Category Archives: Oklahoma

A Few of My Favorite Snakes: The Diamondback Watersnake, Nerodia rhombifer

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Nerodia rhombifer, the Diamondback watersnake, photographed in Cleveland county, Oklahoma (07 July 2007).

Since we seem to have drifted into Nerodia-mode at the beginning of our little flashback snake series, let’s check out a fourth species of North American watersnake — The Diamondback watersnake, Nerodia rhombiferThough entirely non-venomous, the Diamondback watersnake is –in my opinion– a towering can of kick ass. Robust, large, powerful, and heavily scaled, the Diamondback watersnake dominates its watery habitats throughout the central stretches of the United States.

As a kid in Oklahoma (5-7 grade), I adored this species beyond reason. They didn’t quite adore me back, however. Indeed, they can be rather feisty when captured, cornered, or harassed. I suffered more than a few “taps” from these snakes as a kid. No worries, though. It was always worth it. For Lil’ Janson, there was nothing better than hanging out with a feisty four-foot Nerodia rhombifer along the shores of the Canadian River basin and Cherry Creek in Norman, Oklahoma.

In 2007, I found, photographed, and recorded this individual when I briefly returned to my childhood stomping grounds in Norman while en route to Alaska. I do miss the Diamondback watersnakes of Oklahoma. I’d love to get back there and find some more. Truly a beautiful species.

More images of this individual can be seen here.

~ janson

Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared Lizard) in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma; 16 June 2004

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Crotaphytus collaris, the Eastern collared lizard, photographed in Comanche county, Oklahoma (16 June 2004).

We’ve taken a good chunk of the week off here at Dust Tracks, but we’re starting to shift back into gear. This past week was, of course, monstrously difficult for many –far too many– in Oklahoma and other stretches of the midwest. The tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma five days ago was a nightmarish brute of a twister. Still, it seems the human loss could have been much worse. Much, much worse. Though the damage was, is, and for a long time to come, will continue to be catastrophic to those directly affected, it could have been even worse. My heart still bleeds for all those affected — my friends, my former colleagues, and so many, many more. There’s much to mourn for this week, but also much to celebrate and to be grateful for.

Continue reading Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared Lizard) in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma; 16 June 2004

Reflecting on Moore, Oklahoma and Tornadoes: 1999, 2003, 2013

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These photographs were taken on 08 May 2003, shortly after an F3 tornado passed through Moore, Oklahoma, eventually peaking as an F4 near Interstate 240. At the time, my wife and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma — a few short miles south of Moore. We were graduate students at the University of Oklahoma. That’s where we met, in central Oklahoma.

Five years prior, in May of 1999, the same town, Moore, was devastated by an epic F5 tornado. I had just moved from central Oklahoma back to Florida a week before that particular storm. I remember watching the coverage on the tv in Tallahassee with a true sense of shock and awe. It was unbelievably brutal, that May 1999 storm.

Oklahoma, you see, is sort of my second home in life. I lived there for three years as a kid (5th, 6th, and 7th grades), again for three years as an undergraduate at the University of Oklahoma, and yet again for another three years as a graduate student at OU. Ever since the 5th grade, when the University of Oklahoma dominated the National Championship with Barry Switzer and Brian Bosworth, Oklahoma’s been a place I’ve never left behind. I’m still connected to childhood friends, college friends, grad school friends, people I’ve worked with, people I’ve partied with… It’s a social network that’s never faded throughout the years. Hell, Oklahoma is where I met my wife. It’s a place close to my heart, even if I’ve never identified myself as being an Okie.

Bump forward to yesterday, to 20 May 2013. Moore was yet again savaged by an unrelenting and devastatingly powerful tornado. Our Facebook walls and Twitter feeds are afire with status updates and reports from Cleveland county. I have an old friend who lost a business yesterday. I have another old friend who lost his home. Another lost his dog. Many people have reconnected, some people have not. We still don’t quite know what’s what with all our Oklahoma friends and community. All I can see are scattered images of devastating heartbreak and bittersweet survival. I honestly believe that once the dust settles and Oklahoma is able to assess the scope and scale of the damage, this will transcend both the 1999 and 2003 events.

As for these photographs, they are of the 2003 event in Moore (not 2013). We lived in Norman at the time. As the storm passed to our west, I took off northbound for Moore. It didn’t take long before I abandoned the interstate. There were a ton of smashed, bloodied cars and buses and I didn’t want to clog traffic for emergency response vehicles. It was quickly evident that this was a bad, bad tornado.

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I parked a half mile south of where the tornado cut through Moore and then humped it northbound on foot. As I approached the path of the tornado, I began seeing downed power lines, chunks of insulation, shingle after shingle, random photographs, and –worst of all– dazed and confused people wandering about.

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Within an hour of the storm passing, people were out and about, checking for injuries, checking for property. As for myself, I was careful to avoid downed utility lines, which in places were chaotically bundled and bunched in thick weaves.

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While a line of cars departed Moore, heading northbound to Oklahoma City, other cars were strewn nearby, overturned, crunched, demolished.

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Small groups of people congealed, sharing their experience, asking about neighbors, searching through debris.

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At the top of this post is an American flag hung from debris near Interstate 35 — an act of resilience and pride, I suppose. Later, I spotted a small group of teenagers who’d torn the flag down and were walking along the debris field and I-35, holding the flag up for passing helicopters overhead. At the time, I was offended by them having torn that flag down to wave around as they did. It felt cheap. Now, looking back, I’m more sympathetic. I suppose they wanted to express something. Anything. The flag is a ready-made tool for such an expression.

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I also saw three women slowly walking by a demolished church. They looked utterly broken, devasted, numb.

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As for Interstate 35, it was an artery of chaos at Moore.

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Turning back to the church, the structural damage was staggering.

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My wife and I were spared such immediate disaster (as Norman residents usually are). I was simply a local-tourist taking photographs of the aftermath, trying to keep out of everybody’s way. I’d been through enough hurricanes in my life to know how to play it safe and to keep the hell out of the way. The damage I saw was devastating and extensive, though it was clear the storm wasn’t nearly as vicious as that 1999 storm five years prior.

Now, I think about yesterday’s tornado. I think of Moore. I think of the utter carnage. I think about friends, some who are like family. I think of the kids, all those helpless kids. And it hurts. It just fucking hurts. I hurt for the citizens of Moore — and for all the other midwestern communities brutally savaged by these recent tornadic cycles.

Dust Tracks is going to take a nap for the next few days. We’ll be back by the end of the week. If you can, give some time, thought, and support to those impacted by these tornadoes. If you’re further inclined, you can support the victims through the American Red Cross.

http://www.redcross.org

My thoughts are with my Oklahoma friends and family right now. My heart aches for them. For them all. Still, with that being said, Oklahomans are extremely resilient and strong people. They band together and they help each other, especially when it counts. Though there are many aspects of Oklahoma I don’t personally connect with, their collective ability to weather the storm, to rebuild, to band together, has always been nothing short of breathtakingly inspirational. I’m proud to have Oklahoma in the fabric of my life. I am a better person for it.

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~ janson

Crotaphytus collaris (Eastern Collared Lizard), 16 June 2004

Crotaphytus collaris

I’m wrapping up a wickedly brutal day on this here end of the internet and I honestly don’t have much energy or motivation to write thoughtful and/or complete sentences. So, instead of writing like, you know, a thoughtful reflection or description about the lizard featured above, I’m just going to write this:

This is an Eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) photographed on 16 June 2004 in the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma and it is fucking awesome.

More tomorrow!

~ janson

Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis (Prairie Racerunner), 02 July 2007

Aspidoscelis sexlineata viridis

I’ve got two posts lined up for today. This, the first, does not feature a very good photograph, but it is a subspecies I’ve yet to recognize on Dust Tracks. This is the prairie racerunner, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus viridis, photographed in the Canadian River basin of central Oklahoma (just south of Norman in Cleveland county) on 02 July 2007.

I’m somewhat skeptical of subspecies designations these days, but when it comes to widespread organisms with distinctive and unique phenotype differentiations throughout their range, these subspecies designations make more sense to me on a purely visual/functional level. The jury’s still out when it comes to genotype distinctions. On Dust Tracks, I list all subspecies under the dominant species tag (in this case, Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), but I will note current subspecies designations when it seems important.

The prairie racerunner is found throughout the midwest of the United States. The Eastern six-lined racerunner, coming up next, is found further to the east/southeast. As you can sort-of see in this photograph, prairie racerunners are brightly colored with yellowish greens. Southeastern individuals lack such bright colors, though they can sometimes have a blue tone to them.

Racerunners (regardless of subspecies and/or region) are wickedly fast and most certainly deserve their common name. They are sometimes confused with some species of North American skinks, which can also have that general striped pattern, but they are most certainly not skinks. Racerunners belong to Family Teiidae, the Whiptail lizards. And did I mention they’re wickedly fast?

I’ve seen many of these prairie racerunners, especially as a kid growing up in Oklahoma, but I have very little to show for it. I’ve only seen a handful since I started photographing my encounters in 2004 and all of these individuals have been particularly quick to flee into the brush. Next time I make it to Oklahoma, this subspecies will be high on my priority list! They really are quite lovely.

NOTE: Some folks now classify this genus/species as Aspidoscelis sexlineata and not Cnemidophorus sexlineatus. For now, I’m sticking with the old classification.

~ janson

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma; 08 July 2007

We’re going to shift gears here on Dust Tracks for the next few days. Mid-July is going to be a busy, busy run here on the geophysical homefront. I’ve got an annual party to attend in Tallahassee this weekend, the Caribbean Jerk Off (48 hours of Caribbean Jerk Chicken  on the grill accompanied with lots of story telling and, yes, drinking). Then it’s my daughter’s fourth birthday (qualification: she’s turning three years old!), followed shortly by my 20 year high school reunion. We’ve got family coming into town, as well as some dear, dear friends from a former life. Indeed, it’s going to be quite busy on the domestic homefront.

So, for the next few days on Dust Tracks we’ll focus mainly on landscapes and regions. I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for places I’ve been and experienced as of late and, honestly, it’s easier and speedier to post landscape reflections than it is to write about and identify organisms. Heh.

So, let’s launch with a few perspectives of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southern Oklahoma.

Second only to Florida, Oklahoma is the place I’ve spent most of my lifespan. I’ve spent more time in Oklahoma than I have in Alaska and Georgia — combined. Yet, I never really felt “at home” there, probably because of The Water Factor. Essentially there are no natural lakes in Oklahoma. What few lakes there are in Oklahoma are human-produced, products of dams. It’s simply not a water-saturated area, at least not in this period of geologic history.

Regardless, there are few places in the world I love more than the Wichita Mountains of southern Oklahoma. From the vast and sprawling plains to the creek-carved canyons of the Lost Lake area, the Wichita Mountains were an oasis of beauty during my time in Oklahoma. The “mountains” are little more than glorified hills at this point; they’ve long since been worn down down by erosion. But they are deeply beautiful and they thrive with with life.

I desperately want to return to the Wichitas with my daughter, to show her the collared lizards, the bison, and the cacti of the region. I want her to feel that warm air rushing over the flowery plains, brushing through her hair as if the breeze was made just for her — as if the entire world was built for this one particular gust of warm wind. I want her to see that brilliant contrast of green and blue — that ever-present and ever-distinct horizon that dominates the edge of the Wichitas.

That day will come, though not soon enough.

To others --to those who may find themselves traveling through Oklahoma from here to there– I cannot adequately describe the awesomeness of the Wichitas Mountains of southern Oklahoma. There’s a beautiful minimalism to the region. In a way, it’s like the Everglades: it’s not a region dominated by vast mountain peaks or by enormously deep canyons. It’s not a region of ancient, deep forests or towering waterfalls. The beauty here is more obscured. It’s a patient kind of beauty. An underscored one. If you visit the area and you pause, if you just close your eyes for a moment and let the breeze wrap around you, you’ll find an elaborate beauty in the sophisticated simplicity all around when you again open your eyes.

Indeed, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge remains one of my favorite places on Earth — a vast, rich, and lovely region dominated by nothing less than an elegant simplicity in its finest form — a minimalist symphony of time and space. It’s a song I long to hear once again.

~ janson

AK2FL One Year Later: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma

The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministries in Groom, Texas (pop. 587). 13 June 2011.

Five photographs from New Mexico to Oklahoma one-year-after the cross-continent summer trip of 2011. These photographs were originally processed with Apple’s Aperture application and have been heavily edited with Snapseed on the iPad for this post. Original live-blog posts from summer 2011 can be accessed here

NEW MEXICO, TEXAS, OKLAHOMA: Miles 5194 – 5919 represented (725 miles total in this leg). My cross-continental journey most certainly accelerated once I hit the New Mexico border. I’d decided to burn through the night from Arizona to Oklahoma, essentially skipping New Mexico and Texas side-trips, to afford myself more time to visit with friends in Oklahoma, as well as to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park. I’d also hoped to visit northern Arkansas to hike the Blanchard Springs area. Ultimately, however, my altered-altered-altered plans were literally unraveled in Oklahoma. My beloved Jeep suffered a rather brutal environmental shock once temperatures climbed well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. After four years in Alaska, the scorching, dry, summer heat of the American midwest simply ravaged my Jeep’s delicate, cold-blooded innards! The rubber lining on pretty much everything started to disintegrate and fluids were sketchy at best. From that point on –mile 5919–, the goal was to simply get home as fast as possible, as we’ll see in the next post.

The New Mexico Border, leaving Arizona. 12 June 2011.

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Interstate 40 just east of the Texas/Oklahoma border. Temp in the lower 100s. 13 June 2011.

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Box Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park, Oklahoma. 13 June 2011.

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Along the Box Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park, Oklahoma. 13 June 2011.

Sunday 12 June 2011 (Day 13):

Monday 13 June 2011 (Day 14):