Sunday, December 25, 2011

I Wish I Knew How to Hibernate

When I start feeling sorry for myself as I walk the frigid 25 yards to my firewood pile, I'm humbled by the Wooly Bear caterpillar that seems to be perfectly content without a jacket - well, I guess he has a built-in jacket.  The cats are having fun fighting to keep warm in the front hallway.  When they go outside to eat, it's interesting to see how they get twice as big by puffing up their hair.  Meanwhile, I go back to writing.  The electronic sentinel my son Ryan built me for Christmas stands guard over my subscription renewal form for Poets and Writers.  I must say, one advantage of holing up in the cold weather is that I'm more motivated to write and draw.  In the summer, it's hard for me to slow down long enough for deliberative activities.  That's one thing I've always liked about a climate with four distinct seasons.  Impossible to become too set in my ways. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

It's Not My Fault!

Interesting day.  I read an article about the woes of the US Postal Service.  They're blaming their financial difficulties on the increased use of e.mail and decreased use of conventional (i. e., snail) mail.  Then I went to the Post Office and found in my box a purple card reading "Excess mail; please come to the counter."  When I approached the counter, there was a long line and only one clerk on duty.  They've evidently reduced staff just in time for the Christmas rush.  "Tis the season for irony."
So, what's this commentary doing in a Natural History blog?  Here's the tie-in:
I had just been talking with my daughter about an important biological and sociological concept: adaptation.  She's taking high school biology, but hasn't got to that part of the book yet.  I told her that a particular set of social skills that might be a successful adaptation to one high school environment might be especially maladaptive in another.  My examples from biology were a.) kangaroo rats specifically adapted to a desert environment would not likely do well in a rain forest, and b.) polar bears don't do well in temperate environments, like zoos in Florida, unless great care is taken to keep them cool.  I suggested that the path to social success at our local high school might not be the same in, say, an urban magnet school focused on math and science skills.
So, will the Postal Service adapt to the increased use of e.mail?  Does it care?  Will a critical mass of people maintain a preference for letters and cards they can hold in their hands, or will they adapt to cyberspace?  The larger question is - will adapting to life in cyberspace prove to be maladaptive for our species in the long run?  Sure wish I had a crystal ball - metaphorically speaking, of course.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Yet Another Cat Position

In between opportunities to make bona fide nature observations during the winter months, I enjoy watching our cats.  The two whose "fighting" photo I posted here recently spent last night sleeping in the same wicker basket outside our bedroom door.  They quickly scattered when I opened the door (can two things scatter?) so I couldn't get to my camera quickly enough.  However, Radar struck this relaxed pose on a tote bag on our dining room table.  Domesticated cats are such an interesting blend of domesticity and wildness.  It's no wonder they have often been revered by royalty.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

It was a very cold day, but there must be pockets of warmth here and there.  While i was splitting firewood, I heard frogs croaking.  I wonder if it was these guys?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Nature Greeting Cards

These 5 photos are now available on 5" by 7", blank (on the inside) greeting cards with brief natural history notes on the backs.  $3.50 each with envelope plus shipping.  For orders of 10 or more, $3.00 each with free shipping.  Inquire by e.mail at  Despite all the red and green, these are not strictly seasonal cards.  Many photos that have appeared in this blog will be available as greeting cards soon. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dust of Snow

Robert Frost put it this way:

The day a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I rued.

I saw no crows today, nor hemlocks, but viewing the fresh snow early in the morning, before it got sanded and plowed, was exhilarating.  There's a secret thrill in planting the first footprints. We are accustomed to hoping for a white Christmas, but just once I'd like to experience Christmas in the southern hemisphere.  So many of our symbols of the season are northern European in origin, it might be interesting to experience the alternatives.  I wonder if Santa crosses the equator.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Anti-freeze for blood?

We've had early morning temperatures in the teens (Fahrenheit) and barely rising above freezing in the afternoons.  Somehow this butterfly was clinging to life in our woodpile.  It was actually quite active and would not sit still on my hand, as if it knew it wasn't camouflaged. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Nite Fights

Radar, the gray one on the bottom, rules the cat kingdom at our house, but the newcomer, Dulce, isn't afraid to challenge.  I guess it's a learning experience.  Somehow this photo of the Red Milkweed Beetle from my August archives looked like a similar event.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Love Irony

Just read the S. F. Chronicle "Grabbers; A Selection of First Sentences From New Books."  One that caught my eye was "There is hardly anything more natural than hating Nature."  In my line of work, that sort of sentiment gets my attention!  It's the opening line in a novel by Milen Ruskov titled Thrown Into Nature.  I read several reviews and I think I need to get this novel.  It appeals to my sense of humor.  Reminds me of a favorite quote from Lily Tomlin: "No matter how cynical I get, I can't keep up."  Maybe I'm in this mood because of watching excerpts from last night's Republican debate.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Buzzards' Roost Christmas Tree

The first time out, I forgot to bring my saw.  Perhaps a good thing because someone tipped us off to a better place and we got a nice Red Fir near Buck's Summit.  Fringe benefit, as always, is seeing many beautiful objets de natur.  I'm sure the tree in the top photo is considered one of the prettiest around by the vultures and ravens.  For that reason, it seemed beautiful to us, too.  As we approached the summit, there were several patches of bright red Mountain Ash berries.  Slipped on ice while photographing this cluster.  Managed to do a kind of judo fall and save my camera from destruction.  Here's our tree on the roof.  I hope the permit is visible.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


This is the third in a series I call "Cat Positions."  I do this for amusement when it's too cold outside or I'm too busy to pursue close-up nature photos.  I think our youngest cat, Dolce, knows about the project because now he's taken to posing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Make Lemonade

"When life serves you lemons, make lemonade."  That quote, attributed to Dale Carnegie, among others, was running through my head on my way back from finding a Christmas tree on Claremont Mountain.  This morning my son and I headed up Claremont on the Peppard Flat Road to a place where we found a nice tree last year.  This year I remembered to bring the permit along.  However, right after finding a really nice-looking white fir, I discovered that I had forgotten to bring the saw!
A senior moment, I suppose.  However, during the outing we saw lots of wonderful subjects for photography.  I won't say I remembered to bring my camera; I simply forgot to take it out of the car after my previous outing.  The manzanita at the side of the road exhibited some great frost patterns.  We wondered why the frost persisted on the manzanita while it had melted off all the other nearby plants.  There were also some attractive chinquapin bushes.  Then, the ultimate view was of Lassen Peak in the distance.  And, it looks like we'll have to drive up there again tomorrow, with the saw.  We always see something new.  Stay tuned.

The Back of My Hand

The other day in Reno with family, I was asked to drive us from point A to point B.  I took a route that my passengers didn't think was correct.  In defending my choice of route, I said, "I know this town like the back of my hand."  I did get us to the requested destination, but I suddenly realized the back of my hand was not a very good measure.  In fact, I knew I was not that familiar with the back of my hand and probably knew the streets of Reno better.  I've never had a compelling reason to study the back of my hand. 
Now the two birch leaves pictured above are another story.  Early one morning as I was leaving the house, I was startled by the beauty of the heavily frosted leaves on the front lawn.  Then I noticed these two and pondered why on one leaf the frost was concentrated on the veins while on the other the frost accumulated between the veins.  I stared at these two leaves for quite a while, in fact longer than I ever stared at the back of my hand.  So, the next time you let slip "I know this _______ like the back of my hand, realize that you might not know it all that well!  Do I recommend getting to know your hand better?  No.  But I highly recommend spending more time looking closely at nature's details. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Most Interesting Plant

A reason for the season?  Mistletoe.  Folklore and science, coming soon.