Montana State University

MSU group abandons bugs to help volcano victim

August 16, 2005 -- By Evelyn Boswell, MSU News Service


Ian Foley (fourth from left) lines up to compete in a five-mile bicycle race during Cudjoe Head Day on the island of Montserrat. The MSU was exposed to more than the island's insects during his month in Montserrat. (Photo courtesy of Michael Ivie).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
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Michael Ivie and his band of Montana State University students expected to spend most of their time collecting insects while on the West Indian island of Montserrat this summer. But plans changed when the team woke up one morning to find everything covered with a thick gray gritty ash.

Soufriere, the volcano that dominates the island, had started spewing ash again, said Ivie, an entomologist who led six researchers and students to Montserrat for a month. The undergraduate students were Levi Lehfeldt from Lavina, Robert Semple from Bozeman, Vincent Martinson from Huntley and Patrick Hughley from Minnesota, all participating through MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program. The team also included Ian Foley from Wisconsin, a master's degree student in entomology, and Donna Ivie, associate curator of entomology and Michael's wife.

With insect collecting temporarily out of the question, the most obvious matter after the eruption was cleaning their house and protecting their gear, Ivie said. The ash covered everything from dishes and beds to cameras and microscopes. It was so thick they had to shovel it off their porch and hose it off the roof.

The group only had one hose, one shovel and one broom among them, however, Ivie said. Not enough for everyone to work at the house, Ivie called a friend to see if anyone else needed help. That's how they met Joan, an elderly woman with a physical handicap who lived alone. Joan's house hadn't been cleared from previous eruptions, so her steps had even more ash that needed cleaning. There was so much that when it rained, ash and water flowed out from underneath her front door. The gutters around her house were completely clogged.

"We did not even know there were front steps there until we hit them with the shovel," Ivie said. "It looked like there was just a smooth gray entry way to the door."

The MSU group removed the ash from Joan's roof, steps, driveway and porches. Then they dug new drains so water and ash would drain away from the house.

"It really gave us an idea of what it is like for the local people to live with this volcano," said Hughley, a business major.

Expeditions often turn out to be more than expected, Ivie said.

"There is so much more the students will learn on this trip than how to collect insects," he said. "There is the language, food, tropical weather and hygiene, culture, driving on the left, and even music. This is what actual research experiences are all about in the education process. Even seeing six inches of rain fall in one afternoon is not something that normally happens in Montana."

Donna Ivie acquainted the group to other experiences, as well. She learned to cook local meats, fruits and vegetables in the 1970s when she and Michael lived on St. Thomas, another Caribbean island. This summer, she introduced the researchers and students to genips, mangos, christophine, pawpaw, fig bananas, plantains, goat, land crab, roti, pigeon peas, West Indian pumpkin, goat water and local sweet potatoes.

Feeding five young men in addition to themselves on a tight budget is a challenge anywhere, Donna Ivie said.

"However, on Montserrat, where all food familiar to North Americans has to be brought in from overseas, it is critical to be able to use local products," she added.

The MSU group returned to Montana in mid-August.

Evelyn Boswel, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu