Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Chills & Thrills

The cold felt sharp on my bare arms as I watched my wife bike down the hill to work yesterday morning. It was still a few minutes before the sun would rise above Twin Peaks. Thankfully the morning warmed up quite a bit by the time I headed out on my walk to the beach. 

I'd checked the Ocean Beach web cam before leaving, and it looked like the swell had dissipated, so I didn't bring my camera. Which was too bad, because there actually was a swell, and the morning light would have been excellent for surf photography. I watched the action for a while before heading back home, a 45-minute walk, then got on my bike and went back to the beach with the FZ80. The light wasn't as nice by the time I got there, but it was still fun to fire off a few frames.

I watched the action for about 45 minutes, telling myself several times, "Just one more set, and then I'll go." There was no rush, really, except that I was wearing shorts and a windbreaker, which were fine for the bike ride but not so great for standing in one place exposed to the wind and cold. And of course the ride home was into a headwind, so I made haste to help stay warm, and I made a hot bowl of soup when I finally got home.

Tube ride...

...and he makes it out!

Being cold often reminds me of the coldest day I ever experienced, back in January 1982, when Chicago had a record cold day of 26 degrees below zero, with a wind chill making it 81 below. I was only going to be in Chicago for a few months, so I put on my jacket and tried to walk to a movie theater about six blocks away. After three blocks I began to fully appreciate the sensation of being exposed to life-threatening cold, so I popped into a coffee shop to warm up before turning around to head back home. That record cold was broken in 1985 by just one degree, but thankfully I was in California by then.

I found this clip in the New York Times from Jan. 11, 1982:

One of the deepest winter chills on record numbed much of the nation today. It was the coldest day on record for Chicago, at 26 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. In the most brutal cold spell of the season, records were broken in many other places in the Middle West, and swirling snowstorms and icy winds left scores stranded on highways or without heat in their homes….

The situation was most critical in the Great Lakes region as an Arctic air mass rolled across the Canadian border. In Chicago, winds of 35 to 60 miles an hour made it feel like 81 below, the National Weather Service said. ''This is a real emergency,'' Mayor Jane M. Byrne of Chicago said as she as she convened a meeting of all city department heads to make plans for dealing with the cold, which is expected to continue through most of the week.

Schools were ordered closed Monday, and the Mayor said city buses would be kept idling all night to insure that they could run in the morning.

Ethereal Botany

Water blowing off Lake Michigan coated these tree branches with ice (which I photographed using a colored gel filter) in the winter of '82.

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Sunday, January 29, 2023

January at Pt. Reyes


Sunset With Elephant Rock

"We have ephemeral lives. We have this world that's going to end. We have this star that's going to die. We have this incredible moment. Here we are: alive and sentient beings on this planet. It just feels like an extraordinary thing that I want to know about the universe before I die."
--Sarah Stewart Johnson, Principal Investigator at NASA-funded Laboratory for Agnostic Biosignatures (quoted in Scientific American)

Drake's Beach

Beach Grass Sunrise

Inverness Ridge

Elephant Rock Sunset

Rainy Day at North Beach

Low Tide Erratics

Chimney Rock

Point of Light

Cutie in the Grass

Elk Landscape

Tomales Point Sculpture

Fungal Friends

Waxy Caps

Landscape Layers

Black Mountain

Arch Rock, Three Months Before Collapse

Bear Valley Sunrise

Polypody Log

Roadside Marsh

Blue Estero

Limantour Beach

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Friday, January 27, 2023

Signs of Life


Strange life forms: the female flowers and male catkin of a hazelnut tree

The cover story in the February issue of Scientific American (magazines always seem to arrive well before their cover dates) is called Life as We Don't Know It, and it's about astrobiologists who are looking for life signatures for beings that might not breathe oxygen or even be carbon-based. Instead of looking for the kinds of chemical signatures that life on Earth would reveal, they are looking for any kind of structure that appears to be non-random. That's all just fine, looking for signs of life that might be unlike our own, but they are still looking at only five percent of what's out there, if Dark Matter and Dark Energy turn out to be real.

I mean, there's supposed to be about five-times as much Dark Matter as the Ordinary Matter we can detect. So I am imagining a science fiction story that would involve life composed of Dark Matter, beings who thrive on Dark Energy. (Cue the evil laughter.) 

I was just about to take credit for being the first to imagine this when I decided to do a quick internet search, and dang it, someone beat me to it

I photographed the hazelnut flowers above by cutting a sprig to bring indoors and out of the considerable wind. I wanted a second "strange life form" for this post, so I went back down and looked for one in our little garden. I chose the huckleberry that I planted at the same time as the hazelnut, both of which I bought around 15 years ago at Bay Natives

While I was scoping out the huckleberry flowers I spotted a tiny jumping spider descending a single strand of silk. It landed on a leaf, then pounced like a shot to another leaf surface below it, and that's when the fun began. I went back upstairs and brought my camera down, and of course the spider became alarmed by my return and did its best to hide from me, ducking behind the leaves. I kept spooking it back toward the front, when I would try to fire off a few frames before it ducked back under cover. I had to put on my reading glasses to see the little tyke, then take them off to put my eye to the camera's viewfinder and try to find the spider through the lens. Meanwhile, gusts of wind would toss branches around like crazy. I was pleasantly surprised to get a few half-decent frames.

I noticed on a birding e-mail list recently that San Francisco's first Allen's hummingbird of 2023 was reported at North Lake (in Golden Gate Park) on January 17. I'd also recently noticed that the first bloom of the pipevine in my back yard appeared on Jan. 19, a couple of weeks earlier than last year. That was the first time my new plant, bought at Strybing Arboretum a couple years ago, produced a flower. It flowered again in late July.

In other back yard shenanigans, I found several holes a couple days in a row and wondered who had been digging back there. I thought it might be a cat, a skunk, or a squirrel, but only my wife guessed right (see short trail cam video clip below).

Lots of Blossoms This Year

Protector of the Realm

Tiny Jumper: All Legs and Eyes

First Pipevine Flower of the Year (Jan. 19, 2023)

Sidewalk Sign on Irving Street

“Are you people telling me,” Babette said, “that a rat is not only a vermin and a rodent but a mammal too?” –From White Noise, by Don DeLillo

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Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Wave Watching


Ocean Beach, San Francisco
(Click to view larger.)

With offshore winds and a big swell still rolling in, I brought the FZ80 with me when I walked to the beach this morning. I'd hoped conditions would be good enough to entice a few surfers out, but I only saw one guy with a surfboard, and he stood on the dunes talking with a friend and watching the waves for a while before turning around and heading home. What Ocean Beach needs is a few natural channels where deep water would prevent waves from breaking, and give surfers a chance to paddle out.

Even without anyone riding the waves, I found them mesmerizing to watch. Such power and grace. It's "nothing but" the physics of wind and water, of gravity and topography, of light refracting and reflecting, of energy propagating hundreds of miles across an ocean, but it sure does stir the soul.

Ocean Beach, Jan. 25, 2023

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Saturday, January 21, 2023

Critters & King Tides


King Tide at Stinson Beach (1/20/23)

I stood perplexed, buffeted by a cold wind in the pre-dawn darkness at the Golden Gate Viewpoint along Conzelman Road. Where was the moon? It was supposed to rise at 6:41 a.m., and now it was past 7 a.m. I looked everywhere for that shining crescent but couldn't find it. I changed position several times to check behind the towers of the bridge. I scanned the sky from north to south. Nada. I eventually saw something shiny, way off in the distance, that might have been the moon, or merely the wisp of an airplane's contrail.

I knew I'd blown the moonshot, but since it was now getting close to the 7:22 a.m. sunrise I stuck around with a few other folks who were waiting to photograph it. At one point, four young women poured out of a rental Jeep to ogle the bridge and wait for the magic moment. One of them, who must have been from Maine or Minnesota or something, was in short-sleeves and didn't seem bothered by the cold. I kept expecting her to rush back into the warm Jeep, but she played it cool. I think it was her friends wearing jackets who finally begged to get out of there.

From there I headed up to Mt. Tam. As I exited the freeway I could see that Richardson Bay was getting very close to inundating the Mill Valley-Sausalito Pathway. High tide was going to be 7.1 feet in a couple of hours, and the Mill Valley offramp would soon be closed due to flooding. 

Just as I was about to turn up Pantoll Road from Panoramic Highway I had to drive around some sticks in the road. One of the sticks looked suspicious, so I pulled over and checked it out, finding a very nice, recently shed deer antler. As I continued up Pantoll Road I spotted a buck, antlers intact, near the edge of the road. I parked at the next available pull-out to see if I could photograph him, and when I got out of my car and turned around, I saw a half-dozen bucks grazing and sporting on a steep hillside. I don't think I've seen more than two bucks together before on Mt. Tam. 

A couple other bucks were in the woods below me. When I walked down the road a ways see where the deer cross it, I spotted a few wild turkeys in the woods on the uphill side. It looked like a good place to put a trail camera one of these days.

Despite all the rain, I found very little fungal action in the woods when I went to check on the trail cams that had been out there during all the stormy weather. Likewise, I'd noticed on my city walk that the mushroom locations I'd last seen showed no sign of ever having had fungal activity. Where the Amanita muscaria had been, a daffodil was in bloom. Along Sunset Boulevard the only mushrooms I saw were little crowds of orange-capped Leratiomyces ceres (formerly Stropharia aurantiaca) sprouting in the wood chips. 

With nothing in the woods to keep me up there I drove down to Stinson Beach to photograph the king tide. This morning I submitted my photos to the California King Tides Project. Waves were washing way up the beach, and there was a pretty decent swell with an offshore wind. The only problem was, the offshore wind was blowing so hard that the handful of surfers out there seemed to find it a little too much of a good thing.

Six Bucks on a Hillside

Blacktail Bucks Going Antler-to-Antler

Turkeys in the Dappled Woods

Morning Light on Bolinas Ridge
(with Farallon Islands in center distance)

Stinson Beach and Bolinas Lagoon at King Tide

Rooster Tails at Stinson Beach

Color in the Spindrift

Toppled Trees Across Cataract Trail

Coyote Latrine Stop

Coyote Passing Through

Fox & Deer Composite

Deer Encounter Rushing Stream During Stormy Weather

A Fox Takes the Bridge

Tam Cam

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