18 March 13
Underway on the Rails
I’ve been away for a week now and have seen hundreds of miles of country, some arid, some snowy, such as it is here in Tyrone, home of Via Negativa’s Dave Bonta.
Travelng by train is a curious mix of fast food convenience, nineteenth- century nostalgia (several stations in Illinois had hosted debates in which Lincoln was a participant), and the feeling that you’ve entered a fifties-style diner where a group of locals is sitting around shooting the breeze, but by virtue of having boarded the train, you are automatically a member of the group.
Several people pointed me to a recent New York Times article about train travel in the US. Most of what’s in the article has rung true for me, though I think every single passenger on every train I’ve boarded since last Tuesday could have written a different version of that article.
Nice to have two nights at Dave’s. I’ll be on my way to Boston tomorrow via Philadelphia. I’ll travel through my mother’s childhood and adolescence, feeling their force with none of the details that memory catches like butterflies, rising on a warm spring day. I am not sure what my own childhood train memory trip would look like, but I’m about to follow my mother’s.
8 March 13
As Spotted From The Bus
I went on an outing to San Francisco today, ending up at the Legion of Honor museum after taking the train to Emeryville, the Amtrak bus to the Financial District, and the 38L bus out Geary to the Outer Richmond district. The following were some noteworthy items spotted from the buses:
- A truck labeled “Matthew International – Casket Division” (note – although Matthew International is traded on the NYSE, they do not mention their casket division anywhere near their home page)
- A restaurant: Volcano Curry of Japan
- Another restaurant: Five Happiness Restaurant (why five? why not four, or six?)
- The Right Way Market and Deli
- Two closed down old movie theatres on Geary: the Alexandria, and the Bridge. The marquee on the Bridge said “SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR THE POPCORN”
- The Anti-Saloon League (established 1920)
- In fading paint on the side of a building: “E. M. O’Donnell Copper Works”
3 December 12
Lots of rain lately! From last Thursday the 29th to Sunday morning, we got 4.07 inches of rain in three tightly spaced storms, the warm air not producing much snow in the mountains. We had a casualty though. On Sunday morning Pica looked out the window and saw that the almond tree fell over. We evidently slept through the crash; the weather station log said that the wind speed got up to 31 MPH early in the morning. We’ll miss the tree, especially for the sweet harbinger of spring when it blooms in February before leafing out.
28 July 12
A Day At The Fair
We went to the California State Fair today because Pica was helping Robin Lynde of Meridian Jacobs sheep farm with her stall in the livestock hall. Pica spent much of her time drum carding wool at the booth, an activity which a lot of people were curious about, and I was free to wander all about the fair. After doing an initial pass through the exhibit halls, I started sketching, beginning at the western end of the fair, where all the rides are (at left) and ending back in the livestock hall (see below at right).
27 June 12
More Gray Foxes
So the gray fox family is doing well. Five pups, now about 12 weeks old. I was able to catch the male this evening as he was guarding the whole territory. They make a funny kind of bark, like a terrier but much deeper, growling in there somewhere. (Below is a photo of the male barking at me.)
Having wild creatures like this so close to an urban area is thrilling but also worrying — too many cars going way too fast. For now, they seem fine.
7 June 12
We’ve been noticing a gray fox around where I work. There’s a meadow that is more or less kept mowed between my building and a horse paddock; it hosts a lot of wildlife, much of it prey for things like red-shouldered and Swainson’s hawks, coyotes, and the feral cats we seem never to quite get rid of.
About three years ago I spotted a gray fox near the railway tracks. It was my first ever near our house and I was elated. Seems like they’re moving in, because this fox we’ve been seeing recently is a vixen with two pups. They have a den under the building I work in.
This sketch is of the mother who climbed a toyon tree to get onto a sea container in order to put us under surveillance last night. We made very quick sketches and backed away, not wanting to put her under any more stress. The pups, two of them, played happily in the twilight… Hope they stay away from the road and that they get enough to eat.
20 May 12
I left Massachusetts for California in 1996, in mid-June after the end of spring migration. It was the best migration for years. For some strange reason I’ve left it sixteen years to return there in May. I don’t know why. What I do know is I’m not going to leave it another sixteen!
I spent most of the time with my mother who will be 80 this year. We birded. We sketched. We explored the Maine coast north of where she now lives. It was a fantastic visit, punctuated by warbler song and azaleas, warm rain, tearful belly laughs over a lamentable restaurant experience. Movies and popcorn.
Back home: no parulas singing here but I returned to this beautiful Carpenteria californica in bloom. This plant is incredibly rare in the wild: only seven known sites in Fresno and Madera counties. It has a light, orange fragrance. It’s in the arboretum’s moon garden and I’m glad I planted two. As we prepare to go out and watch the annular eclipse this evening, it can do the light and shade thing for us…
31 March 12
March comes to an end, being the rainiest month so far in the 2011-2012 water year. (Because California has a Mediterranean climate, yearly totals for precipitation are considered to begin on October 1st.) We recorded 4.81 inches this month, bringing the total for the year to about 11.7 inches. This is well behind normal, which is about 15.5 inches to date. Tuesday it poured — 1.5 inches of rain — and today we had showers and big winds, with 0.15” of rain.
Last morning we heard what sounded like a western kingbird, but didn’t believe it, since it seems awfully early for kingbirds. (A mockingbird imitating a kingbird?). But this afternoon I went for a walk out the levee leading past the Raptor Center, and saw at least two and possibly four kingbirds. An early spring for them?
24 March 12
Trees For Contemplation
This morning we went up to FARM 2.6, Pica to feed a couple of lambs there, and I just to check on my plantings. I’m not sure how much clover I’m getting out of my clover field (I do however have quite a crop of mushrooms coming up), but my oak seedlings are doing well. I planted five valley oak seedlings around the perimeter of the property, and so far four of them are budding out or have well-developed leaves.
Trees. Yesterday I went to San Francisco to see upon the suggestion of Dave Bonta an exhibit at the The Contemporary Jewish Museum entitled “Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought”. The title of the exhibit is taken from an injunction in Deuteronomy 20:19 that prohibits the wanton destruction of trees in wartime. This concept has been broadened since rabbinical times to form one of the bases for Jewish environmentalism. I had never been to this museum — now situated near the Yerba Buena Center on Mission Street — and was quite impressed. The tree exhibit was in two parts, the first being a broad look at trees in general contemporary art, the second having more of a focus on Jewish ritual and in particular the holiday of Tu B’Shevat.
Entering the show one sees a sand circle on the ground about ten feet in diameter, covered with what seems to be a forest of two-inch tall trees. Looking closer these are seen to be two-dimensional metal pieces of various plant forms, and getting one’s nose to the ground one sees these to be painted in many different colors. Another highlight from the first section of the exhibit was a 15-minute film entitled The Ground, the Root, and the Air: The Passing of the Bodhi Tree by Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba.The final sequence of this film is quite striking. It takes place in Laos along the Mekong River as a flotilla of fifty narrow motorboats are being driven downstream. Standing up in the bow of each boat is an art student sketching the landscape in black-and-white on an easel. The fleet approaches a bodhi tree at the site of a monastery along the banks of the river. Many of the students abandon their easels, leap into the river, and swim towards the tree.
My favorite bit from the second part of the exhibit was a short video entitled Grafted Arboreus sabius, or a failed attempt to propagate the Tree of Knowledge. In Jewish tradition the Tree of Knowledge has been linked to everything from wheat to amanita mushrooms, so the filmmaker opted to graft all those possibilities onto a single base. As she puts it: “grafting may be the only way to propagate the Tree of Knowledge, as it does not grow from seed”.
13 March 12
Nitrate Report Released
For the past 20 months, I’ve been working on a project at UC Davis that has been examining nitrate contamination in groundwater in two agricultural regions in California, the Tulare Basin and the Salinas Valley. We just released our report today and we all went to Sacramento today to give a set of briefings. Here’s the UC Davis news service writeup on the report, and the UCD Center for Watershed Sciences has a blog entry on the report here . My role in the project was to compile land cover maps, both current and historical, for the study region. It’s been a pretty amazing collaboration to develop the report — it’s not often you get 27 researchers at a single university all working on the same thing!