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Whittier Fire Continues

Santa Barbara fire map with recent fires_1499724149968_7424712_ver1.0

The day has a color to it and a faint taste.  The Whittier Fire has burned over 10,800 acres so far, and the sky is hazed by a strange warm hue. From the detail map it seems that a fierce defense of the two peaks which carry most of our communications may have been successful, but as I noted before if any of you find it difficult to reach family or friends in this area of Southern California, don’t panic– communications may be challenged.

I can only salute the extraordinary fire respondents in all roles, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us who go about our daily lives with little more than a feeling of anxiety, refreshed every so often by a look at the alien sky. I think this will be a long fight.

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Off again!

We seethed about the Geology loading dock for a while, counting heads, listing names. Last call for the restrooms, then faculty, students and tag-along (count me) piled into the university vans. Our April 2017 Paleogeology field trip to Death Valley was off at last.

4 of crew good

How many years since I went on one of these trips? Too many. I went on one to the Goler Formation when our kid was in elementary school but she’s in graduate school now. Sure, we’d done summer trips to various sites but none had been quite like this, where you set off with a batch of strangers and after three days know each other well enough to be friends, or not….

We found a cottonwood camp site by a dried out arroyo, not a problem since each vehicle had several great jerrycans (bottles these days) of potable water–in fact we carried so much that we dumped several before we set off for home again. I’m sure the cottonwoods enjoyed that. Students had each brought their own tents and sleeping bags, or borrowed from the faculty before we set off. You can see that our own drawtight, a relic from a British arctic expedition, fit right into the landscape. Yes, we do possess something lighter weight and more modern, but in April in the Death Valley desert it can get pretty cold at night and this little friend of ours is a cozy construct.

our tent

My husband and I volunteered as camp guards. Outside of the national parks or official national campgrounds, there are of course no stations, no officialdom to protect your possessions, so we pledged to watch over the kit while the students and other faculty went off on site visits. The main purpose of the trip was to give these students a treat– let them camp in the desert and see pre-Cambrian and Cambrian trace fossils and real fossils. Think of burrow traces in mud, and stromatolites, with perhaps occasionally a trilobite in the younger strata.

on a spring evening copy

Wonderful group of students, all obsessed with mysteries of past life and ecosystems, all willing to recite at the drop of a pen, a list of favorite taxa. I have some familiarity with past life forms, but these kids could describe in passionate detail, creatures I’d never even read about. They were true fans. However I must say that later that night around the little propane ‘firepit’, (the safest source of a bit of warmth and cheer we could manage on a windy night,) the students veered off into realms of the internet, and left the faculty far behind. I noted it with a certain regret, for the other trips I’d been on with department students long years back had students so hungry for more science that they spent the night begging stories and illuminations from the faculty, because they realized that they had a unique opportunity to tap those older brains to their content. Nowhere for the faculty to run away while out camping!

For the first time I cheated over the dinners, and I’d recommend this to any of you going out for a very short trip like this with a sizeable and impatiently hungry group. I pre-cooked. For the first night I had a beef stew, long-simmered well–spiced beef until it was fall-apart tender, plus a load of yesterday’s soft-baked yeast rolls. That with salad, made for fast prep. For the next day I’d made and frozen a load of chicken curry, which with the swift boiling of a load of macaroni made for a good stomach-filler on the brisk second evening.

moon at eve copy

I’m not sure anyone, however tired, slept well that first night. The wind was a noisy companion, gusting and rising and falling almost all the night until dawn. There also came a mouse to our tent, scrabbling hopefully at one corner, so that we gave in and zipped the tent up. We came out of our tents at six thirty and everyone fed on good foods from bagels and muffins to instant oatmeal. Cups of coffee and tea, a scramble to make lunch sandwiches, and then the cry went out for a last visit to the bushes before take-off.

Again, my husband and I had set ourselves as camp guards, so all the kit could be left safely. Besides, husband had a lecture to write for the day after our projected return, and it was a gnarly one. I had paintings to paint, sketches to make, lizards and birds and insects to find, draw and identify.

For us it was an idyllic day. After the lecture was under control, we scrambled about the general area looking over the old mine sites with caution, eyes open for rattlers (I am surprised but we never saw even one, though I did spot some snake tracks in the soft sands of the arroyo.) Old settling ponds, deserted collapsed mine shafts and old slag, what had been the site of a town, and remarkable long views across desert and mountains. Phainopeplas whistled incessantly, and the soft wheep wheep of quail erupted with concern every time they came across us and realized we were alive.

The students and other faculty returned and we warmed up food for the team. Another evening around the propane firepit, less wind this time, then all fell into bed and had that good sleep that one often does the second or third night out.

Morning saw us packing out, but on our way headed out of the region we had a morning site visit to some outcrops that gave us all good views of some trace fossils, and an overview of a Tesla commercial being filmed. I noted that the photographer stopped at one point and took a few frames of us time travellers clambering about the slopes of rock. Maybe he or she was envious.

grand

Long drive home, all arrived safe and weary, but full of conversation. I know our vehicle’s talk covered everything from the ethics of diet and alternative medicine to the depiction of science in film.

I hope to work up a few paintings out of my notebook, and if I do, I shall hope to share them here.

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Two versions

Whenever I paint a scene for the second time I try very hard not to let the second version be influenced too much by the first. I do not let myself look at the first until I have decided the new painting is done. So here for your amusement (and mine) are two paintings separated by over a year, painted plein air of the same scene with the similar theme of coming home at evening in spring. The site is Sedgwick Ranch, one of the University of California Reserve System locations. I would have imagined them identical, but look– this is what really happens with the eye and heart translating.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Health tips that may be not be that beneficial

Common sense for many seasons to come.

Town & Country Gardening

’12 healthy habits’ you’re better off giving up
Using a standing desk A recent long term study looking at data on nearly 4,000 US adults found no benefit in terms of overall risk of dying from standing as opposed to sitting.
In the short term, however, standing does burn more calories per minute, so if losing weight is all you’re worried about, keep standing!

Avoiding gluten Unless you’re one of the 1% of Americans who suffer from celiac disease, gluten probably won’t have a negative effect on you. In fact, studies show that most people suffer from slight bloating and gas when they eat, whether they consume wheat or not. So go ahead and eat that bagel and baguette.

Drinking almond milk. Alternatives to dairy milk have been surging in popularity in the last few years, chief among them almond milk. Yet almond milk is practically devoid of nutrients.
By…

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A few from Ramsey Canyon

gray-hairstreak

Gray Hairstreak

huachuca-giant-skipper-bht-copy

The Huachuca Giant Skipper

the-expressive-lizard

An expressive Twin-Spotted Spiny Lizard.

ca-patch-bht-copy

A Bordered Patch butterfly.

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Last Comment on All For Pie

concord grapes in box

I must share with you the final tally in our effort to save our concord grapes from the rats. We put up eighteen pies’ worth of concord grapes in the freezer– this is seventy two cups after stemming. So yes, it was worth the labor and the invention of rat proofs!

Grape Pie

Oven 400 F

9″ unbaked pie shell

Topping:

3/4 c flour

1/2 c sugar

cut in 1/3 c butter until crumbly

Filling: Combine these three ingredients thoroughly.

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

dash of salt

————–

1 Tb lemon juice or more

1 Tb melted butter

4 cups concord-type grapes


Slip the skins from the grapes and put the sugar combination with the skins in a bowl. Simmer the grape innards until very soft, soft enough to easily press through a sieve to remove the seeds. I have tried other methods but none work as well as this one. Mix the now seedless grape pulp with the other filling ingredients including the melted butter and lemon juice. Pour into the pie crust and scatter the crumbly topping over the top before baking for 40 to 50 minutes. Best served at room temperature, not hot.

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All For Pie–The Sequel

concords in ratproof

We have been harvesting the concord grapes and my little rat proofs have worked. If you try it, I have a couple of observations.

One, simply having these strange objects in the vines will decrease rat activity. It won’t stop the little brats, but there will be less damage. Two, a trick I learned over the past week is that if some bunches ripen and you take then out, re-use the rat proof, and the moving about of these containers will also dismay the rats. Every day that I made such changes, the activity of rats decreased markedly the following night, and then increased again the night after. Last of all, we were right to say that some grapes might ‘cook’ in the plastic containers– but this only affected grape clusters out in the full sun. All of this said– we have four baskets of grapes and I plan to initiate processing tomorrow to freeze up the makings for a passel of grape pies for fall and winter!

basket of concords

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