Gossamer Tapestry

Reflections on conservation, butterflies, and ecology in the nation's heartland

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mr. R.

Growing up, not everyone is fortunate enough to encounter teachers that have a significant influence. I’m fortunate enough to have had several. I’d have to place my high school biology teacher at the top of the list. Mr. R. was the first person to teach me biology as a specific discipline rather than just as part of a general science curriculum.

Mr. R. was a superb teacher of general biology, but his own interest centered heavily on ecology and environmental science. One of our exercises was to lay out a meter square plot in a field adjacent to the school and identify everything, including both plants and animals, found within the plot. We took lots of field trips to examples of New England ecosystems, some of which have become much beloved by me (quaking bog, anyone?). He introduced me to a lot of ecological terminology (ecotone, niche, succession) that I use to this day. More than any other single individual, Mr. R. influenced me to become a biologist.

On my first visit home after completing my doctorate, my parents threw a small reception for me. Mr. R. was, of course, on the guest list. I remember him beaming through the entire event, and me feeling pleased that he was so obviously proud of my accomplishment.

Mr. R’s funeral was today. I learned only yesterday that he had recently passed after a brief illness. I owe so much to his guidance and mentorship. In his honor, I am contacting a couple of other teachers to tell them what they meant to me. Goodbye, Mr. R., and thanks.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Day on the Mountain

Mt. San Jacinto is the mountain that looms above Palm Springs. It has a huge vertical drop- the summit is at 10,834'. The elevation of downtown Palm Springs is about 500 feet. For several years now, Leon and I have hiked partway up the mountain during our visits. We have wanted to hike up to the upper terminal of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, however it's a long and steep hike, and we have always turned back partway up.

This year we decided to get an early start and really try to get to the tram. The trail begins right at the end of Ramone Road, about half a mile from where we were staying. It's not very long- only about 8 miles to the tram. We have easily gone that distance on other day hikes, however this trail involves an 8,000 foot elevation gain.

Leon at the trailhead
Looking fresh at 7:30 AM

We left the hotel just after 7. Michael opted to spend the day poolside, so it was just Leon and me this time out.

The views of Palm Springs were spectacular

The trail begins in desert and quickly rises high above the city. We were treated to spectacular views throughout the day. It was sunny and beautifully warm at the lower elevations. Probably due to the lateness of he season, I saw very few insects. I did manage to get a photo of a pretty beetle and a variegated meadowhawk dragonfly.

Cool beetle

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

The climb gives a beautiful lesson in the alpine life zones of southern California. Desert gives way to the shrubby scrub land known as chaparral. This is an ecosystem that I have less familiarity with. I always find it disorienting when I'm someplace where I don't know the names of even the common, conspicuous plants.


Up in the chaparral zone the views are amazing

Eventually, trees begin appearing. The hike ends in ponderosa pine forest at the tram station. The air up here is thin. Between the elevation and the prolonged exertion of hiking we were really wiped when we got to the tram at about 4 in the afternoon. I have few photos of the end of the hike. What really amazes me is that after the tram ride down, we still had the energy to go out to dinner with Michael and a couple of other guys that we had met at the resort. I guess we were hungry.

I think I would have died if I had known that there was still
nearly 2 hours of hiking in front of us here

Side benefits of the hike: I have restarted my running program, run more than 15 miles each week , and dropped 8 pounds since this hike. Michael wants us to repeat this (with him) next year, and I want to be in better shape for it.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why I haven't Been Sleeping Well

We've had her for about 3 weeks. She doesn't yet have a name, though we are considering Nadia. She walks along the bar under the dining room table as though it's a balance beam.

She's also a big part of the reason we're not having a Christmas tree this year.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Autumn in the Desert

It's hard to believe that I've been back from California for 2 1/2 week already. Nearly every November, Leon and I head out to the desert east of San Diego and Los Angeles. Palm Springs is our base of operations. This year we were joined by our friend Michael. For the first weekend, we were also joined by UrSpo and his partner who drove over from Phoenix.

Indian Palm Canyon

The five of us did a delightful hike in the Indian Palm Canyons. It was fun to introduce Michael to the palm oasis ecosystem, and to go for yet another hike with Urspo and his partner. I also enjoyed all the dragonflies that we saw that day. We also had fun watching all the hummingbirds up at the trading post.

Bluet (Enallagma sp.)


On Monday, after the Spos had returned to Phoenix, we visited Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills. Although I brought my camera, I left the memory card in the computer back at the resort. As a result, i enjoyed lugging a useless camera up the canyon and back. The photography on Tuesday was much better at Joshua Tree.

Michael with Joshua Trees
Cute Ground Squirrel

Leon at the crest of the hike

We really enjoyed introducing Michael to some of our favorite desert spots. I'll save the rest of our adventures, including a major mountain hike, for further postings.

Moonrise at Joshua Tree

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