Sunday, October 26, 2014

Each Is Colorful In Its Own Way

 My previous post was my reaction to the stereotypical fall colors experience as reported on websites that advertise the phenomenon, usually to promote tourism.  This post emphasizes those features of fall that make it my friend Dalynn's favorite season.  I'm leaning in that direction myself.  These first two photos begged to be taken, although they're not very good.  When I stepped out on my front porch this morning, all the branch tips on my birch trees held drops of water from last night's rain. Lit up from behind, they glowed like jewels, and many of them radiated little rainbows.  It was quite spectacular to behold, although my camera and I weren't up to the task.  You'll have to imagine.
 This little Dogwood hasn't grown much over the past several years.  It is in deep shade of tall firs and pines, and is probably growing in very marginal (for it) soil.  Nevertheless, the splash of pink was an attractive contrast to the darkness.
 I revisited the large fungi at the foot of my driveway and, at first, was disturbed that someone came along and kicked them over.  It turns out, though, that only this one was upsiade-down and detached from its stem.
 Its neighbor, only a foot away was intact, although beginning to shrivel.
 Then I found evidence!  A large pile of fresh bear poop.  I'm honestly not a coprophile in any weird sense of the word, but I enjoy the fact that wild animal droppings (there's a politer word) provide evidence of all sorts of biological phenomena.  Scatology is another word that fits here when we're talking biology.  However, in the sense of literary study, that's another story.  I'm an amateur scatologist only in the former sense.
 Evidence that the show is not over, another large one is just now emerging just a few feet away.  As I said in an earlier post, these are probably all connected underground and are thus a single organism.
 In some years, the Cascara Buckthorn leaves turn all the colors of the rainbow, but this year they appear to be turning only yellow then brown.  On this particular tree, most were still green, and all the ones on the ground were shade of yellow or brown.  I think they're skipping red and orange this year.
 Lots of little fungi are growing in my lawn.  Difficult to spot, but very cute.

 This one (below) is backed up by a Yellow Wood Sorrel which looks like clover, but has yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers all spring and summer.
 The only bright red on this walk was provided by this single, tiny blossom on the edge of my driveway.  I believe it's a non-native, but I haven't yet identified it.  It's around 1/2" in diameter.  Click on any of these images for closer looks.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What is this "peak" thing? Commercializing fall colors.

 While working in my office this morning, I noticed the sound of rain on my roof stopped.  Then the sun poked through a hole in the clouds and I saw a maple tree in my back yard (above) glow bright red and orange.  I decided it was time for a photo break.  I went out on our back deck to get the above photo. 
 Then I noticed a similar-sized maple slightly to the right was still a greenish yellow.  I think the top photo would get more attention from the so-called "leaf peepers" who are encouraged to come to Plumas County to view the fall colors (and spend money), but the maple in the second photo is actually much healthier and has yet to "peak" as the jargon goes.  In fact, the bright-colored tree to the left is actually the unhealthy one.  It was knocked flat to the ground several times by snow and by some aggressive yard work last summer.  It failed to bend back upright on its own, so we tied it to a
big Ponderosa Pine (next photo) to hold it upright and hoped it would firm up in this restored position.
 Looking to the North in my neighbor's back yard, I saw two great California Black Oaks.
 The one in the foreground is still green, and the one in the background is showing some bright reds and oranges.  I wondered what's causing the difference.  Maybe available water.  Maybe slight difference in insolation.  Soil quality?  Who knows?  But it's a beautiful splash of color amongst the surrounding pines and firs.
I finished my break witha brief stroll down my driveway where I photographed this low-hanging oak.
On my way back I pondered the statements I find on the various chamber-of-commerce-type websites that promote touring the county to view the fall colors.  This on October 21:  "We're declaring peak today."  And, "Historically, October 21 has been peak color throughout Plumas County."  On another website, "Lower Lundy Lake Road - Peak 75 - 100% - definitely peaking.  GO NOW."
The elevation in Plumas County varies from just under 2,000' to just over 8,300'.  I'm sure it doesn't all peak at the same time.  Not even close.  And what is this 100%?  100% of what?  How can one declare that fall color in a given area is 75% when there's no way to know how bright the colors will get?  GO NOW?  Nah, it can't be any better than my back yard.  Color in my back deck is at 120%!  That means it's much better than I expected a week ago.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This feels like Fall


I uploaded this fresh looking Goldenrod to my previous post, but somehow in my haste I deleted it.  In a creek drainage just above the aforementioned blooming wildflowers there's quite a lot of Goldenrod blooming.  This is normally a late summer flower, so it's not unusual to see it persisting this late into the fall.

Springtime Flashbacks

 The Checker Bloom, above, usually appears by May and is gone by the end of June.  But, on the FRC campus, there's a small area near the Registrar's Office that is protected from the wind and probably picks up some heat from the building.  It's an area that gets hit by the weed eaters often.  But the warmth, coupled with the recent rains, has prompted some seeds to begin anew and here we have one plant showing three stages of blooming.  As you can see, it blooms from the top down, the newest bloom being on the right and the oldest, shriveling, on the left.
Nearby are several large patches of a Daisy Fleabane or Aster which is normally a mid- to late summer bloom, but here we are near the end of October and they look fresh as daisies.  Well, they are  daisies!

Monday, October 20, 2014


 The most recent reading I assigned to one of my English classes was a piece by the great Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson, titled "Intelligent Evolution."  This essay first appeared in Harvard Magazine in 2005.  For my students, it appears in the 2012 edition of The Norton Reader. I introduced the essay by telling my students that we're going to have to study some key words that are used in many different ways for many different purposes.  Some of these words are especially used differently by people who accept the theory of "evolution by means of natural selection" and those who do not.  I decided to do a little research on one of these words: theory.  I began by gathering most of the dictionaries and basic biology books in my house.  That included a couple of thesauruses and a "book of synonyms" which are kinds of dictionaries.  In class tomorrow, among other points, we'll discuss the difference between prescriptive and descriptive dictionaries.  The above photo is what my work space looked like when I began the research. 
 The first book I checked was a junior high life science textbook written for Christian Schools.  Not all Christian schools, but a particular type.  That is immediately apparent from the introduction.  This book devotes an entire 21-page chapter to Biological Evolution.  The entire chapter can be summarized by this one sentence: "The theory of biological evolution is not true, because it contradicts the Bible."  [The editor failed to remove the superfluous comma.]  I found the last two paragraphs of the chapter particularly offensive.  Here they are:
"Worldly scientists present evolution as fact. Many people simply believe what these scientists say and have never really considered why they believe in evolution.  Worldly scientists also present evolution as something everyone believes.  For a person not to believe evolution, he must be willing to say that that the majority is wrong.  Some people believe evolution only because they do not want to be different or looked down on.
"Satan wants people to believe in evolution.  This is probably the main reason that evolution is so popular.  Satan is a deceiver (John 8:44), and he wants people to believe that God's word is not true.  He keeps the belief in evolution popular because he can use it to lead people away from God."

So, what is a "worldly" scientist?  I guess I'll need to research "worldly."  Amazing stuff. 
 The Synonym Finder, my 1978 edition of a thesaurus-like book published  by Rodale Press, includes some widely-used synonyms for "theory" that explain a lot of the problem that is explored in E. O. Wilson's essay.  The excerpt shown several photos below begins with "hypothesis" but it gets worse.
 Next, I looked into a widely-used basic biology text found in colleges and AP high school biology courses.  It treats the word theory the way one would expect in a legitimate science textbook.  More on that later.  Can you identify the "forbidden fruit" in this photo?  No, not the apple or the banana.  It's the biology book, a book of knowledge!
 My old "Webster's unabridged" is impressive for its size, if not its contents.  I'm not sure if I keep it as an heirloom or a doorstop.  It's fun to consult it from time to time.  It does contain one of my favorite new words: deipnosophist.  I like to think I'm one of those.
 So, photos of my findings continue.  As you can see, the definitions of "theory" are all over the map.  Thus, the difficulty of discussing an essay like Wilson's among a group of people who might hold to different definitions. 

 This next one (below) is one of the worst from a scientific standpoint.  Most of these synonyms have no relation to evidence, reason, or scientific principles and are close in spirit to the word "guess."  One might even add "wild" guess.  Sad.

 The one below, helped by my famous left thumb, says a lot in very few words. It would even fit on Twitter! To do the word justice, though, one would need an expansion of this definition and examples from practice.  These, of course, are provided in the textbook.
 One last definition from one of the dictionaries makes a total of 13 images for this post.  On the chance that some of my students might have superstitions in relation to the number 13 (not that they will be counting), I decided I'd better add one more:
 So, I gathered up my research materials for one last photo.
So, the first assignment I'll be giving in relation to E. O. Wilson's essay will be a word search.  We'll  research several key words (evidence, purpose, mind, fact, inference, etc.) in the essay, then try to gain a better understanding of what's at stake for our society in the seemingly never-ending battles over evolution. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

It's All About Leaves

The Last Stand

Some Squirrel Play

 I took a break from school work this morning to see if the Oak Treehoppers were still on duty at FRC.  As I headed up the paved walkway, I came to a group of squirrels playing chase.  They didn't let me get very close on my way up the hill.  I'm sure they were catching me closely as I inspected a large California Black Oak and looked for the Treehoppers (next post).  By the time I headed back down the hill, they seemed more comfortable with my presence, and I got some closer photos.  Click on them to get even closer.