Sunday, July 01, 2018

Cheese Is Fantastic!

This year, I've been reining myself in a little. For years, whenever I would think to write down New Year's resolutions or vows, I would invariable include the word "moderation" in there somewhere. I don't do well with maintenance or moderation. I've always been more of an "all or nothing" sort of person, but at least I have the personal insight to be aware of this and let it bother me.

Lately (read: always) I've been buying to much music. Being a lover of physical media, that means storage woes, not to mention finding the time to listen to everything more than once. I've been methodically going through my collection and re-listening to things, but it has taken me years so far, with no end in sight. It's been wonderful revisiting things though. With this in mind, I've put limits on how much new music I can buy, and it has more or less worked.

I am also aware of my tendency to eat too much cheese and ice cream. Especially cheese. I love the stuff. One of my personal challenges for the month of June was to not eat any cheese or ice cream for the entire month.

I can now happily report that I was successful. I also lost 15.5 lbs, and my resting heart rate went from 69 bpm to 63 bpm (with a brief flirtation with 62 bpm in the middle somewhere). Sure, my resting heart rate fluctuates, but before this June, it had never been below 66 bpm ("never" meaning since I got a Fitbit that showed my resting heart rate, at least).

The other happy side effect is that I've been cooking more, and eating more healthy food. The challenge had a bit of a snowball effect.

Monday, June 25, 2018


It's funny how summer camp starts before Summer does. Not that many people give it much thought. The Solstice came and went during the second week of camp, meaning that the lightest night hike of the year is now behind us.

The first two weeks were unusual for several reasons, first and foremost being that our longtime camp director had the temerity to retire, leaving behind a huge pair of shoes to fill. Enter Sasquatch as the new summer camp overlord. And yes, like his name suggests, he has a huge pair of feet. Perfect fit. Still, there were a few birthing pains here and there.

I was off in Trailblazer land. Gobi, who worked the program last year, is directing it this year, so there weren't many big changes for me. I sometimes feel a bit self-conscious that I'm not directing anything, but then I remember that I don't want to direct anything. It usually involves things like phone calls and paperwork. Not my idea of a good time.

During our training week, we really came together as a staff, with each program sharing an activity or two. The Leaders In Training staff shared a team challenge during which we were silently evaluated by staff who placed slips of paper on the floor behind us as we worked. The cards had words like suggester, includer, supporter, etc.

I got more suggester cards than anything else. That's kind of what I do. Just don't put me in charge of people.

The first two weeks are behind us now. The first week was the inaugural voyage of Trailblazers Beyond, during which the campers stayed overnight for the whole week. We only had 34 campers spread out between 3 group leaders (the other two being Weasel and Shadow, which is interesting because one week years ago, I was a group leader with Weasel as my counselor and Shadow as one of my campers). For the first time, all Trailblazers group leaders play musical instruments too, which meant we could play songs without outside help.

The second week was given over to the Migrant Education program. We hosted them last year too, but this year there were over 100 of them, which meant adding a couple of group leaders and rethinking things a bit. Our transition times and time with our groups suffered a bit, but we soldiered though the week with smiles on our faces.

There haven't been any unusual animal sightings so far. The usual suspects are out and about, of course. I did find one California Pink Glowworm last week as I was getting into my car after the night hike. I also rescued a toad from pool filter during swim time. During the second week, camp was inundated by California Tortoiseshell butterflies, which apparently are prone to unexplained population explosions.

Due to a miscommunication on my part, I'm off this week, and due to a cancellation of one session of the new Family Camp, I'm off next week too. Things will get done.

While all of the above has been happening, I haven't eaten any cheese or ice cream. This was my goal for the month. Not too surprisingly, I've already lost about 12 pounds and my resting heart rate has decreased.

Here's some photos from the last couple of weeks.

This is a Soil Centipede. During the week, I saw one eating a small insect. Weasel found a Tiger Centipede eating another one.

I found a tick on me, but removed it before it bit. Not that it matters. It's a dog tick, and they don't carry Lyme.

The usual rattlesnakes in the usual place. What was unusual was the fact that one of them was fully visible. Usually they're much more hidden.

As the dryness of summer creeps through the forest, the Goldback ferns start to curl up. The spores on the underside of the leaves reflect UV light a bit.

Our Olive-keeled Flat Rock Scorpion molted! That's the first time it's done that since I bought it.

This toad, recently rescued from the pool filter, checks out its reflection in the fun house mirror. Actually, my guitar.

A California Pink Glowworm who didn't have the decency to be found during the night hike, instead waiting until the kids were all on their way to bed.

And finally, one of hundreds of California Tortoiseshell butterflies.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sierra Azul

For a couple of years now, I've wanted to hike the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve, which sits snugly in between Almaden Quicksilver County Park in San Jose and Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos.

Yesterday, I finally managed to do it. The two deciding factors were that I have the week off of work and the fact that the County Office of Education (my employers) are sponsoring a step challenge through the Power of Vitality website.

I parked my car in downtown Los Gatos, wondering whether anybody would notice it sitting in a lot with a 3 hour parking limit when I knew it was going to be parked there over twice as long. Jeanine drove me to the Hicks Road trailhead, where Sierra Azul abuts Alamaden Quicksilver, but didn't accompany me on the hike because hiking for 15 miles isn't her idea of fun.

I started down Woods trail under cloudy skies. It was a bit chilly, but I soon warmed up. For fun, I decided to count all of the animals seen during the hike too.

Woods trail starts off fairly level and shady, passing by wooded riparian areas, with lots of oak, Bay Laurel, and Madrone trees, to metnion a few. After a few miles, the trail starts ascending toward the 3000 foot peak of El Sombroso. The clouds burned off, revealing the old communications cube at the top of Mt. Umunhum. Spring flowers brightened the trailside, and were sometimes nearly obscured by clouds of butterflies (mostly Variable Checkerspots).

I stopped for a brief lunch near El Sombroso. The peak itself isn't that exciting, especially since there is a row of power line pylons marching across it. The views of the South Bay were a bit hazy, but still pretty amazing. At this point, my Fitbit informed me that I'd ascended 1,640 feet. Most of the ascent was gradual, with only a few steep grades toward the end.

After lunch, I continued on Woods trail along the ridge line, and then, at the next junction, headed to the left down Limekiln trail. There was some shade, and a number of stretched of exposed chaparral. This wouldn't be fun in the heat of Summer, but today it wasn't too bad. After Limekiln crosses Priest Rock trail, it ascends steeply and enters the forest. The last time I hiked this stretch, it was in the opposite direction and not too fun (although I did find a Ringneck snake that time).

The trail ends along Alma Bridge road at Lexington Reservoir. I hiked counter clockwise along the road until I could cross and head down Los Gatos Creek trail. This is where I saw the first people of the day. I hadn't seen a single hiker all the way across Sierra Azul. Suddenly, there were bikers and joggers everywhere. There were also people standing in the middle of the trail, obliviously texting. There is also Highway 17 with cars roaring by on the left. I picked up my pace and finished the final stretch. Back at my car, I was relieved to find that I hadn't gotten a ticket.

Fitbit says I walked 32,897 steps, with a 2100 foot elevation gain (lots of ups and downs past El Sombroso), in 15.2 miles.

And now, here are some photos:

Mt. Umunhum slowly revealed as the clouds burn off.

Variable Checkerspot.

Mt. Umunhum again.

Fernald's Iris.

Looking down at the South Bay.

Heading west on Woods trail, just past the summit of El Sombroso.

Dead tree reaching for overhead power lines. The area looked like there was a small fire there at some point.

California Alligator Lizard. It let me get pretty close before indignantly scuttling off into nearby bushes.

A minor rockfall along Limekiln trail.

Downhill on Limekiln, approaching Lexington Reservoir.

My animal count for the hike, not including insects, animals heard but not seen, or seen but not identified (birds in the distance, etc.):

Mourning Dove (3)
Dark-Eyed Junco (6)
Anna's Hummingbird (5)
Spotted Towhee (3)
Western Gray Squirrel (1)
Merriam's Chipmunk (1)
Western Fence Lizard (16)
Turkey Vulture (4) - one of them burst out of the shrubbery directly in front of me. It was pretty cool.
Whiptail (1)
California Alligator Lizard (1)
Black-tailed Deer (1)
California Quail (1)
Great Blue Heron (1)
Mallard (6)
California Ground Squirrel (1)
Brush Rabbit (1)

The hike took 6 hours and 35 minutes.

There is a convenient Sierra Azul checklist on iNaturalist. I've just recently started investigating this site, and it's a great resource for identification purposes, and a fine enabler of citizen science.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Some Spring Photos From Camp

There is a solitary week of science camp yet to come this school year. Between now and then, I have a week off. It's true what they say about the years seeming to go by faster as one ages. The weeks go by in a blink

A few things of note have happened this year:

The road to camp is finally fixed now. It took over a year, during which we had to shuttle kids in vans from the parking lot of another camp down the hill. In the final months, when repairs were actually underway, we had to adjust our schedules to work around the road closure.

There is a retrofitting/repair project underway at Lake Ranch Reservoir. The reservoir was built in the 1870s, and is not up to current earthquake safety standards. Coincidentally enough, it sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault. The water company is putting in new pipes, but to do this, they've had to drain the water out. It's not completely dry, but the water level is as low as I've ever seen it. Because of this, there are vast expanses of mud. To date, five different kids have lost shoes (literally), and two kids got mired in the mud deeply enough that they had to be dug out by their friends.

We've been doing an official animal count on the Thursday long hikes, with a view toward creating our own database of local population trends.

Three staff members have seen a Mountain Lion in the last couple of weeks. I was not one of them.

The strangest animal sightings for me have been:

Seeing a Hoary Bat fall out of a tree and then, when Bat and Sasquatch tried to get it into a box for a trip to a wildlife rescue center, suddenly recover and fly back into the tree (pictured below). Other groups saw a Bobcat and a Bald Eagle on that day. I saw a bobcat a few weeks later. I still haven't seen a Bald Eagle around camp though.

Seeing a hapless Western Toad locked in amplexus with a rotting Bullfrog carcass(pictured below).

Having a solo sit during the night hike ended by a Great Horned Owl. I told the kids I'd hoot like an owl when it was time to end the solo sit and return to the circle. About a quarter of the group mistook the real owl hoot for mine.

Finding a Western Forest Scorpion in the middle of cannibalizing a smaller member of its species.

Below are some photos from the last few months of camp.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Trips So Far This Year

My last post was way back in the benighted month of January. Now, with Spring struggling to be born, I suddenly got an urge to click out a few words, if for no other reason than to briefly document a couple of trips taken during the opening months of 2018.

Back in January, Jeanine, Eva, Willow, and I took a trip to Las Vegas for this year's Twist and Shout convention. Jeanine and Eva got there earlier and stayed later than Willow and I did (our truncated trip was due to school and work). It was a brief trip, during which we stayed in a couple of different hotels. During our stay on Fremont Street, we checked out the Fear The Walking Dead attraction, walked to the nearby natural history museum, a record store, and a bookstore, and wandered the off-strip strip. Willow and I experienced our first Uber ride on our way back to the airport. Quite convenient.

Check out my photo set here.

While we were gone, one of the cats (or possibly more than one) managed to upend the Corn Snake tank, meaning that when I got home, there were two snakes loose in the house. Within days, Dexter alerted me to the location of the first one. Dexter is the only cat not on the suspect list. Weeks later, Brian (who is definitely on the list of suspects), found the other one hiding behind our non-operational dishwasher. Problem solved.

Our other trip was to Richmond, so Jeanine could say goodbye to her friend, Debs, who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. A bunch of like-minded friends of hers converged on a local mall and created a beautiful garden scene out of balloons. Despite what could be considered a grim reason behind the trip, we had an enjoyable stay, visiting the Poe Museum, the Hollywood Cemetery, Belle Isle, some record stores, and a few other places, some of historical interest, and some of culinary appeal.

Check out my photo set here.

Debs passed away earlier this week. I'm glad I got to meet her before she went. Here's a short article courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Good Newts

At work, we've designated Thursday as Critter Counting Day. The idea is to create a database of animals seen on our so-called Epic Journey hikes (about 5 hours of trail time). This week, we had nine field classes, so lots of of different trails were taken.

We combined two field classes for a hike out to the reservoir because the route allowed van access, which was important because we had a boy on crutches, a girl with a mildly twisted ankle, and a girl with vision impairment. The boy was dropped off and picked up .6 miles from the reservoir, but made it up the hill on crutches and down it in our ATV pushcart (actually a jogging stroller, but we don't call it that because nobody ever wants to ride in a stroller), the girl with the injured ankle walked all the way there but accepted a ride back, and the girl with vision impairment did the whole walk.

At the reservoir, we counted 303 newts in the water, where they were mating and laying eggs. That's a record, although truth be told, I haven't counted every time I've gone on a hike.

There were some cute newt tracks along the trail too.

Here's the total count for the day:

Monday, January 08, 2018


We have a big pile of manure outside of the garden gates at work, used to make our composting efforts more effective. This week, while the campers were literally shoveling shit, I walked around the pile and encountered a couple of photographic opportunities.

Life in waste reminds us not to waste our lives. You're welcome.

Happy New Year

It's too early to tell if this Winter will be as rainy as the last one, but we're off to a good start, with a little rain falling during the week, and more rain falling as I type.

The road leading to camp is still being repaired from the damage sustained last Winter, with the new completion estimate being mid-February. Of course, the work didn't begin until the rainy season began, so there is a big possibility of weather-related delays complicating matters.

The first week of the year went well, with the all-day hike finding us in a drizzly, foggy wonderland of mist-obscured trees and marching newts (we counted 71 of them on that one hike). The newts were out in force for the night hike as well. We actually got back a little late because of all of the newts (and millipedes) I had to move out of the trail. We found a lone female Western Toad too.

The coolest find of the week was a small adult Pacific Giant Salamander sitting on the walkway near the parking lot.

This week also marked the debut of the Flat Rock Scorpion I bought over the break. A couple of the classroom teachers actually held it (but not the kids, because I never let them hold anything with a stinger). Here she is in her UV drenched glory:

The forest is beautiful this time of year. It always is, but the rain and fog paint such mysterious pictures.

Someday soon, we'll have a new Hognose Snake at camp. I bought a new one this weekend. The one at camp is around 25 years old (I bought it in the early nineties, but I can't remember the year), which is well beyond the life expectancy for the species, so I think it's time to bring it home and let it retire in peace. I've already successfully fed the new one a thawed pinkie too.