Friday, April 30, 2010

Sorry, weeds....

I thought I'd better confess before someone catches me. After having written often in support of weeds (a theme of the book I'm writing), I found myself today in collusion with gardeners on the other side of the equation. The raised bed you see here is in the garden of the school where I work. Today, we had a small work crew weeding the garden in preparation for planting. It was fun, but I have to admit I winced a little. You see, the weeded, L-shaped area is what I weeded today. It's the very spot where last week I photographed one of my favorite weeds - henbit dead nettle - and posted the photos on my own blog (see below) and the Bloom blog of the Plumas Visitors Bureau. Oh, well, we need our vegetables. Sorry, henbit.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Our Capacity to Adapt - a Blessing or a Curse?

Mid-morning: Lots of thoughts on this topic today. I am reserving this space and title for input during spare moments over the course of the day.
Early evening: What prompted this inquiry was yet another spell of rough weather which almost prevented wildflower photography today. Then I saw the many roadside wildflowers that simply closed their petals to wait it out. Others stayed open, even though looking a bit battered. Still others had all their petals knocked off by corn snow and sleet, but I knew from experience that they would soon produce new ones and spring would begin anew. I saw lots of dandelions, many of which sent up stems 12" or more before blooming, while the ones on regularly-mowed lawns "learn" to bloom below the blades on very short stems. Compared to the wide range of harsh conditions the flowers endured [not to mention the many bugs and microorganisms I didn't see] I felt a bit embarrassed by my desire to stay inside my heated car. Also, I remembered back at my overly-heated, thermostatically-controlled office which was only comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt. I had promised someone I'd send in some new photos today, so I got out and braved the windy, snowy weather at the first sign of color at the side of the road.
The top photo here, I believe, is Phacelia, and it doesn't look any worse for the wear, even though I took this shot in a pouring rain while protecting my camera with my jacket over my head and it. They were flowering all over the hillside and seemed unbothered by the weather.
A little further along I spotted a great crop of newly-bloomed Indian Rhubarb in a roadside
ditch. I drive by this spot twice a week and had not noticed that they were about to bloom since the closed up sepals are greenish brown and blended well into the surroundings. This is quite a spectacular bunch of flowers to arrive all at once at the tops of their 2-3' long stems. This plant puts on another show in the fall, of course, when its large, umbrella-like leaves turn many shades of bright red and orange. In fact, one of its many common names is umbrella plant.
My last stop, before the storm intensified beyond my ability to protect my camera, was on a side road called Old Highway, where I saw this white lily. At first glance, I thought it was Death Camas, but it might be Tofieldia. I can't tell for sure from the pictures, taken in poor light, but it was still impressive. I'll go back this Saturday, which is expected to be sunny, and identify it properly.
When I got home, I returned to my original theme, adaptation, and thought about light bulbs. For a couple of millions of years we evolved as diurnal creatures who paid attention to sunrise, sunset, moon phases, etc., and we "put up with" a wide range of temperatures and other physical conditions. Now, we ignore nature's cycles, read and do most everything else by artificial lighting, and insist on maintaining our incubators within a few degrees of "room temperature." During those millions of years we also wandered a lot in search of food and shelter. We learned to be alert to predators as well as to potential foods. Now we teach our kids from an early age to "adapt" to sitting in hard chairs for up to six hours a day to learn things that we think are necessary for their well-being. I think this does a great deal of harm. I keep meeting kids who know about killer whales, the Amazonian rain forest, and large animals of the African plains, but don't know much of anything about the commonest animals and plants that grow wild in their vicinity. If their classrooms or homes should drop down to 65 degrees of below, the idea of putting on a sweater is a great imposition and the heat must be turned up! If the temperature drifts much above 72 degrees, they must turn on the AC. At what cost? Not only to the environment, but to their inner sense of adaptability.
I'm not sure why I feel this way, but perhaps I was just lucky that my folks always had three acres or so of mostly forested land, and my brother and I learned at an early age the thrill of climbing a tall tree during a windstorm and taking a great ride. Although I got to drive a car in high school, I stayed in love with my bicycle and took long, bicycle camping trips. When I did drive more than an hour away from town it was usually to a place where I could climb mountains or explore windy beaches. One of the most thrilling places I've ever been - and I've gone there over a dozen times - was the summit of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. It advertised itself on all trail signs at tree line as having the "worst weather in America; many have dies here" and "at the first sign of bad weather, turn back." My brother and I always went prepared, or so we thought, and we seldom turned back. It was a real thrill to start out at base camp, around 1,500' in hot, sunny weather, and, a couple of hours later, encounter freezing temperatures at tree line, around 4,500', then fight hail, snow, and 70 mph winds as we approached the summit at a little over 6,200'. On one occasion the freezing fog was so dense we could barely see from one cairn to the next when they were only 10 -20 feet apart along the trail. Somehow, experiences like that built into me the sense that I should tolerate, even enjoy, extremes of weather, and maintain the kinds of skills one needs for backpacking as a matter of principle. I thank the wildflowers I saw today for reminding me of these things.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some Plants and Fungi from the Same Walks

I think the top photo here is Pacific Star Flower, although the leaves look a bit different than I remember. Will check into it and report back, if no one beats me to it. Next are a Red Larkspur from the area around Old Highway near Keddie and a Lupine from the Greenville Y.
Then there's Henbit Dead Nettle, a flower that's out in abundance now, but difficult to photograph. I keep trying because I love the way it looks. A member of the mint family. Then, in my neighborhood, what I call a "Fungal Alignment" in the woods at the base of Claremont Mountain. Then there's "Dandelion Neighbors" and "Dandelion Future." Next, a cherry tree in my neighborhood. Then Cardamine, near Indian Falls. This is a new discovery for me this year. Interesting looking plant in the mustard family. Next, my best shot yet of Blue-eyed Mary. It's very small and difficult to photograph with my equipment. Finally, the first Balsam Root I've seen this season. This one about 1/2 mile north of the Greenville Y. So, my text today reads like a catalog. Not very inspiring. Tired. I really enjoyed seeing the flowers though.

Some Critters from My Weekend Walks

Top billing today is a beautiful wasp that seemed excited about this exotic plant that probably escaped from a neighborhood garden. There were several others prowling these flowers, and they didn't bother me at all when I came in real close. Likewise the blue belly lizard. He did his vigorous push-which can send any number of messages ranging from come hither to stay away. he seemed to be intent on sending a message to me and my camera and made no effort to run away until i got within a foot. Last, great-looking beetle that I uncovered by tipping over a piece of bark. Great set of jaws, but not very aggressive so long as not handled. Remember, when biologist Haldane was asked what his studies of evolution told him about God, he replied, "He must have had an inordinate fondness for beetles."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

An "I Dunno" Showcase

Every now and then I have to remind myself and others that I am not a botanist. I got that tag a couple of years ago when my photos of wildflowers started circulating. I was learning the names and affinities of lots of flowers in my region because I was interested, but my background was in zoology, particularly in reptiles and amphibians. Now I think of myself as a naturalist because I am interested in all of nature, but I am not a research scientist. Yesterday, while wondering why Google didn't design a logo for Shakespeare's birthday, I was doing my usual search for wildflowers to photograph on my way home from work. It was an easy day to remember I am not a botanist because all the photos shown here are of flowers I do not know - their names, that is. The amount of botany I have studied makes it easy to identify a plant's family most of the time, and that's a huge head start toward eventually figuring out the species. When I accomplish that, the etymologies of both the common and scientific names are often fascinating and I have shared lots of those here. I'm also excited when I get to witness pollination and other activities that are part of the plant's role in the ecosystem. It's also exciting to discover a new floral aroma. Sometimes my photography is driven mostly by the urge to catalog flowers for future identification. But, most of the time, like yesterday, I am filled with an aesthetic sense and am looking for interesting lighting and angles of view and, for a time, do not care what species I'm photographing. When I'm in that mood, virtually every plant has its aesthetic appeal - even thistles, poison oak, and invasive weeds of all kinds. So, if any viewers of this page recognize any of these flowers, feel free to send me your knowledge. Meanwhile, on the next rainy day or after sundown, I will consult the field guides and see what I can discover.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Flower ID Puzzle

Here are three photos I took today during my much break. Explanation of why I'm calling it a puzzle will be posted later today. A clever botany hobbyist could figure it out from the photos alone - or, you may cheat by clicking on a photo and reading its caption in the upper left-hand corner. Have fun.
Here it is: The top photo was quite a dramatic (to me) scene. Several hundred square feet of a low-to-the-ground mat of lupine leaves punctuated by lots of 5-petaled, pink flowers that were not lupine but looked as though they were the same plant. I had to look hard to find just a couple of lupine blossoms (middle photo) and off to the edge were a couple of isolated specimens (bottom photo) of the pink flower which was filaree, a wild member of the geranium family. In the top photo, the filaree leaves are hugging the ground, hidden beneath the lupine leaves. Soon the lupine will be blooming and the filaree will be dropping their petals and all will return to "normal."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Too Rainy for New Pics Today, but....

Pretty heavy rain today both to and from work. Always had camera at the ready, and those few times when rain was not falling, it was too cold and dreary for flower to open or bugs to come out in the open. Actually, I can't be sure they thought it was dreary. The geese certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, but I can't be sure of that either. They were just doing what they do. Anyway, as a result, I am getting ahead of myself here. I have chosen some images from last spring and summer that are contenders for enlargement and framing. I currently have a display of nature photos at the Plumas County Museum. They're for sale! Of the creatures pictured here, only the chorus frog has emerged so far this season. In fact, this specific one was in my front yard a few days ago. He's probably still there, underground.
I have received advice about which photos to offer for sale. Don't print the slug - they're ugly; don't print the spiders - most people are arachnophobic; and so on.... I happen to think they're all beautiful. Funny thing is in the last few days while mulling over this advice I have found someone who loves spiders and wants to see my other spider photos. I've got a promise from another person to buy one of my frog photos. I'm looking forward to meeting someone who loves Jerusalem crickets. I happen to think it's one of the most spectacular-looking animals I've ever seen. So, it's been a fun thing to do on a rainy day - contemplate people's reactions to various critters and speculate on how these various positive and negative attitudes originate. And, all the while, hope that my photography will help people find beauty in all of them. Don't forget, you can click on any image for a full-screen view. Meanwhile, check out the larger photos at the P. C. Museum until April 30.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Willful ignorance on a sunny day..?.

The bottom four photos were taken today in cultivated gardens in the fronts of businesses. I don't know what kinds they are, except for the daffodil, and I don't know what kind of daffodil it is. And I am not the least bit interested in finding out. I was impressed by the splashes of color and the aromas as I walked along the sidewalk, and I stopped briefly to snap some photos. But I was not curious about their names. Maybe mildly curious about their wild ancestors and current relatives in the wild. Was this a type of phlox? Was this a lily? But for some reason I do not understand, I have never felt attracted to domesticated flowers. I also dislike those photos of wildflowers in which the photographer has used a gray card or other artificial background to isolate the flower completely from its surroundings, in effect making it look like a studio portrait. I much prefer the wild. So, the top two photos, my favorites today, are of an Oregon grape bush. It was one of the earliest to bloom around Quincy, and today it was being visited by lots of bees, spiders, and ants. I spent a good 20 minutes walking and crawling around this bush, shooting close-ups of the flowers and leaves, and always most excited when I caught a bee or spider in the shot.
The domestication of plants and animals was supposedly a significant event in the course of human progress. Maybe I've spent too much time with Thoreau. for I keep admiring the wild ancestors and shunning the domesticated versions. Whenever I photograph flowers and bugs, I like to show them in their wild context, and to use focus in such a way that the photos have depth and invite the viewer to step (or crawl) in. Occasionally, I get very fascinated by a plant family, such as the Brassicaceae or the Solanaceae, from which many of our edible veggies were derived. It has always intrigued me that the latter family, for instance, includes the very toxic nightshade, and that the edible plants in the family - potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc. -all have poisonous parts. I guess the one thing that turns me off about those splashes of color in the bottom two photos is the idea that developing these varieties was intended to somehow be an improvement upon nature. That, and the tendency for many gardeners and landscapes to sow large areas of just one type of flower and work overtime to keep others out. I much prefer the biodiversity that results from the competition and cooperation among species. So, I'm still not sure if the proper title for this post is "willful ignorance." After all, ignorance is not synonymous with stupidity. It has to do with ignoring!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Back to Relaxing with My Camera

I actually took a relaxing walk with my camera today after spending a frenzied week getting my photo show together. The bottom three pictures here were candidates, but only the caterpillar made the final cut. It's an Anise Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar on a Fennell bush here in Quincy. It was a great thrill for me to be paid a visit by a friend and former student of mine from 45 years ago who came up to Quincy and helped me hang the photos.
The bottom three photos were taken during the past year. Among today's photos were those of a frog in my front yard, a Pacific Coast Chorus Frog. My wife took the photo of me with my camera at Snake Lake, and the Redbud is in all its glory about 50 miles from Quincy in the lower reaches of Feather River Canyon. Soon the buds will give way to leaves, then seed pods. The top photo is of a flower I don't know. The pinkish, five-petaled one. It might be a kind of phlox. In my unpaved drive-way, lots of them are starting to bloom among the swaths of Whitlow Grass, the white, four-petaled ones. If anyone recognizes it, please send me the scoop. Thanks.
Meanwhile, if you're in Quincy, please check out my photos at the Plumas County Museum. The show is called "My Biophilia: An Attitude toward Nature." It'll run through April 30.