Trinity Tracks

McPherson 2 - editedAn update from Hadley McPherson, SMU ‘15, who placed motion-activated cameras in the Trinity River Forest and photographed the movement of wild animals to calculate population sizes and identify individual animals.

In cooperation with both the Trinity River Audubon Center and Groundwork Dallas, my research uses motion sensing camera traps to obtain a census of the mammals living in the Great Trinity Forest and to accumulate data regarding their respective niches in the face of encroaching urban development. This research is essential to habitat restoration efforts by quantifying the value of the Trinity River Forest both ecologically and economically.

In the long-term, this ongoing research aims to create a comparison of habitats up and downstream to assess the possible existence of a wildlife corridor through Dallas and to quantify the ecological impact of development by examining patterns in migration and population densities.

Camera traps offer an effective tool for conducting inventories of larger, elusive mammals that are often only reported as rare chance encounters. Dr. Michael Tewes, an expert on the study of wild cat species, was brought to Dallas for consultation and to give a lecture on his camera trapping techniques. Following his direction, four Moultrie cameras were placed at four different sites at the Audubon Center. The cameras are named: Snoopy, Lucy, Charlie, and Woodstock.

Check out pictures and more

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Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

An update from Katelyn Gough in Jordan researching the Syrian refugee crisis within the context of Jordanian security and international affairs.

“The rebellions control the area my family lives. It’s very difficult to live there.

Protected? No. They can shell it. Explosive bottles, heavy shelling. Almost every day.

Sometimes I wish I had stayed. And sometimes, no.”

I recently spent my first two days in the Zaatari refugee camp near al Mafraq, a short 45-minute drive from downtown Amman. Zaatari is home now to 81,000 Syrians, many from the Daraa area that extends down to just above the Jordanian border north of the camp. As this number has fluctuated since Syrians began fleeing at the start of the revolution in 2011, it hit its high of more than 400,000 refugees in the camp and has since settled out at the current figure. These numbers do not include the second camp of Azraq to the east, nor the large population of Syrians who have attempted to integrate into Jordanian towns, including the capital city of Amman.

In a country whose history is largely dominated by significant refugee influxes, one said to me that the Syrian migration is “history repeating itself.”

I spoke with many refugees over my two days there—from young children to elderly grandparents—and the realities they faced in Syria and the realities they face in the camp are unforgettable. More importantly, their resilience was what I found most astounding.

I heard stories of murdered family members, stories of surviving bullet wounds from a sniper attack, stories of leaving university in Syria to save one’s own life and flee.

gough, katelyn

Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan

These stories were accompanied by the absolute exuberance of the children living in the camp. They would see me walking between the tents with my camera and suddenly run up in front of me, unannounced, and immediately begin posing. I was to take their photo so they could see it on the camera in the clear colors—it was a universal game for all of them, more so than I have ever found in previous journalism projects involving younger ones.

As I spent time in the camp interviewing and meeting with people—especially the older youth, whose bridge from youth to adulthood is infinitely complicated by the fact of displacement—I experienced hospitality unlike ever before. Many whom I spoke with and questioned thanked me for the interviews, giving me freshly baked bread, desert treats from their shop, and welcoming me into their tents and aluminum caravans for tea and juice. My guide to the camp even hosted myself and my translator for lunch with his family not one day, but two—a family network with all ready too little to eat was preparing for us their favorite meals typically reserved for the best of celebrations, featuring chicken and beef and requiring several hours’ preparation.

It is remedying the stories of loss, deprivation and attack with the undying generosity that they could not afford by gave anyway that takes a true look into the complicated and interwoven workings of migration and displacement reality in a culture so selfless and sacrificing.

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I think your shoes are not right

 Taken from

gabriellaOn Sunday I had a great opportunity to go to an eco-tourism resort and spa near the GREAT WALL OF FREAKING CHINA. Yes, I’ve been before, but its still really really cool.

The spa is called The Brickyard and there is a restaurant nearby owned by the same people called is the Schoolhouse at MuTianYu (the facility used to be the village schoolhouse). I heard about this place and naturally put on my important business lady internet facade and wrote a very official email, to which I was offered free transportation (an hour and a half away from the city), a tour, and lunch! The car was departing at 9:00am, which was no big deal because I wake up at 4:00am most days anyway (thank you 13 hour time difference). It was a slightly awkward ride since the woman who picked me up spoke approximately zero English, and, wanting to take advantage of having a Chinese person my captive audience, I stumbled around conversational sentences trying to engage her. This was only a little successful because before I could get the words I wanted to say out of my mouth she was responding, at which point I was still trying to process the question I was asking and not receptive to an answer… but I would say I understood a good 65% of what was going on.

We wound our way up the mountain that seemed to just appear out of the smog after an hour of highways and flat-landed cities, and pulled into a precariously sloped driveway. I stepped out and straightened my dress, ready to make a professional impression.

I walked into a courtyard surrounded by buildings with selected panes replaced by stained glass (apparently they have a resident glass blower). Jim Spear, one of the owners, specializes in remodeling and refurbishing traditional Chinese homes using modern comfort and technology, therefore all the buildings were very inviting.

I was greeted by, to my surprise, and American from Seattle. I later found out that he is doing an internship at mutianyu developing fruit vinegars and liquors as a branch of the business. He works independently and experiments with ingredients of his own choosing, as is the structure of the internship. Where was this when I was looking for something to do in China?? Anyway, I wrote more about the internship and the resort’s eco-practices on my other blog if you are interested in reading more:

This guy’s name is Chris, and he sat down with me and just started talking. He was very sociable and would joke occasionally with the Chinese employees in slang-ridden Mandarin that I was not privy to. When he arrived in China 2 years ago, after finishing a degree at UW in Horticultural and sustainablitly something or other, he did not speak a lick of Chinese. Now he is pretty much fluent, I was very impressed. After about 2 hours of conversation and my grilling interview questions (“so, um, tell me about the farm, maybe, if you want to?” – okay, not THAT timidly ), I so candidly asked “It’s super nice of you to talk to me, but do you have a job to do or something?” Giving me a tour was his task of the morning, however, so that was cool.

Fun Fact: Michelle Obama visited the very place that I was sitting a year ago and Chris had the privilege of serving her water.

Chris did eventually have to go back to work, so another employee who spoke a little bit of English handed me a map and told me I could see the Great Wall while I was waiting for my car back to the city. On the map the path to the Wall was labeled “hike,” and as I was noticing this he looked at my feet and said “I think your shoes are not right.” To which I belligerently smiled and said, “I think it will be fine!”

It was a long mile uphill, and I was getting strange looks from locals as I traversed the rocky terrain in a cute pair of sandals and my cotton dress. When I got to the top, there was a certain point at which you had to present a ticket, so I stopped there and just looked up in awe at the ancient structure built atop a mountain to ward off potential nomadic enemies. I tried to take a picture, but they just don’t do it justice. Plus from that far away, it just looks so small!

Going down was almost worse than going up… I perpetually felt like I was going to tumble over and somersault down the road. I made it back without incident, and did quite enjoy the cumbersome walk regardless.

The ride back to the city was significantly less awkward, mainly because I was sound asleep. It was a day to remember, and one day I hope to return to The Brickyard with on a more spa-heavy excursion – and proper footwear.

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The Terminal

Taken from Gabriella Padgett’s blog

The life of a standby passenger is exhausting, but its definitely worth it.

Thank you mom.

We started in Miami on Wednesday morning to try a US Airways flight, but moved on to the Ft. Lauderdale airport after a few hours. Waiting for a flight opportunity in the terminal while my mom was boarding a flight, a new plan emerged – and it left in 15 minutes a terminal away. I ran to make the flight (thank goodness Southwest gets delayed all the time), and made it on a flight to Detroit, where a Delta flight left the next day nonstop to Beijing. I arrived in Detroit around 11:00pm and found the comfiest chair I could find. I camped out here until passengers came for an early morning flight around 4:30am. By this time, some of the restaurants had opened, so I sat down at a little diner and had a cup of terrible airport coffee, sort of dazed by the whole situation, and the past 18 hours.

At 6:00am I went to the international terminal, finally able to check in (6 hours before my flight), and found another seat to camp out in. When the desk assistant started clearing standby passengers I got sort of nervous and by the time everyone had boarding and I was the last time on the list, I was freaking out a little bit. When I went up to the desk, the nice Chinese lady could not find my name. Uh Oh. However, when she changed computers she found me! I was the last one to board and was anticipating a middle seat next to a crying baby. I handed my boarding pass to the attendant, but rather than pointing me toward the back, she ushered me, with a “right this way ma’am,” through a curtain and to row 1, of the business class. I checked and re-checked the number on my pass, and lo and behold! This beautiful capsule of interstellar comfort, dressed with 2 pillows and a blanket was all mine for the next 13 hours. The deal was sealed when I accepted a glass of champagne, and I sat down not even caring if I would have to pay extra for the 3-course meal and all the freebies (I never had to).



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The Orchard

Blog post taken from

gabriellaWhile in China, I am completing a project on the organic and local food movement in Beijing (you may have gathered as much). I am keeping a blog as a resource for other study abroad students and foreigners! Check it out!

My first find of this trip! I maybe started a little late because it took me 2 hours to find it and it was dark before I got there… it was also in quite a rural place. But I returned to the house safely!

- anxinbeijing

The Orchard

An actual orchard with associated restaurant and store. Very nice, almost formal, although there is no need to dress up. All food is organic, and most comes from the surrounding farm! Very scenic, although a little tough to get to. Prices are reasonable for the quality. Mostly European dishes.

Address: 北京市顺义区崔各庄乡何各庄村

the orchard

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Life is Good in Byron Bay

Taken from Ariana’s blog “Spirit and Earth: A performance project”

Hello from the other side of the world!

I am currently in Byron Bay, which is probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. It sort of reminds me of Big Sur in California, except I can see even more of the ocean in one view! The water here is beautiful and clear and there’s no litter on the beach! That makes me SO happy. Whenever I visit the beach in Santa Monica I am picking up plastic and garbage left behind. That alone goes to show the cultural difference in perspective on environment.

That actually seems to be a big theme on my trip already — that the environment and the humans living in it tell an interconnected story. Today my professor said, “You can’t look at the landscape without looking at the people living on it for the last 50,000 years.” He was explaining how you can’t just learn about Australian landscape without learning about Aboriginal Australians. What is happening in the environment tells a story about the people living in it and how the people live tells a story about what is happening to the environment.

Speaking of which, today I realized the story of earth’s evolution and the life on it is literally that — a STORY. It’s OUR story. I love looking at earth’s history from this perspective because I am a storyteller myself and I now I feel really inspired and excited to dive fully into science’s story about human and earth’s history.

One of the most impacting things I’ve realized in the two days I’ve been here is that “Aboriginals” does not refer to one group of people, but rather to about 300 nations that existed before England invaded. Each group of people had their own language and way of living (because of difference in environment), but the concept of Dreamtime was similar across the different tribes. (I’ll introduce Dreamtime in a later post, because it deserves detailed attention.)

The day before I left I met with Evan Maurer, previous director of Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and expert in indigenous art from around the world. He shared a lot of useful info with me and even showed me some beautiful Aboriginal objects he has in his home. He also emphasized that the objects are important because they tell a story about the people and the individual who created it. What was going on at the time is reflected in the objects.

It’s interesting… Evan said, “The bush gives up it’s treasures rather slowly.” And my professor said, “It does not yield it’s treasures easily.” Australia is limited in some resources, particularly water in certain areas.

Before I spoke with Evan I looked at Indigenous culture’s commercial tourist attraction as sad, invasive, and offensive. For example, that’s how I felt driving through New Mexico and seeing tipped and rain sticks sold as souvenirs for visitors. After  speaking with Evan I have adopted a different perspective, the perspective that the indigenous artwork is being tailored for for the understanding of outsiders and shared with those who come to visit. It’s a more positive outlook and equally true. I will write more in detail about my wonderful meeting with Evan in a later post and it will include pictures of several objects Evan so graciously shared with me!

This is only the top of the iceberg. I wish I could share EVERYTHING with you! I am still jetlagged, but I want to stay as updates as possible!

I am SO grateful to be here. I am loving hostel life! My skin is already sun kissed and my hair is filled with salt and sand. I can’t help but think, “this is how I am supposed to live.”

1 more day here and then I’m off to Brisbane!


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Get Your Feet Wet

If you please recall my first post, the Great Trinity Forest is a bottomland hardwood forest. That’s a fancy term for river swamp. But I didn’t really know what it meant until I experienced it for myself.

On May 13, I went to do field work with Shannon and graduate student Tom Green. It had rained almost an inch the day before, and we were lucky it wasn’t raining that morning. As we took the path into the forest, our shoes were soon heavy with mud. The GPS unit led us to the first sample plot of the day, and we passed puddles that kept getting larger and larger until they were unavoidable. In fact, the puddle was larger than the sample plot. We hadn’t seen the forest like this before, so we weren’t wearing rain boots. “For science!” we exclaimed while water soaked through our shoes and socks to our feet.

It was really interesting to be in the flooded forest. The flooding is a distinctive characteristic of the Great Trinity Forest, it’s what makes it unique. Because of this flooding, the forest has an impact on water quality and stream recharge - which are important things to consider in a city concerned with drought.

Water is a big issue right now. Protecting forests could be a way to keep it clean and available. That’s just one way a bottomland forest is great. It’s also fun to get your feet wet :)


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