Friday, November 30, 2012

A WiFi Laxative? Or, Evolution of a Photograph

It all started when I needed to take our aging Sheltie on a walk to help him poop.  He's literally on his last legs as a collision with a pick up truck a few years ago caused some damage to rear legs and hips.  At twelve years old, things are slowing down, if you know what I mean.  While walking down our shady, wet driveway, I spotted lots of fallen leaves of the Cascara Buckthorn, AKA Cascara Sagrada, or, to botanists, Rhamnus purshiana.  I didn't want to bring the camera out in the rain, but when i spotted this bright yellow leaf and its bright red petiole, I knew I needed a photo.  I brought the leaf inside and looked for an appropriate background in my kitchen studio.
The first two photos were taken on the dining room table with ordinary white copy paper as a background.  You can see the bright red petiole (stem), but I was not satisfied.
I then tried our black, glass stove top, but there were too many reflections.  My photo session was interrupted by a sudden need to visit the bathroom.  Ordinarily I wouldn't mention such a detail in the blog.  However, the fact is, our dog, Bagel, was unsuccessful on our earlier walk.  I was quite aware that Cascara, or extracts of it, is widely used as a laxative, and has been since ancient times.  The first Europeans to visit California witnessed its use for this purpose among the Native Americans along the California and Oregon coasts. 
I didn't know that merely looking at the plant would suffice, but here I was in the bathroom wondering. 
A few minutes later, as I laughed at my silly idea about a visual stimulus performing the job of a laxative, I decided to Google the plant before resuming my photo session.  I found that when I visited sites written by botanists I mostly found out its relationship to other plants, namely its membership in the Buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae, and its similarity to Coffeeberry, Rhamnus rubra, and various ecological and anatomical information about it.  On the other hand, when I visited websites dealing with the plant's alleged medicinal properties, wow!   I found it had dozens of different names when pondered or used by various indigenous people and by New Age health practitioners.  Lots of interesting, and sometimes foolish folklore, and, of course, opportunities to spend lots of money on a remedy that's growing wild all over the place - free!  I resumed my photography by trying the oak dining room table as background.  Bad lighting (above).
Then I decided to try for black, so I placed the leaf on my son's mouse pad.  Bad lighting, and wrong camera setting, so I got a blurry image and a yellowish black background.  Another failure.
I corrected the camera setting and got a sharper image on the mouse pad, and was tempted to crop this one and call the mission a success.  But still not satisfied.  I started thinking like my photographer friend Spencer Dykstra and striving for a successful image, but was probably not prepared to be satisfied.
Finally, an image that satisfied me.  Not perfect by any means, but at least the colors yellow and red are similar to what I remembered seeing at the edge of my driveway in the shade while it was drizzling.  This one was taken in top of my laptop case.  If you click on it, you can see the texture of the canvas fabric, but I still found this image more satisfying than all the previous ones.  And it was lots of fun imagining that if I need a laxative in the future, maybe I can just stare at some Cascara Buckthorn leaves and get results. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012


This is what I need, the Red-breasted Sapsucker inspiring me to be better organized.  This icon of his summer activity, before the tree died, now decorates my woodshed.  It inspires me to stack the wood neatly, but the habit hasn't yet spread to my office.  Maybe I should bring the log inside.

Adhesive Problem

I have what I think are a lot of nice photos hanging in the Stella Fae Miller Gallery in the Plumas County Museum, but with an amateurish means of hanging them.  As you can see from this photo, which shows just half of the exhibit, a few have become delaminated and fallen off the wall.  I plan to visit the museum tomorrow with some sort of superglue and fix things.  Meanwhile, the show, complete with natural history notes, will be up through the month of December.  Many of the photos appeared first in this blog.  The museum is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 4.  Come on by.   I'll be there during Art Walk, the evening of December 7.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pretty Things

 A possible week-long deluge has begun. Wind, possible power outages, floods, and landslides.  Puts me in the mood to seek out beautiful things and share them.  Here are two from my archives.
I've been thinking a lot about global warming lately and the widespread denial about the seriousness of it, much less the existence of it.  Very weird and scary to me.  The denial I mean.  I just read one writer's hypothesis that the most power leaders in the USA, industry, military, government, etc., actually think it would be a good thing because they believe that in a world-wide struggle for survival, the USA would come out on top and ultimately be better off than we are today.  This is so bizarre and scary that I had to go into my photo archives and look for some pretty things - sort of those guys in the movie Soylent Green fawning over the last real tomato.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What to call this?

 When I pulled these two from the archive, my first thoughts had to do with how awesome flight is, and I got to wondering about what sort of sequence of evolutionary events could lead to the development of flight.  A title for this post that crossed my mind was "The Miracle of Flight."  But I don't believe there's such as thing as miracles, just low probability events.  But that doesn't make a very good title.  I'm actually sick of the talk of miracles because I think that such a belief is an excuse to suspend thought.  There are actually people in this world who believe rational thought is a trick of the devil.  I'd say "to hell with such people" but I don't believe there's a hell either.  Meanwhile, click on either of these photos for a closer view of one of the wonders of nature.  The critter above of course is the familiar honey bee.
This one is a Dobsonfly, often found landing among willows and alders at streamside, but this one conveniently (for photographers) landed on the big green water tank above my house in Boyle Ravine.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Unconventional Beauty

 One way to look at Teasel, or any plant covered with spines, is as something to avoid.  The flower heads in early summer can be beautiful, especially while they are being visited by various insects.  However, there's no avoiding the fact that to get good pictures of Teasel one might have to brave the spines.  I find beauty there which I might never have found if I hadn't looked at lots of photos of Edward Weston.  His photos of, say, a nude women curled up in the fetal position on sand and of a bell pepper on a table, which, aesthetically look more alike than different.  I'm also finding more and more beauty in unconventional places as a result of an ongoing dialogue with talented young photographer Spencer Dykstra.  Google Spencer Dykstra Photography for a sampler.
This photo of a dead crawdad, believe it or not, was inspired by my memory of Georgia O'Keefe's cow skulls.  Her paintings of extreme close-up views of flowers and her comments about her intentions with such paintings have always interested me, but her combinations of death and beauty in a desert setting are a challenge to one's aesthetic sense.  To me, a crawdad, like most any crustacean or insect, is an architectural marvel.  It's beautiful even in death.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Lovely Beetles

Since I've been writing about beetles lately for my book-in-progress, I've needed to revisit my beetle photo files.  These are so bright and colorful, I thought I'd post them again in case you're having a problem with the damp, grey weather.  The top photo is of the Dimorphic Longhorn Beetle, Anastrangalia laetifica, of the Cerambycid family.  This is a female, nearly an inch long.  The males are solid black, thus the name dimorphic, and only half as big.
The bottom photo is of a Common Checkered Clerid, Trichodes ornatus, of the family Cleridae.  I've seen this species on dozens of different species of flowers.  I assume that it eats the pollen on all of them, but I am not sure.  They're reluctant to fly unless seriously disturbed or on a mission, so they are easy to photograph.  In both cases, when I encounter the flower-bug combination, my enthusiasm varies from excitement about the beetle to enjoying the details of the flower.  Also, there are times when I'm mostly motivated to take photos and other times I really want to write.  Thus, an essay-in-progress is titled On Relative Enthusiasms.

Aphid Hiding

I was trying to decide whether the subject of this photo was the beetle or the flower.  Then I decided it was the aphid.  Click on the photo for a closer view.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Shroomin' at FRC, Part II

 Here are some more trailside attractions from my Wednesday morning hike on the FRC campus.  What started out as a pursuit of a particular mushroom, the purple one posted in Part I, turned out to be a more varied adventure.  The nature trail was covered with leaves and looked like it hadn't been visited by humans for a while.  There was a lot of moss on the tree trunks and fallen branches which gave the air a quality I love to breathe.
 When Pine Drops die at the end of summer, they sometimes remain standing for several more years if the winter snows don't smash them.  I've been watching this particular one for two years.
 The moss seems greener than green and I can't stop photographing it. 
 Scratches on this trunk of a young fir confirmed my suspicion that I was being watched.  When I spotted these fresh scratches my heart quickened... as did my pace.
 There were several parches of fruticose lichens erupting from beds of moss like gray-green fountains.
 An old dead oak is losing its bark, but meanwhile provides habitat for all sorts of mosses, lichens, and bugs.  In summer, this is a good hiding place for bluebelly lizards.
Near the end of my walk, I had a flashback of the Orange Peel Fungi I photographed a week or so ago.  I thought I had stumbled across another patch of them, but it turned out to be a real orange!
Is it possible for an Orange Peel Fungus to look more like an orange than an orange does?  That's the impression I got. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Pardoned a Turkey

We saved a turkey today.  Decided to eat a chicken instead, mainly so our small family wouldn't be eating leftovers for a week.  We enjoy seeing groups of wild turkeys roaming the fringes of the campus at Feather River College.  And, on yesterday's nature walk, lots of patches of Turkey Tail Fungus were growing along the nature trail, mostly on the trunks and fallen limbs of California Black Oak.  Click on this photo for a closer view.  It's quite an attractive fungus.
Later, after some serious napping, I'll post more findings in Shroomin' at FRC, Part II.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shroomin' at FRC, Part I

 We've already experienced a fair amount of wind and rain and a bit of snow this fall, but a few days of warmer weather, although still rainy, has brought a lot of color of a different sort than what is normally celebrated as "fall colors."  A couple of weeks ago the Goldenrod shown above was under six inches of snow for a few days.  Amazingly, now that the snow has melted it is still blooming.
My walk around campus this morning was ostensibly a search for newly emerged mushrooms, but a few other items caught my eye on the way to the first fungi.
 In front of the college library, I had enjoyed the brightly blooming Rabbitbrush for a couple of months along with the dense gatherings of Skippers and Thread-waisted Wasps that found them to be attractive landing pads.  Now that the insects are gone and the Rabbitbrush has gone to seed, it is still attractive.
 Some of the largest Black Oaks I've seen grow on the FRC campus near buildings and I'm so glad they were preserved when the campus was built.  This one by the Student Center is huge and supports a great crop of moss that is very bright green during these wet days.
 At the base of one of the larger oaks I found this pair of fungi which when viewed from above looked like the stumps of two young oaks.  A side view shows the gills and the fact they are obviousy fungi.
 This cluster of purplish brown fungi is growing near the Orange Peel Fungi I pictured here a few days ago.  I think they might be of the genus Laccaria, but I'm no fungi expert.  I found the color intriguing, especially when surrounded by the bright green mosses, leafy greens of various kinds, and the bright orange Orange Peel Fungi that are still thriving there.
 In this same area I found patches of a fungus that reminded me of shredded brains.  They might be in a group called Coral Fungi, genus Ramaria, but again, I'm no fungus expert.  I just love looking at them and thinking about all the work they do converting forest detritus into soil and facilitating the absorption of nutrients by the plants.
 These clusters of pure white fungi were partially hidden by a layer of pine needles, but they literally shined so I couldn't miss them.  I removed some pine needles for the photo then replaced them.  Much work left for them to do.
After checking my favorite areas around the buildings on the upper campus, I took the nature trail back to my car.  One of the first great sights along the trail was the Turkey-Tail Fungus.  There were clusters of them on the trunks of many of the oaks.  Tomorrow I'll post Part II of my walk.  The forest was dark and quiet, so I was imagining that I was being watched.  I wonder....

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Speed Bump

 Here's the photo I intended to post back on October 27 when I discovered that I'd used up all the available space on the blog for photo storage.  I said that this acorn reminded me of the Hindenburg.  An omen of disaster I guess.   I'm posting the photo here in a more celebratory mood.  It's almost Thanksgiving and I'm sleepy after a wonderful pre-Thanksgiving feast sponsored by Feather River College.  I'm in the mood to celebrate the tree from which this blog and my email address take their name.  California Black Oak.  They line my driveway and are home to many interesting animals, including the Oak Treehoppers that have appeared here often.
 Potential oaks.  Memories of holiday biscuits made from oak flour - after removing the tannic acid, of course. 
 Acorn cap which can serve as an ear-piercing whistle if you know how. 
 The tree that produces the bounty, especially in years following forest fires.  At this time of year, most of the leaves have turned a deep orange or have already fallen off.  But a few trees produce brilliant reds, oranges and yellows.  The trunks are a substrate for a large variety of mosses, lichens, fungi and crawly things.  I love California Black Oak.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November in My Neighborhood

 During my two weeks off from blogging, I often wandered my neighborhood looking for unusual perspectives on scenes we often take for granted.  One neighbor's sunflowers had all gone to seed and most were collapsing into the soil.  This one that still stood tall looked especially nice from behind.
 A neighbor's low brick retaining wall at the foot of my driveway was beautified by a recent resurrection of the moss that had been dry and brown since early August. 

We found that the spider plant in our kitchen had become a breeding ground for fruit flies.  We decided to put it out on the back deck.  It suffered through a snow storm and several days of freezing weather only to bloom on the first warm day afterwards.  Defiance!  It earned the right to come back inside.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wood Pile Adventures

Just a few minutes after deciding I would reactivate this blog, a beautiful blue beetle emerged from the cedar I was splitting for kindling.  It was as if it knew it would soon be on stage.  I gathered up several pieces of the pecky cedar, a kind of Wabi Sabi exhibit, and the beetle herself, and brought them indoors to my studio, also known as my dining room table.  The stick on the left shows a typical habitat where beetles spend the winter, and I'm sure my beetle barely escaped the axe to land on the chopping block intact, but dormant.  I thought it might be dead, but after a few minutes indoors it started crawling around.  Very satisfying to watch.
 Here the beetle is crawling on a cedar stick that shows the slime mold or other fungus that does the work of turning cedar into an art form.
 There are several California Black Oaks right next to my wood-splitting area, and the trunk on this one has "come alive" since the recent warm rains.  How many species can you spot in this photo? The subject chosen was the slug, but much more was revealed once I viewed the photo on my computer screen.  Click on the photo for a closer view and more detail.  The fruticose lichens to the left of the slug were a particularly nice surprise.
 Another slug on the ground at the base of the tree seemed at home among the filaments of slime mold and fir needles.  And you thought "slugfest" was a name for a high-scoring baseball game.
 After spending time beneath the surface during the recent snow storms, the large earthworms have returned to the surface to hang out beneath the boards I leave around for that purpose.  You can see the outline of the board.  I always replace it after taking pictures because something new is likely to be there each morning until freezing weather drives them underground again.
This was the first critter to emerge from the woodpile at daybreak.  It was still so dark that I had trouble focusing so the head and antennae are a bit blurry.  When I saw she was still pretty sleepy I went to the house to retrieve my camera.  After taking a few shots I was hooked then gathered all the above photos and more before getting the blog started again.  Then I went back to splitting firewood and feeling life was back to normal.

If you're in the area (of Quincy, CA) I invite you to the Plumas County Museum where I have a show of 36 nature photos with accompanying natural history notes running through December.  The museum is now open Wednesdays through Saturdays.   I also have a display on the theme of nature journaling in the Plumas County Library - main branch in Quincy - and two framed photos and photo greeting cards available at the Main Street Artists gallery on Main Street.

Watch for an announcement of my next class in Adventures in Nature Journaling, offered through Feather River College, probably beginning in late January or early February.

I'm Back!

This is a test.  First, it has been difficult for me to go for over two weeks without blogging.  In retrospect, I realize it has been an activity around which I have organized all my creative endeavors and even my moods.  Walking in the woods feels great, but bringing back memories and sharing them feels even greater.  It has also been great to have friends and other followers of this blog tell me how they have missed it and urge me to get going again.
Second, it's a test of whether I have successfully re-opened my account.  I'm actually not very adept at all with computer skills.  I feel competent as a naturalist and photographer, and passable as an artist, but I often need help to avoid embarrassing errors with software.  So, if this photo and message actually post, a little while later I will share the photos I took this morning while working in my wood pile.  Just knowing I was going to resurrect the blog was a great morale boost and I am happy with the photos I took.  Splitting wood is my entry into other worlds.