Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Valley Oak near us

Nearby Valley Oak, from our San Rafael backyard.
The valley oak (Quercus lobata) that grows within view of our backyard towers high over the block. Here, a tuft of passing storm cloud gives it a timeless backdrop. This cloud is sweeping from right to left, as the wavelike pattern on its top edge might indicate. This was during our first rain event of the fall, about two months ago. (And the blaze of color is thanks to this being the 37th frame on a 36-exposure roll of film.)

We are lucky to live in a microclimate warm enough for the valley oak to tolerate. Where we lived until August last year, in Tamalpais Valley, just on the other side of the 2,572-foot-tall Mount Tamalpais, it was too cool and fog-influenced for this species. That was less than 7 miles away, but as the name implied, it was in a valley, which tends to trap cooler air. This was noticeable in the summer, when fog would sometimes roll in from the nearby Pacific by 4pm on summer days--if it was sunny at all.

Here, in San Rafael, we and our neighbors own window-unit air conditioners that stay very busy in July and August; but we get to enjoy the presence of the valley oak. This tree can rise to a height over 100 feet, and boast a trunk over six feet thick. According to my naturalist friend Josiah, the valley oaks in the area are the reason that we frequently enjoy a pair of white-breasted nuthatches visiting our backyard. This, too, is a species that would be nearly unthinkable to see in Tam Valley.

For my birthday last year, my friend Mike gave me the excellent Oaks of California (Cachuma Press, 1991). This paperback is a wonderful guide for those interested in California's oak diversity, wildlife associated with oaks, indigenous peoples' use of oaks, and where to find the eight oaks of California. I recommend it for anyone (even if not in California) interested in the overall majesty of the oak.

When I first received this book, I had little knowledge of the valley oak or where it lived. I had no idea I'd be able to see one from my backyard in a year. I longed to see what was described in the passage below, quoted on page 11 of the book. It was written by surveyor William Brewer in 1861:
First I passed through a wild canyon, then over hills covered with oats, with here and there trees -- oaks and pines. Some of these oaks were noble ones indeed. How I wish one stood in our yard at home. ... I measured one, with wide and spreading and cragged branches, that was 26.5 feet in circumference. Another had a diameter of over six feet, and the branches spread over 75 feet each way. I lay beneath its shade a little while before going on.
In our neighborhood, redwood and sequoia trees have also been planted. I imagine they were planted by those inspired by seeing them in regions of California where they take on their full majesty. Here, they are wind-pruned and stunted. The only giant here is the valley oak.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Summer in Review

Summer 2015 has been busy. So, this blog has been a little quiet for several months. Here's a brief review of the summer's events.

June: Drive to Washington State...

Redding, CA. Despite the name, we didn't stay here. We stayed at the Thunderbird down the street, and it served us just fine. We rolled in at 2am with no reservation; they were dog-friendly and the room was clean.

Heavenly Donuts, Redding, CA. The donuts were heavenly, the breakfast bagel was not.

...to get married (photo: Jenny Jimenez).

Hanging out with family for a few days in La Conner.

Kiket island, low tide, June 2015.

 Brief Ritchlips Road Trip (a few more photos here on Instagram).

Ice for sale (for beer and fish), Nordland/Marrowstone, WA. Across the street from this is one of the most comprehensive and well displayed General Stores I've ever visited.

Former site of the Elwha dam, a must-see destination for restoration tourists like ourselves. This is the largest dam removal site in US history.
Enormous driftwood at South Beach, Olympic National Park.

July: Back home with visitor Mabel.


Special visitors from ABQ.


August: Back to Work. The ring holds up to gardener work.

Go hang out in Canada for a week.

Yes, we had our limousine driver stop at McDonald's. The good times were only beginning!
This is a screen shot from my iPhone, which counts your steps. The lull in the middle of this graph represents our time at Balsam Lake. I wasn't as much of a sloth as it appears -- I just didn't have my phone with me, or on, most of the time. I think the spike was the day that Andrew, Lila, and I went to the Blue Jays game and kicked around Toronto.

Late August: Move. 

Original reservation with U-Haul: check out truck at 8am, return by 9pm. Reality: We returned the truck at 6:56am after pulling an all-nighter of packing as we moved. Lessons were learned!
Now, it's late September, our new place is still on a room-by-room basis, but we're happy here. Fairly regular (?) posts from americanature will resume. I've been having fun with instagram, too.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tellima grandiflora, depth of field

Tellima grandiflora (with a visitor), Miwok Trail, Marin County, February 2015.

 Tellima grandiflora, or fringecups, is one of the gems of Marin County's native flora. Like many, it shows itself in the spring, adding color that is easily overlooked to the woodland understory and streambanks. But upon closer study, one notices a transition in color from the base of the panicle (flower spike) to the top; looking closer, one can see delicate fringes on the tips of its petals. It's kind of a marvel. It is the kind of thing that makes me wonder -- why? Why the detail? Does this help this plant survive somehow? Maybe it doesn't matter; beauty is subjective. But, perhaps it has made it this far in the face of so deleterious a species as the human being because of its beauty. Perhaps it will help save woodlands and streambanks from the pressures we put on their native ecosystem types.

Then again, maybe its beauty has led to it being planted elsewhere in the world, outside of its native range. And, maybe now, like other plants that have performed similar feats, it has become invasive somewhere and loathed by native plant community defenders elsewhere in the world. I am pleased that a quick google for "tellima grandiflora invasive" only yielded results indicating that fringecups is a desired plant that must be saved from invasives. 

At any rate, when I encountered a few individuals of this species on the Miwok Trail a few miles from my house, I was faced with a challenge. I only had one lens -- a 90mm. But I wanted to get as close to the flower as possible. I got a few individuals from many angles. On the one below, I took four separate shots and changed the focus as I stood above it. I started at the bottom and began focusing my way up the top. Light was limited and I had no tripod, so I needed to keep my shutter speed no slower than 1/60 second. So I opened up my aperture all the way and embraced my narrow depth of field (could that be a metaphor for something?).

Then, after developing my film and receiving my photos on CD from Photoworks SF,  I combined the four images into an animated.gif with the free software PhotoScape. (The animation repeats continuously.)

Tellima DOF GIF, Marin County, February 2015.

For the full length HD link to PBS' documentary adaptation of Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire -- click here.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Glitterpoop at Oakwood Valley

Watch out, Beardog! That's glitterpoop!


It makes me chuckle to think that there is a person out there who does this. He or she embarks on their regular hike at Oakwood Valley with a glitter dispenser and a keen eye for rogue dog poops. Those that catch his or her eye get a little sprinkle. 

I have only seen this here, on this particular Marin County trail, and I have seen it done for a few years. 

Is this:
1) A citizen's arrest of sorts, calling out irresponsible dog owners who don't tend their pets' excrement?

2) art/protest?

3)  another form of littering?

You decide.