"I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils."-Wordsworth

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hiking Angels Landing, Zion National Park

After spending a year in Florida working as a horticultural intern for a public garden, I returned to my home state of California just recently on a 4-week cross-country road trip. I decided to take my time getting home, hitting up 18 states on my way home. One of the last stops on my trip was Zion National Park in Utah. I spent a lovely couple of days here a few years ago on a post-graduation road trip with a friend. We hiked the Narrows, which was one of the most enjoyable hikes I have ever been on. It's an 8 mile slog of a hike through a beautiful red rock canyon. You hike through the river most of the way. It was so enjoyable to be wading through a rocky canyon, passing rappelling rock climbers along the way. The hike really takes it out of you. My legs felt like jelly near the end, to the point where they rebelled against me, refusing to continue and causing me to fall awkwardly in the river, laughing loudly.

On my return to Zion I decided to try a different hike. This time I stayed at a ranch above the park, the Zion Ranch Resort, where I was able to tent camp for $11/night. This meant my journey to my morning hike started with a sunrise driving descent down the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, which winds through the park to the visitor center. I drove through several tunnels, including one which was over a mile long, which is a claustrophobic experience that is at once humbling and a bit troubling, but all-together wonderful! I was surprised as I passed by several cutouts in the rock- carved windows. It took all I had to not stop to peer through them. You can't stop in the tunnel, as traffic is difficult as it is. The road was created in the 1920s- I can't imagine the crazy blasting and labor that went into the creation of the road. On my descent down the grade the next day I saw a Desert Bighorn Sheep as I waited in the line for the exceedingly long and awesome tunnel.

This is one of my favorite drives ever. Every time I drove it the canyon looked different, under different weather and light conditions. With a rather large, stupid grin perma-stuck to my face, I drove like the tourist that I was, stopping at many of the turnouts to get out and take a million photos of the same landscape because there was no way I could encapsulate such beauty in any one photo. Finally I arrived at the visitor center. As I got out, exchanged my flip flops for my hiking boots and threw the ingredients for pb and j sandwiches in my Camelback, I spotted movement across the street. Some photographers had gathered to take pictures of a deer and two fawns grazing in front of the towering red rock landscape. I thought to myself "This place is frickin' magical!" I hadn't even made it to the shuttle and I was in love all over again.

I took the bus to The Grotto (no cars allowed on the main drive, by the way, unless you stay at the Zion Lodge). This stop is the jumping-off point for several hikes, including the West Rim Trail to Angel's Landing. On the bus ride up I became slightly concerned about taking this hike, considering the narrative being played over the loudspeaker, which strongly encouraged hikers to skip this hike if they are afraid of heights or are beginning hikers. The description in the guide distributed by the park states "Long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit." I heard stories of many who turned back or waited for braver members of their party at a specific tree, where the trail narrowed and the chain trail began. They called the tree "The Widowmaker."

Still, I departed the bus with a great sense of excitement to start the steep ascent of the 5.4 mile hike. To get to the trail head you pass over a metal and wooden bridge over the Virgin River, with majestic rockscapes on all side of you and cottonwoods waving brightly in the breeze. The beginning of the trail made me feel a cow in a herd of cattle, winding in single-file with my fellow-hikers, slowly up the ever-increasingly-steep switchbacks to the top. I stopped to allow a tarantula to cross the path, pointing him out to the hikers behind me, with mixed reactions from the crowd. Many people are terrified of them, as if they think the tarantula will jump on them. I find them to be quite peaceful creatures though and have held them on several occasions.

After what seemed like a long schlep of panting and hiking ever-upward, the path cut through a canyon between two mountains. It felt cooler here as I entered an unusual riparian habitat. It was a nice change as the day was growing hotter and I was regretting my choice of jeans, rather than light hiking pants. The wall of rock to my right held odd formations that must have been formed from previous floods, with odd pockets and holes you could almost climb into. Then I got to a section of the hiker which I later learned was named "Walter's Wiggle," named after their creator, the park's 1st superintendent. They are tighter than the previous switchbacks and are paved in asphalt. There are 21 of them, leading to a plateau that I foolishly thought for a moment was the top. Oh no- we were just getting started.

I stopped for a moment to consider the compostable toilets present on this plateau- how did they get those things up here? I took a moment to consider the work that has been put into this hike over the years by trail crews- incredible. Then I took in the hike ahead of me-a single-file rock climbing adventure along the very narrow peak to the top. There is quite the procession of people ascending and descending, pausing to allow safe passage. I also noticed that here began the silver chain that was fated to become my instant friend. This is what you clung to in hairy points of the hike, where I thought I might fall some 1400 feet to my death. Nothing but air on either side of you, and no room for error. I considered stopping for a second, but quickly told myself I would make it to the top because I had made it this far and I am not one to turn back. I knew I would regret it forever if I didn't finish the hike.

I made it to the top, along with about 20 others. It was a bit of a party atmosphere at the top. People took selfies, ate lunch and even played music on speakers they brought along. The feeling began to dawn on me as I at my pb&j that the journey was, in fact, only halfway over. I still had the descent- and what a knee-shaking one it was! By the time I got back to the bottom of the trail and crossed the bridge my legs were protesting loudly. But I had done it! The hike to Angel's Landing had turned out to be one of my favorites of all the hikes I had experienced! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Organic Produce Shopping

Hello everyone and sorry for the pause in writings. I have been preoccupied searching for a job and the search continues! So if you are an employer checking out my writing skills, read on. And everyone else can read on as well.

The topic of the day is what fruits/vegetables are the most worth buying organic. I know that it is often financially impossible for people to buy all their food organic, but with some forethought we can buy what is best for us and still support local organic farms. I had been mulling this in my brain for some time now, when I came upon an article that talked about which organics are best to buy and which you should pass on. I think it gives a great framework to shop with. Here it is, in a nutshell:

The Dirty Dozen (Produce you would be better off buying organic):
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach- I have definitely tasted the difference between organic and non-organic spinach. My organic spinach lasted longer than the non-organic and tasted cleaner.
6. Nectarines
7. Grapes
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries
11. Lettuce
12. Kale

The Clean 15 (Produce that has lower levels of pesticides)

1. Onions
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe- domestic
10. Kiwi
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

Source: Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Essentially, if there is ever a question of where a product comes from in your produce section or at the Farmer's Market, feel free to ask the stockers/ farm representatives. In general, though, in the store it should be on the little stickers they label the fruit with.

How I Hate Thee, Fremontodendron (A Poem in Two Fits)

Not all plants you encounter are entirely pleasant. Many of them have defense mechanisms. Here's a poem I wrote recently out of frustration with a plant I ran into.

Darn you Flannel Bush! (Fremontodendron californicum for those who care) I am sure you are the source behind the contact dermatitis on my arms (read: rash). Only poetry can truly express my hatred:

If nevermore should I see
A plant that is so flannel...ly
I shall click my heels together with glee
For my clothes shall be hair-free.

As I wade through your prickly sea
I find a foe in close proximity
For from far away you look so nice
But one close encounter will suffice
To train my brain to re-route my feet
And beat a hasty retreat.

Your big yellow flowers are so pretty
But on your leaves there is a city
Of tiny hairs that stick and prick
Which caused this lengthy rhetoric.

So learn your lesson straight from me
Stay away from that downright wooly shrubbery
Take heed, take heed of what I learn
Or a distinct itchiness you may earn.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Energy Conservation in the Heat of the Summer

I am down in the desert of San Diego county visiting family for a while and thought I would expound on my top 10 ways to save energy down here (in no particular order):

1. Swamp cooler: Never heard of it? Then you've probably never lived in the desert. A swamp cooler is a wonderful invention that re-circulates moist air through cooler pads into your house. It costs a lot less per hour than air conditioning and takes less energy. Good for when it's hot but not humid.
2. Turn off unnecessary lights: Currently I am sitting in the unlit kitchen quite comfortably thanks to natural light from the windows. Not only does it make energy sense it also keeps the house cooler.
3.  Hang your clothes out to dry on a clothesline. It only takes a millisecond to dry (ok so I exaggerate a little...)
4. Water plants in the early morning or late afternoon: Watering at high noon is fruitless, as most of the water evaporates. Also, remember most of our neighborhoods are on a water-restriction schedule. Make sure to follow yours. Here's a link to a website on the SD County water restrictions. It also gives some good tips to reduce your water use. Water Restrictions
5.  Solar panels: if you can afford them, use what resource you've got the most of: sun.
6.  Grow native plants in your garden that are hardy and water-tolerant. Less maintenance required, less water. A win-win! Contact your local Native Plant Society if you have questions. They will be able to provide guidance and maybe even someone to come look at your current garden for natives and invaders.
7.  Hang out in cool spots in town, like the library. You get air conditioning for free and there is lots of entertainment there!
8. Believe it or not, that Google search takes a little bit of energy each time you hit that button. Don't search or surf aimlessly when bored. In fact, when bored turn the computer off and go do something active and fun instead! (Swimming is popular this time of year.)
9.  Make sure your house is insulated so that hot air stays in during the winter months and cool air during the summer.
10. When refueling with a big container of water, make it a cup or reusable water bottle, not a plastic disposable water bottle. You pay for the bottle when you buy it and it adds to the waste that is forever on this planet.Check out this link to learn more about the evils of bottled water. www.greenyour.com

Resist the urge to sit in your fridge. Believe me-you won't fit. It wastes a lot of energy leaving the door open. Not like anyone would try to do that or anything...(Read-I've tried.) Feel free to add your energy-saving tips and comments. That's all for now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nature's Complexity: The Winter Wren's Song

Let me direct your attention for a moment to re-focus on the amazing-ness of nature. I was sitting by my window today and heard (and saw) an American Goldfinch sitting on a tree. So I opened my window and played its song on my computer...lo and behold more goldfinches arrived. It reminded me of a lecture I heard in my ornithology class not too long ago about bird songs.

We were learning about songs and calls. Did you know that birds don't produce sounds using the same organs as we do? In humans we produce sounds via our vocal chords. Birds don't have vocal chords. Instead, they have a syrinx, which is where two bronchi (tubes) come together. They make their calls and song by expanding and contracting the membranes of the syrinx and vibrating them. Because they have paired bronchial openings, birds can often sing in more than one frequency at the same time!

A good example is the winter wren. When you hear these little birds they sound so much larger than they appear. Their song is very rapid-fire or bubbly-sounding and highly complex. Below is a link from a great website that shows sonograms of different birds alongside their songs and even slows the songs down so the human ear can more fully appreciate their complexity. It blows my mind!

If you want to hear a crazy bird sound, you need only search out the Greater Sage Grouse or a Ruffed Grouse. The male of these species produces his "song" by rapidly moving his wings and creating a vacuum which creates sound from the air rushing in and out of his air sacs. This is called a non-vocal sound. Below is a link to the sonogram and song. If you click the arrow on the Ruffed Grouse title it will take you to a video of the mating display that goes along with this sound. I also added a youtube of a Greater Sage Grouse in action, as this cannot be missed!

If I find any more cool birds, I will post them here! Stay tuned!

The Music of Nature: Celebrating Nature at Hand. http://www.musicofnature.org/home/

YouTubeVideo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9zKd3dfz8I&feature=related

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Story of a Corn-Fed Feedlot Cow

With the banana project on hold, let me talk instead of corn-fed beef and its origins. I just read an excerpt from Michael Pollen’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for a class. It detailed the interesting process behind feed lots. Here are the main points and reasons I feel corn-fed beef should be avoided. Prepare yourself, and I suggest not eating while reading the following:

1. Cows are fed a mixture of corn, liquefied cow fat or blood, a protein substitute consisting of urea and molasses and a slew of antibiotics including Rumensin (an acidity buffer) and Tylosin (which lowers the incidence of infection of the liver). They are also fed estrogen.

2. Cows are kept lying and standing in their own feces all day long.

3. The corn itself is raised as a monoculture, raised and reaped by gas-guzzling machines. So our corn is backed by petroleum companies.

4. Even if cow products are not fed to cows, the chicken, fish and pigs are fed cow products and hence the circling back to feeding cow products to cows. The result of such cannibalism can be seen in Mad Cow Disease.

5. The cows are not made to eat mostly corn (Why?-because it's cheap). They are made for foraging. So we are force-feeding them food just to fatten them up faster. Veterinarians are kept very busy on the feedlots, dealing with bloated cows (which if untreated will suffocate due to an inflated rumen pressing against their lungs) and acidosis (literally killer heartburn due to the acidity of the corn). Cows only live about 150 days on the feedlots because any more could ruin their livers.

6. Due to the extensive use of antibiotics in animals, diseases are becoming antibiotic-resistant and we must therefore find more and more antibiotics to respond. These animals would have a lower incidence of sickness simply if their diets were changed.

7. The massive quantities are manure produced at these feedlots simply sit in lagoons on the property because they are so high in nitrogen and phosphorous that they kill any plants they are applied to. The waste which in smaller quantities could be used as fertilizer now just sits and sometimes ends up in the watershed due to leakage. Aside from high levels of nutrients, this waste also contains hormones, heavy metals, and chemicals. In essence, a natural fertilizer is turned into toxic waste.

8. Leakage of such manure into our watersheds causes dead zones, which are oxygen-poor areas with nothing but algae thriving there. The excess algae can suffocate everything else in the water.

9. Eating cattle in general is terrible inefficient use of resources. The ratio of feed to flesh is extremely high.

10. Feeding cattle a mainly acidic diet selects for new strains of high acidity-resistant bacteria, which would do some serious damage to our usually well-defended highly-acidic stomach. Normal bacteria are usually killed by the acidity in our stomachs, but if new bacteria evolve to tolerate such acidity they could be consumed by us and then cause an outbreak.

And so I’ve sufficiently freaked myself out enough to continue my practice of avoiding beef altogether. I hope this brief summary has made you think about what is in your McDonald’s hamburger.

"The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollen (Chapter 4)