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Return of the Gyotaku (Or, All the Fish That’s Fit to Print)

Written on: October 31st, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones ReserveVolunteers

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience trying out Gyotaku for the first time. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Return of the Gyotaku (Or, All the Fish That’s Fit to Print)

DNERR provided the paper, the paint, the brushes, and other supplies.

DNERR provided the paper, the paint, the brushes, and other supplies.

When reporting for volunteer-duty at the St. Jones Reserve’s Visitors Center, on National Estuaries Day 2016, I was met, going out the door, in the opposite direction, by an adult carrying aloft a fresh sheet of art paper festively daubed in bright colors of a generally fishlike shape…but with no little kid(s) trailing alongside. That was all I needed to see to know that the mysterious, elusive Gyotaku was lurking inside, ready and willing to engage with all comers.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know it was in the research lab at the St. Jones Reserve, last year, that I conquered the harrowing kid-skills pop-quiz consisting of blunt-nosed scissors, school paste, and construction paper. When I rounded the corner into the lab the other day, I found myself face-to-face with an art-based smack-down-style rematch of epic proportions. I knew this day would come.

One of the lab stations had indeed been set up for the family-friendly activity called Gyotaku, the Japanese art of “Fish Printing” about which Maggie Pletta (DNERR Education Coordinator) and Colleen Holstein (DNERR Administrative Assistant) had so tantalizingly spoken, during an Education Volunteer Training session.

Proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created the artwork on the right has a Ph.D.!

Proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created the artwork on the right has a Ph.D.!

Fortunately for me, the only smacking-down being done was that of my selected, slathered art-subject against a bright rectangle of art paper: a rubber manta I had carefully daubed with sponge-tipped paintbrushes of assorted water-soluble paint colors. Afterward, a quick rinse of the art-model in a lab sink, then a gentle pat dry, and you are good to go — out to your car to set your paper-and-paint creation on the back seat to dry.

The tradition in Japan is to use an actual fish and inks or pigments. Information about this can be found online, and the results can be nuanced and quite spectacular. For a more convenient, more environmentally friendly version of Gyotaku, one can purchase a collection of rubber sea-creatures, manufactured specifically for this purpose, from the major art-supply houses. DNERR’s selections included a starfish, the aforementioned manta, and several species of fish.

This manta is all painted-up and ready to make art! That’s blue glitter-paint on the tail. The artistic method: one splat, then a 180-degree rotation. The outcome can be seen in the nearby photo.

This manta is all painted-up and ready to make art! That’s blue glitter-paint on the tail. The artistic method: one splat, then a 180-degree rotation. The outcome can be seen in the nearby photo.

“Fish Printing” at DNERR is the equivalent of tracing around your hand to make an image of a Thanksgiving turkey. It really is goof proof! And here’s the best part: The finished product will actually look like something! Mine, I decided, looks like a manta “hurricane” — if hurricanes had swirling arms of blue glitter around a vortex of limes and bananas.

 The online Gyotaku tutorials are not without interest, however. There, one learns about the traditional artist’s soapstone signature-block known as the hanko, a symbol-rich insignia personal to the artist that’s inked and then applied to the corner of each finished piece. My hanko would be a stylized River-Tree-Sun-Field-Mountain. A lot going on in that signature block, if those things could somehow be squeezed in. If I ever find a piece of soapstone to carve, I will give it a try and will let you know.

Further proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created this has a Master's degree!

Further proof that Gyotaku is fun for everyone: The person who created this has a Master’s degree!

Meanwhile, when at DNERR, don’t shy away from creating your own Gyotaku if the opportunity is offered. It’s all the fish that’s fit to print! And once you have vanquished your chosen foe in this table-top smack-down tourney, then consider adding, no, not your “John Hancock” ‑‑ though that’s fine also — but your personal hanko. You will be so proud! The estuary will smile upon you, too!

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

National Estuaries Day: Pirate–I mean DNERR!–Style

Written on: October 18th, 2016 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt Jones Events and Programs

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience attending #NationalEstuariesDay at the Reserve, complete with a pirate twist. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

National Estuaries Day: Pirate–I mean DNERR–Style

Welcome, pirates! -- umm, knowledge-seeking members of the public!

Welcome, pirates! — umm, knowledge-seeking members of the public!

“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” was September 19. While your friends amused themselves by endlessly saying “Arrrr,” “Avast,” and “Ahoy, matey” to each other, you, on the other hand, sought the best of both worlds: You were awaiting National Estuaries Day 2016, on September 24, at the St. Jones and Blackbird Creek Reserves. As a result of your attendance, you are now more conversant in such things as estuarine water quality, local meteorology, and Delaware ecology. Who hath the real treasure, now?

Word from Johanna Hripto, DNERR’s new Assistant Education Coordinator, was that the Blackbird Creek Reserve, near Townsend, that morning had hosted a successful tree-planting campaign. Thanks to volunteer assistance, including from the Girl Scouts of the Chesapeake Bay Service Unit 13, some 85 new trees were added.

“Nice telepresence, Maggie!" Actually, Maggie herself was on the premises, but the video allowed her to be two places at once.

“Nice telepresence, Maggie!” Actually, Maggie herself was on the premises, but the video allowed her to be two places at once.

National Estuaries Day activities at the St. Jones Reserve were also off to a promising start with the arrival of some guest-families, a few of whom enjoyed a guided hike toward Kingston-Upon-Hull. The grey day and cool temperatures made the Visitors Center, after the hike, feel all the more homey.

Inside the Visitors Center were video presentations, specimen displays and, in the Research Lab, fun in every direction. In the latter, an excited, young visitor was heard to exclaim, “You gotta come see the turtles!” while tugging on a parental sleeve. Tanks around the room held live turtles, fish, a mud crab, and a horseshoe crab.

A young visitor to DNERR, on National Estuaries Day, is enrapt by the pelts, skulls, footprints, and taxidermy specimens on display.

A young visitor to DNERR, on National Estuaries Day, is enrapt by the pelts, skulls, footprints, and taxidermy specimens on display.

Also in the Research Lab were microscope-based exhibits with glass slides inserted for viewing tiny, water-borne marine creatures (caught in the long, narrow plankton-net displayed nearby); an array of horseshoe crab shell-and-egg specimens; and even a station at which children and adults could try their hand at Gyotaku, aka “fish printing,” a Japanese art-form this blogger has been anxious to try for months — and did.

On your mark...get ”S.E.T.”...go!

On your mark…get ”S.E.T.”…go!

A rather sinister looking device at a lab workstation turned out to be a very eco-friendly contraption known as “S.E.T.,” for Sedimentation Elevation Table. Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator, demonstrated how rods inserted through the framework and into the marsh mud can indicate to scientists how those elevations shift over time. (That would also be handy to know for anyone involved in burying or recovering pirate treasure. Just sayin’.) Nearby sat a beaker of mud and clay prepared by Drexel Siok, DNERR Environmental Scientist, to illustrate, in side-view, the sedimentary layers found in the estuary.

We may not fly a skull-and-crossbones flag, but at DNERR, we have something better: the opportunity to see and learn about real animal bones!

We may not fly a skull-and-crossbones flag, but at DNERR, we have something better: the opportunity to see and learn about real animal bones!

Another odd-looking contraption on display was a Van Dorn bottle, which of course is similar in function to a Niskin bottle. Got it? Me either. Hint: This ain’t no bottled water from Wawa…. Turns out these large, spring-loaded, capsule-shaped devices are used by scientists to collect water samples from predetermined depths. Just be careful of your fingers when you set the mechanism for use. (Maybe that was Captain Hook’s actual problem, and the whole Tick-Tock Crocodile thing was just a convenient cover-story?)

The day ended with an hour-long skiff ride on the St. Jones, where we heard about recent sightings of Bald Eagles and River Otters and were even treated to Maggie’s lifelike imitations of the calls of the Osprey and the Great Blue Heron. The real, live Osprey seen eating a fish at one of the nesting platforms, near North Bowers, probably would have answered her had his mouth not been full.

Land's End as seen from the skiff: The sandy point where the St. Jones River empties into the Delaware Bay. No, that's not the mast of a lurking pirate-ship, but an osprey nesting platform.

Land’s End as seen from the skiff: The sandy point where the St. Jones River empties into the Delaware Bay. No, that’s not the mast of a lurking pirate-ship, but an osprey nesting platform.

We were also given some quick lessons in geography and local history: For instance, we heard that one can canoe from downtown Dover right out to the area where we were motoring around in the skiff. We also heard about the once-thriving mercantile trade along this stretch of waterway, particularly toward Lebanon Landing. Mention was also made of the successful remediation of the old Wildcat Landfill, an EPA Superfund site located nearby, and its conversion to greenway space now known as Hunn Nature Park.

The St. Jones River, by boat, on a beautiful, late afternoon in September: No other word for it but "Aaah!" (not “Arrrr!”).

The St. Jones River, by boat, on a beautiful, late afternoon in September: No other word for it but “Aaah!” (not “Arrrr!”).

While aboard the skiff, our group didn’t see any real-life pirates or mysterious ghost ships, but if Kent County has ‘em, one suspects the St. Jones River is a place they would be.

Was National Estuaries Day both fun and educational? You be the judge. As we who were in attendance — the self-styled, modern-day “Pirates of the St. Jones” — can heartily proclaim, “Yo-ho-ho and a Niskin bottle of estuary water!”

Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

Education Expansion

Written on: October 4th, 2016 in Education & OutreachNERR

johanna-hscDNERR recently welcomed a new Assistant Education Coordinator, Johanna Hripto.

Johanna graduated in May from Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with a B.S. in Biology with a focus on Ecology and a minor in French. While there she did research on the Susquehanna River including benthic macroinvertebrate communities, water quality analysis, and the effects of point source pollution. She was also co-coordinator of Lycoming’s Sustainability Committee focusing on waste reduction initiatives across campus, including reducing food waste at the college.

Johanna is originally from north-eastern Pennsylvania and enjoys traveling and is an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan. She is looking forward to helping expand the education programs at the Reserve and being able to inspire people to help protect the Delaware Bay. She is also looking forward to less snow during winter!

Please help us welcome Johanna as she joins the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve family!

DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Written on: September 7th, 2016 in Blackbird Creek ReserveGuest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas showing off her creative #EstuaryLove for #EstuariesWeek. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

DNERR: It’s Alphabetary!

Credit M.L

Alvin G. Wilson Conservation Demonstration Area

Blackbird Creek

Canoeing

Delaware Bay Horseshoe Crab Spawning Survey

Ecosystem research

Fiddler crabs

Geocaching

Horseshoe crabs

Internships (undergraduate and graduate)

Journeys into the great outdoors

Kayaking

Long-term monitoring

Marsh

Native plants

Outdoor Delaware Trail Passport

Programs for grades K-16

Quarter-mile boardwalk

Restoration-technique evaluations

St. Jones River

Teacher Professional Development programs

Uplands

Volunteerism opportunities

Workshops and seminars

X-cellent views

You! (Pay us a visit!)

Zone management (coastal)

 

Text and photo by M.L. Christmas

* * * *

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.

Boardwalk Confidential

Written on: August 18th, 2016 in Guest BlogNERRSt. Jones Reserve

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve.  The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience visiting the St. Jones Reserve. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Boardwalk Confidential

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (2)On a sizzling June day, on the sly, I hit the St. Jones Reserve’s boardwalk, in anticipation of seeing some action. Not wanting some action, no, just seeking to observe from a polite distance. I knew from prior experience that one needs to be there at just the right moment in order to get the furtive eyeful. My more-recent visits to the Reserve always seemed to coincide with when the tide was in — the estuary coyly clothed in tall grasses and high water.

This time, the tide was out.

Today, in the heat and humidity, I found the Reserve lolling about in the equivalent of a skimpy sundress: reveling in her exposed glory, her muddy banks ripening in the strong rays, and everything bathed in the scent not of sunscreen, but of the not-unpleasing odor of fermenting marsh-muck.

The timing was perfect! The desired crowds were arrayed along the boards underneath my feet, and the party was in full swing. But in attempting to mingle unobtrusively, again I found myself experiencing DNERR’s version of “The Wave”: fiddler crabs skittering, in a tiny, forward-rolling motion, into their respective burrows at my approach. They must have pretty good vision, I thought to myself. (Maggie Pletta, DNERR’s Education Coordinator, later informed me the fiddlers’ secret is not their eyes, but instead feelers/filaments on their arms that can sense movement. Who knew? do…now.)

More often than not, when peering over the rail, my gaze was met by the empty “eyes” of the burrow-openings, as if I were looking down into the top of a deep, estuarine salt(‑and-fresh-water) shaker. So I tried approaching the next batch of fiddler crabs more slowly, still thinking at that point that if it was the clomping, humanlike movement frightening them, perhaps a slower, gentler pace would make me less distinguishable from the marsh grasses. No go. Away they went!

Credit M.L. Christmas_Fiddler Crab Confidential (1)However, here and there, several macho fellows — arm hair and all — held their ground. I wanted to get a closer photo, but lowering my camera mud-ward, calling their bluffs, would surely have resulted only in better photos of the burrows, not of the crabs. So I split the difference, netting myself two grainy, fleeting photos as a result. The images’ gritty, almost black-and-white appearance makes them look like covert photos from some seamy, cinematic spy-thriller.

Doing some further reading once home, I learned the large-pincered jobbies are the males, and they display their availability to females by waving their large arm and trying to lure them into their respective love nests. They also use the arm-display to try to intimidate rivals or threats.

As to the latter, I could have flipped them a view of my recently purchased, lobster-shaped keychain from Maine. (Oh yeah? You call that a claw? Well, I see your one big claw and raise you two!)

And as for that mating thing, not only am I happily married, but also I am not “into” crustaceans in that way. Besides, I would never fit in that burrow.

Photos and text by M.L. Christmas

* * * *
M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.




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