Friday, November 21, 2008

(2) Great Smokey

The Black Bear is one animal that is famous in Great Smokey.
See all those National Park safety advertisements that feature
"Smokey the Bear." Also, the standard answer to the question
"what do I do if I see a bear?" is likely all you will see is its back
end while running away. Probably true most of the time, because
these bears are smart enough to stay away from people--unless
people are dumb enough to try to feed these creatures. Then
there's trouble.

On into my time at Great Smokey I have had more than one
occasion where I had to stop visitors from chasing or trying
to play with bear cubs. They are cute and might seem cuddly;
but one *always* has to keep in mind that if there are cubs
about, than it is more than likely Mother Bear is nearby. And
if she moves in to "protect" her cubs, well that could be a very
ugly scene!

Just getting a handle on this myriad of animal and plant life
took a lot of time and effort on my part. We had an excellent
wildlife collection of books at our Center's library; and, of course
I learned from my superiors, who were mostly patient with us
new park rangers. But they suggested that we enroll in some
home study courses that related to some of the specifics of our
work. Taking their advise, I wangled into the Bird Biology course
provided by Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology.
As advertised, the course was entirely "self-paced." A perfect
situation for me!

This course involved learning the classification of living birds.
For example, in Great Smokey's neck-of-the-woods there's
"Strigiformes" which include owls. Than there's those sweet
birds, the "Passeriformes," with which we are familiar: songbirds,
perching birds, robins, thrushes, orioles, finches, sparrows. Than
there the "Piciformes," the woodpeckers who pec and pic, if you
will. As for our more common pigeons and doves, they fall under
the classification of "Columbiformes."

More specificially I had to learn about the "topography" of the
land bird--about the crown, the eyes, the nostril, the ear, the
throat, the shoulders, the belly, the rump, the tail, along with
the upper and under surface of the wing. We also learned the
significance of the bills and the feet of birds when it came to
their different kinds of feeding.

Interesting, too, was the study of the sounds and songs of birds.
Pretty intelligent, these birds! Calls inform others of a bird's
whereabouts. Also the location of food is oft signaled by call
notes. And calls can be alarms, alerting danger. And birds
rearing their young employ certain calls that relay survival
specifics to their chicks. Also, last but not least, a bird's "song"
is really about establishing a territory and securing a mate.

Anyway, throughout this home study course I was sent a number
of exams to take. Upon passing the exams, taking the final,
I completed the course and was granted a Certificate of Study
from Cornell. All in all, it was a nice addition to my resume!

Finally, after some two years working at Great Smokey, I found
enough breathing space to return to my interest in the American
Indian. Being stationed at the "Cherokee" gate, I was constantly
aware that part of this park, and much of the territory around,
was once the ancestral home of the Cherokee Indians--who,
by the way, were remnants of the Mississippian Culture.

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