Thursday, April 25, 2013

40 Fast Facts

I've been in the field a lot lately, which is very nice for me but trouble for a blog. I'm also working hard on producing things that I feel actually matter enough to share in a blog. So instead I'm sharing a bit about myself with this list, pilfered from Maja Huse's fabulous blog (go read it ASAP).

1. How old will you be in five years? Thirty-six

2. With whom did you spend at least two hours today? My co-workers, a few people out walking the trails around the lake, and some distant Canada Geese

3. How tall are you? 5'6"

4. What was the last movie you saw? "Bridesmaids," finally. It was funny, but not as funny as it had been built up to be.

5. Who did you call most recently? My supervisor, yesterday.

6.What did it say in the last SMS you got? It confirmed a coffee conversation this evening with my friend Casey.

7. Do you prefer calling or texting? Texting. I am very hard of hearing and have trouble discerning specific sounds if I can't watch a person talk. The phone is very frustrating for me.

8. Are your parents together or split up? Split up. I have a bonus mom who has been in my life for a long time now.

9. When did you last see your parents? November of 2011. That may seem like a long time to some folks, but it's typical for my family. My mother passed away during that month, so that was the very last time I saw her.

10. What colour are your eyes? Dark brown.

11. When did you wake up today? 5:30 AM. Sigh...

12. What’s your favourite place? Outside somewhere, near water, ideally with a sandwich and my significant other.

13. Where do you think you’ll be in ten years? There are a few options. I will sum it all up with "quite far from where I'm sitting right now."

14. What used to scare you most as a child? Aliens, absolutely. The idea that they could tractor beam you up into the air while you were sleeping... awful!

15. Lately, what made you laugh uncontrollably? The last time I seriously lost it laughing was over a YouTube video of goats that sound like people. I laugh a lot, though.

16. What do you wear to bed? It varies.

17. Where have you lived? Washington (San Juan Island), Arizona (Prescott), and California (Los Angeles, Sacramento). Next up: Ithaca, NY.

18. Do you prefer shoes, socks or bare feet? Bare feet. I like socks and shoes just fine, though. I enjoy having to wear socks to be cozy.

19. Are you a social person? No. I am friendly, conversational, and generally interested in other people, but I am not really social. It isn't something I enjoy for the sake of it; it wears me out. I forget names pretty easily. I really like asking people questions, though, if they don't consider endless questions to be rude.

20. Favourite ice cream? We are a gelato household. I like things that involve raspberries and various shades of chocolate. I also like salted caramel.

21. Do you like Chinese food? Very, very much.

22. Do you like coffee? I really like coffee. I like the way it looks, the way it tastes, the way it smells, and the art and science of roasting and brewing it. But I'm only allowed about a cup of decaf a week, for health reasons. It has been a rather sad period of my life. I consider coffee one of the finest things to consume. Only being allowed a small amount makes it very special, however, and I find myself seeking out really great cafes for that one magical cup. I do enjoy it more, because it has been limited.

23. Do you sleep in a special way? Most of the time I don't, but about 10% of the time I have to sleep on my stomach, head facing right, right arm at my side, left arm crooked up by my head. I don't know why. It started last year.

24. Do you know how to play poker? Yes. I don't know the skills to succeed at it, though.

25. Do you want kids? No.

26. Have you ever been in an ambulance? No.

27. Do you prefer the ocean or a pool? The ocean.

28. On what do you spend the most money? Food. I see food like art supplies, and I'm always trying new things. Plus we like to eat out. It's actually pretty expensive and we should start budgeting a lot better, as I'm headed to grad school.

29. What’s your favourite TV show? We don't watch TV. We watch some things on Netflix and Hulu, and I get pretty excited when there's a new "Castle." Other than that, we only watch movies, read, or play games together. Nerds!

30. Who’s the funniest person you know? I'm pretty funny, to be honest. My boyfriend cracks me up a lot, because we've known each other for 12 years and he really gets my sense of humor. Other than that... I don't know Bill Heder personally, but he really speaks to my twisted sense of what is funny. His timing is impeccable.

31. What’s your ring tone? Something dorky from my phone's default choices. I never hear it (see: hard of hearing), so "vibration" is my real ring tone.

32. Do you have any garments from when you were a kid? No.

33. What thing do you have closest to you now that’s red? I really hard to look around. A brochure for Indian Grinding Rock State Park.

34. Do you flirt a lot? I rarely flirt intentionally; I have been with my man for some time now, and didn't even really flirt with him -- we were very close friends for a long time before we started dating. I don't know how to flirt, though I suppose my general good cheer, questions, and frequent joking remarks could be interpreted as flirtation.

35. Do you know how to change the tires on a car? I know how to put on a spare tire, yes.

36. What was the last book you read? I am currently reading "Zero History" by William Gibson. He's one of my most favorite authors. The last book I read and finished was "Just Enough: Lessons in Living Green from Traditional Japan" by Azby Brown. It's an historic look at Japanese architecture and land management, very interesting stuff with neat little sketches.

37. Do you read the paper? Not routinely. I'm certainly no fan of our local paper.

38. Do you sing in the car? Yes, loudly and poorly.

39. Can you tango? Yes, though I'm better at leading than following because I learned the "male" part for a dance choreography I created.

40. Are you happy? Extremely. I'm just not always cheerful.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Galls and Nests

I have noticed in myself a tendency to become fascinated by things that I wasn't exposed to as a child. Squirrels are a great example; they are commonplace, but none live on the island on which I was raised. I've lived in a squirrel-infested city for over a decade, but I still get excited to see them playing, fighting, and stealing food right off people's plates.

Oak trees are another such thing. An oak blight hit the islands before I was born, and though some stands of oaks are making a comeback in the area, I wasn't raised with this type of tree. The variety of oaks in California is astonishing, and I love to see their various adaptations to arid, coastal, or mountain environments.

One thing I am particularly hooked on is oak galls. Galls are an abnormal outgrowth of tissue caused by a parasite, and in the case of oak trees that parasite is a gall wasp. Galls can form on leaves or branches; leaf galls are mostly harmless, but those on branches and twigs can harm the limb by rerouting resources from it to the gall. There are over 1,300 known species of gall wasp, and about 70% of them use oak trees as a part of their reproductive cycle. The female gall wasp lays an egg on the tree and, due to an unknown trigger (chemical, viral?), a gall forms around the eggs. When the egg hatches, the larvae feeds on the accumulated tissue of the gall. The gall also provides a sturdy shelter for the larvae.*

The thing that is incredible to me is that one can identify the species of wasp causing the gall by the physical appearance of the gall itself. Some of them are really, really beautiful, too.

I've been thinking a lot lately, as I try to articulate some of the opinions I have about design and aesthetics, about designs that echo nature -- not necessarily mimic, but reference in a more vague and even unintentional way. And while I was out walking yesterday, looking at oak galls forming along the trails around the lake, I realized that nothing reminds me more of an oak gall quite so much as NestRest shelter/swings (pictures here are from this site).

True, they are called NestRest and obviously mimic a bird's nest, especially the nests of orioles or weaver birds, and I won't deny that's probably what they're based on -- those nests are also really remarkable. But in concept, NestRest reminds me strongly of galls: an attachment to the limb with a hard shell and soft interior in which one can often find something squishy and alive. Maybe it's a person, maybe a cat, or if you leave your NestRest out all winter, maybe another forest critter. It is an organism glomming on to a tree limb; nest or gall, I think both apply... but one has a much better marketing potential.

This might sound a bit insulting to NestRest, but I assure you, it isn't. In fact, I though the big swings looked rather silly until I came to this perspective on them. Now I find myself really interested in hanging out in one. Maybe I'm more of a bug than a bird?

Have you ever been inside a NestRest or similar swing? Will you tell me about it? 

*Though, true to nature, another type of insect has developed a very long, sturdy proboscis and ovipositor that can penetrate the shell of a gall to prey on the larvae. Evolution: can't survive with it, can't survive without it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Updates from the Field

Spring is rolling along in Sacramento. Thanks to my daily walks on the trails around Lake Natoma, I've noticed some of the more minute changes that have happened since the official first day.

Wildflowers over the bank
Lupin, monarda, and other wildflowers are out. The series of blooming is always of interest to me; Dutchman's Pipe is long gone. It disappeared in a matter of a week or so, while tiny white forget-me-not type flowers have persisted since before the Dutchman's Pipe and are still going strong. On Monday I saw my first California poppy of the season. I'm still awaiting the blooming of the water iris. I see them standing like spears all along the lake shore. I'm very eager...

Patiently awaiting water iris.

Tiger Swallowtails are here. Spotted Imperials still account for most of the butterflies I see, but in the past week I have seen two of these beauties. They are larger and less frenetic than the Spotted Imperials. I wonder what the right mix of temperature and blooming is that has lured them out?

Duck and goose mating season appears to be solidified. There are no longer raucous territorial battles every day, no geese chasing each other across the surface of the water. I now see pairs of waterfowl bobbing together in the rushes at the water's edge, so I assume they are nesting. I don't want to get closer to find out.

Things are pollenating. My sinuses are quite sure of this.

And last but certainly not least...

Turtle time!
It's turtle time! Turtles are out basking on logs in the sun. I just adore them. I didn't grow up with certain critters, so things like turtles and squirrels delight me. They're oh-so-exotic, you know. Most of the turtles I have seen are the native western pond turtle, which is good! I can't resist creeping up on basking turtles, but they have very good Spidey senses, so they always plop into the water long before I get a good look. My creeping, however, has revealed that it is also frog season. There are big green ones lurking just under the surface of the water in weedy areas. I need to keep an eye out for them, too...


How has spring sprung in your area?