Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The quick and the dead

I've been stepping over my sons' toys on the playroom floor for three days.  Ok, longer than that.

I'm pretty lax about the state of the playroom, frankly.  I recently acquired a book of "Don'ts for Mothers" from 1878.  It is full of words of wisdom, such as

"Don't restrain your child from romping in the nursery.  It is his castle and he should be Lord Paramount therein."

See?  It is ok to be lax about toys on the floor in the nursery.    However, the same source tells me "Don't let your child sit with his back to the fire: it weakens the whole frame and causes the spine to become bent... and predisposes him to catch cold."  Huh.

Anyway, 1878 or no 1878 wisdom, I've been stepping over the toys on the floor in the playroom.  One of them is a lump of dried playdoh.  The boys were playing with playdoh on Saturday, so it's not surprising.  But this lump looked slightly gruesome - lumps of dried play doh are remarkably like dessicated frogs, really.    I've avoided looking closely at it each time I've walked by.

Ooops.  There's a reason lumps of dried play doh look like dessicated frogs.  Especially when they are, in fact, dessicated frogs.

Why is there a dessicated frog in my playroom?  Did a kid catch it live and bring it in?  Seems unlikely, as they would have instantly alerted me with shrieks of joy and plans to keep it.  Brought it by an ill-meaning cat?  Did it hop in to the cool of the house on its own, on a hot August day, and just...dry out?


There's a lot of pathos in a dried frog, but there's ick factor, too.  I must admit that after a moment of silence (aghast, rather than memorial), I quickly dropped it out the nearest window.  The same one the caterpillar left through.  It can find it's long home amongst the shrubs and flowers down below.  More appropriate than on my rug, no?

I wouldn't stand under that window, if I were you, should you ever come to visit.  Who knows what will land on your head.

Having laid out the frog in not very ceremonial style, I required tea.  This is my British blood calling.  We require tea when we are upset.  Or happy.  Or relaxed.  Or tense.  Or when we unceremoniously bolt dry frogs out the window.  And getting tea, I was frightened right of my skull by a loud "SHEEP", bellowed at me as I approached the tap.

One doesn't expect to have sheep bellowed at one when making tea, and it took me a minute to orient on the bellower.  See how you do.



There's a chickadee on my teapot.

A very live, loud, undessicated chickadee.  We had a bit of an argument, Chickadee and me.  I explained that my kitchen window was not an appropriate place for small birds, and it explained that if I didn't like the idea, or the idea of it sitting on my teapot, it meant the blender, or no, my kitchen knives, or better yet, the plums, or rather, the teapot after all, I could jolly well open a window for it.

There's a trick to getting live birds out of your house.  What you have to do, you see, is get a lightweight cloth, like a dishtowel, and drop it gently over their heads, whereupon one can easily and gently pick them up and bring them out of doors.

Chickadee hadn't taken that training course.  It did not condescend to dishtowels.  Instead we played a nice game of tag, or make-Rebecca -climb-the-counters/rearrange the chairs/leap from on high, until he was bored with that game, and pobbled out the kitchen door, happy as... well, as a Chickadee can be, who's clearly won that round.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Al Gore talks a lot.

I say this in tones of profound respect.  I spent the last 6 weeks talking a mere 4.5 hours nonstop, and found it exhausting.  Today he talked for..... oof. 8:30 am till 9:30 pm.  What's that?  13 hours.

There were a couple breaks, as well as lunch and dinner.  But the man essentially talked for 13 hours.

I'm taking his Climate Reality Leadership Training.  It's a three day conference, which I'm taking because

a) it's in my city
b) it's free
c) they accepted my application, and
d) why not? 

But now that I'm taking it, I'm really glad I'm taking it.  But also really tired.  He has 1,000 trainees from57 different countries.  And 47 US states.

He says he's going to hold a separate, special training for North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

If you're American and follow politics vis a vis red state/blue state much, that would have made you laugh.

SSleeping now.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Giant Sequoias: a micro post

When white men first discovered the giant sequoias, they were pretty decently pleased.  "That there's a dem big tree" one can practically hear them say.  They cut one down and sent a 20' long section of trunk back to a big fair in Philadelphia, just to show how huge around they are.  The Phillies just laughed, and called it a California Hoax.

It's hard to comprehend the size of a giant sequoia, even when you're right up against it.  Our minds don't wrap around it right - it slides away, out the side doors of our ears.  Big, we say.  But we don't quite see how big.

Those early lumbermen did.  They calculated that by chopping down a single giant sequoia, they could harvest as much wood as from felling an entire acre of mature pines.  Too bad the trees were so enormous that they smashed to splinters under their own weight when they fell....

I tried to get pictures, but like several million camera-wielding tourists before me, mine still don't do justice to these trees.

Tall and thin, almost pencil-like in it's proportions.
From a distance, they're just a tree - a tall, slender tree.  Very tall, but also, upright and thin.





























Each of those branches is fatter than the 300 year old oak in my yard.

The center tree - in the background, pale, bright orange - is the Grant Tree.  It is the second largest tree, by volume, in the world.  Here, it just looks tall.  And thin.  But look again.  Look at the fence.  That's a regular sized, split rail fence, the kind that keeps full-sized tourists from trampling on shallow roots.

You start to get a hint of the size when you're right up against them.  These trees are considerably wider than horses.
The Palamino is standing in front of a single tree.  Not three.  One.

Or these trunks might help.  These weren't particular large, as trunks went.  Much smaller than many.

Or maybe this photo, where my mother on horseback is still shorter than this mid-range sequoia is wide.  This one was small enough not to even shatter when it fell.


But we still couldn't wrap our minds around their girth until a ranger with a rope had us all get in a circle and spread out until we held the rope out to it's full extent, circled.  He'd cut the rope, he said, after wrapping it round the Grant Tree to measure the exact circumference.

My mother's house would have fit inside the circle we made with that rope.

Go back up and look at that first photo.  Imagine a horse at it's base.  Or a house.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

To their source...

My family and I were meant to spend last week camping in Lassen Volcano National Park.  The plan was to leave Sunday morning and spend the next 6 days climbing volcanoes, swimming in gorgeous alpine lakes, bit o' kayaking, bit of relaxing under the trees.  Saturday night, my husband checked the weather.

"Um, hon?" he called from two rooms over.  "The forecast isn't great in Lassen.  Check your email."

Yes: instead of simply talking, when there is data to relay, sometimes we just email.  From two rooms away.  This is because we are introverts.  It is also mildly tragic.  I'm aware of that.

I checked my email.  This was the weather report for Lassen:
4 helicopters.
38 firetrucks.
700+ firefighters.
Continued lightning storms.

We went camping in King's Canyon/Sequoia National Park.

King's Canyon is south of Yosemite, also in the Sierra Nevadas, but down near the southern end of California's Central Valley. As a child, my mother took me every year to camp in the Sierras, but it was nearly always further north, in Mammoth and Yosemite.  I grew up swimming and diving the Tuolomne River, a crystal clear and incomparably beautiful stream, which flows from Yosemite down through Hetch Hetchy and into the taps and showerheads and toilets of San Francisco.  But I don't know the parks or mountains further south, and the rivers I know only by reputation, and their tail ends, the irrigation ditches of California's Great Central Valley.

My office has a lot of projects in the Central Valley.  We do a lot of work on the Valley's water infrastructure, the dams and levees, the highways, the roads and railroads.  Thus, I've written an awful lot of Environmental Impact Reports and Biological Assessments and their ilk, not only on the ecology of the Valley, but on the waterways that flow into it.  Every hydrology section of every ecological report begins in the Sierras, traces its path down through the Central Valley Foothills, and ends in the giant farms and rural towns of the Valley.  I've walked a lot of miles in the Valley, traced a lot of river corridors between fields of crops and orchards.  So it was something of a thrill, after driving four hours south through the Valley, to finally have a chance to work my way up those foothills, and into those mountains.  To see those rivers where they are still wild, where they run over rock and not concrete, between trees and not alfalfa.

In our week in the Sierras, we traced two rivers to their sources: the Kings' River, and the Kaweah.

This is the Valley of the Kings .  It's Kingly, indeed. I was at 6000' when I took this snapshot, and many of those peaks towered thousands of feet above my head. Every drop of rain that lands in that view runs into the King's River, every fallen snowflake, every melting alpine glacier.


Friday, August 10, 2012

New Fun Pets

I'm grading finals in the living room.  My husband is doing ...something engineery in the office.  There is a wall between us.  I could hear him moving around and doing ...stuff?  I wasn't really paying attention.  Rearranging the bookshelves, maybe.  Or kicking the wall while he calculates esoteric things.

I have 98 more final exams to grade by tomorrow, at 5 minutes per exam.  I'm not paying attention to whatever-on-earth noise he's making in there.

Until he comes in.  Stops at the door.  Looks at me sitting peacefully with a fat pile of exams on my lap.  Says "that wasn't you, then?"

Oh. THAT noise.  That noise that's between my room and his but is also just about the spot where I noticed a grate was off the house today, leaving an open hole to the crawl space.  Ok, let's admit it.  I've noticed it off for the last two months, and have been deliberately turning a blind eye, because, hello, who wants to deal with the giant house rat who pulls off grates? Also, my husband keeps propping the grate back and wedging it with a spare roof tile, which is one of the most ineffective and un-engineer-like things I have ever ever seen him do, so I suspect he also does not want to deal with the giant mutant house rat who pulls off grates blocked by heavy clay roof tiles.

Also, we've been busy.  Just don't argue with our excuses, k? Thanks.

Apparently tonight's noises steeled his nerve.

He has a flashlight in his hand.  He passes the windows as he goes, and he does not make it as far as the grate, nor does he bend down to peer in it.

Instead he comes back.  "It went back in there," he says.  "It's black.  With a white stripe."

Of course it is. 

Of course.

Maybe we can name him Pepé.

But I have a sneaking suspicion he's in there with Fifi.  And they're not alone.

The NICE thing about skunks is if you leave them strictly and completely alone, they at least won't climb up into your walls and chew through your wiring.  Also, the whole rabies thing has totally, totally declined in skunks over the last couple decades, and now way less of them are going to go crazy and bite your three year old.  Also, at some point the babies will grow up and then they'll all leave peacefully.  Of their own accord.  Without me getting sprayed.  Unless they really like it in there.

I know a guy who traps mountain lions.  Maybe he can help.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

With gratitude for good work, well done.

I stopped this evening on my way home from teaching.  I was driving the scenic route, a winding highway with tall trees and high hills and not much else.  Mostly home, a long view caught my eye, and I pulled over and got out.

It was a long view over green hills, tall white poppies rising up on the slopes and shaking in the wind, redwoods in the distance, the smell of summer under one of those unbelievably blue skies.  I didn't stay long but I stood for a few minutes, quietly under the sun.

It was five pm and I had been talking, nonstop, since noon.  I was going home to my two boys, who would tackle me with love and conversation for the next several hours.  It was good to have a few minutes, with no one, to be glad of a job well done.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Microblog: When crude oil burns by the tankload

When oil refineries are on fire and the news says "if you're in the smoke, shelter in place with tape around the windows and wet towels under the door,"  it's a very very good reminder that you should move the whole "making house more energy efficient" thing higher up your fix-it priority list.

Because the house across the patio with its all new double paned windows? Only had to shut its door to keep out what turns out to be quite smelly smoke indeed, while my husband and I got to spend an entire hour slapping painter's tape over every single huge leaking window seal in the house. When window salespeople and energy companies and Al freaking Gore list all the good things about energy efficient windows, they always seem to miss this point.  Leaky windows are a pain in the arse, come giant oil refinery fires and shelter in place orders.  I think someday I'll point this out to Andersen windows, and their sales will skyrocket.  And then they would reward me with free! new! woodpaned! double-panelled! windows for my whole house.  Let a girl dream: it's the only way I'll get them in the near-term.

On the bonus side, my window are now festively decorated with stripes of bright green and blue.Except where my husband used masking tape in the bathroom, which just clashes with the cream walls.  Thanks, love.  Also, that's not going to come off easily and we'll have to entirely repaint the bathroom once the smoke clears and we try to take the tape off to open windows.  I'll make sure to choose a paint color that goes well with masking-tape-dun, for next time.

Only think how useful good windows would be, in, say, chemical warfare.  Then you'd really be wishing you'd listened to Al Gore.