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March 2020

April is Citizen Science Month: In Pursuit of the Wild Meadow Jumping Mouse

To start off Citizen Science Month, Sharman Apt Russell takes us into the arroyos of southwestern New Mexico where she has been helping monitor wildlife. The tracks of mountain lions are common and easy to identify, but the tracks of the endangered meadow jumping mouse are rare. Would she recognize them if she saw them? How would she know for certain?

* * * * * *

The meadow jumping mouse has a saltatorial superpower: it’s able to leap ten times the length of its body, up to three feet. These animals are also good swimmers. And diggers. And sleepers. In some areas, they hibernate ten months of the year. In 2014, a New Mexican subspecies was listed as federally endangered, and that’s how I got to know these mice, study their footprints, and learn the word “saltatorial” (adapted for leaping).

Sharman Apt Russell (center, wearing the rainbow hat) at a tracking workshop

As part of a citizen science team in southwestern New Mexico, I help monitor the presence of keystone predators like mountain lion, black bear, bobcat, and white-nosed coati. Every few months, for seven years, this team has walked up and down the same sandy arroyo looking for tracks, scat, scrapes, and kill sites. When we find something—“Mountain lion! Over here!”--we measure and photograph and send that information to a conservation group that puts it into a national database. Years of such tracking has helped environmentalists negotiate freeway underpasses and overpasses for wildlife, as well as other protections. My citizen science team also watches for signs of endangered species like the jaguar, Mexican gray wolf, and—now—the big-eyed, pointy-nosed, long-tailed, multi-talented meadow jumping mouse.

Photo at right: bear tracks
Photo below, left: mouse tracks (unknown species)

But how well would we recognize the tracks of a jumping mouse? And how to distinguish them from other mice in our transect area? A few weeks ago, some friends and I had a go-round.

“So this track is about 3/8" long, with five toes not connected to the palm pad, with Toe 1 pointed to the side, Toes 2, 3, and 4 pointing up, and Toe 5 to the side. I think it’s a harvest mouse.”

“I was sure I put my reading glasses in my pack.”

“See how Toe 5 is really set back, almost at a 90-degree angle from the pad?”

“I’m not sure that’s a toe.”

“Harvest mice have slightly bulbous toes. I don’t think these are bulbous.”

“I love the mumbly sound of bulbous.”

“These toes are pretty thin.”

“The toes of the endangered meadow jumping mouse are thin.”

“Could this be the front foot of an endangered jumping mouse?”


“Well, long-tailed voles also have thin toes.”

“It’s the long hind feet of the jumping mouse that are so distinctive.”

“I don’t think it’s a vole. Definitely not a harvest mouse.”

We do what we are trained to do, take a photo with a ruler next to the track for scale and send that into the experts. In the next hour, we’ll come across the rear right footprint of a mountain lion, a shape we know very well. Mountains lion are not uncommon, if still wondrous. Today we feel a little ho-hum about the mountain lion. Maybe we just saw the track of a jumping mouse!

squirrel tracks (unknown species)

Author’s note: This citizen science team tracks for Sky Island Alliance, at www.skyislandalliance.org.

The scene and conversation described is only slightly made-up, as any tracker of wild mice will know.

Sharman Apt Russell is the author of Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World

COVID-19 Update

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Thank you for your support. Stay healthy.

OSU Press Interns on Attending PubWest: What We Learned

Recently, OSU Press interns Ashley Hay and Isaiah Holbrook attended PubWest’s annual conference. Both on the cusp of entering the publishing industry, they reflect on their experience at this publishing association’s conference below




Last week, I was lucky enough to attend PubWest in Portland as an intern at OSU Press. Despite my youthful status and relative inexperience in the industry, I encountered friendly conference-goers, thoughtful conversations, and colorful debates over the course of the day. While at times I found myself overwhelmed at the depth and community of the industry I’m planning to enter, I think this was a useful step in immersing myself into this strange new culture.

I primarily embraced the role of passive observer, newcomer to all the etiquette, relationships, and practices playing out before my eyes. I learned a lot of about marketing this way, sitting in panels that discussed generational marketing, metadata, Pinterest, and sensitivity readers. Debates over the diversity of editors raised questions I never would have thought to ask. Contracts that require authors self-promote was previously a totally foreign concept. Partnerships with libraries, schools, and local media outlets all hold significant potential, and I might not have learned about the strategic ways some publishers connect with their communities elsewhere.

But I found some ways to participate in conversations, as well. During PubWest’s “Peer Pairs,” an organized speed-conversation event, I received plenty of advice and stories from industry professionals about the start of a publishing career. “Confusion is a learning state,” one woman told me, a marketer who cited the numerous times she, herself, had failed initially. “Pump them for all the ‘why’ questions,” another woman—an educator—said, suggesting I use mentors to learn about the history of any industry I enter. In return, my Gen-X status became a boon as I found myself answering all sorts of social-media-related questions. (Yes, Twitter is a surprisingly useful platform for community engagement. No, you shouldn’t use the same hashtags on every platform.) 

To be honest, I certainly didn’t expect such a strong sense of community to emerge almost immediately. Amongst the two hundred or so attendees, most people seemed at least vaguely familiar with each other, and I’d often see conversations across aisles, shifting clusters of familiar faces, and warm greetings of old acquaintances. Keeping my ears to the ground, I picked up plenty of industry gossip, much to my delight. Speakers and panelists all had their own stories and experiences, which they were all too willing to share, and even the drier moments held gems of unknown phrases, histories, or ideas I feel lucky to have caught.

Broadly, I feel lucky to have had this experience. Being able to dive so quickly into a professional community like this was a terrific learning experience. While this time, I focused on listening to and absorbing others’ knowledge, perhaps in the future I’ll become the one initiating conversations—or even sitting on a panel myself.


 The PubWest conference enabled me to gain even more knowledge about the publishing industry through both the marketing and editorial lens. As a fiction student in the MFA Creative Writing program at OSU, most of my conference experience stems from AWP, and although the perspectives from a writer’s eyes and a publisher’s are completely different, there are parallels between the ways that publishers think and the ways in which I think about writing and marketing my own work.

One of the panels I attended spoke about generational readership in publishing and gave a brief overview of the interests and disinterests of the majority of readers from each generation (from the Silent and Baby Boomers to Gen Z and Gen Alpha). Through this panel, I realized that an awareness of audience is essential in knowing how to tailor your books and advertise them to your generational audience. But listening to the panel, I couldn’t help but relate this same marketing tactic/awareness to a writer, and how writers also have to be cognizant of their readers, who their stories might attract, and figure out how to broaden their readership even when their freedom of experimentation in their work veers away from their initial work. Even though as a writer I’m more focused on generating work than on attracting my audience, this panel made me aware that in order to be visible, a writer must pay attention to their readership.

From this conference, I came to further understand the universal conversation the publishing world is having about increasing diversity and representation within the process of book publishing. I attended another panel that focused on  what it means to highlight diverse books and voices through a predominately white industry. This discussion covered a variety of topics that raised various questions such as: Who is allowed to write about people of color? How can we be a better representative of diversity and inclusion from an editor’s standpoint? From a marketing/advertising standpoint? Should sensitivity readers only be limited to the transmittal phase? It was through this conversation that I further learned my desire to be in that conversation, to make my presence and voice known as a person of color, and to contribute to a small solution to a global issue.

Not only were the panels a learning experience, but also the keynote speakers, specifically Charlotte Abbott’s talk on reader engagement. Abbott’s speech encouraged me to think about how my position as an intern can contribute to readership engagement. She articulated that in the small press community, many of us strive to reach for a broader audience that is often more accessible to bigger-named brands/trade publishers than academic presses; however, that doesn’t mean that increasing readership engagement isn’t accessible to us. Abbott’s talk was a stepping stone for my understanding of how interns can be a part of that conversation and enabled me to take what I learned back to the office and begin to apply it to our everyday practice.

I’m very fortunate that my work at OSU Press led me to this conference and gifted me further educational access into the world of small press publishing.


An Excerpt From Black Woman in Green

In Black Woman in Green, Gloria Brown and Donna Sinclair share Gloria’s journey as the first African American woman to become a forest supervisor with the US Forest Service. In this blog post, they describe their process and present an excerpt from the book.


Gloria Brown
: This book is for any female or minority interested in moving up in any organization. It will appeal to anyone interested in how the Forest Service works and why we all must do our part to save our planet. The book is about the people who work on the ground to respond to issues like the spotted owl, clean water, salmon, and recreation in national forests—plus many other jobs that are being done on national forests.

Donna: This excerpt illustrates perfectly the rhythm of writing and spoken word between Gloria and me that resulted in Black Woman in Green. Gloria typically drafted chapters and then I asked her questions to flesh them out, often to include more detailed descriptions. As we moved along in the process, such descriptions became increasingly second nature for her, and we also came to know one another so well that I sometimes added stories she had told me. We would then refine the sections together. I would type, she would speak, and we would seek just the right word and then read aloud to make sure of the flow.

This section is especially memorable to me because it reveals our joint process. In this segment we drew from our individual experiences of flying into Portland to create images familiar to us both—Mt. Hood and forests—combining the isolation of being dropped into whiteness with the color of forest and money that resulted from timber harvests. It also demonstrates Gloria's transition from an urban African American woman to a woman who walks in multiple worlds.


I needed to understand how a region works “in the field.” So, Tom and John facilitated a two-week detail to the information office in Region 6, in Oregon, on the other side of the country. This was my first plane ride ever, and it exposed me to an entirely new world. As the plane circled to land at the Portland International Airport, I was struck by the brilliant white-topped peaks of Mount Hood. I had seen the Smoky Mountains, but never anything like this! I also quickly realized that Oregon’s population was as white as the mountain’s peaks. I had worked with Caucasians for a long time, but never before had I seen a place with no African Americans. Yes, I learned there were a few in the state—about 37,000 in a population of 2.5 million—but they were not very visible in the Portland Regional Office (RO), the city’s downtown area, and especially not on the Forest Service districts I visited. The most diversity I saw in Portland was in the personnel office, the mailroom, and the civil rights office; when I visited the Willamette National Forest, I saw no people of color. There were women, but at the forest and district levels, no one looked like me.

What I did see everywhere I looked was Northwest green, the color of money in the Forest Service, and the hue of deliverance for me. Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley took my breath away as an employee named Jerry Mason drove me to the Willamette National Forest supervisor’s office in Eugene. The Willamette National Forest stretches more than a hundred miles along the western slope of the Cascade Range, extending from Mount Jefferson east of Salem to the Calapooya Mountains northeast of Roseburg. Mount Hood dominates the Portland landscape, while Mount Jefferson looms above the crystal-clear lakes, cascading waterfalls, and vibrant plant life of the Willamette Valley and its national forest. To me, these were some of the prettiest landscapes in the country. Of course, I hadn’t seen a lot. Although I had been with the Forest Service for nearly ten years, I had never been in a national forest.

When I saw the massive trees, bigger than any living thing I had ever seen, soaring hundreds of feet into the air, a million fragrant needles sending oxygen into the atmosphere, I felt that I was in a cathedral, a church more powerful than any other. The Douglas-firs, true firs, and pines towered over me. Brilliant shades of green and gold moss and lichen brought the forest to life, while the flaming red of Indian fireweed burned into my consciousness, and the solitude of the trails calmed by soul. There were no cars, no streetlights, and very few people; just trees, rivers, and wildlife. I had never known solitude like that, even in a park. At a cookout in DC, there were people everywhere. This was different. People walked the trails, but the forest enclosed you in solitude. I had sent out pamphlets about forest ecology but had never walked in the forest. I had provided schools with educational materials about the environment, but had never seen old growth. For me, visiting the Willamette forest was like going into a darkroom and having the light come on slowly to reveal a new world. I had so many firsts, my parents didn’t believe my stories. I decided then to one day work on the Willamette. Daddy did say that if I ever got to live in Oregon, he would love to visit and fish for some salmon. I eventually got to Oregon, but Dad died before he could catch that fish.

Excerpt from Black Woman in Green
by Gloria Brown and Donna Sinclair, copyright © 2020.
ch. 1, pgs.17-18
Member of AAUP