Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I likened the struggle to "The Old Man and the Sea," where I was the marlin on the other end of Denali's line. They had said they really wanted me and were obviously working hard to make it possible for us to come up there and for Amber to be able to do her work from there, as though the supervisor were straining and reeling in the big fish. The fish struggled and swam but slowly got reeled in by the fisherman. Alas, it could not be brought into the boat and the sharks ate away at it.
An 11th hour deal was brokered to let us live in park housing together as long as Amber volunteered - and there was a good computer thing for her to do with just a few hours a week - but there was no way to get Amber the internet connection she needed to do her work. Ultimately, the deal fell through because the park wouldn't let us put up a satellite dish.
I credit the people of Denali National Park for being extraordinarily cooperative and helpful. It would have been a great deal for all of us if it had worked out. Maybe next year.
Here's a cool video about Denali. After you hit "play," double click the video to go to full screen.
Meanwhile, I am waiting to see if Voyageurs will make an offer for the Lead Park Ranger position, or if Theodore Roosevelt will get its hiring certificate for the Lead Park Ranger position, or else I will commit to Glacier on Friday. As long as nothing has broken down there, I will be at Two Medicine. This will all need to get sorted out before Friday, the last day I have been allowed to stall before making a commitment to either come back to Glacier or not. It would be my 6th season there, believe it or not.
Monday, March 30, 2009
The park usually uses a tractor with a big sweeper on front to clear off the sidewalks. Coincidentally, it is out of commission and being repaired off site. Because the park usually depends on that old horse, the regular snowblower has not seen action since last October. It won't run. We spent part of our morning shoveling the fairly wet snow. We didn't bother getting all of it and stuck to trailblazing.
My employment situation needs to materialize this week if anyone is going to make an offer for a supervisory job. My safety net of automatic re-hire at Glacier goes away if I don't commit by the end of the week. If no one else makes an offer, I will sign on and be done with it. I won't gamble!
Saturday, March 28, 2009
My boss and I got the Painted Canyon Visitor Center all ready to go for summer. I lugged heavy boxes of brochures up out of the basement, cleaned up the bulletin boards outside while standing in a big snowdrift, and I installed a replacement display of a timeline of TR's life inside the building. Ranger Joe created the display last summer and it got a little bit of a sprucing-up for 2009.
I had been originally forbidden from working on fixing that particular display in digital format because my boss "didn't want it to become a 'Nathan project,'" meaning that I would take it over and reinvent it. At the time, I was disappointed but agreed that it was a legitimate concern, especially since I was already up to my shoulder in the park website's chest cavity. However, as time went on, the project never got done and got handed off to me as time was running out. I was allowed to fix the background color to something that would provide more contrast. I did that just fine, but then the door was cracked open and I thrust myself in. "What about this text box that isn't quite right? That picture's skewed. This looks a little funny, too." In the end, the format of the original and all of its text remained intact. I had it printed and I installed the new display. Come check it out! Painted Canyon opens April 1.
That all ate up most of my morning, but then the real fun began in the afternoon when my semicentennial cleaning began. I was conscripted to help clean out the secret interpretation storage room, whose location shall remain secret. Inside were decades' worth of junk that people kept. It was exactly like my parents' basement, where my dad is now repurposing all that old junk. I fully understand the mentality behind keeping that old stuff: you were using it one day just fine, then you got something new the next day but knew your old thing still worked, so why not keep it just in case?
The trouble is that after several decades of "just in case" junk stockpiled, one starts to run out of room when the rainy day to use that old stuff never came. In the secret storage room, the centerpiece was a pair of giant snake terrariums (terraria?) that had not been used for many years. Current NPS policy discourages keeping live animals, I've been told, and even our catfish in the visitor center now will someday soon be returned to his native habitat. S/he hides all day long anyway. There was a big pile of dividers for filing papers, boxes of paper plates, cups, and napkins, and boxes of a book no one ever buys. My personal favorite was a box of mailing tubes because they had postmarks. The tube from 1973 was in the lead until I found March, 1960. The tubes went away permanently.
My third project, which is ongoing, is to clean out the A/V equipment room. As the secret room suggested might be the case, the A/V room was full of old junk, most of which I do not understand because it was old when I was a kid. There was an impressive stockpile of close to 100 projector bulbs. There was a Realistic weather radio with a fake walnut-grain plastic casing that was exactly like the old alarm clock radio my parents had... in the 1980s! There are some old treasures mixed in with the useless old junk. My task was to put stuff that went with the same equipment together, but it turns out that I don't know what plugs go with the film projector, the slide projector, and the carousel projector. The gem so far has been an 8MM film from 1946 that has survived this long despite the note on it, "last half no good." That must be some first half, or else some clinical pack-rattery.
You might wonder how I came up with the word "semicentennial." I thought, "I need a dictionary where I can tell it what I want to say and it will tell me the word, like some sort of reverse dictionary - wait, does that exist?" It does. I could have used this in college.
I went into Dickinson last night to get groceries after waiting all week for the city to recover from its snowstorm. There was a ridiculous amount of snow on the ground there, compared to the zero snow on the ground in Medora. It was piled so high in the streets that four lanes had become two. That there is no snow in Medora but still big drifts on our loop road has the locals beginning to bitch to me both in person and on the phone that our road isn't open. It's not my fault you drove all the way down here without calling to see if the road was open. I even made a whole webpage for it: ROAD CLOSURES.
Amber drove through Fargo today and said the water was basically up to the I-94 bridge, a sight to see. I'll let her tell the story on her blog.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
I'm not a budgeteer, but most of these multimedia projects were from a grant to increase interpretation for the Elkhorn Ranch Site. You will see a common theme in that the Elkhorn Ranch is the centerpiece. However, the principles apply to the whole park's story.
The media was a collaborative effort between park staff volunteers, historian Clay Jenkinson, and a lot of work put in by David Swenson of Makoche Recording Company in Bismarck, ND. He won't get credit on the NPS site, but David is the wizard behind the videography, recording, and editing of the videos. We went in to record tracks for one of the new multimedia files (see below) back in November, but I didn't blog it for some reason. David, as the producer, was the guy telling me to "use your hands while you talk," "not be so rigid," and "imagine the scene as you're describing it," trying to squeeze the best out of each of us who went into that lonely little booth. I was a little bit embarrassed because I had to go second on the day we were at the recording studio and Dan really blew everyone out of the water when he rolled in there and absolutely dominated the studio with his Bill Sewall performance. David was responsible for putting the videos and audio together with some input from the park, and he did an awesome job.
The first file to be completed was a promotional video for the park: http://www.nps.gov/thro/photosmultimedia/trnp-highlights-video.htm
The next two were written and narrated by our volunteer Jen Whitcomb, whose wedding I blogged about last month. One is "Elkhorn Ranch: Birthplace of Theodore Roosevelt's Conservation Ethic," and the other transposes historic imagery on present images of the Elkhorn Ranch, "Elkhorn Ranch: Then and Now."
Last to be completed was a 17-minute audio track intended to set the scene while people drive to the Elkhorn Ranch. Of course, you don't have to wait until then to check it out. This is the one I helped with, as the voice of Theodore Roosevelt. I'm embarrassed to listen to myself; I think I have the cadence of Christopher Walken. Elkhorn Ranch Audio Guide.
So that's that for multimedia audio and video. I also got bored today and created a layer for Google Earth that transposes the traditional park map onto the actual 3D terrain of Google Earth. It's pretty sweet. We posted it in Virtual Tours. Check it out and drop the park a line if you like it, which will help me keep from becoming marginalized as I navigate this park's website from the bottom rung to a top-tier NPS website. If you have the 3D Buildings layer turned on for Google Earth, look for my models of the Maltese Cross Cabin, the Marquis de Mores Chimney, and buildings of Peaceful Valley Ranch all in or adjacent to the South Unit.
Weather turned ugly yesterday as the wind blew out of the north at 30 mph all day and night. It grounded a bunch of birds, noticeably juncos and robins, who were everywhere today. We had less than an inch of snow, but the snow dumped and drifted elsewhere, and most of North Dakota was shut down all day.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
With southerly winds, birds are on their way. Redpolls appear to have left, making the picture of I finally got on one of their last days here that much more precious. Robins have made a strong return in the last couple days. I walked to work and heard their familiar whinny coming from all over. I was out flying my r/c airplane two days ago and turned around after my last flight to find a tree filled with many robins. The wooded area where the park road splits into the loop was filled with flocks of tree sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, and the resident chickadees and nuthatches when I went looking on Thursday. One or two foals have been born, but I have not seen them yet. A pair of bald eagles has been harassing the prairie dogs this week and I have regularly seen them riding the ridge lift along the bluffs both in Medora and in the park. The pheasant that lives on our side of Medora has started calling occasionally.
In park news, the comment period on the Draft Elk Management Plan closed on Thursday. Word had it that a lot of agencies waited until the last day to file their official comments. I cannot say how the park is planning to act on the comments it gathered because I am neither involved in such decisions nor do I know what comments people submitted. I wouldn't be able to write about that anyway. Based on my experience attending one of the public elk meetings, hearing what people had to say, and weighing all the negative aspects of many of the options, I would not be surprised if the park selects the testing for CWD and translocation option, which becomes the roundup and euthanasia option if at any point the process breaks down. There are just the fewest question marks for impacts on the park and on visitors when you use an existing facility and move live elk into it rather than sharpshooting them in the field and dragging them out over the badlands. Hunters turned out to support a hunting alternative that was neither on the table nor legal. Hunters would also like to participate in a sharpshooting solution similar to what Rocky Mountain National Park recently chose to do. Local landowners were concerned about the park pushing elk herds onto their range land, and the NDGFD had taken issue with the dissolution of the element of "fair chase" should that be what the park does. I don't personally think the National Park Service should be involved in driving animals toward hunters. We'll see how things go. It will be the end of the year before the park decides what to do.
In other park news, there was considerable flooding at the North Unit, particularly in the campground. The ice jam we had seen blow through Medora lodged somewhere near Watford City, and when all our snow melted, there was nowhere for it to drain. There was over a foot of water in the camptender's house. This might put a "damper" on the plans to house the lead park ranger interpretation position there, a job I am in the running for.
Park visitation has been steadily going up. I saw 75 people yesterday, a single-day record for 2009 so far, aided by a number of people who were at a swim meet in Dickinson that had half the day between events. The increasing numbers, however, do not stop every single person from asking, "Pretty quiet this time of year, huh?" No, in fact you are the 54th person to ask me that today. Another month and I'll have to serve three times that number by myself while selling entrance passes, running the bookstore, orienting people, running the visitor center, answering the mail, and everything else all at the same time and with no one to help me. It starts to get crazy.
While driving to the North Dakota national parks' "Three Parks Dinner" in Killdeer last night, we pulled over to look at a big herd of elk. I counted 137 elk on the flat along I-94 east of Painted Canyon. At the dinner, I got the chance to explain the finer points of the sport of curling to people at our table. I talked about the glorious, beautiful moment as you release the stone ever-so-gently. They seemed to find it entertaining. The food was standard North Dakota fare: bland and without vegetables. I devoured the fried chicken and roast beef, two things I never make for myself.
In employment news, I have a lead for a supervisory position with Voyageurs National Park. They called and wanted to schedule an interview. This is promising because everything with government hiring is backwards from whatever you learned in school: your resume should include all applicable experience no matter how many pages it takes, and decisions are made before they even bother calling you. I've also discovered that no amount of schmoozing helps, though I try anyway. Although I have talked to a couple helpful people that did not terrify me, I've failed to find housing at Denali and will probably have to cut myself loose this week. Glacier is still an option and I have the luxury of time before having to make a decision on returning there. There is a strong possibility that I would be stationed at Two Medicine, which would mean I would have all activities and no visitor center time and that I would be working with Pat Hagan all summer. I even started writing jokes to riff off of Pat's institutional silliness that returning Two Medicine visitors have come to expect.
Amid all the chaos and hair-pulling, I have to pause and appreciate what a life I have if spending a summer living and hiking in Glacier National Park is my backup plan.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
The search has been terrifying so far. I have been shaken since the very first place I called, which seemed like the best one on the list. They didn't answer the phone, and the answering machine message was literally, "JESUS. *beep!*" I was so confused, I didn't leave a message. Then I was scared. I don't care if you have religious convictions, but are you or are you not in the business of rental housing? It wasn't a question or an adulation: it was a command. It's the second time Jesus has reached out to me in two days; he left a flyer behind my screen door yesterday, the equivalent of saying, "Here, you throw this away."
The next place I called did at least identify who it was. However, every other place has either said, "You have reached [insert phone number]," without saying who it was or the even-more-cryptic default computer voice, "Sorry, we're not here right now. Please leave a message." I guess people go to Alaska not to be found anymore, even if they are running an apartment/cabin rental BUSINESS.
Whether I take the job hinges on whether I can find housing that will meet my and Amber's needs. She will not abide me going there for six months without getting a slice of that life. I wouldn't want to be there alone, either. I'd really like a place with running water, and half of the places on the list I have don't even have that. One place doesn't have water, but makes clear that there is a creek from which you can filter water! Two weeks of filtering water would be OK, but six months? I don't think so!
With that issue as yet unresolved, back to local events. The American tree sparrows - which officially are winter residents here but I challenge you to find one in the winter - returned to my feeder yesterday. My experience last year was that they were the vanguard for other Canada-bound birds. They aren't noisy, but their song is very similar to the white-throated sparrow's song in melody, without the same tonal qualities.
The squirrel knocked the feeder off the window and it amounted to a massive grain spill on the ground, which attracted these shy sparrows. I moved the feeder a little higher up and a little farther away from the railing from which the squirrel can jump onto the feeder from, and that seems to have baffled it for now. The chickadees are back at my feeder and seem chipper. I don't know where they've been. I felt betrayed. I've seen a bald eagle flying around the bluffs next to the housing area the past few days.
Addendum: There is also a common redpoll feeding outside my window today. This is either a female or a first-winter juvenile.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I was part of a large panel of judges for a regional science fair in Scranton, ND today.
View Larger Map
The science fair had kids from all over western North Dakota. I judged the Senior division. There were some winners, some OK projects, and some poor attempts. The judging was done by going around and hearing the pitch from all the participants individually. I did my best to give constructive criticism and ask questions about their projects. A lot of times, I was testing whether they realized their project's weaknesses or, if it was pretty good, its practical application in the real world. My general gripe is that kids need to better learn how to 1. isolate a single variable for their experiment, 2. run multiple tests, 3. explain what the heck they thought they were doing.
The runner-up had something so theoretical and complex involving biochemistry, no one really understood what he'd done. To be honest, that hurt him. The project was on synthetic chemicals that, when bound with CO2 produced by combustion, could be used as to produce energy-bearing compounds plus water via photosynthesis.
The winner was a student from Beach, ND that did a study on the tendency of various diesel fuels with or without additives to gel in cold temperatures. Now there was something relevant and practical, since he made a significant finding: the mystery additive that was going into the Cenex gas tanks in Beach was actually doing a lot more than any other additive on the market! Apparently, this was good news for the Cenex manager. However, since he couldn't explain to me the chemical process by which diesel begins to gel, I faulted him for lack of understanding and, although ranked him in the top five, I didn't recommend him for the top prize. The other judges disagreed and he was clearly the top vote-getter for 1st prize.
My personal favorite came in a close third place in the caucus-style voting in the judging room. Incidentally, he was also from Beach, ND. It was a study on the heating intensity and duration of a variety of pellet fuels for fireplaces, none of which is labeled with any kind of system like you might find on insulation or fertilizer. Good science, a project no one had done, and a good presentation. Let the record show that I defended this project for #1 in the voting process! But, in the voting process, comparing burning wood pellets with the project about synthetic materials that by photosynthesis convert CO2 back into energy and water, the judges sided with the heavily-researched project instead of the good lab work.
The winner apparently took home an $18,000 scholarship for Jamestown College, and the runner-up got $14,000. (I have no clue what people study at Jamestown College; it's completely off my radar). Once we, the judges, realized how much money was at stake, we all sort of gasped and had to think extra hard about what we were doing. I actually put my head in my hands many times. It was intense. The voting system at first was to simply mark on a giant piece of paper the projects you liked best, however many you wanted to vote for. All of those projects would be promoted to the next competition on a higher level. We then took the top four and voted for the first place project. The winner had a clear majority, but the runner-up position was very close. After the first run-off between runners up came up within one vote of a tie, we had to go into an extra vetting session, with criticisms and questions asked. We had a show of hands, which came up almost exactly even again (there were 11 judges). With no clear majority, we had another vetting session. Finally, we had a secret ballot. "Can you live with these results?" The teacher in charge asked several times. When no one jumped up, it was settled. A very viking form of democracy. They might as well have called it the Science Judging Thing.
Oh, I forgot to mention that among the panelists were various people from around the state including a guy from the National Guard, the BLM, a research guy from Dickinson State University, and Macaulay Culkin's uncle, who started talking to me when I was identified as a Packers fan.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I've had interesting rodent encounters in the last 24 hours, so I am going to share them. My working title for this post was "Wet Beaver Photos," but I thought better of it. Obviously I didn't think better of it enough not to mention it in this paragraph.
The chickadees have stopped coming around to my feeder as much as they were in December and January. I cannot explain this. Either they like Judie's feeder better (it is the most-visited in the neighborhood by all the birds), or they are all dead. I hope they are alive somewhere. Meanwhile, the interloper has made herself at home:
With the warm temperatures and the issues of a fair amount of snow, the reluctance of the bentonite clay to absorb moisture, and the fact that Medora is a giant floodplain, there is quite a bit of standing water around. Just on the west side of town there is a horse pasture that has a small prairie dog town near the walking/biking trail.
Lastly, I saw a beaver swimming along in the flowing river. It sort of swam around in circles and swirled around with the flowing water for a few minutes while I took pictures. Then it dove underwater and I left.
Just yesterday, I was talking to a fellow (who shall remain safely anonymous) about a variety of topics. We talked about B-52s and missile silos, various coffee growing regions of the world, and his cabin on a private lake in ND that he was planning on retiring to in a couple years. It sounded awesome. We talked about the bear that lived there, weasels, moose, and forest management practices. Then he told me he "shoots beavers on sight" and at one point "had a stack nine beavers high" that stunk something awful until it disappeared (I suggested the bear). Now, I can see how beavers might be problematic if they were going to flood an area that contained your house, but what harm can they really cause? They eat wood. This guy was busy "cleaning" his forest to reduce fuels. Hey, I think I know a critter that will be happy to share the workload!
Now to respond to Bruce's comments from yesterday's post.
I had some pictures of the ice blocks near the campground, but the photos didn't really portray it the way I experienced it. I went down and got what I thought was a better picture today west of Medora. The bridge is Interstate 94. The river has gone down several feet, as you can see.
For the question about bluebirds, there are in fact three species of bluebirds in North America: the Eastern, Western, and Mountain bluebirds. Each is a distinct species with somewhat different coloration and, most remarkably, different preferences for habitat. Eastern bluebirds like tallgrass prairie parklands with sparse trees. Western bluebirds actually prefer woodland habitats and are less common overall than the other two species. Mountain bluebirds are found in the shortgrass prairies of the west and throughout the Rocky Mountains. If you saw a bluebird in Theodore Roosevelt, it was probably a Mountain bluebird.
In 2007, I worked on a project at Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, MN to track the nesting status of bluebirds there. Actually, it was immediately before I started this blog. I kept track of 12-14 nesting boxes 2-3 times a week for 3 months. In short, there was a constant interplay between the chickadees, house wrens, and bluebirds as they competed for nesting locations that was kind of dramatic. As soon as I would assume what I was going to find, I'd find a different bird had taken over the nest and remade it to its liking. There was also a constant drama of egg clutches being destroyed, and the dozen times that I went to open up a bird box and took a chickadee to the face. Then, one day, I opened up the box and there were little bluebird chicks that had just hatched. They were so fragile and ugly. I use a picture of them in one of my interpretive programs.
As for pheasants and other small critter life and how they have gotten on through the winter, it is difficult for me to say. We saw lots of pheasants during the Christmas Bird Count. I see roadside pheasants much of the time, but, unfortunately, I can't say scientifically whether the populations have changed significantly. Last winter/early spring, I scared a pheasant out of the grass while walking to the visitor center a couple times and nearly had to go change my pants. That hasn't happened yet. Last spring, the amorous rooster pheasant started calling constantly around April, if I remember right, so we'll see if that picks up again. The landscape is certainly not devoid of pheasants, grouse, or larks at the moment.
You will hear a lot more about birds from me as the migrants start passing through.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Doc & Marty seeing me off on another journey to the North Unit
Coyotes on patrol
The flooding in the Little Missouri River last week rafted huge blocks of ice onto the floodplain adjacent to the campground. In reality, the campground is also on the floodplain, but on a tier that is a few inches higher than the part immediately by the river. As you walk from the campground toward the river, the trees abruptly stop and you step down a few inches into a wide plain with scrub brush that continues for about 100 yards or so until you reach the river channel. The river is much closer to the campsites on the southern loop, which is closed in the winter, and where the channel is somewhat deeper. It is in this scrubby plain between the other loop of the campground and the river that the water can go when it undergoes periodic flooding, and then into the campground in a serious flood. There were impressively large chunks of ice that, when covered by the fresh snow, looked as though they might have been boulders alongside a mountain creek. It was a little bit of an alien landscape, and a strange feeling to walk among the boulders of ice that aren't normally there.
I continued up the road and encountered a fairly large group of pronghorns in an area that typically doesn't have any large mammals in it. They're such a unique and interesting creature, the only surviving member of a family of ruminants called Antilocapridae that once lived across North America in prehistoric times. People often mistakenly refer to them as "antelope," when they are indeed an entirely different animal, just as people mistakenly call bison "buffalo." Having seen a variety of species of true antelope and true buffalo in Africa, I can tell you that they are not the same. Let's stop calling them colloquially antelope and buffalo, and give them the unique identity they deserve!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Gamers have railed against Spore because it has some of that authentication technology that is intended to prevent piracy but can potentially make the game unplayable if you install it too many times. I guess that didn't bother me, since by the time I want to install it a 4th time, I will have moved on to something else. That griping aside, let's talk about how interesting this game is.
First of all, the artwork is incredible. It's made ten times more incredible because you can actually create cool-looking 3d models very easily and they fit right in. What's more is that when you're online, you can share your models with the world. I like the idea that my dinosaur is out there interacting with other people in their games. Likewise, their creatures appear in my game, too. The downside to this can be that you might make a really unstoppable carnivore in one game, but that thing might be hunting you when you play as a different creature! All in all, that is an awesome concept.
In Spore, the main theme of the game is that you have this creature that you are constantly evolving. You start out as a single cell trying to survive in a swirling, liquid environment. You have to get food and avoid being eaten yourself. You choose in the beginning whether to be herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore, a choice that will impact a good portion of the game. As you swim around and eat, you earn "DNA points," which can be redeemed to add on new adaptations you sort of discover as you go along. When you choose to mate, you can alter your creature substantially and by your own will - no selective breeding, just "intelligent design." However, the traits you choose are limited by what you have "discovered."
Eventually, you end up sprouting legs and going onto land, where it becomes a different kind of game. Instead of just eating, you can now interact with neighboring creatures socially or through combat. You can make friends or just extinct entire species, or some combination, depending on your creature's traits. Your creature slowly gets bigger and develops a bigger brain, and you begin to realize that the big rocks from early on were actually bones of gigantic animals. Spend enough time running around like a little dinosaur you can eventually advance to Tribal level.
Here's a quick animation of my construction of "Bronchitisaurus."
The purpose of Tribal level is to, again, either ally or destroy neighboring tribes, but now through more advanced means such as weapons, musical instruments, and gifts. Convert or destroy all the tribes, and then you become a continental civilization.
You see where this is going.
Once you are a civilization, you no longer control an individual animal of your species. Instead you control vehicles of the air, land, and sea. You also create buildings to look however you want. The vehicles can be equipped with stuff to pursue military, economic, or religious avenues of converting other civilizations. Eventually, when you convert or destroy everyone, you then have a global civilization that progresses into space. You can even compose your own national anthem using the mixer, and even composing your own melody (not that it has any bearing on anything whatsoever, except that you will be subjected to it throughout the rest of the game whenever you visit your cities).
The shocking thing for me was discovering that, despite all of the powers-of-ten increases in the scope and scale of the game leading up to the space launch, it continued onto the galactic scale. I actually blurted out the words, "It's full of stars," straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I later discovered that there were, indeed "2001" references sprinkled in the game, including a tool you can later develop to deploy a monolith to a planet to promote its inhabitants to a higher level of being. Anyway, the game becomes enormous and lengthy at the point you reach space. It's also an entirely different game as you work to terraform planets, harvest spices from around the galaxy, and explore while continuing to discover other creatures, ally and trade with them, and fight them. It goes on and on. I played for 15 hours yesterday and never got to the center of the galaxy. I don't think the purpose is to reach an identifyable destination once in space, though I have had clues that something happens when I get to the center. I thought it would be fitting if I got there and discovered a god-being in my own image, but, alas, I have not found out yet.
While the game portion basically consists of 5 mini-games, the true fun of the game lies in the artistic creations you can make. I spent a lot of time today just making creatures. Interestingly, the game has a function to upload videos of your creatures right onto YouTube. For me, the most fun is making animals because they are just the most interesting to me. Anyway, here are some of my creations so far:
They range from the cute "Wee Pig":
To the tolerable "Duckysaur"
To the horrifying "Tooth Fairy":
Monday, March 9, 2009
I learned from a Parks Canada interpreter passing through today that the Kilmorey Lodge, a historic building in Waterton Lakes National Park, burned down this winter. View the full story as reported by the Calgary Herald.
Photo Credit: Parks Canada
My relationship with the Kilmorey was not intimate, though I was familiar with it. As one drives down the road into Waterton, past the Prince of Wales and the visitor center, the Kilmorey Lodge is the first building one sees at the edge of town. Its dark brown wood and detailed exterior provided a look of historic elegance. The hallways on the lower level were narrow, the floors were creaky, and the air hung heavy with the smell of old carpet. Its attached restaurant, the Lamp Post, was one of super ranger Clare Landry's favorite places to eat, if not his favorite. I ate there once, and had made a mental note to get the wild game chili next time rather than the thing I got.
Though I only ever went inside once, the Kilmorey was always the first place I'd see when I arrived in town, and it always reminds me of the summer of 2005 when I went up there every week to represent the USNPS in an international peace park program. The Kilmorey's "NO VACANCY" light would always be on, and I wondered how anyone ever got a room there. It always seemed like a pretty exclusive place for that reason alone.
Photo by watertoninfo.com & hosted by CBC
In the next blog, I will tell you about the new video game I'm playing. Yes, it's come to that.
Saturday, March 7, 2009
Late in the day, we heard maintenance people on the park radio talking about something going on south of Medora. After some detective work, we learned that there was a big crush of ice flowing down the Little Missouri River, a "wall of ice." Someone called me on the phone and asked about what was happening on the river, but at the time I didn't know anything for sure. I had to give him the line, "We're looking into it," to get him off my back. The funny thing about that was that I was joking only yesterday at the barber shop that "we're looking into it" is probably the most important phrase you can know when working customer service for the government.
Amber was finishing up her work when I got home. We found out that we didn't have too long before the big event would reach Medora, perhaps as little as 20 minutes. I took my camera and walked down to the bridge by the train tracks. I couldn't find an ideal vantage point until Amber came over and we linked up with Tom and Judie, who had their car, and we drove about half a mile south of town to a bluff overlooking the river.
15 minutes after the previous picture