City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

March 18, 2017

March 18th

Filed under: Arrowleaf balsamroot, red bridge, Seasons, Sounds, Stream, Woods Rose — canopus56 @ 7:24 pm

Modern Distractions

3:00 p.m. Only a few reminders remain of this morning’s 300 person St. Patrick’s Day scenic fun run from the Capitol and down City Creek Canyon below Bonneville Drive. Running and bicycling events are common in the modern canyon, and I estimate that there are about twenty held each year. Today’s eighty degree temperature is another record breaking high, and the canyon and its wildlife is in new uncharted terrain. The stream remains well below flood stage, but runs high and loud. All I can hear is the stream. The sounds of the few birds in the canyon are muffled under the stream’s white noise. On a whim, I decide to hike along part of the route of the 1880s water pipeline that runs along the south east wall of the canyon from the red bridge to the Morris Reservoir in the Avenues. There is no trail. There is just a path made by re-burying the water main, and at points along its route, the two-foot diameter iron pipe is exposed. Confusingly, this gravity feed water pipeline runs uphill to Morris Reservoir, although its intake pipe at the water treatment plant is higher than its low point at the red bridge. If gravity fed, pipeline must act as a four mile long siphon.

While hiking along the pipeline, I notice several Wood’s rose plants who, like the one I saw a few days ago near mile 0.2, have opened their buds and extended small leaves. Along this south-west facing sunny hillside, there are many broad leaf ground plants, including Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata Nutt.), have begun to poke up through the earth. Returning down-canyon, I examine dirt areas more closely, but only a stretch near mile 0.1 on the west side of the road shows similar growth by new ground cover plants. These are signs of the coming spring.

In Thoreau’s “Journal” on March 18th, 1853, he sees a blackbird and a song-sparrow, and on March 18th, 1855, a gull. March 18th, 1858, he records many song-sparrows. On March 18th, 1860, he notes skunk cabbage is in bloom.

I have almost reached my third full year of daily jogging in the canyon. During the first nine months, I ran with headphones and listening to music, and today, I estimate for runners more than half run with digital devices playing music, and for bicyclists, about one-third ride listening to music. After the first nine months, I came to feel that the music was a distraction from experiencing the canyon. In a 2014 study, University of Utah psychologist David Strayer, who regularly walks in City Creek Canyon, and his colleagues Ruth Ann and Paul Acthley of University of Kansas, published a study comparing the pre- and post-creativity scores of two small groups of women before and after four day nature hikes where digital devices were banned (Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 14, 2012; Strayer 2012). Test scores in this small study supported new effects of the Attention Restoration Theory (ART) hypothesis. The ART hypothesis is that immersion in nature has a restorative effect on the brain’s depleted pre-frontal executive attention mechanisms. In obvious non-research terms, going outwards restores the soul and replenishes the body. No news there since Lord Byron invented the Grand European Tour to the Alps. But Strayer and colleagues’ small size study also found a new additional effect: immersion in nature is not just restful. Several days without technological devices increases creativity and problem-solving scores measured by a generally accepted psychological test by fifty percent. However, the study size is small and has not been replicated. Medical proof usually requires larger studies or many smaller studies that reproduce the original effect. Usually, I regard the results of one-off small-sample-size studies and their conclusions as provisional, and the results of such studies are are frequently found to be incorrect in follow-up research using larger sample sizes. But while jogging today, I happy to accept Strayer and the Acthleys’ findings, even if it may just be my ego’s confirmation bias seeking self-approval of my decision to ditch my music player. After two-years of running without music and, as today, listening to the sound of the stream, I see runners with cell phones strapped to their arms as disconnected from the canyon experience. But I am being haughty and judgmental.

On March 18th, 1996, Salt Lake City hydrologist Dan Schenck reported 64 inches of snow in upper City Creek Canyon, more than 130 percent of normal (Salt Lake Tribune).

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