Saturday, October 4, 2008
Deer Poop or Something More Interesting?
The Wookie grew up in southern California and his father, being a geologist, spent a lot of time in the field, examining rocks and the like. Most summers found the family camping with Dad in the field. The field being the desert, mostly. With poisonous snakes and spiders and scorpions. The Wookie and his brothers learned very quickly to not automatically reach for or pick up things. The Wookie and I had a conversation the other day about my instinct to touch things and pick them up. I rarely think about it, I just do it. Or I poke them with a twig first. I don't think I would have survived past my fourth birthday had I been a member of that family.
I attended Seoul Foreign School for my final year of high school. Located in Seoul (of course), it is an international school for kids of foreigners in that city. It's also the alma mater of Jeopardy superstar Ken Jennings (who began attending the school the year I graduated).
Every year, during the first week of May the school had what was called "Korea Week". The students would participate in one particular group activity geared to getting a better understanding of the country. One group spent the week touring all the cultural spots of Seoul. One group went to Cheju Island, home of the famous pearl divers. One group hit all the art galleries. I joined up a camping group to visit the southern area of the country. It was led by my biology teacher, Jack Moon, originally from Kentucky, I believe.
We spent six hours on a train getting to the town, then had a 3 hour hike up a mountain to our camping location. There were about 20 of us in the group and about 5 very old men carried our gear to the camp site. They had these special frames they wore on their backs that could accommodate the packs and food. After we reached the top, the men unloaded then went back down the mountain. The site was two large chalets owned by a church group and used as retreats and vacation spots for church members. It wasn't true camping, but it was pretty basic. Girls in one chalet, boys in the other. It was a wonderful experience.
On the first day at the camping site, Mr. Moon and several of us went on a little exploratory walk. There was a round beige ball of something on the ground that Mr. Moon picked up to examine. After a few minutes, he told us that it was an egg casing for an insect. I was impressed (as you knew I would be). 5 days after we arrived, the little old men came back to carry our gear down. As we were going down the mountain, Mr. Moon asked one of the men about the egg casing he had been carrying around for the week. "Deer poop", was the answer. He threw it away.
We had a grand laugh over that one, as did the little old men, and I will never forget it as long as I live. Nor can I forget it, as I am always coming across things on my travels that I pick up to examine or put in my pocket to take home for later perusal. One of those things are galls and they kind of look like balls of deer poop. About 4 years ago, I found a gall on a leaf on a tree. Knowing that deer poop wouldn't be on a leaf, 5 feet from the ground, I took the leaf and gall and put them in a jar. A week later a tiny little gall wasp emerged, less than a quarter of an inch long. Cool!
In the past month I have come across 3 more galls. One of which was on a leaf on a tree, the other two just loose on the ground. Of course I took them home. They will be put in the fridge for the winter and in the spring I will attempt to see what emerges from them.
Gall wasps, perfectly harmless creatures, lay eggs on a leaf. When the egg hatches, the larva becomes encased in a gall, which is the leaf's chemical reaction to having a visitor. The larva eats away at the inside of the gall and transforms into an adult. When it's ready it makes a tiny hole in the gall to escape.
There are about 800 species of gall wasp in North America and the great majority of them use oak leaves on which to house their young. The next time you're out for a walk, take a closer look at those leaves. There is also a species that use rose leaves and stems. Those galls are quite pretty with little fuzzies coming out of them.
Before I pick up a gall from the ground, I take a really good look at it to make sure it's not deer poop. That's what Mr. Moon taught me.
One of the most difficult things about MS is figuring out what is deer poop and what isn't. Is this sensation a new symptom or did I just sleep on my arm funny? Is my optic nerve affected or did I just put on someone else's glasses? Is my fatigue related to the MS or did I just push myself too much this week? Like Mr. Moon, we have to carry around the deer poop for a few days before we make that determination. As much as I like discovery, here's hoping for more deer poop that we can just toss.