Monday, July 31, 2006

First of all, check out this Sleepytime Gorilla Museum video. It's entertaining!

At work today, I witnessd the old office come crashing to the ground with the aid of some heavy duty construction (shouldn't that be "destruction?") equipment. They also took out the front walkway, several trees, and a couple of hedges, leaving an expanse of wasteland bordered by temporary fences festooned with signs warning visitors against entering without proper headgear. This is the first physical indication that the new lodge is being built. It has been a long process sorting out the funds and the various permits to get to this stage. Now we just have to cope with the fences, noise, and dust for awhile.

As for the kids, I took a bunch of them on a critter hunt, during which we found a couple of Western Skinks, lots of Alligator lizards, and the same Rattlesnake I came across a couple of weeks ago. Last week, due to the heat, most of the reptiles were nowhere to be seen. Now they're back. You know it's too hot when the reptiles are hiding. This week temperatures are in the seventies. Let's hope they stay there.

Also, we started bringing Duckweed and Elodia into the garden at work to use as compost. Tomorrow, if I remember, I'm going to get some worms out of the worm bin in the garden and bring them home so we can start composting here. Maybe we can use the soil we make to actually get some things to grow in our yard.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

For anybody living in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out Bay Nature magazine. I recently rediscovered some back issues I'd picked up last year at the AEOE conference. The magazine covers local natural areas and offers a chance to develop a deeper understanding of the natural history of our region. In some cases, understanding is appreciating.

Currently listening to the Fonal jukebox. A perfect soundtrack for sitting in the woods.

Jen came home late last night and left again this morning for the Woolfcamp being held as kind of an addendum to the Blogher conference. She's having a blast, as I'm sure she'll report when she finally sits down at the computer.

Not Calm (Dot Com) Jen

Not Calm (Dot Com) Jen
Originally uploaded by marytsao.
It looks like Jen is having fun at Blogher! I still find myself amazed that I can look online and find photos of the conference (more than 3000 at last count) before it's even over.

Meanwhile, at home, I took the kids up to visit another family whose mom is away at Blogher. We discussed having annual Blogher widowers get-togethers. There was a third dad there when I arrived too. His wife is also at Blogher. Between us, we had ten kids. They had fun, and only a few things were destroyed. We came home with a worm bin too. Now we can compost!

The kids are all asleep now, and I just finished watching a movie called Dark Remains. Last night it was The Gravedancers. I must say that they were both quite satisfying, as movies about vengeful ghosts go. Not quite M.R. James (still the undisputed master of the ghost story), but full of enough creepiness to make them worthwhile. Thanks go out to my brother for the lending of said films. Jen wouldn't have liked them much, which is why I watched them this weekend. I could just kind of tell by the titles that I'd better watch them alone.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Here's a blog of interest. I like that the tagline is also the title of a Tom Waits song. I have no doubt that it's intentional. He's also working on a documentary featuring Garmarna, Yat-Kha, and others. That's very cool.
Interesting. A trio of my photos have been used (with my permission) to accompany a short news piece on I'm flattered. It seems like an interesting site too - a "non-commercial public news service." I'll have to explore it further. Too bad our camera is ailing.

I slept over at work last night with the campers. During summer camp, half the staff spends the night on Thursday and goes home on Friday morning. The other half goes home Thursday night and works all day Friday. I think I prefer sleeping over. It's like getting paid for camping. Actually, it is getting paid for camping! Before going to sleep, the kids are treated to a barbeque, campfire program (songs, skits, raffle, etc.), a story (told by me this week), a night hike, and marshmallow roasting. I've got to admit that the raffle is my favorite part. Most of the prizes are items rescued from the darkest recesses of garages and the dustiest shelves of thrift stores. They are all uniformly hideous. Winners often have the most priceless expressions on their little faces.

Later, at bedtime, I lay on my back and watched meteors for awhile. It's finally cooling off at night again too - a welcome relief after the inferno-like temperatures earlier this week.

In the morning, I rushed home so Jen could go to the Blogher conference. Hope she's having a great time.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

I haven't been bringing the camera to work this week, in part due to the fact that the lens is either smudged or scraped, giving photos that "soft focus" look. After the next paycheck, we'll see about getting it cleaned/repaired. Anybody who has been looking at my recent Flickr photos will notice that new photos have blurry patches on them. I've also been uploading lots of old, pre-digital camera photos, inspired in part by acrofish and umlaut doing the same thing. They're just a random collection of photos that I thought might interest people, and they feed my desire to constantly put new images up on Flickr.

At work, sans camera of course, I came across a large (approximately 10") Pacific Giant Salamander today. We were hiking down one of the ranger roads when I spotted it sitting placidly in a roadside ditch where conditions were relatively cool and moist. The kids were pretty impressed. One girl actually had her own digital camera and got a picture of it. Everybody else was interested in getting the salamander to move, but for once I decided to model a "hands off" approach, so we just watched it sitting there for awhile. I remember that last year one of my coworkers had seen one in the same place, so maybe it's a regular salamander expressway. This one definitely wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere though. I found an interesting dead moth nearby too. Later, we came across three of the five local types of lizard, all in close proximity to one another. Also nearby was the carcass of a two inch wood beetle. One of the boys in my group named it "Joey."

Also, a good portion of the group has developed an obsession with cicada moultings. The cicada larvae crawl up onto the sides of trees, where they split out of their old exoskeletons and fly away. Due to the fact that they do this on a vertical surface, the legs on the moultings need to hook onto the bark so the cicadas don't tumble to the ground while attempting to emerge. Because of this, the moultings, once removed from the trees, stick quite well to noses. Every time I turn around, another boy has one stuck to his nose.

I wonder where they could have learned how to do that?

The temperature dropped a bit today, but it's still uncomfortable. The fans are going, and I'm sure it will be reflected in our next electricity bill. Jen is out to dinner with some of the Blogher people. Hope she's having a good time. The boys are at a friend's house. Hope they're having fun too. Willow and Sophie are watching movies. I think it's time to go bathe them.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I just heard the front door slam shut, which means that Willow noticed it was open. We try to leave the doors open after the sun sets to facilitate cooling, but whenever Willow notices them open, she jumps up and slams them shut. She's a bit afraid of the dark, I think.

I finally put my plan into action today and fed some bullfrog tadpoles to the Water Monitor. He usually gets rats, but rats are 4 to 6 bucks a pop. Bullfrog tadpoles, on the other hand, are free. They are also a non-native, invasive species. If a pond has bullfrogs in it, you'd better believe that it doesn't have a lot of other things one would expect to find there. Bullfrogs are voracious eaters and can swallow mice, small snakes, other frogs, and just about anything else smaller than their heads. They can take a diverse pond ecosystem and destroy it.
From what I hear, these East Coast natives were introduced to California around a hundred years ago because eating frog legs was in fashion at the time. These days, most people think they've always been here.
Our pond at work, as I've mentioned before, is hopping with bullfrogs. A bunch of us went in and scooped out non-native Duckweed and Elodia, catching six bullfrog tadpoles in the process. Tonight, the Monitor excitedly ate all six and then fished around for more. It's the perfect method of disposing of the critters because they're not being wasted.
Don't get me wrong - I love frogs, but I see what we're doing at the pond as fixing a hundred year old mistake. It's like picking up somebody else's mess. It's a losing battle, but it's helping introduce the concept of "invasive species" to the next generation. Each new generation gets stuck with all of the garbage left behind by all of the preceding generations. Not really fair, is it?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The heat makes it hard to think. All of our liquid is leaking out through wide open pores as our bodies try in vain to cool us down... Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic. It is pretty damn hot though. I heard that it got up to 109 or 113 locally over the weekend. That's a little higher than the official figures, but it sure felt that hot to me.

On Friday, we went up to see the newest Central Works play, Inspector-General, in Berkeley, where it was hot but not quite as hot as home. We laughed out loud often. It concerns a couple living in a gated community being faced by an intimidating character who asks lots of abrupt questions but supplies no answers. Things unravel. Go see it. I believe this coming weekend is the end of the run.

On Saturday, we went over the hill and hung out at Gwendomama's place to help celebrate her daughter's birthday. The boys didn't come, but Matt did. We managed to erect our borrowed tent after dark with no flashlight, and then managed to sleep in it without it collapsing on us. Lots of people came and went, but the heat just stayed. In the middle of the night, when I was awakened by a crowing rooster, it was hot. Earlier, we cooled off by stripping down to our underwear and splashing in the pool while the girls dressed up in costume and danced around on a little, wooden stage. Lights were strung everywhere, and the combination of location and decoration created an atmosphere that reminded me of some hidden faerieland. I guess all faerielands are hidden, aren't they? If they weren't, they'd be too full of people.

In the morning, we ate wonderful waffles, drank wonderful coffee, and sat around in the stupifying heat and talked a bit before hitting the road.

After getting home, I had to rush off to get supplies for the birthday party I was scheduled to work at. When I finally got to the party, I was relieved to discover that it was in an air-conditioned house. It makes a difference.

Work today was sweltering as well. I foolishly spent a part of it walking around in the chaparral, which was sun-baked and nearly devoid of life. We were looking for reptiles, but before I even got there I was pretty certain any sensible reptile would be deep underground. We did find a couple of scorpions and a jerusalem cricket though. I went through about six or seven bottles of water during the afternoon.

Hope tomorrow is cooler.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Here's a cool blog that popped up on the blogger main page - all about reptiles, mainly those found in and around New Mexico. It's good to find others who share my obsessions. I'll have to go back and read more.

As for the reptile camp I'm teaching this week, we've only found four different types of reptiles on the trail: Western Fence Lizard (of course), Western Rattlesnake, Red-Eared Slider (non-native, but what the hell...), and a somewhat tick-infested Northern Alligator Lizard. I brought the Burmese Python to camp with me today. He's looking his best because he shed last week. The kids were impressed. Coincidentally, there was a story in the paper this morning about a Burmese Python who needed surgery to remove the queen-sized electric blanket he'd swallowed (cord and all!). Apparently the rabbit he was eating got tangled up in it, and he just kept swallowing, as pythons do. I told the kids, and I imagine I'll tell many more kids in the future.

The damn weather isn't giving us a break around here. All the windows are open and the fans are going. I think it's time to get off the computer and go read a book.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Originally uploaded by Corbie.
I went and saw Gjallarhorn perform last night and found the experience to be well worth my time. The songs were sung in several languages, none of which I could understand. I'm willing to bet that nobody else in the audience could understand Old Icelandic either, or Swedish or Finnish for that matter. One of the instruments used was new to me as well - the contrabass recorder, which looked something like a small telescope and had a very satisfying sound. The drummer was interesting to watch too. He drummed with one drumstick and one hand, using his fingers to good effect. Lots of little bells and other percussive bits filled out his small kit. The singer, in fine scandinavian tradition, often emitted those shrill, shiver-inducing cattle calls that were originally meant to call the cows home from several time zones away. In the confines of a small venue it sounds quite nice. They played for two hours, but it seemed like much less. That's the way it should be. During that time, they played their versions of a couple of songs I'd heard before. One is a mediaeval Norwegian song (I think I've heard Agnes Buen Garnas sing it, but I'm not sure) and the other was a scandinavian version of The Two Sisters (aka The Cruel Sister or The Bonny Swans), which struck me as interesting because the following night (tonight) on the same stage, John Renbourn is playing. Back when he was in Pentangle, he played on the first version of this song that remember hearing.

At work today we discovered that the Rattlesnake was still at home. They kids were thrilled - most of them, anyway.

Now it's just damn hot. I'm ready for winter.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Some Things Never Change

Some Things Never Change
Originally uploaded by Corbie.
I met up with a group of old friends on Saturday night. We ended up at a place called Elephant Bar that featured a cheesy "on safari" atmosphere and a meaty "only one vegetarian entree" menu. I ordered that entree and endeavored to ignore the life-sized elephant model and imitation frond fans mechanically waving back and forth on the ceiling. Despite this, it was really good to catch up with everybody. I hadn't seen Elliot in over 20 years (we tried to figure it out exactly, but couldn't) and I've only seen the others a handful of times during that time. Wayne arrived late due to traffic - he'd been up at the Berkeley Public Library for a free show by edu-core pioneers Bloodhag, a death metal band that sings about science fiction authors and pelts the audience with mass paperbacks. Upon arrival, Wayne picked me up and flipped me upside down (see picture). Afterwards, some of us went to Robert's place and made fun of his small dog. Kevin, who worked at Tower at the same time as I did, and who can sometimes be heard on the Stanford radio station under the name of Big Chief, was there as well. We told Tower stories. Someday I'll have to tell some of them here. What a ridiculous place it was.

I started another week of science camp today, with a full camp of kindergarten and first-graders. So far, so good. They tire easily though. It's another week of "Radical Reptiles," so we'll probably not see any on the trail.

The temperature has passed "balmy" and now hovers somewhere in the middle of "unpleasant," leaving us all coated in a fine sheen of sweat and wishing it were autumn.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Xambuca, Richard, and Matt

Xambuca, Richard, and Matt
Originally uploaded by Corbie.
I followed the sunset up the peninsula last night to see a little show at the Hemlock tavern in S.F. featuring Xambuca, Richard, and Matt. It being a Thursday, I actually found parking nearby. Things didn't get going until 10 pm, and I was afraid the bar noise would intrude (the Hemlock stage is in a small room behind a noisy bar) but when the music started I didn't often notice it. Considering they never properly rehearsed for this show, it was quite good, with the sounds fitting together well and conveying a dreamlike atmosphere. Matt rocked out on the bass for awhile too. Of course, if you ask him, the evening was a failure. Parts were on order for a couple of the stage monitors, and attendance was slight, due mostly to it being a work night I suppose. There was also some confusion about whether they were headlining or not (they weren't) and some people missed the show (including Greg, who was not happy).

I concluded the bug camp today. We hiked and did a couple of insect -related craft projects. The kids complained about walking uphill, but then again kids always complain about walking uphill. I saw a coyote while driving up the hill to work yesterday (or was in Wednesday?). It quickly disappeared into the underbrush. I have yet to actually see one while I'm hiking with kids, most likely because kids are loud even when they're trying to be quiet. Not that the kids this week tryed to be quiet very often, of course.

The one sour note to this week was that a couple of nights ago I found what I thought was a mole on my thigh. On closer inspection it was a tick. On even closer inspection it was a Deer tick. This is one of the only arachnids I would rather not find, due to their ability to spread Lyme's Disease. Of course I've been gnawed on by small, biting flies and mosquitos all week too. Maybe I should invest in some insect repellant. The morning after I found the tick, we went shrub shaking (putting a sheet or piece of paper under a shrub, shaking it, and seeing what falls out) and sure enough the first thing that fell out was another Deer tick. This one didn't get lunch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Western Rattlesnake Disappearing Down A Hole

I lifted an old piece of sheet metal today and found this hugely fat Rattlesnake underneath. I'm not sure if its girth was due to a recent meal or to imminent babies. It had a nice olive-green hue as well. Just beautiful. All of the kids in the camp got to see it, which is funny because I'm teaching a bug camp this week. When I taught the reptile camp, we hardly saw any reptiles but found lots of cool bugs, and now that I'm teaching the bug camp we're finding reptiles but not much in the way of bugs. Life is funny that way.

I did get to eat some barbequed mealworms that another instructor handed me. Most of the kids in my camp had some too, except for one kid who didn't like barbeque flavored food. Perhaps I can track some down with original mealworm flavor... You can buy them in a variety of flavors here. They also have lots of other interesting invertebrate sweets for sale.

After camp, I went home and loaded most of my animals into the car so I could go do a critter program for a local church. They've been hiring me to do this once a year for the last few years, and its a good way to bring in a little extra money. $75 for an hour of my time is a good deal. My hour started out with a small group of kids, but as things progressed, groups of increasingly younger kids filed into the room and soon the place was packed. Lots of kids touched snakes or tarantulas for the first time. I'd advertise but if I started doing this kind of thing regularly it would be too hard on my animals.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Originally uploaded by Corbie.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum played a couple of shows at the Oakland Metro this weekend. Friday, Jen went up with M and I hung out with Willow - they actually got home late enough to make me worry. When I called Jen at 4 am they were nearly home. Saturday, I went up with M and Jen stayed home with Willow. They show ended slightly earlier and I got home before 3. The Museum was in fine form, playing a handful of new songs, including one about Nils' brother Per who passed away last December. On hand at the merchandise table was a dvd of Per's film work. Can't wait for the book of his artwork to become available. As for Nils, Saturday marked his transition from a thirty-something to a forty-something. Happy birthday, Nils.
The nice surprise of the evening was the Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet. Add them to the growing list of bands using classical or jazz instruments yet sounding distinctly heavy metal. On their cd, they cover songs by Black Sabbath, Sepultura, and... Spinal Tap!

The rest of the weekend has been very unhurried. Due to our late nights, we've slept in. Jen didn't wake up until almost noon yesterday, and I slept in until eleven or so today. Jen has been sewing, and I worked my weekend job earlier, performing at a party for a six-year-old girl and nearly thirty of her friends. Camp starts up again tomorrow, and this week the focus is on bugs.

I just noticed that it's already eleven. How the hell did that happen? At least it's a little cooler now.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

It's been louder than usual around here this week. Between the impatient people who started setting off fireworks on the 1st and 2nd, and the absentminded people who didn't remember to do it until the 5th, it has been like being in the middle of some sort of war. That's the idea, I guess. The boys spent the 4th out watching fireworks with a friend, Willow and Jen spent it at home (Willow has developed an aversion to loud noises), and Sophie and I walked around the immediate neighborhood watching people illegally lighting fireworks in the street. Not my favorite holiday, with its imitation bombs and flag waving. It all strikes me as a little too shrill. It's always easier to wave a flag than it is to become involved in the ideals it supposedly represents. Just look at the voter turnout in the last few elections.

Wouldn't it be nice if there were no national boundaries and we had to look at the world as a whole instead of only concentrating on our own little piece of the puzzle. We are truly a global society, and we face a great many global problems that will continue to grow over the course or our lifetimes, but with the world divided into countries, and countries divided into states and provinces, which are in turn subdivided into smaller bits and pieces, it's hard to concentrate on the big picture and easier to export environmental degradation to some other section of the globe (for example - by importing lumber or exporting waste).

We are all truly in this together.

In my imagination I see a family in their backyard, waving their little flags and popping their little firecrackers while they drink beer and eat hotdogs. Afterwards, they pick up all the trash from their revelry and toss it over the fence into their neighbor's yard.

What if the fence wasn't there?

Rant over.

It has been cool this week, and I've mostly been off work, with the exception of a few hours yesterday spent manning the visitor's center up at Sanborn park. It turned out to be easy work, greeting visitors and answering questions. I got some reading done. Today I was interviewed for the job I already have (trying to get those benefits...) and was elated to discover that my car passed its smog test. I wouldn't want to export any air pollution, now would I?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

California Mountain Kingsnake

California Mountain Kingsnake
Originally uploaded by Corbie.
I had a genuine snake-geek moment this week when I overturned a large piece of wood and found this wonderful little California Mountain Kingsnake, the first of its kind I'd seen near work. It was only about five feet away from a young Western Rattlesnake hiding under an old, rusted barrel.
I had taken four campers (all boys) up to see the Rattlesnake, expecting it to be there because it had been hiding under the barrel all week, preparing to shed (sort of like the Rattlesnake who dutifully stayed under a nearby board for nearly a month earlier in the season - I love it when they do that because it makes it so simple to find them). Being me, I always check under the other nearby hiding places, and there's nothing quite like turning over a log and finding a snake like this. In addition to being beautiful, it was quite docile and didn't musk, bite, or show any other signs of agitation when picked up. For the boys (fellow reptile geeks all) it instantly became the highlight of their week. I even took it down to camp to show more people, something that I usually don't do. Later, I sneaked up and put it back under its log.

This is only the third Mountain Kingsnake I've come across in thirty or so years of snake finding, and the most beautiful of the three. I've never really lost that sense or wonder I felt as a child when finding a snake. The only real difference is that now I just take pictures instead of taking the poor thing home and putting it in a cage.

There have been a couple of other sightings nearby in the last few weeks, so hopefully we'll be seeing more of these around the park and along the trails in the future. Snakes like this are becoming less common due to habitat destruction (mansions in the hills, attacks by attendant dogs and cats) and probably from people who find them and take them home like I once did. It's not an endangered species like the Alameda Whipsnake or the San Francisco Garter Snake (both Bay Area natives), but if we're not careful, it could be. Let's not let this happen.