Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Big Day on the Big Blackfoot

It's that time of year again...chillier temperatures, crisp, colored leaves, bugling bulls and yes, fantastic field trips. Lots and lots of fantastic field trips to unique rivers with even more unique students from around the Upper Clark Fork basin. The sun has peaked over the ridge on yet another CFWEP school year...

Blackfoot Youth Field Day

Go Big, or Go Home. Why not? Let's kick the year off with a 115 fourth through sixth graders from Bonner, Lincoln, Potomac, Helmville, Ovando. That's exactly how we began this field season, and the only thing bigger than the group size was the amount of fun had by all. CFWEP teamed up with the Blackfoot Challenge, Bureau of Land Management and our friends in Missoula, the Watershed Education Network (WEN) to put on the Challenge's annual Blackfoot Youth Field Day at Garnet Ghost Town. We took the lead on the day's content as the theme was "All Things Mining."

Garnet Ghost Town History, historic mining practices, gold panning, mineralogy, stream monitoring and restoration barely scratch the surface of the six station topics that all of the kids and their teachers were treated to on September 12th. A super-hearty thanks go out to Dick Fichtler and Alan Mathews of the BLM, as well as all their staff and to the Challenge's Megan Gale who hosted the event and helped plenty in the planning. Also to NRDP's Greg Mullen; Josh Gubits & Co. from WEN; Gold panner extraordinaire, Ralph Smith and his merry gang; Ginette Abdo from the Mineral Museum; our former, yet not too distant in the least CFWEP leader Colleen Elliott, now of the Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, and last but not least, CFWEP staffers Jen Titus and Justin Ringsak. We'll have lots of photos from this trip and others up soon, so make sure you check back!

Drummond High and Junior High School

Our first standard five-day school stop was on September 20th with Darcy Schindler's 10th and 7th grade classes. Chad Okrusch, The Mining City's answer to James Taylor, Dave Hughes, plus John Dewey, joined the CFWEP staff in favor over working on his dissertation last Thursday to run the macroinvertebrate sampling station. Mr. Schindler's kids were on the case in fine fashion, figuring out the differences in water chemistry, bug populations and vegetation on the Clark Fork as one heads down stream. First stop was on the river near Garrison, just above its confluence with the Little Blackfoot. The second stop was right in the heart of Trojan Country at the Drummond City Park. Many thanks to the Rock Creek Cattle Company for generously allowing access for the area's kids to learn more about their watershed.
Coming up...

Friday, October 5th and Saturday, October 6th.
Best get to the Museum of Fine Arts Butte next weekend! Check out the program line-up here and BE THERE! Too many cool things to list AND...IT'S FREE!!! Bring the family and enjoy some Clark Fork culture!

Other Field Trips coming up...

  • Butte Central, Misti Cunningham's freshman biology classes, October 2
  • Anaconda High School, Kate McElroy and Bob Tarkalson's Advanced Biology Classes, Milltown Dam Education Program tour with WEN, October 3
  • Butte High, Bill Callaghan's Environmental Biology Class, October 9th

Drop us a line at or give us a ring 406-496-4832 if you'd like to volunteer or come observe a field trip!

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Cornish Pasty: Just a Meat and Potatoe Pie? Or An Underground Miner's Savory Savior?

When trying to teach kids about subjects that might seem complicated, like science, it always helps to use anecdotes that relate to things they can easily understand. In working with the students of the Upper Clark Fork basin, helping them to learn the health affects of some of the toxic substances found in mining wastes, like arsenic, lead and mercury, I’ve made it a point to use Butte’s hallmark entrĂ©e, the pasty.
Of course, we all like to think of the pasty being as Butte as Butte can be. However, just like the mining that made our town famous, the pasty too hails from some place else.
Cornwall, England. The rich tin and copper mines in this southwestern-most region of the Old Country can be traced to 2000 B.C. Mention of the Cornish pasty can be found as far back as the 1200s. Summing up the role of Mining in their culture is a common Cornish definition: “A mine is a hole anywhere in the world with at least one Cornishman at the bottom of it.”
When mining began to peter out in Cornwall in the late 1800s, the “Cousin Jacks,” as they were known, emigrated to the mining meccas abroad, like Michigan’s Copper Country and of course, Butte, to carry on their multigenerational skills. They also brought with them the pasty.
So how do you explain the human health affects from heavy metals and arsenic through a hand-held meat and potato pie? It turns out that the Cousin Jacks didn’t just eat pasties because they tasted great and were more filling than any lunch you could take underground.

Talk to anyone who’s worked below or take a peak at a historic photo of the working folk from Butte’s heyday: Underground mining is a dirty business, perhaps the dirtiest of them all. A shift underground would cover you from head to toe and then some in the mine’s dirt, dust, muck and mire. And although they were mining copper, silver, tin, whatever the moneymaker happened to be in the rock, there came with it all the other geologic tagalongs not so desirable, like arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, toxins that will eventually wreak havoc on a man’s health.
The two major pathways for these poisons to make it into our bodies is either breathing it in (inhalation) or eating it (consumption). Once a man went underground to work, there wasn’t any coming back up to the surface until the end of his day, unless he came up dead or maimed. In the days before respirators and dust masks, there wasn’t much a miner could do to keep from inhaling the metals-laden dusts, save for holding his breath – an impossibility over an entire shift. And there weren’t any faucets or methods of washing away the grime from your face or hands before lunchtime.
Prior to the pasty, miners in Cornwall probably ingested an equal amount of poison for every bite of nourishment he ate at lunch. Chronic diseases from arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals poisoning like cancer, ulcers and Mad Hatter’s disease were traced to the ingestion of these ubiquitous mining toxins early on, but that didn’t mean a miner was going to stop eating underground. Hats off to the Wives of Cornwall for fashioning a tasty solution to the problem.
The traditional Cornish pasty had a pinched crust much thicker than the ones on the pasties we eat today (see top photo). The large, thick crust on the side of the original pasties was put on to serve as a handle, something the miners could hold on to with their filthy hands, while they ate the rest of the pie untouched and therefore, untainted with whatever might be clinging to his fingers.
Another note of difference between today’s pasty and the original is that the first pasties usually had rutabagas or turnips in them along with the standard meat and potatoes, as well as a compartment that held a fruit filling at one end to serve as “dessert.” When the miners were finished eating the filling, all they had to do was chuck the crusty handle and go back to work. It was also said that the throwing of the crust into the mines was a token of bribery or maybe even appreciation to the underground spirits or “knockers,” blamed by the workers for causing rocks to fall on them or other dangerous happenings often resulting in death. There were well over 2,000 men who died in Butte’s underground mines over their operation; this number does not include those who perished from contamination-related disease or other ailments after they came back to the surface. Only the knockers know how many pasty crusts were left behind and eaten.
So the next time you don’t have the time or facilities to wash your dirty hands before eating lunch, grab on to a pasty and don’t forget to leave the crust behind. Your body and tastebuds will thank you...and so will the knockers.