Mushroom Hunting: A Biological Survey of the Campus

October 27, 2011

A selection of (as yet) unidentified fungi from the school campus in eastern Missouri.

It’s remarkable how interest drives motivation and motivation gets things done. We’re in an intercession right now and ten students signed up with me to do a biological survey of the school grounds. With a small creek on one side, and a fairly tall ridge on the other, the school has a nice variety of biomes.

Now, to be clear, I’m not a biologist. In fact, that’s why I was so interested in the biological survey. Everything in this area is new to me. But it also means that I approached this project as a novice. Mrs. E. was nice enough to lend me a veritable library of reference books, covering everything from the wildflowers of Missouri to the amphibians of the mid-West, but she was off teaching another batch of students how to cook, so I was on my own.

All the students in the group were volunteers, but a fair chunk of them just wanted to get outside, even though it was overcast and threatening rain. To get the students more engaged I let them choose either the environment they’d like to survey, or the types of organisms they’d like to specialize in. I also gave them the option of working independently or in pairs.

The Creek

The Creek team collected a pair of amphibians. They were documented, photographed, and then released.

One pair choose to canvas the small creek that runs past the school. I’d set a minnow trap the night before to collect fish for our tank, and they hauled that in. The stream water was somewhere around 14°C, while our tank was closer to 23°C, so, to prevent the fish from going into thermal shock, we left the minnows in a bucket so it could, slowly, thermally equilibrate. They monitored the temperature change with time, and I think I’ll use their data in my physics and calculus classes.

They also collected a pair of amphibians, which we photographed and then released. They tried to catch some crawfish, but were unsuccessful, despite the fact that one of them searched for “how to catch crawfish” on their phone; unfortunately they did not have time to follow the detailed video instructions they found on the web that described, in detail, how to build a crawfish trap.

Trees and Shrubs

Collected leaf specimens PL01 and PL02.

Because of the incipient rain, we did not take our reference books out with us. Instead, we collected leaves and sketched bark patterns so we could do our floral identification later.

Berries from an (as yet) unidentified bush.

A number of students really got into that. So we have a fairly large collection, though almost all of which come from the riparian area that bounds the creek. I would have liked a broader survey, but we only had so much time.

Unidentified wildflowers.


Part of our mushroom collection.

More than a few students were interested in looking for mushrooms – even one of the tree specialists came back a mushroom sample – but one student really got into it, canvasing all the dead logs from the creek, through the meadow, and up past the treeline on the side of the hill.

The underside of this fungi looks a bit like a brain coral.

And we now have quite the collection of fungi. They’re as yet unidentified, but they’re elegant bits of biota. Our fungi specialist is interested in coming back in and sketching them.


We had two hours. Not even enough time to do a complete survey, so we barely got started on identification. It will probably go slowly.

While our methods were not systematic, and our coverage of the grounds incomplete, this exercise was a good start to cataloging the local biology. I don’t know if I’ll be able to expand on the survey any time soon, but this type of project would be a great for middle school science next year when we focus more on the biological sciences, particularly on taxonomy.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Mushroom Hunting: A Biological Survey of the Campus, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Fog on the Downs and Lake

October 15, 2011

Early morning.

The first few mornings at Heifer were cold. About five or six degrees Celcius (in the 40’s Fahrenheit) at sunrise. The large barn we slept in had been “converted” from housing horses to housing people. Apparently, horses prefer wide-open, drafty places.

But a warm sleeping bag goes a long way. And being forced to wake up just before the break of dawn does have certain advantages. I’m rarely up and about in time to capture the morning light. With the early morning fog drifting across the slopes and rising off the lake, those first few mornings were wonderful for photography.

Sunrise is usually the coldest time of day. After all, the Sun’s been down all night, and is only just about to start warming things up again. Cold air can’t hold as much moisture (water vapor) as warm air, so as the air cools down overnight the relative humidity gets higher and higher until it can’t hold any more – that’s called saturation humidity; 100% relative humidity. Then, when the air is saturated with water vapor, if it cools down just a little more, water droplets will start to form. The cooler it gets the more water is squeezed out of the air. Water vapor in the air is invisible, but the water droplets are what we see as fog. Clouds are big collections of water droplets too; clumps of fog in the sky.

Early morning fog drifts over the lake.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Fog on the Downs and Lake, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

A Few of My Unpublished 9/11 Pictures

August 16, 2011

Lower Manhatten on the evening of 9/11 2001.

I was sorting through my slide collection, while preparing for our recent move, and came across my binder of slides from New York on 9/11. These are actual, physical slides, organized neatly in plastic binder pages, not digital images.

If I remember correctly, I was just visiting the city that day, staying with my grandparents in Brooklyn. The visit was for work, I’d a post-doc lined up at Columbia and I’d lived in the city before, so I’d not thought to bring my camera with me.

So I walked into Manhattan, against the crowds turned out by the silent subways. Edging against the flux of humanity walking across the bridges away from the tragedy.

And I bought a camera, on the afternoon of September 11th, in a small shop somewhere around 32nd Street. The proprietor was sitting behind the glass cases, following what was going on outside on a small television set. Fortunately, the electricity and credit card system were still working. He was happy to sell me a good, used, fully manual Pentax K1000 (just like the one I’d left at home), and enough slide film to get me through the day.

I’ve always had faith in the strength and resiliency of New York. It’s where I’d spent my first four years, as an impressionable teenager, after immigrating to the U.S., but I would not have been able to harbor any doubts about those first, likely naive, impressions after that day. And this was without seeing or even knowing about the heroics at the World Trade Center. All I could see was the calm and matter-of-factness of the people on the street. Though the arteries had clogged, the blood of the city, its people, still flowed.

Nor was I the only one headed towards the dense clouds of smoke, made eerily attractive by the clear sunlight and pellucid skies of that clear September day. I don’t think I would have made it over the bridge if there were not a few other people, hugging against the railing, edging their way across. That infinitesimal trickle turned into a small but steady stream on the streets of Manhattan itself, which was then dammed up by the police line at Canal Street. Being unable to see anything from there, I turned left and joined the crowd this time as took me back across the Manhattan Bridge back into Brooklyn.

A flag flies over the Brooklyn Bridge.

I figured the opposite waterfront would be the best place of any for me to get any glimpse of what was going on. So, once across, I looped under the eastern side of the bridge and walked along the roads that edge the shore until I ended up in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

The picture at the top of the post is from the Brooklyn Bridge Park. I managed to get two major icons into the frame that are important personal symbols: a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge is on the right edge and, if you squint, you can see the Statue of Liberty (my favorite landmark) on the left. They’re a good reminder of the history and purpose of this great city. I also like that the picture captures the silhouette of the city dove, a graceful symbol of peace, standing against the roiling clouds of smoke, dust and turmoil.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. A Few of My Unpublished 9/11 Pictures, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.


March 10, 2011

The Endurance frozen in the ice.

Shackelton’s Antarctic expedition remains one of the most ridiculously epic adventures I have ever encoutered. Through excellent leadership, and remarkable feats of navigation, every member of the expedition survived the destruction of their ship, The Endurance, and made their way across the harshest landscapes and oceans to find safety.

Sir Ernest Shackleton scouting the way across the Antarctic ice.

How to be a Retronaut has posted the color pictures taken by Frank Hurley, the expedition’s photographer.

According to the State Library of New South Wales, after their ship had become irretrievably stuck in the ice:

Hurley managed to salvage the photographic plates by diving into mushy ice-water inside the sinking ship in October 1915.

– State Library of New South Wales via How to be a Retronaut.

This is kind of emblematic of the dedication of the explorers on this expedition. There’s so much for middle-schoolers to learn about dealing with hardship and immense adversity. I strongly recommend the book, but little anecdotes like this one continue to impress.

Frank Hurley with Cinematograph.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2011. Endurance, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

On the popularity of soccer

June 28, 2010

A Tired Ball Speaks from THE AMEN PROJECT on Vimeo.

I remember playing the game with a rolled up spheroid of aluminum foil. For kids living in poverty in the developing world something as simple as a soccer ball is an expensive luxury. Jessica Hilltout has a coffee table book out called “Amen: Grassroots Football“, with photographs of the “balls” she’s seen used in Africa. The video above has just a small selection.

The pictures speak to, and help explain, the popularity of soccer around the world. Unfortunately, I’m not quite sure how to order the book, but the website does allow you to look inside.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. On the popularity of soccer, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

History of life

June 21, 2010

Franz Lanting has a great storytelling voice and wonderful photographs that catalogue the history of life on Earth, from early organisms like stromatolites to the modern diverse forms of life (Lanting, 2007).

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. History of life, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Child labor in the early 20th century

May 17, 2010

Maud Cheek one of the young spinners in the Drayton Mill, Spartenberg sic, S.C., runs 7 sides. Worked in another mill before she came here. Maud's two sisters Blanche and Grace all in the spinning room with her. Father did not appear to be working. Location: Spartanburg, South Carolina. (Image by Lewis Wickes Hine, from the Library of Congress)

Considering child labor today, it’s worth noting how extensive it was in the past. The Library of Congress is an excellent source for public domain images, and has available the amazing photographs of child workers taken by Lewis Wickles Hine for the National Child Labor Committee.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Child labor in the early 20th century, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Vietnam in pictures

May 10, 2010

American Marine in Da Nang, Vietnam, August 3, 1965. (Image from the U.S. Marine Corps.)

American Marine in Da Nang, Vietnam, August 3, 1965. (Image from the U.S. Marine Corps.)

A slew of ideas and conflicts swirl around the Vietnam War: democracy, communism, dictatorship, freedom, colonialism, domino theory, chemical warfare, technology …. We’re supposed to look at wars through the lens of the “Characteristics of War”, but what do offense and defense mean in a war like Vietnam? A close examination of any of these words in the face of Vietnam leaves more questions than answers. The Boston Globe has a heartbreaking collection of images from the Vietnam War that give a remarkably multifaceted view of the conflict and its consequences. The photos are iconic and some are graphic.

A guerrilla in the Mekong Delta paddles through a mangrove forest defoliated by Agent Orange (1970). Photograph by Le Minh Truong © National Geographic Society (from the International Center for Photography).

The photographs in the Boston Globe were mostly taken by western photographers (some were from the U.S. military), whose journalistic culture inspired them to try to capture all aspects of the war, to tell the whole story, independent of their own allegiance. There were fewer North Vietnamese photographers and their job was to capture images that would promote their side of the war. Even so, some of their photographs are also amazing and offer another perspective.

Photograph taken by a North Vietnamese war photographer (from SmugMug).

National Geographic collected some of these photos in Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side. More photos are available from, and National Geographic has a documentary on North Vietnamese photographers called, Vietnam – The Unseen War (a 5 minute preview is available on VEOH).

These images help tell the story of how powerful the media can be, particularly in a democracy. What’s also interesting is the youth of many of the combatants on both sides.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2010. Vietnam in pictures, Retrieved April 21st, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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