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.

Jul 18, 2010

Hot Summer

We did it. We moved. So glad it's over.
Now Blake and I are in Phoenix ... the summertime epicenter of unsustainable development. But wait, it's too hot to talk about how hot it is here. So I'll back up.

We got rid of a ton of stuff before we moved, mostly thanks to Freecycle. We moved my remaining stuff to a friend's garage and packed Blake's up for a long drive. After a not-so-final show down with our landlord, his wife, the property manager + assistant, we left SF in a giant truck around 10:30 am on Thursday.

Phoenix is too far for us to do in a day so we were bound for Joshua Tree instead. I love it there. It's incredible and restorative. It's also beyond the smog belt that molests everything east of LA to the Sierra. We got there well after dark, pulling into the south entrance to grab a spot at Cottonwood Springs for the night. After so much city living, the stars were a welcome change. Yeah, it was hot, but Joshua Tree is high enough to be cool at night, so we slept with the tent flaps open until the sun started peaking over the boulders at 6AM the next morning.

I woke up first, eager for a hike before the sun became oppressive. Blake surprised me by getting up with me, if a bit more slowly. I think after days of moving and driving we had lost a few brain cells. We couldn't decide on a trail head. I was staring off at a sign as we meandered across a freshly paved road, pitch black and reflecting morning heat back up at us. Thankfully paying attention, Blake grabbed my arm as I was about two paces from the face of a sizable snake (perhaps 80cm) who was crossing the road, head raised. I backed up, and kept backing, the old snake phobia taking over. We later decided the snake was likely a California Lyre, which was colored darkly grey with a dark head and patterned dorsal.

In San Francisco I've learned that I can use a camera to calm my fear of snakes by turning the encounter into an inquiry. So I headed back to the truck to get my camera. Unfortunately the damn thing was not working ... "zoom error". Without a camera, I suggested a different trailhead for the hike, trying to shake my fear. So we went to the Cottonwood Springs trailhead to do the Mastadon Loop. About 10 minutes into the hike we saw a small Rosy Boa (30 cm) crossing the trail, this time from a comfortable distance of about 3 meters.

We also saw desert hares, chipmunks, at least 5 species of lizard, quail, and other birds along the trail. The sun was climbing higher, our water was reaching the halfway point and we began our return trip with determined strides. Trudging through a sandy wash with about 25 minutes to go, we came to a narrow, shrub-lined pass. It didn't look inviting but there were rocks lined to the right, indicating that the trail (something easily lost in desert landscapes) did indeed proceed into that narrow line. I lead us briskly toward the vegetation where a rattlesnake lurched away to my left, shaking his creepy, aggressive warning as he coiled defensively. As soon as I saw the movement I backed well past Blake, who stayed more calm even during the prolonged rattling.

I needed another way through the trail, though Blake thought we could pass since we could hear the snake rattling and knew its position. No way. Not me. Luckily, we found a sparsely vegetation route around a set of boulders to get beyond the snake and back to the trail quickly. We stopped in the first shade because I really thought I might puke. Adrenaline is a funny thing. I couldn't really afford to get sick or dwell, it was getting hot out there. So we chilled out, and kept going, now with Blake in front and me frequently startling at the abundant trailside lizards.

I went into loud hiker mode, announcing our steps to wildlife with cheery phrases like: "We're coming and we love lizards." "Birds are amazing." "We like your home and we don't litter". Back at the camp I washed my face and arms with already hot water from a pump. Though the visitor's center offered no cold beverages, I found some relief in looking through the ranger's books to identify the snakes, which is how we came up with the Black Lyre, Rosy Boa, and possibly a Southwestern Speckeled Rattlesnake. Blake got a better look at the rattler and thought that one fit best. After looking up their ranges and habitat preferences in Joshua Tree, I think it's just as likely to have been a Western Diamondback, whichi likes thick vegetation and is common in the southern section of the park. Whatever, it was a Crotalus of some sort, made clear by that creepy rattle.

I wish I had pictures to share, but the camera was useless until yesterday. In Phoenix we went to a camera shop where I was told it would cost as much to fix the lens as to get a new point and shoot. I looked at a new, better camera, something I've wanted for a while. I couldn't bring myself to buy it though, so was we waited for a bus I tried my own version of camera repair. Certain that the lens was just out of place, I softly banged the little camera on the bus kiosk until the 'zoom error' was resolved. That's right, I fixed my camera by hitting it. I don't recommend you try it but in this case it worked. The little, internal periscope is working again and I have my point and shoot again!

I still haven't taken any pictures because Phoenix isn't all that photogenic. So far it seems like one massive strip mall/surface street parking lot after another. The best part of yesterday was a break Blake and I took from our long walk to the camerashop. We saw a ridiculous fountains tossing 3 streams of precious water into the baking air above a shallow pool. This was at a seemingly empty apartment complex so we took off our shoes and lounged with our feet in the fountain, trying to recover from obnoxious hangovers. Hangovers in the desert are so much worse.

We're leaving Phoenix tonight on Amtrak bound for New Orleans. We've got to sleep on the train for the next two nights, which won't be fun. Nonetheless I'm looking forward to the journey. We'll spend the entire day tomorrow crossing the east-west breadth of Texas. We've got some movies to watch. We've got a need to catch up on lost sleep. I anticipate lethargy. I'll take it over another mind numbing walk through desolate Phoenix parking lots. NOLA here we come.

Jul 7, 2010


My best friend and I are moving out of our place, where we've (mostly) lived for the last 6+ years. Since I left for London in summer of 2008, this will be my 3rd move in two years. But it's the last one in or out of this mold hole in the Excelsior of San Francisco. I love my mold hole but it makes my asthma crazy and my landlord is the king of slumlords so it's time to go.

When I moved to London I left all housey things behind ... in the house where I sublet my room. Now Blake and I have to figure out what to do with so much house stuff. Table, chairs, couch, bookshelves ... the fact is these items weren't stellar when we got them used. Now they're much more used than before, with a nice infusion of kitty dander to make them all a bit less give-away-able. But we're trying.

Personally, I'm not keeping much from this house. I'm moving my stuff into a friend's garage and then heading to the South for the rest of the summer. I'm hoping to find some GIS or GPS (mapping) work or volunteer work around Mobile or another part of the Gulf. I'd love to work on that amazing NOAA map! I just finished a massive GIS/GPS contract so I'm hopeful that I can apply my skills toward the oil spill containment/ clean up efforts. Well, not too hopeful since it seems like a lock out down there in terms of jobs and volunteer work. It's surprising how little opportunity there is.

I'm going to try anyway. Blake and I are Amtraking to Georgia as of next Thursday. I'll be taking loads of pictures along the way ... another way to fill the time! If I can't actually help in the Gulf, then I'll at least spend a few days writing and posting images from there, maybe tinkering with online maps too. So expect some posts live from the Gulf of Mexico starting around July 26th.

Jun 21, 2010

Thanks Science

Science has a good cluster of coverage on the oil disaster on it's website. Check it out here:

There's a ticker at the top called "By the Numbers". The number that sticks with me is the one stating that as of June 18th there were 120 EPA scientists, engineers, and contractors sampling air, water and sediment.

Anyone else underwhelmed?

Jun 19, 2010

Oil Spill Map

If you're trying to follow the oil spill in the Gulf and are having a hard time dealing with the news coverage, I recommend this mapping tool provided by NOAA. As a geographer and GIS consultant, I'm happy to see a publicly accessible GIS for the oil spill. I've only spent a little time using it but I found it  robust in terms of the breadth of the data and their interpretability. Gaps and limitations are noticeable but for such a large scale, I'm impressed.

One thing that struck me was how we have areas of heavily oiled marsh or beach, but somehow the National Marine Fisheries Service's Emergency Fishery Closure line is well outside those areas. Noticing that the line stays about the same distance from land, I'm guessing that the agency's jurisdiction begins at X nautical miles, before which some other agency (state?) is responsible. Does that seem plausible?

I don't eat animals, so I'm less interested in the "seafood" side of the oil spill. My interest is piqued though, especially since my best friend (also vegetarian) works at a local restaurant that serves shrimp flown in daily from the Gulf of Mexico. Ignoring that their sourcing is the epitome of unsustainable, it's worrisome to think that these shrimp come from the coast of west Louisiana, where the vendor says  there has been no oil. But I look at this map  and can see that there has been oil in the area. I can't see any indication of the dispersant's reach, but I imagine that if there are dead dolphins and sea turtles washing up on those west Louisiana beaches, that the shrimp aren't particularly safe.

On the one hand, we're worried about the economy the region, so we want to support any fishers who might be able to continue. On the other hand, a dead fishery is a dead fishery: Perhaps we should leave surviving critters alone. Perhaps not as there are reports that sea animals are crowding together, thus depleting oxygen in the water. Regardless, I can't imagine eating the critters from the area, at least not at the moment. Science Magazine reports that it currently takes 7 -10 days to determine levels of deadly oil derived compounds in seafood. Are we to assume that shrimpers are holding their stock while these tests are being done? Given that the restaurant in question flies the shrimp in daily, I'll guess that they are not tested.

Instead we're relying on experts to declare areas safe for fishing. I'd like to think that this is being done cautiously, but pressure to keep the regional economy going is evident. I guess I'm glad I don't have to wonder if my own food is dangerous because I don't eat animals, and even if I did, I wouldn't eat them from so far away. Perhaps the $20 billion escrow fund for affected parties will encourage fishers to test their stock to see if they can get compensation rather than continue fishing. Here's hoping.

Jun 11, 2010

Nature's Acres This Sunday!

If you're in the Bay Area you should check out Nature's Acres for you plant needs! They don't have regular business hours at the moment, so this weekend's open house is a great opportunity. Otherwise, give them a ring to see when they're open. Great deals on native plants!

Nature’s Acres Nursery Sneak Peak Open House and Two for one native plant sale.

Free Birding and Nature Walks, Nursery Tour and Activities

When: Sunday June 13, 2010 10 am-5pm
Where 450 Sexton Road, Sebastapol, California (Directions below)

Join us as Nature’s Acres native plant nursery opens its doors to the public for the first time. In operation for just over two years, after much work our quarter acre lot is now bursting at the seams with robust native plants! We have to move lots of plants to make way for new inventory and are eager to have nature-loving visitors. Come on out for a day in the country and experience peak spring Nature’s Acres style.

The nursery grounds and surrounding property are bursting with a diversity plant with animal life. The area features good birding and nature observation. The property has a creek with a diverse riparian strip, overgrown orchards and patches of oak woodland. Josiah Clark and other SF naturalists will lead periodic excursions around the property throughout the day seeking out birds, butterflies reptiles, amphibians and of course plants too.
Among dozens of other songbirds present Tree and Violate Green Swallows, Western Bluebird and Ash-throated Flycatcher have all just fledged young from our nesting boxes and some are already re-nesting.
Our small pond is alive with tadpoles and newly morphed out Pacific –chorus froglets. Three species of snakes and two species of lizard are also a common find.
The pollinator beds are full of flowers and a great place to study and photograph native bees, butterflies and rarely seen insects.
In creek news, we just today recorded the first record of a salmon fingerling and a rare native freshwater shrimp!

More about Nature’s Acres
Started on an old organic apple orchard in 2008 by three childhood friends, Nature’s Acres intends to help fill the deficit of locally native plants in San Francisco and surrounding areas.
Creating wildlife habitat and breathing life into the urban landscape is at the heart of Nature’s Acres mission. We make special efforts to produce the native larval food plants for native butterflies and other pollinator species including the Coastal Greenhairstreak and Field Crescent.
Located in a commercial nursery hotspot, our operation is positioned to pump out large quantities of native plants at competitive prices.Nature’s Acres provides a wide range of native plants for the gardener, landscaper and habitat stewards alike.
Our collection areas range from Santa Cruz to Mendocino, though most of our stock is from San Francisco, the peninsula and Marin. Most San Francisco genetics have been collected from private gardens and vacant lots, and our operation prides itself on providing responsibly collected genetics from declining and locally important populations.
The nursery grounds are maintained as an experimental ecology life lab. We encourage and protect all native fauna on the nursery grounds. Through careful observations and with strong backs, we strive to be good stewards of the land increasing the habitat potential and carrying capacity of our acres and beyond.

From 101 North take 116 West to the town of Sebastapol.
From downtown Sebastapol, follow the Bodega Hwy or 12 West about 10 mins.
Look for Sexton Road and take a left.
Drive about 500 yards and take the driveway at the mailbox 460 Sexton Road on your right. (The actual address is 460 though)
***Drive very slowly down driveway and across small creek. Park in or just outside nursery or inquire for parking options if necessary.
***The area is surrounded by private property so please respect our neighbors!***

Nearby Attractions and activities:
-Sebastapol Farmers Market,
-Luther Burbank Farm,
-scenic route home along Hwy 1 through Bodega Bay.
- Mellow biking and along nearby farm roads

May 2, 2010

Oil spill article gets tough on driving

Check out this article on automobility and oil by Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University. Though I never took his classes, I know Jason from SFSU Geography and the cycling community. Once I decided to share my vegan gumbo with Jason, who's from New Orleans. When I asked what he thought of my effort he basically said that sausage and shrimp give gumbo flavor. Read his article for a similarly direct take on our driving habits.

Apr 30, 2010

Spill Massive Spill

The BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast is absolutely devastating. I hope McCain, Palin, Chuck Norris et al are feeling the searing pain of shame for their unforgivably ignorant 'drill baby drill' campaign. It sounds like Obama might have felt some shame for lifting the moratorium on new offshore wells. He decided this morning to put it back in place - for now.

That summer 2008 campaign for offshore drilling - which never ended - included lies such as the assertion that there were no oil spills in the Gulf during Hurricane Katrina. Bullshit. Anyone with a search engine can debunk this lie. We hear endless cooing about the safety and technology of offshore drilling. We're told that oil spills are rare events. The meteor that took out the dinosaurs was rare too, so I'm thinking the endangered species of the Gulf Coast would prefer that we don't chance their lives in these unavoidable ways. I'm sure that the people working to conserve the wetlands of the Gulf are equally devastated and scared.

Though shrimping is very destructive business, I was thrilled to hear that 2 lawsuits have been filed on behalf of Gulf shrimpers. That is a cultural tradition in the area. Family businesses are likely to be ruined. I'm not concerned about the losses of big trawlers who operate on the same short sighted timescale as BP. Their unsustainable trawling would eventually kill the shrimp, other sea life, and the future of shrimping.

Trawlers shouldn't make money by destroying ecosystems and rare species like the Kemp ridley sea turtle. However, their economic influence is locally important and should be considered when weighing the risks of other capitalist crap shoots like off-shore drilling.  As should the viability of small businesses dependent on the Mississippi River for shipping. The impacts of this spill will reach significantly farther than the Gulf Coast.

The argument for more oil is always economic, but these 'rare' events are not fucking worth the risk! We will never account for the losses in biodiversity. How will we monitor and financially account for wetland loss or delays in wetland restoration as relates to future storm buffering?

My family is planning a vacation in to weeks on Dauphin Island, which is 3 hours east of New Orleans in Alabama. I've been waiting to hear back about a really great job so my plans aren't firm. Oddly, I'm even more keen to go now that there might be a need for volunteers. I just signed up to get on the volunteer list with the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. If you're in the area and know of good organizations to work with, or those which have upcoming trainings, please pass that info along.

Apr 18, 2010

What's in Your Garden?

For many parts of the temperate world, it's time to plant a garden. Here in San Francisco, it's time to plant new things in our year round gardens. Last year my house mate planted corn, peppers, and brussel sprouts before I came back from London. Our summers are cold, so you need luck and heat to get corn and peppers. We had some scary looking mutant corn and no peppers or brussel sprouts.

Our garden failure was pretty interesting, and quite in line with our experimental approach to our patch of (rented) land. Corn is so adept at sucking up nutrients that it's used in restoration to address nutrient loaded soil after invasions of nitrogen fixing plants (ie, the brooms in California).  I was learning that information last summer as I studied invasive French broom while clearly pointless corn languished in my dirt. Blake wanted to give it a chance so I only ripped out individual plants when it was obviously finished.

Given that we've been working that area of our garden (< 1mx3m) for about 4 years with no input to the sandy soil, I'm guessing the corn was also stressed by a lack of nutrients. After the corn, our soil looked pathetic. We chose to rest all of our vegetable areas over the winter, though we could have grown greens. Instead we opted to pick up some "organic compost" from the San Francisco's Public Utility Commission at a free event last fall. I applied about 20 gallons to about 5 square meters. I used it as a thick topical mulch to slow the emergence of weeds in the former corn patch (<3msq). I integrated the compost in the remaining area (>2msq) and sowed San Francisco natives from local seed that I collected from my own plants and samples from my field work.

I've kept weeds down by mowing this year rather than full removal to reduce disturbance. I've been leaving the herbaceous material behind as a further mulch as long as it's not in seed. The land turned out about 60 young natives and have already given away the 15 I grew in containers. I'm letting the rest get big, maybe even through next year so they can be planted during the rainy season. I've got about 20 Phacelia, 15 Horkelia, 8 Achillea (yarrow), 8 Juncus, 5 Eschscholzia (poppies),  and more.

So all seems good in the garden ... until I heard that the "organic compost" might contain toxins. Turns out that the SFPUC sourced their compost inputs from 8 different counties, none of which use the same standards for their processing. In other words, standards in some counties do not remove heavy metals or icky shit (literally) like E. coli.
Ok, I'm not the most reactive person when it comes to toxins. I'm an asthmatic living in a city chock-full of car exhaust. I eat food that comes from the Valley, which I know was irrigated with water that is notoriously full of toxins (as in: If you fall in the canal you need a chemical shower ASAP). I forage in the city and along roadsides. I frequent dumpsters in search of food.

But I have yet to plant in the possibly toxic compost. My hella smart gardening friends, also of the non-reactive variety, suggest I plant something I can cook. I think they're right so I'm thinking beans and peas, nothing leafy. I guess the benefit is that these crops will fix even more nutrients ... though I'd kinda like to see some of the less than nutritious nutrients (the gross shit) taken up instead of fixed into the soil. I dunno.

Anyone have thoughts? I've also thought of just incorporating the weeds as they come up this year and leaving the land open. It seems like a waste though. And I have to hand mow the weeds every couple of weeks lest they go to seed at the moment. That will slow down when the rain stops. Any other suggestions? It's our sunniest spot so it's hard to watch it sit for what will end up being a full year if we plant nothing. And that will be two years of no yield since last year produced only mutant corn. What would you do? Keep in mind that one or both of us might move out of this place permanently in a few months so we need crops that fruit quickly.

Apr 15, 2010

Snake Season!

Today I took a walk in Glen Canyon with my friend, Mira to look at wildflowers and wildlife. I was supposed to be in a meeting about GIS this afternoon but a last minute cancellation allowed me to take advantage of today's perfect weather. Ok, the fog's rolling in now but it was entirely gorgeous midday.

As soon as I got into the canyon I ran into another friend - Wait, she's the jogger so I guess she ran into me. I kept walking after our chat and saw some folks staring into a eucalyptus. I've seen that stare so I guessed owl and they confirmed. I had binoculars and still never saw it. Apparently it's in a nest so I'll have to try again.

Though we never saw the owl, Mira and I did see many beautiful flowers, birds, damselflies, and FIVE garter snakes. Holy cow it's snake season! I got pictures of two of them. Enjoy!
Number 4, edge of grassland adjacent to willow scrub

Also Number 4

Number 5, edge of willow scrub

Apr 12, 2010

Rain Date: Wildflower Walk This Saturday, 11AM

The rain date for the walk is going to be this Saturday, April 17th at 11AM.
Meet at the water fountain by the South Gate. For more details, scroll down!

hope to see you there!

Apr 6, 2010

Wildflower Walk Saturday, April 17th at 11am on Bernal Hill

Raindate: Saturday April 17th, 11 AM

If you're in the Bay Area you should join me this Sunday for a nature walk on Bernal Hill. I'll be walking and talking about flowers and landscapes. A few flower species have already gone from Bernal (star lily and most shooting stars) but there is plenty yet to see. We'll be looking at lupines, blue eyed grass, blue dicks, early yarrow, poppies, doug iris, tom cat clover and more.

Kids are welcome and I'll try to keep the first part of the walk on stroller friendly turf. Dogs on leash welcome.

We'll meet at the water fountain by the South Gate. If you're wondering where that's at, check out this map.

I'm doing this walk in collaboration with the flora friendly folk of Succulence, a new plant shop in Bernal. They'll be providing snacks in their amazing garden afterward so plan to stop in there if you can. Succulence is at 402 Cortland, behind my favorite video store, 4Star. They've got some CUTE plants and are getting equipped with canning supplies, seeds, and jams.

We'll be looking for birds too. I suddenly find I'm a bird nerd ... I used to be so confused by bird freaks but then I met a couple of rad twitchers on my master's course. I don't know how it happened but I am suddenly obsessed with birds, leading me to purchase two bird guides from a used bookstore by the Oakland courthouse yesterday. These days I carry my crappy binocs when I'm dog walking. Bernal's fantastic for red tailed hawks and kestrels. I also see a lot of hummingbirds on the northeast side. 

Here are a few enticing pics I took at Bernal today.
Alligator lizard (Elgaria coerula) Thanks for the confirmation, Karin!

 Cal buttercup (Ranunculus californica) with unknown larva, possibly a cabbage white per Karin (thanks!).

Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malvaeflora)
Italian rye grass (Lolium multiflorum) Not native but you can see here that it's flowering. You cannot discern the tiny purple flowers but we'll take a look on the walk. I dig grass.

?? Cal Brome (Bromus carinatus ssp. carinatus) I think. Also flowering. Brilliant yellow florets are striking agains this red grass. I love it.

Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) and yellow bush lupine (Lupinus arboreus)

Mar 31, 2010

Let's Talk about Amtrak

I do my best to avoid air travel. I flew a lot for my master's: first from Atlanta to London, then round trip between London and Tenerife for a field study, then from London to San Francisco. These were the first flights I'd taken in two years, since I went to London and the Middle East in 2006. Those flights in 2006, the first year of the Compact, more than trashed all of my efforts to reduce my carbon footprint through reduced consumption and my regular cycling transit. I used more transit carbon than an average American that year just because I flew.

One factor not considered in those calculations is that I'm vegetarian. Meat accounts for far more carbon release than does transportation. I still don't want to fly. I'm not a big fan of the licensing effect that one step toward sustainability (such as cycling or eating veg) often produces. And I hate flying. Hate, hate, hate. Sometimes I'm the silently crying lady on the plane, who pries her hands from the arm rest to take more sedatives but is still somehow awake. Thank you, Fear.

So I try to use Amtrak. I loved parts of my journey to the Sierra last fall using Amtrak. So when my folks started planning a family vacation on the Gulf Coast in Alabama to celebrate their 35th anniversary, I started looking at Amtrak options. I don't get very far before I close my laptop in frustration.

I have many issues with Amtrak but here's a precise.
1. Its slow, average speed ~ 25mph.
2. Its not cheap, but it's slow!
3. Its website is full of stupid wizards. I love smart wizards, but stupid ones that can't figure out that if I want to leave from San Francisco I might also consider Oakland are unforgivable.
4. All points lead to Chicago but my life does not, ever. (IOW, the routes are insufficient)
5. The Sunset Limited is only 3 days per week!!! (IOW, the schedule is insufficient)
6. Local transit rarely connects Amtrak to National Parks. (Not really Amtrak's fault, I know.)
7. The pricing schemes are absurd given that the system is underutilized and otherwise deficient.

Grrrrrr! I miss UK travel options, but I'm working with a 25 mph train that rarely runs to effing nowhere. I don't just want to use Amtrak because flying is stupid and scary, I also think that Amtrak should  work, and I'd enjoy seeing the landscape from the train.

If I have to fly, then I'm not going to Alabama for family vacation.  No one else in my family takes issue with flying for carbon reasons. My mom hates traveling period, hence a trip fairly close to her Georgia home. Regional vacation is so reasonable! Too bad our family is half in SF, half in Georgia. My dad doesn't fly a ton, but that's not because of carbon. My sister and bro-in-law fly a lot and will fly for this trip, which adds some self-imposed pressure for me to make it. My family doesn't openly lament my unwillingness to fly, but it feels crappy to diss this trip. My dad even offered to help pay to get me there, which is another concern altogether. My sis' and bro in law will drive from NOLA so I'm hoping I can ride with them to 'Bama, but it's far from certain.

Today I called Amtrak because the stupid web wizards made me want to smash my computer. I had determined some dates, including a 2 night stop in Texas to visit Big Bend National Park (cuz the effing train only runs every 2 or 3 days). My back is still not happy after a dog walking injury in December, so sitting for 72 hours on a train will mean I can't walk during vacay. I gotta have a break so when I saw "Alpine, TX (Big Bend Nat’l Park)" on the Sunset Limited schedule dead in the middle of my journey, I though Amtrak was finally serving me well.

I recommend calling Amtrak if you really want to use it. (1800 USA RAIL) The phone operators are much more intuitive than the website and I didn't have to wait long. Soon after reaching a human I was convinced to reserve tickets that included my stop in Texas. You don't have to pay for 7 days, which is pretty cool. I'm really glad for this feature. If I'd bought the tickets during that call, then I'd have been even more annoyed when I discovered on the Big Bend website that Amtrak's quite far from the park and there's no transit to the park. It's like last fall's nightmare attempt to get into Sequoia Kings all over again.

Anyone live near the park and want to give me a lift? Or know if it's easy to hitch in and out from Amtrak? Or have a recommendation for another camping spot along the Texas portion of the Sunset Limited? Any other Amtrak advice? I'm so annoyed I'm (momentarily?) determined to make it work. Time to enjoy my under-employment with a little family vacation!

Mar 18, 2010

Wildflower Soul

Today was something like my ideal day. I biked to the Bay to map sensitive plants, hit two other parks, and spent the rest of the afternoon tending my garden with my cats. If you don't live in the Bay Area, then maybe you're not having painfully beautiful weather. Today it was 70 degrees, sunny, and surprisingly still for March. It's been like this for days, and though I wear a hat, I'm sunburned.

I finished the invasive species mapping just in time to help with sensitive plant monitoring. It's a nice transition after months of tracking the diversity-destroying success of SF's worst weeds. I met Randy and Licia at India Basin, a shoreline park in southeast SF. We were looking for Sueda californica, a saltmarsh shrub that I've never met. We didn't find the darn thing at India Basin so I've still never seen it.

I'm definitely a plant freak but like most nature nerds I've also got a bit of a vernal high, which is potentitiated by stellar weather. Vernal high makes every flower exciting. Even tiny, less-than-showy flowers, like Saxifraga californica, our afternoon species. We found this little Saxifrage at Palou-Phelps and Billy Goat Hill, where we counted any inflorescence and took GPS points. I shared my familiarity with the GPS and Licia and Randy shared their bountiful knowledge of the flora. I love the details that Licia points out, which led me to search for S. californica pictures online so I could see how many stamens the flower has. I found an amazing Flickr page for flora pictures. Check out Saxifraga  and others here.

Though I take crappy plant pictures, here's a sampling of wildflowers you can see in SF and on Angel Island, with locations. Click the pix for larger view. If you use GoogleEarth, I can email you a KML with placemarks of flower details for several SF parks (Bernal, Bayview, Twin Peaks, Glen Canyon, etc). Or follow this link to Google Maps. A real wildflower walk is better than a virtual wildflower walk. So go outside.

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii, purple) and desert parsely (Lomatium caruifolium)
Photo at Bernal Hill, northwest slope, middle path. Bounty of shooting stars at Bernal right now!!!
Lomatium flowering in most grassland parks, particularly in wetter areas or on slopes.

Checkerbloom (Sidalcea malvaeflora) at Bernal.
Flowering in grassland parks. Prettiest at Twin Peaks where the shades of pink can get very dark.
Also nicely showing at Mount Davidson and Bayview.

Star Lily (Zigadenus fremontii) at Angel Island. Were also on Bernal but have already gone there.
Amazing show at Angel Island two springs post fire.

Mission Bells (Fritillaria affinis) at Angel Island.
Also looking lovely at Bayview Hill, north slope above the Mesa.

Douglas Iris (Iris douglasii) at Angel Island.
Also starting at Bernal (East Quarry), Twin Peaks (north stairs of north peak), Bayview (just east of radio tower)

?Varied color? Lupine (Lupinus variicolor) Definitely a lupine, though I'm not positive it's variicolor.
Photo at Bernal. Also up at Bayview, Twin Peaks, Glen Canyon, most other grasslands.

Footsteps of Spring (Sanicula arctopoides). First native wildflower to bloom. Going fast.
Pic at Bernal, also up at Bayview and Glen Canyon. Note the annual lupine (Lupinus nanus?) growing between the Footsteps' leaves!

Tomcat clover (Trifolium willdenovi) at Bernal. Cropping up in other grasslands slowly.

Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) Top is close up of the yellow flowers in bottom pic. Also Cal poppies in bottom.
Goldfields are in wetter areas of grasslands. Hard to miss if they're around. Bayview has the best assortment inside the radio tower.

Johnny Jump Up or Cal Golden Viola (Viola pedunculata) Larval food plant of the endangered Callipe Silverspot butterfly!
At Bernal, northwest slope. Bayview on south slope or rock outcrop on west grassland. Glen Canyon grassland. Castro Duncan Natural Area, too

Shooting star (Dodecatheon clevelandii) and Johnny Jump Up behind. Note the fruit of the shooting stars in the foreground: This one will be gone soon so see it asap. Bernal Hill. Small population at Billy Goat Hill. Already gone at Bayview.

How cool is this peachy colored Cal poppy (Eschscholzia californica)? Individual is about 20 meters up from Folsom entrance of Bernal on the north slope.

Cal Poppy (Escholzia californica) You can't miss them. Accented by Nasella pulchra, purple needle grass.
I believe this is also Nasella pulchra. I love flowering grasses! Wind pollination is so cool!

 Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum)  Cal buttercup (Ranunculus californica) and checkerbloom (Sidalcea malvaeflora) on Bernal. You can catch most of these around the city at the mo'. Buttercups on their way out.

Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium bellum) on Bernal by Ellsworth steps. Nice spot for bunch grasses and wildflowers.

Feb 22, 2010

"Eating Animals" a Must Read

If you haven't read Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, you really should check it out. I've been vegetarian for about ten years, with periods of veganism or near veganism during that time. As a lover of non-human animals, I'd say I became vegetarian for animal rights reasons. I stay vegetarian because I love animals, but also because eating meat American-style makes zero ecological sense. This book, Eating Animals, really drove this point home for me, and also brought into focus issues of public health that I never truly understood.

My relationships with animals, farms, and meat have been diverse. I come from a family of hunters and have eaten fish and game such as deer, frog, rabbit, and turkey. I hunted and fished with my dad as a kid. Those experiences were instrumental in my development of a holistic land ethic.  My grandpa raised about 350 head of cattle in Missouri on about 400 acres of pasture, which defined a lot of my mom's childhood and attitude toward food. He died in 1992, right around the time when my uncles on my dad's side started losing their hog and dairy farms to corporate agriculture. Guess who grows soy for hogs and cows these days. My parents met as workers at a restaurant corporation for which my dad still works. My older sister worked there. My five plus years working there as a teen surprisingly turned me into an anti-capitalist but not a solid vegetarian.

That came at eighteen or nineteen, depending on whether you mark time by attempts or purity. As I wasn't trying for asceticism, I usually say eighteen. I read The Jungle as a teen, Animal Liberation  at twenty. I went to PETA conferences on veganism. I stickered supermarket turkeys with scary images and startling statements on Thanksgiving. I read Fast Food Nation, remembering that my entire family was wrapped up in this crazy drama of the American diet. I remembered my uncle Hank's nursing sows on their sides and trying to cuddle a runt that shit all over me. I remembered the distended udders of Holsteins at my aunt Gail's place, where I would later solidify my extremes for animals by using her sewing scissors to cut matts off of a border collie. (Not so cool with Aunt Gail, who is an amazing quilter.) I owned my relationships to meat for years, occasionally pissing people off at dinner or holidays, but always feeling honest.

Then I kinda became one of those vegetarians who tells herself she doesn't have to think about meat consumption because she's not part of it. My friends and family were probably stoked, and it was certainly easier. I allowed myself what Foer refers to as "forgetting". I let myself be as divorced from the impacts of American-style meat as a typical American. I felt a little less pain than I did in the days of my early twenties when I routinely stated that I didn't "eat carcass". I didn't watch films like Food Inc and I never read Omnivore's Delimma because, for me at least, there is no dilemma. I knew where I stood.

I hate being bombarded with the horrors of factory farming. I'm very sympathetic toward animals, as anyone who knows me would verify. I had many companion animals as a kid, and my dad always protected my sensitivity when we had to euthanize a beloved family animal. That was the right thing to do, and though I've matured, I can't really digest the horrors of factory farming. I regurgitate in tears and sobs that might make you consider whether I'm a reasonable advocate for a sensible diet or just an animal rights extremist. So I don't watch movies about food. I don't read articles or books exposing factory farming. A lot of it feels like disaster porn. I don't really empathize with a director who tells me to give a shit about individual animals while displaying the horrors of their treatment, the indignity of their individual lives. I say that knowing that some people really need to see that shit. People in denial need to own the violence of their food. But I'll say that I can be an advocate without those images, so I don't watch films on food.

But a few months ago I started seeing reviews of Eating Animals that piqued my interest. There were enough articles to convince me to request the book from the SF Public Library, where the hold list was about 50 people long. I finally got the book 3 weeks ago, which turned out to be right around the time I'd convinced myself that I was ready to read it with an open mind. And I'm really glad I did. I read it slowly over my three week loan period, in part because bits were painful, and in part because bits were too beautiful not to savor.

I don't really know what to tell you to compel you to read the book, except that it reminded me to be honest about food. Foer wrote openly about factory farming without relying on the cheap horrors of the industry to engage his readers. Instead he emphasized reason and intention, which resonate much more deeply with me. He drew an honest picture of modern "farming", one that discredits our fanciful images of farms like my grandfather's, which are not the ones that feed us today. Foer drew a global, holistic picture of farming, emphasizing ecology but also raising issues of equity, worker's rights, and public health.

Frankly, Eating Animals, is the best book I've read in years. I can't wait until I can find it used so I can have a copy in my personal library. I resisted my inclination to underline or annotate the SF Public Library's copy, but will enjoy doing so when I can read my own copy some day.

Feb 12, 2010

Finding Flowers and Mapping Weeds

I took a bit of a winter break from the posting but am finding renewed energy as the days get a bit longer. I couldn't bring myself to write another piece on the woes of Christmas consumerism .... It happened. I saw it. I didn't engage so why should I have to talk about it?

In lieu of shopping I've been out in the parks as always. It's been very exciting to see the first native wildflowers germinate, bud, and bloom.
This is a Johnny Jump-Up (Viola pedunculata) on Bayview Hill on Jan 10 2010. It's the first one I've seen anywhere in the city.
This is a partial list from Bernal Hill, where I walk dogs. I spend enough time there to see phenology at work. In order of their appearance:

Footsteps of Spring (Sanicula arctopoides)
First flower: Jan 5 2010 
Full Bloom: Jan 30 2010

Lomatium caruifolium
First Flower: ~ Jan 12 2010
Full Bloom: Feb 5 2010

California Buttercup (Ranunculus californica)
First Flower: ~ Jan 18 2010
Full Bloom: ???

Star lily (Zigadenus fremontii)
First Flower: Feb 9 2010

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon clevelandii)
First Flower: Feb 9 2010

Also blooming are the more subtle Miner's Lettuce (Claytonia) and a weedy native, Cardamine oligosperma. Some other plants have germinated but are waiting to flower.

I collected a bunch of seed off of my plants and any samples I took in the field over the summer. I planted those a couple of months ago in my backyard and in containers. I've got about 15 lomatiums, 12 lupines, 2 columbines, 25 phacelia, and hopefully some yarrow and grindelia yet to come. I had more but a massive snail attack decimated my stock. That's what I get for moving the nursery into the garden to shelter through a storm! I'm giving them away so if you're in SF and need some outdoor plants, lemme know.

Lots of invasives are coming in as well. This puts my mapping contract back in high gear as I plot Oxalis pes caprae on a nifty handheld GPS in 3 parks across SF. I've seen my friend the Twin Peaks brush rabbit twice in the past week, bringing my total sightings to 3 in 7 months, which is pretty stellar considering folks thought they'd been extirpated.

When I'm not mapping weeds I'm eating them. Don't forget the invasive species diet! I saw "dandelion greens" for sale at the grocery store today and laughed outloud. I just pick them myself and add them to salad. Toss radish flowers on top and it looks quite pretty. I don't pick the Miner's Lettuce b/c it's native. But I do eat a  lot of the mustard greens that are quite tender and tasty at the moment. Oxalis is also called sour grass, very yummy! I find that eating invasives gives me a chance to enjoy them, unlike when I map them with plain resentment and muddled anxiety.

In addition to eating invasives, I've been exploring a bit of herbalism. Mostly I've been reading about controlling my asthma, which kicked off hardcore about a month ago. My flat got a bit moldy when the rains came. I've never had asthma like this but I'm happy to say I'm finally getting some relief with a combination of herbs and western meds.

As it happens, my incredibly vivacious grindelia plant will come to new use this year as I dry the gummy buds for lung healing tinctures. A good friend told me to try it, which I did after about a week of ho humming about how I'd wait until I could make my own. Alas, this one is a very late bloomer so I bought a tincture. While I was at Rainbow I grabbed some Osha on the same friend's recommendation. As I've heard it, Osha translates to "bear root" in a local/regional indigenous language. Bears would eat it when they came out of hibernation to help expel their mucus. Lemme tell you, bears are hardcore. That shit inspires severe fit of coughing, but productive coughing. I'm using invasives for my asthma too. I snag eucalyptus leaves to boil so I can breathe the fumes and drink a bit of the oil. If you're thinking, "yuck" you're right.