to lift her in and out of the van all of the time!


    22 Sep 10 at 8:00 am

  6. Taking care of dogs: it’s what we do.

    I recently found a poem by Robinson Jeffers about his dog who was buried outside his house. It is spoken in the dog’s voice. This is part of it:

    “I hope than when you are lying

    Under the ground like me your lives will appear
    As good and joyful as mine.
    No, dear, that’s too much hope: you are not so well cared for
    As I have been.

    And never have known the passionate undivided
    Fidelities that I knew.”


    22 Sep 10 at 10:46 am

  7. Mark – How true. I don’t think my dogs have ever wanted for much – even now. Thanks for posting the poem. I shall look up the rest.


    22 Sep 10 at 11:39 am

  8. bev- remember that most accidents happen in the home. that just leaves a few outside accidents, most of which are auto accidents, and most auto accidents happen within 25 miles of the home. so if you’ve made it past 25 miles (40.23 km) your odds are looking pretty freaking good for a safe trip. 🙂


    30 Sep 10 at 1:25 am

  9. elpolvo – Good advice. I’m already more than 25 miles from one of my homes, but at another of them right now. I have about 4 homes, so I’ll have to extra careful around each of them, I guess. (o:


    30 Sep 10 at 8:26 am

  10. On your way already, Bev? A safe trip and happy trails to you, Sabrina and Sage….. For some reason, I could not get in here earlier to comment.


    2 Oct 10 at 7:20 am

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