Sometimes You Eat the Bear, Sometimes the Bear Eats You, and Sometimes Neither of Those Things Happen So You Just Continue Eating Canned Tilapia – Joseph Fellows, Sculpture BFA 2016
For the last few weeks I’ve been working at the Great Sand Dunes Oasis in exchange for a campsite. Most nights were nice and cool, and I could fall asleep to the sound of fires crackling quietly in the distance. Other nights, namely July fourth, there were other things crackling (and exploding no less), and a few murmured conversations from off in the distance late into the night. But one night, at about four AM there was about an hour’s worth of grunting and groaning from east to west. Without a doubt, I knew that there were two Black bear roaming either end of the campground. It wasn’t until I smelled my breath that I started to get a little bit nervous. Upon doing so I got a whiff of the incredibly potent canned fish that I have been eating with rice for most of my dinners. My toothpaste didn’t stand a chance. The evening before I had eaten rice and ‘Tilapia with Mango Chutney Sauce’ from a can. As my pesca-paranoia began to settle in, I thought back to earlier that week when one of the employees here at the campground had kindly offered me eight rainbow trout as she couldn’t really cook them with her current set up. At the time, I couldn’t exactly refrigerate them so I had to gut, wash, filet and cook all of them right away, while fending off a swarm of piñon flies that shared my enthusiasm for fresh caught trout. My fear was that maybe I had gotten fish smell on something that I hadn’t noticed and that a bears keen sense of smell would. Or perhaps, none of that would come to matter and they’d just be curious about the peculiar smells produced by the pile of un-showered human that I happened to be at that very moment. In any case, lucky for me they were’t interested in any of those things, just another camper’s garbage. In the grand scheme of things, it was nothing but a knock in the night and thankfully fish has continued to make regular appearance in my diet despite my ever wary attitude towards the local population of hooligan Black Bears. It seems the natural world has made sure that I don’t forget who’s really in the drivers seat.
Working everyday in a place where it seems like thunderstorms are a sneeze away, and sand is the driving force behind most technological and mechanical issues. 3D Scanning, and even photography present as risky undertakings. So In the interest of my equipment, surveys have become a necessary operation for me to be able to employ my scanning equipment precisely. What I mean when I say surveys, are essentially day hikes that help me to understand exactly how far I’d have to go, under what kind of exposure, and what elemental challenges I would have to be prepared for to get the desired scan. So far this has been a great excuse for me to bolster my photographic practice. Through these surveys, I have been able to document a wide array of wildlife, and it has given me another resource to approach park staff with. It has allowed me to generate conversation with them that has proven to be extremely valuable.
Most mornings, I’ll stop into the visitors center to check the weather report. In the mean time I’ve gotten to know some of the Interpretive Rangers there as they’ve been outgoing and welcoming to me. Some mornings I’ll take my scanning equipment with me to my unofficially assigned cubicle, and begin scanning different objects. Other mornings I’ll find myself flipping through photographs with one of the Rangers, as they describe to me aspects of what might be happening in my photographs that I hadn’t been aware of. For instance in this photograph (fig. 5) I was able to take an image of the Great Sand Dunes Tiger Beetle, but didn’t realize it was displaying a behavior known as stilting. The beetles developed this behavior along with their unusually long legs to try to cope with the heat of the sand, which some days exceeds 140 degrees on the surface. They use their long legs to hold their bodies up off the sand to keep slightly cooler. They will also dig holes to escape the surface conditions. Some insects on the dunes avoid the issue of the surface temperature altogether by burying themselves during the daytime, and saving all of their shenanigans for the nighttime.
Another day, I came across a rock that looked like it had been napped off, while walking along the southwestern base of the dunefield, and out of curiosity, it took a picture of the stone and showed it to one of the interpretive rangers, and he told me it was a shard that had been flaked off an arrowhead or a spear head as that particular mineral is not found in the park and was often brought in by Native Americans for tool making.
Lately I’ve been scanning as many things as I can and have been able to create 3D models of each of the animal track castings they have collected in the visitors center. From those I’ve been able to create a series of track samples, that will be 3D printed. My next project will be animal skulls which I’ve found can be scanned with relative ease using an xbox kinect, and a program called Skanect. At the moment, I have the free software which only exports to broad faced polygonal nothings. My hope is to add more detailed surfaces with my other scanners and use the Kinect model as a digital armature once I am able to get my hands on the pro version of the software.
Despite the fact my primary scanner was designed to scan surfaces and small objects, I wanted to see if it could do something more challenging. Going through the interpretive objects, I sorted through boxes of minerals, looked through their collection of fulgurite, and finally came across something I felt would be the right object to try: a Colombian Mammoth tooth. It was challenging because it was larger than normally works for this particular scanner, and contained protruding forms which can be challenging for it to capture. However, it’s redeeming qualities, being that it was highly textured, and had an acceptably dull color to it that wouldn’t confuse the software, I decided would allow for enough registration points for me to put all the pieces back together. I decided that I wanted to try to create a reconstructed form using separate scans as formal reference to piece together like a puzzle. Basically my hope was to create a to scale model with slight proportional variability, but high resolution, detailed surfaces. I found this challenge offered many insights into how to make this scanner work for me.
Additionally I’ve been able to find ways to collaborate with some of the park staff. For instance, recently I asked one of the rangers, what it is he felt like the focus of the interpretive program was, in terms of how they describe the park to the public. He said he felt Medano Creek, the River that runs across the southern edge of the dune field, was the feature that ties all means of life together in the park. The water starts in the high alpine regions as snow, melts in the spring and flows out into the subalpine, to lower elevations, eventually making it’s way to the Riparian zones below, eventually finding it’s way out past the dune field and soaked into the Sand sheet. Later, the water returns to the Surface in upwellings. This f form places like Indian Spring which have been enveloped in Native Cultures before it was discovered by American settlers. it was thought to be the place where life begins, and will crawl up from the earth. San Luis Lake State park is another wetland area that is directly affected by the Medano Creek drainage area. Here, migratory birds from all over the continent find themselves at different times of the year. A vast array of species from White Pelicans and egrets, to Canadian Geese and Sandhill Cranes. In other cases the water will form ponds near the dunefields, where a multitude of insects will thrive for the brief life of the pond, and where spade foot tadpoles will emerge as frogs in sometimes less than two weeks, to make use of the short-lived life of the pond. In few places on earth will you see tadpoles swimming around submerged prickly pear like in fig. 12. In any case, I’ve been working on developing a photography series that might capture the different ways that the river brings life to the different parts of the park that the interpretive staff could use for reference. So I will be working on a weekly set of pictures to bring to them to have informal discussions about so maybe I might be able to see what they observe, that I might have missed and vice versa. So far photography seems to be the most prominent way that the park identifies itself publicly and I’ve been able to offer my work as a way to affect that presence.
Moving forward the most daunting challenge it seems, is taking the next step in pushing my results even further. So far I have mostly hesitated at the prospect of scanning too far away from shelter or doing as much underwater photography, as I have been nervous about the possibility of damage coming to the equipment. The first test I did with my submersible SLR case, produced cause for concern as there was water in the case towards the end of my session shooting at Zapata Falls. However it would seem I’ve located the leak, the next step would be for me to hike up to Medano Lake above 11,000 feet, and try to photograph the newly reintroduced Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. However the prospect remains intimidating as the lake temperatures normally hover just above freezing. As for my scanning efforts, my next order of business will be to scan the different types of patterning left in the sand by Medano Creek as it flows past the base of the dune field. My hope is to use string to grid out the sand plane to be able to more precisely piece the surfaces back together. However, the prospect of bringing a $1500 tool near a gigantic pile of sand, and a flowing water body provide more than my recommended daily serving of anxiety, though the fact that it scares me, is a sign that maybe it’s something all the more important for me to pursue.