Friday, November 26, 2021

Close Encounters of the Aromas Kind

 Third Quarter Moon

What I really wanted to do for the last ten days of November was to pack up and head for Death Valley NP. I love the desert this time of year and there was a good chance I could score some tasty Turkey Day grub at Furnace Creek Ranch (at least there was in pre-COVID days). However, reserving campsites in the national parks now takes a set of internetal (new word) gymnastic skills which I do not possess. Or maybe it's patience that I lack. Or maybe reserve dot gov is the crappiest web site this side of planet Mercury. I knew that some of their campgrounds were still closed or restricted and I was hesitant to to drive that far if I couldn't nail down a spot to camp for a few nights in advance. 

Should I gamble on a cancellation for the chance to see a desert Sunrise or a Moonset? I can see them fine right here.

My end of the month decision was rendered much simpler by a request by friends Teri and Clete to watch over their house and animals in Aromas, CA, a mere hop, skip, and scoot from San Juan Bautista. So I agreed to a twelve-day stint in their beautiful home while they travel back East. 

I like Aromas a lot. It's a small, friendly, hilly, wooded town on the Pacific Plate side of the San Andreas Fault about ten miles from the beach. There isn't much to do there, but the Aromas Grill serves good food, Marshall Grocery makes excellent burritos, and the Aromas Sports Park on the edge of town is great for walking dogs and playing disc golf. That's enough for me right now. I get a change of scenery and an opportunity to spend quality time with Bob the Dog, Hazel the Cat, and Eekamouse the Other Cat. 

Hazel and Eekamouse are exclusively house felines, originally feral kittens, who have wide-ranging, manic personalities that swing between cute-and-cuddly to kitchen-counter-hurdling savage. Hazel is on the left in this awww-ain't we-sweet pose. To capture them in action would require a few ESPN camera crews. 

Bob the Dog, in contrast, is the most consistently laidback creature this side of Pluto. He is getting up in years, just how many no one knows, but he's very smart and way easy to get along with. He keeps a regular schedule of the following low key activities: peeing, pooping, eating, drinking, sleeping, and walking on a leash. Here's a photo of Bob in his festive pumpkin-colored holiday sweater. He's not really into posing for the camera, but he'll  occasionally put up with human housesitter quirks if it means getting to go to the park.

Every day after breakfast Bob is scheduled for an 8:00 morning mile. I load him into Teri's Subaru and we drive over to the sports park for a brisk amble around the crushed  gravel track. The brisk amble is frequently interrupted by sudden bursts of stoppage to smell the heck out of the grass and sometimes pee a little bit. For a couple of old guys, we are pretty durn quick. Bob can stop and pee on a dime whenever he wants to, though, something, alas, I cannot do without risking arrest. Here's one of Bob setting the pace.

The amount of time and effort that goes into caring for just these three relatively copasetic critters amazes me. I really don't know how people do that plus raise kids, hold down jobs, maintain marriages, socialize, recreate, and be on time for group therapy, too. I mean, I like to recreate, you know? It sort of takes up my whole day, come to think of it. And I avoid group therapy like the plague. 

Well, I'd better get on the stick. Bob is looking at me with that forlorn, take-me-to-the-park look again. Away we go.

Peace, Love, and Recreation All Day Long,

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

An Invitation to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

 Waning Gibbous Moon

Recently, no fewer than five of my most valued friends recommended that I read a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. The author and mother of three daughters is an absolutely brilliant writer of Potawatomi descent with a Ph.D. in Botany. Every page is delivered purposefully like visual poetry. Each chapter is a separate lesson. The whole book is a treatise on realism and natural philosophy rooted solidly in Mother Earth. To all those friends who knew I would love it and urged me to read it, thank you and bless you. You were right.

About a hundred pages into the book is a chapter entitled Allegiance to Gratitude. Kimmerer refers to the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, an Onondaga greeting or prayer called, in their language, "Words That Come Before All Else." She describes it thusly: 

This ancient order of protocal sets gratitude as the highest priority...It is said that the people were instructed to stand and offer these words whenever they gathered, no matter how many or how few, before anything else was done.

The scene during which this Thanksgiving Address is presented should be read in context of the chapter and the book as a whole, so I won't give that away. Suffice to say it stunned me. I was moved to read more about the address and discovered a beautifully constructed website that gives the expanded version which extends gratitude to all of the natural world.

This year on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, I am extending an invitation to anyone who happens to read this to join me virtually tomorrow morning in reading aloud each part of the address in the order constructed on this beautiful site. No Zoom thing, just join me in spirit, wherever you are. I recommend taking a few minutes to watch the short videos first to set the mood, then proceed to speak the "prayer" either by yourself or with a partner or a group. I think it is quite a powerful meditation when read aloud and a soothing way to start any day, especially Thanksgiving.

Peace, Love, and Say It Out Loud,


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

The Twisted Grove of Nisene Marks State Park

 First Quarter Moon

This past Monday I returned to the Magical Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in the company of my semi-notorious friends Captain Chem, Sultry Sue, and Saint Nacho the Chihuahuan Empath. This visit had the twin purposes of a) finding the much ballyhooed "Twisted Grove" of redwoods and b) enjoying a picnic lunch at the end of the Old Growth Loop trail. I successfully checked both items off my Monday to-do list.

Now I have another thing to-do. I have a Facebook friend who has sort of been bugging me for a while to find the Twisted Grove and report on what I saw. Her interest prompted me to think the grove might be both hard to find and somehow very spectacular. It was neither, really. It's only a half-mile, if that, from the park entrance and it was easy to spot on the park map. This small grove of twisted trees uphill from Aptos Creek exhibits a curious thing called spiral growth. They are interesting, but unspectacular, at least until you start to learn the how and why these trees grew in spirals. 

They are cool-looking, though. My photos did not turn out so well, so I borrowed a couple from my San-Juan-Bautista-by-way-of-Soquel friend Katie Smith.

Photo credit: Katie Smith

Photo credit: Katie Smith

To understand how these trees got so twisted, I turned to Dr. Maynard Moe, a retired Biology professor and plant expert/naturalist/hiker/backpacker who grew up in Yosemite Valley, yes that Yosemite Valley, in you know, Yosemite National Park. The good Dr. Moe allowed me to ask one dumb question after another as I scoured the web for an explanantion that wasn't pure speculation. He helped me eliminate a few wild goose chases and he didn't once come out and say "Geezuz, Jim, you really should be in a home by now." Heckuva nice guy, that Maynard. 

To begin to understand what happened to these redwood trees that made them grow in spirals, it helps to review a few terms from high school daze. I'll go ahead and preface all of this by telling you two things: a) this will be a very simplistic explanation and b) the exact mechanics and causes of the process are still being studied. How is that for lowering expectations?

For a little review of how trees get water and nutrients from their roots to their branches and parts farther out on a limb, I'm going to quote some folks from the University of Tennessee who know what they are talking about. 

Tree Growth Characteristics

Upon peeling the bark off a branch, the soft inner layer of bark next to the wood is revealed. This is the vascular cambium, and every year it creates xylem (new wood) on the inside, and phloem (new inner bark) on the outside. The xylem carries water and nutrients from the roots upward, while the phloem carries sugars from the leaves downward (Fig. 4). In temperate climates, the cambium does not grow during the winter and a dark line can be seen in the wood where cambial growth slowed at year’s end. These are the annual growth rings that are visible in many species.

A certain amount of diameter growth also occurs through growth of the cork cambium, which produces cork, the outer layer of bark. New cork is produced each year; however, the outermost layer is shed so that the bark thickness of a mature tree remains nearly the same from year to year. Therefore, while growth of the cork cambium may contribute greatly to diameter growth as a sapling develops a thick bark, diameter growth of a mature tree is mainly due to the production of wood by the vascular cambium. 

Okay, so the root system transports water and nutrients up through the xylem to the branches, right? As long as the roots are intact and functioning "normally," the water goes pretty much straight up the tree above where the root system is feeding it all around the circumference of the tree. Absent any funny business, what you get eventually is a big ole beautiful straight redwood. 

BUT, what happens when the roots are not functioning as described above? What if, for example, the roots on one side of the tree get tangled in rocks and can no longer reach soil to transport water? What if that or another external stress changes the straight upward movement of fluids through the xylem on one side of a tree?  Then you get blockage called cavitation, creating an embolism.

Cavitation occurs in xylem of vascular plants when the tension of water within the xylem becomes so high that dissolved air within water expands to fill either the vessels or the tracheids. The blocking of a xylem vessel or tracheid by an air bubble or cavity is called as embolism (Gr. embolus, stopper), and such a vessel or tracheid is said to be embolized.

An embolized xylum vessel will prevent straight upward movement of fluids from the roots to the branches, so for the tree to grow, something  must give. Of course, nature finds a way. The tree compensates by an adaptation called spiral growth. Fluids move around the blockage (embolism) at about a 30-degee angle and begin a spiral journey around the tree like stripes on a barber pole, thereby bringing fluid to all parts of the crown, not just the parts directly above the healthy side of the root system. The end result is the twisted form exhibited in the Twisted Grove at Nisene Marks. 

Simply stated, spiral growth is:

an adaptation that resists the "upstream" effects of embolisms. If embolisms aren't an issue, there is no selection for twisting. – Dr. Maynard Moe. personal communication

In the hundreds of redwood trees that surround the tiny Twisted Grove in the Magical Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, there are no consequential, bothersome embolisms and thus, there is no spiral growth. 

I for one am happy the twisted trees and their embolisms allowed me to visit and wonder how they came to be. Did I arrive at an exhaustive answer to why and how spiral growth occurs? Nope. But at least I gained a basic understanding of what may be the process that produced the result. And I learned to be cautious and dubious while reading speculative, data-less answers like the Coriolis Effect and earthquake shaking self-correction on the internet. 

No doubt, I will learn more as time goes on. That's entertainment.

Peace, Love, and Picnics,

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The Magical Forest of Nisene Marks

 Waxing Crescent Moon

Yesterday's mini-adventure began with breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe in Soquel, CA with my esteemed colleague and hiking pal Captain Chem from nearby Aptos. The Sunrise is one of my favorite little cafes in this neck of the woods, but due to COVID concerns, it had been a while between veggie omelets. I can verify that they are still awesome as is the swift and friendly service. 

The plan for the day was to head up to nearby Land of the Medicine Buddha to do a six-mile hike around the property - and perhaps to spin the prayer wheel/ring the gong in the middle of the holy redwood forest. The weather was perfect and I was more than excited to get on the trail. 

Alas, this hike was not to be. Unbeknownst to me, administrators have closed the trails and grounds to the public from November 1, 2021 until April 1, 2022 for monk maintenance of mind and soul and for land recovery of soil and tree. Good medicine requires special care. If I had bothered to check their website beforehand, I would have been forewarned. Consider yourself forewarned, in case you were on your way. 

No biggie, though, Plan B quickly hatched itself. Captain Chem knew of an easy fix to our simple problem. Parking Hondo at the southern edge of the Cabrillo College campus, we accessed a very pleasant Santa Cruz County hiking trail that winds along the back of a residential area through a healthy-looking oak forest. I know that pampas grass is non-native, but I think it is pretty nonetheless.

 After a mile or so, the trail connects to the northern boundary of Forest of the Nisene Marks State Park. Just like that, we were walking among the redwoods anyway, so there was no need to be disappointed. On the contrary, this hike was great. I think the medicine buddha is probably everywhere anyway, prayer wheels, prayer flags, and gongs notwithstanding.

By the way, you might be curious as to who or what Nisene Marks is or was. In case you are or may someday be curious, I did the tedious, nitty-gritty, scholarly, Dr. Googlie work for you.

The park's name honors Nisene Marks, the nature-loving mother of the Salinas farm family that bought the land in the 1950s. Her children donated approximately 9,700 acres to the state in 1963 with the provision that the land never be developed. Today, the park showcases a forest in recovery, with rugged canyons and remnants of its once-bustling railroad and logging industry. A grove of ancient old-growth redwood trees near the Pourroy picnic area was preserved under private ownership and added to the park in recent years.

Yesterday, we encountered a potpourri of happy hikers with equally happy dogs plus sleek, rosey-cheeked trail runners and a few well-mannered mountain bikers, too. Everybody in the park seemed to be tuned into the same sunshine-and-clean-forest-air vibe. What a spectacular day in a magical forest!

The seasonal low-angle sunlight enhanced the forest enchantment when it was time to descend to Aptos Creek and step cross the rocks to the other side. The reflections in the water were mesmerizing. And beautiful.

You might also be curious as to what is the origin of the word "mesmerize?" Again, I have done the heavy lifting via Dr. Googlie. 

The origin of the term "mesmerize" dates back to Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th century physician in Vienna who founded a therapeutic movement called mesmerism. In his dissertation Mesmer proposed the existence of an invisible fluid in the body that reacts to the gravitational force of the planets

Okay, Franz, whatever!

Captain Chem observed on the way back that he had detected no birds or mammals or wildlife of any sort in the forest. In fact, neither of us heard or saw a single peep, cheep, or warble on the whole hike. Unusual? I think so! Nary a squirrel, nary a crow or jay or sparrow. Nary, even, a Santa Cruz banana slug! 

Verrrry interesting. Did they run out of invisible fluid I wonder? 

I guess you can't have everything all at once, even on a perfect day in the magical forest. For a Plan B hike, this one was pretty excellent!

Peace, Love, and Flexibility,