Archive for June, 2009

The Knee-High Knapsack Club starts July 7

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Conducting investigations in history or science requires skills of observation. The weekly Knee-High Knapsack Club early childhood program encourages children ages 3-6 to make sense of the things around them. 

Together with their caregivers, children ages 3-6 will use their five senses to engage in educational play — sorting, categorizing, and classifying by sight, sound, smell, taste and touch — abilities that are essential as children move from early childhood into school age and beyond, maybe even laying the groundwork for careers as historians and scientists! 
 
The Knee-High Knapsack Club will be held every Tuesday from July 7 through August 11, beginning at 10:00 am and ending at 10:45. The program is free with paid admission. 

For more information about this program, please contact the Museum at 970-221-6738.

Learning to Flintknap: Beard not included

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

When I mentioned to an anthropologist friend of mine that I was planning to go to Bob Patten’s (he of world-renowned fame in replicating the fluted Folsom point) house for his annual “knap-in,” she laughed and told me I’d need 3 things: closed toe shoes (for all the big pieces of rock I’d drop on my feet), safety goggles (for all the flint chips I’d send into my eyes), and a beard (for all the…umm, I wasn’t actually sure). While I am the proud owner of several fake moustaches, sadly I had no beards. When I asked her why I’d need one she laughed and told me to wait and see.

When I arrived with Toby Swaford (the museum’s K-12 Education Coordinator) and my boyfriend Keith (whose background in physics and mechanical engineering made him more than geeky enough to enjoy a day of hitting rocks), the slightly cacophonous yet still melodic “ding” of stone falling on stone drew us to Bob’s backyard. And there it was: a tent full of mostly bearded men working on creating beautiful and complex stone tools. While having a beard hopefully isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a skilled flintknapper, I soon learned that having an incredible knowledge of all things “flintknappy” is.

Bob Patten demonstrates how to strike stone with an antler

Bob Patten demonstrates how to strike stone with an antler

In the few hours I spent with Bob and his fellow flintknappers, I was continuously impressed by how much these men knew. Whether it was materials, tools, history, archaeology, or other people’s research, I was surrounded by a group of men who had in their heads everything I have to keep looking up, and they were nice enough to answer all my questions. I (foolishly) got into an argument with Greg Nunn, considered by Bob to be the world expert in Danish flintknapping, over the historical appropriateness of using of copper-tipped tools in his work, and he promptly schooled me on the history of the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age in Denmark. I lost that argument.

Bob shows Toby what to do

Bob shows Toby what to do

Toby gets ready to strike

Toby gets ready to strike

Contact!

Contact!

The highlight of my day was getting the chance to try flintknapping myself. It seemed easy enough: hit a rock with another rock. Nope. Bob handed me my own hunk of rock, a hammer stone, and then proceeded to mock my too-slow strike. After a few misses I finally got a hit and over the next couple minutes managed to knap three large flakes off the stone. None of what I was doing had the knowledge, finesse, or skill that went into the work the men around me were doing, yet I proudly held up my first flake and proclaimed to everyone inside the tent, “Look what I did!” They humored me by smiling, and then went back to proper flintknapping.

I missed my thumb - success!

I missed my thumb - success!

When I began working at the Fort Collins Museum, I read everything I could about stone tools. Then one day, a coworker had me pick up a scraper and hold it. As I held it I began to see how my hand would move to use it, and my understanding of the tool moved from the academic to the tangible. This weekend I moved from holding tools to trying to make them, and I left with a deeper appreciation for the craft. It’s incredible to think that, until the development of metalworking, stone tools were what we used. For everything! And they’re not easy to make! It’s also incredible to know that there are people today who are dedicated to the processes of experimental archaeology that recreates those tools and gives us further insights into the history of man. I’ve got a lot more learning to do, but at least I didn’t drop anything on my toes (and I think I’ll pass on that beard…).

Moths deserve the blog loving, too

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Last week, I blogged about creating and enjoying a butterfly garden. However, I realize I said nothing about moths. Since I don’t want to be accused of promoting a pro-butterfly agenda where big, flashy butterflies get all of the attention, here are some tips for turning your yard into the most happening moth nightclub around (and remember to check the Butterflies and Moths of North America [BMONA] website for information on the moths found in your area and what they eat).

Cecropia moth image courtesy of BMONA

Cecropia moth image courtesy of BMONA

Plant a Moon Garden

Moon gardens are designed to be full of flowers that open at night. These flowers have pale colors that stand out in the darkness (often white or light yellow) and strong scents, both of which attract night pollinators who often don’t have the best vision, including bats, nighttime bees, and moths. In fact, several plants rely on moths as their primary pollinators, such as yucca, which relies on, surprise, surprise, the yucca moth.

Moon garden courtesy of domino magazine

Moon garden courtesy of domino magazine

Plant a Daytime Moth Garden

While most moths fly at night, there are several daytime and crepuscular (dawn and dusk) species in the area. Hawkmoths, which look a lot like hummingbirds or bumblebees, are common daytime fliers and will be found on tubular flowers (perfect for their incredibly long proboscis, which is the straw-like tube they feed with). Honeysuckle is a great choice to attract this group.

Hawk moth image courtesy of Guillaume Dargaud

Hawk moth image courtesy of Guillaume Dargaud

Plant a Moth Caterpillar Garden

Surprisingly, there are many moth species that don’t have functioning mouthpieces as adults and never eat. That’s alright, though, because they ate enough as caterpillars to sustain them for their (short) adult lifespan. And ALL moth caterpillars eat, so another way to attract moths is to grow the plants the caterpillars eat. That way, you get the moths who arrive to lay eggs AND the caterpillars that hatch out of them. Here are some examples of common moth host plants along the Front Range:

Hackberry, Willow, Redbud, Currant, Blackberry, and Pear: Io Moths

Box Elder, Sugar Maple, Wild Cherry, Plum, Apple, Alder, and Birch: Cecropia Moths

Potato, Tobacco, Tomato (and other members of the Nightshade family): Hawkmoths

Evening Primrose: Sphinx Moths

Io moth caterpillar image courtesy of the University of Florida

Io moth caterpillar image courtesy of the University of Florida

Start Sugaring

Sugaring is a nighttime attracting technique where you “paint” tree trunks with artificial nectar made out of sugar. Moths (and other night insects) are attracted to the sweet mixture and will land on the tree trunk to feed. If you search the interweb for “sugaring” and “moths,” you’ll find plenty of different recipes, including combos of sugar, beer, rotten bananas, grape jelly, and molasses (yum!). However, this technique only works for the adult moths that feed. No giant silk moths here, but the techniques below will entice the big guys to show up.

Sugaring for moths image courtesy of Shawn Wainwright

Sugaring for moths image courtesy of Shawn Wainwright

Turn on Your Porch Light

Many moths are attracted to light (a condition known as being positively phototactic). However, not all moths are attracted to light, and scientists disagree on why some moths are and some moths aren’t. On top of that, scientists also disagree on why the moths that are attracted to light are attracted in the first place (for more information on the different theories, visit How Stuff Works). So it’s a big bag of confusion, but at the end of the day (pun intended) there are moths that will be more than happy to hang around your lights, so turn them on!

Pull out Your Black Light (you know you still have it)

If you thought moths liked your porch light, just wait until you set up a black light* (Jefferson Airplane music playing in the background optional). Many moths see ultraviolet light better than visible light and are highly attracted to it. You can replace your porch light with a black light, or hang a white sheet over a clothesline with the blacklight hanging near it. Not only will the moths arrive, but they’ll land on the sheet so you can take a closer look.

*Note: a “de-zappified” bug zapper will also work

Blacklighting for insects image courtesy of Doug Taron

Blacklighting for insects image courtesy of Doug Taron

Turn off the Bug Zapper

The goal is to attract them, not zap them. Enough said.

What Moths Might You See?

For some of the more common Front Range moths, visit the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History’s online exhibit “Moth Matters.”

Miller Moths

Miller moths hiding between the coils of a garden hose. Image courtesy of Colorado State University.

Miller moths hiding between the coils of a garden hose. Image courtesy of Colorado State University.

The moths that I know I’ve been seeing everywhere (and by everywhere I mean hiding in my shoe this morning) are Miller moths. “Miller moth” is a general term given to any type of moth that’s abundant around people. The name “Miller’ comes from the delicate scale that rub off, looking like the dusty flour that would cover millers. Here in Colorado, the common “Miller’ moth is actually the Army Cutworm. Besides my shoes, the other place Miller moths are common right now (although you may not see them) is in road intersections. What you will see, however, are the swallows swooping up and down within the intersection to catch the moths. For everything you ever wanted to know on Miller Moths, visit CSU’s “Questions and Answers about Miller Moths.”

From the Archive: Shall We Dance?

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Local History Archive

It’s always fun to come across little bits of personal ephemera here in the archive; I especially enjoy viewing items that I’m certain the original owner never imagined would end up saved in a museum.

Dance cards are great examples of this. The Local History Archive has many of these diminutive booklets that were carried by attendees at formal balls to keep track of dance partners during the evening. Dance cards also served as sweet souvenirs of a fun event; many cards have decorative covers and pages that reveal the date, location, sponsors, and even chaperones of the ball.

The dance card below is from the Kappa Alpha Theta Midwinter Dance that took place on February 12, 1932. The card still has the wrist cord with a tiny pencil attached. It appears that “Joan” was the favored partner of this dancer.

Kappa dance card

Kappa dance card

Kappa dance card, inside view

Kappa dance card, inside view

Dorothy Bunn’s card is from the Spring Dinner Dance sponsored by the Tau of Gamma Phi Beta. This dance occurred on May 16, 1931 at the famous Lewiston Hotel in Estes Park. Tragically, the hotel burned on September 4, 1941 and was never rebuilt.

Dorothy Bunn's dance card

Dorothy Bunn's dance card

Lewiston Hotel

Lewiston Hotel

Finally, this beanie-shaped dance card is from the Class of ’35 Frosh Party at Colorado Agricultural College (present-day Colorado State University) that took place January 8, 1932. A page on the interior reveals that Donelly James was on hand that evening, “dispensing melodies.”

Class of '35 Frosh Party dance card, Colorado Agricultural College

Class of '35 Frosh Party dance card, Colorado Agricultural College

Conservation of our natural and cultural heritage: Leave it to Beaver

by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections 

(A personal disclaimer: I grew up in Oregon–the Beaver State; in Corvallis, which is the home of Oregon State University and, of course, the mighty OSU Beavers. Our family drove around with twin stickers on our back bumper declaiming “I’m a Beaver Believer” and “I’ve Got Beaver Fever.” I come by my love for these buck-toothed engineers honestly, and my “beaver fever” is unabashed.)

My experience with historical research has taught me that it can be almost impossible to pick up and follow a single topic: inevitably one thing is knotted on to another, tangled up with a dozen more, and sometimes tied on to its own tail. This has been the way it’s gone with my research on the beaver felt top hat of my last post. My research on that object made me curious to see what other artifacts of beaver history are preserved in the Fort Collins Museum collections. Turns out it is an impressive inventory:

  • 3 beaver felt top hats in addition to the one attributed to President Lincoln
  • 1 elegant felt lady’s riding hat
  • 2 wide-brimmed beaver felt Stetsons
  • 1 pair of beaver fur mitts
  • 1 bearskin coat trimmed at the collar and cuffs with beaver fur
  • 1 sweet beaver fur cape and muff set, made from beavers trapped on George Campton’s ranch in Livermore about 1910 for his sister
  • 1 old beaver trap, pulled out of the Cache La Poudre River and donated to the Museum in the 1960s
  • 1 pelt from a beaver trapped by the donor himself in Colorado and donated in 1979
  • 2 stuffed and mounted beavers (the largest and fattest dang beavers I’ve ever seen)
  • a set of beaver skulls
  • and, finally, various pairs of bright orange upper front beaver teeth

The presence of these beaver-related objects in the Museum’s collections reflects a steady involvement of the species in our region’s history, despite an economically driven “beaver fever” that severely depleted their numbers before Colorado had even become a state. The earliest historical trapping records of the Colorado Rocky Mountain region show sixty to eighty beaver present per mile of stream. By the turn of the 20th century the species’ population nationwide was as low as 100,000 individuals, very few of whom were here in the West.

Two sources I’ve come across recently not only decry the West’s loss of beaver populations, but advocate their protection and reintroduction as a means of conserving our region’s natural and cultural riches. Both recognize that in shaping the region’s waterways to their own purposes, beavers once played, and can play again, a vital role in maintaining the environments in which the region’s unique human history has unfolded. The first of these is Beaver World, a charming book by Enos Mills, a signed copy of which is in the Fort Collins Museum’s Local History Archive. Mills was a passionate advocate for the natural world, and an astute direct observer of wild animals interacting with the environment. Beaver World was published in 1913, and in it Mills not only gushes about the beaver’s emblematic industriousness, “He works not only tooth and nail, but tooth and tail,” but more insightfully recognizes the role the species plays in maintaining both a healthy ecosystem, and a landscape humans find welcoming and pleasing:

Beaver works are of economical and educational value besides adding a charm to the wilds. The beaver is a persistent practicer of conservation and should not perish from the hills and mountains of our land. Altogether, the beaver has so many interesting ways, is so useful, skillful, practical, and picturesque that his life and his deeds deserve a larger place in literature and in our hearts.

The beaver’s role in maintaining healthy, functional Western ecosystems is the central focus in the much more contemporary article “Voyage of the Dammed,” carried in a recent edition of The High Country News. Writing at a time when water conservation is a high profile problem and many of its proposed solutions carry high price tags, author Kevin Taylor outlines the position of environmentalists and other concerned citizens who advocate, at least in part, leaving it to the beavers:

The humble, hardworking rodent, through its dams and ponds, can extend the release of water late into summer, saturating the ground and healing watersheds. It has the power to re-create the primordial, wetter West that existed for millennia.

The article extends the beaver’s vital restorative role to cultural values as well. Taylor quotes a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, 86 year-old Felix Aripa, who sees within the native ecosystems restored by beaver activity the roots of cultural restoration: in the returning native plants, fish, and animal species are embodied the cultural riches of language and long-held cultural knowledge.

These two sources have whetted my appetite for learning more about this species, and for doing what I can to promote its ongoing presence in our region. I understand that in caring for the beaver artifacts which lie within the Fort Collins Museum collection — clothing, tools, and scientific specimens — we preserve the history of a species which plays a central role in the Native American traditions of this area, as well as in the story of the region’s surge in population and development in the 19th century. As I read the strong praise Enos Mills gives this species and the excited plans of those advocating its restoration, I’m thrilled with the possibility that within today’s beaver population is preserved a solution to our region’s compelling need to conserve both the health of the environment and the wealth of our cultural and historical heritage. “I’m a Beaver Believer” indeed.

beaver blog photo

 

Science at home: Create a butterfly garden

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

The first day of summer is soon upon us, and summer only means one thing: butterflies! (Actually, according to an informal poll of friends and coworkers I took before I wrote this post, apparently “summer” also means swimming, cookouts, camping and golf [I know, I don’t get that last one, either]). But this is my post, so butterflies it is!

There are over 250 species of butterflies and moths here in Larimer County, and one of the best ways to maximize your butterfly-viewing abilities this season (other than drenching yourself in Gatorade…but that’s a story for another post) is to grow a Butterfly Garden. Here’s how:

Image courtesy of Barry Weber

Image courtesy of Barry Weber

Step 1: Choose your butterflies

Now, you’ll never have complete control over which butterflies visit your garden (unless you set up little butterfly bouncers to keep those riffraff Cabbage whites out), but you can influence who’s visiting by the plants you grow. So, what butterflies would you like to see?

The “Butterflies and Moths of North America” (BMONA) website is a great place to learn which species frequent your region. There are also plenty of reference books at stores and libraries, and these come in handy for on-the-spot identification later. Start researching!

Step 2: Choose your plants

The butterflies you want to see will dictate the plants you grow. Butterflies need two types of plants: host plants and nectar plants. Host plants are the ones that butterflies lay their eggs on and caterpillars eat the leaves off of. Caterpillars tend to be very host plant-specific, and will only eat that one plant. Nectar plants have the flowers that supply butterflies with the nectar and pollen they eat, and butterflies are much less choosy about their nectar sources – dozens of species can visit the same flowers.

Worried about having a garden full of plants that look like Swiss cheese (not to be confused with the Swiss cheese plant, which caterpillars also eat)? Plant nectar sources. Want to be able to watch the whole butterfly lifecycle (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly)? Plant host plants and nectar sources. (P.S. The BMONA website also lists the known host and nectar sources for each of the species, so its one-stop information shopping!)

Image courtesy of Burning Silo

Image courtesy of Burning Silo

You may already be growing some host and nectar plants in your garden and not even know it. Here are some common Fort Collins examples:

Host Plants

Dill, Parsley, Carrot, and Celery: Swallowtails

Yucca: Giant Yucca Skipper

Alfalfa and Clover: Orange Sulphur

Thistle: Painted Lady

Milkweed: Monarch, Queen, and Solider

Nectar Plants

Marigold: Sulphurs

Dandelion: Skippers, Checkerspots

Aster: Skippers

Lilac: Swallowtails

Sweet pea: Skippers

Geranium: Swallowtails

Butterfly bush: Good grief, almost all of them!

By planting a combination of annuals and perennials that bloom at different times you can attract butterflies throughout the spring, summer and fall.

Step 3: Offer the butterflies more than just plants

Having host plants and nectar sources are the first steps, but there are other important elements to entice our scaled-wing (what the word “Lepidoptera” means) to your yard.

Shelter: Being light, delicate, and with wings that act like sails, butterflies aren’t huge fans of wind. By including windbreaks in your garden such as big rocks, trees, and bushes, you can reduce the wind levels in your yard and create an oasis of calm. These windbreaks are also common locations for caterpillars to select when it comes time to turn into a chrysalis.

Water: Speaking of oases, butterflies need water. If you provide areas where moisture can collect, you’ll see butterflies start “puddling,” or clustering around pools of water, mud, and even animal urine and feces to suck up water, salts, and other minerals. Those nutrients supplement what butterflies get from nectar and pollen and are also often used as nuptial gifts that the male will pass to the female when mating.

Image courtesy of Ashbuilder

Image courtesy of Ashbuilder

Sunning Spots: As invertebrates, butterflies can’t internally control their body temperatures and need the sun to warm them. When the sun is out, butterflies will open its wings on a flat surface (like that big rock you put in as a wind break) to soak up the available solar energy.

High and Low Spots: Just like my neighbor’s Chihuahua, Sparky, butterflies are territorial. In many species, male butterflies will have territories and any female that enters that territory is fair game for attempted mating. Having high spots in your garden where males can perch allows them to scan for any incoming females and also any other males that may try to encroach on either their territory or their ladies.

Image courtesy of the Bermuda Monarch Conservancy

Image courtesy of the Bermuda Monarch Conservancy

Don’t have your own garden (or, like me, you only have a tiny apartment balcony)? Here are some ideas:

Make Friends: Become friends with people who have their own gardens. If you’re lucky, they’ll invite you over and you can enjoy their garden and butterflies, hopefully with some lemonade (or something stronger) thrown in for good measure. Plus, you’ll have more friends.

Get Outdoors!: Visit the many Natural Areas and Open Spaces in Fort Collins and Larimer County. One of the great things about all of the natural spaces where we live is that they’re managed carefully to support native plants. Native plants = native butterflies = lots for you to see!

Butterfly at Pineridge Natural Area, image courtesy of Otto West

Butterfly at Pineridge Natural Area, image courtesy of Otto West

If you follow the above guidelines, you’ll soon be surrounded by flittering Fritillaries and swooping Swallowtails. Enjoy!

From the Archive: Adventures with the Colorado Mountain Club

by Lesley Drayton, Curator of the Fort Collins Local History Archive

I thought it would be fun to highlight some of the interesting items we encounter here in the Fort Collins Local History Archive!

While looking through a collection of lantern slides that one of our wonderful archive volunteers (you know who you are!) was processing, I was intrigued by a small cardboard-bound journal held together with leather lacing. A yellowed card poking out of the top of the journal read “Colorado Mountain Club Minutes.”

What one finds inside this journal is not so much “minutes” of meetings, but detailed, humorous handwritten accounts and sketches of the many excursions taken by the Fort Collins chapter of the Colorado Mountain Club from 1928 to 1942.

Over the years the members of the group varied, but typically the chapter consisted of around a dozen women and men who would make hiking, camping, and skiing trips around the Fort Collins area. The group often visited a cabin at Chambers Lake where they would spend an evening eating good food, playing cards, and sleeping on “hilly mattresses” before embarking on a day of skiing.

Here is an excerpt from the entry for the Spring Vacation, April 2-5, 1932:

Many people, fifteen to be specific, twice as many skis, superabundance of luggage (so it seemed), characteristic good cheers, smiles, etc. all found room enough to assemble near the laboratory of G.H., Saturday morning. Surprise! The cavalcade left approximately on time. No cheering friends were on the dock to bid us ‘bon voyage,’ but our spirits were too high to notice the absence…

We stopped at Lost Lake where we obliged G.E. by giving him the opportunity to take some movies of some high-class skiers doing their stuff. G. very discreetly photographed the start of the descent. He showed great judgment in his selection of a vantage point, as most of us were able to defy the law of gravitation until past the camera. But the strain was too great and most of us eventually no longer violated Sir Isaac’s law. A. gave a very striking demonstration of the following mathematical formula: 

F=k (m’xm”)/d2

We were greatly pleased at such an educational project. After rubbing most of the snow off the side of the hill with the posterior parts of our bodies, we decided to seek newer and better falling grounds.

Below is a charming “artistic rendering” of the group’s April 5-8, 1930 Spring Vacation, as well as a scan of one of the lantern slides in the collection, entitled “Mountain Club on top of Lost Lake.” 

Colorado Mountain Club journal page

Colorado Mountain Club journal page

Colorado Mountain Club at Lost Lake

Colorado Mountain Club at Lost Lake


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