Friday, March 30, 2007

It IS Spring....

The flowers are blooming on the fruit trees. Weeds are as high as my knees. Birds of all sorts, are tearing up my Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) for their nests which drape all the outside lights. Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) were hitting my neighbor's Liquidamber styraciflua so loud it echoed inside my house. There were two males hopping around at top of the tree.... actually hopping on their tails.... over a single female which was flying around them. I guess one male looked cuter and flew off with the 'girl' which left this poor guy for me to take a quick picture of it in its confusion.

Then just inside the garden two male Xylocopa sp. or Carpenter bees were making a ruckus. The males have longish hair that is yellow-brown. They seem very mean and aggressive, but I caught this one to examine it up close - It hated that! They do not have a stinger and these two males were demonstrating their ability to find a good home for the shiny black female just up in the tree near-by. When I happened along this one male was petrolling his prime spot. A second male tried to take it but, the first one shooed the usurper away. This wonderful little guy kept his eyes on me as I took this shot. He knew I was trouble! I love his antenna.

Then I heard the sound of .... oh, I can't explain it.... I have a chicken and my neighbor came over to report that she heard my chicken coughing or having a hairball or something.... Then she noticed that my 50 pound tortoises were.... um.... She was shocked. I tell you ! Shocked!

But the best part of my spring day was at the market. This young lady was scurrying into the florist shop and said something about getting her stuff for her friend's babyshower.... OH, how she fussed! Two men from the market came out to help her. She was late and the florist was late and and and what was she to do!!!!!.... "Yes.... just bring your car around and we will put the balloons in your car...." The gal ran off and drove up in this small car.... or did she order too many balloons???? The guys had to stuff the balloons into the car while the lady was in the driver's seat and STILL she had to drive off with balloons coming out of her windows ..... Everyone stopped to look and laugh....

Spring brings out the silly in all of us...

One last shot.... This little shop has been here for ages. This was the first time my son saw it. He had my camera and thought it a hoot. Enjoy your spring.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Funny story.... you know how it is. You hear one thing and then another and the next thing you know they all connect.... into one big cluster f**k. (an aside; I learned that term from an esteemed Caltech person who will be nameless.... Caltech folk have very interesting colloquialisms for describing horrific mistakes.)

I lived in Dayton, Ohio, the home of General Motors truck division and the birth place of two very interesting chemicals that will dog humanity until the day we disappear. In the city of Dayton there is a smaller community called Kettering named after the man who developed the starter motor for all motor vehicles today. The starter motor was key to selling all those cars we have on the road today. Before his nifty devise, you had to have some strong person crank over the engine to start it. Lots of people hurt themselves badly. Mostly rich people, with expendable help, had cars.

Kettering, and a number of other people, felt that oil was not going to be the way of the future of automobiles. He and many others felt that ethanol was going to be it and that the US could produce enough for our automobiles and be independent of foreign oil. Does this sound familiar?

Charles Kettering hired Thomas Midgley, a chemist, to devise a way to stop the 'knock' in our cars engines. Midgley created tetra-ethyl-lead (TEL), an additive to gasoline, which aerosoled lead from millions of tailpipes into the air, water, and soils. This period, geologically speaking, is like a fraction of a second in time,... yet... our children's children's children will be 'less' for it. Lead deforms and disfigures and causes mental retardation and destruction of brain functions. Lead doesn't just do its work on humans. Along the main road from the airport to Johannesburg, South Africa, I found ornamental trees filled with butterflies that could not complete their pupation cycle and emerged deformed. Hundreds and hundreds of dead butterflies at the base of the trees year after year should alert people to stop using this poison, you would think..... But then... many people died in the labs of Dupont/GM/Standard Oil creating tetra-ethyl-lead and many sickened including, Thomas Midgley.

Midgley also developed a 'safe' refrigerant which today, like TEL, is banned by many countries. It allowed for people to have refrigeration in their homes and air conditioning.

What is interesting is that these two chemicals allowed everyone and anyone to own cars and to enjoy air conditioning and have refrigeration. There is no doubt that the devices gave us some short moment in our human history of comfort and fun .... But because of their popularity - you can do a one-to-one association with numbers of humans to numbers of devices - the damage done to our only home, earth, is incalculable.

But what really happened? For generations it has been understood that lead was the poison that destroyed Ancient Rome - not Christianity (sorry, I had to study these roots myself in Catholic school). So, why did we think it was 'okay' to use the stuff? How about the connection between Standard Oil, Dupont (which took over GM) and dropping ethanol for the US fleet ....ethanol did not knock - gasoline did.... Then the next question that bugs people who wanted the electric car for economic and ecological reasons.... Why did GM drop the EV1 and pay off a member of the Californian Air Resource Board and buy up the patents for the really good car battery that could be used for electric cars????..... Let me see.... Oil companies on the boards of GM that made the EV1..... hmmmmmmmmm??????

But I still don't get it why these dudes think that they will be unaffected by their own actions? Do they have some sort of ticket to another world? One without global warming? What???? The super rich during the European Plagues were NOT immune from getting sick. They did try to avoid it by building their castles far away from the great unwashed (oh, right, they, too didn't like to bathe...). Only those who had a particular genetic predisposition to avoid dying of the infection from the black plague were safe ... which to this day, protects their descendants from AIDS (don't go around hoping you are a descendant).... Perhaps, it is thought by the super rich that patting and rubbing and wallowing in lots of greenbacks will protect against the verisimilitudes of bad actions.

When I lived in Dayton there was a big celebration for the birth of Midgley. I was commissioned to paint a mural of a CFC molecule. I was allowed a lot of creative freedom - hence the swirls and such. I asked about the celebration, and what was said was ... CFCs saved a lot of lives because ammonia was the refrigerant of the large ice factories. People used the chunks of ice in their homes to cool and partially preserve their food. The concentration of ammonia in the factories was toxic when it leaked and it was explosive. There was good with the bad...I was on the cover of the Dayton Daily News with this mural......

Friday, March 02, 2007

2005 to 2007, San Gabriel Mountains

My grandmother would say, " should always have a reference point from which to compare...." and so to understand my last post, I have to go back to my photos of the San Gabriel Mountains from a couple of years, at least. Is my reaction to the condition of the SG River valley from February 24, 2007 just because I have not visited the area for a while... or is there something very different seasonally and perhaps 'globally'? The top picture was shot February 2005.

Look at February 24, 2007... this is not of the same angle of the valley and the reservoir as in the upper shot, but if you could look to the left up into the upper tributary of the River... this what you would see..... today....

Late November to March is our rainy season (give or take a month) so in February the rains should have stimulated growth of not only the weedy grasses but also the oaks and the Laurel Sumac (Malosma laurina).

The picture on the left was shot after the 100 year storm in March of 2005. The reservoir was being drained. The mountain face with the most green vegetation on the right, was taken at the higher elevation approximately a mile or so from the area seen on the left.

In April of 2006, the valley was still green with some patches of dry. The picture on the left is at a higher elevation (above 2500 feet above sea level). The picture on the right is just above the dam (seen in the upper image)and around the thousand foot level.

The larger picture below was shot in December of 2005. This is looking north past the valley. I hiked with a friend on the 26th to enjoy the cool air of winter. The toyon trees (Heteromeles arbutifolia) were covered in red berries and lots of birds were enjoying the feast.

Now, the question is, is the valley being impacted by something that is drying out the vegetation faster then in other areas? I have been driving the last few days around through in the passes and I find some spotty drying, but not the wholesale valley as seen in the surroundings of the San Gabriel River.

I called this picture '80% dead'.... I am not sure if it is.