May 31, 2009

Against Car Alarms

I loathe car culture without apology. Returning to the US has forced me to interact with the private automobile more than I'd like. You're probably thinking that this is going to turn into some bicycle supremacy rant. Or that I'm going to lament the drastic cuts to public transit that take effect on SF Muni tomorrow (bad news!). But no, this is yet another post from the naturalist in me.

Last night I heard a bird mock a car alarm at 2 AM. Perhaps it was my overly empathetic ears, but he sounded as though he struggled to break the repetitions as the tones tilted and varied, perfectly replaying the cacophony meant to protect a person's property from other people. How about protecting the rest of us from noise pollution? How about protecting or simply respecting birds and wildlife that have to hear all of our racket?

In London, I would notice on my long rides home at night, particularly from Finsbury Park to Peckham, that birds sang at night. In fact, there are papers on these phenomena as birds sing at night because they cannot hear each other during the day. Another paper indicates that birds in urban areas have a lower motivation to sing in areas with anthropogenic noise pollution. So we have some evidence that birds are affected by all of our urban or industrial noise. They've come up with some strategies such as singing at night and using very high pitched calls.

Then there's the car alarm, a nuisance if ever one existed. As this recession hits harder, I expect that there will be more theft of everything. And yet anyone with a car alarm should disable it. This is our collective planet. You want a car. I want birds to sing they're own songs, not creepy renditions of an overly sensitive alarm at 2 AM. I'm betting the birds and most of your neighbors are with me. Democracy says destroy your alarm!

May 27, 2009

Really Really Free Market Saturday in Dolores Park!

Saturday is the monthly Really Really Free Market in San Francisco from 1-5pm in Dolores Park near 19th St. I'll be there with some garden starts, plums, and some weird stuff that I left in my garage when I moved to London.

Yes, I said it, the plum trees are at it again. I finally had a chance to do some gardening yesterday, clearing the way for a successful plum harvest. I brought in about 2 gallons of nice plums. I swear, the more I lop that tree the more it produces. I made some plum bread, which I enjoyed with a friend who kindly painted my room yesterday (woohoo!). I guess i'll be canning a lot of it again this year. Plum jam anyone?

May 22, 2009

Focusing on Fragments

I've always known that SF habitat is diverse and fragmented, a true mosaic landscape. Walk through a grassland that turns into scrub, round a corner onto a western slope with a bit of runoff and you might find some weirdly green vegetation. Every chunk is cleaved by trails, roads, and adjacent property lines.

Really getting into it with research goals in mind, I'm finding the pieces a bit overwhelming. Yesterday, with the help of Randy Zebell (a city land manager with mad skills), I began to map the previous extent of Cape ivy (Delairea odorata) invasions in Glen Canyon Park. It's a completely different scale than the French broom (Genista monspessulana) that I've been working on Bayview. Ok, I knew this. And I knew it would be difficult to map these little pieces, but it's really difficult. I'm not a natural at any of this so it takes a lot of repetition and review for me to understand what I've just accomplished.

I'm about to go over to the office of the Natural Areas Program to try to offload my GPS points onto a computer. I'll compare these line fragments to aerial photos and existing maps to complete the mapping of the way that Cape ivy has spread and been controlled in Glen Canyon. Randy led me around the park but we couldn't simply walk a line around our areas of interest. The terrain is steep in places. If not steep, it's impenetrably covered with willow, blackberry, and poison oak. Inside the willows, the GPS does not get a reading anyway, so we walked lines through to clear patches, waited for the beep (which indicates that the GPS is reading) and moved on.

Although I've loved Glen Canyon for years, and it's the first park in which I did habitat restoration, I went to places I'd never seen yesterday. We saw two garter snakes, a fancy hummingbird (I suck at birds), raptors, and dragonflies galore. I still have to go back to Bayview this weekend to wrap up some plots there, but by Sunday I'll be scratching my way through the vicious vegetation of Glen Canyon. I'm seeing a pattern in my work that's got little to do with nature: Fight with a computer to create maps, cling to steep, windy, poison oak ridden grasslands, fight with computer, claw through dense blackberry, fight with computer....

May 19, 2009

On Moving Back and Bayview

It's so nice to be spending my days outside again! Well, I say that from the warm shelter of my bedroom after bitching bitterly into 20 mph winds for about 3 hours today. Estimating the percent cover of grasses becomes a bit more difficult in such wind, especially on 25 degree slopes. Still, I'm learning a lot about plants, which makes this geek very happy.

With respect to other plants, the backyard is booming with veggies and natives. Almost all of my natives survived my absence. The ones that didn't are annuals that might not have returned anyway. I'm a bit sad that my Viola pedunculata failed to return, but whatever. We're growing 5 types of hot peppers, corn, tomatoes, beans, snap peas, broccoli, lettuce and fruit trees! As always, we're only using grey water for the garden. This could incite a battle between myself and Blake as he's focused on the food but I'm intent on getting my Ribes sanguineum through the summer without a total brownout.

Speaking of watering, I went to McLaren to visit the oak (Quercus agrifolia) and it's doing fairly well, though kinda leany. I think I'll have to go stake in some supports. Maybe next Sunday during the concert for Soupstock, a celebration of 29 years of Food Not Bombs. I'm looking forward to taking an afternoon off for this one!


I'm hoping that by then I'll be finished with plots on Bayview, one of the most diverse but underutilized parks in SF. This hilltop park hosts over 226 plant species on just 44 acres. When I go there in the morning, the rest of SF is still covered in fog, but I'm in full sun. Sunday I nearly drank a litre of water and had to leave anyway because the second bottle got too hot to drink. I'm sure I got poison oak as I could not be bothered to put on sleeves. Yesterday I watched the fog swallow Twin Peaks, then most of the financial district, then McLaren, then Bernal and I was still in sun when I left at 6:30. And then today I nearly froze in the wind. SF hills and their microclimates, amazing.

In the end, I borrowed a newer GPS and clinometer from SFSU Geography. I ran into one of my favorite professors, who encouraged me to go to grad school. Everyone there is so mellow! No swipy cards to access the map library or anything else. I love geographers. That's why I became one. Seriously, I was well into other subjects in the humanities but SFSU geography has the raddest people and it always felt like a good fit. I'm stoked for the annual picnic next week, when I hope to catch up with some of these folks properly. Maybe I'll take the clinometer to have someone can verify that I'm using it correctly!

Borrowing is definitely the way to go. I don't need a GPS of my own. I just need access to one. I sure as hell don't need a personal clinometer. It's weird enough that I have an anonemeter, though I use it whenever possible. I've also borrowed several grass manuals, field guides, and wildflower books, as well as one title known as "How Grass Grows". It's stimulating, I swear.

May 13, 2009

Science Makes Me Want Things

I'm back in SF to do my research on weed removal projects and recovery in urban habitat fragments this summer. Yes, I'm serious. And yes, I'm excited. Sure, some of my coursemates are in big wildernesses in Kenya, Brazil, or Ecuador, but I love my urban wildlands. And there is some pretty amazing stuff happening in SF. For example, the endangered Mission Blue Butterfly was recently re-introduced to one of the parks that I worked in last year. I pulled invasive French broom in Mission Blue habitat to ensure the persistence of native plants, such as the silver lupine (larval food plant for the Mission Blue). This year I'm mapping French broom and Cape ivy in several parks. It's all connected, I swear.

But to the point: Science makes me want things. I've had some minor disappointments on the equipment front in SF. And suddenly I want a very fancy GPS device. I'd like a clinometer. I'm keen to have a copy of Windows for Mac as well as ArcInfo. While I'm having this stuff fantasy, I'll toss in some new panniers and a hat. Oh, and paint for my room - wait, that's got nothing to do with science.

Yeah, I want fancy gadgets and kit. I can't afford that stuff, and I don't need them as an individual. But I want them. I've put in a request at San Francisco State (my alma mater) to see if I can borrow a GPS and clinometer. I have access to ArcView with the Natural Areas Program. But I need ArcInfo if I'm going to generate random plots so I'll be reverting to my UCL remote login for some functions. That's annoying and slow. Luckily I won't need it much.

It's unfortunate that conservation is so stinkin' costly. I'm moving into consultancy with my new skills and so getting some of this equipment or software is going to become necessary. I've got to find a way to do it affordably and responsibly. I started looking at GPS devices on Ebay and almost fell out of my chair when I read some of the prices. ArcInfo is so expensive that they won't even list the price online. You have to call to get it. Well, maybe it's because depending on your use of it the price changes. I don't know.


On the domestic front, I've moved back into my place. I want to paint my room so about 4 hours after I got home I went to the hardware store and bought a mixed paint reject. It was a deep red. I want a light color so I added white. How I didn't know that it would turn out to look like pepto bismal is beyond me. This reminds me that I have a Freecycle post to write. Someone painting a nursery is going to be stoked.

May 11, 2009

Leaving London

My time in London is up! I'm sitting at Heathrow, ages early for my flight. I've gotten rid of the replaceable things like bedding and tupperware, but am going home with about a rucksack more of things than I came with. Most of that is clothing from the free shop at the Library House, books from my course, and WELLIES!

The past week has been great as I've said goodbye to the amazing friends I've made in London. I really love this place and am sorry to be leaving just as spring has set in and the days are forever long. We had a fabulous picnic at Myatt's Fields yesterday and a bonfire later at the Library House. My friends will return to court on Wednesday to fight the eviction there. Our garden is blooming with lettuce, peas, mustard, rocket, sage, etc. Spadella just put in a pond and really we've made it a wonderful place!

Though I'm sad to leave London, I'm excited to go back to SF. In 15 hours I get to see my cats and those beautiful hills overlooking the bay. I sense fog in my future.