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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Sunflowers and Blue Jays

We have now been confined to our homes for almost five months with no end in sight. The pandemic is raging in the US, and California has the highest numbers. The country’s gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 32% per today’s news, which is by far the largest drop ever in history – since we have been measuring GDP. I understand how this happened. I have probably filled up the gas tank in my car three times all year. I have not been in an airplane or in a hotel room in five months. This has not happened in 40 years before. I have not bought anything of significance. There is no place to go, and eating out is a hassle. It has made me turn to the simpler rewards, and rewarding they are.

For instance, last weekend Trisha brought home a little bag of sunflower seeds. I planted six of them in a pot and watered them twice a day.

[click to enlarge]

Here are all six sunflower sprouts after just five days of nurturing them.

Check out the ones at 1:00 o’clock and 3:00 o’clock. They still have the seed shell on top of the leaves. The sprouts pushed up the shells with them. I will let them grow to six inches, and then I’ll plant them near the fence. They are the kind that grows to 12 feet. I am so looking forward to that.

Then, a few days ago I was out by our wall trimming the hedges and pulling out dead wood. All of a sudden a bird’s nest fell down. I didn’t even realize there was a nest in that bush, but as it fell to the ground, it was too late. Four little baby birds were screaming, and the blue jay parents were fluttering about overhead in frightened anger and pain.

My heart sank.

There was no way to get the nest back up into the bushes securely enough. So we quickly found a box, put the nest in it, and scooped up the four baby birds and put them into the box and stuck the box into the hedge on the wall. Then we left them alone.

Within an hour, one of the babies had climbed out of the box, jumped the six feet to the ground and tried to squirrel away. We caught it, put it back, but by that time it was dark. The next morning, only three babies were left. By the following morning, only two were left, but they seem to be steady and doing well. I feel very badly to have caused the demise of two of them, albeit accidentally.

We looked up how to feed baby blue jays and actually gave them some softened cat food pellets, and they liked them. We didn’t know if the parents would come back and take care of them, so we were determined to keep them alive if we had to. We can see the box right outside our kitchen window, and we have meanwhile spied mom or dad in the box.  The two remaining babies look good. We’ll let mom take care of them now, but we’ll surely keep taking their pictures:

Here is one of the little ones. The other is lying down next to it on the left.

The rescued baby birds and the sunflower sprouts are the simple pleasures in life that seem to be more rewarding than all the gross-national-product trappings we are conditioned to need. I am looking forward to showing off our blue jays here as they grow up.

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Roadrunner

This morning I went on a short hike around Lake Calavera with my daughter and grandson in the backpack carrier. And there, right in front of us, with no fear at all, was a roadrunner. He was just six feet away, not afraid at all. He waited patiently for me to reach into my pocket, pull out the camera, and take his picture.

Ahh, and in case you wanted to see us too:

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Not All Lemons are Lemons

We just visited our daughter’s house. They have a lemon tree in the yard. The lemons are huge, and they actually smell strongly like lemons.

Here is a picture of one of the lemons we picked – banana for scale – next to a grocery store lemon. I’ll let you guess which is which.

And such is the difference between commercial products and organically grown products.

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A couple of weeks ago, in the beginning of February, we took a few days off and went on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona. We spent one day hiking in the red rocks. The Devil’s Bridge is a popular hike north of town. It’s 1.8 miles from the trailhead, so about 3.6 miles round trip. The Devil’s Bridge is a natural rock bridge and definitely worth the hike.

The trail is well marked. It inclines gently for most of the way, but starts getting steeper during the last half mile, simply because it climbs up a cliff.

Speaking of cliffs, I noticed this major red rock, which is so typical for the Sedona area. As the hike went on, we kept getting closer to this wall, and I noticed a “band” in the red rocks. So you can see what I am talking about, I took the same photograph as above and put a green arrow on it. You can click to enlarge any of the photographs.

The arrow points to a narrow and slightly lighter-colored band. I found the same band on many other landmark rocks in the area. As I got closer to the wall, I took another picture:

Here you can see it more pronounced. And this got me thinking about the geology of Sedona and, for that matter, the entire Colorado Plateau, which includes the Grand Canyon. The large layers of red rock we find in Sedona are also visible in the Grand Canyon, about 600 feet below the rim. I have hiked through that red rock area many a times on hikes in the Grand Canyon, of course.

The red wall is called the “redwall limestone” area. It is in the Mississippian layer of the Colorado Plateau, which is about 340 million years old. The red layers are about 500 to 800 feet thick. Since the band I am pointing about is toward the lower end of the red rocks, I might estimate that his was laid down about 300 million years ago.

And that is the mindboggling feeling: 300 million years ago, when what is now the Colorado Plateau, was at the bottom of an ocean, there was a period where the sediments, for whatever reason that I am sure professional geologists can explain, were lighter than the red layers above and below them. Not only that, the rock is more brittle and the chunks seem to be larger. So for maybe 5 million years, the sediments in that sea collected this different band, until the red limestone layers came back on top of it.

5 million years!

And here I get to stand and take a picture of that band of rock that is now lifted up to 5,000 feet above sea level to show to you here.

Most people don’t realize that the Colorado Plateau is still being lifted up by about one inch in a human lifetime. In geological scales, that rising rapidly. The Grand Canyon is still being formed in front of our eyes, and the red rocks of Sedona are still growing in their glory.

And that is what I was thinking about all the way up to Devil’s Bridge.

When we finally got there, in the afternoon, the light was just “wrong” for a good photograph:

You see above, if you look carefully, the single hiker in the middle of the picture is standing on top of a natural bridge. You definitely want to click on this one to enlarge it. The valley far below behind him is so lit up that it’s difficult to catch the grandness of the bridge itself. If you look carefully you can see the void below.

On the way back down, I took another picture looking back up:

It’s hard to make out what you’re looking at, so I’ll put some more arrows on it:

The green arrow points to the natural bridge from below. Here you can see the depth of the void below the bridge from the other side. The blue arrow points to some people who are standing approximately where I was when I took the picture from above. And yes, you had to climb up that wall through a series of steps cut into the rocks which got a little scary at times.

Overall, hiking in Sedona is a wonderful experience and one day was nowhere near enough. We need to go back and hang out much, much longer.

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New Painting: The Sausage Tree

Early this year my friend Sara Hartman went to Africa for a photo safari. I attended her presentation when she came back, and her photograph she had titled Sausage Tree stayed with me. It had a painting in it. I asked her for permission to use it as a motif. Here is her original photograph:

Photo Credit: Sara Lynn Hartman – Sausage Tree [click to enlarge]

Here is Sara’s website where you can see many other of her Africa photographs.

And here is the resulting painting:

The Sausage Tree, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, Nov 2019

I changed the composition somewhat. I moved the mountain (because I can do that). I also stretched the tree and made it taller. I actually didn’t intend that, but it worked out that way. I think I got the feeling of the open savannah. The painting looks better when you don’t see the original photograph right next to it. But that is always that way when you take photographs as motifs. The painting becomes something different altogether.

This is the first painting I actually started and finished in 2019. Hopefully it breaks my creative logjam. Nothing much has been coming out of the Haupt studio lately.

Well here is something: Behold the Sausage Tree.

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Pink Lake in Melbourne

I stumbled upon this article about the “pink lake” in the Westgate Park outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Pink Lake in Melbourne – Picture Credit: Parks Victoria

Just looking at it, it looks like it would be toxic. But that’s actually not the case. It’s a natural phenomenon. Read this article for more details.

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There are only a hundred thousand giraffes left in the wild and their numbers are going down rapidly. There are now less giraffes left in the world than elephants. Most people are not aware of this catastrophic decline. Check out this video interview of Dr. Malu Celli with the Calgary Zoo, an expert in giraffe conservation, for more information.

 

 

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Yesterday we went to lunch with friends at the Belching Beaver Brewery in Vista, and as we walked up to the entrance, we got to walk past a wall covered by giant Birds of Paradise plants, right by the sidewalk.

Birds of Paradise [click to enlarge]

Then something caught my eye:

Mother Dove [click to enlarge]

There was a dove sitting in her nest, still, just looking at me. I waited a while until she moved her head and I knew she was real.

Now you’ll have to go to the first photograph, enlarge it, and find the dove.

Good luck!

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The other day, on my drive to work, as I exited our neighborhood, I came upon this strange picture. Two large birds were in the middle of the road. One of them was apparently working on eating some roadkill. The other one had spread its wings, standing on the median, in an apparent gesture of perhaps guarding its mate while it ate, by looking threatening.

[click to enlarge any of the pictures]

Upon closer inspection I identified them as turkey vultures. Here is a zoomed image. These are large birds.

Very slowly I drove a little closer, making sure not to scare them. Here is a picture showing it as close as I got.

When I inched further along, the one on the road flew away onto a nearby fence to watch me, and the one on the median, which has its wings spread, hopped away from me and kept an eye on me.

I didn’t exit my car as to not to scare them.

As I drove away I saw that the roadkill they were munching on was a fresh rabbit.

And that is the wildlife in our neighborhood.

I won’t describe the scene the other night when our neighbor found a rattlesnake in her side yard next to our house!

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This book is about trees.

You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor. A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways. But even now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes. . . .

Powers, Richard. The Overstory: A Novel (p. 132).

Have you ever thought about where the material for trees comes from? The wood is heavy. Does it come from the dirt? One of the protagonists, when she was a 10-year-old girl, asked her father, an arborist, this question. He suggested an experiment. They prepare a large tub behind their barn and fill it with an exact amount of dirt. They weigh the dirt and record the weight. Then they plant a seedling tree. He tells her that they’d weigh the tree and the dirt on her sixteenth birthday. They’d have their answer.

When the time finally came, it was a substantial tree. She dug it out and carefully removed all the dirt from the roots and then weighed the tree. It was heavier than she was. Then she weighed the dirt, and is was exactly the same weight it was many years before. Clearly, all the mass of the tree had come from the air.

I must admit, I had never thought of that before. We all know that trees tie up carbon, and the carbon is pulled out of the air. That’s one thing I learned from reading The Overstory.

Did you know that the American chestnut tree was once the most common tree in the country, until a disease wiped them out completely?

I learned many other fascinating facts I had never thought of before or knew nothing about.

The Overstory tells about the lives of trees through the lives, eyes and deeds of nine seemingly unrelated people whose paths cross over time and over generations.

It deals with issues like climate change, evolution and deforestation. We get a glimpse of the lives of “tree huggers” and ecoterrorists.

Deforestation: a bigger changer of climate than all of transportation put together. Twice as much carbon in the falling forests than in all the atmosphere. But that’s for another trial.

Powers, Richard. The Overstory: A Novel (p. 281).

The Overstory won the Pulitzer Prize in 2019. It is a worthwhile and very interesting book, yet it’s a hard read. Some of the characters are easy to follow, but some of them didn’t make sense to me and, as far as I could tell, could have been left out of the story completely. It’s quite possible they contributed and were somehow related, and I missed it. Due to the number of central characters, I had difficulty following what was going on at times. After a character was introduced, but then was absent for a while, I forgot about the character, and when he returned, I didn’t remember him.

Overall, this is an excellent book with some serious “flow flaws.” The subject matter warrants four stars, but the execution of the novel is clumsy, so my overall rating is only three stars.

After reading The Overstory, I will never think of forests and trees quite the same way again. It has fundamentally changed my perspective.

Do I recommend The Overstory?

Definitely yes.

 

 

Reading The Overstory reminded me of another “book about trees” I read a long time ago: The Wild Trees – by Richard Preston, is an incredible book which I rated four stars at the time. I highly recommend it.

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Road Warrior Tales

Today I traveled to Seattle. I need to be in Olympia, the capital of Washington tomorrow, but I am staying near the SeaTac Airport both nights. Olympia is just an hour’s drive south of here.

I get off the plane, pick up my rental car, punch in the directions to the Embassy Suites where I like to stay. When I get there, it does not look familiar, but to a guy who has spent more than 30 nights in hotels already in 2019 those hotels all start blending in together. As I am checking in, the desk clerk can’t find a reservation. Now I am stumped. I am certain I made a reservation, but maybe I just thought I did and forgot to actually do it. “Do you have any rooms?” They do. It’s a miracle what $250 a night and a Hilton Diamond card can do for you.

I get a room, go upstairs, open my computer, and start looking for my reservation. Sure enough, here it is: At the DoubleTree!

I went to the wrong hotel! You know you’re a road warrior when you go to the wrong hotel and never think twice about it.

So I go back down, cancel my stay, and make my way to the DoubleTree at SeaTac. The hotel is somewhat more dated than the Embassy Suites, but when I look out of the 11th floor window from the balcony, I see this:

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Rainier in all its glory.

The mountain looms large in the evening light, some 50 miles away. At 14,411 feet (4,392m) it is one of the highest mountains in the United States outside of Alaska, and just a few hundred feet lower than the famous Matterhorn in Switzerland. Rainier is a majestic mountain.

These are the rewards of a road warrior.

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39 Years Later

In the summer of 1980 I went to the “bird sanctuary,” now the Jamestown Audubon outside Jamestown, NY, and painted a landscape of a few rotten trees in a swamp. The original painting is long lost. All I have left of the painting is a yellowed, discolored photograph:

At the Bird Sanctuary – 06/80 Oil 24×30

Today a friend sent me a photograph she just took there:

What a difference 39 years makes – or does it?

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Every year, on or around New Year’s Day, I try to hike the Palm Canyon outside Borrego Springs. It’s an easy 1.5 mile hike (each way) from the parking lot to the famous palm oasis. There is a small section of a palm stand which I have photographed every time since about 2010. I missed going in 2018. Here is my post from 2017, which gives some history.

This year, my son Devin and I were on the trail at 10:00am. On the way up, we checked on the little spot I have been keeping a record of.

In 2017, this was the view of my little stand:

In 2019, it has not changed much, unlike in previous years:

While at the grove, we ate our snacks and got warmed up a bit in the sun. Here we are:

Here is Devin at the grove.

And here I am.

After the palm oasis, the canyon goes on and on, but there is no trail. Some years ago we went further up, but it is very rough, there is bouldering involved and some scrambling through brush and bushes, some wading through the creek, depending on the water level. It’s challenging. This year we didn’t go any further. We also didn’t bring the gear and provisions to do that.

On the way across the mountains, however, we encountered the high desert in winter wonderland mode.

The picture above is a shot out of the car window along the way.

Here you can see me examining snow and ice on the cholla cactus.

The desert truly looks exotic under ice and snow. The shadows are stark with the sun low in the winter sky, and they eye is usually blinded by the sky or the reflections on the ice or rock.

One last look down into the valley onto Borrego Springs, where the trailhead to the palm grove is located and where we were just an hour before taking this picture. I have included it in high resolution, so you can click on it and zoom in for a better view. Yes, that’s all of Borrego Springs. The palm canyon is behind the brown mountain ridge coming in from the left side going across most of the photograph. You can also see the Salton Sea as a tiny blue strip in the upper right corner of the image.

And that was my New Year’s Day hike 2019. The tradition continues.

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Grand Canyon

[click to enlarge]

A beautiful and clear view of a vast section of the Grand Canyon this afternoon from 36,000 feet.

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Cannas

About 15 years ago I visited a client agency in Santa Barbara, California, and provided some training to the staff there. They had an open office area, and one of the women had a plastic bag spread on the floor next to her desk with a few flower bulbs and green leaves. They looked like onions. I asked what they were. She said they were cannas bulbs. I didn’t even know what that was. She asked me if I wanted to take some home with me.

Of course I did. When I got home, I planted them in a pot and after a few weeks green shoots sprouted from the pot. They multiplied and eventually, over the course of a year, the pot was full of green plants.

As the years went by, at various places I lived, I would plant the cannas plants in the yards just to get them out of the pot. They always grew well and multiplied fast with new shoots, but never had any flowers.

Every time I did that I would keep one bulb back and put it into the pot, where it spread again. The pot stayed with me as I moved. I went through this cycle of keeping one in the pot at least five or six times over those 15 years. You can see the pot with the current stand of cannas in the background of the picture.

In the foreground, however, you see the cannas bush that came from the last time I emptied the pot. This time, and for the first time ever, I got blossoms. Yellow flowers. I know they will all be yellow, since they all came from one single bulb.

What joy I get from cherishing a single plant that long and finally see it bloom!

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