Friday, August 30, 2013

Over the Hill

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I went officially over the hill last week, turning 55 years old, and decided to take the day off to enjoy a four-day Labor Day weekend. In my previous life I had every Friday off, but I had to go back to a five-day workweek a little more than a year ago. It was nice to go up to Mt. Tam on a Friday again and have the place to myself.

I'd planned to stop at the California fuchsia patch on my way up Pantoll Road. I wanted to photograph it in some new way, but nothing new came to me. There was just enough of a breeze falling down the side of the mountain that I had to keep the exposure short, and it also made focus-stacking impossible. Still, the fuchsia's a pretty flower, one that continues to bloom right into October.

I'm not sure if these are the same cones I photographed in mid-July, but they are definitely from the same tree. I don't know why I was surprised to see that they'd already turned from green to brown and set seed. 

It's so dry out there. I hiked out to check a patch of milkweed and look for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but not only were there no caterpillars, there was no milkweed. I guess the conditions were too dry this year. It's kind of a lone patch (there's more at Potrero Meadow), so I hope it comes back. This dried hedge nettle was one of the plants that did manage to grow in the milkweed's spot. Some of the other, still-green plant tips had been browsed. You can probably tell whether a deer or a jackrabbit browsed it by the angle or condition of the severed tip. The rabbit's got sharper teeth. But I didn't have my hand lens with me and didn't take the time to take a stab at it. 

I was more interested in this purple leaf gall (guessing Asteromyia carbonifera) that had made itself at home on the goldenrod. The plants were still putting out plenty of flowers despite having many of their leaves infested. It got me thinking about a biology teacher who liked to talk about the multitude of organisms that live inside our bodies, and how, by weight, most of our body is actually other organisms. He was kidding, of course, but a thing like that sticks with you anyway. The current thinking is they account for about three percent of our total mass. 

Some critters are always trying to burrow into other critters (like the pesky flies buzzing around my face), and biologists say that's how complex organisms arose from simpler ones. Instead of eating their host, or making it sick, they actually joined up to form a new team.

Leaving the milkweed-less patch, I sauntered over to a rocky area to look for rattlesnakes, but finding none, took cover from the sun beneath an oak whose branches were coated with moss and lichen.

I believe these organisms are all epiphytes. They live on the real estate of the oak's branches, but don't burrow into the plant tissues for nutrients. Not that plant tissues are any more free of invaders than we are. Even a thin leaf can have numerous harmless endophytic fungi living in its tissues.

Sure, they're epiphytes, but you still wouldn't want to encounter one in your dreams....

I was drawn to the rock in the next photo when I noticed this interesting old piece of wood on the ground next to it. That is some crazy, Van Gogh-looking grain.

Pretty rock. Serpentine, I believe.

Madrone trunk with belly button.

View toward Stinson Beach from Bolinas Ridge.

I thought I pretty much had the whole mountain to myself -- until I met this guy, a praying mantis at the Druid Rocks on Bolinas Ridge.

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