Good Food, Good Meat, Good God Let’s Eat!

What is it about food that I love so much? That WE love so much?

We recently took my mom to Bastion in Nashville to celebrate her birthday, belatedly. I was very excited to share this experience with her because out of all the restaurants I’ve been to in Nashville, this one by far makes me think and feel the most.

As a southerner, and as a plant ecologist, I have had the pleasure of traveling across numerous parts of my state and other areas of the southeast and beyond. It has taught me to fall in love with my state; with the biodiversity, with my roots and with our culture. It’s a culture that has its fair share of flaws, of course, but nevertheless it is my culture. What I can see through the broken shards of a complex socio-political landscape is a beautiful vestige of a life once known to most. I have to view it as a voyeur now; the outside-looking-in.

I have been able to dine in multi-million dollars homes on Lookout Mountain, I have visited with landowners in their hoarded filth single-wide trailer in Eagleville, and I’ve driven through a lost coal-country winding mountain road where no amount of rain brings relief anymore the way the opioids do. The sociopolitical geography of the south is complex, to be grossly understated.

One of my favorite experiences as a plant ecologist is the one where you’ve spent a very difficult day or consecutive days in the middle of “nowhere” – undeveloped or recovering natural landscapes devoid of any meaningful infrastructure, including trails. It is hot, there are snakes and poison ivy, there are mosquitoes and ticks, but there are beautiful sights, rare plants and solitude as well. Our romanticized views of nature that we see in outdoor outfitter advertisements melt away to what is actually the harsh reality of what it means to be outside at the mercy of the elements. A wrong move, or a stroke of bad luck and you might die, and THAT for me, is the edge that makes me understand what it truly means to live.

Often times, emerging from these excursions, the adventure is not over. Usually on my way to or from a site the drive is a long one and my comfortable home in an urban landscape fades away to reveal what is the reality of life for most folks in the south… folks who I might even be related to. These are my kin folk and they, for multifaceted reasons, are devoid of the resources that our shared ancestors had and that I have in the city.

I stop at a gas station that pricks the sprawling sod farm or breaks up the monotony of the soy field or cow pasture. They’re all the same, really. Small cinder block structures with iron-grated doors and windows plastered with cigarette and beer advertisements taped up to block the brutal southern sun. The asbestos-tiled floors are streaked with years of dirty mops moving scum around on the surface. The black streak leads you to the back closet where sometimes there’s a bathroom with a plywood door and lock that doesn’t work.

These gas stations all smell the same. Cigarettes, packaged snacks, country air and cleaning fluid. This cleaning fluid is key. It at once smells very effective, terrible for the environment and like it might kind of taste good… citrus and sugar. It’s bizarre but ubiquitous.

For me it’s just one example of an experience that sticks with me as being very southern. There is something about the humidity here that seeps in to our pores and sets this scene apart from similar ones all across America. We melt in our heat and we are fluid in life, letting what ever comes come.

What does this have to do with Bastion? With food? That flavor of life, that experience, was magically infused into numerous dishes we sampled at Bastion this week. In a setting so far removed from this other reality, Chef Josh Habiger and his staff took the salt of life and delivered it into the vain, insecure and hectic subconscious of we city dwellers. Two items stand out for me in particular. The first is a port wine served at the end of the meal. One of two (a light and dark.) The dark port tasted EXACTLY LIKE THE GAS STATIONS! I don’t mean this in a bad way. I know it sounds that way, but to me it tasted like relief. It tasted like I just found the first gas station after coming out of the field, covered in seed ticks and facing a four hour drive home. It tasted like a very specific experience of my home state. This port topped off a handful of other similar experiences he delivered that took me to other times in my life in the southeast.

Another was his pork and corn. One of the more magical experiences I’ve had as a southerner is the one of a late-night family pickin’ party after a deer hunt in the hunting cabin. There are two small rooms in the hunting cabin. One has the venison prepared and sprawled out on the table and there’s a good many of us milling around it. The other room is tiny, with only a cot to sit on and most of us stand, eat and pass the jar. There is smoke in the air from cooking the meat and you can still smell the blood that was drained hours ago. When we finish eating, we transition seamlessly into singing, taking turns with the guitar for those of us who can pick a little. We get drunk without realizing it.

The pork and corn dish encapsulated this experience in a few precious bites. Somehow that meat was smoked but the smoke wasn’t IN the meat. Instead, that first bite expelled the smoke from the meat like the spores of puffball mushroom. It wafted wistfully around in my mouth and created its own atmosphere. It was paired with a wine that was more like a homebrew cidre and made me crave the peach shine. I was floored. I wanted to cry. I was so desperate to be back in that cabin during that moment and I was so happy to be able to experience it briefly again.

I don’t know if the chef intended the meal to come off this way. This is not some restaurant that advertises itself as southern “cuisine” – a cultural appropriation that seems to closely follow the “farm-to-table” movement; both labels of which I resent greatly. The last time we ate at Bastion the meal took us to different biological landscapes. One dish made me swear I was standing in the rain in the redwoods in the Pacific Northwest while another made me swear I was cooking my foraged food over the campfire in the Blue Ridge. This time, the meal took me very specifically home.

I valued these dishes as the vestige of experiences I have had, and even as reminders of who I am and where I come from.  Flavor has the ability to pass through the barrier of our self-consciousness and cut right to an emotion. Each time I’ve been to Bastion I’ve had no idea what I’m getting myself into, and each time they have delivered surprising and emotional meals.

48 Hours of Darkness


Literally, it means “into the light”; formed from “en-“ meaning in or into, and “light.”

Coming out of winter and emerging from its gloomy gray cast, we welcome the coming light of spring and summer. First, with the myriad greens of life and soft spring rain. Then, the brutal rays of the blinding summer sun and intense afternoon storms.

Hermann Hesse writes in Siddhartha that “When someone seeks, then it easily happens that his eyes see only the thing that he seeks, and he is able to find nothing…”

Similarly, Nikola Tesla wrote “… the more we know, the more ignorant we become in the absolute sense…”

It is during these summer months of intense light that in the dark, we see life the best.

In the 1970’s a seasonal interpretive ranger named Richard Hilton was working for Tennessee State Parks. It is said that he was known for his night wanderings, general child-like curiosity of the natural world, and overall eccentricity. One night while wandering Pickett State Park, he stopped in at Hazard Cave. After a steep and dark climb down to the entrance, he was met with a subtle, eerie, blue glow tucked between the ferns and lining the sandstone walls.

Photo Credit: Alan Cressler. Orfelia fultoni at Hazard Cave in Pickett State Park, Tennessee

Richard Hilton was unguarded in his curiosity and it brought him great reward. For most of us though, we need some hand-holding in the arena of enlightenment. We struggle with the paradox of how to seek it without seeking it, and so we look to our religious and political leaders, to science, to our philosophers and to our artists to interpret it for us.

I am just waking up from a long mid-day nap, having arrived home this morning at 1 AM from a whirlwind tour of some of our parks in East Tennessee. After a couple days of quick and brutal storms, the light seems particularly harsh today. Our focus these past two days has been on the natural phenomena of the night, and my body still wants to be there.

Just a few hours ago, I was standing in the near-total-darkness of Hazard Cave with four of my coworkers. In silence, we all experienced our own humbling child-like wonder. As our eyes adjusted, we found ourselves blissfully disoriented by the stars that appeared around us in the rock shelter. Ranger Martin had expertly lead us to the back of the shelter and prepared us for what we were about to see. He told us that these lights were emitted from the larvae of Orfelia fultoni (one of only three Genus in the world of Fungus Gnats. iNaturalist refers to it with the common name of “Foxfire Fly” – referring to the glowing fungus.) The larvae are predatory and they emit their soft blue light to collectively appear as stars. This tricks their prey to fly into their light of inverted night sky. Such an evil plan! Appropriate too, that the enzyme responsible for this reaction is named Luciferase.

The previous night, we had also found ourselves mouth-gaping in awe in the pitch black of night at another Luciferase-fueled show. I was giddy for the wonderful summer night in the dense humid forest of Rocky Fork State Park. The lack of light heightened the white noise produced by the rushing creek, full from the pop-up storm shortly before we arrived. The humidity meant we’d see a great display.

I wandered off from the reflective gravel of the parking lot and into the pitch black of the forest. As dusk light faded behind me, the sustained glow of the “Blue Ghosts” appear from the wet humus. They float just above the forest floor and give me the sense that I’m bobbing in a boat that’s sinking in their luminescence. They are the quiet beginning to the show; the dystopian and haunting sound of the string quartet warming up, the anticipatory buzz and glow of the tube amp flicked to “on.” My mind reacts like the sudden hush of an audience and my ears ache from the lack of associated noise.

Then the conductor appears on stage. I notice a bright slow light from high up in the trees. This is green and appears larger than the blue ghosts dancing in front of me and it comes and goes like a lighthouse beacon. She’s not there to save anyone, though. She’s the fatal attraction. In response, there’s suddenly a flash not far from my face. Then a whole echo of sudden flashing. A hoard of lustful males calling back to her, and calling to each other. They’re signing in the night, and I strain my eyes to read their writing on the blank dark canvas of the sweet mountain air. Though, for every word I make out I seem to miss the sentence, so I stop. The show has begun and the main act has arrived. I allow myself to get lost in the performance.

Puppeteered by their reproductive desperation, they flash more intensely with time. They exhaust themselves all together at once for a few seconds then shut off. A stray blue ghost wafts through my frame of vision, reminding me I am not blind. Then again – they all appear and flash desperately. This goes on magically until you feel the air is at capacity with their light. I think I see some come together. I notice some that float up to meet the conductors. It’s when I stop trying to notice just one that I can see them all.

Rocky Fork State Park Synchronous Fireflies

They begin to exhaust themselves in their hot frenzy and the tempo slows. The crowd seems to thin some. The blue ghosts have faded totally, and I struggle to remember the last time I saw one. I find my coworkers and we all pile into the car.

We’re surprisingly exhausted for having just stood around and observed in silence. In the car we find the smallest things hilarious in our delirium and outburst in giggles at nothing over the low volume of the radio. We let the reflective strips of the median on the winding back roads lead us to the cabin at Roan Mountain State Park. We don’t even stay up to socialize, but crash immediately to watch the fireflies dance behind our dreaming eyelids. I rest easy knowing that I am a child again.

I feel enlightened in my 48 hours of darkness. On our red-eye drive back to Nashville from Pickett, my coworker tells me about a quote:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.’
– G.K. Chesterton

Let us congregate at the church of the natural world and be enlightened in the darkness. We will be led to it by the clergy who protect and preserve it and we will be overwhelmed by a Tao that cannot be spoken. It is our infant wonder, our child-like curiosity surfacing to quiet our aging minds. Let us ask “Do it again” and let us be responsible for making sure it can do it again.

Roan Mountain – Jane’s Bald with Rhododendron

Good Bones

Things have been quiet lately on here and that’s for a good reason. We’ve (my husband and I) embarked upon (and completed!) a major home renovation project. We totally gutted and remodeling the kitchen and it’s kinda a big deal. As in, it has already changed my life in unexpected ways.

We learned a lot in the process, and luckily – we planned ahead and had excellent contractors – we didn’t run into any super major issues and completed the project in just about the timeline we anticipated.

One thing that blew me away is that, over time, there was A LOT of lipstick put on the pig… but that pig had good bones.

Four layers of linoleum peeled up in the kitchen. About the same amount of wallpaper layers pulled off the CEILING in the music room (who does that?!)

Some things I harp on in GIS that are equally applicable to home renovation are the following:

  • What’s the goal? Make sure you  have a clear vision of what the problem is and what you envision the solution being. These two items are the bookends for all the steps in between – it defines the planning and implementation and helps you keep sight of what you NEED. I wanted a kitchen that was easy to clean, had more storage space and flowed better. Keeping this in mind at all times ensured that we didn’t fall for stupid traps like… dedicated drawers built specifically for utensils that cost a bajillion dollars, or shitty up-swinging shelves that took up AN ENTIRE CABINET just for my KitchenAid (and cost a bajillion dollars, and would probably fall apart in less than a year.) There’s a lot of bells and whistles and rabbit holes to explore with GIS, but if it’s not meeting the goal then you just end up pissing people off.

What are your resources? If you’re asked to answer a question using GIS, or any platform for that matter, you need to know what your resources are to answer the question. Embarking on the renovation, we first met with a financial advisor. This wasn’t just to set up our method for crediting the kitchen. It was also to get an idea of what kind of shape our finances were in, in general. You always need to have a keen sense of where your information stands. Metadata, as annoying as it is to maintain, is actually really important. Whether we realize it or not, metadata isn’t just the crap we fill in to satisfy the requirements to publish it.

Metadata includes actually communicating… like, between two human beings, mano-y-mano, capiche? Unless you’re really F’ing lucky, I’m willing to bet most of the data you deal with is: 1.) messy 2.) in a zillion different formats and 3.) probably not spatial (yet.) It probably has NO metadata, so you actually have to understand the why and how of its existence, and this may actually require some follow up questions. So, you have to talk to people and figure out what their perspective is and understand the limitations of… your resources. If it’s data or finances, you gotta know what you’ve got to work with.

I think my biggest pet peeve, as it relates to GIS, is a lack of understanding that if you want to involve a GIS deliverable in a project, then you’re going to need to involve someone intimately familiar with GIS on the front end… from the planning and resource-finding stage. When we remodeled the kitchen, we didn’t purchase a bunch of materials first and then ask a contractor to come and try and figure the puzzle out. We planned, we measured, we had goals, and we designed it all with that framework keenly in mind and communicated to everyone involved.

Additionally, know your limitations… as an individual and as a team. If you come into a system that has a lot of potential to be efficient and productive and ripe with spatial questions to analyze, but the data isn’t ready to work/doesn’t exist, then consider your options for investing in gathering that data. What will it cost? What amount of time will it take? What do you need it to do for you? For others? What’s the biggest bang for your buck and what’s your ROI? Do you collect it yourself or do you contract it out?

Of course- these needs and considerations are also intimately tied to scale, as well. With the kitchen… some electrical and plumbing issues here and there? Hubs can handle that. An entire kitchen? He can handle that too… if only he had 5 years of time and infinite funds to get it done. Time is money. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Our kitchen pre-remodel
Our kitchen post-remodel

Love Lessons

I’m old enough and wise enough these days to know when I’m falling in love. The kind of love that isn’t just some temporary fiery infatuation… but real love. The kind that is sometimes glorious, sometimes enraging, but always – nevertheless – unconditional and timeless.

I’ve had a revelation recently and it was solidified as truth today. I’m falling in love with ArcPro.

Yes. There.  I said it. I’ve hated on it long enough.

Here’s the deal…

ArcMap is like the person you dated for a really long time and you really loved them (or thought you did), but in the end they just never really were there for you and didn’t love you nearly as much as you loved them.

ArcGIS Online is like the person you went to prom with because you were too nice to say no, but you made sure your dad let him know that curfew was NO JOKE, buddy!

ArcPro is like the person that has been there for you all along and you’ve mostly ignored them. Out of the corner of your eye you’ve always noticed, and as time went on you found yourself thinking about them more and more, until one day, in crisis, they appear for you and help you out and you realize…. they’re THE ONE.

What’s caused this change of heart for me? Well – it’s been developing over time – as true love does. When I first tried it out and realized there’s no right-click calculate field (now a geoprocessing tool) I was like “YOU’RE DEAD TO ME!”

ArcPro sulked away defeated, but never let me out of its sights. (Creepy.)

Recently I was reading this blog post about watercolor maps and I was just floored by how beautiful they were. I wanted to run to my computer and try it immediately! Oh, but it’s ARCPRO, of course!

Ugh. Nope nope nope. Not going to be intrigued. Will not let myself try this. Remember, Sunny, we just loathe ArcPro.

Click on this image and go read the blog because that map is absolutely gorgeous… even if you don’t make maps!

Well, today I was working on a project for work. We’re using Workforce and Survey123 for ArcGIS to develop and streamline maintenance workflows. The first beta test created TWO feature services and we really needed them to be one. So after figuring that out, I needed to migrate the old points from the first beta into the second. AGOL has no copy/paste function for pulling in points from another layer. OF COURSE… because it’s the one you didn’t want to go to prom with. ArcMap wasn’t letting me override the feature service. OF COURSE… because it doesn’t really love you as much as you love it. Google the solution? Oh – yea, ArcPro has that. Simple copy/paste special (just like Excel! Your other love!) Duh. BECAUSE IT’S ALWAYS BEEN THERE FOR YOU EVEN IF YOU RESISTED IT AT FIRST.

Fine! But surely it won’t be so easy…

No, actually it was just that easy. OH MY GOD I’M IN LOVE.

I know, I know… We’re just getting to know each other! But this time, ArcPro is THE ONE. I just know it.


The omniscient “They” says that necessity is the mother of invention. I’ve personally found that often times “necessity” closely corresponds to “frustration” and “desperation”, as well.And THAT… that is where I have been lately. Not in life – no – nothing that melodramatic, but with a particular project.

At work, we are an ESRI shop. I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’m a total ESRI fan girl. BUT… I must admit I have experienced the same frustrations that drive people to say less-than-favorable-things about them. I know… I get it. I do.

Their web app templates have been super fun, and I’ve used them for two public-facing apps now and I’ve tinkered with them for internal use apps. However, they’re really ugly… ESRI is all about spatial analysis and everything else is secondary. My background? Art. Then ecology. I like pretty things and I like pretty things that work together.

ESRI doesn’t DO pretty*.

The ESRI web app templates are also super limiting and I’ve known for a long time now that our needs for one project in particular are outside the scope of any of the templates. Lurking deep in my mind is the known fact that if I want to make anything remotely more interesting and as customized as what we need, then I need to dive into the code.

I am NOT a developer. I know nothing of code. I don’t know the difference between html, python, javascript, yadda yadda. I am Jon Snow. I know nothing.

That’s always annoyed the hell out of me. I see gorgeous maps that people make with just some simple tweaks of the code. I salivate over these beautiful presentations of data and I’ve been dying to try for years. I’ve started and stopped a couple times – frustrated by tutorials that assume too much about the reader.

This week was a short week at work, and at least for me it was pretty slow. Thursday was agonizingly slow and then Friday I basically decided that I was going to sit down and dedicate the day to figuring out how to navigate Leaflet. And I did.

The above is my super basic map showing TN State Parks and trails (don’t get too nitpicky on the data itself, I’m using outdated data.) I’m super proud of it. I chose a simple black and white basemap through the leaflet library and then I added in our parks boundaries and trails layer from the ArcGIS Online feature service. They’re given some basic symbology and popups to show names and… and that’s it. That’s where I’m at.

It took me most of Friday and a few hours of my Saturday (plus help from friends who are smarter than I am when I got stuck) and an FA-Cup-watching-session this morning (CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT N. FOREST VS ARSENAL GAME?!)

I’m super psyched, and so – I present it here for funsies. To mark the moment. I have no intentions of stopping here.

*I must admit that I feel like ESRI has realized this and they are trying… really… they are. ArcPro graphics and symbology options seem to cater more to aesthetics than ArcMap, but it also has a long way to go before I start using it full time for daily work flows. So. There’s that.


Bread-making in the Workplace

I haven’t written in a while. There’s a reason for that. Quite a lot is going on! On the personal front, we’re preparing to gut and remodel our kitchen. Just in time for that, I’ve fallen in love with baking. I’ve always hated baking but we got hooked on The Great British Baking Show and they make it look so damn easy! So now I’m hooked. Orange scones for dinner? YES PLEASE!

But what I’m currently totally in love with is…. my sourdough starter. I’ve discovered a whole underbelly world of people who are crazy obsessed with mixing together water and flour and watching what happens. We take care of these things like pets. We obsessively watch over them throughout the day and when we’re not here to baby them we rush home to make sure they’re doing well and feed them. (Don’t tell my dogs, but I feed the sourdough starter first!)

Sourdough starter is amazing. By making a starter, you are cultivating an ecosystem. What goes into it and the environment it’s brought up in directly influence the outcome – including if it succeeds at all.

In my former life I was a plant ecologist and botanist. My responsibilities were essentially to systematically observe our 20 federally listed plant species in Tennessee and figure out why they were so rare and if there was anything we could do about it. If I had the opportunity to move on in that position, I would have. But I didn’t and I got a job doing something else (that I also love.)

I love plants, and I love ecology. BUT I LOVE SYSTEMS, and I love fixing systems that are broken. Ecology for me is the ultimate metaphor for anything and everything in life. We’re the endangered plant. The world around us is our ecology and the health of our ecosystem results in a response from us. Likewise, our response and our role in the ecosystem affects other individuals and elements of the system.

Sourdough starter is the result of yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) on the flour reproducing in the presence of hydration. The by-product is carbon dioxide and that’s what makes it “rise” or “be active.” But if this ecosystem is out of balance – say, the environment you’ve cultivated for it is out of balance – then other bacteria can compete with the yeast and ruin your starter. This is happening to me right now. More modern flours have a higher concentration of Leuconostoc. This bacteria fools you into thinking that your starter is active and doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing – but suddenly on the third day your starter isn’t producing any bubbles or responding to any “feedings.” It’s gone dormant and you scramble to the all-knowing Google gods to find out why.

(Nerdy aside: Sacchro– = sugar, –myces = fungus. Cerveza may be familiar to you as the word for “beer” in Spanish. This isn’t a coincidence. The same yeast that makes sourdough also makes beer. So basically I’m just a failed brewer.)

Sourdough starter requires serious observation, assessment and care. Luckily, my starter’s current status can be salvaged.

This is true for any system. Some systems are more resilient than others, and some don’t exist at all and are borne into existence as they are necessitated.

We’ve been evangelizing GIS at work. We’ve compared this to throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. We do have some strategy about it. We do observe. We do identify the issues. We do provide the opportunity for a solution.

Well – we got something to stick. This is why I’ve not been online for a while. I’ve been cultivating my ecosystem. For a while it seemed slow, but what was really happening – what we can’t see – is all the yeast just starting to wake up and cozy up to their new environment. Lately, the action has been explosive and uncontrollable.

BUT – I’ve learned from my Leuconostoc friends that one must be wary of early activity. Is it active yeast turning into something beautiful or is it doomed for failure? Well – that’s determined by our environment, but also our response to the environment.

The solution for a starter that’s gone dormant is one of two things:
1.) Add some acid or
2.) Aerate it

I’ve chosen to aerate. I stir the starter with a fork twice a day and make sure I get a lot of oxygen in there for the yeast to thrive on and have enough energy to fight back the Leuconostoc.

As this parallels the work metaphor – we’ve got a lot of activity. It came to a head and resulted in some chaos but now things have calmed. Airing the discussions and beginning the collaborations are the next steps to ensuring our momentum doesn’t collapse under the pressure of “over-promising.”

I’ll post next when I get the first good loaf out of the oven.

The Mother – sourdough starter, day 3. 

I shade, you shade…

So I’m a Tom Patterson fan girl. He probably doesn’t remember this but a few years ago my husband and I were on vacation making the rounds to Annapolis, MD, then D.C., then stopping over at Harper’s Ferry on the way home to meet a friend of ours who was a cartographer for National Parks. We met her at the National Park office and she introduced us to Tom Patterson and his young understudy (whose name I regrettably cannot remember, but he was a genius.)

Tom and this other guy work out of a tiny little closet-of-an-office. With the four of us crammed in there together, he was gracious enough to basically give us a crash course in how he made his world-famous hillshades. I was slack-jawed the whole time watching them run through masking and shading and all sorts of little tweaks with a fine, refined muscle memory that only comes with expertise and time. These hillshades are a beautiful work of art. I don’t mean that in the superficial “oh, they’re really pretty” kind of way. I genuinely mean it’s a work of art. They are manipulating the viewer with their subtleties and nuance. They build a whole other dimension of experience for park guests… one that I would argue is just as important as the experience of visiting the park itself.

People collect National Park maps. Other than a t-shirt, mug, some iPhone snapshots or other typical tokens, the park map is one of those things that goes home with a wide variety of visitors and is really cherished. If other households are anything like ours (and, ok, with two botanists who do GIS living under one roof, perhaps your house isn’t QUITE like ours), you may have a drawer or corner of the bookshelf dedicated to the maps you’ve collected on your travels. No? Just us?

Anyway. Ever since Tom’s crash course, I have personally been DYING to make some pretty maps. I rarely get the opportunity. Most of what I do is editing, data management, or quick maps for meetings, etc. One of the highest compliments I ever received was on a mock-up map I made for a hypothetical park plan. My Deputy Commissioner commented “It makes me want to GO there!” That’s what park maps SHOULD do for people.

Ok – I digress. Where was I? Oh yea- I don’t often get to make pretty maps. Recently, we got a new machine at the house and I was dying to try it out a little bit. We also have fresh LiDAR for East TN and likewise, one of my favorite park managers challenged me to come up with some fun ways to visualize their trail data. Well, I got sidetracked with the hillshades and some raster functions. Inspired largely by the ESRI multi-directional hillshade (which I am convinced was inspired by Eduard Imhof), I came up with a handful of hillshades, two of which I’ll share here:

This first one was a multi-directional hillshade. I’m not entirely sure I worked the formula correctly, but it is what it is… Derived by taking the square root of the product of three hillshades run at three different azimuths. The shading was just tweaked in various ways until I got something I kind of liked. I liked the moodiness of this particular hillshade. The sepia tone gives it an old-school look while the contrast gives it an eerie feel. However- it’s not very practical and wasn’t playing well with my functions, so I then played with just a single hillshade and straight-up raster functions for pansharpening:

Here’s the result of that… A lot cleaner and a lot more practical. The LiDAR detail makes my heart thump and the color ramp is subtle but does the job. I kept the park boundary overlay pretty subtle and used a multi-ring buffer to feather it. Our park boundaries never are very pretty and I hesitate to alter them for aesthetic reasons because I don’t want folks to get up in arms. So I just try to hide them without hiding them. I slapped on the trails layer with a simple marching-ant-esque line and extracted (incompletely) the watercourse. Overall, I’m pretty happy with this hillshade. The technique with raster functions is quick and I love that you can save a string of functions if you like the result.

I imagine if I were Tom Patterson I’d probably feather out some of the detail from outside the park boundary, emphasize some of the more prominent features within the park and otherwise do some amazing tweaks to make this thing look less homogenous across the surface and make your eye move around the  map. BUT, without Natural Scene Designer, expensive plugins for Adobe and other fun stuff, this is what I’ve got!   : )

P.S. I’m always curious about people’s reactions: To contour or not to contour? Personally, I think the human brain is wired to understand intuitively that the shading is giving depth and we can perceive “steepness” just fine without contours. Likewise, I have found that most people don’t even know how to read contours but they like the “mapiness” of it. So unless specifically requested, I typically reserve use of contours for report maps and not public-pretty maps. But – just an opinion!



Total Eclipse of the Sun!

This is the obligatory eclipse post. First off, the eclipse was AMAZING! In my backyard, during the totality, the birds came to the feeders like their evening frenzy, LIGHTNING BUGS CAME OUT!, the day bugs disappeared, the chimney swifts and bats came out and all the night noises were full on. It was amazing. Just for good measure… my dogs acted totally normal. They were too hot from running around and slept through it all.

Out at our Tennessee State Parks in the path of totality (and even many of the parks outside of totality), we were slammed with visitors from all across the U.S. and many from out of the country! My favorite co-worker in marketing knows how much I love data and sent me the pre-registration numbers before the day was even through. I used it as an excuse to play around some more with ArcPro.

First example is the heatmap… I love their on-the-fly heat map visualization. It scales as you scale in and out – which can be a blessing or a curse. At smaller scales, I actually liked how it visualized the data better, but I couldn’t figure out a way to go “stay with this one when I zoom out to 1:13,000,000!” I also found a bug in the export of the heat map visual. When I exported as tif, jpg, or pdf I got these weird “tears” or “flares” in the heatmap. So my work around was to export as an etf (whatever that is) and open in it paint (no joke) and then save as a jpg. It worked!

With a heatmap of geocoded points so it makes sense, but does loose some “umph” from the raw data…

I didn’t have a problem with just the straight-up visualization of the data. Also, I made cute little icons of solar eclipses just for the hell of it. The data is really dense and difficult to tease out at this scale, BUT, the overall effect is there: We had a lot of people pre-register for the eclipse at our parks! This doesn’t even reflect all the additional people who came to our parks day-of! Amazing.

Cute little eclipse icons… for funsies.

One step forward – Two steps back

We’re on 10.4 something at work. All the times I’ve asked about upgrading to 10.5, the response is silent, which usually means no. So – I know there’s some awesome fun tools that 10.5 has built in (and that ArcPro has built in), but right now they’re out of my reach. (Ironically, I have 10.5.1 and ArcPro at home!)

Many GIS users are in a similar position. Not updating is practiced far and wide for the greater good. Instead of having our workflows be disrupted and banging our heads against the walls coming up against new mystery bugs, we just mysteriously let other people do it until we feel safe enough to get the patch and move forward. But if we’re all hesitating, then who’s actually working to fix the bugs that no one is finding?? I digress…

Split Feature by Attributes. My lord! This seems like it would have come along long ago! Now – it is in 10.5 and it is in ArcPro. Again – no 10.5 at work. Why couldn’t I use ArcPro? I could, technically. BUT – today’s goal was to figure out a way to totally automate a larger workflow that incorporated having to slip a feature into three features using attributes in a field. Basically, building this model to hand off to the IT person so we can have it run on a scheduled basis. (Which is how we gotta do things right now. So. There’s that.) So I couldn’t use the awesome tool built into ArcPro because no one else is using it.

That’s the two steps back… but below is the one step forward if you’re in the same pickle I’m in and could use a tool like this:

Split Feature by Attribute – model view
Split Feature by Attribute – toolbox view

Annddddd, here’s the code:

# Usage: splitattribute <Input_Table> <Group_By_Fields> <Output_Feature_Class> 
# Description: 
# Splits a feature into multiple features based on attributes in a field.
# ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

# Import arcpy module
import arcpy

# Load required toolboxes
arcpy.ImportToolbox("Model Functions")

# Script arguments
Input_Table = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(0)

Group_By_Fields = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(1)

Output_Feature_Class = arcpy.GetParameterAsText(2)

# Local variables:
Selected_Rows = Input_Table
Value = "1"

# Process: Iterate Row Selection
arcpy.IterateRowSelection_mb(Input_Table, Group_By_Fields, "false")

# Process: Copy Features
arcpy.CopyFeatures_management("", Output_Feature_Class, "", "0", "0", "0")

It wasn’t that long ago that I first started diving into Model Builder, and it has since become one of my favorite things.


Not being able to run fast in dreams. While prepping to write this, I was highly amused by reading other peoples’ experiences with the same kind of dream. Apparently it’s fairly ubiquitous! SOLIDARITY, SLOW DREAM-RUNNERS!

There’s a lot of pseudo-science explanations saying something to the effect of “maybe you’re feeling powerless in life” or “your legs represent your fundamental drive to move forward in life.”  or “you’re clearly experiencing hard times in your life.” CLEARLY!

Anyway. I’ve had those dreams where I’m running from/to something and I just run in slow motion, but I’m like “WHY THE HELL CAN’T I RUN FASTER?!”

That sensation… that’s how I feel with ArcGIS Pro.

My workflows in ArcGIS for Desktop are like muscle memory now. I know where everything is at, I’ve got all my menus situated where I want, etc etc. I’ve been using it for years! So switching over to ArcGIS Pro has made me feel pained and slow. Old. Confused. Desperate. Anxious. But that’s how it goes! I recognize that it will take some time to learn – no big deal, right?

So yea- I’m willing to concede it will take time to get used to. Overall, ArcGIS Pro looks AWESOME! One major thing I’m immediately a fan of is how it processes visuals. Graphically, it’s just prettier, making me wrestle slightly less with Arc’s long-standing blind-eye to aesthetics. This is the LOVE part of all this, and I’m sure I’ll find more to love about it as I keep going down the rabbit hole.

But – negatives always seem to outweigh the positives.

Just when something is going great – it changes! At ESRI UC I learned about this glorious thing called ATTRIBUTE ASSISTANT. Well – I had learned about it prior to that, but I specifically went to a session on it while in San Diego. Attribute Assistant is BALLER.

Really though – have you ever been building a dataset and you want to have a field that tells you, say, what tax parcel it belongs to? Or what physiographic province? “Join” creates a new dataset but you don’t WANT a new dataset, and “Relate” can be kind of tedious to use. “Append” just adds data, it doesn’t fill in missing data in a field you already have (and field mapping doesn’t cut it, all the time.) Sure, you can build a relationship class but then you still have to go through line-by-line and build some key for those things to relate on. Simply impractical, especially for those of us inheriting datasets and not just building them from scratch.

Enter Attribute Assistant. It works by building expressions in a table that specify some “rules.” (I.E. rule 1.) if this feature in layer A intersects a feature in another layer B, add field from layer B into field of layer A.) It can do a hell of a lot more than that, but that’s how I’m currently using it. It’s amazing! I draw a trail and automatically park name gets filled in! Small things, but HUGE TIME SAVER.

So, imagine my disappointment when at the end of the session the speaker is like “Oh yea, and this won’t be available in ArcPro.” WHAT?! WHAT!!! Soul crushing. Dream crushing! But wait- it’s not available because they’ll build it into to geoprocessing tools in ArcPro? Ok… cool. ::holds breath:: ::dies::

Really wanting to start diving into ArcPro, I research how to execute my favorite value method in Attribute Assistant: INTERSECTING_FEATURE. I read this crap on geonet about how AA isn’t available in Arc1.x, but it will be in 2.0 (now out.) So I update to ArcPro 2.0 and eagerly search for Intersecting Feature. NO DICE. I search the web some more for any morsel of information pertaining to where I might find these built in Attribute Rules (as they are supposedly called.) NO DICE. I check my licensing level. NO DICE.

So – HATE. That’s big on the hate list. Basically, a tool I use literally every day is no longer available, making a conversion from ArcGIS Desktop to Pro impractical. Strike 1.

Also on hate list: Calculate geometry. GONE. It’s actually still there – somewhere deep in a toolbox in geoprocessing tools, but it’s no longer a simple right click within your attribute table. I cry bull! We’re constantly asked to give sums on values in various units. I really don’t want to have to go through a geoprocessing tool to do this. ArcPro should be less tedious, not more tedious! Strike 2.

Last (or currently last) on my list of gripes is the organization of the table of contents view and catalog. ArcPro wants you to add and connect to just the folders pertinent to the “project” – but that works on a lot of assumptions and it’s a huge pain in the ass. My workaround has been to build a basic “project” that’s my catch all for day to day workflows that don’t warrant their own special project. But when I go to make a project that does warrant its own special name, I just want all my folders to be there, mkay? Thanks. Strike 3.

And yet, like a bad boyfriend, I’m still intrigued. I still believe there’s potential! It’s still alluring, and definitely still sexy. Unlike the bad boyfriend, change actually is inevitable and if I stick it out long enough, soon I’ll learn to love it. I’m definitely looking forward to what’s coming down the pipeline, and as we grow GIS in our program I know ArcPro will have a lot to offer that Arc for Desktop doesn’t.