Archive for August, 2019

Plants and Animals

31 August 2019

Here in central California, the end of August is hot and dry throughout most of the inner valleys. That sort of weather even hits the coasts this time of year sometimes.

You’d expect the flowers to all be wilting, the wild berries shriveled up, and the grasslands a dull tan color. Midday you’d expect the animals to all be hiding somewhere until the sun gets lower in the sky.

But such was not exactly my experience as I biked home from Folsom through the American River Parkway.

I wanted to concentrate on the section of the trail (and river) between Folsom and Rancho Cordova, as this is the part I have tended to ignore a bit in my trips. I’m not yet tired enough to find an excuse to get off my bike and take some pictures.

Over on the other side of the river just west of Folsom is the posh/hip community of Fair Oaks. And across from Rancho Cordova is the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael.

This river is well-used from both sides for kayaking, river rafting and a bit of fishing. Over most of this segment, it is shallow and relatively slow-moving. There are some bluffs on the other side (the “north” side of the river) that bring human settlement very close to the stream’s edge. But most of the rest of the floodplain has levees built around it, which is how the Parkway came to be.

Up at the Folsom end, and just across from the park along Folsom Blvd., there are some awesome stands of blackberry bushes. One would expect most of the berries to be dried up by this time of year, but I found a few still going strong in a shaded area.

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There are also wild grapes growing in this area, but that crop does not seem so profuse this year.

There is a place along the trail (bikeway) where I have often seen deer. I am amazed they congregate there, as the houses come in very close, and there are people walking dogs. Yet the deer – does at least – show up there regularly. But I was not prepared to see all three does plus their fawn foraging together a little before noon.

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I decided to set near them a while and just sort of ask them to come closer. To my amazement, after a few minutes they started to do so. I have seen does “act stupid” before. They don’t seem to have the same attitude towards their own safety that the bucks do. First they came up to, maybe, 30 feet away from the trail. One decided she was going to feed on a particular tree, but the “good” branches were too high, so she got up on her rear legs and stretched for it! I’ve never seen a deer do that before. The image below was not that well-exposed, so I did an auto-color-correct on it. She really looks pretty goofy in this picture.

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Meanwhile, the others and the fawn were getting even closer. They came under a tree maybe 15 feet away from the trail. Damned if I could keep the camera steady enough to get a crisp image with my zoom all the way out, but this is the best picture of a fawn I have ever taken.

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Next, the rest of the does decided to come right up to the bike trail. Bikes were going by, I was talking to them, people were stopping to photograph them, people were walking their dogs on the other side, and these deer just wouldn’t go away!

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For a while, all three even crossed the bike path to see what was worth chomping on on the other side. Someone with a dog, I think, scared two of them back, but the third one didn’t want to leave.

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I walked right up to her (well, pretty close) and talked to her. “It’s better if you stay over on that side,” I said, “it will be safer for you there.” She still didn’t want to leave. It seems she had found something really interesting on the ground to chew on.

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It may have been some snack food that one of the bike riders had thrown out a little earlier. But I insisted, “come on, girl, back to the other side with the others!” She finally went back across.

I have never seen any wild deer get this close to people. They were young does, but still, this seemed a bit odd. Perhaps they were really hungry. They did look a bit scrawny to me.

I finally picked up and left. Not much further down was the place where the bikeway had been blocked for several weeks so that a washout could be fixed. Finally this part was open again! The repair itself was not very visually interesting. They had dumped a crapload of crushed rock down the slope to shore up the washout. I did notice a lizard out on one of the rocks taking a sunbath.

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Just a little further down the trail there is a place where the bank gets very steep. It’s hard to tell how much of this is “natural.” This whole area was extensively mined and dredged using the “placer” method, which leaves huge piles of small boulders by the shore, and the landscape considerably altered.

But here on this steep bank I found a tree hanging on for dear life to what looked like a piece of the original clay soil beneath the stone piles.

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The view below is from the same area. Notice the pine trees. They don’t appear further down the river. I haven’t completely looked into the history of these pines. They may have been an earlier attempt at reforestation. Note the mound of rocks in the middle of the river – possibly also the remains of earlier mining operations. And the parking lot in the distance is one of the many public access points to the river.

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Somewhere along the bikeway, there is a section where these rather lovely yellow flowers grow. They are mostly wilting now, but I finally got a clear picture of one. I was having a terrible time getting my camera to focus on them in closeup mode.

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I will return soon with some photographs of plants and animals that live thousands of miles away from California, but in a climate not that different from ours.

 

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Geography Lesson

24 August 2019

I recently made a short trip to the Caribbean to take a service on our ship the Freewinds. (To find out more about the Freewinds, visit scientology.tv, Inside Scientology episodes.)

I flew to Atlanta first, then to Aruba. Here’s the approximate flight path:

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I picked a map without any writing on it to minimize copyright problems.

To refresh your memory, the biggest island is Cuba and the next biggest is Haiti/Dominican Republic. The stringy little islands to the north of those are the Bahamas. Aruba is part of the Netherlands Antilles.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to colonize Aruba. They enslaved most of the natives there, and so when the Dutch took over, the people were much relieved, as the Dutch did not impose slavery there.

Aruba, with Curacao and other places in this area, is relatively dry (arid). So it never became a plantation island. It was used for trade, for providing other food supplies, and later as a location for some industrial installations.

But this post is mainly about the flight to Aruba.

As we were traveling, I only had a rather general sense of the places we would be flying over. My window looked east, so that’s what I saw.

The view from a plane window, as you may know, is not usually that awesome. In some of these photos, I asked my photo editing app (IrfanView) to auto-correct the colors. This gave them more contrast, though they look a bit gaudy. Here is an example using just clouds:

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I have not been able to identify the smaller islands we flew over, but several came to view.

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This next one has not been color-enhanced.

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Notice how the clouds seem to be forming over the land mass.

Next we flew over Haiti. I had studied Haiti a bit, so when I saw this, I thought: “Hey, isn’t this the top of Haiti?” Yes, this is Tortuga, on the north side of Haiti.

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Later I saw a city and I thought, “Port-au-Prince?” But this matches better to a city in Haiti called Gonaives.

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At the south of this big island is a feature I thought would be a cinch to spot when I got home and could open something like Google Maps. And I was right. This is an interesting feature at the south of the island, part of a large national park in the Dominican Republic.

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It looks like some giant finger came down and scraped a trench across this peninsula, turning the tip into an island. Perhaps something of that nature actually occurred.

It is nothing but clouds and sea until we arrive at Aruba.

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This shot has not been color-corrected.

I believe the plane came in on the west side of the island, then flew down over the water to get to the airport.

After 12 hours of travel and 24 hours with no real rest, I had arrived at my destination!

 

 

A Not-So-Normal Saturday

10 August 2019

I didn’t see any deer this Saturday, so will show you the doe I saw last week resting under a tree.

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I left early to go shopping in Folsom so I could be back in time to catch the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities being put on by the Square Root Academy at DOCO.

The train was crowded. It included two guys who planned to bike around Folsom Lake then return home via the American River Parkway bike trails. We had a nice chat.

The shopping went fine as usual, and I was shortly on the bike trail headed back downtown.

There are some plants which – kind of amazingly – wait until late summer to bloom. One of them is tarweed. It is not native to this area, but grows well here. As you might be able to tell from the photo, its branches and tiny leaves are sticky.

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The ride was relatively uneventful until I got down to the area of Rancho Cordova’s Hagan Community Park (the same park where they have Kid’s Day every year). The trail that goes by there experienced a wash out near the river, so someone decided to fix it, and that section of the trail was closed.

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So everyone had to bike through the suburbs of Rancho Cordova, then into the park. There is a school next to the park where football players and cheerleaders were practicing. But if I got close enough to get good pictures, I thought I’d interfere with the practice. The geese at the pond were much more available (although I really would have liked a nice shot of the cheerleaders!).

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After squirrels, birds are probably the most noticeable animals in parks or park-like spaces. I usually take a short break at the Sac State Arboretum. And who should I find sharing the shady forest-like environment with me? Turkeys!

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Turkeys are kind of a “thing” in Sacramento, particularly near both large and small waterways. It’s a bit like the free-roaming chickens in Fair Oaks and Yuba City. Permaculture-wise, poultry or fowl are considered an important part of a natural garden. They help with weed control, add some fertility to the soil via their poop, and can be used (if privately owned) as a source of meat. Turkeys are commonly seen in odd places near the river or tributary creeks around Sacramento, but I’d never seen them in the Arboretum before.

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They were just hanging out; seemed not very interested in going anywhere else. They are large strong birds compared to chickens, or even geese, so it’s wisest to give them some space.

After the Arboretum, I took city streets into town.

After stowing the groceries, I went out to the DOCO to see the STEM displays. Square Root Academy is an educational non-profit that helps get less-advantaged kids interested in technology subjects. I was interested in what they would “bring to the table,” so to speak.

On my way out, there was a large group of bicycle riders (not “cyclists” – the ones who wear special spandex suits and do it for exercise, just ordinary-looking people) outside my door. I don’t know what they were up to but it looked fun.

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In case anyone wonders, that’s an older mural in the background. The city has a lot of murals, as there is an event every year during which artists are invited to paint more of them. The area next to that was a very old hotel. The brick facade looked nice, so it was left standing and the old structure behind it completely removed. The area looks rather strange right now, as they are just beginning to put in a foundation for the new hotel that will go there. So all you see from the street is the old brick facade, suspended on a beefy steel framework, which I suppose will be removed when the facade is attached to the new building going in behind it. I’ve never seen this done before.

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Meanwhile, in DOCO the Square Root Academy volunteers have set up tables with science projects suitable for young people (like me).

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The sugar snake table attracts my attention. You can mix sugar with baking soda, then set it on fire and it’s supposed to puff up into a big black weird-shaped ash. Um – mine didn’t come out that great, though.

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There was a table for each of the four “elements,” fire, water, earth and air. At the water table they had vortex bottles and bowls for comparing the density of clear water and salt water. At the earth table they had two water filters set up, one filled with sand and the other with wood chips. Hm. And they also had an erosion demo set up in a paint tray. I played with that. At the air table you could make a sail-powered car, except they ran out of hot glue by the time I got there. I made a pretty good one anyway without using glue.

I am not “passionate” about technology the way some people still seem to be. I know it has an up side and a down side. The up side is that we can use it as a tool to extend our capabilities. The down side is that we can use it as a crutch, or for destructive purposes, or to “maximize profit” while leaving a poor class who can no longer find the manufacturing jobs that used to be so plentiful.

Still, a modern society must be able to deal with technology successfully. We can only  maintain control over it if more people understand it quite well. So we do need to educate people about it. But that requires Study Technology, which most educators are not yet aware of.

From what I can tell, society is in the throes of the next phase of its technological development. In this phase, a wealthier stratum has the choice to “break away” and build a society where machines do all the hard work, including the policing of the masses. The “common people” think that they have an opportunity to improve life for everybody by somehow seeing to it that technologies do not get abused by special interests. It seems to me that this is the real battle and the real issue. How do you bring humanity and compassion to a stratum of society that has seldom if ever demonstrated these traits in the past? That’s our big challenge.

My 1979 Rock Art Trip

3 August 2019

As a part of putting up some “historical” articles that might be of interest, I offer a short and somewhat impromptu account of a trip I took in 1979. It was an important trip for me personally, but because we visited a remote area in California, it might be of broader interest. The photographs are from slides I took from the trip (except for the featured image) which were later scanned into digital files. Thus, they don’t have the quality of a modern digital photo taken with a 5Meg camera such as the one I have been using since the late 1990s.

The University Research Expeditions Program (UREP) started in 1976. It gave people a way to take a summer (usually) vacation and help a researcher with one of their projects at the same time. It attracted mostly college-educated people, but the variety of participants could be quite great. Their rock art expedition into the hills behind Santa Barbara was the cheapest one they offered, so I signed up for it.

There were about a dozen people on this trip. They included men and women of every age. There were two who took care of the camp and did the cooking. Very valuable! A bunch of the guys were “regulars.” And a few others, like me, had never done anything like this before. Our hosting researcher was Georgia Lee, a rock art expert working out of UC Santa Barbara.

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The scenery was iconic California back country – grazed land of course, but in this area, protected because of the native art inside the rock sheltered spaces.

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I actually have few good pictures of the art itself. But here is a sense of our little adventure. Below is pictured one of the sites we visited early on during the about two weeks we were there. You can see there was a division of labor: The site mappers, the photographers, the art tracers.

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We day hiked to all of the sites from the camp.

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If a site was too far from this camp, we didn’t visit it.

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The camp stood below a rock formation that itself had paintings in the sheltered areas.

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Some campers were writers and brought portable typewriters to keep journals or do creative writing.

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We usually didn’t go to bed in our tents until after dark.

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Showers were courtesy a water tank set up for the cattle (not pictured).

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This trip helped me to grow up. In 1979 I turned 25. But I did not have the social skills of a 25-year-old. This trip helped propel me in that direction. It was really my first experience working together with a wide variety of people who all got along at a very friendly level, even though they weren’t family.

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These people all had a mix of serious intellect, a sense of humor, a willingness to work hard, and an ability to be with each other.

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It opened up my respect for humanity, and in a way, for myself, as they were willing to accept me as one of them.

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In the following year I would take another major trip by myself on my way to a family reunion in Iowa.

I also joined Gamelan Sekar Jaya around that time, then not soon after got into Scientology and joined the Sea Org.

People need to have the opportunity to grow up and take some level of responsibility in life comparable to their awareness of life. This trip helped me to do that.

 

 

 

On Deer, Trains and…

1 August 2019

Here’s a little mildly contemplative midweek piece based around a few of my photos that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Trains

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Trains – the only way for most people to get around in the past – are supposed to save our futures. But…no one will ride them!

Here’s my coach, downtown, Saturday morning, taking me out to Folsom. It did get a bit fuller than this. But this is Regional Transit’s problem in this area: Everyone prefers to drive. Almost everyone. Most people who don’t have cars and are forced to use the train (or the bus) are the marginalized poor. This only changes during weekday rush hours and for certain downtown events on the weekend. You can drive to a parking lot in the suburbs, where parking is free, then ride in to the city, where parking is expensive. Costs about $5 round trip.

And what about climate change?

I’ve been exposed to a lot of data about the “climate change” problem recently, too. Same situation. Too much technology is based on gasoline, other petroleum fuels, oil and natural gas (methane). And no one wants to give it up, or convert to something else before they are sure the game is up.

On the one hand, there is the argument that if it takes as much energy (equivalent energy) to extract petroleum from the ground than that extract contains as potential energy, then why mine it? This makes sense to me.

On the other hand, you have people saying that if we weren’t supplying CO2 from burning carbon-based fuels, atmospheric CO2 would eventually fall so low that plants would start dying. This ex-Greenpeace guy, Patrick Moore, has a graph that shows the long-term atmospheric CO2 levels long into the past. In recent years the level has been around 400 parts per million, way up from recent earlier periods. But we are still in a glacial period where lots of CO2 is locked up in ice and sea water.

As sea water warms, its ability to store CO2 goes way down. This leads Moore to suggest that the climate cycles have much more effect on CO2 levels in the atmosphere than we could ever have. 100 million years ago, atmospheric CO2 was probably around 1,000 ppm, and it has seldom been below that level for the last 500 million years.

Another important way that carbon gets sequestered (locked up in solid forms) is in sea shells and coral, which are made of calcium carbonate. In geologic time, the oceans have produced massive amounts of limestone (all made from shells – the only way it can be made naturally) which continues to sequester massive amounts of carbon to this day. So the oceans seem to be a major player in carbon sequestration that no one ever talks about.

Forests

Forests also store carbon in the form of trees. One of the largest forest systems on Earth today is the boreal – the northern forests. While we worry mostly about the equatorial forests in South America, the boreal forests are also being encroached upon by tar sand mining operations. Of course, some companies also want to log these forests, and have been chipping away at them for years now. The only thing that saves them, apparently, is that they are so remote.

Redwoods

In a recent documentary I saw about the work of Diana Beresford-Kroeger (a Canadian botanist), the shrinking of the California redwood forests was shown on a map. A huge amount of logging occurred before we put any protections in place, and redwood is still valued as lumber. Those trees provide a great service to the inland valleys in aiding to recharge the aquifers and keep the climate moister and cooler. But those benefits are long gone in most regions of California today.

Closer to home…

Though some redwoods stand in Sacramento County, most that exist today were planted. This river bottomland is not their native habitat. They apparently originally grew in two belts, one coastal and one near the mountains.

But just upstream of Sacramento, there are plenty of pines along the river, and the parkway forests harbor many plants and animals, including deer.

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These deer don’t particularly like to show themselves, but the younger does and their fawns have a tendency to be a bit incautious. Thus I caught these views in a recent trip down through the parkway.

Though I used zoom for these shots (you can tell from the foreground twigs out of focus) these animals were not far off the bike trail, or I would not have even seen them. The fawn is particularly cute, but has learned (I think) to take its cues from its mother. It stood still for the longest time before deciding it would be OK to walk forward a bit, closer to where she was. For deer to stand in one place this long is a little unusual.

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It is quite dry in this area at this time of year. We have already had one small brush fire close to downtown, but across the river. And I saw goats being used in Fair Oaks to help control underbrush up there.

In this climate, underbrush does not mat down and decay over winter. The average stand of underbrush in the fields and forests here is probably at least five years old. It eventually decays, but you really need either grazing or fire to get rid of it. We have been choosing fire. But perhaps we will get more into grazing. The goats seem to be very cooperative.