Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Flaming Clock of Downtown Los Angeles

We were in Downtown Los Angeles recently when a sculpture at the intersection of Figueroa and Wilshire suddenly and unexpectedly burst into flames! Thirty seconds later, it was out. Turns out this is a normal if erratic event, the sculpture is named "Prime Matter" by the late Eric Orr. When it feels inclined, the sculpture bursts into flame for about 30 seconds at the top of each hour. Standing at the base of it and looking up gets odd looks from passers-by, at least right until it catches fire... which happens a bit more than 60 seconds into this video we captured.


If you happen to be in Downtown and near the corner of Figueroa and Wilshire, it can be worth a short side trip. Our family enjoys it!


Friday, November 29, 2019

Mojave Desert Snow!

The Antelope Valley is high Mojave Desert. Since it is a desert, it can be easy to have the cold weather and the precipitation happen on different days. This year they happened the same day, Thanksgiving!


Ever been to the California Poppy Preserve in spring when the wildflowers are going full tilt? This is what the Poppy Preserve looked like yesterday afternoon, under about four inches of fresh snow!


And of course, when it snows, play with snow!


Drive carefully and enjoy the rare (at least for low-altitude parts of California) White Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Last Apple of the Season and Fall Bounty

Last season we had Apples into January, yet this year the crop is smaller and ripened earlier. This Braeburn is our last home-grown apple of this season, and it was as perfect - it was tart and sweet and crisp.


At the same time we picked the last two Yellow Newton Pippin apples. They were as sweet as the one in January, crisp and juicy without being hard - a delightful finale to a short but wonderful harvest.


As the apples pass into memory, other crops begin. The Medlars are ripening and their harvest will begin in a week or so. The acorns are in full swing, and the Madrone berries are well started. Even our frost-smitten garden patch still produced a few very late sunflower seeds!


This is a drought (PG&E cut power several times during very hot, dry weather - so much for the irrigation) blighted and late seeded (early August) "Mammoth" sunflower (they are normally over a foot in diameter), yet it managed to produce its thin shelled and very tasty seeds all the same.

The Oaks are in full swing of acorn production as well. We have excellent crops of Tanoak, Canyon Oak, and Blue Oak, though acorns are not as large as last year on average. Valley Oak is producing, but we are late and the critters seem to like those acorns best...


These are Blue Oak acorns, one of our favorites for culinary use. A cool Fall afternoon is a great time to hunt these gems among the leaves, and it resharpens the hunter-gatherer mind and eye in preparation for the coming Mushroom season! It is also a lot of fun. Sometimes you stumble across genuine surprises, such as Phacelia minor in full bloom in the middle of November! (This species normally flowers in February and March through June).

 

Monday, November 4, 2019

The Saffron Harvest Begins!


The orange tip of the stigma - the female part of the flower - is just pushing out of the tip of the opening bud of this Saffron flower. To harvest the spice, you pick the flowers and take them apart, drying just the orange-golden stigmas like tiny threads.

We have a few patches of these we planted over the past 20 years. They are autumn flowering members of the genus Crocus, with flowers pushing through the dry ground before even the leaves emerge. This type of flowering, with the flower arising before the leaves, is called hysteranthous flowering.

Saffron is native to the Middle East and parts of Greece, though it was planted widely around the Mediterranean. Even in the United Kingdom the Romans grew it, leaving place names like Saffron Walden behind.

Saffron needs a hot, dry summer and a cool, wet fall through spring. It pulls itself deeper into the ground each year, so needs protection from gophers and squirrels and other rodents that dig.

Over the years, I've grown enough Saffron to make a few rice dishes with my own saffron. It takes a lot of land to grow an ounce of the dry herb!

Our son has planted his bed of saffron now, with high hopes and last year harvested his own first saffron!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Stagmomantis - The Native Preying Mantises of Southern California

Fall is for Preying Mantises! More succinctly, early Fall is the easiest time to see adult Stagmomantis species in the wild in California. They have finished their growth and the adults are reasonably abundant.


There are several species of Stagmomantis in California. I suspect this one of being a male Stagmomantis californica, though it objected to my attempts to get a closer photo... It was encountered in the Verdugo Mountains near La Crescenta within the San Fernando Valley.

To find Mantids, look for places with lots of smaller bugs. These are ambush predators - they stand still and wait for their prey to walk within striking distance of their amazing spiked front limbs. Good choices are lights at night, flowering and fruiting bushes that are attracting small insects, and anywhere they blend in. While tall grasses often harbor them, such places also have ticks - best to stay in the open and watch carefully.

Other Stagmomantis species I believe are in California include these:

Stagmomantis limbata

Stagmomantis carolina

Stagmomantis californica

Stagmomantis gracilipes


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Seeing The Pacific Garbage Patch

Recently I had a flight between Honolulu and Oakland. On that path, about 45 minutes out of Honolulu, I happened to look out my window because I recalled the Pacific Gyre was roughly in this area. I did not know it would be visible from jetliner altitudes, yet it was. What surprised me further was that it is not a "patch", it is like a skein of yarn pulled this way and that. There are eskers and windrows and fans and tangles of yellow-green lines on the surface of the water. It is awesome, sad, and fascinating. Look to the right of the sun glare in the photo below.



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Mountain Shadows being cast into Deep Space

If you find somewhere where the Earth is very smooth, and drop a mountain onto that spot, something amazing happens. At sunrise and sunset, the mountain does something more normally assigned as a task for clouds: casting shadows not just through the air to project onto the ground, rather casting shadows through the air and on out, into deep space.


The giant dark stripes in the sky are the shadows of three mountains, in fact the largest mountain on the Earth is one of them: Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, and Haleakala.

The unusual aspect is that these mountains rise out of a very smooth ocean with often very clear air. These shadows are going *up* and will not be cast on the ground, at least not at the time of this photo. These mountains are east of where I was to take this picture. The sun has not risen where I am. These shadows are diverging and actually rising up away from the dark side of our world. This is because their bases are still in darkness, before sunrise, while their tops nearly three miles above project into air that is illuminated by the sun.

The shadows are not cast onto the Earth. They actually continue all the way through the atmosphere and out, into deep space.

Almost twenty years ago I watched the first dawn of the Third Millenium from atop one of these, watching my shadow join the shadow of the larger mountain and together cast into deep space. That was twenty years ago. My shadow has passed many stars since then.

On January 1st, the sun is in Sagittarius, roughly near the position 18h 44m  -23° 03'. The point opposite that in the sky is where the shadow went: 6h 44m +23 03'. That point lies within the constellation Gemini. The major stars of the constellation range from 33.8 to more than 1763 light-years away. While my shadow has not reached any of the major stars, it has passed the distance of several of the lesser stars. Gliese 251 is about the closest star in the constellation at about 18.22 light-years distance. Some minuscule portion of the light blocked by our world from our star I personally blocked that morning. If there are entities out there looking for transiting exoplanets orbiting stars along the ecliptic, we would be visible as one of their detectable exoplanets. One morning almost 20 years ago, I helped a tiny, tiny bit.