Rediscovering My Landscape

Do you remember when school was more like play than work?  I volunteer with Scouts and it’s so refreshing when I get to see 9-year-olds discovering the world for the first time.  The first time a kid looks at the moon through a telescope, or learns how to carve a simple figure out of soap.

I’ve been working with counties in our region on All Hazard Mitigation Plans, which are required by FEMA for certain funding.  We look at all sorts of natural and man-made hazards, with all sorts of death and destruction we try to prevent or minimize.  The potential damage all about can be difficult to deal with.  Too often these projects can become drudgery—simple (yet complicated) compliance documents we do because somebody says we have to.

Then there are times when we get to discover the world again.  As part of our Mitigation projects, I’ve been learning FEMA’s HAZUS-MH hazard modeling software.  This “free” extension of ESRI‘s ArcView GIS software comes with a powerful suite of databases and mathematical gee-whiz bang functions.

I put “free” in quotes, because HAZUS-MH requires ESRI’s pricey Spatial Analyst extension to run flood modeling.  There are many benefits to running Spatial Analyst, but my gee-whiz moment of the week was simply, at the end of running a 3-hour task, this lovely color graphic of a digital elevation model of Southwest Minnesota.

The color ramp runs green at lower elevations along the Minnesota River valley up to browns and almost-white at the top of Buffalo Ridge.  The contrast is greater than one would see on the ground (lots of snow, but no snow-capped mountains in Minnesota!) but the lay of the land is immediately apparent.  The Rock River in the lower right and the Des Moines River in the lower left jump out almost screaming at us for attention.  Even the basins of Lake Shetek and Heron Lakes beckon to the careful eye.

What looks the familiar flat featureless plain at ground-level transforms into a rich tapestry of a landscape.  A landscape to be treasured.

Take a moment out of your day and see what seemingly familiar items you can rediscover in your landscape.


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