Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The End of the Mothball Fleet

Mothball Fleet
Originally uploaded by KQED.Radio.
I grew up riding to the bay area in the family car at least twice a year. I was raised in Shasta County, up north, but Mom's best friend lives in San Leandro (about two miles from where we live now, she still lives in the same house she's lived in since the fifties) and my aunt lived in Palo Alto, so we'd come down for a couple of weeks every summer, and sometimes for Christmas or another break. Until the early seventies, we had no air conditioning, and in the summer, at least half the ride down is in temperatures over 90 or 100F, so Mom would load the car at night, toss the luggage (around the edges) and some pillows and blankets into the back of the station wagon, and toss me and my sister back there for the ride. I guess we'd leave the house around 3 or 4 in the morning, because my sister and I would wake up at sunrise, usually just in time for what Mom called "the mothball fleet." For me, that and the C&H sugar factory in Crockett were "now entering The Bay Area." Mom told us that the Navy always intended to re-use those ships, and that they were parked where they were because they had easy access to the ocean, but that the water in Suisun Bay wasn't as salty as that farther down into San Francisco Bay. I just loved them. For awhile, the Glomar Explorer was parked with them, that was exciting.

It never occurred to me until a few years ago that the ships were sitting there polluting the bay, though I knew that most of them couldn't possibly be reused now, fifty years after they were first moored. They're falling apart. To make them suitable for scrapping will mean doing things to them that will cause further water pollution. Are we just screwed?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Southern California is burning

Link list for mapping the southern California fires.

The LA Times and the OC Register are both using Google maps, natch.

Among the thoughts that keep cropping up in disorganized ways, for me:

1) It's scary and nauseating, how sociopathic arson is: "The fire broke out just as the Santa Ana winds were picking up. At one point, it flashed through three miles of parched-dry brush in less than 30 minutes.
"Whoever did this knew what they were doing," said Kris Concepcion, a battalion chief with the Orange County Fire Authority.

2) People continue to build homes in fire-prone (in California, it's fire-adapted, the ecology is healthier for regular, moderate fires) areas, and losing them.

3) If folks who are predicting the specific changes related to climate change are correct, wildfire seasons like this will get worse rather than better over the next century.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Three Gorges Dam pisses me off

Three Gorges Dam @ Sandouping
Originally uploaded by e_hoogie.
I used some pretty colorful language when I first heard about this:

In unusually frank language, Chinese officials publicly acknowledged "hidden dangers" at the massive Three Gorges Dam, including landslides, erosion and pollution that could lead to an environmental disaster if not quickly fixed.
"If no preventive measures are taken, the project could lead to catastrophe," the official Xinhua news agency said on its English-language newswire, paraphrasing experts speaking at a conference this week. As an indication of the government's sensitivity to the issue, that phrase wasn't included in all versions published by Xinhua.


It was hailed as one of the engineering feats of the 20th century. Now the Three Gorges Dam across China’s mighty Yangtze River threatens to become an environmental catastrophe.


"We cannot lower our guard against ecological and environmental problems caused by the Three Gorges project," Wang Xiaofeng, director in charge of building the dam, was quoted as saying. "We cannot win by achieving economic prosperity atthe cost of the environment."

Geological instability isn't the only unforeseen negative effect of the Three Gorges. Downstream of the dam, locals have been battling two billion rats forced into farmland by rising water levels after the dam authority released a large amount of Yangtze River water "to control flooding in the face of the annual rainy season".

Two billion rats.

People have been crying about this for years. A friend of mine in the early nineties, while in her mid-sixties, took a boat tour down the gorge because she thought she'd never have another chance to see it if she didn't go now. People have said we'd lose the river dolphin, for years. People have warned against pollutant build-up in the water, where folks get water for cooking, and bathe their babies. They worried about whether silt would fill the basin too fast, given how muddy the Yangtze is, or that the silt and other materials carried downstream would damage the turbines. They rallied against corrupt officials mishandling the funds used to relocate people, and of people whose rich farmland on which their families had worked for hundreds of years would be flooded, while they were given rocky hillsides as compensation. They raised a fuss about the drowning of barely visited or newly discovered archeological sites, of the loss of historic temples, of the effect on the people below if something happened to breach the dam. But there wasn't anything anyone could do to stop this dam.

Now that the damage has largely been done, they admit that there could be problems.

I just want to kick somebody.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Google Earth Science

This is just pure smut, for the likes of me:

Designing and Creating Earth Science Lessons with Google EarthTM

It's like . . . . oooh. I'll be in my bunk.

I'd love to sit with a patient child or adult, with Google Earth, and talk about what it illustrates. It reminds me of lying on the floor over the atlases, when I was little.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Perseids

Lucky shot!
Originally uploaded by ♥♥ Jo ♥♥.
When I was a little girl, August was a scorcher where I lived, and we had a tiny, hot house. When it became too hot to sleep indoors, we'd spend a few nights outside on the lawn, in sleeping bags, and Mom would show us the constellations and tell us their stories. And right smack in the middle of August, we'd watch shooting stars. Shooting stars are always best in August, Mom told us. We'd stare and stare at the sky until we fell asleep, then wake at dawn.

They have a name now -- Perseids.
They have a scientific explanation. Mom told us they were rocks that flew through space and heated up when they went through our air, and that they almost never hit the earth because they burned up and were gone before they hit the ground. That's all we knew, and that was all that mattered, when I was six or so and sleeping on the lawn.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

quickie - SF after the big quake

Strangemaps shows San Francisco immediately post '06 quake. I love comparing old geography to modern geography, to see how humans have changed things. Look how China Basin once had so much water, and is now mostly filled in.

The epicenter (long thought to be at Olema, at the neck of Point Reyes) was actually a bit left of where the P in "Pacific Ocean" is, on this map, just offshore where the San Andreas goes into the sea near the Daly City/SF line.

Earthquakes simultaneously fascinate and terrify me. I can read just so much about them, and then I have to stop. Seismology is one of my favorite hobby fields, but I don't think I could study it as a focus in geology without becoming a gibbering mass of anxiety.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

An Island Called California

Yellow-billed Magpie
Originally uploaded by amkhosla.
"It is known that to the right of the Indies there exists an island called California very near the terrestrial paradise; and peopled by black women among whom there was not a single man since they lived in the way of the Amazons.

They had beautiful robust bodies, spirited courage and great strength. Their island was the most impregnable in the world with its cliffs and headlands and rocky coasts. Their weapons were all of gold . . . because in all the island there was no metal except gold.

And there ruled over that island of California a queen of majestic proportions, more beautiful than all others, and in the very vigor of her womanhood. She was not petite, nor blond, nor golden-haired. She was large, and black as the ace of clubs. But the prejudice of color did not then exist even among the most brazen-faced or the most copper-headed. For, as you shall learn, she was reputed the most beautiful of women; and it was she, O Californias! who accomplished great deeds, she was valiant and courageous and ardent with a brave heart, and had ambitions to execute nobler actions than had been performed by any other ruler — Queen Califia." -- from
Las sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo

Yesterday, StrangeMaps showed us a 15th Century map from China that shows what could even be Australia and New Zealand, as well as the classic Island of California off the west coast of North America. This map was created long before Columbus, Magellan, or Drake sailed the seas. Look how similar the continental boundaries are to today's maps, how well the coasts match what we now know.

Though California isn't an island (it's probable that the opening to the Gulf of California and perhaps the Columbia River made it seem so), Elna Bakker used the idea for her book, Island Called California, about California's unique "island ecology." Because we have an ocean to our west, a high mountain ranges to the north and east (with those on the east backed by desert), and desert to the south and southwest, much of California's land is ecologically like an island, with endemic organisms of all sorts. Our magpies have yellow bills, our sequoias are unique, we have lilies and salamanders like no others. To be honest, as much as part of me supports the division of California into two states, a bigger part of me wants not to break that poetic island, to distribute yellow-billed magpies between two states, or to either divide or simply give up the sequoias as "my own."

As California changes with the climate, some of the animals -- amphibians and more delicate herbaceous plants, especially -- will have no place to go. The same barriers that allowed them to develop in unique ways will largely prevent them from adapting by gradually shifting their ranges elsewhere. Around the world, humans have made barriers of their own, as well. Plants and animals can't adapt by moving through farm belts, urban areas, or across new desertified regions, either. We are banishing our wildlife to islands to make do with what they have.

Friday, July 20, 2007

What California looks like

Stanford Foothills
Originally uploaded by tangent.
I noticed, while driving up I-580 west of Dublin, California (which is becoming a maze of condos and office buildings and supermarkets, Dublin is doublin') that the golden summer grass is becoming brown a little early. I'm the first to say "no, it's golden," when someone says that our summer grass is brown. It's golden. But it becomes brown, eventually, as the golden stems of dry grass bend over, and flatten, and more dirt is exposed. I usually start noticing the brown in mid- to late August, sometimes September, and the brown lasts until the first real rainstorms germinate more grass seed. Our last rainy season was abbreviated and light, it's a dry summer.

It's one of those things that means California, to me, the shifting colors of the grass (white isn't the winter color, here on the coast, green is), and the hallmarks of what we call seasons.

Lynn Kendall, in Unnatural History, discusses coming to California, and how much the local geography influenced her decision to move here from Pennsylvania, and ultimately, to stay here.

I remember my wonderful Sacramento City College geography teacher, years back, telling me that he decided to stay in California after he first visited from New England and saw a redwood tree and a palm growing side-by-side. (Of course, both were planted, our redwoods come from the northwest coast of the state, while the Washingtonia palms are from the southern deserts. But still.)

What does California look like to me? It looks like rolling golden hills, buckeyes that turn brown in July, broccoli-shaped oak trees, patches of bare serpentine soil in the dirt of the coastal hills, Sonoma County's cold and rocky beaches, gray pines above the chaparral. Sometimes it looks like exposed granite batholith, or lava tubes, or high meadows full of crimson columbine and beautiful purple shooting stars, or the grey-and-white cone of Mount Shasta. But mostly, it's our rolling foothills, our fire-adapted woodlands, golden California.

Friday, July 06, 2007

weather report

It reached 111.8FC/44.3, yesterday, in my old neighborhood in Shasta County, California. Last time I was through there, I went up to Whiskeytown Lake to camp and swim, as it was cooler there than in town, at only 115F. It was 118F in town. I remember 119F at least once when I was little, but not higher. The official highest ever in Redding is lower -- 118F, maybe, or 116 -- but local temps vary, of course, and I remember 119F. We got 119 the same year that our winter snow was so heavy that a Thrifty drug store and the roller skating rink caved in, and my mom made my brother go shovel off the flatter parts of our roof every single day. That would have been 1969 or 1970, I think, as my sisters were hanging out at the local hippie house, at the time, and they tried to cook an egg on the sidewalk there.

So many of my memories aren't attached to specific dates and years, but are attached to when songs were on the radio, or when people around me were doing particular things.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Geographilia as a calling

Originally uploaded by gman8.
In the early nineties, I took a geography lab from the best geography teacher I’ve ever had, at the best community college I’ve ever attended.

The class was sheer fun. For our first field trip, he asked us each to find cross country skis or snow shoes, then brought us up to Lassen Park in April, when the road was still closed by deep snow. We’d spent some time learning how to take field notes, find directions, and other elements of geography field work, and when we arrived at the park, someone asked, “Is there anything special we should be noting?” He replied, “No, really, I just wanted you to see what Lassen is like before the road opens.”

It was quiet, and everything was white. The fumaroles steamed from underneath the snow. He warned us about the hollows that melted out around the fumaroles, capped by snow, and told us about participating in the rescue (because he works in Lassen back country rescue, did then, still does) of a man who had fallen face down into a pit, and would suffocate down there if someone couldn’t get their face down there and provide him some rescue breathing until help could arrive to pull him out, which was considerably later.

He pointed out mountain chickadees by their calls, and explained the geology of the mountain. The joy he felt in this snowy park – his place, which he knew intimately, and wanted to share with us – was palpable to the point of magic.

Everything about that class, and its prerequisite basic physical geography classroom course, seemed to be because the teacher thought it was cool, that he wanted us to see these neat things he thought were cool. From him I learned how rare the Mediterranean climate type is, and he shared with us that he first settled in the Sacramento Valley, in the sixties, because he crossed the Sierra and saw a redwood tree and a palm tree growing side by side, and was charmed. When we learned about weather patterns over and currents within the ocean, he told us about his summer fishing in Ireland, when a hurricane in the Caribbean managed to send lobster pots up the Irish rivers. He spent a big part of one class playing us an NPR show about people who had been struck by lightning and survived.

That magic hooked me. That magic sucked me into geography as a field, something I could do, rather than a dry high school course where we figured out adiabatic cooling rates.

Geographiles would be a lot better off if more people who are captivated by the magic would actually teach it, write about it, and share what we love. Perhaps that’s a call to action.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sense of place: Climate

Originally uploaded by Molly Wassenaar.
I grew up in a Northern California town where we had wet winters, hot dry summers, and mostly dependable weather. It wasn't quite mediterranean, like the San Francisco bay area. Winters were colder, we had snow now and then in the winter, sometimes deep enough to sled in, sometimes lasting a week or more. Summers were hot, with three-digit days unsurprising.

Last time I was there, it was 118F in town, so I took refuge at the lake, where it was only 115, and camped out that night with no tent, lying on top of my sleeping bag, and only a sheet over me all night, to keep mosquitos off.

In seventh grade, I moved to the San Francisco bay area. I remember very clearly waking up on my first school morning there, to walk the mile or so to school, and needing a sweater. It was grim out, and I hated it, and was immediately homesick. But like on most days, it cleared up by 10 or so, and was bright and not too warm after that.

It was springtime in the bay area, and cool, with a thick marine layer. These days, still living in the area (after forays into other parts of the state, and one other country), I often appreciate the fog in the morning, it can easily keep a summer day below 80F. From late July to early September, the sea warms up enough that we lose the layer, and it can get quite hot here.

Last week, I got back from my third visit to New England. The first time we were there, just after summer solstice, it was 100F and 95% humidity. Folks told me it was unseasonably warm. I got sick. It was horrible. I wasn't used to it. Other people there were used to it, and while not happy, managed. This last time, it was less hot, but warm enough, and I went hiking at Middlesex Fells Reservation. It was truly lovely, but the sweat never dried on my back. Stilll, I remember thinking, "Everything is green, and this is nice, but it's stickky. It's not my weather."

I'm so rooted in central California, now, this weather is my weather. I've always lived in in the SF Bay Area or north, within California. Though I've lived in a geographically broad range of places within California, they've still always been in the Mediterranean climate zone, and when I lived overseas, in Australia, I managed to end up on the edge of the tiny portion of Australia that has a Mediterranean climate.

But when I change climates -- on a small scale, from Shasta County to the bay area, or on a larger scale, from the Bay Area to Massachusetts, I am thrown for a loop. The biggest blow to my sense of place is usually how the are around me feels, compared to how I expect it to feel, how the weather behaves, whether I carry an umbrella.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ian's bedroom

Ian's bedroom
Originally uploaded by kbreenbo.
When I was little -- and I was little, very small for my age -- I would lie on my belly on the floor and read our huge National Geographic atlas. I have a more recent edition now, and it seems big, but not gigantic. When I was small, the atlas was gigantic. It was out of date, but I read it cover to cover. (Later, in the map geography component of ninth-grade social studies, I was puzzled at some of the changes. It hadn't occurred to me before that the map I learned when I was on my belly reading the atlas at age 4 wasn't static, aside from the big changes of the world wars that my mother pointed out.) I loved reading the legends and finding out where paper was made, and sheep were raised. I loved trying to figure out city populations from the sizes of the dots. We had a globe with a relief surface, I would run my fingers over the mountains with my eyes closed.

As an adult, I still love maps and atlases and globes, and as an educator, I have loved introducing them to children. I like to leave Me on the Map around a classroom, along with basic atlases (chosen according to the age of the child with durability in mind, if nothing else). For kids of kindergarten age, I like to draw small maps with them, of the playground, or the classroom, or even items on a table. From there, the street can be mapped, or the block, or a neighborhood, labeled with places important to the children.

It's not important exactly how they're introduced, except that materials are left around with ready access (inflatable globes are cheap and fun), and that the children's interests lead the way.

When I saw this picture, "Ian's Bedroom," I immediately wanted to be four, and to have wallpaper like this in my own room. I wouldn't paper a classroom like this (too busy, especially if the kids' own artwork is displayed), but I'd certainly paper a rec room or a bedroom or a cafeteria with this wonderful giant map.

Friday, April 27, 2007

It's like the sands are shifting under me.

My Douglas irises bloomed on my birthday, this year. I have a spring birthday; the irises around here often bloom near my birthday. I have a massive clump near my back steps, I bought a small specimen at the California Native Plant Society sale in 2001. It got a little big, then we moved, and I brought it with me. I thought it would die, it looked so battered when I put it into the ground at our new place.

This is our third spring here, and it's just huge, forty or so flowers on it. Next time we move, I'll divide it and share a little with friends . . . but bring its heart with me.

Douglas irises are special; they’re a wild iris that blooms on the Pacific coast of central California. They tend to be purple/blue, but can be white, or somewhat mauve. Of all the central California wildflowers, they are the flower I most eagerly anticipate every spring. I adore blue-eyed grass. California poppies fill my world with delight. But for some reason, it’s the irises I look for, those are the flowers that mean, “Ah, spring.” Maybe it’s because the poppies start blooming in March, before my birthday. Maybe I love that they grow in long-lived clonal masses. I don’t know.

A huge percentage of organisms in California are endemic, they grow natively only here. Thirty percent of plants are endemic. The endemic critters and plants (like the Tiburon mariposa lily), and those (like California poppies) that grow mostly here, but also elsewhere (poppies grow as far north as the north shores of the Columbia in central Oregon and Washington) form a huge component of my sense of place.

I am a Californian. I am a fifth generation Californian. My great great grandparents came here from Tennessee, “around the horn in a sailing vessel,” in 1856. They started out in northern California, on the Sacramento River delta, but there was malaria and typhoid and cholera, so they moved north to Clear Lake, then south, to the east side of Tulare Lake, which also had typhoid, but they didn’t know that when they left. My grandfather moved back to northern California as a very young man, and that was that, we’ve been Northern Californians ever since.

My sense of place in California, as well as being about the Golden Gate and Yosemite and the delta, the topography, is also about the biology of the area, knowing that irises will bloom near my birthday, that the “bathtub ring” of oak grasslands and chaparral, will sit at a certain place in a certain way, that the hummingbirds will have certain summer ranges.

I think that over my lifetime, as the climate changes, the ecology of California farther south – San Luis Obispo County, Fresno County – will move north. Spring will dry up a little sooner, north-facing hills won't stay green as long.

I like central California, but Cambria is not Half Moon Bay. There are no Douglas irises in Cambria. Redwoods don’t grow that far south.

I know that it is almost always ecologically unsound to introduce plants and animals where they don’t belong. The English introduced the common sparrow to New York. Now, they’re all over North America, displacing bluebirds, and pooping on the tables of sidewalk cafes. Spanish explorers accidentally introduced wild oats and other non-native grasses to California in the manure of their horses. Now, California’s fire-resistant, drought-resistant native grasses only grow in isolated patches.

Historically, with climate change, organisms that weren’t at extremes – the coldest, the driest, the wettest – could often adapt. As California warmed and dried over the past few thousand years, many of the drought-unadapted, “Mesozoic” plant communities like big-leaf maple and California sycamore and California buckeyes became riverine plant communities, staying where it remained cooler and damper. Other areas dried out, the sclerophyllic plants did better. The range of the redwood shrank a little; it remained robust farther north than it had before. But it had a place to go. Except for the most extreme – alpine plants that can’t go farther up, arctic animals that can’t go farther north, can’t find someplace colder – animal and plant communities could shift. There was a place for them to go. Now, with human fragmentation of the environment by development, by freeways and agriculture and forest clear-cutting and housing – where will they go? How will they get there?

One reason California has so many endemic organisms is because this is an island ecology; to the north the Siskiyou mountains prevent migration, to the east the Cascades and Sierra, to the southeast, the Mojave and Sonora deserts are a formidable barrier. They evolved with a particular ecology, and it is, perhaps, natural that climate change will eliminate some species, shift others, change things forever. But humans hadn’t come in, yet, to make adaptation that much harder.

As my “place” shifts north, as the climate changes, I find myself wanting to bring my things along, the animals and plants and communities that help form my sense of place. I find myself wanting to plant Douglas iris north of its current range, to bring the Redwood farther into Oregon. I find myself wanting to buy 50 acres southeast of Portland, right on the edge of the valley and oak lines and below the Douglas fir habitat, and plant redwoods (which grow well with Douglas-fir), blue oak, valley oak, California sycamore, California buckeye, poppies, blue-eyed grass, clarkia, all the wild irises of California (though Oregon has its perfectly nice Pacific Coast iris, the tough-leaved iris), each in its proper habitat, and see how it goes. Every five years or so, I could do a planting, the plants that will fit will do so, none of those is so weedy as to be an issue, except perhaps for poppies, which are already in Oregon. It’s not so much that I want to extend the range of these organisms but to make sure they have a place to live when their ranges dry up.

I know this is ecologically unsound; I think of it more as a wish, a way to protect the organisms that might be hurt by global warming by bringing them to a new place, the Pacific Northwest as an ark for California. Maybe there’s room in British Columbia for the wildflowers currently thriving on Mt. Rainier.

I wish there were room, somewhere, for the plants of the tundra, the narwhal, and the polar bear. There’s no place for them to go.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Originally uploaded by •Laurie•.
I love this photo. It's beautiful.

I am also deeply amused by this comment:

"Wow thats kinda scary having a fault line so close to people."

Guess we shouldn't discuss the Hayward Fault, which runs from bottom right to top center of this shot, or all the blind thrusts under Los Angeles, or the San Andreas up the San Francisco peninsula, or perhaps, oh, the ring of fire in general.

I don't know if I'll ever completely calm down about earthquakes, but I forgets, now and then, that along with a few million other folks within an hour's drive of me, I live almost on top of one massive fault, and within easy damage distance of three others.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Pretty little puddles - saving the remaining vernal pools

Vernal pools rock my world. Essentially, they're ephemeral pools that only show up in the spring.

But in California's central valley, they're driven by an interesting mechanism: Huge chunks of the valley and low foothills are underlain by an almost impermeable clay hardpan layer that has taken years to form. In fact, California's soils have taken as long as three-quarters of a million years to reach the state they were in when gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in the Sierra Nevada. Soil lies on top of that, and in the spring, at decreasingly diverse locations, the acres of shallow water gradually evaporate, leaving a nifty pattern of flower colors. First an early bloomer like bright yellow goldfields will fill in the open areas, then as the pools shrink, where there is newly bare soil, the next flower, perhaps purple downingia, will bloom, then creamy meadowfoam.

When the plow came to California, that started changing irrevocably. It wasn't so bad with initial, light tilling, but when deep plowing for real agriculture hit the dirt, the clay pan was ripped up, never to be replaced within a useful time period. Once that clay pan is gone, it's gone, and no amount of rehab within current technology can make the plains like they were.

One of my deep annoyances is that for the new UC Merced campus, the UC system had choices for location. They could rip up and build on a pristine vernal pool location, or they could make use of an old dairy farm that had already been disturbed and didn't have pools. They chose the vernal pool site. I am just boggled by that. Boggled. What goes on in folks' brains?

Anyway, I could fill this with links, but the other day on Flickr, the guy who runs the vernal pool pool (heh) on Flickr noticed one of my (not especially good, it's in poor light and from a bad angle) Table Mountain vernal pool pictures (on Table Mountain, the soil is underlain by a lava cap that protects the butte), and he asked me to put it in that pool. So I did, and rooted through the pictures there, as I love vernal pools, and they can be photogenic. When I found some of his photos, I immediately knew that Botany Picture of the Day would love them, and suggested he submit them. Not only did he do so, but the BPOD admin noticed my comment, and gave me a shout out for pushing the pics his way. There's usually a few days or weeks of turnaround for submissions there, but apparently they liked the vernal pool pictures, they got up there within 48 hours of my pointing BPOD out to the vernal pool admin.

So the links (and they go to info-filled and pretty places, have a look) are mostly off the BPOD post. Have a look.

Anyway, this is about how important California's vernal pools are and how they need attention and protection, not so much about "hey I got a shout out on BPOD." Most of the valley's pools are long gone. There are some left near Sacramento, and Dixon, and near Vina in Tehama County. The Nature Conservancy has snapped up chunks of acreage to protect them. And the University of California persists in not helping.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Because I love what I love

I’m thinking a lot about why I get the particular weird geographilic interests I get.

For instance, today I attended a talk at the Oakland Museum of California about the decline of amphibians in the Sierra Nevada. I am fascinated by this subject. Years ago, when I took meteorology at Sac State, I tried to do a term paper on it, but there was almost no research then, and it wasn’t a class set up for independent research, no resources, time; it was a term paper, not a research project. Why am I so interested in this, rather than, say, bark beetles or whether we should remove the Hetch Hetchy Dam? I don’t know.

I’m also fascinated by serpentine, the soil, the creation of the stone, the ecology on top of the soil. I’m fascinated by how it feels, its color, its association with gold. I’m fascinated by how it forms at the edge of the mantle, and how I can see serpentine, or serpentine soil, from the roadside and it feels like a familiar friend. Chert’s interesting and plays an important role in California’s geology. Jade’s interesting and valuable and scattered all over the California coast. Granite forms, literally, the backbone of California. Why does serpentine, this toxic, crumbly stuff, fascinate me?

I’m fascinated by California’s oaks. Other oaks around the world interest me, California’s fascinate me. I love the California Black Oak, how it’s neither a red oak with the hard prickly leaves or a softly lobed white oak, but an intermediate. I love the hybrid Oracle Oak, and I love noticing, when I notice one of California’s live oaks, whether it’s interior or coastal by the curve of the leaf and whether there’s hair in the armpits of its veins. I love sitting under huge blue oaks, and I love studying their ecology, how important they are to scrub jays and how important scrub jays are to them, and how valuable a food source acorns are to many different birds and mammals, and about acorn woodpecker granaries. I can cry if I read too much about sudden oak death.

I still can’t figure out exactly why I am sentimental about the aspects of natural history that rock my world. I certainly don’t need to figure it out.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Rain! The crops are saved!"

It's weird, being a Californian, hearing the rain and being so grateful. It's been a very dry winter, some parts of the state, like Shasta County, have received almost no rain.

In much of the state, we are dry from approximately April to October, with the occasional mild thunder storm or sprinkle, sometimes not a drop. Then, from December to February or March, it rains. Sometimes that rain doesn't start until January, but it rains a lot. Sometimes we get big floods. When we moved into this house a couple of years ago, it took two moves with lots of dedicated help for which we're very grateful, in two massive rainstorms that made it unsafe to use the ramp into the truck, people were slipping on it. We had a big enough truck to do the whole thing in one trip with room left over, but it was raining too hard to safely fill the truck the first time. My partner and I each got very sick, just with so much work in the rain and the cold. Our defenses crashed.

This is a Mediterranean climate zone, one of relatively little of the type in the world. And part of that is pouring wet winters, and bone dry summers. Winter colors here are the dark browns of old vegetation and the bright greens of new grass. Summer is golden with drying grass, fall's a bit brown as the grass dies down utterly.

But this winter has been dry. Dry means we don't get as much rain and snowpack in the Sierra, so our reservoirs don't fill. It means our vegetation is crackly in the summer and our forest fires are scarier. It means our agriculture suffers and food prices rise. Dry and too warm can mean fruit and nut trees flower too early, then any spring rain or heavy wind knocks flowers off, and our orchard crops suffer horribly.

Now it's raining, and I'm relieved. It's been storming for a couple of days, alternating cloudy/damp with what Grandma called "pissing down rain," not windy stormy wet, but a steady rainfall, the kind illustrated with vertical lines and people holding umbrellas. It's the kind that brought about the denouement of the film "Paint Your Wagon." It's just wet.

I know California will change over the next 50 years, it's part of what's making me want to move gradually northward, bringing my buckeye seeds and my redwood seedlings, and settle on California's northwest coast, or in Oregon. I don't want to see the bay area's climate change to that of Los Angeles, which also has wet winters, but is in bona fide desert. I don't want to watch what happens with California's reservoirs and agriculture and riparian systems.

But for now, it's raining. I feel like I have roots and am slurping it up.

(Oh, and the dorky title? That's from a shampoo commercial in the seventies that's been an earworm for me, when it rains, ever since.)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

And so it begins

I've had this blogger account for a long time, and mostly ignored it. My intention was to start a blog about geography, why I love it, what interests me, and how I would teach it and natural history (and the million or so associated subjects) once I have my master's degree.

I'm now back in school, working toward that goal. As I sit in class, a steady stream of ideas has been trickling through my brain. I write them down in the margins of my notebook. "Blog this," and "What about. . . .?" Then I remembered Geographile. Oh yes.

So here I am. I am going to try for four or five posts a week. If I have lazier times and busier times, I'll try to blog with pre-written filler. I will also, almost certainly, photo-blog from flickr (my own photos, and others that interest me), write the occasional geography-related book review, echo posts from Geographile on LiveJournal, and keep an active set of interesting links.

I will try not to babble.