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.

Dec 12, 2010

First Day

So what happened to the rest of my Summer and Fall?
Long story, but here goes:
When I left San Francisco in July I had just applied to take a civil service test for a gardener position in San Francisco. I've done a lot of work with the Natural Areas Program of Rec and Park. I even came back to SF from London to do my Master's research with the group.

I applied for the test, but went about my summer return to the South knowing that the process could be long or even exclude me. It took a while to find a place that would train me for GIS work in the Gulf ... and as soon as I found one, I learned that I'd get to take the civil service test. So I headed to see some family and catch Amtrak back to San Francisco.

So GIS in Mobile did not happen, unfortunately.

My Amtrak journey was long but enjoyable. I met some amazing folks, including two fun guys who continued to be my friend even after I slammed Starbucks, where it happens one of them has worked for ages. Whoops. Our queer camaraderie lasted from the downed tree on the tracks in an Iowa storm all the way to Salt Lake City, where my new friends departed. At which point I met a fellow geographer headed to Davis for a conference. Davis is very close to San Francisco so this got me through to the end of my journey. I like Amtrak. You should take it some time.

I got back to SF to find that the test was a week later than expected so I took my bike plus a bus or two up to the Russian River to study for a week. It's not like I had anywhere to live in San Francisco, so my escape to fellow Compactors John and Rob's place in Cazadero meant my own bed as much as a place to study. I biked the Russian River as usual. It was a stunning return to California, filled with a lot of confusion about where I actually lived at this point... And about where Blake actually lived (Phoenix, yuck)... and about where our darling cats lived (boarding in a private home).

Soon it was the end of August, test time. I took the test and started a long house sitting job at Pooches' Playtime, where I worked for about 7 years previously. The dogs provided a great distraction from the fact that I had no place to live when the gig was complete ... At which point I moved in with a friend, who also runs a dog boarding facility in her home. I spent 3 weeks at Brandy's as I continued my quest for decent housing for myself and the best cats ever. Somewhere in this time I found out that I did well enough on the civil service test to get on an eligible list. Sometimes it's good news to be on a government list?

It was an excruciating housing search, which I refuse to think about because living it once was enough. I'm pretty sure I'll never use craigslist again because every time I see the blue and purple's of those pages I feel panicked! In October I found a decent but very very loud room. The cats and I moved in but got an amazing offer just two days later so we moved out. I forfeited the month's rent and apologized profusely to the two housemates at the first place.

I have very happily landed in an amazing home in Bernal Heights. A few days after moving in, I knew something was wrong with Quivus, my 12 year old cat. Cancer, the terminal kind no matter what you do ... even though I caught it early. Crushing.

I had a few weeks to adjust to this news before I was asked to apply for a gardener's position for the Recreation and Parks Department, which I did. Then the hardcore fretting began: Will I get an interview? Thank goodness I had the dog walking to distract me, and a new house to clean up, and my sweet cats.

Long story short, I got an interview. This caused me to drag my nonconformist body to Macy's, where I bought brand new, fancy clothes for the first time in forever. I absolutely hated the entire experience. I think it might have been worse than the actual interview. The awful Christmas music really put it over the top. (I love good Christmas music, btw.)

I did well enough at the interview and yesterday was my first day as a full time staff member for the Natural Areas Program. It's too exciting to really describe, but suffice to say that I've wanted this for a long time. I signed the paperwork on my 30th birthday (which lead to me mis-dating a slew of signatures). Ending an 18 month job search with the job I've wanted most all along is quite rewarding. Spending my first day installing new plants with dedicated volunteers in the Oak Woodlands of Golden Gate Park was great fun. Preparing a presentation on GIS stuff for Friday was somehow more fun than when I was trying to do it for a contract. Even when the office computer turned off in the middle of my work, I was less than frustrated. I'm thinking that tolerance of machine failure will wear off quickly, but I hope the excitement and enthusiasm stick.

Though the oncologist thought Quivus would be gone by now, she's still enjoying life. She's got several channels of "bird TV", which are actually windows with birds outside. And she goes outside with me daily. I know I'm going to lose her soon, but I'm grateful that she's here to share my joy right now. I'll admit, I've ditched the Compact where it concerns Quivus. I've bought her two new beds (one was made of recycled soda bottles if that's any consolation), countless toys, catnip seeds, and anything else I've thought might bring her joy.

But I'm keeping it real with Christmas. No gifting as usual. Luckily my family and friends still get my aversion to gifting, so it's easy to abstain. Plus, I've got so much now, how could I ask for anything?

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.

Jul 26, 2010

Family Time

Blake and I got to Georgia on Wednesday night after a few days on Amtrak. I like Amtrak so much better than flying. So much.
Now I'm chilling in north Georgia at my parents' house. Well, chilling is probably an overstatement, though after Phoenix, Georgia is a relief. The frequent thunderstorms have cooled the air and provided some stellar clouds. So welcome after too many months with San Francisco's monotonous blanket of grey or blue, not much in between.

I've been on the phone/email all morning, still trying to find a way to volunteer in the Gulf. I'm not having much luck as of yet. I understand why organizations are reluctant to engage volunteers from out of town. I still hope that my skills and month-long, full time availability will make it worthwhile for some group.

Tomorrow Blake and I are heading to Savannah to do some camping on Cumberland Island. Coast to coast!

Until then, here are some pictures from Georgia. I've been doing a survey of butterflies, birds, and plants on my parent's place, which is 5 acres in northwest Georgia. My dad and I also went for a hike at his hunting club in Pickens County, which is northeast of our place in Bartow. Enjoy.

We've been hosing down the horses (Pepsi the grey, Sam the chestnut) at the hottest part of the day. They always take a good roll after. 

Pepsi likes a good belly scratch when he rolls. 

Little Brother finishing a good roll.

I believe this is a common fritillary in front of my parents' house. 

 I think this on is a pipevine swallowtail out the back of my parents' house.

Gregarious rabbit at Rocky Road hunting club in Pickens County, Georgia.

Jul 20, 2010

Amtrak and New Orleans

Here are some pictures from Amtrak in Texas and today in New Orleans, where we're stopped for the night.
Juarez, Mexico from Amtrak in El Paso, Texas.

Pecos River, Texas

Bench in New Orleans Garden District.