In late September, a new otter pup joined the two adult male otters in the Autzen Otter Habitat at the High Desert Museum!
The male, yet-to-be-named North American river otter pup now delights and educates Museum visitors along with Brook and Pitch. He’s come a long way since he was brought to Museum wildlife staff in May.
The pup was found the week before Memorial Day weekend on a golf course near Sunriver. The otter, which was emaciated and severely dehydrated, was brought to the Museum temporarily for care while multiple wildlife professionals attempted to locate his mother. That search failed. State wildlife officials then determined the otter should remain in the care of the Museum.
Staff took on bottle-feeding and teaching the otter to swim, starting with a kid’s pool and the Museum’s stream. He was just under 3 pounds upon arrival and grew rapidly, and by late September, after successfully acquainting him with Brook and Pitch and growing to a healthy 15 pounds, he was deemed ready to move into the otter habitat full time.
We are happy to report that he is thriving and loves his new home. He is full of energy and often active throughout the day, even when his older playmates need to take a nap!
You can visit the otters at the Autzen Otter Exhibit—the daily Otter Encounter talk is at 1:00 pm—learn from Museum volunteers about his care, and discover how we can all work together to conserve habitat for wild otters in the High Desert.
Working at the High Desert Museum always brings the unexpected, from photographing a river otter to donning attire from 1904. Recently, I walked into a classroom and found a group of adults laser-focused on making scat.
Scat is a scientific term for wildlife droppings – poop. Each adult was hunched over a small pile of brown clay carefully molding and shaping it to replicate their chosen animal. For a touch of accuracy, there were also feathers, seeds and other food remnants to attach to the miniature sculpture.
The task and its greater purpose was later explained to me by a coworker leading the activity, Sara Pelleteri, the Museum’s associate curator of STEM education.
STEM education is focused on science, technology, engineering and math, and the High Desert Museum was a proud recipient in July 2021 of the National Science Foundation Sustaining STEM Grant. The $1.2 million grant goes to the Museum and three partners to co-lead a new education program bringing critical learning to rural students and their families. The other partners include the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, New York and Caddo Mounds State Historic Site in Alto, Texas.
One-quarter of U.S. students reside in rural communities, yet rural youth are 50 percent less likely to engage in out-of-school STEM experiences than their urban counterparts. The work done with educators through the Sustaining STEM Grant aims to shrink that gap. The two-day workshop on which I intruded was just a sliver of that work.
Returning to the scat-making klatch, the activity was meant to spark a new appreciation for wildlife and motivate people to slow down and observe their environments. The sculptors were educators from the High Desert Museum, Oregon Coast Aquarium and other STEM professionals. They were learning that the size, shape and marks around scat are all key to identifying the wildlife that left it. The participants were meant to take the activity and remake it for their region, focusing on the habitats that surround them.
Another activity included in the workshop was aimed at transforming a person’s negative perception of a particular animal in the wild. Different creatures were labeled by the group with emojis, followed by a discussion on the animal’s role in their ecosystem. Through limited exposure, someone may have a negative perception of a wolf, but after learning about their role in keeping a balanced habitat, that perception may change.
When I asked Sara Pelleteri about the project, I mistakenly called the material “clay.” I was corrected, and for good reason. Pelleteri made the substance at home, from scratch like any good baker. It contained flour, salt (a lot of salt), cream of tartar, water and dye. And it took her three attempts to get it right, from the color to the consistency.
To this group, it’s the little touches that make the program engaging. To say Pelleteri was proud of her “clay” is an understatement.
The future of the STEM grant work will include more idea-sparking workshops for educators, opening a wider world to rural students and families. Who knows what engaging activities I will walk in on next?
Behind the scenes at the Museum, we care for an amazing collection of more than 30,000 objects. These objects range from art and rare books to an original Smokey Bear costume.
Art in the Museum’s collection consists of over 1,000 items, including a number of well-known historical artists. Recent acquisitions have focused on contemporary artwork by Native artists. It is in this area—contemporary artwork representative of the diverse perspectives in the High Desert—that the Museum has prioritized growth to achieve our vision for a dynamic collection.
For instance, this winter the Museum was excited to accession into its collection a compelling, relevant piece of contemporary art by Joe Feddersen (Confederated Tribes of Colville). The work is a 23” x 26” monoprint, a version of Feddersen’s most well-known medium of printmaking. “Palouse Series” shows Feddersen’s ubiquitous overlapping style of geometric shapes drawn from his landscape and culture. Bold yellow lines run vertically on the paper, zigzagging their way across the page, accented by red ink. Behind the yellow bars, a fainter grey grid fills the top half of the page. The shapes are reminiscent of imagery seen in other traditional Indigenous Plateau work.
Feddersen has had a very successful career, with no signs of stopping. After finishing his Master’s of Fine Arts, Feddersen taught at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, where he was a professor for 20 years. He was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art in 2001 and exhibited a retrospective of his work in 2008 at the Froelick Gallery. In addition, he has exhibited countless times in galleries and museums, worked as an artist-in-residence, received awards and recognitions, and guest-curated across the country.
Importantly, we’ve been excited to add works to the collection in recent years by other Indigenous artists, including Pat Courtney Gold (Wasco), Lillian Pitt (Wasco, Yakama, Warm Springs), James Lavadour (Walla Walla), Rick Bartow (Wiyot), and Marie Watt (Seneca).
We’re eager for the opportunity to exhibit all these pieces at the Museum.
ADDING TO THE COLLECTION
All 30,000-plus objects in our collection have gone through a specific process to legally accept objects to be held in the public trust called accessioning. Potential objects can be submitted for consideration via our online donation form. It is essential to include as much historical and provenance background as possible for our decision-making process. The object’s condition and mission relevance will be assessed and, if found appropriate, will move on to our Collections Committee. The Collections Committee will review the objects and associated information and have an in-depth conversation about the relevance to the collection. Some of the topics discussed in consideration for accession include mission, ongoing care, storage, and future use. If the object meets our requirements, it will then be passed on to the Board of Trustees for approval. Then, it can finally be officially accessioned into our collection!
In celebration of Black History Month, we are looking back at recent programs exploring the Black experience in the High Desert.
The recent Hatfield Sustainable Resource Lecture featured Nikki Silvestri, one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans. She has traveled the world speaking about the intersection of ecology, economy and social equity, and is the founder and CEO of Soil and Shadow. We were honored to host her talk at the High Desert Museum.
Before the Civil War, Western states and territories became a battleground over the westward expansion of slavery and the status of free and enslaved Black people. In Slavery and Black Exclusion in the American West, professor Stacey Smith, a historian at Oregon State University, explores the enslavement of Black people in the West and African American resistance to slavery, as well as how both issues intertwined with anti-Black exclusion laws in Oregon and California.
Gwen Trice, the executive director of Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Joseph, Oregon, uncovers a previously hidden history in Maxville Today: Connecting our Past, Present and Future. Trice shares stories of African Americans during the Great Migration; Greek, Japanese, Filipino, Chinese, Hawaiian and Guamanian immigrants; and Native people against the backdrop of the timber and railroad industries. Join us on a journey and pack your bags for contemplation and conversation.
PARTNER PROGRAMS – Our partners are also offering thought-provoking programs this month.
Mission: To research, recognize, and commemorate the history and heritage of African Americans in Oregon.
Dive into the virtual exhibitionRacing to Change: Oregon’s Civil Right’s Years. It illuminates the Civil Rights Movement in Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of cultural and social upheaval, conflict, and change. The era brought new militant voices into a clash with traditional organizations of power, both black and white.
Oregon Historical Society
Mission: To preserve our state’s history and make it accessible to everyone in ways that advance knowledge and inspire curiosity about all the people, places, and events that have shaped Oregon.
On Monday, February 7, the Oregon Historical Society and OPB will rebroadcast Oregon Experience: Oregon’s Black Pioneers. The program examines the earliest African-Americans who lived and worked in the region during the mid-1800s. They came as sailors, gold miners, farmers and slaves. Their numbers were small, by some estimates just 60 black residents in 1850, but they managed to create communities, and in some cases, take on racist laws — and win.
How do volunteer wildlife interpreters stay up to date in order to engage visitors? One way is through a volunteer book club. Each month we select a new title to read and discuss that relates to the daily talks we offer. Reading together helps improve our knowledge and enables us to better engage with visitors and respond to questions, not to mention that learning new things is interesting and fun! If you’d like to get in on what the Wildlife Team has been reading, here are a few titles we’ve looked at recently.
A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold. A must-read for anyone who loves wildlife and seeks to understand the history and current state of wildlife management in the United States. The seminal work of the “father of wildlife ecology,” this book is a collection of short essays where the author speaks of a land ethic and our moral responsibility to the natural world—a community to which we belong. Leopold’s sentiments have informed the work of the wildlife field and have much in common with how we hope to create connections to wildlife with our visitors.
Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion by Jim Williams. If you live in the High Desert you are living with large carnivores, and mountain lions make the news on a regular basis. With our daily Carnivore Talk in full swing, interpreters regularly get questions about these “big cats.” Williams goes into detail about the natural history of the mountain lion, why they are important to the landscapes we all share and their conservation in our region and beyond. After reading this one, interpreters are ready to chat about cats with museumgoers.
Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by Douglas J. Emlen. Some of the more frequent questions we get about deer and elk are from visitors fascinated by their amazing antlers. The author of this book outlines his perspective as an evolutionary biologist working to understand the factors that can lead to an animal arms race, where species such as deer and elk may compromise their own health to grow out-sized and seemingly unnecessarily large weapons. Read it on your own or ask a volunteer to fill you in after the daily High Desert Hooves talk.
And a few more on the list –
The Fish in the Forest: Salmon and the Web of Life by Dale Stokes
Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: The Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change by Thor Hanson
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon by Tucker Malarkey
Fur, Fortune and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America by Eric Jay Dolin
Collared: Politics and Personalities in Oregon’s Wolf Country by Aimee Lyn Eaton
Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence by Marc Bekoff
The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and Coyotes by John Shivik
Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life by Lulu Miller
Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy
Artist, professor and arts advocate Patricia Clark came to Central Oregon after retirement, seeking connection, community and purpose. After a celebrated career as chair of the art department at California State University, Long Beach, Clark brought her passion and advocacy to Bend. The master printmaker in 2007 founded Atelier 6000, or A6, a nonprofit center for printmaking and book arts. Clark quickly endeared herself to the arts community as she continued her work in uniting and building support for the community.
Her most recent project, Rooted, brings together more than 50 artists with a singular focus. Through 25 sessions over nine weeks, they gathered, a few at a time, to sit with Clark and draw a giant root that had been pulled from her front yard. The artists reflected on the meaning of connection. Roots inspire in strength and the ability to bring a community together to forge paths.
Pat Clark is beloved and now deeply missed. She passed away on November 16, 2021, days before Rooted went up on the gallery walls of the High Desert Museum. We are honored to share the work that shows how she was a centerpiece of creative life in Bend.
Ana Aguirre Sandy Anderson Julie Anderson Bailey Paul Alan Bennett Janet Brockway James Prentiss Brommer Paula Bullwinkel Sharon Campbell Krayna Castelbaum Patricia Clark Glen Corbett Nancy Dasen Kathy Deggendorfer Milly Dole Janice Druian Kris Elkin Dawn Emerson Nancy Floyd Jane Gutting Jean Harkin Susan Luckey Higdon Sondra Holtzman Bill Hoppe Barbara Kennedy Gin Laughery Helen Loeffler A. C. M. Lorish Ingrid Lustig Mary Marquiss PF Martin Ken Marunowski Lloyd McMullen Ruby Mitchell Cate O’Hagan Susan T. Papanic Adrienne Phillips Carolyn Platt Susan Porteous Jane Quale Elizabeth Quinn Bishop James Radloff Denise Rich Ron Schultz Adell Shetterly Jeanette Small Kit Stafford Carol Sternkopf Gayle Stone Marie Thibeault Abney Wallace Jean Wells Laurence T. Yun
Explore a world where art meets science and science gets turned inside out. A traveling exhibition opened Saturday, September 18 at the High Desert Museum. It shares an inside look—literally—into fish and their evolution.
Fish are vertebrates—animals with backbones—and have bodies supported by a bony skeleton. X-rays document variations in the skeleton, such as the number of vertebrae or the position of fins. The Smithsonian’s National Collection of Fishes X-rays represent more than 70 percent of the world’s fish specimens. It’s the largest and most diverse collection of its kind in the world. Research drove the X-rays featured in the national collection. Yet the strikingly elegant images demonstrate the natural union of science and art. They are a visual retelling of the evolution of fish.
The exhibition features 40 black-and-white digital prints of different species of fish. Arranged in evolutionary sequence, these X-rays give a tour through the long stream of fish evolution. The X-rays have allowed Smithsonian and other scientists to study the skeleton of a fish without altering the specimen. It makes it easier for scientists to build a comprehensive picture of fish diversity.
The curators of the exhibition, Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon, have worked in the Division of Fishes at the National Museum of Natural History collecting thousands of X-rays of fish specimens to help ichthyologists understand and document the diversity of fishes. X-rays may also reveal other details of natural history: undigested food or prey in the gut might reveal to an ichthyologist what a fish had for its last meal. The exhibit includes fish that live today in the High Desert.
X-Ray Vision: Fish Inside Out was inspired by the book Ichthyo: The Architecture of Fish (Chronicle Books in association with the Smithsonian Institution, 2008) by Stephanie Comer and Deborah Klochko.
Of all the animals cared for at the Museum, raptors are perhaps what we are best known for. Twenty-eight nonreleasable birds call the Museum home, half of which participate in Raptors of the Desert Sky.
The Museum started the free-flight Raptors of the Desert Sky program, which runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, more than a decade ago. Each summer day, visitors with tickets to this iconic program leave the buildings and asphalt trails behind, walking to a nearby forest clearing. The natural venue provides a unique space where five birds fly daily, landing just feet away from visitors and occasionally gliding close overhead. Human elements are minimized, giving people a glimpse into the lives of wild raptors—from owls to turkey vultures. During the program, a naturalist narrator conveys the bird’s unique adaptions, habitat requirements and conservation needs. These close encounters enable people to connect with the birds on a deep level, inspiring many to become lifelong stewards of wildlife and the landscapes we all share.
The program is as enriching for the birds as it is for the audience. The activity provides exercise. The birds are empowered to navigate their environment, free to make choices, rewarded for coming close.
Each day each bird can choose to participate in the program. It turns out raptors aren’t that different from people. They have stage fright. They get tired. They have bad days. They don’t have to fly if they don’t want to. Another can take their place. Some, like Pefa the peregrine, are fearless, confident and highly motivated. She rarely misses a show. Others, like Walter the golden eagle, can be shy and easily overwhelmed. They might only make occasional appearances. That’s okay, as it’s all about providing the highest possible welfare to the animals we care for while sharing them with our community, and it makes for a dynamic program.
Many visitors come back multiple times, meeting different birds and learning more about the region’s wildlife with every visit. Tickets aren’t available in advance and sell out quickly—get to the Museum early to experience this summer highlight!
In 2020, the High Desert Museum officially adopted the Waterston Desert Writing Prize, which honors creative nonfiction that illustrates artistic excellence, sensitivity to place and desert literacy. Inspired by author and poet Ellen Waterston’s love of the High Desert, the Prize strengthens and supports the literary arts and humanities through recognition of excellence in nonfiction writing about desert landscapes, community interaction with Prize winners and associated programs.
The Museum has a long history with the Prize, having hosted the award ceremony since its inception in 2014. The Museum and the Prize are a natural fit; both emphasize the uniqueness of desert regions, highlight the arts that explore and define them, and create conversations about contemporary issues. Adoption of the Prize enables us to further our mission and expand our support of the arts.
It was part of founder Donald M. Kerr’s vision that the Museum should be a platform for dialogue. Reading and writing can lend insights into other perspectives—and help us understand and articulate our own. A single, beautifully crafted line can link us to each other and the landscape. In this way, literature fosters empathy and connection. “Every year we have the honor of experiencing new perspectives on desert landscapes,” said Ellen Waterston. “Writers participate from all over the country and our vision of what a desert is continues to grow.”
The literary arts are an avenue for discovery of the landscape and our place within it. To write with originality about deserts demands and inspires close examination of place—deepening appreciation for landscapes often overlooked. Such work has never felt more important; sagebrush steppe is one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America. Ursula Le Guin’s meditative poems on Steens Mountain country (in the book Out Here) offer a new lens on an ancient place. Since encountering them, I have been unable to visit the desert without noticing the “rising brightness of the rock,” movement and color previously missed.
Through our interdisciplinary work, the Museum explores the interconnection of people and place. Nature writing is evolving in exciting and necessary ways, as people gain—or regain—awareness of our connection to, and impact on, the world around us. Increasingly, writers include humans in the narrative. Writer Lydia Peele suggests nature writing, “rather than being pastoral or descriptive or simply a natural history essay, has got to be couched in stories…where we as humans are present. Not only as observers, but as intrinsic elements…we’ve got to reconnect ourselves to our environment and fellow species in every way we can.” Peele implies that writing can assist in remaking this vital connection.
Many previous winners of the Prize have demonstrated such a holistic approach. The 2020 winner was Hannah Hindley for Thin Blue Line, one in a collection of stories that explore the Sonoran Desert’s disappearing waterways, the fish that used to call them home and the efforts to help restore depleted tributaries with city effluent. “It’s a strange story of ghost rivers, dead fish and resilience in the heart of urban spaces in the desert,” stated Hindley.
We are excited to start this new chapter of the Waterston Desert Writing Prize and honored to continue its inspiring work. In 2021, the Prize will recognize one writer with a $2,500 award, a residency at PLAYA at Summer Lake and a reading and reception. We are now accepting submissions.
The Waterston Student Essay Competition is also open! We invite young writers from Crook, Deschutes, Harney, Jefferson and Lake counties to submit nonfiction prose essays exploring desert landscapes. Learn more about the student prize.
Submissions for the 2021 Waterston Desert Writing Prize will be accepted through May 1, 2021.
Beavers—members of the family Castoridae—have existed in North America for around 40 million years. It could be argued that the modern North American beaver, Castor canadensis, and its ancestors have had a more profound influence on the physical and cultural landscape of this continent than any other non-human mammal. While it may have a reputation for flooding roads and downing ornamental trees, there is so much more to the beaver. The High Desert Museum’s original exhibition and public art project Dam It! Beavers and Us explores our long and evolving relationship with this oft-overlooked yet valuable animal.
Beavers have been integral to many Indigenous cultures, such as the Blackfeet Nation, for millennia. But the arrival of Euro-American settlers and pressure from the fur trade saw populations plummet. Humans extensively trapped them for their fur, meat, castoreum—an oily secretion from castor sacs used by beaver to mark territory and still occasionally by humans as a flavoring—and other parts. By the late 1800s, they neared extinction. However, due to changing fashion trends, regulations and the rodent’s own resilience, numbers are rebounding.
Today, beavers are gaining greater recognition for their value alive, as ecosystem engineers. There are many ways to coexist with this humble herbivore—and even more reasons why we might want to. Colonies improve water quality, reduce erosion and help other wildlife and plants thrive. Countless species, including humans, benefit from their ponds and wetlands. People have long been drawn to the fertile green meadows that result from beaver activity.
These mammals also mitigate some impacts of climate change. They hydrate the landscape—of great importance in the dry High Desert region. An average beaver dam in the Columbia River Basin can store 1.1 million gallons of water per pond! Their habitats store carbon and serve as vital refugia from wildfires. They also support threatened species, such as steelhead trout.
In Dam It! Beavers and Us, we playfully explore the past, present and future of this remarkable rodent and its interconnection with humans. This keystone species has whittled its way into the hearts of people from all walks of life—ranchers, ecologists, artists and architects. Many have dedicated themselves to the return of the beaver. Visit the exhibition to discover why so many now see the beaver more as a partner than a pest. Meet the extinct, bear-sized beaver, Castoroides ohioensis, and learn why beavers once were parachuted in wooden boxes into Idaho wilderness.
Additionally, the Museum will install several four-foot-tall beaver sculptures in public spaces. A different artist will paint each fiberglass sculpture in their own, unique style. Project artists include Sweet Pea Cole, Ellen Taylor, Jess Volk and Andries Fourie. Be ready to spot some new, vibrant art around Central Oregon!