Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Ocean Majesty

In Hawaii, the ocean is never far away. Life is dominated by the ocean. Its power, its grace, its eternity is overwhelming.

Recently a friend (WI) sent me this poem about the ocean by Lord Byron (1788 – 1824), from “Childe Harold,” Canto IV.

Here in Hawaii, this rings true, every minute, every day, all the time:

THERE is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin,—his control
Stops with the shore;—upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan,
Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

His steps are not upon thy paths,—thy fields
Are not a spoil for him,—thou dost arise
And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields
For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise,
Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies,
And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray
And howling, to his gods, where haply lies
His petty hope in some near port or bay,
And dashest him again to earth:—there let him lay.

The armaments which thunderstrike the walls
Of rock-built cities, bidding nations quake
And monarchs tremble in their capitals,
The oak leviathans, whose huge ribs make
Their clay creator the vain title take
Of lord of thee and arbiter of war,—
These are thy toys, and, as the snowy flake,
They melt into thy yeast of waves, which mar
Alike the Armada’s pride or spoils of Trafalgar.

Thy shores are empires, changed in all save thee;
Assyria, Greece, Rome, Carthage, what are they?
Thy waters wasted them while they were free,
And many a tyrant since; their shores obey
The stranger, slave, or savage; their decay
Has dried up realms to deserts: not so thou;
Unchangeable save to thy wild waves’ play,
Time writes no wrinkles on thine azure brow;
Such as creation’s dawn beheld, thou rollest now.

Thou glorious mirror, where the Almighty’s form
Glasses itself in tempests; in all time,
Calm or convulsed,—in breeze, or gale, or storm,
Icing the pole, or in the torrid clime
Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime,
The image of Eternity,—the throne
Of the Invisible! even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made; each zone
Obeys thee; thou goest forth, dread, fathomless, alone.

And I have loved thee, Ocean! and my joy
Of youthful sports was on thy breast to be
Borne, like thy bubbles, onward; from a boy
I wantoned with thy breakers,—they to me
Were a delight; and if the freshening sea
Made them a terror, ’t was a pleasing fear;
For I was as it were a child of thee,
And trusted to thy billows far and near,
And laid my hand upon thy mane,—as I do here.

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After hiking Palm Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert almost every year right after New Years, and skipping 2015 and 2016, today I went again on Jan 1, 2017.

Starting out, on January 3, 2010, I noticed a brand new stand of palm trees developing. I took a picture and marked the spot (click to enlarge):

New Palm Grove 2010

When I came back two years later on January 7, 2012, here is the identical view:

New Palm Grove 2012

Then I came back on March 10, 2013. This is what it looked like:

Final 03-10-2013

New Palm Grove 2013

After massive floods in 2013, this is what it looked like on January 1, 2014. I hardly recognized it.

Final 01-01-2014 with annotations

New Palm Grove 2014

The trees that were formerly where I placed the blue and green arrows are completely gone. The water pulled them out completely and washed them away. There is not a trace of them left. The center grove is still there, but it has hardly grown since last year, and it is severely bent at the root, obviously from the rush of the creek downstream.

Here is the picture I took today:


New Palm Grove Jan 1, 2017

Of course, I had to take the obligatory selfie in front of the famous oasis, the destination of the hike.


And, as usual, there were some bighorn sheep very near. I even got some short videos of them.


They completely blend into the environment and are very hard to see. You can only see them because they move. I saw an entire herd of about a dozen of them on the hillside; they were so camouflaged, I almost walked right by them.

It made my day. Wild bighorn sheep.

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The Religious Argument

I have been fortunate that I was able to cast off the shackles and blinders of religion very early in life. I am not religious or spiritual in any way. I have always called myself a non-combative atheist, and I am convinced that mindset has served me well.

According to Wikipedia:

The Pew Religious Landscape survey reported that as of 2014, 22.8% of the U.S. population is religiously unaffiliated, atheists made up 3.1% and agnostics made up 4% of the U.S. population. The 2014 General Social Survey reported that 21% of American had no religion with 3% being atheist and 5% being agnostic.

So being part of only 3% of solid atheists mean that 29 out of 30 of my friends, associates and people I run into on a daily basis are more or much more religious than I.

As a result, I have a lot of religious friends. Some very old, good friends. I have friends who are pastors, youth pastors, and even a Catholic priest. In serious late-night discussions with religious friends, one of the most common points that eventually comes up is:

What if you are wrong?

They argue that their belief in a God protects them from eternal hellfire. While I, who does not have such an insurance policy, am exposed. Let’s say with both die. If there is a God, the priest presumably goes to heaven. If there isn’t, he’s just dead and nothing mattered anyway. But on the off-chance that there is a God, he has an insurance policy. He is covered.

But I don’t have that coverage. If there is a God, he says I’ll go to eternal hell. If there is no God, I’ll be just as dead and nothing mattered anyway.

I know that is why many religious people hang on to religion. Just in case.

The Climate Change Argument

The American public has been led to believe that “climate change is a hoax.” Our populace has just elected a government that officially, and in all levels of the executive and legislative branches, supports this argument.

The vast majority of all climate scientists in the world disagree with this reasoning. Our CO2 levels at 400 PPM in the Antarctic are now higher than they have been in 4 million years. In a hundred and fifty years of burning coal and oil we have created a hockey stick of CO2 levels in the atmosphere in the blink of an eye from a planet’s perspective. But this argument I am making here is not about the science. I’ll leave that to the thousands of scientist much better qualified than I am. I just need to state that I am utterly convinced that we’re seriously messing with the balances of chemistry in our atmosphere, and we will need to pay a dear price for that in the not too distant future.

Our illustrious American politicians tell us that it’s all a hoax. Never mind that we are the largest polluters in the world as a country. Never mind that the second and third largest polluters, China and India respectively, basically agree with the seriousness of climate change. Never mind that China is now cleaning up their act as rapidly as they can (which requires another post eventually to discuss). Never mind that 195 nations all came together and agreed that this is a serious problem and crafted the Paris climate agreement.

Our government, empowered by the electorate, is now preparing to get out of the Paris climate agreement. Trump’s position is: We’re not allowing UN bureaucrats to have the power to spend American tax dollars. By itself, that argument makes sense. UN bureaucrats should not get to spend American tax dollars. However, the consequences of just tearing up the agreement are severe.

What if they are wrong?

Say for the sake of argument that climate change really were a hoax. These CO2 levels of 400 and more in our air are just a natural spike, and humanity has nothing to do with it, and can do nothing to change it. The weather will change whether we like it or not.

In a hundred years, no matter what we do, we’ll still be here, with our Manhattan real estate, with our Miami beaches, happily ever after.

Then it will not have mattered.

But on the other side, if human activity actually does affect the climate adversely, and the hockey stick graphs are going to get worse, we will have serious consequences to deal with as a species. The human food chain in the oceans will be disrupted. Agriculture will be severely hindered. Real estate will disappear and many of the lowlands around the country will be under water.

Seriously, we’re willing to play this game – for MONEY?

Ignoring climate change now is like killing the last rooster and chicken, who have been laying eggs for us every day, so we can have ONE LUNCH.

We’re risking our children’s welfare and taking away their right to the pursuit of happiness so we can burn some more oil and coal, so some people can have jobs? Seriously?

What if we are wrong?


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When I was in the service, I once saw a demonstration of a tank speeding across a bumpy field at 30 miles an hour, jumping up and down, while the barrel of the gun was continuously pointed straight at a target. Very frightening.

This raptor clearly has that same ability. No matter what the body does, the eyes are focused.

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Today during a walk it occurred to me that the word for butterfly is seemingly beautiful in all the languages, at least the ones I know:

  • Butterfly – English
  • Papillon – French
  • Schmetterling – German
  • Mariposa – Spanish
  • Papillio – Latin
  • Kamehameha – Hawaiian
  • 蝶 – Japanese (pronounced CHO)

How cool are those words?

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Inspired by a photograph Trisha brought back from her Safari in Botswana in 2014.

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This happened in Tehachapi last Thursday.


Click here for more images.

Click here for the original poster’s comments on Reddit.

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Yesterday I had a brilliant, clear view of Yosemite Valley from the plane:

Yosemite from Plane 3

Yosemite Valley [click to enlarge]

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Stop picturing little green men in your mind whenever you talk about aliens because, according to Simon Conway Morris, a leading evolutionary biologist from the University of Cambridge, if aliens exist or we ever encountered them, they would look a lot like humans.

— Sparkonit (from the book The Runes of Evolution)

It has always bothered me that aliens in popular culture media more often than not are humanoid. This never made sense to me. Simon Conway Morris argues that similar conditions would result in a similar fauna on an alien planet, so the alpha predator that would eventually emerge and become sentient would be humanoid.

65 million years ago the Chicxulub asteroid effectively wiped out a majority of the fauna on earth. In particular, the entire dinosaur population did not survive. Scientists speculate that at that time dinosaurs like velociraptors may have been hunting in packs and coordinating their actions. Let’s assume for a minute that the asteroid didn’t hit the earth that day and missed it, and another one didn’t come in the next 65 million years, a quite possible scenario.

Velociraptors would have had millions of years to further hone their hunting skills. Perhaps they might have learned to use tools, first sticks of wood, sharpened at the end, as primitive daggers and later spears. It’s easy to imagine that they would have developed sufficient intelligence to make tools. After all, they had claws with opposable thumbs.

Mammals would never have dominated the earth, and primates may never have evolved superior intelligence. In that world, there would now be the descendants of those tool-making velociraptors as the alpha predators. Sorry, they would look lizard-like, not humanoid.

So, changing one minor detail about our planet’s history by diverting a chance asteroid encounter, a pivotal series of events would not have happened, and the likelihood of humanoid aliens would be minimized.



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I was at the market shopping for a steamed vegetable meal. I bought potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, yellow squash, a couple of red onions and some red cabbage. Boring. The same old fare. I wished we could invent another vegetable, something exotic and new. Then I brushed away the thought. Nature only gave us these. It does not make any more.

When I got home, I researched vegetables, and there was a massive surprise in store for me.

In Southern California, wild mustard (Brassica) is a highly successful weed. In grows in all types of soils in  the spring, it does not need much water. The leaves on the bottom are meaty and dark green, a little hard. The stems get very tall, chest-high in some cases, and are sprinkled with yellow flowers.

Wild Mustard 1

Wild Mustard – Image Credit: Michigan State University

The mustard plant was well-established during Roman and Hellenistic times and it was cultivated in Europe and Asia, particularly on the slopes of the Himalayas. Lore has it that it was introduced to the Americas by the conquistadors and missionaries. Supposedly they planted the fast sprouting seeds to mark their trails. It created a yellow (brick) road along the routes they traveled. Now, a century or more later, in the spring and early summer, the California hills are covered with a yellow sheen of wild mustard. The yellow brick road has become a wall-to-wall carpet.

In America, it is considered an invasive weed in many areas. Each plant can produce thousands of seeds, so in areas where it encroaches on agricultural crops, it is considered a pest. It sure was when I had a large yard. There were mountains of the weed when I was done pulling them.

To my utter surprise, I just found out that wild mustard is the base plant from which many of our vegetables are derived by artificial selective breeding.

Wild Mustard

Many of the vegetables I bought at the market come from wild mustard, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower. Others derived from wild mustard are kohlrabi, turnips and kale. Finally, mustard seed (duh) and rapeseed come from the wild mustard plant.

Let’s develop a new vegetable, shall we? I know what plant to start with.


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Dinosaurs are Alive

Looking at this picture of a baby Blue Heron illustrates for me that birds are closely related to and descendants of dinosaurs.

Baby Blue Heron

[picture credit: imgur]


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[Photocredit: NASA]

This picture shows the tiny Saturn moon Epimetheus (116 km) and giant Titan (5,150 km) together with the A and F rings of Saturn.

I remember when I was about ten years old, I had a book about the solar system, and one section was dedicated to the planet Saturn. At that time we only knew about eight or nine moons circling Saturn, and any photos of the planet were grainy and dull. Yet, they were all we had.

Today, the Cassini spacecraft is in orbit around Saturn, constantly sending back dramatic photos of various moons and sections of the rings in high-resolution. We have eyes right inside the Saturnian system and we can see its wonders from a close-up vantage point.

When the ten-year-old me thought about the moons of Saturn, he never expected to see them like this – ever.

What a fascinating age we live in!


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Lunar Eclipse

Last night we set the alarm to 3:30am and were up until 5. Here is the lunar eclipse from our balcony.

Lunar Eclipse

Awesome Photo by Trisha


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The Crazy World of Birds

Birds are dinosaurs. Imagine a naked chicken and make it 20 times bigger, and you have a velociraptor. Make it 50 times bigger, and you have a T.Rex. Now we know what dinosaur would have tasted like: Chicken. If only we had been around then.

Here is a wonderful article about dinosaurs, birds and the wild and crazy variety of the bird world. I couldn’t stop scrolling.

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