Jul 27, 2009

Me and Murphy's Law

Maybe post vacation always sucks, I'm not sure, but the past week has been trying. Sometimes I think my science will only prove that my life is subject to Muphy's Law. Every time I sit down to work, something goes wrong. My computer freezes. I get a new one and it breaks. My cat has to go to the vet. Feeling better, my cat brings a dead mouse to my desk. Whatever could be disabling or distracting, it happens here!

I'm still technologically embattled, fussing with machines to use air photos and expensive software. Last Thursday I spent 7 long hours uploading one photo to my recently upgraded profile at UCL. I have to click the screen every 20 minutes or the remote server will log me out for security reasons. My 6 year old Powerbook has begun to falter, and my cracked copy of 0ffice is freaking out. So I bought last Tuesday I bought a new (used) MacBook Pro from an Apple Product Manager in North Beach. With over 2 years left on the AppleCare Warranty, I felt pretty secure about the purchase. The machine was a good price and already partioned for Windows, something I really need these days.

I didn't take a disk to test the optical drive, so I didn't realize that it was broken until 2 days later. When I took it in to the Apple Store, they told me that the hard drive had 4 faults and predicted imminent failure. So I had to drop it off yesterday for repair, twitching with $1300 worth of anxiety. Would they deem the problems "accidental" or "acts of God", neither of which is covered by the warranty. But I just got a call, only 24 hours later and my machine is ready! I must say, as a long time Mac user, the warranty makes it worthwhile to have a Mac. (That was my corporate cheerleading for the year. It's always the same company that gets my kudos. I admit that I'm a bit susceptible to their marketing, but I haven't bought a new Mac product in about 7 years.)

I've lost the Windows partion and I certainly didn't pay for 3 trips to the Apple Store. I also have to say that my confidence in buying another used machine of such expense and importance has been challenged. However, I could not have afforded a brand new machine, had I wanted one. I guess I'm fairly happy with my purchase, though quite disappointed in the deceptive Apple Product Manager, Di Lu, who sold me the machine. Of course he won't take my calls or return my emails at all. I'd be stoked if he'd simply re-partion the drive for me. I suck at such things. Then I'd have all the things I paid for, minus a day and some time. No worries.

But whatever. I'll have my computer back in an hour or so. I can't leave until my awesome neighbor finishes fixing my leaky sink. Max won't even let me pay him, which makes me feel bad since I'd just deduct it from my rent. After the laptop and the expense of taking my cats in to the vet twice in past week, I'm feeling stretched as rent approaches on Sunday. Ugh, I'll be glad when I'm available to work full time again. It's scary to not be bringing in as much as I'm spending. I don't shop and I skip about half of my food. But my rent is high (though not for SF standards) and somehow I have way more bills here than I did in London. Things like Renter's insurance though no health insurance.

I'm hoping to put together a piece about seeing the Reverend Billy Talen last week. But in the event that I slack: The reverend is running for NYC Mayor! Help him get on the ballot and then vote for him. No more billionaire mayors! If you don't know Billy Talen, you should check out his websites and possibly YouTube one of his performances. I adore him and his posse, the Church of Stop Shopping.

Jul 22, 2009

Accidental to Occidental

(This is the final installation from my trip to the Russian River. The pictures enlarge if you click them, helpful for some of the smaller ones.)

I left the house at 10 AM this morning, intending to grab coffee in Duncan Mills and head to the coast for an hour or two. I expected to be back by 1pm to do some work. Eight hours later I’m enjoying a beer because trying to work in my sun frazzled state is pointless. I don’t even have the wherewithal to make food, despite the fact that I rode over 30 miles on coffee and and a pastry.

After this wholesome breakfast in Duncan Mills I said hi to the 2nd nest of ospreys and hit the PCH going south to get into the Sonoma Coast State Beach. Though sun poured through the inland trees, tendrils of fog lingered over the headlands, extending in from a solid bank off-shore. I consider the fog quite beautiful and most of my coastal experiences in Cali include it. This fits my image of the poorly named Pacific as cold and somewhat menacing. Softening my view of the sea today were my friends the cormorants, enjoying that silly, low flying game they play.

A flock of pelicans crossed my view, taking center stage before the coastal gray backdrop. Biking down to the beach I enjoyed the gems of the coastal prairie, one of my all time favorite habitats. What can compare to the prostrate shrubs and grey perennial grasses? Yeah, I’m actually asking that after describing the majestic redwoods that begin just east of this coast. I try not to be a habitat supremacist as my own beloved landscapes are often maligned. Think English conservation students AND professors using the term desert to mean wasteland. That’s not only habitat supremacy, but what I also call, green supremacy. I like the brown and grey stuff, too. And I try not to forget all the blue stuff out there.

I walked out onto some brown stuff today, namely sand. I wandered out to the harbor seal nursery, where the Russian River meets the sea in a calming nexus of salt and freshwater, a brief mediation of the ferocity of the Pacific. Crouching with my camera, I wished that I were not so optically challenged. I obeyed the signs, staying 50 yards away from the seals, or as far away as I needed to be judging by their raised heads or general interest in my slow movements. I like seals. They’re silly and hella lazy. Like water loving cats with no landward grace or appreciable ears.

I felt the cumulative effects of daily 20 mile bike rides as I pedaled upward, away from the beach toward 1. No worries, it’s all downhill or flat from here, I thought. On the way out to the State Beach, I saw a road east of 1 that I looked nice and quiet. Inspecting Willow Creek Road on the way back I thought, "Isn’t that the name of that road I took between Duncan Mills and Monte Rio?" So what if the sign paradoxically says “No Through Access to Occidental”. I didn’t want to go to Occidental anyway.

The ride down Willow Creek Road was joyous. My eyes got a little dewy as I surveyed the riparian habitat, noting a lovely warbler, possibly a Wilson’s, many many butterflies, and several turkey vultures. The lack of cars completely made up for the shitty pavement. I pedaled in the sun, fully expecting to pop out on a little road that I had ridden down 2 days earlier. When I arrived at a vehicle barrier, I proceeded past it on my two, non-motorized wheels, leaving the riparian zone, to climb gradually into a redwood forest. Hmmm, winding and slightly inclined, the road offered such beauty that I couldn’t really be dissuaded. Few cars had become zero. Few people had become absolutely none.

Thus I found myself winding my way up a mountain, convinced of the divineness of it all by the lack of cars and other humans. As the trees became manzanitas, ever so briefly, I realized that I was getting pretty high up there. Was that Willow Creek crossing the road, requiring those occasional culverts or water bars? Was I still on Willow Creek Road? I considered backtracking, but that’s not very fun, now is it? Stubbornness, and the luxury of not having any obligations to other humans or my favorite dogs, sent me right up a mountain despite hunger and a bit of tiredness. I also had myself convinced for a mile or so that I was trespassing, which stilled my resolve at a breaking point on the gravel ascent. I realized later that I was not trespassing, which at that point was a welcomed feedback, as I was so tired that the thought of arguing with some private property schmuck nearly inspired me to go 180 and let the brakes wide open.

A couple of hours later, as I crossed a patch of oak savanna, I caught a glimpse of the fog bank off the coast ... which was many miles away. Oh, boy. The Russian River Valley was definitely to my north (and left), and I was looking down into a different valley altogether. Another vehicle barrier and I was out on a paved road again. No more gravel. At least I could let up worrying about punctures. (Oh, yeah, I had a flat kit and pump, but no spanner for the front wheel should it blow.) It was pushing three o’clock and I had no idea where I was. However, as I could certainly find my way back, had I the willingness to backtrack, I was not lost.

I followed my gut and ended up in … well, Occidental. No through road for cars, but if you bike forever, you will end up in this bougie little wine country town. I took Coleman Valley Road down to Bohemian Highway. Straight across the road was a natural foods store that supplied me with a much needed sandwich and directions to Hwy 116. When the cashier asked if I wanted to go to Santa Rosa or Forestville on 116 I realized just how far away from Cazadero I had gone.

At 3:15 I left Occidental, headed toward Graton Road, which would take me to 116. I have seen every town in Sonoma County on this trip, I swear. I’ve driven from Sebastopol to Cazadero in a car several times so I knew that I was hella far and that there were winding hills in my future. I was fucking tired and evening traffic was kicking off. I was really questioning my car free adventure as massive trucks wooshed past me on blind curves. With poison oak, blackberry, or some spiteful invasive like French broom or pampas grass waiting to molest me on the right, menacing motor vehicles threatening to crush me on the left, I felt that familiar annoyance with myself. My mind drifted from the task at hand (propelling myself forward while not getting squished). Invasive mustard (Brassica nigra) and poison hemlock (Conium maclatum) overtaking plots in a graveyard inspired undue offense as I pedaled slowly past.

When I finally got back I flipped open a map and realized that the cashier sent me on a very circuitous route. Had I continued to follow my internal compass, I would have shaved off at least 5 miles. Oh well, the wild Mimulus cardinalis (Scarlett monkey flower), butterflies, and deer made it all worthwhile.

Jul 20, 2009

Russian River part 2

This morning I woke up around nine for coffee and an hour of reading under the cries, shrieks, and calls of so many nameless birds. Then I got in the pedals on my way to Armstrong Woods, a state park known for its redwood forest.

The ten mile ride took about 40 minutes: I never had to put my feet down! Ten miles in SF or London takes forever, unless it’s super late at night. Of course, in SF if you go ten miles you’ve definitely crossed a few contour lines and gone in some sort of circuitous route as the city is only 7x7. Anyway, fabulous ride. Drivers out here are pretty down with cyclists.

The Russian River is a very NorCal, open-minded-esque area. Guerneville might have more rainbow flags per square mile than in the Castro. Actually, that’s how I first got to know the area. I came through here in 2002 with some of the Q-Force crew (group of young queer volunteers doing service projects ... and trying to get to know each other), then again for a Q-Force retreat in 2004, during which I saw this albino redwood. Coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) are often “sisters”, linked by root systems, clustering in rings. Thus the albino, completely lacking chlorophyll, takes nutrients from her sisters, persisting in this stumpy form.

I hiked into Armstrong Woods thinking I’d do a lower circuit, just enjoy the trees. But it’s Saturday and I have a hella low threshold for tourists in such a setting. I know that sounds awful but I like a quiet hike at a good clip for maximum wildlife viewing. So pretty soon I’d given up on the lower elevation walk and hit the switchbacks. No pushchairs up there. I saw an average of 4 people per hour as I climbed out of redwoods into manzanitas into oak savanna back to manzanita back to redwoods.

I met two guys who stopped to ask me about my tank top from Glacier National Park. The first asked if I got it for volunteering because apparently I “look like a volunteer”. I like volunteering, and do in fact have what I call my uniform of volunteer t-shirts in which I generally work. I’m a walking advertisement for Pets Are Wonderful Support, AIDSWalk, and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. But no one’s ever said that I just look like a volunteer. Maybe that means I look too broke to have paid work.

We got to talkin’ about the park, Cali budget crisis, impending state park closures, property tax, Prop 13, growing weed, legalizing weed, taxing weed, getting rid of the governator, pride, and the lack of social engagement in “my generation”. I guess meeting a 28 yo who can rant about Prop 13 surprised them. By the time we hiked our separate ways, one of them was giving me his card, saying, “I don’t know what I could do for you, but if you ever need help, call me. I will help you”. I was quite touched. As I walked on I thought that he had helped me just then, restoring my confidence in the people’s interest in and support of conservation. Then I noticed that he works in real estate and allowed myself to daydream for the next mile or so about him giving me a property to manage for conservation. Vacation is a time for such daydreams.

I saw about 40 lizards, maybe ten of whom dropped their tails at my approach. One was as small as the tip of my thumb but as quick as a whip. I didn’t see any deer, surprisingly. And no snakes, though I was quite convinced, given the warm sun that today I would see my first wild rattlesnake and not scream or run. I shall have to steel my nerves another day.

Though the above guys thought I looked like a volunteer, they should have noticed that my dumb ass had no water, contrary to good practice. I thought I’d stay in Armstrong Woods for an hour at most, always in the shade. But I hiked beyond Armstrong, in and out of Austin Creek State Recreation Area, gaining about 700 feet of elevation over 5 miles on 3 cups of coffee and a cliff bar. By the time I made it back to my bike, I was getting a bit light headed and more than a bit annoyed with myself. But I had plenty of water on my bike so I made my way back into Guerneville for groceries. I shopped on an empty stomach, inspiring me to spend $50 on weird food like a can of Cajun beans and rice and a $7 jar of salsa despite the fact that I make kick ass salsa.

I rode back, stopping to photograph the ospreys on the way. I ate the fuck out of some chips and $7 salsa. And now I’m going to baptize myself in Austin Creek. 20 miles biking, 5 hiking, a few hours reading, and a little swimming: Perfect vacation.

Jul 17, 2009

In Town

I came back from the Russian River yesterday afternoon after the best week I've had in ages. I rode my bike well over 100 miles, hiked many more, swam in cool creeks and rivers, and read about 60 articles on invasive species and urban habitat. I took public transit and my bike between SF and my friends' place in Sonoma County. It cost me $23 round trip and then there was food and beer, and $2 for two 15 minute internet interactions. As I have a future in debt (oh, education) this is about as much as I can afford to spend on traveling right now.

The next few posts here will be from writing I did while I was away.

Yesterday I left San Francisco on Golden Gate Transit, my bike bouncing on a rack on the front of the coach for 2+ hours. One transfer and a total of 3.5 hours later, I was in Guerneville, 60 miles from the city, picking up provisions before biking the final 8 miles to my friends’ vacant house on Austin Creek. Weighted down with an onerous rucksack – full of work – I pedaled happily above the Russian River, heading west through perfectly spaced patches of afternoon sun and redwood shade. Typical of river roads, Hwy 116 is winding but mostly flat. Pulling over in some shade to adjust the groceries strapped to my bike rack, I had the fortune to hear and see two ospreys (?) tending their nest atop a redwood across the road.

Arriving at my friends’ place, I began cataloguing diversity in that neurotic way that has progressed beyond hobby to veritable tick: “Native species: Sequoia sempervirens, Polystichum munitum, Toxicodendron diversilobum, Stachys ajugoides! Non-natives: Torilis nodosa <sigh>, Hedera helix <ugh>, Pennisetum clandestinum. ” I thought it might be a nice thank you to give my friends a species list for their place. So I stood on their deck, cataloguing plants in the yard that I can identify. I came up with 20 and am resisting the urge to include management recommendations for the weeds. Though I will have to mention control of the English ivy (Hedera helix) as it is poised to kill several of their trees, including 4 Sequoias.

After changing into river shoes I waded along Austin Creek, surprised to find runs of deep, clear water to enjoy. I’ve known this creek to swell during the rainy season, like April 2006, when Blake and I visited during torrential storms. Both sick as fuck, we drank tea from giant mugs and put together a puzzle with crossed fingers, hoping that the hill behind us wouldn’t collapse in a landslide and that the creek downslope would stop rising. I’ve also seen this channel de-watered by May, walked the entire length along the bed, only finding stagnant, green pools from which I restrained thirsty dogs. Such is California. Robust, iconic redwoods, coastal bluffs and the Sierra, but also delicate, variable grasslands,watercourses, and vernal pools, which may overwhelm one year but fail the next.

I read myself into dreams of wild creatures, again conjuring a scene of a banana slug driving a riding lawn mowe
r. I can’t believe I’ve had that dream twice.

Partial Species List
Below is a partial species list for my friends' property. I left my flora at home so that I wouldn't spend my entire vacation puzzling over plant id, so I've only captured species that I already know. I hope to go back sometime for a complete survey ... and to control the Hedera helix. I made the list for my friends, so it's sorted for utility, not scientific publication. First by native or non-native, then plant type, then alphabetized by scientific name, though with the common name first as it's probably most useful to my friends.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) - native.
Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) – native.
Western Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum) - native.

Fern Allies:
Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) – native.

Big leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) native.
Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) – native.

California blackberry (Rubus urnisus) - native.
Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) – native.

Miner’s Lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) – native.
Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) - native.
Rigid hedge nettle (Stachys ajugoides var. ajugoides) –native, endemic.

Grasses, Rushes, Sedges:
Tall Cyperus Sedge (Cyperus eragrostis) - native.

English Ivy (Hedera helix) – non-native, invasive.
Everlasting Pea (Lathyrus latifolius) – non-native, invasive.

Italian Thistle (Carduus
pycnocephalus) – non-native, invasive.
Cut-leaf Geranium (Geranium dissectum) non-native.
Forget-me-not (Myosotis latifolia) non-native, potentially invasive.
Western Pellitory (Parietaria judaica) non-native.
English Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) non-native, invasive.
Hedge Parsley (Torilis nodosa) non-native, invasive.

Grasses, Rushes, Sedges:
Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum) – non-native, invasive.
Annual Beardgrass (Polypogon monspeliensis) non-native.

Jul 8, 2009

Out of Town!

I'm heading up to the Russian River, where fellow Compactors John and Rob have a place that I'm lucky to utilize. Going with me are my bike, computer, and some reading. I can't wait to get the hell out of the city for a few days. I'm going to visit 3 state parks: Armstrong Woods, Sonoma Coast State Beach, and the Austin Creek State Recreation Area. Redwoods, the Pacific, and hopefully some swimming, woohoo! I'll do some reading for my project as well. But not much else. No internet, no cell phone service, but more open space to enjoy.

Jul 5, 2009

How amazing

is my new poster?

I got this today from a retiring teacher, who was having a garage sale on Guerrero St. The poster was part of a water conservation series created by East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in 1976. The poster encourages the gardening of California native plants over other species because local flora are drought tolerant, requiring zero to very little water in the summer. On the back each species is listed. I wish I could hang up both sides at once.

Corporate agribusiness and the governator are resurrecting plans for the Peripheral Canal, which could be as wide and long as the Panama Canal! Given my new poster and these developments, it must be the 70's ... not that I was alive then. And yet, water history of California is clear: This is a dry state with rampant development. We've had the same water problems for decades. Right now, powerful agribusiness is gearing up for a huge fight over water. Cynically framing the debate as "fish vs people" these moneyed players have hired powerful PR firms, including one that has worked for AIG and Blackwater, as documented here.

My own cousin recently sent around a conservative rant against a bunch of things, including the use of water for fish in California. Given my study of California water resources and actual experiences with it, I felt it necessary to offer my Missouri cousin some resources on the issue. Missouri is humid with annual precipitation around 800mm. Until you spend a year plus in an arid or semi-arid climate, you probably can't imagine going 6-9 months without a single rain, but it happens here. Funnily, London, perceived as super wet, only gets about 580mm/year. Georgia ~ 1200mm/yr. Los Angeles County ~ 380mm of rain per year ... and 10 million people.

Three years of lower than average rainfall have renewed calls for the Peripheral Canal, new dams, and allowing fish to perish in the failing Bay-Delta. It's worth noting that rainfall estimates come in averages, whereas nature fluctuates in the distribution of its bounty. In other words, low rainfall should not be unexpected! We've developed the West based on poor estimates, literally alotting more water than exists. Take the Colorado River Compact, in which we declared that states in the Upper Basin (CO, UT, WY, NM) would receive 7.5 million acre-feet per year and states in the Lower Basin (CA, AZ, NV) would also get 7.5 million acre-feet. Oh, and according to an international treaty, Mexico will get 1.5 million acre feet. That's a total of 15.5 maf. But research shows that the Colorado River offers about 13 million acre-feet per year. Similarly, this canal is currently proposed as being bigger than the amount of water that can possibly be diverted from it!

Corporate agribusiness and our fanciful politicians need to turn off Second Life and rejoin the rest of us in this arid reality. Much of California is dry, very dry. Upping supply will only delay needed conservation measures. It's time to renegotiate antiquated water contracts. It's time to make it financially sensible for agribusiness to modernize irrigation systems rather than waste it, producing field fallowing salt in the process.

In some counties, individual houses pay more per gallon than agriculture for water. If we're going to subsidize water to the extent which we currently do in California, let's subsidize modernization of irrigation systems. Every sector of the economy is troubled at the moment. I'll worry about agriculture more than the rest when I can go into the Valley midday and not see spray head irrigation throwing our precious water into the parched air for evaporation. I'll feel sorry for agribusiness when I stop finding perfect food in skips. And I'll begin to forgive policy and profit makers when I'm damn sure that the SFBay Delta will not go the same way as the Aral Sea (image below) or the Colorado River Delta.

Jul 4, 2009

New Freeshop in London

A building on (non) Commercial Road was recently squatted to provide a space for London Free School's weekend of classes on housing and practical squatting. The space has been retained for the purposes of providing a free shop. If you're in London, check it!

Here's the announcement from the crew.

"Non commercial House is a building that has been occupied originally for
the London FreeSchool Weekender on squatting, housing and gentrification

We kept the building, with the project of doing a Giant FreeShop!

The Grand opening of Non Commercial House will be taking place tomorrow,
the 5th July. The freeshop will open at midday and we will be having food
/ film from 5:30pm...

Bring items you no longer require that are clogging up your home. Take
stuff you need that someone else has abandoned. Come along to get help
fixing your bicycle or just for the food / film...

We live in a society of over consumption and waste. Non Commercial House
aims to offer an alternative based upon cooperation, mutual respect and
sustainable living. It is not only about objects but about sharing! We
hope to have various workshops and discussions taking place over the
coming weeks.

Children are very welcome within the space.. we are hoping to have a kids
section of the free shop with free toys / clothes and hold family friendly

During the events, the space is drug-free, including alcohol and smoke.
There is a yard available for the smokers.

The ground floor is wheelchair accessible. However, the only toilet in the
building is on the top floor and not.

Items can be dropped off anytime; knock on the door or leave them out front.

This is a non-profit, non-hierarchical space open to all and your input is
valued so drop by some time to get involved and let us know what your
ideas / thoughts are.

We hope to see you soon!

Non Commercial House
161 Commercial Street, LONDON"