Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Harbinger of Spring?

 It's now mid-winter, right?  What was this Sharp-tailed Snake, Contia tenuis, doing crawling along the pavement outside my office at FRC?  I rescued it from foot traffic, leaf blowers, and people who think the only good snake is a dead snake.  I'm sure there are some of those people around.  Before I released it to a safe hiding place, hoping it would stay there, I hailed a student office assistant, who is generally nervous around snakes, to photograph it for me.  Thank you Rebecca!
Here's the scene of the discovery.  By the way, this is an adult snake!  They average around 12" long as adults, and rarely reach 18".  This one appeared to be around 11" when stretched out straight.  It was still rather cold because it moved very slowly and didn't try to poke me with its sharp tail.
This happy interlude in my office work has got me fired up about resurrecting my blogging activity.  Still overdue are flower photos I got on last week's drive to Chico.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

It's not over 'til it's over

The power was restored in Quincy around 4:00 this afternoon after 30+ hours of chaos.  The college shut down early on Friday, and people started buying beer, chips, and batteries.  I bought toilet paper and cold cereal.  Should have bought gasoline, but didn't anticipate the stations having to close.
Witnessed extremes of human behavior last night and today.  On the plus, I greatly enjoyed listening to my son Greg Willis and his friend Johnny Walker play blues by candlelight at the Drunk Brush Friday night.  Kudos to all concerned for holding this event even though the power was out and all other businesses were closed and events were cancelled.  Had a similar feel to the movie Titanic. Lots of efforts to keep spirits high despite reports that we might be without power for days.
During a break in the rain at mid-day today, I drove around to inspect conditions and spotted this great rainbow from Quincy Junction Road.  The forecast calls for certain rain tomorrow and likely rain on Monday.  Hopefully, it won't be accompanied by horrific winds.  If I have internet service tomorrow, there will be more photos to post and more stories, including the one I announced in my previous post. I'll call it "Beware of Knowledge."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Little Knowledge....

 Several winters ago, when we had some very heavy snow around this time of year, my neighbor's snow blower flung quite a bit of the white stuff onto my birch trees.  The one pictured above was bent down onto our garage roof.  When the snow melted off, the tree recovered only slightly, and we didn't bother to figure out how to straighten it up. During the next couple of years, I noticed something reminiscent of high school biology labs. A few new branches bent and started growing straight up - the new straight up, which would be parallel to the trunks of the tall firs and pines in the background.  This response in opposition to gravity is called negative geotropism.  (And spell check doesn't recognize that word! Pathetic!)  Tap roots exhibit positive geotropism.  By standing erect, we are practicing negative geotropism.  I suppose one could say that falling down is an example of positive geotropism.  Until now, I never thought of anything positive about falling down.

At the time of the heavy snow we had three birch trees.  One of them has since bit the dust and only a 3-foot stump remains.  I featured that one here a few days ago because of the great growth of Turkey Tail Fungus now decorating it. 
 This closer view shows how our tilted birch has become a kind of clinometer.  (Another word that spell check doesn't recognize!)  In the years since the original upward thrust of the new branches, the root system of the tree has started to give way and the main trunk has sunk another few degrees.  Note that the branch with the sharp angle has tilted a few degrees off vertical.  The older branches to the lower left have only begun to curve upward at their tips.  The new branch probably "thinks" it's a new tree.
So, while it's enjoyable to me to share a little bit of knowledge about plant behavior, in the spirit of the late Richard Feynman's The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, I am doing so in a climate of anti-science and anti-knowledge, two terms for the same thing.  For more on this topic, check out my next post, probably tomorrow afternoon.  I have to take a break to correct some student papers.  The next post will be titled "Beware of Knowledge!"

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I'll Drink to That!

I'll go out on a limb and forecast a cloudy day for Quincy tomorrow.  I got this idea from the U. S. Weather Service, which I understand has around a 50% batting average, similar to the old Farmer's Almanac.  The closest thing to a groundhog around here is the Yellow Bellied Marmot, but they are mostly hibernating at high altitudes, and I don't know anyone who's planning to go up Mt. Hough and drag one out of its den.  Besides, whatever the Groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, sees is probably irrelevant around Quincy.  On a more serious note, I have enjoyed not having the hassle of fighting icy roads and frozen car door locks, but I'm actually hoping for snow or rain - lots of it.  The continuing drought is causing the people with political power to consider scary fixes, many of which will make matters worse in the long run. Let's all do rain dances.  Can't hurt.  Happy Groundhog Day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Surreal Raccoon

He didn't want to be photographed, but he definitely wanted the leftover cat food on our front deck.  I made several attempts to get a conventional photograph of the action, then gave up and shot through a window.  I rather like the effect.  The flash didn't phase him.  He kept coming back until the cat food was gone. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

More than meets the eye

 I'm back.  A month has gone by since my last post.  This is my first in 2015.  What provoked me to break away from my too-busy schedule was the appearance of a beautiful Turkey Tail Fungus on a Birch stump in my front yard.  I walk by this stump often and usually do not pay it due attention.  But on this day, the connection between the fungus and the emerging Republican candidates for the presidency jumped out at me.  Thus, "More than meets the eye."  [To be continued after the biodiversity event about to take place in downtown Quincy.]
Like most fungi, the part we see and name is only a fraction of the whole organism.  The "caps" or "shelves" [physically, this is a kind of shelf fungus] are all connected by a very thin membrane called a mycelium that is invisible, or at least hidden within or below the bark.  Whenever you see widespread caps of a fungus living on the ground, chances are you're looking at a single fungus and all the caps are connected by one mycelium.  There are a few cases where a single mycelium is suspected to extend over an entire state and be a rival for the title of world's largest single organism.
Getting back to my theme - it seems that lots of noisy or flamboyant people, such as newly-elected Tea Party congressmen, or many of the dozen or so contenders for the Republican nomination for president have this quality: more than meets the eye.  They are noticeable, but you are not seeing the whole person. 
To me, the crucial difference is that when I look closer, look beneath the surface, and try to get an understanding of the whole organism, in the case of the fungi I like what I discover.  In the case of the politicians, I usually do not.
As always in this blog you may click on any photo to see a closer view.  The colorful patterns on this fungus are quite beautiful.  The Latin or scientific name is Trametes versicolor which means thin and of many colors.

Next to this stump of a Birch that died a couple of years ago is one that is still clinging to life.  The lichens growing on the branches caught my eye,  Lichens are a symbiotic coupling of fungi and algae.
To use up-to-date language, I call a lichen a fungus with a photosynthesis APP.
The photo below shows why this species of Birch is sometimes called Paper Birch.
After photographing the fungi and lichens on my Birches, I attended a nice Biodiversity celebration combined with acknowledgement of the Martin Luther king Jr. holiday.  I took some pictures and will report on this event on Wednesday.  There was some interesting discussion of the endangered Yellow-Legged Frog.  When I first came to California in 1965, Yellow Legged Frogs were very common in the northern Sierra foothills.  Now they';re nearly gone.  More on this story on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hiding Like a Lichen

I got caught up in lesson planning, essay grading, and related matters toward the end of the semester and have only blogged once in December.  That's a far cry from post-per-day pace I maintained for most of the past two years.  Well, that's about to change.  These first two photos are of lichens I found along the path in the forest by my house.  The top one actually shows a lot of moss as well.  The lichens, with their slow metabolism and often well-hidden, remind me of my usual winter tendency to like to keep the blinds drawn and read by low light near the wood stove. 
The remaining five photos were taken by my son with his iPod Touch while we were up on Mt. Hough cutting our Christmas tree. 

Final grades are due Monday, and that's when I'll turn over a new leaf and start blogging more frequently again.  There will be more emphasis on current writing interests and less photography.  I also plan to showcase more of my students' nature writing and writing on environmental issues.  Until then, have a happy holiday season.