For my daughters and grandchildren

I’m here.

I’ve shown up.

This is my second time at a small writing group gathering to learn more about writing ones “Life Story” for their children and grandchildren.

What am I thinking?

What am I doing here?

I’m not a writer.

Who am I kidding?

What is driving me to try this? 

I don’t know!

Maybe I can start small, just a short essay, or another blog post.

If I practice, and practice, and practice, and put in my 10,000 hours, could I really become a writer?  I don’t even have a burning desire to write. But I enjoy recording the stories of my simple life observations.

There’s only one way to find out if I can write and that is to start, and then to stick with it.

My parents were actually told to not expect much from me by my high school English teacher, Mr. Bruce Robertson.  He even cautioned that they shouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t make it to college. More on that another time.

So, the next questions are what to write about? What do I love? 

Nature and solitude.

So I’ll start small and close to home.

My quarter acre retreat.

Morning often finds me taking 10 minutes, with my first cup of coffee, outside, observing my garden. 

You see, I’m a “dolphin”.

Oh, that’s my chronotype. Dolphins are rare. Let me transition here before I barely get started.

The dolphin chronotype describe me to a T. Dolphins have a hard time waking up. Stick with me here, we’ll get back out in the garden in a minute. 

The author of the book The Power of When, Dr. Michael Breus, writes about our chronotypes and recommends that dolphins get exposure to bright light to wake up. If you don’t know your chronotype, I recommend reading the book. You’ll learn more about how you are driven by your innate circadian rhythms. Anyway, this is why I’m in my garden observing nature at its finest.

It is an early fall morning. Not too early, but not mid-morning either.  The sun is rising but still low in the sky and the shadows are long as the morning rays strike my California fuchsia from a low eastern angle backlighting the reddish-orange tubular flowers making them appear iridescent. 

The critters that share my suburban community are already up and busy.

A single hummingbird visits the early sunlit red flowers. But only one hummer at a time. These tiny colorful birds are territorial and don’t like sharing.  Within a short period of time, another swoops in on the one feeding. A high-speed chase ensues. In a flash of color and wings, the two birds are gone. 

A few native bees and honey bees are already visiting the same bush. A honey bee lands on the throat of a flower with open anthers and a sticky stigma. It proceeds to climb, wiggle and pull itself into the flower. It disappears into the tube. If you look now, you’d never know there is a full-size honey bee down the tube. I wait for it. The flower begins to jiggle. I tiny bee butt starts to appear. First the black and white stripes, then two long bent golden legs. Finally, a fuzzy body, more legs, and a fuzzy head slide down the stamens. The bee takes flight to its next receptive flower, seeking its reward of a tiny bit of sweet nectar. Payment will be made in full as the bee leaves a bit of pollen behind to fertilize the flowers eggs deep within the bloom.

In the oak behind me, I hear the repetitive rhythmic call of a chick-a-dee. It is echoed by another off in the distance. The crescendo of birds near and far builds like a tuning orchestra. 

Simultaneously, I hear a rather loud and shrill scrapping sound. I had heard this exact same sound the other day.  When I investigated the source of the grinding and scraping, I found a squirrel sitting on the fence, with a 5-inch section of dry cow bone, like the kind one might buy for their dog. It appeared to be sharpening its teeth on the bone and with each gnawing, this odd bone rattling, tooth grinding sound emanated forth. I startled the squirrel that day and the bone fell into my yard.  How in the world did this small critter get this bone up onto the fence? The grinding commenced again this morning as I took another bite of my frittata.

A moment later, a familiar chase sound begins. I turn to look upward to see two common oak tree visitors. With their bushy tails flickering and tiny paws and toenails grabbing at the oak bark, another friendly backyard critter chase begins. The second critter chase of my morning.  The sound of the squirrels fast moving claws on the bark is almost like the tinkling of gently falling glass shards as the two playfully chase each other. The chase ends as fast as it started with a leap into the neighbor’s palm tree. A quick flutter of fronds, then nothing, just the gently barely perceptible cool morning breeze. 

The warmth of the new dawn on this fall morning begins to evaporate the minuscule amount of morning dew visible on solid surfaces. The dew is only slightly perceptible on the plants with tiny hairs. Native plants survive the long summer dryness in this Mediterranean climate of central California by having tiny leaf surface hairs which are capable of capturing the slightest amount of moisture from the air.

My chickens scratch the ground, rustling through recently fallen oak leaves. These first autumn leaves of the season drift downward to become food for the overwintering soil decomposers. 

There is a clanking sound as a tumbling acorn bounces off a solid surface on it’s way to the ground. The magic of that morning sun which heats up and expands a layer of cells in the stem of the acorn just enough for it to separate from its attachment point on the thin twig.

No signs yet of the blue belly or alligator lizards. Later in the day the butterflies and dragonflies will come to visit. The native chaparral sages will release their fresh scent as the day warms. 

I will remain blissfully ignorant of the billions of soil microbes, bacteria, fungi, and earthworms busy below my feet.

And then, my peaceful morning is interrupted by the squealing and grinding noise of a circular saw cutting a 2×4. My neighbor’s contractor has arrived. Pulled back to the reality of my day, it is time to start tackling the never-ending to-do list. The rising sun has done its job in so many ways. I’m feeling awake and ready to take on the day.

What a blessing to be able to start my day in nature. Eating my breakfast frittata and drinking my morning cup of coffee.

To my daughters and grandchildren: never stop pausing long enough to notice and love nature.

Comments and suggestions welcomed as I begin, continue and travel into and along this storytelling adventure

Allergies and oak pollen

If you have seasonal allergies to oak pollen, I would suggest you avoid central California, my yard or stay inside. I know this happens every spring but the coating of pollen seems extra thick this year.

Just a mere week or so ago we had rain and freezing temperatures. Then the temperature shot up to the 80’s the last few days and in the photos below you can see what coats my backyard bricks, tables and chairs. What’s even scarier is I cleaned the yard yesterday and wiped the tables down.

My pet hens are very happy to gobble up the pollen which is highly nutritious and will help color their yolks an even deeper orange.

2017 Year Of Prisma iPhonography

In 2017 I discovered the Prisma App for iPhonography.  People love the images I’ve created and so do I.  I decided my year of photos in review this year would be 12 images edited with the Prisma App. Enjoy.

Earth Day

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Do you choose THIS?

We choose our future?  What choice will you make today and every day hereafter?  EVERY Day is earth day!

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Or do your want more of THIS?

Read the History of Earth Day <——

Why am I taking so may photos of nature?

Looking at the world through a lens gives me a chance to pause and to truly appreciate what I’m seeing.

Sculptural old oak in Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve
Sculptural old oak in Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve

Photographing a plant, a bug, a rock, a child, a water droplet, a pet, a pattern or a landscape causes me to stop and to really begin to look and see.

I slow down. I breath deeper. I feel more. I notice more. I feel more alive. Colors start to appear more vibrant and rich. Sounds become clearer and more melodious. Scents become more perceptible. I start to notice associations and repeating patterns in nature. I notice how most of life can and does live in harmony. I find myself relaxing. My compassion and patience for other fellow humans increases.

And, now my photos and observations can have a greater purpose and impact. Through technology my images and limited knowledge can be shared. My photos can have so much more meaning when I share them with databases such as iNaturalist, Calflora and CalPhoto.

With the recent emergence of the field of big data, scientists can make better use of contributions from citizen scientists, citizen naturalists or wannabe botanists like myself.  We will now be better able to monitor biodiversity and the changes which are occurring on this delicate blue sphere we call earth.

Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve
Wide open grasslands of Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve

By sharing my images on iNaturalist I give a purpose to my pictures. They are shared with the scientific community and others of like mind. iNaturalist has encouraged me to look and see the small stuff on the trails.

iPhonography and iNaturalist have helped me become a better observer of nature. I have been richly rewarded with what I have seen. May it be the learning of a new species or the sighting of an old friend again.

iNaturalist Project

Check out my local biodiversity project that I have created on iNat: Project: Sycamore Valley Regional Open Space Preserve I have started documenting the species on a few acres of open space preserve near my home.  I couldn’t find good data on the area so I decided to create my own data.  Maybe, someday, this information will prove useful to the surrounding community or maybe even to scientists as they monitor the movement of species caused by climate change.  Or, maybe I will be able to document the natural recovery of this region from the historical aspects of cattle grazing or the impact of modern day humans on this now preserved space.

With advancing age, I continue to grow in amazement of the natural world around me.

So, instead of taking another selfie, think about using your camera next time to collect data about the world around you. You too can be a citizen scientist.

Death Valley Flowers – March 2016 Superbloom

Here’s my photo dump of just SOME of the flowering plants seen on our weekend BioBlitz to Death Valley. Two days was not nearly enough time, but it was all the time we had.

There is, oh, so much that I didn’t see and will never see because there isn’t enough time in life to see it all.

A visit to Death Valley can only capture just one singular moment in time.  The variety of species blooming can literally change from one day to the next.

I have “guestimated” many of the scientific names and added common names.  Several of the flower’s I have just ID’ed to genus.  Without pulling some of the plants apart or waiting for seeds to set I can not confirm ID’s.  Knowing where the plant was observed, the soil type, elevation, associated species and time of year, a pretty good guess can be made in most cases.

For lack of a better way to organize the photos, I have attempted to display them in a color sequence.  Please enjoy and let me know what you think.  The photo’s have not been edited.

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Castilleja chromosa    Desert paintbrush

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Calycoseris wrightii    White tackstem

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Opuntia basilaris – Beaver Tail Cactus

{"focusMode":1,"deviceTilt":-0.007064298787389234,"whiteBalanceProgram":0,"macroEnabled":false,"qualityMode":3}Desert Five-spot (Eremalche rotundifolia)

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Aliciella latifolia    Broad leaf gilia
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Desert Gold

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Encelia farinosa    Brittlebush

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Turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima)

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Mentzelia obscura – Pacific blazing star

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Camissonia brevipes ssp. brevipes    Golden sun cup

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Mohavea breviflora    Golden Desert Snapdragon

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Little Desert Tumpet   Eriogonum trichopes

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Little Desert Trumpet   Eriogonum trichopes

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Desert Trumpet   Eriogonum  inflatum

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Desert Trumpet   Eriogonum inflatum

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Malacothrix coulteri    Snake’s head

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Malacothrix coulteri    Snake’s head

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Devil’s Spineflower (Chorizanthe rigida)

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Gilmania luteola  Golden carpet

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Malacothrix coulteri    Snake’s head

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Nicotiana obtusifolia    Desert tobacco

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Desert Rock Nettle (Eucnide urens)

pebble pincushion (Chaenactis carphoclinia)
pebble pincushion (Chaenactis carphoclinia) with Concrete Mites
A WHITE Five Spot
A WHITE Five Spot

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Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla)

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Seaside Heliotrope (Heliotropium curassavicum)

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Brown Eyed Primrose

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Perityle emoryi    Emory’s rock daisy

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Monoptilon bellioides   Desert star

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Monoptilon bellioides  Desert star
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Panamint Cryptantha   Cryptantha inaequata

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Narrow leaved cryptantha

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Eriogonum fasciculatum  California Buckwheat
 Salvia funerea Death Valley Sage
Salvia funerea Death Valley Sage

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Lilac Sunbonnet

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Lupinus flavoculatus   Yellow eyed lupine

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Xylorhiza tortifolia   Mojave woodyaster

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Erodium cicutarium   Redstem Filaree
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Fremont Phacelia
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Fremont Phacelia

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Caltha-leaf Phacelia   Phacelia calthifolia

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 Notch leaved phacelia

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Cylindropuntia echinocarpa  Wiggins’ cholla

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Cactus

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Echinocactus polycephalus  Cotton Top Cactus

Bio Blitz – Death Valley: Discovering Life on the Edge

In mid-March I found myself registered to participate as a volunteer botanist and iNaturalist contributor for the 2016 Death Valley National Park BioBlitz, part of a centennial celebration of our National Parks.

Botanists - spreading out to search an area an to tread lightly by not walking in each others footsteps.
Botanists – spreading out to search an area and to tread lightly by not walking in each others footsteps.

A BioBlitz as defined in wikipedia is “an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists and volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period (e.g., usually 24 hours).”

Researcher's and iNaturalists collecting data within the creek.
Researcher’s and iNaturalists collecting data within the creek.

For the DVNP BioBlitz, the primary area of study was the area of Salt Creek.

Not only would scientists and iNaturalist be out in the creek area collecting data, but several programs and presentations were set up for the general public.  The access road to Salt Creek was closed to traffic and the public and volunteers could either park out on the highway or another designated parking area and take a shuttle to the sight.

The park was blessed this year with above normal rainfall resulting in a rare super bloom of wildflowers. And, just the night before the BioBlitz, the valley was blessed with another rare sprinkling of measurable rain.  The creek would be flowing a tad higher and some of the plant habitat’s would present some unique water crossing challenges for the field botanist.  Not something one would expect in such a barren and hospitable landscape.

Here’s a link to the iNaturalist posts showing the species count results for the DVNP BioBlitz of March 12th, 2016.

Death Valley iNaturalist BioBlitz Species Count Results

Herpetologist trying to photograph the fast and small critters.
Herpetologist trying to photograph the fast and small critters.

These images where taken at the BioBlitz of the groups working area’s of biological study.  I was able to contribute to the iNat project site 17 observed taxa, 20 total observations, of which 16 qualified as research grade. To date I have been notified that 9 of my observations have been selected for use by the project.

Your's truly get an up close macro documentary image.
Your’s truly getting an up close macro documentary image.

I am so honored to have been a participated for the 2016 BioBlitz. In another post I will identify some of the more common wildflowers seen over the weekend. We had an absolutely stunning and amazing visit to Death Valley National Park(DVNP).   More Death Valley posts to come.

Wednesday Lunch Walk

Went for a walk at noon today. Here’s what I photographed. (click on images to see larger)(Now back to outdoor furniture staining and other obligations.)

My moment of "Zen" place today.
My moment of “Zen” place today.
Found this grove of young buckeye trees.
Found this grove of young buckeye trees.
Gray Mules Ears - Wyethia helenioides
Gray Mules Ears – Wyethia helenioides
Some more common fiddle neck.
Some more common fiddle neck.
First poppy I've photographed for 2016
First poppy I’ve photographed for 2016
One of many lady beetles seen
One of many lady beetles seen
One of the backyard Adirondack chairs dear hubby built and I'm finally sanding and staining.
One of the backyard Adirondack chairs dear hubby built and I’m finally sanding and staining.

“Googleville” and “Appletown” Open Space Explorations

On a recent Friday afternoon we found ourselves on the other side of the bay to run some errands. We scheduled in an hour or so to spend on a hike in the local hills of the Santa Clara county mid peninsula region.

Trail
Trail

We chose to explore the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve and Deer Hollow Farm in an area very near Los Altos on the northwest end of Santa Clara valley and part of Silicon Valley.  The preserve is near “Googleville” and north of “Appletown”. The write up about the open space sounded intriguing in that we could walk a trail through riparian, meadow and coast live oak woodland and visit Deer Hollow Farm. Deer Hollow Farm is a recently restored (1993) working farm from the 1850’s.

Black Tailed Deer
Black Tailed Deer

We walked through a woodland consisting predominately of Coast Live oak, buckeye, California bay and poison oak. A few of the bay tree buds were starting to bloom. The understory consisted of a lush bright green covering of native grasses mixed with numerous common annual and perennial wildflower seedlings.  Plenty of buttercups, miner’s lettuce and California Manroot were already in bloom. New growth of bedstraw, coast iris and native bulbs could be seen mixed in under the tree’s.

White Barn
White Barn

Critter’s filled the air with their tweets, chirps, hoots and chatter. We were treated to the call of a Great Horned Owl in the distance, the loud squawk of a scrub jay in the trees, several Pacific Chorus frogs near the creek and the chatter of a few too many squirrels. We watched a cottontail bunny near a big log and numerous ground squirrels. We spotted a large wood rats nest of branches not far from the trail.

Mircantha californica - California Saxifrage
Mircantha californica – California Saxifrage

It is so nice that these park lands have been set aside for all to enjoy and to provide habitat for the native species that have lost so much land to development.

Kid, doeling, buckling.... or just baby goat
Kid, doeling, buckling…. or just baby goat

Once again we realize how fortunate we are to live in the San Francisco bay area and in California.  A state that has taken land preservation seriously, and has created a fair amount of parkland and protected wildlife habitat.

The following are a few photos taken during our short time in this open space.

Sheep, ewe's, lamps.... whatever, got to love the farm terminology
Sheep, ewe’s, lamb’s…. whatever, got to love farm terminology
cow, heifer, a head of cattle, bovine
cow, heifer, a head of cattle, bovine… more farm terminology

 

 

 

Pentagramma triangularis - Goldenback fern
Pentagramma triangularis – Goldenback fern
Pedicularis densiflora - Indian Warrior
Pedicularis densiflora – Indian Warrior
Lathyrus vestitus; Bolander's Pea
Lathyrus vestitus – Bolander’s Pea
Salix lasiandra - Pacific willow
Salix lasiandra – Pacific willow

 

 

 

Pacific Hound’s Tongue - Cynoglossum grande
Pacific Hound’s Tongue – Cynoglossum grande
Western Gray Squirrel - Sciurus griseus
Western Gray Squirrel – Sciurus griseus
Trillium chloropetalum  - Common trillium,  Giant wakerobin
Trillium chloropetalum  – Common trillium,  Giant wakerobin

A few more natives in bloom

Local hills, around town, blooming now.

Calandrinia ciliata var menziesii fringed red maids

 

Amsinckia intermedia common fiddle neck