Saturday, January 26, 2008

9th Annual Great Air Potato Round-Up

The air potato is an invasive plant, which tends to overtake and choke out everything in its path. The name comes from the large, tuberous "fruits" on the vine that look...just like potatoes! Only, these potatoes are toxic, as we were made aware during our briefing before running into the wet, soggy woods to collect.

Before the event, we huddled under an overhang by the school with other participants. It is a "rain or shine" event, and it was definitely going to be the former of the two, and cold to boot. DJ sat on the ground with his little bucket, giving the old man and me a chance to convene.

"This sucks," I said to the old man.
"You want to get out of here?"
"Totally. Let's get breakfast somewhere."

But, when we broached the subject to DJ (as in, "hey, buddy, you want to go somewhere and get warm with some pancakes?") he was adamant that we follow through. Dang it. I would have taken more pictures but it was just too rainy.

After running to the car to put away the camera, grab umbrellas, and get DJ's mittens we trooped over to the starting area, where they provided buckets and gloves if you didn't bring your own. The site leader showed us what air potatoes and their vines look like, and also told us we had the option of collecting trash, as well. Then we were released into the cold, damp, rainy forest to collect air potatoes.
It was more fun than I expected. And we all had fun -- DJ had a blast tromping through the forest collecting air potatoes. He and the old man went one way and I sort of bivouacked at the base of a couple of trails with our umbrellas and collecting buckets. Then I would walk around to various spots nearby and collect. There were a lot of people so competition for the big air potatoes was stiff. And I was little protective of our haul. I had one bucket of air potatoes we had collected lovingly covered with an umbrella. And anytime I saw someone close to our area I would run over like, "what do you think you're doing with our air potatoes, huh?" Those air potatoes were mine, dang it!

And the old man enjoyed himself, too. We had fun making up air potato songs based on popular songs -- like, to the tune of "Private Eyes" we sang "Air Potato Eyes, they're watching you (clap, clap) they see your every move..." and also "I'm looking over an air potato vine clump that I overlooked before..." Okay, I said they were popular songs, just not when they were popular.

DJ definitely gets an "A" for heroic effort. He collected a ton of trash and air potatoes, and he hauled his own bag of trash all the way to the starting site by himself. When one of the Boy Scouts there offered to carry it for him he declined the offer.

Collecting air potatoes is kind of addictive. I did not realize that I had an OCD related to collecting air potatoes. I couldn't stop. Even as I was leaving the forest to get back to the starting site I was still stooping to pick up an errant air potato.

After the collection (we were out there for about 2 hrs) we went to Morningside Nature Park for the after-celebration. They had music, various little giveaways and, of course, the free t-shirt. That alone was worth the effort. The logo (see above) was done by one of the Nature Operations people, and they've named the Dr. Suessian character "The Great Apru."

Everyone got a bag with a bagel and cream cheese and a granola bar, and you got a nice looking apple and a soft drink or water. I was hungry by that time and was thinking more of a b-b-q type set up, but c'mon -- a free t-shirt! Then they had a raffle for passes to bowling and the rock climbing wall, and some nice native trees. Poor DJ really wanted to win the bowling passes but alas, it wasn't to be.

All in all, we had a great time. DJ thought there should be games for kids, and so he and I talked about helping to organize some for the after-celebration next year. And I think we might actually do it, too.
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