Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Higher plane.

I really, really love flying. Whenever I'm in a plane I feel like I have to soak up all the stimuli, take advantage of the rare opportunity to see the world spread out before me in such a strange and containable way. How few people who have existed ever saw the earth from a height greater than maybe ten or twenty feet. What did I do to deserve such a splendid and unfamiliar sight?

In the wedge of the wing is framed our mountain range. I enjoyed scanning the coastline that I had driven along a month ago, recreating my trip in fast-forward. The plane was filled with empty seats, so I stole across the aisle multiple times to catch the best views. My fellow passengers probably thought I was crazy, but I almost felt obliged to absorb it all.

We landed in full view of Point Loma. I'm constantly amazed at how San Diego always smells like scented flowers and happiness.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A classy wrap-up.

For our last class field trip, we hiked out to a beach in Point Reyes. We were studying tide pools, and there were a couple, but not as many as we expected. Still, it was one of the warmest days we've had, and the water was clear and sparkling.

I found a cool crab who had been someone's meal. We learned that the tidal zone is one of the most diverse on earth because of the varying salinity, the moisture levels, and the degrees of exposure.

We hiked a 2-mile trail in and out through meadows and coastal hills. It was warm, and the air was scented, and little flowers peeked out everywhere.

A pretty little pea.



More horsetail. There are so many plants that I did not know existed before I came to NorCal and took this class.

Even the weeds were beautiful.

And poison hemlock, bane of Socrates, which resembles Queen Anne's lace, except for the telltale bloodstains on its stem. Easily identifiable. Do not eat. This class gave me so much valuable knowledge.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Marshes, marshes, marshes.

Steph showed me how to use the macro setting on my camera and my whole world changed. Not really, but the way I could record it did. Click on that photo above and enlarge it. I had no idea my camera was capable of such things.

Our next class field trip was a visit to a local salt marsh. If you look past the tule reeds in the foreground, you may spot a great blue heron trying to blend in. Salt marshes (estuaries, wetlands) are actually remarkable service areas for the natural world. They filter pollutants, act as flood protection, shelter young animals, and produce large amounts of nutrients. They filter so well that some communities are trying to establish wetlands to reduce pollution.

This is bur-reed, a plant our prof didn't know and which I looked up later. Super cool-looking.

A little island of white birds floated in the marsh.

We hiked out to where the stream flowed into the ocean. You can see the striated levels of plant life that line the edges of the marsh water.

Our group of 25 scared a lot of things, including this pretty little duck. We also saw some sort of fish that was so big and in water so shallow that we could see their backs breaking out of the water.

A fun group of pelicans paddled by.

The next day of class was spent entirely in the classroom, so afterward Steph and I visited the Lafayette Reservoir near where she lives.

I had fun watching some American coots swim around for a bit.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

U.C. Berkeley Forestry Camp: miscellaneous nature photos.

There were just so many things to take pictures of. Here is snow plant, a parasitic fungus that feeds on the trees under which it grows.

The camp had a little creek that flowed by a meadow where we measured such things as biomass.

Dogwoods flowered throughout the forest.

Little columbine drooped their heads downward.

Me and the cabins in which we stayed. They weren't heated, but they had closets, dressers, and desks, the beds had mattresses, and we slept two to a room, which was way more than I expected.

This is a type of fungal orchid. I love orchids, and the whole fungal thing just made them that much cooler.

The trees were so much larger than any trees I had ever seen in real life before. I spent a large part of our first day just marvelling.

The columbine again.

An iris.

A gooseberry that hasn't ripened yet.

It was so space-agey. I had never even heard of such a berry.

There were just so many little things to examine and admire. When we first drove up to the camp, all I saw was a forest. By the end of the week, I saw douglas firs and sugar pines and wood violets and columbines. It was such an expanding experience.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sweet concession.

From an interview on More Intelligent Life with Lewis H. Lapham, longtime editor of Harper's Magazine:

MIL: Some might say it’s moved to the blogosphere, although in your speech you seemed to disagree: “The technologies divide the American citizenry into constituencies of one and encourage the broad retreat into the pools of Narcissus where the summer nights are loud with the croaking of blogs.” And yet, the New York Observer reported that you plan to start your own blog. What sort of croaking do you plan to do and why the apparent change of heart?

LHL: I’m going to try and turn it into an art form. I think it can be done along the lines of a Japanese haiku. The internet lends itself to compression, to short form. There’s a wonderful new book by Eduardo Galeano called "Mirrors". I could teach myself how to write an entry along the lines of the kinds you see in the book—stories that have an aperçus. He can sometimes within the space of 600 words tell a small and illuminating story. I was maybe too hasty in my dismissal of the blog, in general. I do see it as a form that can be developed. As Marshall McLuhan pointed out in "Understanding Media", when moveable type came in at the end of the 15th century there are all kinds of dismissive remarks and outrage and scorn and ridicule from the literary class—suddenly you’ve got printing presses grinding out screeds in the vernacular. But it takes a hundred years before you get to Montaigne, Cervantes and Shakespeare.

Friday, June 19, 2009

UC Berkeley Forestry Camp: 10 June 2009.

We spent some time learning about meadows in the morning and then ventured out to explore a real meadow.

There's something about lichen that appeals to me, that brazen lime green in the middle of the forest. Where did a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and algae get such chutzpah?

Part of the class involves a presentation on a topic relating to one of the subjects we cover. I volunteered for carnivorous plant bog day, and in my subsequent Google search discovered Darlingtonia californica, the California pitcher plant or cobra lily. For some reason, the more I researched it, the more I became intrigued.

Little sundews peppered the ground in between the pitcher plants. Carnivorous plants sometimes grow together because they require specific nutrient-poor environments like bogs. Carnivory is an inefficient adaptation of last resort, and so carnivorous plants often cannot compete with plants that subsist solely through photosynthesis.

I had given my presentation in the meadow, after we had scoped it out unsucessfully in search of pitcher plants. After I finished, some hikers walked by and asked if we were a class. I said we were, and asked jokingly if they'd happened to see any pitcher plants. "Oh yes," one replied. "Just about 100 yards up. One of the best showings I've ever seen."

And indeed, the clearing was filled with them, little green and red heads popping up everywhere. I was glad I asked.

Pitcher plants bloom for only a few weeks, so we were incredibly fortunate to find them at all. The plant sends up a single flower on a tall stalk.

It's a markedly unstudied plant. Many of the references I sourced said that no one has yet determined what actually pollinates them, though spiders could be major players. They do reproduce asexually, and so groups of them are often little clones.

The plant begins as a giant leaf that curls around to form a pitcher that can hold water.

The leaf curls into a hood that resembles a cobra head. It contains translucent windows that trick insects who wander inside in search of nectar. Insects fly up into the panes and fall down into the drowning liquid. Bacteria digest them and the plant takes in the nitrogen and phosphorous that it cannot retrieve from its environment.

A very happy me in the field of my darling Darlingtonia. I kind of matched the plants that day. Oops.

Tiny wildflowers hid in the marshy grass.

A little stream trickled through the meadow, keeping it moist.