Thursday, December 29, 2016

Frosted Grass

 I was getting a little tired of frost these past few days.  I want snow.  I want our watersheds to recover.  Since the frost has made my early-morning departures more difficult - frosted windshields that I can't get to before unfreezing my truck doors - I have failed to notice the beauty of the frost.  But today, when I walked out to start my wife's car, the beauty of the frost broke through.  I went back inside to get my camera.
 For a moment, I thought "this is it.  I need to keep the camera by my side and get back to blogging on a regular basis."  However, after a few minutes of contemplating a walk in the woods for more photos, I had to face my ambivalence.  My ambivalence about where to focus my creative energies.
 Among my favorite Christmas gifts were items from Austin Kleon.  I got his "Steal Like an Artist" 2017 calendar and the book for which it is named, and also another of Kleon's books, "Show Your Work."  My work, as far as this blog is concerned, has been mostly nature photography and musings about what I learn from being in nature.  However, lately I've been much more conscious of possible links between my evolution as a teacher and my experiences with nature.  On the "back burner" is a memoir focused on my experiences with education, both formal and informal.  As a teacher and as a student, as a child and as a parent.  So, like the frost in the photo below, I'm on the fence.  I think I
will be posting fragments of this memoir as it develops.  My first chapter will compare memories of things I learned before starting pubic school with memories of my first grade experience.  My most enduring memories of the latter are centered around a few absurd questions such as "What comes after yellow?" "How high can you count?" and "Did I ask you to draw that?"  Although I'm focusing on things that happened in school, I am sure that Mother Nature will intrude frequently.  I am thankful for my wife's choice of Christmas gifts and for Austin Kleon's ideas which he has invited me to steal.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Got a match?

 This morning, in our cold house (waiting for chimney repair), I walked by one of our bookshelves and spotted my son's art piece, 300 matches linked without the use of any adhesive.  My first impulse was to chuckle at remembered "got a match?" jokes.  Then I got a more serious feeling about things we take for granted.  I read a couple of online histories of the development of matches.  Now I think discovering how to make matches ranks right up there with the paper clip as one of the great, under-appreciated inventions of Homo sapiens.  I was on my way outside with these thoughts when I
 slipped on our icy front steps.  I took my sense of balance for granted, then had a painful fall.  Just in case it never snows again, at least during the Trump administration, I went back inside to get my camera to take a picture of our first snow that might last a day or two.
 Looks like our young lab doesn't take the snow for granted.  When let outside, he went nuts, jumping and spinning and rolling.  Like any kid, he soon wanted to come back inside where it was warm - at least warm to him.  It'll be about a week before our stove chimney gets fixed, so it seems rather cold to me.  Solution?  Put on warm clothing.  Duh!
 I wandered around outside for a while, hoping to find some amazing, aesthetically exciting frost crystals, but these two photos of shrub branches were the best I could do.  Even the frost on my truck's windshield was uninteresting.

 Before giving up on photography for the morning, I circled the house once and found this attractive, frosted brach of White Fir off the back deck, and then decided to post one more photo of the Camel Cricket that will hopefully spend the winter in my woodpile. (See previous two blog entries.)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tenacity of Life

 The deciduous leaves had mostly fallen, the air was cold, and I had started stacking my firewood when I uncovered a Camel Cricket.  There must have been some heat generated by decomposing leaves because this cricket was very alert and jumped over three feet.  However, like certain cats and snakes, once caught and held it calms down and seems to trust its captor.
 My son and I played with this one a little before returning it to the wood pile.  My mind wandered to all the critters hibernating, or just remaining dormant inside crevices, beneath the surface leaves, or even inches to feet below the surface.  I thought of the Oak Treehoppers that were clinging to branches only a few days earlier, but whose eggs and larvae will spend the winter inside the root systems of the oaks, only to emerge again toward the end of next summer.  I took these photos a month ago, but I was reminded of them - as they lay dormant in m computer - when I photographed various fungi and lichens this past Thursday.  Most of the fungi take advantage of other species' death by springing to life and helping with decomposition.  The lichens, living mostly off air and water, live on lifeless substrates like rocks and on tree bark among other places.  The ones that live on relatively permanent substrates, like granite, or the bark of oaks, may live for centuries.  The ones that live on softer bark, like that of pines and firs, and on softer rocks, might live only a year or two or a few decades.  They tolerate extreme cold and live through winters buried under snow and ice.
 I hope this camel cricket has the tenacity to live through the winter in my wood pile.  I'd like to see it again next spring.

Friday, November 25, 2016


 Well, it's been nearly four months since my last post.  This morning's experience gave new meaning to an old phrase "use it or lose it."  I nearly forgot how to log into my blog and how to produce a new post.  It will be hard to write a more or less linear text when my thoughts are spreading everywhere - like a fungus.  Fungi are one of the themes here.  The interesting thing, to me, is that it was this old John Tenneill drawing from Alice in Wonderland motivated me to resurrect my blog.

In one of my English classes at the college, we are studying censorship.  The students will be assigned a research paper on the subject.  For starters, we have been discussing why so many literary works appear on both "greatest books ever written" lists and "works most often censored" lists.  Lewis Carroll's great works are prime examples.  I wonder to this day if my grandmother's gifts of Alice and Through the Looking Glass are responsible for my life-long and still-evolving maverick approach to all school subjects and my attitudes about most of what we call pubic education.

When Carroll composed the scene of Alice in conversation with the caterpillar, I wonder if he intuitively knew that we would eventually discover that the fungi are more closely related to animals than to plants.  When I first read this in first grade, I didn't know what a hookah was except that it was obviously the smoking device the caterpillar was using.  I already knew smoking was unhealthy and was never really tempted, even during those prime years when most young people get hooked.  I knew nothing of psychedelic experiences.  However, I had a vivid imagination, and often imagined myself being of different sizes, strengths, and in different relationships to my surroundings - parents, friends, enemies, teachers, etc. I look back on those early years with fondness - years when grandma gave me many books I was not ready for - the poetry of Longfellow, novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, novels and poetry of Kipling, etc.  Grandma believed in challenging young people - an educational process now tantamount to child abuse in some areas.  I'll have much more to say on this subject in what I hope will be a serialized narrative on my life-long relationship with education as a student, a parent, and a teacher of students from elementary through college levels. My tentative operating title is I'm glad I never went to kindergarten.  For now, let's look at what I did on Thanksgiving morning.
 Following a tip from my local car insurance agent, I went out to the Keddie Cascade Trail.  Rick said there was an amazing variety of beautiful fungi erupting.  I hadn't been out that way for quite a while, and I was not disappointed - well, not much.  I'll play it fast and loose with terminology here, which may not please any professional mycologists who are reading this.

When I was a kid, we'd play Twenty Questions on rainy days.  The first question was always "animal, vegetable, or mineral?"  Back then, fungi were plants, and no one ever thought of fungi during that game anyway.  Well, fungi are no longer plants.  They are Fungi.  And there are plenty of kids today who know that not every tangible object is necessarily animal, vegetable, mineral, or fungus.  Take lichens for example, which many people incorrectly call moss, and which in any case are a symbiotic pairing of algae and fungi.  Miscegenation, perhaps?
 These looked like little pancakes.  Connected underground to each other and many neighboring "caps." When I try to cook pancakes more than one at a time, they seem to get connected.  When I try one at a time, they seem to get permanently connected to the pan.  These little pancake-like fungi reminded me of many pancake cooking adventures and mishaps.
 Bracket fungi helping stumps and fallen tree trunks return to the soil.
 Black fungi that looked metallic in the available light.
 Tiny, bright red fungi. Less than a quarter inch in diameter.  Look at Douglas-fir needles for scale.  They are around 1 1/4" long.
 A lichen growing on a fallen branch of Douglas-fir.
 Bright white cluster of fungal caps.  Very difficult to photograph (for me).  White noise.  Hopefully, you can see a little texture.
 Not sure about this one.  A lichen, or possibly a liverwort.  I'll research this one later and make any necessary correction.
A very common lichen growing on rocks in the Sierra.  This one is around 4" across.  In the high Sierra, a patch this size can be hundreds of years old.
That's all for now except to mention that the only unpleasant part of this excursion was encountering the most dog poop I've seen anywhere in our national forest.  Very disturbing.  Every time I got down on the ground to get a close-up, I had to dodge dog poop.  Among other things, that brought to mind the problem of giardia.
That being said, I really respect the fungi - they'll clean it all up, with some help from bacteria.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Can't stay away...

Snakefly stuck in fresh spackle on my windowsill.  The "rest of the story" will be posted later.  It's a "living fossil."  How's that for an oxymoron?

Sunday evening, 7/24.  This dramatic-looking insect is superficially similar to Lacewings of the Order Neuroptera, but the latest consensus is that they are a more ancient group and are placed in the Order Raphidioptera.  When it is called a living fossil, like the Horseshoe Crab, or a plant called Horsetails, it means that today's extant forms closely resemble those in the fossil record from many thousands of years ago.  In the case of the Raphidioptera, that would be around 140 million years ago, well before the extinction of the dinosaurs - that is, the dinosaurs other than today's birds, which are dinosaurs.  Also, well before Noah's Ark, which most Ark-believers place at less than 10,000 years ago.  I wonder if any Snakeflies got on board that vessel

Just a few days after granting myself a sabbatical, due to lots of school work and installing new flooring and painting the interior of our home, the above Snakefly landed and got stuck in a freshly spackled windowsill in my office.  I just had to take some pictures and post one here.  I almost got further carried away when my son found a Hummingbird Moth trapped in the globe of one of our porch lights.  We took the time to free it, but no photos.  Needed to get back to aforementioned works in progress.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Producing Photo "Ops"

I'm beginning to think that the secret to finding scenes like this is to forget to bring my camera.  I've been walking by this spot in Boyle Ravine for ten years and have never before seen Washington Lilies.  Today, while walking our dogs up the Ravine, there were two fully-blooming Washington Lilies, each with a cluster of 6 blossoms, right at the edge of the trail.  I saw the stems and leaves a couple of weeks ago and assumed they were Leopard Lilies which I've seen here often.  But they bloomed over the weekend and are Lilium washingtonianum.  Fortunately (I can't believe I'm saying this!), my wife had her camera.  I have this Luddite resistance to taking photos with a phone, just like I initially resisted digital photography.  But film is essentially gone, and I am getting used to the advantages of digital.  Maybe some day I'll be taking photos with a phone, but so far I'm resisting even owning one.  Click on the photo for a closer view.  Extraordinary plant.

Friday, July 1, 2016

In pursuit of the Ctenucha moth

 On my way to areas that usually have lots of blooming Pennyroyal, I was dismayed to see how many of my favorite weed-viewing spots had been blitzed by the Road Department weed-eaters. I especially wanted to check on the status of the several species of Milkweeds that are still blooming.  When I got past Oakland Camp to an area near Gilson Creek, things started looking up.  While the Purple or Heartleaf Milkweed had already gone to seed, the Narrowleaf Milkweed was blooming in abundance and had many insect visitors.  The above photo is of a Checkered Clerid Beetle.  I got the shot as she was preparing for take-off.
 The first patch of Pennyroyal I came to had lots of bees and Pale Swallowtail Butterflies (above), but no Red-shouldered Ctenucha moths.  AT least none that were landed.  Some small black moths or butterflies were flitting around, but none landed long enough for me to get a close look.
 I should have been satisfied because the Swallowtails are actually a lot more colorful.  I suppose it is the relative rarity of the Ctenucha moths that makes them a top goal.
 Back to the Narrowleaf Milkweeds, I was hoping to find some Monarch caterpillars or crysallises, but had to settle for the Pentatomid bug (above), and a pair of Mating Clerids (below).
 Finally, on the Indian Hemp (also a milkweed), I found a Crab Spider.
 These last two butterflies were meant for a June post, but suddenly it's July!  These are two different species, but very similar-looking.  The first is Lorquin's Admiral (below), and the next is a
 California Sister.  The only obvious difference is the black margin around the orange wingtips, or the lack of it.
 Finally, another June shot, a blooming Checker Bloom.  Click on this one for an enlargement
and you will see the nice crop of aphids which I didn't notice until I viewed it on my 15" screen.
Even though I haven't yet got a good shot of a Ctenucha moth, it was a pretty good start for July photography.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Close, but ....

 ..., well, I didn't want a cigar anyway.  Less than a second before I pushed the shutter button for the above photo there was a Red-shouldered Ctenucha Moth resting on this Pennyroyal.  The first one I've seen in a few summers.  I was disappointed that I was not quite quick enough.  I'll be visiting this spot again.  Meanwhile, I tried to meet another challenge.  There were lots of bees around, so I
 thought I'd try to catch one hovering.  The above photo was the best I could do.  I did hang around long enough to get a few decent photos of bees that had landed.
 A few yards down the road there was a good-sized patch of Spreading Dogbane.  Some very large bees were visiting.  They were aware of my presence and spent most of their feeding time on the backsides of the flowers.  When they got carried away with feeding, they'd sometimes come to my side, and I managed to get one shot of a large bee with its wings spread.
 I'll be visiting this patch of dogbane again as it's a good place to find butterflies and crab spiders, and
on a good day, maybe crab spiders eating butterflies.
 I was about to leave this area only partially satisfied when along came one of the most spectacular-looking insects I've seen, the Thread-waisted Wasp.  Click on any of these photos for a closer view, but especially these last two.  It's an amazing insect that poses no threat to humans.  It's a pollen-eater.

A Little Ditch-digging

 I drive by the ditch (actually, a controlled creek-bed) in front of Safeway every day and think to myself "I've got to photograph those Hooker's Evening Primrose (above) before they're gone.  Finally, with a few unscheduled moments to spare, I stopped by and did a little "digging" for scenic situations down by the trickling water.  The ditch is heavily grown in with Cat-o-Nine-Tails, so I suspect the weed-eaters will come by soon and wipe out the botanical wonders.  With the thousands beginning to arrive for the High Sierra Music Fest, I'm surprised they haven't already done this bit of housekeeping.
 The Tansy are also abundant.  They are one of my favorite habitats for insects and spiders, but I didn't notice this spider until I enlarged the photo on my computer.
Down closer to the water and often hidden by the taller plants are the Seep-spring Monkeyflower (above) and lots of little blue Stickseed, that latter not photographed today.  Distracted by thoughts of a little side road near Quincy that has great crops of Pennyroyal and Spreading Dogbane.  I hope to get out there today for some photos.  This is another area that gets cleared by the weed-eaters, so I'd better not wait too long.  Maybe it's the current political situation, but, my fondness for weeds seems to be at a high pitch today.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Canyon Herps

 On the way back to Quincy from my March trip to Table Mountain, I was lucky enough to spot two different species of lizards.  Most of the photos I post here have to do with wildflowers and their invertebrate visitors - sometimes pollinators, but not always.  When I studied zoology seriously many years ago, my strongest interest was in reptiles and amphibians, lumped together in popular language as "herps."  The above photo is of an Alligator Lizard.  There are two or more species living in this general area, depending on whose classification prevails.  The photo below is of a Western Skink.  The Alligator Lizard was already out in the open when I approached, but the Skink had been under a large piece of bark before I lifted it. Fortunately, neither of them panicked, so I was able to get clear photos with a standard lens from a little over a foot away.
These two photos have been sitting on my desktop, awaiting attention, ever since I took that trip in March.  Consider this post to be a kind of spring cleaning. :)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Butterfly Valley, Part 2

 I think this is the prettiest flower that's been "under my nose" for several years without my noticing it.  On Saturday's field trip, I stopped with the CNPS group to look at the Lemmon's Wild Ginger that I photograph at this spot every summer.  My knees were actually smashing some of these orchids without my realizing it.  Thank you, CNPS, for showing me a new plant species. It's called Twablade, and it's an orchid.  Click on each photo for a closer view.