About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

Photos of the Week – December 2, 2022

I dithered.

I should have just gone out yesterday when I first noticed the good light, but I had some things to do. Plus, it was windy. And I couldn’t decide where to go. So I dithered. Eventually, I decided I just needed to get out of the house. I hopped in the truck and drove to the Platte.

I figured I’d explore the river and maybe photograph ice and frost along the edge of the channels. Unfortunately, when I arrived, the river level was higher than I’d expected and there was less ice than I’d hoped. As a result, after checking out a couple potential access points, I left the river without even getting out of the truck. Still dithering.

The sun was getting higher and the wind velocity was increasing, so I needed to find a spot quickly. I stopped messing around and headed a little further west to the site where we converted an old sand and gravel pit to a wetland. It never fails to provide good opportunities and I don’t know why I didn’t just start there.

Here’s a cell phone feeling of the wetland, including a beaver dam and a (mostly) frozen wetland surface.
Ice on a rush sticking out of the frozen surface. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/18, 1/160 sec.

I needed that place and time. Lying on the ice and photographing ice bubbles and other hidden treasures, I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d been out with my camera. I was noisily buzzed by a big flock of blackbirds, followed some mouse tracks through a patch of light snow along the shaded river bank, and only punched my foot through thin ice once (in very shallow water – never fear). It was wonderful.

A lot of the shots from yesterday are eerily similar to photos already in my library. It didn’t matter at all. The photos were still fun to take and it was just comforting and enjoyable to be there. Finding new versions of familiar subjects was perfectly acceptable. I left feeling refreshed and ready to hit the pile of other work waiting for me on my desk. The prairie (and embedded wetlands) are always there when we need them, huh?

Bubbles in algae-filled ice. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/125 sec.
An rush that was uprooted and embedded in ice. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/18, 1/125 sec.
Ice bubbles! Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/13, 1/500 sec.
More ice and rushes. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/10, 1/500 sec.
More ice bubbles and algae! Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/125 sec.
Ice chunks dislodged when a beaver or other animal broke the frozen surface near the beaver dam. Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. ISO 500, f/20, 1/160 sec.
Even more ice bubbles! Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/20, 1/160 sec.
Ice around the base of some rushes. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/13, 1/500 sec.
Bubbles and more bubbles. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/20, 1/160 sec.
A frozen volcano erupting with a rush. In a sense. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/16, 1/125 sec.
The last ice bubbles for today. Nikon 105mm macro lens. ISO 500, f/20, 1/160 sec.

Hubbard Fellowship Post – Brandon asks, “What’s Up With Work Pants?”

This post was written by Brandon Cobb, one of our current Hubbard Fellows. Brandon came to us wanting as much land stewardship work (and other experiences) as possible to supplement what he learned during his academic career at Yale. As you’ll see in this post, he’s gotten plenty of land management experience and has the pants to prove it. – CH

Growing up, I loved playing in dirt. I remember my dad would get truckloads of dirt delivered to our house in Oklahoma and I would be the first one out of the door to play in it. Back then, what I wore didn’t matter. If I wore out a pair of pants or got them dirty, my mom would always be there to either give them a good cleaning or take me to the store to get another pair.

Those times have changed. I’m fresh out of college, and pinching pennies is my middle name. Whatever pair of pants I decide to use for working in the prairie, they’d better be able to last me at least a season. Well, let me tell you, that has been anything but the case. In one season alone, I have torn my way through three sets of work pants and am currently on my fourth. Upon hearing this statistic, Chris introduced me to another fellow Alex’s work pant themed blog post. Somehow, Alex had made it an entire season in just one pair of Dickies work pants. At the end of the blog post he says “The science is still ongoing, but if you’d like to contribute to my (very scientific) research, I’d be curious if you have any good stories about your trusty workpants!” Well Alex, I don’t know if I’d call my work pants “trusty” but I do have some ongoing (very scientific) research to add.

Work Pant 1: The ‘Ol “Reliable”

To be fair to these old Levi jeans, they had already been through hell and back when they came into my possession. They were previously owned and worn by my best friend and college roommate, Andrew. Drew is a Montana farm boy and these jeans got used plenty while working on his dad’s farm. Here’s a picture of Drew picking rocks on the farm while wearing these jeans (notice how much they’ve faded since that picture):

They were passed down to me in college, and they were the first pair of jeans I used when I got to the fellowship. They lasted me a good 3 or 4 months, but unfortunately, they met a fate that you’ll notice seems to be a reoccurring theme with these workpants, the seam rip.


Work Pant 2: The New Guy

After wearing out Drew’s old Levis, I thought it’d be best to go get myself a real pair of work pants. Our preserve manager, Cody, wears nothing but these Wrangler work pants, so I drove up to Menard’s and got myself a pair.

There are a few stains on these, but you can see they’re noticeably less worn than Drew’s old pair. That’s because within the first month or so, tragedy struck once again. Now to be fair, I’m a pretty large lad. I enjoy powerlifting outside of work, and it can be hard for me to find pants that fit both in the waist and in the thighs. That being said though, I’d expect any pair of new work pants to at least last me a season. Thanks for nothing Wrangler.


Work Pant 3: Time to get serious?

At this point, I’m reeling. Will I ever find a work pant that fits? How much money am I going to have to spend before I finally find the one? It was time to get serious, so I busted out my wallet and called up the good folks at Carhartt to send me out a pair of their finest dungarees.

Again, a few stains here and there, but you can tell that these pants haven’t seen a lot of work. Can you guess why?

That’s right, within the first couple of months, we were right back at square one.

Now I’ve only heard good things about Carhartt and I’ve worn plenty of their clothing before so I thought this was an oddity. I called them back up and they quickly gave me a refund and said “those weren’t really work pants they’re more of a “day-to-day” pant, try out our real work pants and you’ll see”. Well with a challenge like that there was no way I was going to back down. A week later it was back to testing.

Work Pant 4: The “Real” Work Pant

So here we are, the end of the line. There’s not another pair after this so these must be the ones, right? Well, sort of.

 Coming in Carhartt’s “Hamilton Brown” color, triple stitch seams all around, and with a much sturdier canvas material, these pants have lasted me a good 4 plus months now. They’ve seen me through fencing projects, oil changes, and even a bison roundup.

And just look at that, not a single sign of wear to be found. Good job Carhartt, you had me worried there for a second. Now, just because these Carhartt’s have stood the test of time so far doesn’t mean they’re perfect. The canvas material they use can be quite stiff and they still don’t quite fit my waist to thigh ratio.

So, Alex, based on my extensive research and analysis, here is my call to action. There needs to be a work pant that is just a durable as my current pair of Carhartt’s but with the added flexibility and stretchiness of an athletic fit jean. I’m sure this is a challenge from a materials and durability standpoint, but should someone figure it out, I’ll be the first in line; that’s a guaranteed $50 right there. Should anyone happen to know of that work pant floating around, please send it my way, I will be eternally grateful. But until then, I will keep testing work pants until I find the pair that truly can do it all.