Wednesday, June 14, 2017

May 2017 Reading

The books I finished reading in May 2017

May 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson
May 2017 Reading: photo by Cliff Hutson

Foodie bonus

This article, on vegetarian dishes in South America, features a rice and beans meal I (AKA "The Marmot") prepared and then photographed.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Matilija Poppy

Romneya coulteri

Romneya coulteri: photo by Cliff Hutson
Romneya coulteri: photo by Cliff Hutson

Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri, is a perennial herb that is not only native to California but is endemic (limited) to California alone. It also has the distinction of being having the largest flower of any plant native to the state.  The flowers, up to seven inches in diameter, are said to resemble a fried egg as they are yellow in the center and surrounded by five or six white, crinkled petals. Its tall stems, with grayish-green leaves, may reach between three and eight feet in height.
This rampantly showy species, of the Papaveraceae family, is found in the chaparral and costal sage scrub habits. It should be blooming from May through June in the Peninsular Ranges and the eastern parts of the South Coast Ranges; at elevations of 20 - 1200 meters. Some blossoms may last well in to late Summer. Threatened by both development (urbanization, flood control, road widening, and road maintenance) and invasive species it is included in the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants on list 4.2 (limited distribution).
Matilija Poppy is very popular in native plant gardens. Care must be taken in its placement as it is rhizomatous and very aggressive in spreading itself through underground rootstocks which form additional colonies. It needs sun and tolerates various amounts of watering depending on how well the soil drains.
The scientific name commemorates Romney Robinson, an Irish astronomer of the 1800’s, and Thomas Coulter, an Irish physician, botanist, and explorer. The plant itself was almost honored. It was a nominee in 1890 for the title of state flower but lost to the California poppy ( Eschscholzia californica ) by an apparently considerable margin. However, I would like to demand a recount.
Matilija Poppy: photo by Cliff Hutson
Matilija Poppy: photo by Cliff Hutson


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Analog Lives!

Blue Books

Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson
Blue Books: photo by Cliff Hutson

I am a subscriber to the quarterly editions of Field Notes memo books. Occasionally, we get a little something extra in the mail. The latest was three blue books. It has been at least 45 years since I last took an exam using one of these; so, I wondered if they might really be a thing. Surly, after all this time something "new and improved" - iPads or the like - would have taken their place.

This question was quickly resolved with a query to my daughter who informed me that blue books are still being used in colleges, especially for final exams in social science courses: psychology, philosophy, political science, and sociology, by her and other "older professors".

Perhaps, this should not have surprised me as I had just finished reading "The Revenge of Analog," by David Sax.

Analog Matters

Sax writes convincingly about "real things and why they matter".  Digital technology has encroached on, if not taken over, much of our lives. The book is not against this, per se; it, instead shows that analog technology can not only coexist with the digital world, it can enhance it as well. But, then, he really takes to task the emergence of digital devices, such as the aforementioned iPads, in education. And stresses that one of the greatest promises and failures of educational technology is the online course. Studies show that these courses have very low completion rates. One source states that typically 90 percent of students drop out, and that those who stay with it learn less than students in a classroom.
This really intrigued me as I am enrolled in just such a course (Making Sense of Climate Science Denial - offered by the University of Queensland, no less) scheduled to begin on May 29.  

Correspondence School

FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson
FN School: photo by Cliff Hutson

The blue books from Field Notes were accompanied by a letter giving me instructions for a Final Exam. Just as if it were a correspondence school whose motto is, "Getting Smarter, One Letter at a Time". 

It just so happens that I have had some real world experience with traditional correspondence classes. My favorite example is the competition of a seminar in Bird Biology at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, in 1993. This done by actually mailing assignments back and forth, to and from Ithaca, with what could have only been an actual person. 

Now, I will be the among the first to maintain that the preferred method of education is having students and teachers interact with each other in a classroom (or the field as in my current situation). But, I got a lot out of that seminar, and still use that information to this day. One point that I bear in mind was that i still had to put pen and pencil to paper. A technique that many consider far superior to using a keyboard, touch screen, or stylus. I am eager to see how this online course will work for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nature vs the Folly of Man

“History shows again and again how nature points up the folly of man . . .”
Blue Oyster Cult, "Godzilla" 

Monarch Caterpillar: photo by Cliff Hutson

A Book

Last night I finished reading "Career of Evil," by Robert Galbraith. This author is better known as J.K. Rowling, of Harry Potter fame. It is the third book, written under this pseudonym,  about Cormoran Strike, a private deceive, and by far the worst in my opinion. I very much enjoyed "Cuckoo's Calling", the first in the series. The second "The Silkworm" was just adequate, to my mind. This last book stinks, in my opinion.

A more discerning reader might take exception to that. Which is cool by me. But, I found the descriptions of the crimes to be far too grisly for my taste. I feel that detective stories can be well done without this nonsense as proven by Robert Crais, Agatha Christy, and Edgar Allen Poe, whom many contend to be the progenitor of the genre.

However, I was very much intrigued that "Career of Evil" has an interesting conceit of heading up most chapters with lyrics from songs recorded by the band Blue Oyster Cult. Now, I have long considered myself to be a BÖC fan, but was not familiar with hardly any of these lyrics. And, after having seen them in this context, may never be able to enjoy listening to the band again.
Milkweed in Bloom: photo by Cliff Hutson

The Music

Even so, I will hold on to my second favorite BOC song, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper".  And, the one I like the best, "Godzilla". 

Just like the the novel, I started off this post with a snippet of actual lyrics. However, I have always thought of them as, "nature must pay for the folly of man." 

I, for the purposes of today's lesson, relate this conjecture to the decline of the Monarch Butterfly. As the referenced article states - "Across North America, the number of monarchs has dropped 27 percent in the last year alone, and by four-fifths since the 1990s. Habitat loss, especially in midwestern farm country, is a big reason. Farmers have plowed up most of the nation's milkweed patches to plant GMO soy and corn, much of it for ethanol fuels. But monarch caterpillars can only eat milkweed. And less food means fewer butterflies."

Asclepius fascicularis: photo by Cliff Hutson

The Pitch

Monarch caterpillars rely on milkweeds for food.  Fortunately, many California native species are quite attractive in the garden — and unlike milkweeds from elsewhere, they've evolved to bloom right when California monarchs need them.

Thus, I propose that many of us are in a position to give these little guys a hand. Please consider giving some space to help out our fellow creatures.

An Aside

The California Wildflower Show runs at RSABG from April 22 - 24, and the Butterfly Pavilion opens May 13, 2017.