Sunday, September 25, 2016

Let Autumn Commence

Week Three of Science Camp began during late Summer, and ended in early Autumn. Night has now outstripped day, and will gradually spread its velvet wings a little farther each evening, at least until the Winter Solstice causes the wings to slowly fold up again. Coincidentally, the week started on the hot side, and ended with temperatures that were more agreeable (and more conducive to wildlife sightings). The kids were a good bunch, although overall not quite on the level of the kids from the previous week. There were a few more difficult cases, but not in my group. One of my cabin leaders for the week, who chose the camp name "Tardigrade", was so inspired by the camp experience that he now wants to work there when he is older. He gets bonus points for his name too, because Tardigrades are cool.

I went and saw Greg (and company) perform up in San Francisco on Thursday evening, and will eventually write about it. For now, let it suffice to say that my Fitbit informs me that I broke my personal 24 hour step record that day (since I got the Fitbit back in December, at least). I stepped 23,836 steps that day.

The drop in temperature toward the end of the week allowed us to find a lot of little animals. Like the previous week, my favorite day was Thursday, during which we visited the reservoir (a different reservoir though, since I was at our main site this week) and floundered around in the mud while looking for wildlife.

One thing of note is that the rattlesnakes who live at the edge of our lower field had babies. There were at least three adults on hand too. At least one of the babies had milky eyes, indicating that it is about to shed. Friday, we saw a total of five snakes at once: two babies and three adults. I'm betting that there are more babies down in the burrow.

We didn't see any rattlesnakes up at the reservoir, but there were plenty of other interesting animals.

Seeing all of the Argiope spiders reminds me of childhood, when there were Garden spiders all over the yard. I remember watching them appear, then disappear, as the season progressed. They held a special fascination for me, one that I still feel when I come across them. They are beautiful, delicate, misunderstood creatures.

I love Autumn. It's the season of remembrance.

It's also when the poison oak is at its most beautiful.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Week Two of Science Camp

Last Sunday, we had our annual open house at work, a day in which anybody who is coming up to camp during this school year can come and learn more about the program. The people who come are usually those who are either really excited or really nervous. I brought Willow along, and since she is technically a counselor now (after going through the Leaders In Training program this summer), we put her to work at the arts & crafts table and then taking meal tickets in the dining hall.

We didn't keep track of how many people came during the day, but it was probably around 1500. It went well, and people seemed appreciative of our efforts. We found an alligator lizard on the one hike I led, and after I put it down facing away from the group, it abruptly turned around and ran across a mom's foot, with predictable results. Despite being catapulted a couple of feet, the lizard was fine.

The following week of camp found me at our Cupertino site, nestled in the hills near Steven's Creek Reservoir. There were only four field classes, and we split the 96 campers evenly (or 95, since one girl never showed, so I had only 23 campers in my group). The kids exuded enthusiasm, and it has been awhile since I've had a group who was so excited to hike. Three of the four so-called "epic journeys" (the Thursday long hike) were more epic than usual, with my group and Arctic Hare's group going to the (dry) pond and then heading downhill to the reservoir basin and following the creek back to camp, and Algae's group doing the incredibly epic peak/reservoir loop (as far as I know, I'm the only other instructor to attempt that).

Here are some photos from the epic journey. I wish I could post pictures of the kids playing in the mud, but I can't share pictures of kids without parental permission. The rattlesnake was about a yard off the trail near the end of the solo hike, and the group in front of me (27 people) all walked right by it without seeing it.

During the week at camp, we have the campers write about how their week is going. This alerts us to potential problems and gives us a written record of them. Sometimes the responses are bizarre. Here are a couple of them from this week.

Finally, here are a couple of pieces of art generated by campers during recess, offering proof that Donald Trump scares children. The girl who drew the picture of Trump in a dress is Muslim, and it made me think about how terrifying Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric must be for Muslim children (not to mention the ignorant antics of many of Trump's supporters). This particular girl, who named herself "Flamingo" this week, was also among the muddiest of campers on the epic journey. At one point, she ran out into the mud flats and stood there on one leg like a flamingo. She also happened to be wearing pink, which completed the picture nicely.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Sierra Azul, and the Science Camp Year begins

A few years ago, I completed my goal to walk every trail in Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Now, years later, I've decided to attempt the same thing with the trails winding though the adjacent Sierra Azul open space preserve. There are fewer trails there, but they're longer, so I'll have to allow more time for each hike. I started my quest with a relatively simple hike up Limekiln trail, and then down Priest Rock trail. After the hike was over, I was glad I hadn't done the reverse loop because Limekiln was mostly forest and Priest Rock is vehemently chaparral. I don't think many people like walking uphill in the chaparral on a sunny day. I know I don't. My fitbit tells me the elevation change during this hike was over 1400 feet, although 160 feet of that was due to a false start up the wrong trail.

Partway up Limekiln, I found a ringneck snake, and later on I was circled by a turkey vulture as I followed Priest Rock through the chaparral at the top of the ridge.

The trails start and end near Lexington reservoir, which I had never seen from this particular vantage point. I'm used to seeing it from the west as I drive past it on highway 17.

Tuesday, the school year's first week of science camp started. The kids were sixth graders from far enough away that they didn't arrive until after 10:00 AM (which is better than their estimated 11:00 arrival time). The week went well. I team taught with one of our newer staff members, Arctic Hare, although for the most part, she just observed. Another even newer (so new that she hasn't even been processed, which meant she was volunteering this week) staff member was also observing this week. It's always nice to have some new energy injected into the program.

I did my usual long hike to Lake Ranch reservoir. Several campers got quite wet and muddy. We found a couple of Argiope spiders in the grass down by the shore. The first had a California Sister butterfly in its clutches, and the second was snacking on a dragonfly.