Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, more or less

I put together a little sketch to say "Happy New Year" to my friends in the island nation of Kiribati where 2014 began around 18 hours ago.  Since January 1 has no real connection to an astronomical event but is a civic holiday, why not mess with it a little more.  I'm considering this my first post of the new year, even though the header will still say December 31.  Fun.  Make some noise tonight!!!

Ecological Footprint Redux

The Boyle Street Bear has evolved.  I took this photo at the beginning of my mid-day walk, the results of which are on the previous couple of posts.  I saved the best for last.  When I saw that my pile of bear poop had been run over, the first thing that came to mind was the concept of an ecological footprint.  This concept grew out of a Canadian student's Ph. D. dissertation around 20 years ago.  I remember studying a concept in my college ecology classes over 40 years ago that was a kind of premonition of the ecological footprint.  That concept was labelled "carrying capacity."  We would talk about a particular habitat's or ecosystem's capacity to support a given number of a particular species of plant or animal.  The concept could be useful in discussing very small, localized ecosystems all the way up to the whole Earth and its carrying capacity for people.  We would talk about what can happen when the carrying capacity is exceeded.  We would argue about what Earth's carrying capacity for people might be.  That would depend, of course, on the particular life-styles of the people, but we all recognized (unlike many capitalists) that the Earth is finite with respect to any particular resource you might want to name - water, minerals, etc.  The Earth's population has since exceeded any of the predictions we made back in 1962!
So, as I approached the flattened poop in my comfortable pair of winter boots, I thought about my own ecological footprint, or at least a few of its features.  I know there are enough cows in Plumas County to supply boot leather to the entire human population of the county.  What I don't know is whether ANY of our locally produced cow skin becomes boots.  If so, it may well get shipped to some Asian country on gigantic freighters to be made into shoes in factories unsafe for the people who work in them, then shipped back by freighter or airplane to be marketed to us.  My $150 boots might bring $1 to the factory and who knows, maybe $50 to various advertising entities, shoe store overhead, etc., etc., and here I am thinking about the cows in my neighborhood that might be the source of the leather.  My ecological footprint is frankly embarrassing, although there's a limit to what I can do about it in the short run.  I call the photo and this blog post "ecological footprint redux" because it reminds me of many elements of our impart on nature, the tire print not the least of these.  Another is the composition of the poop.  It is obviously mostly apples from a nearby tree planted by humans which tempts the local bears to abandon their natural food supply and stroll into town to gorge on fruit trees we've planted.  And then there's the pavement beneath the poop.  The wars fought to keep the oil flowing.... Oh my.  Happy New Year.   Oh, this marks 365 blog posts for 2013.  This also marks 1500 posts since the blog began.  I love round numbers.  Actually, I love all numbers.  I'm going to celebrate tonight.  Are you?  My resolution: do some sensible things in 2014.

I've taken a lichen to this stump

 Near the foot of my driveway there's an old Douglas-fir stump that supports a nice variety of mosses and lichens.  I especially like the fruticose lichens, the tall, blue-grey ones prominent near the top of the photo.  They're growing out of a bed of moss.
 Near the base of the stump, there's snow on the north side, but none on the south side that received what little sunlight makes it to the ground in this area.  There's a significant difference in micro-climate on either side of the stump.  Also, certain plants tends to spring up right along the melt line in spring. Some of those get beaten down by later snow storms only to try again during the next melting period.  The activities on and around the stump are a reliable source of entertainment for me when I'm on foot.  More about my footwear in my next post.
Hovering over the aforementioned stump is a large California Black Oak where I photographed Oak Treehoppers frequently from late August through early December.  They're long gone, but a good variety of mosses and lichens persists through the winter.  Click on the photo for a closer view of the white lichens in the center.  The photo may or may not capture the feeling, but when I walked by this tree in the shade the white lichen seemed to glow as if it had an internal light source.  I'm sure it wasn't really bioluminescent, but it gave me that feeling in contrast with the deep shade behind the tree.

By the Plumas County Museum

 I don't usually pay much attention to plants 'installed' by people, but on a winter walk through downtown Quincy, some of them stand out to be noticed.  Most of the annual nursery-bred flowers in people's gardens became soil months ago, but around the museum, where the flowers are irrigated during the summer, certain things persist into and through the winter.  The above skeleton is of some type of lily.  It was actually growing just outside the fence, between the sidewalk and the foundation of the fence around the museum property.  The thin basal leaves of the lily were still green, and they looked a bit like a Hyacinth I remember growing in the museum's flower beds during the summer.  Maybe this was an escapee.
 This birch looks like the same species I have i my front yard, but maybe not.  This one bears an abundance of catkins compared to my birches, and they are bigger and fresher looking than mine.  Maybe it has to do with more sun exposure combined with the summer irrigation. 
If I remember correctly, from the leaves and flowers I saw during the summer, this bush might be some sort of currant.  Very noticeable color.  I saw this batch of berries when I was still a block away.

Looking for Nature Downtown

 I had to use my imagination.  My walk was a little too late in the day to find Ravens downtown.  Two days ago I posted a photo of a Raven seen above my driveway, and under the circumstances, I had to invent a new word, "Ravenblur."  See Sunday's blog posts for the original photo.  When I decided to bring my camera along on this mid-day walk, I was definitely hoping to find a cooperative Raven for a sharp photo.  The best I could come up with was stopping and staring with awe at this large Black Locust tree on Main Street.  Seemed like an ideal rest stop for a Raven, so I imagined one.  And it wasn't blurry.
 This little mind game put me in bird-watching mode.  I did hear some Mourning Doves in the distance, and saw a few crows flying quite high overhead, but found no opportunities for close-up photos.  That is, until I came across an egg of the Sierra Glassblown Bird that apparently had fallen from its nest, although it might be like Killdeer and other species that lay their eggs on the ground.  Not likely, though, since the egg wouldn't be well camouflaged.  It looks like it could have been a soft landing on this leaf litter, so I'm assuming the bird hatched successfully and is probably hiding under a nearby building until it's able to fly.
Before heading back up the hill to my house, I came across an amazing new product in a store window.  A camouflaged office desk set.  My imagination went wild.  I thought of "survivalists" hiding in a remote forest writing their rebellious literature and not wanting to be seen by spy cameras that apparently are ubiquitous these days.  Then I thought of writers who were paranoid about their ideas being stolen before they were copyrighted.  If they wore camo and used this sort of desktop tools, maybe they wouldn't be seen.  Then I imagined the sort of hunters who take field notes - are there any?  The kind that would buy a hunter's blender powered by an small internal combustion engine.  I saw one at Cabela's for around $400!  Imagine the comfort of fixing a daiquiri in your gas-powered blender while secretly writing notes on the location of deer, elk, antelope, jackrabbits, and quail with your camouflaged pen.

Nature on the Stove; the Sequel

 I got hooked on staring into a saucepan again this morning.  As usual, I saw something new.  Or, perhaps something old seen in a new way.  I was cooking oatmeal when I notice bubbles on the rim of the pan above the oatmeal.  While the heat coming from below was sufficient to boil the water, then keep boiling once the oatmeal was added, apparently the rim of the pan remained cold enough (not difficult in my inadequately heated house) to cause the vapor to condense before it left the scene.  This brought to mind the idea of micro-habitats, something I've discussed and photographed often on this blog.  When nature's little habitats are examined closely, on a scale smaller than human, we often discover radically different conditions of light, temperature and moisture in places only inches apart.  I assume that microorganisms split hairs even further and detect "climate variations" only microns apart.  Besides the evaporation and condensation apparent here, I also enjoyed how the foam around the edges of the pan resembled the foam associated with waves breaking at the seas shore.  That thought led to my looking deeper into the oatmeal itself at which point I was visualizing
what is often called "primordial ooze" or "primordial soup," the sort of habitat where life might have originated on Earth or elsewhere.  As I stared at the oatmeal I remember algae-laden hot springs seen in Yellowstone and Lassen Parks, among other places, and imagined the famous Miller-Urey experiment being done in nature rather than in the lab.  If I could control these stove-top experiences better, it seems like they'd have lots of potential for high school lab simulations.  I hope this doesn't cause anyone to lose interest in eating their oatmeal.  It's really good for you!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Winter Drive, Part 3; the vegetation

 While driving along curvy Highway 89 at 55 mph, one has to concentrate on staying on the road and out of the river.  Not a good way to appreciate nature's details.  So, I stop at turnouts or wide shoulders whenever time allows.  On last Monday's drive, the blur of brownish dead and dormant shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers, deciduous trees that have dropped their leaves and evergreens, had a sameness about it for several miles.  When I stopped and walked around, the details came alive.  It was fun to see how many plants I could identify in this stage of life or death.  The above photo is a branch of White Alder showing both female (left) and male (right) flowers, the former often called cones and the latter, catkins.
 A young Sugar Pine beneath a mature group of Black Cottonwoods.  I could find no parent Sugar Pines nearby, so the seeds for this one must have been brought in by an animal or possibly washed down from quite high on the mountain in the background.
 A willow branch with many buds waiting to burst early in spring, and possibly an infection of Tongue Fungus.
 Another branch of the same willow.
                                          Blackberry branch
                                                 Star Thistle
                                                      Curly Dock
Speeding car or truck, thoroughly buried in the hillside.  I was tempted to dig it out, but was afraid I'd find some bodies.

The Boyle Street Bear, and ...

 I have already put aside the photos I'll post for "A Winter Drive, Part 3," but I thought I'd haul our trash down the hill to the pick-up spot first.  I had my camera inside my jacket so I'd have plenty of battery power when I got the the calling card of the Boyle Street Bear.  I had spotted this on my way to my sunrise visit to Midtown Coffee.  I figured if it was still intact when I returned, I'd get a photo.  To people who live in and around Quincy, evidence of a visit by a bear is no big deal, but to our friends and relatives in urban setting back East, it's quite a big deal.  They imagine we are in a far more primitive setting than we are.  This perception is amplified when they hear that many of us heat with wood that we actually cut in the mountain forests, transported it to our homes in pickup tricks, and split and stacked it ourselves - for pleasure!  "What masochists," they think.  So, this photo of fresh bear poop, deposited some time last night, is for them.
 I thought this second photo, a close-up, represented a nice composition.  I leave it to the viewer to guess whether I'm using the term as a photographer or a scatologist. :)
The whole way down the hill with the trash cans, I was having a one-way conversation with a Raven perched atop a power pole.  The Raven was doing all the talking.  As an English instructor preparing to teach a course in Interpersonal Communication, I should know there's no such thing as a one-way conversation.  I just said that for effect. 
Since my destination was the bear poop, I didn't feel like unveiling the camera for a good shot of the Raven when I had the chance.  After the trash cans were delivered and I had my photos of the bear poop, I headed back up the hill and hoped the Raven was still there.  Just as I was readying my camera, the Raven took off and flew right over me.  Obviously, I wasn't quick enough or skillful enough to get a sharp photo.  So, I cal this one "Ravenblur."  Now that I'm back in my cozy garage/office workspace, I will try to get back to "A Winter Drive, Part 3." 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Winter Drive, Part 2

 Almost a week has passed since I took this drive, so I'm glad I have the photos to preserve the memories.   I remember when I used to commute between Quincy and Greenville a few times a week, and I'd drive by these sights, sometimes noticing and sometimes not.  Now that I'm not driving this route by necessity, it seems like sacrilege to pass by certain sights without stopping.  This second series of shots from the drive feature water.  Water performs such magic.  Above is a scene quite familiar to county residents, lately known as Dog Rock.  It's one of those places that has borne many names over time, some politically incorrect and some not.  The water flowing in and around the rock, dissolving some of it and redepositing it in patterns, reminds me of trips to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon, and of Carlsbad Caverns.  Dog Rock is sort of like an inside-out cave. 
 Viewed closer it resembles our family dog, a Labradoodle.  The icicles enhance the bearded effect.
 A little further north, on a curve where it's dangerous to stop, I spied a corrugated drain pipe with a blossom of ice protruding from it.  No more water flowing.  I wondered if any was backed up in the pipe, or if the creek bed was bone dry.  This type of scene makes me want to do time-lapse video.  By the way, I parked safely 100 yards away and carefully walked to the site without making any travelers nervous.
 Yet another half mile north was a drain pipe at a turnout where I've taken many photos over the past few years.  The water was still flowing through this one.  A very pretty sight.
I call this last one "Tracking Myself."  There are many ways to have fun in the snow.  I didn't see any animal tracks in the area so I decided to make some.
"A Winter Drive, Part 3" will focus on the vegetation along this route, both dormant and dead.

Another Mini-saga

 The setting: I need to explain why I would begin a post with such a dull photo.  It was around 3:00 this afternoon when I decided to bring some more fire wood up from the shed to the front deck.  No thought of nature photography.  In fact, I was thinking about "Winter Drive, Part 2" that I [planned to post after dealing with the fire wood.  But, one of my favorite things happened.  I disturbed a small creature that was planning to spend the winter in the stacked firewood.  It was a moth of a type that appeared in the blog around this time last year.  I can't remember the species.  Anyway, when I picked up the log it was on, it quickly let go and fell to the ground, then crawled into hiding beneath that tan 1"x2" that ends in the center of the above photo.  I figured that since it was hidden from the light, it would stay put while I ran to the house to get my camera.
 When I returned with the camera, I picked up the 1"x2" and there she was, facing north and getting ready to find another hiding place.  It was barely above freezing out there, but the moth seemed able to crawl quite fast - for a moth - but it made no attempt to fly.
 I don't know which senses came into play, but the moth quickly turned around and headed South where just a few inches away was the edge of the 4'x8' sheet of plywood that my fire wood is on.
I got one last glimpse - and photo - before the math totally disappeared beneath the plywood.  This sort of wood pile surprise is very exciting to me.  It could also be another chapter in the story "shades of brown" that I posted over a month ago.  Regarding that story, I promised my friend Spencer that I'd add to the discussion we had about shades of brown.  I need to get on it before everything starts turning green again.  And, I need to get back to posting the photos for "Winter Drive, Part 2."  There's so much winter excitement around here, it's looking like I'll reach my goal of a post per day for 2013.  Eight to go.

Nature on the Stove

This might look like a strange post for a nature blog, but here's my rationale.  It's two-fold, really.  First, on a cold, gray winter day, while boiling some water for Ramen soup, I couldn't stop myself from thinking about nature.  I had just taken a few photos of the weed I rescued in November and planned the previous post, "A Mini-Saga."  So, as I was watching the pot of water - thinking about disproving Ben Franklin's statement, "A watched pot never boils," I found myself staring at the first bubbles forming at the bottom.  I remembered as a child being asked by my dad, "how do you suppose all that air got in there.  It just keeps coming, and coming, a much greater volume than the volume of the pan."  Some years went by before I figured out what was going on,  but I've never gotten over my fascination with the process. Now I tend to look for aesthetic qualities, not just the scientific. 
I watched the bubbles get progressively bigger and rise to the surface more quickly.  At a certain point the boiling become so vigorous that there was some splashing.  I also started to notice the volume of water decreasing and the air in the immediate vicinity becoming more humid.  Some of the water vapor re-condensed when it came into contact with the nearest cold windows.
Then I reminisced on one of my old physical science classes in which I gave each team of students a container of water, a Bunsen burner, and a few other odds 'n ends found in any kitchen, and asked them to make the biggest list they could of "properties of water that they could actually observe and prove."  Based on some previously memorized knowledge, they came up with boiling point and freezing point, and needed more equipment - freezer, thermometer - to prove what they already "knew."  Then we had a great discussion about how the markings were established on the thermometer in the first place.  This was followed by my handing to each group a small, unmarked thermometer and challenged them to properly mark their thermometers.  Only when finished could they compare to their factory-issue thermometer.  We then discussed "which one can we trust?"
After all this reminiscing, I realized I didn't have enough water remaining to cook my noodles.  So, I started over.  Note, the water in the above photos is tainted by a little Soy Sauce.  I started over with an aluminum frying pan (below) in which the water stayed clear and colorless.  Quite a different pattern in the bubbles below, which led to a whole new set of questions....
I started by mentioning that my motive for this post was two-fold.  Here's the other fold.  I noticed that I have only posted 20 items so far during December and fallen slightly behind my annual goal of averaging one post per day.  As of this typing, I have averaged 0.97534 posts per day for 2013.  With two and one half days remaining in December, I need to make 9 more posts to reach my goal.  My next one will be "A Winter Drive, Part 2."  Note, part 1 was posted last Tuesday based on a drive I took on Monday.  At the time of posting Part 1, I mentioned that I had more photos.  First, a short break to gather more fire wood onto the front deck.
By the way, the kids in that science class eventually identified and proved or demonstrated over 50 properties of water.  It's a good substance to know about since we are made up of around 2/3 water!

When Will We Ever Learn?

Shuffling through my file of newspaper and magazine clippings, I came across one that I'm in the mood to rant about.  Appearing a couple of weeks ago in the San Francisco Chronicle, this piece was titled "Wildlife habitat mapping to help West plan growth."  Here's the first paragraph:
     "RENO - Governors in 16 states are unveiling a high-tech wildlife habitat mapping project they      hope will encourage economic development across the West while protecting the region's environmental treasures from Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains." 
   I'm not in the mood for an extended rant just now, but let me use a quote from the late Edward Abbey to summarize my feelings: "Growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."

A Mini-saga?

 It looks like this story might last two months at least.  I rescued the little weed from the root network of a potted plant we intended to discard.  This was back on November 6.  I decided to rescue the weed and repot it in the house if only to see if I could identify it if and when it matured.
 A few days after the transplanting it was looking healthy.
 As the days got shorter and the sun lay lower in the sky, the leaves started growing longer, as if reaching for more light, and looking a bit more frail, much like the grass and other seedlings that start their seasons under a rock or large piece of bark.  Some make it to the edge and come out from under where exposure to sunlight saves them.  They start producing chlorophyll and making their own food and are no longer dependent on the food that had been stored in the seed.
 At this point, about a month later, the two original leaves started to stretch out laterally and look even more frail, while the one pointing straight up, perhaps 1/2" closer to the sun, was looking good.
During this past week, the two original leaves were nearly dead. and the two remaining ones were looking like they might still survive the winter.  I still can't identify the plant.  This growth pattern reminded me a bit of the overly dense grove of Douglas-firs near my house.  The top branches, maybe 50 feet or so on a 150-foot tree, stay green and healthy looking while the lowest branches, deprived of direct sun, seem to wither and die.  An isolated Douglas-fir that receives sunlight from top to bottom, usually doesn't grow as tall, but stays green and has denser foliage all the way down to its lowest branches.  Moisture or lack of it probably also plays a part in the mature tree's form.  The Douglas-firs near the coast always seem much greener and have denser foliage than the ones in this part of the Sierra.  I'm sure foresters have studied the growth patterns of all the "marketable" trees, and what I've written here is a pretty superficial bunch of observations.  I'm just trying to share here the fun of discovering some things for oneself.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

My New Startup

 I'll probably work a lot from photos on the succeeding pages, but will also be collecting items from my hikes for still lifes.  I've recently discovered a couple of new drawing media, so I'll be doing some testing in this multi-purpose journal.  I hope I can fill this one as a kind of sampler for my next class in Adventures in Nature Journaling, probably in April.
I found the flicker feather on the floor while mounting my kids' new dart board.  I have no idea where it came from.  I'm pretty sure there's no flicker in the house.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Winter Drive, Part 1

 I delivered a Christmas package on the other side of the mountain yesterday.  The other side of Mt. Hough, that is.  To get there, I drove around 10 miles on Hwy. 70 north of Quincy and another 6 or 7 on Hwy. 89 north of the Greenville Y.  I brought the camera along just in case.  This first set of photos got more and more interesting to me a day after I took them because they provide a nice comparison between two micro-habitats that are only about a quarter mile apart.  The first set of four photos was taken at my "milkweed place."  Followers of this blog may remember that I have several such places around Plumas County, but this was the first one so designated.  Less than a half mile north of the Y there's a turnoff (not an official one) on the north side of the highway where I've been photographing milkweeds in spring, summer and fall for several years.  Within a few yards of where I park, I've found all five members of this family that I'm aware of.  The most prominent, shown in these photos,
 is the Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa.  The others I've photographed during the summer are the Purple Milkweed, the Narrow-leaf Milkweed, Spreading Dogbane, and Indian Hemp.  I couldn't find any stalks of the latter four still standing, but there were quite a few standing stalks of the Showy Milkweed with empty seed pods. It was fun taking photos with different backgrounds.  As you can see, there's still snow on the ground and the area is quite shady.  It's facing West and is shaded by a mountain ridge to the South as well as by some tall Douglas-firs right above the milkweeds.  What made
 this outing more special on further review was its contrast with an East-facing turnout only another half mile up Hwy. 89.  This second spot catches early morning sun, and is in the sun for more than half the day at this time of year.  Thus, all the snow is melted, and it actually felt at least 10 to 15 degrees warmer when I was strolling around with my camera.  In fact it was  warm enough that I
 started imagining that I'd find active bugs beneath the scattered pieces of tree bark and slabs of shale on the ground.  No such luck, though.  The hard freezes here for many nights in a row have driven the smart ones deep below the frost line and killed the stupid ones.  In terms of photography, the most
 interesting subject was the Cat-o-nine-tails still standing.  Some had seed heads still intact with their familiar hot-dog appearance, and others were already burst apart and  disseminating their seeds in the wind.
The key to enjoying this outing, as is usually the case. was having the time and patience to stop and walk around.  While walking I reminisced on winter days as a child in New England where I thought of all the vegetation (mainly trees and shrubs) in the winter as dead.  Now, as a trained biologist, when I see all these shades of brown, I know there is still plenty of life around.  Some of it above ground, but a great deal of it below the surface.  I have been partial all my life to living in places with four seasons, but I sometimes wonder what it's like to live in a place that does not.  I think of Chico, for instance, as a place with no winter, and the top of Mt. Shasta as a place with no summer.  Neither of these impressions is true, of course, but I realize how deeply imbedded my emotional response to seasons is.  In a lot of my late summer blogging, I expressed some sadness about the end of the season, and in my winter blogging, I've frequently focused on anticipation of spring.  Now I'm getting better at slowing down and enjoying the present, no matter what season I'm experiencing.  The two stops mentioned above launched an exploration that almost made me late for my appointment in Taylorsville.  More photos to come.