Posts Tagged ‘nature’

“They’re Like Little Green Brains”

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“Monkey Brain!”

It happens every fall; I walk up from a cave tour and come across a group waiting for their tour. One of them sees my uniform and name tag and comes to me with a question mark floating over his or her head. As the guest says, “I have a question for you,” others in the group lean in. It seems they also would like to hear the answer to the forthcoming question. Having been through this for many autumn seasons now, I already have a pretty good idea of what the question is going to be. I respond, “What’s your question?” and the guest says, “There are these little. . .green. . . things on the ground that look like. . . monkey brains or something. What are they?”

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“It looks like an old banana peel…”

 

These “monkey brains” are one of the two tree features that inspire questions each fall at Lost River Cave, the other one is a long brown pod that is often described as looking like an old banana peel. I’d like to shed a little light on these fall ground decorations and the trees that produce them.

 

 

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Osage Orange Tree at Lost River Cave

First of all, the “monkey brains” the fruit of a tree known as the Osage Orange (Malcura pomifera). The fruit is often referred to as a hedge apple. This tree was used profusely as a hedge row tree both for the purposes of being a windbreak as well as a cattle fence before the wide availability of barbed wire. I have heard it said that to build an Osage Orange hedge, you dig a trench, line up the hedge apples in the trench, cover them, then walk away. The shoots of this tree can grow 3-6 feet in a single year, so before long you had a thick hedge row with twisted intertwining trunks. Making it especially useful as a fence are its short, stout spines present on the branches. The fruit is not poisonous and can be eaten by humans, but, and I’ve not tested this myself, apparently it tastes absolutely awful. When exposed to frost the taste improves and becomes “cucumber-like” which to me is still absolutely awful, but to each his/her own. The wood has been considered very useful. It resists rot, has a tight grain, and is dense therefore it makes excellent tool handles, tree nails, and fence posts. It is also an excellent wood for making bows. In fact the French name for the tree is “bois d’arc,” which means “bow-wood.” The fruit of the tree was long believed to be a repellent for spiders and insects, and studies have found that an extract from the fruit indeed is an effective insect repellent.

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Honey Locust Tree, notice the thorns on the right of the trunk.

Our other interesting tree is easy to spot once you know its distinguishing characteristic. That would be the gigantic, sharp, scary looking thorns that emerge from the trunk of the Gleditsia triacanthos, or “Honey locust.” In the past, the thorns have actually been used as nails. The wood of this tree is very high quality, but isn’t used often, probably because people don’t like working with a tree which has thorns that can puncture tractor tires. The seed pods that catch people’s eyes on the trails this time of year are where the “honey” part of this tree’s name come from. They contain a thick, green, very sweet pulp inside that was used as food by Native Americans and can be fermented to make beer. The seeds in the pulp have even been roasted and used as a coffee substitute.

No wonder the tree is covered in thorns larger than my hand. It has fruit growing on it that can be made into both beer and coffee.

So, that’s a wrap on the two most asked about trees at Lost River Cave. Come on down and get acquainted with them for yourself. We have wonderful nature trails to hike, and while you’re here, take a cave tour as well.

For lots more information on what we have to offer, find us online at lostrivercave.com, and follow us on facebook.

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Junior Naturalist Program

I have been called lots of names by my daughter. None of them have been mean so far. The ones that make me smile the most are, “Nature Detective Dad,” “Nature Tracker Dad,” and “Bird Watcher Dad.” It seems that she has signed me up for all of her nature clubs. We hike through the woods looking for animals, observing their behavior, following their tracks, and doing all sorts of other fun nature activities. She has learned a passion for nature through a variety of inputs, but I firmly believe that the most effective teaching methods we have used with her have been direct exposure to nature. While she does enjoy learning about nature through books and television shows, nothing compares to getting out there and getting her little shoes dirty.

The challenge for me as a father is to make sure I have enough information to share with her, she is learning at such an amazing rate that I have to study just to keep up with her questions. Thank goodness for a little something called Google.

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At Lost River Cave, we have an even better resource to get kids learning about nature, and that is the Junior Naturalist Program. We schedule six classes throughout the year, starting in January, then every other month with the last session in November. Each class features a different aspect of the natural world. Topics this year include the water cycle, birdwatching, trees and wildflowers in the natural habitat, the insects, reptiles, and amphibians in the nature center at Lost River Cave, seasons and their effect on the natural habitat, and cave geology which features a wild caving trip for kids.

For full information on this program, visit our website at this link.

Thanks Twin Lakes!

“We want to give a big, whole hearted thank you to the Twin Lakes Conservation Survey Task Force. Their volunteer service for the park last weekend helped to remove approximately 500 – 700 lbs of trash from the cave. Trash and debris are carried in by flooding and can remain in the cave system- until pulled out by volunteers.

Clean-ups such as this demonstrate the continued efforts, began 21 years ago, to protect and preserve Lost River Cave.  Give us a call to learn about ways you can join in our preservation efforts.”

Special thanks Jon Durall, Matt McClintock, Stacey Brewer, Steve Gentry, Preston & Sherrie Forsythe, Jack Ferguson and Paul Fleischmann.

Group from United Nations, China visits WKU as part of joint research project

A team representing the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Chinese government visited WKU this week for fieldwork and to discuss cooperative research under way to study atmospheric carbon dynamics.

Chris Groves explains details of groundwater monitoring equipment to Chinese scientists within WKU-owned Crumps Cave.

The group, which included scientists from UNESCO’s International Geoscience Program and the Chinese Geological Survey, visited sites at the WKU-owned Crumps Cave Educational Preserve and Lost River Cave. Research is under way there, with sister sites in China, to measure rates at which atmospheric CO2 is consumed by the dissolving of limestone in the world’s karst regions, which are areas like in south central Kentucky where caves, sinkholes and underground rivers are common. Rapidly changing atmospheric concentrations have been linked to increased rates of climate change, and so much work is underway to understand ways in which CO2 is being added to, or subtracted from, the atmosphere… Read more on the WKU News Blog!

In loving memory of Betsy the Snake

Betsy the Snake – 09/04/2012

Sad news today at Lost River Cave. Betsy the Snake has passed away. Ever since Betsy arrived, she’s been a special asset to the Lost River Cave team, showing visitors and staff alike that snakes don’t have to be scary. Betsy was a Rough Green Snake, and she showed everyone from boy scouts to nature newbies how cool snakes can be. Betsy will be remembered for her openness to people and her enjoyment of crickets. Betsy was a member of the Lost River Cave family for the past three years and we are so sorry to see her go. 

We will always think of you fondly, Betsy. Rest In Peace.

Employee Spotlight: Kathy Kontio

Summer is the busiest season at Lost River Cave, and we can’t say thank you enough to the staff for their hard work. Lost River Cave recognizes wonderful individuals who keep us afloat, from tour guides to cashiers to maintenance.

Kathy Kontio is originally from Bowling Green and graduated from Michigan Tech with a Bachelor’s in Ecology. After college, she had bird field jobs in various states. Kathy has worked with endangered birds like the California Condor and the Piping Plover. She was in AmeriCorps for two years in New York State where she started working in environmental education. Kathy started working as a tour guide for Lost River Cave this summer.   

Q & A with Kathy

What originally brought you to Lost River Cave?  Well, I’m from Bowling Green, and I saw a job opening and it’s the perfect place; are you kidding me?!

How is Lost River Cave different from any other employer you’ve ever had?  Well I get to drive a boat in a cave, and that’s pretty sweet.

Have your thoughts on caves or nature changed at all since you’ve been here? It has strengthened my realization that I want to stay in the Ecology field for a career.  

Have you had any memorable visitors during your time working here? I had someone from Holland on my tour, but no famous people or anything as far as I know.  

What do you think the WORST corny cave joke is? “Oh I see you left some people at the dam for me to pick up.” (One boat driver says to the other boat driver in the cave.)

Have you had much opportunity to travel, if so where to? Or, where would you like to go? I’ve travelled a lot to go to different places for work in the United States.  I’d like to go to New Zealand and Europe.

For visitors reading this, do you have any recommendation for where to tour/eat/explore in the Bowling Green area or all of Kentucky?  I did the zip-lining at Mega Caverns in Louisville; it’s the only underground zip line in the world. It’s totally worth it.   

Any last words of wisdom for your visitors reading this? We’ll get to the cave eventually.

Employee Spotlight: Blake Garrison

Summer is the busiest season at Lost River Cave, and we can’t say thank you enough to the staff for their hard work. Lost River Cave recognizes wonderful individuals who keep us afloat, from tour guides to cashiers to maintenance.

Blake Garrison is originally from right here in Bowling Green.  He is a film major at Western Kentucky University, and he will be graduating next spring.  He started working as a tour guide at Lost River Cave this summer.

Q &A with Blake

What originally brought you to Lost River Cave? Well I heard about the job opportunity as a tour guide, and it just sounded like an exciting interesting thing to do over the summer. I could meet a lot of interesting people in the tour industry and teach them something.

 How is Lost River Cave different from any other employer you’ve ever had? Where to begin? Well it’s enjoyable first of all. When I’m here it doesn’t really feel like a job most of the time. It’s a fun job with fun people.

 
Have your thoughts on caves or nature changed at all since you’ve been here? I’ve definitely learned a lot more about caves and cave systems. As far as my thoughts on nature in general, it’s always been my opinion that people should learn about it and enjoy it.

 
Have you had any memorable visitors during your time working here?
There was a mother and son from Lithuania, and they were memorable because I was able to relate to them because I visited Lithuania last summer. It was a “small world” situation.

What do you think the WORST corny cave joke is? I heard a joke during my interview, I’ve never told it, but it’s the pillars joke. “Stalactites hold tight to the ceiling, stalagmites might grow up and touch the ceiling. A stalactite and stalagmites grow together they form a column or a pillar, but you know we are in Kentucky, so we call them columns because we all sleep on our pillars.”  

Have you had much opportunity to travel, if so where to? Or, where would you like to go? I have had an opportunity to travel. Last summer I took a driving trip from Beijing, China across Asia and Europe all the way to Paris, France. It was a lot more intense than I thought it would be going into it, but it was a great experience. I think everyone should try to travel more. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand. 

For visitors reading this, do you have any recommendation for where to tour/eat/explore in the Bowling Green area or all of Kentucky? I’ll start with Bowling Green: my food recommendations in Bowling Green would either be Mellow Mushroom or Buckhead Café. One of my favorite places to go which is close to Bowling Green is Land Between The Lakes. If you’re down for a trip, you can just get all your gear and just camp out right on the side of the lake. It’s amazing.  

Any last words of wisdom for your visitors reading this? Enjoy yourself.