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.
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.
Then something caught my eye:
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.
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!
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?
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.
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 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.
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:
Today a friend sent me a photograph she just took there:
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.
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!
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.
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.
We have good friends who live in Hawai’i, on the Hilo side, just a few miles from the volcano. They are under alert watch, and depending on a change of direction of the flow, they might have to evacuate with only minutes’ notice. Some of the flows travel at 17 miles per hour. If the volcano is only 10 miles away, you have maybe 30 minutes to get away.
They sent us the photograph above, taken by one of their friends. This is not lava we’re looking at, but the reflected glow of the lava from the clouds above the volcano.
If you have never been near lava flow, you cannot imagine its power and its terrible force. Lava is nothing like the “red stuff” you had to jump over in the early video games of the 1980s. Lava is 2000 degrees hot, and you can feel the heat radiating off it from a hundred feet away. Standing within reach is burning hot. I have taken a stick of wood (the proverbial 10 foot pole) and poked it near the lava, and it instantly incinerates. Anything in its path is consumed by fire instantly and rapidly.
The Hawai’ians believe in the legend of Pele, the goddess of the volcano. It’s no wonder, after observing the unworldly power of the volcano, that the Hawai’ian people created legends around it.
Kīlauea is a currently active volcano that is located on the island of Hawaiʻi and is still being extensively studied. Many Hawaiians believe Kilauea to be inhabited by a “family of fire gods”, one of the sisters being Pele, who is believed to govern Kilauea and is responsible for controlling its lava flows.
[Apologies for the frequent commercials in this video]
The video above is about 13 minutes long and shows very graphic views of the lava, as well as what it does to whatever gets in its way. Roads are obliterated, covered by many feet of black lava rock. Houses in the way simply vanish. When Pele is done, there is literally nothing left.
The Hawai’ian islands have formed for millions of years, and they are still forming now. They are not stopping just because we are here now and building cities next to the volcano. Hawai’i is still growing. New land is created by the volcano spilling lava into the ocean. Decades from now, palm trees will grow on that brand new land and plant roots will start eroding the lava into black soil. And a thousand years from now, somebody will level the ground and build a resort hotel on it.
We can observe geological processes right in front of our eyes.
Trisha and I went on a Jeep ride today with Chris (of Piper and Heath) and Roy (a wildlife photographer) in the backcountry of San Diego County. We went out in two Jeeps (for redundancy) and spent the day cruising places otherwise completely inaccessible.
Here is Chris driving down a steep section of rocky trail while Roy spots him. Trisha is the passenger.
Later in the day, Chris, the wilderness guide per excellence, served up a perfect picnic complete with wine and gourmet salads:
If you are ever looking to travel to Africa with expert guides, call Piper and Heath, and I promise, they will take care of you with first class service.
Thanks to Chris and Roy for great outdoors adventure today.
Almost every person in the world has seen a picture of the Grand Canyon. Pictures do not do it justice. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon, and you walk up to the rim, it takes your breath away. The Grand Canyon is much larger, much more awesome, than anyone could possibly imagine and expect.
So it is with a total solar eclipse. Yesterday I experienced my first one. I have seen countless photographs, by amateurs, and by NASA professionals. I had first-hand reports from my friend and eclipse chaser M.B., and I knew intellectually what to expect.
Being there and having it happen was like the Grand Canyon to the power of three. It was the most awe-inspiring natural event I have ever experienced (the births of my children excluded).
Trisha and I went to the small town of Idaho Falls, a community of 56,000 people in the southeastern plains of Idaho. We went down to the banks of the Snake River, where there are falls and the river rushes. The area is a manicured park, with lots of grass, trees, benches, pathways, all right downtown. There were probably a thousand people there in the area, but it was not crowded at all.
We arrived shortly after “first contact” when the moon’s disk had just started to obscure the edge of the sun. You can’t see it, unless you have special eclipse glasses, but we had those, so we could easily monitor the progress. People set up their cameras, frolicked in the park, and slowly the anticipation built.
It started getting interesting in the last 20 minutes. While it was hot under the sun at 11:00am, it rapidly started getting cooler. The sun became a sliver, but it was still way too bright to see without the glasses. Then the light changed to an eerie blue and silver tint, somewhat like dusk, but different altogether. Shadows didn’t look right. It got chilly.
In the last three minutes things started happening fast. It was cold. It was dusk. The stars overhead became visible. The city streetlights came on.
And then, from one moment to the next, it was dark. We could look up and the sun was gone. With bare eyes we saw a dark black disk were the sun was, and a bright corona all around it. The sky was dark. The stars were out. Only a light ring around the entire horizon lit up the world. And the temperature dropped significantly. I shivered. It was outright cold in the middle of summer at noon.
I took a picture or two of the moon/sun/corona with my iPhone, but what came out was insignificant. The eclipse looks huge in the sky with bare eyes, but pictures are disappointing.
I took a panoramic video. At the end you can see Trisha waving at me. You can see her face lit up from the dusky glow of the horizon only. That’s how dark it was.
All round us people were cheering and howling, and so was I. Unable to stop the emotional outbursts, I found that a big portion of the experience is sharing it with the crowds around me. Everyone there, young and old, was unable to contain their emotions. The rawness of the experience, the depth, came through.
And then, just a couple of minutes later, a pearl of light shot out and the brightness of the sun was back. We had to use the glasses again. Within a minute, it started getting warmer, the eerie shadows came back for a while – and then, quickly, my normal world returned.
But I was a different person. I had seen an eclipse. It was too short. I wanted another one. How dare they be so rare!
The next eclipse in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024, and I will be there. There is no way I will miss that. It will arch up from Texas to Maine, and Chautauqua, one of my favorite places in New York, will be right in the path. And I will be there.
Then, the next coast to coast eclipse will be in 2045. I will be 89 years old. I will be there too.
I have seen a total eclipse, and things are different now.
The name Al Gore is synonymous with Climate Change (capitalized on purpose). Gore started a popular uprising more than ten years ago with the movie An Inconvenient Truth and with this sequel he continues his fight.
He has been vilified by deniers and the far right lobby in the United States, and he has suffered setback after setback in his mission to get the message out.
Living in the United States in the age of Trump and the dumbing down of America, we tend to forget that we are pretty unique in the world. Americans make up less than 5% of the world’s population, and the far right is a small, albeit powerful slice of that 5%, but they seem to be the loudest criers. Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Accord. This makes no sense. 95% percent of the people of the world are scratching their heads.
I know people all over the world, Europeans, South Africans, Japanese, Brazilians, Indians, to name just a few. And I could not name a single one of them who would be what we call in the United States a climate denier. Denying climate change seems to be a uniquely American malaise.
Al Gore has the work cut out for himself in this country, and I am grateful for his leadership and tenacity.
You don’t have to “believe” in climate change to watch An Inconvenient Sequel and learn from it. The movie is full of facts and astonishing imagery about how our world has been changing and is continuing to change.
The most important experience for me, however, was as I walked out of the movie, stunned, but inspired. We have got this. There is no stopping that movement. People have turned their backs on coal and oil, no matter what the coal and oil lobby, and our own government, that is supposed to protect us, tells us. People are installing solar energy systems at an ever escalating pace. Solar will be cheaper and easier to use. Coal and oil will be inconvenient, and the planet will heal.
This didn’t happen by accident. This happened because of the tireless leadership of thousands of people, one of which is Al Gore.
Oh, no, we’re not done yet with the fight, far from it. But oh, yes, we will choose to take the baton so we can march toward a better world.