Apr 5, 2020

Night Noises

Who cooks the food? 
Who cooks for youuuuu?

I was surprised to hear this call upstream from the porch tonight.  The next time it rang out, the owl was a bit downstream. Once more, farther away, toward the river. I know the barred owl is bad news for northern spotted owls. And I felt that disappointment when I first heard it. But I quickly moved on to a giggly memory of playing the call for my niece and nephew on a walk. We laughed a lot, trumpeting the exaggerated call back and forth a bit. If you don't know it, it's a funny sound.

I'm not sure you'll be able to hear it on the video above. It comes as soon as the clicking stops (typing). I can hear it well on my hone but not so much on my laptop.

Although my recordings of the barred owl are pretty quiet, I managed to record another bird heading downstream a few minutes later. It's in this clip at 00:11, 00:34, and 00:54.  I'm going to have to work on figuring out what this one is. Pretty sure it's a bird because it moved down the creek like the owl. A naturalist I know suggested it's a frog, though. Guesses welcome.

Mar 29, 2020

Steady Now

Turns out we got some steady, if not pouring, rain today. 

I'm on the porch again. I saw this guy on my cooler out here after the rain stopped. It's still perched there. It's a western tent moth. (Thanks Liam!) They make nests of caterpillars, which is something I used to see back in Georgia as a kid. I would put hundreds of them into plastic containers, which drove my mom nuts. She would gin up stories about how they were going to make me sick if I didn't put them back. Effective parenting to some degree because I always did put them back...

Three bats have flown out of the eaves of the house as I've been sitting here. I didn't hear the first one at all, just barely saw its dark outline flash past me. I heard the second two brush the wood of the house as they set into flight. Stealth.

Drip Drop Drizzle

The sun’s setting behind a gray blanket, long below the treeline. A robin lifts a final song in the same direction, quite cheery for a lullaby. Behind a thin layer of clouds, the moon hangs a faint, lopsided smile over the redwoods. I’m enjoying the light patter of rain on the canopy of a small bay laurel. Sitting under a few well-pruned stems, I only feel occasional drops. Shuffling my chair crushes a few leaves, sending up that familiar bubble gum scent of bay. Deep breath.

The first time Blake and I came to this house about 14 years ago, it poured for a week. We spent spring break piecing puzzles together and drinking gallons of hot tea from oversized mugs. The creek rose well into its floodplain, threatening to reach the road. Rain pounded the skylights day and night. Sometimes I thought the steep slope behind the house, which still had sizable tan oaks back then, might let go and fill the house. It didn’t. It just poured.

I wish it would rain like that now. A heavy rain can’t wash away our troubles, but it might release some pressure. Whatever rain we get will raise the creek a bit over the next couple of days as side channels drain down, down, down. Stronger flows, changing sounds.

Mar 26, 2020

Creek Walks in Crazy Times

We’re well past bud break on the box elders, whose furry pink filaments drape in tassels that remind me of something older than myself. Some 70’s relic from my childhood home. I can’t place it but find it somehow comforting. Some of the trees are still pushing out fresh flowers on the shadier side of the creek while the others look tattered after the rain. As I walk Nettie in the afternoon sun the clusters of trees are shimmering pink beacons. For me at least. Sniff, sniff, mark... Nettie's in no rush. When we finally get to them, the flowers draw me in. I notice pipevine winding through the branches, too.

We cross the bridge where we can hear the sound of the creek flowing. It’s low. Really low. But the flow is soothing, calling us closer. It doesn’t matter today if we trespass a bit, I hope. I have to convince Nettie to hop the barricades to get down to the water. A wide riffle spreads out at the tip of the gravel bar. The flow has a constant, ever changing quality in light and sound. The sky’s blue to the south as the creek rushes to the river. No killdeer tonight.

Walking back, I catch sight of the swallows' exacting flight in the reflection of a puddle on the road. They’re set against puffy grey clouds poking out of the blue. The reflection's starkly clear despite the deep mud in this puddle outside the quarry. I hear a woman across the creek belting along to an older love song that’s sort of familiar. She’s feeling it, and her voice is rich so I stop to listen. The swallows are in a fully chaotic dance for dinner overhead. I will go down with this ship. The redwoods lining the road signal strength to my worries. I won’t put my hands up and surrender. The tight beginnings of inflorescenses rise on a few branches of a buckeye across the road, promising a future.

Apr 7, 2011

Flowers are my fiction III

 Some of the flower parts in this batch are positively inter-galactic.


Apr 6, 2011

Flowers are my fiction II

You can click on the photos to make them larger. Twice even. Enjoy!


Apr 5, 2011

Flowers are my fiction

I've been a little stressed lately. Who hasn't, right? Revolutions, worker uprisings, climate change and the day to day. I have a few coping strategies for stress. Dissolving into fiction for brief spells usually gives my brain a chance to relax. For some reason I keep choosing heavy material, e.g., Beloved  (Toni Morrison), Flight (Sherman Alexie). I switched to non-fiction, grabbing Eaarth by Bill Mckibben at a used bookstore last week. Also heavy, whew.

For the moment I've given up on reading and turned to Spring. Delving deeper into botany serves as a delightful distraction, particularly as buds open all around us. I found myself squinting at poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) flowers at Lake Merced today. They're tiny and not without charm. Their allure held me up for a second, but I resisted the urge to get a closer look with my hand lens. As much as I hang out with poison oak, I couldn't recall its family this afternoon (Anacardiaceae).

 I'm frequently counting flower parts, teeny tiny flower parts. Plant id sucks me in like a good book. A little oak branch can be a whole new world, with its own weather, topography and critter community. It's easy to get caught up in the bugs, forgetting the flowers for a second. I couldn't capture the tiny white bugs on this oak leaf (Fagaceae, Quercus agrifolia), but you can see their labor in the crevices of the midvein. I dunno what this critter is, despite my half-hearted attempt to figure it out.

The house I live in has an abundance of nature books and clever tools for the investigation of small plant parts. I'm enjoying the drafting table and ample work lamps as I pick apart petals in search of pistils and other pieces. Tweezers that screw together to hold samples: brilliant! Sharp scalpels that slice through soft, flexible sepals and petals make getting to the insides quick and clean.

I've always taken comfort in counting, so I suppose it's natural for me to enjoy counting flower parts from the outside in. Here's some amateur flora photography from today's adventure with the families.
Grossulariaceae, Ribes sanguineum

 Flowers of Coast Live Oak

Buckeye stamens

Feb 20, 2011

Press and Fun Fact

There was an article in the New York Times about the SF Free University teach in so I thought I'd post it. It even includes a mention of the class I helped with, Restoring San Francisco's Urban Wildlands. 

Did I ever post this article about eating invasives? I was interviewed for it.

Fun Fact: Yesterday I counted 73 Zigadenus fremontii on Bernal Hill, the only place in SF where it blooms.

Oh yeah, and some pix of those art bottles I made from the edible weeds!

Feb 10, 2011

Wildflower Walk Sunday at 11AM, Bernal Hill

I'm going to lead a wildflower walk this Sunday starting at 11AM on Bernal Hill in San Francisco. We'll look at early wildflowers, including a locally rare population of star lilly's (Zigadenus fremontii). Other early bloomers include Footsteps-of-Spring, Lomatium, and a few suncups.

We'll meet at 11AM at the South gate of Bernal Hill, which is near Anderson Street. I'll probably be hanging out by the water fountain.
Invite your friends, bring your kids. Dogs on leash are welcome.
Showers ok, steady rain cancels.

See you there!

Feb 3, 2011

This Sunday: Free University 'Class' and Art Project

This Sunday I'm helping with a class (of sorts) for the Free University of San Francisco's first teach-in weekend. I'll be assisting Sharon Beals, who is an awesome nature/wildlife photographer, and Martin Holder, who also works in restoration. The class is called "Restoring San Francisco's Urban Wildlands", so we'll show a bunch of pretty pictures of plants, animals, landscapes, people, and hopefully some maps from your favorite GIS nerd. There will be a lot of discussion so bring your piercing questions.

Did I mention that the Free University is free? And that we're all instructors if we have something to share? I'm stoked.

The class will be at 9AM Sunday morning, downstairs at Viracocha (998 Valencia St). See you there!

Later that day I'm participating in a nifty art show (who'da thunk it?) put together by the Revel Art Collective.  I participated in the Fun-A-Day project in January by eating weeds every day and documenting that fun activity by preserving samples of each species in solutions of varying toxicity .... Yes, I like chemistry, too. I haven't taken any pictures yet, but I'll try to post some soon. Oxalis is way prettier when you turn it clear or something akin to blue.

Here's a brief statement about the piece: During January I responsibly harvested invasive plants so that I could eat them. I took a sample of each plant and submerged it in 3 solutions of varying toxicity to alter the chlorophyll of the plants. I enjoyed watching the plants break down and change colors over the course of the month. There's also something satisfying about about leaving these previously edible samples as toxic and damaging to individual creatures as they are to entire urban habitat fragments. These 3 bottles hold about ten species each, just a small sampling of the invasives encroaching on local open space.

And just to make this a little more disjointed, I saw two very cool wild animals today. The first was a beautiful male coyote at Twin Peaks. He hung out at a safe distance for ages and was appropriately concerned about our presence but still very observable. Much to my co-workers' surprise, this was my very first coyote siting in SF. All these years of seeing elusive brush rabbits and way more snakes than anyone I know, I've been longing to see a coyote. Speaking of elusive hoppers, I had the great fortune of seeing a brush rabbit in our office parking lot today (Golden Gate Park), which according to a fellow gardener has been around for about a year, but was presumed dead after a long spell of no sightings. Cutest butt ever. Sadly, I don't have any pictures of them either. 

Finally, wildflowers are starting. Star lily open at Bernal so I want to do a walk asap. Probably next Sunday. More on that later.

Aug 3, 2010

GIS in Mobile? + the Southern Coastal Cities/Mountains Tour

Looks like I might have found a place to volunteer some GIS and GPS skills in Alabama. I've signed up for a training this Friday so I'm hoping there will be space for an out of towner. The form said you have to be willing to monitor the coast at least 2x/week for at least 2 weeks of at least one month. I can do that! I would hope to do more than 2x/week, but I'm guessing there might be limited GPS unit availability. But perhaps I can help other teams since I know the software very well.

I have my fingers crossed!

Last week Blake and I took a bit of a Southern (Coastal) Cities Tour. We went from Atlanta to Savannah to Cumberland Island to Charleston to Asheville back to north Georgia ... in 5 days. If you knew us back in the Georgia days, then you probably know we hit a few of these cities as teens, in typical whirlwind fashion. This time was a little different because we did not sleep in the car or in a Waffle House or on a beach as we did as teens. Instead we camped or hosteled, which was barely a step up considering how insanely hot it was along the coast. Asheville was a much needed respite by Friday.

Our trip to Cumberland Island was HOT and yet very worth it. We saw the feral horses, a baby coachwhip (snake), armadillos, lizards galore, fish in the sea, vultures, laughing gulls (hilarious), other shore birds, and more. The stallion to the right gave us a start when he charged behind us to reunite with his herd. I swear we kept our distance but he was perturbed by our presence between himself and the others.

We heard the effects of the recession in the preponderance of southern voices in the campground. I broke the Compact in New Orleans to buy a shirt with a distorted BP logo below the letters "FUBP". While wearing this shirt in the Cumberland shower area I obscured those letters with a handkerchief, inspiring a woman to call me out: "You're brave to wear that shirt".
"Why", I asked, completely unaware that she couldn't see the "FUBP", thus assuming she didn't like the intimation of swearing around her daughter, whom I'd been chatting with about the beach.
Nope, this lady took issue with me supporting BP in "this pristine place". Oh! I whipped away the handkerchief and we both laughed in solidarity. It was really funny. I admired this lady for speaking her mind when she thought I was trying to have BP's back. How backward would it have been to see a BP logo trotted out to Cumberland (which I would not call pristine in any sense but admit is a treasure)? It was also just hilarious to be momentarily mistaken for an oil giant advocate.

Did I mention how hot it was in South Georgia? Crap it was hot. Driving away from Cumberland we crossed the zillion rivers draining the piedmont and plain, rolling over bridges nearly every mile with marshy swamps below the highway. It's a beautiful, bug ridden place. Looking east as we headed back toward Savannah I caught sight of an alligator basking on a sandy spit into one of those many rivers. First wild 'gator I've ever seen. I wasn't sad to have been in the car at that moment.

In Charleston that night we crashed at a place called the "notso hostel". I'm not going to validate that name ... I was unimpressed. That said, we got some delicious vegetarian food and the server hooked us up with some burn gel to soothe our sunburns since there wasn't a drug store in the neighborhood. So sweet. We sweat through a third night and headed to Asheville early the next morning. Oh, but not before we got our first good cup of coffee in days and this ridiculously delicious biscuity-scone-shaped breakfast bite stuffed with sundried tomatoes and pesto. I want more.

In Asheville we found an amazing co-op grocery store where we stocked up on food and sat down for lunch in some shade. It wasn't hot as hell in Asheville! Hurray for mountains. Our destination was not the city, though. After lunch we dashed another 30 minutes northwest of the city to Long  Branch Environmental Education Center, where we stayed the night. A few months ago I was in touch with Paul, who runs Long Branch, about doing an internship there. I'm still interested so we wanted to see the place in person. Blake and I took a self guided tour through the planted areas, the trout pond, the camping platforms, and a long hike up to Chestnut Gap. It's a beautiful place. We picked blueberries galore and helped weed the plants as Paul quizzed me about particular weeds. That's one of my favorite games (Name That Plant) so I was in heaven. We finally got a cool night's sleep too!

Now I'm back in North Georgia at my parent's place, tending elderly animals, applying for jobs and volunteer stuff in the Gulf, and wondering if I should ever go back to San Francisco. For now I have my sights set on Mobile.