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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

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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Gail Francis hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and wrote a book about it. Unlike some other books about the same subject that I have read (or partially read), Bliss(ters) is not about driving the demons from the writer’s life. Gail Francis rights in simple prose and just tells her story. As the hike progresses, she describes her experiences, her thoughts, and the ups and downs that inevitably come along during such an epic experience. There are not a lot of superlatives, and there is not a lot of emotional mumbo jumbo.

Gail Francis simply takes us along for the hike, allows us to participate in the highlights, and we are spared the pain, the fatigue, and all the hard parts.

Just fun reading all the way. Here is a small excerpt, telling us about shopping in a store along to trail where there was no a lot of selection:

As I browsed the stunted aisles trying to piece together enough meals to last me a couple days, I noticed that the bags of chips appeared to have all been opened already, and then taped shut. When I asked the cashier about it, she explained that when they drive the chips up the mountain, the pressure change makes all the bags pop, so when they get to the resort, they have to tape them all shut again. She said it sounds like guns going off in the back when they start popping and that it is great fun to have an unsuspecting new person make the drive.

— Francis, Gail. Bliss(ters): How I Walked from Mexico to Canada One Summer (Kindle Locations 1605-1609). Kindle Edition.

Bliss(ters) is the best trail hike book I have read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in hiking.

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Randy Morgenson was raised in the Yosemite Valley in the 1950s, where his parents both worked. His father was an avid naturalist, photographer and later tour guide. Of all the places in the world to grow up in, Yosemite must be one of the most fabulous, spectacular and awe-inspiring places to be.

It is therefore no surprise that Randy became a park ranger as soon as he was old enough to serve. He loved the Sierras, the mountains, nature, solitude and serenity. He was the quintessential ranger.

Being a backcountry ranger means getting flown out into the wilderness in the spring by helicopter with supplies, and getting picked up again the fall. I have hiked in the Sierras, so I know its remoteness, its beauty, and – of course – its challenges. In the High Sierras of California, there is still true wilderness. There are places where no human steps for years. This means there is solitude where one can reflect and regain the natural connection to Mother Earth. But there are also dangers everywhere. Most people think of bears and mountain lions, and yes, they are there, but very few people ever see any of them. The true dangers are getting lost without food, water or shelter, being exposed to the sometimes violent and hostile elements at high altitudes with no chance of anyone coming by to help. Or falling in an avalanche, or slipping on an ice field, or stumbling off a cliff, or drowning in a meltwater-swollen creek.

Backcountry rangers are there to assist hikers with advice, or with emergency services, if needed.

The problem for the rangers is that it’s a seasonal job. There is no work to be done in the winter. So who can afford a lifestyle to go away into the mountains every summer at low pay, and then come back in the winter and do something else for gainful employment. Not only is it largely impossible, it’s also hard on relationships or a marriage.

Randy and his wife Judi didn’t have children, exactly for that reason. But over the years, Randy’s love for the mountains eclipsed his relationship with Judi and cracks started to appear in the fabric of their marriage. As the seasons went by, Randy became more and more disillusioned with his life when he was not in the mountains.

The Last Season chronicles Randy’s life and his experiences and reputation as a backcountry ranger over decades. When, one day, Randy doesn’t check in on the radio like he is supposed to, the reader participates in the massive search and rescue effort for Randy launched by the park service.

The Last Season is a riveting book about people who do what they absolutely love to do, and how they live, and die.

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