Category Archives: Southern Science

Alligators, Spanish moss, and a sense of wonder

Growing up in North Central Florida, I took my environment for granted.

My parents still live in the same house where I grew up. Their home feels familiar, almost a time capsule of my old life. But after years living away, I view everything around them like a tourist. On a visit in December, my eyes traced the outline of the heavy boughs of every live oak, the curtains of gray, Spanish moss weighing their branches like Florida snow.

Half my life later, I realize how little I explored my environment, how little I appreciated the strange beauty that surrounded me. So as an adult, I’m trying to recapture the wonder that escaped during my childhood and show my husband the places I wish had been more important to me. So, on December 26, we went to Paynes Prairie Preserve, 22,000 acres of grasslands just a short drive south of where I grew up, full of birds, bison, wild horses, and, of course, alligators.

Growing up in Gainesville, Florida, in the shadow of the University of Florida and Gator Nation, alligators feel too normal. People occasionally find them in their backyards or their sewer drains. When I was a teenager, my father talked about how a visiting Estonian researcher asked to see alligators. I didn’t get her fascination.

Now I do. My husband and I walked along the La Chua trail on the north end of the preserve, most of it is a wide, mowed strip with few barriers, people of all ages, and signs like this one.


Because of creatures like these, sunning within 10 feet of the walkway.

alligators at Paynes Prairie

We saw dozens of alligators, but no bison or horses. With keen eyes and binoculars we picked out ibises, egrets, a Great Blue Heron, wild turkeys, and hawks. We even heard a hawk, caught next to the trail in marshy brush.

In many ways, the walk was a tiny glimpse of what I hope 2014 will bring. I want to appreciate moments, hear, see and feel what happens around me, and fan each spark of wonder into a steady flame.

Image Credits: Sarah Webb


Georgia’s quest for a sip of the Tennessee river

State lines bring out natural rivalries. New Yorkers like to pick on New Jersey, and when I lived in Indiana, Kentucky seemed to be the butt of most regional jokes. But here in Tennessee the foe is Georgia, and the scuffle may go to court. Over water.

Not just any water, mind you. We’re talking about the mighty Tennessee river, the waterway that writhes its way through the center of Chattanooga, my fair city. The state of Georgia is prepared to sue Tennessee for a chance to tap the river for Atlanta just 100 miles southeast.

It’s not a new idea, and Georgia is already in a longstanding legal feud with Alabama and Florida  for related reasons.

Creeks and streams in North Georgia feed in to the Tennessee river watershed, but the river itself skirts the boundaries of the Peach State, barely missing its northwest corner before dipping south into Alabama and even a tiny corner of Mississippi before turning north toward the Ohio River. (Eastern water rights mean that they can’t tap it because it doesn’t flow through the state.) I can see why Georgia lawmakers might think that the river is taunting them. Continue reading Georgia’s quest for a sip of the Tennessee river


Webb of Science moves South

Summer turned out to be a little crazy  at Webb of Science. My husband got a new job, and we’ve moved South to Chattanooga, Tennessee. So my blog needed to go on hiatus, and I’ll be shifting my focus a bit. Instead of hearing about New York City, you’re more likely to get a slice of Southern hospitality and a side of the Smoky Mountains. But as always, it will be my usual mix of science-y goodness.

We’ve been here just over a month. And, just in case you were wondering, Chattanooga is a pretty amazing place. We have the photos to prove it.

I still may sprinkle in a few bits from NYC that I didn’t manage to get in before we left. Please stay tuned!

Lookout Mountain

We saw Rock City!


Rock formations in the caves at Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls

Ruby Falls, an 145 foot underground waterfall

Chattanooga Nature Center

Butterfly in a meadow at the Chattanooga Nature Center

red wolf

a red wolf at the Chattanooga Nature Center

Lookout MountainRock formations in the caves at Ruby FallsRuby FallsChattanooga Nature Centerred wolf